Tag 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.

Recovery…. From Training, Life and Tackle Football

Maybe not one of the best ideas I’ve had in a long time but yesterday I went back to my alma mater to play in my alumni vs. actives flag football game.  It was all in good fun and regardless of what shape each of us was in I don’t think we were prepared for the hurt that was to follow.  Blood, sweat, a wet field, a black eye, and a potentially broken collarbone later we are all layed up today.

All in all I’m happy with my 2 TDs for the day and multiple tackles.  On the down side I am finding it difficult to move my legs and do things such as standing up.  Now I know how Jay Cutler feels having no offensive line.  Needless to say I will be on the couch all day where I belong watching the Pats take on the Browns.  Although I will not be playing in the Super Bowl anytime soon I will own this year’s Tecmo Bowl.

Since I plan on doing as little moving today as possible I thought I would share a few of my thoughts on recovery.  It is something that I did little of in my early days of lifting which is something that I totally regret.  I got results from completely hammering my body 5-6 days a week but looking back and knowing what I know now my results would have been far superior had I recovered properly.  I mean it is what we do outside the gym and on our off days that helps your body grow.

Whether you are an athlete, a runner or just a weekend warrior recovery is important to help prevent injury, strengthen your immune system, and get you the results you are looking for.  Sleep, diet and proper training all play a role in how your body recovers.

One of the first questions I ask all of my clients when we meet is how much sleep they get and how well they sleep.  It is one of the easiest places to improve not only your training but also your quality of life.

Here are a few easy ways to increase the quality of your sleep:

  1. Take a shower before bed to warm the muscles and help you relax.
  2. Do some static stretching or soft tissue work to help the body relax.
  3. Don’t watch T.V. in bed, rather do some easy reading or listen to soft music.
  4. Make sure your room is dark.  Cover the windows and turn off the electronics.
  5. Don’t drink caffeine or Jager bombs before bed.
  6. Try to get in a routine.  Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each night.
  7. Use clean sheets (my girlfriend appreciates this one).

Your nutrition also plays a huge role in your body’s recovery as well.   After all, you are what you eat.  Do you think that if you continue to suck down diet sodas and house desserts and fastfood that your body is going to look and perform how you want it to?

I’m sure you’ve all heard the term post-workout nutrition but what exactly are you refeuling with after your workout?  What do you have for breakfast when your body is starving for quality calories?  What is the last thing you put in your body before you go to sleep?  Everything you put in your body is going to aid in recovery.

Here is a sample day of eating:

  • Breakfast: 2 egg omlette with peppers, onions, and garlic.  A banana and a glass of orange juice.
  • Meal 2: Oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts and a glass of skim milk.
  • Pre-workout: smoothie -1 scoop of whey protein, 1/2 cup milk, frozen berries, banana, 1 cup spinach, chia seeds, and 1/4 cup oats.
  • Post-workout: 1 scoop of whey protein (or chocolate milk…I prefer organic) and a banana.  Gatorade also works well for recovery.
  • Meal 5: A sandwich…lean meat, pb&j or whatever floats your boat.  Throw some veggies in there too, baby carrots for an added crunch can be satisfying.
  • Dinner: Meat and veggies.
  • Pre-bedtime snack: Yogurt as it contains probiotics which aid in digestion and is also a good source of protein to aid in recovery.

You can substitute most of these food items for something of equal or greater value but try not to stray too far from the recipe.  The nutrients and frequency of meals all aid in proper recovery whether you are trying to get stronger, lose weight or perform better.  I eat the same foods whether I am bulking up or trying to burn fat, it makes food choices easier and I know I am getting proper nutrition to reach my goals.

For those of you who train and train hard every week it is extremely important to take a week to deload or decrease your training frequency at least every 4-6 weeks or so.  It may not be as important  for beginners as it is for intermediate or advanced lifters but you should still be finding time to decrease training intensity by either sets, reps or number of days.

I also prefer my clients as well as myself to take a day off in between training sessions to allow for full recovery.  Now I don’t mean doing nothing at all but rather not lifting heavy things repeatedly 5 days in a row.

A good recovery “off-day” could still be used for focusing more on soft tissue work, mobility drills, light body weight training and cardio such as a metabolic circuit or interval training.  Instead of playing contact football on your day off like I did, play something like basketball or another sport with your friends that will not have you layed up the next day.

Tomorrow I plan to do some extra foam rolling as recovery from using my body as a human battering ram in yesterday’s game.  As for the rest of today?  I plan on doing as little moving as possible.

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.

PR’s, Perfect Pushup, Shift + Click and My Thoughts on “Cheat Meals”

Today is going to be more of a random thoughts post which I haven’t done in a while and I have a few thoughts I wanted to share.  It is a little rainy and the fall weather has finally arived but all in all it is going to be a great week as I survived a weekend of the first round of this year’s cold/flu season. 

Luckily (enough) it came at the end of my last 2 month training cycle of the 5-3-1 program where my max lifts skyrocketed.  My deadlift saw the greatest improvement and went from a measly (relatively speaking) 335 to 405.  My bench (which I didn’t focus on for months) went from 245 to 285 and my squat (also didn’t do for months) went from 280 to 345.  And with all thier powers combined (reference?) I joined the 1000lb club.  To some in the lifting community this may be minute but for myself powerlifting is new and that is one badass PR (personal record) to hit in 2 months.  (parenthesis parenthisis)

  • This is a little off topic from the exercise stuff but I just found out that if you hold down the Shift key while clicking on a link then it will open up in a new window.  I don’t know how I figured it out but I think it may have come to me in a dream.  Try it out.  For me it will save mucho time of clicking through to various articles and clicking back to the previous page.  Awesomeness.

A few weeks ago I was sent a question from one of my clients regarding the Perfect Pushup and whether or not it is a sound investment.  My initial response was that they change the range of motion but are no better than doing good old fashioned hand-on-floor pushups.  I actually bought a set myself a few years back and may have used them only about a dozen or so times.  Well I finally found the research to back me up because there is no difference in muscle activation when it comes to using them or doing regular pushups.  Here is the abstract at PubMed.com. (use the shift + click, pretty sweet huh?) Therefore the only good to come out of the Perfect Pushup is it may have gotten people to do pushups more regularly since they had bought the equipment.  I myself, did not get my money’s worth.

Do not fall for glorified claims!!

The last topic I wanted to get into today is on the so-called “cheat meal”.  Football season is back in full swing and for many of you guys out there that means huddling in front of your 47″ plasma with a smorgasboard of wings, buffalo dip, beer, and chips.  And in your mind it is ok to go to town on pounds of this stuff “because it is Sunday” and you worked out all week. 

This is a mindset that is setting you up for failure right from the beginning as is the phrase “cheat meal”.  By using the word cheat your are making that little indulgence a dirty little secret like you don’t want anyone to find out (especially your trainer).  When I think of the word cheating what comes to mind are people with gambling problems, people who don’t pay attention in class taking tests, and unfaithful spouses (bastards).  Is this something you want to associate with the food you eat?  Of course not.

Now I eat clean, unprocessed foods most of the time but if the opportunity arrises and it corresponds with my current goals then yes, that slice of Reese’s cheesecake is going straight down my piehole.  It’s often a topic of conversation when I eat out with family or friends because I am a personal trainer.  Funny how because of my profession I am not allowed to eat a bacon cheeseburger (not fastfood, I do not believe that is real meat).

Honestly though, food is food is food and shutting yourself off from certain foods will place them on a pedestal in your mind and make you crave them more so when you do decide to “cheat” you will gorge.  The best way to approach food is nutrient timing and moderation which I will get into in another post.  And of course eating proper nutrition to fuel your body, especially if your goal is to lose weight, gain weight, get stronger, perform better, live longer, and be healthy.  Oh wait, that is everybody. 

Check out this article by Leigh Peele for her view on “cheat meals” as well here (shift + click, fun isn’t it?)  She gives a great insight into what happens in your mind and body when you deprive yourself of something you crave then “cheat”.

REMEMBER:  If you are fueling up with a variety of whole fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, and beans then those minor indulgences will be few and far in between. 

ASK YOURSELF: Will eating this triple meaty deluxe with extra cheese pizza move me closer or further from my goals? Be honest with yourself, it will pay off in the long run.

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.

%d bloggers like this: