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: 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!

How to lift without “Getting Bulky”

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My personal goals involve increasing muscle mass, reducing body fat, and performing heavy barbell lifts.

However, the majority of my clients do not share these goals. Most of my clients want to lose weight, regain function, improve posture, and reverse disease.

In fact, one of the most frequent concerns I hear from those trying to get in shape is that they “don’t want to get big muscles”.

For that reason, I’m going to discuss what causes muscle growth, and how you can avoid getting bulky muscles while still leaning out and improving performance.

The technical term for developing muscle size is “muscular hypertrophy”. Hypertrophy is merely the process of tissues increasing in volume. And the form of muscular hypertrophy that results in the largest muscular gains is “sarcoplasmic hypertrophy”.

Strictly speaking, 8 to 12 repetitions with a moderate weight is the protocol for hypertrophy training. However, intensity and volume are the real deciding factors.

Intensity is accomplished by working until the muscles can no longer perform the exercise properly, known as “failure”, and moving quickly between sets.

Volume is an equation of sets, reps, and weight. This means that 2 sets of 20 repetitions

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Female Olympian in the 165 lb. weight class. Does SHE look bulky?

with 5 pounds will result in more growth stimulus than 3 sets of 1 repetition with 50 pounds.

I personally perform an exercise for 4 sets of 15 repetitions if I am trying to increase muscle size. Almost any load can cause significant growth when performed for 15 slow and focused repetitions.

I bring up the topic of intensity to address those that avoid lifting heavy weights because they don’t want to bulk up. The classic bodybuilder approach of 8 to 12 repetitions means that “heavy weights” (relative to the individuals strength) cannot be used.

BulkyThe weights that bodybuilders handle may look heavy but this is merely because they are very strong and have been lifting, with regular improvement, for a long time. It may look like a bench press with two 75-pound dumbbells looks heavy, but if the individual is doing it for 8 or more reps, they could handle over 100-pound dumbbells for fewer reps.

Contrarily, lifting a massively heavy weight for fewer than 5 repetitions will actually train the mind more than the muscles. Yes, the body is getting a great workout, but lifting a maximum load for 1, 2, or 3 repetitions results in more neurological adaptations than muscular growth.

So, if any rep range can stimulate muscle growth, and 8 to 12 reps with a moderately-heavy weight is the most promising to grow muscles, what can you do to avoid “bulking up”?

  • Always feel like you could do 2 to 5 more repetitions with perfect form. The moment you go to failure, and technique breaks down, you are causing muscular damage that will result in the muscle growing larger during recovery.
  • Also, take the time you need to rest between sets. Many bodybuilder programs recommend timed recoveries under 60 seconds, sometimes as low as 15 seconds. Starting your next set before the muscles are ready is a surefire way to stimulate muscle growth.
  • Finally, don’t consume excess calories! One of the main goals of exercising is to increase lean body mass, but, if you don’t want your muscles to grow considerably larger, eat at, or even below, maintenance so your body replaces fat with lean mass.

One last point worth making is regarding “toning”. The same people that say they don’t want to “grow muscles” say that they “only want to tone”. Believe it or not, tone means muscle! There is no way to make fat or skin look “toned”. The definition or tone visible on a fit persons arms, legs, or torso, is actually their muscle.

This doesn’t mean that you have to train like a bodybuilder and put on 50 pounds of muscle to looked toned… but replacing body fat with lean body mass (also known as muscle) is necessary to achieve a fit physique.

The world of fitness, nutrition, and health is filled with mixed messages, preconceived notions, and bogus ideas. But please don’t give any mind to the false claims that lifting weights and increasing strength will make you bulky!

If you work within your limits, have a program structured to your goals, and don’t eat to excess, you will achieve a healthy and proportionate figure.

And as always, if you would like professional guidance, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at paulromasco@hotmail.com !

 

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The Most Simple Lunch Recipe

I’d love to share my recipe for lunch on the weekdays.

My typical weekday consists of one-on-one work with clients from 7 to 11AM. At this point, I do my own workout for an hour or so and then eat. After a quick lunch, I have more clients until about 1PM, at which time I do administrative work at my gym. This lasts until 5:30PM, after which I finish the workday with a couple more clients.

I keep myself scheduled back-to-back for most of the day, meaning I don’t have time to spend 30 – 60 minutes preparing lunch. At the same time, I refuse to resort to snack bars, sugar drinks, or other meal-replacements.

Instead, my approach is to bake a few chicken breasts on the weekend and package them in microwave-safe containers. At the same time, I put a few avocados on the counter so they can ripen throughout the week.

By the time lunch rolls around, all I have to do is mash up the avocado with a little salsa or hot sauce, microwave the chicken for a couple minutes, and I have a perfectly balanced and satisfying lunch!

Below are instructions for the initial food preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. While waiting, trim the chicken breast of fat if it is not locally and naturally raised. If it is from a local, humane source, the fat will be healthy and therefore, won’t need to be trimmed.
  2. Place chicken in oven when at temperature. No need to use any seasonings as these will go in the guacamole the day of the meal.
  3. Check chicken after 30 minutes. It will be done when the internal temperature reaches about 170°F.
  4. Remove and let cool. Separate into meal-sized portions and store in fridge.
  5. Pack chicken, seasonings, and avocado in the morning before leaving home. I usually use local salsa or hot sauce, but garlic, salt, honey, lemon, or herbs and spices may be used as well.
  6. When hungry, microwave chicken for 2 minutes. Mash avocado, with seasonings, while waiting.
  7. Voila – you have homemade guacamole and a healthy protein source in only a couple minutes!

I usually recommend that active individuals weighing over 150 pounds shoot for about 8 ounces of chicken and a full avocado. Smaller individuals may dial back to half an avocado and 4 to 6 ounces of chicken.

Even if you use the larger portion size (8 ounces of chicken and a full avocado) the entire meal will only come to about 600 calories while providing 50 grams of protein, 30 grams of healthy fats, and 14 grams of fiber.

The nutritional profile of this meal will fulfill the following daily requirements:

10% Vitamin A

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA90% Vitamin B6

16% Vitamin B12

33% Vitamin C

21% Vitamin E

53% Vitamin K

80% Selenium

20% Iron & Copper

30% Magnesium & Zinc

45% Potassium

Clearly this meal provides a significant amount of vitamins and minerals, but it is also very affordable. Avocados are usually $1 each (or less if you live where they grow), and chicken breast costs between $2 and $4 a pound. The maximum this meal will cost is $3!

The nutritional density of this meal, the affordable price of the ingredients, and the quick and easy preparation proves that there’s no longer an excuse to resort to meal replacement bars – frequently loaded with sugar, processed soy, and refined grains.

So, this weekend, pick up some avocados, put some chicken in the oven, and you’ll have the perfect lunch for the following week!

One Size Fits All

In exercise and fitness training, a “one-size fits all” approach does not work.

This is one of my favorite aspects of being a personal trainer and health coach.

Every single day, I encounter something new. Whether it’s a client’s specific goal, preference, injury, or condition, everyone has different wants and needs. This requires alterations, to say nothing of completely different programming.

My oldest client is 91. My youngest is 13. I have middle-aged clients trying to lose weight. I have young men playing soccer at division 1 colleges. I have new mothers that want to return to their favorite sports. I have seniors reversing rheumatoid arthritis and regaining balance and energy. Some of my clients want to get off a long list of medications. Others just want a fun and challenging workout a few days a week.

These differences between individuals contribute to my hesitation to recommend routines based entirely around weight machines.

Machines allow you to adjust the height of the seat, and sometimes make an adjustment for leg length, but beyond that, you’re pushing or pulling in a pre-determined range of motion. Different people will need to move differently based on their build and body mechanics. And, just as importantly, these types of actions won’t transfer as effectively to real life.

When you pick something up, push a heavy object, or take a very high step up, there is nothing guiding your body through space. Your muscles and joints will be working on their own, free of outside influence.

Machines are useful to isolate a muscle group, and help an individual develop a mind-body connection with that muscle, but they should not be where you spend the majority of your time.

I start most my clients with a series of assessments, performing different movements that are common in everyday life. Their ability to execute these actions, along with the goals they have stated, will specify exactly what we must do together.

These assessments usually consist of a gait analysis, squatting down into a chair and back up, bringing the arms overhead, and holding a plank or pushup position. But, as previously mentioned, I may omit some of these, use alternatives, or do something completely different based on the client.

The same mistake of using a “one-size fits all” approach is apparent in our nations nutritional recommendations. The USDA recommends that everyone consume 45-65% of their calories from carbs, 10 to 30% from protein, and 25 to 35% from fat.

This is akin to recommending that 15% of all calories come from dairy…or that 5% of calories come from peanuts. What if an individual is lactose intolerant or allergic to peanuts?

As evidenced by our current diabetes and obesity rates, most Americans cannot tolerate upwards of 50% of their calories coming from carbs. Through years of trial and error, I’ve learned that if I average more than 40% carbs, more than 4 days a week, I start to gain fat, even in a calorie deficit.

Remember, carbs are fuel for high intensity activity, while dietary fat is truly essential for optimal health. After a lifetime of consuming more carbs than the body can safely store and burn, it loses its “insulin sensitivity”. This means that the sugars last too long in the blood (causing inflammation and cardiovascular disease) and are eventually forced into fat storage.

I work with my clients to find the most sustainable and healthy nutritional path for them. I base my nutritional recommendations not only on their dietary restrictions, activity level, and current conditions, but also their preferences and lifestyle.

I personally cook a few big meals on weekends so I have leftovers available on weekdays. However, I may have to suggest a different approach for clients that don’t have the time to, or interest in, trying this. Some of my clients are vegans or vegetarians that require more vitamin supplementation and creative protein options. If a client has sugar or chocolate cravings, we’ll work to find the healthiest options and optimal timing for indulgences.

Some foods are healthier than others, but I’ve never insisted that a client consume a certain food or avoid another. I merely work within their parameters, to find out what will guarantee them success in the long term.

These examples show the importance of individual personalization. Personal trainers, and health professionals of all kinds, must be able to tailor the theories learned through education, to best serve each client.

No two people are the same, so why should their exercise and diet be the same?

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