Wednesday, 19 September 2012

How Sweet It Is - The Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

One of my favourite foods is sweet potatoes. I like them baked, mashed, whipped and could eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One of the best things about sweet potatoes is the volume you can eat in comparison to other foods of the same nutritional value. 

As an example, 6 ounces of sweet potato has nearly the same nutritional value as 1.5 ounces of brown rice and 2 ounces of Quick oats with no fat. 6 ounces of sweet potatoes has only 36g of carbs, 6g of protein and 0g of fat. That means if your diet has a restriction on the amount of carbohydrates or calories you're taking in you can eat more food while keeping the calories low.

Sweet potatoes are also a natural anti-inflammatory, which can be very beneficial when restricting calories in the first place, as this causes excess stress on your body and can lead to injury. They are also high in magnesium, Vitamins C, D and B6 and iron which all assist in important bodily functions. 

There are many ways to prepare your sweet potatoes, my favourite simply being mashed. I peel and boil my potatoes and add cinnamon, 1/2-1tsp of vanilla and maple extract and a pinch of stevia. For extra creaminess you can add 1tbsp of melted coconut oil, which is extremely beneficial in burning unneeded fat. 

Here's a simple clean recipe for making sweet potato fries:

Healthy Sweet Potato Fries

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Skinny on Fasted Cardio and Training Depleted

It's common practice for athletes and individuals looking to achieve optimal fat burning, be it for a fitness competition, professional sports or just personal achievement to do "fasted cardio" or cardio training before breakfast on an empty stomach. The theory is that training on an empty stomach will allow you to tap into fat stores more quickly and optimize fat burning. There is much debate surrounding this technique and unfortunately little specific research to back it up. Some research has suggested that fasted cardio may cause loss of muscle due to catabolism because the muscles are working in a depleted state. Without nutrients to repair the damage caused from exercise the muscle begins to break down and is used for energy.

On the other hand sometimes a slight loss of muscle is worth it to reach your desired goal, especially if that goal is weight related (such as in professional fighting). In the case of bodybuilding and fitness competition however, muscle loss is something to be avoided as much as possible.

To approach this theory we have to look at the science behind it in the first place. A few questions we have to ask are: What is the overall state your body is in after sleeping? How does being depleted affect your muscles? Are there ways to take advantage of this depleted state without losing muscle? What steps should you take to recover after training depleted? What other considerations should we take into account?

First we'll look at the state your body is in after sleeping. Our body uses glycogen in our muscles, brain and organs for energy. Although it takes approximately 24-48 hours to be completely depleted of glycogen and reach a state of ketosis, depletion can occur after 4-8 hours. This means that when you wake up you are generally using a combination of fat stores and muscle breakdown (catabolism) for energy. Being in a glycogen depleted state causes acidity in our body which can put excess stress on our lymph nodes and immune system while potentially damaging the cells and muscles, making injury more likely and nutrient absorption less effective. On the other hand it also increases our "flight or fight" state and influences fat burning by using the fat stores for energy.

Note: Carbs are stored in the body in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is 1 part carbohydrate and 2.8 (3) parts water.  

So what does this mean? If we can bring our body into an alkaline state, reducing the acidity while keeping it depleted we can take advantage of the fat burning mode we're in while reducing the risk of injury and damage to the immune system and body overall. To achieve this we can do one or both of the following:
  • Drink a glass of water immediately upon waking with a few pinches of sea salt and trace mineral drops. This will help replenish electrolytes and bring our body into an alkaline state. 
  • Drink 500ml of water with 1/2-1tsp of organic non-alluminum baking soda prior to training. This is another technique that will make the body alkaline and will also reduce lactic acid build up while training, minimizing injury and muscle soreness while influencing recovery.
Next we look at what causes catabolism, or muscle breakdown. As mentioned above, muscle breakdown occurs from the body being in a glycogen depleted state forcing it to use fat and muscle for energy. When we exercise we are tearing small muscle fibers which is necessary for growth. The product of this is lactic acid and muscle breakdown if not treated properly through nutrition. There are a couple of techniques that may reduce this process from happening.

The first method to preventing muscle breakdown while training is to use a BCAA supplement with a pinch of sea salt, such as Nutrabolics' Anabolic State to feed the muscle it's vital amino acids to influence repair and recovery. Although BCAA's are delivered more effectively when paired with a carbohydrate (an insulin spike will speed the delivery to the muscles) there is still benefit to having them without one. Using this BCAA supplement will push repair any breakdown that is occurring and reduce the chance of injury. The sea salt is beneficial in keeping your body alkaline and balancing electrolytes.

This next suggestion is a bit trickier. Typically when someone is participating in fasted training it is very soon after waking. It's best to minimize the time your body is in a depleted state so training soon after waking is the first suggestion. However, if there is a time frame of 45 minutes to an hour before you're working out it could be beneficial to have a 1/2 - 1 serving of whey protein powder mixed with water. The theory behind this is that in a depleted state your body will absorb nutrients much quicker and whey protein has a faster gastric emptying time (the time it takes to leave your stomach) than protein from foods. This means that if you take in 1/2 - 1 serving of whey protein up to an hour before training you can minimize the risk of catabolism by providing your body with amino acids through breakdown of the protein. This method is best if tested to ensure that indigestion does not occur as is possible when ingesting protein too soon before training. It is also believed that artificial sweeteners, such as those often found in whey protein can cause small spikes in insulin, which may assist in protein absorption without affecting glycogen levels. The best time to drink the shake would be 5-10 minutes after drinking your sea salt, water and trace minerals mixture. Taking BCAA's during the workout could still be beneficial even with this protein breakfast.

After you've trained depleted your body is in an extreme state of hunger. Now it's time to replenish your glycogen and get your body in a state of repair. Despite using a BCAA supplement or whey protein prior to training your body is still going to be in a catabolic state after exercise. There are two steps you can take to ensure the maximum amount of recovery and glycogen replenishment while still influencing fat burning.

The first step you can take is another mixture of 1/2-1tsp of organic baking soda. This will immediately bring your body back in an alkaline state and reduce muscle soreness while also bringing your body to a better state of nutrient absorption. You should take your baking soda immediately after exercise with 500ml of water then wait 5-10 minutes before having your post-workout shake.

Your post-workout shake should consist of 30-45g of whey protein with 60-90g carbohydrates within 30 minutes of completing exercise (a serving of creatine as well as 500mg - 1g of vitamin C may also be beneficial in speeding up muscle recovery). The best carbohydrates to use post-workout are vitargo, waxy maize, maltodextrin or dextrose. Some research suggests it's best to use a combination of waxy maize and dextrose/matodextrin to get the best results. After a workout your goal is to spike your insulin to increase the rate of nutrient absorption (such as amino acids from protein) while also replenishing your glycogen stores. Waxy maize is great for replenishing glycogen stores but not so great for spiking your insulin, while dextrose is the opposite. Using a combination of the two in a 3-1 waxy-dextrose ratio can give you the results you're looking for. Using a product such as vitargo can give you both results through one supplement but it can be costly. It is also suggested to wait 45-60 minutes after your post-workout shake before eating your first meal.

These techniques can also be applied to other types of training such as light weights with high repetition, HIIT or sports training as long as caution is used. Your body is much more sensitive to injury and muscle tearing in this state and if care is not taken you can become badly injured. It would be best to try these techniques with a gradual increase in intensity before participating in heavy exercise.

Supplement Tip: Taking 2-4g of L-Carnitine 30 minutes prior to training depleted may also increase fat burning. L-Carnitine forces fatty acids to the mitochondria in your cells to be used as energy. It may also assist in feeling more energetic while training. L-Carnitine is also found to increase stamina and strength when used as a pre-workout supplement. 

For more information on effective nutrition for sports and fitness email or visit 

Ricky Goodall is a certified Sports Nutritionist and professional MMA fighter out of Halifax, NS. He is also the owner of Collision Sports, a health supplement store that specializes in combat sports, fitness and nutrition coaching. 

Follow Ricky on Twitter at @RickyGoodall and @CollisionSprts and Facebook here

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Jumping Hurdles - My path to becoming a Sports Nutritionist

I believe that in any career we come to hurdles and obstacles that can potentially make or break our reputation and credibility making others, and ourselves second guess our own experience, accomplishments and abilities. One such hurdle for me was missing weight in the past for fights. 

Age 11
Before I get into the details I'll start by giving a little background information about my career. At thirteen years old I started training karate with close friend and Chito-Ryu black belt Jeff Kennedy. I was an overweight, insecure kid and martial arts were a great way for me to build self-confidence and security. I went throughout most of my childhood battling weight issues mostly from lack of knowledge and understanding of nutrition. I would go on to train Kickboxing under Ed Burns, Craig Doiron, DJ Kennedy and Ron Dean then eventually Judo and BJJ with Mike Kitson and the others at Titans MMA in New Glasgow.

Me in 2009 at 240lbs
At age 23 I found out that Jason MacKay, local MMA fighter and promoter was going to hold an MMA card near my hometown in Trenton, NS. At the time I weighed a whopping 240lbs. Still knowing very little about proper nutrition I started training for the fight under Jason Rorison and Jaret MacIntosh. The fight was signed at 200lbs, which I made easily with 1lb to spare. My opponent was a very lean, tall 6'3 fighter named Richard Aston (I'm only 5'9). I won the fight via decision. 

Me in 2008 at 245lbs
After taking a two year layoff and moving to Halifax to train with the Halifax Titans MMA I decided to step back in the cage again. I gained a lot of the weight in my off time and was back up to nearly 240lbs again. I signed the fight at 195lbs and started stumbling through the darkness and received a meal plan from close friend and body builder Josh Rioux. Having most of his experience in coaching fitness athletes designing a plan for an MMA fighter training twice a day, 5-6 days a week was tough. My plan was very much based on a ketosis style of carb depletion and made my recovery suffer. I was getting injured often and had very little energy to train, but I cut the weight. I fought Kurt Pelletier in 2009 at 195lbs. 

I went on with my career and continued to drop weight classes. My next fight would be Meneka Weva at 185lbs where I had only 2lbs to cut in the last week of the fight. I'd go on to fight Jon MacGrath at 180lbs then signed a fight with Brian Mazerole back up at 185lbs in April 2010. The problem with this fight was that I only walked around at 180. The day of the fight I had to eat breakfast and drink 2L of water so I would appear to be of similar weight while learning that Brian cut 20lbs and nearly didn't make it. The day of the fight he weighed close to 205lbs at 6'3 and I beat him in under two minutes via submission. 

Dieting is nothing new in our society and as many know there are lots of ways to go about it. One process that isn't well known, however is the proper method of cutting weight. The "old school" method is simply sweat, sweat, sweat. Having been taught this most of my big weight cuts were done by suffering in the sauna until the weight came off. 

In May 2011 I signed a fight with Steve Rogers at 155 in Moncton, NB. This was my first ever attempt at this low of a weight class and I had about 17lbs to lose in a couple of days. Until then my biggest weight cut was 19lbs to 170. Little did I know at the time, the lower you get in weight the harder it is to "sweat out" the pounds, making a 17lb drop to 155 more like a 25lb relative drop to 170 (your body has a certain percentage of water that it can safely lose before causing permanent damage; as your body composition changes and the weight comes off the smaller percentage you have to work with). I ended up missing weight by two pounds, weighing in at 157lbs. 

I moved on from this fight and ended up signing a fight against Derek Gauthier in December 2011 again at 155lbs. This time the fight was in Quebec, meaning I would be flying. Another aspect of cutting weight I was unfamiliar with is that flying causes severe water retention if you don't properly prepare for it and at this point I was still stumbling in the dark with my weight cuts, relying on my teammates' experience and information gathered from my own research. We tried some new methods of cutting weight (looking back I almost chuckle at my ignorance and mistakes, knowing what I know now) and actually nearly poisoned myself severely in the process. I was in really bad shape, hallucinating, vomiting and more throughout the night. My skin felt like it was melting and I could barely see. The methods we attempted were not only extremely dangerous at the time, but would make it nearly impossible to fully recover to fight the next day; but I did.
Me in 2012 at 180lbs
This time I missed weight bad - by a humiliating 9lbs. The worst part about this was that the fight was on international television and pay per view where many friends and fans were home watching. I knew I was going into this fight as the "bad guy" and would have to face a lot of judgement, win or lose. 

I won the fight by decision in Gauthier's hometown, which would have been much more rewarding if I hadn't have missed weight. 

Shortly before this fight I was able to achieve a long time dream of opening a combat sports/supplement store called Collision Sports with long time friend Andrew Nutt. We would offer many types of products from MMA gear, clothing, supplements and much more along with the complimentary knowledge and advice one would pay for in most circumstances. The store would be located inside of our gym, Titans MMA and also through our website, .  

After missing weight I talked to my coach and told him this can't ever happen again; I'd either quit fighting or I'd have to find someone who knew how to help. I was introduced to a fantastic dietician named Glenn Faltenhine who although he had limited experience with fighters and our cutting method was more than enthusiastic about helping me learn as much as I could and did lots of research himself, emailing colleagues and finding out what he could to offer insight. Glenn opened my eyes to a lot of changes in my diet, including learning that carbs are extremely valuable in weight management and recovery and excess protein is just not necessary when maintaining or cutting weight. 

I moved on from Glenn to work with MMA nutritionist and some may say weight cut genius George Lockhardt and his company Fitness VT. Fitness VT works with many well known MMA fighters including UFC's Jon Jones, Kenny Florian and Brian Stann, so needless to say I was in good hands. My first cut with George would be back at 170 in April 2012 where I would cut 14lbs overnight without even the use of a sauna. This weight cut method would be the best I have ever tried and made me feel incredible during and after the weight cut. 

After this fight I changed my training to focus on strength and power and put on some more muscle mass. I would fight again at 170 in July 2012, having about 22lbs to drop 5 days before the fight. Not only did I drop the weight easily and effectively, but again I used no sauna, no traditional "suffering" based weight cuts and was even eating and drinking small amounts the day of the weigh in. I made weight easily and had so much energy I fought 5 rounds without even sitting between each round. 

After this fight I decided to continue my knowledge and passion for nutrition and cutting and started my certification as a Sports Nutritionist. I finished this course and was offered a scholarship for my Level 1 Nutrition Coaching course based on my performance with the previous certification. In one month I helped three different fighters with nutrition plans who all made weight easily and effectively without killing themselves in the sauna or spending hours exercising before their big fights. One of them started cutting with only a week's notice for a late call from The Ultimate Fighter, needing to drop important pounds for his elimination fight. He not only made weight but went on to win his way into the house. 

I decided to team up with my best friend and girlfriend, WBFF Pro Celia Hodder to offer nutrition planning and coaching to not only fighters, but fitness competitors and the general population. Together we have combined our experience and knowledge to confidently offer advice to all types of people, from professional athletes to those just looking to look and feel better through my business, Collision Sports.

I believe in life everything happens for a reason and for stubborn, thick headed people like myself sometimes it takes a really loud knock for me to hear opportunity on my doorstep. I believe the humility in my career will not only push me to become a better athlete myself, but also allow me to assist others in reaching their personal bests.

I have started my own nutrition plan for another drop to 155lbs. I am preparing myself to be a very lean and strong lightweight in 2013 where I will continue my MMA career. In the meantime I will be offering nutrition planning and coaching for all types of clients and can be reached by email at . You can also reach Celia at . Our website will soon offer a variety of services including a "trainers" section where clients can view profiles of our various affiliated trainers and choose who is right for them. Keep posted on our Facebook group here and our website at