Balancing Fitness and Life; Vacation Edition 1.0

7 07 2013

Life is amazing. Since the nice weather hit some time ago in May, I’ve taken a near complete hiatus from this blog. I got to a point where I prioritized posting something every day, but as other life events presented themselves, it became stressful to keep up. Things happen, priorities change, and life goes on.
So here I am, on July 7th, on vacation, soaking up sun in a park in my old neighbourhood in Belgium, drinking a delicious St. Bernardus 12, watching the next superstar Belgian soccer players hone their skills, and finally finding the time to once again share my thoughts with the world (not that I think anyone should care, but if you’re reading this, I appreciate the time you make for me!)

The past couple months have been an absolute whirlwind. As much as I love writing and sharing my thoughts on fitness and nutrition, I’ve had to prioritize some professional changes at work (which are ongoing and will continue to be extremely time-consuming for the next few months), my personal training program (which I’ve committed to testing for an elite strength & conditioning coach and therefore have to take very seriously) and dedicating some attention to several personal relationships that demanded and deserved my attention. It’s easy to lose focus of the things that truly matter in life, so I took a step back, reorganized, and here we are a few months later.

But enough about me. Here’s the take-home message for today: vacations are awesome- especially when you know you can get away with eating pretty much anything you want. To some, what I’m doing at the moment might to exactly qualify as a vacation, but I’ll tell you what- I don’t remember the last time I felt so calm and relaxed. What have I done so far you ask? Well I arrived in Brussels on Friday morning. My first actions after an 8-hour flight with little-to-no sleep and losing 6 hours? Straight to my old gym, where I proceeded to tackle my scheduled workout, without missing a beat. I wasn’t sure how my body would handle smashing out a few sets of 500+ lb deadlifts on zero sleep and fresh off an uncomfortable 8-hour flight, but after a solid roll-out and dynamic warm-up, it was just another day; additionally, caffeine is a hell of a drug. As a matter of fact, the only negative aspect of the whole experience was being reprimanded in the gym for being too noisy with my deadlifts. Friday morning at 10am with next to nobody in the gym, and I get yelled at by not one, but two of the gym patrons for placing down my 500+ lb weight too noisily on the floor. For the record, I was using straps (as I didn’t feel like carrying chalk in my suitcase for 2+ weeks) and was doing stop and go reps; ie) I was being as physically quiet as possible with a weight that was more than 3 times my body weight. My thoughts at that moment? Goodlife Fitness, you ain’t so bad.

Since then, I’ve done nothing but catch up with old friends, revisit old haunts, sleep like it’s my job, and eat and drink the best that Belgium has to offer. My list of treats so far includes, or will soon include:
Belgian waffles (I stress that this is plural)
Belgian chocolate
Belgian fries (ie, not the crappy knock-off “French” fries that the rest of the world eats, but REAL fries: hand-cut and double-fried in delicious saturated beef fat, salted and topped with the most delicious of all sauces: Andalouse)
Stone-oven baked, thin-crust, real pizza
Horse steak (a Belgian specialty, and don’t knock it til you try it)
Frites carbonade (Belgian fries smothered with chunks of roast beef and beef gravy)
Waterzooi (another Belgian specialty; essentially 1/2 chicken boiled with veggies and potatoes in some sort of delicious cream sauce)
Speculoos tiramisu (Speculoos is the epitome of Belgian deliciousness; the best I can describe it is a super-sweetened gingerbread flavour with hints of vanilla and loaded with sugar)

Sidebar: I just spent the last hour with a random kid who came up to me in the park and asked what I was typing on. Turns out, this 8-year old has never gone to school and is completely illiterate, yet when I handed him my iPad, he figured out how to navigate and use the device within minutes. It was phenomenal to watch. He especially enjoyed the Photobooth functionality.

This is what smarter than me looks like.

This is what smarter than me looks like.

If we’d had a wifi connection, I’m not sure I would have ever managed to leave the park with my iPad intact. Again, life is fun. Now to continue my gluttony…

Steak tartar/Americain prepare (raw ground beef with some fixin’s; delicious)
Ice cream/gelato
Mussels (obviously)
Every and any Belgian beer that I can get my hands on
This probably covers my Belgian diet, in collaboration with the normal food that I’ve eaten and will be eating (eggs, cheese, spinach, avocado, chicken, etc. etc. etc.) and the protein powder that I brought with me (yeah I did), but on Wednesday I leave to Italy for another 5 days, so I’m sure I’ll have to make another list once I get into that wonderful country of carbs; can’t wait.

So now you’re thinking: Mr. Fitness and Nutrition, filling his body full of garbage food on vacation, he’s totally going to gain a ton of fat! Well friends, yes, I’m totally eating crap food on vacation; I’m on freakin’ vacation. But here’s the deal: Since I’ve arrived, I’ve been at the gym each day. Additionally, I consume a proper amount of calories on a regular basis, and therefore my metabolism is actually functioning at a healthy level. Will I gain a bit of weight on this trip? I would expect so. But it certainly won’t be much. And that my friends is why calorie restriction is crap (I’m looking at you ladies! Do you actually wonder why you gain weight quickly when you go off your calorie-deprived diets? What do you expect when you spend the majority of your time suppressing your metabolism and then introduce a landslide of calories? Science, folks. The answer: Yep, exercise, weights, and plenty of healthy, unprocessed calories!) If your metabolism is healthy and you exercise on a regular basis, you can get away with a LOT more when you take a break from regular life.

That’s my update for today. I’m sure I’ll find some more time on this trip to touch base and talk about how much awesome crap I’m eating, but for now, it’s time for another delicious beer and a wonderful sl


Cardio and Calorie Restriction: The Facts

13 05 2013

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about why I “hate” cardio and why I say that people need to lift weights in order to avoid being fat. Let me clarify some things:

  • Personally, yes, I do hate steady-state cardio. I get bored running long distances, and find bike seats uncomfortable. It’s just not my thing.
  • Scientifically, however, steady-state cardio is inefficient for fat-loss. Can it be an effective strategy for losing weight? Absolutely it can- I never said otherwise. But don’t confuse fat loss with weight loss.
  • There are many ways to avoid being fat. Physical activity (of any kind) and a healthy diet will prevent you from being fat. Unfortunately, most people fail to incorporate both (and oftentimes neither) into their lifestyle. As weights are the most efficient way burn fat, I recommend weights over cardio.
  • My bottom line is always health. In order to be healthy, you should be physically active and eat a full, well-balanced diet. Lifting weights enables you to eat more and therefore gives you the best opportunity to consume the most nutrients.


But I have this skinny friend who does nothing but cardio!

First of all, there are exceptions to every rule. We all know people who stay thin without paying much attention to their diet and/or activity level. These people are outliers. For the other 99% of us who are either overweight or who are striving for a lean body type, we have to weigh our dietary and exercise options.

As I mentioned above, cardio can be an effective tool for weight loss. However, cardio cannot be deployed alone in an effort to lose weight. In order to capitalize on this type of exercise, one must also employ a calorie-restricted diet. If you’re not going to be challenging your muscles or metabolism, you’re going to have to be very careful with your caloric intake. Remember, cardio has very little afterburn effect (EPOC), and therefore does not help you burn calories after the exercise is finished (your resting metabolic rate returns to normal very quickly after steady-state cardio). Therefore, in order to lose weight or maintain a lower body weight, you have to make sure you don’t eat too many calories. The body will soon adapt to a certain level of cardio as well, so eventually you will have to eat fewer calories or increase your activity level. If you skip a day of cardio, you’ll also have to decrease your calories accordingly. It’s a very tough balancing act and often leads to large weight fluctuations (ie, it’s easy to regain any lost weight).

Additionally, this strategy will not build muscle (as a matter of fact, it will likely cause a decrease in muscle mass over time) and eventually your body will start to hold on to fat cells in response to cardio; this is where you hear the term “skinny fat”- people who don’t appear overweight, but who have a much higher body fat percentage than normal because of their decreased muscle mass. To boot, these people are more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies and decreased immune function due to their decreased caloric intake.

With all of this in mind, exercise of any kind is always good thing, but cardio-driven/calorically-restricted diets are difficult to follow and hard to sustain.

Weight training, on the other hand, builds muscle, burns fat and allows you to eat more food. Who doesn’t want to be able to eat more food? Not only can you eat more food, but you can get away with “cheating” from time to time without immediately ballooning back up to a previous weight.


In conclusion, pros and cons of cardio/calorie restriction vs. weight training/eating real food:

Cardio/calorie restriction

Pros: You can do cardio anywhere without equipment. You can lose weight. Cardiovascular health will improve.

Cons: You have to limit calories in order to lose weight. You lose weight, but maintain fat, not muscle. You look “soft”. You are prone to large weight fluctuations. You cannot eat what you want, nor as much of what you want. Health many suffer due to lack of nutrients from a restricted diet. Long-term results are difficult to achieve.

Weight training/eating real food

Pros: You lose fat weight but maintain and gain muscle. You look “toned”. You can eat more. You don’t have to count calories. You can spend less time exercising. You get results quicker. Your results are sustainable. Your overall health will improve.

Cons: You have to have access to weights. You will spend more money because you are eating like a normal person.

In the end, I want to encourage everyone to engage in physical activity and eat a healthy diet. However, for more sustainable, efficient, and health-improving results, I will always first encourage people to lift weights, eat a balanced diet and do more general activity on a daily basis (walk more, take the stairs, etc.)

For more information on how to incorporate weight lifting into your life, you know how to find me!


Why Dieting Doesn’t Work!

29 03 2013


Hope everyone is having a nice start to their long weekend!

As a follow-up to my post yesterday regarding daily caloric intake, I’d like to briefly explain why excessive caloric restriction is a poor strategy for weight loss.

First of all, extreme caloric restriction (eating disorders like anorexia, for example) are unhealthy for a slew of reasons and will only result in a lowered and inefficient metabolism, many nutrient deficiencies and an unhealthy physical appearance. Eating disorders are another completely different issue on their own, and are not the focus of this short piece.

Restrictive diets on the other hand are extremely common and most of us have dabbled with them at some point in our lives. Logically, dieting makes sense: fewer calories in should equate to less fat being stored. Responsible, short-term diets involving minimal caloric restriction can be effective if implemented alongside a well-planned exercise program. Dieting in the absence of physical activity however, is another story, and can often predict weight gain and the onset of future bingeing.

This recent article from Precision Nutrition explains this phenomenon in more detail. In the article they referenced 3 different studies on the subject and found the following:

“Contrary to what we might expect, restrained eaters do not eat less than people who aren’t trying to restrict their intake. It’s true: Diets don’t work!

And to make matters worse, the guilt the restrained eaters experience decreases their pleasure in eating and may lead to feelings of failure, as well as greater levels of anxiety, depression, and reduced self-esteem.

It’s a vicious cycle: A person intends to eat less, but fails in the attempt. Failure to eat less leads to guilt, and redoubled attempts to restrict – which, you guessed it, typically lead to more failure.  Soon you can add reduced self-esteem and self-efficacy to the mix. This in turn may lead to increased “comfort” eating. And so it goes.”

If you’ll refer to my first entry of Ask a Certified Nobody, you’ll get a rough idea of how many calories we need on a daily basis. Restricting calories much more than this should rarely, if ever, be done. Instead, the way to lose weight (or better yet- lose fat and build a bit of muscle!) is to simply eat right- lots of protein, fiber, and water- and exercise often. Manipulating your intake and timing of macronutrients is a far more effective and healthy way to take control over your body composition goals. This is really as close to a shortcut as you’ll get!


Long story short: don’t starve yourself and hope that you’ll lose weight! You’ll feel unsatisfied, guilty, and ultimately fail to make any progress. Take strides to alter your lifestyle by eating high-quality foods and being physically active and I promise that you’ll feel good and start to look great! If you need more information or motivation, I’d love to hear from you!

Have a great long weekend and enjoy your family dinners without guilt!