Green Tomatoes Protect Muscles

Muscle wasting, or atrophy, has become a sort of boogeyman in the world of health and fitness. This condition, though it can be caused by any number of illnesses, afflicts us all at some point as a result of prolonged inactivity and aging. But atrophy has a much higher cost than just a hit to your ego and the loss of your hard-earned muscle; Your health could be put in serious danger. If it’s left untreated, atrophy can lead to weakness, fatigue, an increased risk of injury and an overall lower quality of life. To be sure, exercise helps but it hasn’t proven to be effective in every case.

While you might not be currently at a high risk for atrophy, you doubtlessly want to do everything you can to hang on to your muscle. According to a new study from the University of Iowa, the solution may come from an extremely unexpected source: Unripe, green tomatoes.


The Research

Using a tool that had previously been developed by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University called the Connectivity Map, researchers at the University of Iowa were eventually able to zero in on a small compound found in green tomatoes called tomatidine. After first identifying and isolating tomatidine, the researchers tested the effects of the compound on cultured human muscle cells.

Much to their pleasant surprise, tomatidine encouraged noticeable growth muscle in this controlled environment. But results achieved in a test tube cannot always be recreated in a living organism. So, the next step was to begin including tomatidine in the diet of healthy mice.

These trials produced two fascinating results: First, the mice that were fed with tomatidine were more muscular, stronger and had better endurance than the control group. Second, the tomatidine group did not experience a change in body weight. This suggests that tomatidine also has an mechanism for lowering body fat percentage, in addition to building muscle.

The researchers came to the hopeful conclusion that tomatidine causes a change in gene expression that is opposite that of muscle atrophy. Essentially, this compound seems to be the antidote for muscle wasting.


Words Of Caution

This research, while intriguing, isn’t a reason in and of itself to go stock up on green tomatoes. Why not?

First of all, as the researchers themselves noted, we don’t currently know how many green tomatoes you would need to eat to get an effective dosage of tomatidine. Since the research has only been conducted in mice thus far, we also don’t know how much tomatidine is needed to get the same effects in humans.

Second, the team of researchers made a worrying move based on there findings: They founded their own biotech company called Emmyon with the expressed purpose finding ways to incorporate tomatidine into enriched foods and medications. The company is also exploring a similar, but weaker, compound called ursolic acid that is found in apple peels. While their motives may be completely pure, it is worrying that no other researchers have yet studied tomatidine.

Nevertheless, the current body of evidence does support the idea that green tomatoes could be an effective treatment for muscle atrophy. Not only that, tomatidine could effectively stimulate muscle growth is healthy people as well.







Avoid Running Injuries This Spring

girl runningAs the weather turns warmer and you start to move your workouts to the trails instead of the gym, you will need to be mindful of injuries. Your body has adjusted to the smooth tread and now leaping over rocks and pounding the asphalt can take a while for your legs to adjust. Here are a few common injuries and how best to avoid them:

Lower Back Pain:
Especially if you wear a water belt, you may feel inflammation in your lower back after a long run. It also depends on your posture. If you hunch, you are also susceptible to pain.

How to fix:
First and foremost, inflammation relievers, such as over-the-counter medication, can help, as can padding the area with ice. Physical therapists at The Joint, in Rancho Bernardo, Calif., part of a nationwide franchise of chiropractors, suggest icing the back 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off for a couple of days.

Pulling your hamstrings:
Once you start to add hill training, which often happens with you hit the trails in the spring, it is common to pull a few muscles along the way.

How to fix:
Lay off running until you feel better, otherwise you risk further injury. You should strengthen these muscles with high repetitions of weights to build endurance once the pain subsides. You can also add the dead lift into your weight lifting repertoire. Focus on a neutral spine and not how heavy the weight. Remember, you are just trying to build strength for running, not to show off to your gym buddies.

When the weather begins to finally get better, it’s hard to harness your desire to keep running. When you run six or seven days a week, however, it can cause fatigue.

How to fix:
Switch to light lifting or go for a bike ride. Cross training will actually help the running.


Mental and Physical Benefits of “Green Exercise”

As we finally start to see an end to what has been a particularly long and challenging winter for most of the U.S., the thought of being able to exercise outside in the sun is probably absolutely thrilling for you. In a past post, we explored some of the benefits of this so-called “green exercise” but paid particular attention to the physical advantages that getting outside can offer you. Several studies, however, have seen mental and even emotional benefits. What are some of these benefits and could they also improve your physical well-being?


A Brief Overview

A large review, conducted in 2011 but the American Chemical Society asked the question “Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors?” To find the answer, the researchers looked at data collected by a number of sources including 11 different studies that involved a total of 833 subjects.

While none of the studies used in the review looked at any of the physical effects of exercise, some thought-provoking mental effects were observed. For example, those volunteers who exercised outdoors had more energy afterward and reported decreased feelings of anger, anxiety and depression. Most importantly, the subjects who went outside were more satisfied with their workout and more likely to repeat it than those who stayed in.

The significance of this last fact really cannot be overstated. Workout enjoyment is a key factor is helping you form healthy habits and reach your fitness goals. If doing something as small as going outside is going to make it easier for you to adhere to a routine, then it becomes a very big deal.


The Physical Link

Although it’s not news that your mental health can have a powerful impact on your physical performance, and visa versa, a new study explored this link further. Specifically, the researchers asked children aged 9-10 to cycle for 15 minutes. One group was shown scenes of nature while the other had nothing to look at but the wall. At the end of the workouts, the children that got to enjoy a simulated view had significantly lower blood pressure than those who didn’t.

While it’s true that similar effects haven’t yet been seen in adults, it’s reasonable to assume that the link is there. What’s truly fascinating about this particular study, though, is that the benefits were observed with a simulated natural scene; the children didn’t actually go outside. This suggests that simply watching footage of nature on a television screen mounted to a treadmill is more beneficial than nothing at all. Keeping this in mind can help you get the most out of your workouts even when weather or other factors confine you to the gym.

It’s also worth noting that the study didn’t examine the effects of watching something besides natural scenes. Since many people like to watch the news, sitcoms or other shows, it would be beneficial to understand whether or not this could have the same effect on your blood pressure.

The fact remains, though, that with the days getting longer and warmer there is more and more reason to move your workout outside.








Is Too Much Running Bad for You?

Goodshoot 1In the past few weeks, the subject of marathons has become an elevated topic in newspapers and websites. A recent study published in BMJ by Dr. Beth Taylor, et al. used several Boston qualifiers and their partners to show the effects of running on cardiovascular health.

Dr. Taylor and her colleagues contacted numerous Boston Marathon qualifiers and inquired on their relationship status: Did they have a partner? If yes, did their partners run as well? If the answer was also yes, the researchers asked if both of them would be available and willing to have their heart scanned and cardiovascular risk assessed.

A total of 42 runners agreed, along with their partners (thus doubling the study participants). The demographics looked like this:

It was split 50/50 for male/females.
Ages ranged from 33-59.
Partners’ ages were near the same but the majority of them were not active runners.

At the Boston Marathon expo in 2012, exactly one day before the race, the participants visited a lab located next door and filled out a questionnaire about exercise and health histories and blood samples were taken. They then had their heart scanned using a noninvasive method.

Results were not surprising: runners were thinner than their partners, had lower blood pressure, lower heart rates and lower levels of bad cholesterol. However, according to a New York Times article on the study, “Running did not insulate the racers altogether from heart disease, the scientists found. Some of the racers, particularly the oldest ones, carried large deposits of plaques in their arteries, a worrying sign.”

Basically, running doesn’t relieve you of aging, unfortunate genetics and bad habits that you formed before you started the sport. Is this surprising to you?

Good news: the study showed marathon training is not bad for your heart as is often the myth in fitness.



Pre Race Warmups

So it’s race day. You’ve been carefully preparing yourself for weeks, working up to your goal pace. For breakfast, you closely followed our recommendations for the perfect pre-race breakfast and you’re standing-by waiting for the event to start. But, you’re pre-race ritual shouldn’t end at breakfast. Before that call to start rings out, you still have one last, extremely important step: the warmup.


Excuses, Excuses

On race day, as on any other workout day, the warmup is often woefully neglected. Sometimes, it’s just forgotten about. You may be late getting to the track or stressed about the even and it might just slip your mind to spend a few minutes warming up. This is understandable, though not completely excusable – as we will see.

Or, shamefully, you might intentionally skip or skimp on your warmup. Often, when people do this it’s base on the belief that their warmup will waste precious energy that they need for the actual run. This is not only wrong, but totally counterproductive.

If you’ve eaten properly that morning and in the days leading up to your race, you have more than enough glycogen packed away to fuel your race. Of course, the situation changes for long races like marathons but we’ll address that later. For now, let’s take a closer look at the goal of a good warmup and how to pull it off.


Get To The Point

Basically, the purpose of your race-day warmup is to get yourself up to speed before the race even starts. This is more important in short races, since marathoners can (and should) use the first mile or so as their warmup. You don’t have that luxury during a 5k.

Since short races don’t give you a lot of time to waste on gaining speed during the actual event, your warmups need to be longer and slightly more intense.

Try to end your warmup about 5 minutes before the scheduled started time to give yourself some wiggle-room if the race is early or late. Ideally, your warmup should be over precisely 2-minutes before the race, but that’s pretty difficult to pin down.


How To Do It

Now that we’ve covered the basic principles involved, let’s get down to the details. For any sport, your warmup should simulate the movements that you’ll be performing during competition. This is sort of a no-brainer when it comes to running since walking or jogging is such a straightforward option. If you have a convenient way to measure distance, you can also do 100-meter strides but this not always be readily available and may tempt you to push yourself harder than needed.

For a 5k, take about 15 to 30 minutes to gradually work up to your goal speed. As mentioned, the longer races call for shorter warmups so that a marathoner could get away with just a brief 5-minute jog before starting off.

Just to get you in the right mindset, consider doing your warmup on the final stretch of your track if that’s an option. It may sound a little strange, but a big part of race day is mental and this little mind-trick will make it use for you to visualize crossing the finish line.

In addition to the basic walk or jog as a warmup, there is a slew of other exercises you could perform to help you run better. We’ll discuss a few of those in a future post. In the meantime, do you have any tips on warming up? Please share them in the comments.







Mud Runs: What to Know Ahead of Time

cropped-Nike_bw_7_sm.jpgWith the booming mud run craze, it’s easy to see why many runners have changed out their standard 5K “run around the park” to mud runs complete with obstacle courses. They make you feel like a kid again and give you the perfect excuse to get dirty and burn calories at the same time. Here are a few tips to know before you click on that registration button:

Volunteer at an event first. Because most know little about mud runs until they actually do one, you can acquaint yourself with the race by volunteering. It’s actually a very smart way to acclimate yourself to race conditions and lend a helping hand in the process.

Buy tight clothing at a discount store. Because of the level of muddiness you will incur, you probably don’t want to wear your nice, expensive running outfit. Save the apparel you buy from First to the Finish for your training runs and regular races. You don’t want to ruin those clothes! You’ll end up so dirty you’ll probably just want to toss out what you have rather than bring it home and ruin your washer and dryer.

Train. Although a mud run sounds like something you’d do “just for fun,” it still requires you complete the full mileage–along with plenty of obstacles to boot. Some mud races require you scale walls, jump over hurdles and practically swim through mud under low-hanging wire. It’s actually HARDER than a standard 5K.

Don’t worry about time. Because of the difficulty of the obstacles, you really need to go at your own pace and not care about your competition.

Bring your friends. Often mud runs allow for team events–this is a great way to bond with others and even bring co-workers for some fun team building event.

Good luck and happy mud run training!



Long Jump Plyometric Drills

To the casual onlooker, the long jump might seem like a fairly straightforward even. From the athlete’s perspective, though, an immense amount of focus, control and strength is required. First, you have to explode forward into a full sprint to gain as much speed as possible. At the same time, that speed needs to be controlled enough that you can time your forward leap perfectly. For the actual jump, of course, another burst of power is needed. Clearly a variety of skill need to be developed for you to excel at this challenging event. However, building up your explosive power will go a long way in improving your long jump. Plyometric training is an ideal way to achieve this effect.


Plyometrics Overview

Characterized by dynamic jumping movements, plyometrics training is all about teaching your muscles to exert their maximum amount of force in the shortest time possible. This is achieved using the rather surprising fact that when a muscle is stretched before contraction, the contraction is more powerful than otherwise. Think about how you naturally dip your weight low before jumping upward. This reflex stretches the muscle to prepare for the leap.

Plyometrics capitalizes on this phenomenon to increase your explosive power. For a long jumper, the increase in power can translate to an impressive increase in your jump length. You will also notice and improvement in your sprint speed.


Exercises For Long Jumps

  • Split Squat Jumps – Start in the lunge position with you left leg behind you, bent at the knee. Your right thigh should be parallel to the ground. In one motion, jump upward and switch the position of your legs so that you left leg is now leading. That’s one rep.
  • Tuck Jumps – Stand with your hands at your sides and your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and then jump upward. While in the air, bring your knees to your chest. Repeat the motion immediately, without resting between reps. Land on the balls of your feet to reduce the force of impact when you hit the ground. To make this more challenging, perform the jump-and-tuck movement with only one leg. This single-leg variation will build not only your power but also your balance.
  • Depth Jumps – This deceitfully difficult exercise begins with you standing on a 12in box with your toes close to the edge. Step down with both feet and land lightly on the ground. Immediately jump upward. You should spend a minimal amount of time on the ground. Gradually increase the box height to make this even more difficult.

The exact number of reps and sets that you perform will depend largely on the rest of your training schedule. Because of the dynamic nature of plyometrics, though, they come with an increased risk of injury and should only be done a maximum of twice per week. Make sure your form is perfect and keep your landings light.

This extra emphasis on form, though, could also benefit you during competition. Your landings will be lighter and, by extension, your steps will be faster.


Have you used plyometrics in your training? What tips do you have?








What You Shouldn’t Do While Running

runWe’ve all seen  runners at every race (and I’m completely guilty of this as well), carrying water bottles, iPods, cell phones and other gadgets. When you head out for a long run, it’s necessary to carry some kind of nutrition with you and many of us enjoy listening to tunes while we workout.

However, a recent article in the Washington Post suggests that may not be a good idea. In fact, holding objects while running can actually harm your form. Why? Good running starts in the hands. According to Ben Opipari, a former track coach, it’s relatively easy to see the difference between holding an object while running and not:

“To see how this happens, pretend to grip a bottle and move your arms as you would while running. Even without the bottle, your forearm muscles contract. Or try running with your fists clenched. That tension in your hands creeps to your forearms, then your upper arms. This makes shoulder rotation more difficult, which inhibits your leg drive. To become more relaxed, hold a saltine cracker between your thumb and forefinger, and try not to break it while running. It’s easy to see how even an empty water bottle or an iPod could have a detrimental effect on your gait.”

Jonathan Cane, founder of City Coach Multisport in New York City, can easily spot a runner holding on to something: One arm will move less and thus creates an asymmetric movement. In short, you don’t have proper form if you can’t move both your arms. They are more important than you think in proper running technique.

Luckily, for those out on a run lasting one hour or less, you don’t need water. Your body’s natural hydration should work properly and you don’t need to drink until post-exercise. However, if you’re training for a half marathon or longer, you need to run more than an hour at least once per week. If this is the case, you’re better off wearing a small hydration belt that doesn’t weigh much to leave your arms free or better yet, loop the course and come back to a water bottle you’ve left at a particular spot.

Happy running!



Post Race Nutrition: Recover and Refuel

Last week, we talked about how to eat before the race to maximize your performance. So, now we logically need to address what to do once the race is over. By this point, you’ve burned massive amounts of energy and the goal of the post-run meal is to recover and refuel. Of course, your recovery needs after a 5k are going to be very different than if you had run a marathon instead. There are, however, a few guiding principles you can use to make sure you properly recover after your race.

But, to fully understand the logic behind this approach, let’s first look at what a long race does to your body.


Why You Need To Recover

During a run, especially during long bouts, your muscles are under an incredible amount of stress. To meet the demands your making on them, your muscles need to stay fueled with glycogen. This is exactly why your pre-race carbo-load is so important; to make sure you have the necessary fuel in reserve.

But your body doesn’t only use glycogen during a race. That sugar is the primary source of fuel for everything you do throughout the day. So, after a race, you’re glycogen stores are low – if not totally depleted – and you need to replace them.

Carbohydrates isn’t the only concern, though. All that work literally destroys your muscles, creating countless microscopic tears in the fiber which need to be repaired. In order to properly recover, then, your muscles need protein.

And of course, when you run you sweat. That’s a lot of lost water that your body desperately needs. Rehydration, as well as getting more electrolytes, is also important at this point.


The Size of Your Meal

As a general rule of thumb, you’re going to want to eat about 100 calories for every mile you ran. This is especially important for long-distance races, however a problem presents itself. After a long race, you are extremely susceptible to digestive upset and cramming 2600 calories in one sitting is an even worse idea than it would normally be. Spread those calories out, even if it takes a few days to completely replace them.

This brings us neatly to the topic of calorie-free recovery drinks. Don’t use them. Generally these products achieve their “calorie-free” banner by replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener. Along with all the other concerns connected to these substances, the fact remains that a big dose of simple carbs is exactly what you need immediately after a race.



After considering the effects that a race can have on your system, it becomes clear what your meal should contain: Carbs and protein.

Most runners use a ratio of about 80 percent carbs and 20 percent protein in their recovery meal, which can also be in the form of a drink. Several commercial products sell mixes or prepared drinks that will give you a dose of each in the appropriate measure. If you need something quick, though, chocolate milk is a classic DIY solution.

While fat usually accompanies protein, try to limit your intake. This is especially true when it comes to greasy foods. Remember, at that kind of exertion, your stomach is fragile and easily upset.

What have you found to be the best way to refuel post-run? Please share your tips in the comments!






Running on St. Patrick’s Day

UnknownYesterday I completed another St. Patrick’s Day race. Everyone dressed up in green, some as leprechauns, some as rainbows and pots of gold. Many women wore green tutus and men wore bright green suits–although I cannot fathom running in a full suit. No thank you.

Although it was all in good spirit, I felt it appropriate to think of how lucky I am to run. The luck ‘o the Irish blessed us with this gift–for many, the gift comes naturally; for those like me, the gift takes a lot of work. During my hot race yesterday, here are five ways I considered for all of us to feel thankful for our luckiness in this sport:

1. Think of someone from each mile to mile you are lucky to have in your life. I completed this yesterday when my endurance started to run thin and temperatures soared. I thought of my running coach from back in the day who motivated me and called me late at night when I didn’t seem in happy spirits at track practice–just to make sure everything was okay. I thought of a friend who is losing her sight and can no longer run at night and how blessed I am to have her in my life.

2. Volunteer at a race. We all rely so much on volunteers to give us water and endurance drinks at aid stations, pass out our bibs at packet pickup, and hand out our medals as we cross the finish line. It is way past time to give back and pay it forward.

3. Clean up the trails. I have done quite a bit of hiking lately and see so many groups out picking up trash off the trails. With all our gels we leave in the streets during races and cups we throw to the side, we can make the world look a little cleaner because we all know we have left plenty of trash along our running paths.

4. Serve as a pacer. For me, I would need to pace a very slow group of runners, but I certainly could do it. I could help others wanting to cross a finish line and get them to their goal.

5. Become a fundraiser. I participate in numerous charity 5Ks, but don’t do any fundraising of my own to support the cause. It’s just my registration fee alone. I could donate more and ask my friends and family to help support worthwhile causes all the while getting in shape.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!