Category Archives: Nutrition

Twinkie Diet

I know I am a week late on this one but I have been receiving emails since my last post where I included a link to the story of the Kansas State professor who went on the Twinkie diet and lost 27 pounds.  You can read the CNN article here but I just wanted to share a few of my opinions on the consumption of this male bodypart-like non-food product.

A breakdown of the actual diet that Mark Haub went on to drop 27lbs in 2 months consisted solely of sugary vending machine delicacies such as Ding Dongs, Snowballs, and Twinkies.  In order to maintain some basis of health, he also consumed a daily protein shake, multi-vitamin and miniscule serving of canned vegetables.  He cut back from his usual consumption of 2,600 calories per day to sub 1,600 calories per day.

What does not surprise me is that fact that he lost weight.  It has already been proven that VLCD or very low calorie diets causes weightloss in most people.  I say most because in almost every study there is always an exception to the rule.  Just look at the curious case of Benjamin Button.

What did surprise me was the fact that he improved such biomarkers of good health such as a decrease in LDL and an increase in HDL cholesterol (LDL think “lousy” and HDL think “happy”…that is how I remember it), as well as a decrease in blood lipids.  What this proves is that by decreasing your overall body fat, you will decrease your susceptibility to these health risks.

The problem with this study that it is not actually a study at all since the results come from one man.  What people shouldn’t go out believing is that this diet is healthy or will give them the same results as the professor.  The fact is that you only get a small window (2 months) into what this diet will actually do to your body.

What I am more interested in when it comes to health and fitness is longevity.  What do you think would happen to the professor if he stayed on this diet for 6 months?  What about for 6 years?  I think it’s safe to say that the consumption of all of those non-food products would eventually take their toll on your body and new problems other than being overweight will arise.  Think: “If you run through a dynamite factory with a lit match and manage to make it out the other side, that doesn’t mean your not an idiot”.

Here are the basics of calorie consumption and weight loss:

  1. Depending on your exercise habits, multiply your bodyweight by 10 to 13 to get your daily calorie intake.
  2. Follow rule 1 every day…not most days (when someone tells me this I assume they mean never).
  3. Don’t eat too little calories.  This will slow down your metabolism.
  4. Every 10 days have a “cheat” or refead day.  Don’t gorge on junk food, but do eat something you like and consume a few exta calories.
  5. Try to eat 4-6 “meals” or “feedings”.  Taper your meals as well eating a slightly larger breakfast and smaller dinner.

For example, say you currently weigh 14o pounds and exercise 3-4 times per week.  You would multiply 140 by 12 which would give you a consumption of 1680 calories.  If you try to eat 6 meals a day, divide your calories by 6 which would give you approximately 280 calories per meal.  To put this in perspective, that would be one package of snack cakes or one bottle of soda.

Sidenote: The average American consumes 680 calories per meal.  We also on average consume between 2,000 and 4,000 calories per day.

I am not going to get into what you eat because you should know the difference between healthy food and lets say a Twinkie.  All I can say is put actual “food” in your body.  If you do not know what that is then pick up Food Rules by Michael Polan to learn how to distinguish between a potato and a potato chip.

If anything, I tell my clients to begin with the caloric formula and then gradually improve the quality of the food that they eat.  It is extremely hard for the average 40-50 year old who is trying to make a change to completely eliminate the foods that they have been eating for decades.  It is more feasible to get them to alter their calorie consumption by giving them this simple formula.


Say Hello To My Little Friends

I don’t know if you have noticed but over the past year or so there has been a ton of new marketing focused on yogurt and smoothie products containing “live cultures” or more specifically probiotics.  I mean c’mon, you must have seen that commercial with all the Jamie Lee Curtis and skinny women running around singing Activia!, loving life and eating yogurt.

Jamie Lee Curtis

But what exactly are probiotics and are they all that they are supposed to be cracked up to be?  Are they necessary?  Can we get enough of them from whole food or should we take a supplement?  Will they really help our digestive system so we don’t need a full lenght novel like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo every time we go to the bathroom?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer to any of these questions nor have I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but I plan to do my research to share with all of you.  I could use a little fiction and microorganisms in my life.

I have always been a huge supporter of yogurt and the new front runner greek yogurt for not only the great protein and calcium content but also the live cultures.  You know, the L acidophilosaurus rex an the B bacterium instomachus yum.  (What did he just say?)

The one thing that I do know about intestinal flora is that it contributes to digestion and absorbtion of nutrients and protects our innards from evil tummy bugs like E. Coli and salmonella.  The indoor plumbing where these healthy bacteria reside is your large intestine which covers over 75% of your body’s immune system. 

Over all, there are over 400 known species of these microbes living in your digestive tract helping to protect your immune system.  It is a very important job and your first line of defense against viruses and other stomach bugs.  Think the Battle of Mordor from Lord of the Rings going on in your intestion: good vs. evil.

Good food sources include yogurt of course as well as fermented foods like saurkraut, kimchi and kombucha.  Another great source of probiotics which I have recently added to my diet is kefir, which is a probiotic yogurt-like drink.  I have been drinking the Lifeway brand plain kefir throughout the day to aid in digestion since I have been taking in extra calories lately…not always to the liking of my stomach.  Believe it or not, after a week the probiotics made a huge difference.

Things that can affect the healthy bacteria are changes in diet, stress, hormones, radiation, pollution, antibiotics, infection and Jillian Michaels.  All things that I’m sure effect you in one way or another.  And a decrease in the good guys means an increase in the bad guys which will cause poor digestion, poor nutrient absortion and a lower immune system.

I have not taken probiotic supplements but I know a few people who have and had great success.  Tablets, drinks, chewables and acidophilus pearls are available for your supplemental pleasure. 

Another great way to make sure that your little squirmy dudes are doing their job is to make sure you are eating whole foods and avoiding processed foods that may irritate the lining of your intestine.  Just another good reason to stock up on fruits, veggies, beans, and whole grains.

Post your questions and comments below, I would love to hear your take on probiotics.

Q & A: The Cleanse

Q: I have been wondering about cleanses lately- they seem to be very popular but are there actually any health benefits?  Aren’t you just better off not eating crap like processed foods?



A: Just to clear the air before I get into my feelings on cleanses, I want to state once again that I am not a nutritionist nor have I ever done a cleanse.  To that extent, the rest of this post is going to be purely opinion juiced up with some research that I am doing as I type this post.

First off, there are many types of cleanses, many of which include “fasting” of some sort and make all sorts of extravagant claims.  I’ve seen shakes, fruit only cleanses, lemon juice cleanses, herbal cleanses, and other magical potions that are supposedly aimed at banishing the evil colon trolls that inhabit your intestines.

The first thing I ask my clients or others who ask me if they should do a cleanse is whether or not they actually know what a cleanse is.  What is a cleanse supposed to do?  What are you cleansing?

I usually just get some silly response like it is going to help detoxify me followed by a blank start.  Cue crickets.  Or one of my other favorites is it removes all the gunk that builds up in my intestines over the years.  For one, how do you know there is anything built up in your intestines?  Simply eating plants should help take care of that but who am I to judge?

Another one of my favorites are the cleanses that promote fasting as part of their regimen.  Right off the bat you’ll notice that some of these cleanses include calories.  Ding, ding, ding.  McFly.  Fasting is supposed to imply that you are not eating and therefor not taking in calories.

“So I went on this fasting cleanse where I only drank one glass of maple syrup each day for one week and I could feel the stickiness pulling out all the bad things from my insides.”

WTF people?!  Are we really in an age where we believe everything we read without googling the subject or finding the answer in a research journal?  I mean this is something that is going to seriously impact your health so get off Facebook for 5 minutes and do a little bit of research.

The all-fruit cleanse is another one that I am skeptical about as it has you only eating fruits and fruit juices for 7 days.  In a culture that already has a sweet tooth lets feed you nothing but sugar.  What I believe that is promoting is your body to crave sugar.

One of the biggest problems that I see with most of the cleanses is that they are almost completely devoid of any type of protein which is an important part of our daily dietary needs.  If you persist with depriving yourself of protein your body will not be able to create enough amino acids to maintain your muscle tissue.  This means you may be looking quite starved and wasted by the time you have finished your cleanse.  Unless emaciated is the look you are going for I suggest sticking to good old fashioned whole food.

So instead of looking for a quick fix for all the processed foods you put in your body how about you just stop putting processed foods in your body?  I for one would rather stick to food than not eat and drink a shake that tastes like baby vomit and fermented peas.

Strength Training For the Fall

It’s that time of year again in Boston so start breaking out the hoodies and adding the layers because it is about to start getting chilly.  The fall is my favorite season not only because football is in back in high gear, hockey is starting and great fall T.V. shows like Fringe are starting up again but because I worry less about what my abs look like.

To me this means I can stop training like a flea on crack and start focusing more on strength training and packing on some muscle.  This year especially since I have come to realize that I have been 170 lbs and lifted the same weight for the past 4 years.  Talk about a plateau.

So this year I am changing up my program, quite a bit I might add, and doing some powerlifting and decreasing my volume.  A lot.  The other half of the equation is lifting heavy.  Very heavy.

Lift Big, Get Stronger

I don’t care who you are, male, female, hobbit, if you are training for strength you should be lifting above 90% of your max.  This means keeping your reps below 8, for me 3-5 is sufficient for most lifts (I keep deadlifts 3 or lower).

Rachel Cosgrove showing whats up

The key is to focus on progressive overload and getting stronger either each workout, each week, or each month.  If you are not increasing your lifts (and yes, the 2.5 lb weights are o.k. to use) then you should rethink your training.  It could be your program OR your diet which I will get into in a bit.

If you have seen me around the gym over the past few months I have been on a mission to increase my deadlift so many of my workouts have revolved around just that.  Using my own variation of a 5-3-1 program I managed to increase my deadlift from a meek 335 lbs to 405 in just two months.  My bench went from 235 to 295 and my squat…well we won’t talk about that but it is floundering around 315.

Last week was my deloading week where I focused a bit more on mobility and the technical points but today starts a new day.  I am excited to say that I will be going through Eric Cressey’s Show & Go program which was designed not only for strength but to get you to move, feel, and look better as well.  I will keep you updated on my progress.

For the most part, each training day focuses on one of the big lifts such as squats, deadlifts, bench, rows, pullups, and overhead pressing.  This should be the majority of your workout and include at least 3-5 sets of low rep work.  The rest of your workout can include single leg work (lunges, single-leg rdl’s), good mornings, close grip bench, push presses, face pulls, suspension rows, farmer walks and tons of core (planks, side planks, anti-rotation holds, and rollouts).

Eat Big, Get Big

The other half of the equation is to add more calories which some people, like myself, is easier said than done.  I don’t mean eating crap calories either, you should still be consuming mainly nutritious foods just in massive quantities.  I don’t care who you are, if you are eating like a 12 year old girl then you are not going to get big.  Period.

My diet doesn’t change much  between bulking and cutting down but there are a few changes I make to the food I consume.  I obviously increase my caloric intake and the easiest way to do that is to eat whole foods that contain more calories.

The first change I make comes at breakfast and is going from eating an egg or two with the addition of some whites to eating a butt load of whole eggs.  The fat content of the yoke not only provides more calories but extra vitamins as well.  I could get into the egg debate on whether or not yokes are good for you but I believe they are and I will continue to eat them until research proves me wrong.

The next addition comes from milk.  Any other time of the year I almost cut milk out of my diet completely and opt for the more nutritious and delicious almond milk but that just won’t cut it when I am trying to get in the calories.  But if you are working on building some muscle, then milk does provide extra calories as well as protein, some electrolytes, and extra vitamins.  I recommend at least 2% milk and for the hardgainers whole milk works pretty well.  My personal favorite is a nice glass of chocolate milk as a post-workout recovery drink.

In addition to continuing to eat boat loads of fresh produce, a few other ingredients that I add to my diet during this time are tons of peanut butter, cheese, red meat, and truck loads of tubers.  Sweet potatos still work well here, but white potatos add tons of extra nutrition and good carbs to aid in the battle.  Remember: even though you are trying to increase your calories, you are what you eat.  Eating a little less clean is ok but junk food and overly processed foods are still off limits for this guy.

Getting big is a battle and my weapon is a fork” – Dr. John Berardi

Add your questions and comments below because I would love to get a discussion going on this one.

Snake Oil

“Does the Acai Berry supplement really help people lose weight and become healthier?”

This question came in from a new client who is just beginning her quest for fitness and I thought it would make a great post as it is something that I have not touched upon yet.  Keep in mind that this is my own personal opinion as I am not a licenced dietician nor have I done any of my own research on supplements.  I took them in college and I don’t now.  There is a lot of controversy that surrounds which supplements work, which don’t, and which ones will make you grow hair on your back.

Too much NO products and fat burners yield this effect...

One of the definitions of supplement is “something added, especially to make up for a deficiency”.  Using this sense of the term, supplements should be used to make up for the things you are not getting in your diet.  As far as the acai berry goes, I’m pretty sure that you will survive just fine without it.  The same goes for the thousands of new diet pills and powders that hit the shelves each year.

Alwyn Cosgrove defines supplements as progress enhancers NOT progress starters.  If you can’t tighten up your nutrion and exercise plan the supplements will be as useful as pissing on a forest fire.  Which, given the right supplements will be the color of a highlighter.  Do you really think a berry is going to rid your body of fat?

But all supplements are not created equal and I do believe that there are many that you should be adding to your nutrition in order to improve your health.  These would be the ones that you add due to a deficiency and I consider them non-supplement supplements.  They would be protein (whey, casein, hemp, egg, milk, soy, animal, plant, whatever floats your boat), fats, carbs, vitamins, and minerals.  For the most part, they can be used by everyone based on thier nutritional needs and yes, they should improve your health.

Trainer approved supplement list:

  1. Protein Powder
  2. Essential Fatty Acids (fish oil, flax oil, etc.)
  3. Carbs (Gatorade for post-workout recovery)
  4. BCAA’s
  5. Greens or Veggies Supplement
  6. Multi-vitamin (stick to centrum, it’s cheaper and just as effective as GNC stuff)
  7. Creatine*

These are all nutrients that can be attained by food (even the creatine) and aid in everything from energy to recovery.

Some work but are illegal...bad Yankess, bad!

The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, most of which are crap.  Have you ever heard the term “snake oil’?  Some of the salespeople in these advertisements and infomercials would sell you your own underwear back and a higher price.  They use clever marketing, false studies, exagerated claims, airbrushed models (normal people don’t look like that), and care more about the money in their pockets than helping you get healthy.  Just google your supplement scams and you should find your answers.

Like I said, I have been there and done that and tried much of the crap that is on the shelves at GNC.  My heart didn’t explode, my liver didn’t shrink, they didn’t make me look any better and in the end I’m not sure if any of the gains I made back then can be attributed to the supplements.  The one supplement that I will stand by is creatine as it has been the most tested and researched supplement in history and has been proven to show results in 70% of the studies.  If you know anything about scientific research, this is huge.  Here is a huge burger.

Get the picture? Good.

Here is a link to my post on creatine and it’s benefits (for all athletes, men and women).

My general rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce the ingredients, attain them from food, or even know what it is supposed to do then don’t take it.  In conclusion, do your research or ask a professional to do it for you to educate yourself on what you are putting into your body.

A Day in the Life: Sunday Ritual

“Good habits, once established are just as hard to break as are bad habits” – Robert Puller

Every morning I wake up, eat breakfast, brush and floss, wash my face and put on one shoe at a time before hopping on the Redline for my morning commute.  I love my job and work longer hours than most and not as much as others.  My job is quite physical in nature but I do find the time to enjoy my own workouts several times a week.  Maybe 4 days a week for about an hour, usually less.  I take the train home, watch the news, check any updates on the Red Sox, brush my teeth and go to sleep.  I’m assuming that my day is no different then yours.  So what do I do different from you to maintain my fitness levels?

One word: habits.  I never miss breakfast or any meal for that matter and I only eat food that keeps me strong and healthy.  Basically, I do what my grandmother told me to do every day like eating a healthy breakfast, drinking water, eating my vegetables (all of them), and getting a good nights sleep.   I’ll be the first to admit though that I’m not perfect.  I don’t take supplements, I don’t do crunches, I don’t go running every day, I don’t “diet” and I don’t workout 7 days a week.  I do love good beer (especially Guiness) , I stay out late some nights and on special occasions I will enjoy a nice cigar with a glass of scotch.

But I know that I have created enough good habits that I don’t have to worry about doing a little damage to my liver every once in a while.  Last night was one of those nights where I enjoyed a nice 6 pack, a fine cigar, and barbequed with the guys.  And although I was a little hungover this morning (I get hungover from 3 beers…I miss college) I did not feel guilty like I have fallen off track.  Changing your habits is hard but work hard and you will reap the benefits.Even when you do on occasion enjoy some of life’s simple pleasures make sure you are not straying too far from your goals.  I love to compliment food with good beverage whether it is beer or wine.  Last night I grilled some delicious pineapple chicken teryaki kabobs and paired that with Hoegaarden to bring out the sweetness of the pineapple.  If you like Belgian style white ales then Hoegaarden is king.  To make the kabobs you will need:

  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 Spanish white onion
  • 1 lb chicken cutlets
  • 1 package pineapple chunks
  • teryaki marinade

One of the best habits I have developed over the years which I have mentioned in various posts is eating a big healthy breakfast every morning.  Not most mornings or almost every morning.  EVERY morning.  Every Sunday morning I do my food shopping and prepare everything I will need for the week so I have it ready to go without thinking.  I buy tons of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as dairy weekly.  I don’t buy any snacks or processed food…period.  I prepare almost everything I eat and use whole food so I know exactly what I am putting into my body.  I am going to get more into what foods you should be eating in my next post revolving around Michael Pollan’s book “Food Rules”.

I chop peppers, onions, garlic, mushrooms and whatever else I can throw in with my eggs every morning.  I start off my day with all sorts of fresh veggies so if I can’t eat them for the rest of the day I at least got them in for breakfast.  No excuses.

What do you have for breakfast?

Sundays are also the one day a week when I get out and go on a run.  Not to lose weight or improve my cardio (which I have discovered is as useful as a poop flavored lollipop) but just because I enjoy going running every now and then.  Today was a special day though as it might just be the last day I run in conventional sneakers as I finally ordered my minimalist running shoes.  The Terra Plana company has come out with a barefoot running shoe called the Evo that gets high reviews for both style and grace.  The best part is they don’t make you look like a mutant like the Vibram Five Finger running shoes.

They should arrive within the next week and I will post my thoughts as well as the  benefits  and claims of “barefoot” running.  Also, more on my affinity for beer so stay tuned.


Part of a Complete Breakfast

Today I am going to share one of my favorite breakfast recipes as I am still having people tell me how hard it is for them to eat in the morning because they are rushed out the door.  My simple solution to that would be get up 30 minutes earlier.  I wake up each morning and am in the kitchen cooking up a storm by 5:15 and listening to Strenghtcoach Podcasts or other audio clips and taking notes.  Seriously, every day.  Give me one good excuse why you can’t get up a bit early to shove some good, nutritious grub down your gullet.

There is an occasional morning when I am either pressed for time or just not down to cook the usual egg white omlette with fresh chopped peppers, red onions, diced garlic, fresh thyme, and mushrooms (chopped fresh every Sunday morning) with an oatmeal sidekick with blueberries, walnuts, and cinnamon.  Don’t forget the half a grapefruit that I meticulously cut triangles out of each morning.  Yes, I eat this most days of the week but when I am rushed I usually have pre-made quinoa breakfast salad waiting for me in the fridge.

Cooking quinoa is easier than trying to figure out how to pronounce it (KEEN-wah).  This small, quick-cooking grain bullied me into first purchasing it years ago with a nutritional profile I couldn’t ignore.  High in easy-to-digest fiber and tops in protein, it has an encyclopedic vitamin and mineral profile and is positively brimming with properties thought to promote cardiovascular health, stave of certain cancers, tame headaches and migraines, provide antioxidant protection, and on and on.  This is the grain credited with keeping Incan armies strong and resilient.  Because the protein in quinoa is considered complete, it’s an ideal grain for vegetarians concerned about getting enough protein.  It includes all of the essential amino acids and is a rich source of the amino acid lysine, which promotes tissue growth and repair and supports the immune system.

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • handful berries
  • tbsp. honey
  • handful walnuts
  • dash or two cinnamon

When preparing the quinoa, I always use 1 part quinoa to two parts water.  It prepares just like oatmeal and cooks in about 10 minutes so start by gently boiling the water then adding the quinoa.  Once the water starts to evaporate, stir by fluffing the stuff with a fork until it is all soft and fluffy.  You will know when it is finished because each seed will become clear and you will be able to see the germ.  Next transfer to a tupper-ware or other container to be refridgerated.  For extra antioxidants I then add a handful of blueberries or any kind of fresh berries (tis the season) or frozen berries work really well also.  Crush some walnuts with your bare hand and add some of them also which are full of Omega-3 fatty acids and healthy fats.  I add clover honey for sweetness  but although delicious, this is optional.  Dash on some cinnamon for flavor as well as increasing glucose tolerance and better fat burning which I explained in my post “Spice it Up With Cinnamon“.

With this breakfast ready to go in your fridge you have no excuses to get super energized each morning with slow burning carbs.  Protection for every day stressors and wear and tear from super antioxidants.  Countless benefits from Omega-3 s for your brain, hair, skin, fat burning, joints, etc, etc.  And improve every aspect of your body’s ability to burn fat.  Still want to skip breakfast?

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