How the weight loss challenge winner will win

Over the next two months, a bunch of guys (and one woman) at my workplace are competing against each other to see who can drop the largest percent of their total body weight (not actually fat, just weight, which includes muscle). There’s significant money involved. It’s serious. The winner will be the person who adheres to these practices most diligently.

The winner will eliminate all processed sugar from their diet.

Processed sugar not only causes significant water retention, it also majorly interferes with metabolic processes, hormonal signaling, increases triglyceride levels (and generally turns the blood lipid profile to sh*t), and fuels the growth of cancer cells. Like to feel hungry when your body doesn’t actually require energy? The loser will eat sugar. The loser will consume sugar while restricting calories, white-knuckling the ride on a busted Cyclone of a blood sugar roller coaster, watching their hopes of comfortably maintaining a consistent caloric deficit be snuffed out by the demon molecule. A couple of pieces of fruit each day is fine because the fructose is buffered by water, fiber, vitamins and minerals. The winner will remember this.

The winner will exclusively eat wet, organic foods in their most unrefined form.

No boxed or packaged foods. Vegetables. Eggs. Sweet potatoes. Sardines. Some fruits. A few servings per week of white potatoes and rice are ok too (blasphemy, maybe). What’s that thing about wet foods? That sounds nasty. I’ve written about it elsewhere on this blog, but the synopsis is that if your food isn’t hydrated, it will detract from your efforts. Most processed foods aren’t wet or nutrient rich, and as such, are metabolically disorienting. Take, for example one ounce of baked Lay’s chips is, which I think are quite unhealthy. On the other hand, six oz of organic russet potato is quite good. Same calories, completely different metabolic effects. Baked Lay’s: no water, negligible fiber, no minerals, sodium imbalance. Organic russet potato: fiber, water, minerals, naturally occurring sodium. After baked Lay’s you = hungrier. After white potato with butter you = fuller. Yes, I said butter. Read the next one.

The winner will not be afraid of eating fat. In fact, the winner will eat more fat as a percentage of their calories than the loser.

You might be ready to cast this article off after reading that one, but hang on a sec. It’s entirely possible to shed body fat simply by cutting carbs and increasing fat intake. I do it whenever I feel like dropping a couple of pounds. The idea that fat makes a person fat is corny and mad old. It’s an idea that remains legitimate only in the minds of crabs. Sugar is far better at making a person fat because of the metabolic havoc it wreaks. Dietary fat is the ultimate tool for fat loss, but it’s got to be the right type of fat: that is, mainly saturated. Saturated. You read that correctly. The villification of saturated fat based on the famous (and famously debunked) 1958 “diet-heart hypothesis” is clearly less chic these days, and there’s a reason for it: naturally occurring saturated fat is a nutritional beast. Not only does it not create an unfavorable blood lipid profile, but it also helps balance to the endocrine system. Sugar does exactly the opposite. Although increasing saturated fat intake can increase total cholesterol, total cholesterol has ABSOLUTELY zero to do with cardiovascular health and heart attack risk. HDL:LDL ratio is important, total cholesterol:HDL is more important, and LDL particle size is maybe the most important. The point is that replacing sugar and non-hydrated carbohydrates with the right type of saturated fat can dramatically improve all of these markers. So what’s the right type of saturated fat? First, a little on what’s not the right type of fat: vegetable oils i.e. polyunsaturated fats. They’re are generally terrible because they are so easily oxidized before and after consumption, which causes all sorts of cell-level damage to the cardiovascular system. Canola, corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower, peanut, cottonseed, grapeseed and sesame oils are positively demonic. Margarine and “butter-like spreads” are all simply solidified vegetable oils and possibly even worse for you than the oils themselves because of the chemical stabilizers used in them. Monounsaturated fats, like avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil are definitely better. Saturated fats, like unrefined virgin coconut oil, organic butter from exclusively pasture-raised cows, and humane raised eggs (humane means the chickens are bred in healthier, less contaminated conditions) are best. Small amounts (less than two oz) of extra dark chocolate (~85% or above) is also a winner (must be organic though, since conventionally raised cacao crops are can carry a load of pesticides). The proper type of saturated fat is second to none at helping to curb appetite and calibrate the body’s autoregulatory mechanisms, assisting in cellular repair (cell walls are ~50% saturated fat) and improving immune response, but it also helps balance hormone levels–especially testosterone in men. Why would this be important to the winner of the weight loss challenge? The fullness part is obvious. But when a person is reducing energy intake, i.e. going on a “diet”, it’s easy to lose focus, become depressed, lose their mind, and be generally miserable. All this crap can be counteracted to an extent by the positive hormonal effects of the right saturated fats. This isn’t to say go apesh*t on them, and it’s also important that if you’re eating animal fat that it comes from the cleanest animal meat (that means organic definitely and certified humane, when possible). Environmental toxins are readily stored in fat cells, so any crap eaten by the animal ends up in its fat cells, and will end up in you. But it is to say that shifting the balance of calories from processed carbohydrates to unrefined plant-based saturated fat can be a very smart thing to do.

The winner will track energy in and out.

I’m generally not a proponent of tracking calories, but energy balance is important when it comes to losing weight. There’s some nuance to this argument in that fat loss is the product of both caloric restriction and proper metabolic signaling, the efficiency of which is enhanced when whole, natural foods are consumed. But still, the law of thermodynamics is inflexible. Fewer calories in than out will result in weight loss. There are some great tools out there for tracking consumption, like MyFitnessPal, and for tracking activity (FitBit etc.).

The winner will eliminate most structured cardio in favor of lifting heavy weights. Is your mind blown?

The most effective way to force the body to prioritize shedding fat when in a caloric deficit is by providing a reason for it to retain muscle fiber. In a caloric deficit–especially in the presence of structured and more intense cardiovascular exercise–the body wants to shed muscle along with fat because muscle is metabolically expensive to maintain. Create a reason for the body to prioritize muscle maintenance and fat loss will accelerate. And one note on lifting–we’re not talking about curls, sit-ups and shrugs here. We’re talking about barbell squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, Pendlay rows and the like. Nothing complicated, but big movements that tax most of the large muscle groups and elicit a hormonal response most conducive to fat loss. There’s a good deal of detailed content on this topic sprayed across this blog. If you’re in an energy deficit, you won’t put on muscle (so don’t worry about adding body weight).

If the person who wants to win is really serious, they will fast every day for a significant number of hours and do it for the rest of their life.

This is the big one. When properly applied, fasting is the most incontrovertibly efficient path to fat loss. This blog is replete with posts about the virtues of regular fasting, not the least of which is that it’s an awesome tool for weight loss and effortless weight management. Those last three words are huge. Most of us are pretty familiar with the weight-loss rebound phenomenon, characterized by big fat loss followed by big fat gain. The simple reality is that the practice that made the big fat loss possible was very likely unsustainable. Atkins, or extremely low-carb diets are examples of programs that are nearly impossible to sustain for a lifetime. Daily fasting is a metabolically and nutritionally sound lifestyle change. I’m living proof that it’s possible, and pretty damn easy to fast for 20 consecutive hours per day, every day. I’ve been doing it for more than three years and have only benefited from it. With specific application to fat loss, fasting, in my opinion, is the only way to go. When you’re fasted, your blood sugar levels are rock steady, and your metabolic system draws exactly whatever energy it requires from muscle glycogen, liver glycogen and fat stores. I call it a “clean burn”. Mental focus and cognition are noticeably increased due to the upregulation of a chemical termed brain-derived neurotrophic factor.  When you’re following a traditional diet on which you’re eating several times per day but just a lot less food, your blood sugar levels swing around, making you feel hungrier and less likely to be able to comfortably control your eating. Ever feel sluggish after lunch? You can blame insulin for that. No insulin = no sluggishness. To be uncouthly honest, the “six small meals per day” thing is raging bullsh*t, an utter farce, and a nonsensical, pandering load of guar gum. The only reason why the TV “nutritionists” are pushing this hooey is because as soon as you eat, your blood sugar goes haywire. That’s the reality. Eating six times a day is essentially methadone after heroin, or like cocaine after cocaine.

Fasting only takes a day or two to get used to. Water, black coffee and unsweetened tea can be taken, but nothing else. No diet sodas. Nothing else. The beauty of fasting is that once you’re at your desired weight or body composition, counting calories is no longer necessary. They body’s tendency or “desire” to autoregulate is more palpably expressed when the eating window is compressed. Simply, it’s more difficult to overeat when there’s less time to do it. Don’t get this twisted though–if you eat cake and ice cream during the eating window, none of this matters. But if you eat unprocessed, simple foods during the eating window, you actually, exactly, literally will never have to think about managing your weight ever again because your body will do it for you. Even more spectacular is that fasting dramatically boosts autophagy, the process by which cells recycle metabolic and other waste, especially in the brain.

The winner will not pay any mind to mularkey about not eating before bed.

Because if you fast, your only realistic option is to eat before bed. If your energy balance and food selection are on point, it matters not in the least.

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Why Am I Not Losing Fat? Why Am I Skinny-Fat?

I’ll cut right to the chase with this post.

  1. You’re eating the wrong foods
  2. You’re eating too much
  3. You’re giving your body the option to stay fat
  4. You’re doing too much cardio

1. You’re eating the wrong foods

If you’re eating anything that doesn’t spoil or become nasty in one way or another if left unrefrigerated for more than a couple of days, chances are your diet isn’t optimal. My idea of a “Will It Rot” diet cuts pretty much to the core of the issue. Bread, cereal, grains in general, candy, cookies, pastries, other dry and refined carbs like chips, pretzels, granola bars, energy bars, etc. It’s also worth noting that if you can afford to purchase organic produce, you probably should [it’s a travesty that in the U.S. only those of us who can afford it don’t have to make the decision between feeding themselves and their children pesticide-laced food and paying the rent.] The first time I bought organic potatoes I was astonished by how quickly they sprouted eyes and went bad as compared to conventionally-grown and treated potatoes.

2. You’re eating too much

Low-carb, high-carb, low-fat, high-fat, low-protein, high-protein. I’ve found that it generally doesn’t matter. I don’t think about the marcronutrient composition of my diet anymore. For me, it became time consuming and annoying. I find that letting my tastes and appetite guide me works better. But the food selection should still follow “Will It Rot?” guidelines. Consuming only foods in the “Will it Rot?” group dramatically and positively alter craving patterns and satiety, and are typically nutrient and water dense and calorically lighter. There’s no magic here. You know this. It’s difficult to consume a diet high in carbohydrates if all the foods you consume fall into the “yes, it rots” grouping. Daily fasting (skipping breakfast or both breakfast and lunch) is also an exceptional way to control food intake. Eating six small meals per day to be “healthy” or to keep from getting hungry is ABSOLUTE BULLSH*+. Doing the exact opposite is far more effective for weight management, craving management/ blood sugar stability, mental clarity, metabolism, hormonal balance, you name it. You can read more about that here (I’ve been fasting 20 hours daily now for three years).

3. You’re giving your body the option to stay fat by 4. doing too much cardio

You’re ready to lose some fat. You consume less energy than you expend. Your body needs to make up the energy deficit. It will use body fat for that, right? Not exactly. Muscle is metabolically expensive to maintain. Muscle maintenance requires calories. Even if it’s just 10 or 15 calories per pound of muscle per day, it adds up. When you’re chronically energy (food) deficient, your body sheds muscle along with fat. If you’re doing moderate to high-intensity cardio and are NOT lifting heavy weights, this effect is intensified, i.e. more muscle loss. Fat is more than twice as energy dense as muscle and costs nothing for your body to hold. It is the ultimate survival ration. Accordingly, your body retains it for as long as possible at the expense of muscle. This can manifest as a “skinny-fat” body, where you’ve lost weight, but your body composition has changed for the worse. For example, let’s say you start at 150 lbs and your goal weight is 130. You do lots of “fat burning” cardio and no weights and you eat fewer calories than your body requires to maintain your current weight. You do this for a few months and you hit 130 lbs. You’re slimmer, but your body looks almost gelatinous. It’s not just that you have little muscle tone, it’s actually worse. You’ve either lost weight and your body fat percentage increased, stayed the same, or not decreased in proportion to the weight you’ve lost. This is why losing fat and losing weight are not synonymous.
To flip this process, your body needs a stimulus to preserve muscle and consume fat. The stimulus provided by heavy weight-bearing activity does that. The associated hormonal response forces your body to preserve or build muscle (providing there’s a caloric surplus), leaving fat the only option to use as fuel. Although the process isn’t as simple as this, i.e. where you’ll burn pure fat vs pure muscle, heavy lifting with limited cardio while in a caloric deficit works exceptionally well (especially for untrained individuals), and produces a much more favorable and healthy body composition. “No cardio” doesn’t mean no activity; it means nothing intense or structured, like walking, swimming, light biking, chasing your kid around, doing housework, etc. It also doesn’t mean “no sprinting”.

Ripped Recipe: Chia Pudding

It’s been a long time, I know. The long and short of this post is chia pudding. It’s embarrassingly easy to make. If you like tapioca pudding or bubble tea, you’ll probably love this. The seeds, which are mucilaginous (root word ‘mucous’, mmmm!), soak up a ton of liquid and become a little goopy, but in a great way, if that makes sense. They look like little tadpole eggs. The resulting pudding is smooth and crunchy. Just be careful because this is a soluble fiber bomb with around 10g of total fiber. You might consider scaling into it for that reason.

Ingredients:

4 Tbsp chia seeds
1 cup whatever liquid you like, e.g. coconut milk, hemp milk, almond milk, cashew milk, milk milk, just not Pepsi.

Preparation:

Mix the two in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight. Consider stirring it again during the process as the seeds can clump (although you might like the clumps, or you can smush them out later on). You can mix in whatever flavorings you like once it’s done, like stevia, honey, high fructose corn syrup (j/k), cinnamon, apple pie spice, lemon and mint, vanilla, or you can even go savory if you’re insane.

Using Rest-Pause Training for Awesome Gains

A few months back, I started my own little investigation of the most effective training modalities for hypertrophy. But instead of my usual poring over sport science journals, I went about it from a different, more common-sense angle. I decided to develop a list of truly natural bodybuilders and physique athletes (not on roids), then watch how they train on YouTube. What was pretty obvious was that there were commonalities between all of them: 1) they trained with heavy loads generally between 70% and 90% of their one-rep maxes, and 2) their training sessions looked really dense (meaning that they were doing a lot of work in a short time) and intense (meaning that they were creating significant fatigue in the target muscles).

But how were they creating that intensity, that deep, acute fatigue? After watching way too many videos of sweaty, sometimes shirtless men, I found that many of them weren’t strictly adhering to the standard straight sets and reps prescriptions we’re so familiar with, e.g. “four sets of eight reps”, or “five sets of five reps.” Instead, they were oftentimes conducting some form of rest-pause training. You might be familiar with some well-known set strategies like drop sets, giant sets and cluster sets, which I’d classify as species of the genus that is rest-pause. Anyway, a couple of months ago after some experimentation and trial and error, I began rest-pause training in earnest and it’s literally changed my entire approach to lifting.

So what the fug is rest-pause?

Rest-Pause-Training
It’s just what it sounds like: pausing for a short time between reps or groups of reps and then continuing with more reps. In my definition, rest-pause (RP) refers to a family of lifting methods, each of which can vastly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of any training session. It’s a philosophy that recognizes that no human is a lifting machine and acknowledges the natural variations in performance levels from day to day. At the same time, RP enables a person to lift more total weight in the same period of time with the same, or even less fatigue than would be experienced under a more standard set/ rep routine. RP enables you to lift to your maximum capacity at any given moment in time. RP training is dynamic, flexible, fun, challenging and really, really effective for developing size, which has a direct effect on total strength potential.

My specific take on rest-pause training is that it’s comprised of four distinct methods, which lend themselves well to various types of periodization schemes. They can all be used in the same session, in different sessions in the same week, each for a week or several weeks at a time.

1. Rest-Pause Set Method

Perform a predetermined number of sets and complete as many reps per set as possible just short of form failure.

What this might look like in practice:
Complete as many reps as possible in six sets using 80% of 1-rep max:
7 reps, rest 30 seconds
6 reps, rest 30 seconds
6 reps, rest 30 seconds
5 reps, rest 30 seconds
4 reps, rest 30 seconds
3 reps, stop

How to progress: aim for more reps with the same load in the same number of sets next time, or increase the load by 5% and aim to complete the same number of reps.

A great variation on this is to perform, say, the first three sets with 30-second rests, then rest for 90 seconds, then perform the second set of three sets.

2. Rest-Pause Total Rep Method

Perform a predetermined number of reps without regard for sets. The rep method can be further broken into static rest periods and autoregulated rest periods.

Static rest periods:
Perform as many reps as possible just short of form failure, then rest for a predetermined period of time. Do another set and rest for the same amount of time. Continue until all reps are complete.

Target reps = 50
75% of 1-rep max:
10 reps, rest 20 seconds
9 reps, rest 20 seconds
8 reps, rest 20 seconds
6 reps, rest 20 seconds
5 reps, rest 20 seconds
4 reps, rest 20 seconds
4 reps, rest 20 seconds
4 reps, rest 20 seconds
2 reps, stop

Auto-regulated rest periods:
Perform as many reps as possible just short of form failure and rest until you feel ready to complete more reps. Continue this way until you hit your target reps.
What this might look like in practice:
Target reps = 40
75% of 1 rep max:
10 reps, rest 15 seconds
8 reps, rest 17 seconds
7 reps, rest 20 seconds
5 reps, rest 10 seconds
2 reps, rest 10 seconds
2 reps, rest 18 seconds
3 reps, rest 22 seconds
3 reps

3. Rest-Pause Rep and Set Method

This one comes in a couple of flavors.

The first is the classic cluster set, which I’ve found is exceptionally effective for getting more volume out of very heavy loads with a bias toward strength rather than hypertrophy (equal to or greater than 85% of 1RM) in the same amount of time as straight sets would allow. Like straight sets, each set in a cluster set is comprised of a certain number of reps. But instead of performing, say, five straight reps at a given weight and then resting for two or three minutes before beginning the next set, cluster sets enable more reps to be performed in the same set under the same load by breaking the set up into mini sets with short breaks in between.

What this might look like in practice:
6 cluster sets of 6 reps:
Set 1: 2 reps, rest 10 seconds/ 2 reps, rest 10 seconds/ 2 reps, rest 90 seconds
Set 2: 2 reps, rest 10 seconds/ 2 reps, rest 10 seconds/ 2 reps, rest 90 seconds
etc…

The weight is re-racked for every rest period to allow the muscles to recover some. This is so effective for strength training because unlike hypertrophy-specific training that seeks to fatigue all fibers over the course of several sets, strength training is used to improve the body’s ability to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible at the same time. To train this response, as many fibers as possible need to be kept fresh to improve the potential to activate all of them simultaneously. You end up extracting

The other flavor requires performing a predefined number of reps within a predefined number of sets.

What this might look like in practice:
Complete 50 reps within eight sets.

How to progress: When you can complete 50 reps in less than eight sets, increase the next session’s load. If you can’t complete 50 reps in eight sets, repeat same weight next session.

4. Rest-Pause Time method

Complete as many quality reps as possible in a predefined time period. Rest is autoregulated. Basically rest when you need to.

What this might look like in practice:
10 reps, rest 15 seconds
7 reps, rest 10 seconds
3 reps, rest 10 seconds
2 reps, rest 45 seconds
6 reps, rest 15 seconds
5 reps, rest 60 seconds
6 reps, rest 30 seconds
4 reps, rest 15 seconds
1 rep, rest 10 seconds
1 rep, rest 10 seconds
etc…

How to progress: in the next session, complete more reps with the same load or the same number of reps with 5% more weight.

Some caveats about rest-pause training

Rest-pause is probably best used by intermediate and advanced lifters who clearly understand their bodies, the difference between good and bad form, and the difference between form failure and prime mover failure.

Rest-pause is taxing. Because it increases work density, it’s easy for overtraining to become a problem if specific limits aren’t set. Using rest-pause, my workouts last 45 minutes and I’m out of the gym. As most frequent lifters know, the hardest part isn’t getting to the gym–it’s having the mental resolve to LEAVE the gym and have faith that your body will respond. Even though rest-pause is acutely demanding, just like any other workout, you shouldn’t be dragging and chronically fatigued after completing an RP workout.

Progressive overload is still (and always) critical for making gains. For RP, progressive overload can take on many forms, including decreasing the time in which a given number of reps are performed, increasing the load, or increasing the number of reps performed under the same load. But only one of these forms of overload should be applied to any given lift on any given training session.

In the coming days, I’ll post my current rest-pause routine, which has allowed me to pack on around five pounds of muscle in only two months. I’m now a full 10 lbs heavier than I was in that shot in the sidebar.

Is the Bench Press Dangerous? Yes. Press Dumbbells and Ignore the Masses.

It seems like anyone who lifts weights bench presses. It’s a classic movement that can develop serious upper body pushing strength. But for all its popularity and potential for strength development, I’ve realized that its nasty side probably makes it one of the least efficacious movements for chest development.

I’ve been benching since the age of 13–almost 22 years now. When I came off a two-year lifting layoff around three years ago, the flat and incline barbell bench presses were two staples of my training routine. But as the load increased, I began experiencing discomfort in and around the acromioclavicular joint at the top of my left shoulder. Over the ensuing weeks, that discomfort evolved into pain and reduced mobility. Since I can remember, I’ve had a moderate [and strange] obsession with kinesiology, so I was compelled to dig deeper into why specifically the bench press might have been causing shoulder pain, and might be dangerous in general. Yeah, I said it, and I have two good reasons for why I think that.

First reason: Excessive range of motion

I definitely think that lots of people can get away with benching heavy, like people with shorter arms and thicker torsos who don’t have to move the bar as far as longer-armed individuals. But for a guy like me with longer arms and not the thick torso of a powerlifter, my potential range of motion on the bench is very large. When I lower the bar close to my chest, my elbows drop two inches below the level of my shoulders, a position that places the shoulders in an exceptionally dangerous position under a load, causing the humerus to actually pull away from the body and a stupid amount of strain to be placed on the rather delicate muscles and connective tissue that comprise the rotator cuff.

Second reason: Internal rotation of the humerus

This, I believe, is the primary reason why bench pressing heavy loads is bad. Really bad. Question: if you had to shove an attacker as hard as you possibly could to save your own life, how would you do it? You’d probably unconsciously put yourself in the most anatomically advantaged position as possible without thinking because it’s what feels right. It’s the way we’ve evolved to push stuff. You’d probably bring your hands close to your chest with the base of your thumbs somewhere in the vicinity of your nipples (providing they don’t hang too low). You’d also naturally bring your elbows close to your sides and would keep them from flaring out as you pushed because you can transfer more power in this position. You’d also depress your shoulders and retract your scapulae. [All instinctively, of course.] Additionally, your fingers wouldn’t be pointing straight up and down, but rather 25 or 30 degrees out to the sides. In my opinion, this is the single most glaring problem with all barbell pressing variations. Because your hands are in a fixed position, your wrists are also fixed. This means that as you move the bar away from your chest, the humerus (bone from elbow to shoulder) wants to rotate internally via elbow flare, no matter how perfect your form. To understand this motion, put your right arm out in front of you, palm forward (fingers up) as if signalling someone to stop. Now rotate your arm so your fingers are pointing to the left. Your elbow moves away from your body as your humerus (upper arm) rotates inward. As the weight gets heavy, this can, and likely will grind on your shoulders by creating the right environment for impingement and acromioclavicular joint damage (bony process at top of shoulder).

What to do? Limit [eliminate] bar benching in favor of dumbbells.

The goal of bench pressing is to stimulate the pectoral muscles, right? Right. But in my experience, dumbbell pressing variations are much more effective for pec stimulation, and especially so for filling out those pesky upper pecs. The key to maximum pectoral stimulation with dumbbells is as follows:

1. Just like bar benching, keep shoulders down and back (depressed and retracted)
2. Keep elbows close to sides (no more than 20-30 degrees from body)
3. Do not drop elbows below plane of torso at bottom of movement
4. The magic move: when pressing, focus on rotating your palms inward (toward your face) through the entire motion while simultaneously moving your ELBOWS in toward each other. This results in the strongest adduction of the humerus as possible with external rotation. This is both the safest AND most effective way to stimulate as many pectoral muscle fibers as possible. Of course, you could eliminate pressing altogether (I know, blasphemy!) in favor of all sorts of bodyweight pressing movements using gymnastics rings and develop real strength. Another post for that, though.

The Six Best Grain-Free Carbohydrate Sources for Lifting Energy

Like grains? So do I, but I don’t eat them because I believe they’re objectively not great for optimal health and just feeling good. I’ve experienced a host of positive changes in my body since I stopped eating them more than a year ago (except for the odd bowl of oats and an occasional helping of white rice). But if you’re lifting heavy and you’re thinking about dropping or heavily limiting grains, where are you gonna get those carbs? I’ll tell you where.

The holy quintet. Clockwise from top: kabocha squash, cassava, sweet potato, white potato, yellow plantain.

The holy sextet. Clockwise from top: kabocha squash, cassava, sweet potato, white potato, yellow plantain. Yam not pictured.

1. Cassava a.k.a. yucca a.k.a. manioc.

With a whopping 38g carbs per 100g serving, cassava is the king of natural, unprocessed, unrefined carb sources. It’s packed full of starches that go to replenishing muscle glycogen, and contains very little sugar. I personally love its dryish texture. Make sure to peel it, cut into large chunks, then boil it until fork tender. Cooking is very important because it contains cyanide-containing compounds that are destroyed in the process. I like to boil mine in salted water, drain and just eat like that, or dip in mayo mixed with sriracha, fresh lime juice, cumin and chili powder.

2. White potato

The classic. A 100g serving contains around 31g carbs, almost 85% of which is starch and the rest of which is fiber and a little sugar. I’m about easy, so I just wash it with soap (organic potatoes are better), pierce with a knife, microwave on high for 3-4 mins and eat out of hand like an apple.

3. Yam (not in photo)

Don’t get it twisted: yams and sweet potatoes are not the same thing; yams contain more starch and virtually no sugar. At 27g carbs per 100g, yams get you those killer carbs you need to replenish after a session of big, heavy compound lifts. Pierce with knife a few times and microwave on high for five minutes or until tender.

4. Plantain

I prefer yellow ones, but they do contain more sugar and less starch than the less ripe green version. Yellows contain around 30g carbs per 100g, about half of which is sugar (I don’t pay much attention to sugar content if the food is whole and completely natural without any refinement. Processed sugar and sugar naturally occurring in whole foods affect me in two totally different ways). They have an earthy-sweet-tart flavor that’s totally unique to them. Plantains must be cooked (unless completely black). The easiest way is to trim the ends off, pierce through the skin a few times with a knife, wrap in a damp paper towel, and microwave on high for three minutes. Once cooked, remove peel. I like to slice into 1/2″ discs, toss with butter and sprinkle with a little salt. It’s my favorite snack right before bed.

5. Sweet potato

The dessert tuber. 100g of sweet potato has around 21g carbs, only around 35% of which is starch, with another 30% as sugar and a decent hit of fiber. While it’s not as effective for glycogen restoration as king cassava or the white potato, it’s great for fat loss, because it makes you full with a relatively light weight to calorie load. Pierce with a knife, microwave on high for five minutes or until tender.

6. Winter squash (butternut and kabocha)

Ok, you’ll have to eat a lot of kabocha to get a lot of carbs, but that’s only because it isn’t a calorie-dense food. Virtually all of the calories it does have come from carbs. It’s about a 50-50 split between starch and sugar, but you can eat an absolute sh*tload of it without breaking 200 calories. It’s another great fat loss option because it’s so filling, nutrient dense, and calorie poor, and lets you get some carbs in. My favorite way to prepare is to cut in half (need large sharp knife and strong arm), gut seeds, peel, cut into ~1-inch cubes, toss in coconut oil, kosher salt and cinnamon and roast at 400 degrees until tender (around 35-40 mins). The texture is soft/ fluffy/ pillowy and the taste is sweet.

Butternut squash is another winner–higher in calories than kabocha and packing three times the carbs with less sugar, it’s a very good non-grain carb option (10g carbs per 100g serving, two of which come from sugar). Same preparation as kabocha.

Ripped Recipe: Thai Italian Sausage Green Curry

Thai Italian

I really like combining flavors, especially Asian and Italian. I don’t have a photo of this Thai Italian Sausage Green Curry, but you’ll have to trust me, it’s excellent. Every time I eat it I tell my wife it’s my favorite thing ever.

I also have to preface this by saying that when I cook, I cook big. I usually make one huge thing on a weekend that will last four to five days and then one smaller dish during the week that will last for two. So be warned, the recipe below is for a gigantic load. Let’s all get ripped eating this together.

Ingredients
1 lb hot Italian sausage AND 1 lb sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing and pulled into chunks
700g eggplant (one large), cubed to ~3/4 inches
650g sweet potato (two large or three medium), cubed to ~3/4 inches
600g zucchini (a few medium), cubed same as above
1 large Vidalia onion, rough chopped
1 large red bell pepper, large diced (preferably organic cause the non-organic version is heavily sprayed)
180g or so carrots, sliced ~1/2 inch thick
1 large can (28oz or 790g) diced tomatoes (I prefer the Muir Glen organic variety)
2 cans lite coconut milk
1 cup unsalted chicken stock
2-3 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup arrowroot flour (you can use corn starch, but I’m not really into grains so much)
2 or so stalks of lemongrass, split and cut into 4 or 5 inch-long pieces
3-4 kaffir lime leaves (can be found in any good grocery)
1.5 or 2 Tbsp ground coriander
1-inch chunk of fresh ginger, minced
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 Tbsp Thai basil
2 Tbsp sweet Italian basil
2 Tbsp oregano
2 Tbsp Thai green chili paste
2 Tbsp Sriracha (or to taste)
1 Tbsp chili flakes (or to taste)

Preparation

  1. Brown sausage chunks in an 8qt stock pot.
  2. Once sausage is browned, remove from pot and add onions to remaining pork fat. Cook until lightly browned.
  3. Add garlic, both basils, ginger, coriander, oregano, chili paste, Sriracha, chili flakes. Sautee for a few minutes over low heat to release oils from everything. Don’t burn it!
  4. Put sausage back in pot. Add both cans of lite coconut milk, chicken stock and can of diced tomatoes. Also add kaffir leaves and lemongrass. Increase heat, cover, and let mixture come to a simmer.
  5. Once simmering, add eggplant and honey and simmer covered for 30 minutes. The eggplant should get really velvety and soft.
  6. Add carrots and sweet potato. Wait 10 minutes and add zucchini
  7. When sweet potatoes are tender, mix arrowroot flour with a little water or chicken stock to form slurry. Stir into pot and cook on low heat for another minute or so. Do NOT boil. It will destroy arrowroot’s thickening properties.
  8. Make sure to remove kaffir and lemongrass before eating, unless you actually like eating leaves and sticks :).

This can be eaten as-is, or served over rice, spaghetti squash, kabocha squash, rice pasta, or even regular pasta (I ain’t into wheat, but you do you, not me).

Nutrition info
One serving is ~2.3 cups. ~420 calories, 15g protein, 20g fat, 35g carbs

Ripped Rule: Get Off the Ego Crack and Stop Using a Spotter, Damn It.

This morning at the gym a nice guy came over, unsolicited, to spot my back squat today. I like this guy, but he actually grasped my lats and assisted me through the lift. I didn’t ask for it, and I definitely didn’t want it. I kept grunting “NO SPOT” and “NO HELP” because those were the only words I could squeeze out as I was fighting the weight. He kept “helping” even though I was asking him not to. I was so frustrated after the lift. With a spotter, you never know how much you’ve lifted. And when you’re operating on the razor’s edge of your limits, and when you have very specific goals with small tolerances, even an assist that reduces the weight by a mere one percent can nullify the lift from a progress perspective.

There’s a difference between a lifting partner who’s there to help motivate you, and one who’s there to spot you. Motivating relationship? Good. Spotting relationship? Bad. Spotting is the worst thing that’s happened to personal relationships in the gym. Spotting is like crack: once you get a taste, you’re hooked. Maybe it’s more like meth. If you can’t get through the movement on your own, either the weight is too damn heavy or you’ve gone one rep too far. “But my spotter helps me through my sticking point.” Every single lift has a sticking point i.e. where the muscle is at the greatest mechanical disadvantage relative to the weight. If you can’t get through it by yourself, you’ll stay weak there. “But my spotter helps stabilize my arms while I grind through an incline dumbbell press.” Come on. That’s caca. If the lifter can’t stabilize the dumbbells, it’s too much weight. The whole purpose of using dumbbells is to hammer all those stabilizers. “But my spotter is there for safety.” That’s the only potentially logical use of a spotter, but only for certain lifts. You definitely don’t want to get caught under a heavy bench/ incline/ decline barbell press. But even then, your spotter shouldn’t be altering the load whatsoever. The spotter is there to save your rib cage and/ or trachea should you have to bail. Other than that, there are virtually no lifts that a spotter can add safety to.

Moral of the story: do you, (but without a spotter).

How To Lift With a Shoulder Injury (Can You Lift With a Shoulder Injury?)

Disclaimer: I am [was] a certified personal trainer, have been lifting on and off for more than 20 years, and consider exercise physiology and nutrition my favorite hobbies. I am not a doctor or a physical therapist. Take this advice at your own risk. Shoulder injuries are NOT to be taken lightly.

What qualifies me to provide any advice at all?

I’ve sustained several shoulder injuries since the age of 16. Some were the result of physical contact in sport, others were sustained during weight training. The most serious injury was to my right shoulder when I separated it while sparring in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu eight years ago. It was a grade II separation, with a noticeable displacement of my right clavicle that persists today (and forever). It took six months to get back into the weight room. Over the course of recovering from each injury, I learned new things about the types of work that helped and hurt progress (hint: improving shoulder stability is key). I’m currently working around a mild AC joint sprain in my left shoulder.

A quick shoulder anatomy primer

A common misconception exists that the shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint like the hip, but it’s far from it. In the hip, the socket that the femur sits in is much deeper than the socket in which the humerus sits, which is really more like a golf tee. So the shoulder is less a joint than it is a gruesome junction of connective tissue and muscle that works in a complex balancing act to “strap” the humerus, scapula and clavicle together. The trade-off for the tremendous range of motion in the shoulder is the lack of stability relative to other “real” joints like the knee and elbow. There are many types of shoulder injuries–some involve tendons, others involve ligaments, still others involve muscle. An injury can potentially involve a combination of all three.

Lifting with a shoulder injury

My first rule of safe lifting is this: if the lift hurts, stop immediately. It might be on the first rep of the first set, it might be in the third set. Whenever it is, put the weight down and assess. Run-of-the-mill muscle soreness is very different than joint pain or muscle strain. To get a better sense of where the problem lies, I deload the lift and slowly perform the same movement until I feel the pain again. I mentally note where in the plane of motion the pain begins and where it ends. That is the danger zone. I then either: 1) temporarily select lifts that don’t operate in the danger zone, or 2) continue to operate in the danger zone if deloading the offending lift(s), increasing the rep range, and focusing like a laser on maintaining form and tension is an option. I’ll speak specifically to my current injury to explain these two options more completely.

1) Temporarily select lifts that don’t operate in the danger zone
I originally strained my left shoulder several months ago. Overhead motion–both pressing and pulling–in addition to abduction along the frontal plane (raising arms to the side) causes discomfort. Does this sound like you? Even at a lighter weight and higher rep range, the fixed lat pull causes discomfort, so I’m avoiding it altogether until my shoulder tells me it’s ok. But since I still need to hit the lats and rhomboids, I’ve switched to performing other lifts [and more of them] that incorporate low and flat rowing (dumbbell and cable varieties).

2) Continue to operate in the danger zone if deloading the offending lift(s), increasing the rep range, and focusing like a laser on maintaining form and tension is an option
The majority of lifting-induced shoulder injury (as opposed to impact-related) is the result of a weakness in one or more of the many small muscles that stabilize the shoulder through its range of motion. They’re not as strong as they should be in relation to the big prime movers involved in the exercise. The prime mover engaged in the incline bench press (i.e. the target of the exercise) is the clavicular head of the pectoral muscle (a.k.a. the upper pec), while other big muscles and muscle groups, including the triceps, anterior deltoids, lats and traps are also heavily engaged for both movement and stabilization. At the same time, the little stabilizers that keep the shoulder together are also firing away.

But what tends to happen as the weights get heavier and the small stabilizers fatigue is that the large stabilizers begin to take on more of the small stabilizers’ burden, leading to a reduction in overall stability at the joint. A symptom of this is that proper form begins to break down as the lifter starts to “muscle through” the motion, subconsciously trying to shift work off of those small muscles. That shift puts the small stabilizers at risk of strain.

While pressing motions, like the incline bench (bar and dumbbell versions) currently disturb my shoulder at higher loads, at a lighter load they don’t. Accordingly, the lighter load can be used to more specifically train those weaker muscles while still effectively stimulating the prime mover. An important thing to note here is that by lighter load I don’t mean a light weight. I mean something along the lines of 60% of a one-rep max, or, alternatively, around 75% of the weight used for an eight-rep set taken to near failure. But since I also want the same quality of prime mover activation and stimulation as the heavier weight would have provided, I have to do two more [really important] things: increase the rep range and move more slowly. Until my shoulder is healed, my target range is 10-12 reps. Under normal circumstances, you establish your target range first and then set the weight so that failure or near-failure is occurring in that range. But since my shoulder injury is limiting the weight I feel comfortable with, the weight is already established. I also know I don’t want to get above 12 reps. But since I can pretty easily push out more than a dozen reps at this weight at my normal tempo (even with the injury), I have to reduce the tempo and alter the range of motion so that I’m approaching failure in the 10-12 rep range. This means keeping as much tension on the muscle as possible through all phases of the motion while maintaining perfect, totally rigid form by: not locking out at the top of the press, lowering slowly (as long as a three-count), pausing just before the bottom of the motion (not resting or bouncing the bar and the bottom of it), and contracting forcefully on the way back up.

Patience

Again, shoulder injuries are nothing to screw with, and will chow down on a big ego in the blink of an eye if you don’t give them complete respect. If your shoulder injury is agreeable to the course of action I describe above, take it slow and easy. You can still hammer your muscles this way. When confident, you can slightly bump up the weight while continuing to maintain perfect form. But remember, if you experience pain at any time, you have to stop. It’s not worth prolonging the healing process. Of course, the best idea is to go see a doctor if you don’t notice improvement over time.