Thursday, May 16, 2013

You are eating what?!?

So, summer is upon us and inevitably you are going to workout less as your weekends are filled with other activities and vacations are on the horizon.  That doesn't mean you need to devastate all of the work you put in to get yourself in better shape for swimsuit season.  Since I must resign myself to the fact that clients will train less and be more likely to indulge in quick food and beverage items, here are a few nuggets of information that you may want to think about...

The king size Reese's Peanut Butter Cup that you swore you were going to share with your kids, but ended shoveling down while they were doing cannonballs off the high dive...

  • 420 calories 
    • that is about 1/4 of the typical female recommended daily caloric intake
  • 26g of fat, 9g of saturated fat
    • or 46% of your recommended daily max amount of saturated fat
  • 42g of sugar
    • A sugar crash is in your near future
Let's move on to lunch time...the hamburger.  Now all hamburgers are different, but let's just assume you go with the typical 75/25 (lean/fat) beef served in most restaurants, with standard fixings on it, including cheese:
  • 720 calories
    • and that isn't including fries...if you want those, your caloric total jumps to 1200 calories
  • 36g of fat, 14g of saturated fat
    • That's 70% of your saturated fat intake
  • 1800 mg sodium
    • That is over half of your allowance for daily sodium intake...hello bloating.
Let's take a look at one of my personal favorites, but one that I consume only once a year on my wings.  Oh, I wish, I wish this wasn't the truth order of 10 typical hot wings is:
  • 1630 calories
    • for a female, that is an entire day's caloric consumption
  • 138g of fat, 32g saturated fat
    • So, now we have 1 1/2 days worth of saturated fat in one order
  • 1600 mg of sodium
    • but hey on the good side, it is only 5g of carbs
OK, now that we get a small snapshot of a couple of horrendous food items, realize that there are other viable, healthier options.  Items like a grilled chicken sandwich (500 calories), 2 grilled fish tacos (420 calories), and a bbq pork sandwich (550 calories) are all much less calorically loaded and often readily available on the same menu.  And instead of those fries, try having a piece of fruit or heck, even a small bag of chips is less damaging although far from optimal.  Also remember that if you are dining out, most chain or multi-location restaurants list their nutritional information online.  Do a little research before you chow down!

So now that we have a grasp on some foods, let's look at beverages.  Since summertime beverages are generally a combination of water, a flavoring, and some sort of sugar (maltose is a sugar in beer...), let's take a look at just the caloric values of some typical drinks:

  • Sweet Tea (20 oz) - 200-250 calories
  • Lemonade (20 oz) - 260 calories
  • Miller Lite (12 oz) - 96 calories
  • High Gravity Beer (12 oz at 7.5% ABV) - 225 calories
  • Margarita - (6.5 oz) - 305 calories
  • Coca-Cola (12 oz can) - 140 calories
  • White Wine (5 oz to 6 oz) - 125 calories to 150 calories

Now obviously I can't list every single option out there, but this at least gives you a snapshot of just how calorically dense some of our comfort foods are.  So this summer, when you hit the pool, the park, the festival, the beach, or just your backyard take minute to think not just what you are about to eat, but also how much of it you will consume.  I am not saying that you should eat spinach and drink water all summer; by all means enjoy the warm weather.  But as one of my former professors at Georgia State once said... 

"There are no bad foods, there are only bad diets.  A piece of cheesecake once in a while isn't going to kill you...A piece of cheesecake every day?  Now that will kill you." (Thanks to Dr. Dan Benardot)

Enjoy your summer; just enjoy it in moderation.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

To Yolk Or Not To Yolk...There are lots of questions.

If you haven't seen it yet, I am sure that in the coming weeks you will see the results of a recent study in the publication Atherosclerosis.  The main stream media has already jumped all over this, beginning with the L.A. Times.  The basic gist of the study was to determine the effects of consumption of whole eggs, more specifically the yolk, relative to heart disease and compared to smoking cigarettes.  The authors deemed that consuming 2-3 eggs per week had the same effect as smoking multiple packs of cigarettes each week.  The problem is that the study is flawed, really flawed.

I am not trying to pick a big fight with the authors of the study, but the framework of this study has many holes in that only allow for the results to be considered "possible," but in some ways "coincidental."  First of all, no study, no matter how well they limit variability, is flawless and conclusive.  Every study has to be proven multiple times over to be considered widely accepted (unless of course you pander to the main stream media).  This is just one study.  Recall that other studies have shown the complete opposite of what these authors have concluded.  Second, the mainstream media extracted one line from the authors and made it "fact."  The problem is that the quote was pulled out of context (shocker), and in the same section of the study's conclusion, the authors said clearly that more research needed to be completed and better controls needed to be established.  They were basically saying this was a first attempt at determining the real long term effects of egg consumption.  So, I'll give them a little credit for at least realizing their limitations.

But the authors aren't off the hook.  Even knowing the limitations of their research, they still made claims that just aren't backed up solidly by their data.  Sure people who generally ate more eggs over a longer period of time had higher levels of plaque build-up in their arteries.  But how do we know that the eggs were the real cause?  The study also showed in their data that HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad), triglycerides, and total serum cholesterol were all basically the same.  So let's see here...all of the markers for atherosclerosis were all nearly identical across groups, but those who ate the most eggs had higher levels of atherosclerosis.  How do we know it was the eggs?  We don't because we don't know anything else about the diets of the groups. They could have eaten red meat three times a day and we don't know that.  They could have consumed a stick of butter a day, and we don't know.  But, it has to be the eggs.  (If you haven't picked up on my sarcasm yet, you should probably stop reading.)

So basically, the authors asked a bunch of people how many eggs they ate each week and then analyzed how much plaque build-up they had, and then drew a conclusion that eggs and cigarette smoking have the same result.  There was no mention of exercise habits, family history, other food items regularly consumed, or a number of other key questions that could vary the results greatly.

So before you hand all of the extra eggs in the house to the spiteful teenager next door so he can wreak havoc on cars driving by, realize that not only is this study inherently flawed, there are also a multitude of other studies that say the exact opposite or say that there is no conclusive evidence out there.  But those results aren't intriguing to the main stream media.

Oh yeah, and one last thing...the group that ate the most eggs also had the lowest BMI.  Just something to consider.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Understanding Supplements

Nutritional supplements have evolved over the past decade into nearly a $30 billion industry.  Unbeknownst to many, it is also a much more loosely regulated industry than the rest of the food and beverage industry simply because it is classified as a supplement and not daily consumption is not considered a necessity like typical food sources.  Recently, certifying agencies have been formed to validate the purity and legitimacy of the supplement relative to what is listed on the nutrition label, but the nutrition label isn't where supplement companies make their big claims...that is on the front of the packaging.  You will always find somewhere on the supplement packaging this statement:

"These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."

That statement paves the way and clears the supplement manufacturer to make virtually any claim they want as long as they have at least one experiment showing the efficacy of the product.  The experiment is not held to the same standards as a clinical trial, or an experiment that is published in a peer-reviewed journal.  Conversely, as long as one person used the product to receive the benefit that is advertised, then the manufacturer can make the claim.

So, with that said, I am going to give you facts and in some cases, my opinion, about some of the key supplements being used today.  All of my analysis is based on scientific peer-reviewed journals, and actual academic nutrition and human physiology.


In my opinion, this is probably one of the most widely misunderstood supplements on the market which is why I am listing it first.  I have had parents and athletes ask me if creatine is a steroid, a hormone, or protein.  People have questioned me for years about the legality of creatine.  Well, here are your answers...

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound of amino acids found in the body.    Our body naturally produces creatine when the appropriate amino acids are present.  We can also consume creatine in whole foods, specifically meats.  (The Greek word for meat is creas.)  Unfortunately, cooking meat quickly denatures the creatine and makes it unavailable for use in the body.  So, many athletes turn to creatine in one of its various forms (monohydrate and ethyl-esther just to name two) to saturate their muscles with creatine.  Why?

To understand why, you need a quick lesson in energy systems.  Here it is in a nutshell...  Your body needs ATP to cause muscle contractions.  Your body has three mechanisms for providing ATP to your muscles.  The quicker the replenishment of ATP, the more powerful the muscle contraction.  For big, powerful contractions like those needed for jumping and sprinting, your body relies on the "creatine-phosphate shuttle" energy system to regenerate ATP very rapidly.  But, the creatine phosphate system is like having a Lamborghini with a fuel tank the size of your coffee cup.  It will get going, and going fast, but it won't last very long.

So, with that knowledge, athletes want to get as much creatine in your body.  Using the metaphor above, they are trying to go from a coffee cup to two coffee cups for the size of the fuel tank.  Sure the tank is still small, but if you are racing someone, that small amount can make a difference in winning and losing.  So what does the research say?  Well, the majority of the research has shown that creatine supplementation does help in extending absolute power relative to not taking creatine.  So it works!  Well, maybe...  Other research has compared carbohydrate supplementation to creatine supplementation and has seen little to no benefit, and in a couple of studies the carbohydrate group outperformed the creatine group.

When you factor in the side effects and difficulty of properly loading up with creatine, it boils down to what the athlete is trying to accomplish.  Creatine requires regular consumption (3g - 5g daily for 30 consecutive days) to maximize saturation.  You can saturate quicker by doing a loading phase (5g, five times a day for seven days straight, then 3g - 5g a day maintenance), but the side effects of bloating, excessive urination, and gastro-intestinal distress can be quite uncomfortable (please be proud of me for not resorting to bathroom humor here!).  Creatine also inevitably involves weight gain because it bonds with a water molecule while in the body to help stabilize the compound.  I remember the first time I tried it, and completed the loading phase, I felt like the Stay-Puft marshmallow man from Ghostbusters.

So, my take on creatine is this...  It is presumed safe for adults, although no long term studies have been completed because very few people want to take it for extended periods of time.  I feel that as an off-season training aid to help develop strength and power, it does have a role.  But, for in-season performance, the weight gain offsets any benefits that creatine may have.  And no, it is not a steroid, and yes, it is perfectly legal.


Caffeine is the world's most readily available and frequently used supplements for sports performance and training.  Many of us don't think of caffeine as a supplement, but in the literal meaning of the word "supplement," caffeine is exactly that.  Caffeine is found in 63 different plants species around the world, and because of its use in a variety of foods, beverages, and medications it is consumed regularly by roughly 75% of the world's population in one of its myriad forms.  Couple that with the fact that it does possess mild to moderate addictive characteristics and some people view caffeine as the most widely used drug in the world.

Caffeine can be a very powerful ergogenic aid, meaning it assists in achieving greater physical performance.  Up until the 2004 Olympics, caffeine was actually fully banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.   Caffeine has been shown to increase not only mental alertness and concentration, but also delay or inhibit the perception of fatigue which can be very useful in activities lasting more than 60 minutes.  Studies have shown that it helps your body utilize fat better during activity which also spares glycogen, a valuable source of energy in your muscle cells.  Furthermore, other studies have shown that it can mildly assist with muscle contractility, although its ability to assist the body in producing more force is highly questioned.

With such obvious benefits, it is clear to see why athletes, and fitness enthusiasts would value caffeine consumption during activity.  But just like most things in life, there is a cost and risk associated with caffeine use.  Over-consumption can quickly lead to gastrointestinal distress, but even more detrimental is the fact that caffeine is a powerful diuretic.  Hydration is the key component to an individual's ability to perform an activity at a high intensity.  A mere 2% decrease in body weight because of loss of water can equate to as much as a 20% decrease in athletic ability.  Since caffeine can purge the body of water, the use of caffeine as an ergogenic aid must be monitored very closely.

My opinion of caffeine varies by who I am talking to.  Youth athletes under the age of 13 don't need excess caffeine in their body as their thermoregulation (sweating) system in their body is not fully developed.  The risks simply don't outweigh any benefits.  For more mature individuals, caffeine usage is very subjective.  As a sports performance coach, I want to educate my athletes on intelligent use of ergogenic aids and supplements, and I do feel that caffeine can be highly useful.  With that said, though, I would prefer for all of my athletes to train properly first to prepare for competition, and only use caffeine in specific situations such as back to back games, our tournaments where due to the frequency of games, a slight neurological and muscular stimulant can make a tremendous difference.  For the fitness population, I generally encourage the use of a small doses of caffeine, but that is more because of the potential increased fat metabolism and the lifestyle of my clients.

Nitric Oxide

Not to be confused with Nitrous Oxide (N20), Nitric Oxide (NO) causes vasodilation in arteries and veins.  Because of that effect, it has been utilized in the medical industry to regulate and treat high blood pressure by relaxing and expanding the arterial walls.  Because of this characteristic, it has been actively marketed by supplement manufacturers with a wide variety of claims.  Typically aimed at individuals trying to gain muscle mass, nitric oxide supplementation allows the body to maintain the appearance of larger muscles while consuming the supplement.  As most men, and some women have noticed, when you lift heavy weights over the course of the workout your muscles slightly swell.  This is due to local vasodilation that allows increased blood flow to the working muscles, and is a natural response by the body.  Many people refer to this as the "muscle pump." 

Nitric oxide produces a similar result, but manufacturers have begun to make extraordinary claims about what NO can and cannot actually do.  The claims range from increased strength to increased muscle mass development to increased endurance, but none of this has been scientifically proven with any consistent validity.  The theory is that with expanded arteries, more nutrients can be delivered to the working muscles which will equate to one of the above claims.  The problems is that to-date not a single study has been able to prove those claims, including the claim that NO consumption promotes a positive nitrogen balance (which is a direct indicator of potential muscle growth).  In fact some studies have shown that aside from the muscle pump effect of consumption, there is no other positive effect that NO produces.

Recently, a new form of NO, whose chemical name has so many syllables that I won't even try to write it here, that is making the same claims as originally claimed by makers of NO supplements. Scientific studies have been completed using this new chemical based on NO, and the results are in...  No real benefit.  So, unless you are purely interested in the vanity aspect of the supplement, NO appears to have no real benefit to your athletic performance.

Branch Chain Amino Acids

Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) are three amino acids that are members of the essential amino acid family meaning that we require the ingestion of the amino acids for proper health. Essential amino acids, unlike other amino acids, cannot by synthesized in body from other protein sources. The three amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, have been positively identified with enhancement for lean muscle mass, treatment in certain pathologies, and experimentally used to treat burn victims with some success.

From the research I have seen so far, I am a firm believer that the addition of BCAA, specifically leucine, presents a host of positive benefits from a sporting and fitness perspective. Leucine helps prevent muscle catabolism (breakdown) which happens on a daily basis, even with exercise. The root function for gaining muscle rests in the body's ability to produce more muscle growth than breakdown. If we slow the breakdown, then muscle growth becomes more significant. This was shown in a recent experiment where sedentary, elderly men were given BCAA. Aside from the supplement, nothing about the men's lifestyle change. The results of the experiment showed an increase in muscle mass for almost every participant.

Now although I would like to believe that BCAA is perfectly safe, and harmless for everyone to consume, I can not ethically state that children and teens should consume them because there is no research about the long term affects of consumption of BCAA. But, given the fact that the three amino acids are readily found in a number of other natural food sources, you can make your own choices on its safety.

Protein (Whey, Casein, and Soy)

I saved protein for my last supplement because after caffeine, it probably the most widely used supplement in the United States.  Because of it s popularity, many forms of supplemental protein are available on the market.  Before getting into the various forms of protein, I simply want to say that I see absolutely no harm whatsoever in almost any form or type of moderate protein supplementation.  Key word there is moderate.  Over-consumption of any of the proteins I am about to describe will have various negative side effects.

Protein supplementation is generally considered safe for most populations, and when consumed at key times, can be a very powerful tool for recovery from a workout.  With that said, though, I always encourage my athletes and clients to consume the majority of their protein from food sources, not supplements.  But, supplements do have a role.  The primary role for protein supplementation is relative to timing.  For the first 45 minutes after a workout, the body has heightened levels of key hormones that when paired with proper nutrients, promote quicker recovery, better muscle anabolism (growth), and enhanced carbohydrate uptake to the muscles.  Because of this limited window, supplementation provides a vital role.

Whey Protein

Whey protein is derived from dairy and originally was a disposed by-product of making cheese.  Whey is probably the most utilized form of supplemental protein today for two reasons.  First, it is cheap and easy to produce and package.  It has a fairly long shelf-life making it desirable to manufacturers.  Secondly, it has the most rapid digestion rate of all of the proteins.  Whey protein can be broken down very quickly and therefore is very popular as post-workout protein choice.  Whey protein availability in the bloodstream peaks very quickly, approximately 1-2 hours after consumption.  This matches nicely with your body's hormonal response after a workout where your body releases certain anabolic (growth/recovery) hormones to assist in recover and protein synthesis. 

Whey protein can be found in various forms, liquid and powder, and as an isolate.  For the most part, as long as the overall quality of the protein is high, you generally don't receive much more benefit by consuming some of the more processed and expensive versions.  I personally buy the 5 pound bulk bag of powder.


Casein is derived, like whey, from dairy products.  Different than whey, casein contains more nutrients and has a different chemical structure than whey.  Casein is found in both cow and human milk which is why I tell almost all of my athletes that a big glass of chocolate milk is actually a phenomenal post-workout drink.  Also different from whey, casein is not strictly a protein, but contains some carbohydrates as well as calcium and phosphorus.  But, like whey, casein does contain essential amino acids.

The biggest and most important differentiation between casein and whey is that because of the more complicated structure and nutrient profile of casein, casein digest much more slowly because it actually gels in the stomach.  This slows digestion and results in a moderate extended release of nutrients over a longer period of time.  Because of this casein is not necessarily the best choice immediately after a workout where we want to deliver as many nutrients as possible as quickly as possible.  But, casein is a very good choice for smoothies and mid-day snacks because it will satiate you longer than whey protein.  Some fitness enthusiasts consume a small amount of casein prior to going to bed believing that the sustained released of amino acids through the night assists in recovery.  In theory, this does make sense, but to my knowledge no studies have been completed relative to that idea.

Soy Protein

Soy protein is derived from soybean or soya bean (shocker, huh?) and is a processed to have all of the fat and carbohydrates removed.  Although technically classified as a complete protein because all of the essential amino acids are present, the ratios of the amino acids vary greatly from what we typically see in the whey a casein choices.  Soy has come into recent popularity because of many supposed health benefits.  Then even more recently it has taken some bad press because of some supposed negative health issues related to over-consumption.  The key issue revolves around the fact that soy protein acts as a binder to estrogen receptors.  Over consumption in men results in a greater amount of estrogen production, which is generally not a good thing.  Over consumption in women has been correlated to increased risk of cancer, although the correlation is highly controversial and requires much more study to be considered a serious correlation. 

Soy is cheap and trendy which makes it popular in many "healthy" food choices.  Oddly, soy protein is also one of the most highly processed additives to most of these healthy choices.  In the health and fitness world, soy protein because of its insufficient amino acid ratio is not a first choice for most omnivores.  For vegans, vegetarians, etc, it is a very popular choice as it is 100% vegetable in its make-up.

One think to note from this analysis of protein is that the hands down best form of protein for your body is egg protein.  It has the ideal amino acid ratio that your body desires, but receives much less attention because it is more expensive and less stable than other protein choices and therefore can not be used in as many products as soy, casein, or whey.

Closing remarks...

On everything I have written about, recent is still being conducted.  What I wrote today is 99% fact with a little bit of intelligent opinion added.  It is up to you to arm yourself with this information and make sound intelligent decisions about any supplement that you or your child may consume.  With all of these supplements, there are no studies that involve children nor pregnant women for ethical reasons.  I personally have consumed every single supplement on this list, some of which I still utilize today for working out or athletic events.  Aside from an odd twitch here and there and my random losses of consciousness I have had no side effects...(that is a joke obviously.)

The key thing to remember is that these are supplements.  They are designed to added to a diet when you can't easily consume natural normal food.  Whenever possible, I always encourage my clients and athletes to consume actual food versus a supplement.  The natural nutrients of whole foods can and never will be fully matched by supplements. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Understanding How to REALLY Modify Your Diet to Lose Weight.

So, one of my clients the other day sent me an article (she shall remain nameless, but you know who you are!). The article was written by a group of doctors, who despite their obvious intelligence in developing sound dietary equations to determine realistic weight loss have an inability to properly communicate it to the general public. When my client sent me the article, I noticed this short-coming of their description of how losing weight really works. We then swapped e-mails and what resulted was a better way of understanding a proper diet, specifically calorie levels, to lose fat.

Summary of the article...

The article which was published on was titled "Calorie-Cutting Rule May Result In Less-Than-Expected Weight Loss." The general synopsis of the article was that most people hear that if they cut 500 calories a day from their diet, they will lose weight and that that notion is incorrect. The doctor's statements are true; cutting calories is not a rock-solid way to lose weight.   They bring up ideals about lessening muscle mass with age, and slowing metabolism as reasons why the 500 calorie reduction does not work for everyone. The problems is that they don't develop the thought completely, nor do they give people struggling with weight loss anything other than an excuse of why they aren't losing as much weight as they want (i.e. "I must have a slow metabolism.")

The real deal...
(E-mail response #1)

"The 500 calories reduction rule only applies if you are currently in caloric balance (i.e. you expend exactly what you take in). Rarely are people on a calorically balanced diet when they begin the 500 calorie reduction. Usually they are over-consuming; sometimes by 300 or more calories, which means a 500 calorie reduction is only a 200 calorie deficit relative to your actual metabolism. A 200 calorie deficit would equate to 1 pound of fat loss every 2-3 weeks.

What people need to take away, that sadly the article did not clearly state is that you need to operate on a 500 calorie deficit not merely a 500 calorie reduction in the diet."

The real deal fully explained...
(E-mail response #2)

My client then asked me if the metabolism concept was a myth. It most certainly is not a myth, but is the basis for how any sound diet should be designed.

"Metabolism, also referred to as your resting metabolic rate (RMR), should be the basis for setting your unique caloric daily intake. RMR represents the number of calories your body burns just by carrying out bodily processes. For most women, this number is right around 1000, give or take 100 depending on height and muscle mass. To that we add your caloric load of daily activities, which if you don’t work-out is a surprisingly low number. Sedentary, low muscle people probably only burn an additional 300-400 calories a day. These two inputs are where a “slow” metabolism is factored in. If you truly have a depressed metabolism, your RMR is probably 100-200 calories lower which can be the affect of hormonal issues or minimal muscle mass. This combined total of RMR and basic daily living is what I refer to as the Living Metabolic Rate (a term I completely made up, but fits the definition), the combination of your RMR and the calories burned during daily activities excluding fitness/workout activities. We can also add the thermic affect of food/digestion, which typically fluctuates around 8% - 10% of calories consumed (so that 1200 calorie piece of cheesecake really only costs you 1080 calories...oh wait that is still awful). These are just a couple of components to determining metabolism.  Medications, hormones, stress, and various lifestyle choices can swing your LMR in different directions, sometimes fluctuating day to day.

Now that you see the inputs, it is easy to see why there is so much confusion about the 500 calories reduction rule. It isn’t that we really care about reducing the diet by 500 calories, it is that we want to live at a 500 calories deficit. If I (as in me, JT) am trying to lose fat, I can still consume well over 2200 calories a day because my total daily expenditure pushes 2800-3000 calories. You on the other hand, being female, having less muscle mass, and being less active (remember I run speed and agility sessions almost daily), can only get away with 1500 calories consumed a day (1000+400=1400 (LMR) + 500 (workout) = 1900 – 400 = 1500). Two very different numbers. Even if you consumed 500 calories less than my restricted diet, you would still not lose weight quickly. It is all relative to an individual’s metabolism which is why I feel the word “deficit” needs to used not “reduction.” A slower metabolism can be accounted for in the process, and people with slow metabolisms can lose weight as long as they operate at a deficit.

In the article, they referenced that Americans only overeat by about 10 calories a day. That is crap. I don’t know where they got that statistic. Maybe when we average out everyone, even the people who eat right at their caloric balance, and those who are successfully losing weight we average only 10 calories of over-consumption.  I bet overweight people (and those gaining weight...the people that need to change their diets) typically over consume by 50-100 calories day. If it were only 10 calories, weight gain would be limited to only 1 pound gained per year, and lord knows what really happens over the summer. I know many people who pack on 5-10 pounds in 60 days. That is an over-consumption (again, relative to metabolism) of 250-500 calories per day.

So to answer your question directly, the metabolism issue is not a myth, but needs to be addressed directly and precisely (which can be done, albeit at an expense) if someone is to have true success in efficient weight loss. Sure you can lose weight by guessing your metabolism, but if you are incorrect, you will either a) not lose weight as quickly as you could, or b) will unintentionally waste muscle. The muscle wasting causes a decrease in metabolism and is the result of your body thinking it is starving. Then if the body assumes starvation, it will sacrifice what it deems as unnecessary living tissue first which is your muscle. It does this because it can’t sacrifice other living tissues such as organs."

 ----- End of E-mail----

The key thing we need to take away from all of this is that weight loss and gain is a matter of numbers.  People have tried to debate this as false for a decade now.  They have tried to show that various foods are metabolic, and that differing digestion rates of protein/carbs/fat affect the number of calories you can eat.  Although some of those ideas may be partially true, the fact of the matter is that no single study or collection of studies can fully deny that the number of calories you eat in the course of the day combined with how you eat those calories is what equates to changes in body mass.  So, in the simplest of terms, if you want to lose weight, you need to be at a 500 calorie deficit on a daily basis through the combination of diet and exercise.  If you want to gain weight (specifically muscle mass), you need to lift heavy and have a 500 calorie surplus daily.  If you don't lift heavy, and just over-consume, you will gain fat.

So are you asking yourself  why I typed the bold/underlined statement of "how you eat those calories?"

In an effort to keep this entry and topic from getting any longer, I am going to cover that in one of my next posts, but just know this... the idea of eating 5-6 smaller meals a day is correct and the standard American three square meals a day is wrong.  It does not have to do with carbs versus proteins versus fats.  It has to do with timing and how many calories your body can actually tolerate before fat retention kicks in.  As a teaser to this article, the same client who motivated my response here once sent me another article showing how a guy ate nothing but snack cakes (twinkies, cupcakes, etc...) and one Muscle Milk per day, and lost 10 pounds in a month.  No lie, but please do not try this at home...yet.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Beat The Heat: Minimizing The Effects of Heat on Athletic Performance

August is typically one of the hottest months of the year where average temperatures here in the ATL typically peak around the mid-90's each day. Combine that heat with high humidity, and the heat index (also known as "How hot it feels) can easily approach 105 or higher. With outdoor athletics kicking in for many people, especially youth athletics, it is very important to follow some simple guidelines, not only for health and safety reasons, but also for athletic performance purposes.

As everyone has seen in the news, recently there were some preventable fatalities in sports because of heat stroke and exhaustion. The simplest way to stay healthy and safe in the heat is to stay hydrated. Your body has an incredible ability to cool itself during activity and heat, but this system only works when you are properly hydrated. This may sound like a simple statement, but all too often people unintentionally under-hydrate prior to an athletic event, usually because we don't fully understand how the environment affects our bodies cooling capability.

We all know that we are active in a hot environment we sweat more as our bodies try to compensate for the higher core temperature. What you probably don't know is how the system actually works. The cooling mechanism actually resides in the evaporation of sweat from our skin. Without getting too geeky and discussing fluid dynamics and heat, when the sweat evaporates from the skin it has a cooling affect for the skin which then cools the blood, keeping our core temperature at a safer level. If we run out of water, we run out of sweat, which leads to an inability to the cool the skin, and subsequently an inability to lower our core temperature. That's when all the bad things happen.

Humidity complicates this because the more humid it is, the lower the evaporation rate. Your body responds to the lower evaporation rate by pumping out more sweat which means your dehydrate yourself quicker. Throw in a good amount of caffeine (a diuretic) or some alcohol (again, a diuretic) and the risk of dehydration increases even more.

On the performance side, improper hydration is the #1 factor that leads to a decline in athletic fitness and ability. A 2% drop in body weight because of lowered hydration can equate to as much as a 20% drop in performance metrics. So, if a 150 pound athlete loses 3 pounds of body weight because of sweating (a gallon of water weighs 9 pounds...), that person's athletic ability will decrease quickly.

Now, there are plenty of signs that let you know that a heat related illness is developing. The key thing is to identify Heat Exhaustion prior to things getting worse. Signs of heat exhaustion include dizziness, headache, profuse sweating, rapid shallow breathing, cool clammy skin, a rapid weak pulse, and an uncoordinated gait or decrease in balance and coordination. Heightened thirst is also an early sign of under-hydration. You should never go into an intense activity feeling thirsty; it is a red flag that your body is already improperly hydrated.

If you or someone you see is experiencing heat exhaustion, the first thing to do is to stop the activity and start the cooling process. Obviously the person needs water, but shade and a cool, wet cloth go a long way in speeding the cooling process. Now, we all know how great a cold cloth feels on the back of our necks when we are hot. The problem is that this is not a good way to cool yourself down. It feels good, but it is actually tricking your body. Your bodies ambient temperature receptors are on the back of your neck, and those sensors are involved in determining how much you should sweat. If you cool off the back of the neck, your body thinks it is cooler than it actually is and decreases its efforts to cool the body. Instead take the cold cloth and put it on top of your head to cool your brain, and then take a second cold wet cloth and hold it between your wrists. This will cool the blood flowing through the veins and arteries that are closest to the surface which will help circulate cooler blood and lower your core temperature.

Now, the defense against heat exhaustion is to properly prepare to be active in the heat. Here are my main suggestions:

1) Consume lots of water prior to the event...if you haven't figured that one out already, we are going to have to work on your reading comprehension skills.

2) Check your pee...sure I could have said urine, but then you wouldn't have just made that "I can't believe he just wrote that" face. Seriously though, if my athletes are not urinating clear or pale yellow prior to an event, I make them drink more water. Dark yellow urine means you are underhydrated, or just ate 4 tablespoons of salt. If your urine is bright yellow, you probably consumed too many Flintstones vitamins.

3) Don't be vain: Function before fashion... white clothing reflects heat, dark colors absorb. I know most people think of this as a "Well Duh" statement, but after running 3 summer speed and agility clinics this summer, I know that people don't think of this like they should.

4) Sit your butt down!... even brief (2-3 minute) breaks 2 to 3 times over the course of an hour are beneficial to staying cool. During these breaks, you should sip water. If you can get into the shade, even better.

5) Develop an in-game drinking habit...For water that is...I generally suggest a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of water to sports beverage in order to maintain electrolyte levels, but if the event is less than 90 minutes (and you are properly nourished) more than likely you can get away with just water during the event and then get your electrolytes afterwards.

6) Take a look at yourself...if you feel dizzy, stop. If you feel nauseous, stop. If you develop a headache, stop. If you feel like you need to chug a gallon of water, stop. If your opponent just took you to school, you need to come in a train more at Strength Lab!

7) Avoid the things that make you pee...sorry I just had to say it again. But in all seriousness, prior to being active in the heat, you should avoid consuming alcohol and a lot of caffeine. A little caffeine can be a powerful ergogenic (sports performance) aid. A lot of caffeine can cause major issues with hydration status. If you have an 8:00 AM match, don't drink a 12 pack of beer the night before and chase it with a pot of coffee before the match.

If you have any questions, as always, you can reach me at or my personal e-mail address if you have it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Whey protein better than soy protein?

A new study came out this past week that did a long-term comparison of supplemental nutrient shakes of different macro-nutrient composition (macronutrients are carbs, protein, fat, and water). To sum up the framework and methods of the study...

1) There were three groups
2) One group was given a whey protein shake, one a soy protein shake, and one a carbohydrate shake. Each shake was the same number of calories: 200.
3) All of the participants were required to keep a food journal, and activity journal.
4) The study lasted 6 months.
5) All in all, all three groups ate about the same number of calories each day (2200), and had the same activity level (almost none).

When the results were analyzed, what the researchers found was the the whey protein group had lost 2 pounds, the soy protein group stayed the same, and the carbohydrate group gained 2 pounds. The whey protein group also trimmed an inch off their waistlines.

Now, 2 pounds and one inch are not exactly a lot of weight-loss over 6 months, and could be potential insignificant in the grand scheme of things, BUT there are other things to take from this article. First, 2200 calories for a sedentary individual will almost always result in gradual weight GAIN. The fact that the whey protein group lost weight when the caloric intake shows they should have gained weight is very noteworthy. Second, most whey proteins of good quality have BCAA (branch chain amino acids) which have been proven to increase lean muscle mass, even in people who don't work out.

In a study completed last year, BCAA's were given to a group of 70-something sedentary men. All the experiment did was give these guys BCAA and nothing else. They didn't change their diets, nor did they increase activity. The result? Every person in the group increased lean muscle mass.

I have yet to see any studies that produce the same results by ingesting soy protein. So, big picture here, although soy protein gets the vegetarian/organic/I only shop at Whole Foods seal of approval, it is worth noting that whey protein has multiple (potentially significant) advantages over soy.

Yes, yes, I know soy has more anti-oxidants, but if you are eating a well-rounded colorful-vegetables-included diet, then more than likely you are achieving your requirement for anti-oxidants. You know you get anti-oxidants from red wine, too right...?

Oh yeah, one more thing, men who over-consume soy protein...their estrogen levels go up. So, ladies if you want your husband/boyfriend/office hook-up to have more muscles, have them consume whey. If you want the overly-sensitive, "I've memorized Dirty Dancing" type guy, load him up on soy...and get a box of tissues.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Strength Lab Soccer Speed and Skills Clinic

The Strength Lab Soccer Speed and Skills Clinic is the first clinic for the summer of 2011 that will focus on basic sprinting mechanics, agility, footwork, balance, and core strength. The program will also incorporate individual skills training to improve dribbling, shooting, passing, and ball control.

The clinic will be held at Atlanta Silverbacks Soccer Park located near I-85 and I-285. The Atlanta Silverbacks Soccer Park is the city's premier soccer facility with multiple fields that use high quality artificial turf with enhanced shock absorption. The facility is also equipped with men's and women's restrooms and a shaded area for rest breaks.

For more information about the clinic, please visit the Strength Lab website at: