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5 Nutrient Deficiencies You Need to Know About

With a well-balanced diet, it is certainly possible for a healthy person to obtain all of the vitamins and minerals he or she needs from foods alone. Dietary supplements are not a replacement for eating healthful foods; rather, they are intended to do just what their name implies—to supplement a diet.

There are circumstances, however, in which the foods we eat may not provide all of the important nutrients that our body needs, resulting in a nutrient deficiency. Here’s a quick rundown of five nutrient deficiencies that are more common than you might think.

Vitamin D: Calcium’s Best Buddy

When it comes to nutrient deficiencies, vitamin D is arguably the most common. A large majority (some reports estimate up to 95% of the U.S. population age 19 and older) does not meet recommended vitamin D intake levels. That is probably due to the fact that there aren’t a whole lot of naturally occurring food sources of vitamin D. Furthermore, the largest source of vitamin D—fortified dairy products like milk—tend to be foods that we eat less of as we grow older.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a role in helping bones absorb calcium. It is found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as certain types of mushrooms. Your body forms vitamin D naturally when skin is exposed to sunlight, but most of us don’t spend much time outside, so fortified dairy products such as milk and yogurt are going to be your best food sources of vitamin D. Adults aged 19-70 should aim to get 15 micrograms of vitamin D per day. If foods don’t provide that amount, your healthcare provider may suggest a supplement.

Vitamin E: Get Yours From Foods Instead of Pills

Next up on the list of nutrients you may not be eating enough of is vitamin E. Like vitamin D, vitamin E is also a fat-soluble vitamin, but it is found in fatty foods such nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.

About 94% of adults over age 19 eat less than the estimated average requirement for vitamin E. Due to potential health risks associated with large doses of vitamin E pills, however, widespread supplementation is not routinely recommended. Instead, shift your food intake to make sure you are eating a variety of healthful fats that will help you bump up your vitamin E levels from food-based sources to meet your needs.

Make Magnesium Matter More in Your Diet

Magnesium is a mineral that plays a role in more than 300 enzymatic pathways in your body. It helps make proteins, controls blood sugar and blood pressure, bone health and is needed for making DNA, RNA and the antioxidant glutathione.

Despite its position of supreme importance in the body, more than 60% of adults older than 19 don’t meet the estimated average requirement for magnesium. One way you can increase your intake is to bump up your intake of dark green leafy vegetable and whole grains. Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals are also a good source of this important mineral.

Iron: This One’s for the Ladies

About 14-18% of Americans currently take a supplement containing iron; and iron supplement takers tend to be overwhelmingly female. That’s because women are at higher risk for iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia due to biological factors such as menstruation and lower intakes of high heme-iron foods, such as meat, fish and poultry.

The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) states that those at high risk for insufficient iron intake include infants, young children, teenaged girls, pregnant women and premenopausal women. Animal foods such as meat, fish and poultry are good sources of the easily absorbed form of iron called heme iron.

Although plant foods contain iron, it is in the less readily absorbed non-heme iron form. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vegetarians is 1.8 times higher than for people who eat meat. If you’re concerned about iron status, check with your primary care provider who can test for deficiency and anemia before recommending you start a supplement.

Vitamin A is Important for More Than Just Your Eyes

Although vitamin A deficiency is not widespread in the North American population, slightly more than 50% percent of people still do not meet the estimated average requirement for this fat-soluble vitamin. Vitamin A is well known for the role it plays in vision, but it also impacts immune function, reproduction and your body’s cellular communication as well.

You can make sure you’re getting enough by consuming both preformed vitamin A (from animal foods, such as milk and eggs) and provitamin A, found in leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, tomatoes and fruits. Increasing the variety of both the plant and animal foods you eat ensures you get adequate amounts of the all-important vitamin A.

Learn more about how to eat for better health with Nutrition for Sports, Exercise and Weight Management. 

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Author

Katie Ferraro

Contributor

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RDN, CDE is a consultant dietitian and diabetes educator specializing in nutrition communications and family feeding. As a mom to 5 small children and creator of the popular blog The Fortified Family, Katie believes that good food fuels strong families. You can read more of her work at www.fortifiedfam.com

10 Things to Know About Fat and Exercise

Fat is not a four-letter word, although many still consider it a dirty word when it comes to nutrition, fitness and exercise. Those who lived through the ‘90s undoubtedly remember when the food industry marketed everything as “low-fat” in the guise that it was a healthier option. While it’s true that having high levels of body fat can be a risk factor for many types of chronic diseases, dietary fat—specifically, the right kinds of fat—is an essential component of a healthy diet.

Here are 10 things to know about fat as it relates to helping create the energy your body needs for your favorite physical activities.

  1. The terms “fat” and “lipids” are used interchangeably when discussing how the body metabolizes energy. Lipids include triglycerides, which are formed by combining a glycerol with three fatty acids, fatty acids and cholesterol. The majority of lipids in food and the body are in the form of triglycerides.
  1. In the human body, fat can be stored in skeletal muscle, the liver and adipose tissue, and is used for many functions. This includes providing structure for cell membranes, insulating and protecting vital organs, regulating endocrine system function (how hormones are produced), helping transport vitamins and minerals around the body, and as a source of energy for many cellular functions. Fat provides approximately 70% of the energy for bodily functions when at rest and during low-intensity physical activity.
  1. Fat contains carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Because fatty-acid chains have more carbon and hydrogen relative to oxygen, they yield more energy per gram. Fats provide 9 calories of energy per gram while proteins and carbohydrates each produce 4 calories per gram.
  1. There are different types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Saturated fatty acids contain hydrogen on the carbon bonds. Because the body can produce these fats on its own, there are no dietary requirements for the consumption of saturated fats. Unsaturated fats contain double carbon bonds with fewer hydrogen molecules. Fatty acids with one double carbon bond are called monounsaturated, while fatty acids with two or more carbon bonds are polyunsaturated.
  1. Saturated fats tend to be solid when at room temperature and can be found in animal, dairy and packaged food products in addition to coconut and palm kernel oils. A diet high in saturated fats could be a risk factor for heart disease.
  1. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Polyunsaturated fats include the essential (meaning they must be consumed in the diet) omega-3 fatty acids found in many types of cold water fish and omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in soybean, corn and safflower oils (and foods made with those oils). Monounsaturated fats are found in olive, peanut and canola oils. Other foods that contain poly- and monounsaturated fats include avocados, flax and chia seeds, and almonds.
  1. Lipolysis is the breakdown of triglycerides into a glycerol and three fatty acids for the purpose of producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the chemical that fuels muscle activity. When the body needs energy for physical activity, the sympathetic hormone norepinephrine acts with receptor cells in adipose tissue to release the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, which breaks up triglycerides into the free fatty acids used by the mitochondria during a process called beta oxidation. The result is that the three fatty acids and one glycerol of a single triglyceride can produce 457 molecules of ATP. By comparison, glycolysis (the conversion of glycogen to ATP) yields 36 ATP molecules per one unit of glucose. Lipolysis is a slower process, which explains why it is the dominant source of energy during periods of rest or low-intensity physical activities. Glycolysis creates ATP more quickly, which makes it the “go-to” choice for ATP during moderate- to high-intensity physical activities. High-intensity interval training can burn more calories, while low- to moderate-intensity steady-state exercise can help improve aerobic capacity.
  1. The myth of the fat-burning zone is not really a myth—lipolysis requires oxygen, which is readily available during lower-intensity physical activities. Muscles use primarily fat as the source of ATP during low-intensity activity; however, as the intensity of exercise increases, the demand for energy is greater and the working muscles will need ATP more quickly than lipolysis can provide. While muscles relying on lipolysis for energy are using fat, the overall energy consumption is relatively low. In other words, working at an intensity at which lipolysis is the primary source of ATP will not burn that many total calories.
  1. Stress can increase body fat. During periods of stress, or in reaction to certain drinks that elevate the sympathetic hormones of cortisol and norepinephrine, the body releases more triglycerides into the blood stream to be used for energy for the working muscles. However, if there is no significant physical activity to use that energy, those triglycerides will be returned to the adipose tissue for storage until they are needed.
  1. Trans fat is made when an unsaturated fat, which is normally liquid at room temperature, is hydrogenated (adding hydrogens) so that it turns into a solid. This manufacturing process increases the shelf life of a food product, which is why many packaged foods can be high in trans fats. However, because it changes the chemical structure of fat, trans fats have been linked to heart disease and elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

The food consumed in the daily diet should provide adequate levels of protein, which is used to repair damaged muscle fibers and produce new tissues, and carbohydrate and fat, which fuel cellular functions. One of the most important functions of fat in the diet is to provide a source of energy for a number of bodily functions, including muscle contractions for physical activity. Don’t think of fat as something bad that should be avoided; rather, think of it as an important source of energy for the body.

A healthy diet should contain adequate amounts of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, with only limited amounts of saturated and trans fats. Let’s all agree to leave the “low-fat” nonsense in the past where it belongs, and appreciate the role of fat that it plays in supporting our favorite types of exercise.

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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.

How to Squash a Sweet Tooth With No Added Sugar

by The Nutrition Twins
on February 28, 2018

If you’re like many people, you have spent a considerable amount of time trying to tame your sweet tooth. It’s worth noting that research has uncovered some of the reasons why some people are drawn more to sweets, while others prefer salty flavors. Importantly, here are some tips for managing your sweet tooth.
Blame It On Your DNA?


If you’ve always found yourself drawn to sweets, your DNA may be to blame:

You may have a FGF21 gene variant. A study published in Cell Metabolism found that if you have a variant of this gene, you are 20% more likely to enjoy and seek out sugary foods and drinks.
You may not be a “super-taster.” Other research has shown that some people (25% of the population) are what are called “super-tasters,” and these people are extremely sensitive to bitter foods. Super-tasters are more sensitive to bitter tastes simply because they have more taste papillae and taste receptors on their tongues that make them more sensitive to bitter tastes. They’re also more sensitive to sweet, salty and umami tastes, but to a lesser extent. They tend to have a reduced preference for sweet and high-fat foods. (Super-tasters also tend to consume more salt then non-tasters because salt masks bitter flavors.)

The good news is that none of us are doomed by our sweet-tooth tendencies. And with a few simple tricks, even if you find sweets to be the ultimate enticement, you can squash your sweet tooth without adding sugar. Here’s what to do:
1. Make sure to keep your body from ever craving a quick pick-me-up (sugar) by preventing your energy from dipping too low.

You can do this by consuming a source of fiber and protein at all meals and snacks to prevent blood sugar highs and crashes; this combination also provides a longer-lasting fuel boost. Obviously, you need to avoid very sugary foods, like sodas, candies and jellies. And finally, do your best to get seven hours of sleep. If you don’t sleep well or have an energy crash, it’s easier to succumb to cravings.
2. Reset your sweet-tooth palate.

Once you start eating sugary foods, your palate quickly adjusts and foods that are less sweet no longer satisfy your taste buds. In our current American food culture, most store-bought foods have high levels of added sugar to accommodate taste buds that now expect highly sweetened food.

To counteract this tendency, you have to be proactive and train your taste buds to become accustomed to a less sweet load. Super-tasters, non-tasters and everyone in between have one thing in common—their taste buds regenerate in about 10 days. This means that if you have a sweet tooth (or a salt tooth for that matter) and you consistently enjoy foods that aren’t as sweet (or as salty) compared to what you’re accustomed to, after about 10 days you’ll find that foods that are very high in sugar (or salt) will taste too sweet (or too salty).
3. Enjoy a “clean-your-palate” drink before you indulge in a sweet food to “reset” your palate.

These drinks can be slightly sweet, which can help satisfy a craving with very few, if any, calories. They also fill the stomach with water to bring on satiety and fullness so you can be better prepared to make smart snack choices and not overindulge on sweets. Sipping a slightly bitter and spicy beverage, like this Spicy Metabolism Booster, before a sweet treat can help you appreciate the sweetness of your indulgent food and make sweet foods more satisfying.
4. Use naturally sweet foods (without added sugars).

While your taste buds are “recalibrating,” healthier stand-ins for traditional sweets are a great way to indulge your sweet tooth while staying on track. Fruits are naturally sweet and, as an added bonus, they’re packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber, which makes them ideal for replacing traditional sweets when your cravings hit.

If you notice that your palate is accustomed to very sweet foods and substituting fruit is a struggle for you, start with baked fruit. When you bake fruits, their natural sweetness comes to the surface and taste delicious. Similarly, take advantage of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, fenugreek and ginger, all of which bring a natural sweetness.
Here are three desserts that can help squash a sweet tooth without added sugar.

Baked Apple (Serves 4)

4 apples (we recommend fuji or green tart apples, depending on what is available and your preferences, but any will work)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling
2 teaspoons vegetable-based butter spread (make sure it’s trans-fat free)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
From the top of the apple, scoop out the core, but do not cut all the way through. You simply want to create a well at the top of the apple. In each apple’s “well,” add 1/2 teaspoon of butter spread and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.
Place the apples in a baking pan with a lip or in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon and place in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the apples are tender.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1 apple): 89 Calories, 17 g carbohydrate, 1 g fat, 0 g protein, 4 g fiber, 4 g sodium
Skinny Speedy Walnut Oatmeal Cookies (Makes approximately 14 cookies)

1 cup quick rolled oats

2 overripe bananas
½ cup crushed walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Mix all three ingredients together.
Portion out 1 tablespoon of mixture on a greased baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 55 Calories, 2 g fat, 1 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 1 mg sodium
Easy Healthy Strawberry Mint “Ice Cream” (Serves 2)

1 cup strawberries, quartered (or frozen sliced strawberries)
2 fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup smooth and creamy yogurt, plain nonfat (we use plain but vanilla would work as well)

Put strawberries in a glass bowl and place in freezer for 30 minutes. Strawberries should be partially frozen, but not hard. (If using frozen strawberries allow them to sit at room temperature for about five to 10 minutes.) Using a blender, pulse the strawberries, mint and yogurt together. Once combined, blend on low speed for 15 seconds to make it very creamy. Place your “ice cream” back into the bowl, cover with wrap and freeze for at least 60 minutes. Divide into two bowls and serve. Tip: Allow this treat sit for a minute to get softer and it will taste even sweeter.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 40 Calories, 0 g fat, 2 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 23 mg sodium

Expand your nutrition knowledge and learn how to translate that information into actionable lifestyle changes for clients with ACE’s Fitness Nutrition Specialist program. For a limited time, save 50% on this program.

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. The twins have been featured as nutrition experts on Good Morning America, Discovery Health, Fox News, NBC, Bravo, CBS, The Learning Channel, FitTV, Oxygen Network, and Fox & Friends. They co-wrote The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure: Expert Advice and Tantalizing Recipes for Health, Energy and Beauty, The Secret to Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat and the 4-Week Plan to Drop A Size & Get Healthier with Simple Low Sodium Swaps. The twins are both ACE Certified Personal Trainers, and members of the American Dietetic Association and several Dietetic Practice Groups.

5 Plant-Based Foods That Help Promote Weight Loss

by The Nutrition Twins
on

A growing body of research confirms the benefits of eating more plant-based meals. While many people assume that “plant-based” refers to eating no animal products whatsoever, it actually means focusing heavily on eating food from plants, such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruits, while limiting (or eliminating) animal products. Plant-based meals are nearly always less expensive than animal-based meals, they’re better for the environment, and are typically better for your health and your waistline as well.

Here are five superstar plant-based foods that rock when it comes to weight loss—and that you should include in your diet regardless of whether or not your diet is plant-based:

beans

Beans

Packed with fiber and protein, beans are known to be good for your heart, but they’re also ultra-satisfying, so they help to curb your intake (and calories) at mealtime. They can even help prevent overeating at the next meal and at snack time. In fact, a study published in Food and Nutrition Research found that people who ate a meal in which beans were the source of protein consumed 12% fewer calories at their next meal, thanks to the satiety created by the bean. Similarly, an Australian study showed that eating 3.5 ounces of chickpeas daily resulted in consuming less of all foods, including grains and processed snacks.

A few recipes to try:

cabbage

Cabbage

Nearly all vegetables are a dieter’s dream come true, especially non-starchy, fiber-packed vegetables, which are low in calories and high in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, water and fiber. Cabbage is 92 percent water, so it fills you up with water and fiber and virtually no calories (17 calories per cup). Munch on it if you want a crunchy snack that you can eat without worry about it negatively impacting your waistline.

Here’s a great way to save calories: Replace just one cup of spaghetti and meatballs (or Chinese beef and fried rice or chicken pot pie) on your plate (most people eat 2–3 cups at a sitting) by mixing in cabbage. Do this daily and you’ll get a delicious flavor and wonderful texture, and you may also lose an extra pound or two.

Try these ways to enjoy cabbage:

  • Sliced and use on a salad instead of (or in combination with) lettuce
  • Mixed into a stir-fry
  • Steamed and used as the outside of a dumpling
  • Used as a wrap instead of traditional bread

bell-peppers

Bell Peppers

Our weight-loss clients often tell us they crave a sweet, crunchy snack that won’t pack on the pounds. We recommend bell peppers to satisfy this craving. Fiber-packed bell peppers fill your stomach with fiber rather than calories, as one medium bell pepper has only 24 calories and can help limit your intake of high-calorie foods and prevent you from overeating. And crunch away—if you get enough fiber (women need 25 grams daily; men need 38 grams), research shows you actually will absorb as much as 90 fewer calories a day. Plus, 1 cup of sliced peppers provides a whopping 190% of the recommended daily value for vitamin C, a nutrient that counteracts the stress hormone cortisol, which triggers fat storage around the midsection.

Here are some tasty ways to consume more bell peppers:

  • Tossed into your morning omelet
  • Chopped and added to sandwiches, salads, tacos, burritos and wraps
  • Combined in a Tex-Mex bean dip or salsa
  • Dipped into hummus or guacamole

sweet-potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Most people who are trying to lose weight swear off all potatoes, including sweet potatoes. But sweet potatoes actually work beautifully when it comes to weight loss because they feel decadent and are an original comfort food. They also help fuel your brain and body with wholesome carbohydrates, and will cut your cravings for other calorie-dense carbohydrates like pasta and sugar. And, thanks to their fiber and dense, creamy texture, they’ll keep you feeling satisfied even though a 5-ounce sweet potato with skin is only 100 calories.

As if that weren’t enough, sweet potatoes also are rich in vitamin C and two very potent antioxidants—carotenoids and sporamins, which fight everything from aging to numerous diseases.

lemons

Lemons

A squirt of lemon contains just a few calories, yet it works miracles when it comes to flavoring food. Simply spritz lemon and drastically cut back on the salt and fat in most dishes and your taste buds won’t miss a thing and your waistline will be spared. Squeeze a little lemon juice on fish or steamed veggies instead of a caloric marinade or butter. You can also use it on salad instead of dressing, on rice instead of creamy sauces, or on any other dish you’d like, and save hundreds of calories over the course of the day. Add lemon to water and watch your water consumption soar. When you’re even mildly dehydrated, all body functions suffer and you feel tired, making exercise a struggle. But if you can drink adequate water thanks to the lemon infusion, you may have a much easier time burning calories and losing weight from exercise.

Lemon health bonus: Lemon is rich in vitamin C; spritz it over spinach, chicken or another iron-rich food and you’ll enhance your absorption of the iron.

Post Author

Author

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. The twins have been featured as nutrition experts on Good Morning America, Discovery Health, Fox News, NBC, Bravo, CBS, The Learning Channel, FitTV, Oxygen Network, and Fox & Friends. They co-wrote The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure: Expert Advice and Tantalizing Recipes for Health, Energy and Beauty, The Secret to Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat and the 4-Week Plan to Drop A Size & Get Healthier with Simple Low Sodium Swaps. The twins are both ACE Certified Personal Trainers, and members of the American Dietetic Association and several Dietetic Practice Groups.

Breaking Down Fitness Myths

ACE Healthy Living

  by Dr. Erin Nitschke on January 18, 2018

There’s no shortage of information sources in the world today. This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, we literally have countless resources at our fingertips. On the flip side, the available information isn’t always credible or reliable. This is particularly true when it comes to health, nutrition and fitness “advice.”

It takes little effort to discover a “source” whose author took creative liberties with the science of exercise and offered an interpretation that ultimately sends the well-intended reader down a path of bewilderment. Fitness myths typically start with a grain of misunderstanding and spiral into “how to” guidance with wildly questionable rationales and unfounded claims. Here are a few of the most popular myths those of us in the health and fitness industry battle to bust:

crunches-six-pack

The Fitness Myth: Abdominal crunches will give you a six-pack.

The Fit Truth

As a health and fitness professional, I consistently advocate for building a strong core using a variety of techniques beyond the common abdominal crunch. Core work, including abdominal crunches, is a highly effective method for increasing muscular endurance, strength, spine stabilization and posture. However, countless abdominal crunches will not necessarily reveal the “six-pack” look. Obtaining that chiseled midsection takes more than perpetual toe touches. To flatten the stomach, one must work to achieve a favorable change in body composition (reduce fat and build muscle). This is accomplished through a strategic combination of cardiovascular activity, resistance and core training (to increase resting metabolic rate and strength), which are all supported by healthy and balanced eating habits.

women-weightlifting-bulky

The Fitness Myth: If women weightlift, they will get “bulky.”

The Fit Truth

Nothing could be further from the truth. Women can and should lift weights (heavy ones) without the fear of becoming anything more than healthy, toned and strong. Note that these characteristics are not synonymous with “bulky.” One of the fundamental ingredients for muscle growth is testosterone, which is a hormone found in high concentrations in men, but not so much in women (women do have testosterone, but not in the levels present in men). While some females are predisposed to developing significant muscle tone and size, this is not the case for all. Women lack the chemical make-up required to “bulk up” without extreme training volumes, strict dieting habits and possible supplementation. Fortunately, more and more women are getting the message and dropping the light weights.

resistance-training-muscle

The Fitness Myth: If resistance training stops, muscle will turn to fat.  

The Fit Truth

The first thing you need to know is lean tissue (muscle) and non-lean tissue (adipose/fat) are entirely separate materials with different biochemical structures, metabolic rates and functions. If an individual (this is true for men and women) stops lifting weights and adopts a sedentary lifestyle, lean tissue will atrophy (weaken) and reduce in size. Muscle will not and cannot turn to fat. However, the resting metabolic rate will slow as a result of decreased muscle mass, because muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue.

fat-burning-zone-weight

The Fit Myth: Working out in the “fat-burning zone” helps you lose weight.

The Fit Truth

This is one I like to consider a “half-truth.” Yes, a “fat-burning zone” does exist—it’s the point at which lipids are being used as the primary source of fuel. Lipids are generally utilized at rest (including sleep) and during very low-intensity activities. While that part might be true, fewer calories are burned during lower-intensity activities. In fact, the number of calories burned in this “zone” is too low to initiate (or maintain) weight loss. If the goal is weight loss, a higher-intensity activity is desirable. The overall goal should be to increase the heart rate and burn off a significant number of calories.

Remember, successful weight loss strategies are a marriage between physical activity, sound nutrition, hormonal balance and positive changes in lifestyle habits.

stretching-workout

The Fit Myth: Stretching before a workout is beneficial.

The Fit Truth

This is also a “yes and no” type of statement. Health and fitness professionals advocate for warm-up and cool-down periods for good reasons. First, a warm-up prepares the body to meet the demands of a workout. A warm-up does this by increasing muscle temperature and heart rate, releasing specific hormones, getting you mentally “fired up,” and improving range of motion. However, static stretching should be performed at the end of the workout during the cool-down portion. The most effective type of stretching before a workout is a dynamic series of exercises. This type of stretching involves the whole body, large muscles and multiple joints. The goal is to activate the muscles you will use during the workout. Static stretching, on the other hand, is focused on elongation and relaxation (generally). You don’t want to enter a workout in a relaxed and stretched state—chances are you will reduce force output and your workout won’t have the same quality or effectiveness as if you were to save the static hold for the end.

Fitness myths have always and will likely continue to plague the industry and confuse even the most committed fitness fans. As you search for answers to your fitness questions, visit reputable websites and authorities such as ACE. The bottom line: If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Be sure the author’s credentials and scientific evidence back up the information you find before taking it as truth.

 

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.

 

3 Secrets to Burning Fat Effectively

Tips for Getting Your Workout Balance Correct

By Paul Rogers | Reviewed by Richard N. Fogoros, MD Updated December 31, 2017

Burning fat is key to weight loss, body shaping, and improved health or athletic performance. Whether trimming the waistline, smoothing the love handles or losing the cellulite, we all know we should do it but rarely do it right.

The solution lies largely in our understanding of human physiology and what is needed to achieve that “sweet spot” where we burn more fat than we consume.

Why Dieting Doesn’t Work

It is all about energy in and energy out.

The body is a system of which fat is a part. You need to work within that system to understand the role that fat plays and why it can sometimes accumulate excessively.

The body normally burns fat and a mixture of carbohydrates, in the form of glucose, for fuel. The level by which these fuels are consumed is based largely on your physical activity and the number of fats and carbohydrates you consume. When you are at rest, the body will store these fuels for future use. When you are active, the body will turn to these reserves for fuel.

The problem arises when you take in more energy through food than you consume through exercise. Often within a short period of time, the fat and glucose can accumulate to a point where you not only gain weight but begin to develop glucose intolerance.

When this happens, people will often make the mistake of cutting out all carbohydrates and all fats, assuming that the body will burn off the reserves on its own.

The problem with this is that, by starving yourself, your body will start breaking down its own tissues to keep the system going. This means that whenever the glucose reserves are used up, the body will start breaking down the proteins in muscles to create new glucose molecules to keep itself going.

In essence, the body will be eating itself up. And, while some fat loss will be achieved, it will mostly at the expense of lost lean muscle mass.

It is only by combining a well-balanced diet with exercise that you can burn those fat reserves while providing your muscles the proteins needed to remain strong.

Finding Your Fat Burning Zone

Once you hit upon the correct diet (consisting of quality proteins and a reasonable amount of fat and carbs), you will need to structure an exercise program with right intensity and time to achieve the ideal fat burning zone.

The fat burning zone can differ from person to person. Generally speaking, it implies a slower pace over a longer period of time (90 minutes or more). But this is not always the case.

Even at a faster pace, you will burn some fat, albeit less than you would glucose. This may be appropriate if you are a seasoned athlete who needs to shed a few pounds. If, on the other hand, you are less fit and have considerably more weight to lose, your ideal fat burning zone would involve a slow and steady approach.

To illustrate the difference:

  • Walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes burns 180 overall of which 108 constitute fat (40 percent glucose and 60 percent fat).
  • Running on a treadmill for 30 minutes burns 400 calories of which 120 constitute fat (60 percent glucose and 40 percent fat).

Why Weight Training Is Needed to Burn Fat

There is another maxim to remember when trying to trim those extra inches: more muscle burns more fat. What this means is that, if you are able to achieve the right intake of protein and exert the right amount of effort to build muscle, all that is really left to burn is glucose and fat.

This would require you to incorporate exercises that build muscle rather than just sweat. While step and spin classes are great ways to burn fat, they cannot do it as effectively on their own, particularly around the waist, trunk, and upper body.

For this, you would need to combine a cardio workout with a structured weight training program.

Why? Because lifting weights moves you quickly into a high-intensity zone, albeit for shorter bursts. While working on a treadmill, cycle, or row machine can burn a lot of calories, if your goal is to burn fat, you need to address your muscle-fat ratio.

What this means is that you need to build more muscle in relation to your body fat. If you don’t, you may lose weight but fail to achieve the tone needed to refine the waist, hips, buttocks, thighs, legs, and upper body.

Summing Up

The practical approach to burning fat (as opposed to shedding a few pounds) relies on three basic tenets, whether you are new to training or an experienced athlete:

  • Increase muscle with weight training. Extra muscle burns more energy both during activity (the active metabolic rate) and at rest (the resting metabolic rate). Cardio alone usually can’t accomplish this, and dieting definitely won’t.
  • Lift heavier weights. This means finding weights that allow you to complete eight to 12 reps with enough effort to be challenging but not too much as to lose form. If you are able to manage 15 to 20 repetitions, you won’t build muscles and would be better served doing just cardio.
  • Incorporate higher intensity cardio. High-intensity exercise, even if only in short bursts, may help rev up the metabolism quickly, particularly at the start of a workout. But don’t overdo it. Keep the intensity within your recommended maximum heart rate, and remember that fat burning requires the right amount of intensity and time.

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.)