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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Want to be toned? Avoid lengthy aerobics.

What does all this mean?  

For those of you who don't get my fit notes newsletter this is in regards to losing fat, gaining muscle and what type of exercise routine you should focus on to make that happen.  You can sign up for the free monthly email on the right of the page.

You need to have balance in your exercise program and extreme endurance training (while it may be addictive and make you feel good temporarily) is not good for your long term health.  

If you want to maintain or build muscle and reduce fat while potentially increasing your longevity you should strike a balance between intense weight training or interval cardio (if you are comfortable and can talk it is not intense enough) and slow leisurely walking (which actually reduces stress hormones).  Slow walking is very different than jogging or other moderate "I'm kinda getting a workout" cardio or light weight training exercise.  

For those of you endurance training addicts....in the long term you are doing more to harm your health than to help it.  Most of the people I know who do a lot of endurance training are constantly fighting injuries, getting sick etc....that should be a clue that rest is needed....easier said than done when you're an addict.

For those of you who are doubting any of this, here are the research citations so you can look this information up yourself.

Hormones (Jan. 2009) - showed that a relative excess of stress hormones compared to building hormones plays a key role in damage of the part of dna that is indicative of life and health

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (Vol 35, 2003) - study on overtraining syndrome (excessive duration exercise) showed that in endurance athletes there is a correlation to shortened telomeres (part of dna indicating how long we may live)

European Journal of Applied Physiology (Jan. 2010) - comparing endurance runners to healthy sedentary people showed that the more mileage they ran the shorter their telomeres and that their telomeres were not significantly longer than the sedentary group

Sports Medicine in Science & Exercise (Jan. 2008) - study of weight lifters vs runners showed weight lifters had longer telomeres than the running group

You may also want to take a look at the May/June issue of OnFitness Magazine which discusses much of this in their Science of Aging article.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What carbs should I eat?

Generally speaking you should focus on carbohydrates that digest slowly and thus provide a sustained and slower release of sugar into the bloodstream.  Thus the focus should be primarily on vegetables, particularly those with a variety of colors so you can maximize the nutrients you are getting.  Foods such as mixed lettuce greens, squash, beans, peppers, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli etc.  Carbohydrate foods you should eat in small quantities are most fruits, grains and starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams and so forth.  The reason being is that these foods turn quite quickly to sugar in the body and cause unstable levels of blood sugar and thus energy.  Additionally, because most of us are relatively sedentary we very easily overeat these items which causes the excess calories to be turned into fat.

A good rule of thumb is if you are going to eat fruits or starchy carbs (i.e. potatoes) to do so in small amounts and eat them early in the day.  Along with this you should make sure to always eat some type of protein/fat with these foods to slow down there affect on your blood sugar and thus energy levels.  You want stable levels of blood sugar, not abrupt ups and downs that lead to afternoon fatigue followed by binging on more sugar.....once you get on that roller coaster it's hard to get off of it.

Yes, it may take awhile to get used to not eating these higher sugar foods but after your body adapts (which should only take a couple weeks) you will find you feel much better and have higher energy levels, not to mention the fact that you will probably notice yourself losing body fat.

One last point, the real danger zone for many people when it comes to carbohydrates is with beverages (juice, soda, smoothies, etc.)  You can consume a large number of calories very quickly when you start drinking things that taste good and are easy to consume fast.  Just do a little investigating by reading labels on juice, soda or other beverages and you'll see that all you are doing is drinking liquid sugar which equals body fat.  If you drink diet don't think you are off the hook, plenty of studies have shown that artificial sweeteners are very damaging to your body and cause you to eat more because your body tastes the sweetness but isn't getting calories, so your brain says keep eating.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why is Sugar a Problem?

I will try to make this as simple as possible and not get into too many technical details.......The primary reason sugar is a problem is because your body, like most people in today's world, doesn't need as many calories due to the relatively inactive lives most people lead.  Combine that with the fact that sugar supplies a large number of calories per gram and many people eat a lot of sugar.  Particularly problematic is refined sugar, the sugar found in any product that is refined or processed, has little or no nutritional value...it's just straight calories.  For the most part the only unrefined sugar is going to be in fruits, veggies and other foods that you can find growing in fields or on trees.  When's the last time you saw a piece of bread growing in a field or on a tree?

Because refined sugar is so concentrated and void of nutrients your body has to pull nutrients from and water from your tissues in order to process it....thus potentially leading to dehydration and nutrient deficiencies.  It also causes your body to constantly release insulin (a storage hormone) into your blood so that the sugar can be shuttled into cells.  This leads to accumulation of fat tissue as the body needs more places to store the excess energy you are consuming.  As cells become full of sugars they become less sensitive to insulin (causing insulin resistance) which can lead to diabetes and a whole host of other problems.  Since there is a relatively high level of insulin in your blood due to the excess sugar consumption your blood vessels also start to become damaged due to the excess levels of insulin.  All of this puts more stress on your body which leads to the elevation of stress hormones such as cortisol which puts your body in an alarmed state where it wants to store calories to deal with what it assumes is coming stress.  Along with this your body will be triggered into releasing more sugar because it thinks you will need the energy to deal with the impending stress and the cycle continues.

Many people are in this cycle and as long as you continue feeding it with sugar and stress which leads to eating more sugar your body will not lose body fat regardless of how much you workout.  Just remember the goal of your body is survival.....and when your body is in survival mode you will not lose body fat.

Read the following article for some recent news on this

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sugar Destroying Your Results

Today I want to focus more specifically on sugar and how it will destroy your chances of achieving your fat loss and fitness goals.  Most of you probably think you don't really eat that much sugar when in fact you probably eat much more than you think.  Part of this is probably due to the addictive nature of sugar and part due to the vilifying of fat and most meats by the mainstream nutrition mantra.  Let me just go through a "typical" day of American eating and point out the large amount of sugar consumed. 

Start with a cereal based breakfast with a yogurt and perhaps some juice or maybe just a Starbucks latte with a bagel or pastry of some sort.  Most of this is sugar (cereal = processed grains which turn to sugar, nonfat milk = mostly sugar, juice = all sugar, pastry/bagel = sugar, latte = potential high sugar along with another stimulant caffeine)  There is minimal to no protein or healthy fat in any of these items.  These type of foods only promote fat gain  particularly when coupled with a lifestyle of sitting with no significant activity all day long.

Then mid-morning you may go for some fruit perhaps...again all sugar and then your lunch if you're good will be a salad and a sandwich or soup.  Salad gives you some slower digesting sugars but little protein and then the bread on the sandwich and who knows what type spread or dressing.  The point is the majority of your calories are coming from carbohydrates (primarily sugars) and you are sitting around all day (not doing anything physically strenuous).  This doesn't include any beverages that aren't water....glass of lemonade perhaps....full of sugar....what about a diet beverage....the artificial sweeteners just trick your brain into eating more because it thinks you're getting sugar but you're not.  Then comes that afternoon crash....so you go for some kind of stimulant to get you through (candy, coffee, other non-food foods).

You get home, are exhausted, nothing is ready or prepared for the evening so you go for take out or some other quick meal.  Even if you are good and have things planned for dinner this may be the only meal where you get significant protein...chicken perhaps...maybe veggies....be careful though, you may have a big pile of mashed potatoes and don't forget a couple of calorie laden cocktails or several glasses of wine to drown your stress and sorrows.

As harsh as this may sound, this pattern of eating is very common whether people want to admit it or not....it's a recipe for obesity, disease and lethargy.  The main culprit is sugar and more sugar and more sugar that the body turns right into fat because if you're lucky you are working out 30-60 minutes and that's not even most days.  You are burning few calories because those workouts are light to moderate at best.  If this all sounds familiar than don't be surprised if you see few changes in how you look other than getting bigger and more out of shape.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lose the Sugar and Lose Fat

Lately I've been focusing on fat loss in the daily fitness minute, so now that the new website is up and going I will give you a quick overview.  Far and away the best thing you can do to lose fat is to change your eating habits.  Regardless of your exercise regimen, if you continue eating the same way, you will look the same.  Thirty or even sixty minutes of exercise a few times a week will not make up for the alcohol, desserts and excess calories you eat every day.  There are 3500 calories in a pound and it takes a lot of exercising to burn that many calories, not to mention the fact that you must have a 3500 calorie deficit in order to lose a pound.  Don't think that just because your treadmill says you burned 500 calories in an hour that you actually did because they typically overestimate the number of calories you burn.  Here is a reference from the mayo clinic, that details the estimated number of calories burned during various types of exercise.  The reality is you must make significant changes in your eating habits in order to get any significant fat loss results.  One of the most important things you can do if you want to see results is to cut out sugars.  This means juices, sodas, pasta, bread and most fruits.  Instead of these sugar filled foods you should significantly increase the amount of non-starchy vegetables you eat including leafy greens and those of varying colors.  Unless you are training for a marathon, triathlon or are performing multiple strenuous workouts each day then you don't need the large amounts of starchy vegetables, pastas, breads and fruits that many mistakenly believe are healthy.  By cutting these hidden sugar filled foods and increasing quality proteins, fats and vegetables you should see the weight begin to fall off....even with a moderate exercise program.  Remember it's easier to avoid the calories than to burn than off later.
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