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2017/05/27 08:13:07
James Leave a comment

Iron Deficiency Anaemia

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker May 2010 edition
Having a low iron status is surprisingly not uncommon, especially in women who menstruate heavily as there is no specific homeostatic regulation mechanism in the body to control our iron status; our body simply regulates it by what we eat and absorb. If the body is not absorbing enough and we're losing a lot in blood, then iron deficiency anaemia can occur.

Iron is an essential macromineral. Macrominerals are minerals found in larger amounts in the body, as opposed to trace elements which are only found in small amounts. Iron has a number of vital functions in the body including as a carrier for oxygen (as part of haemoglobin in blood cells and myoglobin in muscle tissue), as a transporter in the ATP generation pathway and as an integral part of many enzyme controlled pathways.

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.

Symptoms of iron deficiency include reduced endurance in relation to physical activity, as oxidative metabolism (and ultimately ATP generation) is impaired. Memory and learning may be affected, along with compromises to the immune system. So, with low iron status, workouts and physical performance will be sub-optimal, and you may have trouble concentrating as efficiently. Iron supplements will help, and doctors will prescribe these if needed (usually ferrous sulphate). However, to improve your iron status, there are other factors to consider, for instance, iron status can be significant affected by some other nutrients.

Vitamin C can help iron be more easily absorbed by the body, by changing it into a form more easily used. By eating foods rich in vitamin C, like citrus fruits, fresh fruit juice, tomatoes, green leafy veg and potatoes, together with foods rich in iron, you'll stand a better chance of raising your blood iron levels.

Calcium can inhibit iron absorption, so it's recommended to consume calcium-rich foods, especially dairy products, away from iron rich foods. But, do not omit calcium-rich foods from your diet as they are needed for healthy bones and teeth. So, take your iron supplements with fresh fruit juice and not near any dairy products.

Be also aware that the bran of many cereals and also seeds contains phytate which 'binds' dietary iron, making it unavailable for absorption. You still need to have a good fibre intake, so continue to consume wholemeal products, fruit and green vegetables, which are also high in iron.

Good animal sources of iron
  • All red meat, game, liver, kidney, sausages, beef burgers
  • Egg yolk
  • Fish especially pilchards and sardines canned in tomato sauce
  • Poultry

Good plant sources of iron
  • Pulses - butter beans, broad beans, haricot (baked) beans, lentils, red kidney beans, chick peas
  • Green leafy vegetables e.g. brussel sprouts, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, etc
  • Flour products - bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes - wholemeal varieties are higher in iron
  • Breakfast cereals - many are fortified with iron, e.g. Branflakes, Weetabix, All-bran, Shredded wheat

Miscellaneous sources
Contain some iron in smaller amounts:
  • Dried fruits - apricots, figs, prunes
  • Dark chocolate, cocoa, liquorice, black treacle, gingerbread
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2017/05/23 16:24:14
James 2 comments

Vitamin B12 in Bodybuilding

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker February 2010 edition
Vitamin B12 is also known as cobalamin and is necessary for healthy red blood cells and nerve fibres and has a role in carbohydrate metabolism. It is a water soluble vitamin and cannot be stored in the body, so foods rich in B12 need to be eaten every day. It is most commonly found in animal products, so those following a vegan diet need to be especially careful. Best food sources of vitamin B12 include most meat and meat products, fish, milk, cheese, yoghurts, eggs, yeast extract, fortified breakfast cereals, seaweed and pulses (in reasonable quantities).

Deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to a form of anaemia and neurological degeneration. Causes of deficiency may be dietary insufficiency, malabsorption and the use of certain drugs.

Although the functions of vitamin B12 are numerous, those of particular importance to bodybuilders include carbohydrate metabolism and maintenance of nervous system tissue. Stimulation of muscles via nerves is a critical step in the contraction, coordination and growth of muscles. As B12 is linked to carbohydrate metabolism, it is also believed within bodybuilding circles that it can help stimulate a good appetite. This is not validated scientifically, but such is this myth believed that injectable B12 is popular with countless bodybuilders and athletes many of who swear it helps them perform better.

Although there is no need to inject B12 intra-muscularly, as with all vitamins, a good intake is vital. Consume plenty of the foods above as part of a varied diet, although as a bodybuilder you will probably already be doing this by default, due to the greater than normal amounts of food that we typically eat.
2017/05/22 17:10:56
James Leave a comment

Energy Drinks

This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2010 edition
For some people the very suggestion that energy drinks are a food will make their blood boil. With their popularity and proliferation (here in UK we don't have a tenth of the choice our US cousins get) has come media hype, knee jerk reactions and health nut jobs jumping on the band wagon. This month, food of the month sets out to give a balanced, rational picture.

In the UK the Energy Drink market is dominated by the big players, Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, Relentless and the supermarkets own brands. Red Bull led the market, and has already seen itself embroiled in controversy enough to be banned in some countries (have a Google!). So what is in an energy drink? They are all at heart a combination of sugar and water, or if you are getting a low sugar version, water and sweeteners.

In addition to the base you will find a mix of 'energy boosting ingredients' including caffeine, taurine, B vitamins, ginseng, guarana and possibly some others depending on the brand. Guarana is a source of caffeine, so more of that in a moment. You may get 100% of your RDA of B vitamins from 500ml of energy drink, but unfortunately B vitamins will not boost your energy levels.

When it comes to vitamins the evidence is clear, 1) taking mega doses of vitamins does not boost performance, and may, in certain circumstances, even be harmful, and 2) taking vitamins only boosts anything if you were deficient in the first place.

Next up, ginseng. Ginseng varieties have been studied in relation to performance and the evidence has been in for a while. To have any effect you have to take ginseng consistently over time, and then the only effect that has been noted consistently is an increase in libido. Probably not the performance enhancement you were looking for!

Next taurine: once again we are going to be disappointed, taurine does not boost energy. In scientific studies taurine has shown promise in other areas, but not for athletes. And if that disappointment was not enough, over 2g a day has been lined to causing psoriasis in some people; it may not be confusion that has you scratching your head after all.

Finally caffeine: we know this well, the world's most popular drug. And, if you read the media hype, it is caffeine that has the potential to cause all of the problems put at the foot of the evil energy drink. So, a little perspective is needed. While the health Stasi have put energy drinks firmly in the firing line and the marketing machines have given the products some edge, the fact remains there is more caffeine in a 'Grande Americano' from Starbucks than there is in most 500ml cans of an energy drink.

So, let us sum up: energy drinks are a good source of caffeine, but they are apart from that no different from a can of coke (or diet coke of course), and as such, an athlete should treat them the same and give them the same place in their diet.
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2017/05/21 17:40:34
James Leave a comment

Coffee Chicken Breasts

This recipe was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker March 2010 edition
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
700ml water
100g cup strong coffee (instant coffee works fine)
50g cup rock salt
50g cup brown sugar
1 lemon cut into slices
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp mustard seed
1 tbsp coriander seeds

Bring the water to a boil and pour into a bowl. Add salt and sugar and stir until dissolved. Add coffee, lemon slices, peppercorns, mustard and coriander seeds. Pour into a shallow baking dish or resealable bag. Add chicken breasts, making sure they are covered in the 'brine'. Refrigerate for about 2 hours. Preheat grill. Remove chicken breasts from brine and place on hot grill. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until done.

*An alternative method that really gives a wicked strong flavour is to boil the chicken breasts in the 'brine' - you will need to add water to cover the chicken. Different size chicken breasts take different times to cook, mine took 10 minutes but yours could take longer (and that was from when the water was bubbling strongly on the boil).

*Always check your chicken is cooked properly!
More great recipes available in our Muscle Menus ebook available for Kindle at Amazon.
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2017/05/02 20:03:05
James Leave a comment

Neck and Trap Training

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker May 2010 edition
Most bodybuilders do not specifically train their neck, but the majority of us will include some exercises for the trapezius muscles. The traps contribute to the size and shape of the shoulders, upper back and neck; they are one large diamond shaped muscle that attaches at the top of the neck, through the shoulders and down the mid-back. There are a number of other smaller muscles in the neck including the omohyoid and sternohyoid muscles at the front.

For training traps I would stick to upright rows and shrugs. Upright rows can be done with a barbell or cables. Use a spread-thumb distance grip and raise the bar all the way to just above the chin, then lower keeping tension all the way.

Shrugs can be done with dumbbells, a barbell or on a Smith machine. Use a shoulder width grip, with arms straight, raise the bar up and down all the way; but do not roll the shoulders. Hold the tension at the top and bottom of the movement to really feel the traps being worked.

Few people train the front neck muscles specifically as they get worked secondarily in so many other exercises. However, some people do feel they need to train them, so as well as the two trap exercises above, you could incorporate one or both of the following. The neck bridge is a controversial exercise but can be productive if performed carefully and safely. It is, however, a very advanced exercise and is dangerous if not performed correctly: do not even consider it if you do not at least have reasonable neck strength to begin with. Begin by lying on your back with hands placed palm down beside the head. Slowly lift your upper body off the floor, keeping the back of your head flat and straight against the ground. Take your hands away and remain in a fixed position. Make a bridge from your body backwards balancing only on the balls of your feet and your head. Remain in the bridge position for at least 10 seconds and increase this period from session to session.

A neck harness can be a useful piece of equipment. It is a webbing or leather cap that fits onto the head with a chain on each side hanging down from the ear region. You load weight plates on the chains, and then move your head up and down. Use lighter weights and go for 15-20 rep ranges. To work the back of the neck stand with hands on knees and face the floor. Flex your neck, raise your head and look forward, then slowly lower your head and repeat. To work the front of the neck, lie on a bench with your head over the end of the bench. Flex your neck forward and try to touch your chin on your chest and slowly lower your head.
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2017/05/02 18:41:52
James Leave a comment

Home Made Fresh Pasta

This recipe was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker February 2010 edition
Read about pasta here
Prep time: 25 mins, plus 30 mins drying
Cook time: 3 mins in boiling water (Serves: 4)

400g plain flour
4 large eggs
pinch of salt (optional)

A purist will tell you to put the flour out on a work surface, make a hole in it; personally I use my biggest mixing bowl. Break the eggs into the hole and add a pinch of salt. Using your fingers, mix the eggs roughly into the flour. Using your hands, knead everything together vigorously. Continue to knead the mixture until it forms a really smooth, pliable ball of dough. Alternatively bung it all in a food processor and make the dough that way!

Roll out the dough thinly with a rolling pin (a short light rolling pin is a nightmare, use a heavy one that is at least too big for a cutlery drawer!), then fold it in half and roll it all out again. Continue to do this over and over again until the dough is really elastic, smooth and shiny.

The traditional test that the dough is ready to cut is to use a rolling pin which will make a neat snap as it rolls over the fold, indicating that the tension in the dough is at the right point; this takes practice.

As an alternative to rolling out the dough by hand, you can use a pasta machine:

Take a plum-sized lump of pasta dough to work with, covering the remainder with a damp cloth or cling film. It is really important to cover with the damp cloth, and I found the damp cloth works better than cling film, if the dough dries out forget about it being workable with afterwards.

Press the dough through the rollers of the machine, starting at the widest gap. Fold it in half and roll it through again.

Continue rolling it through the rollers over and over again, 3 times on each gap, folding it in half after each roll, decreasing the gap between the rollers each time. Please note that after the pasta has snapped audibly over the fold as it passes between the rollers, you will not need to fold it in half again but simply continue to roll it through each gap three times. When you get to the last or penultimate gap, you will achieve a silky smooth, cool, fine sheet of pasta.

Finally, cut the pasta to the shape you want, which can be done my machine or by hand, remember pasta dries very quickly so keep it moist using a damp tea towel or cling film. You can then dry it (on a rack) or plunge straight in and cook it.

Top tip: use very fine flour and once you have made the pasta do not dredge it back through flour , this will almost guarantee a sticky sludge mess in your pan as the flour acts like glue when boiled!
More great recipes available in our Muscle Menus ebook available for Kindle at Amazon.
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2017/05/02 18:41:10
James Leave a comment


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker February 2010 edition
Pasta originated... You would think this was an easy sentence to complete. However, the history of this staple food is, in fact, somewhat less than clear. Many people have been taught that pasta came to Italy from China when Marco Polo returned from his journey there. One thing we do know, pasta was already in Italy when Marco left for China. The controversy arises because there is pasta as we know it today, and lots of other ways of making a very similar food indeed.

Today in Italy, dried pasta can only be made from durum (wheat) semolina flour and water, which is a pasta form that developed after the Arab conquest of Sicily in the seventh century AD. We find that there are very similar wheat dishes back in the first century AD, and if you look at the use of chestnut flour then pasta can be traced back even further; even if a purist argues that chestnut pasta isn't pasta at all!

What our history tells us is that pasta has been around a long time, and quickly became a favourite among travellers because it could be dried and transported easily. Indeed, pasta was possibly the world's first convenience food. Nutritionally dried pasta is wheat and water, so it is naturally low in fat and a good source of carbohydrates. Pasta is not particularly rich in any particular nutrient; fibre wise it does reasonably well with around 4g for white and 8g per 100g dried pasta.

Of course you can get fresh and egg pasta, which will have a slightly different nutritional profile, usually a little more fat is involved, either from the egg or the inclusion of olive oil, neither of which is a bad thing.

Now we know that pasta is good for us, providing energy plus a few naturally occurring micro-nutrients and a little fibre, we need to know what to look for. The best quality pasta is produced in copper molds and dried slowly. The point is that pasta needs a textured surface with which to hold the sauce, and slow drying preserves the naturally mild flavour. To be a connoisseur you want to look for pasta that not only has a good textured surface but is also heavy for its volume. If you ever wondered why your sauce doesn't stick to the outside of your pasta, then it is because nearly all our pasta is mass produced using steel molds which give a smooth surface. Of course when buying fresh pasta it needs to be fresh to be at its best and heavy for its volume.

When cooking, dried pasta needs a lot of water and stirring to be at its best. For the purist, most people cook pasta too long making it soft and limp. Firm to the teeth or al-dente takes some practice, because it means your pasta isn't hard or chewy but not mushy either, but it still represents pasta at its best.

Once you have boiled your pasta until it's just right (feel free to add a little salt and olive oil, although the oil won't stop it sticking - that's what stirring and lots of water do), time to drain it. Simply drain it, save a little of the water to add to your sauce and serve. Under no circumstances rinse it, unless you want the pasta to lose any of the flavour it has. It is acceptable to rinse when making pasta salad, but ever noticed that the pasta in pasta salad is somewhat dull - that's what the rinsing does. Add the small amount of saved water to your sauce and you have a much more authentic pasta experience.
Home-made fresh pasta receipe
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2017/04/22 16:00:16
James 3 comments


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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