Food First

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Brilliant Friends,

The “diet versus exercise” debate deals with the wrong question.

Living well isn’t about choosing between eating right and exercising. It’s about taking one step at a time. If you’re going for weight loss, or slimming down, don’t overestimate exercise.

Food and eating are much more powerful beginner tools in the hormone and metabolic shaping of your body and mind. Your body will respond immediately to good foods, especially healthy fats.

I had six pack abs and under ten percent body fat all my adult life – and I still could see the explicit changes in how I looked, felt, and performed once I dropped the protein shakes, avoided wheat and sugar, and ate more fat.

Timing of meals is ultra important. I’ve learned to not force food upon myself. If I’m not hungry, I’m not going to eat. It just makes sense. It also turns out that hormones coordinate hunger, fullness, and digestion of food. So eating on someone else’s clock doesn’t make too much sense.

Two hormones in particular are predictable and determine what happens with the food you eat: insulin and cortisol. Insulin starts low when you awake and rises when you eat. Cortisol inversely starts high in the morning and drops as you fall asleep.

Insulin is released when there is lots of glucose in the blood. When you eat carbs, insulin comes. Insulin is the signal for your body to take glucose out of your bloodstream into your cells. Liver, muscles, and fat cells take in glucose when you eat because insulin commands it.

It’s important that your body can release insulin when you eat a meal. This ensures that the glucose in your blood gets absorbed by your body. Too much glucose floating around in the blood, and you have high blood sugar. This happens when you eat and there isn’t enough insulin released to take in all the glucose.

Cortisol counteracts insulin. Since cortisol is highest in the morning, insulin will be least effective in the morning. It makes sense to avoid eating until later in the day, when cortisol drops and insulin response can be more effective.

In this way, your body has a system and timing for food absorption. Play around with timing your first meal. Try skipping breakfast. Try a later lunch. Delaying your first meal will give your body a chance to absorb the food better. Cortisol won’t be so high. Insulin will be released more effectively, ensuring the glucose from your food gets properly absorbed from your bloodstream.

Use fatty foods to regulate hunger when you do eat. Fat satiates hunger much better than starches, and tells your body to burn fat. Skip the fat and you’re going to have cravings all day long.

Imagine how strenuous exercise can complicate matters for you. Your energy needs will drastically change. Your body will need more building blocks, more vitamins, more minerals, and different timing of meals.

It’s all doable, and I support your decision to become stronger through exercise. But before you toss yourself into the algorithms of traumatic exercise recovery, figure out your practice of food and eating for your current state.

This will allow you to measure subtle changes and observe differences more clearly. To summarize eating if you are not exercising:

  • Eat your first meal later in the day
  • Eat lots of healthy fats, until you are full and satisfied. If you have cravings or feel hungry after meals, try eating more fat.
  • Eat carbs, such as starches, at the end of the day
  • Adjust the amount of carbs you eat based on your body fat and your energy level in the morning
    • Fat gain or hung over feeling – eat a bit less carbs
    • Low energy, dry eyes – eat a bit more carbs
    • If you do exercise, you will need more carbs

Live powerfully,

Steve

Photo credit daBinsi/Flickr. Posted under this Creative Commons license.

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Build Your Squat Episode 2

Brilliant People.

In this episode, I talk about how to ease into the squat, and what to do with your feet, your knees, and your butt. If this is your first time ever, it’s a good quick intro to squatting. Even if you’ve just been out of practice for a while, or if you’re a hardcore weight lifter, take a second to look at your squat technique.

It takes just a few things for you to maximize your output, strengthen your knees, and use your back correctly with the squat. My priority is to help you do this ultimate human movement the right way. Train with these few simple mental cues and build your squat to enhance your life.

Be gentle, take it slow, and build with care.

Live powerfully!

Steve

What I’ve Been Chewing

I know it’s been too long since I’ve written to you.

I’ve been traveling and figuring things out lately, and haven’t sat down to write in a while. There’s lots I want to share with you. Here are several things I’ve been pondering, developing, and talking about with people around me. Most of them you’ve seen from my blog before, but wellness is never a one-time deal for me. Being healthy is about practice, trying, developing, and building layers.

These items mostly came out of traveling and being “on the road”, meaning no gym, no permanent home, limited resources for training and cooking. I hope you find this useful, whether or not you’re traveling. After all, I started a lot of these things while working in a corporate office and living in Los Angeles. So it’s all transferable. Here they are.

Gentleness

There’s a book I love called The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness, by Pema Chodron. It’s about the wisdom in accepting your circumstances, loving yourself, and not rebelling against who you are. The book is written by a Buddhist teacher, mostly for people seeking the philosophy and technique behind Zen meditation. I read this in college, and the book has carried over to all other aspects of my life. Including physical training.

One of the biggest downfalls of the fitness industry is that consumers are not encouraged to take things slow, to work on themselves gently, and to train for the long game. Trainers, coaches, supplement companies, and magazines are full of the notion that the body has to be broken to become better. It’s your body. You don’t have to break it, or suffer, to become stronger. That’s not how things work.

In the short run, you might get big muscles, snaky veins, and a six pack. I understand the need to have these things. It’s been pounded into our psyches by mass media, and it’s part of our primordial urge to be fit. But what about the long run? Will you be well, functional, pain free, and freely moving years, decades down the road? Do you care?

There is a way to be strong and to remain strong for the long game. And that way involves gentleness. It requires you to learn about your body in every possible way as you develop your wellness. Be gentle with your eating. Be gentle with your body, your moving, your training. Be gentle with your mind. This comes into play when you realize that you are not going to get some specific result immediately. Eating a salad today won’t make you skinny, lean, and virile tomorrow. And it doesn’t help to eliminate fats, proteins, and carbs from your diet. See how going rough leads you into a downward spiral?

Step back, make gentle pushes, observe results. Test yourself, but don’t break yourself. The object of the game is to grow, to learn, to be healthy, happy, and capable.

Barefoot training

Feet have a structure and function that work only when they are unhindered. You have the ability to redevelop your foot structure, the right stance, the right walk, and the right movement patterns. It starts with taking off your shoes. Go barefoot at home, around the hood, and wherever you can in the outdoors. It’s just one of those things that gets easier the more you do it. So start tiny.

We will see many products hit the “barefoot” market. Shoes, sandals, socks, sports equipment, and hopefully even transportation that lets us be close to barefoot all day long. I think this is progress. However, these products do not make you barefoot. Simply using your bare feet is different. Barefoot cannot be replicated. A “barefoot running shoe” is not barefoot. It is a shoe.

Train barefoot. Do strength training without shoes or socks. You can do them all if you start from zero, go gently, and progress responsibly. I have done deadlifts, squats, kettlebell, and body weight exercises barefoot. Orthopedic insoles did not help me. I had prescription plastic insoles for most of my adolescent years, into college. The pain of walking, running, and standing in shoes went away like magic. But guess what the price was? My feet got flatter and weaker, more prone to strains, and less and less able to hold me up the way they are supposed to.

Then I started following Kelly Starrett, and shed the insole supports. I wore flat shoes instead. Then I wore huaraches. But nothing beat walking barefoot outside, running barefoot on the grass and sand, and lifting barefoot at the gym. These activities, over three years, rebuilt the shape and mechanism of my feet. I now have arches.

So this is where I would link you to a product that I used, but I can’t because there is no product. You just simply need to take off your shoes and socks. However, there is technique that you need to use for proper development. Just like with all other parts of your body, such as your knees, your back, and your shoulders, for example, feet have a correct position and movement pattern. Place your weight on the parts that are meant to hold weight: the sole, the outer blade, the balls of your feet, and the toes. You’ll see that your arch, or insole if you don’t yet have an arch, doesn’t have to touch the ground. You’ll feel that springiness in your step. Walking, running, jumping. Try them all barefoot.

Figure it out and rebuild yourself from the ground up. If you need coaching, I can help.

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Fat first

From five years of self experimentation, drinking butter coffee almost every morning, traveling and eating for optimal energy, and talking with others experimenting with eating more fat, I continue to find that “fat first” works. This means eating fat for the first meal of the day, whether that be in the morning or afternoon or night. It means eating fat before eating other foods during any meal, or at least at the same time. Try grass fed butter melted into rice. And “fat first” means making sure to eat good fats, from good sources. Why?

Because fat is filling, fat is the building block of cell membranes and your nervous system and your brain, and fat gives you energy. Eating good fat from healthy animals ensures that you get the nutrition your body and brain needs before you fill up on other things like starch. Eating fat first means you get satisfaction and feel fuller from it. It helps guide me in my meals, because as long as I eat good fats I know how much of other stuff to eat. I feel more balanced in my urge to eat rice, veggies, and meat when I am eating good fats. Don’t think I don’t eat carbs. I eat lots of carbs, because I need it for my body composition, level of training, and daily activity. But my eating is moderated by the fat I’m eating. I guess I can say that fat is my primary source of satiety and energy, and my starting point for measuring hunger and portions.

Here’s an example of how fat is my nutrition measuring tool: if I feel the munchies, cravings, or urge to eat dessert at night, despite having eaten dinner, I’ll rewind through the day to see how much fat I’ve eaten. Most times, I’ll realize I forgot to mix butter into my rice, or didn’t have my usual butter coffee, or didn’t get the chance to eat any good quality fat that day. If I can, I slap a slab of grass fed cow butter onto some sweet potato and have at it. Fat first.

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Kids and perfect form

I am fascinated by kids who are allowed to develop physically without the restraints of bulky sneakers, cribs, seats, and overprotection. My friend lets his son walk, run, roam, climb, and play more than most parents I’ve seen. He also lets him do this barefoot, even outside. When shoes are necessary, they are soft, flat on the bottom, and flexible enough for the feet to do their natural job. The result is incredible.

My friend’s son is a dense-bodied mover, and he is able to hold his core rigid when he’s lifted off the ground, flipped overhead, and swung back down. He holds perfect spine alignment as he deadlifts a suitcase off the floor. This beloved mini-athlete sometimes gets into a yogic child pose, stretches out on his belly, and lifts his arms and legs off the floor in a reverse plank. It’s all play to him. And he’s barely a year and a half old.

I laugh and marvel at his feats of mobility and strength. At the same time, I feel excited about what this little kid represents. He shows me it’s possible to have a perfect squat as natural and easy as yawning. He proves to me that movements like the deadlift and positions like straight feet and straight spine in the squat are natural. It gives me an example to follow. Since the kid hasn’t been molded into cushy shoes, and since he hasn’t been confined to classroom chairs, his movements are intact. He pushes his limits all the time in the weight of the bins he lifts, the suitcases he pushes, and the stairs he climbs.

Doing these things is challenging in themselves, but doing them with minimal risk of injury and optimal strength is natural only because limitations are not yet put on our little friend. So what if you’re starting today, having already gone through the body-morphing gauntlet of “civilization”? You’re not alone. Modern life’s walls came up, boxed you into the appropriate shapes, and contracted your physical and spiritual expressions into the norms of the day.

It’s not about being a kid, or about glorifying childhood or youthfulness. No. Just look at the human form in its beginning stages, and you can find movement and position as it was meant to be. You can train your malleable body to obtain the strength, movement, and positions of human expression. The full squat, the unhindered overhead arms, the use of joint torque, and spine alignment are all obtainable with training and practice. Possessing natural physical expression and the strength to maintain it will free your mind and soul to build toward your greatest goals.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Torque and Getting Deeper on the Squat

Brilliant Friends,

If you’re just joining this newsletter, welcome. This newsletter is here to bring you unusual yet effective techniques to learn powerlifting. You can find the first newsletter about learning the squat in the archives above. I suggest you go over the mental imagery and cues in that one first before proceeding with the tips in this letter. Practice them and become comfortable with them.

Torque: The Core of all Human Movement

Let’s get deeper on the squat, now that we’ve covered the basics. Continue to practice sets of five squats, body weight, and deepen your understanding of the importance of Torque. For those of you who did not pass physics, torque is rotational force. Squeeze a towel dry and you are creating torque by twisting it.

Every human movement and power output is generated by torque. Our bodies, our skeletal systems, are designed to create force by rotation. This is true for walking, where our back foot propels us through inward rotation of the hip, translating frictional force from the ground up through the abdomen to the shoulders.

It’s true for a simple bicep curl, where our wrist, elbow, and shoulder all pull against each other in rotational motions to bring up an object that is gripped in our hands. Gripping things is also a work of torque, where each finger joint is pulling with rotational force against the next finger joint, and the bones of the hand pull in rotationally against the muscles that lead to the forearms, to secure an object within our grasp.

To understand that torque defines all human movement will give you a better mastery of your body mechanics. The squat is no different as a combination of several systems of torque.

Feet Spread the Floor: Revisiting the Starting Stance with Torque

The well-established starting stance of the squat (see first post for more details) begins with flexing your butt, which creates outward rotational force on your thighs. Your femurs rotating outward place torque on your shins, and this creates torque on your ankles. When your ankles are being pulled outward, your feet, pointed forward, are creating torque against the ground by rotating outwards as well. They are not actually moving outwards, but the force created from your hips allows you to grip the ground through your feet.

This is why thinking of “feet spreading the floor” gives you a good cue to create that rotational force as you prepare to squat.

Creating “the Pillar” out of your abdomen, or taking in a breath to your belly and tightening the abs against it, allows the force from the ground to travel through your torso to the bar or weight without getting lost in bending or twisting motions. If your torso is soft, or extending, or otherwise not rigid through the squat, you will lose the torque created at the ground along the path through your body to the weight on your upper back.

So, before loading weight or a heavy bar for squats, familiarize yourself with performing the exercise with a rigid Pillar of a torso. This is where mobility of the hips, knees, and ankles is essential for allowing your torso to remain upright and solid through the movement. Limitations on joint mobility will tempt you to compromise your torso stability in an effort to get lower in the squat. We’ll talk more about mobility in a bit.

Knees Out: Torque Preservation Throughout the Squat

“Knees out” is also a mental cue that encourages preservation of torque through the squat. As you pull yourself down into the hole, and up out of it, keeping your knees pulled outward maintains torque and a stable transfer of power from the ground through your body.

You absolutely must not allow your knees to buckle in. This is the most important rule for the knees in the squat and all other strength building exercises. The structure of your ligaments keeping your knee together can be replicated by crossing your middle finger over your index finger. Do this with your right hand. Now grab this structure with your left hand, and twist your right hand out, or to the right. This is similar to your right knee pulling out to the right during the squatting motion.

You’ll notice that your twisted fingers, representing the ACL and PCL in your knee, tighten up and become stronger when rotated out to the side. Now, as you maintain your hold with your left hand, twist your right hand the other way, inwards to the left. You’ll notice that your fingers untwist from each other, much in the same way that your knee ligaments become unstable and lose torque.

When you’re squatting, with or without weight, getting up from the ground or the chair or out of the car, you’re using torque to do so. Depending on how your knee is positioned, you are either creating stability in the knee or you are exposing it to an unstable position. Under weight, it is crucial that you maintain “knees out” for the most stable mechanics.

Pulling Down, and Butt Back vs. Hamstrings Back: Getting Deeper on the Squat

“Pulling down” is the best way to think of the descent on the squat. Rather than letting yourself down, or dropping as free weight, thinking of “pulling down” on yourself helps to keep yourself in a stable, torque-locked state.

If you are finding it hard to pull down near the top or the beginning of the squat motion, think of “sitting back into a low chair” or “bending down to pick up a corgi running towards you”. The backwards pull from this imagery may allow for release downwards.

Do you find it hard to pull down near the bottom or the hole, or notice from video of yourself that you are “butt winking”? By butt wink I mean that right at the bottom of the squat, your lower back curves and your butt tucks in. This is a very unstable position of the spine and breaks the solid pillar that you are trying to maintain.

Remedy by thinking of “hamstrings back” rather than butt back. Shoving your butt back too far at the beginning of the squat can tilt your hips too far forward, and prevent your femurs from fully rotating out towards the bottom of the squat. That forces your pelvis to tilt back down, to allow your femurs to rotate out and your body to lower into the hole. Thus, your pillar is broken.

You need your hips at a constant angle, keeping that pocket of motion open for your thighs. This also may require some mobility work. For now, practice the squat as far down as you can go, without compromising your pillar. Think “hamstrings back” and “pull down”.

Practice the Bar Position

At this point, if you feel comfortable with the mechanics of the squat, you can practice gripping and holding the bar during the squat with a light wooden pole or broomstick (remove the broom part if you can).

Even if you are intermediate or advanced on the squat, it is always good to know your mechanics at body weight. Can you get down to the correct position? Are you able to create torque without weight on your back?

Grip the pole at just outside shoulder width. Pull the pole up above your head, arms straight. Get into the stable starting stance, and once you’ve created the pillar, bring the pole down behind your head.

Let the pole rest just below your cervical vertebrae, the pointy neck bone at the top of your spine. With your arms flexed in a bent position, you will create a muscular “shelf” between the rear shoulder muscles and the trapezius muscles just above them. Keep the pole snug in this groove.

Flex your shoulder blades tight, back and down. Grip hard on the pole. Tighten your Pillar, feel the torque as your feet spread the floor. You are in the ready stance with a bar, now.

Establish the bar position. Your wrists may not be mobile enough today to get into a full gripped, just outside shoulder width, bar position. If so, move your hands out a little further, and try bringing the pole down into position. Hold it there, allow your joints to loosen up and adjust, and progressively work on moving your hands to just outside shoulder width.

None of the three-finger grip nonsense that is going around, or the gripping the ends of the bar, or the plates. Having correct bar grip and position is critical to stability and joint health down the road.

I’m open to your thoughts.

To powerful living,

Steve

Powerlifting and Progression Strength Training

Building Sustained and Undeniable Strength

My breakthrough in strength was unexpected after football in high school and rugby in my college years. I didn’t expect to get much stronger than my prime sporting days in my early twenties.

At the peak of my strength, I hit a maximum squat of 315 lb. for three reps. This was 1.85x my body weight. At age 24 I knew I was pretty strong for my size, but I measured myself mostly by what I looked like. I kept lifting heavy weights with flawed mechanics, enough to repeatedly agitate old sports injuries. I didn’t know what to do after reaching plateaus, so if I couldn’t hit a weight that I had lifted previously I would try it again next time until I either got a muscle or tendon tweaked, or until I just got tired of trying.

My workouts became oscillating cycles of programming, with no measurable progress. I rarely allowed myself to recover. I didn’t really believe in recovery. I thought that if I took a break in my workouts I would get skinny and weak, which actually was true back then. Eventually I realized I was getting nowhere. Although I looked ripped, I was miserable with pain, fatigue, and lack of purpose.

In the spring of 2012 I got busy finding answers to these problems. I’m going to talk here about how progression strength training completely changed my outlook on exercise and solved many of the problems that came from the aimless upkeep of workouts and body building programs.

Progression Strength Training

After years and years of intense physical training on the field and in the gym, my top squat was 315lb. for three reps. After just 36 weeks of progression strength training, though, I squatted 340lb. for 3 sets of 5 reps. How is that possible? I used a 5×5 method described by Mehdi Hadim at Stronglifts.com. It is a powerlifting program specifically geared for gaining strength, and I produced enormous results from it using three key tenets: form, consistency, and progression.

Form: start from zero

I listened to Mehdi, scrapped my old ways, and implemented better habits of technique. I learned to back squat at parallel, knees out, and back straight. I recorded video of myself from the side and back to ensure I was nailing down form. I thought I knew how to squat properly until I actually taped myself and watched. It took several days of practice for me to get myself in the correct positions with a broomstick. I did this at home, barefoot without weights.

You must ingrain form starting with very light or no weights in order to prepare for the immense challenges that will come. It is my belief that the only way to do this is to practice until you can do the movements correctly without thinking. When you are at the peak of your abilities, every ounce of mind strength will be needed just to pack your gym bag and get yourself in front of the loaded bar. At this point, it will be too late to think about each body part and mechanism. You won’t have the mental capacity to overcome your fear under the bar. You must do the hard stuff and master form early so that on your heaviest sets ever, every watt of brain power is spent on telling yourself you can do it. This is absolutely crucial to progress.

Start with the end in mind and commit yourself to mastering form.

Consistency: do what is effective over and over

There are just five powerlifting movements. The Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press (OHP), Bench Press, and Pendlay Row. Kelly Starrett would define these as “Category One” movements in his book, Becoming a Supple Leopard. It means there is no disconnection of tension throughout the movement. You pick up the weight in a static starting position and do the movement without any tosses or sudden position changes. They are simple exercises and do not require complicated speed and timing.

They are each done for 5×5, meaning five sets of five repetitions. The squat is done every session, and all five exercises are grouped into two sessions:

Day A: Squat, Bench, Row

Day B: Squat, OHP, Deadlift

I used no other exercises in trying to build strength. No accessory lifts, no machines, no pushups or pullups. Just these five. I did utilize mobility techniques and warm ups for almost every session, but there was no need for the bells and whistles.

Three days a week with two days of rest between each week. As the weight becomes intermediate and then advanced, the periods of rest will lengthen and a “week” will be more than seven days long. This is why I use the term “cycle” instead of “week”, because it often took me longer than a seven day stretch to complete three sessions. It took me a while to accept that there’s nothing wrong with that.

Cycle One: A, B, A

Cycle Two: B, A, B

And so forth, until you reach plateaus and move on to the next training program.

I am only giving you my specific experience with the program here. See Stronglifts 5×5 for more details on the program, and scroll to the bottom for a helpful spreadsheet that maps out a plan for you.

Progression: beauty and monstrosity

The weight you lift on each exercise is increased by 5lb. every session. So the squat progression, if started at 45lb. (an unloaded barbell) would look like:

Week 1

Day 1: 45lb.

Day 2: 50lb.

Day 3: 55lb.

Skip ahead to Week 4

Day 1:  90lb.

Day 2: 95lb.

Day 3: 100lb.

The weight quickly increases. This is the beauty and the monstrosity of progression. I suggest you start at a much lower weight than you normally lift. If you can conquer your ego, start with the bar, a kettle bell, or just your body weight. It is crucial that you lift with only the best form and that you are ready for the immense challenges down the road. Plus you are going to get your ass kicked much sooner if you start too heavy.

This is the progression that I went through:

Start Date 3/19/12

Week 1 Day 1: 95lb.

Week 3 Day 2: 135lb.

Week 8 Day 1: 200lb.

Week 14 Day 1: 285lb.

Week 15 Day 1: 300lb.

I’m not going to lie, things got scary quick. Remember this is at 5×5. I was glad I had prepared myself with decent form at the beginning, so that all I had to deal with was my scared little mind. Start with the end in mind and prepare yourself well for that end.

De-loading: the magic of progression

Each of the five exercises will challenge you at different rates. I started my squat at 95lb. (because I couldn’t get past my ego) and progressed to 315lb. at week 16 before hitting a plateau. This means that I was not able to squat 315lb. for five sets of five reps on my first try. Below are my actual repetitions:

(315lb.) Week 16, Day One: 5, 4, 4, 4, 4

(315lb.) Week 16, Day Two: 5, 5, 4, 5, 4

(315lb.) Week 16, Day Three: 4, 3, 4, 4, 2

My mind crapped out by that third session, and I could not go any further. That was okay. This, too, is the beauty of progression. When you reach a plateau, or a stalling point, in your progression, you “de-load” the weight for that specific exercise.

The standard de-load is 20%. From 315lb. I de-loaded to 285lb. on my next session.

(285 lb.) Week 17 Day One: 5, 5, 5, 5, 5

The next time I hit the same weight would have been at least a couple of weeks later, after some recovery. This is not just physical recovery, but more importantly, mental recovery. At the highest level of training, my mind started to discourage me from doing something that it perceived as dangerous. De-loading helped to reset my reference point, letting me “start over” and feel some confidence with easier sessions.

Undeniable Strength

When I reached that same training weight the second time, it felt easier and more doable. I succeeded in completing all the sets. I surpassed my first plateau, and I knew I was significantly stronger.  I continued with the training sessions until I reached my next plateau. This came much sooner than the first one, since I was pushing the envelope now.

I started the 5×5 program on March 19, 2012 with a 95lb. squat. I progressed to a 320lb. squat in 26 weeks and reached three plateaus. At that point I lowered the number of sets to three instead of five. 3×5 is the next step after 5×5 that is suggested by Stronglifts, and it helped to continue my strength improvement. On November 17, 2012 I completed three sets of five reps at 340 lb.

(340 lb.) Week 35, Day Two 11/15/12: 5, 3, 4

(340 lb.) Week 35, Day Three 11/17/12: 5, 5, 5

(342.5 lb.) Week 36, Day One (Date not recorded): 4, 4, 4

Obviously, I already had a low to intermediate level of strength which allowed me to get pretty far before my first plateau. However, this program ingrained form and provided a consistent mechanism through which I reached a higher level of strength. I wasn’t just doing a one-rep max of 320lb. I was doing five sets of five reps at 320lb.

I can’t tell you how far you will go on the 5×5 program. But I do know that it can bring you deep into your potential for strength. Progression strength training will challenge you in a way that other programs won’t. It is an effective starting point for building strength beyond your belief.

Get the 5×5 spreadsheet from Stronglifts.com here. It’s free and this is not an affiliate link. I just want to you try it and find results that you did not think possible. Let me know in the comments section if you have any questions or if you want to share your own results from using 5×5 training!

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Madcow: A Snapshot

Brilliant Friends!

If you have reached a couple plateaus on a basic 5×5 strength training program, move on to Madcow.

Mehdi Hadim of Stronglifts 5×5 advises using this program after the basic 5×5 program, and I agree. It’s a bit more advanced than an integral progression, and the jumps in weight from cycle to cycle are larger. So in other words, you’re increasing each week by percentages, rather than by specific weight increments like 2.5 or 5 lb.  Some basic tenets of the program are:

  • Exercises start light and progress to a heavy work set.
  • Most sets consist of five repetitions.
  • Three training sessions in a cycle, with squats on every session.
  • The last session, or Day Three, of each cycle presents a 3-rep max on the squat, bench, and row. This max becomes the next work set for Day One of the new cycle.
  • Do the basic 5×5 first, then move on to Madcow. Don’t skip the basics, if you’re not squatting at least 200 lb. with form.
The program looks like this for me on cycle 6:
Day One: 5×5 each set
  • Squat 142, 177, 212, 248, 283
  • Bench 91, 113, 136, 158, 181
  • Pendlay Row 72, 89, 107, 125, 143
Day Two: 4×5 each set
  • Squat 142, 177, 212, 212
  • Overhead Press (OHP) 84, 101, 117, 134
  • Deadlift 208, 249, 291, 332
Day Three: 4×5, 1×3, 1×8 six sets
  • Squat 5x(142, 177, 212, 248), 3x 290, 8x 212
  • Bench 5x(91, 113, 136, 158), 3x 185, 8x 136
  • Row 5x(72, 89, 107, 125), 3x 147, 8x 107
Cycle 7, Day One: 5×5 each set
  • Squat 145, 181, 218, 254, 290
  • Bench 93, 116, 139, 162, 185
  • Pendlay Row 74, 92, 110, 129, 147

Click here to see the spreadsheet. You can plug in your own numbers and get weeks of programming laid out for you.

To powerful living,

Steve

Overhead Press Madcow Training Session One

No More Protein Shakes: How to  Eat Like a Human and Still Be Strong

My Brilliant Friends,

Last March I hit a squat of 370 lb. and a deadlift of 391 lb. without protein shakes. That’s a squat of 2.2x my body weight of 168 lb. That may seem like a lot, but I’m a normal guy and I just learned to do a few things right.

My strength results came after a year of effective eating paired with progression strength training. I was able to take the 5×5 powerlifting system much further than most people, because I adopted an unusual nutritional philosophy. If your primary focus is getting strong and lean, you don’t have to go the route of whey protein and chicken breast. Also, the prescription of six meals a day is overkill.

In fact, I ate less food and skipped the protein shakes for a 65 lb. increase in my squat. I did two things with food that changed everything: I started the day with healthy fats, and ate carbs at night. These simple adjustments took my strength to a new level. It wasn’t easy to change my habits, but the results came fast.

Effective Eating

By changing when I ate certain foods, I effected greater focus and strength output during training sessions and physical activities. My energy level multiplied, and my strength surpassed my expectations.

Carbohydrates at Night

This sounds crazy to some of you, because most people say that carbs at night make you fat. That’s conventional wisdom. Here’s my secret: I usually only eat carbs at night, and never in the morning. Why?

Think of your energy on a scale of zero to five, five being razor-focused and kicking ass, zero being non-functional and getting your ass kicked. Then think of your hunger on a scale of zero to five, zero being starved and five being completely satiated. My perceived energy and hunger levels after eating carbs for breakfast:

Energy Vs Hunger Graph

With the effects shown above, it didn’t make sense for me to eat carbs first thing in the morning. I may have felt lively as I was eating, but by the time I was ready to get work done my focus was crashing. Soon after that my stomach would grumble, and then I would get moody and just want people out of my way so I could hurry up and eat again. It didn’t work for me.

The same was true for strength training. I would get an energy crash just as I got to the gym, and it sucked. Suddenly the motivation I was feeling an hour before disappeared, and I would have a sober time getting warmed up and lifting. I would be tired during my training session and unfocused, and this often led to small injuries from bad form and overworking myself.

So if I didn’t eat carbs in the morning, what did I eat?

Fat in the Morning

Two years ago, my gym buddy introduced me to BULLETPROOF® Coffee. It’s a strange recipe consisting of grass fed butter, MCT oil, and coffee, from the Silicon Valley biohacker named Dave Asprey, at The Bulletproof Executive. From the first time I drank this butter coffee concoction in the mornings, I met incredible results: my energy level shot through the roof, it was sustained throughout the day without any other food, and I was rock-steady focused.

Using the same scale of zero to five from our carb-heavy breakfast graph, here are my perceived energy and hunger levels on nothing but good fats in the morning:

Energy Vs Hunger Fat Graph

I found that I could go eight to twelve hour days without lunch. And I was not crawling, either. I managed staff of a busy call center, I was reading, writing, and meditating, and I took pride in doing these things with focus and attention.

So I flipped my eating. I had carbs only toward the end of the day, and only good fats in the morning. This gave me access to unparalleled energy from morning to night, and allowed me to restore my need for energy without interfering with activities during the day. For dinner, I went all out. I ate multiple servings of rice if I felt the hunger, and I had fruits and desserts. Then, I would relax and go to bed feeling good. The best part was, in the morning, I was not fat.

Sure, this is my own perception of energy and hunger. There are obviously a lot of complex things going on with hormones, catabolism and anabolism, and I’m not going to say that I have measured or understand all of those mechanisms. I do know that fat works better for me than carbs by orders of magnitude in the morning.

That’s it. These are my two most effective principles of food timing, around which all other eating falls into place. Carbs at night, fats in the morning.

Starting with Fat for Strength Training

The most amazing thing was that starting with fat was optimal for strength training too. I was scared at first that I would faint during my training because I wasn’t eating any carbohydrates. When you have 200 lb. on your back you don’t want to lose consciousness. But guess what? Not only did I stay conscious, I was more focused and had more power output than if I had eaten carbs. A quick list of benefits of training with fat as fuel:

  • No heavy “digestion” slump that is typical after eating carbs, so I’m able to start my first exercise as quickly as 15 to 30 minutes after having butter coffee.
  • Absolutely razor focused during sessions. Able to control every minutiae of form at the bottom of the heaviest squats.
  • More presence and control during exercises means less fear with peak weights on my back.
  • Far less of crazy “beast mode” and just blindly tearing through exercises.
  • No injuries from squatting 3x per week for 30+ weeks on the 5×5 progression strength training program.

Here’s what a training day looks like for me:

  • Normally I have two cups of butter coffee first thing in the morning.
  • Before training sessions, I add a tablespoon of collagen powder to my coffee along with the butter and MCT oil. This gives my body the building blocks for joint and connective tissue repair.
  • When I don’t train, I omit the collagen, since it makes me hungry within about four hours. On training days, since I was going to eat after my session anyway, hunger was okay.
  • I usually read, write, meditate, stool, and then hit the gym about an hour or two after finishing my coffee.
  • After training, I usually eat white rice mixed with grass fed butter, meat, and dark green veggies like kale, broccoli, or spinach. This is usually leftovers from the night before. If I don’t have any leftovers I make eggs and bacon.

Observe your energy and focus levels in the morning. Do you eat breakfast, and if so, what does that look like? Note how long it takes for you to start to feel hungry. Pay attention to these two factors at lunch time. Did you train or exercise one or two days before? Take note of these baseline factors and your levels of energy and hunger. Then try adding good fats to your morning, and take note of any differences.

Brilliantly Effective Foods

Now for the actual foods that worked the greatest wonders for me: meat and fats from grass fed or wild animals, leafy veggies, rice, and more. Let’s start with the healthy fats.

Butter Coffee

I discovered the power of fat in my diet soon after that fateful day that my training buddy suggested I try Bulletproof Coffee. This drink serves as an amazing energy source from fats, and is unparalleled as fuel for a strength training session. See my butter coffee recipe for amazing taste and texture tips. From the Bulletproof Executive website I started my journey of learning that fats give me more energy for longer periods of time than carbs. I started by having a small cup of butter coffee with my breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and avocado, and eventually found that the beverage alone gave me  enough energy for my training sessions.

Quick breakdown of butter coffee as the ultimate natural fuel:

  • The grass fed butter provides vitamins, saturated fats, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats, and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). It is very filling too.
  • Medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil consists of C-8 and C-10 fatty acids that pass easily from the gut to the brain and rest of the body for quickly usable energy in the form of ketones.
  • The coffee, of course, has flavonoids and antioxidants that enhance focus and drive during training and intense mental activities.

This drink is clean-burning rocket fuel that gives me maximal focus, endurance, and strength output. For my recipe and links to get ingredients for yourself, see my post on how to Hack Your Butter Coffee.

Save Money on Ineffective Lunches

Having my coffee blended with grass fed butter every morning makes sense micro-economically.  I eat no breakfast other than butter coffee. This saves me time on food prep and cleaning (blender, table knife, and measuring spoons). Because it’s so filling, I don’t eat lunch, unless I trained the day before.

Looking at a very low end of $10 per restaurant lunch in Los Angeles, that is saving me more than $40 per week. This alone makes up for the weekly cost of my butter coffee, which for me includes 1.5 cups of grass fed butter per week (less than $5), 10 tbps. of Brain Octane oil ($5.49), and 30 g of coffee ($0.54) as a baseline. I do add other elements to enhance flavor and performance, so I’m spending about $11 a week. Not taking dinner into account, and excluding the cost of breakfast that I no longer eat, I am 3-4 times more food-cost-efficient from morning to evening than I used to be. Take my previous cost of breakfast, which usually consisted of two to three eggs, bacon, and toast, I am at least 5x more food cost-efficient than I was three years ago.

This isn’t to say you’ll be able to go a whole day with just butter coffee from day one, two, three, or even day seven. It took a few weeks for me to get to a state of metabolism where I could effectively use fat alone for energy. You may need to try it a few times and see how it works for you, in addition to your regular meals. I eventually got more accustomed to the calorie profile of fats and need less food for the same amount of energy. I suggest adding it to what you already do, and adjust as you go.

The usual exception to no lunches is after strength training sessions or some physical activity the day before. For the next day, and sometimes two days later, I feel hungry midday. If I want to make time for lunch on these days I might have a salad with some wild salmon and sweet potatoes, with dressing made from MCT oil and vinegar. If I don’t eat lunch, it takes about a day longer for me to recover from training. However, my focus isn’t affected during the day.

Kill 1 p.m. Meetings and End the Day on Fire

Not only am I more efficient, I am more effective. Having butter coffee in the morning without carbs gives me razor focus that is sustained for hours and hours. I can focus on tasks and interact effectively with people as late as 10 or 11 p.m. I’m definitely not 100% at the end of the day, but I’m rarely “hangry”, moody, or in any sort of an energy crisis.

I feel great from the start of my morning through lunch hour, when most people need to go get something to eat. It saves me time, energy, and attention when I can continue on with a task and not have to stand in line for a $15 sandwich and soda. I also don’t have a post-lunch crash, because I just don’t have lunch. While others are nodding off during one o’clock meetings, I’m driven and focused.

Yes, I do have some crazy days when I am up early in the morning, skip lunch even though I trained the day before, and don’t eat dinner until 11 or 12 p.m. It doesn’t make me the happiest human on earth, but I can operate just fine. I can do this effectively because of the good fats that I eat to start my day, and butter coffee is the perfect vehicle for this nutrition.

Grass Fed Butter

I use Kerrygold grass fed butter in just about everything I eat. It makes up the bulk of my morning energy source in butter coffee. Butter is also great when melted into almost anything, especially rice. I like to do the classic slab of butter on top of steak, and it’s also great when melted onto steamed or sauteed veggies. Broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, bok choy, spinach, collard greens, you name it, I’ve tried grass fed butter with all of them and they pass my “Damn, that’s good” taste test.

Cooking with grass fed butter:

I use butter for cooking everything from eggs to beef stew to fish to chicken curry. It’s a little more delicate than regular grain fed butter, and smokes at a lower temperature.

  1. Melt it at a very low temperature, not enough to fizzle into a brown mess.
  2. If you need to cook at slightly higher temperatures for larger meat chunks or to get that grilled effect, first heat coconut oil, pork, or beef fat, then add the butter on top. This blends the smoking points of the two fats and you get a higher smoking point from the butter than you normally would by itself.
  3. When possible, it’s better to steam food like rice or veggies first, then add butter later to melt.
  4. Add spices like garlic, shallots, or jalapeno to the butter and let brown a bit before adding meat or veggies. Gives depth to your dish.

Grass Fed Ground Beef

Some of the long term benefits I am seeing from eating grass fed beef:

  • Fuller recovery after training
  • Better sleep
  • Improved mood
  • More flexible joints and muscles
  • Better skin, hair and nails
  • No smelly burps or room-filling gas that come with normal grain fed beef

Ground beef is the most practical form for cooking:

  • Break it up in butter in a large saucepan and add broccoli, kale, or other veggie
  • Form into meatballs with cumin, chipotle, minced onion.
  • Make into a sauce for rice pasta dishes

My trusted source of grass fed beef is Alderspring Ranch in Idaho.

Wild Caught Fish

Best alternative to grass fed beef, full of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. My favorite fish:

  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Red Snapper
  • Pike mackerel
  • Sardines (most are wild caught!)

Easy and fast to cook:

  • In a pan, low heat, with grass fed butter
  • In a spicy soup base
  • Baked, seasoned with plenty of sea salt, maybe some dill

I get Alaskan Wild By Nature Copper River sockeye salmon, who are partnered with Alderspring Ranch.

Dark Green Leafy Veggies

These are super healthy and make me feel great the next morning. My favorites:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Chinese Broccoli
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Bok Choi

I have found these to be simple to cook and the easiest to find at farmer markets. It’s hard to go wrong with them if you use a few simple rules:

  • Minimal cooking
  • Proper flavoring
  • Variation

Minimal Cooking

Most green leafy veggies don’t need much heat to be edible. You can sauté kale slightly in butter over low heat for just a couple of minutes, and cover to steam for another minute or two, and it’s done. You want it to still be green and fresh looking when you eat it. The trick with veggies that have thick stems and delicate leaves is to start cooking the stems and add the leafy parts later.

Flavoring Veggies

Super easy with combinations of herbs, spices, and acids. For European and American-style dishes try:

  • Lemon or apple cider vinegar
  • Black pepper
  • Cumin
  • Chipotle
  • Jalapeno

For Asian-style dishes try:

  • Soy sauce
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Sake
  • Green onion
  • White pepper
  • Sesame oil
  • Shiitake

Most of these veggies go supremely well with ground beef. I usually start with the beef, adding the veggies while the beef is still a bit pink to avoid overcooking it. Salt it to taste, don’t be afraid of salt. Spinach can be blanched, rinsed, and mixed with soy sauce, sesame oil, and green onions for an amazing dish that is popular with Koreans. Try it with rice and fish.

Vary what you eat day to day

Of course, you will eventually find the few things that make the most sense to you and taste the best. This makes it easy to rotate recipes so you don’t get sick of any one food.

Soft-Boiled Eggs

Boiled eggs, what a lost art. Having a stock of soft-boiled eggs is great for quick meals. The secret is to use a steamer. If you do it in this order exactly, I promise you the eggs will be delicious.

  1. Set up a steamer in a large pot. Add water to just below the bottom of the steamer.
  2. Get the water boiling.
  3. Set a timer for 7 minutes for liquid yolk, 8 minutes for firm but golden yolk.
  4. Add as many eggs as reasonably fits without stacking (try stacking them, why not).
  5. Start timer.
  6. When timer goes off, turn off heat.
  7. Fill pot with cold water, drain. Don’t worry, the eggs won’t crack. The miracle of natural architecture.
  8. Repeat. The second time, leave the eggs for a few minutes to cool down.

Rice

White rice mixed with some brown and black rice cooked in a steamer is my main source of carbohydrates at night. I love melting in grass fed butter after cooking the rice and mixing it together. It’s a great way to get more healthy fat and it tastes amazing. Rice is clean-burning fuel for me, doesn’t have any gluten and other harmful proteins found in wheat, and is always my go to.

I usually cook a bunch, store what I don’t eat in tupperware, and reheat over the stove with a little water in the pot when I need it. Simple, delicious, and effective.

Japanese Sweet Potatoes

Second to rice, I’ve found that Japanese sweet potatoes are an awesome source of easily digestible carbs. I don’t get food coma after eating these, even if it’s midday. Steam a few for 20-30 minutes, until super soft, and eat them when they’re cooled to room temperature. I eat the peel and all. Store leftovers in the fridge after cooling.

Supplements

My supplementation is based on the BULLETPROOF DIET™ created by Dave Asprey and this supplements page. These are the things I take daily.

Vitamin D

1000 IU per 25 lb. body weight, which means 7000 IU for me in the morning. If I know I’m going to be outdoors I take less. Genetic function, calcium distribution, hormone formation.

Vitamin C

6000 mg daily. Antioxidant, supports immune function. I take more if I feel an infection coming on.

Vitamin K2

2,000 mcg daily for calcium distribution to bones and away from arteries.

Methyl B12

5000 mcg daily for brain cell and nerve tissue repair and support in conjunction with methyl folate.

Methyl Folate

800 mcg daily for cardiovascular function and neurological health in conjunction with B12.

Magnesium

600 mg nightly for relaxation, enzyme function, muscle function, and calcium balance.

Iodine (Kelp)

1000 mg nightly for thyroid function, immune function, brain protection.

Avoid Non-Effective Foods

Yes, we all have splurges every once in a while. But for a routine diet, when the aim is to focus, maintain good mood, create a healthy body, and gain strength, some foods are not effective for me. Here are the foods I avoid and why:

Wheat, bread and pasta

Joint pain, brain fog and headache, energy crash, lowered immune system function.

Sugar

Energy crash, cavities, feeds “bad” gut bacteria, organs don’t feel good.

Dairy

Acne, gas, brain fog.

Vegetable Oils

Oxidation, inflammation, and fat gain. Canola, seed oils, even olive oil can be harmful if cooked.

Damaged fats

From overcooking or reuse for deep-frying: Similar to vegetable oils.

A lot of these are my kryptonite. They are tempting and addictive, especially when I’m stressed and tired and don’t have good food prepared. I have “relapses”, when I splurge on bread or sweets or fried foods. The results are always the same, and I eat knowing the consequences.

The best way for me to avoid non-effective foods is to stock up on good foods, have a solid routine for meal prep, and embrace the benefits of effective eating. This only starts with one good food or eating habit at a time, so start with small, effective steps. Observe your results, and keep using the stuff that works.

To powerful living,

Steve

Make Butter Coffee

My Brilliant Friends,

Have I told you about butter coffee? Creamy, smooth, and delicious, it gives me immense energy and focus. I first started having this concoction with breakfast, and found that it helped me in strength training. Eventually, I just had more butter with it and didn’t eat breakfast at all. I now go the entire day without any other meal, until dinner.

When I drink this concoction, I get mental clarity, sustained focus, and a predator state of mind and body that is unparalleled by energy from any other food. If I haven’t made it for you already, I’ll show you how so you can experience it for yourself.

At first, your body will need to learn to effectively absorb nutrition from fat. This takes several days to weeks for some people, especially if you are not in the habit of eating a lot of fat. Most self-described healthy eaters do not eat much fat. Keep your regular meals at first and just have this coffee with breakfast or an hour before training. You want to feel it out and do what works best for you.

Basic Butter Coffee Recipe

Ingredients

  • 30-35 grams of coffee beans for two cups of single source coffee
  • Two tablespoons grass fed butter
  • One teaspoon high quality MCT oil

Method

  1. Boil water (or start brewing if using the basic coffee machine)
  2. Throw the butter and MCT oil into a large blender
  3. Brew the coffee and add it to the blender
  4. Hold down the top of the blender lid with a dish towel and blend on high for 20 seconds

That’s it.

Of course to make it even better, here are things to consider:

Get The Best Ingredients

The quality of your ingredients lends to the flavor, level of energy, and creativity you will get from your cup.

Single Source Whole Bean Coffee

Single Source Coffee for Clarity

Single source coffee beans are grown, harvested, and processed on one estate or farm. All other beans, sometimes called blends, are mixtures of beans from two or more estates. Single source beans come without the added time of storage and transportation. Coffee is vulnerable to mycotoxins, which can cause headaches and jitters. Mycotoxins are inevitable, but through good practice and minimal exposure to the environment they can be suppressed. The less time from harvest to your cup the better. I didn’t know how much of a difference this would make until I gave single source coffee a try. I noticed significantly better results. Even when I was tired, I had calm mental clarity from it, not just a jittery buzz. No crash in energy, and no headache. Now I always look for coffee that lets me be even-keeled and fierce. There are two types I drink primarily, but you can find others if you look for them.

I found a great tasting single origin coffee in a local store. I really enjoyed the flavor of this light roast. It was from Alto Mayo Estate, a single coffee farm in a mountain region of Peru. The coffee smelled amazing, roasty and smooth. I had great results from this coffee every day, feeling clear minded, focused, and strong when I drank it. If you have a quality grocery store nearby, find a single source coffee with the roast intensity that you enjoy most.

The key to finding good coffee anywhere is to verify that it says “single origin”,”single source”, or”single estate”. I don’t pay attention to the phrases Fair Trade, Shade Grown, and Certified Organic. While they do hold social value, they also warrant a higher price tag. Whatever you choose to buy, drink it and test it yourself for absolutely positive symptoms. Do not assume it’s good based on the label or the price. The whole point is to find something that allows you to accomplish greatness.

With that being said, some blends may be okay if they are from the same roaster. If you know the beans are roasted at the same facility and are blended there, they may be as good as single source. But again, try the coffee and make sure it brings you mental clarity and sustained focus.

Grass Fed Butter: Nourish Your Soul, Body, and Mind

 Grass Fed Kerrygold Butter Cubes

Grass fed cow butter is the key to creating the smooth frothiness of your concoction. It’s important that the butter is from grass fed cows. Cows that are 100% or almost completely fed on grass are healthier and happier beasts. Butter from such beasts makes me a happier beast. The ultra nutritious elements like healthy saturated fat, CLA, omega-3 fat, butyric acid, vitamin K2, vitamin E, and beta carotene are elevated in cows that eat grass only. There are two types I tried, and both are excellent.

KerryGoldSilver
Get Kerrygold Unsalted Butter

The most reliable brand that I get from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods is Kerrygold Unsalted Butter. It’s an awesome Irish butter that comes in one-cup bars. If you don’t have a store nearby, you can get in online. It’s a little more than the store price, but it is worth it if you can’t get it anywhere else. I get a box of 20 at a time and stock them in my freezer.

AnchorUnsalted
Get Anchor Unsalted Butter

My other go-to butter is harder to find on the west coast of the U.S., but it can be found in some other countries more easily. I love Anchor Unsalted Butter from New Zealand grass fed cows.

On a recent trip to Asia I was stoked to find Anchor butter from a Jakarta store. I had never used it before, but it was surprisingly good in my coffee. The subtle flavor and smooth texture pair well with the cacao and vanilla I use.

The Best Quality MCT Oil

 Brain Octane MCT Oil Spoon

MCT turns the light switch on in my head. Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are fatty acid chains of 8 and 10 carbons in length. C-8 and C-10 fats absorb through the gut into the bloodstream to the brain fast, where they can be utilized as energy in the form of ketones.

Ketones have been found in research to be more efficient brain fuel than glucose, and I feel the difference. When my brain has this fuel source, I have more clarity, better mental function, longer sustained focus, and no crash. It also brings my body into a fat-burning mode. This has been shown to help regulate body weight, and it’s certainly proven true for me. MCT oil is usually derived from coconut and palm kernel oil, and there can be a very slight coconut scent to it.

There are several different brands out there, and the quality of the MCT oil is determined by purification and processing. Purification affects the concentration of C-8 and C-10 versus other types of fat that are not MCT. Processing includes how the coconuts are stored and pressed, and where they are from.

My go-to bottle is BULLETPROOF® Upgraded Brain Octane Oil. It is the most concentrated version of MCT oil out there. It consists only of C-8 fatty acids.

Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil
BULLETPROOF® Brain Octane Oil

NOTE: This fuel is intense! I recommend using the regular MCT oil first. It will help to make a smoother transition to this different energy source.

Bulletproof XCT Oil I used to have this regularly in my coffee before I tried Brain Octane oil. It has both C-8 and C-10 fatty acids. This is a good starting point if you haven’t tried MCT oil. It isn’t as intense as Brain Octane, and I think it would be the best choice for learning the effects of MCT oil on yourself before venturing into the more intense version. Flavor is slightly more coconuty than the following Viva Labs oil that I also have used. This is a very clean product that I can rely on for top performance.

Coconut Oil

I have used high quality coconut oil before in my coffee, when I ran out of MCT oil. Coconut oil will add a lot of flavor, but in my opinion it’s overbearing. Also, it is not a sufficient substitute for MCT oil. There is only a very small percentage of C-8 and C-10 fats in coconut oil, contrary to common belief. The majority of advertised “MCT” oil here is C-12, which actually does not act like the shorter chains in energy utilization.

With that being said, if this is your only source of MCT, it will still provide you with some benefits of fat-based brain energy. And I’ve talked to some friends who really love it. Plus it’s delicious for cooking chicken curry dishes. Maybe I’ll post on that later. If you’re getting all of your MCT from coconut oil, use four tbsp or more. As a flavor or C-12 supplement, use one or two tbsp.

Viva Labs Coconut Oil
Viva Labs Coconut Oil

Flavor and Creativity

These next few ingredients are what make my butter coffee taste so good, compared to ones you find here and there in shops and cafes. I add these elements every time I make my concoctions, and have had the most amazing conversations with friends, breakthroughs in strength training, and mental performance after having it.

Vanilla

Madagascar Vanilla Bean Powder

This is my favorite hack for butter coffee. Vanilla bean has amazing flavor and also has flavonoids that enhance creativity. I add this without fail to my coffee concoction every morning.

Check out the BULLETPROOF® Upgraded Vanilla I use, which is an heirloom Madagascar vanilla bean. It has an unforgettable cherry wood fragrance and takes my mornings to the next level. I use about 1/16 of a teaspoon. Keep it sealed in the freezer for maximum flavor retention.

Cacao Butter

Cacao Butter

Second only to vanilla bean, cacao butter is another flavor and nutrient must-have for me. It’s the pure fat of cacao beans and this is what they use to make white chocolate. Cacao butter gives a rich, gourmet scent and flavor to the coffee. It has the concentrated elements of chocolate that enhance your creativity and brain power.

The one I use every morning is BULLETPROOF® Upgraded Cacao Butter, hand harvested from a single source in South America.

Chocolate Powder

Chocolate Cocoa Powder

I add chocolate powder to my butter coffee to make it rich and dark. Good chocolate, like good coffee, has flavonoids and antioxidants that enhance brain and performance. Gauge the flavor, it can be rich and quite bitter. Start with about a teaspoon or less.

BULLETPROOF® Upgraded Chocolate Powder This one pictured above is from heirloom cacao beans.

Xylitol

Xyla North American Hardwood Birch Xylitol

My coffee has no sweetener, but my wife likes hers a bit sweet. This stuff of nature is the perfect solution if you want to be in ketosis yet want that rich sweetness in your coffee. This will not trigger your insulin response, unlike sugar. And it tastes naturally sweet, unlike stevia.

Xyla North American Hardwood Xylitol. The best type, pictured here, is made from North American birch trees. The cheaper brands are made from Chinese GMO corn. I recommend using one to two teaspoons per cup to start. It has about the same sweetness as regular cane sugar.

Building Blocks and Fuel

These ingredients can be added as needed for the different types of activities you do on any given day. Add these one at a time and observe whether you benefit from them.

Grass Fed Collagen

Grass Fed Hydrolyzed Collagen Protein Powder

Collagen is one of the building block of your tendons, skin, and hair. It is needed for repair of tissue after training, and makes your skin more vibrant when you provide yourself with enough. Unlike whey protein, which caused gas and bloating, collagen has been problem-free for my digestion. For these reasons it is great for strength training, tissue repair, and skin and hair boost.

BULLETPROOF® Upgraded Collagen Protein  Super fine-grade and from grass fed cows. It’s processed with enzymes rather than heat, which prevents damage of the proteins. I generally only add collagen on the day of, and up to three days after, a training session.

My wife, on the other hand, has it every morning in her butter coffee. She simply feels better and more energetic with some protein. Use at least one tablespoon.

Creatine

Creatine Monohydrate

I add a baseline dose of creatine every morning with my coffee. Without causing huge swelling of muscles, this simple nutrient has allowed me to maintain strength and muscle mass for longer periods of time between training sessions. It is one of the key supplements I use to increase longevity of strength. Creatine also boost brain function.

Now Foods creatine monohydrate  This brand has been my go to for years. No side effects, suggesting it is clean and pure. Use 1 teaspoon or 5 grams daily.

METHODS TO MAKE MAGIC

I’m laying this recipe out for first time dabblers in butter coffee. The way you make your coffee will affect how it feels, tastes, and energizes. Even for more veteran practitioners, small hacks can give you a better concoction. To have delicious butter coffee it must be three things: Hot, well-brewed, and well-blended. How you set up the ingredients and the order in which you prepare it can be the difference between a floating oil slick and a creamy concoction of joy.

Prepare Water First

Start a kettle on the stove before anything else, as you will need time to prepare the other ingredients and want the water hot when you’re ready to brew. If you’re using a normal coffee maker, get it all set up with beans and start brewing. Use spring or well water for the best flavor. Water has as much flavor and texture as any other ingredient that goes into coffee. Make your coffee with tap water and you’ll taste the tap.

For the Pour Over technique, prepare about a quarter cup more water than the amount of coffee you plan to make.

Prepare Blender

As the water heats, get all your ingredients into the blender. You will need one that holds at least four cups or one liter, because the liquid will expand like crazy when you blend it. I use the KitchenAid blender, which is not the highest-end thing out there, but works just fine for this purpose:

KitchenAid Blender Tangerine
My faithful blender

Note: The stronger the blender, the finer the foam. You can get an incredibly smooth concoction with the VitaMix Blender.

Brew the Coffee Into the Blender

You can brew your coffee however you choose. If all you have is the classic coffee maker, just use that for now. My all time favorite method of coffee brewing is the Pour Over technique. Coffee tastes the best when I make it this way, but a close second is the French press, and honestly after that it’s just the normal coffee maker. Hario Filter Cup Pour Over Brew Method

The Pour Over Technique

Hario v60 Dripper KettleHario Ceramic Filter Cup Paper FiltersHario Ceramic White Filter CupHario Hand Ceramic Coffee GrinderHamilton Beach Coffee Grinder

The pour over technique requires a kettle with a thin pouring spout, as well as a filter cup and filters. Here is how I brew pour over.

Gear:

 Method:

  1. Boil water in the dripper kettle and turn off heat.
  2. Grind coffee beans to slightly finer than medium granularity. Any finer and it will take forever to brew and you will get too much acid. This is how fine you want your grounds for pour over brewing:Single Source Ground Coffee Alto Mayo EstateYou can use an electric grinder like the one I have above or a hand grinder if you want to have more evenly ground beans. This takes a lot more time and effort though.
  3. Fold the crimped edge of a paper filter, open up the filter, and place into the ceramic cup.
  4. Wet the filter paper by pouring just enough hot water along the edges of the cup. This gets rid of the flavor of the paper.
  5. Dump the ground coffee into the filter paper.
  6. Starting from the center of the cup, slowly pour water in an outward spiral until you cover all the beans with water. The grounds will start to breathe and expand. Let the gas escape and as the grounds deflate, continue to pour in the same spiral manner until you have poured all the water. The pouring should take about 3-4 minutes total.

Brew directly into the blender to save time and keep your coffee hot. Here’s an honest picture of my set up, dirty dishes and all. I want to give you an idea of how you can brew directly into the blender. Note that with my blender in the dish rack, it allows me to brew at a more comfortable level than if the blender were up on the counter top:

CoffeeBrewingSetUp

Blend It

Once the coffee is brewed and in your blender with the other ingredients, place the lid on securely and cover the top with a dish towel. Hold down the towel over the lid tight while you blend it on the highest setting for 20 seconds.  Depending on the quality of your blender, the coffee may punish you if you don’t hold it down.

Blending Grass Fed Butter MCT Oil Coffee

Marvel at the creaminess.

Pouring Grass Fed Butter Coffee Into Mug

Store it

Keep the rest in a thermos and drink it through the morning.

Black Thermos Blue Zojirushi

These are my two favorite containers for coffee.

  • ThermosThe Thermos is larger and holds a full two cups of coffee, fairly hot through the day.
  • ZojirushiThe Zojirushi is smaller but keeps coffee radioactive hot the entire day.

Dosage

Up the dosage on the butter and MCT oil slightly after a week or two, if you can glean the benefits without having the runs. You can always lower amounts the next time if you don’t feel as good of an effect.

MCT

Don’t change the MCT dosage drastically. Try increasing by a teaspoon each week, making sure to observe the quality of focus. You don’t want to end up dizzy or give yourself digestive issues by taking too much in the beginning.

Butter

If you’re hungrier, add more butter. Try increments of one tablespoon. Use the minimum effective dose.

That is it. Try it in the morning, about an hour before a training session, or before any task that will take a lot of brain or body power. You’ll be restless the first few times if you don’t have a world or two to save.

I had butter coffee as fuel for a 370 lb. squat and 391 lb. deadlift at my first powerlifting meet, a 5k in under 23 minutes with no training, and the LA Downtown Ketchum Stair Climb, which was a stair climb to the top of a 76-story skyscraper, in 19 minutes. These are not Olympic numbers, but I did all this without needing tons of protein or carbs immediately before or after. I hope you find that reasonable amounts of healthy fat as a source of energy puts you on a different level from just pounding protein and carbs.

Let me know in the comments if you try this and how it goes for you! If I’ve made this concoction for you before, let others know how it tasted what it felt like to drink it. I think a lot of people are curious about what butter in coffee would be like, and they will be surprised by how good it can be if done right.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Copyright © 2016 Steve Ko, All rights reserved. Photos and articles are created by me, unless otherwise stated and credited.