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2016/09/19 12:06:04
James Leave a comment

Nuts as an Emergency Snack

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker September 2009 edition
Some people say nuts are high in fat and are therefore a poor snack choice and should be avoided; others say raw nuts are a great food to include every day. So, what is it? Are nuts good or are they bad?

Nuts are whole foods and are therefore a great little snack to have while on the go. All types are good, including almonds, Brazils, cashews, pecans, pistachios and peanuts. Nuts are not phenomenally high in protein, but they do contain a significant amount and certainly contain more than junk snack foods. They are high in good monounsaturated and omega 6 fats, which certainly makes them a more favourable choice over crisps and chocolate which may be high in saturated and trans fats. They also contain quality carbohydrates and a good amount of fibre.

The great thing about nuts is that they are convenient. Ideally get yourself a bag of raw nuts from a supermarket or health food shop (mixed nuts are great) if you have no pre-prepared snack when you're out. I bet you're also wondering about salted peanuts or cashews too? Obviously due to their salt content these are not as good, but as they're often the only decent snack you can get from petrol stations or corner shops, so if you're really stuck, these will be an adequate choice. Dry roasted nuts are ok only if they're not cooked in any hydrogenated oils; check the label.

Ideally don't be caught out without a protein drink or a prepared snack, when one is scheduled, but if you are without nuts are an ideal snack choice; in fact why not get a bag of dried fruit and nuts?
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2016/09/18 14:04:13
James Leave a comment

Sleep and Exercise Recovery

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker September 2009 edition
To have efficient workouts and increase the recovery process you need sufficient sleep as well as a good diet. Our bodies are able to rebuild and repair during sleeping hours as this is the time when you your body produces growth hormone (GH) which is largely responsible for tissue growth and repair. So, in terms of maintaining healthy muscle mass and building it, the real work is completed during your sleeping hours; your body needs post-workout sleep!

In general, one or two nights of little sleep won't have a huge impact on performance but consistently getting inadequate sleep will. A continued lack of sleep will result in poorer performance in your workouts, lower your immune system, accelerate the breakdown of body tissues and affect your mental state; fluctuating hormones and moods, with lack of concentration and depression. Some research indicates that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, decreased activity of (GH) and decreased glycogen synthesis.

Furthermore studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that have indicated that a loss of sleep will increase hunger and affect the body's metabolism making it more difficult to lose weight. Other studies have demonstrated that a chronic sleep deprivation will trigger hormones that lower the appetite control hormone leptin. Pain perception is also increased following inadequate sleep (Dinges et al 1997; Haack & Mullington 2005) which may have relevance for trainers who are injured. The individuals in the study reported generalised body pain, back pain and stomach pain which began after the second sleep-restricted night.

So getting a balance is essential. You will know how you feel but if you have not been feeling 100% or if you have a persistent injury it is worth looking at your exercise : sleep balance. Some people need more sleep than others, so listen to your body; if you have had a few late nights, you should wait until the next day to workout, after you have slept. If you have increased your training intensity and effort you may need to plan for more recovery with better sleep.

Dinges et al (1997). Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance, and psychomotor vigilance performance decrements during a week of sleep restricted to 4-5 hours per night. Sleep 20:267-277
Haack & Mullington (2005). Sustained sleep restriction reduces emotional and physical well-being. Pain 119:56-64
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2016/09/17 17:02:00
James Leave a comment

Chickpeas (aka Cicer arietinum or the garbanzo bean)

This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2009 edition

The chickpea has been cultivated since ancient times, evidence of chickpea cultivation was found at the site of Jericho, that's the one with the dodgy walls! It is popular throughout the Middle East, India and the Mediterranean, which are the areas where it grows best, although it is cultivated in other parts of the world, such as California and even in Africa, where the climate is agreeable. Although India is the world's largest producer.

There are in fact two distinct varieties of chickpea: Desi, which is smaller, darker and rougher skinned, found in India (its name derives from the Hindi), and the kabuli, which are lighter, larger and smoother, grown more often in Southern Europe. The Desi variety is much higher in fibre and forms the basis of Chana Dal.

Any crop that has lasted since around 8,000BC and is still cultivated is likely to have a lot going for it, and the chickpea is no exception. A good source of protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats, the chickpea is an excellent foundation for a meal, not just an accompaniment. 100g of chickpeas will provide 9g of protein and 3g of mostly omega-6 polyunsaturated fats along with a healthy dose of fibre and 27g of carbohydrate per 100g. The chickpea is also an excellent source of iron and folate, calcium, vitamin B12 and manganese, plus of course very good helpings of a whole bunch of vitamins and minerals as well. If this was not enough, the chickpea has both a low glycaemic index and a low glycaemic load, making it ideal for those looking for good insulin control, such as diabetics or very dedicated bodybuilders on a serious cut!

So where do you get chickpeas? Usually in a tin, although dried they are usually a lot cheaper. If you like hummus or falafel then that's the chickpea at its tasty best too. The chickpea goes well in curry and chilli, although it can also be mixed with rice to liven things up a bit in the bodybuilder's favourite meal, and is a cheeky addition to baked beans too. When buying canned, it's advisable to drain well and rinse, and always follow the instructions when using the dried ones.
Check out the recipes: Two Great Ways to have your Chickpeas and Eat Them!

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2016/09/17 17:00:53
James Leave a comment

Falafel Burgers

This recipe was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2009 edition
Falafel normally has to be deep fried, which is not the first choice for the health conscious. By making a burger you can grill, fry in a smidge of oil, even BBQ, (or even try baking them on a lightly oiled tray).

350g chickpeas, soaked overnight
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, tough stalks removed, leaves chopped
1 handful of fresh coriander, tough stalks removed, leaves chopped
Black pepper

1. Drain the chickpeas and dry with paper towels
2. Roughly grind the coriander and cumin seeds with a pestle and mortar
3. Put the chickpeas in a food processor with the spices, onions, garlic, chillies, herbs and salt and pepper. Blitz for a minute or so, scraping down the sides of the bowl often, until you have a grainy pulp
4. Take walnut-sized portions of the mixture and form into flat patties about 1-1.5cm thick. If you don't want to cook them immediately, place in a single layer on plates and store in the fridge, covered, for up to 24 hours

Make sure the patties stay together when you make them as falafel burgers love to come apart - leaving them in the fridge for a while really helps the patty stay together in my experience.

They will need some oil to cook, as falafel mixture loves to be deep fried, making thin patties and being patient when cooking are the keys to success. Or put them on the George Forman, sprayed with olive oil on both sides and left for about 20mins. Serves: 4-6.

More great recipes available in our Muscle Menus ebook available for Kindle at Amazon.
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2016/09/17 16:59:00
James 1 comment

Homemade Hummus

This recipe was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2009 edition
3 garlic cloves, minced, more if you like
¼ cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp olive oil
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp paprika
1/8 tsp pepper
1 (19oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1. Combine everything in blender or food processor and process until smooth; the blender gives the best result
2. If you need more liquid to make a nice consistency, add a bit more yogurt
3. Chill
4. Serve

More great recipes available in our Muscle Menus ebook available for Kindle at Amazon.
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2016/09/16 19:48:17
James Leave a comment

Circuit Training

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker August 2009 edition
Circuit training is an efficient form of training and conditioning. It works well for developing strength, endurance (both aerobic and anaerobic), flexibility and coordination. Routines can be varied to suit your needs, for example be combined with or without weights, at the gym or at home.

Circuit training was originally developed by Morgan & Anderson in 19531. The original format consisted of 9 to 12 stations, and could incorporate exercise machines, hand-held weights and resistance bands. However, today this number varies according to the design of the circuit. A 15 second to 3 minute aerobics station is placed between each station, allowing this method to improve cardio-respiratory and muscle endurance during the workout.

Studies at Baylor University and The Cooper Institute show that circuit training is the most time efficient way to enhance cardiovascular fitness and muscle endurance. Studies have also shown that circuit training helps women to achieve their goals and maintain them longer than other forms of exercise or diet.

The benefits of this form of training include:
  •     Improved level of fitness
  •     Increased endurance
  •     Increased strength
  •     Improved over all health
  •     Cheap and can be carried out anywhere
  •     Variety

Circuit training should include high reps with reduced weights to reduce the stress on the joints and the tendons. There should be little or no rest between stations.

Example workouts
Beginner - this has 6 exercises that are completed one right after the other, with little or no rest. Make sure you do a warm-up before and cool down, stretching after.
  •     Squats - Either with an exercise ball or free standing. Bend knees and lower down till your knees are bent at right angles. Repeat for 30-60 seconds, use weights for more intensity
  •     Skipping rope - 30 seconds to a minute
  •     Lunges - With one foot in front lower into the lunge position, 30 seconds on each leg
  •     Jog / walk - 2 minutes fast walk or jog, then 2 minutes increased speed, 1 minute recovery
  •     Push ups - 30 seconds to 1 minute
  •     Squats with front kick - alternate legs for 1-3 minutes

Advanced - this has 7 exercises using dumbbells; aim for no rest between exercises. As before, include a warm-up and cool down.
  •     Dumbbell power hang clean and press - 10 reps
  •     Dumbbell arm curls - 12 reps
  •     Run /sprint - high intensity for 60 secs
  •     Dumbbell bent over rows - 12 reps
  •     Dumbbell forward lunges - 12 reps
  •     Run/sprint - high intensity for 60 secs
  •     Dumbbell tricep extensions - 12 reps
  •     Dumbbell chest press - 12 reps
  •     Run /sprint - high intensity for 60 secs

Depending on your level of fitness, aim to repeat the circuit 3 times.

Circuit training is suitable for general fitness for beginners through to more advanced circuits for athletes. It is said to be one of the best training methods for increasing your strength endurance and conditioning. You can vary the workouts to suit you, and it is also popular for those who are short on time and want a quick workout and not an hour on the treadmill!

1 Kravitz, L. (1996). "The fitness professional's complete guide to circuits and intervals". IDEA Today, 14(1), 32-43.
2 Pollock, M.L., Gaesser, G.A., Butcher, J.D., Despres, J-P, Dishman, R.K., Franklin, B.A., & Ewing Garber, C. (1998). "The recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, and flexibility in healthy adults". Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 30(6): 975-991.
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2016/09/06 09:05:28
James Leave a comment


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker May 2009 edition
Rhubarb has a long history, with a documented appearance in China 2700BC, its name Rheum deriving in part from the river Volga where it grew. Since then rhubarb has cropped up around the world, often prized for its medicinal properties. Using rhubarb as a food seems to have started in the 17th century in the UK, although it really got going when sugar became more widely and affordably available in the 18th Century. The Colonies, I mean America, caught on to Rhubarb late in the 18th Century. Its roots are a great laxative, and its leaves can make a pretty decent poison if you like that sort of thing.

More importantly, in climates such as the UK, rhubarb comes into season in April. Although commercial cultivation can be achieved all year round with green houses, any rhubarb lover will tell you the stuff grown in fields tastes the best.

By now you should be asking, why should a bodybuilder or athlete eat rhubarb? After all it is best known for its use in pies, crumbles and jams combined with lots and lots of sugar and usually butter. It doesn't have to be like that. Rhubarb is a good source of fibre - an essential for everyone. On the face of it rhubarb doesn't match up to a nutritional heavyweight like broccoli, however, it tastes amazing and has very few calories. In detail, 100g of rhubarb gives: 7calories, 93mg of calcium, 6mg of vitamin C, and nearly 1g of both protein and carbohydrate, fibre you get 2g.

Rhubarb is an excellent choice if you want to fill up without feeling fed up - while making sure everything keeps on moving - and bodybuilders I mean you especially because bodybuilding diets are notoriously low in fibre. So if you are cutting I hope you are paying attention. If you are ready to give rhubarb a try, then first you have to buy the good stuff, which is easy. Rhubarb should be firm and glossy, pale, tired looking stalks need to be recycled in the composting bin.

Now you have bought it, what do you do with it? Check out the excellent rhubarb recipe below. Second, chop it up and soften it by heating in a little water (with some sprinkle sweetener if you like). Like this, it can be added to jelly for a low cal treat, or added to anything where you would put fruit, even home made jam (with sweetener), or crumble (sweetener and low fat baking alternative of course), and someone has even made rhubarb cheesecake!

So there you have rhubarb, a nutritional lightweight that livens up your plate.
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2016/08/23 19:49:06
James Leave a comment


This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker August 2009 edition
The nectarine (Prunus persica var. nectarine) is a smooth-skinned peach of the family Rosaceae, known for more than 2,000 years from Chinese origin. They are grown throughout the warmer temperate regions of both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The word 'nectarine' means sweet as nectar, and this is very likely the obvious origin of the name.

The nectarine is a modern variant of the peach, and trees of both fruits are very similar, but nectarine fruits look more like plums than peaches because of the smooth skin. The stones of the two fruits are alike in appearance. As in peaches, there are clingstone and freestone nectarines. When some peaches are crossed or self-pollinated, the resulting seeds that carry the factor for smooth skin may result in nectarines, so you may see nectarines appear on peach trees as a result of this process. There are more than 150 varieties of nectarines worldwide and 95% of nectarines produced in the USA come from California.

Nectarines have red, yellow or white flesh and are a source of vitamins A and C, fibre, niacin and potassium. They are commonly eaten fresh, or cooked in conserves, jams, and pies. Other ways to enjoy nectarines are:
  • Bake halved nectarines in a pan sprinkled with cinnamon and honey
  • Poached nectarines in fruit juice
  • Puree ripe nectarines with skim milk, low-fat yogurt, or orange juice for a tasty breakfast treat
  • Serve pancakes, waffles or French toast with sliced or chopped nectarines
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