Thursday, April 28, 2011

moving to wordpress

Yep,  blogger is a little to underpowered for me, so I'm moving my blog to wordpress.  see the link above to move over there, please register again, now you should receive updates when I post a new blog.

this is my new address:

Monday, April 25, 2011

A primer on Protein

What is protein?
Protein is a biological compound found throughout the earth consisting of amino acids held together by chemical bonds in specific patterns. In terms of human biology, protein is one of the 3 main sources of nutrients (called macronutrients) used as a building block for tissue bone and plasma, it is also used for energy in certain cases, lastly protein can also be used to create enzymes that facilitate chemical reactions in the body.
Different types of dietary protein important to humans
There are many amino acids, but there are 20 that are vital to humans and required for proper nutrition and health. Of these 20 there are 8 amino acids that cannot be synthesized from base components already in the body. These 8 amino acids are called essential amino acids, and must be acquired through diet and/or supplementation. Aside from the amino acids, different nutritional elements provide different “types” of protein (whey, soy, casein, hydrolysate …). Some proteins are delivered faster to the systems that need them than others, and some proteins are closer to a usable state and require less break down from digestion, the less time and energy required to break down proteins and rebuild them, the quicker they can be used in the body for things such as muscle building, enzyme creation, and muscle contraction.
How we use protein
Generally speaking, protein metabolism consists of ingestion of protein from a plant or animal source, breakdown of the protein into component amino acids in the digestive system, transport of the component amino acids to their desired location, and rebuilding of the right protein structures in the cells at the site needed. When protein levels are sufficient and of the right type, extra protein is used as an energy source, either through Gluconeogenesis or the Krebs cycle, and eventually either being used for energy creation or storage (storage meaning after the breakdown of the protein it is then passed further along the metabolic process and participates in lipogenesis and fat storage similar to excess carbohydrates).
It is important to note that the human body does not see protein as a primary fuel source, rather carbohydrates, and in the absence of carbohydrates, fats are both considered better fuel sources than protein. In general there are two main situations where protein will be tapped as a primary fuel. The first being lack of incoming calories, and the inability of the body to make up the fuel shortage with fat. Our body can only draw so much fat at any one time; chemical limitations mean there’s a cap, if the deficit seen is greater than that amount, then protein can be tapped as a reserve fuel source. Please note that this reaction will also trigger other, less beneficial changes in the body if allowed to continue for extended periods. The second situation where proteins are used as energy is when more than enough protein is being consumed. The body will not store extra protein in its main form. Any amino acids that have no immediate use will be broken down by the processes stated above and used as either energy if necessary, or stored as fat.
Benefits of protein
Protein as a nutrient is important because it helps keep muscles healthy, is required to have adequate muscle contraction, and important for many body functions. When we exercise our muscles beyond their normal capacity, the body recognizes the need to increase work capacity of muscles, this means growth. Muscle growth requires amino acids to build current muscles, and repair muscles that have been overworked, this is a slow process, and you don’t gain pounds of muscle in weeks (in fact, 1 pound per month of muscle growth is considered aggressive over the long term). A complex series of chemical reactions need to occur in the body in order to facilitate wide range muscle growth, while the body will always attempt (and prioritize) repair of existing muscle, building new muscle will only happen if there is both need and available resources. This is why persons in a prolonged, significant caloric deficit will generally not build new muscle mass. While there are very specialized situations where it CAN happen, it is not the normal process.
Drawbacks of protein
The breakdown of dietary protein can have adverse effects on the body. Protein that is not used for muscle growth, repair, or other direct amino acid uses is broken down into component carbon chains. This breakdown releases chemicals into the body that need to be flushed and removed because the body considers them poisons. Much of the breakdown and rebuilding of amino acids is done in the liver and Kidneys. Eating large amounts of protein, over and above the requirements of the body for building blocks will trigger the liver and the kidneys to “work” harder. Because these two organ sets are the main filters for un-wanted chemicals in the blood, they are the primary concern when ingesting large amounts of protein for long periods. For those with blood disorders, family history of liver and/or kidney problems, and other filtration related issues, protein consumption should be very closely monitored.
Suggestions and conclusions
Over the last 20 or so years, there’s been a large push to increase protein intake, especially among high intensity athletes (body building, strength related sports, weight lifting), but in most industrialized nations, protein consumption is well within requirements to maintain optimal health. Most nutrition organizations recommend approximately between 1 and 2 grams per kilogram of protein (about .4 to .9 grams per pound). There’s very little credible evidence that any amount above that is used for muscle growth and other amino acid direct delivery. The range is generally determined by age, sex, activity level, and exercise types and level. Please note that these levels apply to fully developed adults, teens and children and people of advanced age require different quantities of macronutrients.
Vegetarians are especially susceptible to protein deficiencies and need to make sure they “complete” their protein intake (by taking in foods with all the essential amino acids required by the body for protein synthesis). Vegetable sources of protein quite often only deliver some of the essential amino acids required to build specific proteins. While many times the body will have the remainder of those amino acids available to combine with them and complete the proteins, with vegetarians, this is not always the case. For vegetarians, research into which amino acids a protein source has and what other plant based sources to combine with them is vital to remaining healthy. While the sources are not difficult to find and combine, often vegetarians fail to do so, and thus can develop problems as a result.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Placeholder, no post this week

just an update here guys. I'm working on a bigger post, that's taking a while, it's on protein, so I don't have one for you this week. I'll only say this, eat healthy, eat enough, and exercise like crazy! When you're tired and don't want to exercise, visualize yourself 3 months from now 2 or 3 sizes smaller!

Monday, April 11, 2011

When you have a large amount of fat to lose

When you have a lot of weight to lose, and specifically a lot of fat to lose, there are some things you should keep in mind. I wanted to quickly go over these things with people and maybe give a heads up on what to expect as you drop weight and return to better health.

First thing to remember, if you have a good deal of fat to lose (fifty pounds or more as a range), it’s all about the diet. Yes, I’m a personal trainer, and yes, I always encourage everyone to exercise as much as possible, but I’m not a dummy, I know what it takes to lose weight, hey, I lost close to 60 pounds myself, so I know where you’re coming from. It’s often stated that losing fat is 80% diet and 20% exercise. Losing the fat means cracking down on the nutrition; this is especially true at the beginning. I’ve seen many folks who lost upwards of half the fat just by learning how to eat healthier. You don’t have to be a clean eating superstar to become healthy, you can be reasonable about your eating habits and still be in very good shape. But it does mean cutting out most of the saturated fats, hydrogenated fats, simple and processed carb treats, and making most of your meat choices as lean as possible. It’s the little things you need to do to become healthy, order that fish baked instead of fried, choose mixed veggies instead of the French fries, eat more vegetables at every meal, ask for dressings on the side, avoid the fat and sodium laden glazes, and watch your condiments. You do all these things and you’re well on your way.

The second thing to remember is that as the weight comes off, you need to adjust what your calorie deficit is. If you’re obese, then you can probably afford a 2 to 3 pound per week deficit. That’s plenty for anyone IMHO, but you may notice yourself losing weight faster than that at the beginning, that’s ok, but recognize that as you lose the fat, your weight loss will slow down. This is expected and natural, don’t worry about it, and just keep going.

Third thing to remember is that plateaus happen. Your body isn’t mechanical, it won’t follow your well laid plan exactly all the time. Sometimes your body will stop and adjust, this can take a few weeks, even up to a few months in extreme cases, don’t let that stop you, just take it as part of the plan. Don’t even worry about this until you’re up over a month, and at that point, if you’re still not losing, examine what you’re doing and decide whether you’re making the right choices.

Lastly, exercise may not be the main ingredient in losing weight at the beginning, but it’s what will help you stay healthy at the end. Exercise is vital to staying healthy. Exercise promotes muscle strength, bone health, immune system function, cardiovascular health, correct sleep patterns, and removal of excess fat. Exercise is a great stress reliever and releases endorphins in the body making you feel better the rest of the day. Exercise shapes your body, making you look better and have higher self-esteem, which can manifest itself in many aspects of life including relationships, work, social gatherings, public speaking … etc. For all these reasons, it’s vital that you include exercise in your journey. And I don’t just mean walking or using the elliptical. Don’t get me wrong, cardio is fine, but it’s only part of the process, exercise should include resistance, stretching, AND cardiovascular activity. Include at least one day of each every week, with multiple days of at least one for at least 30 minutes and at least a moderate level of activity for optimal health, more if you can fit it in.

-best wishes


Monday, April 4, 2011

Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation

Nutrient supplements come in many different forms. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll only be speaking on vitamin and mineral supplements. Muscle strength based “stacks” as they are commonly referred to are a different topic, and one I am not as well versed on and I won’t try to sway you one way or another on that particular subject.

When discussing vitamin and mineral supplements (hereafter referred to as VMS), there are a multitude of factors to keep in mind. Firstly we must understand how these VMS are manufactured and the form in which they are presented. Next we must understand how VMS are broken down in the body and are dissolved; and finally we must understand how the delivery forms interact with our bodies and what happens when we deliver massive doses of VMS to the body in a relatively short period.

In the USA, there is no formal FDA requirement for VMS other than truth in labeling. Even in labeling, there are certain “fudge factors” that the government allows for manufacturing variances and shelf life degradation. Many VMS are manufactured using processes and techniques that can leave the vitamins and minerals unable to be used by the body, or a portion thereof. Generally, the cheaper the VMS, the lower the quality control of the manufacturing process. This does not take into effect the inert substances used to bind the VMS particulates together and the various substances used to help the products with delivery into the system, namely things like bile salts and/or amino acids that can help deliver vitamins and minerals to their proper places in the body. Lastly it should be noted that better quality products also often rely on a “coating” to keep them from dissolving in the stomach acid before they can reach the small intestine where they are designed to be absorbed.

VMS that are taken orally in pill form are designed to pass through the stomach and be dissolved in the intestines. Many multivitamin and multimineral supplements have components that are susceptible to the acids in the stomach. Without some kind of coating, much of the desired effect of this type of VMS will be blunted or completely destroyed before being of any benefit to the person taking them. Many of the more expensive and better MVS offer a coating that will protect the pill from stomach acids, and are stripped of when they enter the duodenum, allowing the nutrients to be absorbed as they enter the small intestine. Another concept to understand is that vitamins and minerals can talk multiple molecular forms, some of which are less bioavailable or completely unavailable to the human body. So while the label may say 100% of a specific vitamin, the usable amount may be far less.

Lastly we must remember that the body has evolved to digest and break down foods over relatively long periods of times (hours generally), which means that the vitamins and minerals in food are released gradually to the body, allowing the body to use these in a more controlled manner. For many vitamins and minerals, there is either no storage mechanism in the body, or the process to store the supplement is slow to account for the gradual uptake. When we deliver massive volumes of a micro-nutrient to the body, we risk toxification in the body which in very high doses can have negative effects, or elimination which means that much of the nutrient can be neither used nor stored, and is thus eliminated as a waste product.

In conclusion, my main point is to use caution when supplementing your nutritional intake. As a general rule (one I myself follow) I usually say, supplement as little as possible, and through the best, most credible providers you can afford. Remember that there’s really very little regulation in the supplement industry, and manufacturers can make some pretty outrageous claims with little or no backlash.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Low carb diets

Analyzing low carbohydrate diets

Let me first put it out there; I am not claiming to be a low carb guru or anything.

My knowledge comes from 2nd hand sources. I NEVER participated in a low carb diet for any extended period. With this in mind, my thoughts on a low carb diet are purely from a technical and research point of view. I have no bias one way or another. Next let me just reiterate that I am not a nutritional scientist, and my views are purely amateur and based on personal research. Take my information and opinions for what they are worth.

What does the term "low carb" mean? That's not as easy to answer as it first may seem. There are a lot of people and companies out there pushing "low carb" diets these days. Their definitions depend solely on who you are talking to or reading from. In general there are two main categories of low carbohydrate diets. The first being the most extreme approach, these are called ketogenic diets, where carbs are kept so low that the body remains in a state of ketosis. The second is a non-ketogenic low carb diet. Where carbohydrate levels are kept lower than the FDA recommended amounts, but not so low that the body enters a ketogenic state. I will attempt to briefly outline both, give the low down on how they generally effect the body, and summarize how I feel low carbohydrate diets should be used.

The human body uses 3 forms of macronutrients as fuel. Carbohydrates, fats, and protein are all considered food and fuel for the body. While all 3 macronutrients can be used as energy, evolution has chosen carbohydrates as the primary fuel source for the human body. Dietary carbohydrates (carbs with value to the human body) come in two forms, fiber and non-fiber. Fiber is indigestible to the body and plays a role as a cleaner and digestion governor in the body. Non-fiber carbohydrates can be broken down into sugars and eventually turned into glucose for energy in the body. Glucose is the primary energy source the human body uses. Carbs are broken down quickly in the stomach and intestines and transported mainly to the liver where they are recombined into glucose and distributed throughout the body. When there aren't enough carbohydrates coming in, the body relies on dietary fat, dietary protein, stored fat, and lean tissue to produce its energy. The process of converting fats to energy is somewhat slower than glucose production. Protein is the slowest conversion rate of the three and is usually considered the last resort. The human brain requires glucose or ketones for energy as does the central nervous system. The energy derived from fat cannot be used to fuel the brain directly as free fatty acids (FFA) that can substitute for glucose in many organs and muscle groups are large molecules, and cannot pass the blood-brain barrier. This means that in order for the brain to use alternate fuel, that fuel must first be converted in the liver to glucose or ketones. The body knows how to do this, but the process is slower, and produces less total energy to do so (called the Krebs or citric acid cycle). When there isn't enough carbohydrate in-take to satisfy all energy requirements, the body prioritizes any carb. conversion for the brain, the rest of the body must take what it can from the rest, using fat and protein to balance out its fuel.

When we lower our carbohydrate in-take levels enough, in the short term the body does not make any changes, stored glycogen in the liver and muscles will take up the slack for a period of days or weeks depending on how low our total caloric in-take is. Eventually though, the lowering of carbohydrates depletes glycogen stores, when the stores are depleted enough, the body will begin producing more and more ketones, these ketones take over for the role of glucose in the body, providing energy. By itself this is not a bad thing, but many things happen when we move from a glucose metabolism to a ketogenic metabolism. Without making an informed and conscious choice to choose ketogenisis, you could be putting your body and your health at risk.

Lowering carbohydrate levels to a point where they affect your energy balance does a few things chemically. First and foremost, it changes the amount of water in the body. Because glucose is mainly distributed and stored in a water based solution called glycogen, hundreds of grams of water are no longer needed in the body. As hydration levels lower, weight goes down. In some cases, a person can drop as much as 20 lbs of water weight in a matter of a few days or weeks. "Dieters" and people touting low carb diets for weight loss flaunt this fact as "proof" of weight loss, but it's nothing but a temporary weight loss, no real fat stores have been lowered because of these phenomena. It should be known that once carbohydrate in-take is restored, the water levels will quickly return to their former state and you will gain that water weight back. When protein is used for energy instead of as a building block for lean tissue, it has by-products. Those by products include carbon dioxide, water, urea, and ammonia. The last two, urea and ammonia need to be expelled from the body as they are considered poisons. This forces the liver and kidneys to work harder (stressing them). It is unknown as of yet, whether this can have a long term detrimental effect on a healthy adult, but common sense says that when we increase the work being done by an organ over the long term, the extra stress can be detrimental to its health. Obviously, someone with liver or kidney issues should never be on this type of high protein, low carb. diet, without consulting their doctor first.

There are many studies that have been done recently (over the last 10 to 20 years) that have looked at the long term effects of a low carb diet vs. a balanced nutritional diet with a modest calorie deficit. In diets lasting longer than 6 months, participants generally had statistically insignificant differences in total weight lost. In some cases other systems benefitted from a low carb technique, such as blood cholesterol.

For those with reasons other than weight loss for their dietary changes, there are well documented and perfectly valid reasons to go on a low carbohydrate and/or ketogenic diet. Epilepsy is one reason. Without going into specifics, changing the brain's fuel levels and source has a profound effect on the amount and strength of seizures. Cancer research is also being done on fuel sources. On main theory is that cancer cells rely solely on glucose as fuel and thus starve if not provided, I have not delved deeply into this topic though, and would suggest talking to an oncologist for more details.

As to low carb as a way to quickly and efficiently shed pounds; I don't see the benefit. Studies don't show any additional fat loss from low carb diets over a normal, moderate calorie reduction diet. And the consequences for high intensity work are significant. Once glycogen levels are depleted, someone on a very low carbohydrate diet will take much longer to restore those glycogen levels, severely restricting their ability to perform anaerobic activity for any extended period. This limits the amount of weight training or high intensity (anaerobic) cardiovascular work you can do in any one period. Also hydration levels must be closely monitored, as dehydration can have serious and very dangerous side effects. Couple this with the unknown possible long term consequences of kidney and liver stress; I cannot endorse this method as a weight loss tactic. There is much great work being done in this area in the scientific community, and the facts change almost daily. I have merely hit the main points and barely scratched the surface of low carb. If you want to know more, I urge you to talk to many sources, not just the proponents of one type. There are benefits and drawbacks to low carbohydrate diets. But one thing I can tell you with certainty, it’s not a "quick fix", and done right, it's not easy or cheap. If you wish to be a "low carb. convert", walk into that lifestyle with eyes wide open, realizing that you will have to closely monitor yourself, and be aware of the side effects, and know that doing it short term does nothing for you.

I have not touched on low carb diets as a diabetic treatment or low carb. For those who have nutrient allergies or celiac disease. These are specific cases in which the treatment can have high benefit. Please talk to experts in your specific field if you wish to pursue this avenue. And best of luck to you!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Non-Scale Victories

When people try to lose weight, often times they begin to obsess about "the scale" and take measurements multiple times per week or even every day. As a general rule this can be a very self-destructive process. Media and specifically television shows such as "The Biggest Loser" focus on fast weight loss using what most experts would call extreme measures. What most people don't realize is that people who are morbidly obese have a lot larger cushion for weight loss than most of us, even those of us classified as obese. Expecting 3 or 4 or more pounds per week weight loss is unrealistic in the extreme. Occasionally you may see those numbers on the scale, but generally the numbers will fluctuate, and some weeks may even see a gain in weight. In my humble opinion, the only way weekly weight loss measurements are effective are if you can add them to a continuing monitor strategy and look for longer term trends. I recommend 1 month at a minimum. If you take 4 or 8 measurements over a month, and the trend is consistently sloping down, chances are you're doing things right and should continue on the path. If your trend is static, or upward, then you should adjust and compensate. Other than that, weight loss is a relatively poor measure for short period accuracy.

I generally advise clients to use something termed on many weight loss and nutrition sites as Non-Scale Victories (NSV for short). A non-scale victory can be anything from an exercise performance increase, to a size of jeans you wear. It can be an instance where you resisted the temptation to eat a cookie at a company gathering, or maybe hitting the 10 minute mile mark on a run. A weight loss strategy that tracks both weight loss and non-weight loss progress is the healthiest way to gauge progress. If you have a trainer or someone who you work with for dietary information, you should work with them to clearly state and write out your goals, including the goal, a timeline for completion, and a method to achieve that goal. Your goal should be precise, and can have smaller "waypoints" to help you track progress in smaller, more manageable chunks. Make sure your goals are challenging, but also achievable, it’s perfectly fine to ask others if they think your goal is achievable. Sometimes choosing our own goals can be a little daunting. Make sure you don't make your goals so long term that you could procrastinate, and make sure you don't set open ended goals (I.E. "My goal is to be in a size 6." This has no timeline, and no strategy for completion.). An example of a solid goal is as follows: "I would like to drop 4 inches from my waist within 4 months by eating a healthy diet with a moderate deficit, and by exercising 3 to 5 times a week for at least 30 minutes. I will track my progress by using a tailor’s tape measure every other week and record the results in my nutrition notebook." Here you have a challenging but reasonable goal, a timeline with which to achieve that goal, and a basic strategy to follow.

Setting goals is a way to help you keep to a plan, it can hold you accountable if you choose to share that goal to others, encourage those you trust to ask you about your progress, and don't be afraid to adjust your goals "on the fly" if you realize you made a goal that was overly challenging, or maybe a bit too easy. Have a lot of goals, you may or may not reach all of them, but that's not important, the important part is being accountable to something, and learning how to celebrate your victories, and stay on the right path.

Good luck

Monday, March 14, 2011

Starting a new healthy lifestyle Part II – Exercise

I apologize for the length; this is an important topic and requires much knowledge.
For the out of shape or obese person, becoming healthy is essentially a two part game, part 1 is nutrition, and we covered that last week, this week is exercise. Everything I post here is contingent on you being checked out and approved by a trained medical professional first. Whenever I recommend an exercise, it’s always under the assumption that you can reasonably perform exercise at the level I suggest. If you are thinking of beginning a new exercise or nutrition program, please consult the appropriate medical personnel first, for exercise that usually means having a talk with, and maybe receiving a cursory exam from your primary care physician. If you have any medical conditions, known or unknown to your medical professional, be sure to disclose them before they check you out, things that may seem trivial to you can often be important to a doctor.
Exercise is vital to living a healthy, happy, and long life. Besides the vanity issue of looking good and feeling confident, exercise helps your body in a number of ways. Exercise burns calories, and consequently exercise burns fat. Exercise helps muscle and bone retain it’s mass, and In some cases grow. Exercise can force the cardiovascular system to become stronger and more efficient. Exercise releases hormones in the body that help it with metabolic function. Exercise helps with immune system health. When we talk about exercise, many people cringe, but exercise doesn’t have to be a chore, it can be fun.
For the beginner, starting with a new plan can seem daunting. Forget choosing an exercise, many new exercisers can’t even choose between the types of exercise they need or want. Let me clear something up for any people having a hard time deciding where and how to begin. You need all types to be successful. Let’s discuss the two main types of exercise. Cardiovascular exercise (cardio) or “aerobic” exercise is exercise performed at a low enough level so that muscles can continue to perform that exercise for long periods. Muscles use oxygen as a catalyst for energy consumption. The more intense the exercise, the more oxygen is required. The primary muscles used in cardio are specifically designed to burn less oxygen over long periods, allowing for sustained burn at a level your body can provide. It is possible, however, to overtax these muscles and become “anaerobic”. The term “aerobic threshold” is the intensity level of cardio where your body can no longer provide sufficient oxygen to power the muscles. Reaching this threshold is not considered a bad thing by itself, but it will induce shorter exercise sessions as the body will need to slow down as this point is reached. You will notice this state almost immediately when you reach it. Breathing becomes labored, muscles weaken, and the “burn” begins. This type of exercise triggers certain responses in the body. When you reach this level on a semi-consistent basis, the body will take steps to increase the following functions: lung capacity, level of oxygen in the blood, and the efficiency at which muscles extract oxygen from the blood.
Working below the aerobic threshold means long periods are possible. If you work below your aerobic threshold, your muscles in use will tire and deplete before your ability to deliver oxygen does. The feeling that comes from this is less of a burning, sudden weak feeling and more of a general slowdown in your ability to work, the decrease is less sharp and more difficult to discern, and your ability to continue working at a slightly reduced level remains. This means that you can continue to exercise after this point is reached. The results of longer, lower level exercise are training the muscles that specialize in this type of activity to be stronger and have higher endurance. Another benefit of training at lower levels is the ability to burn fat. Body fat is burned as a supplement to carbohydrate burn. When you increase the amount of calories you burn, inevitably you burn some fat as well, the longer you train cardiovascularly, the higher the percentage of fat burned becomes as glycogen (the quick energy your body stores for work) levels deplete, the body requires more and more energy from the fat storage mechanisms as cardiovascular work continues. “wind” or oxygen levels and efficiency see only moderate improvement when one works cardiovascularly (below the aerobic threshold), although there is some improvement.
Resistance based exercise is exercise that uses a whole different set of muscles primarily. These muscles are designed to provide maximum force for minimal amounts of time. Weight training is one type of resistance, plyometrics is another example. Resistance usually requires quick, short bursts of power, these quick bursts don’t use an abundance of oxygen, but they do use high percentages of available energy, more energy than the body can produce during the work period. A solid, 35 to 45 minute weight training session will deplete most of the existing glycogen stores in the body. It can take up to 24 hours or longer for the body to rebuild those stores, during this period a slightly increased metabolic rate is seen. So while you won’t burn as many calories with resistance, you will burn those calories over a far more extended period. Another aspect to resistance training is the concept of muscle fatigue and micro tears. Part of the process of growing muscle is creating tiny tears in the muscle fiber through training. The body recognizes and repairs these tears, and generally will repair them bigger and stronger than they were before. For a resistance program to ultimately be successful over the long term, it must be difficult to complete with good form. That means that more important than training for long periods, should be training at a resistance level that exhausts your ability to continue. In layman’s terms you want to be unable to do more work when done, or close to that point. If you find yourself doing resistance and realize that you are not extremely tired in that particular muscle group after finished, you probably need to re-evaluate the session and either up the intensity or the weight used to achieve a failure or close to failure level.
Hybrid routines are routines that combine elements of both resistance and cardio exercise. These routines are designed not to provide the maximum results from either routine, but to provide enough of each to satisfy the moderate exerciser. Time is usually a major factor in choosing this type of routine. Design and form are the two major components of this routine. In order to be a successful hybrid routine (for example, many boot camp classes are hybrids) there must be sufficient resistance to tire the muscles, and sufficient cardiovascular work to elicit the goals you are looking for (either increasing anaerobic threshold or growing the muscles that focus on aerobic work). Hybrids can be an excellent compromise for the functional, busy professional who doesn’t have a lot of time during the day. Three, solid 45 minute to 1 hour hybrid routines a week, mixed with 2 cardiovascular routines or 1 cardio and 1 resistance routine per week is a great way to get everything you need without devoting hours of time a day or sacrificing one type for another.
Stretching and static exercising considerations
While these are vitally important to your body’s functional strength and health, things like stretching, yoga, and Pilates, are something I generally allow clients to choose based on their level of flexibility. These programs can provide many benefits to both physical strength and flexibility and psychological health, but for a person who is just beginning, I generally try to focus on strength and endurance first, adding static and dynamic stretching as a warm up and cool down period. If you find yourself noticing posture and/balance issues, these types of routine can provide a wealth of benefit for you, do not ignore them as unnecessary.
For the beginner
When choosing an initial exercise routine. Many beginners go with steady state cardio (running, elliptical, stationary bike…etc.) alone and ignore resistance or anaerobic training. While steady state cardio absolutely has a place in every exerciser’s routine, it does your body an injustice to ignore the power and oxygen levels that they need. Anaerobic cardio is helpful for burning fat, but to truly become more healthy you must tell your body to increase muscle mass, and produce the hormones that increase lean tissue and bone health. These hormones are released during anaerobic exercise and resistance exercise. The hormones released also trigger the body to help burn more stored fuel, which means a better fat burn.
When starting out, the first thing you should do (after designing a weekly program and consulting your doctor) is find your limits. For each type of routine (cardio, anaerobic, resistance), choose your exercise types, and perform tests to find where your levels are. This is one place where a trainer can be very helpful, even if you decide not to use a trainer regularly; paying for an initial consultation and review can allow them to give you some basic starting points and can put you on the fast track to increasing levels with a minimum of trial and error. In any event be sure to include days of cardiovascular training, anaerobic training, and resistance training in your plan, also be sure to monitor your body, if you feel dizzy, nauseous, or pain, always stop and consult your doctor before continuing. Be aware of your routines, mindlessly reading a magazine while walking or jogging on a treadmill may seem easier, but it usually means you’re not focusing on how your body feels, if you want to achieve results, you must pay attention and increase your levels as your body becomes stronger and has more endurance. The last thing I will say about a new routine is to make sure you give your body a rest. Working out every day may feel like a great way to lose weight fast, but in the long term, your body needs recovery days, without them it can break down and stress injuries can become common.
This post just touches the absolute basics of exercise for the beginner. There’s a lot more information that can be learned and taught, a good trainer would be able to fine tune a program for you and increase your results dramatically. Consequently, a bad trainer can really hinder results. Be sure to vet your trainers fully and thoroughly before choosing them.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Starting a new healthy lifestyle Part I - Nutrition

This will be a 2 part Blog on starting out with exercise and healthy nutrition. Today’s post will cover nutrition as I believe most people trying to become healthy are first and foremost trying to lose some weight, and specifically fat. While I emphasize that exercise plays a vital role in being healthy, you lose weight, and specifically fat, by eating healthy. Exercise forces your body to "shape up", gain or maintain muscle mass, keeps your cardiovascular system healthy, keeps your skeletal system healthy, strengthens the immune system, and burns excess fat. Eating a proper, healthy diet is how we give our body the building blocks they need in order to be strong and healthy.
The term "you are what you eat" is cliché and not very descriptive, but it's true. Let’s put some credence to that statement now. Starting out seems daunting, many people choose long term goals and they fail quickly, within weeks, because they don't also create reachable, short term goals that can help keep you focused. My first bit of advice is create 2 sets of goals; a long term goal, and multiple, short term waypoint goals that you can use to keep you on track. Make sure these are reasonable, attainable goals as well. Having a goal of your "high school weight" if you're 40 years old and have had children is probably not that reasonable. There are plenty of weight/height/age/sex charts that give you a range weight goal, this is what I would recommend. I also recommend having a long term goal weight RANGE instead of weight number. Having a single number can become obsessive to people, being 1 pound from your goal is not a failure unless you let it be.
On to your nutrition. I'm what most nutrition experts would consider a "generalist". I don't believe in restrictive or "crash" diet types. Any diet that eliminates or severely restricts either calorie amounts or types of macronutrients (macronutrients are the 3 main calorie types, I.E. carbohydrates, fats, proteins). While there are perfectly valid reasons for low carb or high protein diets, they aren't easy plans to follow, and require a lot of extra willpower to be successful with, and they won't help you lose weight any faster in the long term. LET ME RESAY THIS SO YOU UNDERSTAND. Macronutrient restrictive diets WILL NOT help you lose weight any faster. Also, diets like Atkins, or South Beach or Paleo diet are difficult under any circumstance, and even more so under social situations, beside the very strict adherence required, for them to be effective long term, they need to be a life choice (I.E. for the rest of your life), so if you aren't ready to make that kind of commitment, I would reconsider them.
For most people, I recommend just following the USDA food pyramid ( While I don't follow every tenant that they print to the letter, for most people, their percentages, amounts, and food types are close enough to keep you healthy and happy for a long long time.
So how do we begin? First, do a little research, figure out what a complex carbohydrate is, what lean protein means, and what healthy fats are. These are vital. Know that you need lots and lots of vegetables (learn to like them folks, there are plenty of choices, don't give me the "I don't like veggies" speech, I've heard it before, you need em, supplements won't cut it.). Understand that cheese sauces and cream sauces, white flour, white sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), hydrogenated oils, and saturated fats are all not good things to have in large quantities. Fill your day's diet with veggies, berries (the best fruits are generally berries), whole grains, whole grain rice, beans, nuts, lean meats (including red meats in limited quantity, lower fat volumes are better with these), healthy fats (Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, some sunflower oil...etc.), fish (white fish, not shell fish usually).
Some of you may be thinking that this is a huge change. You'd be surprised at how easy it is to make most of the things you enjoy with these better ingredients. It just takes a modicum of effort. And a desire to treat your body right and live a healthy, long life.
As to losing fat. Generally the food choices I talk about above are a great start, and they'll give your body all the tools it needs to be chemically and hormonally happy. But unless you figure out how many calories you need daily, this won't help you lose fat. To do this you need to limit your calories. This may seem difficult, but it's generally not as hard as it seems. There are online diet tabulators (some pay, some free) that you can use, or if you don't like that, you can keep a journal, there are even IPhone and Android apps you can use. What you really want to change for LIFE is eat a moderate deficit for your situation, and monitor your food choices. I can talk individually to anyone who really wants to dig into how much their deficit should be, but generally, the more obese you are, the bigger the deficit can reasonably be (within reason here folks). This is especially true of body fat percentage. I don't recommend a "crash" diet with an extreme calorie deficit simply because it's unsustainable, and the ultimate goal is teaching your body, slowly, how to live off the correct number of calories, not how to quickly drop fat, and then be confused about calories once you reach your goal. What I try to do is take it slow with people, allow them to form good habits, which allow them to continue being health for life, I will slowly reduce their deficit over months or even years in extreme cases, until when they reach the goal weight (and fat %) they want, the change to eating maintenance calories is minimal, and easy to keep up with and with no change to the type of food they eat, there's really very little or no transition period to maintenance.

FYI, for those of you with small children. Don't use them as an excuse. I've heard "my child will not eat "; that's a cop out folks. They won't starve to death, kids are kids, not small adults, I know you love your child, but ask yourself this: Would you rather your kid not like you for a few hours because you didn't cave to their demands of hot dogs and chicken nuggets, or become one of the obese teen statistics we are seeing today, including full on type 2 diabetes, anxiety disorder, psychological trauma, and cardiovascular conditions? Those are essentially your two choices. Children follow parental examples, you can kid yourself all you want, but your child WILL eat what you let them eat. If you let them eat processed junk food, they will eat processed junk food.

A few notes on this topic.

-Recently I've heard a few folks tell me that they "can keep eating what I'm eating and just exercise more". Nope, sorry, you can't. That's not going to cut it. Food is vital. You can fool yourself all you want, it won't make it right.

-Doctors, personal trainers, and nutritionists are NOT the experts in this field. You want nutrition advice? Go see a registered dietitian. Doctors generally receive minimal training in this field, nutritionists have no standard to conform to, they may be great, they may be awful. Registered dietitians are required to pass certain, state wide requirements, so at least you know they meet minimum standards.

-You don't need to be super super restrictive for this to work. As long as you're honest and don't beat yourself up over your calories, going over or eating something "bad" every couple of weeks isn't the end of the road. It's only a failure if you let it stop you from continuing.

-Find a support network; whether that is a friend, neighbor, family member(s), an online group, or something else. You probably need to rely on someone else for support every once and a while. There's no need to be a "tough guy", sometimes we slip up, and having someone there for support is a good thing.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Calorie Deficits

By now, I know most people are aware of what it takes to lose weight, and more specifically to lose fat. With all due respect to the quality of the calories you eat (I'm not covering that today), the generic and essentially correct thinking is calories in must be less than calories out to lose weight. Many people take this as a literal translation, meaning the bigger the deficit between calories I eat and calories I burn, the more weight I'll lose. This is not necessarily true. The body doesn't like having to few calories, and at a certain point, will begin to make adjustments to create balance between incoming and outgoing calories (caloric homeostasis). Let’s first think about how the human body uses energy. When we eat calories, they are converted to energy, when you eat enough to fuel your body, no problem, you're in balance like a see saw with the same amount of weight on both sides; but when the total amount of calories you burn in a day through just living, and exercising, and regular daily activity is more than what you're eating, your body has some choices to make about where to get enough energy to make it up. It'll first use the stored energy it has in the liver and at muscles, called glycogen. Unfortunately, you don't have a heck of a lot of glycogen, so that's only good for a little bit extra. Next the body will turn to body fat, and that's great, but your body burns body fat like an ice cube melts, by that I mean, you can only burn so much at a time. Next up is muscle mass, the body will pull energy from muscle as a last resort, cannibalizing the least used muscle first in most cases. If all of these extra calories STILL don’t equal what you are burning, then the body will take drastic measures and start slowing down the metabolism. See my prior blog on short and long term fasting for a more in depth description of this process.

So, because of what we just outlined, there's a sweet spot for the body. Roughly this is the calorie deficits that allows you to burn fat, but not start pulling energy from muscle, and definitely not start lowering the metabolic rate. How do you know how much? Well, you usually don't, not at first at least, and this number will change as body fat percentage changes. That being the case, a little experimentation is usually in order. The first thing you need to know is roughly how much energy you burn in a day; to know that you can use a few different methods. The easiest method is to just use one of the tons of maintenance calorie calculators on line. I prefer the one at ( The number won't be perfect, but it's a good start. To be a little more accurate, you might consider something like a body bugg. Please note, a body bugg is different from a regular HRM(calorie counting heart rate monitor) as HRM's have a hard time calculating calorie expenditure at normal heart rates (HRM's are essentially ECG machines and because the impulse from your heart is low during rest periods, it can misread these beats often) Body bugg type devices are far more sensitive (thus the reason they are so expensive) which means they are more accurate during low heart rate periods (such as sleeping). Lastly you can go to a lab and have a metabolic rate test done. These are generally the most accurate, but if you are having a "bad" day, it could be off (and remember, stress over GOING to the lab could affect the outcome). However you do it, you need a baseline of your daily calories.

Once you know your calories, you can start thinking about a deficit. Remember, we're looking for the sweet spot for calorie deficit. That means you want enough of a deficit to lose fat, but not too much where you're burning lots of protein or lowering your metabolic rate. To do this you should analyze your fat. Obviously, if you know your body fat percent, that's the best way to make a decision. But sometimes it's not easy to receive an accurate body fat test. Home scales are wildly inaccurate for body fat (they use hydration for their calculations, which can vary greatly day to day, thus giving really wide margins for error). If you can't have a body fat test, the next best thing is to use BMI. I am not a fan of BMI in general, but in the absence of body fat, it's essentially all we can go on. Just be sure to remember that BMI does NOT take into account muscle mass, so if you are heavily muscled, the BMI can inaccurately report obesity. Also women who are or who recently were pregnant shouldn't put much stock in BMI. That out of the way, your BMI number will give you a general starting point for deficit, for most people if you are obese (BMI of 31 or greater), you can have a relatively large calorie deficit, somewhere north of 1000 calories per day, the higher the BMI, the bigger (within reason) the deficit. The lower your BMI, the smaller the deficit. I usually tell clients that if your BMI is over 30, go for 1000 and see where that leads you, 28 to 30 I usually give a deficit of about 750 calories, between 25 and 28 I say about 400 to 600 calories, and below 25, if you want any deficit, it should never be above 300. I realize that this may seem rather small to some, but that's the reality of HEALTHY weight loss. It's never going to be super fast. And it shouldn't be, because if you want this to stick, losing fast weight isn't the answer, you need to give your body time to adjust.

On to the subject of adjustment; after the initial calorie goal is set, you should monitor and tweak, if it's not working like you suspected, tweak. Remember this though, any tweaks you make to calories should be relatively small, 100 calories per day changes is my recommended maximum. And in order to evaluate that tweak, you should give yourself at least 1 month at the new level. The human body doesn't react that quickly to changes in eating habits, so expecting changes in days or weeks is not realistic.

Lastly let’s talk about maintaining. Once you reach your end point and have reached a body fat percentage you feel comfortable with, you need to SLOWLY raise your calories, usually over the course of 6 to 8 weeks, back to maintenance. If you've followed what I've written above, you've probably already adjusted your calorie deficit as you approached your goal weight. If you have, then your deficit should be relatively small, and your body shouldn't have a hard time adjusting to maintenance. One of the main reasons why so many people fail after dieting is because they fail to properly come out of the "diet mode" and into maintenance. If you suddenly go from a 500 calorie deficit to maintenance, the body will inevitably try to put some weight back on. Give your body the chance to adjust and it won't feel the need to pack on extra fat.

Please note that I'm not going into the concept of exercise calories. All calorie amounts I talk about here are NET calories. Which means daily calories PLUS exercise calories. So a deficit of 500 calories would mean your daily calories plus exercise calories minus what you eat should equal a 500 calorie deficit.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My thoughts on nutrition, health, wellness, and anything else: Psychological aspects of obesity

My thoughts on nutrition, health, wellness, and anything else: Psychological aspects of obesity: "As most know, obesity is more than just being overweight. Besides the physical health risks assigned to obesity, the mental aspects of the ..."

Psychological aspects of obesity

As most know, obesity is more than just being overweight. Besides the physical health risks assigned to obesity, the mental aspects of the condition are a major concern and in my opinion is the underlying reason not only for the weight gain, but also other symptoms that the person can identify with.

As an animal, humans don't have a genetic propensity to excessive weight gain. Unlike some other species of mammal that use fat as a a layer of insulation such as whales, or as a storage mechanism for lean winters such as sea lions or bears, humans don't have a semi-seasonal clock which can help to regulate the metabolism in times of low energy availability, nor do they have the skeletal structural mechanisms to deal with excessive weight gain (I.E. 4 legs to balance additional weight, or water to mitigate stress on joints). So being obese for a human is far more of a problem than it is for other animals.

These are the well-recognized, physical problems that can come from obesity. What about the mental aspects of obesity? In both the mental ramifications of being obese, and the causality for the obesity; I am a firm believer that almost all obesity, and weight related maladies that have not been identified by a specific physical medical cause (such as hypothyroidism or metabolic syndrome), can be tied back, at least partially, to psychological foundations.

When tackling the psychological aspects of obesity, we first must identify the trigger that causes someone to eat. Many times food is associated with comfort, security, safety, and happiness for the obese individual. Other times control issues manifest in the obese individual to gain weight. Psychological trauma from earlier in life can be a precursor to weight gain later. Often times, people with obesity issues use food as a control mechanism. when faced with triggers such as a stressful family environment, they turn to eating because they feel like their body is the one thing they have absolute control over, and eating is a natural way to react because food in most people's mind is associated with comfort and happiness. Some people cut themselves, others turn to drugs, and some turn to alcohol; food is fast becoming the method of choice for people who have unresolved psychological trauma.

Not all obesity is so obscured though. Sometimes the psychological issues induce stress, and stress releases a certain set of hormones in the body, chief among them is cortisol, a hormone released by the adrenal gland during high stress periods in order to increase vasodilation (meaning it widens blood vessel for higher blood flow) and increase oxygen delivery. Unfortunately, cortisol also inhibits insulin sensitivity, which means more blood sugar in the body, and a higher rate of body fat storage. During times of exercise related stress, cortisol is a good thing; it allows the body to focus on burning fuel, and burn it faster allowing increases in strength and speed accordingly. This quickly dissipates the cortisol without much in the way of follow-on problems; but when stress comes from non-physical means, or there is no accompanying high intensity physical activity with the cortisol uptick, that's when this condition becomes a net detriment to the body. When stress levels are consistently high for long periods, people develop areas of fat, even if they don't significantly over eat.

So we have two distinct causalities for obesity, one is a means to mitigate psychological trauma; another is a biochemical response to high stress periods over long timelines. Both are obviously psychological causalities, and both require different treatments.

I feel that in both cases, cognition of the underlying causes is vital to resolution. I.E. a person can do all the extreme diets in the world, or receive weight loss surgery, or take pills; these are resolving symptoms of the root cause, but they aren't addressing the main problems, and thus, these treatments will only work in the short term. These types of extreme resolutions only feed the overall issues that people associate with the obesity. When they inevitably fail to keep the weight off, it adds to their feelings of failure and inadequacy, thus allowing for more potential of weight gain. Gradually becoming a vicious cycle of weight loss, weight gain, more weight gain, depression, and resolve and starting over again. Unfortunately, eventually this takes its toll on the body and weight loss becomes more difficult, and as the person’s physical ability to lose weight lessens, so does their mental strength to fight the obesity.

I make no case to solve obesity in any one specific way, as each person requires slightly different techniques to solve their issues (thus no one diet or pill will ever cure obesity), I will say that stress reduction techniques, and mental health counseling are a big part of any plan.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Inaugural blog - Short and Long term underfeeding

Per reader request, and in the interest of making this as easy as possible to reach the broadest amount of users, I've added a less technical version to the end of this post. If you start reading this, and cannot make heads or tails of it, please skip to the section at the bottom in italics, it should be far easier to understand, although it will miss some of the technical details that the first section has.

There are two separate and distinct classifications for fasting and/or underfeeding. Those two areas are short term fasting (< 3 days) and long term fasting (> 60 hours), here I'll describe both. See the link I posted above to learn more. There's a lot of research out there, I'm not going to cite it all, but it's available, and if you want to do more research please email me and I'll try to find what you are looking for.

The human body stores energy in the form of glucose, which is arranged in large groups called glycogen and is stored in an aqueous medium in the liver and to a lesser degree in muscle sites. Glycogen is what the mitochondria in cells use to facilitate energy production and Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) production, which is the actual chemical the body uses for energy. While ATP can be generated from both glycogen directly or via the Krebs cycle (citric acid cycle) using pyruvate generated from protein and/or fats, glycogen is by far the preferred medium for this operation because of the amount of ATP it produces (far more than the Krebs cycle) and the speed at which this is accomplished. The other thing to keep in mind is that the brain, which uses about 20% of the energy from the Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) cannot use fat as energy because of the size of lipoprotein molecules and the blood-brain barrier. Glucose or ketone bodies are required for brain and CNS energy. This will become important later so I thought I'd give it now as a baseline.

Short term fasting
STF means the lack of incoming energy for between 6 and 60 hours. In the initial stages of fasting, the body does not recognize fully the lack of fuel and continues using glycogen and fat (via lipolysis) for energy. During this time hormone production continues on as usual. In some cases the Active Metabolic Rate (AMR) can actually go up slightly causing a small increase in energy output. This is a good time to try for fat loss while maintaining a healthy energy balance in the body. If performing full fasts (no incoming energy), this state usually lasts for 24 to 36 hours, if performing extreme underfeeding in an adult with normal body fat levels (non-obese individuals) usually characterized by 600 to 1000 calorie per day or higher deficit and assuming micro-nutrient levels are sufficient; this state can last up to about 60 hours or longer. For obese individuals the rise in AMR is usually not seen, nor is the rise in lipolysis, but the state can last for weeks depending on the amount of available fat to be used for energy. The body will begin to prioritize the brain for glucose use, which is fine while glycogen levels are sufficient. Whole body energy can be maintained via the freeing of lipoprotein from adipose fat and the conversion of protein into pyruvate and ketone bodies.

Long Term Fasting
LTF begins when the body's glycogen levels are depleted. When this happens certain distinct changes in the body become evident. Urea nitrogen levels rise due to the increase in protein usage and fat sparring (nitrogen is a byproduct of protein conversion to usable energy in the Krebs cycle). Adipocyte cells begin producing higher levels of cortisol which is a hormone designed to mitigate the effectivness of insulin. With the rise in insulin resistance comes the reduction of blood sugar effectiveness and the subsequent slow down of RMR. In the short term, studies have noted an 8 to 15% decrease in RMR with longer term results reaching up to about 30% (in > 15 days). Other changes are a decrease in testosterone output and growth hormone levels, although it's not known as yet whether this is caused by the reduction in RMR or a reason for that reduction. Coupled with this change is the shift from a glucose burning metabolism to a fat and protein burning metabolism which focuses on the reduction of unused lean tissue (to help prevent unneeded energy waste that occurs from all lean tissue) and the increase in fat storage due.

Personal thoughts on this process and conclusions I glean.
While these facts are all from studies, the case is not yet closed on long term or short term fasting and more research is needed. But to date it's believed by myself and many others that while the term "Starvation Mode" is thrown around the nutrition community with reckless abandon, it's not a myth, it's simply misunderstood. People in the nutrition community need to make a better effort to understand how much energy is needed to stay out of LTF states, and allow the body to continue burning fat while minimizing the risk of excess protein burn.

There are at home tests available that can measure urea nitrogen levels, this can help in some cases to determine whether a person is using excess protein as energy and possibly help to keep a client or patient from entering the dreaded "starvation mode". Specifically for those people looking to lose small volumes of fat. Obese people have a larger window in which they can afford large calorie deficits without inflicting serious long term muscle and organ damage, but for those with only a modest amount of fat, that damage can begin in weeks, despite their best effort. And because of the insidious nature of energy deprivation, and the lack of easily readable signs, people will continue to use large deficits to lose small volumes, which is a losing proposition in the long term.

Less technical version.
Us humans use a sugar based solution called glycogen for energy to run our muscles and organs. This energy comes mainly from carbohydrates. And without going to deeply into it. We store this glycogen mix in our liver, and a little in our muscles.

In short term fasting, our body has enough stored energy to work normally for between 24 hours and about 60 hours, the exception being people with large fat stores (obesity), where the change can take as long as 15 or more days depending on how obese the person is, and a host of other factors. Essentially this means that you can fast(eat nothing) or undereat (eat less than maintenance calories) for a period of hours or days and not aversly affect your metabolic rate and not diminish how your body burns extra fat.

In long term fasting, the body has finally run low enough on stored energy that it begins reacting to the deficit. The body starts changing the hormones that control how, how much, and what we burn for energy in an attempt to conserve body fat (a famine response) and burn as little as possible. When this happens we burn less energy than normal (which is bad, it means we have less energy), our body begins to canabalize muscle tissue, and the immune system is less effective. Eventually, if it continues long enough, organ function can be compromised, and certain specific medical conditions can occur. We are not sure exactly when this process begins because of the extremely complex nature of the human metabolism and the difficulty in measuring in vivo (inside the body)chemical amounts during changing conditions (it's very inefficient to try to draw blood every 10 minutes for 2 days to see the changes in hormone levels).
My summation is basically saying that the concept commonly known as "starvation mode" actually represents long term fasting, and while the term is commonly misused, that doesn't make it a myth, it makes many people's perception wrong only. I also say that while these things I say are strongly correlated theories, they are not fact, as there is still more research needed to confirm these things. But in the abscense of more data, it's all we can go on.