13 Aug 2014
I’ve heard a couple of people over the past few years talk about cutting out carbs and sugar to such an extent that even the usually neutral fruit was eliminated. I’ve heard people reference bananas and grapes as “very high in sugar”, and something to be avoided. Now we all know sugar is the opposite of awesome for you and that cutting back on carbs and sugar can produce weight loss. But do you really need to cut the bananas to achieve or keep a healthy body?
Fruit vs. The Rest Of ‘Em
There is a fundamental difference between the sugar in fruit from the sugar in grains, baked goods, and sweetened beverages: FIBER. Yep, that fiber – the “gluten free” of the 1990′s. The thing is, fiber (along with protein and fat) modulates the rise in blood sugar following the consumption of sugar. (If you don’t recall the glycemic index, this should refresh your memory). Basically ,eating sugar alongside fiber slows the uptake of sugar by the body, thus lessening the insulin required to deal with it all at once. That burst of insulin needed to deal with the flood of sugar is what leads to insulin resistance.
There is also the point that the sugar in fruit is 100% natural and not added in or processed in any way.
The bottom line is, human beings still need carbohydrates to survive (yes, I know some people can function in ketosis. But that’s a lot of work and sounds pretty miserable to me. Right now I am talking to the 99% of people at the gym who want to be healthy without going bananas – pun intended). And whole foods like fruit, starchy vegetables, and the occasional unprocessed whole grain or plain dairy product can be a great source of those needed carbohydrates. Bananas make a pre WOD breakfast, grapes and watermelon are deliciously hydrating after a workout, and I find apple (with a little PB added) to make a satisfying snack. (Side note: I have warned about eating too much fiber before a workout in the past. The beauty of fruit is that while it has some fiber, it doesn’t have as much as green vegetables or fortified cereals or bars, so most people can generally eat some within 30 minutes of a workout and not experience any discomfort). Although, obviously, I wouldn’t recommend eating 10 bananas at the same time.
So basically – keep eating fruit guilt free. It’s almost peach season.
What are your thoughts on fruit?
Some of you may hear words like “energy systems pathways” and “glycogen stores” thrown around a lot. Or perhaps this is the first of them you’ve heard. Either way, the burn of today’s 1K followed by a mini version of DT inspired me to write about how the body converts stored energy into usable energy to rule your workouts.
A Quick Biochem Lesson
ATP. That sounds familiar right? Well, it should ring a bell from high school biology. ATP is a molecule found in all living cells that when broken down provides energy for a variety of cellular processes.
Pathway 1: The Phosphagen Pathway
This pathways is used for the first 10 seconds of exercise (so today on the rower, the first 5 or so strokes). This pathway draws on ATP stored in the muscle for about 2-3 seconds, then uses creatine phosphate to regenerate ATP until that runs out. This explains why creatine supplementation improves recovery and output for short duration, high power movements. For more on creatine you can read one of my previous blog posts. Movements that might utilize the phosphagen pathway are short duration at all out intensity (like a 100 meter sprint).
Pathway 2: The Glycolytic (Or Lactic Acid) Pathway
In this pathway, the body breaks down carbohydrates – both glucose readily available in the bloodstream or glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrate in the liver – to produce ATP as well as a molecule called pyruvate. Pyruvate can either convert to another molecule that is used to regenerate ATP or can convert to lactate, which forms lactic acid (and causes that burn in your legs when you’re sprinting or rowing). Conversion to lactate happens when your body needs more oxygen that it is getting. This pathway isn’t very efficient, producing little energy for the input, but the benefit is that it produces the energy quickly. Your body produces energy with this pathway from 10 seconds to around 2 minutes.
Pathway 3: The Oxidative (Or Aerobic) Pathway
This is the pathway often referred to as “fat burn”. During the oxidative pathway, the body uses oxygen along with carbohydrate and fat to produce energy. This pathway is used for long duration, low power and intensity exercise. Think of running 6 miles, rowing around the river for an hour (obviously slowly so you don’t tip the boat…) or chipper WODs like Eva.
An important thing to remember is that the pathways are not mutually exclusive. While it’s easiest to break them down into specific time slots, multiple pathways are used simultaneously. For example, in today’s 1K, the first few seconds were mostly the phosphagen pathway. After 10 seconds, glycolysis picks up as the predominant pathway, and the aerobic pathway takes over the lead at around 1-2 minutes. But if you look at the graph to the left, you can see how at 30 seconds for example, all three pathways are providing some energy.
Why You Felt So Bad After That 1K
Now that I’ve explained the pathways, it’s easier to understand. By the 4 minute mark (when the 1K finally ended for most of us), you’ve burned through pretty much all of your stored ATP and most of your glycogen, but your body has only been creating energy via oxygen and fat stores for a few minutes. You’ve spent most of your stored energy and not had the time for your body to replenish it on it’s own.
What Should You Do
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how, while a lot of sugar in the regular diet can cause problems, there are times your body needs a little, especially during training. During a WOD like today’s, where we red line for a specific test, and follow it up with another challenging workout, the body would benefit from taking some sugar. I would recommend about 15 grams of very easily absorbed carbohydrate, such as:
- Coconut water
- Sport beans
- Non-fat candy
You want to eat a little something to beef up your glycogen stores, but you don’t want ANY fat or fiber to slow digestion. Of course, I made it through the WOD fine without any carbohydrate in the middle (as did the 6 and 7 am classes), but if you plan on training longer afterward, or want to go harder on the 3 rounds of DT, the carbs can help.
One of the most confusing “no-no’s” of the paleo diet is beans and legumes. Most of us have grown up learning hat beans are healthy for us because of their fiber and protein content, and many vegetarians and vegans rely on them as a protein source. But, according to the founding fathers of the paleo diet, legumes are no good. But what exactly is a legume, and why can’t you eat it? (Hint: if you read on, you’ll see that you can).
What Are Legumes?
According to Merriam Webster, legumes are “a type of plant (such as a pea or a bean plant) with seeds that grow in long cases (called pods)”. The fruits and seeds of these plants that we eat are also known as legumes. The legume family includes beans, peas, green beans, and peanuts.
Why Aren’t They Paleo?
There are a few reasons the paleo community excludes legumes. A few of the big ones include:
1. They contain phytic acid/phytates, which are “anti nutrients” that block the absorption of vitamins and minerals
2. They contain lectins, a class of proteins thought to cause “leaky gut” in the shorter term and problems like arthritis and poor vitamin/mineral absorption in the longer term
3. Cavemen didn’t eat them
Why They’re Not The Devil
Sadly, a lot of the paleo blogs that explained why legumes aren’t paleo were written with a lot of doom and gloom. I closed out my Safari tab thinking my body was going to self combust if I ate a black bean tomorrow. But then I dug a little deeper and found out it’s not so black and white.
1. Phytic acid is the stored form of phosphorous. Phytic acid is often called an “anti nutrient” because it binds minerals in the digestive tract, forming phytate (a mineral bound to phytic acid). This does happen, although phytic acid can be broken down by several processes including fermentation, cooking, soaking, and sprouting. However, despite this drawback, there are some other benefits to phytic acid. When it binds minerals in the digestive tract, it reduces the formation of free radicals, making it like an antioxidant. It can also bind heavy metals (like lead or mercury), reducing their accumulation in the body. You can read this article from a great group of nutritionists and scientists at Precision Nutrition to see more benefits of phytic acid.
2. Lectins are a class of protein that binds to sugars. In humans, lectins facilitate cell to cell contact, and in plants they often act as a protection or insecticide. Lectin poisoning is a thing, if you happen to enjoy raw beans. When food passes through our guts, it causes minor damage that is usually easily repaired by the body. However, lectins can cause damage when they slow this repair. When that happens, the digestive lining doesn’t function as well as it should, allowing some undesirable substances that would normally be contained in the gut to pass to the body, and inhibiting the absorption of certain good substances like vitamins and minerals. This is what is referred to as “leaky gut”. If you eat too many lectins, your body will respond by trying to evacuate the gut – i.e. fun symptoms like diarrhea, cramping, vomiting, etc. Gut damage from lectin overdoes can also cause immune responses like joint pain and skin rash. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Like phytic acid, lectins can also be neutralized by processes like soaking and sprouting.
3. Actually, cavemen may have eaten legumes! A study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America looking at tooth decay in prehistoric skeletons found that neanderthals ate a diverse diet of available plants, including legumes. Although this study was in Neanderthals, it is widely thought that Homo Sapiens enjoyed am ore diverse diet than Neanderthals, meaning it’s likely they would have eaten legumes as well. I mean, it makes sense to me that if the could figure out tools and fire, they could figure out soaking, sprouting and cooking.
What Should You Do?
As I love to say in almost all of my blog posts, the impact of choosing to eat these particular foods will depend on a variety of factors, including your genetics, your current state of health, and how much of them you eat. I don’t think legumes should be entirely avoided, but I also don’t think you should eat beans and peanuts at every meal either. That would result in leaving out a lot of other foods with important nutrients – like grass-fed meats and eggs, or vegetables, fruits, organic dairy, etc – that you might otherwise enjoy. There are real concerns about lectins in very high doses (which is why they don’t offer to put Castor beans in your burrito at Chipotle), but a cup of green beans with dinner a couple of nights a month or the occasional hummus and carrots snack isn’t going to give you leaky gut unless you happen to be very sensitive to lectins (research shows individuals on the autism spectrum and those with Crohn’s disease tend to be more sensitive to lectin damage). If legumes are causing a problem for your body, more likely than not your body will inform you of this fact in the form of stomach discomfort, gas, joint pain, etc.
What are your thoughts? Do you eat legumes? Avoid them?
24 Jun 2014
There are many things throughout the day that cause us stress; work, family, traffic (especially this!), the foods we eat, exercise. And all of these stressors contribute to inflammation. Many of us may not realize that we are inflamed, but it manifests itself in such things as stiff muscles and joints, knots and swollen muscles, skin rashes, colds and other things you may not think of of as “inflammation.” Here’s a link to a good article written by Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple called “What is Inflammation?” Take note where he mentions that inflammation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s our body’s natural response to injury, pain, illness or stress.
While I could spend a lot of time discussing inflammation, I think Mark might be a little more qualified to talk about it more than I am. So, I’m going to use this opportunity instead to talk about a great way that I’ve personally used to reduce my inflammation. Most of my inflammation is the result of my training here at CFB. I eat a fairly clean diet (at least now I do), I have few external stressors in my life (did I get enough sleep last night before I had to wake up at O dark hundred to be in to coach?), and I have no major injuries (for now… thankfully). So my training leaves me pretty beat up. I am consistent with getting mobility work in every day, mostly because I know that it will make me feel better for my next workout. When I start getting to the point where I am spending almost an hour on mobility to get ready for a workout, I know that something has to give.
Luckily my training has some built in back-off weeks where I still do some work, but the volume is much lighter and it affords me the opportunity to focus on my recovery. During this time, I go in for a 60-90 minute massage (every month). This always gets me ready to do some solid work in the coming weeks, plus I always feel like a million bucks after I leave. I also increase my protein intake a bit for muscle recovery; eat a lot more fruits and veggies for their vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; and double my fish oil intake. See I know that the reason my muscles are tight and screaming at me every day is because they are inflamed from the work I am making them do for me day-in and day-out. Fish oil makes me physically feel better. My muscles become less swollen and my joints seem to lose their snap, crackle, and pop. Not to mention the other health benefits I reap from the increase in fish oil consumption.
When I went to Regionals to cheer on Carla, I did a little bit of booth hopping checking out all CrossFit products. I came across the Pure Pharma booth. I know them for their high quality fish oil, Vitamin D and Magnesium supplements. After a short conversation, I was asked if CrossFit Boston would like to carry their products to offer our members the benefits of their products. I brought this idea to Neal, and he said he wasn’t interested in carrying the products himself, but I could if I thought we had a need for it at the gym. And I did just that. I am now carrying Pure Pharma products at CFB. I believe we have some of the best protein we can get at CFB, and I wanted to carry something that we can all get benefits from. See I think (unfortunately) that a lot of members see taking a post-workout shake as something for a “competitive” CrossFitter. I don’t agree, but I think that we can all agree that EVERYBODY can reap the benefits of Fish Oil. That is why I decided to carry Pure Pharma. They are the best in the business, and it is in everyone’s interest to get the best stuff available to them.
I am carrying the entire Pure Pharma line. You can check it out here, and if you have questions, would like more information, or are interested in starting to see the benefits of these great products, you know where to find me.
18 Jun 2014
Today, I come to you with joyous news. Well, for me anyway. You see, as a registered dietitian and self respecting health professional, I just can’t stand Dr. Oz. I would venture to guess that many other health professionals worth their salt can’t stand him either, for multiple reasons. Allow me to explain.
Dr. Oz started out with such a great mission – use a celebrity platform to break down complicated medical information into easy to digest bits of information for everyday Americans. I’ve watched some of his early shows, where he explains plaque in the arteries using visuals and props. But then somewhere along the way, he started endorsing weight loss and other products. And all of a sudden this likable, easy to understand doctor was selling Americans on raspberry ketone extract and green coffee bean extract as a miracle, life changing weight loss product. The thing is, obesity and chronic disease are complicated conditions influenced by numerous factors to include genetics, hormone levels, environment, and lifestyle. It is impossible to lose weight or gain health without making at least some modest lifestyle change (and more often, modest changes aren’t enough). Even people who get weight loss surgery – once and maybe still viewed by many as a “cop out” – have huge lifestyle changes to make, like adjusting to significantly reduced portions, and taking protein and vitamin supplements to avoid deficiencies, all in addition to dealing with the emotional stuff everyone else trying to lose weight deals with. And even for the successful, weight loss is not miraculous. It often comes about via hard work and/or great sacrifice. You can’t just a vegetable here and there, walk on the treadmill occasionally, and miraculously lose weight due to some supplement/extract/miracle. It just doesn’t work that way. Yet Dr. Oz used his name and platform to essentially convince many Americans that it could. And while he never endorsed any specific product, when he calls raspberry ketones a “fat burner in a bottle” , people listen.
But yesterday, Oz had to face the music. Yesterday, Dr. Oz testified in front of the Senate Consumer Protection Panel on deceptive advertising for diet supplements and over the counter products. And Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri let him have it! It was great. I haven’t watched video yet, but she basically called him out on all the BS he’s sold people on his show. To read a recap and watch the video, check out the coverage from CBS News and Business Insider.
11 Jun 2014
Before your regularly scheduled blog post, a quick announcement:
SHOW TUNES WOD: Tomorrow morning, the 7 am class will WOD to a show tunes medley playlist, courtesy of long time member and local food expert Audrey. This WOD will also be a chance to say goodbye to running coach Rachel Weiker, who is moving to DC for work. Show tunes are non-negotiable but singing/dancing are optional.
I always encourage paying attention to what you eat. Read the labels on all 7 BBQ sauce bottles in the grocery store before you choose the best one. Ask the butcher if the meat is grass-fed or not, or if he knows where it came from. I even wrote about how it is OK to be a pain in the butt about your diet. But I also know that the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has recently written about “orthorexia nervosa”, a new type of disordered eating (but not yet an eating disorder) . Essentially, orthorexia is the obsession with eating otherwise healthy foods, or a “fixation on righteous eating” (according to an article on NEDA’s website). You might consider someone who brings a tupperware of eggs, bacon and vegetables to brunch at a restaurant with friends, or someone who will not eat if they are hungry because there is nothing healthy enough around, or someone who refuses to join friend socially because they will be tempted to eat/drink something unhealthy, as orthorexic. You might also consider this person “dedicated to achieving their goals”. It seems like it’s a fine line between “a fixation on righteous eating” and simply paying attention to what you’re putting in your mouth. It’s important to pay attention, of course. It’s also important not to abandon all social interaction and beat yourself up over a cookie every now and again.
What do you guys think? Is “orthorexia” a real problem, or should we all be a little more obsessive when it comes to our food?
04 Jun 2014
In a lot of science journalism, there is a lot of jumping to conclusions without really digging into the science. This week we saw headlines screaming about how diet soda can help you lose weight! So you should start drinking diet soda to beat those sugar cravings, right?
Not so fast my friend. There are a few things wrong with this study.
- The study only lasted 12 weeks, which is fairly short in terms of weight loss. Quite frankly, I don’t care how much weight you can lose in 3 months, I care how much weight you can lose in 3 years. Speaking of which,
- Several long term findings have contradicted this study, including the San Antonio Heart study, which found that every diet soda per day was linked to a 65% increase in the likelihood of overweight and a 41% chance of obesity over a 7-8 year period, and the Framingham Heart Study, which found that people who drank diet soda were still at risk for metabolic syndrome and high blood sugar.
- The study was funded by the soda industry. Now, not all studies funded by the man produce results that benefit the man, but most do.
Of course, correlation does not equal causation (unless you think the declining divorce rate in Maine caused the drop in margarine consumption nationwide), so associations between diet soda and weight gain don’t mean diet soda causes people to gain weight. But it means we should think about these associations, and what could be influencing them, before throwing a few 12 packs of diet coke in our carts. Because chemistry and biology aren’t the only things influencing weight gain, a lot of it is psychological and even economic (I addressed this a little bit in an earlier post on high fructose corn syrup). For example, some people swap regular soda for diet soda, and figure that justifies an extra cookie after dinner. Other people struggle with emotional eating, and swapping Pepsi for Pepsi One isn’t going to address that problem. On top of all that, diet soda is full of artificial sweeteners of questionable safety (especially in high doses). The point is, there’s a lot more that goes into health and weight loss than swapping one thing for another, and all of these things should be considered.
What are your thoughts on diet soda and the beverage industry’s contribution to the fight against the obesity crisis?*
*The second part of this question brought to you by the fact that I have started reading Salt Sugar Fat and am curious to hear others thoughts on the topic.
28 May 2014
Two weeks ago I wrote about how there are really no sugars that are healthier for you than other sugars. The gist basically is that added sugar (so, not the kind you get from fruit) isn’t all that great for you and should be included in minimal amounts in your diet. In the comments section, coach G2 made a good point about how sometimes during longer workouts, sugar can be a good thing. To build on that, I want to talk a little about when taking some nutrition during your workout is a good idea and some of the better sources.
When Do You Need A Sugar Fix Mid WOD?
For most class WODs, which consist of about 6-30 minutes of metabolic conditioning and 0-15 minutes of strength, you won’t need to eat carbohydrates during as long as you’ve eaten something beforehand. Generally you will need additional carbohydrates during your workout when it is longer than 60-90 minutes or very high in intensity. (I’m talking about a 7 mile run, 90 minutes of Olympic lifting, or following a 60 minute class with another 30-60 minutes of strength or gymnastics work, not 70 minutes cursing on the elliptical or bike).
Eating carbohydrates during a longer, more intense workout helps prevent drops in blood glucose and liver glycogen (stored form of carbohydrate), and may improve motor skills. What this means is, you will be able to continue exercising at greater intensity and with better coordination and accuracy over the longer term (like I said, over 90 minutes) when you eat carbohydrates during your workout than when you do not.
How Much And What To Eat
During a workout, the recommendation is to take in 30-60 grams of carbohydrates every hour, in small increments every 15-30 minutes, starting when you’re about 30 minutes in (Stellingwerff et al 2011). Carbohydrate during a workout should be taken in small amounts in 15-30 minute intervals to avoid any stomach issues.
Good food choices for the middle of a workout will be easy to digest and low in fat and fiber. Good examples include:
- Gatorade or sports drink
- Dried fruit
- 100% juice
- Flavored coconut water (the peach mango flavor is amazing)
- Energy/sport beans or candy (I’ll address the difference in a minute)
- Fruit (stick to lower fiber options or ones that you’re familiar with. Protip: if you don’t regularly eat bananas, don’t eat one while on a long run).
About those energy beans vs. candy? They provide essentially the same thing in terms of sugar during your workout. The Energy Beans cost more than the same amount of regular jelly beans, but have fewer ingredients (although most are still sugar), no artificial flavors (at least not the flavors I looked up), come in a one serving bag, and make you feel all fit and healthy when you eat them.
How do you know when you’ll need a little added carbohydrate during a workout? My answer is usually if the workout is longer than 90 minutes and higher than moderate intensity (which would be walking or cruising on the bike) or if you feel depleted or drained during your workout. Start with familiar, easy to digest foods and expedient with what works for you.
My favorite mid workout snack, despite making fun of them, is the Energy Beans or Gu Chomps (same thing as the Cliff Energy Blocks) for long runs and dried fruit for weight training. What are your go-to mid workout snacks?
14 May 2014
This past Sunday, Mother’s Day, I was relaxing and watching the Today Show, when I saw something that made me do this:
Let me explain: they had a segment on cooking Mother’s Day brunch featuring Mary J. Blige’s personal chef. She was making a bunch of delicious looking stuff and making it healthy. One item was granola, using mostly nuts, dried fruit, and palm sugar. And as she’s describing the granola she keeps talking about palm sugar as “a better sugar” and a healthier sugar. Now you see why the face palm?
I see this on a lot of Paleo blogs too; they’ll use honey instead of sucrose, and almond or coconut meal instead of flour and proclaim it a healthy item. So now seems like a good time to tackle the “better sugar” question.
The Glycemic Index
Let’s start here with a quick review. The glycemic index is a measure of how a particular food or beverage affects your blood sugar compared to 50 grams of white bread. Low glycemic foods have a glycemic index (GI) below 55, and high glycemic foods are above 70. High glycemic foods cause a larger spike in your blood sugar, resulting in more insulin production and usually followed by a drop off. This cycle occurring over and over again can lead to insulin resistance, and ultimately diabetes. Lower glycemic foods tend to hit the blood sugar more slowly, resulting in less insulin release and a more stable curve. This graph illustrates it well (hint: you want to be closer to the blue line).
Now here is where a few common sugars fall on the glycemic index:
It would stand to reason that lower glycemic sugars like palm sugar and agave would be good for you compared to sucrose, right? Not so fast. Sugar its still sugar. All forms of sugar are calorically equivalent at 4 calories per gram, and are still a source of calories that provides zero nutritional quality (no fiber, no vitamins, no minerals, no other nutrients). Agave is highly processed, and coconut palm sugar production may well be unsustainable.
It’s kind of like what I said about high fructose corn syrup and sucrose: just because one thing might be similar or slightly better than another thing, doesn’t mean both are good for you. If you’re pursuing a healthy diet, finding the healthiest type of sugar is like finding the healthiest version of Frosted Corn Cereal – one may be better than another but neither are all that great for you. If you are making something that requires sugar, think about how you can cut back on the sweetness. Maybe add a banana instead of some of the butter in cookies or bread, which will maintain consistency and add more natural sweetness. Or check out Stevia. I haven’t done any research personally (meaning I haven’t used it a bunch yet), but I’ve heard great reviews.
What are your thoughts on sugar? Do you have a go-to type of sweetener?
07 May 2014
Colorful plates are in these days, and don’t just mean the cool red and mint ones you can get from Crate & Barrel (although those are awesome too). I mean the “eat the rainbow” slogan is starting to take hold in the healthy eating community, and we’re packing our plates full of green, red, blue, purple, orange, and red for maximal vitamins and nutrition. No white foods on our plates!
But wait, why no white foods? Well, probably because we’ve been so conditioned to view them as nutrient void, low quality foods. And many white and tan foods are just that – like fried chicken, french fries, white bread, rice, mayonnaise, etc. But some colorful foods are not so good for you either, like ketchup (in red, purple, and green) and green sprinkles from JP Licks.
White vegetables are white because of flavenoids (a substance known to have antioxidant activity and thought to help prevent cardiovascular disease by decreasing inflammation and platelet aggregation (1)) called anthoxanthins. Some white fruits and vegetables like bananas and potatoes are also a good source of potassium, an important electrolyte in muscle and heart function.
Some white fruits and vegetables have even been given the impressive label of “super food”. Some of these include:
- Bananas – bananas are high in potassium and are a great pre or post workout snack due to their carbohydrate and potassium content.
- Garlic – garlic, as well as onions and leeks, is high in allium, which has been associated with protection against colorectal and gastric cancers (2).
- Ginger – often used as a flavoring, ginger has been associated with such benefits as reduced inflammation in the colon (a precursor to colon cancer), decreased muscle soreness after exercise, and nausea among others (3).
- Cauliflower – in addition to all the antioxidants, cauliflower is also a cruciferous vegetable high in fiber, and as a bonus it’s super versatile (you can even make rice and “mashed potatoes” out of it).
Also don’t forget about potatoes. They aren’t as bad as you might think (if prepped the right way).