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.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Game Plan

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22[i]

The first step in avoiding the fate of the resolutioner is to have a plan. All of the enthusiasm in the world will not carry the healthy resolution out of January and through the rest of the year if it lacks a solid plan. A plan bridges the gap between identifying what you want and getting there. Most importantly, a plan puts purpose into the passion and directs the course of the action into a verifiable outcome.

If success is to become reality, there are several steps to creating a fitness plan that need to occur before embarking upon the journey to a healthier life. Take the first step by completely abandoning the notion of the New Year’s Resolution. Resolutions fail, plain and simple, resolutions are a stupid waste of time. Click here if you want to know why. Do yourself a favor and truly commit, until you do life-changing progress will never happen.

Changing your life takes time so get real about the time commitment involved: how many hours and days per week can you really commit to exercise? An honest answer will directly influence the expectation of how long it will take to hit the big goal. Are you trying to lose weight? It is healthy and possible to lose up to 2 lbs per week. If you want to lose 20 lbs it is possible to do that in about ten weeks. However, for most people, that requires exercising or other physical activity for at least one hour per day every day of the week. Do time constraints prevent you from committing to that? If so,then adjust your expectations and accept slower progress with a more delayed completion date. Slower progress is still progress. It is also more permanent.
Permanent change requires prioritizing nutrition over exercise. It is proper and healthy nutrition that changes the body. Exercise helps speed the process along. If forced to choose between the two, choose to focus on eating healthier. Healthy food is found on the farm, not in a factory.
Get the most of exercise by training with a purpose. What I mean by that is simple: pick activities outside of the gym that require a certain level of fitness and are enjoyable. Build an exercise program around the idea of making that activity a better experience. One of the easiest ways to ensure that you will stick with an exercise program is see the improved fitness translate into improved performance in other areas of life. Do not make the mistake of exercising based upon what the popular trends are or what friends may be doing. That is buying into marketing, not making a personal choice. One of the most misunderstood, but most important points, of exercise is that you become a better you. Not a better version of a model, celebrity, or your fit neighbor. A better you. Exercise for that purpose and success will come.

When success does come enjoy a little reward, a program without incentives and recognition of accomplishments is doomed to failure. I would caution against using food as that reward, especially if fat loss is the primary goal. It is too easy to have a “cheat” meal and then feel guilty and scrap the program for days, weeks, or the rest of the year. Was body fat lost? Go buy a new outfit. Or go do that adventure that may have been impossible before. Be deliberate about the reward process but do not go crazy. Leave the reward slightly unsatisfying so that the desire for further progress and greater reward remains. Those who continue to pursue improvements are those who learn to make peace with never being fully satisfied. The moment a person decides that satisfaction is completely met is the moment that person quits trying and progress ends.

Continual progress requires a plan that gradually becomes more challenging. A comprehensive plan will address the obstacles of a positive reward system, training with a purpose, prioritizing nutrition, and understanding time commitment. Create this plan and the resolution will become reality.

Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.-Tom Landry

[i] Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Look Back

How do you go from where you are to where you wanna be? And I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. And you have to be willing to work for it.

Consider this my fitness year in review article. Almost a year ago to the day, on December 13, 2014, I sat down and outlined six personal goals for improving my fitness level. In particular, I decided to focus on improving my maximal strength while improving conditioning by making these six goals my target. In you want an in-depth look at my 2014 goals, go here,. I will briefly outline them in this post. My six goals were:

1.       Maintain Bodyweight between 170-180lbs. Failed
2.       Perform the “Good Morning” strength exercise with my body weight for 10 repetitions Accomplished in September
3.       Deadlift 350lbs. Accomplished in July, Smashed in December
4.       Back Squat 400lbs Accomplished in December
5.       Hang Clean my body weight for sets of 10 Accomplished in October
6.       Meet the Sprint Protocol Outlined in the Original Post Accomplished in November

It should be noted that with the Good Morning, Deadlifts, Back Squat, and Hang Cleans that I do these exercises without the assistance of a weight belt. The reasoning is simple: the weight belt, while it does help improve the amount of weight a person can lift on certain exercises, is filler for poor form and muscular weakness. My personal feeling is that maintaining correct form with slightly less than maximal weight is both safer and more productive for long-term strength improvements than using the assistance of a belt to lift heavier weight, while sacrificing form, than one could safely do without it. Others may disagree with me; however, I am not just interested in being healthy and strong while I am young. I want to be doing this when I am eighty. I will take slower and safer progress for the sake of long term activity.

So how did I do with these goals? I smashed numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 while I utterly failed number one. I underestimated the muscle gain that would accompany the strength gains.  I am ending 2014 at around 195lbs, most of which should be straight muscle gain. How I am I confident of this? I am anal about tracking my caloric intake and monitoring body composition changes in light of my goals. It pretty simple: the shoulder, arms, and chest of my shirts are tighter while the stomach area and waist of my pants has gotten a little smaller during the time that the scale has been reading heavier. I am not complaining about this one bit. But I did ‘fail’ this particular goal.
If you have followed my blog at all in the past, you may notice that discussing goals is becoming a reoccurring theme. I truly believe that having clear, well-defined, written goals with a specific deadline is a powerful thing in any area of life, but especially when focusing on health and fitness. After eight years of working in the fitness industry I have become convinced that people struggle and fail with any and all kinds of programs because they never make the effort to establish a solid goal prior to beginning.

Now it is time to ask yourself a question, do you feel like 2014 was a productive year in terms of improving your personal health and fitness? Did you set a goal at the beginning of the year? If so, most likely that goal was accomplished or, at the very least, noticeable progress towards accomplishing the goal was made. One of the often unrecognized benefits of having clearly defined goals is that they help hold a person accountable to staying on task. This enables a person to remain more focused on a deliberate process that will bring about the completion of the goal. Going back to my list, notice that with the exception of number four, all of my goals were completed ahead of schedule. Going into the year, I knew that the four hundred pound back squat would be the most challenging of the goals to achieve. I am not surprised that it took the longest to accomplish. But even the hardest challenge was overcome because I made it a clear and written goal with a deadline.

I often talk with people whom are frustrated with a lack of progress and feel like they are wasting time when it comes to exercising. Most people have an idea of what they want put no clearly defined goal. A goal is a target, something at which to aim. But if a person is not aiming at something specific then that person will miss: every single time. Do you want 2015 to be better than 2014? Figure out what you want to accomplish and set a specific deadline. Only then will you be able to look back and see what has been accomplished.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Six Unhealthy Trends to Avoid

The pursuit of a healthy lifestyle is often filled with wacky attempts to make results while avoiding hard work. Everyone wants the results but no one really wants to work for it. Sound familiar? But instead of calling things what they are: misguided and unrelatable to anything remotely scientific, we call them Trends. The vast majority of trends, dietary- or exercise- related, are a load; so let us take a look at six so-called healthy trends that not validated by science.

1.       Meatless Monday this has become so popular that some schools now have a Meatless Monday menu in elementary schools.[i]  Apparently protein is now the dietary devil despite the fact that there is overwhelming evidence that high protein diets aid in weight loss. Now why is this? Dietary protein is chemically different than dietary fat or carbohydrates in that it contains a nitrogen molecule as a part of the amine group that gives rise to the amino acids. Do not worry if that went over your head. The important part of this is that the breaking of the amine group during the digestion requires greater energy expenditure than the digestion of fats or carbs. How much more? About 30%, depending on the source of the protein. Animal proteins require more energy to digest than vegetable proteins. So if a person wants to lose weight restricting calories to a healthy level combined with having those calories come from predominantly high protein sources is an easy way to lose weight. Good luck doing that without eating meat. As a personal trainer, I have never met anyone who ever said, “Can you help me look like that vegetarian over there?” Beyond weight loss, protein is a key component in building and maintaining healthy cells in every part of the body: skin, hair, internal organs, bones, and muscles. Without protein these cells cannot function properly or, when needed, be replaced. I am all for eating a healthy dose of fruit and veggies but strict vegetarians are not the healthiest people in the world.

2.       Juice Cleanses Fruit and vegetables are great; as a part of a healthy nutrition program. But not as the entire program. Everything in moderation. Juice cleanses start out feeling great during the first 24-48 hours. This is due to increased presence of all the good nutrition in fruit and vegetables including high amounts of fiber. However, once that fiber catches up with you; good luck getting out of the bathroom. Extend that juice cleanse out to a four or five days, maybe a week and things quickly change. It is hard to stay hydrated when you are dealing with IBS. Severe dehydration may become a problem. If a person sticks with a juice cleanse long enough, and in severe cases, a person may begin losing hair, seeing discoloration of the nails, experience weakness and fatigue. Juice cleanses are an unhealthy extreme that eliminates needed nutrition that comes from protein and dietary fats. By all means, eat fruits and vegetables. Eat a lot of them. But do not eat fruits and vegetables exclusively.

3.       Planet Fitness I rarely call out any specific entity but when the word “Fitness” is in the name of the company and the company serves pizza to its members on the first Monday night of the month; frowns upon and has an obnoxious “lunk alarm” that goes off when people show the slightest bit of intensity; and does not allow certain fantastic exercises like squats or deadlifts then at the very least there is no truth in branding. I get the business concept; Planet Fitness wants to create an environment where people feel comfortable. It is appealing to a specific demographic: those want to be comfortable. That is commendable. However, by its very nature, fitness cannot be improved if ones primary concern is comfort. Intensity is the instigator of change and it is not welcome here.

4.       Hot Classes I have theory about these:  the instructor turns the thermostat way up to induce a sweat because the intensity of the exercise is not high enough to make people sweat. Hot yoga or any other physical activity performed in high heat puts the body at serious risk for dehydration. Staying properly hydrated during exercise is just as important as working up a decent sweat. Keep in mind, that if you attend these classes the sweat is more due to the heat than the effort.

5.       Sauna Suits Before the trend of hot classes there was the hot suits. Those sweat suits that look like something that an astronaut might wear. The idea here is that the extra sweat increases weight loss. Let me be clear; the sauna suit does not cause weight loss by increasing metabolism and creating greater calorie burning.[ii] Any weight loss associated with the use of a sauna suit is strictly due to water loss. The weight will return as soon as a person starting rehydrating.

6.       Anything that offers weight loss without effort Outside of a few specialized-physician supervised weight loss programs there is very little that will work to create weight loss without solid sweat equity. Life and health are performance-based only great effort will yield great results.

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