This looked really good.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Butter and Frozen Bananas

So this is one of my latest creations and until today I hadn’t tried it with Yogurt and Milk (I supposedly have a milk protein allergy, pffff).  Since my last smoothie I recommended that Milk and Yogurt was an option but actually didn’t try that one (just really hard to imagine it would suck).  This one has Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut butter in it 4 TBSP (I did a double today thinking my kids might want some of this deliciousness, they didn’t, so my wife will have a treat once she gets home), 8 ounces of Whole Fage Yogurt and 8 ounces of Whole Milk.  Then you blend with 2 frozen ripe bananas (I had to throw the real bananas, without them the picture looked kind of weird).

Bananas and Justins Hazelnut Butter

Here are your options, I mostly do this with coconut milk but I will concede in this instance the yogurt and milk is better tasting.  I suspect full fat coconut milk would be a lot better because the issue is consistency.  It still is quite good.  I do use full fat coconut milk in a lot of things but in a case like this the calories would be similar to Ben and Jerry’s.  We could argue what is better and what is worse but if it’s close I am probably picking the Ben and Jerry’s.  That is why I do light coconut milk.

Also many grocery stores don’t carry full fat greek yogurt (so sad really).  So try and get at least 2%, the fat actually helps blunt the response from the sugar (lactose).  I get that we have all learned to be weird about high fat dairy but it seems like the oddest thing in the world to me that people would drink straight sugar when on a diet (skim milk).

Coconut Milk, Whole Fage and Whole Milk


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Jerky, Nuts, Tuna and Kombucha

I realize this post might trouble some people because you could take an issue with the jerky or tuna.  Look, when I can buy Buffalo Jerky or low processed foods I do every single time.  Not everyone can do this.  As you can see I have this in my house and I eat it. I think sometimes it’s the major points that need to be addressed.  Let me put that another way, the salt or soy that might be in the beef jerky is simply a better option for most people than donuts (trust me, that is the other option for a lot of people).  In terms of the nuts you could take an issue with what they are roasted in.  Yawn.  Look, here is the deal, snacking is one of the biggest problems for a lot of people.  That is why I am trying to giving remotely healthy options.  If you have better options then please share them, the one rule is that they need to be accessible everywhere.  Even though TJ’s brand nuts aren’t available everywhere certainly you can find macadamia nuts and sunflower seeds elsewhere.  If you like raw nuts then god bless.  That is just a taste I haven’t acquired yet.

Even though the snacks in this post are low carb options I threw in the Synergy Kombucha Tea (Guava is so good) because it is pretty low in carbs and really fills you up and is a perfect compliment to nuts or jerky.  If you are trying to stay under a certain amount of carbs a day this probably won’t take you over that number.  Personally I think everyone is fine doing under 100g of carbs, ketosis isn’t fat burning magic but there is value to letting your body use up the carbs you intake.

Lastly I am writing this post in response to requests from some people, take what fits and ignore the rest.

Jerky and Snacks




This might mess with people a bit but I like tuna as a snack.  Seriously.  Maybe even weirder is that I eat it with mustard.  There is actually a strong argument for eating it with mayonnaise however.  As a low fat protein source tuna will get your insulin going (not a bad thing but I like to keep insulin levels lowish throughout the day), so having it with some fat is probably a good thing.  Once again, I bought this brand because it’s widely available (but yes, I will be eating it).  Even though it says it’s a good source of Omega 3’s I would still suggest supplementing with fish oil but it’s nice to have as many O3’s from real food if possible.

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Pineapple Cherry Smoothie with TJ’s Light Coconut Milk

Pineapple Cherry Smoothie with TJ's Light Coconut Milk

This is a staple and you can get most of the ingredients at Super Target.  Technically you can get most of the ingredients everywhere but I know these taste great.  I have also used “Tree of Life” cherries but they are about double the cost.  So keep that in mind.

I almost hate throwing out this next option for smoothies because the Medium Chain Triglycerides from the Coconut Milk is so beneficial but some people find it difficult to find coconut milk that is BPA free or it has too many ingredients.  Some people also just don’t like it and that’s o’kay.  Lastly let me say if you have issues with dairy don’t do this next one, it’s that simple.  The nice thing if you can tolerate dairy is that you get protein, which is a nice add.  Do 4 ounces of whole fat milk and 4 ounces of whole yogurt, no sugar added (it’s fruit, it is full of sugar!)

Here is a good article on BPA free coconut milk cans, stay away from the plastic stuff, the texture isn’t the same and there are a few issues with it.  Of course it that’s your only option and it’s BPA free then do what you need to do.

Milk and Yogurt

Another option that I only use very sparingly (about once a week) is I have some Udi’s Granola in my yogurt.  Basically I try to really vary anything I eat and most things I am able to keep on a one week rotation.


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Maybe you’re just weak

Gun Show PicI remember someone saying something to me when I first started serious resistance training and it sticks with me to this day.  At that time I had a lot of issues, my knees popped like fireworks every time I did anything.  I couldn’t do many pull-ups because the tendons in my forearms didn’t work well.  Of course my lower back was always strained and I had (and still have) chronic shoulder issues.  I whined about this stuff all of the time because I thought that was part of what I was paying for, I paid them money, they in return needed to listen to my belly aching.  Lucky for me I had someone look me dead in the eye and tell me something I will never forget and is one of the hallmarks of my training to this day.


“Maybe you’re just weak?”


I learned early on that the first person to throw a punch in a fight is typically the victorious person.  In this instance however the person staring me in the eye was highly trained in hand to hand combat.  So that option wasn’t on the table.  So the only other option I had was to consider the question.


Addressing Weakness


I remember this well because when I first showed up in the gym I could do pull-ups but only a few reps at a time and I certainly could not get any serious sets going.  I had what is referred to as golfers elbow, the solution was to make the tendons around the elbow stronger so I bought a hand gripper and went to work.  It took a while as I recall, when I first started off doing pull ups I graduated from a black band to a green band to a blue band.  The bands didn’t make much of a difference for me because I wasn’t weak overall, I was just weak in certain spots.  I am sure by extreme standards I was indeed weak but looking around my daughters music recital I was definitely above average in that group.  I can now do weighted sets up to 60 pounds.  Pull-ups are one of those exercises that just benefit you so much, I am really glad I addressed that weakness.  I am much stronger overall as a result.


What about knee pain though?


When I would sit down in a chair the gases around the joints in my knee would pop so loudly everyone in the room would hit the floor to avoid the gunfire.  I am joking a bit but not all that much.  The depth of my squat was compromised as result and early on I iced my knees a lot (I wouldn’t do that any longer defaulting to compression but that’s another point for another day).  If I hold my hand to the side of my knee I can still feel popping but I can no longer hear the popping.  As muscles get stronger your joints, tendons and bones get stronger as well.  This is one of the reasons why doctors recommend resistance training for women (and men but women seem real dialed into this one), the strain makes bones stronger which makes you less susceptible to osteoporosis down the line.


I think you get the point, if you have pain it’s typically a sign of weakness in that area or around that area and if you work to address the weakness that is a better approach than treating the pain.


Don’t misunderstand me


One meme I hate goes something like this, whenever someone mentions anything there is always some genius that says “just lift heavy shit bro”.  I hate that because it misses the point of how you address weakness in your body.  If I had just “lifted heavy shit” to address my weaknesses early on I would have gotten hurt.  The same can be said however when you are lifting heavy, I squat over 300 and deadlift over 400 and sometimes parts of me get sore as a result, often it’s a result of just working a muscle a little too hard but occasionally it points out weak points in my lifts that I can work to make stronger.


Am I suggesting that there is no room for pain medication or surgery in extreme cases, I am not.  What I am saying though is that if you need those extreme measures it is likely due to the fact that you didn’t address weakness in a smart manner all along.

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Supplements are a poor substitute for a good plan

abouthealthyfoodsA few weeks ago I got a sore throat, I was experimenting cycling Creatine on heavy days and leaving it out on light days.  This is not an indictment of Creatine, just so you know, it’s very common to get a sore throat this time of year in Minnesota.  But it was certainly an option that the Creatine dehydrated me after not using it for a few days.  So I had two options, take Creatine more regularly which artificially keeps my weight a bit higher or lose all my gains.    The reason is simple, not only does Creatine help endurance and increase capacity to your muscle cells but it is also a myostatin inhibitor, which is known to be catabolic (tears down tissue, not just muscle).  If you really want to screw with people in the gym simply say the word catabolic.  I like to think of myself as a science friendly alternative to a lot of the extreme noise you hear related to health and nutrition but it’s very easy to get caught up in all of that.  Which is why it’s not uncommon at the moment to have some skinny guy telling some jacked woman or man what “is” and “is not” correct.  When said jacked woman or man laughs in that persons face she/he is labeled a “bro-scientist”.  Bro-science (why isn’t there a female alternative to this) is simply the act of ignoring actual science in favor of what has always worked.  The obvious implication is that “what has always worked” works despite the actions of the person lifting the heavy weights because it stares in the face of actual science.


What about protein or carbs in the peri-workout cycle?


If you are not familiar with the term the peri-workout cycle is the time before, during and after your workout.  The idea being that you may need carbs to fuel your workouts (you don’t), BCAA’s during your workouts and more carbs and proteins post workout, possibly with some BCAA’s thrown in there for good measure.  We certainly wouldn’t want you to go catabolic.  Working out also serves another function which is often overblown as well, it frees up fatty acids that could potentially be used as energy.  The only problem is that if you are slamming all of these “anabolic” (builds tissue, not just muscle) foods it comes at a cost, your body then uses those foods as energy and since all of them are insulinogenic (they all increase insulin) burning fat becomes a distant goal during this point.  It is much more likely with all that insulin trying to build tissue that those fats get re-stored into your body.  Which is o’kay that is what body building is all about.


Let’s be clear, all the insulin panic out there is for the most part silly unless you are a diabetic or pre-diabetic but you should be aware of the role of insulin.  Insulin builds stuff in your body which is an antagonist to the stuff that leans you out.  Not forever, just for short bursts of time.  This is the problem with the overly scientific approach to body composition, people go to the extreme for extreme results when a good balanced approach is the best long term course of action.  Let me say that another way, most of the people I talk to on a daily basis want results tomorrow, not two years from now.  Why is that? It’s because what they have been doing so far has not been working and it seems obvious that going in the opposite direction is the logical fix.  Indeed it may be the fix depending on what you are doing for health and longevity but I bet you weren’t doing everything wrong because that is rarely the case.  I don’t get a lot of severely obese people calling me so that is the basis for my statement above.  Most people aren’t doing everything wrong, just a few things.


Are you a body builder?


You might be surprised at my response because I think everyone is a body builder in some way shape or form.  We all want to look good naked and whether you lift weights, run or do something else you do that as a manner of addressing the way your body looks and feels.  So let me tell you one of my basic tenets that actually ticks a lot of people off:


You should be building your body most of the time and dieting occasionally


The ultimate goal being under 10% body fat for men and 20% body fat for women, both are highly negotiable in my mind because not everyone is built similarly.  Genetics play a big factor here, I see a lot of men and women trying to fight their bodies basic nature trying to get to arbitrary numbers when the mirror should clearly tell them those numbers should not matter for their body type.  So body type matters a great deal.  With that said you will only go so far with your body composition goals using diet alone, I’ll clarify that a bit by saying “in a healthy manner”.  There are a lot of men and women walking around that are in danger of a stiff wind bringing them to their knees, this hopefully isn’t you.


The question ultimately is do you need supplements to build your body and I would suggest that if you aren’t below the numbers I mentioned above that answer is likely maybe with a strong leaning towards no.  The debate on whether or not supplements are better than whole foods bores me.  The more accurate question for most people is “can you meet your nutrient requirements with real food” and that answer is 100% yes.  The reason people take protein supplements as an example often comes down to the fact that they aren’t getting their total protein in a day without it.  I recommend a number in grams close to your lean body mass, this might only change if you are looking to dramatically increase your lean muscle mass, otherwise that number does seem to do the trick as long as your workouts are asking you to use said nutrients.


What about nutrient timing?


I am certainly a fan and I believe that small changes make big differences over time.  The key there is “over time”.  So let me break it down.  Would 60 grams of protein post workout as your only source of protein be better than getting 150g throughout the day? Certainly not and to some the example is absurd but it’s very common for people to ignore amount of protein throughout the day as a significant number.  The science is very clearly on the side of amount of protein overall being more important than around your workouts.  Another frequent question is “how would this affect my recovery?”.  I will concede that your (and my) recovery is likely better if you ingest protein (or BCAA’s) in a liquid form around your workouts.  The reason you might not take it is because it might be contrary to your weight loss or “leaning out” goals.  I think of supplements like insurance, it’s good to have them there in a pinch but they are there to insure your overall intake in case you lack nutrients for that day.  Once again I need to step back and ask who you are? Are you a body builder prepping for stage or a mother of four in the burbs? Because the difference matters in terms of what I recommend (though honestly if you are a body builder prepping for stage I am probably not your guy).


When and how many carbs should I eat daily?


I eat my carbs at night and have for almost two years.  This stands in the face of the standard recommendation that most people think is correct, namely that you should not only avoid carbs after 6pm (seriously google it, it’s unreal).  I first heard this recommendation from Bob Greene on Oprah but it was later made famous by Elle Macpherson.  In a sense it’s hard to argue with when you look at it as a form of intermittent fasting.  Even if you are assuming that there is some food after 6pm it’s pretty clear that ketogenic diets (fats and proteins) work similar to fasting without food.  Either way there is no magic here but I think I can make a strong argument against it.  Namely that you shouldn’t go to bed hungry and you can get a similar result by simply delaying breakfast.  Let’s assume that Elle Macpherson stops eating at 6pm and wakes up at 6am and eats her carb meals.  Does she eat carbs in an unrestricted manner? I am going to suggest she does not, so let’s assume she takes a conscious approach to her carbohydrate intake.  Also it matters which carbs we are talking about here and are those carbs the exclusive sources of nutrition at those times? Once again, lot’s of factors.  The reason I eat carbs and night and that is what I recommend is because you go to bed full and that fact allows your sleep to do it’s best work.  The basic function of sleep is to repair the damage you did to your body throughout the day, every single day.  Carbs as a general rule make you sleepy and full.  Trust me, I tried it the other way and failed multiple times before I quit banging my head against the same wall.


This of course leads me to how many carbs you should eat and that question is also multi-pronged.  As a baseline I start at 100g a day, I don’t feel like 100g a day is magic but assuming you are eating an adequate amount of protein and eating a moderate amount of fat 100g’s will keep your bodily inflammation in check.  So that is my recommendation for sedate people.  For active people my recommendation changes, women hold glucose in their muscles better than men so I recommend lower amounts for women because of this fact.  I tend to stay under 200g a day with less most days and more the days before I lift heavy.  I am 162 pound man, this is what works for me after trial and error.  Most people would do well to see what works for them (or hire someone to help them figure it out, wink wink).


Should I avoid fat at night?


This is a really funny one because most of the “science based” folks are doing something similar to what the bro-scientist do.  They are taking what they know about one topic and applying it to multiple topics without significant evidence.  Namely that you need to feed your muscles glucose for performance (I agree) and that the best approach to doing so is in the absence of fat.  The assumption part happens based on logic, the logic that the carbs are going to keep insulin high and therefore cause the fat to store more easily.  It’s the basis for all calorie cycling.  The only problem with this assumption is that isn’t what most of the studies are suggesting because there is rarely a mention of fat restriction.  In fact, most of these studies really don’t care about the whole carb part, they are more interested in whether or not people function better with their calories in the evening.  Fats blunt insulin so the uptake of glucose to your cells is slowed.  Fats also slow digestion.  Much of the science suggesting eating carbs at night is the exact science that suggested you shouldn’t eat after 6pm.  Namely that it inhibited your bodies recovery hormones.  So the hypothesis goes that if you eat your fats with carbs (glucose) that slows the digestion and then slows your bodies ability to recover.  I am not going to argue that it does or does not but I would like to point out that the science is not completely there.


I don’t avoid fats at night when I eat my carbs and it hasn’t been my experience that eating less fat and more carbs is substantially better for both me and many of the people that I have worked with.  Those people are not professional body builders however, so if your goal is to be a professional body builder or even just compete on stage then you should at least consider what I am suggesting.  That is simply this, since fat slows digestion it allows for the glucose you are eating to more effectively load into your body over a slightly longer period of time.  This means that you can get a similar (granted possibly worse) result eating fats with fewer carbs.  The ultimate point being that it’s incredibly hard to use very specific studies from scientific literature to make broad generalizations.  The more accurately you can define the study for a specific outcome the less relevant it becomes for the whole.  I am not arguing that carb cycling can’t work, I am arguing that a balanced plan can be similarly effective.


It all comes down to your goals and plans


About a month ago I started cycling in some Westside Barbell training for strength in conjunction with my normal Crossfit workouts.  I have made a few adjustments to make this work, the Westside stuff is typically more heavy work so at Crossfit I don’t always try to Rx the workout depending on how it works with my Westside schedule (or the conjugate method).  Even though I probably rambled a lot on various topics I actually sat down to write this article because it has been surprising to me how much my strength is benefitting just by changing things up a bit.  Especially when you consider that I stopped taking all supplements as a result of getting sick.  When I first stopped I felt more sore than I do now because my body has simply adjusted (could have been that I was sick).  It’s also hard to say that I wasn’t just sore because I was doing something harder.  For the good majority of the year I used supplements and carb drinks as a way to help my muscle gains.  It worked, I gained about 10 pounds of muscle.  I also gained some fat, which happens.  What I didn’t foresee is that I would have similar, if not better gains, without those supplements and carb drinks.  The ultimate point being that science isn’t wrong, it’s just incomplete.  You have to apply what you know and tailor it to your needs.  Creatine, Protein, Dextrose or whatever, they aren’t miracles that will make you jacked.  Getting under the bar and seeking out progress is way more effective than any supplement you will take.  I know it took me a long while to make that point but that is where I was going all along.  The problem with writing a simple article is that the minute you address some topic you have to qualify that topic by explaining it and so sometimes these articles go long.  In the end I hope it helps people more than it confuses them.

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What is your fat loss plan?

nutrition personal trainingRecently I went to a party and and at parties you have a lot of people that ask “so what are doing for a living now”? For me this question could literally go a bunch of ways but I default to “Nutrition Coach”.  This sometimes leads to the person pretending to ignore what I said while simultaneously avoiding me like I have pink eye but most times it ends up starting dialogue with 4 to 5 people huddled around my every word.  Maybe most importantly though is when people go get their significant other or friend with something like “you absolutely have to hear this”.  There are some reasons for that but I am going to start at the beginning.  All of these conversations start the same with them saying they want to lose weight and I clarify by saying they want to lose fat.  Most agree, some do the pink eye thing at this point.  This is usually when they ask me about “XYZ” diet plan.  If you do not know I am not a huge fan of any plan per se I default to an overall understanding of food and nutrients and typically at that point the path becomes more clear.  If it does not I can steer clients in the direction they need to go and then typically the path becomes clear from there.

“Do you have a fat loss plan”

“Yes, I am doing Weight Watchers” or “Yes, I eat Paleo” is in incorrect answer.  You may in fact lose fat using those plans but that is not the primary focus of the plan.  That is not a criticism, it’s simply fact.  Here is what I mean, with Weight Watchers you are basically restricting calories in order to lose weight, thus the name.  You are watching your weight without respect for what those calories typically represent from a fat burning perspective, so if you lose say 20 pounds some percentage of that will be fat but it’s only a percentage focusing on the whole and does not specifically target fat.  Paleo dieters better target fat but that also is not the primary focus of the diet.  The primary focus of the diet is to change what you eat from a health perspective.  It does this primarily through recommending whole foods while restricting carbohydrate and foods like grains or dairy.  Once again, not a criticism, I am simply attempting to explain the purpose of the diet to highlight my next points and how they differ.

There are diets that do a better job of targeting fat but they typically come with a nasty side product, they require you to be very precise with food intake and/or activity levels.  Two that come to mind are “If It Fits Your Macros” which is very popular in the body building community and “Zone Diet” which is popular in the Crossfit community.  Both require a level of precision that the good majority of people just would not prefer.

Lastly let me mention Intermittent Fasting because I have more than a few articles on this site about it.  Intermittent Fasting is not a fat loss plan per se.  For instance, you can not eat in an unrestricted way and without some level of counter balance that corresponds with fasting.  Many IF’ers count their calories, many do not but have an approach similar to the one I will mention later.

There are critics and zealots for all of these approaches and my point is not to have an opinion on any of them as much as I think mentioning them highlights the task at hand.  Namely, if you want to lose fat you need a plan.

Establishing a baseline

Every diet I mentioned has a baseline, said simply a baseline is a starting point for a diet (this is typically the first few chapters).  From there the diet typically gets tweaked related to the goals of the individual (that is usually the middle chapters, the rest of the chapters tend to be recipes).  My approach focuses mostly on whole foods but I do not ask people to count calories (or blocks in the case of the “Zone Diet”) because I think for most people it is not necessary.  I like to say that whatever you do needs to be a lifetime plan.  So if you are a beer drinker trying Paleo as a weight loss plan that is not a real good lifetime plan because beer is a grain and a high carb source.  Therefore it’s not going to be a good plan unless you have decided to give up beer for life by my definition.  That is not to say that you could not figure out a way to do Paleo and then eventually incorporate beer later on but that inherently becomes a different plan.  The goal, as I typically lay it out, is to come up with a plan that you keeps you on the same course.

There are times where counting is valuable but it does not need to be to the level of all your foods.  I am a big proponent of getting in a base level of protein so my clients track that for the first few days.  Most people are deficient in the amount of protein they eat on a daily basis and these few days tend to highlight that to them which as an easy fix to the overall problem.  Another way to keep track without keeping track is to look at the parts of your diet that are not vegetables or unprocessed meats.  These are typically your higher calorie items and so if you are eating a pound of almonds a day as an example that could be stalling your fat loss.

Simply eating less

I work on a referral basis so I do not typically throw out offers related to what I charge or “fat loss deals” but I find it astounding that people think they can just eat less.  Trust me, most people have tried the “eat less mashed potatoes” approach and it’s gotten them nowhere.  One criticism I do have for calorie restricted programs is that it naturally limits your energy output, this fact can not be argued by the most ardent zealot for whatever approach that restricts your energy intake.  Inherently if you take away energy arbitrarily it compromises your system.

Similarly if you add activity without addressing for a potential need of additional nutrients you might not get the result you are looking for.  Sure the personal trainer you are working out with might be fit but is that a result of their understanding of how to get you lean? Or is it possibly a result of a life related to staying fit? The majority of my clients are referred to me by personal trainers that have customers that need a customized approach.

“Why” is actually important

What most diet systems tend to do is give you a plan and ultimately you become reliant on that plan for success.  That way when people ask you what you did to look so great you get to say “I am on the Zone Diet” or whatever system it is.  Diets get powerful word of mouth mostly from people that simply want to look like their friends that are having success.  Why the diet is working is either completely obvious (you are eating less food than your body is asking you for) or you simply do not care at this point.  A lot of people just want “A” approach, the problem with just any old approach is that old question again “can you do it for life?”.  I attempt to explain why foods work the way they do and the impact that activity/exercise has on those foods.  From there we work out a strategy based on their life.  It’s not as simple as reading a blog or cost less than the latest diet book that is all the rage but it is typically cheaper than hiring a personal trainer or joining a gym.  Both of which you may still do but it seems to me you will get a better result from both of those things by talking to me first.





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