Link Love To Start The Week

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Soooooo, I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a series like this pretty regularly, and there is no time like the present.  Basically I’ll link to a couple of articles that I’ve read recently and find particularly insightful.  Most of them will be fitness related, but there are other topics that may find their way in this series as well.  I read a fair amount because I think it’s just that important, so important that I try and do it daily, and I think you should too.  Here’s to blowing your mind, or at least expanding it.

5 Things That Will Make You a Better Runner– Ian Fagala

As I mentioned last week I’ve been asked to do some regular contributions for Go! St Louis, if you missed my post on their site last week be sure and check it out.  

11 Reasons People Think Calories Don’t Count — And Why They’re Wrong – Armi Legge

I really can’t stress this point enough.  If your goal is fat loss and you are not looking at calories as a means to do that you are missing the bus.  I would liken this to driving from New York to LA without a roadmap, you might get to your destination but it’ll take a hell of a lot longer.

Stevia: Natural Sugar Alternative or Toxic Chemical?– Chris and Kara Mohr

There are all kinds of crazy opinions out there on artificial sweeteners.  You’ve got the Aspartame will give you cancer crowd, the conspiracy theorists that believe the FDA has been bought by the Aspartame Association, artificial sweeteners will make you grow a third nipple, and probably a million more.  Now I’ll admit I use Stevia daily in my coffee and this gave me cause to potentially reconsider that, at least to maybe stop daily use.  The only way  you can make an educated guess on what is best for you is by having all the facts.  While all the facts aren’t quite in on Stevia, at least you can make a judgement call based on your own research.

If you like this be social and share this article on the interwebs!

5 Things To Make You a Better Runner

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I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be doing some guest blogging over at Go! St Louis.  I’ve done a bit of work with them in the past and have ran a few of their races.  They are a great presence in the St. Louis area and do a lot to promote not just running but fitness as a way of life.

In this post I touch on just a few things that you can do to make you a better runner.  Even if you aren’t a runner they are great points that I think anyone can begin to implement into their own training to make some improvements.  If you like the article feel free to get social and share it on the interwebs like facebook or whatever form of social media you use.

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Low Carb, Low Fat, High Protein, Who Knows?!

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Protein Protein Protein! Seriously if you ask the bodybuilders you can’t live without more protein. I’ll admit it’s important and is my favorite macronutrient, especially when it comes packaged as a ribeye steak.

However, seeing as not all of us have a degree in nutrition, or care to read and actually interpret the latest studies how are we supposed to know how much of it to eat, or how much carbohydrate or fat?  Should we be following a high protein diet, a low carb diet? Just what exactly does low carb mean, like 50 grams of carbs daily, or is ultra low carb like 20 grams better?

I think we are putting the proverbial cart before the horse a bit here. I’m not sure the first question we need to be asking is how many carbs should I eat, is low fat healthy (in short no), or is 78 grams of protein each day enough?

These questions a lot of times are what I refer to as minutia, they are not really that important. They really only serve to distract us from focusing on the bigger, more important aspects of our health.  Those bigger more important aspects are things like eating mostly whole unprocessed foods as close to their natural state as possible. Not to mention making sure we are exercising a couple days a week and incorporating a mix of strength training and cardio.

Most of us could vastly improve our health by doing those two things alone. Even if we are doing those two things pretty well our next question still shouldn’t be one of optimal macronutrient breakdown, because if you are eating mostly whole unprocessed foods you are likely getting a good mix of macros.

Most of the people that have pushed certain dietary strategies are folks that are interested in selling a product or service to you. Weight Watchers I believe followed a mostly low fat point system for a long time, but has since talked a bit more about balance. Atkins is about low carb and eating bacon til you puke (this might also apply to the paleo crowd), which can have drawbacks and advantages based on your own health profile.

In effect these people are “creating a problem” in order to sell you their particular solution. Now these programs may in fact work and provide results, but a lot of times only confuse us further, because we start to believe we have to eat low carb or low fat to be healthy.

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There are examples of populations the world over that have enjoyed great health with just about all of these approaches. **Spoiler Alert**There is no magical macronutrient breakdown that we can apply to everyone. Blanket approaches to nutrition are a part of what got our nation into the mess that it is.  It is really dependent upon what your goals are, and even then for most of us a nutrition strategy that incorporates a lot of fruits and veggies, healthy cuts of protein, and healthy fats will serve us just fine.

A large majority of people eat processed food and a lot of it, and that is the problem. These foods are typically very high in calories and very low in nutrition. And too many of them consumed regularly and for long periods of time are what perpetuate many of the health problems we face today. A few less than desirable food choices in the short term won’t hurt but you multiply them over months and years and you have a different story.

The biggest disservice these types of programs have done is fooled us into believing that the low fat cookie that is highly processed and loaded with sugar is a healthy choice. Seriously I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy a delicious cookie but I don’t delude myself that it’s a healthy choice and neither should you.

The biggest disservice these types of programs have done is fooled us into believing that the low fat cookie that is highly processed and loaded with sugar is a healthy choice. Seriously I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy a delicious cookie but I don’t delude myself that it’s a healthy choice and neither should you.

I would challenge you the next time you go to the grocery instead look at the foods that have all the great so called messages of health on them.

“Part of a low fat diet!”

“Proven to help lower cholesterol!”

“Heart Healthy!”

The messages on those foods are marketing plain and simple, now go take a look at the broccoli, the steak, or the bananas. These foods don’t need a fancy sticker or healthy claim to convince you to buy them, these are the types of foods we should be basing our eating on.

While I could provide a great nutrition plan for you with a great macronutrient breakdown I’d much prefer you work hard and learn what works for you, and not worry too much about how much protein, carb, or fat your eating, at least at first. First get into the habit of eating fruits or veggies with every meal, along with a healthy protein, some fat, and maybe some starchy carbs. Do this in a calorie range to support whatever your individual goals might be and the rest will more than likely take care of itself.

In the fitness/health arena many of the answers are it depends, and the topic of macronutrient breakdown certainly fits that bill. I’m not a fan of extremes one way or the other when it comes to eating (or anything else, really I find myself a middle of the road kind of guy) and I think Michael Pollan said it best in his book In Defense of Food “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”.

The Meal By Meal Approach

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If you are a fitness nerd, then you may be familiar with the joint by joint approach popularized by Gray Cook and Mike Boyle. It is a way to look at the human body, each of it’s joints, and their respective needs. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, it is certainly worth a look, and helps us better understand how we can program our exercise to be most effective. The joint by joint approach and meal by meal approach are similar in name only, but the concept will be helpful, as I think it’s a good template that can help us change the way we eat.

When we are attempting to make behavior changes based on the way we eat, it makes sense to change one part of one meal at a time instead of large dramatic changes. We typically have a far smaller chance of succeeding when we make large scale change than we do when we make small consistent changes. The meal by meal approach implies that we will make these small changes by focusing on one meal at a time. Start by making a few small changes to your breakfast, then move on to making changes to lunch, then dinner, and even snacks, depending on how you structure your meals.

By applying the meal by meal approach to each meal, over the course of a few weeks you can dramatically change the way you eat. Considering that breakfast is the first meal of the day, it just makes sense to start there. When designing your breakfast, a lot of times we may need to step back and put our meals in the context of our goals. If our goal is fat loss and we’ve determined 1800 calories puts us in a deficit, then we can figure out how many calories we need to eat per meal by simply dividing by that number of meals.

If you want to eat 4 times a day divide 1800 by 4 and you come up with 450 calories per meal. Obviously you can change that number as much as you want by adding or subtracting calories to each meal as long as the total calories consumed at the end of the day is 1800. If that goal is met, you should achieve your goal of fat loss.

Now adding and subtracting calories is no exact science and there are a ton of ways that may throw you off. Oddly enough our nutrition labels lie to us sometimes too and there can in fact be more calories in the food, or maybe less. You might also be thinking “well I can eyeball my portions I’m pretty good at that”. Pretty consistently we will under estimate the total number of calories in our portions, it just seems to be human nature to think we ate less than we actually did. If you need any more convincing on this then check out Brian Wansink’s work on mindless eating.

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Tracking calories is really one of the only ways to know how much we are eating and even then as you can see that can be pretty flawed at times. The point being, don’t rely just on eyeballing your portions or trying to judge them by feel.

The take home message when it comes to results is, “If we are not achieving the results we want, we may need to be more diligent with the way we are measuring our food intake”. If you are in a calorie deficit then you will lose body fat, but if your results have stalled or never started then you more than likely will not loose that fat.

Getting back to breakfast, if we are typically someone who consumes things like pop tarts, bagels, or cereal then it may be time to consider some more options. These options are highly processed and really provide little in the way of real nutrition. Ideally each of our meals should have a fruit or veggie, a healthy protein, and a healthy fat. You can add a starchy carbohydrate if you want as well, but I’d make sure the other requirements are met first.

So instead of the pop tart, try an egg with some spinach and cheese which would meet that criteria. You might also try oatmeal with some berries and a scoop of protein powder, none of that instant maple and brown sugar crap either. Really the possibilities are endless, but the point being find a few options that you like and can eat regularly and then cycle them in and out. However, remember if you really dig a poptart from time to time, don’t completely eliminate them from your plan. Eat them as often as you need to in order to feel satisfied, but not so much that they sabotage your goals.

As you embark on the meal by meal approach not only can it support your goals of fat loss, but you will probably start to feel better and have more energy.

Once you have a few options that you can use for breakfast then move on to lunch and do the same thing, then move on to dinner. So remember to slowly over the course of a few weeks make some small changes meal by meal and you will reach your ultimate goal!!