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A Soda a Day Will Take 4 Years off Your Life…Really?

For all of us who enjoy imbibing on our favorite soda, I am afraid there is more bad news. Not only does soda consumption contribute to diabetes and obesity, apparently it will shorten our life span.

According to the researchers from the University of San Francisco, drinking soda regularly was associated with the accelerated shrinking of telomeres. You can read the report HERE.

What are telomeres, you ask?

Telomeres are specific DNA–protein structures found at both ends of each chromosome, and the primary purpose of telomeres are to protect our genetic data, making it possible for our cells to divide. It is the cell division that keeps the body healthy and thriving. However, every time the cells divides, the telomeres get shorter. Eventually the telomeres get so short they can no longer facilitate cell division. This leads to cell deterioration and death. Scientists do not know how to prevent telomere shortening, but there are lifestyle habits than can speed up the shortening process…and others that will slow it down.

Apparently, drinking soda will speed it up.

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The researchers examined cross sectional associations between the consumption of sugary sodas, diet sodas, and fruit juice. It included 5309 adults that had no history of diabetes or heart disease. The results showed that those who drank soda on a regular basis (at least one 12 ounce can a day) had shorter telomeres. Those who drank fruit juice had a marginal lengthening of telomeres, and those who drank  diet sodas showed no significant change.

The researchers calculated from their findings that drinking one 20 ounce soda a day would lead to average of 4.6 years of telomere shortening. That puts it in the same category of aging as smoking.

This is a big claim made by the researchers from the study, but is it really true?

It should come as no surprise that there are skeptics, and they say that there is no correlation to soda consumption and a decreased lifespan. For example Daniel Enberger, who wrote a rebuttal to the study, noticed that there was a contradiction in the study itself. The study that claims soda consumption will shorten lifespan, but that other sugary drinks such as fruit juice do not. I noticed this statement as well, and I was confused when I read it because I know that sugary drinks of any kind for a long time is a risk factor for diabetes, and thus the possibility of shortening lifespan whether the telomeres say so or not.

Daniel Enberger also makes a good counter point about the study claiming that a soda a day is as bad as smoking cigarettes. He points out that far more people consume sugary drinks daily than smoke, yet 440,000 people die each year from smoking but only 112,000 die from obesity. You can read his article HERE.

That’s not all. There have been several studies that attempted to find a correlation of telomere length and longevity, and as of 2016 the verdict is inconclusive. See Here, Here, and Here for a few examples.

This all brings us back to the main question about telomeres: can measuring the length of telomeres determine the lifespan of an individual, and if so can we take steps to slow down or even reverse the process of telomere shortening? I think the field has promise, but there is much research that needs to be done.

Personally, I cannot imagine that one can of soda a day will take almost 5 years off your life. The body is a bit more resilient than that.

Having said that, I would still recommend strictly limiting your soda intake. You will be healthier if you do.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman

 

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Good Questions

I recently received a questionnaire directed at fitness trainers from a book publisher. The purpose of the questionnaire is for a book that the publisher could distribute to people who may be interested in finding a competent fitness professional. I think it is a good project, and I was happy to take the time out of my schedule to answer the questions.

I thought the questions were well thought out, and I feel it would be of benefit to share the questions…and my answers here.

Without further ado, here we go.

Q. When it comes to nutrition about building muscle, it seems that few experts can agree on what is a healthy diet and what is not. How can people know which advice to take, with all of the contradictory
information out there?

A. Everybody needs to do their own research and do not take the suggestions of the fitness trainer at face value. The truth is that there are many similarities between many of the “good” diets out there. It is these common threads that should be the cornerstone of a healthy eating plan. Beyond that, it is a matter of tweaking the diet to how the person’s body responds the best along with his or her personal eating preference.

Q. It is said that after a workout you should have a meal of proteins or carbs. Is that true? If so why?

A. The prevailing theory is that the body is primed for nutrient absorption right after a hard workout, especially the first two hours afterword. With this, trainers assume that a meal replacement shake will create the optimal muscle building environment. Personally, I do not think ingesting a protein shake right after a workout is all that important. I stumbled on some research suggesting that the body maintains that nutrient absorption “window” for much longer than previously thought…up to 24 hours actually. Imagine that. A good intense workout sends the signal to the body to build muscle, and it will regardless of whether the trainee eats something right after the workout or not. It has plenty of resources to draw on to start the muscle building process. Unless the trainee is an athlete in training and in need of a high calorie diet, I generally recommend restraining eating anything until the trainee feels hungry. The rationale behind this approach is that after an intense workout, the glycogen stores will be empty thus forcing the body to rely on the fat stores for fuel. In essence, it assists in the fat burning process, and the body will still gain muscle. I have been very successful with this approach.

Q. What type of protein powder is best for muscle gain?

A. Most experts will say that whey protein is the best for muscle gain, and that may be true. However, the benefit, in my opinion, is negligible. There are many good protein sources that will do a good job, and I would rather encourage my clients to eat real food with a good amount of protein and healthy fats.

Q. What is the correct way to breathe when working out and how does it help a person when lifting weights?

A. The conventional recommendation for breathing is to breath in during the eccentric portion of the lift (lowering phase), and to breath out while performing the concentric part of the lift (lifting phase). It is assumed that the trainee will be able to accomplish a higher number if reps in this manner as opposed to, say, holding the breath at certain points of the set. I have no disagreements with this strategy, but I much prefer to have my clients use a short/shallow breathing technique accompanied with actually holding the breath briefly at the sticking point. My clients are able to focus much better on the performance of the lift this way, and the holding of the breath for a brief moment during the sticking point actually helps the client finish the rep.

Q. If a particular exercise hurts, is that normal?

A. It depends on the hurt. The burning sensation that someone experiences during a strength training exercise is a good thing. In essence, it means that the muscle is working very hard, which is the stimulus to make it stronger. On the other hand, if the trainee feels a sharp pain, usually close to the joint, then the trainee needs to stop the lift. Working through this kind of pain over a period of time can lead to soft tissue injuries.

Q. What should someone do if they get muscle cramps during a workout? Should they work through it or do something else?

A. Muscle cramps during a workout session is rare, but it is usually a sign of dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance. Stop the exercise routine immediately and get some fluids.

Q. Which are better free weights or machines? Is there a huge difference, if so why?

A. Better for what? Building muscle? The stimulus for building muscle is rather simple: Making the muscle work as hard as possible in a short amount of time. Realizing this, both machines and free weights can accomplish that task remarkably well. Having said that, there are unique benefits to both free weights and machines.

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Machines, for example, are designed to coincide the resistance curve with the strength curve of the muscle. Stated differently, the resistance will either get heavier or lighter during the range of motion to match the changing strength level of the muscle. As an example, the hamstrings will be able to produce more force when the leg is straight, and less force in the fully contracted position. If the machine does not adjust for this, the weight will be just right at the beginning of the lift but very heavy at the end. The machine’s main goal is to keep that tension, if you will, constant throughout so there is no point where the muscle gets a chance to rest, nor too heavy for the muscle to complete the lift. Moreover, machines are designed to isolate a certain muscle group to force that particular muscle to work harder.

However, the strengths I mentioned of machines are also the downfall of machines. By isolating muscle groups to such a degree as machines do, there are many supporting muscles that do not get very much stimulus to get stronger. A good example are the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder joint. The primary purpose of the rotator cuff muscles are to provide stability and support of the shoulder while the chest and back muscles are working (they also create movement as well, for the rotator cuff muscles are the primary muscles used in swinging a tennis racket or throwing a baseball), and a chest press machine has a set groove throughout so the rotator cuff muscles do not have to work very hard to stabilize the shoulder. This can lead to the chest muscles getting stronger than the rotator cuff muscles, creating a muscle imbalance. In theory this imbalance can lead to injury. Free weights, on the other hand, address this shortcoming. When performing a lift with free weights, the trainee has to both lift the weight…and balance it at the same time. The smaller stabilizer muscles work much harder to accomplish this task.

Additionally, free weights offer many more exercise options than machines. Machines usually perform only one function, whereas a dumbbell can be used for many exercises that can work different muscle groups.

There is one final consideration, and that is personal preference. Since both machines and free weights are capable of improving strength, it is better for the trainee to decide what he wants to use. Personally, I prefer to use a combination of free weights and machines.

Q. What advanced techniques should someone use to build muscle?

A. There are many useful advanced techniques one can use to build muscle. Here is a brief list:

  • Forced reps

  • Negative reps

  • Descending sets

  • Super-sets

  • Pre-exhaustion

The first two are considered set extension techniques in that they help the trainee work beyond failure/fatigue on a set. The other three are variations of a combination of sets with very short rest intervals specifically targeting a muscle group such as the legs or chest.

They are very effective protocols to have in the toolbox, but the secret is in using them very sparingly. As an example, when a trainee does a set to fatigue, he may have the spotter help him with two or three more reps after the fact (forced reps) in an attempt to work harder. The truth is that one good rep beyond failure is all the trainee would need because if he knows he will be doing multiple reps after failure, he will hold back a little on the previous reps. This will make the set extension technique less effective. It would be better if he just focused on completing one good rep after failure. The same principle applies to all of the advanced techniques. It is much better to use any one of these techniques once every other workout, and for only one body-part per workout.

Q. What are the basic exercises to do for muscle mass?

A. This is a good question. Compound exercises which are exercises that create movement around two or more joints seem to work the best. Leg presses, barbell squats, and dead-lifts are great for building mass for the legs. Likewise, dumbbell presses or the bench press work very well for building the chest muscles. Isolation exercises such as a leg extension or cable fly do not work as well because one cannot use as heavy of resistance as one can with compound movements.

Q. How can someone tell if their personal trainer’s certification is legitimate?

A. Many, if not all of certifications will give the the aspiring personal trainer a base knowledge of exercise, physiology, anatomy, nutrition and other criteria to be a competent trainer. The truth is that a certification is not what makes an exceptional trainer. I put much more value on a trainer that spent time working as an apprentice under a highly respected fitness trainer or organization through continuing education, mentoring, and studying the latest research. Moreover, testimonials have far more value showing the competency of a fitness trainer than the certifications he may have. To put it simply, getting a certification is the starting point for the fitness trainer, but the true value is garnered through experience in the field.

Q. How can people get motivated to get to the gym?

A. This is a multi layered question and yet unique to every individual. The individual may be motivated to begin an exercise program for many different reasons, which is good, but maintaining the motivation over the long haul is the real challenge. A high percentage of people quit their exercise program after a few months, if not weeks of starting their program. I believe there are three main causes of decreased motivation.

  • Most exercise programs require a big time commitment on a weekly basis.

  • The results do not come along as expected.

  • Burnout.

Most exercise programs will have the trainee in the gym anywhere from 4 to 8 hours a week. The trainee will have no problem committing to this regimen at first, but it will get tiring after a few weeks. Additionally, once life starts getting in the way, say, by needing to take the kids to a play or the boss wanting the fitness enthusiast to stay late on a project, he will start missing workouts. This will throw off his whole routine and he may just give up.

The other problem is that many exercise programs really do not work very well. The trainee can spend several hours a week in the gym for some time and may lose maybe a couple of pounds of fat. The return on investment, if you will, is not very good. This is very demotivating, and the trainee will most likely quit.

The final reason I believe that many people have a hard time staying motivated is from burnout. Spending a large amount of time in the gym working out will lead to over training. The trainee may get injured or he may simply be tired all of the time, and he will quit working out.

It has been my philosophy to streamline the exercise program so that the trainee can see remarkable results with very little time in the gym. I have had great success with client motivation and retention this way. I recommend it for anybody who wants to make a life long commitment to the fitness lifestyle.

Q. What can people do to stay motivated, after they’ve started a workout program?

A. See the above question.

Q. Do most personal trainers yell at people, like drill sergeants, to keep them motivated? What if someone wants to hire a personal trainer without being screamed at?

A. Ha. This question reminds me of a local personal training studio that used anger and insults to motivate the client base. The owner would refer to the women as “fat bearded ladies” and the men as sissies. He would also throw Twinkies at the clients when they were exercising and would put them in cages if they did not work as hard as he thought they should. It was all a gimmick, and he did have some initial success. Moreover, many trainers do use loud screaming and drill sergeant tactics to motivate the clients. Personally, I do not subscribe to this strategy. I think most people have enough negative feedback to deal with in regular life. They certainly do not need it in the gym. I much prefer to use positive reinforcement and good rapport to facilitate my client’s fitness transformation. I do believe that the positive reinforcement strategy does a much better job of helping the client internalize a fitness minded lifestyle.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman

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“The Biggest Loser”: A Re-examination of the “Set Point” Thoery

It finally happened. A researcher was curious enough to see what happened metabolically to the people who went through the rigorous diet and exercise routines that must be followed on the show “The Biggest Loser” several years later. The results were sobering but unsurprising. The researcher, Kevin D Hall and his colleagues, published their study in the online journal ObesityThe conclusions they came to was that most of the contestants gained most of the weight back (only one contestant has been successful at keeping off all of the lost weight), but even more disheartening was the fact that all of the contestants ended up with a slower metabolic rate after the show than before. Collectively, the metabolic rate was lower by 500 calories a day. As an example, if a contestant was able to maintain his weight of, let’s say, 200 lbs on 2,500 calories a day before he did the intense 7 month diet and exercise regimen, he would struggle to maintain the same 200 lb weight on 2,000 calories afterwords. Danny Cahill, the contestant who started “The Biggest Loser” weighing 490 lbs, finished the show weighing 191 lbs (Admittedly, this is a remarkable feat, and he looks fantastic in his after photos. You can see them here), but he now burns 800 fewer calories a day than someone who has not dieted but weighs the same 191 lbs.

I first learned about this study by my good friend and staff trainer, Josh, and I intended to write a blog simply based on the findings of the lower metabolic rate, and I still intend to do so. However, I wanted to garner more information on the study so I dug deeper, and I found some fascinating insights that were not mentioned in the NY Times article that I believe are relevant in changing the tide of obesity. I will explore these findings first, and then finish with my recommendations.

The effect of extreme diet and exercise on fat-free mass. It is theorized that fat-free mass has an impact on the basal metabolic rate. More specifically, the more muscle mass an individual has, that more calories he will burn, even at rest. So, in theory, if the contestants had a lower resting metabolic rate (I will refer to it as RMR from now on), they should have lost some muscle. Here is what the study has to say:

  • Fat free mass at baseline: 75.5 ± 21.1 . Fat free mass after 30 weeks (the biggest loser contest): 64.4 ± 15.5. Fat free mass 6 years later: 70.2 ± 18.3.

For the sake of simplicity, I will use the first set of numbers for all of the stats. Fat free mass at baseline, before the contestants started the strict regimen, was 75.5 pounds. After the contest was over, the fat-free mass was on average 64 lbs, and 6 years later it was hovering around 70 lbs.  What I find of interest is that the contestants lost fat-free mass during the contest, even while exercising. In other words, they lost muscle. I am sure that part of the regimen included strength training, but I also know for a fact that the show had the contestants exercising upward to 7 hours a day, mostly in the form of aerobic exercise. There is no question that these contestants were in an over-trained state.

Moving on, the contestants all gained back some fat-free mass after the contest, but not all of the fat-free mass that they had before the contest: 75 lbs before the contest as compared to 70 lbs afterword, yet the RMR has not improved. This is counter-intuitive to my belief that more muscle means more calorie burning and a higher RMR. It shows me that there is more to RMR than just muscle. Clearly there are hormonal factors as well. Having said that, I also suspect that in spite of the strength training the contestants did for the show, they really did not work the deeper fast twitch fibers that they are capable of developing. The reason I say this is because they could not have done a hard strength training workout…and six more hours of chronic exercise everyday and especially on a low-calorie diet. It explains why the contestants lost fat-free mass during the contest, and I theorize that the contestants gained other fat-free mass back after the contest besides muscle. I don’t doubt that they gained some muscle, but they may have gained some water weight as well.

The researchers, on the other hand, remarked that the contestants did gain some muscle back after the six-year lay off, but that they all were well below baseline. I concur, and this can be reason enough for the lower RMR.

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Would you like your own customized Hystrength exercise program? You can. Click on the image to learn how

Total Energy Expenditure decreased for the same amount of exercise. Total Energy Expenditure, or TEE, was 3,804 ± 926 at baseline, and it was 3,002 ± 573 right after the strict diet and exercise regimen. This is in alignment with the observations of the researchers. To put it succinctly, in spite of all of the hard work and sacrifice that these contestants put into their weight loss efforts, it is clear that they will from now on burn 500 fewer calories a day for the same amount of exercise. Talk about a downer. TEE did improve after six years. It jumped back up to 3,429 ± 581, but it was still lower than before the contest began.

Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), dropped significantly after the contest, and it did not return to baseline after 6 years. The resting metabolic rate at baseline was  2,607 ± 649 kcal/day, and it dropped to 1,996 ± 358 kcal/day at the end of the 30-week competition. Moreover, it stayed about the same six years later (704 ± 427 kcal/day below baseline). It is the resting metabolic rate that will consistently burn the majority of the calories an individual will consume on a daily basis, and a key factor in weight maintenance.

Leptin and triglycerides remained lower than baseline six years later. The hormone Leptin is produced by the fat cells. Leptin production increases whenever the fat stores increase, and the main function of Leptin is to send the signal to the brain whether there is enough fat stored or not. In other words, more Leptin will send feelings of satiety, thus curbing appetite. Lower Leptin levels will have the opposite effect. What this study shows, though, is that after an extreme diet and exercise program Leptin levels will stay low even when the body starts to store more fat. Consistently lower Leptin levels will keep the hunger pangs high. This is one of the hardest challenges of chronic dieters.

Insulin sensitivity did not improve six years after the competition, even at lower sustained weight loss. Insulin insensitivity is a precursor to both diabetes and obesity, and the fact that there was not an improvement of insulin sensitivity after weight loss is concerning.

The good news for the contestants of The Biggest Loser is that triglycerides stayed low. High triglycerides have been shown to increase the risk of heart attack. Concurrently, both high density lipoproteins (HDL) and adiponectin increased. HDL is the “good cholesterol”, in that it helps in the prevention of heart attacks. Adiponectin has been shown to help the body regulate glucose and fatty acid oxidation. Just like Leptin, it is secreted from the fat cells and acts as a regulatory mechanism for fat storage or fat burning. The more adiponectin that is in circulation, the better the environment is for fat loss.

In summation, even though there were many negative adaptations to the extreme diet and exercise intervention, mainly a lower overall metabolic rate and no improvement on insulin sensitivity, there were some improvements that can help in sustained weight loss and healthier blood markers.

The “Set Point” Theory

This brings us back to the “set point” theory I wrote about in a previous blog. You can read it here. The basic premise of the set point theory is that the body has a certain set point of muscle and fat it wants to hold, and it will do anything in its power to maintain that set point. In other words, when an individual wants to lose fat and goes on a diet and exercise routine to achieve that goal, the body will slow down the metabolic rate thus making it harder to maintain the fat loss and easier to gain the fat weight back with fewer calories than before she started the diet.

During the discussion, the researchers confirmed that this is, indeed, an example of the set point theory in play. Interestingly they contrasted the slower metabolic rate of the contestants of The Biggest Loser to obese people who went through gastric bypass surgery, who were able to still lose weight after one year with no significant down regulation of the metabolism.

My Thoughts

Just like the results of the study Dr. Rudolf Liebel did, the contestants of The Biggest Loser did see a slower metabolism after the intervention, corroborating the set point theory. No doubt that the findings are disheartening to all who want to lose excess fat and keep it off permanently. However, I do believe that there is a better way. Moreover, I do believe that the “set-point” can be readjusted. The impression of the set point theory is that you can re-set the set point downward only i.e. a slower metabolism. I imagine the set point more like a thermostat. You can adjust a thermostat down…or up for your comfort. Why not the body’s set point?

I believe that most diet and exercise programs actually encourage the body to lower the metabolic rate. As a matter of fact, the body does so simply for self-preservation. Placing the body under extreme duress of the likes of The Biggest Loser, where the contestants are exercising 7 to 8 hours a day on a very low-calorie diet (1,000 calories a day or less), for over four months, the metabolism will shut down. It has to so the body can survive. Extreme diet and exercise programs will throw the hormonal system completely out of whack, and I imagine that it is almost impossible to get the body back to functioning in a normal sense again.

I do believe that you can turn up the set-point of the body to burn more calories for the same amount of exercise…and at the same time to decrease the appetite to prevent over-eating. All we have to do is send the proper signals to the body. The signals we want to send are:

  • Build and maintain strength/muscle mass.
  • Release fat from the fat stores more readily.
  • Burn fat for fuel instead of sugar.

Too much exercise, especially aerobic exercise makes it more difficult for the body to build muscle. Additionally, the body learns how to burn less energy with consistent bouts of cardio exercise. That is one reason why the contestants of The Biggest Loser had a lower metabolic rate six years later. I know that they did some strength training as part of the plan, but they could not have trained very intensely considering the high volume of overall exercise they did.

A far more productive exercise program would be to cut the overall volume of exercise way down…even to the point of no aerobic exercise at all, and instead focus on two to three intense strength training sessions a week to encourage muscle growth. Over time the body will build more muscle, and it will tend to burn more calories even at rest.

Both appetite regulation and making the body more receptive to using fat for energy instead of glucose for energy has far more to do with the types of calories consumed than it does with how many calories are consumed. According the alternative hypothesis, high carbohydrate, low nutrient dense foods encourage overeating and fat storage, whereas low carbohydrate nutrient dense foods, like the Paleo way of eating, have the opposite effect. In large part, it does this by keeping the insulin response low, thus promoting the use of fat for fuel instead of glucose. This was a very different protocol than what Dr Liebel used (he had his dieter under 600 calories a day using only a meal replacement shake, which I have no doubt was very high in carbohydrates), and what the contestants had. The contestants had a lot of Franken foods such as jello, Kraft cheese and energy drinks and the like (see more here). This is a common practice for most dieters, and I believe that eating like this makes it much more difficult to keep weight off in a sustainable way.

To everybody who has tried to lose fat the conventional way but failed to maintain it, I say there is another way. All hope is not lost. Try an approach similar to what I outlined here and see what happens. You will lose fat. You will gain muscle. More importantly, you will not beat up your body, and it will be much easier to keep what gains you do make without feeling deprived.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman

 

 

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Can You Give Me a “Mass Building” Routine”?

My step son recently asked me for an exercise routine to “build muscle mass”. Interestingly, when my step son is consistent with his weight lifting program, he is both very strong and muscular, and it surprised me when he asked me the question. He tends to carry a bit more body fat than he needs to, but he still looks good. However, if he would just lose about 10 to 12 pounds of fat while maintaining the muscle, he would have an unbelievable and very enviable body. He would have the body most guys who lift weights would kill for.

But I digress. Getting back to the main point of the article…how does one build muscle mass? More importantly, what exactly does that mean?

I believe that the concept of building muscle mass stems from the bodybuilding community. You don’t hear of a power lifter talking about building mass, nor is it a very common term in sports such as football. When they talk about gaining weight, they simply talk about adding more muscle, or as in the case of power lifters, they just focus on getting stronger.

The phrase is also synonymous with “bulking up” that bodybuilders like to do. They do this during the off-season in an attempt to put on as much muscle as they can, and then come contest time, they try to lose as much fat as possible and try to keep the muscle they built during the off season. If the bodybuilder is successful he will have a well defined body (called ripped, shredded, and so forth) with the muscles still looking thick. The general strategy of gaining mass or bulking up is to lift heavy weights with a lower repetition protocol, very similar to what power lifters would do to get stronger, in combination with an excessive calorie diet…far more than what the bodybuilder needs for weight maintenance. For example, many aspiring bodybuilders will eat in the neighborhood of 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day. I even read an article by a famous bodybuilder where he claimed to eat an average of 10,000 calories a day!

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Basically, the theory is this: building muscle takes a lot of energy, how much is unknown, but it is better to overestimate caloric intake so the body can build muscle as fast as possible, and lifting heavier weights will add thickness to the muscles (hence the “mass”).  A bodybuilder will gain fat during the “mass building cycle”, but that is no big deal, for when he is ready to get lean, he simply cuts his calories and at the same time he will add more volume (total exercises), lighter weights, and higher reps to his strength training program to lose the fat and get the before mentioned “shredded” look.

Cycling the training program between the mass cycle and cut cycle is the way all bodybuilders prepare for contests, and they have been successful with it. However, it is a protocol I would not recommend for either gaining muscle or losing fat. Allow me to explain.

First of all, gaining muscle is simply a matter of getting stronger. If a trainee is able to lift 100 lbs for 10 reps and 2 months later he is able to lift 130 lbs for 10 reps, he obviously is stronger. Along with that is more muscle mass. This can happen in spite of a higher calorie diet or not. In other words, he really does not need to eat a high calorie diet to gain muscle. What he needs to do is send the signal to his body to build muscle. The body will then prioritize its resources to build the muscle.

Secondly, the body can make only so much muscle at a given time anyway. The claims in the bodybuilding magazines such as “build 10 lbs of muscle in a month”, are unrealistic. At most…most, someone who is drug free and trains hard will gain 1 to 2 pounds of muscle a month. It is usually much less, closer to 1/2 to 1 pound of muscle a month, and maybe even less than that. So when I hear someone claim that he added 10 pounds of muscle in a month, I am skeptical. The scale may show he gained 10 pounds, but my guess is that he gained maybe 1 pound of muscle…and gained 9 pounds of fat. Yes, he will look bigger. He will look bulkier, but that is because he will be carrying more fat. If he is carrying more fat, the definition of his muscles will not show.

Which leads to the third point: he now has to lose the fat that he gained through the bulking process for the definition of the muscles to show. Many bodybuilders have a lot of fat to lose when they go through the cutting phase, sometimes as much as 40 to 50 pounds! It takes severe caloric restriction to lose that fat, and most bodybuilders will go as low as 1,500 calories a day for weeks on end to to it. This is when they will go to a higher repetition/lower weight protocol. They bodybuilders will have to switch to this because to lose the fat that drastically, they will lose some of the muscle built during the mass building phase. They are simply not as strong, so they cannot handle the heavier weights. This, at the very least, is a grueling and torturous process to endure. Moreover, it is impossible to sustain it for a long period of time. As an example, when drug free bodybuilders are in contest shape, they can weigh around 160 to 170 pounds, whereas during the off-season they may be as high as 220 to 230 pounds. Muscle is damn hard to build, so from my viewpoint, it makes no sense to lose the muscle just to get cut. I can’t help but wonder if they would be better off staying lean and building muscle at the same time, and then lean out just a little more come contest time. This seems to be a bit more practical to me.

My Experience

I can talk about this from experience. I tried to build “mass” for several years by eating upwards to 5,000 calories a day and training with heavy weights. I did get bigger, no doubt, but I also gained a lot of fat. Furthermore, I reached an upper limit on strength, weight, and muscle mass, and adding more calories just did not make one bit of difference in my strength gains. Here is a photo of me after several years of overeating:Gregg before

As you can see, I do have a fair amount of muscle, but I have a lot of fat. I looked good in clothes, but not so much semi-naked. I am also weighing about 190 lbs in this photo. I was about 155 lbs when I first started lifting weights, so I gained a remarkable amount of weight, but my body-fat was around 17 to 18% at the time of the photo. I also had no real definition. It was at this point that I gave up on the idea of having big muscles and decided to try a low carb diet for a while. I still wanted to train as hard and with as heavy weights as possible…as if I was still “building mass”. I did this just to shake it up a bit and break away from the standard dogma. The results were amazing. Here is the photo I took after 6 months of changing my diet:

Gregg after I have far more definition in the second photo. According to my measurements, I lost about 14 pounds of fat…and I maintained all of my muscle. How do I know that I maintained my muscle? Because I was still able to lift the same amount of weight as I did on my “bulking” cycle, and I would not be able to if I lost muscle.

 

Lesson Learned

I learned from first hand experience that I do not need to eat an excessive amount of calories to put on muscle mass. I also learned that it is still very easy to put on fat, even if I train very hard. Furthermore, I learned that I can both build muscle…and lose fat at the same time. This is good to know. In other words, going through a “mass” or “bulk” building program is not necessary. All I needed to do to gain muscle mass is to train hard, like I would in a “mass building” routine and eat enough for the body to build muscle. How much is enough? That is easy to answer. Eat enough to be full. That’s it. If I am hungry, I eat. If I am not hungry, I don’t eat. Same strength. Same muscle mass….but much less fat.

Conclusion

So back to the question…how to build mass? From my experience, I learned that the main thing you need to do is to train hard enough to get stronger every workout. Many strength training programs can do this, but my preferred method is to use a weight that is heavy enough so I can get to momentary muscular failure within the 8 to 12 rep range. I can make the appropriate inroad into my muscle to induce growth. Moreover, I have found one set per body part for the most part is enough.

Oh, and don’t go crazy on excessive calorie intake. It simply is not necessary for building muscle.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman

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HIGH FAT DIETS ARE DANGEROUS?

I visited sciencedaily.com yesterday to see what was the latest on diet and exercise, and, unsurprisingly, there was a research study done on rodents that found a low carbohydrate-high fat diet produced more weight, and especially fat weight on overweight and pre-diabetic mice coupled with worsened glucose tolerance and higher insulin levels. This was in contrast to the control group that ate their normal diet. The researcher made the bold statement from this project that the “Paleo” diet, which is very low carbohydrate and high fat, should be avoided, especially by individuals that are overweight and sedentary. Furthermore, he claimed that there was no research touting the benefits of a low carb or paleo diet.

Of you are curious about the study, here is the link. Paleo Diet is Dangerous.

Wow. That is a bold claim. Most researchers, when confronted with the results of a study, use the phrase “may lead to”, “suggests that”, or the most common statement is “further research is necessary”, meaning the researcher finds the study uncovered some data that is intriguing and may be beneficial to implement, but not as an absolute truth that must be adhered to by the population at large. It sounds to me like this researcher has an agenda against the low carb-high fat diet that is gaining traction. I am a bit skeptical of his findings, but I always something of value, even from viewpoints I disagree with or research that do not seem to make sense. With that in mind, let us take a closer look at the study and see what we can really learn from it.

The Study:

The researchers took a group of mice that were six weeks old and, up to that point, fed a normal rat chow diet. They then divided the mice into two different groups. One group, the control group, was fed the normal rat chow which consisted of a macro-nutrient breakdown as such: 70% carbohydrate, 20% protein, and 10% fat. The macro-nutrient  content of the second group was made up of 6% carbohydrate, 13% protein, and 81% fat. Moreover, the fat breakdown of the second group was 55% saturated, 37% mono saturated, and 8% polyunsaturated fat. This is important in my view because I do recommend that my clients eat a higher portion of saturated fat than polyunsaturated fat, and the main reason  I recommend it is because too many polyunsaturated fats can throw off the balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids in the body. An overabundance of Omega 6 fatty acids tend to accelerate the aging process, and polyunsaturated fats are loaded with Omega 6 fatty acids. They let the mice eat ad libitum , basically meaning the mice could eat all they want without restriction on both diets for another 9 weeks. Body weight, body fat, blood glucose, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels were tested throughout the study, and ß-cell mass was measured after the conclusion of the study. Healthy ß-cell function is important for the pancreas to produce insulin in response to glucose in the bloodstream.

Overall Results:

The low carbohydrate-high fat diet did improve the blood profile in that plasma triglycerides decreased, and HDL and total cholesterol went up. The researcher on this project believes that higher total cholesterol is not good, although many other researchers believe otherwise. Higher HDL concentrations in the blood is good because it is the HDL’s that bring the LDL’s back to the liver to be reprocessed. It is an abundance of LDL’s in the bloodstream that lead to increased risk of heart disease.

However, the mice fed a low carbohydrate diet gained more weight than the mice fed the regular rat diet, but then again, the mice on the regular chow gained weight as well, just not as much. The researchers did not determine if there was a change in muscle mass (this would have been good to know). The low carbohydrate diet also did not improve insulin secretion or ß-cell mass.

The reason that this researcher believes that the low carb diet, based on these results, is not good for people with metabolic syndrome or diabetes is that it is easy to gain weight, and especially fat weight on a low carb diet,  and that the low carb diet does not improve insulin sensitivity.

My Observations:

Even thought the researcher came to a conclusion I do not agree with, I do believe that this was a good study. The main answer the researcher was looking for from the study was this: can a low carbohydrate diet improve ß-cell function, and can it aid in the regeneration of ß-cells? ß-cells in the pancreas produce insulin that helps shuttle glucose out of the bloodstream, so a well functioning pancreas can keep diabetes at bay. He found that a low carbohydrate diet, at least in mice, does not do that.

However, I am surprised that the mice fed a low carbohydrate diet gained fat. More often than not, a low carbohydrate diet tends prevent overeating for a number of reasons, thus making it easier to stay lean, even though one eats more overall fat than on a high carbohydrate diet. This study claims otherwise, but then again, this is only one study.

This study did not impress upon me the need to avoid using a low carb or Paleo diet for fat loss, or for that matter better overall health, for I disagree with the researcher that there are no studies proving the health benefits of a low carb-high fat diet. The Inuit, for example, have for many generations lived on a very very low carbohydrate diet simply because they had no access to any kind of carbs. They ate basically protein and fat, and they had no problem with obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Furthermore, doctors, as far back as the 1800’s, would often recommend to their clients who needed to lose excess fat to cut back on carbohydrate intake….not fat intake. Through years of observation, they found a low carb diet to work. This is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. There are more and more studies proving the efficacy of the Paleo way of eating.

I am taking this study with a grain of salt, for there needs to be more research proving his hypothesis to sway me to change my position stand.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman

 

 

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I Finished My Book

Hi all. My sincerest apologies for not posting for quite some time. I was working diligently on my book Proven Strategies for Cellulite Loss , and it was very time consuming toward the end of the project. I had to learn how to use all of the features of the open office program I was using for writing the book, and I had to learn how to convert the manuscript into the format that Amazon accepted. This was a big learning curve that added a good three months to the project. Even though it was frustrating at times, I did enjoy the process, for I learned new skills that will be beneficial to my productivity in the future.

Getting back to the point of this blog, the book is done. Let me recap what the book is about. Three years ago I wrote an article for Hubpages.com about the diet and exercise program I used to help my wife reshape her body. I titled it, similarly, Proven Strategies to Lose Cellulite. You can read it HERE. Surprisingly, over 40, 000 people have read it within two years after I wrote the article, surpassing all of my other articles combined ten fold!

Seeing that there was a hunger for the information I had about the best way to lose cellulite, I decided to do a study whereby I did take three women through a 3 month diet and exercise program, and chart the progress, setbacks, and ultimate success.

I started the project JANUARY 1ST, 2015 and finished the actual study in march of 2015. I have also blogged about the progress all along.

The book is here, and I am both excited and proud of the project. Here is the cover of the book.

Cellulite book cover

Click on the image to get a sample of the book

 The book does more than follow the three women I trained during the course of the study. It also has a diet and exercise program complete with exercise photos, the proper weights for you to start with, nutrition guidance, recipes, and so much more.

I’d love for you to take a look, and thank you all for your support.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman

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“40 Minutes a Week to Buff” Part 2

In my last post, “40 Minutes a Week to Buff” Part 1, I made the claim that through proper signalling one can lose fat and gain muscle at a steady pace with only two twenty-minute workouts a week coupled with a restricted carbohydrate diet. I also go into detail how the Hystrength (sm) program works. In this blog, I will share some of the success stories.

Poncho:

Poncho started the Hystrength(sm) program in early April and stuck with it to late July 2015, about four months in all. He weighed 180 lbs and he was around 28% body fat. He did leg presses with 140 pounds and dumbbell presses with 25 lbs when he first started. Four months later, Poncho weighed 160 pounds and he was leg pressing over 600 pounds and he did dumbbell presses with 55 pounds for 12 reps. I did not get a chance to check his body fat level later, but I would estimate that he was around 17 to 18% by the way he looked. He lost 20 pounds of scale weight, and I would bet that he gained at least 3 to 4 pounds of muscle too.

He did all of this with 2 workouts a week and a low carbohydrate diet in the span of four months.

Star:

Star also started the Hystrength(sm) program at the same time as Poncho, and she stayed with it for the same amount of time…from early April to late July 2015. Star weighed 135 lbs and her body fat was approximately 36% when she started. After four months, she weighed 121 lbs and she increased her strength dramatically. On her first workout she was using 70 pounds on her leg press and 15 lbs for her dumbbell presses. On her last workout with us she did the leg press with 350 pounds and she was able to do 14 repetitions. Moreover, she did dumbbell presses with 25 lbs for 10 reps.

Like Poncho, I did not get a chance to check her body fat before she moved on, but I would guesstimate that she was under 30 percent, maybe even more. Additionally, I bet she gained about 1 to 2 pounds of muscle during her time working with us. She really noticed the difference in her body by how her clothes started fitting. She dropped 4 sizes, from size 8 to a size 4.

Just like Poncho, she trained only twice a week and focused on a low carbohydrate diet the whole time.

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The Hystrength(sm) training program is the most efficient way to achieve a healthy fit body. We can customize an exercise plan just for you. Click on the image to learn more.

Paul:

Paul started with us in March 2015, and he is still training with us today (Sept 2015). Here is what he accomplished so far:

In March he weighed 202 lbs and was approximately at 28% body fat. He also had a 39 3/4 inch waist. We took formal measurements in July 2015, and Paul weighed 186.5 lbs and his body fat was 25%. Paul also had a waist measurement of 36 1/5 inches. Paul, at this juncture, lost 15.5 lbs of scale weight and over 3 inches in his waist. It gets better, for Paul weighed 182 lbs in early September. He also increased his strength tremendously, for he now leg presses 690 pounds for 12 reps and he can do dumbbell presses with 55 pounds. He started on leg presses with 140 lbs and dumbbell presses with 25 pounds. I would bet that Paul gained about 3 to 4 pounds of muscle during this time as well.

Paul did this with three workouts a week and a low carb diet.

Larry:

Larry also started with us in late March 2015, and he is, too, still training with us today (Sept 2015). Larry weighed 244 lbs when he first started, and when we took his measurements in late August, he weighed 221 lbs. Larry lost 23 lbs, which averaged a loss of over 4 and 1/2 lbs a month. He also lost over 3 inches in his waist. As for strength gains, Larry started with 140 lbs on the leg press, and now he is working out with over 800 lbs. Concurrently, he increased his weights on the dumbbell presses form 20 lbs when he started to 57.5 lbs even as we speak. That is remarkable because he has shoulder problems from his work, and we were able to overcome it with some rehab protocols and proper positioning on the ball. I’d say that Larry gained close to 5 lbs of muscle while losing the scale weight that he did, and if I am correct, he actually lost closer to 28 lbs of fat in the process.

Larry made these gains from twice weekly workouts, all of them in under 30 minutes combined with a low carb diet.

Spotlight:

I have three people who worked with me for at least 8 months, and we have before and after photos of them. These photos show what can happen if someone the Hsytrength (sm) program a part of their life. I want to share them here.

Alex:

Alex was part of the cellulite study I conducted at the beginning of 2015. In the first three months that she did the study, she lost over 17 lbs of fat and increased her strength markedly. She has stayed with the program for another five months and she has seen tremendous gains. Here are the photos:

 Before                                                                                              After

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Alex lost a total of 33 pounds. She went from 202 lbs down to 169 lbs. What is most noticeable is that her waist measurement dropped from 41 inches down to 32 1/5 inches. She lost 8.5 inches around her waist, along with a total loss of 23 combined inches around her arms, chest, waist, hips and thighs. She got stronger too. She started with 130 lbs on the leg press, and now she works out with 600 lbs. She is still making steady gains. You will also notice that her cellulite is getting better the leaner and stronger she gets. She will have a completely different body in another year of training.

Josh:

I’ll start with the photos.

Before                                                                                     After 

   202_Josh_after

Josh weighed 240 lbs when he started the Hystrength (sm) program over three years ago, and now he weighs 180 lbs, so he lost 60 lbs of fat. As you can see, he has gained a good amount of muscle along with the fat loss. The numbers back it up: he leg presses over 800 pounds and he does dumbbell presses with 75 lbs for 12 to 14 reps on any given day. He, too, like the rest of our clients, trains only twice a week. He was slow to adopt the low carb approach, for it meant breaking some long-held eating habits, but he stuck with it. Now he eats “paleo” regularly and enjoys his carbs every once in a while.

Josh was so pleased with his results that he decided to go through the Hystrength(sm) certification program, and he now works at Urban Pump helping people get into shape. We are very happy to have him on board.

Sharon:

For the grand finale, I introduce my wife, Sharon. She did the Hystrength (sm) training program for over 7 years now, and she keeps getting better. She is lean, strong, well-defined, and shapely. Here are her photos:

Before                                                                                                After

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It is sad for me to say this, but I did not take her measurements when she first started working out with me. I wish I had, because the changes are unbelievable! In the first photo, you can see that she had the “menopot” going on. The rest of her looked skinny, but she had no tone and definition. If I were to guesstimate, I believe that she was over 30% body fat when we started. She is now around 17%, which means she lost over 20 pounds of fat, and I bet she gained about 7 to 10 pounds of muscle.

Sharon is also a good example of hot not to work out too. At the time of her before photo, Sharon was exercising regularly and eating what she thought was a good diet to lose fat. She would go on 20 mile bike rides every weekend, jog three to four times a week for 3 to 4 miles, and she lifted weights three times a week spending an hour and a half in the gym each time. As for her diet, she ate the typical low-fat, high carbohydrate diet that we are told is best for fat loss and good health.

She spent a lot of time on her exercise program and essentially got nowhere. She was desperate to changer her body when we met. She wanted the shapely body very badly, but she just did not know how to achieve it.

Under my tutelage Sharon changed both her diet and exercise program. She now works out only twice a week for less than 30 minutes. She no longer goes jogging or for long bike rides, and she switched from a high carb eating plan to the low carb way of eating, and she has been able to stay and strong ever since.

Sharon also went through the Hystrength(sm) certification program, and she is both a personal trainer and my business partner.

Conclusion

Most fitness professionals still design diet and exercise programs with the primary focus on keeping the body in a negative caloric balance. They try to accomplish this rather daunting feat by keeping caloric intake low and total weekly exercise high, in spite of a large body of research demonstrating a better…more sensible way. In my opinion, sending the proper signals to the body to burn energy from the fat stores coupled with telling the body that building and maintaining a high level of muscle is far more efficient. Through proper signalling, a couple of brief but effective workouts are all you need.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman