Return to Blogging

Things have been hectic the last few months. There were races and injuries, classes and projects, just so much going on. Life has a crazy habit of sneaking up on you!

Well classes are done, projects are in, and, hopefully, injuries are behind me. Things are looking up and time is a little more open, though not completely free. With that said, I’m back to blogging and to sharing my thoughts on healthy lifestyle, food, and workout choices. There aren’t many of you out there listening but if you are, thanks for sticking with me.

So what now? Well, it seems I have some race reports to do and some tasty recipes to share! Those are the first up on the docket. If there’s things you’d like to see, please feel free to shoot me an e-mail or post a comment and I’ll work with you to get your request met. I’m open to a lot of topics, so don’t hesitate to ask.

Everyday Tools to Improve Health

We can’t all dedicate full-time committment to health activities. Realistically, most of us have work schedules that prevent us from gym visits 2-3 times a day with a well-scheduled eating routine. Meetings come up, your boss has a deadline, or there’s a family commitment that falls right when you would normally hit the gym. Has anyone else noticed that most family functions revolve around meals? I’m thinking of you, Thanksgiving!

When I worked in retail and food service, I was on my feet all the time, often for 8 or more hour shifts at a time. I was running around filling orders or stocking shelves. I was at my leanest when I had those active movement jobs. I also learned I could eat what I wanted without gaining weight.

When I got my first office job, that changed. Quite quickly I noticed that the food I would eat was not shedding as fast as it had been. It’s not surprising since my activity level had dropped significantly. Here I am, almost 6 years later, and still working in an office and still looking for ways to make the lack of activity at work impact my health less.

So how do you accomplish that? Most of my changes are not exercises but changes that help with blood flow, stress level, and nutrition. Since all of those tie into overall health, they’re still going to have a positive impact on you.

  1. Take regular walk breaks– My watch beeps every hour on the hour. I set it that way to help me as I can easily lose track of time when working on projects (even still I’m almost always late for lunch). Since it’s already beeping, the logical step was to merge something with that beeping. Enter walk breaks. Statistics show that most static job workers should be taking breaks from computer tasks, and sitting specifically, once every 45 minutes to an hour. These breaks should be no less than 2 minutes in length and, ideally, you are walking or moving around for those two minutes (no standing in one place!).How I approach that is to take a quick 2-minute walk around my floor, or down to the main floor and back, when my watch beep goes off. This helps keep my glutes engaged and awake as well as giving my brain a chance to relax. Don’t forget, our glutes shut down with too much sitting. I speak from experience, waking those muscles back up from hibernation is not fun!
  2. Drink water as a habit– Does anyone else find, especially in the winter, that homes and offices can get very dehydrating? I’m always thirsty in the winter no matter how much water I drink. Keep in mind, often the feelings of hunger is masking thirst. This suggestion breaks down into two parts:
    1. When hungry, drink waterIf you feel the pangs of hunger, try drinking a small-medium cup of cool or cold water. Wait 15-20 minutes and see if that helps with your hunger. The body often mistakes thirst for hunger, resulting in over-eating and dehydration (which can lead to water retention).
    2. Drink when you can – My building at work has no good sources of drinking water. It’s old, the pipes are poorly maintained, and the water fountains don’t work. It’s very easy to become dehydrated at my work as the nearest source of drinking water is 2 buildings over. Luckily for me, the route to the mail room passes no less than 4 newly updated water fountains. To ensure I was getting a solid amount of water each day, I would always bring my work water bottle (I have one for work, one in my car for the gym, one for the gym when not using my car, and 2 for running that I keep at home) with me on my mail route. The other rule with that mail trip is that I always drink a big serving at every water fountain I pass. That’s 4 on the way to the mailroom, 4 on the way back, and a filled water bottle to last me until the next day’s trip.
  3. Take the stairs – Yes, this is an often-mentioned suggestion, but how many of us actually do this? I do, but I have no choice, there are no elevators in my building. This option is not feasible for everyone, so only do this if it doesn’t cause you pain! Two years ago, when I started at the gym, I couldn’t take the stairs at work without finishing out-of-breath and exhausted, but every day I would repeat that until it became less challenging. Then, my trainer told me to take it to the next step. Two stairs at a time! That was a whole new challenge. I treat stairs as the opportunity to work on my lunge form and to engage both my glutes and my hamstrings (weak spots for me). Focus on pushing up, through the heel of the foot in front and contracting with your glute to push through the motion, just as you would a normal lunge.
  4. Spend your lunch outside – I’m guilty of not always doing this step. Sometimes I like to just lock myself inside and catch up on my social networks. It is always refreshing when I do get out for lunch though. Take a quick walk around, or just sit in the sun/shade and forget you’re going to have to return to work in half an hour. The mini mental break will do wonders to cut your stress, which can be a contributing factor to visceral fat (the fat around our abs), and allow your mind to relax. When we focus too hard and too long, we can’t always think through problems as well, so this break allows your mind to recoup some energy to increase post-lunch productivity.
  5. Find outdoor routes around work – The above mail route can be completed through a series of building connections or a more direct route outside. I always choose the outdoor route (even if it means missing 2 of my water stations, in which case I double up on the 2 I do pass). Like the lunch break suggestion, taking a walk outside has a freeing effect on the mind and can really rejuvenate the psyche. This option could be challenging for some work environments, so feel free to adapt this to just going outside and visiting nearby businesses. The

So there you have it, my steps to adding some health-increasing habits to the everyday lifestyle. Remember, you have to adopt any task on a regular basis for a minimum of 2-4 weeks before it becomes a habit and begins to produce results.

Feel free to share more tips and tricks to adding health to a busy lifestyle in the comments!

Protein Part One: Why and How Much?

I’ve been talking with a lot of fellow runners and fitness pursuers lately about food and diet changes. It has had me thinking more about the common misconceptions out there about ‘healthy’ eating. I was speaking with one friend about little changes in what she consumes and when I mentioned increasing protein, I could see her immediately react with nervousness and she said something that has stuck with me for a while: “I’m not going to be training to be a runner.”

It’s probably because I have been so immersed in learning about the various macronutrients out there that her comment struck me as bizarre. I didn’t realize, until then, that some people don’t really know what certain macronutrients do and how they work into the different fitness routines.

Protein is good for everyone. Period. It has more effect for those who actively do some sort of resistance/weight training, less so in terms of cardio. So let’s look at protein more closely. This will probably be broken into a few segments since there’s a lot of information.

Why Do We Need Protein?

Like with the various fat discussions, the basic answer to why protein is good for us comes down to the composition of protein. It is made of various amino acid chains. Amino acids are the foundation and bricks of muscle. You can’t build or maintain muscle without protein. Amino acids also regulate hormones, enzymes, and immune chemicals. Normally, we can make 12 of the various amino acids internally. The other 8, considered essential amino acids, we have to get from outside sources.

Healthy fats (like Omega-3), including, unfortunately, unhealthy fats, and protein encourage the body to feel full which in turn helps decrease cravings and overall caloric intake. As well, protein has the highest thermic effect of all macronutrients. What that means while we burn energy (ie. calories) to process what we eat, protein takes the most energy and therefore we burn more caloric fuel to process protein than we do carbohydrates or fats.

Carbohydrates can have strong effects on insulin and blood sugar, but when consumed with sufficient amounts of protein, the effect is significantly decreased.

How Much Protein Should We Have?

Currently, the daily recommendation for sedentary individuals, to maintain day-to-day functions, is around 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight or 0.5 grams per pound of body weight. The amount increases to 1.4-2 grams per kilogram of ‘desired’ body weight for active people going as high as 1 gram per pound of ‘desired’ body weight.

I would use caution when looking at ‘desired’ body weight, though. If all that matters is the number on the scale, the above works against you. For example, if I’m 160 pounds and my desired body weight is 130 pounds, by limiting my protein intake to only 130 grams of protein a day, I will drop weight, but that weight will come partially from my muscles. Your body will use muscle tissue as fuel, if need be, and by not feeding your muscles the ‘bricks’ it needs to keep itself building up, then they will become smaller. As muscle weighs more than fat, this effect will result in a lower scale weight.

A better rule to live by, for active individuals, is about 20-30 grams per meal for women and 30-40 grams per meal for men. Overall, 30% of your food on a given day should be protein. The normal maximum amount that can be absorbed at one time on average is about 30-40 grams. This varies based on the overall available muscle mass.

It’s better to have excess protein rather than excess carbohydrates. Carbohydrates convert into glycogen to fuel the muscles during any high intensity activity. If the glycogen is not used within a short time span, it is then stored for later use as fat.

As we know above, protein takes more calories/energy to process and this is partially because protein goes through many more phases before going to storage (if it goes there at all). Any extra protein in the system is first converted to glycogen as fuel for muscles. Any extra is then changed again and used to build up lean muscle mass to a finite amount (varying based on muscle size, so less so for women). After that, it is converted back into glycogen and stored in the muscle as fuel if it is not used right away. It is only after that point, that is could potentially be stored as fat. Keep in mind each step in this process requires converting the protein which in turn burns calories.

In comparing protein to carbohyrdates in terms of processing, it’s easy to see that overloading on carbs can quickly lead to fat store build up. There is 1 step in the conversion process. With protein, there is 4-5 steps that it goes through before it could potentially enter the fat stores of the body. Protein, in addition to going to the muscles first and staying longer, takes 4-5 times more energy to process so it burns way more calories on the way which in turn creates more places for the protein fuel to go before becoming fat.

Is it possible to have too much of protein? Yes, probably it is. It’s possible to have too much of anything, really. The key thing here though is that the limit of ‘too much’ in terms of protein is extremely high and much harder to reach than the limit of carbohydrates or fats. The average person would be very hard pressed to hit that limit without intense over-supplementation. Hitting the carbohydrate limit is easy and the majority of us do it ever day, especially when we fail to combine carbohydrate consumption with high intensity interval training of some kind (not steady-state cardio).

In part two, I’ll tackle the various sources of protein, the traps of ‘high protein’ labels, and ways to increase protein in your daily meals.

Also, keep an eye out this weekend for the start-up of my (protein) shake series!

Trans Fat: The Evil Fat

This post is going to be pretty short since the information sums up really well: Don’t consume trans fat.

Don’t worry, that wasn’t the entire post, but if you only take one thing away today from my post, that should be the one.

What is Trans Fat?

Trans fat is a highly processed, hydrogenated version of unstaturated fat. It’s man-made to increase shelf-life and to add taste to foods and other consumable products. It is not found naturally unlike saturated and unsaturated fats. This means our body wasn’t meant to process it and that consuming it forces our body to attempt to break down a foreign substance. Trans fats also pack very densely into our storage cells, allowing our body to store more of it.

Trans fat is known to increase the risks of:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic diseases
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Lymphoma
  • Alzheimer’s

Because trans fat is a fat, it competes with other fats for the fat receptors in the body. This is an issue for two reasons. When trans fat attaches to a fat receptor, our body is taking it in, but that also means one less receptor for our body to take in the good fats like Omega-3.

In my post about Omega-3 and Omega-6, I wrote about the competition between the two fats and trying to add more balance, aiming towards a ratio of 4-1:1 of Omega-3 to Omega-6. That is because you have a finite number of fat receptors and they will take what is there. Increasing the amount of Omega-3 increases the chances of more Omega-3 in your system and, by proxy, reducing the amount of Omega-6 in your system.

The same works with trans fat versus Omega-3. The more trans fat attached to receptors, the less receptors for your Omega-3 intake. Since Omega-3 is linked to increases in HDL (good cholesterol) and decreases in LDL (bad cholesterol), this competition with trans fat also has a negative effect on your cholesterol levels. Trans fat lowers HDL, significantly. A single meal high in trans fat can contribute to the progression of heart disease. There is no ‘consume in moderation’ when it comes to trans fat.

Sources of Trans Fat

Trans fat (and it’s evil partner high fructose corn syrup) can be found in many various items:

  • Margarine
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Shortening, including any pre-packaged baked goods such as:
    • Crackers
    • Cookies
    • Doughnuts
    • Cakes
    • Pastries
    • Muffins
    • Croissants
    • Snack foods
    • Fried foods (french fries and breaded foods)

On the topic of that last note, frying in ‘trans fat free’ oil is bull. Period. Food items, including oil, change properties when heated or cooled, especially at extreme temperatures. Heating and maintaining oils to the temperatures needed to fry a food item, changes the oil’s structure so that it, essentially, becomes a trans fat.  I think it’s great that fast food places want to move towards healthier offerings, but realistically, that isn’t going to happen while food is prepared in giant vats of oil.

It can be hard to pass up the convenience of fast food, and I will be the first to admit I have a weakness for McDonald’s sausage and egg mcmuffins, as bad as they are for me, but there is no middle ground with trans fat. Every little bit does hurt you, and there is no way to balance it out health-wise.

Saturated Fat: The Mid-Way Fat

Apologies for the mini-hiatus. Injuries, work, life in general conspired against me. Things are more or less under control again so back to the posting!

Recently, I suffered a set-back in my running training. In particular, I injured my knee (with a leg press machine no less!) and I have been working on recovery for it given I have a half marathon coming up this weekend. The decision of going is still up in the air at this point.

So how is this all related to the post today? Well, one of the things I’ve been doing to help my joints recover and strengthen is focussing on my Omega-3 intake. The average person should be getting 3 grams a day. Runners, athletes, and active people who work their joints more frequently should be getting three times that. So as I gulped down my 2 tablespoons of Omega-3 oil, I remembered that I had promised to discuss the other siblings in the Fat family.

Thus, here we are! Saturated fats. I’ll be blunt here: saturated fats, while not the worst fat sibling, are really not your best friend when compared to the golden child, unsaturated. That being said, saturated fats are not nearly as unhealthy as previously thought and certainly do not compare to trans fats on the unhealthy scale. You can have saturated fats in your diet and still call it healthy. Tran fats serve no nutritional value and any trans fat added to a diet pretty much drags it down into the non-healthy spectrum. We’ll leave trans fat alone today, though, since it’s saturated fat’s turn in the spotlight!

Saturated Fat

The first thing we’re probably all asking is, “What really makes saturated fat different from unsaturated?” And no, the answer isn’t as simple as the ‘un’ in front since that really doesn’t help those of us who flunked science (and even those of us who didn’t).

When we talked about unsaturated fats, we looked at their form at the molecular level. Unsaturated fats are better because they break down easily due to a kink/weakness in their form that allows for easier processing and absorption. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature due to this ‘kink’. Saturated fats don’t have this kink in their form. They’re more sturdy and that makes them more compact. An example of this is in the room temperature scenario above. Where unsaturated fats are liquid or viscous, saturated fats remaind solid. That’s why natural nut butters, like peanut butter, need to be refridgerated to keep their form, and tend to separate in room temperature settings. The normal jar of Skippy, Kraft, or Jif can sit in your cupboard and not change. Most of these brands have started to make ‘natural’ or Omega-3 versions of their recipes but the price is often quite more for less product. It’s worth it, if you must have peanut butter, since the ‘more product’ aspect of the cupboard versions, is really not going to add healthy value to your diet. Adding more of something that is less healthy for you doesn’t provide much of a bonus.

Why is Saturated Fat Suddenly ‘Healthy’?

Well, it’s not, really. It’s just less unhealthy than previously thought, and often the rest of the diet affects the health value as well. The main issues associated with excessive saturated fat intake, like increased body fat, cardiovascular disease, and blood lipid issues, are often present when saturated fat is joined with a diet that is high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and when the intake of saturated and unsaturated fats is not balanced.

The key here is to avoid combining low unsaturated fat intake with high saturated fat intake, high sugar, and refined carbohydrates. The best solution, in my opinion, is to cut the carbs and sugar, and increase the Omega-3s. If you’re not sold on the benefits of Omega-3 and unsaturated fats, check out the post I linked earlier. Fat can be your friend!

The Side-Effects of Too Much Saturated Fat

Diets that have too much unsaturated fat are linked to heart disease. This is linked to the increase in LDL cholesterol (which Omega-3 helps control and lower). Along with heart disease, unbalanced or high levels saturarated fat diets are associated with:

  • Kidney disease
  • Stroke
  • Breast cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Prostate cancer
  • Mutliple sclerosis

Sources of Saturated Fat

So we know we want to avoid excess saturated fat, keeping it in check with our unsaturated best friend, Omega-3, but to do that, we need to know from where we get our saturated fat.

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Coconut oil
  • Butter
  • Palm oil
  • Beef

Just because something is a source of saturated fat, does not mean we should avoid it and it is bad for us. We know coconut oil is good for us as is beef, both in moderation. The stearic acid in things like beef, lowers LDL (bad cholesterol). Lauric acid (found in coconut oil) increases HDL (good cholesterol, also in Omega-3) as well as boosting the immune system.

Coconut oil is also a good oil for cooking as it doesn’t break down like most oils do when heated. Oils that break down while cooking change their structures, often becoming trans fats even if they did not start that way, losing most of their health benefits. Interally, coconut oil is processed by the body differently, being used as energy first, unlike most other oils. Often, when coconut oil has been linked to negative effects on the body, it was refined/processed coconut oil that was used.

Beef that is fed grain has higher levels of saturated fat than beef that is fed grass. It is also shown that grain-fed beef has higher levels of Omega-6 (which we already get in excess) than grass-fed beef.

Hopefully, the above helps show that not all saturated fats are equal and there are ways to keep your fat ratio balanced. Saturated fats may not be your friend, but they’re definitely better than trans fats, which I’ll tackle next time.

May 2 – Abs & Interval Cardio

I have a half marathon on Saturday. It’s my second of the year and unfortunately due to my recent illness, I had to cut back on my durance training the last couple weeks to allow myself to recover. Today was my first attempt at running since becoming sick, so I made it a half day of resistance and half day of interval cardio, taking it easier on the cardio. The goal was to get some miles on the feet, not attempt a long distance.

Group 1 – Repeat 4 times
Dragonflies: 15 reps – note: note: you want to have control the whole time, keeping your back straight as you reach the lower parts of the movement. Go as low as you can before your back arches, using your contracted abs to keep everything stable. Do not swing or bend your legs to get up and don’t go past the chest. You want a straight motion.
Scissor Leg Lowers: 20 reps (10 each leg change) – note: unlike in the video, I do a 2 second pause between switching legs. Like in the dragonflies above, focus on the core and keeping the lower back flat. You can rest your head on the ground if neck discomfort is an issue.
Heel Touches: 20 reps per side – note: try to raise your chest high enough so your shoulder blades are off the ground. If you have neck/throat/chest discomfort doing this, you can rest the head back down on the ground. It is best if you start with a pelvic tilt before raising your head/shoulders. Contract it down into the ground to form a strong core first.

Cardio
Distance: 2.37 miles
Time: 24:58
Interval running: 6.5 mph (2 minutes), 6.0 mph (2 minutes), 3.5 mph (1 minute)
Incline: 1.0 (15 minutes), 0.5 (5 minutes), 0.0 (5 minutes)