Posts Tagged ‘nutrition’

This might sound foolishly obvious, but Jason Momoa wasn’t always the titan he currently is. Having built himself large enough to follow up Arnold in a Conan film that no one saw, he has reached an incredible level of fitness so I did some research into how he accomplished this.

He claims to have never lifted weights prior to the role of Conan – If this is true, he, at the very least, set up the foundation for growth.

As a young actor he was certainly in athletic shape, which seems quite common in a lot of bigger guys. Their struggle is generally not getting lean but rather packing on size. They need to eat big. But guys like me who do that just get fat.

I spent years going through a cycle like this: spend 6 months “bulking” then 6 months cutting – I would get lean, but my muscle mass was not significantly improved. For that reason I spent several years chasing the elusive “recomp” – the attempt to get both lean and muscular at the same time. The result for the most part was sitting in a perpetual state of physical mediocrity – at least by my standards.

This is why I decided to try something radical – a new approach to get big and lean. No not roids. It is actually based on a study that was brought to my attention – where quails had weights attached to their wings for 28 days resulted in an increase of the actual number of muscle fibres as well as muscle size and length. It stands to reason that if you increase the number of muscle cells available, you will get bigger – and then by hypertrophying them you will get bigger still. Yes this was done with birds, and the truth is that there does not seem to be conclusive consensus as to whether this was due to the muscles being stretched, or the nearly continuous load placed on them – which was began at 10% of their body weight and progressed to 35%. To my knowledge, the diet was not disclosed.

My attempt meant a combination of high frequency training with weighted stretching incorporated. I wanted to focus on a specific muscle group for this style of training. I chose to do chest because that meant I would also get additional work on my delts and triceps.

From a dietary perspective the goal was to have enough material to feed my muscles, but few enough calories that I would burn fat. This meant a moderate deficits with protein and fat sources making up the bulk of my diet with vegetables added in for their vitamins, minerals and fibre.

I knew this would push my recovery to a new extent so to help with the adaptation I first made sure to supplement with adaptogens, and used cold showers after chest training. The cold shower also has a calorie burning affect – albeit relatively small.

So my results? Well still being early in the process I can’t tell you yet, but once I have results I will post them (so if you’re interested make sure to follow).

However I think Momoa has mastered the inner game of being an Alpha – at least that’s how he carries his public persona. Look at him in interviews and you see a guy casually leaning back, owning his surroundings, very light-hearted and easygoing. What’s refreshing to me about his persona is that he is embracing his masculinity in a day and age when manliness is being vilified by the politically correct types. It is a lot harder than it sounds to be a chivalrous man when you are attacked for it. But when something virtuous becomes rare in society I think it is natural to admire those who demonstrate it.

In the pursuit of an improved physique your resistance training is probably going to be the focal point of your day, so with that in mind let’s first look at the way to optimize the pre-training process.


What you eat has implications beyond what you are likely to consider when eating it.

One of those implications has to do with neurotransmitter, which are chemical “messengers” in your brain that regulate such things as mood, emotion, energy, appetite among others.

I don’t want to get too in depth on this subject, but here is a quick list of some of the major ones, how they affect us, and what foods promote them:

Neurotransmitter Effect Food that promotes
Dopamine Motivation, drive Protein (L-tyrosine rich), B-vitamins, broccoli, chia seeds
Acetylcholine Motor control, memory function, focus Choline rich foods (eggs, meat, dairy, nuts), broccoli, chia seeds
Serotonin Happiness, relaxation, sleep Carbohydrates, protein (they seem to work well together to produce it), eggs, broccoli, chia seeds
GABA (Gamma amino butyric acid) Calming Glutamate rich foods (dairy, eggs, rice), broccoli, chia seeds

So judging by this table (and based on the recommendations of olympic trainers, top psychologists and a multitude of researchers) to promote optimal cognitive and functional performance, eat protein and “healthy fat”-rich foods in the morning (supposedly saturated fats can impact dopamine which is why I stressed the word healthy), and save your carbohydrate meals for later in the day.

It might interest you to note that eggs and broccoli seem to help all of them, making them among my favorite foods in existence.

While I do not like the idea of Intermittent Fasting, I do like the idea of avoiding carbs in the early part of the day, especially if you train early in the day. Since carbohydrates can increase insulin and lower growth hormone, we definitely want to keep them absent pre-workout.

Pre-Workout supplements

If you choose to use a pre-workout supplement, consider what you are trying to achieve. For example as I mentioned, I like to optimize GH and avoid insulin, so since even BCAAs can increase insulin I avoid preworkouts that have it.

Carnitine shows up in a lot of pre-workout supps, but it has been shown to be more effective in the presence of insulin, so by this logic it would make more sense to have it post-workout when you might want to increase insulin.

The main things I look for in a pre-workout is something that helps with mental focus and energy, so ideally a clean caffeine source. Betaine is another one I like both pre and post workout to help cortisol control.


What you listen to can affect your mood too, and what I’ve found is that either listening to something intellectual like an audiobook or alternatively some kind of aggressive but fun music pre-workout helps me focus my mind.

Warming up

Warming up should be taken seriously because it sets the stage for your training. Too much cardio activity and you’ll deplete energy to the point where your workout is less effective. Not enough and you risk injury.

There are two main things I feel are important when warming up:

  1. lubricating the joints
  2. mentally rehearsing the movement form

doing this is quite easy. It just means doing a few light-weight sets of your first compound movement before jumping into it.

Next time I will discuss Intra-workout ideas.



Man’s Search for Muscle – part 1: meaning

Man’s Search for Muscle Part 2 – Why fitness programs don’t endure

It is no secret that you can’t continue on the same program indefinitely and have continual results – certainly not on a linear trajectory of improvement. Some claim that you need “muscle confusion” or other such new stimuli to continue to progress, but I believe it to be more of a psychological condition.

After a while we get bored of doing the same thing over and over and it is no longer fun, but a chore. When something becomes work and not play it loses the appeal. Don’t get me wrong, there is great value to be found in disciplining yourself to do work ESPECIALLY when you don’t want to – in fact this is one of the things Anders Ericcson considers to be a trait of top performers in all fields.

So contrary to what we tend to seek as beings who – ironically put a great deal of effort into seeking the path of least resistance – we ought to be doing the opposite. However while our training should be challenging it should also have a level of enjoyment.

As an aside, it was in the process of learning how to optimize exercise form so that a relatively light weight would seem harder that I began making noticeable improvements in building muscle.

And so it seems many of us are constantly on the lookout for a brand new training program or diet, which has the outward appearance of bypassing the problem of boredom. But as I mentioned earlier, many programs set you up for failure from the beginning.

Virtually every marketable fitness program available sells itself by offering something new and exciting. This is exactly why the industry thrives. Purchasing such a program can provide a short-term novelty factor that motivates people to go all in. There is also something to be said for sacrificing your money for something important to you.

However what these programs don’t tell you is that what they are offering is typically no better than any other method out there, just simply different enough to sound interesting. It is the clever combination of being both familiar yet new that helps these salespeople market their product to unwitting clients (victims).

The other hidden secret in these program is something that only recently occurred to me… Consider the people marketing these programs. They make a living off of being in good shape. This is no secret. So how do they keep such high levels of physicality?

I’ve asked myself this question many times over the years and the answer that seemed obvious was that they are motivated by having to market themselves. In other words their motivation is monetary. But it turns out that is not the case at all.

The real reason the elite fitness professionals maintain such high levels year-round: Because they create their own programs.

Trust me, they don’t want you to know this because it will put them out of business!!!

Why is this? This has to do with the discovery that humans are more engaged when they feel that they are doing something creative.

Engaging and exercising our creative abilities is not something to be thought of lightly. Milton Erickson is a fantastic example of that. He was interested in the idea of using hypnotherapy to help his clients but the research up to that point was not promising. Trying to think of new ways to approach the concept he came up with a form of trance where he joined the patient in trance and managed to create extremely effective, lasting results in a relatively short amount of time… in a sense that’s very similar to what we want to accomplish as “physique artists”. Erickson is a shining example of creativity by the way. In addition to his hypnotherapy methods, he created several unconventional and revolutionary methods of helping people – and more than likely just as many unsuccessful experiments – which led his successors to create the highly regarded Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).

So here’s an idea for you… instead of jumping onto a new training program try this:

Get a blank notebook. At the top of the page write three things: the date, the body part (or parts) you want to train, then – recalling part 1 – wrote down your purpose.

Then fill out the page with the movements you do, number of reps and weight as appropriate. This will allow you to be creative within your session while working the pre/planned parts.

There is actually further evidence of the effectiveness of this method in studies on what had been coined “autoregulated periodization”, although it tends to give credit to “listening” to your body.

In PART 3, we discuss pre-workout.


Man’s Search for Muscle: Part 1

Anyone familiar with Layne Norton may have read some of his contest prep articles, as I have – and in fact I used some of his advice when preparing for more than one photo shoot.

Recently he unleashed an ebook which is extremely long and in depth, all about the process of preparing to go on stage in a physique competition, and even though I have no interest in stepping on stage it intrigued me.

First of all, I must say I highly appreciate the fact that when you go to his page (which I refuse to link) it is not one of those 10-zillion page long advertisement pages, it is simply a picture of the ebook and you can choose either the men’s or women’s version — although I’m almost certain they are the exact same book… because throughout the thing it gives advice for both men and women.

So while it was a far better buying experiences than most of the online sales experiences I have to admit that my first read through of the books ok left me annoyed.

Why? Because it is being pitched as a comprehensive 260 page book, which suggests there is a ton of information packed in there. However it could have easily been shaved down by a hundred pages or so.

The first 80-some pages were filled with very basic information about calorie balance… in other words stuff that anyone who is about to enter a show already knows.

The last section is all about poses, which is probably helpful to some people but let’s do a quick reality check… anyone who is serious about getting on stage will almost certainly need a coach, not a $40 ebook to learn this stuff. Having a coach for doing a show is also vital because you tend to be so depleted that it’s almost impossible to do everything with meal planning and creating an effective training program on your own.

Buuut – the book does an excellent job of laying out much of the detailed information a coach would normally be handling so it can be good educationally if you choose to work with a coach and if you choose not to, you’ll have a better idea of why you probably should be.

I actually see the book as more of a narrative in the life of a professional bodybuilder than an actual how-to guide.

There are millions of books that will help you get from bad to good in terms of physique improvement and I believe the goal of this book was to help people go from good to great. Does it succeed in that? Yes in a sense. Layne discusses much of the same topics that can be found in his pre-contest articles but in more depth in the latter parts of the book. He also talks about what to do after a show, which may be excellent for anyone on a restricted diet of any kind.

That being said, I would simply suggest that if you get the book you set your expectations appropriately; it is not likely to be 260 pages of NEW information, but a large dose of old information, some “nice to know” information and a little bit of advice that will very likely be valuable at some point in your life if you want to get ridiculously lean.

Burning fat is not easy, but let’s face it, for the most part you can work with your body to accomplish your fatloss goals. When it comes to putting on noticeable muscle mass you have to work against your body, which makes it all the more difficult.

Just look at the number of bodybuilders to the number of fitness models out there and it is quickly apparent that getting shredded is far more easily achieved than adding lean muscle mass.

While trying to determine why this is I wrote the following abstract: The body builds muscle as an adaptive response to training stimulus where that stimulus is perceived as a threat to ones survival. The signal is sent via anabolic hormones to utilize available nutrients to hyper compensate for this threat.

If this is true (and I belive it is) we can safely say there are three pieces in the chain that MUST be present for muscle growth to occur.

  1. Progressive Overload training stimulus
  2. Over-abundance of nutrients
  3. Optimal hormonal Environment

A fourth one could be added which is Persistance, but for now I’ll discuss the three listed.

Progressive overload training implies that we are progressively giving the body more and greater stimulus than it is accustomed to. This stimulus can come in many forms. For some ideas on how to accomplish this check out the following posts: Intensifiers; How to lift heavier weights; Periodization

I have begun building a program going forward which is designed to elicit progressive overload in virtually every way possible.

Over-abundance of nutrients implies that there are enough nutrients in your body to perform its daily tasks, and then enough extra to put that towards building muscle. Notice I used the word “nutrients” and not “calories”. A deficiency in nutrients whether that be protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals etc will decrease your ability to use the food you eat to build muscle. Eating an excess of junk food will serve little purpose because that food does not contain nutrients needed for the body. If anything it will slow the process because all of that junk has to be digested and removed.

This can actually be a huge challenge, which is why I am currently working on designing ways to help those of us looking to put on muscle with the job of getting enough food and nutrients in throughout the day.

Finally, one of my favourite subjects these days is having a good hormonal environment.

When people get frustrated and deem themselves a “hard-gainer” the tendency these days is to skip right over the first two and blame hormones, so they risk health issues and legal issues by seeking out steroids. There is obviously something to steroids or they wouldn’t be around today, but my approach is to try to remove any limiting factors via diet and supplementation.

For example, deficiencies in magnesium, zinc, vitamin D and fatty acids have been shown to limit the ability of men to create testosterone. These are fairly easy things to fix through diet and supplements.

As far as muscle-building goes, we have to optimize testosterone, cortisol, growth hormone and insulin.

All of these are affected by your diet and supplementation, so that’s the intelligent place to begin, and also the starting point for my upcoming gaining cycle.


Super Hero Physique
superhero_physique by Shawn Buffington

5 Factors of Muscle Mass

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I received a lot of positive feedback for my post on the 5 factors of Fat loss, so as a follow-up I’ll talk about the next step in physique improvement… packing on mass!!

Adding muscle to your frame is an inexact science, and even the top bodybuilding pros are constantly seeking better ways to accomplish it.

One thing is for certain… no one has ever built significant muscle by accident! Muscle mass is more metabolic than fat, and therefore is much more difficult for the body to maintain. So in a way it is like you are fighting against your own body — This point illustrates why lifting weights is MEANT to be hard!

Based on the what success I’ve had myself, striving to build muscle 100% naturally, here are 5 Factors I feel contribute most significantly to building muscle:

  1. Focus
  2. Nutrient timing
  3. Progressive overload
  4. Hormones
  5. Recovery

Now in-depth…


In order to maximize focus, here’s what I suggest trying:

  • have a plan, stick to it, adapt as needed
  • take ear buds out for worksets
  • enjoy what you are doing, but not at the expense of making it difficult
  • Nutrient Timing

    Getting the most out of nutrients can be extremely difficult. Getting in enough quality calories has always been my challenge. To help with that I created a diet and training log that allows you to track each meal:

    This also means giving attention to pre and post workout nutrition, as well as avoiding carbs in the early part of the day.


    specifically we are speaking of Testosterone, Growth Hormone and insulin… now GH is not said to be very anabolic on its own, but when combined with insulin can be extremely anabolic.

    Progressive overload

    My favourite way of reaching overload is to add intensifiers at the end of the last set on as many exercises as possible. Those “intensifiers” include: partials, negatives, rest-pause and drop sets


    Sleep, adequate nutrients (including BCAAs, vitamins and minerals/electrolytes) and hydration are your best friends when it comes to improved recovery. The better you recover, the sooner you get back to the gym for another mass attack!

    Give some of these a try, and let me know which work best for you!

    Related: How to Lift Heavier Weights!

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    SuperHero Physique
    superhero_physique by Shawn Buffington

    I just read a fairly disturbing article:

    Now this of course isn’t anything new, but it is a good reminder of the way that good intentions can often get bastardized along the road.

    It’s an interesting paradox that the bodybuilding world is at once about reaching the highest levels of fitness, but for many about taking their body to unhealthy extremes in order to achieve what might be considered a vain outward ideal.

    This is actually one of the things that has kept me from stepping onstage. While I love getting into great shape and dieting down after a successful muscle gaining cycle, the idea of prancing around in a banana hammock to be judged by others and compared to others, seems to me a bit of a mockery of what the entire health and fitness industry SHOULD stand for.

    I’ve actually had the misfortune of dating someone with an eating disorder, and it is an extremely tragic, and often frustrating thing because often the person doesn’t even see it as a problem. When dieting down to get to extremes to meet some sort of external ideal I can see how people could potentially do a lot of harm to themselves.

    I suppose to me what is saddest in this whole thing is that young people look up to some of these people and decide that achieving outward recognition is more important that obtaining a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. It’s a discussion I have with my daughter regularly, as she is just getting to the age where she is feeling pressured to have a certain body image.

    Okay, enough on this depressing subject, let’s hit the gym, eat well and have a great life!!!

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