Friday, December 11, 2009

Extra Holiday Calories Can Improve Your Health!

Get your flavanoids! They're good for your heart. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables for that. Make sure you get enough Omega 3 fats in your diet; they're good fats and can reduce cholesterol and ease the metabolism of bad fats. Salmon, flax seeds, walnuts, and soybeans are good sources of those. Make sure you get enough dairy in your diet; protein, calcium, and Vitamin D are needed for strong bones and will help avoid degenerative disease like osteoporosis. Cottage cheese, yogurt, and milk will cover you there.

Oh, and don't forget about fiber, vitamin C, minerals, and ...
the list goes on an on and on.

Has it occurred to anyone else that if we actually followed all of the nutritional guidance pumped into the media by food companies, supplement companies, and well-intentioned fitness professionals, that we'd all look like sumo wrestlers?

The missing 'ingredient', of course is exercise.

While reading a few things written by other Fitness Professionals around Holiday indulgences this morning, and the creative ways they suggested to restrict calories and abstain from some of your favorite foods during the holidays, it suddenly occurred to me ... duh ... that it's simply easier to exercise than it is to worry about all the extra calories!

Because what's the point of even attending a party or preparing a special meal if you can't fully enjoy it! So, while there are lots of great reasons for exercising, THE MOST SIGNIFICANT BENEFIT OF EXERCISE could very well be that it simply allows us to eat more! Most of us love to eat, and a lot of us exercise just so that we can eat more!

But without exercise, most of us would be obese within 6 months if we consumed all of the food needed for proper nutrition. Or you could pay thousands of dollars per year on organic supplements, though even the best manufactured nutrients fall far short on nutrient quality when compared to natural food sources.

It's well documented that exercise alone improves your heart health, reduces stress, increases your energy levels, and enriches your lifestyle.

And don't forget about Hydration. Water is the body's primary means of cleansing itself by flushing toxins out the back (bottom) door. Further, proper hydration improves digestive efficiency, reduces blood pressure, and improves the appearance of skin, nails, and hair.

We've all heard that we should drink 8 glasses of water each day. You know what, that's a lot of water! It actually takes significant, conscious effort to consume that much water on a daily basis. But crank out a few hot cardio intervals, or knock down one of our HEAT programs, or blast through 35 sets in 45 minutes, and you'll have 20 ounces through your body before you event think about food!

The primary vessel we drive, our bodies, simply requires exercise induced thirst to get in enough fluids on a regular basis. Further, no matter how hard you scrub, you still need a good sweat to flush the body odor creating bacteria out of the pores in your skin.

So, there you have it! Never mind that exercise improves your health and reduces the risk of acquiring all types of disease and illness.

Exercise primarily gives us the privilege to eat and drink more and
be healthier for it.

With the holiday season upon us, go ahead and eat!
Just make sure you exercise too!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Exercise Quickies Beat December Distractions

December is one of the toughest months of the year for Fitness Professionals . As if busy lives, work schedules, and family affairs weren't enough, extra travel, holiday parties, out of town guests, and office gatherings all add to the normal daily stresses. Making time to exercise is always a challenge, but this added pressure can be a nightmare for trainers trying to keep their clients on track!

Of course, in the blindered world of a Fitness Professional (because no matter what the question is, exercise is almost always one of the best answers), we'd argue that if you're life gets so stressful that you don't have time to exercise, you really can't afford to NOT exercise. Indeed, exercise is the ultimate anti-anxiety medicine.

And here's another suggestion: to roll through all of the December distractions try Frequent Exercise Quickies.

Rather than spending your normal 75 to 90 minutes working out 3 or 4 days per week this month, plan instead for training 4 or 5 days per week (one extra) for just (much shorter) 45 to 55 minutes.

Normally, we coach clients (and you should plan) for a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes warming up before your workout and 30 to 45 minutes of cardiovascular work following your session. Along with your 45 minute session, this give you have a standard 75 to 90 minute workout. While that doesn't seem like a huge time commitment to us, it can certainly seem intimidating when there's cooking to be done, the in-laws are inbound, and you have an unfinished gift shopping list.

A 45 minute workout, on the other hand, is short, sweet, and
mentally conquerable
. Indeed, just showing up is the hardest part!

Heck, it's not even a workout ... more of a workoutling ... a workout too small, cute, and incomplete to be a real workout. Get in, get it done, and be on your way. The key, of course, is that if you reduce you cardio and resistance workout volumes, you'll really, really need that additional exercise quickie per week!

Training for 45 minutes 4 times per week (200 total minutes) instead of 75 minutes 3 times per week (225 total minutes) also has other advantages.

For one, you raise your metabolism one extra day per week. Not only do you burn calories while exercising, but you'll burn additional calories recovering from the exercise after your workout. And this extra day of recovery effort more than covers for the reduced total volume (25 minutes).

Additionally, the 4th workoutling per week gives you one more boost of energy to make it through stressful days, and another shot of endorphins to make the holiday stress more tolerable.

If you're training with FT, your session pace is always quick and with aerobic elements, but if you're getting your (regular or extra) workoutlings on your own, keep these things in mind for effective exercise quickies:
  1. It's just 50 minutes, so plan for being seriously committed for the entire workout; it goes fast!
  2. Rest no more than 1 minute between sets
  3. Drink plenty of water
  4. Wear your headphones, and don't make eye contact with anyone else in the gym (no time to get pulled away into a conversations)
  5. Look ahead, and plan your next exercise before you're finished with your current one
  6. Have an alternate exercise in mind with alternate equipment to keep you moving should your equipment get taken before you get there
  7. Go relatively light with high repetitions (20+) on the 1st set of any exercise (the abbreviated warmup will increase the risk of injury, so you'll need to warmup in-line)
  8. Plan for no fewer than 10-12 repetitions on any exercise (again, making the workout more aerobic in nature to compensate for reduced cardio)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Exercise: The Ultimate Solution to the Holiday Blues

The holidays can be an especially depressing time for a lot of Minnesotans. Stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, financial stress, and the inability to be with one's family and friends all contribute the the 'Holiday Blues.' Add in overeating, alcohol, travel, and normal sleep pattern disruption, and the formula gets worse yet!

The good news is that there are plenty of remedies, and Nutrition and Exercise play a huge part! As mentioned last week in my 5 tips for making it through the holiday season, one of the most effective ways to both fight the holiday blues AND get a head start on your New Year's fitness resolutions is to start an exercise program now!

Experts from Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and others all recommend exercise as a critical part of fighting the holiday blues.

Making time for exercise, especially with extra holiday activities underway, is generally the hardest part!

Here then, are my Favorite Four Tips for getting it done:

1. Exercise quickies. While 3 or 4 resistance training workouts AND 2 or 3 cardio workouts per week are optimal for good health and weight control, planning on more frequent, shorter workouts can help get you fit it in.

2. Train with a partner, or hire a trainer to hold you accountable. Showing up is more than 90% of your grade in exercise, and you're much, much more likely to show up if some one's counting on you to be there!

3. Abandon all of your weight loss, and fitness - related goals for the month of December. You'll have plenty of time next year to work on those. Instead, merely establish attendance goals: I will exercise 3 or 4 days per week not matter what. Circle completed days on your wall calendar to help track your commitment.

4. Exercise in the morning. Not only will you avoid allowing other agenda items to trump your exercise appointment, but you'll have extra energy for the entire day!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Top 5 Tips for Making it Through the Holiday Season!


Soon after Halloween (the beginning of the end), many of us begin to think of the holidays and all the happiness, joy, stress and guilt that comes with them. So begins the media hype regarding eating, drinking, and overall indulgence that leads us to gaining an average of 6 pounds between Halloween and New Years Day!

It’s an emotional set up! The toxic messages begin….eat more, drink more, buy more. And a lot of us are doing enough of all that already! Those messages, along with the long standing, powerful TRADITIONS of your particular family unit may lead you to overindulge throughout the holidays and leave you feeling tired, depressed and frustrated come January.

But This Year can be Different! You CAN go through the holiday season with a spirit of joy and hope with lots of energy and enthusiasm. With just a few small “attitude adjustments”, you can sprint into January feeling refreshed and revitalized.

Here then, are my Top 5 Tips for making it through the Holiday Season WITHOUT gaining the dreaded 6 pounds of fat the average American gains between October and January.

1. Have a meal replacement shake before attending a party.

Holiday Parties are loaded with irresistible, high caloric, high fat content foods and drinks. It’s a party and it’s the Holiday Season! You will indulge. You should indulge. But the last thing you want is to show up famished and take down a quick 1000 calories before the band even starts! And that wouldn’t take much. Here are a few examples:

  • 1 Mai Tai – 310 Calories
  • 1 Strawberry Margarita – 210 Calories
  • 2 Fried Won Tons 620 calories & 20 g. fat
  • 1 Cheese Ball 155 calories & 14 g. of fat
  • 1 Bacon Wrapped Smoky Link 167 calories, 11 g fat
  • - Total: 1152 calories, all of which could easily be consumed inside of 60 minutes
So, take in a healthy, protein rich (15-20g) shake before you go to reduce your appetite to avoid the additional calories. And only have one won ton!

2. Don’t keep trigger foods in the house.

Trigger foods, which are typically high in fat, set the stage for unrestrained eating, and contain hidden calories that subvert weight loss efforts. You don’t need them and your kids don’t either.
The displays in the grocery store can be compelling, but the rule is simple: Don’t buy them and they won’t be a problem

3. Begin or Maintain a Regular Exercise Program NOW

Lots of folks conveniently defer exercise until after the 1st of the Year when the mystic weight lost elves will miraculously help solve both years of unhealthy diet and exercise and eliminate the seasonal weight gain …all within the magical month of January! Guys, gals always was and still is a fallacy. The only thing you’ll gain by waiting to begin an exercise program until January is a few more pounds. Get started in November!

4. Make your Holiday Weight Loss Goals Net Zero

That’s right – plan to loose no weight at all! But plan to gain none either – net zero. Enjoy a few extra calories during the season, but burn them all off immediately with 3 strength training workouts and 2 hours of cardio weekly. Let me know if I can help you with this!

5. Make your Holiday Fitness Goals Cardiovascular or Strength Related

Especially if your Health and Fitness Related Goals are weight loss, establish and reach NON-Weight loss goals of improved cardiovascular conditioning or improved strength in December! Improving your cardiovascular fitness levels and muscular strength now can set the stage for accelerated weight loss in January. Adding lean body mass (muscle, bone, blood) now means that you’ll burn more calories both when you exercise as well as when you’re at rest.

Cardiovascular or Strength related goals can be simple:

  • Walk every day of the week, starting with 10 minutes and add 2 minutes every day – you will be up to 90 minutes of walking by December 31st!
  • Do 3 pushups 3 times a week – you should be able to triple your repetitions in 6 weeks
  • Do sit-ups 3 times per week – you should be able to double your repetitions by boxing day

Or more complex:

  • Have a VO2 Max test done now, then …
    • Run, spin, roller ski or skate twice weekly 40 minutes at moderate intensity
    • Run, spin, roller ski or skate once weekly for 20 minutes at high intensity
    • Test again in 6 weeks
  • Have a sub max bench press and pull-up test done now, then …
    • Complete 3 full body resistance training exercises per week
    • Test again in 6 weeks

Friday, November 13, 2009

Drinking Green!

No, not St. Patrick's Day green beer, and not blended hemp and alfalfa drinks (though they are indeed quite nutritious). And certainly not your favorite mint martini.

Today, it's all about drinking green tea.

I 1st fell in love with green tea about 15 years ago on my 1st trip to China.
While Starbucks and other coffee houses are common in most Chinese cities these days, back then it was actually quite difficult for a tourist to find any cup of coffee at all, much less one that didn't look and taste a lot like watered down brown tea.

So I drank a lot of green tea on that trip, and have been ever since! Fortunately, there are lots of great health benefits to drinking green tea, so my new found habit actually turned out to be a good one! The Chinese, of course, have been drinking green tea and using it medicinally to treat ailments from headaches to depression for 4000 years!

And just when you thought that Vitamin D was the miracle Nutrient, get this:

Furthermore, Green Tea consumption ...
  1. Improves skin clarity;
  2. Reduces cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation; and
  3. Aids in digestion
Wow. But if that weren't enough, it also assists in weight loss! Research by Japanese and other researchers suggest that five cups of green tea a day consumes an additional 70 to 80 extra calories through a process called thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is, at the most basic level, the heat produced when energy sources are converted to energy. And while a good deal of green tea's thermogenetic effect can be attributed to it's caffeine content, researchers around the world have found that it's anti-oxidant content contributes more.

And that's what makes Green Tea So Special!

It is rich in catechin polyphenols, which are flavenoids. Flavenoids, of course, are well documented to be hightly effective anti-oxidants. Besides inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, antioxidants kills cancer cells without harming healthy tissue.

With regards to green tea, the specific catechin that makes it particularly beneficial is
epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).

In addition to being a powerful anti-oxidant, EGCG also been effective in lowering LDL cholesterol levels, inhibits the abnormal formation of blood clots, and, most recently, has is under investigation in the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS, and other immunity system diseases.

How much Green Tea should I drink?

Answers to this question will vary, but most scientists agree that 3 or more cups per day is the minimum you'll need to see benefit. On the upside, other than the normal side effects of too much caffeine, very little adverse effect to getting too much EGCG has been found.

EXCEPT FOR PREGNANT WOMEN, where intake should be restricted.

Another tip I learned from the Chinese nearly 20 years ago was that green tea can be infused many , many times. Add hot water to steep. Drink it down, then add more hot water to re-steep the same tea. Repeat as many times as you like. The flavor tapers off, of course, and each additional cup contains decreasing amounts of caffeine (and EGCG), but you can enjoy something hot to drink all day long without getting the jitters.

Looking for more useful tips on Eating Light, Eating Healthy, and Eating Often? Ask me about our New Nutrition Together program!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Shortened Days Require more Vitamin D in your Diet

If you're looking for a simple, easy way to reduce your risk of catching the flu, you may need to look no further than your grocery store!

While it's still true that regular, moderate intensity exercise is helpful in fighting off infections, your next best bet could be as simple as getting enough Vitamin D. Especially in northern climates where exposure to the sun, our primary source of vitamin D, is limited during the Fall and Winter, increasing attention is now being given to vitamin D requirements. And vitamin D deficiencies.

In fact, some physicians contend that a major portion of winter ailments can be attributed to Vitamin D deficiencies, including heart disease, chronic pain, Fibromyalgia, hypertension, arthritis, depression, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, PMS, Crohns Disease, cancer, MS and other autoimmune diseases. Wow!

A Highland Park client of ours has seen Vitamin D deficiencies in action 1st hand. Working through lower back pain for several months, she'd gone through physical therapy, chiropractic care, and had several MRIs and X Rays performed to help diagnose the source of her ailment. Nothing worked. Eventually, her physician suggested a diet loaded with Vitamin D, and her back pain went away!

The problem is, it's really, really hard to compensate for the lack of sun. Your body manufactures about 20,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin D with just 20 minutes of sun. To get that much vitamin D in your diet would require something like 40 glasses of milk per day! (3300 calories, even if it's skim milk). The good news is that Vitamin D is fat soluble, so your body is capable of storing some D in your body fat. You won't need to consume the entire amount that you would otherwise manufacture, but with close to NO sun exposure these days, some dietary intake becomes critical.

Your best bet is actually an occasional trip to a tanning bed! This, of course, carries the added risk of developing skin cancer, so many of us avoid those.

As a Result, Natural Foods, become your next best source of vitamin D, and here are some high quality choices:

Salmon, canned (3 ounces) 530 IU
Salmon, cooked (3.5 ounces) 240–360 IU
Tuna, canned (3 ounces) 200 IU
Soy milk, fortified (8 ounces) 100 IU
Orange juice, fortified (8 ounces) 100 IU
Milk, low-fat, fortified (8 ounces) 98 IU
Cereal, fortified (1 cup) 40–50 IU
Eggs (1 large) 20–26 IU
Swiss cheese (1 ounce) 12 IU

The problem is, even a diet with only these foods you could still be deficient in D! So we're not done yet. How much, exactly, you need daily is still under debate, but a daily intake of up to 2,000 IU is currently considered a safe upper limit. The medical community agrees that up to this much won't create other problems, even if they can't agree on what the required minimum should be.

So, even with a naturally rich vitamin D diet, some supplementation is recommended. The best way to take vitamin D supplements is with Calcium. The two nutrients work together to build strong bones and teeth.

Furthermore, it's been shown that taking vitamin D with Calcium can actually reduce your fatty food cravings and help you lose weight!

So, with the Sun getting further and further away for the next 60 days, please take note of your Vitamin D! If in doubt, have your doctor administer a 25-hydroxyvitamin test to determine if you have optimal levels of Vitamin D in your blood. The Vitamin D Council considers optimum levels to be approximately 50 nM/L.

Looking for even more useful nutrition tips? Ask me about our new Nutrition Together program!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Eating Too Little Contributes to Weight Gain

That's right, eating too little at the wrong times can actually have a negative effect on your weight loss efforts. Don't get me wrong, at the end of the day weight loss is still a very basic calorie calculation: weight lost = calories out - calories in. Consume more than you burn and you gain weight. Burn more than you consume and you loose weight. Simple math.

However, eating too little at critical times of the day, like breakfast or prior to exercise can actually have a negative effect on your ability to loose fat.

Skipping breakfast, for instance can create a hormone imbalance that triggers the body to go into "starvation mode," and consequently triggers the body to store more fat than it otherwise would by reducing your metabolism. Not good.

Further, as the day progresses, this hormonal imbalance unnaturally increases appetite to the point where you're far more likely to overeat for your next couple of meals. That's even worse.

Eating too little prior to exercise is another frequently made mistake.

Whether you're heading to the club to loose body fat, add muscle tone, or just feel good about yourself, it is critical that you have a small pre-workout meal.

And here's why.

Energy for exercise always comes from a blend of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. But fat sources only work at very low intensity levels, and carbohydrates are quickly utilized and must be constantly replenished.

So, while you might hope that your body will always use fat as an energy source during exercise, stored fat is metabolized ONLY when you are either sedentary or exercising at a very, very low level of intensity. You will, indeed, burn more calories when you exercise at more rigorous levels, but you'll burn no more fat. Check out my Heart Rate Zone Training to Look and Feel Fantastic report for LOTS more detail on this.

Most exercise is aerobic in nature. The energy source that will help you work harder to burn more calories, and work more efficiently to recruit additional muscle fibers is carbohydrates. Unlike fat, which is stored as fat, carbohydrates are stored in the blood stream, muscle tissues, and organs as glycogen and glucose (and, technically ATP at the cellular level, but we'll ignore that for now).

These immediately available "sugars" are your primary energy source for exercise ... at least until they're gone, which can be in as little as 20 minutes, depending on your metabolism and the nature of your exercise. Once the supply is spent (metabolized to exercise), your body needs to replace those spent sources with new sources .. .your pre-workout meal.

So, when you're consuming your pre workout meal, you're really filling your gas tank for the second half of your workout.

If you get it right, you're in good shape for high energy levels and higher levels of intensity during the second half of your workout. If you get it wrong, you'll "hit a wall", struggle with even moderate intensities, and ask your body to metabolize less efficient sources for energy, like proteins. That's right, even if you've got 30 pounds of body fat to loose, if your body needs energy sources beyond the immediately available carbohydrate sources, it doesn't convert your stored fat, it converts proteins!

And it gets worse yet, for if those proteins aren't in your bloodstream (from a consumed meal), your body converts stored proteins ...your muscle tissue ... through a process called catabolism.

And if you are catabolising you will almost certainly gain fat because maintaining lean body mass is a key factor in loosing body fat!

So, (ahem), here's the skinny on your pre-workout meal. You don't need to have much, but be sure that you have a few hundred (200 to 400, depending on your body weight) balanced calories between 30 and 60 minutes prior to exercise. This window will vary from person to person (and your hydration levels and prior daily food intake), but 30 to 60 minutes ahead of your workout is a good place to start. A well balanced snack should consist of approximately 25% protein, 65% carbohydrate and 10% fat. One half of a peanut butter sandwich and half a banana handle this perfectly. Or a yogurt and a few crackers.

This pre-workout requirement is also well recognized, and aggressively marketed by the nutritional supplements industry (Cliff, Powerbar, Gatoraide, etc.). Products from these suppliers also nicely handles the requirement. However, just be sure that you consume the product far enough ahead of exercise for benefit: it takes most digestive systems 30 to 40 minutes to move food to the bloodstream. Consuming these products during exercise is almost always too late for any benefit for exercise shorter than 90 minutes.

Looking for more healthy tips on eating right and proper nutrition?

Ask me about our New Nutrition Together program!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Silver Bullet for the Flu Season!

Looking for an easy way to worry less about H1N1 and the Flu season?

Look no further. It's called regular, moderate intensity exercise!

While no one is completely immune, with the H1N1 virus circulating, it's a good time to point out that regular moderate exercise improves your body's ability to fight off disease and infection!

Even better, you don't need to train intensely for those benefits. Because while you do need to work a bit harder to improve strength, and you do need to work a bit longer to improve your endurance, and you do need to work a bit faster to improve your cardiovascular fitness levels, regular moderate exercise is all that's needed to improve your immune systems.

Why is that?

Well, a few theories exist.
  • First, the more rapid breathing associated with moderate exercise helps flush the lungs of airborne illnesses.
  • Second, increased sweat and urine production helps rid the body of carcinogens.
  • Third, an elevated heart rate more quickly circulates antibodies and white blood cells to fight off infections.
  • Fourth, increased body temperatures have been found to help prevent the growth of bacteria.
  • Lastly, and as we've mentioned for a few weeks in a row now (insulin and calories; insulin and sugar; insulin and sleep), hormones are related in no small way. But this time, it isn't insulin we're blaming, it's cortisol.
For while cortisol is required to handle stress and other stressful events, prolonged periods of elevated cortisol levels are quite detrimental to your health, and your immune system.

Moderate, regular exercise, however, helps inhibit the production of cortisol, thereby enabling the immune system to operate efficiently.

So, what's moderate? It all boils down your a Long Slow Cardio Event as was described back in February. I'll need to update that posting for today's frost less landscape, but that should get you started!

And what is regular? Well, that's most days of the week (4 or more with the new math). Sorry, there are no short cuts on frequency.

Need a bonus tip for fighting off the pig flu? Don't forget to get enough rest! For while adequate sleep will help with your job performance, it also improves your immune system!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Your Two Most Important Meals of the Day

As it turns out, your mother was right all along: breakfast is in fact the most important meal of the day! However, not just any breakfast will do. The choices you make for breakfast can influence your job performance, your energy levels, and more!


One of my favorite websites, had a nice article recently on not just making breakfast an integral part of your day, but food choices that make it the right breakfast. Indeed,the food choices you make for breakfast can go a long way in how sharp you think throughout the day, how well your immune system fights off infection, and how the right choices can trigger your body to burn more fat.

As it turns out, there isn't much magic in it at all: whole grains; wholesome fruits; and low fat dairy are the key ingredients; but do check out their helpful article for specific menus to improve the value of your most important meal of the day!

Close behind, the second most important meal of the day is Your Post Exercise Nutrition, otherwise known as a recovery meal.

After exercise, your body is, at a minimum, in a state of depletion.

You might even be fatigued if your workout was an intense workout. Energy stores have been reduced, lactic acid has accumulated in muscle tissues, and you have an empty stomach. Blood pressure, heart rate, and metabolism, while somewhat reduced though a proper cool down, remain elevated for an hour or more.
In short, your body is starving for nutrients, and
how you respond effects how well you recover for your next workout!

As it turns out, there is a critical 30 - 60 minute window of opportunity following exercise within which the adsorption of nutrients is more efficient than at any other time. Your body is literally a sponge, so feed it well and help your body recover!

Exactly what you eat actually depends on the type of exercise you've just completed. You'll recover differently from a long, slow cardio event than you would from a resistance training event. And different recoveries beg for different recovery meals.

A meal high in carbohydrate content is appropriate for extended or high intensity cardio activities where larger amounts of carbohydrates are spent. A well well recognized formula for cardiovascular recovery is a meal rich in carbohydrates, but with some protein. Many experts recommend 200 to 400 calories, depending on your body weight, in a ratio of 4 parts carbohydrate to 1 part protein (4:1). A good, wholesome food that fits this almost perfectly is chocolate milk, and fruit based yogurts.
For most resistance training, however, including a typical Fitness Together session, a balanced meal a bit higher in protein is best. Muscle tissues have been broken down with resistance training, and the pace of our sessions makes them somewhat aerobic. If your training session is prior to 3:00PM, we would recommend a 400-500 calorie meal of 35% protein, 60% carbs, and 5%. If you're on the run and won't have a chance to eat a proper meal for an hour or more, a quality protein supplement may suffice. Otherwise, a small chicken breast sandwich with a small salad and yogurt is one way.

If you train later in the day, say after 6:00 pm, you'll want to reduce your starchy carbohydrate intake, replacing them with simple carbohydrates (primarily fruits & vegetables). A large vinaigrette & olive oil salad with nuts, a piece (or 2) of fish/chicken breast, and some fruit is perfect : 45% protein, 45% (non starchy) carbohydrates, and 10% fat.

And if this all sounds too confusing,
ask me about our new Nutrition Together program!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Protein Supplement Primer

Atkins, Zone, South Beach, Dean Ornish, Weight Watchers, Pick Your Diet-of-the-week and you'll inevitably be discussing Protein.

It's a Hot Topic!
  • But how much protein do you really need?
  • With what is it best consumed?
  • And, if in the form of a supplement, what's the difference between a good protein supplement and a waste of money?
Protein: The Building Block for Healthy Bodies

Proteins are the basic building block for lean body mass. Protein is the primary material making up all soft tissue
in your body, and makes up your DNA, enzymes, and hormones. Proteins, quite simply are not only a hot topic for weight loss, but are a required nutrient for lean body mass development, and is an absolutely necessity to live!

But everyone's protein needs are different. Exercising adults have a higher protein requirement than sedentary adults. Even the kind of exercise you're performing matters: some runners actually need less protein than someone working on core strength and functional fitness.

The safest, most accurate way to ensure that your protein intake is appropriate is to work with a licensed nutritionist or fitness expert to better understand your individual needs. However, a practical guideline to follow is
that if you are resistance training 3 or more days per week, you require between .75 and 1.0 grams of protein per pound of desirable body weight each day. This translates into 125g for a 150# person.

And that can be a lot of protein for a lot of people! Put into perspective, a typical 8 oz chicken breast is approximately 30 grams. A cup of steel cut oats oatmeal 18 grams. A cup of cottage cheese 20g. If you simply had those 3 foods alone for dinner, breakfast, and lunch, you would have consumed 68 grams of protein ... just barely half of your protein needs for the day.

So the challenge becomes how to get sufficient protein into your diet without picking up a lot of extra calories that sometimes come from lower grade protein sources.

As a result, some form of protein supplementation will be appropriate for a lot of us.

To be clear, supplementation should be exactly that ... supplemental to your food intake, not a food staple. A perfect diet includes 3 meals and 2 snacks per day. When working with supplements, a good rule of thumb to follow is to consume no more than one supplement per day. If you're using supplements for more than one snack or meal per day, you're treating it as food, and that's not practical, healthy, or sustainable over the long term. It isn't necessarily that the protein is bad for you; it's those last few ingredients listed on the package you need to be concerned about.

But, for a lot of us on the move, a protein shake on a busy morning, or a protein bar between afternoon appointments can be a lot healthier than most alternatives AND still contributes to the daily protein target.

In looking at protein supplements, however, the options can be overwhelming and confusing. You will find products based on soy proteins, whey proteins, casein proteins, and "proprietary blends." So, a few notes are in order ...

Not all proteins are created equal

From a chemical perspective, proteins are combinations of 22 known amino acids ("aminos" for short). 9 of these Amino Acids are considered essential ... they are required to live, and can only be found within food sources; the other 13 are considered non-essential and can be manufactured by the body (from the essential aminos).

When looking for a supplemental protein, the two most significant things to consider are:

  1. How many of the key aminos are present; and
  2. How easily can the body adsorb them.

Amino Acids

Food source and food source alone drives amino acid content ... how many of the essential aminos your protein supplement contains depends entirely on where it came from!

Remember Little Miss Muffet? You know, the wench (hey, been renaissance fest lately?), who sat on her tuffet eating her curds & whey? Indeed, the curd (solids) and whey (liquids) derived from whole milk are the exact food products from which Casein (think 'curd') and Whey Proteins are derived. And they're boss.

From an amino acid content perspective, whey proteins have long been recognized as the king of proteins ... boasting not only a high quantity of amino acids, but the best collection as well.

Topping the list of essential amino acids found in whey proteins are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), Phenylalanine, Tryptophan, Arginine, Glutamine, and Proline. This chemical collection contributes to or regulates everything from muscle recovery to immune system performance to sex drive to anxiety control to skin appearance.

Are we there yet?

But don't throw out your casein or soy based products just yet! While whey proteins are top dog, even they don't contain ALL 9 essential amino acids. You'll need to get those from other sources like soy or casein. As a result, you will frequently see something like "proprietary protein blend" on many supplement labels. As long as whey protein is listed as either the 1st or 2nd ingredient in the blend, you can be sure that your money is being well spent. And if you see both whey and soy, you should have a complete set of aminos.

Biological Value

The other thing to consider when evaluating protein products is how effectively your body handles the protein ... something known as Biological Value (BV).

BV, as it turns out, is entirely dependent upon protein preparation techniques: when manufacturers take good care of the amino acid molecule during preparation you're body will adsorb the protein more quickly and more effectively. The most expensive and best quality proteins are derived from a process that produces Protein isolates: chemical ion exchange techniques preserve the structure of the protein best, ensuring high quality and efficient adsorption. Ultra filtered or micro filtered products are also high quality proteins (though 2nd tier), but protein concentrates and hydrolyzed proteins are cheaply produced and to be avoided.

Therefore, things like "whey protein isolate,", "casein isolate,", and "soy isolate" will be your highest quality protein sources, and the ingredients you should look for when selecting a protein supplement.

Lastly, don't forget that high protein intakes places additional demands on your digestive system, so be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fitness Reform - No Lie!

While congress and the president figure out who's doing all the lying in Washington, here in Minneapolis, We've got a TRUE FITNESS REFORM program underway!

OK ... reform might be a bit of an embellishment. In all honesty, there really isn't anything new at all to announce or reform! Except more of the same: good old fashioned safe, effective, consistent exercise and lifestyle habits to look, feel, and move better! The American public will always seek and experiment with short cuts to exercise. We're simply wired that way. And many fitness "professionals" will mislead you with false promises and ridiculous expectations that can be nothing short of dangerous.

The truth of the matter is that "there are no short cuts to any place worth going" (Beverly Sills), and your health is the most precious journey and destination you have!

So, we're heading back to the most basic of basics this week ...

The Benefits of a Proper Warm-up and Cool down
We take warm-up and cool down quite seriously here at Fitness Together! There are many reasons for this, but the most important is that the quality of your warm-up frequently determines the quality of your session!

When sedentary or mostly inactive, blood flow to the stomach is largely unrestricted to assist with digestion. As you begin to begin to exercise, however, torso arteries actually contract to shunt blood flow away from the stomach. This increases blood pressure and flushes the limbs (arms & legs) with nutrient-rich blood.

Unfortunately, the whole process takes up to 15 minutes to complete and there are no short cuts - which is why we tend to be so adamant about arriving early enough for your session to complete a proper warm-up. Skip the whole process, or cut it short and we need to spend part of your personal training session completing warm-up process to avoid possible cramping, or injury to 'cold' muscle groups. To get the most out of your session, plan for starting your warm up no later than 10 minutes before your session appointment!

Once finished with your session, it's time to reverse the entire process! As you exercise, various energy sources are tapped to produce the energy required to shorten (contract) muscle fibers. Conversion of these energy sources produces lactic acid and lactate - both of which are responsible for that muscle 'burn' you feel when your trainer demands those last two reps to completely fatigue a muscle group. :-)

While your energy, circulatory, and cleansing systems will eventually rid the body of this lactate accumulation, a proper cool down accelerates the waste elimination process. Additionally, time to recovery (rebuilt muscle fiber and replenished energy sources) and muscle soreness are significantly reduced with a low intensity cardiovascular event immediately following your strength training session. Call it a cool down, a warm down, or a short cardio event, but it's at least as important as your workout itself! Exercise is performed ENTIRELY to force the body to adapt, to grow, to improve fitness levels. Your warm down is the 1st step in this adaptation process, so don't short change your workout by recovering poorly! And, it burns a few more calories!

Stretching has a similar benefit, but we've already taken care of that within your session. A proper cool down also assists with the gradual relaxation of constricted stomach arteries to prepare for your second most important meal of the day ... your post session recovery meal. More on that next week.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Add Energy to Your Day and Felxibility to your Frame with Time Sliced Stretching

Clients frequently tell me that one of the best parts of their Fitness Together program is the 5 minutes of trainer assisted stretching at the end of their personal training session. While this short stretching event will indeed help improve flexibility and assists with recovery, it's also on the short end of what an adequate stretching program should include. Ideally, you'd like to stretch or perform yoga at least 20 minutes per day. However, for a lot of us (ahem) stretched on time, one unique way to get additional stretching into your day is with something we call time sliced stretching.

A terrific supplement to your active office, time sliced stretching simply includes short bouts of stretching performed in line with the rest of your busy day.

It works like this: if you're climbing a set of stairs, stretch a bit on the way up and then again at the top of the flight; if you're walking through a doorway, stretch a bit as you pass through.

Small amounts of time sliced stretching throughout your day can both improve your flexibility and give you a minor energy boost! On stairs, there are a number of things you can do to stretch. First, after taking a few single steps up, start taking 2 or 3 steps at a time. This motion roughly equates to a lunging exercise, so be sure to step slowly (your muscles will probably be cold) into your 1st double and triple steps. This primarily stretches the gluts, but also hits the hamstrings a bit as well. Near the middle of the flight take especially slow steps and really try to go low with with a few deep steps ... you'll feel the stretch in your gluts.

Once near the top of the flight, and now that the legs are warmed up a bit, it's time for some calf and hamstring stretches. Grab the hand rail and balance on your toes over the edge of a step. Switch your weight from leg to leg, alternatively stretching your calves by allowing your heels to drop below the step height. Then, come back down the stairs a couple of steps and extend a straightened leg up a couple of steps to stretch your hamstrings. Sloooowly bring your nose towards your knee until you feel the slight discomfort of the stretch and hold for 10 seconds. Stretching might feel somewhat uncomfortable, but never painful. If it hurts, you're stretching too far! This entire stair climbing stretch can be done in as little as 60 additional seconds and just plain feels good!

If (and only if!) your shoulders are stable and without range of motion limitations, you can quite easily stretch your chest with something I call door jam stretches. As you navigate your home or office throughout the day,you can easily your stretch chest and back in just a few minutes by using the door jam as a stationary object. To stretch your chest and shoulders, stand about 6 inches in front of an open door jam. Place your hands on the sides of door jam at shoulder height. With feet firmly planted, allow your body weight to "fall" through the doorway to where your chest is stretched and resists falling further forward . Hold the stretch 8 to 10 seconds and repeat up to 5 times. As with staircase stretches, start slowly and gently ... you'll be stretching COLD muscles, which is less than optimal.

While in the same doorway, you can handily stretch your back as well. With one arm, reach across your body to grab the inside of the door jam molding. Then, slowly rotate your body away from the hand holding the molding. You'll feel this stretch in your rear deltoids, trepezius, and latissimus dorsi (the largest back muscle). Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat up to 5 times on each arm.

If you're tall enough (most door jams are 7' and reachable if you're taller than 5'6"), reach overhead and place both hands on the top of the door jam. Grab hold of the molding around the door jam if possible. With a firm grip on the top of the door jam, perform a toe raiser to slightly thrust your torso through the doorway. As you do so, you'll be arching your spine and stretching your latissimus dorsi . Hold for 8 or 10 seconds and repeat up to 5 times. As with the chest stretch, you'll be performing this stretch without the benefit of a proper warm-up, so do be gentle at the start.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Superstar Secrets to Fitness Success

Brett Favre earned himself one of the most dubious distinctions in professional football when he threw more interceptions (288) than any other player in NFL history during his 2007 season!

Fortunately for Brett, the Superbowl MVP also holds records for the most touchdowns ever thrown (464), the most total yards thrown (over 61,000), and the most total completions (5377). For Brett, the upside potential of completing a touchdown pass always exceeded the risk of throwing an interception: you couldn't score it if you didn't throw it.

Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player in history, is famously quoted as saying that "I missed every shot I didn't take." During his amazing 19 year career, Michael actually missed more shots than he made ... attempting 24,537 shots and making just 12,192 for a career average shooting percentage of just 49.7%. But in the process of actually sinking less than half of his shots, he set NBA all time records for the highest points scored average per game (30.4), the most 30+ pt. games (563), and many others. For Michael, you couldn't score if you didn't shoot, and when the game was on the line, he wanted the ball and the shot.
None of us have this kind of talent, nor will any of us come close to producing these numbers. But each of us can learn from these 2 superstars as we face choices each day that do effect our health and fitness. We may never take the last shot of the game, or toss up a game winning pass, but we do regularly face simple lifestyle choices that add up enormously in the short and long runs.

How often and when will I exercise this week? What will I eat for breakfast? Am I getting enough sleep? As a fitness professional, it's interesting, if not fascinating to talk about high intensity interval training, and adding lean body mass to reduce body fat, and the need for long, slow cardio activity in your week.

These things matter, and they matter enormously in designing effective exercise programs, but you know what?

They are equally unusable unless you actually show up!

August is traditionally one of the softest scheduling months of the year for us. And one of the quietest months in the gyms around town (I get around!). Late summer vacations, long weekends out of town, class reunions, family reunions, you name it ... there's always something going on in August! And they all seem to get priority over consistent exercise. But that doesn't mean you need to forfeit the progress you've made up to this point.

Michael and Brett will assure you: you can't score if you don't shoot! Making progress = making the effort. And, if my 4th grade teacher was right when she said that 80% of your grade in life is just showing up, then 90% of your grade in fitness is just showing up.
So then, here are my Top 5 Tips for Keeping on Track in August:
  1. Plan an Active Vacation ... take your program on the road with you!
  2. Plan for a net zero loss in August exercise volume. Skip your Friday workout if you're heading out of town for long weekend, but make up the missed workout by adding in a different day either the week before, or the week after to keep from loosing ground.
  3. Schedule exercise into your calendar, and don’t move it unless there’s a death in the family. Make your exercise appointment the most immutable appointment of the day.
  4. Be accountable to someone. It helps if you have a personal trainer waiting on (and charging) you for the appointment whether you show up or not, but it is also helpful to have a training buddy/partner. You’re much more likely to show up when you know someone is waiting for you.
  5. Establish, write down, and publish a very specific health lifestyle goal for the next 3 months. These are things like: exercise for 90 minutes 3 times per week; or walk for 60 minutes 6 days per week; or make every scheduled exercise appointment. Lifestyle Changes. Then, take these goals and chunk them into 6 week cycle goals.