2016/06/28 06:55:20
James Leave a comment

Stripping Body Fat for the Summer

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker May 2005 edition
With the summer months fast approaching, many of us are looking to get lean and ripped for our holidays or those beach and BBQ days out in the sun! How do I do it, you may ask? I don't want to loose all the hard earned muscle I've trained for over the winter!

Too true! Lets look how to strip that fat and keep the lean body mass. Well respected training and diet specialist Tom Venuto assess the strategies available for effective cutting (2004). He looks at how effective each method is in relation to how risky they are for losing muscle. Weight reduction is easy enough; body fat reduction is another matter.

Should we do cardio first thing on an empty stomach to strip the fat? In theory this is the perfect situation for fat burning, blood sugars are low and glycogen levels are also low after a fast, but cortisol levels are also high which is perfect environment for muscle loss. Therefore, although there is a perfect environment for 'fat burning' there is also a perfect environment for muscle loss, something which we bodybuilders quite rightly fear!

So, let's add a 'protein only' meal in before we hit the cardio to reduce the potential loss of muscle. This reduces cortisol levels whilst keeping insulin levels sufficiently low for effective fat burning. This reduces the risk of muscle loss compared to the empty stomach method and still allows us to tap into those fat stores. Although the risk of catabolism (muscle breakdown) is still there, it is reduced significantly.

With this in mind, should we do cardio at night instead? As we'll be fasting afterwards whilst asleep thus increasing lypolysis (burning of fat)? The answer in short is 'no'. Not only is it possible that it will disrupt sleep but Venuto suggests reduced metabolism during sleep is not ideal and this fasted period may possibly also lead to the loss of muscle mass due to insufficient fuelling for a lengthy period. It therefore seems cardio done first thing in the morning after a small protein only meal is the way forward for optimal fat loss with minimal muscle loss.

This then brings us onto the question of the structure the cardio session: Long and slow or hard and fast? Again Venuto looks into the benefits of both methods.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) can be carried out for shorter periods with hard sprints followed by periods of easy pace recovery sessions. This method of cardio allows for high EPOC (excessive post exercise oxygen consumption) to occur and more calories are burned when the exercise has finished as metabolism is raised for the rest of the day, compared to steady state training. The session typically lasts 12-15 minutes opposed to 35-45 minutes. This is fine but many of us who are less fit may not benefit as much due to higher levels of fitness being required.

Should we go for moderate pace, moderate time (35-45 minutes)? Efforts in the 'target zone' as Venuto shows, allow for more calories to be burned during the work out, as it doesn't elevate the metabolism as high as HIIT training and therefore the NTOC (net total oxygen consumption) will not be as high in some cases due to lower EPOC.

This leaves us with long cardio sessions at a low intensity. Venuto suggests that although the risk is low in terms of muscle loss (work out durations of approx 1hour), the benefits of EPOC are not that high due to the low intensity of the session.

There is also the issue of time constraints. One hour of exercise at 6 am isn't often practical for those with a busy schedule!

So from the information provided it seems HIIT training, done after a protein only meal is the way forward.

Now, you ask me, how often should we do this? Well, in theory, the more we do it, the more calories we burn as it's calories in versus calories out that will determine weight loss. To a certain extent this is true, but seven days a week will possibly lead to over training, fatigue and burn out. Again this is true to some extent, but, frequent cardio will ensure that metabolic slow down doesn't occur as we are constantly 'revving' metabolism after each cardio session.

Therefore 5 times a week, with two days off seems to be a logical solution, enough time to recover without losing the fat burning advantage, as well as improving cardio vascular health.

To summarise, it seems that HIIT interval training approx five times a week after a protein only meal is the optimal way of getting that body ready for the beach this summer! This method will be effective for body fat reduction when combined with a well structured diet to support training and your lifestyle.

Venuto, T. 2004. Risk To Benefit Ratios of Extreme and Controversial Fat Loss Techniques. Fitness Renaissance
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2016/06/26 17:52:05
James Leave a comment

Spirulina - a superfood?

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker September 2008 edition
The term 'superfood' has been thrown around a lot over the last couple of years. It refers to a type of food that is believed to have more significant health benefits than any other type of food due to specific constituents. Indeed some so called 'superfoods' may have certain qualities which do make them considerations for inclusion in your diet, but some claims are exaggerated and the word 'superfood' itself is being used as a marketing term to sell products. Fortunately from July 2007, legislation was introduced in the European Union making marketing of products as 'superfoods' banned, unless the claim can be supported by credible scientific research.

Spirulina is one such marketed superfood and it's very much in vogue at the moment. It is one of a few single-cell superfoods, and is the common name for a supplement derived from two types of cyanobacteria, namely Arthrospira platensis, and Arthrospira maxima. However some texts incorrectly refer to it as a blue-green algae supplement, which is in fact a different 'superfood'.

Marketing for spirulina suggests it has a multitude of wonderful potential benefits for the body, with little evidence backing up the claims or even justification for the claims, which is a shame as the lack of evidence does reduce the supplement's credibility; I will not rubbish this superfood completely as there are a few positive attributes worth mentioning.

Spirulina does have an unusually high amount of protein on a weight for weight basis, as much as 55-77% of the dry weight, depending on the source. The protein is complete containing all essential amino acids. Spirulina is also rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), gamma linolenic acid (GLA), linoleic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA) which are all essential or conditionally-essential fatty acids. It is also rich in the vitamins C, D and E and some B vitamins, potassium, calcium and some trace element minerals. It's not so much the levels of these micronutrients which is important though, but the relative bioavailability of them in spirulina, i.e. the amounts that are actually absorbed, which is higher than from most other foods. It is also marketed to be high in chlorophyll, but the actual benefits of this plant pigment to humans are debatable.

Advocators frequently overstate the claims of spirulina's health and healing properties, even though there may be research upon which such claims are based. Many positive claims are based on research done on the individual nutrients that spirulina contains, such as GLA, the various antioxidants, etc, rather than on direct research using spirulina.

Some of the claims which have been made about spirulina are its ability to inhibit a number of viruses, including the HIV virus, by replicating the immune T-cells in the body, the inhibition of tumour growth, the reduction of blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing the symptoms of allergies such as hay fever and helping to control the symptoms of inflammatory diseases like ulcerative colitis. These claims are based on poor research though, and need to be taken with a very large pinch of salt!

Spirulina may be a potentially good source of some nutrients. But there's nothing that can't be obtained from other foods. If the fact that it contains some of these nutrients means it can be called a 'superfood', then great, but it's doubtful that some of the claims could justify its use.
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2016/06/21 17:23:36
James 2 comments

Training Legs with a Bad Back

This article was written by Drew Price BSc MASc RNutr CSCS & was originally published in The MuscleTalker December 2008 edition
Many people suffer from a bad back but what do you do if you want to train legs and have a problem squatting and deadlifting? Obviously the first thing to do is to find out what the problem is and take measures to improve the situation, which usually means a trip to either the doctor or (sports) physio, then follow their advice.

However, there are things you can do to take the strain off the back whilst training and increase the training effect on the legs. Depending upon the nature of the problem, single leg movements may well be a good choice. By working one leg at a time you train the body as it naturally functions (remember walking and running are movements on one foot), you increase instability as well as also greatly reducing the load you need to carry.

A pistol is a squat with large range of motion but using only one leg. The aim is to squat down in a controlled fashion until your glute touches, or is as near as possible, to your heel. You then pause and squat up, avoiding a bounce. The unused leg is kept near straight and moves from a few inches out in front when at the top of the movement, to straight out in front when at the full squat position. In this way the heel of that leg slides a long a line a few inches off the floor. They are tough as they demand co-ordination, flexibility and a good deal of useful strength. These are great; no external loading of the spine and they are very very hard going. Remember if you do a pistol with your own bodyweight, this is like putting your bodyweight on your back and doing a normal squat.

In fact if you try it you'll see it's more like bodyweight plus 20% as one foot is less stable than two so you have to work harder. Balance is a problem and shifting you centre of gravity forward will help. You have three options here. The first is to pistol squat in a doorway using the frame for stability, this is a good starting place to learn the movement. Stand side on in the doorway with toe 2-4" away from the frame but in line with the wall. As you squat down your free leg will stick out next to the wall. As a progression from there you can also do it with hands out in front of you or also use a weight like a small plate, light dumbbell or kettlebell.

One leg squat
This is similar to the pistol but with the leg you're not using bent at the knee so at the bottom of the movement you have your knee/shin on the floor.

Unilateral deadlifts
These are copies of the deadlift movement on one leg. If you can use a weight as well then all the better. You can do either stiff-legged or traditional; just make sure you keep your hips nice and stable.

Lunges are often overlooked but when done nice and steadily they don't require much in the way of weight compared to squats and the like.

Split squats
These are like lunges but with the back foot on a platform or bench and are very tough. Remember if you can't use a weight go for depth and reps.

Weights and loading
With the above you can use a little weight if it is tolerated. You can also wear a rucksack with the load on the (tight!) waist strap and the shoulder straps loose. In cases where there have been disc issues holding the weight up above the head can keep the back in a more preferable position but again do check with your doctor or physiotherapist before trying anything here.
2016/06/16 10:11:44
James 16 comments

Green Tea

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker November 2008 edition
Camellia sinensis or as it is more commonly known: Green Tea

Lately it seems that green tea has the ability to cure all known ailments, and maybe even the credit crunch. With its properties regarded as the ability to cure cancers, help you lose weight, protect your arteries, lower LDL cholesterol, and even wake you up with a jolt of caffeine; you do have to wonder just how much of all the hype is true - and how much is dreams.

Apart from containing caffeine, green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG is a powerful polyphenolic anti-oxidant, and it is the anti-oxidant properties of EGCG that give rise to the health claims. In addition to this, studies looking at populations where green tea drinking is common place, have shown that the incidence of diseases and conditions - cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular disease - are all lower in these areas. The combination of anti-oxidant properties and epidemiological evidence, have given weight and credibility to claims that green tea is a life and health giving brew.

The problem is the areas where green tea drinking is common; for example China and Japan, also have traditional diets low in saturated fat, higher in fish, with more fruit and vegetables than the traditional western diet. In short, all the diet factors we know help prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease and obesity - no green tea required! However, that is not the end of the story for green tea; its anti-oxidant properties are real, and much greater than that of red wine which we know in 'moderate' amounts can confer some health benefits.

Reviewing the scientific literature on green tea reveals it is getting a lot of attention and deservedly so. The problem is that the hype has come a little too soon and has gotten way too excited. We can say that green tea and its extract certainly have health giving properties, but so do tomatoes. And we can say that green tea and its extracts are showing promise in the treatment of some cancers and the lowering of LDL cholesterol.

But, it is important to note studies are on green tea and its extracts - so not necessarily what you are drinking in your cup. Drinking green tea is not going to make up for a duff diet and an unhealthy lifestyle, but as a part of a healthy diet and bodybuilding lifestyle - definitely a good inclusion.

So the advice is, ignore the hype, and enjoy some green tea: both are very healthy things to do.
2016/06/14 20:49:32
James Leave a comment

Nitric Oxide Pump Supplements

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker November 2008 edition
Nitric oxide has definitely been one of the main supplement pre-workout trends over the past couple of years. Nitric oxide is the much touted 'pump' supplement used before training. It is often correctly abbreviated to NO; however many articles about this supplement wrongly abbreviate it to NO2, which is actually the chemical nitrogen dioxide, a poisonous air pollutant!

Many users try a new supplement with appropriate caution, as they've been stung far too many times before - haven't we all? The problem with gauging the usefulness of many supplements is that you need to be using the product for a while, and this means that other factors can affect gains and you can't easily deduce if it's the product working or the whole package of nutrition. The advantage that we have with pre-workout supplements, like nitric oxide, is that the effects are short term, so you'll either feel the difference or you won't during one workout. After a couple of training sessions you'll have your conclusion and be able to decide whether the product is worth continuing with. Without a doubt most people who use nitric oxide do feel the benefits, which is an enhanced muscle pump. A better pump, whilst doesn't actually directly mean more energy to train, does give both psychological benefits (the muscle feels good and you looked pumped therefore you train harder!) and means more blood is pumped to the muscle which will help recuperation and nutrition.

In mammals nitric oxide is a signalling molecule which is involved in physiological processes in the body like muscle contraction. It's a neurotransmitter which tells your blood vessels when to contract and relax. Nitric oxide signals for more blood to be pumped to organs when needed; when your arms need more blood supply for movement or for warmth, for example, the brain signals the blood vessels in the arms to release nitric oxide. After a large meal, nitric oxide sends more blood to your stomach to help you digest the food. It controls blood pressure, giving more blood when you exercise, and reducing the flow of blood when our body is at rest. Nitric oxide is also responsible for the relaxation of blood vessels in the penis, causing the blood to pool which produces an erection. Anti-impotence drugs like Viagra work in much the same way.

As a pre-workout supplement, nitric oxide can improve blood flow, oxygen delivery, glucose uptake, muscle velocity and muscle power over and above natural nitric oxide levels produced in the body. This gives the sensation of a full muscle 'pump' - that thing we strive for during a workout.
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2016/06/11 08:53:38
James Leave a comment


This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker October 2008 edition
The apricot, Prunus armeniaca, is a fruit with a long and colourful history, with records of its deliberate cultivation in China from around 2000BC. The apricot has been used for its medicinal properties for at least as long as it has been cultivated, and has an impressive résumé of purported properties. For example, the unripe fruit has been used to treat diarrhoea, worms, to control fever, vomiting and blood pressure. Dried apricot flower petals are used for fever, roots and bark for jaundice, as well as oil from the kernel has been used to relieve strained muscles and the biggest claim of all has been that the kernel can cure cancer.

The apricot kernel is a topic in itself, containing amygdalin, a toxic cyanogenic glycoside, and although available as a snack excessive consumption will reveal itself with the development of the symptoms of cyanide poisoning. No reported cases of death were apparent to this food of the month columnist. The clinical evidence for the curative properties of the apricot (and the kernels of the Prunus more generally) was reviewed in 2006, the results of which showed absolutely no evidence to support the claim. The therapy with laetrile, the ingredient used in the cancer treatment is illegal in the USA, Canada and other countries (not Mexico).

However, the apricot does have its own health benefits; the oil is good for the skin working well on sunburn and eczema. While the dried apricot in particular is a very potent (and arguably very palatable) cure for constipation, an effect that is due to their high content of the cellulose, which is passes through undigested, helping intestinal motility, and of pectin, which absorbs water adding bulk on the journey out. Usually six to eight apricots will have the required 'drain cleaning' effect.

Nutritionally the apricot is a power packed fruit, in addition to fibre, the apricot is a rich source of iron and beta-carotene (providing vitamin A), as well as containing a good variety of other vitamins such as vitamin C, potassium, boron (not an anabolic!) and the phyto-nutrient lycopene. Lycopene is abundant in tomatoes (it gives tomatoes their red colour) and has its own benefits including helping reduce cancer risk factors.

Ready to try the apricot? Apricots are a very delicate fruit and have to be picked before they are fully ripened to help prevent damage in transit. A fresh apricot will ripen off the tree but its sweetness and taste do not change. Usually apricots destined for processing are riper, and therefore fuller flavoured than those destined for the shelves or drying because of this. When buying look for those that have an orange or orangey-yellow colour that have a slightly soft feel at first but are firm. Avoid any fruit that has a tinge of green because it will not ripen - and the taste of un-ripened fruit is bitter.

Because the taste will not change it is best to buy fruit that is the softest and juiciest to eat straight away - and the slightly firmer for later. This is because; although the taste stays the fruit will ripen in terms of texture. Whatever you make of the health claims made for the apricot, be that to rid yourself of worms, or to use as an aphrodisiac on your mate, you can be sure, an apricot is a tasty addition any fruit bowl (and makes great jam)!
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2016/06/04 20:08:36
James 1 comment

Resistant Starch

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker October 2008 edition

Potatoes are a great source of carbohydrates and historically are a staple food for many of us in the West. Many traditional British meals are based around the potato cooked in a range of different ways. Also sweet potatoes are becoming increasingly culinary fashionable because their health benefits as a slowly digested low glycaemic index carb source are realised by more and more people. For convenience many bodybuilders cook their potatoes in advance and let them cool, but this may not be the best thing to do.

When potatoes are cooled, there is a structural change to the starch and resistant starch forms. Resistant starch is a type of starch which we can't digest, as the enzyme amylase, which breaks down starch to maltose, cannot act on its complex structure. The resistant starch makes its way though our digestive system to the colon as the intact polysaccharide. The average white potato is about 20% total starch content, when cooked the amount of resistant starch is approximately 7%, which increases to about 13% on cooling (Englyst et al 1992). This only leaves about 7% non-resistant starch in cold potatoes which may explain why their glycaemic index is low at around 23. Furthermore, this resistant starch remains even if the potato is reheated and may cause indigestion / gut issues in sensitive individuals.

But, many of you will now be asking, surely a lower GI is good as more slowly digested carbs are what we want? Also wouldn't less absorption of starch mean fewer calories, when cutting isn't consuming fewer calories a good idea? These, of course, are very sensible questions, but one of the major negative points about resistant starch is that it is a very strong bowel irritant and increases the inefficiency of the bowel. An efficient digestive system is important for health and physical performance, and cold or reheated potatoes are a big no-no if you have irritable bowl syndrome (IBS).

Rice can also be affected by the formation of resistant starch on cooling, but not to such a degree as in potatoes and sweet potatoes. I know many of us bodybuilders like to plan ahead and prepare foods in advance, especially to save time. But with potatoes I wouldn't recommend this and it may be better to opt for pasta or bread as our carb foods for our cold packed lunches.

Englyst et al. Classification and measurement of nutritionally important starch fractions. E J Clin Nutr. 1992 Oct; 46 Suppl 2:S33-50
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2016/06/01 19:57:22
James 4 comments

White Rice

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker September 2008 edition
The product we know as white rice is from the genus Oryza, which has 23 species. Only two of these are cultivated and find their way to your table: Oryza sativa, which originated in the hot tropics of Asia and Oryza glaberrima which originated in West Africa. Rice is the predominant staple food for 17 countries in Asia and the Pacific, 9 countries in North and South America and 8 countries in Africa, and rice provides 20% of the worlds energy supply. The largest producer is, rather unsurprisingly, China.

The product we know as white rice is not how the rice is grown; to get white rice you have to remove the germ, bran and husk, then mill and polish the grain. The end result is the shiny white grain. The removed products have very little use today; at one time the husk was used to polish precious gem stones. The net result is that we have evidence of rice cultivation from around 5000BC, and we have descriptions of Beriberi ('Chiao Ch'i' in Chinese) which date from around 2500BC. Beriberi is the disease that results from a deficiency of Vitamin B1 (thiamine).

Removing the husk, germ and bran of the rice, then milling and polishing is a process that robs the rice of much of its original nutritional profile; in terms of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and the like, white rice is a comparative nutritional desert. Which is why any body builder worth their squat rack avoids it.

Rice can be fortified to add back the nutrients lost in production; however, nothing beats the original and best version - as it grows. This month's advice: leave white rice on the shelf!
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