Snack Into Fat Loss

When it comes to changing body composition, nutrition is a major key – the old adage that “nutrition is 80% of your results” isn’t that far from the truth.  At best, you’ll spend up to 10 hours a week in the gym (for the average person, this is more like 2-3 hours), leaving you with more than 158 hours the rest of the week to screw it up.

An area of nutrition that we’ve found tends to be drastically underestimated is the importance of maintaining meal frequency.  Consuming a balance of protein, healthy fats and fiber every 2-4 hours helps keep two important hormones in check: insulin and cortisol.

Insulin and cortisol are what are called “see-saw hormones”: one goes up, which makes the other go down.  This typically results in wildly varying levels of both hormones throughout the day, which leads to inconsistent blood sugar levels, which can lead to increased bodyfat storage, particularly through the trunk (abs, obliques and lower back).

Problems associated with high levels of insulin:

  • increase in both size and number of fat cells, specifically in the upper back and the sides (love handles)
  • increased risk of insulin resistance (precursor to diabetes)
  • dramatic variances in energy levels throughout the day
  • increased oxidation of the brain (oxidation = rust)
  • insulin has been called the “hormone of aging”

Problems associated with high levels of cortisol:

  • increased fat storage in the abdominal wall
  • elevated heart rate
  • turns the body into a catabolic state (muscle-wasting)
  • increased stress on the adrenal glands and central nervous system
  • decreased testosterone output
  • reduced insulin sensitivity

So how do we keep those hormones in check?  By keeping meal frequency, and therefore blood sugar levels, constant.

It’s understood that not everybody will be able to eat a nice, sit-down, knife-and-fork meal every few hours, but it is very possible to take in foods that will help maintain steady blood sugar.  This is where smart snack selection comes in handy:

  • some combination of protein, smart fats, and fiber
  • sugar and starch are to be avoided at all costs
  • eat enough to make you satisfied but not so much that you become full, thus delaying your next meal beyond 2-4 hours

So what are good options?  We’ve compiled a list of our favorites below.

  • Unflavored or lightly seasoned beef or turkey jerky (stay away from additives such as teriyaki and A1 sauce)
  • Ostrim or other brand of protein snack
  • raw, unsalted tree nuts (macadamia nuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, Brasil nuts, pistachios, etc.)
  • thin-skinned fruits (berries, cherries, apples, peaches, etc.)
  • raw or steamed vegetables of the non-starchy variety (no potatoes, peas or corn!)

Do you have a favorite snack combo?  Post it below and share it with us!

Quick Tip: Stay Hydrated with Electrolytes

As the temperature increases, so does sweat and water loss. Conventional wisdom dictates that for every hour of physical activity, you should consume 1 liter of water to maintain adequate hydration.

However, just replacing water is not enough. If you’ve ever gotten sweat in your eye, you know that it stings. Why? Because you don’t just lose water when you sweat, you lose electrolytes, or minerals that help maintain fluid balance in the body.

A good electrolyte product should contain sodium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. However, avoid added carbohydrates, especially if your goal is to lose bodyfat. At AST, we use Electrolyte Px 2.0 by Poliquin Performance. Mix one packet in at least half a liter of water and sip throughout a workout.

5 Essential Squat Variations

Anybody who has been training for a significant amount of time has likely heard the squat referred to as the “king of lower body exercises,” and for good reason.  The basic barbell squat recruits more muscles at once than almost any other exercise, and has been shown in many studies to produce levels of growth hormone that are exponentially higher than alternative movements such as the leg press or leg extension.

However, you can’t always eat chicken for lunch, and you can’t use only the barbell squat in your training, or you will likely reach a plateau that can only be broken by incorporating one or more of the following variations on the squat.

1. Front squat. The front squat is one of the most common alternatives to the back squat and is a favorite of athletes and Olympic lifters.  The bar is racked across the front of the shoulders with the elbows held high to keep the bar from rolling down the arms, and many lifters find that they can squat significantly deeper with the front squat than with the back squat.  Lower back and hamstring involvement is also significantly reduced, with more stress placed upon the abdominals and the quads due to the more upright positioning.

2. Safety bar squat. The safety squat bar is a special bar with a padded yoke and handles that extend out in front of the lifter, and the weights sit about 3″ in front of the bar itself.  This creates a feeling like you’re going to be pushed over, which forces the middle and upper back to work harder to stay upright and is great for when a lifter tends to fail in a conventional squat by falling forward during the lift.  In addition, because the handles sit out in front of the bar it’s an ideal alternative for those with bad shoulders or poor flexibility.

3. Zercher squat. Like the safety bar squat, the Zercher squat is an excellent option for those with shoulder or flexibility issues, but it requires no special bar.  The bar is placed in the crook of the elbows and then held tightly against the abdomen, placing additional stress on the core and mid-back muscles.  One downside is that the bar position can become uncomfortable with heavy loads, but in my experience it’s better to suck it up and get used to it than to use padding such as a squat pad or towels, as it tend to make it harder to keep the bar in a consistent position throughout the execution of the squat.

4. Cyclist squat. The cyclist squat, also called the one-and-a-half squat, is a variation on the barbell squat.  In essence, the lifter squats down until the hamstrings touch the calves, then up just past parallel, then all the way back down before rising to full lockout.  It’s important to not bounce out of the bottom position, and to not rise up too high during the “half” portion of the squat.  The extra movement at the bottom incorporates the vastus medialis oblique (VMO), the teardrop-shaped muscle inside and above the kneecap that acts as a knee stabilizer, which makes the cyclist squat a great choice for athletes.

5. Barbell hack squat. Like the machine hack squat, the barbell version places significant workload on the vastus lateralus, or outer thigh, helping to improve the “sweep” of the quads. To perform the barbell hack squat, grasp the bar behind the back, almost as though you’re setting up for a deadlift behind the body. With the heels elevated 1-2″ on a plate or blocks, drop the hips down and then back slightly while staying as upright as possible until the plates touch the floor, then drive through the heels back to the top.

Incorporate these variations to keep yourself progressing and to inject some variety into your training programs.  You won’t be disappointed.