Simplifying Nutrition: The Daily Fruit & Veggie Chart

1 04 2014

Sometimes I come across something and I want the entire world to know about it immediately. In my experience, the majority of the population has a hard time getting enough fruits and veggies. There are a thousand reasons behind this, but I think one of the factors is that people don’t know why they should be eating certain types of produce, nor do they know how much they should be consuming.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, for those of you serious about your health, I give you the Fruit & Veggie Colour-Coded Nutrition Infographic (yep, I made that name up just now). This little chart breaks produce down into colours, explains what each category offers your body, and offers suggestions on how to get these foods into your body. Just eat one cup from each section on a daily basis, and you’ll have the beauty of a unicorn and the virility of a centaur… or something like that.

Fruit-and-Vegetable-Infographic

 

Additionally, here’s a nice little checklist you can use to track your success:

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Print these two bad boys out, toss them up on your fridge, and watch your health improve- one day at a time! As always, I’d like to credit Precision Nutrition for creating amazing resources like this for us- things like this make the process of getting healthier exponentially easier.

For more info, your know how to find me!

DW

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The Real Heart-Healthy Oils

30 03 2014

As much as I like to believe that we’re making progress in the world of nutrition, sometimes I see something that makes me stop and think otherwise.  The other day Precision Nutrition posted this chart from the great minds at the Cleveland Clinic:

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Not all the information on this chart is wrong, but boy do they make some terribly outdated suggestions. It’s doubly disappointing to me, because I sadly love everything Cleveland (Go Browns!), but also because this is one of the top hospitals in the US, and no doubt the world. A while back I wrote a piece on how doctors shouldn’t give nutrition advice if they don’t have a formal education on the subject, and this might just be more of the same.

If you’ve read many of past articles, you already probably have a good idea about what I’m going to criticize about this chart, but here’s the skinny:

 1) “The FDA recognizes cooking sprays as safe”

Um, OK? Is that a suggestion that they should be used? Do we have permission? Seriously people, stay away from cooking sprays. If you need to spray your oils, do what it says on the following line and buy some extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil and put it in a manual spray bottle. Steer clear of the packaged cans that contain nitrous oxide, additives and whatever weird oil they claim to be inside.

 2) Suggesting several times that Canola oil is a good choice.

Canola oil isn’t the worst oil in the world, but it’s far from the best. Canola is a huge American cash crop, which is why I’m sure it gets such praise on this chart. Canola oil is convenient because it has a high smoke point, but there are serious question marks about the manufacturing process (GMOs, etc.) and the majority of canola oil used in food processing is at least partially-hydrogenated.  If you are using natural canola oil it won’t hurt you much, but make sure to avoid anything hydrogenated, as this is closer to an industrial-grade lubricant than it is an oil for human consumption. There are simply many better options out there.

 3a) “Saturated fats cause heart disease”

This is me, banging my head against a wall. Research has shown that saturated fats are not the enemy, but are only a problem when consumed in an unbalanced amount in an unhealthy diet. Saturated fat should be balanced with unsaturated fat to ensure optimal health.

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3b) “Steer-clear of tropical-sounding oils like coconut, palm, palm kernel and cottonseed oils. They all contain saturated fats”

As we just covered, saturated fats aren’t evil. As a matter of fat, coconut oil is one of the best oils to cook with and has a plethora of health benefits. Cottonseed oil on the other hand, with it’s 50:1 omega-6:omega-3 ratio should definitely be avoiding. It’s ridiculous that these oils were lumped into the same category.

 Recommendations

For cooking, stick to coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil (for when you want to cook with extreme heat). For sauces and dressings, use flaxseed oil, walnut oil, extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil.  If you balance these different saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils, along with a diet containing eggs, lean meats and fish, you’ll have an excellent fatty acid profile and be in the best position to ward off cardiovascular disease.

DW





Failing with Failure

11 10 2013

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A few weeks ago a buddy of mine asked me the following question:

“What is the importance (or unimportance) of going to failure on every set? Everything I have seen has mentioned how taxing going to failure can be on the CNS, and yet I see everyone in the gym going to failure on every set. Is going to failure bad assuming you can maintain the same form on the last rep you had on the first rep (admittedly that’s a big assumption)?”

Ah yes, going to failure. We’ve all seen those guys at the gym, curling up the bar as their friend struggles on the bench press: “One more buddy!” Truth be told, I’ve been that guy. When I started getting into strength training, it was all about pushing my body to the limits- I went to failure all the time. I literally probably went to failure at least once per workout, whether that entailed having a spotter help me with my last few reps, or simply doing isolation sets like biceps curls until I could no longer lift my arms. As a novice (and young) lifter, in hindsight I feel as though going to failure didn’t hurt me nearly as much as it would now, as an older more experienced lifter. However, I also used to get injured a lot more in my younger years when I was pushing my body to failure on a consistent basis, so take from that what you will; this is simply my anecdotal evidence, but correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation.

The issue, as I see it, is that inexperienced lifters- even some lifters who have been going to the gym on a fairly steady basis for several years- don’t have a very good feel for their actual 1-rep maxes, and haven’t been lifting long enough to find that balance between high, productive intensity, and going to absolute fatigue. The bottom line is this:

Going to failure is unproductive.

Pretty much everything I’ve read or learned over the years backs up this statement. There simply isn’t any evidence out there that training to failure is an effective way to train strength or grow muscle. Yes, there certainly are bodybuilders out there who have and still do swear by this method, but there are definitely other factors at play; I have no doubts that anyone employing the “going to failure routine” could train more effectively. When you lift weights, you are training your CNS (central nervous system) and you are attempting to initiate a growth stimulus in your muscles. You need not go to failure to achieve this stimulus- that final struggle is not the catalyst; progressively increasing intensity in an intelligent manner is. Of course, this does not mean that you shouldn’t train with a high intensity; as I’ve mentioned before, intensity is a major key to progress. To give you an example, the vast majority of my training sets fall in the 70-90% range. If I perform too much work in the 95-100% range, bad things will happen. I save my 1-rep max attempts for competitions and/or for testing my lifts 1-2 times per year. The key is learning to push yourself without taking it too far and employing progressive intensity for sustained success. Going to failure is the key to getting injured, retarding progress and looking like an ass at the gym. In other words, going to failure is failure itself. Not only that, but without a spotter, failure can be dangerous- please don’t be this guy…

On that note, novice lifters especially should absolutely train with a spotter as much as possible. I would never encourage going to failure, and every lifter should try to minimize this as much as possible, but a spotter can minimize the damage as you learn your limits. As I alluded to earlier, I don’t think going to failure is as detrimental to novice lifters, but the more experienced you are, the more critical it becomes to never miss a rep. If I miss a rep in my training, I’ve either programmed poorly, have under-recovered, or just straight up screwed up. In any case, I would almost surely take a few days off to let my body rest, and then start my program anew. If I fail and don’t press the reset button, I know I won’t be able to plow through and progress to my maximum potential; it’s that serious.

Just another reason to avoid going to failure...

Just another reason to avoid going to failure…

In conclusion, if you are looking to build muscle, get stronger, or achieve any sort of physical progress you should concentrate on the 3 Ps:

  1. Perfect your form
  2. Perform all reps with control
  3. Progress your weights slowly

It’s as simple as that. Going to failure might make you feel like you’ve pushed your body to its maximum potential, but things aren’t always as they seem- you’ll almost surely be on the path to injury, and you’ll look like a dick in the process.

For more information on weight training,, you know how to find me!

DW





Sleep: Still More Important Than You Think

30 09 2013

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A few months ago I wrote a little piece to explain the importance of sleep. Well, Precision Nutrition just came out with a new article on sleep to further hammer home the point. Ladies and gentlemen, there is NO substitution for a good night’s sleep. If you think you’re in optimal health but have irregular sleeping patterns or fail to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night, I assure you that your health is suffering. Why?

  • Sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise when it comes to improving your health. If you take anything away from this article, please let it be this.
  • Good sleep helps our bodies and minds recover, keeping us lean, happy, mentally focused, and healthy; chronically bad sleep leads to an increase in body fat, screws up our hormones, ages us faster, increases chronic illnesses, and drains our IQ and sex drive.

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Now although I’m well aware that it isn’t easy for many people to get enough high-quality sleep every night, Precision Nutrition laid out the blueprint. The Coles Notes on how to get enough quality sleep?:

  • Create a sleep routine: Try to do the same things every night and your body will gradually learn to shut down on and prepare for sleep.
  • Keep a regular schedule: If you’re consistent, your body will know when to release calming hormones before bed, and stimulating hormones when you wake up.
  • Minimize alcohol and caffeine. Now, you all know how I feel about the glorious drug known as caffeine, but you should minimize intake after 2pm (caffeine is typically metabolized in 5-6 hours, although for some people it can linger for a longer period of time). As for alcohol, although it may seem to help you relax and maybe even put you to sleep, it will interrupt the quality of your sleep and you won’t reap any health benefits, even if you sleep 7+ hours.
  • Minimize food and water in the few hours before sleeping. The digestion of a big meal can prevent you from falling asleep and water will result in midnight bathroom breaks.
  • Do a brain dump. Thoughts on your mind? Studies have shown that taking a few minutes to write things down can lead to a more restful sleep. Keep a pen and pad of paper in your bedside table.
  • Turn off all screens at least 30 minutes before bed and minimize lighting as bedtime approaches. As light levels decrease, our brains release melatonin, which is critical to achieving a deep sleep.
  • De-stress before bed. This will mean different things for different people: read, stretch, meditation, whatever- just do something that helps you decompress.
  • Make sure to go to bed before midnight. According to some sleep experts, because of the way our natural circadian rhythms work, every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after. We are truly meant to sleep when it gets dark and to rise when the sun comes up.
  • As discussed above, sleep a minimum of 7 hours. And no, it doesn’t count if you go to bed at 11pm and wake up at 6am; you need 7 hours of quality sleep, not 7 hours of time in bed.
You are not a horse. Sleep for at least 7 hours.

You are not a horse. Sleep for at least 7 hours.

  • Exercise regularly: It helps normalize circadian rhythms, tone down the sympathetic nervous system, and regulate endocrine function. Just make sure not to have a crazy workout late in the evening- this will prevent you from falling asleep.
  • Take a bath or shower: some prefer a warm tub, whereas others take advantage of the strong parasympathetic nervous system response (ie, after the initial shock, it will help you sleep)

The article also speaks to the importance of the sleeping environment. Some tips?:

  • Keep the room as dark as possible. Again, this is all about melatonin production: the darker it is, the more you produce, the better you sleep. Shut off all the lights, cover the windows, and cover all electronic devices that produce light (alarm clocks included!!)
  • Keep your room tidy and organized. A messy room can be stressful and lead to a distracted sleep.
  • Regulate your bedroom temperature. Most people sleep best around 67 degrees Fahrenheit, or in normal Canadian terms, around 19 degrees Celsius.
  • Use white noise if you need it. Unorganized noise can drown out louder outside noises and contribute to the maintenance of a solid rest.

Finally, how you wake up can also be critical to your quality of sleep. As the article writes: “Think of sleep as something that begins the moment you wake up. In other words, what you do during the day will affect what happens that night.” So how should you wake up in the mornings?

  • Take advantage of natural rhythms.  This doesn’t mean getting rid of your alarm clock, but instead you should consider switching to an alarm or app that will wake you up in the morning when you’re at a light point in the sleep cycle. I recently downloaded the SleepBot app, and am currently testing it out. I have high hopes! However, if you don’t like the idea of alarms…
  • Wake up to light! Research shows that when people are slowly roused by gradually increasing light levels, they feel much more alert and relaxed than when they’re woken up by a sudden, blaring alarm. Increasing light has also been shown to raise cortisol in the morning (which is an important signal to your body to wake up, not to mention a fat-burning hormone), improve sleep quality, and decrease depressive symptoms in seasonal affective disorders. Something like a BioBrite does the job. However, if you just want to keep waking up to your phone alarm…
  • Use a progressive alarm sound. This will gradually wake you up and prevent you from waking abruptly to a loud, annoying song, which can lead to a spike in stress hormones.

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  • Get out of bed as soon as you wake up. Hitting the snooze button is a bad choice and leads to grogginess and a lack of mental and physical focus. When you hear that alarm, get those feet on the ground and get your day started!
  • Expose yourself to as much light as possible upon waking. Again, this is about halting the production of melatonin, which will lead to a feeling of wakefulness. Additionally, the more bright natural light you can get during your normal waking time, the more your body will know to gear down at your normal sleeping time. Sunlight (and vitamin D) is an amazing thing!

In conclusion, sleep is pretty darn important. It is absolutely critical to maintaining a strong, lean body, but even if athletics and body composition aren’t your thing, quality sleep with increase the quality of your life and certainly lead to longevity. Try some of the strategies above and see what a good night’s sleep can do for you!

For information on sleep, exercise, or healthy eating, you know how to find me!

DW





“You Must Do A Lot of Cardio!”

17 09 2013

Tracey

This morning I had some blood taken and my nurse was running me through the typical stuff: height, weight, waist v. chest measurements (30 v. 40, for the record), etc. etc. Finally came the time to take my blood pressure and pulse. The results? 110/70 and a resting heart rate of 50.  His reaction? “You must do a lot of cardio!” I almost laughed out loud.

For the record, I currently engage in no regular cardiovascular activity. I went for a run back in July when I was on vacation in Italy… and that’s the last time I did anything resembling cardiovascular activity. I lift heavy things at the gym 3-4 times per week, play a round of golf every 2 weeks, and eat real food. Don’t get me wrong- cardio is a very healthy activity and has many positive benefits, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, weight training trumps cardio in arguably every area. Many people think that it is necessary to engage in cardiovascular activity to better your heart health, but studies have shown that resistance training can elicit equal-if-not-better results. Of course, as the cited article also states, weight training has the added benefit of strengthening bones- something especially critical for women who become susceptible to osteoporosis as they age.

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In the end, engaging in both weight training and cardiovascular activity is almost surely the most beneficial thing to do, but you haven’t yet given weights a shot, I encourage you to get after it; you won’t be disappointed!

That’s all for tonight- as always, don’t hesitate to drop me a line for more information!

DW





Compound Movements vs. Isolation Exercises

9 07 2013

A big thanks to Jordan Foley for bringing to my attention the latest in a long line of informative articles by Mark Rippetoe. Today’s discovery: Rippetoe Goes Off.

As I consistently try to convey to my readers: It doesn’t matter if your goal is fat loss or strength gain, the most efficient way to train is to use compound, multi-joint barbell movements.  There are a million hypotheses as to why isolation exercises dominate commercial gyms; these exercises are easier to teach, learn and perform, bodybuilders like Arnold made these exercises popular back in the day, etc.; but there is simply no comparison between the results produced by these types of training. Don’t get me wrong- there is a time and place for isolation movements, depending on your goals- but compound movements should be the primary focus of almost any workout routine. Give the article a read, it’s full of goodies.

Additionally, I recently read The New Rules of Lifting for Life by Schuler/Cosgrove and highly recommend this book to everyone; there’s even a version specifically for women, and although I haven’t read it, I’m sure it’s absolutely on point. A great deal of the content in the book reflects a lot of what I provide here at Fit in a FAT World, so it’s no surprise that I think everyone should give it a read, but it also provides a thorough workout template that can be individually tailored and that can undoubtedly be used successfully over a long period of time.

That’s all for today! Happy reading

– DW





The Science Behind Shortcuts

7 06 2013

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The internet is an interesting place. People can post whatever they want and let the masses determine the integrity of the information. One of the hottest trends going right now is the magic of short workouts that claim to offer the same benefits as full gym sessions; and why wouldn’t these be popular? By nature, humans are lazy. We’ve been programmed to take the path of least resistance at every possible turn. Escalator instead of the stairs? Driving instead of walking? A 7-minute workout instead an hour!? Sign me up!!

I wrote up a quick piece on complexes a few days ago; an exercise technique that is not for the faint of heart. If you’re out of shape, you won’t even be able to get through your first set of complexes, let alone 4 sets with minimal rest. And I prescribe these as a finisher to normal workouts; something to be done on top of a full workout. So not only do you have to be in good shape to entertain the idea of doing these incredibly intense circuits, but in order to truly capitalize on them, you need to do other exercises beforehand. Could you do nothing but complexes and get into great physical condition? Sure you could, but Average Joe off the street can’t just jump into the gym and start ripping off complexes; you first need to learn the basic weight training movements, then graduate to more advanced movements, understand proper warm-up and cool-down techniques/prehab and rehab exercises, and of course gradually increase your work capacity over time until you’re finally ready to tackle and benefit from such an intense workout plan. Oh, and even if you become a master of complexes, your body will quickly adapt to your cute 10-minute gym sessions and your results will wane. Did I mention that you’ll also have to eat right if you want lean results? Right…

So anyway, this rant was brought to you by phenomenons like the much-ballyhooed Scientific 7-Minute Workout. Oh boy. Where to start? First of all, the fact that this was published by the American College of Sports Medicine is pretty sad. The concept of the workout? Do 12 consecutive bodyweight exercises in 7 minutes and that’s all the exercise you need:

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My issues with this?

  1. This is great information to get people moving, but words like “scientific” and “high-intensity” have no place alongside this workout.
  2. You’d have the same issues here that you would with complexes, in that you’d first need to learn the movements before having any hope of putting them together in some form of concurrent, no-rest circuit. Furthermore…
  3. If you are not overweight and are in decent shape, this workout will be challenging for a few weeks, but your body will quickly adapt, and you’ll need to increase the resistance… but you can’t, because this is a bodyweight workout. If I’m prescribing much more challenging weight training complexes as a finisher to a real workout, how much benefit is this bodyweight routine actually going to provide? And how long do you expect the benefit to last if you can’t increase the resistance/intensity??
  4. If you are overweight or obese (ie, unhealthy; and the population that we want to encourage to move more, especially with simple bodyweight movements), this workout will be excruciating. Not only will your work capacity be a limiting factor, but it is almost certain that you will not be able to perform some of the movements; especially considering the two hardest movements (push-up & rotation and side planks) are the last two exercises of the circuit (of all the ridiculous things about this routine, I think this one actually takes the cake…)

Long story short, this is a fine little workout for fit individuals who are traveling and want to get a little sweat on in their hotel room, or for generally healthy people who eat right and are fairly active but don’t like going to the gym. Aside from that, there really isn’t a practical application for this routine, and it really has no place for people who are significantly overweight and unhealthy because it will be far too challenging and could be downright dangerous. The National Post actually just put out a piece challenging this 7-minute workout as well, and they cover a lot of what I just said: sure, this is fine for the fit, but could be dangerous for others. Also, can I just point out that if you’re super fit, you’re probably interested in doing more than this little bodyweight routine every day…

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Moral of the story? If something sounds too good to be true, it surely is. The point of Fit in a FAT World is to promote health and fitness but with an emphasis on the most efficient ways to get into the best shape in the least amount of time. Super short workouts aren’t going to get you anywhere over the long haul, but there are “shortcuts” (ie, efficient ways to do things) and I’ve already compiled a lot of information on this site, and will continue to do so. However, some things won’t change:

If you are looking to get strong, you need weights. Period, stop, end of story.

If you are looking to add muscle mass, you need weights. Period, stop, end of story.

If you want to have a lean, toned physique- you guessed it- you need weights. Period, stop, end of story.

However…

If you are looking to improve your health, lose weight, or burn some fat, you simply need to move more and eat higher quality food. That’s it. It’s not rocket science. And the more you move, the more challenging you make those movements (read: intensity!), the better you eat, and the more consistently you do all these things together, the faster you’ll see results.

Fitness and health is a continuum. You can move forward by doing the right things, or backwards by being sedentary and eating crap. The closer you get to the fit end of the spectrum, the harder it is to see results, which is why I put such an emphasis on intensity, weights, and eating unprocessed food. My main goal is to show people how important it is to stay active and get some sort of basic exercise, but in a perfect world I’d have everyone training for some sort of specific goal, because that would mean that we’d all be a lot closer to being in good health!

For more information on sustainable training “shortcuts”, check out my section of fitness articles from the drop-down menu above, or as always, drop me a line!

Happy Friday!

DW