Category Archives: Diet and Lifestyle

Active Vacation

Just because you’re on vacation, doesn’t mean you should be lazy. When I visited Punta Cana, Dominican Republic last week, I spent plenty of time relaxing on the beach and lounging in the pool, but I also got plenty of exercise.

I swam in the ocean, jogged along the sand or played tennis every day I was there. I also made sure to get my reps in using anything and everything I could find!

I did back bridges in the sand, muscle-ups on the lifeguard posts and other bodyweight calisthenics whenever I saw an opportunity.

Punta Cana is a beautiful city with some amazing scenery. The sun and surf gave me inspiration to work out and the beach offered some unique challenges.

Watch the video below for more:

Getting a Tattoo

Tattoos and working out have a lot in common. Both are a means of beautifying the body, both involve mental toughness (and can help develop that mindset) and both involve putting yourself through an ordeal in order to achieve a desired outcome. They can also both become a little addictive once you get going!

I got most of my tattoos during my teens and early twenties, but recently I was once again hit with the itch for some new ink. Since I already have script writing on my wrists and neck, I decided to get similar lettering on my ankles in order to tie it all together. I chose the words “Decision” and “Action” because that’s about as succinctly as I can sum up the formula for success. You have to follow through with your plans, otherwise they are totally useless. It’s good to be reminded of that, and now I will be every day.

New Tattoos and Working Out
Since this particular tattoo was relatively small, the healing process didn’t interrupt my workout regimen. However, other pieces that I’ve gotten have required a few days off from training (which is part of the reason why I’ve slowed down with acquiring new ink). Larger tattoos and those in sensitive areas (knees, ribs, elbows, etc.) tend to require the most rest time.

I get a lot of questions about my tattoos and the tattoo process, so I decided to bring my camera along with me and get a little footage during my recent appointment with one of NYC’s top ink-slingers, Alex Sherker of East Side Ink.

Watch the video below to see how it went:

Sifting Through the Madness

Grains are heart-healthy, grains are toxic; free weights are the best way to strength train, free weights lead to injuries; red meat is an excellent source of protein, red meat will give you cancer; cardio workouts are good for your heart, chronic cardio will leave you weak and tired; red wine is good for you, drinking alcohol destroys your liver; tuna is a great source of omega-3’s, tuna causes mercury poisoning.

With so much conflicting information out there about diet and exercise, how is one to know what to believe?

Belief Systems
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all have a belief system by which we judge new information. Our foundational beliefs shape our opinions about everything we encounter in the world.

My belief system is based primarily on three things: experience, logic, and intuition.

One of my favorite Buddhist quotes says, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who has said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own experience.” I believe this to be some of the best advice ever given. There is nothing that I trust more than my own reason and firsthand experience – and there is nothing you should trust more than yours.

If something comes up that I don’t have firsthand experience with, utilizing logic becomes the best course of action. That just means I ask myself, does this make sense? If it doesn’t make sense, there may be something that I’m overlooking, or it may simply be bullshit. That’s where intuition comes in.

Experience means relying on your five senses; in a way, intuition is our sixth sense. Trusting your intuition means believing in yourself.

If I need to make a decision about something that I have no prior experience with and I can’t come to a logical conclusion, intuition is all I have left to go on, so I’ll do what my instincts tell me. If my instincts wind up being wrong, at least I’ll have some experience to go on the next time I’m presented with similar circumstances.

Question Everything!
There are countless “experts” out there who claim that their method is the best or the only way to achieve success. The more sure someone seems of their beliefs, the more I’m inclined to question them. I always try to challenge my own closest held beliefs as well – that’s actually how I came to my decision to stop taking exercise supplements.

Whenever someone is trying to sell you something, their motivation is suspect. That’s not to say that there aren’t honest salespeople out there, but they are few and far between. Other times, we as customers are so desperate for a solution to our woes that we will abandon our common sense and buy into an idea that we know is too good to really be true. Don’t let your emotions override your sense of reason when making important decisions.

Faulty Belief Systems
Many people base their actions on shaky foundational beliefs. My hope is to steer you away from these pitfalls.

Getting up on my high horse

While the term is often used in religious contexts, dogma pops up everywhere from political ideologies, to science (we’ll get to that in a minute), and even in the world of health and fitness.

Don’t assume that just because the experts agree on a given concept or practice that it must be right for you. Following dogmatic principles can often mean the opposite of trusting your own experience and that can get you into trouble. Anyone who disregards their real life experience because it conflicts with “the way things are supposed to be” is making a huge mistake.

If intuition is the belief that our instincts will lead us to make good choices, faith is the opposite of that. It’s a subtle distinction, but as instinct implies that we trust in ourselves to find the answers, faith means believing that something outside of yourself will guide you in the right direction. Some people believe in destiny; I’m more interested in manifesting my own.

Science isn’t always an exact science and controlled experiments aren’t real life. When things happen in the real world, there are a lot of factors involved. The more factors involved, the more difficult it becomes to determine causality. The chasm between theory and practice makes most studies about diet, exercise or pretty much anything else irrelevant. Secondhand knowledge will always be inferior to one’s own practical experience.

Furthermore, just like you have to question a salesperson based on their motivation, you must also question science when it comes from a sponsor who’s invested in a particular outcome. Even “unbiased” or “double-blind” studies can be unknowingly influenced by those involved in the experiment, and test subjects may not be accurately reporting data in the first place.

Don’t Take My Word For It
This is not a call to action to adopt my belief system, but rather an urging to question your own beliefs (and mine). When faced with information that doesn’t mesh with your own experience, logic or intuition, proceed with caution.

Why I Love Peanut Butter

Ever since I can recall, I’ve always loved peanut butter.

As a kid, PB&J sandwiches were a staple of my diet, and though I don’t eat as much bread these days (or as much jelly), I’d never think of ending my love affair with the creamiest of all nut-butters.

Peanuts are Nut-ritious
I didn’t think much about nutrition growing up, other than holding onto the belief that anything labeled as “healthy” probably tasted bad and should therefore be avoided. Had I known peanut butter could be good for you, that might have been a turn-off. (Though at the time I only ate the candy peanut butter anyway.)

In time my perspective began to change and by my early twenties longevity suddenly mattered, so I decided to start eating healthy. Or at least I tried to start eating healthy. With so much misinformation out there, it’s really hard to even know what’s healthy and what isn’t. But one thing I quickly found out was that Skippy and Jif and all my other favorite brands of PB had been processed to the point where they were just straight-up junk food. The good stuff is the natural peanut butter – the kind with the oil floating on top. Stirring it together can even be a bonus workout – it’s win/win!

Which Butter is Better?
Switching to natural peanut butter in my early twenties was a life-altering moment for me. This was also around the time I first heard about “good fats” (ya know, the non-hydrogenated kind). Look at the nutrition label on your peanut butter – some brands try to market themselves as natural when they are not. Stay away from PB that contains any ingredients other than peanuts (and possibly salt).

Not only is natural PB a healthier option, but I also think it tastes better. I didn’t think that right away though of course. Like exercise, natty PB can be an acquired taste, but I was hooked by the time I finished my first jar!

The Butter Battle
Just when I thought I had this whole nut butter thing figured out, new information about PB started to come to light. In certain circles, peanut butter was becoming the bad guy. Now the experts were saying that almond butter or macadamia nut butter were better options. It turns out that peanuts aren’t even nuts! It’s true – contrary to what its name might lead you to believe, the peanut is technically not a nut – it’s a legume.

Legumes Me?
I’ve never been too much of a stickler for terminology myself, but people sure love to categorize things! While legumes and nuts have many similarities, what makes the peanut more pea than nut is that nuts grow on trees, while legumes grow in the ground. Nutritionally, legumes tend to contain a high amount of lectins, which have been linked to gastrointestinal distress and other health issues.

The Good, the Bad and the Nutty
The world of nutrition can be a tricky place, and there are pros and cons to all situations. In spite of their lectin content (and by the way – just about all foods contain varying degrees of lectins), I believe this is a situation of the good outweighing the bad. Peanuts are inexpensive compared to almonds and macadamias, plus they are full of nutrients. They’re also a great source of protein and – most importantly – they’re delicious!

Smoothie Operator
Peanut butter is a versatile food that can be enjoyed in many contexts. I love blending peanut butter into a post workout smoothie along with a banana, a cup of milk and a little honey. It’s a recipe some of us know as “The Peanut Butter Banana Jammer.”

Peanut Butter Banana Jammer
2 Tablespoons of Natural Peanut Butter
1 Banana
6 oz. Milk (or another beverage of your choosing)
3-4 Ice Cubes
1/2 Teaspoon of Honey (optional)

Watch the video below for more!

Related posts:
Diet and Exercise
Young Thai Coconuts
All or Muffin

All or Muffin

While I strive to avoid heavily processed foodstuffs and snack treats, I know it’s not realistic to think I’ll never again indulge my sweet tooth.

If I find myself overcome with desire for a gigantic muffin or an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s, I might be able to talk myself down from the ledge, but sometimes jumping headfirst into a carb-frenzy is the only way to get it out of my system.

For individuals who are trying to take the fast-track to weight loss, giving into one urge can sometimes be a slippery slope, but for those of us who are focused on the big picture, occasionally indulging those urges can actually help tame the beast within.

Be Here Now
People sit in movie theaters across the country shoveling popcorn into their mouths, virtually as unaware of the stimulus to their taste buds as they are of their over-taxed hearts beating in their weak little chests.

If you’ve made the conscious decision to eat something you know to be of sub-optimal nutrition, you’d better savor every bite. And that’s easier to do when you’re giving your food your full attention.

Don’t Have a Cheat Day

I know some people who will eat clean all week, then give themselves a cheat day to satisfy their pent up cravings. While this is obviously better than eating crap all the time, I find it more sustainable to spread my indulgences out through the week. If I have ice cream on Monday, onion rings on Wednesday and a piece of cheesecake on Saturday, I’m able to keep my cravings from building up to the point where I have to go completely wild on the seventh day. This approach usually keeps me from waking up with a full-on junk food hangover and having the “I’m never doing that again” conversation with myself.

Be Real
Of course it would be better for my body to never eat any of my favorite junk foods again, but life ain’t ever gonna be perfect. Even with four or five treats a week, I’m still eating clean around 80% of the time (I eat a lot!). Since my workout schedule allows me to consume large amounts of calories, I could get away with eating a lot worse than I do and still stay lean. However, nutrition is about more than one’s body fat percentage. Luckily, I’ve managed to keep both of those things in check, even with my occasional penchant for ice cream.

Why I Don't Use Exercise Supplements

The world of exercise supplements is full of lies. There’s the obvious bullshit cashing in on pop culture and the gullibility of the masses, like the stuff endorsed by Jillian Michaels or “The Situation.” But there’s also the more subversive lies, the ones that are “backed by science” which sometimes manage to mislead even the most savvy exercise enthusiasts.

We all know that statistics are easy to manipulate, and studies are constantly surfacing that contradict older studies, yet many people still fall victim to misleading claims from supplement companies.


Because people want a shortcut.

Don’t Believe the Hype
All supplement claims are based more on hype than evidence. The next time you read a positive supplement review, check to see if the magazine or website that you read it on happens to sell the product or receive sponsorship from the product’s manufacturer. As for other claims? Don’t underestimate the power of the placebo effect. A lot of people tend to just see what they want to see. Besides, once you’ve spent your money on a product, it’s harder to admit you were mistaken.

There are a couple of supplements that might actually have some impact on your training (ya know, like, if you’re a pro athlete or something), so let’s take a look at the few that are even worth disputing. The first of them is something most Americans are already using.

Anyone who’s had a strong cup of coffee knows that caffeine can give you a temporary boost. Your heart speeds up, your pupils dilate and you feel a sense of heightened awareness. There are numerous studies that have concluded that large amounts of caffeine can help endurance athletes, but hey, studies can be shown to “prove” just about anything.

I’ve tried using caffeine before running but never observed any significant benefits from it, so I don’t anymore. If I’m putting a potentially harmful chemical into my body, it might as well give me some sort of benefit that I can feel.

Protein Powders
Even though they taste bad and give most people a stomach ache, protein powders are among the top selling exercise supplements in the world. The rhetoric about how you’ve got to get tons of protein to grow is so powerful that it makes most people ignore the taste (and their irritable bowels) while they continue to shovel scoop after scoop of this crap into their bodies. Oh, and if you don’t have your protein shake immediately following your workout, you’ve just wasted your entire life.

Of course you need protein to synthesize muscle growth, but you can get plenty of it by eating real food. A 6-oz. steak has over 50 grams of protein, plus it feels a hell of a lot better in my belly than a shaker full of sludgy water.

Creatine is a substance that is naturally found in the body (it’s actually a fuel source used during muscle contraction), by supplementing with it, you’re simply stocking up on extra so that you don’t run out as quickly (I know it’s a bit more complicated than that, but I’m trying to keep this brief). Studies have shown creatine to be effective in producing short-term strength gains and it will give you “the pump” – your muscles will swell up and retain water, making you a little stronger and bulkier.

After the “loading phase” in which you’re directed to take creatine several times a day, you drop down to a simple once-a-day dosage. Even though my chest got puffed up and I added a few pounds to my deadlift while taking creatine, after several weeks when I cycled off (the long term effects of ongoing creatine use are still unknown and potentially dangerous), all of the strength and mass I gained while taking the supplement went away with it. That’s still more than I can say for the other supplements on this list though; at least creatine actually helped my strength while I was using it.

Amino Acids (Glutamine, BCAA’s, etc.)
Amino acids are often referred to as the “building blocks of muscle” so it would make sense that adding them into your beverage in the form of a powder would mean more muscle. At least that’s what I thought when I started supplementing with glutamine ten years ago. However, after several weeks the only difference I noticed was that I had less money in my checking account (it also made my smoothies taste chalky). Remember that steak with its real-food protein goodness? It has all the amino acids you’ll need.

See For Yourself
I came to these conclusions after my own personal experiments with supplements over the years, but if you’re the type of person who just has to see for yourself, there’s no substitute for firsthand knowledge. Obviously there are a lot of people who disagree with my views, as the exercise supplement business continues to be a multi-million dollar industry.

Young Thai Coconuts

Young Thai coconuts are one of my favorite foods. They are delicious and packed with nutrients, yet most people have never even tried one.

As is the case with many healthy foods, young Thai coconuts are not readily available in many places, but if you look around at organic markets and health food stores, hopefully you can find some in your area.

Just to be clear, I am not talking about prepackaged coconut water. That stuff is inferior in every way. You need to get your coconut juice right from the source!

When choosing your coconut, avoid ones with cracks. If air has gotten in, the coconut may be spoiled. Once you’ve found a suitable coconut, you aren’t out of the woods yet. You still need to get that sucker open!

A Tough Nut to Crack
Most coconuts you will see in stores will already have the husks removed, so they should be relatively easy to open. There are a few different tools you can use for this process; I’ve had good results using a butcher knife. I am told machetes and chef’s knifes also work well.

Start by turning the coconut on its side and shaving off the top layer. Once you’ve filed it down, turn it back upright and grip it firmly. Using the corner of your knife, give it a good, hard whack near the edge. Dig your knife in deep before you remove it, then rotate the coconut and repeat the process. After 3-5 whacks you should be able to slip your blade in and pry it open.

Once you open the coconut, drink the water right away, as it will oxidize quickly and lose some of its potency. After you’ve drank the water, scoop out and enjoy the meat. I recommend using it in a smoothie along with cashew butter. Yum!

Watch the video below for more:

The Best Exercise for Weight Loss

People often ask me, “Al, what’s the best exercise for weight loss?” The problem with that question is it assumes exercise is the best way to lose weight.

While things like running and cross training are great ways to burn calories, the fact of the matter is that your diet has more to do with your body fat percentage than any other factor.

It doesn’t matter if you run every morning, lift weights in the afternoon and go to yoga at night. If you can’t keep your diet in check, you’ll likely have a tough time staying lean for the long haul.

Sure, exercise plays a part in weight loss – after all, exercise builds muscle, and having more lean muscle mass will increase your resting metabolism. Plus exercise burns plenty of calories. In spite of these factors, I maintain that the best way to get lean is simply to eat foods that are as close to their original state as possible. Go to your local farmers’ market and load up on fresh fruits and veggies (or grow your own). Check out my list of Al approved foods for more details.

Of course big corporations don’t want you to do that – it means less money for them. They want you as fat as possible and they will do anything they can to fool you into buying their lies. Speaking of which,Vitamin Water is being sued for the outrageous claims that they make on their packaging about increased energy and brain power. Seeing them get called out on their bullshit is (pardon my pun) quite refreshing.

So what should you eat? How about trying one of my delicious smoothie recipes!

Today I bring you “Al’s Old School PB&J.” I discovered this recipe by accident a few years ago and it became a cult sensation at my old gym. Here it is:

Al’s Old School PB&J

4 oz. Milk
1 heaping cup of berries (a mix of your choosing)
3 tablespoons of natural peanut butter
Honey (optional)
1/2 banana (optional)
3-5 ice cubes

Watch the video below for more:

Diet and Exercise (Part Two)

Yesterday I gave you an overview of my thoughts on diet. Today I am going into more detail about what I eat and what I try to avoid.

Plus I’ve included another of my favorite smoothie recipes!

Here is my list of “Al Approved Foods,” broken down into three categories:

Group 1 – Have as much as you want!
Nuts and Nut Butters

Group 2 – Eat, but show some restraint.

Grass-fed Beef
Free Range Chicken (and other poultry)
Peanuts (technically peanuts are legumes)
Olive Oil

Group 3 – Eat only in moderation.
Fresh Bread

Non-Approved Foods – Eat at your own risk!
High Fructose Corn Syrup (and anything that has it as an ingredient!)
Processed Breads and Cakes
Table Sugar
Soda and Other Processed Beverages
Ice Cream
Vegetable Oil

A lot of people have gotten great results from cutting grains and breads out of their diet completely. I’ve personally found that small amounts are okay as long as most of my carbs come from fruits and veggies. You should experiment and see what works for you. It’s also important to follow a plan that is realistic for the long term. People who follow very restrictive diets are less likely to stick with them.

Here’s today’s smoothie recipe. I call this one “Al’s Coconut-Cashew Concoction.”

Al’s Coconut-Cashew Concoction
1 Young Thai Coconut
2 Tablespoons of Cashew Butter
1 Banana
1 Teaspoon of Honey
6 oz. Milk (or use the coconut water)
3-5 Ice Cubes

This recipe will give you approximately 20 oz. of smoothie and 450 calories.


Diet and Exercise (Part One)

Diet and exercise are probably the two biggest factors in determining your overall wellness. Just like my workout regimen, I aim to keep my diet simple and stick to the fundamentals.

To paraphrase from Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, my dietary advice is this: eat real food, not processed crap.

A simple concept, but one that can be surprisingly difficult to implement in our current cultural climate.

Here are a few quick tips to help you out:

1. Look at the ingredients that are in the “foods” you purchase. If there are things in there that you don’t know what they are/can’t pronounce then it’s probably not food.

2. Stay away from “foods” that make claims like “low fat” or “low sugar.” They are usually compensating for some other nutritional shortcoming and/or are filled with chemicals to enhance the flavor.

3. Eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies! I cannot stress this one enough. Fruits and veggies are the foundation of a healthy diet.

It’s not always easy to practice ideal eating habits, so just take it one meal at a time.

Post Workout Nutrition
Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but post-workout is also a key time to be mindful of your diet (for me, they’re often the same meal). This doesn’t mean you need to consume a bunch of supplements and protein powders. On the contrary, supplements are usually processed half way to hell and loaded with chemicals and sugars. Just eat real food! (Check out my list of “Al approved” foods).

Watch the video below to see me whip up one of my favorite post workout treats, which I’ve dubbed “The Blueberry Blaster.” Here’s the recipe:

The Blueberry Blaster
6 oz. milk (Use almond milk if you don’t consume dairy)
2 tablespoons of almond butter
1 teaspoon of honey
1/2 pound of fresh blueberries
1 banana
3-5 ice cubes

This recipe will give you approximately 20 oz. of smoothie and 500 calories.