Avenger Fitness Healthy Tip of the Week – September 3rd, 2017

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Lean vs Shredded:  Realistic vs Not…

Is being shredded worth it? In my opinion, no. Honestly, being shredded is a fleeting moment because it is not realistic to maintain. Moreover, there is nothing healthy about it.

Most people, if asked, equate a “healthy” body with having a chiseled physique. You know, the “shredded” guy with big biceps, a chest that rivals Hercules, and abs that could grate the finest of parmesan cheeses. For women, the curves are tight (does she have butt implants?), the abs are solid, and the shoulders are popping like cherry blossoms a la Christi Brinkley, Sports Illustrated. These representations of very fit individuals can be undoubtedly misleading, leaving most people to scurry to their local doughnut shop to soothe their feelings.

However, have no fear! Your ideal physique can be achieved and actually…MAINTAINED!

There is a big line between being lean and being shredded. The former is something that comes straight off the beach. Most people call it, “beach ready”. This is a level of being lean that affords a person to feel comfortable enough to shed layers of clothing without having to have the label “Dad Bod” used to describe his appearance. Being shredded, well that’s just a place that is literally like taking a trip to another planet. You look your absolute best, and yet, you feel like a big steaming pile of dog crap.

Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to look like the guys on the magazine covers. Huge muscles, veins that veins, and the abs of a superhero. I wanted to be that shredded dude. Now, to be fair, I was the fat gay kid. I was the complete opposite and we always seem to want what we don’t have, right? Fast forward about 10-12 years and I have now gone through this process of dieting down to an extreme level three times. Does this make me an expert in contest prep? NO! However, it does give me enough experience to say, this will be my last time dieting down to this extreme for a very long time, maybe ever (never say never). Here’s why:

When I began the process to cut on my food intake for my upcoming physique competition, I was at a WHOPPING 15% body fat (exhibit picture A). This is a “fitness” level of body fat, however it is more than I like to carry. I let myself become too loose with my intake during my building phase. I had a lot going on personally (the usual) and to comfort myself I chose to tame the beast with baked goods. To be succinct, I am human and make mistakes. This is one I would pay for later when the cut really got busy.

As the initial decrease in food began, I felt great. Energy was still up, lifting was solid, the weights were heavy, and work was no issue. This feeling of “no problem” was fleeting. Upon completion of my sixth week of “dieting”, I started to feel a little rough around the edges. Getting out of bed was a little slower, energy in classes was starting to wane, and my hunger was starting to increase. This is what a “diet” for that shredded physique for a specific time beings to feel like. It becomes an all consuming mind game that even the most disciplined have some trouble with. Literally, I’m starving my body.

Little by little, per my coach, my consumption of energy got less and less. Even this past weekend, I had another chunk taken away from me. All the while, my body has been morphing into what Captain America even hopes to look like some day (this is science). So while my physique may be pleasing to the eye of the beholder, my mental game could not be more off. Not to mention the hurricane that is blasting the body physically while trying to achieve said aesthetic. By the end of this cut, my body fat will be close to 5%. To set the big picture, male athletes maintain a level of body fat of 6-13%. 2-5% is essential for a man just to live. Again, unrealistic.

I consider myself to be a strong minded, determined, and self motivated individual. When I set a goal for myself, I work like a honey bee to make it happen. This time is no different. All of this said, I wanted to quit MANY, MANY times this prep. In fact, I thought about throwing in the towel two weeks prior to competition date, because I had come to the realization that it is just not worth it to me to be this depleted.

Mentally, one has to be in the right frame of mind to cut to this extreme level. Honestly, no time is a good time. Life is happening every day with unexpected events (sickness, family gatherings, birthday’s, parties, and etc), relationship, work, and friend and family commitments that require our attention. Except, these things begin to suffer slightly as the diet gets more and more consuming. For the most part, life outside of the gym, the kitchen, and the food scale becomes non-existent. Rather, it should become like this if you’re in it to win it. Let’s be honest, if you’re going to diet like this, 100% commitment is necessary. However, compared to my last prep, this one was rough and a fight the whole way. My mind played tricks on me with things that I was just making up in my head. I was lashing out at the smallest of issues and situations (Sorry lady at Costco). My temper tantrums rivaled that of a 5 year olds at Target being told “No, she cannot have that Barbie Doll”.   I had made it up in my head that my husband didn’t want to be with me anymore. I started to believe that I had lost my touch with work and losing connectivity with my community at the gym. All the while having professional opportunities thrown my way making me stop and consider, “what’s next”. By the way, try not to let BIG changes creep on to your path while dieting. It makes the Hunger Games look like a pre-school playground. Hunger plays tricks on people. And it’s not like I am not eating at all. I eat what most people consider to be TOO MUCH. All together, my intake is still above 3,000 calories. Exactly 3,100. However, this is coming down from around 6,000 calories all the while keeping my activity levels the same, if not hitting the weights and training sessions with even more intensity. This is a recipe for the beast to become uncaged if not dealt with. More times then not, the beast came out to play and I am not proud of it. These outbursts of temper are the major reason why I do not want to partake it in this again at any time in the foreseeable future.

Physically, the effects pretty much go without saying. The less I eat, the worse I feel because activity levels stay the same. My coach kept saying to pull back in classes. Do less. Well, it’s pretty hard to pull back in a class when 40-60 people are getting after it and you’re supposed to be leading the charge all the while looking like you’re on the sidelines picking your nose. Sorry, it ain’t gonna happen! I like to get messy with the rest of the gang. Eventually, I lost that battle. I soon had to coach more and more and less participation because well, my body just couldn’t keep up. I began to cramp, my energy levels were just plummeting, and my training was starting to become a chore. My body was/is starving and was telling me to SLOW DOWN. The body is smart. It know what to do instinctively to protect itself, but I am asking it to push further and harder. Other physical side effects of dieting down to this extreme are joint pain, the lack of ability to recover quickly after training sessions, sleep interruption, digestive situations, loss of sex drive, and the list continues. Honestly, what is appealing about this? I ask myself this again now as I am writing this.

Again, for me this is a goal. Something that I set out to achieve. I have given my best of what I could at this time. I stuck to the plan and did not waiver. I wanted to. I wanted to REALLY badly. However, we at Avenger Fitness are not quitters. It’s not in our vocabulary.

Chris and I both went through this experience together this year (made our marriage WAY better). We both have now commented on how selfish though this process is. We have spent more hours looking at MyFitnessPal making sure our macros are on point than having quality time together. We have seen our gym families more than our own. It’s a bad day when the batteries in the food scale diet out and we are frantically getting ourselves to the closest Walgreen’s for new ones so we may measure our banana to the exact gram in weight. We have missed out on social gatherings with friends so as not to have to burden everyone with the exciting story as to why we have chosen NOT to eat those warm, gooey, chocolate brownies and wash them down with a nice glass of wine. We are not normal. We realize this. We have realized that we need to swing the pendulum the other way and get back to what is real and maintainable.

Back to that thing we are all concerned about, body fat, we at Avenger Fitness promote health and health first with our clients. To repeat myself a healthy athletic body fat percentage for a male is between 6-13% and 14-20% for females. This, in our opinion is not only realistic but also maintainable with attention given to both diet and training. In fact, one can even build muscle and make great gains all the while keeping themselves lean and mean. The body only needs so much excess too create growth. Everything beyond that set point is going to be used for storage making the body work harder and longer to lose it in the end.

Leave your experience in the comment section below with everything from the good to the bad with cutting.

Avenger Fitness Healthy Tip of the Week – August 4th, 2017

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The Avengers Address Three Recent FAQs…

At Avenger Fitness, we get questions on all varieties of topics, however, three have popped up with a higher-than-normal frequency as of late so let’s explore them!

Topic 1: Am I over-training?

Topic 2: Should I do fasted cardio?

Topic 3: I can’t get my legs to grow.  Any tips or suggestions?

Over-Training vs. Over-Taxing:  Though true “over training” is possible, it’s actually highly rare.  This does not mean, however, that an individual is not over doing it when it comes to their workout programming and execution.  A well-respected author and fitness professional (Christian Thibaudeau) does a solid job in articulating the symptoms of “over taxing” the body during training and the need for additional recovery.   Check out his article from T-nation here.  If you’re experiencing a number of the symptoms he outlines, I’d recommend baking in additional rest/recovery days into your training programming, reducing volume, and/or altering workout theory/methodology incorporating less CNS-taxing (central nervous system) heavy-weight training and replacing with more time-under-tension/lighter weight “muscle pump” work.  Variety in training methodology is critical (independent of overtaxing) for optimizing muscle growth (hypertrophy).  Leveraging a program design with undulating periodization helps ensure maximal progress without over-taxation.  (Note: programming for one’s self can be a daunting task!  Let us at AvengerFitness assist!  We excel here…

Should I do fasted cardio?  I read somewhere this is smart!  Answer: NO!   This is one of those topics which continues to pop up from a media and un/under-informed health fitness professional standpoint.   There is no appreciable benefit of performing cardiovascular exercise in a fasted state.  (for detailed reading, click here for a well-conducted university study on the topic).   There is, however, a distinction worth communicating relative to HOW cardio exercise is executed.  Outside of training for a particular endurance event/sport (think marathon running, triathlon, etc.) for the “average” gym goer and/or individual looking to alter body composition (reduce body fat and retain/gain lean body mass), leveraging a “sprinting” type of cardio workout (HIIT training) is optimal.  An example of this would be doing bike sprints for 30 seconds of maximal effort (8 to 10 exertion range on a scale of 10) followed by a 1 minute to 1:30 recovery period (2 to 3 exertion range on a scale of 10).   Repeat 4 to 8 times.

I can’t get my legs to grow.  Any tips or suggestions?
Recently I competed in a NPC bodybuilding competition.  Though I’ve always had solid leg genetics, for the sport of bodybuilding, it’s said that legs can always be bigger!  I leveraged three strategies during my grueling 6-month preparation prior to competing.  Cumulatively, these strategies allowed me to actually gain leg size during a cut (while cutting down body fat levels for the competition).  Note: these are strategies for an intermediate to advanced lifter and not recommended for beginners.

Strategy one: Execute 100’s (1 unbroken set of 100 reps) on the leg press machine every workout to build endurance, capillary volume in the legs, and mental fortitude!  Yes…that’s correct.  Not just on “leg day” but if one trains 4 times a week, that’s 4 times a week of 100’s.  Think of it as a workout “warm up” exercise no matter what you’re training that day.  For details on how to do this, reference this solid article from T-nation on the topic.

Strategy two: split “leg day” into two days…one day for hamstrings, glutes, and calves; the other for quadriceps.  I’ve often experienced that when someone REALLY trains legs hard, one of these two areas becomes second fiddle from a focus and energy standpoint.   If I start with quads, typically hammies suffer or vice-versa.  The fix: give each their own day!  If leg size is a priority, remember Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advice on the “prioritization principle” and this becomes the focus of your energy, dedication, and drive.  I would challenge anyone training to pick ONE focus area at a time and develop this area.  Scattered focus = minimal or no results.

Strategy three: leverage different training techniques, particularly BFR (blood flow restriction) training for quadraceps.   There is a lot of good research and information recently on the value and efficacy of BFR training.  A great resource is ASPI (The Applied Science & Performance Institute) in Tampa Florida headed up by Dr. Jacob Wilson.   (Click here for a detailed explanation of BFR training philosophy and its execution.)

This advanced training methodology allows one to utilize less weight while achieving maximal muscle pumps (cell swelling theory of hypertrophy) to promote muscle growth.  For the experienced lifter, I’d wholeheartedly recommend giving it a try.   It’s clearly not for the faint-of-heart as the band restriction on the quadraceps cause some degree of discomfort.  And caution must be exercised as to not over-tighten the restriction bands as one does not want to impair arterial blood flow.  Before trying this technique, make sure to read the above article from Dr. Wilson and watch the accompanying video on proper execution.

Avenger Fitness Healthy Tip of the Week – July 20th, 2017

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Our Hero:  The Good Ole’ Crock Pot

At Avenger Fitness, we regularly hear clients lament regarding the time-consuming nature of healthy cooking and food prep.  In fact, I’ve personally been asked (many times more than once, I might add) if “I live in the kitchen…” 

Crock Pot to the rescue...I cannot think of an easier and more trouble-free way of food cooking that makes it almost impossible to mess up a meal…particularly with cooking proteins which tend to take the longest time when meal prepping!

In the summer months when we are less apt to crank up the oven or even walk outside in the blazing heat to the BBQ grill, the crock pot allows for the cooking of proteins in a slow, lower-temperature environment that can tenderize even the toughest cuts of meat.   And think “big batch cooking” when it comes to the slow cooker.  Before headed to bed in the evening or before leaving for the office, simply drop in a protein of choice, add some seasoning, and select the “low” setting on the cooker.  In 8 or so hours, you’ll have amazing tasting chicken, pork, or beef!

Here are some simple Crock Pot protein cooking ideas:

*Purchase an economy-sized pack of either organic boneless chicken breasts from Costco or pork tenderloin (roughly 2-3 lbs worth). Toss all the chicken or pork into the Crock Pot with 2 cups of Organic chicken broth, salt, pepper, and some herbs.  Feel free to add some cut up citrus for enhanced flavor — a few orange or lemon slices.  Fire her up on “low” and cook for around 6-8 hours.  Before pulling out the protein, take a pair of cooking tongs and a large fork.  Pull/shred the chicken or pork and stir with all the juices and broth.  Let this cook another hour in the pulled form.  Cool safely, portion accordingly in Tupperware and store in the refrigerator.  According to ServeSafe and Maricopa County Environmental Services Department, cooked/prepared food is safe to consume for 6 days plus the day it was prepared so mark the Tupperware container(s) according with the “use by” date. 

*Follow the same recipe as above with beef cubes or beef tenderloin.  Substitute organic beef broth for the chicken stock.  Season with salt, pepper, and your herbs of choice.

*When serving the chicken or pork, try a splash of good-quality balsamic vinegar or cane-sugar-based BBQ sauce for a spectacular flavor boost!  Just don’t forget the count the added Macros!

Enjoy!

 

 

Avenger Fitness Healthy Tip of the Week – July 13th, 2017

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“Not Your Grandma’s Boiled Beets…”  — How To Prepare Amazing-Tasting, Macros-Friendly Roasted Beets!

Beets, Brussels sprouts, perhaps broccoli…you mention these wonderfully healthy and nutrient-packed veggies to many folks and they just cringe at the thought of eating them…or even trying your “so called great recipe.”  We at Avenger Fitness assure you, just like with the cauliflower rice recipe last week, IT’S ALL IN THE PREPARATION AND COOKING!  Truly!

It’s beet season so finding some beautiful multi-colored organic beets at your local Fry’s Marketplace, Sprouts, or WholeFoods is an easy task.   And don’t just select the traditional red ones…be adventurous and add color.  Pick a variety of red, yellow, orange.  According to the renown Mayo Clinic, “deeper colors usually mean that fruits and vegetables are richer in phytonutrients including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Phytonutrients have been shown to help fight chronic illness, prevent cancer and strengthen the immune system.”  (click here for reference and full article from the Mayo Clinic)

Preparation & Cooking:

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees on convection bake…

1.) First remove the stems from the beets and discard.  (if you juice, you may actually use the beet greens for juicing as they are nutrient dense as well).  Use a sharp knife to cut off the very tops of each beet where the stem attaches along with the beet tail.

2.) Next, using veggie wash or simply lemon juice and a vegetable scrub brush, thoroughly clean, scrub and rinse each beet and set aside in a bowl once cleaned.

3.) Using that same sharp utility knife, carefully cut each beet into quarters then eights or sixteenths.  Ideally, for consistent cooking and enjoyment, each beet piece should be about 1/4 inch cubed.  (see pic above)

4.) Place all the cut/cubed beets into an oven-safe cooking dish (make sure to lightly coat the dish with cooking spray first) and then generously apply cooking spray over the beets (this is in place of using copious amounts of coconut or avocado oil which will run up your fat macros!).

5.) Generously apply salt, pepper, and any other favorite herbs or spices.  Using your clean hands, give the beet cubes a good mixing to ensure the cooking spray, salt, pepper and any other seasonings evenly coat the vegetables.

6.) Place the dish of beets into the oven and bake for a solid 30-45 minutes using tongs or spatula to stir the vegetables every so often to ensure even cooking.

The end product will amaze you — a sweet roasted flavor, pleasant texture, and macros-friendly nutrition!  A summer delight!