What’s On Your Playlist? Part 3

Our latest edition of “What’s On Your Playlist?” comes from AST client and music aficionado Andrew Peck.  When we started doing this series we knew we wanted to hear from our clients, and Andrew was top on our list.  Still, he gave us much more than we anticipated…

I work out because I want to change who I am. Through exercise, I gain strength both physically and mentally, overcoming pain, doubt and frustration with every repetition. I may be working off the husk of an extra slice of deep dish pizza or one more round offered up by my buddies at our local bar. I may be exonerating myself for days spent hunched over a computer rather than walking carelessly through nature.  But my maturation, both mentally and physically happens simultaneously when I’m living right. Sometimes it hurts to work on bettering myself, and sometimes it’s ever so sweet. To get me through it one way or another, I need a soundtrack.

The weight rooms and gymnasiums of my middle-American upbringing were filled with the shrieks of grotesquely longhaired and tight-pantalooned rockers at best and the depressing wails of country pop musicians at worst. As a result, partly, I remained as skinny as a rail through high school and beyond. Now, my workouts are my own, my playlists the true soundtrack of my life. Here is a sampling of the music that carries me toward my destiny.

(NSFW – Language)

Gangstarr – “Take it Personal”

Sometimes the pain of losing out to the whims of those who do not wish me well can be extremely motivating. Sometimes I have to embrace the hate in order to defeat it. The legendary Brooklyn duo Gangstarr has always served in helping me channel my anger toward a positive effect – never more so than on this vengeful early-90s banger.  How could anyone not get a rush from hearing those drums? What’s wrong with people?

9th Wonder – “Soul Dojo”

What I really want is to relax and feel confident in myself and proud of my accomplishments. The quality of our lives is defined by the small decisions we make every minute of every hour of every day. They won’t all be correct but our fate is a score we must settle on our own. Remembering these ground rules is important when I decide what to put in my body and what to take out of it. In short, I have to treat my body like a sacred temple. My soul is my dojo. And this song is freaking amazing. Who can name the film sampled in the intro?

Ghostface Killah – “The Champ”

Sometimes I just want to win. I want to be great at what I do both on and off the field. I want to be a power hitter, a top-earner, a superior lover and a protector of my family. That means getting aggressive sometimes. It means getting nasty when I’m tested. It means growing a pair the size of bowling balls and destroying my competition like a watermelon met by a Freightliner. I wish I had the internal motivation to achieve all of this on my own. But I need help. And that’s why I pay the good people of All Strength Training to yell at me a couple times a week. It’s time and money well-spent. After all, I want to be, “The Champ.”

a tribe called quest – “Excursions”

Q-Tip from tribe is my favorite artist in all the world of music. As a poet, a musician, a producer, a performer and philosopher he displays quality and consistency virtually unheard of in hip hop music. His vibe is unfailingly positive and his message is always love. Love one another, love yourself. His words are complicated, abstract and beguiling at times but they move me like no other assortment of symbols and messages I’ve been able to find. On “Excursions” Q-Tip urges us to leave our comfort zone and set forth on a mission of empowerment. You ready to go?

Jay Electronica – “Exhibit C”

This one is all about unfinished business. Despite overcoming hardships both self and otherwise inflicted, I still have eons to travel in order to reach the heights I aspire to. Should I give up or keep going? Dumb question. I never really believed I’d have it as good as I do now – so to stop dreaming now would be a fate worse than death.

I rest my case.

5 Tips for Cooking at Home

One of the most important components to losing fat and building muscle is the food you eat, and the commitment to preparing a significant amount of what you eat yourself. However, if you’re not accustomed to spending much time in the kitchen, here are five things that you will need to know.

#1: Faster is not always better.

It seems logical enough – turn on the burner, throw your food in the pan, and keep the heat cranked as high as possible so you can be done as quick as you can.  It turns out that’s not such a good idea, both for the flavor of the food and the nutritional quality.

Certain foods in general are best cooked slower and with a lower heat setting because they dry out very easily – most wild game (bison, elk, and ostrich for example) are this way.  Otherwise you will wonder why the $15 bison steak you just bought tastes as dry as the package that it came in.  Medium or medium-high cooking temps will heat everything evenly without drying it out.

High heat also has a tendency to overcook the outside and undercook the inside, damaging the nutritional profile of the meat (or vegetable, or whatever you’re making).  Excessive heat can kill the protein and digestive enzymes in the food, which can lead to poor digestion and an upset stomach.

There are occasions where high heat is useful – searing a couple of steaks for a few minutes on each side before transferring to the oven, for example – but in general opt for more moderate temps.

#2.  Get a Spice Rack.

If you’re going to be making a lot of your own food, it is critical that you have enough variety that you don’t get bored, because if you do, it’s going to be a hell of an uphill battle to stay consistent with your choices.  I have seen more than my fair share of clients who begin a diet very gung-ho, saying “I can eat boiled chicken and broccoli five times a day no problem if it’ll help me lose weight!”  And for a few days, that will be true.  You’ll lose a couple of pounds a week and you’ll have the willpower to skip the invitation to hit the buffet with your friends after work.

But as the weeks go by and progress slows down a bit, then willpower starts to diminish and you start thinking, “if I have to look at one more piece of chicken I swear I will kick a puppy!”  And before you know it you’re covered in Cheetos dust and surrounded by enough take-out food to satisfy the Chicago Bears defensive line.

So learn your options.  Lots of sauces and marinades will be tossed out because of all of the added sugar and chemicals, but you’d be amazed what you can do with a dozen options for herbs, some olive oil and a little vinegar.  At the very least, get yourself some paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, rosemary and sage.  Be creative and seek out recipes – there are hundreds of “Paleo-approved” websites devoted solely to cooking.

#3.  Use the right tool.

Like anything else, preparing healthy food that you’ll actually want to eat requires the right tools for the right job.  If you’re somebody who’s tried to brown ground beef in a saucepan or tried to dice carrots with a butter knife, you will not enjoy your time in the kitchen.  Learn the basics and keep things simple.  Get a book on cooking for beginners – a simple search on Amazon gives you dozens of options.

Also, don’t go cheap – poor quality cookware will give you poor quality cooking.  You don’t have to spend $600 on a set of pots and pans, but you also shouldn’t be buying your skillets from the dollar store.  You can go far with a good quality cast-iron skillet, a saucepan, a grill, a slow-cooker and a couple of good knives (chef’s knife and paring knife are a must).  Buy things a little at a time as you get better and can be more creative.

#4.  Read the recipe BEFORE you start cooking.

We’re even guilty of this one at home – we’ll pull out everything we need for a recipe, skim the directions and before you know it, you’ll hear “#@!$, we weren’t supposed to put that in yet!”  If you’re lucky, you might be able to salvage what you’ve got, but the recipe is there for a reason.  Take your time and do it the way the writer intended.  It will make a difference.

#5.  Plan ahead.

This is particularly important if you plan on taking your food to work with you each day, or if you live alone (or both!).  If your schedule is busy where it’s difficult to prepare your food as you need it, cut down the total time you spend in the kitchen by making more than one dish at a time, or by making double servings.  Instead of cooking 6-7 times a week, you may only have to spend an hour twice a week.  Refrigerate what you’ll use in the next 48 hours and freeze the rest.  Then, when you start to run low, transfer dishes from the freezer to the fridge and you’re ready to go.

Your best chance for success with your nutrition is going to come from knowing what you’re eating, and the best way to do that is to do it yourself.  Invest the time and the effort into taking care of your body with good nutrition, but don’t forget that you don’t have to sacrifice quality to do it.

Organic or Not? The Dirty Dozen

Each year, the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the produce with both the highest and lowest amount of pesticide residue to allow consumers to make better choices when they go to the grocery store.  Not all produce needs to be purchased organic, so use this list to keep your toxic exposure as low as possible without it breaking the bank.

The Dirty Dozen

The items on these list contain the most pesticide residue and therefore are recommended to be purchased organic.  The higher the ranking, the worse the item is (i.e. #1 is more toxic than #10):

1. apples
2. celery
3. sweet bell peppers
4. peaches
5. strawberries
6. nectarines (imported)
7. grapes
8. spinach
9. lettuce
10. cucumbers
11. blueberries (domestic)
12. potatoes

The Clean Fifteen

These foods are less likely to contain pesticides and can be purchased conventionally.

1. onions
2. sweet corn
3. pineapples
4. avocado
5. cabbage
6. sweet peas
7. asparagus
8. mangoes
9. eggplant
10. kiwi
11. cantaloupe (domestic)
12. sweet potatoes
13. grapefruit
14. watermelon
15. mushrooms

Can’t Afford Organic?

If your budget is such that even buying the twelve foods on this list organic still isn’t feasible, there is a way to reduce your exposure. It’s not as good as organic, but it’s better than not doing anything.

Simply fill your sink with cold water and add roughly a teaspoon of liquid dish soap (DO NOT use dishwasher detergent). Then wash all of your vegetables and fruits from the Dirty Dozen in the soapy water. Rinse with cold water, dry, and place in the refrigerator (or wherever it’s going to end up). You should remove a significant amount of harmful residue from your food this way.

Washing your fruits and vegetables, however, obviously won’t change whether that food has been genetically modified, so if you’re trying to avoid GMO’s, you’re probably going to have to spring for the organic versions.

For more info, check out the original list from the EWG here: EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.