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Strength Training for the Endurance Athlete

Runners run, cyclists cycle and swimmers swim. For the most part that’s just how it is: endurance athletes sticking close to their sport of choice, with very few venturing into the forbidden realm of strength training. In fact, if you talk to many athletes and avid exercisers, the two forms of training appear to be totally mutually exclusive.

New scientific findings, however, paint a very different picture. Many experts even point to strength training as a reliable way for endurance athletes, especially runners, to greatly reduce their risk of injury.

The Arguments For

Of course, your musculoskeletal system is deeply involved in everything you do, even when you hardly notice it.

A quick look at the human knee, for example, shows a complicated system of muscles used, not only to move your leg, but also to support the movement. If any of those muscles are weak, it places more stress of the others to compensate.

This effect grows when you widen your lens and look at the body as whole. There are muscles that act as shock-absorbers, muscles that keep you steady and, obviously, those that move you forward. All of these need to be strong enough to meet the demands of your sport and keep you injury-free.

While you could make the argument that running builds the muscles needed for running, that’s only true to a point. Any endurance activity builds endurance. In order to build a more solid support system, strength needs to be developed.

Designing Your Program

To be most effective, your strength training program needs to be tailored to your sport. Although balance training would be vitally important to a runner, it doesn’t mean as much to a swimmer or even a cyclist. Swimmers would likely also want to put more emphasis on their upper-body than runners or cyclists would.

Consider the unique challenges of your sport, then, when deciding on which exercises to include in your program.

Since the goal here is to reduce the risk of injury rather than to cause injury, it’s best to start light on the resistance and work your way up. Body weight training is a perfect modality for endurance athletes since it isolates certain muscle groups, requiring them to bear nothing but the weight you use doing your endurance training. Eventually, additional weight could be added to increase the difficulty of a given exercise.

To keep your progress steady, without interfering with your endurance training, dedicate one day to your strength training each week. If you really have to scratch the cardio itch, you can still do a light cardio cool-down for 10 minutes at the end of your workout.

An example workout, aimed toward a runner, might look something like this:

  1. One-legged Squats – 3 sets of 15 on each leg
  2. Back Lunges – 3 sets of 15 on each leg
  3. Push Up on an uneven surface – 3 sets of 10
    • Place your hands on a pillow or balance plate
    • Modify the movement to make it easier, if you need to, by kneeling
  4. Plank – 30 seconds

Rest for 90 seconds after each set before moving on to the next.




Should You Go Gluten-Free?

The health food industry seems to operate in waves. Every so often a different food or substance is vilified. Suddenly, it becomes a badge of honor for foods to be labeled as free of it. Once it was fat, then carbs became the target. Right now, gluten seems to be the thing to avoid. A brief stroll down any grocery store aisle will show the growing prevalence of gluten-free foods. In fact, the gluten-free industry is now worth about $7 billion dollars per year.

Originally, however, the gluten-free diet was designed to help the one percent of the population suffering from celiac disease, an auto-immune condition triggered by the wheat protein. Now gluten-free diets are used to treat just about every symptom and are even said to encourage weight-loss and athletic performance. The Garmin-Transitions pro-cycling team follows a gluten-free diet while racing in an effort to reduce inflammation and easy digestion.

Celiac Disease, Gluten Intolerance and Wheat Allergies

There is a solid medical basis for opting out of gluten.

As mentioned, celiac disease is the chief reason people traditionally dropped the protein, found in wheat, barley and rye. When someone with celiac disease eats or, in some cases, uses a product containing gluten, their immune system misfires and attacks its own small intestine. In the ensuing violence, the villi, which absorb nutrients are damaged or destroyed. With the villi not functioning, the person can become severely malnourished.

Recently, though, doctors have started to identify other conditions that might require a gluten-free diet. Gluten intolerance, or gluten sensitivity, is distinct from celiac in that it is not an auto-immune disease and involves a completely different biological response. The science is still young, though, and the symptoms are a bit nebulous. The primary signs include bloating, diarrhea and cramps, but the list includes well over 100 other symptoms as well.

There is also the possibility of developing an allergy to wheat, not necessarily to gluten. This is a completely different condition and may only justify avoiding wheat, rather than all gluten containing products.

Gluten intolerance and wheat allergies can both develop later in life and the numbers show that sufferers are steadily increasing.

Why the Increase?

Initially, the immediate skeptical response was to blame faulty diagnoses for the rise in gluten intolerance. Some experts, though, feel that there is legitimate concern due to modern genetic changes in wheat crops.

During the so-called Green Explosion of the 1950s, wheat was cross-bred to not only increase its productivity but to also increase its protein content. Many feel that this manipulation changed the gluten in ways that adversely affect the human body.

More research is needed to prove or disprove this theory, however.

Does Removing Gluten Help?

More and more people, though, are turning to gluten-free diets because they want to lose weight or because they’ve heard it can help their performance in competition.

Unfortunately, there’s little evidence that avoiding gluten can do all that. It is possible that adopting a gluten-free diet could help you lose weight as a by-product of reducing highly processed, calorie-rich foods. Sometimes, sadly, the opposite is true. Many gluten-free foods are loaded with sugars and fats, which boost the calories dangerously high, despite .

No research supports the idea that gluten-free diets can help athletic performance, either. Again, it’s possible that you might feel better as a result of a more healthy diet but unless you have an undiagnosed sensitivity it’s the lack of gluten that’s helping you.





The Many Factors That Affect Caloric Expenditure

It’s practically impossible to talk about exercise without the topic of “calories” somehow coming up. Whether you’re trying to lose weight by burning off excess calories or just trying to fuel your activity by making sure you eat enough, being able to accurately track your caloric expenditure can be a powerful tool. Frustratingly, though, there are many highly personal factors that can have a large impact on the actual amount of calories your body uses during exercise. Understanding these factors, and using that knowledge, can help you design the most effective workout for your unique situation.

Fitness Level

If you’ve ever worked hard to lose a large amount of weight, you know the excitement that comes with that first rapid decrease at the scale and the frustration that follows with the slowing of progress as you get closer to your goal. One of the reasons that this happens has to do with how your body adapts to exercise.

Consider a car: The better maintained it is, the more efficiently the engine runs and the less fuel it needs to travel the same distance as a car that is less cared for. Your body is very similar. As you become more fit, you will use significantly less calories to get through your workouts than you did when you first got started.

Type of Exercise and Workout Design

It may seem obvious to say that some exercises burn more calories than others but the real impact of this statement is much deeper than it appears at first. Generally speaking, the more muscle fibers you have working at once, the more calories you will burn.

To capitalize on this when strength training, focus on compound movements that emphasize big muscle groups like the chest, back and legs. When it comes to cardio, elliptical machines tend to activate more muscles at once than other modes and interval training increases the burn even more.

Surprisingly, your rest periods can also strongly affect how many calories you burn through during your workout. Try to keep your rests to about 60 seconds between each set. This applies to strength training and cardio interval training as well.

A Product of Your Environment

Running presents a special set of challenges that can all change how much fuel your body uses. Uneven and shifting terrain, like sand, incorporates more muscles than a solid surface by forcing your body to compensate and balance you out.

Other aspects of your environment when running outside, even those that seem relatively benign, should be considered. The density of the air, generally associated with elevation can both increase and decrease your caloric expenditure. Running at high altitudes, where the air is thinner, will require significantly fewer calories than at a lower elevation.

Even the wind can make things more difficult. It doesn’t have to be a gale-force gust to make a difference, either. If the wind is steadily blowing against you, it can add a challenge whereas a cycling behind another ride can save up to 26 to 38 percent of energy. Unfortunately, running in the same direction doesn’t necessarily make things any easier for you.

Keeping Your Numbers Accurate

Many devices are available to help you estimate your caloric expenditure during your exercise but, as we’ve discussed a very personalized approach is needed to keep things as accurate as possible. To that end, make sure to enter your correct age and weight into any equipment your on. Using included heart rate meters will also given the machine a good idea of how hard you’re working and, subsequently, your fitness level.

Do you have any tricks to estimating your caloric expenditure? Please share them in comments.





Supplement Reviews: Garcina Cambogia

Losing weight is hard. It’s no wonder, then, that people are constantly searching for a new food, workout or supplement that can give some real, practical assistance when it comes to dropping a few pounds. When a supplement does show some promise, it’s not unusual for it to skyrocket in popularity, especially when it receives a celebrity endorsement.

This is exactly what happened in the case of garcina cambogia.

What Is It and What Does It Do?

Garcina cambogia, more commonly known as tamarind, is by no means some new discovery. The southeast Asian fruit has a long history of use in cooking and traditional medicine.

Specifically, though, a compound called hydroxycitric acid (HCA) that can be extracted from the rind of the tamarind has been the target of the media spotlight. Despite it’s role in traditional medicine, it was the famed Dr. Oz, who called the supplement a “magic” weight loss aid that drove up sales.

Oz and other supporters of HCA have claimed that the compound acts as an appetite suppressant and affects the way your body stores fat. According to Dr. Oz, HCA blocks the enzyme citrate lyase from turning excess carbohydrates in your diet into fat.

Despite its touted miraculous weight loss benefits, supporters of HCA are careful to note that diet and exercise are still necessary to achieve last weight loss. They also promote self-imposed portion control.

The Studies

Following its success in animal studies and test tube studies demonstrating its fat-blocking effects, HCA quickly progressed to human trials for weight loss. Unfortunately, these studies have produced mixed, and sometimes frightening, results. As is often the case when looking at contradictory studies, an analysis of all the body of research can be a powerful tool.

Helpfully, a 2010 review published in the Journal of Obesity offers such an analysis. The researchers found that, overall, there exists proof that HCA can provide a very small weight loss effect in the short term. The full weight loss effects of taking the supplement over long periods of time is unknown.


Of greater importance than the modest weight loss benefits, though, is the significant risk associated with HCA. While tamarind has been eaten and taken medicinally for many years, ingesting a food containing a chemical occasionally is very different from taking a concentrated extract of that chemical every day. Since the full long-term effects of HCA need to be studies more fully, it’s recommended that you take this supplement with caution and only after discussing it with your doctor.

Also, due to a lack of research the recommended and safe dosage of HCA has no been established yet. Studies do suggest that the appropriate dosage depends on your age, health and any pre-existing conditions.

Severe cases of hepatoxicity, or chemically-induced liver damage, have been linked with HCA supplements. Several weight loss aids featuring the chemical have been forcefully taken off the market by the FDA due to these safety concerns and many experts point to HCA as proof that a stricter approach to supplements in general is needed.

Have you taken HCA supplements? Please share your experience in the comments.






Posted by Jonathan Thompson | Posted in Nutrition

6 Quick Power Breakfast Ideas

You’ve already heard how important breakfast is for providing morning fuel and starting your day with regulated meals and metabolism. The trouble is how much time it takes to build a traditional breakfast — time you’d rather spend getting as close to 7 1/2 hours of sleep as you can manage. Get the best of both worlds with any of these 6 quick and powerful breakfast ideas.

1. Breakfast Burritos (10 minutes)

Scramble up some eggs and sausage with cheese and spinach, then wrap it in a whole-wheat tortilla. This combines high protein and healthy fat with fiber from the tortilla and spinach. Add bell or hot peppers for flavor, and feel free to trade in a vegetarian option for the sausage.

2. Greek Yogurt Parfait (3 minutes)

Alternate layersof greek yogurt with layers of fresh fruit, granola, dried fruit and nuts. Stir it all together, or keep the layered effect for a different taste and texture with each bite. Add flavor with a little honey, a splash of vanilla or a sprinkle of dark chocolate powder. Flax seeds or chia seeds can add extra omega oils and micronutrients.

3. Protein Bars (20 to 30 minutes)

You can find protein bar recipes that match your diet all over the web.  The trick for using them as a quick power breakfast is to make a batch on the weekend, then pull out what you need each morning. It’s portable, energy-rich and full of the proteins and fats that will help you focus and control your appetite all morning long.

4. Simple Preloaded Smoothie (4 minutes)

Load yogurt, frozen fruit, bananas and your favorite flavoring into your blender just before you go to bed. Put the thing in the fridge. Pull out in the morning with the contents partially thawed, add your ice and blend. If you forget your evening prep, the whole thing takes only 10 minutes in the morning.

5. Peanut Butter Celery (5 minutes)

It’s not just for kids’ lunch box side dishes anymore. The peanut butter — use organic instead of the sugar- and salt- laden regular — carries the protein and fats that turn breakfast into power breakfast. The celery adds a compelling crunch and plenty of fiber. Experiment with some added nuts and seeds, a little organic honey, or a sprinkling of dark chocolate to add some adult flavor to this handy and portable package.

6. Breakfast Sandwich (7 minutes)

Take some salmon or lean deli meat and slip it between two slices of organic, whole-grain bread along with a fried egg and some lettuce or kale. You get whole-gran carbohydrates, protein and healthy fat in a package that’s easy to carry and eat as you go about your morning. Bonus points for frying the egg and slicing the meat the night before.

Honorable Mention: Breakfast With Family (60 to 90 minutes)

This isn’t a realistic option for most families during the week, but the mental and emotional nourishment you’ll get from making this a weekend tradition pays wellness benefits all week long. Make the time to connect on Saturday or Sunday morning with the people you share your life with. If you live alone, make a standing date with friends to come over, or get together at a healthy breakfast spot in your neighborhood.

There are many more power breakfast options available even for the most on-the-go. What are some of your favorites, and what tricks do you use to make them faster and better?





Power Lunches: The Healthiest Ways to Brown-Bag

Whether you work in an office or work out of your home, you have three choices for lunch.

1. Eat out. This limits your food options to what’s available nearby, and can double or triple your meal choices.

2. Skip lunch. This is more common than you’d think, and sets you up for poor productivity and less-than-healthy panic snacking.

3. The brown bag. It’s less glamorous, but gives you complete control and leaves money in the bank.

Though it takes more effort, option three is the right choice for your physical and economic health … if you do it the right way. To make that happen, take a page from the pros and develop these five habits to beat the brown-bag blues.

1. Put Variety in Your Sandwiches

What says packed lunch more than a sandwich? It’s tidy, easy and a natural fit. Eat one with a side of fruit or veggie sticks and you have a well-balanced meal complete with whole grain bread. But don’t limit yourself to meat on bread. Mix it up with pita bread or wraps. Replace the cold cuts with egg salad and tuna fish. Try hummus instead of mayo. The variety isn’t just healthier, it keeps lunches fresh and exciting.

2. Overcook for Dinner

Lunch gets the short end of the busy schedule stick. Breakfast is easy, and dinner gets some time and attention, but lunch often remains an afterthought. The answer is easy: simply cook enough dinner to pack a serving for the following day. The nutrition and diet attention you gave the evening meal is just as valid for lunchtime. Besides, you can make your cold-pizza-eating colleagues jealous when you reheat that dinner treat.

3. Pack Three Snacks

More than one diet recommends dividing your daytime meals into three snack-sized chow sessions rather than a single lunch. You can set up your lunch to work with this by bringing along enough for all three, or packing three distinct and different mini-meals. If you do this, try packing each in a separate container to avoid the temptation to eat it all at once. This method is about spreading food intake over several hours.

4. Bottle the Water

Drinks are a lunchtime blind spot for many, especially with the easy access to sodas and other sugary drinks at most work-friendly food counters. If you pack your lunch without a drink, you’ll be apt to run down to the vending machines or corner store — and tempted to get the same sugar-rich beverage you would at a restaurant. Instead, invest in a reusable water bottle and use it during, before and after lunchtime.

5. Salads Are Your Friend

We’re not talking some iceberg chunks and shredded carrot like the side dish where you’d buy lunch if you didn’t know better. Instead, take pieces of what you had for dinner and mix them together, then add some shredded veggies and cheese for added flavor. A dinner of beans and whole grain rice gets mixed in with feta, raisins and bell pepper for a Mediterranean treat. Resist the temptation to drown it in dressing. After a week or so, you won’t miss it.

Comment contest! Post below your most successful healthy brown bag lunch ever! Comment on the comments to vote for the winner. Whoever gets the most comments may brag to all their friends until further comments end your reign. 





Condiments Can Make or Break Your Diet

What would a burger be without ketchup? A sandwich without mayo? Or a baked potato without sour cream? It’s hard to imagine eating many foods without their condiment counterparts. But using high-calorie condiments may actually be sabotaging your healthy eating efforts.condiments - musturd and ketchup

Condiments and Your Waistline

Condiments kick dishes up a notch by adding flavor. But if you’re not careful, you may end up getting more than you bargained for. Many popular condiments are loaded with calories, fat, sodium and added sugar.

What’s more, even if you use “light” versions of your favorite spreads and dressings, you may not be doing yourself any favors. That’s because experts say when we see “less sodium,” “low-fat” or other nutritional claims on labels, we assume the food is healthy, and end up using more of it. One tablespoon of reduced fat mayonnaise comes in at approximately 5g of fat and 50 calories. Compared to one tablespoon of regular mayonnaise, with 11g of fat and 100 calories, it is healthier. The problem is that most of us don’t limit ourselves to one tablespoon.

Healthy Alternatives

To keep condiments from sabotaging your diet efforts, the key is to make healthy choices and be mindful of portion sizes. Try these substitutions:

·         Instead of using mayonnaise or sour cream for dips and spreads, opt for plain, low-fat Greek yogurt. The consistency is the same, but the Greek yogurt packs a protein punch, meaning your meal or snack will be more satisfying.

·         Dip your crudités and chips in hummus rather than ranch dressing. It’s lower in fat and higher in protein and fiber.

·         Make your own salad dressings instead of buying them. This way, you can control exactly what goes into them. Mix balsamic vinegar, olive oil, a dollop of mustard and a spritz of water together for a healthy, homemade vinaigrette. If you must have the store brand, keep in mind that vinaigrettes are typically healthier than cream-based dressings and sauces.

·         Don’t double up. Do you like to dip your buffalo wings in bleu cheese dressing? Chances are the chicken wings are heavily coated with buffalo sauce. Either skip the dip or only garnish the wings with buffalo sauce. Choosing one or the other will help you cut calories.

Get Condiment Savvy

These condiments are almost always fat-free and generally low in calories. Just watch the sodium and sugar content:

·         Ketchup: This picnic staple is made using puréed, cooked tomatoes, spices and seasonings. Look for low-sodium and low-sugar versions.

·         Barbeque sauce: BBQ sauce is made from combining ketchup, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Steer clear of “brown sugar” or “honey” varieties to keep sugar in check.

·         Mustard: Yellow mustard just contains mustard seeds, vinegar and seasonings. On the other hand, honey mustard is usually packed with sugar and fat.

·         Salsa: Salsa is made using fresh veggies, fruit, herbs and/ or spices. It’s one of the lowest calorie condiments out there, coming it at just 5 calories per tablespoon. Use it as a dip, on a baked potato or as a marinade for fish or chicken.

·         Soy sauce: Soy sauce is made from fermented soy beans, roasted grains, water and a lot of salt. Choose low-sodium soy sauce and use it sparingly.

What’s your favorite condiment? I put hot sauce on everything!






The Truth Behind Negative Calorie Foods

Imagine a food that actually burns more calories than it provides, that helps you lose weight just by eating it. The idea sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? These so-called negative calorie foods have been promoted by many fitness books and diet plans. But do they work? Is there science to back this claim or is it just another fitness myth?

The Theory

Chewing and digesting food, as with all bodily functions, burns calories without us ever noticing. Certain foods, like celery or grapefruit, are high in dietary fiber but extremely low in calories, leading to the conclusion that they burn more calories than they actually provide.

The Reality

According to the Mayo Clinic, about five to 10 percent of your daily caloric expenditure goes toward chewing, breaking down and storing your food. The low-calorie options that populate the negative calorie food lists found all over the Internet do, in fact require energy to digest.

So, in theory at least, negative calorie foods exist. In practice, however, there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that a single food requires more calories to break down than it provides.

The real problem with this diet philosophy comes in the application. When people read that grapefruit is a negative calorie food that will burn calories for you, they react in one of two ways: Either they eat nothing but these negative calories foods, or they add it to their regular diets to try to counteract the calories from other foods.

Nothing In, Nothing Out

The first approach, loading your diet with almost exclusively negative calorie foods will absolutely make you lose weight. But this loss will be rapid and unhealthy. Diets that consist mainly of these foods are severely deficient in both total calories and vital nutrients.

These low-calorie, starvation diets can not be sustained for long periods of time and can even backfire. When your body enters starvation mood, your metabolism will slow down and actually start fighting to keep you alive by storing fat for energy.

You may also start to lose muscle mass, since that will be broken down for fuel as well.

Too Much of a Good Thing

The other application of negative calorie foods, tacking them onto otherwise unhealthy meals, isn’t much better. A 2010 study from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management tested people’s perception of calories of meals both with and without a healthy side.

In one of the tests, subjects were asked to guess the calorie content of a bowl of chili. They estimated the value at about 699 calories. When the chili was served with a side of green beans, though, they placed the meal at 656 calories. In truth, the side of green beans probably didn’t add many more calories, but it certain didn’t detract any either.

The belief in negative calorie foods and the practice that it leads to could actually cause you to gain weight by ingesting more calories than you realize.

The bottom line: negative calorie foods as a diet philosophy is about as empty as it sounds. You won’t do yourself any good by trying to follow it, and you’re likely to do yourself some harm.

Do you have any experience with negative calorie foods? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments.