Friday, December 30, 2011

Cheesecake Master Martin Presents: Cheesecake Eve of Doom I-II

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Every Christmas Eve is Cheesecake Eve, and so it fell upon me to once again face off against these wretched cakes.

I did not choose this. But as one of the last of my kind (Level 10 Cheesecake Mastery*), it's my duty to walk the earth and do battle with these cakes for the greater good of mankind.


Cheesecake Mastery, first historical mention, Book of Cake:

...Ability to consume vast quantities of cheesecake.
...Higher echelons of Mastery can only be attained by besting the cake after a robust dinner, for a true Master enjoys a challenge and welcomes every opportunity to practice his skill.
For good or for ill, cheesecake mastery is the supreme expression of hedonic power and might. The art of gluttony perfected.

 - Book of Cake, 1248 B.C, author unknown.


For all you young whippersnappers who wish to walk the way of the cheesecake master, I have stories to tell, wisdom to share, and lessons to teach. Gather around the fire and listen carefully to my words.


Cheesecake Eve of Doom II: MegaCake Attacks!


I'm going to start with the events that transpired during Cheesecake Eve of Doom II, which took place a week ago, on Christmas Eve. (Us heathens celebrate on the 24th here in the cold and unforgiving North, not the 25th.)


Let me tell you how yours truly nearly met his maker last week. It all started with the spontaneous last-minute decision to write "Like Water" late that evening, finishing around 3 AM on Friday night/Saturday morning. That would prove to be an almost fatal mistake.

Coupled with last-second Christmas presents to be purchased before catching the train at noon, that brilliant idea left me with two hours of sleep in the tank. Barely enough to keep my eyes open after the Christmas table meat feast - and that's something I'd normally consider an appetizer. Something to warm up the taste buds before the real eating starts. But my foolish ideas made this otherwise pleasant task feel monumental...

...And then MegaCake arrived.



Enter MegaCake.


For someone with my skill and ability, the opponent would not have presented much of a challenge under normal conditions.

But MegaCake, weighing in at an impressive 4 lbs, was too much for me to handle in this weakened and pathetic state. Sweeping in from nowhere, it overwhelmed me with its sheer power and might. This massive beast was not the type to scheme, trick, and play mind games tricks. No...this was a warrior to the core, putting its brute strength against mine, in a fight where it had the upper hand.




One of the last pictures captured of me before MegaCake knocked me out in the first round. And yes, that's whipping cream on top of the cake. A healthy lubricant and an essential tool for any self-respecting cheesecake master. The connoisseur might favor himself some peanut butter as well, often in combination with the whipping cream. However, one must take caution not to abuse this combination, for it leads to the dark side.



A devious combination of sleep deprivation, rice pudding, salmon and cold cuts, lead to MegaCake knocking me out in the first round.

Like Bane broke Batman's back, MegaCake wrestled me to my knees with brute strength, and delivered a crippling blow that sent me into a long slumber.




These cake conspirators appeared to be finding much joy in my humiliating defeat. Their sinister laughter still haunts me.


However, a True Master is not so easily bested. I was called back from the brink of defeat by the voice of an ancient entity that reminded me of my duty, instilling in me a new sense of energy and fighting spirit.

I arose from my deep slumber and sought out to take up the fight where I had left off. By the cover of the dark, I hit MegaCake with a surprise attack at 2 AM - exacted my revenge, making quick work of its remains, and restored the balance of the world. Victory was mine, in the end.

....

What a close call that was. I've grown sloppy, it seems. Perhaps this is what happens as one grows overconfident of his ability? Preparation and rest is gradually compromised, little by little, until you one day end up paying the ultimate price when something surprises you.

I think my careless behavior can be traced back to Cheesecake Eve 2010. Having conquered the Twin Cakes, I thought of myself as invincible....


Cheesecake Eve of Doom I: Twin Cakes of Terror


Cheesecake Eve 2010: The Twin Cakes

For the first time, I shall recount the events of last Christmas.

Up until now, I've hesitated. The powerful Cheesecake Mastery techniques that I am about to show you must not fall into the wrong hands, where they can be used for destruction and dark deeds. With great power comes great responsibility.

However, my encounter with MegaCake reminded me that I might not make it back alive one day. Thus I deem it necessary to pass on my secret techniques, for a potential successor to carry on the fight after my demise, if the time comes.




Mastering The Twin Cakes would prove to be the ultimate test of my skills.

One does not simply walk up to 6 lbs of cheesecake and start eating. For a challenge of this magnitude, one must come prepared in body, mind, and spirit.


The 7 Steps to Supreme Cheesecake Mastery


To become a True Master, you must become an expert in the fundamental principles of battle. There are 7 steps to supreme mastery, and a True Master knows how to apply them swiftly and skillfully when the situation calls for it. Pay careful attention as I demonstrate them, if your life is dear to you. 


1. Dress for Success



To enter the mindset of a fighter, you must dress like a fighter. Save your unkempt and simple attires for lesser challenges, lest you want your unpolished appearance to reflect in your fighting style. 



2. A Proper Warm Up


Ready yourself with a proper warm up - and strike fear into your enemy with a demonstration of your combat styles. When he sees that you have a move for every situation, his spirit will be crushed. 


Step 3. Power Charge



Next up, the Power Charge. You have a burning rage inside; find it, grab it, and release it. This technique must be reserved for strong opponents...because every Power Charge brings you a little bit closer to the dark side. Abuse this power, and you might never return.


4. Engage with Full Force



Now, engage the enemy with full force. But before any physical exchange takes place, attack his spirit and morale. An Intimidating Shout will make him weak in his knees - and ripe for attack. 


Or, assume the role of a berserk, if you have a violent temperament and a streak of madness. Your reckless demeanor and untamed style will make you seem unpredictable and dangerous, instilling doubt and fear. Watch him squirm when he meets your gaze - finding only a dark abyss of madness and destruction.


Perhaps you are a trickster, relying on quick wit, foxy schemes and clever maneuvers, rather than brute force and close combat? If so, you will find it fruitful to employ Drunken Style moves to mislead and trick your enemy into underestimating you. Mistaking you for a drunk fool, will make him careless and force a foolhardy attack. Once he realizes his error, it will be much too late. Enjoy his surprised look, as you reveal your true ability - and unleash a deadly attack.


You understand now, I hope. Win the battle of minds and you will have won half the fight before it even began.


But ever once in a while, you will come across a rare and overwhelmingly powerful foe that you cannot best with your usual techniques....




If your attack fails at this point, there is only one thing left to do....


5. Your Special Move 



With your last ounce of strength, you must recollect yourself, and focus all your remaining energy into one final attack - your special move.





The Twin Blades yearned for battle...



The Twin Cakes met their doom under the edge of The Twin Blades. Victory, at last.




6. Feast Like a Fiend


Now feast furiously on the remains of your enemy and absorb its life force. 


7. ???

Hmmm...The Seventh Step...no, you are not yet ready for this one yet. Fret not, my friends! Rest assured that the six techniques I've covered so far, will be more than sufficient to master most cheesecakes in this earthly realm - if you practice them consistently and passionately enough.



Bonus: An Ounce of Cheesecake a Day...


Last Christmas, 6 lbs. On my birthday, on my Mum's birthday, on Easter, once during summer, on Marten's goose, I did 3-pounders, and this Christmas I did a 4-pounder.

6 lbs + 5 x 3 lbs + 4 lbs = 25 lbs or ~ 12 kg of cheesecake in a year. If we average that out, it comes out to just about one ounce of cheesecake per day.

So, since I haven't been sick since forever, I will conclude that an ounce of cheesecake a day keeps the doctor away.

One helluva finding, I'd say. Sure beats this 6-month randomized controlled study on soft drink consumption (ambitious and very costly), where they gave people coke (SSSD, "sucrose-sweetened soft drinks"), diet coke, skim milk, or water...and - surprise! - they found that the soda drinking group got fatter and unhealthier.

...Daily intake of SSSDs ( for 6 mo increases ectopic fat accumulation and lipids compared with milk, diet cola, and water. 

This study was published three days ago.

Point being, it really boggles my mind to see that money and time is spent on answering questions that we knew the answers to decades ago. Soft drink consumption has been a particular focus these recent years and people don't ever seem to tire of it.

"Alright now...I got this $900k grant to waste, and the money ain't spending itself. How about this: are soft-drinks REALLY unhealthy? Let's check this just one more time to be absolutely sure. No one's compared coke versus diet coke AND water before, so let's do that."

Oh, how novel...

My cheesecake research makes a lot more sense. Plus it's free.


A Few Words 


Well, I hope everyone had a blast this Christmas, because I sure did. Lots of reading and relaxing, and less computer time, does the soul and body good. A big thanks to everyone that sent me a Christmas present, by the way. I truly appreciate it. 

OK, it's 04.20 over here and time to close up shop.

I wish all Leangains fans across the globe the very best for 2012. I have a feeling that it's going to be a great year for all of us.

Happy New Year, guys.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Like Water

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Earlier today, someone asked me about my biggest failures on my road to success, and I answered that they all came from stubbornly clinging to old ideas, and refusing to let go of them in spite of negative consequencesHere's a part of my response:

This kind of irrational behavior is termed the "sunk cost fallacy". You keep investing time and resources into something - be it a diet, a training routine, a project, or a relationship - in spite of clear indications that a change of action is needed, and you do it simply because you've already committed a good deal of energy into it.
You're dead set on following through, no matter what. Call it the downside of persistence. Or call it for what it is, namely being a damn fool.


The sunk cost fallacy is a well-known concept in behavioral economics. Briefly summarized, the more you spend on something, the less you’re willing to let it go. The resource invested can be money, time, mental or emotional energy - it's all the same.

This unwillingness to let go will often lead to continued investments, not rarely in spite of negative effects. Since you've already put your money, time, or energy into it, so you simply keep pouring it on - you're throwing good money after bad, as the saying goes.

Why? You might be thinking that the payoff is just around the corner. If you give up now, all that time and energy will have gone to waste. So you cling on to this sinking ship, as it drags you further into the void.





Enter the downward spiral.




The Sunk Cost Fitness Fallacy


The way many people approach diet and training is an excellent example of the sunk cost fallacy. I myself am an expert on it.

My long-time readers are probably familiar with my background story and the many years I wasted following old diet dogma in spite of constant failures. Thinking back, the time period starting around in my late teens and many years onwards, seems like one long stretch of a diet. 

And just like that, it all ended. Well, relatively speaking, it ended fast, once I found something that clicked. I could finally scratch that itch and be done with it once and for all.

But to get to that point, I first had to exhaust all my motivation and mental fortitude. I had to get to a point were I simply had nothing left to lose. Desperation forced the change and caused me to finally let go; let go of my old patterns, mindset, and make-believe commitment to a dysfunctional idea.

So how come it took so long for me to come around and stumble upon intermittent fasting? My usual answer goes a little something like this:

"Well, everyone was telling me to do this and that, but the studies were actually wrong, I got fooled by all these myths, yadayadayada, bullshit research, etc, etc."

That's a truthful answer. After all, everyone was promoting high-meal frequency diets back in the early 2000's, and they were still going strong once I started talking about meal frequency and intermittent fasting a few years later. Eating every other hour or so, was a must. People simply didn't know better. (Ironically, some of the most ardent promoters of this approach are now advocating intermittent fasting - or are very supportive of it. But where were they back when I stood alone and argued against all the broscientific nonsense about meal frequency in the mid-2000's?)



The Wheel


But all that being said, with the fitness community being as it were, with all its ridiculous notions about nutrition and what not, there was a part of me that always resisted the idea of change. On some level, I was very excited to have discovered something that worked for me in intermittent fasting, during that spring and summer of 2006 when I first started practicing it seriously.

But another part of me felt a tremendous sense of loss. I thought that perhaps I should give the old approach yet another try, one last time - because my success would then, in the end, "make it worthwhile". Yes, if I would have finally succeeded on that which I had kept failing on for so many years, it would - in my mind - justify my bullheaded commitment to it.

This irrational escalation of commitment I felt, after doing the same things over and over again for years, became the hamster wheel that kept me trapped in this cage of rigid ideas. Always running for that payoff that never came, and unwilling to switch course until the very end, when I saw no other alternative.


By the way, do you know why hamsters keep running in those wheels, round and round, never getting anywhere? Because apparently, this behavior is self-reinforcing and perceived as important. And you know, I don't think humans are much different in this regard.

Some people spend years on diets and training routines that gets them nowhere - how do they persevere? Had I not been there myself, I would've gawked at this seemingly irrational and absurd behavior. Perhaps it's jolts of dopamine that drives it, the king neurotransmitter of anticipation and expectation, providing us with just enough motivation to keep going, in our search of the payoff that never comes.


The Lessons


1. Never wait until you're at your wits' end, before a much needed change in your course of action comes - because if you do, it will come more by force, and not conscious will.

2. Be a pragmatist - not a fundamentalist. Never commit to an idea, only to progress and results.

3. Always be prepared to change your ways rapidly and dramatically, if required. Adaptability is the key. Rigidity is the killer.

4. Forget the past and don't try to save a sinking ship; the faster you abandon it, the better.

5. Cultivate a sense of suspiciousness towards yourself, your mind, and your actions. Wipe out irrational behaviors and counterproductive patterns quickly and ruthlessly - show no mercy or leniency.

Shape your circumstances, don't let them shape you. Shape your ideas, but don't them shape you.

Like Bruce Lee said, "be formless, shapeless - like water." 

In training, diet, and life, remember this.



A Few Words


Well, I wanted to give everyone a little Christmas present tonight, and the choice stood between a heavy-handed review and analysis of Wrangham's Catching Fire, or another Best of Leangains Meals

Both of those are coming, but neither felt quite important tonight. I decided to share a few hard-earned lessons and thoughts instead. I hope the core meaning of this short article comes through, as I feel the issue I've tried to convey, is the root of much wasted time and frustration for many of us. Hopefully, someone learned a thing or two.

Merry Christmas, guys.

P.S. By the way, if anyone would like to give me a Christmas present, that'd be awesome.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ten Great Books to Expand Your Horizons

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I've always been a voracious reader and even though I get most of my reading fix from scientific journals these days, I try to squeeze in an interesting book whenever I get a chance.

"Interesting" to me usually means whatever topic I find interesting at the moment. And when something piques my interest, I binge read. I'll plow through scores of books on a topic, and I'll only slow down when my obsession wanes.

In my youth, I was obsessed with the horror genre, fantasy books, and science fiction. The very first thing I did online back in the mid-90's was to look up one of those authorative "Top 50" lists of the best books in a genre and try to read every single one of them.

I took my reading very seriously, and kept a notebook in which I reviewed each one of them once I finished. The review was half the fun of the process, I thought.

In my late teens, after I discovered strength training and became interested in nutrition,  I read everything I came over on those topics. Fortunately, not a whole lot on strength training. I was lucky enough to stumble across a true gem quite early, which set me straight and negated the need for anything else for a good while.

In my early twenties, I kept reading all sorts of books on nutrition and physiology, but I had periods where I drifted into entirely different subjects - like film theory, evolutionary theory, behavioral science and psychology, for example. At this point, I rarely read any fictional books, only non-fiction.

Every so often I get asked about reading tips, so that's why I put together this list of books that I think would be of great use and interest to my readers. These books are from a seemingly diverse range of topics - from nutrition, physiology and strength training, to psychology, human behavior and evolution.

Why such diversity? Can a psychology book get you ripped? The way I see it, books on psychology, evolutionary theory and behavioral science are useful pieces in your fitness education. Even though you might not think so, they complement your physique and performance goals very well.

Most people look at diet and training in a fairly narrow-minded way; they either treat it like a numbers game, or an ideology with certain rules and regulations. Looking only at nutrition and training "as is", they never go beyond the confines of their small world with its pre-determined rules and regulations.


Expand Your Horizons


After years of study and reading about nutrition and training, you reach a point where gathering any more information on these topics will be of very little practical consequence to your results. There is only so much you can learn about insulin, carbs, whey protein and body fat percentages.

Before you reach this point of diminishing returns, you would be well advised to invest your time on topics where you have lots of room to learn and grow.

Being able to eat sensibly, count calories, lift weights and track your progress, is merely scratching the surface. To come full circle and reach "fitness zen" - a state where you feel content, balanced and in control of your body and mind - you must seek to understand yourself on a deeper level. Knowing the workings of your mind is just as important as understanding the workings of your body, in order to get them to cooperate properly.

Looking at things from another perspective, not merely "as is", will also make your reading and study of nutrition, physiology and training, more interesting. Unlock other perspectives of looking at things and you can take it to the next level. A level that lies above and beyond insulin, carbs, whey protein and body fat percentages.

The red thread that runs through most of these books, is that they expand your horizons. They add a little something towards improving our understanding of ourselves: why we think they way we think, why we feel the things we feel, and why we do the things we do. They show you ways of doing things in a more efficient way, whether that means training better, eating better, thinking better or simply handling yourself better.

Not every book on this list comes with a profound message that will change your life. Some books are simply good reads, that I found interesting, informative or insightful - and I think you will too.

I've hand-picked each one of these books and I hope that you will enjoy these books like I have. Here we go.

(This is not a ranked list; the order is completely random.)

P.S. I'm falling asleep as we speak, my brain is fried and my shoulders are killing me. It's too late to make any edits, so I apologize in advance for any weirdness. I spent the better part of the day writing this and just want to get it up on the site before I hit the sack. Seems these things always take longer than you expect.




1. The End of Overeating




Foley further analyzed the panel's findings and ultimately pinpointed five key influences on irresistibility. In order of importance, they are: calories, flavor hits, ease of eating, meltdown, and early hit. "Those are the attributes that drive cravings for you to eat," she said. Each one of those properties engages the senses in multiple ways, Foley reported. Taken together, "it's about creating a lot of fun in your mouth, a lot of novelty in your mouth.


The End of Overeating seeks to provide an answer to why the world is eating itself into oblivion. At the core, this is about the clash between our genes and the modern food environment. We're on the losing side, as evidenced by our deteriorating health and ever-expanding waistlines. In the Western world of plenty, sloth and gluttony reigns supreme. Fat and unhealthy is the norm.

David Kessler approaches this subject from a new and fresh perspective, and delves into the neurobiology of appetite regulation. Humans have a biological imperative to pursue activities that increases the odds of survival or reproduction. We are driven towards the pursuit of such behaviors, and the repetition thereof, by feeling rewarded by them.

Sex, money and power provide us with kicks, and so does food. The reason that we find certain foods tasty, is that because every time we eat, we feel a nice little tingle in the nucleus accumbens. A dopamine and opioid-induced kick right up the hedonic hotspot.

This is all good and perfectly in order. We'd starve to death without such an adaptation. This reward system helped us identify and connect calories with certain tastes in nature. We are hard-wired to appreciate the sweetness of honey and the fatty and savory parts of meat.

But in a world where food is engineered to such a high degree that it has little in common with the tastes found in nature, and where such food is constantly available with no time-investment or energy expenditure on our part, such adaptations become maladaptive.

The food industry has introduced new tastes and foods to our palate: hyperpalatable food, with tastes too complex, too sweet, too fat and too rewarding for us to deal with. Our appetite regulation goes out of whack. We don't eat to satisfy hunger or a physiological needs. We eat just for the hell of it.

Finding the perfect blend of pleasure factors is an elaborate process where nothing is left to chance; a science in itself. Kessler goes behind the scenes and provides a fascinating look into the elaborate work of "food engineers" - experts in designing foods that are guaranteed to deliver maximal pleasure and hook the consumer.


I was curious about which sensory properties make marketplace winners. The Snickers bar, according to Civille, is "extraordinarily well engineered." While its flavor characteristics are appealing, she said, the real key to its success lies in its even disappearance and clean getaway. 
"When you eat a Snickers bar, the chocolate, the caramel, the nougat, and the peanuts all disappear at the same time. You're not getting all this buildup of stuff in your mouth." That contrasts with many products whose nuts become annoyingly lodged between your teeth and your cheek. The genius of Snickers, explained Civille, is that as we chew, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts, and the caramel picks up the peanut pieces so the entire candy is carried out of the mouth at the same time.


The commonalities between drugs and hyperpalatable foods is an analogy that Kessler brings up several times in his book. Foltin, a researcher Kessler interviewed in the book, termed combinations of sugar and fat "the dietary equivalent of a speedball" (a stimulant taken with a downer, such as cocaine and heroin). Such comparisons are exaggerated, but not entirely incorrect.

So the next question would then be if food is addictive and this is a hot topic in addiction and obesity research right now. There is no definite consensus yet, but there is some suggestive evidence (correlational, not causal) in human studies.  It's a topic I'm personally very interested in, which I guess you can tell by the length of this review. I hope to cover it eventually, and  share my perspective and my thoughts on as it relates to intermittent fasting and long-term leanness.

The End of Overeating is the best mainstream diet book I've come across. The bar is not raised very high here, so I'm not suggesting that this is a masterpiece. But the subject is fascinating and thoroughly explored in this book, with interviews and "behind-the-scenes" type coverage that provide a contextual story.

I think this book pulls of the rare feat of managing to strike a good balance between writing for the lay man, but maintaining an appeal for someone with a deeper understanding of the topic, like myself, and many of you folks reading this. Kessler does not dumb down the topic, which is otherwise all too common in mainstream diet books.

This book comes with the obligatory "how to eat" chapter at the very end. The behavioral strategies notwithstanding, this is essentially your generic diet advice chapter for the Average Joe's and Jane's. It's best left ignored. Up until that point, the book is a fun and very interesting ride.




2. Starting Strength: 3rd Edition




...After four more years of testing and adjustment with thousands of athletes in seminars all over the country, this third edition expands and improves on the previous teaching methods and biomechanical analysis. No other book on barbell training ever written provides the detailed instruction on every aspect of the basic barbell exercises found in SS:BBT3.


Starting Strength: 3rd Edition is the only book on this list that I haven't read, and I'm only saying that because Mark Rippetoe apparently rewrote and added enough new stuff to make this a new book on its own, rather than just a slight improvement over 2nd Edition.

I've referenced Starting Strength: 2nd Edition several times in the past and consider it a very good and complete resource for the lifter or the strength coach. Most recently, I talked about my use of the Starting Strength progression model in "Fuckarounditis." (Under "3. You don't plan for progress.")

Starting Strength: 3rd Edition has only been out for a few weeks and I've only read good things so far. Like the description suggests, the consensus is that 3rd Edition is a solid update and improvement of an already great book. According to the top review on Amazon:


The 3rd Edition of Starting Strength is excellent. Immediately, the most striking aspect of this re-write are the illustrations. They are incredibly well done and illustrate the concepts in the text seamlessly. They alone are worth the purchase of this book.

This book is a quite dramatic improvement (I use that word with hesitation as the other two editions are also very, very good) over the 2nd edition in content, look and flow that comes with such a deep understanding of the material being presented. There's a logical progression in the writing and principles in the book that make this much more than an instructional manual on performing barbell lifts and programming strength training. You will understand the why's of correct barbell and strength training which is what makes Starting Strength different from any other book on strength training available.


Since I think 2nd Edition is a great book, and one of very few "must have"-books in strength training literature, I don't think you can go wrong by buying this book. I've put in my order.




3. Beyond Brawn


This is the book I wish I could have studied when I started out in bodybuilding. I was so naive, gullible and misinformed, just like most trainees are today—even those who have been training for years. This is a book would have spared me all the frustration, heartache, injuries and sham advice I had to suffer from before finally learning what productive bodybuilding and strength training are all about.


Beyond Brawn: The Insider's Encyclopedia on How to Build Muscle and Might begins with the quote above and I count myself among the lucky few who were blessed to come across this gem at a very early point in my training career.

Like I wrote in "Fuckarounditis", when I first set my foot in a gym, I went through the usual and almost obligatory first few months of training on a haphazard bench-n-curls-and-whatever-I-felt-like-that-day-routine.

But as time passed, I found out that strength training was the only physical activity I actually enjoyed doing,  so I started to take an increasing interest in the topic. That's when I stumbled across Beyond Brawn, which changed everything for me. It taught me the value of working hard at the right things, to put effort where it counts, and to not bother with anything else.

This is a book that I've talked myself blue about in the past, for a very good reason: it's one of very few books that had a real and lasting impact on me. I'd say that it's perhaps the single most important book I've ever read and I've read a lot of books. Beyond Brawn took strength training from being just another cool thing to do with my buddies after school, to being one of my greatest passions, and subsequently a part of my career.

Needless to say, it's also the one book that has had the single biggest influence of my training ideology - which can, very briefly, be summed up as quality over quantity, or intensity over volume.

Like Starting Strength - albeit different in terms of methodology and progression model - this book is an excellent strength training resource that covers just about anything you need to know to get started, and much, much, more.

In my personal experience, this book alone can take you from beginner to highly advanced, if you have enough sense and good judgement to modify the core system when and if the need arises, based on your results and your personal preferences. That goes without saying and applies to every training system and methodology, but let me give you an example of what I mean here.

While I had very good success with some of the abbreviated one-set high-intensity routines in the book (one set to failure), I gradually started to add more sets of each movement, and did not use straight sets across as recommended in the book for multiple sets (i.e. the load remains unchanged from set to set).

Instead, started doing 2-3 sets for most compound movements, and lowered the weight systematically between sets, progressing each set independently. That's how my reverse pyramid training approach was born. Essentially, RPT is a higher-volume version of the minimalist routines in Beyond Brawn, with a specific set structure of descending sets (resembling a reverse pyramid).

I still use RPT to this day personally and consider it the single most effective method for preserving muscle mass and strength on a diet.

Stuart McRobert gets repetitive in the book. But I think that's because the lessons in the book are so valuable - especially for a beginner - that they need to be hammered in deep. But once they stick, they can pay untold dividents in the form of results and progress.




4. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers





How many hippos worry about whether Social Security is going to last as long as they will, or
what they are going to say on a first date? Viewed from the perspective of the evolution of the animal kingdom, sustained psychological stress is a recent invention, mostly limited to humans and other social primates.


Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers is the definitive book on stress, following Hans Selye's classic The Stress of Life from the late 70's. I've read both and Sapolsky's book is the more updated, accessible and enjoyable read of the two.

Nobody has come close to covering the topic of stress and human health in such depth - and with such a great blend of science, humor and real-life examples. It's simply a very well-written, fun, informative book on the physiology and psychology of stress, backed up with anecdotes and relatable examples of how we experience stress. It also covers coping strategies, albeit somewhat briefly, if my memory serves me right.

I'm a big fan of Robert Sapolsky and like all his books. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers is the one book with broadest appeal, but I personally liked The Trouble with Testosterone as well.

I read Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers over a decade ago, and besides being a great primer on stress and human physiology, it also taught me one very important lesson that has stuck with me ever since: stress is only in the mind, and we can create our own stress-induced hell by simply perceiving things the wrong way. To deal with stress, don't battle the stressor. Battle your perception.




5. Mindless Eating



Did you ever eat the last piece of crusty, dried-out chocolate cake even though it tasted like chocolate-scented cardboard? Ever finish eating a bag of French fries even though they were cold, limp, and soggy? It hurts to answer questions like these. Why do we overeat food that doesn't even taste good? 
We overeat because there are signals and cues around us that tell us to eat. It's simply not in our nature to pause after every bite and contemplate whether we're full.

If you want to nudge someone towards losing some weight, or make their New Year's resolutions a little bit easier to maintain in the long run, Mindless Eating would be a brilliant book to give them this Christmas. The title is pretty self-explanatory. This book is about how easy it is to overeat unless you  make a conscious effort not to.

There's been a lot of research on this subject and Brian Wansink talks about many ingenious studies, such as the "bottomless soup bowl" experiment where participants kept eating as long as the bowl was full.

Wansink does not recommend calorie counting for weight loss, and suggest that people instead implement certain eating strategies as a method to self-limit and reduce their calorie intake spontaneously. This may certainly work very well for Average Joe's and Jane's. For most you readers - who are already diet conscious and probably used to counting calories - these strategies may be a little bit too basic.

However, Wansink does cover some more interesting stuff. He speaks about the buffet study, and mentions the eating strategy I talked about in "Cheat Day Strategies for The Hedonist" ("4. Limit choices, not amounts"):


Studies show that when people are presented with multiple food-choices, they eat more. In fact, calorie intake during a buffet scales almost linearly with the amount of different foods to choose from. If I offered you unlimited amounts of turkey and cheesecake, you'd likely only eat so much of it before you felt 'full' and satisfied.
....By 'mentally limiting' the food choices you allow yourself, i.e. only eating that which you absolutely love and crave, can be a very effective strategy in regulating calorie intake without feeling deprived. Remember, you don't need to taste of every damn food or treat that is offered. Stick to that which you truly enjoy eating and skip the rest.


Just how useful and enlightening you will find this book depends on your diet experience and nutritional know-how. In summary, Mindless Eating is a brilliant book for people who are looking to change their diet for the better. For us others, it's still an interesting read, much thanks to the many studies covered in the book.



6. Never Let Go



...We drank and continued to up the ante, until I took on a bet to squat 300 pounds for 61 reps. I was allowed to train a few weeks first, of course. 
That was a mistake; I should've done it drunk.


Never Let Go is a collection of coach Dan John's essays and articles on a wide range of topics; strength training philosophy, various strength training programs, mindset, dieting, and more.

I counted 42 articles all in all, and they're all worth reading, some more than others. Dan is at his absolute best when he talks about strength training philosophy.

Within many of the stories Dan recounts, is a lesson, an insight or a gem of wisdom that you would do well to learn from. In "The Rule of Five", Dan John talks about his bet to squat 300 lbs for 61 reps - a bet he made after a few drinks, right after he was feeling cocky after an already outstanding workout. He failed the bet and the principal lesson is that we cannot expect greatness every time we set our foot in the gym.  Some workouts will be better than others. Only once in a blue moon do you have a workout that truly staggers you.


Out of nowhere, you add thirty pounds to a max, deadlift another set of wheels, or complete some kind of mad challenge that still wakes you up years later, softly sobbing into the night.


Dan made his crazy 300-lb-for-61-reps bet after a particularly awesome workout, and he expected to win the bet based on his recent performance - but he didn't, because he expected to repeat and even outperform an already exceptional performance.


...Don't let a great day destroy years of planning and training by thinking that this is now the norm. Enjoy the day, but keep a little humility.


This is a lesson that speaks to me personally, as I've had periods of good and steady strength gains that made me set all sorts of goals and expectations for myself - "if I keep adding 5 lbs to the bar every workout, I'll be benching/squatting/pulling (insert unrealistic number here) in no time!"

And the funny thing is, it's something I still do every so often. But for your own sanity, "learn to embrace lousy days", like Dan John would say, "because a great day is just around the corner."

Dan John has a unique mix of qualities that makes Never Let Go a great book; he has lots of stories to tell, plenty of wisdom to share and a ton of experience to back it up. Dan doesn't take himself too seriously, either. He's got a great sense of humor and the book is damn funny at times.



7. How We Decide



Ever since the ancient Greeks, these assumptions have revolved around a single theme: humans are rational. When we make decisions, we are supposed to consciously analyze the alternatives and carefully weigh the pros and cons. In other words, we are deliberate and logical creatures.
...There's only one problem with this assumption of human rationality: it's wrong. It's not how the brain works.


How We Decide is a book about human decision making from a neuroscientists perspective. There are many other popular books about this specific topic - call it the "we-why-do-stupid-shit" genre, or behavioral sciences - such as Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational.


How We Decide differentiates itself from these by focusing more on the neurobiology of the decision making process. Psychological concepts like "loss aversion" and "instant/delayed gratification" are also covered.

Some of you might recall that I referenced How We Decide in "The Marshmallow Test.". The book is rich with studies, experiments and anecdotes of a similar kind, which adds context to all the talk about dopamine, synapses, pre-frontal cortexes and amygdalas.

Of the many books I've read on this topic, I'd say Predictably Irrational and The Paradox of Choice are equally good as How We Decide. They are certainly no less interesting if you find the subject as engaging as I do. I'm currently reading another book in the genre, called Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. I'm half-way through and it's a great read




8. The Selfish Gene




We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment. Though I have known it for years, I never seem to get fully used to it. One of my hopes is that I may have some success in astonishing others.


Richard Dawkins' first book, The Selfish Gene, is one of the classics of modern biology and evolutionary theory. The book provides a gene-centred view of evolution, where - briefly explained - our genes, and the behaviors and traits they provide us with, are interested in one thing: reproduction.

The practical consequence of this programming, is that almost everything we do, and the choices we make, is directly or indirectly related to improving our chances of spreading our genes further. Showing off our money by driving expensive cars, exercising, or striving to increase our standing in a group or a company, are - when push comes to shove - merely ways for us to increase our likelihood of getting laid.

As the title implies, Richard Dawkins puts greater weight on the survival of the individual, rather than the survival of the group. One implication of this is that real altruism does not exist, and behaviors that might appear to be selfless acts to an observer is, when push comes to shoves, something that will benefit us in the end - by improving our standing in a group, for example (...which then increases our chances of getting laid, or surviving long enough to get laid, etc...You get it.)

The Selfish Gene became hugely popular when it first came out in the mid-70's, was well-received by both scholars and mainstream audiences, and said to have caused "a silent and almost immediate revolution in biology". It's easy to understand why. Besides being a fantastic primer on evolution, I think this is an outstanding book by its own right.

Great books have the potential to light up your interest in a topic. Like Beyond Brawn started my passion for strength training, and How We Decide made me explore behavioral sciences further. The Selfish Gene was the book that piqued my interest in evolutionary theory. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

But how does evolutionary theory relate to the things I write about, some of you might wonder? Well, I've often alluded to it here and there in my writings, and many of the physical processes that take place during dieting can be explained from an evolutionary point of view. I did so in "Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked", for example, and backed up the evolutionary framework with modern science. Here's a few assorted quotes:


People seem to believe they will suffer severe hunger and mental impairment from not eating every so often. Consider for a second the evolutionary consequences for survival if this was true. Given that regular periods of fasting, even famine, was a natural part of our past, do you think we'd be here today if we were unable to function when obtaining food was most critical? 

- "3. Myth: Eat small meals to keep blood sugar levels under control."


Seemingly paradoxical, metabolic rate is actually increased in short-term fasting. For some concrete numbers, studies have shown an increase of 3.6% - 10% after 36-48 hours (Mansell PI, et al, and Zauner C, et al). This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline/noradrenaline) sharpens the mind and makes us want to move around. Desirable traits that encouraged us to seek for food, or for the hunter to kill his prey, increasing survival.  
At some point, after several days of no eating, this benefit would confer no benefit to survival and probably would have done more harm than good; instead, an adaptation that favored conservation of energy turned out to be advantageous. Thus metabolic rate is increased in short-term fasting (up to 60 hours).

- "4. Myth: Fasting tricks the body into 'starvation mode.'


Whenever you hear something really crazy you need to ask yourself if it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. It's a great way to quickly determine if something may be valid or if it's more likely a steaming pile of horseshit. This myth is a great example of the latter. Do you think we would be here today if our bodies could only make use of 30 grams of protein per meal?

- "5. Myth: Maintain a steady supply of amino acids by eating protein every 2-3 hours. The body can only absorb 30 grams of protein in one sitting."


Now you understand what I meant by saying that "looking on things from another perspective, not merely 'as is', will make nutrition and physiology more interesting" in the beginning of this article.



9. Getting Things Done







Reflect for a moment on what it actually might be like if your personal management situation were totally under control, at all levels and at all times. What if you could dedicate fully 100 percent of your attention to whatever was at hand, at your own choosing, with no distraction?



Getting Things Done is an old school, hands-on, no-bullshit approach to productivity and organizational strategy. It's old school, because the basic principles of the GTD system are neither new or revolutionary. Deal with things in order of importance, prioritize the right things, delegate, etc.

However, what David Allen has created with GTD, is a very practical, concrete and detailed system that outlines a way of doing all these things in the most efficient way possible, with the least amount of mental drain.

Why don't zebras get ulcers? Because they're not dealing with chronic stress, like many humans do in the modern world. Zebras might experience stress intensely - imagine the adrenaline rush you'd get from being chased by a lion on the savannah - but the stress is intermittent, not chronic. This probably held true for our cave dwelling ancestors as well. Modern humans have traded intermittent and severe stress for a low-frequency, nagging, ever-present kind of stress.

An inbox that is never empty, emails that are always awaiting a reply, favors that are constantly being expected of you, high standards that must always be maintained things, things you should do, people you should call, etc. These are the stressors we deal with today. Like Robert Sapolsky teaches you the theory and physiology behind stress in Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, David Allen teaches you how to deal with these stressors.



If you don't pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.



Earlier, I said that "we can create our own stress-induced hell by simply perceiving things the wrong way. To deal with stress, don't battle the stressor. Battle your perception." By this, I meant that we often create something from nothing, by mentally assigning importance to things that aren't really important.

The first step in effective self-management and stress reduction, is being able to perceive things as they truly are and assign the right amount of importance to them. The second step is making a quick decision on how and when you will deal with them. This is where Getting Things Done comes in; it teaches you how and when to deal with all this stuff by providing a very concrete system of organizing yourself and your goals.

The GTD system is as simple or as deep as you want it - from basic to-do lists, delegation strategies, weekly reviews of your progress and tasks for the upcoming week, concepts like "The Threefold Model for Evaluating Daily Work" and sophisticated filing techniques (that's right, he talks about the right way to deal with paper work).

I use a very basic version of the system. The tools I use includes post-it notes for daily tasks, a notebook for weekly goals, a "Someday/Maybe" notebook with ideas and goals that I may want to think and build upon in the future, and a big black box to file away whatever I want to have a look at later in the week or month. This stuff will make more sense if you read the book.

In "Fuckarounditis", I wrote that tracking progress, planning for progress, and being methodical about the process, is absolutely crucial if you want to spend your time in the gym efficiently (See points 1-3). To do this, the training log is essential.

What the training log is to training, GTD is to productivity and self-management. You still have to put in the work and bust your ass. But keeping a training log and tracking your progress, lets you know if you're on the right track, and tends to improve the outcome.



10. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism





This text continues to set the standard through the authors' ability to clearly and accurately explain even the most complex metabolic processes and concepts. 
With Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism 5th Edition, you are well prepared as you continue your journey in the field of nutrition.


Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism is "the" go-to textbook on nutrition and metabolism. It's very thorough and comprehensive, and just the kind of book you want to get the facts about how things really work, and if you want to expand your knowledge beyond the mere basics.

Given the many loony toon theories and strange beliefs people adopt after getting their nutritional education from articles by professional bullshitters, this book is a must read if you want to separate facts from nonsense.

I haven't read many textbooks on nutrition, so I can't say whether there is a better alternative than Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. As far as I can judge the book on its own merits, it's a very solid resource and reference that covers almost every aspect of nutrition and metabolism that I can think of. I've recommended it for years.




My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

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