What Does “Organic” Even Mean?
A couple days ago, on a trip to the grocery store with my girlfriend, Taylor’s, family, I got some looks and questions like, “why do you eat healthy?” All I said back was, “because I enjoy it.” While that’s true, to give a full answer I would say it’s because I want to optimize my performance in the gym to achieve my ideal body while also doing minimal damage to my body. I’ve also learned to really enjoy it because I feel better than ever. Another question that I got was about the organic whole milk that I bought and I’m glad they asked me - “what’s the difference between organic and not organic?” While I had a decent general idea, before now I never actually looked into the USDA standards so I did some research and now want to share what I found!
I was surprised to see that the USDA has good regulations set up in order to certify anything as organic. On-site inspections are held prior to approval and annually from then on to verify standards are being met, even including record keeping done by the farmer. To be able to call something “organic,” The farmer must provide a organic production and handling system plan, showing the practices, procedures, a list of all substances used, and more. Even to say “made with organic ingredients” without the USDA seal, at least 70% of the ingredients must be produced and handled to Federal standards.
Let’s get into what these standards are...
The USDA works to make sure animals are raised in humane living conditions, provided organic food, and not given any antibiotics or hormones that are deemed harmful to the animal itself or the nutrition they provide us.
Here are some key points in their standards pertaining to livestock:
When it comes to crops, the USDA holds standards and also gathers tests and samples of soil, water, waste, seeds, and plants themselves to ensure practices are being done to minimize damage to the environment and to the health and nutrition of the crops.
Here are some key points in their standards pertaining to crops:
The standards go far beyond this post but this was just to give an overview of what the USDA standards look like for anything to be called “organic.” This set of standards, I feel, is very important and eye-opening because it shows:
Before looking at this, I just trusted experts when they said how much of a difference it makes, but now I know that it is worth spending the extra: I would rather get quality and care than cheap and convenient. When foods are not organic, you could very well be eating meat from cows who are sick, overcrowded, and overfed and eating fruit that lacks a lot of the nutrition.
What products do you make sure are labeled "organic" when you buy groceries? Do you notice a difference in taste?
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Nutrition Tips From Health & Fitness Experts (Dr. Steven Gundry and Mike Matthews)
If you are going to a sports game, what do you think of when it comes to food and beverages? Gatorade. Cheeseburgers. Hot dogs. Candy. And when a high school football team finishes a game, what's the first place players usually head to? McDonalds or Burger King to get 3 cheeseburgers, a large soda, and maybe some ice cream. Because that makes sense. The information we've gotten from Gatorade, Coca-Cola, and other Big Food companies like Kellogg's has fed us so much misinformation that we have completely thrown nutrition out the window. As Cate Shanahan has said, you can't out-exercise bad nutrition (https://legionathletics.com/dr-cate-shanahan-podcast/). Unhealthy eating habits will catch up to you sooner or later. This post isn't to bash the Standard American Diet but to share what I find to be the most important nutrition tips from these two experts. Dr. Steven Gundry is a physician and dietitian while Mike Matthews is a muscle building coach.
Dr. Steven Gundry
This is a controversial name, since his book The Plant Paradox where he has some fringe claims on nutrition - that all veggies, even tomatoes, should be de-seeded prior to consumption and to consume a liter of olive oil per week. That being said, his book Dr. Gundry's Diet Evolution is well-worth reading and is full of great tips including:
Unlike many muscle building coaches, Mike is a strong advocate for nutrition. "Your body won't positively adapt to your training if you don't support it with proper nutrition (Bigger Leaner Stronger - p. 160)." Here are some important tips that he shares:
I trust these experts when they say these tips can dramatically improve your health. This is how I have been implementing these tips:
If you would like that information on more specific topics like supplements, macronutrient recommendations, or sleep hygiene - check out these blog posts:
All About the Caffeine
We all need a wake-me-up sometimes - in the morning, before a workout, or sometimes just to get the productivity juices flowing. You'll be happy to hear that some experts have shown that caffeine doesn't have any bad side effects, for most people, if used in a smart manner. Let's break it down.
Mike provides the best advice that I have read when it comes to caffeine in his books Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger as well as on his podcast, Muscle for Life. In an episode called Making a Good Supplement, Mike goes into how caffeine is not nearly as dangerous as everyone makes it seem and suggests that if your daily intake does not go over around 400mg, there are no serious risks for the average active person.
Being a supplement formulator for his company Legion Athletics, he also advocates the use of caffeine and provides it in his pre-workout as well as recommends taking it with his fat loss supplements because of how it increases your performance, fat loss, and strength.
Lastly, Mike suggests to play it smart and preserve your tolerance by using caffeine sparingly, only before your hardest workouts or, if you take it daily, to take a week off every 2-3 weeks.
There are definitely a couple factoids that stuck with me from Shawn's book, Sleep Smarter. He has an entire chapter on the topic called Have a Caffeine Curfew. Shawn states how caffeine can be beneficial to increase your cortisol levels in the morning, "increase alertness and focus, and even improve liver function if used the right way (Sleep Smarter - p. 34)." The key words here are "if used the right way."
At the start of the chapter, he talks about a study done by Christopher Drake, PhD and professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, and how it shows that having a cup of coffee as much as 6 hours before bedtime causes you to lose an hour of sleep without you feeling a difference in sleep quality psychologically. Shawn explains that the half-life of caffeine is between 5 and 8 hours. To explain what this means, if we said the half-life was 6 hours and you consumed 200mg of caffeine at 4:00 PM, you still have 100mg at work in your system at 10:00 PM.
To avoid the negative effects of caffeine, Shawn suggests the following:
In Ben's New York Times Bestselling Book, Beyond Training, he stays more on the hazardous side of caffeine, stating that it can stunt muscle growth, cause adrenal fatigue, and overwork your central nervous system. The one positive thing he states is that 100mg of caffeine has proven to increase memory recall (Beyond Training - p. 438). But when it comes to performance, Ben suggests limiting your intake as much as possible and simply getting the sleep your body needs instead.
I know there is a bit of mixed information here, but these are all experts who back their suggestions up with quality research. The biggest takeaway from this would be to take advantage of these tips from Mike, Shawn, and Ben:
Overall, I believe that caffeine can be very useful but realize that if you need it, it probably means you are lacking the adequate sleep your body needs. Enjoy its benefits but be smart about it.
Favorite Podcasts Including Health/Fitness Experts (Shawn Stevenson, Ben Greenfield, and Mike Matthews)
Two or three years ago, I really got into listening to podcasts. I stopped listening to music every day and instead decided to educate myself on self-improvement. Initially, my favorites were The Secret to Success Podcast with Eric Thomas and his team and Jocko Willink's Jocko Podcast (which still is my favorite). Podcasts are today's talk radio but the options and amount of knowledge you can gain from them really has no limits. Jocko Willink pointed me into the direction of listening to people like Ben Greenfield, Peter Attia, and Dom D'Agostino on The Joe Rogan Experience.
I immediately was intrigued and for the past 5-6 months the only podcasts I have been listening to are related to health and fitness and on the average day, I listen to at least 2 hours of podcasts (on the way to and from work and sometimes during, especially if I'm in the office).
If you are interested in this topic, it would be foolish not to check out what physicians, physical therapists, and health/fitness coaches have to share. Even if you're skeptical, I promise, you won't be disappointed. The struggle is figuring out who to listen to because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different podcasts on this topic.
I want to share with you some of my favorite podcast episodes that would benefit everyone who listens because of the knowledge that these experts share:
Shawn Stevenson (Dietitian and Fat Loss Expert)
The Model Health Show
Ben Greenfield (Triathlete Coach and Bio-hacker)
Joe Rogan Experience
Mike Matthews (Muscle Building Coach)
Muscle For Life Podcast
I know this is a lot of options. If I had to choose 3, it would be the first one under each expert but ALL of these are worth a listen. All 3 of these guys deserve to be called experts with how much research and experience with clients that they have. I know I only shared the Youtube links but they are easy to search for on iTunes and Spotify.
If you have a different favorite from one of these experts or if you have another expert to share with me, please do in the comments!! Also, if you do take a listen, let me know what you think!
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Workout Progression (A Quick Look at Mike Matthews' Bigger Leaner Stronger Program)
First off, my apologies for not posting last week. With the holiday, I honestly forgot and here is my post that should have released yesterday. I have also adjusted the site a good amount so check out my other pages if you haven't in a while.
I just started my 6th week on Mike's weightlifting program that goes along with his book, Bigger Leaner Stronger. Last week (week 5), I took the week off to deload since it had probably been 10-12 weeks since I had taken a break from working out 4-5 days a week. From here on, I'll have a deload week every 6 weeks.
Bigger Leaner Stronger is based on what Mike calls double progression in the 4-6 rep range. I go into detail about this in my post when I originally started - Exercise Plan Change - Low Rep, Double Progression. Essentially, this program highlights the importance of progression so I'll show you the progress I have made between Week 1 and Week 4 on my major lifts.
It may not seem like a dramatic change, and it really isn't for my barbell bench press and barbell curl but the important thing is that I am seeing progression. Even if I am only gaining 1 rep per set in each workout I do, I see that as an improvement and am happy with that. This is just the beginning of this program and I really enjoy it so far.
Mike really improved my workout in 2 big ways:
If you like this topic and want any more tips on progression, I highly suggest getting Mike's book Bigger Leaner Stronger if you are a guy, and Thinner Leaner Stronger if you are a girl. He also shows how to do these lifts with proper form and outlines which muscle groups these lifts affect.
If you have any questions or comments, comment on this post!
Here are a couple discussion questions:
Maybe you have some tips for me if you think I should be progressing quicker?
What exercise program have you done that you've really enjoyed?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.