Quick Tip: Top 10 Worst Snack Foods

Spoiler alert: some of your favorite snacks might be on this list. If they are, that means we’ll want to replace one of them with something that’s going to give your arteries a bit more longevity.

1. Chocolate-Coated Doughnuts, Mini Doughnuts and Snack Cakes – Now I can’t lie, every time I go to Dunkin’ Doughnuts I want to grab a bag of the chocolate munchkins just as much as the next person, but these little guys have even more saturated fats than any other type of snack food!

2. Snack Pies – We all love ‘em and I’m pretty sure they even say “great snack” on the wrapper, and you know what…it is a “great snack!” Well, as long as great snack means high in calories, total fat, saturated fat and sugar, and low in protein, fiber and other healthy nutrients. So, if that’s the case, dig in!

3. Mega-Butter or “Movie Theater” Microwave Popcorn – This is one of the few products that still has trans fat. A bag popped contains about 4-5 grams of trans fat. On movie night, tell your significant other to pass over some sweet potato chips instead.

4. Regular Chips and Cheetos – This goes out to every college girl that I know- Cheetos Flamin’ Hots are not the way to go! Some food for thought, a 2-ounce bag contains 320 calories, 22 grams of total fat, 3 grams of saturated fat and 500 mg of sodium. Want to know how to avoid getting that freshman 15-35? Stop eating these!

5. Packaged Frozen Snacks – I know we love hot pockets, and grabbing a toaster strudel in the morning has been getting you off on the right foot, but to be honest with you, these just suck. These frozen snacks are high in calories, high in saturated fats, high in sodium, and if you think these are good for you, you might actually be high.

6. Chicken Nuggets – I know what you’re thinking, “But Sergio, these are full of protein!” And though that’s true, lets be honest, you can get it from a source that doesn’t have high amounts of fat, saturated fat and sodium.

7. Cheese and Club Crackers – If you’re eating cheese and crackers solo, you’re probably going to make a decent dent in the box. That’s just the nature of the beast. And with that being said, this snack is low in everything good (protein, fiber) but high in everything you don’t need (fat, saturated fat, sodium), and the dairy from the cheese isn’t benefiting your body either. Next time you’re at a soirée, pass on these.

8. Milk and Cookies – I’ll be the first to say that I didn’t want to put these on the list because of how much I love cookies. BUT! The truth is that this snack is horrible. The cookies are on the same lines as the snack cakes that are high in saturated fats and sugars, and they lack any type of nutritional value. The milk is a dairy product that your body doesn’t need and it’s also high in fats. And if you think that you can get a lot of calcium from a glass of milk, you can actually get more from a cup of spinach. Just ask Popeye!

9. Candy – There is no nutritional value in sugar.

10. Bagel and cream cheese – The bagel is always something that people like as their “go-to” snack or meal, and this is a mistake. Bagels, for the most part, are made up of processed white flour (gluten) that quickly turns into sugar in the body. And while bagels are typically are low in saturated fats, as soon as we pile on that cream cheese, things go from bad to worse. You just end up adding more saturated fats and sodium. Bagels are not the quick fix you’re looking for!

Want to know what to eat instead? Look out tomorrow for our top 10 best snack alternatives!

Building Mass for Life: Part 2

Part 1 of this series can be found here.

People ask me all the time: Why did I do it? What was the real reason why I added so much weight when I was already “healthy”?  I didn’t want to be the skinny guy, that’s why! But when I stop and think about it, I realized what influenced me the most to make changes. I am currently a competitive athlete so my sport and performance was a huge influence. My career as a strength and conditioning coach was another thing. Would you really listen to a skinny strength coach? I didn’t think so. And you know what? I’m not gonna lie. The Kid wanted to look damn good!

And looking good does not mean "look like Will Smith's little cousin."

Currently I am a competitive mixed martial mrtist who has aspirations to turn pro in the near future. In my mind MMA is the greatest sport in the world. But before I even began to train in MMA I boxed competitively as an amateur in Chicago. From 2005-2008 I competed at middleweight, which in boxing has a maximum weight of 165 pounds. I’m 6-feet tall, so as you could imagine, as a 6-foot, 160 pound guy I was the definition of bean pole. I was so skinny that my legs looked like the number 11 when I walked. I was a naturally thin guy, but not quite that thin. It was hard work to keep my weight in that range. I had to do a lot of cardio, minimal resistance training and, to be honest, my nutrition sucked. After training sessions I always felt sluggish and weak. I knew there had to be a better way.

By this time I had began training in MMA and I noticed something – those thick wrestlers who look like the mini fridge in a college dorm were tossing everyone around!

At times these guys might not have had the best technique but their quickness, explosion, athleticism, power and overall strength got them through. It was impressive to say the least. I had to ask myself, “Self, how are you going to improve as an athlete if you’re not doing everything possible to be successful?”

I saw firsthand how the stronger athletes fared in sports. Look at any major sport and literally only the strong survive. And even though I knew it wasn’t going to be easy I had to make it happen. I had a goal of being a successful athlete since I was a young child and I love to compete at the highest level possible. I was going to do it.

If you look at the world’s top athletes, take their best traits and find the common denominator. Well besides great genes – it’s true; none of us got to pick our parents. But not all of the world’s best athletes were always known as the best. Both Jerry Rice and Michael Jordan are both currently considered by most to be the greatest players of their respective sports but they both had setbacks in their rise to greatness. What separated them? Hard work!

I started getting into the weight room hard in the spring of 2008, and I did predominantly bodybuilding workouts to start – that is all that I knew. But I got stronger, and I gained a little bit of weight! I was even starting to walk around with imaginary lat syndrome (ILS). You know, when the skinny guy gets done working out and walks around like he’s holding two oversized duffel bags under each arm pit. And even though I looked goofy looking back, my performance improved!

Now when guys tried to take me down, not only was I able to shrug them off, I had more explosion in my step and more quickness in my strikes.  It surprised me more than anyone else because I was always told that lifting weights would slow down my hand speed, and in reality it had improved.

I soon began helping out with the high school strength and conditioning program in Skokie, Ill. I was able to work with their strength coach Mark Feldner, who was a former assistant strength coach at Penn State. Through him I began to learn more sports specific workouts. He showed me that in every sport there are different ways to train so there is no one specific workout for every sport and not to focus on individual muscles as much, the “show me muscles.” You know, the ones that make you look sexy when you get them all pumped and cut up.

Now at 25 I’m bigger, faster, stronger and WAY more explosive than I’ve ever been. I kept training and evolving not only as a mixed martial artist but as an athlete as well. I can also begin to see a change in my body because of my sport, thicker torso from my twisting and kicking, more pronounced shoulders from my strikes; there has even been a calf sighting!

Now I have figured out the things that are most effective for me and cut down on the fluff. I love my powerlifting base (bench, squat, deadlift). With that there has been a noticeable difference in my glute and hamstring size and strength which directly translates to my leg drive and power, which equals SPEED.

Now even though I love my powerlifting, I’ve had to do a bit more for my explosion, so Olympic lifts such as cleans have been added as needed. So if anyone says lifting doesn’t assist in being a better athlete just get your five chuckles on and keep it moving, there is no need to try to rationalize with irrational people. I’ve learned a lot in the time that I’ve made my transition and in this time my experiences have helped me become a better strength coach. The last thing anyone wants to hear is some skinny 155-pound guy telling them how to get “jacked!” That’s kind of like the guy who flunked out of school telling somebody how to study. It just doesn’t add up.

Altitude Training at Sea Level

Those of you who have been in the garage at AST in the last few weeks may have seen me pushing the Prowler while wearing a mask that, upon first glance, might look more appropriate on the set of Pulp Fiction than in the gym.  Lifestyle preferences aside, there is actually a significant cardiovascular benefit to using such a mask, called an altitude training mask.  In mixed martial arts and other combat sports, athletes have regularly used high altitude training to take their performance to the next level.

Going into the mountains and training at higher elevations has been a favorite training tool for years, not only for the seclusion and ability to focus on an upcoming event, but from the physical changes made in the body and the blood from training in the thin air of the mountains.  Then, when the athlete returns to their regular elevation they find that they are stronger and faster for longer.  One explanation is that the lack of oxygen forces the body to produce more red blood cells, which are the body’s primary way of delivering oxygen to muscle and other tissues.

So how does this “freak” mask help bring these gains without having to move to the Alps?  The mask helps by creating pulmonary resistance, in other words limiting the flow of oxygen through the mask and forcing the body to increase RBC production to adapt.

In the short time that I have used the mask I have noticed that when in training (sparring, conditioning, weight training, etc.), I’m subconsciously slowing down my breath and I have been able to last a lot longer, with more productive training sessions.  This is important to me because as an MMA fighter, my sport is all about maintaining speed and power longer than the other guy.

High altitude training has also been shown to help those with asthma, since asthma tends to force hyperventilation, and using the training mask requires slowing down breathing and increasing use of the diaphragm muscles.  There is benefit for all types of endurance sports, including running, cycling, triathlon competition and others.  So strap on your “gas mask” and get to work!


Building Mass for Life

I hear questions every day about “getting big,” “swole,” “large,” “jacked” and my answer to them are usually: “So what do you want to do?” And their typical answer is to repeat what they said as if I didn’t fully comprehend. When this happens I know that they are not generally prepared for my next answer: “Getting big is not just about lifting weights and it’s not a quick fix.”

Gaining weight and muscle can not just be something that you only do in the gym; it takes time, effort and dedication in nearly every facet of your life. For example I remember being a skinny guy at 6-foot tall and only 159 pounds! I thought I was doing everything I could in the gym. But I just wasn’t seeing that muscle gain. Now two years later, I’m floating around 200 lbs and I see what it takes to gain muscle mass. This is more than a process. It’s a lifestyle!

With lots of commitment, you can go from this...


...to this.


If you’re serious about gaining muscle mass you’re going to have to eat. And eat! And eat and when you’re tired of eating you’re going to have to eat some more! The days of waking up in the morning and just eating one bowl of your fruity pebbles or skipping breakfast in its entirety isn’t going to cut it anymore. Now I use to hear people say “Don’t eat till your full eat until your tired.” And that sounds like a plan if your goal is too look like a beluga whale and not that athletic body type (body fat anywhere between 8-12%). As any fitness professional will tell you, you must be smart about what you eat, just because you’re going to be eating a lot doesn’t mean you hit “Mickey Ds” and bless the dollar menu as often as you can. You’ll need to make sure you’re eating good quality protein lean beef, chicken, turkey, fish, to name a few. Lets not forget veggies are important as well. I always try to make sure that if someone’s trying to make gains, they’re realistically going to have to consume anywhere between 3-5000 calories a day. I tend to make my calorie intake by eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack between the meals.

“Sergio can I eat my Oreos and milk for a snack? It’s my favorite!” My answer is simple: “NO!” All you’ll be doing is placing empty calories in your body. One of the best snacks for gaining mass is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and protein shakes with health fats, like flax, safflower or extra virgin olive oil. You should eat two sandwiches a day (and if you are allergic to peanut butter you can always use almond butter) and drink one of your shakes before you go to sleep.


Which leads me to one of the most neglected factors in muscle growth in my opinion: Rest. One of the primary benefits of sleep in terms of muscle growth is recovery time. When you exercise, you are tearing muscle fibers. Your body needs to repair this damage and, in turn, build muscle mass. We build muscle faster and more efficiently when our bodies are allowed to do so.
Another problem with failing to get sufficient rest is stress. When you don’t sleep, your body (and your mind) becomes stressed and this can have negative effects including weight loss, and negative weight gain. Sleep also helps with your digestive system because it metabolizes the foods you eat while you’re at rest. So not only does sleep help your body recover from the rigors of everyday life but it ensures your body will carry out normal metabolism that provides the foundation for building muscle.


“Hey, Sergio, I can still kick back and have a taste of Gentleman Jack in the evening right?” I hate to say it because we all enjoy a little libation from time to time but alcohol when taken too often will undoubtly have a significant NEGATIVE impact on muscle building results. To quote Arnold Schwarz egger said in his book Arnold Goes Crazy (because he’s right and used to be the definition of jack swole): “Why take something the body doesn’t need right now?” And he was talking about soda but it still holds true with alcohol. Now alcohol can and will impede your progress if you use it in excess. Your protein synthesis is negatively affected (Protein synthesis is the process by which amino acids are joined together to form complete protein). By drinking too much this can slow down the process by 20% and what are muscles made of? You got it, Protein! So you see this alone is counter-productive.

Alcohol also decreases testerone and raises estrogen, which means you drop your man hormones and pick up more woman hormones. Testosterone is needed to be free flowing for maximum muscle gains.
Alcohol also depletes the body of vitamins and minerals which keep every process in your body functioning properly and a lot of these processes include muscle growth and maintenance. And lastly it increases fat storage. Per gram of alcohol it is 7 empty calories so how much are we storing if we go out 3 and 4 times a week.

If you’re trying to gain muscle mass make sure you’re doing what you need to do to actually receive proper gains. Don’t party and drink all the time. Use your head. Once in a blue moon is okay I understand. But every day? Absolutely not. Every week? Honestly, not if you’re serious about your progress.

Just remember to be smart and be patient because muscle gain is not a race. It’s a lifestyle.