Tired? Watch What You Eat: Scientific American

Interesting research on the nutrition front.  As always, a study does not make a fact, but properly done and viewed in its proper context can lead to some important clues on the way to true understanding.  Health and Fitness professionals have known for a long time that people who sleep less (not including cocaine and methamphetamine abusers) tend to be more overweight than the general population.  There are probably a host of contributing factors that play into this observation.

I’ve always argued that, biochemically, food is the fuel for your body.  Everything you do requires energy, even the things you don’t consciously control.  Breathing, heart beating, twitching, thinking, are all energy-consuming activities.  Even the act of being awake is more energy-consuming than being asleep.  While this might sound like a perfect complement to a weight loss regimen; stay up as many hours as possible and think a lot; the reality is that the human machine never wants to run in an energy deficit, and it never wants to burn stored energy (fat) if it can help it!  The human body understands fat in a completely different way from your conscious mind.  Every drop of excess body fat is there to save your life, on a cellular level.

“But wait”, you might say, “doesn’t being overweight contribute to early onset cardiovascular diseases and diabetes”?  Yes it does, but only of you live long enough.  Your body, on the cellular level isn’t concerned about your health over 10 year periods.  It’s concerned with keeping you alive one day at a time, and it understands body fat as a protective mechanism to keep you alive as long as possible should you ever run out of food for an extended period of time.  A pound of fat is 3500 calories of energy to keep your heart beating, lungs breathing, and all your neurological functions functioning in the absence of food.  3500 calories can keep you alive for a week, assuming you at least have water.  That’s how your body views fat, and once it stores it away is loath to tap it.  It’s also important to remember that converting fat into usable energy is a metabolically slow process, and the brain, heart, lungs, and cells, need energy now, not in ten minutes.

It only makes sense then that should a person stay awake for overextended periods of time, the body will demand extra, new energy intake (food), to keep itself awake to continue whatever activities your engaged in, even if it’s just sitting in front of the tv,  vegging.  It only makes sense that the food your body will crave is food that will be hi in instant energy (sugar) and long-term dense energy (fat); the perfect combination of late night snacking to keep you up and to keep you alive for the next week or two.  Just don’t worry about the next few years…when you might drop dead.

Anyway, read on:

Tired? Watch What You Eat: Scientific American.

Sugar, Protein, and Us

Sugar
Image via Wikipedia

Nutritionists have had a model for how refined sugars and simple carbs negatively impact the human body.  In a nutshell, it works like this:

I eat or drink a high sugar food product (candy, soda, pasta, breads; your body thinks they’re all the same).  These things are already in their most broken down state and are ready for immediate absorption.  Body releases a lot of insulin, which sucks up the sugar and causes blood sugar to temporarily soar (momentarily boosting energy)  then catastrophically crash since it just as easily gets stored (as fat) if you don’t use it right away.

English: Diagram shows insulin release from th...
Image via Wikipedia

When the burst of energy ends, your brain wants to get the energy back and tells you your hungry, again.  This model still works, but it’s an incomplete picture, and the truth appears to be even more insidious.

Our friend Thane shared this link which details the neurobiological mechanisms that underly the classic model I sketched above.  It sheds light on why it’s so hard to break this cycle, and tells us how to more effectively deal with the problem.  What I find most amusing is the fact that old medical advice from the 50’s and 60’s, on how to manage blood sugar levels using a chart called the glycemic index, came to these same conclusions long ago.

The article is still fascinating if your into science and health and fitness, so check it out here.

Stretch, anyone? Part 2

Stretching (see part 1)has no inherent physiological health benefits.  Should anyone stretch?  Why stretch at all?   As my brother, an auto mechanic might say, “…there’s a tool for every job, pick the right one”.  Stretching is a a tool that can enhance athletic performance and exercise, and impede athletic performance and exercise.  As a tool, it can help alleviate cramps and a sense of physical discomfort,  but overused can lead to excessive joint laxity and increased risk of injury.  It is a tool to be used specifically, not blindly.  It is not inherently healthier to be more flexible.  This isn’t about faith or dogma.  Why and how we are stretching is the question.

Cons and Common misconceptions of stretching:
  1. It will not lesson muscle soreness after a workout.
  2. It will not prevent or reduce the risk of getting muscle cramps if done before a workout.
  3. It can increase the risk of injury due to excessive joint laxity.  The more flexible a joint is, the more inherently unstable it is, leaving the joint vulnerable to dislocation and tendon/ligament injury).
  4. It might decrease sport specific performance (extremely elongated muscle will have reduced inherent muscular tension; tension which aids in the contractile response.  All muscle fibers have an automatic contract reflex when the brain senses the muscle has reached a certain length/stretch.  This reflex causes the muscle to contract suddenly, and can aid in activities that require explosive movements.

Pros:

  1. It can help correct or minimize musculoskeletal pain and discomfort caused by muscular tightness and imbalance (lower back, hip, knee, ankle).
  2. It can reduce the risk of  cramping, post exercise and athletic activity.
  3. It might help in alleviating active cramps.
  4. It can enhance the performance of specific activities prior to, and after, like:
  • Ballet
  • Gymnastics
  • Yoga
  • Weight lifting, Aerobics, and Athletics: each form has its own specific flexibility and range of motion (ROM) requirements where overly tight muscles could impede performance.
  • Martial arts

There are different types of stretching techniques that are popular.  They each have benefits when applied appropriately.

  1. Static Stretching refers to the technique of lengthening a muscle to the point of mild discomfort and holding that position for 30-90 seconds.  In my experience this is the least functional of the prescribed methods.  Animals, and their associated joints move, and in most real world situations you wouldn’t bend down to touch your toes and not move for 90 seconds.  It might be more efficacious when dealing with certain injuries and post exercise to use this technique, but modern research is moving against this technique.  Traditional stretching is the most common form, with PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) being an advanced technique that has demonstrated quicker, and greater results.
  2. Dynamic Stretching refers to the technique of moving a joint through a range of motion into a stretch, and then back out of the stretch.  This is done repetitively and rhythmically in a way that facilitates flexibility for a specific activity, without short circuiting the natural contractile responses of the targeted muscle.  It would apply to virtually any activity listed under pros, and would be most beneficial to perform before, during, and after the activity.  An advanced technique would be AI (Active Isolated Stretching) advocated by the father/son team of Jim and Phil Wharton.
  3. Ballistic Stretching refers to the method of bouncing, swinging, and flinging a limb or body part into a deep stretch and then letting the muscle bounce out of the stretch.  This method should be avoided at all times and at all costs!  This method can actually cause the targeted muscles to shorten and tighten more.  It has no reported sport specific benefits that I’ve read.