Brains, the Benefits of Exercise, Breathing and BCAA’s; Part 2 of the series: A-Z Fitness and Exercise

Brains, the Benefits of Exercise, Breathing and BCAA’s; Part 2 of the series: A-Z Fitness and Exercise

Starting at the top of our head the entirety of our body can benefit from exercise. Our hair can benefit from exercise all the way down to the toes. A good way to remember that exercise helps all of the body is the old nursery rhyme/ song describing the human form: “head shoulders knees and toes knees and toes, eyes and ears and mouth and nose, head shoulders knees and toes knees and toes”. Or maybe a more modern phrase: it’s all good.

Brains:

Exercise is dependent on proper form for it to be maximally helpful: proper form drastically reduces risk of injury, and it maximizes fitness gains. Proper form starts in the brain. It is not all in our heads of course, we are going to have to move the body. Just the way we think about our bodies can have a drastic impact on how it moves. We knew this already, I did not need me to tell you this: think about the last time you emotionally felt like crap: I bet you were also physically sluggish and even noticeably weaker. Of course you can also build yourself up mentally and perform better physically.

The truth is we don’t really know the full extent of the amazing effects the brain has on fitness: it has been shown that accident victims can begin the recovery process using visualization alone, meaning no movement. There is a 5-25% improvement in fitness gains amongst people who use daily visualization exercises. The best way to describe this is, pretend time: pretend you can run faster, pretend you have bigger muscles, less fat, can reach a little farther into the stretch… as it turns out pretending is important and helpful. (I find the best way to do this is in front of a mirror in the morning, if you keep your entire pretending experience positive you can get a great start on the day).

Gradually, exercise will increase the neural muscular response system. Much of the strength gains in the first month or two of an exercise program can actually be attributed to improved communication between the brain and the muscles. Exercise stimulates the growth and repair of nerve cells, and some current animal research is showing it can stimulate the growth of STEM CELLS. (Which is freaking amazing, I hope this ends up to prove true in humans as well). Due to exercise; in addition to hormonal changes which positively affect the brain, exercise physically “works-out” our nervous system. Whenever we move we need our nervous system and our brain to do so, thusly exercise is a workout for the brain as well.

Many people, myself included, use exercise like a wonder drug. When I am sad, I go for a run or even a walk. I like to weight lift or do push-ups when I am angry. I like to sprint when I am over excited. I like yoga or Tai chi when I am anxious. Always, every time, without fail: when I exercise I feel better. Exercise is the best mood booster I have ever found, and it is 100 percent natural and it is very good for us. (Try to avoid overtraining, if you do decide to medicate with exercise. Walking as in the old phrase “take a walk” or “walk it off” is a great way to do both avoid overtraining and enhance the mood.)

Technically exercise is not a drug, but in some ways it should be treated like a drug: just as some drugs react badly with other drugs some drugs react badly with exercise. The two should not always be mixed, only if a doctor or physical therapist has prescribed a drug to you and they have said it is okay to exercise should you assume it is okay. Mild exercise is usually safe to do while on medications. Stimulants raise the heart rate: moderate to intense exercise raises the heart rate. Some drugs raise blood pressure: exercise temporarily raises blood pressure intense exercise can temporarily intensely raise blood pressure (in the long run, exercise lowers blood pressure). Drugs can cause dehydration and exercise can… you guessed it make you sweat causing dehydration if we’re not careful. Be careful when mixing drugs and exercise even if your doctor did give you the go ahead.          

Considering it’s affect on the mood it should come as no surprise that proper form of any exercise is dependent on the brain. Developing proper form always requires a degree of focus and attentiveness. When we reach the moment that you develop proper form, it can be felt. This is often touted as a finding of inner peace or a Zen moment; some will even call it getting closer to God. If these moments provide you with that much bliss don’t let the fact that they can be scientifically explained ruin the fun. When this happens, we are feeling what it is like to learn something: notice that when we learn something that we find interesting we are compelled to smile or at very least it makes us feel good. When we learn an exercise’s proper form it involves many parts of the brain and the body so the feel good from learning feeling is intensified.

The dopamine system is actually intended to be used for reward driven learning. Unfortunately, the dopamine system is often abused by addicts of all types: food addicts, gamblers, alcoholics, drug addicts, anger addicts… anything that can be an addiction: will most likely use the body’s dopamine system. The chemical dopamine is generally intended to make us feel good. It has a ton of functions including being a biological precursor for adrenaline and noradrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine). The body needs the amino acid Tyrosine to make dopamine.  Dopamine helps us learn, it helps us feel good and it functions as a natural pain killer.

DRUGS ARE BAD, M’KAY!!!

Drugs (including excessive alcohol) mess with the dopamine system and they can do some serious damage, especially in addicts. Exercise addictions and most addictions for that matter trigger natural hormonal responses in the body: typically with a natural dopamine release it will shortly be followed by a serotonin release. (EXERCISE ADDICTION is typically a GOOD thing, but you can overdo it and hurt yourself, so be careful.) These two hormones function as a yin and yang and they counter balance each other. Natural hormonal responses 99,999 out of 100,000 are good for us in some way or at very least do no notable damage.

The hormonal responses triggered by drugs hurt us in a very serious and complicated way. Ethically I should note that many drugs, even drugs typically considered “street drugs,” can be used in a safe medicinal way. As a good rule of thumb: if your doctor prescribed it, you seem to be having no side effects and you are following his/her recommended dosing chances are you are fine. NEVER EVER NEVER I repeat never, abuse prescription drugs you think street drugs are bad my Lord Jesus, Father in Heaven, PRESCRIPTION drug abuse is really bad.

The dopamine system is fairly complicated, in the brain there are four major dopamine pathways: Mesolimbic, Mesocortical, nigrostriatal, tuberinfundibular and a number of minor dopamine pathways including incertohypothalamic. These pathways are associated with a ton of different things that the body does; the incertohypothalamic is associated with sexual function. It turns out that most of the problems associated with drug addiction can be explained by malfunctions of these dopamine pathways. Many disorders and diseases are associated with or can be caused by dopamine pathway malfunction including everything from erectile dysfunction, schizophrenia and even Parkinson’s disease.

DRUGS ARE BAD DAMMIT

OVER-TRAINING IS LIKE DRUGS

I will talk more about over-training in later articles, but overtraining can cause all of the negative side effects that drug abuse can. Over-training can cause: tiredness, weakness, lack of energy, lack of physical progress, loss of appetite, constant aching, depression and other mood problems. Most exercisers will NEVER experience overtraining. If you work out without giving your body sufficient time to rest and heal between workouts: YOU ARE ASKING TO EXPERIENCE THESE HORRIBLE SYMPTOMS OF OVERTRAINING. Rest between workout is important, very few (although it is actually possible) are actually able to work out every day without eventually experiencing overtraining.

Truthfully exercise addition and overtraining are not something to fear, but it is important to be aware that exercise can become an addiction. Typically however exercise does not become a true addiction and it can be used in the treatment of addiction. Many addicts will find exercise to be crucial in their recover process. Exercise helping with addiction is one of the many benefits of exercise.

Exercise as long as you don’t overdo it is great

The Benefits of Exercise:

  1. 1.       Exercise improves the mood, and has a ton of psychological benefits.
  2. 2.       Exercise boosts energy and endurance, it sounds false but its true exercise makes everything run a bit more efficiently thus boosting energy.
  3. 3.       Regulates blood pressure, often better then drugs will or can (as in lowers high blood pressure and raises low blood pressure).
  4. 4.       Regulates and/or lowers heart rate, a sign of improved heart health.
  5. 5.       It lowers LDL “bad” cholesterol, and raises HDL “good” cholesterol
  6. 6.       Promotes better sleep
  7. 7.       Improves bone density, as well as muscular and connective tissue strength.
  8. 8.       Helps regulate blood sugar, and can even be part of a diabetes treatment plan.
  9. 9.       Helps fight obesity: after exercise is done burning calories the positive changes in the metabolism and increased muscle mass continue to help fight obesity.
  10. 10.   Helps with or helps prevent nearly all diseases from cancer and heart disease to chronic depression and erectile dysfunction. Chances are if you have a medical issue it CAN and WILL help you, talk to your doctor.

EXERICISE IS AMAZING and there is more benefits to it then could possibly be listed.

Breathing:

Breathing properly is an important part of proper form. It should come as no surprise that exercise increases lung capacity, but (typically) breathing needs to be deep for the improvement to be significant. Indeed we do not have to go on a hard run to stimulate deep breathing, it’s easy to just breathe in deeply while sitting here and reading this. Doing this is EXERCISE. If we breathe deeply in a purposeful manner, it is a breathing exercise and over time it increases our lung capacity. Trust me; no doctor is going to expect a patient who broke a rib to go on a hard run to increase/restore the patient’s lung capacity. Doctors will prescribe various apparatuses and recommend breathing exercises that can be done with these devices (these devices are not really needed but they do help).

There are as many different breathing exercises as there are types of exercises because when done properly all exercise is also a breathing exercise. The obvious breathing exercises that are regular exercise are cardio vascular workouts which get us breathing hard like running and most sports. Breathing exercises which expand our lungs abilities are not just breathing hard cardio, exercise as mild as walking can help the lungs, as long as one thing is remembered: breathe purposefully. In fact you can improve lung strength and ability simply doing breathing exercises.

There are a ton of different breathing exercises; a quick internet search will reveal dozens of useful ones. Not all breathing exercises are deep breathing; those that are not tend to be huffy-puffy in nature (quick short in-out breathing), these exercises are good too. Experiment with what is comfortable for you. It might be surprising but a breathing exercise meant for band geeks and their trumpets (I played trumpet for a while) WILL help basketball players with their game.

As a personal trainer, I often find myself helping people with weight lifting, and proper breathing is extremely important: Thus…

BREATH DAMMIT, A quick guide to breathing while weight lifting.

  1. 1.       Take a few good deep breaths before a set, to create an oxygen surplus (there is no need to do this till you feel light headed, just take a few breaths). If you forget everything else remember this first step.
  2. 2.       Exhale in a manner that is comfortable for you during the “positive” phase, also known as the harder part.  (For the squat the positive is part where one stands up, for a row the positive is the part where we pull towards ourselves, for a Bench press the positive part is the part where we push away.)
  3. 3.       Inhale after the middle or “finish” position during the “negative” phase, also known as the less hard part. For example with the Bench Press the negative phase is the lowering towards your chest phase. (You can inhale during the middle portion, especially if you are doing an isometric hold before the negative.)
  4. 4.       During the lifting, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. It is perfectly fine, and sometimes beneficial to “puff” when you exhale (let out air in bursts).

Holding our breath shoots our blood pressure through the roof regardless of what we are doing. If you hold your breath long enough you will start to hear your heart beat no matter how loud your surroundings are… if this happens to you for God’s sake breathe. The good news is it is actually difficult to suffer brain damage as a result of holding your breath; it does not typically kill brain cells. For brain cells to start dying they have to be without oxygen for 3-5 minutes. What should happen when you hold your breath is you will hold your breath, then you will PASS OUT and your body will automatically start breathing again (this can be deadly if it happens underwater or on a weight bench).

Hyperventilation

We all know that we can fail to get enough oxygen, but many of us fail to realize we can get to much. Most of us have heard the word hyperventilation, but for one reason or another most people that I work with half refuse to believe that it is real. You can breathe TOO MUCH.  Hyperventilation leads to excessive expulsion of circulating carbon dioxide, this raises blood pH and reduces the availability of oxygen to the brain. The body is very complicated and we need some circulating CO2. It turns out that hyperventilation can cause most of the problems that hypoventilation (not getting enough air) can: numbness, lightheadedness, head ache, dizziness, nervous laughter, and even fainting. Hyperventilation is perhaps best known for causing panic attacks; it is possible for us to huff and puff our way into a panic attack.

It is actually not uncommon for women in labor to accidentally give themselves panic attacks because of hyperventilation. Birth of a child is (at least usually is) intense exercise and like all intense exercise form is extremely important. Don’t go lamas breathing exercises crazy, because hyperventilation is bad.

Valsalva Maneuvers (named after the doctor who invented it in 17th century):

                Chances are you have never heard of this, but you have done it. If you were ever taught to “pop” the ears by forcefully trying to exhale while holding your mouth and nose closed: you have done a Valsalva maneuver. When popping the ears with a valsalva maneuver there is a danger of auditory damage due to over pressurization of the middle ear. It is much safer to “pop” your ears (open your Eustachian tubes) with repeated swallowing or yawning. Divers need to research the dangers of repeated use of the Valsalva maneuver. For divers and even doctors or patients it can be very helpful at times, there are medical reasons that a doctor might ask you to do a Valsalva maneuver. It is always important to know what we are doing BEFORE we do it.

Valsalva maneuvers are something that power lifters will do to increase the amount they can lift. Doing this has it dangers, and it is often a topic of debate if it should be allowed. Many competitions will “red flag” your lift if they catch you using a valsalva maneuver. There is more than one way to do the maneuver, and if you see someone trying extremely hard to hold in their breath and they have puffed up cheeks chances are they never learned how to do it properly. A proper valsalva maneuver is hard to detect as it involves blocking off the glottis (opening above the vocal chords) with the epiglottis (the flap that protects you from choking when you swallow food). I have done a proper valsalva maneuver while lifting heavy and I will tell you it is not comfortable, it will leave you light headed and dizzy, and usually it leaves me with a desire to vomit. These things are uncomfortable to do while weight lifting, and the chance of fainting, vomiting or falling over is very high.

On a lighter note:

BCAA’s are kinda awesome

It is true that supplementing with amino acids is completely unnecessary; you do not need to buy BCAA’s. If you are getting enough protein you are just fine, and you do not need BCAA’s at all for any reason, but it might be very cool to get them.  

BCAA or branched chain amino acids, they kinda are like what they sound like they are like: they are amino acids that have aliphatic (carbon atoms bonded to more than two other carbon atoms) side chains with a branch. There are three BCAA’s leucine, isoleucine and valine, all three are essential amino acids meaning the body cannot make them. These things are a big deal accounting for roughly 1/3 of the amino acids in muscle proteins. They are used to expedite the healing of burn victims; and many body builders use them to expedite the healing after a hard workout.

I have used BCAA’s and I have to say they do work (I used a sensible amount). I experienced less delayed onset muscle soreness, and I was ready to train hard again about a day sooner. For the money I prefer L-glutamine supplementation but BCAAs are still pretty darn impressive. (I will write about L-glut in future articles).

THERE IS A DANGER TO OVER USE and it has a very un-fun name:

Maple Syrup Urine Disease (that is the real name)

LOL – Laugh Out Loud

                Anyway Maple syrup urine disease is caused by a lack of Branched- Chain Alpha-Keto Acid Dehydrogenase complex (a combination of enzymes that breakdown BCAA’s). Really you only have to be short with one of the enzymes.

This horrible disease is often suffered by infants (another example of why formula should be avoided if possible).     

This disease is characterized by sweet smelling urine, and is caused by toxic by-products of BCAA’s. If this disease is left untreated it can cause severe brain damage and eventual death. Symptoms are: vomiting, poor eating/ lack of hunger, dehydration, laziness, loss of muscle tone (hypotonia), seizures, ketoacidosis, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar),pancreatitis, coma, never issues and opisthotonus which is a terrifying spasm of the back google it, it is freaky.

Don’t get me wrong BCAA’s work and they work well, but don’t over-do it. I have seen and heard about what I would consider horrors when it comes to BCAA’s. BCAA’s are often marketed as calorie free protein, thus people treat it like it is a simple protein powder: DON’T DO THIS. Anything over 10-15 grams is usually considered excessive. I will use 5 grams added to a protein shake and this seems to work real good.

Happy Exercising and make sure not to over-do it, Drugs are bad, and BREATHE DAMMIT

Adaptation and the Anabolic State; Part 1 of the series: A-Z Fitness and Exercise

Adaptation and the Anabolic State; Part 1 of the series: A-Z Fitness and Exercise

All living things are capable of adaptation to some extent, but as humans we are absolute masters of it. We are amazingly capable of adjusting our behavior… which is a feat that many other creatures simply can’t or won’t do. It is incredible but we can even change our physiology and structure. Adaptation can involve conscious thought and distinguished efforts, but it is largely automatic, simply put: we just do it.  Adjusting, changing and fixing little things that the environment we live in has proved to be minor flaws are the basic ideas to adaptation.

Adapt or die is a grossly oversimplified explanation to the phenomenon/theory of evolution.

In fact our blob like state that we sometimes find ourselves in is actually an adaptation, “fat” is meant to improve our chances of survival. When we eat more than we need our body uses the excess to make itself a “rainy day fund” of stored adipose tissue (fat). When we do very little movement (not exercise at all) our body slowly loses muscle mass as a means to conserve resources and require less calories. This is a one-two punch for Mr. Couch Potato: when he over eats Mr. Potato gets fatter, when he does not exercise Mr. Potato loses muscle mass and it becomes easier for him to get even fatter. (As a general rule the more muscle mass you have the higher your Resting Metabolic Rate, RMR, will be; this means you can eat more and not gain weight.)

Adaptation can be the poison and the cure, your best friend and your worst enemy. It is, of course, much better to have friends than enemies. If we must have enemies or can’t escape having enemies, we should learn all we can about them to fight them. I am a visual thinker and I visualize two different images for adaptation. I envision little angles of eating right and exercise, who call themselves adaptation; in my mind they look like cherubs. I also envision tiny little goblin/imp looking creatures of sloth and gluttony (lazy and eating a lot) who also call themselves adaptation. Not everyone is as mentally capable of visualization as I am, but just the same the characterization of imps and angels should help with understanding. In this article I am going to focus on the good “angels” of adaptation… because we all know pretty well what those nasty little imps of sloth and gluttony will do to our bodies.

If we did not have such a high capacity for change, exercise and eating right would be utterly pointless. Thankfully we can adapt with relative ease. As a man of faith I feel that when I eat right and exercise I am honoring God, my Family, and Myself. When you look deep down at the amazing science of nutrition and exercise, it gets more and more miraculous as you learn more about the science. Regardless of faith, the science treats all of us the same or very near to the same.

It is pretty easy to see that exercise works out the muscles of the body, and it makes sense that the body would want to improve its muscles to make exercise easier. The body does this improvement through hormonal and physiological responses to exercise. For example, when we first start resistance training weights of 5, 10, or 15 pounds might be challenging enough but soon our bodies will adapt and it will be incredibly easy to lift this small amount of weight. The muscles are not the only thing that improve in response to exercise, indeed exercise gives us an entire body makeover.

The science of exercise, and how it improves the body through adaptation:

Blood Pressure:

Let’s start with the arteries and veins: when we exercise the arteries (and to a lesser extent the veins) constrict or relax in response to exercise. When we exercise the blood vessels (arteries and veins) of the muscles are told by our sympathetic nervous system to vasodilate, meaning they relax and become wider “pipes” for blood to flow through. (Our sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, which is the parts of our nervous system that acts without conscious thought. We should be glad to have this system without it, we could not digest food and our hearts would not beat.) At the same time the blood vessels of many of the internal organs vasoconstrict: tighten and become smaller “pipes” for the blood to flow through. This most notably happens in the digestive tract (stomach and intestines). The actions described above primarily happen in the arteries and arterioles.

All of this expansion or contraction functions as a work out for the blood vessels, and improves their elasticity and general functionality. As the elasticity and general functionality of the blood vessels increases, our blood pressure regulates. This is primarily how exercise reduces high blood pressure. Those with high blood pressure have to be careful when they exercise because exercise causes a temporary raise in blood pressure.

Those with high blood pressure should avoid high intensity exercise, like lifting heavy weights and sprinting (and anything else that seems high intensity). If you want to do these types of exercises, for your safety you may have to wait a bit. Don’t worry; there is a good chance that your moderate/ light intensity exercise program will lower your blood pressure. Once your blood pressure is in a normal range your doctor might give you the go ahead to do the heavy lifting and sprinting that you wanted to do.

If one has a MEDICAL CONDITION, they should always get the go ahead from a doctor before starting or modifying an exercise program. Truthfully, all people should see a doctor before they start exercising. It is also fun to get a “before” physical.

Resting Heart Rate, and heart strength:

Resting heart rate is an excellent indicator of general health, one that people often overlook. A normal range is 60-90 beats per minute (BPM). A resting heart rate of 100 BPM is usually considered okay but anything over 100 is a bad sign and unless you are an athlete a heart rate of 40-50 BPM is also a bad sign. If your heart rate is less than 40 and you are not an elite athlete there is a good chance that you are going to experience a cardiac event (like a heart attack) in the very near future.  Bradycardia is the medical term used to describe a low heart rate (less than 60 beats per minute). If you are not a trained athlete or a healthy young adult, less than 60 BPM is often bad news especially when it is accompanied by palpitations.

Trained athletes typically have lower heart rates due to hypertrophy of the heart (muscle growth/ size and strength increase). Lance Armstrong and athletes like him often have a resting heart rate in the 30’s. (Most of us should probably talk to a doctor if we see our heart rates this low.) Lance’s heart is likely pretty darn big and is definitely very strong.

Cardio junkies (people who love aerobic exercise) are very thankful that there heart and lungs adapted. If they did not experience adaptation in the heart and lung department they would definitely not be able to do the amazing things they do. The tour de France is a 3 week long 2,200 mile bike race… this is a ton of biking. I have broken the 500 miles of cycling in a week marker, on an actual bike (it doesn’t count if you do this on a machine, my opinion)… it was really hard. All of the guys that manage to finish the tour are amazing to me.

If we take a look at these guys some of them are KINDA muscular but most are very lean. They do tend to have large quadriceps (a group of 4 different muscles on the front of the legs), but a body builder would have much larger quads. The reason they look the way they do is because the body does not get much stronger and the muscles do not grow much in response to aerobic exercise. There are three things that do grow tremendously due to aerobic exercise: metabolism (hardest to explain), Lungs (also hard to explain) and the Heart. Explaining how the heart adapts to exercise is simple. Resting heart rate is the best indicator of heart strength; in athletes a low resting heart rate indicates that the heart can pump a higher volume blood.

Exercise uses the heart; all exercise uses the heart from zumba to aquatic dance. All exercise increases heart rate, but only exercise of an aerobic nature significantly increases the heart’s stroke volume (how much blood is being pumped per beat). By asking the heart to pump more blood per beat the heart is physically stretched and it must physically contract over its full range of motion this is a great hypertrophy inducing exercise. In a weird way this is an example of how proper form produces more and better muscular growth.

It turns out weight lifting does little to stimulate hypertrophy of the heart. This is because while you are lifting, despite an increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure the volume of blood being pumped is not greatly increased and could potentially be less than average. Because the volume of blood per stroke is not higher (or not by much) the heart does not get to stretch out to its full range of motion. During a lift the muscles themselves engorge, you can see this: it is sometimes called “the pump”. This enlarged state of the muscles constricts the blood vessels that surround and intertwine with the muscles. The muscles elsewhere in the body, like in the digestive track, were already constricted (it naturally happens with most exercise), so basically during the “lift” the heart is frantically trying to pump blood through a kinked garden hose.

Doing this pumping blood through a body that is like a kinked garden hose is difficult for the heart, people with “weak” hearts should not weight lift. If you have a “weak” heart but want to weight lift you should for your safety, wait until your heart is stronger. There is good news: mild exercise, like walking, actually does improve the heart’s strength; most, as in nearly all people, can safely participate in mild exercise. Just the same ask your doctor what is and is not appropriate for you.

Weight lifting can strengthen the heart, but not my much. The good news is weight lifting while completely ignoring cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise is just plain silly. Doing some cardio as a warm-up prevents injury, and doing some cardio as a cool down helps clear away that nasty lactic acid. Being a cardio junkie that completely ignores weight lifting is also just plain silly… but more on that later.

A quick stretch immediately after a lift is a great way to open up the veins and get some much needed oxygen and nutrition to the muscles. Because stretching stimulates vasodilation, stretching is the best way to get the nutrition from our diets to muscles and joints. Note: some yogic stretches physically constrict blood vessels, but most do not. All the same you should never try to stay in a stretch of any kind for a long period of time (as a general rule not over 1-2 minutes, but some stretches like “child’s pose” are safe to do for much longer periods).           

Adaptation and Stretching/ Range of Motion      

Let us start with the bad news… tricky little imps of adaptation are out to get us; this thing can be out worst enemy. Bad posture, something that I often find myself guilty of, is just plain terrible for the body. Bad posture mostly refers to sitting posture but it can refer to posture in any position or even bad posture during exercise. When we have bad posture our spine is in an unhealthy position.

Sublaxation is a term argued over by medical doctors and chiropractors but if you have back problems chances are you have heard the term sublaxation. Vertebral Sublaxation in both communities (chiropractic and medical) is a nasty term used to describe an unnatural positioning associated with bad things like pinched nerves. There is a reason that the term sublaxation sounds like an awful way to poop your pants… because if things get real bad you might do just that (you might poop your pants). Indeed back problems can cause all kinds of incontinence.

So we all should sit up straight and stand tall no matter how uncomfortable it is right? WRONG VERY WRONG. Yes we should sit in a manner that is much closer to straight then slouch but we should not be over stressing our muscles to sit. The healthy middle ground that is perfect posture is actually easy to find. When you are standing breath in a deeply as you can… observe your posture: this about perfect and about perfect is perfectly fine. Most people when they inhale deeply have a slightly overly Lordotic (inward curvature) of the lumbar region, so be aware of this. The easiest way to good posture is to develop the habit of every once in a while taking a deep breath. If you develop this easy to develop habit of occasional deep breaths your posture will naturally and gradually improve.

When most of us envision someone sitting up straight what we actually are envisioning is someone sitting in a Lordotic state (lordosis)… this is bad and will cause lower back and other back pain. When we envision someone slouching we envision someone sitting in a kyphotic state (kyphosis)… this is also bad and will also cause all kinds of back pain.

Slouching is another adaptation… when we are slouching we are burning less calories then when we are sitting up straight. Anytime we are burning less calories it is an adaptation to conserve resources. When we slouch or lordotically “sit up straight” the ligaments, muscles and tendons of the back get stretched or constricted to unnatural lengths… causing pain.

All parts of the body have a functional range of motion; this is why how flexible we are is a huge marker of fitness. There are only three categories of fitness markers: flexibility, endurance and strength. One who loses sight of flexibility is doing their bodies a great disservice that will lead to INJURY and PAIN.

We don’t have to be able to do crazy yoga poses to be physically fit… but if you are all stiff and can’t touch your toes it is very bad: You do not have a functional range of motion. Those of us without a functional range of motion are, simply put, less functional but we could also be experiencing pain. (Of course there is the other extreme; overstretching and increasing the body well beyond its functional range of motion can also lead to chronic pain.) A functional range of motion (FROM) is just that: a range of motion which is functional.

Warning Science-y Stuff

The smallest functional unit in any muscle is the sarcomere; all muscles have these as their basic structure. The biceps alone might have as many as 100,000 sarcomeres. The sarcomere is composed of myofilaments. Each muscle cell is a tubular cell called a myocyte or myofiber. All in told, adding all the types of cells together, it is estimated that there are trillions of cells in the human body. 1,000,000,000,000 a thousand billions, a million millions… one trillion is a mind boggling number.

 All parts of the body are alive, excepting things like the water in blood and the dead cells of our hair. Bones = alive, muscles = alive, organs = alive, and what is truly amazing for most intents and purposes all of these living entities are functioning together harmoniously to produce one thing: the human body. No matter what your faith is the next time you find yourself questioning it, think about this: we are composed of a trillion + cells that must be in relative harmony for us to exist.     

Muscle cells contain contractile filaments which move using other muscle cells as anchors, this action physically changes the size of the muscle cell. If the contractile proteins, mostly actin and myosin, are relaxed they are not producing force (or at least not much). When the muscle is being either stretched or contracted a force is being generated. To produce a contraction ATP (adenosine triphosphate) must be used, calcium and plenty of other stuff is also involved it all gets very complicated.

The important concept to grab is that the muscle cells use each other as anchors and they in a weird way ratchet off of each other to produce power. STRETCHING can make you more powerful. It ups the power your muscle can produce in a neat way: it realigns disorganized muscular fibers.

Whenever our muscles are stretched the area of overlaying myofilaments of the individual sarcomeres is reduced, (when a muscle constricts this area increases). When all of the sarcomeres in a muscle are stretched to their limits, other connective tissue must then be stretched. In any and all muscles the sarcomeres are aligned in such a manner that their net efforts produce power. In organs the sarcomeres are supposed to be aligned in an omnidirectional manner such that they produce power in many directions, and this is a good thing. In skeletal muscles the sarcomeres are supposed to be aligned in a roughly parallel fashion to produce power in roughly one direction, and this is also a good thing. Unfortunately, organs will have some unnecessary levels of “parallel-ness” and skeletal muscles will have some unneeded “omnidirectional-ness.”

Most of the sarcomeres of skeletal muscle are roughly parallel so when we stretch them out in the direction that is roughly parallel to the sarcomere’s alignment; some of unneeded misaligned sarcomeres are dislodged from where they are anchored. If allowed to heal, these once misaligned sarcomeres will now be properly aligned. The more sarcomeres contracting in the same direction the more power that contraction produces. It is because of this fact that the weight lifter that never stretches is not as strong as they could be.

Sarcomere misalignment is both a naturally occurring phenomenon and an adaptation. A muscle that uses less of its sarcomeres to contract uses less energy to make the contraction. Indeed most adaptation that reduces the body’s functionality is about conversing resources.

Adaptation and Muscular Hypertrophy

                To become “muscular” you must overload the muscles. When you overload the muscles you are actually causing some damage to them, and to prevent future damage from the same load the body makes the muscles stronger. When a muscle cell is stretched or contracted beyond its ability little tears are made in the cell itself. Muscle cells are amazing little things; they are multinucleated cells, meaning they have many nucleuses. The nucleus is the organelle of a cell that contains the blueprints (DNA) of how the cell is made. Muscle cells being multinucleated translates into them having amazing abilities to heal themselves. The main reason aerobic exercise (cardio) does not tend to make a person bulky is because the actual load being placed on the muscles does ever exceed a person’s bodyweight.

(Performers of isometrics like flexing can achieve bulky because it is possible to exceed the load naturally provided by body weight alone.) 

At the end of the day all body healing is about filling gaps, muscles are really good at this. Envision a bridge that collapses in the middle because there was an earth quake that pulled the bridge apart. Now the span that must be crossed by this bridge is just a bit longer, and the bridge must be repaired to be just a bit longer. Or envision a weak little wooden bridge on a country road. Let’s say one day a big heavy truck drives over the bridge and it collapses. To prevent this in the future the wooden bridge must now get steel or concrete reinforcement and the bridge gets bigger and beefier.

The leading theory is that there are two kinds of muscular hypertrophy:  Myofibrillar and Sarcoplasmic. Mypfibrillar is characterized by the addition of extra contractile proteins resulting in massive gains in muscular strength but not much increase in overall volume. Sarcoplasmic is characterized by the addition of extra sarcoplasmic fluid in the muscle cell and huge gains in muscular volume, but not much gain in strength. According to this leading theory one type of hypertrophy cannot be had in isolation but differences in training can increase one type over another. (If you have not guessed by now hypertrophy is the fancy pants way of saying increased volume i.e. growing bigger and stronger.) Myofibrillar hypertrophy is most closely associated with Olympic weightlifters and power lifters. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is most closely associated with body builders.

Technically these two types of muscular hypertrophy thing is still theory: because there is not enough evidence to support it. The reason this is still theory is because when viewed under a microscope the difference between the biopsied muscle of powerlifters and body builders is actually hard to determine. The reason this theory is well supported is because when a protein analysis is done of biopsied muscle of different athletes it is often easy to guess which one is the powerlifter and which one is the bodybuilder: power lifters will USUALLY have more protein in their muscles. Other things can explain the difference in power between the extremely powerful “power” lifters/ Olympic weight lifters and the comparatively weak Bodybuilders. It should definitely be said that bodybuilders are usually extremely strong, they just happen to not be as strong as their smaller less muscular less well “defined” Olympic and power lifting counterparts.

Metabolic and neurological differences can be used to explain the disparity in strength between power lifters and bodybuilders.

Adaptation and the Metabolism Due to Exercise

Metabolic increases due to exercise are primarily due to muscular hypertrophy (bigger/stronger muscles burn more calories), but this is not the only way the body adapts to have a faster metabolism as a result of exercise. In response to exercise slowly over time our body’s slowly changes its hormonal balances, increasing the metabolism. The body also changes on the cell membrane level (the outside of a cell), by increasing or decreasing hormone receptors making the hormonal changes more effective. Inside of the cell changes in a number of ways. Often, in response to exercise, cells of the body increase the number mitochondria (the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell) in them because they need more energy. The cells of the body, most notably the muscles, also increase their glycogen stores.

This article is not really about the metabolism, and honestly… although it is interesting to some most people find the how it happens to be very dry and boring. There is a ton of chemicals and hormones and technical jargon that involved in the detailed explanation of how exercise increases the speed of the metabolism. Primarily these hormone and chemical changes have to do with the changes in our body’s insulin levels and insulin response system. Exercise has such a powerful blood sugar regulating effect that starting an exercise program has been shown to actually cure mild cases of diabetes: people have exercised the disease away. (Note: this is not possible very often, but exercise does consistently aide diabetics and mild exercise should be a part of any treatment plan.)

Muscles Adapt Faster and it is a Problem            

Exercise directly causes or indirectly stimulates adaptation on every level of the body. This is how we have the many benefits of exercise. With appropriate exercise every part of the body improves: the bones, the tendons/ligaments, joints, our organs, our BRAIN… all of it, everything gets better. Muscles get better and stronger very quickly in comparison to the rest of the body. This means that if we don’t wait for tendons/ ligaments/ joints to be strong we actually have our new found muscular strength to be a bad thing. This muscle hurting your tendons does not happen often with traditional weight training or most “classic” muscle building programs. However it is possible. When you are not in good shape trying to get into great shape too quickly brings a high risk of injury.

Good although vague news: it generally takes more time to go from bad shape to good shape than it does to go from good shape to great shape. This is because in the transition from good to great many of the metabolic and hormonal changes in the body have by in large already taken place. It is generally safe to quickly go from good to great shape because by the time the body gets into good shape the tendons, ligaments, joints and bones of the body are also in pretty good shape. If however one is in bad shape, meaning muscularly weak, then most likely the bones, tendons, ligaments and joints are also: WEAK.

Exercise makes all of the body stronger, but muscles adapt very quickly. This means that sometimes even when you can do the exercise or lift the weight, you shouldn’t. The best indicator of wither or not you shouldn’t be doing something is pain, basically if it hurts STOP. Exercise should never actually hurt, completely forget the old phrase: “no pain no gain.” Replace it with “No Strain, No Gain.” It is fine if exercise is difficult and mildly uncomfortable (it does not have to be many mild exercises are not in the slightest difficult or uncomfortable). Some exercise most notably weight lifting requires that you make yourself a bit sore to see the most gain. It is important and needs to be reiterated, even in the lifting of HEAVY weight there should NEVER be pain.

The best way to maximize gains is with proper nutrition.     

The body needs a ton of different things for nutrition to be proper: there are many different minerals and vitamins, we need water, we need electrolytes (like salt), and there are essential fatty acids and essential amino acids. We need “enough” of these many different nutrients. To maximize fitness gains we need more than we would need for a sedentary lifestyle. This bit of basic common sense eludes many people, most notably “dieters.” Regardless of actual calorie intake the basic needs of the body do not change. If we do not get our essential amino acids (protein) from our diet; our body will take it from our muscles. If we don’t get the vitamins and minerals we need our body will take them from our bones and other mineral/ vitamin rich places.

This breakdown of body tissue is called catabolism (catabolic state) and it is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact it is often a good thing. We need some catabolism to keep the body in balance, replace old cells, and even help fight cancer. But, we want to prevent excessive catabolism because excessive catabolism leads to many bad things, most notably weakness. Excessive catabolism leads to weakness everywhere including but not limited to the bones, the organs, and of course the muscles.

The building of body tissue is called anabolism (anabolic state). At any given time the body is always in BOTH an anabolic and a catabolic state. The exerciser is often interested in making muscular and other fitness gains. To maximize gains one should try and stimulate the body into being in a state that is mainly anabolic. If properly fed the average person’s body will try and be in a state that is mainly anabolic, this is obvious as the average person is not wasting away into nothing.

To maintain an increased level of anabolism; the vitamin and mineral requirements of the exerciser are higher than that of the average person, but often not by much. It is important to try and avoid over consumption/ supplementation of vitamins. I personally never recommend that a person exceed the recommended upper limit/range of a particular vitamin or mineral. For example: the exerciser needs additional calcium, but it is not recommended that ANYONE gets more than 2000mg of calcium a day (don’t worry if you do this every once and a while just don’t make a habit of it). A common recommendation for women over 50 is 1200mg of calcium a day, this demographic needs additional calcium. It is not well established how much calcium is needed for exercisers but I use 1200mg as a target for myself.

Fat recommendations vary wildly; I have never seen it recommended that saturated fat intake be increased. Recommended saturated fat levels are between as close to nothing as possible to about 30 grams a day. Those on an extremely high calorie diet, like many body-builders and elite athletes often have much higher saturated fat intake levels (often as high as 70 grams with 5000+ Cal diets). These elite athletes manage to maintain good cholesterol levels. If most of us ate this much saturated fat in a day we would have a crappy blood lipid profile.

The outer part of a cell, the cell membrane is a fat based structure, and indeed many parts of the body are fat based structures: the skin, cartilage, collagen, and many hormones. We need fat, exercisers need more fat if they are going to expect that their bodies build and repair these fat based structures. I have seen recommendations from just slightly over average to double. Regardless of actual calorie intake it has been found that a minimum of 10% of the calories should be from fat. So if you are going to eat more you are going to have to eat more fat as well. As you eat less and less it becomes increasingly important that the fat that you do get be predominantly healthy fats. Fat that is not trans-fat or saturated fat is healthy.

The big buzzword when it comes to exercise and nutrition is: protein intake, a subject that is constantly studied and debated. Most of us do not need a ton of protein from our diet to maximize our personal fitness gains. However if you happen to be a body-builder of about 100 kilograms (~220 pounds) who is in the gym 3-4 hours a day you could benefit from getting 180 to as much as 252 grams of protein.

Three basic protein recommendations:

All of these are based on lean body mass measurements; LBM is a person’s mass minus the fat. Most research is preformed and reported using the metric system. To be honest I do not feel like converting the following numbers for users of U.S. customary units. In the U.S. we actually use metric all the time… in fact metric is what is on the back of nutrition labels. So when you convert your body weight to kilograms by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2 you will eventually be using metric anyway when you go to eat the food.

Mild and Flexibility Exercises (Tai-Chi, Yoga) = .8 grams per kilogram LBM

Endurance Exercise (running, aerobics) = 1.2 – 1.4 grams per kilogram LBM

Strength and Anaerobic exercise (weight lifting, sprinting) = 1.4 – 1.8 grams per kilogram LBM

Four Duration Multipliers:

1 for an hour or less

1.1 for 1-2 hours (10%)

1.25 for 2-3 hours  (25%)

1.4 for 3-4 + hours (40%)

Rendering the following ranges

Mild .8 g/kg – 1.12 g/kg LBM

Endurance 1.2 g/kg – 1.68 g/kg LBM

Endurance High Intake 1.4 g/kg – 1.96 g/kg LBM

Strength 1.4 g/kg – 1.96 g/kg LBM

Strength High Intake 1.8 g/kg – 2.52 g/kg LBM

Amino Acids that Start with the Letter A

There are 22 standard amino acids 8-10 of them are considered essential depending who you ask. In truth most of the non-essential amino acids can be conditionally essential if a person has a medical issue. Aside from the standard amino acids there are many more non-standard amino acids. None of the amino acids that start with the letter A are consistently considered essential, but sometimes Arginine is considered an essential amino acid.

Alanine: Is a non-essential amino acid and can be manufactured by the body using pyruvate and branched chain amino acids. Alanine plays a key role in the glucose-alanine cycle: when we exercise in addition to pyruvate we generate alanine. The alanine then goes to the liver to make glucose, this allows for more of a cell’s ATP to be used for muscle contraction. The alanine cycle also transports ammonium to the liver to be converted to urea.

Arginine: Is a conditionally essential non-essential amino acid, meaning the body can make it but may not make enough of it. Primarily (can be biosynthesis in other ways) it is made like this: Our body makes citrulline in the epithelial cells of the small intestines from glutamine and glutamate… then citrulline is converted to Arginine in the proximal tubule cells of the kidney. Arginine is a pretty darn important amino acid, it does a ton of stuff for the body it helps with: cell division, wound healing, ammonia removal, immune function and the release of hormones. Arginine is a precursor for nitric oxide. Arginine has been used in the treatment of ED… if you don’t know what ED is it does not apply to you. L-Arginine is a fairly common supplement that has been attributed to reduced blood pressure, increased healing and while some claim supplementation increases Human Growth Hormone secretion this has been proven to be insignificant.

Asparagine: Is a non-essential amino acid. To make asparagine the whole process starts with a transaminase enzyme transfers an amino group glutamate to oxaloacetate which produces alpha-ketoglutarate and aspartate (aspartic acid). Then the enzyme asparagine synthetase from aspartate, glutamine, and ATP makes AMP, glutamate, pyrophosphate and asparagine. We need this amino acid for our nervous system and it plays an important role in the production of ammonia (yes the same type of ammonia that is used for cleaning).

Aspartic Acid: Is a non-essential amino acid. To make it: a transaminase enzyme transfers an amino group glutamate to oxaloacetate which produces alpha-ketoglutarate and aspartate (aspartic acid). (<- This is also the first step in making Asparagine.) Aspartic acid can also be made in the Urea Cycle. Aspartic Acid is participates in gluconeogenesis which is the incredibly important process by which our body gets glucose from non-carbohydrate sources. Aspartic Acid is used to make inosine, a precursor to purine bases (our body does need some purines). Aspartic acid also functions as a neurotransmitter.

We don’t really need to worry too much about any amino acids that start with the letter A. But it is a good idea to get some extra Arginine when you accidently get injured, because it can speed up the healing process. How we manage to make the non-essential amino acids is another example of adaptation, can you imagine if every nutrient was essential; having a balanced diet would be very difficult. Adaptation can be found in every part of the human body from the hair on our heads to thickened skin on the soles of our feet.

Happy exercising and make sure to get enough protein!

Cat and Dog nutrition, Mad Cow Disease and Human Cannibalism: Part 3 of the series: Weird Bants and the People Who Love Them.

Cat and Dog nutrition, Mad Cow Disease and Human Cannibalism: Part 3 of the series: Weird Bants and the People Who Love Them.

My wife and I think of our two dogs and our guinea pig as our little fur children. I also have a cat that I got when I was younger and before we were married. My wife is allergic to cats, but I still love my kitty. A lot of people love their pets like they are little people. We find that they have personalities like people so caring for them like they are human becomes easy.

Cats and dogs are not humans, but scientifically we are related and we do share some genetic similarities. We humans are biologically classified as Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Chordata, Class: Mammalia, Order: Primates, Genus: Homo, Species: Homo Sapiens. It is hard to find ultra-reliable data for this, but for fun I am going to call the following numbers close… Cats and dogs are pretty genetically similar with cats having 82% homologous genes with dogs. But cats are oddly more closely related to humans than dogs with a surprising 90% similarity. Genetics can be truly mind blowing, but they are incredibly relevant in some circumstances. I call cats and dogs being so similar to us a pretty relevant factoid.

We are not all that genetically different from any animal, many gene codes for basic necessary life processes are present in most organisms. (For that matter, we have some genetic similarity to plants, but that is much harder to conceptualize and I am not going to talk about it in this article.) The more you learn about how animals compare and differ the more you can see this. There are 11 systems to the human body (SLIC MEN R RED): Skeletal, Lymphatic, Integumentary (skin), Circulatory, Muscular, Endocrine, Nervous, Renal, Reproductive, Excretory and Digestive. It makes sense to me that God would use a similar design with other creatures.

Life is indeed very complicated, but life forms are very similar to each other in many ways. All animals are a Eukaryote: meaning we all have cells membranes as opposed to cell walls like plants have. Cats and dogs are not just in the same kingdom we are in the same Class as we are. Cats, Dogs most things we think of as “animals” and surprisingly, the gigantic BLUE WHALE are all mammals just like us. Mammals breathe air and are “warm” blooded, we all have: a back bone, hair (not always obvious), three little bones in our ears, and mammary glands for nursing our young. If you were to ask a veterinarian how many systems to the bodies of cats and dogs they will tell you something that sounds an awful lot like the 11 systems that we humans have. It is spooky how similar we are.

We know that nutrition is very important for humans, yet for some reason we never think about the nutritional requirements of animals. OR WORSE we blindly trust dog food and cat food companies to be perfectly ethical and give our animals the nutrition they need. I see it all the time, I will be in line at a grocery store and the person in front of me will be buying tons of health food and then BAM a bag of dog food or cat food. Oddly the macro nutrient analysis for both dog food and cat food is nutritionally better suited for human consumption than it is for dogs and cats. DON’T EAT DOG AND CAT FOOD, it may not be that dangerous to do so, but do we really know what is in there?

I don’t recommend looking too deeply into the contents of dog and cat food because it gets really sad and extremely gross very quickly. IF the dog/ cat food does not say it is made with only “human grade ingredients” it most likely contains the meat of euthanized animals. Seriously doing a little research into this can cause nightmares. Anything that contains “Meat Meal” should also be avoided.   

 Anyway…   

Dogs and Cats are both carnivores (guinea pigs are herbivores). I know a good deal about the actual nutritional requirements for dogs, cats and guinea pigs; because these are the animals that I am responsible for to feed. My wife and I, am not comfortable letting the carnivores hunt for their food or our little herbivore scavenge and graze; because we do not want our little fur children getting lost. We feed our dog’s raw meat as they would have hunted for themselves if they could have, and we feed our guinea pig raw vegetables and grasses as he would have gotten for himself. My cat is not on a raw food diet because after she is done eating another cat that has kidney problems eats whatever she fails to eat. My cat is on expensive “for kidney health” cat food. Not all cat food or dog food is that bad but the kinds that are not horrible are always expensive. Feeding your animal the actual food they are supposed to eat is more expensive than cheap dog and cat foods, but it is also cheaper than expensive (higher quality) dog and cat food.

Typically feeding dogs and cats a “food” from a bag is the nutritional equivalent to feeding humans an all cookie diet. Dogs and cats are carnivores; they need lots of protein and fat and very little carbohydrates as this is what would be naturally present in a nearly all meat diet. (Sorry low carb people this is not a solid argument that carbs are bad for people.) Look at the back of the bag of dog/cat food you have, often it will say it has a guaranteed 10-15% protein content which is way too low to be healthy.

There are two reasons I choose to quickly write about the nutrition requirements for dogs and cats. 1. I do not think it is fair to feed your pets a diet that is bad for them, their only real choice is to eat the food we give them. 2. If we really want to see the potential effect near perfect nutrition can have simply switch your pet to a proper diet. Nutrition is not that hard for humans, if we know what we’re doing, but for most animals nutrition is SUPER easy.

There are many sites to learn more about how to raw feed your animals here is one of them:

http://www.rawlearning.com/

All animals must ingest other organisms (plants are organisms) for substance the fancy science word for this is heterotrophs. Carnivores are very clearly a “hunter.” Herbivores are very clearly a “Gatherer.” Humans are hunters/ gatherers. Often during the course of our history it has been necessary to hunt animals due to a lack of ingestible food. Often during our history we have had to do the opposite and live solely off of plant sources. As hunting/gathering omnivores it is healthy for us to eat quite a lot of things… but is it healthy to eat people.

Zoological cannibalism is rare but it is not too terribly uncommon; most of us have heard about the infamous black widow spider… Female black widows eat the males as part of sexual cannibalism.  

It is not natural for Cows to eat other cows… But sometimes we humans are dumb enough to feed cows to cows. This is the leading theory behind what causes Mad Cow disease. It is known that if a cow that has Mad Cow disease is used as ruminant feed (ground up and fed back to cows) the disease will spread. Mad Cow can be spread to humans as well; mad cow is just as scary as the news networks made it out to be. Mad Cow causes the crazies and eventual coma and or death.

People eating people is always a bad idea!

There might be a special place in Hell for the Hannibal Lector like people out there. But is it really morally wrong to eat the already dead to prevent starvation? I say, yes, yes I do believe it is morally wrong, but morals aside is eating human flesh ever a good idea? It turns out the answer to this question is NO. When a human eats another human this weird gene known as the PRP gene gets pissed off (activated) and causes a chain reaction of abnormal prion generation. A prion is a protein found in nerve cells like that of your brain. Once prions become abnormal they have the nasty habit of making other prions abnormal and there is little the body can do to defend against it. If one finds themselves starving to death, don’t eat the dead guy next to you. Doing so could cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) a degenerative brain disorder similar to MAD COW. (CJD can also just sort of “happen” but it is rare.)

You would have to be a bit crazy to eat another human being, but doing so will physically change your brain and make you crazy and potentially kill you. If you find yourself in such a life or death situation you should fast, you will outlive the people who have resorted to cannibalism.  Cannibalism is perhaps the weirdest diet there is, and most likely the worst one for you.

Bar Food and the Bar Flies That Love the Stuff: Part 2 of the series: Weird Bants and the People who Love Them.

Bar Food and the Bar Flies That Love the Stuff: Part 2 of the series: Weird Bants and the People who Love Them.

I drink, and I have gone out with friends to bars and had a good time. I am fully aware of the negative health effects of drinking, however it can be a ton of fun and some foods taste better with beer or wine. I do not drink regularly, it is expensive, bad for me and I loathe the idea of developing a tolerance. These days I try my best to minimize alcohol consumption even when I do drink, which is rarely. When I was younger I use to “party” but I must admit I have never battled alcoholism.

I have seen people battle alcoholism and it is tragic to witness, the bottle will break a home faster than anything else. Beating alcoholism is very hard, but it is possible. Depending on how far gone from reality an alcoholic is, beating alcoholism may require professional help.

Not all “bar flies” are alcoholics (well I would not consider all of them to be) some go to bars to be social and drink a beer or two. Some people who go to bars or clubs DON’T DRINK. I am going to examine liquor, beer, pickled eggs and other pickled things, and the infamous nut/popcorn bowl.

Before we don the rubber gloves and ask the patient to bend over for an uncomfortable examination, we should in all fairness shout to the world: BAR FOOD CAN BE REALLY TASTY. Life can’t be about eating healthy all the time, because well that would be miserable. I personally recommend that my clients schedule dieting “holidays”: a day or meal where they can take a guilt-free break from their diet. I find that doing this gives them something to look forward to and near magically prevents “little cheating.” The food people eat when they are cheating will add up to a lot more calories, and the body will absorb more of those calories. I think this practice of taking a diet holiday should be done once to a maximum of twice a month. Perhaps your next diet holiday could be at the local bar (go easy on the alcohol you will find your tolerance dropped significantly, if you are underage obviously you should not drink).

It is worth it to ask the “regulars” or the bar tenders what is good at the establishment. Sometimes the local bar could be a hidden source of amazingly delicious foods like: artichoke dip, Buffalo wings, burgers and big meaty sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, cheese fries, nachos and all kinds of other really tasty definitively bad for you food. This food is bad for you, it is after all, designed to make you drink more alcohol, largely by being high is thirst inducing sodium. If you ate at the bar everyday it would be hard to stay on a healthy diet (not impossible, but really hard).

Alcohol as a Health Food??????

General proposed health benefits of alcohol are a hot topic these days. For a few years now wine has had a good reputation when it is to be consumed in moderation. Moderate alcohol consumption is commonly considered to be 1-2 drinks. It was the antioxidants in wine that we thought was what made it have a health improving effect. For me I think it is silly to drink wine for antioxidants, when antioxidants can be found in so many foods and beverages. Recent research is actually suggesting that moderate consumption of any form of ethanol alcohol be it wine, beer, liquor or cocktails could have some health benefits: Higher HDL, increased insulin sensitivity, and prevention of bone loss.

The problem I have with these studies and pushing alcohol as a health food is two things: 1. Alcoholic beverages do not have many nutrients in them (and yes I am counting the antioxidants of wine), 2. There is such a fine line between helpful and harmful and for some who have natural intolerances it might be a very fine line.

One thing that I take as a bad sign is pregnant women should never drink, it has again and again been shown to cause complications… this spooks me a bit. When one part of the population MUST be excluded when it comes to health recommendations, I always question if what is being recommended is really healthy.

In case you missed it: PREGNANT WOMEN AND INFANTS SHOULD NEVER DRINK!!!

I highly doubt that moderate consumption of alcohol is actually bad for you, I am just not sold that it is good for you either. It is probably not bad for you to have a glass of wine or a mug of beer with dinner or even having a shot afterwards (this is not an uncommon tradition). Adding orange juice to your vodka (it’s called a screw-driver it is nummy and a common cocktail), may add vitamin C but that does not mean you have made your vodka a health food; it just means that you added vodka to a health food. (Juice as a health food is actually debatable, because the fruit’s fiber is largely removed and this lack of fiber causes blood sugar spikes.)

When people add something as a health food to their diets they do so in a number of ways. But the common way that alcohol is added is simple addition. People don’t remove something and replace it with alcohol, they just add alcohol: meaning people are now habitually consuming more calories. More calories = weight gain = you probably don’t want that. If however, you subtracted all the soda you consume (absolutely not a chance in heck that soda is good for you in any way) and replaced it with moderate alcohol consumption, it might be a slightly good thing.

I do drink soda from time to time, but yes it is bad for you.

Never drink denatured alcohol it has things added to it to make it “unfit” for consumption.  

Ethanol alcohol is metabolically considered a carbohydrate (and a poison, to the low-carb people: carbs are not poison, alcohol just happens to be). Because there is nowhere in the body to store alcohol, your body makes metabolizing alcohol a priority, and it gets it done quickly. About 20% of what is consumed gets absorbed in the stomach; the rest is absorbed in the intestines. Alcohol metabolism gets very complicated, but it primarily happens in the liver. Alcohol can stimulate increased insulin secretion resulting in low blood sugar; increased insulin secretion can also stimulate fat storage.

Exercise and alcohol do not mix well the combo causes really low blood sugar.         

Liquor:

The ethanol alcohol in liquor is the result of fermentation of sugars into alcohol by yeast. Not to gross you out but the alcohol is a metabolic byproduct of the yeast. To get liquor to be more alcoholic than what naturally occurs with fermentation alone, the liquor is distilled. Distilling is essentially a boiling off of the alcohol into a gas leaving some of the water and other components behind. This gas is condensed and collected to make a beverage that is more alcoholic than it originally was. Ethanol fermentation is what causes bread (that has yeast) to rise, the yeast also gives off CO2 which is what makes things rise.

Liquor is usually about 40% alcohol by volume with the rest being almost entirely water and some impurities. Alcohol is a carbohydrate, and liquor has no protein or fat; meaning it is off limits for most low carb diets as it is entirely carbs. It is in the “impurities” that liquor has its unique substances like flavonoids and things that are good for you, but simply put there is just not enough there to count. The average shot of liquor (1.5 ounces) has about 100 calories. Liqueurs are flavored liquors, and are packed full of sugar and of course more calories. Darker liquors have more of these good for you flavonoids, but again not enough to count for anything: liquor is not a health food (this really should not have surprised you).

Beer:

Unlike liquor beer actually has some protein in it, and is a much more complicated beverage. It is sometimes called liquid bread, this is a misnomer. Bread has a higher amount of protein in it then beer, by percent of calories, white bread is about 11% protein and beer is about 4%. The protein in beer is not enough to justify drinking beer as a source of protein, or choosing beer over other alcoholic beverages. The amino acid profile of beer is very bad and does not compare to that of bread or other grains. Beer protein typically provides absolutely zero of the essential amino acids and for this reason should not be used when adding up total protein intake.

Moderate consumption, 1-2 beers, has (like moderate consumption of all ethanol alcohol) been shown to perhaps have health benefits. I however, have to disagree… at 200-300 calories 1-2 beers is 10-15% of the total calorie intake on a 2000 calorie diet, but it provides nowhere close to 10-15% of the nutrients we need. In beer, there is often some calcium, iron, folate, thiamin, b vitamins and even a little bit of other good stuff but again it is simply not enough to count. Beer is not a health food.

Pickled Eggs and Other Things:

Pickled things in bars are often packed with tons of sodium, which makes you thirstier. It seems like bars will pickle just about anything. I have to tell you I love pickled eggs and I have never tried pickled pig’s feet. Pickled eggs are an acquired taste, as are most of the pickled things you find available at the bar. Pickled things you may find in a bar: pickled cucumbers (a pickle), olives, okra, peppers, watermelon rinds, snakes (yeah some bars will do this), fish, eye balls (I have personally seen this one), onions, sausage, pigs feet, and of course pickled eggs. Bars really prove that you can pickle just about anything.

The common pickle made of cucumbers is low in calories because the cucumbers are low in calories. Many pickled things are similar nutritionally to their non-pickled counterparts. Pickling causes chemical changes in foods changing texture, flavors and even color. Diffusion of salts and seasoning into the food happens with pickling. Heat affects protein is a similar way as the acids, alcohols and salt found brining and pickling solutions, it helps predigest it. Pickling preserves food and this was the original purpose to pickling. By being acidic and or salty pickling creates an inhospitable environment for most bacteria, enzymes and microbes which is why it prevents food’s decay. Pickling can also use fermentation, not all pickling uses it, with “friendly” bacteria (Leuconostoc mesenteroides and Lactobacillus plantarum) to prevent spoiling.

Pickling can be done at home, and for many things does not require much or any salt, making homemade pickles and pickled eggs potentially much better for you. Homemade pickled things have the potential to be health food.

The acetic acid in vinegar used in pickling does increase your fat burning metabolism but the effect is very slight. Adding vinegar to a meal slows the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, this can have a noticeable effect on blood sugar levels.     

The Bowl of Nuts or Popcorn:

Nuts are good for you, and popcorn is not good for you. To be fair popcorn is not that bad for you either, many foods fit into this category popcorn happens to be one of them. Bar popcorn typically does not have much more than a bit of salt on it, so it is not high in calories. It is not what is in the bowl, it is the fact that the bowl is communal and everybody can put their hands in there.

The acidity of the brine has a protecting effect on the pickled food in the jar that sits on the bar, but (sometimes people don’t even have to reach into the jar because of tongs)… that little bowl has no such guardian. There can be all kinds of gross stuff like germs, urine, and fecal matter. That guy that just got back from the bathroom and reached into the bowl may not have washed his hands. The good news is that little bowl could help you lose weight… the bad news if it does help you lose weight it will be due to food poisoning.

Please don’t try and get food poisoning to lose weight.

Bar food does not sound like it is a diet plan but for many it is. For those that eat at the bar THAT much usually it makes them fat and unhealthy pretty quickly. The bar diet is unfortunately pretty common, you may even know a bar fly that eats his dinner of unhealthy food at the bar every night after work. I do not recommend the Bar diet.

Alcoholism is often considered a disease by society, medical professionals and friends and family of alcoholics. I am still of the opinion that anything which can be cured through pure will power and a common sense detox program is not a disease. Alcohol is physically and psychologically addictive yes, a disease… NO. Alzheimer’s, Birth defects, Cancer, Diabetes, Epilepsy… the list goes on and on, all can be considered a disease. It is good news if you don’t consider alcoholism a disease, because you can’t always beat a disease, you can always beat alcoholism.

If you are fighting alcoholism right now, keep it up, I believe that you can do it.

The Alkaline Diet and perhaps the silliest Ana diet The Rainbow Diet: Part 1 of the series: Weird Bants and the people who love them!

The Alkaline Diet and perhaps the silliest Ana diet The Rainbow Diet: Part 1 of the series: Weird Bants and the people who love them!

Irrelevant preface:

I have decided to change the name of this series, as this is the first post I am sure no one will mind. Banting is an old fashioned term for dieting. The term was popularized in the 1800’s by an undertaker named William Banting, this whole thing was about low carb dieting. He started his low-carb diet based on the advice of a Doctor name William Harvey, who had heard of low carb dieting as a means to control diabetes. Before the discovery of insulin the ONLY way to control diabetes was with proper Banting.

A reader that I care for deeply pointed out to me that she disliked the word “Dieting”… I have to agree. Diet is the word DIE with a “T” tacked on to the end of it. Words by themselves can mess with the psyche, word associations can play with the mind.

I prefer the term bant and banting, because it makes me think of pant and panting. Pant and panting make me think of exercise (not all exercise needs to involve panting). Chances are you thought of exercise when I suggested bant sounds like pant, but I bet you thought of a different kind of exercise! GET YOUR MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER !!! Or keep it there (that all caps thing was a joke)… I don’t really care what you do with your own mind as long as you keep it to yourself, it’s yours, and so is the word Banting. If you learned a new word today, HOORAY.

Now for the article:

The Alkaline diet is all the rage, in researching for my last series this diet kept popping up over and over again. A lot of people love this diet, but as of right now I would call this a hipster diet. Meaning that if you are reading this and you are on the Alkaline diet most likely you are in fact a hipster. Do you ever wear wool caps when it’s 90 degrees outside? You might be a hipster. (I have hipster friends I actually enjoy these people they entertain me.)

So what is wrong with this diet nutritionally, good news, not much. This can be a healthy diet. The basic things to eat on this diet are fresh citrus, low-sugar fruits, vegetables, tubers, nuts and legumes. Doing this you can pretty easily get all the nutrition you need and avoid many bad things that are in other foods. All of the foods you are supposed to eat on this diet are health foods.

Root vegetables and potatoes are tubers. Tubers are a neat way for plants to repopulate and spread without seeds, they also function as a way for the plant to survive the winter by using them as food. Potatoes are stem tubers, and grow off of stem shoots (you have seen this if you did not cook your potatoes right away). Technical lingo: they are a development of large stolons (means branch) that thicken into a storage organ. MIND BLOW TIME: PLANTS HAVE ORGANS TOO.     

The Alkaline Diet is a lie, shim sham, you have had a blind fold pulled over your eyes and been Wet Willyed in the ears. It is riddled to the brim with laughably wrong pseudoscience.

The pseudoscience: following the diet is said to help maintain a slight alkalinity to the blood, without stressing the body’s regulators of acid-base homeostasis. Doing this, they claim, as most fraud diets do; will do just about everything that is good for you: from speeding up your metabolism to improving your eyesight. (Remember, the Alkaline diet is a healthy diet, the “science” behind it just happens to be complete bull poopy). I find this diet’s pseudoscience so laughable because it actually does the EXACT OPPOSITE that it claims to do. Alkaline dieters following the diet have a tendency to have slightly more acidic blood than average.

The actual science:

The body makes chemical compounds, and we eat chemical compounds that the body then proceeds to use, the whole thing is so complicated that we may never run out of stuff to study. The body keeps the blood’s acid level roughly between a pH of about 7.35-7.45. The blood must stay very close to this range, if it gets too acidic (blood pH drops) it’s bad, and if gets too basic (alkaline, blood pH raises) it’s ALSO bad. It is bad if it gets too acidic (acidemia) primarily because the enzymes in the blood can lose their ability to function, potentially causing DEATH. If the blood pH get too alkaline (alkalemia) the body’s immediate response is to decrease ventilation, (breathe less) you may not notice it. Meaning if you did manage to chronically have alkaline blood not only would you be suffering from the unique dangers of pH imbalance, you would suffer from ALL THE PROBLEMS that you would get from not getting enough oxygen.

Both acidemia and alkalemia, you may call them thingies as I might in a personal conversation, can cause kidney problems. The body compensates for fluctuations in blood pH using primarily two methods: breathing (the faster method) and the kidneys (the more long term method). The body does not choose one method or the other it uses both at the same time. We increase ventilation, by breathing more or deeper to raise our blood pH. More air means more oxygen to bond to free hydrogen making the blood more alkaline and back to normal, we decrease ventilation to do the opposite. The kidneys directly make, release into blood, excrete into urine, or do some other sort of kidney voodoo with acids and bases. This stuff gets COMPLICATED; it is so complicated in fact that your doctor may not feel comfortable treating you if you have a disorder related to blood acid-base homeostasis. Seeing a specialist is often a good idea.

The bright side:

Good news though, even though the pseudoscience behind The Alkaline Diet is complete bull poopy, it is still a diet that tells you to eat healthy foods. With typical use this diet is typically healthy. I would not mind having a client on The Alkaline Diet, because: with my guidance, I could ensure they get enough of each macro nutrient. Many foods on their “no” list are healthy foods, and I think it is sad that Alkaline dieters might not be enjoying these foods flavors.

Most people who are strong proponents of one diet or another are guilty of FEARMONGERING; the Alkaline diet is no exception. Most “this is the best diet you should do it” people use a number of tactics to scare you. When they scare you of something, very rarely do they scare you of a thingy that you should earnestly be afraid of. Most of the time they are just being greedy and mean, they happen to not care that their pants are on fire. Some of them are just plain stupid, but most of them are regular old fashioned unethical, sorry.

If ingested in small enough quantities, even many POISONS will do little to no harm… So you should never spend time being afraid of what you should or should not eat, fear sucks, do not be afraid. Instead of fear try the concept of awareness, you should be aware that eating an extra strip of bacon may be bad for your heart. (This is not going to stop me from eating the extra strip of bacon, I love bacon, and I will just have less bacon next time and not eat bacon every day).

These fad diets that get famous (The Alkaline Diet is a fad diet) are great because they often spread awareness and they get people thinking. Unfortunately, they often have people eating bull poopy sandwiches. Everyone and anyone explaining anything tries to make what they are explaining sound understandable; those that are great at this make the best teachers and the best con artists. As far as I know, everything that could be used for good; can also be used for evil.

These “My diet is the best” people are trying to get you to accept their concept by using what I call the sandwich technique (I am not alone in calling this technique the sandwich technique.) I am going to explain how to properly do the sandwich technique.

The sandwich technique:

The Top Piece of bread: it is always something that you are at least a little familiar with, you may even understand the top piece of bread. You are comfortable with the top piece of bread. Even if you are not comfortable with the top piece of bread the top piece of bread is normally verifiably true. If you looked it up you would find credible sources to confirm the facts found here.

The Middle of the Sandwich: this is often something either completely amazing or seemingly so simple that you FEEL stupid about never noticing it before. The middle of the sandwich is all about convincing you that the facts in the middle of the sandwich belong there; between the two pieces of bread that you already know belong in the sandwich. The middle can be used for good and evil: If the middle of the sandwich’s facts is true then it is being used for good; if the middle of the sandwich’s facts is a lie then it is being used for evil.

The Bottom of the Sandwich: this is also always something that you are at least a little familiar with that is verifiably true. This part of the sandwich is usually not easy to understand. It is filled with facts you know to be true, but maybe you have not personally experienced to be true. These facts are usually harder to physically see or touch, but they are hard facts. The facts here can be seen or touched by experts, using the right equipment, which you don’t have. Even if these facts don’t take the “you trust the experts” approach; they always take advantage of the best, kindest, most loving, parts of our nature like: our natural DESIRE to trust, our WANT to be caring, and our NEED to feel like we belong.

I don’t think the people who buy into fad diets are stupid, and I don’t look down on them, and neither should you. Chances are the people that believe in these fad diets are good people with big hearts. Being a kind, loving, trusting person who wants to belong, is a wonderful thing. At the same time we probably should not make fun of skeptics, because it looks like having a little bit of skepticism is a good idea.

I believe that athletes come in all shapes and sizes. I believe that the super fat sumo wrestlers are athletes and the super thin marathon runners are athletes. For me amazing physical ability = athleticism. I feel it is important to recognize that while there are of course examples of all shapes and sizes being healthy, there are also examples of all shapes and sizes being unhealthy. The extremely thin and the extremely fat are usually unhealthy. The perfectly sculpted body builder, that guy/ girl you think is “hot”, the average person, and Mr. Couch D. Potato, all can have health problems and all of them can be “unhealthy.” This proves that health is not about the scale or the mirror, health is about what is hidden on the inside. Weight is an indicator of health it is not a decider of health.

If the body of their dreams is healthy, I will do my best to help my clients get into their dream bodies. I accept and respect the decisions people make about how they want to look. I would help a sumo wrestler train for their next match, and an ultra-thin marathoner train for their next race. I want my clients to be comfortable with themselves and how they look.

I have personally been fat and I have personally been thin, but I have always been comfortable in my own skin. This comfort is a product of having kind and loving parents, great family, friends that feel like family, and an amazing wife. How I feel about myself and the people I have that help me feel that way, no matter how I look at it, is luck. I am a lucky man, personally I feel that all of these people are blessing from God, but I respect your beliefs if you call it all happenstance.

Lol no segue, whatsoever… segue is pronounced Segway. A Segway is that two wheel scooter thing, a literary segue is a transition. All that emotional stuff made me have to take a break so… On my break I looked up how to spell segue properly.

Ana diets are all about tricking the body into one thing or another. Sometimes I look at these and see the methodology and perhaps even how they may scientifically be working physiologically. When it relates to the human body, Physiological effectiveness is not always all that relevant, when something has physiological effectiveness. We can think our way into and out of, a lot of things, our minds are very powerful and the placebo effect is very real.

The rainbow diet is possibly the prettiest diet of the Ana diets I know of. No Ana diet is healthy, and fasting when you are THAT thin is an unhealthy idea. The rainbow diet is popular in the pro-anorexia community and most anorexics already know about it. The rainbow diet does not have to be a “for anorexics only” diet. Some people have tried doing this with a healthy amount of calories like 2000 calories for fun or as a challenge, perhaps because they were bored and unchallenged.

The basic idea of the Rainbow Diet: Eat a different food of a different color each day of the week. For each day ONLY eat foods of the same color, making a rainbow of colors. This as a traditional Ana diet is dangerously restrictive when it comes to calorie intake.

Many find this diet especially effective perhaps because it is not boring, when a diet is not boring it is easier to stick too. A food’s color can sometimes be an indicator of what nutrients are in a food like the color orange: apricots, pumpkins, tangerines, oranges and carrots all have a good amount beta carotene. Because of this relationship between food nutrients and food color, eating a diet with a wide variety color is a good idea. It is a good idea to eat a diet that resembles a rainbow. This diet is a challenge, but an achievable challenge. Each day is a different achievement. If you finished a day without eating a food that is a different color than the allowed color that day, you achieved that ENTIRE day, and it feels great to do so. If you slip up and accidentally eat the wrong color or “cheat” you have to try again the next day. When done by an anorexic if they cheat they simply just exercise to counteract the “cheat” (this is actually common of most all Ana diets). There are so many lessons that can be learned from this diet it deserves reiteration in the form of a list.

You can skip the list you just read ALL of it.

  1. If dieting is boring it is harder to stick to.
  2. Eating a colorful variety of foods is a good, nutritious idea.
  3. Challenges are okay, because achievement feels amazing.
  4. If you make a mistake you should try to fix it and you often can.

I don’t want this post to be “thinspiration” (inspiration that anorexic people use to continue on their dangerous diets). But instead of fear mongering and telling what you already know about the dangers of anorexia. I am going to tell you how to LOOK as thin as you do, if not thinner, but do so and be healthy like a super-thin marathon runner.

Marathon runners and most runners for that matter eat a healthy diet; often they obsess about eating a healthy diet. Obsession about eating healthy is generally not frowned upon in the running community (although many people still find it confusing). Runners eat a healthy amount of calories because they understand that calories are your body’s source of energy and they come with nutrients. Runners do argue about what to eat, but they all agree that you should try to eat healthy.

Training for anything requires plenty of nutrients.

Anorexics (near always) have a much higher body fat percentage than super THIN marathon runners or super HUGE body builders. Many huge, and healthy, body builders have body fat percentages around 3.5%. I do not consider myself a true “body builder” I personally am currently around 7% body fat; most anorexics are around 10%. It is true that digital machines and scales that electronically measure body fat percentages by measuring the relative conductance of the body (how easy electricity passes through it), are not accurate for the morbidly obese and the anorexic. It is hard to get reliable body fat percentage numbers for these two demographics. Decent body fat percentage numbers can be gotten for these groups using pinch tests, and more accurate tests are difficult but possible and expensive. If you can pinch fat on the front of your thigh when you are flexing, you have more fat than I do. (No worries readers I am muscular and in excellent health, I just happen to weight a good bit and have a low body fat percentage, this paradox is why BMI is BS).

The human body has dozens if not hundreds, more likely thousands of different defensive mechanisms against the bad for us things we do. (This is not a good excuse to live an unhealthy life most of these defense mechanisms have some very negative, sometimes unhealthy, consequences.) One of the defense mechanisms the body uses to prevent rapid fluctuations in body fat percent: is making more fat cells. The more fat cells you have the harder it is to gain weight and the harder it is to lose weight. The morbidly obese have more fat cells than average.

It could be possible that anorexics have more fat cells than average too, more study is needed. Unfortunately, biopsies are the best way to discover how many fat cells a person has. IT IS NOT ETHICAL, to take a biopsy of an Anorexic’s fat, because the Anorexic needs that fat and biopsied tissue is not returned to the person. Bone marrow can be returned to the donor. It has been concretely shown that anorexics have more “yellow” bone marrow. Yellow bone marrow (medulla ossium flava) is mainly made of fat cells and its job is to make more fat cells.

Anorexics I am truly sorry if the next thing I say makes you cry, it is not my intent to hurt you. I want to let you know that you can look very thin like you want to, but have a healthy body. As of right now as you are reading this if you are an anorexic: Your bones are TOO fat. Because your BONES are so FAT your body does not get enough of a lot of the things it needs like red blood cells.

Blood cells are also made in the bone marrow, how much of each type of bone marrow we have is largely demand based; meaning if we need more red blood cells we will have more red bone marrow (medulla ossium rubra).

Training for marathon running does not have to be incredibly time consuming, but it is of course going to take a bunch of effort. Training for a marathon does not automatically mean that you will be thin or in the case of anorexics get fat or muscular. If you want to maintain your figure while you train (want to stay either curvy or thin) it is not too hard to do using adjustments in nutrition.

Anyone can become a runner; you can start today with proper diet and a couch to 5k program. Proper diet is not too hard to do and neither are couch to 5k programs.

A fun seemingly irrelevant note to end on:

It may be really hard to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time; IF you try to start doing them at the same time. If you start rubbing your stomach and THEN start patting your head WHILE you are already rubbing your stomach at the same time, you might find it much easier to do both at the same time. (This works give it a try.) The same can be true of diet and exercise… it is just funny how the body works.

Have fun exercising and happy banting!

DV’s, Calories and losing a pound of fat, plus a recipe! Part 10 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

DV’s, Calories and losing a pound of fat, plus a recipe! Part 10 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

A brief history of the concept of Daily Values: always. That’s it every culture from the dawn of time has had some idea or another about what should be eaten and how much. Sometimes historical guidelines were a little off but usually they were for one reason or another good idea to follow.

BOOM

http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/FoodLabelingNutrition/FoodLabelingGuide/ucm064928.htm

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) of the United States government puts out the above chart; these are the official government stamped recommended Daily Values. This is a very general guideline meant for most of us (a potential flaw in the guideline). The FDA does recommend specific values for different demographics but they are not incorporated into this system. On food in the US nutritional labels are based off of these values. In the US products meant for infants often describes Daily Values as they reference to infants. Just for fun other governments like to disagree slightly.

BAM

http://www.gdalabel.org.uk/gda/gda_values.aspx

The Food and Drink Administration of the United Kingdom uses a system called Guideline Daily Amounts, GDA (England, Great Brittan whatever you want to call this place). In the UK the labels on food are based off this system as it is described for women. It is felt that the described GDA for women is the best option of the three, to apply to the general public. The UK system differs from the US system largely by recommending different amounts for different demographics largely men women and children. The US does this too, but they do not incorporate it into the official chart that is in use.

It is not just the governments that disagree… it is everyone. Chances are you disagree with some of these values, I know I do. Just the same, there is research behind the values that a government puts out… because well a healthy population is a cheaper population. Healthy people put less financial stress on many systems including the government. With the UK having Universal Health Care they are doubly financially incentivized to publish good numbers. In the article above, it details that the numbers are fine to stick close to as a guide, but should not be treated as a target. This is elaborated by saying a person should eat no more than the GDA’s for sugars, fat, saturates (saturated fat) and salt.

For a safe bet, you should stick with the charts and the numbers off of them. If you must use the images know that the lower end of the field is usually for adult females and the upper end of the field is for adult males.

Most people involved with nutrition disagree with the amount of vitamins and minerals that government guidelines recommend, and indeed these numbers are always being studied…. But they do not have anything resembling a consensus as to what the numbers should be. Peoples (including doctors and other professionals) personal recommendations are often WAY higher or WAY lower. But guess what they are rarely as safe as the government recommendations.

Low Carb Diet: usually safe 98% + of the time maybe, but NOT always… the US government’s recommendation of 300grams may make you fat (debatable). However, there is near zero risk that your body suffers from extreme ketoacidosis. If your body is not capable of a healthy ketogenic state (a very small amount of people are not capable) and you stubbornly continue on your diet despite all kinds of discomfort you could develop extreme ketoacidosis and… DIE.

Low Fat Diets: I hate low fat diets (I need to be honest about my bias), not only are they uncomfortable but they are also potentially lethal. The FDA recommends 65 grams of fat with no more than 20 from saturated, this is not a low fat diet (at 29% of calories some, not me, would even consider this a high fat diet). People usually experience negative side effects; thank god most people on low fat diets cheat and have fatty food when nobody is looking.

A list of really bad potential side effects of a low fat diet:

LOW FAT DIETS ARE USUALLY DANGERIOUS, A common recommendation is a minimum of 18-20 grams of unsaturated fat.

  1. Depression (suicide = death), fats are biological precursors to most hormones in the body including mood regulating hormones, when your body goes without the fat to make the hormones it needs; it can use it’s fat stores to some extent. However while the body is getting that fat it is going without and you are depressed (amongst other bad things). Your body over compensates, hooray for insanity causing mood swings, and you become manic… to much mania and the average body builds up a resistance to everything that causes mania. Meaning deeper and deeper depression.
  2. Poor vitamin absorption (potentially lethal), some vitamins like vitamin C are water soluble meaning they break down into something the body can use by being in water. Some vitamins are FAT soluble meaning breaking down into something the body can use MUST be done in fats and oils. If you are not getting enough fats in your diet your body CANNOT fully compensate for it. You will not get enough vitamins like A, D, E and K which are fat soluble. The body cannot or at least will not put fat from its fat stores into the stomach, and bile only has about 1% fat not enough to prevent malnutrition. Malnutrition is one of the worst ways to die.
  3. Increased cancer rate, this one may take a good while to take into effect but it has been repeatedly shown to be true. You do things to try and prevent getting cancer like wear sunscreen, and avoid this or avoid that, stop avoiding fat, by avoiding fat you are asking for cancer.
  4. Heart disease: those omega fatty acids that everyone is talking about being so good for your heart are FAT. You have most likely developed the mentality that these Omegas are good for you, well good news they are, so get some already.
  5. Overeating: fat is the most satiating nutrient you could consume. Not getting enough fat could result in hunger, thusly overeating.
  6. Imbalanced nutrition: I am a huge proponent of wiggle room in nutrition but your diet must resemble something that could be called balanced, and any time it does not you are putting yourself at risk.

Low Protein Diets: The FDA recommends 50 grams of protein, this is actually a pretty low protein diet being only about 10% but the non-active body does not really need much protein. If you are on a diet with less protein than about 40 grams: you can EXPECT weakness and mood issues. Muscles need protein to make repairs and when they don’t get it, they become weaker and weaker. Amino acids from proteins do more than just build cells. Tryptophan is a biological precursor to serotonin which we need to feel happy. I am thankful that these diets are becoming increasingly rare.

So what does the FDA recommend as for macro nutrients?

65 grams of Fat (no more than 20 saturated) = about 585 calories.

50 grams of protein (the world health organization gives guidelines for amino acids) = about 200 calories

300 grams of carbohydrates = about 1200 calories

This translates into 1985 calories: 29.4% Fat, 10.1% Protein and 60.4% Carbohydrates.

So how much is considered too much of each.

Protein: according to the National Academy of Sciences to much protein is 35% of daily calorie intake. On a 2000 calorie diet this is a whopping 175 grams of protein. Studies are done all the time on this topic and numbers like to dance around like crazy. I have never seen anything recommended by a reputable source over 1.8 grams per kilogram and the recommendation was for body builders. Assuming a weight of 100 kilograms (220 pounds) this is 180 grams of protein, damm close to the Academy’s numbers. I do not have a problem and I hold my tongue, when my clients say they are getting 40%. Over this tends to do no harm (unless you have kidney issues) but getting over this is typically utterly useless.

Fat: does not have well established maximums, however consuming over 30% increases risks for things like obesity, insulin resistance and cardiovascular problems. Consuming more than 30% fat slows down the metabolism (so does getting less than 10% fat). If you are on a low fat diet you should be especially careful to minimize saturated fat intake.

Carbohydrates: Assuming you meet the minimum of 10% Fat and 10% Protein your max carb intake would be 80%; which is 400 carbs on a 2000 calorie diet. This does not have to lead to weight gain, if the right carbs are consumed. These numbers are fairly common for vegans, and vegans are generally a lean group of people.

Oddly governments don’t even always agree with themselves… The “food plate” from the USDA, United States Department of Agriculture, does not rightly match the RDI’s of the Food and Drug Administration. In my opinion this is a good thing, I would prefer it if my clients followed the food plate model. The food plate is a much more balanced model.

http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/MyPlate/DG2010Brochure.pdf

http://www.choosemyplate.gov/index.html

Apparently the USDA is really here to help because they offer for free what many internet sites charge for (there are non-government free versions too). They offer a program called super tracker which helps you track your diet and physical activity. I was fact checking this and the government’s program is one of the most accurate I have seen to date, and is probably the most accurate free one. These types of programs are common but this one looks really good.

https://www.choosemyplate.gov/SuperTracker/default.aspx

Many smart phone apps that I have found that do this, are really good, and often free.

FAT MATH

Fat has around 9 calories per gram. There is 1000 grams in a kilogram, meaning a kilogram of fat has 9000 calories… scary. A kilogram is ~2.205 pounds so a pound of pure fat is 4081.6 calories. The fat in your body is contained within fat cells, which are held in place with connective tissue and of course there is muscle in the mix as well, when all of these are factored into the equation the commonly accepted number for number of calories in a an average pound of fat is about 3500 calories. The average kilogram of fat is about 7700 calories. (These numbers are for typical adipose tissue, fat, which contains about 80% fat by volume)

3500 calories should be considered to be about a maximum number of calories that could be in a pound of fat.

Contrary to popular belief fat is not kept by the body until it is needed. Fat cells are constantly releasing and storing fat, this is a very good thing. Fat cells do have a tendency to pick up other nasty things (toxins) and store them, but because they are constantly loading and unloading their cargo toxin build-up is not too bad (or at least not supposed to be). If fat cells did not do this, losing weight would be very dangerous. (Some toxins are released during weight loss, but this is normally not cause for alarms because of this load/unload function of fat cells.) Fat-cells also store vitamins like A, D, E, and K thus helping prevent malnutrition.

Adipose tissues, fat, aside from being a storage area, serve an endocrine function, fat makes hormones. (The fat itself does not make hormones the fat cell does). I am not going to get into their functions. These hormones are currently a subject of many studies. As far as I know there is not a single hormone that the body makes that has no effect on health when it is out of balance. It has been proposed that obesity throws these hormones out of balance. A list of adipose tissue hormones: Adiponectin, Resistin, Plasminogen Activator Inhibitor-1, TNF alpha, IL-6, Leptin, Estradiol. Adipose tissue also secretes some other stuff like proteins and things; the point is fat cells are busy little things.

The FAT gene

Being genetically predisposed to obesity is extremely rare, and it usually involves the hormone leptin. If you super want to see if you blaming your genes has any merit, you can start contacting all the blood testing labs near you to see if they will test your leptin levels for you. Most likely you are not genetically obese. The famous “famine” thrifty gene hypothesis has been proved invalid many times. Chances are you can apologize to Mom and Dad because their genes did not make you fat. A predisposition to over-weight is a little less rare genetically, and usually this has to do with water retention. Those who retain water easy will quickly lose this extra water when they lose weight… so the moral of the story is: stop blaming your genes.

“Burning” a Pound of Fat:

The human body has 20-27 billion fat cells with the capacity to have up to around 300 billion fat cells. When we lose weight we do a combination of having our fat cells reduce in size and if we have extra we slowly lose the extra fat cells. The size of a fat cell in a healthy adult ranges from .2 micrograms to .9 micrograms; inside a fat cell is a single tiny droplet of lipid (fat) and some other stuff, but there is also organelles like mitochondria and there is a nucleus.

Having a calorie deficit is important to weight loss; a calorie deficit is essentially negative calories. When you add up everything you ate and then subtract the calories you burned just being alive and the calories you burned during exercise, if you get a negative number then you have a calorie deficit. These formulas almost never take into account the speed of your metabolism or the fact that with all exercise your body continues to burn calories as it heals in response to the exercise. Just the same it is important to have a calorie deficit when doing this math. This is known as Calories In minus Calories Out (Cal in – Cal out).

Years ago it was common knowledge to burn a pound of fat it required that you have a calorie deficit of 1000 calories, when following Cal In – Cal out. If you had asked a doctor in the 90’s they probably would have given you 1000 for a number to burn. Today it is common knowledge that to burn a pound of fat you have to have a deficit of 3500 calories. The average doctor today would give you the number 3500.

3500 is a complete and utter lie; it is nonsense, really think about it. Think about how complicated those fat cells are?

It takes calories to get the fat from those cells:

The body produces a number of hormones when it needs the energy it has stored in its fat cells: Epinephrine, Growth Hormone, ACTH, Glucagon, and Thyroid Hormone. It takes calories to make and use these hormones. These hormones act in a way opposite of insulin and trigger the release of fat cells triglycerides and glycerol. The triglycerides (fatty acids) must be broken down into glycerol through lipolysis, this takes calories. Some parts of your body can use the glycerol and fatty acids directly, using those takes calories. Other parts of the body require glucose and so the fat has to be broken down even further using gluconeogenesis, which also burns calories. The brain always needs some ketone bodies so more calories must be “burnt” to make them. The list goes on and on… the body is dang complicated and trying to boil it down to a simple subtraction problem (calories in- calories out) in my opinion is in insult to the all-knowing nature of God.

The real formula is: Calories in – calories out – ? = weight loss, maybe. There are some things that only God knows the exact answers to.

I highly doubt that medical science will ever be able to come up with a reliable formula for weight loss that will apply to the general population because we are all different people.

It is, however, very possible to roughly formulize weight loss, I do it all the time. I use the formula: Calories in – Calories out – [R (for calories used during recovery) + M (for metabolism) + V (for hidden variables)] = weight loss. To come up with this formula you MUST work backwards. You must clearly and carefully annotate everything you do for a week to a month and measure your weight before and afterwards. Then, with a little math, you can get a rough formula (this may be really hard for you to do, sorry it is pretty easy for me). The formula is good until it stops working, and it will eventually stop working.

There is a gem of comfort to all of this: it takes less than a calorie deficit of 3500 calories to lose weight. Your number might be a 1000, it might be 2500 it might be 1999. It is not uncommon for it to be as little as 500 for the morbidly obese. If you become an elite athlete losing a pound of fat will eventually become very difficult and the number can be as high as 3500, so perhaps if weight loss goes slow for you were destine to become an elite athlete?

For those that are thinking about Liposuction yes you lose the cells themselves, but guess what it is common that the body strikes back at you with a vengeance. Often those who get lipo eventually end up having more fat cells than they did when they started. The more fat cells you have the harder it is to lose weight.    

Experiment, experiment, experiment and then experiment some more: find what works for you!

Below is one of my more recent experiments, I have been experimenting with making recipes for weight loss powders that could be used to make weight loss shakes and weight loss snacks. This recipe has no artificial ingredients, no protein isolates, and is packed full of nutrition. It is also pretty cheap to make, around $40 for a whole month’s supply. I call this recipe Ninja Food Diet-Powder, but you can call it whatever you like. If you are allergic to nuts and seeds don’t add them but do add some other source of fat, your body needs fat. The nuts and seeds (including the flax) are to “complete” the protein of the lentils. Lentils can also be pared with whole grains or whole grain germs like wheat germ to “complete” the protein. Protein completion is not all that necessary with this recipe because lentils are only deficient in two essential amino acids methionine and cysteine and skim milk powder has an abundance of these two amino acids.

Ninja Food Diet-Powder     

To make a month’s supply you will need:

Skim Milk Powder – 64 servings (~15$)

Milled flax seed – 32 servings (~5$ no need to buy the expensive one)

Lentils – 96 servings (~8$)

A mixture of nuts and seeds – 32 total serving’s worth (~10$ no need to buy expensive nuts and seeds)

A day supply is hard to make (you will understand if you try) but you would need:

2 servings of skim milk powder

1 serving of milled flax

3 servings of lentils

1 servings of a mixture of nuts and seeds

Have a little extra to account for some loss during preparation.

Preparation is easy, but can take some time if you are comfortable in the kitchen 1 hour.

  1. Prepare the lentils into a lentil floor (alternatively you could directly buy lentil floor, but make sure it is “whole lentil” lentil floor so you are getting all the protein and nutrients). Using a blender, a coffee grinder, or a food processor grind up some of the lentils. Then using a fine mesh sieve, sift the lentils, keep the floor and put the large pieces back into the machine you are using. Repeat this process until you have the lentil floor that you need (I store the leftovers and use them in soup).
  2. Prepare the nuts and seeds into a near butter. Using the same machine, grind up the nuts and seeds until they are fine, it is okay if they become a bit like a nut butter, you don’t want any large pieces.
  3. Gradually kneed lentil floor into the nuts and seeds mixture until they have been completely combined. I find it is best to do this by hand, so make sure your hands are nice and clean before you get them messy. The oil you feel on your hands is mostly natural unprocessed nut oils which are good for you (if you bought oil roasted nuts you may be feeling some of that oil). I have discovered this is a little easier to do with a bit of extra virgin olive oil on your hands.
  4. Add the resulting mixture with the skim milk powder and milled flax (which don’t normally need any additional grinding). Mix well and you are done.

Notes:

A month’s supply of this is heavy and takes up a lot of space. I used a brand new clean garbage bag (two actually double layered) in the final mixing stages, and I happened to have containers large enough to store all of this stuff.

This powder is quite versatile it can be used to make shakes or no-bake cookies.

With my ingredients I get about 640 calories a day 180 from fat (1.9 grams saturated 18.1 grams unsaturated), 54 grams of protein and 37.1 grams of fiber. This comes out to about 192 total grams of powder a day this is about 1.5 cups of powder. To make a shake I mix ½ cup of powder (4 ounces) with 6-8 ounces of water. To make no bake ninja cookies (sometimes I call them ninja food pills when I roll them into balls) mix the powder with 1/3 by mass as much water so if you have a pound of powder mix it with 1/3 pound of water. When making ninja cookies I lucked out and could use a tablespoon of prepared dough and get really close to 1/12 a daily serving. (With 53 calories and 4.5 grams of protein, 3.1 grams of fiber these little cookies are very filling.)

When I run out of this powder I am going to be making a vegan version for myself to test. I want to see if there is a difference in hunger suppression effectiveness. I made a vegan version for a client and I am getting very positive feedback. As is this powder is very bland, it has a bit of a plant flavor and a bit of a nut flavor, but its blandness is a good thing. This powder is easy to flavor, I have used chocolate milk and other flavored beverages.

You do not have to use this or anything special to diet, but one thing is for sure you should find what works for you. I believe that all people can get healthy, including you, good luck.

Tai Chi, Yoga, and Walking: active rest, an important part of any training program: A fitness post.

Tai Chi, Yoga, and Walking: active rest, an important part of any training program: A fitness post.

Not every client a personal trainer has will really want to go to the gym or the track. Many simply want to get into some type of shape, before they go to the gym. Taking these people who have a fear of the gym into a gym runs the risk of the event being emotionally devastating for them. Besides what you really want is a client that is comfortable so that they can be in control of their movements and have better self-awareness. Remember, cortisol and other stress hormones are enemies to progress.

People’s anxiety problem is something you are going to have to deal with as a personal trainer. To be good at your job you must be capable of being personable, empathetic, understanding and caring. To excel at any job you have to care about what you do, but to become a top notch personal trainer you have to also care about your clients as individuals.

I do not ever actually SCREAM at my clients (I call doing this a jerk move; I try not to be a jerk). Some people need an elevated voice to feel motivated, but most do not.

Some clients are going to want and need to be pushed and perhaps even “screamed” at: I call these friendship screams. (Friendship screams are not true screams, but they are done with an elevated voice.) Emotionally sensitive clients can never be friendship screamed at; any amount of assertion can be a terrible experience for them. Some clients can only be guided. You don’t want to be a meanie pants. Never should a personal trainer insult you, if your personal trainer insults you go find a different trainer there are plenty of us out there. On the opposite side of the coin if your trainer does not find a way to guide you to your goals, find a new one.

Contrary to popular belief it is not best to “just do it.” Many people like to start out with a resistance training routine that is very intense, and many people like to start running by either long distance running or maybe even sprinting. Ex-athletes that are in decent shape can do this with less risk, but no matter what; starting your training program with intense exercise is not the safest nor is it the best for maximizing gains.

To maximize gains, injury should be avoided and intense exercise for non-athletes carries a high risk of injury. Don’t worry too much if you really want to do intense exercise (it’s a fun thing to do) all you have to do is: become an athlete. Everyone can become an athlete at any age, and with any starting level of fitness. The average person could train to become a marathon runner in 6 months to a year (I think we would all agree these people can be called athletes).I personally never recommend intense exercise for a client unless the client has been doing moderate training for 6 months. At that point it is best to slowly work up to intense exercise. Even one rep max lifting should be avoided for a month or two. Intense exercise is NEVER needed for weight loss.  

It is not just those with anxiety issues that should start out slowly with mild exercise. Some demographics: the morbidly obese, the elderly, the weak, children and pregnant women, to name a few; should start with mild exercise. Not all elderly clients need to start with mild exercise; many can safely start at a moderate level. A good portion of senior citizens these days are in better shape than the average American. EVERYONE including these demographics can eventually become an athlete (mothers should wait until after the baby is born).

Mild exercise is not just for those that need to start out with it, mild exercise is for everyone. The concept of active rest has been around for a long time but it likes to cycle in and out of popularity so don’t feel bad if you have never heard of active rest. These days some really cool things are being anecdotally discovered about active rest by a small portion of the body-building community.

I love following what these guys and girls do; they are often way ahead of the curve when it comes to techniques and tactics. I enjoy learning from every population and every source that I can learn from. Information from many sources including body-builders needs to be double and triple checked before it is personally tested. You should attempt and discover at least some hard science (not pseudoscience) behind why it would work, before you try things. I caution against using body building techniques, tactics and teachings for three reasons: 1. Myths almost never die inside of the body-building community, no matter how much they have been proven wrong. 2. Many body-builders do not care much about anything besides weather or not a tip or technique works. 3. Body-builders are elite athletes and their bodies are more capable of extreme exercise, extreme exercise is less risky for them.

A few months back I read a post off bodybuilding.com by personal trainer James Stettler about a client of his. This client (a body-builder) only resistance trains each muscle group once a month and only works out once a week, long story short his client experienced major gains. After reading this I decided to test my body and see just how much exercise with active rest I needed. Turns out for me if I work out once to a maximum of twice a week, it is optimal; I should take one day completely off and have an active rest activity for each day of the rest of the week. I have always believed that active rest was important for maintaining fitness. It has not been until recently that I have started to believe that active rest is important for gaining.

I advise everyone to try and do the same thing I did: discover how many days a week (or month) is optimal for you to experience gains. As a trainer, it is a matter of safety that my muscles be incredibly functional every time I am with a weight training client. A primary function as a trainer is that of spotter: someone who is there to grab all to most of the weight in the event that you fail to be capable of another lift. Due to this basic necessity of high functioning muscles, many trainers do not get to train more than once or twice a week anyway. I have personally discovered that a once to twice a week schedule can be optimized, using active rests, to achieve maximum gains.

Active rest is doing mild exercise and taking a day of rest from moderate or intense exercise.

Some guidelines for active rest:

  1. You should be capable of conversation at all times, even singing your favorite song should be easy. If you are in decent shape you should be able to recite your countries pledge of allegiance with only needing to inhale once beforehand (10-15 seconds of constant talking).
  2. If you are in shape, your heart rate should never be above 65-70% of your max heart rate (my opinion, some will advise never go above 60%). If you are out of shape your heart rate should never feel elevated, during active rest. (Max heart rate is often calculated as 220 minus your age)
  3. The activity should be of decent length.

Rest in general is very important, because it is during periods of rest that your body is actually making its physiological improvements and fitness gains. Current research supports active rest as superior to complete rest, but in my opinion more study is needed. I have personally found this conclusion of superiority to be true for me. Active rest actually does help reduce a muscle’s lactate build-up (lactic acid) faster than simply resting.  Lactic acid, it is a big cause of muscular soreness. During active rest blood flow to the muscles improves, blood is what carries nutrients that are needed to repair the muscles. Increasing blood flow to the muscles is a very good thing. Many find that active rest improves relaxation (for some active rest is the best way to avoid the temptation of working out).

Stress has been shown to slow recovery and healing, so anything you can do to avoid it is a good thing that will speed up your recovery.

My favorite active rest activities:

  1. Walking: walking is great and my dogs love going on long walks. Walking has all the benefits of exercise, and it is one of the easiest things you can do. Walking actually burns a good amount of calories (you can find your exact number pretty easy through the magic of the internet or smart phone apps). Walking is typically very safe (unless you trip or are in a bad part of town) and it is a great time for thinking.
  2. Biking: A gentle bike ride is fun and not very difficult or hard on the body. During an active rest, you should not try to go fast or climb hills on the bike. Biking is a favorite pass time of mine, and if you give it an honest try: it will probably become a favorite pass time of yours as well.
  3. Hiking: hiking is always an adventure and who doesn’t love an adventure… well some people hate adventure but beside those people, who does not love adventure?
  4. Yoga: it is important to remain flexible to reduce injury risk, there is two ways to do this stretching (which most consider very boring) or activities like yoga (which many people find fun and relaxing). Yoga is not for everyone, because many people simply can’t be entertained by yoga. Yoga is worth giving it a try because you might like it and it is very good for you.
  5. Flexing and isometric/dynamic tensioning exercises: I like to flex when I am alone, just as a means to monitor progress and well, I like the way I look. Flexing is great for monitoring progress, but it also counts as exercise. Flexing (a type of isometric exercise) will exercise muscles that your work-out routine missed, making flexing something that should be added to any work-out routine. Dynamic tension is a concept originally popularized in the 1920’s by a man named Charles Atlas. The basic concept is to move your muscles and use your own muscles as opposing resistance. These types of exercises might be less capable of producing quick muscular gains, but they are very safe. You are in complete control of the tension, because your muscles are providing the tension. Isometrics are clinically used in rehabilitation when movement has to be limited to prevent further injury.
  6. Tai-chi, keeps the body flexible like yoga does (yoga is a more effective as flexibility training). I find Tai-chi can be more entertaining for many people; after all it did originate as a combat martial art. It is easier to see the practicality in an exercise if it serves a purpose other than exercise; Tai-chi teaches you self-defense. All martial arts teach self-defense and have the potential to serve as mild exercise, but most do not have as great an impact on flexibility as Tai-chi. (Tai-chi is my current favorite martial art.)

Yoga:

Yoga is not something that I currently regularly do, but I have regularly done this in the past and I have enjoyed it. There are many types of yoga and I have enjoyed all of the types I have tried. One of the more “masculine” types of yoga that many guys may enjoy is Bikram Yoga; Bikram Yoga is arguably the most popular type of hot room yoga (yoga practiced in a hot room). If you know someone who does yoga, chances are if you ask them and they ask their instructor they can take you to one class for free. Doing any exercise program with a friend is a great way to provide mutual accountability to each other, and even if your friends quits you are more likely to stick with it because you started with a friend. If your friend tries to encourage you to stop exercising because they stopped exercising get a new friend.

Unfortunately, Yoga is often considered by guys to be a girly exercise. This is not true; yes the average yoga class is filled to the rafters with women, but yoga is neutral sex. These days’ body-builders are using yoga to improve their posing forms… I dare you call a body builder a girly man. (“Girly man” is a classic Arnold Schwarzenegger catch phrase.) It is sad but many machismo type guys will openly question the sexuality of their male friends when they their friends even friends they have known for years announce that they are doing yoga. Guys if your friend does this to you: they are a dumb friend. One should never guess a person’s sexuality for any reason including exercise habits; doing so will make you look ignorant and intolerant, two negative qualities not embraced by society at large.

How anyone could consider it gay to be in a room full of, mostly attractive, women stretching and sweating is beyond my ability to comprehend! Guys that are trying to get in shape to attract women… have you even considered trying a yoga class? If one class doesn’t work try another, but there are usually single women in these classes whom are looking for a good place to meet a guy. Yoga class is generally considered a good place to meet a romantic partner.

My wife and I met in class in 3rd grade; gym and recess were integral parts of us being each other’s first boyfriend and girlfriend. Yes this is/was as adorable as it sounds, and NO (talking mostly to parents of 3rd graders) you should not be frightened by this.            

Tai-chi:

I have a client for whom; Tai-chi is the best way for her to manage her Tietze’s syndrome. When I recommended Tai-chi to her, I had tried it and enjoyed it, but I am still not currently capable of teaching it. All exercise carries the benefits of exercise to some extent; Tai-chi is especially great for healing. I have known about the health benefits of Tai-chi for a long time, and the unique healing benefits of tai-chi have been well studied and are becoming close to medically proven. Tai-chi is often taught at hospitals all over the world and it is constantly gaining credibility for its ability to heal. Tai-chi is famous for being appropriate for all ages and fitness levels. It is likely that the senior center near you is hosting a tai-chi class, because it is becoming very popular amongst senior citizens.

In January, My client is scheduled to take a weekly tai-chi class that I will not be teaching. I have received permission to observe, and for the first class I am going to, as a means to help ensure she does not exacerbate her Tietze’s. She wanted to look somewhat experienced when she first took the class. So what we did was look up the type of Tai-chi being taught in the class and she got a DVD to learn it (this was her idea she is a smart women). I corrected her form based on the instructors form in the video (my idea). Luckily, she had a natural gift for tai-chi but all the same watching both the instructor and her at the same time made it so that I was able to correct her movements easily. She is currently studying the 12 postures for Arthritis form developed by Dr. Paul Lam (this is a commonly taught form). Anyone with a helpful friend or trainer can learn excellent form like this, rather quickly (and not just for Tai-chi).

I am currently personally studying the 24 posture simplified form known as Beijing form. This is theorized to be the most popular form of Tai-chi in the world. Oddly we have the Chinese government to thank for the development of this form. The Chinese Sports Committee in 1956 brought together four teachers to develop a form that most people could easily learn and use, these masters were: Cai Longyun, Chu Guiting, Fu Zhongwen, and Zhang Yu. Tai-chi is a very old martial art with a rich history, which started in China, making it a Chinese martial art. The martial art philosophy of Tai-chi is: If one uses hardness to resist force, then both sides are certain to be injured to at least some degree. I don’t like to get hurt so, Tai-chi has become my new favorite self-defense martial art.

Walking:  

                Walking is the primary mode of transportation designed into almost all animals, most insects, and many small life forms. Most birds are designed to use their wings to fly, but as far as I know there are no feetless birds and all birds can walk. As a man of faith, I have to trust that if God used the same design (walking) over and over again like he did, there really must be something awesome to it. Thank the lord for MP3 players because now walking is more enjoyable than ever. For those that are wheel chair bound, you should know the human body is quite well suited to using arm-power and wheel chairs; physiologically it is very similar to walking.

Walking along without a change in diet can gradually get you into better health, and most people have no fear of walking. Walking coupled with dieting is an amazing way to lose weight. Dieting results in the body having less food for energy then it is use to, this along can make exercise pretty difficult and much harder than it has to be. As long as you are consuming a safe amount of calories, walking always remains relatively easy. Make sure to get a general minimum of 50 grams of protein (200 calories) and 20 grams of polyunsaturated fat (180 calories). By far the easiest, most pain free and comfortable way to lose a lot of weight very quickly is by calorie restriction to 1300-1800 calories and WALKING.

The average human can perform mild exercise relatively safely for many hours; making mild exercise, if you are willing to put in the time, a superior way to burn calories. Not losing weight fast enough? Typically the best solution is to add more walking or mild exercise. Mild exercise is amazingly powerful, and its awesomeness should never be doubted.

                                         

Vegetarianism and Veganism, switch to lose weight? Part 9 of the series: Dieting does it work for you.

Vegetarianism and Veganism, switch to lose weight? Part 9 of the series: Dieting does it work for you.

You really could switch to lose weight if you wanted to, many people switch for health reasons.

I am not going to take an ethical stance on vegetarianism and veganism. If ethics are your reason to go plant based eating, good for you, more power to you. I am not a vegan or vegetarian, nor do I plan on switching to a plant based diet. If you have ethical conflictions but have trouble switching to vegetarianism or veganism, consider organic meats as the animals are often treated a bit better.

There is a right way and a wrong way to follow a plant based diet, generally vegetarianism is easier to get right, but with a little effort veganism is not hard either. The big concern for a personal trainer with a vegan client is: are they getting enough protein? But, it is not all that hard to get enough protein for the average vegan.

What we trainers are truly afraid of is “bad” vegans and “bad” vegetarians. These plant based diets should largely consist of healthy food. Unfortunately many people do not really do this. Yes those cookies might be vegan, but should you eat them purely for that reason: no. Something being labeled “vegan” on the side of the package does not make it healthy, check the nutritional facts… is it mostly sugar? You are a “bad” vegan or vegetarian if your diet consists largely of white bread and or if you never bother to think, did I get some protein and some fat today?

A properly followed plant based diet is great for you. There are many religions and cultures that are vegetarians of some kind. (Veganism is technically a type of vegetarian). Plant based diets have been linked to a reduced risk of many diseases and cancers. People who follow plant based diets live longer and tend to be leaner. For those with some diseases like kidney problems and gout, switching to a plant based diet can drastically improve quality of life (This is primarily because of nitrogen compounds and purines in meat resulting in increased urea and ureic acid production.)

I am going to briefly discuss three popular plant based diets: Pescetarianism, Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarianism, and Veganism; and how to get enough protein from them. Protein is essential to life the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI’s are government recommendations) for men is 56 grams and for women it is 46grams with a general recommendation of 50 grams. Athletes and active people need more protein. Simply because someone is on one diet or another, does not change their protein requirements. Vegans and vegetarians are often led to believe that because they are on a plant based diet they do not need as much protein, this is simply untrue. In fact is it is more than just untrue; plant eaters have to worry more about protein, they also have to worry about amino acids. Wise vegans actual follow stricter requirements for protein intake like 1 gram per kilogram of body weight as compared to 0.8 grams per kilogram for meat eaters. This is done because plant proteins are often a little less bio-available (they are not as completely digested) than meat proteins.

Meat is a complete protein meaning it provides sufficient levels of all of the essential amino acids. Plants do not provide sufficient levels of all of the amino acids unless they are paired together or eaten in large quantities. Luckily they taste better mixed anyway. It is easier for vegetarians to get their protein because of dairy and eggs, complete proteins. It is even easier for Pescetarians to get their protein because of dairy, eggs, and fish, also complete proteins. If a pescetarian gets three servings of dairy and one serving of fish it is doubtful that they really have to worry much about their protein intake. A vegetarian is going to have to put a little more effort into getting their protein, but it is truly not that hard either.

Nutritional demands are easiest to meet with Pescetarianism (does not eat meat but does eat fish and often eats eggs and dairy).The Pescetarian diet is much easier to meet nutritional demands than most meat eating diets. This makes it very easy to calorie restrict with Pescetarianism, so if you are having trouble losing weight you could try a temporary switch. I warn you, many people that “temporarily” switched to this fishy diet ended up sticking with the diet after they lost the weight.  

Vegans have to put conscious effort into their protein intake and failing to do so can result in poor health and eventually malnutrition (can take years don’t worry you have time to fix this). When a vegan is eating a normal amount of calories as long as they are careful not to eat too much junk food, likely they are getting plenty of protein. Long time vegans and vegan children often can develop vitamin b-12, and zinc deficiencies. Supplementation that contains b-12 and zinc is by far the easiest way to avoid this. Zinc deficiency can be prevented with some grains, seeds and wheat germ. Iron is also a concern for vegans but vegetables like spinach some fruit like tomatoes and many legumes are a great source of iron. Calcium is a concern which is easily remedied by consuming calcium fortified foods.

Junk food is junk, it might be better to think of it as garbage food and no matter what else you are eating if a high percentage of your caloric intake is coming from junk… you will become unhealthy. Anyone calorie restricting should strongly avoid junk food as it will ruin your diet with its high calories and you will not get the nutrients you need from it. I eat junk food from time to time, because well it taste really good, but the key, as always, is moderation.

The human body is amazing and it does not require vegans to eat a variety of proteins in a single meal. It was long thought that certain pairs of foods which when paired provide sufficient levels of amino acids had to be eaten together. This became very popular in the 70’s and this misconception continues to this day. The body is very capable of completing the amino acids from these pairs of food in different meals. If you are getting a diverse diet rich in plant protein sources you are fine, but the key is diversity.

Calorie restriction on a vegan diet is another story. When a vegan calorie restricts to lose weight they must not follow their typical diet of about 10-12% protein. The protein should be bumped up to a minimum of 14% on a 1500 calorie diet and 16% on a 1300 calorie diet. Raising the amount of protein to 20-25% could help with satiety for a dieting vegan.

The bodies’ demands for protein (around 50 grams) need to be met regardless of calorie intake. The good news is this is not terribly difficult. Special attention to detail is needed that the vegan dieter gets 3-4 servings of legumes, at least one of nuts or seeds, and one whole grains (this will take up about 700 calories of the diet). The amino acid profile of legumes is complimented and completed by the amino acid profiles of seeds, nuts and whole grains. Sadly, there really is very little room for the occasional junk food cheat when a vegan is on a diet.

Dieting is not usually all that necessary for long time vegetarians as they tend to slowly become lean simply eating a plant based diet. Vegetarians are often on high carbohydrate, moderate protein and low fat diets. Plant fats are an excellent source of unsaturated fats and the omegas. Plants contain zero pre-formed DHA Docosahexaenoic acid; seafood is the only source of preformed DHA. Normally the body is able to biosynthesize DHA from ALA (alpha linolenic acid, an omega 3 and one of the two essential fatty acids); however some people are unable to. As a result Vegans often have to supplement with DHA.

Vegetarianism in children can cause stunted growth rates, but it does not necessarily have too. Vegetarian children and their parents need to pay extra close attention to the child’s nutritional needs. Children are more sensitive to nutritional deficiencies than adults are, and experience the consequences from them sooner. If you have a Vegetarian child you MUST supervise their eating habits and ensure that they are getting their nutrients and eating a balanced diet. Occasionally consulting a dietician on your child’s eating habits could really help.

Those who try veganism or vegetarianism as a temporary diet tend to lose weight. It is not necessarily a fast weight loss method, but aside from the occasional craving for meat it is fairly comfortable. This is largely because vegetables are less calorie dense allowing you to eat more but get less calories. Veggies and fruit are also packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals which help with satiety. For many their temporary switch to plant based eating is there first real exposure to a high fiber diet. Fiber helps you lose weight.

One warning that I feel I must leave you with, as foodie that loves the taste of meat: if you go Vegan your body will have to retrain before you can eat meat again without getting sick. Vegans are often very sensitive to meat, so much so that a vegan dish cooked on the same surface as a meat dish will make many vegans sick. I have seen this sickness and it looks really unpleasant, throwing-up and diarrhea.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes are all great for you and most people could benefit from more of them in their diet.

How many meals a day should a dieter eat? Part 8 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

How many meals a day should a dieter eat? Part 8 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

Just to torture the average person, “experts” like to make things as complicated as possible. I personally enjoy complicated but, I fear what these “experts” are doing ultimately hurts most of us. I view dietary timing as story time, because doing so makes the subject just a little less frustrating for me. Your average ethical trainer, doctor, nutritionist, dietician (etcetera) will fail to tell you much when it comes to dietary timing. Instead they will simply say: do what works for you! I have to agree with the phrase, people should do what works for them. If the three meals a day standard dietary timing (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner) works for you and you want to stick with it; by all means do it. The truth is these complicated systems with PERFECT USE will at BEST have a slight impact on the speed of your weight loss. They can however have an amazing impact on the comfort level of your life while you are trying to lose weight. For those seeking the ultra-lean look, you might just have to use some dietary timing wizardry to get there.

Story number one: The tale as old as society (maybe?) Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

Proportions, contents, and when during the day we eat are all debated but one thing holds true: three satiating meals. By satiating I mean “full.” With a 2000-3000 calorie diet (most healthy weight non-dieters) can experience “full” three times a day. The feeling of full is comforting and cozy like a big hug that your meal just gave you… it’s great, just great. This feeling is so awesome that we become addicted to it and as with most addictions: we are always pursuing the more intense “full.” Thusly we slip from a healthy amount of calories to over eating.

A healthy amount of calories is simply how much you can eat without gaining weight. Guys can typically eat more without gaining weight than woman can. For me 2500-3000 is healthy on normal and rest days, and up to 5000 on training days, the average person would gain weight eating this much. The more muscle mass a person has the more calories they can eat in a day without gaining weight (one of the ways exercise increases your metabolism).   

When most people start a diet all they do is: keep the traditional Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner and switch from normal portions to “diet portions.” This portion switch does not typically work for people, because it is darn hard to feel a sensation of “full.” This lack of full and general feelings of misery leads to the average person quickly coming to the FALSE CONCLUSION that dieting does not work for them and they are bound to stay out of shape forever. (Out of shape in America is the average, so don’t beat yourself up too much. However, don’t be afraid to get in shape, you can do it, and it is good for you.)

DIET PORTIONS DO NOT = DIETING, this is true 9 times out of ten, for one reason: snacking. Dieters typically snack and when people that did not previously practice snacking start snacking everyday: Snacking becomes additional calories and additional calories are overeating not dieting. For God’s sake don’t ever consider simply reducing your portions to every meal, because it is a miserable way to diet: you have to be just a bit smarter than this.

The three meals a day dietary timing structure is not bad, it is often the traditional way to eat, and works for most people. Healthy people who eat three meals a day eat one big meal, one medium meal and a small meal. The big, medium, small template can be arranged in any order. I find it best for me to have breakfast be the medium meal, lunch is the smallest meal and dinner is the largest. Satiety is addictive so why fight the addiction and make your diet harder than it has to be.

I like to feel full after diner because “full” makes me a bit tired for a little while, giving me an unwind that is nice at the end of a day. I do not like to eat until I am full for breakfast and lunch to avoid the energy draining effect of large meals. This temporary lack of energy after a large meal is due to your body using more of its resources (namely blood oxygen and blood sugar). Large meals make you feel like you have lost a significant amount of blood because your body is using more of it on digestion than it normally does.

Just like the phrase you have to spend money to make money; your body must use blood sugar to get blood sugar. If the meal is balanced and the size is sensible the fluctuation in blood sugar level due to eating is mild. If the meal is a feast the fluctuation in blood sugar, no matter how balanced the meal is, will cause a steep dip in blood sugar. Your body responds to this meal induced low blood sugar by making you tired in the hope that you will take a nap. And yes all of this blood sugar stuff applies to non-diabetics as well. Blood sugar regulation is even harder for diabetics, but this stuff applies to everyone it is simply how the body works.

Low blood sugar is what stimulates you to take your after Thanksgiving Day feast nap. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that you consume all of the time. It is prevalent in most of the protein you get. The level of Tryptophan in turkey is almost exactly the same as it is in chicken, and many food items have much higher levels: some nuts have twice as much and egg whites have nearly four times as much. Tryptophan is good news: Tryptophan as a precursor to serotonin synthesis thusly it may be in part responsible for the happy feelings after your thanksgiving day Turkey.            

Story number one has three big fairy tales that go along with it: Myth #1: Breakfast has to be eaten at breakfast time, no matter what. Myth #2: Eating right before bed makes you fat. Myth #3: Skipping meals is bad for you.

It is universal knowledge that eating when you are not hungry leads to overeating, you know this. Even if this is the first time you heard this, you know this. This is boredom eating or simply eating for entertainment. Both of which are either guilty pleasures or bad habits that induce guilty feelings. Boredom eating or entertainment eating (popcorn with a movie for example) every now and then is fine, but if you have a problem with boredom eating dieting can be extremely difficult for you. If you answer “Yes” to either of these questions: Do I automatically open the fridge when I walk past it? Do I eat just to eat? You perhaps have an issue with this type of eating. The good news is a little bit of self-awareness can go a long way with fighting this.

Myth # 1: Breakfast has to be eaten at breakfast time, no matter what.

People seem to believe that they must eat breakfast. This is simply not true, if your body is telling you that you are fine without breakfast than most likely you are fine without breakfast. There are some people who should never go without eating some small thing for breakfast (like those with really bad diabetes); most of us can safely skip it. Skipping breakfast has a risk: overeating later at lunch or causing you to snack too much. The average breakfast skipper gains weight or weights more for those two reasons; they have a tendency to make it worse with things like a sedentary, always on their butt, lifestyle. Breakfast skippers tend to eat carbohydrate packed snacks (most snacks are carb rich) before lunch or in place of a proper breakfast. If you eat donuts for breakfast you are the worst type of breakfast skipper, the kind that thinks they ate a breakfast.

Breakfast is breaking a fast, and breaking a fast should always be done with healthy foods and never be done with junk foods. If you simply must have donuts, have them for lunch (this is an unhealthy practice but it is not as bad as having them for breakfast). When you wake up you are in a “post absorptive” fasting state (unless you had a midnight snack). The last time you ate was many hours ago (dinner) and your body has been done absorbing the nutrients from that food for a while. Your body is not “running on empty.” Before you eat breakfast you are running on your bodies fat reserves. It takes calories to get the calories that are stored in your fat cells, just as it takes calories to get the calories that are stored in food. Essentially by eating breakfast you are stopping this process, but don’t worry that’s fine. Your body wants to eat and will, for better or worse, absorb more of the healthy good stuff or bad stuff of breakfast. (You will get more out of a once-a-day multivitamin taken with your first meal of the day). Eating a sensible healthy breakfast helps control hunger all day and never made anyone fat.

Breakfast has a ton of benefits but guess what, they don’t come from eating when the sun is rising out of sky. The benefits of breakfast come from us treating the meal as important… people who eat breakfast but don’t treat it as important experience none of the benefits of breakfast. It is not eating at breakfast time that lowers your cholesterol it is the soluble fiber of the whole grains. A good breakfast always has things like dietary fiber, vitamins, protein and even fat that makes you full and prevents hunger. If we were wise enough to treat every meal with importance regardless of WHEN we ate it, we could be getting these coveted breakfast benefits with every meal we ate. In case you were wondering about the breakfast for dinner thing it is just fine (it is often mistakenly thought to be unhealthy).

Myth #2: Eating right before bed makes you fat.

When you are asleep your metabolism is slower, because your heart rate is lower and simply put you are doing less stuff. Eating immediately before bed and then getting very little sleep does effectively prevent your body from entering into its’ fat-burning post absorptive state. This is generally not true if you are getting a full nights rest, but the amount of time you are in fat burn mode is still reduced. All of this sounds much worse than it actually is.

These are facts, and they are well established. However, your body if you are even slightly active does an amazing job of combating these facts.

This myth can be true if you are eating a non-healthy snack.

Body builders have known it for years if you get protein and nutrients right before bed your body will heal faster. When we sleep our bodies natural levels of human growth hormone are much higher, sleeping is our primary time for healing. Unfortunately, by the time we get to sleep after eating dinner at a normal time, our blood amino acids levels are already starting to fall. By the time we get a few hours into our slumber our blood amino acid levels and blood nutrient levels are too low to heal ourselves as best as we potentially could. Eating something healthy with protein, right before bed prevents low blood amino acid levels, and muscular catabolism. Catabolism is the breakdown of body tissue, and anabolism is the building of body tissue. Healing, anabolism, requires a good bit of calories, protein and other nutrients, so if you eat something healthy before bed it will all even out a bit.

If you are hungry before bed eat something! Preferably eat something healthy. Going to bed hungry is just strait uncomfortable, it sucks; being sent to bed without supper is an old-timey punishment for when children are bad. (This is not unhealthy for them but society and the law tends to look down upon the practice.)

                A huge cause of muscular catabolism is stress; stress hormones such as cortisol (and other glucocorticoids) have a catabolic action to them… So when you hear people say that their stressful job is eating them alive. Stress will quite literally eat you alive. For those in training, if you de-stress yourself and learn to relax a bit, you will see improved gains.

Myth #3: Skipping a meal is bad for you.

Your body has a ton of different coping mechanisms to handle different dietary timing. Cultures of the world have wildly different views on eating than we do and some of these cultures… only eat twice a day. (Some only eat once a day but it is considerably rarer). If you skip lunch most of the time you are just cutting calories from your diet and as long as you don’t eat more later on you will lose weight. Meal skipping is a very old method of dieting. If you skip breakfast, or breakfast and lunch you are intermittent fasting; skipping breakfast and lunch is something referred to as “warrior style” and it is growing in popularity amongst those following the Paleo diet. If you skip all three meals and eat nothing else you are fasting. All fasting has been shown to have health benefits.

The commonly talked about risk with skipping meals is low blood sugar, but this can (for most of us) be avoided with proper diet. If you skip lunch but had a proper breakfast your blood sugar should be just fine until dinner, perhaps have an early dinner. If you skip breakfast your body avoids low blood sugar by using your fat as fuel (as it has been for a few hours while you slept). Skipping dinner might be miserable because you will go to bed hungry but it really is not bad for you. When a person of moderate health skips dinner, their body copes by using its fat reserves sooner, this prevents low blood sugar.            

Story number 2: The lie of 4, 5, 6, and 7 meals a day        

I want to get one thing perfectly certain the 4, 5, 6, and seven meals a day dietary timing plans are absolute BS. If you are on one of these dietary timing plans stop, if your doctor told you to do this go to a new doctor. These plans are near impossible to follow perfectly and typical use is straight-up fattening. A typical person following these plans will over eat and over eating will always causes weight gain (body builders will over eat to gain muscle but most of us will just get fat). People who do manage to follow one of these plans and cut calories will lose weight, but they won’t do so any faster than other dieting techniques, and following these 4, 5, 6 and seven meals a day plans is MISERABLE. The studies that actually examine these plans (most typically 6 meals a day) find that there is not a significant difference for weight loss between 3 meals a day and 6. It is true that studies have shown that eating frequently can rev up your metabolism, but the studies that show this involve eating dozens of times a day (more on this later). Life should always be about enjoying life, and dieting does not have to be miserable. Eating six times a day is the most commonly practiced number, and it is often a terrible dieting experience.

These plans have too many lies in them to actually list them all but I will list a few.

LIE: Your stomach should not be stretched out to accommodate large meals, and the digestive system is not good at processing large meals.

The stomach is incredibly able to stretch out; in fact it is so capable of this it could be called a talent and it is a detriment to us. The average weight loss surgery these days often involves reducing the size of the stomach to impede the stomachs amazing ability to stretch out. Yes your stomach could rupture if you feasted too much, but it is very rare because it is very difficult and PAINFUL to eat that much.

When we eat large meals more of the bodies’ resources are used to process the meal and digestion is slowed down, so that we get the nutrients slowly over time. Eating large sugary/ carb rich meals can cause huge spikes in blood sugar, but eating small sugary meals will do the same thing. Just had a 100 calorie candy bar? Expect your blood sugar to shoot up shortly. (Most 100 calorie snack packs should be avoided and/or considered candy). When your blood sugar shoots up to high levels (140mg/dl and up) your body releases insulin and a few other hormones to lower your blood sugar which coincidentally stimulate fat storage.

The difference between eating a large sugary/ carb rich meal and a small similar snack is the large one will keep your blood sugar up longer. High blood sugar is bad, but a balanced typical size to large meal should not cause high blood sugar. (Feasting temporarily causes the opposite, low blood sugar).

Your blood glucose levels after 12 hours of fasting should be less than 100mg/dl, and random blood sugar testing taken at any time should not exceed 140mg/dl. You are considered pre-diabetic if your levels are higher than this. A fasting level over 125mg/dl and a random of 200mg/dl is powerful indicator of diabetes and you are likely a diabetic and you should go to a doctor to get treatment. You can buy the meters required to do these tests at nearly all pharmacies, they are not too pricy.         

LIE: Eating six meals a day speeds up your metabolism.

As proof of this statement proponents of these many meals a day diet plan actually point to Glycemic index studies… this makes me laugh. The basic format of a glycemic index study is: measure blood sugar levels than, feed someone and measure their blood sugar levels several times until the level returns to normal. A typical GI study uses 10-20 people as subjects. All these studies measure is how fast the sugar content of a food gets into your blood, so pointing to them as proof of anything is just plain silly. Any time, any diet points to these studies as evidence it should be considered a red flag.

Another thing pointed to is studies that involved bed ridden hospital patients who were fed very little at a time using an automatic machine through feeding tubes a dozen times a day or more… How the proponents of six meals a day people can call 12+ small liquid only feedings 6 meals; I am not sure. If you believe that 2+2 = 8, you were perhaps convinced that even though you can’t eat 12+ meals a day you should eat 6 meals a day. This kind of evidence is correlative evidence, correlative evidence is better known as happenstance, and this type of evidence is not admissible in a court for a good reason: it is often complete Bull poopy.

The six meals a day thing has been studied by respectable doctors and researchers many times. As it turns out there is no significant difference in weight loss for those following three meals as compared to those using six meals!

Diet can speed up your metabolism slightly; by eating a balanced diet with plenty of fiber you will avoid those nasty fattening blood sugar spikes. This is not truly a faster metabolism but for all practical purposes it can be considered as such. You can eat a SLIGHTLY higher amount of calories and not gain weight if you are on a balanced diet, but there is absolutely zero magic involved in this so don’t expect too much.

FRUAD: Eating six meals a day helps avoid hunger.

This is not exactly a lie because it is actually true if you are eating six nutritious balanced meals, but eating 3 nutritious balanced meals has the same hunger avoiding effect. The truth is there is no such thing as a magic hunger avoiding number of meals that you can eat. Many people can actually not be hungry all day by eating one really large dinner.

It should be stressed that with perfect use (which is darn hard to do) eating six meals a day is not bad for your health. For most it is less comfortable, less convenient, and generally less fun to eat six meals a day. However, if you find it easier to lose weight using six meals a day, you are a minority, but oh well keep doing it because it works for you.

Story number 3: A tale of two diet plans; constant snacking with no meals and intermittent fasting.

Both eating a very small amount dozens of times a day, a practice often called nibbling, and intermittent fasting have been shown to mildly to moderately improve the speed of your metabolism. I could not find consistent numbers that describe how much faster everything got. The honest truth is more study is needed. But the information we do currently understand to be earnestly established fact and what we in good faith currently theorize looks really promising.

Most of the science of these opposite concepts is well grounded. Both dietary timing techniques scientifically increase the speed of your metabolism; but don’t get your hopes up because it is not by much. These dietary timing techniques really are not meant for casual dieters, because they are hard and require more will power than the average dieter has. If you are serious about dieting and you need to lose the weight as fast as possible both of these techniques can give you the edge you have been looking for. If you want six pack abs or a “cut” appearance using one of these dietary timing techniques could really help. Again, be forewarned, they are difficult.

Nibbling:

The science of nibbling is mostly about preventing blood sugar spikes in either direction. Nibbling gives your body a constant supply of fuel, and when your body has a constant supply of anything it sees little need to conserve things. This is true of every nutrient, not just carbs. If you have a diet low in vitamins and minerals; your body will do its best to conserve any dietary vitamins and minerals and any that are already in you. The same is true of fat and proteins. (This is not an excuse to be on an unhealthy diet.)

The Inuit eat mainly meat and consequently get very low amounts of dietary vitamin C; however when tested their blood levels of vitamin C are normal. Vitamin C cannot be biosynthesized, but our body can and will conserve what we got and what we get.   

Nibbling keeps your blood sugar very stable; thusly your heart freely burns as many calories as it wants. Your heart will do this by either pumping slower and harder or slightly faster. This has primarily been shown with the heart but athletes of all kinds have seen improvement in performance of their skeletal muscles. Marathon runners commonly carb-load before races (get plenty of carbs from food) and drink sports drinks during races to maintain blood sugar and electrolyte levels.

Nibbling gives you a constant supply of fuel so your engine does not feel the need to go light on the accelerator. Nibbling indeed does with typical use give you more energy. The problem with nibbling is that you truly must eat 12+ times a day… this is very time consuming. It is extremely un-fun to never get a real mouthful of food. Although it is possible to experience very little or no hunger with nibbling; it is near impossible to feel full. The improbability of satiety on a typical nibbling schedule is reason enough for me to avoid the practice.

I am currently personally researching the possibility of modifying a typical nibbling dieting routine to include a real meal or hopefully two. I see a lot of hope with nibbling if it can be successfully modified. If I manage to successfully modify the practice of nibbling, I will post the results. I will test on myself first (all good trainers should self-test their techniques). When I have done what I feel is a significant amount of testing on myself. I do have a couple of clients that are really excited about trying out my modified nibbling program.

Poor nutrition in general is a personal trainer’s worst enemy because their client’s gains will be lessened by poor nutrition. When a client does not progress, they have a tendency to blame the trainer and the trainer’s techniques. Not all trainers or techniques are created equal, but most of the time if a client is not progressing like they should it is due to poor nutrition or not enough rest. (A real trainer will take some responsibility for this; it is our jobs after all to give you all the info and guidance we can.) I recommend consuming foods rich in protein shortly after your workout, as it has been shown to increase gains.

The idea behind the nibbling program I am trying to develop is to use foods that are safe enough and nutritious enough to be staples and turn them into no-bake cookies. Don’t worry I will post the recipes. One of the recipes should if all goes as it has been going be ready for posting on the first of January. The dozen no-bake cookies a day recipe that I am currently testing and perfecting meet the minimum requirements the body needs for fat and protein, while providing enough dietary fiber and calories to successfully prevent hunger. There are no protein powders in it, and it is very cheap and fairly easy to make an entire month’s supply. It is not vegan, but I am testing a vegan recipe so I will post it sometime probably around mid-February.

Anyway back to the article.

Truthfully if you are not interested in six-pack abs or being extremely lean you can skip to the final message at the end.

Intermittent Fasting: Intermittent fasting can be done in many ways but the basic premise is the same increase the amount of time your body is in a fasted state. Alternative day fasting (eating every other day) is the most widely studied of the types of intermittent fasting. Alternative day fasting has been shown to dramatically increase the lifespan of many types of laboratory animals, as compared to standard feeding and calorie restriction. (Calorie restriction has been shown to increase the lifespan of humans.) It is logical to guess that Alternative day fasting could increase the lifespan of humans but the truth is we don’t know yet if it does or not. What we do know is that fasting, like all calorie restriction, stimulates weight loss.

Other common intermittent fasting structures are periodic fasting (fasting for a day or two in a week for example) and 16 hour fasting. Traditional intermittent fasting is 16 hour fasting, meaning you only eat during 8 hours of the day.  

All fasting (juice fasting included but to a lesser extent) has a metabolic regulating effect, which for most means an increased metabolism. But intermittent fasting has been shown by the body-building community to help the body get extremely lean. Water fasting alone will bring the body down to about 10% body fat (skinny people are usually 15-20%). Most diets will not easily bring the body down past 15% body fat, this is fine for most. Without extreme levels of exercise, dieting past 15% body fat and water fasting past 10% body fat will result in additional muscle and other tissue loss, but fat content has a tendency to remain stable. It is obviously possible to get a six pack without intermittent fasting, but for all but the lucky few it requires a TON of exercise and pretty intense calorie restriction. It is rare that a person gets a six-pack easily, but intermittent fasting can really help.

It is likely that many, if not most, of the people reading this right now have what resembles a six pack… it is just hiding. To have a six pack to show you are going to need 4% to a max of about 7% body fat, this is the hard part. The muscles of the abdomen are simply shaped like that of the stomach of the guys on fitness magazine covers, so if you get to skinny you can “accidently” have six pack abs. Doing abdominal workouts are good for many reasons, except oddly for getting a six-pack. Working out can help them “pop” but dieting is the only way to actually get them. Intermittent fasting can help you get there much faster and easier.

Intermittent fasting, unlike other fasting which merely regulates, can truly speed up the metabolism. (Water fasting can temporarily speed up the metabolism.) The primary way intermittent fasting speeds up the metabolism is by reducing insulin residence. It is known that intermittent fasting does this, but why and how it does this is honestly still in the theory stage.

When the body eats, the pancreases produces insulin, the cells respond to this insulin. Eventually, the cells of the body can become resistant to insulin (often but not always indirectly as a result of inactivity and poor diet). This means the pancreases must make more insulin and this complicated little hormone does more than just regulate blood sugar it also triggers fat storage.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about intermittent fasting is that people find they can slightly over eat when they are not fasting to make up for the calories that would be eaten.

I have tried most types of intermittent fasting, and they all are very effective for me. They are all hard to do. The body does eventually stop being so hungry and hunger becomes a non-issue with intermittent fasting (for me it happens very quickly about 2 days). People often have good experiences with intermittent fasting, but just the same it is not really for the casual dieter.

A final message:

The casual dieter should do just what “casual dieter” would imply: they should diet casually. Have patience and allow the weight loss to come at the speed it comes. If you are not satisfied with the speed of weight loss try new things: different diets, different exercises. Extremism is never safe, so if it sounds too good to be true… well you know how the saying goes. A diet that advertises as ultra-fast is likely either a lie or a bit dangerous.

Super Foods and Dieting: Part 7 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

Super Foods and Dieting: Part 7 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

There are so many foods labeled “super” these days it seems like it is just about silly. There are a couple of problems that I have with the concept of “s” is for super in super-foods. The biggest problem with these foods is how people treat them. They really can help you with your diet and make losing weight faster, but chances are you are doing it all wrong.

People like to pick a favorite super-food and focus all or most of their healthy eating abilities on one or two foods. I see this all the time. These days I most commonly see people choose almonds and egg whites. Both almonds and egg whites certainly count as a super-food; but guess what… by themselves they are nowhere close to as awesome as they are when mixed with other foods. Nuts always have a better amino acid profile when they are mixed with other nuts and or seeds (the better the amino acid profile the more useful a food is for the body). Egg whites have almost no fat in them, but that is not really good news. 2-6 Egg whites mixed with 1-2 yolks fill you up faster and taste better which in my opinion this alone make this the best way to add egg whites to a diet. However this is not the only benefit to egg yolks. If you are trying to add muscle like the average person using egg whites… get ready for it. Muscle building NEEDS fats and having some dietary cholesterol tremendously helps build muscle (but don’t get crazy). Body builders have been able to tell you this cholesterol and muscle building link for years but current science and scientific studies are catching up with their anecdotally obtained knowledge.

A favorite activity of dieters is simply “adding” super-foods… because as we all know super-foods have super magic calories in them that don’t count (sarcasm). The bad guy I really like for this (cop lingo) is whole grains. Whole grains and oats still are packed with calories, and carbohydrate calories at that (they do have more fiber and lower GI scores). In the case of brown rice vs. white rice; brown rice has more protein, dietary fiber and fat all of which are good things and wild rice is even better but not worth the added cost. People that go whole grain crazy are often accidently on an extremely high carbohydrate, high calorie diet, and on their way to an expanding waist line.

People overeat “health” food simply because we believe that the food being a health food give us a pass. This phenomenon is taken to an extreme with super-foods. You may have done this, most of us have: it is easy to feel okay with eating a huge amount of a super-food. Huge and food should never really go together (but it can be sinfully delicious when they do I must admit).

Recommended dose is something never really followed and sometimes it is never even bothered to be estimated or calculated by anyone with this ONE food category. Recommended daily intake (RDI) values are something that Americans have known for most of our lives, they came about in 1968. Before RDI there was RDA and many different cultural systems before that. There is rarely a guide for how much of a super-food we should eat. This means we must fall back on the guide that is given for macronutrients or for the food’s category. Doing this can lead us to eating higher amounts of super-food than we have to = expensive.

Toxicity is relative!!! Everything has the potential to be toxic if over consumed or in many cases under consumed. Water is not in the slightest bit traditionally toxic however if you drink too much water you can experience water intoxication, too little and you get dehydration. Moderation is the lesson here, for some foods it is worse or cost prohibitive to eat more than an average value and consuming just a small amount might be just fine. For most super-foods a little bit goes a long way.

Toxic and the concept of toxins, makes me laugh sometimes, because most people and even some people who really should know what they are talking about get this concept incredibly wrong. The cleansing of toxins and free radicals is often touted as the biggest reason to consume antioxidant rich super-foods. But why no one ever asks if they really need to do this or how much super-foods can really help is beyond me (they can help but they are not medicines). Before we talk about cleansing let’s get something perfectly clear: YOUR BODY NEEDS SOME TRACE AMOUNTS OF “TOXICINS.” Some things that are literally poisons your body might not need, but chances are as long as the amount is small enough it is probably not that bad for you, and could even potentially be good for you.

Time for some fun with the super-food: apples. I love apples, they taste great they are very filling and they are just easy to eat. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away…” this old saying is very true. Apples and this saying have specifically been studied many times and every time the saying holds true, apples (and most fruit for that matter) are amazingly good for you. But did you know that people have used apple seeds to slowly build up a tolerance to cyanide, bet you didn’t. The pits and seeds of many fruits including: cherries, peaches, plums, pears, and apricots; have trace amounts to just over trace amounts of cyanogenic acids, cyanogenic glycocides and CYANIDE compounds in them. Pretty much any pit or seed that is not commonly eaten in large quantities has been at one point labeled mildly poisonous and perhaps might still have this distinction (like apple seeds and cherry pits).

Your body can detoxify small quantities of these compounds and most other toxins. Surprise!!! doing some of this detoxifying is good for the body, but that does not mean go out and eat a ton of apple seeds. The levels of these compounds that are in one piece of fruit or for that matter several pieces of fruit worth of seeds should, for a healthy person cause no real harm. I often eat the seeds of an apple and I occasionally accidentally swallow cherry pits this has never given me an issue. However if your body is bad at detoxifying itself it just might be very bad to eat these seeds (children and the elderly commonly are bad at detoxifying much of anything).

(About the Arsenic in apple juice debate: There is also sometimes arsenic found in fruits, seeds and pits usually this in not natural and is from the use of pesticides and herbicides in other countries. Natural forms of arsenic can be found in metal ores and soils and can get into fruits that way this type of contamination is called geological contamination and it is a common concern for drinking water. Elemental Arsenic, atomic number 33 As, is also used to strengthen copper… sorry if all this scares you but it shouldn’t.)

Oh good there can be bad things in good things yay… hip hip… wait is this really a bad thing: NO. They help our bodies learn to fight the truly terrible stuff that is out there in the world like pollution and cigarette smoke. Make no mistake anytime there is a substance in one part of the plant or animal, it is in all parts of the plant or animal but in a different typically much lower amount. Think about it this way, if you just randomly decide to be a boxer and step into a ring one day with a world class athlete… you will get you butt kicked. Apples and many super-foods train your body on how to fight toxins by essentially letting you practice on the extraordinarily low amount of toxins in them. This is perhaps the most interesting way in which super-foods help you; they train your body in the art of detoxifying and cleansing.

Note: Your body needs and will not function properly without a small amount of many things that are traditionally considered very bad. Your body needs some sodium, some heavy metals, and some sulfur to name a few. 

I told you this “toxins” information so that you would believe me when I say that you can overdo it with super foods. Many people even some doctors will tell you that you can’t really overdo it with super-foods, they are wrong. Everything that is helpful will reach a point where it becomes less helpful than unhelpful, and eventually will become harmful (think water intoxication).

Super-foods work to help your body using many mechanisms: Antioxidants, Fiber, Highly Digestible Vitamins, Heart Healthy Fatty Acids, Enzymes, Probiotics, Proteins, Rare Amino Acids and specific compounds like capsaicin which is found in peppers of the genus capsicum. Thinking of the nutrients of super-foods like a sports team to improve your health can be helpful. A specific food may not really “use” all of these mechanisms and might be lacking in certain players but usually has a “star” on its nutritional value team. Mixing super-foods creates a stronger “team.”

Antioxidants function by combating substances in your body known as free radicals. Oxidation is a term used in science to describe a certain type of chemical reaction where one substance becomes oxidized and loses electrons and the other becomes reduced and gains electrons. A popular mnemonic is OIL RIG (Oxidation Is Loss, Reduction Is Gained). The antioxidant works to neutralize free radicals and create inert compounds that can be filtered out of the blood by the kidneys and excreted out of the body in urine (type of cleansing). Free radicals will feed their electron addiction like any addict would: by any means necessary. These nasty substances age our body by removing bound electrons that are intended to stay put or be used for something else, which reduces the functionality of the part of your body that got stolen from. Antioxidants really do slow down aging (not really anti-aging, but they can slow stuff down). Antioxidants are essentially sacrificial in nature and thus we need to regularly get them in our diet. Not getting enough antioxidants can eventually kill you, think Scurvy and vitamin C.

When you get too high a concentration of antioxidants they start acting like bad guys and they stimulate the production of the very scary sounding TOXIC OXYGEN SPECIES (a type of free radical). Luckily it is hard and expensive to get too much antioxidant from food. Supplementing is a different story. I do not suggest supplementing for antioxidants. However if you are going to, try and use your brain. A good rule of thumb is: if you can’t naturally get that much of something from your diet, never try and get it from supplements. Think oranges. A great example of this is so called Super C supplements which tend to have 2800-5000mg of vitamin C with the average orange having about 70mg this is similar to eating 40-70 oranges. Can you eat 40-70 oranges in a sitting? If you can (and manage not to hurt yourself) perhaps you should put this feat up on the internet and become the next viral video sensation. The Japanese have a very antioxidant rich diet, but they also smoke more cigarettes than Americans, it has been proposed that their lower lung cancer rates are due to antioxidant consumption, coupled with a healthier diet and lifestyle.

Taking a multivitamins is generally considered safe and the level of antioxidants in them should not be extreme amounts, don’t take multivitamins that are labeled extreme or maximum!

Fiber is good for you, and humans of the past use to get extremely high levels of fiber from their diets. Humans of other “healthier” cultures and societies get more fiber than Americans and perhaps this could also be a reason why they have lower disease rates. Modernization has led to less fiber being in our diet because more of our foods are refined and processed. There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber cannot be broken down by water or our digestive system. Insoluble fiber triggers water to be retained in stools making them easier to pass (most PC way to say helps you poop… pooping = a type of cleansing). Soluble fiber can be broken down by water and our digestive system; this is the type of fiber that has been shown to help lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar.

Fiber slows digestion down which allows for more complete nutrient absorption, but largely does not affect the total amount of calories absorbed. Fiber’s slowing of digestion prevents blood sugar spikes. Preventing blood sugar spikes consequently prevents insulin spikes; insulin spikes cause fat to be stored as a means of lowering blood sugar. How fast a food’s sugar content gets to your blood is what the glycemic index is all about: Strait glucose is the typical marker and is given a GI value of 100, except when other foods like white bread are used as a marker than the GI of glucose becomes over 100. Fruit will raise your blood sugar but not nearly as much fruit juices (much higher GI) which are known to cause blood sugar spikes. Juicing is a process that removes most pulp and therefor fiber, thusly increasing GI. For those on a diet, fiber helps you stay full longer and get more nutrients from your food, reducing your desire to eat which means less calories and more weight loss.

Vitamins and minerals have a satiating effect, less than that of fat, protein and fiber but anything that can make you full faster or keep you full longer will help you lose weight simply for that reason. Vitamins in supplements are typically not in the form that is most commonly found in nature. Natural forms of vitamins are bound into the food, while vitamins within supplements are bound to a “binder.” Supplemental vitamins that are “free of binders and fillers” must through some means, usually a chemical reaction, make the vitamins chemically inert (non-reactive). The vitamins in food are made inert by being part of the food, so as the food digests the vitamins are released. This paring makes vitamins from food more digestible and by happenstance the natural form of vitamins is usually easier for the body to use once it is digested.

Heart healthy fatty acids, the Omegas seem to be everywhere and in everything that even resembles healthy… but they are not in anything FAT FREE fat free super foods have zero Omega’s. Omega fatty acids are the first group of fats to get a great reputation. Omega fatty acids are often marketed as essential fatty acids EFAs, but in reality only two of the Omega fatty acids are essential one from the group of fatty acids called Omega 3’s and the other from the Omega 6’s. The essential fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (an Omega 3) and linolenic acid (an Omega 6). The good news is these are very common; most of the polyunsaturated fat we eat is from EFAs. This means that if you are getting a sufficient amount of polyunsaturated fat in your diet you likely don’t have to supplement even naturally with things like flax seed and fish oil.

If you were wondering the difference between Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s aside from function, they are named such because of the location of the double carbon bond with relation to the methyl carbon: 3’s are three carbon bonds away before the double carbon bond and 6’s are six carbon bonds away. But really you did not need to know all that, just remember to get more Omega 3’s than you get Omega 6’s.  

In my experience supplementing Omegas can be really beneficial but I seriously doubt this has much to do with any potential pseudo drug like properties. Omegas are not drugs or medicine and should not be treated like they are. That being said, I use flax seed because regular milled flax is cheap and you don’t need very much to be effective. I do not use pills (except a multi-vitamin) what I am doing with milled flax is not truly dietary supplementation; because I am using whole food not a supplement. On days when I am going to eat fish I don’t have flax. I have found that even a half dose is effective for me thus halving the cost. On day’s when I don’t get my milled flax seed, I get hungry easier and have less energy and am less peppy. Aside from being shown to be good for the heart Omega’s have been shown to be good for mood balancing and combating depression. The big reason Omega’s are good for the heart (when you consume the right ratio which is simply more 3’s than 6’s) because they combat and prevent inflammation inside of your heart, veins and arteries.

Consuming extreme levels of polyunsaturated fats has been shown to increase the risk of cancer spreading (largely shown in mice but still). I have to stress that eating an extreme amount of polyunsaturated fat would be difficult to do, so just be sensible and you will be fine. High amounts are still good, but remember everything helpful reaches a point of unhelpfulness than past that harmfulness.

Enzymes do a fun little trick of helping the body digest protein. Enzymes are not technically alive and therefor they are a vegan food. Vegans use this trick to not need as much total protein in their diets. Those who are sensitive to protein consumption for medical reasons that usually involve the kidneys, also often use enzymes for this reason. Enzymes like those that are found in sprouts help the body digest food, mostly protein. Enzymes are also found in most raw foods, but when you cook food the enzymes are destroyed. This is the big reasoning behind the raw food diet keeping everything raw.

Well cooking also helps breakdown food and makes food easier for the body to digest, so in reality the only true benefit of enzymes is that they up the bio-availability of protein thus meaning you need less of it. Enzyme supplements are almost always a waste of money, as the enzymes in them are typically inactive even when they advertise that they are active: don’t buy the pills for this reason. The best way to get Enzymes into your diet is with sprouts like bean sprouts. Chances are you do not need enzymes in your diet, and you should not be stressing out about trying to add them.

Probiotics are another thing that chances are you do not need. Most of us have healthy levels of beneficial bacterial flora in our digestive track (probiotic populations), so taking probiotics will do nothing to close to nothing.  A probiotic is a live bacterial culture that will continue to live inside of you when you consume them. These cultures help you digest food and can help you regulate your digestive system. They also have the added benefit of competing for food with non-helpful bacteria that live in your digestive system, thusly causing a decrease in harmful bacteria in your digestive system.

Probiotics are often prescribed for those who are on antibiotics, because the drugs can kill the bacteria that naturally exist in or digestive track. When prescribed they are typically covered by good health insurance despite being an OTC supplement, so it does not hurt to ask your health care provider if they will pay for them. We need these beneficial bacterial cultures in our digestive system in order for everything to work properly, but chances are you do not need to supplement with them. The good news, most products that advertise that they have live probiotics actually have live probiotics. This is another thing that you do not need a lot of if you do choose to use them (bacteria will reproduce and reach the numbers that are needed). Probiotics are strictly speaking NOT vegan, because they are alive, but it is typically safe for vegans to use them. Probiotics have also been shown to increase the bioavailability of protein. Adding a little live culture yogurt (a super-food) to your next protein shake might be a good idea, also it tastes good.

Additional protein and rare amino acids are an excellent reason to eat a super-food rich diet. I must however tell you there is truly no such thing as “rare” amino acids. Most of the 22 amino acids that we need are easy to find in food, but this is where you must pay attention to amino acid profiles. A “complete” protein like all meats and dairy products is a protein that has sufficient levels of the essential amino acids. There are 10 essential amino acids (this is a currently debated topic) which our body is not able to biosynthesize in sufficient levels. In earnest all of the 22 amino acids can be considered conditionally essential. Amongst other things our bodies use essential amino acids to biosynthesize the “non-essential” ones meaning: If we do not get enough of the non-essential amino acids we must compensate by getting more essential amino acids.

Non-meat protein sources must be paired with other non-meat foods with complimenting amino acid profiles in order to produce a “complete” protein, in other words they shouldn’t be eaten by themselves. (It has been shown protein pairing does not have to be done in the same meal for the effect to work) Legumes, like beans and lentils, when paired with grains or nuts or seeds can make a complete protein (full amino acid profile.) Using legumes as a staple and then pairing them is by far the easiest way for vegans to get enough protein, but many parings exist and feel free to get creative. Mixing and eating a diverse diet almost always improves the bioavailability and amino acid profile of food.

The essential amino acids: Any Help In Learning These Little Molecules Proves Truly Valuable: Arginine, Histidine, Isoleucine, Lysine, Tryptophan, Leucine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Valine; no matter what mnemonic you use these are hard to learn.

Increased protein content can be a great indicator of a food’s status as “super,” but there are other indicators as well. There are super foods in every food category imaginable including sweets: dark chocolate and cinnamon are both super-foods. Memorizing all of the super foods that exist would be daunting and completely unnecessary, because all you really have to do is remember a few indicators. These indicators are not always accurate as some super-foods contradict them but they are really good I would say they are right 9 out of 10 times.

These are my favorite 5 INDICATORS of a food’s “super” status:

  1. Increased Protein Content: example brown rice vs. white rice. Brown rice is super-food white rice is not; brown rice has about 1.5 times the protein of white rice and about double the fiber. (Wild rice is even better, but way to pricy, I don’t consider it super because it cost so much compared to brown rice.) Increased protein content is the best indicator for meats.
  2. Increased Fiber Content: example whole grains vs. traditionally processed grains. Whole grain foods have typically double or more the fiber content of their counterparts. Whole grains as a category vaguely count as super but there are certainly stars, my favorite whole grain is oats. Quinoa is great and all but again it is too pricy for me to consider it super (and it is not that much different nutritionally than oats and oats are cheap).
  3. Vibrant or Dark Colors: Foods that are lightly colored tend to have less nutrition in them. An extreme example of this is: Ice Berg Lettuce vs. Spinach. Ice Berg Lettuce is very light in color, and it is also very light in everything else too: including vitamins, minerals and protein. Spinach is the opposite it has a rich deep green and packs plenty of protein, vitamins and minerals: Spinach is a super-food. Brightly colored fruit tend to be super-food. Black beans are more super than pinto. The list goes on and on. The reason nature does this is because these colors are attractive and thus things want to eat them, when the foods get eaten their seeds are spread (because they get pooped out) and the plant thrives.
  4. Small Size: example lentils are the front runner of the super category legumes, sesame seeds are the front runner of the super seeds. Small packages in nature tend to be more nutritionally dense because they still have the same job to do as larger packages. A small little lentil or sesame seed still has to sprout and grow into an adult plant.
  5. Intense Flavor: Anything that awakens the mouth is likely to be good for you and is perhaps a super-food. Herbs and spices are used in non-traditional medicine for a reason: they are good for you. Almost all herbs and spices can be overused and reach a point of not being helpful rather quickly. However, as far as I know, none of them are bad for you in the amounts that are used to flavor foods, and most of them reach a level effective for health benefits at this point. For example think about garlic pills one pill worth of garlic could easily have been used on a meal to season it. One pill is usually all you need to experience benefits from garlic as a super-food. In fact all members of the same genius of garlic (allium) have been called a super-food including: onions, leeks and chives. Something truly great about herbs and spices is they are extremely low in calories. This makes them one of the only super-foods that you can just add to your diet without taking away anything. This intense flavor indicator works for every food category: Hot Peppers, Dark Chocolate, Peas, Kiwi, Yogurt they all have intense flavors and they are all super-foods.

These are my favorite 5 super-foods:

  1. Lentils: Legumes, are a super category my current favorite of them is lentils, but to be honest my favorite legume changes from time to time. Lentils pack a crazy amount of protein into a tiny package, the side of the package I am staring at right now says: 10 grams of protein, 11 grams of dietary fiber, and only 80 calories in ONE serving. They require no soaking (but soaking can remove purines, some people are sensitive to purines) so they are easier and faster to cook than most legumes. I like them so much because they are a great way to add protein to a vegan diet. As a personal trainer I want to see all my clients get plenty of protein, but I worry about vegan clients because veganism can be a low protein diet with typical use. All legumes have to be paired with grains or nuts or seeds, to complete their amino acid profile. The classic pairing is one serving of beans to one serving of white rice (you can use less rice if you use brown), but as a general rule when pairing you need as much grains less nuts and even less seeds to complete the protein profile. Runner ups in this category are chickpeas and black beans because of taste. I like black beans to make never fried beans (they are the consistency of refried pinto beans) and I may always love hummus which is made from chickpeas. Many legumes can be made into flours at home or bought (including lentils) and used for gluten free baking.
  2. Berries: I am leaving this one vague even though my favorite berry is blueberries (I love the taste). You really can’t go wrong with berries and mixed berries are a fun snack. I hardly ever eat exotic berries because they are expensive, and they are harder to get fresh. Frozen berries often count as fresh because they retain their nutrients. Even frozen exotic berries are hard to find whole. I do not believe in berry extracts and supplements, and I would never advise a client to use them. If you want the benefits of berries eat them whole, and you do not need much, about an ounce will do just fine.
  3. MIXED NUTS: You do not have to always eat your nuts mixed, but getting a variety of nuts is better for you and much less boring. All nuts are good for you. I eat honey roasted nuts and oil roasted nuts, they may not be as good for you as over roasted or raw but they are freaking tasty, and when you are snacking taste matters. There are safety reasons to roast nuts, but most nuts can be eaten raw if they have been washed, some nuts don’t taste good raw. Nut butters are easy to make at home, with a blender some nuts and the occasional added bit of heart healthy oil like canola.
  4. Fruit: Most fruit could really be considered a super-food but my favorite is bananas followed by apples followed closely by oranges. Exotic fruits are nice and I do enjoy them as an occasional treat, but most of the time I just want something simple easy and relatively cheap. I have used bananas for years to help with exercise related soreness, they help restore glucose stores and some potassium and they taste great doing it.
  5. Sushi: I love going out to eat sushi; this is by far my favorite way to get fish. If you have never tried sushi because you are grossed out, I would suggest trying to get over it. Fish is good for you in general… so if you can’t handle the raw fish of sushi or sashimi, still eat your fish. When you eat fish raw it has the added benefit of having some bacteria for your system to fight, doing this boosts the immune system. Most raw food including fish retains more antioxidants, and has active enzymes present which aide in digestion. Sushi is generally considered safe, but going to a reputable establishment decreases risk even further. It is currently recommended by the FDA that pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children eat no more than 12 ounces of fish a week, to avoid excess mercury.

Some suggestions for eating super foods:

  1. A little bit goes a long way; you really do not need much of a super-food. I often suggest using half super-food with half regular good for you food like mixed greens salads.
  2. Avoid gimmicky things, they are often way over priced and sometimes they hardly have much of the advertised food in them at all. Don’t eat something just because it is trendy or exotic, you can stick with the tried and true classics and still be eating a super diet.
  3. Don’t ever treat food of any kind like a drug or expect it to act like medicine, if you have a medical problem go to the doctors, not the grocery store.
  4. Super-food based supplements are usually just plain silly; may not have much of the advertised food in them, and could be much less nutritious than the actual food. Just eat the food.

Refining and processing can involve chemicals, complicated equipment and processes, or some other spooky voodoo; but it can also be as simple as cooking. Pre-cooked food generally, but not always, has less nutrients than if you cooked it fresh yourself. Sometimes you really should not be cooking the food like with most fruits, because it is safe and more nutritious to leave it raw. Cooking removes most to the entire vitamin C content of food. Other times food has to be cooked for safety; eating raw pork might be obviously risky but did you know you should not eat raw Soy beans! Raw soy beans are toxic to all monogastric animals (including us) and must be cooked with a “wet” heat to destroy something called trypsin inhibitors. Sometimes cooking can unlock nutrients that would not be available to us: cooking drastically increases the lycopene content of tomatoes.

Breast milk is the best super-food of all time, you should feel very lucky if your mother breastfed you. She permanently reduced your chances of many things including but not limited to: most types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Your immune system is better because of her sacrifice, and chances are you are a bit smarter because of it too.

Mothers your breast milk is a perfect food! (It contains all essential amino acids, fatty acids and vitamins) and your body will do everything that it must to keep your breast milk that way. Essential amino acids and fatty acids are labeled as such because they cannot be biosynthesized de novo meaning inside of the body. However, mammary glands are amazing and it has been shown that even mothers that are fasting or suffering from famine produce nutritionally viable breast milk. Breast milk is far and away the single most amazing super-food. More than any other food the benefits of breast milk and breast feeding have been clinically shown time and time again. You should breastfeed your baby for as long as you can.  Your baby will be just fine pretty much regardless of your diet (alcohol consumption and a few other exceptions aside… don’t drink and breast feed). You need to pay special attention to nutrition so that your health does not suffer; eating a nutritious diet will make your breast milk even better. In the womb the baby does not have the benefit of breast milk; and the body is less capable of providing complete nutrition with a poor diet. Pregnant women need to be especially careful of their diets, and getting enough Omegas’ should be part of this care.

A big thanks to breastfeeding Mom’s and Mom’s that breastfeed!