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Echo Supplements Blog

  • Top 3 Supplements for Students

    Freshers' Week: Seven days of alcohol-fulled anarchy to welcome students back to university with a bang...ing headache. When the hangover wears off and the brain fog clears, hopefully you'll remember what this thing called "fitness" is so here's a post to get you started on the right foot.

    The fitness lifestyle is becoming more and more popular and it's no surprise that using supplements, a large part of this lifestyle, is becoming more and more popular to match. However, for students supplements can sometimes seem like too much of an expense so today I'm going to share my top 3 supplement essentials that won't blow the budget.

    1. Whey Protein Powder

    There's so many different types of protein powders to choose from but whey protein concentrates are the cheapest you'll find to fuel your gains. When it comes to protein, more expensive doesn't always mean more effective: slight differences in macronutrient profiles are not necessarily worth such a big difference in price. That being said, supplementing your diet with a protein powder is still one of the best wheys - excuse me - ways to bump up your daily protein intake which is important for anyone regardless of your fitness goals. Of course, your protein requirements can be met just from quote "real" foods such as meat, fish and eggs however keeping stocked with so much fresh goods can get very expensive very quickly. Protein powders are versatile, convenient and can be taken anywhere you go with no mess and no fuss. Check out Echo's selection here...

    2. Multivitamins

    Student's have a reputation for having pretty poor diets, a definite lack of fresh fruit and vegetables and definitely no shortage of instant noodle pots. Whilst a multivitamin in no way makes up for your disastrous diet it is the perfect top up to keep you covered and help keep freshers' flu at bay. Alongside a balanced and varied diet, a multivitamin supplement is an inexpensive and basic add-on to your morning routine. The key ingredient to look out for is vitamin D: only produced when our skin is exposed to sunlight if there's one vitamin that you're likely to be low on it's this one. Hidden inside all day studying and only going out at night chances are you'll need a little boost so here's some multivitamins you can try...

    3. Creatine Monohydrate

    Like protein powders, creatine comes in many different forms - pills, powders and chemical compounds - but creatine monohydrate is the most tried, tested and trusted supplement proven to enhance performance in strength training athletes whilst being the least expensive type available. Creatine is important for energy regeneration in your muscle cells whilst you work out and supplementing with creatine can increase your strength and endurance. Creatine also increases muscle hydration so you look larger and leaner making it a real essential for any physique or strength training athlete. You can add creatine to your existing supplement stack on it's own or choose a pre-workout blend which already contains creatine (however these are not always concentrated enough to meet your daily requirements of around 5 grams per day). Here's what Echo has to offer...

    Remember to stay safe, stay hydrated, study hard and train harder!

  • Inside-Out: Chest

    Let me set the scene...It's just another Monday evening, something like 6pm. It's been a long day on the job and all you want is sweat it out, lift things up, put things down (and then back on the rack they came from thank you very much), go home and call the day done. Your plan seemed foolproof at first but you missed one minor detail...

    #INTERNATIONALCHESTDAY

    I don't like to stereotype or judge people in any way - heck could you imagine what people think of me? A 19 year old girl training just as hard as men 10 years older? - but I will never understand what it is about Monday that brings all the gymrats out of hiding and running back to the bench. Maybe it's the #MotivationMonday trend getting in their head or maybe they're like me and Monday just so happens to land on their programmed chest session but either way training at peak time is almost impossible. Don't sweat! In today's edition of Inside Out I'll be sharing some of the science you need to squeeze the most of your chest sessions...

    Getting a grip on your chest muscle anatomy is the best place to start if you want to train your chest more effectively so here's what you need to know...

    Your chest, or properly termed "the pectoral region", comprises four main muscles:

    1. 1. Pectoralis major is the largest, most superficial muscle in your chest and is responsible for internal rotation. The pectoralis major has three heads: the clavicular head is found in the upper chest and used in shoulder flexion to raise your arms overhead; whilst the sternal and abdominal heads are found in the lower chest and can be targeted through decline pressing or dumbbell pullovers.
    2. 2. The pectoralis minor, as it's name suggests, is a smaller muscle which lies underneath the pectoralis major and is responsible for maintaining mobility in the shoulder joint and moving the scapula forwards and downwards. This muscle also has a role in forced breathing by helping rib cage expansion.
    3. 3. The serratus anterior muscle is another small muscle located more laterally in the chest; its function is to rotate the scapula and hold it against the rib cage.
    4. 4. Directly underneath the clavicle bone is the subclavicus muscle (quick Latin lesson: sub means "under" and "clavicus" is related to the clavicle. See, it's simple when you break it down!) which whilst very small is still important to anchor the clavicle bone above it.

    When it comes to training the chest however, we're really just focusing on the pectoralis major so here's some of the essential exercises you need to get in your routine...

    •  - Bench Pressing. Which press is best? All of your upper body pressing movements will recruit the chest muscles to some degree but some are more effective than others. If you want to move the most weight possible then the barbell bench press is the way to go with smith machine variations coming in at a close second. Dumbbell bench pressing brings an extra challenge as it requires greater stability however whilst it cannot be loaded with as much weight it still results in similar chest muscle activity. Incline presses can be used to target the clavicular or upper head of the pectoralis major whereas decline presses can be used to target the sternal and abdominal heads of the lower chest. Including a variety of presses in your routine is important for all round chest strength and shape whilst also developing secondary muscles such as the shoulders and triceps.

     

    • - Chest Fly. Performed on the bench with dumbbells, cables or a pec fly machine this cheset isolating exercise is all about horizontal adduction or what I like to call "stretch and squeeeeeeeze"!

     

    • - Push ups. Practice makes perfect for this particular exercise so here's a simple progression you can use to master this move...

    Each variation is more challenging than the last but if you can complete 15 reps on one level try moving to the next:

    1. 1. Hand elevated push ups. Placing your hands up on a bench, box or bar whilst keeping your feet on the floor decreases the load on upper body to make push ups easier to perform. The lower you go the harder they get!
    2. 2. Knee push ups. With your hands and knees on the floor perform a regular push up remembering to keep your core tight and back flat.
    3. 3. Regular push ups. Start with your hands and toes on the floor to perform the standard push up.
    4. 4. Feet elevated push ups. Placing your feet up on a bench or box whilst keeping your feet on the floor increases the load on your upper body to create a more challenging variation
    5. 5. Now you can throw a push up party and try some of the more impressive variations such as clapping and plyometric push ups or even handstand presses!

    The key to all push ups though is that core control! Keeping a tight core will stop your hips from sagging, your back from arching and ensure you perform every rep safely and correctly. Form comes first!

    References

    Glass, S. C. and Artstrong, T. (1997). 'Electromyographical activity of the pectoralis muscle during incline and decline bench presses', Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 11(3) pp. 163-167.

    Saeterbakken, A. H., Tillaar, R. and Fimland, M. S. (2011). 'A comparison of muscle activity and 1-RM strength of three chest press exercises with different stability requirements', Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(5), pp. 533-538.

    Jones, O. (2017). Muscles of the Pectoral Region. Available at: http://teachmeanatomy.info/upper-limb/muscles/pectoral-region/ (Accessed 13 September 2017).

    Washmuth, D. (2017). Pectoralis Minor: Function, blood supply and innervation. Available at: http://study.com/academy/lesson/pectoralis-minor-function-blood-supply-innervation.html (Accessed 13 September 2017).

    Robertson, M. (2017). Built by science: Chest. Available at https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/built-by-science-chest.html (Accessed 13 September 2017).

  • Staying On Track For September

    Summer has come and gone, here in the UK it's always shorter and not so sweet as we'd like but unfortunately there's nothing we can do to change that! September is a new month and a new opportunity to get yourself back on track and building next year's body well in advance. In this post I'll be sharing my top tips to get the ball rolling and set you up for fitness success this fall!

    1. Set SMART Goals

    What is it that you want to achieve? Would you like to get stronger? Bigger? Leaner? Or, like me, are you just trying to find your own balanced, fitness-focused lifestyle? Regardless of what is is you're working on you need to think SMART if you want to succeed. You need to set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. It's not enough to just say "I want to lose weight" or "I want to get stronger". How much weight do you want to lose? Which lift are you working on? How are you tracking your progress? When is your deadline? The more detailed you are when you set your goals, the more of a pin point you have to aim for and the more likely you are to hit it.

    2. Map It Out

    Setting goals without planning how exactly it is you're going to get there is a bit like booking a hotel without a flight - it looks great, but you're stuck right where you are. This is where you need to break down your big goal into smaller, more manageable goals that you can smash on a daily basis. Having a journal or planner that has space for your schedule, to do lists and general brain-clutter you can't forget is the most efficient way to make sure you get everything done. I like to time block everything from my shifts at work and training sessions to errand running and content creating - being organised isn't boring, it's brilliant!

    In terms of training and nutrition, some more specific things you should be thinking about include:

    • Weekly workout routine (lifting and/or cardio)
    • Reps/Set schemes
    • Measurements record
    • Supermarket shopping lists
    • Meal planning
    • Daily supplements stack

    3. Execute The Blueprint

    This is the easiest part. You've decided your destination, you know what direction you've got to go and now you need to just to to get there. You've got a perfect plan laid out in front of you so follow it! But what happens if life throws you a curveball? Catch it. Run with it! Sometimes all you need to do is reshuffle your schedule or postpone one task to prioritise another but as long as you keep a level head you can't fall too far off track.

    That's all for now, there's plenty for you to get working on but I hope you found this mindset managing exercise helpful and wish you the best in your next steps!

    I'd love to hear what goals you're setting this September so leave a comment below and share your story!

  • Are High Protein Diets Dangerous?

    Amid the tragic news of an Australian bodybuilder dying after following a high protein diet, the media has acted swiftly to blame the supplements industry calling for tighter regulation. Whilst we must show deep sympathy to those affected it is important to share some biology behind the headlines and settle the score on supplement safety.

    What happens if we eat too much protein?

    When protein is broken down, nitrogen is released which can accumulate in the blood as the toxic chemical ammonia; However, in healthy individuals this ammonia is converted to urea and excreted in the urine. Whilst high protein diets have previously been linked to kidney damage, the detected increase in renal function is merely an "adaptive mechanism well within the functional limits of a healthy kidney".

    Unfortunately Meegan Hefford, alongside 1 in 8000 people, suffered from the rare genetic Urea Cycle Disorder which resulted in her not being able to metabolise protein and excrete excess nitrogen efficiently enough to keep up with her high protein diet. Unable to prevent the build up of ammonia in her blood and fluid in her brain, she entered a comatose state and died of consequent brain damage.

    How much protein do we really need?

    For those with fully functioning kidneys and no underlying metabolic disorders, diets with increased protein intake can be beneficial for muscle building, bone health and weight management. Whilst the current recommended daily intake for protein is set at 0.8g per kg bodyweight, the benefits listed above are most evident in protein consumption above the prescribed RDI and in athletic individuals a protein consumption up to 2.8g per kg seems to be safe. Hold up! More protein doesn't necessarily mean more muscle though, but in order to maximise muscle protein synthesis a significantly greater and frequent protein intake is needed than the regular RDI.

    Bumping up your protein intake using supplements is a perfectly safe thing to do for healthy people as part of their training and nutrition plan. Products are typically batch tested and thoroughly researched before being sold so further tightening the rules on the industry I feel is a step too far. As always, it comes down to that old phrase "everything in moderation". Consume supplements at your own risk and only after consulting a medical professional.

    References

    BiolLayne Video Log 4 - Myths About Protein (2012) YouTube video, added by biolayne [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjmV8BlsJTQ (Accessed 21 August 2017).

    Cuenca-Sanchez, M., Navas-Carrillo, D. and Orenes-Pinero, E. (2015). 'Controversies surrounding high-protein diet intake: satiating effect and kidney and bone health', Adv Nutr, 6, pp. 260-266.

    Helms, E. R., Zinn, C., Rowlands, D. S. and Brown, S. R. (2014). 'A systematic review of dietary protein during calorie restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes', International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 24(2), pp. 127-138.

    Helms, E. R., Aragon, A. A. and Fitschen, P. J. (2014). 'Evidence based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation', J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 11(20).

    Martin, W. F., Armstrong, L. E. and Rodriguez, N. R. (2005). 'Dietary protein intake and renal function', Nutrition and Metabolism, 2(25).

    Poortmand, J. R. and Dellalieux, O. (2000). 'Do regular high protein diets have potential health risls on kidney function in athletes?', International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 10(1), pp. 28-38.

    CNN Report: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/15/health/australian-body-builder-death-protein-shakes/index.html

     

  • That's Pretty NEAT! Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis Explained

    Do you think that spending hours on the cardio machines is the only way to burn those extra calories? Think again! I've got a pretty NEAT trick for you...

    N.E.A.T. in fact stands for 'Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis' and is the total calories you burn just doing everyday activities: climbing the stairs, wiping the counter and anything which cannot be described as "volitional exercise". It represents a large proportion of your total daily energy expenditure (T.D.E.E.) and can have a real impact on your weight loss results.

    Your basal metabolic rate or the number of calories you burn throughout the day at rest is dependent on your gender, age, height, weight and body composition; however, differences in activity levels can cause total N.E.A.T. expenditure can vary by as much as 2000 kcals per day from one person to the next. People who are highly active can spend up to 3 times more calories than those who are inactive.

    What does this mean?

    If you are trying to create a calorie deficit for weight loss, whereby your total daily energy expenditure is greater than your energy intake, then being more active in general can help to burn calories without scheduling more dreaded cardio sessions. Increasing your total N.E.A.T. can also help to offset excess calories that you eat and increase the number of calories you need just to maintain your current body weight, i.e. you to eat more with little or no weight gain. A real win-win situation.

    Ways to increase you N.E.A.T.

    1. Take the stairs instead of the lift
    2. Park your car a little further away and walk the rest
    3. Clean the house
    4. Tend the garden
    5. Supermarket shopping

    This list could get very long very quickly but each entry has something key in common... JUST MOVE MORE!

    References

    Black, A.E.Coward, W.A.Cole, T.J. and Prentice, A.M. (1996). 'Human energy expenditure in affluent societies: an analysis of 574 doubly-labelled water measurements', Eur J Clin Nutr , 50, pp. 7292.

    Levine, J.A.Eberhardt, N.L. and Jensen, M.D. (1999). 'Role of nonexercise activity thermogenesis in resistance to fat gain in humans', Science, 283, pp. 212–214.

    Levine, J. A. (2007). 'Nonexercise activity thermogenesis - the liberating life-force', J Internal Medicine, 262(3), pp. 273-287.

  • Inside-Out: Biceps Anatomy

    In this "Inside Out" mini series I'll be taking a more in-depth look at specific muscles and muscle groups. These articles will share all the anatomy essentials whilst showing you some of the most effective exercises you need in your routine.

    "Sun's-out-guns-out!"

    Today is all about the biceps and the best ways there are to build them ready for a real gun show. Before we begin, let's break it down with some biology and arm anatomy...

    The biceps include three different muscles:

    • Biceps brachii (has a longer outer head and a short inner head)
    • Brachialis (lies deeper to the biceps brachii)
    • Coracobrachialis

    Together the bicep muscles work to perform elbow flexion (curling), forearm supination (turning your palm up) and shoulder flexion (raising the arm up in front).

    The question your inner "bro" is begging the answer to...

    What are the best bicep-building exercises?

    1. Vertical pulling eg. Chin-ups. Whilst primarily a back related movement, chin-ups have more biceps activation then a regular pull-up due to the supinated, or palms facing you, grip.

    2. Horizontal pulling eg. Inverted rows.  Another back building exercise but with significantly higher bicep activation than other rowing variations. For these, set up a barbell in a rack and with just your heels on the floor use the stationary bar to suspend yourself and perform a pull-up motion.

    3. Curls eg... Curls? Isolating the biceps with a variation of curls will provide the bulk of your biceps volume; try dumbbell, barbell and cable curls in different rep ranges to find what works for you.

    Making use of techniques like supersets, dropsets, forced reps and eccentric reps can increase muscle hypertrophy through causing more fatigue and metabolic stress but beware! Going balls-to-the-wall on your biceps and training to failure too frequently can hinder progress if you're arms are too sore to maintain such high volume. Find you "sweet-spot" where you can train with intensity you can sustain.

    I recommend training biceps twice a week, choosing 3 to 4 exercises with 3 to 4 sets on each. Starting with the heaviest movement (4-8 reps) before lighter movements (12-20 reps)  can help to maximise strength and volume. If you're short on time try adding supersets or dropsets for a faster biceps blast.

    References

    Snarr, R. L. and Esco, M. R. (2013). 'Comparison of electromyographic activity when performing an inverted row with and without a suspension device', Journal of Exercise Physiology, 16 (6), pp. 51-58.

    Schoenfeld, B. (2011). 'The use of specialized training techniques to maximise muscle hypertrophy', Strength and Conditioning Journal, 33 (4), pp. 60-65.

    Hather, B. M., Tesch, P.A., Buchanan, P. and Dudley, G. A. (1991). 'Influence of eccentric actions on skeletal muscle adaptations to resistance training', Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 143 (2), pp. 177-185.

    Youdas, J. W., Amundson, C. L., Cicero, K. S., Hahn, J. J., Harezlak, D. T. and Hollman, J. H. (2010). 'Surface electromyographic activation patterns and elbow joint motion during a pull-up, chin-up or perfect pull-up rotational exercise', Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24 (12), pp. 3404-3414.

     

  • No Pain No Gain? Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness Explained

    Ever had a killer session in the gym that's still killing you the next day? And the day after that? There's nothing quite like waking up with muscles too sore to move and dragging yourself around with serious DOMS is almost a workout in itself. After all, we know it's "no pain, no gain" but what does the science say? In this post I'll be taking a deeper look into the phenomenon of Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness: what causes it, what you can do to relieve it and whether you can still make your gains without it.

    What causes post-workout DOMS?

    Delayed-onset Muscle Soreness is the pain, stiffness and strength loss you feel as a result of performing an unfamiliar eccentric exercise. This could be trying a new lift, load, rep scheme or technique that you don't often include in your routine which you body hasn't yet adapted to. As discussed previously, new training stimuli and increased volume are major keys to muscle growth so if you're making any changes chances are you'll get DOMS from time to time.

    When you lift you tear your microscopic muscle fibres (it sounds painful because it is!) but what does this mean on a deeper level? The eccentric exercise, the negative portion of each repetition, causes mechanical damage to the muscle cell membrane which triggers an inflammatory response. During this inflammatory response the chemical mediator prostaglandin is produced which activates pain receptors and leukotrienes, another chemical mediator, are also produced. This consequently attracts neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, to the scene which generates free radicals and exacerbates the damage already done. The result? Inflammation, pain, swelling and pain. Pain.

    NB: It's not your muscles that cause pain, it's actually the connective tissue surrounding them. Quit moaning.

    How can you treat DOMS?

    Warming up and cooling down are key components of any workout but there are a few extra things you can do to help ease the pain:

    • Massage
    • Active recovery exercise eg. light cardio, resistance band work and yoga
    • Foam rolling
    • (Although studies present mixed findings...) Supplementation with BCAAs

    Whilst studies have shown that these methods can reduce how sore you feel there is little effect on restoring muscle function. That being said, there's no reason to avoid training if you do have DOMS provided you can still perform exercises with correct technique. No excuses!

    Can you make gains without the pain?

    Of course you can! The severity of your DOMS and the level of pain you feel is influenced by so many different factors, even your genetics, so is unique to you. The soreness you feel is therefore not a reliable way to measure your progress and is not an accurate reflection of the amount of muscle damage done. Moreover whilst muscle damage is a driver of muscle hypertrophy it is not essential; you can increase "gainage" with just enough damage but not too much so work to find that sweet spot.

    Persistence, consistency and plasticity are your real keys to success. Pain along the way is possible, not a requirement, but definitely likely. Keep pushing folks!

    References

    Andersen, L. L., Jay, K., Andersen, C. H., Sundstrup, E., Topp, R. and Behm, D. G. (2013). 'Acute effects of massage or active exercise in relieving muscle soreness: randomized controlled trial', Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 27 (12), pp. 3352-3359.

    Cheung, K., Hume, P. A. and Maxwell, L. (2003). 'Delayed onset muscle soreness', Sports Medicine, 33 (12), pp. 145-164.

    Connelly, D. A., Sayers, S. P and McHugh, M. P. (2003). 'Treatement and prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness', The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 17 (1), pp. 197-208.

    Flann, K. L, LaStayo, P. C., McClain, D. A., Hazel, M and Lindstedt, S. L. (2011). 'Muscle damage and muscle remodeling: no pain no gain?', Journal of Experimental Biology, 214 (4), pp. 674-679.

    Gulick, D. T. and Kimura, I. F. (1996). 'Delayed onset muscle soreness: what is it and how do we treat it?', Journal of Sports Rehabilitation, 5 (3), pp. 234-243.

    Hilbert, J. E., Sforzo, G. A. and Swensen T. (2003). 'The effects of massage on delayed onset muscle soreness', Br J Sports Med, 37, pp. 72-75.

    Hubal, M. J. et al. (2010). 'CCL2 and CCR2 polymorphisms are associtaed with markers of exercise-induced skeletal muscle damage', Journal of Applied Physiology, 108 (6), pp. 1651-1658.

    Matsumoto, K., Koba, T., Hamada, K, Sakurai, M., Higuchi, T and Miyata, H. (2009). 'Branched-chain amino acid supplementation atteuates muscles soreness, muscle damage and inflammation during an intense training program', Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 49 (4), pp. 424-431.

    Nosaka, K., Newton, M. and Sacco, P. (2002). 'Delayed onset muscle soreness does not reflect the magnitude of eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage', Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 12 (6), pp. 337-346.

    Nosaka, K., Mawatari, K. and Sacco, P. (2006). 'Effects of amino acid supplementation on muscle soreness', International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 16 (6), pp. 620-635.

    Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). 'The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training', Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 24 (10), pp. 2857-2872.

    Shimomura, Y. et al. (2010). 'Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness', International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 20 (3), pp. 236-244.

    Zainuddin, Z. Nosaka, K., Newton, M. and Sacco, P. (2005). 'Effects of massage on delayed-onset muscle soreness, swelling and recovery of muscle function', Journal of Athletic Training, 40 (3), pp. 173-180.

  • Inside-Out: Abs

    In this "Inside Out" mini series I'll be taking a more in-depth look at specific muscles and muscle groups. These articles will share all the anatomy essentials whilst showing you some of the most effective exercises you need in your routine.

    Abs. Abdominals. Six pack. Eight pack. Ten pack? Whether you can see them or not everybody has a fully functioning set of abdominal muscles, they hold your internal organs in place and keep you standing upright, but among the fitness community being able to see them has become the ultimate goal. Today I’ll be stripping things down to the core to share some inside knowledge and the most effective training methods for you to try.

    The abdominal muscles are more than just a superficial six pack – they are in fact a group of four muscles which work together to perform numerous different functions such as assistance during breathing and overall body stabilisation.

    • Transversus Adbdominis. This is the deepest muscle layer in the abdomen and is responsible for stabilising the spine and maintaining internal abdominal pressure.
    • Rectus Abdominis. This is the superficial muscle layer which runs from your ribs to the pubic bone and its characteristic bumps and ridges form the idolised six pack. Contracting this muscle causes flexion of the spine and tilting of the pelvis.
    • Internal Obliques. These are a pair of muscles located on either side of the rectus abdominis and underneath the external obliques.
    • External Obliques. A pair of superficial muscles located on either side of the rectus abdominis which together with the internal obliques beneath contract to cause rotation and lateral flexion of the spine.

    This foundation of abdominal anatomy can now be applied in designing a killer core workout with a much more targeted approach to training...

    Like any muscle the abdominals must be subject to regular resistance based training to cause hypertrophy, i.e. training with progressive overload. Here weighted movements will be far more effective than simple body-weight sit ups. It is widely believed that performing compound movements like squats, deadlifts and overhead presses with a heavy load will work your abs hard enough without need for isolation however this claim is not supported by physiological studies. Relative to isolated exercises, EMG recordings show little ab activation during these lifts; it's true that you need a strong and stable core but to actually "work" your abs you need to train them directly.

    What are the best ab exercises?

    These exercises, listed in no particular order, have been shown to have some of the highest abdominal activation so are great to add to your routine.

    1. Decline crunch (progress by holding weight)
    2. Leg raise (hanging, partner assisted, lying)
    3. Cable crunch
    4. Ab rollout
    5. Cable chop

    Abs can be trained with high frequency, up to 6 times per week, so choose a couple of these exercises (or their variations) to add to each session and rotate exercises through the week. Perform 3 or 4 sets of each with 6-12 reps for those with a heavier load and 15-30 reps for those with a lighter load.

    Abs are made in the kitchen too! As any fitness freak would know, an optimal body condition cannot be achieved only from hard work in the gym, but requires just as much hard work at home with a regimented diet. You can grow the biggest abdominal muscles in the world but no-one will ever be able to see them if they’re covered by a thick layer of fat! To lose fat and finally reveal your abs you will need to diet down by creating a calorie deficit. Beware of bloating! Certain foods and excess sodium may cause you to hold water or gas in your gut which will hide your abs from view.

    Train mean, eat clean, get lean!

    References

    Hildenbrand, K. and Noble, L. (2004). 'Abdominal muscle activity while performing trunk-flexion exercises using the ab roller, abslide, fitball and conventionally performed trunk curls', Journal of Athletic Training, 39(1), pp. 37-43.

    Youdas, J. W., Guck, B.R., Hebrink, R. R., Rugotzke, J. D., Madson, T. J. and Hollman, J. H. (2008). 'An electromyographic analysis of the ab-slide exercise, abdominal crunch, supine double leg thrust, and side bridge in healthy young adults: implications for rehabilitation profressionals', Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(6), pp. 1939-1946.

    Escamilla, R. F., Babb, E., Dewitt, R., Jew, P., Kelleher, P., Burnham, T., Busch, J., D'Anna, K., Mowbray, R. and Imamura, R. T. (2006). 'Electromyographic analysis of traditional and nontraditional abdominal exercises: implications for rehabilitation and training', Physical Therapy, 85(5), pp. 656-671.

    Aspe, R. R. and Swinton, P. A. (2014). 'Electromyographic and kinetic comparison of the back squat and overhead squat', Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(10), pp. 2827-2836.

  • Meal Timing Myths Destroyed

    In this article, I will be busting some old "bro-science" myths and sharing some of the most recent research to set things straight. Today's topic: meal timing.

    MEAL TIMING MYTH #1: ANYTHING YOU EAT AFTER 6PM TURNS TO FAT

    It is widely believed that if you eat food, carbohydrates in particular, later on in the evening that it is more likely to be stored as fat because you are not able to “burn it off” during the night. The logic seems to make sense but let’s be a little bit more objective: are 100 calories at 9am still 100 calories at 9pm? Yes, they are. To gain weight/fat you must be in a significant calorie surplus each day/week for a prolonged period of time; changes in bodyweight are determined by your overall energy balance (i.e. Intake vs expenditure). So really when you eat is up to you provided that you meet your calorie and macronutrient goals.

    Interestingly, there have been some studies to show that lean (as opposed to obese) individuals who train regularly have a higher metabolic rate during sleep than at rest during the day. Perhaps drifting off into sweet food-fuelled dreams might not be as bad for you as you thought!

    MEAL TIMING MYTH #2: YOU MUST EAT EVERY 2-3 HOURS FOR A FAST METABOLISM

    Some bodybuilders swear by the 6-meals-a-day rule because they believe that eating smaller meals more often will make their metabolism faster and increase fat loss. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support such a claim. True enough, your metabolic rate does increase when you eat: the thermic effect of food is the small number of calories that you burn just by digesting a meal. However, the number of calories burned is not related to how often you eat but is in fact directly proportional to the total calories and macronutrient ratio. It’s important to note here that protein has a greater thermic effect than the other macronutrients. Therefore, provided that your daily overall calorie and macronutrient intake are the same, the total thermic effect of food doesn’t change. Once again, the way your meals are distributed is down to personal preference.

    MEAL TIMING MYTH #3: YOU MUST EAT EVERY 2-3 HOURS TO BUILD MORE MUSCLE

    Now things get interesting. This time those thick-skulled meat-heads got it right. Whilst weight loss and weight gain is primarily determined by your overall energy balance, if you’re aiming to build as much muscle as possible then getting your protein on time might make a little difference. When you eat and digest protein, an anabolic (muscle building) response is initiated. Muscle protein synthesis reaches a peak maximum rate before returning to baseline levels around 3 hours later. In order to maintain optimal muscle building conditions you need to keep spiking muscle protein synthesis with regular protein doses throughout the day. That’s all well and good but bear in mind – this robotic diet regime might be “optimal” for maximal muscle growth but in the grand scheme of things it makes such a small difference to your body composition and if it’s not “optimal” for you personally then it won’t work for you.

    MEAL TIMING MYTH #4: YOU MUST EAT PROTEIN WITHIN 1 HOUR OF WORKING OUT

    The infamous “anabolic window” strikes fear into the very bicep of a bodybuilder and makes them sprint out of the gym to chug a post-workout protein shake or Tupperware meal before they lose their “gains”. This ridiculous rule states that you must get a protein hit within one hour after finishing your workout if you want to maximise muscle protein synthesis. Again, there is no evidence to support this claim and again, when overall daily calorie and macronutrient intakes are equal there is no significant effect on body composition. The only danger of prolonging your post-workout meal is reaching a potentially “hangry” state whereby having depleted your energy stores through exercise, hunger levels increase and consequently have a negative effect on your mood and temperament.

    Take home message: the "BEST" diet is the one which you can stick to in the long term. Overall meal timing has little effect on overall body composition so build a meal plan which both allows you to train hard but also live your every day life without restriction.

    References

    Belko, A. Z. and Barbieri, T. F. (1987). ‘Effect of meal size and frequency on the thermic effect of food’, Nutrition Research, 7(3), pp. 237-242.

    Bellisle, F., McDevitt, R. and Prentice, A. M. (1997). ‘Meal frequency and energy balance’, British Journal of Nutrition, 77(S1), pp. S57-S70.

    Cameron, J. D., Cyr, M. J., & Doucet, E. (2010). ‘Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet’, British Journal of Nutrition, 103(08), pp. 1098-1101.

    Lennon, D. (2016). Researchers point to the optimal protein does, timing and distribution to maximise muscle. Available at: https://medium.com/@dannylennon/researchers-point-to-the-optimal-protein-dose-timing-distribution-to-maximize-muscle-e95c0ab570b0 (Accessed 16 July 2017).

    Mischler I, Vermorel M, Montaurier C, Mounier R, Pialoux V, Pequignot JM, Cottet-Emard JM, Coudert J, Fellmann N. (2003). ‘Prolonged daytime exercise repeated over 4 days increases sleeping heart rate and metabolic rate’, Can J Appl Physiol, 28(4), pp. 616-29.

    Moore, D. R., Robinson, M. J., Fry, J. L., Tang, J. E., Glover, E. I., Wilkinson, S. B., ... & Phillips, S. M. (2009). ‘Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(1), pp. 161-168.

    Norton, L. E., Wilson, G. J., Layman, D. K., Moulton, C. J., & Garlick, P. J. (2012). ‘Protein distribution affects muscle mass based on differences in postprandial muscle protein synthesis and plasma leucine in rats’, Nutrition, 9(1), P23.

    Norton, L. E., Wilson, G. J., Layman, D. K., Moulton, C. J., & Garlick, P. J. (2012). ‘Leucine content of dietary proteins is a determinant of postprandial skeletal muscle protein synthesis in adult rats’, Nutrition & Metabolism, 9(1), 1.

    Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., & Krieger, J. W. (2015). ‘Effects of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis’, Nutrition Reviews, 73(2), pp. 69-82.

    Zhang K, Sun M, Werner P, Kovera AJ, Albu J, Pi-Sunyer FX, Boozer CN. (2002) ‘Sleeping metabolic rate in relation to body mass index and body composition’, Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord., 26(3), pp. 376-83.

  • 4 Tips To Stay Fit When You Travel

    "Sun's out guns out!"

    Despite what the Great British weather might have you think, it's summer time again and over the next few weeks lots of lucky people will be jetting off all over the world to find some blue skies and white sands.  It's the chance to finally show off the summer body you've been working so hard for! It can be easy to fall off track when you're a few hundred miles from home but fear not -  I've got 4 tips to help you stay in top shape when you travel...

    1. No gym? No problem!

    When you're travelling, getting to the gym definitely doesn't need to be a priority but if you're itching to get moving try a quick HIIT circuit for a full body blast you can do absolutely anywhere.

    5 rounds, 5 exercises, 30 seconds on each, 30 seconds rest between round

    • 1. High knees run on spot
    • 2. Squats with kicks
    • 3. Burpees
    • 4. Spiderman crunch
    • 5. Push up with rotation

    On the other hand, if you're lucky enough to have a hotel with a gym on site then there's no excuses! Get in an early morning sweat session before everyone else is even out of bed and before the it's too hot out so you can enjoy the rest of the day stress-free.

    NOTE: Don't forget about all the extra activity you'll be doing walking, swimming, shopping, cycling or even scuba diving. Keeping yourself busy and on the move is a great way to burn calories all day long.

    2. Stay hydrated

    Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is going to be essential no matter where you are. Aiming for a minimum of 2 litres a day but ideally more will help replace the water you lose when you sweat, cool you down and prevent dehydration. Drinking more water can also help to reduce bloating caused by flights and eating foods higher in calories, carbohydrate and sodium than you might otherwise be used to.

    Can you have a cocktail? How about a beer? Enjoying an alcoholic drink is of course allowed in moderation but beware of the calorie content! Alcohol itself contains 7 calories per gram but beers, ciders and wines will have additional carbs too. If you want to do some damage control choose clear spirit shots with diet soda mixers.

    3. Don't go overboard!

    No-one expects your nutrition to be spot-on whilst you're on holiday but "everything in moderation" is the most sensible approach here. Experience the local cuisine, enjoy a few treats here and there but keep an eye on your portion sizes and make the best choices you can. Think "lean and green" to make sure you're getting good quality protein and micronutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables and remember to ask for salad dressings on the side.

    4. Dani says "relax"

    One of my favourite phrases is "fitness is a lifestyle, not your whole life". Whether you workout or not and whether you have a salad or an ice-cream the choice is yours but whatever you do make sure you have FUN! Holidays are special times to spend with your friends and family where fitness shouldn't be the top of your list. Taking a break from a strict gym and diet routine might be just the thing your central nervous system needs to reset and refresh so you're ready to go again when you get home.

    Bon voyage and remember to stay safe!

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