2017/10/12 17:51:19
James Leave a comment


This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker March 2011 edition

Spinacia Oleracea or Spinach is an edible plant from the Amaranthaceae family. Spinach is one of the more popular of the green leafy vegetables and used in many cuisines worldwide. This delicate green leaf is related to other popular foods like chard, quinoa and beet. Spinach is usually found in dishes that include 'Florentine' in the title. The term apparently came from Catherine de' Medici (born in Florence) and her love of the food after she had become Queen of France.

Spinach can vary in texture from flat-leafed to a more springy ruffled leaf and vary from a light bright green to a deep dark one. It can be prepared in a variety of ways and also be eaten raw when it's young and tender. Baby spinach is often added raw in salads and readily found in most food shops, often bagged and already washed, though it is a good idea to still give it a quick rinse before consuming. Don't wash spinach before refrigerating as it will go soggy. Leaving it to soak might also leach the water-soluble nutrients into the water and out of the leaf. With the slightly older and tougher spinach leaf, its taste will be bitterer and stems will be tougher. The stems can be trimmed before or after rinsing and the cooking will make it more palatable. Especially with the more ruffled leaves, be sure to repeat the rinse until the water in the bowl is clear as the leaves can be very dirty!

Spinach doesn't need much time to cook; feel free to steam, boil, sauté or chop up and add to soup or sauce. As spinach cooks it vastly reduces in volume due to the high water content, so you can really pack a punch with a relatively small portion of the cooked leaf! A touch of soya sauce and garlic can help taste-wise if you're not as keen with the natural bittersweet (and slightly metallic) flavour. Avoid over-cooking as it turns to mush and not as pleasant to eat, unless you prefer it that way of course...

When choosing spinach try to avoid any that is dull in colour, yellowing, wilting or looks wet (has slimy texture), it is also worth smelling as it should be nice and fresh-scented. Spinach is available throughout the year but it's in season throughout the spring months.

Spinach is nutrient-dense, rich in antioxidants and packed with fibre. The cartoon figure, Popeye, was given immense strength after eating spinach from a tin, possibly based on the belief that spinach had a relatively high iron content. Which it does, along with calcium; however, a lot of it is poorly absorbed by the body. Regarding iron and to quote the article here:

'There are two types of iron in the diet: haem and non haem, each with a different mode of absorption from the intestine. Haem iron is present in meat and meat products, non-haem iron is found in plant based products such as dark green vegetables, dried fruit, etc. Haem iron is more easily absorbed whereas the amount of non-haem iron absorbed is more influenced by the iron status of the individual.'

But there's no need to stop eating tasty spinach as it is still an easy way to pack in those nutrients and fibre! It's particularly rich in Vitamins A, C and folic acid. What you can do if concerned with the above is eat it alongside foods that enhance iron absorption.
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2017/09/13 17:02:52
James 16 comments


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker February 2011 edition
Although pork is the most commonly consumed meat in the world, forming the staple in many countries, it is not a meat that is commonly thought of as a bodybuilding staple food, and it is a good question to ask why. If we discount any conspiracy theories involving Joe Weider and the US Beef industry then we have to look at its nutritional content.

Of course pork is not just one meat, it is a variety of different cuts, and the nutritional content varies significantly by cut. For example 100g of belly pork contains 258kcal, 19g protein and 20g of fat, while a pork chop weighs in with 227kcal, 15g protein, and 18g fat. However, this is not the whole pork story. Pork fillet is lean; containing 147kcal, 22g protein and 6.5g fat, whereas chicken comes in with 148kcal, 32g protein and 2.2g of fat.

With 10g of protein less than chicken and a similar price it becomes easy to see why pork fails to make a regular appearance on the bodybuilders table. When choosing meat both chicken and lean beef (steak) are simply better, and if you want to increase your fat intake, fish trumps pork due to the high saturated fat content of pork compared to the more desirable fats found in oily fish. In bodybuilding terms, pork is the guy that doesn't train legs, looks good for a while, but ultimately isn't complete.

Of course, variety is a good thing too, and pork can find it way onto your plate now and again, not only in the off season bacon sandwich.
2017/09/05 16:31:20
James Leave a comment

Are you Eating Enough Fruit and Veg?

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker February 2011 edition
It's all too common to see people who are into bodybuilding shoving vitamin and mineral supplements down their neck thinking that, because they do this, they don't need to eat much fruit and veg. This is a major mistake; fruit and veg provide a whole load more than vitamins and minerals: they provide different types of fibre and numerous other antioxidants. Also, the vitamins and minerals they contain are often more bioavailable - i.e. we absorb them more efficiently - than those in pills.

You'll have no doubt come across the Government campaign of '5 a day' encouraging us to have at least five servings of fruit and veg per day. However, note the 'at least'; in reality five is the absolute minimum we should be consuming; studies have shown that for optimal health we should be having at least seven or eight servings per day. And, seeing as bodybuilders feel that we need higher amounts then everyone else shouldn't we really be aiming for a minimum of eight per day?

Hang on a minute: that does sound a lot, especially when most of us aren't even making the five. Home-made smoothies are really useful. Most of us consume a few protein drinks everyday anyway, so why not add protein powders to fruit smoothies? Make up a smoothie with three servings of fruit and divide this into two drinks to consume in a day.

Include two portions of different vegetables with your main meal and also one or two salads with your smaller meals each day. Then, with a couple of items of fruit eaten with your snacks, you've easily made the eight servings required, and it wasn't that hard.
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2017/08/18 17:13:19
James 1 comment

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG or E621)

This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker November 2010 edition
MSG was invented in 1908 in Japan by Kikunae Ikeda. Originally fermented from a seaweed broth, today MSG is made from fermenting sugar in a process not dissimilar from that used to make soy sauce. Chemically MSG is a salt of the amino acid glutamate; C5H8NNaO4. By 1940 MSG was a popular ingredient in many foods, but by the 1970s studies on mice had linked MSG to health concerns and 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome' was on the rise. MSG was well on the way to becoming the nutritional bad boy that it is today. As anyone who follows food of the month, as well as the author's ramblings on science, will know, there are big problems with studies on mice, and findings can point the way forward but should never be taken as definitive. Even the highly reliable studies used to establish lethal dose can be significantly off when a human tries the test on themselves!

Epidemiological data makes the mice studies look alarmist, with a lack of lesions, hypothalamus damage and obesity in Asian populations with high MSG intakes over their life times, however discredited, the association will never go away. Studies have also looked at the evocatively named 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome' and discovered the culprit is glutamate. Feed people susceptible to 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome' glutamate rich foods or a source of glutamate and they report the same symptoms as found with MSG containing food. The solution becomes rather simple, avoid glutamate and MSG. Looking at the research MSG is actually among the safest food additives you can find, linked to less adverse health events than salt.

The linking of MSG to obesity has turned out to be a little difficult to prove; again evidence so far is that take away food, not MSG is the real culprit!

With MSG off the hook, it is time to look at how it works. Many years ago it was thought that taste consisted of salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. However, a fifth taste 'umami' has been added to describe a naturally occurring taste found in foods such as ripe cheese and tomatoes. MSG stimulates these receptors, and it is by this route MSG works to enhance flavour.

So, you are wondering why MSG is of interest to bodybuilders? Simple, flavour. Many bodybuilders, athletes and health conscious individuals eat food that is plain, and with many commercial sauces being too fat or sugar laden to grace their plates it can often be difficult to have a tasty meal. Add to this the detrimental effects of commercial farming and storage methods on the flavour of vegetables dinner time can become a bit of bland affair. If you are watching your salt intake too, then things only get more difficult. Adding flavour is usually done by adding fat, sugar, and salt, what MSG allows is less of those three for the same amount of taste.

As it stands, MSG is still a controversial ingredient, but one whose scientific pedigree is very impressive. Give it a go in your cooking, it's cheap and it could make your food a lot more cheerful!
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2017/08/09 16:54:46
James Leave a comment

How Important are Regular Meals for Muscle Gain?

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker November 2010 edition
We often hear that we need to eat every 3 hours in order to gain muscle; but how true is this? Is it backed up by science?

Well, we do need regular amounts of all three macronutrients - protein, carbohydrate and fat - in order to build muscle and to provide energy, but eating every three hours can be impractical for many of us with busy lifestyles as this means eating seven times per day. Not only is this time consuming to make the meals, but quite often it's also quite inconvenient to find the time to eat the food. We do need a higher than normal protein intake in order to gain muscle, but how much this amount is, is an area of much debate and unquantified by research (but that's not for this article to discuss). It's claimed that we need 30-40g (sometimes more) protein every three hours, but this is probably a claim invented by supplement companies trying to push whey protein sales. Think about it, if you go longer than three hours without consuming protein, is muscle tissue really going to waste? Or, at least will it maybe not build as quickly? In reality, both situations are very unlikely, as you're still digesting protein from your previous meal for several hours after ingesting and muscle doesn't waste at anywhere near the rate paranoid bodybuilders believe it does!

For carbohydrates, you may need regular amounts in order to maintain even energy levels, but the need for frequency reduces if you're consuming low glycaemic index (GI), slow released carb foods as opposed to simple high GI sources. Many big guys with physical jobs will need very high carbohydrate intakes in order to supply sufficient fuel to get through the day, provide energy for training and to grow with, so frequent intakes of low GI carbs may be necessary.

It is less of a necessity for fats to be eaten regularly as long as you are consuming good intakes of your essential fatty acids every day or two. However, it is advisable to include fats frequently especially if your energy requirements are high, as they will reduce the need for such high carb intakes and will help slow down the digestion of carbs, helping a more slow and steady influx of energy.

There is no scientific basis for the 3 hour protein rule. However, for some people 3 hours may actually be more practical than less frequent eating if you have so much food to eat. Moreover, for competitive heavyweight bodybuilders who have such high energy requirements eating too much food in one sitting may be a contributing factor to abdominal distension: an undesirable stage trait. Spacing the food out into 2 ½ or 3 hourly meals means less need be consumed per sitting.

So, how regularly should we eat? Well, this is entirely individual. If your requirements aren't relatively so great, then you can easily make great gains on consuming 5 good meals per day. If you're a big guy and have huge requirements, then you may be better off with 7 or 8 meals per day. However, the reasons for this are not physiological, they're purely practical.
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2017/08/06 12:39:44
James Leave a comment

Chicken Stew

This recipe was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker September 2010 edition

Ingredients (Serves 6)
  • 1 cup chopped red pepper
  • 110g chopped onion
  • 100g chopped celery
  • 1 tbsp (approx 7g) flour
  • 1lb skinless chicken thighs, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 470ml chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp hot pepper sauce (like Tabasco)
  • 250g sweetcorn
  • 250g beans (mixed beans work well)

  • Heat a large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat
  • Coat pan lightly in oil (spray oil recommended), then add pepper, onion and celery to pan. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
  • Combine flour and chicken in a bowl, tossing to coat
  • Add chicken to pan and cook until lightly browned
  • Gradually stir in stock and bring to a boil
  • Cook for 1 minute or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly
  • Add tomato paste and rest of the ingredients to pan
  • Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minute

More great recipes available in our Muscle Menus ebook available for Kindle at Amazon.
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2017/07/26 19:08:37
James Leave a comment

Trans Fats

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

First, a little bit about trans fats. A little chemistry is required, but I will keep it simple. Trans refers to the shape of the fat molecule itself, and simply means that it has the carbon atoms on both sides and a cis shape molecule has its carbons on one side. When nature makes fats it makes cis fats (actually there is one found in a cows stomach that is actually a trans fat, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is both a trans and cis fat at the same time).

Trans fats are formed when fats or oils are hydrogenated, that is hydrogen is passed through the oil using pressure, heat and a catalyst in an industrial process that makes the runny oil more solid. What hydrogenation does is take fat molecules that have spaces for hydrogen - think of parking spaces - and fills them. A saturated fat has no parking spaces, while unsaturated fats have one or more (mono or poly). Partially hydrogenated oil is one where there are still some hydrogen parking spaces; it does not mean it is any less likely to be a trans fat, partially hydrogenated oils are still likely to significantly trans fats.

What is interesting is that every time you hydrogenate oil you get a predicable set of fats a result but you also get a bunch of unique configurations. So, you get trans fats we know about, and ones we may not see again for a long time. Unfortunately, we do not know the properties of trans fats completely. What we do know is: firstly a trans fat behaves broadly like a saturated fat when it gets in the body. However, evidence is that trans fats are even more likely than a regular saturated fat to stick to blood vessel walls.

In the UK trans fats do not have to be labelled, although the use of a hydrogenated oils does. While in the USA, trans fats do have to be labelled but hydrogenated ingredients do not necessarily have to be included. This is confusing because in the USA trans fat has to be labelled if it is more than 0.5g per serving, under that and it is down to the manufacturer. Of course this has led to some rather odd serving sizes, not necessarily the lack of trans fats.

That however is not the end of the story. Remember, we know trans fats are bad for our health, and we know that food manufacturers want oils that are easy to work with, that is why they were hydrogenated in the first place. The solution was a bit of genetic modification. The plants, mostly soya but others too, were changed so that they could be hydrogenated without making trans fats. The problem is that these came into cultivation before regulations on GM crops were introduced, and crops can be GM without having been identified as such. In the UK GM labelling is compulsory, in the USA it is not, same as many other countries outside the EU.

The message is this: as we hit bulking season it is not time to give up on healthy choices for your body, it is a time to feed it high quality nutrients because as they say, garbage in - garbage out!
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2017/07/24 17:11:29
James 1 comment

Cherry Granola

This recipe was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker August 2010 edition
  • 200g rolled oats
  • 150g mixed nuts
  • 50g mixed seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 150g dried cherries
  • 5 tablespoons runny honey
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil

  •     Pre heat oven to gas mark 4 (180°C/350°F)
  •     Put the dry ingredients (not the cherries, honey or oil) on a baking tray
  •     Stir well and smooth out
  •     Add a little honey and olive oil - stir and smooth out
  •     Every 5 mins add a little honey and olive oil - stir and smooth
  •     After 25 mins the granola will be toasted nicely
  •     Take the dried fruit you have been chopping and mix it with the granola and then let it cool down
  •     Once cooled it is ready to eat! It will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks
More great recipes available in our Muscle Menus ebook available for Kindle at Amazon.
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