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    Healthy Living

    Is a Vegan Lifestyle Right For Me?

    Is a Vegan Lifestyle Right For Me?

    From grocery stores to restaurants, you may have noticed “vegan” is a trendy phrase seemingly popping up everywhere recently.

    According to the International Food and Restaurant consulting group Baum + Whiteman, Google saw a 90 percent increase in vegan searches this past year.


    Plus, that group says plant-based dining is the number one hottest restaurant trend of 2018.

    Regardless of your personal interest in plant-based eating, there is no denying it appears companies are taking steps to attract meatless consumers.  

    Several years ago, Unilever tried to sue Hampton Creek, alleging the company’s “Just Mayo” was mislabeled because it does not contain eggs.  Unilever argued mayonnaise should have eggs as an active ingredient. And while Unilever eventually dropped the lawsuit, it decided to enter the plant-based market by coming out with its own egg-free spread.

    We have established corporations investing in smaller plant-based manufacturers. For example, Nestle acquired Sweet Earth Foods, a move that makes Nestle a contender in the meatless protein game.

    It may come as no surprise that the fitness industry is also apparently turning its attention to meat alternatives in an effort to keep up with the growing popularity of veganism.

    Perhaps you have considered a plant-based diet yourself but you aren’t sure where to start.  Or, you have brought up the idea only to be met with resistance from trusted allies in the fitness community.  If so, you’re not alone.

    When I initially contacted high profile coaches to help me prep for my very first competition, some flat out refused to work with me because I am vegan.  I was told I would not be able to step on stage without consuming animal protein. I was told I wouldn’t be competitive. A few coaches never even responded to my messages.

    Marginalized by the fitness industry, I was starting to second guess if I could make it as a natural and vegan competitor.  However, having overcome many obstacles in life, I knew “no” was never the final answer. I refused to accept defeat before I even started my competition journey.

    Long before competing was even on my radar, I followed a “high protein/low carb” diet.  And while I lost weight, the pounds quickly came back as soon as I began eating “carbs” again.  Plus, large amounts of animal protein left me feeling sluggish.

    My reasons for going vegan were initially rooted in health.  After a 2013 surgery, I researched the connection between health and food.  I soon transitioned to veganism and never looked back.

    Plant-based eating has come a long way in the last five years.  Still, it can be confusing navigating the sea of vegan information.  I suggest starting with one meatless day a week and going from there.  

    You definitely do not have to sacrifice size for a plant-based diet.  Thankfully, you have more choices than ever before. Companies like Icon Meals offer vegan options that take the guesswork out of the equation by making sure you meet your protein macros.

    I personally follow macro based nutrition and I have no issues hitting my daily protein goals.

    In a world where tilapia and chicken breasts are king and queen, could tofu and tempeh topple these bodybuilding staples from their throne of tradition?  Only time will tell. But until then, you have plenty of meat-free options to help you reach your fitness aspirations.

    Amy is an OCB Masters Bikini pro.  You can follow her on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/aszutowicz/


    Recovery: An Essential Part of the Growth Equation

    Recovery: An Essential Part of the Growth Equation

    Story by Mike O’Hearn
    Written by Asha Belisle, CSCS, BPE, CEP

    People always talk about how hard they go in the gym. They push so hard and so fast and it’s so intense. Don’t get me wrong - I love the warrior mentality. That’s how I’ve lived for the past four decades. But if you are 100% intent on only getting better and training smarter, then you have to put just as much effort into the recovery as you do the work.

    I train like a warrior. I’m very intense. But I’ve spent my entire life learning my body, and I know how to correct whatever needs to be corrected in order to fix myself. I train like a savage, yes, but I know how critical it is to pull back sometimes. After 12 weeks of getting ready for anything – photo shoot, guest posing - I drop back to 60%, starting over with foundation work. I’ve done this my whole career.

    Here’s the thing: You can only train as hard, as well as you can recover. It’s that simple. If you’re not recovering properly – and enough – you’ll do harm before you’ll see any progress. If you’re training so hard that you can hardly move the next day or two, you’re defeating the purpose. Training and tearing down the muscle is only 25% of the equation. Proper recovery nutrition and rest make up the other 75%.

    There are five things that are essential to full recovery:

    1. Sleep

    I recommend aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Life is hectic. We need this time. I know it’s hard and I know you’re busy, but try your best. If your goal is to get a better body, or to compete, or simply to get active to get in better shape, then sleep is KEY.

    2. Proper Nutrition

    It’s all about taking in the right number – and type – of calories for the level of intensity at which you’re training. Everyone is different and responds differently to macronutrients but the bottom line is this: feed your body what it needs to do what you’re asking it to do.

    3. Massage / Stretching

    Flexibility is what has kept me injury-free over the last 40 years. Regular massage and stretching is very important, especially as we age. As we get older our bodies want to tighten up, which puts us at a higher risk of injury. Contracting the muscles is half the process. Make sure that you take the time to stretch and relax daily.

    4. Supplementation

    This could be an article of its own. But there are five supplements that I never go without because they are essential to recovery:

    • Glutamine
    • BCAAs
    • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin B complex
    • Vitamin D3

    5. Mental recovery

    This is so often overlooked. It’s great to be focused and driven and to have heightened mental awareness when you’re in the gym. But your mind also needs to rest. You need to complete the whole process: train hard – physical recovery – mental recovery – repeat. Only then will you optimally succeed. Think about your workout: what you were happy with, what you’d change next time. Give yourself a mental pat on the back. Then put it out of your mind until it’s time to hit the weights again. Over-obsessing is like overtraining – it will stifle your results.

    We are all only human. We need to back off sometimes. I recommend setting up your training in twelve- week periods. Go hard for that 12 weeks. Push hard. Then back off for the next four weeks. Pull back to about 60% intensity. Have fun. Take a couple extra minutes of rest to chat with your training partner. Goof around. Enjoy the decreased workload. But when that four weeks is up, it’s time to turn it on again for the next 12 weeks. You CAN’T go hard 100% of the time. And you shouldn’t. Look at NFL players. Sure, they train hard and play hard all season, but they take an offseason. Because they need it. And so do you.

    If you train like this, you will keep progressing. You can do this forever. And taking that four-week break will increase your motivation and your passion to train, which will push you even harder.

    So, train hard, warriors; but remember to recover just as hard. I want you to succeed and be healthy not only in the gym when you’re young, but in life – for the long haul.

    Freedom Through Fasting

    Freedom Through Fasting

    Do you get tired of tracking every morsel of food and feeling like you do nothing but obsess about when your next meal is coming? Being a slave to eating around the clock gets tedious and nowadays doesn’t make sense for our busy lives. Contrary to belief, but is it possible to have the dream physique you want without the 2-3 hour feeding schedule? 


    Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a protocol of eating that offers a solution to the above problems. You can ditch the phone reminders and consume all of your calories and macros within a window of time and make incredible progress. This lifestyle is most popular for people who have time demanding schedules and don’t have the luxury to pull out a Tupperware of food every couple of hours.

    Benefits & Basics

    The basics of how IF works and the benefits it can have for an athlete or for someone who is looking to lose weight goes as follows:

    1. While in a fasted state, insulin levels drop, which increases the bodies fat burning abilities.
    2. Human Growth Hormone increases, which promotes muscle gain.
    3. Decreases appetite while boosting the metabolism. 

    It can also reduce overall inflammation, promote cellular repair, aid in disease prevention, and may help you live a longer life. In addition to the physiological benefits, IF is easy to follow, can be used anywhere you go and is also a lifestyle that can be used for the long run.

    IF offers a few different feeding windows that you can choose from that makes sense for your schedule.

    Fasting Windows:


    16 Hours Fasted: 8 Hours Feasting. This is the most popular window used in IF. It can be a struggle to consume a large amount of calories in a shorter window of time and this method offers you more time to eat and less time to fast. This specific feeding window is the one I personally implement in my own day to day life. I try to consume 4 larger meals during the feasting phase.

    A typical day for me looks like this:

    (Fast all night.)

    9am Pre-Workout Drink

    10-11: 30am Gym (Resistance Training)

    12-8:00pm Feeding Window Starts

    Post workout, I will begin by breaking my fast with my REAAL BCAA’s and immediately have a protein packed lunch. Throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening, I will consume about three-four more meals before bed, with an additional cardio session.

    Within the eight hours, I will consume all of the calories and macros I need. I don’t track my food, but I am conscious to make sure I get the required amount of protein my body needs, in addition to fat and carbs.

    8:00 PM Eating window ends, fast begins again.

    Other Eating Windows for 16:8 could look like this:

    Eating Window: 10:00 AM-6 PM
    Eating Window: 11:00 AM-7 PM


    20 Hours Fasted: 4 Hours Feasting. This type of fasting will typically be one or two very large meals.

    Eating Window: 12:00 PM-4:00 PM
    Eating Window: 5:00 PM-9:00 PM

    24 Hours

    24 Hour Fast: No calories will be consumed during a 24 hour period and regular calorie consumption will resume the following day.

    This doesn’t mean that you have to fast an entire “day”. You can set your fasting window to be from 7:00PM-7:00PM. So you could have a dinner right before the fast starts at 7:00PM and then have dinner the follow night after 7:00PM when the 24 hour period is over. This type of fasting would be done only a couple times a week.


    2 Day Fast: This type of fasting is where you would consume 500 calories for two days. This could be in one meal or spread out with little snacks throughout the day. You would then resume regular eating the other 5 days a week.

    You would choose two fast days for the week.

    Fast Days: Monday/Thursday, Sunday/Wednesday

    During your fast:

    With whatever fasting window you choose, during your fast you can consume water, black coffee, sparkling water, or tea. It is advised to try and avoid artificially sweetened beverages if you can handle it.

    Breaking your fast:

    Research has shown that breaking your fast with a high protein meal is more beneficial than a carb-packed meal. Opt for a protein shake, omelet, or typical chicken meal. Skip the oats and fruit for this first meal.

    The benefits of IF are undeniable. Although it does take a bit of discipline to refrain from eating during the fasting window, the freedom is worth it! Decide which one fasting window works best for you and your schedule, follow through with the protocol, and then watch it do its magic.

    [Guest Post by Team ICON Member Brandan Fokken. @brandanfokken]

    The Science Behind the Ketogenic Diet

    The Science Behind the Ketogenic Diet

    The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat diet which puts the body into a state known as ketosis: a metabolic shift in which the body is burning fats rather than carbohydrates as its primary source of fuel. This is a pretty simple definition, but in order to fully understand how the ketogenic diet works and its benefits, it is important to have a grasp on exactly how the body uses energy in the first place:


    Normally, when carbohydrates are consumed in the diet, they are converted to glucose and insulin.

    • Glucose is the simplest form of sugar, meaning that it is easy for your body to convert and use as energy. This is why glucose is the body’s preferred source of energy.
    • Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas to process the glucose in your blood steam by transporting it around the body to where it is needed. When energy levels are sufficient, insulin will convert glucose to adipose tissue (fat) for later use.


    With the average high-carbohydrate diet, glucose is the main energy source because there is an abundance of it. However, the body can only store a limited amount of glucose—only enough to last for a couple of days. Therefore, if we forgo eating carbohydrates for a few days, our body relies on other means for energy through a biochemical process known as ketogenesis.


    In ketogenesis, the liver begins to break down fat as a usable energy source instead of carbohydrates. Ketones or ketone bodies are produced as an alternative energy source to glucose. Once ketogenesis kicks in and ketone levels are elevated, the body is in ketosis.


    How to Enter Ketosis


    There are a few ways to body can enter ketosis. One is by fasting: when you stop eating altogether for an extended period of time, the body will ramp up fat burning for fuel and decrease its use of glucose. Another way to get into ketosis is by eating less than 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day (it will vary per individual). Therefore, people on a ketogenic diet get only about 5% of their calories from carbohydrates.


    Steps to enter ketosis:

    1. Cut down on carbs (less than 5% of calorie intake).
    2. Increase your consumption of (up to 80% of calorie intake).
    3. Without glucose being used for energy, your body is now forces to burn fat and produce ketones instead.
    4. Once the blood levels of Ketones rise to a certain point, you officially enter into ketosis.
    5. This state results in consistent, fairly quick weight loss until your body reaches a health and stable weight.


    Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet


    Unlike many fad-diets that come and go, the ketogenic diet has been practiced for more than nine decades (since the 1920s) and is based upon a solid understanding of physiology and nutrition science. This diet works well for so many people because it targets several key, underlying causes of weight gain—including hormonal imbalances, elevated insulin and high blood sugar levels. A ketogenic diet has even shown to offer therapeutic benefits for several brain disorders.


    1. Weight loss


    A diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates, such as the ketogenic diet, helps to diminish hunger and boost weight loss through hormonal effects. When we eat foods that supply us with carbohydrates, we release insulin. But with lower levels of insulin, the body is less likely to store extra energy in the form of fat and instead able to use existing fat stores for energy. A diet high in healthy fats and protein is also much more filling, which can help curb appetite and reduce the overconsumption of empty calories, such as sweets and junk food.


    1. Cholesterol and Blood Pressure


    A ketogenic diet has shown to improve triglyceride and cholesterol levels most associated with arterial buildup. More specifically low-carb, high-fat diets show a dramatic increase in high density lipoprotein (HDL) and decrease low density lipoprotein (LDL) particle counts as compared to traditional low-fat diets. Many studies also show better improvement in blood pressure. High blood pressure issues are often associated with excess weight, which is a bonus because the ketogenic diet tends to lead to weight loss as well.


    1. Controls Blood Sugar


    A ketogenic diet also helps with lowering blood sugar levels by controlling the release of insulin. This can help reverse problems such as insulin resistance or pre-diabetes. Studies have shown ketogenic diet to reduce HbA1c levels—a long term measure of blood glucose control (1). Therefore, because this diet works so well at reducing blood sugar levels, it also has the additional benefit of helping people with type 2 diabetes to reduce their dependence on diabetes medication, however, it is important to speak with your doctor prior to starting a ketogenic diet or adjusting any medications.


    1. Fights Neurological Disorders


    Over the past century, ketogenic diets have been used to treat and even help reverse neurological disorders and cognitive impairments, including epilepsy. Research shows that cutting off glucose levels with a very low-carb diet makes your body produce ketones for fuel. This change can help to reverse neurological disorders and cognitive impairment. The brain is able to use this alternative source of energy instead of the cellular energy pathways that aren’t functioning normally in patients with brain disorders. In a study of children who suffer from epilepsy, over half had a greater than 50% reduction in seizures when eating a ketogenic diet, while 16% even became seizure free (2). The benefits of a ketogenic diet are now even being studied for other brain disorders, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease (3). 


    So, what can I eat on a ketogenic diet?

    A keto meal should contain high amounts of healthy fats, such as olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter or ghee, palm oil, avocado, tree nuts, seeds, and fatty cuts of wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef or bison, and free range poultry. Fats are a critical part of every ketogenic diet because fat is what is providing energy for your body and preventing hunger, weakness, and fatigue. Keto meals also need a good amount of non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, leafy greens, asparagus, cucumber, zucchini, and other cruciferous vegetables.


    The types of food you will want to avoid when eating a ketogenic diet include items like fruit, processed foods or drinks high in sugar, those made with any grains of white/wheat flour, conventional dairy products.


    For a more detailed list of foods: Click here to download my KETO FOOD LIST.




    Cardio Around an Injury

    Cardio Around an Injury
    It happens to everyone at least once, if not several times. You train hard pushing your body to the limit, and those little aches/pains you felt after training persist. You know what I’m talking about. That tendinitis in your elbows, lower back pain, neck stiffness, knee pains, shoulder aches, etc. If you want gains you’ve got to push through the pain, right? Not exactly, you don’t want to make the injury worse by continuing training like normal, so it may be smarter to take some time off. But if you’re like me, you don’t want to lose any time at the gym from a minor injury. We put together some short workouts for some of the most common aches and pain areas to help get back to 100% and not miss a beat.

    Read more