Fitness Resources

Author: Mark Mayes

8 Things that Slow Down Your Metabolism

Slowing Down Metabolism

How many times have you thought to yourself, “I can’t lose weight because my metabolism is slow.” Over the past two decades as nutritionists, we’ve heard that time and again from our clients. How do you know if your metabolism is actually slow? Can it be fixed? And is the problem really your metabolism?

Simply put, metabolism is the way your body converts the food and drink you consume for energy, and is usually measured in calories. We can determine how many calories your body burns each day by plugging information into a variety of formulas that have been designed to measure this. Click here to access the formulas and see what you get. As there is no single calculation that is considered the best, we recommend that you do all of the formulas, which will give you a range in which your metabolism may fall. A more accurate way is to have your metabolism measured through indirect calorimetry, which uses a machine to measure oxygen consumption. In less than 10 minutes you can know your resting metabolic rate (RMR).

Metabolism is a complex process that’s affected by more than just what you eat and how much you exercise. There are a number of factors that might be sabotaging your metabolism, and you might not even know it.

1. INCONSISTENT MEAL TIMES

Inconsistent meal times

When your meals times come at regularly spaced intervals, your body uses up the calories for fuel and burns more calories in between meals. If your eating pattern is erratic, your body gets confused and isn’t quite sure when the next meal is coming, so it goes into conservation mode. Calorie burn is reduced and more food is put into storage (fat cells and glycogen stores).

2. GETTING TOO LITTLE SLEEP

Numerous studies have shown that sleep is a key factor in gaining and losing weight. When you do not get enough sleep, hormones that control hunger and fullness go haywire. Too much ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and too little leptin (the fullness hormone) get produced, which leaves you feeling hungry all day and you lose the ability to know when you are full. Plus, more cortisol gets produced, which increases cravings for starchy, sugary and fatty foods. Recent studies on chronic sleep deprivation suggest that the calories you eat are burned less efficiently. Aim for 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep each night.

3. NOT EATING ENOUGH

Not Eating Enough

If you are “dieting” to lose weight, eating too few calories can actually backfire and keep you from achieving your goal. Yes, creating a calorie deficit will help you lose weight, but there is a point in each individual that cutting calories too low will put the body into starvation mode and slow down metabolism to keep you alive. Make sure you get enough calories and a balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) to keep your metabolism from crashing. Read more about macros here.

4. SKIPPING OUT ON STRENGTH TRAINING

Most people make the mistake of only doing cardio (aerobic) exercise because it burns a good amount of calories while it’s being done. But after the exercise is over, calorie burn returns to resting levels. Strength training is a key component of metabolism because it is directly linked to muscle mass. The more active muscle tissue you have, the higher your metabolic rate. Whether you lift weights, use resistance bands or use your own body weight for resistance, resistance creates microtears in the muscle tissue. As your body repairs these tears, muscle tissue grows and requires more calories to stay alive. One of the best ways to strength train to get the best response from your muscle is to focus on the eccentric (or lowering) portion of any move. Eccentric moves are more muscularly damaging and require more effort to repair than concentric movements (the lifting portion of a move), and thus increase metabolism more. So, slow down when you strength train to increase your metabolism.

5. SITTING TOO MUCH

Sitting Too Much

If you exercise an hour a day, but spend the other 23 hours sitting or lying down, your metabolism will slow down. Sitting for longer than 20 minutes can put your body into a more relaxed, non-energy-burning state. If your job keeps you chained to a desk or behind the wheel, get up once an hour to move around for a few minutes. Periodically moving is shown to help decrease triglycerides, blood sugar, waistlines and cholesterol as well as cause a small spike in metabolism.

6. WHAT YOU DRINK

Consider this tip a two-for-one: Drinking too little water leads to dehydration, which can cause you to burn up to 2% fewer calories. All your body’s cellular functions require water, so sip it often. Drinking ice cold water can increase your metabolism by a few calories as your body heats the water to body temperature. Aim for at least 2 liters of water a day; drink more during hot and humid weather and when you sweat. At the other extreme, too much alcohol can impact your metabolism because excessive alcohol causes your liver to focus on breaking down alcohol molecules instead of burning fat. Plus, the calories from alcohol can add up quickly and impact weight.

7. YOU’RE NOT GETTING ENOUGH CALCIUM

The mineral best known for building strong bones plays a key role in fat metabolism, which determines whether you burn calories or store them as fat. Some of the best dietary sources of calcium come from dairy—organic milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese—which also benefit muscles because they contain whey and casein, proteins that help to build muscle and prevent muscle breakdown. Research from McMaster University showed that women who consumed more dairy lost more fat and gained more muscle mass than those who consumed less.

8. STRESS

Stress

We’ve saved the best for last. Stress is probably the number-one factor impacting metabolism. It increases the production of cortisol, a hormone that increases appetite and makes us reach for comfort foods. It can decrease our desire for exercise, even though exercise is a powerful stress-buster. Stress slows digestion, causing a lower need to metabolize calories. Plus, stress can impact both the quality of sleep and number hours we sleep, which, as described earlier, can decrease metabolism and promote weight gain

Post Author

Author

Tiffani Bachus

Contributor

Tiffani Bachus, RDN, is a wellness professional dedicated to helping her clients develop a healthy balanced lifestyle. An accomplished fitness competitor and dancer, Tiffani won Fitness America and Arizona Dancing With The Stars and has graced the covers of numerous fitness health magazines including Oxygen Magazine. She has been featured as a fitness expert on Channels 3 and 15 in Arizona and is a columnist for Oxygen and Clean Eating Magazines. Tiffani co-authored the book, No Excuses! 50 Ways to ROCK Breakfast featuring 50 healthy clean eating breakfast recipes. Tiffani is also a Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor.

50 Ways to Cut Calories

by Len Kravitz, PhD on Dec 13, 2017

Review research about why diets and dieters continue to fail, and learn how small changes can lead to big results.

For the first time ever, overeating is a larger problem than starvation among the world’s overall population (Buchanan & Sheffield 2017). Losing weight—and, perhaps more importantly, not regaining it—is a challenge facing millions of people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), global obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975. Further, 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight in 2016. Of these people, more than 650 million were obese (WHO 2017). In 2013, the American Medical Association House of Delegates declared obesity a “disease” requiring treatment because of the multiple medical, functional and psychological complications associated with it.

There are numerous “remedies” for being overweight or obese. People buy the newest weight loss books, cut out sugar, eat low-fat and/or low-carb diets, and try the latest quick-fix weight loss products or programs. Yet none of these “solutions” has resolved the obesity epidemic.

This article presents an energy balance update and contemporary understandings of why diets don’t work and why people are missing the mark. Fitness professionals can use the 50 easy-to-implement calorie-cutting ideas presented, along with information about the evidence-based small-steps approach, to help clients start off the New Year with a personalized, realistic and long-lasting healthy eating plan.

Why Do Diets Fail?

Dieting can be defined as a deliberate attempt to restrict food consumption and achieve (or maintain) a desired body weight (Buchanan & Sheffield 2017). The inherent message in many diet plans is that certain foods or food groups are making us fat, and we must largely or completely avoid them. Although numerous plans claim to be medically sound, the associated long-term, health-related benefits are incomplete, and the restrictive nature of these plans makes them difficult to follow and maintain. However, the diet industry continues to be focused on which foods we should eat. While this appears to be a successful sales and marketing approach, it doesn’t educate people about the negative effects of consuming large quantities of food and sugary drinks, a primary factor in ongoing global weight gain. The fact is, “The development of obesity by necessity requires positive energy imbalance over and above that required for normal growth and development” (Hall et al. 2012). There’s no way of getting around it—a person who eats and drinks too much is going to gain weight, and a person who seeks to lose weight must limit calorie intake.

What Do We Know About Dieters?

After decades of research investigating “the battle of the diets,” a new line of study is examining the psychosocial factors linked to successful and unsuccessful dieters (Buchanan and Sheffield 2017). Recent findings submit that a key factor in dietary success is adherence to the diet. Successful dieters have resilient adherence; how or why they develop this commanding capacity is yet to be determined.

This pioneering research also indicates that people who fail at dieting often adopt an “all-or-nothing” approach, thinking in a dichotomous way (i.e., their thoughts go in two directions) (Buchanan & Sheffield 2017). By contrast, those who are successful tend to think about dieting as a process in a continuum of changes. Personal trainers who work with dichotomous-thinking clients should acknowledge small weight management victories and openly discuss lapses in an effort to teach clients that successful weight management includes ups and downs. The research by Buchanan and Sheffield offers other insightful findings that can be helpful in client interactions (see the sidebar “Research Findings on Why Dieters Fail”).

Revisiting the Three Components of Energy Balance

Consumption of fat, protein and carbohydrate not only provides energy for daily living but also determines a person’s weight. A lean adult stores about 130,000 kilocalories of fat and may have ~35 billion adipocytes (fat cells), while an extremely obese individual can store ~1 million kcal of fat and may have ~140 billion adipocytes (Hall et al. 2012). Fat is stored primarily in the form of triglycerides.

Carbohydrate is stored as glycogen, which is bound to water, in the liver and muscle. Changes in carbohydrate storage often result in sizable shifts in fluid storage. The more carbohydrates are eaten and stored, the more fluid the body retains. Fat, by contrast, does not need any water to bind with it for storage in the body, and protein needs very little water. Therefore, a person who eats a higher percentage of carbohydrate (not necessarily more calories) will retain more water, thus increasing total body weight.

As little as 2%–10% of total food intake becomes waste and is excreted. The rest is absorbed and oxidized for energy, including growth, physical activity, cell maintenance, pregnancy and lactation, and other biological life processes. These physiological processes are fueled by the energy harnessed from fat (9 kcal/gram), carbohydrate (4 kcal/g) and protein (4 kcal/g). Some foods, depending on the type of fiber content they have, are not digestible and are thus not absorbed and used by the body (Hall et al. 2012).

Hall et al. explain that common energy balance components of interest in weight management include resting energy expenditure (REE), thermic effect of food (TEF) and activity energy expenditure (AEE). REE is the energy needed throughout the day to stay alive and does not include energy used for exercise. It represents two-thirds of the body’s energy needs and can vary widely between people, primarily according to body size (the greater the body mass area, the greater the REE needed to stay alive) and body composition (muscle versus fat). Resistance training, when performed regularly, directly affects muscle mass and may influence (i.e., increase) a person’s REE. The heart, brain, liver and kidney, which weigh relatively minor amounts, demand substantial energy for life and contribute pointedly to the body’s total REE. Interestingly, scientists believe that approximately 250 kcal/day of REE are not fully accounted for by differences or variabilities between people.

TEF is linked to food processing and digestion. Owing to its dietary composition, protein elicits the highest TEF, followed by carbohydrate and then fat. TEF varies between individuals. AEE is the fuel used by the body via structured exercise and nonexercise movement (such as moving, shopping and completing daily chores). This is the factor with the greatest observable range, as many people move a lot during their waking day and exercise regularly, while others don’t move much at all (Hall et al. 2012).

The Small-Changes Approach to Combating Obesity

The small-changes approach was originally designed to support small lifestyle changes and prevent gradual weight gain (Hill 2009). It has evolved to be a wide-ranging strategy that incorporates minor changes in diet and physical activity to combat overweight and obesity. The concept is that small changes, such as cutting calories or making food substitutions, are much easier to implement and maintain than many traditional dietary interventions.

Figure 2

Four Reasons Why the Small-Changes Strategy May Work

A 17-member task force from the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists and the International Food Information Council evaluated the efficacy of the small changes obesity intervention. According to Hill, there are four major reasons why this approach may succeed:

  1. Small changes are more realistic to achieve and maintain than large ones. From years of research and observation, the committee concurred that large behavioral and lifestyle changes are the most difficult to sustain. However, small changes—such as simple food substitutions (i.e., replacing a 12-ounce regular soda with a glass of water with lime)—are quite doable and maintainable.
  2. Even small changes influence body weight regulation. Hill contends that most people in the United States gradually gain weight over time. He explains that a slight increase in energy intake (diet) combined with a slight reduction in energy output (exercise and physical activity) can be enough to create an “energy gap” of 100 kcal/day, with a stored body fat efficiency of about 50 kcal/day. Thus, as a mean average, countless people are gaining about 2 pounds (or more) of fat per year (Hill 2009).
  3. Small, successful lifestyle changes improve self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a person’s own sense of being capable of performing in a certain manner (in this case, making small lifestyle changes) to attain certain goals (in this case, losing weight and preventing weight regain) (see Figure 2). The task force suggests that positive changes in self-efficacy may motivate people to greater weight loss progress.
  4. The small-changes approach may be applied to environmental forces. Through triumphant marketing campaigns, business entities such as restaurants, food industries and fast-food establishments have created environmental cues that encourage excessive food intake. It is hoped that the small-changes approach can successfully restrain these environmental forces (see the sidebar “The Balance Calories Initiative” for one example).

The NEAT Approach: More Moving, Less Dieting

In 2005, James Levine and colleagues introduced the concept of nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), initiating a new line of research that has investigated the role of daily posture changes—standing, walking and moving—in combating weight gain and obesity. Levine and his team explained that NEAT comprises the energy expenditure of all nonplanned physical activities/exercises. They determined that in men and women who don’t exercise but who actively move during the day, NEAT contributes an additional 350 kcal of energy expenditure per day. Since the introduction of NEAT in 2005, scientists have sought to identify an optimal dose to recommend. (See “A Smart Way to Move” in the September 2017 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal to learn more about NEAT.)

Positive Lifestyle Changes

“Obesity is preventable” (WHO 2017). This is a crucial message for fitness professionals to convey to clients, along with the mindset that healthy eating is a habit, not a diet. With diligence and dedication, fitness professionals are leading the way to creating a healthier society. Encourage small changes to pave the way for big winning moments, one client at a time.

References

Alliance for a Healthier Generation. 2016. Alliance for a healthier generation and American beverage association issue first progress report on reducing beverage calories. Accessed Oct. 2, 2017: healthiergeneration.org/news__events/2016/11/22/1646/alliance_for_a_healthier_generation_and_american_beverage_association_ issue_first_progress_report_on_reducing_beverage_calories.

American Medical Association House of Delegates. 2013. Recognition of obesity as a disease. Resolution 420 (A-13), 2013. Accessed Oct. 24, 2017: npr.org/documents/2013/jun/ama-resolution-obesity.pdf.

Buchanan, K., & Sheffield, J. 2017. Why do diets fail? An exploration of dieters’ experiences using thematic analysis. Journal of Health Psychology, 22 (7), 906–15.

Hall, K.D., et al. 2012. Energy balance and its components: Implications for body weight. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 95, 989–94.

Hill, J.O. 2009. Can a small-changes approach help address the obesity epidemic? A report of the Joint Task Force on the American Society for Nutrition, Institute of Food Technologists, and International Food Information Council. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89, 477–84.

Levine, J.A., et al. 2005. Interindividual variation in posture allocation: Possible role in human obesity. Science, 307, 584–86.

WHO (World Health Organization). 2017. Obesity and overweight. Accessed Oct. 24, 2017. who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/.

Young, L R. 2005. The Portion Teller. New York: Morgan Road Books.

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 15, Issue 1

How Many Steps Are in a Mile?

Your steps per mile depend on your stride length

What Really Causes Muscle Spasms and Cramps?

Research helps explain the cause and best treatment of muscle spasms and cramps

 

 

 

If you’ve ever had muscle spasms or muscle cramps, you know they can be extremely painful. In some cases, a muscle may spasm so forcefully that it results in a bruise on the skin. Most muscle spasms and cramps are involuntary contractions of a muscle. A serious muscle spasm doesn’t release on its own and requires manual stretching to help relax and lengthen the shortened muscle. Spasms and cramps can be mild or extremely painful.

While they can happen to any skeletal muscle, they are most common in the legs and feet and muscles that cross two joints (the calf muscle, for example). Cramps can involve part of a muscle or all the muscles in a group. The most commonly affected muscle groups are:

  • Back of lower leg/calf (gastrocnemius).
  • Back of thigh (hamstrings).
  • Front of thigh (quadriceps).
  • Feet, hands, arms, abdomen

Muscle cramps range in intensity from a slight twitch or tic to severe pain. A cramped muscle can feel rock-hard and last a few seconds to several minutes or longer. It is not uncommon for cramps to ease up and then return several times before they go away entirely.

What Causes Muscle Cramps

The exact cause of muscle cramps is still unknown, but the theories most commonly cited include:

Other factors that have been associated with muscle cramps include exercising in extreme heat.

Push-ups fitness woman doing pushups outside on beach. Fit female sport model girl training crossfit outdoors. Mixed race Asian Caucasian athlete in her 20s.

The belief is that muscle cramps are more common during exercise in the heat because sweat contains fluids as well as electrolyte (salt, potassium, magnesium and calcium). When these nutrients fall to certain levels, the incidence of muscle spasms increases. Because athletes are more likely to get cramps in the preseason, near the end of (or the night after) intense or prolonged exercise, some feel that a lack of conditioning results in cramps.

Research Supports Altered Neuromuscular Control as the Cause of Cramps

While all these theories are being studied, researchers are finding more evidence that the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is the principal pathophysiological mechanism the leads to exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC). Altered neuromuscular control is often related to muscle fatigue and results in a disruption of muscle coordination and control.

According to a review of the literature conducted by Martin Schwellnus from the University of Cape Town, the evidence supporting both the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses as the cause of muscle cramps is not convincing. He reviewed the available literature supporting these theories and found mostly anecdotal clinical observations and one small case-control study with only 10 subjects. He also found another four clinical prospective cohort studies that clearly did not support the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses as the cause of muscle cramps. In his review, Schwellnus concludes that the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses do not offer plausible pathophysiological mechanisms with supporting scientific evidence that could adequately explain the clinical presentation and management of exercise-associated muscle cramping.

He goes on to write:

“Scientific evidence for the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is based on evidence from research studies in human models of muscle cramping, epidemiological studies in cramping athletes, and animal experimental data. Whilst it is clear that further evidence to support the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is also required, research data are accumulating that support this as the principal pathophysiological mechanism for the aetiology of exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC).”

Treating Muscle Cramps

Cramps usually go away on their own without treatment, but these tips appear to help speed the healing process:

Preventing Muscle Cramps

Until we learn the exact cause of muscle cramps, it will be difficult to say with any confidence how to prevent them. However, these tips are most recommended by experts and athletes alike:

Most muscle cramps are not serious. If your muscle cramps are severe, frequent, constant or of concern, see your doctor.

Sources:

Cause of Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC) – altered neuromuscular control, dehydration or electrolyte depletion? M. P. Schwellnus. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2009; 43:401-408.

Muscle Cramp. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00200.

  • Stop the activity that caused the cramp.
  • Gently stretch and massage the cramping muscle.
  • Hold the joint in a stretched position until the cramp stops.
  • Improve fitness and avoid muscle fatigue
  • Stretch regularly after exercise
  • Warm up before exercise
  • Stretch the calf muscle: In a standing lunge with both feet pointed forward, straighten the rear leg.
  • Stretch the hamstring muscle: Sit with one leg folded in and the other straight out, foot upright and toes and ankle relaxed. Lean forward slightly, touch foot of straightened leg. (Repeat with opposite leg.)
  • Stretch the quadriceps muscle: While standing, hold top of foot with opposite hand and gently pull heel toward buttocks. (Repeat with opposite leg.)

Should I Count Calories or Carbs to Lose Weight?

 

What matters most when weight loss is your goal.

What is the best way to lose weight? Dieters often get confused about whether they should count calories or carbs to slim down. Much of confusion is the result of the calories vs. sugar debate. Does calorie count matter more or should you reduce sugary carbs for weight loss? And what about fat? To get the answer, it’s important to sort through the nutrition facts.

Counting Calories or Carbs to Lose Weight

To lose weight, you must create a calorie deficit.That means you need to burn more calories than you consume. In very simple terms, it means that most of us need to eat less and move more. We can burn more calories through exercise or increased daily activity (for example, by boosting your step count) You can also create a deficit if you consume fewer calories each day.  So calories do count.

But your intake of fat, sugar, and carbohydrates can affect the total number of calories you consume each day. That means you should pay attention to those numbers as well.

How Each Affects Your Diet

Here is a brief explanation of how consuming calories in the form of  fat, sugar, and carbohydrates can affect your total caloric intake:

  • Fat.  A single gram of fat provides nine calories of energy. A single gram of carbohydrate or protein only provides four calories. If you eat foods high in fat, your total caloric intake can increase quickly because the calorie cost is so high. But eating a reasonable amount of healthy fat can be smart for your diet.
    Fat helps you to feel full and satiated. If you eat a small amount of fatty food, you may feel satisfied sooner and eat less overall. For that reason, foods that contain healthy fats like certain types of fish, nuts or avocado can be a smart addition to your weight loss diet.
  • Sugar.  Sugar itself isn’t necessarily bad for you. But many of us consume way too much sugar without even knowing it. Sugar is added to many of the processed foods we eat.  Foods like ketchup, salsa or canned soups may contain added sugar even though they aren’t sweet.  And many of the drinks we consume are loaded with sugar. Increased sugar consumption has been linked to serious health consequences such as an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.
    Aside from the health consequences of consuming too much added sugar, there are diet drawbacks as well. Many experts feel that the more sugar we eat, the more sugar we crave.  So if you can reduce your sugar intake, you may be able to reduce your total caloric intake and lose weight.

The Bottom Line 

To create a calorie deficit and lose weight, most people find it easiest to count calories. The calorie count is easy to find for most foods and easy to tally with a weight loss app or tracker. Also, your calorie count is what matters in the end if you want to lose weight.

However, as you count calories, it is helpful to look at your balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. If you keep your carb intake within recommended guidelines (50-65% of your total calorie intake) that leaves enough room to eat a healthy amount of protein and fat. By consuming a healthy, balanced diet, you are more likely to provide your body with the fuel it needs to stay active.

7 Worst Foods for Your Heart

In the United States, heart disease kills more people than any other cause. But here’s some good news: There’s a lot that you can do to lower your risk of heart disease. In fact, seven of 10 risk factors for heart disease are things you can control. While you can’t control your age, genetics and gender (men are at higher risk), you can significantly lessen your probability of heart disease by not smoking, being physically active, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy body weight, and controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar (the last four risk factors are closely tied to what you put in your mouth). By rarely consuming seven of the most damaging foods for your heart, you’ll significantly lower your risk.

Keep in mind, however, that just because certain foods are bad for your heart, it doesn’t mean that you can never eat them. If you eat an antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy diet with health-promoting foods (like fruits, vegetables, pulses, lean poultry, fish and whole grains), occasionally eating a food that isn’t good for your heart won’t increase your risk of heart disease. As with all foods, the dose makes the poison. Would you gain weight from eating one small piece of chocolate every day? Not likely. What if you ate a whole bag of candy every day? Probably. The same is true for the worst foods for your heart—the role they play in your overall health depends on the overall quality of your diet.

fried-foods

1. Deep-fried Foods

Deep frying creates trans-fats, a type of fat known to raise the bad (LDL) type of cholesterol in the body, while simultaneously lowering the good kind. This means that all-time American favorites like French fries and fried chicken are a double-whammy for your ticker. Not surprisingly, fried foods have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease in a number of studies. Deep-fried foods often contain saturated fats and are high in salt, as well, which can also increase one’s risk of heart disease.

Instead: If you want to make a heart-healthy version of French fries, spritz them with a healthy oil, like olive or avocado oil, and then bake them. Here are some recipes to check out: Skinny Avocado Fries, Roasted Tarragon Sweet Potato Fries and Carrot Fries. And instead of frying your chicken, beef or tofu, dip them in egg whites, use a shake-and-bake bag and toss them in the oven to bake. For stir-fries, use a small amount of avocado oil, olive oil or canola oil and keep the heat on low.

 

fast-food

2. Fast Food

It’s no secret that fast food is rarely healthy food and, in fact, can have a negative impact on the heart. That’s because the majority of fast food items are fried, high in salt (which can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for a heart attack) and high in sugar and calories (which can lead to obesity and diabetes and increase the risk of a heart attack), all of which put a strain on the heart.

Instead: At the beginning of each week, plan your meals in advance, focusing on lean proteins, pulses, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, eggs and low-fat dairy products. If you’ve planned and know what you’re going to eat in advance, it’s much easier to avoid making quick, last-minute fast-food pit stops when hunger strikes. When you do go to fast-food restaurants, choose healthier options whenever possible, such as grilled chicken breast sandwiches, salads, and bean and salsa wraps.

 

margarine

3. Margarine

Once believed to be better for your heart than butter because it’s made from plant oils, margarine has since proven to be the true villain when it comes to heart disease. That’s because trans fat is created when the plant oil is processed and made into a solid. Trans fats are associated with a 34% increase in death, a 28% risk in death from coronary heart disease and a 21% increase in risk of cardiovascular disease.

Instead: To avoid trans fat, choose a soft spread that doesn’t contain the word “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on the ingredient list.

 

processed-meats

4. Processed Meats

Processed meats include foods such as bacon, sausage, pepperoni, salami, cold cuts and cured meats. Harvard researchers found that those who eat processed meats daily (50 grams—that’s less than 2 ounces!) have a 42% higher risk of heart attacks. Researchers speculate that it may have to do with the extremely high levels of sodium and preservatives found in processed meats.

Instead: Limit processed meats to once a week, as researchers speculate this would pose only a small risk. Choose beans, eggs, fresh fish, poultry and lean red meat as an alternative.

salt

5. Salt

Found in most packaged foods, chips, canned products and condiments, and added at the table and during cooking, salt intake has climbed in most people’s diets to a whopping 4,000 mg a day. This is significantly more than the recommended 2,300mg maximum, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, which combined data from more than 100 studies. The researchers concluded that there would be 1.65 million fewer deaths each year if average sodium intake was closer to 2,000 mg per day, and reducing sodium intake to 2,300mg daily would prevent 10% of deaths related to cardiovascular disease.

Instead: Use flavor-enhancing techniques to replace salt when you can—sprinkle spices, squeeze lemon and use flavorful vinegars. Limit packaged foods to once or twice a week, and read labels to determine the sodium content of foods so you can either limit them or choose no-salt-added or low-salt alternatives.

 

sugar-sweetened-drinks

6. Sugar-sweetened Drinks

Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute more added sugar to the typical American diet than any other source. Sugary drinks are particularly harmful because they have a high glycemic load, contribute to inflammation, and raise blood glucose levels, blood triglycerides and small, dense LDL particles (which are much more dangerous than light, fluffy LDL particles), all of which increase the risk of heart disease. A large, two-decade-long study involving 40,000 men found that those who had one sugary drink per day increased their risk of having a heart attack or dying of a heart attack by 20% compared to men who rarely drank sugary beverages.

Instead: Choose water, seltzer or unsweetened beverages. If you have a hard time drinking unflavored water, get creative and spritz lemon, orange or lime into your water, or try these water infusions: Watermelon Cucumber ACV Detox Water Infusion, Vitamin C Infused Water and Pineapple, Lemon Ginger Detox Drink.

 

baked-goods

7. Baked Goods

Pies, cakes, cookies, donuts and other baked goods can be especially bad for the heart because they contain both saturated fat (found in butter and other full-fat dairy products) and trans fat (found in partially hydrogenated oils used in vegetable shortening, margarine, packaged snacks, coffee creamers and fried foods). They can also raise LDL cholesterol levels, while also lowering HDL (the good) cholesterol levels. These treats also are high in sugar, which intensifies the damage they can do to the heart.

Instead: Choose healthier dessert options that don’t contain trans fat (make sure ingredient lists don’t contain the words “hydrogenated” and “partially hydrogenated” and are very low in saturated fat. Here are some tasty treats to try at home: Chocolate Drizzled Granola Balls, Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Guac-Chocolate Mousse and  Skinny Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

The Nutrition Twins

The Nutrition Twins

Contributor

Tammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse (“Lyssie”) Lakatos, The Nutrition Twins®, share a passion to teach people how to eat healthfully and exercise so they’ll have energy to live happy lives.

DE-STRESS EATING WITH GOOD MOOD FOODS

Post Author

Author

Dr. Erin Nitschke

Contributor

Dr. Erin Nitschke, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist & NSCA-CPT, is a Health & Human Performance college educator and fitness blogger. She has over 14 years of experience in personal training, education, and instructional design. To Erin, being fit means finding an equilibrium between all dimensions of wellness. Erin is personally and professionally dedicated to teaching students and clients how to achieve such balance through learning and focused skill development.

Are you Nutty if You Eat Nuts?

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Eat better

Tuesday, Nov 28, 2017

Are you Nutty if You Eat Nuts?

A common nutrition question we get at The Cooper Institute is “Are nuts good or bad for you?” Many years ago when low fat diets were popular, and before we or anyone else knew any better, people were advised to limit their intake of nuts because of their high fat content. My, how times have changed!  Rather than being the villain of yesteryear, fat is now acknowledged as an important component of a healthful diet. Before I go any further, it’s important to realize that not all dietary fats are alike. While monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are regarded as healthful, individuals both young and old are still advised to limit their intake of saturated and trans fats.

So what about nuts?  First off, nuts are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. While they do have a high fat and calorie content, nuts are loaded with heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fat, and most nuts are relatively low in saturated fat. The key thing to remember is moderation. No one is saying that it’s good to consume an endless amount of nuts or peanut butter every day. On the other hand, there is strong scientific evidence that consuming an ounce (a small handful) of nuts daily is associated with a marked reduction in the risk of chronic disease or early death. Let’s take a look at a couple of recent state-of-the art studies.

In a 2015 paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 20742 male physicians with an average age of 67 years completed a comprehensive food-frequency questionnaire between 1999 and 2002. The group was followed for an average of 9.6 years, during which 2732 all-cause deaths occurred. The relationship between nut consumption and risk of death was evaluated after taking several other factors that might ‘muddy the waters’ into account. Results are shown in Figure 1.

As shown in the Figure, there was a decreased risk of all-cause mortality across increased nut consumption category, with the group consuming 5 or more servings per week enjoying a 26% lower risk of death during the study period as compared to the group who never consumed nuts.

In another manuscript published in 2016, researchers combined 20 published studies to examine the relationship between nut consumption and risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as diabetes and other causes of mortality. Using no intake of nuts as the reference group, for every 1 ounce increase in daily nut intake there was a 21% and 15% reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, respectively. All-cause and diabetes mortality was reduced by 22% and 39% per 1 ounce increase in daily nut intake, respectively.

Want more NUTrition information? Here’s a link to a document that provides the nutrients in one ounce of many types of nuts. Want more information on what one ounce of nuts really looks like? Here’s a great graphic. By the way, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter are equivalent to a 1 ounce serving of nuts.

An extremely important thing to mention is that if you are planning to increase your nut intake, be sure to cut back in other areas, especially if you are watching your waistline. A great place to start cutting back is on so-called ‘empty calories.’ These would include foods and beverages with a lot of added sugars (e.g., soda), as well as foods that contain a lot of highly refined carbohydrate (e.g., doughnuts) and saturated fat (e.g., whole milk dairy).  If you choose to drink, go easy on the alcohol as well!

References

Hshieh, T., Petrone, A., Gaziano, J., Djousse, L. (2015). Nut consumption and risk of mortality in the Physicians’ Health Study.  Am J Clin Nutr, 101(2):407-412. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.114.099846

Aune, D., Keum, N., Giovannucci, E., Fadnes, L., Boffetta, P., Greenwood, D….Norat, T. (2016). Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality:a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Med, 14(1):207.  DOI: 10.1186/s12916-016-0730-3

9 Ways to Make Your Run More Fun

Running is a convenient, low-cost and effective way to get a great workout, and, because of its low barrier to entry, it’s the mode of exercise many turn to for their personal health and fitness. Unfortunately, regular endurance running or jogging, whether outdoors or on a treadmill, can become tedious and, to be frank, a bit dull, causing many to abandon their running efforts. If this describes your feelings about running, but you really want to enjoy the benefits, here are nine tips that can help make your running workouts more fun and interactive.

1. Trail running

Running on a hard surface like pavement or asphalt can be uncomfortable and running in a straight line is pretty boring. The solution? Trail running, which adds a ton of variety because the terrain changes and adds additional physical challenges, plus you have the added bonus of beautiful and varied scenery.

2. Fartlek training

From the Swedish word for “speed play,” Fartlek protocols call for running sprints at various intervals, either for distance or time. To break up the monotony of your run, pick a spot in the distance and run as hard as you can to get there. You will be out of breath at the end of your sprint, so walk until your heart rate and breathing drop, and then resume your normal running pace until you decide it’s time for another sprint.

3. Sprinting at a track or field

Specific speed training involves running as fast as possible and then taking a proper rest period. Speed training requires an all-out, 100% effort. To do that, each sprint requires a rest interval that is approximately five to six times as long as the sprint. For example, if you run 50 meters in eight seconds, you should allow approximately 40-45 seconds for proper recovery before the next sprint. To maintain energy and 100% effort with each sprint, be sure to take a full three- to five-minute rest period after a series of sprints to replenish your energy stores. A good workout might include five sprints followed by three minutes of rest, five more sprints followed by four minutes of rest, and then five to seven more sprints (plus a cool-down) to finish the workout.

4. Running hills

If you played any outdoor sports growing up, you probably ran hills at some point. The late Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton made hill running popular for football players back in the early ‘80s because it helped him develop the strength and power required to break tackles. As a result, many coaches today use hill running to help athletes improve their fitness levels. While they’re tough, hills repeats are incredibly effective and worth adding to your runs whenever possible.

5. Stair running

ACE shot this video featuring the San Diego Convention Center stairsbecause stair running is effective to get in great shape. If you live in an area that isn’t that hilly, you can probably find an outdoor stadium or bleachers where you can run stairs. When you’re traveling, look for a good set of stairs for a workout. Just like running hills, running stairs is hard, but provides the benefits of running without the monotony of jogging.

6. Listen to podcasts or comedy routines

We all have our favorite playlists we like to listen to when exercising, but these can get a little stale over time. Download some podcasts or type in a favorite comedian on a service such as Pandora and listen while working out. Listening to a good podcast interview or a great comedy routine is an easy way to engage the brain, which means it’s not as focused on the physical work you’re performing. It can also make the time feel as though it’s moving faster, which can help you to log distance or volume.

7. Agility drills

If you’re looking for a fun way to get in a good cardio workout without the repetition of linear running, agility drills are a great option. Examples of agility drills include low- to moderate-intensity movements such as high knees, backpedaling, lateral shuffling or multidirection cone drills, all of which can be done with or without additional equipment such as resistance bands. Pick an open, flat surface, set up a few cones and you’ve got everything you need for a fun and challenging agility workout.

8. Take a hike

If you live in an area with access to a good trail system, investing in a comfortable pair of hiking boots and a hydration pack can provide you with a great option for aerobic endurance training without the repetitive stress of running. Hiking up and down steep hills challenges your body while you experience the benefits of being out in nature (of which there are many). If you have children, hiking is a great way to make exercise an activity the entire family can enjoy together.

9. Gamify running

If you’re the type of person who loves to play games, find an app that adds a competitive or playful element to your workouts. Zombies, Run!, for example, is an interactive app that creates the sounds of being chased by the undead, which can be a highly motivating way to make your run more challenging. Even if you’re not a fan of zombie culture, there are other apps that can help you gamify your run—a few searches should help you find the right ones for your interests.

Aerobic training is an important component of a well-rounded exercise program. Both steady-state workouts, such as trail running, and interval training, such as sprints or hills, can provide important health benefits, while also improving your aerobic capacity. And remember, for optimal safety and enjoyment, make sure you stay well-hydrated and pay attention to your surroundings.

Post Author

AUTHOR

Pete McCall

Health and Fitness Expert

Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and long-time player in the fitness industry. He has been featured as an expert in the Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Runner’s World and Self. He holds a master’s degree in exercise science and health promotion, and several advanced certifications and specializations with NSCA and NASM.

Nutritional Strategies to Fight Inflammation

Your client’s shoulder is on fire. The excruciating pain feels like a blowtorch burning his rotator cuff. He has the biggest job interview of his life starting next week, Army Ranger school, and he must be ready. Ibuprofen, ice, cyrotherapy and turmeric—there must be some anti-inflammatory that works immediately to stop the pain and prevent damage.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it can be challenging to know how to help or advise your client. While it is beyond your scope of practice to diagnose or treat inflammation, a growing body of research suggests that certain nutritional components have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce the pain of inflammation. Read on to learn more about acute and chronic inflammation, its causes and effects on the body, and what the research says about nutritional strategies that are purported to help tame the fire of inflammation.

Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation: What’s the Difference?

Inflammation is the immune system’s way of trying to protect the body by removing stimuli that may or not be harmful and starting the healing process (Nicholson, 2016). Harmful stimuli include bacteria, viruses, chemicals and radiation (including UV rays from the sun). Non-harmful stimuli include foods like shellfish or broccoli for those who have a food sensitivity or allergy (in other words, these foods are not harmful to most people).

Without an inflammatory response, infections, wounds and other tissue damage would not be able to heal. When an injury occurs, acute inflammation can increase blood flow to the injured area, resulting in increased redness, heat and swelling. Defense cells may bring fluid to the inflamed tissue, which also causes swelling. Though symptoms stemming from inflammation can be frustrating and sideline a person from his or her normal daily activities, the root cause of the symptoms serves a purpose. Greater blood flow and immune system activation are critical steps in the healing process.

Acute inflammation starts rapidly and becomes severe quite quickly. If it doesn’t cause excess pain, this type of inflammation should be left to run its course, explains Michael Roncarati, D.P.T, C.S.C.S., director of rehabilitation for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. “We probably don’t want to blunt the local inflammatory response in the first 48 to 72 hours,” says Roncarati. That’s because taming inflammation during this time may do more harm than good by shortcutting the healing process. Instead, Roncarati recommends movement and low-level muscle contraction to help control swelling.

It is important to realize that resistance training can also be a source of inflammation caused by “damage” to the muscles cells. Inflammation increases blood supply to the damaged area, leading to the release of substances secreted by the immune system as well as growth factors to help clean up the damaged tissue and remove waste products (Hamada et al., 2005; Tidball, 2005; Charge and Rudnicki, 2004). Among these substances are free radicals. While free radicals are essential for muscle functioning and muscle growth, excess free radicals can impair muscle contraction and contribute to weakness, fatigue and dysfunction (Braakhuis, 2012; Walsh et al., 2011).

In contrast to acute inflammation, which usually lasts a few days or, in some cases, a few weeks, chronic inflammation can last for several months and even years. It may be caused by any number of diseases that cause inflammation, such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis or ulcerative colitis; exposure to a low level of a particular irritant, such as a chemical or mold, over a long period of time; or by the failure to eliminate whatever caused the acute inflammation in the first place. Additionally, chronic inflammation can eventually lead to other diseases and conditions, including atherosclerosis and some cancers.

It is worth noting that researchers have increasingly linked lifestyle factors such as being sedentary, consuming a nutrient-poor diet, experiencing high stress, and chronic use of anti-inflammatory medications with both chronic inflammation and increased vulnerability for chronic disease such as those listed above (Bosma-den Boer, van Wetten and Pruimboom, 2012).

Nutritional Strategies for Combatting Inflammation

While the root causes of chronic inflammation should always be addressed, the use of anti-inflammatory ingredients and foods can be considered as long as they do no further harm.

A healthy diet is a great place to start. In fact, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains naturally contains plant compounds that protect the body’s tissues, including muscles, from the damaging effects of excess free radicals (Powers and Jackson, 2008).

Antioxidants: C and E

However, you can get too much of a good thing if you load up on supplemental doses of antioxidants. Though vital to muscle health and functioning, in excess, vitamins C and E can impair training gains. Several studies have shown that supplemental doses of more than 1,000 mg of vitamin C impairs sports performance (Braakhuis and Hopkins, 2015). One study found that a daily supplement of 1,000 mg of vitamin C plus 235 mg (261 IU) of vitamin E interferes with cell signaling after resistance training, impairs increases in muscle strength due to regular strength training, and interferes with adaptations to endurance training (Paulsen et al., 2014a; Paulsen et al., 2014b).

While regular exercise can increase vitamin C requirements, a diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables should suffice (Gerster, 1998). The only time vitamin C supplements should be considered is in the case of deficiency or suboptimal dietary intake due to dietary restrictions.

Vitamin E prevents damage to muscle cell membranes, but vitamin E supplements aren’t necessary for the average healthy person with a sound diet. Furthermore, a significant amount of research has shown that supplemental vitamin E does not improve athletic performance or decrease muscle damage (Taghiyar et al., 2013; Ciocoiu, Badescu and Paduraru, 2007; Gaeini, Rahnama and Hamedinia, 2006; Sharman, Down and Norgan,1976). The best way to get plant compounds, including antioxidants to tame excess inflammation without decreasing the acute inflammatory response, is to consume plenty of whole fruits, vegetables and 100% fruit or vegetable juice (Heaton et al., 2017).

Anthocyanins

Anthocyanins 1 and 2 are plant-based compounds that inhibit Cox-1 and Cox-2 enzymes. Cox-1 maintains the gut lining and tissue health, while also driving acute inflammation. Cox-2 increases inflammation and pain several hours later. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including ibuprofen, and several other drugs work by inhibiting Cox-1 and Cox-2 enzymes.

Cherries, especially tart ones, and tart cherry juice, however, are natural sources of anthocyanins 1 and 2, and research suggests they may help decrease inflammation, exercise-induced muscle pain and other symptoms of muscle damage (Bell et al., 2014). Another study found that two bottles of tart cherry juice per day for five to eight days prior to running or a damaging bout of elbow flexion contractions led to lower levels of inflammatory markers, while also decreasing strength loss and pain (Connolly, McHugh and Padilla-Zakour, 2006).

Ginger

Limited data suggests taking 2 grams of ginger, either raw or heat-treated (as found in a bottle of spice) can decrease inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness after exercise (Black et al., 2010). Two grams is a relatively small amount of ginger root that can be added to a smoothie without dramatically altering the flavor. A few brands of ginger ale or ginger drinks contain several grams of ginger. Some, though not all, studies show ginger may interact with blood thinners to increase bleeding. Anyone on blood thinners should speak to their physician first prior to taking large doses of ginger each day (Marx et al., 2015).

EPA and DHA

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA (found in fatty fish and some algae), are incorporated into cell membranes and improve fluidity of membranes, which may decrease muscle cell damage during exercise (Lembke et al., 2014).A diet high in saturated fats, which are hard at room temperature, makes cell membranes hard.

Studies examining EPA and DHA show they influence enzymes that help resolve inflammation. EPA also reduces COX-2 expression. While the research in this area is limited, several studies have shown that regular intake of EPA and DHA can help minimize inflammation, muscle soreness and perceived pain, while improving range of motion in untrained adults after a bout of eccentric exercise (Tsuchiya et al., 2016; Jouris, McDaniel and Weiss, 2011; Tartibian, Maleki and Abbasi, 2009). To date, there are no published studies examining EPA and DHA in trained adults.

Protein and Curcumin

Finally, it is worth noting that although protein is often recommended after training, particularly resistance training, to jumpstart the muscle-repair process, acute protein intake has no measurable effect on muscle damage or recovery of muscle function (Pasiakos, Lieberman and McLellan, 2014). Additionally, very limited evidence suggests curcumin, a component of turmeric, may lower the rise in inflammatory markers after exercise, but may not affect muscle soreness (McFarlin et al., 2016).

Additional Strategies for Taming Chronic Inflammation

Many dietary factors can increase chronic inflammation, including consuming a diet high in trans-fatty acids, saturated fats, sugar or refined carbohydrates. Food allergies and sensitivities may also play a role in inflammation.

Cooking techniques may also increase compounds found in foods that promote inflammation. For instance, advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are found in foods cooked on high dry heat, browned foods, animal foods higher in fat and protein, sweets such as candy and cookies, fried foods and processed packaged meats. Preliminary evidence in mice suggests a diet rich in AGEs leads to an accumulation of AGEs in tendons, which may increase inflammation and alter tendon health and contribute to tendon injuries (Skovgaard et al., 2017).

A diet higher in fiber, whole grains and plant foods and low in AGEs may help reduce inflammation. AGEs can be minimized by using low heat, slow cooking methods and marinating foods. Boiling, steaming, poaching and stewing are better than cooking over high, dry heat. Acidic marinades and polyphenol-rich foods including cranberries and cherries have also been shown to decrease AGE production during cooking (Uribarri et al, 2010).

Jenna Corbin, M.S., R.D., author of Performance Nutrition for Baseball Players, takes a systematic approach to helping clients by focusing on one or two of the biggest and easiest to modify (for the individual) contributors to chronic inflammation.

“Often this means addressing any food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances, and reducing over-processed foods while increasing produce. An approach will only be helpful and effective if the individual will implement it, so working with them to decide on what to focus on first is important,” says Corbin. 

Finally, remember that although it can be tempting to use supplements that immediately decrease inflammation, this approach may actually slow down the healing process. The best advice you can give your clients is to follow a sound diet rich in plant-based foods and fatty fish, which can go a long way toward contributing to lower levels of chronic inflammation.

Post Author

AUTHOR

Marie Spano

Contributor

Marie Spano, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., C.S.S.D., is a nutrition communications expert and sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Braves. She is co-editor of the NSCA’s Guide to Exercise and Sport Nutrition and author of hundreds of magazine and trade publication articles on a variety of topics ranging from novel food ingredients to optimal sports performance recovery foods.