Can Prebiotic Fiber Help With Weight Loss?

Dietary fiber is sort of an odd thing, nutritionally speaking. It is vital for our health and significant amounts of it are recommended each day (38g for men, 25g for women) – but our bodies can’t actually digest it. Still, this tough stuff has been connected to a huge number of health benefits, including improved digestion, reduced cholesterol, balanced blood sugar and – most famously – weight loss.

This ability of fiber to help you achieve a healthy weight has really been the reason that so many people pay attention to it. We have known for a long time that fibrous food tends to contain fewer calories while making you feel fuller for longer periods – thus preventing you from overeating. But, recent research shows that a surprising mechanism is at work here.


A Surprising Connection

It’s an odd and somewhat off-putting concept, but there are innumerable microorganisms living inside of your digestive tract. The existence of this gut bacteria isn’t a newly discovered fact, but experts are only just starting to understand the impact that these little bugs have on our health.

In a new study from the University of Calgary, a team of researchers demonstrated a powerful and surprising link between dietary fiber, gut bacteria and weight loss. Mice that were fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet were split into two groups: the control and those fed dietary fiber in addition to the diet. It’s very important to know that the fiber was a particular type, called oligofructose.

At the end of the study, the team reported that the fiber-fed mice gained much less weight than the control group.


How It Works and How To Use It

The reason that oligofructose was used in this study is because this specific fiber is known to act as a prebiotic – a nutrient that is especially useful to your but bacteria. While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, it’s clear that oligofructose changed the gut bacteria of the mice in such a way that weight gained is restricted. Previous studies have demonstrated this property in humans but this study was the first to look closely at effects of the fiber on gut bacteria.

It’s also interesting to note that the oligofructose changed the hormone profile in mice so that they felt full longer and therefore craved less food.

But, as always, we need to be clear that there is no magic bullet for weight loss. Oligofructose alone should not be seen as a replacement for healthy eating and regular exercise. The fiber could be used, though, to give your otherwise healthy lifestyle an extra boost.

The Boston Marathon

200px-BostonmarathonlogoToday is Patriot’s Day and a holiday in Boston–and also the day of the Boston Marathon, the most historic of all marathons. Every marathoner dreams of earning a bib to run on the epic course and experience the chants of the women of Wellesley College and run down the finisher’s chute on Boylston Street.

This year runners met with 40 degree temperatures and rain. But the crowds turned out to keep the runners pumped out for all 26.2 miles, despite what happened two years ago with the Boston Marathon bombing.

The field included 24,139 Americans and 6,166 runners from other countries (97 countries in total).

The results:

Top Men Finishers

1. Lelisa Desisa ETH 2:09:17
2. Yemane Adhane Tsegay ETH 2:09:48
3. Wilson Chebet KEN 2:10:22
4. Bernard Kipyego KEN 2:10:47
5. Wesley Korir KEN 2:10:49
6. Frankline Chepkwony KEN 2:10:52
7. Dathan Ritzenhein USA 2:11:20
8. Meb Keflezighi USA 2:12:42
9. Tadese Tola ETH 2:13:35
10. Vitaliy Shafar UKR 2:13:52

Top Women Finishers

1. Caroline Rotich KEN 2:24:55
2. Mare Dibaba ETH 2:24:59
3. Buzunesh Deba ETH 2:25:09
4. Desiree Linden USA 2:25:39
5. Sharon Cherop KEN 2:26:05
6. Caroline Kilel KEN 2:26:40
7. Aberu Kebede ETH 2:26:52
8. Shure Demise ETH 2:27:14
9. Shalane Flanagan USA 2:27:47
10. Joyce Chepkirui KEN 2:29:07

My favorites:

I hoped for another Meb win, as this would make it the second year in a row. But sadly, he fell short and came in eighth. I also used to work for Arizona State University in the athletics department, and Desiree Linden ran for the track team during that time. I am proud she crafted a professional running career for herself–her running form and technique are admirable and rarely found. She came in fourth and was the first woman from the U.S. to cross the finish line. I hope next year she makes the podium.

I love to follow the race online and root for my friends who all made to the finish. I hope you all heal quickly!


Core Exercises Off The Floor

When we talk about working your abs – or core – the first thing most people think of is the classic crunch. And, don’t get me wrong, the crunch has it’s place. In fact, according to two separate studies – one in 2001 and the other in 2014 – both conducted by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the crunch is still the best overall core exercise.

Sort of. For one thing, many people just do the crunch wrong and end up either limiting the effectiveness of the exercise or causing injury to their lower backs. Many more have preexisting injuries that stop them from even attempting the crunch.

But another issue comes up when you consider the mechanics of human movement. Your core is just not made to be doing much while you’re lying down. Those muscles are meant to keep you upright and moving correctly. So, it stands to reason that the best way to work them would be while you’re standing up.

What follows are some simple exercises that you can do to work your core while standing. These having the added benefit of training your balance and stability – aspects that are very valuable to the athlete.



  1. Woodchoppers – Stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart so that your left leg is slightly ahead of your right. Hold either a medicine ball, a dumbbell or a cable handle in both your hands with the weight resting on your right side and your arms straight. Keeping your knees soft lift the weight up and across your body so that it comes above your left shoulder. Slowly return to starting position. Switch the position of your feet and weight to work the right side.
  2. Around-the-worlds – Stand with your feet even, about shoulder-width apart. Hold a medicine ball or dumbbell in both your hands, with the weight resting in front of you and your arms straight. Tighten your core to stay upright and swing the weight in a wide circle, clockwise around your body. Keep your arms straight throughout the movement. After 10 reps, pause and reverse direction.
  3. Side bends – There are several ways you can work the side bend movement, but holding the weight above your head adds a challenging element that can help improve balance and posture more than the traditional take. Stand with your feet at shoulder-width and hold a weight above your head. Keeping your arms straight and your knees soft, bend your torso as far as you can to the left. Slowly return to center before repeating the movement on your right side.

Try adding these movements to your normal workouts as a way to improve, not only the strength of your core, but also your balance and posture.

Heat Stroke Symptoms

IMG-20130716-00010I finished a race yesterday out in the desert. Sweat beaded up on my forehead and I felt thankful I applied at least some sunblock before crossing the start line. Although temperatures aren’t blasting yet all over the country, it will happen sooner than later.

I found a recent study offering a new way for athletes to combat high body temperatures. In Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, heat stroke kills thousands of people and is the leading cause of death among young athletes. Be forewarned: heat stroke kills.

You can prevent heat stroke with proper hydration and limited outside workouts during the hottest parts of the day. Before heat stroke occurs, you can watch for the warning signs for heat exhaustion–its precursor–which include heavy sweating, clammy skin and nausea. If your body temperature reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit, however, you will be susceptible to heat stroke.

The authors of the study found a way you can ease heat stroke should it occur: apply cold packs to the hands, cheeks and feet. These are three areas of the body in which blood vessels don’t contract when cold packs are applied.

In the study, the researchers had 10 visibly healthy men wear military clothes specially designed to trap heat and then had them walk on a treadmill for 30 to 40 minutes in a room heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

All 10 completed a treadmill test three times, resting at least one day between each trial for recovery purposes. On the first test, they received no treatment for lowering body temperature. The second time researchers gave them cold packs and applied them to the armpits, neck and groin. On the third test, they received cold packs on their hands, cheeks and feet.

After each test, their body temperature was 102.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Here were the results:

  • Body temperature after first test with no cold treatment: 101.8 degrees Fahrenheit after 10 minutes.
  • Body temperature after second test with traditional cold treatment: 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit after 10 minutes.
  • Body temperature after third test with new cold treatment: 100.9 degrees Fahrenheit after 10 minutes.

Although not a perfect test because the researchers only used healthy, young males, these are significant results. You should be aware of how to help yourself or other runners when faced with symptoms of too much heat.


Fast Food – the New Recovery Trick?

When a 2012 study reported that chocolate milk was an effective post-exercise recovery drink, athletes and exercisers everywhere rejoiced. Not only did the findings mean that you could save money by skipping some of the fairly expensive recovery products out there, but it also gave you an excuse to drink chocolate milk guilt-free.

A similar wave of excitement – albeit with a little more hesitation – is sweeping the health and fitness realm in response to a University of Montana research paper entitled “Post-exercise Glycogen Recovery and Exercise Performance is Not Significantly Different Between Fast Food and Sport Supplement.” While the title itself may not be particularly exciting, the findings of the study carry some interesting revelations for athletes when it comes to post-exercise nutrition.


What They Did and What They Found

For the study, 11 male subjects (all recreational athletes) completed two separate time trials on a stationary bike. First the men took on a 90-minute ride, designed to deplete their glycogen stores, followed by 4 hours of rest. During this rest period, muscle biopsies were taken to measure glycogen levels.

The subjects were also given a recovery meal, consisting of either traditional sports supplements or fast food. Each of the meals was designed to contain roughly the same amounts of total calories (about 1300) and macronutrients. At the end of the 4 hour rest break, the men were put back on their bikes for a 20K time trial.

After various numbers – including performance, glucose response, insulin response, cholesterol response – were crunched, there was no difference between the fast food and the sports supplements.


Implications and Cautions

After this story first broke several months ago, many publications latched onto it. But, according to one of the authors of the study, these articles misrepresented the findings. This study is not a free pass to load up on fast food.

The positive results in the study, related to eating fast food as a means of recovery, were achieved with small portions.

You also have to consider that food contains a lot more than just calories – especially fast food. There are plenty of preservatives, dyes, flavorings and texturizers added to processed food that may have any number of negative health effects. While these additives most likely will not have any acute impact on your athletic performance, they probably aren’t doing you any favors in the long-term. So, then, you have a choice to make: If you do not typically indulge in fast food, you may consider allowing yourself this one dietary lapse as a recovery meal. On the other hand, your repulsion from fast food might be too strong to even let that slide.

Either way, the facts remain: Fast food is – depending on your personal attitude toward the subject – an acceptable recovery meal. If your dietary conscience allows and you can practice moderation, grabbing a bite from the nearest fast food establishment can provide you with a cheaper, more accessible option than the more traditional sports recovery foods on the market.

Races to Run in 2015

Photo courtesy Medioimages/Photodisc

With spring in full swing as we make our way out of winter hibernation, it feels like a new day with running. I no longer wake up to darkness and leave work with the moon shining. Thank goodness! I am not a fan of winter. Although I must endure spring allergies, I prefer this season with all the flowers blooming along my long runs. You might start thinking of filling up your racing calendar now with some fresh races for 2015. Here are a few ideas for you:

Vegas Shenanigans

In freezing cold with mittens wrapped around my fingers and a headband clung tightly to my ears, I headed out for a  13.1-mile run/walk that  raced down to the Stratosphere and turned to head into downtown Las Vegas along the old Fremont Street. I then ran back down the strip to the finish line at Mandalay Bay. Unfortunately, this race was a little too crowded for my taste–it took a good 5-10 minutes just to cross my timing chip over the finish line due to the crowds. But…if the thought of running down the strip with no cars allowed suits your running fancy and finish times don’t matter, the Las Vegas Strip at Night Half Marathon and Marathon should come near the end of your racing schedule.

Best Finish Line Treat

Hot Chocolate 15K. Partnering with a popular chocolate company, these races populate the United States and offer runners something better than a medal that sits in box–finishers receive liquid chocolate. With cardboard plates shaped for fondue, runners enjoy warm chocolate with treats such as pretzels, marshmallows and fruit to dip. If that’s not enough, hot chocolate is also offered to keep your insides warm after running. In the words of Rachel Ray, Yum-O!

Photo courtesy Press Association

Not for the Faint of Heart

Tough Mudder. I have to admit, I’ve not done a Tough Mudder. I’ve done a mud run and highly suggest completing one. Prepare your body for hours of torture! From an obstacle course called the Arctic Enema to electric wires, I don’t know if this race is for everyone. Even those names alone have me shaking in my running shoes, but crossing the finish line might make one feel pretty tough, so to speak. I’m interested to hear about anyone who has completed one…would you recommend?

Best Clothing and People Watching

Awesome 80s Run. With spandex, neon colors, bangles and leg warmers, how can you not love a race where you don fantastically ugly outfits? For those without acid wash jeans still in the back of the closet, this race may cost you a registration fee and a trip to Goodwill. But the bright colors of participants will have passersby scratching their heads.


Does Unstable Surface Training Work?

If you walk into just about any training facility anywhere, you’re likely to see instability training equipment – even if you don’t recognize it by that very clinic name. Sometimes called “unstable surface training,” this approach uses things like Swiss balls, BOSU balls and suspension trainers to challenge your balance while training for strength. The idea is that this extra element will help you make faster progress, especially in core strength and balance, than tradition strength training would.

For athletes in most sports, this seems like a profitable concept. After all, improving your balance can both reduce risk of injury and increase your overall efficiency of movement. With claims like that, it makes sense that what was once a training modality limited to rehabilitation has quickly spread into the athletic world.

But, we have to asked the unfortunate question: Does it work?


Defining Your Expectations

Within the realm of health and fitness, this is often a very difficult question to answer. Really, it all depends on what you expect unstable training to do for you; How do you define “work?”

Looking at the classic uses – that of decreasing lower back pain and encouraging recovery from injuries –  it seems like unstable training does work. Numerous studies have shown that resistance training performed using these unstable surfaces can challenge the core and other muscles in such a way that these aspects of fitness significantly improve.

Studies have also backed up the use of unstable training as a way to prevent injury in athletes. Specifically when it comes to the all-too-common knee and shoulder injuries, regularly incorporating unstable surfaces into your strength training program can help to condition your muscles so that they operate in a balanced way – preventing problems down the road.

This “does it work?” question becomes a little messy, though, when we get into the world of strength and power.


Picking A Side

All of the above-mentioned benefits of unstable training could be invaluable to you in various stages of your training. However, the balance-testing element of it could also limit your development of both strength and power.

Because your muscles and joints are struggling just to keep you upright, unstable training prevents complete muscle activation. Put simply, your body just has too much going on to worry about fully contracting your muscles. Without forceful muscle contractions, you will not see the same increased in strength that you might from a more traditional program.

A recent study in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, though, compared the benefits of a traditional circuit workout versus one performed on unstable surfaces. Keep in mind that circuit training is typically not focused on developing strength, but usually shows more general improvements in fitness.

At the end of the trial, there was no significant difference between the two programs in strength, power, speed or jumping ability. This means that, when it comes to circuit training, you can have your pick between stable or unstable training. Since unstable training requires specialized equipment and can be more difficult, though, it doesn’t seem to be worth it.




New Study on High Intensity Workouts

Dublin Marathon 2012We’ve all heard about the newest fitness phenomenon. No, I’m not talking about CrossFit, but HIIT–the acronym for high-intensity interval training. In HIIT, rather than endure long workouts to receive fitness gains, you workout in short bursts that take your body to the maximum. Although runner’s still leave in that weekly long run, HIIT can benefit runners on a time crunch and even make you in better shape in less time.

New evidence suggests high intensity workouts are even more powerful than previously thought. In a new article being published in Annals of Internal Medicine, high-intensity workouts show a clear benefit in those wishing to reduce glucose levels.

Researchers studied 300 abdominally obese adults to determine separate effects of the amount of exercise and the intensity on abdominal obesity. All participants were asked to either perform short, high intensity workouts or long, lower intensity workouts five times a week for 24 weeks. As for diet, all participants were asked to eat a healthy diet, but keep their caloric intake the same as usual.

At the end of the study, all lost the same in inches in the waist, but the high intensity exercise group reduced their two-hour glucose levels.

Dr. Ross, PhD of the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University in Ontario, said results show high intensity can reduce glucose levels and higher intensity isn’t for those in shape.

How to create your own HIIT workout:

1. Increase incline on a treadmill and speed up the pace.
2. Run 1 mile at full speed and then stop to do push ups, crunches, etc. Then run 1 mile at full speed and stop to do push ups, crunches, etc. This allows you to run faster miles and tires you out faster because of the break in between.
3. Incorporate FARTLEK into your running workouts.


What’s The Best Shoulder Exercise?

Your shoulders – or deltoids – are extremely important muscles regardless of your chosen sport or daily routine. Unfortunately, the delts are also a commonly neglected muscle group. So, what’s the best shoulder exercise?

As it turns out, that’s a pretty difficult question to answer. The deltoids are actually an extremely complex muscle group that, unlike many muscle groups, can perform flexion, extension, rotation and other movements. To accomplish this remarkable range of motion, the deltoids are actually made up of three difficult muscle groups – the anterior, medial and posterior deltoids – that work around a ball-and-socket joint. Because of this commonly unappreciated complexity, many people tend to have an unbalanced training program that usually just focuses on the anterior delts – those in the front that we see when we look in the mirror. Those are the show-delts.

To help sort through all this, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) sponsored a study that examined how a number of popular shoulder exercise activate this essential muscle group. Their results are useful, eye-opening and a little frustrating.


A Complicated Answer

Specifically, the study used 10 of the most common shoulder exercises. The list included:

  • dumbbell shoulder press
  • push-up
  • cable diagonal raise
  • dips
  • dumbbell front raise
  • battling ropes
  • barbell upright row
  • bent-arm lateral raise
  • 45-degree incline row
  • seated rear lateral raise

Each of the 16 participants in the study performed 5 reps of each exercise at 70 percent of their 1RM (except in the case of battle ropes, push-ups and dips). During the sets, the subjects wore electrodes that monitored how thoroughly each exercise activated the various parts of the deltoid group.


What They Found

Here’s where things get irritating: there’s no one exercise that effectively works all three parts of the delts. And this is a problem since – as with any muscle group – training imbalances can cause some significant problems and even injuries.

The real question, then, is which exercise works best for each deltoid portion? For the anterior delts, it seems like the dumbbell shoulder press is the best option. The 45-degree incline row was most effective for the medial group. Finally, the seated rear lateral raises were best for your posterior delts.

What we see, then, is that a complete shoulder routine cannot consist of just one exercise – which is actually pretty common. To be a solid workout, you really need to include several exercise that work your shoulders from different angles. That being said, this study did show that the medial deltoids get worked along with the anterior or posterior in several exercises.

According to these findings, a balanced shoulder routine would consist of the dumbbell shoulder press and either the 45-degree incline row or the seated rear lateral raises. While the 45-degree rows do not activate the posterior delts as well as the rear lateral raise, they have a greater effect on both the medial while still significantly working the rear delts. Also, many people find the 45-degree rows more comfortable – which is worth considering when it comes to exercise choice.

So, there you have it: There isn’t a best shoulder exercise because the shoulders aren’t just a one-directional muscle that can be totally worked with a single movement. To get the greatest benefits, while preventing injury, design your workouts to challenge all aspects of your delts.





Feel Good Running Stories

copy-cropped-cross-country_1.jpgAre you suffering from a bout of seasonal affective disorder? Is winter sticking around a little extra long even though spring began last week? If so, you can fill a few minutes with these happy stories I rounded up on running. I seen these make the rounds of social media and love any feel good story, especially those on running.


Women Gets Extra Help with 10K

Check out this story on a woman who finished a 10K with the help of America’s finest. Asia Ford lost more than 200 pounds and decided to enter a 10K as a new finest challenge. She struggled after mile 4, but a cop noticed and grabbed her hand. Together, they finished the race. Added bonus: a nice, altruistic gesture from a cop. Cops deserve some good press.



10 Year Old Breaks World Record

A 10 year old broke the half marathon world record for his age. Reinhardt Harrison began running not long after learning to walk, giving him a few years of practice before accomplishing this feat. He finished the Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon in Virginia with a whopping time of 1:35:02, an incredible two minutes faster than the previous record. He said he wasn’t even running at top speed because his dad told him to treat it as a training run. Is this a future Olympic marathoner? We would have to assume so.

Obese Man Commits to Run 5K Every Month

derek500_0Derek Mitchell weighs 570 pounds, but that doesn’t stop him from pushing the fitness limits. He has decided he will run a 5K every month for all of 2015. He recently completed 3.1 miles at the Big 12 Run in Kansas City, Missouri. He doesn’t care what place he comes in, as long as he crosses that finish line.