Truth & Motivation

For some people, the entire reason they start working out is because of some big motivator hanging over them – their wedding, a reunion, a birthday party, or maybe even just Memorial Day/the start of summer. And all that is awesome. I commend anyone using any reason to get in better shape.32408932771_5f6a0e7137_z

The problem though is once that motivator passes –say the event – it’s hard to find the “umph” to keep pushing yourself. For weeks or months that person has held the reason in their minds – the way they want to look on the big day, and now that it’s over, why continue to work so hard? For what?

35199186230_9d19a1a5a2_zI know I preach about the “lifestyle” and not just working out for this purpose, but this has definitely happened to me. Sure, I go to the gym each week pretty much no matter what, but often I’ll find myself not pushing myself like I would if I had a “reason” or a “goal” outside of just maintenance. Yeah, I always want to be a little stronger and a little leaner, and my butt could always stand to get a little bigger, but these aren’t reasons to force out that last rep, struggle to do that final pullup or sprint my hardest during my cardio finisher.

Some of my best workouts have been the result of a “reason.” My 30th birthday recently passed, and for a few weeks leading up to it, I’d picture how I wanted to look – that I wanted to be able to look back on pictures and be proud of how I looked at 30 years old. And now that it’s over I’m back in the sort of “meh” zone.

Everyone who wants to get fitter can benefit from finding their “reason.” Even if it’s just for that one workout, finding motivation to get the absolute best workout in makes all the difference. I have used so many different “reasons” for getting in a crazy good workout.

train-like-your-stronger-fitter-evil-twin-is-plotting-to-kill-youI know that a lot of fitness folks on social media will say it should be “you vs. you” in the gym, meaning that you shouldn’t be competing with anyone but yourself. They say you should only aim to beat your last cardio time, last squat amount, last number of crunches, etc. And yes, I totally agree with that idea. One of the best things about the gym is that it’s the only place where you can’t fake things, and if you’re only competing with your own ability, then you can only improve. However…

I think any reason to push yourself is a good one. Any reason to go harder, lift heavier, go longer or stretch your limits is worth having. Want a butt like the one on the girl you follow on Instagram? Picture it next time you’re squatting. In a fight with your significant other? Think about how mad you are the next time you’re on the bike and sprint your butt off. Have a neighbor who looks better than you in a bikini at the pool? Keep that in your mind’s eye next time you’re tempted to eat all the donuts in the break room. Saw pictures of your ex’s new gf/bf online and they’re fitter than you? Use the sh*t out of that the next time you’re in the gym and do an extra five minutes on the rowing machine. There is no such thing as too petty when it’s the fuel getting you to a better workout.

4503223799_9f32c6b04d_zThere are an unlimited number of “reasons” you can find for pushing yourself harder and longer or lifting heavier. Whether they’re long term or just for that day, they’ll help you get more out of your workout. I won’t lie – sure, I’ve used trips/weddings/occasions/Memorial Day as motivation for the long term, but I’ve also used petty arguments with my boyfriend, body envy from Instagram, seeing friends who look fitter than I do online and so many more reasons as fuel for better workouts.

The gym is also great therapy, I will say. It’s a literal and figurative punching bag for life’s problems/annoyances. So, next time you’re “blah” about hitting the gym – try to find your “why.” Or get mad. About anything! And then use the heck out of it.

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Truth & What I eat on a normal weekday

So, I’ve been meaning to write a blog about this for a while, but my good intentions of taking pictures of all the things I eat in a day die sometime around lunchtime. However, I finally did it! I’ve wanted to do this for a while, because I feel like a lot of people know they should “eat well” in order to “be in shape,” but they don’t really know what that means/looks like on a daily basis. I get the feeling that they think that means you’re “on a diet” all the time and can only eat chicken and vegetables or salad and suffer in silence. Or they think you starve yourself.

Alas! That’s not the case at all! So, I thought I’d show you that I walk the talk and share an average weekday’s worth of food.

IMG_39587:30 a.m. – Coffee #1. I home brew the first cup to put in my thermos for my metro commute and add stevia and almond milk. Almond milk is low in calories, and stevia is an all-natural, calorie-free sweetener. It’s not full of chemicals like creamer (which I adore, but try to limit), and it’s not calorie dense like cream.

IMG_39988:30 a.m. – Breakfast: 1 cup plain Greek yogurt topped with a sprinkling of Kashi cereal, honey and chopped strawberries. Topped with cinnamon. Greek yogurt = protein, Kashi is much lighter in calories than granola, honey is a natural sweetener, and cinnamon is great for you for tons of reasons. This literally takes five minutes to throw together and is portable, so I can eat it as soon as I get to the office.

IMG_395710 a.m. – Coffee #2. Starbucks iced coffee with sugar-free vanilla syrup and skim milk.

IMG_395911 a.m. – Morning snack: Handful of almonds. I’m usually starving by this time and rarely make it to 11 a.m.

12:30 p.m. – Lunch: Leftovers. This is generally anything leftover from what I cooked the night before. This particular one, Asian turkey meatballs with zoodles, is awesome as leftovers. This is one of the many benefits of cooking – that if you make enough, you have automatic healthy lunch for the next day.

I always crave something sweet after lunch, so I have a bag of these “Special Dark with toffee and almonds” bite-size chocolates in my office for this occasion.

IMG_3983At this point I went to workout in the fitness center in my office. I did chest and triceps along with a cardio finisher (rowing) and drank a bunch of water.

IMG_39823 p.m. – Post-gym snack: Cheese stick and cherries.


4:10 p.m.
 – Pre-commute snack: Half-a-handful of peanuts (salt & vinegar flavor is the bomb, FYI) and cherry tomatoes.

5:45 p.m. – Post-work snack: A handful of pita chips with hummus.

IMG_39947:45 p.m. – Dinner: Roasted Asian cod with snow peas and cauliflower mash.

IMG_39978:45 p.m. – Dessert: One glass red wine (not pictured) and a square of dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt.

As you can see, I eat a LOT, and I eat almost constantly. I need a “pre-commute snack” and a “post-work snack” because I’m starving to death if I don’t eat before I leave and then soon after I get home. They’re not big snacks at all, but they keep my metabolism going.

Sometimes I don’t have leftovers from the night before for lunch, and I’ll happily go out somewhere with healthy options. I’m lucky that I work by Union Station, so I have lots of options, but my go-to ones are usually Roti (bowl with little-to-no rice, chicken and lots of veggie sides) or Chipotle (bowl with little-to-no black beans, chicken, veggies and cheese). I usually eat half or two thirds of these.

I think the biggest thing when it comes to workdays is making sure you’re prepared. If you bring all you plan to eat, then you set yourself up for success. I also think that cooking is the biggest health “secret” there is. No one can live off salads. That’s not a lifestyle. I’ve learned so many cool, different recipes since getting into cooking, and it’s made eating healthy so much easier (and more enjoyable).

I’ll be happy to share what I eat on days I work from home, too, but generally I move a lot less (everything I need is within a one-block radius – literally) and consequently need to eat less.

So anyway, I hope that serves as a good snapshot of one of my weekdays. Like I said, let me know if you’d like a “work-from-home day” or “weekend day” set of examples, too!

Truth & Laziness as a cultural phenomenon 

In the last – maybe – six months, I’ve had two friends whom I hadn’t seen in a while say the same two things; “You look great!” followed shortly thereafter by “I haven’t been to a gym in years!” concluded by laughter as if this were somehow endearing and hilarious.

My question is this: Why is this funny?

Of course, I politely laughed along, but when it happened the second time I was seriously befuddled. Why would you openly admit that like it were a joke? After some consideration, I’m guessing that it’s a deflection or some form of self-deprecation, and it got me thinking.

I’ve found that it’s common in American culture to wear laziness as a badge of honor. I see it on Instagram and online all the time that people embrace not leaving the couch for hours or that the “only thing they’re lifting is a piece of pizza.”

To be fair, everyone deserves to take a load off and embrace the couch from time to time – I certainly do – but it’s almost a cultural phenomenon. According to the CDC, only 20 percent of Americans get the recommended amount of physical activity. I won’t lecture about why that’s terrible, but in short it’s leading us into a massively obese, disease-ridden statistical picture.

But returning to my original point, and a much less dramatic one, I find that the people who offer up their laziness actually do have an interest in looking and feeling more like those who aren’t lazy. So what’s standing in the way? I think a major factor is just getting started. It’s either just daunting in general or they don’t know how to begin. Or maybe they think that have to work out for hours a day to see changes.

That’s the great part about the human body – especially one that hasn’t seen exercise in a while. Making small changes can reap large rewards. I’m sure you’ve all heard about people who’ve just cut soda out of their diets and lost 20 pounds or so. And, I know a 30-minute workout may seem like a lot at first, but a 30-minute workout is literally two percent of your day. Two. Percent.  For those people who remark that others who exercise and live healthier lifestyles are “lucky” or that they could “never look like that,” you’re wrong. You so can. It just takes consistency and a little determination in the gym and the kitchen.

A small investment in yourself can make such a big difference, and it’s so worth it. Who knows, maybe after a couple months of making small changes your friends will be the ones telling you how much they wish they could “be that lucky!”

Truth & Metabolism (How yours might be broken and how to fix it)

A couple years back, I was thinking about that show the Biggest Loser and got to thinking about calories. It’s been a long-held “scientific understanding” that if you burn (or use) more calories than you consume, then you’ll lose weight and vice versa – if you burn fewer calories than you consume, then you’ll gain weight. If they’re equal, then you stay at your current weight. But the show got me thinking – these contestants are losing up to dozens of pounds of weight per week… how is it that someone who’s obese can lose all that weight but professional athletes don’t waste away? I know the contestants do upwards of eight hours of exercise a day and significantly slash their caloric intake, but there has to be some sort of X factor involved in terms of how your body adapts to exercise. Where a professional athlete can do a day’s worth of intense exercise and not lose a pound, but someone who’s obese can lose ten pounds, what’s missing here?

Well, it turns out there’s a lot missing. For one, the athlete’s body and brain are primed for exercise. They have passed the adaptation phase, and their bodies have become very metabolically efficient. This means that the same exercise that the obese person is doing burns more calories than when the athlete does it. It simply costs the athlete fewer calories to do the same amount of work, because their bodies have adapted to exercise.

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When you think about this in terms of our ancestors, this was a good thing. If we had to chase down the animal we were hunting fordinner, it didn’t cost us all of the calories in our systems to do so. Our body will do its best to defend its fat stores, because it’s what keeps us alive in survival situations.

Fast forward to modern times, however, and this isn’t the case. We have relatively comfortable lives requiring very little for survival, and exercise is generally for health or aesthetic reasons. Enter the modern-day metabolism problems and where the calorie myth comes in.

The calorie myth

The calorie-in/calorie-out ratio fails to incorporate many factors relating to metabolism. We’ve been told that the larger the caloric gap between intake and output, the more weight one will lose. There’s one big BUT, however. This is the fastest way to damage your metabolism. When you do lots of cardio and eat too little, your body will go into starvation mode. Essentially, it will horde as much body fat as possible in order to function properly. Your body will begin to resist weight loss at all costs despite a caloric deficit. This is how a lot of cardio bunnies often get themselves in trouble. They do more and more steady-state cardio, eat less and less and find their weight loss plateauing. Mathematically they should be losing tons of weight, but they aren’t. This is because they’ve damaged their metabolisms.

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So, what do you do if you’ve gotten yourself in this position? You need to reset your metabolism. You’ll either need to eat less and exercise less or eat more and exercise more. You need to lessen the stress placed on your metabolism so that it will stop fighting the process. Even if you want to do more/more, you’ll need to adapt your exercise to involve classic weight lifting instead of cardio to allow your body enough rest time and relieve stress from aerobic exercise. Leisure walking/yoga/tai chi are also good activities to incorporate to help even out your hormonal balance that’s likely out of whack as a result of your damaged metabolism. (As an aside, a damaged metabolism can cause a litany of issues including digestive issues, food intolerances, fatigue, insomnia and more).

9925529073_141093a298_zAnd what should you do to lose weight if you think your metabolism is healthy? Make sure you’re getting enough calories to feed your fatigued body and enough rest to repair your muscles. Some of the coolest success stories I’ve read involve people with broken metabolisms doubling what they eat and losing a bunch of weight relatively quickly. Your body needs enough energy to make a change. Otherwise, it’ll fight you every step of the way.

So, if fat loss is your goal, make sure you’re eating enough! Eating celery and carrots all day is not going to get you there in the long run. It’s just hurting your biggest weight-loss tool – your metabolism. You can’t keep a Corvette running without enough gasoline in the tank. All you’re going to do is make it stall out. Gas that baby up and let it rip.

Truth & Why good form isn’t enough (and what is MMC??)

A little while back, I wrote an entry on Crossfit that came out of seeing lots of bad form at the gym. The types and variations of bad form I see in the gym never cease to amaze me. Now, to be fair, I’m sure that some of these individuals have bad form and just don’t know it. Maybe someone never taught them how to do that exercise correctly or they never had anyone teach them at all. There is, however, a different category of bad form, and that’s what I like to call ego-based bad form.8014777771_c507f52163_z

This is the kind of form that comes out of either trying to lift more weight than you really can, doing more reps than you really can or doing more intense cardio than you really can. The first kind – lifting more than you really can is demonstrated by those gym goers who use momentum to do their reps. They use their bodyweight and/or gravity to help them complete each rep. Sometimes, if you’re unable to finish your LAST rep without momentum, then I get it. If you need it for rep number one? Step the weight down, friend.

Then you have those who do more reps than they should. They do half reps instead of a full range of motion in order to rack up the rep numbers. Imagine someone going bicep curls, but instead of them going all the way back down to starting position, they go to 90 degrees and count that as a rep. It’s definitely not a full one, buddy, and it’s not engaging your entire muscle.

Then you have the cardio folks who think they’re killing the stair master or elliptical by increasing the resistance way up high, but they hold onto the machine! They hold onto the monitor or sides of the machine, lifting themselves off of it and effectively making the exercise much easier. Sure, you might be “running stairs,” but if you’re clinging to the machine for dear life, then you’re not elevating your whole body with every step.

So, why do I bring this up other than to rant? Because form is really important. Hopefully you’re not one of the above offenders, but even if you’re implementing perfect form, there’s something you probably aren’t doing that’s really important. It’s called mind-muscle connection (or MMC for short). I know it sounds like some hippie theory or wizard concept, but it’s seriously real. It’s pretty much what it sounds like, and there’s a bunch of research to prove it. So, what is it?

MMC is the connection between the exercise you’re doing and how your brain is engaging the muscles it should be engaging while doing it. A simple version of this is when a trainer says “now concentrate on using your X muscle while you’re doing this exercise.” The general concept behind it is to use your neural pathways to engage and contract the muscle you’re intending on targeting.

So why is it important, and how does it factor into your lifting regimen? Our natural physical reaction to resistance is to recruit whatever power we have from our most able muscles to complete the task most easily. Every one of us has certain muscles that are stronger than other ones in our bodies. Imagine doing a squat. A squat is intended to engage all of the muscles in your legs. However, it’s likely that one of the muscle groups in your legs is stronger than the others. Let’s say your quads are the strongest muscle in your legs. Maybe it’s genetics, or maybe you’ve trained your quads the most, but for whatever reason, they’re the dominant muscle in your legs. When you do a squat and things begin to get difficult (toward the end of the set in particular), your quads will step in to carry the load. So, what happens? Your quads get all of the benefit of the exercise, and your glutes and hamstrings are relieved of the load – thereby not gaining the max benefit of the exercise. And the problem there is that you aren’t trying to make your strongest muscle stronger; you’re trying to make gains in all of the muscles in the muscle group.5254996395_e4ab3bf56d_z

That’s where MMC steps in. By actively focusing on what muscle you’re targeting, you can shift the load back to the intended muscle or muscle group. I have to do this all the time. I actually used MMC today when squatting, because I could feel my quads taking on the load, and I’m trying to build my glutes in particular. I used it when I did hip thrusters – reminding myself to squeeze my glutes and engage my hamstrings instead of letting my quads get recruited to carry the brunt of the load. A lot of people have to do this for bench press when their chest starts to get fatigued, because their triceps will try to lighten the load.

Whatever the exercise, make sure that not only your form is good, but that you’re focusing on what muscle should be contracting. It’s important to remember that our muscles don’t just magically grow because we were able to do a certain number of reps at a certain weight and can brag about it somewhere. Just moving the weight up and down doesn’t make our muscles grow. Maximum muscle contraction is what makes for the muscle gains.

fda2ee2cc03633acae2d9ff03d362ef0That might mean you have to drop the weight you’re using, do half as many reps as usual or lessen the resistance on the stair stepper, but I promise you – doing it right will pay off so much more in the long run. You can’t fake hard work.

Truth & What to do when you can’t work out

It’s been a while since my last post, and one of the reasons why is because I came down with some sort of mystery illness. Without going into nearly two weeks of detail, I’ll just say that I had a fever – on and off – ranging from 99 to 103.9 for 12 days. After one trip to urgent care and three doctor’s appointments, they still don’t know what was wrong with me. Hopefully my blood work will have some indication of what it was. BUT! I’m feeling much much better now, thank goodness.

Being sick for nearly two weeks straight was a little bit of a wake-up call for me, and I thought it might be a good topic for T&F. I’ve written before about when it’s okay not to work out – and that was mostly socially oriented,  but this is more about being physically unable.

Of course, the first half of my illness made it completely impossible for me to work out or even consider it. I had to call my Mom on night two to ask her to come walk my dog for me, because I couldn’t stop shivering for long enough. But toward the end of week one, I did start to feel better, mostly from the time I woke up to around early afternoon until the fever came back. In those windows of feeling better, I wanted to do all of the stuff normal me does. One of those main things, of course, is work out.

When I made it to the doctor early into week two, he forbade me from any exercise whatsoever (you know I asked him specifically). Two days later at a specialist, she agreed and even had to say, “I’m sure you’re losing muscle mass, but don’t worry, it’ll come back quickly.” Thanks a lot.

I don’t know if any of you have had some sort of illness that knocks you down for a while – maybe Mono or something like that – but I certainly hadn’t before. I can also imagine that having a broken bone somewhere would be equally frustrating, although in a different way. You want so badly to feel better – to be able to back to 100 percent and do what you’re used to doing, but you just can’t. As I started to feel better, I was dying to get some exercise and resume my normal regimen. I could feel myself losing weight, and not in a good way. I lost nearly five pounds in 13 days. Mind you, I didn’t move very much the entire time, so I’m guessing it’s pretty much all muscle. I am, however, caught up on a number of Netflix shows.

image1-2Today is day 13, and I feel so much better. I do feel at 100 percent, actually, and I didn’t have a fever at all yesterday. It’s taking quite the self restraint to not do even just a little workout to maintain the muscle I do still have, because I know it’ll be a trial getting it all back. It doesn’t help that the view from my apartment happens to encompass my gym. While I’m sitting on my couch Netflix bingeing, I swear my gym is taunting me.

However, I haven’t exercised, and I don’t plan to until Monday if I’m still feeling recovered then. It’s not worth inviting the fever back. Some people might scoff and say it’s a gift to be told by your doctor not to work out, but when you work hard every workout every week, two weeks off doesn’t feel like a gift. It almost feels like a punishment.

3526713693_7b692de907_zSo, what have I been doing? In a situation like this, or maybe with a broken bone or something else preventing you from exercise, all I think you can do is control the other aspects of your life that keep you healthy. I’ve been eating extremely healthy, making sure to get lots of protein so that my muscle loss stays to a minimum. I’ve been walking a little bit to try and keep my circulation flowing. I’ve also been making sure to get as much sleep as possible. And while I have certainly lost muscle mass (why is it always in my butt first??), I’ve held onto quite a bit, likely because of proper nutrition.

More than anything, this short stint feeling terrible for longer than I have before has reminded me just how awesome it is to feel healthy. Once my fever stayed away for a whole day, I could have cried I was so happy to have one day fever and pain free and to get a full night’s rest. It’s been a huge reminder not to take being healthy for granted. It’s so important to take time to support your health so you don’t end up later in life with sicknesses that could have been prevented.500f8e60207d45357dc24817f6f481ba

Getting some crazy virus can happen to anyone – even the healthiest of us. I’m guessing I got this on an airplane. Being in good shape and eating right to support a healthy immune system will help you through a nasty virus like I had. All I can say is thank goodness for muscle memory, and I can’t wait for Monday to come around so I can get back on the horse, as they say.

Truth & Gym pet peeves (What not to do at the gym)

For those of you who are gym rats like I am – you’ll recognize these annoying habits people have in the gym, so please read on and commiserate. For those of you who are newbies or possibly prospective weight-room goers, then these will help you navigate the Dont’s of the gym. Also, for any men readers out there, the last few could possibly serve as love advice.

  1. Not unracking your weights. This is a given to those of us who live in the weight room. It very much is not for people new to the gym. Or, I guess, lazy people who are too exhausted to put the weights away that they’ve just used. Sure, it’s not the end of the world, but if someone needs to get in and out of the gym, this is a time burner that easily could have been avoided. Even worse, sometimes the people who come after you aren’t as strong as you and actually can’t do it. I see people leave 45-pound plates on barbells all the time. What about that newbie chick who wants to use the bar alone? This happened to me at my old gym with 100-pound plates. I can’t lift that from chest height. And there were three on each side. I was too proud to ask for help, so I just did something else. Don’t be that guy/girl.7504979402_d4bd3302fd_z
  2. Hogging all the weights at the same time. I like to do a lot of supersets, so I know this is necessary sometimes, but being lazy and not putting them back before moving onto your next set is just not cool. Even with super sets, try to limit them to two exercises so you’re not that guy. This also applies to the guy in the gym who’s doing a CrossFit workout in a normal weight room. Sir, you’re not allowed to use an entire cable machine, pull-up bar, barbell, plates, dumbbells and jumprope all at the same time. Especially not at 6 p.m. when everyone else is crammed in there. This happened to me and I just started using the cable machine he was using while he was off doing deadlifts. Sorry not sorry. (The next few are mostly geared toward men, so apologies there, but women will definitely understand these)
  3. Hitting on someone/chatting them up while they’re in the middle of a set. I once had someone interrupt me mid crunch. MID CRUNCH. I wish I could tell you how many times this has happened to me. Less bad but annoying in a different way is doing this in between sets. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t make friends with people at your gym – by all means! But if you want to chat with someone, then try to respect their rest time. If I only want to rest for a minute, then I’m going to get annoyed when you ask me what I do for a living two minutes into “Hey, can I use that bench?” More to come on the “hitting on people” note at the end.ForAnnoyingPeople-952
  4. Giving advice to someone who didn’t ask for it. That’s what trainers are there for. If someone is going to actually hurt themselves doing something incorrectly, then trainers should be the ones to spot it and suggest a correction. Again, this is probably just a ploy by the person to hit on you, but in what world is a girl going to say “oh, thanks for criticizing me, let’s go out later?” There are a lot of insecure people in the gym. Even if you think you’d be incredibly helpful, this is a no no and will probably deflate his/her ego.
  5. Asking a woman how she got into weight lifting or asking her what she’s training for. If this is a ploy to hit on someone, then it’s better than the above method, but it’s pretty sexist. You wouldn’t ask your bro why he likes to lift weights or who “got him into it.” Because she likes to be badass, strong, healthy and look good naked. Just like you.

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In terms of hitting on women at the gym, I have to say I get it. It’s a good place to meet people who care about fitness and probably live/work around you. Just keep a couple of things in mind. First, no matter if she’s single or not, she’s going to be standoffish. She’s surrounded by grunting men staring at her. Keep in mind that most women there absolutely do not want to be approached. Approach with caution and prepare for the worst. Respect her rest time, don’t critique her form and don’t ask her how she got into weight lifting (as we’ve discussed). My advice? If you must approach, start with a simple “I see you here a lot, I’m ______.” This implies she’s awesome for hitting the gym often enough that people notice. Then proceed with caution and still prepare for the worst. Good luck, fellas.

Try to avoid these blunders and you’ll be golden. I don’t think anyone wants to be “that guy (or girl)” in the weight room.

Truth & Carbs (What they are and when you should and shouldn’t eat them)

For a long time now, I’ve been of the mind that if you want to get and stay lean that you should follow a low-carb, high protein diet with a good amount of fat (and of course fresh things) sprinkled in. Of course, I’ve read plenty of generic studies proving my confirmation bias to be correct, but my personal opinion about it was based, honestly, on how I felt and looked when I ate too many carbs. For me, the best I look and feel is when I don’t eat very many starches at all, and the fastest way I’ve lost fat is to cut them out entirely (other than veggies).

2330099711_5d159b092a_zSo, it’s been a long time coming that I’ve wanted to research and write a blog for those of you out there who might have toyed with the idea of a low-carb diet, because now I have the science behind it.

5949519379_a40e205058_bWithout writing a dissertation, here are the scientific basics in terms normal humans (like me) can understand… carbohydrates are your body’s favorite type of fuel. Imagine little tiny fuel cells in your body floating around, and when you eat carbs, your body fills them up. Now, the speed at which they’re filled up is very important. If they get blitzed, it’s bad, and if they get full slowly, it’s good.

When they’re “blitzed,” it’s by refined carbs. These are the food we know we shouldn’t eat: sugar, syrup, candy,
“fat” soda, etc. These fill up our fuel cells quickly, which sounds good, but it causes our bodies to release insulin. Insulin is the hormone that signals the body to stop burning fat and start storing it. It’s the fat-storing hormone. A large influx in insulin can also cause a crash. It makes us feel really tired and often really hungry (the opposite of what we want).

When the fuel cells are filled slowly, it’s by complex carbs. These are: oatmeal, sweet potatoes, brown rice, rye, barley (and many more). These fill our fuel cells slowly, which allows our blood sugar to stay even (not spike) and cause our bodies to release glucagon. Glucagon is a fat-burning hormone triggered when blood sugar is steady.

~ Another important aside is the glycemic index (GI). This is a scale we use to rate carbs, and it can help you figure out which carbs are the best choices (low GI) and which aren’t (high GI).~

So, should you eat carbs? And when? And how much? Spoiler alert – it depends.

6190089496_b18c4e27cc_oThe first thing it depends on is how active you are. If you’re very active, then your fuel cells will be empty. You did an intense interval workout yesterday and hardly ate any carbs, so your fuel cells are ready to receive. If you sat on the couch or in an office chair all day, then it’s likely you haven’t depleted your fuel cells any. In that case, whatever you have eaten today is likely sufficient. It also depends on the type of exercise, because lifting (among others) causes your body to continue to burn your energy stores after you’ve finished.

Everyone’s fuel cell size (the amount of glycogen you can store) is different. It also depends on your lifestyle, genetics, training regimens, etc. It can be tricky to figure out how big or small yours are, but it’s a good guideline to tie your carb intake to your activity level for a start.

The next thing is the when. If you’re going to eat carbs, then the best times of the day are before and after a workout.  Beforehand so that you have the energy reserves to last through a tough workout and after so that you have the energy system to deliver the protein you need to your muscles. Both instances should include protein to support the muscle breakdown you’re encountering during a workout.

Another controversial question is whether you should ever eat carbs before bed or if it’s a good idea right when you wake up. This also depends.

14083092466_377bf7e16a_zIf your main goal is fat loss, then you should abstain from carbs when you wake up. You’ve effectively done a night-long fast, and your body is burning fat by not having new calories to use instead. However, it’s also burning muscle to sustain itself, so that’s an issue for people trying to gain muscle.

If your only goal is to gain muscle, then you should eat a small snack before bed and a meal when you get up to make sure that you have the nutrients your body needs to gain mass and not burn existing mass.

If you’re somewhere in the middle, then join the club. My personal recommendation is to eat a protein-based snack before bed if you’re hungry to lessen any muscle loss overnight and then eat a protein-based breakfast with a small carb supplement in the morning to halt muscle breakdown.

6915430907_9e482fc2ce_zThe moral? If you’re looking to continuously burn fat, then you should be eating few carbs. The carbs you do eat should be complex and should be eaten strategically only to supplement workouts and to end night-long fasts. Do keep in mind that you’ll need to supplement calories with protein in order to maintain those hard-earned gains!

I know it’s disappointing, and it does take some getting used to, but when your abs are rippling this summer, you’ll be happy you replaced toast with eggs every morning.

Truth & CrossFit (Why it’s not only a scam but will likely get you hurt)

Okay, so I know that I’m going to get a LOT of criticism for just coming out and saying it, but here it is: I think CrossFit is a waste of time. Actually, it can be legitimately dangerous. Here are some of the reasons why it was a great contribution to modern exercise but is now an overpriced fad that can get you hurt.6033128216_327ffa924f_zSo, I started out with the concept behind this topic because of all of the bad form I see at the gym. I see people often lifting way too much weight with poor form – they usually have to use their bodyweight or gravity as momentum to do an entire set, not just the last rep, and I wonder why they’re forcing themselves to lift a weight they simply cannot lift. I assume that it’s an ego thing. They want to “look strong” lifting more than they can, so they go for the big dumbbells. Aside from looking ridiculous, the problem here is that this is exactly how people get hurt. Which brings me to CrossFit.

8445541014_a3f404c5fc_zLet’s start with the pros of CrossFit… CrossFit brought two things to modern exercise that were severely lacking: Barbell-based weight lifting and the concept that exercise should be difficult. Before CrossFit, there was this notion that exercise should involve gently peddling on your stationary bike at home or doing a “workout video” with a celebrity trainer via VHS. CrossFit introduced the idea that you should have to work REALLY damn hard when you exercise, and you should lift heavy things when you do it. Right on, CrossFit. I’m with you. Except for the next part(s).

The cons of CrossFit are many. The reason why people flock to and become obsessive about CrossFit are part of the reason why it eventually becomes problematic. People love the results they get when they first start CrossFit. They see results quickly because they’re often not used to weight lifting, and a good thing about CrossFit is that it keeps your body constantly guessing – the workouts are always changing, so your body has a hard time plateauing. Newbies lose a ton of fat and gain muscle because they’re doing heavy-weight exercises they’ve never done before.

The issue, however, is what happens when you leave your newbie state and your body gets used to CrossFit. While CrossFit workouts will satisfy your exercise requirement for the day, they aren’t a form of training – training meaning a planned, goal-based increase in cardio ability, strength ability, fat-loss goal or otherwise. Training requires a strategic and consistent repertoire of exercises. This is pretty much the antithesis of CrossFit.8438349441_e635a04d0a_z

In addition to not being able to attain whatever goal you might have, you can very possibly – and sometimes likely – hurt yourself. Which brings us to another downfall of CrossFit. CrossFit very often (and most of the time) bases its workouts on how many repetitions of X exercise you can do in X amount of time. Just think about that for a second. It’s competition based on how many reps you can complete in a short amount of time. So, instead of focusing on perfect form for 10 reps of, say, squats, you’re challenged to squat as many times as possible in 30 seconds. And, while this may get your heart rate up and improve your cardio, you’re likely not 100% focused on your form or making sure you’re doing the exercise properly. It essentially prioritizes quantity over quality.

2199957266_c40f915fbe_zTake kipping for example. If you don’t know what kipping is, please do yourself and google a video of it, because it’s ridiculous. It’s what I call cheating in pull-up form. The CrossFitter does pull-ups, but at the bottom of the pull-up swings their hips violently in order to use momentum to propel themselves high enough to do another rep. To me, it’s common sense that if you can’t do a set of 10 pull-ups without kipping, you should do a set of five normal pull-ups and you’ll gain the strength to get to 10. However, if you’re going to a personal record of 10 in CrossFit and you just NEED to get there, then apparently kipping is totally acceptable! It’s all about the reps – not about the actual ability. If you really want a laugh, check out butterfly kipping. Those are a favorite at the CrossFit games.

I digress – so the quantity over quality aspect often forces people who aren’t ready for a certain weight/number of repetitions to push themselves too far too early, and end up getting hurt. Sickeningly, injuries are sometimes even worn as badges of pride in the CrossFit community because they happen eventually if you’ve been doing it long enough.

Another sad aspect of CrossFit is the misleading nature of the “athletes” who do it. Going back to the CrossFit games, if you’ve ever seen these, they might seem like an ideal advertisement for doing CrossFit. These men and women are in AMAZING shape. It’s all a ruse, though! These people absolutely, 100% lift weights, and heavy ones, in order to look like that. It is impossible to have that much muscle without doing alternative training.

9247608793_89245ee26d_zSomething you probably also didn’t know about CrossFit is that it doesn’t take much to become CrossFit certified. If you have $1,000 and a weekend, then you, too, can become certified between a Friday and Monday. Aside from the fact that this is pretty much extortion, becoming certified in telling people to lift hundreds of pounds over their heads repeatedly in two days is seemingly suspicious. These people don’t know the ins and outs of biomechanics, joint/muscle health, repetitive stress, exercise-related injury like rhabdomyalisis (which is a terrifying syndrome where your muscle eats itself and badly harms your liver), etc. I wouldn’t trust someone as an expert who spent 16 hours learning anything – let alone something that could get me seriously hurt.

If all of that isn’t enough reason that CrossFit isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, let’s just touch on the price. It’s outrageous. I looked up two CrossFit gyms in DC, and their prices for unlimited access were $249 and $245 PER MONTH. What the actual $!^%& If you only want to “kind of” do CrossFit and workout 10 times a month, then it’ll only cost you $209/month, and for 13 classes at the other place, you’ll get a totally (un)reasonable rate of $220 per month. My gym is $99/month, and I think I’m paying way too much. Who can afford this? That’s a car payment!

So, in conclusion, if you want to get healthy, avoid injury, not bankrupt yourself and prefer quality over quantity, then please choose the weightlifting approach. If you’re really dying to do the WOD (CrossFit lingo for workout of the day), then google it and do it at your own affordable gym. Just promise me you’ll focus on your form!

Truth & Getting sick (When skipping a workout is a bad idea)

did-you-know_-15-common-cold-facts-768x511Every year in February I seem to get sick – nothing insane, but an annoying, dragging cold that pretty much just sucks. Such is the case right now. And, because I hear so many people using being sick as a reason to skip the gym, I thought I’d capitalize on it as this week’s topic.

Last week’s blog was about when skipping a workout is totally acceptable. So, naturally, you see the title about “getting sick” and you probably think this is an extension of that – quite the opposite.

I know that we’ve all been there… you’re having a stressful day at the office and have been trying to rationalize skipping the gym after work that day when BOOM, you feel like you’re getting sick. Aha, you say! I’m getting sick! I’d better rest and recuperate! Nope.

b2e552416cff1cad2f7cca585bf64548As tempting as it is to use not feeling 100 percent as a viable reason for skipping the gym and heading straight to the couch for Netflix & Chill, being or getting sick isn’t a reason to miss a workout. Not only isn’t it a reason to miss one – there’s research to show that a working out during a time like this is a particularly good thing to do.

It all hinges on the “above-the-neck rule.” As the name would hint, if your illness/symptoms are above the neck (stuffiness, runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, watery eyes, etc.), then you’re OK to exercise. If they’re below the neck (coughing, body aches, fever, fatigue, dizziness, etc.), then you should stick to the couch. For the majority of us who are lucky (and healthy) enough to only get a cold every year, then we’re usually in the above-the-neck category.

To be honest, on day one I usually feel pretty crummy. It’s a pretty big struggle to get into the gym on that first day. That was yesterday for me. But, I went anyway! I actually ended up having one of my best leg workouts in a while. I listened to my body, didn’t start with squats and stuck to a four-(instead of five) exercise lift.

8149999450_041b47f9c6_zAfter doing a little bit of research for today’s topic, it turns out that it’s no coincidence that I had such a good lift. Apparently there’s a side-effect of our body fighting the virus inside of us that works in our fitness favor. The toxin-and microorganism-fighting antibodies in our systems are strength enhancers, especially at the early stages of illness.

Even if you’re not considering your fitness goals at a time like this, it’s a typical doctor’s recommendation that you get light-to-moderate exercise in the beginning phases of above-the-neck illnesses and moderate exercises for the duration of the illnesses. Exercise can help get the toxins out of your body, relieve congestion and shorten the duration of a common cold. I’ve found, personally, that working out is sometimes the only time I’m able to breathe without any congestion while I’m sick. Talk about a bonus.

Now, of course, there are some considerations to take into account. If you have the flu, sit your ass in bed. Only time, meds and proper nutrition will help you through that mess. And if your cold moves south and settles in as a fun chest issue, then you’ll need some hefty meds to help you get your breathing back to normal. If you need more info on why breathing properly during a workout is important – check out my blog entry about why waist trainers are absurd.

2451674157_cb73fe6c6c_zAnother thing to take into account is the fact that you’re probably pretty contagious. This is the time to wipe down your equipment extra carefully so you don’t give your fellow gymgoers your bug.

So, I’m sorry to say getting a cold isn’t an out from the gym for a week, but the bright side is you have an excuse to make yourself a hot Toddy every night before bed. Some even say it’s the only sure bet for a good night’s sleep while sick! Bottoms up.4223231072_b26f467a9a_z