Keep on track on Vacation…without missing out!

HOW to keep on track on

I just got back in Vermont a few days ago after spending a long weekend in Portsmouth, NH. I don’t go on vacation often so when I do, I like to know I’m taking every opportunity to enjoy myself.

But how does someone as conscientious as myself “live it up” without sacrificing my health, performance, and body composition goals?

Well, that’s the topic of today’s post! I’ll use my experiences over the last few days to show how you can enjoy yourself and indulge without suffering ill-effects, in the short or long term.

1 – Skip breakfast

images (1)This may not work for everyone, particularly if your body is still dependent upon sugar (whether from candy, juice, or whole grains). But, for me, having 1 to 2 cups of coffee with a little heavy cream, can sustain me until early afternoon.

By skipping breakfast, I’ve eliminated a third of the calories I would have eaten that day, meaning my indulgences later may not push me into a calorie excess.

 

2 – Bring healthy snacks

If I’m at a hotel or a friend’s home, with access to a fridge and healthy foods, I’ll have a couple hard boiled eggs or full-fat Greek yogurt with berries. I also pack EPIC Bars in case of emergencies – offering a perfect balance of flavor and nutrition.

3 – Walk more

I rented a hotel room that was almost exactly 1 mile from the downtown which means, weather permitting, two trips back and forth resulted in over 20,000 steps a day!

4 – Don’t completely give-up on working out…but don’t overcommit

I made it a goal to find a gym and do two full workouts over the 4 days I was there. Normally I go to the gym everyday (simply because I love it so much), but this was vacation so 2 workouts was more realistic.

5 – Keep meals balanced & Opt for healthy choices

Sure, I would have hot wings as an appetizer and ice cream as a desert, but I would also have a salad instead of the bread and fries.seafood_louie(1)

Also, if I wanted a burger for dinner, I’d pick a restaurant that offered grass-fed beef from a local supplier. And if I wanted seafood, I’d go to a restaurant that had raw oyster shooters or sushi, instead of breaded and fried scallops.

6 – If you choose to drink, mitigate the negatives

gin-and-tonic-1This would include: using calorie free mixers (such as club soda); squeeze fresh lime juice as needed for flavoring; consume alcohol away from other foods; have your last meal of the day based around proteins and fats; consume plenty of water all day and night.

Not all these tactics will work for all people. If you have food allergies and health conditions, you may have to be more diligent. If you tend to over-indulge when you haven’t eaten recently, rely more upon healthy snacks. If you love aerobics, start every day with a run outside to burn extra calories.

But, the plan above worked so well for me that after 4 days of burgers, wings, ice cream, and gin & tonics, I actually weighed 1 pound less!

Next time you go on vacation give some of these a try – let me know what works and what doesn’t. And let all of us know if you have some “damage mitigation strategies” of your own!

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What I’ve Been Up To: Lifestyle & Supplements

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After my last two posts, you should be all caught up on what I’ve done nutritionally and in terms of exercise over the past year – but what about everything else? As the last part in this 3-post series, I’ll discuss any development in lifestyle that contribute to health, starting with sleep!

With my new work schedule, I can either workout before work, from about 5:30-7AM, or after work, closer to 6PM. I personally love to start my day with a workout and doubt I’d feel up to anything truly productive after 9 hours of computer-based work. 

images (2)So, I’ve transitioned from sleeping 10+ hours to hardly 8. Now yes, I am still getting more than the average American, but I no longer wake-up before my alarm, eager to hop up. Some of this could be due to having to be up before the sun as well, which has been a good excuse to get back to using my “light therapy” lamp!

At the moment I am not trying to build muscle or set PR’s in the gym so I’ve been able to make due with less sleep. But we’ll have to see what happens as my focus shifts…

I still foam roll every night and take an Epsom salt bath before bed (in the summer its turned into more of a shower with an Epsom salt scrub). Rolling certainly decreases
soreness but I find there is a point of diminishing returns. 

One thing I have made a better effort to incorporate is 15 minutes a day in nature. It makeswpid-rest_optionsan enormous difference for me, psychologically, to walk through the trees to a river behind my house after work. And the added Vitamin D from the sun is an added benefit!

Before I get into supplements, let’s cover the ever-popular topic of what I consider to be an “indulgent supplement” – alcohol. For about a year or two, I didn’t touch alcohol. I’ve since become a little more moderate, having an occasional drink if I’m out in a social situation, or splitting a bottle of red wine with friends on a Saturday.

No, my opinion (and the facts) about alcohol have not changed. Yes, it is still a toxin with more detriments than benefits. But, I haven’t noticed any detriment to my health or performance when consuming a moderate amount once a week, and it does bring certain social and relaxation benefits with it.

What about other supplements though?

I’ve start consuming a “pre-workout” drink before training. I’ve always said a cup of coffee is sufficient, and I still believe that. But, the extra bit of energy and focus that certain pre-workout powders contain make an amazing difference for me, getting to the gym before the sun rises.

quote_food always have recommended Vitamin D for those that don’t spend hours in the sun everyday…but we are seeing a reduction in benefits when too much is consumed. There are still no reports of overdoses (like Vitamin A for example) but we see that those with extremely low blood levels, and high levels, both suffer worse health outcomes. Instead of just recommending 10,000 IUs a day, I favor getting a blood test and supplementing to keep your levels in the 35 to 50 ng/mL range.

I have also started using vitamin C, B vitamins, and Valerian Root on occasion. But I still don’t recommend them for everyone across the board – they tend to have limited application in times of stress (such as starting a new job, sleeping less, or eating a calorie deficit). I still think there is good reason to supplement with magnesium (either transdermal or oral), but I’ve stopped consuming fish oil altogether.

The argument for fish oil makes sense, but, from a chemistry standpoint, consuming the most unstable fat in nature, extracted from fish, packaged into bottles, shipped across the world, and stored for weeks or months, doesn’t seem ideal.

I avoid vegetable/seed oils and grains, only eat beef and dairy from grass-fed cows, and consume seafood often. This seems like a much more sensible way to improve my omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.

Feel free to comment, or contact me directly, if you have questions about what lifestyle changes, or supplements, may be most suitable for your wants and needs!

Next week we‘ll get back to the nutrition and fitness topics that most of you have come to expect of me – thanks for sticking through all the posts about me from this past week!

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What I’ve Been Up To: Training Evolution

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In my last post I discussed how my diet changed over the last year. After building my body up to 200 pounds, I trimmed excess body fat, settling at 185 pounds with under 15% body-fat.

Today, let’s look at how my training has evolved, both inside and outside of the gym.

A discovery I made, well over a year ago, was that I had very weak glutes, immobile ankles/calves, and significant external rotation of my femurs.

Starting with isometrics, constant balance and postural work, and abduction exercise (moving legs laterally from the body), I was able to build up the stabilizers throughout my hips and legs. I moved on to strengthening my posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, hips, and lower back) with more classic strength exercises in the gym. c38aea10a40c31734d76e09933886e86

With the strength and neurological proprioception I developed, I jumped into a novice program known as Starting Strength. This program included back squats 3 days a week, adding 5 pounds a session – bringing my squat from an easy starting weight of 185 to around 275 in only 2 months.

As it got tougher to increase my squat 15lbs a week, I moved to my favorite undulating periodization program: 5/3/1. This got my squat to around 315 after a few more months.

Finally, I switched to a conjugate based system – two days a week focused on developing explosive speed on the bench press and squat and two days for max attempts on these lifts.

Through addressing my weaknesses, building my strength back up with improved form, and well calculated programming, I was able to set new records in the 4 major lifts that are vital for proper human movement – I deadlifted 405lbs, squatted 350lbs, benched 275lbs, and pressed 175lbs overhead!

I timed this peak in strength with the peak of my bulking cycle I discussed in my last post. Any lifter will tell you – if you want to put 10lbs on a lift, put 10lbs of mass on your body! Haha.

Knowing that I would soon start reducing calories, I transitioned to a classic images“bodybuilding” program – starting sessions with a heavy lift to maintain my strength, but then dedicating the rest of the workout to higher reps, moderate weight, and short rests. This is the perfect formula for stimulating muscle growth, which can prevent loss of muscle as bodyweight is lowered.

This style of training also allowed a much-needed break from the neurological recruitment involved in lifting maximal weights. All I had to do in the gym was close my eyes and focus on the stretch and contraction of specific muscles – quite meditative in a way.

I ended with a program developed in the early 1900’s by nowdeceased trainer Vince Gironda (“The Iron Guru”). His program involved 6 sets of 6 reps with only 15 seconds rest. Over the course of six weeks I worked up to 8 sets of 8 reps, still with only enough time for 3 deep breathes between sets. And trust me, after completing 64 repetitions in about 8 minutes, any weight feels heavy!

During this time I also replaced high intensity interval training (HIIT) with steady state aerobics such as biking and running. I did this to get some endurance training and take advantage of the gorgeous Vermont mornings and evenings. As a “strength athlete” at heart, I only run twice a week – with Wednesday’s focused on increasing my 1 mile speed and Saturday’s adding 1 minute out and back each week.

At the moment, I’m running an Olympic weightlifting program for the first time in my life. This involves the “clean and jerk” and “snatch”, variations of these movements, and different styles of squats almost every day.

 

black-weight-liftingOlympic lifting requires superb athleticism, speed, and mobility. I have built up my raw strength, pushing or pulling a heavy weight, often grinding to complete a rep…but this new style of training should help train other movement pathways within the body.

So far it is going excellent! I am feeling more agile and mobile from these full body, technical lifts. I plan to continue for another month or two in order to get enough exposure to this new style of training.

But honestly, I’m eager to return to powerlifting – I’ve got to get my squat to two times bodyweight (close to 400lbs), my deadlift to 500, bench press to 315, and achieve a bodyweight overhead press!

I’ve already got the basic outline for 3 particularly programs I will use over the next 6+ months to reach these goals.

And that’s what trainings all about: doing what you love; throwing in some new stuff to ensure balanced development; and proper programming. As long as you are consistent day-in and day-out, you can expect to improve from one year to the next.

As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions or if you want a program designed for your particular needs. I wouldn’t be where I am without the valuable information I’ve learned from others – I only wish to provide the same value to all of you!

Thanks again for reading! See you next time when I wrap up this series with more lifestyle development, including changes to my recovery techniques, supplementation, and day-to-day life.

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What I’ve Been Up To: Nutrition

 

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Before I return to my typical health tip lists, discussions of a healthy lifestyle, and analyzing articles / studies, I thought I’d fill you in on what I’ve been up to in the last year. This will be a 3-part series, detailing my changes in diet, exercise, and daily life.

Today, let’s dive into my last year in terms of my nutrition!

I left you at the end of summer, one year ago. I was leaning out by reducing my carb intake. Meals were built around vegetables and protein, cooked in healthy fat, with 1-2 pieces of fruit a day and 1 large sweet potato (usually post-workout).

As I went into fall / winter, I transitioned to building new muscle. I did this by increasing calories, over many weeks, from my maintenance level of 2,500 a day to over 4,000 a day. Every time my bodyweight plateaued for more than 2 weeks, I would bump my calories up another 250-500 a day.

It is very difficult to consume 4,000 calories a day without relying upon calorie-dense but nutrient-lacking foods like liquid sugars (Gatorade / fruit juice), refined grains (bread / cereal), or junk food (ice cream / fast food). Sure, I could consume these foods on a daily basis and probably gain 5 pounds a week – but it would be all fat!

paleo pyramidSo instead, 3 meals a day  would contain about 1 pound of starch (white or sweet potato), half a pound of protein (eggs, meat, or fish), 1 serving of healthy fat (an avocado or large handful of nuts), 1 cup of vegetables, and, if I could fit it, 1 serving of fruit.  Then I would also have 2 shakes a day, containing either coconut milk or raw cow/goat milk, full-fat Greek yogurt, avocado, honey, cocoa powder, a banana or plantain, and 1 scoop of whey protein powder.

For the first time in my life, my bodyweight reached 200 pounds and I was still able to see my abs!

No matter how nutritious the foods are, and how slow the gain, some of the weight will be stored fat. With spring starting, and summer – the season of beach trips and shirtless runs around town – around the corner, I slowly brought my calories back down in order to lean out once again.

To avoid losing any muscle I had worked so hard to build, I kept my meals based around the same half pound of protein. To create the calorie deficit I needed to lose fat, I eliminated the multiple servings of fuel (fats/carbs) at every meal. I would still use fat to taste when preparing my meals, but I no longer had sides of avocados and nuts. I also reduced my carb intake similar to the previous year.  

Once I reached maintenance, I slowly replaced every carb calorie (not counting veggies) with fat calories, transitioning into ketosis for one month. For a refresher on what this is and the benefits, click here!

sports-nutrition.jpgAnd that brings us to the present. I weigh about 185 right now. I have maintained my strength and my arms / legs are the same size, so I can safely say I didn’t lose much muscle.

I try not to obsess about numbers so I can only guess my body-fat is just below 15%. Once I reach my desired level of leanness (maybe 10%?), I’ll return to building more muscle.

I’ll discuss the reason for this back and forth between periods of gaining weight and losing weight but, for now, here are the objective numbers from my own process:

In December of 2014 I weighed 190 with maybe 25% body fat. At the end of 2015 I weighed 200 with a body fat of about 20%. I weighed 10 pounds more but had 5 pounds less of fat.

I had gained 15 pounds of muscle from one year to the next!  

I hope this gives you an idea of how a “health-nut” such as myself eats, as well as how to adjust your eating habits to ensure specific outcomes.

Next I’ll talk about the different exercise programs I’ve done over the last year, what weaknesses I discovered, what records I broke, and my opinion of how to best balance training modalities for general health.

See you very soon!   

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I’m Back!

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Wow! Almost one year to the day since I last posted! Where have I been? Did I suffer a heart attack from all the red meat and eggs? Maybe wasted away without all those heart-healthy, whole grains? Or returned to my childhood lifestyle fueled by Skittles and Mountain Dew? Not likely!

Without getting too dramatic, I came to some realizations regarding my personal training career. I was averaging over 35 sessions a week. Combined with preparing programs and diets, studying to earn Continuing Education Credits and stay up on current research, marketing my services, contributing to gyms administratively…I was busy every second of every day.

Don’t get me wrong – it was amazing to do what I loved, as a career. But the fact is, I hit a “glass ceiling” of sorts. I couldn’t accept more clients while still providing top notch service.

My second realization was that most Americans still rely upon a reactive model of health care, as opposed to improving lifestyle in a proactive manner. As part of this, exercise is viewed as a way of balancing out unhealthy choices made the rest of the day.

Easily 75% of those that came to me wanted to do 10 or 20 sessions to get them “in the swing” of exercising a few hours a week, convinced that this would ensure good health regardless of diet, genes, and other lifestyle factors.

images (1)Not only is the general public lacking information, but even many in the medical community have thrown up their hands in despair! During my last year of full-time training I had easily a dozen different clients that came to me only at the insistence of their doctor. Some of these people were 100 to 200 pounds overweight; some had cholesterol levels that no dose of medication could “control”; others went from a diagnosis of pre-diabetes to insulin-dependent diabetes in under a year.

Their doctors prescribed more and more medications. Patients were referred to Registered Dieticians and given USDA handouts recommending a grain-based diet (still 8 to 11 servings a day!) and cautioning against nutrient-dense sources of protein and fat found in nature. Regardless of all this, these clients’ health kept deteriorating until the only place left to look (and point the finger) was their activity and exercise level.

“Your body has lost its ability to properly use carbohydrates? The insulin injections we gave you to do the job of your failing pancreas is no longer helping? And eating more carbs while limiting other nutrients didn’t help? Well, you must be too lazy!”

“You’ve gained 200 pounds in the last 5 years? Noooo, don’t avoid high-calorie, low-nutrient, hunger-stimulating foods like bagels, pastas, and cereal – just peddle a stationary bike for 30 minutes a day!”

“Your iron levels are so low that we want to inject it into your bloodstream. But, if you insist on trying something less invasive, maybe you can give occasional strength training a shot. It’s not like iron is a nutrient found in plenty of foods, with well understood absorption rates.”

 

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Not only was I trying to reshape an individual’s understanding of a healthy lifestyle, but I was also fighting an uphill battle against rhetoric from other health organizations. Again, I don’t blame any individual person…unfortunately, a couple bad studies half a century ago led to the biggest misdirection in terms of nutrition that we have ever experienced.

So, I “sold out to the man” and got a boring 8 to 5 desk job. But, I’m almost 30 and had to accept that guaranteed pay for the hours I work (plus benefits) is necessary to ensure stability in my life. I did keep my most committed clients and I’m still doing everything I can to help any person I come in contact with. And, truth be told, I’ve missed having this outlet to share my discoveries and, let’s be honest, ramble about anything remotely health-related!

In conclusion, I am glad to say that I will return to posting every Monday.

If you haven’t yet, please click the “Follow” button on the right-side of the page – this will send you an email version of each blog post the moment I finish it. And, as always, feel free to contact me via email or phone (also on the right hand side of the page) if you’d like some input specifically for you and your needs.

Sorry for my absence and thanks for reading!

New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year!

A new year is usually welcomed in by resolutions to eat better, workout regularly, and make other lifestyle improvements. However, laying out end goals is not enough. The most important part is planning out how an improvement will be accomplished.

For this reason, I have planned out my next year of training.

This doesn’t mean I know exactly what I’ll do everyday. Nor does it guarantee highly specific results by a certain date.

It does provide the structure and accountability to ensure that I am healthier, stronger, and more fit than I am now.

Planning out very specific numbers in terms of strength, bodyweight, or other health markers, can be counterproductive. Life is filled with unpredictable events. Sickness, injury, responsibilities, and individual genes make it impossible to foresee even one month into the future, never mind a whole year.

Developing general goals, and dedicating some thought to how they will be reached, is far more effective than merely listing a handful of numbers or end goals.

For example, my general training plan is as follows:

January and February: reintroduce barbell powerlifts such as the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and power clean. Train full body 3 days a week, practicing each exercise multiple times a week. Start light to allow for weight increases almost every session.

This will allow me to develop technical proficiency and regain strength, after which I’ll test my 1-rep max for these 5 exercises.

March and April: continue to train full body 3 days a week but vary the intensity each session. At this point, the weight for each lift will be getting heavier so, to prevent burnout, I will have light, moderate, and heavy days. I will also have to slow my rate of progression to a weekly basis.

May and June: increase the number of training days but decrease the frequency of each lift. Focus more on finding weaknesses to target with specific assistance exercises. Finally, dial weight progression back even further to a monthly schedule.

I have an idea what I’ll do after June but to allow for the unpredictability of life, I haven’t fleshed it out enough to post publicly.

That is my physical fitness program for the next 6 months. Notice anything that’s missing? Nutrition and all other health goals!

This week, I have greatly dialed back my caloric intake, and carbohydrate level in particular, to recover from the indulgences of the holidays. However, during the first few months of this year, I will slowly increase my calories from carbs. This will allow me to build quality muscle and increase my strength.

Around April, I’ll shift my body into ketosis to improve my fat metabolism, lean out, and allow for cell repair within my body. By summer I hope to be stronger and more fit than I was at the same time last year.

I will also be tracking my blood levels, as always, and continue to donate blood on a regular schedule.

If you notice, I have not listed many specific numbers. I do have a few numbers in my mind, but I don’t want to tie them to specific dates and become disheartened when things out of my control get in the way.

Don’t make absolute statements or enormous changes without a way to track progress and ensure success. Look at a calendar, assess where you are now, and find a way to make improvements on a regularly basis.

Hiring a professional will make this process easier and more effective by providing accountability along with the experience and knowledge to guide decisions. Feel free to contact me directly if you are ready to start improving any aspect of your life.

In conclusion: having goals is good, but having a plan is better.

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A Testament to Health

This week I was not able to put my normal time into researching, writing, and editing a blog post. On Monday, December 8th, I was in a car crash.

I was at an intersection a few blocks from my apartment waiting for the light. When it turned green, I looked both ways (out of habit), saw no cars, and rolled into the intersection. Suddenly, out of the corner of my left eye, I saw a minivan hurdling through their redlight. Next thing I knew, all my windows were covered by airbags, my possessions were strewn around the the car, and there was bent and broken plastic everywhere.

As soon as I caught my breath, I opened the drivers side door (requiring some force) and climbed out.

After surveying the damage to my car, the car that hit me, and the road, it was clear I was very fortunate. My car hood had been ripped clean off and the nose was pushed back to the front wheels.

I was fortunate for a number of reasons:

First, I entered the intersection slowly and cautiously. If I accelerated quicker, the oncoming car would have hit my drivers side door and the outcome would have been much different.

Second, I was driving a 2012 Subaru Impreza. The steering wheel, dashboard, and every door deployed an airbag, protecting me from any impact against metal, plastic, or glass. Also, the front of the car folded in on itself like an accordion, absorbing the impact that otherwise could have crushed the driver and passenger compartments.

Lastly, and most pertinent to this blog, is that I was very healthy at the time.

I am not saying that muscles and low bodyfat makes one invincible…but it can’t hurt.

I don’t feel like I would have hopped up out of my seat without a bruise, after being broadsided at over 40 miles per hour, if I wasn’t generally fit and relatively strong.

A common quote in the powerlifting community, and amongst Navy Seals, is “Stronger people are harder to kill”.

Again, I am not claiming that my fitness level prevented bodily injury. But I think my dedication to a healthy lifestyle allowed me to exit the car unscathed and continue my week as usual.

I am confident that the resilience my body displayed in this situation is a testament to the importance of physical health.

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