Sustainable Fitness For Recreational Enthusiasts

October 22, 2014 2 comments

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Nothing in this post is intended as dogma. Rather, these are observations that either I or authorities I respect have made over the course of their tenure, of people who have successfully attained & maintained strength, athleticism, health, & body composition goals over a long period of time (if not a lifetime).

Though I believe that many of the principles I will outline in this article can be used successfully with professional athletes/competitive lifters, this work is not addressed to them. It is meant for the recreational fitness enthusiast (someone who wants to have above average strength & conditioning for their build in relation to their lifestyle and the activities they enjoy…and look decent in the process).

The intent of the training method that the following principles point to is not to make you better at any one thing, nor is it to make you obtain a specific goal quickly. Many training modalities can be quantified as the “hare“. In contrast, what I’m presenting is the “tortoise” (in other words, the stuff most people realize is important once the “hare” gets tired); none of this information is very sexy or cutting edge, however a dedicated pursuit to these ideas over a 5, 10, 20, or 40 year period will cultivate a sustainable favorable adaptation in areas of strength, hypertrophy, fat loss, aerobic/anaerobic conditioning, and overall health & wellness.

1. Make Training A Small Part Of Your Life, Instead Of Your Whole Life
If you are not a professional athlete or someone who earns an income based off their physique, keep this at the front of your mind. (Even if you are, this is still worth remembering because your career won’t last forever). It’s common for people new to the fitness lifestyle to get gung-ho about their efforts quickly. That’s all fine…however in our age of Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, CrossFit, Bodybuilding.com, T-Nation, SimplyShredded, etc., very often younger trainees (and sometimes older ones) lose perspective on where training should be in their life.

“Fitness” is something you do; it is not who you are.

Frank Zane is on record as saying to this audience to go do something substantial with your life outside of the gym. Most of us were never endowed with what it takes to be a professional athlete/lifter/bodybuilder/model even if we did everything necessary. This doesn’t mean you have to give up on training entirely, but if you have a family, make memories with them instead of taking selfies in front of the mirror. If you’re single, put any extra energy you have into building your career or serving in your community as opposed to an extra arm day or 30 more minutes on a stationary bike. Save your money for school or a new car instead of buying 3 types of protein powders.

Don’t forget that all of this should be fun & rewarding…that’s why you got into it in the first place right? If the passion is dwindling, it’s ok to move on.

2. Start In Puberty
If at all possible, it’s best to begin your athletic life (if you’re not already pursuing one) during puberty. Whatever it is you want to do, building a base between the ages of roughly 14-18 will put you a few steps ahead once you reach adulthood. To understand this, think of volcanic rock. Volcanic rock begins its life as a lava flow where it’s soft and malleable. This stage is analogous to the pubescent years. Your body is making the jump from a child’s frame to an adult’s frame, so almost everything is being re-worked in some capacity. (I’m inclined to think that if there’s any way an individual can overcome bad genetics as a drug-free athlete, it is by building a base in your chosen sport/activity during puberty).

As the lava flow begins to cool, it hardens, locking in the elemental composition of its last exposure. It also molds to its surroundings. Moving out of puberty and into adulthood is well-represented here; your body “locks in” the adaptations it feels were most necessary based off what it was exposed to in puberty. If you’re interested in strength or muscle mass, and you had the opportunity to get on a quality regimen of lifting, eating, & sleeping during puberty, your body will naturally retain a higher level of muscle, connective tissue, & bone mass than someone who sat in front of a computer for 9 hours a day (even if you stop training).

Body composition wise, the best examples I’m aware of were high-school sprinters, or something similar, at one point in their life. I have friends today who live sedentary lives, but walk around with a 6-pack in spite of poor (sometimes terrible) eating/sleeping habits. Granted I don’t expect that to last forever, but they’re much better off than their counterparts who played video games while they were on the track. Even in the physique world, often the individuals people most appreciate were high-school athletes (sprinters, football players, basketball players, wrestlers, etc.).

As an adult, it is much harder to reverse your situation because you essentially are chipping away at solid stone, whereas in puberty, you can direct the lava into the mold you wish to take on later.

3. High-Quality Consistently
Do what you do well…and do it as often as you can while still being able to do it well. Over the long-term, quality will be the thing that wins out (more than intensity, more than volume, more than frequency). You can do a lot of something, but if it’s bad, it doesn’t really matter. In the fitness world, “quality” means you’re not wasting your time. “Quality” means reducing your chances of getting hurt. “Quality” means getting more return on your investment.

Take the time to appreciate that you will not be very good at something the first time you try it. It’s ok. Learn to be content in the process; getting goals is nice, but it’s how you got to them at the end of the day.

Once you know you can do something well, endeavor to do it well more often. Find the optimum frequency in your training that you can do something you want to do with high-quality. Beyond that, you’re just getting closer to overtraining, burnout, & injury. If that’s once a week, great. If it’s 2-3x/week, cool. If it’s everyday, awesome. Find your number.

4. Don’t Go To The Well Too Much
Too many people focus on training in such a manner that extracts from their body. It’s probably not a coincidence that many of these same people are fond of going into substantial debt for something they want (even things that are completely unnecessary). If your body is constantly having to “go to the well” to undue the damage you keep inflicting on it, eventually the well is going to dry up and your progress will cease. There are times in the life of a professional that you should or even need to go to the well. As a hobbyist though, you have absolutely no reason other than pure ego to do so. (I’ve done it too, so I’m speaking to myself as well).

Recreational enthusiasts have nothing to prove, so instead of constantly withdrawing from your training, doesn’t it make sense to make some deposits? Yes, you can get to your goals without banging your head against the wall. Just be patient & consistent. Eat well and eat enough. Get enough sleep. Drink enough water. And do a few things in the gym that are important to you on a relatively frequent basis. If it has 90 days, 4 weeks, 6 weeks, 8 weeks, or 12 weeks in the sales pitch, forget about it.

5. If It’s Important, Do It Everyday
I’m going to steal a saying from Dan John (and a couple other ideas before this writing concludes); “If it’s important, do it everyday.” The important things in life are to be done daily. You eat everyday. You sleep everyday. You brush your teeth everyday. You go to the bathroom everyday.

If you say that something is important to you, this is the proof of your beliefs. It’s a test of your integrity more than anything. Personally, I try to pray, read my Bible, & tell the people I care about that I love them everyday (I’m not perfect, so “try” is the keyword here). Fitness wise, I think most will be well served by doing something to open the hip girdle, activate the rhomboids, and get the heart beating at some level for a little while everyday. Athletes may have other, more specific things that they do daily in preparation for their sport.

6. Learn to Distinguish When You’re “Punching the Clock” & “Riding the Bus”
I want to paint a picture that hopefully sheds some light on how to organize your training for the long-term. You’re at work and you punch the clock; you go about your day as you would any other, doing the important things relative to your job. You don’t expect anything past your normal paycheck every week or 2. For average people and athletes away from competition, you should train in this “punch the clock” manner. This doesn’t mean that you need to be dispassionate about your training, or that you don’t put out a quality effort, just that you are not attached to any specific outcome. If you spend enough time doing your job well for awhile, your boss will give you a raise and/or a promotion (i.e. you’ll make steady progress).

Once the end of the day comes around, you get on the bus to go home. The bus’ journey begins at a preset time and has a definite goal (your stop in “x” amount of time). If the bus either runs late, or misses your stop entirely, it was a failure. In the same way, “bus ride” training is meant to help you achieve something very specific in a certain amount of time: no more, no less. You can think of this as peaking, pre-season training, lift specialization, muscle specialization, race pace conditioning, etc.

The internet is full of “bus ride” programs (‘12 weeks to “X”‘) and many less educated trainees try to train in a “bus ride” manner all the time.

Using the work day analogy, you would only ride the bus twice a day and it doesn’t take very long. Most of your day is spent “punching the clock“. If you decide to “ride the bus“, learn to distinguish when your 4, 6, 8, or 12 week “bus ride” is over and start “punching the clock” in your training. Your body & mind will thank you.

7. “Volume” > Intensity
Lasting fitness is built with volume. Intense periods of training can help you reach a peak, but you have to remember that the only way off a peak is down. Volume allows you to keep climbing the mountain for the long haul. If you’re not a professional, you have no reason to peak for anything.

In the Easy Strength Seminar, Pavel Tsatsouline quotes Russian powerlifter Alexander Faleev as saying, “everyday spent doing singles is a day that you could have done 5×5.” The point of this is that Faleev understands volume builds a quality, intensity allows you to demonstrate a quality.

By “volume“, I am not referring to volume within a single session as many people commonly think (something like 10×10 comes to mind), rather I am talking about an effort that is consistently repeated on a relatively frequent basis over a long period of time. A couple examples that most people don’t think of would be Steve Justa’s Singles Routine and the 40-Day Workout.

In Justa’s Singles, you do one lift (the deadlift) everyday, starting with 3 reps on day 1, 5 on day 2, 7 on day 3, adding 2 reps a day until you do 15 singles on day 7 with a given weight. While no single day is a huge effort, at the end of the week, you will have done 63 reps of the deadlift with that weight.

In the 40 Day Workout, if you adhere to the basic premise of 2 sets of 5 on 5 exercises, you’ll have done 10 quality sets of an exercise after 5 days (plus the other 40 sets from the additional exercises).

Even if you do a routine so basic as 2-Days a week in which you do Squats & Chins on day 1 and Deadlifts & Presses on day 2 in a 3×5 fashion, you will have amassed 780 working reps over the course of a year on each exercise. Don’t you think that will have an effect on your fitness?

8. Limited Variety
Fitness is built in a pyramid-like fashion. Your peak ability is only as good as the base that it’s built on. Variety in your training gives you a wide base. However, too much variety will spread your resources too thin and instead of making progress, you’ll just be spinning your wheels. Conversely, not enough doesn’t cover your whole base, leaving weak points in your foundation.

A limited variety of exercises & activities in your training gives you the best bang for your buck. In the gym, the basic patterns of hinge, squat, push, pull, carry, & brace covers many of the foundational exercises in barbell training, gymnastics, & kettlebell training. These 3 implements alone can cultivate a solid athlete (indeed, many have been built off just one of these). Perhaps also some work for lagging body parts relative to a given individual’s build.

With respect to conditioning, balancing an aerobic & anaerobic mode of training gives you a platform to jump off for many sports. Most sports will be biased towards anaerobic training (endurance sports being the exception), so individuals who are recreational athletes will probably get more out of supplementing their routine with quality aerobic training.

Variety maintains your body’s symmetry (functional & structural), while limiting that variety allows you to continue making progress.

9. Realistic Reps
If you spend any length of time becoming familiar with a lot of the classic strength training & muscle building programs, you will notice some repeated patterns. Dan John has coined this phenomenon “Realistic Reps“. Sure, you can do more than this at any one time, however you’re likely to pay the price for it later. Using realistic reps provides you the most sustainable, direct path to progress.

Full Body exercises (things like the clean & jerk, snatch, heavy squats for advanced lifters, get-ups, and especially the deadlift) generally have 10 quality reps in a workout. Some familiar rep schemes are 2×5, 5×2, 3×3 or ladders like (1/2/3/4), (4/3/2/1), (5/3/2), & (2/3/5).

Half-Body exercises (i.e. bench press, standing press, pullups, squats for novice lifters, heavy rows) accommodate 15-25 quality reps per session. A lot of the classic rep schemes show up here: 3×5, 5×3, 5×5, 3×8, & 8×3. Some ladders that work well are (1/2/3 – Add Weight) x 3 for 18 total reps, and (2/3/5 – Add Weight) x 2 + (2/3) for 25 total reps.

Kettlebell quick lifts (swings, snatches) can be done pretty frequently around 75-100 total reps a day.

Many think that if these numbers are good, that more is better. For short periods of time, that might be true, but in the long term, more isn’t better, it’s just more.

10. The “Non-Max PR”
The Non-Max PR refers to setting personal records without maxing out. Competing athletes should save max efforts for their competition. Non-competing enthusiasts never have a reason to truly max out a quality, as every time you do so, you “go to the well“.

Another of Dan John’s phrases is a “sort-of max“; a heavy weight or hard effort you can work up to in a single session. In truth, this effort is probably between 80-90% of what one’s capable of if they dedicated 6-12 weeks to peaking out. “Sort-of Maxes” don’t beat you up nearly the same as what true maxes do, so if you can continually set records at this 80-90% effort, you’ll have something left in the tank to go after that PR again in a future cycle of training.

A technique that works well along these lines is to use a variation of whatever you’re focusing on that is inherently self-limiting. For example, earlier this year, I set a deadlift PR of 315lbs. @ 149lbs. body weight. I pulled that lift double-overhand, the weakest grip you can use for the deadlift. So even though it was a record, I know I had some poundage left if I were to go to a stronger grip. As such, I didn’t drain the well on that lift as much as I would have had I truly gone all out.

If your 80% gets better, your 100% gets better too.

11. “Some” Bodybuilding
Bodybuilding has a funny relationship with the world of strength & athleticism. Many people’s first exposure to fitness is through bodybuilding yet, a lot of us also move away from bodybuilding for whatever reason. In some circles, the term is downright loathed. Whatever your opinion of the “sport” of bodybuilding or the people who practice it, in truth, “some” bodybuilding (purely in the sense of building muscle mass & losing fat) is of great benefit to the health & performance of almost everyone…”some”.

Some” is the keyword here. A full dedication to bodybuilding by someone who isn’t a bodybuilder is usually a bad idea. However, all sports and activities invariably leave certain areas of our bodies underdeveloped (whatever that means to you). In these instances, some bodybuilding can be useful.

What do I mean by “some“? Aesthetically, 2-3 sets of 8 barbell curls to round off a strength routine. Functionally, 2-3 sets of 10-20 for the upper back to keep your shoulders healthy.

12. Do Not Specialize
Finally, for everyone who is not a professional, I would recommend staying away from specializing in any one activity. Sport rewards the specialist, but life rewards the generalist. This may sound like CrossFit ideology, and in a sense it is. However, having a general proficiency of fitness doesn’t mean doing deadlifts followed by a 400m run and kipping pullups.

Instead, find the things that are at the root of the activities you enjoy. If you enjoy strength sports, you’ll want a squat, push, & pull in your routine regularly. Endurance sports are built on the aerobic base, and it’s hard to beat the bicycle in that case. I believe some work should also be set aside for posture restoration & structural integrity; Foundation Training and kettlebell basics like the swing & get-up accomplish these tasks well.

Organizing these in an efficient way allows you to live life and enjoy your preferred activities without the health risks associated with specializing on them.

Until next time…

Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
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RE: Time Magazine – “Eat Butter”

June 27, 2014 1 comment

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In the June 23, 2014 issue of Time Magazine, writer Bryan Walsh published an article titled Don’t Blame Fat which appeared on the cover with the words “Eat Butter” and the subtitle, “scientists labeled fat the enemy, why they were wrong.

In a nutshell, this piece is another manifestation of the arguments put forth by the low-carb community, including such figures as Dr. Robert Lustig, Dr. Peter Attia, and others who have been outspoken on their opinion that what they term “carbohydrates” are the reason for the widespread affliction of diseases like heart disease & diabetes in modern society.

Though the work of these individuals has been scrutinized in detail elsewhere, given the size of the audience that Time Magazine has, I felt it was appropriate to examine this article in particular, which is what I intend to do now.

Walsh opens his commentary with a reference to Dietary Goals for the United States, published by a Senate Committee under George McGovern in 1977, in which he states Americans were urged to replace calories from red-meat, eggs, & dairy products with, “more calories from fruits, vegetables, and especially carbohydrates.

Walsh’s choice to use the language, “especially carbohydrates,” is indicative of the disdain of carbohydrates that is to follow in the remainder of the article. However, he fails to quantify what he is actually referring to when he says “carbohydrates”.

To refer to foods simply by their predominant nutrient presents a model of nutrition that leaves a lot to be desired. Accordingly, fruits are “carbs”, vegetables are “carbs”, beans are “carbs”, potatoes are “carbs”.

Proceeding into the article, it becomes apparent what Walsh is actually referring to when he mentions “carbohydrates,…’light’ yogurts, low-fat microwave dinners, cheese-flavored crackers, cookies… (Pg. 30). Faced with a fatwa against fat in the 1980s, manufacturers adjusted, lining grocery shelves with low-fat cookies, crackers, and cakes. (Pg.34)

These foods are a lot more than simply “carbs,” they are highly-refined, nutrient-deficient products; what we would refer to as “junk food.” With respect to his chosen language, is Walsh seriously attempting to have the reader believe that Dietary Goals for the United States was insisting that people should be eating more of these commodities?

Summation of the "Dietary Goals for the United States"

Summation of the “Dietary Goals for the United States”

It should be apparent that the recommendation to increase carbohydrate consumption to 55-60% of one’s calories is directly associated with the recommendation to “increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, & whole grains.

The reader should also take note of the parallel recommendations to “decrease consumption of sugar and foods high in sugar content,” as well as to, “decrease consumption of salt and foods high in salt content.” Applying these two recommendations alone will rule out the junk food items that Walsh has misleadingly associated with “carbohydrates”.

Testimony from two individuals Walsh interviewed for this article corroborate these ideas:

‘When Americans cut back, the calories from butter and beef and cheese didn’t simply disappear. The thinking went that if people reduced saturated fat, they would replace it with healthy fruits & vegetables,’ says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. ‘Well, that was naïve.’” (Pg. 31)

“We just cut fat and added a whole lot of low-fat junk food that increased caloric intake.” Dr. David Katz (Pg. 34).

The quote from Miss Nestle illuminates a larger problem within the paradigm of nutrition science; instead of telling people to eat more fruits & vegetables, authorities in this field attempt to isolate specific nutrients to base their recommendations around. If there is any fault with the recommendations given in Dietary Goals for the United States with respect to carbohydrate consumption and reduced saturated fat, it is that they didn’t specifically state 55-60% of total calories should come from fruits & vegetables. Yet, to twist these recommendations around to suggest the public was told to eat more calories from junk food instead of animal products, and subsequently blame the resulting degeneration in health on a lack of said animal products, is misleading at best.

Walsh goes on to claim, “From 1977-2012, per capita consumption of these foods (beef, eggs, whole milk, etc.) dropped while calories from supposedly healthy carbohydrates increased…” (Pg. 30). He then cites the 166% rise in Type-2 diabetes since 1980 in the United States in an attempt to associate the consumption of the aforementioned fatty animal foods with a healthier life.

We cut the fat, but by almost every measure, Americans are sicker than ever.” (Pg.30)

Something Walsh did not present was the increase in U.S. meat consumption per person from roughly 160lbs./year in the 1970s, to a high of 184lbs./year in 2004.

highlights25_meatpercap
(Source: http://www.earth-policy.org/data_highlights/2012/highlights25)

He also failed to present the U.S. total meat consumption level, which has risen from just over 30 billion pounds/year in 1970 to roughly 55 billion pounds/year in the mid 2000s.

highlights25_meattotal
(Source: http://www.earth-policy.org/data_highlights/2012/highlights25)
gr-totalmeatconsumption-462
(Source: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/06/27/155527365/visualizing-a-nation-of-meat-eaters)

Consider also the paltry statistics of fruit & vegetable consumption across the United States.

Screen shot 2014-06-23 at 5.02.04 PM
(Source: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5935a1.htm#tab1)

Not even 1/3 of Americans eat more than 2 servings of fruit a day, while barely 1/4 have 3 servings of vegetables. It’s important to note a single apple or a cup of grapes can quantify a serving of fruit, while a cup of broccoli satisfies a serving of vegetables. If public disposition towards fruits & vegetables is such that they have a hard time eating 2 apples’ worth a day (a mere 150 calories), what are we expecting our level of health to be?

On page 31, Walsh claims, “New research suggests it’s the over-consumption of carbohydrates, sugar, and sweeteners that is chiefly responsible for the epidemics of obesity & Type-2 diabetes. Refined carbohydrates – like those found in ‘wheat’ bread, hidden sugar, low-fat crackers and pasta – cause changes in our blood chemistry that encourage the body to store calories as fat and intensify hunger…

This is another apparent attempt to associate foods like fruits, vegetables and beans with junk food items. He also employs a curious use of terms like “hidden sugar.” What does he mean by this? Does he mean added sugar? If so, why didn’t he just say that? Law mandates the inclusion of all ingredients in a given food item to be listed on it’s packaging (though many individuals pay little-to-no attention to them). I can only conclude that this type of language is meant for scare tactics in the mind of the reader, to which I must ask, why does Walsh feel the need to use scare tactics in his writing?

With respect to the claims outlined in that excerpt that carbohydrates are responsible for obesity & Type-2 diabetes, Walsh demonstrates ignorance as to how these phenomena actually develop. Most nutrition authorities will tell you that weight gain (and, by extension, obesity) is a result of taking in more calories than you burn off (through base metabolic functions and physical activity). In this respect, “too much” of any type of calorie (protein, carbohydrates, or fat) can cause weight gain.

However, it’s also important to understand that fat, protein, & carbohydrate calories are metabolized differently, which can adjust the amount being referred to when we say “too much.

This brings us to the discussion of Type-2 diabetes. This condition refers to when an individual cannot produce enough insulin to pull glucose out of their bloodstream. It used to be referred to as “Adult Onset Diabetes” since individuals are not commonly born with this disease (as in Type-1 diabetes). Thus, Type-2 diabetes is associated with one’s lifestyle habits.

…most diabetes diets have tried to compensate for the cells’ resistance to insulin’s actions,” says Dr. Neal Barnard, author of Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes. “They limit the amount of sugar in your diet. They also limit starch (complex carbohydrate) because starch is actually made from many glucose molecules joined together in a chain.” (Barnard Pg. 6)

This old way of thinking is what Walsh is referring to when he makes his above claim. However, Dr. Barnard continues, “Large population studies showed that diabetes was rare in Japan, China, Thailand, and other Asian countries. It was similarly rare in parts of Africa. These studies showed something else…they did not avoid carbohydrates; they ate starchy foods everyday. In Asia and Africa, rice and other grains, starchy vegetables, bean dishes, and noodles are staples…Carbohydrates do not cause diabetes…the problem is in how the body processes them.” (Barnard Pg. 14-15)

How does your body process carbohydrates? “Like a key sliding into a lock, insulin attaches to a receptor on the cell’s surface and causes the cell membrane to permit glucose to enter. In Type-2 diabetes, this system does not work properly…insulin travels to each cell, but when it arrives, it has trouble opening the door. It is as if the lock has somehow become jammed, and the key no longer works. This is insulin resistance (a condition that preempts the onset of diabetes)… Glucose cannot get into the cells, and it builds up in the bloodstream.” (Barnard Pg.16)

…Insulin’s ability to work is blocked by the accumulation of something within the cells…fat.” (Barnard Pg. 22)

Dr. Barnard’s research has shown that individuals with Type-2 diabetes when fed a 100% plant-based diet, that is, a diet that abstains from consuming animal foods: meat, milk, eggs, cheese, butter, etc. (by extension, the fat in these foods as well), emphasizing whole-plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes with only very limited amounts of oil (refined plant fats) at most, can reverse their disease without the use of drugs.

Dietary strategies along these lines are also abundant in fiber, water, & micronutrients, all of which are important for a healthy metabolism.

Regarding Walsh’s claims about obesity, he further states, “Those sugars stimulate the production of insulin, which causes fat cells to go into storage overdrive.” (Pg.35)

As explained by Dr. Barnard though, it is not the production of insulin that is the problem. The problem is when your body doesn’t use it properly.

Insulin resistance is a common condition among obese populations. By improving your body’s ability to utilize insulin, it becomes more efficient at processing carbohydrate calories. Therefore, what would be considered an “overconsumption” of carbohydrates for an individual also eating substantial amounts of animal fat and/or oils becomes a non-issue for an individual without these substances in their diet.

Screen shot 2014-06-23 at 7.51.47 PM

Note the line stating, “excess glucose results in the almost complete use of glucose as an energy source (glucose promotes it’s own oxidation).What this means is that if you eat more carbohydrates than you need, your body literally burns them off. It will not store them as fat. This is counter to the claim that Walsh makes when he says sugar causes fat cells to go into storage overdrive. The only populations that may experience this are those dealing with insulin resistance, and as we’ve discussed already, the cause of that condition is not excess carbohydrate, but excess fat (in the case of the United States, excess animal fat & hydrogenated vegetable oils).

Walsh’s facetious claims about carbohydrates are not limited to Type-2 diabetes. The article also makes the attempt to portray carbohydrates as a prime factor in the development of heart disease, the leading killer in the U.S. To do so, Walsh refers to an idea that carbohydrates raise “small, sticky” LDL particles, LDL cholesterol being a strong biomarker of heart disease in humans.

…scientists know that there are two kinds of LDL particles: small, dense ones and large, fluffy ones. The large ones seem to be mostly harmless – and it’s the levels of those large particles that fat intake raises. Carb intake, meanwhile, seems to increase the small, sticky particles that now appear linked to heart disease.” (Pg. 34)

In contrast to these claims made by Walsh, I would like to present the following…

Screen shot 2014-06-24 at 8.55.43 PM

Of special attention at present is the line, “HF (High-Fat) meal was followed by a significant decrease in the cholesterol carried in the HDL fractions, while cholesterol in the small, dense LDL and in the VLDL particles increased, as compared to baseline.” In other words, two diets of equal calories with different macronutrient ratios elicited different responses in LDL particles; the high-fat diet increased small, dense LDLs, while the high-carb diet did not.

The hypothesis surrounding the isolation of specific phenotypes of LDL particles as atherogenic or non-atherogenic is also an idea that has yet to be established in cardiology.

Screen shot 2014-06-25 at 7.02.01 AM

Screen shot 2014-06-25 at 7.30.38 AM

Moreover, we have research demonstrating the positive effects of whole-plant foods on cholesterol and LDL levels…

Screen shot 2014-06-24 at 8.57.21 PM

The last line of the abstract states, “these results indicate that foods and dietary components (in this case plant sterols, soy protein, fiber, & nuts) advocated for their potential to reduce the risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease) are effective in reducing serum concentrations of all LDL fractions including small dense LDL, thus potentially further contributing to an overall lower risk of CVD.

For anyone interested in lowering his or her LDL cholesterol (including the small, dense LDL), a proven dietary strategy is a whole-food plant-based diet as demonstrated by Dr. Dean Ornish.

Screen shot 2014-06-25 at 7.38

The fact that many people will refuse to consider the possibility that an individual can live sustainably off of a diet like this is what prevents these same people from getting to the root causes of many of the health crises taking place today in nations where populations partake of diets high in animal products, oils, and junk food.

There are a few open-ended statements that I would like to address from the article as well. Walsh states, “…study after study has found that it’s very difficult to lose weight on a very low-fat diet, possibly because fat & meat can produce a sense of satiety that’s harder to achieve with carbs…” (Pg.35).

There aren’t any references given to corroborate this statement, so it’s hard to quantify what Walsh is really saying here. What does he mean when he says “very low-fat”? Even if we go off percentages (5%, 10%, or 15% for example), those numbers still don’t tell us much without knowing how many total calories a person is consuming. For what it’s worth, I’d also like to ask if he is again making a comparison between junk-food items (soda, candy, “low-fat microwave dinners”, etc.) and healthy foods that are naturally low in fat like fruits & vegetables (“low” in this case meaning under 10% total calories)?

Another one comes from Dr. David Ludwig: “You wouldn’t give lactose to people who are lactose intolerant, yet we give carbs to people who are carb intolerant.” (Pg.35)

Lactose intolerance is a genetic condition. What Ludwig refers to as “carb intolerance” (i.e. insulin resistance) is a lifestyle-induced condition. That being said, I have a question for Dr. Ludwig; what do you think caused “carb intolerant” individuals to become “carb intolerant” in the first place? Ripe bananas & steamed potatoes? Or the everyday run to McDonald’s?

Before concluding this piece, I would like to present some material related to the comments made in the article about Dr. Ancel Keys. Ancel Keys is an individual who is very often in the scope of those who promote high-fat nutrition for optimal health. It was Keys’ research that began to shed light on the role that saturated fat & cholesterol played in the development of heart disease.

Walsh claims that Keys “cherry-picked” (Pg.32) his data to suit a preconceived hypothesis, thus branding him a dishonest researcher. Keys is no longer alive to defend himself against these accusations, which are common amongst the high-fat nutrition community. A detailed look into Keys’ motives and methods are beyond the scope of this writing. However, others have taken the time to make that examination.











In conclusion, as evidenced by Don’t Blame Fat, the strategy that is used by the high-fat, high-animal food individuals is one that compares their model of nutrition to the standard American diet of the late 20th & early 21st centuries. It’s probably a good guess to say that the standard American diet during this time is on par with, if not the lowest quality of nutrition practiced in the world during modern times.

To suggest then that the high-fat model advocated in Don’t Blame Fat, as well as parroted by figures like those referred to in this response, is a better way of eating than the standard American diet is like comparing a “D” to an “F” at best. In spite of the efforts by lobbying groups and the large industries surrounding meat, dairy, & egg goods (as well as processed sugar) to promote their products, the scientific literature has been very clear on what constitutes a healthy way of eating for the human being; a diet based around the ample (though not necessarily exclusive) consumption of fruits & vegetables.

*Some additional reading regarding the meta-analysis conducted by Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury;”…current evidence does not support low consumption of saturated fats (to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease).” (Pg.32)
https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2014nl/mar/chowdhuryp1.pdf
https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2014nl/apr/chowdhurypart2.pdf
https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2014nl/may/chowdhuryp3.pdf

Until next time…

Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
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Low-Carbohydrate Diets Vs. High-Carbohydrate Diets For Weight Loss

April 17, 2014 Leave a comment

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One of the most hotly debated topics in the world of health, wellness, & weight loss is whether an individual should follow a low-carbohydrate or a high-carbohydrate diet for weight loss. Recently I listed to an interview from some years ago of Dr. John McDougall with Dr. Robert Atkins. (Can be heard below).

If you are unaware, these two gentlemen are probably the most prolific proponents of each of these two approaches: Dr. McDougall is the author of “The Starch Solution” and Dr. Atkins is the founder of the Atkins foundation and the author of their various founding works. My own views aside for a moment, one thing a gleaned from this interview was how lacking we are in a dialogue between members of both parties. A lot of people who aren’t fully educated on nutrition science can become very confused and, as such, end up having a lot of unanswered questions. It’s with this concern in mind that I offer my observations.

For transparency’s sake, I am someone who is in favor of a high-carbohydrate, 100% whole-food-plant-based nutrition strategy for optimal health, body composition, & athletic performance. Though I wish to remain as objective as I can, I hope you will understand why by the end of this article.

I think one thing that damages the reputations of people on both sides of this argument is a denial of the opposing dietary philosophy’s ability to produce a weight loss effect on the human body. To illustrate how the differences between these two approaches, I will use a couple different analogies.

The Fire Pit
Imagine you have before you a fire pit. The fire that results from bringing all the necessary elements together is representative of weight gain (in the form of bodyfat & extra fluids). Thus the goal is to prevent a fire from burning. Imagine also that sugar (or carbohydrate) is represented by the source of ignition (i.e. a match, lighter, etc.), while animal foods represent the wood & oils represent gasoline (or some other flammable liquid).

Low-Carb Method: Low-Carb diets are founded upon animal products with some possible accessory use of oils. Their aim is to prevent the fire by removing its source of ignition (i.e. to keep sugar outside of the body). What you are left with is a pile of gasoline-soaked wood that steadily gets bigger & more drenched as time goes on.

High-Carb Method: High-Carb diets on the other hand drastically reduce or eliminate the use of animal products & oils, opting instead for carbohydrate-dense (and ideally fiber-dense) sources of calories (i.e. fruits, vegetables, tubers, grains, & legumes). In contrast to the low-carb philosophy, instead of removing the ignition source, high-carb diets remove the fuel that the fire would burn on. All you are left with here is a match or a lighter with nothing to light, thus you have no fear of lighting a fire no matter how persistent your source of ignition.

The Camel’s Back
I’ll harken back to the old expression of, “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” for my second analogy. Again, the camel’s broken back representative of the same unwanted weight gain previously described. We all know that no single piece of straw will break a camel’s back. Rather a single piece of straw can push the camel’s back past its breaking point if it’s already carrying a sufficient load. The load represents animal products & oils, while the single straw represents sugar.

Low-Carb Method: The low-carb method suggests preserving the camel’s back by not adding the final single straw to the load that the camel is already carrying so that it will not be pushed past its breaking point. What you are left with here is a camel that is still burdened with a load of maximum capacity.

High-Carb Method: The high-carb method preserves the camel’s back by removing the rest of the load present on the camel’s back so that it can carry the single straw with no issues. The camel here carries a load of minimum capacity.

The variable that these two analogies illustrate between the low-carb & high-carb methods is the human body’s carbohydrate metabolism. Many individuals in developed nations possess a broken carbohydrate metabolism due to an abundance of meat, dairy, oils, and a lack of fiber & water in their traditional eating habits.

The low-carbohydrate style attempts to coerce the body into using ketosis for its primary source of energy (thus, the individual’s carbohydrate metabolism never gets the opportunity to heal and may even be exacerbated in its dysfunctional state). (This is the reason why so many low-carbers feel that they gain weight when the eat carbohydrate dominant foods. It is not the carbohydrates that lead to this, rather it is their body’s inability to properly process them that does).

High-carbohydrate diets remove the ingredients that lead to this broken metabolism, allowing the body to heal & return to proper function.

You’ll notice also that the low-carb method, even if it leads to a weight loss effect, still leads to some otherwise problematic scenarios. The fire pit is still very volatile and the camel is still precariously loaded. This is analogous to the other problems one is at risk for while consuming abundant amounts of animal products and/or oils (maladies like heart disease, diabetes, cancers, & osteoporosis).

Even if these two methods are completely equal in their weight-loss promotion, the high-carb philosophy has the added benefits of sparing animal life as well as the resources that would go into their raising & slaughter. Thus, there is no unnecessary bloodshed and no unnecessary use of the environment.

Until next time…

Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
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Objectify Your Cardio For Better Conditioning

March 31, 2014 Leave a comment

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One of the best things about strength training is that it’s inherently objective. If you lift more weight or do more reps with the same weight, you’ve gotten stronger. Unfortunately, many people don’t seek to objectify their training in other aspects of their fitness. Most commonly, this is the case for cardio training.

What you typically find are people who start running, riding, or doing whatever particular activity to keep their heart rate up until they just get tired. This is a quick way to lead to burnout & to deter your fitness ambitions. It also doesn’t give you a very accurate idea of where your level of fitness is, as there are far too many variables that are unaccounted for.

For example, many people who take up cycling often try to use their average speed as the criteria by which to assess their fitness. The problem is that average speed is far to dependent on the topography of the area you’re riding in, the direction of the wind, the type of bike you’re riding, and how efficient your technique is. Therefore, average speed will fluctuate far too much between different areas (or even the same area on different days) to be a reliable indicator of fitness.

A better way to assess yourself is to use a device like a heart rate monitor (or a power meter if you’re a cyclist). These tools help to eliminate the external variables that would otherwise play into criteria like average speed allowing you to understand precisely how hard your body is working.

Once you know where your body is performing, you can more effectively & efficiently organize your training to accomplish the goals that you are going after. If a given workout calls for you to improve your aerobic metabolism & fat oxidation, you can train in the proper zone for that to occur. Likewise, if you’re training to improve your lactate threshold or your VO2 Max, you can train precisely in that zone.

Being able to pinpoint the type of work you’re doing eliminates the guess work and the “junk miles” (unnecessary training time) that inevitably come with a subjective approach to training, as most people will always end up going too easy on the hard days & too hard on the easy days. This allows you to make better use of your time and for you to recover better from your sessions.

Until next time…

Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
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How Strong is “Strong Enough”?

March 5, 2014 Leave a comment

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A question at the forefront of the minds of many athletes, coaches, & trainers is, “how strong is strong enough,” for an athlete to be successful in their sport? More strength is of benefit to every athlete, as strength is the root quality upon which other physical attributes are established (this is the reason steroids are popular regardless of the sport of choice).

Assuming that an athlete wishes to stay away from steroids and other performance enhancing substances, the issue becomes the requirements for cultivation of higher levels of strength in comparison to what the necessary work is for that athlete to maintain/develop proficiency in their sport. We only have a finite amount of resources to dedicate to our goals, so proper management of these becomes paramount.

To illustrate this point, imagine a glass of water filled up to 2/3 of the glass’ capacity. The glass itself represents all the faculties you have at your disposal (physical, financial, time, etc.). The water in the glass represents the minimum amount of faculties set aside to ensure proficiency at your sport; doing any less than this will mean leaving something on the table, while doing any more will reveal a diminished ROI for your efforts.

The remainder of the glass that is empty represents the faculties you have left to dedicate to other qualities beyond your sport itself (in this case, strength), without adversely affecting your ability to practice that sport. It is how strong you can become working within these parameters that is the answer to, “how strong is strong enough?”

Again, doing less than this will mean you’re not taking full advantage of the resources available to you. However, the more common problem is that people get into the “more is better” mindset and try to do too much. The consequences of this are often burnout, overtraining, & injury, not to mention a poor use of time that could otherwise be dedicated to the athlete practicing their sport.

Let’s suppose that empty portion of the glass equates to 2 45-60 minute workouts a week a part from your sport practice. It is your responsibility (or that of your coach/trainer) to train in a manner that will allow you to cultivate strength efficiently, without violating the parameters that have been set.

Different sports will have different ratios of “time spent practicing” vs. “time spent getting stronger.” The level of your competition as well as your genetics factor into this equation as well.

For example, a powerlifter can spend much more time cultivating their strength than a motocross rider can, though motocross is a sport that is inherently much less dependent on pure strength for peak performance than powerlifting is. Therefore, more of the motocross rider’s time should be spent practicing their sport compared to a powerlifter (who should spend more of their time getting stronger).

To put all of this another way, assume that I’m training a rider within the 2 45-60 minute workouts a week guidelines previously mentioned. In doing so, I have a choice between Program A & Program B. Program A will add 25lbs. to their deadlift (a general strength exercise that has many carryovers to the sport in question), while leaving the athlete with a considerable level of soreness in the days following a given session. Program B will add the same 25lbs. to their deadlift without the soreness. Program B would be my choice because it interferes less with the athlete’s ability to practice their sport while still cultivating significant levels of strength.

If you are interested in more of this type of material, a great resource is the book Easy Strength by Dan John & Pavel Tsatsouline.

Even if you’re not someone who participates in a sport, it should still be of interest to you to train smarter before you train harder. Doing so sets you up for getting the most out of your body sustainably, without undue risks of injury.

Until next time…

Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
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