Category Archives: Recovery

Ladies: Why Getting Strong Will Make You a Goddess in 2017 (Part II)

Female physiology is incredibly complex. In fact, it is so complex that many reputable male trainers avoid working with ladies. The intricacies associated with changes in female body composition has been a perplexing phenomenon since the age of time, even dumbfounding much of the scientific world.

This post will aim to outline the biological mechanisms behind the enigmatic female body, while providing rationale for the best approach to training for improvements in body composition.

Why Are Females’ Bodies Seemingly So Complex?

This is probably a preconceived notion for the ladies reading this but men really do have it much easier from a body composition perspective. Almost every research paper shows smaller effect sizes in both weight loss and fat for women, when compared to their male counterparts.

Ultimately, it boils down to the capacity to procreate and the concomitant menstrual cycle. A few key changes that should be considered in a eumenorrheic (i.e. normal menstruation) female:

  • Women have a greater amount of estradiol and testosterone during the follicular phase compared to the luteal phase, and thus can handle higher training loads during this period
  • Women are also more insulin sensitive and less prone to water retention during the follicular phase, so carbohydrates are generally better tolerated

Irrespective of the menstrual cycle, females are far more resistant to changes in homeostasis than males. By this I mean that the female body will fight back harder in response to stressors such as exercise and changes in diet. Again, this is due to the complex biological mechanisms underpinning female physiology (wired to facilitate survival of the human race); the menstrual cycle only compounds these compensations that aim to maintain homeostasis.

Moreover, the extent to which women experience ‘period’ symptoms varies tremendously; some females cannot differentiate between the stages that they may be in at any given time, whereas others will experience significant alterations in mood, water retention (which will mask fat loss efforts), appetite, energy and so on.

Females’ Training & Diet Should Be Periodised (Pun Not Intended :P)

In light of the above, most females will respond best to periodising their training and eating in accordance with what stage they are in. Without delving to deep into the finer details of specific programming, here are a few principles that I would advise implementing to feel, look and perform better:

  • Training during the follicular phase should be relatively higher volume, higher intensity; conversely, lower the volume and intensity during your luteal phase, perhaps even incorporating more steady state cardiovascular exercise (like brisk walking). Strive to hit PBs during the follicular phase, and see the luteal period as more of a ‘maintenance’ phase to avoid being disheartened with potentially poor performances. This study very much supports the idea of training periodisation for females, showing greater gains made in strength and muscle.
  • Since metabolism and insulin sensitivity plunges during the luteal phase, and we are reducing our overall training volume, calories need to be cut. The reduction in calories should come almost exclusively from carbohydrates. For example, a 60kg female’s rest day may differ by 300-500 calories (75-125g of carbohydrates) between the follicular and luteal phases. *This is an example, only – take it for what its worth.
Marisa Inda, Elite Powerlifter

Much research also suggests that females preferentially utilise intra-muscular fatty acids during exercise, when compared to men. In other words, women are better at what we call ‘carbohydrate-sparing’. As such, fat should comprise a higher proportion of a female’s diet, and I generally programme for my female clients in this manner.

Since females possess a fraction of the testosterone that males do, they usually lack the absolute intensity males are able to train with. This is a major reason, besides their propensity for fat substrate utilisation, why females tend to respond better to higher volume schemes when training with weights. Ladies generally require greater total reps/sets in order to achieve the same relative work output as men, at any given perceived exertion. I am not advocating muscular endurance rep targets (i.e. 15+), but a 4-8 rep goal I will often prescribe for a male in the gym would usually translate into 6-12 for the ladies. This is obviously dependent on the exercise and other variables, but just another example to illustrate my point.

While I am by no means a Crossfit aficionado, I do believe certain principles derived from this sport are favourable for women’s physiques. The elite female crossfitters train compound barbell movements with high intensity, relatively high volumes in short time-frames, capitalising on fat oxidation while building lean muscle. You don’t have to join a crossfit box, but take some of these principles and incorporate them in to your own training. The major downfall with crossfit is that it doesn’t really consider long-term programming; the workouts are random and thus don’t allow the individual to progressively overload exercises in a meaningful way. It is exercise, as opposed to training.

The majority of females gravitate to exercise modalities like yoga because, naturally, they are good it. Females have much more lax joints than males, so it is relatively easy. I think yoga is fantastic, both for the mind and one’s mobility, but adding a few ‘heavy’ strength training days a week on top of this will render profound improvements; for health, improved body composition, confidence to name but a handful of associated benefits.

I understand stepping in the gym is right outside the comfort zone of most women, and this is exactly why you should commence a proper weight training regime. The research to support strength training for women is simply irrefutable.

Best,

Jonny.

 

3 Easy Strategies To Prevent Fat Gain This Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner, which inevitably means banquets of delightful foods. It is a season to be enjoyed but, for the health-conscious individual, represents a formidable threat to one’s discipline and concomitant fat loss efforts.

While the suggestions I will outline in this article are by no means revelatory, they deserve consideration if you want to exercise your innate hedonism this social season, without derailing your fat loss progress. Let’s go into the New Year in a position that is propitious to attaining our fitness ‘resolutions’.

1. Sparkling Water Is Your Friend

Not only is carbonated water more palatable and satiating than still water, its use as a mixer can dramatically reduce our total caloric intake for the day.

Unless you have ever inspected the nutritional panel of foods and beverages you commonly consume, it is likely that you underestimate the calories within them. Similarly, for those with a basic understanding of nutritional composition, high-calorie drinks lend themselves to excessive energy intake and weight gain. I believe what and how much we drink at this time of the year is more culpable than our food indulgences, from a fat gain perspective.

As we would expect, carbonated water has demonstrated prolonged gastric emptying and feelings of fullness.

Add some lemon juice to a glass of soda water before a meal. Dilute your favourite juice or spirits with it. Keep a bottle of San Pellegrino on hand wherever you go. Use it in your salad dressing recipe. Wot?

 

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2. ‘Hara Hachi Bu’, and Eating Mindfully

It is widely accepted that the Okinawan people of Japan perpetually claim the world’s greatest longevity, per capita; but few people are aware of the key custom that underlies their supreme leanness.

‘Hara Hachi Bu’ translates from Japanese as ‘eat until 80% full’, and has been employed by Japanese people for generations. This inherently simple, yet tremendously effective principle, necessitates that the individual eats both intuitively and mindfully.

In today’s obese climate, however, most people find eating intuitively a piece of cake (to their heart’s content, without any accountability), but the mindful component of ‘Hara Hachi Bu’ undoubtedly evades most of us. Particularly with our smartphones and various gadgets at hands reach, 24/7. It is only when both intuition and mindfulness are employed concurrently that this strategy works; they depend upon each other.

What I like most about this concept is that it embodies a way in which we can consume a calorie deficit, and thus lose fat, without counting calories or being neurotic. Rather, we can listen to internal cues of hunger.

So, I understand this concept is easier said than done (as with most behavioural interventions), but there are a few sub-strategies we can use to successfully implement it:

  • Quarantine your phone, and turn off the T.V, at meal times
  • Chew your food. You might find this suggestion comical, but the amount of people that inhale their food like my dog Slater, is very real
  • Have a cup of tea after a your first serve (or plateful). Anecdotally, I find a cup of green tea after or with my meal allows my internal hunger cues to ease, and digestion improves
  • Replete a smaller plate with food

 

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3. Reduce Meal Frequency, and Skip Breakfast

Yes, many of the papers examining the effect of meal frequency on body composition almost invariably favour the higher frequency group (albeit marginally), but these findings are correlational and causation shouldn’t be assumed. What I mean by this is that, generally, the type of person that usually eats irregularly, is the same person that skips breakfast and subsequently proceeds to eating donuts (or similar junk) at work; and then binges at night after a sedentary work-day. Generally.

Further, seldom do these papers incorporate intentional, intermittent fasts in the lower frequency meal groups. The myth of ‘eating around the clock to stoke one’s metabolic fire’ has been propagated by ripped gym-junkies for years, but it is scientifically unfounded. This systematic review headed by nutrition pioneer, Alan Aragon, found that body composition changes were almost identical when comparing isoenergetic (same amount of calories) diets in high frequency (HFM) VS. low frequency (LFM) meal groups.

Insulin sensitivity, or our glycemic control, is also improved in the LFM, when 3 meals/day was compared with 14 a day. This effect is augmented by fasting, which can easily be achieved by pushing breakfast back a few hours.

Rarely does the morning call for social gatherings during this time of year, so I suggest strategically fasting for the first 2-6 hours of the day. Wake up, have some coffee, and use this time to be productive. Run errands, smash an early gym session before the day gets too busy. Don’t brood over food.

Fasting during the first half of the day will give you a nice energy buffer, and allow you to get away with feasting at night, when we are most social. I am not currently fasting every day, purely because I am gaining weight and find breakfast more conducive to this goal; but I understand the general population usually desires weight loss, and this is where strategic fasting is very handy (not to mention the whole host of other benefits associated with it).

I believe it is advantageous, and much more enjoyable, to consume 3 large meals a day as opposed to grazing constantly. Who actually enjoys teasing themselves with tiny servings, and thinking about food all day?

 

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That’s it, guys and gals. Feel free to message me with questions, or if you are interested in my coaching services.

Healthy regards,

Jonny.

 

References:

Cavanagh, K., Vartanian, L. R., Herman, C. P., & Polivy, J. (2014). The effect of portion size on food intake is robust to brief education and mindfulness exercises. J Health Psychol, 19(6), 730-739. doi: 10.1177/1359105313478645

Fukkoshi, Y., Akamatsu, R., & Shimpo, M. (2015). The relationship of eating until 80% full with types and energy values of food consumed. Eating behaviors, 17, 153-156.

Katterman, S. N., Kleinman, B. M., Hood, M. M., Nackers, L. M., & Corsica, J. A. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review. Eating behaviors, 15(2), 197-204.

Munsters, M. J., & Saris, W. H. (2012). Effects of meal frequency on metabolic profiles and substrate partitioning in lean healthy males. PLoS One, 7(6), e38632.

Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., Wilborn, C. D., Krieger, J. W., & Sonmez, G. T. (2014). Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 1.

Tate, D. F., Turner-McGrievy, G., Lyons, E., Stevens, J., Erickson, K., Polzien, K., . . . Popkin, B. (2012). Replacing caloric beverages with water or diet beverages for weight loss in adults: main results of the Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday (CHOICE)

Zhu, Y., & Hollis, J. H. (2015). Relationship between chewing behavior and body weight status in fully dentate healthy adults. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 66(2), 135-139.

How The ‘Gut Microbiome’ Ultimately Governs Our Health

The concept of ‘hitting’ one’s macronutrients, or even merely calorie-counting, is as pervasive as ever in the fitness world; and, while I don’t deny the importance of tracking macros or calories for body composition purposes, I do believe the macro obsession obscures the bigger picture.

That bigger picture is our gut health, or ‘gut microbiome’.

Don’t worry if you are one of the majority whom has never heard the above notion before, as you should walk away from this post enlightened and equipped to improve your own gut health, and overall wellbeing.

A snapshot of the gut microbiome:

  • Microbiome: micro = small; biome = community of naturally-occurring organisms suited to their given environment
  • Human beings consist of ~70 trillion cells (using a 70kg, 170cm male as reference), with bacteria cells outnumbering human cells by roughly 30%
  • There is thought to be 1000+ different species of microbiota, encoding 10 million genes, in our gastrointestinal tract (GIT)
  • It heavily influences our metabolism, immune cell education, disease prevention, brain function & psychology… To name but a few of its roles. Basically, the gut microbiome impacts ALL parameters of our health, and research is continually mounting to corroborate this idea
  • It can be considered a ‘2nd brain’, perhaps more powerful than our 1st brain; and, collectively weighing 3-5 pounds (thus the same volume)
  • Scientists are still yet to fully comprehend this colony of flora and fauna that exists within humans, but they ARE certain of its significant influence on our health

 

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‘Leaky Gut’ Syndrome (LGS)

LGS is exactly as it sounds: hyper-permeability of the intestinal wall, consequently resulting in ‘leakage’ of undigested molecules, waste products, and toxins, into the bloodstream. Particles that escape the GIT may travel to other areas of the body, including the brain, and trigger global inflammatory effects… which may devolve into disease.

LGS may manifest itself as:

  • Gas & bloating after meals
  • Brain fog
  • Mood swings
  • Multiple food sensitivities
  • Chronic constipation or diarrhoea
  • Chronic fatigue and joint achiness

LGS is also a key culprit in vitamin & mineral deficiencies, as carrier proteins get damaged or filtered into the bloodstream; iron, vitamin B12, magnesium, calcium, folate, zinc and vitamin D are most at-risk.

Now, many of you are probably associating the above symptoms with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and you aren’t wrong… But they are not synonymous. IBS & LGS are closely linked, in that they may precipitate one another and often co-exist.

Essentially, IBS is stomach upset (i.e. cramping, diarrhoea, constipation) and LGS is when the gut lining becomes porous.

Our diet is one major contributor to both LGS & IBS, and the good news is that it also serves as the most easily modifiable factor in these conditions.

Scientific literature reports a range of incidence rates of IBS, given the various criteria sets used to diagnose IBS. And while many studies estimate Australia’s IBS incidence to be in the vicinity of ~20%, this is a gross underestimation as only 30% of those with symptoms report it.

More people than not are dismissing abnormal bowel movements, chronic lethargy & brain fog as normal. Perhaps it is fair to say that this dismissive culture has been bred by allopathic medicine (and the countless, dismissive doctors whom constitute it).

The scary thing is that mental illness & obesity have become so prevalent that they too may be termed ‘normal’, in today’s society. 20+% of 16-85 year-old Australians will experience mental illness at some point in any given year, and depression is the #1 cause of non-fatal disability. This is not a coincidence.

 

The Gut-Brain Axis

When I first read of the purported impact our gut microbiota could have on our brain function, I was somewhat sceptical. But after diving deeper into the research, the gut-brain link appears irrefutable.

There is now compelling evidence that gut microbiota can influence humans’ behaviour, with particular note to depressive-like symptoms. The reciprocal gut-brain relationship seemingly takes place at the central nervous system level, with the brain regulating things like gut motility and secretion; and the gut regulating mood.

The main mechanisms by which an altered microbiota state predisposes us to anxiety and depression are believed to relate to cytokine production; and reduced circulating serotonin & tryptophan.

When our intestinal permeability increases, pro-inflammatory messengers termed ‘cytokines’ are released by immune cells, and heavily implicated in psychological disorders, as well as an array of diseases. Depression is more-so a symptom of inflammation than a disease.

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Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) widely known as the chief commander of mood & sense of well-being. What most people don’t realise is that 80-90% of our total serotonin resides in our GIT.

Gut bacteria (such as probiotics) both produce and respond to the same neurochemicals—such as GABA, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine and melatonin—that the brain uses to regulate mood and cognition.

The translocation of our ‘good’ gut bacteria across the intestinal wall hampers the proportion of the aforementioned neurochemicals, and this has been consistently implicated in depression… As well as deleterious eating behaviours.

How do these microorganisms in our gut lining potentially trigger over-eating and/or voracious food cravings? Well, interestingly, they too crave particular substrates and so when the microbiota balance is thrown out of whack via LGS, this gets fed back to our brain. As an example, the common probiotic bifidobacteria thrives on dietary fibre.

The intricate feedback-loop between our central nervous system (brain) and enteric nervous system (gut) is facilitated by the longest cranial nerve (CNX) in the body, the vagus nerve.

Major takeaway: a happy gut microbiome may indeed stave off anxiety & depressive symptoms, and indirectly reduce cravings.

 

Interesting Misc. Facts

  • Good gut bacteria have demonstrated the ability to convert white (stored) fat to brown (heat-producing) fat. This process increases our basal metabolic rate (BMR; how much energy we burn in a day). More can be read about this in my first article here.
  • Certain studies have reported 84% of IBS patients improving symptomatically after the removal of gluten from their diets. So, while non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is estimated to be ~20 in Australia (determined, again, from various criteria), it is apparent that gluten is pro-inflammatory in a lot of cases.

 

Actionable Steps To Bulletproof Your Gut Wall

  1. As straightforward as this will sound, monitor how you respond to the foods you eat, and eliminate anything that consistently elicits the earlier-mentioned symptoms. And, of course, try to eat simple whole foods 80+% of the time… Your gut will find it much easier to break it down, and greatly reduce your likelihood of LGS. When you get an upset stomach, your 2nd brain is alarming you for a reason – investigate it!
  2. If you are an ‘if it fits your macros (IIFYM)’ fan, feel free to continue with it, but it is risky business trying to fit as many ‘cheat’ meals into your diet as possible. Try to indulge less frequently, and be cognisant of micronutrient intake as well your macros.
  3. Both caffeine & alcohol are gut irritants – try not to binge on either of them too frequently.
  4. Avoid antibiotics (anti = no; biotic = life… death) at all costs. This medicine destroys BOTH bad AND good bacteria in our stomachs, and may permanently alter the gut’s microbiome. View the use of antibiotics as an absolute last resort.
  5. Fermented foods. My personal favourite, which I eat in abundance most days, is natto (fermented soybean, popularised in Japan). Other choices include sauerkraut, greek yoghurt (check the ingredients for cultures such as lactobacillus and bactobifideria) & kombucha.
  6. Sorry ketogenic advocates and paleo lovers, but preliminary data is suggestive of high-fat diets lending themselves to LGS. This is thought to be because fat is a more efficient vehicle for toxin transportation than carbohydrates. I say shoot for balanced macronutrients.

natto-3

Happy Summer 🙂

Best,

Jonny.

References:

Bai, Y.-M., Chiou, W.-F., Su, T.-P., Li, C.-T., & Chen, M.-H. (2014). Pro-inflammatory cytokine associated with somatic and pain symptoms in depression. Journal of affective disorders, 155, 28-34.

Balakireva, A. V., & Zamyatnin, A. A. (2016). Properties of Gluten Intolerance: Gluten Structure, Evolution, Pathogenicity and Detoxification Capabilities. Nutrients, 8(10), 644.

Dach, J. (2015). Gut-Brain: Major Depressive Disorder, Hypothalamic Dysfunction, and High Calcium Score Associated With Leaky Gut. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 21, 10.

Dash, S., Clarke, G., Berk, M., & Jacka, F. N. (2015). The gut microbiome and diet in psychiatry: focus on depression. Current opinion in psychiatry, 28(1), 1-6.

David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., . . . Fischbach, M. A. (2014). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature, 505(7484), 559-563.

Elli, L., Tomba, C., Branchi, F., Roncoroni, L., Lombardo, V., Bardella, M. T., . . . Buscarini, E. (2016). Evidence for the Presence of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity in Patients with Functional Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Results from a Multicenter Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Gluten Challenge. Nutrients, 8(2), 84. doi: 10.3390/nu8020084

Halmos, E. P., & Gibson, P. R. (2015). Dietary management of IBD[mdash]insights and advice. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol, 12(3), 133-146. doi: 10.1038/nrgastro.2015.11

Ley, R. E. (2010). Obesity and the human microbiome. Current opinion in gastroenterology, 26(1), 5-11.

Li, X., & Atkinson, M. A. (2015). The role for gut permeability in the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes–a solid or leaky concept? Pediatric diabetes, 16(7), 485-492.

Luna, R. A., & Foster, J. A. (2015). Gut brain axis: diet microbiota interactions and implications for modulation of anxiety and depression. Current opinion in biotechnology, 32, 35-41.

Tsai, F., & Coyle, W. J. (2009). The microbiome and obesity: is obesity linked to our gut flora? Current gastroenterology reports, 11(4), 307-313.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strategies To Lose Stubborn Stomach Fat

It can be incredibly disheartening when you have been training consistently and eating ‘clean’ at least 80% of the time, yet still are plagued by the stubborn accumulation of belly fat.

Although men and women tend to deposit fat in different locations, in light of distinctive hormonal profiles, a large proportion of both genders have struggled (and continue to struggle) with fat that covers their abs. Health-conscious men, in particular, often feel as though they have exhausted all potential exercises and ‘fat-burner’ supplements in pursuit of the elusive ‘six-pack’.

For many, visible abdominal musculature is regarded as the pinnacle of fitness and some may perceive it as a representation of one’s immense discipline.

But it doesn’t need to be that difficult.

Today, I will be sharing with you 4 powerful strategies to eradicate that frustrating stomach fat that is seemingly so persistent. Not only have these strategies been effective for me in carving out my underlying 6-pack (that is inherent in EVERYONE), but so too are they backed by scientific literature.

If I can maintain visible abs while gaining on average a kilogram a month (+26kg since 2013), you can be assured that my advice will similarly assist you even if your goals are not necessarily to gain lean mass.

Implement these tips and you should expect to see major inroads to a dense & flat stomach within several weeks.

 

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1. Delay Breakfast For At Least 2 Hours After Waking

Intermittent fasting (IF) has gained a lot of momentum in the world of human nutrition in recent times, and I strongly believe it can be an effective tool for most people to maintain muscle mass while diminishing body fat.

So many of us mindlessly eat immediately after waking up, rather than being intuitive to our body’s signalling.

I attribute my ability to stay lean over the past three years, while gaining healthy weight, to delaying my first meal on a regular basis. Rather than sticking to a rigid eating and fasting window, I would simply push my breakfast back by ~4 hours after waking up, and use this opportunity to drink plenty of fluids and attend to tasks at hand.

 

*But wait – doesn’t eating earlier in the day kickstart our metabolism?*

Yes, one tends to be more insulin-sensitive in the morning, but people neglect the fact that both fat and muscles cells possess insulin receptors.

While our metabolism of food will invariably be triggered by an early meal, and fuel our precious muscle, so too will our fat cells have the propensity to mop up substrates we consume.

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas and plays a central role in regulating the level of blood glucose during periods of feeding and fasting. It is a powerful anabolic hormone, due to its substrate storage mechanism, and our cellular sensitivity to insulin declines gradually as the day progresses.

Cortisol, which is our ‘catabolic’ hormone, similarly peaks upon waking and wanes throughout the day. Cortisol is responsible for breaking down tissue (hence catabolic), but is negated by the presence of insulin.

Martin Berkhan – ‘The Godfather’ of Intermittent Fasting

*While the above photo of Martin is an extreme example of the fat-burning potential that IF gives rise to, we can see that it clearly works. You can read more of Berkhan’s work here.

So, from the background science above, we can now better understand how to use cortisol (extensively feared for its muscle-wasting potential) to our advantage during the early hours of the day, as it mobilises fatty acids to be used.

To facilitate this, we must minimise or completely negate insulin. Both carbohydrates AND protein-rich foods are insulinogenic (promote insulin release), so it is best to avoid breakfast altogether or you can put a stick of butter in your coffee (AKA ‘Bulletproof Coffee’, made famous by David Asprey…Please do not do this …) XD

On the topic of coffee, though, caffeine enhances the fatty mobilisation that cortisol initially stimulates. Compounding this is the knowledge that caffeine also suppresses appetite, making a morning fast much more feasible.

Therefore, enjoy 1-2 (preferably long black, but a splash of milk will be okay too) coffees before your first meal.

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When we eat first thing in the morning, we sabotage this wonderful ability to tap into stomach fat stores.

*But won’t muscle mass be broken down too?*

Unlikely. Growth hormone (GH) is acutely amplified by a short-term fast, having been shown to increase by ~2000% in humans during a 24-hour abstinence from food.

GH is vital in the preservation of lean body mass, and aids in fat oxidation. As such, your hard-earned skeletal muscle will be spared.

…Lower insulin levels, higher GH levels and increased amounts of norepinephrine (noradrenaline) all increase the breakdown of body fat and facilitate its use for energy.

Ideally, given this information, one would train in the evening when our insulin sensitivity is lower. By exercising our muscles in the PM, we are ultimately manipulating our cellular activity in a way that heightens muscle cell sensitivity to glucose uptake and, conversely, nullifies fat cell insulin sensitivity.

I have taken this approach while eating 1kg+ of potato (or equivalent in rice) at dinner and have experienced this nutrient-channeling phenomenon first-hand.

A few other cool benefits on this strategy before moving on to #2:

  • Breakfast energy intake has been positively correlated with total daily energy intake in recent studies; to test this anecdotally, I have been eating a large breakfast for the last 2 months and have gained 4kg in a month as I have found hunger to quickly ensue an early meal
  • Creating an energy buffer (and ‘wiggle room’, as my friend Christopher Walker says) in the back half of the day is socially convenient. We are more likely to dine out or enjoy food in the company of friends/family at night time, rather than in the morning. Knowing we can eat a substantial (and perhaps indulgent) meal in the evening, without overblowing our total daily intake, is peace of mind. It also makes the adherence to a morning fast much more achievable.
  • After roughly 16 hours without food we become the beneficiaries of a physiological cleanse, termed autophagy. This process leads to cell turnover, and has the major benefit of neurogenesis (increased neurons in our brain; and associated prevention of Alzheimer’s disease)
  • When compared to constant caloric restriction, alternate day fasting not only reduces weight to a similar extent but is also superior for retention of muscle mass; who wouldn’t want to maintain muscle while losing weight?

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2. Do Not Fear Carbohydrates, But DO Consider WHEN To Eat Them

As much as you may be told by famous personal trainers, or social media, that carbohydrates are inherently evil, they are actually crucial for long-term healthy eating and any body composition goal.

Generally speaking, however, the more lean an individual is the more efficient they will be at disposing of glucose (the simple form of carbohydrate). This is by virtue of the correlation between insulin sensitivity and degree of body fat.

So overweight or obese persons reading this should either scale back the amount of carbohydrates consumed accordingly, or trial a ketogenic diet for rapid weight loss. I only advocate the ketogenic diet (rather extreme) for very sick and/or diabetic individuals, so if you want to read more about this paradigm please follow the works of Professor Timothy Noakes.

Notwithstanding this, the timing and application of carbohydrates I am about to suggest remains the same for unhealthy and healthy populations.

Conventional nutrition wisdom purports that starchy carbohydrates are best avoided the deeper we go into the evening, and especially at dinner time.

NoCarbs-4PM

I propose, in line with my first tip of intermittent fasting ^, that we maximise the anabolic effect of carbohydrates around the times that we train (predominantly post-workout), and even reserve our intake of such for dinner time on days that we do not train.

*If you prefer or have to train in the morning, which is not ideal with these principles but can work, I would advise you to consume ~50-100g of simple carbohydrates (obviously dependent on the nature of your training and goals) immediately post-workout, and then consuming the bulk of starchy carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, rice) with dinner. The other meals will be protein & fat-centric, alongside fibrous vegetables.

I was first infatuated by this approach when I came across the work of John Kiefer, of ‘Carb Back-Loading’ (CBL). Kiefer is a Physicist and avid researcher of human nutrition, so I took credence in what he said and applied his advice for roughly 2 years before modifying it slightly in 2015. One fundamental difference in my approach to Kiefer’s, however, is that I prefer complex starches (with a low glycaemix index) while Kiefer advocates purely simple (high G.I) carbohydrate sources.

In short, back-loading our carbohydrates is prudent because:

  1. As with IF, it is socially convenient to eat carbohydrate-rich foods in the evening with dinner.
  2. The majority of people I know who strength train do so in the evening, so the ensuing uptake of glucose (that elicit insulin) will be shunted to muscle cells more so than fat cells.
  3. Carbohydrates induce the release of serotonin and tryptophan, which are hormones that can be considered sleep-inducing agents. Quality of sleep is improved, recovery is optimised, and insulin sensitivity is improved. Serotonin has also been linked to appetite suppression, and decreased stress. Low levels of serotonin receptors are associated with depression.
  4. Carbohydrates are superior at reducing levels of ghrelin, an appetite-regulating hormone, when compared to protein and fat. Decreased ghrelin is a positive thing because we are less likely to overeat when we have this big buffer of energy at the end of the day (after our morning fast 😉

 

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My main modification to Kiefer’s philosophies has been to consume at least 1 gram of carbohydrate for kilogram of bodyweight (~83grams for me) a few hours prior to a training session. I have found this has worked more effectively for both strength and muscle gains, compared to training without any circulating glucose. Kiefer vehemently proposes that a ‘hulk-effect’ (surge in strength) occurs when training without circulating glucose, but I am dubious over this theory for my goals.

An important consideration is the type of carbohydrate you consume. Generally, carbohydrate-rich beverages are void of nutrients and lend themselves to excessive calorie intake. If you want to seriously lose weight, eat/chew your calories and avoid liquid calories where possible. I would even admonish people that seek to lose weight from consuming smoothies. People who know me will be aware that I consume a daily smoothie, but I believe it should be reserved for the crowd that wants to gain weight (like I do). Eating three solid meals a day, in my opinion, is idyllic for weight loss.

Personally, I LOVE potatoes (both white and sweet) so predominantly eat these starches. Fruit, rice, and oats are my secondary preferences, with a focus on low-fructose fruits such as berries and citrus. Fructose is a simple sugar densely present in honey and certain fruits like apples, and is directed to the liver for its metabolism; too much fructose may cause fatty liver disease and it is useless at replenishing our skeletal muscle glycogen stores after exercise.

Finally, understand that I do not mean to exclude fibrous carbohydrates (i.e: cruciferous vegetables) until dinner so feel free to consume these ad-libitum. I do not even count vegetables like brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower towards my total energy intake.

*But Jonny, I thought you were a proponent of a balanced diet and macronutrient intake…?*

By the end of the day, my macronutrients almost always hover around 40/30/30 (%) carbohydrates/protein/fat, thus being balanced.

My philosophy is just to strategically capitalise on the different hormone-signalling that occurs with the three macronutrients, and their timing. As such, my meals are usually disproportionate in favour of one macronutrient over the other, but I ultimately maintain a proportionate spread of the major food groups.

An average training day for me would look something like this:

Wake up: Drink lots of water and some coffee/green tea.

Meal 1 (2-5 hours after waking): High fat/moderate-high protein/low carbohydrates

Meal 2: Moderate Fat/ High Protein/ Moderate Carbohydrates (1g/kg BW)

…Train between 2-6pm

Meal 3 (largest): Limited Added Fat (but enough for taste)/High Protein/HIGH Carb

3. The Nature Of Your Training Is Extremely Important

Strength training surpasses aerobic training by a mile and some.

As a former middle-distance runner (over-zealous you could say), I can greatly appreciate performance-related goals in the way of running events that you may have. In saying this, I believe there is a pervasive delusion carried by the general public that sub maximal ‘cardio’ training is a pre-requisite to burn fat.

Yes, we can observe many elite runners that sport a ripped stomach, but they:

a) Are usually underweight and so do not possess much absolute muscle mass

AND

b) Are genetically blessed, with a favourable physical capacity to perform exercise and assimilate food

You cannot argue that a six-pack is MUCH more impressive to look at on someone who has a bit of extra bulk on their frame.

SPRINTER VS. MARATHONER

Having already posted an article that goes in to depth regarding the ‘ripple effect’ of strength training (here), and the most effective approach to getting stronger, I will keep this tip as concise as possible. Please read that article to assume a better perspective on the rest of this piece.

Not only does high-intensity strength training facilitate muscle growth but, as I mention in the aforementioned article, it also significantly improves muscular endurance (without having to train for it directly!).

Exercising at sub-maximal intensities for extended periods of time is effective for weight loss, but it will impede your strength gains and concomitant muscle. Jogging, for example, is a purely catabolic exercise that will catalyse the breakdown of both fat and muscle. On the other hand, PRE can assist you with both weight loss and muscular development.

I believe, from experience, that the effort required to merely eat less calories pales in comparison to that required to burn the same amount of energy through steady-state cardio.

Heavy resistance exercises (relative of course to an individual’s ability) that are multi-joint (or ‘compound’) in nature are the key to abdominal muscle recruitment, and render direct abdominal exercises futile if progression is constant.

I rarely perform isolation work on my stomach. This is because I prioritise compound lifts that require the abdominal muscles to contract maximally. You see, one must fully engage their deep and superficial stomach muscles during bang-for-your-buck movements like the deadlift, as to not compromise on posture and subsequently risk injury.

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Exercises like the deadlift, that recruit huge amounts of muscle fibre units, have been scientifically shown to recruit as much or more stomach muscle than direct work. Note that the participants in this study were performing 80% of their 1 reptition-max (1RM), thus constituting a challenging load that stimulates the neuromuscular system meaningfully.

Only when you reach an advanced level of strength and power-to-weight ratio should you consider implementing direct abdominal work, to accentuate your already visible abs. In these cases, the ab-wheel rollout, hanging leg raises, and reverse crunches are the most fruitful choices.

Finally, excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is considered to be proportional to the intensity of exercise undertaken. EPOC is the measurement of residual oxygen uptake seen after strenuous exercise.

We have all been witness to the huffing and puffing of a 100 metre sprinter during their interview, even if it is 10+ minutes after the race has finished. It was essentially due to this phenomenon that the ‘Tabata’ high-intensity interval training style gained popularity in the fitness world in the 21st century.

Although EPOC has undoubtedly been blown out of proportion, it is a worthy thought for exercise selection purposes.

There are few pretty awesome studies that elucidate the elevated energy expenditure after intense strength training:

 

4. Minimise Unnecessary Stress

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Stress is not only a silent killer, but also under-recognised as a bane for fat loss.

This 2014 study evinced that an additional 435 kilojoules was consumed, on average, in the stressed group relative to the control group of participants. This equates to ~5 kilograms of fat gained over the span of a year. That is quite substantial!

In a nutshell, periodically experiencing even small stresses throughout the day may easily disrupt our metabolic efficiency.

Stress has also been implicated in the development of diabetes.

We must not confuse chronic psychological stresses with the intermittent physiological stress incurred during intense exercise, though, as the latter is necessary in order for us to elicit hormesis (adaptive stress response that is a potent anti-ageing agent).

We do want to rapidly curb cortisol (stress-hormone) post-workout though, to commence these adaptations that we are after (‘anabolic’/rebuilding phase).

A few easy ways to alleviate unnecessary stress:

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  • A regular pattern of 7+ deep hours of sleep is crucial to reduce stress, so try to avoid blue-light (emitted by smartphones, TVs etc.) after the sun goes down. This can be achieved by turning technology off or, as most would prefer, blue-light blocking apps or glasses. Blue light confuses our brain by thinking it is daytime, and consequently suppresses melatonin production (vital for deep REM sleep).
  • Practice some form of mindfulness daily. This meditative practice has demonstrated significant reductions in stress, and can be performed for just a few minutes a day. I usually do so by walking in nature while listening to the ‘Practising The Power of Now’ audiobook by Eckhart Tolle. This was recommended to me by my friend Greg O’Gallagher (of Kinobody), and I have observed massive differences in my overall calmness.
  • SMILE! Even if you are not genuinely feeling happy, exhibiting a strong smile can drop blood pressure, heart rate, and stress. This was achieved with a certain type of smile though, known as ‘Duchenne’s smile’. This is a smile that engages the muscles surrounding the eyes, as well as the mouth muscles. Standard smiles that do not involve the eyes, interestingly, did not induce the same response. Smiles are contagious, so spread that happiness 😀

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FINAL THOUGHTS

I hope that you have enjoyed this post, and gleaned a few points that you can put to practice.

Remember, this article is predicated on my own anecdotal evidence (and some research), so it is what I have had success with. Not everyone may experience this same success from my methodologies, so experiment at your own will and let me know how you go.

By the same token, people have achieved flat stomachs with various other approaches, so do not take this article as dogma; it is what I consider the most sustainable way to achieving and maintaing a lean physique.

I initially planned to outline 7 strategies, but the post quickly became too expansive to do so. These are the most important points.

Ultimately, losing stomach fat occurs when we are consistently burning more calories than we consume. The strategies I outline above should make this process easier, and assist in the preservation of muscle mass while targeting fat stores.

I managed to minimise stomach fat while gaining 26kg over 3 years, so this is why I have faith in these strategies.

Ladies, please be aware that studies concerning intermittent fasting have generally conveyed more positive (and substantial) results in males than females. So, IF may not be prudent for you. Simply avoiding starchy carbohydrates at breakfast may be a more effective strategy for fat loss goals, if you do not succeed with IF.

Also, if anything does not make sense or you require further clarification on certain points, do not hesitate in contacting me and I will be more than happy to discuss with you.

Thank you for reading!

Healthy regards,

Jonny.

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A recent photo to substantiate credibility: I try to be the product of my own advice.

You can contact me at jonnysouter@gmail.com for consultations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of the Cold Shower

Cold Shower

It is something we do every day, but the thought of turning the shower to cold is unpalatable for most. Although immersing yourself with cold water may seem a scary prospect (especially in winter!), doing so on a daily basis for just a few minutes carries an array of benefits. These benefits are derived from ‘cold thermogenesis’ (CT), which is just a technical term for heat production brought about via exposure to cold temperatures.

Perhaps the most notable benefit associated with cold showers is brown adipose tissue (BAT) activation. There are two types of fat within the human body: white, and brown. White fat is much more plentiful than brown in the human body, and it stores excess calories. Brown fat, on the other hand, is more akin to skeletal muscle in that it consumes considerable amounts of glycogen and fat when stimulated. It is important to note that leaner people have a greater amount of this ‘good’ fat than their overweight counterparts, and it is mostly situated around the upper back, neck, and collarbone regions.

brown_fat_webImmersion of cold water accelerates fat loss through mobilisation of free fatty acids, and enhanced beta oxidation. The mean drop in body temperature initiates thermogenesis, with fat utilisation increased by up to 63% and carbohydrate utilisation by as much as 588%! Metabolism is elevated for several hours afterward, depending on one’s adaptation, meaning a few hundred extra calories burnt throughout the rest of the day. The mechanism to explain activation of BAT is due to the metabolic hormones irisin and FGF21, which may play an imperative role in fighting obesity. Forget high-intensity interval training (HIIT) I say, and make a cold shower a part of your daily routine! Just 2-5 minutes is all that is required, and can be implemented at the end of a warm/hot shower.

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An impressive cosmetic benefit of finishing a shower with cold-only is the significant effect it has on smoothing one’s skin. It makes sense that hot water dries our skin, stripping it of its natural oils. I noticed that, within just 2 days, the stubborn patches of dry skin on my face had disappeared. Even lukewarm water can tighten pores and cuticles which will prevent clogging of dirt. Moreover, cold showers serve to diminish dandruff by flattening hair follicles and strengthening their rooting with the scalp.

Despite the continually perpetuated belief that ‘cold temperature exposure causes flu-colds’, the science refutes this misconception. Cold water immersion in fact has been shown to improve one’s immunity and emotional resilience. The stoked metabolism is thought to create additional white blood cells and, perhaps the most important antioxidant, glutathione. This is a crucial adaptive response to frequent oxidative stress, and thus serves to reduce your likelihood of infection or illness. Rather impressively, acute cold exposure also mimics the anti-ageing benefits associated with intermittent fasting and/or caloric restriction, brought about by a down regulation in mTOR pathways. In short, the profound common benefit of all these methodologies is the process of autophagy which cleans out metabolic junk within cells. As such, our cells become hardier and healthier.

Anecdotally, I have found cold showers to significantly improve my mood, even to the point of dancing like a fool while getting dressed post-shower. I even find myself involuntarily giggling and smiling in the aftermath of the slight noradrenaline rush; you will find your energy soar through the roof. No, I am not weird – cold showers genuinely evoke a powerful sense of euphoria! A 2008 study alluded to the potentially analgesic effect cold showers may have for depression sufferers. Although the authors concede that further research was required, these implications are quite remarkable.

cold-water-thermogenesis

For my male readers, you will be encouraged to know that substantial scientific literature suggests a mild boost in testosterone. When the testes are subjected to temperatures that exceed the body’s homeostat of ~37 degrees celsius, specialised leydig cells (which convert cholesterol in to testosterone) become inefficient. Conversely, fertility has been observed at its peak in the colder months from a sample of 6455 males. This is due to elevated luteinising-hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) which act as precursors to testosterone production.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the most frequently touted purpose of cold hydrotherapy; that of speeding up recovery time from delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS). Ice baths, and hot-cold showers have been employed by sports teams and athletes for eons, and to great effect. Increased circulation of blood to the outer extremities is known to flush away metabolic waste products while distributing nutrients to the cells. Cold thermogenesis, like exercise, induces arterial & veinous dilation by virtue of the endothelial nitric oxide which lines blood vessels.

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So, I hope that this article has inspired you to consider turning the hot shower knob to the left. As you can probably tell, I am a HUGE advocate of cold water immersion and believe the profundity of its benefits go largely unacknowledged. Some consider cold thermogenesis as the true ‘the fountain of youth’. I have only been performing 3-5 minutes of cold showers (after 1-2 minutes of warm water) for the last few months, and trust me when I say it has had an immensely positive effect on me holistically. Turn your music up and allow the cold stream of goodness to fully contact your brown fat zones!

NB: Cold showers may not be a sensible idea for people with:

1. Pre-existing heart conditions (You will notice a much faster heartbeat in the acute stages).

2. High blood pressure (blood pressure and blood glucose are elevated via sympathetic, or ‘fight & flight’, nervous system)

Thanks for reading, and let me know how you go! Remember, it is merely the thought of the cold shower that deters most people…NOT the experience itself.

-Jonny.