Why organ meats belong in your diet

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There a few foods that actually deserve the title of “superfood”. Liver, along with many other organ meats like kidneys and hearts are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. 

Our bodies evolved to eat these foods and to draw nourishment and energy from them. We didn’t spend millennia gulping down multivitamins and sports supplements.

Once a popular and treasured food source, liver, along with other organ meats, have fallen out of favour as nutritional staples.

The reality is that our palates and routines have evolved far from some of the foods we most need for optimal health. Instead, people are chasing the regular sugar highs that come with more modern, overly processed and hyper palatable “foods”.

Organ meats have an excellent nutrient profile. High in protein and low in calories, some of the key nutrients that are important to optimal human function are found in organ meats such as liver, include:

  • Retinol. The active form of vitamin A, which is crucial for healthy skin, fertility and pregnancy, vision, and immune health;
  • Choline. Critical for DNA synthesis, brain function, and a healthy nervous system;
  • Iron. Another essential nutrient that helps carry oxygen around the body. The iron in liver is heme iron, the kind most easily absorbed by the body;
  • B12 and folate. These nutrients are crucial for methylation, which affects everything from gene expression to the production of neurotransmitters to detoxification;
  • Zinc and copper. Zinc and copper work together to influence immune function, metabolism, and the nervous system. A single serving of liver provides enough copper for an entire week.

Sadly, most people today don’t like the taste of liver, and beef kidneys and heart aren’t high on the list either.

How to get more organ meats into your diet
Here are a few ways to get more organ meats onto your plate:

  • Pan fried. Liver goes well when fried with onions;
  • Bolognese sauces. Liver and other organ meats can be chopped or minced and then mixed with regular ground beef and added to pasta or vegetable dishes;
  • Burger patties. As with Bolognese sauces, chop or mince organ meats and mix it with ground beef to make highly nutritious burgers;
  • Adding lots of spices. By adding lots of herbs and spices, you can use strong flavours to help disguise its taste.
  • Soaked in lemon juice. Prior to cooking will reduce the strong flavour.

The bottom line is that liver and other organ meats like kidneys and hearts are a greatly underrated food source. Naturally nutrient dense and low in calories, they make a truely valuable addition to any nutritional strategy.

Using the evolutionary exercise template to boost performance

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What did our primal ancestors do for exercise? Well, for a start, exercise for them wasn’t anything they had to think about. It was life.

There were no gyms or running tracks. No spin rooms or Zumba classes. It was just the surrounding environment. Everyday. This meant moving and exercising to gather food, build shelter, or simply to survive.

An evolutionary exercise program can be defined as one that is similar in principle to what our ancestors did on a daily basis.

Move often at a slow pace
Early humans spent much of their day walking around hunting and gathering their food, along with seasonal migrations to new territories following food sources.

Low level aerobic activity throughout the day will build stronger blood vessels, bones, joints, and connective tissues.

Some easy ways to incorporate low level aerobic activity could look like this:

  • Walking or riding your bike to work;
  • Parking your car as far away from your destination as possible and walking the rest of the way;
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator;
  • Take frequent breaks at work to get up and walk around; or
  • Take a walk outside during your lunch break.

You may even want to try a standing desk if possible. On weekends or after work, try going for a hike or even a swim. The possibilities are infinite.

Find ways stay active every day, even on your rest days. The benefits of being mobile are endless, especially as you enter into older age.

Sprint every now and then
Our ancestors didn’t spend hours upon hours exercising, and neither should you. For early humans, life depended on being able to outrun animals, either in the form of hunting them (persistence hunting), or to avoid being hunted by them. They would only work hard when it was absolutely necessary.

These short bursts of high intensity physical effort increased the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH helps to maintain, build, and repair healthy tissue in the brain and other organs. This hormone can help to speed up healing after an injury and repair muscle tissue after exercise. This helps to build muscle mass, boost metabolism, and burn fat.

HGH is released in proportion to the intensity (not the duration) of the physical activity.

Lift heavy things… and carry them
Just like sprinting, early humans had to use quick bursts of energy to lift and move heavy objects. They would have to move large rocks or logs to build shelter, carry firewood or large animal kills back to their camps.

These types of high intensity workouts help release testosterone that boosts metabolism and improves muscle strength and size.

The best movements to mimic this type of activity are the basic movement patterns:

  • Loaded carry;
  • Hinge;
  • Squat;
  • Pull;
  • Press.

This includes exercises like the squat, deadlift, pull-ups, push-ups and farmers walks.

The biochemical signals created by these very brief, but intense muscle contractions generated a surge of HGH, prompting an increase in muscle size and power.

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Rest, relax and recover
Exercise is utterly pointless and even counterproductive without proper rest, relaxation, and sleep. You need to eat well and eat enough, let your muscles rest and recover, and have enough downtime to reap the benefits of exercise.

If you want a better quality of life, to be strong and have the ability to run fast and for distance so that life is generally easier for you. Then get your rest and recover well. You don’t need to be in the gym every day. Enjoy time socially with friends and family. Read a book. Visit a museum or art gallery. Give your body some time to physically recover.

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In summary
You don’t have to spend hours every day in the gym to be physically fit. It’s actually the opposite if you’re after general physical fitness. Depending on individual goals and competitions you may need to spend additional time completing sports specific training.

However, if you want to be healthy, strong and mobile into old age the basic template can be fairly simple to apply, follow and easy to achieve.

The Goblet Squat

Created by strength coach Dan John and named after the position in which the weight is held, the goblet squat is one of the simplest ways to learn and reinforce the basic squatting movement pattern.

It can be used as a mobility trainer, a warmup activity or as part of your workout proper. The goblet squat is so versatile that it might be the only squat you need in your workout.

The set up & execution
Similar to setting up for the kettlebell sumo deadlift, the athlete should take a comfortable stance, with feet slightly turned out.

With a dumbbell, holding it vertically by one end. Hug it tight against your chest. If you’re using a kettlebell, hold it by the horns. A medicine ball can also be used.

With your elbows pointing down and head facing forward, lower the body down and back into a squat, keeping the chest upright at all times (making sure not to fall forward or have excessive rounding the back).

Allow the elbows to brush past the insides of your knees as you descend. It’s okay to push your knees out. If your heels come off the ground at any stage, your stance is likely too narrow.

Finally, if mobility isn’t that great, squatting to the point where your elbows touch your knees if fine. In time, mobility and depth will increase.

Now, return to the standing position with a full hip extension (standing tall).

Pretty simple.

As mentioned earlier, the goblet squat is a great tool for teaching the squat in general and can be used as a mobility trainer. There isn’t a real requirement to go heavy, as higher volume sets with lighter loads will work very well.

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Taking the time to master the basics
Something that has been instilled in me throughout my military career is to be “brilliant at the basics”. A great lesson that can be applied to almost all aspects of life.

The mistake most people make is that they try to move too quickly into complex movement patterns before they have mastered proper form first. Often sacrificing technique for time or load.

If you really want to optimise your overall athletic performance, take the time to master the simple patterns first, like the goblet squat. You can alway add complexity to your programming later.

The simple movements patterns can also make the some of the most demanding and challenging workouts.

Caffeine and athletic performance

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Having a cup of coffee first thing in the morning or to push through the mid-afternoon slump is a pretty standard thing for most people. Caffeine is a stimulant. It will give you a bit of buzz.

It makes sense that using caffeine to supercharge athletic performance.

What is Caffeine
Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant found in leaves, nuts and seeds of numerous plants. Its widespread social acceptance means that many athletes consume caffeine regularly over the day in varying amounts from coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks and, increasingly, from pre-workout supplements or caffeinated sports products.

Caffeine-containing beverages typically contain between 30-120mg of caffeine but this varies widely between products and brands.

Caffeine is becoming increasingly popular in sport to help improve performance and various caffeinated supplements and sports products are now being marketed to and consumed exclusively by athletes.

Caffeine and performance
The main performance benefits of caffeine appear to come from its influence on the central nervous system and resulting reduced perception of effort (exercise feels easier) and/or reduced perception of fatigue. 

Some other ways that caffeine can help improve mental and physical performance are as follows:

  • Caffeine can increase the body’s ability to burn fat via lipolysis, or the breakdown of stored fatty acids within the fat cells;
  • Caffeine has been shown to increase thermogenesis, or heat production, which helps you burn more calories;
  • Caffeine can raise endorphins, which increase feelings of happiness, giving you the exercise “buzz” that people often experience after working out;
  • Caffeine may also spare glycogen stores (carbohydrate stored within the muscles), primarily due to increased fat burning. This can enhance endurance performance.

Endurace exercise
Most of exercise/caffeine research is based on endurance training and performance. Historically, the most often cited benefit to consuming caffeine before a race or training activity was that it would increase the oxidation of fat, thus sparing muscle glycogen for when you really needed it, such as the final sprint to the finish line.

Maybe the caffeine simply makes exercise more tolerable, makes muscles work harder and better, and allows those exercising to do so harder, and for longer. Caffeine generally will give you a bit of a buzz. When taken prior to a workout, this “buzz” equates to an increased endorphin response to exercise.

So, if endorphins are high, exercise is more tolerable, even enjoyable.

The bottom line is that caffeine seems to boost athletic performance in endurance events, maybe through enhancing energy partitioning or an increase exercise induced endorphin response, make the activity more enjoyable.

Strength exercise
The effects of caffeine in sport aren’t limited to improving endurance. Research also indicates the benefits of caffeine in strength performance.

Whilst the results of studies are varied, they generally suggest that supplementation may help trained strength and power athletes.

This meta analysis, comparing 27 studies found that caffeine may improve leg muscle power by up to 7%, but had little effect on smaller muscle groups

Caffeine may also improve muscular endurance, including the amount of repetitions performed at a certain weight.

To summarise, most research indicates that caffeine may provide the most benefits for power-based activities that use large muscle groups, repetitions or circuits.

How to use caffeine for performance
Although early research was conducted using high doses of caffeine (6+ mg caffeine / kg body weight), more recent research indicates that lower doses can provide similar performance benefits with less negative side effects.

Individual responses to caffeine vary but typically doses in the range 1-3 mg caffeine per kg body weight are sufficient to improve performance (e.g. 70-210mg for a 70kg athlete).

Some experimenting may need to be done to determine the most beneficial timing protocol, which may include taking caffeine:

  • Pre-competition or exercise;
  • During competition or exercise;
  • A combination of both.

Potential side effects
High levels of caffeine intake can cause declines in performance through:

  • Increased heart rate;
  • Impaired fine motor control;
  • Anxiety and over-arousal;
  • Sleep disturbances;
  • Gastrointestinal upset.

Like any other supplement, it is important to trial smaller doses first in training activities prior to race day to assess individual tolerance and responses.

In Summary
The incorporation of caffeine into an athlete’s nutrition plan should be considered on an individual basis.

Caffeine is one of the most effective exercise performance supplements available. It is also very cheap and relatively safe to use.

Many studies have shown that caffeine can benefit endurance performance, high-intensity exercise and power sports.

The recommended dose varies by body weight, but is typically about 200–400 mg, taken 30–60 minutes before a workout.

How to get more fat in your diet

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Most foods that we eat today have some amount of fat content. 

Fat is an amazing flavour enhancer. It makes everything taste better.

Many people are starting to accept that fat is not all bad and have started to make the shift into lower carbohydrate diets. The thing is, when you lower your carbohydrate intake, you will need to increase one of the other macro-nutrients, protein or fat.

From a nutritional perspective, humans have evolved eating mostly protein and fats. In fact, it was the shift into eating more fatty tissue and organ meats that made cognitive revolution occur. This is also known as the development of the human brain.

More recent times have led to the vilification of dietary fats, however it’s not all bad. Additional to providing flavour, dietary fat from whole food sources provides the necessary intake of valuable fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K.

More and more research is proving that the real enemy is excessive carbohydrate and processed “food” consumption, combined with an overstressed, sedentary lifestyle, that is causing the explosions in obesity and chronic “diseases of lifestyle” that are so common in present day populations.

Here is a bunch of ways to get more fat into your diet:

Use whole, full-fat ingredients
It’s time to remove all of the low-fat or lite food products from the pantry and refrigerator.

Look for full-fat dairy products. Milk (if tolerant), butter, cream, yoghurt and cheeses. Add in avocados and some pastured eggs. Try to add natural fats rather than avoid them entirely.

Fatty cuts of meat can be more flavourful, and are often cheaper than leaner cuts. Wild salmon and sardines contain high amounts of important omega-3 fats and make valuable additions to the dinner plate.

Cook with fats
Cook your vegetables, meats, fish and eggs in natural fats like butter, ghee or coconut oil.

Use a variety of natural fats for flavour
Different fats can provide different flavours to your food. This will create variety to your meals without too much complication.

Try experimenting with these fats and oils:

  • Butter and ghee;
  • Lard, tallow, duck fat, or any other animal fat;
  • Coconut oil;
  • Olive oil;
  • Macadamia nut oil;
  • Avocado oil.

Top your dishes with butter or oils
A drizzle of oil. A dollop of sour cream. Melt some butter. You can top off almost any dish with some health promoting fats.

Garnish with high fat foods
Avocado. Cheese. Olives. Nuts and seeds. All of these high fat foods are packed with nutrients and important fat-soluble vitamins, so add these to your meals when available.

Eat more cheese
Cheese is a simple addition to any meal. It can even work as an appetizer. It goes with just about anything and can be eaten at anytime of the day. Packed with both protein and fat it makes a perfect addition to any meal or gathering.

If you are sensitive to dairy products, you may be able to tolerate hard cheeses such as Parmesan, Cheddar and Gouda as they have generally low amounts of lactose that most people will be able to manage small to moderate amounts.

Cheese is often served as dessert in my house.

Blend fats into your coffee or tea
Adding coconut or MCT oil to your morning coffee or tea is quick and easy. Full-fat cream works just as well and will give you that milky flavour with very little lactose content.

The combination of caffeine and MCT’s will provide you with some mental clarity, make you feel more alert and focused, as well as reduce the typical caffeine crash.

It will prime the body to shift from glucose to fat as a fuel source which will also keep your appetite suppressed for longer.

What is GPP?

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Work capacity refers to the general ability of the body as a machine to produce work of varied intensity and duration using the appropriate energy systems of the body.

Everybody can benefit from an increased work capacity. Improved work capacity will allow you to perform better at higher intensities, whilst quickly recovering between workouts (or rounds). Basically, it will allow to perform better, for longer and more frequently.

Closely related to work capacity is General Physical Preparedness (GPP). GPP can be best described as a series of conditioning exercises designed to enhance the your general, non-specific work capacity.

GPP training develops a solid, well-rounded fitness base. It will enhance the athlete’s physical qualities that would otherwise be most likely underdeveloped through sports specific training alone.

When to conduct GPP training
As described earlier, GPP will enhance your general, non-specific work capacity. There are certain training periods where GPP can be extremely beneficial to an athlete. Here is a short, but not exhaustive list:

  • Pre-season training;
  • Post-injury;
  • Warm-up and recovery workouts.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete, you can still benefit from GPP training throughout the year. Many people tend to take an extended break over the holiday season and entering the gym in the new year can sometimes be a daunting task. This would be the perfect time to add some GPP training to quickly condition the body for the training year ahead.

At a minimum, it will give you some variety to the standard bench press, squat and deadlift based workouts.

Some of the benefits of GPP training include:

  • Anaerobic endurance;
  • Aerobic endurance;
  • Strength;
  • Flexibility;
  • Coordination;
  • Mental toughness;
  • Overall body composition;
  • Recovery time between workouts.

Another critical benefit of GPP training that is often overlooked in any physical training program is that is can strengthen the ligaments and tendons. GPP will prepare the ligaments and tendons for the more intense training or competition that will follow.

Ligaments and tendons develop at a much slower rate than muscular strength. Many coaches often prescribe complex and explosive training techniques to athletes who are not physically prepared to execute properly.

For this reason, it is important to include some volume work, such as bodyweight GPP circuits to strengthen the ligaments and tendons.

If done correctly, GPP is nothing short of gut wrenching. It is however, highly effective. Workouts can be simple and brief, and can be performed with or without any equipment. As you begin to push through these workouts, you will develop the ability to fight through fatigue and perform at a higher level for an extended period of time.

As an athlete, whether professional or an amateur, it doesn’t matter how skilled you are. Everybody fatigues. It is at this point the body is most vulnerable. A reduction in performance or even injury can result. GPP training will develop the mental and physical capacity required to work through these periods of fatigue.

All athletes must ask themselves the following questions. Can you outwork your opponent? Will you be able to keep up during the final minutes or have the mental toughness to summon a final effort to push through to the finish line? If You have done your GPP work, you will be able to answer these questions confidently.

It is ok to lose, however losing due to poor physical conditioning is not.

Which exercises are best
Bodyweight exercises such as the burpee and jumping jacks are excellent choices, however, the variations are endless. Sleds, medicine balls and kettlebells can also make valuable additions to any GPP program.

Here are several of my favourite GPP workouts:

GPP #1

  • Burpees x 30 sec
  • Jumping Jacks x 30 sec
  • High Knee Alternating Dumbbell Press x 30 sec
  • Medicine Ball Slams x 30 sec

Repeat the circuit 5 times without rest for a total of 10 minutes work.

GPP #2

  • Sled Push x 50 m
  • Kettlebell Farmers Walk x 50 m
  • Jumping Jacks x 20

Complete as many circuits as possible in 20 minutes.

GPP #3

  • Kettlebell Swings x 20
  • Jumping Jacks x 10
  • Kettlebell Swings x 20
  • Burpees x 10
  • Kettlebell Swings x 20
  • Mountain Climbers x 10 (each leg)

Complete as many circuits as possible in 15 minutes.

GPP #4

  • Jump Rope (100 turns)
  • Burpees x 10
  • Push-ups 10
  • Air Squats x 10

Repeat circuit for 10 rounds as quickly as possible.

GPP #5

  • Burpees x 30 sec
  • Jumping Jacks x 30 sec

Repeat circuit for the time as listed below without rest. That is one round.

Beginner

  • Complete 4 x 2 minute rounds with 1 minute rest between rounds.

Intermediate

  • Complete 6 x 2 minute rounds with 1 minute rest between rounds; or
  • Complete 4 x 3 minute rounds with 1 minute rest between rounds.

Advanced

  • Complete 6 x 3 minute rounds with 1 minute rest between rounds.

Five… or seven basic human movement patterns

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Commonly, when you talk to somebody in the gym about programming or training they will always tell you how much they can bench or sometimes how often they squat.

A lot of people will tend to talk about the pushing or squatting movements. Sometimes they might say they do a few pull-ups here and there. The major focus is on the musculature that they can see. This not optimal for anybody, from the elite athlete to the occasional weekend warrior.

There are five basic human movement patterns.

You will always hear about the push, the pull, and the squat. Occasionally, you will hear about the hinge. The final basic movement is the loaded carry.

Some examples of the five basic movement patterns:

Push
Push-up, bench press, overhead press and dips.

Pull
Pull-up, cleans, rows and pull-downs.

Squat
Goblet squat, back squat, lunge and leg press.

Hinge
Deadlift and the kettlebell swing.

Loaded Carry
Farmers walk, suitcase walk, waiters walk, rack walks.

The five movement patterns in order of popularity:

  1. Push;
  2. Pull;
  3. Squat;
  4. Hinge;
  5. Loaded Carry.

Now, if you were place these movements in order of how they could impact you almost overnight, the order would look more like this:

  1. Loaded Carry;
  2. Squat;
  3. Hinge;
  4. Pull;
  5. Push.

Further to these movement patterns, you could add the following:

  1. Rotation;
  2. Counter-rotation.

This is basically creating, or eliminating force through the torso whilst the hips and/or shoulders move. It also helps the body stabilise the spine in the event of external forces being applied to the body.

Examples of these additional movements include:

Rotation
Russian twist, medicine ball rotational throw and sledgehammer swings.

Counter-rotation
Single-arm suitcase carry, single-arm swings, renegade rows and unilateral loaded deadlifts.

Programming workouts
When programming, just adding some form of loaded carry to you strength training can make huge impacts in just three or four weeks! Even if it is something simple like the farmers walk. I four weeks, you will be better. Your body will have improved posture and overall muscle density, which will transition across all of the other lifts.

A simple way to program is to choose an exercise from each of these basic movements and create a total body workout. Alternatively, you could combine two movements, such as a push / pull combination and squat / hinge combination and add the loaded carry to each workout.

Rotation and counter rotation exercises can be added to any workout for a more complete workout.

Training programs don’t need to be complex to work. Most of the time, the simple stuff works.