My Spice and Supplement Regimen

I have a longlong workout streak going.  I’ve not taken a complete day off since the day I graduated from college (May 19, 2013).  As of right now, that puts me at 835 consecutive days.  The ‘Millennial Mark’ is coming soon 🙂

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What I’ve come to realize is that the concept of overtraining (that is, the idea that you can over-exert your body) is used far too frequently and almost always not the case.  With proper training periodization and nutrition/supplementation, I’ll go so far as to say it’s almost impossible to actually overtrain.

My desire for exceptional health and wellness (and to maintain this streak) has led me to nerd out quite a bit on supplementation for fitness, health, and optimal cognitive functioning.  I’ve mapped out which spices and supplements I take, which I believe have helped me to feel great and stay injury-free and very healthy while growing this streak.

Right now, I’m at taking sixty-three different spices and supplements.  Sounds crazy, right?  It’s actually not bad — all sixty-three of these compounds come from only twelve different items, and I use many of those twelve while cooking my food, so in terms of total pills swallowed per day, I’m taking sixteen pills per day.

If you think this is a lot, think again.  Famous inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil takes over 250 supplements daily!  Compared to his stack, mine looks like one fit for a baby.

Take a look! Here’s everything:

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Disclaimer: I’m not a licensed physician, nor do I pretend to be one.  The purpose of this post is to provide information and spur discussion about individual/personalized supplementation.  These spices and supplements are simply what I’m currently choosing to take on a daily basis, but this information should not be interpreted as a recommendation for exactly what you should be taking.  Always consult with your trusted healthcare practitioner before beginning any sort of supplement regimen.  I assume no responsibility or liability for your health-related decisions.  Now, back to the post:

Once I add the three additional compounds I have in the queue (I’m not counting Vitamin D since I’m already taking it and am simply increasing my dosage), then I’ll be up to sixty-six things in total that I’m taking.

What I take is also always subject to change, based on new research and evidence as well as personal experience.  This, however, is what I’m taking right now.

This system has become so routinized in my daily routine that I hardly spend any time thinking about it, so virtually no mental energy is expended on thinking about taking these things.  I simply take them, and I enjoy the benefits of feeling great while also functioning at a high level.

In examining the compounds, it’s interesting to note how many of them lack a %RDV recommendation.  The FDA has established many %RDVs for vitamins and minerals, but for things such as EPA and DHA (the two omega-3 fatty acids with a hefty amount of literature backing their health benefits), there’s nothing.  Same goes for turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and a host of other things that have quite a bit of evidence-based research demonstrating their benefits.  C’mon, FDA!

I’ve had great conversations with many friends about supplementation, with so much knowledge exchanged between us.  What I’m currently taking is the result of loads of personal research as well as extended dialogue between friends.  I’m always looking to learn more, so if you have anything you’re taking daily to enhance your quality of life, I’m all-ears and would love to hear more.

Also, I’ve not begun taking any nootropics (cognitive, learning, and memory enhancing compounds) yet, but those are also on the horizon.  Anyone who has any experience with them, please let me know so I can pick your brain!

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500 Straight Days of Sweating

498…499…500!

Wednesday, October 1st marked a special day for me.  It was the 500th consecutive day that I’d worked out.  The streak started the day after I graduated from college, and it’s still going (today is 507).

The time-tracker showing the streak at 500 days.

The time-tracker showing the streak at 500 days.

Once upon a time, I would’ve thought that working out for 500 consecutive days was a big deal.  That’s no longer the case; in fact, I think just about anyone can do this.  The reality is that we’re all capable of doing a lot of work and that overtraining is, for the most part, b.s.

Now, does overtraining exist?  It certainly does, but it’s such a hard state to reach that I’d venture to guess that no one reading this (including myself) is coming close to the threshold of overtraining.

One of my favorite bodybuilders, Jay Cutler, has been quoted as saying, “There’s no such thing as overtraining. It’s a word used by the weak-minded. There is only undereating, undersleeping, and the failure of will.”  

“But Jay’s on tons of PEDs so this clearly doesn’t apply to naturals!”  To that, I say nonsense.  I know a ton of lifetime naturals (including myself) who train with as much – if not more volume – than many people who are on tons of PEDs, and we’re still doing fine.

Take the Tarahumara people of Northwestern Mexico, who can run for distances of 150-200 miles (or even more) in one session.  And one thing’s for sure: they’re not on drugs, so what’s their secret?

Their secret is that they don’t put self-imposing limitations on their own capabilities.

Believing that PEDs are the only way you can train at a very high volume is an extremely limiting belief that will greatly lower the ceiling of your full potential.

If you’re wanting to push yourself to your full capabilities naturally, you’ve got to make sure that your nutrition and recovery programs are up to par with your training.  Here are the not-so-secret secrets to how you can support an extremely high training volume:

1. Optimization 

Through the course of this streak, I’ve extensively studied and optimized various aspects of my nutrition and recovery programs.

And let it be known that working out isn’t all that I’ve been doing during this streak; it’s simply an activity I’ve committed to doing every single day, which leads me to my next point: the importance of automation.

2. Automation 

In addition to optimizing several aspects of my life to help support my rigorous training volume, I’ve also automated many of these things so that the mental energy I spend thinking about doing them is miniscule.

3. Outstanding Nutrition

My diet is chock-full of great nutrition, and I’m taking in almost 5 lbs. of vegetables per day right now (as well as plenty of protein to support recovery).

4. Adequate Sleep

I always strive to get a full night’s rest every night (7-9 hours).  There have been instances during this period where I’ve only gotten 2 or 3 hours of sleep, and I simply soldiered through and did what needed to be done.  However, if you zoom out and look at the big picture, I do make sure to get enough sleep almost every night.

5. Smart Supplementation

And while I’m not at all a big proponent of dietary supplements, there are several I use on a daily basis that I believe help support my overall health as well as provide me with added joint support.

6. An Undeniable Will

Lastly – and most importantly – I’ve cultivated the will to do this, which is the most important aspect of all.  If you have the intrinsic motivation to work out every day, everything else will fall neatly into place.

“That’s all fine and dandy, but I don’t have enough time to work out.”  At face-value, that sounds like a fair excuse, but the reality is it’s not.  We all have 24 hours in a day.  24 hours is a lot of time, and if you don’t “have time” for this, it’s more likely that it’s just not a high priority.  Life is all about time management and prioritizing.

In the future, I’ll be delving into the nitty-gritty of my nutrition, supplementation, and training specifics of how I’ve been keeping this streak alive.  But for now, I’ll leave you with a quote from Team Running USA coach Bob Larsen: “You can avoid overtraining by undertraining, but then you don’t win medals.”

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Hands-On with the Lapka PEM

We’re almost a decade and a half into the 21st century, and the Internet has now been around long enough that most of us experience some form of retrograde amnesia with regards to our inability to remember a time not so long ago when the Internet was just a baby, and dial-up connections were really fast weren’t that slow.

With the proliferation of the Internet – and the advancement of technology – we’re now ushering in a new era of information amalgamation – the Internet of things.  It’s estimated that over a quarter of Americans will be making some sort of wearable tech purchase within the next year, and that percentage is only going to increase more in the coming years.

A company called Lapka has made some big waves in this space with the release of two different wearables.  One is called the ‘Lapka BAM’ (BAM is short for blood-alcohol monitor), and it’s a portable breathalyzer that let’s you test your BAC in seconds.  The best part of the BAM is that since its ‘mouthpiece’ is your hand, you can also share it with your friends so everyone in your group has an idea of how drunk – or sober – they really are.

*(This also throws a wrench into my lifelong fantasy of throwing a huge, multi-keg party where all of the kegs contain non-alcoholic beers.  C’mon – you can’t deny how hilarious it’d be to see how many of your friends actually completely fake their drunkenness, which would clearly be evident if they acted drunk from drinking non-alcoholic beer 🙂  But in all seriousness, having BAC monitors like the BAM readily available is a huge step forward for the safety of everyone on roads across the country.)

As awesome as Lapka’s BAM is, their flagship device, the ‘Lapka PEM’ (personal environment monitor) gives you tons of insight into your immediate surroundings.  It has sensors that measure four key things in your environment:

1) The nitrate count of your food

2) The strength of the electromagnetic (EM) fields where you’re at

3) The amount of radiation being emitted by devices nearby

4) the temperature (in both Fahrenheit and Celsius) and relative humidity of where you are

*Note: If you’re a woman and expecting to have a child soon and/or have young ones at home, the PEM’s radiation sensor can be of great use, as both fetuses and young children should have their radiation exposure kept to minimal levels.

After seeing everything it could do, I knew I had to get my hands on one, and here are my thoughts:

“The power is in your hands and at your fingertips.”

The first thing to note about the Lapka PEM is that there are two iOS apps that you can use (Lapka and Lapka Pro) to track your environment.  Both apps ultimately serve the same purpose, but their presentation of the data is different.  The Lapka app shows you not only the value of what you’re measuring, but also provides you with a visual guide showing acceptable and problematic ranges, based on specific environmental parameters (you’ll see two pictures explaining what I’m writing about just below the next paragraph).

First things first – while preparing my food for the day, I decided to microwave my sweet potatoes so that I’d have a chance to test out two of the four things the Lapka PEM measures – nitrate count in food and (EM) field strength.  Before microwaving the potatoes, I pried them with the nitrate sensor so that I could see what the nitrate count was.  I also wanted to do a side-by-side comparison between both apps the Lapka PEM works with.

A side-by-side comparison showing the visual differences between the Lapka (left) and Lapka Pro (right) apps. The Lapka app provides a measured value along with a graph showing the measured nitrate value compared to what’s considered ‘acceptable’, and the Lapka Pro app provides a much simpler presentation, only showing the measured value of nitrates in ppm.

I was thrilled to find out that Trader Joe’s sweet potatoes are well below the acceptable nitrate count threshold for sweet potatoes.

*Side note: this is a great way for you to help gain better insight into the quality of your food.  While nitrates naturally occur in most foods, excessive levels can pose health problems as well as point to potential abuse of pesticides and/or preservatives by farmers/manufacturers of the food.  So if you ever buy something that’s labeled organic and you find that the nitrate count is higher than it should be for that particular food, there’s a good chance that the organic label is a marketing guise.

Next on the agenda was assessing the EM field output of my microwave.  I placed the sweet potatoes inside, and turned on the microwave, placing the sensor and my phone on top of the microwave itself:

My microwave emitted an electric field strength of 2.7 V/m while it was on, which is below the recommended limit of 3.0 V/m.

After eating breakfast, my curiosity led me to measure the background radiation present in my room:

This result surprised me the most. I placed the sensor beneath my phone and next to my computer, and I anticipated that I’d see a reading higher than 0.00 microsieverts per hour (obviously there’s some radiation present, but it’s at such a small level that this sensor can’t pick it up).

Now that I’d seen the Lapka PEM in action for three of its four sensory capabilities, it was time to test the one that was currently affecting me the most (temperature and relative humidity), based on the beads of sweat I’d already started producing only shortly after waking:

Although my body didn’t need much convincing that today was a scorching day, seeing the measurement helped give me a stronger understanding as to why I was sweating profusely. I mean, c’mon, some might consider cooking breakfast to be difficult, but it’s certainly not a sweat-bearing activity (or maybe, it is) 🙂 Even with relatively low humidity (30%), 101 degrees Fahrenheit is enough for anyone to feel hot. I threw in a Lapka (left) and Lapka Pro (right) app side-by-side comparison again, for good measure.

After finishing this measurement, I felt a very interesting sensation – the feeling of acquiring new knowledge. Just a few minutes ago, I had no idea what any of these values would be (with the exception of temperature and relative humidity).

Knowing this information about my environment not only is interesting, it’s empowering. I can test the nitrate count of foods I eat, monitor EM field strength, radiation emission, and also get an accurate gauge of what the temperature and humidity are of exactly where I am. Pretty cool stuff, if you ask me.

If you’re interested in getting a Lapka PEM for yourself, simply go to Lapka’s website and order from there.  They also have them in stock at Urban Outfitters, and you can expect to see them in other retail stores across the country in the very near future.  With regards to the Lapka BAM, it’s currently undergoing approval by the FDA, so it won’t be on shelves for a bit.

Would  I recommend getting a PEM?  Well, if you’re curious about your surroundings and want to have more data at your fingertips, then absolutely.  It’s an awesome tool that is virtually fool-proof in design.  Just plug in any of the four sensors to your phone through the headphone jack, open up either the Lapka or Lapka Pro app, and boom…you’re all set!

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Multivitamin Horse Pills – Do You NEED them?

Oh, F***.  It’s time to swallow my horse pills.  *Hopefully* I don’t choke like I did last week!

Several gulps of water later (hopefully not requiring a self-induced Heimlich maneuver), the pills are down.

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“I hope I can get this all down in one gulp!”

Does this sound familiar?  Chances are, if you’re into your health at all, you’ve probably taken or are taking a daily multivitamin of some sort.  But…do you really need to?

In seeking out the answer for myself, I decided to take a look at my diet.  While I don’t follow strict meal plans (I have calorie and macronutrient goals that I hit each day instead), what I’ve outlined below is the closest thing I have to my average/normal daily food intake.  Check it out:

Food Amount (g/oz.) Protein (g) Carbs (g) Fiber (g) Fats (g) Vitamin A (% RDV) Vitamin C (% RDV) Vitamin D (% RDV) Vitamin E (% RDV) Vitamin K (% RDV) Thiamin (% RDV) Riboflavin (% RDV) Niacin (% RDV) Vitamin B6 (% RDV) Folate (% RDV) Vitamin B12 (% RDV) Pantothenic Acid (% RDV) Calcium (% RDV) Iron (% RDV) Magnesium (% RDV) Phosphorus (% RDV) Potassium (% RDV) Sodium (% RDV) Zinc (% RDV) Copper (% RDV) Manganese (% RDV) Selenium (% RDV)
Spinach 12 oz. 8 12 8 0 792 36        – 48 1,560 24 48 12 24 120 0 0 48 36 60 12 36 12 12 24 120 24
Kale 12 oz. 8 12 8 0 420 216        – 20        – 12 24 12 12 12 0 0 48 12 12 12 36 0 0 12 72 0
Green Beans 12 oz. 4 20 8 0 36 72        – 12 192 24 12 12 12 12 0 0 12 12 24 12 12 0 0 12 60 0
Onions 12 oz. 0 24 4 0 0 36        – 0 0 12 0 0 2 12 0 0 12 0 12 12 12 0 0 12 24 0
Brussels sprouts 8 oz. 8 16 8 0 24 280        –          –        – 16 16 8 24 72 0 8 8 8 8 16 24 0 8 0 36 8
Broccoli 8 oz. 8 12 8 0 48 208        – 16 228 8 16 8 16 40 0 8 16 8 8 8 16 0 8 8 32 8
Sweet Potato 24 oz. 10 120 21 0 1,896 24        – 0 24 24 24 24 72 24 0 24 24 24 48 24 72 24 24 48 96 0
Basmati Rice 185 g 12 132 4 0 0 0        – 1 0 71 5 39 15 107 0 19 5 44 12 21 6 0 13 20 101 40
4 Whole Eggs 224 g 28 0 0 20 20 0 20 12 0 12 64 0 16 28 48 32 12 24 8 44 8 12 16 12 4 100
Whole Milk 28 oz. 28 42 0 28 28 0 84 0 0 28 84 0 28 0 56 28 84 0 28 84 28 28 28 28 28 28
Chicken Thighs 40 oz. 220 0 0 60 0 0         – 0 40 40 120 360 200 40 80 120 0 80 80 200 80 40 160 40 0 200
Coconut Oil 14 g 0 0 0 14
Skinny Cow 3 (sandwiches) 12 90 9 6 24 0 60 6
346 480 78 128 3288 872 104 109 2,044 271 413 475 421 467 184 239 329 254 300 445 330 116 269 216 573 408
Totals 134 w/ Fish Oil
Calories: 4,510
(inc. 6 g Fish Oil)
Targets:
Calories: 4,506
Protein 345 g
Carbs 480 g
Fats 134 g

Calorie-wise, this is what I’ve been eating the past several weeks, so it’s a good barometer for what a “typical” day of food is for me at the moment.  I took what I ate today, put it into Excel, and then looked up the nutrient profile for each food and put the % RDVs for all of the vitamins and minerals that have % RDVs in the table.  These are the vitamins and minerals you’d typically find in any multivitamin.  Then, I ran the sum function to add everything up.

As you can see, I was basically spot on with my target goals, with the exception of protein being 346 g instead of 345 g.  But the macro totals don’t matter – those are tailored to my specific goals and training demands. What’s very interesting is what the table shows about my vitamin and mineral profile for the day’s food.

Looking at the vitamin and mineral % RDV totals, I’ve eaten well above the RDVs for every single one of them.  In fact, all but three of them (Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin B12) are well above 200% RDV (so if you literally halved the proportions of my food for today, I would’ve exceed the % RDVs for everything except for those three vitamins).  

Special Note: You’ll see that my sodium value is 116%, but I don’t include this mineral in the ‘below 200’ category because through my preparation of the foods above, the amount of salt I add takes that 116% total to about 300%.

That’s all fine and dandy, but what’s really interesting in viewing this data is seeing where the vitamins and minerals come from.

The vegetables certainly carry the day with regards to their contribution to my daily vitamin and mineral count.  Even for Vitamin E, they helped me get up to 96% of the 109% RDV I ended up with.   However, in the other two areas I was weakest in on this particular day (Vitamin D and Vitamin B12), they gave no contribution.

If you look at where I got my Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 from, it was exclusively from meat and dairy products.

Even though you might not be eating anything like me, this data has pertinent insights for everyone.  If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, chances are that regardless of how much of the “good stuff” you’re chowing down on (i.e. veggies and fruits), you’re probably deficient in Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 – and this is especially true for vegans, as vegetarians can still get decent amounts of Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 through their consumption of dairy and egg products.

What can you do?  Don’t worry, there’s plenty you can do!

For one, get out in the sun.  Just 20-30 minutes of solid sun exposure each day can correct Vitamin D deficiencies.  Also, if you’re vegan, you should seek out foods fortified with Vitamin B12, as it’s a vitamin that’s generally found in most animal products.  

Certain brands of kombucha will claim that their kombucha has Vitamin B12 in it (which is possible since it’s made by a symbiosis between bacteria and yeast), but there aren’t any scientific studies that demonstrate whether or not this purported Vitamin B12 in kombucha is biologically active (read: useful) B12.

Conversely, if you’re a meat-eating fiend and you shun vegetables at the table, chances are you’re missing out on getting a whole bunch of nutrition from those delicious veggies (not to mention fiber).  Although I didn’t list it in the table, I do have a fiber goal: I make sure that I eat at least 1.5 g of fiber per 100 calories consumed (so in the case of a 4,500 calorie day, my fiber goal would be 67.5 g).

The one staple I have in my diet every single day is 4 lbs. of vegetables (the spinach, kale, green beans, onions, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli), and I’ve recently been having lots of sweet potatoes as well, so that total the past three weeks has been up to 5.5 lbs. of vegetables per day (on this particular day, I did – in fact – eat the 5.5 lbs. that I’ve recently been hitting).  

By making sure that I always get tons of vegetables in, I virtually guarantee that I’m getting most of my vitamin and mineral % RDVs from whole foods.

Anything that’s not covered by the veggies is always covered by whatever else I’m eating, as the 4 lbs. of vegetables I always eat only totals 528 calories, and the 1.5 lbs. of sweet potatoes I’ve also been eating recently is only another 530 calories.

At a combined 1,058 calories, I have almost 3,500 calories left to hit the rest of my vitamins and minerals, and that’s never a problem.  With meat, dairy, and eggs, the Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 get to the levels they need to be at.  As you can see, I even fit in some junk, dirty, unclean, garbage treat foods into my diet with relative ease.

The one negative thing about consuming processed, packaged, and/or foods that aren’t entirely “whole” foods (such as the ice cream sandwiches) is that it’s virtually impossible to get a complete picture of the total nutrition of the item(s) in question.

I scoured Skinny Cow’s site for more detailed vitamin and mineral info, but all I found was the same stuff that was provided on the packaging. So even though no Vitamin D is listed on the packaging, odds are that there’s probably some in each of those sandwiches, as they’re predominantly made from dairy products.

Oh, one more thing…you’ll see that I also had 6 g of fish oil pills today.  I always make sure to get in 6 g of fish oil daily if I’m not eating a decent amount of a fatty fish (such as salmon) that day.  Fish oil is something I’d highly recommend supplementing with, and the benefits are so innumerable that if I were to write them in this post, it would be great just make this post way too long.

The bottom line is this:  If you’re eating a ton of vegetables – as you should be – you’re probably getting most of the vitamins and minerals you need from your diet.  However, there are certain vitamins that may be problem areas for you.  If that’s the case, then supplementing your diet with a multivitamin isn’t such a bad idea.

"Getting some quality sunshine each day isn't a bad idea, either!"

“Getting some quality sunshine each day isn’t a bad idea, either!”

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Instagym: Thumbbells, Dumbbells, and Social Media While Working Out

10!  11!!  12!!!  

Upon racking the weight, I’m instantly gasping for air, drenched in a pool of my own sweat.  It’s leg day number two this week, and I’ve just finished my third set of this workout’s opening exercise, romanian deadlifts.  As I continue panting, the wonderfully familiar feeling of blood rushing and pulsing through my quads and hammies gives me a sense of euphoria that my fellow lifters can all relate to.  The Pump.  Oh yeah, here it comes, I silently tell myself.  Only three sets in, and I can tell that my pre-workout meal of 12 oz. of filet mignon and 20 oz. of sweet potato is already working its way into my muscles.

Damn, your legs are looking full and pumped already!  Then, I get the itch.  I haven’t always gotten the itch while working out, but it’s grown stronger as of late.  The itch to take my phone out and snap a pic of this wondrous moment.  Selfie time, baby.

I bust the phone out and do as my inner voice insists.  A few snaps later, I’ve captured an image that I feel successfully conveys what I’m feeling.  Alright, let’s upload this puppy to Facebook and Instagram.  A few more clicks and swipes later, it’s been uploaded.  Free for the whole world to see.

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“But first, let me take a selfie.”

I continue my workout, continuing to check my social media after making the post. Although it slows me down, I’m too preoccupied with my FB and IG addiction to give a damn.

But recently, my perception on all of that changed.  I was listening to a very prominent figure in the fitness industry speak, and he presented quite a strong diatribe against the fitness world’s increasing fascination with being on social media while working out.  At the end, he said something in particular that struck me: “You know, becoming a great bodybuilder is about focus.  And frankly, to me, social media takes the focus off what you’re trying to accomplish.”

He was right – and it’s not just bodybuilding that requires a tremendous amount of focus to be great – it’s anything.  This, combined with my own realization that I was spending far too much time idling around while “working out” made me realize it was a time for change.  Enter airplane mode.

photo 1 (3)

“Sayonara, distractions. It’s time to focus in and be completely present.” Also, disregard the Facebook URL underneath what’s playing – the file was originally ripped from Facebook and put onto SoundCloud, and I downloaded the file onto my phone, so that’s what shows, even in Airplane mode.  Arghhh – even when you escape social media, its presence still lingers!

Upon arriving at the gym, I started putting my phone in Airplane mode.  Amazingly (or, not so amazingly depending on how you look at it), I started completing my workouts in two-thirds of the time I had been before I stopped finagling around on my phone.  Now, the sweat doesn’t just drip, it pours.  When I’m there, I’m 100% tuned in to making sure I’m working out to the best of my ability.

While I still spend time on social media – and still take selfies and progress pics – I now never do inside the confines of my workout.  And as a result, my training bouts are more productive, intense, faster, and efficient.  My selfie game might have taken a hit, but in the name of focus, I’m fine with that.

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Injury Prevention

Regardless of what your fitness training level or experience is, it’s safe to say that you’ve probably been sidelined by some type of injury at least once in your life.  Injuries are almost certainly imminent, and they are the cause of a great deal of frustration among active populations, as injuries not only compromise performance, but they also often prevent people from doing certain activities.  However, despite all of the bad things that come with injuries, the fact is that most injuries could have actually been prevented had the appropriate precautionary measures been taken either before, or after the first onset of symptoms.

There are many types of injuries, but most fall within one of the following categories:

  1. Hernia – a bulge or protrusion of an organ through the structure or muscle that usually contains it.
  2. Strain – overstretching and/or overuse of a muscle.
  3. Sprain – overstretching a ligament connecting two bones.
  4. Tendonitis – inflammation of the tendon connecting muscle to bone.
  5. Bursitis – inflammation of the bursa sack, which serves as padding between a muscle and a bony prominence.
  6. Contusion – bruising caused by impact.
  7. Fracture – breaking of a bone.  Fractures can be either hairline, simple, or compound.
  8. Herniated disc – a rupture of the fibrocartilage of the disc between spinal vertebrae.

Here are some of the most common injuries:

  1. Pectoral tear: This injury results from avulsion/tearing of the tendon connecting the pectoralis major to the humerus (upper arm bone).  A minor tear will be painful and may demonstrate minimal bruising.  A major tear will result in a balling of the muscle towards the sternum with a significant amount of bruising.
  2. Neck strain: Injury resulting from excessive stress placed on the muscles of the neck.  This injury most commonly happens during exercises such as squats and shrugs.
  3. Elbow tendonitis:

-triceps tendonitis: pain along the tendon of the triceps connecting into the pointed part of the elbow.  Resulting from overuse.

-lateral epicondylitis/tennis elbow: pain along the lateral epicondyle (outer bone on the upper portion of the forearm).  Results from strain placed along the origin of the extensor muscles of the forearm.  Can ultimately result in tearing of these muscles.

-medial epicondylitis/golfer’s elbow: pain at the medial epicondyle (inner bone on the upper portion of the forearm).  Due to overuse of the flexor muscles of the wrist usually indicated by pain with gripping weights.

4. Back strain/sprain: indicated by pain at the center of the lower back, along the top of the gluteal muscles, or along the paraspinal muscles.  This usually results from lifting too much weight or using poor form during squats or deadlifts.

5. Knee strain/sprain: various injuries include meniscal tears, patellar tendonitis, ACL tears, and bursitis.  These are generally indicated by pain along the joint line of the knee, behind the knee joint, and/or just below the knee cap along the patellar tendon.

6. Bulging/herniated disc: a rupture of the fibrocartilage of the disc between spinal vertebrae .  This most commonly occurs in the lumbar region of the spine.  The most common symptom of a bulging or herniated disc is sciatica, which is pain induced by pressure on the sciatic nerve.  This can result in pain ranging from the hip all the way down to the toes.

7. Jumper’s knee: also known as patellar tendonitis, it is characterized by pain in the interior patellar region of the knee.  Jumper’s knee is common among athletes who partake in frequent jumping as well as individuals who have pre-existing stiff ankles and/or ankle sprains.

8. Shin splints: a fairly common injury among athletes and trainees who frequently engage in activities that are centered around running, such as cross country, hiking, soccer, and football.  Shin splints are caused by repeated trauma to the connective muscle tissue that surrounds the tibia.  Left untreated, shin splints can manifest themselves into stress fractures of bones in the shin.

9. Achilles tendonitis: inflammation of the Achilles tendon, often caused by heavy exertion and repeated calf flexion during physical activity.

I don’t know about you, but when I read those injuries and their descriptions, it makes me want to do everything I can to avoid enduring the pain that many of those can bring.  I’ve personally dealt with a herniated disc as well as elbow tendonitis, and both of these injuries are highly irritable as well as frustrating.  Luckily, with proper care, patience, and rest, injuries do eventually go away.  What’s more, there are also a number of things you can do to put yourself in a place where getting injured.  Check out the following tips!  If done properly, these will drastically reduce your chance of injury, regardless of what type of physical activity you’re engaging in:

  1. Warm up: Perform 15-20 repetitions of the exercise you are preparing to do using very light weight.  You can also aid the warm-up process by walking on the treadmill for 5-10 minutes before your workout.
  2. Stretch: after warming up, stretch the muscles you are preparing to work.  Take the joint to the end of its range of motion and hold for 30 to 60 seconds.  It’s important that you hold the stretch, refraining from bouncing (moving back and forth very quickly).  Bouncing a non-warm, non-stretched muscle can result in injury.
  3. Focus: be sure to keep your mind on what you are doing.  The easiest way to hurt yourself or another person in the gym is to fail to pay attention to what you are doing.  It can be extremely easy to accidentally drop a plate or dumbbell on your foot if you are checking out other people in the gym or if you’re chatting with a friend.  Maintaining a strong focus in the gym will also help you to keep proper form and also spot your partner in a safe manner.
  4. Diet: a diet high in protein will help to maintain muscle fiber strength and help to promote a quicker recovery.  If you’re struggling to eat enough protein through your diet, then supplement with protein powders and isolated amino acids such as glutamine, which will help to make sure that your body is getting enough supplies to properly rebuild muscle tissue.
  5. Shoes: Whatever you do, do not wear sandals in the gym!  Open-toed shoes offer no protection whatsoever against falling plates, other people stepping on your foot, or catching a toenail on the edge of a machine.  Wear stiff-soled, comfortable shoes.  If you do much running or walking, you should replace your shoes every 3-4 months.
  6. Wrapping: using knee wraps during heavy squats to protect your knee joints.  They do this by helping to increase external pressure and distribute strain across a larger area.  Wrist wraps are also useful during heavy lifts such as deadlifts or shrugs.  They not only prevent you from dropping the weight, but will also allow you to lift heavier due to the fact that you don’t have to worry about your grip.    However, keep in mind that these tools should be used in moderation when lifting. If you constantly rely on knee wraps and straps to lift, then you’re compromising the strength of your supporting muscle groups, and over time this can lead to an increased risk for injury.  Save the wraps and straps for sets with extremely heavy weight.  If the weight is moderate, you shouldn’t have an issue going without them.
  7. Use proper form: Failing to perform exercises with perfect form puts you at a tremendously increased likelihood for injuring yourself.  When you’re working out, be sure to leave your ego at the door before stepping into the gym.  Not only will strict form help to stave off suffering injuries, it will also allow you to fully exhaust the muscles you’re trying to work out.   Remember, form > weight.
  8. Be sure to have shoes that have solid support: One of the best ways to prevent suffering lower-extremity injuries such as jumper’s knee, shin splints, and Achilles tendonitis is to always be sure that you’re wearing shoes that are at least fairly new.  Using shoes for too long is a bad idea because over time, the structure of a pair of shoes will wear down, leaving less support for your legs, which puts you at a higher risk of injury.  If you’re extremely physically active and doing lots of cardio, try to get a new pair of shoes to work out in at least every three months.

When you’re working out, if you experience any sort of discomfort that is out-of-the-norm, you should stop what you’re doing to assess the cause of the pain.  It’s pretty easy to differentiate between “good” and “bad” pain.  “Good pain” is the pain you feel when you’re working really hard, and it usually comes from increased blood flow and lactic acid buildup in your muscles.  “Bad pain” is the sharp pain that you experience when something isn’t right – it’s your body’s way of telling you to STOP doing whatever it is you’re doing because it’s only exacerbating the problem.  And while it might be tempting to fight through this pain, just realize that in the long run, it’s always better to take a little time off than it is to worsen the injury and have to take a prolonged period of time off.  If you do end up feeling pain and are resting your injury, you should seek medical attention if the pain lasts for several days (with you resting completely and not engaging in any form of physical activity).

With many injuries, some simple self-treatment can go quite far in helping you get better. The “R.I.C.E.” method of treatment works very well for many sprains and strains.  The “R.I.C.E.” acronym stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation, and the protocol is quite simple.  After the injury occurs, your activity should be reduced, (if needed) the injury should be splinted, and you should be sure to refrain from bearing any weight on the injured location.  Then, use ice packs to help minimize the swelling.  Use ice for no longer than twenty minutes at a time, as putting ice packs on for too long can lead to frostbite.  You should continue to reapply ice for subsequent twenty-minute periods to continue to reduce swelling.  A good rule of thumb is to take as much time off from applying ice as you iced the injury.  So, if you initially iced your injury for twenty minutes, you should spend at least twenty minutes with no ice on the injured spot before icing again.  When applying compression, be sure to do so lightly using an elastic wrap so that it can accommodate increases in swelling.  Also, be sure to elevate the injured body part above the heart, which will reduce blood-flow (thereby reducing swelling) to the injured area.

If you’re suffering from chronic, nagging injuries, heat can really help with pain relief.  Use heat before engaging in activities that aggravate your chronic injuries, such as prolonged muscle strains.  The heat will help to stimulate blood flow to the area, loosening and relaxing the tissue of the injured area.

Practice these tips, and you should see a reduction in the number of injuries you incur.  Also, if you do happen to suffer the misfortune of getting injured, practicing the aforementioned methods of treatment can help get you back to 100% in the shortest amount of time possible!

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The Glycemic Index – why you should take it with a grain of salt

In recent years, the glycemic index has received a lot of attention from various media and health agencies, with many proclaiming it as the be-all-end-all measurement in nutrition.  What exactly is it?  The glycemic index (G.I., for short) is a scale that gives a measure of how rapidly blood sugar levels are raised after ingesting a given type of food.  This scale estimates how much each gram of available carbohydrate (which is the number of carbohydrates minus the carbohydrates that come from fiber) in a particular food elevates an individual’s blood glucose levels upon consuming the food, relative to if the individual had consumed pure glucose.  Because glucose is used as the metric for comparison, it is given a value of 100 on the glycemic index.  Despite being touted by lots of people as an important measurement, the G.I. has a number of flaws, and the G.I. values of foods should be scrutinized and taken with a grain of salt.

The main problem with the G.I. occurs with the methods of figuring out the values for certain foods.  All G.I. studies are conducted on individuals who have fasted overnight, with these individuals consuming the foods in question in an isolated manner.  While this may give an accurate measurement of how strongly a particular food could raise an individual’s blood sugar, it simply isn’t practical.  For one, most individuals eat foods in a non-fasted state, with the substrate of their previous meals undergoing digestion as the most recent meal is being eaten.  Additionally, even when individuals do consume foods in a fasted manner (such as at breakfast), they are probably consuming a variety of foods that collectively make up their breakfast.  When this happens, the G.I. value of the food in question becomes irrelevant because the true G.I. value of the meal becomes a combination of all of the foods being ingested.  Coingesting protein and fat with carbohydrates can greatly slow the gastric emptying of the food, which also ends up slowing down the release of glucose into the bloodstream.

One additional problem that the G.I. creates is that it causes many people to view certain foods as “taboo” items, with these individuals fearing that consumption of these foods will be the bane of their existence, giving them a destiny of developing diabetes.  The fact is that each food species on earth has a unique nutritional profile, providing a unique nutritional benefit to those who choose to eat it.  What’s more, there remains a great deal to be studied regarding the compositions of various food species, so it’s safe to assume that there are numerous unidentified benefits to consuming certain foods that we haven’t even discovered yet!  Don’t let the G.I. fool you – a well-rounded diet containing foods from all food groups with lots of diversity is easily the best type of diet that you can have.  Also, if there are high G.I. foods that you like, don’t worry too much about consuming them – just make sure that you have them as part of a well-balanced meal with protein and fat included and also consume the food in question in moderation.

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The Importance of Water!

Water consumption (or lack thereof) might be the single-most neglected activity among people into fitness.  To many, the thought of drinking lots of water seems quite trivial – how could having lots of this clear, tasteless liquid be doing anything?

There are actually a multitude of reasons why it’s essential that you make sure that you’re getting enough water. For one, water is far and away the most abundant compound found in the human body.  Most human tissues contain roughly 75% water.  In fact, muscle is actually 80% water!  Thus, because humans are roughly 75% water, in order for everything inside the body to function at its optimum level, a plentiful supply of water must always be present.

One of the best examples of how water increases your bodily efficiency is by improving fat metabolism.  Being well hydrated makes your body far more efficient at using fat for energy.  If your body lacks proper hydration, it is much more likely to begin pooling water from the various cell bodies you have, including fat cells.  When this happens, these fat cells are giving the body aid in hydrating it, and as a result, your body becomes far less likely to mobilize these fat stores and use them as energy.  Over an extended period of time, this could lead to an increase in the number of fat stores you have than you otherwise would have had you been drinking enough water.

Your kidneys and liver are also highly dependent on having enough water.  Your kidneys help your body to excrete waste, but in order to excrete this waste well, they must have ample water.  When there isn’t a lot of water available, your kidneys recruit your liver to help aid in filtering out toxins from your body.  This might not seem problematic yet, but when you consider that one of your liver’s main tasks is to metabolize your body’s stored fat to use as energy, this is a huge issue because now your liver’s fat mobilizing ability is compromised because it’s also assisting your kidneys in filtering out toxins and waste from your body.  Plus, chronic under-consumption of water places you at a far greater risk for painful health problems such as kidney stones.  This is especially true if you live somewhere warm where you’re losing more water than most people because of the high outside temperatures.

One concern that many people have with regards to high water consumption is that it will make them hold excess water and appear a bloated mess.  Contrary to this misconception, high water intake will actually minimize the amount of water you retain.  When you’re not getting enough water, your body is much more likely to retain water because it interprets the water shortage to be a threat to your survival, and thus begins to hold onto as much water as it can in order to ensure that you have enough to live.

In terms of exercise and physical activity, having enough water allows for a number of benefits.  Keep in mind, muscle tissue is roughly 80% water, so when you are well hydrated, your muscles will appear fuller and have greater definition as well as contain enough water within them to help you maximally contract them while exercising.

If you’re interested at all in maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails, there’s one more reason you need to be sure to drink enough water.  Because water helps your body rid itself of toxins and aids in optimum bodily function, consistently drinking enough water will give keep your skin looking healthy and moisturized, your nails clear, and your hair full with lots of body to it.

Another common concern many people have is that drinking water during meals will hinder their body’s digestion process because it will raise the pH of the hydrochloric acid in their stomach, making their digestive system far less efficient at breaking down the food they just ate.  Ignore this outdated dogma because it’s completely false.  While drinking large volumes of water may slightly decrease the pH of the hydrochloric acid as well as the concentration of digestive enzymes in your stomach, it is not to a degree that will impair digestion.  Plus, having ample water allows for your body to optimize its production of hydrochloric acid.  What’s more, water will also give your digestive system the improved ability of producing mucous lining in your stomach, which is crucial in ensuring that the hydrochloric acid within your stomach does not come into contact with the actual stomach tissue (this is one common cause for stomach ulcers).

How much water should you be drinking?  This is a question that simply has too many variables within it that one hard number can’t be applied to everyone.  In general, however, a good rule of thumb is to drink 1 oz. of water for every pound that you weigh.  So, for example, a 120 pound woman would drink 120 ounces of water daily, and a 200 pound man would drink 200 ounces of water daily.  You may find that, depending on your level of physical activity, that you require slightly more or slightly less than what this formula dictates your needs are, but this is still a great starting point if you haven’t put much thought into how much water you’re taking in on a daily basis.

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(Healthy) Holiday Treats!

December is just around the corner, and now that Thanksgiving is behind us, we can safely say that we are in the midst of the holiday season!  The first things that are probably coming to people’s minds are, “Ah, I can’t wait to eat all of the delicious food, but I don’t want to suffer the repercussions of doing so!”  Fear not, as there are a number of healthy goodies I’ve discovered through digging online that are amazingly tasty, yet easy on the waistline.  And while I’m not making these at the moment because I have access to some fabulous all-you-can eat dining halls at the Claremont Colleges, I cannot wait to make these at home with my mom once I head back to Illinois for winter break.  Here are some of my favorite ones:

Bananas Foster Egg Whites (found at bodybuilding.com)

-6 egg whites

-1 tsp vanilla extract

-2 tbsp skim milk

-2 tbsp sugar free caramel syrup

-1/4 cup sugar free maple syrup (make sure it’s corn syrup free)

-1 banana

-1/4 cup pecans

-sugar free/fat free whipped cream

-Pinch of cinnamon

-Non Fat/Non Stick cooking spray

 

Start with 6 Egg Whites (you can crack and separate your own eggs, but note most grocery stores carry “Just Egg Whites”) & (use more or less eggs if you want) and one teaspoon of artificial Vanilla Flavoring. Blend the Egg Whites and Vanilla in a blender with 2 tbsp Skim Milk for 30 seconds on medium to medium high. It will make a whipped cream, fluffy texture.

Take a Banana and cut very thin slices and drop it into the open side of a hot skillet with Non fat/Non stick coating. Allow the Bananas to contact the heat and they will start to brown, which is caramelization of the sugars in the fruit. Add ¼ cup Sugar Free Maple Syrup and some Pecans (optional).You can then pull the mixture to one side of the pan and lower the heat to medium.

Add some additional nonstick spray to the exposed side and pour in your Egg/Vanilla/Skim Milk mixture. Drop the mixture into the skillet. Stir the Eggs gently until they are standing and cooked-pretty much like Scrambled Eggs. Now fold the Eggs and Banana together and let stand for about a minute on medium heat.

Place them on a plate, add some Sugar Free Maple Syrup and some Sugar Free Caramel Dressing, top with some Sugar Free Whipped topping and enjoy. Sprinkle on some cinnamon to really kick this up a notch.

Banana Protein Muffins

-110 g (1/2 cup) fat free greek yogurt

-1 scoop of vanilla whey protein powder

-1 large egg

-20 g oatmeal (grind it up a little bit, and let it sit in a little hot water for about 5 minutes before adding)

-8g Jello Banana Cream Inst. pudding mix

-1 tsp banana extract

-1/2-1 tsp baking powder

-1/2 tsp baking soda

-1/4 tsp cream of tartar

-some Stevia (a natural, 0 calorie sweetener) and cinnamon to taste.  Nutmeg is also a great choice here to add to the other two

Mix it up, throw it in the oven for about 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees F.  The most important thing to do is look for the goldening of the top of the muffins.  When they look more golden brown, do the toothpick test.  If that works, turn off the oven, but leave them in the oven for another 10 minutes or so.  Then take out and wait for them to cool almost completely before trying to rip them out of the forms.

Low Carb Cheesecake

ingredients
2 lbs no fat cream cheese
4 whole large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon
4 oz (1/2 cup) low carb no fat milk
1 cup cooking splenda (sucralose)

directions
preheat oven to 350 degrees
using no fat cooking spray, spray 9″ pie pan

mix ingredients together using an electric blender in a large bowl
pour mix into pregreased pan

heat at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes
remove from oven and place in refrigerator

YOU MUST LET THIS SIT AT LEAST 4-5 HOURS IN THE FRIDGE if you want a decent cheesecake.

Totals (if you cut it up into 8 slices)
per slice

Protein- 20g
Carbohydrates- 6g
Fat- 2.25g

Chocolate or vanilla protein powder can be added to mix for flavor and more protein if desired

High Protein Banana Bread

2 scoops of whey (depends on how much you want )
1/2 – 3/4 cup splenda
1/4 cup of Low-fat Butter
2 eggs and 2 egg whites
1-2 bananas mashed ( or get rid of them if you do not want them )
8 tbsp of cold water
2 cups of whole wheat flour
1 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of baking soda
1 tsp of vanilla extract

You can also add a touch of almonds if you want a little extra crunch
bake on 350 for 30 minutes

Protein – 50g (depending on how many scoops; this is 2 scoops of a typical amount that most powders would have)
Carbs – 63g (without bananas)
Fat – 14g ( if you add almonds this will also bump up)

Crustless Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients:
One 15oz Can Libbys Pumpkin
2 Whole Eggs + 6 Whites (or 5 whole eggs)
3 tsp Stevia (Or 1/2 Cup Splenda)
8 oz Fat Free Cream Cheese
1 tbsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 tsp Cinnamon

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350
Beat the cream cheese in kitchen aid or a bowl until smooth.
Add in the remaining ingredients and beat/mix well.
Pour mixture into a pie dish or baking dish.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until the center feels firm and a knife inserted comes out clean.
Let cool and chill before serving, it sets cold

Nutrition Info – P C F Cals
TOTAL 77 g protein, 21 g carbs, 10 g fat, 482 calories
~ Per Serv(1/8 pie) 10 g protein, 2.5 g carbs, 1 g fat, 60 calories

Banana Oat Muffins

1 cup oats, dry
2 scoops Dymatize Butter Toffee Whey Protein Powder or other
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 egg whites
1 medium banana, mashed
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tins.
In a large bowl mix dry ingredients.
In a small bowl mix the banana and wet ingredients and add to dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.
Pour into muffin tins (approximately 1/4c per muffin, maybe a little less) and bake for 20 minutes.

Makes 10 muffins

Stats per muffin:
Protein: 6.7
Carbs: 6.6
Fat: 0.8
Calories: 58.5

2 Minute Cinnamon Rolls

PER SERVING (1 iced roll): 150 calories, 5g fat, 308mg
sodium, 20g carbs, <0.5g fiber, 6.5g sugars, 8g protein

Ingredients
Filling
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (not packed)
1/4 cup granulated no-calorie sweetener
1/2 tbsp. light whipped butter or light buttery spread, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
1.5 scoops Gaspari Myofusion Probiotic Cinnamon Roll protein powder.
Icing
1/4 cup fat-free whipped topping, thawed from frozen
3 tbsp. fat-free cream cheese, room temperature
1 tbsp. granulated no-calorie sweetener
Dough
1 package reduced-fat crescent rolls refrigerated dough
16 sprays no-calorie spray butter

Directions
To make filling, combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring well to make sure the butter
gets mixed in evenly. Set aside.
To make icing, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix until smooth and blended. Place
in the fridge to chill and set.

Prepare a dry surface by sprinkling it with a small amount of flour to prevent sticking. Remove
dough from package and knead into a ball. Using a rolling pin dusted lightly with flour, very
firmly roll out dough into a thin sheet about 8″ X 12″. Spray the dough’s surface evenly with
butter.

Spread filling out evenly over dough, leaving a half-inch border around the edges. Starting
with a long side of the dough, roll it up tightly, forming a log. Once dough is completely rolled
up, pinch the long seam to seal.

Turn the log over so that the seam is facing down. Using a very sharp knife, cut log into 8
even pieces, being careful not to squish dough.

Heat up a waffle Iron and put the Cinnamon Rolls on it and in 2 minutes you will have Cinnamon Rolls!

Guilt-Free 65 Calorie Fudge

Chocolate Peanut Butter protein powder is the best flavor for this!

PER SERVING (1/36th of recipe, 1 piece): 
65 calories, 1g fat, 57mg sodium, 13.5g carbs, 0.5g fiber, 9g sugars, 3.5g protein — PointsPlus® value 2*

One 18.3-oz. box fudge brownie mix
2 cups canned pure pumpkin
2 tbsp. light chocolate syrup
2 tbsp. reduced-fat peanut butter, softened
3 scoops of Protein Powder of Choice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine brownie mix, protein powder with pumpkin and stir until smooth. Add chocolate syrup and stir until blended. The batter will be very thick, but don’t add anything else!

Spray a square baking pan (9″ X 9″ works best) with nonstick spray. Spread the batter into the pan. Then spoon peanut butter on top and use a knife or skewer to swirl it around.

Bake in the oven for 35 minutes. The batter will remain very thick and fudgy, and it will look undercooked.

Allow the fudge to cool. Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Cut into 36 squares. Then get ready for a fudge frenzy!

Reese’s Ice Cream

1 Sugar Free Jello Pudding Cup
1 Scoop Casein Protein Powder
1 Scoop Whey Protein Powder
2 TBSP Natural Peanut Butter
2 oz. Milk

Use Chocolate Whey and Casein. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, put it in the freezer for 1.5-2 hours, and it comes out like Chocolate PB Ice Cream.

With fat free milk, comes out to:

~500 cals
20g Fat
26g Carb
52g Protein

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

1 low fat pie shell
3 packs of FF cream cheese
4 eggs
1/2 c. skim milk
1c. Splenda
2 tbsp. Natural Peanut Butter
2 tbsp. Chocolate syrup
2 scoops of chocolate whey protein

Blend until smooth, back at 350 for 40-45 minutes, let it cool overnight in the fridge.

Cut into 8 pieces

Per piece:
7g of fat
26g of Carbs
24g of Protein

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The Most Important Workout Fundamental

Many of you have probably had someone approach you at some point in a gym to tell you some of his or her “hidden secrets” to seeing continuous progress.  Some of these tips might be valuable, but lots of them are probably deeply embedded within the dark hallows of broscience that pervade fitness centers all over the world (broscience is a colloquial term for information tossed around in gyms that has no scientific backing whatsoever).  This post is all about the actual “hidden secret” to seeing success in your trips to the gym – the mind-muscle connection.

Before going further, I want to make it clear that you should already have your nutrition and intensity while training where they need to be if you really want to experience the full benefits of the mind-muscle connection.  Too many people think that if you focus on one of these aspects, that it’s o.k. to neglect the others.  This is completely false because these three fundamentals work synergistically with one another to give you those awesome results.

Go to any gym, and you’ll see that the vast majority of people are throwing up weights that they have no business messing with.  Many of these people believe that as long as the weight goes from point A to point B, they have completed a full repetition and are well on their way towards achieving that dream physique of theirs.  Well, this simply isn’t true; in fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.  The problem with having this approach to lifting is that if you only focus on moving the weight, you’re probably not using great form AND are also relying on your skeletal frame to help provide support and momentum to hoist the weight.

An example of this that many of you can probably relate to is “that one guy” who is always in the gym only doing biceps, curling 60 pound dumbbells, yet his arms still look like sticks because he’s making the biceps curl exercise a full body workout by putting his entire body into it.  While that guy may be on the fast track to injury, he sure isn’t getting anywhere with his goal of actually training his biceps.  If you want big biceps, you need to be sure that you’re recruiting as many biceps muscle fibers as possible to their maximal output on each repetition of every biceps exercise you do.  Going into the gym to perform extremely heavy sets of biceps won’t amount to anything if you’re relying on your front deltoids, glutes, and quads to help you move the weight because you won’t be recruiting as many biceps fibers as you could have had you used a lighter load.  The only thing he’s really working out here is his ego because of his obsession with the weight he’s lifting.  And sure, almost all of us have fallen into this trap at some point in our training careers (it usually happens in the beginning stages of lifting), but it’s important to realize that when you go into the gym, the first and foremost thing that you’re thinking about should be to establish a strong connection between your mind and the muscle or muscles you’re training that day.  If you do this and use proper form, you can make lighter loads feel extremely demanding because you’re using so many of the target muscle’s muscle fibers while performing the exercise.

In developing a strong mind-muscle connection, the first thing you should do is begin thinking about the working out the muscle before you even set foot in the gym.  Shortly before your workout, spending five to ten minutes fully concentrating on visualizing the target muscle working, contracting, and growing sets the tone for your mind to connect with your body when you do get to the gym.  The old adage, “where the mind goes, the body follows” is around for a reason, and it’s because your mind is the most powerful tool at your disposal.

To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger:

“I never set limits or created mental barriers. You may have read that I imagined my biceps as big as mountain peaks when I did my curling exercises. This visualization process was essential if I was to gain the kind of mass and size I needed to win the Mr. Olympia contest against monsters like Sergio Oliva and Lou Ferrigno.”

Some of you might be thinking, “Well, this isn’t for me…I don’t want extreme mass!”  Don’t worry about gaining freakish mass if you practice this principle; all the mind-muscle connection does is help you work out what you’re trying to work out.  Your diet will dictate whether or not you gain muscle mass and size, lose fat and retain muscle, or maintain your current body composition.

Next, you need to make sure that when you arrive in the gym, you’ve maintained that focus on exhausting the muscle that you’re working out that day, and as you go through your workout, you need to be cognizant of the muscle at all times, making sure that it’s being fully worked.  In order to do this, you should be able to contract the target muscle at will by simply thinking about engaging it.  Many of you have probably seen people who can do the “pec dance”, which is a tell-tale sign that the person who can do it has a great mind-muscle connection with their pecs.  While this may look like a magic trick, it’s actually pretty simple, and with some practice and persistence, anyone can develop it.  Here are some tactics I’ve used with great success for improving my mind-muscle connection that have helped me develop the ability to “dance” many of my muscles at will:

1. If you’re struggling to contract a muscle, take your index and middle finger from either hand and press on the muscle.  Then, try to “push” the index and middle finger off of your body by contracting your muscle.  This works especially well for developing a strong mind-muscle connection with your chest.

2. Close your eyes while you perform sets.  This isn’t always possible depending on what you’re doing (I wouldn’t recommend doing this with any Olympic lifts or standing presses), but for almost any machine exercise or movement that puts you in a very stable position, it can be used with great efficacy.  While you do the lift, practice active visualization by thinking about the muscle working as you lift the weight.  You’ve probably heard that people who are blind or deaf often have their other senses enhanced, and this principle is true whether or not you have a disability.  If you take away your vision while you’re lifting, your brain now has more focus that it can allocate towards your sense of feeling.  So when you’re lifting, you’ll be able to feel the muscle significantly more than you could have before.  Give this a shot!  I close my eyes all the time when I’m lifting, and I’ve really enjoyed the enhanced mind-muscle connection I’ve gotten from it.

3. Get a spotter, and have him or her press on your target muscle or muscles as you perform the exercise.  This is basically an application of the first tip I gave, and it can really help you figure out how to properly contract a muscle if you’re struggling to engage it.  Also, if you combine this with my second tip, you will be amazed at how well you are able to engage your muscles while you lift!  I have found this tactic to have greatly enhanced my rear deltoid development because that’s a muscle group that is very hard to figure out how to contract unless you have someone pushing on them while you perform a rear deltoid movement, such as reverse flyes.

4. When you train your back, envision your arms acting as hooks that are merely connecting the weight to your back.  Doing this puts the entire load on your back and allows you to fully engage your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, and erectors.  Lots of people often complain of not being able to flex their backs, and the largest reason for this is that when they train their backs, they are mostly relying on their biceps to move the weight.  Loosening your grip on back movements greatly aids in putting the stress of the weight onto your back muscles.  For an even lighter grip, use straps – with these, your forearm flexing is reduced to virtually zero, and your back muscles are completely isolated, allowing for greater recruitment of muscle fibers in your back.

5. If your form is not PERFECT, then you need to lower the weight so that you can do the exercise with perfect form.  This is especially true if you’re trying out a new movement.  You need to make sure that your form is perfect before you even think about adding weight.  For exercises that you’re just starting out with, I would recommend doing sets of 20 to 25 repetitions to help create muscle memory and get your body accustomed to moving through space in that manner.  This will also greatly increase your mind-muscle connection.

6. Fully engage your core on every single lift that you do.  Not only will this minimize your risk of injury, it will help you keep perfect form by ensuring that your posture and frame are in their most anatomically stable positioning.  Plus, it will also help to develop an awesome midsection because your core will be in constant use!

7. Focus on performing slow, controlled repetitions.  A good rule of thumb is to count to 2 on the concentric (on the way up) portion of the exercise, hold for 2 seconds at the top of the movement (making sure to squeeze the target muscle as hard as you can), and count to 2 again on the eccentric (on the way down) portion of the exercise.

8. Use the mirror!  Mirrors can help you to make sure that you’re contracting the target muscle.  Using mirrors goes hand-in-hand with flexing, which is something that you should be continuously doing throughout the day.  When I’m sitting in class, I will often flex various muscle groups because flexing all the time like this helps to increase the strength of the neural pathways from your brain to your muscles, which will allow you to fire your muscles more quickly and with greater fiber recruitment.  Doing this will also translate into better workouts because you’ll be ready to fully engage that muscle by getting much better pumps in the gym, which will help you to completely exhaust it and induce a demand for your body to repair, regenerate, and grow it.

Put these tips to use, and see your mind-muscle connections increase for each of your muscles as well as your results in the gym skyrocket!

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