As part of a new installment I’ll frequently be selecting some of my favorite questions from across all sources during the week and answering them here. In todays Ask Maverick Anything (AMA) we’re covering snacks and alcohol when dieting, bringing up lagging calves, how best to structure twice per week workouts, and weight training considerations for both runners and as we get older.. Be sure to bookmark thefitnessmaverick.com so you don’t miss future installments. Comment on this article if you have future questions or follow-up from anything covered today. Let’s dive in.
What strength training exercises do you recommend for runners?
When working with distance runners I’m always surprised by the lack of leg strength. Particularly if I’ve taken them into a split stance or single leg squat pattern. Let’s say that every time you go for a run that you end up tapping into about 20% of the strength capacity of your legs. If we can increase leg strength over a number of weeks then as a result you’ll now be using far less of your strength capacity to be running at the same speed. That means you can run faster and you’ll fatigue less. It makes sense we do a large portion of this on one leg (split squats, lunges, single-leg squats etc.), although you should still strive to get stronger on bilateral lower body lifts too, like front and back squats, box squats, trap bar deadlifts and hip thrust variations.
I’m also a fan of various weighted bird-dog and weighted dead bugs. Core exercises like these help stabilize your lumbar-pelvic and hip region in a way that helps to prevent “leaks” of energy and force when running. Try progressing some heavy bird-dog rows for a month and see how your running economy improves.
Can I drink alcohol and still lose fat?
For many of us socializing usually involves drinking alcohol. Even outside of social situations, If you’re like me then you might enjoy sitting down to a glass of whisky or red wine on a Saturday evening. Whatever your go-to alcohol the good news is “yes” you can still enjoy it while losing body fat. But, you’ve got track it, you’ve got to know how, and it’s got to be within your calorie and macronutrient allowance.
There are four macronutrients that when added up equate to your total calorie intake. Carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram, fats have 9 calories per gram, and alcohol (ethanol) has 7 calories per gram. When your goal is to lose fat then you’ll need to be in a caloric deficit. Quite simply, your body should be expending more calories than you’re bringing in (calories in vs calories out). It’s a little more complicate than that, and macronutrient ratios and totals, nutrient quality and food volume are just some of the variables involved in optimizing such a process. But, providing you’re still within a caloric deficit and the calories from your drink are accounted for, then you will continue to lose body fat. An essential part of this is tracking, and using apps like MyFitnessPal go a long way in cutting the guesswork.
If you choose high-calorie alcoholic beverages like sugary cocktails or pints of lager then you’ll find it a lot harder to stick within your allotted calories, versus if you were sticking to lower calorie beverages like, say, neat spirits (Whisky, vodka, gin etc.) or spirits mixed with slimline tonics or diet soda. One final tip is to count alcohol as part of your carbohydrate intake, since unlike essential fats and essential amino acids your body does not ‘need’ it. For example let’s say your beverage has 200 calories. Divide 200 by 4 (since there’s 4 calories/gram of carbs) and you’ll get 50. That’s 50g of carbs and 200 calories you’ll want to log down in your nutrition tracking app.
How to bring up a lagging body part. Specifically calves?
For calves I’m a big fan of high-frequency training. However, that doesn’t mean beating up your calves on every day of the week. The exercises and volume you use are both important. Try the following routine for 4 weeks. Be sure to measurie your calves at the start and end to monitor improvements:
Day 1 (e.g., Monday) – Standing calf raises on one leg. Put both your hands on a wall, hook one foot behind your working leg calf, and push through the front of your foot and big toe to lift your heel up. Don’t bounce and the bottom, and squeeze hard at the top of each rep. You’ll do one set of as many reps as you can with your own bodyweight on each leg. Do this at the end of your regular workout or any other time of day (e.g., make it a pre bed routine).
Day 2 – Squatted calf raises. See below. Do one set of as many reps as you can with your own bodyweight.
Day 3 – Staircase calf raises. Use your staircase, bottom step, or the edge of a lifting platform to maximize dorsiflexion and encourage a deep stretch. Do one set of as many reps as you can with your own bodyweight getting a full stretch and squeeze on each rep.
Day 4 – Off
Day 5 – Repeat day 1
Day 6 – Repeat Day 2
Day 7 – Repeat day 3
Additional tips: Do calf raises without your shoes on as much as you can. It’ll stop you from cheating and using the wrong part of your foot to press through. And, for a good investment try wearing minimalist shoes more often. I like Vivobarefoot. They’ll help restore proper foot function and better activate your calves even when you’re not thinking about them.
Most whey protein powders make me bloat and I don’t like the taste of plant-based proteins. What would you recommend?
First off I’d ask if you’ve tried using different brands of whey protein as it might not be the whey protein itself, and something instead that the manufacturer is adding in there. For example some sweeteners (mostly sugar alcohols) can cause many to bloat because they essentially feed your gut bacteria causing them to produce gas. Other sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame have also been shown to cause unhealthy changes in “good” gut bacteria with longterm use. This isn’t to say that certain sweeteners are inherently “bad” for you (I’m not aware of any conclusive evidence of this), but that trying different brands of whey protein will allow you to eliminate and experiment with any additional ingredients often added to any type of protein powder.
Second, I’d be looking for a high-quality whey protein from the get-go. One with 80% of protein content, and cold-processed to keep those proteins intact. A grass-fed protein source would be an additional bonus but not essential. This all means the purity of your powder will be a lot higher and you’ll not be having to use as much powder to hit your protein target.
A final option is to use hydrolyzed proteins (hydrolyzed casein or hydrolyzed whey). I’ve found these to be the best option for many who have had digestive issues with other protein powders. Hydrolyzed proteins are essentially proteins that have been broken down via hydrolysis, making them far easier for your body to digest and use faster. Most hydrolyzed proteins taste like puke, though, which is why I personally use and recommend THIS one.
My knees hurt when I do squats or leg presses. What would you suggest?
Before skipping out on squatting and leg press variations all together then try this: Train your hamstrings and get a good pump in them BEFORE you hit your quads with those “heavier” lifts. My favorite way to do this is to simply do 4 working sets 15-20 reps of lying hamstring curls with relatively short rest periods of under 60 seconds. Higher reps and shorter rest periods because we’re trying to get some blood to your hamstrings and around your knees. These should be HARD reps so don’t just think of them as simply warming up for squats.
The reason lying hamstring curls work (most kneeling/standing hamstring curls work too) are because you’re loading your hamstrings in more of their shortened range which further assists in chasing that pump. Start with that hamstring curl protocol and see if it helps, then after a few weeks you can experiment with different rep ranges and intensity techniques. In any case the idea is to end up doing your squats and leg presses second or even third in your workouts, and after training your hamstrings.
As a precaution you could also try modifying your squats and leg presses so at to focus on maintaining a more vertical shin position throughout the press. This reduces knee stress. You’ll be targeting your quads a little less, but your knees will feel better for it. As an idea you could use low bar box squats really pushing your hips back instead of high bar back squats, or leg presses with a high and wide stance instead of positioning your feel low on the foot plate.
Are there any supplements you recommend be taken daily
Yes. I consider Omega 3’s an essential for pretty much everyone. Particularly if you’re not eating much oily fish. And no, fatty acids from plant-based sources won’t do. The variety of omega 3’s in plants (nuts, seeds) is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which isn’t the same as the DHA and EPA you get from oily fish or algae that your body can’t make from scratch. While ALA can indeed go through a complicated process in your body to be converted into DHA and EPA, only a very small percentage actually gets converted. A measly 10% if I recall correctly. A far more efficient way to get your EPA and DHA is through omega 3 fish oils or krill oil.
The benefits of a good fish oil are reduced body fat, reduced mental stress by lowering activation of your adrenals, and good cardiovascular and brain health. To name just a few. Look for a well-sourced omega 3 supplement like that from Nordic Naturals or the one I use which is from Myo-Band.com
Alongside omega 3’s I’d also suggest a good vitamin D3 supplement with added K2. Particularly if you live in a country with a lot of cloud coverage. Even if you live somewhere like Australia then chances are you’re still deficient in vitamin D. I tend to recommend anywhere between 2000-5000iu daily, but a blood test will give you a better picture.
Anything people in their 60’s should be doing differently when weight training?
From your 30’s onward I feel most should be including some form of high-velocity/power-based lifting in their routine. This is because as we get older it’s this that starts to decline before anything else. This shouldn’t be something as radical like the sudden addition of snatches, cleans and jerks in your 60’s, though. Ideally you’ll want to start this early on for “prevention” purposes. In your 30’s would be a good time to start thinking about it.
Heavy kettlebell swings are a great option and can be done at any age, as is taking an exercise you might usually go heavy with and lifting just 40-60% of you max for explosive reps with intent. Vertical jumps, band-assisted vertical jumps and box jumps are also a good option. Just select exercises appropriate to where you’re at, and try to keep excessive impact forces through the ground at a minimum (focus on softer landings, stepping down off the box instead of jumping, jumps on a Sanddune stepper etc.).
I’d also avoid unnecessarily complex Olympic lifts unless you have a specific goal focused around them. I’d pick just one “joint friendly” exercise per workout for just 3-5 sets to start off with. For example 4 sets of 12 kettlebell swings with plenty of oomph! After your warm-up is a good place to program these types of lifts as they can double-up as a primer for the rest of your workout and improve later lifts.
Training should always be joint-friendly regardless of age. If you can build as much muscle as you can in a joint-friendly manner in the decades prior then you’ll be in a better spot when you start to lose a little as you get older. In your 60’s you’ll still want to be doing some hypertrophy work and modified bodybuilding training, but this works less to actually “build” muscle as it does to prevent loss.
What are some good travel snack ideas when dieting?
When I’m on the move I’ll always have at least a couple of protein bars on hand if needed. Most protein bars are candy in disguise, so look for something with no added sugar and AT LEAST 10g of protein per 100 calories. For example a 200 calorie bar should have about 20g of protein or more. Other top snack ideas include biltong or a high-quality beef jerky. Some high-protein yogurts will store well at room temperature for a work day, too.
Once you have your protein needs sorted then you’ll want some smart carb choices on hand. Rice cakes offer a lot of food volume for very few calories. I like the Kallo organic rice cakes in apple flavour and might put a little almond butter on top if I want the added fats. Another good idea is to make up some protein pancakes as they store well and can be eaten cold. There are plenty of protein pancake mixes you can buy, or just use your favorite recipe prepping beforehand.
Finally you’ll want some fruit and/or veggies to take with you. Carrot sticks are easy, as are apples, bananas, and most berries providing you’re going to be eating them that day. If you’re lacking fruits and veggies I’d recommend you get a good superfood greens supplement and drink that through the day.
What’s the best training split if I only have two days each week to workout on?
In this instance I’d suggest you focus on full body workouts. The way I like to structure these is so each workout you’re training a squat, hinge, pressing, pulling and core pattern, but in each workout you’ll train them slightly differently. For example in Workout 1 you might have a two-legged (bilateral) squatting pattern whereas in Workout 2 you might choose a single-leg or split squatting pattern. For upper body in Workout 1 you might focus on horizontal presses and pulls, whereas in Workout 2 it might be vertical presses and pulls. Here’s a flexible template that you can use as an example:
Workout 1 (supersets):
1A) Squat (e.g., front or back, safety squat bar, hack, goblet)
1B) Pull-up or pulldown (various options/grips/attachments)
2A) Single-leg deadlift/hinge (SL deadlift [DB, BB, KB, Landmine], B stance RDL, 1-leg hip thrust, 1-leg back extension
2B) Shoulder/vertical press (various options/grips/implements)
3A) Ab rollout/fallout or plank variation
3B) Assistance work (rotator cuff, biceps, calves etc.)
Workout 2 (supersets):
1A) Deadlift (Romanian, conventional, sumo, dumbbell, barbell, trap bar)
1B) Chest/horizontal press (various options/grips/implements)
2A) Split-squat, single-leg squat or lunge pattern
2B) Bent-over/horizontal row variation
3A) Hanging leg raise variation
3B) Assistance work (abductors, adductors, triceps etc.)
If you have questions about anything covered in todays article or for future articles then drop them in the comments box below. For more specific help you can check out my online coaching program HERE.
Also known as “The Fitness Maverick”, Gareth specializes in smarter training techniques to get you strong and looking great naked year round!