We all seek optimal performance in our lives. Whether it’s at work, in the gym, or elsewhere, we strive to perform our best. Three ways we can ensure that our bodies and minds are prepared to perform optimally is to eat right, workout right, and take the right nutritional supplements.
It’s tough to determine what is right. Primarily, that’s because of so much contradictory information. Hopefully, this article will help you find what’s right for you. In it, I provide the information you need to become bigger, faster, stronger, leaner, and perform your best every day.
OPTIMAL EXERCISES AND WORKOUT ROUTINE
Contrary to popular opinion, the bench press is not the best upper body exercise, squats are not bad for your knees, and body-part-based workouts (i.e. chest day, shoulder day, arm day, etc.) are not the best way to build muscle and get stronger.
Forget about the bench press. The only reason you need to perform the bench press, especially with a barbell, is if you are a powerlifter and need to train for maximum strength in this specific lift. The reason it’s not optimal is that the movement has little carryover to the real world, and it’s not kind to your joints. That is, unless you perform your job lying on your back and spend time pressing things off your chest. The only time I can think of when the bench-press strength comes in handy is if you’re at the bottom of the pile in a fight! Really, there’s no need to bench press.
Another reason you should avoid bench pressing is that it can be bad for your shoulders. This is because pressing while lying down can lead to muscular imbalances and instability among the muscles of your back, chest and shoulder joint. The imbalances it can create cause your shoulders to appear slouched and rounded. Even worse, the inflexibility benching causes makes your shoulders so tight it’s impossible to lift your arms head high.
The big, droopy pectoral muscles that develop through excessive bench pressing probably aren’t a look you’re likely to want, either. Unless you want to wear your girlfriend’s bikini to the beach, pressing exercises that you perform while in a vertical or prone position are better choices.
Better upper body exercises for your chest and shoulders are dips, dumbbell and barbell shoulder presses, kettlebell swings, the kettlebell snatch, and push ups. All of these exercises train the shoulder through its complete range of motion more effectively. This means you’re less likely to develop muscular imbalances and experience an injury.
Another benefit from most of these exercises is that they’re performed standing up. Training while standing has a greater carryover to how you move in the field. You will also burn more calories and train other muscle groups including your abs, back, and legs at the same time. This helps you get more bang for your buck with regard to muscle and strength development.
Make sure you don’t neglect the other muscles of your upper body either. Training them, too, will further decrease your risk of injury and help your body perform optimally. They include your back, biceps, and traps. Exercises that train these muscles include chin-ups, pull-ups, and rows (barbell, dumbbell, and inverted).
Squats are good. A study published several years ago indicated performing squats creates more stress on the knees than they can safely withstand. This study was replete with errors and quickly proven to not be worth the paper on which it was printed. Unfortunately, the cat was already out of the bag and led people to believe that squats are to be avoided. The reality is that squats, when performed properly, are safer and more effective than exercises like leg extensions—even if you have a history of knee injuries.
The primary reason squats are superior is that they train more muscle groups than leg extensions. Leg extensions only exercise your quadriceps; squats develop your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and abs. Squats enable you to build muscle and get stronger faster throughout your entire body.
Squats also offer more carryover to real life than isolation exercises like leg extensions. Doing squats, or variations of this exercise regularly will help you get stronger, improve your ability to run faster, jump higher, and even strengthen and train your core muscles better than sit ups and back extensions. Holding a barbell across your shoulders when squatting also strengthens your shoulders and upper back. This makes it easier for you to carry heavy loads, like a full rucksack.
Don’t limit your workouts to the barbell squat. You should perform its variations to keep your body guessing and develop your legs optimally. I recommend changing exercises every 3-4 weeks. Other types of squats include: barbell and dumbbell lunges, Bulgarian split squats, front squats, overhead squats, and step ups. If you don’t have weights available, pistol squats are a body weight exercise that will give you strong legs fast.
TOTAL-BODY WORKOUTS ARE THE WAY TO GO
Now it’s time to dispel the idea that body-part or isolation workouts are best. What I mean are workouts that only train 1-2 body parts (chest/back, shoulders, etc.). If you want to build your body bigger, faster and stronger this isn’t the way to go. Total body workouts will help you achieve overall better performance. This means that each workout includes an exercise for every body part. Listed below are the reasons total body workouts are better for optimal development.
- Total body workouts are more efficient. You’ll get more work done in less time.
- Total body workouts burn more calories than isolation workouts. They’ll help you get leaner faster.
- Total body workouts cause a greater increase in the hormones that stimulate muscle growth (growth hormone and testosterone) than isolation exercises.
- Total body workouts are harder to perform than isolation workouts. Working harder will help you get into better shape faster.
- Total body workouts are better way to train to meet the demands of your time in the field. They involve exercises where you press, squat, and perform other movements together just like you do when you are running, climbing, and pulling during your job.
When you design a total-body style workout choose one exercise for every major body part (i.e. your legs, chest, back, and shoulders). All you need are 4-6 exercises per workout. Done properly, all of your other muscles will be trained.
Below is a workout that incorporates each of the points I make above. Give it a try for a month, and you’ll see for yourself how it’s the superior way to build your body.
–Monday (Perform 4-6 reps and 5 sets for each exercise)
Squats (use a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebell)
Standing Shoulder Press
–Wednesday (Perform 8-10 reps for 3 sets for each exercise)
One Arm Kettlebell Snatch – Squat – Shoulder Press Complex – repeat 6-8 times
Farmer’s Walks – Walk for 50 yards per set. Repeat 6 times.
Forget about loading your body with carbohydrates and cutting out fat if you want to perform your best, at work and in the gym. The way to eat if you want a lean, strong, and healthy body that moves quickly and powerfully is to cut out processed carbs and sugars. You should instead strive to eat lots of protein from eggs, fish, and meat (especially beef and pork) and healthy fats. This includes coconut, fish, nuts, and olive oils.
Protein helps your body build and repair muscle tissue and also gives it the building blocks it needs to stay healthy. Fats are required to create hormones and other chemicals you need to perform your best. They also help you stay full longer, make food taste better, and are a better source of fuel for your body to use. The only carbohydrates you should eat are from fruits and vegetables.
Studies show that eating a low carbohydrate diet (less than 75 grams total daily) is the best way to eat for weight and fat loss. It’s also good for your overall health as well. Once your body is adapted to this way of eating – which takes about 14 days – you’ll find that you feel and perform better. One of the benefits is that you recover faster between workouts. Your endurance will improve, too. Another benefit is a huge increased energy. This alone will keep you from ever ‘carb-loading’ again.
Unless you want to lose weight, don’t stress too much over the calories or amount of fat and protein you eat. All you need to get enough protein is about a palm-sized serving at every meal. Add 1-2 tablespoons of fat from olive or coconut oil if you aren’t eating a fatty meat. Finish your meal with lots of vegetables, and you’ll have your nutritional bases covered. When you don’t have time to cook, eat some jerky and nuts or drink a protein shake with a tablespoon of almond butter added.
The only downside to eating a low carbohydrate diet, and it’s temporary, is that it may take a little time for your body to adapt to using fat for fuel. While you may feel a little sluggish the first couple of days into the diet, stick to it, the energy and other benefits you gain shortly thereafter are well worth the temporary pain.
SUPPLEMENT YOUR DIET
Forget about sugar-rich, high calorie weight gainers. They leave you feeling bloated and nauseous. Caffeine-rich energy drinks are out as well. The increase in energy that comes with them often comes with jitters and a big-time crash when the benefits wear off. Liquid-based Creatine supplements are out too. Studies show they degrade into worthless byproducts and just don’t work.
What you should take instead are supplements whose benefits are supported by scientific studies. I’m talking about research done on humans too, not lab rats. The four best are listed below.
Branch Chain Amino Acids: Forget sugar rich workout drinks like Gatorade before you lift weights or perform an intense workout. All they’ll do is leave you feeling bloated and sluggish. A branch chain amino acid supplement works better for intense workouts like strength training and sprints. They’re a great source of instant energy, and when taken after a workout, can help decrease muscle soreness and help you recover faster.
Start with about 10 grams of branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) pre and post-workout for a few weeks. You should notice that you have more energy when you train and that you’re less sore post-workout. Other benefits you may experience are a decrease in body fat, that you are stronger and build muscle faster.
The best way to get this dosage is to use a BCAA powder. Capsules are okay too but can be a hassle. Two excellent products are Scivation Xtend and Bodytech BCAA powder. Both mix easily in water and easily provide the recommended dose.
Creatine Monohydrate Powder: Studies find that Creatine can help you build muscle – as much as 5 lbs. in 2 weeks – become stronger, and recover faster between sets. Make sure you buy a supplement that’s guaranteed to only contain Creatine monohydrate powder. It’s the only ingredient that should be on the product’s label. One that meets this requirement is Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine Monohydrate.
You’ll get the best results by following a loading phase where you take 20 grams a day for the first five days of supplementation. Take five grams a day thereafter to keep your muscles filled with Creatine so the benefits continue.
Fish Oil: Taking a fish oil supplement can benefit your overall health and improve your performance. Studies show that in addition to being good for your heart and brain, it can also help you lose weight and build muscle. Since it works to decrease inflammation throughout your body, it can also decrease joint, back, and neck pain.
When shopping for a fish oil supplement choose a product that is tested to be free of impurities and contains at least 750 mg of EPA and DHA per serving. These are the omega 3 fats that give fish oil its benefits. Products that meet these requirements are Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega, NOW Ultra Omega, and Vitamin Shoppe’s Liquid Omega 3.
The dosage you’ll require varies. Start with two to three grams of EPA/DHA daily. You should see results after a month.
L-Tyrosine: This amino acid is perfect for increasing concentration, focus, and mental energy. Unlike caffeine, it doesn’t make you feel anxious or jittery. Studies on soldiers find that it improves the ability to perform mentally and physically difficult tasks, even when you’re sleep-deprived and exhausted from excessive exercise.
Take L-tyrosine 20 minutes before you workout for the best results. A second dose post-workout can help prevent a crash in energy and enable you to feel good the rest of the day. Start with 500 mg per day and increase your dosage until you find what works best for you. Don’t take it if you train at night since this may hurt your ability to fall asleep.
Buy a supplement that contains at least 500 mg of l-tyrosine per capsule. One that I like is the Vitamin Shoppe’s L-Tyrosine.
You now have the information you need to workout, eat, and supplement your diet for optimal performance. All that’s left is for you to get started. After a month of adhering to the information in this article you’ll look, feel, and perform like a champion.
Brinkworth GD, Noakes M, Clifton PM, Buckley JD. Effects of a low carbohydrate weight loss diet on exercise capacity and tolerance in obese subjects. Obesity. 2009 Oct;17(10):1916-23.
Cohen ZA, Roglic H, Grelsamer RP, Henry JH, Levine WN, Mow VC, Ateshian GA. Patellofemoral stresses during open and closed kinetic chain exercises. An analysis using computer simulation. Am J Sports Med. 2001 Jul-Aug;29(4):480-7.
Forsythe CE, Phinney SD, Fernandez ML, Quann EE, Wood RJ, Bibus DM, Kraemer,WJ, Feinman RD, Volek JS. Comparison of low fat and low carbohydrate diets on circulating fatty acid composition and markers of inflammation. Lipids. 2008, Jan;43(1):65-77.
Fry AC, Lohnes CA. Acute testosterone and cortisol responses to high power resistance exercise. Fiziol Cheloveka. 2010 Jul-Aug;36(4):102-6.
Gill ND, Hall RD, Blazevich AJ. Creatine serum is not as effective as creatine powder for improving cycle sprint performance in competitive male team-sport athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2004 May;18(2):272-5.
Hill AM, Buckley JD, Murphy KJ, Howe PR. Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 May;85(5):1267-74.
Irish SE, Millward AJ, Wride J, Haas BM, Shum GL. The effect of closed-kinetic chain exercises and open-kinetic chain exercise on the muscle activity of vastus medialis oblique and vastus lateralis. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 May;24(5):1256-62.
Noreen E, Sass M, Crowe M, Pabon V, Brandauer J. Averill L. Effects of supplemental fish oil on resting metabolic rate, body composition, and salivary cortisol in healthy adults. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2010, 7:31.
Phinney SD. Ketogenic diets and physical performance. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004 Aug 17;1(1):2.
Rawson ES, Volek JS. Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2003 Nov;17(4):822-31.
Sharp CP, Pearson DR. Amino acid supplements and recovery from high-intensity resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr;24(4):1125-30.
Shimomura Y, Inaguma A, Watanabe S, Yamamoto Y, Muramatsu Y, Bajotto G, Sato J, Shimomura N, Kobayashi H, Mawatari K. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010 Jun;20(3):236-44.
Shimomura Y, Murakami T, Nakai N, Nagasaki M, Harris RA. Exercise promotes BCAA catabolism: effects of BCAA supplementation on skeletal muscle during exercise. J Nutr. 2004 Jun;134(6 Suppl):1583S-1587S.
Wycherley TP, Noakes M, Clifton PM, Cleanthous X, Keogh JB, Brinkworth GD. A high-protein diet with resistance exercise training improves weight loss and body composition in overweight and obese patients with type 2 diabetes.Diabetes Care. 2010 May;33(5):969-76.