Kenny Wayne Shepherd – “Born With A Broken Heart”


The Cortisol Challenge

by DH Kiefer

I know, it’s a stupid title for an article, but in this case, I’m challenging you to know your enemy. This is simple advice we’d all do well to follow, but in bodybuilding it’s easier said than done. The hormone cortisol is a prime example. Ask any bodybuilder—even the top guys in the world, I’d wager—and they’ll swear up and down that cortisol is a terrifying “death hormone” they want nothing to do with. Why? Because cortisol breaks stuff down, and the last thing any bodybuilder wants is for some destructive hormone to be running wild through his body, leaving a massively catabolic environment in its wake. As with everything, however, there’s much more to the story.

It turns out cortisol may not be as evil as conventional wisdom’s been trying to tell us all these years—and after talking to John “Mountain Dog” Meadows at length about this, I think it’s time someone explained why. John, who’s a brilliant guy and an absolute beast of a bodybuilder, thinks people should stop bitching about long (two hour) training sessions and the associated cortisol response. He’s right, and I’ll explain why. Cortisol, ironically enough, might just be a good thing.

What We Believe

Cortisol is one of a class of hormones called glucocorticoids (GCs), and it’s important to note that nearly all GCs share the properties I’m discussing here. GCs are essential hormones in your body because when they’re released at the proper time and in the proper amounts, they regulate immune function, may help to repair tendons and ligaments, and may even accelerate the fat burning process.

Positive aspects notwithstanding, there are reasons everyone’s been petrified of cortisol for so long. First off, it’s able to waste away muscle tissue quite effectively. Even relatively short bursts of GCs can cause this to happen. When GCs are elevated for long periods of time—or at inappropriate times—things get even worse. Over these long periods, GCs can suppress your immune system, prevent your body from burning fat, and increase hunger.

As if these negatives aren’t enough, GCs will then continue their long-term assault by targeting other hormones. They adversely affect the fat mobilizing ability of leptin, as well as potentially wiping out the hunger control benefits of ghrelin—and they’ll even decrease your testosterone levels. When examined in this light, there’s essentially nothing good that can come from long-term elevated cortisol levels. This is why the bodybuilding community has viewed cortisol in such a negative light for so long.

Another Angle

The trouble with our perception of cortisol is that aside from anointing it as this horrific “death hormone,” most people know little to nothing about what it actually does, so they fear it. Most diet books offer no useful information other than using changes in cortisol levels as evidence that what they’re telling you is helpful—assuming, of course, that higher levels can only be a bad thing. These books won’t tell you what any of it actually means.

Under normal conditions, cortisol rises rhythmically throughout the night, and peaks first thing in the morning. Your cortisol levels are also elevated during your training sessions. Again, because of what you’ve been told, you’re likely thinking these situations are nothing but negatives. You’d better hurry up and eat breakfast to stave off the catabolic environment cortisol’s putting you in, right? Wrong.

nobreakfastWhen you first wake up in the morning, your body is primed to start burning fat before you eat, and cortisol is a key part of this process. At this point, your body is operating in the absence of both carbs and insulin—and when there’s no insulin around, cortisol doesn’t go after your muscle. See, the term catabolic doesn’t cover strictly muscle. It simply refers to the tearing down of more complex tissue in the body for a different use. When acting without insulin, cortisol triggers the breakdown of triglycerides into free-fatty acids (FFAs) for metabolization—a process known as lipolysis. In other words, without insulin, cortisol is an incredibly effective fat burner. To take advantage of this, simply lay off the carbs at breakfast. Better yet, as I’ve written here previously, just skip breakfast altogether.

So what about elevated cortisol levels during your training sessions? Well, this isn’t exactly the bane of our existence, either. New research in the European Journal of Applied Physiology has shown that the higher the cortisol response you elicit from training, the greater the anabolic effect of your session will be. Additional research in the Journal of Applied Physiology and Chronobiology International showed that it’s okay to have high cortisol flux during training because it lowers cortisol levels during inopportune times—i.e., in the presence of insulin—for up to 24 hours.

When to Steer Clear

Of course, it’s not all good news. Returning to the case of long-term elevation, your GC levels become elevated in response to both mental and physical stress—and chronic stress will keep your GC levels high for long periods of time. By chronic stress I’m referring to both emotional stress and excessive physical activity. This is especially important to note when you’re dieting, because dieting can be both mentally and physically stressful, causing GC levels to elevate throughout the course of changing your nutritional regimen. When you’re trying to lose body fat, your stress levels can make things rough for this reason. Avoid this situation by avoiding extremes—my Carb Back-Loading™ plan is tailor-made for stress-free, simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain.

The bottom line? First, by timing your workouts correctly—training in the evening causes a lower cortisol response than normal, while leaving other anabolic hormones, like testosterone, the same or elevated—and avoiding breakfast until your cortisol levels return to normal, you can use Carb Back-Loading™ to essentially pick and choose which cells (muscle or fat) get bigger and smaller.

Finally, all that stuff you’ve heard about limiting your workouts to an hour or less to mitigate your elevated cholesterol levels? Well, the research says extending your sessions—and your elevated cortisol response—will actually boost the anabolic effects of your workouts. With this in mind, maybe it’s high time you reconsider who your enemies really are.

China 2013 Weightlifting Nationals


By Josh Fletcher

Adolescence is an important stage for developing both athletic foundations and life skills (Hansen, Larson & Dworkin, 2003).  Literature supports the notion that sports coaches can have a positive impact upon youth development.  This can encompass development of physical and sport specific skills as well as morals and values that can be transferred outside the sporting arena (Gould & Carson., 2008; Jones & Lavallee., 2008; Larson., 2000; Watson, Cannolea & Kadushina., 2011).
It has been suggested in the literature that encouraging the development of life skills as part of coaching could improve performance through increased application in training, developing confidence and building communication skills (Gould & Carson, 2008). Life skills incorporates a vast array of concepts and to consider them all would be beyond the scope of this essay, it will therefore focus on the strength & conditioning (S&C) coach’s role in fostering feelings of self-worth amongst adolescent athletes. Self-worth is considered to be a synonym of self-esteem which is defined by psychologists as the evaluative aspect of one’s self-concept (Bee & Boyd, 2007). Researchers generally agree that it is adaptive for individuals to have a positive sense of self (Carlson, Martin & Buskist, 2004) and there is interest in the field of S & C around the relationships between coaching, self-worth of athletes and performance. This essay will seek to review current literature and consider professional experience in order to make practical recommendations for the S&C coach with a view to improving self-worth and therefore athletic performance.
Literature and experience suggest that adolescent athletes regard the coach as a role model and figure of authority (Conroy & Coatsworth., 2004; Cote & Fraser-Thomas., 2009; Kane, Marks, Zaccaro & Blair., 1996; Langan, Blake & Lonsdale., 2012).  Long term relationships and regular contact mean that the S&C coach is ideally placed and responsible for nurturing life skills and in particular self-worth.  This is reflected by findings by Vella, Oades & Crowe (2011) that youth coaches and athletes share the belief that the coach is responsible for the athletes’ overall sense of positive self-worth.  The personal benefits to the athletes as a result of improved self-worth are numerous (Haugen, Säfvenbom & Ommundsen, 2011) however; nurturing self-worth also has the potential to improve performance (Gould, Collins, Lauer & Chung, 2007a) which is the main outcome goal of S&C coaching.
Studies suggest that self-worth is not merely a by-product of participation but an area that needs targeting and nurturing (Gould & Carson, 2008). Furthermore the impact on performance is likely to be greater if methods to improve self-worth are applied strategically. This was demonstrated in studies by Gould, Chung, Smith and White (2006a) and Gould et al. (2007a) who investigated coaches that prioritised life skills development as part of their coaching and found that all of the teams were highly successful. These studies highlight that developing self-worth in athletes requires both skill and consideration from the S&C coach. It is for this reason that practical guidelines will be presented for the S&C coach to enable them to engineer a learning environment which develops feelings of self-worth.
Despite supporting the notion that building self-worth should be a focus for coaches, the research identified varies considerably in terms of methodology used and therefore validity of findings. This means that a firm conclusion cannot be drawn about the role of S & C coaches in building self-worth in adolescents and how this links to athletic performance. The greatest flaw, however is the lack of research that directly addresses the question identified in this essay. This highlights the need for good quality studies in this field with potential for specific focus on elite adolescent athletes.
The research highlights this importance of two major focusses for the coach when attempting to build self-worth, the coach-athlete relationship and building self-confidence in the athlete. These points will be explored in the following paragraphs. Strong relationships between athlete and coach can build trust, mutual respect and rapport (Cote & Fraser-Thomas., 2009; Gilbert & Cote., 2009; Vella et al. 2011). In order to build a strong relationship it is vital to break down the barriers of fear and intimidation that can be associated with adult leaders by being approachable, compassionate and using open body language (Cote & Fraser-Thomas, 2009).
Literature suggests that coaches can build strong relationships and a positive training environment by using active listening and demonstrating interest and investment in development of adolescents beyond their roles as athletes (Cote & Fraser-Thomas, 2009).  This encourages optimal engagement in the coaching process which allows greater potential for physical development in S&C sessions (Jones & Spooner, 2006). Therefore the ability of the S&C coach to build a connection with adolescent athletes can be considered a corner stone for developing self-worth.
Research suggests that the S&C coach can build self-worth by goal setting, focussing on process rather than outcome and creating leadership opportunities for athletes (Cote & Fraser-Thomas., 2009; Gearity & Murray., 2011; Gould & Carson., 2008). The coach can improve the athlete’s self-concept and their long term learning and skill development by involving them in programming and imparting responsibility and independence to the athlete to lead their programme as appropriate to their skill level and age (Dworkin, Larson & Hansen, 2003).  This can be achieved by allowing the athlete to train independently, only providing coaching and guidance when required and encouraging athletes to make their own technical alterations in sessions. These techniques also allow the coach to instil in the athlete a confidence in their own knowledge (Martin, Dale & Jackson, 2001) whilst making them feel that they are a valued member of the team which is a key component of self-worth (Cote & Fraser-Thomas, 2009).
This essay has explored the importance of building self-worth in adolescent athletes. The literature reviewed suggests that improved self-worth can be beneficial to the adolescent on a personal level whilst also improving athletic performance (Gould & Carson, 2008). These findings point to the necessity of incorporating specific strategies into training sessions to build this vital aspect of self-concept and suggestions are given as to how to do this. The quality of literature in this field is highly varied and there is relatively little research addressing self-worth in sport. This highlights the need for good quality, reliable studies in the future.
About the author:
Josh Fletcher is an enthusiastic up and coming S&C coach currently working with a range of sports at the English Institute of Sport (EIS) in Manchester. Having graduated though an EIS internship he now works on a full time basis with GB Taekwondo, England Womens’ Rugby League, England Netball and a range of other sports. Josh was also the lead S&C coach for GB Water Polo for the 2 years prior to the London Olympic Games.

Effects of Alcohol Consumption on HRV and Sleep

by hrvtraining

Excessive alcohol consumption is not uncommon among high school, collegiate and professional athletes. This typically occurs after competitions during the season and likely with greater frequency throughout the offseason. Today I’d like to share what I’ve learned after reading through the available research pertaining to alcohol and HRV in healthy individuals. In addition I will post up some ithlete data I’ve collected showing the effects that excessive drinking has on HRV.

Bau and colleagues (2011) investigated the effects of 60g of ethanol ingestion on HRV in young men. HRV was measured before and during the following 17 hours after ingestion. Compared to the control group, the ethanol group saw a decrease in all time domain indices of HRV that persisted for 10 hours.

Koskinen et al (1994) tested the effects of ethanol consumption (1g/kg) on HRV in healthy young males (n=12). HRV was measured prior to ethanol ingestion and once each hour for 3 hours after ingestion. A significant decrease in RMSSD and HF was observed compared to control.

In healthy volunteers Weise et al. (1986) observed an immediate reduction in HRV after alcohol consumption (0.7 g/kg) with no change in HR or blood pressure.

Spaak et al. (2009) investigated the dose-related effects that red wine, ethanol and water have on HRV in a mixed group of healthy folks (n=12). Essentially, one drink of either red wine or ethanol had no effect. However, after the second drink HR increased and HRV decreased (Total HRV by 28-33%, HF by 32-45%, LF increased 28-34%).

The last study I’ll discuss is perhaps the most relevant. Sagawa et al. (2011) monitored HRV and sleep quality (polysomnography) after alcohol consumption in university aged healthy males (n=10). There was a control group, a low dose (LD) group (0.5g/kg) and a high dose (HD) group (1g/kg). As you can imagine, there was a dose related effect of alcohol on HRV and sleep. The HD group saw the lowest HRV value, highest RHR and poorest sleep quality. The LD group also saw reduced HRV, increased RHR and reduced sleep quality compared to control.

Below is a screen shot of mine from over the Christmas holidays. There is a marked drop in HRV on New Year’s day following a late night of NYE celebration that included several drinks.

RPE Trend Jan 10

The data set below is a re-creation in excel from an athlete/colleague who doesn’t know how to take a screen shot with his phone (c’mon man!). The three lowest dips on the trend all occur in March after nights out drinking on the 10th, 16th and 23rd. The dip from the 12th is reported to be caused by other stressors.


Wrap Up

For those who didn’t already know, alcohol has a negative effect on HRV and sleep quality in healthy individuals. Clearly this can impact recovery and performance  and therefore should be avoided, or limited to time periods away from competition and/or rigorous training schedules.

Everything is Processed


Maybe it’s all of the talk being generated by the book Salt, Fat, Sugar: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. I know I enjoyed writing about it in the articleThe Extraordinary Manipulation of Human Beings. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that the Institute of Food Technologists(IFT) have just released several videos in defense of processed foods.

According to their web site, the mission of the IFT is:

… advance the science of food. Our long-range vision is to ensure a safe and abundant food supply contributing to healthier people everywhere.

Founded in 1939, IFT is non-profit organization with approximately 18,000 members. It’s sponsors include Coca-ColaMcDonaldsMonsantoProcter & Gamble,Archer Daniels Midland CompanyLand O’, and other huge players in the food industry.

The need for such an organization is easily explained, and I’m sure its members include good people and solid scientists. However, when you follow the money trail, it would be impossible to conclude that they are free of bias. After all, the major food corporations are this organization’s lifeblood.

Here is some of their latest propaganda.

So, according to Dr. Decker, fortification is one of the ways that processed foods make our lives better. And then there’s the processing of cereal grains, so we can make something that is inedible into something that is edible. And, of course, there’s all of the time savings. With processed foods, he tells us, we can have dinner on the table in 15 to 30 minutes.

Dr. Decker says:

“From the consumer side, I really think we need to help them understand how the food processing industry has made their lives better.”

This makes me wonder if Dr. Drecker has ever looked inside a modern, mainstream grocery store. Ever?

Based on the products that are in every aisle, on every shelf, and in every grocery cart…I’m just pretty sure consumers don’t need any help accepting processed, boxed, packaged, cellophane wrapped, dyed, flavored, “foods” as a part of their diets. Unfortunately, consumers already do think that gnawing on Cool Ranch Doritos tacos has made their lives better.

And really, why worry? Apparently, we can’t decide to eat non-processed foods, even if we wanted to:

According to the video featuring Dr. Floros, everything is processed. Therefore, we can’t say that processing is bad. In fact, when you decide what you want to eat for your health processing shouldn’t even be a factor. How can processed food be bad and how can we choose not to eat it, if everything is processed?

Clever. As real-food movements pick up steam, the food industry is countering with this message that processed foods can’t be avoided, so don’t even try.

He spends some time driving this message home, and then, like Dr. Decker, he reminds us that processed foods are more convenient.

Ah, but all this talk of convenience and women and grandmothers deserves a real spotlight — a video all its own.

So processed food is THE reason why we are able to do so much. There is no denying that food abundance and the ability to store foods frees up time and makes our lives easier, but that doesn’t mean that the way we are going about it today is ideal. Yes, it beats the hell out of famine, but our system has become more corporation-centric than human-centric.

Let’s remember that the aim of the large food corporations (that sponsor the work of IFT) is to reduce their costs and to create products that consumers will crave. The more consumers eat and drink, the better it is for these corporations’ bottom lines.

Contrast the IFT videos above (assuming they haven’t removed them yet) to this piece recently produced by Canada’s CBC. In it, one woman says:

“I ate to the point that it hurt to move, and I would just lie in my bed and wish I was dead.”

How empowering and convenient. Check it out, this is worth watching:

So why do you think the food industry is responding like this? Are they concerned about movements like real-food and Paleo? What do you think about the claims they are making about processed foods and convenience? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Tender Pot Roast with Holy Grail Gravy



  • 2-4 lb. chuck roast
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 4 carrots (chopped in large chunks)
  • 2 stalks celery (thickly sliced)
  • 2-4 garlic cloves (whole)
  • 1 bay leaf (whole)
  • 2 branches fresh rosemary (whole)
  • 1/4 cup of broth (or water)
  • Salt and pepper


1. Put all the veggies and herbs in a crock pot. (If you don’t have a crockpot, preheat your oven to 250 degrees and use a lidded casserole dish or dutch oven instead.)
2 Pour ¼ cup broth on top of the vegetables. (This small amount is intentional; the meat will release its own juices.)
3. Season all sides of the roast liberally with salt & pepper, and place on top of the vegetables.
4. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours, until meat can be shredded with a fork.
5. When done, lift meat out of crockpot onto a plate and make the gravy: Pour the liquid from the crockpot into a large glass measuring cup (or a bowl). Add half of the cooked vegetables and puree with an immersion blender. To increase the thickness of the gravy or strengthen its flavor, add more of the vegetables. Taste as you go. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender instead.)
6. The meat cooks down quite a bit, making approximately 4 servings per 2 lb. roast & 8 servings per 4 lb. I love serving this pot roast over garlic mashed cauliflower, with gravy on top.
7. Leftovers: You can put the meat and gravy in one container, tossing to blend before refrigeration. This keeps it moist and flavorful, and makes reheating a breeze.