Pull-up 101: Working the Back

The 2 Week Diet
A pull is basically the opposite movement of a press. In a pulling exercise, resistance is pulled close to the body, while in a press, resistance is pushed away. These exercises usually mimic movements of climbing and rowing. In general, pulling exercises (for the upper-body) engage the Latissimus dorsi (lats, for short), one of the most important back muscles. Among these exercises are pull-ups, pull-downs, pull-overs and rows, which can be performed using machines, free weights, elastic bands, or body-weight.

Pull-ups

A pull-up is a tough exercise because it requires a certain amount of strength to perform it. It is a body-weight exercise, in which you hang from a fixed bar and pull your body up until your chin reaches the bar. This exercise can be performed with a wide overhand (palms facing forward) grip or with a close underhand (palms facing your body) grip. The last option, also known as chin-ups, is a little bit easier than the first. This is because when you use an underhand grip, the biceps muscles are engaged more intensively, helping the back muscles to perform the movement.

Even though this is a “hard-core” exercise, there are ways to make this exercise “doable.” As with the push-up exercise, modifications are available so you can enjoy its benefits.

The Movement

Start by holding onto a fixed bar, letting you body hang. Inhale and, using your back and arms muscles, pull your body up until your chin passes the bar. Controlling the movement, lower your body until your arms are somewhat extended. This is one rep. For women, eight repetitions are considered excellent.

But if you don’t believe you could do even one, don’t be discouraged. I have options for you; just keep reading.

Muscles Involved

This exercise engages primary arms (biceps), back (upper and middle regions), posterior part of the shoulders, and chest (pecs). Stabilizing muscles include abdominal group muscles, deep back muscles, deep shoulder muscles (rotator cuff group), and wrist muscles.

Tips for Proper Form

  • Keep your back straight and chest open.
  • Control the movement at all times – avoid momentum.
  • Keep muscles engaged at the bottom of the movement – do not hang on the shoulders.
  • Inhale on the way up.

Variations and Progression

Ok, if a pull-up is out of the question for now, we can start with easier variations to build upper-body strength. First, try hanging from the bar, keeping your upper-body muscles active (not just hanging on your shoulders). Once you can hang for around 30 seconds, you can try doing half-pulls. In this exercise, you use your upper-back muscles to lift your chest a bit and relax. The movement comes from the shoulder blades only. Repeat 12 times and release the bar.

You can also try a negative pull-up, in which you use a bench to position your body on the up-phase of a pull-up, and then use your core strength to lower the body until arms are straight. Release the bar and repeat.

Another way to go is practicing incline pulls. Use a bar low enough so that your feet are touching the floor. Hold the bar and slide forward. Your body should be in a reverse plank, and your arms perpendicular to the floor. Pull yourself up until your chest is close to the bar. Then, return to the initial position. As with incline push-ups, the higher the bar, the easier it is to perform the exercise. Lower the bar for more challenge, or place a bench under your feet for a decline variation.

Some gyms also have assisted weight pull-up machines. These machines, as the name says, make your job easier by lifting part of the weight for you. So, instead of pulling your whole body weight, you can choose to lift only 60 pounds, for example, and the machine will handle the difference. As you build strength, you reduce the machine’s help.

 

Vegetarian Sources of Protein

The 2 Week Diet
Studies show that plant-based diets are the healthiest but do vegetarians get enough protein?

Why do we need protein anyway?

Proteins are the building blocks body tissues, hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. Even though, protein could be used as an energy source, it is usually spared. Our body can’t produce amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Therefore, we must get them from food sources.

How much protein do I need?

The minimum recommended daily intake is around 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. This means that if your weight is 70kg, you should consume at least 56 grams of protein daily. Depending on your fitness goals, you need a little more than that.

How do I know if I am getting enough protein?

A rule of thumb is to eat protein-rich foods with every meal. If you are vegetarian you may struggle meeting your recommended daily intake, especially if you also restrict eggs and dairy products. If you are not sure, you may want to track your food intake for a few days to calculate your calorie and protein intake (use an app like myfitnesspal or calorieking).

Can I get enough protein from plant sources?

Yes, you can. However, because plant sources don not contain all the essential amino acids,  you will need to combine a variety of vegetables, legumes and grains in order to meet your requirement.

What are the best vegetarian sources of protein?

Eggs, milk, and dairy products are on the top of the list. However, pulses such as beans and lentils and nuts and seeds also offer a good amount of protein per serving.

Click here to download a list of vegetarian sources of protein.

Do You Know How to Do a Deadlift?

The 2 Week Diet

Dead-lift is an exercise that engages muscle groups all over the body. The classic dead-lift is nothing more than the movement of lifting a heavy object from the floor. For safety reasons, one should bend the knees keeping a flat back, hold the object, and then lift the body using the legs, not the back. A dead-lift is one of the exercises in power-lifting, but I don’t think any of us here are exactly willing to compete in this kind of event. However, you can incorporate this exercise, or any of its variations, in your workout routine if you use light weights and perform it with caution.

Here is how to perform a classic dead-lift:

  1. Hold the barbell (or dumbbells) in front of your thighs. Feet should be hip distance apart, knees soft (not locked), chest open and shoulders down and relaxed.
  2. Inhale, engage your abdominals and start flexing hips and knees at the same rate as you would in a squat, lowering the bar towards the floor.
  3. Go as far as you can (you don’t need to touch the floor), controlling the descent.
  4. When you get to the bottom of the movement, stop and then come back to standing. Use your thigh muscles to lift your body.
  5. Exhale on your way up.

Remember that the work phase of the movement is the lifting but this doesn’t mean that you should allow the bar to pull you down when lowering the weight. It is important to control the movement in all phases to prevent injuries. So keep your abs engaged and your pelvis tucked. This will create a brace around your spine.

There are several variations of this exercise, which will make the movement slightly different.

Muscles Involved

Dead-lifting engages primarily glutes, hamstrings, quads and lower back muscles, but it also calls for core muscles as stabilizers. However, if you are performing stiff-leg dead-lifts or good mornings, the emphasis is on hamstrings, glutes and lower back muscles. (The quadriceps muscles only come into play when you flex/extend the knees.) Rotation movements (as in cross body dead-lift) also engage the oblique muscles.

Tips for a Proper Form

  • Check your posture in the mirror while performing the movement.
  • Control the whole movement – avoid jerking the body.
  • Keep feet planted on the floor at all times – do not raise the heels. Body weight should be evenly distributed throughout your feet.
  • Keep back straight and chest open. Avoid rounding or arching your back – maintain neutral spine.
  • Knees should be parallel to each other – do not allow them to collapse inward.
  • During the movement, flex hips and knees at the same rate.
  • Keep knees aligned over the ankles – you should be able to see your toes when sitting.
  • When lifting, use you leg muscles, not your back.
  • Engage your abs and tuck your pelvis in to protect your spine.
  • Keep the bar close to your body.
  • Inhale when you go down; exhale on your way up.

Variations

When it comes to dead-lift, you have quite a few options. If you want a total-body exercise, stick to the classic version presented above, or try the sumo dead-lift which has the advantage of engaging inner thigh muscles too. However, if you are looking for an exercise to target hamstrings and glutes, the stiff-leg dead-lift or the good morning exercise are definitely great alternatives. When performing these exercises, keep your knees slightly bent (don’t lock the knees) and go down as far as it is comfortable for you. It is normal to feel a stretch in the back of your thighs (hamstrings); it will get better as your flexibility improves. More advanced variations are the single-leg dead-lift, which challenges your balance, and the cross-body dead-lift, a dead-lift with a twist motion.

Progression and Challenge

The better options for beginners are the classic or stiff-leg dead-lifts. Good morning is also a good alternative, but because the weight is placed over the shoulders, it should be performed with very light weight. One or two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, once a week, is enough to get you started. Remember that proper form and body alignment is vital when it comes to safety. Use a mirror to adjust your posture.

Practice these two variations before trying more challenging ones. As your core[1] strength increases, you’ll be able to keep body alignment throughout the movement, making you ready to move on.


[1] The so-called core is formed by several muscles of the pelvic floor, back and abdominal areas that stabilize and protect our spine. They are responsible for the maintenance of posture and body alignment. Most of the resistance training exercises require the engagement of core muscles in order to maintain proper form.

Why Exercise Alone Will NOT Lead to Massive Weight-Loss

You may be exercising for a while but not seeing the results you were expecting. Here is why:

To burn 1 kg of body fat, you must burn 9000 kcal (this is the equivalent of 30 hours on a treadmill!)

A high intensity workout such as a spin class burns on average 500 kcal/hour. How many of those sessions do you perform in a week? Two or three?  Let’s say you are burning about 1500 kcal/week. This means that to lose 500 g of fat in a week, you still need to cut 3000 kcal. This cut should come from your diet.

In order to lose weight, we must create a negative energy balance (burn more calories than we consume).  So, if you want to see faster results you MUST adjust your caloric intake.

Energy Intake < Energy Output → Negative Energy Balance

Don’t know where to start?

A conservative approach to weight-loss is to modestly reduce your daily caloric intake by 250 kcal to 500 kcal, while increasing the energy expenditure by 250 kcal to 500 kcal per day (through exercise). These steps will create a modest energy deficit with which the body can easily deal with. Following this guideline may lead to a weight-loss of one to two pounds per week without putting too much stress in your body.

Keep in mind that exercise will determine the quality of your weight loss. After all, you want to lose just fat not muscle or water. A regular exercise routine will also enable you to  maintain your fat loss for longer.

The 3 Week Diet

Do You Have a Scale Addiction?

Ah, the scale. As a woman seeking to lose weight, it can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

Sadly, though, a lot of women get addicted to that number on the scale. They see it not just as measure of their weight but as a measure of their success, their value, and their worth.

When that number doesn’t say what they want, they know without a doubt they’re going to have a bad day.

Here are a few signs that you have a scale addiction:

  • You weigh yourself multiple times a day. This activity is a big waste of time and gives you no indication of your true weight, since it fluctuates multiple times per day based on what you eat and drink and when you go to the bathroom.
  • You let the number you see upset you greatly. Stop getting so upset! The number doesn’t really tell you much since weight looks different on different people.

Remember, the scale can’t really tell you much at all. It is just one measure of your success, and other indicators, like skin fold (body fat percentage), girth measurements, progress pictures, are much more reliable.

The trick, though, is not to be obsessed with any kind of number or measurement, but, instead, just to focus on being as strong and healthy as possible. In the end, that’s all that matters.

12 Tips for Calorie Control

You don’t need to measure/weight your food in order to control your calories. Calorie counting is not only troublesome but also inaccurate so there is no point in doing it anyway. However, you can take control of your caloric intake by adopting these 12 fool-proof strategies:

  1. Clean your pantry – Some foods are supposed to be eaten in MODERATION, meaning once or twice a month. If you keep those foods at home, chances are you are going to eat them more often than you should. So get a garbage back and throw away (or give it to someone you don’t like) any following items: Sweet biscuits, cakes, desserts, Processed meats and sausages, Ice cream, lollies and chocolate, Meat pies and pastries, Crisps, chips, and other salty snacks, Margarine, Soft drinks, fruit drinks, and sports drinks, Alcoholic drinks.
  2. Home cook most of your meals – Restaurant foods are usually rich in fat, sugar and salt, tending to be  extremely palatable and easy to over eat. Keep in mind that your meals should be tasty, but not so tasty you can’t stop eating! Also, the portions are usually larger than you would normally eat at home.
  3. Surround your close environment with healthy foods – If all you see around you are fruits, veggies, lean protein, whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats, you will be more likely to eat them. Those foods are packed with nutrients and fibre and low in calories (when compared to processed foods).
  4. Eat slowly and without distractions – Did you know that it takes at least 20 minutes for the fullness reflex kick in? So if you eat too fast, you will be more likely to overeat.  Pay attention to your fullness level and stop eating when 80% full. Eliminate any distractions, meaning no phone, work or TV during your meals.
  5. Don’t skip meals – You will get overly hungry and be more likely to overeat on the next meal.
  6. Pay attention to your portion sizes – A serving of grain is about the size of one cupped hand (a restaurant portion size of pasta/noodles usually have about 4 servings!).
  7. Don’t turn to food for psychological comfort – Find other ways to cope with stress, boredom, and anxiety.
  8. Eat only when hungry. Before grabbing a muffin, ask yourself “Am I really hungry? Could I have an apple instead?”. If the answer is no, you are not hungry, you just feel like eating.
  9. Plan your cheat meal – This is important to avoid going overboard. Choose what you are going to have in advance. Eat slowly and enjoy it. And remember, it is a cheat meal NOT a cheat day.
  10. Focus on your breakfast – When you start your day with the right foot, you set the mood for the rest of the day. Eat a high protein breakfast to avoid overeating throughout the day. Protein keeps you full for longer.
  11. Avoid high carb meal late in the day. Keep in mind that excess carbohydrates are converted into fat and deposited into your waistline. At night is even worse because most of us are not very active which means there is no time to burn the extra calories.
  12. Don’t drink your calories. It doesn’t matter if it is orange juice or coke, liquid calories are readily absorbed and spikes the blood sugar levels. A big no-no for calorie control.

The 3 Week Diet

Squats 101

A squat is a total body exercise that requires the engagement of several major muscle groups. A squat is basically the movement of sitting on and lifting from an imaginary chair. It is a two-part movement:

1. Lower the body by bending the hips and knees until the thighs are somewhat parallel to the floor.

2. Follow by straightening the hips and knees to come back up.

The “true” work is done on the second half of the movement because you are moving against gravity. However, because there isn’t a real chair behind you, your core muscles come into play holding your body still so you won’t collapse on the floor.

Muscles Involved

Most major leg muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes) are primarily involved in squatting, and depending on how you position your body, other groups can be engaged as well (e.g., a ballet squat engaging inner thigh muscles). This exercise also calls for a number of trunk, hip and lower leg muscles which work as stabilizers.

Tips for Proper Form

  • Good posture is essential to your safety. Always check yourself in the mirror to be sure you are doing it right.
  • Keep feet planted on the floor at all times – do not raise the heels. Body weight should be evenly distributed throughout your feet.
  • Keep back straight and chest open. Avoid rounding or arching your back – maintain neutral spine.
  • Knees should be parallel to each other – do not allow them to collapse inward.
  • During the movement, flex hips and knees at the same rate.
  • Keep knees aligned over the ankles – you should be able to see your toes when sitting.
  • Inhale when you go down; exhale on your way up.

Variations

Variations play an important role in progression because they can engage different muscle groups and recruit more muscle fibers. However, it is imperative that you choose the adequate one for you, respecting your body’s needs and limitations. Always start with the easiest variation to get used to the movement. Master it before moving on to a more challenging option.

Progression and Challenge

If you are new to exercise, start with a plain body-weight squat. You can even place a chair behind you and practice the movement without actually sitting on the chair. Another good option for beginners is the ball squat. Do one or two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, twice a week – no load. Check yourself in the mirror to adjust your posture. It is normal to feel awkward on the first attempts, but you will see improvement as your body learns the movement. Once you feel comfortable with this exercise, you can add more challenge:

    • Load – Using weights or elastic bands to increase resistance. Ex.: back squats, dumbbell squats.
    • Positioning – Changing the position of legs and feet will work different parts of the muscles. Ex.: sumo squat, plié squat.
    • Split squat – Placing one leg in front of you and kneeling is a squat variation. Split squats are challenging because they require more balance. You can perform them by kneeling and coming back up in place (split squat); by stepping forward, kneeling and going back to the initial position (forward lunge), or by lunging and walking.
    • Static – Holding your body in a squat position is a great way to add challenge to your workout routine. Hold the squat position for 30 seconds on your last repetition and feel the burn. Ex.: yoga squat, chair pose.
    • Balance – Challenge your body by performing single-leg squats or Bosu squats. Your body will need to recruit more muscles to keep your balance.
    • Rotation – Adding a twist to your squats (as in a cross-body chop) engages the oblique muscles, making it an even more complete exercise.

Everything You Need To Know About Strenght Training

The human body has the amazing ability to adapt when facing a challenge. Strength training explores this property by placing the skeletal muscles[1] under controlled stress (resistance) in order to improve muscular strength and/or endurance.  When a muscle or muscle group is overloaded, each muscle fiber sends a message to our central manager, the brain, asking for help. The brain acts by recruiting more muscle fibers, contributing to most of the strength gains during the first weeks of training. But with continued practice, the muscle fibers also increase in size, which will enable you to gradually lift heavier loads. That’s the so-called muscle hypertrophy so praised by bodybuilders.

Hey, calm down! You are not going to get bulky. Even though some women are able to increase muscle mass significantly (as you can see on bodybuilding contests), that is not the rule for most of us, so there is no need to be afraid of the weight room. The magnitude of changes is closely related to the type and intensity of training, testosterone levels and genetic factors.

Then why do men bulk up with weight training and we don’t?  Well, the main reason is that on average, men have more muscle mass than women to start with. Women are generally shorter than men, usually lighter in total body weight, and have less fat free mass (muscle and bones) and more body fat. A male body, on the other hand, has a greater percentage of fat-free mass, meaning more muscle per body weight, especially on the upper body. They have more muscle fibers that can be stimulated and enlarged, and also have higher levels of testosterone, an anabolic-steroid hormone that supports muscle growth. In simple words, men are better equipped for muscle growth than women.

Despite these apparent disadvantages, any woman is capable of improving muscle strength and stamina with proper training, and these gains are not necessarily accompanied by large increases in muscle bulk. As you lose body fat, your newly built muscles will become more evident, thus giving you the “toned” appearance about which you always dreamed.

Benefits

Strength training (also called weight training or resistance training) is a fundamental part of a balanced exercise program. The main goal is to build muscle mass, which will translate into gains in strength, endurance and power. It contributes to the preservation of lean body mass which is one of the key components to keeping our metabolism[2] in check.

It also strengthens bones and joints, making you less prone to injuries. Actually, resistance training and other weight bearing exercises are critical for the maintenance of bone mass and density, which is especially important for us women because of the increased risk of developing osteoporosis as we age.

Types of Resistance Training

Before you start, you have to know what is out there for you. There is an enormous range of possibilities when it comes to resistance training. For instance, you can use your own body weight as you do while performing push-ups, or you can use equipment such as free weights, elastic bands and medicine balls. If you work out in a health club, you have access to an array of machines. But to make your exercise session effective and safe, you’d better know what you are doing.

Here are a few types of training available:

  • Isometric – Isometric training is a static exercise, meaning you just hold a position for a few seconds. It is very common in Pilates and yoga, and it is a great way to introduce more challenge to an exercise. For example, you can hold a plank after you complete a set of push-ups or hold a boat pose after doing abdominal curl-ups.
  • Concentric-eccentric[3] – These exercises usually consist of two phases: a lifting phase, in which the primary muscles involved in the movement work against resistance, and a lowering phase, where antagonist muscles come into play to control the descent. A few options are:
    • Free weights – Barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls, or one’s body weight are used in this type of training.  When using free weights, you have freedom of movement, making the range of motion usually greater than when exercising with machines. Your exercise options are endless. However, it is imperative to keep proper form at all times, because you don’t have a machine to keep your body aligned.
    • Machines – Machines are great for two reasons: they are easier for beginners and safer for heavy lifters. Most machines guide the movement, so you have less to worry about while performing an exercise. However, the range of motion is limited by the equipment, meaning you’ll only be able to go as far as the machine allows you. Yet, there is a type of machine that is somewhat similar to free weights, the cable machine. Cable machines are very versatile, allowing you to perform a great array of exercises on the same equipment. But as with free weights, you are on your own when it comes to keep good form and proper body alignment. If you have easy access to them, go ahead and incorporate a few machine exercises to your routine. But if you work out at home, don’t worry about it; you have plenty of training options using other devices.
    • Elastic bands – Bands have become popular among women, because they are easy to work with, and are way less scary than free weights. Possibilities are vast when it comes to exercise selection, and you can work out virtually anywhere. If you travel a lot, this is your tool; they weigh virtually nothing and are easy to fit in a suitcase. My only concern is choosing the right band for your needs; it should provide enough resistance to work with (if it is too light you won’t get any improvements). While performing a band exercise, control the movement during all phases; never let the band pull you back.
  • Plyometrics – Plyometrics are more advanced exercises which involve jumping and throwing. They are usually used by athletes to improve muscle force and power, but they’ve hit the average gym environment lately, especially on boot camp classes. If you are new to exercise, avoid this type of training altogether to prevent injury.

 

 

 

 

How Much is Enough?

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that everyone incorporate resistance training to their exercise program in order to obtain muscular fitness. The guidelines to achieve general muscular fitness are: perform eight to 12 exercises involving each major muscle group, two to three times a week, with at least 48 hours of rest between training sessions.

However, if you are no beginner and choose to exercise more often, say four days a week, you can take advantage of a split routine. You can literally divide your workout routine into upper-body and lower-body days. For example, perform only lower-body exercises on Tuesdays and Fridays, then do upper-body exercises on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This system is good if you are looking for more muscle development, and it has the big advantage of time-efficiency. (It takes less time per session than a whole-body routine.)

Choosing Exercises

I think it is common sense that one should aim for a balanced routine that addresses all major muscle groups. But do you know which muscles I am talking about? For better understanding, I divide the body into seven regions; Chest, back, shoulders, arms (biceps and triceps), abdominals (rectus abdominis and obliques), thighs and glutes (quadriceps, hamstrings, inner thighs, outer thighs and gluteus), and calves.

This is, of course, just a rough anatomic sketch. But have in mind that your exercise routine should involve all of these seven regions in order to be balanced. The good news is that most exercises are multi-joint (squats, push-ups), meaning that a single exercise can work several muscle groups at once. Compound exercises are also a great alternative, because they combine two movements to form a more complete and complex exercise (lunge and biceps curl). Of course, there are many single-joint exercises (biceps curls, calf raises), but because of time constraints (you surely don’t want to spend two hours working out), their use should be limited when planning a whole-body routine.

 

The exercise order is also important. When putting a routine together, start with more demanding exercises such as compound and multi-joint, and progress to simple ones, such as single-joint exercises. Compound and multi-joint exercises require more energy, so they are better performed when you are still fresh and rested. Use single-joint exercises to address muscles that were not involved previously in any exercise in order to round out your program.

Training Volume

Training volume is determined by the number of sets and repetitions of each exercise you selected. A repetition is a complete cycle of an exercise movement (the two phases, lowering and lifting). Let’s say a squat repetition is lowering the body and coming back to standing. A set is a group of repetitions.

A good way to start is to perform one to two sets of eight to 12 repetitions per exercise. As you get stronger, you can add more sets if you’d like, however, keep repetition range between eight and 15 for maximal strength and mass gains.

According to ACSM’s guidelines, eight to 12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10 to 15 repetitions improve strength in middle-age, older adults and beginners, and 15 to 20 repetitions improve muscular endurance. Sets should be kept between two and four in order to improve strength and power in adults.

Progressive Overload

One thing to have in mind is to get results, you have to somewhat challenge your body. I said CHALLENGE. Meaning that if the resistance you are using is too light, you are not giving enough stimuli for your muscles to grow. That said, it is imperative that you learn how to choose your optimal load.

The weight (or resistance, if you are working with bands) selected has to be somewhat hard to lift, but not so hard that you can’t complete a set. If you are selecting weights for the first time, I recommend that you start with the lowest weight available to learn the movement. Do a full set of 12 repetitions. How did that feel? Was it so easy that you think you could do more than 12 repetitions? If so, increase the load and try again. The goal is to find a weight (or a band) that challenges but does not overwhelm you, meaning you’ll be able to complete 12 reps, but not more than that.

However, the ACSM recommends that older adults and sedentary people starting to exercise keep light, or even very light, intensity to prevent injuries.

As your body gets used to the load, you should progressively increase it, in order to keep getting results. However, when you achieve your fitness goals, you can migrate to a maintenance program with a fixed training volume and load. The only thing you shouldn’t do is to stop training, because results will be reversed in as few as two weeks of inactivity.

Specificity

Physiological adaptations are highly specific to the type of training, so it is important that you know what you want to achieve before planning your program. If your goal is to gain muscle mass, you should aim for eight to 12 repetitions; if you are training for strength gains, you can use heavier weights (careful with that) with fewer repetitions (around six); but if you are looking for muscle endurance, light weights and more repetitions (between 12 to 20) is the way to go. Just be sure to choose the appropriate load for each type of training (see progressive overload).

However, if all you want is general fitness, cross training is a great alternative for you. Cross training is a mix and match of different training modes and intensities. In this type of training, several different fitness components are addressed at once, resulting in a more balanced program.

Rest and Recovery

An often neglected training component is recovery time. Did you know that changes in your body occur while you rest, not during training? That’s right. It is quite common to get excited when starting an exercise program, and sometimes this excitement leads to overtraining.  When you do too much too soon, you don’t give your body enough time to recover properly, which will lead to intense muscle soreness, general fatigue and increased risk of injuries.

Generally, a period of 48 hours between training sessions is required to induce positive adaptations, so resist the temptation of exercising every day.


[1] Skeletal muscles are one of the structures responsible for our mobility but also contribute to the maintenance of body alignment and posture, provide protection and produce body heat. These structures are highly plastic and can be changed due to activity or inactivity.

[2] Metabolism is commonly known as the breakdown of food in order to obtain energy. Everyone needs a minimum amount of energy just to stay alive. This, also called basal metabolic rate, is affected by several factors as lean body mass, height, weight, gender, and body temperature, among others. Increasing muscle mass is an effective way to give your basal metabolism a boost, meaning you’ll be burning more calories at rest.

[3] Concentric-eccentric refers to the type of muscle contraction. During a concentric contraction, the muscle fibers are shortened, while during an eccentric contraction, muscle fibers are elongated. In a concentric-eccentric exercise both types of muscle contraction are present in different phases of the movement.

How Much Protein Do I Need?

Protein shake, protein bars, protein pancakes. Everywhere I look, I find a new protein-based product. And the fitness industry seems to be obsessed with it. Have you noticed how many articles just like this one you can find on google?

Anyway, I agree that protein is a very important macronutrient. Without protein, we can’t function. It is present in every single cell of our bodies (except for fat cells, cause fat cells are formed by…well, fat). They are the building blocks of bones, muscles, skin, blood… Bla, bla, bla. You know all that already.

Let’s get to the point. I believe that you can have enough protein from food sources as long as:

  1. You know which foods contain protein
  2. You eat protein with every meal
  3. You understand your portion size

That’s why I created the following guide;)

Click here to download PDF on Protein requirement
The 3 Week Diet

Are You Familiar with the Food Groups?

The 3 Week Diet
According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, we should get most of our nutrients from our diet. Whole, nutrient-dense foods (rich in nutrients with few calories) should be preferred over processed foods, which are usually energy-dense (lots of calories per weight) and nutrient-poor.

Food sources are divided into six major groups:

  1. Grains 

Grains are cereals such as rice, wheat, rye, corn, barley and oats. A whole grain is composed of endosperm, germ, and bran, and is a good source of carbohydrates (sugar, starches and fiber), vitamins and minerals. However, when a grain is refined, the germ and the bran are removed to improve texture and taste, and several nutrients (such as fiber, iron and B vitamins) are lost in the process.  Brown rice, bulgur, oatmeal, and whole-wheat flour are examples of whole grains, while white flour, white rice, and degermed cornmeal are examples of refined. Even though many refined grain products are enriched with vitamins and minerals, the consumption of whole grains is vital because they provide dietary fiber.

  1. Vegetables

Vegetables are edible plant parts such as leaves, stems, and roots. They are great sources of carbohydrates (starches and fiber), vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Vegetables usually offer many nutrients with just a few calories. They may be consumed raw, cooked, canned, frozen, dried or in juice form. However, for most vegetables, gentle cooking methods are advised in order to preserve vitamin content.

There are many types of vegetables available: dark green such as broccoli, kale and spinach; red and orange such as carrots, sweet potatoes and red peppers; and starchy, such as potatoes, corn and green peas. Some vegetables don’t fall into any of the previous categories – onions, artichokes, cauliflower and zucchini are a few examples. There are also beans and peas such as black beans, lentils, chickpeas and soy beans. These are unique vegetables, because they are also an excellent source of protein.

  1. Fruits

Fruits are also an edible part of plants; they differ from vegetables in that they are usually sweet[1]. Fruits provide carbohydrates (sugar and fiber), vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, and have high water content. They are considered nutrient-dense foods, because they usually offer several nutrients with just a few calories. They may be consumed fresh, cooked, canned, frozen, dry or juiced.  Apples, bananas, berries, oranges and peaches are just a few examples.

  1. Dairy

The dairy group consists of fluid milk and milk products such as cheese and yogurt. Milk is a great source of carbohydrates (sugar), protein, vitamins (such as vitamin D), and minerals (such as calcium). However, whole milk and its products also contain saturated fat. Actually, some milk products (such as butter, heavy cream, and cream cheese) are almost 100% fat! To avoid overconsumption of saturated fat, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that you choose fat-free or low-fat varieties.

  1. Proteins

This group contains a variety of animal and plant foods that are great sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. Animal sources are meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood; these foods also contain saturated fat and cholesterol. Because of that, the consumption of lean cuts of meat is recommended. Beans, nuts, and seeds are plant sources of protein, but they also provide carbohydrates (starches and fiber) and unsaturated fats. Even though nuts are high-fat, energy-dense foods, they are considered heart-healthy foods, because their unsaturated fatty acids may have a positive effect on blood cholesterol[2].

  1. Oils

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, and even though they provide essential nutrients, they are required only in small amounts in the diet. Oils may be obtained from plant or animal sources. Canola oil, olives and olive oil, avocados, and nuts are examples of plant sources, while fatty fishes such as salmon and tuna are animal sources.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the perfect food. In order to get all the nutrients our body needs, it is imperative that we consume a variety of foods from all food groups. Moderation is also warranted in order to maintain the energy equation balance. Remember that consuming more calories than you are able to expend will result in weight gain. So pay attention to serving sizes of foods, and avoid consuming oversized portions.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) also offers some tips for improving eating habits:

  • Make small changes over time.
  • Try new foods in order to introduce variety to your diet.
  • Balance energy intake with physical activity.
  • Don’t eliminate your favorite foods; practice moderation instead.

The USDA recently replaced the food pyramid (my pyramid) for a plate icon (choose my plate) in order to make the nutritional guidelines easier to understand. Below, you will find a sample of the recommendations for moderately active adult women. Complete information can be found at www.chosemyplate.com.

[1] The sweet taste of fruits is attributed to their high content of sugar (fructose).

[2] “Nuts and Your Heart: Eating Nuts for Heart Health.” Available at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nuts/HB00085