Sleep In A Cold Room for Weight Loss

Over the past few years, many startling scientific discoveries have changed the way that we look at – and care for – our own bodies. It seems like the more that we learn, the more we realize that we have no idea what is going on under our skin.

For example, fat has always been seen as the enemy. We work out and diet in hopes of destroying those amorphous, stubborn deposits that viciously cling to our bodies. As it turns out, though, that’s just one type of fat. The stuff that we war against that slows us down and does absolutely nothing – metabolically speaking – is called white fat. Surprisingly, there’s also something called brown fat which turns out to be pretty useful.

Brown fat is metabolically active, meaning that it burns calories. Specifically, brown fat acts like a furnace that absorbs sugar from the blood stream and burns it in order to maintain a proper core temperature. Unfortunately, human adults have very little in the way of brown fat – a pretty frustrating discovery, really.

Fueled by the sheer excitement of finding a type of fat that can effectively help you lose weight, though, the search has been on in full earnest for a way to increase our deposits of brown fat. One of the most promising studies comes to us from the National Institutes of Health by means of the June issue of Diabetes.


 The Study

Considering brown fat’s link to body temperature, the study had a fairly logical design: The researchers found 5 healthy young men who were willing to sleep in a lab for 4 months. During that time, their diet would be controlled – as would the temperature of their bedrooms.

For the first month, the bedrooms were kept at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This did nothing, which was the expected result. In the second month, however, the room temperature was dropped to 66 degrees. This is when things got exciting; Brown fat activity ramped up.

Most notably, the volume of brown fat in the subjects nearly doubled. Their insulin sensitivity also increased. While the subjects did burn a few more calories during the day, it just wasn’t enough to result in weight loss over the course of the four weeks.

Perhaps most interestingly, the subjects metabolisms and insulin responses returned to normal after the temperature in the room was cranked back up – first to 75 degrees, then to 81.


What It Means And Doesn’t Mean

First of all, this study suggests something incredible: That you can increase your levels of brown fat. Since we are just beginning to understand how this magical stuff works, this is a very important fact to know.

Of course, this study also shows us that these changes can be done and undone fairly quickly – over the course of just a month.

Now for the bad news, though. These findings do not mean that sleeping in a cold room is a magic bullet for weight loss. This is simply a preliminary study that used a very small sample size – only five men – and needs to be repeated on a larger scale with other groups before we can really put our confidence in it.

Remember, too, that the increases in caloric expenditure were not enough to cause noticeable weight loss over a month’s time, which means that they weren’t very large at all. The primary benefits from the increases in brown fat were related to insulin responses and blood sugar levels, not immediate weight loss. While regulating your insulin and glucose levels can be a big help in controlling your weight, many other factors are involved.

With all those cold, hard disclaimers out of the way it remains true that this study shows some real promise. Sleeping in a chilly room might be just what you need to keep your insulin response in check.




Is Running in Heat Bad for You?

race-day-720x288I can’t count how many times people have said to me, “Isn’t running bad for you?” I state that living a sedentary lifestyle is worse (as I generally find the majority of people asking this question are in fact, non-exercisers). However, taking this sport to the extreme can cause harm.

In a recent study out in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers provide evidence that runners should feel more concerned with heat stroke than running long distances–this is especially of interest as we move into the hottest weeks of the year.

What is heat stroke? It occurs when your core body temperature rises 104 or 105 degrees above the normal, and is associated with dysfunctioning organs.

In this article, researchers studied 137,000 runners participating in endurance races in Tel Aviv–(a great locale for a heat study). They found only two serious cardiac cases: a heart attack and arrhythmia. Heat stroke occurred in 21 runners (two cases ended up fatal, 12 life threatening).

According to the Israeli researchers, “The diagnosis of heat stroke can be missed and mistaken for a cardiac disorder unless the core temperature– which can only be reliably obtained with a rectal measurement– is taken immediately.”

Additionally, “The risk of heat stroke is not limited to endurance races… [it’s] an important cause of death among high school and college football players, who train and compete wearing heavy protective equipment.”

Although it sounds like 21 out of 137,000 is slim, it’s still a cause for concern. The best combatant to heat stroke is hydration. According to exercise physiologist Jaime Roberts, “The body cools off by sweating, and as long as you remain hydrated, the body is able to cool itself off.”

Roberts recommends the following:

20 ounces of water two hours before exercise

At least 8 ounces of water shortly before outdoor workouts

A gulp every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise.

Happy running!


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.





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.