Monthly Archives: January 2011

Random thoughts on nutrition

I jotted down my random thoughts on exercise here… and now it’s time for nutrition.

  1. Eating less is good. Eating hardly anything is stupid.
  2. Real food rules.
  3. I don’t care if it is fortified with vitamins or tested by expert doctors or proven to help kids think better… if it comes in a box it you better watch out.
  4. Bran muffins are not health food. If you need the fiber eat 4-6 cups of cooked spinach, mushrooms, asparagus or Brussels sprouts and a cup or two of raspberries.
  5. Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. The most important meal of the day is the meal that follows some form of intense activity.
  6. Fake meat is terrible and doesn’t clean the blood off your hands.
  7. Red meat does not cause cancer.
  8. Flavored coffee is bad. Mocha, frappe, chai latte they’re all the same and they belong in the dessert section.
  9. If you’re visibly overweight you have no business even looking at the dessert section. That section is reserved for lean active people (to enjoy occasionally).
  10. Eat more vegetables. Much more than what you eat now.
  11. Quit counting calories. Assess by how you look and feel.
  12. If you suspect you are addicted to any food, be it KitKat or raw broccoli, drop it for a month.
  13. The best way to lose fat is by going low carb.
  14. Low fat diets, for fat loss or general health, is extremely unhealthy.
  15. Saturated fat is not harmful. Your cell walls are made of saturated fat.
  16. Fasting/skipping meals is extremely beneficial to health.
  17. Fruits are natures candy to us. Eat them sparingly.
  18. A vegetarian diet can be extremely healthy if adequate protein and fats are consumed.
  19. I don’t care what you say, if you are visibly overweight you are eating more than you should be eating.
  20. The human digestive system is more like that of a dog than a sheep.
  21. Type 2 diabetes can be cured/controlled with diet.
  22. If you ate only meat and vegetables for the rest of your life you would live a long disease free life. If you ate only grains and fruit for the rest of your life you wouldn’t live too long.
  23. Rice along with potatoes, yams and other tubers are rich in starch and should be consumed post activity to reap the benefits.
  24. You’re probably are allergic to gluten (found in wheat) at some level.
  25. The smart thing to do is to place most of your daily calories right after your workout/intense activity.
  26. Fat loss is only a side effect of good nutrition. There is much more to be gained.

Laters.

The Cardio Conundrum

This is the situation…

  • You took my advice and started strength training. You eat a lot of good food. You visit them gym 2-3 times a week. You focus on the fabulous five (squat, deadlift, press, pullup, dip) and slowly add weight to the bar as you get stronger.
  • One day you talk to “bro” at the gym. Dude is huge and jacked. He goes “Listen kiddo… you’ve got to do 60 mins of low intensity cardio along with 125 sets of bench press and 350 sets of bicep curls everyday. Else you gonna get fat!” You’re a little confused but don’t think much of it and get back to showering.
  • A couple of days later your super athletic blah blah cubicle mate at work starts off with “Yo… I joined Crossfit…” and ends with “You have to do these metcons everyday and feel like you were molested by aliens. Else you gonna get fat… oh and you won’t get that discount at lululemon Now you’re scared not knowing which one to choose… alien molestation or lululemon. [I’d pick alien molestation btw!]
  • Sunday night you go to a birthday party and you say “I’ll just have a small piece of cake”. Everyone looks at you like you just declared that you were a tranny and this one guy wearing a noticeably loose t-shirt goes “Come on dude! You shouldn’t say no to anything. Look at me. I eat anything and everything I want but I’m still in shape. It is ‘cos I run 7 miles everyday! Running is the best form of exercise and everyone should run till their knees and ankles fall off. Else you gonna get fat!” At this point you’ve had it. But luckily instead of inhaling that cake in anger, you calm down and write to me.

“Dearest Raj,

So I took your advice and blah blah blah… blah blah…

I don’t want to get fat! WTF do I do now?!

– Confused Guy”

Hey Confused Guy,

Firstly, never ever address me as ‘Dearest Raj’.

Secondly…

  • The “bro” is perfectly right per his PhD in Broscience but you need to understand that he has more steroids than blood in him.
  • Your colleague is perfectly right per his Crossfit bible but you need to understand that in a year he will have more injuries than a war veteran and possibly suffer from adrenal fatigue. He will get that lululemon discount though. [No disrespect to Crossfit or the awesome affiliates here. I’m just sick of the many affiliates that treat metcons as a panacea and overdo them.]
  • The runner guy is perfectly right per his…ummm… sorry he’s wrong and you need to understand that he has a bunch of flab, too much inflammation and achy joints.

Thirdly,

Low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio works. Examples of LISS are walking, hiking, slow biking, slow rowing and *gasp* low intensity on the elliptical. The leanest people in the world, bodybuilders and hunter gatherers, do a tonne of this. When you walk briskly, your heart rate is elevated which results in expending calories and since the intensity is low all (or most) of these calories are fat calories.

Lean and strong!

The pros of LISS are –

  • you don’t burn out
  • there is no joint abuse
  • risk of injury is negligible
  • it doesn’t tax any muscle group so recovery (from strength training) is not affected

The cons of LISS are –

  • workout time is long
  • it is super duper boring

High intensity training (HIT) works, when done right. Call it whatever you want – metcons, conditioning, interval training, HIIT, circuit training, tabata protocol, dumbbell/barbell complexes – it’s all high intensity training. The other set of leanest people in the world, sprinters and fighters, train this way.  The concept is to perform a move or a set of moves in circuit fashion at super high intensities (close to max heart rate), then rest and then perform the move/circuit again. The work-rest intervals may be planned (as in a tabata protocol) or unplanned (as in a Crossfit metcon).

Lean, mean and strong!

The pros of HIT are –

  • your total workout time is very less (5-15 mins)
  • your endurance improves drastically
  • your body continues to burn calories at a higher rate than usual for hours after working out

If overdone or stupidly programmed, the cons of HIT are –

  • you could burn out
  • there is joint abuse
  • you risk of injury is high
  • it does tax muscles so recovery (from strength training) is an issue.

Medium intensity steady state (MISS) cardio… sucks! Examples of MISS are running, elliptical at medium intensity, distance biking etc. People who do this are mostly marathoners or endurance athletes and they definitely aren’t the sexiest folks around. Most runners are typically skinny fat and though they were skinny clothes have a bunch of flab especially in the lower abdominal area.

Ummm…

The pros of MISS are –

  • your endurance improves but not much more

The cons of MISS are –

  • joints are overworked and abused beyond imagination
  • overtraining is common and injuries are almost certain (shin splints anyone? plantar fasciitis maybe? IT band syndrome perhaps?)
  • you end up losing way more muscle than fat making you skinny fat
  • you could possibly cause damage to your heart
  • you load up on carbs to fuel your runs which causes more inflammation which aggravates the other cons.

My verdict…

If you’re interested in getting stronger, improving your endurance, increasing your work capacity, running faster and looking great,

  • Strength train 2-3 days a week.
  • Do low intensity cardio  2-3 days a week for 30-45 mins per session. If you have a lot of fat to lose, add in an extra day.
  • Do smartly programmed high intensity workouts 1-2 days a week for 5-10 mins per session (excluding warm-up). Or keep it simple – sprint! There are too many ways to do sprint training and I should probably dedicate a post just for that. If you have a lot of fat to lose or have much stress in your life, DROP one session for rest/stretching/LISS.
  • Stay the hell away from medium intensity cardio like running marathons etc. if you’re serious about fitness.

OK I know you guys get all wound up about my marathon-bashing. So here you go –

  • the cardiovascular benefits of distance running/cycling can be obtained from LISS and HIT very easily without causing harm to the rest of the body
  • if you’re competing (sub 1.5 hour half-marathon) or just love running go for it
  • please please don’t clock miles everyday just because you have to exercise
  • don’t use this as a reason to eat a truckload crappy food

Hope this helped a bunch of confused folks out there.

Adios!

Random thoughts on exercise

I see people splitting hairs about exercise and nutrition. Here is a reality check as far as exercise goes. Get your basics right first before you get into the crazy details.

  1. Exercise is meant to make you feel and perform better. If you feel like crap the day after working out (joint pains, inflammation, headache etc.) you’re doing it all wrong.
  2. Fatigue is not a sign of a good workout. Neither is muscle soreness.
  3. Running 10km everyday is hurting you much more than helping you.
  4. Deadlifts are meant to strengthen your back. Don’t do them with bad form and/or in high volume and mess up your back. If you don’t know how to do them, find a trainer who can teach you how to do them. If that’s not a possibility then you are better off without deadlifts.
  5. Dumbbell work is as effective (if not more) as barbell work.
  6. Most people can build impressive bodies, great strength and exceptional endurance with only body-weight exercises.
  7. Crunches/situps mess up your lower back. Enough said.
  8. Chinups work your biceps more than any form of curls would.
  9. A baby doesn’t learn to squat. He/she learns to stand up from a squat. If you can’t do a proper squat you are in pretty bad shape.
  10. Rest and recovery are underrated. The more you rest, the better you recover, the stronger/faster you get and the longer you live.
  11. If gaining strength is one of your goals, then there is no reason for you to not back squat or front squat at least once a week.
  12. It’s not about how strong or fast you are. It’s about how long you can continue to be that strong or fast.
  13. Mobility is king. Without mobility your strength and endurance won’t last long.
  14. Losing muscle in the name of weight loss is the same as chopping off one of your limbs to lose a few pounds.
  15. If you’re sick, take the day off. No good comes from training when you’re sick.
  16. Weight training does not make women bulk up. Women don’t have the required amount of testosterone for that to happen. There are guys in them gym beating the piss out of themselves all day everyday and even they don’t bulk up!
  17. Kettlebell swings are legit and awesome for your posterior chain.
  18. Aerobic training 5 days a week is detrimental to health.
  19. Working out 7 days a week is unnecessary and dangerous if you’re not a competitive athlete getting paid in millions.
  20. The fancier the exercise name the more waste of time it is.
  21. The more complex the training protocol, the less effective it is.
  22. Getting stronger and looking great is simple. Not easy. But simple.
  23. There is no magic pill.
  24. It’s not strength training if you’re not stronger. 3 sets of 10 reps with the same weight for 3 months is a waste of God given time.
  25. The only sure shot way to success is progression i.e. minimal load/distance/effort increase over time.
  26. Strong is the new skinny. Every self-respecting male  and, especially, female should strength train.
  27. Cardio is overrated. Most people don’t need more than one sprint session and 2-3 days of 45 mins of brisk walking per week to achieve cardiovascular health.
  28. Plyometrics is one thing that isn’t overrated and is nothing short of awesome.
  29. More is NOT better. Better is better. Just 2 sessions of smart training per week is superior to 6 sessions of stupid training.

Stay sane folks!

PS: I’ll follow this one up with something similar for nutrition.

I love you India but… your nutritionists suck!

I tried to make this a funny post. I really tried. But I couldn’t. Because this pisses me off. Really and truly pisses me off.

The Issue:

A person goes to the gym and pays for machine rental membership and then signs up to work with a nutritionist and/or personal trainer with dreams of losing fat, gaining muscle, controlling diabetes or whatever his/her goals may be.

As a trainer/nutritionist/dietitian your job is to…

  • ensure the client reaches his/her goals (provided he/she follows your directions)
  • be brutally honest about what kind of results he/she can expect to obtain within the given time frame.
  • promise results ONLY if you have the knowledge and required expertise to provide them!

It is downright blasphemous if you…

  • promise something before the client signs up with you and then not deliver.
  • blame the client for not putting in enough effort.

Let me put it this way – if a client fails to achieve his/her goals, more often than not, it is your fault. You…

  • did not give the client a workout plan that fits their current level of fitness or
  • did not provide the client with a diet that is sustainable for his/her lifestyle or
  • did not motivate the client enough to stick to your workouts or your diet or
  • did not explain the health benefits of your diet (if there was any) well enough for them to understand. (Sorry, ‘Eat vegetables’ isn’t good enough!) or
  • were too boring or your workout/diet was too boring for the client to consider sticking to it.

The Proof:

Now I know some of you folks will think that I’m just saying this and I have no proof. So here you go…

Below is a diet plan (quoted verbatim after fixing some spelling mistakes) provided by a registered dietitian (RD) from a reputable gym in Chennai, India to a female client who was interested in fat loss. The client was in the age 25-30 age range and was a good 20 lbs overweight when she sought the help of an RD at the gym.

Morning:

Green Tea

Breakfast:

½ bowl fruit salad + 1 bowl cornflakes (include Almond and walnut 3-5 nos) (or)

Brown Bread Sandwich – 4 nos + Fruits (or)

Toast – 4 nos with Vegetables + Fruits

Mid- morning:

Tender Coconut water

Lunch:

1 ½ cups Vegetable salad + Roti – 2 nos + Channa / Paneer gravy / Mushroom gravy / Palak Paneer / Green leafy gravy + 1 glass Buttermilk

Evening :

Fruit / Sundal / Poha / Veg Salad / Sprouts Salad

Dinner:

Clear Soup – 1bowl/Roti – 2 nos/Sandwich with vegetables – 4 nos (with lots of vegetables ) + Fruit

Note: When ever you feel hungry have  one fruit.

I was in disbelief when I saw this! Any and all my clients will tell you that my diet plans are elaborate (anywhere from 10 to 20 pages long depending on the client) and contain a wealth of information. And this half a page of random nonsense is called a “diet plan”?? I mean come on!

Note: Links to food items on the diet plan added my me.

The Analysis:

Sure any idiot will say this so called diet plan is BS, but for the benefit of the numerous others who have been provided with very similar diets as a way to reach the dream bodies, let’s analyze it.

What’s right about this diet? No much really!

  • A good bit of vegetables and fruits are recommended.
  • No junk is recommended (yep… slim pickings!)

What’s wrong with this diet? Are you ready for this? Here we go…

  • Absence of protein! How will the trainee ever recover? How will the trainee save muscle mass?
  • Nature of workout not taken into account. Same diet for heavy deadlifting and 30 mins on the elliptical?
  • Quantities not mentioned. 1 bowl corn flakes? How big is the bowl?
  • Too vague. “Brown Bread Sandwich – 4 nos + Fruits” – How about 4 solid sandwiches with 3 slices of cheese and 2 tbls mayonnaise in each followed by 6 bananas for “Fruits”??
  • Super duper high in carbs. Fruit, corn flakes, roti, sundal (beans), roti and more fruit if the client is ever hungry? Seriously?
  • No good fats recommended. Ever heard of fat soluble vitamins? Care about those?
  • Pre-Workout nutrition not taken into account.
  • Post-Workout nutrition not taken into account.
  • Too many fruits. Too little vegetables. Vegetables have way more nutrition than fruits and grains and someone on a fat loss diet needs to get as much vegetables as possible in order to ensure micro-nutrient availability.
  • Too many grains! I discussed this here.
  • “Green leafy gravy”… ummmmm… say what?

The (Lack Of) Result:

Now I don’t know how many calories the client ate. But since the diet plan doesn’t mention quantities and is high in carbs the nutritionist is to be blamed and not the client. That said, having followed this diet for 2+ months these were her results.

  • Though she clubbed this with distance running, she did not lose any weight.
  • So she started running more. No difference.
  • So she started eating less. No difference.
  • She was trapped at her plateaued weight for 2+ months all the whole following “the diet” and running as hard as possible.

The (Real) Result:

The question arises in all our minds – What if the client was not committed enough? What if it was her fault?

Well, she is now my client and this is what I have to say about her…

  • She is extremely dedicated and committed towards reaching her fat loss goals.
  • She follows my diet to the letter.
  • She hasn’t missed a single workout till date.
  • She asks as many questions as she can think of to ensure she is doing it right.
  • She finds ways to make the diet work for her irrespective of the numerous social gatherings she needs to be a part off.
  • She hasn’t whined or complained about the diet or soreness even once.
  • She weighs and measures herself diligently every week to ensure no muscle is lost.
  • She emails her training log and food log for my review without fail.

She did an online consultation with me (which means I’m not even physically there with her to tell her right and wrong) and these were her results in just 5 weeks

  • She lost 14 lbs.
  • She lost 5 inches from her waist.
  • She lost 4.5 inches from her butt.
  • She lost 4.5 inches from her chest/back.
  • She lost 1 inch per thigh
  • She lost 0.5 inches per arm
  • Her endurance improved (Her 10k time is down 5 mins)
  • Her strength has obviously increased and she is starting to see muscle definition.

Her program lasts for a total of 12 weeks. I will be sure to blog in detail about her results and put up her before and after photos if she has no issues with that.

Note: Though I am super proud of my client, this is in no way meant to be an advertisement for my consulting services. I am completely booked with online consultations for at least another 3 weeks and any further requests will be placed in queue.

Moral of the story:

I’m sure you work plenty hard and make a lot of sacrifices to earn your money. Use it wisely. Work with a trainer/nutritionist who knows his/her stuff and respects the fact that you bust your chops year long to make that money.

Six exercises to do and to not do

Sure there are a million exercises out there. But that doesn’t mean you do all of them right? Some moves are legit and pure genius and will benefit you immensely as they have benefited millions of people of hundreds of years. Some others, mostly the new ones with fancy names, will more often than not mess you up and leave you looking like a weasel on wheels.

That said, though I will try my hand at as many different activities/exercises/training methodologies as possible, there are some exercises I will do for the rest of my life and some that I will never ever do!

6 exercises I will (and you should) always do…

  1. Deadlift because it is the king of all exercises. Working more muscles than any other workout, this lift strengthens everything from your grip to your lower back to your traps to your entire lower body. A strong deadlift literally means great pick-up strength in real life and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be picking stuff up throughout my life.
  2. Weighted Pull-up/Rope Climb because it is one of the most challenging upper body pulling movements. You’re not fit if you can’t climb a rope.
  3. Sprints/Sled Drag/Prowler Push because it develops speed, endurance and incredible lower body strength. The exercise taxes the lower body so much you have no choice but to get faster and stronger.
  4. Standing Press/Push Press because it is the one (and only) pressing movement that has relevance to real life. FYI – If you’re abs are not sore after a heavy pressing session, you’re doing it wrong.
  5. Plank/Planche because it strengthens the “core” without jeopardizing any joint or the spine.
  6. Push-up because it has more variations than I will ever need, it develops explosive upper body strength and it strengthens the core. In addition to being one of the most awesome bodyweight exercises, it is super functional and relates to real life activities. Also, one arm push-ups are just cool.

6 exercises I will (and you should) never do…

  1. Any kind of bosu ball crap because it’s just sad, lame and downright stupid.
  2. Kipping pull-up because it works nothing. Wasted reps. Waste of time. High risk of rotator cuff injury.
  3. Leg extension because never in my life will I need to exert force by extending my knee joint in isolation. Aesthetics? Not interested in disproportionate quads. My deadlifts work my lower body more than any machine ever will.
  4. Behind the neck press because risk >>> benefit.
  5. Any and all kinds of sit-up because I don’t want to end up with a surgery in my lower back.
  6. Anything on the smith machine because that’s as fake as fake can get. The whole point of barbell training is to strengthen synergists and stabilizers along with prime movers (agonists) and antagonists. By restricting the movement of the bar to only up-and-down the smith machine removes the synergists and stabilizers our of the equation resulting in uneven strength distribution which is a recipe for disaster.

While we are on stupid exercises, this one is a whole new level of stupidity!

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