I spent most of the early part of September traveling to conferences and seminars through the Poliquin Strength Institute, including 3 days in Las Vegas for the first BioSignature Convention. Here are ten of the best tips that I learned while attending.
#1. Do Your Own Meal Prep.
According to Jeanette Bessinger, the “Clean Food Coach,” even though home meal preparation has increased, there is now an average of less than ONE fresh item used in a homemade meal. With the lack of fresh ingredients comes a decrease in the amount of time spent on meal preparation each day – in the 1980’s we spent an average of 2-3 hours a day on it, versus in the 2010’s we spend less than 20 minutes for an entire day’s meals.
If being lean and strong is your goal, take more time to prepare your own meals, and use as many fresh ingredients as possible. Take the time to learn how to make healthy meals that actually taste good.
#2. Use Vegetables as Substitutes for Starch.
Jeanette’s presentation included her preparing several meals on the spot, with no heating elements or way to cook the food, so she used a lot of raw non-starchy vegetables as the foundation of her meals. One of the substitutes that I hadn’t seen before was using jicama as a replacement for rice – to peel, chop, and pulse in a food processor takes less than 12 minutes, compared to roughly one hour to cook rice in a rice cooker. Cauliflower for potatoes and zucchini for noodles are also great options.
#3. Have the Right Tools.
Anybody trying to follow a Paleo diet, especially a low carb one, should have the following tools in their kitchen:
- a vegetable spiralizer (for replacing noodles in pasta-style dishes)
- a bamboo cutting board, with one side designated for pungents such as garlic, onions, and hot peppers
- a chef’s knife (Jeanette recommended a santoku knife as the best option)
- a paring knife
Knives should also be honed once a week and sharpened professionally once every few months.
#4. Food is a Key Part of the Life Experience.
Deanna Minich’s presentation concentrated primarily on how the act of eating is not just a way to keep us alive, but a way to make use feel alive. The average person interacts with food and eating approximately 200 times every day – that’s about 6 million interactions in a lifetime.
However, most people do not take the time to actually experience their food. 91% of people do something else while eating – reading, working, driving, etc., depriving themselves of the pleasure of the meal itself. Deanna recommended the book Mindless Eating as a good resource for how to get around that.
#5. Watch Out for Shady Food Labeling.
A few interesting notes from Kaayla Daniel, “The Naughty Nutritionist” regarding label misrepresentation:
- agave nectar is the equivalent of high fructose corn syrup
- foods containing the word “hydrolyzed” in the ingredients list likely contain MSG
- “fake organic” foods have been found for sale at Whole Foods
#6. The Many Dangers of Soy.
Soy has been shown to have many negative side effects to body composition, well-being and overall health.
- Soy has been linked to thyroid and reproductive problems
- The FDA poisonous plant database contains 256 studies on soy
- Soy is used in Tibetan monasteries to lower sex drive
- Chinese restaurants use edamame (soybeans) as an appetizer, using generally about 6 pods, Americans use handfuls at a time as a snack
- Men who eat soy twice a week will produce 41 million fewer sperm than men who don’t
#7. Meat’s Unique Benefits.
Kaayla spoke in depth about the necessity of meat in the diet to fulfill essential nutritional needs. Vitamin A, vitamin D3, CoEnzyme Q10, carnitine, and vitamins B6 & B12 are only found in natural forms in meat. Not coincidentally, these are some of the most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies in vegetarian diets.
#8. Not Quite Paleo.
The convention ended with an extensive Q&A with Charles Poliquin, where the topic of the Paleo diet came up almost immediately. Charles refers to modern Paleo diets as “metro” Paleo diets at best. If you want to live a legitimately Paleo lifestyle, go kill your lunch with your bare hands. True Paleo diets use predominantly raw ingredients and would not include things like coffee, protein shakes, etc.
#9. All About Estrogens.
A few points regarding estrogens and detoxing from Charles:
- If using DIM to detox estrogens and side effects such as rashes occur, the level of xenoestrogens are too high. Base nutritional factors need to be replenished first, which can take up to 18 months
- Low protein intake can create issues with detoxification from a lack of essential amino acids
- People in certain geometric areas can have greater issues with local xenoestrogens, creating problems replenishing zinc and magnesium, among other things
#10. Use Probiotics.
In consultations with five of the top nutritional scientists, Charles asked them each to give him their top five supplements, and each of them ranked probiotics at #2, right behind fish oil. Probiotics should be used twice a day, taken after meals to ensure the highest survival rate. It is also important to only use medical brands of probiotics – cheap probiotics that are often found at grocery and health food stores are usually dead before you even get the bottle open. This is one supplement that it is NOT okay to go cheap on.
The convention was, I thought, a great event and I look forward to many more takeaways from next year’s event.
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.
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.
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):
3. sweet bell peppers
6. nectarines (imported)
11. blueberries (domestic)
The Clean Fifteen
These foods are less likely to contain pesticides and can be purchased conventionally.
2. sweet corn
6. sweet peas
11. cantaloupe (domestic)
12. sweet potatoes
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.
We’re back with part 2 of “What’s On Your Playlist?”, this time with AST Operations Manager Julie Flynn.
My workout playlists probably routinely coincide with America’s Top 40, some of which I have included, but there are always a couple songs that I have to throw into the mix. For me, a workout song has to be perfect to make the list otherwise I’ll spend my entire workout trying to find the next button on my armband. My main concern with workout music is MOTIVATION. It needs to have a good beginning that immediately makes you want to smile at yourself in the mirror, pick up the weight and say, “I can do this.”
Ellie Goulding – Lights
The theme for most of my selections is if I have a build-up and can sing to the song, it gets me through the set and helps me forget about how heavy the weight is or how much my legs are burning.
Spice Girls – Stop
Have to have some Girl Power music on there… Who better than the Spice Girls?
Maroon 5 ft. Wiz Khalifa – Payphone
One of my current favorites. I’m a sucker for Adam Levine and it also makes me laugh to hear Siri on the iPhone say “Wiz Khalifa”
David Guetta ft. Usher – Without You
Great build-up and good beat. I have most of David Guetta’s mixes on my workout playlist.
Phoenix – Listomania
This also my ringtone and has been for a couple years. The beat makes me happy, and the best thing for me about working out is to take a break from the real world and give yourself a reason to smile no matter how your day is going.
Many a self-help book has been published and a motivational speaker has lectured on the notion of leading a “balanced” life, integrating family, work, friends, hobbies, etc., into one harmonious existence where every aspect of your existence gets equal treatment, and everything is wonderful and perfect, and you become a better, more “enlightened” person because of it.
Well guess what? That’s all bullshit.
If your goal is to be a success in any aspect of your life, you need to be very unbalanced. Are you an entrepreneur looking to start or grow a successful company? Prepare to kiss your personal life goodbye for a few years and get ready for 4 or 5 years (if you’re lucky) of working 60, 70, maybe 80 or more hours a week. Hobbies? Good luck with that – most every spare cent you have will be funneled back into your business so it can turn a profit as fast as possible – then maybe you can start thinking about that Harley you’ve always wanted.
The same goes for anybody who has ever been successful at transforming their body. I cannot count the number of excuses I have heard over the years about why somebody wasn’t able to make their training sessions, or why they didn’t have money for their supplements, or why they were unable to eat the way they were supposed to. Maybe some of these sound familiar:
“It was my cousin’s friend’s roommate’s birthday – we HAD to go out drinking on Saturday!”
“Thirty bucks for a multivitamin? I need that money for my life-sized Lego statue of Darth Vader that I’m building in my garage!”
“You want me to stretch for 20 minutes a day? I don’t have the time – Netflix now has every episode of The Golden Girls and that takes up 5 hours of my night, every night.”
“Sorry, I can’t train for three weeks. I got stupid-ass drunk this weekend and walked in front of a bus.”
“You want me to diet? On a Sunday? That sounds like work, and my religion doesn’t allow working on Sundays.”
It boggles the mind how many times I have encountered people who walk in the door, credit card in hand, highly motivated to start working with a coach. “I want to drop 12 dress sizes by this time next year.” Then, after their first nutritional consultation, the excuses start pouring out. “There is no way I can give up my morning latte. And I’m addicted – ADDICTED – to bread. I can’t get rid of it.”
I have some very unpleasant, yet very accurate, news for those people – you are going to fail. If you want to look like a cover model, yet still go out with friends two or three nights a week, only train twice a week, and have an “easy” diet, guess what? It’s not possible. It doesn’t matter what ad you heard on the television, or what Oprah said, it’s all bullshit. Success in any area of life – parenting, starting a new business, trying to go pro in a sport, or having a six-pack – it all requires that you discard and reduce things that get in the way. Sometimes it isn’t pleasant – in fact, it’s almost NEVER pleasant – but it has to be done.
Then, when you have succeeded, you can begin to think about “balance” again.
Looking for something new to add to your workout playlist? We’re asking the AST staff and clients what they’re listening to, and we’re kicking things off with AST head coach and co-owner, Zach Trowbridge.
Tremonti – Wish You Well
Prepare for a theme – I tend to listen to mostly guitar-driven rock and metal when I train (Sergio would refer to it as “Zach’s angry music”). While you could pull any song off of Tremonti’s new release All I Was and it would work just fine, this is probably my most played.
Bullet for My Valentine – No Easy Way Out
A non-keyboarded cover of a Rocky soundtrack song? I’m in. And it’s awesome.
AC/DC – Thunderstruck
Needs no explanation. You could just pick an AC/DC track at random and drop it in here, but the intro riff here gets your head right, every time.
Black Label Society – Demise of Sanity
The musical equivalent of a kick to the skull. This one probably is not for everybody.
Kanye West – Power
A little deviation from the rock and metal stuff, but a great training song nonetheless.
Have a favorite track right now? Leave a comment and tell us what you’re listening to!
While we see a wide variety of clients with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests at AST, there is always one common denominator: everybody who comes in wants to lose fat and look better, but to be perfectly frank, they want to do it with as little sacrifice as possible. There’s no shame in that – it’s simply human nature. And fortunately, if you know what you’re doing, you can be successful with it, and when your friends come over for dinner and complain about how their dietitian has them eating bland fish and less than 1200 calories a day, you can tell them about how you have no idea how many calories you eat as you politely carve up your tri tip and sauteed veggies (cooked in real butter!) and polish off a pint of coconut ice cream for desert. Then you can show them your abs as they leave.
It’s About Math (But Not Like You Think)
Quick, let’s play some word association. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the word diet? Starvation? Low calorie? Weighing your food? Sacrifice? Unfortunately, this is the state of the weight loss industry in America today. Count your calories, count your points, make sure you only eat 3 ounces of chicken, because everybody knows that 4 ounces will make you a fatass. And if it tastes good, there’s no way it’s good for you, so throw away butter, high-quality oils, and marinades; it’s boiled chicken and steamed broccoli for you, my friend – six times a day for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.
Or not. Why does it always have to be about what you need to take away? Cut this, cut that; low fat, low carb, low calorie, low sodium, get rid of it, I can’t have that, this thing is forbidden. Deserts? Get the hell out of here with that desert menu, waiter man. And guys, I’m sure your date is going to love watching you pick the cheese off of your salad and skip on the strawberry cheesecake.
What if I told you there was a better way, and it didn’t involve any complicated math, and it might even let you keep eating that cookie you like to get every morning with your coffee? It’s simple.
The body has a particular set of needs, and any time it’s deprived of one of those needs, one of its systems suffers. Those needs can be physical, emotional, or nutritional; let’s just focus on the nutritional. When your body is deprived of a particular nutrient or mineral, it has to find an alternative to sustain normal function; if an alternative can’t be found, things start shutting down. So deprivation is oftentimes one of the worst things you could possibly do to your body, and is why so many diets prove to be ultimately unsuccessful in the long run. Your body simply can’t keep up function in a nutrient-deprived state and the results can be damaging – fat gain, hormonal changes, immune system complications, the list goes on and on.
However, when all of your body’s needs are being met, things function well. Sometimes so well that those little mistakes you might make along the way (that daily cookie, for example) prove to be not that damaging in the scheme of things.
Setting Daily Targets
What we have found to be most successful at AST is to give clients daily goals for certain key food groups or nutrients. While one of the ultimate goals may be to remove poor quality food or unnecessary items, the difference is that we very seldom specifically request that something be omitted entirely (obviously, when extreme results in a short timespan are desired, it’s a bit of a different story). Instead, we keep adding and adding until the offending foods naturally get reduced, because there’s only so much room for food to go. In fact, many clients end up eating two or three times the amount of food they were before they came to us, while still losing fat and feeling better.
What sort of additions are we talking about? While it depends on the individual, we usually begin with a combination of the following: a protein target, a water target, and a meal frequency target. It’s much harder to complain about eating more steak, drinking more water, and eating more often. Combine that with a focus on nutrient-rich foods; i.e. a sweet potato cooked in butter over a bag of potato chips may be very similar in carbohydrates and calories, but radically different in nutritional value.
These targets are variable but not rocket science – most females we have shoot for 3-4 significant servings of protein per day (a serving being roughly the size of the palm of your hand), 3-4 liters of water a day, and eating something every 2-4 hours. Males usually shoot for 4-5 slightly larger servings of protein, 5-6 liters of water, and a similar meal frequency. These are, again, variable, but provide a reasonable starting point to work from.
Am I saying that you never need to cut out junk food to lose fat? Of course not – the closer you get to your goal, the more diligent you have to be and the less room there is for error. The difference is that when you build a solid nutritional base, meeting all of the important things and keeping foods high-quality and nutrient-rich, you have a foundation to work from and can easily transition from an aggressive diet into a moderate lifestyle adjustment and back, depending on your goals.
The takeaway? If you’re tired of being constantly limited and take a food scale and calculator with you everywhere you go, maybe it’s time to take a different mindset and concentrate on the things you’re missing out on, not what you’re getting too much of. Your body will thank you by functioning better and looking better, too.
I figured the next entry in my blog is long overdue and the timing seems very appropriate. Since my last update, I had lost an additional 4% body fat (down to ~18%), but have gained some of it back. Success and then some failure… what happened? Read on…
The month of April was a very good month for me – I had successfully finished the 14-day no carb challenge, my workouts were thriving, and friends/family had started noticing a physical change in me. My biosigs were showing consistent progress, my eating habits were down to a formula…and then things took a different turn: I bought a new place (stress levels increased), I got swamped at the office (sleep and food started to struggle), and I had a big family reunion/wedding (food, sleep and stress trifecta), all back to back. Needless to say the month of May was a crappy one; I even had to take a few weeks off from coming to my training sessions.
What I’ve learned in the last month or so is that stress impacts my sleeping patterns, and forces me to run towards comfort food. What I’ve also gained is a new appreciation for the fork…yes, the fork. It’s as simple as garbage in/garbage out. Feed your body clean, healthy food and it will react very positively. Conversely, feeding your body garbage will not only show in your bio-sigs and training floor, but also impact the rest of your daily life. In my case, recently I have been feeling tired and lethargic.
Here are a few tips on making sure that your next bio-sig is a great one:
1. Don’t fool yourself – In a previous life I used to tell myself: “Come Monday, I will start eating extreme healthy.”…by Wednesday, I would be craving some crap meal and by Thursday I would have given in. Changing your eating habits takes time. Even after falling off the wagon the last few weeks, I gave myself one full week to get back to a healthy plate. Start off with eating three healthy meals and allowing your fourth to be a “regular” meal. Don’t set yourself up for failure and add unnecessary stress.
2. Do the 14-day no carb challenge – I dropped somewhere between 2-3% body fat in two weeks. It’s not THAT hard. You can do it.
3. Start your day with the meat/nut breakfast – It takes a few days of getting used to, and you feel energetic the rest of the day. I personally prefer ground beef with spices and a handful of raw cashews.
4. Look forward towards your meals: Make mealtime a happy, enjoyable process. If you go into it with a negative attitude, you WILL fail. Make meals that are Paleo approved, but also excite you on a personal level.
5. Be prepared – Go to the grocery store at a time when you are not rushed, and cook for the week during the weekend. Place everything in Ziploc/Tupperware so it’s easy to grab-n-go when the week gets busy.
6. Water, Water Water….drink lots of it. I try to drink about 3-4 liters a day.