I’ve had my hands full!

2011 February 23
by Alan Aragon

Full-on brofessor mode

The above pic, taken earlier today, is of me & the nutritional counseling class of Dr. Terri Lisagor, at California State University, Northridge.  Dr. Lisagor was one of my nutrition professors in my undergrad, and she’s one of the most well-rounded, successful, big-hearted people I know. She regularly invites me to lecture to her students on a range of topics from sports nutrition, altering body composition, and counseling various client types.  The teaching sessions consist primarily of Q & A with the students, and me coming apart by the jokes & wisdom that Terri interjects as I answer the students’ questions.  read more…

Paper Credentials Vs. The Fitness Industry

2010 November 18
by Alan Aragon


Is the fitness industry unique?

The fitness industry appears to be unique in its ability to facilitate career success despite a lack of what I call paper credentials (letters after your name). Before I go on with this, it might be a good idea to set some operational definitions for fitness industry & career success. The latter term is highly subjective, so let’s just define it as the ability to make a decent living. I’m not necessarily talking about getting filthy-rich, but at least being able to comfortably cover your independent living expenses without needing a night-job where dollar bills are waved at you.  read more…

A Recent Career Milestone

2010 October 30
by Alan Aragon

One of the most defining moments in my career just happened.

And no, it’s not the fact that I stumbled into a brief torrent of T-shirt design. Some of you might relate to the experience I’m about to describe. The reason I wanna share this is not to show off how cool I am, but to show you how I still run into inner struggles with a journey that I’ve intended to create for myself. I also think there’s a lesson or two to be learned, and I’d like to pass those on.

Last week I was given the opportunity to test my chops as the full-time nutritionist of the Los Angeles Kings. During a lengthy discussion with Jeff Solomon, the team’s director of operations, we came to an agreement that my distance-based model of working with clients didn’t line up with his vision of having a full-time staffer who traveled with the team. I could have decided to fulfill this more traditional position, but instead I chose to stick with my current trajectory.  read more…

Chris Shugart Drops The Hammer

2010 October 1
by Alan Aragon

Loading the Ammo

The screenshot above is from the forum of fitness writer Chris Shugart. He recently posted a comment that would strike a chord with anyone who has studied nutrition or dietetics in a formal university setting. Before I get to that, let’s cover some background about why it was said. To state the obvious, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is controversial. My blog post critiquing Dr. Robert Lustig’s fructose lecture brewed up a torrent of discussion. This included a 3-round debate between Lustig & I, which Lustig quite obviously lost. A summary of the action can be seen in this follow-up post.

Just when you think the clamoring over HFCS has hit a crescendo, there’s always another peak. Last March, a Princeton University news release claimed that a study done at their home-turf finally showed that HFCS “prompts considerably more weight gain” than sucrose [1]. However, this study has critical flaws that ultimately render it an interesting, but highly inconclusive piece of animal data. A few of the study’s important limitations are:

  • Humans are not rats, especially when it comes to carbohydrate metabolism. The metabolic pathway where carbohydrate is converted to fat within the liver (called de novo lipogenesis, or DNL), is far more efficient in rats than in humans. I discuss this and other physiological differences in my research review.
  • Dosing was irrelevant to human conditions. To quote a valid point made in a counter-release by the CRA“Translating the study’s reported rat intakes to human proportions, the calories gained from high fructose corn syrup would be equivalent to about 3000 kcal/day all from that single source. In comparison, adult humans consume about 2,000 calories per day from all dietary sources.”
  • There was no sucrose-fed control group for part of the short-term experiments and no sucrose-fed control group for the entirety of the long-term experiments in male rats. Missing sucrose control groups in the long-term phases of the experiment make it impossible to conclude that HFCS is uniquely lipogenic compared to sucrose.
  • Inconsistencies in the results simply do not support the headline of the Princeton press release, nor the implications made by the researchers themselves. For example, in the only set of comparators that actually included a sucrose-fed group in the long-term phase of the study, no significant differences were seen in bodyweight or triglyceride levels. For details about the statistical problems of this study, check out this excellent review by James Krieger.

Bang Goes the Hammer

So what did Shugart say that really set things off? The discussion began after he posted a commentary against HFCS (claiming it’s more harmful than sucrose), which he attempted to support by citing the aforementioned Princeton press release. In response to criticism leveled at the research he cited, Shugart decided to take a stiff jab at the dietetics profession. Click the screenshot below to see one of the most disparaging statements I’ve seen towards dietitians and nutrition students.

It’s given that Registered Dietitians (RDs) are better known for their clinical skills than their work with physique competitors and athletic populations in general. In fact, I’ve done my past share of criticizing RDs as a group for not being current in their knowledge of sports nutrition. The difference is, being a former dietetics student, I saw this gap in the curriculum and responded by providing CDR-approved continuing education courses to RDs in order to help beef up their proficiency. Shugart, on the other hand, is quick to belittle and dismiss RDs, while having a considerably less rigorous education in nutritional science than them.

More importantly, however, he attacked their supposedly corrupt governing body instead of attacking the content of their argument. If it was a discussion about the intellectual or academic honesty of governing bodies, then T-Nation vs. the American Dietetic Association would be a fun comparison. Too bad the discussion was about the comparative metabolic effects of HFCS and sucrose.  

Unfortunately for Shugart, a couple of fitness-savvy RDs lurking his forum responded in opposition. One member’s tone was strong enough for Shugart to delete his responses. I personally don’t care how aggressively someone comes off in a debate, but when their valid points get censored, you just have to shake your head. Thus far, Shugart has been unable to logically respond to the contentions put forth by the uncensored RD (and others) in this thread.

I think the moral of the story here is, in any discussion, place your focus on the data presented, not the decorations on the sleeve. 

Reference Cited

  1. Bocarsly ME, et al. High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2010 Feb 26. [Epub ahead of print] [Medline]

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Where have you been, Alan?

2010 August 25
by Alan Aragon

Hello everyone,

No, I haven’t completely disappeared. I’ve been catching up with work. Contrary to what my incredibly frequent entries might lead some to believe, I’m not a full-time professional blogger. In case anyone wonders, the above pic was recently taken at the Santa Monica beach. It’s not reflective of where I’ve spent most of my time lately, but paying Mother Nature occasional visits has been very therapeutic for someone who gets way too much screen time.

I’ll be back with a formal entry next month, but in the mean time, I want to direct your attention to some new (& semi-new)  resources that are highly worthwhile.

  • First up is a website my friend James Krieger recently launched, weightology.net. This is an excellent resource for anyone interested in high-quality, research-based information. James is one of the good guys in the fitness industry, and Heaven knows they are few and far-between.
  • Those of you looking to streamline your social media will really appreciate fitmarker.com, which allows you to bookmark, share, discover and discuss all the best fitness-related information one convenient place.
  • Fellow myth slayer and longtime friend Jamie Hale recently got published by Ulysses Press. His book Should I Eat the Yolk is available through mainstream commercial channels. Imagine that, a no-BS book unleashed upon the lay public by a major publishing house. Chalk up a big win for science! 
  • For those of you who have gotten bored with oatmeal, Kath Eats Real Food just might be your ticket to putting the awesome back into your oats. For those of you who forgot how civil I can be in internet debates, here’s a classic one I had with Kath herself. Anyone who doesn’t get a good chuckle out of that is simply comatose.
  • LATE-BREAKING EDIT: Go over to the Swedish Phenom’s site right now & check out the training research roundtable in which I participated along with Lyle McDonald, Borge Fagerli, and James Krieger. 
  • Finally, I’d like to plug wannabebig.com since Daniel Clough is such a patient guy when it comes to waiting for articles from me. I’d also like to mention that WBB is elevating itself beyond the typical “bro box” by running articles from clear-minded writers like JC Deen and Ryan Zielonka.

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Sex, Pubmed, and Rock & Roll

2010 July 5
by Alan Aragon

Okay, sex has nothing to do with this, and neither does Pubmed (although both are important). The pic above was taken last Saturday night. I was back doing lead vocals for the band of my good friend, guitar virtuoso Edwin Alpanian. We had the best time slot of the night in a pretty big venue, and it was a blast playing a combination of progressive stuff as well as classic rock. A little known fact to many of you is that I’ve been a musician for most of my life (drums, vocals), and my old band with Edwin played clubs up and down the Sunset Strip throughout the 90′s.

The era of regularly doing shows has long since given way to more pressing life obligations. Every once in a while, I will get away from my computer to play a gig. Edwin is the art director of Hot Rod and Car Craft magazine, and he still keeps his love for creating & performing music well-nurtured. On the other hand, me being a business owner and father of 2 leaves little time to carve out for regular performances (excuses, excuses, right?). The occasional shows that do happen have a certain amount of magic, and a whole lot of nostalgia. Anyways, I thought you guys might get a kick out of that pic & background story, and I’ll be back after I finish AARR.

Why Nutritional Dogma Dies Hard

2010 June 15
by Alan Aragon

Intro not really necessary

I’m fairly certain that most of you reading this are familiar with the veteran strength coach/author Mark Rippetoe, best known for Starting Strength and his collab with Lon Kilgore, Practical Programming for Strength Training. To say that these books are influential cult classics that get consistently glowing reviews would be an understatement. Given this, I had my expectations set pretty high regarding Mark’s general approach to the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. But, it turns out I was wrong in my assumptions – at least about the nutritional aspect of his message board.

Pubmed, Schmubmed

Having recently registered at the Starting Strength Forums, I randomly engaged in discussion with a member who was worried about combining carbs and fat in the same meal. One of the members stepped in and attempted to justify the carb-fat separation tactic. In Socratic fashion, I helped him discover that there wasn’t anything about his claim that he could substantiate from a scientific standpoint. But that’s not the kicker. After some browsing, I ran into a rather unique forum rule. Here are some key sections from a stickied thread in the subforum of the resident nutrition coach John Sheaffer (who posts as “Johnny Pain” on Mark’s forums):

“…there are many other places (where many of you may already be members) for you guys to post studies and talk about medline, and Pubmed, and argue the validity of someone’s research…”

“I am largely not interested in that sort of thing. It takes too much time away from the important stuff, and the people who are doing the real science in the gym and at the table. I am not into arguing with people on the internet.”

“I will continue to answer questions that are relevant to the board. I have been legitimately enjoying this so far, and have met some great people. Do not however, bother posting threads or individual posts that include discussion of or links to studies. They will be deleted.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I can appreciate simplistic/no-brainer/default-based approaches to helping out forum members. But in this particular realm, isn’t it kind of odd to literally forbid scientific research-related discussion? If John is not interested in getting into scientific debates, then that’s fine. But to prohibit this from occurring in his subforum even if he’s not involved is, well, an interesting way to run a community.

Prohibiting discussion that includes citing scientific research shifts the bias too far in the direction of anecdote/personal testimony. Heck, there are dozens of methods out there with a ton of testimony behind them and very little actual merit. Published research is not, cannot, and will never be the end-all judge. However, it’s an indispensable tool that helps separate the empty claims from the ones backed by objective evidence (however limited that evidence might be).

Nutritional mythology 101

And of course, you always have to laugh when scientific research is cited when it’s convenient, and dismissed when it doesn’t match up with someone’s personally held beliefs/anecdotes. Funny how that works. Now, let me give you a perfect example of why research should be discussed on training/nutrition forums. Have a look at this quote from John:

“Separate your carbs and fats. In each meal, you will have a portion of protein in addition to either carbs or fats, but not both. In the earlier half of the day, your meals should be Protein + Carb (P/C) in order to fill your muscle glycogen stores for your athletic activities. Later in the day (afternoon to evening, depending on your individual metabolism), when you are more sedentary, your meals should be Protein + Fat (P/F). Since carbs produce an insulin response, removing the carbs at this time will decrease the likelihood that you will store your excess calories as fat. Your final meal of the day should be *only* protein. Also, your PWO meal, regardless of what time of the day it is, must be a P/C meal.”

The above quote is so packed with broscience, it’s enough to provide a strong case for more research-based discussion on John’s subforum. Regarding the “don’t mix carbs with fat” myth, I wrote an article debunking it here. As for warning against carbs at night, there’s nothing inherently fattening about night-time carbs unless they contribute to a chronic surplus of calories that isn’t used for building lean tissue. The ONLY reason cutting carbs out of the evening works for controlling fat gain in some folks is because it restricts total caloric intake for the day.

“No carbs at night” is nothing more than a calorie-cutting-for-dummies tactic. Can it work? Yes, it can. In the case of people who tend to overeat carbo-liscious foods at night, this can serve as a default solution, but it’s not a guideline that should be universally recommended. What works just as well is cutting back on an equivalent amount of calories earlier in the day. There are no night-time insulin fairies ready & waiting to store carbs in the fat tissue — at least not at any greater rate than they would do so during the day.

Is there research to back up the claim that shifting the majority of your carbs to the later part of the day won’t magically chub you up or make it tougher to lose fat? Yes there is – and this occurred despite exercise being in the earlier part of the day for both groups compared [1]. For those who put a lot of stock in case studies, the lack of fattening effect of pre-bed carbs has plenty of examples - particularly in Martin Berkhan’s clientele [2].

Come at me, bro

If I had a chance to discuss these issues with John or Mark on the Starting Strength Forums, I would have gladly done so. However, it’s clear that Mark is not interested in discussing it with me, as seen in this thread. John hasn’t said a word about it yet, and I sincerely encourage him to do so. I’m easy to reach, and willing to field any challenges to any of the claims I’ve made. I won’t hold my breath, though. To relay John’s own words stuck at the top of his subforum:

“I am not into arguing with people on the internet. I think it’s gay to do so. I think it makes you a pussy. If people have a problem with the way I handle my board, please go to another forum and talk trash on me. It’s ok. People do it all the time. Better yet, catch up with me at an event that I am attending and voice your concern to me in person. That’s how it should be anyway, right?”

To the above quote, I would counter that there’s no way it can’t be productive to calmly & intelligently discuss any topic by presenting scientific evidence to support your case, while being open to research that perhaps you were not aware of. But hey, learning and staying informed about the scientific side of things takes considerable effort. And apparently, some people have no interest in delving into anything beyond their pre-existent beliefs. I personally think that there’s ALWAYS room for learning from scientific research, especially if you include science to justify your methods of practice. Disagree? Then come at me, bro.

_________________________________________________________________________

References

  1. Keim NL, et al. Weight loss is greater with consumption of large morning meals and fat-free mass is preserved with large evening meals in women on a controlled weight reduction regimen. J Nutr. 1997 Jan;127(1):75-82. [Medline]
  2. Berkhan M. Client Updates. (note that in many cases there’s even some fat with the carbs in those large evening meals – shocking, I know) [Leangains]

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

2010 June 5
by Alan Aragon

I had the pleasure of spending some time with Lyle McDonald over the weekend before he made his way off to compete in an inline skating event in Napa, CA. We met at BJ’s Brewhouse for some grub, then went for some Starbucks dessert beverages (well, at least I did). I knew that my kids would attack Lyle when we got to my house, so it was funny to see it actually play out, and Lyle was a good sport about it. The following day, we headed to Gold’s Gym and did our own separate training.

Common Threads

One of the things that struck me in discussing various topics was just how different the driving motivational forces are between endurance athletes vs others. He keyed me into the concept of “running from inner voices” – mostly in the figurative sense. Another thing that struck me was the ironic similarity between solo endurance athletes and other solo athletes such as bodybuilders, whose sport, at least in the precontest phase, is largely a matter of endurance. Both types of athletes tend to push themselves to the limits of physical and psychological tolerance for prolonged periods, just in different scales & contexts. Keep in mind that Lyle is the true athlete between the two of us. I mainly train to get attention from my wife, while Lyle trains to test his prowess against formal competition.

Intensity   

An interesting thing Lyle relayed to me was how he has been able to make his greatest gains in endurance by learning how to conserve his application of intensity when training for an event – as opposed to constantly pushing the envelope of high intensity intervals in the common “more is better, stop when you collapse” approach. More detail on methods of endurance training can be delved into with a multi-part series Lyle wrote beginning here (if you want to go straight to threshold training, it’s here in part 4). While I’m mentioning his reading material, anyone seriously interested in nutrition and supplementation for mixed sports (i.e., football, soccer, middle-distance events, etc) should check out his latest book/DVD lecture series here.

Individualization

While Lyle is exhaustively familiar with the various approaches to endurance training, he’s also keenly aware of how he personally responds. Having a solid grasp of the research has allowed him to synthesize applications that work best with his individual profile from both a psychological and physiological standpoint. One of the natural progressions of the advanced trainee is an abandonment of certain aspects of traditional/conventional wisdom, in favor of individual response. 

At the End of the Day 

I had a great time & learned a lot hanging out with one of the top minds in the field. But more than this, I just needed an excuse to post that awesome pic above.

UPDATE: Lyle won the race.

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Fatherhood & Freedom

2010 May 31
by Alan Aragon

Reflecting upon the path

Memorial Day, the unofficial start of Summer, elicits a lot of reflection upon the path I’ve walked and the path I’m creating. Undoubtedly, it makes me thankful to those who made the freedom I enjoy possible. The picture above was taken yesterday after church; that’s my 3 year-old (going on 13) son. In reviewing the pics within the small format of the camera, I initially mistook him for my 6 year-old, since I normally think of him as the baby, but apparently, that perception is already disappearing.  Time seems to accelerate with each passing year. I’d like to quote Arnold Schwarzenegger recalling a particularly hectic time in his life (1975) right after he filmed Stay Hungry and was in the midst of filming Pumping Iron:

“What it came down to was this: You have 24 hours in a day, and you have so many years to reach your dreams. I utilized the 24 hours more than anyone I know. You snooze, you loose. So what are you gonna do?”

Our time is limited, but do we really get that?

Fatherhood has been one big wake-up call for me. Before the kids hit the deck, the passage of time was a slow-to-nonexistent grind. However, seeing my kids grow and change on almost a daily basis reminds me that time is whizzing by whether we like it or not, and squandering the time we’re given is downright criminal. You might recall from the career series that I’ve cut my in-person client days at the office down to 2 per week, and work from home the rest of the week.

Necessary roughness

Some of you may have also noticed that I’ve had to resort to putting prospective clients on a 2-month waiting list to work with me. This is great in the sense that my expertise is in demand, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel bad for those who I’ve had to put on hold. But alas, managing my time is an ongoing learning process, and an art that might take me forever to master. During my lifetime, I want to be able to look back and be satisfied with the amount (& quality) of time I put into being the best dad I could. This, among other things, involves being physically & mentally present when hanging out with the kids. And yes, it also involves putting the brakes on how much work I think I’m able to do each day without disrupting the balance in my work & family life. Controlling the quantity of my work will also inevitably improve the quality of it. And that’s really what matters.

For those of you who aren’t parents

I know that for me, my kids are really the ‘hourglass’ that lights the fire under my feet to wring the most out of my time on this planet. For those of you who do not have kids (or don’t plan to), let me suggest you find your own metaphoric hourglass that reminds you that the clock is ticking away relentlessly. This is also the perfect time to remember that our forefathers have shed much blood, sweat, and tears to allow us the freedom to be the architects of our own lives and accomplish great things. So, let me encourage you all to get out there and do more stuff that matters and less stuff that doesn’t.

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JP Fitness Summit 2010: A Highly Biased Review

2010 May 22
by Alan Aragon

Another Year Elapsed…

…And I’m left to ponder it through. The JP Fitness Summit helps me contemplate my personal universe. It’s also a barometer for where I’m at in this whole fitness industry thing. Are folks benefitting from the information I dish out? Apparently so. Am I enjoying the hell out of it? Yes.  Therefore, everybody wins. The best parts of the Summit are the new & old friendships that get cultivated, and of course the memories that linger like sweet perfume (well, most of them).

The Attendees & Organizers

Let me just clear the air for a second and give credit to the beating heart of the JP Fitness Summit:  The vets & the admin. The Summit simply wouldn’t exist – much less run smoothly – without Nick Bromberg & the crew being on top of all the operations. Jean-Paul Francoer (founder of the JP Fitness Forums) gets credit for starting the whole thing. A unique aspect about the JP Fitness Summit is the Mahlership (named after veteran member John Mahler), where charitable individuals pitch in to build a fund that facilitates attendance for those who wouldn’t have had the means to make it there. This past Summit, enough funds were raised to sponsor 6 attendees. What other conference has this sort of selfless outreach? None that I know of.  

The Speakers

First up was Lou Schuler, whose trademark is a really sharp sense of humor and wit. He has a way of tying fitness and non-fitness concepts together that’s very unique and engaging. This time around, he drew parallels between the journey of a fitness professional and the  monomyth (also called the hero’s journey) as described by writer Joseph Campbell. I’ll admit straight away that I’m a hopeless fan of Lou’s talks, so I was captivated the whole way through, despite a deficiency of caffeine in me at that early point in the morning.

I was up after Lou, who quite eloquently introduced me in this clip. I discussed a variety of nutritional topics which included marconutrients, the placebo effect (demo on Lou with a parody of a strength test, depicted above). I ended off with a case study of a talented natural bodybuilder named Kelechi Opara, who I recently prepped for a contest without succumbing to any of the typical bodybuilding bro-dogma. As usual, I got a real rush out of presenting, and I had a blast interacting with the audience.

After me, in arguably the toughest spot (right before lunch) was my long-time friend Ryan Zielonka. He discussed his personal story and the lessons learned while going from extremely overweight, to maintaining a healthy/fit body composition – and most importantly, a healthy perspective. You could hear a pin drop while Ryan spoke; his narrative style was poised and polished. Although most of the crowd was ravenous (well, at least I was), no one shifted an inch in their seats as they listened intently the whole way through & asked lots of questions afterward.

Bret Contreras hit the fitness conference stage for the first time in his career, and did quite well considering this fact. I sensed some freshman jitters at the beginning of his talk, but I feel like he held it together and finished strong. He presented some great concepts, sound justifications, and innovative progressions for glute work. I got a chance to talk to Bret for about 2 hours straight at the airport while we waited for our flights to arrive. I must say that this guy has a truckload of knowledge in a wide range of training aspects for various sports. Bret is a true student of the game, and I see nothing but good things happening for him. He’s got a knock-out sense of humor, too.  

Nick Tumminello simply wowed the audience with his highly informative and eye-opening presentation on myofascial release. Nick’s extensive speaking experience really shined through in his flawless delivery. People were just in awe, eating up his information & insight. I’ve seen endless amounts of presenters at various conferences, and Nick ranks up there among the very top. It was really a treat to have him in the lineup this year. Nick and his lovely girlfriend Alli are a very classy couple that hit it off instantly with the JP Fitness crowd.

Post-Workshop Nutrition

One of the unique aspects of the JP Fitness Summit is that the attendees and the presenters are all on the same playing field. The speakers don’t huddle up together in their own corner the whole time while the audience keeps their respectful distance. It’s quite the opposite. Everyone has a blast hanging out & having fun throughout the entire weekend. Aside from the lecture & workshop, it’s really one big party.  This is an annual thing, so start saving your pennies for next year’s event, which I’ll be speaking at again. More than the opportunity to present educational material, it’s the fellowship and camaraderie with the attendees that keep me returning to the Summit each year. I hope to see more of you at the next one so I can put some faces to the names I’ve known online for so long now.

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