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I Want to Look More Muscular. What’s the Best Way to Make Gains?

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There’s one thing that all the biggest, most muscular people on the planet have in common.

It’s not great genetics.

(Good genes help, but plenty of people have gotten huge without having been blessed with it at birth.)

It’s not that they all just live at the gym and do nothing else, or follow some magical workout. (When it comes to building muscle, many different approaches — low rep/high weight, high rep/low weight, straight sets, supersets, and on and on — can work. There is no one that’s “best.”)

And it’s not that they’re on performance-enhancing drugs. (You can pack on plenty of muscle naturally — look no further than any drug-free bodybuilding competition for proof.)

The thing they all have in common is this:

Patience.

Not the answer you expected? Here’s why being patient is so important.

The Problem with Bulking and Cutting

First, when most people set out to build muscle, they go through a phase where they eat a lot and train a lot. You’ve probably heard it called “bulking.”

Then, after a few weeks or months, they switch. Maybe they get self-conscious about the size the gained. Or maybe they think they’re starting to look fat. So they trim back on calories and change their training to try and burn the fat off. This phase is called “cutting.”

Most people bounce back and forth between these two phases — bulking and cutting, bulking and cutting — without making any real progress. Why? Because each new phase undoes the success of the last.

On our website, we’ve talked about Set Point Theory. It’s the idea that the body identifies with a certain weight and then becomes resistant to change. In our previous article, we discussed how it applied to weight loss. It’s one of the reasons why losing weight — and keeping it off — can be so hard.

But the concept also applies to muscle gain. Your body is used to being a certain weight. When you change that through strength training, it will take measures to go back to how it was — unless you teach it that this more muscular weight is it’s new normal.

Have a Born Fitness coach guide your gainz!

 

You teach your body that through what’s called a maintenance phase. In a lecture on his site Renaissance Periodization, Dr. Mike Israetel discusses how people hold themselves back if they do not include this phase in their training. (The content itself is paywalled, but totally worth buying if you like to nerd out on the science of muscle-building.)

I don’t want to give too much away or do violence to the quality and depth of his explanation. So I’ll summarize it like this: During a maintenance phase, you ease up on training a little bit. And you aim to eat what’s called an isocaloric diet, meaning you try to eat as many calories as you’d need, but not more.

Sample Muscle-Building Macronutrient Formula

This formula from Adam’s Great Abs Experiment will help:

For Total Calories Per Day:

Take the body weight you wish to maintain and multiply it by 10 if you are training 1 hour or less per week. For each additional hour you train per week, add 1 to the multiplier. So if you’d muscled up to 200 pounds, and trained 4 hours per week, you’d multiply 13 by 200 and get 2,600 calories per day as your mark. You can split that total across however many meals per day you prefer to eat (two, three, four, five, whatever).

Protein:

Eat at least 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. So if you were 200 pounds, you’d aim for 200 grams of protein (800 calories total) per day.

Fat:

Eat half a gram of fat per pound of bodyweight. So at 200 pounds, you’d target 100 grams of fat (900 calories) per day.

Carbohydrates:

Determine how many carbohydrates to eat by subtracting the protein and fat calories from your daily total, and then dividing the remainder by 4. To continue the example we’ve been using here, it would be 2,600 calories total minus 800 calories (protein) and 900 calories (fat), leaving you with 900 calories for carbs. Divide that by 4 and you get 225 calories of carbs per day.

While the length of your maintenance phase can vary, you’d want to approach it as if it were something you could do for several months or even years. Why? Because — again — you want this to be your new normal.

You want to think of building muscle not in terms of days and weeks, but months and years. The biggest, most muscular people in the world are the ones who show up for training, again and again, for years on end.

READ MORE: 

Adding Muscle At Any Age: Defying Genetics And Designing The Muscle Building Workout

The New Rules Of Specialization: How To Add Muscle Mass

How To Master The Art Of “Old School” Muscle Building

5 Muscle Building Mistakes (And How To Make Gains)

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How to Use Turmeric (And What Everyone Gets Wrong)

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If you’re not a fan of Indian food, health researchers have been experiencing health breakthroughs that might make you rethink adding curry into your diet.

Turmeric, a mustard-yellow spice from Asia that is a spice often used in yellow curry, is being linked to everything from less inflammation to fighting cancer. And it’s worth your attention.

The spice gets its coloring from a compound called curcumin, which is the real secret behind all of the alleged health benefits of turmeric. The University of Maryland Medical Center found that curcumin can help to improve chronic pain by suppressing inflammatory chemicals in the body, an additional study found that it reduces pain in those with osteoarthritis.

Before you start making curry or bombing turmeric/curcumin shots at your local juice bar, there are a few things you need to know. (You always know a trend is hot when coffee shops are testing it in their fancy drinks and you’ll see “golden milk” products everywhere.)

how to use turmeric

When it comes to turmeric, there’s a bit of a bait-and-switch effect. Just because something is good does not mean that any amount will make you feel better. Curcumin can work, but like any supplement, how you take it — and how much you use — matters most.

The Benefits of Turmeric (And Curcumin)

Research on curcumin is making it harder and harder to deny its benefits. Most supplements are as reliable as my Magic 8-ball. (Everyone under 30 is currently Googling “What is a Magic 8-ball?). Lots of hype, but once tested under the rigors (and typically unbiased nature) of science, the outlook is not so good.

But, that’s where curcumin is breaking the mold.

There’s already substantial research showing curcumin can help with everything from inflammation, to fighting pain (as effective as 2000 mg of acetaminophen), and might be effective at helping prevent diseases like prostate cancer. 

A team of Chinese researchers performed a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials to assess curcumin’s effect on blood lipids of people at risk for cardiovascular disease and found that curcumin significantly lowered low-density lipoproteins (the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides (another thing that most people want less of in their bloodstream). 

How to Use Turmeric (And Curcumin)

The catch with the benefits above? Sprinkling turmeric (as a means of getting curcumin) into your coffee, on your meals, or eating more Indian food is not going to make a big impact. That’s like sprinkling fairy dust on your shoulders and thinking you’ll grow wings and fly (sorry, but it’s true).

The potency of what is tested in the research is not anywhere near what you would add to your favorite dish or latte.

If you want any benefit from curcumin, you’ll need to take a concentrated dose of anywhere from 500 mg (for lowering triglycerides) to 2,000 mg (reducing pain, similar to taking Tylenol), depending on what aspect of your health you’re trying to improve.

And, unless you’re using an entire container of turmeric spice in your meal, you won’t get anywhere near that from food.

Just as important, the absorption of curcumin in turmeric is very poor. That doesn’t mean all hope is lost, but it does mean you need to take with specific foods or add additional ingredients to help your body experience all of the benefits.

The “easy button?” Instead of eating or drinking turmeric, take an extract that has exactly what your body needs.

According to examine.com, here’s what you can do to maximize the effectiveness of curcumin:

  • To supplement curcumin with piperine, take 500 mg of the former with 20 mg of the latter, thrice a day (i.e., 1,500 mg of curcumin and 60 mg of piperine per day).
  • To supplement BCM-95®, a patented combination of curcumin and essential oils, take 500 mg twice a day (i.e., 1,000 mg/day).
  • To supplement Meriva®, a patented combination of curcumin and soy lecithin, take 200–500 mg twice a day (i.e., 400–1,000 mg/day).

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Chimichurri Street Tacos: The Perfect Party Food

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Game Day food is best eaten by hand, am I right? And it doesn’t get better (or easier) than these Chimichurri Street Tacos. They’re easy to prepare and will please meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike. 

Picture this: beef strips (or tofu!) smothered in a zesty chimichurri sauce, with bright sauteed peppers and onions, all wrapped in a fresh tortilla. Pair these with our high-protein nachos, and you’ve got a big game spread that’s sure to be a touchdown (yes, pun intended). 

The best part? Just set the fillings out and let your guests build their own taco. Party planning is done. 

Chimichurri Street Tacos

Makes 8-12 tacos

You can prepare your beef on the grill then slice it or start with slices and bake it in the oven (shown in this recipe). 

  • 1 lb top sirloin (or cut of your choice), cut into thin slices
  • 4 oz extra firm Tofu, well-drained and diced
  • 4 oz shiitake or portabella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut into slices
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into slices
  • 2 cups raw red cabbage, shredded 
  • 12 small corn or flour “street taco” shells
  • Plain non-fat Greek yogurt for topping (optional)

Makes 2-3 cups 

Traditional chimichurri sauces use more oil, however, I scaled back on the oil and replaced it with water. This recipe uses avocado oil in place of traditional olive oil, but olive oil is a fine option. The amount of sauce you get will depend on how much water you add. 

  • 1 packed cup flat parsley
  • 1 shallot, cut into large chunks
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1-2 cloves garlic 
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup avocado oil
  • Water 

How To Make Chimichurri Sauce:

In a food processor or blender, combine parsley, shallot, vinegar, garlic, oregano, cumin, and salt. Pulse until the ingredients are combined. Add avocado oil and pulse until coarsely pureed. While the food processor is running, slowly add a small amount of water.

Stop the blade and check the consistency. If you want it thinner, add more water and run the food processor for another 5-10 seconds. 

Note: Don’t over processes the sauce or it will be too liquidy. Add a little water at a time and run the blade in 5-10 second increments. The texture should be slightly coarse, not silky smooth. 

How To Make The Tacos:

Place beef strips in a bowl. Top with ¼ cup of chimichurri sauce and toss to coat the beef. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

In a separate bowl, add tofu and ¼ cup of chimichurri sauce. Gently toss and coat the tofu. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. Reserve the remaining chimichurri for a topping. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Remove the sirloin and tofu from the marinade. Discard used chimichurri. Place the tofu on one side of the baking sheet and the beef on the other side (or use two separate baking sheets). 

Bake until the beef is cooked through. Approximately 10-15 minutes. (Longer if you like your beef well done).

While the tofu and beef are baking, saute the mushrooms, bell pepper, and onion in a pan on medium heat until slightly tender. Note: To reduce calories use water instead of oil to saute your vegetables. 

Once your beef, tofu, and vegetables are cooked it is time to assemble your tacos. On a taco shell, layer up your vegetables, protein of choice, fresh red cabbage, additional chimichurri sauce, and yogurt. 

Enjoy!

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Why Activated Charcoal Has More Health Risk Than Reward

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Remember when getting a lump of coal from Santa meant you were bad? These days, coal — or activated charcoal, to be exact — is offered in health stores, smoothies, and supplements as a “cure-all” cleanser for a variety of health ailments.

While most cleanses or detoxes have no science behind them (primarily because most prey on fear and don’t deliver any real health benefit) activated charcoal is a different nature. There is reason to believe that charcoal could help cleanse your body because of different uses in emergency rooms. 

But, believe it or not, research shows that slipping random amounts of activated charcoal into products might be worse than your run-of-the-mill miracle cleanse. 

Does Activated Charcoal Work?

The rise of activated charcoal as a health cure starts in the medical community. It’s used in emergency rooms — quite effectively, might I add — to help people fight drug overdoses (oftentimes from OTC meds like acetaminophen).

Charcoal helps prevent the spread of toxins from overdosing to try and limit the danger and risk to your body. That’s great for dangerous and scary situations, but supplement manufacturers took it one step further and suggested that charcoal could prevent the spread of all toxins in your body. 

Unfortunately, emergency situations do not directly apply to general use. And there are a few reasons why taking active charcoal won’t help detox your body or rid you of toxins.

When activated charcoal is given in the ER, the standard dose is about 25 to 50 grams. If you look at the most “popular” activated charcoal products on the market, the dose is 250 milligrams. That means you’re receiving — at most — about 100x less the amount you need to “detox.” And, typically, the dose needs to be given as soon as possible. 

The Risks of Activated Charcoal

An article on CNN showed that even if the activated charcoal is doing its job, it can be a very bad thing. 

You see, activated charcoal works by binding to ingredients (like when it binds to acetaminophen) and preventing it from spreading in your body. But, it’s not selective. The charcoal doesn’t know to bind only to the bad. It just knows to bind. That means the charcoal could be stripping your body of the good nutrients it needs.

So products that are loaded with vitamins and minerals and activated charcoal are essentially worthless. That’s because the activated charcoal will bind to those vitamins and minerals and prevent them from being absorbed in your body. 

 

Does Activated Charcoal Whiten Teeth or Reduce Odor?

In addition to being positioned as a detoxifier, activated charcoal has a variety of health and wellness claims. It’s always your choice if you want to experiment and see if something works for you, but here’s an eye-opening look at what research shows about activated charcoal.

According to Consumer Reports, activated charcoal does not whitten teeth or work to remove body odor.

“There are no published studies on charcoal used for whitening, for example; one unpublished experiment presented at a dentistry conference noted that “fine black charcoal powder” could actually become embedded in cracks or small holes in the teeth—doing the opposite of whitening. There are also no studies we found examining whether activated charcoal, particularly taken orally, might work to reduce general odors (either as a breath freshener or deodorant). There have been studies showing that activated charcoal dressings can tamp down foul stenches from skin wounds and ulcers. But if you have an infected wound or ulcer, you should seek treatment or advice from a doctor before trying any form of activated charcoal.”

More importantly, the health risks are fairly significant.

  • Activated charcoal can bind with some medications, including some antidepressants and anti-inflammatory medications, causing them to be less effective. This could have serious health consequences for some people, but it’s not explained on bottles or packaging where activated charcoal is being sold.
  • Activated charcoal will only bind with whatever particles are in your stomach or intestines at the time that you take it. It works by coming into physical contact with your intestinal contents. If you’re trying to use it to detox from the alcohol and kebab you had the night before, it won’t do anything at all because they have been absorbed into your bloodstream already.
  • Activated charcoal slows down your bowel and is known to cause nausea and constipation (and black stools).

Bottom line: while most activated charcoal products offer a dose that is probably too low to see results, if you decide to take it, you have more downside than upside, and it’s likely not worth your money (or the hype).

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