Fun Workouts Are Effective Workouts

It’s a pretty common problem among both beginner and veteran exercisers; They continue to gain weight. No matter how many miles they put in a week or how much time they spend throwing weights around at the gym, the scale keeps going in the wrong direction. While there can be several reasons for this to happen, the most common has to do with the way you view both your workouts and your post-workout meals.

So, what’s the problem? I’m sure that, at some point in your fitness career, you’ve been in this situation: You dragged yourself to the gym, cranked out a workout that you really didn’t want to do and then felt like you deserved a treat afterward. The logic usually goes that since you just torched all those calories, you can afford to indulge a little.

The problem with this thought-process is… well, that it’s wrong.


Look At The Numbers

Even though there are all sorts of problems with trying to estimate your caloric expenditure, let’s assume that you ran at a pace of about 10 min/mile for around 30 minutes. For the average person, that would do away with somewhere around 340 calories.

Now, that’s a pretty respectable run for you so you decide that you deserve a prize. And you just love Wendy’s frostys but, you’ve trying to be good, so you just get a small. Guess how many calories are in that small frosty? That’s right, 340. Even a children’s size is going to run you 200 calories, effectively undoing most of your workout.

Since weight loss is dependent on keeping your body in a caloric deficit, those numbers could be making all the difference. Clearly, then, controlling your post-workout snaking is important. Is there something else you can do to make this whole reprogramming process easier, though?

According to a new study, yes. And the solution is fairly simple.


A New Outlook

Actually, the findings in question came from two related studies that were both designed to explore how your view of your workout can effect the results you see from it. In both studies, the subjects were led on a 2km walk around a lake. One group was told that they were going on a exercise walk, while the other was told that it was a scenic walk. Afterward, they were given either a full meal or snack depending on which study they were participating in.

In the first study, those who believed that their walk had been for exercise ate 35 percent more dessert than the subject who thought that it had just been a leisurely stroll around a lake. The second study gave both groups free access to a stash of M&M’s after their walk as a snack. The “exercise” group ate over double the calories of the “scenic” group – 372 calories, compared to just 166.

The article also included a third study, which was strictly observational, wherein the researchers found that people who enjoyed running a competitive race made healthier food choices after the event.

Across all three studies, the groups who enjoyed their exercise – even if they didn’t know it was exercise – were happier and had more energy in addition to eating better.


So What?

The solution, as stated, is fairly simple: Do what you have to do to enjoy your workouts. Mix up your program. Change where you run or bike. Load up your playlist with your favorite music. You could also just keep telling yourself that going for a run outside – even if you hate running – is still better than sitting in an office all day.


What tips do you have for making your runs more enjoyable? Please share them in the comments.






Supercharge Your Day

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

With the heat and humidity hitting hard at this time of year, you may find yourself lacking energy and/or the motivation to run. Although the days remain long, sometimes you can’t muster the desire to workout when the temperatures take their toll. Here are a few ways to keep your energy high throughout the dog days of summer:

Start with green juice. You’ve seen the health enthusiasts drinking their green juices and there’s a reason: They provide loads of vitamins and minerals and many find they can lose weight by adding them to their diet.

Try this recipe, which is the simplest I’ve found:

3 cups water
2 cups spinach or kale
3 cups of fruit–watermelon, mango, pineapple, apple, banana or any combination

Pour three cups of water into a blender, then add the greens one cup at a time so the blender doesn’t get overloaded. Then add in the fruit at the end one cup at a time. Enjoy.

Keep moving. If you work in an office, add in 15-minute walks into your calendar. At most offices I’ve worked, people keep an extra pair of running shoes under their desks and slip them on for regular walks. It can also be a way to stay social if you invite work colleagues to join. In the summer, it’s best to do this in the morning before it gets too hot and you ruin your nice work clothes or try the stairs in your building if they are cool enough. But treating your walks like meetings, you’ll more apt to do it.

Keep peppermint oil nearby. If you stare at a computer all day or like most people, at your Smartphone, peppermint oil helps with headaches triggered by staring at the screen all day.

Eat every three to four hours. If you don’t have the energy to cook, try variations of juices such as the one above or bring nuts and fruit in small packets to make it easy and accessible.



Is Chocolate Milk Really A Good Recovery Drink?

Athletes typically spend a lot of time and money trying to make sure that they are properly fueling their body – both before and after their workouts. The market is flooded with drinks and bars and premade meals that all promise to give you the best possible nutrition after you put your muscles through the ringer – for a considerable price.

It’s really not surprising, then, that people everywhere jumped on the bandwagon when chocolate milk was presented as a viable option for a post-workout recovery drink. Of course, we all want to believe that this is true. All of use – unless, of course, you’re lactose intolerant – would love to be able a cold glass of chocolate milk after a grueling workout. But, is it true? Or are we just fooling ourselves into a lovely delusion?


The Logic and Science Behind It

It all begin several years ago, when researchers decided that a ratio of 4g of carbs to every 1g of protein was the secret to proper recovery from an endurance workout. Not long after that, the dairy industry realized that chocolate milk naturally fits these requirements. And the marketing blitz began.

But is it all just hype or does chocolate milk live up to its reputation?

The short answer is, Yes. In a number of studies, chocolate milk has shown itself to be a more effective post-workout recovery drink than water or sports drinks. Consistently, study groups that were given the treat after their workout saw greater improvements in endurance, power and even body composition than other groups.


Things To Consider

Here’s the thing, though. Look at what the chocolate milk was compared to: Water and sports drinks. Of course it’s going to perform better as a post-workout recovery, the odds are clearly it favor of milk when you look at the situation from a nutritional standpoint.

Of course, milk does have the clear advantage of containing micronutrients like calcium and sodium that will help you body retain water. Chocolate milk is also much cheaper than the products on the market that are specifically formulated to act as recovery meals.

It should also be noted that chocolate milk has been specifically studied for its effects on endurance athletes, so its usefulness for strength training has not been fully explored. According to most sports nutrition experts, recovery drinks are really only needed after endurance events that last more than an hour. For your average training session, water is still just fine.

When it comes to strength training, though, it makes sense that milk would be a viable option. Compared to most other recovery drinks, though, milk is relatively low in protein so it may not be the best option if you don’t mind investing in a protein shake.

We should be clear, at this point, that these studies used low-fat milk rather than whole. That’s not to say that whole milk wouldn’t give you the same recovery benefits, but it does mean that you have the option of limiting your fat if you so choose.

Ultimately, yes. Milk is a suitable post-workout recovery drink. While it isn’t necessarily best in all situations, chocolate milk does provide a cheap and delicious option that can be prepared quickly after an event.






Love of the Sport

Copenhagen_Marathon_443935aI received a good tip this weekend and wanted to share a few I received over the years from other runners I interviewed or ran with at some point.

When you’re running, breathe out when your left foot strikes the ground and this helps with cramping.

Eat a bunch of nachos before you go on a run every once in a while. It will feel like hell, but will prepare the body for a race. When you hit a while, you’ll make it through.

Don’t be afraid of walking. It’s okay to run five minutes and walk five minutes. Many are afraid of walking but it helps you have the energy to finish.

Try not to take a gel before going up hill. Wait until it’s flat.

Treat a training run as a training run. It’s not necessary, in fact it’s detrimental, to go all out all the time. A lot of age groupers try to do this to show off. Don’t.

The most important night of sleep is two days before the race. Most people don’t sleep well the night before a race anyway.water bottles

Try compression socks. They can help with lactic acid build up.

Don’t take a hot shower within 24 hours of a marathon. It can make lactic acid worse.

You don’t need water for the first 60 minutes of running. You should be able to last an hour without needing any hydration.

The longest you need to hold a stretch is 30 seconds. After that, you’ve already maximized a stretches potential and you’ll be wasting time.

What about you? I am sure you have tips to offer!




Vitamin D Improves Blood Sugar and Weight

Here in the south, we’ve been enjoying a steady supply of sunshine over the past few weeks and I have been soaking it up. Having been born and raised in the Northeast, this is a very pleasant change for me. But the summer sun is about a lot more than just getting a tan; sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, a nutrient that offers a host of benefits. Shown to improve everything from depression to heart health, getting adequate vitamin D levels should definitely be a priority for you. But, for the athletes and fitness enthusiasts out there, vitamin D has a special interest.

Previous research has found that obese people tend to have a vitamin D deficiency but the link wasn’t fully understood. A new study, however, has shed some light on how vitamin D can affect your weight loss and healthy living efforts.


The Study

Things really started when researchers realized that the hypothalamus – a region of the brain that is responsible for weight and blood glucose levels – comes fully equipped with vitamin D receptors. Logically, this would explain the link between low vitamin D and obesity. However, more research was needed to be sure.

In an effort to solidify, and understand, this connection researcher experimented with the effects of vitamin D supplementation on obese rats. Over the course of the study, one group have vitamin D injected directly into their hypothalamus, another was given a vitamin D drink and another was given a placebo. All of the groups had their fasting glucose levels taken and then were given a shot of pure sugar to test their insulin reactions.

Both groups that had been given vitamin D were highly sensitive to the release of insulin and their blood sugar levels were quickly returned to normal levels.

Another separate, but related, study gave a group of rats vitamin D supplements for 28 days and observed their eating patterns. In that time, the vitamin D group ate an amazing three times less food than the control group. The vitamin D rats also lost nearly a quarter of their body weight, while the control group lost no weight at all.


What Does It All Mean?

Okay, so how can you use this information in a practical way?

First, these findings show that maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D can help you to stay sensitive to insulin. Along with acting to keep your blood sugar levels balanced and healthy, insulin sensitivity will make sure that your body does not store fat excessively and will ensure that your muscles get the nutrients that they need to grow.

The second study, regarding long-term use of vitamin D, also suggests some interesting effects of the supplement. The rats that lost weight did not experience any change in their metabolism; they simply were not hungry. This is likely a result of insulin’s role in satiety – or feelings of hunger. When people are insulin resistant, their brain is not listening to signals from insulin saying that they have all the nutrients they need. And so they always feel hungry.

Since, as these studies show, vitamin D supplementation has the ability to increase sensitivity to insulin it is logical to assume that feelings of hunger would return to normal levels.

But should you start supplementing? That’s hard to say. These studies, while promising, were performed on rats. No human studies have recreated these results so the exact dosage is not known.

That being said, if you do decide to give it a try make sure you take vitamin D3 since this is the most bioavailable form of the vitamin. Of course, you should always talk to your doctor before beginning any supplementation.

Have you benefited from vitamin D supplements when it comes to weight loss and blood sugar levels? Please share your experience with us in the comments.





Are You Addicted to Exercise?

Race DayMany runners catalog their workouts,  visit sports nutritionists and follow nutrition plans, read up on the latest gear, and constantly tweak their training schedules. Is this a good thing? Sometimes it is not.

In the 2014 edition of Current Pharmaceutical Design, Aviv and Yitzhak Weinstein report that three percent of the population suffer from exercise addiction, but 25 percent of runners do.

Although you may not think it, exercise addicts exhibit some of the same behavior as addicts of other more well-known addictions, including compulsive, dependent behavior.

The Current Pharmaceutical Design article reported that missing one day of a five-day-a-week workout training program can result in serious withdrawal symptoms, such as depression and fatigue. Other symptoms include trouble missing just one day of exercise; exercise interfering with work, school or relationships; and exercise developing a punishing quality–if you don’t do it, you’ll skip going out with friends or skip a meal, etc.

Most people, as they should, look at exercise as a positive and a benefit to their health. However, addicts view extreme exercise as a positive, which it is not. Because of this, many don’t even realize they are addicted.

Because “runner’s high” is a real, actual thing, you must be careful to avoid falling into the addiction trap. Here’s what you can do:

Develop other hobbies to connect with people. I know from personal experience runners tend to surround themselves with other runners because we’re like-minded people. I had to expand my world by developing new interests. I couldn’t just stay in the running world; it wasn’t good for me socially and emotionally.

Learn relaxation techniques. Try adding in yoga and meditation. Although you might think these are just more exercises to do, they can help counterbalance the intensity of running and help you mentally.

Try running with a group. If you’re a solo runner, this may help you seek social support and discover a love of running and not an obsession with it.



Chia Seeds: Are They Worth The Hype?

Superfoods, like many things in the fitness industry, come in waves. While kale and pomegranates have long help their position at the top of the list, chia seeds have been putting up a solid contest over the last few years. As is usually the case, supporters of these little black-and-white seeds have made numerous claims about the supposedly wide range of benefits that come from chia seeds. Specifically, chia gets a lot of attention for its proposed weight loss benefits. So, the logical question is this: Do chia seeds live up to the hype?


What They Are and What They’re Made Of

Do you remember those fuzzy little Chia Pets that ruled the 80s and 90s? As it turns out those novelty products and the superfood currently in question are one and the same. The plant has, Salvia hispanica, been cultivated for centuries in its native Mexico and enjoyed use by both the Mayan and Aztec empires. According to tradition, both of these cultures used chia seeds as a natural energy booster and believed that it would increase their strength.

Clearly, then, chia’s title as a superfood is nothing new. But is there any evidence to believe that they are actually that good for you?

Nutritionally speaking, these little seeds do seem to pack quite a punch. They have a well-rounded, complete nutritional profile – meaning that they are a rich source of healthy fats, omega-3s, complete proteins and complex carbohydrates. In addition to all of that, chia seeds also contain several beneficial antioxidants and the mineral calcium. Getting down to details, one serving of 2 tablespoons provides 139 total calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates and 11 grams of fiber. Overall, that makes chia seeds a pretty easy way to pack some nutrition into your snacks.


Weight Loss Claims

The idea that has really grabbed public attention, though, is that chia seeds could help you lose weight. Because chia seeds are high in fiber and form of sort of gel when they get wet, the logic goes, they will make you feel full and stop you from overeating.

Although it sounds pretty solid, does this claim hold up in the lab?

Unfortunately, no. Several studies – and reviews of the available research – have all turned up negative results in humans. Across the board, studies have shown no change in either appetite, caloric intake or weight in connection with chia consumption.


The Take Away

But does that mean that chia is a waste of time? No, absolutely not. While all the hype has driven the price of these little seeds up, the fact remains that they are a powerful way to improve your overall nutrition. But, there are other, more economical ways to get the same nutrition – even if they are a little less convenient. Black beans, for example, have a similar nutritional profile to chia seeds, minus the formation of goo.







Speed Up Your Metabolism

runWith summer here and swimsuit season underway, you may look to cut out a few pounds as quickly as possible before the rest of the season fads away. Here are a few ways to speed up your metabolism to shed weight:

1. Lift weights. Tomorrow the calendars turn to July, usually the hottest month of the year; you may decide to avoid the heat and head indoors. This is the perfect opportunity to lift more. Did you know a pound of muscle burns six calories and a pound of fat only two? Try whole body lifting workouts done in a rapid pace for 30 minutes. You’ll boost your metabolism and lifting weights is just as important as a long run.

2. Try HIITs. This type of training was voted as the number one new trend in workouts. HITTS stands for High Intensity Interval Training, meaning you’ll do short, quick bouts of training. Try the following workout on the treadmill:

5 minute warm up
2 minutes tempo
2 minutes interval
2 minutes cool down
Repeat 4 times, each tempo and interval run going faster than the last time. Make your fourth time as fast as possible
5 minute cool down. It’s okay to walk the cool down.

3. Keep water with you at all times. Whether you are driving in your car, heading to work meeting or watching television, keep a water bottle with you and always be filling up on H20, as the heat will hydrate you so you can make it through tough workouts. If water doesn’t excited you, try adding fruit or powder for flavor.

4. Add in some green tea, especially if you get a little bored with water. Why green tea? According to research, drinking two to four cups of green tea may push the body to burn 17% more calories during moderately intense exercise. It’s cheap, too.

Try a few of these to slim down for the rest of summer.



Isometric Exercises for Runners

Your muscles are a lot more complicated than most people give them credit for. In fact, just about every movement you make is comprised of three distinct phases which are characterized by a different type of contraction. If we think of a classic bicep curl, these movements become extremely clear. First, there is the concentric movement wherein your muscles shorten to move the weight closer to your body. Then there is the eccentric contraction that sees your muscle increase in length to move the weight down or away from you.

Somewhere in the middle, though, there is an isometric contraction. This is the phase during which your muscles are contracting and working but do not change in length. To emphasize what an isometric contraction really is, imagine if you paused in the middle of that bicep curl so that you held the weight with your elbow at a 90 degree angle for a few seconds.

Isometric exercises, though, focus on this specific part of the contraction but holding it for an extended period of time. What are the benefits of this type of exercise? Is there a reason that runners specifically should use them?


General Benefits

Before we get specific, though, what are some of the overall benefits of using isometric exercises?

While you aren’t likely to see huge improvements in strength by strictly using isometrics, they will help to improve your balance – which is a somewhat ignored form of strength. I don’t care how many sit-ups you can do, if you’ve never done it before you will get floored by a plank workout.

Because of their stable nature, isometrics also have a very low risk of injury. There are no impacts putting pressure on your joints or repetitive movements irritating them. Just strike a pose and hold it.

But the benefits go beyond athletic pursuits. In fact, a recent review published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings looked at the effects that isometric training can have on high blood pressure or hypertension. After comparing a number of studies on the subject, the researchers concluded that regular isometric training for as little as 4 weeks can improve all measures of hypertension.


Just For Runners

Running is clearly a dynamic sport, but balance and stability are just as important on the track as they are in any other sport. By using isometric exercises, runners can strengthen very specific parts of their regular movements.

In principle, this applies to virtually any sport. Regardless of your activity, you can dissect your movements down to their various phases and use isometrics to build the muscles needed in each. For example, football quaterbacks sometimes practice their throws by using band-resisted isometric exercises that mimic the various portions of their throw.

Runners can do the same.


Exercise Ideas

Once you have this basic principle in mind, get creative.

Wall sits are a classic isometric exercise that can build strength and endurance in your thighs and glutes. Simply sit with your back against the wall so that your thighs are parallel to the ground and hold this position for as long as you can. Gradually build on your time.

Using a resistance band wrapped around your waist and anchored firmly behind you, you can perform deep lunges to target your hips and thighs. Hold the lunge position for at least 20 seconds on each leg and make sure that the band is short enough to provide resistance. This can also be done without the band.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a discussion of isometrics without at least mentioning the plank. But, instead of the classic form use the one-leg versions. Both the plank and the side plank can be adapted to provide a special challenge for runners. By lifting one leg, you put a greater strain on your balance and also engage you hips in the movement.

What isometric exercises have you used in your workout? Please share them in the comments.



Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2014;89 [3], 327-34


Six Common Food Labels

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

As runners, we know what goes into the body plays a significant role of how we perform during our training runs. We must fuel our bodies with the proper ingredients to turn it into energy to run faster and stronger. It’s always best to consume food in their more natural form: raw fruits and vegetables and clean proteins. But it’s not always possible. How do you know what you’re eating is good for you, especially with the long list of ingredients on labels? Here are a few truths on six common food labels:

Any ingredients cannot contain artificial ingredients or preservatives. Everything must be minimally processed and are generally healthier. Adding fat and processed foods makes food last longer on the shelves–foods with “natural” ingredients have a limited shelf life and are better for you.

These foods must include at least 95 percent of organic ingredients and the other five percent must come from the National List by the USDA. The products cannot include pesticides, growth hormones and antibiotics.

Free Range
You see this referring to protein products generally, such as free range chicken. Free range pertains to food created from animals  not allowed to be contained in any way (also known as cage free), and must be allowed to move freely over open areas of land.

The term local refers to food grown close to where it is sold. It is becoming more popular to buy local and support farms rather than larger organizations selling to grocery stores.

This terms refers to economic qualities and not nutritional qualities of food, as so many people think. The most sustainable food producers are local farmers.

Gluten Free
This became a popular term in recent history, as popular fad diets tout not adding gluten into your diet. But what does it do? Foods containing gluten will trigger antibodies in people with what is known as Celiac’s Disease, which will attack the small intestine.

Hopefully these definitions help you make an informed decision next time you head to the grocery store.