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Unselfishness’ Edge in Exercise Programs


Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”  

– Vince Lombardi

I have a bike race on Saturday.  On Tuesday I needed a short, hot spiky interval workout to prepare and condition my body for clearing the flood of lactic acid soon to be heading my way!

I’ve done this type of interval training plenty of times before … on the bike, on the treadmill, on the elliptical, running hills, etc.  But on Tuesday morning, with that deliciously crisp fall air still hanging around, I headed for the rink for some open hockey.

Hockey’s an ideal game for short, hot, spiky interval training: skate hard, blow up, get off the ice and recover.  Winning (or trying to win) the race for a puck is a very quick way to find the Red Zone.  Do it again and again and again and again and you’ve got a nearly perfect hot spiky interval workout!

But what makes my engagement with the game truly unique, and why it is particularly effective for me in this way has mostly to do with mostly sucking at hockey.

I did not grow up playing the game in an organized way (I began playing at 41) , so when I jump into a local game, I’m almost always the least skilled player on the ice.  What happens next is, I think, fundamental human nature: recognizing my limitations, my primary <ahem> goal is to simply not be THE liability on my team.  It’s rare that I hit the net with the puck, so above all else, I don’t want to be THAT GUY creating the turnover or easy goal that let’s my team down.

I’ve worked extremely hard in individual workouts throughout my life, but almost never as hard as I do when my team is counting on me, or when I’m cycling in a group sprint ride.

  It isn’t necessarily for everyone, but I think group exercise is valuable in at least a limited way for most folks.

I still prefer to train mostly by myself for lots of reasons, but on occasion,  what is helpful to my overall program, and what I NEED most is someone ELSE to count on me.

And THIS is way I’m so excited about the upcoming Rollout of our Small Group Training Program!  

We now have a way to deliver well managed personal training in a small, teamwork-like environment!

PACK WEEK IS THE WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 26TH!

Limited space still available, but call now if you want to jump in!

Conquering Carbohydrates Part 3: The Complex Carbohydrate Conundrum


A few weeks ago, we posted Carbohydrates For Dummy’s Part 1: Saccharides and Such. 

A week after that we posted Part 2 of the Conquering Carbohydrates story: an introduction to Complex Carbohydrates.

Then came a few distractions and the Annual Fair Foods Blog, but we’re back on track today  with the 3rd and final part of the Conquering Carbohydrates Conundrum.

Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

If sugar, starch, simple carbs, complex carbs, and ne t carbs weren’t enough to test your meddle, two other sometimes confusing carb-centric terms to contend with are Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL).

Glycemic Index simply ranks foods on how quickly they affect glucose levels in the blood stream.  Developed in Toronto in the 1980s to help doctors prescribe diets for diabetics, foods that quickly elevate blood sugar levels have a high glycemic index.  Foods that increase blood sugar slowly have lower glycemic indices.

In addition to Diabetics, Athletes also tend to be highly aware of blood glucose levels to both prepare for and recovery from intense exercise.   Regular exercisers can also benefit from an awareness of blood sugar levels, however, because the of the effect cortisol has on glucose metabolism when you are low on blood sugar.

You might think that you’re doing yourself a favor skipping lunch, when in fact, doing so triggers your body to generate more cortisol.

Cortisol … the “your under stress hormone” counteracts Insulin production and reduces the metabolism of glucose.  The result of this is disproportionately more fat storage in anticipation of famine!  Additionally, the increased Cortisol increases appetite so you’re more likely to overeat at your next meal!

It would be great if you could simply categorize carbohydrates into glycemic index groups that fit nicely within some saccharide category, but the truth is, it’s somewhat of a frustrating memorization exercise.

Take roots.  Carrots & yams (both simple carbohydrate foods) have relatively low GIs of 39 and 51, respectively, while potatoes have GIs as high as 85!   The difference here is that potatoes are very starchy.

So, starchy means high GI then?

Not quite. Plenty of other starchy carbs, like Oats, Bran, Rye and Barley are actually quite low in GIs scoring in the 20s and 30s.  Similarly,  wheat and most rices also score fairly low (50s), while brown rice pasta has an exceptional and soaring 91!

And then there’s fruit.  Unless I’ve missed something, no fruits are starchy.   They’re fibrous and watery, but not starchy.  But here’s the rub: some fruits have very low GIs, like grapefruit (25), plums (39), and apples (38); and some fruits have moderate GIs, like mangos (56), apricots (57), and raisins (64).  Why then, does watermelon have a sky high GI of 72?

It makes no sense, and in the end, you must simply memorize or carry GI tables with you to get it right!   Here’s one build for the sometimes-popular South Beach Diet.

Attempting to solve this mystery steps in Glycemic Load.

As it turns out, part of the reason why inconsistencies exist across the simple to complex carbs GI spectrum is related to quantity consumed.   For example, a single piece of hard candy (nearly all sucrose) will trigger a smaller glucose response than a bite of a banana.  But if you consume 2 cups of each, the candy outpaces the banana quite quickly!

What’s more, Net Carbs also have a role.  As mentioned above, the fiber content will affect digestion speed, which, in turn, effects blood sugar fluctuations.  So, in the late ‘90s,  the Glycemic Load became a more popular way to determine food effect on blood sugar, defined as the percentage of GI times Net Carbs:

Glycemic Load = Glycemic Index / 100 x Net Carbs

Got that?  Well, before you start looking for a smart phone app to calculate GL, have no worries, many nutritionists have simply done the math for you with tables they’ve built themselves.  In fact, one of my all time favorite nutrition sites, NutritionData.com doesn’t list GI at all, but instead lists an Estimated Glycemic Load number for most of it’s nutritional listings.  The values are estimated simply because complete data on GI and Net Carb values simply hasn’t yet been compiled for all foods.

What you also need to know about GI vs GL numbers is that a high GL number could be a low GI Number:

Within the heavily debated carbohydrate controversy, exists a separate embedded micro controversy around GI and GL.  As with carbohydrates, many experts propose low GI/GL diets within the weight reduction context, while others staunchly oppose it.  A 2008 German study, for instance, actually found that low GI/L diets actually correlated to higher bodyfat results.

Withstanding GL wizardry, one food category that emerges consistently high in the GI tables is highly refined grains, particularly those in baked goods.  French bread, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, rice cakes, and many breakfast cereals ALL SCORE very high on GI tables.

Refined Grains and Added Sugars

Refined grain products (cookies, cakes, cereals) also suffer from two other significant problems: added sugars and nutrient deficiency.

In fact, according to the  USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the single largest problem with many American diets is, indeed,  these refined grain products.

Not only do they trigger a short, spiky bust in glucose, but they are also reasonably ‘empty’ calories with very few micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).  To make matters worse, they frequently include added sugars to make an already unhealthy food even more caloric.  Sometimes inclusive of saturated and/or hydrogenated fats as well, and well, these products are really quite evil to health and fitness professionals.

The Carbohydrate Conundrum: What to do?

With all of this going on, it’s no wonder the general public is confused about carbohydrates and their dietary relevance.  Here then is my professional recommendation on the topic.

First, if you are diabetic, follow your doctor’s orders, not mine.

For all the rest of us:

  1. The easiest way to defuse most of your concerns about carbohydrates is simply to exercise more!  Not only will you metabolize more calories in doing so, but other hormones involved with exercise and exercise recovery help keep cortisol and insulin balanced.
  2. Recognize that carbohydrates are, above all else, your body’s primary fuel source.   While it’s true that your body always metabolizes a blend of carbohydrates, fats, and protein, carbohydrates are your primary fuel source.  If your engine is just idling, back off on the fuel!
  3. Adjust your complex carbohydrate intake with your anticipated physical activity
    1. If you are sedentary, you need very complex few carbohydrates.  Most of your energy will come from stored energy sources (glycogen and body fat).   Eliminate most complex carbohydrates from your diet to avoid gaining body fat.
    2. If you are active, you need some complex carbohydrates.  Try to get most of your complex carbohydrates early in the day, typically before 2:00 PM.  Switch to mostly simple carbohydrates after that.
    3. If you are regularly exercising, or an athlete, you need a LOT more carbohydrates. Get most of your complex carbs early in the day, but do include moderate quantities later in the day.  Don’t hesitate to include higher amounts in your diet if you have a high intensity exercise event the following morning.
  4. Eat a wide variety of and large quantities of fruits and vegetables.  Follow the seasonally available produce and you’ll get plenty of variety.  Make sure you get at wide variety of color in your diet.   A lot of people miss out on the yellows: squash, yams, yellow peppers.
  5. Try to incorporate more legumes into your diet: green beans, black beans, pinto beans, white beans; etc.
  6. When choosing complex carbohydrates, focus on whole grains, and high fiber sources.  Steel cut oats, whole wheat, and wild rice are good examples.
  7. Always avoid or minimize highly refined grains, particularly those with added sugars.  MOST of the grocery store bakery fits into this category: cookies, cakes, pies (it’s the crust), french bread, muffins, and doughnuts.   What’s worse is that many of these will also include partially hydrogenated fats.
    1. Avoid or eliminate them if you are serious about your health.
    2. Heart disease is still the #1 cause of death for men and women in America and these fats are deadly
Did I Miss Anything?   What’s your burning or unanswered carbohydrate question? 

A funny, but instructive story about two women and the value of a training partner …


My wife Shirley was looking for a new activity to fill the void of her recent retirement from women’s hockey.  My new business acquaintance Kristi was new to town and looking for local things to do.

As a fitness pro, it was easy to suggest that the two of them connect for some exercise!   So I introduced them to each other.

They went back and forth for a week or so on options and venues from mountain biking to hiking and eventually settled on a run date about 7 days out.

What happened next shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.   It also reminded me of the importance of two concepts critical to fitness success: an impending deadline and a trusted training partner.  

I’ve long tried to impress people on the significance of a training partner: someone to hold you accountable to simply showing up, and who is impervious to your many excuses for not exercising!

Sometimes your partner is your personal trainer, but it can just as well be a buddy on the same fitness excursion as you are.  In looking back at the years I was most competitive as a body builder, and then at the years I was competitive as a mountain bike racer, I was always at my best when I had a consistent training partner.  Always.

Neither Shirley nor Kristi had been running much before the date was set, but THEY BOTH RAN 3 TIMES INDIVIDUALLY in the week prior to the meetup run date!  3 times each, in all likelihood, that neither would have run had the date not been set.  

Maybe it’s the sometimes subtle competitiveness in all of us that won’t allow us to be the weak link on a team.  Or maybe it was the sense of urgency created with a firm run date on the calendar, even if only a casual run for two unacquainted women.

Who really knows?

What I do know is that establishing that deadline and committing to a training partner, even if only for a day, is one of the true secrets of Fitness Feng Shui!

Conquering Complex Carbohydrates – Part 2 of Carbohydrates for Dummy’s


 Part 2 of a 3 part series on conquering carbohydrates, today, we focus on Complex Carbohydrates: where they’ve fit into diets and dietary conversations.

Last week, we covered Carbohydrate conversational history, and Simple Carbohydrates: Saccharides / Sugar.

Disaccharides

Chaining two saccharides together creates a slightly more complex type of carbohydrate called a DIsaccharide.   Three of the most common disaccharides are Sucrose, Maltose, and Lactose, all formed with a different combination of monosaccharides:

Disaccharide

Monosaccharide + Monosaccharide

Sucrose =

Glucose + Fructose

Maltose =

Glucose + Glucose

Lactose =

Glucose + Galactose

Sucrose naturally occurs in fruits and vegetables and is highly concentrated in cane sugar and sugar beets.    

It is also common table sugar.

NOTE: Some canned fruit and vegetable products will also ADD refined sugar (like high fructose corn syrup and common table sugar) to the processed food, to sweeten the flavor.  You need to be careful of the extra sugar and extra calories.

I also learned this week, courtesy of Breakfast Club Guest Speaker Steve Zeller of Waconia’s Parley Lake Winery that Winemakers sometimes add sucrose to highly acidic wines to improve palitability. 

Polysaccarides

Stringing 3 saccharides together creates, you guessed it, a trisaccharide, while 4 or more saccharides builds a polysaccharide.

And this is where things get really interesting … and controversial. 

Three of the most common polysaccharide carbohydrates are Starch, Glycogen, and Cellulose.

Starch is insoluble in water and must be digested by animals.  It is a glucose reserve for plants (excess plant glucose is converted to starch).  Rice, wheat, and corn are common sources of starch in the human diet.

Glycogen is a reserved form of glucose for animals (not too unlike how starch is a glucose reserve for plants).   It is manufactured by the liver and is stored in the liver and muscle tissues.  It must be converted back to glucose to be used as an energy source.

Cellulose is produced by and forms the primary structure of plants. While technically a polysaccharide carbohydrate like Starch and Glycogen, the cellulose molecular structure makes it indigestible by mammals.  It is therefore considered fiber, and not really an energy source.

Complex vs. Simple Carbs

If you’re observing the carbohydrate reduction battles, these complex carbohydrates are exactly the carbs that tend to be under the most scrutiny.

The easiest way to separate Simple Carbohydrates from Complex carbohydrates is to identify Starch.  Complex Carbohydrates will almost universally contain Starch.

Fruits and Vegetables do not; they consist primarily of water, cellulose (fiber), and fructose.

Complex carbohydrates are then primarily carbohydrates with a starch element.  These include most of the grains (wheat, oats, barley, rice, and corn), some roots (potatoes, yams, turnips), and some legumes (beans).   Most also have significant cellulose content making them high in fiber.

Low and No Carb Diets

While extremely low carb diets like Atkins eliminates nearly all carbohydrates, mono and disaccarides included, some diets, like South Beach allow for most monosaccarhide and disaccaride carbs, but banish the more complex ploysaccarides.

The big difference in these two approaches is that the carbohydrate threshold below which an Atkins style diet places your body in what’s called a state of ketosis whereby glycogen stores are depleted, requiring that energy comes entirely from the metabolism of fatty acids.

Most of the medical community considers this a highly risky and potentially life-threatening taxation on the liver.

Ketosis risks notwithstanding, another at least as significant problem with many low/no carb diets is micronutrient deprivation.  Despite the phenomenal products from many supplement providers, matching natural food vitamin and mineral content is extremely difficult.  Missing out on all of these in the absense of a saccharide smart diet is simply not a healthy, long term way to provide nutrients to your body.

Net Cabohydrates

Net Carbohydrates are an interesting new term in the diet world whereby the diet du jour architects and food manufacturers have decided that the carbohydrate content defined by the USDA isn’t meaningful for the fibrous component in a food product.

So, what they’ve done is created a new value: Net Carbs, defined as the total carbs in a product less the fibrous content.

In no small way, this is merely a ruse to position products in a more favorable light to carb conscious dieter.  

While the Net Carb idea is somewhat honorably used to identify the energy sources relevant to body fat storage (or elimination), disregarding the fibrous (often cellulose) component in this way sidesteps several other metabolic and digestive considerations.

For one, high fiber carbohydrate products digest more slowly, and in some cases much more slowly than a low fiber food.  This results in a slower, and more steadily produced stream of glucose in the blood stream … something highly significant to 25+ million Americans with diabetes.

Second, high fiber diets are healthy!  They reduce the risk of developing certain cancers and heart disease, have a positive effect on cholesterol levels, and help with weight control programs by providing ‘filler’ the body often identifies as food to reduce appetite. 

As a result, the Net Carbs numbers tend to do more clouding than clarifying.

In the end, your time would probably be better spent simply looking at and monitoring the sugar and fat content of a food than bothering with the net carb calculation.

In fact, as an isolated factor, you might actually choose a less healthy product on it’s net carb merits!

For instance, a serving size of McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal has 27 grams of carbohydrate.  Of that, 3 g are dietary fiber, while 2 g are Insoluble fiber.  Hence, the net grams of the product are:
27 – 3 – 2 = 22g.

On the flip side, a serving of General Mill’s Cocoa Puff’s has 23 total grams of carbohydrate.  Of that, 1 g. is dietary fiber for total net carbs of 22g as well.

Equivalent products then?  Not even close.  The oatmeal has than 1 g. of sugar while the Cocoa Puffs have a whopping 13 g of sugar!  Further, the serving of oatmeal includes 4 g of protein while the serving of cocoa puffs has just a meager 1 g of protein.

What’s more, the 5 g of dietary fiber in the oatmeal will give it a much lower glycemic index (tune in next week) than that low fiber General Mill’s product, something that will effect hormones in a far more influential way.

Though … from a net carb perspective … the products look equal.   

Unfortunately, a desperate public blindly following the net carb lemmings may make poor, and uninformed decisions.  Don’t let that be you!

Next Week: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load; Refined Grains; what to do? 

Like last week, leave me a comment and we’ll spot you a free water bottle!

Carbohydrates for Dummy’s – Part 1


A client recently asked me if I supported low carbohydrate diets.

 I responded with an absolute maybe.

It depends, I told her … are you interested in reducing all carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, refined grain products, sugars, and/or starch?”  

I got “the gaze,” scheduled her for a Nutrition Together session, and decided it was time to write it all down.

Here then, is Part One of a Three Part series on Carbohydrates …

… compete with two polls … please vote!  And, as always, if you comment on my posting, you’ll be entered into a contest to win free personal training!

We’re going to get a bit technical here in the 1st week.  You don’t really need to know the chemistry (I’ll give my layman’s recommendations in week 3), but following along will definitely improve your awareness of marketing hype and improve your diet!

Question # 1 for you:

A (very) Brief History of the Carbohydrate Conversation

If you thought that Low Carbohydrate (Carb) diets were a consequence of modern dietary remediation, you’d be right.  And you’d also be quite wrong.   

In fact, many anthropologists believe that the early hunter-gatherer humans of thousands of years ago consumed a diet largely consisting of proteins and fats with relatively low carbohydrate content.   Of course, they suffered from very low life expectancies, widespread disease, and chronic illnesses, so it’s probably best not to give too much credit to that <ahem> tribe’s eating habits.   They were also generally more active than our current society. 

More recently, physicians sporadically treated diabetic patients with medications and low carb diets as early as the 1700s … more than 3 centuries ago. 

And if that’s not all, the Glycemic index, an indication of how quickly carbohydrates metabolize, was actually introduced by Dr. David Jenkins around 1981 more than 30 years ago!

But the “low carb craze” as we now know it really started in the 1990s when Dr. Robert Atkins introduced his diet and philosophy on fat.

By that time, of course, highly refined grains had permeated much of the American diet, and, according to the USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, they still do.

Considering the position we held on the Obesity Curve in the 1990s, carbohydrates became an easy target for a problem that seems to be getting <ahem> bigger. 

Dozens of Medical Research Communities have studied low carb diets over time, developing both staunch supporters of and staunch opponents to the concept.

In short, it’s a complex topic.  While much there is much consensus around protein and fat intake requirements for varying levels of human activity, the camps on carbohydrates are very much divided. 

 

Further complicating the picture is that we have a very diverse range of activities to consider.  Athletes, weekend warriors, and fitness freaks all need different nutrition than the average consumer.  And the average consumer is different in activity behaviors than highly sedentary folks in the community.
In the end, no diet is right for everyone, and, over the next few weeks, I’ll show you why!
What’s more, carbohydrates cover an extremely diverse category of foods.
 Everything from vegetables to vermicelli is under the carb cover.
Simple table sugar is a carbohydrate just as a bowl of oat meal is.  So to, are cookies, pie crusts, and brussel sprouts.
Everything from simple fruits to complex, highly refined grain food products has been thrown under the carbohydrates-are-bad bus, and that’s just wrong.

Organically Speaking …

Carbohydrates, as the name suggests, are a long chained carbon molecule (carbo -) with oxygen and hydrogen (hydrates).  The ratios of hydrogen and oxygen are about 2:1 (H2O), though the molecule itself has very little in common with water.
Proteins and Fats are also long chained carbon molecules, but with much different ratios of hydrogen and oxygen.   (See the skinny on fats and protein primer).  
The simplest of all carbohydrates is a single unit of a saccharide,  or sugar.  It is called a monosaccharide (C6H12O6).    How the molecule is structured, however, determines what type of a sugar it is, even though it has the same molecular formula (C6H12O6).

Three commonly recognized monosaccharides are Glucose, Galactose, and Fructose.   Glucose, of course, is human blood sugar, an immediately ready source of energy for cellular respiration – the product of which is ATP, our primary energy source.

 

Galactose is the sugar commonly found in dairy product (and is responsible for ‘lactose intolerance’), while Fructose is the sugar found in honey and fruits.    

High Fructose Corn Syrup is a fructose manufactured as an sweetening ingredient from corn starch,  and is a highly controversial processed food ingredient.

 

In fact, if you believe Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivor’s Dilemma, Corn and High Fructose Corn syrup play a major part in the American Obesity Epidemic.
Enough for now.  Next week – the Glycemic Index, and Simple vs. Complex Carbs. 
But before that, please tell me …

Eight Simple Summer Fitness Tips


With the temperatures hovering above 90, vacations planned, schools on holiday, and the in-laws inbound it’s easy to get distracted from your fundamental fitness regimen.

We all struggle with consistency from time to time, and summer is a classic example.

Rather than fight the friction, here are a few easy ways to adjust your life and lifestyle to go with the flow when it seems like your exercise program is falling apart.  Here are my Eight Simple Summer Fitness Tips …

1. Lift Weights two to four times per week no matter what. As described in detail in previous blog entries, and is well documented elsewhere,  increased lean body mass increases your metabolism which significantly increases your calorie burn. Load bearing exercise also helps prevent osteoporosis … a threat to both men and women.

2. Just Move More. Use the spread office suggestions from my January blog. Cut your own grass. Walk your own dog. Walk down the hallway to check with a colleague instead of phoning her. Park in remote areas of every parking lot you park in. Use the stairs. All of these simple, additional body movements add up quickly in the long run.

3. Ride your bike to work at least once weekly. Check our May blog to begin your new commuting life style. You’ll look better, feel better, be healthier, and reduce your carbon footprint all at once!

4. Eat Clean. The American Journal of Medicine reports that Americans eating 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily has gone from 42% in 1988 to 26% in 2006.   One thing is for sure: if you don’t buy them, you won’t eat them, so be sure to spend at least 25% of your total grocery shopping experience in the produce section!

5. Eat Smart. Smaller meals digest better than larger ones. And they help keep your stomach smaller. Don’t eat big meals before bed time. Do eat breakfast every day. Don’t get crazy on the carbohydrates, and limit or eliminate highly saturated fat content foods from your diet.  Need even more help?  Ask me about our Nutrition Together program.

6. Get enough rest each day. Proper rest assists with recovery from exercise. It also affects your job performance, and is critical to regulating insulin. Researchers have also found that proper rest can reduce your risk of developing cancer.

7. Stretch Daily. Certainly, you can do yoga to improve your flexibility, but a simple home stretching regimen is plenty sufficient for most people. More important than anything else is that you build a mere 10 to 15 minutes of stretching into your day. Here, as well, are a few ways to time-slice stretching into your day.

8. Hydrate. Develop the habit of carrying a water bottle with you where ever you go. Drinking plenty of water helps you digest food better, increases muscle and joint flexibility, and helps keep your breath fresh!

And  here’s a bonus tip …

9. Make incremental adjustments. Changing habits takes time, effort, and determination. Rather than attempting to tackle all 8 of these tips tomorrow, pick and seriously focus on just one for each of the next 8 weeks.

Got a tip or some feedback for us!?  

Leave a comment and be automatically entered for a free week of personal training! 

Ready to Sweat!? Small Group Training is coming to Fitness Together Minneapolis!


Same great managed training & nutrition programming in groups of 2 to 4.

Bring your A game though, because it gets a little competitive!

Current clients will be offered a taste early this fall!