Why Bother Exercising

I’m still in the process of re-posting blogs from my old site.  Here’s an old one on exercise. I’m assuming most people reading this blog are already fairly into fitness but it never hurts to have a reminder as to why exercise is good for you!

iron horse

If you read the title of this blog and thought “Great, she’s going to tell me it’s not all that important” you couldn’t be more wrong. Making regular physical activity a part of your lifestyle is probably the best thing you can do for your mental and physical health. Nutrition advice can get confusing but exercise advice is pretty straight forward: it’s good for you and most people don’t do enough.   As more and more studies on physical activity are completed more health benefits are discovered. Sadly, over half of all US adults do not get the recommended amount of exercise and our health and waistlines are suffering because of that.

The health benefits of exercise are numerous:

  • Decreases risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, and breast cancer
  • Decreases stress, enhances mood and reduces depression
  • Improves body image
  • Helps maintain bone and joint health
  • Helps maintain or reach a healthy weight
  • Improved heart health, cardiovascular fitness, and muscle strength
  • Better sex drive!
  • And….it can be fun! Seriously, one of the main reasons I exercise is because I truly enjoy it.  The trick is to find the type of exercise that you find fun.  For instance, I love running, cycling hiking, skiing…but put me in a group fitness class and I’ll be hating life for the next 60 minutes.  If you enjoy the exercise, you’ll be more likely to stick with it than if you force yourself to do something you hate. That’s not building a good relationship with exercise!

Just how much physical activity does it take? The guidelines are as follows:

  • For general health: 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity most days (or about 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity/week)
  • For weight loss: 60-90 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day

Moderate intensity activities are those that elevate your heart rate and increase breathing rate but are still easy enough that you can talk (but not sing) while doing them. Examples include brisk walking, dancing, gardening/yard work, pedaling easily on a bike, and light weight lifting.

Vigorous activities are more intense. You should be breathing hard enough that you cannot carry on a normal conversation. Examples include running, bicycling, aerobics, basketball, and heavy weight lifting.

The intensity that you exercise at will be dictated by your health and goals. Do not start out too intensely or you risk injury. If you haven’t been exercising or have health complications begin at a low/moderate intensity. If you’ve already been exercising moderately for awhile you may see improvements by taking it up to a more vigorous level. It is important to continually change up your workouts (whether intensity, time, or type of exercise) to make sure that you are constantly challenging your body and to prevent burnout.  The human body is highly adaptable and after months of nothing but the same old 30 minutes of walking a day your body will adapt and you will hit a fitness plateau.

Be sure to include a mix of aerobic/cardiovascular (walking, jogging, biking), strength/resistance (lifting, or other weight bearing activities such as push-ups and squats), and balance/flexibility(stretching, yoga) exercises.

So why bother exercising? Because you will feel better physically and mentally, and live longer and have less health complications!

Remember, exercise doesn’t have to be some boring activity that takes place in a gym. Walk, hike, bike, dance, rollerblade, swim, kickbox, ski, rockclimb, row, play a team sport,…the key is moving your body. The human body was not meant to sit at a desk all day. Try new activities until you discover one that you find enjoyable. That way you will be much more likely to keep doing it. Don’t force yourself to participate in an activity that you can’t stand, that’s not the point and you won’t be able to keep it up forever. That picture on this blog….that’s me riding in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. I found cycling, now you go and find your passion!

Eating Protein and Fighting Aging

Protein gets way less bad press than fats or carbs.  Sometimes I think it gets too much good press actually, such as the super high protein diets that are promoted for weight loss. Truth is protein is very important since it supplies the building blocks for just about every tissue in your body.  It also helps with recovery after workouts and satiation after meals, helping you to stave off hunger until the next meal or snack.  However, loading up on excess amounts (beyond what your body actually needs that is) isn’t going to help out your health or fitness.  I think people forget that excess protein can be stored as fat, just like excess carbs or dietary fat.

So why am I writing about protein? Because of a quote I recently read in SCAN’s Pulse newsletter that caught me off guard.  The comment was regarding protein intake after exercise as it relates to muscle repair and it said “this could make a meaningful difference over the course of a year, particularly for athletes over 30 years old who slowly lose muscle as a normal part of the aging process”.  Well crap.  I feel I handled my 30th birthday last year relatively well, mostly by ignoring the fact that I have entered this decade in life.  I’ve always said age is just a number anyway.  But this comment bothered me.  Whether I tell myself I have the fitness of a 22 year old or not, the reality is my body is 30 and apparently that means I’m going to start losing muscle mass.  Another joy of aging!  So I’ll do my best to fight it.  Here’s my plan and how you can too: getting enough total daily protein, incorporating optimal amounts of protein post workout, and strength training regularly.

Post Workout Protein Recs:

According to the article (and many others on the same topic), eating optimal amounts of protein shortly following a workout can help speed recovery and prevent muscle loss, since post exercise not only do the muscles need protein but they are primed and ready to utilize it.  There isn’t a lot of good data that suggests that one protein type is significantly better than another (i.e. whey, casein, soy) so pick the one you like best.  If you like it, you’ll be more likely to be consistent with consuming it.  This particular article didn’t give specific post workout recommendations, but generally it’s recommended to consume 10-20 grams of protein in the recovery window (within 30-60 minutes post workout).

Daily Protein Recs:

Another key point the article (which was based on a recent study) suggested was that the optimal amount of protein at meals for athletes is about 30 grams.  Beyond this amount there are no additional health benefits and you run the risk of storing the excess protein as fat.  Fall significantly short of this number and your muscles may not be getting as much protein as they need, which means you could lose muscle mass. The 30 grams per meal recommendation actually equates to a higher daily protein intake than what typical recommendations have called for, depending on body weight, which this study did not factor in.  According to traditional guidelines, the minimum amount of protein necessary to prevent deficiency is 0.8 grams/kg of body weight per day (0.36 grams/lb of body weight). That equals 49 grams for a 135 pound person.  However, that’s the minimum to prevent problems and if you are an athlete you definitely need more. The typical recommendation is for endurance athletes to consume 1.2-1.4 grams of protein/kg of body weight per day (0.54-0.64 grams/lb). So a 135 pound runner, for example, would need about 73-86 grams of protein a day, slightly less than 30 grams x 3 meals. Strength athletes need more, 1.4-1.7 grams/kg of body weight per day (0.64-.77 g/lb). Whether you go with the body weight recommendation or the 30 grams times 2 meals, these protein levels are not difficult to obtain if you are a meat eater. The key is to space your protein intake more evenly throughout the day, as it’s likely that your breakfast falls short.  An egg, for example, has 6 grams of protein while a 6 oz steak has about 42.  Vegetarians will have to work harder to make sure they meet their protein needs.  It’s okay to add a protein powder or bars as a supplement if you are not getting enough protein from food alone but aim to meet your needs from food first, supplements second.  Some good sources of protein are lean meats, chicken, fish, eggs, soy, dairy, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and beans.

Strength Training Recs

Well, the goal is 2-3 times per week.  I have to admit that I have a hard time with that.  There are just so many things I’d rather do besides strength training, particularly because I’d rather be outside than at a gym.  However, I also recently read in Matt Fitzgerald’s book “Racing Weight” that runners should do strength training 2-3 times per week, so now that 2 people have said it I’m going to try….to do 2 times/week.  According to Fitzgerald, body weight exercises are okay, so the second time won’t even be at the gym. It will be post run body weight stuff such as lunges, push-ups and core work.  Hey, it’s still an improvement from where I’m at.

So there it is, my plan to fight the aging process. Obviously it’s more complicated than this, but it’s a start. Wish me luck!

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To Beet, or not to Beet… that is the Question

You may have heard about the potential link between nitrate intake, specifically from beets, and improved sports performance. It goes like this: nitrate (NO3) is converted to nitrite (NO2) which is then converted to nitric oxide (NO) in the body, and nitric oxide is a powerful vasodilator (meaning your blood vessels dilate and blood can flow more freely, and quickly, to working muscles). Various studies on beets and beetroot juice have found performance benefits, including improved efficiency in oxygen usage, improved time trial times, improved power output, and prolonged time to exhaustion. What does this mean? Basically that beets (or beetroot juice which was used in most of the studies) may help you run, ride or climb harder, faster, and longer. It may also be of help at altitude, where oxygen availability is reduced. There are some studies that haven’t found any benefit, but overall the results look good. Another positive benefit of beets is that they can help lower blood pressure, so if you’re on blood pressure medication or already have very low blood pressure proceed with caution.

You may also have heard of potential concerns about nitrites, mostly found in processed meats in the form of sodium nitrite, which have been associated with an increased risk of some cancers and a condition called “methemoglobinemia”. These associations are still in question, however, but it’s best to limit intake of processed meats anyway as they tend to be high in saturated fat and focus on beets and beetroot juice if you want to increase your nitrate intake.

Bottom Line– Beets can be a great addition to your diet. Besides the potential sports performance benefits, beats are jam packed with nutrients and low in calories. In addition to beets, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and arugula are also good sources of nitrate. If you want to incorporate beets into your diet but hate the taste, try the refreshing smoothie recipe below, or vary it to your taste preferences. You can also try roasting beets in olive oil and tossing them in a salad or blending them up and adding them to a pasta sauce.
beets

Berry Beet Smoothie

1 cup frozen beets, cubed

1 cup spinach (optional for extra nutrients)

1 cup frozen mixed berries

½ – 1 cup 100% apple juice or other 100% real fruit juice (a sweet fruit juice such as apple will help mask the beet flavor)

1 scoop protein powder (optional but recommended after an intense workout for muscle repair)

Splash of honey or agave to taste (optional)

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Enjoy.

The Joy of Pumpkins

 pumpkinIt isn’t very difficult to get me to try just about any pumpkin themed food or drink.  In fact, from the months of September to November I’m pretty much obsessed with all things pumpkin!  Fall is coming to an end, but it’s not too late to enjoy this favorite fall food. Not only is pumpkin festive and delicious, but it’s a great source of multiple nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, fiber, and beta-carotene, which is responsible for the bright orange color.  Beta-carotene is a carotenoid, a type of phytonutrient (i.e. a nonvitamin, nonmineral compound in food that provides health benefits) which acts as an antioxidant in the body.  Carotenoids are believed to promote health and fight disease, and have been linked to a decreased risk of some types of cancers.  Not a pumpkin fan?  Butternut squash, acorn squash, and sweet potatoes are also a good source of these nutrients.  Pumpkin seeds are also nutritious, packed with minerals such as magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc, so don’t throw them away when carving pumpkins!  Instead, try roasting the seeds at 350°F for 20 minutes and lightly salt.  They can be eaten plain, tossed on top of a salad or for a unique snack try mixing them with other assorted nuts, dried fruit, and/or dark chocolate bits to create your own trail mix.  You don’t have to cook your own pumpkin to get the health benefits either.  Canned pumpkin puree (not to be confused with pumpkin pie mix which has added sugar) is just as healthy and easy to incorporate into baked goods, soups, and oatmeal.  Try the recipe below for a healthy and hearty breakfast or snack.

 

Pumpkin Oatmeal

1 cup cooked oatmeal

½ cup milk (I prefer vanilla soy for a little sweetness but dairy, almond, or coconut will all work fine)

½ cup canned pumpkin

Dash of cinnamon and brown sugar (to taste)

Cook the oatmeal according to package directions. Be sure not to make it too watery since you’ll be adding milk to it. Add cooked oatmeal and all other ingredients to a saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes. Enjoy.

 

Bonus recipe! It doesn’t technically have pumpkin in it but is still great on cool fall or winter days.

Fall Chili

1 package (about 1.5 pounds) lean ground turkey

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 large sweet potato, cubed

2 cups chicken broth

1 small yellow onion, diced

1 can crushed tomatoes

1 TBSP brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ginger

¼ tsp nutmeg

1 pumpkin beer (optional)

Sweet Potato Chips- I highly recommend Garden of Eatin brand

Pre-cook sweet potato in the microwave for 3-5 minutes, peel, then cube. Sauté the onion in a pan with 1 TBSP olive oil. Add ground turkey and sauté until cooked. Add turkey/onion mixture and all other ingredients except for the beer to a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Add beer if desired. Simmer for approximately 25 minutes. Top with crushed sweet potato chips if desired.

Alcohol and Exercise

I have to admit there is something quite refreshing about a cold beer after a hard mountain bike ride or a long day of hiking. This is particularly true if you are an athlete or outdoor enthusiast in Colorado, where new microbreweries seem to be popping up every week. Every now and then you’ll even hear about studies that find health benefits with moderate drinking and free beers are often included at post race festivities. But do you ever wonder if that post workout brew is hindering your sports performance? While a beer (which is equivalent to a 5 oz glass of wine or 1 oz of hard alcohol) here and there won’t hurt your workouts, if you’re doing it regularly and excessively, there are some potential negative effects.

Here are some things to consider:

Alcohol provides empty calories
At 7 calories per gram of alcohol it’s easy for the calories from alcoholic beverages to add up. A typical beer has anywhere from 100-150 calories per 12 oz, while some mixed drinks (sorry margarita lovers) can clock in close to 500 calories! These are empty calories too, as they provide virtually no nutrients.

Alcohol is a diuretic
It’s no coincidence that you have to use the bathroom more when imbibing. Alcohol is a strong diuretic, meaning your body loses water. Dehydration will definitely affect your sports performance so be sure to drink water when drinking alcohol to help cut your losses.

Alcohol suppresses fat use as a fuel during exercise
If you’re an endurance athlete you need to be able to use fat efficiently, so not being able to tap into those stores effectively could affect performance.

Alcohol disrupts your sleep
Sleep is an important part of an athlete’s training as a lot of muscle repair occurs during this time. Most athletes need more sleep than the average person, and alcohol can interrupt your deep sleep cycles making recovery more difficult.

Alcohol increases the release of cortisol and decreases release of testosterone
This may affect protein synthesis and muscle repair.

Bottom Line– I’m a big believer in balance and moderation. Sure a beer isn’t the most effective post workout beverage, but life is short so if you like beer it’s okay to enjoy in moderation. So if you just finished a hard race on a hot day, and there is a free beer coupon hanging from your race bib(and your favorite beer just happens to be on tap), I say go for it! Just make sure to drink plenty of water and properly refuel (read: eat carbs and protein) before indulging. Besides potential negative effects on performance, it goes without saying that drinking the night before a hard workout or during intense training cycles is going to make the workouts feel awful and could potentially affect your pereformance. Don’t forget the general alcohol consumption recommendations- no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.

Coconut Water is Not a Real Snack

 I recently read a line in a famous fashion magazine from a certain waif-like starlet who claimed “I love to snack”. As a professional in the eating disorder field, this was so refreshing to hear! Except that she followed this comment by saying that she “is constantly reaching for coconut water and fruit”. * Sigh* Seriously? Coconut water and fruit?! That’s not a real snack!

It’s not that I have anything against coconut water. I actually find it a quite refreshing way to rehydrate after some of my longer runs. And obviously fruit has health benefits. It’s the message the statement sends that concerns me. I worry that women and girls who struggle with their body image will think that if they just have coconut water and fruit all day they will look like her, when in reality they will miss out on the real nutrition their bodies need, and potentially set themselves up for problems with disordered eating.

A small (11 oz) container of coconut juice has about 60 calories in it, roughly the same as a small piece of fruit. That’s not nearly as much as the average person needs for a snack and it’s certainly not going to keep anyone satisfied until the next meal or snack. No wonder she is “constantly” reaching for that snack! I for one would be hungry again in less than 5 minutes if that’s all I ate. Even for those trying to lose weight healthfully I wouldn’t recommend a 60 calorie snack. That being said, I am a fan of having snacks in between meals, but it’s important to snack effectively.

Here is what I recommend for snacks:

• Space meals and snacks out as evenly as possible throughout the day, typically every 2-4 hours. Don’t wait until you are starving for your next meal or snack, but don’t feel you have to eat a snack 2 hours after a meal if you are still full. Listen to your hunger and fullness cues.

• Be sure to include a source of protein at all snacks. This will help keep blood sugars and energy levels steady until your next meal or snack. It will also help ensure that you meet your protein needs for the day.

• Try to include fruits and veggies whenever possible. It’s not easy to get the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables in every day so if you rely solely on meals, you’re not gonna hit the quota. Try carrots or other cut up veggies with hummus, an apple or banana with peanut or almond butter, greek yogurt with fruit, or blend a smoothie with the milk of your choice (dairy, soy, almond), some frozen berries and a handful of spinach or kale. Add protein powder to make it a little more satisfying. Oh, and by the way, you are never too old for “ants on a log”- celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins.

• Plan ahead. If know you’ll be on the go, throw a protein bar or a bag of mixed nuts into your purse or bag so that you don’t have to rely of fast food or a vending machine.

Happy (and healthy) Snacking!

Holiday Eating

The holidays can be a stressful time, especially for those trying to lose weight and for those struggling with an eating disorder. Food and alcohol abounds and social engagements are almost constant, making it hard to stick to a meal plan or workout routine. The holidays can be a joyous time, however, with proper planning and perspective.

 

Here are my tips for successful holiday eating:

• Don’t skip meals to stockpile calories for later. This strategy almost always backfires as you will likely get so hungry that you end up eating more than planned. Eat regular meals as scheduled and have a small healthy snack before the event so that you don’t arrive ravenous.

• Scan the buffet. Check out the options and prioritize what you really want to try as opposed to going through the line and taking some of everything.

• Water frequently, especially if you are drinking. Try to have 1 glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you drink. Even if not imbibing, keeping a glass of water in your hand can prevent mindless munching.

• Enlist a buddy with similar goals. If you struggle with an eating disorder and may be tempted not to eat, bring a supportive friend who will help you stay on track. If you’re trying to lose weight and might be tempted to overeat, an understanding friend can help keep you in check.

• Have a game plan. As with regular meal planning, having a plan is important with holiday eating. The plan can be general if you’re not sure what foods will be available (i.e. “I’ll leave space for one dessert”) or specific if you do know (i.e. “I’ll indulge in one piece of chocolate cake”).

• Set boundaries. Don’t feel that you have to attend every engagement you are invited to. Know when to say no. Also plan to set boundaries if you know you may encounter pushy coworkers or family members. Some people won’t know how to react if you say you are watching your weight or struggling with an eating disorder, so only say as much as you feel comfortable with. Sometimes people will react better if you emphasize health and not diets or weight. Practice setting your boundaries if you need to so you are not peer pressured when put on the spot.

• As always, moderation is key. Don’t deny yourself the treats you really want as this often backfires and makes you want it more (and eat more of it when you finally do give in). Enjoy the foods you really want, but do so in moderation.

• Change your attitude. Sure, it seems like the holidays are about food, but really they should be about giving thanks and celebrating relationships. Shift your focus from the food and drinks to the family and friends. Sometimes just changing your attitude is helpful with meeting your nutrition goals!

• Most importantly, if you do overeat, don’t stress. Shaming yourself will only make you feel worse and may lead to emotional or stress eating. Remember, one meal will not make or break you or your health. Do your best to get back on track and don’t beat yourself up over it.

Happy Holidays!