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How to be stronger than you’ve ever been in your life!

6 Jul

Do you need another reason to start weight training?
I didn’t think so!

Remember the last time you saw a bus of school children stall on a railway crossing with an express train coming and you weren’t able to shove it out of the way? …No?

Well, remember that time when the barn caught fire and you couldn’t carry the heavily pregnant horse to safety on your shoulders? Oh…well…ok!

What about that time you couldn’t move the pile of boulders blocking the entrance to the hospital for sick kittens? Seriously? No?

Ok…so…remember that time you had trouble opening the lid on that jar of mayonnaise?…Bingo!!!

It doesn’t matter if you work as a fireman, professional super hero or career pillow tester, everyday of our lives we rely on our bodies, our muscles and their inherent strength, to do everything from climbing stairs to wrestling livestock (What? You didn’t do that as a kid?).

It’s true that many of us live lives where the heaviest thing we have to move around all day is our own fat ass but there come times in life when we need to be strong, be it moving the washing machine to the other side of the room or carrying a fair maiden up the stairs to her candlelit chamber (I’m still waiting for something like that to happen).

So I think that we all owe it to ourselves to be as strong and fit as we can to help us deal with whatever life may throw at us because life, just like a spoiled 4 year old, likes to throw things. We may not have the opportunity to rip the door off of a burning car but at least we can make moving the TV from one room to another look like a piece of cake.

Getting stronger than ever
I’ve been lifting weights on and off (this phrase fails to express the true irregularity of my routine over the years) since I was a chubby 15 year old when I finally decided to take some initiative and lose weight. I’ve tried different routines with different levels of success from high reps to super slow sets and many things in between. Most of the time I was focused on simple weight management and looking fit so it’s no surprise that I never made any real strength gains although I was most certainly stronger than your average Joe.

However, after finding the information I’m going to show you today and deciding that I wanted a new challenge, I set myself the goal of getting stronger than I have ever been in my life which I reached after only 4 weeks and I have continued to get stronger on a weekly basis. In the 3 months I had been doing this program I increased my 5 rep max (the heaviest weight you can lift for 5 continuous exercise repetitions) by 12-18% in all of my lifts. This may not sound like much but at my, intermediate, level this is a huge improvement!

The Pros & Cons of Weight Training?
Pros

  • You can build functional strength that you can apply to your everyday life be it climbing the stairs or carrying your groceries.
  • Building muscle is probably the most effective way to reduce excess body fat without dieting. More muscle means a faster metabolism.
  • It’ll bring about serious changes in your physique in a very time efficient manner. This routine takes only about 1 hour, 3 times a week.
  • Intense weight training releases growth hormone, which not only keeps you lean and healthy but also is documented to have profound anti-aging effects.
  • Whether you’re a man or a woman, MUSCLE IS SEXY! (and everyone could do with more sexy)

    You only get an ass like this after doing a hell of a lot of squats.
    (BTW if you have an ass like this, call me!)

Cons

  • You may become just TOO SEXY and have to carry a stick around with you to keep the opposite sex at bay.

Seriously, you have nothing to lose and a whole hell of a lot to gain. Start pumping iron!

Ladies are not exempt
Seriously girls, why rely on guys to do all the heavy lifting around the house? Girls can be strong and feminine at the same time and in my opinion, there is nothing sexier!

If you’re worried about lifting weights and looking like She-Hulk, fear not! I’m working on an article aimed at explaining the benefits of and clearing up some of the myths about strength training for ladies. For the time being all you need to know is that you’re not going to look like you eat “Steroid-Pops” for breakfast if you lift weights. You’re going to look toned and sexier than any “skinny” model-types you see in Vogue.

Enter Bill Starr
The program I used is called the Bill Starr 5X5 routine. Bill Starr is a former Olympic lifter and power-lifting competitor who also has written extensively about strength and conditioning. His most famous book “The Strongest Shall Survive” became something of a bible in the world of American Football strength training (and those guys know what they’re talking about when it comes to being strong).

You need to read the detailed explanation of the routine here (best) and here (use as a supplement) and before you even consider doing the routine you should understand it on paper thoroughly, so read it fully and then read it again. If you find any of it difficult to understand show it to an instructor at a gym and get them to break it down for you (If they tell you to do a different routine, that Bill Starr 5X5 isn’t for you, then tell them that you’re grateful for their suggestion but no thanks, you want to do this routine!).

I followed the routine almost to the letter. The only differences are that I do the Standing Military Press instead of the Seated Incline Press and I do Underhand-grip Bent Over Rows instead of Overhand-grip Bent Over Rows.

You can also download a very handy spreadsheet here, that not only helps you plan your routine but also helps you figure out what your 5 rep max is.

Intermediate Lifters
It’s very important to remember that this is a routine for intermediate lifters i.e. someone with at least a year of regular weight training under their belt. You need to know how to do these lifts well because if you don’t you could seriously hurt yourself, destroying any progress you’ve made.

If you’re a beginner, start a good beginner’s routine (I’ve heard very good things about Mark Rippetoes book) in a gym where the instructors know what they’re talking about. If the trainer looks skinny or overweight try and find one who actually looks like he works out.

You can also watch videos of all the lifts in the routine at the following links:

Squat
Bench Press
Bent Over Row
Military Press
Deadlift

Correct form is essential for movements such as the deadlift.
But you were already checking this photo out for correct form, right!

Watch the videos and get someone who knows what they’re doing to coach you so can perform them with perfect form. Learn how to do these lifts well and you will greatly reduce your risk of injury.

If you work hard, rest hard
This routine will put a serious stress on your body so in order to get the absolute most out of it make sure you help yourself along with adequate rest and nutrition.

What is adequate rest? I would say at least 8 hours of quality sleep at night. When I train on a day after a night of poor sleep I can clearly see it’s effects on my performance. It can make reaching my goals for that day very difficult or even impossible (especially so with my deadlift)

Eat well. Make sure you’re getting sufficient calories and protein (here’s a great link that breaks down what you should be consuming on training and non-training days). I’ve also written an article with some great tips on what constitutes healthy eating.

Remember if you don’t give your body what it needs to recover after these workouts, don’t expect to make as much progress as you possible could. Be good to yourself!

Get out there and break your own records!
There is no better person to be compared with than with yourself. Follow this routine as it’s described, monitor your progress by recording the weights and repetitions you use and experience how good it feels to break all of your old strength records in such a short time.

For example, I have to admit that when I reached my deadlift goal last week I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face all day. Everyone should feel what it’s like to better themselves, it’s euphoric.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and show the old you how far you can go. I guarantee you’ll impress the hell out of yourself (and let’s face it, you’re the only person that matters).

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Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular 🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it 😉

The Lean Mean Salsa Machine (A concise guide to Eating, Moving and Sleeping)

23 May

No matter what you attempt in life, if your body isn’t in tip-top condition, reaching your goals will be nowhere near as easy as when your at your optimum.

For this reason I try to keep myself as healthy as circumstances allow and I’ve developed a pretty good awareness of what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ve been interested in nutrition and exercise science since I was a chubby, unfit 15 year old who spent his time eating junk, playing video games and watching excessive amounts of TV. Since then I’ve devoured a small library of texts about health and I’ve changed my lifestyle considerably and now, thankfully, feel and look a whole lot better.

Abs: for many, the whole world of fitness and nutrition seems to boil down to a hard, lumpy stomach!

Abs: for many, the whole world of fitness and nutrition seems to boil down to a hard, lumpy stomach! Just in case you’re wondering, these aren’t my abs (I never wear black)!

When I’m running at optimum, it makes everything else I do a breeze and I believe that everyone else should do their utmost to look after their bodies so they can always bring their A-game to the dance floor (and everywhere else in life).

I could (and probably will at some stage) write individual posts for many of the points I’m going to mention here, but for the time-being I’m just going to give a concise guide to some easily modifiable aspects of your lifestyle. There are many people who will disagree with some of these points but that doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m only going to talk about things that I know work or have worked for me and may work for you too.

A note on individuality and self-assessment
Everybody is different (thankfully) and that means what works for one may very well not work for another. Thus, I can’t stress the importance of actively experimenting and trying to find what works best for you.
Please try out the following recommendations (and whatever variations of them which you can come up with) and take note of how your body reacts over time. Keep what works for you and discard whatever doesn’t.
Unfortunately, a lot of us these days have been in a state of suboptimal health for so long that we no longer know what it feels like to be truly healthy. So get some outside help and monitor your progress by measuring whatever values you can (weight, body fat, blood pressure, cholesterol etc.) before and after you make these changes. Give them time (at least 4 weeks) to take effect and hopefully at that stage these healthy habits will have stuck.

The following points are in no particular order. While I consider them all important I will make note of those which I feel have a particularly profound affect on your health. Obviously, the cumulative affect of a number of these together is greater than doing any one on it’s own.

Get enough sleep

This one is incredibly important. Lack of sleep disrupts hormones enormously especially those involved in growth and repair and appetite control. Getting sufficient sleep is essential for your body to reset and repair itself every day so can be ready for what the day throws at you.

I know from experience that when I don’t get enough sleep (for me 7-8 hours) the next day I’ll be rife with food cravings and much more likely to eat something that I shouldn’t, when I shouldn’t. Lack of sleep is one of the major reasons (I believe) that people develop food cravings that sabotage their attempts to eat healthily.

What constitutes enough sleep? This varies for everyone, some need less, some more, but I feel that 7-8 hours is a good starting point. If you have trouble sleeping try to address it as soon as possible (it may be as simple as using earplugs and an eye-mask, which I’ve been doing for years).

Don’t smoke

If you’re still doing this, you’re an idiot. Quit!

Don’t drink

While there may be some minor benefits to a little alcohol, these are far outweighed by the detrimental effects of its consumption in excess (experience tells me that the majority of people who drink, do so in excess).

I’m very lucky in that I never started drinking when I was a teenager and neither have I ever felt the necessity to do so. Do your body and your wallet a favor and either reduce your alcohol consumption significantly or eliminate it altogether.

Learn to read food labels

You can not know what you’re consuming if you don’t what is in your food. Learn to read food labels quickly (just takes a little practice) so you can scan them and eliminate unhealthy choices quickly and efficiently.

A good rule of thumb is; the longer the ingredient list the less likely it is to be a healthy food choice.

Eat enough fruit & vegetables to put a small cow to shame

Your parents were not lying to you when they told you to eat more veggies as a kid. Vegetables are not only full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants but they also contains hundreds, even thousands, of so far undocumented substances that can have a profound effect on keeping us healthy and disease free.

This is an example of what I have to lug home from my local supermarket every week! If you're not getting exercise just by carrying your veggies home, you're not eating enough?

This is an example of what I have to lug home from my local supermarket every week! If you’re not getting exercise just by carrying your veggies home, you’re not eating enough?

Eat as many different coloured vegetables as you can every day but focus on dark-green leafy vegetables (like spinach, lettuce, cabbage etc.) and try to get plenty of them raw too. Make it a point to eat one huge, leafy-green salad every day.

Caveat: You should be eating vastly more vegetables than fruit, as veggies are far more nutritionally dense and some fruits contain a lot of sugar (which is fine if your exercising regularly but may not be so good for you if your sedentary). For moderately-active to active people, 3 to 5 pieces of fruit a day is fine (1 piece is equivalent to an apple, a banana, a medium slice of pineapple, a big handful of berries etc.). Dried fruit should be avoided, it’s far too calorie dense.

Cook for yourself

The most surefire way to know exactly what you’re putting into your body is to prepare your own food (or as much of it as possible).

I’ve always loved cooking but if you can’t, now is the time to learn. You don’t need to be a master chef either. Just learn a few healthy recipes that you like and alternate them.

You don’t have time, you say? I’m a time-efficiency freak so I’ve developed a few routines to keep my kitchen time as low as possible. The trick is to cook in bulk. I prepare up to 10 meals worth of food in a gigantic pot, divide it into separate containers, freeze it and then just heat it up when I need it. At any one time, my freezer is full of different chilies, curries and stews ready to be eaten at a moments notice.

Eliminate grains from your diet

I never buy bread, pasta or rice. Grains, especially processed ones are simply sources of calories and provide little nutritional value when compared to other carbohydrate sources such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains and legumes.

Whatever nutrients they do contain are poorly absorbed due to compounds they contain called phytates which bind to minerals in food and prevent their absorption in your gut. So all you get is a hefty dose of carbohydrates that wreaks havoc with your blood sugar and will leave you feeling hungry in a few short hours.

The worst offenders are gluten containing grains such as wheat, rye, barley and oats as the gluten content has a negative effect on digestibility and gut health which, although not having as strong an affect in the general population as in people with coeliac disease, can result in sub-par physical condition. Think of how full you felt the last time you had a heavy meal full of pasta or bread, it probably took quite a while for that uncomfortably full, bloated feeling to subside. That’s more than likely the gluten blocking up your digestive tract.

Do this as a test; entirely eliminate gluten containing grains and their products from your diet for about 3 weeks and then have a meal containing bread or pasta. Do not expect to feel well a few hours later!

Eliminate processed sugar

SUGAR IS THE DEVIL!!! Repeat it until the phrase sticks in your head folks, “Sugar is the devil”.

This one point alone will have a huge affect on your health (and appearance).

The real culprit in sugar is probably fructose which more and more scientific studies are showing has negative affects on health when consumed in excess (which is what most people consume). It has been linked to obesity, liver damage, high blood pressure and even gout. No one wants gout!

Unfortunately, sugar is as addictive as crack (or so I’ve read) and is ubiquitous in modern processed foods. Sugar is pure carbohydrate with absolutely no nutritional value and you should avoid it in all it’s forms so check labels for the following; table sugar, high fructose corn-syrup, honey, raw cane sugar, fructose, sucrose, rice syrup, agave syrup etc. Although some of these are lauded as health foods, they are virtually all identical; almost pure sugar, devoid of fiber and containing only trace amounts (if any) of vitamins and minerals.

I have, in the past, dropped my body-fat significantly by simply eliminating foods containing refined sugar, and nothing else, from my diet.

Remember, “Sugar is the devil!”

Get enough protein

Be it animal or vegetable protein, aim for about one gram per kilogram of lean body-weight. Protein helps to repair your body (especially after strenuous exercise) and keeps you feeling fuller for longer than carbs or fat.

Good sources are lean meats, fish, eggs and (if your a vegetarian/vegan) properly cooked legumes like lentils and beans. A simple rule of thumb is that you get between 20-25 grams of protein per 100 grams of uncooked meat or legumes.

Get adequate Omega-3 oils

Diets high in Omega-3 oils have been shown to improve symptoms of chronic inflammation (such as arthritis and psoriasis), depression, heart disease and a whole host of other ailments common in the modern world. Unfortunately they’re not so easy to consume if you don’t eat a lot of oily fish, like trout and salmon, which are amongst the best sources of these healthy fats.

While Omega-3 oils can be found in plant sources like flax and chia seeds, walnuts and hemp oil, they need to be converted to more active forms (EPA and DHA) by the body, which is not very efficient at doing this. So in my opinion the best way to get them is to eat a large portion of fatty fish such as salmon, trout or mackerel once a week. If you’re a fan of salmon sashimi like I am this will be good new for you. If you’re not a big fish fan (like I was before I lived in Japan and Colombia) you can always buy Omega-3 supplements (of which Krill-oil is now supposed to be the best option).

Exercise

Your body was made to move and if your not moving, your doing yourself a great disservice. Doing any type of exercise is better than doing none but I really recommend lifting weights (here’s the routine I recommend that actually made me love going to the gym) for the huge changes it can bring about in your appearance and in how you feel everyday. Lifting weights is a great form of exercise for both men and women (ladies, don’t believe any “lies” you may have heard about women who lift weights ending up looking like the incredible hulk, it just doesn’t happen like that. Some of the most beautiful bodies I have ever seen have been those of women who lift weights regularly).

This is what you look like without exercise. Remember: diet makes you look good in clothes, exercise makes you look good naked!!!

This is what you look like without exercise.
Remember: diet makes you look good in clothes, exercise makes you look good naked!!! (The spelling mistake isn’t mine)

If you can’t find a gym try body weight exercises like push-ups, chin-ups etc at home. If you can’t do anything else, running is fine but you get much more bang for your buck, so to speak, by dedicating your time to more intense exercise like weightlifting.

That said, the effect of regular, low intensity exercise can’t be ignored. I know from experience that I lose weight quickly if I’m social dancing 3 or 4 times a week and when I’m cycling a lot. A bicycle is usually one of the first things I buy when I move to a new city and I try to travel by bike as much as possible so I’m getting some exercise everyday.

Avoid environmental toxins

This one, unfortunately, is not so easy to accomplish in the modern world. Our food, homes, cooking utensils and hygiene products are loaded with chemicals that disrupt hormones and in many cases are linked to cancer and other diseases.

For this, I try to reduce the amount of chemicals I use in my home as much as possible, I never cook with aluminium nor  non-stick cook-wear and I reduce the amount of contact my food has with plastics of all types.

Fast

These days, people eat a lot, so much so that we can rarely truly say that we have an empty stomach. A great deal of research these days is revealing the beneficial effects of fasting, especially in the area of weight loss.

I’ve practiced fasting, in one form or another, since I was in university and have always felt better because of it. It gives your body, especially your digestive system, a chance to rest and reset for itself and it has a hugely beneficial effect on the hormonal systems involved in repair, weight loss and blood sugar control. I used to do a weekly one day fast but now I practice intermittent fasting (eating a late lunch and dinner and no breakfast) almost everyday.

Not only do I feel healthier doing this but I also save a huge amount of time during the day as instead of eating 4 times a day, as I used to, I only eat two big meals daily which means I spend a lot less time preparing food and have more free time to dedicate to things I want/need to do. Hunger pangs are rare and when they do happen they last for less than 5 minutes and then disappear. I also feel an amazing mental clarity while I’m fasting which I can only attribute to much more stable blood sugar and hormones. Give it a try and feel the difference.

Be flexible

The world is not perfect and neither are humans. No one can be expected to eat perfectly all the time. Life gets in the way; parties, dinners, dates, holidays, stress etc. can all mess up the best of intentions. If you slip up, accept it and get back on track as quickly as possible (I find fasting a great way to reset the system after a lapse into poor eating) and remember it’s what you do most of the time that maters rather than what you do 100% of the time.

If you need help sticking to any type of eating habit you can find a whole load of useful tips in these articles here and here.

Looking at this list now, it doesn’t appear to be as concise as I had first expected. Still, I hope you found something useful here and it helps you make your life and your body a little (hopefully a lot) healthier.

I love talking about health so I’d love to hear your comments and questions on this post.

Stay healthy and keep dancing.

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Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

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