Ketogenic diets: How to make them work

Ketogenic diets: How to make them work

I have seen people get great results from a ketogenic diet plan. A keto or ketogenic diet is a very low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat diet, causing the body to produce fat from the liver called ‘ketones’ and relying on it as the primary energy source for fuel (ketosis). It has been shown to have benefits for weight loss, health and performance.  If you have been eating a diet based heavily on processed foods, flours and sugars, then you are surely guaranteed to get results, at least initially. But to have this diet work for you in the long term,  you need to avoid these pitfalls.

Even on a ketogenic diet, your fat choices matter. I have seen people on the Internet who view it as an opportunity for an all-you-can-eat pork, cream and lard fest. Regardless of whether you are holding up your fat ratios, the types of fat that exist in these foods aren’t healthy choices when consumed in such large quantities, unless you want to see your blood pressure sky rocket in record time. Use animal fats in moderation and emphasize getting your fats from different types of cold water fish (salmon, cod, mackerel) or from avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, etc.

Eating too much protein on a ketogenic diet is the #1 error I see people make on this diet. Ordinarily, I encourage people to up their protein intake, but doing this on a ketogenic diet is a mistake because you are relying on ketones for fuel. Protein (amino acids) can be turned into glucose through the liver (gluconeogenesis). So if you are eating too much protein, you end up using that fuel as stored glucose which makes maintaining a state of ketosis much more difficult. Keep your protein intake to no more than 25% of your total calorie intake per day.

Continue to watch your total calorie intake. Fortunately, ketogenic diets are very efficient at curbing your appetite once your body has adapted to them. So if you are suffering from the illusion that you are eating as much as you like without adding pounds, in actuality you are just satisfied with less food and ingesting less calories. There is a marginal metabolic advantage to eating a ketogenic diet, because you can eat a few extra calories without gaining fat, but it is not nearly enough to justify a daily all out binge. If you ingest significantly more calories than you use on a daily basis, you will gain weight.

If you want your ketogenic diet to work, avoid trying modified versions of this diet that you will run across on the Internet. The most popular one I have seen is where one high carbohydrate day a week is added to the plan. The idea being that you stay in ketosis for 6 days of the week and then you refuel with large portions of carbohydrates on the 7th day. The logic behind it is that if you are extremely active you will want to replenish your glycogen stores after a significant time with only a trace amount of carbohydrates in your system to improve overall performance.  The problem with this approach is that a significantly high carbohydrate meal (100 g or more) will decrease ketone production for the next 2 to 5 days thereafter. So you end up spending the remainder of each week attempting to re-establish what you started at the beginning of the week.

Even though these modified diets can work equally well for fat loss, you will end up feeling like garbage after the high carbohydrate day, and the carb cravings that accompany them the rest of the week make adherence to the diet extremely difficult. If you are going to attempt a ketogenic diet to improve your health and well being, you need to approach it as a lifestyle change, not just something you do a few days a week. Best of luck!

Tips for Losing or Gaining

Tips for Losing or Gaining

Based on my experience in the industry, women tend to want to lose weight and men tend to want to gain it. There are always exceptions to the rule, but this is the norm. Whether you want to lose or gain, give some of these suggestions a try and let me know how they work for you. I have tried them all and had quite a bit of success with them over the years.

This might sound a bit counter-intuitive, but if you are going out to eat, have a tablespoon of peanut butter and a piece of fruit before you jump in the car. If you are trying to keep your calories in check this will keep you from overeating. The last thing you want to do is binge out on dinner rolls and appetizers before the main course shows up. Having a small amount of food in your stomach beforehand will keep you from overeating.

If you don’t buy it, you can’t eat it. This is how most people end up falling off the wagon. The food is simply there, and in the pantry no less! So when the urge strikes, those Oreo cookies are only 10 steps away.  One little trick I have learned over the years is to NEVER EVER go to the grocery store hungry. That is a recipe for disaster. Go there satiated, make your list and stick to it.

Start eating more pickles!!!! Pickles are essentially a calorie-less food. So when you are ravenously hungry and craving something sodium laden, feel free to polish off as many dill pickles as you like. I have eaten more than my fair share when I’m at a restaurant waiting for my entree to arrive. It works like a charm.

If you are a naturally skinny guy, then you are going to need to eat A LOT of food to put on mass. A lot more than you are used to eating. Adding muscle mass is simply a form of progressive overload in the form of calories. You need to eat a little more than you did the previous day until eventually you reach your limit. Think anywhere from 16 to 20 times your body weight in calories.

I stole this tip from a colleague of mine. Fill a blender up with whole milk, protein powder, raw eggs, bananas, peanut butter, cocoa powder and some vanilla ice cream. You should be able pack in a good thousand calories in the blender. Have a few gulps after each meal throughout the course of the day. You will get in the extra calories you need without having to walk around bloated and nauseous all day.

Muscle Growth: More brains less brawn

Muscle Growth: More brains less brawn

There is definitely merit in training heavy, but if your goal is to add a lot of muscle, then the chances are that you are probably training TOO heavy. Most guys looking to put on a ton of size will tend to train like Bruce Lee and go all out every session like it’s their last. They want to kill it every time. A little hard work never hurt anyone, but in order to be effective, your workout needs to be as smart as it is hard.

If you’re serious about muscle growth, then you need to focus on mastering your technique on every lift you perform. This must be your #1 priority in every training session. You need perfect technique, full range of motion and continuous repetitions in the hypertrophy range (6 to 15 reps, preferably on the higher end of that number), where the tension never comes off the muscle. In order to train in this fashion you need to lift weights that you can control. That is likely a 10% decrease in poundage from what you are currently lifting.

I love working with motivated athletes where we get to perform explosive movements, plyometrics, mobility work and a lot of heavy lifts. This type of work will get you stronger and more agile for your chosen sport, but it is not going to do a lot to alter your overall physique. The physiques that are the most aesthetically pleasing to the eye rarely belong to those who lift the heaviest weights. These people choose weights they can control, train full body multi-joint movements, and keep rest periods short (60-90 seconds). Their training sessions are finished in 60 minutes or less.

Training mistakes happen with some of the most experienced trainees. There is very little tension created, no stretch and contract, tons of pausing, bouncing the weights for added momentum which places a ton of stress on the joint, and they are training beyond failure on every set. Failure is not when you can’t move the weight any more. It is when you can no longer move the weight with perfect technique. That is why you should always complete your sets by leaving one last rep in the tank.

The hardest sets to perform are the ones with explosive-like reps, constant maximal tension, and continuous movement with a slow negative on the descent. They get your heart pumping and your muscles burning. They are the type of sets that last between 40-70 seconds which are a lot harder than throwing up some dumbbells with zero tension, a pause at the top and bottom and you are done in 20 seconds or less. To perform sets that will really spur muscle growth is extremely hard work. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

In order to grow your muscles, you need a sufficient amount of volume, but you can’t train to physical exhaustion every time. That is how you can get sick, injured and depressed. Listen closely to your body. Success leaves clues.

Simple ways to burn more calories

Simple ways to burn more calories

Everyone who has tried to lose weight eventually hits a plateau. When it comes to dropping pounds, progress is far from being linear. 3 lbs down, 1 lb up, 2 lbs down and 1 lb up. That is why I tell my clients to weigh themselves once a month so they won’t be disappointed. And you will get a much more accurate feel for your progress. Don’t become one of those daily first-thing-in-the-morning scale steppers. That is a bipolar disorder waiting to happen.

If you’ve hit a snag and can’t seem to drop any more weight, you either need to eat a little less or burn more calories. For arguments sake, we will assume the latter. I am guessing you have cut back plenty on your daily intake. Besides, moving around and being active is a lot more enjoyable than further depriving yourself of food.

One of the simplest ways to burn more calories is to move more. Not exercise more, but move more. The human body is not designed to sit slouched over in a chair, day in and day out. Just making some small changes in your daily routine can have a great impact on your daily caloric expenditure. By implementing these small changes you can burn an extra couple of hundred calories daily. Over days, weeks and months that can add up to a lot of weight. Give some of these a try:

  1. Park at the far end of the parking lot so you are as far away as possible from the building entrance at work.
  2. Remove the word “elevator” from your vocabulary. It no longer exists. The stairs are your new mode of transportation.
  3. Lose the chair and stand up at your desk instead. Tell your boss you’d like to try out a stand up desk. Here are some examples.
  4. Dance. Find a bar where they have a live band. There is always a dance floor. Leave the bar stools to the barflys.
  5. Go on active vacations. Ski, snorkel or walk around all day and explore a new city. I have never seen anyone come back from Europe heavier than before they left.
  6. Have more sex.
  7. Walk to and from the supermarket. The weight of the groceries on the way back will require you to expend more energy.
  8. Go on active dates: walk around the city, go bowling, mini golfing.
  9. When you choose to attend a sporting event, go standing room only.
  10. Hit the mall. Go shopping and feel free to spend as much time there as you like. That’s hours on your feet.
Change is Hard – Part 2

Change is Hard – Part 2

Change is hard, but it is very doable with the right plan of attack. Last week I discussed some strategies to develop better habits; now I’d like to show you how to reinforce them.

It’s  better to start by developing a small replacement habit and then building on it, rather than trying to eliminate a bad habit all at once. For example, let’s say you eat too much chocolate. Eliminating chocolate would be difficult. It might be better to start by eating a few nuts and some dried fruit before the chocolate. Then slowly let the ratio of nuts and fruit increase until you don’t need the chocolate any more. These small habits become reinforced through practice. By repeating this habit over and over again you eventually seal it in.

It is much harder to develop smaller habits if your thoughts are negative. This is the keystone habit that will help form all the other important habits to get you where you want to be. Positive thinking will not make you the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but it will certainly go a long way in motivating you do what is required.

Smoking is an extremely tough habit to break. I quit when I was 23 and it was a struggle. When I allowed myself to entertain negative thoughts for very long, I would give up and head right to the convenience store. When I learned how to minimize (not eliminate, they still come from time to time) the negative thoughts and think of positive ones instead, I eventually kicked the habit for good. The key is practicing this exercise over and over again until it becomes second nature. Ask any professional coach or athlete and they will tell you that practice and preparation is the key to their success, both physically and mentally. This leads to greater confidence and positive self-talk.

Work on becoming more aware of your negative self-talk. Take a mental note or keep track of your negative thoughts throughout the day by marking them down on a piece of paper when they pop up.  By recognizing negative self-talk and seeing where it comes from, you can minimize it greatly.

We are all a byproduct of our routines, and our routines consist of all those tiny habits and rituals that we perform throughout the course of the day. In order to get to where we ultimately want to be, our habits need to be congruent with our long term goals. It is a slow, steady process and by breaking everything down into fragments, your ability to prosper in all areas of your life will skyrocket.

Change is Hard

Change is Hard

When I decided to write a blog, just the thought of it scared the crap out of me. What if I can’t write anything worthwhile? What if nobody reads it? But I decided to embrace change and the consequences that came with it, whatever they might be. What happened next? I built a modest audience of weekly readers, I’ve helped a few people along the way and I’ve learned a new skill. I’m not talking about writing either–I faced a fear. A number of years ago I read that the only way to be truly happy is to progress, and I’m always at my happiest when accomplishing things.

When I first began working with clients and I didn’t see the results I expected, I would get discouraged. The issue wasn’t their knee alignment during a lunge or the angle of descent on their push ups. At first I thought this might be the case, but eventually it dawned on me that change in itself is really hard. Most people don’t have the skills and strategies at their finger tips to bring about real change. These skills are not innate. They are learned, but only with practice.

In order to make real change, you need to develop new habits. There’s a lot of habit mythology out there. A common myth I hear from my clients is that he or she can only commit to one habit at a time and that it will take forever to develop. Neither one is accurate. You don’t need to perfect one habit before you work on another. And you can create a new habit relatively quickly.

First, figure out what a habit is. Perfecting your running technique or eating a high protein diet is very broad and these habits take an awful lot of motivation. I frequently hear “think big!”, but I’d rather think small. I mean really small. The biggest mistake I see people make is not starting tiny enough.

To make long lasting change in your life, start by adding something that takes almost no effort and little time. For example, if your original goal is to perform a half hour run 5 times a week, start by running around the block once. It may take all of 5 minutes, but that is enough.  For some people, just putting their shoes on and tying them up is a small victory. Each week you can add a couple of minutes to your run as your confidence and fitness increases.

It is important to find ways to celebrate your victories, and I don’t mean going out for pizza! I suggest that you do something physical to affirm what you have accomplished. Something as simple as a pat on the back or a “Way to go!” reinforces the habit you have just conquered. It might sound silly, but it actually works. The emotion of celebration glues in the habit.  Your brain wants to feel that elation, so when you perform that habit enough times, your brain starts drawing the parallel between the action and the positive reward which follows.

Next week I’ll discuss some more tricks I have found useful in helping my clients make continual changes on the road to a healthier lifestyle.

Do you look older than you are?

Do you look older than you are?

There is a rare set of people who are blessed with great genetics. It doesn’t matter what they do, they spend their lives with a thick full head of hair, their skin has minimal wrinkles/great elasticity and no matter what they eat, their blood work is always A1. These people often live well into their 80’s and 90’s.

But that is probably not you. Your bad habits have begun to catch up with you as you approach middle age.  The majority of us view aging as a slow and painful deterioration: weight gain, memory issues, tired all the time, less interest in sex and aches and pains all over. We just accept this as a part of getting older. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Your body is quite capable of staying slim and vigorous into your later years and your brain is more than able to stay clear and focused if you give it what it needs.

As you age, your body undergoes hormonal changes. This is quite normal. If you are eating properly and getting ample sleep and exercise you can ride out these hormonal ebbs and flows. The key is to achieve hormonal balance. All hormones work together in conjunction with one another. Insulin, thyroid, estrogen and progesterone each need to be pulling their weight in order to work efficiently as a unit. Here is how you can accomplish this.

Improve the quality and amount of sleep you are getting. Without it, your hormonal system cannot rest and recover. For your hormones to work efficiently you need a minimum of 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Taking a nap in the middle of the day to make up for the 2 hours you missed at night doesn’t cut it.

Improve your gut health. Start eating probiotics and fermented foods. Try kimchi, sauerkraut and healthy bacteria found in yogurt and kefir. This will keep your digestion system running efficiently inside and out and your hormones in check.

Eat more healthy fats. The nationwide fear of fat needs to be eliminated immediately. Our hormones are dependent on fat to reproduce.  Fat also keeps us fuller for longer reducing the likelihood of overeating. Avocados, almonds, walnuts, olive oil are great. Eat them daily.

Lose the sugar. Too much sugar will send your insulin production sky high. If you are finding that you are tired all the time and have minimal energy to get through the day, it could be that you are consuming too much sugar. Cut out the starches and simple sugars for a while and replace them with cruciferous vegetables and thin skin berries and you will notice an improvement in your energy levels.

Stop eating chemical-laden foods. Begin by eliminating aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose and food dyes. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t pronounce the ingredients listed on the container, don’t eat it. Studies have made claims citing anything from headaches to premature aging to cancer. Whether this is true or not is up for debate. Your best bet is to always read food labels and avoid chemicals as much as possible. By sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store you will avoid highly processed/packaged foods.

Eating late and gaining weight

Eating late and gaining weight

There are more rules governing nutrition now than ever before. For people who are desperately trying to lose weight it can be extremely confusing. What should I eat? How much should I eat? And when should I eat it?

For someone with little nutritional knowledge, it is very easy to fall into these traps. You start to read up on some of the latest diet crazes and decide to follow one. It works for a week or two, you drop 3 or 4 pounds and eventually you come to the conclusion that you are miserable. It is way too restrictive. You are hungry all the time and all you are thinking about is food during the waking hours. What that eventually does is foster an unhealthy relationship with food. Sound familiar?

The one fat loss question I get asked more often than not, concerns late night eating. Can I eat after dinner or do I need to cut myself off at 7pm? The answer is, it depends. I have read studies that show late night eating has zero effect on weight gain and I have read other studies that show the exact opposite.

What neither study discussed was what the subjects were actually eating. If you are going into the fridge and grabbing an apple and a small handful of almonds, then have at it.  Late night eating is pretty mindless. In my experience, people are much more likely to reach for chips, cookies and ice cream which are all potentially higher calorie foods. This is where the problem stems from.

I would be much more concerned with the total calories you are consuming over the course of the day. The body isn’t programmed to stockpile calories and turn them into fat after the clock strikes 7pm. Nor is it programmed to know what time it is.

Some people prefer to eat their calories spread evenly throughout the day, while others like to front or back load them. It really doesn’t matter. It is the quality and quantity of calories you  are ingesting which is the determining factor. So when the clock strikes 9pm and the hunger pangs are starting to kick in, don’t be afraid to eat because of what the clock says. If you are not quite sure how many calories you need in order to reach your goals, try using an app like “My Fitness Pal”.  It takes out all the guesswork. I highly recommend it.

Stop sabotaging your muscle gains!!!

Stop sabotaging your muscle gains!!!

I want you to add more muscle this year. That is why I post exercise videos daily and send out a regular blog post each week. If you decide to use my services, that is great and if you don’t, I hope I’ve made a positive contribution to your journey on the road to a healthier you.

I’ve trained in my fair share of gyms over the years. Regardless of what gym I am in,  I see people sabotaging potential muscle gains. They’re diligent day after day, they work hard, but they are doing it all wrong. I want that to change this year.  Below, I’ve outlined some crucial mistakes I’ve witnessed in the gym first hand in 2017 and provided you with a much more effective alternative.

You need to place a sufficient amount of stress on your joints and soft tissue structures to help them grow. That means training heavy. Relatively speaking of course.  However, when you train too heavy all the time, it places a tremendous impact on your joints, ligaments and tendons. This leads to injury and over-training, which inhibits your body’s ability to build muscle. You need to add some lighter days to your training where you are lifting in the 12 to 20 rep range.  You will target different muscle fibres (slow twitch) that don’t get as much action, build new muscle, and you will give those over-stressed joints and soft tissue structures a much needed rest. Research shows more and more that lighter loads produce similar increases in muscle mass compared to heavier loads. That is how you stay in the game long term.

You are not training hard enough. I am not suggesting that you need to train to the point of physical and mental exhaustion, but if you’re frequently stopping 5 or 6 reps short of failure, then you’re just going through the motions. The reason your muscles grow is because you are giving them a challenge that is beyond their present capacity. If you’re not training hard enough, then you are not challenging your body beyond its present capacity. Hence your muscles have no reason to keep growing and getting stronger.

You perform WAY TOO MUCH cardio.  People who are eager to get lean have a tendency to slave away on the treadmill for several hours a week. Initially, there won’t be much interference combining cardio and strength training sessions when adding muscle. If you are new to strength training, cardio can actually be beneficial for muscle growth, but as you get stronger and are lifting heavier and heavier loads, intense cardio sessions will effect your body’s ability to recover from your lifting sessions. This is a crucial mistake if you’re trying to gain muscle. Start by limiting the frequency, intensity, and duration of your cardio sessions. Limit steady state cardio to no more than three to four weekly bouts lasting 30 to 40 minutes at the absolute most. If you prefer to perform high-intensity interval training, shoot for 2 to 3 sessions a week at 20 minutes per. Any more than this is counterproductive.

You are skipping the basics. Basic compound movements (exercises that require more than one joint) such as bench presses, rows, squats and deadlift variations force several muscle groups to work together. Your body reacts to all this stress by having the anterior pituitary gland issue more growth hormone to compensate for that extra effort these movements require. This added stress leads to greater muscle gains. Isolation exercises (exercises that require only one joint) like chest flyes, biceps curls and leg extensions have their place, but they don’t provide the same growth hormone surge. Compound movements should be the foundation and make up a bare minimum of 60 percent of your exercises in any given session.  Anything less and you are doing too many isolation movements.

Can junk food and a healthy diet co-exist?

Can junk food and a healthy diet co-exist?

Everything in moderation. The only problem with a phrase like this is that the definition of moderation varies from person to person. Moderation for me is a small scoop of ice cream after dinner. Moderation to a buddy of mine is eating half a box of pepperoni pizza and leaving the other half in the fridge for lunch the next day. For the majority of the population, eating is one of the great joys in life. Then there are a small few who see stopping to eat a meal as an annoyance or just a necessary timeout to fuel the engine. If you are reading this, I am going to assume that you don’t fall into the latter category.

There has been a lot of research done on junk food and how much of it we can safely eat without putting on weight. The evidence suggests that it can be done. For active men, a safe range is 10 to 20% of your total daily intake. That leaves you with somewhere between 280 to 560 calories a day depending on your weight.  For women, you are looking at a bit less. To err on the safe side you should keep it between 150 to 325 calories per day. That could be a can of soda, a couple of handfuls of potato chips or a scoop of ice cream.

If these guidelines are too strict for you, try thinking of foods as “everyday” foods and “occasional” foods. That way, nothing is “bad” or off limits. You don’t want to restrict yourself entirely from any food unless you have a legitimate allergy to that specific food. Research suggests that this mindset may actually cause weight gain. Everyday foods are ones that you want to eat every single day. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, lean cuts of protein and dairy (if you can tolerate it). These foods need to be the backbone of your diet and then you can fill in your remaining calories with small indulgences.

What about alcohol? One to two drinks can range anywhere between 300 to 600 calories depending on what you are drinking. If you are trying to lose weight, drinking alcohol even in moderation can work against you. Without getting too sciency, the by-product of alcohol metabolism, acetate, is toxic. So when you drink, fat burning stops until you burn those calories off. Drinking can easily push us over our calorie budget for the day. So you will probably want to curb your alcohol indulgences until you have reached your desired weight goal.