Friday, August 28, 2015

Fitness Facts for Females

All too often when women approach exercise with simply losing weight or getting to a smaller size. Outside of highly competitive female athletes women have a tendency to misunderstand or under appreciate how the female body is capable of performing. More importantly, women typically get stuck in a rut with an approach to exercise and fitness, and miss out on opportunities for improved health and fitness. Women tend to make a few mistakes in fitness training and I have covered those here. The upside to all of this is that, more so than men, women are willing to be open-minded, learn and apply.I have also talked about the specifics on my ideas about women and strength training so this will not dive too deeply into that topic.  So here are few things about the female body and exercise that women should consider in regards to exercise.

Based upon recent research[i] women tend to have more durable nervous systems than men. This study published in August of 2015 tested both women and men after completing a 110 kilometer ultra-trail running race. After completing the race men and women were tested to see who retained the most efficient control of muscular strength and efficiency in movement. Women came out on top in both categories. What does this mean for a woman who exercises? The first take away is this: if a woman and a man perform the same workout; the longer that workout lasts, the less the woman will be affected by fatigue. The woman, not the man will retain better quality of movement and well as faster recovery during breaks. A woman needs shorter rest periods and displays better control of movements the longer the training lasts. Better efficiency and faster recovery would indicate that a woman has the ability to train longer and harder than a man doing the same workout.

Closely tied to this is another study that came out in March of 2015[ii]. This study found that over the course of a marathon women were less likely to slow running pace more so than men. In other words, it would seem that women have better endurance than men. This does not mean that a woman would run a marathon faster than a man but it does mean that fatigue is less likely to force her to slow down; this conclusion drawn after analyzing race results from 14 marathons with 91,929 athletes competing. Women, it would seem, have to the potential to be more durable than men.

Switching gears to a more medical outlook on the effects of exercise on a woman’s body, gestational diabetes, one of the key health concerns for pregnant women, is avoidable or the effects can be reduced if a woman regularly stayed active during the pregnancy.[iii]  Avoiding Gestational Diabetes goes a long way to improving both the health of the mother and the baby during the pregnancy and after birth. Stay active and both baby and mother will be better for it.
Creatine is a supplement that has made a lot noise in the last fifteen years as being a safe, nonsteriod strength enhancing supplement. Most women shy away from it out of fear that it will make them “bulky like a man.” However, there is new research suggesting that postmenopausal women should pay attention to. A recent study found that postmenopausal women that supplemented with creatine for 12 months while strength training three days per week had dense bones than women who followed the same training program without creatine supplementation.[iv] Osteoporosis is one of the major health concerns for a postmenopausal woman and this study would suggest that creatine may have the potential to prevent or possibly aid in the treatment of Osteoporosis. That is just my two cents on creatine’s potential; more study is needed to verify this.

The final point is something that would seem to make sense without research but validation through research is always reassuring. One Hundred and Forty middle-aged women were divided into three groups: non-exercising, aerobic exercising, and strength-training.[v] This study wanted to determine whether strength-training or aerobic based exercise led to a higher metabolic rate. The women in all three groups were all placed on the same restricted diet, eliminating nutrition as a component in the weight loss. Unsurprisingly, the two groups of women that exercised lost more weight than those who did not. The big finding in this study was the women who strength-trained had a faster metabolic rate, after weight loss, than the women who used cardio as the form of training. A faster metabolic rate makes it harder to regain lost body fat; more muscle equals faster metabolism. Want to permanently lose weight? Get stronger.

It is important to note, that these advantages that women may have when it comes to health and fitness, are completing dependent on regularly engaging in exercise. No advantage exists for those who do not. Great health and high levels of fitness come to those women willing to work the hardest.

[i] Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Are Females More Resistant to Extreme Neuromuscular Fatigue. 47 (8) August 2015 pages 1372-1382.
[ii] Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Men are more likely than Women to Slow in the Marathon. 47 (3) March 2015 pages 607-616.
[iii] Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Exercise is Associated with a Reduction in Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. 47 (8) August 2015 pages 1698-1704.
[iv] Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Effects of Creatine and Resistance Training on Bone Health in Postmenopausal Women. 47 (8) August 2015 pages 1587-1595.
[v] Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Exercise Training and Energy Expenditure following Weight Loss. 47 (9) September 2015 pages 1950-1955

Friday, August 14, 2015

Five Movements to do Every Day

“We do not quit playing because we grow old. We grow old because we quit playing.”- George Bernard Shaw

To paraphrase that: we do not quit moving because we grow old. We grow because we quit moving. Movement of the human body is an essential part of life; necessary for completing everyday tasks, work, athletics, and yes, to play. Movement is so vital to life that as humans we instinctively empathize with those who have lost, through accident or disease, the ability engage in normal movement of the body. Without proper movement, much of the human experience may be missed or lost. In a society that is increasingly sedentary (lacking in bodily movement), physical immobility is perhaps the most dangerous and most avoidable away to prevent premature aging; getting old before growing old.

Growing old is what happens when a person has a birthday; getting old is what happens when the body falls apart from a lack of care and physical activity. Hear YE! Hear YE!  I will proclaim that struggling to get out of a chair in the golden years is a choice; not an unavoidable fact of old age. If lack of movement is the problem than the solution is self-evident; move more! Better yet, focus on moving in specific ways that will improve mobility and strength, even if the grave seems closer than the crib. Here are five movements that can be mastered at any age; resulting in healthier, less painful or pain-free movement and better mobility. Do this every day and no one, regardless of how many years have passed, will have to help you out of chair or hold your hand on the stairs.

1.       Hip-Hinge: have trouble bending over or a weak low back? Hip-Hinge when bending over to pick things up or to push a heavy object out of the way. Doing so places the spine in a safe position, engages the glutes (the most powerful pushing muscles in the body), and increases mobility throughout the hip muscles of the hips. Mastering this movement is essential to properly executing exercises like Kettle Bell Swings and Deadlifts. The Hip-Hinge helps to avoid the dangerous rounded upper back position that leads to many exercise related injuries.
The picture on the left is the correct position for the hip hinge
2.       Squat: Next to incorrectly hip-hinging, poor squatting technique leads to many exercise-related injuries. Completely losing the ability to squat contributes to all kinds of lower back and hip pain. The main culprit for losing the ability to properly squat is prolonged periods of sitting. If you want to learn how to squat with proper form click here.

3.       Shoulder Retraction: The vast majority of people have poor posture as a result of sitting too much. As a result, the muscles of the upper back often grow weak resulting in a rounded-shoulder and head excessively forward position, resulting in neck pain. Retracting the shoulders; pulling the shoulders backwards to strengthen the muscles in the upper back. In the long run this will correct poor posture and possibly alleviate some pain. The best way do this is with the band pull a part.
Shoulder Retraction is essentially pinching the shoulder blades together

4.       Overhead reach: Pull anything off of a high shelf recently? How about putting on a T-Shirt? If these movements seem difficult or painful there is restricted movement in the shoulder. There could be several reasons for this: poor posture, a tear in the rotator cuff muscles, or simply weakness from a lack of use. Whatever the cause, maintaining a full range of movement throughout the shoulder should be the highest priority for maintaining mobility in the upper body. The mobility and strength of the shoulder determines where the arms and hands can go to reach out and grab an object.
Full range of motion would allow the arms to get into the position on the left
5.       Trunk Rotation: When sitting down and needing to turn to reach an object is the entire body turned or can the feet, legs, and hips remain in place while turning the upper body in the necessary direction? If a person is unable to perform the latter, then there is a restriction in the ability to rotate the trunk. This can occur due to weakness in the abdominals, lower back, and hips. Movement may be restricted as a result of injury or lower back surgery. If no injury currently exists, the inability to properly rotate the trunk may one day result injury requiring surgery. Usually the low back is the area injured as a result of poor trunk mobility. To improve this remain seated and practice rotating the upper body only while keeping the hips, legs, and feet aligned in the opposite direction.

Baring a traumatic injury, mobility is lost due inadequate amounts of physical activity. Maintaining mobility does not require intensive training or using incredibly heavy weights. Keeping and improving mobility is a simple as simply moving more and moving in the right way. Stay mobile in these movement patterns and requiring help to get out of a chair, pick an item up off the ground, or, from overhead will be someone else’s problem, not yours.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Six Tips to Road Trip in Good Health

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve road trips taken in the family car. Whether visiting extended family or simply sight-seeing, a road trip will often lead to wonderful opportunities for family time, exploration, and adventure. It can also lead to blown diets, stiff joints, boredom, stress and mental fatigue. But with proper planning and a little flexibility these negatives aspects of a road trip can be minimized or completely eliminated.

My wife and I, along with our four-year-old son, recently put these tips to the test as we made a round trip drive from Little Rock, Arkansas to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. A trip that saw us drive 4400 miles through Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana across the Canadian Border to Calgary. That was just the drive there. After spending a week visiting my parents we made the return drive, this time going through Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and finally home to Little Rock. The journey to Calgary took two and a half days; we left Little Rock on a Tuesday afternoon around 2pm (after I had gone to work at 5 am to leave early) and arrived in Omaha, Nebraska at midnight. We were the road by six am and drove all the way to Cody, Wyoming, just outside of Yellowstone National Park, again arriving at midnight. This was after stopping by Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota earlier in the day. That’s right, Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone in the same day. After spending most of Thursday touring through Yellowstone we arrived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada at 1:30 am Friday morning. Without the stops at Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore the return trip was a little shorter, leaving Calgary at 6 am on a Friday, driving to Denver arriving at 1am. We hit the road at 7am and made it home to Little Rock at midnight Saturday night.

Sound a little crazy? We have a few methods for stemming the madness, six to be exact:

1.       Plan the stops: on a road trip, nothing will derail a diet program or reduce the quality breathable air inside the car quite like gas station food. For the sake of speed and efficiency to get back on the road ASAP, we timed our meals with stops for gas. The trick is to use a smart phone to locate a gas station that either has a decently healthy restaurant attached, or, nearby. That same phone will allow a person to view the menu and nutritional information ahead of arrival. Going into the restaurant prepared to order will not only save time, with the right meal choices it can help save that waist line. My family and I were able to eat at Chick-Fil-A, Arby’s, Dairy Queen, and Quiznos without worrying about blowing our diets.

2.       Take Healthy Snacks for the Car: again, one of the keys to eating healthy is to have options available before actually becoming hungry. Making a choice before feeling the need to eat eliminates the opportunity to make a poor choice. We tend to choose simple things like trail mix, fruit, yogurt, and protein bars. An individual serving of one of these options between meals is an excellent way control caloric intake and avoid the typical vacation weight gain. For my family, it is important to eat healthy while on the road because all bets are off once we arrive at my mom’s kitchen.

3.       Differentiate between boredom and hunger: a mental obstacle to eating healthy is struggling to not eat for entertainment. Few things will create a feeling of boredom quite like sixteen hours days in the car. It is easy to reach for something to eat at a way to break up the monotony of driving. A simple way to do this is to only snack during a specific time window. This will avoid boredom eating.  We had our snacks 3 ½ to 4 hours after breakfast and lunch. Planning curbs the hunger while alleviating the boredom.

4.       Stay mentally active: During the driving days of a road trip physical activity will be limited; make up for it by staying mentally active. My wife and I listened to a lot of podcasts covering a variety of activities and interests: marriage, parenting, hunting, Christian living. Then we did something remarkable; we talked about what we had heard. Conversation will relieve boredom and pass time quickly. On top of this, my wife spent a couple hours every day playing games with our son and teaching him to read. Road trips are an excellent time to learn about a topic that there may not be time for during life at home. Playing games is another way to pass the time. One of our family favorites is “spot the animal.” It is simple, look for animals on the side of the road we do not get to see at home. Playing this game through South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado. We saw three Buffalo, twenty Elk, roughly thirty Mule Deer, and over 100 Antelope.

5.       Get active during stops: Road trips are filled with numerous stops; gas, bathrooms, food, sleep at night. Most of the time these stops are short and getting back on the road quickly is the priority. However, planning one deliberate stop per day of an hour or so to get out and move around is an excellent way to feel relief from the monotony of the miles. We made two deliberate stops on our way. We stopped at Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone. At Rushmore we walked through the exhibits and walkways while viewing the monument. In all, we spent a little more than ninety minutes walking around and enjoying the sights. Is a ninety minute walk going to miraculously shed ten pounds? No, but it will do wonders to reduce the stiffness and soreness that often accompanies long days of sitting in a vehicle. The day in Yellowstone began at six am and we left the part around  four in the afternoon during that time we got out an walked down trails at different views of waterfalls, mountains, and of course Old Faithful. Nothing terribly strenuous but at the same staying active and enjoying the beauty of nature.

6.       Work as a team: this tip is about staying emotionally healthy on the road. One of the benefits of a family road trip is the opportunity to work together. As I already mentioned, my wife and I worked together to plan out stops for gas and meals. She also served as a navigator when the directions got confusing. On our return trip we had planned to spend the night in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Arriving in Cheyenne at 11:30 pm we learned that the Wyoming Frontier Days festival was happening and that hotels were booked up for miles. Think State Fair multiplied by one hundred. Apparently it is one of the biggest Country Festivals in America and we unknowingly drove right into the middle of it. We continued down the road, I let her know what towns we were coming to while she called ahead trying to find a hotel room. We finally found a hotel room on the outskirts of Denver, 80 miles further than where we had planned on staying that night. We went to bed at 1:30 am, two hours later than anticipated. This situation could have easily turned into a minor problem into an argument for the ages. There are three steps to successful team work on the road: 1) Identify the problem, 2) Identify your personal role in correcting the problem, 3) Provide information to help fix the problem without being critical of the other person’s action. Our problem was simple: no hotel rooms available. Solution: Keep driving until you find one. No other choice in this circumstance. Identify roles: I kept driving, my wife called ahead while trying to comfort our half-asleep son who was crying because the hotel would not let us stay. The hardest part is keeping emotions in check in the face of bad news; in our case my wife and I had a constant back and forth about where we were and nothing being available. In situations like this; share information, not frustration. This is team building and emotional strengthening, any other action is adding to the problem, not helping to fix it.

Road trips are an amazing opportunity to see new areas and experience new things. Doing so without being detrimental to all aspects of health is possible. The key is to plan ahead, take opportunities to avoid stress, and work together in the face of adversity.

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.