Monday, July 31, 2017

Supplements for Muscle Growth


In this article I look at the top supplements to maximize muscle growth. I've researched what most people use and what gives you the best results in the shortest period of time possible. Live Strong, for example, recommends a good combination of pre and post workout supplements to speed up the growth of lean muscle mass

The best supplements that will help your muscles grow as fast as possible


1. Protein powder

Stack.com says that bigger muscles can require twice the amount of daily protein, compared to people who don't work out at all. Legionathletics.com lists protein powder as the top choice in their article of the best and worst supplements. You can get all of the protein that you need from natural food sources like meat, animal products and nuts. Protein powder, however, is still a great supplement to have for the following reasons:

Benefits of protein powder

  • Protein powder can be cheaper than food sources of protein, gram for gram. You can get the protein equivalent of a large piece of steak from a single protein shake. And a tub of protein powder gives you many shakes. This makes the cost of protein in powder form a fraction of the cost that it would be in food form.
  • Protein powder is convenient. It is a lot easier to throw together a shake with a scoop of powder and a mix of water or milk than to have a cooked and prepared protein source when you need it. You can carry the dry powder in a shaker in your car, bag or locker and simply mix it with water when needed. When it is not mixed with wet ingredients like water, it won't spoil from heat, unlike most food.
  • It doesn't expire as quickly as normal food. Protein powder, if left dry, can keep fresh for years without expiring. It will still be safe for consumption when you need it. You can literally buy a tub and keep it in your cupboard for months on end and only use it when you need to.
  • Shakes are easier to consume. Eating a steak takes more effort than downing a protein shake. This can save time and is a lot less messy. For example, it is more practical to have a shake after your workout than to bring a bunch of eggs into the gym.
  • They are easier to digest. Protein in a powder form is easier for the body to break down into the nutrients that it needs. Your body does not need to break down a full food into tiny pieces before it can enter into the gut for your body to absorb what it needs.
  • Protein powders offer variety. There are a variety of flavors and brands to choose from. There are also different types of protein, ranging from egg and beef to milk and plant sources. You can also choose a protein powder according to the time it takes to reach your muscles after consumption. I have even seen birthday cake, mixed sundae and toffee flavors.

2. Creatine

Bodybuilding.com names creatine as the top muscle building supplement of their choice. 
Creatine is a naturally occurring chemical found in your body. It is actually found in almost all animals (all vertebrates). You will find it naturally occurring in meat based foods. It is also made by your body. It is one of the most popular supplements that bodybuilders and weight lifters use, after whey protein (a form of protein powder that comes from milk).

The supplement creatine is most widely available in the following forms:

  • Creatine can be sold on its own. Creatine powder is available as an isolated supplement on its own, which you can add to protein shakes (post workout and meal replacement shakes), smoothies or juices.
  • Creatine can be mixed with other ingredients in pre-workouts. Pre-workouts are supplements taken before your workout to boost energy levels, physical performance, and recovery and muscle growth. See more on pre workouts below.
  • Creatine can already be mixed into meal replacement and post workout supplements. 

It has the following functions within the body:

  • It assists your cells to make energy. Without creatine, your muscles will not be able to generate the energy that they need in order to work.
  • Creatine increases muscle size by increasing the water that a muscle can hold. This increases the amount of nutrients that can enter the muscle. It also elevates the amount of waste products that can exit the muscle in a given period of time.
  • It is involved with the formation of protein nutrients into muscle tissue, by allowing protein synthesis to take place.
  • Creatine signals to the rest of the body where muscle needs to grow and recover.
There are different forms of creatine (like creatine monohydrate, micronized creatine, creatine serum, buffered creatine, ethyl ester, effervescent creatine, creatine nitrate, hydro chloride and more). See the different forms of creatine and how these differences affect your muscle growth here.

3. Branched Chain Amino Acids

www.muscleandfitness.com says that branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) are by the far the most important of all the amino acids for building muscle. It also says that they are important for repairing the muscle after stimulating it to grow bigger. The advantages of taking these amino acids are:
  • They ensure the reduction of muscle breakdown (being in a catabolic state). Your body can break down muscle for energy if it feels the need to do so. This can often happen if training periods are too long, your body feels stressed or threatened, you are sick (flu or colds, for example) or if you don't have enough nutrients for it to get the energy it needs. When you take branched chain amino acids, your body can break them down instead of muscle for energy and leave your precious muscle mass alone. They are good to take during times when you risk muscle loss, like when you are sick or need to go a long time without eating.
  • They increase protein synthesis. Protein synthesis is the process where protein is converted into muscle. BCAA's increase the rate of protein synthesis because they are crucial elements needed to make protein. They are important building blocks of protein. Taking them allows your body to create and maintain muscle more easily.
  • They increase energy levels. These amino acids increase physical energy and physical performance. They also decrease the rate at which muscles start to fatigue. They are therefore also great to use during workouts to maximize performance and decrease muscle damage.
  • They help to improve the time that your body takes to recover from exercise and other activities that impact your muscles. These other activities can be long periods of standing for work, for example.

4. Glutamine

Glutamine stimulates the growth of your muscle, according to mensfitness.com
It is also an amino acid and therefore one of the building blocks of the protein nutrient. It is a fantastic supplement that speeds up all round recovery. Patients on hospital recover faster from surgery when they consumed extra glutamine.

Exercise greatly depletes your glutamine stores, and therefore supplementing with it after exercise will speed up the recovery process. It helps with recovery on almost all aspects of your body. For example, it speeds up recovery from illnesses like flu and colds, shortens the amount of time that wounds take to heal, supports a strong central nervous system and even protects the immune system from vulnerability.

Similar to BCAA's, it prevents muscle from breaking down. While BCAA's will give you the energy to exercise while assisting muscle growth, glutamine will protect you from damage and speed up all-round healing and recovery while assisting with muscle growth. It also helps to increase human growth hormone (HGH) levels. This growth hormone is one of the most important muscle building hormones, along with testosterone.

Glutamine is very active in maintaining digestive and gut health. Glutamine supplementation is an effective treatment for leaky gut syndrome. It has a vital role in other bodily functions, like maintaining liver and kidney health.

5. Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine supplementation can combat muscle fatigue and therefore increases the amount of work that a muscle can do before tiring out. This is according Michael Matthews from www.muscleforlife.com

When your muscles perform at high intensities like lifting weights, they produce an acid called lactic acid. This lactic acid is responsible for the burning sensation you feel in your muscles when you work them hard enough. It is a by-product of what happens in muscle fiber when it exerts itself to contract or expand against a heavy force. This lactic acid was primarily responsible for our survival, because it stops us from working a muscle so hard that it causes more damage than what the muscle can recover from. It is also responsible for the soreness and stiffness that you can feel for days after a good workout.

The primary survival reason for this response was to prevent you from over working a muscle that hasn't healed sufficiently yet. Beta-alanine supplementation decreases the release of lactic acid, allowing muscles to perform for a longer period of time. This increases the total time under tension that stimulates a muscle before it tires out.

Some people are more sensitive to this supplement than others. The beta-alanine content of pre-workout supplements is what causes the tingling sensation that some people feel on their skin. It can also cause some users to itch. Others don't have any negative side effects from it at all. If you feel a tingly, itchy side effect from a pre-workout; it is probably the beta alanine that your body does not have a good reaction to. Others do feel the tingly sensation, but like the feeling. They say that it makes them feel like the supplement is working all over their bodies.


6. ZMA

www.myprotein.com says that ZMA boosts muscle building hormones. ZMA is made up of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6. My Protein mentions studies where people with zinc and magnesium deficiencies had increases in testosterone and insulin-like growth factor when they took ZMA. Insulin-like growth factors (or IF-1 for short) are proteins which are extremely similar to insulin. It is commonly known and used for its ability to enhance muscle growth. To find out more about the benefits, sources and deficiency effects of zinc and magnesium, click here. ZMA is typically sold at supplement, health and vitamin stores as a natural testosterone booster. 

As a combination of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6, ZMA aids muscle recovery by assisting the body to rebuild itself after exercise. This can increase the speed at which muscle grows, as well as the amount of growth that it undergoes following stimulus. This works to improve muscle size and physical ability in a shorter period of time. It enhances quality of sleep and allows the body to turn fat into energy more efficiently.

Your body cannot store zinc, so it is important to get enough of it regularly. Your body naturally needs zinc for healing (from exercise, wounds or other damage), growth (creating new tissue), turning food into nutrients that the body needs and maintaining proper immune function.

Magnesium is important for the optimal maintenance of muscular, skeletal and nervous systems. It is also heavily involved with many biochemical functions within the body. Magnesium supplementation can ease muscle pain, decrease fatigue and improve performance. Many runners use it during big races for this reason. 

Vitamin B-6 is needed for energy production from the food we eat and transporting oxygen throughout the body. It is also important for keeping neurotransmitters healthy and active.

A combination of the above benefits gives ZMA its muscle-building benefits.

7. HMB

Authoritynutrition.com lists HMB as one of the top muscle building supplements. HMB stands for Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate. It is made when your body breaks down leucine, and it is essential for proper protein synthesis and muscle growth. It is naturally made within the body (by breaking down the amino acid leucine) and therefore supplementation is not necessary. Taking it as a supplement to increase the amount of HMB in your body, however, can benefit muscle creation. Authority nutrition cites studies that show that new athletes who take this supplement (at 3 - 6 grams a day) benefited with increases in muscles mass, compared to people who didn't.

Other studies show that trained athletes with more muscle mass than the beginners did not benefit significantly from HMB supplementation. Therefore, this supplement is a great option for people who are just starting out and need an extra boost to help them along their new journey. The benefits of HMS supplementation seem to diminish after the bodies of these athletes become better at turning protein into muscle. 

Beginners respond differently to exercise, compared to those who have trained for longer. For example, this workout plan is great for beginners who are new to weight training. It will help them to get their bodies into the routine of breaking down and building muscle without the amounts of physical stress that could hurt their bodies more than build them up. On the other hand, experienced bodybuilders will benefit from this workout routine more, since their bodies have adapted to weight training and need a newer, heavier stimulus to increase muscle growth.

Art of manliness says that HMB is not likely to be effective in increasing muscle mass. It discusses a study where people who took the supplement had great muscular gains from weight lifting. These people were consuming more calories than what their bodies were burning, though, which is also highly conducive to muscle growth. When these people used HMB while restricting their caloric consumption, they did not have the same benefits. This could mean that the reason why the people who used it initially gained muscle was because of diet and not because of the supplement itself.

My Take

It is fine to use HMB and the other supplements on this page, but diet must come first. Supplements cannot undo a bad diet. You should first focus on making sure that your diet is as conducive to muscle growth as possible before adding supplements into the mix. Supplements make a great bonus after your eating plan is properly implemented. Use these tips to create a diet that builds the most muscle.

8. Caffeine

The energy that caffeine gives you can benefit muscle development. Caffeine is found in most pre workout supplements for this reason. It gives you energy by breaking down fat stores. This is why it is also found in most weight loss supplements. Since your body has more energy from caffeine, it won't resort to breaking down muscle tissue for the immediate nutrients that it needs to cope with the physical stress during exercise. Studies have shown that subjects who work out in a fasted state retained more muscle mass when they had caffeine before their workouts. The extra energy that caffeine gives your body will allow your muscles to do more before tiring out. This increases the amount of stimulus that you can apply to muscle mass with every workout that you do.

The decreasing effect of caffeine

As great as the above information is, caffeine does have a diminishing effect. This is because the more caffeine you take the less sensitive to caffeine your body becomes. Since it increases energy levels by metabolizing fat, your body will try to counter this by decreasing natural fat metabolism. The process by which your body counteracts an action in order to restore balance is called homeostasis. The more caffeine you use (and the longer the period that you use it for); the more your body builds up a resistance in this way. For best results, I recommend using caffeine only in times where you need an extra boost, fear muscles loss due to diet change or need to jump start a new fat loss routine. By using it sparingly, you can get the benefits of this stimulant without minimizing its potential value for helping you to reach your goals.


9. Pre-workouts

The Athletic Build recommends using pre workouts to maximize strength and size gains. Pre workouts are supplements that are taken before exercise to increase energy and physical performance, decrease fatigue and rate of failure, increase recovery and growth, and boost motivation during exercise. Pre workouts are a mixture of different ingredients that bring about these benefits. Creatine, caffeine, testosterone boosters, amino acids and simple (fast acting) carbohydrates are common ingredients in pre workouts.

Pre workouts are usually very potent. For this reason, if you are using a pre workout for the first time; you should only use half of the dosage and increase or decrease it the next time that you work out, instead of taking a full dosage in the first go. For example, the first time I took a pre workout I felt very nauseous and felt like I was going to puke throughout my entire workout. 

It should also not be taken by people under the age of 18, or by people who are sensitive to stimulants. Since a lot of pre-workout supplements contain creatine and sugars which can increase water weight, many pre workout products are not recommended for people who are trying to lose weight or are preparing to compete. There are many variations without creatine and sugar for these people, though.

Pre-workouts give you an insane amount of energy. This massive amount of energy helps you to complete your workouts with the most stimuli that you can. The high energy effects also help to get your head in the game. I often compare taking a pre workout to drinking 10 cups of coffee in one go. 

Just like caffeine above, pre workout supplements need to be cycled. You should not take these every day of the week. Give your body at least two days of each week to rest from its energy-boosting properties; otherwise your body can burn out quite quickly. Also, allow for training cycles where you don't use a pre workout at all. Using it all the time will incur the same diminishing effect as caffeine. This happens when your body tries to balance out the effects of the pre workout. Since it greatly raises performance levels, it is easy to develop a mental dependence where people struggle to work out and give their muscles the stimulus that they deserve without the pre workout. 

Some people recommend using it for no more than 5 days a week and for no longer than eight weeks in a row before taking a 4 week break. This decreases dependence and counteracts the long term 'balancing out' reaction that your body will likely produce.

I personally only use it to break through a plateau where I haven't seen much progress in a long period of time. I also use it when changing up my program to a new routine that is much more demanding on my body. I also only use it for 5 weeks in a 1/4, 1/2, full, 1/2, 1/4 fashion. In my first week I will use a quarter of the full dose. In the second week I will use a half the normal dose. In the third week I will use a full dose so that I am increasing my dose as my body gets used to it. I then decrease my does to 1/2 and then 1/4 to give my body time to keep the same physical performance level with the decreasing amount of help from the pre-workout.

10. Horny goat weed and catuaba 

According to Men's Health, these two herbs reduce estrogen production and increase muscle growth. Estrogen is the female hormone; the opposite of testosterone. Your body balances these two hormones, which are both present (and made) in male and female bodies. When testosterone levels are high, estrogen levels will usually be lower. Your body uses the one hormone to balance out the other. For example, if your testosterone levels are too high, then your body will create more estrogen to balance out the excess testosterone. Horny goat weed and catuaba are often used to inhibit the production of estrogen.

Estrogen is not the worst thing in the world for muscle growth, says Iron Mag. Too much of it can cause ill effects (like practically every other substance in our bodies), but it is needed in male bodies for the creation of good sperm. Low estrogen levels are linked in infertility in men. Falling estrogen levels in women are linked to decreased bone health. Some studies suggest that the same is true for men. Estrogen is also strongly linked to good cardio vascular health.

Supplement tips

Here are some extra tips to help you decide what will work the best for you.

Choose wisely

Spot me bro recommends choosing the best supplements based on price and effect. If you are buying whatever everybody recommends and taking it without monitoring what works best for your own body, you could end up wasting a lot of money without achieving the best results. On the other hand, if you choose your supplements wisely, by doing a lot of research and trials to find what works best for you, you can achieve more while spending less.

Everybody's needs are different

Your body works different to mine and the next guy's. In the same way, some supplements will benefit you more than me. For example, I have tried a few pre-workouts to find the one that benefits me the most. I know of friends who say that the one that I use is nothing compared to their choices, but those ones don't have as a great an effect on me as the one I choose to use. Is one of us wrong? Not really. I discovered that the pre-workout I like works best for me. My friends have also tried a variety of supplements and found the best ones that work for them. 

Even entire categories of supplements might not benefit you in the same way that it could benefit someone else. Testosterone boosters are a good example. Most people below the age of 25 don't need testosterone boosters because their natural testosterone levels are already at their peak. Using them will be a waste of money that could be spent on other supplements that could make a much bigger difference. This isn't only limited to age or gender. Some people do better without pre workouts at all, for example.

Don't try too many new supplements out at once, so that you can test each one on its own without confusing the results. This way, you can feel which supplements are really helping you and which ones aren't making any difference.

If you have a few friends that are training with you, give the supplements that you don't use to them instead of throwing them away. Supplements are expensive. They might use it and benefit from it more than you did. This encourages them to give you their stuff that they don't use anymore. This becomes a great way for you to try out new stuff without having to commit money to it first.

Choose supplements according to goals

Decide on what your goals are before choosing the best supplements for you. If your goal is to lose weight, the supplements you use will be totally different to someone who is trying to gain weight. The ideal supplements differ greatly even for people who want to build muscle and lose fat, compared to people who want to build muscle and don't mind whether they gain a little fat or not.

If you don't mind gaining fat, for example, you will make sure that the calories that you consume are always more than what your body is burning, so that there are enough calories in your system for your body to turn into new muscle tissue.

If you want to burn fat at the same time, it becomes harder because you need to hold a close-to-perfect balance between eating enough calories to support muscle growth but less than enough for the body to turn into fat.

Different supplements can help you to bulk (or gain mass), lose weight (or cut/ tone/ define/ burn fat), strengthen (enhance performance), or recover. Find out what you want to do the most and buy supplements according to these objectives.

Priority list

Your first priority should be nutrients. Make sure that you get all the right nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy and grow muscle. These nutrients include water, carbohydrates, fats and micro nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, trace elements, anti-oxidants etc.)

Build up a good diet that gives you as much of these nutrients as possible. Once that is done, find the best supplements to help you fill the gaps that your new diet cannot fill. For example, your diet might not be able to give you all the protein that you need according to your goals (for appetite, money or time reasons). This is how protein shakes can provide a good benefit.

Once your nutritional aspect is taken care of, you can look into supplements that will boost muscle growth over and above what would normally happen without them. The next best thing is totally up to you. It is a good idea, however, to choose the next supplement according to what you feel like you need the most.

For example, glutamine might be your best option if you feel sore for too long after your workouts or take longer to recover than normal. Caffeine and pre workouts will be better if you feel like you need more energy to give your workouts the kind of intensity that they need. Branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) are great for times when you feel like your body could be breaking down muscle (like going too long without eating or getting sick).

Choosing a supplement based on what you struggle with the most will give you a lot more bang for your buck.


Don't replace food with supplements

You need to eat real food. Do not replace too much real food for supplements.

One of the reasons for this is micro nutrient diversity. You might be getting the same amount of carbohydrates from an apple as you do in a meal replacement shake, but that apple has many naturally occurring micro nutrients which the shake does not have, but that your body needs. Real food has many micro nutrients that your body needs to function properly. Eating a varied diet of real food along with supplements ensures that you get all the micro nutrients that your body needs.

Additionally, studies are repeatedly showing that our bodies absorb micro nutrients a lot more efficiently from real food, compared to supplements.

Shape.com lists the following micro nutrients as absolutely essential for athletes that are creating diets to meet their caloric needs:

  • Vitamin C is important. You can get it from fresh fruit and vegetables. This aids recovery and supports a strong immune system.
  • Fish oil is also needed. You can get it from oily fish like salmon. This balances out negative plant oils (trans fats) that come from fried foods. Fish oil is great for eye, brain, heart, skin and cardiovascular health.
  • Calcium consumption greatly benefits health. It benefits muscle function just as much as it benefits bone health.
  • Magnesium that comes from spinach and legumes supports healthy living. Most people already don't get enough of this mineral. It alleviates muscles cramping and decreases muscle soreness from exercise.
  • B vitamins, which are important for skin and nervous system health, should not be neglected. They are also extremely important for proper metabolism function and energy production.
  •  Vitamin D is needed and is strongly connected to other muscle building hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. Insufficient vitamin D can lead to sleep problems.
  • Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to combat the oxidation that exercise can put on cells. Almonds are a great source of this vitamin.

Another reason why we need real food is digestive health. Supplements are made to be easily digested and used within the body. Real foods are harder to digest into nutrients. If too much of your diet consists of supplements, your digestive system will lose its ability to break down actual food. I know of someone who ate nothing but protein shakes to lose weight for a few months. After that, they struggled to eat normal food and got pains every time they tried to; because their bodies grew too accustomed to easily digestible 'food'.

Stacking supplements

Stacking refers to using different supplements at the same time (throughout the day) to achieve a desired effect. Here are some of my personal stacks, according to my specific goals.

Bulking
During bulking phases I use a mass gainer, whey hydrolysate, casein and a pre workout.

I mix my mass gainer and whey hydrolysate in the mornings as soon as I wake up and straight after my workout. I use my pre workout half an hour before my weight training session and I use a combination of my mass gainer and casein before sleep.

Cutting 
On days where want to burn fat while retaining muscle I use BCAA's, whey hydrolysate, caffeine and casein.
I take my hydrolysate shake after I wake up, use the caffeine and BAA's before and during my workout and use BCAA's throughout the day. I drink a shake of casein powder before bed.

Maintaining
During maintenance phases, I only use my mass gainer and BCAA's throughout the day.

Please note: This is all in addition to my regular meals (I eat 4 meals of real food every day).

I hope that this article helps you to make the right supplement choices. I hope that it will not only help you to reach your specific physical goals, but also keep you strong and healthy. Health and physical success are closely inter-related. The less time your body needs to spend fighting off illness, the better. It will have more time to build muscle. The healthier you are, the more energy you will have to do the workouts that you need to do to get further. Unfortunately, none of these supplements work over night. You are still going to have to put in all of the time and dedication that it takes to reach the top. STAY STRONG!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Why Eating in the Middle of the Night is Bad for You


Why eating in the middle of the night is bad for you 

Hitting the fridge in the middle of the night can harm digestive health

BMC Medicine finds that poor sleep quality and uneven eating habits are significant risk factors for Gastroesophageal reflux (or GERD) disease. GERD is a digestive disorder that often causes indigestion and heartburn, brought on by problems with stomach content reflux. On the other hand, some cases of GERD can be relieved through a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle changes. Over 19 000 adults were studied in Japan. Out of 25 different lifestyle factors, sleep quality and irregular eating habits were the two lifestyle factors that had the biggest impact on whether these people had GERD disease or not.

Metabolism (the rate at which your body digests food and turns it into energy) is the link between midnight snacking and digestive health. Live Strong explains that your metabolism is slower in the middle of the night because your body is gearing down to sleep. When your metabolism is lower, your body struggles to digest food. This is the most likely reason why eating in the middle of your slumber hurts digestion. When your body needs to sleep, it slows down a lot of its processes (digestion, energy production, alertness) in order to enter into other processes (recovery, hormone regulation and re-calibration). Eating, an activity which should happen during wakeful times, messes up these natural patterns.

If it is natural to eat when I am awake, why am I hungry in the middle of the night?

Possibility 1: Anxiety

You aren't actually hungry - you're stressed. This keeps you awake with worrying thoughts that prevent you from sleeping. A lot of people turn to food when they feel anxious, because the sugar release or satisfaction hormone leptin (opposite of ghrelin) that follows food consumption brings on a sense of relief. This can turn into a viscous cycle, because you might feel like you can only relax and get back to sleep with the emotionally calming effects of food consumption. This becomes a bad habit that reinforces itself.

Possibility 2: Irregular hunger hormone activity

Psychology Today explains that ghrelin (opposite of leptin), the hunger hormone, is responsible for telling your body when to eat. Like many hormones, it works in cycles of increasing and decreasing intensity. Disturbed sleep patterns might be disrupting the proper regulation of this hormone, along with other hormones. Also, developing the habit of eating late into the night reinforces the times that your body thinks it should be eating. Your ghrelin levels could be too high when they are supposed to be low; due to bad habit repetition. Since ghrelin is supposed to be down-regulated during sleep and up-regulated as you wake up, a disturbance between your sleep and ghrelin balance could be throwing your body's natural processes out.

How do I get out of it?

Here are healthy ways that you can break the negative habit of eating when you are supposed to be sleeping.

Exercise

One of the benefits of exercise is the fact that it increases good sleep quality. Exercising during the day will take a lot of energy out of you, which will make you more tired at night (especially when you're just starting out). This will initially increase your body's need for sleep and can lengthen the time that you stay asleep before waking up. As your body adjusts to your exercise regime, your quality of sleep will improve. This means that you will sleep deeper and that your body will get more benefit from sleep (that it is supposed to get) before being interrupted.

Eat well before you sleep

By eating a meal rich in nutrients before you go to bed, you satisfy your hunger hormones so that they can last longer before drawing you to your next meal. Aim for foods high in protein, because they take longer to break down and will last longer than foods which are high in sugar or carbohydrates. Protein also helps to balance out blood sugar, so that your sugar levels will not drop too quickly during sleep and cause hunger. Don't drink too many fluids before going to bed, because this might wake you up for bathroom visits. Also, drinking fluids before bed can harm your bladder.

Stress free

If you can determine the root cause of what might be causing the anxiety that is waking you up, you can sleep without the need for food therapy. If you can't fix the anxiety-causing problem, find ways to deal with and accept it. Establish a bed time routine that relaxes you and gets you ready for a good, long sleep cycle. Here are great ways to relax before bed.

Eat less with each visit

Try to break the habit in small increments, just like training the rest of your body. Plan the meals that you will eat in the middle of the night and gradually decrease them over time. This will slowly but surely decreases the amount of food that your body gets used to consuming during your sleep cycle. Eventually, you won't be eating anything anymore.

Our bodies are naturally programmed to work in cycles. When we disrupt these cycles, havoc breaks lose as our bodies try to establish new cyclical patterns to restore order. Maintaining healthy habits strengthen their holds over time. STAY STRONG!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Speed Up Recovery from Exercise


If you're tired of waiting too long for your body to recover from exercise, here are a few things that you can do to speed up the process.

How to Recover Faster From Exercise

1. Get enough rest

Your quality of rest will determine the amount of rest that you need to recover. Make sure that you get enough sleep and that you don't challenge your body too much straight after your workout. This will allow your body to spend more resources (energy, nutrients and biological processes) on recovering. When you are physically doing too many things at the same time, your body spends fewer resources on recovery because it needs to dedicate a portion of those resources to other activities. Make sure that you sleep enough. Sleep is a very important factor in recovery. It is the time your body uses to do most recovery-related activities. It is also the time that it regulates muscle-growing hormones that directly affect muscle growth, strength, power and (you guessed it...) recovery. Here are good ways to maximize your rest times.

2. Get the right nutrients

Your body needs the right nutrients to recover. Absence of these essential nutrients will inhibit recovery. Not only can recovery take longer, but it can also limit the amount of recovery that your body gets. Furthermore, lack of nutrients can decrease the rate at which your body grows and strengthens as a result of exercise. Someone who does the exact same exercises as you but has the right nutrient intake will become faster, better and stronger than you if you aren't eating right. A bulking diet is great if your goal is to pack on as much muscle, as quick as possible. Taking different proteins at different times will ensure that your body has all the protein it needs, all of the time.

3. Stretch it out

Stretching your muscles out will increase blood flow to them, so that those precious nutrients will get to the right places. Blood flow will also allow waste products (including waste products stuck in the muscles from exercise) to get out of the muscle fibers. Static stretches are a great form of stretching for rest days because they relax the muscles, along with increasing mobility. Static stretches before exercise aren't recommended because the relaxing effect will lead to lower power output. Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, make for great warm up stretches because they prime the muscles for movement and exertion. Warming up before exercise and cooling down afterwards will also decrease recovery time. Increased blood flow during exercise will get nutrients to the places that need it and blood flow after exercise will help them usher out the waste products like lactic acid. Lactic acid is the stuff that makes your muscle feel sore and stiff after working out. It is produced as a by-product of muscle activity and is biologically used to stop you from over-exercising a muscle and damaging it.

4. Cool off

After exercising, cool your body down. When your body temperature returns to normal, your body exits its 'ready for action' state and enters into its 'recover from action' state. This will also help to bring your heart rate back down to normal. When the body is cooler, it is more relaxed and less stressed. This will take you out of catabolism (breaking down muscle for energy) and put you into anabolism (using energy to build muscle). If your body still feels like it needs to be ready for physical activity, it will hold onto energy that it could use for recovery in case you need that energy to survive. This is part of our survival mechanisms that ensure our survival. When you are stressed, your body keeps energy aside to escape from danger or face it (fight or flight). When you are not stressed, your body will use this energy to recover so that it is better prepared for the next physical challenge it might face.

5. Warm up

Ironically, warming up also increases the rate of muscle recovery. It does this by increasing blood flow. When your body temperature increases, blood vessels widen. When blood vessels are wider, more blood can move through them. Muscle tissues also expand with heat and can therefore accept more nutrient-containing blood and expel the blood again, which will contain the waste products. Try to cool down after your workout, and then increase your body temperature later on, or on rest days. Heat patches are a nice way to increase heat to a certain area or muscle that needs specific recovery. Steam rooms are great to increase heat throughout your whole body and increase blood flow everywhere.

6. Use a foam roller

Men's fitness recommends using a foam roller to speed up muscle recovery. This is good if you are feeling tightness or pain in a specific muscle or muscle group. Rolling your muscles out with foam rollers will give you similar effects to a massage. It will loosen up the muscle tissue so that new blood can enter and old blood can leave. A tight muscle takes longer to recover and loosening the muscle will allow it to undergo the right recovery processes that it needs to go through to get better. It will also break up scar tissue in the muscle if there is any. This scar tissue, if there is any present in the muscle, hampers proper muscle function. Lingering scare tissue could be in the way of optimum recovery. Knots in muscle tissues will also be eliminated.

7. Don't push too hard

Pushing your body too hard could lead to longer recovery periods needed before you can get back to your next exercise session. If this period gets too long, the amounts to exercise sessions (and total stimulus) that you miss out on could be greater than the initial workouts that grounded you in the first place. You must aim for a good balance of optimal training and recovery. When one overtakes the other, you will not be bettering your personal goals as quick as possible. Bodybuilding.com says that too much damage will force your body to use more of its resources on recovering from the intensity of exercise, instead of improving itself for the next workout.

8. Lighter exercise

Light forms of exercise that work the same muscle groups can speed up recover. Note that the point of these exercises is not to stimulate the muscle or body to get stronger, but rather to speed up recover. Since recover is the goal, exercises will be a lot lighter. A light walk will get the juices flowing and fire up your body's internal functions. For example, exercise can push your liver to work harder. If exercise is light enough, the liver's hard work (and increased functionality) won't go towards recovering from the current exercise, because the exercise it too light to demand too much resources. Instead, the extra resources woken up from the lighter exercise will be allocated to recovery. Men's Health recommends using resistance bands to perform similar, lighter versions of your exercise to speed up recovery.

9. Get enough water

Fit Day says that staying hydrated during exercise reduces the chance of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Not surprisingly, hydration also allows your body to get rid of more waste products, like the lactic acid that is responsible for delayed onset muscle soreness. The more hydrated your body is, the better it performs at all of its biological functions and processes. The better your body can do what it naturally does, the better it can recover and get back on track. Water will also prevent the muscles from tightening, which will take them longer to heal because they need to relax first before being able to recover fully.

10. Use proper form

This could be classified more as preventative advice, but using the right form will decrease the amount of time that you need to recover between exercise sessions. This applies to weight lifters, runners and soccer players alike. Nerd Fitness says that improper form is one of the leading causes of prolonged exercise recovery time. They also say that using the wrong form over and over again will almost definitely lead to injury. Injury could take you out of the game permanently, or for too long a time. I once had to stop training for 6 months because of a shoulder injury. Many end in surgery because of it. Ensuring proper form is one of the best ways to avoid these situations. If you are using the wrong exercise form, this will increase your required recovery time.

11. Get a massage

Live Strong cites proof that a massage reduces delayed onset muscle soreness by 30% when done after a workout. They recommend getting a massage once a week if you can. If you have been stuck in recovery for too long or need to gear up quickly for a major event, a good massage might be just what the doctor ordered. Massaging the muscle works to speed up recovery by deeply penetrating its tissue and loosening up and tightness, knots or scar tissue. Live Strong says that getting a good massage at the end of every week will prime your body for optimal performance in the week to come.

12. Decrease stress

Active.com recommends trying to avoid mental stress in order to improve physical recovery. Stress releases a hormone called cortisol. This hormone is the body's primary survival mechanism to get it ready to face a challenging situation. Higher cortisol levels decrease your body's ability to recover from exercise. This happens because your body is getting ready to face danger and does not want to use its energy to recover. It saves this energy for the perceived danger that cortisol is priming the body for. Try to avoid situations where you feel negative emotions. Dedicate time to doing things that you enjoy and that make you feel relaxed.

Great Supplements for Recovery 

Would this list be complete without the best supplements that will aid recovery? I don't think so. Here are two great supplements that will help you get back on your feet again.

1. Glutamine

Glutamine is a super recovery supplement. It is one of the amino acids that make up protein. It is naturally found in your body. Exercise greatly depletes this amino acid and loading up on it will speed to recovery. It can also be used by patients in hospital to decrease the amount of time that they have to stay after surgery. It also helps with injuries and shortens the time of illnesses like flu and colds. Nutrition Express recommends consuming 5 to 8 grams of glutamine post workout for optimum recovery. They also recommend making sure that your protein powder and meal replacements have a few grams of the stuff.

2. Branched chain amino acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Branched chain amino acids are three specific amino acids. These are leucine, isoleucine and valine. They promote protein synthesis and promote the muscle healing process. They also stop the body from breaking muscle down for energy. This is because your body can use these BCAA's for energy instead. They speed up muscle recovery during exercise and therefore increase physical performance. Taking them during exercise will decrease the amount of damage done to muscle and taking them afterwards will aid protein synthesis (turning protein into muscle), stop muscle breakdown and decrease recovery time.

I hope this article helps you in your quest to become the best. Remember to take your journey one step at a time and that everybody worth remembering started at the bottom. I am looking forward to reading your comments. STAY STRONG!

2 Super Foods That Everybody Should Eat


We look at two super foods that you should know about if you want to get healthier and further your physical goals.

Two Great Foods for Your Health

1. Greek Yogurt

Greatist.com lists Greek yogurt at the top of its best super foods list. It is also called yogurt cheese or strained yogurt. Greek yogurt is regular yogurt that has been strained to remove the whey content. This makes it thicker than normal yogurt. Its taste is tangier and less sweet. Non-fat and low-fat forms of this food are low in calories (for people who want to lose weight). The full-fat and full cream versions are higher in calories, ideal for people wanting to bulk up or add weight to their frames.

Even though it is strained to eliminate water, whey, sugar and lactose; it can have up to double the amount of protein as regular yogurt. Double the protein for up to half the sugar! This makes it a great choice for vegetarians who need to get their protein from sources other than meat. The higher protein content will also keep you fuller for longer. Since there is less lactose, it is gentler on the digestive systems of people who struggle to digest lactose. The sodium content is also halved, compared to normal, unflavored yogurt. The straining process does lose some of the calcium content, though. It is still a good source of calcium. It is full of probiotics, improving digestion. It is a great source of vitamins and minerals, which assists the immune system along with other bodily functions because of this.

Nutrients in Greek yogurt

  • 59 calories
  • 10.19 grams of protein
  • 0.39 grams of fat
  • 5 milligrams of cholesterol
  • 3.6 grams of carbohydrates
  • 3.24 grams of sugar
  • 110 milligrams of calcium
  • 0.07 milligrams of iron
  • 11 milligrams of magnesium
  • 135 milligrams of phosphorus
  • 141 milligrams of potassium
  • 36 milligrams of sodium
  • 0.52 milligrams of zinc
See why your body needs these minerals here and here (other sources to these minerals included).
  • 0.023 milligrams if riboflavin (vitamin B-2)
  • 0.278 milligrams of niacin (vitamin B-3)
  • 0.063 milligrams of vitamin B-6
  • 7 µg of folate
  • 0.75 µg of vitamin B-12
  • 1 µg of vitamin A (4 IU)
  • 0.01 milligrams of vitamin E


2. Blueberries

Health.com's Super Foods List says that blueberries are packed with phytonutrients (chemicals from plants) that combat ageing and cancer by eliminating free radicals. They are also powerful sources of anti-oxidants that protect you from cancer (again) and brain disease. Some studies show that Blueberries actually make you smarter. They are a good source of flavonoids, which kill off free radicals and decrease inflammation. They are linked to lower levels of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. They will make your hair healthier and will help to increase your natural energy levels. Additionally, they maintain bone strength and lower blood pressure. Their fiber content assists digestion and toxin elimination, which is why we need to eat enough fruit and vegetables. The vitamin C content boosts your immune system, improves recovery from exercise, makes your skin healthier and keeps you around for longer. They are also a tasty way to satisfy your sugar cravings in a way that makes you healthier

Nutrients on Blueberries


  • 57 calories
  • 0.74 grams of protein
  • 0.33 grams of fat
  • 14.49 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2.4 grams of fiber
  • 9.96 grams of sugar
  • 6 milligrams of calcium
  • 0.28 milligrams of iron
  • 6 milligrams of magnesium
  • 12 milligrams of phosphorus
  • 77 milligrams of potassium
  • 1 milligram of sodium
  • 0.16 milligrams of zinc
  • 9.7 milligrams of vitamin C
  • 0.037 milligrams of thiamine (vitamin B-1)
  • 0.041 milligrams of riboflavin (vitamin B-2)
  • 0.418 milligrams of niacin (vitamin B-3)
  • 0.052 milligrams of vitamin B-6
  • 6 µg of folate
  • 3 µg (54 IU) of vitamin A
  • 0.57 milligrams of vitamin E
  • 19.3 µg of vitamin K


A serving of Greek yogurt and a handful of blueberries every day will go a long way in keeping your body healthy and strong. The key to good health is eating a variety of different foods. This allows your body to find all the different nutrients that it needs from all the sources that it was naturally supposed to eat from. Protein from Greek yogurt, for example, will provide your body with probiotics and vitamins that typical protein sources don't have. In the same way, blueberries have some powerful antioxidants and chemicals that other plants don't. STAY STRONG!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Benefits of Whisky or Scotch for Athletes and Sports Professionals


Did you know that whiskey is Gaelic for 'water of life'? This is a true story. Athletes should avoid alcohol. It dehydrates your body, gets in the way of recovery and adds stress to normal bodily processes. That being said: if you are going to drink; whisky (or scotch) might be your best bet. 

Difference between whisky and scotch

All scotch is whisky, but not all whiskey is scotch. Scotch is a type of whiskey which is made of grains or malt (germinated grains). It is also made in Scotland (just like champagne can only be made in the French town of the same name. If it not made there, it is simply sparkling wine.)

How Whisky Can Benefit You

Benefit of whisky 1: Low calories, fat and carbohydrates

Surprising benefits of whiskey by organic facts says that whisky has close to zero fat and cholesterol. It also has almost no sodium. The carbohydrate content of whiskey is also very low. Weight loss resource's nutritional information on whiskey labels it as having 222 calories, 0 carbohydrates and 0 fats per 100 ml (milliliters, or 3.4 lbs).

Benefit of whiskey 2: Healthy brain function

Shocking whiskey benefits by Natural ON says that it supports healthy brain function. It quotes a study that found that moderate whiskey consumption decreased the risk of developing a variety of forms of Dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. Whiskey contains anti-oxidants that help improve brain health. It also boosts blood circulation. The combination of these two effects are said to improve brain function. This goes beyond disease prevention. Evidently, it also increases memory. The ethanol also assists with neuron operation. 

Benefit of whiskey 3: Healthy heart function

Whisky can reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks among people who drink it moderately. It does this by preventing cholesterol accumulation, by removing excess cholesterol. It relaxes the artery walls, allowing for them to contract and expand more easily. It also reduces the risk of blood clots. It thins your blood as well.

Benefit of whisky 4: Stress relief

Baba Mail's article on why whisky can be good for you states that it helps to relieve stress. This makes perfect sense 💃💃💃💃💃. It decreases mental stress by helping you to cope with mental strain. It also calms the nerves. It relaxes the nerves in your body along with the ones in your brain. This relaxing effect might help to momentarily alleviate internal stresses and give the body a chance to recover. One of the ways it does this is by slowing down brain function and increasing circulation. This leads to feelings of peace and tranquility. Many have a little whiskey before bed if they struggle with anxiety to help them relax.

Benefit of whiskey 5: Aids weight loss

The fact that it is low in calories and nutrients like fat and carbohydrates makes whisky a good alternative to other alcoholic beverages when spending a night out on the town. This will help you to stick to your total caloric goals without throwing your meal plan off balance. This study shows a strong collation between whiskey consumption, reduced sugar cravings and increased energy

Benefit of whisky 6: Helps combat cancer

Whisky has high amounts of ellagic acid. Ellagic acid is a powerful anti-oxidant. This anti-oxidant helps to fight cancer by disrupting contact with compounds that bring on cancer. Studies have also shown that it helps to protect the body from the damage that chemotherapy inflicts. It neutralizes those pro-cancer free radicals. Whiskey has more anti-oxidants than red wine.

Benefit of whiskey 7: Aids digestion

It has been used for centuries as a digestive aid, and a shot of whiskey after a heavy meal can help your body break down the nutrients.

Benefit of whisky 8: Suppresses appetite

The alcohol in whiskey makes it an effective appetite suppressant. 

Benefits of whiskey 9: It helps you to live longer

Largely due to its high anti-oxidant content, whiskey helps to slow down the ageing process.

Benefits of whisky 10: Safer for diabetics

Since the carbohydrate level is so low (if any), it won't affect blood sugar levels in people who are very sensitive to slight blood sugar changes. According to Wide Open Country, alcohol is not recommended to people with diabetes but studies show that whiskey assists with insulin regulation (through long term, regular and moderate consumption). It also warns, however, that heavy drinking will increase our risk of diabetic development and progression.

Benefits of whiskey 11: Aids cold and flu symptoms

The alcohol kills bacteria. It is a useful cold remedy for this reason. People also use it to help with allergies. Others use it as a cough syrup for itching throats. These benefits are similar to apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. Because of its blood diluting properties, whiskey has a decongestant action.


The benefits above do not warrant alcohol consumption. You can get all of these benefits and more from exercise and following a healthy diet alone, without the need for alcohol. This post was intended to educate people on the best alternative for them when choosing which alcoholic beverage to drink. STAY STRONG!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Easy Ways To Turn Unhealthy Food Into Powerful Super-foods


Why does the stuff that hurts your body taste so good!? Why do you crave the unhealthy villains instead of the foods that will build you up and solidify your weight loss goals? The good news is that there are many tricks to get what you want without sacrificing your health. In fact, these hacks will turn your boring diet into a nutritional powerhouse.

Solving unhealthy cravings with healthy alternatives

Sugar

Too much sugar kills you. You've read and heard how bad it is. Did you know that sugar cravings are your body's way of keeping you healthy? Let me explain...

In a natural environment where processed foods do not exist, sugar cravings made us eat fruit and vegetables. Without these sugar cravings, we would not get a lot of the essential vitamins and minerals that only eating fresh foods can give us.

Using sugar cravings to get healthier

Don't satisfy your cravings with sweets and drinks that are artificial. This reinforces the reward response that is responsible for making more sugar cravings in the future. Dopamine, the happy hormone, is released when you eat sugar. This was meant to reward you for eating fruit and vegetables. 


Healthy sugar alternatives

  1. Dates are full of sugar, but they also have a range of nutrients that your body needs. They contain dietary fiber, B vitamins (pyridoxine, niacin, pantothenic acid and riboflavin), vitamin A, vitamin K, tannin's (flavonoids and antioxidants), copper, magnesium, manganese, iron, and potassium. See how these minerals benefit your health here and here.
  2. Other super foods that are high in sugar include raspberries, blue berries, mulberries, strawberries, watermelon and cranberries. Keep these nearby to satisfy your sugar cravings. They are great sources of a whole spectrum of nutrients that your body needs.
  3. Honey is another great alternative to refined sugar. It does not spike your blood sugar as quickly as refined sugar, and has a few nutrients of its own. It is antiseptic, anti-fungal, antiviral and antibacterial all in one. This is why honey is often recommended for sore throats and is a common ingredient in many flu remedies. 

Milk Shake Alternatives

Here are great alternatives for those milkshake cravings that your body will thank you for:
  1. Protein Shakes come in all shapes, sizes and variations. Some don't taste so good while others taste better than the real deal. Find one that is high in protein, vitamins and minerals. Avoid the ones that have testosterone boosters and creatine. These will make great (and healthy) options for the whole family - and be way better than the junk food equivalent. Almost all variants are available in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavors. Delicious flavors I've come across are cookies, cookies and cream, triple chocolate, birthday cake, cranberry, toffee, caramel, berry, mixed fruit and mint chocolate. Low sugar protein shakes are super healthy alternatives, instead of giving your children too much sugar.
  2. Homemade smoothies are another great, tasty treat. Simply mix your favorite combination of milk, yogurt, honey, fruit (banana or strawberry perhaps?), peanut butter, coco powder or whey powder in a blender and enjoy

Ice Cream Alternatives

All of the above can be frozen for healthy ice cream alternatives! Use low-fat cream instead of milk or whip the above into a thicker mixture before freezing for best results. Another great alternative is:
  1. Frozen fruit juice is a great alternative to ice lollies. Simply get yourself an ice cream mold from a baking store and pop the juice in the freezer. You lose the artificial flavors and colorants, and get nutrients along with your sugar rush!

Salty Snack Alternative Tips

If snacks are your weakness, try the following tips:
  1. Himalayan salt has a similar sodium content to regular salt (slightly less), but has trace amounts of other minerals that are good for you. This might not make that much of a difference, but a little goes a long way over time!
  2. Chilli pepper is a great way to add flavor to a boring meal, especially if you are trying to avoid salt. 

Salty Snack Alternatives

  1. Nuts carry nutrients, essential fatty acids, protein and other nutrients that your body probably does not get enough of. Keep these handy for the times your mouth needs to chew.
  2. Popcorn is a low calorie alternative for the times that you end up consuming more calories out of boredom. Bring on the series!
  3. Beef jerky is a salty snack that has few carbohydrates and a lot of protein.

Burgers! Make your own and save on health.

Ever heard that burgers should be healthy because they have a balance of carbohydrates (roll), protein (patty) and fiber (lettuce)? The issues with the fast food variations make this untrue. The white rolls are refined carbs which should be avoided. The patties have less actual meat to reduce costs, and the lettuce was probably frozen to reduce transport and expiry costs. Additionally, the oil that the patty is fried in might hurt your health more than any of the other ingredients. They are high in Trans fats - the fats we need to avoid. Make your own at home using the following tips to make them healthier:

  • Make the patty from lean mince. The protein content will be higher and you will be eating something closer to actual meat.
  • Fry the patty in coconut oil instead. Coconut oil is not nearly as bad as the oils fast food chains use.
  • Swap white rolls for whole wheat rolls. This increases the quality of the carbohydrates you are eating. Seeds on or in these rolls are a bonus. Brown rolls are also okay, although not as good as the whole wheat ones.

You should still follow a calorie controlled diet and keep a good balance between carbohydrates, proteins and fats. These meals will help to satisfy your cravings with good food that has more than just unhealthy junk in them. Think of it as cheating and winning at the same time. STAY STRONG!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Do Squats Right or Don't Do Them At All



Squats are great exercises that have a lot of benefits. They are one of the great compound exercises that boost testosterone and other muscle building hormones. They are also rated the as one the top two muscle building exercises ever, next to the dead lift. Some say the dead lift comes first, while others say the squat does. They are basically tied as the best exercise for bodybuilders, power lifters and strength athletes.

My Story

When I first started weight training in 2010, I got a personalized workout program from my gym, based on my goals and available exercise times. Like a good little boy I did the exercises exactly the way the program told me to - down to the exercise and reps per set. After the first time I did squats on the leg day, my back ached a little. It wasn't too much of an issue in my mind at the time because my whole body was aching. I couldn't tell the difference between injury and muscle soreness. My other muscles got better but my lower back didn't. I figured that it needed more time than the other muscles. It went away in time for my next leg day and came back an hour or so after the workout. This time, the pain was a little worse. As time went by, the back pain got worse while other muscles got better. It took a lot of research for me to find out that I was damaging my back by doing squats the wrong way. Improper form was hurting my body instead of strengthening it.

I had to stop squats for quite a few weeks (about 2 months) and limit the other exercises that involved using my lower back muscles. I started squatting again when I believed that my back had totally recovered. I probably took longer than I should have, because I was scared of causing more damage. Reading the extreme stories online had me running for the hills. I used an empty bar and practiced the right form until I felt that I was ready to start going hard again. I slowly increased the weight and made sure that my form was perfect all the time.

I am pretty sure that I dodged a silver bullet. If I pushed through the pain, I could have sustained a serious injury that might have impacted my lifting career for the rest of my life or even might have ended up needing surgery. So many people that do squats improperly end up too far down this miserable road.

Don't be like me. Make sure that you do squats the right way. Learn to do them right - from the start. If you are not sure whether you are using the right form, stop doing them immediately. Learn the right way to do them before making them the integral part of your workout routine that they deserve to be. You will be better off without this power move than if you're doing it wrong.

The right form for squats 

This guide on squats from Strong Lifts was a life saver for me. It has all the information you need to make sure that you squat properly and avoid injury.

The tips you need to make sure that you squat properly

  1. Take the bar off the rack by straightening your legs. Do NOT bend your back to pick up or put down the weight. Don't your back upwards from a downward position. Your back should always be in a straight, upright position when the weight is on your shoulders.
  2. Don't inhale when you come up. This opens up your core muscles when they need to be tight. Protect your core from the pressure that heavy squats place on it. Exhale instead and focus on squeezing your core muscles towards your spine. Exhaling while limiting the amount of air coming out your mouth can help you to do this. Your core is under a lot of tension with this exercise and needs to stay strong. It is the connection between your legs and your upper body holding the weight. This is called the Valsalva maneuver. Failing to do this is one of the main reasons why people get dizzy after squats and dead lifts. If you get dizzy, read about the possible causes and solutions here.
  3. Go down to the point where your upper legs are just below parallel to the ground. Going down further will limit the weight you can do and doing less is not completing the full range of motion. You are basically doing a half set of you don't go low enough. At your lowest point, your hips should be slightly lower than your knees.
  4. Your knees should be shoulder width (or slightly wider) apart and your heels should be in line with your shoulders (or slightly wider).
  5. Point your feet out slightly. This creates a more natural move that your joints are comfortable with.
  6. Don't lift your heels or toes during the entire movement. Work on this if you need to. Lifting your toes throws your body off balance and you need your heels on the ground because that is where the force of the weight is supposed to meet the ground. Power should come from your heels. I had a problem with my heels lifting, so I stretched my calves out every day until they could stay comfortably on the ground. Stability is important.
  7. Keep your back straight and neutral. It should not arch or bend in any direction. For me, I focused on sticking my bum out at the bottom of the lift to help me keep my back straight.
  8. Balance the bar between your traps and shoulders. Don't rest it on your neck. 
  9. Keep your chest up. I imagined slightly puffing it up. Always face forward, head-on. Don't bow. If I couldn't look at the mirror in front of me without tilting my head up, I knew that I was leaning forward and putting too much pressure on my back.
  10. Keep your head and neck straight, aligned with the rest of your back. Imagine your neck and back vertebrae as being a straight stick that will break if it bends.
  11.  The bar should move in a vertical line, going straight down and up. The bar should not gravitate towards you are away from you. It should be in line with the middle of your feet throughout the entire movement.
This is quite an extensive list of things to follow, and these are just the most important points. Practice with a small weight until you get all of the above rules right, or you will risk injuring yourself in the future. If you need pictures and more detailed explanations, click on the Strong Lifts link at the top of the paragraph to find a more in-depth guide.

Squat right or suffer the consequences!

I hope this prevents a lot of injuries for aspiring bodybuilders, power lifters and alike. STAY STRONG!