Fitness Resources

Month: August 2019

Correcting Misconceptions About Fat

May 22, 2019

Fitness Handout

A dietitian explores the latest research and clears up some common myths about fat.



For years, fat was demonized as dietary “Public Enemy Number One.” Despite the essential roles it plays in the body, including temperature regulation, hormone production and protection of organs, we were told it was also responsible for weight gain and other health woes. As a result, people stocked their kitchens with low-fat items.

Now the tide has turned. New research and popular diets like paleo and ketogenic have caused the fat stigma to wear off. But what is the real truth about fat?

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, James Beard Award–winning journalist, Canada–based dietitian, freelance nutrition writer and recipe developer, explores the latest research and clears up a few common myths.

The Myth: Fat-Free or Low-Fat Is Healthier


The low-fat craze led to the formulation of thousands of lower-fat products, from yogurts to cookies. “But when the fat is reduced or removed from a food, you lose much of its flavor,” explains Michelle Babb, MS, RD, author of Anti-Inflammatory Eating for a Happy, Healthy Brain (Sasquatch Books 2014). “So to make up for the flavor shortage, manufacturers often add sugar, artificial flavors and salt, which is hardly a nutritional upgrade.” For instance, the calorie savings in reduced-fat peanut butter is negligible owing to its higher sugar numbers. When you opt for fat-free salad dressings, you won’t fully absorb the fat-soluble antioxidants—like lycopene and beta-carotene—that are found in vegetables.


As long as you are mindful of portions, Babb says, there is no reason you can’t enjoy foods that are closer to their natural, full-fat state.

The Myth: High-Fat Is Healthier Than High-Carb


In a study published in The Lancet, higher carb intake was associated with an increased risk of total mortality, whereas total fat intake was not found to raise death risk (Dehghan et al. 2017). But context is key: The typical American diet is roughly 49% carbs, 34% fat and 16% protein, so it cannot be considered especially high in carbs or low in fat. In turn, we shouldn’t use research like this as permission to greatly fatten up our diets.

But that’s beside the point. David Katz, MD, MPH, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and founder of True Health Initiative, feels strongly that we need to stop paying attention to such studies, as they do the public a major disservice. “Depending on the foods you choose, you can eat a low-fat, high-carb diet full of jelly beans and soda that’s terribly unhealthy and raises your disease risk, or you can eat a high-fat diet rich in fried foods that does the same.” So if the diets in the aforementioned study were skewed toward higher intakes of processed carbs like white bread and white rice and higher intakes of beneficial fats like olive oil and nuts, it’s not surprising fat came out on top.


Look past simplified recommendations and instead look at diets in the context of what you are eating overall. In other words, choose mostly healthful foods, and the healthful fats and carbs will take care of themselves in whatever percentages suit a person’s tastes.

The Myth: Coconut Oil is a “Superfood”

Busting Myths About Coconut Oil as a Superfood
Coconut oil is not nearly the health-boosting miracle its fans want it to be.


Often demonized for its super-high saturated fat content (91% of calories), coconut oil has experienced a renaissance. But coconut oil is not nearly the health-boosting, fat-fighting miracle its fans want it to be.

“There’s no strong evidence directly tying coconut oil to either a greater or reduced risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Patrick Wilson, RD, PhD, assistant professor of exercise sciences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Officials at the American Heart Association still say we should steer clear of coconut oil, citing concerns about its potential impact on cardiovascular health (Sacks et al. 2017).


If you like its flavor or the moist­ness it adds to baked goods, it’s probably fine to include modest amounts (no more than a tablespoon daily) as part of an overall healthy eating plan.


Dehghan, M., et al. 2017. Associations of fats and carbohydrate intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 18 countries from five continents (PURE): A prospective cohort study. The Lancet, 390 (10107), 2050–62.

Sacks, F.M., et al. 2017. Dietary fats and cardiovascular disease: A presidential advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 136 (3), e1–e23.

Fitness Journal, Volume 16, Issue 6

A Woman’s Place Is in the Weight Room

by Tessa Yannone on Jan 15, 2019

Ex Rx

Optimize workouts to account for differences in musculature and hormones.

Every day, more women are moving from the cardio room to the weight room. It’s a welcome transition; getting stronger can transform their self-esteem, confidence and self-efficacy.

Supporting your female clients’ strength-training ambitions is fundamental to their long-term success. Women and girls enjoy a wealth of benefits from resistance exercise: reduced injury risk, better cardiovascular health, stronger bones, protection against diabetes, and less inflammation, to name a few. As more women flock to strength training, however, fitness professionals face a host of challenges. For starters, the research on weight training for women is relatively new, and there are fewer studies on women than there are on men. Also, the physiological differences between genders is either misrepresented or not discussed.

We aren’t that much different. In equally trained men and women, research finds most strength differences result from differences in muscle size, not gender (Bishop, Cureton & Collins 1987). These findings suggest that a man and a woman with the same muscle size should display the same amount of strength. Thus, we can retire terms like “toned” and “girl pushups”—and the pictures of pink dumbbells—because women should and can do the same exercises your male clients do. You, of course, already know this.

You should consider two crucial points, however:

  • Women and men have different muscular fiber type compositions, making women less prone to fatigue (Hunter 2014).
  • Female sex hormones, especially those involved in the menstrual cycle, can affect program timing and recovery (Sung et al. 2014).

Understanding these differences is pivotal to building programs that will help your female clients achieve muscle growth, strength gains and training success.

Fiber Types in Women vs. Men

Type I and type II. Generally speaking, the skeletal muscles of men are larger than those of women, and, in men, some muscles possess “a greater proportional area of metabolically and functionally faster muscle fibers,” whereas in women there is “a greater proportional area of the ‘slow’ type I fibers” (Hunter 2014). The higher concentration of type I fibers makes women more resistant to muscle fatigue. Men have a higher glycolytic capacity based on their larger concentration of type II fibers, priming males for quick, explosive activities like sprinting and weightlifting.

While muscle fiber type plays a large role, it is important to remember that the tendency to fatigue depends a lot on task conditions, including contraction type, speed and intensity; the muscle group involved; environmental conditions; and state of arousal (Hunter 2014).

Metabolism. The makeup of muscular tissue affects the energy substrates that each gender uses. Women typically carry 6%–12% more fat than men. Women are also better at handling fat and using it for energy during exercise, which spares muscle glycogen and decreases exertion ratings, again playing into fatigue resistance. Additionally, women are more sensitive to insulin across the entire body and are better able to take up glucose (Lundsgaard & Kiens 2014).

Program design. If muscle growth is a female client’s main goal, keep in mind that she is probably more resistant to fatigue than a male client would be. Programming sets in the 6- to 10-rep range seems to yield maximal muscle growth (Schuenke et al. 2012) and maximal increases in strength.

Because women can theoretically handle more work, your general-population clients might benefit from harder-intensity training sessions with supersets and timed rest periods. Consider challenging them to fatigue a little faster than they normally would, since you need to push them beyond their comfort zone to achieve muscle growth.

Sex Hormone Differences

Menstrual cycle. Women’s menstrual hormones fluctuate throughout their cycle, which usually lasts 28 days (hormonal contraceptives and other issues can alter the cycle). Hormonal fluctuations play a huge role in strength training, a reality only recently discussed in academic literature. By opening up this conversation with your female clients, you can tap into their strengths a little more and use biology in their favor (Sung et al. 2014).

The menstrual cycle has four phases:

  • menstrual (days 1–5)
  • follicular (days 1–13)
  • ovulation (day 14)
  • luteal (days 15–28).

The luteal phase triggers sharp hormonal changes—progesterone peaks and then plunges, along with estradiol. Hunger increases, moods change suddenly, core temperature rises, and more calories are burned; in fact, basal metabolic rate has been shown to increase by as much as 9% (Webb 1986). In this phase, symptoms of premenstrual syndrome often discourage interest in going to the gym.

The follicular phase, by contrast, is the time for women to really push themselves in hard workouts because estrogen hits its peak at this time, improving mood, energy and strength.

Estrogen vs. testosterone. These sex hormones have the most impact on the relative strength of women and men. Men have much more testosterone, affecting their baseline strength. Thus, men start out stronger with higher absolute strength, but relative strength gains are about the same for both genders.

Estrogen, on the other hand, has proved to have some anabolic and protective effects against various injuries and diseases. Within muscle, estrogen has been shown to influence contractions and postexercise muscle damage by acting as an antioxidant and a stabilizing membrane and by binding to estrogen receptors (Enns & Tidius 2010). Estrogen also has regenerative properties, which is why combining exercise and hormonal therapies can increase lean tissue mass (Velders & Diel 2013).

Program design. Maintain an open dialogue with your female client: Ask how she is feeling and if she would like to disclose the current phase of her menstrual cycle. Explain that while she doesn’t have to push through the bothersome symptoms of the luteal phase, she will benefit from some type of movement.

In the luteal phase, steer clear of high-intensity interval training and avoid going for personal bests or heavy strength sessions. Save these for the follicular phase. The luteal phase is an optimal time for deloading if the client is on a strength program. It’s also a great time for moderate conditioning or low-intensity cardio training.

Optimize periodization around her cycle. For instance, if she usually does strength training three times a week, you might keep the frequency the same during the luteal phase and ramp it up a session or two during the follicular phase (Sung et al. 2014). See “Sample Program Design,” below, for more.

Putting It All Together

Though men and women are different, your approach to strength training should be similar: Optimize physiological differences to produce peak training performance. As a fitness professional, you need to do three things to avoid alienating female clients by suggesting that their strength training programs are somehow inferior to men’s:

  1. Lead by example. Show pictures, videos and articles of women doing what men (and other women) do. Show what these women’s bodies look like, what they are capable of and how they got there, while also (if you are a female trainer) disclosing the importance of strength training in your own life. You have the power to be a role model and a leader. Be the example, and your female clients will follow.
  2. Banish biased language. Remove gender-labeled equipment and exercises from your vocabulary: Words like long, lean, toned and girl pushups have no merit or place in this space. This kind of language reinforces the false notion that women require a different type of exercise that will not make them “bulky” or “manly.”
  3. Make room for self-discovery. Strength training can be scary and intimidating. Women almost never approach weight training wholeheartedly unless they’ve grown up around it. Let your clients draw their own conclusions about the experience—what they like or dislike. Female clients will appreciate having the space to find what they love about moving their bodies in this way. When the motivation comes from within, they will be more likely to stick with the activity and see the benefits of a strong body and mind throughout their entire lives—inside and outside of the gym.


Bishop, P., Cureton, K., & Collins, M. 1987. Sex difference in muscular strength in equally-trained men and women. Ergonomics, 30 (4), 675–87.

Enns, D.L., & Tidius, P.M. 2010. The influence of estrogen on skeletal muscle: Sex matters. Sports Medicine, 40 (1), 41–58.

Hunter, S.K. 2014. Sex differences in human fatigability: Mechanisms and insight to physiological responses. Acta Physiologica, 210 (4), 768–89.

Liu, D., et al. 2010. Skeletal muscle gene expression in response to resistance exercise: Sex specific regulation. BMC Genomics, 11.

Lundsgaard, A.M., & Kiens, B. 2014. Gender differences in skeletal muscle substrate metabolism—molecular mechanisms and insulin sensitivity. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 5, 195.

Schuenke, M.D., et al. 2012. Early-phase muscular adaptations in response to slow-speed versus traditional resistance-training regimens. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112 (10), 3585–95.

Sung, E., et al. 2014. Effects of follicular versus luteal phase–based strength training in young women. SpringerPlus, 3 (668).

Velders, M., & Diel, P. 2013. How sex hormones promote skeletal muscle regeneration. Sports Medicine, 43 (11), 1089–1100.

Webb, P. 1986. 24-hour energy expenditure and the menstrual cycle. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 44 (5), 614–19.

Fitness Journal, Volume 16, Issue 2

© 2019 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc.

About the Author

Tessa Yannone

Tessa Yannone IDEA Author/Presenter

4 Ways to Incorporate Whole Foods Into Your Diet














Did you know that the closer a food is to its natural state, the more nutrient-dense it is? Whole foods give you the best bang for your caloric buck since you are eating the entire food with all its vitamins, minerals and fiber, and the food has not been subjected to potentially damaging processing.

Make a goal this year to include more whole plant–based foods in your diet. You probably already eat berries as whole foods. Try these other suggestions from Lourdes Castro, MS, RDN, adjunct professor at New York University’s department of nutrition, food studies and public health.

1. Beets, Garlic, Sweet Potatoes

Why eat these foods? Roots, tubers and bulbs grow underground and function as a plant’s nutrient-storage system, so it’s no surprise they are packed with vitamins and minerals. They provide antioxidant benefits, such as protection against many chronic diseases and conditions associated with aging.

Whenever possible, use the entire plant from root to leafy greens. Different parts of the plant may require different cooking methods, but the nutrient density is worth it.

Try this at home. Roasted beets with sautéed garlicky beet greens are delicious and easy. Remove the beet tops where stems meet the root, and roughly chop. Quarter the beets and lightly toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 minutes, or until beets are fork tender. Meanwhile, finely chop 1–2 cloves of garlic and place in a pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place over medium-high heat and add beet greens when the garlic begins to sizzle. Sauté until all greens are wilted. Serve with roasted beets.

Alternative. Roast sweet potatoes and substitute watercress for the beet greens.

2, Lentils, Chickpeas, Fresh Snap Peas

Why eat these foods? Legumes are seeds that grow in pods. The seeds can be fresh or dried, the pods edible or inedible. Legumes are rich in protein, fiber and iron, and they get an extra punch from folate. High folate intake can decrease cardiovascular risk (Willet 2001).

Try this at home. Dried lentils are quick-cooking and versatile. Simmer them in water until tender and then drain and cool. Toss with tomatoes, arugula, corn and carrots, and drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Eat this salad alone or augmented with sliced chicken breast. It also makes great leftovers.

3. Chia Seeds, Walnuts, Ground Flaxseeds

Why eat these foods? All nuts and seeds are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and help stabilize blood sugar levels. But these foods are especially high in essential omega-3 fatty acids, which lower inflammation throughout the body (Calder 2006). This is especially good for people with arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

Flaxseeds must be ground to enable your body to absorb all their beneficial nutrients, because the whole seeds pass through the intestines undigested. Chia seeds, on the other hand, do not have to be ground and have a longer shelf life because they can be left whole.

Try this at home. Soaking a table-spoon of chia seeds (or ground flaxseeds) in water will form a gel. Add this gel to your berry purée for a thick smoothie.

4. The Sea Has Vegetables, Too

Why eat these foods? Sea vegetables (types of seaweed) such as dulse, wakame and hijiki are high in both iron and vitamin C, which make them high-value iron sources because vitamin C is necessary for the absorption of plant-based iron. Sea vegetables are thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect, and regular ingestion has been linked to low blood pressure (Wada et al. 2011).

Try this at home. Crumble dulse or wakame leaves and sprinkle over salads, soups, noodles or rice dishes.


Calder, P.C. 2006. N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation, and inflammatory diseases. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83 (6), 1505S–19S.

Wada, K., et al. 2011. Seaweed intake and blood pressure levels in healthy pre-school Japanese children. Nutrition Journal, 10, 83.

Willet, W. 2001. Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy. New York: Free Press.

Fitness Journal, Volume 13, Issue 1

Ask the RD: Farmed or Wild Fish for Nutrition Value?

by Sanna Delmonico, MS, RDN, CHES on Jun 19, 2019

Food for Thought

Exploring the nutritional benefits of wild and farmed fish.


I have been trying to eat more salmon for the omega-3 fatty acids. What’s better nutritionally, wild or farmed fish?


All fish are good sources of protein. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, trout, anchovies and sardines are also good sources of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends two 3.5-ounce servings of fish every week, especially fatty fish, because omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the risk of heart arrhythmias and lower blood triglycerides and blood pressure (AHA 2019).

The nutritional content of a fish depends on its diet. Wild salmon get omega-3 fatty acids from plankton, smaller fish and other seafood. These salmon get their color from pink and orange crustaceans like krill. Farmed salmon, raised in pens, are fed pellets made from fish meal, fish oil, plant proteins (such as corn and soy), animal proteins, vitamins and minerals, as well as carotenoid pigments to turn their flesh orange (NOAA 2018).

Because of differences in diet and how active and, therefore, relatively lean the wild fish are, Atlantic farmed salmon has twice as much total fat as Atlantic wild salmon (13.5 grams per 100 g, compared with 6.5 g per 100 g), significantly more omega-6 fatty acids, and three times as much saturated fat (USDA n.d.). Farmed fish can be higher than wild fish in omega-3 fatty acids, too. Since the early 2000s, however, the composition of farmed salmon has been changing. Fish meal and fish oil for feed have become scarcer and more expensive, so these ingredients are being replaced by plant proteins and plant oils in fish feed. Farmed salmon in 2015 had about half the omega-3 fatty acids it did in 2001 (Sissener 2018).

When it comes to choosing salmon, both farmed and wild are low in saturated fat compared with red meat. Salmon is delicious, but why not try some less popular sources of omega-3s, like anchovies or sardines? Quickly grilled, these small, flavorful fish pair extremely well with fresh herb sauces like gremolata, chimichurri or salsa verde.


AHA (American Heart Association). 2019. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids. Accessed Mar. 10, 2019:

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association). 2018. Feeds for aquaculture. Accessed Mar. 10, 2019:

Sissener, N.H. 2018. Are we what we eat? Changes to the feed fatty acid composition of farmed salmon and its effects through the food chain. Journal of Experimental Biology, 221, jeb180976.

USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). n.d. USDA food composition databases. Accessed Mar. 15, 2019: