We are all unique in our own special ways. This is not just a quick personal development pep talk, but to gently say that along with our individual physique strengths we also have our particular weak areas. Our bodies are shaped the way they are based on family genetics and usage. Through resistance training we are able to shape our God-given bodies in new ways. While we cannot change our height, bone structure, or shape of a muscle, as these elements are predetermined by genetics, we can greatly enhance what we have. All humans have the same 600 some muscles. Yes, you do have abs! The length of our muscles and tendons as well as the number of muscle fibers are set. But through proper nutrition and exercise we can decrease body fat levels and increase the size of our muscle fibers greatly altering our appearance. We cannot make our bodies to look exactly like someone else, but through strategic exercise we can make dramatic changes.
Several of my personal ‘weak areas’ would be my calves and general upper body width (back and side shoulders). Being a naturally tall and thin guy these have been problem areas my entire life. Instead of just accepting defeat I educated myself, devised a battle plan, and went to work. Making major changes to ones body is not a quick process. You have to be patient and n for the long haul, but your efforts will be rewarded. While I still don’t have the biggest calves they are much improved and nowadays I frequently get compliments. Here is my best advice to turn your weak points into highlights.
Place a special focus on the muscle groups that are lagging. We often have the mindset that we have to work thighs, hamstrings, and then calves last. Or when working shoulders we need to do our overhead presses and finish with rear delts. While in general this is normal protocol sometimes we have to work outside the box. For example when I am focusing on developing my calves I often start my leg workout with calves while I am full energy. Switching things around changed the game for me. A shoulder workout can start with rear delts! Amazing revelation right? Don’t be afraid to break what is normal and train for your own body. These next two concepts are apart of prioritizing, but important enough to have their own paragraphs.
Work your weak points more than just once a week. You can’t really go wrong working them twice weekly. Depending on the muscle group and your recovery level a few touch up sets a third round every now might be beneficial as well.
It’s important to consider not only the number of sets during a specific workout, but also the weekly volume which we talked about above with frequency. A lagging muscle group requires more than just 3-5 sets of a couple exercises. An exercise can be done for 6, 7, 10+ sets! Who knew? Bigger muscle groups like the thighs, chest, and back can handle more total sets in a week. I’ve gone up to 20 sets for a given muscle group in a single session and 30+ in a week. Everybody responds differently to volume, but the point is to give your weak areas more attention than normal.
At the end of the day workout intensity stands above most other concepts when it comes to muscle growth. I’ve been asked before what ‘intensity’ means. To me it means absolute focus, single mindedness, and the desire to get as much results from every single rep. Workout intensity is the desire to be uncomfortable and to work a muscle until it has nothing left. Listen to this: exercises are generally more intense with proper form and when a slower tempo is used. Ones mind often gives out before the muscle. You always have to ask yourself, “Can I do one more rep?” Don’t stop just because you did 10, 12, or 15 reps. Muscles don’t count, they can only feel. I always tell me personal training clients, “I don’t care about 12. Do more!” There are so many methods, programs, scientific articles, but your workout intensity will generally supersede them all.
One way to increase workout intensity is by going beyond failure. What does that mean exactly? It means lifting to absolute muscular failure with good form and then doing more! If you have a lifting partner common techniques include:
Forced Reps: A partner provides minimal assistance to finish the positive (concentric) portion of the lift.
Negatives: Upon failure a lifting partner may help or completely lift the weight and you lower the weight slowly. Our strength to do the eccentric portion of a lift will surpass that of the concentric lifting of the weight.
I generally workout solo and often use these methods to go ‘beyond failure’:
Drop Sets: Once failure is reached quickly reduce weight and continue with reps. Multiple weight reductions can happen in a single set.
Pause-rest: This is one of my favorite techniques. Once muscular failure is reached take a quick 4-10 second rest and continue on with the set. This can be repeated any number of times each set.
Keeping a record of your workouts is vital for progression. I can barely remember what I did yesterday let alone what exercises, exact sets and reps, and weights used last week. Use a notebook or your phone to keep detailed notes of each workout. Over time work to do more weight and/or more reps.
Weak Point Cardio
This is a method I use often especially when prepping for a natural pro show. It’s a twist on HIIT cardio where I hit an intense interval followed by a quick set to work on a lagging muscle group. There are unlimited variations of this idea. Have fun with it and get those extra sets in.
If I am focusing on my side delts I might do the following:
Jog for one minute
Lateral Raises with resistance band: 15 reps.
Repeat 7-10 times.
When working on back width my ‘Weak Point Cardio” might be:
Stationary Bike: 20 seconds all out.
Stationary Bike: 30 seconds moderate.
Wide Grip Chins: 12 reps.
Stationary Bike: 40 seconds moderate.
Repeat 5 times.
All this extra work to bring up a weak point is wasted if you are not priming yourself for recovery. The muscle building cycle involves breaking down muscle fibers then doing everything we can to recover so they grow bigger and so we can do it all over again. Focus on these things to maximize your recovery potential:
Sleep: This is sometimes difficult with family and work, but try to get at least 7 hours of sleep nightly. The quality of your sleep is important too. Try to stay off your phone several hours before bed, or at least turn on the ‘night shift’ option on your screen changing the screen light to warmer colors.
Nutrition: This is the foundation of health and any physical change. The what you eat, how much, and when are all important. If you are looking to drop body fat eat in a clean calorie deficit. When trying to build muscle eat in a clean calorie surplus. These calories are made up of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. While everybody is different there are standard macronutrient percentage breakdowns that are a good place to start. Seek professional help if you need assistance in this area or follow a reputable ‘program’ that outlines detailed nutrition protocol.
Hydration: Being that our bodies are made up mainly of water it’s only natural that we need a lot of it to functional properly. Staying fully hydrated gives us energy, helps us lose body fat, and build muscle. Best of all it’s typically free! Drink a glass of water immediately upon waking to start the day off right. I personally bring in about a gallon of water daily. And yes, I visit the bathroom often. It’s one of the sacrifices I make to be healthy.
Supplementation: Nutrition and workout intensity are always most important. But when those things are in place proper supplementation can help a little. I work hard enough that even ‘a little’ extra energy, focus, and recovery matter to me. Extraordinary lifestyle requires extra-ordinary nutritional support. The basics include whey protein especially post workout, creatine, and glutamine. Look for quality brands that are third party tested and contain no artificial colors or flavors.
Natural muscle growth takes time especially when dealing with parts of the body that are stubborn. Make a commitment to yourself to be in this for the long haul and never quit. You’ve heard the saying, “Anything worth while takes time.” A killer set of calves is definitely a worthy goal.
My weak points will always be a work in progress, but by being consistent with all the methods mentioned above they are slowly turning into highlights. By happy with who you are, but always strive to push your boundaries and improve.
-Wittig, ISSA CPT
IPE Natural Pro 3x Champ
All socials: @WittigWorks
Scrolling through any bodybuilding, weightlifting forum or page as a relative beginner can be quite a daunting experience. In addition to being thrown various kinds of supplements that supposedly helps you build muscle, you’re also recommended all sorts of brands that majority of “seasoned” veterans swear by.
Do they all work? In a way, yes. Majority of the advice you receive is done in good faith. But, are they necessary? Not exactly. In fact, you could save yourself a lot of trouble (and money) by simply trying to eat a balanced diet. No supplements, just healthy meals.
But, you’re not here for that, are you? You’re here because you need help. Specifically, you need help choosing a mass building supplement.
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
Why the Need for Smart Gainers?
“Smart Gainers” is a term used to refer to a wide range of mass building supplements that help increase lean muscle gains without bulking you up for size’s sake.
It’s important to keep in mind that not all mass gainers are the same. A huge majority did not try to improve on their old formula and may be lacking in essential amino acids, as well as being packed full of fillers such as sugar, among other things.
Five most important things that you should look for in a smart gainer:
1. A High-Quality Protein Source
A high-quality protein source is necessary for any mass-gainer, which is why protein comes in.
Essentially a byproduct of cheese production, whey used to be discarded in the past. But, once its nutritional value was discovered, manufacturers started to process it separately to become what is now referred to as “whey protein” — arguably the most common type of ingredient used in supplements consumed frequently by gym-goers and bodybuilders alike.
Most people looking to build mass get majority of their protein intake from whey protein, which is some 25-50 grams of protein, with the rest of their protein requirements being filled by their daily meals.
Another alternative to whey is casein, which is a slow-digesting protein that doesn’t stimulate muscle build-up as much as whey but can provide a steady source of amino acids during and after working out. Casein, compared to whey, is much more effective at helping reduce the amount of amino acids used by the human body to fuel the muscle breakdown process.
These are the two types of protein worth taking note of if you want to build muscle and gain mass. Science has proven time and time again that casein and whey are far superior to building muscle than any other protein out there, including vegan and vegetarian alternatives.
When looking for a smart gainer, you want efficiency above all else. That’s what you get when you go with high-quality proteins, such as casein and whey, as your supplement of choice.
2. A Good CHO:PRO Ratio
The CHO:PRO ratio, otherwise known as the carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, of a product is another important factor to consider when looking for a smart gainer to use on a daily basis, especially for your pre-workout.
Most people think negatively of carbohydrates. They think that carbohydrates = fat. But, that’s not exactly true. The truth is, carbohydrates play a key role in the muscle-building process. They give your body the necessary energy or fuel to push through your day-to-day routine, including your workouts. Not to mention, a carbohydrate imbalance in your body can result in poor recovery items.
Going to the gym and working out is a strenuous physical activity. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself low in muscle glycogen levels, which can severely slow down your body’s ability to build strength and gain muscle.
Even though both carbohydrates and protein play different roles in building muscle, they go hand-in-hand to make sure you get the most efficient gains possible. In fact, multiple studies have shown that pre and post-workout muscles paired with a healthy dose of carbohydrates and protein are great for building muscle and recovery as opposed to just consuming either one of the two.
Of course, everybody’s needs are a little bit different. You may not be as active as the next person, and vice versa. You may also have different body types. But, when it comes to smart gainers, a good CHO:PRO ratio to stick with is 2:1. But, if you need help keeping up with your daily carbohydrates needs, going 3:1 may be necessary.
Either of the two ratios are ideal and are backed by sound science. A 4:1 CHO:PRO ratio might also be necessary if you’re doing endurance-training for long-distance marathons.
3. A Variety of Carb Sources
You can’t just consume carbohydrates from a single source. If you did that, your body won’t be able to metabolize the necessary amount of carbohydrates to meet its daily needs. Because of this, more and more mass gainers in the market included mixed carbohydrates as one of its ingredients to try and keep up with the demands of the market.
By using different types of carbohydrates that are metabolized using a different transporter, smart gainers using mixed carbohydrates make it possible to meet your daily carbohydrate needs more efficiently.
Among the most common types of carbohydrate sources used are glucose, sucrose, fructose, and maltodextrin.
The use of mixed carbohydrates is one of the key reasons why you may want to ditch your old mass gainer and find something newer that actually uses multiple sources.
4. Essential Amino Acids
The human body relies on amino acids to help make its protein to help the body break down the food that we eat. Although there are many different types of amino acids (as many as 20), only 9 are referred to as essential. The worst part is that our bodies do not naturally produce these said amino acids, which is exactly why we have to rely on supplements.
These amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, methionine, lysine, threonine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, valine, and finally, histidine.
Each of these amino acids plays their own role in the human body. Some help reduces post-workout muscle damage and improves recovery, while others help minimize the amount of amino acids burned during your workout session. But, all in all, these amino acids work in conjunction with each other to make the muscle-building process as efficient as possible.
Of these nine essential amino acids, however, one stands out the most. Leucine is an amino acid that studies have shown help kick-start the biological process necessary for building muscles.
Make sure to pay close attention to the leucine content of your mass gainer. It’s not unusual for some products to try and skimp on leucine to make their products cheaper.
Ideally, a smart gainer should have a minimum of three grams of leucine and contain additional essential amino acids, as well as extra BCAAs.
5. Digestive Enzyme Blends
Just to make a quick recap, one of the key reasons why whey protein is considered the best type of protein out there for muscle-building is because of how fast our body breaks it down and absorbs it. Because of its quick breakdown rates, the human body is able to use the protein from whey protein to fuel muscles quickly.
The importance of absorption rates has led manufacturers to start experimenting and doing research on using digestive enzyme blends to help increase the bio-availability of their product, which is basically the portion of their product that enters the bloodstream and absorbed by the human body.
The results? According to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 60 grams of pea and rice protein with digestive enzymes were able to match the muscle protein synthesis capabilities of whey protein. That is a significant jump, all things considered. This also explains why more and more manufacturers are starting to recognize the importance of using digestive enzymes to make their smart gainers more effective.
Think of digestive enzymes as the train, and key fuel sources such as amino acids and glucose as the cargo. Normally, these fuel sources travel at a pretty fast rate throughout your body and are absorbed rather quickly. But, with the use of digestive enzymes, muscle protein synthesis rates are improved. As a result, the “train” travels much faster and is able to deliver the cargo in much less time.
The increased absorption and digestion rates have plenty of benefits as well. For example, if you’re planning on building muscles and bulking up, taking smart gainers with added digestive enzymes can help your body handle your daily calorie intake better and more efficiently.
A Quick Summary of our Smart Gainer Buying Guide
Mass gainers are great. They are one of the best ways for you to meet your daily nutritional needs without overdoing it with calories. Not to mention, they’re much more convenient to take compared to incorporating more protein and carbohydrates to your typical meal.
Just keep in mind that not every mass gainer is the same. Some may have been considered high-quality in the past, but have since failed to keep up with the times. Because of this, other mass gainers may be more effective, not to mention, cheaper.
This is why it’s important that you do your research and choose the mass gainer that contains the necessary ingredients to make sure that your gains are achieved safely and in an efficient manner.
Here is a quick recap of the five key ingredients that a smart gainer should ideally have:
1. A high-quality protein source such as Whey or Casein.
2. A mixed carbohydrate source as opposed to a single carbohydrate source.
3. At least a 2:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio.
4. A high concentration of essential amino acids, specifically, leucine.
5. Uses digestive enzyme blends to help improve both absorption and digestion rates.
The Bottom Line
It’s not unusual to try and obsess on making sure that we are making the most out of our bodies. It’s only natural for us to want the best out of ourselves, which is where these supplements come in for those who prefer to bulk up and/or add lean muscle to their frame.
These supplements can definitely help in that regard. However, supplements can only do so much.
Taken from the name itself, supplements are simply what they are – supplements. They should not be your main sources of nutrition and gains. Instead, they should be used to supplement your daily workout routine and meals, which, ideally, should also contain a healthy mix of protein and carbohydrates, as well as the necessary ingredients.
Make sure that you have your meal plans and exercise routines down first before you resort to using smart gainers to help you achieve your fitness goals.
As a pro figure competitor and mother living in a small rural town, I often find myself getting pulled in a million directions, whether it be chasing my goals in sport, trying to maintain children’s needs or making sure that I look and feel my best. I love my lifestyle, but I’ve learned the hard way that I’m not invincible, and fatigue, stress, and burning out can and will happen if I don’t take care of myself. Over the past 3 years, I have competed on average of 6 times a year while trying to lift heavy as well as keep and grow muscles in a very competitive class. In need of balance and relief from constant knee and joint pain, I heard about CBD (cannabidiol) oil. It was also being touted as help against stress and anxiety that at times affects me.
CAN I PASS A DRUG TEST IF I TAKE CBD?
I am a conservative person by nature and compete in an organization (PNBA) that does Olympic level drug testing where THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) is banned. Unsure if CBD could really help me and worried about legalities (even morally), I cautiously tried a CBD oil blend that showed it was free of banned substances including THC and was absorbed better than regular CBD oils. This was important because the research I saw showed that most CBD oils were only absorbed by about 5%. 1
It was time to delve further into the research because the results were immediate and overwhelmingly beneficial. I found that CBD, a compound found in hemp has many benefits like helping with inflammation and anxiety. CBD is nonpsychoactive, which means you can’t get a high when using it. “Cannabinoids attend to the endocannabinoid system, which is a network of receptors found throughout the whole body — and is about homeostasis. The endocannabinoid system regulates a variety of biological and cognitive processes like pain sensation, mood, and memory. The CBD oil I take does just that; I feel focused and even more exciting, I finally had pain relief. My knees and shoulders stopped hurting, whether I’m lifting heavy in the offseason to build muscle or high volume in season while I’m trying to cut.
Although this is just one Iron Woman’s experience with CBD oil, I’ve learned about a plethora of research showing many benefits of CBD oil. Here is a short list of what CBD has been proven to help with:
Another important note is that no longer dealing with knee or shoulder pain, I was able to tremendously increase my weight in all my major lifts, thus helping to build even more muscle and recover quicker! I know CBD has helped build muscle. I also deal with some anxiety issues, and the CBD works great for me allowing me to focus better on the mind muscle connection. It has also been proven in research to help with anxiety6.
If you are wondering if CBD oil can help you, but you’re worried about the legalities, know that true CBD oil without THC is legal in all 50 states for personal use and use in drug tested sports. There are many banned ingredients you can buy in the store, so to have an option like this for those of us who compete in tested sports, makes CBD oil that much more exciting. My suggestion is to make sure the company you buy your CBD oil from confirms it is THC free, WADA compliant and can be absorbed well. If they meet every criteria except absorption, make sure to take your CBD after a meal that contains fat. Research shows fat increases absorption thus making CBD oils that you already like work even better.
Written by Hilary Grant | PNBA Pro Figure Competitor, ISSA Certified Trainer, Business Owner, and Mother | @naturalfitsisters
The last time I threw my back out was over two years ago while pushing my deadlift limits. I knew I shouldn’t have tried that last set. My recent lower back spasm occurred while just messing around here at the house this last Memorial Day weekend, literally doing nothing. This latest occurrence was probably the worst to date. I just laid there on the floor for a good while in pain before my wife could even help me get up. That first 24 hours, I could barely walk and it was really more like a shuffle. Besides the obvious pain, the other bad thing about all this is that I am a personal trainer and extremely active. My whole day is built around my workouts where I design new programs, as well as film and photograph content for sponsors, clients, and followers worldwide. Working out is my livelihood.
At age 42, I have to say I am in the absolute best shape of my life in regard to how I look and feel. I am a natural pro men’s physique three-time Champion and Master World Champion. The silver lining about this most recent low back injury is that I am in my ‘off-season’ and not looking to step on the pro stage again until 2020. Regardless of competing, I worked very hard to build what muscle I have naturally and to keep my body fat levels at a good, lower level. Enduring an injury like I just had can be tough both physically and, possibly more so, mentally. When you workout as much as I do, it’s likely that depression might set in; this could affect your attitude, motivation, and, most importantly, nutrition. Getting even a slight injury has the potential of setting us back if ground rules are not set immediately.
I ended up staying out of the gym for nine days, which is the longest period I can remember not working out since I started back up 6 years ago. I didn’t weigh myself the entire time I was down in fear of what I might see. After a week of my ‘staycation’, I gathered up the will to jump on the scale and was surprised to see that I didn’t gain or lose anything. I want to share some tips to help prevent injury, as well as key things I learned from my recent experience, to help you keep your hard earned progress if injured. While I will mention specific things I did to recover during my low back injury, most of these tips will apply to any injury that has you sidelined for a few weeks.
Preventative practices: Here are a few things to help reduce the chances of an injury occurring in the first place.
Take rest days seriously!
My recent lower back injury didn’t happen while exercising. I had no pain or indication that my back was at risk at the time. When one is very active, sometimes things just happen. But, I have to admit, I haven’t taken my ‘rest days’ seriously. Lately, I started doing extra HIIT cardio even on my off day, which is typically Sunday. From now on, I am taking a true and dedicated recovery day where I might go on a light walk with the family at most.
De-load more frequently
De-load weeks keep you active, but are less intense to allow your body to fully recover. Simple guidelines can include less volume, 60-70% weight, higher reps, and stopping before failure. It’s more than muscle that needs recovery, but also tendons, ligaments, and the central nervous system. I talk about and do de-loads, but just not as frequently as needed. I get so into progress and pushing my limits that I let the months slip by without ever scheduling a lighter week for deeper recovery. I truly think this is why I had my recent back spasm. I went too long without a de-load. Moving forward, I plan to schedule a de-load week once in every 8 week period.
Belts and straps
Tools such as lifting belts, wrist straps, and knee wraps all have their place. I typically use these aids when the weight gets heavy and they are needed for me to fully work the target muscle. For example, I don’t want my upper back progress to suffer if my grip is holding me back. As the weight builds, it’s not a bad idea to give your lower back, wrists, elbows, and knees extra support.
Warm up and stretch
I don’t know about you, but when I get to the gym I am always antsy to start lifting. Working out is something I look forward to each day. Often times, warming up can seem like an inconvenience so we just skip it. Warming up and light stretching is important! On the minimum take 5 minutes to row, jog, or even walk to warm your body up and lubricate joints. Then, depending on the workout, take a few extra minutes to do some light stretching and mobility work. I’ve had shoulder issues in the past, so I always take time to do shoulder mobility work before heavy chest and shoulder sessions. Nowadays, I go through a quick series of stretches for my lower back, including the yoga poses: Child’s Pose, Cat/Cow, and Knees to Chest. A total of 10 minutes to warm up and stretch just might prevent a week or more lost down the line. I personally will be much more consistent in this area moving forward.
Recovering from injury: These are the things I did to help recover from my recent back spasm. None of this advice should replace seeing a medical professional. If you are injured, visit your doctor.
Rest: When it first happened, my primary goal was to rest and not make it worse. Almost every position was uncomfortable. I used a lot of pillows to find positions that didn’t hurt and just laid. Getting a full nights rest, and not my typical 5-6 hours, was important too. I made sure to get a full 8 hours the week following my injury so my body could heal itself.
Icing: I did a lot of icing the first 48 hours. I kept the ice packs on for 15-20 minutes at a time with breaks in between each session.
Anti-inflammatory: I took a healthy dose of ibuprofen and pain reliever every 6 hours. Get your doctors recommendation before taking any medication.
Moving: After the first 48 hours, I was able to move easier. At this point, it was important for me to get up and walk around every 30 minutes or so. As mobility increased, I started going for longer walks outside, being careful to not overdo it.
Light stretching: After the first 48 hours, when things started to loosen up, I started doing some light stretching including the Child’s Pose, Cat/Cow, and Knees to Chest.
Staying on track while down: When our normal routine gets disrupted, like not being able to workout or even move, it can be easy to do one of two things: 1. Not eat enough and lose weight, including muscle. 2. Eat too much of the wrong things and gain fat. After months of hard work, it would be a shame to lose hard-earned progress in a week or two. Here are some important tips to follow when you are out of the gym for several weeks due to injury to help you stay on track.
Moving: After my low back strain I started walking when I could for mobility, but also to burn some calories. Something is always better than nothing. Getting outside for fresh air can also help with the depression that often sets in with an injury. Guilty! Depending on your injury, find a safe way to start moving when you can.
Eating lighter: This is an important one. Do your best to stick to your normal eating and water drinking schedule. Try not to skip meals. We need to support muscle maintenance with nutrition but, since fewer calories are being burned, we don’t need to bring in as many calories. While I was sidelined, I did my best to eat very clean and lower carb. My breakfast was one scoop of whey isolate, one whole egg, and five egg whites.
Staying hydrated: This can be challenging while not being as active, but do your best to bring in the same amount of water as normal. I think this is even more important while we are not able to workout. Besides all the health benefits, being fully hydrated helps us feel fuller so we don’t overeat.
Supplementation: I made sure to keep my personal supplementation protocol going even though I wasn’t working out. This included my morning vitamins, whey isolate to keep my protein macro count up, and even creatine and glutamine. Taking some of these may not have been absolutely necessary, but I personally wanted to foster an internal atmosphere of recovery and muscle retention.
After a ten day break to heal I was able to get back to one of my favorite places- THE GYM! I might have been able to go in a few days earlier, but I felt it was important to have extra days to recover. The first week back I was careful with my exercise selection, weight, and intensity. Any type of injury is no fun. I wish we could all stay injury free, but accidents happen. The next time you are sidelined with a low back injury, or any injury, I hope these tips help you stay on track and keep your gains.
Author: Michael Wittig, ISSA CPT
Natural Pro 3x Champ
Kaged Muscle Athlete
Bread is often vilified when it comes to reducing fat, building muscle and overall health, but is bread really all that bad for you? We’ve been eating bread for thousands of years, yet, millennia later, it’s basically considered death by the slice. What gives?
Popular eating plans gives–that and the way we make bread nowadays.
Low Carb, Keto, Atkins, you name it, along with bread made to have a long shelf life instead of delivering nutritious carbs, and it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that bread is awful for you. The truth is, it isn’t black-and-white when it comes to bread.
Think Bread Glycemic Index
Bread is not the enemy so much as its glycemic index (GI). This holds true even when comparing white bread to whole wheat, and even when compared to other foods not sold at a bakery.
GI is a rating from 0-100 of how much a carb will affect blood sugar. The higher the number, the higher your blood sugar spikes and forces your body to release insulin to mitigate it.
Low = 0-55
Medium = 56-69
High = 70-100
T.H. Chan from the Harvard School of Public health said, “Eating many high-glycemic-index foods–which cause powerful spikes in blood sugar–can lead to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and [becoming] overweight.” Basically high glycemic foods lower performance and health in “most” cases.
Generally, you and your body want low. The lower the GI, the slower you digest, absorb and metabolize it, and the easier it is on your body. However, as an athlete, you have specific needs, and they’re not all that complicated. It’s all about timing.
Glycemic Load: The Other Half of This Whole Carb Thing
Glycemic index is a fairly familiar term for those who are conscious about what they put in their body every day. There’s one other factor that comes into play: glycemic load (GL). GL is simply how much a food item will raise your blood sugar per serving.
Low = 0-10
Medium = 11-19
High = 20+
For all you math lovers out there, here are two examples of GL:(1)
1. The Glycemic Load (GL) of a potato (GI around 90) containing approximately 18 grams of carbohydrate is 18 x 90% = 16.
2. The GL of an apple (GI around 40) containing approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate is 15 x 40% = 6.
Catherine Saxelby explains the math by saying, “The potato will produce a blood sugar rise three times that of the apple. When foods have similar amounts of carbohydrates, GI will have the greatest influence on blood sugars. When the amount of carbohydrate in a portion differs the best way to predict blood sugar effects will be via the GL.”
For all you non-math people: low GL is good most of the time. And yes, someone’s already done all the math and put quite a few food items in a useful chart (see link in next section).
Carbs Athletes Need
You actually need a mix of low and high GI carbs: low for a steady supply of energy your muscles can use, and then high GI carbs for recovery. You want just the right amount of low GI carbs to minimize creating a scenario where your body goes catabolic and starts eating away at its own muscle mass for energy. The high GI carbs have the same effect.
Sydney University made this useful chart if you’re looking for an easy way to figure out a food’s GI and GL. However, for some quick references, here’s a couple of charts that might surprise you.
Interestingly, how you cook certain foods, including potatoes, has a dramatic effect on the GI of a food, but here’s the thing: using just a food’s glycemic index to gauge how it’ll affect your blood sugar levels is outdated. GI doesn’t take serving size into consideration.
Here’s a look at those same foods and their glycemic load:
Once you put the serving size into focus, the GI of many foods isn’t as bad as it looks. While they’ll raise your blood sugar faster, in the end, they won’t raise it all that much. What makes such a huge difference?
Fat & acid content
Fiber acts as a great equalizer, slowing down the conversion of the carbohydrate to glucose. Processing usually strips away fiber and other nutrients, making it easier to spike blood sugar levels. When it comes to ripeness, riper produce are higher up on the glycemic rating. And finally, fatty and acidic meals are slower to be converted to sugars.
Glycemic Numbers and Weight/Fitness
Research so far shows a trend that both insulin resistance and insulin secretion play a role in body weight regulation. A pilot study published in the American Diabetes Association said, “Healthy overweight women and men with relatively greater insulin secretion in response to a standard oral glucose tolerance test lost more weight when assigned to a low–glycemic load hypocaloric diet than to a high–glycemic load diet.”
When it comes to weight management, the bottom line is counting calories, making sure every last calorie counts nutritionally and glycemically.
“Results of a 16-year study that tracked the diets of 120,000 men and women were published in 2015. Researchers found that diets with a high GL from eating refined grains, starches and sugars were associated with more weight gain.”
Now, you are either completely confused or it is one of those AHA moments where you understand Glycemic Load is actually more important than Glycemic Index the majority of the time. So lets cut to the chase of what carbohydrates you should consume to achieve optimal gains. You want low glycemic before and high glycemic after to maximize performance, recovery, and growth.
Height, weight, age, gender, genetics and so on all affect what your body needs nutritionally. The best way to determine the optimal diet is blood work. Still, here’s what research is able to show so far:
In a study on the glycemic index and athletic performance published in the ACSM Health & Fitness Journal, researchers compared low- versus high-glycemic-index meals on time trial performance in eight male cyclists. They found that time trial performance was significantly improved in the low-glycemic index trial compared with the high-glycemic index trial.
Researchers concluded that “The improvement in time trial performance for the low-glycemic index trial may be associated with an increased availability of glucose to the working muscles, contributing additional carbohydrate for oxidation and possibly sparing limited muscle and liver glycogen stores.”
A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on women (yeah, a study on women and performance) showed that a low Glycemic meal before exercise improved fat burning and reduction versus a high glycemic food or meal.
After exercise, research shows that a high glycemic load meal or foods can dramatically improve sleep (recovery) and reaction times versus a low glycemic meal, UNLESS you exercise in the evening. If you exercise in the evening (after 5:00 p.m.), a high glycemic meal actually hurts fat burning benefits you would have received from your workout.
Details, details. Let’s finish with detailed instructions for you to guarantee the greatest benefit from eating bread or any other carbohydrate.
Stick to lower glycemic load foods the majority of the time. These foods include vegetables, all berries and most fruits (contrary to popular belief). The more dense and whole the grain is, the better the glycemic load. Wheat bread is better than white as far as GL but even denser breads, like Ezekial, are better.
Have a higher glycemic meal or food after exercise, unless you exercise in the evening. If exercising in the evening make sure to have low glycemic meal after to ensure you get the fat burning benefit of the exercise. If you have a sweet tooth and feel the need to have the occasional cookie or sweet, make sure to consume it right after your morning or afternoon exercise routine.
Is bread dead? Only if you want it to be. Research shows you can fit it into a plan that creates a shredded muscular physique if you know your numbers and time it right.
With the popularity of 24/7 fitness centers and home gyms, one can seemingly get in an exercise session whenever convenient for their lifestyle.
While it’s good to get in the reps whenever you can, is there a specific time of day better suited for exercise? The answer, according to science, may be determined on what type of exercise you are performing. Whether you are a night owl or a morning person, we are all governed by our body clock, otherwise known as the Circadian clock or Circadian rhythm. Our Circadian clocks tell our brains when we should sleep, when it’s an optimal time to digest food, when to increase blood flow and when to decrease.
According to Satchin Panda, author of The Circadian Code, the Circadian rhythm is a 24-hour rhythm in which “almost every hormone, every brain chemical, every digestive enzyme and so on is pre-programmed to peak at a certain time of day and then tap out at another time of the day. It’s an in-built schedule for different programs to do different things at the optimal time, and these timing mechanisms are the Circadian rhythm.” (1)
Hormone production goes hand-in-hand with our Circadian rhythm.
This includes cortisol, a hormone that promotes fat storage and muscle breakdown, and melatonin, which helps prepare the body for sleep. Cortisol production is highest during the first two hours of waking. However, the testosterone hormone, key to muscle growth, also peaks in the morning. Since cortisol levels spike during any workout, a decision on what type of exercise to perform in the morning shouldn’t be based on cortisol production.
However, if you are looking to increase muscle building by lifting weights, there needs to be a certain amount of energy level for optimal performance. To achieve that energy level, it is recommended that you eat at least two meals prior to weightlifting.
Additionally, the Circadian rhythm also regulates body temperature, which changes throughout the day. A person’s body temperature is generally lowest in the hours just before and after awakening and highest in the late afternoon. The time for peak muscle development occurs near a person’s peak body temperature.
Conversely, if your goal is to lose weight, cardio exercise is best done in the morning on an empty stomach or immediately after ingesting a small amount of protein or a fat burner. After being asleep all night, the energy you have ready to burn for the cardio exercise is mostly in the form of stored fat.
So, the best time to do cardio is right when you wake up. This also helps boost your metabolism, which will help you burn more calories throughout the rest of the day than you would if you had worked out at night.
The best time for weightlifting, according to the Circadian rhythm, is in the afternoon. Testosterone is still high, you’ve had a chance to get in a couple of energy meals, and it is within two to three hours of your body’s peak temperature. The energy levels promote more strength, which leads to more muscle stimulation and growth.
While morning and afternoon workouts are optimal for peak performance and results, not everyone can exercise at those times. Perhaps your hometown gym isn’t open early or those times interfere with work or family obligations. In fact, some of the greatest male and female bodybuilders of all time have lifted early in the morning or throughout the evening as necessary due to schedules.
Remember, gains will be seen by doing the work no matter when it gets done. Consistency trumps all, but from a cellular and Circadian perspective, these are the times to maximize your gains.
By: Jon Johnson
“How our body’s circadian clocks affect our health beyond sleep” – The Verge June 12, 2018.
Flow is the state of achieving optimal performance by being completely absorbed in the present moment. Individuals who have experienced the state of flow describe it as “being in the zone” or having complete focus and a sense of control over their performance. When we experience flow, we have heightened awareness and a decrease of the self-consciousness that we may have once had about our performance ability.
Flow state is universal, meaning it can be experienced by anyone and in various areas of your life. For example, bodybuilders can hack flow state by being completely immersed in their given task. Ask any bodybuilder why they love to lift weights, and you are guaranteed that their passion stems beyond seeing the physical results. Lifting weights gives you an opportunity to push past your comfort zone and reach new depths of slight discomfort, which is a trigger for flow state and can significantly increase your performance in education, sports, and the workplace.
When we experience flow state, we turn off our prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for memory and decision making. This allows us to experience what is called the “deep now,” and once this happens our inner-critic is silenced and we are able to experience exponential growth in our performance. Flow also produces norepinephrine, anandamide, and other endorphins that allow us to stay calm(1), increase our muscular reaction time, and relieve pain.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2), one of the greatest researchers of flow state, the eight characteristics of flow state are:
Complete concentration on a task
Clarity of goals and reward in the mind, and immediate feedback
Transformation of time
Effortlessness and ease
Balance between challenge and skills
Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-consciousness
Feeling control over a task
Who experiences flow state the most?
Research has uncovered that athletes who have the most successful performances have the following traits in common:
They are able to regulate their emotions. Peak performance athletes have learned how to gain control over their thoughts and feelings. Part of this has to do with how they perceive certain physiological symptoms. For example, some people may perceive having butterflies in their stomach as feeling nervous, whereas others enjoy this feeling and take it as feeling excited about the competition. Techniques that athletes can use for self-regulation include meditation and mindfulness, intentional self-talk, imagery, and deep breathing to heighten focus.
They have just the right amount of confidence. Top level athletes understand that setbacks are just a part of the process. These athletes do not have the luxury to not critique their mistakes but, they do not dwell on them either. Another way to increase confidence is to remember past performance experiences where you did an amazing job. Being able to focus on the positive helps provide security when the pressure to do your best is on.
They are able to concentrate better. Some athletes intentionally use distractions during training to learn how to shift their attention appropriately. In addition, they remember that once a mistake or a bad play is made, it is now out of their control. The only thing that they can do is to learn from the experience and focus on what they can do in the moment to do their best.
They stay committed. This may seem like common sense, but there are many feats in our everyday life that can stray us from reaching our goals. These athletes were able to stay on track by surrounding themselves with like-minded people who have similar goals, and by writing down their daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals so that their dreams are always on the forefront of their minds.
They are not self-conscious. When we are in this heightened state, we are no longer concerned about our actions or the actions of others. We are completely immersed in the moment and not distracted by our own negative thoughts that interfere with producing record-breaking results. This means that we leave our ego at the door, and do not fear failure.
So how do we hack into a flow state?
Here are the top characteristics that you need to practice to experience this state of mind:
Be present: When we experience flow, our actions and awareness are in sync. This means that we are completely aware of ourselves and have the ability to be completely immersed in the relevant task. When we experience this, we are able to perform with comfort and ease. Being present is a skill that requires practice. We can learn this by creating a pre-performance routine to get focused, or by practicing mindfulness to learn how to have present moment awareness.
Receptive to Feedback: Research shows that feedback can be valuable in helping us to achieve our goals. When we are able to listen and understand what we need to do to perform better, we are able to focus on how we can achieve the level of performance that we desire. For this, it is important to understand that feedback must be specific for it to be productive. For example, a “good job” is not detailed enough. Explain what went well and describe what changes can be made to make improvements.
Total concentration: People who have experienced flow explain that they are completely focused on the relevant task. Being able to achieve this state can be difficult when there are many distractions that can get in the way. One activity that performers use to heighten their concentration is a concentration grid (3). This grid is an exercise that teaches the brain to respond better under stressful situations.
Enjoy what you do: Most individuals who achieve higher levels of flow do so because of the internal fulfillment that they experience. This intrinsic satisfaction from simply doing the activity has been explained as “feeling exhilarated.” Even though we are not always able to enjoy every task on our list, it is important to find an activity that you are passionate about. If you no longer find joy in what you do, then perhaps it is time to find a new approach or interest that is stimulating.
A contributor of the Huffington Post (4) on flow state said, “Living a life of meaning and of depth requires us to step outside of our comfort zones, to challenge our own ideas and create innovative ways to optimize our time on this earth. The mental state of flow catapults our minds out of the mindless humdrum of everyday life and closer to a meaningful existence.” Flow has been an exciting component of research for understanding how to reach optimal performance levels. There is still much that needs to be discovered about how far we can push the limits of the human body. With this in mind, it is important to remember that motivation can come from winning or breaking a new record but, the truest gift lies within being able to experience pure joy in our favorite activity.
About Sarah Burnap:
Sarah’s career path first began when she joined the Marine Corps when she was eighteen. After her enlistment, Sarah began to explore her options and found her passion for encouraging others through fitness, coaching, and teaching. Sarah has over 10 years of experience in personal training, coaching and communications consulting with Special Operations service members, entrepreneurs, and professional and amateur athletes from many diverse backgrounds. After completing her bachelor’s in communications, Sarah found that empowering others to thrive under pressure stemmed from having the right mindset. Sarah is currently completing her masters in sports psychology and continues to fulfill her mission of encouraging others to be more resilient by teaching mental skills to help people overcome barriers and reach their full potential.
Recipe by Cori Baker, @cori_fit. Cori is a former IFBB Bikini Pro, home taught baker, and professional taste tester. Look for more recipes from Cori inside our upcoming Fall 2019 Magazine Issue that will be released in August.
Build a Balanced Bikini Body with IFBB Bikini Pro Breena Martinez
Truth: You won’t get a balanced bikini body by under eating and spending countless hours on the treadmill.
Contrary to popular belief, lifting weights will not give you a “manly” physique. As a professional in the fitness industry, I have heard many women say they are afraid of resistance training because they don’t want to lose their femininity and have a “bulky” shape. This is why I enjoy sharing my personal fitness journey because, well…seeing is believing and the proof is in the results. I am going to share with you my split training schedule, a complete workout schedule with exercises, reps, and sets formatted specifically for a competitive bikini body while also focusing on the importance of balanced training.
The high majority of the public turns to fitness for aesthetics. While aesthetics is definitely one of the reasons why we partake in balanced training, a reason of higher importance is functionality. Every day, whether we are in or out of the gym, we are causing added stress to our bodies. We pick up children, dogs, groceries, laundry etc. and often times with improper form. We are often sitting in cars or desks for extensive periods of time, unknowingly slightly hunched over with our shoulders rounded causing bad posture. At any given moment we can easily injure ourselves by simply doing day to day activities if we don’t make it a point to strengthen our bodies with resistance training. To start, I will share my current workout schedule and explain why I have chosen this particular split:
Bikini Workout Split
Day 1: Quad/Glutes/Abs
Day 2: Chest/Back/Abs
Day 3: Cardio Focus Only- No weight training
Day 4: Hamstring/Glutes/Abs
Day 5: Shoulders/Biceps/Triceps/Abs
Day 6: Glutes/Calves
Day 7: REST DAY
*Cardio will depend on your individual goals. Currently I only do cardio 5 days a week for 20- 25 minutes. My cardio consists of HIIT training, stairs, elliptical, or outdoor runs.
Looking at the schedule you will see each muscle group is touched throughout the week. Each workout starts with activation exercises to help warm up and activate the muscle. I choose movements that hit each part of the muscle evenly (ex: Shoulders = anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, and rear deltoid; each movement chosen will hit each head of the shoulder).
Should you train the same body part several times per week?
You may have noticed that Glutes and Abs are touched on multiple times. I do this because those are areas where I retain most of my body fat. I recently added abs back into my training, but I make sure to only do body weight exercises. This helps me avoid thickening the muscle fibers in my abdominals and having a “square” shape. One of the main features that judges look for while on stage is the illusion of an "hourglass" figure.
When training glutes, I have different focuses for each day. I have seen the most results when I train glutes three days a week. The first glute training day is endurance focused, 12 - 20 reps, using only my body's weight and bands. This type of training, when combined with shorter rest times between sets, helps to build muscular stamina. I typically do 4 to 5 sets of each exercise and rest 20-45 seconds in between sets. The second glute training day is all about hypertrophy. I do 8 – 12 reps for 4 sets, moderate weight, and my rest time is about 1 – 2 minutes. This helps build muscle. The third and final glute training day is focused on strength. This consists of 1 – 8 reps for 5 sets and I rest for 2.5 – 3.5 minutes in between sets. This will aid in building overall strength.
Activation and form is key to muscle growth.
Quads, hamstrings, and calves are broken up on different days, so I can really focus on activating those areas separately. When I trained these muscle groups on the same day in the past, I noticed my quads would take over during the movement and it was harder for me to activate my hamstrings. This resulted in slower development of my hamstrings and calves and over development of my quads. My past programs also usually consisted of 10 – 12 movements and my lifts would last over 2 hours. This compromised my form. I believe in quality of the movements over quantity of sets or reps. I have seen significant improvements in my physique since changing the style and split of my workouts. I am able to spend less time focusing on additional movements and spend more time focusing on form and activation of the muscle; form over everything is key!
Should females train chest?
Unfortunately, chest is an area many females neglect. Why is it important for females to train chest? Let me first ask you; how strong are you at push-ups? Many women struggle with push-ups and often times it is due to weak chest muscles. Training chest will not only contribute to overall upper body strength, but it will also help aesthetically. Have stubborn “armpit fat”? Want fuller shoulders? Working chest engages the anterior deltoid (and that arm pit area) which can help fill out your shoulder caps. Throwing a couple chest exercises in your workout can also help engage and build a better back. After a few chest activation exercises and knocking out 2 chest movements, I head straight into my back movements. I include push and pull movements, while focusing on various hand positioning. Having my palms up allows me to target my lower lats. Narrow and wide grips can also target different areas of your back. If you have a goal of being able to do a pull- up unassisted, make sure you are incorporating back into your weekly split. Building your back will also create the illusion of a smaller waist.
Toned, Shapely Arms
On my Shoulders, Biceps, and Triceps day, I like to superset everything and really focus on hypertrophy training. I am not focused so much on strength for these areas, I want muscle definition. As I mentioned earlier, I make sure to hit each head of my shoulder. When I first started bodybuilding, I hit shoulders twice a week (I did one less glute day, so I could hit shoulders more) because my physique needed bigger shoulders to be competitive in the bikini division. Once I developed enough muscle in my shoulders, I dropped it back to just once a week.
Rest, Recover, Repeat
Another important component of my training calendar is the full rest day. In this program, Day 1 is a lower body focus and Day 2 is focused on upper body. Those areas need time to recover, which is why Day 3 is focused on cardio and contains no weight training. Day 5 goes back to upper body, giving my lower half even more time to recover so that by Day 6 I am ready to go. Day 7 is a complete rest day, no cardio, and no resistance training. Give your body the rest it needs! Recovery is a crucial aspect of training that is often neglected and results inevitably in injury. I highly recommend taking extra care of your body, so you can continue making progress towards your goals. Recovery includes but is not limited to: stretching, foam rolling, tissue work, ice/heat therapy, proper sleep and appropriate supplementation.
It's important to remember that there is no quick fix. Real results require real time. Rushing your transformation by turning to crash diets, PEDs, or joining team "no days off" will likely result in over training, injury, and yo-yo-ing that will only prolong your ability to reach your fitness goals in the long run. Commit to living a healthy lifestyle, rest when needed, and give your body the time it needs to build a balanced bikini body.
This workout split serves as an example on how to hit each muscle group to help you achieve a balanced bikini body. Your split may be a little different depending on your goals and current physique. You might not need to hit glutes three times a week but instead, another muscle group that needs more attention. The main take away is that you shouldn’t just train for aesthetics, nor should you avoid resistance training and head straight for the cardio machines. Train for longevity; train for functionality. You will achieve much better results and be rocking that bikini body before you know it!
Halloween and Thanksgiving have come and gone. How did you do with your eating plan? Are you the type to just engorge all out on the holidays, or do you keep a cognitive journal and accountability for what and how much you eat? Christmas and New Years is now right around the corner and you and I both know those cookies, alcoholic beverages (if you drink), and home made casseroles are going to be wafting through the air left and right. How do you stay on track? Or do you even want to stay on track? I’m going to cover a few tips that I do during the holidays to keep fat gain to a minimum (since this is my goal) and then address some thought processes that many people go through during the holidays.
How you should eat during the holidays will depend on your goal.
Do you want to stay lean during the holidays and keep fat gain to a minimum? Well, then you will need to keep yourself accountable during your get-togethers and parties. You may have a mental checklist of how you’re going to eat, such as “I’m going to have 1 plate of dinner, 2 desserts, and 2 drinks for the night.” You may be the person to bring your food scale to the parties to precisely measure out portions (although, if you’re not in competition prep or dieting for something major or important, I think this is a bit extreme – just my opinion). You may be a bit more laid back and give yourself the right to eat whatever and however much you want… but in doing so, try and keep your carbs and fat intake earlier on in the day pretty minimal, to compensate for the big meal and desserts you’ll be having later. On the other side of the coin, if you don’t really care about gaining some body fat during the holidays, you won’t need much of a plan. Maybe you’ll continue on with your weight training program and nutrition plan all the way up until Christmas Eve and then go off and enjoy yourself for 2-3 days. How you’re going to eat during the holidays will reflect your priorities and goals. And again, there is no right or wrong way to do this. If you don’t care about added body fat and just want to “enjoy the holidays”, by all means, do that. If you want to stay lean and keep fat gain to a minimum, you will need a plan and will have to be more diligent in your approach.
How much you exercise during the holidays will also depend on your goal.
We’re coming right back to what your goals and priorities are. As of right now, I’m dieting for a photo shoot I have coming up early next year, so I’m still very consistent with training 5 times per week, while also doing cardio 6 times per week. However, I will likely save one of my free meals for Christmas day, so that I don’t really feel like I’m dieting. I’ll also do a cardio session later on in the day, once I’ve eaten all my meals and the night is coming to a close. If I weren’t getting ready for anything, I most likely would have taken Christmas off from training and just enjoyed the day with my family (this is what I usually do if I’m not prepping for anything). If your goal is maintenance and keeping fat gain at bay, try fasting in the morning for a few hours, performing some type of high intensity workout the night before, and keeping your water intake high on the day you’re enjoying a bunch of food.