About Chuck Garcia

Chuck Garcia is a native New Yorker, and a self described health and fitness guru. Professionally, he is a financial technology executive who has worked for some of New York City’s largest and most prestigious financial institutions including Bloomberg Financial Markets and BlackRock Investment Management. Personally, he is a true fitness enthusiast and has run many full and half marathons. Over the years, he has taken up mountaineering as a passion, and has climbed several mountains on four continents including the Matterhorn and Mount Kilimanjaro. Through the years he has dedicated himself to the power of sound nutrition and its implications on health and well being. He is a regular guest on Your Health First (www.yourhealthfirst.com), and contributes to our blog on a variety of nutrition related subjects.
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Chuck Garcia’s Paleo Playground: Full Body Work Out in the Woods

Editors Note: Thinking outside of the box is what we are offering to our followers. Chuck’s point is well taken-get out of the sterile environment of the gym and get outside and do physical labor. This activity, when varied, will be very beneficial to your health, while toning muscle and burning calories. Enjoy.  Dr. Joe Galati

When I am not running outdoors, I’m a gym rat.  I spend 4 or 5 days a week in the gym, and work out in some fashion for up to 45 minutes.  On weekends however, I prefer to spend my work out time outdoors at home with nature.

To break the monotony of the temperature controlled gym, I offer a workout that is consistent with the way our ancestors lived.  You breathe fresh air, and work every body part.  The equipment then is everything that surrounds us that was not manufactured in a factory.

I think you’ll find it is an excellent change from the indoor routine.


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The Importance of Strength Training or “LIFT HEAVY THINGS”

How often have you heard, “My grandmother fell and broke her hip.”  Often when that happens the muscles have atrophied to a point where the muscles lack the strength to support and/or stabilize an individual.  As we age, it’s no secret that we lose muscle tone each year.  While we don’t have the tone we did in our 20’s, it becomes more important to maintain our strength at any age; not just to look good but for the sake of our health.  This is applicable to both men and women.  For women however, I found a  two good articles in US News and World Report  and Women’s Health  magazine that you should find helpful.

Consequently, following a strength training program helps you develop and maintain lean muscle mass.  This increases your metabolism (not through chronic cardio) to maintain low levels of body fat, increase bone density, and prevent injuries that may be due to weak muscles or muscle imbalances.

However, it does not have to be complicated not take hours in the gym.  An approach of short duration (30 minutes) is fine.  They should be high intensity and conducted a few times per week.  Any more than that is a recipe for fatigue and burnout.  With just 2 focused 30 minute sessions per week, you can stay strong and keep your workouts fresh.

To boil strength training into its simplest form:  Simply lift heavy things. As nature did not invent weights in 5 pound increments, you don’t have to succumb to the same old same old in the gym.  Your body thrives on spontaneous workout habits.  Surprise the muscles; never let them know what’s coming next.  Gains are created when your muscles are challenged beyond what they are used to.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Some suggestions:  Suspend the gym for a while.  Find heavy things around the house you can lift and put down.  My Poland spring water jugs are 50 pounds.  I left one in each hand and carry them around the house.  I go into the woods near my home and lift heavy logs; then I put them down.  A high intensity short duration workout can go a long way.

If you do go into the gym, there are a few exercises that I find core to any routine:  lunges, deadlifts, squats, rows, pull ups, pushups, and planks.  Some of these require dumb and bar bells, others simply rely on your own body weight.  While I encourage a much greater variety of heavy lifting try to use kettle bells, ropes, bands, anything that changes the pace.

As a matter of habit, when you see something heavy, lift it.  If you are at a playground and see pull up bars, pull up; as many as you can.  Rest. Repeat.  Keep it simple…and heavy.   To hear the advice of a really muscular guy, click here.

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The Fitness Benefits of Boxing

The Fitness Benefits of Boxing

Boxing is the Best of all Cross Training

He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee.  The greatest?  Perhaps.  I will acknowledge that Mohammed Ali’s athletic abilities were legendary.   If you look at Ali and other boxers, you can’t help but admire their physique.  Muscular but trim, they not only look great with no shirt, they find an ideal balance between strength, agility, speed, balance and endurance.  Also, it’s not limited to their upper body.  Take a look at their legs; cut and muscular they derive a great deal of their fire power from the ground up.

Try boxing a round of 3 minutes non –stop; it’s exhausting.  However, I appreciate not everyone wants to box and either beat up or be beaten up by an opponent.  However, there are a few ways to realize boxing benefits without the punishment.

I found in my gym I can rely on many of the same training tactics of a boxer without all the physical abuse.  Fortunately, my health club teaches a variety of classes (group fitness rocks) which gives you the advantage of a personal trainer without spending tons of money.

One of the classes I take often is called NON CONTACT BOXING.  Boxing training classes like this became main stream a few years ago. People quickly realized the benefits on the cardiovascular system combined with toning of the muscles by these boxing training workouts. Tae Bo work out videos also popularized boxing and kickboxing exercises. Billy Blanks maintained his new found fame by providing an excellent video on how to box at home.  He also offers boxing gloves with bands attached to ensure good form while you punch.  Check out his website here. .   For additional boxing advice you can turn to click here .  It provides short cuts and techniques to quickly master the art and science of throwing (and taking if you wish) a punch.  If you want a how to, this YouTube video shows you.

Other classes called “Cardio boxing” teach innovative variations of jabs, power punches, defense, and fitness in the form of heavy duty aerobics exercise. You learn the proper execution of the punch and kick combinations for an intense workout that can help you become stronger and more confident.   When I started taking the class, I had no idea the importance of form when throwing a punch (at a bag or a protected instructor so no one gets hurt).  I was amazed at the amount of power you can generate.  Also, although you don’t always notice, your leg strength will improve as they are critical to generate the power that begins at your feet, move up the legs, and gets transferred from your core into your hands.

Normally, the combinations you perform on the blocks, jabs, and kicks are executed to an imagined opponent or on a heavy bag.  You may see classes where participants throw punches and kicks in the air. You will also find training classes that have the option of working with a partner that has padded hands.

Moreover, these boxing training classes improve your speed, resistance, and strength. Flexibility and the reflexes of the muscles are also enhanced. Repetitive motion on arms by sparring and jogging while you punch helps your arms and legs gain strength and power.  These movements also require you to develop balance and coordination that enables your body to be stable and maintain good form.

Positive results await you with boxing training. You will enjoy a physically fit body and will keep you in better shape. Whether at home or in the gym, give it a try.

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Beets: Giving it the Respect it Deserves

Beets: Giving it the Respect it Deserves

Beets are a Super Food

I eat beets; lots of them and most days.  Unfortunately, my family and colleagues at the office share neither my passion nor enthusiasm for this excellent vegetable.  What a shame.  They are missing out!

Beets originated in the Mediterranean. Like so many other colored vegetables, they started off being used primarily for medicinal purposes and grown solely for their leaves. It wasn’t until approximately the 1800s when beets became a common food (creative chefs in France then realized their amazing culinary potential).  In addition, their rich purple color adds a great visual appeal when accompanied with other foods. 

Part of the Amaranth family, beets, in particular the red-rooted garden beet are quite popular.  They can be found and purchased all year round, but they are primarily a winter vegetable and thrive most when grown in cooler temperatures. Beet season runs from June through October, so you will be able to eat delicious beets all through the hot summer and into the early fall. Summertime is when they are the tenderest. 

As nutrients go, they have detoxification qualities and are a great source of folate, which is essential for a healthy cardiovascular system.  Additionally, beets are a good source of fiber, and known to help protect against colon cancer, birth defects and heart disease.

Don’t miss out on these.  They are well worth it!  I often put them over greens and add goat cheese, broccoli, walnuts, and grilled chicken.  I then top them with olive oil and either Apple Cider, balsamic or coconut vinegar. 

For tips on how to cook beets, click here.

Read more about beets:
Worlds Healthiest Foods: Beets

Health Benefits of Beets


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Salad Dressing: Olive Oil and Vinegar

I eat a lot of salads.  Sometimes my breakfast, lunch, and dinner all look alike.  Loads of vegetables with animal protein on top.  Years ago before I caught on to all the food science tricks, I used to top my salads with bottled dressing.  Those days are long gone!  If you look at the ingredients in the store bought dressing, you will be shocked.  The additives and preservatives destroy the natural ingredients you are ultimately about to consume.  Although many store bought salad dressings have fancy bottles and make many health claims, don’t believe it.  Just read the contents.  You’ll quickly change your mind. 

Consequently, I top all of my meals with olive oil, and mix it with any one of three types of vinegar:  balsamic, apple cider, or coconut.  All add a very unique taste and are excellent complements to one of nature’s great gifts, olive oil.

There are some really great apple cider vinegar products on the market that are used by health food enthusiasts everywhere, and they’re really good for you! But I think coconut vinegar may be even better because it comes from a source that’s naturally higher in minerals and other phytonutrients.

Although I am fond of all three types of vinegars, coconut is my favorite.  While it tastes great, here’s some facts that help the cause; no bottled dressing even comes close. 

Coconut vinegar is similar to other fermented vinegars such as apple cider and balsamic vinegars. It can either be made with coconut water or from the sap of the coconut tree. Coconut vinegar is a staple condiment in the Philippines, and is also used in some regions of India. Coconut vinegar is white and cloudy with a very pungent acidic taste and a hint of yeast. As with apple cider vinegar, coconut vinegar includes the “mother,” or culture of organisms that caused the fermentation.  The sap used to make coconut vinegar comes from coconut trees grown in volcanic soil rich with minerals. The sap contains phosphorus, potassium, iron, magnesium, sulfur, boron, zinc, manganese and copper. It is especially rich in potassium. 

Not to mention, when added to olive oil for a salad, it is tastes great.  Who can ask for more?

For more information:
Coconut Vinegar
Benefits of Coconut Vinegar



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Exuberant Animal: The Power of Health, Play, and Joyful Movement-A Book Review

Exuberant Animal: The Power of Health, Play, and Joyful Movement-A Book Review

Exuberant Animal: A book by Frank Forencich

Exuberant Anima: A Book Worth Reading

The book begins with:  WARNING:  “Before beginning a program on physical INACTIVITY, consult your doctor.  Sedentary living is abnormal and dangerous to your health.”

Soon after he you read and consider:  “Rapid changes in transport, work and leisure activities have led to a global collapse in physical activity levels.”  Science Magazine editorial, “Global Chronic Diseases” January 21, 2005

Forencich is a physical educator who over the years could find nothing written that unifies biology, human origins and physical exercise.  Even worse, there didn’t seem to be any fitness program anywhere that linked humans with the millions of other species that inhabit this planet.  Throughout numerous modes of exercise including martial arts, yoga, sports training, etc. that claimed to be the ultimate word in training the body, none addressed the historical reality of the human body or our animal heritage.

In his book The Exuberant Animal Frank provides perspective on how your body works and gives some ideas on how to make it work better.  He explores two main branches of human health:  exuberance and animalhood.  Our exuberant side is creative, curious and playful.  The animal side (we are at the top of the food chain) is our physicality; strong, endurant and primal.

“Given our nation’s epidemic of sedentary behavior and physical inactivity, modern living has put us in a bad spot.  We study and test, research and measure, drilling our knowledge down to the deepest levels, and then wonder why people find exercise so dull and unattractive.” He asserts we are missing “something fundamental.”  Add the tremendous stress coupled with terrible eating habits, we need to change and get back to a mode of living that is much more in line with nature.

The book then is a series of essays and ideas to help us find a tight interconnection of mind and matter.  He does not provide an anecdote for weight loss or how to be beat the aging process.  Instead the ideas in the book help us develop a sense of depth and how to happily sustain a life of physical movement.  After reading this, we begin to realize that the world of the body is far more than the sum total of calories consumed and how many sets of reps we did at the gym.

What I loved about this book is that it promotes a truly integrated approach to life and fitness and reminds us that we are in many ways like the animals we observe in the wild.  As a species we have strayed so far from where we came.  He reminds us to get out of the gym and into the woods.  Climb rocks and trees.  Throw a rock or a ball.  Pick it up with your other hand and throw it again.  Run, sprint, walk, and get outside and enjoy nature.  Otherwise, we’ll lose interest, burn out, put on the weight and continue to be caught in the vicious cycle that comprises our modern world.

While this all seems like such a simple concept, this is an opportunity to appreciate and remind ourselves that we can play, swing on monkey bars (just like the kids), and enjoy what nature has provided us in order to stay fit and healthy.   Go into the woods near your home and appreciate the enormity of your surroundings.  Then play…….

I recommend you give this book a read.  It will change the way you think about health.  You can also view his website to learn even more.

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Planks: The Ultimate Abdominal Exercise

Planks: The Ultimate Abdominal Exercise

Do Planks Today

Now that you are training like a decathlete, what do you do to insure a strong mid-section? For many, developing a 6 pack set of abs is more important than anything else. However, 6 packs come only when you minimize your body fat; which comes from eating an incredibly healthy diet with minimal junk (if any). Good genes help too. However, if you, like me, just can’t seem to look like a Greek God, that doesn’t mean you should avoid working your abs. What I do not suggest is endless crunches, day after day. While they are not necessarily bad, they are minimal in working the stabilizer muscles in your belly which insure good posture and help you to perform just about any other exercise with proper form. Weak stabilizers lead to bad form. What to do then? Everybody has heard of sit ups and crunches which are fine, but the plank abdominal in my humble opinion is the best you can perform. So throw away your fancy abs exercise gadgets and read on. One of the main benefits of the plank is that it can be performed anywhere, either at home, the gym or even the office. This exercise works the Abs, back and core stabilizer muscles.

How to Perform The Plank:

  • Place the mat on the floor and lie face down on your forearms.
  • Now lift yourself up using your forearms / elbows as if performing a standard push-up. 
  • Keep your back, hips and legs straight and tense your abdominal muscles.
  • Hold this position until your hips begin to sag.
  • Rest and repeat the exercise.

If you are a beginner you can hold this position for 10 seconds and then rest and repeat. You will soon be able to hold the position for much longer using this exercise on a regular basis. You will also be able to perform variations in the plank exercise. The variations in the plank exercises can be done on either side. For instance, lie on one elbow only and lift yourself up to hold your body in a side plank position. Once you tire, switch to the other side. This may hurt your wrist. However, you will eventually adjust and be able to hold it for much longer. Be patient. It does get easier! The plank exercise should be used as part of an overall abs exercise program. Used in conjunction with other abs exercises, weight training and a good nutritious diet you will soon be reaping the rewards.

To learn more, click here

 To see a great video of a plank, click here.

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The Value of Cross Training: Learning from Our Ancestors About Fitness

The Value of Cross Training: Learning from Our Ancestors About Fitness

Jim Thorpe: America's Greatest Athlete

“You sir, are the world’s greatest athlete.” King Gustav of Sweden to Jim Thorpe in 1912 after winning the decathalon.

What can we learn from decathaletes to optimize our health and fitness? First, a touch of history to appreciate why this matters to us non-athletes.

The Olympics were the most famous of the four Pan-Hellenic Games of ancient Greece. They were held at Olympia, beginning in approximately 776 B.C. Held every four years, they were celebrated as solemn religious festivals, complete with sacrifices to Greek gods. Truces were declared as Greek city-states were invited to send their best athletes to compete.

Included were a variety of events, many of which still exist in the modern Olympics. Then, and now, the one event that the world declared as the greatest living athlete was determined by the decathalon. The decathlon includes 10 different events during two days of competition. The events, in order, are:

• 100-meter run
• long jump
• shot put
• high jump
• 400-meter run
• 110-meter hurdles
• Discus
• pole vault
• javelin
• 1500-meter run.

Every track and field discipline is included in the decathlon, except for long distance running. Decathletes must nevertheless possess the stamina of a long-distance runner in order to compete successfully in the 10 events over two days.

Why does this matter to me? I can’t emphasize enough that you do not need to be a distance runner to be incredibly fit. In fact, distance runners will never be considered great athletes or particularly fit. Look at the world’s 2008 decathalon gold medalist Bryan Clay. Although I don’t have a Bryan Clay body and have no shot at the Olympics, we should all strive for a balanced fitness regimen that emphasizes strength, power, speed and endurance; just like the champion.

While I understand that most of us mere mortals are not Olympic material, I believe that all of us should train like decathaletes. With the exception of the pole vault (which requires very specific training), I strive to incorporate the other 9 events into my regimen.

Your action plan.
1. To train like a decathalete you must first see yourself as one. It all starts with how you view yourself.

2. Stop logging endless miles on the treadmills and start training like Bryan Clay. Jump, throw, hop, hurl, sprint,

3. Get out of the gym – Play a variety of sports and do activities that challenge you both aerobically and anaerobically.

4. Jump and Throw – explosive power in both the lower and upper body are needed for what amounts to be a full body workout. While most of us don’t have a javelin laying around, throw anything. Rocks, stones, anything that varies the weight will work.

5. Sprint – Speed training is an excellent way to burn excess body fat and get lean. I go to a high school football field and sprint various distances from 30 to 100 yards.

6. Run – but not mega distance. Build stamina to be able to run three to five miles on any given day. Although you will be training for speed, strength, and power, it’s good to have an aerobic base. I like to run occasional 10K road races.

7. Recover – all athletes, especially the best in the world, need to take a day or two off a week in order to let their bodies regenerate. For you, this means getting enough sleep and eating quality food so that your hard training pays off.

To learn more about decathalon training, see the following sites:

1. Train Like a Decathlete

2. Decathlon Training Plan

3. Decathlon Training Ideas

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Wondering About WonderBread

Wondering About WonderBread


Given this rough economy, you hate to see any company fall into hard times.  On occasion, however, I will make exceptions.

In the last few days, Hostess Brands, the maker of Twinkies, Sno Balls, and Wonder Bread has declared bankruptcy.  They are not out of business, just seeking protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code.  In their filing, the company said its rivals have expanded their reach and tightened competition in the snack space.  In addition, high pension costs and medical benefits have soared putting their financials in distress.

But there is something else going on here that is cause for attention.  The 87 year old company of the world’s junkiest junk food, knows that health conscious Americans favor alternative snacks like yogurt and energy bars.  While they may not be ideal snacks (some sugar and preservatives) they sure beat a twinkie or Sno Ball, not to mention that most useless of what used to be considered a staple of American kitchens:  Wonder Bread.  Much to our good fortune, Hostess snacks simply don’t fit into the U.S. trend toward adopting a healthier life style.

I won’t even bother to explanation the ingredients in twinkies; we can’t pronounce them anway.  However, Wonder Bread is filled with, among other things, a chemical food additive called maltodextrin.  It’s like taking a few cups of sugar and spooning them directly into your mouth.  Their slogan when I grew up was, “Wonder Bread Helps build strong bodies 12 ways.”

Give me a break!  Did they actually believe this?  Their white bread doesn’t build anything but a big fat belly.   The fate of Hostess has not yet been sealed.  Perhaps they will emerge from bankruptcy providing something different.   My guess is they’ll change the packaging and advertising and try to make us believe that the “New Hostess” is healthy and wholesome.  Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing!

If they eventually go out of business with their current offerings, this will not be the cause of any sadness.  There is simply no place for the garbage they call food in our diets.

I wish the employees well, but hope that Hostess re-engineers and re-tools to provide something we can actually eat.  Otherwise, they belong in the long line of defunct companies who failed to listen to the growing trends of its customers.

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It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature

It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature

Apples Turning to Candy: A Prescription for Bad Health

Editors note: In Chuck Garcia’s entry today, he points out an important issue, how food manufactures manipulate the look, feel, and taste of food in order to have you buy it, and eventually eat it. Manufactured food, far from how it is found in nature, sends a poor message to the young. Developing a taste for foods in the natural state simply takes time. Your taste buds will adjust. Don’t rush the process with artificial colors, flavors, and re-engineering of the food. Dr. Joe Galati

I am continually amazed at food scientists who keep working on to ways to make an unsuspecting consumer believe they are eating something healthy.  In this case however, even the apple farmers have taken something out of the play book of the food scientists.

As noted in a recent article from NPR online,  a new “fruit” that recently appeared in the supermarket is called the Grapple.  It looks like an apple but is covered in what they call a “relaxing bath” of natural and artificial Concord grape flavors.  In their quest to sell more fruit to children (a worthy cause indeed), it seems kids prefer grape flavoring more than the taste of apple themselves.   Just the world “flavoring” is the first hint that this can’t be good.

The rationale here is that if kids eat grape flavored apples, they’re more likely to try unflavored apples.  I commend their attempt to get kids to eat apples.  However, as the inventors will not disclose what these apples are “bathed in” it is not a leap to assume they are covered in sugar and some chemicals we can’t pronounce.

What’s the difference between a Grapple and sugar coating candy?  Let’s not mess with Mother Nature any more than we need to.  This only fuels the children’s’ addiction who are already addicted to sugar and eat more artificially sweetened food products. Fuji and gala apples are already among the sweetest varieties of apple.  Why disguise what Mother Nature already invented into making us think we are eating something healthy?

Stick to eating God’s creation (all fruits and vegetables) in their pure, unadulterated food.  I encourage you not to give in to these kinds of tricks that deceive us into thinking we are eating a whole food.


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