2017/04/22 16:00:16
James 1 comment


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker March 2010 edition

Hopefully coffee needs no introduction; it is the second most traded product in the world after petrol, worth approximately 60 billion dollars a year. Coffee also has a long history, at least to 700BC. Its name reportedly derives from the old Arabic word for wine 'qahwa' and legend has it coffee was discovered by a goat herder who wondered why his flock was so active and didn't sleep properly. He found they were eating berries and the rest is history. This leads to the important fact that the coffee bean starts as a berry. Coffee is grown in 53 countries, all of them between the two tropics with Brazil leading production. Most of the world's production is the arabica (approx 75% or so) with the rest being robusta. Robusta is the bitterer of the two varieties, giving a less pleasant flavour and so is cheaper than the arabica bean. However, the robusta bean has more caffeine and a higher anti-oxidant content.

Much is made of the caffeine content of coffee; caffeine is itself an ergogenic aid see our caffeine article. However, there is more to coffee than caffeine, and that it is a refreshing beverage with virtually no calories. Being a berry coffee contains natural antioxidants known as polyphenols, at which point any savvy bodybuilder or athlete will pay attention. Intense training results in the production of free radicals, which are not a group of French protesters, but rather molecules that cause damage to cells and which have been linked to lots of long term health risks. Importantly, they are in part responsible for you feeling sore, tired, and not recovering as well as you can. Antioxidants are important because they counter the effects of free radicals, the hitch being, have too much of any individual antioxidant and you get toxic damaging effects as a result as well. Which is why taking 4g of vitamin C a day is not a quick fix!

The main polyphenol in coffee is chlorogenic acid, a cinnamic acid (yes, related to cinnamon) composed of caffeic acid and L-quinic acid. Chlorogenic acid has shown promising effects in lab tests as a tumour inhibitor and in other studies it has reduced the hyperglycaemic peak following glucose ingestion, reduced the absorption of glucose and the inhibited production of glucose by the liver, making some people quite excited about its potential deployment with diabetics. Just don't rush out to buy the commercial version just yet - its effects are not that proven!

If you analyse coffee then, in keeping with its berry origin, you find a host of vitamins and minerals along with the micronutrients, and although most exist in trace amounts in your average cup of Joe, both magnesium and potassium are present in significant amounts. All of which means; when you kick back that nice strong Americano, avoiding the calories of other versions, and not getting the third less caffeine delivered by an espresso cupful, you can be happy that your pre-workout boost is doing its own little bit to help you recover too.

Finally ever wondered why coffee is called Americano or a cup of Joe - both names come from American Soldiers or GI Joes, who would dilute their espresso by adding hot water.
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2017/04/22 15:35:01
James 4 comments

Training on Holiday

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker June 2005 edition
You have spent all year working out, pumping iron for the perfect beach body, now is the time to show it off when you go away on your summer hols (or 'vacation' for our American friends!). Being away from home is great, time to chill and enjoy the sun…hang on a minute…NO gym and no big tub of whey to hand. "aaahhh, what am I going to do?!" Many of my clients think their hard work is going to go to waste as soon as they have a break from training. Think again, muscular atrophy (becoming smaller or weaker) takes at least 2-3 weeks to kick in for most people and the body will enjoy the rest from a long hard winter in the gym.

For those who want to continue to train you may look to callisthenics and circuits to keep you ticking over and providing a fun work out that requires minimal equipment and in most case no equipment. Below is a sample routine for anyone on a beach holiday away from the gym this summer. Keep the reps high due to low resistance and go for the burn. These techniques are employed by the royal marines and navy seals when they are away from base on exercise and can be carried out in your hotel room or on the beach:
  • Push ups - Yes as simple as that, using your own bodyweight to stimulate the pecs, delts and triceps
  • Door pull ups - Simply find a sturdy door in your hotel and with an overhand grip pull yourself up
  • Squats - You can even make these ballistic - power jumps with them
  • Squat thrusts - Again on the deck using arms and leg for power movements
  • Floor crunches - Great for the abs and can be done again with no equipment
  • Chair dips - Legs on one chair, arms on another, make sure they are stable though!
  • (And one more crazy one) Suit case shrugs - As it says really!
Just be creative and use everyday items to your advantage. Mineral water bottles full up for lat raises and curls. This simple routine will hit the whole body in a short period of time and can be followed up by cardio.

The plan stated below is designed around the use of a flexi band (resistant band):
  • Bicep Curls - Feet on the band and simply curl up one or two handed
  • Resistance squats - Again feet on the band and just squat
  • Shoulder press - Great for the delts
  • Resistance lateral raises - Shoulder exercise, great one or two handed
  • Bent over rows - Nice wide arms with feet on the band for back and biceps
Again these can be thrown in with the exercises above to make a more complete work out.

Now we have the training sorted, let's look at diet. Keeping to your normal diet will be hard, but again we don't become weak and small over night. Damage limitation is the key. Prepare ahead. MRPs (meal replacement powders) and protein bars will be great to take with you in order to keep the protein intake rolling in - just don't forget your shaker! My recommendation would be to source the majority of your food from natural foods although a little bit of what we love is fine as its holiday time after all! Carb supplies generally will be easy to obtain through fruit and veg.

Cans of food can also be packed when you go, tuna being fairly compact and will also provide a quality source of protein without worrying about it going off!

And finally alcohol! You thought I wasn't going to mention this! We are all human and generally love a drink. It's your holiday and enjoy it.

Relax and enjoy folks - do try to have fun and get yourself ready for another big push on your return.
2017/04/17 09:41:33
James 3 comments

Cheat Day or Treat Day

This article was written by Nick Pellatt & was originally published in The MuscleTalker June 2005 edition
With summer almost upon us, many of us are still desperately trying to lose that bodyfat and get the six pack for the beach this year! Now cutting is hard for the best of us, so most of us tend to look forward to the 'cheat day' or the 'cheat meal' which most people tend to have once a week or so.

The idea behind a 'cheat meal' is fairly simple really, for most of us it keeps us sane, keeps us focused on our diet by allowing the odd craving to be satisfied, and helps stop your metabolism from getting too accustomed to the lower calories you're consuming on the diet, therefore giving your metabolic rate a little kickstart.

Now I have to say, I'm not entirely comfortable with the 'cheat meal' philosophy. In fact, I'm almost against 'cheat meals!'

If any of you fellow dieters are still reading, let me explain why! It's quite often reported in the popular press, that one of the issues with our eating habits in the Western World, is that we tend to encourage our offspring to 'eat your greens, or you don't get dessert'.

There is then an association created, at a young age, that eating veg is a 'bad thing', but is tolerated in order to get the 'good thing!', in this case, the desert! It then follows almost, that many of us see our Bodybuilding diets as a unsavoury thing to follow, with the burger and chips or Indian take-away on a Saturday as the good thing you are allowed for suffering so all week!

It may not be the most relevant metaphor, but telling a dieter its ok to have a takeaway on a Saturday as part of a cutting diet plan, is almost like telling someone who is giving up smoking, that as they have gone a few days without one, they can then have one at the weekend! Maybe I'm just the odd one out, but I am trying to encourage a train of thought where we re-evaluate our views of foodstuff, and rather than have a 'cheat meal' lets have a 'treat meal' instead!

I do whole-heartedly support the re-feed theory in having the extra food or calories, but I am trying to educate my taste and pallet by making my 'treat meal' something other than a poor nutritional choice. All week I tend to eat tinned tuna, frozen veg and apples as a part of my diet, due to cost and convenience, but how about once a week having a 'treat meal' of fresh tuna steak, fresh and possibly more exotic vegetables, followed by fresh pineapple, or mango! Sounds much better doesn't it? A fantastic, tasty meal, with extra calories and taste, as well as being nutritious! And it really is a 'treat meal' in my eyes!

I'm sure it will be deemed a little controversial, and I can imagine a few people disagreeing already, but I truly believe we need to educate our minds, as well as our taste buds in how we view our foods and our eating plans, and this in turn will add longevity to our bodybuilding plans.

Food for thought maybe?
2017/04/16 15:22:58
James Leave a comment

Weights for Weight Loss

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2010 edition
Cardio has recorded benefits for loosing fat, but is weight training alone a good way to loose fat?

Weight training can boost your metabolism. Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the number of calories your body burns at rest to carry out typical bodily functions like breathing and pumping blood. RMR makes up a significant part of your metabolism: the total number of calories you burn in a day. The traditional way to measure RMR is to use a standardized formula that factors in your sex, weight, height and age, known as the Harris-Benedict Equation:
  • For women: 655 + (9.6 x weight in kilograms) + (1.8 x height in centimetres) - (4.7 x age in years)
  • For men: 66 + (13.7 x weight in kilograms) + (5 x height in centimetres) - (6.8 x age in years)
According to Dr. Cedric Bryant, Chief Exercise Physiologist at ACE [1], the average trainer usually gains about 3-5lbs of muscle mass every 3-4 months. This will depend on your genetics, gender, training program and diet, so each person will have a different response to weight training. In reality, one pound of muscle burns about seven to 15 calories a day, not 50, but muscle is more metabolically active than fat and very important for weight loss. So by increasing your muscle mass, you will be increasing your RMR. One study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology [2] found that, though weight training doesn't burn as many calories as cardio, it significantly increases your average daily metabolic rate.

You can burn more calories during a weights workout by performing more lower-body moves such as squats and lunges, or doing a circuit-style routine where you move quickly through the routine with little or no rest. It is also claimed that a very intense, super-hard weights workout can create a slight caloric after burn. But the average gym goer does not push themselves this much. So overall, cardio is more efficient at burning the most calories.

From this we can conclude that combining weight training and cardio is the best way to loose body fat. Maybe those who stick to doing lots of long cardio sessions alone will benefit from incorporating three or four weight sessions per week and vice-versa.

And remember the other benefits of weight training:
  • Prevents loss of lean body mass that happens from dieting and/or aging
  • Helps change your body composition, which helps shape your body and keep you healthy
  • Strengthens bones and connective tissue along with muscles
  • Helps keep you strong and active as you get older

1. Bryant, CX. Ph.D., Chief Exercise Physiologist. (2006, March/April). ACE Fitness Matters, p6.
2. Van Etten, L.M., et al. Effect of an 18-wk weight-training program on energy expenditure and physical activity. J Appl Physiol. 1997 Jan; 82(1):298-304.

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2017/03/27 15:31:01
James 2 comments

Lentil Curry

This recipe was created by Big Les and was originally published in The MuscleTalker January 2010 edition
** Ingredients
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp finely chopped/grated ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp fenugreek (optional)
  • 150g (6 oz) red lentils
  • 750ml (1¼ pints) vegetable stock (a stock cube is fine)
  • 1 tin tomatoes
  • A little salt
  • (For the spices the dried jar versions do the job nicely)

** Directions
  • Chop onion and garlic. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and fry the onions and garlic with the spices for about 5 minutes over a moderate heat
  • Add lentils, tomatoes and water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Add more water if it gets too dry and starts to stick to the bottom of the pan
** Information
Serves 4 (ish). You can add veg to this; just remember if you do then you need more stock and slightly more of the spices (it will also make more servings the more you add).

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

2017/03/27 15:24:30
James Leave a comment

Lentils aka Lens culinaris esculenta

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker January 2010 edition
We have been eating the lentil for over 8000 years and it even makes an Old Testament Appearance when Esau gives up his birthright for a bowl of lentils and some bread. The lentil is a pulse, growing two to a pod in a bushy legume plant that is resistant to drought and easily cultivated in a variety of conditions. The world's largest producer is India, with most of its production used domestically. The second largest producer is Canada, with most coming from the province of Saskatchewan.

You can expect any food that has been cultivated for thousands of years to be a nutritional heavyweight, and the lentil is no exception. It has the third highest protein content of any plant based food; only hemp and soybean have more, and is very low in fat. Consumed as seeds, lentils contain 6 of the 8 essential amino acids, missing only methionine and cysteine, however, once sprouted they contain all 8. In 100g of boiled seeds you get approx 9g of protein, 20g of carbohydrate, less than ½g of fat along with 10g of fiber. Not only do lentils have an outstanding macronutrient profile, they back this up by being excellent sources of potassium, thaimin, folate, manganese, molybdenum, tryptophan and phosphorus; all while being one of the best plant sources of iron around.

The lentil is established as a staple food for vegetarians in many parts of the world, and, as you can see from its nutritional profile, it is worthy of a place on any athlete's plate. Add to their great nutritional profile the fact that lentils are cheap, easily prepared and as dried seed do not spoil, the lentil is an almost perfect food.

Although there are thousands of varieties of lentil you are most likely to see 3: brown, red and green. Brown lentils have their seed coat in place and hold their shape when cooked, red, yellow or orange lentils have their coats removed and have been split. Brown lentils are the least expensive variety. Red lentils cook quickly but do not hold their shape well and are therefore well suited to soups and purée dishes. Finally green, French or Puy lentils: these are the gourmet's lentil and therefore the most expensive. Like the brown lentil they hold their shape well when cooked, they also tend to have the richest and strongest taste of the lentil family. In general lentils have a mild earthy flavour and are well suited to rich flavoursome dishes.

Because lentils are supplied dried they should be easy to buy in perfect condition; firm, dry, clean and unshrivelled. You can buy lentils in a can, but there is no need because they do not require soaking and are so easy to prepare. Dried lentils will fade with age, but their flavour is not noticeably affected; for best results keep in an airtight container and eat within the year. Cooked lentils may be refrigerated up to one week in a sealed container. Cooked lentils can also be frozen up to six months; however cooked lentils tend to disintegrate when reheated.

Before cooking it is advised to check dried lentils for foreign objects and to rinse them till the water runs clear because they are not necessarily washed in production. As a guide brown lentils take 35 minutes to boil, green lentils 20 and red 10-15 minutes and should be cooked 3 parts water to 1 part lentils, and they may require more water depending on the required consistency. Lentils that have not been split can be sprouted at home and added to salads and other dishes.

Packing a healthy nutritional punch, easy to cook and store, it's time to give our hearty lentil curry recipe a try and put the lentil on your menu.
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2017/03/25 15:35:07
James Leave a comment

Biceps: 35s - 21s with a difference!

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker March 2010 edition
The exercise 21s will be familiar to most of you; it's certainly been around long before I started weight training; and that's some time ago! But for those of you who don't, it's basically a variation of bicep curls which really works the muscle: Assume the standing barbell curl position, preferably with an EZ bar, holding the bar with your arms down. Raise the bar to 90° only then lower and repeat seven times. Immediately curl the bar fully so your biceps are contracted but your upper arms are still in align with your torso, then lower the bar to 90° and repeat seven times. Lastly perform seven full reps from full extension to full contraction of the biceps, squeezing at the top.

This makes 21 reps. But there's a variation of this which blasts them even more: After the first seven reps, at the 90° point simply hold the weight for 7 seconds before doing the top half seven reps. Then after the second 7 reps, at the full contraction lift your upper arms up by bending at the shoulder so they are as near to 90° as possible and hold for 7 seconds. Then finish with the final seven full reps.

It's basically the same as 21s but with two lots of 7 second holds in different positions. You will not be able to do much weight, so drop the weigh down and work out what you can do. To summarise:
  • 7 reps from the bottom to 90°
  • 7 seconds holding at 90°
  • 7 reps from 90° to the top
  • Lift upper arms out to the front and hold for 7 seconds
  • 7 full reps

7 + 7 + 7 + 7 + 7 = 35; hence the name!

This is a great exercise to incorporate into your routine. By simply doing one set of 35s at the end of a bicep workout you will destroy them. Or do 3 sets of 35s followed by just two sets of strict concentration curls and you'll feel like you've had one obliterating workout on the biceps!
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2017/03/24 12:42:14
James Leave a comment

Fruit Juice & Fruit Juice Drinks - what's what?

This article was written was originally published in The MuscleTalker January 2010 edition
For the main, juice drinks can be categorised into fruit juice and fruit juice drinks. Fruit juice is a drink which contains 100% pure fruit juice and no other added ingredients. Fruit juices can be classified into 'freshly squeezed' and 'from concentrate', both contain similar energy, carbohydrate and fibre, and both count significantly towards vitamin C intake. A 150ml serving counts as one portion of the 5 fruit and veg per day, though only one serving per day can count (more information).

Juice drinks are products which are made up of less than 100% pure fruit juice, though the composition of them can vary considerably. Juice drinks include, ready-to-drink, cordial and squash dilutable drinks and 'high juice' drinks.

In addition to these, there are also 'fruit smoothies' which are typical combinations of fruit juice and crushed fruit. The Department of Health has recently revised advice regarding commercial fruit smoothies: any smoothie which contains at least 150ml fruit juice and at least 80g of crushed fruit (or vegetable) pulp can claim a maximum of two of the five portions of the 5 a day.

There has been vast research in to the use of fruit juices and good health. It's pretty obvious that consuming fresh fruit juice instead of sugary drinks is preferable. However, consuming whole fruit has more health benefits than just the juice. Fruit juice is acidic so is cariogenic and can affect dental health, although it is not as cariogenic as sugary drinks where the sugar sticks to the teeth. The advice is clear: avoid sugary drinks, include some fruit juice and drink plenty of water every day.
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