Stolen Recipe

Filed under: General Health, Nutrition, Recipes

I am reviving an old formula for today’s blog, posting a delicious and healthy recipe. A while back I blogged about some of my favorite condiments, one of them being hummus. As most of you probably know, baby carrots and hummus is one of my absolute favorite snacks (along with some protein!).

Because of this love with hummus one of our CP clients, who is an amazing cook, gave me her home-made hummus recipe that I am going to share here with you guys. Thank you Nancy!

Without further ado:

Tuscan Hummus

  • 1 large can chick peas
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste (lots of pepper)
  • pinch of fresh garlic
  • 1 cayenne pepper
  • 1 bunch of steamed Tuscan kale

Add some water to blend, add slowly to emulsify and get the correct consistency.

Steam the kale, let it cool and squeeze out the liquid.

Puree all ingredients in a blender and season to taste. Add water very slowly to get correct consistency.

Allow to sit overnight and enjoy!

Posted on August 28th, 2009 by Brian St. Pierre

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The Truth about BCAAs

Filed under: Nutrition

One of the most popular supplement choices around today are branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). These BCAAs are three essential amino acids found in high concentrations in things like whey protein, casein protein and meats. People use them for muscle building and during fat loss phases, and there is some research backing up their validity. But do they work as some people claim, or they are are they just another overpriced moderately useful supplement to complement a balanced diet?

The most popular ways of taking BCAA’s are either during training, or between meals. Are either of these applications beneficial? First let’s look at taking BCAA’s around training for muscular growth.

A good practice for most people would be to have protein surrounding your training, to enhance recovery and prevent protein breakdown. If adequate protein is consumed, for example 20g of whey protein before training and 20g of whey post training (for simple numbers), you get ample amounts of BCAA’s (~10g). If adequate protein is consumed throughout the rest of the day, are a few extra grams of BCAA’s really going to make a significant impact upon your gain in muscular size? Unfortunately, the research is not very clear on this. Most research done on BCAA’s does not use an adequate amount of protein intake around training or throughout the day. While it may show that BCAA’s are beneficial, this lack of adequate protein is a HUGE flaw in the research. Without adequate protein intake the BCAA’s make up for that lack of protein, and therefore they appear very beneficial, promoting increases in muscle gain over just the control. With adequate protein intake (and therefore a sizeable BCAA intake) I have my doubts that the impact will be anything above negligible.

Now let’s look at taking BCAA’s while dieting, though granted there is not a lot of research on this topic either.

Though there isn’t a lot of hard data, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that consuming BCAA’s while dieting can improve fat loss and help maintain lean mass. When dieting, adequate protein intake is even more important than when trying to gain mass. When in caloric excess, carbohydrates are protein sparing and they can help prevent the oxidation of protein as an energy source. When in a caloric deficit, which is often times achieved by decreasing carbohydrates, protein is now less protected. So increasing protein intake or ensuring adequate protein intake while dieting is incredibly importance to retain lean mass. This will help to make sure that lean mass is preserved by having dietary amino acids oxidized, not body amino acids, and branched chain amino acids are the best dietary sources of amino acids to be oxidize for fuel. In other words, they are more easily oxidized than other amino acids, and therefore preferred by the body. This can be very important when dieting especially around training. When dieting BCAA’s are a low calorie energy substrate that also enhance muscle protein synthesis, seeming like a win win situation. So are BCAA’s magic when dieting as your peri-training nutrition? Maybe, maybe not, but they at least provide some benefits while providing significantly less calories than a protein and carbohydrate shake.

When dieting BCAA’s are also often consumed between meals to also preserve that lean mass. Though again little to no hard data exists on the topic, there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence that for some unexplained reason sipping BCAA’s between meals not only helps preserve lean mass, it can help promote fat loss. The theories abound, but no one is really sure why, or if it is still possibly a placebo effect. Maybe these people are just training harder or sticking to their diet better because they feel less hungry and more energized? Who knows. Regardless of why, it does seem to work and it may not be a terrible idea.

In conclusion, I think BCAA’s are a moderately beneficial supplement that have applications at certain times and/or phases of the year. If you are dieting hard, or in an extreme caloric deficit BCAA’s can be very handy to preserve that lean mass and potentially increase fat loss. For someone trying to gain mass I think BCAA’s are just an expensive addition to someone in a caloric excess and they have a negligible impact on increased muscle protein synthesis, compared to just ensuring adequate protein intake since that will be high in BCAA’s already. Spend that money on actual food and just watch yourself grow.

Posted on August 25th, 2009 by Brian St. Pierre

6 Comments »

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!

Filed under: General Health, Nutrition

Today we are going to discuss another fantastically healthy food that is currently under the radar but definitely gaining steam in the nutrition world. Today we are going to talk about Chia seeds.

May of you have probably heard the name chia before. Back in the day the seeds were popular to use in the those little rubber pets that sprouted. The chia seeds I am talking about are just like the little sprouting pet things, except you will actually want to eat the seeds, not the sprouts. Chia seeds provide tons of nutritional benefit and are a great addition to yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies and more.

1oz of chia seeds contains 9 grams of fat, 5 of them being from the extremely healthy omega-3 family. That is an even better source than flax seeds! That same 1oz contains 11 grams of fiber! That is an astounding number, and for those of you who struggle on low-carb diets to get enough fiber, this is a perfect food to help improve that intake. The fiber is also mainly soluble, so somewhat like glucomannan, it expands and forms a slow-moving gel, helping to keep you fuller longer.

Chia seeds are also very good sources of calcium, phosphorus and manganese, and they have even more antioxidants than flax seeds. These are definitely some nutritious little seeds.

Clearly the nutrition facts of chia seeds look very promising, but does this actually translate into real-world results?

Unfortunately there is not a whole lot of research on chia seeds. What research there is does look promising. In 2007 there was a study on a small sample of diabetics. Patients who consumed up to four teaspoons per day (not that much really) reduced their blood clotting factors by 20%, decreased inflammation by 30%, increased omega-3 content by 80% and decreased their systolic blood pressure by 6 points.

For full disclosure, that research was sponsored by the company who sold the chia seeds used in the trial. I am not stating that influenced the results, but it certainly makes me a little leery and I would definitely want to see this research duplicated. Regardless, it is promising none-the-less.

There is also some recent research on rats. As I have stated before rat digestive physiology is very similar to humans, which is why they are used a lot in nutrition trials. The consumption of chia seeds by insulin resistant rats helped to normalize their high triglycerides, insulin resistance and bodyfat. Now these rats were consuming rather large amounts of chia seeds, and this is very, vert preliminary stuff, but there is no reason to believe that chia seeds couldn’t be a very healthful addition to the diet.

In conjunction with flax, I think chia seeds are a great and easy source of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. For people trying to diet, the ability of the soluble fiber in chia seeds should also help to keep that hunger at bay, and it is a pretty good alternative to glucomannan.

While certainly not the cure for cancer (unfortunately no single food is, no matter what someone tries to tell you) chia seeds certainly seem to have a nice little place in a balanced and healthful diet.

For more info, check out Dr. Jonny Bowden’s video on the benefits of chia seeds.

Posted on August 14th, 2009 by Brian St. Pierre

9 Comments »

Stuff I Like

Filed under: Training

I get a lot of questions from people looking to get into the fitness industry. They want to know what books to read, where to begin, and how to avoid the pitfalls and unnecessary crap that inevitably gets in the way. I also remember when I was that guy, trying to figure what I needed to read, what I needed to learn, and how to go about doing it.

Well fortunately for me I more or less lucked into an internship at CP and things just kinda took off from there. I also busted my butt reading and learning everything I could so I wouldn’t look like an uneducated idiot in front of Eric and Tony. For those of you not yet fortunate enough to have had an experience like that, or for those looking for an experience like that, here is a list of educational materials that will greatly help you along that path:

1. Starting Strength by Mark Rippeltoe. This book will help to provide a fundamental understanding of basic movement patterns. It is also straightforward and no-nonsense, really getting to the foundation of strength training.

2. Functional Training for Sports by Mike Boyle. This book lets you into the thought process of one of the greatest strength coaches of our time. Now Mike has changed a lot of his methods since his book came out, but his thought process is still the same. This book will provide a nice template for learning how to train athletes.

3. Athletic Body in Balance by Gray Cook. Gray is a genius, plain and simple. He takes really complex concepts and material, and is able to simplify them to their most basic components. This book will really teach you to start looking at your athlete’s movements patterns, and learn how and when to correct them.

4. Building the Efficient Athlete by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson. This might be the most comprehensive product in the industry. This 8 DVD set will teach functional dynamic anatomy and kinematics, assesment tools and practices, and proper training protocols for specific circumstances. Once you have mastered some of the basics, this product will take you to a whole new level of understanding as a coach.

5. Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes by Shirley Sarhmann. Shirley has created a masterpiece with this book. This book changed the game for strength and conditioning coaches, physical therapists, and so many more. It is maybe the single most influential book in the entire industry. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you have gotten this far, you will be ready.

This is a great start for anyone looking to get into the industry, or for those weekend warriors who just like to know too much. There are certainly a ton more that can be added to this list, and if you are interested, Mike Reinold, the rehad coordinator and athletic trainer of the Red Sox, has a comprehensive list he posted on his site here.

Posted on August 12th, 2009 by Brian St. Pierre

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The Real Truth of Acai

Filed under: General Health, Nutrition

As the CP Nutritionist I get a ton of questions from clients about all sorts of random crap they are bombarded with. Some of these items are ok, some are not so great, and they turn to me to help them figure it out.

One of the most common examples is a product called Mona-Vie. Mona-Vie is a cocktail of a ton of different fruit juices, with its big star being acai juice. Acai juice has come to the forefront of mainstream fruit juices, being lauded by people like Oprah and Dr. Nicholas Perricone as a near miracle juice. Does acai juice, and in turn Mona-Vie, live up to the billing?

The research, unfortunately, says no. Acai may be a pretty damn good fruit, and it certainly has plenty of antioxidant properties, but antioxidant capacity is just one measure of the healthfulness of a food. The ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value for acai is sky high, and this is highly touted for its application in juice blends and Mona-Vie. The problem is that ORAC is just a general, non-specific measure. ORAC doesn’t account for phenolic content, or other powerful phytochemicals that exert great health effects independent of oxidation. It is just one number among many methods to determine the benefits of a food.

One study sought to look at fruit juices from more than the ORAC angle. Seerem et al used ORAC and 3 other antioxidant tests with names too complex to worry about. They also took into account the ability of the juice to lower the oxidation rate of LDL (a powerful marker of heart disease), total polyphenol content and the actual potency of the antioxidants.

Guess what didn’t rank #1? Acai juice. It actually came in a respectable 6th. The big finisher? Pomegranate juice. Followed by red wine, concord grape juice, blackberry juice, and blueberry juice all ahead of acai.

So is acai the Superfood it is promoted to be? No. Is it still a potentially healthful addition in small amounts to the diet? Absolutely. Is Mona-Vie worth the $40-50 it sells for, or are you better off with a few ounces of some pomegranate juice every morning? My bet is on the pomegranate, which has some amazing clinical research proving real world efficacy, not theoretical lab analysis. There are a ton of healthy fruits (check out my write up on plums and kiwi) and veggies that provide astounding benefits, so don’t get locked into just one.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to get more fruits and veggies in your diet, and there are plenty of greens products to choose from that contain more than just juice, but don’t overlook just actually eating more real fruits and veggies. If raw veggies aren’t your thing, try a little juicing, here is a great recipe I stole from Jonny Bowden:

  • 1 cup spinach
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 pear or apple
  • ginger to taste

Posted on August 10th, 2009 by Brian St. Pierre

5 Comments »

Random Friday Thoughts

Filed under: General Health

I haven’t done one of these in a while, and since I am enjoying my day off playing with some new computer sofware, I was in a rather random mood. Here goes.

1. I thought Sam Leahey wrote a great blog on Mike Boyle’s Strength Coach Blog. It should be required reading for all up-and-coming strength coaches and personal trainers. I am all about reading and educating yourself, but as Sam points out, it doesn’t mean a damn thing if you can’t coach it. Alwyn Cosgrove is fond of saying that knowledge isn’t power, applied knowledge is power, and this article proves it.

2. Too many fitness enthusiasts believe that training has to be priority number one all of the time. As much as I love training, there are certainly times when it takes a back seat. We need to remember that much like we shouldn’t live to work, we shouldn’t live to train, but vice versa. When you are working full time, commuting 12+ hours per week, doing online consulting and planning a wedding (though my fiance would argue this one), setting gym PR’s is not the top of the priority list.

On a side note, enjoy time off when you get it. This is a lesson I should heed more often.

3. Tony wrote a great blog about entitlement the other day. It is unfortunately the reality of the situation. I may not be old and wise yet, but I feel like the generation just behind me lost something along the way. You have to pay your dues, especially in this field, and you will be far greater at what you do because of it.

I look back on my internship at CP, and I know it is what made me the coach I am today and the even better coach I will be tomorrow. I thought I knew everything and could coach anybody when I got out of college, even without a formal exercise science background. You were lifting weights, how hard could it be? I knew nothing. Just because you can squat well doesn’t mean you can teach someone to squat well. Read, educate yourself, and learn from people who already excel at what you want to do. And when you get that opportunity, attack it, maximize it, and squeeze everything you can from it.

4. Re-registering your car in a new state is a giant pain in the ass.

5. Turkish Get-Ups are hard. Really hard. Tony and I have been experimenting a lot with them the past few weeks, and we were both blown away at the incredible difficulty and torso control it takes to do them properly. Give them a try and let me know what you think.

Posted on August 7th, 2009 by Brian St. Pierre

3 Comments »

Some Great Resources

Filed under: General Health

I am blogging two days in a row for the first time in who knows how long, though it will just be a quickie today.

A few months ago Mike Robertson started his own little podcast to sometimes replace his traditional newsletter. It is awesome. He interviews some great people, asks great questions and just generally provides top-notch content. They are also not usually too long, roughly 30 minutes to an hour, which is perfect for my commute.

His past two episodes were especially interesting to me. He had on as guests some of my favorite people in the industry. Episode 8 was an interview with legendary strength coach Mike Boyle.

Mike is one of those people whom I could just listen too for hours. He is just fantastic in this style format and he always, I mean always has at least one quote where you finish listening and are amazed that you never thought of it. He is always able to put things into perspective, make it interesting and teach you a few things along the way. He has been at this for 25 years, he knows a thing or two.

Episode 9 was with nutritionist Alan Aragon. Many of you may not know the name, but know that he is one of the best and brightest in the nutrition field. He was one of my earliest mentors, though he doesn’t know it, as I used to follow his work on many fitness forums back in my college days. Alan is a straight forward evidence-based kind of guy who does not hesitate to call it as he sees it. He is just starting to put himself out there more with this recording and his recent spot on the FitCast, but be sure to pay attention when he speaks, you will learn more than you could imagine.

Check them out and let me know what you think!

Posted on August 4th, 2009 by Brian St. Pierre

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Conventional Agriculture: Is It Equal?

Filed under: General Health, Nutrition

I recently got an email from a reader that intrigued me. He wanted my input on an article he had read about organic food.

The article started with a very bold statement. It claimed that based on a “major” recent study just published, organic food has no nutritional or health benefit over conventionally raised food. This major recent study was a meta-analysis. This means thats the researchers gathered all the data on the subject that they deemed relevant, which is to say they may have omitted studies that could have gone opposite to their conclusion, and came up with a conclusion based on all the pooled results.

Do not get me wrong, meta-analysis is very important as it allows us to gather all of our data and develop conclusions that shape our health policy, but it can be a very biased method depending on the researchers conducting the analysis, and who is funding it.

The researchers did admit that there were a small number of differences in nutrient levels seen between organic and conventional produce, but they were insignificant to overall health. The truth is I wouldn’t really argue with him on that point. The nutrient differences seen are not going to make or break your health. I don’t think that personal health differences should be the main reason why we purchase organic foodstuffs anyway.

While it is true that on an individual level the infinitesimal amount of pesticides and herbicides ingested from conventionally raised produced probably won’t have much of a negative effect on our health or well-being, the slightly greater nutrient content may or may not have any truly significant direct health benefits either.

The true benefits of choosing organic are that you are choosing a food that is raised in a manner that is sustainable and healthy for the environment. It is a method of food production that does not cause frogs to become asexual or deformed due to the not-so-infinitesimal amount of pesticides and herbicides and ammonium fertilizer run-off into streams, ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans.

The amazing fact is there is a dead-zone in the Gulf of Mexico that ranges from 6,000 to 8,500 square miles (about the size of New Jersey) where due to the toxic run-off from conventional agricultural production, oceanic life can no longer be supported. The chemicals cause the gulf to be a hypoxic wasteland where only algae can proliferate, wreaking havoc on the surrounding environment, as well as the fishing industries. This is the most well known of 250 dead-zones like this around the world. 250. That is an astounding number. But conventionally raised food is definitely just as healthy for us as organic. Right.

The problem with reviews like the one that started this rant is that it only looks at direct impact to human health, not the big picture. So, on an individual basis is organically grown food any healthier for human consumption? The answer is probably no, it probably isn’t much healthier. On a world basis, for the next generation, and for our food production as a whole is organically raised food any healthier for human consumption? The answer is a resounding YES. To make an even better choice, try buying local, seasonal and fresh produce from local farms and farmer’s markets.

I know I am fond of this statement, but it is important to keep the big picture in mind, we need to not miss the forest for the trees.

To read more about why our conventional food production sucks, please check out Michael Pollan’s amazing The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

For more reading on the problems to frogs.

For more reading about the Gulf of Mexico Deadzone.

Posted on August 3rd, 2009 by Brian St. Pierre

7 Comments »

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