The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2007 issue 5



A FastMetabolism

Having a "fast" metabolism means that you're burning calories efficiently all the time, whether you're resting or training. When you have a slow metabolism, your diet doesn't work as well and even a well-designed training program is rendered less effective. Slow metabolism syndrome is why it's possible for a person eating very few calories and "aerobicizing their brains out" to see little or no results. Your mission is clear: find ways to speed up your metabolism and get it revving as fast as possible.

The practice of eating small, frequent meals - one approximately every three waking hours - is by far the most effective way to speed up your metabolism.  Five meals a day seems to be the optimal number for women and six meals is ideal for men. The difference is because men require on average, about 600-900 calories per day more than women.

So, if five or six meals a day is good, then seven or eight or even ten must be even better, right? Well, not exactly. You could experiment with one extra meal and it might produce slightly better results. However, it takes a minimum of two to two and a half hours to digest a meal, so it doesn't make any sense to eat more than six or seven times per day. If you did, you would only be piling food on top of undigested food. How much you eat isn't as important as how much you fully digest and assimilate. Unless each of your meals was tiny, you also might be eating too many calories for the day.

After 12 to 16 weeks of strict pre-contest dieting on super clean high protein foods eaten six or seven times a day, competitive bodybuilders often have metabolisms "spinning" so fast, they burn through huge quantities of food - even junk food! (and they just keep getting leaner and leaner).  When frequent eating is combined with the right food choices, your body will literally turn into a turbo-charged fat burning machine!

Coincidentally, eating a properly constructed meal every three hours is also the only way to effectively build and maintain muscle. The longer you consistently practice the five to six meal per day discipline, the more muscle you'll develop. The more muscle you develop, the faster your metabolism will become - it's a positive, self-reinforcing cycle.

Of course you can still get results on three meals a day.  A traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner, carefully selected using the guidelines in this program and combined with aerobic and resistance training, will definitely get you some noticeable results.  However, If you have ambitious goals, such as bodybuilding or fitness competition (or if you just want to look like a bodybuilder or fitness model), then five or six meals meals per day is an absolute requirement.


Don't Starve Yourself!

Starving yourself is not the only way to get really lean!  There's no way around the fact that you must reduce calories in order to burn fat. Energy balance and thermodynamics dictate that you have to burn more than you take in for fat loss to occur.

However, most popular diet programs are too low in calories.  Many border on starvation: 1200 calories, 1000 calories, even 800 calories or less.  Ironically, if you cut your calories too low, your metabolism slows down to protect you from starving.  Your fat cells begin to release less of the hormone leptin, which is the signal that tells your brain you are well fed and not starving.  This in turn triggers a cascade of other hormonal, enzymatic and metabolic events including a decrease in thyroid output (the "metabolism-regulating hormone") and a dramatic increase in appetite.

It's hormonally, metabolically and physiologically impossible to achieve permanent fat loss by starving yourself. In fact, very low calorie diets can actually make you fatter in the long run.  Very low calorie diets not only slow your metabolism so you burn fewer calories, they are also much more likely to cause muscle loss.  If you lose muscle tissue, your weight loss will become even harder and any increase in calories that follows will cause immediate fat gain.  This "rebound effect" is almost inevitable because no one can stay on low calories (with a raging appetite and irresistible cravings) forever.

When you put yourself through drastic measures attempting to achieve rapid weight loss, your metabolism adjusts itself to maintain equilibrium in energy balance and body fat balance, much the same way as a thermostat maintains the temperature of your home within a desirable range.  As soon as you're in danger of starving, your body will quickly turn your metabolic "fat thermostat" down, so you burn fewer calories and turn your "appetite thermostat up" so you eat more calories!  This fail safe mechanism is often referred to as "the starvation response."

The only way to get rid of fat and keep it off permanently is to avoid the starvation mode with physiologically and hormonally correct nutrition and training.  The popular recommendation is that you decrease your calories very conservatively - only about 20% below your daily calorie maintenance level - then increase your exercise level aggressively to burn more calories.

Carefully look at the calorie recommendations of any diet program before you start it. You'll probably discover that in most cases, you are required to slash your calories to "starvation" levels (1200 or less for women, 1800 or less for men).  Any program that's extremely low in calories will work in the beginning - but it will never work for long.

So get moving... when you exercise, including both resistance training and cardio training, you can actually eat more food while still keeping a small calorie deficit. You will burn fat, retrain your lean body mass and your metabolism will thank you!


Elite Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!

Chin & Crunch

I've mentioned before how great pull-ups and chin-ups are for your back and biceps.  They can also be a VERY challenging exercise, especially if you have not yet built up the kind of upper body strength necessary to "pull your weight".  When I started to incorporate chin-ups into my back and bicep routine, I made the mistake of adding it towards the end of my workout and not giving them the focus they require.  I quickly found that performing the chin-ups first, while my muscles were still fresh, made a significant difference in the benefit that I was able to obtain from them.  This strategy also pertains to other exercises in your routine that you want to see more results from.  It's good to mix up the order of your routine sometimes and work a different muscle group first, before fatigue sets in.


This variation of the chin-up simply incorporates a hanging crunch into the exercise.  By focusing on a slow controlled crunch of your knees towards your chest, to match the pace of your chin-up, it adds another dynamic to the motion and works an additional muscle group.


Target:  back, arms, abdominals (latissimus dorsi, biceps brachii, rectus abdominus)

Count:  2 count

Description:  Hang from the bar with an underhand grip (palms facing you).  Pull up, as far as possible attempting to raise your chin above the bar.  At the same time, and at the same pace, crunch your knees toward your chest.  Lower down twice as slow as you pulled up and repeat until failure.

Rest Between Sets

Weight-training programs manipulate resistance, sets, repetitions and rest.  Changing even one of these factors affects the capacity in the others.  For example, a short rest interval reduces the capacity to lift heavy weights or perform more sets or repetitions.  Some research has concluded that the proper rest interval depends on the goal. 

To gain muscle size, you need to give your muscles adequate recovery time so they can continue to exert their maximum force.  After about 2 minutes following a lift, your muscles recover 80 percent of their strength.  The recovery percentage is less for each second before the 2-minute mark.  Take note of how much time you currently take between sets to see if you have to rest longer.

Rest longer if the goal is maximum strength development (5 minutes or more between sets).  Rest 3-5 minutes between sets when lifting loads less than 90 percent of maximum effort.  Rest 3 minutes when training for muscular power, and take short rest periods (30-60 seconds) when attempting to boost growth hormone levels.  Short rest intervals of about 30 seconds work best when training for muscular endurance.  Rest time doesn't mean much if you haven't optimized intensity and volume.  Constructing the optimal workout program is as much art as science.

Prevent Muscle Cramps

There are many factors that can cause muscle cramps, but there are easy ways to prevent them from occurring. Here are some common causes and preventions of muscle cramps:

Cause: Overexertion -- By rushing through sets and not giving your muscles enough time to recover, you can cause a spasm.

Prevention method: Have adequate breaks of 60-90 seconds between sets. If your doing a total body exercise like squats or dead lift with a very heavy weight, give yourself 2-3 minutes to recover.

Cause: Dehydration/lack of Vitamins -- Muscle tissue is made up of a large percentage of water, if you don't drink enough water you will cramp up a lot easier. Not having enough vitamins such as potassium can also fast track cramps.

Prevention method: Drink large amounts of water consistently throughout the day, not just before your workout. To test if you're drinking enough water you can check the color of your urine. If its yellow you're dehydrated, if its clear your doing fine.

Try to avoid soft drinks and coffee as they will dehydrate you faster then not drinking anything at all. If you do end up drinking some coffee or a soft drink, try to consume twice as much pure water to rehydrate yourself. Banana's are a good source of potassium, if you cant get a hold of one though, drink a multi-vitamin.

Cause: Not warming up or stretching your muscles -- Its surprising how many people in the gym don't stretch and do warm up sets, they just rush out of the locker room into the weights room and start their normal heavy sets. This is a sure way to not only get a cramp, but to also tear a muscle and get injured.

Prevention method: Even if you're late to the gym and its about to close, you must spend at least 20 seconds stretching each muscle. You should then perform a warm up set of 15-20 reps with a light weight before you go all in and start lifting heavy. This doesn't tire you muscles, it just gets blood pumping, ensuring proper circulation.

Cause: Excessive heat: This is the common cause of cramping during summer. Your body's heat rises above what it can cool down and your muscles then overheat, causing them to start cramping.

Prevention method: This relates back to staying very well hydrated, you must make a conscious effort to keep drinking lots of fluids. If it's hotter then normal, you may want to turn the pace of your workout down slightly to prevent your muscles overheating.

With your new found knowledge on how to prevent cramps, you shouldn't need to worry about getting a cramp ever again!

It's Go Time!

May already?  Doesn't spring bring with it an abundance of new energy?  It makes you want to get out and do something!  It's time to start using your powers for good!  Get outside and bike, walk, run, whatever you can do to get your blood pumping!  Personally, I find it rather painful to squeak out 30 minutes on a stationary bike... but I look forward to a nice long 90 minute cycling ride outdoors and I get a better workout doing it!  Give it a try... you'll find that the outdoor versions of most cardio workouts are much more enjoyable.

Quick Reminder: the MS Walk at the U of D is May 20th. To join the Bear Essentials Walk team click here.  To donate to the MS Walk click here.  For more information, just shoot me an email.  Join the movement... together we can make a difference!

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Good Luck!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT

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