Nutrition Thoughts

This post is a major ramble… Apologies in advance if you’re looking for anything coherent.

If you don’t eat well, you will never completely reap the rewards of working out. In fact, not eating well can physically set you backwards, completely negating any potential gains from the gym. We take eating for granted so often, but nutrition is key to our health and well being and truly sets a base from which other aspects of our lives can either flourish or flounder.

But as I’ve said before, it’s not necessarily easy to make good nutrition choices all the time, nor do we necessarily know what good nutrition choices are. In the practical sense, we don’t really need to keep track of every morsel that we put in our mouths. We don’t need to weigh every ounce of chicken or spinach to eat healthy. In fact, it’s completely fine to indulge on ocassion without feeling guilty. We need to consume food, but we should never let what we eat consume us.

Good nutrition in 6 words: Avoid sugar, refined or processed food. Stick with this and you’re well on your way to eating healthy.

Supplement your diet. It’s nearly impossible to expect to get all your required nutrients through eating food alone. Vitamins help greatly with this. Don’t be afraid of protein powder - it isn’t just for hardcore body builders. Get lots of Omega-3’s. Fish oil!

Preparation makes eating healthy so much easier. Buy big tubs of mixed greens and use heaping handfuls as the base for you lunch. Top it with chili, chicken, bacon, egg, cottage cheese, tuna or some other high protein food source. Add some more veggies and you’ve got yourself a good meal.

Make large batches of food for dinner, on the weekend, and freeze portions for later. Make lots of left overs. When you’re not prepared, you are more likely to choose an unhealthy meal. But when you’re in a pinch, don’t feel guilty for eating a burger. Try not to load up on bagels.

Go to the bulk food store and buy lots of nuts. Buy loads of nuts and seeds. Peanuts, cashews, almonds, soy nuts, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, pecans. Also grab some dried cranberries and dried apricots and you’re set for snacks. Combine several cups of smashed up nuts and seeds with some whole oats and honey and artificial sweetener and bake and make your own cereal.

Watch the video linked here: Notice the pyramid. Remember the pyramid.

Food, food, food

Food - breatharians may claim it isn’t needed, but for the overwhelming majority of us, there’s no denying that food is a critical part of life. Unfortunately, what we should eat to be healthy is a seemingly constant debate resulting in ever changing diet books and programs.

Trying to dissect the volumes of volumes of information is incredibly difficult for the average person. What makes it even more difficult for us is that none of the information is consistent and it seems that even the experts get everything wrong. If they can’t figure out what we should eat, then what’s a guy looking for a healthy diet supposed to do?

The answer is research, and lots of it. Over the last little while I’ve been reading all that I can on nutrition, attempting to not get stuck in the fads and one solution fits all kind of mentality. It’s difficult trying to make heads or tails of nutrition, but I’ve come across some great stuff that I thought I’d share.

While there are more and more “fad” diets coming out with books and all sorts of highly marketed material aimed primarily at sucking dieters dry of their hard earned cash, many of the more recent diet programs are incredibly closely related and for the most part, they follow similar principles. Atkins, Zone, Paleo, Glucose Revolution, South Beach and countless more diets all basically revolve around the idea of low carbs. While some of them such as Zone and South Beach mask the low carb idea around insulin or glycemic indecies, ultimately they paint refined, high density carbs as evil and prescribe significant amounts of protein and fat as a crucial part of the diet. Read on…

The Deadlift (and lower back pain)

On Saturday morning, I did some deadlifts at a high intensity at 185#.  This is well below my max, but 72 hours later, my back is still killing me.  I suspect it’s just DOMS as the pain didn’t start until about 24 hours later, but I don’t doubt that I need to work on my form quite a bit as lower back pain is somewhat debilitating.

A really nice interview with powerlifter Eric Cressey is over on  Precision Nutrition.  Eric provides some good advice on technique and how the wrong technique can cause injury.  For me, I think I lift too much with my lower back instead of my hips.  Actually, I know that’s the problem.  For my next deadlifting session, I’m going to go lighter and work on form.

My First Muscle Up

Ok, ok… It isn’t a fluid motion by any means, but it’s a start, right??

The Kooza Experience - Cirque du Soleil

Last night my wife and I headed to Toronto to see the latest Cirque du Soleil act in town, Kooza. In short, it was absolutely brilliant.

Since this was my first Cirque experience, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Driving in to the parking lot to see the huge circus tent, in all its blue and yellow stripes was really quite neat. Once inside the tent, the seating was fairly squished, but at least that let everyone view the show from fairly close up.

Even before the show started, the audience was treated to entertainment as the characters ran around the tent, acting in various situations with or within the crowd. Once the lights dimmed and the show was underway, however, my jaw literally dropped and had to be picked up off the floor when the lights came back up at the end. It was that amazing.

The strength and talent that I witnessed last night was like none other that I have seen first person before. Handstands galore, flips, lifts, dexterity, amazing flexibility, strength and sheer commitment - the show had the whole package and then some.

The best part was no doubt the giant double pendulum thingy that circled around (vertically) essentially like a ride right out of the midway. It had two fearsome looking guys doing acrobatics within and on top of the two pendulum ends. The entire crowd gasped every time one of them would jump and fall down to land on the swinging pendulum end.

The contortionists were freaky, but despite their extreme limberness, they had a crazy strength. The seemingly youngest of the three of them made a one handed planche look easy. While in Toronto, the contortionists actually made a World Record for highest ever circus performance. Kind of a lame record, but here’s a vid of their routine (skip to about 2:35 into the vid). Freaky stuff - especially the part where the one girl’s legs walk around her upper body like a ghost in the Grudge.

Other highlights include the guy who did handstand presses while balancing on a skyscraper of chairs, the juggler, the unicycling waltz, among many others. A bonus was a great live music performance throughout the whole show.

Cirque du Soleil is definitely something that, should you have an opportunity to see, you shouldn’t miss out on.

For more on Cirque and, specifically Kooza, take a look at their site, here.

Back Home and Tired as Hell

I’m back from the big Greece adventure.  Sleep cycle is out of whack and I’ve been eating like crap for 10 days.  But it’s called vacation and once in a while, it’s needed.  Yes, vacation even from working out and eating healthy can be a great thing.

However, for those who have been to the Acropolis or Santorini before can understand how much we may take for granted our ability to walk up or down a set of stairs.  My wife and I do plenty of squats and lunges but walking up and down hundreds of tiny steep stairs daily caused both of us to wince a little at the burning in our thighs.  Needless to say, we also did a lot… a lot of walking.

But if you’ve ever been thinking of taking a trip to Greece or to the Greek Islands, do it.  It’s definitely a beautiful country and combine its beauty with its magnificent history and you’ve got yourself a great European adventure.

Benedikt Magnusson

I think this video is great. Benedikt deadlifts 426kg (that’s over 939lbs!). He’s somewhat spastic about it, which makes it all the more entertaining, but man is he strong.

The Fit Blog - The Best Of

Best of albums are… well… the best (assuming decent artists, that is).  Actually, they’re more of filler, I think.  So, while I’m away in Greece, lounging on the black sand of Santorini, here’s a collection of my fav posts - a sort of “Best of the Fit Blog”, if you will, to tide you over until I return with some new content.

On Vacation!

Today my wife and I left for Greece for a 10 day adventure getaway.  While I’m gone, I’ll have some articles getting posted on a regular basis.  A good blogging tip is to stay prepared and alway have some extra posts up your sleeve.  WordPress has a future post option that’s great.  Enough blogging…  Time to relax and not think about working out or running or eating right.  Vacation is down time and I intend to take full advantage of it.

More Evidence Suggesting Aspartame Safe

It goes without saying that diet colas are an extremely popular drink. These days, diet anything is popular. Despite their popularity, most people will agree that there is much confusion about artificial sweeteners, specifically aspartame, and whether or not there are any side effects from continued consumption. The confusion no doubt stems from the vigorous public controversy and the shady circumstances surrounding the FDA approval of the artificial sweetener in 1981*.

Some studies, in the past have suggested connections between aspartame and cancer. In 2005, the Ramazzini Foundation published a study in Environmental Health Perspectives that demonstrated how aspartame administered to rats caused a significant increase in leukemia and malignant tumors. The study was later dismissed as the FDA and other international food and drug bodies “concluded” that the findings had shortcomings and the cancers could not be found to be related strictly to aspartame. Although Ramazzini held steadfast to the study’s results and has since performed other research with similar findings, the food and drug administrations continue to reject them.

In 2006, a large human study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute found no significant link between aspartame and cancer. Critics of this particular study, however, are quick to point out that it looked at only a short period of consumption.

Yesterday, a press release came out highlighting a sweeping review of aspartame research studies saying that there is “no evidence that the non-nutritive sweetener causes cancer, neurological damage or other health problems in humans”. This, comes as good news for individuals weary of their aspartame consumption.

The review from an “international expert panel from 10 universities and medical schools” looked at over 500 reports dating from the 1970s to the most recent. Never before has such a group been put to the task of such an extensive review on the sweetener. The review found that aspartame, as it is consumed by human populations (including even high amount consumers), does not cause cancer promoting activity or neurological effects. The review also states that aspartame does not have any adverse effects on reproduction and despite what some recent studies have suggested, does not contribute to obesity. In fact, the review suggests that diet soda contributes to weight loss.

No matter how many reviews and studies take place, aspartame is a sweetener that is certainly going to be forever criticized, resulting in much consumer confusion. Personally, I enjoy my caffeine free diet cola. But like with everything else, at the end of the day moderation is key.

The press release can be found here.

Is it Just Me, or is Google Having Issues This Weekend?

I know that there was planned adsense maintenance yesterday, but all weekend, I’ve been having issues getting to numerous Google sites.  Adsense ads have been flaky at best.  The URL, has been timing out, not just on my site but on other sites.  This, in turn, has caused some slow page load times.  The sidebar has been most affected.  This isn’t so bad, but is not working and I tried, which returned links, but no images.

I’ve tried looking around for some information - mostly as doesn’t seem to be working.  Not that it’s the end of the world or anything.  Having Google not working is far from having any real problems. I guess I’ve just grown to depend too much on the big G?

I first thought that perhaps it was my computer.  After all, I haven’t rebooted in days.  But the same problems are occurring on other machines.  My next thought was that maybe it was my ISP.  I get an error 500 when I try to sign into their site.  But I ssh’d into Dreamhost (where my websites are hosted) and used the text browser, Lynx.  It also would not go to  In fact, after 5 minutes of waiting, I gave up waiting any longer.

So the big Internet Crash of 2007 has perhaps finally occurred?  Maybe the “scheduled Google Adsense maintenance” had some adverse impacts.

Soy Versus Whey Protein

It is often suggested that soy protein is not as effective as whey protein for building lean muscle mass. Many bodybuilders subscribe to this idea as if it’s a universal truth. But is it? Is Soy protein seriously less potent than whey?

According to a Ohio State University study published in 2004, like whey, soy protein produced a “statistically significant increase in lean body mass” in the subjects with little difference between the two.

Another point that some bodybuilders will make against using soy based protein supplements is the apparent high levels of estrogen found. While soy protein does contain higher estrogen-like molecules (Daidzein) than whey, they are significantly weaker than human estrogen estradiol and will not cause any problems in men.

I’m not saying that you should chuck your 100% whey protein and start using soy based protein. However, if you would rather not use protein supplements that are derived from animals, or possibly have an allergy to whey, then soy protein is a really good choice. In fact, soy based protein may even have benefits over whey. The same 2004 study suggested that while the whey sample group exhibited a deterioration in antioxidant function, the group that took the soy based protein showed a preservation of this function.

What is Fitness?

Watching a bit of the Tour de France, when the riders seem to effortlessly climb up massive mountain sides, there’s no question in our minds - those guys are in good shape. When a new 100m sprinting record is set, nobody questions the sprinter’s fitness level. A marathon runner? Yep - definitely fit. How about one of the cast on “Dancing with the Stars”? See their abs? They’re as lean as lean can be. And what about bodybuilders, gymnasts, weight lifters, firefighters, action heroes, golf players and pole vaulters? Would we classify all of these individuals as being fit? Probably. But what does that really mean?

At first, it seems a simple question. Everyone knows what fitness is. Or do we? We can easily peg a person who is fit and in shape, but are they really fit? What does it mean to be fit? Is it a low body fat percentage? Is it an abundance of muscle mass? Is it speed and agility? Is it strength? Or is it simply the ability to perform well at whatever you do?

For practical purposes, being functionally good at the day to day tasks that require some form of physical exertion may be the essence of what being fit is. The dancer is fit because she can dance well. The gymnast is fit because he possesses a significant amount of strength. But a computer programmer (like myself) wouldn’t be classified as being fit because he is good at rolling out of bed and getting to the office on time. Being fit requires additional attributes besides being able to exceed at one’s own work. In order to be fit, one must be able to do well at a variety of physical activities.

The dancer and gymnast each exceed in numerous physical abilities that contribute to their ability to perform. Strength, endurance and flexibility are just a few of these attributes. By exceeding in these multiple areas, they are also likely to do well in physical tasks outside of their domain. The computer programmer, on the other hand, may not possess enough additional abilities, outside of the scope of his or her job, to be classified as fit. While the programmer may exceed at specific tasks, he or she may not exceed in other areas. Therefore, they must work in extra curricular physical activities in order to achieve a higher fitness level.

The definition of being fit, therefore, is to not only be functionally able, but being functionally able across multiple domains. For most of us, who aren’t gymnasts or dancers, this requires going to the gym, getting out for runs and possibly taking up Yoga or Tennis or a joining a rec league of some sort.

The benefits of truly being fit, then, are significant. Many of us strive to be fit simply to be healthy and look good, but besides helping us maintain a good body weight, fitness enables individuals.

Being fit allows us to lift heavier items without injury. It lets us pick up our children or grandchildren to give them a bear hug. It helps us balance when on the roof, putting up our Christmas lights. Fitness lets us play soccer with our kids after school. It helps us run up 5 flights of stairs when we’re late for class. Whether hiking or biking, being fit helps us enjoy our environments. We can take pleasure in canoing a river or exploring the wilderness. The long walking tours when traveling abroad are easier. Shoveling snow or mowing the lawn are less taxing.

No matter who we are, what we do or what our age is, striving to be fit should be an important part of every one’s life. For being fit gives us the means to do the things that need to get done and live our lives as we wish.

How Low Should I Squat?

The squat is an essential exercise. For the lower body, there is probably nothing better. It hits all the important lower body muscles with a knock-out punch and can really help tone the thighs and butt. In order for the squat to be as effective as possible, it’s important to make sure that you squat low enough.

How low is this? It’s important for the tops of your thighs to be at least parallel with the floor. I’ve seen it done at the gym where the bottom of the individual’s thighs are barely parallel. This is definitely not as taxing on the leg muscles and therefore nowhere near as effective.

Most squatting racks will be setup infront of a mirror. Unfortunately it’s difficult to trust what you see in the mirror. What you may think is parallel may be a ways off. Instead of trying to guage how low you’ve gone by eye, try squatting over a box that’s about the height of where you should be squating to. You could alternatively use a medicine ball, low bench or dumbbell. Lower yourself until you touch the box and if you can’t touch the box for each rep in a set, you’re not going low enough. Try lowering the weight.