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The 4 Pillars of Nutrition: Calories, Macronutrients, Food Quality, Adherence.

If you don’t know of any great sources of information, learning about nutrition can be a minefield. On one hand, you have ultra-restrictive fad diets, such as ketogenic, juice cleanses and carnivore. On the other hand, you have Instagram fitness influencers telling you ‘ignore everything, just create a calorie deficit’ (which, even if it was enough to reach your goal, is hardly helpful advice in learning how to go about achieving that). Therefore, to try and condense nutritional advice into one article, without over-simplifying it to the point of misinformation, I have selected 4 pillars of nutrition. If these needs are met, then you have set up a nutritional protocol suitable for your goal.

 

Calories:

As mentioned above, there are plenty of people which believe it is as simple as calories in vs calories out. Although it is essential to know how many calories to intake to meet your goals, there is also plenty of negatives if you ignore every other aspect of nutrition. If you eat more calories than your calorie maintenance, then you have created a calorie surplus and will put on weight. If you eat less calories than your calorie maintenance, then you have created a calorie deficit and will lose weight. This provides a great starting point when creating any nutritional protocol.

 

However, only considering caloric intake does not account for macronutrients. If your diet lacks protein, then you will add less muscle than you could be during a calorie surplus and losing more muscle than you could be during a calorie deficit. It also does not account for food quality, possibly resulting in deficiencies in certain micronutrients. It also does not take into account adherence, often people adopt extremely low-calorie diets which they cannot stick to in the long term.

 

Macronutrients:

The 3 macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Adequate protein intake is required to maximise muscle retention in a calorie deficit and muscle gain (hypertrophy) in a calorie surplus. Protein requirements will change between training goals, however having an intake above 1.6g per kg of bodyweight will suffice for most goals.

 

Glycogen is the body’s chosen source of energy. Having adequate carbohydrate intake in our diet will keep glycogen stores full, resulting in higher quality of training. Fats have assist with many functions in the body and is also another source of energy, as well as the absorption of nutrients. Keeping fats at approximately 30% of total caloric intake should ensure you are in taking all that you need.

 

If you succeed in selecting the correct calorie intake and macronutrient breakdown, you will start to make significant progress towards body composition goals. The downside to only focussing on calories and macronutrients is that food quality can still suffer. Also, you may still set up a diet which is not adhereable for you.

 

Food Quality:

Broadly speaking, food quality refers to how nutrient dense the food is. For example, vegetables have a vast number of micronutrients in each and every serving. Therefore, vegetables would be classed as a high-quality food. On the contrary, alcohol has virtually no nutrients in each serving, as well as containing 7kcal per gram (almost double the calories than protein and carbohydrates, which have 4kcal per gram). Therefore, alcohol would be classified as a low-quality food.

 

Food quality is important, as people can still hit their macronutrients and calorie target whilst consuming several takeaways and overconsuming alcohol. The issue with this, is that they can end up with deficiencies in several vitamins and minerals. This can lead to increased chance of illness and disease. Therefore, I would recommend filling your diet with as many high-quality foods as you deem adhereable.

 

Adherence:

The last piece of the puzzle is adherence. When many people change their diets they almost never make changes which they can stick to for the rest of their life. This way, they are only setting themselves up to eventually fail. Therefore, it is important to only make changes which do not overwhelm you in anyway. A good personal trainer or nutritionist will assess the level that you should begin with and progress you as you are learning and adhering to the skills and habits that you are able to keep consistent.  If you are going to stick to a diet long term, then a level of enjoyment is paramount to success.

 

In conclusion, these 4 pillars of nutrition cover most you need to know to generally stay healthy and meet most of your goals. There will be certain exceptions for individuals with special dietary requirements, if you feel like you are one of them, then it would be best to consult with a qualified nutritionist.

 

Are Eccentrics more important for Hypertrophy?

Reference to Study: Sato et. al. (2022). Comparison between concentric-only, eccentric-only and concentric-eccentric resistance training of the elbow flexors for their effects on muscle strength and hypertrophy. EUR J APPL PHYSIOL

 

Details of the Study:

 

  • Trainees performed 3×10 bicep curls 2x per week for 5 weeks

 

  • 1 group only performed the concentric portion, another group only performed the eccentric portion and the last group performed both concentric and eccentric portions of the bicep curl.

 

  • Note: The total volume load (weight x number of contractions) was double for the concentric+eccentric group.

 

  • Despite this difference in load, it was found that biceps growth was similar between the concentric+eccentric group & the eccentric only group, whilst the concentric only group saw significantly less group.

 

  • Therefore, the study supports the idea that the eccentric portion of the contraction is more important for growth

 

 

Real world application:

  • Many people chasing muscle growth often rush the eccentric portion of lifts, allowing gravity to take the weight down instead of keeping the muscle under as much tension as they could to control the weight. Therefore, this study is part of the growing evidence why this is highly suboptimal for their training goal.

Coach Sam Joinson

An active combat sports athlete in Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Sam is a personal trainer who centres his practice around helping his clients move better, so they can feel better.

 

Sam has an expertise in biomechanics and has a great coaches eye when it comes to identifying discrepancies within movements and creating interventions.

 

He took up exercise in his youth as a way of managing anxiety and improving his body confidence and has been focused on the study of biomechanics, nutrition and psychology ever since, pushing his limits to try and achieve an excellent standard of physical performance and conditioning coaching for his personal training clients.

 

A recovering Scoliotic, Sam has dealt with a wide array of injuries as a result of compromised biomechanics and has used his practice to drastically reduce his symptoms and dysfunctions through a process of elimination.

 

Sam’s approach combines traditional weight lifting, movement training, breath work and concepts from psychology, anthology and sociology to achieve a holistic and balanced approach aimed at getting the most from his clients mental and physical development.

RESULTS

10 WEEK LEAN PHASE

24 KG WEIGHT LOSS

 

Understanding ‘Cardio’

‘Cardio’ is a term you will hear a lot in the gym. Usually in a negative way, with thoughts of, mundane, prolonged incline walking on a treadmill springing to mind. However, ‘cardio’ encompasses much more than long slow distance training. This article will delve into the many different types of ‘cardio’ and how you can use it to help reach your training goals.

 

Firstly, ‘cardio’ is short for cardiovascular exercise and can be defined as any exercise that increases heart rate and keeps it up. However, heart rate can be raised in so many different ways, all of which bring about a different adaptation. Therefore, it’s important to have your goals clearly defined because a training session to develop aerobic capacity will look very different from sessions used to build speed, speed endurance or lactate threshold. If you aren’t an athlete, it is likely you will be wanting to use CV exercise to improve your overall health or to lose weight. In which case, you will want to familiarise yourself with all types and use some of each in your training throughout the year.

 

When it comes to cardiovascular exercise, our body uses three energy systems. These are called the alactic system, lactic system and aerobic system. There is almost never a time at which all three systems aren’t working simultaneously. However, for most forms of exercise, one energy system will be being used a lot more than the other two.

 

 

If you want to develop speed, then you want your training to be focused on building the alactic system. The alactic system is used for high intensity exercise for up to approximately 13 seconds. It does not use oxygen and instead forms energy from recycling ATP using phosphocreatine stores in the muscle. These stores are very small however, hence why we can only utilise this system for 13 seconds before a prolonged rest (>3 minutes) so that the body can restore phosphocreatine levels. With that in mind, we can apply this to a training sessions to help develop this system. An example being 8 sets of 10 second sprints with 3 minutes rest. Many people don’t feel like they’re ‘working hard enough’ when doing this sort of training as they aren’t out of breath. However, looking back at what this system uses, it does not use oxygen, therefore when we train this system correctly, we do not create an oxygen debt and therefore do not feel out of breath. We can apply specificity to make this session more applicable to the goal. In very simple terms, runners will do this session on a track, cyclists on a bike and rowers on a row-erg or boat and so on.

 

The next system we can develop is the lactic acid energy system. The popular ‘HIT’ training falls into this category. This energy system derives energy from glucose. However, the oxygen debt from high intensity exercise results in lactic acid being produced, causing pain and this is why this energy can only be the predominant energy system for up to 3 minutes. When training, work intervals will be between 30 seconds and 3 minutes with rest intervals no longer than the work interval. This is so that the lactic acid cannot fully clear prior to the next interval, resulting in a gradually increasing tolerance to lactic acid. This is useful training for events which use this energy system such as 800m running. Sessions for this energy system can look very different. For example, 3 sets of 30 second sprints with 15 seconds rest. As well as, 6 sets of 3 minutes working hard with 3 minutes rest. Despite targeting the same energy system, the latter session is more aerobic, so it’s important to know what event you are targeting and tailoring your sessions towards that goal.

 

The final energy system is the aerobic energy system. This utilises oxygen and is best developed at around 70% of your maximum heart rate. An example for a 40-year-old would be (220-age) = Max Heart rate estimation. (220-40) = 180. 70% of 180= 126bpm. This will be the predominant energy system for any exercise lasting over 3 minutes. Therefore, this is going to be the predominant energy system for events such as 5km run or above.

It is worth noting, that if you are using cardiovascular exercise for general health then it is most productive to add a bit of each type of energy system training throughout the year. However, adherence is key, therefore it’s important to prioritise the type that you enjoy most and fits into your lifestyle.

Short vs Long rest periods for Muscle Growth

Reference: Schoenfield et. al. (2016) Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance Trained Men.

 

Information on the study:

 

  • Trainees with at least 6 months resistance training experience were split into 2 groups

 

  • Both groups performed 7 compound lifts, for 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 3x per week, for 8 weeks

 

  • 1 group rested for 1 minute between sets, while the other rested for 3 minutes between sets

 

 

  • It was found that the longer rest group saw superior gains in all muscle groups when compared to the shorter rest group.

 

  • This supports the idea that longer rest periods are superior for hypertrophy

 

 

Application to real world:

  • With longer rest periods come longer overall sessions durations, unless you cut overall volume.
  • Overall volume has been shown to be a significant factor in muscle hypertrophy
  • Therefore, it may be worth only applying these long rest periods if you have the extra time free in your schedule to allow you to do so.

Principles of Training – Specificity

Different methods of training provide our bodies with a diverse range of stimuli, which in turn cause a wide variety of adaptations. This is why we need to apply the principle of specificity, which ensures that the training we are doing will provide our bodies with the correct stimuli to cause the desired adaptation and bring about the desired change to our performance or aesthetic measures of our physique.

 

In order to apply specificity, we need to work backwards. By this, I mean we first establish what element of our performance or aesthetic we want to change. In other words, this is your goal, such as lose body fat, increase muscle mass, run a faster 5k or increase your deadlift 1RM. Next, we take this change to performance or aesthetic and identify what adaptation will cause this.

 

To give some practical examples, let’s take some common goals and walk through the process of devising a training programme to optimise results. Firstly, it’s important to note that nutrition is paramount in any training goal you may have. However, as this article is only about applying specificity to our training programmes, we won’t touch upon that in this article.

 

If we look at programmes to increase muscle mass (hypertrophy) or optimise fat loss they are actually identical, it’s the nutrition which will differ. This is because in both of these programmes we want to provide as much stimulus to the muscle so that they have the best environment for growth when in a calorie surplus and the best environment to be retained in a deficit, thereby optimising fat loss.

 

When making a training programme ideal for optimising hypertrophy we need to look at which aspects of training that cause hypertrophy. These include: training close to/muscular failure on a regular basis, ensuring enough volume is completed on each muscle group throughout the week and ideally training each muscle group on 2 separate days per week. When it comes to training close to/at failure, it’s worth noting that this must be achieved by not only training hard but also selecting exercises with a high external stability so that it’s fatigue on the target muscle that is the limiting factor and not something else such as a loss of balance. Without this, we will have to cease the set prior to the muscle being close to failure and thereby not achieving our goal of that set.

 

Volume has been shown to have a linear relationship with hypertrophy i.e. when looking at it purely through the lens of specificity, the more volume, the better results. However, we need to apply the other principles of training in order to identify the optimal volume for each individual at a given time in their training cycle.

 

Next, let’s take a look at applying specificity to a popular performance based goal such as running a faster 5k. Now this is very context specific as there’s so many factors that go into improving 5km performance. Therefore, which element of training someone focuses on will differ between individuals, this will be talked about in much greater detail during the next blog on individualisation.

 

From a general perspective though, we need to identify that about 88-90% aerobic. Therefore, countless HIT sessions are not going to be very beneficial for 5km performance. Instead, we need to train aerobically for the vast majority of sessions. These are going to be made up of long easy runs, typically at an intensity around 60-65% of maximum heart rate. At this intensity, you should be able to hold a conversation quite easily, if you need to walk to achieve this then that is fine. Other types of training will be tempo runs and intervals where you are at the threshold between aerobic and anaerobic performance. This will help your body adapt to getting rid of lactic acid and be able to stay in aerobic respiration at faster paces. Lastly, a small proportion of the sessions will be anaerobic, working on speed endurance, as this accounts for a small part of 5km performance.

 

Overall, specificity is arguably the most important principle of training because if you get it wrong, your training can be extremely unproductive. The last thing you want to do is put 100% effort into a training programme only to fall massively short of your goals all because your sessions were bringing about ineffective adaptations in relation to your goals. Therefore, it is essential you learn how to apply the principle of specificity prior to writing any training programme.

Rep Ranges and Goals

Rep Ranges and Goals

1-5 reps for strength

6-7 Strength/Hypertrophy

8-12 for hypertrophy

13-15 Hypertrophy/Endurance

15+ Endurance

 

Research has actually shown that hypertrophy has been shown to be the same at any rep range as long as the muscle is taken close to failure and the load is anything above 30% 1RM

 

This study supports that claim: Fink, J., Kikuchi, N., Yoshida, S., Terada, K., & Nakazato, K. (2016). Impact of high versus low fixed loads and non-linear training loads on muscle hypertrophy, strength and force development. Springerplus5(1), 1-8.

 

Experienced endurance runners have actually been shown to increase performance more when spending their S+C sessions completing high load, low rep work compared to low load high reps as the increase in strength helps increase running economy in the latter stages of races

 

Study to support this claim: Ebben, W. P., Kindler, A. G., Chirdon, K. A., Jenkins, N. C., Polichnowski, A. J., & Ng, A. V. (2004). The effect of high-load vs. high-repetition training on endurance performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research18(3), 513-517.

 

Principles of Training: Reversibility

The principles of training are factors that should be applied to any training programme to ensure optimal adaptations. These principles include: Progressive Overload, Reversibility, Specificity, Individualisation and Periodization. To delve deeper into each of these, I will be writing an in-depth article on each, with this one discussing Reversibility.

 

It’s at this time of year where the majority of people go on their holiday and take a break from everything in life, including training. Alternatively, many people may have to cease training due to other reasons such as work and family commitments or injury. Depending on the amount of time taken off, one can experience reversibility.

 

Reversibility can be defined as the loss of fitness and/or performance adaptations via the withdrawal of tissue loading (which we get from training). Each adaptation takes a different amount of time to fade. For example, aerobic capacity and muscle elasticity have been shown to decrease after just 5 days of inactivity. However, strength has been shown to only decrease by 10% after 8 weeks without training. It’s important to note that other factors will also play a significant role in how quickly an adaptation is lost when training is stopped. These include the individual’s genetics, as well as nutrition. For example, if two bodybuilders were to stop training and one continued to consume a high protein diet and maintenance calories and the other who consumed inadequate amount of protein and ate below their maintenance calories, the latter is expected to experience a greater degree of reversibility.

 

Once someone experiences this, upon their return to training they are expected to experience a reduction in performance levels across the board. Also, lower recovery levels between sessions, susceptibility to DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and increased risk of injury are expected- especially if the reason for cessation of training is due to an injury.

What can someone do to try and minimise the effects of the issues mentioned above? Upon returning to training after a break, what many people try and do is go and train extra hard, and twice as much in an attempt to make up for lost time. Unfortunately, our bodies do not work like that and this approach will only result in overtraining. This is because our bodies can only adapt to a given amount of a stimulus at one time and after a period of detraining, this size of the stimulus needed for maximal adaption actually decreases. Therefore, the best approach when returning to training is to decrease the FIT principles from FITT (Frequency, Intensity, Time) in order to moderate size of the stimulus on the body.

 

Frequency refers to the number of sessions per week that is being carried out, if you were training over 3 times per week prior to taking time off, it may be wise to decrease frequency by up to 50% and then gradually build back up. For example, if you originally trained 4 times per week and then took an 8-12 week break, you may train twice on your first week back, 3 times on your second and be back up to 4 sessions per week by your third week back into full training.

 

Intensity refers to how vigorous a session is. Therefore, if you went through a block of training whereby a number of your lifts were at 80% of your 1 rep max, then it may be sensible to decrease this load to 60% of your 1 rep max and increase it by 5% each week until you are back at 80%.

 

Time refers to the duration of each training session. This concept is best applied to cardiovascular exercise. Simply put, if you were running for 45 minutes each session prior to taking time away from training. You would look at decreasing this amount, depending on how much time you had away from exercise. Typically, you may decrease to 25 minutes if you took a month off, and then increase the duration by 5 minutes each week until you were back at 45 minutes.

 

All these precautions are necessary to try and reduce the risk of injury and to make sure the body can adequately recover between sessions instead of experiencing burnout and having to take more time away from training. It’s also worth noting that the stimulus needed to maintain performance is significantly less than what is needed to improve. Therefore, performance will not continue decrease, even on much smaller training loads whilst building back up.

 

The effect of volume on muscle growth

The effect of volume on muscle growth

 

The study: Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Krieger, J., Grgic, J., Delcastillo, K., Belliard, R., & Alto, A. (2019). Resistance training volume enhances muscle hypertrophy but not strength in trained men. Medicine and science in sports and exercise51(1), 94

 

 

  • 45 men with an average lifting experience of 4.4 years of lifting performed the same exercises in the 8-12 rep range, 3x per week for 8 weeks

 

 

  • The men were split into 3 groups. One performed each exercise for 1 set per session, one group for 3 sets per session and 1one group for 5 sets per session

 

 

  • The results found a dose-response-relationship between sets performed and change in muscle thickness (muscle hypertrophy)

 

  • This was still the case with extremely high volumes up to 45 sets.

 

Summary and application:

 

  • In summary, the study supports the idea that higher volume results in increased hypertrophy even up to very high levels of volume (45 sets on a muscle group per week)
  • This information is applicable to the general population who may be experiencing plateaus in their training, which could be down to them not increasing their volume for a prolonged period of time.
  • How can you increase volume without spending vast amounts of time in the gym? Methods include drop sets, rest-pause sets and giant sets.

Exercise Selection and Goals

One aspect of programme design that many people are confused over is how to decide what exercises to add to their programme. There can be many misconceptions about regarding this, such as ‘machines are less functional than dumbbells’, causing many people to stray from using machines. However, ‘functional’ has become an ambiguous term in fitness, so it’s worth applying its original definition of ‘designed to be practical and useful’. Therefore, if an exercise is practical and useful to that individual then it is, by definition, functional.

 

How do we decide what is practical and useful for an individual? Well, there is several factors to consider. One of which, is their goals, as different goals will require different exercises, we apply the concept of specificity to choose the most optimal exercises. Not to mention a form of assessment and screening of an individual to determine what they a lacking in terms of mobility, strength and stability.

 

Hypertrophy:

 

If someone’s only goal is to build or retain muscle, then exercise selection can make a significant difference to the end result. For an exercise to be effective for this goal, the limiting factor in the exercise has to be the targeted muscle tissue. In other words, the reason you fail to do another rep must be due to fatigue felt in the muscle you are trying to work, and not another reason such as a loss of balance.

 

To achieve this, exercises that have high external stability will deliver better results. Exercises that have high external stability require less stabilisation from the person performing the exercise (internal stability), therefore muscular fatigue is much more likely to be the reason for failure as opposed to a breakdown in technique, thus making it superior for hypertrophy.

 

However, there is a caveat to this- Stability drives output. Therefore, if someone is lacking stability at a joint then this can limit long term hypertrophy of the muscles attached. For instance, someone with average mobility at the hip could get significant results in hamstring hypertrophy using a Barbell Romanian Deadlift or a Squat up to a point. However, form may start to breakdown once using a certain load which would express the underlying lack of stability within the hip.

 

 

Therefore, the use of exercises with a higher internal stability can be implemented in their programme, to improve performance and further drive hypertrophy. To go back to the hamstring hypertrophy example, the person may add a single leg Romanian Deadlift variations and progressions to their programming to help improve stability at the hip and further help increase load and drive hypertrophy when performing Barbell Romanian Deadlifts.

 

Strength:

If the goal is strength, then the focus shifts away from muscle tissue and towards the movement itself. What movements do you want to get stronger in and why? Often this goal is adopted by athletes as their sports will have specific movements to get stronger in, which will help advance them in their sports.

 

The most obvious example would be powerlifting. Powerlifting involves lifting the most amount of weight for 1 rep each of the Bench Press, Deadlift and Back Squat. Therefore, when putting together a powerlifting programme we apply the concept of specificity and base the programme around the 3 main lifts mentioned, accompanied by accessory movements to assist the improvement in performance of the competition lifts. However even with strength if an individual is lacking adequate hip stability and they are aiming to achieve absolute strength on the said lift then spending time on one leg within their program will help further drive the adaptations required to exert force on their lifts.

 

Alternatively, athletes of other sports are going to select resistance exercises which complement the movements that they complete in their sport. For example, many sports involve running. Therefore, for many of these athletes, performing front foot elevated split squats may be beneficial. This is because this exercise shares many similarities to the skill of running. Both are uni-lateral, internally stable skills, involve flexion and extension of the hip and knee as well as plantar flexion and dorsi flexion at the ankle it will also train the athlete to keep their centre of mass balanced as fatigue can kick in during long distances and heel strikes can get heavier towards the latter stages of a race. Building strength in this movement can allow the athlete to apply more force at a given effort when performing the sport.

 

This can aid in the development of running economy- a reduction in the amount of energy expended at a given speed. In terms of transfer to performance, this can help the athlete run faster, for longer without form breaking down and thus reduce the risk of injuries.

 

 

Overall, it is crucial to truly analyse your goals because many people wish to simultaneously achieve improved strength and hypertrophy, which is very achievable for everyone except very advanced lifters. The importance of each goal is going to play a role in which exercises are selected, so it is important to have this established before forming the programme.

 

With anyone we work with here at Soma Fitness, we run them through a full assessment to determine where the starting point of the program is. This is highly beneficial as if you don’t pick certain aspects up and run with a cookie cutter program you will be leaving a lot on the table in terms of the progression of your results. If someone cannot get into certain positions and we then go and load them in those positions, it’s a quick way to set yourself up for injuries which will then hinder your overall progression towards your goals.