My Experience With Food Intolerance

Before I began competing in 2009, I could pretty much eat whatever I wanted without any digestive or reactive consequence. All that changed by the time I earned my IFBB Pro Card in 2013, when I developed a number of food intolerances which forced me to change the way I ate and what I consumed. It was so bizarre for me to mount reactions to healthy foods which had never caused an issue in the past. During one particular contest prep regimen, I began to notice that every single time I ate broccoli, I would get severe abdominal cramps and a headache which persisted for an entire day (now they last for 3-5 days if I am stupid enough to eat even one small floret). I honestly believe that the extreme and repetitive meal plans which I consumed while competing were major factors in the development of my food intolerance issues.

I retired from competing in June of 2014, yet I developed even more food issues. I noticed that other foods were aggravating my gut, my skin, my head and my mood, so I decided to eliminate them. In January of 2015, I had an ALCAT food intolerance test, and discovered that broccoli on the list of offending foods for me. I also had SEVERE gluten intolerance, as well as intolerance to coconut, flaxseed, mangoes, casein, blueberries, and a number of other foods which are considered healthy. In an effort to allow my body to calm down, I eliminated every food which I had any intolerance to (there were about 30 foods) for close to a year. To this day, I am very careful about the foods which my body rejects, and keep my exposure to a minimum.

I will allow myself to have blueberries, coconut, mango, lobster, cashews, bison, and spinach on rare occasion, and have noticed no reactions. However, I mount strong reactions to other foods and food combinations. For example, within two consecutive days of eating flaxseed, I develop one or two deep, painful, cystic pimples on my face which will not resolve until I stop eating flaxseed. When I eat gluten, I become irritable and emotional, I get headaches, my belly aches, and I don’t sleep well. Of course I didn’t know that this was the case until I did an elimination diet and gradually began feeling better, then tried eating gluten after many months of avoiding it. Every time I ingest gluten containing foods, I notice symptoms which can be mild or severe depending on the food and the quantity eaten. Pizza is VERY dangerous for me now, so if I am faced with the prospect of eating the cheesy, gluten filled meal, I have to take a Glutagest (which breaks down gluten in the food eaten) if I want to avoid the ugly consequences of allowing gluten to enter my body. The combination of pizza and wine is even worse. I might as well forget about functioning like a normal person for a couple of days if I dare to consume this food and drink duo.

I agree that the whole gluten-free trend has gotten a little out of hand, but I also strongly believe that there are many people walking around with gluten intolerance and other food intolerances who have no idea that the foods they are consuming are affecting their health and well-being. I have personally benefitted from going gluten free and avoiding foods my body rejects, and have been rewarded with more luminous skin, thicker hair, better digestion, better overall mood and energy, and much better sleep.

If you suspect that you have food intolerance, try eliminating the suspect food to see if it makes a difference. Trust your body’s signals. And if you want to get a food intolerance test, check out ALCAT.com and Everlywell.com for the kits they offer.

Advertisements

Anti-Inflammatory Meds and Muscle Growth

NOTE: This was originally written for Oxygen Mag digital version.

There has been a heated debate over many years within the bodybuilding community about whether anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen sodium hinder muscle growth. These medications inhibit the synthesis of prostaglandins, which also play a role in muscle synthesis. All it took was one clinical study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism to put bodybuilders into a panic about reduced protein synthesis, and it didn’t matter that such results were found in laboratory rats. While there is some evidence to suggest that the anabolic signal is shut off when anti-inflammatories circulate in the bloodstream, nothing is absolutely conclusive, and what might be seen in the rat model might not necessarily be the case for humans.

While I will never advocate chronic use of painkillers and anti-inflammatory agents, I think they definitely serve a purpose when acute injury is present. When I find myself in the middle of disputes with bodybuilders who INSIST that a few days on such medications will completely destroy all their efforts in the gym, I simply shake my head in frustration. If you are injured and your lifting is adversely affected by the injury, whether it be a muscle strain, a ligament tear, or a minor disc herniation, you need to be aware that training through that injury, especially when it deranges your form and causes other body parts to compensate for the injury, will end up really messing you up over time. I honestly think that a minimal decrease in muscle mass over the course of a few days is preferable to the imbalance and asymmetry which usually occur when a bodybuilder foolishly pushes through heavy workouts despite an injury which has a domino effect on the body.

Common sense, and medical expertise, dictate that the inflammation must be removed from the area, most commonly through short term administration of anti-inflammatory agents, ice, and rest. Trust me, if you follow a regimen like this, you won’t lose all the muscle you have built over the years. Be sure to take these medications with food, and if you have any history of gastric ulcers. bleeding disorders, or kidney dysfunction, avoid taking them.

Remember that I am talking about DAYS, not weeks or months. This is one time when eating constantly has its benefits, since bodybuilders and fitness people can pretty easily fit in their medication administration with one of their meals. I know it’s difficult to back off from training, but if you truly want to HEAL, you must give the injured area time to repair itself. If you insist on continuing to train through the injury, especially, without any medications or other interventions on board, you can count on the injury either lingering or worsening over time.

No Olympia For Me This Year

Fun times from Olympia 2011 with Anca and Farinaz

For the past seven years, I have attended Olympia every year and have always enjoyed the whole experience. This year, however, I will not be attending since the main sports supplement company I work with, SWAT Fuel, will not have a presence there this time around. What is strange for me is that I am not bothered by the fact that I won’t be rubbing elbows with the fitness and bodybuilding icons I have come to know over the years. In some sense I am actually relieved that I will get a break this year, since I have been traveling more this year and could use a staycation.

For those of you who are wondering what event I will be at next, please come by and say hi at the Ferrigno Legacy on November 18th and 19th. I will be at the Flexpo, handing out samples of SWAT Fuel’s 9mm+P, which is a combination preworkout/endurance/thermogenic formula unlike anything else on the market!

For more information and tickets to the Ferrigno Legacy, please visit: https://www.ferrignolegacy.com/

Jerry Frederick Of Ironman Magazine Fame

While at Joe Wheatley’s Muscle Beach event on Labor Day, I had the pleasant surprise of seeing Jerry Frederick, whom I hadn’t seen in several years. He was sitting under the main canopy, with his ever-present breakaway reading glasses around his neck. I was just tickled to see him. For those of you in the bodybuilding world, you know that this man had worked for Ironman Magazine as one of their staff photographers for several decades. He has always had a strong passion for the world of competitive bodybuilding, and has gone out of his way to create content with athletes such as myself to use for features within the publication.

Jerry and I chatted for several minutes, and he was full of smiles and that sweet, gentle demeanor which makes him so loveable. I was saddened to hear that he has a neuromuscular disorder which could be Parkinson’s but which hasn’t been definitively diagnosed yet. Hopefully Jerry will be placed on a treatment plan which halts the progression of the disorder.

Why We Crave Bad Foods

Most of us have certain food cravings, and for some of us, those cravings can be frequent and incredibly strong. Scientists have determined that there is a biological basis for food cravings, so those cravings may be next to impossible to avoid. First of all, our prehistoric ancestors had to deal with a very limited supply of calorie dense food because they had to hunt for it. They constantly dealt with a feast or famine lifestyle, a stark contrast to modern times, in which plenty of food is readily available.

Programmed To Crave

The prehistoric human brain would respond to a sudden caloric intake by releasing serotonin and dopamine, both of which created a sense of well-being. This release of brain chemicals also occurs in modern humans. In addition, meals which are high in fat and sugar result in decreased production of stress-related hormones.

The bottom line is that our brains are programmed to crave and seek foods which are high in calories, fat, carbs and salt, just like our ancestors, who rarely had meat protein, and only after a successful hunt. It’s no surprise that fatty, caloric foods are associated with feelings of contentment, especially since we tend to have more cravings when we are anxious or under stress.

According to research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, three regions of the brain (hippocampus, caudate and insula) light up when a subject craves a certain food. In another study, by Adam Drewnowski, PhD, when pleasure-sensing opiate receptors in the brain were blocked, subjects no longer craved sugary or high fat foods.

How To Control Cravings

Though carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap in recent years, it is the combination of carbohydrates with fat and salt that appears to be the winning combination for foods which spark cravings. Prime examples are pizza, French fries, and macaroni and cheese.

Individuals who have a greater degree of willpower are usually best off with having a small serving of the food they crave, which satisfies the craving. However, some people lack the ability to control the desire to indulge in cravings, and tend to binge on decadent foods. In such cases, the best thing to do is to avoid stocking those foods entirely.

What The Hell Is “If It Fits Your Macros” Anyway?

You have probably heard about the “If It Fits Your Macros” (or IIFYM) trend which has been increasing in popularity within the fitness and bodybuilding world. It’s not surprising that the concept was embraced and developed by people within the industry who were sick and tired of adhering to monotonous, restrictive meal plans in which the vast majority of foods were labeled as evil and forbidden. On a personal note, I jumped on the IIFYM bandwagon as well because I was fed up with avoiding certain so-called “bad” foods and also dealing with metabolic burnout from years of caloric restriction. What surprised me was the positive manner in which my body responded to taking in maintenance calories as opposed to constantly functioning at a caloric deficit which only served to slow down my metabolism.

The term macro refers to the principal nutrients which the body requires: protein, fat, carbohydrates. IIFYM dictates that as long as you fulfill the energy needs of your body, you can obtain calories from any food source. Let’s face it: your body needs a certain amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat, along with fiber and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals in order to function optimally, but it doesn’t scrutinize every macronutrient gram as it is thrown into the body. On the other side of the coin, it is also important to bear in mind that most proponents of IIFYM do not consume large amounts of junk food either. As long as quality protein is consumed in adequate amounts to contribute to muscle growth and repair, along with micronutrients and dietary fiber to support normal digestion, it shouldn’t matter if a small percentage of caloric daily intake is obtained from discretionary or junk food items.

My personal opinion is that the quality of carbs still should come into play if you are employing an IIFYM approach. However, if the majority of carbs comes from quality sources such as oats, sweet potatoes and brown rice, a small amount of junk carbs (cookies, Pop Tarts) shouldn’t tip the balance too much. I am a fan of carb BACKloading and believe the largest insulin spike should come at night before you sleep, since you will be fasting for several hours.

I know some of you are still reading this with great skepticism and want to hold onto your six boring meals of tilapia and green beans every day, refusing to accept the concept of loosening the reins a bit and actually enjoying a variety of foods. IIFYM doesn’t mean that you lose control and eat whatever you want, whenever you want. What it DOES mean is that foods will no longer be forbidden or “bad”, and that you can actually consume them on a fairly regular basis as long as you keep track of your daily nutrient intake.

The main drawback of IIFYM is that you must track your food intake, which in a sense is another form of food fixation. However, there is a greater chance that you will meet your body’s nutrient needs than if you follow a cookie cutter, calorie restricted, orthorexia lover’s contest prep meal plan. When clean eating is followed 100% and the majority of food sources are banned, caloric restriction is almost inevitable. Such caloric restriction, when practiced for an extended period of time, will cause fat loss to stall and metabolism to slow down.

How about if you met your macronutrient needs without having to banish most foods from your diet? So many people in the world of fitness suffer from orthorexia, a psychopathological condition in which foods are labeled as “good” or “bad”, and in which individuals become socially isolated over their need to eat “correctly”. I have seen so many competitors struggle with an increasing difficulty in losing fat, so their coaches restrict their calories even more and ban more foods from their meal plans. Fruit, healthy fats, and healthy carbs are stripped away in an effort to lean the competitor out. Another thing to consider is what food deprivation does to people. If a food is “bad”, suddenly the temptation to indulge in that bad food is intensified.

You might want to consider trying IIFYM if you are in a slump with your current meal plan. You may feel like a hamster on a very boring and restrictive “clean eating” wheel in which you are only allowed to eat very specific foods in certain combinations. For some of you who have been doing this incessantly for years, you may have noticed over time that it has become more and more difficult to lose weight. Your meal plan is probably VERY rigid and VERY boring, consisting of foods you are probably so sick of that if you never had to eat them ever again, you would rejoice in the streets for days. Give IIFYM a try. You might be pleasantly surprised at how your body responds.

Weight Training Won’t Make You Big, Ladies!

This was taken the day I won my IFBB Pro Card. I was training 4-5 hours a day at the gym, lifting heavy. I never got bigger than this, nor did I want to.

It still boggles my mind how many women are afraid to lift weights for fear that they will become huge and look like big, hulking men. How wrong they are! I will tell you right now that the answer to the question which serves as the title of this feature is, completely, unequivocally, NO. I often speak with female clients and patients of all ages who lament the fact that they cannot get the sculpted, lean bodies they covet, despite working out regularly. The problem stems from a couple of things:

1. They do not feed their bodies properly.
2. They do not lift weights, or if they do, they do not practice a lifting regimen that would bring about the physical changes they want.

I see ladies at the gym who will jump on a cardio machine for 20 to 30 minutes of easy cardio, then, if they had an indulgent night of eating or partying, they may extend their cardio sessions for a longer period of time at the same intensity. Before or after this, they may hit a few sets of uninspired exercises with light weights. These women barely break a sweat, yet they expect their bodies to transform. I’ve got news for you: that type of workout will ensure that you remain at the same level of fitness, and over time, you will see what little conditioning you may have plummet despite all your consistency.

It is a gross misconception that by lifting light weights and taking it easy at the gym, they will avoid getting bulky and will tone their muscles. Women are built differently than men, and simply do not have the testosterone levels necessary to build significant, bulky muscle mass. You need to challenge your body and create the muscle microtears necessary to build shapely, lean muscle. That means you need to lift heavier weights and break a sweat!

There are a multitude of benefits to lifting heavier weights, which I detail below.

CURVY, LEAN MUSCLE:

When you lift heavier weights, you will be rewarded with better muscle definition. Lifting very light weights will never challenge the muscles, so the muscles will never grow. I know I have scared some ladies, but think about a woman who has great muscle tone, but is still lean and feminine. A woman like that lifts weights that are heavy enough to spark muscle growth. If you follow suit, you will end up lean and more defined without being bulky.

GREATER OVERALL STRENGTH:

By lifting heavier weights, you will become stronger, and everyday activities will become easier to perform. You will also gain more structural stability from the greater muscle density which can protect your back and your joints.

IMPROVED BALANCE, COORDINATION AND POSTURE:

By improving muscle tone through weight training, you will enjoy better balance, greater overall coordination, and better posture.

IMPROVED BONE DENSITY:

Resistance training improves bone density by stressing the bones, thus triggering bone growth. This confers a protective effect against development of osteoporosis, especially in petite women.

HIGHER METABOLISM:

When you work out with heavier weights, you create tears in the muscles worked. When you do this, you expend a greater number of calories in order to repair those microtears.

LOWER BODY FAT:

Your body fat stores, particularly in the midsection, will be better utilized when you perform weight training with heavier weights.

PREVENTION OF MAJOR DISEASES:

Challenging weight training with heavier weights will reduce your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. It will also lower LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol. In addition, your risk of diabetes and breast cancer will drop significantly.

BETTER IMMUNE SYSTEM FUNCTION:

Moderate exercise reduces stress, and by doing so, enables your body to produce more white blood cells to combat infection. In addition, the shift in attention from the troubles of the day while you are weight training will reduce the stress which can suppress your immune system.

GREATER WELL-BEING:

Vigorous resistance training boosts endorphin (natural opiates produced in the brain) levels, which create a sense of well-being. It will also stave off depression and produce a more restful sleep.

REDUCED PMS SYMPTOMS:

As stated previously, weight training is a terrific mood elevator and regulator. It also has a positive impact on hormone levels, increasing blood levels of estrogen, growth hormone, and testosterone. This counteracts the drop in estrogen and rise in progesterone which occurs right around the time before menstruation.