A blog about nothing.

Friday, June 27, 2014

I HEART LENTILS

 
It is no secret that legumes are highly nutritious foods. They have nutrient indices much higher than the other high-protein staples - meat, eggs dairy. Indeed as a class beans, peas, and lentils rank higher in nutrition than grains and nuts and are as good for you as many fruits and even certain vegetables.

Of the legumes, the most nutritionally superior is the lovely lentil. Lentils are our personal favorite legume, not only because of the high amounts of molybdenum, fiber - tons of fiber! - as well as copper, phosphorus, manganese, iron, protein, zinc and many B-vitamins they contain, and not only because of all the legumes lentils are the easiest to digest (say bye to bloat!), but also because they are so easy to prepare!

Unlike beans, lentils require no soaking, which is one less step. Not only that, they can be cooked in a fraction of the time it takes to whip up some pintos or kidneys. Most beans take a good hour to 90 minutes to boil. Not so with lentils. The green variety usually take 30 minutes, while red ones require a mere 20 minutes on the stove.

To boil lentils, use three cups of liquid for each cup of legume. Bring the water and lentils together with 1 or 2 tsp salt to a bubble then reduce heat, cover and let simmer for the recommended length of time. For added flavor, add a white onion and maybe a few cloves of garlic to the pot a couple of minutes before the lentils are done cooking. (Remember to remove from stove immediately and strain the excess water, otherwise the lentils will lose their texture.) That's it. Ready to eat.

It deserves mentioning that a cup of cooked lentils provides 6.5 mg of iron, especially important for vegan athletes. If you are an active male following a plant-based diet, aim for 20 mg of iron each day. That's 3 cups of cooked lentils. Pre-menopausal gals who shun meat should strive to achieve 45 mg of daily iron, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.

Iron helps your blood transport oxygen to your muscles and organs. Iron deficiency is associated with anemia and its symptoms, including rapid heart rate, fatigue, malaise and pallor. None of this is very fun. So make lentils a regular part of your dietary intake. Throw a batch on the stove today!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

THE BAREFOOT EXPERIMENT

 Adam Dave
Like so many others I happened upon barefoot running in the pages of the momentous Born to Run. It was in that book that I read about the Tarahumarans and their epic runs and their huaraches. I paid careful heed as the author, Chris McDougall, listed the many risks associated with running in shoes, especially the bulky modern ones with fancy names like motion control and pronator support and extreme stability etc. If nothing else there is the issue of weight.

Consider that the lightest racing flats weigh about 8 ounces per pair. That’s half a pound. Now consider that a runner takes 160 or so steps per minute, and that comes to 40 pounds a minute of added weight you can do away with simply by running in your birthday shoes.The conclusion seemed pretty clear: Running without shoes had to be easier than running with shoes. I was intrigued. This was in 2010.

Wait, no, let me take a step back. My real first exposure to barefoot running came when I ran barefoot. The first time I ran barefoot – as an adult; as a kid I ran around unshod all the time, what kid doesn’t? – was at two in the morning, drunk. I was in medical school at the time and my roommates and I were at a beach party. I had consumed a sea of beer, which necessitated regular visits to the bathroom. The party came to an abrupt end and my roommates hopped into a car and took off without waiting for me to finish my business. They were pretty drunk, too. Left alone on the beach, I decided to hoof the half mile back to our house. (I went to med school on a small island in the West Indies, where pretty much everything could be reached on foot.) I was wearing flip-flops, which never fail to give me shin splints, so I took them off, tucked them into my linen pants, and broke into a trot. It was 2 a.m., and pitch dark, and none of that mattered because it felt great to run without shoes – or maybe because I was drunk? Anyway, to my surprise my feet held up pretty well. No blisters, glass bits, or bruises. I had expected them at least to be blackened from so many steps on the asphalt, but no. And I wondered: Does drunk running improve form, or is there something to this barefoot business?

A few years after my besotted foray into barefooting, one steamy summer afternoon in Los Angeles, I was running along and suddenly my feet felt all hot and bothered, but not in a good way. It was either stop running, or take off my shoes. I never stop running. And so I deposited my K-Swiss trainers in the bushes, and ran the 4 miles home wearing socks and feeling free. By the time I got home my socks were in tatters and both feet had blood blisters the size of silver dollars. For three days I couldn’t walk without a wince. It seemed I had a thing or two to learn about form.
So I bought a book on barefoot running (Ken Bob Saxton’s Barefoot Running Step by Step), read it cover to cover, and had a few good belly laughs. If regular barefoot running was as fun as reading about it, I was in. If nothing else, I needed a change.

Running had begun to feel tired and stale, not to mention a pain in every joint from my knee to my neck. But if I were to lose the shoes, I’d first need to do something about those nasty blisters. Clearly I was pushing off or pivoting or doing something to cause all that friction and fluid collection, and because one foot (my right) was more banged-up than the other, I was obviously running lopsided. Did I have a leg-length discrepancy? Gluteal weakness, which can cause the opposite hip to sag? Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, hip bursitis.sacroiliitis? Over the years I had had all of those conditions, and all while running with shoes. Were my running shoes to blame? I looked at the evidence– which, convincing pro-barefoot arguments made by Dr. Daniel Lieberman of Harvard aside – is, shall we say, equivocal. A pair of scientists from the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Calgary pretty much sum up the shod versus unshod debate as it currently stands: “It is not known whether people running barefoot have more, equal, or fewer injuries than people running in conventional running shoes.”

And to my consternation, the researchers found that the additional weight of a shoe doesn’t seem to have much effect on performance one way or the other. So much for my theory.

Whether or not running shoes were to blame for my history of running-related injuries, the blisters were convincing proof of one thing: I had been overzealous in my first attempt at naked running. After so many years of wearing shoes nearly every waking hour, my feet were as smooth as a baby’s backside. Which had been a point of pride until now. Now, I needed padding, and over the next few months or years or however long it would take, I’d have to develop some, shall we say,epidermal cushioning. And I learned that it’s better to start with shorter distances measured in feet or yards rather than in miles, and preferably on grass rather than the rough and rocky road leading to my house.

Armed with knowledge and know-how, I embarked on my barefoot experiment, the goal of which was to determine one thing: Not whether running unshod was better for me, but whether it would make me faster. My previous best in the half marathon, a 1:18:50 clocked when I was 34 and already old by runners’ standards, was disappearing into the ever-distant past despite all my efforts to improve with age. Intervals, tempo runs, long runs, increased mileage, extra sleep, nutritional tweaks – I had done it all, and throughout I’d watched my race times slow or stay the same. (I was at that point stuck at 1:21).

As I logged more and more miles in my naked feet, sometimes taking my racing flats off mid-run, other times exiting the front door sans shoes, I noticed a few things. First, I could only run as fast as my feet would allow. If they hurt, whether because of too many miles or unfriendly terrain, I’d have to run more slowly, more softly, bending my knees and hips to allow these joints to act as shock absorbers. Gone were the days I could with abandon launch forward, smashing my heel into the pavement and sending shock waves reverberating through my skull. It was as if I had been running with the volume turned off, muting the sensations that my feet, with more nerve endings per square inch than anywhere else in the body other than perhaps the lips and fingertips, were designed to pick up – and did pick up, now that there was nothing more between them than God’s good earth, or more often, cement. Which is another thing. Humans may have evolved over millions of years running without shoes, but concrete is a modern invention and it sure can hurt! Maybe that’s why they invented shoes… But I kept on.

Other things changed. I ditched my iPod and doffed my watch. These gadgets didn’t seem to fit the minimalist look. I let my hair grow out. I grew a beard. I sold my car. I started eating most of my meals raw. In short, my whole life was changing, all because of footwear discarded.
As the miles piled up, I happened upon an interview filmed at the finish line of the Chicago Marathon. The interviewee was Julian Romero, a young guy from Indiana who had just completed the event without shoes, without even his own bib, it turned out. Romero sheepishly confessedto the newscaster that he had purchased the race number on Craig’s List the day before. Julian had gone from running with shoes to competing in marathons barefoot in just three months. This became my goal. I began running barefoot regularly in July of ’11, and by Halloween I completed a half marathon without shoes, running it in 1:24 – six minutes slower than my personal best but, hey, at least I finished, which was my goal.

In preparation for the race I had progressed to running 10 miles four times a week in the Hollywood Hills, all of it unshod, and once again this turned out to be too much too soon. The blisters persisted, but I persisted in my efforts. Two months later, I ran a beach boardwalk marathon without shoes in 3:24, but afterwards I could hardly walk my feet were so sore. So I started wearing running shoes again. But there is something about the allure of barefoot running. The feel of the wind through your toes, the feedback your feet receive from the ground. There is no other way to say it: Running without shoes is an experience like no other.

After a few months back in racing flats, the blisters had healed, and so the shoes came off again. But again I overdid it, and before long I was logging 80 miles a week, 40 of them without shoes. A stress fracture followed – in November of 2012 – which kept me away from running for 3 months. Did barefoot running cause or contribute to my broken metatarsal? Who knows. I think I was vitamin D deficient (it was after all, nearing winter) and my bones weren’t as strong as they should have been, but maybe that’s just a flimsy excuse. It certainly is true that my barefoot experience the first couple years could be characterized by a series of fits and starts, punctuated by injuries and overkill.
So this past April, when once again I doffed the shoes, I decided the third time would be a charm, or bust. I resolved to listen to my body, to take days off when necessary, to wear shoes (zero drop, 6.5-oz New Balance that are like socks with Vibram soles) when my feet were sore, and to run softly, even, dare I say, slowly.When you run fast, your form naturally corrects itself, while running slowly often means running sloppily. And I noticed many sloppy things about my form. I dextrorotated, a fancy way of saying I swung my right arm excessively. My head tilted back and I lost my neck in my shoulders. My entire torso leaned back, essentially putting on the brakes with every step. And yes, my hip did sag. In short, my form was a mess! Form shworm, I said. I’d just run fast and let the problems right themselves. I visited the UCLA track, since the soft polyurethane is a boon to bare-bottomed feet, and ran as fast as I could. Mile repeats, 800s. Even ten-mile tempo runs. How else to beat my personal best marathon and half marathon times without shoes?

I knew I’d never be a really fast runner (my best 10K time is 10 minutes slower than what the professionals clock). But with some work, I could be a really fast barefoot runner. That’s because hardly anyone runs without shoes, and the majority of those who do run barefoot do so to prevent or reduce injury, and they tend to run, well, leisurely. It goes without wearing a watch, Iguess. In fact, a fast barefooter is anomalous to the point of being oxymoronic. Other than AbebeBikila, who won the 1960 Olympic marathon held in Rome in a time of 2:15, and Julian Romero, who has logged several sub-3:00 marathons, even dipping intothe 2:30s, the number of guys who have run a marathon in under three hours in their bare feetcould be counted on the fingers of one hand, maybe two. In other words, not many.Nevertheless a new class is emerging to join the ranks of “overall” and “age group” winners, though thus far hardly a runner enters it. Which means that if you are unlikely to ever win a traditional race, even by running under three hours – consider that a time of 3:00 in the New York Marathon would have earned you just under 1000th place – if you take off your shoes, suddenly you’re in a league of your own, instantly one of the top (maybe the only) finishers in this new class.
This past October I took my place amidst a field of swift athletes at the Los Angeles Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in my now customary attire: no shirt, short shorts, and no shoes. I started slowly, at maybe a 6:10-minute mile pace. At the 10K marker, my feet felt good, and so I turned it on a bit. By mile 10, I felt breezy, and though I barely made the top ten, the shouts and cheers from other runners who espied my naked feet made me feel as though I had won the race. I crossed the finish line in a personal best 1:18:22, slicing a precious 30 seconds from my previous record. A couple weeks later I followed this up with a personal best 2:49 at the Malibu Marathon– in May I had run a 2:51 wearing shoes, so that was the time to beat – and again I did it barefoot. At this race they awarded special prizes to the top three barefoot runners, and you can guess who finished first.

Now I am officially a faster runner barefoot. Is it because my form is better and my feet are stronger, or is it merely some novelty effect inspired by all the attention I get from being as anomalous as the guy dribbling basketballs, the guy juggling tennis balls, and the guy wearing an Elvis costume?
Is itbetter to run barefoot? That may not be the right question to ask. More important, at least in terms of performance and injury, is the curiously-unscientific “subjective preference.” In the end, even scientists agree that runners run best when they’re comfortable, whatever they happen to wear (or not to wear).

As for me, I’ll have to log a few more miles with and without shoes to determine which way is preferable. I will say that after my record-setting 26.2-miler my body felt great – from the ankles up. I could actually bend my knees after the race, a first for me. Unfortunately, my feet looked a bit like hamburger meat.

I guess I still have a thing or two to learn about form.
Adam Dave, beach

Thursday, June 19, 2014

10K TODAY


We've been watching tons of World Cup this year and they've added a feature that calculates how many miles each athlete covers over the course of a game. The average is around 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles. Over 90 minutes this is a sluggish 15-minute mile pace, which even a couch-potato can manage. While some of the time is spent walking or jogging, there are stretches of 10 to 200 meters when an athlete is in an all-out sprint. And the soccer player's body - lean, with a ripped torso, and muscular thighs - attests to the benefits of sprints and intervals, which every runner should do, from casual jogger to accomplished athlete. Here are three workouts to make you the next Pele.


SHORT
From 150 to 300 meters, the goal here being to move legs quickly. Do a run of four to six miles, then finish with 5 x 300 meters on the track with 90 seconds rest.

SHORTER
80 to 150 meters. When you speed up, your body automatically adjusts to sprint more efficiently. This should be at around 90 percent effort. Keep your arms and face relaxed. Do six 100-meter strides on a flat, smooth surface, walking in between to give yourself a chance to catch your breath.

SHORTEST
50 to 100 meters. Full-on sprinting teaches your brain to recruit a full range of muscle fibers, including those hard-to-access fast-twitch type. Sprints are the runner's power lift, so warm up thoroughly to avoid injury. Start with uphill sprints lasting six to eight seconds on a four- to six-percent grade. Gradually lengthen to 10 to 12 seconds, and when it feels comfortable, try flat ground, or your nearest soccer field.

GOL!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TRAIN LIKE A TRIATHLETE

The human brain craves routine, and many of us pick a discipline – whether running, biking, swimming, or weights – and stick to it with fierce loyalty. By doing so, it’s easy to get stuck on automatic pilot. Adding other forms of exercise can complement your existing routine. For example, bike riding builds the fast-twitch power muscles of the glutes and thighs, making them more injury resistant, and because biking is zero impact, it spares the joints the pounding that occurs when you cover all your training distance on foot. Many triathletes believe that the fitness gains made on the bike carry over to running, that by building stronger legs and lungs, cycling actually makes for a swifter run. And race times prove this. Consider that in a recent Ironman 70.3 win in Spain, professional triathlete Javier Gomez ran a blazingly fast 1:11:49 half marathon, after a 1.2 mile swim and a 56-mile bike. And many Ironmen are known to run 2:40-ish marathons in the heat after a 2.4 mile swim and 112-mile bike ride on a relatively light (60-mile per week) running plan.

So, train like a triathlete. In other words, include any combination of swimming, biking, running, and resistance training into your regimen. While at the gym, instead of concentrating on pumping one muscle group, mix in pull-ups, burpees, dead lifts, and box jumps, moving between these exercises with minimal rest. This functional approach to training, recently made popular with CrossFit, has been shown in a November study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research to significantly decrease body fat and increase endurance for both men and women across all levels of prior workout experience and body composition. And don’t forget massage. A 10-minute appointment with your foam roller is a discipline in its own right, boasting preventative benefits that are arguably superior to the traditional static stretch.

Including two disciplines a day allows you to spice things up while reducing the amount of time doing any particular exercise, which staves off boredom. Rather than slog through an hour-long six-mile run, go for a 20-minute spin on the bike and finish with a one- or two-mile trot on tired legs. In the triathlon world, consecutive workouts on minimal rest are called bricks. Triathletes often follow a swim with a bike ride, or run after cycling, to simulate the muscle fatigue experienced on the day of their event. The name "bricks" is doubly appropriate. Not only are the brick workouts piled on like bricks, but they also make your legs feel about as heavy, especially if you bike, then run. Think: B(ike)R(un)ick. By exposing your body to various disciplines in swift succession, you shock it into greater fitness in less time while avoiding monotony.

A good way to practice a brick is to hop on your bike and cycle to a destination, like a track, park, or hilly neighborhood. Lock your bike and jog around the block. Your legs may feel heavy and blood-engorged from the cycling, or they may feel nice and warm and ready to run. You can also replace running with jumping rope, which works the slow twitch muscles of the calves. Jumping rope is great for increasing your cadence (the number of steps you take per minute), which itself is another strategy for running faster. One thousand revolutions with the rope is equivalent to running a mile. Another alternative is to run or bike to your local gym and either head into the water for some laps or hit the weights for a high intensity session, then run or ride home. The variations are endless. Try to incorporate a brick workout into your routine once a week.

Emphasize quality over quantity in a training regimen that includes a variety of disciplines to reach, even exceed, your fitness goals. You’ll find that a focused approach will make for a healthier, and happier, you.

Monday, June 16, 2014

INJECT A FRESH PERSPECTIVE

Getting fitter, faster, and stronger ranks high on any athlete’s wish list, and yet en route to the fulfillment of this noble goal it can be easy to get caught up on markers such as mileage and time. But getting bogged down in quantifiables can quickly make exercise seem stale. More is not always better, as a volume-centered approach can lead to overtraining and injury. By limiting yourself to one particular discipline, it is easy to overdo it, lose perspective, even abandon a training plan altogether. Workouts should be fun, and in order to maximize the good times quotient, it helps to focus on quality over quantity, and add some variety into the mix.  Whatever your goal, whether to lose weight, run your first race, or even notch a PR, injecting a fresh perspective into your training plan makes your aim easier to achieve.

A Focused Approach
The consensus among running coaches until recently has been that in order to run a sub-3:00 marathon you need to average 50 miles per week at the very minimum. And the tendency among many athletes, both novices and elites, is to train as often and as much as possible, under the mistaken impression that a fast marathon, or triathlon, or success at obstacle events such as Tough Mudder or Spartan, means pounding the pavement – a lot. But as medical doctor and running guru George Sheehan proved, it is possible to notch a 3-hour marathon on a weekly training plan of just 30 miles a week. Dr. Sheehan did this at the age of 60 by focusing his efforts and training smart.

Indeed, many experts now recognize the faults inherent in logging huge miles at a slow pace (aka junk miles), which they say is not as effective as targeted training. Going long too often means going slow, according to Gabe Mirkin, M.D., who suggests athletes structure training programs to include tempo and interval runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a longer run Sundays, while reserving off days for rest or cross-training. On such a schedule you can make great strides in fitness in a fraction of the time of training at a slower, steadier pace. And if you’re trying to squeeze in a run at lunch or a ride at dawn, getting more for your minute’s worth holds huge appeal.

Let’s start with tempo. A tempo run, also called a threshold run, is a “comfortably hard” effort which many running experts believe is the single most important workout you can do to improve your speed for any race distance. Running at lactate threshold teaches the body to use oxygen for metabolism more efficiently and delay burning lactate for fuel. Your tempo run should be about 20 minutes, which fits nicely into a one-hour lunch break. For most runners, lactate threshold occurs around 20 to 30 seconds per mile slower than 5-K race pace. If you’ve never run a race or don’t wear a watch, you can use your breathing rate. On easy days most runners take three strides while breathing in and three while breathing out. For your tempo days, aim for a two-strides-in, one-stride-out rhythm. If you're breathing in and out with each stride, you've entered the interval zone.

Intervals, which involve short bursts of maximum speed followed by recovery jogs, are extremely effective in improving mean power output and VO2max, which is considered the best laboratory measurement of aerobic fitness. The result is simple: speed. What’s more, interval training workouts take far less time than sessions performed at lower intensity. Previous research suggested three to five minutes as the optimal length for intervals, but a new study published in the January 2014 issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports shows that even less is best. In fact, 30-second all-out bursts of speed were shown to be superior to 5-minute intervals for building fitness. And the benefits extend beyond the realm of speed. Intervals are as effective as endurance training in reducing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, and these benefits are achieved in half the time.

If you find yourself crunched for time or under-motivated, find a new route and turn up the pace. Any neighborhood block will do. Run hard for 30 seconds, jog very slowly around the corner, start sprinting again when you hit the next straightaway, and slow at the turn to recover your breath. This will put you back where you started geographically, but you’ll be at a whole new level cardiovascularly, as the rapid breathing and feeling of euphoria (they don’t call it a runner’s high for nothing) attest. Instead of wearing a watch, count 30 foot strikes (counting with one foot), which is approximately half a minute.

Athletes often wonder how many intervals to run. In a world of heart rate monitors, pace calculators, and smart phone Apps, we have become obsessed with tracking everything, but too much number crunching can sap some of the spontaneity and exhilaration that draws us to exercise in the first place. So try this: run till you’re tired, then quit for the day. This may be as few as two intervals, or as many as twenty. Going by feel puts you back in touch with your body and keeps things really simple, a fresh start in a complex, computer-driven age.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

SOUL FOOD

Just talked with a friend (thanks, Sarah) about the manifold benefits of a phytocentric (plant-centered) diet, not just for individual health but for the health of the planet and the welfare of other earthlings. But even these all-pervasive benefits neglect what is perhaps the single biggest plus that plants bring to one's life, which is spiritual.

The ancients say that eating animal foods increases animal tendencies, which tendencies (lust, greed, anger) then increase cravings for animal food. The mystery is, how to stop this vicious cycle - is it by changing a person's diet so their cravings will change, or does what need to change first is a person's consciousness? That's an awkward sentence for a confounding issue.

On the spiritual path (and all humans are or should be on that path, as self-realization is the ultimate purpose of life) vegetarianism is absolutely essential, so whatever gets a person there (looking better, feeling better, more energy, etc.) is well worth the effort and justifies the end. Some people can't see it. We all at one time or another "wear blinders or some kind of filter over our eyes," so use Sarah's aptly-chosen words, but rather than seek to change the world, be the change you wish to see.

It is true that what matters most is not what goes in your mouth but what comes out of it. You can be as pure as a breatharian but if you are a gossip monger who tongue lashes people then this could hardly be called clean living. But the two (diet and consciousness) do influence one another, and eating beasts increases beast-like tendencies within us, while sparing them in favor of nutrient-dense phytofoods is the nonviolent approach that changes you, and by extension, changes society, bringing peace, which we all could use more of.

Of course once you are realized, once you become a sage, then you can eat whatever you want, according to the holy man Ramana Maharshi. When the fire of universal love burns so bright, it doesn't matter what you use for fuel. But by then as now, you'll find old habits die hard, so choose plants.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

SPEED PLAY

In order to run faster it is necessary to…run faster. Elite athletes will tell you that they are able to compete at the highest level only by training at or near maximal capacity. Enter interval training, known alternatively as sprinting, repeats, or my personal favorite, speed play (from the Swedish word “fartlek”). And indeed studies have shown that speed play can benefit every type of athlete, from recreational runners to committed fitness enthusiasts, and in a fraction of the time required by training at a lower intensity. In fact, as shown by a recent study, just fifteen minutes of intense exercise three times a week provides a host of benefits over more casual workouts, from lowering your blood pressure and blood sugar to reducing both body fat and cholesterol. Speed play also increases VO2 max, which measures your body’s maximal ability to take in and use oxygen. VO2 max is not only a measure of fitness: it is also a predictor of lifespan, as research undertaken at the Cooper Institute suggests. Sound like a panacea? With these manifold benefits, speed play just might be.
 
THE TRACK
While puttering around the elliptical chalk-lined polyurethane like a rat in a maze can rate high on the tedium scale, the track brings distinctive advantages. These include a level surface (uneven surfaces can simulate leg-length discrepancies and irritate your iliotibial band) and measured distances, not to mention the absence of cars and the unhealthful noise and exhaust they emit.
 
Finding a track is easy. Most high schools, junior colleges, and colleges have fields open to the public. Parks and recreational centers often offer dirt trails of unconventional distances that bring a cornucopia of sights and sounds. Start with a 10-minute warm-up by jogging around the track a couple times. Then do four sets of 2 laps at 90 percent of maximum heart rate. At this level of intensity, you should be gasping for breath and in no way able to carry on a conversation. If you’re a numbers cruncher, simply subtract your age from 220 and multiply by .9. Follow each sprint with three minutes of light jogging, then finish with a five-minute cool-down.  If training at unvarying distances sounds too monotonous, try descending intervals, 800 meters, 400 meters, 200 meters, 100 meters. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that descending intervals increase growth hormone more than running at a fixed distance; this muscle mediator builds strong quads needed for that finishing kick at the end of a race.
 
STAIRS
Climbing stairs is an excellent way to build the large muscles of the lower extremities. This is especially relevant for runners, who are susceptible to weakness in the gluteus muscles. The so-called “dead-butt syndrome,” a result of logging too many miles on flat terrain, can lead to pelvic tilts, gait instability, low back problems, and shooting pains, Dr. Darrin Bright, a sports medicine physician and medical director of the Columbus, Ohio marathon, recently told the New York Times. The glutes play a centrol role in stabilizing the hips and the pelvis in running, and climbing stairs recruits these big muscles. Stair-climbing also encourages high knee lifts, which work wonders for form and keep at bay the marathon shuffle that plagues runners late in a race. Moreover, the intense concentration required by running up a set of stairs improves coordination and is great training for trail runs and obstacle courses. Finally, there is the aesthetic benefit of filling out the contours of an otherwise flat derriere.
 
Wonder whether you should take the stairs one or two at a time? Both have benefits. A Penn State study found that the “double-stair strategy” maximized metabolic cost and strengthened ankle and knee flexors, while burning  an additional 70 to 90 calories per hour. On the other hand, rapidly skipping up each stair targets the slow-twitch fibers of the calves, while a slower lunge-like stride is a great quad and glute blaster. Doing the stairs backwards is a novel approach that improves coordination and emphasizes the hamstring muscles while gathering more than a few curious glances from fellow climbers.
 
HILLS
In the battle for best overall exercise – one that targets both your upper and lower body effectively and in a short amount of time - a convincing case could be made for hill sprints, which some powerlifters regard as being better than squats! Hill sprints combine the benefits of anaerobic exercise with aerobic fitness. They encourage you to run on the balls of your feet with an erect spine, and the increased cadence required by hill sprints and other forms of interval training is an easy home remedy for fixing any gait problems that may otherwise go undetected and lead to injury.
 
Sprinting up hills is also safer than sprinting in the flats, since your speed is limited by the incline, which spares your hamstrings excessive strain. They require the aggressive arm and shoulder action critical for maximal acceleration. Finally, hill sprints are a great way to dramatically increase the caloric expenditure of an exercise that already burns a ton of calories when performed on flat ground.
 
Run as fast as you can up the hill and walk or jog back down. Do a total of four sets and work up to as many as eight. Immediately afterwards your legs should feel like jelly, and the next day you should be sore. In fact, muscle soreness is a great way to gauge the effectiveness of hills and other sprint workouts. Soreness indicates muscle damage and is a sign that your body is releasing cytokines to increase blood flow to the area, and growth factors, which promote the development of new muscle fibers, which means more muscle. But don’t undertake intense workouts on consecutive days. Training sore muscles can tear newly-formed muscle fibers and actually weaken your legs. Following sprint workouts it is best to train at a much slower pace, but resist the temptation to take a rest day. Although resting sore muscles will allow them to heal faster, exercising at low intensity the day after intervals will encourage muscles to become more fibrous and resistant to injury.
 
FARTLEKS
If driving to a remote location to park and run is not for you, fartleks can be done anywhere, including your very own neighborhood. And because they are less structured than traditional sprint workouts, fartleks allow room for improvisation and variation, which helps keep your workout feeling fresh while retaining the benefits of high intensity training. You can casually introduce fartleks into a regular run by picking a landmark (mailbox, driveway, tree) 100 to 500 feet ahead and running to it at full speed, followed by a period of jogging that lasts just as long. Repeat as many times as you can. If you’re training for longer races choose longer distances, and incorporate fartleks into your routine at least once a week.
 
Like other forms of interval training, fartleks push your heart rate towards its maximum and recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are required for speed and anaerobic fitness. This is especially important at the end of your next race when you sprint to the finish – that is, if you like to race, and after playing with speed, you just might. And if you’re a seasoned competitor new to high intensity training, as little as four weeks of the above workouts is all that separates you from your next PR, so start playing today.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

FRUCTOSE IN FRUIT

 
Some  fruit-loving friends have expressed concern over the fruit content of their favorite foods. Fructose is fine for most people if it’s in whole foods, and keep in mind that anything with sucrose, and that’s most carbohydrates including rice and wheat, has a good deal of fructose, since sucrose is a disaccharide composed of one part glucose and one part fructose. Grains also contain free fructose. Sadly fruits get the bad rap when refined grains and sodas, especially HFCS, are the real culprit.
 

For the sake of argument, this is from an article by Dr. Mercola who is opposed to even modest fructose consumption. Even he had to concede the following: “So it appears as though whole fruits, even though they contain fructose, may not be nearly as problematic as fructose from added sugars. One of the reasons for this is believed to be because whole fruits contain high amounts of natural antioxidants, as well as other synergistic compounds that may help counter the detrimental effects of fructose.”

 

Of course, you can always get your uric acid levels checked. If you have a level of below 3.5  (for women, for men it's below 4) you probably are at a very low risk for fructose toxicity and can be unconcerned with fructose consumption. 
 

Some believe that people with insulin resistance, such as those with – Diabetes, High blood pressure, High cholesterol, Overweight - should be particularly careful about limiting their fructose from fruit to 15 grams per day or less. 

 

But if you don't have the above conditions there is likely no need to monitor fruit intake. Eat it to your heart's content. The simple sugars present serve as great carb replenishment after/during a workout, and an easily digestible pre-workout/pre-race energy boost. The problem arises when people who indulge in copious amounts of high sugar fruits that are lower on the nutritional totem pole, such as dates, figs, dried fruit such as prunes and raisins, even banana. With perhaps the exception of banana, these foods should be confined to the realm of workout fuel - minimize consumption on days you don't train - and instead emphasize fruits such as berries, citrus, melons, and apples, all of which are much more nutritious.
 
But in case you still wish to reduce fructose intake you can choose fruits that have fewer grams of fructose per serving. For example raspberries have 3.5 g per cup while blueberries have 7.4 g, nectarines, peaches and oranges have a lot less than apples, and of course dried fruit is really high. Here’s the link to a chart of fructose content in fruit. You’ll find it in the middle of the webpage: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/06/19/richard-johnson-interview-may-18-2010.aspx.

Another option is to snack on vegetable fruits with some salt rather than fruit. Fruit-loving workout fanatics often don't get enough sodium given their high level of physical activity and water consumption. You lose tons of salt in sweat. Though we love fruits for snacks, try substituting say a bag of tomatoes, or bell peppers, or mushrooms, or cucumbers, or carrots, etc for the bananas and dates you regularly consume. Or try chia pudding. 4 oz. water, 1/4 cup chia, 2 tbsp. cocoa powder, and a couple dashes of stevia, mix and chill and voila, an omega-3 powerhouse.
 
While we are on the subject of nutritional density, the same thing applies to food groups other than just fruit. Not all foods within a group pack the same energy punch. Leafy green vegetables are the most nutritious veggies,  followed by cruciferous veggies (broccoli and cauliflower). Lower down on the scale are sweet potatoes and potatoes. However, sweet potatoes are still more nutritious even than beans (kidney, garbanzo, black, etc.), which are far better than grains, certainly preferable to nuts. But if you find yourself needing 6 or more bananas to get you through the day, unless you're training for an endurance event chances are you should increase your intake of beans: they're more nutritious than many fruits, - and lower in fructose to boot.
 
Happy eating!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

BREATHING LESSONS


The title is not a tribute to the Anne Tyler novel, although we loved reading it as part of senior year reading list, thank you Ms. Beatty. It is to address the oft-neglected and sorely underestimated essential bodily function called respiration.

Your lungs respire between 12 and 18 times per minute, most of breathing going on entirely unnoticed. Which is a blessing - one less thing to focus on - but can also be a problem. Humans tend to hold their breath or respire shallowly when nervous or tense, and since more and more time in modern civilization is spent in the tense/nervous state, this breath-holding can result in a condition known as hypoxia.

The other medical residents and I used to play a game in the hospital when not seeing patients (which was rare but did occur). We'd get our hands on one of the readily available pulse oximetry monitors. These devices determine your blood oxygen saturation within seconds of being applied to your finger. 


We'd attach the pulse ox and hold our breath to see how low we could get our blood oxygen levels. As the seconds become whole minutes, we'd watch the reading fall from high 90s down to low 90s, into the 80s. Some breath holding adepts got their pulse ox reads down to the high 70s before gasping for air. Then they'd take a few deep breaths at which point it would rise again to the 90s. A pulse ox read anywhere between 100 and 90 is considered normal. Below that and you get sent home with an oxygen tank and a nasal cannula. Not the essence of sexiness, but reality for many pulmonary patients, such as those with COPD or emphysema (often caused by tobacco).

But what we found interesting in our breath-holding game was how quickly we could get the pulse ox reading to change, and how responsive it was to different breathing patterns. Breathe deeply and regularly, and if your lungs are working properly you easily saturate your oxygen with blood. Breathe shallowly and irregularly, as when nervous, tense, or preoccupied, and that number quickly falls into nasal cannula range.
How important are blood oxygen levels? Let's consider for a moment the fundamental physiological importance of oxygen. Why do we need it? Why can we go weeks without food, days without water, but only about 20 minutes without air?

(The longest time holding the breath underwater was 22 min 00 sec by Stig Severinsen of Denmark at the London School of Diving in London, UK, on 3 May 2012. Stig was allowed to hyperventilate with oxygen prior to the attempt, and did this for 19 minutes and 30 seconds.)



Simply, oxygen combines with breakdown products from the food we eat (mainly glucose) in a series of reaction whose ultimate product is ATP, the energy currency of the cell.


Note the oxygen molecule in red.
Without adequate oxygen, the body is unable to synthesize sufficient energy, even in the setting of an abundance of fuel (sugar, carbohydrate, etc.).

So if you find yourself feeling down or in the dumps, if you've lost that spring in your step, feel fatigued, blue, or undermotivated, despite getting adequate sleep, abstaining from tobacco, drinking in moderation if at all, eating an energy-rich phytocentric diet abundant in water and fiber, getting adequate vitamin D and other essential nutrients through sun and food plus a multivitamin if necessary, and exercising regularly (150 minutes of cardio and 2 strength sessions weekly), then it could be that you've...how to say this? Forgotten to breathe! Not entirely, or else you wouldn't be among the five or six people reading this post whose purpose is to serve as a reminder to mind your breathing. In other words, become consciously aware of the process, and breathe deeply and fully.

Respiration is one of the few bodily functions that is under both voluntary and involuntary control. Meaning you can consciously manipulate your breathing rate and depth, and if you don't feel like it (say in sleep) your lungs will continue to function anyway. Most other organs are either exclusively involuntary (like the heart, kidneys, liver, some would say the brain) or exclusively voluntary (like the legs, which won't finish that 3-mile jog unless you will them ahead).

So let's take a moment to become conscious of breathing with this simple exercise.

First, lie flat on your back, close your eyes, and empty your lungs of all the air.

Then, breathing in through your nose, completely fill yourself with air. Watch as first your belly rises (due to the diaphragm contracting against the organs), then as your thorax/chest expands. Breathing in through the nose is important, as tiny nose hairs help to filter air particles and the nasal passages help to moisten the breath and make it easier on the lungs.

Finally, exhale either through your nose or mouth.

Do this ten times twice a day.

Preferably in the morning first thing on wakening, and then again last thing before going to bed. The morning effort will set you on the path of mindful breathing, as well as fill your body with energy (or in this case the oxygen that is a precursor to energy) better than even the strongest cup of coffee. The evening exercise will help to relax you. In fact, you may nod off at night before even reaching the count of ten. It's happened to us more than once. We must have been tireder than we thunk!

Mindful breathing is called pranayama in the East. Prana is the life force. An apt term as indeed your life continues only so long as you keep respiring. The practice of deep breathing has become popularized on this side of the globe as a yoga and meditation technique, or for general relaxation. Athletes enjoy doing it while running, swimming, biking, or lifting as the regular breathing required by these disciplines fits right in. Just be sure to breathe deeply and slowly, as going too fast can lead to hyperventilation, dizziness, and disorientation.

Many practitioners of pranayama elect to recite a word or phrase (mantra) in time with the breathing. Soham is a Sanskrit term for "I am He," He representing the Self, the Absolute essence of all that is, reminding you of your connection with the divine. So can be recited mentally on inhalation, and ham on exhalation. If this sounds a bit airy-fairy to you, don't knock it till you've tried it. Or choose your own power phrase. Happy breathing.