Want to Build Muscle? Look to Your Gut

There’s a silly assumption that every nutrient of every food you consume is magically extracted no matter what the circumstance. We spend so much time finding the perfect macronutrient ratios for our goals that food choices become no more than an afterthought. Of course I’m not saying food choices trump calories in/calories out, but they’re still vital.

Let’s think about this logically. If you eat a food and it makes you feel bloated, or sick, or sends you running for the bathroom, do you really think you’re getting all the nutrients out of that meal? Even if you have no nutrition expertise, you’d have to say no. It’s common sense. So why do people continue to pound protein shakes, dairy, and gluten if it makes their stomachs look like a pregnant woman? (Note: these are the most common culprits, if you have no problems digesting these foods, eat them)

We need to be more mindful of how we’re reacting to certain foods. Just because Kai Greene eats a baby steer for breakfast doesn’t mean you have to. Next time you eat a meal, see if you notice some phlegm in the back of your throat. This is an indication of a minor food allergy. Personally, I get it when I consume chicken or turkey. Is it bad enough where I would completely eliminate it from my diet? Probably not at the moment, but it’s still good to know.

After a meal, do you feel bloated? If so, there’s something in that meal causing distress. You may also be eating too quickly (trust me, I empathize). After a while we begin to think that this is just the way things are. But it’s not. Eat, feel bloated, lie down, be unproductive. This is no way to live.

You may reach a point where it seems like nothing is settling properly in your stomach. Luckily there are a few things you can do to help rectify the situation:

Fasting

Digestion is a stress to your body. A necessary stress, since we need to eat, but a stress nonetheless. Fasting removes that stress for a short period and gives the digestive system ‘a break’ to put things simply. There are many fasting protocols, the most popular being intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting separates each day into an eating window and a fasting window. Typically, the eating window lasts 0–8 hours and the rest of the day is spent in a fasted state, consuming only water, tea, or black coffee. I use intermittent fasting off and on, and will typically have one period per week where I fast for 24 hours.

Probiotics

Probiotics are hit or miss with a lot of people. In theory, probiotics help to replenish the bacteria in your gut which would aid in digestion and immune health. There are many different probiotic strains and the potency of each supplement/food will vary. As I mentioned, it can take some trial and error to find what works for you. I like to use fermented milk, or kefir, as my source of probiotics.

Glutamine

Glutamine is popular in the bodybuilding community as an amino acid supplement. However, the cells in your intestines use glutamine as a source of energy. Glutamine can thus aid in ensuring proper intestinal permeability, which means that not too much is getting through the cells lining the gut wall. Some nutrients must pass through of course, but too much may allow harmful substances to pass through as well.

I don’t like to give too many anecdotal examples because in the end it’s just n=1, but my physique was certainly suffering when I experienced stomach issues. The macros didn’t change, the training routine didn’t change, and the training intensity didn’t change. However, my muscles were flat, my stomach was chronically bloated, and overall I was exhibiting a look that I did not like.

I’m not saying the problem is completely solved, but utilizing the three tools listed above have certainly helped. I try not to use digestive enzymes, as I don’t want to become reliant on them. I’ve tried apple cider vinegar but did not notice a significant difference. Herbal teas are fine, nothing spectacular. The point of this article was to increase your awareness of your own digestion. In the end, you may be selling yourself short despite the countless hours in the gym.

Does Your Motivation Come From a Dark Place? Good…

As we close 2017 and head into a new year, we are almost becoming immune to the idea of politicians, celebrities, and athletes being involved in major scandals, particularly sexual harrassment.

As a society we hold famous people to a higher standard, but when you think about it… why should we? They’re human beings like you and me. The only difference is that they’ve achieved a level of success, fame, and wealth that most of us could never dream of. While some attribute this success to god given talent, the true reason is development of skill through insane amounts of repetition, practice, and hard work. The cynical among us may believe it’s all luck, but it is that relentless drive implemented day after day that lead these people to enormous success.

What do they have that most of us don’t?

Where does this desire come from?

Some say their passion comes from love.

I would argue the opposite. It comes from anger. It comes from spite. It comes from a bad place. When you have a chip on your shoulder, it’s not because someone was nice to you. Someone told you you can’t do something, and it lit a fire under you that resulted in the early mornings and the sleepless nights of hard work. Maybe it was a poor upbringing and the subsequent resentment of your parents throughout life. Maybe it was constant bullying or lack of interest from the opposite sex. Or maybe it’s a deep anger that can’t be attributed to just one thing.

If you sit back and compile a list of successful people involved in any sort of scandal, controversy, or brush with the law, it’s rather daunting. These aren’t just ordinary stars, it’s people at the top of their game! It took me about ten minutes and I came up with a ton of legendary figures with checkered backgrounds. I’m not talking about traffic violations here, these are major transgressions. The majority of these are sports related as that is what I know best, but take out a piece of paper and see how many you can come up with given your interests (politics, music, movies, etc.).

Tiger Woods, whom many consider the greatest golfer ever, cheated on his wife with reportedly over 100 women.

People forget how good of a player O.J. Simpson was. He rushed for over 2,000 yards in a 14 game season! Only six other men have rushed for 2,000 yards in the history of the NFL, and all of them did it after the league expanded to 16 game seasons. O.J. crossed over into television, movies, and commercials, becoming a beloved figure to the general public. He was involved in the ‘Trial of the Century’ where he was accused of brutally murdering two people.

In most sports there is a debate on who the best ever is. But there isn’t much of an argument in pro basketball, where Michael Jordan tops most peoples’ lists. Jordan was and still is a huge gambling addict. Charles Barkley once stated that Jordan would bet hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single golf game. There are wild gambling conspiracy theories about Jordan, like his father being murdered due to an unpaid debt or the notion that he left to play baseball in 1993 because he was actually suspended for gambling on NBA games.

Pete Rose, a 17 time Major League Baseball All Star, is banned from the Hall of Fame after it surfaced that he bet on baseball while managing.

Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, two of the best hitters in baseball history, are the posterboys for the steroid scandal that plagued baseball in the early 2000’s. Bonds was the greatest player I’ve seen in any sport in my lifetime. In 2004, at age 39, Bonds was intentionally walked 120 times! He was so dominant pitchers were literally afraid to pitch to him. Any baseball fan will tell you that Bonds and A-Rod were well on their way to hall of fame careers long before the steroid allegations began to surface.

Mike Tyson lost a huge chunk of his prime boxing career after being convicted of rape and serving three years in prison. Despite this, he is widely considered to be the most dominant heavyweight of all time. I highly recommend his autobiography ‘Undisputed Truth’ for an insight into his rough upbringing. To Mike’s credit, he denies the rape allegation to this day, which is believable since he is so candid about other aspects of his life. The book also details his drug abuse and sex addiction throughout his career.

Ray Lewis was the face of one of the greatest defenses of all time, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. At a Super Bowl party, Lewis and a group of his friends got into a fight which resulted in the murders of two people. Lewis was indicted for murder but negotiated a plea agreement and served no jail time. People still ask to this day, what happened to the white suit?

 

Make no mistake, I’m in no way condoning this behavior. What I’m trying to do is draw a parallel between success and having ‘a dark side.’ Having a dark side isn’t a bad thing, the key is to control it. You never hear about the people who control it, who don’t act on it in a negative manner. Do the Tim Duncans, Derek Jeters, and Lebron Jameses have this edge to them? Do these charitable, yet successful people who have never had a DUI or domestic violence report lack this internal motivation fueled by rage? Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. These guys have established a reputation and don’t want that sort of thing to get out.

In a world of Instagram quotes and fake positivity, you may be questioning your intent if you’re one of these people motivated by anger. I’m telling you, don’t. Use what you have to use to achieve your goals. Be true to yourself. Now, don’t go killing your ex girlfriend and a waiter, but be true to your motivation. It’s okay to feel that way.

In my opinion, you can’t completely change who you are on the inside. That dark side will always be there. I remember an interview Mike Tyson had, I believe it was with Howard Stern, where he was asked about his mindset and attitude when he was heavyweight champion. Mike stated verbatim “I don’t even know that guy anymore” insinuating that the anger was gone. But every now and then it makes a guest appearance, as showcased here:

This is a decade after Mike last stepped in the ring. After his retirement, Tyson transformed his demeanor into a likable, charismatic, dare I say charming figure. But as you can see, that fire never completely leaves you.

 

 

A Dirty Little Secret About Working Out No Trainer Will Tell You

…Except me

Before the magical reveal, there are two basic criteria that must be followed for this to hold true and they are:

  1. Your exercise form isn’t complete garbage
  2. You’ve established some consistency with your training, which means working out at least three or four days per week

Here’s the deal for every beginner…

You can follow ANY workout program and experience great results. No trainer has a magical program. You can literally do almost anything.

Now, as you progress in your training you may want to learn proper periodization and tailor your needs as your goals change. For that, hiring an experienced trainer or strength coach may really provide some value. Until then, your program doesn’t matter.

Why is this the case? When you introduce a new stimulus/stress to your body, it has to adapt. That adaptation leads to muscle growth, fat loss, and an overall change in lean body mass. Going from sedentary to gym rat is a major change. Whether it’s calisthenics or powerlifting, you’re going to progress very quickly. These are the ‘noob gains’ people speak of. They usually last six months to a year.

Unfortunately, this becomes a curse for many lifters. They apply the ‘use what got me to the dance’ mentality and never make any changes to their routine. They continue to perform their three sets of ten reps on the bench press and wonder why they’ve hit a plateau.

Does this mean it’s completely pointless for someone new to the gym to hire a personal trainer? Of course not, it’s always a good idea to learn proper form from the beginning. Oftentimes a novice client will come up to me, almost apologetically, and explain that they’ve never lifted before. This is actually a blessing because it’s much easier to teach a blank slate rather than fix a bad habit.

The majority of my clients don’t hire me due to a lack of knowledge however. They hire me for accountability. Most people simply don’t like to work out and won’t do it unless they have a trainer. Some may consider this silly, but I say do what you have to do to get in the gym and improve your health. Your mentality changes when you realize that skipping a workout means you’re letting someone else down besides yourself.

I don’t want to dissuade you from hiring a trainer. Hell, it’s how I make a living. But be mindful of the trainers trying to sell you on their protocol that guarantees results quickly. Anyone new to the game can get results quickly with good form and consistency. Ironically, I believe my services are better for intermediate and advanced lifters who have hit the wall with their training. As we head towards 2018 and the thoughts of getting in shape flood your mind for the new year, just remember that showing up is half the battle.

An Unbiased, Objective Keto Breakdown: Is It Right For You?


I have no stake in the Keto game; I neither love nor hate the diet. I’ve done it for a few months, which I think is crucial when critiquing any diet. It’s important to experience something yourself before recommending or discouraging someone else from using it, particularly as a nutritionist. There are aspects of the diet that I like and aspects that I dislike. Keto is by far the hottest weight loss diet right now, and naturally every diet will have its benefits and drawbacks.

Dieting is both very simple and very complex. You have to find the right method of restricting your calorie intake. While the idea of restricting calories is elementary, the follow through is what most people struggle with. They know what to do, they just can’t do it. What is the easiest way for you to control your calorie intake over a sustained period of time? Could it be Keto?


Benefits

Weight Loss

The number one reason most people experiment with the ketogenic diet is for weight loss. As we mentioned, the number one key to success with weight loss is the person’s ability to comply with the diet over a long period of time. The ketogenic diet is restrictive… but also not. Hear me out. The diet is restrictive in the sense that you are essentially eliminating an entire macronutrient group, carbohydrates. No more fruits, bread, pasta, starches, grains etc. In that regard the diet seems very restrictive. But you have to consider what happens when you consume carbohydrates. You get a surge of energy due to a spike in blood glucose levels, followed by a subsequent drop in said glucose. This leads to low energy, more hunger, and cravings for more carbs. Hard to stay on a diet when you’re feeling ‘hangry’ every three hours.

Since you are not ingesting carbohydrates on the ketogenic diet, your blood sugar remains stable all day every day. Hunger pangs become much less frequent, and you’ll often find yourself going hours without the thought of food entering your mind. This is a huge plus for any dieter.

However, achieving a caloric deficit is still vital. If there is any metabolic benefit to the ketogenic diet, it is minor. You cannot simply remove carbs, eat pepperoni and cheese all day, and expect to lose weight. You have to eat responsibly.

Brain Health/Disease Prevention

Many people report improvements in mental clarity on keto. The brain can use both glucose and ketones (the energy derived from fat metabolization) to function. These reports are largely anecdotal, as it would be difficult to measure differences in mental acuity from glucose vs. ketones since there are so many other variables involved. In addition, would it necessarily be the ketones providing the improved brain function or is it the stability in blood glucose?

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the ketogenic diet is its effect on neurodegenerative diseases. As mentioned before, the brain can use both glucose and ketones for energy. However, glucose is the preferred energy source. If glucose is available, the brain (and body in most cases) will use it. Many neurodegenerative diseases are based upon the brain’s inability to use glucose. By starving the body of glucose and consuming high amounts of fats, it allows ketones to become the main fuel source and gives the brain an alternate fuel to use.

This ideology applies to certain forms of cancer as well. Many cancer cells rely on glucose to thrive and grow. These same cells are unable to utilize ketones. Once again, starving the body of glucose and using ketones as its main energy source may be helpful in mitigating the effects of certain diseases. (Note: I am not a doctor, just telling you what I know).

Low Inflammation

Carbohydrates cause inflammation to some degree, largely based on the type and quality of carbohydrate. Inflammation has its place and function, but too much can lead to pain, disease, etc. Although I feel the gluten intolerance narrative is largely overblown, there are some people that truly have a hard time digesting gluten. The same applies to dairy. If you are a person with say, chronic joint pain, perhaps a low carb or keto diet can help alleviate the symptoms.

Endurance Athletes

The body has multiple energy systems when it comes to exercise. The energy system you use is based on both the intensity and duration of the activity. Endurance athletes use mainly the slow glycolytic (carbohydrate fueled) and beta oxidative (fat fueled) energy systems. Carbohydrate storage has a limited capacity, eventually the body will turn to fats for fuel. Fats are a robust energy source, they can sustain activity for a very long time. Unfortunately, most people are so reliant on carbs that they have a hard time making the transition to fats when carbohydrate stores run low.

Ever heard of a runner getting his ‘second wind?’ This occurs when they have made the switch from carbs to fats. An aerobic athlete can forgo this period of fatigue if they are running on fats from the very beginning.


Drawbacks

The Delicate State That is Ketosis

Your body wants to use carbs for energy. It’s dying to use carbs for energy. Carbs are truly the body’s preferred energy source. Anyone who has done the ketogenic diet for an extended period knows that it is not only hard to get into ketosis, it’s hard to stay in ketosis. The only way to truly know is to use a blood ketone meter, which I own. I can tell you from experience, blood ketone levels fluctuate all day every day, leaving you questioning what you’re doing wrong… or right. Point is, it can be a frustrating experience.

You may experience gut issues when making the transition from a carbohydrate-based diet to a fat-based diet. I’ll spare you the details, but you may become well acquainted with your lavatory.

The worst thing that can happen is being in what I call ‘no man’s land’, where you are consuming too many carbs to get into ketosis but not enough to fuel your day-to-day activity.

The Long Term Sustainability of Elimination Diets

Will you really be able to avoid cake, pizza, and ice cream for the rest of your life? Better yet, should you? The body wants to achieve homeostasis and thus will adjust to anything you do (within reason). If you avoid carbs for a long period you will lose the ability to tolerate carbs. You will produce less of the digestive enzymes to break down carbs. This is why I suggest cycling off of keto every few months and slowly re-introduce carbs back into your diet, just for a week or so.

Anaerobic Sport Performance

Earlier we touched on the keto diet’s application to endurance sports. We mentioned how endurance athletes utilize both carbs and fats during exercise. This is not the case for all sports. Anaerobic sports like football, sprinting, hockey, and mixed martial arts among others primarily utilize creatine and carbohydrates for energy. Rarely will the athlete utilize fats unless they are completely depleted. Even then, the beta oxidative system that utilizes fats will not be able to keep up with the high speed nature of the sport and thus the athlete’s performance will suffer greatly.

Included in these anaerobic sports is bodybuilding. If you are a gym rat looking to put on as much muscle as possible, then the keto diet is just not optimal. I’m not saying it’s impossible to add muscle, that would be an irresponsible statement. However, the lack of carbs will negatively impact anabolism and performance in the gym. The glycolytic energy system is a major component of bodybuilding.

Making the Mental Shift

This is rarely discussed but in my opinion is the biggest barrier to success with the ketogenic diet. We have been brought up in a world that heavily markets low fat or fat free foods, dressings, desserts, and meals. When you are bombarded with this for your entire life, it becomes hard to accept anything else as true.

I know fats are important for many aspects of overall health and wellness. Hell, I know saturated fats are important. But I must admit, it was hard to make the mental shift and accept the fact that I have to eat upwards of 200g of fat per day in order to get into a state of ketosis. All too often I have people come up to me asking for advice on keto and in almost every situation they are eating too much protein and/or not enough fat. They experience the ‘no man’s land’ state that I alluded to earlier.


Conclusion

Keto is MOST appropriate for:

  1. Sedentary people looking to lose weight and improve their health
  2. People who may be predisposed to certain diseases
  3. Endurance athletes

Keto may not be ideal for:

  1. Anaerobic athletes or people looking to gain maximal amounts of muscle
  2. People who live a lifestyle in which they cannot consistently consume meals that allow them maintain a state of ketosis.

Culture Beats Talent: Time To Take This Narrative Seriously

Todd Bowles has gone from lame duck coach to possible focal point of the Jets rebuild

Every year we are enthralled by the Leicester Cities and George Masons of the sports world; teams that overcome odds to defeat adversaries of far superior talent. On the flip side, we are baffled by newly assembled ‘super teams’ that come up short on the big stage. Sometimes we forget that these elite athletes with unfathomable physical talents and skills are in fact… human beings. Human beings with feelings, emotions, good days, and bad days. Naturally, all human beings are impacted by their surroundings and environment. When things go awry off the field, it can affect things on the field.

Coming into the 2017 NFL season, the New York Jets were a laughingstock. Media experts projected them to win two, three, maybe four games at most. Yet here we are in mid-October with the Jets sitting at 3–3, and it’s arguable they could even be 4–2 if not for an inexplicable Austin Seferian-Jenkins ‘fumble.’ The Jets could very well run the table (in a bad way) and go 3–13, but it seems unlikely. Dare I say Jet fans are a bit optimistic regarding the product on the field. Forget analytics, this is a team that plays hard for each other and their coach, Todd Bowles.

How could a team that lost Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall, and Sheldon Richardson, only to replace them with Morris Claiborne, Jermaine Kearse, and Kony Ealy perform better? Granted Revis and Marshall are in the latter stages of their careers, but on paper it’s safe to say the team got much worse during the offseason.

The answer is culture.

Culture makes an enormous difference. Those who are in a position of power pretend to recognize this and will give you lip service on how important it is, but in many cases their actions don’t reflect it. Think of all the locker room cancers throughout the years across all sports given opportunity after opportunity because of their superior physical talents. Chad Johnson, Pacman Jones, Terrell Owens, Percy Harvin, Albert Haynesworth, just to name a few. Smart, successful teams don’t sabotage their culture by adding these types of players.

Losing Marshall, Revis, and Richardson was the proverbial breath of fresh air the Jets needed. There’s a lot to be said about the simplicity of being able to relax and feel comfortable at work. We are more productive and perform better when we are not looking over our shoulder or expecting the worst day by day. Last week the New York Giants went into Denver, one of the hardest places to play in the entire NFL, and dominated a well-rested Broncos team coming off of a bye week. Is it any coincidence that this happened after Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall (Sorry Brandon I didn’t intend on picking on you this much) went down with season ending injuries? It’s no secret that Beckham is a major distraction, despite his world class talent. The Giants had zero hope going into Mile High on a primetime stage that night. No one expected Orleans Darkwa to run down the Broncos’ throats.

But perhaps we should have expected it. The examples of culture change leading to success are endless, all in recent history. The Bills traded Sammy Watkins and let Stephon Gilmore walk, leading everyone to believe that are in full tank mode. They are currently 3–2, and are a tough matchup for any opponent. The Rams fired Jeff Fisher and hired Sean McVay; suddenly Jared Goff doesn’t look like the bust we all thought he was. If the Giants go on a run, it will be interesting to see how they address Beckham’s contract in the offseason. Perhaps it isn’t the sure thing we all thought it would be.

The question becomes, how can you change culture? In my opinion, the hierarchy is as follows:

  1. Ownership
  2. Coaching/General Manager
  3. Players (Quarterback in particular if we’re focusing on football)

Ownership rarely changes, especially as the NFL essentially prints money year after year. Sorry Redskins fans, you’re stuck with Dan Snyder for awhile, and he’s only 52. Even as owners get older and experience health issues, they are more likely to pass duties to their family rather than sell the franchise. This can go either way, but in most cases it’s more of the same (whether good or bad).

Coaches and General Managers, on the other hand, are extremely volatile. ‘Black Monday’ occurs at the end of each regular season, where upwards of ten coaches receive their walking papers. A team is often a reflection of its head coach. Bill Belichick’s players are disciplined, Mike Tomlin’s players are energetic, Pete Carroll’s players have personality and are outspoken. Some would argue that coaches are not given enough time to instill a culture with their team, due to the volatility of the position. Hard to argue with this, given the impatient nature of society today.

I can’t help but chuckle when media personalities say things like “imagine if Team X drafted Dak Prescott, or Team Y drafted Russell Wilson!” Prescott and Wilson are two franchise quarterbacks that happened to fall in the latter rounds of the NFL draft. They were put in situations where they could grow and succeed. If the Browns drafted Dak Prescott, they would still suck. The Browns are a dysfunctional franchise that lacks the leadership and environment to develop players.

Gone are the days when Saints fans would wear paper bags on their heads

Perhaps the best example of the massive effect of culture change occurred in 2006 when the Saints hired Sean Payton and signed Drew Brees. For years the Saints were dubbed ‘The Aints’, due to their futility on the field. They did not finish with a winning record for the first twenty years of their existence. Payton and Brees’ impact was immediately felt, with the Saints making it all the way to the NFC Championship game in their first year together. Three years later they delivered the first ever Lombardi trophy to New Orleans.

So fear not Browns, Redskins, Bears, Bills, Jets, Lions, and Bengals fans. The Payton/Brees combo has taught us that ANY franchise can be saved. The question is whether or not the teams realize that talent is not the only variable for success.

Sean Felenczak, CSCS