Where it all begins…Mitochondria

  

This is going to be a heavy post. It will require paying attention. It might be confusing. If you make it to the last paragraph you’ll learn how to work out in a way that will supercharge your physical power in almost every aspect of your life. 

There is so much crap. On the web…in magazines…in books. You have no good way to to figure out the good information from the bad, the legitimate experts from that hucksters and charlatans. If you have very clear fitness goals like I want to body build or I want to run the NYC marathon it’s all actually pretty simple. You don’t need to know that much. You don’t need to understand that much. You can easily find workout programs online to build you up or get you moving mile after mile. Those sites and programs will likely even tell you how to eat, what to eat, how much to eat. And you’ll get to wherever you want to get…up to a point. You’ll be able to complete a marathon, but probably won’t get skinny, or finish it in an impressive time. You’ll be able to pack on muscle, building strength and size in your quadriceps and pecs and lats and deltoids. Up to a point. You probably won’t get ripped. Or as big and strong as you hoped.

You’ll either settle for what you get in that first year and plug away trying futilely to maintain your early improvements or you’ll gradually lose motivation and quit. Or you can keep reading. Learn what’s happening to you, deep drilling into the chemistry of life. And along the way, you may even learn how to spot bullshit when you see and hear it.
MitochondriaThink back to your high school or college biology. I know, most of us tried our best to forget this stuff as soon as the tests were over, but this is kind of important. If you want to give yourself a headache click on the word for an in depth scientific description of what it is and what it does. But I’ll keep it much simpler and specific to its role in exercise.

Mitochondria is a part of almost all human cells. It is where cellular energy is made. It is where ATP-PC (adenosine triphosphate – phosphocreatine ) is synthesized. There are many mitochondria in the cells where mitochondria are present; up to 2000 mitochondria in every heart cell! And mitochondria can replicate. The more mitochondria present in a cell, the more ATP energy that cell can create. And mitochondria replication occurs as a result of regular intense exercise, and most commonly as a result of intense aerobic exercise  or extreme high intensity anaerobic training. This is the true fuel of life and movement and human power. Everything you do is, ultimately, dependent on ATP, and almost every cell in your body is designed to synthesize this stuff for you to use. In terms of stored human energy, it is the high octane super charged turbo injected rocket fuel of the human body. When confronted with a fight of flight life threatening situation, ATP is what’s gonna get you thru whichever choice you make. It is the first source of energy your body will tap into for any physical activity, and part of a grand conveyor belt of energy that your body utilizes to keep your heart beating, your lungs breathing, your brain thinking, and your muscles moving.

Roughly speaking, our body’s energy systems flow like this: ATP-glycogen (muscle & liver)-Body Fat. This is referred to as the ATP-PC/Glycolitic/Oxidative (or Aerobic) systems (http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/the-three-metabolic-energy-systems).  

   
The human body can tap into other sources of energy in emergencies, most notably proteins (muscle tissue) and calcium (bone mass), but this is always undesirable unless you’re at risk of starvation. This can occur in extreme endurance athletes like ultra distance runners and cyclists who log hundreds of miles a week in training. It’s also why sports nutritionists recommend marathon runners, iron men competitors, and their even more extreme ultra brethren consume the highest amounts of protein; on par with power lifters, body builders, and strength athletes; some experts claiming that  2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is needed to help protect their bodies from the muscle wasting effects of their activities. Keep in mind, that athletic activities at these extremes are not about enhancing health. These are tests of the human condition, and pushing to these limits repeatedly almost always come with long term, physically debilitating, consequences. Yes, there are examples of individuals who can perform at the extremes almost to the day they die. Do not bet you are one of those. You will likely lose and finding out if you are a member of that exclusive 1% of the top 1% physically is probably not worth it to you. If it were, you wouldn’t be reading this and would be ignoring everyone else’s advice, regardless. 

Body builders and Power Lifters like to imagine they need the most protein, but that scrawny marathon runner who runs 10-20 miles every day needs practically as much. Even the somewhat conservative nutritional dietary establishment supports large amounts of protein for this reason: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Another interesting fact about mitochondria is that they can multiply through fission. This is both good and bad, in a way. Give yourself another headache and click on this, and pay attention to the third paragraph for the bad news. In a nutshell, as mitochondria reproduce through fission, the risk of genetic mutations in new cells goes up and causing the formation of free radicals (some evidence suggests free radicals are bad, as I’m sure you’ve heard, though the science is actually quite sketchy in reality). The good news is that the more mitochondria your body possess, the more ATP-CP you have available, and the more efficiently your body replenished depleted stores of ATP-CP. More mitochondria mean you can ultimately train longer, harder, and more frequently.

So now we come to my opinions. If you’re under 60 years old and your worried about free radicals possibly causing cancer you are being stupid, thru no fault of your own. The media has sent you so many confusing and contradictory messages it’s largely impossible to discern good information from bad. For instance, you probably believe there is an epidemic of Cancer and cardiovascular (heart) disease in the USA. But you’re wrong. There are no such epidemics. If there were an epidemic of cancer (really cancers since there are thousands of completely different kinds of cancers unrelated to any other except for one basic characteristic they all share: harmful cellular multiplication), we would see young people dying by the hundreds of thousands every year of this or that cancer. If heart disease were an epidemic we’d be seeing 12-30 years old dying by the hundreds of thousands every year of heart disease. We do not see this.  What we have an epidemic of is old people! People living into their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond is the epidemic, and something will, eventually, kill us all. Medical science, good nutrition, and basic hygiene, are great at extending our lifespans, but the longer we live the greater the probability that something will go wrong mechanically or on a cellular level.  That’s, unironically, life. So, do you wanna grow old like this:


Or spend your last years living in this like that:


It’s an easy choice for me. More mitochondria please!!!!

Training with Intent

INTENT. 1 a : the act or fact of intending : purpose; b : the state of mind with which an act is done

When you go to the gym and exercise/train, what is your intent? That is, what do you intend to accomplish? Do you even think about it, or do you just go to the gym and “do a bunch of stuff” and hope for the best? If so, have you thought about what you’re actually hoping for?

It’s shocking how many people in the gym never think about any of this. Working out without intent is akin to being given a destination to a town somewhere in North America that you never heard of, and told to find your way there without using a road map, gps, or any other device more complicated than asking random people for directions. Good luck finding your way. You might, but it’s not likely.

Intent can be very personal if you actually have any, but I’m going to try to break it up into a few categories; some specific and some necessarily broad and vague, in alphabetical order since importance is an individual decision:

1: Anaerobic- body building/body shaping
2: Aerobic/anaerobic-weigh loss/weight management
3: Aerobic/anaerobic-cardiovascular health
4: Aerobic-Athletic endurance performance
5: Anaerobic-Athletic performance for strength and power
6: Aerobic/Anaerobic-sports specific performance
7: Anaerobic-anti aging
8: Aerobic/Anaerobic-Health
9: Entertainment
10:Social

Once you’ve chosen the intention of your exercise, you have the opportunity to make an informed choice about what kind of exercises to engage in. Want to train for the next NYC marathon?  Do you want to just finish, or are you trying to see how fast you can finish? #’s 2,3,4,6 apply to you for sure, #’s 9 and 10 might if performance isn’t an issue. Engaging in exercises that adhere to #’s 1,5,7 could prove very counter productive to your immediate goals.

In the coming weeks I’ll touch on training methodologies to best carry out each of the above categories.

High impact exercise is good for you. Yes, it is.

A recent article in the health section of the NYTimes highlights how important high impact exercise can be for improving bone density. This goes hand in hand with the overwhelming evidence that weight bearing exercise can dramatically improve and restore, or at least minimize the loss, of bone density.

Th article goes on to point out how difficult applying these protocols are to the populations most at risk, since this is the same population most likely to sustain injuries from these very activities. Here’s the article, followed by my advice to older populations who want to safely follow the research in their personal workouts:

http://nyti.ms/1ceYdAi

If you are over 50 and have been warned about your bone density, start a traditional strength training/ muscular conditioning program. Minimize cardiovascular exercise to the minimum necessary to insure heart health, because too much aerobic training can reduce your body’s ability to build muscle.
Train 3 times per week, doing two or three exercises per body part for the legs and torso, and two exercises for biceps and triceps. Each exercise should consist of three sets of 10-15 reps each set, for 2 weeks. Each week thereafter attempt to increase weights incrementally; don’t over-expose yourself to injury; as long as you can complete a minimum of 6 reps. For the next three months your goal is to train 3 times per week on non consecutive days with weights that pose a significant challenge between 6-8 reps each set.
After the 3rd month, begin adding some small jumping movements into your routine, in small doses (box jumps, jump ropes, etc.) gradually adding more jumps over a period of months, not days or weeks, and always on non consecutive days!

If you experience joint pain during or after any session, take 3-5 days off before resuming any jumping, and start your jumping type activities over from the beginning.

There you go.

NYTimes: In Struggle With Weight, Taft Used a Modern Diet

Such a compellingly modern story from the American past.

http://nyti.ms/1gfKJFX

William Howard Taft, the United States’ heaviest president, used a weight-loss program that researchers have found to be startlingly contemporary.

“ Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see. ” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Reuters.com – For ‘Biggest Loser’ trainer, diet trumps exercise in weight loss

Yes to the paramount importance of diet (proper nutrition). Must disagree with his adherence to CrossFit training methods (anyone so out of shape as to need to lose significant weight almost certainly lacks the skills to do such a workout safely under any circumstance, regardless of “proper supervision”.

A good piece, overall, though.

Hmm…

How much should YOU exercise? This article has no advice for you. It does say how little exercise is necessary for a sedentary adult over their initial 12 week period of beginning an exercise regimen.. Is that you? Do you fit that description?

The problem that this research is attempting to address is that the vast majority of our fellow Americans (upwards of 90%) engage in absolutely no regular exercise at all. Zip. Zero. Despite all the health info available, most American perceive the effort of exercise as too much, for results that are too nebulously distant, to warrant their attention.

These researchers are attempting to address this by finding the absolute minimum effort necessary to improve health. It’s sort of like trying to address world hunger by figuring out the absolute minimum amount of food a human needs to remain alive. Great idea.

My own opinion is that most people, deep down, don’t want to extend their own lives. They may be afraid of death when it’s staring them in the face, but their day to day lives are such efforts of futility that any distraction, however unhealthy, is preferable to the hard work it might take to extend these futile lives most of us are forced into. And I believe that this is how most people feel, even if its only subconsciously.

If you read the article carefully, all the way to the end, it does talk about the limitations and flaws of these studies as they’ve been done thus far. Worth a read, so long as you read carefully to the end.
http://nyti.ms/11WeJJK

NYTimes: The Rise of the Minimalist Workout

People have long been trying to figure out what the right amount of exercise is, but the focus lately is on the shortest period possible.

18 June, 2013 07:14

Here we go. The New York Times getting lazy again. This article isn’t wrong in what it says, it’s just so vague and incomplete that someone who hasn’t ever engaged in regular exercise before but is getting ready to try is likely to make some terrible mistakes. Lets add just a bit of important detail.

First, everything the article says is correct…when talking about aerobic/cardiovascular exercise. You can train multiple days in a row, and such frequency can enhance the quality of your workouts as your practice develops better skills at that particular activity (running, cycling, even power walking have skills that can be improved).

The reason you can perform these activities multiple days in a row is determined by their nature, which is described in the category name AEROBICS. Aerobics refers to both a human energy system and a certain range of physical intensity.

Aerobic type exercise typically falls into a category of intensity between 60% and 85% of a persons theoretical max effort. At these ranges of effort, a person can continuously exercise for 15 or more consecutive minutes before becoming too fatigued to continue. Within this range the entire cardiovascular system becomes healthier and stronger, and that’s great. But it’s only half (some might argue 1/3) your fitness journey.

Anaerobic exercise is the other half of this very important fitness story. Like aerobics, the term anaerobic refers to both a human energy system and a range of physical intensity for the activity. In Anaerobic exercises, the intensity MUST exceed 85% of a persons theoretical maximum effort, causing rapid exhaustion (under 60 seconds, typically, but always under 2minutes). Training in this range improves the tone, and physical strength, of a persons skeletal muscular system, improving the bodies posture, appearance, resistance to physical injuries, and later in life, infirmity and osteoporosis. Can you walk up a flight of stairs when your 80? Can you tie your own shoelaces? Can you carry a bag of groceries or get up out of a cushy sofa? These are matters of physical strength in the geriatric community, and major challenges to millions of Americans.

Training at this intensity level can not be performed on consecutive days, because training at this level actually causes a temporary weakening of the skeletal muscles involved, and the following 24-48 hours are needed for the muscles to recuperate and adapt in order to become stronger.

The Times article correctly states that 72 hours between exercise bouts is too long to wait for any exercise, but fails to caution that certain kinds of exercise require a certain amount of days off before repeating.

I hope this helps. Good luck.

http://nyti.ms/19ztI5l
NYTimes: How Often to Exercise

Heart health

This is important. One of the main adaptations of intense cardiovascular training is a lowering of the resting heart rate. The heart is a muscle. It’s job is to keep a steady consistent flow of oxygenated blood flowing through your body. The more powerful each beat is, the greater the volume of blood that is circulated PER heartbeat. A strong heart beats with greater power, and beats less often to do its job. A weak heart has to accomplish the exact same task, or you die, so if it can’t push a lot of blood per beat, it beats faster to get the same result.

A good analogy:
A strong man goes grocery shopping, and fills 5 heavy bags of groceries. When he gets home he grabs all 5 at once and walks up two flights of stairs to his apartment.

A weak man unloads his car of the 5 bags, brings them to his front stoop, and carries two bags up at a time. He has to make more trips to accomplish the same goal.

Now, imagine that both men had to accomplish that goal on the same amount of time, or they would lose the groceries to the other. Who would likely win?

We used to say that every heart has only so many beats in it. How true that sounds.

http://nyti.ms/ZxkvVf

NYTimes: Heart Rate as a Measure of Life Span

A higher resting heart rate is an independent predictor of mortality, even in healthy people in good physical condition, a new study suggests.

Phys Ed: Can Pickle Juice Stop Muscle Cramps? – NYTimes.com

I’ve talked a number of times about the enduring mystery of muscle cramps. No real knowledge exists as to why they occur; only educated and uneducated guesses that have absolutely no research to rely on. Until now.

It’s been a highly accepted bit of exercise lore that pickle juice can reduce the duration of cramps, and I’ve suggested it to a number of clients and “spinners” over the years. Everyone assumes its the electrolytes, potassium and salt that helps, though I’ve repeatedly pointed out that the exercise science literature shows that perfectly hydrated people with excellent electrolyte profiles cramp with the same frequency as everyone else statistically.

Why it helps no one could say. Until now. Pickle juice has been specifically studied as to its efficacy in combatting cramps, and been found very effective. This, in and of itself, also gives compelling clues as to why muscles actually cramp, as well.

Of course, further studies need to be done. Read the interesting New York Times piece below.
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http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/09/phys-ed-can-pickle-juice-stop-muscle-cramps/

Gluten-Free for the Gluten Sensitive – NYTimes.com

To eat, or not to eat (gluten), that is the question.
The article linked at the bottom is talking about wheat products. All wheat based products contain gluten, and depending on your health sources you should avoid it at all costs or not worry about it at all.

This NY Times piece is quite balanced and discusses the issue from each side of the divide, as well as from the point of view of real medical scientists. Keep in mind, that according to this story, the most recent study; conducted with scientific double blind placebo controls, had a sample size of 34 people. 34? Not 34,000. Not 3,400. Not 340. 34. Well, so much for conducting a definitive study.

I’ve personally never seen a reason to cut wheat glutens from my diet. Consuming wheat has never appeared to have a negative impact on my past performance as a pro racquetball player, a body builder, a runner, or a cyclist. I’ve never had a problem with energy levels or bloating. Those who are most vociferously aligned against wheat gluten seem to take it on faith and dubious pseudo science, or have an actual diagnosed case of celiac disease. The amorphous new “symptoms” newly medically recognized as “gluten sensitivity” seems to be growing, but whether its growth is legitimate or mass hysteria based on marketing is still up in the air. Many body builders and other physique minded people have been claiming for 2 decades that glutens cause bloating and negatively affect abdominal appearance.

Prior to the 1990’s, NO ONE seemed to have a problem with glutens (outside sufferers of celiac disease) and physique athletes didn’t seem to have a problem developing the sculpted bodies made of dreams. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself can be seen wolfing down an entire pizza pie immediately after winning his final Mr. Olympia title in the documentary Pumping Iron, and amid all the conversations the body builders have about nutrition in the film, no one mentions gluten sensitivity.

On the other hand, according to this article, the gluten content of breads has increased dramatically in recent years, and perhaps more people’s systems are unable to cope. It certainly deserves way more comprehensive study.

Do any of my readers have a gluten sensitivity related story to share?