Changes To EK…

All content, articles and blogs are now hosted at Ben Coker’s personal website. Please be redirected to www.Ben-Coker.com to read the latest articles!

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Nutritional Considerations for Team Sport Athletes

What are the foods team-sport athletes REALLY need? How does such athlete calculate their carbohydrate requirements? What’s the deal with supplements? Find out below.

Estimated read time: 20mins

Topics covered:

  • Macro-Nutrient requirements
  • Shopping list on a budget
  • Quality of food sources
  • Carbohydrate timings
  • Post workout (PWO) recommendations
  • Hunger dictating feeding
  • Essential supplements
  • Fad supplements

Participating experts: Adam Hope (StrengthTable) (AH (ST)), Ben Coker (StrengthTable) (BC (ST)), Ben Coomber (BC), Alexander Ferentinos (AF), Martin MacDonald (MM)

Read full discussion

Health Screens in the UK – A Waste of Money? – by Jamie Bolton

I recently had the ‘pleasure’ of a BUPA Health Screen (the inverted comma’s will soon become clear!). Now, working in the realm of health and fitness, I can quite honestly say my expectations were low for what the doctor might say. Something to the tune of –

“Saturated fat bad for you

Eat more whole grains

Supplements are bad

Do more cardio

Your BMI is too high”

I’m pleased to, and despair to say – they didn’t disappoint.

The morning kicked off with the basics. Height, weight, BMI. On the positive side here, the nurse did acknowledge BMI is pretty meaningless for a strength training individual who’s clearly not obese, but she still couldn’t help but comment that at a BMI of 29, it was still high (*rolls eyes*).

Now, one thing that I couldn’t help but think might skew morning’s results was my last feeding – organic sausages, onion gravy & sweet potato mash – the night before. That kind of meal always causes me some crazy fluid retention and makes me hold about 2-3kg water for the next 18hours or so. It had thrown my weight up by about 2kg this morning already – and I had a horrid suspicion it may well throw my blood pressure off too – it did. My BP came out borderline high.

After some blood samples, urine, hearing, vision, and respiratory tests, I was through to see the doc. Oh goody.

But first – they had to offer me an array of sugary snacks & drinks, since having fasted for at least 6 hours I was clearly about to keel over (It was more like 15hrs at this point due to intermittent fasting, but I digress). I declined.

So I ran through my medical questionnaire with the doc first (before looking at test results). Here we go –

“You eat how much protein? Bad for your kidneys”.

“You lift weights four times a week? That’s bad”

“You say you eat a lot of saturated fat? – that causes high cholesterol and heart disease”

“You take supplements? You don’t take the horrid creatine do you?!”

“You don’t eat breakfast?! Intermittent what?!?!”

“Cardio only a few times a week!? You need to up that”

At this point I was halfway to severing though my tongue from biting down on it so damn hard to stop myself from leaping up and bludgeoning this poor misguided doctor to a pulp. But I managed to hold and finally we got to the results, where I thought I’d start to chip in some home truths.

“Well your kidneys seem to be functioning perfectly well, in fact far better than I usually see.”Yes, that would be because there is no link between high protein intake and impaired kidney function. The studies that you are referring too were done on people with impaired kidney function already. Follow ups show no impact on kidneys from high protein intake.

“Your cholesterol levels are very good. HDL is above where we like to see it, and LDL well below. But I’d still recommend cutting back on saturated fat.” Okay, at this point I really did want to commit an atrocity. But I tried to point out how this is wrong and outdated (for those interest check out MacNutrition.com, a site pack with the real research!). She wouldn’t have it. We agreed to disagree. I agreed she was an idiot.

If she had looked like this I may have given her some slack...

Now, as I mentioned earlier, my BP came out borderline high. Not high. Borderline high. Now, seeing as she couldn’t find fault with anything else despite me doing so many things clearly wrong. She decided to tear into this one. I pointed out a high salt/ sodium dinner the night before was probably putting the result out. Nope. Apparently my supplements were probably to blame. I learnt a lot here from her – whey protein causes high BP, vitamin D causes high BP, omega 3 causes high BP (note the tongue in cheek humour). A quick google search for studies shows the opposite is true in all cases. I gave up at this point since it was clear she wouldn’t listen.

I’ll start to round up here, but the short story is it didn’t get any better. Cardio apparently builds longer ‘lean’ muscle whilst weight training builds shorter (fat?) muscles. I didn’t even know how to react to the implication here therefore that cardio also changes the insertion point of muscles in the body. *Head in hands despairing*.

In summary, I was pretty pissed off with the level of competency displayed by private health care practitioners who were being paid £1000 for this (luckily not out of my pocket). There was a complete lack of up to date knowledge, on well, anything. They could interpret some tests well enough, but that was about it. As to lifestyle advice – give me a break.

We need change and luckily for us professionals such as Joseph Lightfoot with his Move. Eat. Treat. campaign and Martin MacDonald of MacNutrition, are pushing to educate the powers that be. Do your part – support their causes and spread their word to stop this ignorance in our health system.

Let’s be clear…this isn’t a blanket certification that all health-care professionals are idiots. They’re not. I’m sure there are plenty out there who are very good at what they do. Maybe I was just unlucky. But I had low expectations based on what I read and see everyday. And unfortunately this doc failed to meet even those.

If I had to do this all over again, I’d do this a little different – I’d get some blood tests done and assess myself by, well, myself. If something then came out well & truly wrong, I’d look up some help. But I’m not about to shell out that kind of money for some out of date… no… in fact, just incorrect advice.

The take-away message? You can’t necessarily trust the word of all ‘professionals’. There are good ones and bad ones out there – seek the good ones if you can but be prepared that may not be possible. Educate yourself if this is what really interests you. It’s your life and if you truly care about your health & fitness, perhaps you should be taking this into your own hands and do some research.

Everything Squat

The Squat…

The foundation of performance? Or a dangerous exercise that should be avoided? This discussion covers it all, and much more…

Estimated read time: 31 minutes

Topics covered:

  • The squat movement
  • Physical literacy
  • What about if you’re tall?
  • Loading
  • Bilateral versus single leg squats
  • The perfect depth?
  • Anatomy
  • Squatting and ankle stiffness

Participating coaches: Joseph Lightfoot (JL), Ben Coker (BC), Alex Brooker (AB) and Adam Hope (AH).

Read the full roundtable discussion here

That Cover Model Look – Ben Coker

When we see a female cover model, there are two aspects of the physique that women aspire to have. The first is the ‘leanness’ or level of fat on the body achieved on the whole by effective nutrition and calorie expenditure. The second is the shape of the muscles on the body that give the female body a desirable shape. Many fail to appreciate that it is the hypertrophy of the body’s muscle fibres that develops those much admired contours that women seek.

In this article I will clarify the mechanics behind successful exercise selection and ordering in a programme that will yield a cover model body. I will also dispel some myths and stigmas that surround women and weight training.

Full Article

Tips to Instantly Improve Your Squat – Ben Coker

Today’s blog is a short one but nonetheless, a very useful one. Dave Tate in particular has produced some excellent material on how to improve your squat and therefore I am not going to rephrase what the man has already done succinctly. Instead I am going to make you aware of two simple techniques you can use before your squat set that will instantly make your squat stronger.

Tip #1 Squat/Frog Jumps

Jumping by nature is a high force movement as involves the projection of a load (your body). The higher the force produced, the more high-threshold motor units are recruited. Therefore as an activation tool performed prior to a regular lifting movement frog jumps will act as a “wake-up” call, potentiating the nervous system. This will allow you to recruit the high-threshold motor units more easily in the subsequent lifting exercises.

  • Go to full depth as you would in your squat. This will ensure that all the muscles involved in the squat will be potentiated in the jump.
  • Following on from the above; ensure that you jump using the hips (sit back in the squat part of the jump) and do not rely on jumping with the knees (quads) alone.
  • Make sure you complete the jump fully with a hard forceful triple extension to ensure the posterior chain is fully activated.
  • You must put everything into the jump and really explode as high as you can; otherwise you are not activating the high thresholds motor units as well as you can.

Perform 2-3 max jumps about 30 seconds out from you set and feel the power.

Tip # 2 Squeeze The Fucking Bar.

No really. Try and break the thing in half!

Okay I’m not talking about when the bar is racked across your back…that should be staple by now. To reiterate, as soon as you grab the bar you never let go of it. In squatting, the lift starts as soon as you grab the bar and ends when you let go of it when it’s back in the rack. Don’t let up with that grip during the lift.

What I am talking about is an extra concerted effort before you go under the bar. Once you take a hold of the bar imagine trying to snap the bar in half. I peronally imagine ‘pushing’ the ends of the bar away from me and down, making use of a strong lat contraction, whilst ‘pulling’ the middle towards me in a way such that if the bar were to break the broken ends would swing towards my face. Other imagery may work better for you. In short my whole body is tensing to the max in the attempt.

For this to work you really need to try and break the bar not just go through the motions. Your body should be trembling if you are doing it to the right intensity. Hold this squeeze for 3-5 seconds. You be surprised how tiring it actually is! And the mental mindset you get into in trying to snap a barbell is a phenomenal boost. Then overall feeling is ‘amped’ to say the least. From there, without breaking grip, go under the bar and own the squat.

Get nasty with the bar!

Wrap Up

Both of these methods work extremely well for me. They potentiate my body extremely well but also help to get me angry enough (with the help of a strong iTunes playlist) to go under the bar with utter range and a confidence that the only way is up from that hole.

I’d love to know whether these methods work for you. Whether a wobbly 1RM now feels a solid and clean1RM and or more weight goes on the bar of even if a 3RM becomes a 5RM leave your comments and let me know!

Train hard. Train smart. Be Strong.

Interview with Figure Athlete, Maria Scotland

EK: Hey Maria, Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

MS: Hey guys. Thank you for your interest in me and for asking me to speak to you!

EK: Why don’t you start us off by saying a little about yourself and your achievements in figure to date.

 MS:  This is my first year back in the gym after a very long spell (5 years or more) of no exercise and my first time ever competing. On the 5th June 2011 I competed in FAME UK and then I joined the UKBFF. I am FAME UK Figure champion 2011 and runner up Muscle Model. I am also UKBFF Kent Klassic bodyfitness champion 2011 and UKBFF British champion 2011 (6th place). In addition I am a Gaspari 2012 calender girl (Miss October) and I had a 2 page spread in Muscle and Fitness in October 2011.

 EK: That’s a pretty impressive start to career! FAME champion and 6th in your first UKBFF championships. On that note, what was your reaction to your placing?

 MS: I aimed higher than 6th place. I am hard on myself and didn’t see it as overly impressive: with less stage fright and more fluid posing I could have placed higher – next year!

EK: What is the focus now?

MS: I relaxed  over the Christmas holidays in terms of diet only. For me training and pushing myself to failure each training day is now a way of life and one I love. My focus is on a micro-level increasing my lifts each week and on a macro-level being better and more fabulous for the European Arnold next year followed by the Brits 2012.

EK: Awesome stuff the European Arnold should be an awesome experience, best of luck. It’s fair to say you have reached a high level in terms of your physique and contest placings. What help have you had along the way in terms of coaching and contest prep?

MS: I’ve had the same trainer at Virgin Active all season and he’s taken care of my coaching all year. As far as contest preparation I went to the FAME Bootcamps in the run up to FAME UK where Angie Weston and Audrey Kaipio gave guidance on posing and the model’s walk. In the run up to the UKBFF British finals I went to Panther’s gym to see Helen O’Reilly for posing practice. Since the Brits I’ve been training with Jordan Peters and he’s reshaped my training programme and diet with a keen eye on achieving higher placing at next year’s Brits and the European Arnold.

Okay, let’s take it back to the very beginning. How did you first hear about and get involved in figure competitions?

MS: I read about FAME UK in Ultrafit magazine. After the competition and my win I heard one of the other figure competitors talking about the UKBFF and said the best of the best competed with that federation – that was the obvious next place for me to compete!

EK: What do you enjoy most about competing in figure?

MS: Pushing myself to my limit and the camaraderie amongst bodybuilers: men and women.

EK: What do you consider to be your strongest aspects as a competitor?

 MS: I am drug free.

EK: Strong from you! Are there any particular areas of your physique that you are currently working on?

MS: My weaknesses. My back is my strongest and best feature. Additionally from the front my physique is pretty strong: I have good shoulders, biceps, chest, abs and quads. However from behind and below my back I have weaknesses in my hamstrings, glutes and calfs. By my next competition I shall be balanced and have a better physique.

EK: Furthering on the previous question; what is your current training split?

MS: Monday is chest, compound tricep work and abs, Tuesday is lower back, Wednesdays are shoulders, Friday is upper back work (lats) and Saturday is legs and calfs. I rest (or do cardio) Thursdays and Sundays.

EK: Unfortunately many females out they fail to realize the benefits of weight training for health and aesthetics. You go a long way to disprove the unfair dogma surrounding weightlifting in women.  What do you have to say on the matter?

 MS: It’s not a dogma that is likely to disappear I fear. If I had a pound for every time a female told me she admired my physique but didn’t want to lift weights “because she didn’t want to look like Schwarznegger” I would be able to retire a wealthy woman right now! It makes my heart sink each and every time and arguing the case for weightlifting has proven useless as it falls on deaf ears. Women prefer cardio – endless treadmill action or dance classes. How they cannot put the fact they admire my physique together with the fact I lift, and therefore so should they to look like me, is beyond me. However slowly slowly maybe the message will sink in.

EK: Frustrating indeed! It just takes a few to realize the benefits and tide could turn on the matter. We are pushing for that day! For those who are willing to ‘convert’ to the iron side, what would you recommend as a good starting program for any female ‘trainee to be’ who wants to get into good shape?

 MS: I would recommend using a trainer to learn good technique and establish a routine. Even a couple of weeks is enough. Read everything – there are brilliant informative magazines (Flex, Muscle and Fitness, Muscular Development etc) and websites out there that are a font of knowledge for the would be trainee and essential for learning the basic. Then put your heart into training and make it a passion in your life – soon you will carve the figure you desire.

EK: Sound words. Okay onto nutrition. What would an average off season diet look like for you, including any supplements?

MS: On rising BCAAs and water followed by a breakfast of  porridge oats and whey protein and then more BCAAs, L-Glutamine, fish oils, a good multi-vitamin tablet and a probiotic. I then try to have 30 g of protein and 20 g of carbohydrates every 3 hours. I take protein powders and have (CNP) protein oat bars if I am busy or at work otherwise I will eat chicken or salmon, green salad and rye bread or rice cakes. Off season I cheat every day – a sweet, a biscuit or chocolate as the fancy takes me. I use USN anabolic pre-workout powder before training and I take BCAAs and L-Glutamine before and after training. Immediately following a workout I will have a scoop of Glycojet. Before bed I will have ZMA tablets and yet more BCAAs.

EK: At the British you looked fantastic on stage as your placement shows. We’ve heard that during your prep you actually got too lean and needed to ‘fatten up’ a bit before the comp! Is this true?

MS: Yes! My trainer told me I looked like a Physique girl! I had been skipping my carbs because I was so busy so I had to increase my carbs. The night before I was cramming rice cakes in to try to fill me out. Not a bad way to compete – better than the awful decarb/ carb up hell I endured to qualify. Instead I coasted in on increased carbs.

 EK: Awesome, that’s definitely a bonus! How about you share some of your methods for dieting as they clearly work!

MS: Whilst competing I am not as strict with myself as other competitors. I have my diet plan (6 meals per day with definite meaures of protein, carbs and fats per meal) but whenever I have a craving I give in to it. I have learnt that if I do so I stay sane and on target otherwise I loose my mind and get grumpy! I cheat on a biscuit or 3 pieces of chocolate sometimes each day. However I don’t have a cheat day. That said the week before qualifying I was religious with the decarb/ carb up hell and 4 weeks before the Brits I did not cheat at all – just in case!

EK: That’s an approach that makes sense and still takes a lot of discipline in terms of keeping a cheat down to a single biscuit or 3 pieces of chocolate. Readers this DOES NOT mean you can eat an abundance of ‘cheat’ food everyday!

You have answered my next question but ill ask it anyway and let you expand a bit…Staying on a diet for fat loss can be tough. How do you manage to stay on diet when the going gets tough?

 MS: As I said I do give in to urges but I recognise that a square of chocolate or a biscuit will not jeopardise the very hard training, hours of cardio and clean meals eaten at all other times. The small cheating kept me on track and made eating otherwise clean easy.

EK: True say the key is adherence and it seems a method that yields good results. Moving on, it is a customary question at EK to ask about inspiration. So here goes, who is your biggest inspiration?

 MS: Ken Scotland – my younger brother is my greatest inspiration. He began bodybuilding when he was 13 and I grew up alongside him putting his heart and soul into developing his physique. He was a Gladiator alongside Russel Crowe in the film. He died before the film was released and I am heartily grateful that he is preserved at his best on film.

EK: I am deeply sorry for your loss. You are most definitely right; a truly inspiring film for a truly inspiring person. I think it is extremely powerful that your biggest inspiration is a family member. With such a driving force behind you I am sure you’ll reach whatever goals you set. On this matter, what are your long term goals and aspirations?

MS: I want to turn pro and open up my own gym.

EK: Great stuff. If any of our female readers are interested in competing in figure, what advice would you give them?

MS: Go for it! Why not – do it!!

EK: Conviction! I like it. Following this, where can anyone interested go to find more about the sport and info on how to enter for a show?

MS: Do as I did – Google and read up on the sport. Additionally facebook other competitors. The women (and men) in the sport are incredibly magnanimous with their time and will happily share their knowldege and experience – me included!

EK: Awesome stuff Maria! Thank you again for taking the time to chat with us. We look forward to following your progress and look forward to speaking with you again when you have your pro card!

 MS: Thank you it has been a pleasure! Xx

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