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The Game Changer of Male Vitality: A Primer On Natural Testosterone Optimisation

Hear the word testosterone, and 99% of people will automatically link it to aggression, violence, and a whole host of other undesirable traits. This is understandable given that social media is saturated with stupendously big, vascular, aggressive bodybuilders; but these guys are usually pumping themselves with supraphysiological amounts of artificial testosterone, to gorilla status.

 

testosterone-molecular-diagram

Testosterone is the major male sex hormone, but found in both men and women. It is mainly synthesised in male testes and female ovaries, but a small amount is also produced in the pancreas. In healthy populations, males should have 7-10 times more T than females, but this ratio is declining by the day with an unprecedented prevalence in obesity and other concomitant lifestyle habits.

Later, this article will be outlining practical ways in which we can naturally optimise our endogenous testosterone levels, and how doing so could change your life.

Although it is the predominant male sex hormone, associated with masculinity, testosterone positively affects the quality of life (QOL) in both males and females.

Yes, this post is mostly directed at the lads reading this. However, before the lady audience abandons the rest of the article, I want to allay any preconceived ideas you may have; and allow you to perhaps glean a few things you can share with your male friends 🙂

An imbalance between testosterone/cortisol may well manifest itself as low libido, stubborn body fat, unexplained lethargy, and general apathy with everyday activities.

If you can identify with these symptoms, it would be prudent to get a blood test done to confirm any imbalance, as I feel hormones are often the underlying reason why people are not reaching their fitness goals.

 

Healthy testosterone levels help to:

… Only to name a few of its positive effects.

Put simply, testosterone is an elixir of well-being!

 

Why am I so passionate about hormone optimisation, and particularly testosterone? And why should readers deem my word as tenable on this topic?

MY STORY (in brief)… How I Bounced Back From Rock-Bottom

Those who know me well are aware that I place a great deal of importance on hormonal health, but few know the story behind my disposition.

Through primary school and high school, up until late 2011, I had excelled at various sports requiring power and strength; while physically developing at an expected (or slightly faster than expected) rate for my age. In 2010, I won my football club’s BnF; my tennis club championships; and inter-school triple & long jumps. Puberty was running its natural course during this time, and I was gradually getting bigger, stronger and faster.

Coming in to the twilight years of high school, I decided to channel most of my energy and time in to study, so ultimately dropped all sport but running. At this point in time I was 70kg, and had just won $100 in a 5km fun run. I ultimately settled on running due to its inherent time-efficiency, simplicity, and the fact it was a nice psychological release from studies.

After winning this race, and the yearning to win more races that ensued, I started running every day while developing a somewhat unhealthy preoccupation with eating only ‘clean’/unprocessed foods. In the space of a year, my weekly mileage had increased and I was consistently training at sunrise before school; often back-ending the day with a ‘strength training’ session (naively performing countless exercises for 15+ repetitions).

By the end of 2012, I had faded in to a 58kg little boy. Naturally, my family and friends were concerned for me but knew I was sensitive and vehemently in denial about my deleterious habits.

I eventually conceded to my family’s genuine worry, and arranged a check up with the GP. A blood test was conducted, and the results I received 3 days later were exceptional. My serum testosterone count had registered 14ng/dl.

To give you some perspective, the ‘normal’ range for males is 300-1000; and 15-70ng/dl for women. I essentially had zero testosterone running through my veins.

I was absolutely horrified by my results, and even the doctor was befuddled by these unprecedented results. Never, had I been so shattered in my life. Here I was, an 18 year-old male who had no strength, minimal confidence, no assertiveness or decisiveness; and ultimately no passion for the things I previously loved.

It took me a number of weeks to come to terms with the fact I was responsible for plummeting my T to a negligible level, at an age where testosterone should naturally be sky-high. In hindsight, almost every aspect of my lifestyle at the time contributed to my disastrous bloodwork:

-Minimal rest & recovery with either endurance training or studying around the clock

-Boycotting many social events in order to ‘maximise my year 12 VCE results’

-Chronic calorie deficit (energy intake being far less than the energy my body required to maintain weight)

-Inanely minimising healthy fat sources & starchy carbohydrates, instead opting mostly for fibrous vegetables and protein… (endurance training + high protein (ala Atkins-style) diet lends itself to losing both fat and muscle; far from ideal)

 

I was quickly referred to an endocrinologist (hormone specialist) who did not hesitate in offering me testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). He showed no hope for my capacity to naturally restore my T, so instead prescribed the potent, smelly goo known as ‘androgel’. It perplexed me how a ‘specialist’ like this could just dismiss the need to explore the root cause of my deficiency.

I tried the gel for a few days, because I didn’t know better, but I could not bear the thought of being reliant for the rest of my life on artificial hormones, when I was only a kid. I threw the prescription out ambivalently, but with an immense drive to naturally correct my problem.

This was the turning point…The monumental wake-up call I needed to re-evaluate my lifestyle at the time. It was thus, I set about devouring as much research as I could on natural testosterone optimisation, and developed an unwavering passion for endocrine health.

Fast-forward to today, and my testosterone is on the high-end of the normal range; I weigh 85kg at 9% body fat; stronger than I’ve ever been with ample energy. I can safely say that I am very proud of my turn-around over the last few years, I am extremely glad I could do so of my own accord, naturally.

It wasn’t easy, and didn’t change overnight, but my accumulated knowledge of hormone optimisation facilitated this gradual transformation. It would also be remiss of me not to mention an awesome dude called Christopher Walker (from the USA), who had been in my shoes at a similar age and provided timely hope of naturally restoring my health.

I even deferred my Physiotherapy studies for a year to pursue Medicine, and ultimately specialise in endocrinology (although I ended up continuing Physio, doing my own research regarding hormone optimisation).

Anyhow, TRT is at its highest rate of prescription in the developed world, currently, and I believe most of these prescriptions are handed out prematurely…Before the root causes (lifestyle factors) have been adequately addressed. The thing about TRT is that if one decides to go on it, their endogenous hormone production will shut down. The physiology of our endocrine system is beyond the scope of this article, but essentially our pituitary gland (chief hormone regulator) realises we are receiving an external source of the hormone, and goes to sleep. Even after weaning off TRT, the pituitary gland may never fully function as it did prior to the therapy, so it is a decision that should not be taken lightly.

 

Basically, my focus over the years has been on optimising my hormones, rather than directly trying to improve my body composition . Correcting hormonal deficiencies will translate in to attaining a strong, robust physique, so this is crucial to note.

 

 

 

Running Myself In To The Ground, 2012
Running Myself In To The Ground, 2012…58kg
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Today, 85kg And Training Correctly

 

Now, there are many, many tips I could provide you to raise your own testosterone, but I will give you 5 significant ones so that this article doesn’t get too big!

 

  1. Perform Power-Based Exercises

This was the game-changer for me. Up until 2013, I had been running 7 days a week for prolonged bouts of sub-maximal intensity efforts. I thought I was addressing strength with 3X weekly gym sessions but, not only was I working in the wrong rep/set ranges, my nervous system was fried from all the endurance work I was doing and thus made strength gain impossible.

A training program incorporating either ballistic (plyometric) based exercise, and/or heavy weight training will stimulate the neuromuscular system in a profound way, such that significant post-exercise increases in growth hormone (GH) and testosterone occurs.

This kind of training usually requires at least 36 hours of recovery time between bouts, so in order to preserve the quality/explosivity of your training, I would suggest training in this manner every other day (3-4Xweekly). Enjoy a brisk walk as active recovery on rest days.

-> Prioritise heavy compound lifts that recruit a greater number of muscle fibres (i.e deadlifts, squats, chin-ups, standing press, bench press); and free weights over machines

-> Perform the movements as quickly/explosively as you can with weights that allow you to perform 4-10 repetitions. Stop as soon as you feel your form compromising and/or the risk of missing the next repetition.

->If you enjoy running, you can substitute 1-2 of the strength training sessions for a series of windsprints (~50metres), with ample recovery (walking) between each effort. Aim to work up to 10-15 quality reps at 95% effort.

->If you are an endurance athlete (though I do not advocate this pursuit for optimising T), the damage can be attenuated by the order in which you concurrently train your endurance and strength (if doing more than one session a day). This study demonstrated a greater spike in testosterone when endurance training preceded strength training, rather than the other way around.

 

2. Appreciate The Power Of Consistently Deep Sleep

If someone asked me what I believe the most important supplement available to improve health is, I would unequivocally say sleep. Chronic sleep deficiency is linked to a plethora of diseases, yet it isn’t addressed anywhere near as much as other modifiable lifestyle factors like smoking or fast food consumption.

In this study, a group of older men doubled their testosterone levels with ~4 more hours of deep sleep, compared to the control group. This averaged out to 15% more T with every extra hour of sleep.

Sadly, the great majority of us are sabotaging quality sleep with our social media addictions. The modern bedroom has become inundated with blue light-emitting technology, impeding our production of ‘the sleep hormone’ melatonin. This hormone, emitted by the pineal gland in our brain, essentially reduces the time it takes for us to fall asleep and enhances the quality of our sleep. Also, the darker your room while sleeping, the stronger your melatonin production.

To maximise my quality of sleep, I:

  • Wear orange glasses that filter out blue light, ideally as soon as the sun goes down
  • Switch off my phone while sleeping
  • Don’t have a led-light clock in my bedroom
  • Try to maintain a sleep routine of ~11pm-7am
  • Installed f.lux on my laptop and phone (an app that reduces blue light emissions)
  • Don’t consume caffeine after 2pm (excluding green tea because it contains theanine, which negates the caffeine response)

 

Reserve the bedroom for sleep and sex, only, and watch your T levels (and health) rise.

 

sleep-dark-room

 

3. Supplement Wisely

While good sleep trumps all other nutraceutical supplements on the market, there are a handful of these that I would recommend to boost T & QOL. There aren’t many scientifically proven supplements available, but the following have consistently demonstrated efficacy in human studies:

Vitamin D deficiency is more common than most believe, with >30% of Aussie adults falling at least mildly short of their daily quota. Even if you aren’t necessarily deficient, non-optimal levels of vitamin D may be limiting your testosterone and health potential.

Many don’t realise that this vitamin is in fact a hormone, playing a major role in the conversion of cholesterol to testosterone in leydig cells (testes).

This study showed how simple supplementation with a vitamin D tincture could raise T by ~25%. A nice summary of scientific articles backing this supplement can be found here.

I believe it is a necessity to supplement with vitamin D in winter, especially. I take this Vitamin D3 tincture made by Thorne Fx, through iHerb.

  • ZINC

Hard-training athletes are at highest risk of deficiency in this micronutrient, but stressful lifestyles also deplete our zinc levels.

Supplementation with zinc can preserve both total and free testosterone during times of harder training. This study showed 3mg/kg to work in elite wrestlers.

I usually buy this zinc by life extension, as most studies favour zinc citrate for its benefits.

  • ASHWAGANDHA (‘Withania somnifera’)

I came across this herb in 2014, and was amazed by its immediate stress-relieving effects. A herb dating back to ancient Ayurvedic practices in India, it is an ‘adaptogen’ (a term denoting an aid that helps the body maintain homeostasis during imposed stresses).

The main mechanism by which ashwagandha improves testosterone is given by its cortisol-lowering property. Cortisol & testosterone are opposing forces in the body, just like the yin & yang concept; cortisol breaks down tissue, whereas testosterone builds new tissue.

This study shows a 40% increase in testosterone with 5g (or 500mg extract) of ashwagandha taken daily.

Barlowe’s Elixirs make an impressive extract here.

 

4. Practice Some Form Of Mindfulness

It was only after I implemented mindfulness practice in 2014 that I experienced significantly greater calmness in everyday life. Combining mindfulness with ashwagandha may reap potent dividends for your psychological well-being.

A study conducted on medical students suggested a significant stress-lowering capacity in those who practiced mindfulness for 4 days (by virtue of cortisol suppression).

I try to listen to Eckhart Tolle’s ‘Practising The Power of Now’ while walking in nature, daily.

 

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5. Revise Your Diet (Do Not Eschew Fat Or Carbohydrates)

All macronutrients play unique roles in our body composition and health, but I feel people go wrong when they vilify one of these in lieu of another.

Yes, it is important to maintain a high intake of protein (~1g/lb of body weight) for muscle protein synthesis and satiety. However, fat and carbohydrates are the most important macronutrients when it comes to optimising testosterone.

Many studies have positively correlated fat (particularly saturated fat) with higher testosterone levels, with this particular paper suggesting a diet comprising 40% of fat as superior to 20% fat intake.

Choose monounsaturated and cholesterol-rich foods, such as olive oil & eggs. Olive oil can assist in converting cholesterol in to testosterone in the testes.

Other studies have shown reductions in T when carbohydrates are replaced with protein.

Ultimately, I would advise consuming as much protein as you can without lowering your intakes of fat and CHO to <30% of your daily intake. Whole food sources where possible as they will ensure greater satiety, micronutrients, and better health in the long-run.

eggs-fun-fact

 

Thank you for reading my story, and getting this far. I hope it was insightful for you all, and I wanted to illustrate that my journey has by no means been without its hardships. The hardships have made my improvements much more fulfilling, though.

P.S. Get a blood test done if you are not entirely satisfied with your mood, energy, and general health – both the ladies & gents. Get your hormones right, and everything else will fall in place with much less effort.

I am happy to work with you one-on-one if you would like some guidance.

Healthy regards,

Jonny.

 

 

 

 

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.

SetWidth300-Breakfast

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 😉

 

carbs-at-night

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

Meditation-the-Brain

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 Unsexy Truth About Enhancing Your Health & Fitness: 2 Vital Tools That Everyone Should Already Be Using

 

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Accountability breeds consistency breeds results.

The new year has begun, and millions upon millions of people around the world have commenced ambitious personal resolutions. Whether it be saving a greater percentage of one’s financial income; devoting more time to family; or losing weight for an upcoming wedding; a mere ~8% of people actually attain them (University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, 2015).
Sorry to be the bearer of that daunting statistic, but I believe this overwhelming lack of fulfilment when it comes to New Year goal-setting is due to the absence of accountability. I, myself, have been guilty of this too, in the past, but am now fully cognisant of the necessity to quantify progress.
You are undoubtedly here because you are conscientious of your own health and/or fitness, and share my own yearning for continual self-improvement. As such, I commend you for taking this initiative, and I only want to help you crush your health goals for 2016! It will be a year of complete accountability of your progress, and avoidance of extreme diet approaches that are inherently unsustainable. Accountability and concomitant consistency will perhaps never constitute a best-seller in the health aisle at your local Dymocks, but they will always trump the latest, most glamorous paradigms.
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In this article, I will put forth two tools that were the fundamental catalysts in my own success over the last 36 months. As simple as they may seem, especially given the fitness industry’s asseveration of extreme methodologies, they will (almost) ALWAYS yield positive results. The disclaimer to this previous statement is, however, that they need to be habituated (which may take anywhere between 3 weeks-2 months, depending on intrinsic motivation and bio-psycho-social factors). But, intrinsic motivation should be a non-issue because 2016 is going to be our year, right?! Right.
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  1. The ‘MyFitnessPal’ App.
It is safe to say that the majority of people either massively over-estimate or under-estimate the amount of calories they are consuming, and are clueless as to the macronutrient breakdown of various products. THE most important factor in both fat loss and muscle gaining goals is the numbers pertaining to the difference in energy expended & energy consumed, on a daily basis. The quality of foods you eat will help to curb your appetite, thus making an energy deficit (fat loss) or slight energy surplus (mass gain) more attainable. This is one major reason why I do not advocate an ‘if it fits your macros (IIFYM)’ mentality, although some people report success (and are even dogmatic) with this style of eating.
I consider the hierarchy of importance within the nutrition sphere, for body composition purposes, to be:
Calories (energy in VS. energy out) > Macronutrients & timing/frequency > Micronutrition > Supplements. I endeavour to post about my approach to macronutrients shortly.
MyFitnessPal is a fantastic mobile application which conveniently calculates your daily calorie requirements (based on weight, age, activity level), and hosts an extensive database of foods/beverages. I have used MyFitnessPal consistently from 2013-present, and in this time I have gained 22kg of healthy/lean weight whilst minimising fat gain (indicated by a recent body fat calliper test of 9.1%); this app ensured consistency to a modest daily calorie surplus (consuming 300-600 calories more than I expended in a day).
While the accuracy of food breakdowns in this app is reliable, the calculation of an individual’s daily energy expenditure (DEE) is a completely different beast and is rarely precise. This is due to inevitable variations in non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), levels of leanness, metabolism, to name but a few. Thus, you may need to make adjustments early in your journey as dictated by a weekly scales measurement.
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Now, I accept that some people reading this will retort to the tune of, “This seems too laborious, having to track everything I eat!” OR “Isn’t this a bit obsessive?!”.
To this crowd, I have a few thoughts that you must ponder before closing the door on this essential tool:
  • Once you have entered your food consumption for a few days, the process becomes rather quick and routine.
  • After a few weeks of measuring food volumes, you can ‘eyeball’ it and be quite accurate (NB: it is a good idea to overestimate the volume for those seeking fat loss, and underestimate for those seeking muscle gain).
  • Even if you do not use it for more than a week, it will instil in you a greater awareness of the amount & quality of foods you are eating. You will therefore make more informed decisions that are aligned with your health/weight goals.
  • If you are truly seeking to enhance your body composition, and see credence in my opinion, you will adhere to the use of this app (for the sake of a few minutes a day).
As mentioned earlier, I am going to be posting an article on macronutrients in the near future, but for now I will suggest to aim for a healthy split between the major food groups:
carbohydrates/protein/fats: ~33%/33%/33% or 40/30/30%. This is roughly where I sit at the end of a day, and have had success with for over 2 years, but personal preferences and/or health condition(s) may sway this in favour of one nutrient over the other. In saying this, I believe most ‘healthy’ (disease-free) people are best with a balanced macronutrient profile.
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Lastly, before I move on to #2, MyFitnessPal is free! You must at least download it and give it a chance for a week!
2. A Training Diary
Just as we should quantify our food intake regularly to see steady progress, a training logbook is indispensable for consistent gains in any fitness marker. I am sure we have all been witness to many of our fellow gym acquaintances, year after year, going through the motions and either remaining the same or gradually degenerating.
This ultimately boils down to the fact that they do not record their training sessions, and so do not have clear objectives to work towards every time they decide to train. By a similar token, many people are sensible in carrying out a structured program with goals, but they are periodically deviating from one routine to another, preoccupied with finding that elusive (non-existent!) fitness ‘panacea’.
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Health & fitness should be simplified, and a simple training program that is easy to monitor is imperative for long-term success in this game. I have followed only three training programs over the last 3 years, and only when I hit a plateau do I consider oscillating between these routines.
This approach has led to my own improvement from: a 60kg max deadlift to 200kg; assisted chin-ups to +40kg chin-ups; 50kg bench press to 110kg. I am using strength training as an example as this has been the nature of my training in this time, but the principles I mention work for any feat of athleticism/fitness.
How can one expect to measure their progress if they are haphazardly recalling last week’s training numbers, or constantly improvising? This is insanity. Do not be insane in 2016! Be very specific with where you want to be by the end of the year, patient, and accountable. Six-pack abs are not made visible over night, or even in a matter of weeks (IF that’s your goal! :P).
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I carry a small exercise book and pen with me around the gym at all times, because I am old-school like that, but if that is too much of a hassle then consider your smartphone. MyFitnessPal can also be used, but I prefer to solely use it for nutrition.
Furthermore, having your recently logged sessions readily available serves as a tremendous motivator to achieve one extra repetition; or 2.5kg extra weight for a given work set; or completing your 1km intervals in 5 seconds less.
I do not know anybody who honestly wants to settle for stagnant progress, and to not strive for minor increments of improvement. A training diary is a simple, inexpensive, oft-overlooked tool that facilitates this.
I have found a training diary also beneficial in alleviating decision-fatigue, which can diminish strength and impede consistency. Jot down how much sleep you had prior to the session, whether you trained fed or fasted, the execution of technique, etc. This way, relationships between variables are easily identifiable and one can determine how they best operate.
If you haven’t already been monitoring your progress with a logbook, get on to it ASAP and watch the gains unfold!
Final thoughts
Although this is not an exciting topic by any means, these utilities are vital in keeping you accountable over the coming months. Nevertheless, with time your results WILL be exciting. We are all guilty of gravitating towards seemingly ‘quick-fixes’ in our journey towards enhanced health and appearance, but we should endeavour to be consistent with a basic approach over an extended period of time. Quantifiable progress is the name of this game. Let’s make 2016 an unprecedented year of personal bests and self-fulfilment.
Healthy regards and Happy New Year,
Jonny.

10 Not-So-Conventional Foods/Supplements That Will Help You Slash Fat This Summer

The warmer months are upon us, which means less clothing and more skin-bearing! It is a time where people undoubtedly want to look their best, yet may be ruminating regretfully over the undisciplined Winter of comfort eating. Well, if you fall into this majority of people that accumulates a bit of extra baggage over the Winter months and are seeking to lean up a bit coming into ‘Beach Season’, this article should be of interest to you!

Rather than just regurgitate run-of-the-mill, bland health foods that circulate the fitness discussion forums, I will outline 10 foods/supplements that I personally consume on a regular basis AND believe will greatly assist you in improving your body composition. These are items that, I believe, fly under the radar given their health & fat loss-inducing potential.

1.Cinnamon

For the last year or so, cinnamon powder has been a staple of mine not only because it tastes amazing but because of its inherent blood-glucose stabilising ability. In other words, cinnamon improves our insulin sensitivity to the extent that it significantly aids our body in metabolising glucose. This property has been exhibited in both pre-diabetic and type-2 diabetic populations, and is associated with a decreased likelihood of acquiring type 2 diabetes. Quite impressively, insulin has also shown to offset the harmful effects of a high fat/high fructose diet by virtue of increased brain insulin signalling and a neuroprotective function. Other recent studies have demonstrated liver fat reduction and total body weight loss.

This unassumingly healthy brown powder is a MUST for fat loss goals, and it is prudent to pair it with any carbohydrate-rich meal. I buy this cinnamon powder, in bulk from iHerb.

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2.Beetroot (NOT tinned beetroot*)

When a food exudes such a rich colour, and houses a juice so strong that it stains everything, your intuition tells you it is powerful. Beetroot, in reference to the root vegetable, has consistently proven to lower blood pressure by 3-10mm/hg over an extended time period. This is due to the large amount of nitrates contained within it; this compound elevates nitric oxide (NO) in humans, which acts as a dilator of blood vessels. Thus, beetroot helps with peripheral blood circulation, and can attenuate endothelial impairment after a high-fat meal.

For the runners reading this, you will be excited to know that increasing evidence is indicative of beetroot being a performance-enhancer. Once again, this is due to its nitrates, and they elicited a 5% improvement in 5km running times while decreasing perceived exertion…How cool is that? I personally consumed 500ml of beetroot juice prior to a 5km race earlier this year, and performed better than I anticipated!

Beetroots also have a lot of water-soluble fibre, and so have a gentle laxative-effect. If you have tried cooked whole beetroot before, you will identify with this 😉

1416137411_Beetroot in mid July

3.Creatine Monohydrate

While technically not a food, creatine is one supplement that EVERYONE can benefit from. Creatine is an organic acid that the human body stores in small amounts, and it regenerates the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP) after creating phosphocreatine (PC).

Yes, creatine is associated with bodybuilding (lean mass gains) and strength training, but this inexpensive white substance is also a cognitive enhancer! This is of particular importance to vegetarians, as red meat is the primary dietary source from which we can obtain creatine. This study demonstrated superior cognitive function in vegetarians who supplemented with creatine, when compared to the control group.

Creatine also seems to enhance our work capacity, so is associated with greater muscular endurance.

All in all, this is ‘The Boss’ of supplements that ticks all criteria. I buy this creatine monohydrate – consume 1 teaspoon daily.

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4.White potatoes

It saddens me to periodically see articles that demonise the humble white potato. Yes, a boiled white potato contains a glycaemic index (GI) of ~100, which is considerably high and indicates that it may spike blood glucose if consumed alone. This one fact that nutritionists use to denigrate the potato, however, is made redundant, when we consider what we eat alongside it – who doesn’t eat their potatoes with a meat or healthy fat source? Exactly. The GI of a food is significantly lowered when we simultaneously consume protein and/or fat. While I personally prefer the taste of sweet potato, I consume a tonne of white potatoes because I view them as equivalent overall in terms of health and the latter is generally cheaper. If you were wanting to know the macronutrient differences; the white potato contains less calories, higher protein, and less carbohydrates per 100g.

Now, when boiled in its jacket, the white potato has topped an extensive list of foods to claim the highest satiety ranking. Satiety of foods is perhaps the most important consideration when formulating a diet aimed to lose fat/weight. We become full with less food, so are more likely to be in an energy deficit by the end of the day, and subsequently lose fat.

White potatoes contain nearly every vitamin and mineral, in generous quantities, boasting a wider spectrum of micronutrients than its orange counterpart. But… you MUST consume them with their skin on as this houses most of the nutrients.

If you want to make your potato even more healthy, cooling it after it has been cooked materialises a few grams of resistant starch. This is an indigestible starch which is converted into short-chain fatty acids in the intestinal bacteria and promotes healthy gut flora. Resistant starch has gathered tremendous momentum in the nutrition research realm in recent years, and is now deemed unequivocally beneficial.

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5.Brazil Nuts

We hear endlessly how great almonds and walnuts are for us, but neither of these foods contain adequate amounts of a nutrient many of us are unknowingly deficient in: selenium. Just 2-3 Brazil nuts boasts 400% of our daily quota for selenium, and alleviates deficiency of this vital mineral.

Why is selenium so important? It is required to produce the thyroid hormone T4 which, once converted to its bioactive T3 form, regulates our metabolism. If we are low in selenium, a sluggish metabolism is inevitable and so fat accumulation is heightened. Moreover, one big dose (obtained from brazil nuts) significantly reduced inflammatory markers. This is mostly due to selenium’s function in synthesising glutathione, the most potent antioxidant in the human body. We want to mitigate chronic inflammation because it is a pre-cursor to many diseases.

Brazil nut consumption has also been shown to restore cognitive function in older adults, which is quite exciting.

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6.Lamb’s Fry/Liver (and organ meats)

Most people claim that they “do not enjoy the taste of organ meats”, but it is undeniably the thought of consuming such parts of animals that is aversive. I initially had this mentality towards lamb’s fry until I discovered that it is literally nature’s multivitamin, so convinced myself to trial it. Because the liver’s function is that of detoxification, it hosts a plethora of important nutrients (vitamins A, K, C, B12) that aid in fulfilling this function. Most notably, however, is that 100g of lamb liver contains a whopping 1500% of our daily vitamin B12 requirement. The B12 vitamin is crucial for our nerve cell health, and blood formation.

Macronutrient-wise, liver is akin to beef rump steak which is also 10 times more expensive and less nutrient-dense. If you are looking to be healthy or gain muscle on a budget, this is top of the tree.

I still find it hard to believe that I can purchase ~1.2kg of grass-fed lamb liver for $2 at my local butcher. I tend to fry it with garlic, onion and coconut oil, and believe me when I say it tastes incredible! One needs to dissociate the ‘organ meat’ label though to truly enjoy this acquired taste.

All in all, lamb liver is unbelievably cheap; unparalleled in nutrient-density; and highly-satisfying when cooking it as described above. Get adventurous and explore the wonderful world of organ meats!

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7.Hot Chilli Sauce

Just to spice things up (heh), I thought I would throw in a condiment that can easily transform a meal and melt fat for several hours thereafter. Although it is not for everyone, and we each tolerate spice to different extents, I want you to at least understand how effective a bit of chilli can be in fat loss.

Capsaicin, the spicy compound in chilli which gives it its red pigment, invariably boosts one’s metabolism and carbohydrate oxidation. This cool effect is maintained for ~3 hours after consuming a spicy meal.

Similar to white potatoes, chilli increases the satiety index of a meal which diminishes appetite. That poses as a potent fat-loss combination: increased metabolism & suppressed appetite.

One very interesting article, for the male audience particularly, positively correlated testosterone levels with spice tolerance! Start training gentlemen, and endeavour to work up to the ‘ghost pepper’ from India (401.5 X more hot than tabasco) 😉

Personally, I buy the Byron Bay Chilli Co.’s Extra Hot sauce, but am currently looking for something with more heat.

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8.Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)

Yes, another supplement, but WPC is as convenient as it is effective in fat loss & muscle protein synthesis.

I would first like to allay people’s fear of ‘consuming too much protein’, as to impair kidney function. A series of recent peer-reviewed studies, emerging from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN), concluded that protein consumption up to even 3.4grams/kg of bodyweight had null effect on the kidneys in both men and women. Compounding this positive outcome was the statistically significant improvement in body composition in the high-protein group, when compared to a normal-protein group. Excessive protein intake only poses a threat to individuals with pre-existing kidney conditions, so be liberal with your protein intake folks! Protein is the most satiating macronutrient of all, far-surpassing fat and carbohydrate in this regard.

Now, in an ideal world we would consume all of our protein through whole foods, but I am an advocate for protein supplementation via powder as it is:

-Convenient in today’s fast-paced society

-Tasty, especially in a smoothie (which I enjoy most mornings)

-Easily portable, if on the road

-Good value, when buying in bulk

I have also selected WPC rather than Whey Protein Isolate (WPI), even though people tend to esteem WPI higher for its more rapid assimilation. I don’t believe this is important though, as Aragon & Schoenfeld (2013) recently published a systematic review that is suggestive of extending the ‘post-workout anabolic window’ to ~5-6 hours. WPC is considerably cheaper than WPI, and is slightly less processed.

As such, I purchase this WPC from NZ grass-fed cows. I choose ‘Professional Whey’ because they endorse stevia, a natural sweetener which has healthy properties, as opposed to the more prevalent sucralose which has been linked to neuro-toxic effects in rats.

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9.Low-fat Cheddar Cheese

I am a big advocate for cheese because it is inherently tasty, contains dairy fat, and large doses of calcium. However, if you eat large quantities of cheese like I do, it is wise to choose the light cheddar so that fat intake is not disproportionately high. I opt for Bega’s 50%-reduced fat cheese (which contains 4g fat & 8.6g protein per 20g serving). 8.6 grams of protein derived from a small 20g serving is impressive, and we should all now be cognisant of the fat loss elixir that is protein.

The myth that full-fat dairy causes heart disease has been debunked in recent years, and in fact reversed to now scrutinise low-fat dairy as an unhealthy food. Conjugated-linoleic-acid (CLA) and phytanic acid, natural trans fats in dairy, have been inversely associated with obesity risk, and elicit lowered triglycerides, blood glucose, and risk of many diseases.

Calcium increases fat excretion, and is a mineral that is non-toxic in even huge amounts. Similarly, extra dietary calcium has been linked to elevated testosterone levels in males, and this anabolic hormone is indisputably powerful in positive body re-composition (fat loss, lean mass gain).

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10.Soda/Mineral Water

I believe much of Australia’s obesity endemic is due to sugary drinks which are nutrient-void and promote further consumption. Drinking empty calories, as such, is a toxic habit that has observably become ingrained in Australian families.

Soda water is a very cheap drink that is versatile and highly-satiating. This 0-calorie beverage is fantastic to simultaneously suppress hunger and hydrate you. It should be a fixture in your fridge, and if weight loss is your goal this should be your first choice of drink. Add some ice, and squeeze a lemon slice in there, and you have a darn refreshing, absolutely healthy filler. Soda water is a must when mixing with liquors too; you don’t want to be combining sugar-laden juices with straight liquor…that is a recipe for fat gain. I find a few glasses of soda/lemon water in the morning goes down beautifully, and I find standard water somewhat unpalatable upon waking.

Stock up on carbonated water!

Well, what was initially meant to be a very brief post turned into a 2100-word article – if you read it all, I commend you, and hope you learnt something new. I hope that these foods can assist you with attaining your physique goals this Summer!

Ironically, I write this piece just prior to my travels in freezing-cold Japan, where I will definitely not be bearing much skin! 😀

Healthy regards,

Jonny.

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The Profound Ripple Effect of Strength Training

PRELUDE

Before I begin, let’s be clear on what I mean when I mention ‘strength training’:

I am not talking about bodybuilding or ‘pump’ training, which stimulates puffy muscle and some degree of strength gains. This type of training is generally high volumes of 8-15 repetition sets, often comprising super-sets (immediate succession) with another exercise.

While bodybuilding training has its purpose for those competing, I feel it should be reserved for this small population of people (unless of course you want to build superficial mass and thus not maximise your strength and/or power-to-weight potential). Moreover, higher repetition training with sub maximal loads can be an appropriate choice for those of us with joint issues, who cannot tolerate higher loads.*

Proper strength training is resistance training that stimulates the neuromuscular (NM) system in a significant and meaningful way. This is usually achieved with a weight that is only able to be moved between 3-8 repetitions (reps). Training at such a high intensity necessitates a 3-4 minute recovery between sets to prime the nervous system for subsequent efforts.

The NM system is similarly strengthened by short, infrequent, sprints that are carried out at near maximal effort.

Challenging the NM system in this fashion is important because it increases the frequency and number of action potentials that stimulate muscle fibres. Moreover, lower rep ranges of high intensity induce myofibrillar hypertrophy and hormesis.

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Myofibrillar hypertrophy (hypertrophy = muscle growth) induces a dense look (muscle that is more sustainable and powerful), as the myofibril is the smallest contractile unit of a muscle fibre. This is in contrast to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which essentially constitutes the fluid-centric surroundings of the myofibril within a muscle fibre (giving a soft yet bulky look; this muscle is transient and will generally diminish if not active for a 5+ days).

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy can be useful for those wanting to ‘bring up’ a weak group or area of muscle(s), but if used as the foundation of a weights program will lead to PMS (‘puffy male syndrome’). This condition is commonplace in most suburban gyms, and is far from a desirable look…

Hormesis is a very important factor in anti-ageing, as it is the adaptive response to small doses of potentially toxic activities or substances. These things are potentially toxic in that they can kill a person if one’s exposure to it is prolonged. Hence, heavy resistance training alters our gene expression in an immensely positive way.

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CRUX OF THIS ARTICLE (MY RECENT ANECDOTE)

Prior to a recent running event that I participated in, I had held a certain hypothesis for a while, without looking to deeply in to it.

My hypothesis was this: strength training alone (even in the absence of cardiovascular-specific training; i.e running in this case) can drastically improve one’s endurance capacity. And on the other hand, endurance training does not contribute to heightened strength ability, but diminishes it (as I experienced first-hand).

Now, to give you some context before I elaborate…

Between 2011-2013 I became quite obsessed with middle-distance running, and the competition side of things. Up until 2010 I had a decent aerobic ability, but considered myself more power-based as I was somewhat talented at triple jump, sprinting & tennis.

From 2011 until the end of 2013 I was running 40-60km a week, seldom missing a day of training, although I did have an injury-induced hiatus here or there. I was good at middle-distance events, but nothing more by AthsVic’s (Athletics Victoria) lofty standards. I had PBs of 17.27 & 35 minutes for 5km & 10km, respectively, in cross country.

Achilles tendinopathy dampened my enjoyment from late 2011 onwards, as my weight wittled down to a meagre 58.5kg. Family members and close friends frequently commented with concern to my well-being, but I would retort with the erroneous mentality that ‘the lighter, the better’, and “all distance runners have my weight-to-height ratio”. This was true, but I neglected the fact that this applied to fully developed elite runners who were paid to perform at the highest level.

A skinny me in July 2012, after a 5km cross country PB
A skinny me in July 2012, after a 5km cross country PB

I was only 18 years old, competing in grassroots athletics, and naively taking running way too seriously.

Anyway, in light of my injury frustrations and the havoc wreaked on my adolescent hormones (I looked about 14 years old when I graduated from year 12), I put running on the back burner in August, 2013. Christopher Walker, an entrepreneurial neuroscientist from LA, had been in my shoes and offered me invaluable advice to get me back on the right path.

Since then, I have taken a very minimalistic approach to training, training 3 days a week. These training sessions are ~60 minutes of the aforementioned type of strength training, and I try to walk 30 minutes or so on the days I do not train. I am often guilty of sitting all day though, and know I should move more frequently! Also, I will go for a few windsprints (nothing more than 100metres with long recoveries) if I feel zesty – this is perhaps once a fortnight.

Two years on, since following the incredibly effective programs designed by my friend, Gregory O’Gallagher (of Kinobody)…

I am now 80kg (180cm), 8% body fat (from a recent calliper-test by a PT), and feeling better than ever.

My development is not the major reason for writing this post though.

I reluctantly decided to compete in the Airlie Beach Running Festival 5km last Sunday, after 23 months of exclusively heavy weight training and 21.5kg extra baggage. Apart from one 3km jog done 3 days prior the event, I had not jogged more than 100 metres in one given instance.

I say ‘reluctantly’ because I usually hate doing things that I am not prepared for! This was foreign territory for me.

There I was at the start line, a beautifully sunny Whitsundays morning nonetheless, pre-meditating the pain that I would incur. I was always going to try my best, because of my competitive nature, but in no way expected a sub-20 minute time.

For a fairly undulating course, I was pleasantly astounded by my time of 18.48 (3min45secs/kilometre), which placed me 3rd in a field of 215 people.

Post 5km-race on Sunday, at a more healthy 80kg
Post 5km-race on Sunday, at 80kg

Now, this time may not be impressive to the seasoned runner, but I feel it defies the law of specificity (to quite a large extent): which emphasises the importance of training in a way that simulates the event being trained for. My time was only 15 seconds per kilometre slower than my personal best, without running training.

Bulgarian Split squat with 40kg dumbbells for 5
Bulgarian Split squat with 40kg dumbbells for 5

I attribute one particular leg exercise, the ‘bulgarian split squat’, to the majority of the crossover effect of strength to endurance performance ability I experienced. This exercise is perhaps the closest exercise to running I have been doing, performing it once a week (3 sets: 5,6,8 reps; weight decreasing each set). Importantly, it is unilateral like running, and serves to maximally activate glute-quadriceps coordination and the deep core muscles.

Why does strength training, perceivably on the other end of the spectrum to endurance training, benefit endurance performance so profoundly?

  1. Resistance increases endurance via increased cardiac output (amount of blood ejected by the heart per minute). Cardiac output (Q) = stroke volume X heart rate, and strength training greatly enhances stroke volume by virtue of cardiac muscle hypertrophy, and ventricular volume.
  2. Resistance aids in lactic acid clearance. With every muscular contraction, breakdown of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) releases a hydrogen ion which can lead to an acidic cellular environment if not disposed of efficiently. Frequent resistance training accelerates the rate at which the H+ ion can be used by the mitochondria (aerobic powerhouse) to re-produce ATP. In short, aerobic energy production is facilitated.
  3. Resistance translates in to greater muscle motor-unit recruitment through action potential propagation. This is important because reduced action potential signalling is often a limiting factor in endurance events, when the nervous system fails to continually stimulate the desired muscle. In this instance, the muscles may still be capable, but they are not receiving the commands from the central governor (the central nervous system).

I write this article empathetically, both to those who think regular cardio (beyond the intensity of brisk walking) is the panacea for fat loss and body composition goals; and to those who fear adding too much ‘bulk’ will interfere with their endurance endeavours. The bulk misconception needs to be allayed, particularly for people who already train a lot.

A few strength training sessions substituted in for your runs will only benefit your progress. The truth is that your nutrition will determine how much added mass you gain, and I recall from my own experience how even 40km a week of running made it increasingly difficult to put on weight. While I lost a lot of weight, I was weak as hell and likely lost a proportional amount of muscle to fat.

It pains me to see older adults pounding either the treadmill or pavement day in, day out, going the same pace and intensity…Junk miles. Rather go for a nice, long walk or hike. I once dug myself this hole too, and with the privilege of retrospect, I would have ensured to establish a dichotomy between EASY and HARD days.

Dr Life, aged 70, has the right approach
Dr Life, aged 70, has the right approach

If I had my time again and was still competing in running events, I would run 2-3 quality sessions a week of near maximal effort, and supplement this with ~2 whole body weight training sessions, making sure to have a few easy days.

Strength training is even more-so apposite for the older population because of sarcopenia, age-related muscle loss. Sarcopenia is generally thought to cause a 1% loss of muscle per year after the age of 35, and is accelerated exponentially after 60.

Why would you want to accelerate this morbid process that drains your youthful muscle? Running at this middle-ground, sub-maximal effort is tremendously catabolic (breakdown of tissue). Infrequent bursts of high intensity efforts is anabolic and hormetic.

One should strive to enter their older adulthood with as much lean-mass as possible. This would undoubtedly contribute to enhanced quality of life in twilight years, and reduce the likelihood of incidents related to physical incompetence.

On a somewhat similar note, the constantly perpetuated myth that ‘your metabolism slows down as you age’ is only true if YOU slow down. Metabolism will remain high as long as we keep moving as much as possible. Incidental activity is a blessing.

Muscle mass will mostly be preserved if a few high quality resistance sessions are performed consistently. Gregory O’Gallagher’s philosophies have shown me that 2-3, 45 minutes sessions is all that is required. Of course, a wholesome diet will be paramount in whether or not connective tissue problems manifest themselves as one ages*.

If you have read to this point, I greatly appreciate your interest! I really hope that you can discern my intense passion for strength training, and are similarly surprised at how weight training can so impressively benefit endurance.

Healthy regards,

Jonny.

PS: Please email me with any ideas for future blog posts, or areas that interest you.