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Sunday, 29 July 2012

REVIEW: Nuique DHA/EPA pills

The brand new algae-based DHA/EPA pill on the market is from Nuique.  But before I get into that lets talk about DHA/EPA in general terms.  DHA & EPA are the oils that gained fame through fish oil products.  You can actually create DHA & EPA yourself from oils found in walnuts, flax seed (linseed), hemp seeds or chia seeds.  I suspect a lot of you are taking at least one of these regularly so why do you need a DHA/EPA pill at all if you can make it yourself?
For those in training (whether for health, competition, muscle gain or fat-loss) it is a matter of getting 'optimal' amounts.  Everything from gut health, stress, enzyme limitations & even activity levels can affect the transition of the omega 3 fatty acid ALA into DHA or EPA.  These fats are actually vital to health & for anyone in training you could think of these fats as great for repair & creation of cells, for maximising hormones & they are also used by the brain for nerve repair & synapse function.
Assuming you eat something like walnuts, flax seeds or hemp you probably won't become deficient in DHA/EPA, but you may not reach optimal levels, so you may be training your butt off, resting enough, cutting down on stress, but still not getting all the gains you are after.  Having enough DHA/EPA also seems to affect fat storage this is because when you are short the body switches up fat storage to try & grab every ounce of omega-3 fatty acids it can find & any other fat is just stored away as a by-product of that process, so if fat-loss is a goal you could be short changing yourself by not taking DHA/EPA pill.
So, with that in mind I prefer everyone I train to be taking DHA/EPA whatever their goal is, unless they a specific issue like excessive bleeding or similar as DHA/EPA can thin the blood, so consult your doctor before starting this supplement if that is the case.
Now you have some idea why you may want to take a DHA/EPA pill, but why take an algae-based pill as there are so many fish-based ones out there?  Well, first of all there is the obvious ethical issue.  Fish are animals, so avoiding killing them for a pill is always a good idea!  Secondly fish actually get the DHA/EPA from algae in the first place, but whereas algae are at the bottom of the food chain, krill & fish are both much higher up that chain & so toxins can build up in fats the higher up the food chain it goes, so whereas DHA/EPA from algae is ultra pure & free from virtually all contamination, you cannot guarantee the same sort of purity in any of the krill or fish based oils out there, so getting an algae-based oil makes total sense whatever dietary choice you make.  Finally you have to remember that DHA/EPA makes up only some parts of krill or fish oil which also contains saturated fats & other non-vital fats in their make-up & so some of the product is just extra fat in your diet.
There are several brands of algae-based DHA/EPA on the market right now, so let's look at the differences.  Most of the pills have around the same amount of DHA & EPA in them, but a couple of advantages with the Nuique brand are:
1/  They contain nothing but DHA & EPA - no other oils are added to bulk the product, so you get zero unnecessary added fat in your diet, you only get the Essential Fatty Acids you are after with nothing added, nothing taken away.  Some of the other brands have things like added omega-6 fatty acids, which are an essential fatty also, but everyone easily gets enough of them already.

2/ The second point relates to the first.  Due to the pills being only filled with DHA & EPA, with nothing else, they are also the smallest & easiest pills to swallow in this class that I have seen, so if you have any issues swallowing pills, then this could be vital to you.  I must admit I did a test of biting one open & it did kind of taste of the sea, that is about the best description I can give.  It was not horrible by any means, so if you really cannot swallow any pill then you can always pop it & either squeeze it into your mouth, add to a shake or similar.

Taking DHA/EPA could help achy joints, could help brain function, could help the immune system & could  help cells repair or replace as necessary.  Any one of these reasons should be enough for a person to consider adding this supplement to their list of regularly taken.  Adding a couple of pills costs pennies & could save a person so much that it hardly seems worth considering 'not' doing it!  So, if you are looking for a pill that contains only DHA & EPA & doesn't contain any fillers or other products you may not want, then this should product should definitely be one on your list to check out.
For more details check out & at the time of writing they are offering a 3 for the price of 2 offer, so it really is dirt cheap to try out!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Stress & training

Today I am going to talk about some factors that are often overlooked in training.  You know how you can be going along nicely, all those gains are coming like clockwork & that new PR seems just around the corner, then suddenly WHAM! the gains dry up, the strength goes down & you are like a shadow of yourself just a week ago?  There are obviously a multitude of reasons for this to occur, but I would like to talk about one.
I would like to talk about stress.  Stress is a misunderstood term in many ways.  When you train you are in fact causing stress, every action or inaction results in a 'stress load' & each human has a unique 'stress threshold' which they cannot rise above, or can only do so briefly & with dire consequences.
Below I am going to use a really oversimplified example to get the idea across, so do not take this as literal, but as a means to get the idea lodged in your head.
First off with stress the body does not appear to differentiate between physical & mental stress, it appears to be lumped under one 'stress' banner.  This means that worry about a debt can be as hard on the body as say a serious deadlift session.  Secondly you have a set upper limit to the amount of stress you can recover from, if you go above that you will then cause serious repercussions to both your physical & mental well being.
So, let's move on to our hypothetical trainer called Bob.  Bob training 3 days a weeks pretty heavy & has made some decent gains, his job is ok, his relationship is ok & so is his life in general.  You could say if you had to draw it out the stress in his life would look something like:
His total stress is such that he can hit it hard in the gym & still recover really well.  Remember things like lack of sleep & partying can be stress (these can be piled into 'Life Stress'), but Bob doesn't party hard very often & is generally ok with his sleeping.  So, Bob trains, he makes gains slowly, but fairly steadily, obviously there are ups & downs, but generally Bob is doing ok.
Unfortunately Bob is in for a bit of bad news.  Bobs wife suddenly announces she is leaving him.  Bobs is shocked, he didn't expect this!  Suddenly, the 'Relationship stress' is through the roof!  If Bob tries to continue with his usual routine he may for a while be able to push through, but more than likely something will give!  He knows he has to continue with his job, possibly his 'Life stress' will go up as some things they shared, Bob now has to do.  The only thing that can really give is the training, so Bob's new stress pie chart could look something like:
Notice in this example Bob now has much less capacity to hit it in the gym. We used the simplified version where his work stress remained the same & so did his life stress, just to make this simple idea to understand, but obviously everything changes.  If you think about it this pie chart actually changes everyday.  There is also some spare capacity built-in to the system as you are not working with 100% of your maximum stress load everyday, but you get the idea - if stress increases in one area, it can adversely effect another area.  So, sometimes, during times of crisis (high stress) it is not only ok to back-off, but fairly vital.  You can create a basic, abbreviated routine using a couple of compound movements & work just on those.  I would not suggest quitting training, but modify them to suit times of stress.  If you have an exam, or a vital deadline, then working out out quickly can be a double bonus as you'll have more time to get the vital thing done.  If it's a death in the family or a divorce then you could find that you have little option other than backing off as the strength may be well down.
Remember higher stress also affects sleeping, eating & focus, so your training can be hit badly from multiple effects & it can seem that you fade to nothing in a week or so.  You just have to remember that this is just a temporary thing, you have not 'lost' that strength in one week, you have just put that capacity into recovery from another issue.  Once you are back on track you can regain & supersede that strength, but you have to give yourself time to get past the present issue.  Take things slowly, try to hold onto what strength you can, but do not 'stress it' (that will make things worse), it is better to crush 75% of your previous best & still be a winner in the gym, than fail at 90% & feel that extra stress of failure.  Lightening &/or shortening your routine will keep most of your strength during stressful periods & keep you ready to hit new highs when circumstances change.
Hopefully you can refer back to this the next time you hit a stressful patch in your life, or if you have friends who are going through this, then help them sort out their training, reassure them that this is not a permanent situation & advise them on ways they can survive & still come out with their training intact ready to fore fill new, exciting goals.
Finally there are ways you can lower stress.  Taking walks in nature, meditation, massage (not deep tissue), relaxing hobbies, sometimes reading, you know the sort of thing that calms you down & relaxes you, or find some new things that may lower that overall stress.  Lowering overall stress will aid your training goals, so take the time to discover a few ways you can ditch the stress & those gains will come in leaps & bounds!
So let's stay calm out there :-)

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

REVIEW: How to give a shit about your health (book)

As far as I know Karina Inkster is new to the field of health writing, at least I've never come across her before.  The book title might be a bit off-putting to some of you, but remember having names like "Skinny bitch" didn't do that book much harm, so if the name isn't to your taste, just ignore it & get into the what the book is all about.
The book is 100% plant based dietary information & is obviously written by someone who eats & trains, so they know our goals & understand the best ways to achieve them.  It is more of a 'getting started' book, but even for those of us who have been into it for a while it's still nice to read someone else's take on what needs to be done.  She advocates basic vegan wholefoods, nothing too weird or wonderful, covers basic foods you'll need to get you started, ways to avoid falling for sugary drinks cravings, covers the essential fatty acids issue, even includes recipes & of course basic training.  The only issue I found missing was I don't remember reading about the importance of B12 (which should, in my view be added to every athletes diet whether they are meat eaters, veggies or vegan). 
One other fact is the book is cheap.  Karina obviously wanted the book 'out there', so priced it in a way that means, you can easily buy one for yourself & a couple of friends who may be interested in moving towards a healthier lifestyle (that can either be a vegan in need of some health tips, a non-vegan in need of diet &/or health advice).
I would recommend this as a good starter pack if you want to move towards a healthier lifestyle.  I would actually say this is a much more sound program than say the 'Skinny bitch' approach, this program will actually get you heading towards optimal health.
To get the book click here & to check out more about Karina go to here site here (just a hint she also does personal training & nutritional advice if you need it).
As usual I get nothing for reviewing this, I just read the book & liked it & hopefully you will too!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

REVIEW: Reflex Nutrition's Vegan Protein

I got a tub of this new protein powder just the other day.  I went with the strawberry flavour as I am quite fond of the old red berry.  It's unusual to have a product called something like "Vegan Protein" rather than "mega-pump 10,000" or similar, which made for a nice change & for once you do not have to ask if it is suitable for vegans :-)

So, let's look at what's in it first, you can read a full list here.  It is basically a souped up pea protein that is lightly coloured (natural colouring), sweetened with stevia & has added stuff like probiotic, digestive enzymes etc.  It is 18.5g of protein per serving with a 1% carbs & 1.5% fats.  I think adding the digest enzymes & probiotic is a really good idea as large amounts of protein hitting the stomach without all those little micronutrients sometimes does need a little help getting into you (especially if you have several shakes a day, getting bad gas can be a bitch!).

Obviously with protein you don't get anything like a caffeine rush or similar "Wow! this is working man!" type of effect, so we'll get onto to taste.  As I said I have only tried out the strawberry, but that is pretty awesome!  It might be the best tasting protein out there (certainly top two or 3!).  If you have been put off by taste before then I'd suggest you give this one a go.  I actually played about a bit & found adding a banana or two & mixing with soya milk gave you a pretty good milkshake!  I'm guessing you could play about & make desserts with this product as well, maybe making a mousse-like effect or other treats that can be made using a flavoured protein powder (that's a challenge to all you cooks out there-let's have some recipes).
Other good points about Reflex Nutrition is that it uses green technology to produce their products, so less energy is wasted & it uses only renewable energy!

I give a big thumbs up to this new protein & I will be getting the other flavours over time, if you've tried them post below!

Between the 8- 13 July 2012 we will be running a contest to win your own tub of this fab new protein, so pop over to the facebook group here & check out the contest!
If you don't win, no worries simply pop over to here & check out the different flavours.  I can 100% recommend the Strawberry & hopefully the others will be just as good!

Vegan Health & fitness magazine

Is a new magazine produced in the US.  I've seen the first issue & it's pretty good.  We need a magazine like this, so if you can support this by subscribing then that would be great.  Paper copies are available in both the US & now UK!  In the rest of the world you can still enjoy the magazine in e-magazine format.  As a member you get the magazine & access to the members area of the website.
To get the magazine or to just a peep into some of the first issue pop over to here & see what all the fuss is about!

REVIEW: Matt Vincent Training lab (book)

This was a book I got simply out of interest.  I am not into highland games, nor do I have any plans to train for or work with anyone interested in highland games.  I have never even been to a highland games event before.  Saying all that this is an interesting read.  It is not a long read (I was done in an evening), it does give you an idea of what you would have to do if you have compete over a long season, how to peak & also mentions the point that you cannot 'peak' for a whole season, you have to pick the time to excel during that season (a point missed in many, many publications).  I found it a useful guide for any strength athlete with a longer session & it could be used as such (you simply swap out the throwing with the skill work of your choice).  The concepts were pretty sound & as it's an ebook you could have it in moments if you think this might be of interest to you.
I'm not sure how many vegan highland games athletes there are in the world (if you are one I would love to hear from you!), but if you are then get this book, if you are interested in different styles of strength training then get this book.
It uses a form of block periodisation system with strength, speed/power & volume sections.  It also covers CV work, recovery, even what to take to highland games 'event' ('meet' or whatever you call a collection on competing highland games athletes?)
Final points, this book does have a few swear words in it (but if you've read any modern powerlifting stuff you know what to expect), just ignore that & find the useful nuggets.
You can get the book from here as usual we gain nothing from this review, just thought you'd find it useful.