Monday, January 13, 2014

Understanding Nutrition Labels Part 1

Knowledge is power and knowledge is gained through education.  While working with college athletes every day, we all understand the value of an education.  They come to us with little time, little patience, and little interest in devoting any extra time to areas besides athletics and academics.  Therefore, as coaches we must choose wisely when we educate on areas like nutrition.  Knowing time is limited, and also knowing there is no quick fix or easy answer to areas as complex as nutrition, I do my best to answer simply and concisely while leaving opportunities to learn more.  In doing so, I provide my athletes with guidelines and principles to lead a better lifestyle rather than impose strict rulings on what they can and cannot eat. 

One of the first areas I focus on is food labels and becoming more comfortable with reading what is inside their favorite foods.  Products such as cereals, nuts, juices, or basically anything found in the middle section of the grocery store has a nutrition facts label.  The first area I want them to look at is serving size.  They should understand what a serving actually looks like, how many servings are in each package, and exactly how many calories are in a serving size.  Because serving sizes are described using terms such as cups, grams, etc., I do my best to illustrate what a cup, a 1/2 cup, a TSP, etc. looks like in relation to objects they would recognize.  For example a cup is roughly the size of a fist or a tennis ball, and a teaspoon is the size of a postage stamp.  With using analogies athletes can understand, it helps them to understand how many servings they are actually consuming.  Listed below are a few examples to illustrate serving sizes.

½ cup of fruit juice = size of a 4 oz.  Juice box
1 cup = size of baseball
½ cup = size of computer mouse
1 TBSP = size of 9-volt battery
3 oz. = size of a deck of cards
1 tsp. = 1 die

“Serving size” is the standard portion size for the food. Calories and nutrients are listed for one serving, so comparing across brands is made easier.  “Servings per container” is the number of servings in the entire package. Even if the package appears to be a single serving, it may contain two or three. A little math will inform athletes about what they are getting in more than one serving, which may be necessary to meet energy requirements. 

Understanding the total amount of calories needed for each athlete is beyond the scope of this article.  However, what is important is simply becoming aware of how much and what kinds of foods they are putting in their body.  Because most of pre-packaged foods are carbohydrate in nature, we discuss the better types of carbohydrates they should be ingesting and how it can play an important part in their training and performing.  For instance, choosing whole grain products (i.e. cereals, granola bars, breads) such as whole rye or whole wheat will fuel their bodies longer and provide greater amounts of energy and fiber throughout the day.  The only time I tell my athletes to stay away from complex carbohydrates is right before or during exercise to avoid gastrointestinal issues.  Also, I educate my female athletes on the importance of iron in their daily nutrition and tell them to select grains with 10% or more of their Daily Value for iron.

Simply understanding serving sizes, portions, and total calories within foods starts the process of making athletes aware.  With awareness comes change and understanding.  Therefore this becomes an ongoing process of educating and learning rather than dictating and regurgitating.  I want these athletes to truly know and understand what it is they are putting in their body just like they know how to squat or hang clean.  In the next instalment of this series, we will look further down the nutrition label at Total Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, Carbohydrate, and Protein and discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of each.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Let's Go Primal!

Let’s Go Primal!

            We as a society are doing less for our health and talking about it more.  There is a lot of irony to this dilemma when it is an easy fix.  Get out and be active every day, more specifically do it barefoot.  I remember when it was a standard for a kid to run around outside all day long in your shorts without a shirt and no shoes.  Heck my dad used to always tell me tough feet made you a man, so I never wore shoes as a kid when I played outside.  Even though my father had no idea why you had to be barefoot there was a lot of sense to that statement.  As a coach I have really taken that barefoot approach to my athletes and researched the overall benefits of it.  I require all of my athletes to participate in some sort of barefoot activity at least once a week.  The different activities can include warming up, conditioning, or lifting weights (Yes you have to be aware of your environment then, because of the risk).  I feel that this topic should be brought to the attention of the performance field.
            Once you take a step and your bare foot makes contact with the ground there are kinetic chains in the body that active all the way from the foot to the head.  Every muscle in the body is contracted and forced to stabilize and balance at a higher rate.  This allows for the calf muscles and Achilles to endure the right amount of stress to adapt and become stronger and endure more stress.  Being barefoot allows your body’s natural gait to develop and allows all of the body’s major joints to adapt naturally and accordingly.  Back and pelvis issues are developed from everything in our everyday life not permitting us to naturally adapt.  This occurs from sitting all day and not wearing proper attire to do basic actions.  Once you take out the direct contact to the ground with socks and shoes there is a crutch of support that is created.  Then weaknesses in the body’s kinetic chain are created and you as an individual are susceptible to injuries.  I’m not knocking shoes, but let’s face it, if you don’t custom fit your shoes to the type of action you need them for all they will do is provide you basic foot protection. 
            So how do you approach this whole barefoot running thing and map out a program for it?  I would recommend first choose a running surface that is clear of debris and an even ground.  Then I would try to minimize the amount of change of direction you must do during your bout of exercise.  To start your barefoot program would begin my first bout with walking, then move to a jog the next bout, and finish with sprinting.  You could also start your warm up barefoot and then progress to your workout.  The positives of warming up barefoot is that there is more proprioception in the feet with bare foot strikes and better activation throughout the body, which means better balance and awareness before activity.  Whatever you choose understand it is a process and don’t be in a rush. 
            So forget about investing in the Fiver finger shoe crap and just go barefoot!  You will see a difference in your everyday living, as you back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet all become stronger and you feel better.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Recovery For In-season Athletes

Recovery for in-season athletes is often times the most overlooked aspect of training due to the time constraints that exist and how coaches want to take advantage of each second the NCAA has allotted them. Due to the nature of collegiate athletics, and now even high school athletics, the aspects of recovery have taken an even larger role in maintaining athletic performance for individuals as well as teams. Think about the average day for a collegiate athlete; Class, Study Hall, Weight Training, Treatment, Practice, Position Meetings and then include; Individual Film, Nutrition, Social Life, Rest/Sleep, Travel and Games.
The question seems to be, “How can it be fit in?”, rather than,” Where can we fit it in?” When trying to implement recovery with this type of schedule it can seem like a very daunting task, however, it can and should be done. The aspects that I feel need to be emphasized the most are; Nutrition, Rest/Sleep, Active Recovery.

Nutrition-With in-season athletes nutrition is one of the biggest factors that needs to be addressed because of the caloric expenditure they have on a daily basis. How many times have you ever asked an athlete how often or even how much they eat? I ask athletes this on almost a daily basis and usually get the same answer, “I eat all the time coach or I eat a ton of food.” The problem with this is that they don’t understand how much they are burning everyday and relatively how little they are actually putting into their bodies. After they understand this, then you can address the issue of what they are eating and how it will either positively/negatively affect their performance. Are they getting enough lean protein, whole grains, good fats and vegetables everyday?

Rest/Sleep-I remember when I was performing an internship at IPI and having one of the full-time coaches, Joshua Aycock, talk about rest/sleep. What has really stuck with me when he talked to us about the importance of sleep is how you should “invest in it.” I thought this was pretty strange until he explained what it meant and I’ve used the same line ever since. To paraphrase the conversation, ”Look at how much you sleep everyday, it’s usually between 6-8 hours. Right? Then why don’t you have the best bed you can get in order to make sure that you can sleep better?” Although having a good bed is a problem, most athletes aren’t getting enough quality sleep everyday due to any number of reasons; travel, watching TV, playing video games, loud roommates, writing papers, social life…… This becomes an even larger issue when teams are traveling during the week to play away contests and needs to be addressed when planning trips.

Active Recovery-Just getting out and performing some sort of activity will help the body start to recover after it has been broken down to do stress, however this doesn’t mean that you need to increase the intensity/duration of practices. The type of activity that is being addressed here can be as simple as riding a stationary bike or elliptical for 20 min., a foam roll session, stretching, contrasting hot/cold tub or even performing an active warm-up. These activities are all very low impact, provide almost no stress to the CNS and most importantly they raise the body’s core temperature as well as increase blood flow, oxygen and nutrient levels throughout the body. All of this allows the body to become more efficient at “flushing” metabolic waste and replenishing the muscles with the nutrients that it needs in order to more completely recover and be ready to perform.

The aspect of recovery has been a long know factor to help increase athletic performance for individuals as well as teams, yet it is often one of the most overlooked. This could be do to the various and constantly changing factors that encompass recovery, a lack of understanding or willingness to implement the methods. Regardless of the excuses of how or why it can’t be done, if not addressed somehow, the negative aspects of athletic performance will out weigh them all.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Basic Programming Considerations

When I sit down to write a cycle for one of my sports, I tend to go through a checklist of things to cover, in order to make sure I am following sound principles in programming. The first thing I do is a "needs analysis." This ensure I am targeting the weaknesses of the athletes, or at least making sure I have a purpose for this cycle. This may range anywhere from simply a focus on power development to emphasizing landing technique and deceleration mechanics.

Using this information, I determine my periodization model. If the emphasis is power, I like to use a modified concurrent model. If it is strength, I use the conjugate method. If the focus is general strength and work capacity, I use an undulating periodization model. For the purposes of this article, I will use the modified concurrent method with a power emphasis. This means that I will be training multiple attributes throughout the cycle, but the volume of each will dictate the focus. If power is my focus, I will be training that attribute on the first day of training and with the highest volume. This will ensure the program will elicit the desired response through proper stimuli and preparation. Because this is the first day of the training week, I know the athletes have had proper rest and recovery. For example, if the first training day is Monday, I know they have had Saturday and Sunday to recover. I will be training three days per week; Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Now it is time to write the template. Because power is my focus, I will train that Monday for the reasons described above. I will train strength on Wednesday. I do this because my other attribute to train is volume/work capacity, and fatiguing the musculature and exhausting the Central Nervous System (CNS) on Wednesday, would not allow for proper recovery of either system by Friday. I will train volume/work capacity on Friday because I know they will have the weekend for total recovery.

I will not go into great detail about exercise selection, and let you decide what you think best addresses your needs, but I will share my thought progression. If my focus is power on Monday, I will do an explosive movement such as a hang clean. Then I will follow through with related exercises that will help increase my power and that lift itself; ie. RDL's, power shrugs, upright rows, front squats, etc. Wednesday is a strength focus and I will squat heavy. Friday is work capacity, so I will do a field workout using non-traditional strength training techniques, such as strongman events.

General principles I use for programming are a thorough warm-up prior to the weight room session, followed by some very dynamic movement, such as sprints, agilities, or medicine ball throws. This simply primes the CNS and the related motor units. As far as the weight workout itself, I use the following guidelines:
  • Dynamic work before Max Effort work
  • Max Effort before Strength Effort
  • Strength Effort before Repetition Effort
  • Multi-Joint exercises before Single-Joint Exercises
  • Lower Body exercises before Upper Body exercises (unless it is a superset or circuit)
Now that the template is written, it is time to fill in sets and reps. I use the Prilepin Chart for this. If I know my best power output is going to be in the 60 to 70% range, then that is the percentage I will use to stimulate the proper energy system, reinforce proper mechanics, and ensure I get the desired response. Because power is my focus, I will use a high volume scheme as dictated by the Prilepin Chart. At 60%, high volume is listed as 30 reps. You don't have to be perfectly at 30 reps to elicit the response, but get close. The optimal volume for that percentage is 24 so just don't get that low. If you do 28 total reps (7x4) that is perfectly fine. I will use 10x3. Wednesday is a strength focus and I am squatting. For me to get a strength response I need to use a percentage at 85% or above. But because it is not my focus and I want to simply maintain that quality that I trained earlier in the off-season, I will use a low volume scheme. At 85% the volume is listed at 10, so I will do 5x2. I will follow this line of thought until every exercise is completed for every week of the cycle. I tend to go up 5% each week with a download week every fourth week for my less trained sports or high school athletes.

Additional thoughts: You can stay with the same focus for multiple cycles but I don't like to program too far in advance to make sure I am always analyzing needs of the athletes. As a strength coach, you must learn to adapt and love it because it will happen a lot. If you program too far out, something is bound to come up and you will have to scrap 90% of the program you did. I like to superset my core exercises with ballistic or plyometric application of the trained attribute such as dynamic effort med ball punches with bench, box jumps with squat or depth jumps with cleans. With my strength effort and repetition effort lifts, I like to pair those in an upper body/lower body fashion. More specifically, I like to do push and pulls in relation to those exercises. For example a lower body push with an upper body pull like single leg squats with pull ups, or a lower body pull with an upper body push like RDLs with overhead press. This makes sure the musculature involved with one exercise is resting while the opposite exercise is being performed but the energy systems are still at work. It increases work capacity gradually through conditioning the energy system and just makes efficient use of time. If you have any questions just email me at with the subject "The Jag Power Way."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The following is a research proposal for a study that I am currently working on. I am still in the process of surveying individuals and gathering data. I plan to update the findings and information in the following months...

Awareness of Nutritional Portion Size Among Adults


Justin Nguyen

University of South Alabama


Spring 2012


When it comes to meal portion sizes, many studies have shown that individuals take in more energy (kcals) than necessary; often without even knowing (Wansink & Ittersum, 2007); (Ello-Martin, Ledikwe & Rolls , 2005). It is important for individuals to understand what amount of food they should be consuming, as overeating can lead to a host of diseases and health related issues as well as general reduced quality of life (Diliberti, Bordi, Conklin, Roe & Rolls, 2004). Furthermore, once the individual knows how many calories he or she should be taking in, it is then important that he or she also grasps proper portion sizing of the various food groups. This allows the individual to have detailed knowledge of not only general caloric recommendations, but what type/qualities of the fuels they consume. There are currently few studies that look into the awareness of recommended food group portion sizing.

The importance behind such a study is that the current problem of obesity in the U.S. is overeating. However, some researchers have found that adults and children do not meet food group portion recommendations. Essentially, people aren’t eating enough of the right things, yet are still taking in too much energy (kcals) (Venter, 2008); (Brady, Lindquist, Herd & Goran , 2000). Through this study, the researcher aims to find the awareness levels of recommended food group portions among normal adults. This information can help further nutrition education endeavours and lead researchers to better understand deficiencies or excesses among the normal adult population.

Literature Review

As previously mentioned, much of the current research focuses around studying energy intake and overeating. Though this is important, as a majority of the U.S. population is currently obese, the next logical and more detailed step is to study “what” individuals consume (Ello-Martin, Ledikwe & Rolls , 2005). There are a few studies that have researched this area. A study originally performed for the Healthy People 2000 objective found that only 24% of American adults were meeting the daily recommended servings of fruits and only 12% were meeting the recommended vegetable intakes (Krebs-Smith, Cook, Subar, Cleveland & Friday , 1995). A similar study interviewed avid health-food store and supplement users. These individuals were considered more educated on the recommended nutritional intakes. However, though 92% of the individuals understood the recommended portion of fruits that should be consumed, only 62% actually met that standard. Likewise, 47.3% had an understanding of how much vegetables they should be consuming, and yet only 12% were meeting that standard.

On the issue of obesity, Krebs-Smith and Ello-Martin (1995/2005) found that though individuals are overeating and are obese, they still fall short in the various nutritional portion recommendations. The study determined that it is most likely due to the individuals taking in more dairy and fats than vegetables and fruits. The researchers postulated that replacing those foods with lower energy vegetables and fruits can allow the individuals to eat just as much with much less energy intake (Krebs-Smith, Cook, Subar, Cleveland & Friday , 1995); (Ello-Martin, Ledikwe & Rolls , 2005).

Further, it was mentioned that there is a general lack of studies involving adult’s understanding and intake of proper nutritional portion sizes, however, there are a decent amount of studies that look into adolescents and children’s status. One such study found that only marginal percentages of adolescents and children were meeting all of the recommended food group’s portions (Brady, Lindquist, Herd, & Goran, 2000). Of the various food groups, the study found that the area that was highest met was the grains and fats and sugars areas (all of which are the high energy foods). Interestingly, the same study found that, among white children, a higher percentage met the dairy portion recommendations while a greater percentage of black children met the fruits recommendations (Brady, Lindquist, Herd, & Goran, 2000). However, both groups still feel short in every other category including the ones just stated.


Information will be gathered by way of a questionnaire survey. The survey will consist of age and demographic questions followed by questions about nutritional portion sizes. The projected sample size will be 75 adult individuals. The bulk of the sample group demographic will mainly consist of middle class college aged athletes and students, as well as some middle aged college sport coaches. Data will be compiled and examined using SPSS.


The results are expected to show that a greater percentage of adults do not understand enough about the proper nutritional portion sizes. If any of the food groups are met at all, this researcher hypothesizes that it will be the vegetable and fruits sections. This hypothesis is based on relevant literature that has found large percentages of adults to understand the amounts of vegetables needed though they may not consume that amount.


This study will further the nutritional education field by sheading additional light on the general adult population’s grasp of what and how much they should be consuming. This information can then be used educate the population more effectively. With a properly educated population, obesity by can be reduced; as individuals better understand the things that go into their bodies. Further, by reducing obesity, disease also is reduced while general quality of life and health increase.


Venter, B. M. (2008). Use of dietary supplements. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 21(4), 323-330. Retrieved from

Munoz, K. A., Krebs-Smith, S. M., Ballard-Barbash, R., & Cleveland, L. E. (1997). Food intakes of us children and adolescents compared with recommendations.Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 100(3), 323-329.

Wansink, B., & Ittersum, K. V. (2007). Portion size me: Downsizing our consumption norms. Journal of the American Dietetic Association , 1-4.

Brady, L. M., Lindquist, C. H., Herd, S. L., & Goran , M. I. (2000). Comparison of children's dietary intake patterns with us dietary guidelines. British Journal of Nutrition , (84), 361-367.

Ello-Martin, J. A., Ledikwe, J. H., & Rolls , B. J. (2005). The influence of food portion size and energy density on energy intake: implications for weight management. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 84(1), 236-241. Retrieved from

Diliberti, N., Bordi, P. L., Conklin, M. T., Roe, L. S., & Rolls, B. J. (2004). Increased portion size leads to increased energy intake in a restaurant meal.Obesity Research, 12(3), 562-568. Retrieved from

Krebs-Smith, S. M., Cook, A., Subar, A. F., Cleveland, L., & Friday , J. (1995). Us adults' fruit and vegetable intakes, 1989 to 1991: a revised baseline for the healthy people 2000 objective. American Journal of Public Health, 85(12), 1623-1629. Retrieved from

Friday, November 25, 2011

What Equals a Fast Athlete, and What is "Fast"?

Thoughts from an article that I recently read…
The most commonly used bench mark and testing method for athletic speed is often the 40 yard sprint time. However, that test is not entirely specific when it comes to many athletic situations beyond actual short distance track athletes. In most situations, and with most sports, the athletes will not be called upon to perform an all-out, maximal sprint for 40 yards. Most often the athlete will need to change direction quickly, react quickly, and have a powerful and fast first step. Measuring this ability is not effectively predicted with just a 40 yard sprint time. Let’s look further into first step/reactivity and all-out speed. This discussion will be taken from a study in which 26 male rugby athletes were tested in various ways to ascertain strength and power attributes. These findings were then correlated with speed attributes.
This study used 4 different methods to assess strength and power, and used those data points to find the correlation to athletic speed. Basically, the study sought to find what attributes of an athlete equal a “fast” athlete.
The first was a series of speed tests. The tests included: First Step Speed/reactivity (5m sprint time), Acceleration (10m sprint time), and Max Speed (30m sprint time). These tests were assessed using a standard sprint timing light system.
The second test was that of maximal strength and was assessed using the 3RM back squat. The participant used a plate-loaded barbell, in the high-bar position, and performed a basic squat. Beforehand, the subject completed a basic warm up which included static stretching, and was then given as many attempts as needed to get to a maximal number; increasing in 5kg increments each time.
Thirdly, Power and Reactivity was tested utilizing 3 different jump methods. All of the jumps were performed on a Kinematic Measurement System (KMS/ Electronic contact mat). The first jump method was the Squat Jump. A bar of standard weight was placed on the test subjects back in the high-bar position while the athlete was standing on the contact mat. The subject was asked to jump as high as possible with the weight upon his back. The second jump method was the Counter Movement Jump. The subject stood on the contact mat with hands on the hips. The subject then jumped as high as possible without letting the hands leave the hips. The third jump method was the Drop Jump. The participant was asked to step off of a 40cm box onto the contact mat and explosively and quickly jump as high as possible upon landing on the mat.
The fourth and final assessment used a Biodex machine and measured the isokinetic leg strength of the participants. The procedure involved a warm up which again included static stretching. The subjects were then put through a series of assessments on the machine to determine isokinetic torque measurements of knee flexors and extensors.
Upon conclusion of the testing, the sample group was split into the 13 fastest (had fastest 5m sprint times) and 13 slowest (had slowest 5m sprint times). From this point, the numbers from the various tests were compiled and then correlated with each other to assess the causality of the faster and slower athletes.
Right off the bat it was obvious that the Biodex test had very low correlation to speed. This is largely due to the fact that the Biodex is measuring flexion and extension strength at the knee. Most of the running strength comes from the hip region.

The maximal strength test (3RM squat) did not correlate with the jump assessments or the speed assessments, however it did correlate well with the isokinetic measurements; namely, the hamstring/knee flexor strength findings (Biodex). This is not surprising because both of these tests are indicators of hamstring strength; they test the same attribute. Hence, they should correlate to a degree. But the fact that they correlate with each other serves no purpose for what we’re looking for here… It did not correlate with speed.
Ultimately it was found that the strongest correlates to sprint performance were the 3 jump tests. Therefore, they strongly correlated with all 3 of the sprint tests (5m, 10, 30m tests). It should be noted that these were the only tests that correlated with ALL the speed assessments. From start speed (5m sprint), to carrying speed (30m sprint), they had relevance.
What I found most interesting was that the 5m sprint/reactivity test was NOT a close correlate to 30m full speed times. This would indicate that start speed or “first step speed” is an athletic attribute in itself. It cannot be put in the same category as all out speed. To explain further, many people think that a quick person is one that can perform a 40 yard dash quickly. However, this is not an indicator of that athlete’s overall speed. While the athlete with absolute speed may cover 40 yards quicker, the quick stepping athlete can feasibly react to an event quicker, initiate counter-movement sooner, or out maneuver more effectively. This finding is, in my opinion, one of the most important of this study.
The author set out to show the importance of not only more specificity in speed testing, but to also show the significance of first step/reactivity speed in field and court sports (hence the use of field athletes like rugby players). The author was successful in proving that it is a standalone attribute with great significance. What’s the point? Studies of this sort can provide better insight to the field of athletic Strength and Conditioning. A fast field or court athlete does not have to be, nor should he be, trained and tested as a short distance sprinter; as is often the misconception.
(I want to clarify, however, I'm not postulating that squats or hamstring development are pointless for speed development. Remember that heavy back-squats develop the central nervervous system, and the study did find that jumps correlated well with reactivity (as they are in themselves a reactive movement). Squats can increase rate-force production by improving the efficiency of central nervous system firing. Squats can definitely increase jump strength. Though this study did not find a heavy correlation between squat strength and running speed, I do firmly believe that they serve a role in creating a faster athlete by helping the athlete build a strong central nervous system base. )

  • Cronin, J. B., & Hansen, K. T. (2005). Strength and power predictor of sports speed. Informally published manuscript, New Zealand Institute of Sport and Recreation Research, Auckland, New Zealand.