Bulking On A £3 Budget – by Ben Coker

This is a very short article just to fire home how simple and cheap bulking can be. People either don’t know how to eat to grow or come up with an excuses for not eating, namely its too expensive.
I strongly recommended reading ‘Building a Basic Diet’ to gain a good understanding of nutrition as a whole, but more specifically ‘Time to Belly Up Mr. Hardgainer’ on the matter of serious bulking the blended way.
If you believe that eating to grow is too taxing on the wallet don’t fret – it doesn’t have to be. I do fully understand that eating lots of lean meats and lots of calories in general can leave you a bit strapped for cash but what would you say if i said you can easily pack on the muscle for as little as £3 a day? And in a healthy way? You’ll want to know how i bet! Well relax because the answer is at hand.
Below is the breakdown of 8 basic food products in terms of cost per unit, per serving, as well as nutritional values…

Now lets break this down specifically in terms of servings, their cost and the amount you should have of each.  The macro nutrient and calorie breakdown per serving is also given…

Now finally just to fully complete the picture here is how you can combine the foods into 5 meals or ‘feeds’ as i prefer to call them to create a bulking on a budget diet when times are hard.

There you have it. 8 food sources. 4,286kcal. £3.07 a day. By all means this is not a perfect diet (a more varied protein source would be better) but it definitely leaves no excuses  to be not growing when times are financially hard. If you have a slightly more flexible budget obviously add in more. 4,286kcal will not be enough for 100kg + individuals that are on their diet already, but the take home message for those individuals is simply that you can get a lot of calories in for only £3.

Laws of Nutrition – by Jamie Bolton

I wrote in “The Simpler Nutrition Guide”  recently about the effectiveness of keeping our diets simple, in the sense of unprocessed, wholesome food that even grannie would recognise as being actual unadulterated produce. I left it fairly open ended, in as much that I honestly believe you can get a long way by following a rule as simple as that. 

I realise though that many out there want a more thorough structure to follow. So in this piece I’m going to explain at a broad level, the ins and outs of dietary programmes, and give some common-sense ‘laws’ that build on the principle discussed last time. Then in a future piece, I will go into more depth around the individual macronutrients and how to set things up in a bit more detail.

Most of you reading this will have read a diet article or two in your time I’m sure. From the non-sensical rubbish like the ‘grapefruit’ diet to the more measured approaches like the ‘Zone diet’. What I’m sure everyone can agree on is that there are a lot of different approaches out there. And every approach seemingly has a proponent out there preaching that their method is the holy grail. I’ll tell you now, it isn’t. There are a lot of methods that can work, and ultimately it’s about finding something that works optimally for you, be it high fat, high carb, intermittent fasting, whatever.

The funny thing is, despite there being a multitude of different methods out there that can work, and a seemingly forever number of people who are dieting, most people ‘wing it’ when it comes to their nutrition, and eat whatever is nearest or easiest. Its quite odd when you think about it, that eating is such a primal human instinct, indeed for any living being, yet it causes us such problems, but I digress.

What I’m going to do, rather than preach recommendations, is pick out the common ‘laws’ of nutrition that underpin any successful programme.

These are, simply:

1. Eat wholefoods.
2. Eat complete protein at every meal. This includes meats, fish, milk, eggs & protein powders. This does not include synthetic ‘protein’ rubbish like soy. Also, nuts are not high enough in protein to qualify, but they are a great healthy fat source.
3. Get as many of your carbohydrates from fruits & vegetables as you can.
4. Drink only non-calorie beverages. The best is water. Black coffee & tea is also fine. Coca cola is not.
5. Eat as wide a variety of foods as possible. What I mean is try to rotate around different meats, fruits etc. What I don’t mean is rotating between your favorite fast food outlets.
6. Embrace good fats. Eat plenty of fatty fish, red meat, olive oil, eggs, nuts etc.
7. Focus your calories after your training. In particular, focus your carbs here more so than any other point in the day.

Eat at every meal

And that’s it. I think you’ll agree that it’s pretty simple again, and keeps what I said last time perfectly in mind. I’m sure there’s going to be some questions here, so I’ll try to anticipate them in advance.

What about grains?
I said to get as many carbs as possible from fruits and veggies. That gives plenty of options, heck, nearly all fruit is perfect fast food, packed with nutrients, but I know that doesn’t really answer the question. Now, as I said before, we want our food to be as unadulterated as possible. Most grains inevitably have undergone some processing which creates a problem here. Or does it? We can still stay on point by focusing on the least processed kinds, for instance, brown rice, wholegrain breads (check for the less ingredients the better) and steel-cut oats. In other words, we can pick better ‘bads’. Ultimately, it boils back down to what I said in the first article, tighten or loosen according to your goals. If your in a mass phase, then grains won’t hurt. If in a leaning phase, then probably better to avoid them as far as possible. 

Focusing on fats can’t be good can it?
The media have managed to create the perception that fat makes you fat and is to be avoided at all costs. It’s even pushed food manufacturers to create ‘low fat’ everything where they strip out fat and typically replace it with sugar, but I digress. Fat doesn’t make you fat, excess calories do. There’s good fats and bad fats. I listed some examples of the former, which are naturally occurring which in short is why they are good for you; the latter, is the trans-fats created by the food processing industry which cause health problems all over the place. Embrace good fats. After all, our primary anabolic hormone, testosterone, has its precursor as a derivative of fats.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this thought, there are essential amino acids (proteins) & essential fatty acids, but no essential carbohydrates. Still think its good to avoid fats?

‘To err is human’. Nobody is perfect. Eating a little bit of what you want now and again won’t hurt, as long as it is just now and again. Try to aim for 90% compliance to the laws above, and don’t sweat the 10% that you don’t. That means if you eat 4 meals a day, then over a week you are allowed 3 ‘deviations’ from the laws. And that is any of the laws. Had a coca cola today? Right then you have two dietary deviations left for the week. Notice I’m not using the word ‘cheat’ here, as to me that suggests dietary deviations aren’t allowed, but here they are. Ultimately a few deviations won’t hurt, and if anything will help with your psychological sanity!

Wrap Up
We’ve gone from one idea to build a group of dietary laws here, but with one key thing at heart. Keep your food simple. There is no special diet that trumps all others. There are lots of different kinds of diets that can work, but the key underlying principle is the laws above which are common to all successful dietary programmes. If it doesn’t follow the laws, chances are it won’t work. Sorry ‘mars bar’ diet. Try following just the above laws to guide your food choices and see what it can do for you!

Myelin: Optimising Neural Pathways – by Jamie Bolton

I recently finished reading ‘The Talent Code’ by Daniel Coyle. The book focuses on the substance ‘myelin’ which in short is responsible for optimising neural pathways, making both thought and motor patterns more efficient in the process.

To explain better I’ll use the authors analogy. Essentially, at first when attempting to perform an untrained action, as the nervous system ‘fires’, the process is constrained by our neural circuitry, its akin to trying to drive fast down an alleyway, it just doesn’t work very well. As we practice and repeat, the body reacts by ‘wrapping’ nerve fibres in this substance myelin, in the process transforming neural pathways from narrow alleyways into superhighways allowing rapid impulse transfer. What does this mean? Well in essence, what was hard becomes easier.

Neural Impulses everywhere

Think back to your first bench press, I bet the bar wobbled all over the place, but now it follows a nice smooth path (or at least it should!), that’s myelin at work. Or perhaps a better example everyone can relate to, how about babies trying to walk? They try and try, but don’t quite manage it, but then just like that it clicks – they’ve accumulated enough myelin to do the task efficiently.

I won’t go explaining the book any further; if you’re interested in the subject though I’d highly recommend picking the book up, its a great read. What I will do now though is show how this can be useful for us strength athletes.

Let’s continue with that bench press example. That same first time, how much weight did you lift? How about the next time you bench pressed? And the time after that? I’d hazard a guess and say you saw pretty rapid progress in weight for a good month or two, and then the rate of progress suddenly dropped right down. What happened? Well we know myelin has been acting to optimise our neural circuitry, and actually that this happens fairly quickly, allowing these ‘rapid’ gains in strength. But what then? Why do our gains slow? Well, ‘gains’ from myelin have been exhausted for now, and the body is being forced to build bigger motor units (read: muscle) to do the job, which is a slower process. But this is where the good stuff starts happening – now we are growing muscle.

Myelin facilitates neural improvements. When we exhaust these temporarily, the body is forced to make structural, i.e. muscular and skeletal improvements. In turn, more myelin can then be used to make these new structures fire optimally and so on.

What underlies all this though is the need to challenge the body, we need to force adaptations. The body doesn’t want to change, and unfortunately for us always looks for the least ‘cost’ option to it. As a beginner, strength gains are rapid, why? It is relatively ‘cheap’ for the body to improve, all it needs to do is improve its neural pathways through myelin. As these are gains are exhausted, to improve, the body will have to build bigger muscle fibres. This is far more costly for the body. It doesn’t want to have to do this. Therefore, the challenge being placed on the body when training must be great enough to demand it.

If your ‘training’ is too easy, if you get up after that ‘heaviest’ set of deadlifts and you don’t even need to catch your breath, then don’t be surprised when you don’t improve. You aren’t asking enough of your body to make it want to.

Stop changing exercises.

This leads nicely on to my next point. Now, I’m all for variety in training, it’s the spice of life after all. But stop changing exercises for the sake of changing exercises. Lets use our little friend myelin to explain why.

You’ve suddenly hit a ‘wall’ with your strength gains on the bench press, its only going up 2.5kg a week! The horror. For a start, many advanced lifters would give their right arm for gains like that still (though they wouldn’t be much good at bench pressing anymore!) but I digress. So you switch to dumbells, and man, these are tough, you’re weak as anything with them. But next week, wow you’ve jumped, and the week after. For about a month, and then suddenly the gains aren’t forthcoming anymore. Time to ‘switch it up again’ right? Wrong.

Lets look deeper at what’s going on here. On the bench press, we’ve ‘myelineated’ our neural pathways, so our progress slowed down as the body actually was being forced to grow some muscle. We switch to dumbbells, these are new for us. Guess what, back to our first analogy and we’re down a neural alleyway again. But next week its suddenly a paved road, the week after an A-road, and so on, hence the ‘gains’ come quick again, until these pathways are ‘myelineated’ and again the body was being challenged that it might have begun to build some muscle. But you want to switch (rolls eyes).

Wrap up

The human body is a highly complex machine. It will always attempt to do things in the most efficient way possible (read: metabolically cheap).

You need to stick with exercises long enough to push past the neural gains and start seeing muscular gains. Know the phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’? That applies perfectly here. To progress you need to constantly challenge the body and not give it an ‘easy’ route out.

But don’t just think that once we’re beyond those initial big neural gains we only make muscular gains. Your neural circuitry is constantly being optimised by myelin. And that’s the brilliant thing, you are constantly being made a more efficient athlete, as well as a more muscular one, as long as you challenge the body. With this in mind, lets make sure we give ourselves the building blocks. Now for once I’m not talking protein (though that is crucial for muscle growth), I’m talking healthy fats for myelin development. In particular in this case, omega 3 fatty acids are crucial, so make sure to consume plenty of omega 3 rich food like salmon, or supplement instead.

Using an array of different exercises is great, but use them for the right reasons. Don’t just switch from bench presses to dumbbell presses because progress has slowed a little. Persevere. Now if your triceps strength, or lack of, is hammering you, then sure, maybe add in some board or floor presses to overload them more. But don’t switch just because you haven’t woken up looking like Ronnie Coleman all of a sudden. Muscle growth takes time.

Push hard and make that body adapt. Give it reason to grow.

The Simpler Nutrition Guide – by Jamie Bolton

What I’m going to present to you today isn’t groundbreaking, it isn’t revolutionary, nor will it instantly make you drop 10lbs of fat and gain 20lbs of muscle. But it is simple, and that’s where its beauty lies. After all, its been said that complexity is the language of the simple minded. I’m going to give you a quick, easy to remember, but incredibly effective way to tidy up your diet and instinctively make better nutritional decisions. 

First, a brief history lesson. Lets think back say fifty thousand years. Our diet back then was dependant on the environments we lived in. Agriculture was a good 40,000 years from being put into use. Man was essentially the quintessential ‘hunter-gatherer’. We ate what we could hunt – meat and fish – and what we could gather – vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, eggs. If it wasn’t there, we couldn’t eat it. It was about as basic as nutrition could get, eating literally what nature provided. Was this optimal for survival? Definitely not, else agriculture and the like would never have needed to be invented. Yet many people nowadays have had great success by reverting to this kind of ‘paleo’ diet, so there is some truth for sure in keeping things basic.

Jumping forward to say two-hundred years ago and the world has changed just a little to say the least, but not necessarily for the worse. Agriculture and farming has been in action for thousands of years, and world trade has allowed food products to be moved around the world. This starts to sound a lot like modern day, but with one crucial difference – we could only eat what the land would grow, not what we could ‘engineer’ as food. In other words, we were still dependant on nature.

Lets jump to the present. The food processing industry dominates much of the way people eat. Fast food and junk food are prevalent. The use of pesticides widespread. Animals and crops are not grown the way nature fully intended. Is this all bad? No. If you were to look at standards of living today versus back then, there is no doubt things are the best they’ve ever been right now, but I digress.

Look, I’m going to cut to the chase and give you the truth – people have had success with high-protein, high fat, and high carbohydrate diets; they all work if done correctly. What doesn’t work is the synthetic ‘food’ that food processing companies push on us. Don’t major in the minors, in the big picture whether you eat 1g/lb of protein or 1.1g/lb won’t make or break your progress. Focus on eating real food as nature intended.

That’s all wonderful, but how can we use the above information to inform our dietary decisions?

In short – the further removed a food is from the way nature intended, the less of it we should eat.

What does this mean in practice? Take the donut for example; donuts are about as processed as a food can get – white flour dough fried in hydrogenated fats and tossed in refined sugar. Nowhere in nature does anything similar exist. Therefore we shouldn’t be eating many of them. Simple.

Not quite what nature intended

Lets take something a bit more questionable, like say a tomato pasta sauce. Tomato pasta sauce is tomato pasta sauce after all right? Maybe not. Look at the ingredients on the pot, and look up the ingredients online needed to make the sauce from scratch. Notice the difference? The pre-made one has far more unnecessary ingredients like e-numbers, stabilisers and sugar. Which one do you think is going to be healthier? 

What about a beef steak? Beef is wholesome, natural protein right? Yes and no. Beef is a great source of protein no doubt. But lets go a little further. Most animals are reared nowadays on diets they wouldn’t consume in nature, in the case of the cow, often corn feed instead of grass. Now this causes a host of problems for our friend the cow, leading to a less healthy animal (check out Michael Pollan’s books for more info), which isn’t quite as good for us. If you can afford it, switch to organic meats, and in the case of beef – grass-fed. Food is more than just the sum of its macro-nutrients.

So what am I saying here? Eat only freshly made, unadulterated, organic food and never touch anything that has ever heard the word ‘processed’? Not quite. Strict dietary protocols and rules like that are always unsustainable, and not much fun in the long run.

Let’s make better food choices in the simplest of ways by focusing on natural, whole foods. A great question to ask yourself when shopping is – ‘was this around two-hundred years ago’ or ‘would my great-great-great-great grandmother recognise this as food’?

Great-Great-Great Grannie would recognise this as food

How can we put this all together? Well, ‘tighten’ or ‘loosen’ according to your goals.

If you’re in a gaining phase, then you can afford to be a little ‘looser’ with your food choices.
If you’re trying to lean out a bit, then best to stay away from the processed food options and try to keep things a bit more basic & primitive.

Look, the essence of my argument is pretty simple. Our genes haven’t changed much in a few hundred-thousand years, but the environments we live in and the food we consume has changed dramatically. By keeping food choices back to the basics, there could be much to be gained.

Nutrition doesn’t need to be difficult. We don’t need to eat perfectly all the time, but if we can improve food choices step-by-step constantly, then we’ll create a healthier, better performing, better recovering athlete.

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