Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Save your joints

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After the bones and muscle, the joints are the most important part of your movement. They define the quality of your life and - actually - your freedom. An old saying goes something like "you are as old as your joints" and it is quite right.

Unfortunately, the joints can be easily damaged; they get developed slower than muscle; and they recuperate even slower. So they need a great deal of attention. Proper form in every exercise is the first thing you should do to save your joints.

The second is supplementation. Here we have the following Holy Trinity: glucosamine, chondroitin, and collagen. Other substances help too (vitamin C, omega-3, MSM), but the first three are fundamental.

Finally, for joints more than anything else, the adage "use it or lose it" is completely true. So, put in your daily routine mobility exercises for the eight basic joints:


Just move every joint in its full range of motion and do 10 reps. Move front-to-back, left-to-right, and rotations too (where applicable).

One more thing: don't confuse mobility exercises with stretching. For example, if you lift your bent knee to your chest, you perform full range of forward motion for the hip. If the knee was straight, then you would also stretch your hamstring (and the movement would be much more difficult), but the hip would see no difference.

Get to work!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Summer has ended

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If during this summer you achieved the best shape of your life (which I surely hope), then maybe vacations ruined it a bit. Or maybe you didn't manage to do it, and now you have set your sight on next summer.

Either way, this blog will help you. With simple and regular tips on exercise and nutrition, it will bring you closer to the body of your dreams.

Let's start with two basic exercises (one for the abdominals, and the other for legs) which you can perform anywhere without equipment:

Don't do repetitions. Just hold these positions for as long as you can, and next time shoot for more time. In this way, you will be able to effectively improve two common trouble spots.

Good luck!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fight sedentary life in four steps

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The post's title is intentional. Sedentary life is a vicious enemy of our health and must be fought. Many times we have discussed about nutrition and that it's more important, however it's not enough by itself. The following program assumes a normal work schedule (9:00 - 17:00).

1. Before work
Wake up half an hour earlier and go for a run or fast walk. 20 minutes are sufficient. While you are away, you can have some water heated (if that's an issue for you), so you can shower the minute you get back, have breakfast, and then leave for work. You will not believe the difference in your mood and energy.

2. After lunch
Don't rush back to your office. Don't waste time talking with coworkers at the table, either. Stand up and go for a quick walk. Whatever you do is good (for example, walk two times around the block), and 20 minutes are more than enough in this case too. You will again notice immediate difference in how you feel, and you will fight sleepiness very efficiently.

3. After work
Rest for as long as you can (the best you can do is sleep for an hour or so) and then put in a full hour of intense activity. The best choice is the gym, but feel free to do whatever you fancy (dancing, martial arts, bicycle, swimming, running etc).

4. After dinner / just before sleep
Go for one more short walk. The best thing you can do at this time is a casual stroll.

All other pieces of advice (park your car away, take the stairs etc) continue to be useful, but if you commit in doing these four steps, you will be on your way. Good luck!

Everything you need to know about carbohydrates

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1. They are the body's primal energy source (along with fats). That's why they are essential in breakfast and before/after training. They provide four calories per gram.

2. They cause the secretion of insulin. This hormone is the transport of nutrients (protein and glucose) to the muscles - and to adipose tissue.

3. They also cause water retention in muscle. As a result, a drastic cut of their ingestion will lead to fluid loss.

4. There are two ways to divide them:
a1. Simple (sugar, honey, fruit, white flour products)
a2. Complex (whole-grain products, grains, oats, rice, pasta, potatoes, vegetables, legumes)
b1. Slow-digesting (yams, wild rice, beans, fruit, pasta)
b2. Fast-digesting (white bread, white rice, mashed potatoes, cereals, juices).

5. Simple and fast carbs release more insulin. However, the speed of digestion can be reduced by combining them with fiber, fat, or protein. Raw, whole, solid, and cold carbs are slower, too.

6. They get stored in muscles as glycogen (which is the most important energy source for the muscles, and is 75% water). This makes muscles look fuller.

7. Insulin is an anabolic hormone, but it poses two threats: it increases appetite and encourages fat storage. It might also nourish cancer tumours.

8. When there is a shortage of carbs, the body is forced to use fat for energy. Fat burning byproducts are called ketones, and in extreme situations, this state is called ketosis. Even then though, the body is able to create the glucose it needs by itself.

9. They take part in the fat burning process, which is called Krebs Cycle.

10. When carbs are low (and thus less glycogen is stored), protein must go up. The body will convert nitrogen to glucose. Simultaneously, more fat gets utilized for energy.

11. Some supplements that help carbs to get stored as glycogen (in muscles) and not as fat are: chromium, a-lipoic acid, omega-3 fatty acids. The best way to do it though is to consume carbs right after strenuous muscle activity.

12. A sharp spike of insulin levels (from simple carbs) along with the subsequent sharp reduction of blood glucose might cause a feeling of weakness.

Armed with this knowledge, you will be in a better position to understand why a low-carb diet will help you lose fat. Good luck!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Does sugar cause cancer?

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I am reading this article by Gary Taubes on sugar. In there, you will also find a lecture by Robert Lustig which has made some noise recently. Previously, I have blogged about this subject, too.

The new aspect is the following: sugar might cause cancer. To be more precise: insulin (which is stimulated by sugar) might nourish the tumours. This is the issue that has drawn the attention of the global nutrition society.

Of course, I can't tell if such a claim is true or not. I can say however that it sounds logical to me, because insulin's role is exactly this: to nourish tissue (muscle and fat).

But this is where the problem lies. You can't say that "I am cutting back on sugar and all carbs to stop insulin, and thus I will avoid cancer" because in this way you will stop the nutrition to your muscles too (and to your adipose tissue, but this is something you want, I suspect).

So, what should you do?

Bodybuilders are doing it for a long time: try to stimulate insulin (by consuming carbs) when your muscles need glycogen. That means certainly after weight training, and possibly in breakfast (if you are trying to put on muscle mass). As a result, carbs will go exactly where they should.

Other than that, it goes without saying that you should prefer good carbs: fruit, vegetables, honey, lactose (in milk), some potatoes, a little rice. Complex carbs (whole-grain) are not necessarily good. Generally, you should avoid processed carbs (flour-based products). This also holds true for sugar and sweets, of course.

Doing that, you reduce cancer's odds and simultaneously burn fat. What else could you ask for?

Friday, April 15, 2011

How to train naturally

Continuing the previous article, today we will show ways to make our training more natural. As we have said many times in the past, exercising should be divided in two parts: aerobic (running) and anaerobic (weights).

Running – as well as speedwalking – is a natural activity in and of itself. However, there is a way to make it even more so: run in natural surroundings (forests, parks, beaches) wearing shoes with minimum sole (ideally, no shoes at all).

As far as weight training is concerned, surely lifting and carrying heavy objects is natural, however not in the form used today (barbells and dumbbells). These weights are completely balanced and symmetrical, and thus don’t transfer fully to the real world. But there are ways to make this part of our training more natural, too:

1. Weight train in natural surroundings without shoes.
2. Utilize bodyweight exercises: pull-ups, dips, squats.
3. Lift natural loads: stones, rocks, logs, water-filled containers.
4. Push, drag, carry.
5. When using barbells and dumbbells, prefer exercises that are close to real-world conditions: deadlifts, squats, overhead presses.

Apart from improved results, these guidelines will make your training healthier and more fun. Good luck!

How to eat naturally

I am reading here a critique on traditional diets, of which I am also a fan. In short, the author criticizes these diets because – in his words – they were based on specific needs and are completely irrelevant to modern conditions.

The second argument is by definition correct, so we will not deal with it. The first one though, while also true, is exactly what gives value to traditional diets.

When we are talking about traditional diets, we are either referring to people that still live in primal tribes or the primal ancestors themselves. In both cases, we have to accept that these people didn’t have many choices. They were eating whatever was available. This meant two things:

1. These people were only eating natural foods - meaning foods that occur in nature.
2. This process went on for so long (thousands of years) that this diet – whether we like it or not – became natural for our kind.

In other words: it doesn’t matter why our ancestors ate what they ate. Indeed, they did it because they had no other choice. The important thing is that they passed our genes to us, and thus their diet is natural to us, too. We are not that different from them. We haven’t had the time to change.

And finally, no one (surely not me) will ever suggest you should copy exactly the Masai diet or the Eskimo diet. What you will possibly hear is that we should eat naturally. And that is one big and unquestionable truth. Think about it next time you are faced with a candy bar or potato chips.

It goes without saying that the same issues hold true for exercise too. But this will be the subject of a future article.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Exercise at the office

Continuing the article on how to include physical activity in your daily routine, today we will take a look at some more options.

Tim Ferriss in his popular book 4 Hour Body suggests you should do the following three exercises before meals:

These are great suggestions, however I have one more: permanently leave a dumbbell at the office or in your car, and exercise with that. A lot of people are used to training with dumbbells and feel more "comfortable" with them. If you are such a case, then this is the best solution for you.

The only bodyparts you can't train with a light dumbbell are chest and back. For these, I recommend the following exercises:

Naturally, all these exercises are supplementary to your main workouts that you should be doing in a gym. So, follow this advice and watch your body improve day by day!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The real secret of success

Frequently you will hear that the best way to achieve your goals (either body-related or not) is to have a strong willpower and discipline. We first decide clearly what we want, then we formulate a plan, and finally we just make ourselves follow it.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. In theory, the above approach seems perfect. However, even if you belong in the elite group having willpower of steel, it will fade out sooner or later.

In reality, there are two ways to safeguard your efforts:
1. You should have strong personal reasons for achieving your goal - or even better, you must need it. Your goal should be something you can't live without.
2. You have to realise by yourself what's true and right to do, and based on that, make permanent changes.

The first point is exactly why people with not too many extra pounds are never able to lose them: they can't find reasons powerful enough to justify the required sacrifices. In such cases, the only solution is to utilise the second way.

Which, in other words is the following: forget about temporary fast "fixes" (diets) and focus instead on principles. For example, if you get convinced (with your own research and logic) that carbs offer nothing to your health and make you put weight, then you might finally decide to never eat them again. If you understand that everyday movement is natural and essential to your body, you might be able to put it in your schedule.

And by so doing, you will start enjoying results that no diet and no amount of discipline will ever give you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Start early!

This blog is now one year old. I was planning an anniversary post for the occasion, but my main job didn't allow it. So I will give you two quick tips:

1. In this article from last June, I stressed the importance of an early start if we want to see drastic changes in our body until summer. However, the article was theoretical, because at the time it was already too late. It's not too late NOW. On the contrary, it is the best time to get started.

2. We all know that in order to lose weight we must consume fewer calories than the ones we burn (more accurately: we must assimilate fewer calories than the ones we burn). That's why most nutritionists will advocate a diet of approximately 500 calories less than your maintenance calories. The thing is that, as weight is being lost, these maintenance calories drop too. Thus, there is a need for constant adaptation if your diet is to be successful.

That's all for now. Talk soon!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Natural fat burners

In the tough battle against bodyfat, it is not a bad idea to utilise every available tool. So here is an updated list of natural substances that, according to latest research, help in fat loss.

1. Caffeine: an old friend of ours with a proven track record. However, keep in mind that normal coffee might not contain enough caffeine. If you don't get results, try a caffeine supplement.
2. Cinnamon: improves insulin sensitivity and regulates blood sugar, thus playing an important role in fat loss.
3. Green tea: contains catechins (mainly EGCG) which possess antioxidant properties as well as fatburning ones.
4. Capsaicin: it's the substance that makes red peppers spicy. Recent research is very encouraging regarding its effectiveness.
5. Garlic: either way it is very healthy, but it will likely help you burn fat too.

If you would like to add supplements, I recommend the following:
1. Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)
2. Tyrosine
3. Carnitine

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How to train in cold weather

It’s snowing in Greece so it’s a good time to discuss training under these conditions. Unfortunately, a lot of people use low temperatures as an excuse to cancel workouts. However, this mentality will not help you reach your goals. So here is some advice on how to train safely in the cold:

1. Dress up
Your clothes should be warm and comfortable (don’t wear a coat). You shouldn’t forget your gloves and anti-slippery shoes.

2. Warm up
Perform a light activity while still indoors (like jumping rope or jacks), followed by extensive stretching. When you finally commence your actual training, start slowly and increase intensity gradually.

3. Drink more water
Cold weather will mask the feeling of thirst and this might fool you. Dehydration is your enemy.

4. Go to the gym
One of the strongest benefits of the gym is that you can use it no matter the weather. Take advantage of that.

5. Combine vitamin C with glutamine
We all know that vitamin C helps fight the cold. However, combining it with glutamine (an essential amino acid) makes it more effective and improves recuperation.

6. Watch this video:

Friday, March 4, 2011

Build abs of steel without machines

No matter how much we insist that in order to see your abs you have to do diet and cardio, we shouldn't underestimate the value of direct ab training. Frequently asked questions include the following:
1. Which are the best ab exercises?
2. How many sets/reps should I do?
3. How often should I train abs?
4. Should I use extra weight?

The answers:

1. The best ab exercises are performed on the so-called roman chair. We need one movement for the rectus abdominis:

and one for the obliques (side abs):

If you train at home, then the best choice for the rectus is the following:

If you don't have a pull-up bar, do this:

and broomstick twists for the sides:

Finally, if you want to use an ab machine no matter what, this is the only one that deserves your time:

These are the best ab exercises. You don't need anything else.

2. Here the answer is brief: do 2-3 sets of 20-30 reps each.

3. If you are a beginner, perform two exercises (one for the rectus and one for the obliques) three times weekly. If you are more advanced, you can go ahead and work out every day, alternating between rectus and obliques. For example: Monday rectus, Tuesday obliques, Wednesday rectus etc. Ideally you should do your routine in the morning.

4. This subject is somewhat of a taboo. The right way to do it is the following: When even 30 reps seem easy, it's time to add weight. However, this isn't practical on many exercises, and this is one of the advantages of the roman chair, as seen here:

Spring is coming. Hurry up!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How to drive calories to the right place

The Holy Grail of bodybuilding (and fitness) is to lose fat and build muscle. Generally speaking, we do the former with diet and cardio, and the latter with diet and weights.

Unfortunately, the storage mechanisms of the body are complicated. We can never be sure where the food will be stored, especially if this food is not of the highest quality.

Today though, I have the solution for you! And it's quite simple.

Before every meal, perform 2-3 minutes of light exercise for the major muscle groups. This way you will activate the special receptors on these muscles, and the food will be stored there instead of the fat cells.

For example, you can do 20 bodyweight squats, 10 pushups and 10 pullups. If you have access to small dumbbells, use them. Another good and portable option is an exercise band.

This is the important step. However, ideally you should repeat the sequence 1-2 hours after the meal, when digestion will be finishing and nutrients will be flowing in the bloodstream.

I can't think of a simpler effective "trick." Just do it!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Is every calorie created equal?

I came across a recent study which compares the consumption of whole-food meals versus processed-food meals. Calories where the same in both cases.

The findings are very interesting: digestion of whole foods requires more calories than processed foods, which means that, when whole foods are consumed, less calories are actually absorbed by the body!

So if both meals contain say 1000 calories, the whole-food one will supply the body with 800 calories (200 will be used for digestion), while its processed-food counterpart will supply 900, because in this case digestion requires only 100 calories (numbers are random).

This is of course another proof that whole, real foods are better for you. But there is one more conclusion: the busting of the "a calorie is a calorie" myth. More about that in a future article.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lose weight with just one simple change

Sedentary life is one of the most important reasons of obesity. In the past, we have discussed about one simple addition you can make to your lifestyle, in order to cope with this problem.

If you applied it, then you will have already lost weight. If not, today I have one more suggestion for you.

Think about that: most people use their cars to go to work, and then they eat lunch in their work’s restaurant. This condemns them to at least 10 hours of inactivity per day.

So, my suggestion is the following: eat your lunch somewhere out of you workplace every day.

Even if you take your food with you from home, or if you eat at the restaurant, you can just package it and eat it out.

There is a nice little park very near to my work. So I take my food and go there. Usually, the meal consists of a protein source (meat, poultry, fish) along with carbs (potatoes, rice, pasta, bread), plus a salad and fruit. I only eat the meat, the salad and the fruit, and toss everything else on the ground. Other organisms living there need it more than me. After I have finished, I collect my own garbage, plus other nearby litter. This is extra movement and is good for the environment too. All in all, I am back to work after 30 minutes.

If you don’t have access to a park, there is no need to worry. The point is to walk 10 minutes before lunch and 10 minutes after it.

Do it every day, and watch your body change!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Great nutrition in 9 steps

1. Three meals
Eat 3 meals per day with protein, vegetables, and some fruit.

2. Don’t eat late
You will improve your sleep and you will be starving by morning, which is the best way to ensure you will have breakfast.

3. You are what you eat
Choose whole, live, raw, local and organic over mass-produced, foreign, packaged and processed. Invest in your food. The closer the food is to being alive, the greater the nutritive value.

4. No sugar
No white carbs of any kind. Replace them with natural nutrient-dense foods, like fruit and honey.

5. Eat after training
Or even better, sip some milk during training. It takes time to absorb the nutrients. How you feel right now is related to what you ate 12-48 hours ago.

6. Hunger
When is the last time you really felt that? Most people have conditioned themselves to eat at certain times, rather than when they actually are hungry. Experiment with intermittent fasting.

7. Wait 15 minutes after your meal to have any drink
Most of the bloated feeling comes from the drinking. Avoid meals that are too spicy.

8. Know when to stop
We have associated the feeling of fullness to be meal success. It’s not.

9. Take a short walk after your meal
You will help digestion and burn some calories, too!

Friday, February 18, 2011

How to make your training more fun

I have been reading lately that our training should be fun, because that’s the only way to keep it in our schedule. Another usual advice is to combine training with recreation, for example going for a hike or playing a team sport.

I disagree.

Training should not be confused with fun. It should not be torture either, but there is a very specific reason to train, and this is to improve performance.

The general goal of our training is to build a better body. But, we must have specific goals as well, and these relate to the type of exercise we do.

If we train with weights, the goal is to regularly increase the poundage or the repetitions. If we do cardio (for example running), we must strive to improve our times or our endurance.

Even for the morning walk I have suggested in the past, we must try to increase the duration or the distance.

The advantage of all these activities is that progress can be clearly measured. And to quote Lord Kelvin, you can only improve what you can measure.

The best way to make training more rewarding is to make it more effective. Thus, separate training from fun and improve yourself!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The three best exercises to build and preserve muscle

As we have seen, the best way to preserve your hard-earned muscle while losing fat is to lift weights. But which exercises should you do?

Fortunately, this question has been answered ages ago by powerlifters: you should do squats for your legs, deadlifts for your back, and bench presses for your chest.

Doing each one of those once per week (thus training three times weekly in total), you will be able to preserve - and even build - your muscle mass, even if you do nothing else. This goes for you too, ladies.

So what are you waiting for? Start building some strength on these movements.

Below there is a video of myself displaying correct form for these bread-and-butter exercises. I am not using a belt in the video, but you should.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The truth about Diet Coke (and sweeteners in general)

In the past, we have discussed about the negative effects of sugar and insulin (summary: avoid sugar as much as you can, both for health and fat loss). That’s why we advice our readers: if they must have a soft drink, they should prefer the diet ones.

However, recently various sources have been spreading the word that even sweeteners raise insulin, so there’s no point in them.

What is the truth then?

The truth is the following: neither aspartame, nor saccharin, nor sucralose affect insulin levels significantly.

Nobody of course can claim that diet drinks are healthy. But at least, get your facts straight.