Saturday, December 29, 2007

Training update

My last eight weeks of training have been great. Have been focusing on developing my glutes and hamstrings, and getting some more thickness through my upper body. My programs have included some new exercises, and some that I haven't done for a while, all at a fairly low rep range. It all seems to be working as my clothes are getting tighter around my thighs and under my arms. My strength is increasing too, with some PBs in the last week. The next two weeks will be higher reps, then on to something new.

This time last year...

I was still stuffing my face, LOL, so am definitely making progress.

I've put on about 1.5kg since last Saturday, but I've also recently increased my calorie intake and started on creatine, so I'm not sure that all the weight is Christmas cheer. Still plays with the mind a bit though.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Lessons from Christmas

I managed to keep my indulgences to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and was pretty much back on track by Boxing Day, so am happy about that. However, I didn't plan to indulge on Christmas Eve, and I ate more than planned on Christmas Day, and I think that's mostly due to drinking on both occasions, as I tend to be more relaxed with my food choices after drinking, especially when it's a smorgasbord-type situation. So next year I am going to try negotiating Christmas without alcohol and see how I get on.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Score, one for me!

I just successfully avoided Christmas mince pies. I looooove Christmas mince pies. This is probably no big deal for a lot of people that have to cope with this sort of thing at work at this time of the year, but I usually work from home and manage to avoid that sort of thing (I don't buy them so I can't eat them). I'm doing some contract work on-site at the moment so it's something different for me. OK, back to work.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Holiday Survival Guide

1. Expect to stay on your program over the holidays

“Fail to plan and you plan to fail” is a time worn and cliched statement, but it’s still some of the best success advice you will ever hear.

Not only do most people fail to plan, they consciously plan to fail over the holidays. Most people expect to “blow” their diet and skip workouts over the holidays. They expect to eat more, to exercise less and to gain weight. As a result, they don’t even make the effort.

Instead of taking control, they resign themselves to maintenance at best, or back-sliding at worst. This negative expectancy leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. By the first week of January, they’re in the worst shape they’ve been in for a year and they frantically make New Year’s resolutions to shed the excess fat they’ve gained.

You can avoid this trap by planning to succeed during the holidays. Set up a positive expectation. Resolve now that you will not tolerate slipping backwards. Keep your standards up and don’t settle! Not only can you plan to “stay in shape” over the holidays, you can plan to improve! All you have to do is make the decision and expect success.

2. Plan all your workouts in advance

You know your schedule is going to get hectic over the holidays. You’ll be cooking, shopping, wrapping gifts, sending cards, going to parties, traveling, visiting family, and so on. To stay on your training and nutrition regimen is definitely going to take some sound time management skills.

Plan your schedule in advance. Anticipate what’s coming up. Write it down. Put it on your calendar. By doing so, you won’t be caught unprepared.

Use a schedule book or monthly calendar and “make appointments” for ALL your workouts for the entire holiday season. Then, post a copy where you will be forced to look at it every day. This is a powerful exercise that will keep you focused and force you to think about and prepare for each upcoming workout.

If you try to “wing it” and squeeze in your workouts and meals whenever you have time left over, you’ll find that there never is any time left over! Somehow your daily activities always seem to “expand” to fill the hours in every day. So schedule your workouts and meal times in your calendar just like you would any other appointment or event. Once you’ve done that, stick to your schedule religiously.

3. Set some compelling training and fitness goals over the holiday period

Don’t wait until January 1st to set your goals just because you think it will be harder to achieve them over the holidays. On the contrary, studies on personal achievement have shown that you’ll usually reach 80% of the goals you put onto paper. The problem is that few people set any goals at all, and fewer still set them during the holidays.

Why wait? Why not do it now? Set some big goals that you can start working on during the holidays:

Set a goal to lose the 25 lbs you’ve always wanted to lose NOW Set the goal to gain 10 lbs of solid muscle NOW Been contemplating a competition in bodybuilding, fitness or the new ladies figure division? Pick an early spring show and GO FOR IT - START TRAINING NOW!

Goal setting should not be a once a year affair, it should be a continuous process. You should always have your goals in writing and your list should be regularly updated and rewritten. If you only set goals once a year, you’re not going to accomplish much in your life.

4. Give yourself permission to have “free meals” - and schedule them in

A planned “free meal” or “re-feeding day” helps you to stay on your program better in the long run. If you’re too strict all the time, you’re setting yourself up for cravings and bingeing.

A few free meals per week will have very little effect on your physique. Also, if you’ve been on a strict, low carb and/or low calorie regimen for a long time, a full day of maintenance level calories might actually be good for you! It will boost your metabolic rate and give your body the signal that you’re not starving and that it’s ok to keep burning a lot of calories.

Over the holidays, schedule your dinners and parties so they become your “free meals.” Then, for the rest of your meals, be steadfast! Just the fact that you know you have free meals coming up will relieve the pressure of staying on a strict diet for a long time.

Also, when you do have your free meal – ENJOY IT! If you’re going to eat it and feel guilty, then don’t have it at all. If you’ve stayed with the program all week long, then when your free meal rolls around, you deserve it!

5. If you fall off the wagon, get right back on it

So you had about a dozen too many of those Christmas cookies did you? Don’t worry; because you have free meals built into your plan, you shouldn’t let guilt immobilize you. Even if you fall completely off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up. All you have to do is get right back on your program without missing another beat.

Too many people mess up once and then think their entire diet is ruined. They feel as if everything they’ve done prior to that day was wasted and there’s no sense going on. Or even worse, they rationalize to themselves, “Well, I already cheated, so it doesn’t matter now, I might as well keep pigging out.”

That’s nonsense. If you threw in the towel every time you didn’t score 100% on your diet, most people would never get through more than a few days on any structured program. Just because you slip up once doesn’t mean you should quit! You’re only human. Don’t let one small slip keep you derailed. Firmly plant your wheels back on the tracks and start rolling again.

6. Maintain your consistent eating schedule

If there’s one thing that all people who successfully get lean and stay lean have in common, it’s consistency. Without it, you never get any momentum going. It’s like taking two steps forward, only to take three steps back.

Many people allow the busy Holidays to throw them off their regular eating schedule. They completely veer off their usual meal frequency, or they start eating foods they would normally never eat (because “it’s there”).

Once you have a habit pattern going, it’s fairly easy to keep it going. But once you lose momentum, it’s very difficult to get it going again because you must overcome inertia all over again. (An object at rest tends to stay at rest!)

On the major holidays, when there’s a big dinner scheduled, many people think that skipping their morning and afternoon meals to “save room” for the big one later is a good idea. It’s not. This is actually a good way to invite a binge that could set you back for days.

Don’t lose your consistency or your momentum. Continue with your pattern of eating small, frequent meals all year round. All you have to do is count your holiday dinners as one of your regular meals and keep them small.

7. Control your portion sizes.

You can have your cake and eat it too – you just can’t eat the whole thing! One of the most important rules to remember this holiday season is the law of energy balance, which states: To lose body fat, you must consume fewer calories than you burn up each day.

There are two corollaries to the law of energy balance:

1. A caloric surplus gets stored as fat – even healthy food.
2. Small amounts of anything – even junk food – will NOT get stored as fat if you stay in a calorie deficit.

There’s no reason to deprive yourself of things you enjoy. Just make sure you don’t overindulge. As long as you enjoy your favorite foods in moderation, and you keep working out, it won’t end up around your waistline.

8. Don’t buy into the low standards and expectations of others

Keep your standards high, but don’t expect other people’s standards to be as high as yours. Remember that most people have already planned in advance to fail at fitness over the holidays. You’ve decided to stay strong (haven’t you?) Don’t let their negative influence drag you down.

When you’ve reached your pre-ordained drink limit, say “When” and switch to water or a non alcoholic, non caloric beverage. When they offer you seconds on dessert, politely say, “No thank you, it was absolutely delicious, but I’m full, I can’t eat another bite.” And when the wee hours of the morning start to roll around, and your friends are egging you on to keep partying, politely tell them you need your sleep. Tomorrow is a work out day. If they’re really your friends, they’ll understand.

9. Make the best choices possible in every situation.

You know those tables you see at holiday parties that are covered with yards of chips, dips, pretzels, cookies, salami, candies, punch, liquor, and a seemingly endless assortment of other goodies? Well, did you also notice that there is usually a tray full of carrot sticks, cauliflower, celery and other healthy snacks too?

No matter where you are, you always have choices. Sometimes you have to choose between bad and worse. Other times you can choose between good and better. But always make the best choice possible based on whatever your options are. If nothing else, you can choose to eat a small portion of something “bad” rather than a huge portion, thereby obeying the law of calorie balance.

Chances are good that there’s probably something healthy on the menu at every holiday gathering. As you know, lean proteins and fibrous carbs are a great for getting lean, so fill up on the turkey breast, try to get a vegetable in there, and go easy on the desserts.

10. If you drink, enjoy alcohol in moderation

If you enjoy having a few drinks on special occasions, then go ahead and have a drink or two. But if you’re serious about your fitness goals, you must drink infrequently and in moderation. Alcohol puts fat oxidation on hold while providing a large amount of calories. When there’s alcohol in your bloodstream, you’re not in fat burning mode.

I’ve never met anyone in my life that was truly serious about fitness or bodybuilding who was a heavy drinker. Alcohol and muscles just don’t mix.

The impact goes beyond added body fat; your energy levels and workouts can be ruined for days after a night of heavy drinking. A glass of wine actually has some health benefits. But there’s NEVER any never reason or excuse for binge drinking or getting drunk.

So go ahead and toast to the New Year, but know when to say when.

In conclusion, there’s no reason to let your exercise and nutrition program spoil your holidays, but there’s also no reason to let your holidays spoil your exercise and nutrition program! Put these 10 holiday tips into practice and you can start losing fat today, not next year.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Sleep Deprivation and Fat Gain

from a newsletter by Tom Venuto and

a new study published in the December 2007 issue of "Nutrition Research Reviews" says that sleep deprivation can reduce leptin (the anti starvation hormone, also known as an anorexigenic hormone) and increase ghrelin, a stomach hormone that increases hunger.

This makes total sense. Think about it: less sleep equals more awake time. More awake time equals greater energy needs. Greater energy needs can be satisfied by increasing hunger hormones. Leptin and ghrelin are appetite-stimulating hormones.

The human body is incredible and amazingly self-regulating, isnt it?

In addition, when hormones are out of balance, that can affect nutrient paritioning.

Nutrient paritioning refers to where the energy comes from when you have a calorie deficit - fat or lean tissue - and where the energy goes when you are in a calorie surplus - fat or lean tissue.

So, when partitioning hormones are messed up due to sleep deprivation, it's entirely possibly that you are more likely to add fat (not muscle) when in a surplus and lose muscle (not fat) when in a deficit.

This is similar to what happens during stress. Stress also does not "cause" fat gain, but it certainly correlates to fat gain, for similar reasons. Imagine what happens when you are stressed AND sleep deprived?

Some people seem to get by with less sleep than others. I know many people, myself included, who excel physically on 6-7 hours a night, so there is certainly a variation in sleep needs from person to person.

Developing sleep habits that promote deep, high-quality sleep may also reduce sleep needs an hour or two. This includes going to bed and waking up at the same time every night, getting to sleep early and awake early to maximize night time sleeping hours and daylight waking hours, sleeping in a dark room, avoiding alcohol and stimulants prior to bedtime, reducing stress and exercising regularly.

However, in light of past research and the new data that was just published, if in doubt, it's surely better to err on the side of a little more sleep than a little less sleep, if more muscle and less fat is your goal.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Rep Counting and Self-Talk

I'm going to be doing some lower reps over the next few weeks, and am going to try out this technique:

Q: I read somewhere that you have your athletes count reps backward instead of upward. Is that true?

A: That's correct. This allows you to stay focused on the goal while also being focused on the process.

Let's say I want you to get your best ever 5 reps on a lift. A lot of guys will do one rep and think, "Expletive-of-choice-that-rhymes-with-fire-truck, will I ever make it to five?" By three reps they're thinking how heavy it is and they start doing all this negative self-talk. But if they start at 5 and count down, then the set is going to be over — five, four, three, two, one — and they stay focused.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ho, Ho, Ho into those Christmas Calories

An excerpt from Craig Harper's post on the real meaning of Christmas.

I was on ABC radio here in Melbourne on Saturday discussing how we might enjoy the Christmas cheer without enjoying the traditional Christmas weight gain, and let's just say that my thoughts weren't met with universal approval from the listening audience. How dare I suggest that we don't gorge ourselves on Christmas day. I was unaware that 'moderation' was a synonym for misery and deprivation. I was also unaware that we 'deserve' to eat ourselves to oblivion and that my thoughts on the matter are unrealistic and impractical. The message I got from some listeners is that there exists a direct correlation between calories consumed and 'Christmas spirit'. And that there also exists a strong link between how much food is on the Christmas lunch/dinner table and having a good time. Lots of food = good time. Not so much food = bad time.

According to some listeners, I'm an idiot and a dickhead. How dare I suggest that we include some healthier options on our Christmas menu and that maybe we don't continue eating until we explode. What am I thinking? Apparently, the point of Christmas is food. You know that whole 'three wise men, the manger, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus' thing? Well, turns out that the real meaning of Christmas is to see how much pleasure we can give ourselves via an inordinate amount of calories. Who'da thought?

How could we possibly have festive cheer without the gluttony? It's what we do. And not doing it, is a form of deprivation. It's disrespectful. It's breaking with tradition, and who are we to question our parents and grandparents who paved the way by over-eating before us? We've even taken our 'Christmas cheer' to a new level. They'd be so proud.

The crazy thing about Christmas is that we actually plan to overeat and we think that's normal and acceptable. It's what we do. It's how we celebrate. And if we don't indulge ourselves we feel like we've 'missed out'; a little neglected even.

Maybe I'm a freak, but the notion of planning to over-eat on a given day seems kinda stupid to me, especially when I live in a country with one of the fastest growing obesity rates on the planet and more fat (sorry, full-figured, big-boned, voluptuous) people, with more obesity-related medical conditions than ever before. Call me crazy. Call me boring.

While I had my share of supporters who thought I was speaking some common sense, there were others who asserted that "people like me are perpetuating eating disorders" and that I was "a self-righteous moron". One woman told me that I was "dull and boring" and that I was a member of the "fun police" because I suggested that we moderate our food intake on Christmas day. I also had numerous abusive text messages. All in all, a fun time for me.

Okay so here's exactly what I think about ho, ho, ho-ing into those Christmas calories:

1. Of course it's okay to enjoy food, look forward to a meal (or ten) and to incorporate some 'treat' foods into your Christmas food plan. The occasional splurge is fine, but not when it lasts for two weeks or two months. The biggest eating issue at this time of the year is simply the ridiculous volume of food we consume... and not for one day. We eat because it's there. Because it's free. Because it's at our finger tips. Because we've worked hard all year (and therefore we must overeat - go figure) and one of my personal faves... because it's all paid for! Wouldn't wanna waste anything would we? Imagine a world where we ate because we actually needed food, rather than wanted it, medicated with it, socialised with it or rewarded ourselves with it. What a concept. Crazy, I know. That'll never catch on. Needs-based eating... not a chance.

2. It's not okay to plan to overeat. I know this kind of thinking puts me in the minority, but I don't care. People can rationalise over-eating with whatever weird-ass, self-serving psychology they like, but the truth is, it's destructive and bad for our bodies. I am amazed at the ability we (we the society) have to justify stupid behaviour because it simply makes us feel good (for about an hour). One woman said to me recently "but yer gotta live" and when I asked her "so if you don't over-eat at Christmas, does that mean you're not living?" She got grumpy. Of course. When there is no logic left for you, reach for the insult or the indignant eye roll and heavy sigh.

3. Some traditions are stupid and destructive. I don't care how long you've been doing it 'that way'. My great grandparents, my grandparents and my parents all smoked... quite the tradition really.

4. We are pleasure addicts and we associate food with pleasure, therefore more food equals more pleasure. But what happens five minutes after we finish our Christmas lunch binge? We feel physically ill, we feel tired, we regret eating so much and we put our body in a state of stress because our digestive system is working triple-time trying to deal with an extreme over-supply of food. Excess food that our body doesn't want, but our mind tells us we need to enjoy the 'Christmas experience'. What a load of crap.

5. I love food. It's why I was a fat kid. Sorry, voluptuous. Full-figured. And I know that food can be a source of pleasure in a healthy, sensible eating strategy. I look forward to my mother's Christmas lunch and yes, I will enjoy some 'Christmas foods' and some pudding. But no, I won't eat mountains of it. And no, I won't feel sick or regretful afterwards. I know that I don't need to over-eat to have a good day. Actually, I may substitute the pudding for cheesecake.

6. "But surely Craig, you are being a little 'food police' on us; it's only one day?" Good question. I actually don't care too much about that one day of the year. If it was only about over-eating on one day out of three sixty five, I wouldn't write this piece and we wouldn't have a problem, but you know, and I know, it's not. It's about the entire Christmas/New Year period. Some of us over-eat for a month. Some of us for a lifetime. It's the psychology and the mentality behind the Christmas excess (not just that one meal) which is of concern to me. I have worked with many people (over the years) who have gained between 3-5 kgs (6.5-11lbs) over the Christmas/New Year period. They always regret it. Emotionally, mentally and physically, they feel horrible. I worked with a guy a few years ago who gained 10kgs (22lbs) between Christmas day and the end of January - quite the effort. It took him three months to lose.

7. Do not mis-interpret what I am saying. I am not saying don't eat or don't enjoy your Christmas meals. I am saying don't use Christmas as a way to justify gluttony. Eating - fine. Stuffing yourself with an excess of food - not fine.

For me, Christmas is about giving, laughing, relaxing, hanging out with my family, being grateful for what I have and listening to my Dad sing (for want of a better term) all those carols. Again. I really wish he'd get a new CD.


Monday, December 3, 2007


Chicken, Pear & Spinach Salad

My new favourite!

Adapted from More Taste than Time by Annabel Langbein

Serves 1

50g baby spinach leaves
1 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1/2 Tbsp flax oil
1/2 crunchy green pear, cored and cut into cubes
50g warm cooked chicken breast, sliced
15g walnuts

Toss baby spinach with vinegar and oil. Mix in pear and chicken and garnish with walnuts.

The crunchy pear and walnuts add nice textures and flavours.

I've been cooking up a batch of chicken in the weekend, and portioning it out into sandwhich bags, then freezing. I just grab some out of the freezer every couple of days, so I always have some defrosted chicken on hand to warm up and pop on a salad.


"Perfection is the enemy of progress". There comes a point where you have to stop analyzing and just do it! (Allenkt)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

44 Weeks to Go

Eating more to gain weight has got me really interested in how the human body works. Well, specifically, how mine works. The more I eat, the faster my metabolism seems to go. I'm now eating about twice as much as I was precomp, and even with all these extra calories I'm still a little hungry at the end of most days. I've worked out a meal plan I'm pretty happy with for the first six meals of the day, so now it's just a matter of trying out different food selections and combinations for my last two meals until I find things that help me feel full. I'm like my own little science experiment, LOL. I'm feeling a lot more relaxed about my eating now that I've got a rough plan happening. That way I don't have to think about it too much. Now I just have to make sure I don't get too relaxed and start slipping off-plan things in here and there.

Sleeping has been reasonably good. I've been able to get a few sleep-ins to make up for days when I don't have much sleep (not ideal but better than nothing). Work should be easing back a bit from now on (just one job at a time instead of two, LOL), so am looking forward to having some more R&R time. I've got the Christmas/New Year period off (except for one small fun job), and I can't wait. I'll be training like it's my job, sleeping like a sloth, and eating like a pig (just joking!).