Muscle Tone

I’m sure everyone has heard someone say they want to “tone up” or get “long, lean muscles.” I’m here to tell you that attaining muscle tone and “long, lean muscles” are both possible, but you are most likely approaching this goal in the wrong way. I’ve found that usually females want to tone. Don’t get me wrong, guys want muscle tone as well, it just seems that muscle tone is usually a goal of females.

Let’s first define muscle tone as the normal level of firmness or slight contraction in a resting muscle.

I think that females usually make muscle tone their main goal, because to them, it means their muscles won’t grow, they’ll just look better. They usually want to get rid of their smoothness and increase their muscle definition. Both men and women believe that training a muscle in an area that is smooth will induce muscle tone. For instance, you see a lot of ladies doing tricep kickbacks and other crappy tricep isolation exercises to train their triceps in an attempt to get rid of the flabbiness on the back of their upper arms. Another example would be an individual performing hundreds of sit-ups so they can have a ripped six-pack.

Let’s go over why this NEVER works by itself. First of all, hypertrophying (growing) a muscle will obviously increase the cross-sectional area of a muscle. So say a female is sitting around 25% body fat, and they hypertrophy their upper arm in an attempt to increase muscle tone. Will they all of a sudden lose the subcutaneous fat surrounding their upper arms and have ripped triceps at the SAME body fat percentage? Nope.

We’ve all seen teenage guys with incredibly small arms, yet they still have muscle tone. More often than not, they haven’t even touched a weight, yet they still have a six pack and have very small but defined muscles. This teen would be sitting around 10% body fat. Now, if that same kid, was to put on 20lbs, he would increase his body weight, lean mass and fat mass. Seeing as how he would probably be new to resistance training, he would be able to put on a lot of lean mass, compared to a more experienced individual. He would hypertrophy his muscles and he would STILL be defined.

Can you tell the difference between the two examples I gave. The lady has body fat levels which are too high to show any muscle tone. The younger kid, who already had tone, yet little amounts of muscle, will be toned when he grows from training. Can you guess what the difference is between these two individuals? If you guessed body fat or body composition then you hit the nail on the head.

Changing your body composition through diet is going to be your number one ally in achieving muscle tone. Now, that is not to say that resistance training has no place in attaining the muscle tone that you are after. It most certainly does. I highly doubt it’s anyones goal to be incredibly skinny and toned. Having muscle on top of a body at low body fat is usually the look people are after.

I have researched on how to increase muscle tone. Christian Thibaudeau talks about this topic a lot. I came upon several different resources that state the same thing. Basically, lifting heavy, somewhere in your 3-5RM (rep max) range for a few sets will increase myogenic (muscle) tone better than light loads. If you look at pictures of people who lift heavy weight, they have a more dense full look to their muscles.

This study compared females lifting for 2 sets of their 8 at 85% of their 8 RM with lifting for 15 repetitions at 45% of their 8 RM. The study concluded that the 8 reps at 85% of the 8 RM (aka heavier weights) will consume the same amount of calories as the lighter version but increase oxygen consumptions, and therefore calories burned after the exercise is performed. It doesn’t say anything about increasing muscle tone, but it goes to show that ladies should not fear lifting heavier. It will positively affect your metabolism (or increase your metabolism).

The main message I want to portray to you here is that lifting weights for sets of 20 WILL NOT increase your muscle tone. As a matter of fact, it won’t do much of anything at all. Although there are circumstances where 20 reps can be used, it should NEVER be the norm.

The real secret to increasing muscle tone is getting rid of the fat surrounding your muscles so you can actually see the hard work you’ve put in. The only way to do this is to be in a caloric deficit. You need to be consuming less calories than you are expending. This should be done by consuming less calories in addition to adding resistance training and maybe a little steady state cardio on the side. That’s what will get you your sought after muscle tone.

Artificial Sugar’s Effects on Appetite, Insulin and Blood Glucose, Fat Gain, and Genotoxicity

Yay or Nay?
There are a couple things I’ve noticed about artificial sugar lately. I wanted to learn more about it myself, so I researched and got some valuable information to share with you. I will also share my own anecdotal evidence (which doesn’t prove anything) to tell you how artificial sweeteners seem to affect me.

A good friend of mine had this odd hypothesis that whenever he ate all you can eat sushi, you’d be able to eat more when you consumed a diet pop drink along with the food. At first I thought it was a bunch of mumbo jumbo, but the last time we went I tried it. It actually seemed to work too. Then I started diving into the research to find the effects of artificial sweeteners (AS) on appetite and other hormones.

I was unable to find a definitive answer for my question on how AS affects appetite. This study checked out the effects of stevia and aspartame vs. sucrose (table sugar). The researchers looked at the effects on food intake, satiety, and postprandial blood glucose and insulin levels. The aspartame and stevia drinks contained 290 kcals while the sucrose beverage contained 493 kcal.

Subjects who consumed the AS did not compensate by eating more at their next meal compared to the sucrose group. As a result the AS group consumed ~300 less calories than the sucrose group. Postprandial glucose and insulin blood concentrations were significantly lower in the AS group compared to the sucrose group.

This study had a very interesting conclusion. Their research on female restrained eaters concluded that the subjects consumed the same total calories while consuming either AS or sucrose beverages. The following day energy intake was significantly higher in the AS group. This study concluded that the consumption of AS makes no difference on calorie intake and may actually increase calorie intake.

Another study concluded that the consumption of AS beverages did not increase short-term hunger or food intake.

This study somewhat supports my friends hypothesis. 18 Normal weight young adults received 5 different treatments at 1100h. They then ate a buffet lunch at 1205, where their food intake was closely measured. The treatments included: 280 ml of carbonated mineral water (CMW) (control), 560 ml of CMW, 280 ml of CMW with 340 mg of encapsulated APM, 280 ml of CMW sweetened with 340 mg APM, 560 ml of an APM-sweetened soft drink (340 mg APM. This study concluded that the liquid volume of the drink suppressed appetite. The 280mL of AS mineral water significantly increased subjective appetite relative to the control. It should be noted that none of the treatments had effects on the food intake or macronutrient selection.

These studies really don’t allow one to come to a definitive conclusion. One thing that was constant in a those studies was the effect that AS had on blood glucose and blood insulin levels. That is, postprandial glucose and insulin blood concentrations were lower in the AS groups compared to the sucrose groups. This research would back the use of AS drinks to help control blood sugar in certain populations.

The other popular subject that comes up when talking about AS is its effects on our general health. It has been said that AS can cause cancer. There is evidence, that in rats (males and females) and mice (males only) aspartame can act as a carcinogenic agent at multiple sites. There is also some evidence that aspartame and other AS can cause genotoxicity (mutagenic or carcinogenic) in mice.

None of these studies have shown effects on humans. The National Cancer Institute has deemed AS as being safe to consume. Check the site linked above to see the research on AS on humans… There isn’t any that proves anything. I’d also like to add that this study showed no negative effects on mice in low doses.

I personally don’t really consume artificial sweeteners at the moment. I have used Splenda in the past, and thoroughly enjoyed it.From my own experience I can say that diet pop increases my hunger while eating. Maybe it’s a placebo, but it really seems to have that effect. If someone is on a hypocaloric diet and they want to have pop while keeping the calories off, then I would suggest using AS drinks. I don’t think there is a need for anyone having high doses of sweet foods in general, so high doses of AS probably aren’t needed either. Put your thoughts about this topic in the comments box below.

My Training For The Week

I’ve switched to a different training program. I was running the reverse pyramid training for about 4 months. I really enjoyed it, but I’ve been feeling like training more frequently and the protocol only called for 3x per week. If time was an issue, which eventually would be, then it’s a great program.

I’m now doing more frequency, and more volume. I’m using a lot of Christian Thibaudeau training principles. His principles are quite sound for bodybuilding, performance, and olympic athletes. However, for the regular 40 year old man or woman who is just trying to get into shape, overhead pressing may be contraindicated due to thoracic, scapulothoracic, scapulohumeral, or shoulder joint issues.

Here are his 5 princples:
1) train pushing muscles mainly for performance
2) The back responds better to higher fatigue and less frequent stimulations
3) Autoregulate depending on what you can do on any given day
4) The emphasis is on pushing movements patterns (upper and lower)
5) The more work you do without exceeding your capacity to recover, the more you’ll progress

I really like how he introduced me to auto-regulation. Auto-regulation is regulating your training on a session-by-session basis. The central nervous system controls a lot of what are body is capable of. Due to this, we cannot linearly progress at the same rate. For instance, if one week you lift 200 for 6 reps, then the next week, your program may require you to lift 205 for 6. This may work at some points, but at other points 205 may feel incredibly heavy. So he suggests you regulate your training depending on what your capacity is for that individual day.

I’m using some of his wave loading protocols that can be found here.

My split is:
Day One: Upper Body Push staggered with traps, rhomboid and rear delt work
Day Two: Squat + Lower Body
Day Three: Upper Body Push staggered with traps, rhomboid and rear delt work
Day Four: Lats + Biceps
Day Five: Deadlift + Lower body

Here is what I did this week (all core exercises are done with onlhy 3 reps):
Day One: OH Press 8 sets worked up to around 185
Cable Face Pulls 4-5 easy sets
Incline bench 5 sets up to 230
Rear delt raises
Flat Bench 5 sets up to 250

Day Two:
Power clean 8 sets up to 225
Rack Deads 5 sets to 545
Box Squats 8 sets w/ 225. Really light here, just grooving the movement pattern
Drag Curls 6 sets up to 45’s per side
Fat Gripz DB Hammer Curls 8 sets of 3 with 40’s

Day Three:
Push Press 8 sets up to 225
Incline Bench 5 sets to 230
Floor Bench 5 sets to 230
Same assistance as day one

Day Four:
Chins 8 sets to 45
Corner Rows 5 sets to 305
Unilateral Corner Rows 5 sets up to 160
BB Curl 5 sets up to 40’s per side
Reverse Curl w/ short BB 5×5 up to 30’s
EZ Preacher Curls 5×5 up to 40’s

Day Five:
Haven’t done this yet, so the weight will be unknown. The Box squats will be heavier. I haven’t done power snatches in a long time, but they’re always a lot of fun. I’m not really trying to get my legs much bigger, as I’m happy with where they are now. I’m just mainly trying to maintain them, and increase strength in squats and deadlifts.
Power Snatches
Box Squats
Calf Press

Breakfast and Calorie Counting

I’m going to go over a couple things what I’ve learned so far on my current Intermittent Fasting diet. It’s probably going to run contrary to much of what you have been lead to believe. If that’s the case, wake up and smell the horse shit the media feeds you everyday. Keep an open mind.

Breakfast Is Required For Fat Loss

Wrong. I’ve mentioned this many times on this blog and on facebook. You simply do NOT need to eat as soon as you wake up. I’d been brain washed into believing this for years. Luckily for me I had an appetite in the morning, so eating breakfast was an easy task.

For many people it is not easy to eat ‘breakfast’. Many people just aren’t hungry in the morning. Skipping breakfast really isn’t a problem. Skipping an entire meal however, is a problem. For instance, if you’re eating only 2x/day and you aren’t eating breakfast, this is an issue that should probably be addressed. You should still have ‘breakfast’ but it doesn’t necessarily need to be eaten as soon as you wake up.

Is this what your breakfast ends up looking like?
The reason skipping breakfast may be an issue for SOME people, is that they go the entire day hungry and then end up eating shitty snacks, soft drinks and crap like that throughout the day to eliminate their appetite.

If this sounds like you, you have a few options. First, you could try consuming breakfast (doesn’t have to be eggs, sausages and hashbrowns from Denny’s. It can just be the first meal of the day) at a certain convenient time each day. If you can’t eat during work, then have your first meal at lunch. I’ve found since I’ve had the same eating window each day, that my appetite really isn’t ever an issue.

You could also try having a protein shake. They are easy to down, and you can easily add ingredients to them to make them healthy. Ingredients that can be added: blueberries, bananas, pretty much any other berry, oats (preferably cooked, but if you only have small amount of raw oats, they can be consumed un-cooked), cottage cheese, skim milk, green leafy veggies (weird I know, but if you can mask the taste with other food, it’s a great way to get veggies in your diet. I like spinach). There is really a hell of a lot of food you can experiment with. These shakes are easy to digest and will give your body a constant stream of macro and micronutrients for a few hours until your next meal.

The third option, which is along the same lines as the first is to break down your daily calorie intake and find out how much you are eating daily. Then make various adjustments from there. This is the method I use on myself and my clients. It’s very in depth and really allows you to still eat “bad” foods while still losing weight.

Not Counting Calories If Extreme Leanness Is Your Goal
When I was bulking, I still had a range of calories I wanted to reach each day. It may have been increased by 1000-2000 calories if I ate some high fat foods, but It was still always more calories and not less.

Now that I’m cutting, I am forced to be more of a stickler. I know exactly how many calories are in the foods I eat everyday. This way, when my weight begins to plateau I can remove foods from my diet and lower my calorie intake.

I DO NOT think that people who are just maintaining their weight should be concerned with counting calories. It’s really not that big an issue, as long as you aren’t gaining weight. If you want to get into single digit bodyfat and keep your hard earned muscle mass, then it’s important to know how many calories you are getting per day and how much protein you are getting per day.

A few years ago, I went on a cut and lost 20 lbs in a month. I looked incredibly small and I didn’t feel like my body composition had improved too much. I also lost a significant amount of strength. This was because I cut too fast and didn’t have adequate amounts of protein in my diet. This time around I’m aiming for about 2-3 lbs per month. I am keeping my strength (even gaining on certain exercises) and I still look muscular but with noticeable leanness. I used this example to show how important protein consumption is during a fat loss phase.

Another reason to consume protein during a fat loss phase is satiety. I’ve written about how a higher protein consumption leads to increased satiety. If hunger is an issue during a hypo-caloric diet, which it usually is, then consuming adequate amounts of protein to stave off hunger is very important.

My Training For The Week

This was my first week training 4x. I still have my heavier squat day. For probably the first time, I’m actually looking forward to squats. I guess you can say I’m a little crazy. I’ve also been doing only push-ups this week to give my shoulders a break. They feel noticeably better.

I’ve been doing band resisted push-ups. They are HARD. I’ll try and get a video up sometime. I was using my Elite FTS hard band and I could only do about 8 reps. It was really hurting my wrists from the extension torque though. So I grabbed the push-up handles and repositioned my wrists and they felt fine. They also made them even more difficult.

Day I: Rack Deads DE: 6×3
Weighted Chins
Band Resisted Push-Ups

Day II: Light Box Squats. I think I did about 8 sets.

Day III: TRX Inverted Rows
Band Resisted Push-Ups
Wide Grip Pull-Ups

Day IV: Box Squats
Hip Thrusts

I’m using 80 lbs on the TRX rows, but they fell off my chest. It was really annoying having to use a dumbbell and it doesn’t balance well either. My friend had to keep it balanced on there while I performed. So I may have to make changes to that exercise. We’ll see.

My bodyweight is still dropping at a good pace. Even though I’m eating pretty low calories I’m still feeling satiated. It’s a great feeling. I still have a ways to go before I get to where I want, but I know 100% that I’ll get there. I’ve decided I’m going to try and get down to around 5% bodyfat. It’ll depend on how I feel at that weight though. If I’m constantly hungry and not feeling great, I’ll have to cut it short. I have a few ideas to prevent that, we’ll see when I get down there.

The Info On Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years I’m sure you’ve heard off fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids. It’s on of the few supplements that is NOT a fad item. It has extensive scientific backing and is continuously studied. I’ll go over what exactly omega-3 fatty acids are. I’ll also take explain why I think EVERYONE should be taking omega-3’s. I’ll also discuss a few of the endless benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a polyunsaturated fat. Although omega-3 fats are usually considered the “healthy” fat; saturated and omega-6 fats are very important for numerous functions. Omega-3 fats differ from omega-6 fats in that their double bonds are located in a different position along the fatty acid. Omega-3 fats can be further categorized into other fatty acids. “The most important ones are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosohexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Inland plant sources such as flax and walnuts are rich in ALA, while marine sources such as fish oils and algae (the original omega-3 source for fish) are rich in EPA and DHA, which are widely recognized as the most beneficial omega-3.” (Berardi, 2010)

Let’s examine the functions of omega-3’s in our body. Omega-3s and omega-6 both aid in the formation of certain eicosanoids which effect blood triglycerides, cholesterols, blood vessels, inflammation and metabolism. According to Berardi (2007) omega-6’s promote blood vessel constriction, inflammation, blood clotting, pain, and airway constrictions. Omega-3’s promote blood vessel dilation, anti-inflammatory effects, anti-coagulant effects, a decrease in pain, and airway dilation. All these functions are important which is why a balance between these fats is important.

The main reason people should be using fish oil is simply because our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is completely skewed nowadays. Studies have shown wide variations in omega-6:omega-3 ratios. This study found the ratio to be between 10:1 and 25:1 omega-6:omega-3 ratios. The variability doesn’t matter, because both those numbers are ridiculously inflated. The same study and other sources I have read show that human evolved to have a balanced 1:1 ratio. We were meant to eat marine life, game meat, and plants. Western society simply doesn’t eat this way anymore

You may be wondering what in our diet has forced our omega-6:omega-3 ratio to become so unbalanced. Reasons include the increased consumption of various vegetable oils as well as corn-fed meat. Salmon farms are even starting to feed salmon corn, I can’t begin to tell you how messed up that is. Pigs, cows, chicken, turkey tend to be the main animals we eat, they are all meant to eat grass, not corn. The fat contained in grass is composed of primarily omega-3 fatty acids, this carries over to the meat when it is consumed by us.

So if you eat only wild fish and grass fed meat you may have no need to supplement with omega-3’s. This is a rather pricey way to eat though, which is most likely why most people don’t consume grass-fed meat. This is unfortunate. It’s not really anything new though, high-calorie foods tend to be cheaper because they are chalk full of shitty fillers like sugar and vegetable oils.

Let’s look at some of the other benefits of omega-3 fatty acids:

Now if those reasons aren’t enough for you to increase your omega-3 fatty acid consumption, this one may. This study studied the effects that omega-3’s have on fat loss. The participants ate a control diet for three weeks. 10-12 weeks later they replaced 6 grams/day of visible fat with 6 g/d of omega-3 fatty acids. Bodyfat mass decreased and lipid oxidation increased in the fish oil group. The fish oil group lost an average of 2 lbs in the 3 week period vs. .7 lbs in the control group. So if you are on a fat loss diet, supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids would be an additional benefit.

I don’t work for nor am I sponsored by any supplement company. The research about fish oils is just hard to dismiss. I will admit that a lot of supplements out there are crap. I think anyone consuming supplements should actively research the compounds in the supplement to make sure that the claims the seller makes are true. Most of the time they just aren’t. Or they have little to no benefit.

When buying fish oil look for high amounts of EPA and DHA. A capsule should have >250mg of DHA and EPA combined. Daily recommendations vary, but at least 500mg should be consumed per day. Famous strength coach Charles Poliquin suggests taking around 10-15 grams of fish oil per day. You really can’t have too much in my opinion. If you can afford to take more than go for a higher dosage.