Veganism and Strength Sports

What follows are my personal, unscientific, non-triple blind tested observations on the effects of a plant-based diet on training for strength sports. Is it better, is it worse and, if so, why? Is it harder to stick to a vegan diet? What are the non-sports benefits? What is over-rated about a plant-based diet? What are the unexpected benefits of eating plant-based? How much cooler would eating plant-based be without certain vegans ruining it for everyone? Finally, faux-meat, a “faux pas”? Come with me as I meander into the cultural minefield that is VEGANISM…

*** Disclaimer: Gentle reader, know that your esteemed author is not, by most definitions, a vegan. However, to employ a hackneyed phrase, some of his best friends and favorite family members are down with that plant-based life so your intrepid scribe is well versed in the milieu. In fact, he rarely eats animal products himself, but when he does he likes to wear a velvet smoking jacket like the suave old dude in the Dos XXs ad. Seriously, though, I have gone through extended periods of eating only plant-based in the past 2 years, and even now when I do eat dairy, eggs or meat, it’s maybe twice a week.

  • Plant-based diet for strength sports: Yeah, yeah, of course you can…there are veritable scads of vegan body-builders, powerlifters, strongmen, and cross-fitters who compete successfully. All high level competitors have to on top of their diet but I’d say that vegan competitors have to be even more dialed in to make sure they’re getting enough protein, B6, etc. Have I noticed a difference going from a conventional diet (albeit a healthy one) to a much reduced animal products diet? I can’t say hat I feel any better or worse. My lifts have gone down some from my all time PRs, but that’s probably more because I’m not training as seriously as I did in the past due to recent work constraints. Verdict: Doable, yes, laudable, I guess so, slightly more complex to track, yep and does it make me stronger or weaker, jury is still out.
  • Is it hard to “go vegan”?: Somewhat, in my experience. Bear in mind, however, that I live in Northern Europe in what is essentially small town, albeit a very well-heeled one. I already cook a lot, so the fun part was coming up with wholesome plant-based menus that covered all the nutritional bases. I even discovered that I’m much better at plant based dishes than meat-based. Though it pains me to admit this, my meat game was/is relatively weak. So it takes effort and planning at first to go plant based at home. The real challenge is going out to eat. It’s limiting at the best of times in my town. There are a few vegan restaurants but mostly they suck, are overpriced and are populated by smug yet weirdly tense individuals. In big cities like Berlin, London, NYC and Toronto it’s much easier. Not to mention in places like Toronto or Boston, most of your fellow vegan restaurant goers will have recently blazed a big ol’ legal joint and are thus markedly more chill than in my town.
  • General benefits of a plant-based diet: I am not convinced that 100 percent plant based diet is good for all people, all the time. I think the same applies to any dietary regime. People react to food differently. However, does vastly limiting your animal product intake have health benefits? From a common sense perspective, I’d have to say yes. More important that being stringently one diet or the other is the quality of the food you are stuffing your face with. Avoid processed foods and eat organic as much as possible and you’re going in the right direction. So the big biggest benefits I have noticed regarding a plant-based diet is that the raw materials are often cheaper, one is much less concerned with spoilage and for the most part I feel good, not lethargic, after eating plant-based or mostly plant-based meal. Also, if you source your products carefully, it’s good for the planet. The same can be said for animal products but it’s MUCH harder and more expensive to find local, organic animal products from sustainable agriculture.
  • Plant-based – is it over-rated? In many ways, yes. It won’t make you into Superman overnight. If you had a crappy, processed food diet before and then implement a carefully considered plant-based diet then, yes, you will notice health benefits. It’s entirely possible to eat vegan crap. Hey, the vegan Ben and Jerrie’s flavors are just as awesome as the other flavors, but sadly no better for you. As the market matures, more processed vegan-junk food is being made available which I think is a step in the wrong direction. Again, done well, it’s a healthy dietary regime for many people that is sustainable for the planet…but the same argument can be made for well considered vegetarian and omnivore diets.
  • The less well-know benefits: For me, it’s increased mindfulness regarding what I eat. I know more now re: the dietary benefits of many legumes, herbs and vegetables than I did before, and how they all can be combined to make a wholesome diet. I tend to plan my meals at last a few days in advance. Now, even when I do incorporate animal products, I fit them into the bigger nutritional picture of what I will be eating that week.
  • The annoying-a** Vegan: We all know at least one, and many of us know dozens of them. Veganism is both a diet and, for many, a philosophy or way of life. And that’s absolutely cool. I’m always impressed when I meet somebody, get to know them and then discover, in more of less discrete way, that they have strongly held beliefs that influence their actions. They are not virtue-signalling, they are just living their lives according to their principles. Unfortunately, there are always attention-starved dip sh((s in any group who tend to ruin it for everyone. Some vegans can truly come off as unhinged as tinfoil hat wearing flat-earthers, or worse. Perhaps one of the worst vegans on Youtube is “Vegan Gains”, a deeply troubled young man who ostensibly talks about veganism and strength sports…but really just uses the platform to spew hateful invective. Way to help the cause, guys.
  • Faux Meat: I will say this, I just tried the McDonalds vegan burger and it’s really, really good. I was expecting to be underwhelmed but it’s genuinely good. Much better than any Mickey Ds meat product, however that’s setting the bar pretty low. McDonald’s, aside from their fries, is pretty rank. And I say that as somebody who eats meat. It works so well because a fast food burger is more about texture than quality meat, which you will not get at that price point. This is encouraging because if a large percentage of McDonalds customers switch to vegan burgers simply because they taste better, that’s a win/win for everyone and the planet. If you’re going to eat meat, even occasionally, don’t blow it on a fast-food burger. On the flip side of the coin, in my experience the “vegan versions” of meat dishes in many hipster vegan restaurants are often nasty. I can still not the get the taste of a vegan “Philly Cheesesteak'” out of my mouth. Blech…

YouTubular – The best videos of the week

I watch a lot of YouTube.  I have “cable” TV, Netflix and Amazon Prime but I only tend to browse through the choices/channels on the weekends and, typically, give up and pick up a book instead.  Youtube, however, is addictive.   There is a lot of bad content so the trick is having a “nose” for a good content creator and/or finding a particularly good clip.  If I find a particularly useful clip, I often share it to Whatsapp (friends and family) or Facebook Messanger (Powerlifting team) groups.  The following clips are the most useful clips I’ve found recently on their respective subjects.  If the subject of one of these video interests you, I promise you it’ll be worth your time.  So, without further ado, here are the clips:

 

This clips explains, in a very cogent manner, why growth occurs only when you are challenged and how find that “sweet spot” that engenders growth.  The title of this video is uber-cheesy, but don’t let that put you off.  It’s a very, very useful video for absolutely everyone.  I’ve shared it with my kids, friends and as well as with the team I manage at work.

Dr. Axe is an excellent content provider for all things related to nutrition and health.  I purchased a slow cooker a few months ago – I wish this video had been around before I made my purchase.  As it turns out, I think I made a good purchase but it would have been useful to have been armed with this knowledge.  I love my slow cooker, it really makes meal prep for the week a whole lot easier.  Dr Axe videos, of which there are 100s, are uniformly excellent.  If you find video on a subject of interest, you can’t go wrong.

Juggernaut Training Systems are undeniably one of the best strength training channels on YouTube.  They recently put out a series of “5 Pillars for Great Technique” for Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift.  This is a really excellent, well produced series for all lifters, from novice to advanced.  I’ve shared these videos with a number of “lifting buddies”.

This video was published the day before yesterday by the Barbell Medicine crew.  This is probably the best single video on the subject of the Bench Press that I’ve ever seen.  So much so that I shared it with my Powerlifting coach  – and I’m not in the habit of wasting his time.  He dug the video and if the bench press interests you, I guaranty that you will dig it too.  As an aside, the Barbell Medicine team recently and very publicly divorced themselves from the Starting Strength organization.  Smart move, these guys are going places.

Aging, self-image and weight-training

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How old do you feel?  How old do you look?  If you’re past the age of 40, in your minds-eye, what version of you is your self-image based on?  Maybe this is a purely masculine thing, but if I was honest my “mental avatar” is me, albeit circa 29 years old.  I mean that is the physical template my mind accepts as my true physical manifestation.  It’s not that I don’t accept myself as I am now, I do, but if I can’t help notice a subtle mental recalibration going on in the background when looking in the mirror.  It’s my subconscious going, ” Ok, the dude in the mirror?  That is actually you so get with the program. ”

Why 29/30?  Why not 21 or 35?  Perhaps it corresponds with some Jungian idea of male archetypes (anima, hero, etc).  There must be a reason.  Am I happier and wiser now than when I was 30?  Hell, yeah.  Was I at my physical peak back then?  Yes and no.  I was in pretty good shape in a very superficial sense.  I had a six pack, some development of the “disco muscles” (shoulders, arms, chest) and decent cardio-vascular shape.  But I could have been in much better shape had I, for example, followed the same training program I do now.  Therein, I think, lies the answer.  29 or 30 years old represents a sort of sweet spot in mental, intellectual and physical maturity.  It is, was or should have been you when you had the most raw potential.  You’d have completed years of education, should be at least 8 or so years into a career, and hormonal health is still firing on all cylinders.

I was orders of magnitude wiser and happier at 30 than I was at 21.  I remember thinking I wouldn’t go back to 21 for anything.  And that trend has continued while I do have to make some concessions to aging.  In my case, I don’t lose weight as easily as before, my eyesight got a little weaker and my temples went grey.  Other than that, the main difference between my 30 year old self and me now is “life wisdom” which is both a burden and advantage.  Youth, the saying goes, is wasted on the young which I interpret as while you’re getting wiser and happier, your physical vitality is waning.

It does, but I think how quickly it does is something you might be able to control.  Partially its genetic, yes, but it’s a least 50 percent lifestyle choices.  Purely coincidentally, I became serious about weight training in my 40s.  As a flood of recent, peer-review studies has shown,  strength training with compound movements (deadlifts, squat, presses, etc) is probably the single best form of physical training for older people.  It builds muscle, maintains bone density, ramps up hormonal efficiency (production of testosterone, human growth hormone and others) and increases metabolic efficiency.    This is not news to any of my middle-aged powerlifting brothers and sisters.  Honestly, what is cooler or flat-out funnier than getting really strong at an age when most people take up golfing?

Personally speaking, I unwittingly had 2 advantages when I started lifting.  First, I had no expectations or ego when I began.  Started really light and added a little bit of weight each week – classic linear progression, though I hadn’t heard the term at that time.  Anybody can do it and everyone will inevitably see results of they keep it up.  Secondly, hormonal health has never been an issue for me.  As a young man, it was a problem in that high levels of T meant I had bad skin.  (Interestingly, subsequent studies have backed up anecdotal evidence from dermatolgists that former acne sufferers’ skin ages slower than the average populace due to longer alleles in their genes.  Seems to be my case as well, so perhaps the universe does have a sense of justice).  As an older man, it meant that, to my surprise,  putting on muscle wasn’t too difficult.

Whether or not you have an advantage when you begin lifting, the result will be the same for everyone.  If you put in the work week in and week out, your body will change.  You’ll gain muscle and feel physically vital (Ok, except for those mornings after a heavy squat or deadlift sessions when crawling out of bed while groaning is the norm).  I’m 51 and I feel great, I feel strong. I feel as if I’ve made some progress towards exploiting my physical potential.  I could have easily spent the last decade doing nothing.  Had I done that, I’m fairly certain that I’d feel a lot weaker, a lot more frail…old, if you will.

In short, I don’t feel 51 so I assume that is why my minds-eye reflects somebody a bit younger.  I don’t mean to imply there is anything wrong with aging.  It’s part of life.  It’s how you react to aging that makes the difference.  One of the benefits of age is gratitude.  The older you get the more you know how often life doesn’t go as scripted.  So many things can go wrong at any time.  To be alive and to have relatively good health for yourself and your loved ones is already such a blessing.  Physical training is not a “drudge” or hard work, it’s an almost decadent opportunity to turbo-charge that blessing.

Down the Youtube rabbit hole

Over the last few years I have realized that I tend to watch more Youtube content than I do mainstream TV.  My habit began when I realized that YouTube contains some fairly solid powerlifting content.  Then I discovered a number of good cooking resources, some excellent podcasts, alternative journalism and down the rabbit hole I went.  While the recent “de-monitization” policy has hit certain youtube content providers somewhat hard, I find it’s still viable and capable of producing informative content.   Below is a list of past and current favorite Youtube channels:

General interest

  • Joe Rogan Experience –  Yeah, he’s a guy’s guy and the talk tends towards the locker room but I know of no other podcast that addresses so many different subjects and fascinating thought leaders.  I was initially floored to find out he’s an intelligent, hard-working and highly capable interviewer.  This one goes far and wide – excellent to listen to while driving or getting ready in the morning.
  • Casey Neistat – just because…admit it, he’s strangely watchable.
  • VICE – Thought provoking journalism that covers a huge range of topics.
  • Great Big Story – similar to VICE, a bit less edgy.
  • Tim Ferris – Similar to Joe Rogan, but more geared towards personal growth.  Also very good to listen to during long trips or in the morning whilst shaving.
  • First we feast – Hot Ones:  How can you not love this premise?  The guests eat increasingly hotter buffalo wings while the host peppers (sorry, it was low-hanging fruit) them with questions.  Also, the guests just keep getting better and better the more popular the show gets.
  • BroScience Life – Gym behavior is fertile ground for parody and, surprisingly, only “Dom Mazzetti” has consistently funny material.  The Buff Dudes mine this same vein (with better production values) but lack the gonzo riffs and creative edge.
  • Awaken with JP – Love this channel, love it.  His deadpan delivery is second to none.  The Prancercise video went viral recently…but there are so many other good ones on this channel as well.
  • Bill Wurtz – Unique, mind-blowing animated shorts.  “history of the entire world, I guess” is the single most brilliant thing I have seen on Youtube.

Powerlifting/Strength Training –

  • Supertraining06/Powercast/Silent Mike – Supertraining06 was the very first powerlifting youtube channel I followed and via guests/collaborations introduced me to a host of other excellent channels.  I’m aware that I listed 3 different channels and that Silent Mike is no longer affiliated with Mark Bell, Super Training gym and the PowerCast but to my mind these 3 channels were at their peak when Mark and Mike worked together.  I don’t watch these channels nearly as much as I used to.
  • Alan Thrall – Tons of great information done in an engaging style.  Alan recently drank the Starting Strength kool-aid which is fine.  I have nothing but respect for the SS body of knowledge regarding form, linear progression, etc.  Like just about everyone else, I own a dog-eared copy of Starting Strength.
  • Omar Isuf – Very informative, one of the original OGs of youtube Powerlifting channels.  Collabs quite a bit with Silent Mike and Bart Kwan of Barbell Brigade.
  • Barbell Brigade – Like Supertraining06, I used to watch this channel quite a bit but now much less so as the content has become less entertaining and almost devoid of information.  It’s now more about marketing than lifting.  BB seems to have fallen victim to their own success.  Say what you will about Mark Bell, but Supertraining06 is about the sheer joy of lifting, not hard-selling his products.
  • Juggernaut Training – For the serious strength athlete.
  • Calgary Barbell – Not a huge following yet, but excellent production values with informative content for the serious powerlifter.
  • Starting Strength – An excellent resource for the beginning powerlifter or anybody interested in Strength Training.  Yet, while I respect his knowledge I find everything else about Mark Rippetoe to be extremely grating.  People say CrossFitters are smug and condescending but they’ve got nothing on the SS community which is dogmatic to a T.  Still, if you had to pick only one channel strictly for information on how to do the lifts, this is the one to pick.
  • Buff Dudes – Lots of very good general strength training content as well as the aforementioned parody skits.
  • Brandon Campbell – How can you not like the homey from RI?  His low-key humor, training vlogs and equipment reviews make this a must watch for Powerlifting nerds.
  • Strength Wars – the bonkers German channel that a few years ago came up with the brilliant premise of pitting various types of strength athletes against each other.  Pure entertainment with no educational value.  Nobody in their right mind lifts like this, which is what makes it so compelling.
  • Strength Sensei – Charles Poliquin has forgotten more about strength training than I’ll ever know.  Lots of information regarding training and nutrition here.
  • Elliot Hulse – this is more of a Hall of Shame entry.  WTF happened, Elliot?  Elliot used to put out somewhat informative strength training content liberally interspersed which his thoughts on life, philosophy, the universe, etc.  Elliot was the sort of guy who always had an answer to everything, though that answer might be 90 percent pure BS.  It made for offbeat, interesting content so Elliot gained a large following.  At which point he started believing his own BS, got full of himself and the videos became unwatchable.  You’re not the next Messiah, Elliot, chill.

Cooking, Nutrition and Health –

  • Food Wishes – Chances are whatever recipe you want to make, Chef John had already made video about it.  The unique delivery and bad puns keep me coming back for more.
  • Jamie Oliver – Like Food Wishes, Jamie Oliver has a huge back-catalog of recipe videos.
  • Gordon Ramsey – Love him or hate him, you can’t deny the quality of his recipe vids.  I can’t say I’ve ever actually used one of them to cook a dish, but they are informative.
  • Binging with Babish/Basics with Babish – a must for cooking nerds, one that is becoming a sort of pop-culture reference in some circles.
  • Dr. Josh Axe – “food is medicine” One of my go to channels regarding nutrition and how our food choices influence our health.
  • Dr. Eric Berg – Another excellent nutrition channel.  Not as slickly produced as Dr. Axe, but informative nonetheless.
  • Bon Appetit – Strangely enough, more gonzo and personality driven than dryly informative, but that’s OK.

Year End Random Musings

As the year 2017 draws to a close and the world is trying it’s utmost best to go hell in a hand-basket, I share with you the following utterly random and sometimes shallow observations:

  • Adversity“There is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is merely the comparison of one state to the other. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss.”—Alexandre Dumas”   I know this sounds like a proud parent speaking (guilty as charged) but my daughter is highly intelligent, motivated, outgoing, opinionated, athletic, pretty and inquisitive.  She is self-driven and constantly striving to learn new things.  Consequently she has encountered a lot of success in school, sports and is a natural leader.  She hasn’t really encountered that many bumps in the road in life until now, with the exception of her parents divorce (which was amicable as those things go).  Recently she has encountered a health issue that, even though it’s temporary, is the sort of thing that  puts you on a crash course for learning some of life’s hard truths.  She’s learning a lot about the importance of character, both in herself as well as others.  She has always been a popular kid, but this experience has allowed her see who her true friends really are. (Lo and behold, her true friends “just happened” to be the ones her parents liked – to paraphrase Richard Pryor’s Mudbone “you don’t git to be old by bein’ no fool”).   Life is not fair and it’s periodically filled with physical and/or emotional pain.  She’s learning that sometimes the only thing to do is to hang on and to keep fighting.   Both her mother and I faced more than our share of adversity when we were my daughter’s age.  My Ex used that experience to forge an absolute iron will to succeed which she still has to this day.  I used my experience as an excuse to go off the rails and add self-induced adversity to the equation until I finally smartened up.  I’m happy to say that my daughter takes after her Mom, her Grandmother (my mother) and her Aunt (my sister) in choosing the correct reaction to adversity.  She is fighter, she knows her worth and she’s nobody’s fool.  I couldn’t be prouder of her.
  • Injury:  On a somewhat lighter, more sports related note, I recently injured my left rotator cuff in the weeks leading up to a competition, and then tore a muscle in my right hamstring a minute before my first squat in said competition.  The rotator cuff injury happened 3 weeks before which meant I couldn’t bench anymore (my best lift) and to be honest I probably shouldn’t have been squatting either.  I continued to train the movements I could do and hoped that I’d be able to compete in some, albeit diminished, form.  On the day of meet, I realized that I was able to bench if I respected absolute strict form (always the best policy anyway) and utilized lats, triceps and leg push as much as possible.  Then, a minute before my first squat, I managed to tear my hamstring simply by taking a 25kg plate of the bar when I was off-balance.  It literally hurt to walk.  While it was a stupendously stupid move, I continued the competition and was able to do a good squat of my opening weight on my 3rd attempt.  To say it hurt a great deal would be pretty close to the truth.  I then was able to bench press and consequently set a world record (WR) for the age\weight category in the federation that I compete in.  By this time, I was literally hobbling so I deadlifted 70kg once (a very humbling experience) to finish the competition and called it a day.  It’s funny, but I got much more props from fellow competitors, team members and judges for that injured squat than I did for the WR bench.  Fast-forward 6 weeks – my hamstring is healing nicely due to regular physical therapy sessions and intelligent training.  My rotator cuff is more of a longer term issue.  This effectively means I can’t do any movement that utilizes the shoulder to a great extent (low bar squat, overhead press and dips, for example) and I haven’t really been training legs hard due to my injury.  Faced with this reality, I’m doing what I can:  light safety bar squats, Wenning belt squat machine, strict form flat bench, farmer carries, glute ham raises (carefully).  I am also using machines for things like leg extensions and “light” leg curls, which is something I don’t normally do.  I’m concentrating more on core training than I usually do.  It’s frustrating, but doing nothing is out of the question.  Lessons learned:  mobility work is essential and tis a far, far better thing to listen to your body and back off a set than to be out of the game for a few months.
  • Dating or what’s with this older man/younger woman thing :  I know this going to sound disingenuous, but I never seriously considered dating a much younger woman until recently.   Let’s be honest, if I went on a dating app and stated a preference for pretty 25 year olds I’d get absolutely no responses except for catfish scams.  Unless, perhaps, I took one or two casual pictures in a recent model 911 with an understated Patek Phillipe on my wrist.  Sadly, as I know from at least one acquaintance, this approach works albeit it attracts exactly the sorts of women you’d expect.  It’s baldly “transactional” in nature, but provided he gets what he wants, he isn’t complaining..  In any event, about 2 years ago I stopped actively trying to rustle up dates as  I’ve been busy with work, my kids’ activities and, of course, powerlifting.  Also, I won’t sugarcoat this, dating women my age when I was 42 was fine but 8 years later it’s another situation entirely.  I know this is unfair and I know only too well how hard menopause hits some women physically and mentally.  A dear friend has been dealing these changes for about 2 years now and I can see how she is being whipsawed by the experience (see above re: adversity).  So a certain percentage of women my age are undergoing disorienting physical changes and consequently they’re not really in the mood for dating.   Almost completely by accident, I have dated some women in their mid-20s recently.  All of these situations were initiated by the women themselves and came about, I think, simply because I was out there, pursuing my interests and having fun.  I literally spoke to these women the way I’d speak to anybody else and wasn’t even considering an ulterior motive.  Yes, I understand one of the main reasons younger women date older men but I wasn’t picking up the tab any more or less than I’d do normally with woman closer to my age.   (News flash – some women, irrespective of age, will expect nonstop expensive restaurants, trips and gifts, while most others won’t.  When I was freshly divorced I fell rather hard for a physically attractive age appropriate woman who expected wining and dining of a certain level, nothing less was acceptable.  Never again.  I am not cheap, it’s the crassness and lack of imagination that I find objectionable).  So, other than money, why would a younger women date an older guy?  Maybe it’s because the 50-year-old me is probably a better guy to date than the 25-year-old me (more confident, more accomplished, happier, wiser and still in half decent shape).  Perhaps it’s because older guys know what they want, have certain amount of experience with women and are less likely to be drama queens.  Maybe it’s because these women are still in an experimental phase whereas women in their 30s are much more focused on getting married, preferably to somebody just a few years older.  I don’t really know.  And the end result in these cases was really quite positive.  Again,  had I gone on a speed dating or an internet site to meet these women, it’d have never happened.  Attractive 20 something women have a power of attraction that is akin to something like a super-power (this is a fascinating subject – the positive and negative aspects of this power – how it affects the person in question – and what happens when it wanes).  Pit that power against a few cheesy photos of a 50 year old man – it’s laughable, not a snowball’s chance in hell.  If I hadn’t been out there, pursuing an interest, displaying some sort of “worth”, absolutely no chance.  I firmly believe, also, that had I treated these women as potential “hook ups” it wouldn’t have happened either.  Finally, these women don’t “do” dating sites or speed dating – they really don’t need to the same way the The Flash doesn’t need to take the subway.  Nor do I have a need to date a younger woman at all costs.  I’d like to think that we see are capable of seeing each other as unique human beings and not as a type.  I find it creepy when people of either gender express a clear preference for a certain race or type to exclusion of all others.  Needless to say, I don’t discuss this older/younger thing that much with my female friends as it tends to be, as they say in French, “un sujet qui fache” (Loosely translated, a touchy subject).  For the record, y’all, I’d love to meet a happy, in-shape, cultured and intelligent woman closer to my age.  It’s just that those situations are not presenting themselves.  To be continued…
  • Training goals for 2018:  My goals for the upcoming year are to recover full use of my right hamstring and left shoulder, squat and deadlift for reps at least 60kgs more than my 1RM for bench, add 10kg to my 1RM bench press and, finally, to drop about 9 kgs bodyweight while preserving strength.  By the end of the year I want to be clearly the only game in town regarding my age and weight class.  As an aside, I have always found bodybuilding-style training tremendously boring, but since I’ve recently been unable to low bar squat, deadlift, overhead press, etc I have had to concentrate on more body building style training that targets isolated muscle groups.  You know what, I get it now, sometimes esthetic gains are nice and that whole pump thing is fun.  But being strong is more fun.

Happy holidays, everyone!  If you’ve made it to the end of this post you certainly deserve an eggnog or any other libation of you choice.  All the best to you and yours in the new year!

 

Life under the bar

black-and-white-alcohol-bar-drinksAside from spending time with family and friends my absolute favorite things in life are reading, physical activity and, during a certain period, booze.  Reading, if one reads broadly, is obviously a way of cultivating one’s intellect.  Physical activity (running, yoga, weight-lifting, etc) is  the second part of the equation – Mens sana in corpore sano.  Most of us adopt these habits organically, not consciously adopting them because they are “GOOD HABITS”.  Like an anxious dog who has been locked inside all day, your body and mind will give you explicit hints that they need to be exercised.  Weak and flabby is not a great feeling, whether it’s intellectual or physical.

Addiction, in all it’s forms, is the flip side of the coin.  Addicts have an instinctive need  to retreat from some aspect of their life.  All addictions, be it alcohol, weed, social media or cheesecake, are methods of changing one’s brain chemistry and ultimately changing one’s perception of reality, however briefly.  Addiction is also an attempt, albeit very counterproductive, by the addict to assert control over their life.  It’s an attempt to quiet the ceaseless background chatter, the ever-present feelings of anxiety that lurk in the margins, the monkey mind.  The irony of addictive behavior is that in the immediate aftermath of a binge, the background chatter is foreground and the volume is pegged at 11.  Interesting that clichés about addiction employ circular imagery; a vicious circle, a downward spiral, spinning your wheels, etc.

It’s not surprising that gyms, yoga studios and running clubs are filled with ex-addicts.  For one, it’s a logical reaction to want to offset the damage of the addictive behavior.  Physical exercise can also be somewhat addictive (in a good way) unless taken to extremes (which, let’s be honest, are rare).  It’s a time-honored tradition to swap an addiction for one that is relatively harmless (i.e. people guzzling coffee at AA meetings).  Most important, I think, is that physical exercise begets a calmer state of mind and ultimately puts one far closer to the goal of quieting the monkey mind than guzzling tequila till 4 in the morning.   When you start to train seriously you set in motion behavioral patterns  and interests (exercise, nutrition, quality sleep, meditation) that reinforce each other and, yes, help you become that “best version of you”.  (Eeech, horrible phrase, but fitting in this context.)  Physical training makes you feel better, look better, clears your mind AND gives you regular hits of endorphins.

Probably less well-known is the number of people who still engage in addictive behavior and for whom training is a way of offsetting, somewhat, self-inflicted damage.  It’s also a handy psychological crutch, it allows you to feel just a little bit better about your sorry-ass, bleary-eyed self if you drag yourself to a heavy squat session.  And, yes, sports training is the ONLY way you’ll offset all of the calories you’ve ingested and clear the cobwebs a little.  (It goes without saying that this refers to people in a certain stage of addiction, not hardcore addicts. Also, I am not referring to addiction to extremely dangerous drugs such as crystal meth or opiates) In a way, training might empower some people to continue their addictive behavior by serving as a physical and psychological counterweight.  I like to think, though, that if the person stops the destructive behavior, the good habits they formed in training will help them through the rough patches on their way to sobriety.

I have mixed feelings about alcohol.  I appreciate good wine and beer.  I was a wine enthusiast for many years and did, at one point, take some preliminary steps towards a job in the wine trade.  The closer I got to this goal the more I realized that I didn’t want to make my living from a product was potentially harmful.  Like many,  my life has been negatively impacted by alcohol.  I have family and friends who were alcoholics and are now sober, some who are still fighting that battle and 2 friends who ultimately lost their lives as a direct result of their alcoholism.    In high school, college and “after work” I binge drank with the best of them – only I couldn’t keep up.  I was usually, but not always, the drunkest of the group.  I have done a number of idiotic and dangerous things while drunk and it’s truly astonishing that I’m still here to tell the tale.  Worse still, a perpetual hung over state meant that I often “less than present” for family or on the job.  Some people can take or leave alcohol while others are on a spectrum of “where have you been all my life?”.  I’m in the latter camp.  It’s only in the last few years that it dawned on me that  alcohol was getting far more out of me than I was getting from it.  So I decided to spend less time in the bar and more time under it.

It might surprising, then,  that I still go out for the occasional beer with friends or have wine with some meals.  I also like to scuba dive, hike, go camping and pursue other interests that have inherent risks.  An intelligent adult identifies and mitigates potential risks as much as possible.  A better analogy is having an aggressive dog in your house.  If you aren’t in control, the undisputed Alpha, that dog is going to bite you on the ass eventually.   I haven’t had hard spirits in my house for decades, and I rarely have wine or beer in the house.  I don’t go out much any more, especially when the occasion is a thinly veiled excuse for excessive drinking (which is most of the time in the country I live in).  If I do go, I offer to drive (thereby taking myself out of the boozing equation) or I go only if it’s within public transport or taxi range.  It’s matter of recognizing what could happen.  To thine own self be true.

Gyms are full of dogmatic cliques;  cardio freaks, Crossfitters, bodybuilders and powerlifters.  While each group looks down on the others they are united in their disdain for the New Year’s Resolutioners that pack gyms in January like salmon swimming upstream to spawn.  OK, it’s annoying to be in a more crowded environment but we all know that by February things will be back to normal.  I really love seeing new people in the gym, people who are little out of their element(for the time being) but are giving it a go.  There are so many good excuses to not go to the gym;  I’m tired, it takes too much time, it costs too much, gyms are full of shallow, judgemental douches, I feel self-conscious etc.  I say silence that background noise, get greedy and go get yourself some.  The bar will lift you up.

 

Sofrito/Epis – The delicious secret weapon for Athletes – A recipe

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This is a recipe that I am publishing for all my brothers and sisters in the Strength Sport community.  It is a tasty method of injecting a tasty, highly nutritional component into your rice, stews, sauces and such.

What follows is a personal observation regarding the value of eating 100 percent organic.  Please jump to the next non-italicized paragraph if you just want the recipe.

When I was a young child to teenager going back and forth from the Caribbean to the US, it was the period just before (and the beginning of) the Obesity epidemic in the States.  There just weren’t that many overweight people when I was a kid.  My early to late teen years coincided with the paradigm shift in food production in the US and consequent rise in obesity.  I remember coming back to the US – every year or two – and literally noticing a greater percentage of obesity with each trip.  Meanwhile back in my “home” country, most people had a hard enough time eating every day much less worry about getting fat.      Amongst the vast majority of the population, having sufficient resources to fatten up would have been very welcome indeed.  Yet even amongst the upper classes (who were often fantastically wealthy) obesity was a rarity.

So people were generally slim and, furthermore, I remember noticing that younger adults who did manual labor (peasant farmers, construction workers, etc) were often incredibly ripped.  Those men and women could have made a fortune on Instragram had they been born a generation later.   The phenomenon that foreign adults remarked most frequently was a huge increase in libido(I was a teenager couldn’t notice a difference as my libido was already in the stratosphere).  The Caribbean was (and remains) a place were some people’s marriages went to die.  The often heard remark is that “there must be something in the water”.  Close, but no Monte Cristo.  My thesis that everyone was (and in the poorer more rural parts of the country, still is) eating 100 percent organic produce, meat and dairy.  We did this not because organic, local produce was a thing back then.  Big chain stores and processed foods were rare.  You bought most of your food in the outdoor market from peasant farmers.  You ate lots of fruit and vegetables, ate meat and fish occasionally (it was expensive).  You also get a lot of sun and therefore aren’t deficient in Vitamin D.  Basically, if you ate this diet in sufficient quantity (not too much or too little) it’s like being physically turbocharged.  You are firing on all cylinders.  Sofrito is the perfect example – it combines all of the proven health benefits of garlic, ginger, hot peppers, green herbs (parsley, cilantro, etc), onions and more.  A friend of mine eats a few spoon fools, uncooked, instead of taking vitamins.  It’s hard to think of a better, more bio-available way of getting quite a few vitamins and minerals in one go.

The base of much of Caribbean cuisine is “sofrito” or “epis” (as it’s referred to in the country spent most of my time in).  This preparation can be used in just about anything but especially in rice, sauces and stews.    There are many different variations depending upon the eventual recipe.  I whip up a batch of sofrito/epis at least once a week.  The components vary, but for me the back bone of any “sofrito/epis” is the fresh garlic and ginger.  I make a special effort to make my epis/sofrito as jam-packed as possible with various nutrients.  In case you were wondering, it  tastes amazing.  Below are the components of my current epis\sofrito recipe:

NB:  All components of this recipe should be sourced organically for the reasons I alluded to above.

Fresh Garlic, peeled (this should be one of the building blocks.  The amount is up to you depending on the eventual quantity. )

Fresh Ginger, peeled  (If at all possible not from China)

Fresh Curcuma , peeled – also you may want to wear some gloves when peeling and cutting, as it stains quite a bit

Spring Onions

Onions and/or shallots

Habanero Peppers – OK, this depends on how much heat you like.  I live in Europe where the Habanero come from either Kenya or the Netherlands – they are weak AF.  If I used 2 Habanero from the Caribbean or the Yucatan in my recipe, I’d be crying.  For now, however, 2 from my current sources provide a decent amount of kick.  Also, as with the Curcuma, keep the gloves on while handling these.  Anybody who has every cut Habaneros without gloves and then gone to the bathroom shortly thereafter can tell you why.

Bell pepper (partial) – for color and fiber

Cloves, 2 or 3 should do it.

Fresh cilantro and parsley

True sea salt (no additives).

Apple cider vinegar or lime juice

Olive Oil

A bit of water.

Put all of these ingredients in a food processor and mix to the consistency you see in the picture.  You will have to be the judge regarding the essential components and the liquids, but that is actually quite fun.  In most cases, saute this mixture in a bit of coconut oil before adding it to the rice, quinoa, stews or whatever.  Note that depending on the recipe some people may add tomatoes or what have you.  This an infinitely adaptable recipe.

Pro Tip – for the best and quickest Guacamole recipe known to mankind, add sofrito and peeled avocado halves in a bowl.  Thoroughly mix/crush with a fork until you achieve the required consistency.  You may want to add a pinch of sea salt to taste.