Friday, June 19, 2015

Strength Training Improves Health Independent of Fat Loss

Ask most people why they exercise and the response will be so variation of, “to lose weight.” More accurately, people are interested in reducing their current amount of body fat. That is not really ground-breaking information. The conversation about the difference between weight loss and fat loss is a more interesting one, and, a distinction that many people fail to make. Losing weight is about seeing a smaller number on the scale. Reducing body fat levels is about improving health and body composition without the mental hang up about caring about the stupid number on the scale. Losing weight will eventually drive a person crazy and lead to the adoption of unhealthy habits in a desperate attempt to hit that magic number. Shifting focus to reducing body fat forces a person to become educated on what works and what does not. But what works best for improving overall health, including those important indicators of health that cannot be seen in the mirror or on the scale? What works best for long term improvement in blood pressure, blood sugar regulation, cholesterol levels, and improving body composition? From an exercise standpoint, more and more the research is pointing to strength training, not cardio-based training as the solution. That is not to say that cardio-based training is without merit or a waste of time. It is simply not the cure-all that it once was thought to be.

Take a look at the most recent evidence from this growing body of scientific evidence indicating that strength-training should be the exercise priority. It is becoming evident that strength-training is at least, and most likely, more effective than cardio for creating permanent change and improvements to physical health. This comes from fresh research just released this month.[i] This study divided 90 normal weight and overweight or obese (BMI 25 or greater) young men ages 18-30 into three groups: Normal-Weight Strength Trained (NT), Overweight Strength Trained (OT), and Overweight Untrained (UT). The purpose of this study was see what, if any difference, a strength-training based program in overweight and obese people made for improving body composition along with invisible indicators of health including cholesterol levels, triglycerides, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. The NT group was used as a baseline for comparisons between people of healthy weight versus overweight and obese people. It is important to know that during this study, no dietary guidelines were given; the participants were allowed to eat whatever they wished. This was done so that any results would be a direct result of the exercise or lack thereof. The NT and OT groups were given a 4 day per week structured strength-training program while the UT group was instructed to exercise, or not exercise, however they wished.

It does not take much imagination to predict what happened to the UT group. Nothing much, further evidence that when it comes to improving health, do nothing will not improve the status quo. Improvements in body composition were seen in both the NT and OT groups. What is most interesting to note is that while the OT group did not significantly reduce BMI (no significant change on the scale) it did see a reduction in body fat levels resulting in an improvement body composition. At the end of the study the OT group had smaller waist circumferences, less body fat in the abdominal area and less total fat mass. Again, this is without a structured change to diet or significant changes in final body weight. Furthermore the OT group saw similar improvements in levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure while the UT group did not.

On an anecdotal note, I personally have lost over 100lbs and kept it off for sixteen years now. I have done this primarily through strength training. Because of this, there are several things that I feel can be learned from this. For both immediate, and more importantly, improving long-term health a person can never go wrong with becoming strong. Strength-training will improve the unseen aspects of health as well, if not better, than cardio-based training. As simple as it may seem, most people fail to recognize that it is strength training that keeps the body strong; running a marathon may be an impressive feat but it is maintaining the strength to get up and down out a chair that will be important in the golden years. Beyond maintaining and improving mobility, strength training is maintains or improves muscle mass in the face of the calorie restrictions necessary to create weight loss. Again weight loss is different than fat loss. Losing both body fat and weight (to see a smaller number on the scale) requires creating a calorie deficit. Simply reducing body fat without caring about the final number on the scale may not, depending upon the individual, require a calorie deficit. For this reason, when the nutrition program is properly lined out, using strength training to alter body composition in favor of reducing body fat levels may actually be easier than trying to lose weight. As evidenced in this study, the overweight group individuals that strength trained 4 days per week without a structured alteration to diet were still able to reduce waist circumference and body fat levels, specifically around the abdomen.

Essentially, strength training may be a more forgiving method of exercise than cardio training for those who either lack the knowledge or struggle with following strict dietary guidelines. However, this does not mean that strength training is a license to eat whatever a person wants. What this line of thinking does suggest, and personal experience has taught me, is that strength training alone will yield slow but measureable results. These results, on the scale or in the mirror will rarely be evident or come so slowly that most people will quit out frustration before visible progress is noticed. It is important to understand that progress is still taking place even when it is not obvious to the eyes. If a person wishes to see progress that is both visible in the mirror and/or visible on the scale then a solid nutrition program is absolutely necessary to create results fast enough to keep motivation high.

Even when the eyes cannot see it, being strong changes things.

[i] Strength Fitness and Body Weight Status on Markers of Cardiometabolic Health. Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. June 2015, vol. 47, issue 6, pages 1211-1218.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Get a Grip

Want to be able to hit a home run? How about rock climb like a pro? What about changing the bottle on the water fountain at the office? Perhaps, like most people whom strength train, you want to deadlift enough weight to shake the building when you put the weight down. All of these activities have one thing in common; to excel at it a person’s grip strength needs to outstanding. Limp-wristed, weak, floppy hand shaking is not going to cut it. From every day activities to peak performance in athletics, success goes those with the strongest grips. When most people think of grip in relation to exercise, they think of hand positioning and grip width. It is rare that the average gym goer thinks of grip strength as a limiting factor in success in strength training.

Alternating hand position and grip width is an excellent way of creating minor variations in a given exercise to create a slightly different stimulation to the muscles during training. There are five different grips that can be used to hold barbells, dumb bells, kettle bells, or machines. The pronated grip has the palms down and knuckles up. The supinated grip is the opposite with the knuckles down and the palms up. Sometimes these grips are referred to as overhand and underhand, respectively.  A neutral grip has the knuckles running vertical to the ground, like during a hand shake. An alternated grip has one hand that is pronated and one that is supinated. Finally, there is the hook grip which is similar to the pronated grip. However, with the hook grip the thumbs are resting on the bar underneath of the fingers instead of wrapping around the bar. Grip width is determined by the placement of the hands on the bar in relation to the shoulders. A common grip is at or slightly wider than shoulder-width; narrow is narrower than the shoulders; wide is wider. Five different grips in three different positions; it is possible to create up to 125 different variations of a given exercise just by changing the grip. Feel like the effectiveness of an exercise has worn off? Try the same exercise with a different grip.

Now, how to improve that grip strength to go from floppy dead fish handshake to bone-crushing vice grips? After all, male or female, no one likes shaking hands with limp fish. To be clear, there is a 
difference in training for an increase in the size of the forearms and an increase in grip strength. The few people who actually make a focused effort to train their forearms probably use a variation of wrist curls. While wrist curls are an excellent way to improve forearm size and strength, they completely miss three other aspects of grip strength. The three other types of grip strength are passive crushing, active crushing, and pinch gripping. Pay attention, we are talking about crushing stuff. Grip strengthening just got more interesting didn’t it?

Passive crushing is when the grip is challenged to hold on to an object that is too heavy; the muscles must tense around the object to keep it from slipping out of grasp. This happens when a person struggles against gravity to avoid dropping a dumb bell or barbell because the strength in the hands
holding on to it is beginning to fade. An excellent way to train this is to make the object thicker. Use an implement like fat gripz on dumb bells or barbells. If your gym does not have any wrap a towel around the bar or cut some small pieces of foam pipe insulation to wrap around the handles.

Active crushing involves squeezing on to an object in an attempt to make it move, this is where those infamous hand pincers come into play. It sounds corny but it is one of the best ways to strengthen the grip. The key here is not to perform this for reps but from time under tension, or, duration. Hold the grip against the resistance for as long as possible.

The final aspect of grip strength is pinch gripping. Passive and active crushing trains the muscles in the palm of the hand and forearm while pinch gripping shifts the focus into the strength of the fingers and thumb. Pinch gripping is performed by grabbing on to an object using only the finger and thumbs and squeezing it. As with passive gripping, the wider the object is, the harder this will be. Like active crushing, pinch gripping is also trained by duration or time under tension.

No one likes a weak handshake. I do not like missing deadlift PRs because my hands cannot hold the weight. The solution to both of these problems is to develop bone crushing grip strength. Popeye would be proud.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Five Tricks to Make the Diet Stick

Ever started diet program, only to fall off it and give up instead trying again? I have and I imagine that most people have faced this challenge. It may not seem like it, but odds are that the failure happened before the diet began, not after. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Failing to preparing is preparing to fail.” So before that diet begins here are five things that need to be considered to create the best possibility for success.

The most important step is to plan ahead.  Properly planning includes planning out all of the meals for the week. This includes knowing ahead of time when eating out will be unavoidable. This scheduling when those cheat meals will happen is just as important as planning the healthy eating. If the challenge is known ahead of time, it can be planned around. Take the time and sit down to look at the week ahead; what events present a challenge to finding something healthy to eat? This time of year is especially busy for my family; my son has T-Ball twice a week, I play softball once or twice a week, and we have dinner with friends at least once per week. Potentially, there could be five nights a week where our family is rushing around and away from home during the time we would normally cook. But eating healthy is a priority for us, so we plan ahead. Sometimes this means that my wife cooks two meals in one night. One for that night and one for the next; is it work? Yes, but it is easier the exercising off the drive thru.

Typically, my wife will go grocery shopping Friday afternoon after she leaves work. One of the keys of planning ahead is shopping for the entire week. When she shops Friday after work, she does it knowing what our schedule will be like for the next seven days. Meals are planned ahead of time and all the food is bought in one trip. This is a time saver later in the week. Before the meal, we know when it will be eaten. Knowing when food will be eaten is made far easier by knowing what will be consumed. Success in eating healthier means knowing what and when. Why? To become healthy.
One of the keys to getting the timing right for eating healthy meals is cooking in bulk. This is one of my personal keys to success. The simple reality is that I need more calories than my wife. I accomplish this by taking about 90 minutes every Sunday to cook an extra meal for myself for every day Monday-Friday of the coming week. It takes for little planning because it is the same meal for each day; making possible to plan ahead to cook in bulk. This stays time later as well as the stress of scrambling for a healthy option. What is my meal? Eight ounces of ground turkey, one medium-sized sweet potato, 1 cup of roasted Brussel sprouts, one cup of roasted broccoli; this is my post-workout meal.

The proper post-workout meal is an important part of enhancing the effects of exercise. But another nutrient is vital and often neglected: water. Most people are chronically dehydrated. What is the best gauge of hydration? It is not waiting until the thirst sensation is present. The color of urine is a far better indicator of hydration. It should look like clear lemonade. If it is darker than that the body is dehydrated; the more yellow and pungent the urine, the greater the state of dehydration.  To avoid this and to ensure proper functioning and maximize the potential for fat loss, drink a gallon per day. The best diets are better when the body is properly hydrated.

No body is perfect and no diet is perfect either. Earlier I discussed the value of looking at the week ahead and identifying when there will be challenges to sticking with the program. This leads into the final point; plan the breaks. Know ahead of time when there will be moments of stepping away from the program. Planning ahead is granting permission to temporarily step away, while knowing exactly when the program will be resumed. No diet is going to be perfect and adhered to all of the time. Instead of overreacting and binging when the opportunity arises, go into the situation knowing it is a temporary break. Doing so will alleviate the guilt, shame, and frustration that normally accompanies an unplanned break for the program. 

Winners do not seek perfection; they seek resilience to overcome the times when plans fall apart and goals are missed. Consistently sticking with these tricks is the key to making it work.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate, Deer Antler Velvet, L-Carnitine

Although it may sound like the names of a few raucous rock bands, these are not.  These are the names of three supplements that are gaining in popularity due to claims of aiding in improving health and fitness. Once again; it is time to place these supplements and the claims under the scrutiny of science. For the sake of transparency and honesty, unlike most supplements that I review, I have used Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate and L-Carnitine. Why? I’ll get into that. For now, I will say that none of these three supplements are listed under their respective brand names; these are the actual biochemistry compounds or animal source. I am not in the business of product or brand endorsement, so I will not be describing or naming the manufacturer. The purpose of this is not establishing brand recognition; it is to educate. As always, where scientific research speaks, I will speak. Where scientific research is silent, I will be silent. Consult your physician before using any of these substances.

Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate (AAKG) is a biochemical substrate in the body that is derived from the amino acid L-Arginine. It is primarily used as a method of treatment in kidney diseases, intestinal and stomach disorders. Consult a doctor before using it for these reasons. It works in many functions of the body including aiding in protein synthesis, building muscle tissue, and improving blood circulation.[i] The primary claim related to exercise is that aid in recovery from exercise by preventing muscle breakdown. Theoretically, this should allow for more frequent and intense training sessions. There is ample research to suggest that AAKG aids in reducing muscle break down following surgery or trauma. However, evidence suggesting that this crosses over into enhancing exercise recovery is preliminary and requires further research before there is enough evidence to suggest a distinct advantage to using AAKG for an exercise performance purpose.[ii] Anecdotally, my personal experience using AAKG over the last couple of months is that I feel my intensity during training has increased; however, I have not noticed an improvement in recovery. This may work as claimed but I am not completely sold on it due to a lack of validated research. Buyers beware.

It may sound like a new clothing material but Deer Antler Velvet (DAV) is not. This literally a powdered or pill form of the velvet the bucks shed from their antlers in late summer or early fall. Often these products are also sold as “Antler Test” or “Antler Testosterone”. DAV has been used by other cultures as an alternative medicine or natural remedy. Claims have been made that in can help anything from blood pressure issues to improved libido to improving eyesight. DAV contains the female sex hormones estrogen and estradiol, which among other things, help with cell growth and function. I find it interesting that it often branded as “Antler Testosterone” when the female sex hormones occur in great amounts than the male hormones. Deer Antler Spray first gained public notoriety back in January of 2013 when multiple sports news agencies began reporting that Alabama [iii] Retired NFL player Ray Lewis has also been linked to Deer Antler Spray. The going theory is the Deer Antler products increase the presence of a biochemical substance in the human body knows as Insulin Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is responsible for the development and growth of muscle tissue and increasing the levels of it within the body is vital to increasing the presence of muscle tissue and strength. Some anabolic steroids work by increasing IGF-1 levels, making easier for the body to repair muscle tissue after workout. DAV is thought to work as a natural alternative to the mechanism. So what does research say about these claims? Not much: which is why I have not used it, at this point there is not enough evidence to convince me that is effective. More importantly there is not enough current research to give guidance on safety concerns or possible adverse reactions. This is a supplement that could, in theory, work to improve muscle growth and strength gains. However, without far more thorough research, I am not putting it in my body. Buyers beware.
and LSU football players had been using it prior to the Alabama-LSU game in 2011

L-Carnitine is an amino acid naturally produced in the body. Its primary function is to help the body produce energy within the cells for proper cellular function. In particular it has a strong role with improving heart and brain functioning as well as muscle movement.  Supplementing with L-Carnitine has been well documented in helping people struggling with properly functioning in these areas as result of genetic conditions or medication side effects. The theory behind using this for health and fitness is that it makes the body more efficient at creating energy allowing for more intense and longer training sessions. For this reason L-Carnitine is sometimes branded as a weight loss supplement. There is some evidence to suggest that it aids in increasing energy for people that are undergoing strenuous exercise while reducing caloric intake for weight loss. However, this effect is seen over a period of several weeks, not acutely in an individual workout. [iv] If a healthy person with an adequate nutritional intake is using L-Carnitine it will most likely be ineffective. Anecdotally, my personal experience over the last couple of months falls in line with the research. It took about four weeks of being at reduced caloric intake (averaging 400 calories per day below my maintenance needs); before I could feel an effect from L-Carnitine on the days I used it versus days I did not. I believe L-Carnitine may be of benefit as a supplement if used under circumstances I have described. However, the exact balance between caloric needs, duration of use, and appropriate dosage is something that requires further research. Buyers Beware.
The keys to the effective use of any supplement; know both what it is actually proven to do and whether or not it is safe. As is often the case with supplements, safety and effectiveness are overlooked in the pursuit of the desired result. Take the time to learn what is going in and how it will affect the body. Only then can one make a responsible choice when considering supplementation.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Ten Things to Know about Fat Loss

1.       Consistency is Key: more than any other factor; it is consistency that creates change. In diet and in exercise, those who make small consistent changes create habits that change lives. Nothing will happen without sticking to it day in and day out.

Success isn’t always about ‘Greatness.’ It’s about consistency. Consistent, hard work gains success. Greatness will come…success isn’t overnight. It’s when every day you get a little better than the day before, it all adds up.-Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

2.       Weight loss is different than fat loss: Weight loss will change the number on the scale. Fat loss will change the way a person looks and improve overall health. Reducing caloric intake will cause a weight loss with or without exercise. A poor combination of dieting and exercise can make the number on the scale change without losing any body fat. Exercising without proper nutrition will result in muscle being lost instead of body fat, causing body fat levels to increase, even in the face of a smaller number on the scale. Exercising with proper nutrition will result in reduced amounts of body fat and it is entirely possible to lose body fat without seeing the number on the scale change. It may even go up a little. Learn to balance proper nutrition with exercise to optimize health and reduce body fat.

3.       Toss the scale out: following up on point number two, the scale does not tell a person how healthy he or she is. It tells a person how much gravity has to work to keep him from floating off into space; literally, in the study of physics and the laws of gravity, this is where the concept of weight comes from. Who cares how strongly gravity is in love with you? Pay attention to body fat levels and forget about the scale.

4.       Fat loss is not linear; it is sporadic. Everyone would like to think that once they are on a healthy nutrition program and exercising that the body fat will magically fall off in a steady, pattern able process. It will not. Some weeks a person may lose three or four pounds then it could take another four weeks to lose one pound. Typically, the first half of a person’s fat loss can happen in about twelve weeks. It could take several months or a couple of years to lose the remainder of the weight. If a person sticks with it, and after a year, can look back at a rate of one to two pound per week in that year, that person is doing outstanding.

Victory is not won in miles, but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and win a little more.- Louis L’Amour

5.       Diet is more important than exercise there is no way around this so stop looking. The road to frustration, desperation, and quitting is paved with people who thought they could out-exercise junk food. Eat to live, do not live to eat. Going back to the previous point, beware of any program or product claiming to encourage weight loss faster than one to two pounds per week. It might be possible, but it will not last. That weight will come right back as soon as the program ends or the product is no longer used. The body needs time to adapt to change to make it permanent.

6.       “Your comfort zone is your failure zone. Get into your achievement zone.”- Kip Herriage.  Remaining or doing things that feel comfortable is the surest path to no results. Comfort and results are two different planets; a person can only live in one place. If a person is looking for results then he will have to board the spaceship Change to get there. To paraphrase Bob Marley: if exercise is easy it ain’t worth it; if it’s worth it, it won’t be easy. Change does not come to those looking for comfort.

7.       Most people who exercise and struggle with weight loss grossly underestimate how hard they are working. If it did not leave sweating and out of breath; it was not challenging enough to create change. Hard work yields high rewards. How quickly the body changes will be a direct result of how hard a person works.

We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.-Carlos Castenada

8.       It will take longer than you think or want it to. It took me two years to lose 100lbs. Adversity comes with the process; if it was easy everyone would succeed. In the face of adversity, persistence and patient are vital to success. Fat loss is one of the best opportunities to develop these traits. Keep at it, especially in times when it seems like progress isn’t coming? To overcome adversity and find success one must attack, not retreat from the challenge.

The question is not “will you face adversity?” The question is “what will you do when you face adversity?”-Archie Manning

9.       A person can never go wrong with trying to grow strong. Muscles become stronger under the strain and challenge of demanding more than they can give. Mental strength is no different. The trick is in the approach. Strength is developed in the midst of the challenge, not before it begins and not after it ends, during the challenge. Step into it, not away from it.

“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t do.”-Rikki Rogers.

10.   Wishing the process would be easier is a frustrating and pointless waste of time. It does not get easier
because of wishful thinking. Day-dreaming will not get the job done. It is action, and action alone that is the instigator of change. Do you want results? Then get up and do something! Even if it does not initially work as well as planned, some action is always better than inaction. No one ever changed by sitting around thinking about it.

A dream does not become a reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.-Colin Powell

Friday, March 13, 2015

Perplexing Plexus

Every few years a product comes along that claims to revolutionize weight loss. Typically, these products are sold by “Ambassadors” instead of in stores (I wonder why?) These ambassadors swell with enthusiasm over this new and exciting breakthrough. “Hurray”, cry the masses. Finally, something delivers results without efforts and a monthly supply will only cost the equivalent of a small car payment. Over the last year and half that product has been Plexus, after Plexus World Wide burst on to the scene in 2011 and has rapidly gained in popularity.  According to PWW’s website, there are ten reasons why a person should use Plexus to aid in weight loss. Number one states,

The Plexus Products contain Alpha Lipoic Acid, Chlorogenic Acid, Garcinia Cambogia, Whey Protein, Green Lipped Mussel, Aloe Vera, Bulgarian Rose Extract, French Lavender Extract, and Grape Seed Extract; proven ingredients that address key areas of vitality and weight loss.[i]

I am not even going to address the other nine reasons that the website claims for using Plexus. Let’s just stop right there. After all, if a person does not understand what she is putting into her body, why on earth would she do it? Due to a distinct lack of research, I am not going to address Green Lipped Mussel, Bulgarian Rose Extract, French Lavender Extract, and Grape Seed Extract. I will not speak, positively or negatively, to the validity of the claims about these particular ingredients. There simply is not enough scientific research to form any opinion about the quality or safety of these ingredients. In situations like this; buyer beware. 

In Plexus products the ingredient Cholorgenic Acid comes from the presence of Green Coffee Extract. I have written about GCE before, so for the sake of brevity, will not be discussing it here. If you want to know the details of my thoughts on this sham of an ingredient, click here. Of all the ingredients in Plexus, Whey Protein is by far the best researched, and my thoughts about it can be found here. I will say that the inclusion of whey protein is a positive. But it alone is not enough to justify using Plexus. I won’t be discussing whey protein any further today. I will focus on the qualities of Alpha Lipoic Acid and Garcinia Cambogia, as these two supplements are currently purported as being effective for aiding in weight loss.

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an antioxidant and naturally occurs within food such as yeast, liver, kidney, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes. It is thought that ALA works, in cases of medically diagnosed deficiencies, to restore Vitamins E and C to healthy levels. There is also some preliminary research suggesting that it may help repair damage done to the nervous system by diabetes. ALA’s connection to weight loss comes from two circumstances: within the body it does play a role in the break down and digestion of carbohydrates for use as energy by the organs. There is also a small amount of evidence that ALA does in fact increase weight loss if taken in a dosage of 1800mg per day for up to 20 weeks. However, these findings have only been verified in obese diabetics. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest a weight loss benefit for anyone who is not both diabetic and obese.[ii] Those who meet these qualifications should consult a doctor before considering ALA as there is the potential for negative interactions with some types of diabetes medicines. For the diabetic, the combination may lead to blood sugar levels becoming dangerously low. The bottom line with ALA is that any evidence or claims suggesting a link between use and weight loss is mostly anecdotal and has weak research verification. Buyer beware.

Garcinia Cambogia is probably a more recognized name associated with weight loss. Excellent, now, what is it? Unsure? It is a plant found in tropical countries, and its fruit contains the chemical compound hydroxycitric acid. At one time, concentrated forms for hydroxycitric acid were sold in a weight loss supplement called Hydroxycut. Hydroxycut did not use Garcinia Cambogia as one of the source ingredients for hydroxycitric acid. However, in 2009, the ingredients that contributed the hydroxycitric acid were removed from Hydroxycut following an FDA investigation that resulted from multiple complaints of seizures and liver problems, including rhambdomyolysis, associated with the use of Hydroxycut. Although not present in Hydroxcut, the FDA issued a warning against using Garcinia Cambogia as weight loss supplement, citing safety concerns, due to its similarity to those ingredients. At the moment, there is not enough research suggesting Garcinia Cambogia plays any prevalent role in accelerating weight loss.[iii] Buyer beware.

So, if all this is true about Alpha Lipoic Acid, Garcinia Cambogia, and Green Coffee Extract, then what can be attributed to the success stories purported by the manufacturers of Plexus? After all, is it not entirely possible that legions of stay-at-home moms, excuse me Ambassadors, could be smarter than the MDs, PhDs, licensed dietitians, and fitness experts like myself? What is going on? After all, Plexus did its research, didn’t they? There is this study they talk about. 

Beyond unsubstantiated claims about ingredients, herein lays another problem. Plexus only has one study; conducted and paid for by Plexus Worldwide Inc. For perspective, references 163 reviews of ALA, 877 reviews of Garcinia Cambogia, and 172 reviews of Green Coffee Extract, from which it draws its conclusions and that I have sourced for this article[iv]. The study by Plexus Inc. has not been published anywhere. It is only referenced within various marketing tools used by Plexus. Hey, my friend Mr. Skepticism just walked into the room. He typically shows up when companies make claims about products and research, yet, are unwilling to publish it respected scientific journals for scrutiny by their scientific peers. As far as I am concerned, there are five keys to validating research. Failing this one is an immediate red flag surrounded by flashing neon lights.

So where is this weight loss coming from? I would suggest it’s the placebo effect; in the case of weight loss supplements a person takes a product, weight loss results, and the success is attributed to the use of the new supplement. This can happen even when the majority of evidence would suggest that nothing should happen. The suggested use of Plexus is to mix the powder into 11 to 17oz of water and drink in the morning before breakfast. If needed, the drink may be consumed later in the day or before every meal to help curb appetite.[v] Ironically, so can plain water; for a few decades now, dietitians and other licensed health professionals have been suggesting people drink 12 to 20oz of cool water before meals to help curb appetite. Cue the music from the “Twilight Zone,” it’s getting eerie around here. Both a weight loss supplement manufacturer and licensed dietitians suggest drinking before meals to help curb appetite? Did I mention that water is free at restaurants? Or that staying properly hydrated, especially around meal time not only helps to reduce caloric intake, but is a key component of the human body functioning properly to lose excess body fat? In my humble opinion, good-old fashioned H2O in the most underutilized nutrient when it comes to weight loss.

Weight loss is the result of creating a caloric deficit; the body is using more calories than it is consuming. It does not happen any other way. Could the use of Plexus aid in creating a caloric deficit? Sure, if it makes a person feel full faster resulting in fewer calories consumed, then yes, it may work. But does it work for the reasons that the manufacturer claims? That is doubtful. Is worth the $75-150 per month that some people admit to spending on the stuff? Not in my books. I think I will keep my money and go buy new clothes. Actually, I won’t. I am a guy. I’ll go buy a new fishing rod instead. Maybe next month I will give my 401K a little extra padding.

Anyhow, I suspect that a person could achieve the same result by drinking a glass of water and, most importantly, exercising enough will power and self-control to put down the fork, close the mouth, and back away from the food. Now, if I can find a way to bottle and sell that kind of will power, well, then there will finally be a weight loss supplement worth buying. But, what do I know? I have just lost 100lbs and kept it off for sixteen years. I did not hear of Plexus until about six months ago.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Track the Trackers

Knowledge is power; have fitness trackers finally tipped the scales in the weight loss battle in favor of a gadget that might actually work as advertised? The fitness industry is flooded with gadgets, devices, and all kinds of equipment aimed at making the process of getting into shape faster, more effective, efficient, and, hopefully, an enjoyable process. From ab rollers claiming to make crunches more effective to the deplorable and dirty-looking shake weight to the dangerously dehydrating sauna suits, those who engage in exercise have been searching for an edge. At some point, most people have ended up wasting money on at least one gimmick in hopes of finding that magic bullet.

Now trackers are becoming the go to device for anyone interested in monitoring their personal biometrics-literally, measurements of life. These devices can measure a wide variety of physical activities including, but not limited to, daily steps, calories burned, heart rate, and sleep patterns. Sounds good, a small piece of technology that can be conveniently toted around, tracking your life and physical activity. The standard method of wearing an activity tracker is either around the wrist like a watch or on a belt clip.

So what does a health conscious person need to know about this bit of technology? To begin with, this is not new technology. These devices originally started hitting the market during the 1980s in the form of pedometers, or step-counters.  In fact, the technology known as accelerometers is the same technology in smartphones that allows the screen to switch between vertical and horizontal viewing.[i]This technology is not new in and of itself. What is new is the faster computer processing technology and memory capability that makes these fitness trackers capable of tracking more than the number of steps a person takes.

But just how accurate are they? Upon a quick search of, I found more than twenty different manufacturers of fitness trackers offering nearly 100 different models to choose from. With prices ranging from $25 to upwards of $200 how does person pick the right tracker? There is little research to verify the accuracy of these devices.

In fact, there only two published studies examining the accuracy of these devices. The first was done at Iowa State University and published in September 2014.[ii]Of the roughly100 commercially available fitness trackers this study only eight models were tested: Bodymedia FIT, Fitbit Zip and Fitbit One, Jawbone Up, Actigraph, Directlife, Nike Fuel Band, and Basis Band. The second study was conducted by the American Council on Exercise and published on their website this month[iii] this study looked at five different models: Nike + Fuel band, Fitbit Ultra, Jaw Bone Up, Bodymedia Fitcore, and the Adidas MiCoach.

Both studies evaluated the trackers ability to accurately measure steps. The ACE study also looked at calorie expenditure while walking and running. These measurements were then compared to research quality pedometers, NL-200i, and metabolic gas analyzers. When it comes to measuring step, both the BodyMedia and FitBit brands proved to be the most accurate coming within 90-91% accuracy of the research models. The Nike Fuel Bands came in at around 87% while the rest of the models varied between 80-85% accuracy. When it comes to accurately gauging calories burned through exercise The Jawbone model led the way with 87% accuracy while walking. The caveat here is that as an increase in intensity and variety of exercise movements decreased the accuracy of gauging caloric expenditure.

The take away from all of this is pretty simple: the technology is a great step forward in giving people a convenient way of receiving reasonably accurate, but not perfect data, for measuring physical activity. This is especially true for people who do not regularly exercise or only exercise utilizing light activities such as walking. For those who are avid runners, strength training enthusiasts, or high performance athletes, the technology is better than being clueless but still has room for improvement before being considered a gospel of health. The greatest benefit will be in helping sedentary people realize how true inactive they are. Sitting for several hours a day and then engaging in 30 minutes of exercise may not necessarily make a person “active.” In the regard fitness trackers are an excellent educational tool for helping people better understand how to strike a balance between the calories expended through metabolism and physical activity versus calories consumed through diet.

So what would I recommend? I do not personally own one, however, based upon the research I would being looking at a tracker from either Jawbone (who purchased BodyMedia after the ACE study was conducted but before it was published), FitBit, or one of the Nike Fuel Bands. I also would not go cheap, buying the best model I can afford. If the research has indicated anything through this, it is that a person will get what they pay for with this technology. If I was to invest in one of these fitness trackers, I would not skimp on the quality to save a few bucks.

[ii] Journal of Medicines & Science in Sports & Exercise. September 2014 Vol 96 Issue 9 pages 1840-1848.