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General Health & Fitness

  • The Top 4 Reasons to Use Weight Gainers Exposed

    Without a doubt, the toughest part about building a world class physique is nutrition. Countless disciples of the iron invest their blood, sweat and tears, day after day in the gym- sometimes even much longer, and have little to show for all their efforts.

    What gives? Oftentimes, it boils down to diet, plain and simple. Living in the internet age, information overload is very real, with experts coming at you from every single angle imaginable. The remedy for this problem? Keeping it simple.

    50-75 years ago bodybuilding was in its infancy, and there wasn’t a contentious amount of information circulating. This is why going back to basics is so necessary, and effective. Know what the one thing is that can be considered the good old bread and butter of a world class physique?

    High quality calories, obtained from a weight gainer.

    Weight Gainers Vs Protein Shakes Vs Meal Replacement Shakes

    These three terms are sometimes used interchangeably (and incorrectly), since they can be considered fundamentally different.

    Protein shakes supply primarily lean protein of different varieties, such as whey, casein, soy and more. While extremely popular, they are not the best choice for helping you meet calorie requirements.

    Meal replacement, as the name implies, are usually substituted for whole meals, being better suited for weight loss than weight gain, although they often fail at this too. The premise behind them is that you are able to reduce calories consumed at any sitting with a controlled “liquid meal”, but since the body doesn’t readily experience the same degree of satiety from liquids as it does solid food[i], it is not uncommon to still eat in addition to having your meal replacement, leading to a bad outcome.

    Meal replacement shakes contain all 3 macronutrient groups, as well as accessory vitamins and minerals, but not necessarily in the proportion that supports your body goals.

    Weight gainers have come a long way from 2 decades ago. Back then, they consisted of high protein, but also staggering amounts of sugar and fat, which would definitely add mass to your frame, but no necessarily lean muscle.

    Most of the reputable brands available today use high quality slower digesting carbohydrates, are virtually devoid of fast acting sugars, utilize healthier fats and also include a range of protein powder types to allow for variable absorption speeds.

    They may also come with digestive enzymes to boost absorption, and can make it exponentially easier to add high quality muscle to your frame.

    With that in mind, here are the main reasons to use weight gainers to help you meet your muscle and strength goals.

    Timing Specific Variants Available

    It’s not news that your nutrient requirements change depending on the time of day, and you can be forgiven if you become overwhelmed with remembering when to take what. Weight gainers have evolved a lot, and continue to do so to meet the needs of high performance athletes everywhere.

    For instance, there are weight gainers designed for general daily usage which contain the cookie-cutter essentials, carbs, proteins and a touch of healthy fat; and then there are others that may be best suited for specific times of the day, such as those enhanced with Creatine and best suited for peri-workout nutrition.

    Differing Calorie Loads

    Can everyone benefit from a weight gainer? Absolutely. However, there is no one universal weight gainer that is best suited for everyone. For instance, if you ae classified as an endomorph, you likely have a propensity for storing fat easily, in such a case, you may not require one that contains an immense amount of carbohydrates, or opt for one that contains more fat and less carbs as a trade-off.

    Alternately, a hard gainer (ectomorph), burns through calories extremely fast, and can likely guzzle down a 1000 calories plus serving like water off a duck’s back.

    It is still important to bear in mind the fact that excessive calories beyond what is necessary to stimulate muscle growth will inevitably still lead to fat accumulation, regardless of if the product is marketed as a mass gainer or otherwise.

    Appetite Support

    Eating can be a chore when trying to gain weight, no doubt about that. This is even more difficult if you are traditionally a light eater, but are desperately trying to enhance your strength and musculature. In such a scenario, weight gainers are invaluable aides.

    Liquid calories do not stimulate our satiety pathways to the same extent as solid food does[ii], which means that for someone who finds it difficult to consume enough calories, you can easily meet your quota this way.

    Just be careful- if you already meet your caloric goals or come near to it, weight gainers can push you past your budget and spill over into fat gain.

    Accelerated Recuperation

    In order to hasten the process of recovery and recuperation, you need to ensure that sufficient building blocks are made available to muscles, especially during the post-workout interval. This means sufficient protein, and carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores[iii].

    Weight gainers are second to none when it comes to overall protein density, and the inclusion of carbohydrates assist with insulin stimulation to further ensure shuttling of key nutrients into muscle cells at this time.

    Failure to consume enough calories at the post-workout window will slow down recovery as the body scampers for nutrition, and may inadvertently flag a state of scarce resources. Today, many weight gainers are also fortified with l-glutamine and l-leucine to support optimal recovery rates.

    How Much Weight Gainer Do I Need?

    The exact amount of weight gainer you need to consume daily varies based on your current bodyweight, athletic status, propensity to gain fat and of course, your goal. In general, one to two servings of weight gainer per day is usually sufficient to help you meet your caloric and macronutrient goals, but the key is to find one that supplies clean calories.

    This means limited sugar and relatively low fat content, but with moderate to high protein content. Strive for approximately 2 g of protein consumption per kg of bodyweight.

    In Summary

    Weight gainers, while indispensable in your quest for muscle, should not be used as a crutch for a poor diet. You cannot out-supplement bad habits if you’ve never fostered healthy eating habits, and are likely to burn a hole in your pocket trying to keep up.

    Weight gainers can make the difference in helping you see the gains you deserve, but like everything else in life, moderation and common sense is key.

    [i] Almiron-Roig, Eva & Chen, Y & Drewnowski, A. (2003). Liquid calories and the failure of satiety: How good is the evidence?. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity. 4. 201-12. 10.1046/j.1467-789X.2003.00112.x.

    [ii] Tieken SM, Leidy HJ, Stull AJ, Mattes RD, Schuster RA, Campbell WW. Effects of solid versus liquid meal-replacement products of similar energy content on hunger, satiety, and appetite-regulating hormones in older adults. Horm Metab Res. 2007;39(5):389–394. doi:10.1055/s-2007-976545

    [iii] Beck KL, Thomson JS, Swift RJ, von Hurst PR. Role of nutrition in performance enhancement and postexercise recovery. Open Access J Sports Med. 2015;6:259–267. Published 2015 Aug 11. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S33605

  • The Top 4 Stress Busters for Men Revealed

    Stress… seems like it’s everywhere we turn these days, right? In a way, this is absolutely true. Be that physical stress or psychological stress, there is no doubt that it takes a major toll on our well-being and health.

    Trying to make the most muscle gains possible? You’ll have an uphill battle if you have your plate full with stress. But don’t worry, help is in sight. There are effective ways you can take the reins on stress and regain control over this beast.

    Ginseng

    A storied herb with evidence of therapeutic benefit dating back to the first century B.C, during the Han Dynasty. There are many different varieties of ginseng as well, including Korean (red) ginseng, American Ginseng, Indian ginseng and even Siberian ginseng (though not a true ginseng).

    Regardless of their diverse relationship, what links most of them together is their universal action on stress- more specifically, modulating the effects of high cortisol secretion of multiple body systems.

    For instance, while sexual dysfunction is not something that is openly discussed by men, quite a large number of (young) men experience issues in the bedroom, brought on by triggers related to high cortisol levels.

    Reviews of multiple studies yield mixed results, but overall draw a consensus that ginseng (Panax “Korean” ginseng in this case) improves sexual performance and virility in the majority of men that consume it.

    Among the positives drawn from the review of studies include improved erection quality[i], and beneficial effects of hormonal balance, evidenced by improved levels of testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and a reduction in prolactin levels, a common culprit of hormone-induced ED.

    Another significant benefit is improved penile blood flow[ii], in a manner similar to the way prescription ED medication (such as Viagra) work, but without the negatives!

    Magnesium

    Magnesium is not one of those “sexy” supplements that are heavily marketed to you but remains a mineral that is critical to your health and well-being. Ask yourself this question- are you honestly getting enough sleep?

    If you feel overwhelmed with stress, there is a high probability that you are also sleep deficient. Turns out stress feeds into more insomnia, while insomnia also worsens your stress burden. Thus, these two form a self-propagating cycle of ill health.

    Taking a magnesium supplement, as the elemental vitamin or ZMA- an ingenious chelated complex with zinc can help mitigate the harmful effects of insomnia before things get too serious.

    One of the main ways magnesium helps to combat stress is its ability to reduce the secretion of Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)[iii]; a hormone that subsequently causes your adrenal glands to increase production of adrenalin (epinephrine) and cortisol, the original stress hormones.

    In addition to this, magnesium deficiency does increase one’s subjective feelings of anxiety and stress, which play into the hands of sleep deprivation. You can now probably understand why magnesium is referred to as the “original chill pill”.

    Ashwagandha

    Another adaptogen that is extremely popular in ayurvedic medical texts, it is possibly one of the best cortisol modulating agents we have at our disposal. Unlike many other possible stress-reducing herbs that are shrouded in uncertainty, Ashwagandha actually has a great degree of promise, as it has been shown to have notable anxiety and stress-reducing properties[iv], even though it is necessary for more studies to be conducted.

    In addition to its ability to help you take the load off, it also has a mild action on increasing testosterone levels and power output[v]; both highly advantages for strength athletes.

    If there is one supplement you should be taking to get control of stress and anxiety, while supporting your athletic endeavours, it would have to be Ashwagandha by a longshot.

    St. John’s Wort

    St. Johns’ Wort is one herb that can help you in several ways, but most notably has an effect on reducing stress-induced anxiety, and has even been shown to be roughly as effective as prescription medication that assists with depression management[vi].

    In addition to these already significant benefits, St. John’s Wort may even help to bolster an aspect stress is often forgotten to affect- cognitive function[vii]. While only done on rodents, you probably know too well the effects of acute stress on your working memory, so it couldn’t hurt that there’s more promise in this miraculous herb yet.

    The Supporting Cast

    There is an entire world to adaptogens, meaning that we have basically only mentioned the most popular. There are others including MACA, horny goat weed and Astragalus to name a few, while others yet such as cacao (yes, chocolate!) and vitamin B-12 are things you may overlook.

    In Conclusion

    Stress, or more correctly, the stress hormone cortisol, is an integral part of our lives and is hard-wired into our DNA for survival. Given, we aren’t running away from dinosaurs much these days, but it is that same hormone coupled with neurotransmitters such as epinephrine which allow us to get things done under pressure.

    Don’t make stress rule your life- take the adaptogens we have referenced above, and ensure that you top up with magnesium if you feel your sleep quality dropping. That, and a holistic lifestyle that assists with stress management (meditation is extremely beneficial), and you’ll be back on your way making gains and smashing goals.

    [i] Kim TH, Jeon SH, Hahn EJ, et al. Effects of tissue-cultured mountain ginseng (Panax ginseng CA Meyer) extract on male patients with erectile dysfunction. Asian J Androl. 2009;11(3):356–361. doi:10.1038/aja.2008.32

    [ii] McKay, Douglas. (2004). Nutrients and botanicals for erectile dysfunction: Examining the evidence. Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic. 9. 4-16.

    [iii] H. Murck (2002) Magnesium and Affective Disorders, Nutritional Neuroscience, 5:6, 375-389, DOI: 10.1080/1028415021000039194

    [iv] Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255–262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022

    [v] Sandhu JS, Shah B, Shenoy S, Chauhan S, Lavekar GS, Padhi MM. Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) and Terminalia arjuna (Arjuna) on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy young adults. Int J Ayurveda Res. 2010;1(3):144–149. doi:10.4103/0974-7788.72485

    [vi] Qin Xiang Ng, Nandini Venkatanarayanan, Collin Yih Xian Ho,Clinical use of Hypericum perforatum (St John's wort) in depression: A meta-analysis,Journal of Affective Disorders,Volume 210,2017,Pages 211-221,ISSN 0165-0327,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.12.048.

    [vii] Trofimiuk E, Holownia A, Braszko JJ. St. John's wort may relieve negative

    effects of stress on spatial working memory by changing synaptic plasticity.

    Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2011 Apr;383(4):415-22. doi:

    10.1007/s00210-011-0604-3.

  • Nitric oxide supplements

    Nitric oxide (NO) supplements are very popular in the sports and bodybuilding community. The NO molecule has been found to play an important role in many functions in the human body including mitochondrial respiration (and hence energy metabolism), blood flow, vasodilation and implicated in my own research, neuronal functions and developments. Nitric oxide is synthesized via two physiological pathways, I won't bore you with the details, all you need to know here is that L-arginine acts as a main precursor of the first pathway whereas nitrate is the substrate used to produce NO by the second pathway. It was hypothesized that NO supplementation can enhance oxygen and nutrient delivery to active muscles and hence improve performance. Truth or myth, let's find out.

    L-arginine works on the first NO pathway and it has been proposed that taking L-arginine can increase NO levels and subsequently exercise performance. However, oral L-arginine supplementation has been found to unable to elevate NO levels in the test subjects and did not improve strength performance (Alveare et al 2012, Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism). Other studies further suggested that the supplementation of L-arginine had no effects on the hormone and NO levels in the body and had no effect on performance (da Silva et al 2014, Food and Nutrition Research; Zajac et al 2010, Journal of Strength and Conditioning). There are some contradicting reports showing L-arginine has a somewhat measurable effect on hormone levels and exercise performance. However, the general consensus of the scientific community is that there is a lack of concrete evidence to support the claim that oral L-arginine supplementation has a positive effect on NO levels in the body and exercise performance.

    Nitrate is converted into nitrite after ingestion and can be converted into nitric oxide when the body's oxygen availability is low. The supplementation of nitrate has been shown to lower oxygen demand during submaximal workout, and improves exercise efficiency (Larson et al 2007, Acta Physiologica). It was suggested by one study that nitrate should be consumed 2-3 hours prior to competition or training for maximum benefits (Jones et al 2012, Medicine and Sports Science).

    One of the common flaws of the studies involving NO supplements and exercise performance is that only young males were used as subjects. To my knowledge, the effects of NO supplements on exercise performance in older males or women have not been yet been explored as of today. The effect of oral L-arginine supplementation is debated and the outcome is not conclusive. The use of nitrate supplements has shown to improve exercise performance in some and may be used for their ergogenic potentials.

  • Exercise addiction

    We promote regular physical exercise because it is beneficial physically and psychologically. However, too much of anything is bad and excessive exercise can also have adverse physical and psychological effects. Exercise dependence, also known as exercise addiction, is a behavioural addiction, it is characterised by an excessive preoccupation with exercise. The prevalence of exercise addiction ranging from around 3% to over 40% of the population depends on the demographic of people tested. For instance, the prevalence of exercise addiction of people in a sports club is higher compared to that of in the entire population. Currently, there're still no universally recognised, distinct criteria separating exercise addiction to healthy habits or compulsory disorders. Researchers and medical professionals nevertheless constructed general guidelines to identify exercise addiction. Below is one of the more recognised ones as reviewed by Freimuth et al 2011 (International Journal for Environmental Research and Public Health).

    • Tolerance: increase the amount of exercise in order to feel the buzz and accomplishment;
    • Withdrawal: feeling anxious, irritable and sleepless in the absence of exercise;
    • Lack of control: unable to reduce the level or amount of exercise for a period of time;
    • Intention effects: exceeding the amount of time devoted to exercise beyond originally intended on a consistent basis;
    • Time: a great deal of time is spend on preparing, engaging in, and recovering from exercise;
    • Reduction in other activities: reduced or non-existent social, occupational and/or recreational activities as a direct result of exercise;
    • Continuance: continue to exercise despite knowing that it is exacerbating or creating physical, psychological and sociological problems.

    Remember, the purpose of this article is to raise awareness, it is not meant for self-diagnosis. See a health care professional if you feel that you might be addictive to exercise and it's affecting you negatively.

  • Best time to exercise

    There is really no best time to exercise. It depends largely on the individual and what do you want to achieve through exercise. I believe you should exercise whenever you can, it really doesn't matter what time you do it, as long as you do it. Unless of course you are an elite athlete who wants to achieve that extra 0.5% gain in your performance during training. Even that I don't think it really matters, as professional competition schedules are generally not based on peak performance timing but rather on broadcasting viewership and organisational convenience. There is also no concrete scientific evidence to suggest that calories are burnt more efficiently at certain times of the day. However, for those who want to exploit the subtle differences between different exercise timings in the hope of maximising benefits, please read on.

    Morning exercise:

    Pros

    • Can improve sleep at night and hence promote weight loss (see my article about weight loss and sleep).
    • Morning exercise promotes consistency. People are more likely to keep up with the exercise schedule. If you have trouble with consistency, exercise in the morning.
    • Fat burning if exercising on an empty stomach.
    • Can boost energy and mental alertness for the rest of the day hence creating better mood and moral compares to that of people exercise in late afternoon.

    Cons

    • More prone to injuries due to slow metabolism and cold muscles. Need to stretch properly before strenuous exercise.
    • A lack of energy hence a reduction in performance/endurance if exercised on an empty stomach.

    Noon/early afternoon exercise

    Pros

    • Body is warmer than in the morning, body temperature is better regulated in the afternoon.
    • Better energy and endurance compares to morning.
    • Increased blood flow to the brain, which could be beneficial to afternoon duties.

    Cons

    • Unlikely to have enough time to exercise and eat.

    Late afternoon and evening exercise

    Pros

    • Highest body temperature (metabolism) at around 6pm.
    • Less likely to have injuries compares to doing exercise in the morning.
    • Highest muscular strength of the day.
    • Highest anaerobic and aerobic performance levels.

    Cons

    • Late night exercise may affect sleep as metabolism is stimulated during a time the body is trying to slow it down.

    While subtle differences have been detected between different timings of exercise in controlled scientific studies, the effects of these differences may not be measurable in the real world. The above pros and cons listed correlate with an average person's circadian rhythm. Everyone's different. Therefore, the best time for a workout should be the time that allows you to exercise regularly in accordance with your schedules and makes you feel the best.

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