Morgan's 10 diet tips

10 Tips for When You Start a Diet

Making a big diet change comes with its challenges. Every year, I participate in AST’s Ultimate Challenge fat loss competition as a way to re-focus after the holiday season. Here are some of the things you want to be ready for.

  1.  Prepare your food: This one is pretty obvious—make sure you always have goal-friendly foods that you know the macros for in your fridge. Plan at least a couple of your next-day meals the night before and log the macros that evening so you can grab them and go in the morning. Always have veggies chopped up or on hand for when you are hungry but can’t eat anything else.
  1. Plan for “Emergencies”: Not real emergencies like your arm falling off, I’m talking about food emergencies, like when you’re caught working late or out running errands that are taking longer than expected (or, when you think you should eat that arm). In a bind, you should always know what your nearest convenient snack options are. My faves include a prosciutto-wrapped cheese stick from 7-Eleven, a bag of raw nuts from a gas station/convenience store, and a piece of fruit from the grocery store.
  1. Eating out: This is an inevitable reality for most of us. Knowing where you can go and where you can’t is important. Yes, it’s easy to order a chicken breast, piece of fish or steak with a side of veggies or a salad anywhere, but will you?  Be honest with yourself, because it can be hard to say no to “cheats” at your usual haunts. If it’s not the Whole Foods salad bar (and yes, I’m only talking about the part with leafy greens), Chipotle, or a steak house, you will not find me there during periods of more aggressive fat loss.
  1. The numbers don’t lie . . . except when they do: You are going to have to get used to this idea: your weight and body fat measurements will not always be in direct correlation with how closely you’ve stuck to the plan. I’ve been weighing myself at the same time every day on the challenge. Here are my results:

weight fluctuation

  1. Your mental capacity might suffer: What was I doing? What did you say? Did you see that? You are not losing it. These are all questions I’ve asked myself during the first week of my diet. Often referred to as “brain fog,” it’s just your brain adjusting to running on fat, rather than carbs (its preferred energy source).  It doesn’t last forever.
  1. Your workouts might suffer . . . temporarily: Mine usually do.

workout log

Chalk it up to having less energy. For most of us, we are consuming less energy, a.k.a. less food. This will be temporary.

  1. Plan your social life around activities, not food and drink: By now my friends and family know that I do this every year. I am not willing to go through a social dry spell for two months, so I see them for goal-friendly activities like having coffee, taking a yoga class, or visiting the spa. I usually go on at least one vacation during my diet and, yes, it’s possible. It just requires a little more research than the average trip.
  1. Catch up on your to-do list: In some ways I look forward to doing this every year because it gives me time to complete outstanding projects. It gives me a chance to binge-watch a show, complete a craft, or learn something new on YouTube. One year I made a rug, this year I’m working on learning a new language.
  1. When all else fails, trick yourself: Although my diet-breaking cravings vary from year to year, nothing beats desserts. I’ve learned to trick myself into enjoying the following in place of desserts:

Protein Pudding: Mix 1 cup of 2 percent Greek yogurt with 1 scoop of protein powder. Optional: 1 tbsp PB2, unsweetened cocoa powder or 1 scoop chocolate/espresso Wellness Greens.

Coconut Latte: Combine 2 shots of espresso with 2 tbsp – ¼ c coconut milk, stir in 1 packet stevia and top off with a dash of cinnamon.

I also make sure to end every night with a dessert-flavored tea. Argo Tea and Republic of Tea have some great dessert options.

  1. Forgive yourself: I’ve never had a perfect diet, but I’ve always looked better at the end than in the beginning. If you slip up, just reset the next day and start over. Don’t sweat it. It’s all about making lifestyle changes that make you look and feel better permanently.


surviving the holidays healthy eating

4 Quick Tips for Surviving (and Thriving) During the Holidays

surviving the holidays healthy eating

I am sure “Surviving the Holidays” is probably the #1 searched thing on google at this time of year.  Luckily you don’t have to spend time sifting through all the other stuff out there, you have me!  So, let’s get right to it, shall we?

Step 1: This is not feast or famine.  I read a book recently called “It’s Not About the Broccoli” about how to teach your children good eating habits and one of the concepts was to teach your child to be a good taster (you can buy it here if you want.  Don’t expect your child to clear the plate with a new food, just have them be comfortable tasting it.  The same is true of adults.  Tasting a food still lets you enjoy mom’s homemade cookies and the moist pumpkin bread that only comes around this time of year, but doesn’t require you to eat an entire pan of cookies or the whole loaf of bread.

Step 2: Eat slowly.  The food is not going to run away on you, so take your time eating and enjoying it.  The majority of people who find that they overeat do so because they eat quickly.  Slow it down, savor it, chat with friends and socialize between bites.

Step 3: Mindset is HUGE.  If you expect to gain 10 pounds over the holidays, then you probably will simply because you tell yourself “Well, it’s inevitable, so I might as well scarf it down and enjoy it”.  Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but it is not inevitable.  Be smart, just as you would throughout the rest of the year.  If you know you are going to a holiday party tonight, then plan on eating more protein and greens during the day in anticipation.  We talk about balance all year long, what makes the holidays any different?

Step 4: Enjoy yourself.  This is a special time of year to enjoy time with family and friends, so give yourself some grace.  Our children had a request this year – “Mom, can you and dad stay home this Christmas and not go to the gym to workout”.  Yes, even we fall into the trap of We can’t miss a day at the gym!  You know what?  Family is more important and experiences are more important than extra training or 1 missed workout.  Get over it, move on, and know that the gym will be there another day.

Quick Tip: Eat the Right Fruit for the Best Body Comp


There is a lot of contradictory advice amongst nutrition experts in regards to carb intake for fat loss, especially those coming from fruits.  Some nutritionists will tell you to aim for three or more servings daily of fruit, while other hardcore low-carb coaches will tell you that all fruits should be completely eliminated if the goal is to lose fat.  The truth, as usual, sits somewhere in the middle.

When it comes to fruit selection, as a general rule of thumb, you should be choosing thin-skin fruits, ones that allow you to eat the skin, over thick-skinned fruits that need to be peeled prior to consumption.  The simplest explanation is as follows: the thinner the skin on the fruit, the higher the fruit’s antioxidant content, as the thin skin means greater exposure to the sun’s rays.  Thinner-skinned fruits also tend to have a higher fiber content and less sugar than their thickly-wrapped counterparts, as most of the fiber is found in the skin itself.

So what fruits should you choose?  Go for things such as various types of berries, apples, peaches, pears, or plums, and limit intake of bananas, oranges, clementines, and tropical fruits such as watermelon.  A six-ounce container of blackberries has less than 100 calories, 10 grams of fiber, and very little sugar.

How many times a day should you eat fruit?  We’ve had the best success keeping it at no more than two servings daily, with the a serving being roughly the size of your fist, and with the best timing being first thing in the morning with breakfast, and after a strength training session, perhaps blended in with your post-workout protein shake.

Quick Tip: Pre-Workout Nutrition for Early Morning Training

It’s important not to strength train on an empty stomach, but it’s also difficult to eat steak and almonds an hour before your workout if you train before the sun is even up. If you can’t get up early enough to have a good meal with real food prior to your session, we recommend this:

  • 8-12oz of black organic coffee
  • 1tbsp organic coconut oil
  • 1/2tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2tsp raw organic cacao powder (optional)
  • 10-30g BCAA Excellence 2.0

Mix the coffee, oil, cinnamon and cacao (if desired) and take your BCAA caps with a separate glass of water.  Ladies should take 10-15 caps, and men should take 20-30 caps.  Powdered BCAA is also permissible but unflavored BCAA tastes like battery acid and is not recommended.

Just make sure you finish about 10 minutes prior to your training and you’re good to go!

Quick Tip: 10 Tips for Fat Loss

  1. Eat the meat and nut breakfast, every day.
  2. If you have trouble sleeping through the night, make sure your last meal is 2-3 hours before going to sleep.  This decreases digestive stress and lowers the odds of waking as blood sugar levels decline.
  3. If you have low energy levels, try eating only red meat and nuts before noon, and white meats and green veggies later in the day.  Red meats trigger an increase in dopamine and white meats raise serotonin more.
  4. Take your bodyfat in grams of fish oil each day for four weeks (20 grams for 20%, for example).  Then decrease it to 75% for 4 weeks and 50% for another 4 weeks.
  5. Train each muscle group with less volume and more frequency (2-4 times per week) using full-body or alternating upper- and lower-body sessions.
  6. If you struggle to keep an accurate food log, just take a picture of each meal with your smartphone instead.  No measuring, no guessing required.
  7. Move more.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator, or get off the train one stop earlier and walk the extra few blocks.  This is not your cardio, but it promotes fat-burning.
  8. Carbs are not necessarily the enemy, but most people take in far too many.  Think that you need to “earn your carbs.”
  9. Don’t eat carbs before your workout if you’re trying to lose fat.  Would you go to the gas station to fill up if your tank is already full, or would you wait until you drive a few hundred miles first?
  10. Have a goal and a deadline.  Whether you reach it when you want to is less important than knowing what you want to achieve and how quickly.

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!

Quick Tip: Limit Food Additives to Stay Lean

Along with controlling the macronutrients of the food you eat (protein, carbs, and fat), it’s important to make sure that you limit any additional ingredients that might be added that provide no nutritional value, and oftentimes only serve to keep bodyfat on and inhibit change in body composition.

Take, for example, heavy cream. While it’s great to add to your coffee to provide flavor and slow down the release of caffeine, not all cream is the same. A random sampling from a local Jewel Osco found four different brands of heavy cream, and 3 of them had ingredients beyond just cream. In fact, one of them was actually an organic brand (Land O’ Lakes) and still had additives. Here is the ingredients list:


Compare that with Dean’s brand heavy cream:

Ingredients: HEAVY CREAM.

So make sure to check your labels and if you don’t know where it came from or what it does, you may want to put it back.

Quick Tip: Stretch Your Hips & Quads to Help Back Pain

One natural reaction to back pain, or pain in any particular area, is to focus all of your attention on where the pain is, not necessarily addressing the things that might be causing the pain in the first place.  Often, back pain is brought on by excessive tightness or poor mechanics in other, opposing muscle groups and movement patterns.

With back pain, usually there is some sort of problem with the pelvis, typically presenting in what’s called an anterior pelvic tilt (to visualize, put your hands on your hips, and picture “pouring” your pelvis forward).  Your butt will usually stick out and an excessive amount of lumbar arch (called lordosis) results.  This is usually caused by muscles that connect to the front of the pelvis being unnecessarily tight, specifically the psoas (one of the hip flexors) and the rectus femoris (one of the four quadriceps muscles).

As part of your daily routine, simply apply a mix of foam rolling and stretching to the hips and quads.  It’s best to begin with foam rolling the quads, then the hip flexors, before stretching.  If done pre-workout, do your foam rolling first and static stretching after a training session, as studies have shown that static stretching pre-workout can limit power output.

Quick Tip: Build Your Back for a Bigger Bench

The bench press is often thought of as a chest-specific exercise, but when done properly with near-maximal loads, it can become a full-body movement.  And as is often the case, the chest is not the limiting muscle group in how much weight you can move.  In fact, many times a bench press plateau can be caused by a lack of upper back and lat strength.

The reason this is the case is that the body has several automatic reflexes that it will use to limit imbalances between antagonistic (opposite) muscle groups.  So when you reach the point where your lats and back can no longer help stabilize the weight, your body will shut it down and progress will come to a halt.

One simple solution is to superset chest movements with back movements, matching exercises set-for-set and rep-for-rep.  Not only will this help ensure that your back stays balanced with your chest, but there is also evidence that training antagonistic muscle groups in a superset fashion can help you lift more weight than if you had done conventional sets.  Here’s a sample approach:

Sample Chest/Back Workout:

A1.*  Incline Barbell Press – 5×6-8, 40X0 tempo**, 90sec rest
A2. Wide-Grip Pullup – 5×6-8, 50X0 tempo, 90sec rest
B1. Neutral Grip Dumbbell Press – 3×13-15, 30X0 tempo, 60sec rest
B2. 1-Arm DB Row – 3×13-15, 30X0 tempo, 60sec rest
C1. Incline DB Flye – 3×13-15, 2210 temp0, 60sec rest
C2. DB Pullover – 3×13-15, 2210 tempo, 60sec rest

*Complete a set of the A1 exercise, then rest, then complete a set of A2, then rest, then continue back to A1.  Continue until all sets of each pair are completed.

**The first number is the eccentric rep speed (i.e. the lowering part of a bench press), the second number is the pause in the bottom position, the third number is the rep speed up, and the fourth number is the pause at the top of a lift.  X denotes “as fast as possible.”

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.