Muscle Confusion, p90x, and Plateaus – The Truth

You’ve all seen the infomercial for p90x, the new training program that’s taking the country by storm!  With a bunch of DVDs, food charts, and a special patented “muscle confusion” (ooooooooh) program, they’ll get you insane results in only three months and 3 payments of $39.95 (plus 20 bucks for shipping, jeez)!  The main selling point for this program is the “muscle confusion,” so I want to break it down to normal people terms to explain what you’re actually getting.  I won’t even charge you 140 bucks for the info!

As you lift weights and do exercises, your muscles are broken down, and then rebuilt over the next few days. If you continue to do the same exercises on a consistent basis your muscles will get used to the cycle of breaking down the same way and rebuilding the same way, and they’ll actually adapt to get less affected, which will in turn give you less results for the same amount of work.  If you’re an Econ guy, think of this as diminishing returns.  You’ve probably heard this referred to as a ‘plateau.’  Not good.

In order to fix that, you need to “confuse” your muscles constantly (see what I’m getting at here?) in order to keep them guessing and never give them the opportunity to adapt.  If your muscles are constantly guessing and getting hit from different angles, with different exercises or a  different number of sets or reps, then they can never get comfortable and you won’t hit that dreaded “plateau” of decreased gains.  The head trainer for the people on the set of 300 said that the actors never did the same workout twice.

Keep this in mind next time you think about doing the bench press in the gym for the millionth time in a row.  Mix it up! Try incline bench presses with dumbbells, or do some dumbbell flys, or stick with the bench and switch your grip from narrow to wide or vice-versa.  Usually do three sets?  Try five!  12 reps per set?  Up the weight and drop the number of reps down to 6.  Not only will this ‘confuse’ your muscles, but it will also keep you from getting bored in the gym.  If you’re bored, you’ll dread the gym and probably not give your all.  Challenge yourself to come up with new ways to work your muscles, and you’ll see better results.

New to the gym and need some more exercises? Find one of the trainers in the gym and just ask him what other exercise they’d recommend to mix it up for your ____________(chest, legs, back, etc.).  Be careful if you’re going to ask another guy working out, because they might not know what they’re doing.  Every day I’m in the gym I probably see 10 people who are doing exercises incorrectly.

Lastly, be realistic in what you’ll get out of this program.  If you want to look like the guys on the infomercial, you’re going to need a gym membership and fully dedicate yourself for far longer than 12 weeks.  Set realistic goals and stick with it, and you’ll get there.


Baby Steps – Build on Small Successes to get Healthy

Baby Steps to the door...

Baby Steps to the door...

You’ve seen “What about Bob,” right?  Bob gets freaked out about thinking too many steps ahead and overreacts to just about everything.  His doctor teaches him to think of his life in baby steps to stay focused and successful.  And by successful, I mean “walking out of a room” and “opening a car door.”  Fitness is no different, especially if you’re just starting out.  Once you make the decision to be healthy, it can often get pretty overwhelming.  You need to be like Bob: take everything one day at a time, one change at a time.

Being healthy isn’t just “going to the gym three times a week.”  It requires a full time commitment and decision to change your life.  Now if you’re thinking “aw crap I need to empty my fridge, go buy spandex and spend five days in the gym, screw this I’m gonna play Halo…” I wouldn’t blame you; that would scare the crap out of me too.  However, it doesn’t need to be so drastic and so sudden.  BABY STEPS!  You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.  It’s like playing through the tutorial level in video games.  Yeah it sucks, it’s probably boring, but if you skip it you might miss some key things that will help you get through the rest of the game.

If you haven’t worked out a day in your life, then maybe signing up for Jazzercise classes five days a week isn’t the right idea.  Try two days a week, and take it easy.  Trust me, it’s much better to walk out of the gym saying “that was successful, I can’t wait to get back here.” instead of “wow that sucked, I’m never doing it again! EVER!”  Take it slow, take it one day at a time, and build on each day of success until you find your rhythm.

  • Want to start running? Go for half a mile the first day instead of signing up for the Boston Marathon.  The last thing you want is to go too far, and then spend the next four days with sore legs as you walk around your office like a penguin.
  • Want to buy a gym membership? Why not hold off for a few weeks and do body weight exercises in your house first?  Push ups, lunges, squats, pull ups on the neighbor’s swing set, etc.  You can get a lot done without paying for it.
  • Gonna join an ultimate frisbee league? Go out to the park a three weeks early, a few nights a week, and start running around and tossing the disc.  You have to get into game shape before you officially step on the field?  Just like you have to learn to crawl before you walk, you have to learn to walk before you can run.

As for your diet, which accounts for probably 80% of your success when it comes to being healthy, go with baby steps too.  Don’t empty your fridge, don’t give up everything you love to eat…take it one change at a time.  It’s really not that bad, plus it will add years to your life.

  • The first change you absolutely need to make is START EATING BREAKFAST.  This one is non-negotiable – read why here.
  • If you eat white bread, next week change it to wheat.  Within two weeks you won’t even notice the difference.
  • If you eat steak and cheese subs five days a week…switch to a grilled chicken sandwich instead a few times a week.  Do the research on what you like to eat that is good for you, and start to make the transition.
  • If you drink five Mountain Dews every day, switch to water and only drink soda on the weekend (if you’re drinking it because you need all that caffeine every day…you’re probably addicted and should ween yourself off it anyways).
  • Get a bag of Doritos every day at the vending machine? Save the money and bring in your own healthy snack.

Human beings are creatures of habit.  You’re far more likely to change one habit at a time and stick with it than trying to change 76 habits simultaneously.  Make a few changes at a time, and concentrate on sticking with them.  After you’ve made one positive change and stuck with it, use the success and momentum from that to stay, “hey look what I did!” and keep the ball rollin’.  Feel free to call your mom and tell her, because she’ll probably be proud.

Remember, 500 less calories per day (either with exercise, change in diet, or a combination of the two) equals a loss of one pound of body fat per week. Little changes can add up quickly, so just stick with it!


Efficient Muscle Building Workout in 45 Minutes – Not for Newbies

Yesterday you read about the four big muscle groups you should exercise.  Today I’m writing about my current routine that follows the same principle.  By doing exercises that target those four muscles, I work practically every muscle in my body.  Now, I’ll work all four muscle groups three times a week – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – but I’ll do different exercises for each muscle group to keep things fresh and not over-exhaust myself.  I’ll go very heavy on Mondays, light on Wednesdays, and medium on Fridays.

If you’re looking to build size, you really want to keep the number of reps between 12 and 6, and the number of sets between 3 and 6. Any less than 6 will build power and strength (not as much size) while more than 12 will develop muscular endurance and not size.  I’m also not a fan of doing cardio, so I like to build my cardio into my workouts by having short rests in between sets.  I walk out of the gym in 45 minutes sweating like a pig and exhausted.

After a quick 5-10 minute warm-up on the treadmill – necessary to warm-up your muscles and stretch out – I’ll start with the weights.

Here is a sample chest exercise (incline dumbbell press):

  • 55lb dumbells for 12 reps
  • wait 1 minute
  • 60lb dumbbells for 10 reps
  • wait 1 minute
  • 65lb dumbbells for 8 reps
  • wait 1 minute
  • 70lb dumbbells for 6 reps – you should be close to failing at the end of this set.
  • wait 1 miute
  • 55lb dumbells for 12 reps – expect to struggle with this set – that’s the plan!
  • Immediately do a set of another chest exercise for 12 reps (lighter weight) like dumbbell flys – PERFECT FORM!

If you’re used to waiting 3 minutes in between sets, you might get discouraged because you’ll be able to lift left weight than normal.  However, I guarantee by the time you’re doing the last set of 12 reps your muscles will burn and you’ll feel like you want to hurl.  IMPORTANT:  The amount of weight you’re doing isn’t important: make sure you keep proper form for EACH rep, don’t use momentum to lift the weights, and use a spotter at all times!

After this I’d move into a back exercise like wide grip pull ups:

  • 12 pull ups with just body weight
  • wait one minute
  • 10 pull ups with 5lbs in a backpack
  • wait one minute
  • 8 pull ups with 10lbs in a backpack
  • wait one minute
  • 6 pull ups with 15lbs in a backpack
  • wait one minute
  • 12 pull ups with just body weight
  • Immediately do one set of 12 of another back exercise, like cable rows.

If you can’t do pull ups yet, do lateral pull downs instead, or assisted pull ups like shown in this Evolution of Pull Ups Video.

After this, I’ll follow the same number of sets and reps for Squats, and then the same number of sets and reps for Straight Leg Dead lifts.  If you’re a newbie, you can stop after the 3rd set.  After a few weeks, add the fourth set.  A few weeks after that, add the 5th set.  Don’t try to do too much too soon if you’re just starting out or you could seriously hurt yourself.  Baby steps!

When I finish with these four exercises (which generally takes about 40 minutes), I’ll do some floor swipes or ball crunches to work my abs.  By the time I finish this workout, I pretty much want to die. It’s over in a matter of 45 minutes, and I feel freaking amazing afterward.  Think of the last crappy television show you watched.  There’s 45 minutes right there.

Another important thing to note is that you should stretch out AFTER you workout. Think about it, you just destroyed all of your muscles, so they’re all tight and contracted.  When you stretch them out, you’ll regain flexibility, and open them up so when you eat protein more of it will be spread out throughout the muscle and you’ll grow bigger quicker.

Now, because I’m absolutely destroying myself with these exercises on Mondays, I want to give my muscles a few days to recover.  On Wednesday, I might do lighter weights for different exercises (example: chest: dips, back: seated cable row, quads: lunges, hamstrings: leg curls).  Every other day I’ll do an exercise for each muscle group, but I’ll mix up the exercise so I’m hitting the muscles from different angles and keeping them guessing, which will promote more growth and less “plateauing” (when your body gets stuck on a certain weight because it’s bored).  If I work out really hard Monday, I might spend Wednesday with really light weights just stretching out each of the muscles.

This is the routine I’ll be following for the next 4 weeks, then I’ll reevaluate and see where I’m at and what I want to mix up.


Keep It Simple, Stupid! Get Results with Only 4 Exercises

As stated in yesterday’s blog, I’ve just set up my new goals and fitness plans for the next 8 weeks.  My personal trainer certification instructor and mentor Mike Rickett passed along some great advice to me for both my new routine and routines I develop for my clients: “keep it simple, stupid!”

My new routine is deceptively simple and requires only about 2.5-3 hours TOTAL per week in the gym.  Instead of concentrating on each and every little tiny muscle and hitting it from 8 different angles, I’m doing full body workouts that use as many muscles as possible at once.  Why spend more time in there if you don’t have to?  Efficiency people, efficiency!

I target four muscle groups every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday…the same four muscle groups that you need to work out whether you’re trying to bulk up or cut off the fat.  If you want to gain weight, you want exercises that use as many muscles as possible so when you rebuild you’ll rebuild more muscles and gett bigger!  If you’re trying to lose weight, you want to do exercises that will target the most fat on your body and stimulate as many of the muscles underneath as you can.

Chest – Most exercises that work your entire chest will also your shoulders and your triceps.  This is a good thing.  Exercises done with dumbbells will recruit even more muscles to help stabilize your arms as you raise them up and down.  I start out my routine with a chest exercise; it can be regular bench press, dumbbell flys, incline dumbbell press, decline bench press, cable crossover, etc. Later on in the week I’ll go into more detail on these exercises, but I make sure to work my chest while also working my shoulders and triceps.  Currently rocking some killer man boobs?  Get rid of that fat by doing exercises that work your entire chest to burn the most fat on top of them.

Back – Your back is a big collection of a bunch of muscles.  I love doing back exercises because a lot of other people hate them.  My favorite exercise is probably wide grip pull ups for a number of reasons:

  1. Pull ups make you feel like a bad ass.
  2. Rocky does them in a training montage in Rocky IV, maybe the greatest cinematic masterpiece in the history of the world.
  3. A majority of the activities on Ninja Warrior require INCREDIBLE back and bicep strength, so I figure might as well train in case they call and say they need me.
  4. They’re freaking tough, and work every damn muscle in your back, biceps, and forearms.

Now, when you do pull ups (and any variation on them – wide grip, narrow grip, underhand, overhand, assisted, etc.) you’ll be using practically every muscle in your back along with your biceps.  Two for one!

Quads – Squats. Do them.  I avoided squats for years because I thought they were messing up my back.  Wrong.  The reason the Squats hurt were because I was both doing them wrong and I had very poor lower back strength.  Squats work almost every freaking muscle in your body, which is why you need to be doing them.  I love watching people in the gym doing “squats” and they go down about two inches and then stand back up.  If you’re doing legitimate squats, your thighs should be parallel to the floor at the bottom, which won’t mess up your knees if you keep your butt way back, your back strong, and don’t extend your knees out over the front of your feet.  Some other great quad exercises include lunges (boy I hate lunges) and one legged squats.

Hamstrings – Dead lifts – Another exercise I avoided because of my back when I finally realized that I needed to be doing them to build up my lower strength and really see some gains in size.  If you do this exercise properly, you’ll see great gains in strength and size in your back and legs, because it works both of them.  Also, by the time you’re lifting heavy weights, you’ll be recruiting your shoulders and arms to just hold onto the weight as you raise it and lower it!  Now there are all kinds of variations on this that will work those hammies: Romanian dead lifts, straight leg dead lifts, one legged dead lifts, leg curls, etc.

That’s it.  Simple enough, right?  Instead of spending two hours a day doing eight exercises per muscle group, why not shock the hell out of each of them every time you get in the gym…and get it done in far less time.  You might think it’s crazy to hit each of these muscle groups three times a week.  Check back tomorrow for my current routine to show you how I use these principles to develop a routine that will promote muscle growth and get some cardio in there as well without over-exhausting my muscles.


Interview with Chris McNeil, the Creator of FitMenu!

Chris McNeil

Chris McNeil

In the past few months of writing this blog, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some pretty interesting people both in the field of fitness and technology.  Chris McNeil, founder and creator of Pensarc, is one such individual.  A member of the fitness community for over 25 years, Chris has been constantly at the forefront of developing new techniques to help people stay in shape through creative software.  Chris was nice enough to answer some questions about his background, his love of merging technology and fitness, and his current projects that will soon make things easier for everybody throughout the country to get healthy!

Hey Chris, let’s talk about your work on merging fitness with technology.  You work for Pensarc. is this YOUR company, or a company you work for?  Why the focus on fitness related websites?

I am the founder of Pensarc. I owned a chain of personal training studios for 9 years prior to that. While I owned the studios, I found myself getting more and more focused on developing web-based software to help the clients get fit faster,  to manage the business more effectively, and to market fitness better. Two of the products, “FitPoint” (an online fitness scoring system that tracks results and turns them into a competitive game) and the “Wireless Workout” (handheld computers on a wireless network that replaced clipboards with a web-based workout tracking system) won the Nova 7 award for innovation in new technologies in fitness, which got them national recognition.  That recognition facilitated my move to starting Pensarc to further develop and market the online fitness products.

Where did you come up with the idea for

FitMenuI am a strong believer in symbiotic businesses marketing together. FitMenu is a platform for just that.  Health related businesses sponsor restaurants and benefit from the positive exposure gained by the association. It also makes the benefits to the restaurant free to them, so restaurants are very willing to join the program when it’s that easy. Each sponsored restaurant gets 3 healthy menu items analyzed  and listed in the searchable database.  They also benefit from the promotions and materials supplied by the sponsor to promote healthy eating at their establishments. And, of course, the person who benefits the most is the health-minded diner. People can continue to lose weight,  stay fit, and feel great while enjoying eating out as much as they want to.

What are your goals when it comes to  Where is it currently available?

My goal is for FitMenu to be in 100 U.S. cities by the end of the year. FitMenu is currently in 4 cities in South Carolina. The program has been very successful there so it is going nationwide. With the web-based sponsor software that runs the program, we can support restaurants and sponsors anywhere there is internet. So, we are in the process of a nationwide rollout.  I think it will happen quickly because there is a lot of incentive to being the first FitMenu sponsor in your area. They get the pick of the restaurants to sponsor before their competitors get a chance.

Have you always been interested in fitness and getting healthy?  If it’s something you started doing for a certain reason, what was that reason?

I have been in some sort of fitness business for 25 years. I have been an owner of a fitness business for 20 years. I have a mission to empower the average person to have the enjoyment of a body that feels great because it can perform at high levels. When I was 19 years old and running fitness centers, I saw that the typical health club business model did not support the success of the average person. I sought to create new models that were more helpful to normal people wanting to get in great shape, which eventually became incorporated into my chain of fitness studios and now my online fitness applications.

You also mentioned you’re working on a new exciting website as well that’s launching soon, what can you tell us about it?

There are actually two main projects coming to fruition soon. One is a web-based operating system for personal training businesses. This will give a typical personal trainer a great sense of control over his or her business. I am doing this in partnership with Shane Doll of Shane Doll Fitness. Shane also owns Shaping Concepts ( Fitness Studios.  The other one is still secret, but if you follow me at you’ll learn about it first! 😉

Any advice to pass on to fellow technology lovers when it comes to staying healthy?

It doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming to achieve a lean, healthy body with a high level of fitness. The secret is to have good systems. One such system is that of exercise performance goal-setting. That means creating timelines of measurable progress in the key exercises you are doing. Another is cycling your training so that you emphasize different areas of fitness at different times. The FitPoint system I created automatically changes the program cycle for each user every three weeks. Three weeks is the “sweet spot” of how long to stay with a particular progam before you would start to plateau on it. Then, instead, you switch to something different.

In nutrition, I believe in managing your lifestyle instead of strict dieting. Start with your normal habits and shape in a healthier direction instead of following a rigid plan that doesn’t take you or your lifestyle into account. That way, you can stick with it and permanently create the lifestyle that supports the healthy body you want.

Chris McNeil is the founder of Pensarc Software Development. Chris has twice won the Nova 7 award for innovation in websites and new technology. His FitMenu program was recognized as an “Innovator 2008” by the Charleston Regional Business Journal.

Why I Work Out

Okay, so I realized that I said blog posts would resume yesterday, and I lied.  If you’ve been following my blogs over on the Sixthman website (my day job), you know that I just got off a cruise ship that really wore me down, and it took an extra day to recover.  I posted a new blog over there today so feel free to read.

Essentially, I spent 5 days on a cruise ship with John Mayer, Guster, O.A.R., twelve other bands, and 2900 music fans.  I slept probably three hours a night and walked off that ship feeling like a zombie.  Every time I tried to write for NF my brain simply said “NOPE!”  After a day on the couch and many hours of television, I’m ready to write.

I’ve put a lot of thought over the past few days into why I enjoy exercising.  I’m absolutely fascinated with the concept of efficiency and operating at the highest level possible.  If you decide to do something, you can either half-ass it or you can go all out.  When I started playing online poker years ago, I read probably a dozen books on poker and learned to remove emotion from my decision making.  If you can remove the “gut feelings” and “revenge” factor by playing like a well-oiled machine, you’ll be far more successful (and efficient) than a guy who flies by the seat of his pants.

I learned to play blackjack and craps the same way.  After a year of screwing around in a casino while on vacations and throwing my money away, I read books on both and learned the proper way to play.  Now I can teach anybody to play proper craps in 20 minutes.  I might even write a blog about it some day!

Nagano, 1 of 2 people to complete Ninja Warrior

Nagano, 1 of 2 people to complete Ninja Warrior

To me, exercising is no different. I am always amazed at guys who can compete at a level above and beyond anybody else (Example: Makoto Nagano – pictured to the left –  a fisherman from Japan who actually completed the Ninja Warrior challenge).  I realize most professional athletes are blessed with a great amount of innate ability, but it’s the gifted athletes who still wake up at 6AM in the gym pushing themselves to get better and better that grab my attention.  The guys that eat right, determine the best possible way to get in shape, and then attack it with consistency and motivation day-in, day out.

Make sure you know who you want to be.  I could care less about the body-builders on steroids or the guys who can look at a dumbbell and get ripped.  Those are rare cases that don’t showcase how truly dedicated everybody else needs to be to operate at that level.

I have so much more respect for the guys with slow metabolisms (or fast) who really have to work to stay in shape.  Being healthy is a challenge and should give you a sense of satisfaction because you know how hard you had to work to get there.  I have even more respect for the guys and girls who stay in shape while working full time jobs and raising a family.  There’s always a million excuses to skip the gym, especially when time is limited.  My heroes are the people who can overcome every excuse.

For those of you struggling to lose weight, I can definitely relate (but from the opposite end of the spectrum).  I am one of the fortunate few blessed with a ridiculously fast metabolism; this means that I can’t put on any kind of weight (whether it be muscle or fat).  As a skinny guy trying to build muscle, I have to find a way to eat insane amounts of healthy calories every single day (while exercising) in order to see any sort of progress, which requires a lot of money and time (buying more food, preparing more food, eating more food, cleaning up afterward).  I wish I could get away with eating 1500 calories a day, but that would get me nowhere.

I try to stick to this routine consistently, not because I want to impress people with how I look, but because I want to be the best damn person I can be.  That means being the best person at my job, best volunteer at the hospital, best personal trainer to my clients, and best athlete for the sport in which I’m competing.  If I’m playing the piano, I want to get better and better.  If it’s a competition, I want to be the best.  Just like the Xbox Live leaderboard, there are ways you can compare yourself to others, and ways to compete against yourself (improvement).  Complacency is dangerous.  Always strive to be better, and you will get better.

For those of you who play RPG’s, it’s like leveling up your character.  There’s always room for improvement, there’s always one more thing you can do.  To quote Gerard Butler, the actor who played King Leonidas in 300, “You know that every bead of sweat falling off your head, every weight you’ve pumped — the history of that is all in your eyes.  That was a great thing, to put on that cape and put on that helmet, and not have to think, shit, I should have trained more. Instead, I was standing there feeling like a lion.

I want to work out because I want to feel like that.  Why do you exercise?


How to Read a Nutrition Label, Part 4

The fine print:  Ingredients list.

All the ingredients in food are listed in order of how much is contained by weight.  The first few ingredients make up most of the product.  It is useful to look at the ingredients list in certain situations:

If you are looking for a healthy whole-grain bread or cereal, make sure the first ingredient listed is “whole grain.”  Sometimes the name of a product may be misleading, but the ingredients list won’t lie!

Many packaged products contain a good deal of sugar.  If sugar (or one of its aliases, like high fructose corn syrup) is listed as the first or second ingredient, you may want to reconsider your food choice.  People with food allergies or sensitivities must read ingredients lists diligently to avoid trigger foods.

Let’s recap the basics:  Look at the serving size and calorie count.  Make sure you know how many calories you are putting into you body!

Check out the macronutrients.  Good things to see are:

  • High dietary fiber
  • Low saturated and trans fat (unsaturated fats are the healthy fats, but they are still high in calories)
  • Low sodium
  • Glance over the ingredients list.  The first 4-5 ingredients probably make up most of the product.

It’s your body!  Make sure you know what you are feeding it.


Again, all the credit in the world goes to my friend for taking the time to write out these blogs on nutrition, thanks Hales!  Tomorrow’s blog might not happen because I’m still on a ship sailing up the Mexican Coast to LA (The Mayercraft Carrier, read our blogs about THAT over here).  Things are crazy hectic and I might not get around to it.  Updates surely to resume Wednesday!

How to Read a Nutrition Label, Part 3

Sure this type of mineral is way different, but it's much prettier to look at

Sure this type of mineral is way different, but it's much prettier to look at

Happy Friday everybody!

I’m currently out to sea on the Mayercraft Carrier 2.  Check out my blogs for the cruise by reading the Sixthman Blog.  For those of you still plugging away on how to read a nutrition label, here’s the little stuff.  Sure it’s tiny, but it’s still damn important, so pay attention!

Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. These are nutrients that your body needs to function properly.  In general, if you eat a well balanced diet (vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, and lean protein sources), you will get enough of each micronutrient.  The %DV is listed for each micronutrient.  Here are a few key players to pay attention to:

Calcium:  Needed to build bone. This is especially important for women, because bone mass decreases after menopause, so build your bones strong while you are young!

Vitamin D:  Needed to aid absorption of calcium. Some of this comes from food, and some is made by your body when you are exposed to sunlight.

Iron:  Needed to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying substance in blood cells. Women are more at-risk for being iron deficient, while men are more at-risk for being iron overloaded.

You may notice that that some labels list more micronutrients than others.  If a micronutrient is missing from a label, that means there is not any of it in the food product.  (Look at the Nutrition Facts for a can of soda.  See any micronutrients on there?  That’s why soda is referred to as “empty calories.”)

If the variety of your diet is restricted, you may be at risk for certain vitamin deficiencies. Also, there are certain health conditions that increase the requirement of particular nutrients.  For example, pregnant women need extra folic acid, and people who are anemic may need extra iron.  These are all issues that can be discussed with a registered dietitian or doctor.

A quick word on vitamin supplements: Over the counter multivitamin supplements have been recommended by some health professionals, while others say they are not necessary.  If you think the variety of your diet does not provide enough of each vitamin or mineral, a daily multivitamin is not a bad idea.  However, stay away from “megadoses” of vitamins or minerals until you have a discussion with your doctor or registered dietician.


How to Read a Nutrition Label, Part 2


Why doesn't this guy have a body?

What is %DV? This is the “percent daily value,” or the % of the total amount per day that one should consume for each nutrient.  For some nutrients (like dietary fiber and potassium), the DV is the minimum amount you should consumer per day.  For most other nutrients (fats, sodium, and cholesterol) the DV is the maximum amount you should consume.

Fat comes in several types:  the good, the bad, and the ugly. The terms “saturated” or “unsaturated” refer to bonding of hydrogen atoms to carbon atoms in a fat molecule.  When every carbon molecule is bound to the maximum number of hydrogen atoms, the fat is “saturated.”  If some carbon molecules are double-bonded to each other (and bonded to fewer hydrogen atoms), the fat is “unsaturated.”

  • The good:  Unsaturated fat. This is the “healthy” type of fat.  There are two types, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (don’t worry too much about the difference, it has to do with the number of carbon double-bonds in the molecule).  Unsaturated fat is typically liquid at room temperature, and you find it in plant-based products (like vegetable oils, nuts, avocados, etc).
  • What about Saturated fat? There’s a lot of conflicting studies out there on Saturated Fat, and it’s been vilified by marketing companies for years.  So what’s the truth?  Personally, I believe that saturated fat is an important nutrient that we need in our system.  I belong to the Mark Sisson school of thought when it comes to Saturated Fat, and thus consume more than the government recommends (and honestly, I don’t really trust their numbers!)
  • The bad:  Trans fat. There has been a good deal of hype about trans fat in recent years.  So what’s the deal?  Trans fat is technically an unsaturated fat, but the fat molecule has a different type of carbon double-bond that gets created when oil is “partially hydrogenated.”  Hydrogenation is a process used in food production to increase shelf life.  Why does all this matter?  The “trans” type double bond causes the fat to behave differently in the body, and NOT in a good way.  Trans fat can contribute to atherosclerosis as well as raising your bad cholesterol and lowering good cholesterol.  Keep your intake of trans fat as low as possible.

Cholesterol is the next big player on the list. Cholesterol is an important building block in cell membranes.  We get some from food, and some is made in the liver.  Cholesterol is mainly found in animal products, just like saturated fat.  Too much cholesterol also contributes to atherosclerosis, so watch your intake.

Sodium, and often Potassium, are also listed in this part of the Nutrition Facts label. These are electrolytes (refer to “what the eff is an electrolyte?”).  The main thing to watch here is sodium content.  Too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure.  The high sodium content of many prepackaged and canned foods may surprise you!

Carbohydrates include simple carbs (sugars, like glucose, fructose, dextrose) and complex carbs (fiber and polysaccharides).

Dietary fiber is great stuff! There are two types.  Soluble fiber is digestible and gets absorbed by your body.  This type of fiber helps lower your cholesterol and keeps your blood sugar levels stable.  Insoluble fiber is not digestible, so it stays in your GI tract and helps “keep things moving.”  Trust me, this is a good thing.  (Soluble fiber is listed on the nutrition label but insoluble fiber is not—just subtract soluble fiber from dietary fiber to find out the amount of insoluble fiber!)

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate. It can be absorbed by your gut very quickly because it doesn’t need to be broken down by enzymes first.  Sugar is not necessarily bad for you, but taking in large amounts of sugar can cause your blood sugar levels to become unstable.

Other carbohydrate generally refers to other complex (large) carbohydrates in food, such as starch. These large molecules are broken down by enzymes into sugar, but the process takes a while.  Complex carbohydrates keep your blood sugar levels more stable than do simple carbohydrates.

Protein is one of the main building blocks for muscle and other body tissues. There is not a DV for protein because the amount of protein that each person needs is quite variable.  Refer to my previous blog on why protein is like playing tetris.


How to Read a Nutrition Label, Part 1

I want to preface this blog by saying the majority of this has been written by my good friend Ali, a med-student who also happens to be a health and fitness nut.  She knows that the nation’s health problems (and issues with obesity) will cause all kinds of problems years from now in our hospitals (and our tax dollars), so she wants to help me in any way possible get these uber-important messages across to the world.

So you’re here, which means you want to get in shape and change your life.  If you haven’t followed through my first five posts on getting started towards getting in shape, go back and read them…and then come back here.

So you’re getting ready to start exercising, and you know that your diet is responsible for 80% of your success.  You know that all that food you buy in the grocery store?  You need to need to know what you’re eating before you shove it down your throat.  Let’s go through what’s actually on that label:

You are what you eat.”
Well, not literally…but there is quite a bit of truth to this statement, so it’s not a bad idea to know what you’re putting into your body every time you eat!  Luckilyy for us, the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) requires a nutrition facts label for most packaged food.  If you know how to sift through the information in the label, you can make healthy food choices and have a healthier body!  Pick up any food in a box in your house, and look at it as you read this blog.

Here’s an overview of the Nutrition Facts label that we’ll go over in this 4 part blog:

  1. At the very top of the label, you see “serving size” and “servings per container.”
  2. The first part of the label has information about Calories, macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, protein), and some important electrolytes (sodium and potassium).
  3. The second part of the label has information about micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
  4. The very bottom of the label, or sometimes to the side, is a list of ingredients.

Part 1.  Where to start?  Serving size.

  • Serving size is pretty self-explanatory; it is the amount of food, by volume or weight, that is considered one “serving.”  Keep in mind that the amount you typically consume in one sitting may be more or less than one “serving.”  (Get out a measuring cup and measure 1 cup of cereal.  Now pour that into your regular bowl.  See?)  Keep this in mind, because your serving size could be way off compared to the listed serving size.
  • Most packages will also list the number of servings per container.  For example, a 32 oz bottle of Gatorade is considered 4 servings… even though you’re probably going to drink the whole thing.
  • The rest of the nutritional information is based on the listed serving size.  Keep that in mind.  So if you eat or drink 2 “servings,” you’ll need to multiply all the other nutritional facts by 2.  If you eat an entire family-size bag of Peanut M&Ms, there’s 27 servings.

Part 2. Calories

Calories are energy from food.  (For the real nerds, a calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celcius, or 4.184 joules.  1000 calories equals a kilocalorie, or Calorie with a big C, which is the unit we are talking about with food.  Got it?)  This is the simple part: if you burn more calories than you consume in a day you’ll lose weight.  If you consume more than you burn, you’ll gain weight.  It’s science.

Macro-nutrients include carbohydrates, protein, and fats. These are the building blocks of the body.  The calories in food come from these building blocks.  Now, the calories that make up each macro nutrient weigh different amounts.

Macro-nutrient    Calories per gram
Carbohydrate  4
Protein   4
Fat 9

Remember this, when the box says 10g of carbs, it’s 40 calories.  When you eat 10g of fat, its 90 calories.  To figure out how many calories you should eat every day, you can follow this blog.  Part 2 will either come tomorrow or the next day, depending on if I feel inspired yet to write my blog about outdoor fitness.

No, the poison ivy isn’t any better


Why Today’s Post is Terrible.

I can has poizon ivy?!

I can has poizon ivy?!

See this cat?  Yeah, it might look cute and cuddly, maybe even harmless.  If you think any of these things, you’re an idiot-head banana pants.  Frisby the Cat could possibly be pure evil.  Either that, or she’s just too dumb to know any better (right now, she trying to sit on my arms as I’m typing, I kid you not).

Saturday afternoon was glorious down here in ATL, so I decided I was going to sit on our back porch and read Watchen (which is badass by the way, absolutely loving it so far). As I sat on the back porch, I came up with this idea for my blog for Tuesday about exercising outdoors.  Welllllll, Frisby got outside, and decided to wander aimlessly through the woods.  She generally comes back after about 5 minutes because she realizes she can only acquire generous amounts of Meow Mix INSIDE the house.  However, after about twenty minutes she still hadn’t come back.  I climbed down the back steps, and sure enough, Fribsy was approximately 100 yards away deep in the woods, wandering like a sheep without a shepherd (or a cat without a brain).

Being the idiot that I am, I trudged through the woods, picked up the cat, and dragged her inside, and then went back to reading my book.  Little did I know that Frisby managed to walk through a whole patch of poison ivy during her gallivanting in the woods.  I woke up the next day with a poison ivy rash on my right forearm, under my chin, behind my right here, on the left side of my nose, and 2 millimeters above my right eye.  I guess I’m lucky it hasn’t spread to a larger area – as a little kid I’d literally only have to LOOK at poison ivy and my face would swell up like a balloon.

So, I currently hate the outdoors, and instead of coming home today to write a post about fitness, I ran off to various pharmacies trying to track down the highest legal dosage of cortisone available.  Apparently that’s only 1%.  Lame.  The reason I’m so worried about this poison ivy is because I’m heading to L.A. tomorrow with my company to produce the Mayercraft Carrier with John Mayer, O.A.R., and Guster.   We’re putting on a charity night with VH1’s Save the Music Thursday night, so this thing is pretty high profile.  I swear to God, if my face swells up like a balloon just in time for this event, Frisby’s goin down.

Updates over the next week and a half will hopefully be consistent, but we’ll see how things go on this cruise, I bet it will get crazy.  Rest assured, the updates and blogs will resume once I’m back on dry land.

Poison ivy, I hate you.


Use Your Success in the Gym to Level up Your Life

Sure you know exercising will make you feel better, but did you ever think of how else it will improve your life?   Getting in shape will not only improve your health, but it will certainly improve your appearance and increase your self-confidence.  Think about it: with all of these things going right for you, things can only get better, right?  2/3rds of the country is considered overweight; why not put yourself ahead of those 2/3rds and see what happens.  At the very least, you’ll be in great shape and probably live much longer.  Let’s see a few examples:

  • You go into a job interview, and you’re up against a fat guy with the same qualifications as you.  Who do you think they’re going to pick?  The guy in shape, who is far less likely to have health problems and need sick days, or the overweight unkempt guy?  All other things being equal, I’d bet 9 times out 10 you’d be the one selected.  They say one of the most important things about a job interview (other than height) is attractiveness when it comes to success.  Sure you might ugly, but you can at least control whether or not you have a gut!  When it’s a variable you can control, take advantage.
  • You’re out at a bar, and you meet a cute girl.  It doesn’t make her superficial if she’d prefer to date a guy that takes care of himself and his body.  Also, I bet you’ll feel more confident approaching her if you feel good about how you look.  Let’s say you’re older and you’re looking for a wife: if she’s looking for “husband” material, do you think she’d select the slob with a beer belly?  Hell no!  She’ll take the guy who’s going to provide her with the best opportunity to raise a family for many years to come.  You can develop that beer guy AFTER you get married (joke).
  • If you get fired from your job (which is like 10% of the country these days), start exercising.  If you get dumped by your girlfriend, join a gym.   Just 30 minutes a day can have a dramatic effect on your self esteem, energy, confidence, plus it will help you keep your mind off the stuff in your life that might not be going so well.
  • Use your successes in the gym to get the ball rolling for other successes in your life.  Getting ready to start a company and nervous about it?  Want to launch a website and don’t know where to begin, think back to your goals in the gym: lose 15 lbs, bench 150lbs, do 10 pull ups.  I bet most of those goals seemed unrealistic too until you accomplished them.  Realize that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, and have some fun with it.

Be who you want to be, and make it happen.


What’s Your Motivation?

"You see Bob, it's a lack of motivation..."

"You see Bob, it's a lack of motivation..."

It’s 5AM on Friday, and you’re exhausted.  You’re on the road, and you have only 30 minutes before you have to check out from your hotel.  It’s Saturday afternoon and all you friends are drinking and playing video games.  There are literally a million reasons you can give yourself to skip a workout, and it generally only takes one of them to tip towards laziness.  You need to find that one reason that makes you move.  It’s this one reason, every single day, that will drive you to be a better person, improve your health, and get stronger.

A lot of people decide to get in shape because their doctors said so.  Others make the decision because they’re in a competition with office buddies to lose weight.  The reasons to start are endless: New Year’s resolutions, curiosity, because your friend convinced you to do it.  I don’t care what reason gets you to start exercising, as long as you’re doing it.

Now, the reason that got you to start exercising might not last very long; it might get you started but could fade very quickly as soon as adversity shows itself (traveling, vacation, holidays, a cold, etc).  In order to be successful, you have to find the motivation to KEEP going, to break through those tough days.  It’s this motivation that will drive you to exercise when you’re tired, not miss a workout because you’re sleepy, and get out of bed early on a Saturday while your friends lie in bed hung over.

Whatever that motivation is, find it. If it’s a movie quote, a picture of what you want to look like, song lyrics, make it a part of your daily routine first thing in the morning.  I wake up every morning to a quote from my favorite movie hanging on the wall: “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”  In the gym, at work, and in life, I try to improve myself every single day.

What’s your motivation?  How do you remind yourself every day of what you want to accomplish?


6 Things You Need to Do Before Buying a Gym Membership

So, you’re motivated, you’re eager, and you’ve decided that you want to get a gym membership.  Luckily, in this economy people are dropping like flies from gyms so most places will pretty much do anything to get you to join their club.  Did you hear that Cinderella?  You’re practically the prettiest girl at the ball! Now, here are six things to consider before giving it up (your money).

Now, let’s be honest…most gyms suck, and the managers that run them are only after your money.  Family Guy explains this perfectly in this short clip below.  It’s important you do your research so you don’t get suckered into a crappy commitment with a crappy gym.

1) Do your research – If you live in a big city, there are probably dozens and dozens of gyms within a 15 mile radius.  Type in “gym” or “health club” and your address into Google and see what pops up.  Start making some phone calls and find out what their membership rates are, if there is a initiation fee, what their hours are, etc.  Interested in playing basketball, taking classes, swimming, etc.?  Check out different options.  One gym might be $50 a month compared to another at $25, but check to see what you get for that money: if you’re going to be doing things other than just lifting weights and hitting a treadmill, might not be a bad idea to splurge for the more expensive gym with all the bells and whistles.  Your choice.

2) Chain gym or local gym? Both have their advantages and disadvantages.  Local gyms often have better trainers, more reasonable management (who aren’t solely after getting your money), while chain gyms often allow you to work out at any of their gyms in the country.  Big traveler? Might be good to get a nationwide membership.  Want to support local businesses? Find a good gym and get to know the owner…he might be more lenient on your membership rates.  Big chains have rates that generally set in stone, and many of them are only after your wallet.  It all comes down to what you want out of your gym.

3) What time of day will you usually go the gym? Decide if you want to work out before work, after work, late at night before bed, etc.  Obviously if you want to go straight from work every day, you’ll want to pick a gym by your office, and if you want to work out at home…go look at gyms there.  Timing is everything, and location.  If it’s really close to where you are, you’re far more likely to make the trip than if you have to drive half an hour.  Location, location, location.

4) Get a guest pass. Most gyms offer guest passes, which allow you to work out at their gym free for a week.  Make sure you go to the gym at the same time that you’ll usually be working out once you get a membership.  A gym could be great on a weekend when you go into to look at it, but right after work it could be more packed than Old Country Buffet on half-priced Tuesdays.  If they give you a free week, make sure you use it multiple times.  You might get a bad impression of a gym on one day simply because they were having a free open house or something.

5) Talk to other members. Find somebody at the gym you’re testing it out and ask them what they like and dislike about it.  They could tell you that there’s always a weird funk in the locker room, the trainers are a bunch of creeps, or the equipment is always busted.  They could also tell you it’s fantastic and they’ve had a nothing but great experiences there!  You won’t know unless you ask.  I’d recommend catching people after their workout or before…I wouldn’t really bring it up in the shower or when somebody is halfway through a set.

6) Find a good gym?  Good! Now try out two other ones. After you decide on a gym, sit down with their management and find out what kind of deals they can offer.  Do they have a family discount?  A lot of gyms will have specials if you can sign up with a friend.  Another thing you want to decide is if you want to do a short term month-to-month deal, or pay a discounted price but get locked into a contract.  Tell them you want to think about it, and then find another gym and use their free week membership.  You can probably get at least a good month worth of fitness in without paying a dime if you play your cards right.


Iron and the Soul – Henry Rollins

This dude will equalize you.

This dude will equalize you.

This weekend I was hanging out with my friend Chris, playing some music and talking about life. 

He recently started exercising and getting in shape, and has already lost about 10 pounds.  He told me about this great article he had read that really inspired him, and I had to share it here because it got me really fired up too.  Written by Henry Rollins (yes, THAT Henry Rollins), this article truly put a lot of things into perspective for me.  Regardless of your thoughts on Rollins’s political views, music, etc…the guy wrote one hell of an article.  Here it is reprinted.

It’s very long, but make sure you get all the way through it, especially the last paragraph:

Iron and the Soul

I believe that the definition of definition is reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself. Completely.

When I was young I had no sense of myself. All I was, was a product of all the fear and humiliation I suffered. Fear of my parents. The humiliation of teachers calling me “garbage can” and telling me I’d be mowing lawns for a living. And the very real terror of my fellow students. I was threatened and beaten up for the color of my skin and my size. I was skinny and clumsy, and when others would tease me I didn’t run home crying, wondering why. I knew all too well. I was there to be antagonized. In sports I was laughed at. A spaz. I was pretty good at boxing but only because the rage that filled my every waking moment made me wild and unpredictable. I fought with some strange fury. The other boys thought I was crazy.

I hated myself all the time. As stupid at it seems now, I wanted to talk like them, dress like them, carry myself with the ease of knowing that I wasn’t going to get pounded in the hallway between classes.

Years passed and I learned to keep it all inside. I only talked to a few boys in my grade. Other losers. Some of them are to this day the greatest people I have ever known. Hang out with a guy who has had his head flushed down a toilet a few times, treat him with respect, and you’ll find a faithful friend forever. But even with friends, school sucked. Teachers gave me hard time. I didn’t think much of them either.

Then came Mr. Pepperman, my adviser. He was a powerfully built Vietnam veteran, and he was scary. No one ever talked out of turn in his class. Once one kid did and Mr. P. lifted him off the ground and pinned him to the blackboard.

Mr. P. could see that I was in bad shape, and one Friday in October he asked me if I had ever worked out with weights. I told him no. He told me that I was going to take some of the money that I had saved and buy a hundred-pound set of weights at Sears. As I left his office, I started to think of things I would say to him on Monday when he asked about the weights that I was not going to buy. Still, it made me feel special. My father never really got that close to caring. On Saturday I bought the weights, but I couldn’t even drag them to my mom’s car. An attendant laughed at me as he put them on a dolly.

Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.’s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. He was going to put me on a program and start hitting me in the solar plexus in the hallway when I wasn’t looking. When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing.

In the gym he showed me ten basic exercises. I paid more attention than I ever did in any of my classes. I didn’t want to blow it. I went home that night and started right in. Weeks passed, and every once in a while Mr. P. would give me a shot and drop me in the hallway, sending my books flying. The other students didn’t know what to think. More weeks passed, and I was steadily adding new weights to the bar. I could sense the power inside my body growing. I could feel it.

Right before Christmas break I was walking to class, and from out of nowhere Mr. Pepperman appeared and gave me a shot in the chest. I laughed and kept going. He said I could look at myself now. I got home and ran to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt. I saw a body, not just the shell that housed my stomach and my heart. My biceps bulged. My chest had definition. I felt strong. It was the first time I can remember having a sense of myself. I had done something and no one could ever take it away. You couldn’t say **** to me.

It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn’t want to come off the mat, it’s the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn’t teach you anything. That’s the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a ceratin amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can’t be as bad as that workout.

I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness. But when dealing with the Iron, one must be careful to interpret the pain correctly. Most injuries involving the Iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn’t ready for and spent a few months not picking up anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you’re not prepared to and the Iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.

I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone’s shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character. It is the difference between bouncers who get off strong-arming people and Mr. Pepperman.

Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.

Yukio Mishima said that he could not entertain the idea of romance if he was not strong. Romance is such a strong and overwhelming passion, a weakened body cannot sustain it for long. I have some of my most romantic thoughts when I am with the Iron. Once I was in love with a woman. I thought about her the most when the pain from a workout was racing through my body. Everything in me wanted her. So much so that sex was only a fraction of my total desire. It was the single most intense love I have ever felt, but she lived far away and I didn’t see her very often. Working out was a healthy way of dealing with the loneliness. To this day, when I work out I usually listen to ballads.

I prefer to work out alone. It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you’re made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live.

Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it’s some kind of miracle if you’re not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole. I see them move from their offices to their cars and on to their suburban homes. They stress out constantly, they lose sleep, they eat badly. And they behave badly. Their egos run wild; they become motivated by that which will eventually give them a massive stroke. They need the Iron mind.

Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind. The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go.

But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.

-Henry Rollins

Great article.  That last paragraph really resonated with me: you can be whoever you want to be, hear whatever you want to hear from anybody around…but at the end of the day you only have to answer to yourself.  Think about it, lifting weights and exercising gives you immediate feedback and sense of accomplishment.  If you ran a mile in 6 minutes last week, and 5:55 this week…you’re improving.  If you lifted 200 lbs last month and 205 this month, you’re getting stronger.  One day at a time, one pound at a time, one rep at time.

Set a list of goals, and you can work every single day towards reaching them.  When you get there, you’ll know it’s because of your hard work and dedication.  Make it happen.



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