How Much Exercise is Enough? How Much is Too Much?

Everyone’s exercise tolerance and fundamental needs are going to be unique, but there are a few things we can generalize. I think there is a minimum that almost everyone will need to meet in order to be metabolically healthy, and also a point at which exercise stops being helpful and becomes harmful. Between those two points is the potential for individualization and experimentation.

How Much Do You Need?

There’s actually been quite a bit of research into the health benefits of exercise and how much exercise is necessary to experience those benefits, and currently it appears that the amount necessary to support metabolic and cardiovascular health is fairly modest. This is good news for people who have a hard time getting motivated or who don’t enjoy it, or who simply don’t have a lot of time. The current, evidence based recommendations that virtually every reputable public health agency have adopted are as follows:

  • 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise (such as hiking or brisk walking)

OR

  • 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise (such as running or spinning)

AND

  • full body resistance exercises twice a week (such as weight lifting or even yoga. These activities can be included in the 150 or 75 minutes above if they elevate your heart rate adequately).

You can meet these minimums in five 15-30 minute sessions, depending on the intensity you work at. The higher the intensity of your workout, the shorter it can (and really should) be.

For more information on how to determine the intensity of your exercise, check out my ‘Walking for Health and Fitness’ post.

How Much is Too Much?

Determining what is ‘too much’ is much less cut and dry. Clearly there are people (like Ironman Triathletes and Ultra endurance runners) who thrive on large volumes of exercise. But it is possible to exercise too hard, or too much. Overtraining is a real condition, with a pretty well defined set of symptoms, although it can be difficult to diagnose it properly.

The objective symptoms of overtraining include: changes in heart rate response, elevated cortisol after exercise, reduced reaction time and performance, and immune suppression. The subjective symptoms include: changes in mood, sleep disturbances, perception of stress and changes in self perception.

Researches have reached somewhat of a consensus regarding the classification and stages of ‘overtraining’, as follows:

Overtraining‘ is a catch-all term to describe the process of intensified training leading to decreases in performance. The first stage of overtraining is ‘Functional Overreaching‘ in which performance suffers but resolves after adequate rest. ‘Non-functional Overreaching‘ is a decrease in performance and psychological and neuro-endocrinological symptoms that resolve after adequate rest. And ‘Overtraining Syndrome‘ is a longer term decrease in performance (more than 2 months) accompanied by more severe objective and subjective symptoms of overtraining.

Diagnosing

It is important when attempting to diagnose overtraining to rule out other psychological or physiological illnesses that could be producing these symptoms. There are MANY conditions that could be present, from endocrine disorders to nutritional deficiencies to infectious disease to eating disorders. Like other troublesome self-diagnoses (Sugar Addiction, and Adrenal Fatigue for instance) the danger in self-diagnosing and treating is that there may be a real illness present for which inaccurate self-diagnosis hinders appropriate treatment. In my opinion and experience, when a non-athlete is experiencing these symptoms it’s far more likely they’re dealing with a nutritional deficiency or an eating disorder than true overtraining. Getting proper diagnosis and treatment is vital or the problem will only get worse.

Some signs to watch for that could indicate that there could be a physiological, psychological or overtraining problem developing:

  • insomnia
  • anxiety and/or depression
  • changes in self perception
  • fatigue
  • increasing anxiety about and/or attention to your weight or body shape
  • decreases in exercise performance
  • more frequent colds and infections
  • slower recovery after exercise
  • loss of interest in workouts, decrease in enjoyment and sense of accomplishment

Treatment

For the vast majority of people, allowing adequate time between workouts for recovery is all that is necessary to prevent overtraining. Your individual recovery requirements are unique, the best thing you can do is monitor your energy levels and sense of enjoyment during workouts. If you are dreading exercise you used to enjoy and counting the minutes until it is over, or feeling a lack of accomplishment after workouts that used to make you feel awesome, take a few days off, and dial back the intensity of your workouts until your enthusiasm returns.

Who Needs to Stop Exercising

In some cases, complete rest is indicated, but in my opinion these cases are pretty rare. Exercise is so fundamentally important to healthy metabolic function that I think complete rest should be reserved for those who have the clinical symptoms of overtraining,and/or those who are dealing with metabolic adaptations to starvation. People who need to completely stop exercising are sick enough that they need to be under medical supervision anyway. Most people can prevent overtraining from progressing to Overtraining Syndrome by resting adequately between workouts and reducing the intensity of their activity.

If you feel like you’re dealing with something more than a temporary bout of fatigue, or resting doesn’t improve your symptoms, see a doctor. Get a referral to an endocrinologist and/or a therapist, and get tested for the psychological and physiological effects of overtraining. And keep an open mind to the potential that it might not be overtraining, that it might be a psychological issue. Getting an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment will ensure you won’t waste time and money treating an illness you don’t have. Follow the advice of your medical professional if you find yourself dealing with these issues. As I said above, self diagnosing, or relying on an internet personality for diagnosis, puts you in danger of not getting appropriate treatment. This is a fairly big problem, as overtraining is a trendy diagnosis these days. These symptoms should not be taken lightly.

Most people will do just fine with regular, moderate activity in the form of walking, cycling, or casual social sports activities and some basic resistance exercises a few times a week. People who enjoy more vigorous forms of exercises will likewise do fine as long as they make sure to give their body proper recovery time and eat enough to support the added demands of their training.

Read More On the Topic:

American Heart Association Activity Recommendations
World Health Organization Activity Recommendations
CDC Activity Recommendations

Diagnostic Tools for Overtraining
Scientific Methods for Diagnosing Overtraining
Early Warnings of Overtraining

Animal VS. Plant Protein: Which Is Better?

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 7.26.08 PMSorry kids, it was a trick question. Neither is better. Everything is contextual. Animal protein is better for some people, and in some situations, and vegetable protein is better for some people and in some situations. And in other situations, it’s a wash.

Researchers at the University of Tampa compared the effects of either whey or rice protein on muscle recovery, body composition and strength increases in 24 men (matched for age, body mass, strength, and resistance training experience) over an 8 week resistance training protocol. Each subject consumed 48 grams of either rice or whey protein post workout (this is a large dose, which is relevant. I will explain below.). Their diets were matched for macronutrient ratio and appropriate calorie intake, and were supervised by a registered dietician.

The results showed no statistical difference in body composition, recovery, or strength improvement between the two groups at 8 weeks. From the study:

“Rice protein isolate consumption post resistance exercise decreases fat-mass and increases lean body mass, skeletal muscle hypertrophy, power and strength comparable to whey protein isolate.”

I mentioned above that the large dose was important and here’s why: previous research has shown that at lower doses, animal protein produces superior body composition and strength improvements to plant protein. It has been speculated that it might be due to levels of certain amino acids, specifically leucine, which are proportionally higher in animal protein. This study sought to answer the question ‘If the subject is getting an adequate dose of leucine, does the source of protein matter?’ The answer, according to this study, is no. As long as the subject is getting adequate leucine (2-3 grams), the source of the protein doesn’t matter for body composition and strength improvements. A 48 gram dose of rice protein post workout provides adequate leucine. It is only at smaller doses that source matters.

The take home message here is that if you are using plant protein to support your training, make sure you’re getting enough total protein to meet that 2-3 grams of leucine benchmark. On average it will take about 35-45 grams of plant protein to get 2-3 grams of leucine, with some variation depending on what specific plant source it’s from. In theory, you could also supplement with leucine, although I have never tried this. Don’t worry, the claim that the body can only assimilate 30 grams of protein at a time is a myth.

From personal experience, the more you rely on plant protein, the more you need to pay attention to making sure you’re getting an ample amount. This doesn’t make plant protein inferior, it just means you need a little more of it to meet all your needs. I get most of my protein from plants (I like plant foods better), and I haven’t had any trouble with recovery or building lean mass. I do pay attention to protein intake, and aim for about 150 grams a day (which works out to a bit less than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight) from a combination of whole food sources and a protein supplement (this is the one I use). I have never gone to the trouble of counting specific amino acids, I just aim for an adequate total protein  intake. I don’t think it’s necessary to get this granular unless you enjoy geeking out on your diet. Just get enough protein over the course of the day and you’ll do fine!

If you’re curious, this is the whey protein used in the study, and this is the rice protein.

Fitbit Aria

Guest Post: What is a Personal Trainer Supposed to Look Like?

Today’s post is by my friend Bree, a personal trainer based in Sydney, Australia. You can find her on facebook, and she’s a fixture in the Eating the Food facebook group. Thanks for your wise words, Bree!

_______________________________________________

First things first- thanks Amber for even considering that this post was worthy of being featured on the Go Kaleo blog. I tried blogging, but I’m not very good at it. To be honest, I’m an absolute wuss when it comes to revealing too much about myself. Which is why I’m way too pathetic to post this somewhere like my own blog where only my family, friends and colleagues might see, because this is about something that is very personal to me and is a topic that I will do anything to avoid discussing ‘in real life’: my weight. And how my weight is perceived by the industry I work in, which forms the basis of the love/hate relationship I have with that industry.

I’m a personal trainer. I wanted to be a trainer for many years, but kept putting it off. I’d lost a lot of weight and had been on a personal journey (like most people who change their life habits) but never thought I had ‘the look’. For seven years I waited until I had abs. I was so worried about how I would be judged, and thought surely my training business would fail if I didn’t look like the model on the cover of a fitness magazine. The abs never came, despite my best efforts, but as I reached my 30s, I realized that if I kept putting certain limitations on myself, I might never get to have a career that I was passionate about.

This week I had a conversation with a fellow personal trainer that triggered every one of those insecurities that stopped me becoming a trainer for so long. It highlighted the judgement that can silence the voices of those in the industry who genuinely love fitness, health and exercise and want to share that passion. We were talking about the new Zumba instructor at our gym, and how much the class numbers had dropped. Zumba has never been popular here, but the old instructor had worked the floor and recruited as many participants as possible. The  trainer I was talking to saw the cause of the drop in participation as something very different. She blamed the new instructor’s appearance. “She is disgusting… Who would be inspired by someone who looks like THAT?”.

Despite the temptation to reach out and punch my colleague, I went silent. Why? Because this hit home.

The new zumba instructor is probably an Australian size 12-14 (US 8-10). She’s Latino, with a body that is built for shimmies and serious booty shaking. Damn it, even her hair whip has attitude. Every moment of her class is filled with a joy and energy that embodies the enthusiasm of Zumba (and having spent three days at a convention across from a Zumba stage, I know a lot about the enthusiasm of Zumba). I’ve watched this instructor dance and thought ‘that chick can move!’ Sadly, to some in the fitness industry, her skill is irrelevant. Skill alone is not enough to make her a good example for those she teaches. This hurts me. Because just like that Zumba instructor, I do not have the ‘right’ look. I am overweight, my thighs touch, I have cellulite.

This whole scenario has spun around in my head for a few days and has made me angry. I am angry at myself. My own paranoia, that not fitting the widely held stereotype of how a personal trainer should look, damages my business. It stops me from approaching people in the gym, because I often think ‘who would want to look like me?’ I am incredibly fit, healthy, and can lift like a demon. All inspirational things. And I am a damn good trainer who really cares about my clients and has helped them reach their goals. But I have gained seven kilos since December 2012. The judgmental element of the fitness industry expressed by my colleague this week makes it tough for me, every single day, to show that I have more to offer those I train, or could potentially train, than my weight gain.

It also upsets me because I know how hard it is to walk through the doors of a gym for the first time. You think everyone is looking at you. You think about how different you look from everyone else in the gym. You already think you are being judged because you don’t ‘look fit’. I’ve walked through the same turnstile for eight years as a gym member, and now as a fitness professional, and I still feel it. The last thing you need is some trainer staring you up and down, making you feel like you don’t belong. That is not what personal training is about. It is not why I joined the industry. And I don’t believe that most fitness professionals enter the industry to just train the so called ‘body beautiful’. We join it because we want all people to learn how much exercise can make you feel awesome, and help you lead a long, productive, quality life. I want those of us in the majority to stand up and outshine those who make you feel that you are not good enough, because you don’t have body fat under twenty percent, or your boobs jiggle when you run.

I want every reader to understand, there are people in the fitness industry just like you. We don’t always look perfect, and we have factors in our lives that mean exercise and diet aren’t always our top priority. This year, my mother has been diagnosed with cancer, my father died, I suffered a major injury to my wrist that is going to involve a six month recovery period and I started a new business. The last time I gained a lot of weight it was during a time of major upheaval, just like this time. There are, quite simply, times when food prep and training aren’t especially important. Sometimes it is just about getting through the day. I’m sure many of you understand what that is like.

Please don’t think we look at you and think ‘lazy/not good enough/slacker’. Please do not think that all of us believe in the ‘no excuses’, train-until-you-spew model of fitness. Most of us believe in healthy balance, and that is what we want most for you to have in your life. Fitness is about something much more important than your appearance. Don’t be like me and allow the real and imagined judgement of others to limit you. There are many more fun, loving professionals like the Zumba instructor, than the narrow minded. Judge us on our passion, our experience, our empathy, our knowledge…just remember that our bodies, like yours, are shaped by our lives, and are not the sum total of our value as a trainer.

Taming the Weight Room 3: The Exercises

This is the third in this series. Find the first here, and the second here.

Picture 147

Now that we’re familiar with the basic weight lifting philosophies and the basic equipment, lets move on to the basic exercises. I will be approaching this from a strength-building philosophical standpoint rather than a body-building one, as that is what I focus on in my own training and that of my clients. Both philosophies will increase strength and produce aesthetic results. It’s really a matter of personal preference.

There are really only a few you need to know to get started. Once you’ve got those down, it’s easy to pick up new exercises, as most of them are variations on the basics I’m going to discuss today. Most exercises fit in to one of four categories, which are as follows:

1. Upper Body Pushes

These exercises rely primarily on the anterior (front) muscles of the upper body to push a load away from you. The press and it’s variations (including pushups) fall into this category.

2. Upper Body Pulls

These rely primarily on the posterior (back) muscles of the upper body to pull a load toward you. The row and it’s variations (including pullups) fall into this category.

3. Lower Body Pushes

These rely primarily on the anterior muscles of the lower body to push a load away from you. The squat and it’s variations fall into this category.

4. Lower Body Pulls

These rely primarily on the posterior muscle of the lower body to pull a load toward you. The deadlift and it’s variations fall in this category.

The simplest place to start is with these four basic motions. So that’s what I’m going to cover today. Doing one exercise from each of these categories will give you a full body workout that works all the major muscle groups (including your core).

The Press

The two main variations of the press are the Bench Press and the Shoulder Press. Both can be done with either dumbbells, cables or a barbell. Click on the links to see a brief tutorial for each exercise. Pushups also fall under the Press category and are an extremely effective exercise for building strength and muscle mass.

The Row

Two main variations of the row are the Bent Over Row and the Upright Row. These can be done with dumbbells, cables or a barbell. Pullups fall into the Row category and, like pushups, are very effective for building strength and mass.

The Squat

The Squat is one of the most effective and versatile exercises for building lower body strength and muscle mass. There are dozens of variations, but lets focus on the basic Squat form for now. Start with just your own body, and as you build strength you can add weight in the form of dumbells or a barbell.

The Deadlift

Everyone loves the Deadlift because it builds a killer booty! Start with dumbbells and work to get your form solid. When you are confident with your form, move to a barbell. You can also do Single Leg Deadlifts.

Putting a Workout Together

As I said, simply doing one exercise from each of these four categories gives you a very effective full body workout. When you are just getting started with weight lifting, this really is all you need. Sticking to the basics will give you a very solid base of strength and skill, and once you are competent with these basics you can add more variety and intensity.

I have my clients start with a basic 3 x 8 format: 3 sets of 8 reps. We stick to this for a couple months to establish that basic foundation of strength, and then begin to mix up the reps and sets. Here’s how I determine the proper weight for each individual:

Begin with a very modest weight and do a set of 10 reps of the exercise you’re working on. If that is easy, do a second set with a slightly heavier weight. Keep adding weight until you find the weight you can do 8 reps with, but fail before reaching 10. That is your ‘working weight’. Work with that weight until you can do 3 sets of 8-10 efficiently, and then add weight the next workout. This will happen quickly in the beginning. As you progress in fitness, your strength gains will slow down – this is normal.

So to recap: a basic beginner workout will include one exercise from each of the four categories I listed above. Start with a rep/set format of 3 sets of 8. You do not need to do dedicated core work if you don’t want to, as all of these exercises will strengthen your core by forcing it to do it’s job – stabilize your spine while the rest of your body performs a task (you’re welcome to include dedicated core work if you want, though. It certainly won’t hurt!)

Start slow and prioritize getting your form down solid. If you feel unsure of your form, consider hiring a personal trainer for a session or two to troubleshoot. Youtube can be a great resource for learning form.

If you’d like a more formal program, there are several I recommend. Nia Shanks has several really effective plans. Stronglifts 5 x 5 is simple, straightforward and effective. Starting Strength is pretty much THE bible for strength training basics. There’s also my First 100 Days and Basic Lifting Programs. Any one of these will give you an effective, simple foundation. You don’t need a formal program though. The fundamentals will get you really far! I always say, the basics are called basics for a reason: they work. And ultimately, they’re really all you need to get stronger and build functional and beautiful muscle mass.

 

Guest Post: Sorry, but Science Says Running is Good for You, Not Bad

When my friend Sol from Examine.com told me that he and his colleague Skip were working on a post examining the science behind some of the anti-running claims making the rounds of the blogosphere lately, I was excited to feature it here on my blog. I have a lot of friends and readers who will be very interested in their interpretation. Be sure to check out their website too, they offer some of the most sound, evidence based health and fitness information I’ve found on the internet. Enjoy! ~Go Kaleo

Why Women Should Not Run. Run and You’ll Only Die Tired. One Running Shoe in the Grave. Just a sampling of the anti-cardio articles we’ve seen in the past year.

Low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio has gotten a bad rap. Somewhere along the line, being fit and healthy got redefined to exclude endurance work. Long and steady cardio is now the height of boredom, a waste of time, and – worse yet – the antithesis of “gains.” No longer do we need to log endless miles to burn off stubborn fat (regardless of whether you enjoy cardio or not).

Hyperbolic? Not if you’ve read the plethora of anti-cardio articles these days.

Recently, an article titled Why Women Should Not Run, by John Kiefer, has been making the rounds. The article casts a damning light on steady state-cardio, seemingly with plenty of science to back it up. People see the high citation count, and immediately think that the assertions made must be true. Unfortunately, the citations it contains rarely relate to the statements that are made. Taking very specific studies and converting them into heavily generalized statements, the article is a testament to the lazy and sensationalistic “science-based fitness” that is currently running amok on the Internet.

“Why Women Should Not Run”

Before we get into claims and citations, there’s an underlying source of confusion throughout this article. The title is generalized to all women, and the author sets up a familiar example that could be applicable to many women: his friend “Jessica.” Jessica’s story is certainly one many women can relate to, or is at least something nearly everyone has seen or can envision.

However, as the article progresses we begin moving further and further away from this situation. The author mentions physique competitors and their coaches and portrays them as the source of his ire. As we move to the end of the piece, it focuses on binging, post-contest figure athletes. While this situation will be relevant to a few women, we’ve certainly moved a long way from the generality set up by the title and opening anecdote.

Speaking of binging, this brings up another area where this article is lacking – dietary control. The author goes to great lengths to set up cardio as a metabolism-halting, fat-gaining nightmare, yet never mentions the effect (or lack thereof) of one’s diet on this process. This highlights the possibility the author may be overstating the relative influence of LISS on the issue. If that’s the case, it’s ironic given the author’s previous writing against “exercise-only” weight-loss plans. To quote from the piece: “Succinctly: Exercise alone does not cause significant weight loss.”

Finally, the last general weakness comes from how the author quantifies the problem. Words like “over-prescribed,” “too much,” and “excessive” appear throughout this article to describe the amount of cardio these women are doing. It should go without saying, but “too much” is never a good amount of anything. In fact, it’s inherently a bad amount – too much water can kill you! What amount of cardio does the author use to highlight how much is actually too much? One to three months of 20+ hours per week. That’s three hours a day, every day. Done at a reasonable pace of 12 min/mile this equates to at least 100 miles/week. Unfortunately, the author provides no basis for the establishment of this threshold. No doubt there are women out there that log that much time, but how well does this relate back to our prototypical “Jessica?”

How many women do you know who log an average of 3 hours of cardio every day? If you do know one, is she fat?

Somehow, the anecdotal woman is a figure competitor and does 3+ hours of cardio every day.

 

“Science Wants You to Stop Running”

A main premise of this article is that too much cardio slows the body’s metabolism, especially in women. The author supports this claim with his first collection of citations:

the most detrimental effect of [steady-state] training—one that applies specifically to women: Studies—both clinical and observational—make a compelling case that too much cardio can impair the production of the thyroid hormone T3, its effectiveness and metabolism[1-11], particularly when accompanied by caloric restriction, an all too common practice.

In the first incarnation of this article the author took a much more hard-nosed approach on this idea, but softened the language due to initial critiques. Unfortunately, the current language is still misleading. We’re about to get science-heavy as we investigate these citations.

Five of the eleven citations used here to support steady-state training’s detrimental effects specifically in women relied solely on male subjects [4, 5, 8, 9, 10], and two of those used rats [8, 9]. A sixth looked at mixed subjects [3], though still weighted heavily toward males. When making claims about a specific population, we want studies that use subjects that match the target group as closely as possible. When sex differences exist, we cannot use male subjects to validate processes and outcomes occurring in women. If we ignore this error though and take the group of citations as a whole, it still portrays a very different picture than the one the author is attempting to paint.

The author’s citations highlight that there are responders and non-responders to exercise-induced declines in T3 levels (10 responders to 7 non-responders) [1]. So this problem of reduced T3 does not necessarily manifest in all women all the time. After the initial decline at the start of training seasons, T3 levels started to trend back towards baseline [1, 2]. Others report no change in T3 levels at all [3, 5], in direct contradiction to the author’s claim.

The citations state that T3 may initially decline, but it returns back to baseline. It is an adaptive response, not a permanent one.

 
The studies most relevant to this issue [6, 7] showed that it was not cardio alone – either low or high intensities – that impacted T3 levels, but rather an issue of energy availability. To quote the researchers:

“Neither the volume nor the intensity of exercise had any effect on T3 levels beyond the impact of the energy cost of exercise on energy availability.” [6]

And again:

“the results of this experiment suggest that exercising women may be able to prevent or to reverse [thyroid-related] reproductive disorders through dietary reform without reducing either the volume or the intensity of their exercise regimen.” [6]

In a follow-up study [7], the same authors determined a threshold level of energy availability below which T3 levels start to be affected, namely within the range of 19-25 calories per kilogram of lean body mass per day. The authors even propose a scenario where a woman similar to their subjects could inadvertently create such a situation: by reducing her energy intake by 450 calories per day while performing aerobic exercise equivalent to running 5 miles a day. Not an extreme situation.

The studies themselves found that that it was energy availability, not cardio per se, that impacted T3 levels.

 
However, what none of these sources show is steady-state cardio having a detrimental effect to weight-loss efforts, even in the presence of decreased T3 levels. To quote the authors of the first citation:

“Between the (–) responder and non-responder rowers, there were no significant differences in physical characteristics, training history, performance times, or hydration status… Furthermore, the changes observed in the (–) responder rowers for fT3, TSH and leptin were not significantly correlated with changes in body mass, percentage body fat or hydration status over the course of the study.” [1]

The author seems to think this is irrelevant, as he continues to paint a bleak picture by blasting out another twenty citations on T3, from its cellular effects to its role in fat loss. Yet these citations only illustrate the mechanics and influence of T3. They say nothing of its real-world effects on weight loss when steady-state cardio and caloric deficits are paired.

To be fair, there is clearly something going on with T3 here, and it does act in various roles throughout the body. But nothing the author has cited has identified anything to support the idea that cardio sabotages weight loss by decreasing T3 levels, even in the face of a caloric deficit.

The citations used not only showed no long-term decrease in T3 due to exercise, they also showed no negative impact on weight even if T3 was decreased.

 

“We Were Not Designed For This”

In the next section, the author continues with the supposed ill effects of steady-state cardio. Leaving T3 behind, we are now told that traditional cardio work alters the way your body burns fat; where muscles’ ability to burn fat is compromised, and the body takes extraordinary measures to preserve fat stores.

Training consistently at 65 percent or more of your max heart rate adapts your body to save as much body fat as possible. After regular training, fat cells stop releasing fat the way they once did during moderate-intensity activities[32-33]. Energy from body fat stores also decreases by 30 percent[34-35].

Papers 32-34 are all investigating the acute changes in the mechanics of fuel substrate utilization during exercise at differing levels of VO2max.

If you are not familiar with this idea, as the intensity of exercise increases the body tends to rely less on fat as the primary fuel source, and more on carbohydrate sources. The cited papers are investigating how this acute shift occurs and what factors mediate it. This is a normal physiological process.

Citation 35 shows the changes in substrate use after 12 weeks of endurance training. That study did indeed find that after twelve weeks of training, body fat stores were relied upon less to provide fuel for exercise – 30% less as correctly noted in the author’s article. However, this decrease is taken completely out of context.

Before the 12 weeks of training, the subjects did a pre-test. What the scientists found was that the test exercise (90-120 minutes of cycling at 63% VO2max) utilized carbohydrate sources to fuel 60% of the effort. The remaining 40% came from body fat stores (17%) and from fatty acids stored within the exercised muscles (23%). After the twelve weeks of training, the same test was retaken, and the researchers found that carbohydrate usage declined to 40% of fuel needs and body fat stores down to 13%. To make up the difference, intramuscular fatty acids provided nearly half of the energy requirements at 47%. The study basically found that carbohydrate usage dropped 33%, body fat storage usage dropped 28%, but intramuscular fatty acid usage went up 113%! This effect appears to be a normal adaptation to endurance training (1, 2, 3).

However, all the above effects are observed during exercise. Shifts in substrate utilization during an exercise bout are not as important relative to one’s caloric deficit for long-term weight loss goals (4, 5, 6). Endurance exercise does not induce fat loss on its own. It is used to create or augment a caloric deficit which then creates the desired fat loss.

Endurance training appears to increase the amount of total fatty acids burned during a moderate intensity bout of exercise.

 

To this end, your body sets into motion a series of reactions that make it difficult for muscle to burn fat at all[36-41]. Instead of burning body fat, your body takes extraordinary measures to retain it.

The first sentence is in direct contradiction to the previous sources given. Citation 35 found a 100% increase in fat use in muscles. Here again, papers 36-41 are investigating the pathways involved in fat metabolism and its use a fuel substrate. None of these sources show a link between endurance training and the muscles’ ability to burn fat beyond the normal transition to rely more heavily on carbohydrate oxidation as exercise intensity increases. The bold claim that the body takes “extraordinary measures” to retain body fat goes uncited.

The primary citation for cardio making it “difficult for muscle to burn fat” actually showed a 100% increase in fat usage in muscles.

 

The most critical statement, “instead of burning body fat, your body takes extraordinary measures to retain it” goes unsupported.

 

That’s not all. You can still lose muscle mass. Too much steady-state cardio actually triggers the loss of muscle[42-45].

The competing effects of muscular hypertrophy and endurance training are well researched. Simply put, you can’t be a top-tier bodybuilder and a top-tier endurance athlete. Just looking at real-world athletes will highlight this fact without the need to get into the underlying molecular processes, to say nothing of the time requirements. However, the choice of citations here is odd.

Paper 42 is a case study on a woman who ran 4500 miles across Canada over the course of 112 days (equivalent to 1.5 marathons a day). She did indeed lose lean body mass (LBM – which includes more than just muscle mass), nearly 7 lbs worth. She also lost just less than 30 lbs of fat. Averaging 8 hours of running a day, for almost three months, on a 1000 calorie/day deficit, this woman is doing everything the author is ranting against. Yet, amazingly she managed to lose a considerable amount of fat even though she must surely be below the T3 threshold established earlier. It’s unfortunate her thyroid levels were not also monitored.

In paper 43, the freshman rowers did lose 2 lb of LBM over the course of six months with ad libitum food intake. However, the World Championship Rowers studied alongside them showed no changes in LBM.

The subjects in paper 44 increased muscle mass after the 5-week training protocol.

Paper 45 did not include exercise, steady state or otherwise. It did, however, find decreased T3 and increased urinary nitrogen excretion in subjects that consumed a diet that only had 2% carbohydrate content for eleven days. Subjects consuming diets with 85% and 44% did not experience these changes. How that is relevant is unknown.

The claim made was “steady-state cardio yields a loss in LBM,” yet these papers either directly contradict the author’s main premise or challenge the inevitability of muscle loss from cardio.

 
What follows is another dump of citations blaming increased cortisol for muscle loss, name-dropping myostatin, and then leaping to decreased bone density because of all this muscle mass runners are supposedly losing. If that’s not a slippery slope, it certainly sets one up:

And long term health? Out the window, as well. Your percentage of muscle mass is an independent indicator of health[65]. You’ll lose muscle, lose bone, and lose health. Awesome, right?

Let this one sink in a bit. According to the author, running is detrimental to your long-term health because of all the running-induced muscle loss (even though his previous citations contradicted that claim). Forget about all the known benefits of endurance training; it seems the only thing that matters is muscle. The possibility that endurance running can help in other facets of health are not even considered. Without a doubt, lean tissue can be an indicator of overall health status, but health is not necessarily solely dependent on lean tissue. Furthermore, the author makes no distinction between the lean tissue and strength levels of endurance-trained individuals to their sedentary counterparts, the latter being the population these sort of epidemiological studies are based upon.

When sewn together, these phenomena coordinate a symphony of fat gain for most female competitors after figure contests. After a month—or three—of 20-plus hours of cardio per week, fat burning hits astonishing lows, and fat cells await an onslaught of calories to store[66-72].

There is no need to invoke aggrandized ideas about the detriments of steady-state cardio to explain the propensity of female figure competitors to gain fat after a contest. These women have spent the previous weeks and months training intensely and dieting down to unsustainable levels of body fat. Post-contest is typically a recovery period where training is dialed back, and dietary controls are slackened. Moving less and eating more isn’t exactly a novel scenario when it comes to fat gain.

Figure competitors diet down to unsustainably low body fat levels for competitive edge, not health. Rebounding to higher levels is healthy and even necessary. Previous running sessions are not to blame.

 

The worst thing imaginable in this state would be to eat whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. The combination of elevated insulin and cortisol would make you fat, and it would also create new fat cells so you could become even fatter[73-80.]

So this state (extremely lean, extremely stressed) is not a good place to be in to start binging. How does this relate to Jessica or “why women should not run?” This section seems to summarize more as “don’t overtrain and overeat.”

When diet is finally discussed, the examples given could only be classified as binging. The dietary protocol accompanying the observed rapid fat gain is described as 4000 calories of “gluttony,” “feeding frenzy,” and “devastation” – yet the author is still pointing the finger at excessive cardio.

“Science” by Citations

For some reason, many fitness writers tend to see the world in a binary of only black or white. There is no gray, there is no compromise. This bull-headed approach to fitness advice is overly restrictive and misleading. Absolutes are rarely valid in this field.

Thyroid hormones can vary significantly between people and even within an individual (7, 8). Even if depressed levels are found, the condition could present no symptoms and there is no agreement on appropriate methods of treatment (9, 10). The author’s own citations show we cannot lay the blame for declining levels (if and when they occur) on steady-state cardio alone, and even then, declining levels do not necessarily halt or reverse fat loss efforts. And it’s not only low-to-moderate intensity steady-steady cardio that affects your thyroid. High-intensity intervals have been shown to acutely decrease thyroid levels more than steady-state cardio (11, 12) and weight training isn’t completely off the hook either (13, 14).

Yes, running has been shown to decrease total lean body mass, but it’s also been shown to simultaneously increase lean mass in the limbs (15), and has been shown to have no effect (16) or even a protective effect (17) on age-related muscle loss. And while running may lose out to weight training for increasing bone density, it has been shown to improve it nonetheless (18, 19, 20, 21) and to outperform cycling and swimming (22, 23).

Meanwhile, improvements in health parameters (reduced blood pressure [24], increased insulin sensitivity [25], reduced liver fat [26], improved vasodilation [27], telomere protection [28], etc.) abound from regular endurance work that actually tend to result in reduced mortality rates (29, 30, 31).

That being said, there is some emerging evidence that you can do too much endurance training. Going overboard with steady-state cardio can lead one to the point of diminishing returns or even outright health detriments (32, 33, 34). People that generally engage in this level of endurance work, however, are rarely in it for the health aspect. Typically, sports performance is their ultimate goal, and often increasing one’s performance or ability in any sport comes at a detriment to overall health. This is the same situation figure competitors fall under.

Unfortunately, “too much” steady-state work has yet to be quantified, but it is safe to say that it is significantly higher than zero. For general health and fitness, moderate amounts of steady-state training can have a place in any comprehensive workout or training routine. It can complement and potentially enhance other aspects of one’s training (15, 35, 36, 37). That said, endurance training may detract from sport-specific goals, so each person needs to program their training accordingly. Despite many fitness writers’ claims to the contrary, there is no one-size-fits-all program that is optimal for everyone and their myriad goals or preferences.

And don’t forget that your dietary approach is integral to the success of your training. If fat loss if your goal but your diet is not in sync with that outcome, you will inevitably fail. The author used to espouse this himself, but seems to have forgotten it during the writing of his anti-cardio rant.

There is ample evidence that steady-state cardio has a plethora of health benefits. We’ve provided relevant citations above.

 

So is running bad for women?

In the end, the anecdotes and 79 citations in this article (one was listed twice) are a smoke screen to hide the precarious claim the author makes: that cardio above a walk or below a sprint is bad for you (especially if you are a woman). That women are destroying their metabolisms, losing muscle and bone mass, holding onto – if not adding – fat, and dying earlier from decreased health. Yet the evidence presented was poor and does not support the claims made. Fear-based marketing may get page views and sell your ebook, but the amount of sensationalism used was appalling. We would not expect to apply the physical/dietary habits of NFL players to the general male population, so why is it acceptable to do so for women and professional figure athletes?

It’s damning enough that the citations, when not outright contradicting the assertions made, seem to be cherry-picked papers and spurious links between mechanisms with all the blame being laid on cardio. Beyond that, the extreme example of 20+ hours

of cardio per week combined with binge eating is given to characterize the problem plaguing “Jessicas” in gyms across the nation, as if these two approaches are one and the same.

If anything should be taken away from John Kiefer’s article, it has little to do with running. What should be learned from this article is that a string of numbers after a claim does not automatically make it true. As a reader you should always check up on an author’s sources and come to your own conclusions after you’ve judged the evidence for yourself. If you were looking for an echo chamber to confirm your anti-endurance opinions, then the article was exactly what you wanted. But why mislead readers with contradicting or tangential citations? Why talk in certainties when none exist? Why use small, unrepresentative populations to generalize to the average woman?

Only the author can answer these questions.

Steady-state cardio has been shown numerous times to have many health benefits leading to decreased mortality risks. Sure, “too much” (so far quantified only as “long term and excessive” amounts typically used by competitive, extreme distance athletes) is not good for you and can be detrimental to general health and fitness goals. But for all the Jessicas out there, moderate amounts can easily be included in a well-rounded routine to complement fat loss goals or general health pursuits.
That said, steady-state cardio is not a requirement. If someone doesn’t want to do it or doesn’t like it, there are other alternatives that can be used. What this all boils down to is this: If you enjoy running and feel it benefits you and your training, and aligns with your goals… then keep on running.

When reading the actual scientific papers referenced by John Kiefer, there was actually no evidence that the cardio that the average “Jessica” partakes in has any detrimental effects; if anything, there is a vast amount of scientific evidence that it is helpful.

 
Skip Bouma and Sol Orwell contribute to Examine.com, where they help make sense of scientific research across health and fitness.

Taming the Weight Room 2: The Equipment

This is the second in a series of blog posts, you can find the first here.

Today I’m going to give you a ‘tour’ of a typical weight room, familiarize you with the equipment you will find there, and give you some tips for finding your bearings in this unfamiliar place. When you know what the equipment is for and how to use it, it’s a whole lot less intimidating!

There are two main categories of weightlifting equipments: free weights and weight machines. Many people feel more comfortable starting out on machines, so we’ll start there.

Weight Machines

Weight machines are large pieces of equipment that are used to work one muscle or muscle group in one motor pathway. Their appeal is that they are easy to use (you can usually find instructions for their use right on the machine) and reduce the risk of injury to the user. Both of these factors make them appealing to beginners, and machines can be a good starting point for someone just getting acclimated to the gym. They have drawbacks, however. Because they force the body into one motor pathway over and over, there is a risk of overuse injuries. And, because they isolate a single muscle or muscle group, they don’t allow the body to work as a unit and strengthen stabilizing muscles. If you do decide to start on machines, move to free weights as soon as possible.

Cable machines are very large pieces of equipment that utilize weight stacks connected to handles via a system of pulleys and cables. Cable machines are much more versatile than standard weight machines, and allow the body to work more as a unit, thereby allowing for improvements in core strength and stability. Most cable machines allow the user to do a wide variety of exercises.

Expert Village has a great collection of tutorial videos for using weight machines properly, find them here.

Free Weights

Dumbbells and barbells can be more intimidating to beginners, which is unfortunate because they’re far more effective for building full-body strength than machines. There are two main benefits to free weights:

They recruit more muscles. With free weights, you aren’t locked into one motor pathway, so your body is able to recruit more stabilizing and supportive muscles to accomplish the task of moving the weight. This allows your body to get stronger in more natural chains of motion, which translates to better real-world functionality. When you’re working in a standing position, free weights force your core to engage to do the job it is intended for: stabilization. The end result is that your core strength improves without needing to devote time to core isolating exercises. I do very little dedicated core work but have well developed abs nonetheless, because I do lots of free weight exercises that keep my core engaged to stabilize.

They’re more fun. Lets face it, for most of us, sitting in a machine and doing the exact same repetitive motion multiple times can be a little dull. Free weights provide more variety and challenge, and as you get stronger and more skilled you can advance to increasingly intricate moves, like snatches and clean and jerks.

Hiring a Personal Trainer to get you started with some basic coaching in form and proper use of weight equipment is a very good idea, but if it’s not an option there are lots of great resources to draw from. Exrx.net has wonderful exercise tutorial descriptions and videos.

Some basic free weight tips:
-the long barbell that you load weight plates onto is called an Olympic bar and its standard weight is 45 pounds
-when you calculate how much weight you’re lifting, include the weight of the bar
-the ‘Power Rack’ is the tall metal cage looking contraption used for squats. Some people call it the squat rack or squat cage. I found a great basic tutorial for it’s use here.
-use ‘clips‘ or ‘collars‘ to secure weight plates onto the bar
-most weight plates are made of metal and come in standard weights of 1, 2.5, 5, 10, 25, 35 and 45 pounds. Bumper plates are made of rubber and are designed for use in Olympic lifting and any lifting where dropping the bar during a lift may become necessary. They generally come in 10, 15, 25, 35, 45 and sometimes 55 or more pounds.

Other Equipment

Other equipment you may find in your weight room:

-Kettlebells are fun and a great way to add variety to your workouts. Exrx.net has great kettlebell tutorials.
-steps and boxes for box jumps, step ups and other exercises utilizing elevated surface
-sandbags – I love my sandbag. You can use it in place of a barbell or dumbbell for almost any exercise, and do other things like shouldering that you can’t do with standard weight training equipment.
-battleropes, agility ladders, medicine balls and more. If you find a piece of equipment you want to add to your routine, youtube is a great place to look for tutorials and ideas.

Hopefully this gives you a better sense of familiarity with the equipment you’ll find in a typical weight room. In the next installment of this series I’ll discuss the exercises themselves, and go over how to put a basic workout together. Stay tuned!

 

The Unspoken Reasons to Keep Moving

Popular culture and the fitness industry have distilled physical fitness down to two very superficial motivations: achieving a desired physique aesthetic, and burning calories. For many people, these motivations are enough to get them into the gym, but there are many, many people out there who aren’t motivated by these goals. Perhaps they are happy with their physique, or comfortable with their weight, or simply more concerned with other aspects of living. There is nothing wrong with this at all, and in fact I think being less concerned with one’s appearance than other important aspect of life is probably very healthy (please note that I am not suggesting that being concerned with appearance is therefore unhealthy; these are simply different approaches to living that are both perfectly acceptable).

For people for whom aesthetics and calorie burning aren’t major goals, exercise as it is framed in our culture may seem irrelevant. Today I’d like to talk about the less acknowledged, but probably more important, reasons for staying active.

Metabolic Health

I discuss Metabolic Health a great deal on my blog. It is a concept that is a little foreign to our reductionist society. Just as we tend to reduce food to a collection of nutrients, we reduce our bodies to a collection of organs and processes, imagining that each works in isolation. Our bodies are more complex than that. The body is actually an intricate system, all the processes of which affect and are effected by all the other processes. The function of this system is what we call metabolism. Popular culture has reduced ‘metabolism’ to ‘the number of calories the body burns’, but metabolism is far more than that. ‘Metabolism’ is actually every single chemical process of every single cell in your body. When one of those processes goes awry, it effects other processes and so begins a cascade of dysfunction.

Exercise is, in my opinion, one of the fundamental processes of metabolism. Exercise effects the body on a cellular level. Exercise helps regulate the ability of our cells to metabolize glucose and produce energy. Improved energy production has far reaching effects on all aspects of our health. This effect on the way our very cells function, our Metabolic Health, is, in my opinion, the reason exercise has been shown to be so powerful an intervention in the treatment and prevention of myriad health conditions.

Exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and mitigate symptoms of Diabetes. Exercise also improves the symptoms of PCOS and even lead to increased fertility. Higher levels of activity are inversely associated with risk factors for Metabolic Syndrome.

Exercise can reduce the risk and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Exercise can mitigate the pain and dysfunction of arthritis, both Osteo and Rheumatoid.

Exercise increases bone density.

Exercise is associated with a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.

Exercise also has numerous, less quantifiable quality of life benefits, such as increased confidence, higher libido and improved energy levels.

Ultimately, the kind of exercise one does is far less important than simply being physically active on a regular basis. Although there is a perception that we can only derive benefits from high intensity, vigorous activity, the truth is that simply walking more will produce improvements in health and well being. If walking more leads to other fitness goals, great! If not, walking is enough! As I say to my clients, you do not need to puke, pass out or die in order to get fit. Just moving enough to physically challenge yourself most days of the week is totally adequate to gain health benefits.

Our bodies evolved to move, and when we don’t move enough our bodies don’t function optimally. This has nothing to do with aesthetics or calories or weight. Is has to do with the health of our very cells, and the ways the systems of our body work together to support whole-body health. You try to eat a wide variety of foods to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy, remember that your body needs movement to stay healthy as well. Find an activity you like, so that you will stay engaged, and then enjoy the health benefits it brings!

 

 

 

 

Taming the Weight Room

My original intention for this blog post was simply to lay out some basic tips for getting started with weight lifting, form a ‘total newbie’ perspective. I asked for questions on my facebook page, though, and was so inundated with questions that I realized this will probably need to be a series of blog posts. Thank you for all the input you guys! I had no idea how needed this post was!

To keep things simple, today I’ll begin with a brief rundown of the benefits of weightlifting, and a brief description of the different forms of weightlifting. In future posts I’ll cover the basics for getting started, how to ensure proper form, a discussion of women and ‘bulking up’, and nutrition tips for supporting a weight lifting program.

First lets touch on WHY weight lifting is important. If you haven’t read my Strength Trianing For Women post on 180degreehealth.com, go do it now. In it I discuss the health benefits strength training provides, especially for women:

-increased bone density
-fat loss
-improved metabolic function
-lean mass preservation
-relief from anxiety and depression
-pain relief
-improved insulin sensitivity

And more.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets talk about some basics.

What IS Weight Lifting?

There are several different approaches to weight lifting and strength training. I’ll discuss some of the most common here.

Bodybuilding is focused on aesthetics, with a primary goal of building muscle mass and achieving a desired physique. A bodybuilding program typically will include more isolation exercises that focus on a specific muscle or muscle group; bicep curls and tricep extensions for instance. Workouts are typically dedicated to working a different body part each day, ie ‘leg day’, ‘bis and tris day’, ‘back day’ etc. Building mass and definition is a higher priority than building strength.

Powerlifting is focused on building strength. The primary goal of powerlifting is to lift the most weight possible in a single repetition, and there are three lifts that powerlifting focuses on: the squat, the deadlift and the press (usually bench press). Weights are heavy and rep ranges are usually low.

Olympic Lifting is the form of weight lifting that is featured in the Olympic Games. Like powerlifting, the primary goal is to lift the heaviest weight possible in a single rep, but the lifts are different. The Olympic lifts are the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch. Both involve moving a weight from the floor to overhead in one or two quick, explosive motions. Both are intricate lifts that require a high level of skill and athleticism.

Bodyweight Training is a form of training that utilizes the weight of a person’s own body to provide resistance to increase strength and muscle mass. Pushups and pullups are the bodyweight exercises you are probably most familiar with. Plyometrics are explosive bodyweight exercises, such as jump squats, that increase speed and power.

Circuit Training combines weight lifting exercises, bodyweight exercises and aerobic exercise in a fast moving, high intensity series of exercises, performed consecutively, with the goal of increasing strength, endurance and cardiovascular fitness.

Crossfit is actually a fitness company with thousands of affiliates around the world. Crossfit workouts include elements of powerlifting, bodyweight training, circuit training, Olympic lifting, gymnastics, and other modalities with a goal of building a broad base of competency and fitness across disciplines.

What is Best?

There is no ‘best’ form of weight lifting. Each discipline has it’s strengths, and the key is finding one that you enjoy and will be consistent with. No matter which one you feel drawn to, there will be people who will tell you it is ‘wrong’. People are as passionate about their exercise dogma as they are about their diet dogma. Any of the disciplines I listed above can provide the health benefits of weight lifting. It is important to find a competent coach to teach you proper form, especially when getting into heavy lifting. I’ll discuss how to find one in a future post.

My own training includes many of the disciplines I listed but if I had to classify it I’d say it is a combination of powerlifting and bodywieght training. That is what I enjoy the most. And enjoying what I’m doing is what keeps me engaged and consistent, and THAT is what is ultimately most important. So experiment, find what you enjoy!

Sugar and Diabetes Risk: Perspective on the Study

A few days ago, a new study on sugar and diabetes risk hit the news and BOY has it been exciting! Mark Bittman ran an op-ed piece titillatingly titled ‘It’s the Sugar, Folks‘ that has been widely circulated among the Real Food, carb-gnostic, and fad diet communities. It sure sounds, based on the press this study has received, that we’ve definitively proven that sugar is the culprit behind diabetes and other ‘diseases of Western Civilization’. Hooray! We have our answer. And a path forward is clear, lets simply eradicate sugar and all our problems will go away!

I’m not going to pick apart the study (you can read it for yourself here). I suspect others will do that better than I could (Alan Aragon, I’m lookin’ at you). And truth be told, this is the kind of study I like. It’s large and mathy. The study authors put a lot of thought into it and controlled for multiple factors that are frequently ignored. I’m willing to accept their conclusions at face value, because I think their conclusions are fair and well supported. What I’m going to do is put those conclusions into perspective so you can decide how to apply them to your life.

First, lets talk about what those conclusions are and what they’re based on. This study examined the statistical correlation between sugar availability (availability, not consumption. Although it stands to reason that consumption is probably reflected by availability) and diabetes prevalence on a population scale. That means that they measured how much sugar was available in a population’s food supply and correlated it with diabetes rates in that population. Lets frame that with something you’re familiar with: the BMI scale. The BMI scale measures the statistical correlation between weight-to-height ratio and mortality risk. Most people know that the BMI scale is actually a very poor indicator of an individual person’s risk because it takes only two data points (out of thousands) into account. On a zoomed out, population scale level, a pattern emerges that as a population’s average BMI increases so does it’s mortality risk, but it’s very difficult to apply that statistical correlation at an individual level because so many other factors come into play in determining an individual’s risk (such as genetics, physical activity, body composition, diet quality, medications, epigenetics, gut microbiota, etc). This study is showing exactly the same kind of zoomed out, statistical correlation.

The main conclusion of the study was that for each 150 calories of sugar availability per person in a population’s food supply, there was an increase of roughly 1% in diabetes prevalence in that population. 150 calories of sugar is about 1 soft drink, so basically, for every soft drink’s worth of sugar per person per day, diabetes risk went up 1%. Remember though, this is at a population level. It’s very difficult to apply this at an individual level because of mitigating factors (like genetics and physical activity and weight and body composition etc), but lets imagine that we can. Lets pretend that we can safely say that for every soft drink you consume a day, your diabetes risk increases by 1% (we can’t say that based on this study, we’re pretending here). Got that? Your diabetes risk increases by 1%.

Lets put that risk into perspective. This study found that low levels of physical activity conferred a 71% increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance (a precursor to diabetes) over high levels of physical activity across ethnicities, cultures and genders. In this study, inactive individuals had more than a 100% increase in prevalence of diabetes over those who got 150 minutes or more of exercise a week. In this study, inactive lean women were at twice (100% more) the risk of diabetes as lean active women, and obese inactive women had 16 times (1600%) the risk of lean active women. This study on almost 6000 men showed that for every 500 calories expended per week on physical activity (that’s like an hour of brisk walking), diabetes risk decreased by 6%. This study suggests that inactivity confers a 30% increased risk of Type 2 diabetes in women. These risk ratios make that 1% increase from sugar look pretty measly, don’t they?

My take on the whole thing? Sugar may be relevant. This study certainly raises some questions that should be further explored in clinical and epidemiological settings. I suspect, though, that sugar only becomes problematic under certain conditions and in certain individuals. That is certainly what my research has led me to believe. If you are metabolically healthy, regularly physically active, eat a nutritious diet and maintain a healthy weight and body composition, you probably don’t need to worry about having some sugar here and there. If you are NOT metabolically healthy, are obese, are sedentary or have a genetic predisposition to diabetes, you should probably be mindful of your sugar consumption (but you should ALSO be mindful of increasing your activity level, losing excess body fat, and optimizing your energy balance, as those things will improve your metabolic function and may ultimately make sugar much less of an issue for you).

Here’s the big problem with the way this study is being interpreted in the media: sugar is not THE problem. Sugar may be (and probably is, under some circumstances) A problem, one of many. But if we’re going to treat sugar as THE problem, and then ‘solve’ that problem by simply eliminating sugar, we’re missing the forest for the trees. Well, for one tree. A bush really. Inactivity is a bigger problem than sugar, and fixating on sugar gives the inactivity a free pass. To improve metabolic health we really need to address all the problems. Don’t get hung up on Sugar As The Bad Guy. You cheat yourself out of vibrant good health, and miss out on some yummy and perfectly appropriate desserts.

My Top Five Strength Training Tips for Women

Everyone else is doing Strength Training Tips for Women, so I might as well too, since I’m a woman and all. You really only need to know a few things and here they are:

1. There’s no such thing as ‘too big’ in regards to quads or shoulders or traps or backs or glutes or calves. You’re allowed to look however the hell YOU want to look. If someone else doesn’t approve it’s THEIR problem, not yours. It is not your obligation to try to please anyone other than yourself. If you want to be big and muscular go for it. If you don’t, don’t. It’s your body. If someone else thinks it’s appropriate to criticize your body for whatever characteristic they don’t approve of, they are aren’t worth your time and mental energy.

2. Most of the meatheads grunting and slamming weights in the weight room have no idea what the fuck they’re doing. Don’t let them intimidate you.

3. There are plenty of decent, considerate men in the weight room too. Those kind of men are happy you are there and will be supportive and respectful. Give them a chance to be awesome and they will!

4. You are stronger than you think you are. Just because lifting a 5 pound dumbbell 25 times makes you tired does not mean you aren’t capable of lifting a 25 pound dumbbell 5 times. You will get more out of lifting the 25 pound dumbbell. Trust me on this.

5. Eat the food. Eat it. You have a right to not exist in a state of semi-starvation. You have a right to be strong and healthy and have opinions and enough energy and mental bandwidth to stand up for yourself. You have a right to have a body that takes up space and makes a statement of presence and strength when you walk into a room (if that is what you want). You have a right to live to your fullest potential, and to pursue more meaningful goals than conforming to an aesthetic ideal. And it starts with finally allowing yourself to eat enough food to be healthy and strong and not HUNGRY all the time.

 

Whoops, that turned into more of a manifesto than a list of fitness tips. Am I sorry? Not one little bit.