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!

Nature’s Multi-Vitamin

At this moment, our concept of what is healthy is changing.

For the last 50 years, we were told that calories should come from carbs, fat caused heart attacks, and protein caused cancer. We now know that carbs turn to sugar in the blood and can cause inflammation – the real precipitating factor in cardiovascular disease and most other health conditions.

One food that fell out of favor during the same time is liver. In this post, I’ll address concerns and aversions to one of the healthiest foods on the planet!

Let’s look at the nutritional profile of liver. A mere 1-ounce of liver (about one mouthful) meets daily recommendations for the following nutrients:

390% Vitamin B12

200% Copper

150% Vitamin A

56% Riboflavin

25% Niacin

20% Folate & Pantothenic Acid

15% Vitamin B6, Phosphorus, & Selenium

10% Iron & Zinc

5% Thiamin, Magnesium, Potassium, & Manganese

One ounce of liver provides all this, with 7.5 grams of protein, in only 50 calories!

Liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods, along with shellfish and spices. For this reason, I eat one bite of liver everyday. To me, it’s an all-natural multi-vitamin!

Why not just take a manmade vitamin? Well, we are finding out that supplementing with unnaturally high amounts of synthetic vitamins actually increases risk of death.

And what about the argument that the liver processes the body’s toxins?

This is quite true. Whenever we take Tylenol, drink alcohol, or consume other drugs, our liver works to break these substances down. Otherwise they could accumulate in our body and kill us.

However, cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals don’t use recreational drugs or take chemicals! In fact, studies of feedlot animals (raised in horrible conditions and given various injections) showed that their livers contained no more toxins than the muscle meat we regularly consume. Properly raised animals are not exposed to toxins that require processing by the liver. Therefore, the belief that the liver contains toxins is unfounded.

Now the kidney, responsible for removing waste and filtering it out through the urine, is an organ meat I cannot comfortably consume!

The last argument against liver would be the taste. And to be honest, it does have a very strong metallic flavor. For this reason, I cover it in cayenne, turmeric, salt, pepper, garlic, and ginger. With this amount of powerful seasonings, one bite a day can be quite enjoyable.

Finally, the price is simply amazing! Most grass-fed beef liver can be found for under $3 a pound…and if you know a farmer personally, they may even give it to you for free!

So, now that we know that liver is one of the healthiest parts of an animal, doesn’t actually filter or contain toxins, how to season it properly, and how affordable it is, why not set reservations aside and try a bite?

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Gluten

At this moment, there appears to be a “gluten-free” craze or fad.

By now, you all know that I recommend a gluten-free lifestyle. But, I advocate learning the reasons behind elimination first.

Imagine if, in 1949, when doctors were recommending cigarettes, that I came out of nowhere and just said “stop doing what your doctor tells you – it’s bad for you!”

Instead of just hoping that people will go against “conventional wisdom” to improve their health, I’d rather provide some facts about gluten.

First, let’s look at the actual plant that has the most gluten – wheat. The plant in the bottom of the picture is wild-grown wheat, while the top plant is commercially grown wheat.
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This picture is slightly deceiving because the “ancient einkorn wheat” is actually a modern day variation of wheat grown in the wild. Originally, the stem would continue even further and there would be far less seeds. But, even in this picture, you can see that the output (the size and amount of protective “hairs”) of the plant has changed.

While scientists tinkered with the genetics of the plant to increase profits, they also increased the protein content immensely. This was considered an added benefit but, unfortunately, no testing was done on human tolerance.

As acetaminophen (Tylonel) was developed, it had to be researched mechanistically, tested on animals, and finally on humans, before each generation of the product could be sold in stores. This was never done with wheat.

Next, let’s consider the role wheat played historically. For the last 10,000 years, grains helped humans develop villages, cities, and countries, allowing us to leave behind 2.6 million years of hunting and gathering.

Imagine life as a hunter-gatherer – traveling around in groups, moving your “home”, and collecting food.

Would it make sense to spend hours every day picking tiny seeds off a plant, that would then have to be soaked, sprouted, and ground to make one thin cracker? Or would it make sense to throw a spear into a herd of antelope and provide enough food for weeks?

Would you rather search for days to find a few grasses of wheat? Or would time be better spent picking berries and plucking leaves (requiring no preparation) as you travel?

Wheat, and other grains and seeds, would be stored for a time of famine…when a hunt was unsuccessful or in winter when plants were scarce.

Now we know the role wheat played historically and how the plant changed through recent genetic hybridization. But, what about the actual affects gluten has on humans?

It is predicted that 1% of the world population has celiac disease, an overt allergy to gluten, while about 10% report having “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”.

Gluten sensitivity can result in over 250 symptoms, including joint pain, dry skin, or indigestion.

There is no test for “gluten sensitivity”, as there is with celiac disease. The only way to discover sensitivity is to completely remove gluten from the diet and reintroduce after a few months. Finally, one microgram of gluten can change the gut chemistry for up to 6 months – therefore, an accidental exposure, or short-term elimination, may provide invalid results.

I don’t want to bore you by exploring every issue involved with gluten, so I’ll just mention the two most compelling facts:

Gliadin, one of two proteins that make up gluten, breaks down to polypeptides. These are small enough to travel through the gut lining, into the blood, and cross the blood-brain barrier. At this point, they bind to opiate-receptor sites, producing euphoria, similar to a tiny dose of morphine or heroin. Studies show that gluten stimulates appetite so much, through the reward/pleasure centers of the brain, that individuals eating gluten consume an extra 400 calories a day.

Finally, transglutaminase is the enzyme in that breaks down gluten. The more gluten one eats, the more transglutaminase their body must produce. The issue here is that transglutaminase has the ability to affect every cell in the body. This is one reason gluten sensitivity can manifest in hundreds of different symptoms. The literature shows that high levels of transglutaminase are present in individuals with neurological diseases such as Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.

I could continue but I don’t want to make this post too dry or sound like I’m trying to make gluten into some boogey-man.

The takeaway points are:

We have genetically-altered the wheat plant to contain far more gluten than it should.

Humans are not meant to consume as much gluten as we have in the last 50 years.

Gluten has the potential to affect nearly every function within the body.

Considering these facts, it is no surprise that there is a “gluten-free” craze at this moment. As more people eliminate gluten from their diets, they discover that it was the cause of many different health issues, ranging from fat-gain to Type II diabetes to anxiety.

And with that, you know the risks of over-consuming gluten, and the benefits of opting for more nutritional foods.

The science is out there – why not give it a try and see if removing gluten from your diet for a few months improves your life in any way? What will you have to lose (besides a few pizza nights or conveniently packaged snack bars)?

Why Work With A Personal Trainer?

Personal training is a relatively new profession. A few decades ago, the only people that had trainers were athletes or models earning millions of dollars a year. But now, the fitness industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy.

What changed?

Simply put, the public realized that more activity than our daily lives provided was necessary to live a healthy life. In addition, structuring physical activity long-term requires guidance by professionals trained in the human sciences.

Doctors are now recommending patients hire a trainer to help them get fit and stay active. We have started realizing that the standard advice promoting pharmaceuticals and refined foods is not helping the public. Doctors are now recommending patients with severe conditions to seek out the guidance of trainers and nutritionists. It’s becoming understood that personal trainers and nutritionists have more time and energy to dedicate to staying on top of new research and changing science.

But, without a doctors order, why would an individual seek out a personal trainer?

Goal Setting:

In a world filled with photo shopped models and over-sexualized media, it’s hard to figure out exactly what is healthy. Your trainer can help you specify realistic and healthy goals.

Getting Started:

There are millions of articles and suggestions detailing what to do for physical activity, and there are even more movements and specific exercises to utilize. A trainer can take your specific goals, limitations, history, preferences, and time constraints to tailor a program for you.

Education:

Most personal trainers have spent years studying the human body, movement patterns, and kinesiology. Some have educated themselves even further in the field of biomechanics or bio-molecular chemistry.
Keep in mind that not all education is equal though. Look for a trainer that has a college degree in the human sciences or a certification accredited by the NCCA (ACSM, NSCA, NASM, ACE, etc).

Empowerment:

Continuing from the last point, a properly educated trainer will be able to impart their knowledge to you, allowing you to structure your own routines and stay consistent over the long-term.

Rehabilitation & Avoiding Injury:

One final point regarding the education trainers go through – they will be able to help you recover from, or work around, any injuries, restrictions, or limitations you may have.
If you do not have any injuries or other issues, your trainer will ensure that your exercises are safe and effective, thereby avoiding any risk of injury from improper technique or overtraining.

Motivation & Support:

Your trainer will work with you to find what motivates you most! They will help keep you on track, providing a push when needed, or recommending a rest when necessary.
As previously mentioned, many personal trainers are up-to-date on the newest science involving nutrition and other factors, meaning they will be able to support you in every way to help ensure a healthy lifestyle.

Avoiding Boredom:

For many people, going through the same motions and exercises day-to-day will lead to loss of interest, and eventually lack of adherence. A good personal trainer will be able to keep your routines fresh enough to keep you focused, but still consistent enough to track progress.

Making Progress:

Finally, a personal trainer will be able to help you make constant progress over the course of your entire life.

The body will acclimate to any single stimulus in about 4-16 weeks, causing the individual to plateau. Many people will keep pushing, leading to injury, or simply assume they have reached their “limit”. However, if you have well-educated trainer, they will find a simple and effective way to make it possible for you to see continual progress.

There are countless studies proving the benefit of professional guidance, but a very telling and recent study showed that over the course of 10 weeks, individuals working with a trainer increased their strength by 10%, while those without a trainer experienced no improvement. The “novice affect” shows that most strength will be gained in the first 8 weeks of training, but this study was done on already fit and active individuals…yet they still made significant progress.

There are many other reasons to hire a personal trainer but these are the ones that come to mind from my time as a personal trainer.

Almost everyone has a doctor and a dentist, some people have an accountant or a lawyer, and others even have a masseuse or personal assistant. A personal trainer is just one more member of this team that works to serve and benefit you. The only difference with a personal trainer is that they can help keep you healthy for every minute of every day, for your entire life.

So, give it a try today! Look through the trainers available your local gym, investigate their credentials, and pick one you think you’d work best with. After that, the results will speak for themselves!