Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday Musings

1) The picture above is from a wedding I recently attended with my brother and sister-in-law. My brother (on the right) was the one who helped me launch off into a regular training program when I was a senior in high school. He told me that the days in which the last thing I wanted to do was lift weights, begin a sprint session, or complete whatever my training program had in store for me, those would be the days that would either make or break me. He said that trials would continue to hit me from left and right, and if I allowed these (be it relationship issues, feeling exhausted from work, feeling demotivated, etc.) to stop me from training, then I had no right to complain about failing to achieve my goals. To overcome temporal, subjective emotion and train to enhance my physical being (which ultimately helps strengthen the mind), is an invaluable way to cultivate character. I have never looked back. I can attribute most of my success to him. I cannot remember the last day I have missed a planned training session. Every time I begin to convince myself that exercise isn't necessary on a particular day, I remember his words.

Do you have a mentor in your life? Someone that you trust, someone that you can be yourself around, and not put on a mask? We all need a support group, or person, that can be there when we are reaching for something. Be it fat loss, muscle gain, dietary changes, or career goals, we need someone to help push us forward and keep our heads up when we're down. Who do you have in your life that can do that for you? They may even be right in front of you, and would be more than willing to fill that role, but you haven't allowed them to. Sometimes we miss what is right in front of us.

2) Over the Summer my girlfriend and I found a small hill to push a car on (pictured below). This is one of the best workouts I've ever done. Pushing a car will tax your entire body, provided you use the right size vehicle for your strength, and find a hill just steep enough so that you can't push it very quickly (we had to take 30s breaks every couple yards as we were moving it very slowly). It's also a great way to spend time with someone. My sister, as well as few of my friends, tried it as well, and told me that they equally enjoyed it (so I know I'm not just insane and the only one that enjoys this sort of thing :) ). I encourage you to find someone over Thanksgiving break and get in a little pre-turkey workout!
Equipment needed: car, pavement, and a partner.

3) I cooked an ostrich egg for dinner (the one on the left in the picture, in case I needed to clarify) with my girlfriend over the summer. Looking for something different to cook for your lady? Try one of these (assuming that she's adventurous):

A note worth mentioning: you'll have to take a hammer (or use a very strong knife and slam it) to the egg to break it. Oh, and the egg tasted identical to that of a chicken egg. There was just a lot more yolk.

4) Did you know that the 300 Spartans chosen to fight at Thermopylae were chosen not necessarily based on their own valor, but on that of their wives? Since the battle was basically a suicide mission, the King wanted to ensure that those left behind (namely the women) would have the strength and courage to hold Sparta together after the death of their husbands.

5) Want to see what some of my training sessions look like? You can expect to see some in upcoming posts!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Breakfast #2

No time in the morning to fix yourself a gourmet meal? Too tired to think about actually preparing something before rushing out into the madness of traffic and the workplace? Here's another scrumptious breakfast you can whoop up in 5 minutes, assuming you've planned accordingly:

Vegetable Scromelette

(A scromelette is a combination of scrambled eggs and an omelette in the case of confusion)

My breakfast (I added turkey bacon on the side). Well worth 5 minutes in the morning.

Step 1: The night before, chop your vegetables. This will save you loads of time come sunrise. A convenient time to do this is while you're already in the kitchen making dinner. Chop up onions (I prefer red), bell peppers (I used green and red in the picture), and pre-slice cheese if you need to. Place them in a tupperware container in the fridge.

Step 2: Turn off the TV an hour early so you can get some actual sleep. How does this help you with your breakfast? One reason people complain about not having "time" in the morning to prepare breakfast is because they don't sleep enough (and thus have to use every spare minute they can in the morning to sleep until they have just enough time to make it out the door). Try cutting out some time-wasting activities such as spending that extra (and unnecessary) hour of television watching or internet surfing that typically takes place well after dinner.

Step 3: In the morning, preheat a frying pan on medium heat. While the pan is heating, whisk about 3 eggs in a bowl (I sometimes add liquid egg whites too), and pull your pre-chopped vegetables out of the fridge.

Step 4: If you're a coffee drinker, get some coffee brewing while the pan finishes heating.

Step 5: Spray the pan with some olive oil cooking spray, and toss the vegetables onto the pan. After a minute or two (depending how crispy you like the vegetables), toss the eggs into the pan, stirring as needed. If you like cheese (pepper jack tastes very good with this), then toss it on right before the eggs are finished cooking.

Step 6: Season with salt, pepper, and salsa if desired.

Step 7: After a couple minutes, your breakfast should be hot and ready to go!

Not so hard huh? Give it a shot, I guarantee you won't be disappointed. It will also save you the unwanted weight gain from reaching for muffins that seem oh-so-tempting when we're famished from skipping a nutrient-dense breakfast.

Ever wonder why you can't shed those last stubborn pounds? Your "breakfast" may be your primary suspect.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How Will You Impact Someone?

I read this off of Alwyn Cosgrove's Blog a few months ago. It's a good read and makes you think about how you may permanently impact someone that crosses your path:

A tale of two people

"When I was in high school in Livingston I was in an advanced mathematics class. I have no idea how I got there as I was clearly the dumbest kid in the class.

Sat next to me in the class was a guy (Keith Wilson) who spent his spare time (at 14 years old) working for a company converting the program code for an arcade computer game to a home version. He used to hand in his homework on a floppy disk...

Me? I was drawing sharks on the back of my notebook...

So while studying quadratic equations, (something that has been oh-so-useful in my life...) it was clear that I didn't understand it. I asked the teacher to go over it again. He sighed an exasperated sigh - but he went over it again.

I still didn't get it.

So I asked again. The teacher sighed loudly and said "Okay - the rest of you take a five minute break while I go over this again for Alwyn's benefit ....." and then mumbled "for whatever good that will do"

Obviously I felt pretty small at that point. And of course the whole class heard him and laughed.
And I still didn't get it.
And I never asked a question to this teacher again.
And I failed the exam for the class.

This teacher was a man who had a chance to make a kid feel better and help him, or put him down and make him feel worthless. He chose the latter. Why? Just because he could. That's the kind of person he was.

Another person in my life was my Taekwon-do instructor - Derek Campbell. My Dad was made unemployed and we could no longer afford lessons. I went to my instructor and told him that we just couldn't afford lessons anymore and I'd be back when my Dad got a job.

He told me to show up early for the next class and become his assistant - teaching beginners. He would pay me with free lessons.

I went on to become a fourth degree black belt, and seven time UK national champion as a result.

This teacher was also a man who had a chance to make a kid feel better and help him, or put him down and make him feel worthless. He chose the former. Why? Just because he could. That's the kind of person he was.

One person changed a kids life and made it worse. One person changed a kid's life and made it better. I remember both of them.

We have all had, and remember these people in our lives - the only question to ask is ...

What kind of person are you?"

-Alwyn Cosgrove

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wednesday Musings

I decided to make Wednesday posts a "free-for-all" where I discuss anything from nutrition, training, lifestyle, to random thoughts or something funny I may find on the net. Hope you enjoy:

1) At the beginning of the semester I began Eric Cressey's Maximum Strength program.

Getting ready for a 3-RepMax weighted chin-up on Day 1

I'm only halfway through, but I've never felt stronger, more mobile (in the right places), and "unbreakable" then I do now. I used to have persistent shoulder pain, but ever since using his activation drills, dynamic warm-ups, and placing more balance in my programming, it rarely gives me trouble anymore. For a guy who weighs 165, can deadlift 660lb and trains professional athletes on a daily basis, I think he knows what he's doing. If you're a guy who bench presses every Monday (and probably rarely sees significant gains) and makes bicep curling a focal point of your program, you absolutely need to try this. Get it here. (Note: the program works great for females too!)

2) Two things I learned over the Summer:
  • "The gap between where you are and where you want to be is called Frustration. Frustration is eliminated by Education and Action. Get learning and get doing." I read this in an article by Alwyn Cosgrove. The awesome thing about this is it applies to any aspect of life (training, career, faith, etc.). Once I began intentionally applying this I was amazed at the truth behind it.
  • People will, at some point in their lives, violate the very same behavior they expect in others. I must remember this when I feel wronged, or frustrated with someone else's actions. (This hit me during a specific incident that need not be named, but it has helped ever since)
3) I walked in Starbucks to do some work (not a huge fan of their coffee, but the work environment is pretty decent) today and when I received my coffee it came in a HOLIDAY cup. Why, oh why, do companies insist on beginning Christmas this early? Please, we're hardly even at two weeks before Thanksgiving. By the time the real Christmas season rolls around, I'll already be desensitized to the spirit from drinking out of Christmas cups a month in advance. I'm surprised they didn't have a Santa Claus walking around too.

4. Sometimes I wonder what God thinks as he looks down upon the human race and sees behavior like this occurring:

5) Over the next 2 weeks I'll be posting a tutorial on how to construct your own suspension system trainer (similar to the one showed below). It should be pretty cool so be sure to check it out!

6) If you have anything you'd like me to cover over the next few weeks, feel free to shoot me an email or drop something in the comments section.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Something Besides Cereal for Breakfast?

When it comes to breakfast, most Americans grab a bowl of cereal as they rush to get ready for school or work. Even worse, they may skip breakfast all together as they “don't have time” to make a meal in the morning (I'm sure they had time to spend an hour or two surfing the net or watching TV before bed though hmmm?). This is a sure-fire way to gain unwanted weight. Most cereals are laden with sugar, which will only spike insulin levels and leave the person starving for more food within a couple hours. I've mentioned it before and I'll continue to say it: consistently creating insulin spikes in your bloodstream (unless it's during or after a workout, which I'll explain in a future article), will only lead to increased fat storage and a highly increased risk of diabetes (which is rising at an alarming rate in America). For breakfast, we need a lean protein source (ex. eggs), or we may choose a low-glycemic carbohydrate source that is also high in fiber. Why should we eat breakfast? Here are a few key points:

1) It “breaks the fast” of going all night without eating. The less frequently we eat, the more our metabolism slows down. By eating breakfast, we can help kick-start our metabolism for the day, thus launching us out of “fat-storing” mode.

2) It will help curb hunger cravings later in the day. If you skip breakfast, you'll inevitably be starving by the time lunch roles around, and who of us can say we make ideal food choices when we're so hungry we can't think straight? Not to mention that the workplace kitchen is usually immersed in junk food and the halls filled with candy bowls.

3) It will help provide your body with long-lasting energy throughout the morning.

4) Our bodies tolerate carbs better earlier in the day. This makes breakfast a good opportunity to intake a majority of your daily carbohydrate calories.

4) Studies show that lean individuals tend to eat breakfast on a daily basis, and the majority of obese individuals skip breakfast. Interesting.

5) Studies show that children who eat breakfast have improved concentration, memory and better grades, and also frequently have higher verbal and quantitative scores on tests. When we wake, are brain is demanding blood glucose which equals learnin' energy!

Anyways, enough of information. Let's get to a delicious, nutritious, and effective recipe to jump-start your day (and metabolism). Does it provide an “ideal” ratio of fats, carbs, and protein? Not quite, but it's something quick and easy that most of you could add to your morning routine that I guarantee will help you feel and look better.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Oatmeal
(I have to give credit for most of these ingredients to my girlfriend Kelsey. She suggested the cocoa powder and xylitol which made it all the more delicious)

My Breakfast Stash

  • 1/2-1 Cup Old Fashioned Rolled Oats (adjust amount depending on activity level)
  • About 1 Cup Milk (amount depends on how many oats used)
  • 1 scoop Whey Protein Powder (an easy way to get in a morning protein serving, not to mention slowing the carbohydrate absorption from the oats)
  • Xylitol (measure to taste...xylitol is a natural sweetener that won't spike your blood sugar that also happens to be incredibly delicious)
  • Dark Chocolate Cocoa Powder (measure to consistency...Hershey's 100% tastes pretty darn good)
  • 1-2 Tbsp All-Natural Peanut Butter (adjust amount depending on activity level/goals)
  • ½ Banana (Sliced)

Combine everything in a bowl, stirring as you add ingredients. Place in microwave for 2-4 minutes (depending on strength of microwave), stirring about halfway through to ensure thorough heating. You can add Splenda as the sweetener, but I don't think it tastes nearly as good as xylitol (even though it's must cheaper). You may also use Agave Nectar (a low-glycemic sweetener extracted from a plant...found in most grocery stores). If using Agave Nectar as the sweetener, I prefer to add it after nuking. It will take a couple attempts to figure out the proportions you personally like to add to make it taste just right, but once you get it, you'll never go back to pre-packed flavored oatmeal that's nutrient-poor and loaded with sugar.

  • You can also add some fruit on the side, such as some sliced strawberries or grapefruit
  • I prefer to get my rolled oats from a natural foods store, as you can by loads of em for very cheap. If you don't have access to such a market, then plain Quaker oats are a good second choice.
  • If going for fat-loss, go light on the peanut butter (measure it, you'd be surprised at how much you use), and be sure to use either a sugar-free sweetener, or something low-glycemic such as Agave nectar. Avoid using plain white table sugar, and even honey if you can.
  • If looking for weight gain/muscle building, you can increase the oats and peanut butter used
  • May also add some eggs on the side if you're really hungry or simply need a higher calorie/protein intake
Questions/Comments? List them below!
(Also, I'd be glad to provide the citations to the studies I mentioned earlier)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Muscle Will Turn to Fat?

Myth #2: If one gains a lot of muscle when young, it will all “turn to fat” when he or she is older.

The other day, I heard my housemate make the comment “I don't want to lift weights like Stevo, because when I'm older, all my muscle will turn to fat and I'll be more overweight then if I had never lifted.” My initial reaction was laughter, but then I had to humble myself and remember that I too once believed this. I do not know at what point this “fact” hit mainstream culture, but I hear it all the time. When I first began lifting in high school, I heard the same thing (and believed it for a while), but lifted anyway because I wanted what every hormonal teenage boy wants: big muscles to impress the ladies (oh how silly we all are at some point), and to be stronger than the guy next to him so he could win the next spontaneous wrestling match that will inevitably ignite during a gathering of guys (although this happens during every stage of a male's lifespan). As I'm now beyond high school (and soon college) and train for the pure rush of accomplishing something physical that was not possible to me at an earlier point in time, I better make sure that I'm not setting up myself for future obesity eh? Anyways, let's take a closer look:

What does basic science say? Well, muscle and fat cells are completely mutually exclusive of each other. At the physiological level, they are completely different. Muscle cells are elongated and contain multiple nuclei, whereas fat cells are globular-shaped and contain a single nucleus (you can look this up in any anatomy or exercise physiology textbook). Both types of cells may grow and shrink, but it is impossible for one to “morph” into the other. It is not physiologically possible for a muscle cell to turn into a fat cell, or for fat to convert to muscle. There are many countless other differences in the composition/function of these cells, but that is beyond the scope of this post and most of you would probably fall asleep reading about it.

So where does this myth stem from? Are there people that are oh-so-muscular in their youth, and then develop a much higher level of body fat when they're older? Certainly. Do many of you personally know (or at least know of) someone who used to possess a lot of muscle but now they look fat? I bet you do. Is this because his or her muscle actually morphed into fat? Not a chance.

What we commonly observe is a result of lifestyle change. Typically, (using a male in this example) a guy who lifts weights in high school and college does so because of a requirement by a sports team, or perhaps because he decides to do it as a hobby while he still has a lot of free time. As he enters his mid-twenties and pursues a career, he still exercises regularly, and receives enough guidance that he's able to put on a fair amount of muscle. This includes remaining in a caloric surplus (intaking more calories than he is expending, in order to gain size). However, as he gets older, an increasing amount of commitments find their way into his life. This may be an insatiable drive to climb the corporate ladder, thus requiring frequent late nights and early mornings at the office. Or perhaps he marries and has children, and needs to spend extra time providing for his wife and/or driving his kids to school/sports practice. As more and more obligations (positive or negative) consume him, he eventually foregoes exercise in order to make room for other things. He still eats a lot, because he has developed this habit when he was younger and was lifting consistently (and could just “work-off” any junk food he consumed). However, these food choices will probably become quite poor, as a fast-paced life will “demand” that he utilize fast food restaurants on-the-go. Over time, he skips more exercise sessions so that he can prioritize other activities, and continues to eat more not-so-gut-friendly-food as he finds himself frequently rushed and stressed.

See the trend? Over time, he exercises less, and doesn't reduce his calories to match his new activity level (which is next to none, excluding walking from his car to the office or house). Since he is no longer lifting weights (with the exception of maybe once every couple weeks), his body stops building muscle because he's no longer imposing that demand on himself (to be able to lift heavy stuff). His muscles get smaller because there is no stimulus for growth. He's still eating a lot of calorie-dense foods though, and those calories aren't going to be used in muscle building. Since he's now intaking way more calories than he's expending throughout the day, those excess calories are stored as fat. Over time, our muscular college boy has gradually morphed into an overweight business man.

And the conclusion people draw? “Ohh, yeah, I remember he used to be quite fit-looking. He must be fat now because he put on all that muscle when he was younger, and now that he has aged, his body is converting it to fat.”

Riiigghht. His muscle did not “melt into fat.” He lost muscle mass because he wasn't exercising, and he gained fat because he didn't adjust his dietary intake to match his lower caloric expenditure throughout each day.

So what can we take from all this? You need not avoid lifting weights as a youth in fear of that muscle turning to fat. Just be conscious of your lifestyle as you age. Are you frequently stressed? This will increase cortisol (a hormone leading to fat storage as well as a number of other maladies) levels, so you either need to remove that stressor from your life, or find some way to combat the stress (try taking a walk outside, spending time with a loved one, reading, exercising, etc). Are you as active as you were in middle school, high school, college, or whatever your most recent stage of life was? If not, then you need to adjust (down) your daily caloric intake accordingly. Build the habit of exercising for the right reasons while young, and you'll be more likely to make it a regular part of your schedule no matter how old you are or what time commitments may be pressing. Even if it's a workout out twice a week for 45 minutes per session, you'd be surprised at how much it will help your quality of life.