5 Habits, Superfoods, and me

I’ve been fairly happy with my diet over the last few years, but that being said, I’m not as lean as I would like to be, and I’ve known I could be making better choices. Since finishing my Precision Nutrition certification, however, I’ve decided I’d better crack the whip and get myself into gear.

Fortunately Precision Nutrition isn’t a specific “diet” so I’m not really restricted to anything or more importantly, a lack of anything. Since I want to have a good idea of the different approaches presented, I’ve started with the “5 Habits and Superfood” based nutrition. I like this approach because, as the name might indicate, it’s a few simple guidelines with some (super)food suggestions. That’s it. So what does a day on my new PN “diet” look like? (The correct answer is yummy…)

Breakfast: Chopped apple and berries with light greek yogurt and a sprinkle of chocolate protein powder, plus a large glass of water, my fish oil tablets and multivitamin.

Mid-morning snack: Veggie sticks (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower), homemade hummus, and two hard boiled eggs. plus a cup of green tea.

Lunch: Thai green curry with chicken, based on a recipe from PN’s own Georgie Fear. If you need some help with healthy and delicious in the kitchen, check out her blog and recipes. She’s awesome!

Mid-afternoon snack: Chocolate zucchini protein cupcakes and carrot sticks with a glass of water.

During and immediately post-training: Protein shake.

Dinner (45 minutes post-training): Thai curry from lunch, with half a cup of brown rice.

Dinner x 2 (I went on a photo-taking adventure with Chez and was starving again when we got home!): Chopped apple, greek yogurt, and protein powder. Cup of black tea with milk and a chocolate chipper (another Ask Georgie recipe).

The majority of my days look like this (minus the chipper at the end of the night, that’s not really supposed to be there!), with the biggest differences being lunch – usually a spinach salad with quinoa and hard boiled eggs, grilled chicken or steak, depending on what’s in the fridge, and dinner is usually something similar, or grilled steak/chicken/fish and steamed veggies.

I’m still working on adding a few more things to be super-compliant with the “5 Habits and Superfoods” approach, but it’s all coming along. I’ve been on the “eat frequently” bandwagon for a long time, so having a meal every 2-4 hours is not a problem. In fact, if it goes a lot longer than that, watch out. I’m also a-ok with a high protein diet, but am working on subbing more beans in for the animal proteins. And since my current goal is to lean out, I’m cutting out starchy carbs, which has been much less of an issue than I had imagined. Overall, I’m actually really enjoying the minor tweaks to my normal nutritional approach, and eating clean means I’m well-fueled and feeling awesome – and those extra choc chippers that sometimes sneak in are less guilt inducing!

To learn more about the 5 Habits and Super food approach, or how Precision Nutrition can help you feel great and achieve your training and physique goals, contact me here.


The Supermodel Liquid Diet

When I was a kid, I hated drinking water. As far as I could tell, it had no nutritional value. After all, it tasted like nothing and was clear. How good could it be? About the only benefit I was aware of was that you had to have eight glasses a day to look like a supermodel.

Well, those girls might have been on to something. Yes, being well-hydrated does wonders for your complexion. Now it turns out that it might also do wonders for your body fat percentage. Continue reading

Precision Nutrition Week 4

Want to gain weight? Want to lose weight? Want to recover faster from an injury or illness? Want to just plain feel better?

It all comes down to energy balance, a fancy way of describing how much energy you’re giving your body compared with how much energy your body needs.  If you give your body more energy than it’s using (positive energy balance) it will store that energy either as fat, or as muscle, provided you get enough protein and train like a demon to stimulate the growth.  If you give your body less energy than it’s using (negative energy balance), weight loss will occur. This doesn’t always mean fat loss though – if you aren’t using enough muscle, your body will happily break down protein (read: lean muscle mass and organs). In fact, if your energy intake is low enough, your body will happily break down protein and leave your fat stores as untouched as it can. Obviously this is not a desirable outcome.

See, as smart as we think we are, there can be quite a substantial disconnect between our bodies and our brains. We might know we have a big dinner coming up, or we’re going out for a special occasion, and so we might skip a meal to save up the calories for that occasion. The problem with this is that our bodies have no idea that this big, calorie dense meal is coming up. They just recognize that they aren’t getting any energy in… and to make sure they can physically survive as long as possible, they will keep as much energy in reserve as possible. Without enough stimulus – i.e. training – to tell your body to hand onto its muscle mass, that will turn into a fuel source and leave your fat stores as untouched as possible.

So if energy balance is important, we should probably have some idea of how much energy we need. To get a absolute and conclusive figure, this would mean spending some serious time in a lab hooked up to some machines. This is clearly beyond most of us. But we can get a fairly accurate estimate, using any number of equations. One of the most common equations estimating energy output is the Harris-Benedict equation, which estimates our resting metabolic rate (RMR) – they energy we need just to stay alive:

Harris-Benedict equation for RMR:

Men = 66.5 + (13.75 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.76 – age in years)

Women = 655 + (9.56 x weight in kg) + (1.85 x height in cm) – (4.68 – age in years)

Some people apply an Activity factor to these results to determine a more accurate measure of energy output. I first found this on T Nation, spelled out here for all of us newbies by Canadian strength coach Christian Thibaudeau, who is not only world-famous as a strength coach, but also possibly because he looks strikingly like Vin Diesel.

Anyway, I see a lot of merit in the use of an Activity factor. Even though I’ve never found any research supporting this (though it’s possible I’m just looking in the wrong places) I currently use it with all my clients, particularly athletes, and will continue to do so until Dr. Berardi tells me otherwise!

I’m interested though, in seeing trying it with a different RMR equation: the Mifflin equation for RMR. The Precision Nutrition text brings some interesting figures to light, mainly that the Harris-Benedict equation estimates the RMR of only 69% of non-obese people to within 10% of their actual lab-tested RMR. On the other hand, the Mifflin equation estimates the 82% to within 10%. So while you’re not guaranteed to be right on (or even close), you’ve got a better chance with the Mifflin equation. It’s enough to convince me to swap, and I’m interested to see what the differences will be, both on paper and in terms of effectiveness.

Mifflin equation for RMR:

Men = (10 x weight in kilograms) + (6.25 x height in cms) – (5 x age in years) + 5

Women = (10 x weight in kilograms) + (6.25 x height in cms) – (5 x age in years) – 161

1. Berardi, J and Andrews, R. 2010. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Precision Nutrition, Inc.
2. Christian Thibaudeau  Nutrition for Newbies, Part 1  Viewed 12 June, 2011. <http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/nutrition_for_newbies_part_1&gt;

Precision Nutrition Week 3

Chapter three: Super Science-y. Rather than take us all back to physiology class, I’m going to go off on a tangent. It all started with two little side notes about the effect on vitamins on metabolism… And ended up pretty science-y anyway. Talking about chemical reactions can do that!

First, a quick recap: Metabolism is the total of all chemical reactions in your body, including both the processes that break down and those that build up. These processes are fuelled by the food we eat. For this post, any metabolic processes discussed will be catabolic or break down processes.

Vitamins (and minerals) do not themselves provide energy, but without them, metabolic processes could not be completed.  The Vitamin B complex contains eight separate vitamins; each molecule is in the same family but chemically different from one another and includes:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin)
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
  • Vitamin B12

If they don’t provide energy, what DO they do?

If vitamins can’t supply energy, what good are they?  Well, most vitamins (B complex and others) have essential roles in our metabolism and other physical processes. The B complex gives us more than enough to look at in one post: each of the eight B complex vitamins are involved in the aerobic and anaerobic metabolic processes that refill our energy supplies.

After the food we eat is broken down into its sub-units (glucose from carbohydrates, amino acids from proteins, fatty acids from fats), it is metabolised further within our aerobic or anaerobic pathways, or both. The B vitamins are involved in these processes as coenzymes, or small molecules that help the processes take place, and as the foundations of other molecules needed in the process. Without adequate amounts of all B vitamins, all energy renewal in our bodies would grind to a complete halt!


Vitamins B2, B3, B5, and B6 are all involved in glucose metabolism in the anaerobic or aerobic pathways – respectively, glycolysis and the Krebs cycle, which is the first half of aerobic metabolism. These vitamins help move molecules from place to place and pick up by-products like the hydrogen ions that cause muscle fatigue. B5 is also a necessary component of the molecule acetyl Co-A, which is the starting point for aerobic metabolism.

I’m separating out the second half of aerobic metabolism, called the electron transport chain, because every  B vitamin is involved in this process, working as supporting coenzymes or being used to help create the other molecules necessary to complete the energy renewal process.


B3, B5, and B6 are the major players in protein metabolism. We don’t often think of proteins as a source of potential energy, but after undergoing some molecular changes, amino acids can be converted to glucose for use in anaerobic or aerobic metabolism, or to acetyl Co-A or other molecules needed for use in the Krebs cycle. Once the molecular change takes place, the B vitamins kick in and perform the same functions seen with carbohydrate metabolism.


As we all know, fat is our big time energy storage facility. When broken down, fatty acids provide far more energy replenishment than either carbohydrate or proteins. Once again, B vitamins play a major role in our cells’ ability to get the energy out: Fatty acids are broken down into acetyl Co-A to be used in aerobic metabolism. The breakdown of fatty acids requires B2, B3, B5, B7, and lastly B12. Once we get to the electron transport chain, all the other B vitamins pitch in as well.

Stocking up

B vitamins are found in a wide range of foods, including animal protein sources, whole grains, and fruit and veggies (sounds like every diet recommendation in the world). A lot of foods today are also fortified with added vitamins – check the side of the cereal box and refer to the full list of B complex vitamins above. How many do you recognise?  Though there is some argument about whether these added vitamins are as beneficial as those that occur naturally, they can’t hurt.

To get the most “B” from your diet, bear in mind that B vitamins are easily destroyed by sunlight, heat, and exposure to oxygen. You can minimize exposure by keeping your fruit and veg wrapped up tight or in an airtight container, and out of the sun. B vitamins are also water soluble, which is a double whammy: they can leach out of foods when washed or cooked in water, and they can leach out of us, too. Excess B vitamins will be filtered out by the kidneys and excreted, so it’s important to keep replenishing them, either through diet or supplementation. Just one more example of how the right diet helps you achieve your training goals – no matter what they are.


1. Berardi, J and Andrews, R. 2010. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Precision Nutrition, Inc.
2. Doug Kalman MS, RD, FACN. Vitamins: Too much of a good thing? Viewed 12 June, 2011. <http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_nutrition/vitamins&gt;
3. Christa can Tellingen, MD. 2001. Biochemistry from a phenomenologial point of view. Viewed 12 June, 2010. <http://www.scribd.com/doc/51159159/5/Anabolic-and-catabolic-processes-and-energy-transfer&gt;

PN Week 1

One of the main topics covered in this first installment is the question: What is good nutrition, exactly? Dr. Berardi (who will henceforth be referred to as “JB” for typing ease) makes a good point when bringing up this topic – everyone has their own answer (for the record, mine has always been along the lines of “balanced diet”, an answer which was shot down in the same paragraph).

Turns out there are a few “must haves” in order for nutrition to really be good – and it’s not all about what or how much you eat. These things matter as well, of course, but it goes beyond that: Good nutrition takes into consideration how what you eat affects you, as well as what you’re actually putting in your mouth.

This Will NOT Be An Amazing Revelation

The higher the quality of the food and drink you ingest – whole grains, fruits and veggies, lean meats, etc. – the better off you will be, from a health and a fitness perspective both. You probably learned that in 2nd grade along with the food pyramid (and probably in every health/PE class you’ve had since then. It bears mentioning again though, because good nutrition will help you achieve your health and fitness goals far more than any exercise will do. It’ll also keep you looking good – bonus!

Too Much Is… Too Much?

Quantity is just as important. Weight gain or loss, whether in the form of muscle or fat, can be traced back to your energy balance, which is the net of your energy intake and energy output. Positive energy balance occurs with an energy intake greater than an energy output. This is easily demonstrated by weight gain, in the form of fat: when you eat more calories than you expend during your daily activities, your body will store that excess as fat, in turn leading to a whole host of health problems (and leaving you looking not-so-good in that swimsuit). This is a HUGE problem in Western cultures, given our easy access to lots of calorie-dense, nutrient-empty foods, and our tendency to sit a lot (in the car going to work, at work, on the way home, on the couch after dinner, etc.). And the knee jerk to the creeping weight gain? Better go on a diet!

Except that a negative energy balance (when your energy intake is lower than your energy output) can cause problems of its own. Restrict your energy intake too much, and your body will start shutting down every non-essential process it can, including your metabolism – not ideal when you want to lose that excess body fat! It also will slow or halt other processes. Reproductive function can come to a screeching halt, and even your brain function can slow right down (thinking actually does use a lot of energy – who would have thought…). None of this is good news if you A) want to be healthy, B) want to perform well, or C) look good naked.

The Truth Hurts (Sometimes, Anyway)

Possibly the most important aspect of good nutrition is, well, you. Not so much your cells or digestive system, but the bit that decides whether or not to stop for chocolate on the way home from work. As pointed out in the Precision Nutrition text, most people simply don’t have a very good idea of what they eat, something I’ve found through my experience coaching both athletes and personal training clients. A lot of people think they eat really well, but when they take a couple days to record what, how much, and when you eat and/or drink, it results can be quite surprising.

This honesty in nutrition and diet goes hand in hand with how well it works, too. The results you get from the health, performance and body composition standpoints will tell you how good your diet really is. I have a client who swore up and down that he only ever had salads for lunch, and ate really well at home – and wasn’t losing any of the weight he wanted off. Well, several food diaries and several less drinks per week later, he’s well on his way to the next pants-size down (awesome work, by the way – you know who you are).  The point of it all? No matter how good you think you’re being, if the results aren’t coming, you might need to re-evaluate.

And that’s my thoughts on that. As mentioned, each time I get through a chapter (or at least once a week) I’m going to share my take on it. Knowledge is power – enjoy!

Be a pack leader

Does this restaurant conversation sound familiar?

“What are you having?”

“I’m going to have the nachos/fish and chips/fettuccine alfredo , it sounds really good.”

“You’re right, it does, I’ll have that too.”

I recently read something about how people are pack animals, and in this context the “follow-the-leader” mentality really jumps out at you. We’ve all seen/heard/done it a million times without even thinking about it.

So what? So this: Do you want to follow the leader, and likely make a poor choice? Or do you want to be a pack leader, make the first choice in the group and watch everyone follow you?

Worst case scenario: Stick to your guns and pick the healthy (or healthiest) option. To continue the analogy, be the lone wolf.

Holiday Damage Control

You want to stay on track with your nutrition and still enjoy yourself this holiday season?

Sticking to your diet plan, especially when you’re dieting down, can be tough. Sticking to your diet plan when you’re out with friends, at a party, or at a work function, can be an even bigger challenge. Here’s the plan of attack for a few common situations:

Setting: The Office Christmas Party

1. Offer to bring a healthy dish to the party. Do this even if it’s catered. You’ll know exactly what’s in it and take the guess work out of snacking.

2. Have a healthy meal before you get to the party. If you’re full, you won’t fill up on the bad stuff.

3. Have a glass of water first. A drink or two during the night is ok, but start off on the right foot.

4. Use a dessert plate rather than a dinner plate.

5. Before eating, check out all your options. Almost every party has a veggie platter. Load up there first (but go easy on the dip), then go for the turkey/ham/lean meat option. Mini quiches, sausage rolls, cakes, biscuits, pies, cookies, etc- these are the last to go on the plate.

6. Eat slowly.

7. Enjoy yourself. Mingle, socialize and be merry.

Setting: The Dinner Out with Friends

1. Say no to the bread basket.

2. Ask your waiter how your dish will be cooked, and the ingredients if you are unsure.

3. Say yes to baked, broiled, or grilled. Lean meats are your best option. Trim away any visible fat from everything else.

4. Sauce on the side, if it’s your cheat day. Better yet, no sauce at all. The base ingredients for almost every sauce in existence: butter, oil, mayonnaise, and/or cream. These do not make for good calories.

5. Water, not wine. One glass is ok, but leave it at that. You’ll save money on the cab fare home too.

6. Salad instead of chips, fries, mashed potatoes and the like.

7. Eat slowly. You don’t have to finish it.

8. Split dessert with someone.

Setting: The Family Feast

1. Snack yourself full on veggie sticks before the main event.

2. Lend a helping hand before or after. It will keep you busy and not snacking, and you’ll be the golden child. Might even score an extra present under the tree.

3. Ask if some steamed veggies can be included on the menu. If you’re met with some resistance, offer to make them yourself (this goes along with tip #2).

4. Load up with lean meat and steamed veggies. A plate full of that first and you’ll want a lot less mashed potato, bread rolls, and desserts.

5. Have just a taste of dessert. Most of the time this is enough to satisfy any cravings you might have, after being stuffed full with everything else on your plate.

6. Minimize the alcohol (you might want to be able to drive yourself home whenever the family gets to be too much).

You’ve probably noticed that some of these tips are quite similar from situation to situation. As with so many other aspects of training and nutrition, it’s not rocket science, and hopefully the similarities will make your Damage Control plans that much easier to remember and execute.