3 Squares

You may be wondering at the the title of this post. What’s 3 squares? And what has it got to do with diet?

Actually this is an idea articulated by Paul Wade inConvict Conditioning 2. 3 squares simply refers to 3 square meals a day.

Paul Wade gripes about how people nowadays are overcomplicating things unnecessarily, especially when it comes to exercise and diet.

We always get a earful from supposed fitness gurus who tell you it’s best to consume “5 to 6 small meals a day”, rather than the traditional 3 squares. But looking at today’s fitness community in general, I’d say that men and women used to fare much better on simple systems and simple diets.

I think there are many reasons why most places and cultures in the world have been practising 3 squares a day for millenia. While it’s no harm grabbing some light snacks in between your main meals if and when you’re feeling hungry, it’s downright inconvenient for most of us to be consuming 5 to 6 small meals that are more or less evenly spaced out throughout the day.

Assuming you’re a normal fella who’s awake 16 hours of the day. If you’re going to have 5 to 6 meals a day, it means that you’re going to be eating a significant amount of food every 2 – 3 hours. This means that your gastrointestinal system is going to be constantly lined with either freshly- or recently-ingested food, and you’ll be constantly digesting the stuff that you’re feeding into your body in a more or less steady stream.

I’m no biologist, but I feel that having 5 to 6 substantial portions of food going into your tummy in 2 – 3 hour intervals daily seems like it’s going to place a considerable amount of stress on the gastrointestinal tract. Having something light to keep up your energy levels before your next major meal is okay, but I certainly wouldn’t advocate splitting your food intake into 5 to 6 even parcels and ingesting them every 2 – 3 hours.

Mankind has always been fascinated by his own ingenuity, and we have always delighted in coming up with new and fancy ways of doing stuff. While this spirit of innovation and experimentation may work well for us in the field of science and technology, I question the usefulness of such over-inventiveness on the areas of diet and exercise.

Of course, it is always wise to seek an understanding of the scientific workings that underlie our dietary programmes and exercise systems. But sometimes, things stay the same over long periods of time for a good reason. The human body has not experienced any great changes for a good while now, and so the things that have worked wonders for the bodies of our forefathers decades ago should be as effective as they were then as they are now.

It is obvious that people are starting to realise this in the field of exercise. We hear talk of kettlebells and other similar forms of “old school” training methods making a comeback. I believe that it is only a matter of time before the diet world recognises the same. When people start to realise that all the over-emphasis on micro-nutrients and diet programming isn’t giving them the results that they want, they’ll come to learn that sometimes, it’s better to stick to what’s tried-and-true.

If you’re eating 3 good, square meals a day, consisting of a sound mix of grains (or grain derivatives), meats, fruits and vegetables, with a few snacks (fruits, nuts and seeds are recommended) thrown in between these dietary mainstays, you can’t go too far wrong. So forget about all the hassle that comes with counting every calorie and every microgramme of micronutrients that you’re ingesting, and instead just focus on eating soundly and sensibly.

3 squares. Because sometimes the more things change, the more they should stay the same.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

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The Curse Of Tradition

Tradition is something that anchors us in an ever-changing world, giving us a sense of continuity and constancy in the continually-shifting tapestries of time and fate.

However, tradition can become a curse when our contextual environment evolves beyond that which gave birth to our culture originally.

The typical Chinese diet can be considered quite a balanced and healthy affair, with rice as the staple source of energy-giving carbohydrate, and side dishes that include meat and vegetables which can be cooked in a variety of ways.

This age-old combination of carbohydrates from the rice and proteins from the meat, along with the essential vitamins and minerals from the vegetables, and often the nourishing liquid from soup, covers all bases. The Chinese diet is quite comprehensive in its approach, and seeks to balance out different forms of food and nutrients, influenced by the ancient philosophy of yin and yang, as well as receving a good dose of traditional Chinese medical wisdom, which plays no small part in dictating the dietary components and preparations for the traditional Chinese community.

However, you’ve probably observed that alot of Chinese people that you see around are slightly pudgy at the least, and downright overweight at the worst. I’ve noticed this phenomenon for quite some time here, in Singapore, and it occurs particularly with adults. 

Now why is this so? Here’s my take on it:

The typical Chinese family who’s having rice as the main staple during mealtimes are consuming way too much of the stuff. This is something that’s probably being reinforced by traditional Chinese culture. I’m sure if you’re Chinese and you’re a kid, and you have one of those typical family meals you’ll be hearing your parents or your grandparents urging you to eat, to eat more, and to eat your fill.

If you’re a parent or a grandparent, as the custodian and enforcer of culture and tradition, you’ll probably be the one telling the young ‘uns to fill themselves up, often by consuming more rice. The importance of eating rice for energy is something that’s deeply-entrenched in traditional Chinese culture. I guess this is a holdover from our peasant roots, where a large proportion of the Chinese population either grew crops in the fields or worked on farms. These people worked an average of 8 to 10 hours of gruelling manual labour per day, and hence required alot of carbohydrates in their diet to sustain their energy output.

Even when industrialisation created a manufacturing boom in the towns and cities a large bulk of Chinese were workers in the factories that were churning out textiles and other produce, or labourers at the docks or on other means of mass transportation, moving the goods to be distributed to other parts of the land for trading and commerce. The work was often heavy and tiring, and hence continued the importance of rice-heavy diet as a source of energy for everyday life.

Today, alot of us are slogging away at our jobs, but for the most of us, the nature of our work is rather less physical than that of our forefathers. The focus of labour has shifted, with machines doing most of the heavy lifting, and humans filling up the roles of data entry and management, or other similar forms of administrative toil.

Therefore, we are generally using alot less energy than our forefathers who were farmers, labourers, factory and dock workers. But the legacy of our ancestors’ labourious lives has been preserved and passed down in the form of our diet, where great emphasis is placed on a hefty consumption of rice. And as a result alot of us are eating alot more than we really need, and hence the love handles and spare tyres around our midsections.

The important thing is to know how to scale your diet according to your levels of physical activity. If you’re a marathon runner doing 10 klick runs every other day, you probably need to eat alot more carbs than the office worker who’s just working out his fingers on his keyboard. So be mindful of how much you’re eating versus how much energy you expend, and it’ll be a quick way for you to manage your weight gain/loss.

So the next time you’re told to shovel more rice down your throat, think twice about what you’re doing. Don’t let your tradition become a curse, and most importantly, don’t go cursing the next generation as well. Tradition is good, but like all other things it must change when the need arises, or it will be rendered obsolete and irrelevant and actually do more harm than good when adhered to out of a sense of blind loyalty.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

The Power Of Choice

Lots of bad things can, and will happen to the body when we take it too far away from the course that Nature has intended for it.

We get shitty flexibility in our hips and legs when we sit on chairs for extended periods of time without moving or stretching. We suffer from weak and aching muscles when poor posture becomes a habit. And the list goes on.

The same thing is happening to the diets of many people around the world, whether they know it or not.

We were hunter-gatherers at the dawn of our species, and I think it is safe to assume that back then, food used to be of greater scarcity. That means that we foraged and ate only when we needed to, and not whenever we wanted to.

In the modern-day context where agriculture and livestock provide most of the developed world with an overabundance of food, and when most of these foods are readily available and affordable to most people, we start to lose the ability to truly recognise our need, rather than our want to feed.

The fact that human ingenuity is making the food that we have access to increasingly tempting to the palate is the main cause of our food temptations. We have become so skilled at making our food taste good that we are finding it hard to stop ourselves from overeating at times.

And when for many successive generations Man is exposed to this environment of overabundance of delicious food, He starts to lose his instincts of knowing when and what and how much he needs to consume for his survival. Now that basic survival has become something that we take for granted, we begin to gratify our wants, a large part of which fuels the food and beverage industry worldwide.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not advocating a paleolithic (“caveman”) diet, or asking you to feed on raw meat and plants.

Just as with everything else (chairs, TVs, cars, computers etc.) that developed along with the growth of human civilisation, I believe that our diet is part of what separates us from the animals that we hunt and rear. I’m not an extremist who’s asking you to give up all of your modern-day comforts, cos I too enjoy them to a great extent. I don’t think there are that many of us who want to go back to drinking water straight from the rivers or chomping down on raw birds or lizards or frogs.

What I’m trying to say that we have been given the power of choice.

You can work a deskbound job all day, every day, but so long as you move around and stretch yourself adequately you’ll be able to retain a normal range of motion in your hips and legs. We can have access to soft and plushy couches, but who says you have to slouch all the time when you’re sitting down on them?

The same goes for the diet. We can have access to a huge variety and an enormous quantity of food. But we still get to decide when and what and how much we choose to eat.

So long as you learn to listen and re-connect with your body’s natural instincts, you’ll know when you need to eat, what you need to eat, and how much you need to eat. Use your intelligence and resist the temptation to overeat, or to feast on unhealthy junk too frequently.

Indulgence once in awhile is fine, but the key thing is balance. You don’t have to treat your body like a temple, but the least you could do is not to treat it like an amusement park. Don’t test your body’s limit.

I once saw this documentary of an American woman who weighed about 300 kilos, who ate huge bowls of frosted cereal with coke (in place of milk) every single day. I’m not too sure whether she was suffering from any medical condition or psychological compulsion that caused her to behave in such a manner, but it was something very saddening to see.

So exercise the power of choice, and do your best to eat in a way that’s good for you, and trust me, your body will thank you for it. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Something Fishy

When it comes to protein intake from natural food sources we are often spoilt for choice. Besides a large variety of dairy products, eggs, nuts, beans and seeds, the most obvious and probably the most well-known source of protein is meat.

Proteins are biochemical compounds that perform a wide range of functions in the human body. However, strength, fitness and muscle-building enthusiasts are chiefly concerned with the role of protein in muscular development. We often hear trainers and experts telling us to increase our protein intake if we want to put on more muscle mass.

Many bodybuilders stick to chicken as the main muscle-building component of their diet, especially the lean meat found in the chicken breast. I had once experimented with a diet of boiled chicken breast and broccoli, but gave up after 3 weeks – the stuff tasted just like how I imagined a peice of dry rubber would, and was most unappealing to the palate.

(Kudos to those hardcore musclemen who are surviving on such a diet. I do admire you for your dedication.)

Others prefer beef, becuase of its high mineral and vitamin (B12) content in addition to its protein value.

For those of you who are looking for  variety and are tired of your regular chicken chops and beef steaks, here is another meat for you to consider: Fish.

As discussed in a previous post your nutritional uptake is dependent upon the efficacy of your digestion. This simply means that stuff which is broken down more easily in your gut will tend to give you higher rates of nutrient absorption.

Fish meat is flaky by nature and you will notice that it doesn’t take nearly as much chewing as chicken or beef for it to be broken down into fine pieces. So this may mean that our body will have an easier time digesting fish as compared to other forms of meat, especially for those of you who have a habit of wolfing down your meals.

Fish is said to be a low-fat source of high-quality protein, and it is also chock full of essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins (D and B2), calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium and potassium.

Most fish are sweet and flavourful when they are well-prepared, and make for a nutritional gastronomic indulgence. Steam or broil your fish with vegetables and herbs for a healthy, well-balanced meal.

Fish is a refreshing alternative to landbound meat, and is definitely a valuable addition to any diet (except for vegans).

So next time when you’re dining or cooking, be sure to try out fish meat as a light and healthful variation of your protein intake. You won’t feel as weighed down from a fish fillet as compared to a traditional steak, and you will still be getting more than your fair share of proteins and other essential nutrients.

For a list of healthy fish recipes, visit http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/oehas/fish/fishrecipes.htm.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

To Count… Or Not To Count?

Calories, calories… Many modern health and fitness gurus will ask you to keep count of how much food energy you’re ingesting everyday. By doing this, they claim, you will be able to better monitor and adjust your diet accordingly to suit your health and fitness aims.

Well I must admit that I have never counted my calories… ever.

I’m not saying that counting your calories isn’t an effective and useful way to keep track of the stuff that you’re eating and to estimate how much more (or less) food to consume based on an approximation of your daily energy expenditure.

What I’m saying is that 1. It’s tedious (probably cos I’m lazy and also really lousy at math), and 2. most people aren’t even getting the most important things straight.

Because some genius came up with this system of monitoring the amount of food energy that you consume and the amount of energy that is being used up in your daily life, the industry responds by creating “cheat” foods that are low in calorie count, to fill your stomach with empty chaff and to stave off those hunger pangs that are usually answered with ice cream, fried finger foods and potato chips.

Well I’m not an extremist. I’ve had my own fair share of gastronomic indulgences once in awhile (like deep-fried Mars Bars embedded in generous scoops of ice cream) and I think life’s true spice lies in these not-too-harmful little vices that we let ourselves enjoy occasionally.

With that being said, it’s my personal belief that the most important thing to do with your diet is choosing the right foods to eat i.e. wholegrain instead of refined carbs, more fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, lean meat, and so on. As long as you are putting nutritious stuff into your body at regular intervals of the day without overeating, you can’t go too far wrong.

Counting the calories is extremely important when it comes to ultra-high level athletic performance. Olympic athletes have dieticians and nutrion experts crafting out specialised diets for them in order to fine-tune their physical preparations. Fitness models need to monitor and control their diets strictly in order to present those rippling pecs and washboard abs for your viewing pleasure.

However, I am guessing most of you reading this blog don’t fall into either of those aforementioned categories. So go easy on the math for a bit, and eat the healthier food options that are available in sensible quantities, and you can still look great and feel fab. 😉

For a very insightful article on this topic visit this page: http://www.criticalbench.com/calorie_counting_fat_loss.htm

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Dieting For Fat Loss

When people want to lose weight they tend to diet. While it is true that diet plays a huge role in weight loss, what is less obvious is how to structure your food intake to accelerate your efforts and achieve your aims.

The most misinformed kind of dieting is where a person starts eating less. This eat less = lose weight mentality seems logical, but is practically unfounded.

When you eat less than what you consume normally you end up feeling hungry. In this scenario there are only 2 types of people and 2 types of responses:

1. Most people will quit the diet and binge as a result of their self-imposed starvation. This makes matters worse than before.

2. More determined fellas will stick to the plan and go down with the sinking ship. This is most dangerous as they are set to develop nasty health issues when they persist on their lost cause.

So the question is what should you do?

You can eat less, but you have to make yourself feel as full as you do normally, at least for the initial stage of your diet.

How do you achieve that?

Try cutting out some of the refined carbs in your diet, especially floury goodies like pasta and pastries. Instead, replace these starchy foods with fruits and vegetables, for the latter is chock-full of fibre that will help fill you up without putting those unwanted pounds on your midsection.

Fruits and vegetables are also brimming with all kinds of vitamins and antioxidants that make them a huge plus for your health. Eating them with lean meat and wholegrain foods like brown rice and oats will ensure you get a well-balanced diet even as you start shedding the inches from your waistline.

Eating several small meals a day rather than 3 big ones (i.e. breakfast, lunch and dinner) can also help to reduce hunger pangs and make your diet more effective. Overeating during mealtime can cause a spike in blood sugar levels and insulin surges that are part of a biological chain reaction which results in the storage of fats.

Although dieting alone can help you lose weight by regulating the fat storage process, it is most effective when coupled with a properly-structured exercise regime. You can refer to the training section in our blog for ideas on workouts that can help you achieve your weight loss goals.

So if you are looking to lose those spare tyres and love handles, get dieting and start training. You won’t feel good at first, but that’s just because your body takes time to adjust to any new routine. In time to come you’ll start feeling alot lighter and healthier, and well-balanced meals and regular exercise will become second nature to you.  

Train hard, eat right and the ideal you will be only a matter of months away!

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

The Protein Myth

Those of us into strength- and muscle-building have all heard it: you need one gramme of protein per pound of bodyweight to gain any significant increase in your muscle mass. While I am not a scientist and cannot go into the biochemical analysis of that assertion, I believe I can offer a few inputs, based on personal experience.

I was a skinny dude all the way up to secondary school, your average lanky teenager with long limbs and a underdeveloped torso. I bought into all those gimmicks about needing to up my protein intake, and started eating a full chicken during some meals. I worked out hard as well, but did not put on much noticeable muscle.

It wasn’t until I was exposed to several more scientific facts pertaining to the phenomenon of protein uptake and synthesis that I changed my diet and training approach radically. Gone were the disgusting overdosage of eggs and meat, and the eat more = grow bigger mentality.

I read somewhere that the human body can only synthesise and utilise protein with a certain baseline level of carbohydrates, something which I overlooked with my (sometimes) pure-meat diet. So that means you need a certain amount of carb intake to facilitate the body’s process of making and using protein for growth. For those of you out there eating purely meat for your meals, it’s time to re-think that particular strategy.

Also, more does not necessarily equals, well, more. You could be shoving eleven egg whites down your throat, but you won’t be getting eleven egg whites’ worth of protein if your body doesn’t digest them properly. Invariably unnatural dieting will screw with your digestion, and you may find yourself pooping out much more than you’re actually, really getting.

And then there’s the great debate on supplements like protein powders. Well I can’t comment specifically, having never been a user of artificial supplements, so all I can offer you are some food for thought:

1. I have seen many people on high doses of protein who don’t gain strength and muscle as fast as all-natural guys like me, and trust me, I’m a hard gainer.    

2. I have heard from my friends who are on high doses of protein that it is heaty, and gives you pimples and constipation (the vain and the potty-fearing listen up).

3. Personally I distrust the magic powder, cos I can’t see how they make it.

Wait, stop, don’t write me off as being hopelessly-prejudiced just yet. I’ve got a few more points on the flipside for ya:

4. Die-hard naturals claim that these stuff are artificial and fake at best, and synthetic and health-damaging at worst. Well, I’m sure we’ve all consumed Milo powder and coffee powder and milk powder and a dozen other forms of powdered food in our lifetimes, and we can’t know for sure how these things are being made either, or whether they’re as good and as nutritious as they’re being made out to be.

5. If protein shakes work for you, it definitely is an appealing alternative to shoving eleven egg whites down your throat in one sitting as they are more concentrated in protein content and given their powdered form, should be easier on the uptake.

6. I have also seen guys who get freakishly big AND strong on a mixture of supplements and gym workouts.

No conclusions on this one folks, I guess there are always some things that we got to figure out on our own. As long as you keep your health in mind, have a discerning attitude towards stuff and stick with what works, you can’t go too far wrong, magic powder or not.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~