Crickets for Protein

Several weeks back I was surprised to receive a protein bar in my gym mailbox from a company called “Exo.”  It was actually perfect timing though as I was ravenous, so I took a quick peek at the ingredients and scoffed it down… pretty damn tasty.

I took another look at the package and saw the word “cricket powder.” I thought to myself it couldn’t possibly be made with actual crickets , but sure enough, the protein source was indeed very well ground up crickets.  I thought for a second about whether or not to be grossed out, but the bar was delicious and filling and really a cricket isn’t so different from crab or lobsters really… or so I convinced myself.

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Of course, for a person like me though, the more important question is whether or not crickets are actually healthy for us.  Lets look at some of the facts:

1) Many modern day “Paleo-esque” societies depend heavily on insects for their diet.  This is also true of our closest primate relatives… Good sign!

2) A serving of cricket powder has a nice balanced ratio of protein, carbs and fats of 13/5/5 with tons of magnessium (76 mg) and iron (10 mg).  Also, much of those fats is the healthy omega-3 alpha linoleic acid. I liked what I was seeing here as well.

3) There’s something to be said about using crickets, etc as a protein source for the health of the earth as a whole.  Crickets are extremely sustainable and have a small footprint on the world.  I could go on but I’d suggest reading this Forbes interview with the founders of Exo as it goes into depth about the idea behind using insects for food.

Should you invest in cricket powder prodcuts?

I really hate most of the protein and energy bars that are out on the market.  The protein sources sucks, they have shitty fillers and a lot of other undesirable qualities, so I sent an email off to the founders of Exo to see how they were different and they were nice enough to reply to all of my questions.

Question 1) You feed your crickets a grain based diet, any concerns about the effects of this on the nutritional aspects of the cricket powder?

They are currently fed a certified organic non-GMO grain-based diet (although we are experimenting with different feeds). Crickets are omnivores in the wild though, so it’s not like cattle, for example, where they should be eating grass and we’re forcing them grains, thereby screwing up the omega 6 / 3 ratios etc. Crickets can thrive on pretty much anything, including grains (and actually each other!).

Question 2) Crickets are reported to be high in omega-3 alpha linoleic acid, do you have any insight into this? Have you done any analysis?

We’re doing some analysis on our flour right now but you’re right–all the literature suggests crickets (and insects more generally) are very high in omega 3s.

Question 3) How do you feel your product is different from some of the other “paleo” protein bars that are out on the market?

The first difference between Exo bars and competitive products is that our bars actually taste great. The recipes were formulated by a 3 Michelin Starred chef, and taste has always been our number 1 priority. The second difference is the quality of the ingredients statement–no fillers, nothing refined/processed etc. And finally (and most obviously), our protein source, which is effectively an animal protein, in a bar.

Ultimately, I’m fairly convinced in the product.  Its HIGH in a protein that comes from an animal and not some shitty protein like legumes, etc.  The additional ingredients consist mostly of almonds, honey, vanilla and salt.  Overall, this seems like a great product to carry around for when you can’t find a normal meal and need to have a healthy snack.

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Random musings…

Not every thought that bounces through my head deserves a full post… so here are 10 random thoughts about health and human performance.

1) Get your stress under control… its killing your will-power to make good nutritional decisions.  http://breakingmuscle.com/nutrition/how-stress-makes-you-crave-food-and-store-fat

2) Shitty bacon sources are shitty because of the health of the animals… not because of the nitrates/nitrites in them.  http://chriskresser.com/the-nitrate-and-nitrite-myth-another-reason-not-to-fear-bacon

3) Don’t be an askhole…

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4) If you’re going to eat rice, then eat white rice.  No, I don’t care how much fiber is in your brown rice…

5) You’re probably not sleeping enough and not spending enough time in the sun.

6) This woman is really smart, you should watch her youtube videos…  https://www.facebook.com/foundmyfitness?ref=profile

7) While you have to be smart about it… sauna’s are an amazing tool to improve your health and performance.   http://fourhourworkweek.com/2014/04/10/saunas-hyperthermic-conditioning-2/

8) Non-resistant starch seems to be helpful for people with screwed up guts but doesn’t seem to provide any added health benefit for people without GI issues.

9) There are 5 superfoods that I try to eat every day:  Animal protein, sweet potatoes, avocado, coconut and kale.

10) We spend way too much time staring at computer screens… and its going to be a huge problem.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22850476

More proof that your gut controls everything.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, the bacteria in your gut controls everything…  

There was recently a paper published that caught my attention.  The title says it all, “Host Remodeling of the Gut Microbiome and Metabolic Changes During Pregnancy.

What the data shows is that, during pregnancy, there are changes to the mother’s gut-associated bacteria between the first and the third trimester.  The bacteria during the first trimester are fairly “normal” and contain a high diversity of bacterial species.  During the third trimester, several types of bacteria, notably the very inflammatory Proteobacteria become elevated.  Interestingly, there are a large number of studies which show that elevated Proteobacteria  levels are associated with screwed up metabolism of the host resulting in obesity, diabetes, etc most likely because of excessive inflammation.

Taken from the www.cell.com website
Taken from the www.cell.com website

What was REALLY cool  (at least to a nerd like me) is that when the scientists transferred the bacteria from a third-trimester mom into a germ-free mouse (Think of it as a mouse that lives in a sterile bubble), those animal became fatter and less sensitive to insulin signaling than mice given bacteria from a first-trimester mother.

What this means is that one of the main reason’s why pregnant women gain weight and adiposity during pregnancy is BECAUSE of changes to the bacteria that reside in their gut.  The study above went on to show that the bacteria that emerges during pregnancy is better able to extract energy from the diet and transfer that to the mother, and therefore the baby as well.  The downside of this is the extra-weight gain and potentially gestational diabetes as a result…

You have to ask yourself, why would you want this to happen during pregnancy?  You would think that you’d want Mom to be as healthy as possible and to not have a screwed up metabolism, never mind diabetes, right????    WRONG!

There is a strong hypothesis that during pregnancy, the mothers body is willing to sacrifice its own sensitivity to sugar/gluces so that energy is diverted to the developing baby.  Evolutionarily, it makes sense to put that cute little parasite (that you’ll eventually come to love) first.

Its amazing the balance that the host and microbiota have and how they can affect each other.  In this scenario basically what we have is the following:

1) Some unknown change in the mother that results in a slow alteration of the microbiota between the first and third trimester.

2) These altered microbiota produce more energy from the consumed food which can be transferred to the host.

3) The third trimester microbiota are also way more inflammatory…

4) The inflammation driven by the altered microbiota has been shown to play a CRITICAL roll in decreasing insulin sensitivity, which in this case is beneficial in diverting energy to the developing baby.

What an absolutely beautiful symbiotic set of events.

Blonyx HMB+Creatine review

A couple months back, I wrote a short post talking about HMB supplementation and the WIDE variety of responses you can find about the Leucine metabolite.  Since that time, I was introduced to Rowan, owner of Blonyx, who sells an HMB+creatine supplemental product.  He seemed like a great guy who believes fully in his product, and ultimately he agreed to send along some product for me to evaluate.

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Before I started, I did a bunch of research on the product.  Some people seem to have good responses while others really see no changes at all (good or bad).  One variable that actually had some research on it was a study showing that efficacy of HMB was dependent upon vitamin D levels being above 30 pg/ml.  My most recent tests didn’t show any issues but I took 1000 IU/day of D3 before getting started just to be sure to try and control for that factor..
My first impression is that Blonyx is a very high quality product:  I’ve only found two types of creatine based products that do not cause me to have minor bloating, the first is MRM creatine which I’ve been recommending for a while now.  The second one was Blonyx’s HMB+Creatine.  Very happy with that to say the least… its hard to find a high quality supplement line these days that doesn’t put some filler in their products so kudos to Blonyx on that front.
Athletic results:
During the time I was taking Blonyx, I was in a mass gain phase trying to go from about 181-184 to a solid 190 pounds.  I’m generally a very hard gainer but over the month with Blonyx, I hit 190 once and stayed consistently around 187-189.
As for the actual lifts, I have seen some nice PR’s during the month I was taking Blonyx.
1) Strict Press PR of 195 (15 lb PR)
2) Front squat PR of 305×5.
3) Muscle up PR of 14 and pull up PR of 62.
4) Tied a strict HSPU PR of 40 unbroken.
Now, based upon the mass gain, I would expect the strength numbers to have increased to some extent as a result of the extra mass, but a 15 lb press PR was completely unexpected.  Additionally, to add 7-8 pounds of mass while still improving on gymnastics movements was unexpected as well.
As far as feel, I didn’t notice any difference in energy during my sessions but overall I’m very happy with the results I had during the month on Blonyx.  Like I said before, it seems like people either LOVE products with HMB or have no response with it.  I still don’t really have a good understanding of why that is unfortunately.  That said, I think giving it a shot for 30 days is worth it if you’re looking to take your game to the next level.

Max Adrenal review

Sometimes we are all our own worst enemy… we know how to make the right choices for our health, performance, etc but let other things get in the way.    As many of you know, I spend most of my day working for a small biotech company in New Hampshire, trying to develop drugs for cancer and autoimmunity.  I also coach multiple Crossfit classes a week, consult people nutritionally for Crossfit, marathons, weight loss, life as a Navy Seal, etc.  Needless to say it’s a lot but no more than most people deal with in reality.  We’re all busy and all have stress in our lives.  Where I become my own worst enemy is when I try to train like a freaking pro-athlete on top of all the other work.  I can handle it for a while but the overall stress has run me down a couple times in the past to the point of needing a complete break from training…

I’ve tried some supplements in the past to extend how far I can push.  BCAA’s and creatine were a big help.  Adding in dense starchy foods was another step in the right direction.  Overall, I still wasn’t feeling quite right though, so I started to play with adaptogens, which are supplements that are supposed to help correct hormonal imbalances related to stress.  Ultimately I decided to try a new supplement from Nova 3 Labs called Max Adrenal.  The purpose of Max Adrenal is to help the body maintain the appropriate response to exercise by helping the body to produce the correct hormonal response to exercise.  In a person who has pushed the gas pedal too hard for too long, the body sometimes stops making the appropriate amounts of cortisol, DHEA, testosterone, etc…  Max Adrenal’s goal is to help restore some hormonal balance OR to prevent you from getting out of whack in the first place.

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Mike Kesthely, creator of Max Adrenal, was kind enough to send me a list of links for every single ingredient that is in his product (there are many).  I’ll list them at the bottom of this post for anyone that wants to have a look through the research.  Overall, I was pretty impressed by the background that went into the selection of supplements in the product.  Many solid studies with well controlled experiments… something that cannot be said for all products in this market.

After taking Max Adrenal solidly for 1 month solidly these are the biggest differences I’ve noticed:

1) Deeper sleep with less frequent disruptions in the last 2 hours of sleep (4am-6am).

2) Fewer days where I have absolutely zero energy to train and have to call it a day before even getting started.  It still happens, but not as often.

3) More energy from 2pm-6pm on a daily basis with less of an afternoon wall.  This generally correlates with the post workout for me as well.  I used to just be an absolute zombie after working out, but its much less of an issue now.

4) Falling asleep much more easily.

5) Improved quality and consistency in the fast lifts.  I still have days where I just cannot get myself firing correctly (like today) but overall this has been happening less than usual despite pushing harder.  Recently, I hit 5 out of 7 snatches at 215 after a solid back squat session.  I can’t give all the credit to Max Adrenal, but I do feel like it was part of the process in making progress.

Now, I’m not saying that Max Adrenal is a wonder drug.  You’ve still got to be smart and take care of the other aspects of your life; meaning  eat cleanly and the appropriate amount, take rest days and get enough sleep to recover from your workouts.  Manage the other stress in your life as best as you can.  What I will say though is that Max Adrenal has let me push that gas pedal harder and longer than I’ve been able to in the past.  I’m looking forward to getting my next shipment soon.

 

REFERENCE MATERIAL:

Vitamin A: required for the conversion of cholesterol to steroid hormones

1. http://www.westonaprice.org/ask-the-doctor/steroid-drugs

2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/9/4/36.abstract

Vitamin C: The highest concentrations of vitamin C reside in the eyes, brain and adrenal glands; stress,infection and intense exercise all increase the cellular demand for vitamin C, with studies showing how blood levels of ascorbic acid fall at an increased rate during these time

1. http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/abstract/1998/08000/effects_of_ascorbic_acid_on_serum_cortisol_and_the.10.aspx

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19223675

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17616774

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6668225

Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Pyridoxine (B6), Pantothenic Acid (B5): All B vitamins are essential in the Kreb’s cycle for conversion of fat, carbs and protein to energy. Specific to the adrenal cascade, pantothenic acid is required for the production of co-enzyme-A, which is essential for the creation of acetylcholine and pregnenolone. Thiamine is used in the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Riboflavin, key in the citric acid cycle, is also a cofactor in the utilization of B6 in the creation of neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4320823

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4060684

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10450194

Zinc: Zinc is an essential trace element required for the activity of over 300 enzymes and is involved in most major metabolic pathways. Zinc participates not only in catalytic processes, but also in the structure and stability of some regulatory proteins, as is essential for immune support and testosterone production. Training reduces levels through metabolic use and sweat loss.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17984944

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16338007

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11475319

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9812018

Adrenal/Spleen Extract: Clinical experience has long endorsed the use of glandular extracts to support the activity of the target gland. Glandulars provide peptides and nutrient cofactors which are found in the gland itself when it is healthy and fully functioning, and which are required for the gland to carry out its biological functions. A highly active mineralocorticoid, aldosterone, 19-hydroxy-11-desoxycorticosterone and a sodium-retaining substance have all been isolated from beef adrenal extract. Despite the widespread belief that such peptide cofactors would be destroyed by the digestive process, it’s now known the main route of absorption of amino acids is, in fact, by active transport in the form of peptides, rather than by totally breaking down proteins into individual amino acids. Evidence has also accumulated that many surprisingly large polypeptides and even proteins are directly absorbed by the gut.

1. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v169/n4306/abs/169795a0.html

2. http://reference.medscape.com/drug/adrenal-extract-aortic-glycosaminoglycans-gags-
glandular-products-344579#0

DL-Phenylalanine: DLPA is a depression fighting mixture that combines two forms of the amino acid, phenylalanine. The L-portion of phenylalanine, found in protein-rich foods, bolsters mood-elevating chemicals in the brain, specifically dopamine and nor-epinephrine, while The “D” form of phenylalanine is made synthetically in a laboratory. The mechanism of DL-phenylalanine’s supposed antidepressant activity may be accounted for by the precursor role of L-phenylalanine in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/335027

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2243904

L-Tyrosine: One of the 22 amino acids used in the formation of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. It is also involved in the formation of thyroid hormones like triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Supplementation has shown greater efficacy to reduce perception of stress while under stress.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2736402

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7794222

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10230711

Rhodiola Rosea: is a potent adaptogen that has been the focus of much research. Rhodiola provides a buffer to stress-related mental and physical fatigue. Rhodiola contains a glycoside known as salisdroside. This component helps combat anxiety and aging, and has been investigated for use in high-altitude sickness, as it modulates EPO gene expression. Rhodiola suppresses the production of cortisol and increases levels of stress-resistant proteins. Studies have found that it restores normal patterns of eating and sleeping after stress, & combats mental and physical fatigue by affecting RPE (perception to STRESS).

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19500070

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23443221

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20378318

L-Methionine: Methionine belongs to a group of compounds called lipotropics which help the liver to process fat in the body. Once in the liver, methionine is converted into SAM(s-adenosyl methionine); SAMe is known to have a high degree of efficacy in treating various forms of depression. Methionine also converts the stronger and carcinogenic estradiol (E2) into estriol (E3) which is the “good” estrogen as compared to estradiol; imbalance is common in various form of adrenal dysfunction. Methionine supports methylation pathways, which facilitate the conversion of norepinephrine to epinephrine, essential in the adrenal cascade.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20595412

2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/76/5/1151S.abstract

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18950248

Octocasonol: The main component of policosanol, a lipophilic component derived from Cuban cane sugar. While initial studies concentrated on it’s ability to affect cholesterol levels, it also has positive neurological effects specific to reaction time and Ach (acetylcholine) release.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10094851

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10754431

Schisandra Chinensis: A vine native to northern China and Eastern Russia, commonly known as Wu Wei Zi, or “Five flavor berry”. Much of the research that ahs been done on Schisandra Chinesis was done in Russia decades ago, hence the popularity with Eastern European athletes. Noted is the ability to both raise and lower cortisol in response to stressors.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21666550

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18515024

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10228607

Bacopa Monnieri: Bacopa (aka Brahmi) is an Indian Ayurvedic herb noted for its use as a nootropic, or “mental focusing & memory enhancing” agent, and also acts protectively in neurodegeneration. It appears to work through enhancing synaptic transmission, and also acts as an anti-oxidant, hence the protective effects.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23788517

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24252493

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18683852

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12093601

Eleutherococcus senticosus: Commonly known as Siberian Ginseng or in Chinese medicine Ci Wu Ju. Although it is not related to true ginseng (Panax ginseng), the name Siberian ginseng became popular based on potential properties similar to Panax ginseng. This adaptogenic herb has both properties of increasing work capacity and immunity. Increased work capacity is thought to be due to increased oxygen efficiency through FFA use. Immunomodulating polysaccharides or saponins isolated from Siberian ginseng stimulate macrophages, promoted antibody formation, activated complement, and increased T lymphocyte proliferation.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21793317

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10641044

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11798012

Magnolia Officinalis: Another herb traditional used in Chinese medicine; the bark contains the polyphenolic compounds honokiol and magnolol, which have been found to have neuroprotective and anxiolytic activity, the latter of which is due to the effect on GABA receptors and the attenuation of cortisol-induced stress perception.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16631734

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11408830

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23924268

Rehmannia Glutinosia: Also known as Yukmijihwang-tang or Chinese foxglove; it contains vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as the active component catalpol. Regarded as a tonic herb and used in TCM for centuries, current well-controlled human data is still lacking. That said, it shows promise as a neuro- protecting agent as well as a nootropic.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18407446

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15635169

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15844838

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17078935

Bupleurum Falcatum: Commonly known as Chinese Thoroughwax, it has been traditionally used to treat disorders of inflammation. One of the active components are saikosaponins; their metabolites have been shown to induce corticosterone activity, hence it use as an adrenal tonic in TCM. It also shows serotonergic and noradrenergic activity, and therefore used as an anti-depressant.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2045012

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19932727

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22450800

Panax Ginseng: Also known as Red or Korean ginseng (not to be confused with Siberian). The predominant pharmacologically active constituents of Panax are ginsenosides; at least 25 of which have been identified and are present in variable amounts and ratios, depending on the particular species. One of the most studies herbal adaptogens in history, its efficacy in treating fatigue, mood, immune system and adrenal issues is second to none.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20737519

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11842896

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16355078

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16401645

Plectranthus Barbatus (Forskolii): Better known as Coleus Forskoli, the active component tis forskolin, which stimulates the cellular production of cAMP. When cAMP increases, a wide range of signaling properties can occur because of it. While much research has ben done on upregulation of cAMP and fat loss, recent research suggests that cAMP affects the function of higher-order thinking in the prefrontal cortex through its regulation of ion channels. Much of the marketed focus has been on the ability to increase testosterone, which plays an integral role in the treatment of adrenal dysfunction.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9029414

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16129715

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1648588

Withania Somnifera: Another Ayurvedic herb, Ashwagandha, aka Indian Ginseng, rivals that of Panax. Ginseng in the amount of positive data available. It shows adaptogenic properties both in attenuating stress perception, altering cortisol, and increasing TTE (time to exhaustion) in trained athletes. The potentially active constituents of ashwagandha include alkaloids and steroidal lactones that together are called withanolides (particularly withaferin A), and preparations are often standardized to their percentage contents of withanolides.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23326093

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22987912

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10956379

Personalized nutrition to meet your goals

I wanted to tell a story of two very different clients of mine and how I’ve approached using nutrition and lifestyle changes to help them get closer to their goals.  While we often talk in generalities on how to eat, the reality of the situation is that everyone is unique and needs tweaking to those basic principles to make progress… here are a couple examples.

Clients 1: The crossfitting, butt-kicking, weight losing husband and wife team

The first clients I’m going to talk about are the typical person that approaches me looking to lose weight.  Audrey and her husband Mark had been working out at The Fort Crossfit for several years and had been trying to eat with a Paleo style emphasis.  This approach worked well for a while with some impressive weight loss numbers, but they eventually hit a plateau as progress stalled.  This is when she approached me about working together to help her break through the barrier and improve her health and body composition even further.  While they were doing these pretty correctly for the most part, there were definitely some aspects of both nutrition and their lifestyle that needed to be modified.

One of the components of my program is a 28 day meal plan where I detail how I want people to eat for 3 meals plus a snack for every single day of a month.  The meals follow some basic principles as it relates to balancing protein, carbs and fat but really the goal is to show people how to eat cleanly for 28 straight days.

While compliance with the program is been a challenge with many clients, Audrey and Mark were committed 110%.  They followed the program as closely as any  people that I’ve ever worked with and the results were really fantastic.  While I generally couldn’t give two shits about the numbers on a scale, the results are worth talking about as Audrey dropped ~16 pounds over two months and Mark dropped about 10 lbs.  More importantly, Audrey told me that she was constantly having people tell her that she looked fabulous (she does…) and her coach was thrilled by her progress in the gym.  With results like these, they should both be getting compliments for quite a while.

Before...
Before…

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And after....
And after….

 

I credit Audrey and Mark’s success to several factors.

1) They actually listened when I told them to get more sleep at night.  Most people are unwilling to change their sleep patterns but they did and as a result, reduced stress levels which allowed for improved performance in the gym and more will-power to make the right decisions with nutrition.

2) Audrey and Mark really put a bunch of effort into figuring out how to make the meal plan fit into their lives.  When they went to parties, they brought their own snacks and beverages.  When it was their anniversary, they picked a place with incredible food that was also healthy.  Little choices like this make all the difference in having prolonged success.

3) They stuck with the program for more than just 1 month.  Many times people do great when they have someone (like me) holding them accountable, but derail when they are on their own because they have not yet made eating healthy a habit.  By sticking with the program for multiple months, Audrey and Mark really did make eating healthy the new “normal.”

Eventually, I told Audrey and Mark that it was time to give things a try on their own.  I can tell they are continuing to excel all on their own which is exactly my hope for all the people I work with.

Client two: The fit guy that needed to get bigger

I’ve known Kyle for many years now, back from when there was literally a single Crossfit facility in all of New Hampshire.  Kyle has always been a skinny guy… seriously, check out this picture from before he really discovered Crossfit.

"Blinded by the light...."
“Blinded by the light….”

Kyle’s done a really nice job of improving many aspects of his health and fitness on his own.   He’s always given 100% in the gym and his body responded by adding some muscle mass.  Unfortunately, being well over 6 feet tall and weight 185 pounds is FAR from ideal when it comes to competing in the sport of fitness, which is Kyle’s personal goal.  After working together for several months, it became QUITE clear that Kyle is what we call a “Hard-gainer.”  No matter how much clean food he ate, he just could not manage to pack any real muscle mass on.  It was time for some drastic measures.  Here’s a picture of Kyle before we made some drastic changes… he’s weighing in at about 187 in the picture.  Clearly cut, but way too light for a guy his height.

I think he's got -2% body fat...
I think he’s got a negative body fat %…

So what did we do to get him where he needed to be.

1) Dropped his workout volume by about 60%.  What Kyle needed was not to beat his body senseless 5-6 days a week, but to work out hard and then REST.  His body needed extra time to recover and GROW.

2) Spend time under tension.  The best way to induce a growth signal is to spend a shitload of time under heavy weight.  I had Kyle follow a slightly modified version of Dan John’s program called “Mass Made Simple” which calls for BIG workouts 2 days a week with nothing but rest on the other days.  The basis of the program is built around enormous barbell complexes and huge squat sets (think sets of 25-50 reps) with moderate amounts of weight.  Supplemented with some technique work on the olympic lifts and some extra unilateral work to correct for imbalances and you have a recipe for success.

3) While eating clean is very important for maximal health, that was not necessarily Kyle’s number one goal.  He wanted to get significantly better at Crossfit and was willing to sacrifice some of his long term health to do so.  With that in mind, I told Kyle to increase his carbohydrate intake significantly.  With a gluten AND dairy sensitivity, this wasn’t easy but we figured a way to increase his carb intake by at least 100 grams a day through white rice… a pretty good fuel source in this case.  Luckily this worked well and the mass started to be packed on quickly.

So what were the results?  Well, after 8-10 weeks, Kyle was up to 205 lbs.  While he lost a little of that leanness at the time, he also put on a ton of muscle mass.  He’s since gone back to a regular crossfit style program with a strength emphasis and is down to 199-201 pounds and looks like this.

Kyle DL CVCFI think the most striking difference is in his shoulders and in his legs/glutes.  He put on a ton of mass in these areas which has definitely come in handy as he’s PR’d his back squat, front squat, clean and jerk, and snatch all after the 8 week mass gain program.  Oh, and he can still knockout 15 unbroken muscle ups and a sub 3 minute Fran…

Take home: Most people can make some really great changes to their health, nutrition and body composition by following basic principles around exercise and nutrition.  That said, often times an individualized approach is necessary to optimally perform and reach your goals.

Get to sleep!

Many people come to me looking for help with fine tuning their nutrition to reach their goals, whether it be weight loss or to boost performance.  Of course nutrition is important but most people are actually doing a pretty decent job before starting with me.  99 times out of 100 the biggest problem that I actually see is horrible sleep patterns.   Unfortunately, no amount of paleo eating, supplement taking, crossfit doing is going to get you to your goals is your sleep sucks.  Here’s why…

1) People who sleep less than 6 hours a night have elevated markers of inflammation in their blood stream.  If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that inflammation and increased body fat are closely related.

2) Studies have shown that people on calorie restricted diets lose FAT when they sleep the appropriate amount, but lose muscle mass when they under sleep… Less muscle equals a lower metabolism usually.   Also, the same study shows that people who didn’t sleep enough were hungrier throughout the day.  Makes sense since the part of the brain that controls sleep also influences metabolism.  Question: Do you find you make poorer food choices when you’re overly tired?  Thought so…

3) Football, tennis and swimmers were all studied for the effects of sleep on performance.  The athletes that slept more (~10 hours) all increased their sprint times compared to the athletes that did not.

4) Some biochemistry and physiology for you:  Testosterone and growth hormone are elevated when we sleep and these two hormones are critical to have appropriate recovery from your workouts.

Alright, I think you get the point.  Lets look at some things to try to do and things to try and avoid to improve our sleep:

1) A little drink before bed might help you fall asleep but alcohol will disrupt the quality of your sleep as the body as after processing all the alcohol, your brain will switch from deep sleep into REM sleep.  REM sleep is MUCH easier to wake from so you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.

2) Try to avoid raising your body temperature too much before going to bed.

3) You’ve got to try and deplug from the phone, laptop, etc for 30-60 minutes before going to sleep.  The lighting from the screens of these electronics can impact your brains ability to sense its internal clock of when to wake and sleep.

4) Last but not least, you’ve got to avoid caffeine in the afternoon if you’re going to sleep appropriately.

Meat as bad for you as smoking???

I’ve received quite a few emails about this report which has become sensationalized by the media.

Meat as bad as smoking

Is it legit or just another piece of garbage study.  I’m going to give you my basic reasoning why I think it sucks and then link you to Mike Kesthely’s thoughts as well.  Mike’s the health/nutrition guy for Optimum Performance Training and the International Fitness Center in Arizona.  He knows his shit.

My thoughts:

1) Their result is a CORRELATION, not a CAUSATION.  There’s a big difference between the two.
2) Their statistics seem pretty suspicious at best.  I see one graph with low, medium and high protein diets with rates of cancer of 9.8, 10.1 and 9.0… there’s no difference there.  Saying that there is a difference is misleading and idiotic.
3) The use of mouse studies in their report… Look, I use mice all the time in my research.  They are very helpful for some diseases, metabolic disease is not one of them.  They are basically built to be foragers of all kinds of food, so force feeding them high levels of protein is non-physiological.  Also, there’s still some shitty statistics here…
4) What they are calling a high protein diet and what people like Robb Wolf, Loren Cordain, Mark Sisson, etc. are recommending are two different things.  Do you really think the people in this study are eating fruits, veggies, nuts seeds and high quality protein?  Or does high protein most likely involve a bunch of fast food.  The last time one of these reports came out that I analyzed, I found that “animal meat based diet” included things like meat on pizza.
 
5) Look at the affiliations of the researchers.  The SENIOR RESEARCHER is the founder and has equity in L-Nutra, a vegan based nutrition system.  Hmmm, perhaps there’s a conflict of interest there…
Anyway, here’s the opinion of a man much smarter than myself:

A follow-up on vitamin D

Recently a post on “Precision Nutrition” talked about the dangers of high dose vitamin D supplementation.  I wanted to address the post and talk about some of the risk factors that are mentioned.  At the bottom of this post, I’ll talk about what my SPECIFIC recommendations are.

Lets look at the arguments made by the precision nutrition author:

1) High dose Vitamin D3 in rodents is a toxin. The problem I have with this argument is that the amount they give the rats is about 10-20x what a person would actually supplement with.  Also, there’s no discussion about whether the biologics of rodent vitamin D metabolism mimic humans.  Considering that they are nocturnal animals,  the biology could certainly be different…
That said, lets say that based upon these results, you shouldn’t be taking extreme levels of vitamin D (above 30000 IU/day).
2) The Vitamin K/Calcium axis.  This is actually a really important point that many people overlook.  If you have a vitamin K issue, then high dose vitamin D could actually be a big problem.  The problem I have is that the author goes on to basically state that if you’re vitamin K deficient you shouldn’t take vitamin D.  Personally,  if I was deficient in vitamin K, I’d fix my levels of vitamin K and not avoid taking vitamin D completely.  This is like saying, well my car is low on oil so I stopped putting gas in the car to prevent it from overheating.  Should people low in vitamin K avoid the sun?
I’ve looked and while some blogs like to say that vitamin K deficiency is common, the evidence out there to support this is pretty weak.   You cannot just base levels off of food intake because  vitamin K2 metabolism is tied to the microbiome.  Nevertheless, if you are consuming leafy green vegetables, then you should be fine outside of rare genetic diseases.  This leafy green vegetable thing is about to get very repetitive.
3) Magnesium: You’ll notice that in my supplements page, I list a magnesium supplement.  Also, the same leafy green veggies I listed above are also really high in magnesium.  I think the authors point is a good one, but again, I think the take home message should be to get your other nutrient levels to appropriate levels and NOT to avoid vitamin D if you are showing signs of deficiency.
4) Vitamin A:  So vitamin A deficiency is a real problem but mostly in third world countries.  In the United States, you’d be shocked at just how many foods are fortified with Vitamin A.  As a result, people here are typically not vitamin A deficient.  Now, if you eat an all natural organic diet, you aren’t getting any of those FORTIFIED vitamin A fortified foods of course, but the good news is that leafy green vegetables, grass fed beef and many other paleo-type foods which you are likely eating have TONS of vitamin A.
PART II
Now, there are in fact some really interesting new observations about vitamin D levels and health.  One of these is a study with over 1 million people showing that the lowest mortality from a multitude of causes correlated with vitamin 25D levels between 20 ng/mL and 36 ng/mL.   That’s somewhat surprising because the medical community says that the LOWEST your levels should be is about 30 ng/ml and that your better off with levels closer to 50 ng/ml.  Interestingly, there are a couple other studies showing just the same thing… that optimal levels are around 30-35 ng/ml.
Now, there are a couple things to remember.
1) This data says that A correlates with B, not that A causes B… very important difference.
2) It does not mean that we should be avoiding vitamin D supplements, just that perhaps we don’t need to be driving levels so high by supplementing like crazy with 10000-50000 IU or more.  Doctors are DEFINITELY doing this in some patients for 4-5 weeks.  Not sure I’d want that much…
Ultimately, my recommendation is still pretty much the same as before.
1) GET IN THE SUN when possible.  The body is (for the most part) capable of limiting its vitamin D levels much better when we use sunlight as our source.
2) If you live in the middle of winter for 6 months, I still think some supplementation is a good idea.  1000 IU/day is probably still pretty safe but I also would advise having your levels checked annually to make sure you’re in that ~ 35 ng/ml range.
3) You’ve GOT to be eating green vegetables for reasons that go way beyond anything to do with vitamin D, but also to mitigate any potential risks with the vitamin D supplementation.
Hope this helps.

If you’re an athlete… take creatine. If you’re not an athlete… take creatine.

Recently, I’ve received a lot of questions from people about creatine regarding who should take it, when to take it, how much to take… the list goes on.  So I thought would write a quick post about my thoughts on creatine.  Up front though, I have to say that not all creatine’s are equal, buy a high quality one and you’ll thank me.  Personally I use MRM’s but there are MANY other good options out there.

How much?

There’s a lot of chatter out there that you need to have a loading phase with creatine but this is just a load of BS.  There’s a nice study from St. Francis Xavier University which showed that if you consume 10 grams of creatine, you’ll piss just under half of it out of your body.  Combine that with a second study from Ball State where lower doses showed really nice efficacy without a loading phase and I think we can safely say that ~ 5 grams of creatine daily is enough to generate desired effects.

Is this going to hurt my kidneys?

There are too many studies to list showing that this is NOT a problem.  If you have a kidney disease, may be a different story but since 99.9% of people I know don’t have kidney problems, lets just go with no.

Am I going to retain a bunch of water?

Another myth about creatine, especially if you buy high quality stuff and take the recommended 5 grams.  If you’re cheap, then your creatine might have some sodium in it which could cause water retention, but again, its the sodium’s fault, not the creatine.  If you take a shit load of it, then that’s another story.

Health and performance benefits

Alright, that should prevent anyone from being scared of taking creatine.  Now onto the benefits.  Most times the fitness industry can’t agree on anything but almost everyone agrees that creatine will improve your output for power sports, high intensity interval training, lactate producing sports, etc.  Some people would even tell you it can help with endurance sports which is fascinating.  Great review if you want to read more: Creatine and athletic performance

What’s really cool is that there’s an emerging pile of literature showing that creatine has some pretty impressive effects on neurological performance as well.  The study referenced here showed that 5 grams per day improved working memory and overall intelligence.  Not impressed?  How about this study discussing that creatine supplementation in animals provided enhanced protection against models of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and sclerosis… oh yeah, they also lived about 10% longer as well.

Most men are willing to give creatine a try but women are a different story due to fears about excessive bulking.  Well there’s a pretty good study from 2003 in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” showing that creatine supplementation improved women’s strength, fat-free mass and body fat levels without any weight gain… which is amazing.

At the end of the day, there appears to be a ton of physical and mental benefits to supplementing with ~ 5 grams of creatine daily.  Let me know if you have any questions.