2017/01/17 05:06:45
James 1 comment

Stimulant Drinks

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker July 2009 edition
Quite often people refer to stimulant drinks as 'energy drinks'. However, correctly, energy drinks refer to drinks which are based on glucose or similar which provide energy in respect of carbohydrates and calories. Stimulant drinks are those which contain stimulant ingredients, and the terminology can be confusing as these drinks are often marketed to 'provide energy'.

Stimulant drinks may contain a range of ingredients, most commonly caffeine and taurine, but also other compounds designed to improve wakefulness or clarity, like guarana, B-vitamins, ginseng, and a range of other tonics, depending on the brand, and may also contain glucose or sweeteners in sugar-free varieties.

Caffeine is a stimulant found in tea, coffee and other foods and drinks which can help boost performance. Taurine is an amino acid which isn't a stimulant per se, but can help reduce muscle fatigue and improve concentration. Guarana is actually just a source of caffeine, so if a drink contains both 'caffeine' and 'guarana' make sure the total caffeine content is not too high. Certain B-vitamins are involved in energy transformation, like thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. Ginseng is a herb with purported 'well-being' effects, though a lot of researchers remain unconvinced.

Obviously amounts of each of the ingredients vary from brand to brand, but typically a 250ml can will contain around 80mg of caffeine and 1,000mg of taurine amongst the other ingredients in more variable amounts. Unless you are sensitive to caffeine then you can happily consume 300mg per day with no negative effects to health; obviously this total includes all caffeine, i.e. that from tea, coffee, other caffeine-containing products as well as stimulant drinks. So from a caffeine point of view, assuming you consume no other caffeine, then 2-3 cans per day should be of no health hazard.

However, caffeine is but one ingredient, and when ingested with other stimulants, along with the artificial additives in these products, then I would definitely say three cans per day is too much. My recommendation would be an absolute maximum of one or two 250ml cans per day, spread away from each other and not too late at night. If you still desire extra caffeine, then it would be better to obtain this from tea or coffee which have other constituents which are not only safer, but may actually have some health benefits, e.g. flavenoids found in tea are anti-oxidants.

Stimulant drinks can be useful as a pick-me-up for training, but don't rely on them. Like everything moderation is the key, and don't forget the drinks are acidic and are not great for dental health.
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2017/01/16 15:44:58
James Leave a comment

Simple Chilli Sauce

This recipe was originally published in The MuscleTalker June 2009 edition
** Ingredients
6 fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp of tomato purée
2 medium onions, chopped
6 small and mean fresh chilli peppers, chopped
2 crushed garlic cloves
2 tbsp wine vinegar
¼ tbsp sweetener
Pinch of salt if required

** Directions
Place all the ingredients into a heavy pan and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring the mixture continuously. Allow it to cool, then pour it into a food processor and blend until smooth. Return to the pan, and allow to simmer for up to half an hour or until it has reached the preferred consistency.
Use less chilli and garlic if you are wussy!

More great recipes available in our Muscle Menus ebook available for Kindle at Amazon.

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2017/01/13 07:37:04
James 1 comment

Chilli Pepper

This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker June 2009 edition
The chilli is a member of the nightshade family, and has been cultivated since 7500BC, so it has a long history. There are also more than a few varieties, ranging from the large green, red, yellow, and orange peppers our US cousins so descriptively call 'bell peppers', to the small fiery peppers that should come with health warning.

Nutritionally, this massive variety means that what you get depends on what you choose. This article is focussed on the small 'spicy' variety, which is a favourite for two reasons; 1) it adds flavour without calories and 2) it can help stimulate the metabolism.

So the question is: does chilli really burn fat? The answer is yes. In a review by Plantenga et al 2006, capsacicin - the active ingredient in the Capsium species of which the chilli is a member was confirmed as having a metabolic stimulant effect. In fact, capsaicin acts through (or is most likely to act through) the beta-andregenic pathway, the reverse action to that of a beta-blocker. The metabolic stimulation is a direct result of the stimulation of the beta-andregenic pathway, with an effect of 23% increase directly after administration having been reported, metabolic stimulation was also reported in women.

So chilli works, for those of you shedding the flab or cutting up chilli has a second effect - which you may or may not appreciate. Eating chilli in a dose that causes significant metabolic stimulation blunts appetite leading to a reduced intake. And here is the rub of chilli as a metabolic stimulant: to get an effect the dose is often intolerable. Subjects in studies often cannot take the whole meal or dose - and regular ingestion of half has been reported. Not only have subjects been spiced out by the pungency of the chilli needed, but effects such as diarrhoea, indigestion and reflux are reported (even abdominal cramp) - and having a capsule doesn't get round these. Then again eating around 1g of hot chilli pepper (that's 0.25% capsaicin) can be a pretty tall order.

So where does that leave our bodybuilder or athlete? In summary, chilli is a metabolic stimulant that works, and if you like it gets busy with it; if not it's a great flavour enhancer. Check out the chilli sauce recipe below.

One final note, watch out for CH-19 Sweet, a cultivar of the pepper which comes without that fiery spice of the chilli but so far has had similar stimulant properties, you may also see capsiate - which is the active stimulant component of CH-19 Sweet making an appearance.

Plantenga, M et al (2006). Metabolic Effects of Spices, Teas and Caffeine. Physiology and Behaviour 89: 85-91
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2017/01/04 12:32:18
James Leave a comment

Variety is Important

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker October 2009 edition
Variety in our diet is very important as it minimises boredom from the same foods, but it is also crucial in order for us to obtain optimum nutrition. No single food contains all the nutrients we need, therefore we have to eat a mixture. Not only does food provide us with the macronutrients protein, carbohydrate and fat, but also all the micronutrients, i.e. the vitamins and minerals which are numerous. Then there's fibre which is essential for a healthy digestive system and a number of other benefits. On top of these nutrients, food also contains anutrients. Anutrients are substances found in food which have no 'nutritional value' per se, but they may be involved in good health and may help to protect against disease. An example of anutrients are the numerous phenolic compounds, like tannins in red wine and tea, which act as antioxidants.

In order to ensure you're getting sufficient amounts of all the nutrients, along with a varied array of anutrients, you need to eat a variety of different foods. Ironically, this is where the more health conscious of us tend to fall down. Many of us into bodybuilding and fitness are so motivated that the need for us to enjoy our food is minor compared with the benefits we'll reap from consuming a good diet. Therefore, too many of us stick to a perfectly well planned out diet, with the same foods day in and day out. Whilst this is fine, and far better from consuming a trashy processed diet, it may not be optimal nutrition. Make sure you choose different fruits and vegetables each day, along with different meats, fish or poultry and vary your carbohydrate sources between rice, pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes and bread.

Varying your fruit and vegetable choices is a good way to ensure a good intake of a lot of vitamins and minerals. Health professionals try to encourage all of us to consume five fruit or veg per day. But the five is the absolute minimum. Health conscious folk really should be aiming for 7-8 per day. One of the other suggestions which health experts are trying to push is to also vary your colours of fruit and veg. This is great advice, as colours do indicate different nutrients and it's a great way of consuming different vitamins.

No single food is really 'better' than another. On the whole, there are no 'good' or 'bad' foods, just 'good' or 'bad' diets. You can have a lot of variety and be consistent. Remember that bodybuilders and hard trainers will, by default, tend to eat more food than the average Joe, which does in fact make variety in the diet easier. Try to mix up protein sources (they bring with them other nutrients), vegetables and fruits, as well as including the other things like nuts and high quality, low fat dairy products. A practical way to do this is have a few different core foods in your diet, which are varied over 2-3 days. Then consume different fruit and vegetables around this. Varying your diet will not only aid health in the long term, it will stop you from going mad and help you stick to your eating regimen. Enjoy your food!
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2016/12/28 16:09:37
James Leave a comment

Motivation for the Recreational Trainer - A New Year, a New Approach?

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker December 2005 edition
Where is 2006 going to take you? Is it to the month of July when you hit the beach with the perfect six-pack and have the confidence to show off your new cuts? Is it going to be the year when you make such great size gains people cant help but comment? Is it going to be the year you smash your personal best for the bench press or squat? Or is it going to be another year of aimless training and simply having no goals or focus in your training. The worse case scenario may even arise when 2006 becomes your last year in the gym as the motivation to train has escaped you and a less productive life takes precedence.

For most, bodybuilding and fitness is a past time or hobby where extrinsic motivation such as trophies and financial rewards are not present, therefore inner drive is key and intrinsic motivation to improve their physique is imperative. For those who do compete and have the trophies, titles and cash prizes to aim for, the motivation to train and adhere to their diet is often easier due to the targets of future competitions and shows. Although this is the case, in a sport where fame, wealth and recognition is limited the desire for the perfect physique still reigns as a dominant factor in the decision to continue the lifestyle of a bodybuilder.

It's fair to say at the end of the day the longevity of your participation in training is ultimately down to your personal desire to improve aesthetics, performance or the health of your body rather than for extrinsic rewards. Although this is the over riding factor, there are a number of tips and techniques you can employ to make training more fun, beneficial and sustainable in the New Year.

Let's have a look at motivation in bodybuilding for the year ahead and some methods you can use to aid you through what can often be the lonely and testing battle of either adding quality mass or strip stubborn body fat. Do you struggle to stick to a training plan? Does your diet go to pot by the third week in January? Your not alone, trust me! Many of my clients are bright eyed and bushy tailed at the start of January, by the first week of February the desire is dwindling and the gym visits begin to slow down. For many people a new year brings new goals, whether it be mass, strength, body fat reduction or fitness and endurance. Many of these goals though are quickly forgotten and the honeymoon period of the News Year's resolution quickly fades away and motivation diminishes resulting in a lack of progress.

Make your goals challenging, yet realistic and achievable.

A higher level of self efficacy will also help you reach these goals, so believe in yourself and stick to it; the results will come if you educate yourself on optimum training and nutrition. This alone may keep your motivation levels up! A more detailed discussion on goal setting can be found in the article SMART Goal Setting in Bodybuilding.

Reward yourself for progress you make. For many who are cutting, and even those following a strict mass gaining diet, a bodybuilder's food intake is often bland and lacks variety or 'treat' foods. Allow yourself a 'cheat meal' for a job well done or have a week off here and there to keep you from going stale and resenting your training.

Remember fitness and bodybuilding is not only aesthetically beneficial. Think about your long term health and the bonuses to staying in shape, leading to a productive and healthy lifestyle.

Some trainers suffer from a lack of intensity in their training. Having a training partner may be the spark required this New Year. Help pushing out that final rep, meeting you at the gym when the pub seems a better idea or simply be there to share the woes of low carbing, a training buddy can see you though the hard times. Support from family members and friends can also be beneficial.

If visual stimulation is what you require, pin the picture of your favourite bodybuilders up in your room, read magazines and aim for the body you want and keep referring back to it when you struggle to find the desire to hit the gym. Role models are shown to provide a great incentive to achieve your goals even if we never ultimately reach their standards or level of success.

Maybe joining a new gym will help? For many a change of environment is a good way to increase motivation. The change of gym also may go hand in hand with a change in training schedule. For most, every 12 weeks is a good point to change their training plan, why not make a new one for a new year? The change of gym may offer some new equipment to try and new techniques can be learned and incorporated in the training plan.

Something as simple as a new supplement stack maybe the kick start you need to get training in the New Year? Simple things often make the difference!

On a lighter note, recent studies show the use of music is a great way of making a work out both more intense and enjoyable. Stick an MP3 player on your Xmas list and enjoy the sessions a little more by listening to your favourite tunes.

It's fair to say that if you really crave the results you will be drawn into the lifestyle regardless of the highs and lows of bodybuilding and training. If you force yourself into training you are more likely to drop out or allow your training to take a back seat. Employing some of the tips above may make the sticking points of 2006 mere mole hills rather than mountains. Good luck and a happy New Year!
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2016/12/23 15:52:30
James Leave a comment


This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker December 2010 edition
Last year it was stuffing, so for this year's Christmas newsletter it is another traditional Christmas food: cranberry. Cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs, they are found in acidic bogs throughout the cooler parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The flowers are dark pink, with distinctive petals and the fruit is a berry which is initially white, turning red when ripe.
Cranberries are available fresh or as processed products, such as juice, sauce and for a snack, dried. Cranberry sauce is the traditional condiment choice for Christmas and the American Thanksgiving meals.
The majority of health professionals believe there is a clear association between a diet which is high in fruit and vegetables and a low risk of chronic disease. Cranberry is a healthy fruit that is often over looked; they contain the most antioxidant phenols compared to 19 commonly eaten fruits. Recent research shows that these significant amounts of antioxidants and other phytonutrients may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases.
Cranberry juice is more commonly used for urinary infections; they contain proanthocyanidins (PACs) that can prevent the adhesion of certain types of bacteria, including E. coli, associated with urinary tract infections, to the urinary tract wall. The anti-adhesion properties of cranberry may also inhibit the bacteria associated with stomach ulcers and gum disease.
If you have a relaxed approach to your diet over the festive period then pile on the cranberry sauce, it will make you feel better about the rest of the meal!
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2016/12/21 12:14:54
James Leave a comment


This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker December 2008 edition

With Christmas comes the season of turkey, turkey and more turkey. Many think of turkey as being interchangeable with good ole chicken. Which, it is; however, nutritionally speaking it has its own admirable qualities.

Turkey is lower in fat that chicken. Although preparation makes a big difference to how much fat you finally get in your dish, the turkey meat itself is notably lean. An average 100g serving of roasted chicken as analysed by the laboratory food experts* will give you 7.5g of fat, while the turkey comes in at a positively svelte 4.6g. Not only that, but your 100g of turkey is packing around 20g of protein to boot. Of course a lean grilled turkey breast with the skin off is even leaner again, and slightly higher in protein still.

Low in fat, high in protein, turkey also weighs in with plenty of zinc and B vitamins, especially niacin. Eat the dark meat and you follow that up with a healthy dose of iron. You will also get a sprinkling of other minerals such as potassium, phosphorus and magnesium.

Turkey should not just be a yuletide addition to the menu; for the health conscious bodybuilder it is great for the off season being low in fat even when roasted, while lean skinless turkey breast provides plenty of protein in a low fat parcel. Turkey mince is lower in fat than beef mince and can be used as a direct replacement - useful when cutting, and essential for the Firehouse restaurants' famed ground turkey scramble.

Turkey has a reputation of being a bit on the dry side - if it is blame the cook, it responds well to marinades, and the fibres open up easily. With it being Christmas it's time to share my roast turkey secrets: Firstly, use two roasting tins - one bigger than the other, in the first put some water with some rosemary in; the second one gets the turkey on a rack. Place the tin with the turkey in the tin with the water so it doesn't spill, then wrap in foil so it is all sealed in nicely. This roasts and partly steams the turkey keeping it moist and gives a hint of rosemary throughout it.

For those that like to go with the Christmas cheat day; gently lift the skin of the turkey and place butter underneath, then lay streaky bacon over the top. And then roast as above. Finally remember, a stuffed turkey takes a lot longer to cook, so put lemon and onion inside it, not forgetting to take out the giblets.

Thankfully, turkey is not subject to the same plumping methods as chicken, and water injected turkey is rare to non existent. When buying a whole bird fresh, look for one that's a good colour without yellowing and a strong smell, with turkey breast, look for meat that's a redder colour than chicken and looks like a muscle. It should be slightly matt in finish rather than plump and glossy.

Have a great Christmas, don't forget to relax, and even those competing in the Ironman next year can have just the one cheat meal.
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2016/12/19 18:31:50
James 1 comment

Chestnut Stuffing

This recipe was written by former MT Moderator Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker December 2009 edition
A Christmas treat (definitely for bulking!). Read about the nutrition of chestnuts here.


  • 227g butter
  • 275g chopped onion
  • 920g coarsely chopped celery (including leaves)
  • 115g chopped parsley
  • 1400g white bread cubes, dry
  • 459g chestnuts, roasted, peeled and chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 120ml cup half-and-half cream
  • 120ml cup white wine
  • In a very large bowl, combine the bread cubes, chestnuts, salt, black pepper and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly.
  • Combine the half-and-half cream and white wine; mix thoroughly.
  • Add the cream/wine mixture to the bread mixture, along with the vegetables and drippings in your skillet - told you it needed to be a big bowl!
  • Mix until it is a stuffing consistency - sort of a doughish, mouldable type texture.
How to Roast Chestnuts
  • Preheat oven to 425°F, or 220°C or gas mark 7.Find the flat side of each chestnut and cut a large X with a sharp paring knife all the way through the skin.
  • Place chestnuts on a shallow baking pan and place in the oven to roast for about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on size of nuts. Shake pan several times to rotate chestnuts so they will cook evenly.
  • If you just want them cooked enough to peel, roast for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Peel roasted chestnuts as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Once they cool completely, they are difficult to peel. However, they may be reheated briefly to aid in peeling.
  • As many as you can get on your baking tray can be done at a time - usually about ½ lb or 220ish grams!
More great recipes available in our Muscle Menus ebook available for Kindle at Amazon.
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