Know Your Protein

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

A while back I wrote a post called The Truth Behind Protein Shakes. The reason for this post was that many athletes were still confused as to why they were guzzling a/1/uno protein shake daily but still not adding slabs of rock hard muscle and torching massive amounts of body insulation (fat is great at keeping heat in!).

If you did not read that that post I would encourage that you do so. As for right here, right now, I wanted to provide a quick, bullet point style overview about the main concepts behind protein and its role in a high performing body, the myths behind protein and its consumption, as well as make a few recommendations.

So let’s do this so the next time you find yourself puzzled as to why after downing a protein shake your biceps didn’t grow like Pop-Eye’s did on spinach, you’ll better understand why.

Is protein important?

–          Protein is important, and many times protein is thought of as the most important of all macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate, protein, water).

–          While I would argue that all are equally important, protein definitely plays a key role in almost every bodily function including structure (muscle building anyone?!), muscle contraction, immune system function, hormone production, nutrient transport, energy and more. So ya, it’s important.

–          Without adequate protein available, the body will breakdown stored protein (again, muscles anyone?!) in order to complete the functions previously mentioned.

Will protein alone make my muscles HUGE and my stomach RIPPED?!!

–          NO!!! Protein alone will not make your muscles grow. You must apply a stimulus to the body (training) that breaks down the system and requires the body to adapt and grow stronger. Then, protein can be utilized to help repair and grow tissues, including muscle tissue.

–          NO!!! Protein alone will not incinerate fat. While protein is more metabolically active (it requires more calories to utilize protein vs carbs or fat), protein will only help you lose weight when you are in a caloric deficit. With that said, for many replacing processed carbs with protein (less pasta and more chicken for example) will help you consume less overall calorie as well as consume more high quality nutrients, which will aid in losing the midsection jiggle.

–          Protein is a nutrient, not a steroid. While it plays an important role in anabolism, protein will not provide you will slabs of rock hard muscle without the hard work…sorry bro!

–          Ladies, protein will not make you gain manly muscle and neither will training heavy or intensely! So eat some steak, crush some weight and get off the damn elliptical!

Where can I get protein?

–          There are many sources of protein which include animal based proteins (beef, chicken, etc.), fish based protein (salmon, haddock, tuna, etc.), dairy based proteins (milk, yogurt, whey, casein, etc.), egg based protein and vegetable based protein (tofu, soy, protein, etc.).

–          As you can see, there are many foods that contain protein, and also protein supplements such as protein powder.

When should I eat protein and how much should I eat?

–          Protein should be consumed with every feeding (meal, mini-meal, snack) and a good way to measure how much to consume is by using your hand. Click HERE for a guide and visual.

–          The old standby for how much total daily protein to consume is 1g per pound of bodyweight. A better guideline to follow is one that I first heard from Alan Aragon. Alan recommends consuming 1g of protein for every pound of your ideal weight. That means if you are a 150lb male looking to gain 20lbs, you should be consuming at least 170g of protein daily. If you are trying to go from 200lbs to 180lbs, it is recommended to consume 180g of protein daily. Whatever your target weight is in pounds, consume that many grams of protein daily.

There are so many protein powders. Which one is best?

–          Whey stands out as the most versatile protein powder.

–          Casein is another dairy based protein and digests slower than whey making it a decent option when you know you are not going to be eating for a little while (before bed, etc.).

–          For those who don’t tolerate dairy well, egg or vegetable derived protein powders can be used (pea protein, etc….stay away from soy!).

–          No matter the source, make sure that the protein powder is made from whole, natural sources and not loaded with hormones, processed sweeteners or other ingredients that you can’t pronounce. And stay away from weight gainers…just eat more whole food!

–          I like Biotrust Low Carb as it tastes great and is made from quality sources. Other good sources include Jay Robbs and if you don’t have the funds available, Dymatize All Natural Whey is a decent option.

What can I use protein powder for?

–          Protein shakes, DUH!…check out this Protein Shake Construction Guide (your welcome!).

–          Other than shakes, great ways to use protein powder include powering up oatmeal, cottage cheese or Greek yogurt, putting it on popcorn, flavoring coffee, making homemade protein bars and more.

–          *Protein powder is a supplement and should be used as so. Think of protein powder as an additional (and sometimes more convenient) way to get your daily needs, not as the primary source!

So there you have it, a short, a simple overview of protein along with a few recommendations. This does not even scratch the surface of details surrounding protein, but hopefully you can see that protein is important, and alone is not going to give you the body of a Greek god or goddess!

Make sure you get enough high quality protein, continue to work hard and…just don’t get sucked into thinking protein is the end all when it comes to achieving results!

Posture is Everything…Here is How to Correct It!

 

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS

 

The other day I was having a conversation with an athlete.  This athlete was concerned that he was not getting the results he expected from the training, specifically regarding his posture.

He felt stronger, moved better, had more energy throughout the day and experienced a host of other positive results from training, but still walked around closely resembling one of my all-time favorite animated characters, Sid the Sloth (Yes, I am a fan of animated movies and I am not afraid to admit it!).

My first reaction was, “Great, this athlete actually cares about his posture!” Too often athletes just wanted to get after it, feel the “burn” and finish a session hunched over the trash can.

While I am all for getting after it, moving heavy stuff and ending a couple of sessions a month trying to fight back your upchuck reflex, if an athlete does not work to correct static posture, then an athlete is “starting the race behind the line.” Although I all for a challenge, if an athlete starts behind the line, my bet is they will not finish at the front of the pack (i.e. get the results they want and need).

But this athlete was working to correct his posture, and doing a damn good job at it…during training!

As we continued to talk about his concern and how he felt with the performance and understanding of his “corrective exercises” I couldn’t help but smirk as throughout the entire conversation this athlete was standing in the exact posture that we were trying to correct.

I let him finish his little rant (a rant that I was glad to hear) and then walked my way closer to him, placed him in the position/posture we wanted and asked, “How often do you stand like THIS during the day?”

“Umm…”

That’s all he had to say.

After I let him know that I had not done my job in making sure that he understood that this was what he had to do throughout the day in order for the training to “stick,” I asked him if he could try to achieve this posture throughout the day.

**A coaching/motivation side note; although I KNOW I had mentioned numerous times to him to try and be conscious of his posture, if I were to come at this athlete as if he were doing something wrong, his motivation would be shot and my position as a role model and authority would be compromised…so I took blame and responsibility.

After asking this athlete if he could be more aware and try to achieve the optimal posture more throughout the day, he replied, “Ya, I can try but it is almost impossible.”

I agreed with him that it would take a lot of effort to continuously find himself in a better posture, but I did not give in. Instead, I gave him a few tips on how to make it easier to remember.

Try the following tips to help you spend more of your day in a posture that will help lead to greater gains from training (strength, power, etc.) as well as a lower incidence of overuse injury from both training and “chilling” in a bad position.

Also, you will find yourself exuding more confidence as you walk around like you have an S on your chest rather than a shy, self-conscious school girl who wants nothing to do with anyone or anything.

Better Posture. Better Performance. Better Looks…But First…

In order to achieve a better posture, and make it stick, you must discover what your ideal posture is and how it feels. From there you must try to sustain that posture as often as possible and encourage adaptations of certain muscles to help you maintain that posture passively (meaning hypertrophy/stiffen certain muscles to help “hold” you in that posture). The passive maintenance will come from specific corrective exercises, that when performed correctly, will create the necessary changes.

Although everyone has specific needs when it comes to posture, some of the most common considerations include:

1)      Head and chin position: Many of us find ourselves with a forward head posture and jutting chin. To correct this think about “tucking your chin” or making the backside of your neck (cervical spine) “long.” Both of these cues will help you achieve a neutral cervical spine and make for a better chin position.

2)      Scapulae (shoulder blades): The majority of athletes/clients that I coach present with anteriorly tilted and depressed scapulae. For this reason, it is common that I cue the scapulae to come “up and back” which creates a proud/athletic chest.

3)      Lumbar spine (low back): Lumbar extension, or more accurately, excessive lumbar extension, is a common postural flaw. This causes unwanted compression of the spine as the “overarching” of the low back causes the vertebrae to become compressed. Cueing an athlete/client to “tuck their tale” or “bring your zipper to your ribcage” helps to reduce the excessive extension and bring the low back into a more neutral position.

While this is by no means an exhaustive, or in many cases a complete list, these 3 points are the most commonly found. Others include hip rotation issues, knee and foot positioning, etc.

One “exercise” I like to give to my athletes to help them achieve a better posture is to have them put their back against a wall with their feet 6 inches from the wall. I ask them to keep soft knees as they work to bring their low back, scapulae and head to the wall focusing on tucking the chin and keeping the neck long. I then ask them to come off of the wall while holding that position…this is a good start for an ideal posture.

Once you understand and achieve a better posture (neutral positioning), it is your job to try and keep this posture throughout the day, which is hard because it takes conscious awareness and focus. When your attention is elsewhere (work tasks, on the teacher, Facebook, etc.), posture is often the first thing to become compromised.

To help increase conscious awareness of posture, I encourage athletes to do the following.

1)      Set an alarm: Whether it is on your phone or a watch, set a timer to go off every 20-30 minutes so that when it goes off it reminds you to check posture. You can set it for a standard beep or make it so it vibrates (the phone anyway).

2)      Use sticky notes: Wherever you find yourself most of the day (in front of the computer, at a desk in school, on a beach chair in Hawaii…I’m shooting for the last option someday!) place a sticky note so you will see it often. Write anything such as “posture / proud chest / tuck tail / cut the S*&T”…whatever it is that will help remind you to check your posture.

3)      Object in your pocket: If you are on your feet and constantly moving most of the day (performance coach anyone?!), using a well-placed sticky note may be difficult. Instead, place an object in your pocket (the smaller the better) that when you touch will remind you to check your posture. Try a paper clip, rubber band, marble, etc.

4)      Enlist the help of a friend: Most of us spend much of our day around the same people every day…whether we like it or not! Take advantage of this and ask one or more of your friends/family/colleagues/teammates to remind you about your posture when they see you falling out of it…just remember, you asked them to help you so when they remind you, you cannot get annoyed or upset.

The Wrap Up    

Many athletes/clients find themselves training 2-4 times per week. While this is sufficient for many positive adaptations, when it comes to fixing posture it takes much more.

Performing corrective exercises each day will help, but if you spend 23 out of 24 hours in a posture that is creating pain, limiting performance outcomes or having people wonder how the hell you survived the Ice Age, it is going to be extremely difficult to make postural changes and have them stick.

Most of the time you just need a little reminder. Try the tips above and enjoy a body that feels better, performs better and looks a whole lot more confident and attractive.

Minimal Effective Dose

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS

Do you really want to train longer and harder to achieve the results you are looking for if you don’t have to?

This is a question that 95% of mankind would emphatically answer “Pffff, NO!”, and probably add in a sarcastic chuckle.

While I fall into the other 5% that love the act of getting after it, sweating a bit and feeling like I just got trampled by a heard of buffalo (I just purchased some grass fed bison so buffalo is on the mind), I realize that if we could achieve a healthy, lean and strong body by sitting around all day, most of us would.

Unfortunately for the 95%, sitting around eating “real fruit filled” poptarts watching severely unconditioned individuals getting the crap kicked out of them on latest episode of The Biggest Loser will not help you shed fat, gain muscle or look and feel better.

So if doing nothing won’t help you on your journey to “stud land” (or “studdette land” for the ladies), then training 2 hours per day, 7 days per week and eating nothing but organic free range chicken breast with steamed broccoli is the way to the godlike health and physique you want…right?

Spending more time in the gym than you do with your friends and family and eating strictly lean protein and veggies will definitely jump start the physical transformation that you are looking for, but your joints will soon begin to hate you, your friends and family will become fed up with your obsession, and life will be one dark and lonely venture.

So what is the answer?

Finding your minimal effective dose, or the least amount of effort you need to put in to reach your goals…that is what you need to determine.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t put in the work, but you should be able to work hard and still enjoy life. And the easiest way to do so is determine what the biggest barriers are that are preventing you from reaching your goals (usually concerning nutrition and physical activity), and what amount of training will provide continued progress without burnout.

To illustrate this a bit let’s take a look at a quick case study…my brother.

Over the last month my brother has been busy trying to get his ducks in a row as he is in a transition period in his life.

Because of this, he has not been able to make it to the gym as much as he would like (4-6 times per week) and has only been able to train 1 to 3 times per week. His goals include leaning out a bit and gaining some strength.

With the lack of training, you would expect that he may have ended up losing some strength and gaining a little extra thermal insulation about his midsection (yep, fat!).

So what happened?

He ended up losing 8 pounds and actually gained some strength. But just how was this possible?

My brother is a New Hampshire kid at heart, although he has spent the last 5 years in California as he completed his time serving as a United States Marine (thanks again bro!).

Do to his NH background, enjoying a cold brewsky a night (or 2 or 3) was a common practice. Add a slice or two of pizza to that and he was pretty much kissing his goals of a healthier, leaner and stronger body goodbye, even though he was putting in ample time at the gym.

And now over the last month he has eliminated the adult beverages, cut back (but not completely eliminated) the processed carbs (pizza crust, bread, pasta, etc.) and has trained intensely a couple times per week versus 5 or 6 days. He also went for a couple easy jogs and long walks in the sunny California weather, as well as performed a sprint session every now and then throughout the week…and that was it.

This shows you that by addressing the biggest factors preventing you from achieving your goals (the few bubblies and processed carbs for my bro) and determining the least amount of training that will allow you to progress your physical abilities and results (1-3 full body training sessions with some off day conditioning and sprints in my brother’s case) is all that is needed.

What is your biggest barrier to achieving your goals?

My brother’s little case study is just another good example that if you take care of your nutrition for the most part (staying consistent 90% of the time) and perform a full body training program 1-3 times per week while staying physically active, this is likely all you need to do to get closer to your ideal body.

You do not have to train hard every day and eat strict all the time, just enough of the time!

With that, the best thing you can do to is to establish your minimal effective dose…

1)      Write down a 3-5 day food log to determine your greatest need first, not EVERY need.

2)      Try 1-3 full body training days with supplemental physical activity to determine your training dose.

3)      Remember to live a little, enjoy the foods you like, train hard when you can and stay true to your goals 90% of the time.

Achieving your physical goals, doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. It just has to be enough to get you to where you want to be while allowing you have a good time doing so.

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