I recently wrote about how most yogurt should be thought of as a carb, not a protein.

pic: Protein Bars Are Mostly Carbs
Protein Bars Are Mostly Carbs

Well, would you believe the same holds true for so-called “protein bars”?

Most protein bars are really only about 30% protein!  50% is carbs and 20% is fat.

So that makes protein bars essentially “candy bars with some protein”.

Let’s look at some labels:

PowerBar ProteinPlus:  23g protein BUT 39g carb and 6g fat.  Remembering that fat has 9 kcal/g and protein and carbs each have 4 kcal/g, that puts it at about 52% carbs, 30% protein, and 18% fat.

Detour “Low Sugar” Whey Protein Bar:  30g protein BUT 33g carb and 10g fat.  That translates to 39% carb, 35% protein, and 26% fat.  Note that this is the “low sugar” version which is still mostly carbs and only 1/3 protein.

I could go on and on but I’ll leave you by repeating the phrase I use with my kids:  “Protein bars are fine as a treat, but think of them as candy bars with protein.”

If you want to plan for the worst, keep protein powder, a shaker bottle, and a bottled water in your car.  That’s $5 – cheaper than 2″ candy bars with protein” and way better for you.  (I’d suggest casein protein if you have the option.)

Two other things to watch for:

a) soy-based protein

b) “energy” bars, where protein is even lower – like 10%!  The packages look the same but these are really just candy bars

Look, I’m a practical guy.  There are times when you are “stranded” or totally rushed and can’t get real food.  Or maybe on a long flight you get one to stow and eat after 3 hrs.  For most of you, this is once or twice a year but even the busiest of you shouldn’t be eating these things more than once a month.  How serious are you about your fitness?  If you are, then you’ll plan ahead and never be caught having to resort to “candy bars with protein”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Join the forum discussion on this article, or comment below.


The Two Keys For Eating To Gain Muscle While Simultaneously Shedding Fat

I’ve found two specific eating habits that are essential if you want to gain muscle and shed fat at the same time.

This is the 3rd and final installment on this mini-series of how to eat to maximize muscle gain.  Click here for part 1 and here for part 2.  Plus, today I’m including some sample menus!

Before I share them, and conclude this series, let’s get some assumptions on the table:

  • You are not fat now, but still want to get leaner
  • You want to gain muscle AND lose fat at the same time
  • You are willing to have each of those goals progress more slowly in combination than if you focused on only one at a time; but you still want good progress on both
  • I assume you are using a decent lifting routine
  • I assume you are eating healthy food, in a good mix of proteins, carbs, and fats; if you don’t know the basics, then refer to Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle or 3 Months To A New You.

Ok , so rather than tease you, I’ll state the two keys upfront:

a)       Gradually increase your overall calories to a point far above what you think you should be eating

b)       Use the zig-zag calorie method

Last week I shared a 5-step strategy about how to gradually increase your caloric intake.

Now let’s talk about that “zig-zag method”… Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , ,

pic: Skinny guys can get muscular by eating right and training

pic: Skinny guys can get muscular by eating right and training

Why Skinny Guys Stay Skinny

This is Part 2 of a series on how to eat right to gain muscle.  Click here for part 1. This article (part 2) has three sections

- one about why skinny guys stay skinny,

- another about how to get yourself to eat more, and

- the real secret to gaining muscle fastest from your diet.

Then next week I’ll share the advanced eating technique to actually gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, plus I’ll include a few sample menus!

The biggest mistake skinny guys make, when starting to lift, is not eating enough.  Oh, they think they are eating enough.  But they aren’t.  They think they are in Case 5 above but really they are in Case 4 (see last post).

Look at a skinny guy who isn’t lifting. He’s currently skinny, right, so that means he’s not eating excess calories.

Now start him lifting on a decent muscle building program.  Lifting heavy weights burns calories during the activity and also burns more after the activity.  If he’s still eating the same amount as he was before, then he’ll actually lose mass!

This is compounded by the fact that the skinny guy isn’t happy about his muscle size, but he likes being able to see his abs.  (Yeah, but you can see his ribs too!)  So he absolutely doesn’t want to get fat.  He just wants more muscle.  As we’ll see, this constraint comes back to haunt him.

Of course he’ll have heard from his buddies that he needs to eat more.  Plus, he’ll naturally be more hungry.   So chances are he would increase how much he eats, right?

But most skinny guys only end up eating a little bit more.  They eat enough to prevent muscle loss, but not enough to really grow muscles.

An Example Might Help

Let’s take an example of a skinny guy:  6 feet tall, 150 pounds, 10% bodyfat. So he’s not too skinny, he’s got a thin layer of muscle because he’s an active guy, but he’s now going to start lifting.  His target is to get to 180 pounds and stay 10% bodyfat.  (6 feet tall, 180 pounds, and 10% bodyfat looks really good at the beach.)

And let’s say he wants to get there within 1 year.  That’s 30 pounds (27 pounds of muscle and 3 pounds of fat) in 12 months.  Breaking this down, we get to an average of 0.5 pounds of muscle a week.  That’s tough to do but not impossible for the skinny guy who’s never really lifted before.  [And it won’t be linear – in the beginning, if he does things right, he’ll gain faster than he will towards the end.]

It’s pretty universally accepted that Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , ,


I’m starting a series today on how you should eat in order to gain more muscle mass.  This will be a 3-parter that I’ll finish throughout the month.  Here’s the outline:

  1. Why your eating habits are more important than your lifting habits if you want to get bigger (naturally)
  2. Why skinny guys stay skinny – plus, the fastest way to gain muscle from your diet
  3. How to eat more to gain more muscle and actually lose fat at the same time – plus, I’ll also include some sample menus ( keep in mind that entire books are written on menus so I’m only offering some examples!)

Today let’s tackle the importance of eating habits compared to lifting habits.  Next week we’ll dive into #2 and the week after that we’ll conclude with the third topic.

Why Eating Is More Important Than Lifting

pic: Good eating, with good weight lifting, equals bigger and better physique
pic: Good eating, with good weight lifting, equals bigger and better physique

You want to get bigger, huh?  Join the crowd.

You might just be thinking “a little” bigger.  Or maybe you are thinking “a lot bigger”.  And maybe you just want bigger shoulders, or pecs, or glutes, or whatever.

The point is, we’re talking physique here and we all have different ideal images of what our target physique should be.  If you are reading this, then chances are high that part of your desired physique means bigger muscles.

So weightlifting is the most important part of getting bigger muscles, right?


Now before you start writing me hate mail, I’m saying “most important”.  That’s a relative term.  Meaning, that of course lifting matters!  If you want to get bigger muscles, instead of just a bigger gut, then you’ve gotta lift.

But I’m saying that a great eating plan with a mediocre lifting routine will do more for your physique than a great lifting routine and a mediocre eating plan.

(I’d like to write that previous sentence in all caps, but that would just annoy you, right?)

A Simple Example

Let’s walk through a very simplified analysis of 5 cases…

Muscles need stimulation, nutrients, and rest.  That combination triggers growth.  How much growth depends on the quality and quantity of the stimulation, nutrients, and rest.

No stimulation, no growth.  Ditto for rest.  And of course, no nutrients (food), no growth.

Since this article series is about how eating impacts muscle growth, let’s assume for now that you are on a pretty good lifting routine.  It’s not the best, but it’s not the worst.  (So, you can extrapolate from this and assume that results will be better/worse in relation to your lifting routine.)

Case 1: Let’s say you are doing your “adequate” lifting routine, but not eating at all.  What would happen?  Your body would go into starvation mode, burning muscle first, then fat, and then you’d die.  Obviously, no muscle growth in this scenario.

Case 2: Now, instead of eating nothing, imagine you eat a small quantity of junk food.  Let’s assume total calories are just enough to prevent starvation.  But your muscles need protein (in the form of amino acids) to heal after you’ve stimulated them with your adequate workout.  And so just junk food doesn’t give the muscles what they need to grow.  Result:  no muscle growth.

Case 3: Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , ,

We’ve been talking recently about how periodicity in your lifting program – systematic alternations in the intensity and volume over time – can improve your results.  And we honed in on undulating periodicity as an advanced technique.

But what about runners?

Periodicity Is Not The Same As Progression

I previously wrote about how to incorporate progression into your cardio.  But progression and periodicity are not synonyms.  You can progress each week (for example, adding a 1/4 mile to each run, each week or improving your time a little bit each week) but that’s not periodized running.

A fake example “linear periodization” of running would be doing 4 weeks at a 12 min pace, then 4 weeks at a 10 minute pace, then 4 weeks at an 8 minute pace.

But runners know that linear periodization just doesn’t work. (So don’t follow the silly example of linear periodization!)

I realize that most of the people reading this site are much more focused on lifting than on running, as am I, but running still makes up a good part of conditioning and fat loss training for many of you.  So let me explain.

Runners Use Undulating Periodicity

Well, truth be told, runners figured out the value of undulating periodicity long before lifters/strength coaches.   But runners don’t call it “undulating periodicity”.

Take a look over at runnersworld.com and you’ll see countless training plans (in prep for 10k, half marathons, etc.) all of which vary the intensity throughout the week but showing progression over time.

Here’s an example week Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: ,

If you haven’t read my previous summary of the Vermont Spartan Beast, it might make sense to do that now.  You can also check out Cameron’s article on the Super Spartan.  In this article, I’ve got photos plus some description of the obstacles for you!

Three notes:

a) many of the photos are NOT of me or my team because we didn’t stop to take our own pics; when it is me, I point that out for you, fyi; scroll to the bottom if you want to see me crossing the finish line!

b) the available photos are expensive, so I’ve just kept the NuVision watermark on them, sorry

c) there were 26 obstacles, and some were repeats of each other (like, there were several wall climbs); I might have the order mixed up a bit but don’t send me emails saying I didn’t list “26″!

spartan firejump
The first obstacle – fire jump

The first obstacle is always a fire jump.  Actually, pretty easy.  For the first one, we tried to not get sprayed with the hose because we didn’t want to spend the whole race soaking wet.

Turns out it didn’t matter.  Within maybe 1 mile, we had to run through water anyway so the entire race was spent in squishy sneakers…

The second obstacle was a series of walls – some to climb over, some to crawl under, and some to crawl through.

Darrin going over a Spartan wall
Darrin going over a Spartan wall

Next, though not really an obstacle, was the physically hardest thing:  heading uphill for about 2 miles.  This was super steep and was not on a real path.  Part of it was in a stream, other parts required hands and knees crawling to get up.  It was miserable.

paths spartan
The “hiking” was not any any real paths!

The course looped back at that point to the bottom (so, down a steep hill) and we had a few obstacles there.  A horizontal rock wall was one, plus more wall climbs.  I was pleased to pass all the obstacles without a problem.

spartan horizontal wall scale
This was like a rock wall that we had to traverse from one end to the other without falling

Then there were a few with ropes where we either had to climb a rope and ring a bell, or use a rope pulley to lift a big rock.  All pretty easy.

Then more hills…

spartan barbed wire
Darrin going under barbed wire
spartan hills
No real paths out there on Killington!

The barbed wire crawl was really painful – it was through a stream of mud but across rocks.  We had to be so low that my chest was scraping the ground.  One of my buddies got scraped on the barbed wire.  And it seemed to last FOREVER! Anyway, it was finally over.

And more hills, walls, and other obstacles…

spartan down hills
Running downhill (steep!) caused several injuries (not for my team though)
spartan monkey bars
Monkey bars turned out to be pretty hard for some people – requires good grip strength, more than anything.
spartan water rope ladder
Rope ladder, after a long swim, then traversing a zip line

Near the end we had to do a long swim – maybe a 1/4 mile – and then climb rope ladders up to a bridge.  While waiting for my turn my legs started cramping (I heard others had the same experience).  Then, once we got to the top, we had to get ourselves across the rest of the lake via a rope line.  A lot of people fell here, which meant they had to swim across (farther) and do burpees.  I was determined not to fall, and succeeded, but got a major rope burn on one leg that later got infected and I’m still dealing with as I write this.  But at least I passed another hurdle, right?!

spartan spear throw
Damn! My spear throw failed (this is not a pic of my spear)! So, this was the only time I had to do burpees.

As we neared the end, after 12 miles, we had another fire jump, and had to battle the Spartans to get to the finish line.

spartan firejump
Another Spartan firejump
battling spartans
Battling Spartans who protected the finish line

And then finally – across the finish line!

spartan finish
Darrin happy to finish!

Wanna join us next year?  Or want to do one in your part of the US?


I’m a big fan of stretching.  Well, maybe that needs a qualifier…  Let me explain.

I’m a big fan of

  1. General dynamic stretching before a lifting/running/exercise session
  2. Specific warm-up sets before lifting heavy
  3. General static stretching and foam rolling after a session or on off days (or just about any time)
By “general” I mean full-body, and “specific” means related to the loaded movement you will be doing in your session.

The first and second occur in the same time window as your exercise session but the third, well, that gets dicey.

See, most people blow off #3.  And if they do #3, they do it before their session – the exact wrong time to do it.

Since I almost always train in the morning, I tend to do #3 in the evening.  However, life sometimes gets in the way.  And I forget.  Or simply don’t feel like it (yeah, I’m human too).

So I’ve taken to public stretching.

Public Stretching?

By public stretching, I mean stretching in public.  At the mall.  In your office break room.  At the airport.  While watching TV with your family (ok, maybe that’s not too public but trust me, if you’ve got teen and pre-teen daughters, ANY stretching they see you do is “public” and embarrassing).

Seriously, traveling is one of the worst things to do to your body but I never see anyone doing real stretching at the airport.  I travel by plane many times a year and I am honest when I say I have never seen it.  Once in a while someone will do some shoulder rolls or back arches or some other so-not-a-stretch-that-it-might-actually-cause-more-harm-than-good movement.  Except me.

I’m there doing bodyweight good mornings, squats, calf stretches, Atlas lunges, scaptions, etc.

No wonder my kids are mortified to travel with me.  Or be seen with me in public malls.

I try to be a little discreet – I’ll go off in a corner somewhere.  And I usually don’t get funny looks but I don’t care anyway.

Whether at the airport or the mall, there is often some significant time to kill.  Maybe it’s 10 minutes or maybe its 2 hrs.  Either way, why not get in the habit of stretching multiple times a day?

Note well:  Like any endeavor, you can take it too far.  Because stretching does cause micro-damage to soft tissue, you don’t want to really tax the fascia.  So I’m talking ab out light stretching here, to maximize blood flow to the area and promote recovery.  Stretching to increase range of motion is a different issue.  (And no, stretching isn’t really stretching the muscle itself.  Though I’ve never done a human dissection, I understand muscle is pretty much like play-dough.  Not really stretchy – it’s the fascia that you are stretching.)

Is there some stigma to stretching in public?

Do you stretch in public?  Why/why not?

Are there some stretches that are just not appropriate for public viewing?


Those of you who have been reading for the past couple of months have heard about the Spartan.  Cameron did his Super Spartan in Carolina in early summer and I did the 12-miler Beast with some friends in Vermont last weekend.

spartan beast results

The Vermont Spartan Beast (photo from nuvision)

This article will have 3 sections:

  1. Summary/Highlights
  2. Lessons Learned
  3. Details of the Experience, with Photos


This was a 12-mile race, but like nothing I’ve ever done.  It was almost entirely hills (and I don’t mean normal hills, I mean straight up Killington ski mountain not using a trail but using a narrow woods path).  And it had 26 obstacles, described below.

I did this with 3 friends, and about 1/4 of the way in we split into twos.  We later found out that the leading two stayed just barely ahead right up until the 3rd to final obstacle, so we all finished in a little over 5 hours.

That’s right.  Over five hours.

The elite men winners did it in about 3 hours.  I think, in retrospect, if we trained a little more appropriate for the terrain, and pushed ourselves, we could have done it in 4 hours.  But 3 hours seems insanely fast.

The 26 obstacles involved variations of the following:

  • fire jumps
  • barbed wire crawls
  • wall climbs
  • hills
  • mud pits
  • balance walks
  • horizontal rope lines
  • sandbag carries
  • sled pulls
  • swimming
  • oh, and did I mention hills, some of which were so steep that we were on all fours, grabbing roots and branches to keep from falling backwards?

If you failed any of the obstacles, you had to do 30 burpees.  I’m proud to say that I was successful on all obstacles except one:  the spear throw.  I was SO frustrated when I missed that (you only get one chance).

Some people were clearly not ready for this, as evidenced by Read the rest of this entry »