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2017/07/21 16:44:11
James Leave a comment

Salt Information

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker July 2010 edition
You know about salt don't you, but what you know could well be wrong!

In 2003 the UK's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) produced its RNI, that's Reference Nutrient Intake for salt of 4g, which is 1.7g of sodium, per day. This RNI was accompanied by the following 'the target salt intakes set for adults and children do not represent ideal or optimum consumption levels, but achievable population goals'. That's right, an RNI has nothing to do with what is good for you, the same is true of the beloved GDA - Guideline Daily Amount.

If you were a little sceptical of the above consider the RNI of 4g of salt per day and compare that to the Food Standards Agency's recent Sid the Slug campaign saying no more than 6g of salt per day and you can see the picture is not getting any clearer. Of course for the hard training athlete things get even more confusing, with directly contradictory information everywhere you look.

And this gets even more complicated with salt because the average person in the UK consumes two and a half times the RNI of 4g of salt per day; but there is no information on what the 'not average at all' hard training athlete consumes let alone needs. This is where we have to be savvy. Hard training means losses of salt in sweat, training in hot weather means increased losses of salt along with all the body's electrolytes. Combine these extra losses with a healthy diet that is already on the lower end of salt and you have the recipe for dehydration. These are the first signs of dehydration:
  •     Thirst
  •     Loss of Appetite
  •     Dry Skin
  •     Skin Flushing
  •     Dark Coloured Urine
  •     Dry Mouth
  •     Fatigue or weakness
  •     Chills
  •     Head Rushes

As you approach 5% dehydration the following are likely symptoms:
  •     Increased heart rate
  •     Increased respiration
  •     Decreased sweating
  •     Decreased urination
  •     Increased body temperature
  •     Extreme fatigue
  •     Muscle cramps
  •     Headaches
  •     Nausea
  •     Tingling of the limbs

If you are seriously barking mad and don't address these symptoms then this is what waits:
  •     Muscle spasms
  •     Vomiting
  •     Racing pulse
  •     Shrivelled skin
  •     Dim vision
  •     Painful urination
  •     Confusion
  •     Difficulty breathing
  •     Seizures
  •     Chest and Abdominal pain
  •     Unconsciousness

Which does not sound like a whole lot of fun to me, so you want to address this situation quickly and help is at hand. Before you reach for a commercial product try the World Health Organisation's own rehydration solution:
  •     one level teaspoon of salt
  •     eight level teaspoons of sugar
  •     one litre of clean drinking or boiled water and then cooled

You can opt to skip the boiling and cooling here in the UK if you want to.

If this was not enough to convince you to pay attention to salt and make sure you get what you need; salt is essential for anabolism along with good hydration. Miss out on this basic and you will be selling your self short in and outside the gym because salt is essential for the basic function of cells, and the regulation of water status. The advice to drink water is great, but bear in mind, drink lots of water with a poor diet and inadequate electrolytes and salt and all you are doing is diluting an already weak solution: in short you will get worse not better.

So there you have it, science has not pinned down how much salt an athlete needs, but we know being super health conscious and avoiding salt is a one way ticket to feeling bad and performing badly and possibly even more serious problems than that.

And finally some food for thought: we know high salt intakes are linked to high blood pressure, we have now found that reducing salt intakes when you have high blood pressure has minimal impact. So the evidence that salt is the baddie is not really as conclusive as we may believe; especially when we consider that those people with high blood pressure, high salt intakes also typically have diets low in fruit and veg, high in saturated fats and do little to no exercise!

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2017/07/10 16:38:58
James 1 comment

Home-Made Biltong

This recipe was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker June 2010 edition
For those who feel adventurous you can even make biltong at home!

  • Beef (preferably silverside/London broil)
  • Rock salt
  • Coarse ground black pepper
  • Coarse ground coriander
  • Vinegar (preferably apple-cider vinegar)
Get some half-inch thick strips of beef (silverside - called London broil in the US). Make sure it's cut with the grain and the pieces should be about 6 inches long. Liberally sprinkle rock-salt on each side of the pieces of meat and let them stand for an hour. The longer you let it stand the saltier it will become.

After the hour, scrape off all the excess salt with a knife (don't soak it in water!). Then get some vinegar - preferably apple-cider vinegar, but any vinegar will do - and put the vinegar in a bowl and brush (do not dip) the strips of meat with the vinegar - just so that the meat is covered in the vinegar. Hold the biltong up so that the excess vinegar drips off. Then sprinkle ground pepper and ground coriander over the meat on all sides.

Once you have done this, the meat is ready to dry. There are several methods of drying. One is to hang it up on a line in a cool place and have a fan blow on it. This method is a bit difficult because if the air is humid the meat can spoil.

You can also add sauce, such as BBQ, Tabasco, and Worcestershire to liven it up even more!

More great recipes available in our Muscle Menus ebook available for Kindle at Amazon.
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2017/07/10 16:32:38
James Leave a comment


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker June 2010 edition
The word biltong derives from Dutch, with bil meaning bottom, and tong meaning strips - literally speaking strips of meat cut from the animals back end; if it were a cow this would mean silverside or rump. However, biltong as we know it today comes from the meat preserved by the Voortrekkers who migrated from Cape Town to the interior of what we know as South Africa today. For those who like history, this is known as the Great Trek. Traditionally biltong was made from meat available, and likely to be game or wild caught meat as opposed to beef. In the hot conditions of the South African interior the travellers needed to preserve a large quantity of meat quickly - biltong is how they did it.

First off, although biltong looks a lot like jerky, it isn't. When you make biltong you use vinegar, when you make jerky you don't. In addition biltong and jerky are spiced differently. These days biltong is made from beef because of its low relative cost, but any meat, even fish, can be made into biltong, so if you are travelling in South Africa watch out for the different varieties.

Because biltong is made from raw meat it will have the same nutritional value as that meat. This means high in protein and virtually no carbohydrates, with very little else except fat. And fat is what you have to watch, cheap ingredients will be higher in fat than the quality ones, so watch your packet. That said biltong is not high in fat either. Mainstream advice will warn you that biltong is high in salt, and it is. However, many health conscious types have very low salt intakes, and high salt losses - meaning that salty foods, far from being a no go are actually a good idea: know your diet and stay healthy on this one.

Biltong is great for the pre-contest bodybuilder; if you are low carbing it is ideal. High in protein, low in carbs, it's chewy and salty, so it will help kill the cravings and if you are trying a sodium load the salt won't go amiss either. In addition to that, salty foods make you thirsty so biltong will help you get the fluid in too.

Overall, biltong is a snack, calorie dense because it is dried and high in salt. For your average Joe who barely knows a dumbbell from a barbell, it's a definite non-starter; send them to the carrot sticks. However, for those doing it right and packing the muscle, biltong is an outstanding snack and worthy of a place in your cupboard.
For those who feel adventurous you can even make biltong at home!
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2017/07/05 18:10:27
James Leave a comment

Competition Shredded Leg Training after Injury

This article was written by Matt Wild aka Papa Lazarou & was originally published in The MuscleTalker September 2010 edition

In 2007 I had to give up lifting with my legs. I had attempted a deadlift with very poor form and damaged my lower back. From then on, any heavy leg or back work left me hobbling out the gym and in agony for days. In 2008, I tore my shoulder and decided both problems required attention. By mid-2009, after seeking the help from a private physio, my shoulder was recovered and my back properly aligned.

Obviously, given I was returning from injury and my legs hadn't been trained for two years, I wasn't going to be lifting the weights I had before. I had weakened the area and it would be foolish to try the original weight and risk putting myself out of action again. So, the question was how could I hit my leg muscles hard and still be safe as not to put stress on the joints?

During my research I considered the work of the likes of Neil Hill (who currently trains Flex Lewis and Zack Kahn) and his 7-80 rep leg presses followed immediately by squats, high rep leg extensions, hamstring curls and similar. I'd also seen Tom Blackman, a local competitive body builder, do the same (and it has clearly worked for him!). I continued reading and researching and after a time created a suitable routine based on the works of the above. After all, the muscle doesn't know the weight that is placed on it, just the stresses you put it through. Well, at least that's how I understand it...

Typical Leg Day
  • Leg Press / Squat Superset*
  • Leg Press 1 set of 70 reps at 220kg
  • Squat 1 set with as many reps as possible at 100kg (typically somewhere between 30-40 reps)

Leg Extensions
3 sets of 30 x 120lb - done slowly, pausing at 10th and 20th rep for a couple of seconds (this is about hitting the muscle and working it, not the weight). At the end of the 30th rep lower the legs to the relaxed position and then micro lift the legs up until you have tension on the centre of the quads and hold for 4-5 seconds. Very quickly the muscle will get worked very hard and begin burning. Do this 10 times. Harder than it sounds!

Seated Hamstring Curls
3 sets of 30 x 120lb - done as above

Hack Squats#
1 set of 120kg x as many as I can do

Standing Calf Raise
James' Three Minute Calf routine

Hack Squat Machine Calf Raise
3 sets of 380kg x as many as I can do - done facing the machine, face on head rest, do as many leaning calf raises as I can, typically 10-15 at 380kg

* Some sessions this is replaced with standard squats. When it is, I target 15 reps per set, starting at 60kg and increasing 40kg per set, going from 60kg, 100kg, 140kg, 180kg and then back to 160kg.

# Some sessions this is replaced with straight leg dead lifts. Three sets of 80kg x 15 reps. The aim is hitting the hams, not about the weight.
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2017/07/01 09:15:55
James Leave a comment

Nutritional Claims - What do they mean?

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker July 2010 edition
There are lots of nutritional claims on food labels, and too often they confuse the consumer, and can be miss-used to imply a food is 'healthy' when it is not.

Here are a few of the main ones and what they mean:
  •     Low Fat - Less than 5g of fat per 100g or in a typical serving
  •     Reduced Fat - At least 25% less fat than the standard product
  •     5% Fat - 5g of fat in 100g
  •     95% Fat Free - Less than 5g of fat per 100g
  •     Low in Saturates - Less than 3g of saturated fat per serving
  •     High in Polyunsaturates - At least 45% of total fat is from polyunsaturated fat
  •     Low Sugar - Less than 5g sugars in a serving. Includes sugars naturally present and those which are added
  •     Reduced Sugar - At least 25% less sugars than the standard product
  •     Sugar Free - Contains no added or natural sugars
  •     No Added Sugar - No sugars from any source have been added (except where fruit is part of the recipe)
  •     High Fibre - Contains at least 6g fibre per 100g or 6g in a typical daily serving
  •     Source of Fibre - Contains at least 3g fibre per 100g or 3g in a typical daily serving
  •     Reduced Sodium - At least 25% less sodium than the standard product
  •     Reduced Calorie - At least 25% less calories than the standard product
  •     Low Calorie - Less than 40kcals in 100g or 100ml. A typical serving must also contain less than 40kcals even if it is larger than 100g
  •     High or Rich in Vitamin X or Mineral Y - A daily serving contains at least 50% of the RDA for that vitamin or mineral
  •     Source of Vitamin X or Mineral Y - A daily serving contains at least 17% of the RDA of that vitamin or mineral
RDA means recommended daily amount; an undefined term referring to the amount of each nutrient the 'average' person should consume per day.
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2017/06/30 18:44:18
James Leave a comment

Setting Goals for your Training: Are they really SMART?

This article was written by Aaron Hallett & was originally published in The MuscleTalker November 2010 edition
Next time you're in the gym take a look around at the other people training and picture a label on everyone's back, on this label is a goal. Everyone is in the gym for a reason, whether it be to lose a few pounds in fat, gain a few pounds in muscle or lift a few more pounds in weight. Even the people who now spend most of their time talking by the water fountain started off with a goal at some stage.

Everyone has a spark of inspiration to pursue a goal at some point in our lives which needs constant motivation to keep the ball rolling with the courage to persevere when things get tough. Things will get tough, if the goal was easily reached could you honestly say it was an achievement?

However, most of us have often reached a point where after a period of time the goal still seemed too far out of reach with the resources (time, energy, money) already maxed out. The end result is usually to abandon the attempts to achieve this goal and spend these resources on other pursuits to reduce or remove the frustration. Look in the spare bedroom, under the stairs or in the garage of a friends house and you will often find tucked away the items purchased for a goal long since abandoned.

So how do you improve the success rate for reaching personal goals? One answer is to improve how you initially construct and formulate these goals by using a planning tool called the SMART method.

What is SMART?
Specific - The goal is well defined and clear
Measurable - How progress will be measured or how to know when the goal has been achieved.
Achievable - When you create plans which are too far out of your reach, you probably won't commit to doing them for long. Most can learn to fly a plane but very few can fly to the moon.
Realistic - When tackling the challenge, the learning curve shouldn't be a vertical slope but provide a challenge instead. Too difficult and you set the stage for failure, but too low sends the message that you aren't very capable.
Time based - Set out a time frame for achieving the goal, a week, a month, a year? Too far away and you run the risk of performance issues, no time constraint lessens the urgency to start.

A good example of a SMART weight training goal:
  • S - Bench press 100kg for a 1RM (one rep max)
  • M - Take note of weights used each bench session
  • A - The person in question can bench press 90kg for a 1RM currently and 100kg is achievable for most after a period of training.
  • R - The 10kg increase isn't too far out to prove impossible within a respectable time period nor is it too easy that it doesn't provide the sense of achievement.
  • T - The time period is to be 4 months
With larger goals such as 'grow 18" arms' the amount of resource and dedication required increases exponentially the further away the bodybuilder is from this number. For instance the budding bodybuilder's arms currently measure 15".

Whilst the goal is achievable, the time period for this goal has to be quite large, subsequently increasing the risk of being too much of a challenge and losing motivation to pursue. A more realistic and timely based goal would be to aim for 16" first.

If at present you are training without a set goal, try planning one using the SMART method and seeing how you get on. Quite often having something well defined to work towards can provide a needed boost in motivation.

To quote renowned American philanthropist Elbert Hubbard: "Many people fail in life, not for lack of ability or brains or even courage, but simply because they have never organised their energies around a goal."

Read more about SMART Goat Setting in Bodybuilding
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2017/06/30 17:18:29
James Leave a comment

Vegan Diets and Bodybuilding

This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker September 2010 edition
Being a vegan means paying attention to your diet, not just in what you avoid, but in planning a daily menu that is both nutritious and enjoyable. Choosing snacks is no different; there are an increasing range of commercially produced vegan snacks from brands such as Kallo, Suma, Doves, Clearspring and the leading supermarkets. If you, like many vegans, choose to start your snack with raw ingredients then here are some suggestions:

A healthy handful of nuts is a great snack and is just the right portion, here is a quick guide to commonly available nuts:
  • Almonds: these are high in protein, iron, calcium, vitamin E, zinc, vitamin B2, and rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats
  • Brazils: these are high in protein, fat, iron, calcium and zinc
  • Plain cashews: these are high in protein and carbohydrate, a good source of iron, Zinc, folate, vitamin A
  • Hazelnut: a good source of protein, high in monounsaturated fat, calcium, copper, selenium, iodine, vitamin E and folate
  • Macadamia: very difficult to extract from their shells, they are expensive but have a delicious creamy flavour and crunchy texture. Macadamia nuts are rich in monounsaturates
  • Peanuts: a good source of protein, iron and zinc
  • Pecans: a good source of vitamin A, iron, calcium and high in poly and monounsaturated fat
  • Pine nuts: best stored in the fridge vital for pesto sauce. Pine nuts are rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats, iron, magnesium and vitamin E
  • Pistachio: a good source of protein, iron, folate, and calcium
  • Walnuts: best stored in the fridge, walnuts are a good source of iron, folate and iodine
Nuts and seeds should be stored in cool dry conditions using an airtight container, preferably away from the light. You could also consider storing them in the fridge because this can help preserve the natural oils contained within them. Remember, nuts are rich in natural oils, so are a great source of the healthy fats our body needs to be at its best. And all have a good dose of fibre.

Like nuts, seeds are rich in natural oils and fibre, and can be a good source of carbohydrate:
  • Pumpkin: rich in protein, iron, zinc, phosphorous, copper and selenium
  • Sesame: high in protein, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, low in carbohydrate a rich source of calcium, phosphorous, iron, zinc, copper, folate, vitamin E and vitamin K
  • Sunflower: high in protein and carbohydrate as well as polyunsaturated fat, sunflower is a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin A and vitamin E
  • Flax Seeds: contain a good balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate. They are an excellent source of Omega-3, often difficult to get in a vegan diet, and are also a good source of Thiamine. Pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, calcium, iron, zinc and fibre.
There are lots of other seeds available; experiment to find the ones you like best.

Dried fruit
Dried fruit is produced by removing the water from fully ripened fresh fruit by circulating air round it, either naturally with sunshine and wind or by drying with hot air. Drying reduces the moisture content to around 20-25% of the original fruit.

Dried fruit does not contain vitamin D, and vitamin C content is minimal - all other nutrient values are unaffected. So dried fruit is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6 and pantothenic acid, along with the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, copper and manganese. With the water removed, dried fruit is a concentrated source of natural fruit sugars, which will give you a quick burst of energy as well as being high in fibre.

All fruit is naturally rich in anti-oxidants, and berries are a particularly concentrated source. Don't be fooled into paying extra for 'super-foods' - a healthy vegan diet is already rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Liquorice is low in fat and protein but high in carbohydrate, good for a quick burst of energy, it is also a good source of both iron and calcium.
Huel is a vegan product that's high in protein, containing all vitamins, minerals, essential fats, fibre and more.

Don't forget to mix up your nuts, seeds, dried fruit and liquorice to keep your snacks tasty and interesting!
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2017/06/27 18:50:12
James Leave a comment

Performing the Perfect Upright Row

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker July 2010 edition
Upright rows are popular exercises, primarily training the trapezius muscles: the large muscles of the upper back connecting to the back to the neck. Traps are often trained as an after-thought to a workout and, when you're tired, the attention to performing an exercise correctly is lessened. Performed poorly, upright rows can cause injury to the neck; performed correctly, they can build good, strong traps which support you in other exercises.

Begin by holding a barbell with your palms facing your body. Place your hands fairly close together, closer than shoulder width, typically double thumb span apart. Stand upright. Exhale and raise your elbows and shoulders up to about 90 degrees; around neck height. Hold briefly at the top and then slowly lower to the starting position. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

Always make sure you move the bar in a controlled manor. Do not use too much weight so you have to swing the bar up or that you're jerking with your hips and do not lean forward. They are called 'upright rows' so make sure you keep upright!

Some physiotherapists are not keen on upright rows as the temptation for poor form is quite strong; there can be compression placed on the joints. When the shoulders are turned in, there is more pressure on the shoulder joint and the rotator cuff tendons.

During upright rows, the shoulder is placed in a relatively compressed position, so some people may feel shoulder pain with this exercise; if so try a slightly wider grip.
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