Zen and the Art of Physical Training

Once I heard a cool Zen story. A newbie was trying to learn the art of archery under the harsh guidance of a Master archer. The Japanese bow is very stiff and takes a lot of strength to bend then hold on the target. Master archers make it look completely natural and relaxed, but it takes years of training to just let the arrow fly to the target.

The newbie was trying so hard to hit the target that he was holding his breath. Huffing and puffing and his arms wobbly, he couldn't aim and his arrows were flying all over the place.

One day the master, who had been watching the newbie struggle for weeks, approached and told him to stop. The Master then moved the target and placed it just a few feet in front of the newbie.

"There, you can't miss the target," said the Master. "Now you can concentrate on learning to shoot the bow."

Many exercisers are like the Zen newbie, including trainers and coaches. Exercise books, magazines, and blogs are loaded with  instructions to set goals, quantify, measure, list, be obsessed with outcomes, but there are other, maybe more effective, ways to get stronger or run longer, and enjoy training for an event or just maintaining your fitness. Too often reaching for physical goals set us back and, in the worst cases, cause injuries.

Read this provocative post by Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Body. The training secrets of a U.S. soldier named Victor are fascinating and appropriate for TOJs of all ages.

The Bitter Truth

Recently, the Wellness Club where I work had a discussion about the health benefits of chocolate or, more precisely, cocoa. Cocoa is truly a miracle food delivered to us through the centuries from the Aztecs and Mayans. You can read all about it here. Note the special benefits for exercisers.

The more I see people who are chronically ill or will soon be because of their lifestyles, the more sobered I am about the realistic prospects of them changing. Change is very hard, harder than maybe we know or want to admit. Certainly many people want to do it, yet few accomplish lasting change, whether it's exercising more or eating better.

If you read the psychological literature about change, you'll find people in the profession are only able to talk about it in very general terms. Basically, it boils down to you've really got to want to do it, then you need to do it. And usually it helps you to have social support, i.e., family, friends, or a social network, for the change you are attempting to make.

What gives us hope is that some people do change and the changes endure. We all know an inspiring story of the person who lost 100 lbs. or finally stopped smoking and became a marathoner, despite discouraging odds that it's very probable.

One of the enlightening moments during our discussion of chocolate came when the unwelcome fact was presented that all the amazing, healthy properties of cocoa are missing in milk chocolate. Dark chocolate, the kind with tremendous benefits to your heart and brain, is slightly bitter, although people have figured out how to make it taste pretty appetizing.

How we change is not something rational where you hear factual information then alter your behavior. The day we discussed chocolate we had four bars, three of healthy dark chocolate, and one which was milk chocolate. After passing them around so people could examine the differences on the labels, such as the huge amount of sugar contained in milk chocolate when compared to dark chocolate, we held a drawing for the bars.

The rules of the drawing were that the person whose name was drawn first would have first pick of the four bars. After giggling happily after her name was drawn and having heard all the facts regarding the health benefits of dark chocolate, she chose the one made of milk chocolate.

When it comes to health and fitness, it's as if there's a biblical predetermination to it. Wasn't there a passage that went something like many are called, but few are chosen?

Be saved. Eat dark chocolate.

The White Dragon - Again

A story revisited for those who live where it snows:
Early one morning, I was waiting at a gate in Denver International Airport for a flight to San Francisco that had been delayed because of snow. To pass the time, I was on my computer looking at running and exercise blogs. A man, whose hair was tied back in a long, dark braid, sat down beside me. He was wearing a black North Face jacket over some kind traditional garb tied by a colorful sash at his waist. He had knee high boots that appeared to be made of wool.

I noticed he had a pair of brand new trail shoes tied to the handle of a brown canvas carry on bag. "You a runner?" I asked. His age was hard to guess. His Asian face was ruddy, lustrous, and weathered, with eyes, surrounded by vague crowsfeet, sparkled like black diamonds. He nodded with a warm smile.

I asked him where he was going. "Home. Tibet," he said.

"Wow, I bet that's a tough place to run. The altitude," I said.

He shrugged. "High not so bad. White Dragon. Yes"
I thought about what he said. "White Dragon?" I asked, not understanding. He grinned and pointed to the snow swirling around the airplane outside beyond the window. "Ah, yes, now I understand. Yeah, snow can be tough."

"White Dragon tough," he offered. I asked him what he meant. In his broken English he explained that his ancestors taught him that there is a White Dragon that abides part of the year in a cave on a mountain near Mt. Everest in the Himalayas. Sometimes the White Dragon lives in the sky, but when it is in its cave, there is snow, which is like its skin. I asked him to tell me more and he gave me these laws of the White Snow Dragon. He said if you heed them and say a quick prayer to the White Dragon before each outing, you can run safely all winter long.

First Law: White Snow Dragon HidesThere's always some mystery when you run on snow because you don't always know what is really under your feet. The snow may be thin, but hiding a layer of ice. Deep snow can conceal rocks, roots and curbs. Start slowly to get the feel of the snow and surface underneath, watch for lumps and dimples where you are about to step. Run more upright with short strides and come down more flat-footed that you do in dry conditions.

Second Law: Stay Quiet So White Snow Dragon Sleeps
Be light on your feet. Float like you are on thin ice. You will not slip as much, or break through hard crust. If the snow is more than a couple inches deep, you take one successful stride at a time, not reach too far or gain the high forward momentum you attain in summer. If you slip, forward momentum will turn you into a comic figure.

Third Law: Fight White Dragon, White Snow Dragon WinsYou cannot overpower snow. If you push too hard with your foot, you will not turn the force of your muscles into kinetic energy, but dissipate it in the snow. That's tiring and why when you run on snow you will never run the same distance as fast as you do when its dry. Plan on a shorter, slower run. If even the most powerful athlete tries to attack a run in deep snow , s/he will collapse with exhaustion within a minutes. Submit and relax.

Fourth Law: White Dragon Centers All Beings
Find your balance by running with a low center of gravity. Balance from your core. If you r on ice or on a steep hill, keep your hands low and slightly away from your sides. The steeper, the lower. Enjoy the burn in your lower legs and ankles as they seek to find balance on an unstable surface.

Fifth Law: If White Dragon Wakes, Kiss the EarthSometimes, despite your best efforts, you will fall. Relax your body as you go down and roll to minimize the shock to any one part. Keep your upper body strong so you can use your slightly bent, outstretched arms to soften the pull of gravity. If you don't hurt too bad, have a good laugh.

I had a hundred questions to ask him about the White Dragon, but they called to start boarding our flight. What about gear? What about different types of snows? Lots of trail runners retreat to gyms for the winter to escape snow and cold and jump on treadmills and other contraptions. But a TOJ on a treadmill is like a prisoner looking through the prison bars at the world going along outside. This TOJ loves snow because the best trails are less crowded, more big mammals are hanging around, and the running is challenging.

His zone was called to board, and I stood up to thank him for his advice and shake his hand. He was short, but sinewy and powerfully built. I glanced down at the trail shoes dangling from his bag. They we heavily lugged and had a high cuff, perfect for the deep snow where he was headed.

I thought about giving him a tip that if was going to run on ice a lot, he might want to get some 3/8 sheet metal screws and insert them around the outer edges of the shoe, maybe set them in a little Shoe Goo. That works as good a studded snow tires. But then I realized he might not have access to a hardware or running store, and just said, "I hope you have many happy miles in those shoes and don't wake the White Dragon."

He smiled. "Oh, no, I sell to a tourist in Kathmandu for fifty bucks. I run these," he said pointing to his wool boots with a Yak hide sole. "They stick like snow leopard."

As he disappeared down the Jetway, I was still smiling.

Over-Carbed and Under-Exercised

Months ago I talked about Doug McGuff, MD, and John Little's book entitled "Body by Science."
It's one of the most informative books on the relationship of muscles, strength and metabolism I've run across.

I recently ran across a video of a lecture by McGuff that's worth watching because he does an excellent job describing the dynamic relationship between muscles, glucose, and metabolic syndrome, the plague of civilization and underlying cause of the obesity epidemic.  


Body By Science from Pinpoint Multimedia on Vimeo.

While I don't subscribe to his narrow view of exercise (he dismisses aerobic exercises like running and biking in favor of high intensity torture on weight machines), he has a deep understanding of the role of muscle in health, especially people who are trying to lose weight.

We tend to think of diet and exercise as separate topics, but after watching McGuff you'll see why it's critical to have muscle and exercise all three types of your muscle fibers hard, not just the slow twitch ones.

Yes You Can

All of us are challenged to change at one time or another - to run faster or longer, lift a heavier weight, eat better, lose weight, learn something new, or perform better at work.

In the past week, this issue of ability to change seemed to come up again and again. In one case, it was someone struggling to lose weight. In another, it was someone trying, but failing, to stick to an exercise program. For these folks, not being able to change had no dire implications, at least not yet, because they are both young.

But in the third case, lack of ability to change resulted in a person's death. I was talking to a doc who seemed a little down and asked her what was the matter. She said one of her patients had died - a 35 year old woman, 3 kids, husband, obese, smoker, drank a six pack a day of pop, on pain medications because of a car accident a few years ago. She had gone to bed after a couple of glasses of wine and never woke up. The doctor, frustrated and sad, said how hard and repeatedly she had tried to get the woman to change her lifestyle, but couldn't.

What is it that enables some people to change and others not? You'll find some of the answers in the most recent issue of Runner's World, in which there's a story about a guy named Ben Davis, a 25 year old who lost 120 pounds by taking up running. He made an inspiring short video about his journey that's well worth watching.


Reading his story, there are revealing clues as to how he was able to drop from 365 pounds.  As always, it started with his own strong desire, but there were other key elements which helped him succeed:
  • He did not let early failures get in his way. The first time he tried to run, he didn't last 8 minutes. But he kept running.
  • He started slowly, running a little, then more. A 5K, then a 10K, then a marathon. Small steps.
  • He had a social network of family members and friends that supported his efforts, and participated with him.
  • He started to hang out with runners from whom he could learn to model a new behavior - how to live like a runner.
Ben is a textbook case of self-efficacy, the magic key to motivation that has been studied and described so well by psychologist Albert Bandura. 

And his story has powerful lessons that we can all learn from, whether fit or fat.

No-Brainer

The more I learn about what exercise does for health and well-being, the more I want to go around like a Bible thumping, southern preacher spreading the good word: Go forth and sweat! Then sweat more. Get off your butt and exercise. More, harder, any where, any time. Just exercise!

We've known for a long time that exercise is good for reducing risks for cardiovascular disease and diabetes through sugar control and weight reduction. And exercise how exercise promotes bone health, and reduces the odds for colon, esophageal, and other cancers.



We've also know for a long time that exercise releases endorphins that make us feel good, like serotonin and dopamine. But the role of exercise in brain health goes way beyond feeling good - it actually enables the brain to develop and adapt. We can thank psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School Professor John Ratey for bringing the good word to lay people like TOJs in his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.
The contraction of muscles releases  Brain Derived Neurothropic Factor (BDNF), which in combination with Insulin-Like Growth Factor - 1 and several other factors and neuro-peptides, enables the brain to:
  • Develop new brain cells (neurons) through a process called neurogenesis.
  • Release even more neurotransmitters that make the brain function at a higher level
  • Improve vascularity, that is, grow new blood vessels to support brain activity and health
  • Exhibit plasticity, which is the adaptation of the brain to new stimulus or overcoming injuries

Exercise is a powerful brain medicine that's better than any supplement for persons of all ages. During and after exercise, BDNF and its companion chemicals literally saturates the brain, and the effects are seen all the way from the grey and white cortex, where high level thinking occurs, down into the hippocampus, the repository of our memories. Exercise:
  • Enables young and old learn and retain information better
  • Blocks age-related degenerative diseases
  • Reduces stress, ADHD, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addictions
These are audacious claims to make, but more and more research proves it's true. Weights and running shoes build your IQ. As yet, there's no definitive evidence if aerobic or resistance exercise is superior. Both seem to have similar positive effects.

This TOJ is living proof that exercise sharpens the brain. After watching IBM's Watson computer easily defeat some of the top players on the TV game show Jeopardy, I went out for a run and came up with a brilliant idea to prove the superior intelligence of humans - just unplug that damn computer.

See more exercise and wellness information at: www.the-wellness-club-medicine-show.com
Last week I talked about supplements and toad venom. This week let's talk about dietary supplements and safety.

When people hear a supplement is “natural” and “plant-based,” they assume it must be safe, especially when there is no warning on the label. However, many plants are toxic; comfrey, for example, has a comforting sound to it, but it can be toxic to the liver and kidneys and cause death. Remember that almost half the pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by physicians or purchased over-the-counter are derived from plants (aka botanicals). In fact, many of the drugs in US supplements are regulated as pharmaceuticals in other countries.

The unfortunate truth is that seemingly innocuous supplements can make you sick, and be life-threatening, because they can interact with other supplements or medications. For instance:

     Immune system boosters, such as vitamin E, zinc, or echinacea, can interfere with drugs designed to suppress the immune system, such as corticosteroids, often prescribed for everything from asthma to brain tumors
     High-dose vitamins, fish oil, garlic or garlic can combine with an anticoagulant drugs, such as warfarin which also inhibits blood coagulation, and increase the risk of abnormal bleeding during dental and surgical procedures
    Calcium taken at the same time as some thyroid medications and antibiotics cause less of the thyroid medication to be absorbed into the bloodstream
    High doses of Vitamin A can damage the liver.  

    Vitamin D can damage the kidneys and cause calcium to be deposited in the soft tissues of the body.  

     High doses of vitamin B6 can cause neurological damage.

Also check out the National Institute of Health's supplement information:http://ods.od.nih.gov/
Yet despite questions of supplement quality, efficacy, and  safety, we take them anyway. A TOJ just has to wonder - why?

Probably because some supplements do work for some people. Reminding ourselves, again, that each body is unique, certain people may benefit from them in some objective, measurable way. In some cases, there have been certifiable results, e.g., fish oil for heart health. Surely not every person giving a testimonial is a liar.
Also, we cannot forget the placebo effect, a baffling, but real, phenomenon that has proven many times, even in evidence-based medical settings, to influence health outcomes. The power of suggestion has worked miracles. Maybe people who take a pill and say to themselves “Now I’m going to lose weight!” start eating less and exercising more because on some subconscious level the pill gives them strength and determination to break old habits.
That's what I do with glucosamine-chondroitin. I take a couple of them, lace on my running shoes, and think to myself, "I will run forever." Yep, lots of dietary supplements are really a hope and a prayer.

Magic Offerings

A TOJ is much more careful about what he puts in his mouth than what comes out of it. For that reason I was rummaging around the Internet for information about the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements when I found this great article by Stephanie Mencimer written in 2001. Referring to the  Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA) through which the supplement industry was ensured virtually no regulatory supervision, she wrote:

“Since DSHEA became law, substances as varied as paint stripper, bat shit, toad venom, and lamb placenta have all been imported from overseas, bottled up---often by people with no scientific or health backgrounds---and marketed as dietary supplements to unsuspecting American consumers. Many supplements have been tainted with salmonella, arsenic, lead, pesticides, unapproved foreign prescription drugs, as well as garden-variety carcinogens. And despite their New-Age health aura, a significant portion of these "natural supplements" are stimulants, depressants, and other mood-enhancers that some medical experts believe would be classified as drugs if they were synthetic. A surprising number of these products are addictive.”

Say what? Bat shit? Lead? A few more disturbing facts about dietary supplements:
  • Supplements are considered food, not drugs, even if they have pharmacological properties
  • Labels are not required to have warnings or contraindications
  • Any supplement is considered safe unless its proven otherwise by large numbers of adverse events, e.g., hospitalizations, death, and birth defects
  • Most ingredients are imported from countries with few regulations like China
 
Unfortunately, DSHEA is still the law of the land. Since 2001 when the Mencimer article appeared, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received a little more power over the supplement industry, but not much. In 2007 the FDA issued Current Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) regulations to help the supplement industry do a better job. In a gesture of good faith, the Natural Products Association created a voluntary GMP certification for manufacturers. To date, only 70 companies out of over 2,500 have acquired certification; you can find a list of those who have here.

In fairness to the FDA, it has not been given the authority or funding to ride herd on the supplement industry as much as it does the medical drug industry. Yet don’t think that supplements cannot be equally dangerous. Remember ephedra? It took 10 years and countless deaths for the FDA to ban it.  Vitamin E, garlic, ginseng, and ginko biloba are blood thinners that can cause life threatening complications in surgical and dental procedures. Comfrey may be a sweet smelling herb, but it can be toxic to your liver and kill you.

The FDA has written some useful advice that everyone (including you) should read.
Be wary of supplements that are marketed as a cure or treatment for a disease. For one, it’s illegal. But more importantly, recent studies have shown many vitamins and concoctions don’t do what they claim. These false claims have a long legacy. As Mencimer recounted:

“Back in 1905, reporter Samuel Hopkins Adams wrote a famous series of stories in Colliers' magazine called "The Great American Fraud," which documented the deaths of hundreds of people from over-the-counter medicines that were peddled with promises to address "weak manhood," "lost vitality," or to give consumers "better blood." Patent medicines were widely available and promoted in the press with testimonials from people claiming to have achieved great results from these magic offerings.”

Does this sound familiar? Here we are in 2011. Today over half of American adults take a supplement, around $27 billions worth. The top sellers are multi-vitamins, sports nutrition powders, calcium, and weight loss formulas. If you’re one of the one half, then check out the quality and efficacy of what you  are putting in your body at Consumer Labs, an independent testing lab that assays whether the stuff has what is says and does what it claims.

Better yet, do it before you buy it and put it in your mouth. Are all supplements bad for you? No, but they're not necessarily good for you either.


Some of My Best Friends Are Organic

Even a TOJ who's been hit in the head too often and lost some IQ points is still smart enough to buy lots of organic fruits and vegetables. It's not just because organic tastes better than industrially-grown foods (they do), are not slathered with pesticides containing neurotoxins (they aren't), and are not brimming with high levels of poisonous nitrates from chemical fertilizers (whew!).

Yes, organic foods avoid the yuch factor of the anti-life chemicals in found in conventionally grown foods. However, an even better reason to eat them is that they offer a much better value because you get more NUTRIENTS for your hard-earned food dollar.

After more than 40 years as a food movement, organics have found their way into even the largest food stores, including WalMart. Although the demand for organic is growing fast, it still represents a small percentage of the rack space and selections in most stores.

To the naked eye, a conventionally-grown apple looks like a better deal than the organic one across the aisle. You pick it up and look at it. The conventionally-grown one is bigger (nitrate fertilizers are like steroids to plants) and it's flawless skin has been waxed to a shiny luster that covers the residues of 14 or so pesticides and fungicides.

You go across the aisle and pick up an organic apple and compare the two. The organic one doesn't have the same lustre, and here and there has dimples or small spots on the skin. And it's smaller. But you have to look more than skin deep -- the likelihood is the the organic apple will have a much higher nutrient density, despite superficial media stories to the contrary.

For several decades, experts in the USDA have been aware that the vitamin, mineral and protein content in foods grown in America have been in decline. This decline has coincided with the increase in corporate, industrial, large scale chemical farming. The experts attribute the decline to "the dilution effect," that is, as seeds have been genetically manipulated to maximize yield per acre an an unfortunate and unintended consequence is that they have also also reduced or eliminated many nutrients.

To gain more insight into how nutritious foods are grown (or not) read this detailed and informative 2008 study entitled "New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods." Until recently, studies comparing conventionally-grown foods to organic have focused on differences in minerals and trace elements like copper, phosphorus, and zinc.

However, overlooked in these studies was the impact on the phytochemicals in plants, the compounds that promote heart health, reduce inflammation, and prevent cancer. The phytochemical content in organically-grown fruits and vegetables has been found to be 25% or more higher. For good reason, organic food is more expensive.

These are tough economic times. You want your food dollar to go as far as possible. Some conventionally grown foods are so contaminated with pesticides that they should be avoided, especially by children, at all costs. You can find a reliable list at www.foodnews.com. Many conventionally-grown foods pose little or no toxic threat. A few won't kill you.

The real difference between organics and industrial/conventional foods is nutrient density. When you shop for food, factor your health and well-being into your calculations. Then, when it comes to organics, the price is right.

Rainbow Warriors

The other day a story in the NY Times reported that despite 20 years of effort by public institutions and media, only a small percentage of Americans are eating the recommended daily dietary allowance of fruits and vegetables. That's too bad for all of us - for ourselves, family, friends, and the U.S. economy.

I used to be one of the majority, preferring pizza over kale or apples. Now I prefer kale or apples. My conversion wasn't an easy one at first. It took study to get this TOJ's brain to grasp how important these foods are, and experimentation to discover how good they can taste.

Our bodies are things of wonder, but, like all biological systems, vulnerable and imperfect. Case in point, the process of oxidation which can cause free radicals (aka reactive oxygen species). Oxidation results from several internal and external causes. The primary one is when the billions of cells in your body convert oxygen and calories into energy. A waste product of this process is damaged molecules lacking electrons which then go on the hunt throughout your body to steal electrons from other molecules. The molecules being robbed might be DNA or a fat membrane that protects every cell in your body.

Medical researchers suspect that free radicals are the root cause of several serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart and vascular disease, and Alzheimer's. They also think they are behind a range of vague complaints like fatigue and sore joints.

Your body constantly produces antioxidants, like glutathione peroxidase, superoxide dismutase, and catalase, to neutralize free radicals. However, the body-produced antioxidants can be overwhelmed by free radicals, especially when oxidation is too prevalent in your body.

Free radicals are not produced just by energy conversion, but also result from environmental toxins (air and water pollution), too much sun exposure, and -- note this -- over-eating, especially poor foods with sugar and hydrogenated fats, and drinking too much alcohol. And double note this: you can also cause a rapid rise in free radicals by over-exercising. Much oxidation is self-inflicted.

Years ago, researchers noticed that primitive societies where people eat more fruits and vegetables have fewer diseases of civilization, i.e., diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. This discovery, coupled with the profit motive, soon lead to the rise of the supplement industry. Vitamins A, C, E and beta carotene are anti-oxidants, as are minerals like copper, zinc, and selenium. All of us aware of the problems caused by free radicals have gobbled them up.

However, when it comes to manufactured supplements recent studies have show disappointing results. Supplements have not been proven to lower morbidity, prevent heart disease, or reverse many other disease states as claimed on labels. Increasingly, medical professionals and nutritionists suspect that the reason the supplements are not as effective as real food is because real food has thousands of compounds, not just single vitamins or minerals, and it is the compounds that provide the variety to neutralize the equally wide variety of free radicals. These compounds are known as phytonutrients, including flavonoids, phenols, lignans, carotenoids, phytates, isoflavones, sulfides, terpenes, and phytoestrogens. They are found in veggies and fruits of all colors and shapes.

The best defense against free radical damage isn't to buy tons of supplements, but to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables of different colors. Try these Rainbow Warriors against free radicals:
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Green tea
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Cantaloupe
  • Yams
  • Tomatoes
  • Dark Chocolate (70% or more cocoa, not sugary milk chocolate)
To see a more complete listing of antioxidant foods, go here.

A recent study showed that almost all the wage increases in the past decade have gone directly to health care. As the costs of health care have gone up, so have rates of diabetes and heart disease. These diseases are caused by oxidation and inflammation, both of which would decline if people would eat the Rainbow Warriors. The cost of our health care would go down, leaving a few bucks to buy iPads, go to college, or take a vacation.

This ain't rocket science. Even a TOJ can get it. Pass the spinach.

You Are Not a Humvee

It's true that 3,500 calories equals the amount of energy contained in one pound of fat. Americans spend 45 billion a year (not counting gym memberships) on various diet plans, diet pills, diet programs, most of which are designed to reduce caloric intake. And yet we get fatter and fatter.

One reason is the calories = fat assumption is too simplistic. The diet and weight loss mantra that “A calorie is a calorie,” meaning that no matter what macronutrient you eat – fat, carbohydrates, protein – will turn it into fat if you eat more caloric energy than your body consumes due to the first law of thermodynamics. So it’s easy to conclude from this that they best way to lose fat weight is to restrict caloric intake.

But it ain’t necessarily so. The simple calories in model leads to a lot of useless information like the average female between the ages of 23 and 50 needs between 2,000 and 2,100 calories a day, and the average male needs between 2,700 and 2,900 a day. This really doesn’t tell you anything. Who's average?

The problem is assumes that your body is a +mechanical, closed loop energy system, like, say, a Humvee. You can put a gallon of gas in a Humvee and pretty much predict road how far it will take you down a flat road (not far). However, your body is more complicated because of metabolism, that is, how energy is used to keep you alive and functioning.



Your metabolism has two parts. The first is your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), which is the amount of energy used to maintain basic bodily functions when you are inactive, such as breathing, beating your heart, digesting, thinking, seeing, growing hair. (There's a measure called Basal Metabolic Rate, which is when you are in deep sleep and is 10-15% below your RMR, but most of your life you are awake). Just being alive uses about 70% of your caloric energy.

The reason is this simple calories in-calories out approach doesn’t fit well is because many factors contribute to what happens to an ingested calorie. You are infinitely more complex than a Humvee. Genetics has an effect, as does age. Any TOJ will tell you that as we age, our metabolism slows. The state of your health makes a difference. For example, an under active thyroid slows down metabolism, as do many medications such as anti-depressants. Geography makes a difference; still a mystery to scientists, persons living in tropical climates have higher RMR's. And – surprise – so does the amount of your fat mass; feeding fat already in the body requires more calories, which is one reason it’s so hard to get rid of it.

The secret to fitness and weight loss is to elevate your Active Metabolic Rate (AMR). AMR is the energy you use when you engage your skeletal muscles and move, whether working, walking, doing chores, running, or lifting weights. On the Web, you can find tons of sites that give you average calories burned doing a particular activity. Increasing your AMR will help reduce unwanted fat.
Your weight will remain steady if the calories you eat equals the total of your RMR and AMR. It is true that over time, if you consume less calories than you use when these two are totaled day in and day out, you will lose weight.

But here’s where it gets tricky and why so many weight loss schemes may work in the short term, but don’t in the long term, and why it's counterproductive to get too focused on calories. If you cut 300 to 500 calories a day, and some diets cut more to the point of starvation, your will lose weight. However, your body is very habituated to its weight and food patterns, more than you know, and tries to maintain itself just as it is.

If you cut calories too much, your body will store the fat you are trying to get rid of and, instead, cannibalize your muscles to produce the energy. That’s why when you see the  pictures of people who are starving, they have no muscle. To add insult to injury, your body automatically lowers your RMR to preserve energy, making it even harder to lose weight.

A wiser approach to fat loss is to focus on your body composition, that is, increasing lean body mass -- the non-fat in your body. It is well known that if you increase lean body mass, you also increase RMR. The easiest non-fat mass in your body to increase is your skeletal muscle. It’s no coincidence that fit athletes have high RMR's. They also have a high AMR's because they exercise a lot.

So how do we average people who want to lost pounds mimic athletes? The best way to increase muscle mass is with strength training. Aerobic exercise, such as walking and running, have terrific benefits for your heart, but when it comes to weight loss you need to perform resistance exercise. Any resistance will do – elastic bands, body weight, dumbbells, gym devices - take your pick. Slowly make your resistance exercise progressively harder with more reps, sets or weight. With more muscle, your RMR remains elevated 24/7.

Resistance training must be combined with eating good food – protein and fresh vegetables. The protein will provide the amino acids to build the muscle while the vegetables will make you feel satiated because of their high fiber content and also provide phytonutrients (anti-free radicals) to reduce inflammation resulting from your workouts. You will get the fat off faster if  you also reduce or eliminate all simple carbs and wheat-based foods.

If you focus on improving your body composition rather than calories, the fat disappears with no calorie counting required. Forget spending money on expensive diet schemes. Just eat right and sweat.

Double Wheat Whammy

How fast things change! Just a blog ago, the gluten in wheat was singled out as the cause of many serious health issues, a troubling fact well explained by Robb Wolf in The Paleo Solution.

However, preventive cardiologist William Davis, MD, identifies an even more insidious ingredient in wheat called amylopectin A, a form of glucose, in a very informative, clever (and must read!) new book called Wheat Belly. Because of amylopectin, wheat is higher on the glycemic index than table sugar. In fact, wheat shoots so much glucose into your bloodstream so fast that Davis argues wheat should be considered a Super Carbohydrate. Wheat is even worse than eating potato chips and candy bars.

Remember the problem with high levels of glucose in your bloodstream is that it leads to insulin resistance. Your liver converts the excess glucose to triglycerides and you get fatter, usually in the abdominal area. The visible abdominal fat is just the tip of the iceberg. Behind it and beneath the abdominal muscles, the fat is packed into your abdominal cavity, where it begins to secret numerous endocrine and immune system chemicals that lead to systemic inflammation that may cause diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other bad stuff. Davis provides plenty of powerful evidence and footnotes to follow-up on if you are an un-believer.

The more this TOJ learns about wheat, the more convinced I am that it is something to avoid as much as possible. Wheat consumption is directly contributing to the rising levels of obesity and chronic disease in America. The Big Agri-Business Wheat Lobby made sure that grains remained on the new 2011 USDA
Food Plate that replaced the old Food Pyramid.


As Dr. Davis makes the case, you can get all the nutrients you need from the other food groups. If you do eat grains, they should constitute of only a select few grains, such as flax seed, which has no carbs, and plenty of protein and fiber.

On this TOJ's plate, the grains are a shrinking sliver, and wheat has completely disappeared.

Gluten Gremlins

The grains - wheat, barley and rye - are increasingly on the DO NOT EAT list because they contain gluten. That's unwelcome news to a TOJ because grains taste good (like pancakes and beer), contain some important minerals, and have been a  carbohydrate relied upon by athletes for years as an energy source. But things change.

For 1% of the population, gluten is a problem because it's the cause of celiac disease, a serious auto-immune disorder. However, in the past couple of years, many of the other 99% have come to believe they might have problems with gluten as well.

The Paleo guru Robb Wolf in The Paleo Solution, for example, recommends total elimination of grains from every one's diet, and offers some good scientific reasons. It seems that many people who do not have actual celiac disease do have sub-symptomatic inflammatory response. Grains may cause their bodies to react with an immune response as if something truly harmful has been introduced. Also, grains may disrupt digestion and degrade the lining of the gut.

It would be ironic indeed if after eating grains for 10,000 years, evidence emerges that they are actually poisonous. So much for the Staff of Life. At present, there is not irrefutable evidence that this is true. That said, some valid questions have been raised that warrant more investigation.

Meantime, more and more athletes are not waiting for science to catch up with real-life evidence. Active.com had an article about a tiny handful of world class athletes that have stopped eating grains and have watched their performances improve. For instance, the road biking Garmin-CervĂ©lo Team  won the team competition at The Tour de France while eating a diet with no grains. Word of their and others successes is spreading fast.

The reason these athletes are seeing positive results may be due to having more of the valuable nutrients in other foods make it through their digestive tracts and into their cells. The nutrients help them recover faster.

Going without grains still leaves plenty of tasty options, as shown below:


Sometimes to test the impact of foods on your health and fitness requires some really hard choices, like following the vegan regimen of someone like Brendan Brazier. This is much easier -- just stop eating grains and see if it makes a difference. 








My Calves and the Denver Broncos

This week Denver Broncos and I independently discovered something important about physical training and the importance of rest.

On Saturday the Broncos won a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. The win was nice, but what was really notable is that the Broncos had no injuries. Last year by this time, the Broncos had lost a number of key players, including their two top running backs, to bizarre injuries in practices and games.

What was different between this year and last? Last year the young kid coach Josh McDaniels, a hard ass for the TV cameras, was pushing his players hard in two-a-day practices in 90 plus degree temperatures. Each day he had them do weight lifting and 40 yard sprints on top of practicing football skills in full contact scrimmages. Naturally, the players were fatigued and their bodies prone to injury. Dehydration and consequent depletion of electrolytes reduces inhibits reflexes and muscle performance, making a player prime for injury.

However, this year, with the strike ending late, NFL teams were restricted to one practice a day. The Denver Bronco trainer convinced the new coach Fox to postpone any weight lifting until later in the season. Instead, the trainer has had the players do brief push-up, sprint, push-up routines. In other words, short bouts of high intensity, functional body work. This has enabled the players to build some strength and endurance without exhausting them, especially when training in heat. They were fresh and ready to go when they stepped onto the field.

It's very possible that much of the way the NFL has approached training has been wrong. Most of their players are already very fit athletes who body build year round and all coaches and trainers with Marine Corps boot camp mentalities do is increase injuries, not make tougher players.

What does all this have to do with a decrepit TOJ?

Three nights ago at 11 pm I awoke with an cramp in my left calf. The muscle had contracted into a hard ball and the pain was excruciating. I tried to massage and stretch it, but nothing would stop it. All I could do was wait until it passed after a minute or so. Afterwards, it was tender to the touch, but I fell back asleep.
Then at 2 am, against all odds, I experienced a similar cramp in my right calf, not as intense, but also painful.

The next day I Googled and found out it's a common problem, especially with runners, that doctors cannot completely explain, but suspect the problem is caused by muscle fatigue and a lack of potassium.

I went to my training log. The day of the severe cramping I ran my local trail, which goes two and  a half miles, steadily uphill. I ran in late afternoon, after work, when the temperature was 94 degrees. That day my legs felt lifeless, and it showed in my slower than usual time. The day before, again in the afternoon, I had done several sets of vertical jumps and lifted dumbbells, with the temperature at 90 degrees. And the day before that, when I worked out in the morning, I jumped rope for a long time with the temperature in the relatively cool 80s.

Bottom line: Three days in a row of hard exercise, very focused on my calves and in hot weather, had pushed them to their limits. I didn't even know it or intend to work them that hard. They had not hurt more than usual after those three days, they just felt tired. But they had been over-worked, which set off chemical imbalances leading to the severe cramping.

The Broncos figured out less is more and to respect what heat does to a body. I guess that's why they get the big bucks.

Women's Exercise Liberation

At the Wellness Club, we talked about the tree types of muscles in your body -- cardiac, smooth, and skeletal. Everybody knows about cardio, but few think much about the other two. Smooth muscles are in your gastrointestinal tract, blood vessels, eyes, uterus, and other places. They do work for you 24/7 without you even thinking about it.

The skeletal muscles, over which we have more conscious control, enable us to move, balance upright, protect our skeletons and organs, and, often over-looked, maintain our metabolism. The major energy stores in your body are the glycogen in the skeletal muscle system and liver. How much muscle you have has a lot to do with whether you are fit and slim or overweight and sluggish.

Although the video below is a little too focused on body image, it is a quick and entertaining recap of how women discovered they can and should exercise just as hard and often as males. Their bodies change as a result. While a buff outward appearance is fine, too, the best thing about having muscle is that carbs you eat have a better chance of turning into muscle glycogen, used as fuel when you exercise, rather than fat in your legs and butt. Yes, you look good, but better yet, you avoid heart disease, diabetes, and many forms of cancer.



What's really cool is that you can keep these benefits throughout your life. Check out the video of this 70+ year old athlete who lifts weights almost every day and runs 80 miles a week:

For decades, women were told that resistance exercise, especially lifting weights,would make them look like the Incredible Hulk. Not so. Weights help control weight.



Protein, Carbs and Fast Recovery

For most active folks, eating good food each and every day is more important for our fitness than fussing over exactly what food should be eaten at exactly what time to "optimize" performance, whether it's adding one more rep to a weight routine you do every week or running a 10K a few seconds faster.

A natural part of being physically active is a desire to find what might make us stronger, faster, improve endurance, or diminish/shorten the pain or discomfort of exertion. Lots of myths come and go regarding what  combination of foods or supplements can enhance your performance. The latest one to crash was the myth of "carbo-loading" before a hard endurance activity like a marathon. For years runners stuffed themselves with pasta and pizza in the days leading up to a race because the training establishment said that would enhance performance; however, that was often true only for very elite athletes who needed every possible physical advantage. All it would do for many average athletes was make them fat or feel sluggish.

However, solid research shows that what you eat or drink immediately after a HARD workout, especially involving resistance or high intensity, can have positive effects on speed of recovery, reducing inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Turns out a mix of protein and carbohydrate is a potent combination rather than just carbs alone.

Not that long ago, the exercise physiologists believed it was most important to restore glycogen to the depleted muscles and the need for protein was not as well understood (however, it should be noted that body-builders have understood this for a long time). Hard exercise, whether short, intense weight routines or long, pounding road runs, actually damage muscle fibers. Repair of the muscle requires protein synthesis with amino acids like glutamine and leucine. (If you want to learn more, read Nutrient Timing by Ivy and Portman.)

For every rule in health and fitness, there's an exception, and here it is. This is one of the rare times you are encouraged to consumer real sugar or dextrose! Note: Not fructose. Sugar or dextrose only. The sugar stimulates a strong insulin response (which is not good when your un-exercised muscles and liver are already full of glycogen - only after an exhausting workout) that not only quickly delivers glucose, but also increases blood flow to muscles, accelerating the delivery of oxygen and restorative nutrients, while removing lactic acid and metabolic byproducts.

In other words, if you consume a protein-carbohydrate combination, you quickly flip your body from  muscle breakdown (catabolic) to a muscle building. You will recover more quickly and keep your immune system strong. Remember that this approach is only needed if you workout almost to the point of exhaustion, which for this TOJ is only once or twice a week. The rest of the time is routine stuff.

You can make a recovery beverage by mixing 45 grams of sugar (yes, that's what's recommended -- about 10 level teaspoons --  I'll reduce mine to 5 and hope it works) with 15 grams of whey protein (sold at Whole Foods, Vitamin Cottage, many sports stores, GNC and online at sites like Defense Nutrition) in 12 oz. of water. Whey's pretty cheap, easily absorbed, and rich with crucial amino acids.  You want to drink your recovery beverage within an hour of of your workout to get the most  benefits.

Then just resume eating a healthy mix of veggies, fruits and high-quality protein.

Blood, Sweat and Tears

A couple weeks ago, Bob, a friend of mine and practicing member of the Wellness Club, went for an after-work mountain bike ride. Nothing too technical, just a nice up and down loop to work up a sweat after sitting in front a a computer all day.

Nearing the top of an incline, he realized he didn't have enough momentum and decided to dismount and walk the last few feet. Coming to a stop, he went to put his right foot down, but his shoe cleat wouldn't separate from the pedal, and he fell over sideways before he could get it freed.

Anyone who has ridden trails on a mountain bike knows this happens all the time, and you usually get a scrape or bruise. But when Bob went down, he realized something was different about the fall and pain. He pulled himself up and could see blood spurting out the side of his leg. He looked down and realized he had impaled his leg on the jagged stump of a small tree. Using his cell phone, he called his wife, who was waiting in line at a health food store, and explained his situation. (Thanks to Bob for this picture - ouch!)



He managed to glide back down to the trail head, where his wife picked him up and got him to the emergency room just in time because he was starting to go into shock. After numbing him up and giving him a relaxant, the ER doc stuck his latex-covered finger into the wound all the way up to his knuckle, and then called a general surgeon for a consult. They decided to clean out the deep puncture wound as best they could and not sew him up in order to avoid infection by letting the wound heal from the inside out. They packed it with a ribbon of gauze and sent him home with a prescription for some narcotics to ease the pain.

Bob's healing well and getting off the pain meds, but he can't do much physical activity yet, and this is hard on him. Several years ago and headed towards 50, he decided to get rid of his beer belly by getting in really good shape. He watches what he eats and exercises hard every day, rain or snow. He's a great example of the benefits of eating the right foods and working out regularly. When people bring crap food to work, he avoids it. He's broken through to the fitness side.

When you become really fit, you form an addiction to exercise. If you don't do it, you miss it. You feel sluggish, tired, overweight, anxious, depressed. You crave exercise. That's where Bob probably is now, but won't be for long. He'll heal and be back out there soon.

If you exercise hard (do more than walking), there's always a risk of injury. Usually, it's something minor like a strain, sprain, or abrasion. When you push a little harder like Bob and most TOJs do, the risk goes up, especially if you're fatigued and try to do that one last rep or run a little faster than you ever have before. We all have a boundary that we shouldn't cross and, if we do, will get injured. Part of the challenge of getting fit is knowing where those boundaries are. And almost all people who exercise hard will get injured at one time or another.

The day Bob got hurt, he hadn't reached one of his physical boundaries. He had an accident out on a trail that really had nothing to do with fatigue or pushing beyond limits. Being fit and tough from falling other times helped him be able to get to a place he could get some help.

A couple days after he returned to work, he ran into one of his fellow workers, who's young and very overweight. She asked Bob why he was limping. After briefly describing what happened, she said, "THAT's why I don't exercise."

Over the long run, guess who's at most risk between the two of them? Emergency Rooms are no fun, but they beat the hell out of Intensive Care.

No Satisfaction

Today I heard on the news that Dunkin' Donuts is underway with a massive U.S. expansion. This is a tragic development for both the individuals who eat them and the health care system that will have to pay for their gluttony. Take a look at this graph:



If health care costs continue to rise at the same rate as they did in the last ten years, within another 10 -15 years, almost every dollar you earn will go to health care. Forget new running shoes or gym memberships.

Many Americans, rich and poor alike, feel they're hungry when, in fact, they are stuffed. One of the main reasons we eat too much is that we don't know when we're full because the hormones that regulate hunger and satiety are out of whack because of what we eat the most -- very high carb foods like donuts.

You've probably heard of insulin resistance -- when your muscle and fat cells no longer respond to insulin that signals cells to allow blood sugars to enter, so your pancreas produces even more insulin, a problem in itself. Then, when the sugars cannot be delivered to cells, they are returned to the liver where they will be converted to fatty acids that will morph into belly fat and very low density lipoproteins, which will eventually clog your arteries.

You may not of heard of leptin resistance, though leptin is directly connected to insulin levels. Under normal circumstances, leptin is a hormone that lets your brain know that you can stop eating because you have enough fat strored in your body to get you to the next meal in case of an emergency. (If you want to learn more about it, read "Mastering Leptin" by Byron Richards.) Leptin tells your brain, "I'm full now."

Ron Rosedale, M.D., describes the nightmarish cycle in his book, The Rosedale Diet:

"...it takes more and more leptin to tell the brain that it's satisfied. The brain, not hearing leptin, frantically signals for more and more fat to be stored. Since leptin is made by fat cells, you have to make more and more fat to produce enough leptin to finally get its message across to the brain to stop being hungry and stop storing fat. This creates a vicious cycle: you eat more because your brain doesn't know how to tell you to stop, and the only way you can stop is by producing more fat to make more leptin, which means that you keep getting fatter, and more insulin and leptin resistant, which just makes you want to keep eating more."

The best way to avoid this trap and restore hormonal balance is cheap and simple: eat mostly unprocessed foods (especially the deadly high sugar carbs) and exercise. Teach your family and friends do the same.

Once people are able to feel full again, the number of fast food joints like Dunkin' Donuts will go down. So will health care costs.

Shake Days

Food/diet purists had a twit that First Lady Michelle Obama, a champion for exercise and healthy eating, enjoyed a burger and milk shake (estimated at 1700 calories) last week at a popular burger joint in Washington, D.C. What they over-looked is that she gets up every day at 4:30 am to hit the weights and treadmill, and most days of the week she doesn't drink milk shakes. She's probably the fittest First Lady in history. She frequently wears sleeveless dresses; look at her well-defined arms. Shake days are rare.

We all have our equivalent of Michelle's "shake" days, when we consume cookies, cupcakes, beer, chips, donuts, pretzels, bagels, bread, milk shakes, pizza -- name the sweet, high carb food your brain craves. There's nothing wrong with a shake day now and then, even once a week, but our national problem is that, for many of us, shake day is everyday.

Our economy may not be growing, but our appetites are are, along with the fat riddling many parts of our bodies. A study from U. of North Carolina said that between the late 1970's and and mid-2000's, the average American adult increased caloric intake increased from 3 meals per day to the equivalent of 4.9 meals per day. Of course, we aren't doing this by sitting down for 1.9 extra meals on top of the 3 square meals we ate in the good old days. We're doing it by eating larger portions and snacking.

In the community health center where I work, we formed a Wellness Club. To become more aware of what we eat, many of us keep a food journal. In an inexpensive notebook, we write down what we eat at every meal, and for snacks. Everything we put in our mouths and swallow.

Right now we don't try to calculate volume and calories, though that would be useful. But even lacking these details, the food journal itself is revealing. Over time, each of us will discover a unique, day-in, day-out eating pattern, hopefully aligned with our health and fitness goals, though sometimes not at all. I can see already that I snack too much on high calorie nuts and chocolate. At least these foods have some  nutrient value -- nuts, especially, are calorie dense and nutrient dense.

The hard to swallow fact is that the snack foods most Americans eat too often are calorie rich, but nutritionally poor. Note that the U. of North Carolina also did an interesting experiment with rats. They fed one group of rats the typical snack foods that you can buy at the super market, and fed lard to the other group. The lard group actually stayed pretty healthy. However, the snack food rats got fat and developed metabolic syndrome and prediabetes.

Give Michelle Obama a break. A shake day here and there is no problem. What needs to be eliminated are the junk snack foods full of salt, sugar and fat.

TOJ Heaven

Just got back from a vacation in Oregon, the perfect setting for a TOJ.

After a slow, pre-4th of July car ride with traffic from Portland to Bend, we hugged family then headed to the Entrada Lodge, tucked in the trees along the road to Mt. Bachelor. It's located right along a running/hiking/biking trail system which parallels the Deschutes River. I pulled on my Montrails and took a 45 minute run in 80 degree temps under blue sky and sunshine. The trail was vintage eastern Oregon, covered with an inch of fine dust (which coated my shoes and legs) and lined with manzanita and sage highlighted with an Indian Paintbrush here and there.

The next day I rested and went to a lively concert by Ween, a talented band that plays an eclectic mix of rock mixed with humor and awesome guitar riffs.

Then, the next morning, my son and I went with my daughter for a workout at Empire Athletics, a CrossFit (XF) gym where she's a regular. Though I'm sorta fit for my age, I was a little wary about how it would go after having watched a CrossFit workout at another XF gym about a year ago, thinking it might be a little strenuous for a TOJ.

But my daughter promised the Saturday session we were going to participate in would be pretty low key and fun. I had to use my imagination with this statement because CrossFit is not what I usually associate with low key -- the workouts are very robust and demanding high intensity exercise. What's unique about XF is that the workouts change with each session so all the major muscle groups in your body are challenged in different ways for a significant number of reps. When you complete one set of exercises, you move to the next one with a minimal recovery time. (You definitely will not find people sitting on exercise bikes in their Spandex chewing bubble gum and reading People magazine.)

There's plenty of scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of the XF system for building strength and endurance, and, when combined with the Paleo Diet (widely followed by XFer's), reducing and controlling unwanted body fat. When you see XF athletes who've been at it for a while, you're struck by their leanness and muscle definition.

When you get to an XF gym, listed on a white board is the day's workout, which for us included pull ups, kettle bell swings, cleans with an Olympic barbell, sit ups, and box jumps. Because it was Saturday, the group was divided up into teams of four to do 150-200 reps combined for each exercise. My team had my daughter, fresh off a XF regional competition, and two other relatively new younger XFers, plus me, a total newbie. The fun for me was I could do fewer reps and let my daughter and younger team members make up the difference. :-)

The coach/trainer at Empire Athletics is a fit young guy named Mike Wild. I was curious to see how he'd deal with an old rookie like me. One concern you'll find on the Internet about CrossFit is that the intensity and speed of some of the exercises could cause injuries if a person is inexperienced or too fatigued. (Of course, anybody who's been around athletics knows that when you push your body there's always some risk of injury, no matter who you are.) If Empire is typical of certified Cross Fit facilities, this fear is totally groundless.

Mike, an experienced professional, minimized any risk by taking the time to demonstrate the proper technique prior to commencing the exercises, especially the lifts involving the back, and offering pointers during the exercises. I've done a fair amount of weight lifting and other resistance exercise through the years, but he still taught me a couple of valuable lessons on cleans and kipping during pull-ups. He also made sure to keep me on light weights/kettle bells to learn the right technique. I left Empire feeling great from head to toe.

Finally, early in the morning on the 4th of July, my wife, daughter, and son headed to downtown Bend to participate in a 5K run to raise money for a children's cardiac program sponsored by the local hospital. We joined a couple hundred other people to run a scenic course along the Deschutes River.

Sunshine, sweat, endorphins. What more could you ask for on a TOJ vacation?

Oh, yes, some ice cold Obsidian Stouts.

The One Thing

This TOJ is a total fanatic about the importance of regular exercise of all kinds to promote your health and well-being. But, hands down, the one thing that may be more important for your health, especially if you're a typical American, is to radically reduce your sugar consumption.

To understand why, watch this short video (I've posted the 1.5 hr. one before) by Dr. Robert Lustig:


Also, read this excellent discussion by Dr. Mercola.

The typical American diet is embalmed with sugars. The USDA recommends that we not consume more than the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar a day. Of course, many people gorge themselves on pop, candy, and donuts, the usual sickly suspects. But they are only one source.

Where we really get poisoned is from the sugar-by-any-other-name in the list on the right side below. Look at the ingredients on everything in your freezer and cupboard. Whether frozen or canned, it likely has one or more of these sugars (note: molasses at least has a couple of nutrients, unlike all the rest). Then look at the food label chart for sugars. See how many grams on in it. Go down the list on the left. One teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams.


Double check the foods that are labeled "healthy" and "natural" like yogurt and granola bars. Very likely, just one of them contain all the sugar it's safe for you to eat for the entire day.

Look at the photo below, which shows what 10 teaspoons of sugar look like in comparison to 34 teaspoons of sugar, which is what is consumed each day by an average American. Wonder why you feel fat and sluggish? Wonder why so many people, especailly middle-aged and older, have pot guts?

It's possible to run, lift, or pedal off the calories from this excess. However, what's really important to grasp is that what makes sugar deadly is not about the calories, but it's destructive effects on your liver, rapid fat formation, insulin resistance, and the inflammation it causes to your arteries.

Remember, your body has NO requirement for refined sugars. None. It needs some carbohydrates, which are automatically converted to glucose.

Know how much sugar you are consuming in all forms. Never drink soda pop. Rarely eat sweet crap. Avoid processed foods. Learn how to trick your brain with natural sugar substitutes.

By reducing your intake of sugars and increasing your exercise, you give your body a chance to thrive. If you don't, you're poisoning yourself just like a drug addict.

Forever Young

I was watching a great documentary the other night called "Running the Sahara" about three men who ran all the way across the Sahara Desert where temperatures reached 140 degrees F. Check it out. It's a great documentary of an amazing athletic achievement.

It got me to thinking about an athletic performances that are right at the edge of human capability, and I remembered one that I witnessed a runner named John Bramley accomplish in the summer of 1977.
I had met John a year earlier through a mutual friend in Ft. Collins, Colorado. At the time, running and aerobic exercise were becoming a national craze. Steve Prefontaine had elevated the U.S. in to the highest echelons of distance running with a gutsy, dramatic fourth place performance in the 5000 meter in the Munich Olympics. Nike would soar to fame and riches is just a few years. It seemed everybody, including me, was running 10Ks.

John Bramley was different than the rest of us because he was on the verge of bursting onto the national scene as one the best distance runners in America. He had been a solid runner in college a few years earlier, but was getting faster and faster as he matured. While the rest of us might run 50 miles a week, he ran 120. And not on the flats. He'd run a 20 mile loop out of Ft. Collins then up, over, and down a dirt road that ran along Horsetooth Reservoir west of town, then back. He loved running, and like all runners, loved to talk about it. He had a great sense of humor and was very down to earth making us all feel like we were his running peers, when the differences between us in skill and endurance were day and night.

That summer in 1977, my friend, wife and I went to watch John Bramley compete in the Mt. Evans Ascent (then known as the Mt. Evans Trophy Run). It's the highest road race in America, climbing 14.5 miles from Echo Lake at 10,600 feet to the summit of Mt. Evans at 14,264. Because of the extreme high altitude, the race only attracted a couple hundred runners, many of whom would finish walking or not finish at all.

When we got there, we went to say hi to Bramley. He was his usual friendly self, but understandably a little distracted by the challenge ahead. Near the starting line, I was approached by a guy who was a cameraman with a major Denver station. He needed a ride on the course so he could film the race; there'd been a glitch and his ride hadn't shown up (this was pre-cell phone). He had noticed I was driving a Volvo station wagon. He had permission to take a vehicle onto the course.

So my wife and friend got in the station wagon, and the cameraman sat to the left under the rear door that opened up, with his legs dangling over the bumper. When the starting gun fired, we pulled away with the lead pack just a few yards in back of our car. I got the car in a position that I could see them in the rear view mirror in the space not occupied by the cameraman.

Within a few minutes, Bramley had pulled away from the rest, and he opened a bigger and bigger lead with each step. We marveled at how fast he was running - even paced, relaxed, at an amazing tempo. We knew we were seeing something special. Soon he was the only person I saw in the mirror.

At the cameraman's urging, we sped a couple hundred yards further ahead of him and stopped on the last switchback before the summit so he could be film Bramley on the final climb to the finish. We all got out and yelled encouragement. He smiled as he came by and crossed the finish. He had just run 14.5 miles (7 minute miles) uphill at very high altitude in 1:41:35, setting a course record that stood for 31 years.

Within two years, Bramley would also run the second fastest marathon in U.S. history, a record that only lasted a few months. I saw him once during that time. He was training for the 1980 Olympic Trials. He had been training hard and had some leg problems and been sick a lot. I heard he didn't make the final roster for the Olympics. Then I lost track of him.
After watching the story about guys who ran across the Sahara, I did an Internet search to remember the details of Bramley's accomplishment that day. My heart sunk. When Bramley's name came up in association with Mt. Evans, it also came up in connection with the story of a man whose body had been found on Long's Peak, a 14,000 ft. massif in Rocky Mountain National Park, in 2009. At age 55, John Bramley had died from a fall down the side the that mountain.He obviously never lost his passion for physical extremes. I read the obituary and some online remembrances. He left a wife and three daughters. He was remembered as a good father and friendly, humble, funny man. And a great runner in his time.

I felt sad, but privileged to have seen him run that day. I'll always remember John Bramley framed in my rear view mirror, running hard and fast, forever young.

A New Age in Military Fitness

Googling about fitness, this TOJ found an interesting document. Last year, the U.S. military announced a new plan for total force fitness. The military considers it a major paradigm shift from the way it's trained soldiers for decades. Here and there it does have a new age flavor, which I'm sure made it controversial with the the stiff-upper-lip, macho-suffer-in-silence old guard, because it uses the word "holistic" and admits that the most hardened soldier has social, psychological and spiritual needs that impact their effectiveness in combat.

Not to worry -- the new "total force fitness" protocol is not intended to turn warriors into flower children. In fact, it's very explicit that the goal is to help soldiers be effective and resilient.

This TOJ finds it well worth reading because the military has long placed a priority on physical fitness, and has the resources to study what works and what doesn't when it comes to physical training. The reason physical training is so important is well-described in a quote from a training manual mentioned in the document:
War places a great premium upon the strength, stamina, agility, and
coordination of the soldier because victory and his life are so
often dependent upon them. To march long distances with
full pack, weapons, and ammunition through rugged country
and to fight effectively upon arriving at the area of combat; to
drive fast-moving tanks and motor vehicles over rough terrain;
to make assaults and to run and crawl for long distances; to
jump into and out of foxholes, craters, and trenches, and over
obstacles; to lift and carry heavy objects; to keep going for
many hours without sleep or rest—all these activities of warfare
and many others require superbly conditioned troops.  
But their new approach to fitness is not just about the skills needed in combat and recovering from combat injuries, but also reducing injuries during training and controlling obesity, an epidemic in the uniformed services as much as in the civilian world.

Read the document and you'll find an approach that is right in line with the best cutting-edge training practices, such as:
  • Optimum fitness involves more than running long distances with a heavy pack. In fact, too much running causes over-training and causes more frequent injuries. Endurance is no more important than mobility, flexibility, and strength.
  • Strength is more than doing lots of push-ups or lifting weights to develop isolated muscle groups. Strength must incorporate functional muscle groups needed to do practical tasks. 
  • All strength training must start with solid development of the core. The lower back is a well-known weak point in the human body it it's not routinely exercised and developed.
  • Training for peak performance also requires jumping (pylometrics) and sprinting. These have big payoffs in strength, speed, and power.
  • For years, the belief was that super active people like soldiers and athletes could eat anything and still thrive. No longer. Top physical performance depends on nutritious foods.
  • There's no such thing as one-size-fits-all fitness. Training must incorporate some general exercises for health and basic fitness, but optimum performance requires additional specific conditioning to perform the specific task.
After Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy Seals, an ex-seal was being interviewed about the training involved. The ex-seal said the training is very demanding, but the people who make it trough don't come our looking like a bulked-up football player. He said they are very strong, but don't look all that different than other people.

I thought about the ex-seal's remark today when the movie "Commando" with Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on the screen; for many men pumping iron, his body back then is their goal. Total force fitness is not about how a person looks, but what he or she can do.

I think the military's vision of fitness is to have people with the endurance, strength, mobility and flexibility to run, sprint, crawl, climb, lift, swim, dive, and  jump like the athlete is this video from MovNat:








Bolder Boulder 2011

Another one. Perfect weather: cool, slight intermittent breeze. 50K+ runners. Memorable highlights:

1. A couple blogs ago I talked about some TOJs training. They all did what they set out to do. Mike did take enough seconds off his time to break his previous personal best. Fat Bob's mom, who, until Mile 5, felt she was running too slow, ended up taking more than two minutes off her personal best. She ran free of split times, following how she felt, and it worked. Jack, who had a serious stroke not that long ago, walked the whole race, as hoped, archived his goal, and felt great the entire time.

2. There was a new Elvis impersonator who's bound for impersonator glory. He's young and lean like the early Elvis, has a really good voice, and gets that perfect Elvis sneer on his upper lip, like: am I cool or what?

3. In these races, due to the sheer number of participants, you can't help but marvel at all the shapes, sizes, and running styles. Many were passing us, others we were passing. It's depressing when somebody waddles by you, it's exhilarating when you pass somebody who's going at a good clip.

4. Many of the people we passed, especially if they were young, were overweight. But they won't be for long if they keep doing 10Ks, and next year we won't see them at all because they'll finish ahead of us.

5. Just over 2 km into the race, you come to the belly dancers at the top of a small hill. This year I didn't stop due to a pulled calf, but slowed long enough to see that none of the women were dancing (maybe they were taking a break), just one guy, who seemed in ecstasy.

6. There were lots of TOJs of all ages. They all seemed to be doing fine and enjoying the event, whatever their speeds. There were very, very few persons who were overweight and older.

7. The elite runners from Kenya and Ethiopia have similar physiques and run with almost identical technique. It's beautiful and efficient. They lift their knees and open the angle between their thighs more than all the amateurs, so they seem to have their feet on the asphalt for minimal time. They almost fly.

8. Although the elite runners are truly amazing and certainly suffer as they fatigue, I was more impressed by some of the obese and physically handicapped who trickled into the stadium late in the race, drenched with sweat, teeth gritted. They may be slower, but endure levels of pain elite athletes will never know. These last really are first. 

9. The minimalist/near barefoot craze is catching on, and maybe will stay (not what I originally predicted). There were more than ever, even a barefoot wave.

10. I was amazed by how many people were in Folsom Stadium waiting to cheer my entrance. (Oh, I just found out that the huge crowd was there were there because they ALL finished ahead of me.)

11. Every year I say this: The Bolder Boulder is run like a precision Swiss watch, even though it's all digital.

Hope to see you next year! For truly, heaven and earth will pass away, but the Bolder Boulder will abideth forever.