Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What About Sugar?

What do we want to know about sugar? Let's start with, what exactly is sugar? Carbohydrates are sugar. They are broken down to the very basic form of sugar, which is glucose. Our brain, blood and muscles need glucose to survive. So, sugar is not a bad thing in this context, it just gets a bad rap.

To simplify our understanding of carbohydrates as sugars, we can break them into two groups: simple and complex. Simple sugars are monosaccharides and disaccharides. Monosaccharides consist of glucose, fructose and galactose. Disaccharides are comprised of two monosaccharides: maltose is glucose plus glucose, sucrose is glucose plus fructose, and lactose is glucose plus galactose. Of the disaccharides, sucrose (table sugar, corn syrup, etc.) is the "bad stuff." Lactose is our milk and maltose is our beer. The complex carbohydrates are polysaccharides: starches, fiber and glycogen. In food terms, starches are our grains, legumes, tubers and root crops ("GLoaTR"). Fibers are all plant-derived foods. Glycogen is the storage form of glucose, which we eat a very small amount of in meats.

So, if all digestible carbs breakdown to the monosaccharide, glucose, which our body needs, why does sugar get a bad rap? Well, to understand this, we need to understand how our carbohydrates are digested. The simpler the carbohydrate, the quicker it is digested. Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) take longer to digest because they need to be broken down to disaccharides and then to monosaccharides. This breakdown process begins in the mouth via the enzyme, amylase. After that, since stomach juices don't contain enzymes to digest carbohydrates, the majority of the work takes place in the small intestine. Now, here's the catch! Fibers linger in the stomach and delay emptying into the small intestine. That's what prolongs digestion and gives us a feeling of fullness. Digestion of simple and complex carbs takes about one to four hours. Only fibers enter the large intestine. Soluble fibers - oats, barley, legumes and citrus fruits ("OBLoC") - can be broken down and used as energy by the colon. These fibers lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels, good news for our heart and insulin levels! Insoluble fibers - whole grains (bran) and vegetables - exit our body. The bad rap part of sugar comes from the fact that when simple sugars are digested rapidly, we get a surge of the hormone, insulin. Insulin is a fat storage hormone. If our muscles, brain or blood don't need the glucose for energy, it goes to our fat depots. 

So, what's the message here? Well, I don't think we can completely avoid the simple sugars - I know I can't. But, what we can do is have an understanding about how much simple sugar we are putting in our body and try to balance it by eating sugars that contain fiber and slow down the digestive process.

We can understand how much simple sugar we are eating.

Whitney | Rolfes. "Understanding Nutrition." Cengage Learning, 2011.
Newby, P.K., ScD, MPH, MS. "Nutrition Myth Busters: Fact or Fiction?" IDEA Health and Fitness Association, 2017.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Female Change: A Brief Overview

Migraines? Weight gain around the middle? Hot flashes? Mood changes? Bloating? These are all symptoms of our declining hormones. Given that estradiol, our predominant form of estrogen during our younger years affects more than 400 tissues, it's no wonder we feel the effects of hormonal changes!

In our reproductive years, estradiol is produced by our ovaries and is responsible for the maturation of a few to a few hundred eggs in their follicles. When we ovulate, releasing one egg, the ruptured follicle produces progesterone in order to prepare our uterus for possible implantation of our fertilized egg. As we age and lose our eggs, our reproductive system slows, ovulation stops and we no longer produce progesterone from our ovaries (even though menses may continue). This is when we enter phase 1 of perimenopause, also known as "estrogen dominance." This phase is characterized by a constant feeling of PMS with bloating, mood swings and tender breasts. In phase 2, estrogen also declines leading to symptoms such as hot flashes, memory problems and migraines. In the third phase, estrogen and progesterone decline to near menopausal levels and many of the unpleasant symptoms disappear. In phases 2 and 3, menses has most likely ceased. Estrogen and progesterone are like yin and yang; they counterbalance each other. When there is an imbalance between the two hormones, we experience the unpleasant side effects previously mentioned.

As we travel through the phases and no longer produce estradiol from our ovaries, we start to produce estrone (another estrogen) in our fat cells via conversion of our androgens (male hormones). This is one reason why women with more fat cells might experience a greater degree of estrogen imbalance (hot flashes, etc.). We see an increase in fat in our stomachs because abdominal tissue contains more androgen receptors. Progesterone, on the other hand, is produced from cholesterol in our adrenal glands when we no longer ovulate. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is also produced in our adrenal glands. If we are overly stressed and constantly release cortisol,  we will inhibit the production of progesterone, which also exaggerates and prolongs an imbalance between the two hormones.

As we go through these changes, there are a few things we can do to minmize some of the more unpleasant symptoms of hormonal imbalance and decline. One, we can exercise to reduce stress and weight gain. Two, we can eat more foods containing phytoestrogens (soy). Three, educate ourselves on the types of supplements that will boost our progesterone, and Four, enjoy some dark chocolate which contains magnesium and improves our mood!

It's no wonder we feel the effects of hormonal changes!

Lee, John R., M.D. "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause." Hachette Book Group, 2004.
Corio, Laura E.,  M.D. "The Change Before The Change." Bantam, 2002.
Dalton, Katharina, M.D. "Once A Month." Hunter House Inc., 1999.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Female Body Battle

Let's face it, maintaining our desired body weight gets tougher as we age. Did you know that a sedentary woman around the age of 40 loses 1/2 a pound of muscle per year, or roughly 7 pounds of muscle per decade? A pound of muscle tissue burns approximately 35-50 calories a day, so this means a potential weight gain of up to 3 pounds per year, or approximately 10-25 pounds per decade! Did you also know that ovulation burns 300 calories per day for 3 days? This means perimenopausal and menopausal women lose a 900-calorie "freebie burn" per month! If we don't adjust, that's an additional 3 pounds of weight gain per year and yet another possible 25-pound weight gain per decade!

Ladies, there's no getting around it. To avoid muscle loss, we need to lift weights. We need to maintain our muscle to maintain our metabolism and this can be done in just 30 minutes, 2x per week. Growth hormone builds muscle and it's something we have a lot of, so let's take advantage of it! It's secreted in pulses when we sleep if we do HIIT cardio or heavy weightlifting. And, growth hormone mobilizes fatty acids which our muscles use for energy. 

As for weight gain in perimenopause, we need to counterbalance the effects of estrogen dominance. We are estrogen dominant as progesterone starts to decrease. In menopause, estrogen drops and everything levels out. But, perimenopause is a roller coaster ride and estrogen dominance causes our body to act in unpredictable ways. Without the balancing effects of progesterone, we start to see more weight gain in our abdominal region. Also, fluctuating hormones affect our thyroid, which controls our metabolism. 

Although we can't completely control our diminishing progesterone, there are ways we can help ourselves out. We can eat soy and tropical wild yams which contain diosgenin. Diosgenin converts into progesterone. We can also try to manage our stress. Too much stress along with estrogen dominance leads to cravings for sugar. Increased sugar intake leads in increased insulin. A double whammy for fat storage! As for our thyroid, we need to make sure we have enough iodine and tyrosine. Fish, avocados and eggs are a good way to make sure we get enough. 

Here's some good news! Even though magnesium is depleted with estrogen dominance, dark chocolate is high in magnesium! Magnesium relaxes blood vessels in the brain, allowing a greater flow of oxygen. This improves your overall sense of well-being. So, enjoy some chocolate, maybe even with walnuts which are good for our hearts!

There are ways we can help ourselves out

Josephson, Scott. "The Female Physique: The Link Between Nutrition, Hormones and Strength Training!" 2016 IDEA Personal Training West.
McMillan, Sherri. "Training The Female Client."  IDEA Health & Fitness Association.
Teta, Jade. "How to Get Rid of Belly Fat Through Nutrition and Exercise." IDEA Health & Fitness Association.
Lee, John R., M.D. "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause." Hachette Book Group, 2004.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Do You Know Your Personal Serving Sizes?

I decided today to revisit the shocking fact that most of us don't understand what a serving size is. We Americans are eating double to triple the amount of food that constitutes a serving. To put this in perspective, did you know that a 1/2 cup of cooked pasta is considered a serving size? Picture a 1/2 cup - like the size of the round part of a light bulb. And how about white rice? Only 1/3 cup of cooked rice is considered a serving size! When was the last time you ate a bagel? A bagel today is 4-5 servings of carbohydrates! No wonder 1 in 3 Americans is obese. We just don't have the knowledge.

Here is an easy way to remember serving sizes:
  1. 1 cup = baseball;
  2. 1/2 cup = light bulb;
  3. 1 oz. or 2 tbsp.= golf ball;
  4. 1 tbsp.= poker chip;
  5. 3 oz. = deck of cards.

To keep track of your caloric intake, you want to have a general idea of what your RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate) is. For me, at 5'9" and roughly 130 pounds, my RMR is around 1751 kcals. If I exercise, I can add to that number. From there, you can figure out the percentage of carbs, protein and fats that you want to eat during the day. I like to do 63% carbs, 12% protein and 25% fat. This comes out to 276 grams or approximately 16-19 light bulbs of carbs (4 kcals per gram and 15 grams or 80 kcals per serving), approximately 53 grams or 2-3 decks of cards of protein (4 kcals per gram and 7 grams per serving and 3 ounces per gram), and 49 grams or 8-10 poker chips of fat (9 kcals per gram and 5 grams per serving).

For fun, let's put it together by using my caloric intake and expenditure so far for today, keeping in mind that certain carbs are going to "use up" more servings:
  1. Breakfast - Starbucks coffee cake and Venti coffee. That's a lot of fat and carbs -  probably 2-3 servings of carbs and maybe 5 servings of fat?
  2. Lunch - Baggins Unforgettable sandwich and large iced tea - 2 slices of bread + avocado and other stuff and turkey meat - maybe 4-5 servings of carbs, 4 servings of fat and 1-2 servings of protein?
  3. Snack - 1 large apple -  2 servings of carbs (a small apple is a serving).
So, with this rough estimation, I have approximately  8 servings of carbs, a serving of protein and very little fat left for the day. But, I ran and did a TRX workout, which came to 823 kcals. Fortunately, I can still enjoy myself tonight. It really all comes down to what weight you'd like to maintain.

1 oz. or 2 tbsp. of fat is the size of a golf ball
Comana, Fabio. "Tap Into Your Fat Burn." IDEA Health & Fitness Association.
Josephson, Scott. "The Power of Eating Right." 2017 IDEA Personal Training West.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What Happens When We Fast?

When we fast (sleep for 8 hours), our body needs to continue supplying fuel to our cells. Glycogen in our liver is broken down into glucose and triglycerides in our adipose tissue are broken down into fatty acids. Both derivatives are released into our blood to flow into our cells. Once inside our cells, they are broken down to Acetyl CoA and enter the Krebs cycle to be converted into energy. 

After several hours of fasting, our liver glycogen is depleted and our blood glucose begins to drop. Our brains and nerves prefer energy in the form of glucose, but our red blood cells absolutely depend on it. Normally, restocking our glucose is not a problem since our hunger hormone, ghrelin, has already been released from our stomach to stimulate our appetite.

But, what happens if we don't eat breakfast right away? Cotisol is responsible for maintaining blood glucose levels by breaking down fat and muscle. Glucose for our blood is dervied from the glycerol portion of our triglycerides and our amino acids from our muscles. Fuel for our cells comes from the fatty acids of our triglycerides as well as the amino acids from our muscles. This is all fine for a little while, but if the fast continues for too long, our body starts to convert Acetyl CoA fragments (acquired from fatty acids) into keytones to provide the glucose needed. 

Sometimes ketone bodies have an acid group attached, and If we have too many of those floating around, our blood pH drops. The acidity denatures proteins, leaving them unable to function. This is bad news because our muscles start shrinking and our metabolism slows. We know we are at this point in a fasted state because we emit an odor similar to nail polish.

Though it's probably best to fast only when we sleep, it can be done safely for a short period of time to jump start a weight loss program or simply regain control of our eating. Having the knowledge about how the process works will help us preserve our muscle mass.

After intermittent fasting and an 8-mile hike (waiting for my pasta w/ Fish of the Day)

Whitney | Rolfes. "Understanding Nutrition." Cengage Learning 2011.
Talbott, Shawn. "The Cortisol Connection." Hunter House, Inc. 2007.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

My Vacation Weight Gain Experiment

For years now, I’ve been frustrated by the inevitable weight gain that occurs during the latter part of my vacations. All due, of course, to my lack of interest in monitoring my caloric intake when I’m fully engaged in the enjoyment of the experience of wherever I happen to be. Thus, I’ve been on a quest recently to try to figure out a way to have my cake and eat it too so that I don’t return home with 7 extra pounds that take 1-2 weeks to get off. 

Previous vacations would start off with great intentions of trying to monitor what went in my mouth, only to be intercepted by that first picturesque outdoor restaurant where a beer at noon enhanced the experience to the perfect level of enjoyment. So, with previous attempts to control (and subsequent failure) to conquer my voracious appetite, I decided to try something different during my recent trip to Kauai. 

In the beginning, I went along as normal, eating and drinking whatever and whenever I wanted until about five days into the vacation when the skin started to migrate outward from the top of my bikini. This is the breaking point for me; not the loss of tone around the tummy or the touching of the inner thighs, which probably occurs around day 2 or 3. No, it’s when the tucking into the top could no longer solve the problem! That’s when I took the dreaded walk to the fitness room to step on the scale to find out just how much damage had been done (inevitably, it’s more than 5 pounds at this point). And yes, 7 pounds it was and I had 3 days left (including the flight home) to solve the problem! 

I had been leery of fasted cardio because I learned that cortisol can be released in response to the stress of not eating. Cortisol can promote fat gain. But, the idea that increasing the amount of time before my body released insulin (the fat storage hormone) made sense to me, and my mind was open to options at this point! 

Our liver glycogen stores are pretty much depleted by the time we wake up in the morning. As a result, cortisol is released to make us hungry for breakfast to get some sugar into our blood. Once we eat carbohydrates (chocolate muffins), insulin is released and any unused sugar is tucked away as fat for later use. Intermittent fasting has you skipping breakfast in order to keep insulin at bay. This concept sounded doable to me. 

By skipping breakfast and only drinking coffee, I delayed the fat storage process and instead encouraged the breakdown process. I know that we need carbohydrates to initiate the fat-burning process, but my hope was that the glycogen in my muscles could be broken down to provide the glucose that would be needed. This process was not too difficult for me as I love coffee and caffeine is an appetite suppressant. Amazingly, I had tremendous energy despite skipping breakfast and when I weighed myself the next day, actually lost a pound! Since this was done without monitoring my caloric intake for the rest of the day, I decided to do it again. On that second day I went hiking for 5 hours, so my fat utilization had to be significant. Again, I didn’t monitor my caloric intake the for rest of the day and my weight stayed the same. It wasn’t until day three, the last day I skipped breakfast, that I really noticed a decrease in the excess skin around my arms. Without too much sacrifice, the experiment seemed to be working! I will try this again on my next vacation and hope that I finally the found a way to have my cake and it eat too.

To see short videos of my experiment, search for shelspinsfitness on Facebook or Instagram.
It’s when the tucking into the top could no longer solve the problem
Bubbs, Dr. Marc. "Balancing Hormones For Optimal Weight Loss." IDEA Health & Fitness Association.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Role of Our Glutes

We all know we need to, "strengthen our glutes," but have we stopped to think about why we need to do that other than to look great in a tight pair of jeans?

The answer is because our glutes play a very important role during gait. When we heal strike, ground forces travel up through our ankle, knee and beyond. To brace for impact, our foot supinates (tilts to the outside), compressing our bones to increase its' rigidity. As we bear weight upon it, our foot pronates (tilts to the inside) to absorb the energy into the tissues of our arch. When this happens, our tibia (shin) is forced into internal rotation, causing our femur to internally rotate at an even faster rate. The discrepancy between the rates of tibial and femoral internal rotation stresses the medial side of our knee and our ACL (Anterior Crucial Ligament).

This is where our glutes come in! Their role is to decelerate rotation of our femur during gait to protect the integrity of our knee. As such, we want to keep our glutes strong. One way to do this is to make sure we don't stand in a pronated position (feet sinking into the arches). Another way is to practice, "glute dominance" when doing bend-and-lift movements. This can be accomplished by initiating the movements with a hip-hinge. For more information on how to properly activate our glutes during a body squat, please see my post, "Mechanics of the Body Squat."

Our glutes protect the integrity of our knee

Comana, Fabio. "Lower Extremity Movement Mechanics." 2017 IDEA Health & Fitness Association.
Comana, Fabio. "Functional Programming for Stability-Mobility and Movement." ACE Personal Trainer Manual, American Council on Exercise, 2010.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

All About Power

Let's face it, most of us don't have the time or the energy to commit to long cardio workouts. Hence the growing popularity of the time-efficient 30-minute sessions. But, how can we ensure that we get the most bang for our buck in 30 minutes? Studies have shown that EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) is driven by intensity, not volume. Since the number of calories we burn is dependent upon the amount of oxygen we consume, let's add intensity to our short training sessions!

Intensity is achieved by training with power. To train with power, we need to target our fast-twitch muscle fibers and their anaerobic energy systems. This can be done with a carefully planned HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) format. I say, "carefully planned" because if enough time between intervals is not allowed for the anaerobic energy systems to replenish their ATPs, the purpose of the training is defeated due to diminished power output.

So, what's an appropriate HIIT format for power training? VIIT (Variable Intensity Interval Training) is a type of HIIT protocol that combines HIIT and CV (Cardiovascular) conditioning. This type of training targets the anaerobic energy systems using 30-second all-out power efforts followed by active recovery at a comfortable but challenging intensity. To understand the benefits of this type of training, it helps to understand how the anaerobic energy systems work. During the first few seconds of an all-out effort, our muscles use their immediate energy source, ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), which is located on the myosin heads of the contractile proteins of the muscle fibers. Energy is released when ATP is broken down to ADP (
Adenosine Diphosphate), Pi (Inorganic Phosphate) and H+ (Hydrogen Proton). As the effort continues, CP (Creatine Phosphate) is split by the enzyme, creatine kinase, and the energy released from that reaction is used to resynthesize ATP from ADP and Pi. When CP is depleted, anaerobic glycolysis takes over, breaking down glucose into pyruvate. Pyruvate converts to lactate by taking on the H+ produced during glycolysis, preventing the environment from becoming too acidic. Lactate is pushed from the muscle cells into the blood to be buffered. When we reach the point of breathlessness after our 30-second all-out effort, we know we have used our anaerobic systems because expiration of CO2 is a result of our buffering system.

So, what's the benefit of training this way? When we train anaerobically, our body oxidizes fat more rapidly, preparing for an eventual increase in its' usage. This rapidity equates to more calories being burned. Additionally, during active recovery of the anaerobic systems, we use our aerobic system to replenish ATPs. This is the only system in which fat is burned. It is comprised of the mitochondria, which encompasses the Krebs cycle, i.e. the fat-burning fireplace. Our muscle cells contain anywhere from 400-2000 mitochondria. Mitochondria have their own DNA and will adapt to VIIT by getting 35% bigger and replicating by 15-50%. More fat-burning factories and more calories burned by training consistently with power for just 30 minutes sounds pretty good to me!

Let's add intensity to our short training sessions!

Comana, Fabio. "HIIT vs. HVIT." IDEA Health & Fitness Association.
Kravitz, Len. "Metabolic Conditioning: Myths, Mysteries and Monster Workouts." 2016 IDEA Health & Fitness Association.
Kang, Jie. "Bioenergetics Primer for Exercise Science." Human Kinetics, 2008.