A Natural Pre & Post Workout Option

Pre and post workout nutrition are areas that many people feel are unnecessary. I can agree so long one is able to meet their daily nutrition needs without supplementation. After all, using supplements is intended to supplement nutrients that one may not be able to meet with their regular diet. But let’s not mistake this for an excuse to replace meals because one lacks the discipline to have food ready or even worse, fail to eat a couple times a day like a normal human being should.

A common theme I’ve found amongst a handful of people I’ve trained over the years is the perception that supplements aren’t “natural”. The irony speaks for itself as its often these same people who spend every weekend indulging in their favorite liquid carcinogen (alcohol). Add excessive cardio and a daily fluctuation of calorie intake to the equation and we’ve got ourselves a classic case of a gym rat living in a metabolic nightmare.

Eating Better Options (Beginner)

Now don’t get me wrong, learning to choose healthier food items is a great first step. Just take a look at the folks who experience acute shifts in their physique from whatever fad diet is popular this season. Just note that this leads to little to no change in body composition over time. What these people experience is often a loss in water weight and the magic of…drum roll…not eating like a piece of shit! Learning to eat better is just a stepping stone when it comes to transforming the body.

Eating What You Need (Intermediate)

Where most tend to break through the plateau is when they grasp the concept of energy balance. Without oversimplifying it: burn more calories than you intake on a daily basis overtime. But the real shift in body composition and physique transformation occurs when one engrains a steady practice of intaking the appropriate macronutrients (proteins, carbs, fats) based off their activity level or training goal. Just because you eat less than your body requires doesn’t mean you will shed mostly fat. Nor does eating more than your body requires equate to gaining weight solely through muscle growth. Needless to say, nailing down your macronutrient intake on a consistent basis will enable you to build more muscle and progressively transform your physique overtime.

It is getting to this point in which most people may start to feel that pre and post workout nutrition isn’t of much importance. So if one can dial into the appropriate calorie intake, eat a proper distribution of their required macronutrients based off their training goal, and choose healthier items most of the time: would they be on the path to building a better physique? Absolutely! But we’re forgetting one part of the puzzle and possibly one of the most important when it comes to crossing that bridge of being an intermediate level gym goer to an advanced trainee: workout intensity.

Eating For Success (Advanced)

You can always build a nice physique through consistently practicing everything mentioned above with a couple workouts a week. But if you want to achieve anything out of the ordinary and be better than the average, you need to eat to train! I don’t care how strong willed you are, if your body isn’t fueled sufficiently, you are limiting what you can gain from your training. This is where many are steered wrong into the idea that pre and post workout nutrition is useless. I bet if they disciplined themselves for a few weeks to time their nutrition right around their workouts, they would notice a significant difference in their overall output and intensity in each training session.

Convenience aside, I understand if one chooses to opt from using supplementation to meet their nutrition needs. But how would one achieve all of this without the use of conventional supplements? I provide some ideas below:

What Most Pre Workout Supplements Look Like

You want carbs in your system during your workout. Plain and simple. Why? To ensure that you aren’t depleted of your glycogen stores during the training session. However, it’s probably not the best idea to intake 1/3-1/4 of your daily carb intake an hour before a training session. Training with a full stomach isn’t the brightest idea, nor will it provide nutrients in time to fuel your training session. A small amount of high glycemic carbs will suffice (most use maltodextrin or simple sugars). Another thing most people look for in a pre workout supplement is a vasodilator, i.e. something that gives you the pump. Most pre workout supplements contain a single or various forms of the amino acid, arginine. This amino acid boosts nitric oxide levels in the blood, further enabling one’s ability to improve performance. But let’s not forget to mention the one that jazzes everybody when it comes to pre workout supplements: the stimulant! Caffeine is the most common, but take heed to the outlandish doses that make an infrequent caffeine user feel like they’re on the verge of a heart attack.

A Natural Alternative

1. Carb Source: Honey

It’s a natural immediate energy source. Glucose right into your bloodstream to raise that blood sugar after a long stretch of not eating in between lunch and your evening workout or a long night of sleep and an early morning training session. A great antioxidant that is also swarmed for its anti-inflammatory properties.

2. Vasodilator Source: Cocoa Powder (unsweetened)

It is a myocardial stimulant as well as a vasodilator, it increases heartbeat, yet it also dilates blood vessels, causing a reduction in blood pressure. Also a great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant source.

3. Stimulant Source: Coffee

Do we really need to go over why this will give you that boost? Caffeine baby! Oh, and yet another antioxidant.

4. Optional Fat Source: Heavy Whipping Cream

To slow down the digestion and release of glucose into the bloodstream.

*For those who aren’t fond of pure cocoa powder and it’s chalky taste, I highly recommend you use the honey and heavy whipping cream.

What Most Post Workout Supplements Look Like

Now that you’ve hopefully gotten what you needed out of that pre workout concoction and depleted all your energy stores from the amount of intensity you can bring to the table, it’s time refuel those glycogen stores. You got it, more carbs! Most use maltodextrin, dextrose, or sugar based sports drinks. Not only will this carry you through the rest of the day in between your workout and next meal, it will also maximize muscle protein synthesis. Pairing your carbs and protein together post workout will ensure that you are driving fuel into your muscle tissue after a strenuous training session of breaking the tissue down. After all, the rebuilding process only takes places with proper nutrition and rest. Most use variations of whey powder. Fats aren’t particularly important for post workout nutrition.

A Natural Alternative

1. Carb Source: Fruit

I like berries as my fruit of choice. Blueberries to be specific. Blueberries are: a high glycemic carb source, fibrous, loaded with antioxidants, potassium, vitamin C, the list goes on…mix in some raw honey to increase carb intake if necessary.

2. Protein Source: Greek Yogurt

Higher in protein than your other dairy products. High in calcium, B12, and a great source of probiotics.

*The serving sizes are based off someone who weighs around 180-220 pounds. If you are 140-180 lbs, use 2/3 of the serving sizes. 100-120 lbs, use 1/2 of the serving sizes. Obviously you must also take into account how this fits into your daily intake.

Adding It To Your Day

Here are some examples of what it may look like adding these into your routine based off your workout schedule if you ate 3 regular meals a day:

Training In The Morning (6am)

5:30am- pre workout concoction

6:00am- train

7:30am- post workout

12:0pm- lunch

4:00pm- mid afternoon snack

8:00pm- dinner

Training In The Afternoon (12pm)

6:00am- breakfast

11:30am-pre workout concoction

1:30pm- post workout

4:00- mid afternoon snack

8:00- dinner

Training In The Evening (6pm)

6:00am- breakfast

12:00am- lunch

4:00pm- mid afternoon snack

5:30pm- pre workout concoction

7:30pm- post workout

Final Thoughts

I get it. Some people just don’t want to use powders or mixes because they don’t want to affiliate with meathead culture. I can accept that. But to not be getting the fuel they need to get the most out of their training and still expect superior results is pure delusion. Use these “natural’ pre and post workout options as you choose. Just don’t come back to me saying you won’t get where you need to be because supplements aren’t in the cards. Namaste.

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Utilizing Progressive Overload For Hypertrophy

3×10: it’s the international bro-code for “I’m training to build muscle” and rightly so.

If you train three or more times a week, it shouldn’t be any problem to get in at least four exercises per muscle group/movement. If you did 3×10 for four different exercises, you would get a total of 120 reps per week. 120 reps is pretty much the sweet spot for when it comes to hypertrophy. But you can’t really think that doing 3×10 for years on end and aiming for “adding 5 lbs a week” is a reasonable approach. If it were, we’d all be adding >250 lbs to our bench press each year and look like Thanos.

A Brief on Progression

There are dozens of programs, progressions, and methods out there people use to ensure that their training is stimulating muscle growth. Many people find one that works pretty well for a while, but become stagnant in their gains overtime. This is most often because they aren’t using progressive overload in their training.

Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training. It was developed by Thomas Delorme, M.D. while he rehabilitated soldiers after World War II.”

What most folks do is follow a linear periodization. Linear periodization works well for progressing in intensity (the weight or % of 1RM used) but does not align well with volume (total reps done). As mentioned prior, high volume is key in regards to maximizing training time to stimulate muscle growth.

This is what linear periodization looks like:

A much more effective approach that allows for more long term adaptation and puts a heavier emphasis on recovery time would be non-linear periodization. Some others call it wave loading. There are several ways that you can program wave loading through manipulating intensity and volume which makes for an infinity of progression patterns. This is where the art of strength training and muscle building comes into play.

This is what non-linear periodization/wave loading looks like:

Applying This Model To Hypertrophy

Crossing intensity and volume to provide an appropriate stimulus that allows for optimal recovery in between sessions is the key to building strength over time. But doing so for building muscle is what throws many people off. It is clear that you can build muscle by training with sub-maximal loads. Just take a look at olympic weightlifters and powerlifters. This is definitely something I am in favor utilizing for hypertrophy. However, sub-maximal loads and medium volume programming should not be your focus if your primary goal is growth.

I’ve come up with a model that I have been using called “Progressive Overload For Hypertrophy”. This is a great way to mix in that medium intensity/medium volume training with your high volume training to maximize muscle growth and continually progress overtime. That’s right, literally getting stronger and bigger at the same time. This is kind of how it was supposed to work anyway, right? Please note, this has probably been shared and executed by many. I just personally have not seen it broken down in this way to help others apply the principle of progressive overload to their hypertrophy training.

What It Looks Like

The typical repetition range for hypertrophy sets is 8-12. Personally, I like to lift heavy and I also like to chase the pump. Because the high end for “strength sets” is 6 reps and the low end for “muscular endurance” is 15 reps, I like to stay somewhere in between these numbers.

At least 50% of your work should be done in the hypertrophy rep range. 25% could be spent doing higher rep work and the other 25% (give or take) doing “heavier” work for medium volume.  So if my target goal for a training week is to hit 120 reps for a particular muscle group, I should be doing somewhere around 60 reps in the 6-10 rep range, 30 reps in the 10-15 rep range, and about 30 or less reps in the 4-6 rep range. This is arguable and can be adjusted either way, but just note that your higher volume work should always be priority if you truly want to put on size.

Here is one example of what an upper back focus training day should look like:

As you can see, the first exercise is at a heavier weight for a medium volume that goes no lower than 20 working reps. Assigning a percentage to these or at least knowing a general range is always a good idea so you don’t completely tank in the first exercise. After all, the work that lies ahead is most important. The second exercise is prescribed to stay at a RR (repetition range) of 6-10 and shoot for a TTV (total target volume) of 30. The third and fourth exercises stay at a RR of 10-15 and a TTV of 40. If you look at week two, the first exercise increases in intensity and lowers in volume while every other exercises stay in the same intensity range but increases in the TTV.

Here is a visual of what this progression would look like when recoding TTV:

As you can see, we chose a weight that was heavy for the higher end of the RR on week 1. When it looks like we’re going to go below 6 reps, we drop the weight to ensure we stay in the RR and continue cranking quality working sets until we reach the TTV. Each week we will try to go a little bit heavier. In the end, this means we’ll more than likely be doing more working sets but still stay within our total target volume. That means an increase in intensity without much of a change in volume. Much different than your typical linear progression.

Now this is what it would look like for weeks 4-6.

As you can see, the TTV was raised. We would return back to a weight that we are confident we could get for the top end of the RR for week 4. In theory, this should be higher than week 1’s weight. Would one not get stronger overtime if they were to continue with the model of adding weight for three weeks while aiming for a particular TTV and then repeating the progression for another three weeks but at a higher TTV?

Using the recorded volume and intensity from above, this is a visual of what the progression would look like:

See the wave like pattern? Now imagine this stretched over a period of six months while strategically adding in de-load weeks…

Final Thoughts

There is a lot to be discussed in regards to how to use this model for building muscle. Generally, you will gain muscle with high volume training paired with solid nutrition and recovery habits. However, when it comes to optimal results: it always boils down to what best suits the individual. Hopefully the ideas I’ve shared has given you a bigger canvas to paint with and will allow you to get more creative with a long term approach for gaining muscle.

Not sure where to start or need guidance on your programming? I’m currently taking on online clients. Learn more about my coaching services HERE.

My Roller Coaster Relationship With Training (Part I)

This is something I have been wanting to write for quite some time. The hesitation has mostly been due to my lack of clarity as to understanding why sharing a story about my training life would mean anything to the people reading. But reflecting on what it felt like during the years where motivation and drive was at an all time high has brought me to the realization that many who have spent time training to better oneself have experienced similar patterns of success and failure. It is these people, much like myself, who I hope can relate to and learn from my story. I also write this for the people I have worked with over the years, who have firsthand witnessed my roller coaster of athletic endeavors. But in all honesty, I am mostly sharing this for peace of mind. This is me putting an end to my least favorite chapter and moving onward to extending a new one that I anticipate will make for a better man, husband, friend, and coach.

With that said, let’s rewind to 2002…

The Conception

Like many competitive athletes, I was introduced to strength training at a young age. I remember my dad pulling out a pair of rusty dumbbells from the garage when I was thirteen years old and explaining to me how training with these a few times a week would make me stronger than my competition. I had only been wrestling for three years before then, with my only exposure to formal training being general calisthenics and my middle school cross country club where we’d run the same 5k trail along the LA river two to three times a week.

My youth wrestling club “Team Thunder”. Seven  of us ended up wrestling in college. I’m on the top right. With the look on my face, I’m pretty sure I didn’t medal that day.

After developing a “no pain no gain” attitude, hoisting those rusty dumbbells and pushing through that burn became something that I looked forward to. Not only was I seeing my time spent lifting weights benefit me on the wrestling mat, I was also experiencing the aesthetic perks as well. Always being a skinny kid and a little bit on the shorter side, receiving attention from the young ladies wasn’t too common. However, there weren’t too many teenagers with defined muscles and six pack abs. Little did I know at the time that it was a combination of a good diet (thanks mom) and pubescent hormones that contributed to these gains I had never experienced beforehand.

I eventually outgrew those rusty dumbbells and asked my dad for more weights. He pulled out an old barbell set and bought me a couple more pairs of dumbbells. Sometime around then, I was skimming through my family book collection and came across Arnold Schwarzenegger’s  “Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding”. This was a moment of true inspiration. I didn’t realize that building a chiseled action figure like body was even humanly possible, as my only knowledge of Arnold prior to this was his acting career, in which he lost a decent amount of size. This practical guide and simple read inspired me to be like Arnold and get as big and scary as possible before starting high school.

The Transformation

Though most people train for fun and do it to improve or maintain their health and appearance, there are a handful of those who have had to dig deep and push themselves to new limits in order to reach their goals. This is something that competitive distance runners experience regularly. But at fourteen years old, I thought I had it all figured out. I was under the impression that I had a good grasp on what hard work was and how to push myself to breaking point. I was in for a rude awakening. 

The summer before high school, my parents sent me to a two week long wrestling camp in the mountains of Trego, Montana known as “Man of Iron.” Operated like a dragged out special forces hell week (but with more hand to hand combat) this camp was deemed as “the toughest camp in America.” Participants dropped like flies on the first few days, throwing away the thousands of dollars their parents spent for flights, lodging and camp fees. I vividly remember my phone call home and my parents leaving me with no option but to “graduate”. From up to five workouts a day, this camp mixed log workouts, hay bailing races, one mile swims, 5k buddy carries, multiple sparring sessions, and much more. This was all in training to complete the final “triathlon” made up of a one mile swim, fifteen mile run, and five mile trek up and down the windy Montana hills while carrying a log on your back. It was only through completing this that one was able to graduate from the camp and proudly sport the black t-shirt with the words “I AM A MAN OF IRON” painted in gold.

Log PT at “Man of Iron” wrestling camp in Trego, Montana. This was usually the start of the day.

Throughout those two weeks, I pushed myself to breaking point time and time again. The more familiar I became with what it felt like to be broken, the better I became at pushing through and coming out stronger. It was that summer that I found my love for using running as a means to improve mental toughness. Running until my heart felt like it was on the verge of exploding became part of my routine.

The Inspiration

Fast forwarding to my last few months of high school, I had acquired a wealth of training experience from world class coaches. From competing and training around the United States with the California national team to spending two weeks overseas in Ukraine at their Olympic Training Centers, I developed a better sense of the concept “work smarter not harder.” Intense strength & conditioning training sessions combined with regular combative sports practice and competition will put one’s body through the grinder. However, at this age the injuries were minor and the recovery was swift.

The Olympic Training Center in Alushta, Ukraine where I got to train amongst and learn from some of the greatest athletes in the world.

It was 2007. I was at a UFC fight night party where my team mates gathered to watch George St. Pierre defend his title for the second time that year. I always admired him as an athlete. His poise and his level of fitness put him in a different caliber than the other fighters. It was around this time that the UFC was also stepping up their marketing game and spending more time hyping the competitors before the paper view cards began. I vividly remember watching the highlight of St. Pierre working with his personal strength & conditioning coach. I didn’t realize that this was even a career. A strength coach for professional fighters? I couldn’t think of a more fitting dream job. Conveniently, I was also deciding on colleges at the time. Liberty University in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Lynchburg, Virginia was one of the schools on my radar to continue my time as a student athlete. Though this was a long ways away from California, they also offered Exercise Science with a focus in Strength & Conditioning as a choice of study. So off to Virginia I went!

To be continued…