Looking for a new summer drink?

Looking for a new summer drink?

While it is loaded with health and fat burning benefits, there are many more reasons why you should add iced green tea to your beverage list this summer and beyond.

Recent research has shown that the main catechin in green tea, called EGCG, prevents the spreading of leukocytes, which are white blood cells that can indicate the onset of skin cancer. Catechins are known as antioxidants.  Antioxidants protect the body from free radicals that play a role in everything from heart disease to cancer. EGCG induces cancerous skin cells to perform apoptosis, which is a fancy name for cell suicide. This is a good thing. Green tea appears to not only prevent sun damage, but it might actually reverse it. Green tea, much like aspirin, might provide protection against melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

How much green tea do you need to drink to have the desired effect?  Most studies show that you need in the neighbourhood of 250 to 400 mg. of green tea extract to protect yourself against sun damage. You can get that from a cup of green tea, which contains an average of 253 mg. of catechins. Science is unsure of the perfect dosage, and it’s even more problematic given that cups of green tea (and different varieties and even different crops of the same type) will vary quite a bit in their catechin content. Your best bet would be to buy loose leaves and boil them for 3 to 5 minutes. This will multiply the catechin content five fold.

Another suggestion is to drink multiple cups of normally brewed, that you can find at the grocery store. If you don’t have the time or the inclination to drink several cups per day, one or two is better than none at all. Just make a point of avoiding the Snapple and Lipton versions of their diet green tea. Both of these products contain zero EGCG. Stick with the real stuff.

Multivitamins- How to choose the right one

Multivitamins- How to choose the right one

I stopped taking multivitamins a number of years ago. Recently, I found myself feeling a bit sluggish.  I was concerned that my body might be lacking in some nutrients that I wasn’t getting in my diet. If I was going to start taking one again, it wasn’t going to be the generic, mass-produced versions you see on the shelves at the local drug store. It had to be high quality. I realize most people don’t know what makes a multivitamin worth buying. So let me break it down for you.

The most important thing you should look for when choosing a multivitamin is whether it is based from whole food or from synthetic ingredients (i.e., those that are sourced from a lab). The benefits of eating/choosing a whole food based multivitamin are great. For example, when you’re looking at the vitamin C component, it will say vitamin C from strawberries, cherries, or citrus fruit. This is the best choice because when we eat these foods in their natural form we get all the ascorbic acid (the primary component of vitamin C) along with all the other synergistic compounds that make up the full vitamin C complex. Vitamin C is a complex–it is not just one thing. When you buy a synthetic multivitamin, you are getting the ascorbic acid listed on the bottle, but none of the compounds that make up the entire complex. This is a very important distinction, because these molecules all work together to improve absorption in the body.

When you look at multivitamins containing whole food ingredients, you might notice on the container that it says if they are based on raw ingredients, unprocessed, from real food. You have to be careful though, because labeling can be very misleading. One of the things you should look for is the kind of claim or statement that says whole food or “derived” from whole foods. You should avoid those.  In the case of raw, this means that the source was not pasteurized, cooked or processed, which is fantastic. This product will contain all sorts of live probiotics and enzymes, which is a huge benefit when it comes to digestion capability.

When reading the label on the back of the container, you’ll see that it lists all the different vitamins it contains.  What is of primary importance is the ingredients list which shows you where these vitamins are coming from. When you buy your multivitamin from reputable companies like Garden of Life or Vitamin Code, there will be a list on the back of the bottle with a whole host of organic fruits and vegetables. It is essentially a day’s worth of fruits and vegetables packed into a capsule. It is not an excuse to avoid eating fruits and vegetables. You should use your multivitamin as an insurance policy.  We all find ourselves in situations from time to time where the food available to us is not optimal. When you are at a sporting event or a live show and your choice of snack is a slice of pepperoni pizza or a highly processed bag of popcorn, neither is ideal. What a multivitamin will do is fill in those gaps.

Emergency Fat Loss

Emergency Fat Loss

How would you like to lose 30 pounds in 30 days? Have you ever read a headline in a tabloid advertisement and found yourself tempted to try their program? Well, there is a reason to be skeptical. It isn’t possible to lose more than a couple of pounds a week from adipose tissue (fat stores). Anything else you lose will come from water weight and if you allow your water levels to get too low you could be looking at a trip to the emergency room.

It is important to set goals with realistic time frames. Instead of dropping 30 pounds, why not set a fat loss goal of 8 pounds in 30 days and follow a well thought out program that will help you get there ?  I’ve tried a number of different strategies over the years to achieve fat loss. The following tips below have produced results for me and for my clients, and they will work for you if you stay the course.

1. Fasted Morning Walks – What is better than getting outside in the fresh air first thing in the morning? It is great for the mood and it sets you up for the rest of the day. Get up and have your morning coffee or in my case a cold glass of water and get walking for 30 to 60 minutes. When we get up in the morning our bodies are in a fasted state (8 hours or more without food), so we are more apt to use fat to fuel our walks than our stored carbohydrates because the intensity of this activity is on a reasonably low scale (3 out of 10). You are not going to burn hundreds and hundreds of calories on these walks, but a significant percentage of the calories you do burn will be from fat. That is the goal and that is why you need to do this a minimum of 5 times a week to get the best results. I have noticed a significant difference in my waist circumference after doing this for as little as 10 days.

2. Drink More Water – Drinking more water will accelerate fat loss. Next time you sit down to have your dinner, grab a tall glass of water and drink the entire glass before you have a bite of your meal. As soon as you are finished eating, have another tall glass of water. See if you are hungry in the next 3 hours after that meal. Chances are you won’t be. We tend to confuse hunger with dehydration. If you find that you are hungry outside of a mealtime, have a glass of water first, wait for half an hour and if you are still hungry, then go ahead and eat. Another trick I have found handy is drinking carbonated water when I am on the road and know I won’t be eating for a little while. The carbonation in the water keeps my stomach fuller for much longer than a glass of tap water.

3. Perform Tabata Workouts 3 Times a Week – You have probably never heard of this protocol. These workouts are extremely challenging to perform regardless of your fitness levels. They are also very time efficient and can be done anywhere at any time providing you have 30 square feet of unobstructed space. Choose a bodyweight exercise that you find challenging to perform. For a novice trainee, a properly performed jumping jack will be sufficient. You will need a timer or a stopwatch to do this properly. Perform 8 rounds of jumping jacks, 20 seconds on followed by 10 seconds off. The first couple of rounds likely won’t be too difficult, but the rests are very short, since you are working at a 2:1 work to rest ratio. By the time you have reached round 5 you should be breathing quite hard and by round 8 you should be gasping for air, ready to throw in the towel. The protocol only takes 4 minutes in total to perform, but it is brutally challenging when done correctly and the calories that you will burn post exercise will sky rocket. This is referred to as post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC. Be sure to use an exercise that challenges you enough to make it effective. If jumping jacks are too easy, try mountain climbers, burpees or running on the spot with high knees.

4. Make sure you are sleeping between the hours of 10pm and 6am – Get 8 hours of sleep each night—this is one of the most common health and well being tips out there. We all know that we need to get more sleep, but equally as important is the quality of the sleep we get. During these hours, our body repairs itself physiologically and psychologically from the stressors of the day. Sleeping from 1am to 9am will not have anywhere near the same benefits. When we stay up too late our bodies produce excess cortisol which is a stress hormone that can signal our bodies to store fat. If you find it difficult to fall asleep that early, try for 11:00 and work your way down gradually. Avoid computers, televisions and other forms of light a good hour before you go to sleep.

5. Compound movements need to be the basis of your training – I cannot stress this enough. Compound movements are those that require the body to work at multiple joints. A squat works both at the hip and knee joint while a biceps curl (an isolation movement) works only at the elbow joint. A squat will require you to use 3 to 4 times more muscle and energy than a biceps curl, and I can guarantee that you will be breathing a lot harder after performing a set of squats.  Use squats, deadlifts, rowing and pressing variations as 80% of your training volume and your fat loss will sky rocket.

Foods that stabilize blood sugar

Foods that stabilize blood sugar

North American society is addicted to sugar and processed foods. For all intents and purposes, our restaurants are carbohydrate factories, and as a result metabolic disorders and heart disease are more common than ever.  This way of eating inhibits your body’s ability to stabilize blood sugar levels, which leads to rampant inflammation, inconsistent hormone levels and a reduction in our overall health and vitality. If you are serious about improving your overall health markers, taking steps to balance your blood sugar levels is the first thing you need to focus on. Start by adding these foods into your daily diet regime.

Avocados should be a staple in your diet. I have one every day with a serving of meat and vegetables at lunch time. They are loaded with minerals, fibre, and healthy fats that all help to stabilize blood sugar levels. Avocados are also a significant source of B vitamins which keep energy levels high. Avocados contain a special type of sugar molecule called D-mannoheptulose. This type of sugar has the ability to lower insulin levels. You can eat them in salads, use them as spreads or just cut one up into slices and pop them into your mouth as a snack.

Coconut oil is one of the best things you can add to your diet. It is an excellent source of healthy fats (referred to as medium chain triglycerides or MCTs). MCTs are the types of fat that your body can readily convert into a source of energy called ketones. When you burn ketones for energy instead of sugar, you naturally stabilize blood sugar and improve your body’s fat burning ability. I like to use a tablespoon of coconut oil on my sweet potatoes with a pinch of cinnamon. It makes them taste like candy when they first come out of the oven and are nice and hot.

Pasture-raised eggs are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. These are eggs produced by chickens raised on pasture their entire lives. As opposed to indoor confinement, they are free to forage for bugs, scrubs, grass etc. Making them significantly more nutrient dense than any generic egg you will find on the shelf at No Frills. Eggs are a low-carb food so they have minimal impact on blood sugar. There is significant evidence from longitudinal studies showing that increased egg consumption is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and metabolic disorders. I eat four a day at breakfast and I feel fantastic the entire morning. Full of energy and extremely alert.

Chocolate can help to stabilize your blood sugar. Yes you read that right.  I am not talking about milk chocolate that you can buy at the convenience store. The key is to buy raw chocolate or cacao. In its raw form it is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can find. It is loaded with antioxidants, minerals such as magnesium and chromium, and is a significant source of vitamin C. Chromium helps to improve the function of insulin to stabilize blood sugar and helps to reduce sugar cravings. You need to eat a ton of it to reap the benefits. I like to have a couple of pieces after dinner to satisfy my sweet tooth.

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.