Dieting Sucks

There’s no way around it, weight-loss sucks. It really really does.  If it were easy then we would all look like models and eat whatever we pleased because we would be able to burn it off easily, but unfortunately it’s not that easy, we can’t just eat a skinny person and hope that we are what we eat. This goes for gaining muscle, or gaining athletic performance as well; the principle is pretty close to the same. It takes hard work (exercise) and most of all self-control (not giving into cravings). But thankfully for those that stay on track and shut out the negative influences, the prize at the end is pretty sweet.

After posting the dark side of weight-loss post I got more and more curious about why others get so infuriated and even despise those that are attempting to lose weight. It really sounds ridiculous but anyone that is struggling to lose weight, or gain muscle, or get better at athletics knows exactly what I am talking about. The hardest part about weight loss is often not the cravings for the cookies and nacho’s (although those do come), it is often the negative influence from the peers that surround you in your journey, which is weird because why should they care that you are trying to better yourself?

I asked around, got some opinions and was surprised to hear why some people tend to get angry when someone is losing weight. I asked people that were losing weight right now to get their opinion, and I also played devil’s advocate by asking the people that got mad or shunned me why they did when I was losing all of my weight. It was cool to see both sides of the stories but it was almost sad to hear some of the answers from both sides.

I guess we will start from the side of the people that are either currently losing weight or had lost a significant amount of weight in the past. The common answer when I asked why they thought others get frustrated with them was the obvious, “I don’t know, but it sucks”. Which was great to hear that everyone thought it sucks so they aren’t alone in that thinking, but still didn’t answer anything. It took a while but finally some people started opening up a little. At first the consensus was that others were jealous of them because they were losing weight, which might make sense for the overweight peers that are shunning their shrinking counterparts but it still didn’t make sense as to why the already skinny people got frustrated with the ones trying to drop some pounds.  Finally though, after asking the ones that were mean to me, the real reasons became to come out.

So I literally just talked to some people that would get angry with me when I was losing weight and asked them, “Why were you an ass to me when I was losing weight?” It was probably a little harsh or blunt but at least it got a little fire going in them.  This got them all talking pretty quickly and every single one gave me the exact same answer. The answer was that they thought I was judging them when I would decline their food offers… WHAT? SERIOUSLY??? Yes this was the answer that I got from every single person.

With that answer now out on the table let be one to say that no one here losing weight is judging someone that is offering them junk food. We could care less that you are eating a cookie and sucking down your 3rd soda. If it is working for you to keep you skinny and in shape then all the power to ya. It is almost like the overweight person that goes to the gym and is worried that everyone will stare at them, but I’ll let you in on a secret, if you are in a gym and you are worried about the in-shape ones staring at you, take a second and notice that you are the only ones doing the staring because you are worried that they are staring at you. The in-shape crowd is overjoyed that you are getting into shape and the only reason they would ever stare would be to make sure you are doing everything right in case there is any way they could help. It’s funny how that perspective gets flipped around at time.

So that is it, that’s all it is. At least for the answers that I received. Just because someone is declining your offer of a cheeseburger doesn’t meant that they are judging you for eating a cheeseburger, they simply don’t want a cheeseburger because they are already working to burn off all of the extra cheeseburgers they ate in the past.  It’s funny how this gets blown out of proportion soooo often.  Heck, when I was losing weight I would tell people that I was allergic to certain food even though I wasn’t just so that they wouldn’t get pissed off or sad when I declined their offer. That way works, but it sucks to have to remember all of the foods that you are “allergic” to.

The Top Fitness Accessory Ever Made

 

 

 

 

 

 

So here it is, here’s the top fitness accessory that there is. This little puppy will you get you fit as a fiddle in a jiffy without even having to go to the gym. If you’re looking to get your arms seriously ripped, your core chiseled, and your body as dehydrated as the guy in the picture then look no further than the one and only Shake-Weight™. For a measly price of only $9.95 you’ll never need to go to the gym again. Just stand there like a baboon jacking off a gorilla while clinching your abs tight enough to give birth and in less than ten minutes you’ll have the body of a Greek God…

 

The Simple Diet

Do you want to know something funny? Every single diet that has ever been created to lose weight has one thing in common. They all work, every single one of them. Now this might sound a little crazy but i’m serious, all of them work. Atkins, South Beach, Weight-Watchers, Jenny Craig, The Cookie Diet, or even the McDonald’s diet; they all work. Like I eluded to in my last post, they work simply because they restrict calories, otherwise known as the little monsters that go into our closets and shrink our clothes while we are sleeping. As long as you consume fewer calories than you are burning, you will lose weight. But for any of them to work, you have to actually follow the diet ALL OF THE TIME and not just when it is convenient.

That is where most if not all diets fail. They don’t fail because of a flaw in the diet itself, they fail because of those not following them like they should be and only following the plan when it is easy and not following it when it gets hard. This sounds stupid but it’s true. Think about the number one excuse for cheating on a diet, “well I was at this party and all there was to eat was junk so i had to”. Now this may be true that the only thing they had to eat at the party was junk but the better answer would just be to not eat and wait until you got home. Believe me, I had to do this every week when losing weight and yes it might sound horrible and yes your tummy might grumble a bit but I promise you that you will not starve or famish and you will actually feel proud that you resisted the urge to indulge in party food which will be a crucial skill to learn in order to lose weight and keep it off for life. It’s not the parties that cause you to gain weight, it’s the fact that you decided to eat nachos when you were trying to drop some pounds. Just like it isn’t the candy cars and potato chips that make you fat, it’s the fact that you ate the whole bag in one sitting.

This is why I am not an avid proponent of any of the major diet fads, if you are going to do a diet that has a lot of oatmeal in it and you hate oatmeal then by all means, don’t eat the oatmeal and replace it with something you will eat because then you can at least enjoy what you are eating. Now that being said, what type of food you eat will definitely determine how you feel on a diet but that still does’t change the fact that you have to eat less calories than you burn in order to lose weight. You could eat 1000 calories of fast food in a day and lose weight while feeling like a bag of poo or you could eat 1000 calories of steak and veggies and feel like a million bucks. It’s your choice, as long as you stick with it all of the time.

If you’re really curious what I ate while losing weight, I actually didn’t follow any certain diet plan at all. I figured out what worked for me by trial and error and then stuck with it without any exceptions. I found out that eating a 2 eggs for breakfast, some veggies (like a cup) and chicken (about 1/2 a breast) for lunch, and a sandwich (yes with Gluten… OMG) for dinner kept me losing about 8.5 pounds a week. Nothing magical but it was simple and sustainable. If I had to go out for lunch and they didn’t have chicken and veggies then i would just wait until I got home or simply skip lunch since losing weight was my main priority at that point. Keeping it extremely simple was the key for me to stay on track.

This is also why whenever i help someone to come up with a diet plan I will say to do at least a week with nothing but eggs, broccoli, chicken, and beef. It my get old fast but so is being fat so that argument is invalid. This is a good way to at least get a baseline. The scale will begin to go down with the eggs, meat and veggies, so after a week when you start eating other things you can find out if they work or not for you. If you replace one of the meals with a Big Mac and are still losing weight then fantastic, stick with it if it’s working. On the other hand, if adding the Big Mac starts to move the scale up then it’s pretty obvious what is causing it.

There is nothing magical about weight loss, it is all about calories in and calories out. Where those calories come from can have a big difference on how you feel and even change how many are burned but at the end of the day its simple math, as long as you take in less than you burn then you will get smaller. The best way for me to do it was to just keep it simple, and by doing that it was easy to stay on track. Find something that works for you and don’t get off track. If you truly want to lose weight then you have to really want it; you can’t just kinda want it. If you kinda want to lose weight then you will give up the minute that it gets hard, but if you really do want to lose weight then you will, as long as you stick to it and don’t give up.

The Only Way to Truly Lose Weight

If there is one thing that cuts into my heart and makes me want to help someone it’s when a person comes to me and is struggling to lose weight. It makes me want to jump into their body and do it for them, but I can’t. I can only teach them what they need to do and pray that they follow the instruction. So here it goes, here is the absolute number one reason why anyone struggling to lose weight is failing. It isn’t the food that you are eating, it isn’t the exercise you are or aren’t doing, and it isn’t the hormones in your body that may or may not be screwed up. All of those things have an effect in the end but they aren’t the real reason why the weight isn’t coming off and they aren’t the reason why the results aren’t coming as fast as you want them too. The real reason has to do with one word and that one word is WHY.

That’s right, that one little word is the only thing driving every part of weight-loss. And it is that one little word that will determine whether you lose the weight and keep it off for good or if you stay exactly where you are right now and never see the results you want so badly. Why has to do with why you want something, and in this case it’s why you want to lose the weight.  So truly, if you are trying to lose weight then why do you want to lose weight?

Everyone has their own why and only you can truly understand the reason, but in order for that why to be a force strong enough to change your life by losing weight then it has to have a deeper meaning that drives you more than anything else in the world. If the reason why you are losing weight is to just simply look good naked or to make others think you look good then you are doomed for failure, seriously. Doing it for those reasons is just because you want others to view you differently, which will not work. The reason has to be for yourself and only yourself. If you truly want to lose weight because you can’t stand being this heavy anymore and you want a better quality of life and you want to be able to enjoy things once again that you can no longer do then you will have a fighting chance to lose the weight to keep it off. Or if you want to lose the weight so that you can live long enough to see your grandkids grow up and you don’t want to be that helpless fat old person that needs a forklift to move then you will have a chance to lose the weight.

The reason why you need the why driving you to stay motivated and keep losing weight is because there will come times when you will be alone in the journey and there will be times when others are pressuring you to quit. When I lost my weight I can’t even count how many times someone would offer me food saying “just take a bite, you’ve lost so much weight already that one bite won’t kill you”.  And of course I would decline which would surprisingly make others angry, literally angry. It sounds ridiculous but I lost so many friends when I was losing weight that I lost more friends than I had by the end.  This is why the “why” has to be for yourself and no one else. If you are losing weight so that your friends think you look better and suddenly your friends aren’t there half way through than you will fail because your reason to lose weight was dependent on something other than yourself.

I don’t normally talk about the darker side of my weight-loss because it sounds horrible and I really hate even thinking about it, but telling that part of the story explains just how hard it can be. Someone telling you to lose weight that has never been fat before will never understand so hearing it from someone that was extremely obese can sometimes help. I know exactly why I wanted to lose my weight and it had absolutely nothing to do with aesthetics, hell even to this day I have so much extra skin that running is extremely painful because the skin flaps up and down and it feels like someone is trying to skin me alive. My why was because I realized that we only get one chance at life and I could not go through life being that big. Every joint hurt and every muscle was sore from carrying that much weight around. Everywhere I went I was sweating and out of breath. Clothes never fit right because I was 17 years old shopping for 2XL shirts and 46in waist pants. Even simple things like mowing the lawn seemed like a daunting task because it was like mowing the lawn now but with a 150lb weight vest.

I can still remember to this day the moment when I decided to lose weight, I don’t really tell anyone because it is embarrassing but if hearing it helps motivate even one person to lose weight then I’m glad it helped. The moment I realized that something had to change was when I was standing in front of the mirror in my room one night before bed, 17 years old 310lbs and absolutely disgusted with what I saw. I didn’t even want to take my shirt off because I was scared of what was underneath and didn’t want to face the truth. The decision was simple at that point; I couldn’t go living like that anymore since I was 17 but felt more like I was 70. It was either lose the weight or something else. Luckily I went with the weight loss approach.

I truly believe that having that reason for losing weight or having that “why” was why I was successful at losing the weight and keeping it off. I didn’t do it because I thought I would look better (because let me tell you, extra skin is reeaaalll sexy…not) and I didn’t do it because someone told me I should. I did it because I hated life being trapped in that heavy, fat, sweaty body. And that is what kept me going personally throughout the whole time and probably partially why I was able to strip off 150lbs in a little less than 6 months without any diet pills, surgery, or weight loss aid. All along the way there will be friend that are lost and family that will hate you. I wish I was kidding but like I said before I lost sooo many friends when I was losing weight and even had family tell me that I didn’t need to come over because I wasn’t going to eat their food anyways. I can’t count how many times that I had to go eat my lunch or dinner in my van because someone or a group didn’t want to see me jut eating chicken and broccoli. It sounds ridiculous but if you ask anyone that knew me before and after they will you tell you the same thing. To this day I still don’t know what makes someone angry when you decline their food or try to just eat something else instead, or heaven forbid just eat nothing because there isn’t anything there that you should eat. Believe me there were many times when I would go over somewhere or go out for dinner and just not eat because that was better than eating any of the stuff on the menu. You may get some awkward stares and questions from the waiter or waitress but if you truly are set on losing weight and not just making other people happy then ignore them.

The only real way that you will ever be able to lose weight and keep it off is if you have a “why”. A reason for why you are doing it and a reason that means something to you and no one else. That reason has to be strong enough to carry you through the entire weight loss and for the rest of your life if you truly want to be successful. It has to be strong enough to keep you going when you are all alone and it has to be strong enough to stick with you through the crowd of influences that are trying to get you to crack. This kind of sounds like a motivational speech or something which I didn’t really intend on but if it helps motivate someone to figure out their why or helps to show that someone struggling to lose weight is not alone then that’s awesome. I normally don’t talk about stuff like this because it sounds corny but maybe it sheds some light on why weight loss can be difficult and why having a why is the only real way to ever lose weight.

Carb Cycling

Imagine how great it would be to be able eat cake, cookies and even candy without ever gaining a pound. Never again would there be a need to turn down all of the diabetes causing, metabolic disease inducing, and muffin top baking indulgences that keep our insides happy and make our outsides as flabby as a basset-hound’s ears. Sounds great doesn’t it? So is there really a way to eat whatever you want and still keep the body of a ripped God or Goddess that looks like it was carved out of stone? According to the followers of a little nutritional strategy known as carb cycling, it is. In carb cycling, one simply restricts carbohydrate consumption for 6 days and then “re-feeds” all of their carbs on the seventh day (also known as the cheat day). But all bull-ship aside, is this really possible or just a really compelling argument to keep eating the same junk that got most of the population metabolically messed-up in the first place?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The short answer is yes and the long answer is no. I am not going to be naïve and say that it’s not possible to eat anything desired and still have a body that would make people drool over. It does happen, take a look at Michael Phelps when he was competing and consuming his 12,000 calories a day or take a look at some high-school cross country runners that put back a pack of licorice and a case of soda right before bed. It DOES happen, now that being said, unless you are an Olympic swimmer that is over 6 foot 5 or a high school runner with a thyroid that is active enough to keep a campfire going, then you may not be so lucky.

This is where the idea of carb cycling came about, sort of. Carb cycling was created as a nutritional strategy that would allow the normals of the world to still enjoy the deliciousness that is the carbohydrate without having to worry about over indulging and shopping in the husky section for a comforter that was sewn together and now labeled as a skirt. It was also supposed to be a way to lose weight as fast as a ketogenic diet without all of the side effects that come along with completely eliminating all of the carbs from our diet. Still sounds great doesn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The problem with the carb cycling approach lies within the application of the strategy. In essence, if one were to follow the diet exactly to the T and never stray away then it would work; just as any other calorie restricted diet would. There is no secret there, as long as you are consuming less than you are burning then you will lose weight. Even if you have some metabolic derangement this still holds true so please no nasty comments about that statement. Even if someone has hypothyroid function or Cushing’s disease they are still gaining weight because of a surplus of calories; they just also have a condition that lowers their energy expenditure to extremely low values. So that being said carb cycling does work in terms of a weight-loss approach simply because it is a way to lower calorie consumption. But as far as the sustainability and practical application of the diet, carb cycling falls short.

It sounds like a great idea to be able to eat whatever you please once a week and not have to worry about any side-effects but the truth is that there are always side-effects, especially with this approach. What the diet forgets to mention is how you will actually feel on this diet. Of course it tells you that you will have endless energy and be able to prance through a garden of lilacs for hours without having to stop, but so does a “nutritional cleanse” and we all know that everyone feels like a million bucks as they are shitting their brains out and praying that it would be possible to plastic wrap there anal sphincter closed. The truth is that you will be extremely lethargic and start getting the “carb flu” the whole week, fighting headaches, sleepiness and even irritability. Then when the holy grail of the cheat day comes, you will feel like a fat bloated slob that is retaining more water than the hoover dam. Then to top it off, the day after the cheat day will feel like a hangover that can’t just be cured with a big glass of water and some Pedialyte. Sounds like a joy, doesn’t it? Oh yeah and forget it if you are trying to compete in any kind of sport because performance will go in the dumpers from the constant roller coaster of feeling terrible and then being on a sugar high.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is exactly how the majority feel when attempting to go on the carb-cycling approach. Sure, they may lose a few pounds at first but quickly gain it back after they get off of it. The whole idea was a great hypothesis, especially because it is based off of preventing our thyroid glands from slowing down, but the reality is that it can takes weeks or even months for thyroid hormone production to be altered, so all that is left is a diet that has you eat less calories than before and leaves you feeling like a bag of poop, just like the majority of diets out there. Nice try carb-cycling, but it just isn’t a sustainable way to alter nutrition.

Why do we Build Muscle?

So it seems like I left many people hanging on the last post about why we get stronger in the first few months of training. So without further ado here is the rest of the story about why we get stronger after the initial gains in the gym.

It all has to do with this little mechanism known as muscular hypertrophy. Well actually, before I give all of the credit to muscular hypertrophy, there are still neuromuscular gains going on as well. Just like most everything in the body (except for an action potential) it is never all or nothing. Muscular hypertrophy and neural adaptations are both happening at the same time. It’s just that muscular hypertrophy is now more predominate after the neural pathways have been strengthened.

Now I know what you’re thinking, what the heck is muscular hypertrophy already? And how is it totally going make me get swole bro? Well, good question!

Muscle hypertrophy in its simplest definition is nothing more than growing muscle. How this happens though can be very complicated (like a chia pet…just kidding), but knowing how it happens can make the process much easier. There are many different pathways by which muscle hypertrophy can be signaled but the predominant three that have been identified are the akt/mTOR (Mammalian Target of Rapamycin) pathway, the Mitogen-activated Protein-Kinase pathway (MAPK), and the calcium dependent pathways.  All of those big words are cute and all but what it really means is that there are three different yellow brick roads that lead to muscle growth and those are the names of the yellow brick roads. All of the pathways have numerous steps along the way that occur but for the sake of the not losing my audience of 5 people (hi Hanne and Mom) I won’t go into those molecular signals along the way.

The problem with all of the yellow brick roads that lead to muscle growth is that they are all blocked until something stimulates them to be unblocked. This is where it gets exciting! There are actually three primary factors that are responsible for unblocking the yellow brick roads and leading to the all-powerful muscular hypertrophy. The three factors that unblock and begin the process down the roads are mechanical tension, muscle damage and metabolic stress. The best part about knowing what causes the road blocks to be unblocked is that we can do things in the gym that specifically cause those three things and unlock the holy grail to muscle hypertrophy.

The first factor, mechanical tension, as in the act of putting the muscle under tension unblocks a few of the yellow brick roads that lead to muscular hypertrophy. Mechanical tension occurs when we lift weights because the muscle has to use tension to hold and move the weight. This explains why the heavier the weight, the more tension is created and more muscle is built. It also occurs in something such as running where the muscle must also create tension to propel us. The Tension that builds up in the muscle disturbs the integrity of the muscle and sends signals that goes upstream and downstream to signal all of the other steps along the yellow brick road. Upstream, certain mechano-chemical responses occur in cells (myocytes and satellite cells) that signal growth factors, cytokins, stretch activated channels and focal adhesion complexes which all stimulate hypertrophy.  Downstream is where the signaling of the AKT/mTOR pathway occurs which also leads to hypertrophy.

The second factor that causes the road blocks to be moved is muscle damage. This occurs through certain exercises as well. There is damage that occurs while lifting weights (eccentric or “lowering” of weights causes the most damage) or while doing something like running as well (hence the fact that we eccentrically decelerate and concentrically accelerate). This damage deforms membranes within the muscle that causes deformation of the cellular signaling within the muscle. Think of it is phone wires being cut. The damage to the cellular signaling then causes the release of growth factors which ultimately cause muscular hypertrophy and for your arms to look jacked when it’s time for “suns out guns out”.

The third and somewhat still unknown cause that removes the roadblock from the yellow brick roads is metabolic stress. That’s right, good ol’ stress itself. It is almost ironic that metabolic stress can cause the growth of muscle because too much stress can also cause muscle degradation. It seems to be that just the right amount of stress causes the road blocks to move and muscles to grow. The exact mechanisms of metabolic stress causes hypertrophy is still a bit unknown but the prevailing theories suggest that the stress disrupts the hormonal environment, causes cell swelling, increase free radical production, and increase growth factors which ultimately lead to muscle growth. Another theory about the stress is that when we exercise we produce lactic acid which ultimately splits into lactate and a free hydrogen ion which make the blood more acidic. This acidy can then cause muscular damage which we learned earlier can lead to hypertrophy.

And that’s it! That is exactly (well for the most part) how muscles become bigger and stronger. This process of hypertrophy takes a lot longer to happen than the neuromuscular gains, which is why we get a lot stronger before our muscles begin to grow. But rest assure if you are getting a lot stronger your muscles are well on their way to hypertrophy. There are many different “yellow brick roads” (aka cellular signaling pathways) that are blocked that lead to hypertrophy and there are three main causes that remove the road blocks. So next time someone tells you that you are getting swole you can comfortably say, “No dude, I’m totally just following the yellow brick road”.

Why We Get Strong at First

So let’s say you are new to training and exercising, in fact for the sake of simplicity let’s say that you are new to strength training. You are hitting it hard a few days a week pounding the weights and getting your sweat on. All of your weights are quickly going up and you see yourself getting stronger by all of the heavier weights that you are lifting, but there isn’t as much muscle showing as you hoped. By now you feel like you should look like a fun sized Arnold or at least a mediocre Hercules, I mean you have been training for almost 3months now… This happens ALL the time whenever anyone begins a training regime and sadly it leads to many people dropping out before they are actually able to get the results they are looking for even though they are doing everything right and are just lacking a little education.

 

So what’s really going on in these first months of a new training program and why do we get strong so fast without seeing any increase in muscle to go along with it?

The basis of this newly found inner strength has to do with a little thing known as neuromuscular strength gains. And just as the name implies, it involves our neurons (the things going from our brains to the rest of our body).

Our neurons are what provide the link between our brains and our muscles. They are these long tubular/octopus look cells that receive a message from the brain on one end and deliver that message on the other end to some part of our bodies. There are many different neurons that go everywhere throughout your body, some go to our brains and some go away from our brains and some never leave our brains, but for the purpose of this explanation we’ll just focus on the ones going from our brain to the muscle fibers in our bodies. These are called motor units. A motor unit by definition is motor neuron and all of the muscle fibers that it innervates.

These motor units are essentially what are responsible for this huge increase in strength right away after starting a training protocol.  They do this by changing the way that they fire in a few different ways.  Let me explain…

Motor units control the amount of force that is applied to a stimulus, so normally when we go to pick things up that are relatively light we do not fire all of the motor units in our arms at once, this is because if we did everything that we pick up would go flying because we would be putting as much force into it as if we were lifting something very heavy. This is definitely good when we are picking up something like a baby and don’t need to use as much force as if we were attempting to lift a car, otherwise the baby would go flying and that’s never good.

This principal is known as motor unit recruitment.  We are able to recruit more or less motor units depending on how heavy something is. This is where the strength increases initially come from in the gym. Normally without a heavy weight needing to be lifted we don’t fire all of our motor units because there is no need and it places a large metabolic demand on the body. But as we start lifting weights initially our bodies become more and more efficient at recruiting all of the motor units that we already have. This will make us stronger because we can now lift heavier weights due to the increased motor unit recruitment, but will not build muscle because we are just waking up the already present motor units. This may sound disappointing but it is necessary to do this in order to build muscle later.

The other main reason why motor units make us a lot stronger at first without building any additional muscle is because of something known as motor unit synchronization. This actually has to do with the timing of the motor unit firing. Normally all of the motor units do not fire at the same time, they all eventually figure out that they have to fire but just not very synchronized. This changes when we throw barbells on our backs and ask our bodies to lift a very heavy weight. Our brains quickly figure out that if all of the motor units work together and fire at the same time, it will be much easier to lift the weight rather than get crushed. The best way to explain it is to think about that old elementary school game where every kid grabbed a corner of a parachute and a ball was thrown in the middle. If everyone were to pull on the parachute at different times the ball would still go in the air but not very high. On the other hand if every kid pulled on the parachute at the exact same time then the ball would fly very high because there would be more force applied to it at once. It suddenly allowed the ball to go higher without adding any extra children.

That’s pretty much the quick and dirty lowdown on why people tend to get really strong initially in the gym without seeing any muscle gain at first. Our bodies quickly figure out that in order to lift something heavy every motor unit that we have must work together and all of them must be firing. We do this first instead of building muscle because it is much more efficient then having to build all new muscle cells. So don’t get discouraged if you are initially getting very strong without seeing any muscle growth. The muscle growth will happen but it just takes a little longer (at least 3 months or longer) because all of the motor unit recruitment and synchronization must happen first.

In Defense Of Endurance… And Exercise in General

Recently there was a very interesting article that was brought to my attention about the many dangers of endurance exercise and how endurance exercise itself is a major cause of death. (ARTICLE) I end up reading a TON of one sided arguments that are both for and against certain types of exercise and normally don’t throw my two cents in unless the article is blatantly making false claims, but since I was asked my opinion on the article, here is my honest opinion. I am not in any way taking a side in the debate because for every type of exercise there is a list of pros just as long as the list of cons. But to state that “marathoners may be no better than the guy on the couch” may be a bit extreme.

I guess I will start by addressing all of the topics covered in the article as these are the main concerns for the “dangers” of endurance exercise. The first issue that the author brings up and is determined to drive home is the fact that endurance exercise produces free radicals.  So what is a free radical? A free radical is simply a molecule that has an unpaired electron in its outer shell. That’s all it is when we really break it down to its definition. Not so scary when we look at it like that, but nonetheless there are consequences from free radicals, just as there are often overlooked benefits.  The problem with free radicals in the human body stems from how they act by nature; since they have an unpaired electron they will pair with and often take an outer electron from another molecule in order to fill its outer shell thereby creating another free radical. This chain of events goes on and on until the molecule with the unpaired electron is destroyed or presented with an antioxidant.  (Oxidative stress is what we call the damage from free radicals, hence “anti-oxidant”) An antioxidant on the other hand is a molecule that has an extra electron in its outer shell that will readily give its electron to a free radical which then makes the free radical stable and not harmful anymore. Think of it as a squirrel that has only one nut in its cheek and another squirrel that has three nuts in its mouth. The squirrel with only one nut will do anything that it can to fill its other check because it wants two nuts in his mouth, whereas the squirrel with three nuts can easily give the other squirrel a nut to make it happy since it doesn’t need all three anyways.

The chain of events from free radicals (also known as oxidative stress) can be bad because it is one of the theories behind aging and it also will destroy cells if not detained by an antioxidant. But it can also be a good thing because free radicals are extremely important for cellular signaling. This is basically a way of the body telling cells what to do. Surprisingly our bodies need some sort of signal to tell which cells what to do in every part of the body. Free radicals are a way of telling cells what to do, they are like biological conductors than can kill us; but we also would die without them so do actually need them.

So now that we know what free radicals are and what antioxidants are, what on earth does this have to do with exercise? Well, simply put exercise produces free radicals just as it also produces antioxidants. The article presented before claims that endurance exercise produces harmful free radicals. While this is true it also must not be overlooked that weight lifting and high intensity interval training produce just as many free radicals. This is because the major cause of free radicals is merely stress itself. I’m not talking about “stress” as in I have a homework assignment due in an hour and I haven’t started it yet (although that would produce free radicals as well). I’m talking about a “stressor” as in anything that attempts to shift the body away from homeostasis. Exercise, whether it is from endurance, weight training, or from hopscotch is simply a form of stressor. This is how we adapt and progress in exercise training. We push our bodies past their “normal” state by adding an exercise stressor and then we adapt in order to become more efficient at it. In endurance we also grow larger left atriums (because the heart is literally just a muscle after all) in order to pump blood more efficiently because blood is what transports oxygen, and endurance aerobic exercise requires a greater amount of oxygen. This is often called left ventricular hypertrophy which sounds scary but literally means that the bottom left part of your heart is more muscular than before. Think of it as bodybuilding for your heart. This also leads to a lower resting heart rate because now the new, more muscular heart can pump more blood with every beat.

The stress response from exercise also explains the inflammation that is produced from every kind of exercise, again whether it is endurance, weight-lifting, or frolicking. Inflammation is a powerful way to bring nutrients into any kind of stressor put on the body, if we damaged a muscle from exercise (meaning that we brought it out of homeostasis) inflammation comes to the rescue by bring the blood and all the other nutrients that I don’t have time to name to help heal and bring the body back to homeostasis.

The other claim that is made in the article is about the cortisol response to endurance exercise. The article states that cortisol is produced from endurance exercise. Let me just be one to say umm… duh. I’m sorry, that was super mean but seriously, of course endurance produces cortisol. So does any other exercise, stress from work, sunlight, a car pulling out in front of you, and anything that is considered a “stressor” once again. This is why cortisol is known as the stress hormone. Now this is not the time to do an entire lesson on cortisol, but seriously it is my favorite hormone and I have done a ton of research on it with myself and in the lab. Basically when cortisol increases, it increases our blood glucose in order to get fuel to where it needs to be, this is why it is called a glucocorticoid; “gluco” as in glucose, and “corticoid” as in a steroid hormone. Now it is true that endurance exercise increases cortisol, but the fact that a person enjoys endurance exercise can actually lower their stress throughout the rest of the day which would decrease resting cortisol. So it is a give and take with this one. The author also talks about how cortisol lowers testosterone which has to do with something called the “pregnenalone steal” which is an article all in itself so I won’t even go into that one.

The last thing that the author talks about is telomere activity. This actually has to do with our DNA. Telomeres are on the ends of our chromatids. They have multiple functions and are being heavily researched as a cause of aging. The best way to describe what is happening with telomeres is to think of two pac-man eating away at the ends of a stick that has a rubber tip on each end. The stick is the chromatid and the rubber tips protecting the ends are the telomeres. The author claims that endurance exercise speeds up the rate at which the pac-man eat away the rubber. The research looking in to this is really wishy washy and although I did very well in molecular genetics in college and have my own opinion, no one is truly certain what is happening with this.

Since I was asked my thoughts on the article, those are my thoughts. I’m not saying that endurance exercise is bad and I’m not saying that it is good. I am saying that it is far more health beneficial than sitting on the couch all day. Endurance exercise poses just as many threats as any other exercise such as weightlifting or volleyball. There is the chance that endurance speeds up aging, and there is also the chance that interval training increases aging, heck there is even a chance that walking increases the chance of aging simply because you are at a higher risk of getting hit by a car (which would shorten your life and obviously increase aging). Endurance comes with just as many risks as any other exercise and just as many risks as sitting on the couch. The difference is that all types of exercise do produce more benefits than sitting on the couch. Each thing in life comes with risks and rewards and although there are a thousand reasons telling you not do something, the only thing that really matter is the one thing in your head telling you that there is a good reason you are doing it.

Prevent the Puke Bucket

If there was just one thing that every exerciser could relate to it would have to be the ever so prevalent heavy stomach during a workout. You know what I’m talking about, this is the full belly of a meal that was eaten way too close to a workout, and now instead of feeling light and agile while exercising, you feel like there is a cinderblock attempting to be digested in your stomach pushing up into your fundus and weighting you down like a boat anchor. The harder you exercise the worse it gets because now instead of going down, the meal from hell just wants to bust through your esophageal sphincter and give you a second taste of everything you already ate. This may be a little over exaggerated but it really sucks trying to work out when you constantly have to hold back the “loaded burp” that may or may not bring surprises with it. Luckily new research gives light into a cause to this gastric dismotility and an extremely simply solution to the bubble guts during a workout.

There are a number of reasons why your digestive system fights back when you eat the wrong things before exercising or just don’t leave enough digestive time before working out. I alluded to a few of those reasons in a previous ARTICLE, but the major causes have to do with movement and blood. Movement just refers to the actual food moving around in your stomach, like if you were to chug a bunch of water and jump up and down to hear the water slosh. Blood on the other hand (or lack of) causes so many issues when it comes to a queezy belly during a workout is because it has a great habit of being shunted away from your digestive system during exercise. This is really no surprise considering the amount of blood being required by your muscles during a workout.  But this is a good thing, think of it this way, our bodies really can’t tell the difference whether we are running on a treadmill or running away from a hungry herd of lions, so instead of bringing blood to our stomachs to digest a meal, our bodies are going to bring the blood to our muscles to get us the hell out of dodge so that we can survive long enough to digest the food. The second part about blood that causes digestive issues has to do with acidity. When we work out our bodies produce lactic acid, this lactic acid immediately dissociates into lactate (to be used as fuel) and a hydrogen ion. The hydrogen ion is what causes the problems because it increases the acidity in your blood.

The acidity that builds up in the blood has been shown to actually slow down the rate of digestion. So not only does that food sit like a rock in your stomach, the rock just keeps getting heaver the harder you exercise. How nice of our bodies to do that to us… But luckily there is a solution to the acidity problem as it pertains to slowing the digestive system down! I’ll give you a hint, it is found in your pantry and not used too often in cooking, and it’s a white powder that can be used for almost as many things as duct tape… That’s right, baking soda! Good ol’NaHCO3. According to This study, just a spoon full of baking soda helps the partially digested food go down.

This may not seem very monumental to some, but for those that suffer from the horrors of digestive issues while exercising, it may just be enough to help them get through all of their workouts without having to yack in the puke bucket. I’m not saying that upchucking during a really hard workout is necessarily a bad thing; it just isn’t good when it happens every time. So that’s it for the new research on digestion while exercising. Ingest some baking soda (preferably mixed with water) before you work out and it may just save you a trip to the potty or the puke bucket.

Supplement Safety… And Almost a Coma

The funny thing about supplements is that there is relatively NO regulation with them whatsoever. Any Joe Blow walking down the street can decide that he wants to start his own supplement company, fill a bunch of pill cases with corn starch and put them on the shelves selling them as “Magical weight-loss in bottle”, hell he could even market them saying that corn doesn’t have any fat so taking this pill will get rid of your fat too… On the flipside, any Jane Doe walking down the street can also go into a vitamin/supplement shop and purchase any supplement she feels compelled to buy that day. She may have decided that she was forming testicular cancer that morning, and thanks to 15million sites on the internet listing symptoms, she is now certain her imaginary balls have a lump. So naturally she goes into the store, purchases everything on the shelf labeled to get rid of testicular cancer and begins ingesting supplements that could have some serious side effects. My point being that although there are many supplement companies true to their ingredients and a somewhat clear list of side effects starting to emerge, there is still a lot of hocus-pocus in the vitamin/supplement industry that can be very dangerous.

I recently received a number of questions about weight-loss supplements, specifically on which ones are the most potent, which ones actually work, which ones are a joke, how much can you safely take without sudden death, and which brands are the safest. There were even a few questions about how fast weight-loss would occur if someone were to take all of the supplements at once. Whenever addressing questions like the ones mentioned I always begin by rambling a bit about the safety portion and actually getting tested for deficiency, but this tends to make eyes glaze over and turn into a lullaby about vitamins so instead of the typical boring lecture, I did a quick little experiment in order to prove a point that you need to be absolutely sure that you have a true deficiency or condition that warrants the use of the supplement before just taking anything on the shelf.

To do this I of course went to the natural health shop and purchased a hefty amount of supplements that were under the “weight-loss” section. To give a disclaimer, I have done a fair amount of research on blood glucose and insulin in the phsio-lab so I wasn’t just “that guy” that walked in and bought everything in sight, there was a method to the madness. After walking out with a lighter wallet, I had a fun party bag filled with Bitter Melon extract, Garcinia (hydroxycitric acid), Gymnema, Chromium, and Vanadium.

Now on to the fun (I use that word lightly) part. After fasting for only 8hrs, I simply took each of the supplements. I won’t say the dosage of each just to be on the safe side since I AM NOT RECOMMENDING THIS, in fact I am doing the opposite, DO NOT DO THIS! All of the supplements taken work to lower blood glucose levels and this is exactly what happened. Bitter melon is proposed to work by suppressing the liver enzymes glucose-6-phosphatase and fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase. It also is touted to increase insulin production. Garcinia is proposed to decrease glucose absorption in the small intestine. Gymnema works because it has a molecular structure that is similar to glucose which binds to glucose receptors in the small intestine. It also works by increasing insulin levels as well. Chromium’s mechanism of action is still poorly understood but has shown to increase insulin levels. And Lastly Vanadium is also still poorly understood but has been shown in studies to mimic the effects of insulin, thereby decreasing blood glucose levels.

For anyone still awake after that mini physiology lesson, here’s what happened. Just as planned my blood sugar crashed, I mean hardcore plummeted like a boulder falling into the Grand Canyon on a day with extra gravity. It started with a slight feeling light-headedness, and then the sweats began. I began uncontrollably sweating; it was as if I was standing in a shower just sitting there. Sweat was pouring off of my face and my shirt was completely sweated through. Luckily I had my glucose meter handy so one little prick from my finger confirmed that my blood glucose was at a boasty 37 mg/dl. One more check on another finger confirmed 37 mg/dl at which point my eyes began to roll back into my head as tunnel-vision was in full force. Now this is why I said it can get extremely dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing with supplements. Left alone and I would have been in a coma as these levels would have required an IV of dextrose if I was in the hospital. But since I do not have diabetes, a nice dose of sugar bumped my blood glucose back up in a jiffy. A hefty amount of table sugar under the tongue and almost a half of gallon of apple juice did the trick to get back into the normal range.

Not Fun

Not Fun

Hopefully that little experiment from hell serves a point to answer some questions on the safety of supplements. Sure it is unlikely that anyone would go and buy all of these and take them together, but there is nothing stopping someone from walking up to the shelf labeled “weight-loss” and buying one of everything in an attempt to lose as much weight as possibly as quickly as possible. So next time anyone is looking into any supplement that actually works, be damn-well sure that you are actually deficient in that vitamin or actually have the condition that requires the given supplements. Again I DO NOT RECOMMEND doing any type of experiment like the one mentioned before, it is not safe at all and can be extremely dangerous. The outcome of my experiment was known from past research and the “antidote” was ready with plenty of precaution taken.  Oh ya, and try googling “google gravity” and pressing “I’m feeling lucky”, I just figured that out and seriously geeked out for like an hour.