Happy Friday!

Remember that everything we do in life, we had to do for a first time. Now, sure, the first time may have been when you were a very young child and you may not remember it, but it was still a first time.

If you’re struggling to get started, and really believe that it’s impossible for you to lose weight because you’ve always been “chubby,” “husky,” or “heavy,” you certainly are not alone. I hear it fairly often – “I’ve always been big,” “No diet has ever worked for me,” “The last time I exercised was in high school gym and I hated it.” These may all be true, but they are all excuses. It’s OK to make excuses – I’m not here to criticize you in any way – but just because you’ve “always been big” doesn’t mean you “always have to be big.” If a change in your fitness and health is something you want, then you’ve got to go and get it. If you believe that you can change your status, then your chances of being successful increase significantly. 

The path you start out will change over time, morphing from one interest to another, finding a lifestyle that works for you, and what works for you when your circumstances change. The one thing that has to stay the same is belief that you can change your body, that you are in control of it, and that you can achieve what you want. I know, corny, right? The linked study above indicates that, no matter how corny it is, it works.

 

Believe that you can achieve whatever you set out to do, and lean on that belief when you struggle.

I am starting with this one because it is probably the hardest thing to achieve – a belief in yourself. Self efficacy is the fancy term, and a higher levels of it have a direct link to success for everything from improved gymnastic performance to management of type 2 diabetes. This particular step is 100% psychological – there is no physical boundary preventing you from believing in yourself.

Use your past successes to motivate you

One of the most important ways to change your belief in yourself is to look back on the successes you’ve had in life. Graduated any level of school? Success. Completing all of the achievements on a quest in your favorite game? That’s a success. Impressed the boss with that presentation you gave on widget manufacturing? 100% success.
These are all things that other people find difficult, and yet you were able to achieve them. Find what you can be proud of in your life and use that to support your confidence.

Read some success stories. That could be you.

And why couldn’t it be you? You’ve succeeded at many things in your life, so why can’t you be like the people in those success stories? Let them inspire you. They aren’t any better than you, so why not chase that dream?

Listen to your friends

When your friends tell you that you’re good at something, soak that in. Take it to heart. They are your friends. They are people that you trust and have a relationship with – they’re not going to tell you something that isn’t true, so believe it. These people are also your support group – if you’re struggling with your belief, talk to them about it. Let them remind you how awesome you are.

 

Goals. How do I know what is realistic?

I’ve always been of the opinion that the best types of goals don’t revolve around a specific weight, or clothing size, but rather an achievement. If you’re just beginning and haven’t ever been interested in fitness, a goal could be as simple as walking for 5 hours a week, or cutting back the amount of times you get take out this month. Once you achieve that goal, take that as a success, put it in your self-efficacy bank, and start plotting out your next goal. You just walked 5 hours per week for 4 weeks straight. Maybe you want to start jogging, or a couch to 5k plan? Maybe you’re happy with the progress you’ve been making and want to join a gym, or start an at-home workout program?  I strongly suggest for people who are just starting their journey to begin here.

If you decide to take a more calculated approach, where weight or size is a goal, keep in mind that the average realistic, healthy weight loss is roughly 2lbs/week. Yes, initially, you will lose weight faster. And yes, on The Biggest Loser they lose 8-12lbs/week. That is an extreme circumstance and one that can lead to the feeling of failure if you’re only losing 2lbs/week. You aren’t a failure – every pound lost is a step in the direction. Try to look at your weight and size completely without emotion – it is a number, or a set of numbers, and indicates your progress, not who you are as a person or your success rate. If you find the numbers aren’t going the direction they should be on a short term trend (4-6 weeks, minimum,) then it’s time to re-evaluated and adjust accordingly. This is not an indication of who you are as a person or your ability to complete your goal – they’re just numbers and a way to track your progress on the path, not a determining factor in your worth to society.

Once you have achieved your short term goals, start looking at mid and long term goals. You’ve got a wedding next year and you want to fit into that beautiful dress? Keep that in mind. Whatever you do, never lose  your goals, whether they are “complete a triathlon,” “deadlift 500lbs,” or “not feel like I’m going to die when I walk up the stairs to my office.”

 

Persist

Persistence really goes hand in hand with self-efficacy. If you believe in yourself, it will be easier to persist through tough times, and as you find yourself coming out on top of a bad situation, your self confidence grows. With regard to health, persistence with so called “healthy habits” has shown to produce a substantial decrease in mortality rates, no matter what the initial status was. Think about that – no matter where you are now, if you adapt health habits, your mortality rate goes down. Your odds of living a longer healthier life goes up. The one caveat is that you can’t do them in the short term and have long term benefits – this is a new lifestyle. It doesn’t mean you have to become a runner, or a gym rat, in order to live a long life, just that you’ve got to pick up a few things, like move more in your every day life and make sure you eat as many vegetables as you can.

Another type of persistence is one that no one likes to have to deal with; injury recovery. Injuries are inevitable, whether it is the rare major injury, like a broken bone, or the minor overuse ache’s and pains that we all get. How you recover from them, and even work around them to continue your active and healthy lifestyle is a matter of persistence, and of course, your strategy to deal with them. Injuries are just bumps in the road – not road blocks. Been through rehab and exhausted all reasonable medical channels only to find you can’t run anymore? It’s ok – start biking, or strength training, or rowing, or swimming, or…

Build A Strategy

The best way to achieve any goal, or to make it through any kind of hiccup in your plans, is to have a strategy laid out. Just like you’d use a GPS, or a map, to find your way to your destination, your strategy will guide you toward your goal. It will also help you stay focused on what you are trying to achieve, and will keep you on track rather than allow you to be distracted.

You’ll also want some strategies to deal with stressful situations, injuries, or even just simple deviations from your planned food intake. This is a quote that I actually took from my NASM certifications that I like to apply to many situations. Whether it is that I went to a party and ate some cake while I’m getting ready for race season or if I do something stupid and injur myself.

Just because you slipped once does not mean that you are a failure, have no willpower, or that you are a hopeless addict. Look upon the slip as a single, isolated event, and as something that can be avoided in the future with an alternative coping response.

Have a contingency plan for injuries – leg injury? Time for some upper body work. Upper body injury? Perfect opportunity to get some walking in. Work with your medical professional, whether its a physical therapist, occupational therapist, or doctor, and develop a plan to work around your temporary or long term limitations and

Reduce Your Anxiety

Now, I know, physical activity is a great way to reduce your anxiety, but it can also cause you to cope with some not-so-good tendencies, like overeating, and unfortunately, you can’t out train a poor diet.

Finding ways to reduce your anxiety, including your workout induced anxiety (like fear of injury, soreness, etc,) is key in succeeding as you take on a new life. Everything from meditation, to Yoga, to a fishing trip can be used – find what works for you to reduce your anxiety that fits into your health strategy.

Build Your Team

Your team is the people that will carry you through your journey. They are the people you surround yourself with that will not only encourage you, but help you, and even hold you accountable for the things you’ve set out to accomplish. Speak with your doctor, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you feel like you aren’t getting the treatment you deserve or that your doctor is not on board with your proactive health approach, find a doctor that is. If you get injured and need rehabilitation, don’t just take the first therapist that is suggested – go speak with them, find out what their specialty is and how they approach treatment, and if it doesn’t fit in with what you believe will work for you, find one that does.

There will always be people in your life that will try to bring you down, whether it is intentionally or not. Unfortunately, sometimes, there isn’t much you can do, but if you’ve got a great team of people that build you up and support you, then no amount of negativity will derail what you really want out of life. Finding a fitness partner, whether it is online, at your gym, or in a trainer, provides a great deal of motivation to continue on your path but also a sense of fulfillment that you’ve been able to contribute to their life as well.

 

Recap (Or, this was way too long to read all of it.)

1. Believe in yourself.

2. Set realistic goals, and strive to achieve them.

3. Persist in your journey toward those goals, no matter how many speed bumps pop up.

4. Have a strategy for dealing with those speed bumps, and for your transition in general.

5. Relax, in a healthy way.

6. Find your team, and stay loyal to it.

Today’s post is going to cover a couple of topics that people ask me about fairly frequently. Others have done an excellent job of covering them, so I’ll make sure to link to the more in depth posts if they are available.

Plant Based Diets
You all know, by now, that I am a huge proponent of eating fats and meat along side your hearty consumption of plant-based foods. This is, in part, due to the fact that I love foods that are protein and fat heavy and truly believe that it is a very important part of a healthy diet.

That said, I don’t believe that the only healthy diets are meat-heavy, as long as you’re ensuring that you’re getting everything your body needs and it works for your lifestyle. Ben Greenfield recently did a brief post highlighting Rich Roll, a successful plant-based ultra-athlete. In this article, he did a great job outlining how to correctly and effectively use a plant-based diet. I won’t repeat everything he said, but here are a few key points.

  • There are a few different types of plant-based diets. Lacto Vegetarianism (Vegetarian + Dairy), Lacto-ovo vegetarianism (Vegetarian + Eggs + Dairy), piscatarianism (Vegetarian + Fish), Vegan (Plant-based Foods Only)
  • The old argument that meat is bad because it causes an acidic condition in the body is not currently supported by science, except in the instances where you are not consuming enough fats (animal fat, coconut oil, macadamia nuts, etc)
  • There are many, many, very successful endurance and even some strength athletes eating a plant-based diet. Scott Jurek, Jon Fitch, Bill Misner (who, in the 70+ Category, races and even holds the National Trail race record for his age group)
  • Micronutries to pay attention to since they tend to be deficient in a plant based diet: Vitamin D, B-12, Essential Fatty Acids, Amino Acids, Iron, and a myriad of other minerals

He also posts a sample of Rich Roll’s daily diet, to give insight into the correct way to go plant-based.

Check it out if you’re considering going plant-based. Like I said, its not for me, but it might fit your personality and lifestyle better than a more meat-based diet.

Fueling During Long Events

I’ve been spending a good chunk of time on the bike these past few months while I get ready for a 220 miles in two days bike tour. I’ve had quite a few people ask me about eating on a day like that so I though I’d address that quickly here.

In my time training for my first 100 mile ride of the season (or ever, for that matter), I put 444 miles on my bike during the month of May (I’m at about 550 for my 2013 season, which started on April 29th.) This included several 50+ mile rides, which brings me to something that gets asked fairly often; What do you eat? How?

I don’t have a ton of experience here, so I’m going to give my strategy for high calorie burn days. I learned what I know pretty much through trial and error, so experiment and play with what works for you.

Breakfast
3 Eggs cooking in olive oil (I dump the remaining oil over the eggs when I plate them), an avocado, some high glycemic index fruit like dates, prunes, or a banana.

Snacks
I try for around 300 calories per hour, which is probably a bit high. I haven’t been able to find any studies done on how many calories per hour can actually be metabolized during endurance activities but I know that number works pretty well for me.

Lunch
If I’m under some time constraint, I don’t really eat a lunch. If its a long hike or something like that, I do stop, and bring high calorie things like nuts and fruit with me as a lunch. If its a bike ride without a major time constraint I’ll stop at a store and pick up something during the ride. Usually lunch meat and chocolate bars (I know, I know, but they taste better than the “energy bars” and are basically the same thing.)

Drinks
I pretty much just drink water. I’ve tried a couple of the electrolyte drinks (Nuun, Heed) and they tend to give me some gastrointestinal issues. I may try Heed again since I’ve only ever tried it at the end of a triathlon.

Dinner
I just wait until I’m finished up for the day to eat dinner, whether that means when I arrive at a camping spot or back home after a day. I eat something large with large quantities of fat and protein. BBQ from the local BBQ joint is my favorite meal for days like that. I usually end up eating two dinners, one right when I’m done, and one a couple of hours later. Biking 100 miles I will typically burn an additional 4000-5000 calories, so I’m pretty free about what and how much I eat.

How
On the bike, I carry food in the rear pockets of my cycling jersey. I also wear my cycling jersey on runs. On long hikes, I keep granola bars in my pants pockets and the rest of my food in my pack in an outside pocket so its easy to find. Bananas in a pack are a bad idea, in case you were wondering. Apples work much better.

Conclusion
Hopefully this answers a few questions people have. I’ve had to disable comments on the site because of spam issues but if you have any questions, Like us on Facebook and leave a comment there. I’ll be glad to help if I can!

I sat down to write a post regarding the benefits and drawbacks of LCHF (Low Carb/High Fat), and to break it down to make it easy to follow and digest (pun completely intended,) but in my research I remembered an article I had read a little while back that did such an amazing job of explaining it, giving examples, and ideas, that I saw no reason to do anything other than link to that article and a few other resources for you to read up on. This is a diet that is most often recommended for those with diabetes or epilepsy (or other neurological issues), and occasionally for autism spectrum disorders, but has proven to have great health benefits for those looking to lose weight that struggle with other methods.

How-to’s and Beginner Information
DietDoctor’s amazing post on LCHF and how to get started
Joseph Arcita’s guide to Ketosis
Have concerns? This should address most of them

More Advanced Reading, Most for Athletes
LCHF for Athletes
Targeted Ketogenic Diet/Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
Alan Aragon’s recap of his debate with a proponent of low-carb diets for athletes

My Opinion
I suppose I should put my two cents in here. I, myself, will occasionally do a short term very low carb diet depending on where I am in my training cycle. I often will suggest that my clients with weight loss as a primary concern do some research and consider this as a viable option to help them achieve their goal. I do believe that it is one of the best options for people who struggle to shed weight on other “diets.” I have followed a very low carb diet (my normal diet is low carb but not as low as the Ketogenic/Atkins style diets recommend) during my race season and found that, while my performance doesn’t seem to suffer significantly, I do tend to lack… something… in the way I ride. I believe that most amateur athletes, once they’ve become fat adapted, can find great success in using a targeted ketogenic diet to maintain their performance while still having the benefits of greater insulin sensitivity and less fatigue in fasted states, especially if those athletes struggle with excess body fat.

Ultimately, as I’ve stated before, there is no magic bullet. Physiologically, this diet is a viable way to lose weight, but it will only work if it fits into your lifestyle.

Sometimes you’re just tired.

Tired of the gym.

Tired of the early mornings.

Tired of Running/Cycling/Lifting/Whatever it is that you do.

… and that’s ok. You’re allowed to be tired. You’re allowed to feel like you’re burnt out. Even people who’s financial stability depends on the exercise and training they endure get tired of doing it. Exercise and proactively managing your health can begin to feel like a job. Not that “Oh man this is my dream job!” feeling, either. More like that “Oh god, its Monday again?!” feeling.

What do you do when you’re feeling that way? As long as you don’t have any specific race or event you’re training for, you take a break. I know, that sounds like a really obvious answer, but hear me out.

Don’t stop all exercise, just stop doing the ones that make you dread doing them. For instance, I absolutely love cycling. My wife would agree that I have an addiction to bicycles and riding them, and obsess over it all spring and summer. By the time fall gets here, though, if I never get on another bicycle again it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Or at least that’s how it feels at the time. So I stop riding. In fact, I’ve learned that after I get to that point, I generally stop doing a regimented exercise routine and simply try to “play” more. Sure, I lose some fitness, but that’s all part of the game. I’m not a professional athlete, so there’s no need to try to carry every last bit of performance into next season, and quite honestly, sometimes you have to regress to progress. What’s important is to stay healthy… physically AND mentally.

After a 12 week race season, with 8 races crammed in there, I generally hit this burnout stage and know that its time to rebuild. I usually take most of October to spend time in the woods or do whatever I feel like doing. I don’t stop moving, I just stop focusing on it so much.

When I start again, I try to start right back at the beginning. I spend 2-3 weeks doing what I start my clients with; a little high intensity, mostly balance, flexibility, and motion correction work. This allows my body to slowly ramp up to another training cycle and another year of pursuing my goals.

So, if you’re feeling tired or worn out, take a little “workout vacation.” Go play some basketball, go for a hike, or walk the dogs a little bit more this month. We’re coming into spring here in the northern hemisphere, and you’re about to embark on another summer season, so its the perfect time to get that last bit of rest if you’ve been stuck in the gym because of weather or had a tough off season for whatever your pursuit is.

Here it is. I’m going to give you the secret to weight loss.

Eat less, move more, and don’t over think it.

There’s no magic pill or supplement you can take to fix all your ailments. They can help, but are not a magic answer as some TV doctors would have you believe.

The only correct way to eat is the one that works for you. The only correct exercise routine to follow is the one that works for you.

In the mean time, here is an exercise routine that works for me.

Warmup
Dynamic Stretching Routine

Circuit 1
8 rounds of 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds easy, cycling through these two exercises
Bodyweight Squat, Squat Thrusts, or Burpees

Circuit 2
5 Rounds, first round higher reps, easier weight/modification, increasingly difficult
Pullup/Chinup/Flex Arm Hang/Negative Chinups
Thruster, KettleBell Clean, or Lunges
Pushups
Planks or other core exercises

Circuit 3
8 rounds of 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds easy, cycling through these two exercises
Bodyweight Squat, Squat Thrusts, or Burpees

Cooldown
Stretch whatever feels like it needs it!

It happens every year; January 2nd rolls around and gym parking lots are suddenly packed. The cardio equipment is full and there are lines in front of the strength training equipment. I think everyone that has ever tried to get in shape has experienced this post-new years celebration phenomenon, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever really discovered why people wait until a major milestone date or day of the week to move forward with their health. Myself included.

Sometimes it really does help to set a hard and fast date to make the change but my question is, why are you waiting? Why are you wasting those days when it is your health on the line and making small changes right now is totally possible and really pretty easy. You don’t have to jump right into a training program to improve your health. All you need to do is move more. Have a few minutes after work? Why not go for a walk? If you’ve got a dog, they will love it too and it’s a pretty good way to wind down after a hectic day. If it’s cold or rainy, spend some time taking care of yourself. Pop in that relaxing yoga DVD or visit my favorite free yoga site and pick out a short routine to help you clear your mind and stretch your body.

There is a rule in physics that applies well to fitness and health as well; an object in motion stays in motion. The more you move, the more you’ll want to keep moving, and the more you keep moving, the better you’ll feel. The things I mentioned above are just a start. A well thought out workout plan is critical to obtaining and maintaing your ideal health, but that can be intimidating to jump in to. If you start small, and move more, then there is no need to wait until the new year (or even just Monday) to get yourself in shape. You can  do it right now. I mean RIGHT now. Stand up and take a walk to the water fountain if you’re at work, go take the dog outside if you’re at home, or do some good old fashioned gym class style stretches, wherever you are,  to get the blood flowing again. You never know where your momentum might carry you.

 

By now, if you’ve been following exercise trends, I’m sure you’ve heard about high intensity training and how it’s the best way to induce fat loss in a limited amount of time. Programs like P90X, Insanity, and the many variants use some type of HIT protocol to push people to and beyond their perceived limits, allowing them to both increase their fitness as well as lose substantial amounts of weight in fairly short amounts of time. Used correctly, they’re an excellent tool to keep as part of a well rounded workout plan.

If you’re interested in some science-y reading, check out this article on HIT training in females, this article about using HIT training in cardiac patients, and these articles about HIT training and insulin, both in older adults, and young people.

Instead of focusing entire workouts around HIT (or HIIT) training, I like to roll it in with some other type of training. I find it less mentally taxing and that my results are far greater having a combination of lower intensity and high intensity work.

Here is a sample 60 minute workout. In this example, I end-cap a strength-type workout with HIT.

Warmup, 10 minutes – Dynamic movements, starting small like skipping, working up to high knee pulls and short sprints, gradually increasing in speed

Workout
Burpees, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest, 8 rounds.

1 Minute Rest

3 Sets Squatting Exercise – First set at 50-60%, second set at 70-80%, third set at 90-100%. You be the judge.

1 Minute Rest

3 Sets Pushing Exercise – Same as above, Wall Pushups/Knee Pushups/Full Pushups

1 Minute Rest

3 Sets Pulling Exercise – Same as above, Rows, Flex Arm Hang, Chinup/Pullup

1 Minute Rest

Sprint Pyramid, Equal Time On and Resting, 10s-20s-30s-40s-40s-30s-20s-10s. This can be done on a bike, running, on a rower, or any other piece of “cardio” equipment you’ve got. Your “On” speed should be as fast as you can safely go and you shouldn’t be able to continue at that pace after the time is up.

Cooldown, 20 minutes  – Light cardio work for about 10 minutes, a jog or easy spin on the bike, followed by 5 minutes of dynamic stretching as in the warm up, and 5 minutes of static stretching.
 

In a previous post (part 1 in the series) I discussed mental toughness during times of injury and illness. Sometimes those situations are unexpected and unpreventable, but there are a lot of things you can be doing to keep yourself as healthy as possible, both physically, and mentally.

Yoga – As with any of the following recommendations, Yoga (as long as it is practiced correctly and cautiously) can help keep your body and mind healthy and fresh. Yoga (or just general relaxation) has been shown to lower blood pressure, relieve back pain, help with chronic fatigue in cancer patients, and even improve your memory. In the study regarding back pain (here), it is mentioned that joining a Yoga class does not improve back pain more than a general stretching class, but with the other benefits of Yoga, why not try it? There are so many variations that it’s pretty likely you’ll be able to find one that fits your needs, and you’ll be able to keep your routine varied enough to keep it interesting. The best part? You don’t even have to go to a class or buy some videos if you’re unsure. There are quite a few websites that offer free, online videos to get you started and even for some more advanced practitioners. My favorite is DoYogaWithMe.com. There is a big variety of quality videos there and, in my experience, offers even better “virtual classes” than most DVD’s I’ve found. Try it!

Meditation – I know this sounds a little bit on the edge of reality, but there are some on-going studies to show the physiological changes that occur during long time meditation. A pilot study has been performed to determine the effects of a certain type of meditation on schizophrenia patients, determining that there is some potential for the reduction of negative symptoms and an increase of positive emotions. Scientists are even studying and hypothesizing the changes in brain structure, and its effects, in subjects who have participated in meditation over the long term. In layman’s terms, meditation may be able to increase the communication within your brain, potentially leading to greater coordination, an increased ability to process and store thoughts and memories, and a whole host of other improvements.

If nothing else, meditation is a block of time for you to wind down, clear your head, and relax. And those all sound like perfectly fine benefits to me.

 

Stability Training – There has been some controversy in recent years as to whether stability training was really needed for the average person trying to get fit. One camp says that its silly and unneeded, and one camp says that it is a vital part of everyone’s training program and that anyone that does not do it will undoubtedly injure themselves. My belief lies somewhere in the middle.

For some people, stability training should be viewed more as an accessory exercise. Are you naturally coordinated? Been athletic all of your life with no significant break in time from exercise? You’re probably fine at about 2 days per month dedicated to stability training. Are you the opposite of that? Then you could probably benefit from a period of time focusing solely on stability training as you begin your exercise program, mostly to ready your body (joints and muscles) for the extra work they’re about to take on. Its about injury prevention and body maintenance.

Stability training should also be used as a “cycle off”, of sorts, from high intensity work. If you’ve been really going at it for 3-4 weeks, take a week to recoup and recover. Instead of spending that week completely sedentary, work on the accessories. Do some balance and proprioception work (stand on one leg and do your normal exercises with lighter weights, or try to throw a ball against a wall while standing on one leg). I find that this will keep my muscles active and I can still get warm and feel like I’m achieving something fitness related while giving my body the rest that it needs.

Mobility Work – Ok. The term mobility work sounds sort of intimidating. This is, essentially, stretching gone wild. While studies have shown that acute bouts of stretching (or, only stretching once in a while) do absolutely nothing for performance, they also show that chronic stretching does, in fact, improve your performance for force output, jump height, and speed. In other words, stretching regularly makes you better at nearly everything you do that requires physical movement.

In the past, you always “stretched out” before a workout so you didn’t hurt yourself. I propose that, instead of doing those static stretches for 15 minutes before your workout, do a dynamic stretching warm up. Dynamic stretching means moving your muscles and joints through their full range of functional motion continuously, instead of finding and holding a position at the end of your current range of motion. Examples would be high knee pulls,arm swings, Frankenstein kicks, inchworm walkouts or a whole host of Yoga poses. Save static stretching for its own routine, performed on off days or for 20 minutes first thing in the morning.

In my opinion, static stretching is best used to increase range of motion in a joint to allow better body mechanics and form throughout your exercise routine. Having difficulty getting into a deep squat? Work on your hip and ankle mobility. Finding trouble with your shoulders while doing chinups? Work on general shoulder mobility, specifically carefully working external rotation.

One often overlooked aspect of mobility training is a strengthening portion. You shouldn’t be using heavy weights for this, but, using the examples above, after stretching your hips and ankles, stand on your toes for a few seconds and do a few full depth squats, focusing on activating your hip muscles, to try to strengthen those now-elongated muscle fibers. For your shoulders, after stretching them out, do some isometric wall presses at various angles.

I didn’t cover self myofascial release here, but mostly because I want to cover this in a post of its own!

Rest – This may, in fact, be the most important way to keep yourself healthy. In the pursuit of weight loss, I see many people try to rush. They’ll spend 7 days in the gym, 2 hours a day, often mostly on the treadmill or stationary bike, trying to burn away those calories. Don’t do this. There are many, many negative side effects to chronic cardio. Obviously, if you’re training for a specific event, some of these things are unavoidable, but adding in rest and a weight training day or two to your 2-6+ hour running sessions will not only lead to a healthier you, it can also make you faster. Switching from a low intensity 7 day schedule to a medium + high intensity 3-5 day schedule means you spend less time in the gym, experience less mental fatigue, don’t risk “chronic cardio”, and can even find yourself losing “bad” weight faster, or moving toward (or beyond, in most cases) your performance goals. Work harder, for a shorter amount of time on your training days, and on rest days, go for a walk, light hike, easy bike ride, do some stability or mobility work, or just catch up on chores. Enjoy your life outside of the gym, while keeping active.

It becomes increasingly difficult to work toward your goals if you’re feeling tired, fatigued, sick, or injured often. Listen to your body. Use the above techniques, along with a good, clean, healthy diet, to keep exercise fun and interesting. You also might just be able to keep yourself out of the doctors office and on track as well. Of course, if you need help with designing a health and wellness program, I am always available! Email me for more information!

Mark SissonIf you don’t know who Mark Sisson is, he’s the author of The Primal Blueprint, one of the most widely known Primal/Paleo eating guides, and owner/founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, one of the largest Paleo/Primal living blogs. He advocates both primal eating AND primal-style exercise in the form of active play and general movement.

I recently watched an interesting  interview with him and wanted to expand on the topics he briefly covered with my own take. He covers many of his philosophies on diet and exercise and what brought him to those conclusions. I thought I’d break down the interview and provide some of the background research he talks about. Obviously, I’m very pro-“Paleo” (or “Primal”) diet, but want to be sure that people understand that there is no single answer for the “what should I be eating to lose weight/gain weight/be healthier/be faster/etc?” question, and that the answer usually boils down to “whatever is working for you.”

The informational content of the video starts at about the 6:15 mark where he just barely touches on the subject of insulin and its relationship with obesity. He sort of skips over what the relationship is, if there is one, and goes straight into his belief that we’re not designed to use large amounts of glucose (the substance that all carbohydrates get broken down into), and that, instead, our bodies have the evolutionary machinery to burn fat for energy.

Let’s go back a step. For years, it has been stated that carbohydrates should be our primary source of energy. It has been drilled into our heads that, in order to lose weight and stay healthy, you need to eat a lot of whole grains and keep your fat intake low. What Mark is saying is the opposite, and I agree with him.

Many high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets may be counterproductive to weight control because they markedly increase postprandial hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia.

That quote was taken from a 2002 Study showing that foods with a lower glycemic index (read: how much a certain food would raise your blood sugar levels in relation to pure glucose, on a scale of 0-100) promote hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), followed by hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels). One of insulin’s jobs in the body is to stop the use of fat as an energy source and to tell fat tissue to take extra glucose from the blood and store it.

Let me make that clear; insulin tells your body to use excess glucose to fill your fat cells. It also tells your body to stop using fat as an energy source. Don’t we want to “burn fat” in order to improve our body composition? So why would we want to spike our blood sugar, thus spiking our insulin levels?

Now, the problem with whole grains is that their glycemic index is through the roof. Whole wheat bread has a glycemic index as high as 73. By comparison, that bottle of Cola? 63. That scoop of ice cream? About 57. Remember, the lower the better when it comes to weight loss and body composition change. There are various other reasons to not eat grains, but that is a huge one right there.

My suggestion is to lower your carbohydrate intake and instead of getting your carbohydrates from grains or potatoes, get them from large amounts of vegetables and small amounts of fruit and berries.

Moving On…

At 8:10 Mark discusses how he tries to approach such a radical lifestyle change, and I like his ideas. He suggests to not be exclusionary; don’t think about what you can’t have, but think about all of the things that you can have and how they’re positively affecting your health. He suggests aiming to be 100% primal/paleo, but that anything above 80% is perfectly fine and will still net positive results. He enjoys red wine, small amounts of chocolate, and dairy. What type of dairy is ok? As long as you don’t have any lactose intolerance, full fat dairy products such as cream, whole milk, and full fat butter from grass-fed cows (easy to find in most groceries; Kerrygold qualifies). Along with those, the fermented dairy products like yogurt (as long as it isn’t sweetened by a huge amount) and Keefer are also a great supplement to your diet to keep your gut happy.

He also speaks about how, initially, he felt as though he was one of the lucky ones that could eat grains without the side effects, but is now adamant about their exclusion from a healthy diet. In Mark’s own words, why you should not eat grains.

11:00 – He speaks about sugar and how he believes that acute sugar consumption is not what is causing health issues, but rather the accumulation of long term, chronic, high levels of sugar consumption that is contributing to the increasing amounts of insulin resistance, diabetes, and overall obesity in our nation. He even jokes about how basic table sugar could be considered “paleo” since it is often referred to as “evaporated cane juice”. In other words; if you’re struggling with a sweet or carbohydrate addiction, stay away from all sweeteners, but if you’re comfortable burning fat as your fuel source and can control your cravings, a teaspoon in your coffee in the morning won’t kill you.

I believe the reason he’s saying this is because there isn’t a lot of conclusive studies that say that sugar itself in inherently bad for you. Yes, it does provide a high glycemic load (though less than whole wheat bread.) Yes, it is “empty” calories, providing little to no nutritional value except an easy to access source of energy. It is not the hidden killer, it is not toxic in limited doses. The issue is that most people are not taking in limited doses.  It is just a food that we don’t want to eat much of because it converts easily to glucose, is easy to over-consume, and doesn’t provide us any other benefits in return. I’m not just referring to table sugar, here. I mean honey, maple syrup, agave nectar… they’re all just different forms of sugar. Remember, all sugar is,  is the sap of the cane sugar plant.

13:07 – Without getting too far into detail, the interviewer asks about ketogenic diets as a viable option for people struggling to lose weight and looking for an answer. In essence, Mark says  that, yes, in some extreme cases, these can be useful, but they need to be approached slowly and done in cycles to prevent burnout. There is a lot that can be said about ketogenic/ultra low carb diets; so much so, that in order to really explain it, it would need to be its own post. The premise is that you keep your carbohydrate intake extremely low (sub 30 grams per day), using only fat and protein as an energy source. It is viable, and can be tailored to work for both athletes and those looking to control their weight, but it can be extreme so should be approached cautiously. My belief is that focusing on something in the 50-150g per day of carbohydrates is healthier and more easily manageable, but every person is different.

 

20:00 – The interviewer asks about “safe” starches, and what Mark recommends. He believes that most of your carbohydrates should come from leafy vegetables and a small amount of fruit rather than starches at all, but that Yams are probably the safest. He mentions new studies being done on acellular carbohydrates (carbohydrates that are “simple”, processed, and require little break down to get at the glucose) and how those carry more negative weight than carbohydrate sources that require the body to do a bit of work to get at the energy. Ultimately, though, a sweet potato has a glycemic index of 70 – not that much better than whole wheat bread. White and Russet potato’s are even higher. Keep that in mind, and save your starch intake for pre and post workout, when you’ll burn off that glucose before it has a chance to store.

22:00 – By now you’re probably wondering “How in the world do I carb load if I can’t eat grains and I can’t eat starches!” The answer to that is that you don’t, because there is no need to. Once your body has adjusted to using fat as a primary source of fuel, even endurance athletes are able to keep their body happy without ingesting 500-1000g of carbohydrates. He still recommends not going over 250g of carbs per day, even for endurance athletes.

The problem with carb loading is that your body can’t really store up that much, and often just turns the excess into fat cells or it is passed through your digestive system. The problem with this is that if your body is struggling with insulin telling it not to burn fat and you stored all of that excess glucose as fat cells, how is it supposed to get at it when you need it quickly? It can also cause that rush and crash that everyone is familiar with after eating the recommended american meal full of whole grains.

 

26:25 – Protein Intake. His statements here are aimed more toward people who take in excessive amounts of protein as a fuel source and as a way to maintain body mass. He suggests that protein intake can be lowered when you become a “fat burning machine” (his words,) because of ketone production from fat metabolization rather than gluconeogenesis (or, the conversion of amino acids, or proteins, into energy). The ketone bodies will provide your body with the energy it needs in a smooth, stable fashion, thus lowering the need for energy from protein sources or carbohydrate sources. Here is a study abstract regarding protein intake for endurance athletes, and here is one for strength athletes.

Personally, I believe this is largely individual. I know that I feel my best when I eat roughly 1g/lb of lean body weight of protein per day, which works out to about 1.7gPRO/kg lean body weight. I can go up to about 1.2g/lb of lean body weight and still feel good. More than that is just excessive and less than that and I struggle with muscle fatigue and extended recovery times. You may be different.

One other important note; eat protein. I see so many people eating meals that contain no clean, quality protein source. It is good for your body. Please stop being afraid of it.

 

At 29:00 he covers what his typical day is like. This is actually interesting if you want to be jealous of what living an awesome, free-form life would be like. He does things like go hiking or for a paddle mid-day and jumps in his pool around 2:30 in the afternoon, and spends the next couple of hours air-drying in the Malibu, CA sun.

It really is something we can all aspire to; living that free-form, low stress type life. It definitely is worth listening to, as it may spark you to make some small changes as you work towards living your ideal life.

Mark also stresses the importance of living actively instead of spending all of your time in the gym or on the treadmill. He suggests that, for general health and weight loss, spending time moving, walking around, hiking, and being active 7 days a week, with a couple of days of dedicated and programmed workouts is the way to go. He emphasizes that the key to successful weight loss and health maintenance is finding a way to get your workout in without noticing its a workout at all.  He enjoys a highly competitive weekly game of Ultimate Frisbee with superstar athletes and actors, or whatever other Joe Schmoe he can scrounge up around Malibu.

His plan not only sounds fun, but studies have also shown that short bouts of high intensity exercise burn fat more efficiently. It is also completely possible to increase your cardiovascular capacity and endurance using high intensity exercises.

 

A growing body of evidence suggests that high-intensity interval training (HIT) induces numerous physiological adaptations that are similar to traditional endurance training despite a lower total exercise volume and training time commitment (Gibala & McGee, 2008).

 

So, get out there and play. Move around more, eat less grains and sugar and more fat and protein, and enjoy your life.

 

Coming into the fall of 2011, I was in the best shape of my life. My weekly time trial speeds were high, I was setting weekly PR’s in various Olympic lifts, and my weight was lower than it had ever been.

Then it happened… I got sick. The kind of sick that makes you take some time off from exercise.

… but how? How could I take time when I was at the peak of my fitness and, up until getting sick, advancing at an amazing rate? How could I deal with this?

Everyone with some type of athletic or fitness goal has experienced a situation similar to mine, some worse, some at more important times. This is where learning to cope with what you’re given becomes extremely important. Here are a few things that I use to make sure that, even if I get fully derailed, I will eventually come back with the same fire and determination that got me where I was.

Be smart – I say this because too many people try to push through something far more serious than can be ignored. You and your doctor are the only people that can determine where that line is, but just be smart. If something happens (example would be a severe case of tendinitis) that puts you at a greater risk of injury, stay away from working that part of your body until you’re healed up. For muscle soreness, sure, but when it just doesn’t feel right, hair of the dog shouldn’t apply.

Stay focused – Keep your mind on your goal. Use meditation and focused thinking to envision yourself working toward, and achieving your goal as if you weren’t sick. Be detailed. Feel the weight, the road under your feet or tires, climbing the stairmaster. Use your downtime to research new to you exercises or nutritional ideas. Keep your mind on your goal so that you stay excited about achieving it.

Keep active – If your physical condition allows, focus on inhibition (foam roller) and stretching instead of strengthening. Not only can they make you feel better, but they will help you avoid injuries later. Maybe work on light stabilization and balance exercises to keep your joints well adjusted to tension and to help avoid some of the atrophy that occurs with being “layed up”, so to speak.

Keep your belief – When you were making great progress, you probably were believing in yourself and your capabilities. You believed that you could get better, stronger, faster, thinner. Don’t lose that – unexpected downtime is just a setback, not a game ending event. Believe that if it was there once, it will be there when you can resume your program.

Don’t Quit – Often when you’re sick and/or hurting, its easy to just give in. Its comforting and easy to go back on old habits. I mean, if you can’t exercise, why eat well? Why not smoke? Eating well may not make your fitness improve while you’re sick, but it can keep you from feeling sicker (sometimes even make you feel better) and can help with damage control while you’re less active than normal. Speak with your doctor or nutritionist on how to adjust your diet during this period of lower activity. Personally, because I try to eat enough to fuel my body fully, then use exercise to create the calorie deficit. I eat the same things I eat while training, but maybe slightly less of them. I’m not talking a huge change, here, just a little bit less. Now is not the time to lose weight, but it’s also not the time to put weight back on. Do not quit – illness and injury is most often temporary. Even if it isn’t temporary, there are always ways to modify what you’ve been doing.

Not quitting is probably one of the hardest things you’ll have to do, but if you can use some of the previous strategies to keep yourself on track then you’ve developed one vital component to what most people refer to as Mental Toughness.

Part 2 (October 2012) will deal with mental toughness and how you can apply it when you’re not injured, and wind up with some amazing results.