10 Nutrition Tips for May

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The benefits and drawbacks of cheat days, a fantastic resource for supplement information, why a high fat diet may be good for you, the effects of fasting on muscle gain, and much more.

1. What are cheat days? Are they healthy? How often should I have one?

In theory, there are some benefits to cheat days. Here are three of the biggest ones:

Increased thyroid hormone output. When in a caloric deficit, underfed individuals produce less T3 and T4–both important thyroid hormones that play roles in the regulation of metabolic rate. A cheat day or strategic overfeed is used in part to increase these hormones.

Increased 24-hour energy expenditure. A caloric surplus from a cheat day causes the body to upregulate basal metabolic rate (BMR). Some studies have shown an increase of 9% above baseline, and it’s hypothesized that more is possible.

Increased serum leptin levels. The big one that most harp on. Leptin levels drop while in a caloric deficit (lasting as little as 72 hours), and a periodic bump in leptin coming from a cheat day has several benefits including increased thyroid output, increased energy expenditure and BMR, and overall increased thermogenesis.

Even with those benefits, cheat days are not for everyone. Unless you are on a restrictive caloric diet (eating less than you burn/expend each day), you probably don’t need to cheat more than once or twice a month. And this also assumes that you are eating healthy/clean the rest of the time, of course. The leaner you are (less body fat), the more frequently you can cheat. If you have just started a diet and have a lot of weight to lose, don’t even think about having a cheat day.

If you need the mental break from your diet, have a cheat meal instead. All of the bad foods you crave and are used to eating – set them aside for one meal per week. Don’t eat until you can’t move, though. Eat to full, and then throw away anything that remains. Get it out of sight.

My go-to cheat food

And once you are making progress (or are already pretty lean), make sure your cheat days/meals are actually cheat-y enough. Having extra quinoa isn’t a cheat day. Neither is having three apples instead of one. There is science behind indulging on the bad stuff, and it’s quite fascinating.

And here are some tips on how to cheat while on the Paleo diet.

2. Examine.com is a nutrition/supplement website that you should add to your bookmarks immediately.

The website has put together comprehensive profiles for all of the major supplements. There is so much misinformation on the internet regarding fish oil, creatine, and other beneficial supplements, and it is great to have a one-stop website with all of the information you would ever need.

Don’t believe me? Check out this comprehensive breakdown of creatine (what it is, the benefits, and so on).

3. How did Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson add about forty pounds of muscle to his frame for the film Pain & Gain?

By eating. A lot. And then eating some more. For 16 weeks, he ate seven meals a day. Each meal featured a protein source (usually lean, like fish or chicken) and a healthy starch/carb source (rice or sweet potatoes). His eating plan was relatively low in fat (some red meat mixed in).

Adding muscle isn’t rocket science. You need to train hard and smart, but the biggest mistake most people make is that they don’t eat enough. If you are trying ot add some size and are frustrated with a lack of progress, track your calories for a week or so. Chances are you are well below your target each day.

I’m not going to speculate whether or not he had any “extra help” to gain that muscle, but there is no questioning his discipline and his intensity and effort in the weight room.

4. An interesting read on the benefits of eating animal organs

Some benefits:

Look at this comparison between the Vitamin C content of 100 grams of apple, 100 grams of carrots, 100 grams of red meat, and 100 grams of beef liver.

The apple has 7.0 grams of Vitamin C, the carrots have 6.0 grams, the red meat has 0 grams, and the beef liver has 27.0 grams.

Let’s do the same thing with Vitamin B12.

The apple has no measurable B12 and neither do the carrots. The red meat has 1.84 mcg., but the beef liver has 111.3 mcg.

Why aren’t organs a bigger part of North American diets?

Roach’s research found that we ship it to other countries that seem to be a lot less squeamish and a whole lot more nutritionally savvy. In 2009, we shipped 438,000 tons of frozen organs to other countries. Mexico is big on brains and lips. Russia and Egypt love livers. The Philippines heart hearts.

It isn’t something many people grew up eating, and the taste/texture may take some time to get used to. But it is generally pretty affordable, and the health benefits are tremendous.

Beef liver – or liver in general – could well be the most nutritionally complete food in existence, and the dearth of it and other organ meat might well be the cause of a lot of the degenerative diseases in society.

5. Here are some steps to increase testosterone production naturally 

Pretty straightforward stuff. Sleep more, eat eggs and bacon (yes please), experiment with fasting, learn what supplements are useful and what ones are a waste of time/money, and learn to train properly – without overtraining, of course.

And if you are feeling really experimental:

Cold Baths

The basis for my thinking that T levels could be boosted by cold baths came from a post I wrote a few years ago on the benefits of cold showers. One benefit I found in my research was that they could increase testosterone levels. I mentioned a 1993 study done by the Thrombosis Research Institute in England that found increased T levels after taking a cold shower. Here’s the thing. I can’t find a link to the original source and I can’t find any other studies that support this claim! So without supporting research, I’m unsure of the effects of cold showers on testosterone.

6. Fasting does not negatively affect muscle gain

An interesting study:

The participants of the study were Muslim bodybuilders, but the results should apply to anyone looking to gain lean mass or strength. They weren’t elite level bodybuilders, but rather they recreationally performed bodybuilding routines at least three days per week. The group of participants was split into two – those who exercised during the day while fasting and those who exercised at night after having eaten.

7. On the topic of intermittent fasting…. here is an FAQ with some of the more pertinent issues covered

The metabolism myth:

The idea that not eating will slow your metabolic rate is based of the fact the eating increases your metabolic rate; the increase occurs when you eat due to something called the Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF). Basically, you expend energy to break digest, absorb, and utilize the food you eat. This part is true.

Here’s the part that’s not true: the suggestion more often you eat, the more often your metabolism will increase, therefore not eating often can lead to metabolic slowdown. For years, you’ve been told that eating 5-6 small meals per day helps you keep your metabolism elevated. Again, not true.

8. A great post on nutrition confusion (which, unfortunately, is pretty widespread)  

Less is more with nutrition information. Learn what diet/lifestyle plan works for you (I gave Paleo a try for a few years, and liked aspects of it, but have added carbs back into my diet and have been following intermittent fasting for a few months and I absolutely love it).

Don’t forget to ask… what are you training/eating for? Getting a shredded body is great, but is it sustainable? If you are an athlete, you will need more supplementation and carbohydrates than the average person. Figure out your goals before you decide your path to get there.

9. Precision Nutrition offers some recommended supplements here

I can vouch for Greens+. Like Buckley’s, it tastes awful but it works.

While greens can’t replace a diet sufficient in vegetables, the blend of antioxidants, enzymes, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals in these products can be extremely helpful. Adding a serving of greens to every protein shake you drink is a good strategy.  Further, when on the road, greens can really come in handy.

10. And I’ll end off with a phenomenally motivating video:

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