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

a heart shaped butter pat melting on a non-stick surface

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.

Four foods that can boost athletic performance

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With more and more people looking into whole food, ancestral or evolutionary type diets, more and more athletes are choosing to adopt a paleo-based approach to eating in order to improve their overall performance.

One of the reasons I believe that a paleo type diet is the best template for athletes to build a perfect personalized diet is because, by definition, it includes all of the key factors needed to be healthy, recover well and perform at your best when exercising intensely.

Here are a few foods that can boost physical performance and should be a staple for almost all athletes.

Eggs
Eggs are the most complete source of amino acids and rank the highest when it comes to assessing protein quality based on their biological value.

A single egg contains roughly seven grams of complete protein and contains all of the eight essential amino acids required to build and maintain muscle.

Eggs are loaded with B-vitamins, a great source of vitamins B1, B2, B6, and B12. Eggs also contain a lot of choline, a vitamin-like essential nutrient that’s similar to B-vitamins that supports proper brain function, and is sometimes used by athletes to delay fatigue in endurance sports.

Eggs are also an excellent source of zinc, which optimizes testosterone production and the building of lean muscle mass, and also a pretty good source of magnesium, which is essential for over 300 cellular functions and is linked to improved intra-workout recovery and better quality sleep.

Egg yolks are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, making it a convenient way to up your intake without having to sit out in the sun. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and muscles, as well as overall health.

Eggs also contain iron which is required to produce haemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body.

A complete amino acid profile, a ton of micronutrients, all great for athletes, and surprisingly low-calorie equals one nutrient dense food source for optimising performance.

Grass-fed Butter
For the last 30 years or so, saturated fats like butter have been erroneously considered the number one enemy in conventional medicine, supposedly responsible for heart disease and poor health. However, the scientific community is now clear that saturated fats aren’t bad for us, and in fact are extremely important for overall health.

Grass-fed Butter is literally a Superfood. Nutrient wise it’s very high in Vitamins A, D, E and K2. These vitamins are responsible for hormonal balancing, and cardiovascular health. Magnesium and Zinc are also huge players in the game. By consuming Grass-fed Butter you can balance calcium levels, repair muscles and provide adequate energy during training.

Grass-fed Butter can provide 20 times more ATP during cellular metabolism than can be gained by eating all sorts of processed grains and sugars.

Saturated fats play a critical role on a couple of fronts. First, they are shown to help athletes recover from intense exercise and over-training. Studies have found that athletes who are rundown during periods of intense training typically have low cortisol and low testosterone levels, to go along with fatigue, excessive delayed onset muscle soreness, low libido and low mood… all symptoms of over-training.

Saturated fats can also be a great tool for endurance athletes, because unlike most fats they can be absorbed directly by the gut and used for instant energy. This means the medium chain triglycerides in butter can effectively be used like carbohydrates for energy during runs, rides, swims, or metabolic conditioning.

You get 9 calories when using fats for fuel versus 4 calories when using carbohydrates, so you dramatically improve your fuel efficiency. This can translate into better performance.

Beets
The consumption of large quantities of beets has been found to dramatically increase blood nitrate levels, and in turn boost athletic performance.

This promotes nitric oxide formation, which is a powerful vasodilator that helps increase blood flow to working muscles allowing your mitochondria to produce ATP more efficiently. This creates an ‘anti-fatigue’ effect, meaning you can do the same amount of work for longer period with less stress to the body, producing significant endurance benefits in athletes.

Load up on beet juice daily for five or so days before a competition or consume as a regular part of your diet to reap the benefits.

Coffee
Not necessarily an ancestral or traditional food, coffee can provide a terrific performance boost. There are countless performance-enhancing supplements that are now available on the market, some of them better than others. The best however, if you’re looking to improve your performance, is a the classic cup of black coffee.

Caffeine, found naturally in tea and coffee, is truly one of the best performance-enhancing drugs in the world. In fact, supplemental caffeine is the “secret” ingredient in virtually all the marketed weight loss and performance supplements because it’s so effective.

What can caffeine do for you?

A cup of black coffee is all you need for a natural stimulant and effective pre-workout. Several studies have shown caffeine to boost athletic performance and improve a variety of other health markers.

The effects will vary from person to person, but the peak stimulant effect usually occurs 30-60 minutes after consumption. Once it enters the bloodstream, several responses begin to occur within the body. Heart rate and blood pressure increase, which in turn delivers oxygen to the muscles at a faster rate and fat stores begin to metabolize and are released into the bloodstream. This typically will lead to you feeling energised and ready to workout.

With regards to athletic performance, caffeine has been shown to increase various types of performance when consumed in moderate amounts.

Caffeine has also been shown to give the athlete the ability to train for longer duration and with a higher power output. It has also been shown to improve overall endurance and resistance to fatigue.

Endurance athletes probably benefit the most from the consumption of caffeine. This may be due to the point mentioned above where caffeine consumption can increase the breakdown of fat stores to be used as energy, thus saving stored glycogen for when it is needed most, such as the increased intensity of a sprint to the finish line.

Why women should be lifting heavier

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Just about everybody will agree that women will benefit from lifting weights. With the introduction of modalities like Crossfit and F45 in recent years, weight training amongst women has gained popularity, and more and more of these women have been successful in their training endeavours like never before.

That being said, the reality is that is still less popular for women to be lifting heavy weights. This is the 1 to 5 repetition range that can get you real strong and lean. 

Here are some of the best reasons why women should be lifting a little heavier.

Improved body composition
Basically, this means less body fat and stronger curves. Which woman doesn’t want that? Most women join a gym and start lifting weights as part of a plan to lose unwanted body fat, but they don’t have a real goal or training end state.

They might follow a simple weight training program that will suggest moderately heavy weight in the 8 to 15 repetition range, or attend several high intensity group classes. Eventually, these workouts will feel easy, or boring, and it will be necessary to find a new challenge to keep the body positively adapting to the physical workload. 

If you have successfully mastered key movements like the squat and deadlift it may be time to lift some heavier loads with lower repetitions to increase your muscular density and strength. 

The stronger you get, the easier it will be to positively transform your body with continued training.

The take away point here is that lifting heavier weights develops muscular density. You will not see the serious muscle growth like some of the top bodybuilders and Crossfit athletes. That actually take years of intense training, combined with eating a lot of calories and targeted supplementation. You will however, develop the sleek sculpted curves that most women are thinking about when they say athletic and toned.

Healthier heart, brain, hormones and metabolism
Lifting heavier weight can have unique benefits to the human physiology that you can’t get from lifting lighter loads.

Heavy lifting protects the body by causing metabolic and functional adaptations to the muscles and brain that safeguard the body from injury, disease and excess fat gain.

Heavy lifting requires the training of multi-joint movements that use the whole body, such as the deadlift, squat and farmers carry. Training this way will develop the whole body as a functional machine capable of performing how it has evolved to perform.

Also, heavy lifting activates protective genetic pathways that keep the heart healthy and metabolism efficient.

Stress relief
Exercise in general is a great way to manage stress. The whole fat loss process is inherently stressful. Many women (men also) will fixate on it, and in doing so, increase anxiety levels which will force the body into a kind of threatened state.

Once in this threatened state the body will have elevated its cortisol levels as a protective measure. Cortisol is an important hormone when it comes to fat loss, because it is involved in the release of energy stores to be burned for fuel when blood glucose levels drop.

Optimal cortisol levels required for fat loss flow like a wave. They are at their highest in the morning upon waking, and lower throughout the day. Several factors, such as restricting food when hungry or training twice per day, forces cortisol levels to remain elevated for longer periods, which can slow the fat loss process.

Improved bone density
Another major health risk for women is bone health. Due to hormonal changes that occur during menopause, many women lose bone density and strength. Not only a risk for women, as the human body actually begins to lose bone density in its 30s and consistent strength training can delay or even reverse the process.

Improved mental and physical capacity
Not only does lifting heavier weight make you stronger and leaner, but it can have a positive effect on your entire life. You will stand taller and generally more confident overall. You will find an increase in energy levels, better sleep quality, and notice how much easier it is to run around with your children (if you have any), even carrying all of your grocery bags into the house in a single trip.

Simply put, being able to complete everyday tasks as required with ease and having the capacity to do more as life requires.

Strengthening your body will improve your overall quality of life.

Are you at risk of Diabetes?

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What is Type-2 diabetes?
Type-2 diabetes is a chronic (long-term) disease marked by high levels of sugar in the blood. It is sometimes called a lifestyle disease, because it is more common in people who don’t do enough physical activity, and who are overweight or obese.

Type-2 diabetes is diagnosed when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (reduced insulin production) and/or the insulin does not work effectively, and/or the cells of the body do not respond to insulin effectively (insulin resistance).

Type-2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, contributing to approximately 85% of all cases.

There are currently over 1.2 million people in Australia with diabetes. This figure is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, with over 2 million people at high risk of developing diabetes.

People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, circulation problems, lower limb amputations, nerve damage and damage to the kidneys and eyes.

In 2004-2005, 60% of all people reporting diabetes also reported having cardiovascular disease

– Australian Bureau of Statistics

Risk Factors
Many Australians, particularly those over the age of 40, are at risk of developing Type-2 diabetes through poor lifestyle choices such as inadequate physical activity and poor nutrition.

Some genetic factors may also increase your risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Symptoms
Common symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst;
  • Frequent urination;
  • Unexplained weight loss;
  • Increased hunger;
  • Reduced energy;
  • Reduced healing capacity;
  • Itching and skin infections;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Increased weight;
  • Mood swings;
  • Leg cramps.

Insulin
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows the body to use glucose from carbohydrates in the food for energy, or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keep your blood glucose level from getting too high (hyperglycemia), or too low (hypoglycemia).

Many of the cells in your body use glucose for energy. However, glucose cannot go into most of your cells directly. After you eat food and your blood glucose level rises, the beta cells in your pancreas are signalled to release insulin into your bloodstream.

Insulin is often described as the key that unlocks the cell to allow sugar to enter the cell and be used for energy.

If you have more glucose in your body than it needs, insulin helps store the glucose in your liver and will release it when your blood glucose level is low or during times of physical activity. Therefore, insulin helps balance out blood glucose levels and keeps them in a normal range. As blood glucose levels rise, the pancreas secretes more insulin.

If your body does not produce enough insulin or your cells are resistant to the effects of insulin, you may develop hyperglycemia, which can cause long-term complications if the blood sugar levels stay elevated for long periods of time.

Below is a table explaining risk levels based on your blood glucose levels, in both fasted and non-fasted (2-hours post-meal) states.

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What can you do about lowering your risk?
For a start, your lifestyle choices can definitely lower your chances, or, at least delay the onset of type-2 diabetes.

There are some factors that you can not change, such as your genetic makeup and predisposition to developing type-2 diabetes. You can, however, do something about being overweight, waist measurement, how active you are, eating habits, and how much or often you smoke.

Even if you haven’t won the gene pool lottery, you can still reduce your risk with positive lifestyle choices. This is called gene expression. Simply put, you genes load the gun, but it’s your environment that pulls the trigger.

What does this mean? Well, by increasing your physical activity, improving your eating habits and getting some quality sleep you will be well on the way to lowering your overall risk.

Sleep quality
Poor sleep can affect diabetes both directly and indirectly, by changing normal patterns of hormones, contributing to greater weight gain and obesity, and causing changes to lifestyle.

Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality, especially as we reach middle age and older, can almost double your risk of developing type-2 diabetes, according to several large studies.

Sleep deprivation also increases the stress hormone cortisol, which can make cells even more insulin resistant.

By improving your sleep patterns you will be setting yourself up for success. Sleep has a strong influence over eating patterns, exercise habits, and the hormones that regulate hunger and satiety.

Physical activity
The Australian Government Department of Health guidelines for physical activity suggest that adults should be aiming for somewhere between 2.5 and 5 hours of moderate level physical activity per week, or alternatively, 1 to 2.5 hours of high intensity physical training.

Most people understand the benefits of pushing some weight around in the gym, but this doesn’t mean that everybody needs to live there. A casual jog or run around the river, swimming some laps in the pool, a game squash or even a short hike will all work well. The variations are endless.

Even something as little as adding a 30 minute walk after meals you can greatly reduce the amount of insulin required to transport glucose around the body.

The take away here is that some physical activities better than zero physical activity.

Nutrition
Making the shift to more of a whole food based diet and lowering your overall carbohydrate intake will great reduce the body’s requirement to control insulin. A paleo type diet is a good place to start as it eliminates most of the troublesome foods like refined sugars, cereals and grain based products, and emphasises on eating lean meats and fish, along with plenty of vegetables and some healthy fats and oils.

The aim here is to reduce the amount of insulin required to transport glucose around the body. Lowering your dietary carbohydrate intake will most definitely reduce the need for your body to produce insulin.

How low-carb do you have to go? Well… The issue here is that what works for one person may not work as well for the next. This is where personalised nutrition can play a part in your success. All this means is that different foods react differently with different people.

Modern era diets can be upwards of 55% carbohydrate for total caloric intake. This can be about 300-350 grams per day. That is quite high considering how sedentary the modern lifestyle has become.

Lets say you half that number. 100-150 grams per day. Pretty easy to do if you ditch cereal and grain based products. It takes a lot of broccoli and spinach to total 100 grams of carbohydrate.

Now combine that with quality sleep and some physical training, and you will be reducing your body’s requirement to produce insulin whilst activating optimal fat burning processes.

Another bonus is that you will be lowering your total caloric intake without a real loss of nutrient density, so you’ll probably find that you’ll also lose a few unwanted kilograms at the same time, which will likely improve several other health biomarkers, leading to an improved quality of life.

To me, that looks like a net win.

If you are struggling with controlling your insulin levels, it is always best to consult with your health professional.

The evolution of the human diet

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The human diet has changed quite dramatically throughout our history. From opportunistic scavengers, to traditional hunter-gatherers to the postindustrial age.

There have been obvious advantages with the evolution of modern society, however the majority of changes in the human diet that accompanied both the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, affected the general health of modern humans, and not always in a good way.

Let’s have a look.

The Paleolithic era (2.6 million years ago – 10,000 years ago)
As hunter-gatherers, the general diet was varied due to differences in geographical location and season, however they all consisted of wild animal and plant sources.

Macronutrient distribution was approximately:

  • Protein: 19-35%
  • Fat: 28-58%
  • Carbohydrate: 22-40%

Other characteristics of hunter-gatherer diets included:

  • Low glycemic load;
  • High antioxidant capacity;
  • High micronutrient density;
  • Equal Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio;
  • Close to equal Sodium to Potassium ratio.

Did hunter-gatherers eat grains and grasses? Probably. Did they eat them often? Unlikely. The effort required to consume unprepared grains or grasses would have been too taxing on the digestive system, which would have likely led to decreased performance and not enough of an energy return to warrant regular consumption.

As a result, hunter-gatherers were generally lean and strong, with dense bones and broad dental arches. Health biomarkers such as blood pressure and cholesterol were generally normal into advanced age.

Evidence suggests that the incidence of diet related disease was low.

The Agricultural Revolution (about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago)
Archaeological data indicates that the domestication of various types of plants and animals started happening in separate locations worldwide around 12,000 years ago.

The transition from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, made larger populations possible. This however, greatly narrowed the diversity of foods available, resulting in a downturn in human nutrition.

Grains and dairy products from sheep started to become dietary staples at the expense of larger wild animals.

As a result, common characteristics of early agricultural diets, compared to hunter-gatherer diets included:

  • Higher carbohydrate, diary fats, milk sugars and alcohol;
  • A decrease in protein intake;
  • A decrease in Omega-3
  • A decrease in antioxidants and micronutrients;
  • Higher overall caloric density;
  • Higher glycemic loading;
  • Higher sodium to potassium ratios.

The transition to an agricultural dietary pattern led to a decrease in lifespan, a reduction in height, an increase in dental health problems, iron deficiency anemia, and several bone mineral disorders.

These health issues can be still seen today in hunter-gather communities that have only recently been exposed to post-agricultural diets.

The Industrial Revolution (about 250 years ago) and Modern era (the last 50 years)
The introduction of novel foods with the industrial revolution altered several nutritional characteristics of human diets, which has had far-reaching adverse effects on human health.

Extensive evidence shows that the consumption of westernized modern era diets adversely affects gene expression, immunity, gut microbiota and increases the risks of developing cancer, heart disease, obesity, type-2 diabetes, and a plethora of other chronic health conditions.

Common characteristics of industrial and modern era diets, compared to hunter-gatherer diets include:

  • Higher carbohydrate, alcohol, trans-fats, sodium & omega-6;
  • Lower in fiber, antioxidants, protein and omega-3;
  • Higher glycemic load;
  • Higher energy density;
  • Lower micronutrient density;
  • Higher sodium to potassium ratio.

Even with the advances in medicine and technology, it has been estimated that the next generation will be the first in over one thousand years to actually have a shorter lifespan average than the current generation.

Many of the diet related diseases of the modern era can be reversed by increasing daily physical activity and modifying diet by eliminating known inflammatory foods. The issue however, is figuring out how to implement these changes at population-wide levels.

Simple Strength 1-2-3

It’s not heavy weights that build muscle. It’s not high reps that build muscle. It’s heavy weight with high reps that builds muscle.

– Tom Platz (former American professional bodybuilder)

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Often people try to over complicate everything in life. Tell somebody to define “clean eating” and they will need a 500-page book to explain it, when a simple eat some animal protein at most meals with a variety of vegetables will do. The same applies to the terms “get stronger” or “get in shape”, where it could take multiple books, depending on the discipline to flesh out the finer points.

Getting strong is not that complicated. It is however, hard work.

One of the simplest ways to achieve this is the “one-two-three” method.

How it works
Pick a movement:

  • Push: Bench or Overhead Press;
  • Pull: Pull-up;
  • Hinge: Deadlift;
  • Squat: Front or Back Squat.

Select a load that you can complete five repetitions. It will vary from person to person, but generally it would be about 80% of the individuals max. Now, follow this format:

1-2-3

Complete a single, rest a few seconds, complete a double, rest some more, then complete a triple. That will be a total of six repetitions completed with excellent form. For a more solid workout, run through this method up to three times:

1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3

That is 18 repetitions in a set using a weight that you would normally use for five repetitions!

Rules
Focus on the major movements Push, Pull, Hinge and Squat. Basically, compound multi-joint exercises are best.

Never miss a repetition and don’t chase fatigue. You want to be fresh for each repetition, so rest as long as required. If you have a training partner, the simple “I go, you go” method will be fine.

The weight should feel light and easy. There is no requirement to figure out loading percentages. Just adjust the load by “feel”. The idea here is to increase the effortless efforts to increase your best effort.

Let the volume do the work. Often under appreciated, building muscle mass, getting strong and lean takes time and effort. If you want more strength, you will need a lot of clean repetitions with crisp technique to teach the nervous system to eventually lift the larger loads.

Programming
An easy way to implement this method is to supplement it into your normal training using the 1-2-3 repetition scheme for a chosen movement, one to three days per week.

I have personally found that using this ladder method does wonders for increasing the Pull-up, and have found good results experimenting with other major lifts like the Overhead Press and Deadlift.

Being stronger in these lifts is the secret to power, mass and leanness.

The problem with Stair-master

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The Stair-master is a piece of gym equipment that has been designed to simulate the climbing of stairs. First of all, no machine will ever beat the real life task of climbing a set of stairs or hiking up the side of a mountain. The satisfaction of making it to the summit, along with the view, will always surpass the view of the gym car park or a row of televisions and or mirrors.

However when used correctly, the Stair-master can be used to supplement your training and have some cardiovascular benefits along with being a great tool in developing strength and endurance in the lower body.

This is not always the case as the majority of people are using the machine incorrectly.

The problem with the Stair-master
Almost every time you walk into a gym you will find people who don’t know how to use a Stair-master, or many of the cardio machines for that matter. The machine is meant to simulate climbing up stairs. Pretty basic right? Yet still you will find many people who find it necessary to add all of these un-natural movement patterns to try to complicate a simple movement.

Common mistakes people make on the Stair-master
In no particular order these are just some of the mistakes people make using the Stair-master.

Stair-master kickbacks
Not really sure how this movement developed? Did someone say that this would help give you bigger more developed glutes or did you see someone else doing this exercise so you thought it was worth giving it a go?

Just Squat. And Hinge. The act of kicking out your leg while using the machine does nothing for you other than giving you the impression that you think you’re actually doing something productive.

After you finish squatting, do some glute bridges and kettlebell swings.

Stair-master hanging
There are only two reasons you should need to hang on to the rails of a Stair-master:

  • You’re an older trainer and have poor balance;
  • You’re completely new to working out (or walking) and have developed no balance.

If you fall into the second category, you need to slow the machine down or take a walk around the park.

Stair-master sideways walking
Why? Is it because someone somewhere told you need to try to develop the outside (or inside) of your legs? Those muscles are probably already tight on you and if they’re not then going sideways on a Stair-master isn’t going to fix that.

Stair-master reading
Do you go to the gym to workout or do you go to the gym to read the latest gossip on the bachelor? There is a time and place for everything. Focus on the task at hand. If you want a good workout, then do a good workout.

Stair-master slump
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How often do you walk into the cardio section of the gym and see people slumped over on the Stair-master? The aim of the machine is to simulate the climbing of stairs. There is zero transferable skill to slumping while conducting this movement pattern.

It’s bad enough to sit slumped over at your desk all day, but to go to the gym afterwards and make it worse by slumping over on a machine for an hour? One of the main reasons the gym exists today is to help correct the imbalances created by living in the concrete jungle.

Just slow down, stand up straight, chest up and shoulders back. And get those hands off the rails!

Chasing calories on the Stair-master
Why? Because you need to burn 500 calories so you could eat some food afterwards? Or the night before? There is another whole post here. Chasing calories will not develop successful training or eating patterns.

Firstly, if you’re slumped over and holding onto the rails then the number on the display isn’t even an accurate measure of calories burned.

Secondly, all this is doing is creating a negative relationship with both exercise and food. This will almost always end in failure.

How to use a Stair-master effectively

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This picture tells a thousand words. Try a real set of stairs. Get outdoors and go for a hike. There is no machine that is going to help you with your movement so you actually have to do the work. You can’t lean on anything. You can’t read. It’s just hard work.

And that works.