Stress Fat Loss

Stress “Buffering” for Better Health and Fat Loss

Stress Fat LossWith the bulk of AST members falling into the “busy professional” category, whether it be sales rep, CEO, accountant, stay-at-home mom, and many others, the biggest constant is always stress management.  While working on lowering the amount of stress you’re exposed to should be important, there are certain stresses that aren’t practical to eliminate – a newborn who’s only sleeping for an hour at a time, a long commute on Lake Shore Drive every day, mandatory overtime to meet project deadlines – it’s not always an option to completely rid yourself of the stresses in your life.
But one thing that we do know can help is to use different tools to help buffer your body’s stress response – getting an environment where a stress that used to feel like a 10 out of 10 now only feels like a 7 or an 8 (or less, in a perfect world).  Less adrenaline, less anxiety, less disrupted sleep… all things that when left unadressed can impact your efforts to get in shape and improve your health.

1 – Get Better (and MORE) Sleep

There are a few things at play with this one here – some that you can control, and some you can’t.  The obvious one here is, you just stay up too late.  Not for any real, time-sensitive reason, but maybe because you have been coming home from work and binge-watching old episodes of Who’s the Boss well into the evening hours.  The answer isn’t very complicated, just GO TO BED ALREADY.  Seriously.
Besides, Angela is the boss.  Everybody knows that already.
She called to tell you to be in bed by 10.
If you want to do everything you can to improve your sleep quality, you may want to look into the 10-3-2-1-0 approach to your sleep routine:
10 hours before bed – no more caffeine
3 hours before bed – no more food
2 hours before bed – no more work
1 hour before bed – no more screen time (computers, cell phones, TV’s)
0 – the number of times you’ll likely hit the snooze button
Even installing applications like f.lux on your  computers can help, as it reduces the blue light glow from your screen and drops the intensity of the light coming from your screen to mimic the rise and fall of the sun.  Mobile options like Twilight are also available for Android and iPhones and work the same way.

2 – Meditation

You may not be able to crank out an hour of yoga or tai chi every day (although if you can, go for it), but you can certainly spare 10 minutes of your time that you might currently be using for Facebookery or Netflix binges, and replace it with guided meditation and deep breathing exercise.  The Headspace app takes you through an ongoing… program? I guess that’s an appropriate thing to call it… and as you work your way through and improve your proficiency, new tools are introduced to keep you challenged along the way.


You can do it at any time of the day, but the most popular usage seems to be first thing in the morning or at bedtime.  If you’re an anxious sleeper (your body is exhausted but your brain is working overtime) then placing it at bedtime may have the most bang for your buck.

And yes, I know I just suggested ditching electronics for an hour before bed, but I’m willing to make an exception here if you can’t get it in early enough.  It’s better than trolling your roommate on Twitter, anyway.

3- Supplementation

Let me get this little disclaimer out of the way first – there isn’t a supplement in the world that will allow you to drop endless amounts of stresses onto your system.  Relaxitor (I call dibs on that name, by the way) won’t fix your lack of sleep, the gallon of Red Bull you drink every day, the poor planning that leaves you sprinting out the door late for work every morning… BUT… there are things that can help boost your body’s defenses against chronic stress loads that aren’t necessarily within your control.

Rhodiola rosea – I’m going to save us all time by just directly citing the benefits from Thorne Research:

“Rhodiola rosea has been extensively studied in Russia and Scandinavian countries for over 35 years and is categorized as an adaptogen because of its ability to increase resistance to chemical, biological, and physical stressors.* Rhodiola has been found to inhibit stress-induced depletion of important brain neurotransmitters.* The adaptogenic properties of Rhodiola are attributed primarily to this ability to influence the levels and activity of neurotransmitters and the amino acids that mimic the effect of opiates in the brain, such as the beta-endorphins.* Because it is an adaptogen, Rhodiola has the potential to normalize neurotransmitters in the central nervous system without causing drowsiness or fatigue. In other words, it helps maintain normal levels of brain chemicals but, when they are already normal, Rhodiola will not further affect them.*

Russian studies suggest a positive role for Rhodiola in situations characterized by a decline in work performance, poor appetite, sleep disturbances, irritability, and fatigue.* Studies have found improved mental performance in physicians on night duty who were supplemented with Rhodiola.* Medical students given Rhodiola during exam periods reported improved concentration and performance, as well as enhanced well-being, improved sleep, and greater mood stability.*

In addition to aiding sleep, Rhodiola can enhance mood and decrease occasional episodes of worry and nervousness, allowing for more efficient functioning under stressful conditions.*”

Rhodiola tends to work well as an almost “catch-all” type of stress supplement as it has benefits in improving a wide array of stress reactions.

Suggested Use: 300-400mg per day, in divided doses

Relora (Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense) – once again, I may as well turn it over to Thorne’s summary of benefits for their version of Relora:

“Individuals who are occasionally anxious, feel stressed, or eat when stressed can have trouble maintaining their optimal weight.

Relora Plus is a proprietary blend of plant extracts from Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense (two major botanicals used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 1,500 years) along with a mix of B-vitamins, including active forms of B2, B6, B12, and folate.

Studies have demonstrated that the plant extracts in Relora Plus help to lower morning cortisol (a marker of adrenal stress), increase salivary DHEA, manage stress-related eating, and help manage body weight.* Study participants felt significantly more relaxed, less anxious, and better in control of their mood and stress-related eating habits.* The B-vitamins in Relora Plus are nutritional cofactors in the creation of neurotransmitters and have been shown to support mood.*”

Suggested Use: 500mg per dose, taken 2-3 times daily

One quick note on stress supplements – a common prescription for them is to take them toward the end of the day, or after training or some other stressful event.  However, if you’re already doing a poor job of handling stress, waiting until after things have already started to accumulate before addressing it is like waiting until the dam has already broken before you try to fix it, instead of making improvements so that it never breaks in the first place.

Most people will benefit the most by dividing their intake into more than one dose and taking it throughout the day, with at least one early-day dose so that you can buffer the effect of stressful events as they happen.  For the two supplements listed above, the recommendation here at AST is:

Thorne Rhodiola Rosea – 1 cap (100mg), taken 3x/day (although I may do 2 caps earlier in the day if I’m trying to get to 400mg when stress is HIGH)

Thorne Relora Plus – 2 caps (500mg), taken 2-3x/day (again, on the high side when stress isn’t being tolerated well)

Thorne Rhodiola Relora

Supplementation is never a magic fix, but when done in conjunction with other efforts, including nutrition and lifestyle changes, it can be extremely valuable.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Are You the Person I’m Looking For?

This went out to all of our newsletter subscribers and clients a few days ago, and now I’m opening it up to all of our social media readers. I am writing this because I have something special to share. If you’re reading this, I think it COULD apply to you. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but I would rather let you make that decision instead of me, as I have been wrong more than once. As some of you may or may not know, I recently began competing in Physique competitions (which I have been thoroughly enjoying, by the way). But this isn’t about me. 52544-zach-trowbridge-11_final It IS about the fact that I am looking for TWO people with similar interests. I am looking to take two people to the stage within the next 12 months. Why? Because it isn’t enough for me to do it myself – if I can’t reproduce the results then it doesn’t really help me continue to grow even more as a coach. So, who am I looking for? I am looking for one client to work with one on one with me personally, as a private client, 4 days per week, for an hour at a time. This person, male or female, should be highly motivated to get into more than just good shape – they need to want something more. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re already a client at All Strength Training or not – it’s open to anybody! I am also looking for one person to work with remotely. This person probably won’t live close enough to train with me one on one, but you’ll get the next best thing. Customized nutrition, programming, and weekly Skype consult, and more. Now, the good part. I am not going into this with a particular set cost in mind. I would rather have the right people who will do what’s needed, rather than just those with the most disposable income. So I’m not putting a price tag on it yet – if you’re the person for the job, we can work that out later. 12 week transformation So what do I get out of it? 1. Promotion. Yes, I will use you to promote our services. On our website, through social media, in print, etc. Consider it a trade for offering this at well below what I would typically charge. 2. Data. You’re a beta tester for all of my nutrition, training, and supplementation protocols. So we will keep lots of records together, you and I. Workouts, pictures, measurements, consistently and regularly. How Do You Apply? Reply to this e-mail or send an e-mail to me personally at In about 500 words (a few paragraphs), describe what you want from me. How you want to look, what competition you would like to do, who you would like to look like, and tell me why I should pick you. Please, also specify if you want to be considered for one on one or remote training. Lastly, tell me what inspires you. People, places, activities, anything. I want to know what drives you to be a better person and motivates you to get out of bed each day. If you read this and think this isn’t for you, I understand. Not everyone wants or needs to go to the level I’m asking for this project. I would ask, however, that if you know someone who fits the bill, that you share this with them so that they might have the opportunity to be considered. Until Next Time, Zach Trowbridge

Quick Tip: Limit Caffeine Post-Workout


For many people, a morning cup of coffee is a bit of a ritualistic experience.  All you have to do is spend 10 minutes inside a Starbucks at 5am and take note of the number of mental zombies rattling off an order so complicated you’re not sure if they’re getting a cappuccino or giving nuclear launch codes.

We’ve touted the benefits of caffeine on this site before, but what about timing?  Maybe you’re somebody who has to hit the gym first thing in the morning, and you don’t get around to your morning fix until you hit the break room at the office.  Or maybe you work out after work, and then brew a pot of coffee so you can stay up later to finish all the work you didn’t get to during the day.  Well, get ready for some bad news, because your coffee may be doing more harm than good the way you’re doing it.

First, let’s look at some of the things we know about coffee and caffeine in general:

  • Coffee raises cortisol, a stress response hormone.  We know that too much cortisol is a huge issue in our modern culture and can have pronounced impact on health and body composition.
  • Coffee acts as a natural diuretic, therefore impacting nutrient absorption.  Who here has uttered the phrase “uh oh, my coffee’s running right through me” before?
  • In a significant percentage of people, caffeine acts as much as a physical stimulant as it does a mental one, thanks to that big boost in cortisol courtesy of your adrenal glands.
  • Caffeine has been shown to decrease insulin sensitivity.  Not long-term, but temporarily due to the spike in cortisol, which, again, as we know, means that if cortisol goes up, blood sugar management temporarily goes down.

So what does this mean in the context of drinking it after training?

  • We want cortisol to go up shortly before and during training, as acute increases in cortisol actually help to mobilize bodyfat.  When it’s already elevated, however, the last thing you want to do is add more.  Your goal should be to bring cortisol back down to normal as fast as possible after training.
  • You want to drive nutrients into the cells quickly after training to help promote recovery and protein synthesis.  Emptying the GI tract too quickly is not going to help your post-workout shake be any more effective and will likely counter a lot of the benefits.
  • It’s okay to want to stimulate your mind after training, but we want to avoid amping up your nervous system at the same time.  Instead, nutrients that have been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier such as acetyl-L-carnitine, bacopa extract, and alpha GPC would be a better option.
  • Post-workout is one of the best times to take in carbs.  That is, unless your insulin sensitivity is suppressed.  Thanks, but no thanks, coffee.

The takeaway?  Save caffeine for pre-workout use only if possible.  If not, at a minimum, give your body 3-4 hours after training to get cortisol levels back to a normal state before having a follow-up dose.

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!

My First Nutritional Cleanse

In the past, my attitude toward cleanses has typically been some combination of “and how exactly is high dosing cayenne pepper and lemon juice supposed to do anything but destroy your toilet?” and “what the hell is a spiritual cleanse?”  However, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence (some real science as well, but it’s not a tremendously well-studied area) that various cleanses and detoxes, when performed correctly with adequate nutritional support, can have a positive impact on health and performance.

I was exposed to Dr. Robert Rakowski’s 7 Day Cleanse a few years ago at my first BioSignature course, when Charles Poliquin explained it as one of the protocols available to practitioners.  Unlike many popular cleanses, this one actually involves more than just a “eat fifty lemons a day for a week” level of simplicity, and has multiple components to support healing of the body.  Here’s a quote I found directly from Charles explaining the cleanse he advocates:

“Before I even get started, I want to be clear in how I define a cleanse. It is the process of improving or increasing the body’s ability to remove toxins from your internal environment. I’m not talking about colonic therapy and I’m not talking about joining Hollywood celebrities at a posh detox center. A cleanse involves reducing the amount of toxins coming into the body and increasing the amount of toxins leaving the body. Another component of a cleanse is to reduce the amount of toxins your body creates which requires adequate nutritional support.”

In essence, here is what is involved:

  • using various forms of medical food powders as the foundation for nutritional support over a 7-day period (best selected based on the individual’s BioSignature results)
  • supplementing with greens and reds “superfoods” and glutamine in between meals to alkalize the body and increase nutritional support of detoxification
  • adding in a limited amount of appropriately selected supplements based on the individual’s needs for the cleanse (examples from the Poliquin line – Yang R-ALA to help chelate heavy metals, P1P2 Balance to support phase II detox through the liver, Magnesium Glycinate and Topical Mag cream to lower cortisol from the stress of detoxing, DIM 2.0 to enhance detoxification of estrogens)
  • various forms of physical activity to increase circulation and help mobilize toxins through the body (strength training, massage, infrared sauna, foam rolling)

I began my first day the day after we returned home from the hospital with our newborn son (because hey, why NOT get it all out of the way at once?) and my daily outline looked something like this:

2tbsp Primal Fiber 2
1tbsp Primal Greens or Reds
1tbsp glutamine
15 BCAA Excellence

2-3 scoops Primal Clear 2.0
1tsp glycine
1 DIM 2.0
1 Calcium D-Glucarate
1 D3 Excellence
2 EPA/DHA 720 Blend
3 Yang R-ALA

2-3 scoops Estrogenomics
1tsp glycine
3 Multi Intense Iron Free
1 Methylator Support
2 P1P2 Balance

1tbsp Primal Greens or Reds
1tbsp glutamine
1 DIM 2.0
1 Calcium D-Glucarate
1 D3 Excellence
2 EPA/DHA 720 Blend
3 Yang R-ALA
15 BCAA Excellence

2-3 scoops Primal Clear 2.0
1tsp glycine
3 Multi Intense Iron Free
2 P1P2 Balance

2-3 scoops Estrogenomics
1tsp glycine
1 DIM 2.0
1 Calcium D-Glucarate
1 D3 Excellence
2 EPA/DHA 720 Blend
4 Magnesium Glycinate

1tbsp Primal Greens or Reds
1tbsp glutamine
15 BCAA Excellence
4 Magnesium Glycinate

10pm (bedtime)
2tbsp Primal Fiber 3.1
2 ProFlora Excellence
1 pump Topical Mag (applied to the carotid artery)

Each day for 7 days, you also choose 1 green vegetable to eat an unlimited amount of. I shot for at least 3 cups of each veggie per day using the following – broccoli, celery, spinach, zucchini, cucumber, snow pea pods, and asparagus. After the 4th day, roughly 2 cups a day of brown, wild or purple rice are added back in.

For physical activity, you want to do something every day for about 20-30 minutes to work up a sweat and increase circulation, but you do NOT want to increase lactic acid in the bloodstream. I trained 4 days out of 7, picking 2 exercises and doing 10 sets of 3 with short rest intervals. For example,

A1) Heel elevated back squat, 10×3, 40X0, no rest
A2) Romanian deadlift, 10×3, 50X0, 30 seconds rest

I tried to pick weights that I could handily hit at least 6 reps with under normal training conditions. I also did some form of foam rolling every single day for about 10-15 minutes, and did one 30-minute treatment in an infrared sauna to pull out plastics and heavy metals.

I have had a few clients do this before, as well as my wife, and the first few days are typically the hardest (one of my clients once told me she felt like she had been possessed by a demon she was so irritable the first 3 days), but honestly, the entire 7 days was an absolute cakewalk for me. No headaches, no irritability, no cravings, no sprinting for the bathroom to “free the demons,” nothing. When I finished I felt like I could have handled another week of it with no problems. Not everybody tends to be that lucky though, typically 7 days is more than enough time to make changes and see results.

So what results did I see?  During the week my bodyfat dropped from 11.3% to 10.2%, my scale weight dropped from 166 to 158, and promptly rebounded back to 164 within 2 days of eating regular meals, and my training didn’t suffer.  My digestion has also improved and I’ve been able to reduce caffeine intake by about 25% by resting my adrenals for the week.

If you suffer from IBS, extreme fatigue, estrogen management issues, or are likely to have a buildup of toxins circulating in your body (for example, living in a very metropolitan area such as Chicago, Los Angeles or New York), a 7-day cleanse done once or twice a year may be what your body needs to keep progressing.

Ten Takeaways from the BioSignature Convention

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.

My First Boot Camp of 2012

I have made it a habit to do our 14-day low carb boot camp about once every 6 months, and just finished my first one of the new year. I figured that 1) I had been coasting a bit for the last 6 weeks or so and needed a jump start, and 2) most of the participants in our 2012 Ultimate Challenge are beginning the competition with it, so I should refresh myself on what to expect. Here’s a quick layout of all of the “extras” (for the basics of the boot camp itself, click here):


For the most part, I stayed with the basics – multivitamin, zinc, magnesium, high doses of fish oil, and HCL.  I also added Insulinomics and Glucose Disposal to address insulin resistance (I swapped out Glucose Disposal for Fenuplex after the first week because I ran out).  I also followed up each training session with a post-workout shake with 40g New Zealand whey, 2tbsp glutamine, 1tbsp glycine powder, and 1-2tbsp Primal Greens (a powdered greens superfood) to keep post-workout cortisol at a minimum.  I also added a couple of capsules of magnesium to my post-workout shake on days when I had to train later in the day.


None.  I did absolutely no cardio whatsoever for the entire 14 days.  If you are going to do cardio, keep it high-intensity intervals and 20-30 minutes max.  I have found that cardio raises cortisol more than it helps with fat loss so I do better with just staying low-carb instead.


We recommend either full-body training sessions or a combination of upper- and lower-body exercises (i.e. quads and back in one workout, hamstrings and chest/shoulders in another), 3-4 times a week.  I stayed with what has worked for me in the past, German Body Comp for Athletes.  I made a few adjustments based on equipment availability but other than that stayed true to the program as written.  It was a bitch.

Tips for Success

I started the boot camp at 12.5% bodyfat, was down to 10.3% after the first week, and finished at just over 9%.  I added about 3.5lbs of lean mass (maybe muscle, maybe fluid, but not fat) and lost about 5lbs of fat.  There are a few things that will make or break your success on this thing:

  1. Keep protein intake high.  Eat animal protein every time you eat, and eat as often as possible.  My protein intake averaged just under 400g per day at a bodyweight of 155-160lbs.
  2. Eat vegetables at every meal.  On top of keeping you full, veggies have a high thermic effect – meaning they take more calories to digest than there are in the food to begin with, due to the high fiber content.  Your body has to go to bodyfat to make up the difference.
  3. Prep your meals in advance.  Since eggs aren’t allowed on the boot camp, I used variations on burger patties for my breakfast and snacks to get me through.  Every few nights we would prep 1-2lbs of ground turkey, beef, chicken, or sirloin into 3-4oz patties and I would just grab two of them with some nuts or cucumbers for a quick meal.  Without the planning I would either have not eaten or have had to turn to crap just to get something in me.

One interesting note – last night I had a cheat meal after finishing the 14th day, and had pizza, breadsticks and ice cream with my boys.  About two slices into the pizza, I got a splitting headache that lasted the rest of the night.  Expect your body to reject unhealthy food after it’s over.

5 Easy Changes to Maximize Body Composition

Lots of attention is paid to the glamorous side of fat loss and muscle gain – fancy training programs get a 10-page spread in “Muscle & Fitness,” fad diets that make incredible “too-good-to-be-true” promises get to be on the New York Times bestseller list, and supposedly cutting-edge supplements get a shiny label and a huge, shredded bodybuilder with a model on each arm advertising how Super-Ultra-Hydro-Whey 50 is the reason they look the way they do. But what about the basics? You know, the boring stuff that actually works? We give them lots of love at AST, and suggest you do the same.

#1: The Meat & Nut Breakfast

When it comes to bang-for-your-buck dietary adjustments, nothing beats the meat and nut breakfast.  This is a trick that we borrowed from renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin, and it’s been effective in everything from dropping lots of bodyfat (one of our clients lost over 25lbs just by consciously making an effort to fix his breakfast) to improving energy and productivity at work.  The premise is simple – sugary and starchy breakfasts raise insulin (a fat-storage hormone) and serotonin (the happy, feel-good hormone), which usually results in the need for a nap 2-3 hours later.  Protein and omega-3 fats, on the other hand, keep insulin low and raise acetylcholine and dopamine (the “drive” hormones), which leads to less bodyfat and more productivity and mental clarity.

Want to read more?  Check out The Meat and Nuts Breakfast article from Charles Poliquin himself.

#2: Increasing Water Intake

Quick question – how much water should you have every day?  For about 99% of overweight and obese people, the answer is simple – more than what you’re having right now.  If I had to estimate from past experience, I would say that most of my clients over the last 10 years averaged about 12oz of water a day before they started doing something about it.  You would be surprised at how quickly weight starts coming off when you fix your water intake.  It doesn’t even have to be anything like a gallon a day (although that would be great!), just start with adding 2-3 extra glasses a day on a consistent basis.  Doing it for 2 days at a time doesn’t count, doing it for 200 days does.

Water is an essential component in fat metabolism, so trying to get lean without water is like trying to drive a car with no gas.  Push on the accelerator all you want, that car is going nowhere.

#3: Optimizing Basic Mineral Status

Before any fancy supplements are necessary, I like to ask clients to have blood levels of 3 things checked – vitamin D3, red blood cell (RBC) zinc, and RBC magnesium.  99% of people who come into our center are deficient in at least one of those 3, if not all of them.  Ignore what the “lab norms” might tell you is good, since the norms are purely the range that 95% of people fall into, and since most people who get their bloodwork done are not that healthy, you don’t want to compare yourself to somebody who is in less than ideal health.  Read more here about optimal levels and supplementation.

#4: Supplement with a Quality Fish Oil in High Doses

Fish oil is another boring old supplement that gets far less credit than it deserves.  Yet in high amounts, it can work wonders to kickstart the body’s lipolytic (fat-burning) genes and turn off the lipogenic (fat-storing) ones.  We use the same dosing recommendations as experts such as John Berardi, Charles Poliquin, and Johnny Bowden – use 1-1.5g of fish oil per % bodyfat, per day.  So somebody who is 30% bodyfat would use between 30-45g of fish oil per day for up to 4 weeks.  Try to split it into as many small doses as possible (5-10g per serving), and liquid fish oil is easier to take and more cost-effective in high amounts than capsule forms.

#5: Use a Cheat Meal

While it might seem counter-intuitive, a cheat meal once every 5 to 7 days can serve to keep you leaner and more compliant with your nutrition program.  The cheat serves two functions: first, it helps to preserve sanity and prevent you from “falling off the wagon.”  In my experience, the average person can make it about 4-6 weeks on a restrictive diet without deviating, but after that, things become too difficult and instead of going off a little, they will go way off and completely lose any benefits that the diet had given.  A weekly cheat meal gives you something to look forward to and is not so infrequent as to make it unrealistic.

The second function is more physiological – a low carb, paleo-style diet free of gluten and dairy will work wonders over about a 2-3 week time span, but after that, progress will slow due to depletion of a hormone called leptin, which contributes to fat-burning.  Throwing in a cheat meal with more carbs and calories in general boosts leptin levels and kickstarts progress.  The key is not to overdo it and to follow some simple rules:

  1. Always eat your protein first.
  2. Eat your cheat meal at the table, not on the couch or in front of the computer.  It needs to be a meal, not an entire evening.
  3. Put everything you want to eat at the table with you within arm’s reach.
  4. Eat whatever you want.
  5. When your butt leaves the seat, your meal is over.
  6. Try not to have your cheat meal be the last meal you have before bed.  Eating between 5-7pm is ideal.

There you have it.  Give these simple tricks a try and enjoy a leaner, stronger you!

Get Your Blood Tested for Optimal Body Composition

Most people who are struggling to add significant amounts of muscle or lose bodyfat quickly will try just about anything to get results – every fad diet, every “cutting edge” workout routine from your favorite grocery store fitness magazine, every “amazing new” supplement with ads that show men and women with physiques that you would kill for.  But when we screen new clients coming in to start a program, when we ask when the last time blood work was drawn, over 90% of the time the answer is “more than 2 years ago.”

On top of that, the extent of the education on the results provided by the doctor typically focuses on things like cholesterol and glucose, with very little attention paid to other key information that could make all the difference in the world for how much you get out of your physical efforts.  Below I will list what I believe to be 3 of the most important blood tests that are very easy to do and can be taken by most doctors and covered under most insurances.

Vitamin D3

Most of our exposure to vitamin D comes via sunlight, with very little vitamin D coming from our diet.  In addition, the RDA for vitamin D is a meager 400IU per day, which means that even foods that are fortified with vitamin D don’t contain it in any quantities that will do any good very quickly.  Combine poor food intake with limited sun exposure and you’re very likely to have low levels of D.  In fact, the average blood levels for Americans living north of Atlanta, Georgia are 14ng/mL.  Optimal levels, however, are between 80-100ng/mL.

Red Blood Cell Magnesium

Per Charles Poliquin:

“Magnesium is the fourth-most abundant mineral in the body, with approximately 66 percent of it found in bone and 33 percent in skeletal and cardiac muscle. It is absorbed in the small intestine and excreted through the kidneys. Magnesium is involved in 300 essential biochemical reactions in the body, ranging from ATP production to protein synthesis, so it is obviously important for optimal athletic performance and a high quality of life.” (Magnesium Deficiency: A Growing Health Crisis)

Although the labratory norms for RBC magnesium are typically between 1.8 and 2.2mg/dL, optimal ranges have been shown to be somewhere between 4.2 and 6.8mg/dL.  Several different types of magnesium are available, composed of different “chelates” which make them more likely to be absorbed by specific tissues in the body, such as the liver, the muscles, and the brain.  It is also available in topical forms for those with history of GI upset or symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

 Red Blood Cell Zinc

Zinc, like magnesium, is an essential mineral for many of the body’s functions, but is also one of the most common mineral deficiencies.  Common side effects include low testosterone and aromatization of testosterone into estrogen, as well as decreased muscle mass and delayed muscular recovery.  Ideal levels for those training intensely have been shown to be between 1,400 ug/dL.

Addressing Deficiencies

If you show as deficient in any of the above 3 nutrients, it would be beneficial to use a functional medicine doctor or other practitioner to help you develop a plan to restore deficiencies.  It is important to note that many times it can be necessary to use a “therapeutic dose” of a vitamin or mineral to restore a deficiency – in other words, a dose that’s significantly more than what would be suggested for daily maintenance.  But think of it this way – it’s not much different than a doctor recommending 200mg of ibuprofen for a headache, but 800mg for a severe sprain.  The dose will be tailored to the condition.

Please, if you have been struggling to make changes but aren’t seeing the results you want, contact your physician and ask to have these three tests taken.  Then seek out help to get the appropriate guidance to restore nutrient status and get the body you desire.

For more information on nutrient deficiencies and how they can impact your health and physique, click here to learn more about BioSignature Hormone Analysis and to schedule a consultation.

Supplement Review: BCAA Excellence 2.0

If you pay attention to supplement advertising at all over the last several years, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the phrase “peri-workout nutrition.”  Simply stated, peri-workout means “during your workout.”  There is a lot of new science coming out that has shown that there can be significant benefits in strength and lean mass by choosing the right supplements in the right doses and taking them while training.  One such supplement is branched chain amino acids.

BCAA’s have been available as a supplement for as long as I can remember; in fact, I tried them for the first time when I was 14 years old.  However, a few things have changed since then, both in the timing, and in the dosage.  For a long time, it was recommended simply to take 3 or 4 before a workout.  In fact, the first BCAA’s I used (SportPharma BCAA, which are no longer available) were only available in a 30-capsule bottle, and cost me about 30 bucks.

Now, based both on research and anecdotal evidence coming from one of BCAA’s most staunch advocates, strength coach Charles Poliquin, it is recommended to take a much, much higher dose, and to take it during training.  For a 200lb male, Poliquin recommends taking anywhere between 20 and 50 grams of BCAA’s, either in powder or capsule form.  The downside to using a powder is that, unless additional sweeteners are added, the taste is, frankly, awful.  I used to have several clients use a powder for their BCAA’s and had a lot of issues getting them to finish it all before their workout was over.  However, for about the last 6 months, we’ve been using the capsules available from Poliquin Performance, BCAA Excellence 2.0.

Here are some of the things we’ve been using BCAA’s for with our clients with great success:

  • increased insulin sensitivity
  • increased muscle mass (anywhere between 3 and 6lbs in the first month on average)
  • preserving lean muscle mass during bouts of intense fat loss
  • increased workout volume (# of sets)
  • improved recovery between workouts
  • increased workout frequency (less time between training the same muscles or movements)

In fact, I put on about 6lbs of lean body mass the first month I was using them, during which time I also did our 14-day Low Carb Boot Camp, and still increased muscle mass and strength.  Even female clients who are using them at a lower dose are seeing improved strength and muscle definition in conjunction with their fat loss programs.

The suggested dose for a 200lb male is about 30-40 capsules spread over the course of the workout, adjust accordingly for your own bodyweight.  The only downside to the capsules is that occasionally you’ll burp one up midway through a workout, which has a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste.  If it wasn’t for that they’d be a 10 out of 10 for sure.

Rating: 9/10

Retail: $52.00 for 500 capsules from Poliquin Performance