Night Shift Nutrition Tips

Hi all!

I recently got back from a business trip to India. It was my first travel for business purposes, and it was such a positive experience. I felt like I got to know the Indian people and culture better through business travel and the daily interaction than I may have if I had just gone for pleasure. Plus I got to explore on the weekends and get to know people that way too. Win win win.

While I was over there, I heard a lot of people talk about their struggles with night shift work, particularly gaining weight. I whipped up a nutrition guide for people working the night shift, but a lot of it is generally applicable. As I always say, we are all unique snow flakes, so when it comes to grams/calories/etc, take it with a grain of salt and meet with dietician to get exact estimates for your needs.

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Night Shift Nutrition

Working the night shift may seem like a challenge for eating and maintaining a healthy body, but with by keeping a few basic principles in mind, you can overcome the unique challenges that the shift poses.

  1. Calories are complicated. While simply “calories in, calories out” is not fully accurate, weight gain and loss is largely a matter of excess calories.
    1. Carbohydrates are the easiest substance to digest and convert into fat. The more cooked, refined, or ‘white’ a carb is, the more effect is has on elevating blood sugar and weight gain. Refined carbs are responsible for elevating LDL cholesterol.
    2. The more fiber something has (such as vegetables and whole grains) the slower the carbohydrates are absorbed into blood and the more filling it is. Fiber helps lower cholesterol and burns some calories being digested.
    3. Protein is the most difficult substance to digest, so it burns some calories when eaten. It is important to eat protein with meals for slowing absorption of carbohydrates, increasing satiety, and building/maintaining lean muscle.
    4. Fat is not evil and is great for satiety and also slows absorption of carbohydrates. However, because it is the most calorie dense, portions need to be monitored. (Especially heavy Indian sauces/gravies/curries!)  Avoid vegetable oils. Coconut oil, ghee and olive oil are the healthiest oils.
  2. Hunger depends on many factors, including how long since the last meal, foods chosen, amount of sleep, other substances ingested, environment, and social cues.
    1. Try not to go more than 5-6 hours between meals to avoid overeating. Carry high protein/fiber snacks around with you (dried chickpeas, jerky, carrots, apple)
    2. Choose high protein foods, LOTS of vegetables, and high fiber carbohydrates for longer satiety.
    3. Blended or liquid foods pass through the stomach quickly and are less satiating.
    4. Drinking alcohol, social cues, being dehydrated, and lack of sleep increase hunger. Women need at least 2 liters water daily, men 3 liters.

 

Sleep:

  • Sleep is crucial for optimal energy, weight, happiness, and health.
  • Aim for 8 hours per night, allowing 20 minutes to fall asleep.
  • It is important to sleep in pitch black, so use an eye mask and ear plugs if necessary.
  • Avoid getting less than 7 hours of sleep, and if you accumulate sleep debt (which is stored up to two weeks) try to catch up over the weekend.
  • No bright lights or screens for at least an hour before bed.

Sample schedule:

Mon-Fri: 8pm, go to work. Work 9pm to 5am. Get home at 5:30am and get in bed. Sleep 6am-2pm. Between 2pm and 8pm, enjoy being with family and squeeze in a workout for 15-60 minutes. With this schedule, meals could be breakfast around 3pm, lunch around 8pm, dinner at 1am.

On the weekends, try not to stray too far from the work schedule.

You can discuss with your doctor a natural supplement or melatonin to help with sleep cycle regulation or changes.

  • Sat: Wake at 2pm as usual, go to bed around 2am, using melatonin or sleepy tea if needed.
  • Sunday: Wake at 10am, 11, or noon. Bed at 2 or 3am.
  • Monday: repeat work schedule.

If you are very tired from the work week, go to bed as early as you want on Saturday. On Sunday, try to go to bed between 2 and 5am so that you are closer to work schedule.

Exercise:

  • Go to http://www.bodbot.com/ . It was created by one of my friends and is an AWESOME resource for working out and nutrition!
  • My blog is theInformedHealthnut.com which has lots of health articles, exercises, and recipes :)
  • During work, try to get up and walk or group work out at least every couple hours.
  • Can see if getting a few standing desks is an option for the office
  • Stretch and meditate daily, even briefly
  • Exercise is essentially the only way to elevate HDL cholesterol

Different types of exercise have different health benefits and otherwise.

  • Longer, less intense cardio: Good for the heart, endurance, and calorie expenditure. Ex: going for a walk, elliptical, dance, difficult yoga classes
  • Short, intense cardio: Great for the heart, burns lots of fat, increases metabolism. Ex: sprints by running, some sports, swimming, biking, intervals of any type, body weight exercises,  HIIT, crossfit
  • Weight lifting: Increases metabolism by building muscle, burns fat, stronger body for longevity
  • Yoga/stretching/core: Decreases stress, improves mobility, balance, core supports spine and posture

AHA Recommendation – For Overall Cardiovascular Health:

  • At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes

OR

  • At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity

EITHER PLUS

  • Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week for additional health benefits.

For Lowering Blood Pressure and Cholesterol:

  • An average 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity 3 or 4 times per week

Sample weekly goals:

2-3 long slow cardio sessions ( 30-60 minute walks or challenging yoga)

1-2 intense cardio session (15-30 minute sprint intervals or other intense interval workout)

Note: These are better to do on the weekend as they can be tiring, and you dont want to fall asleep at work! They are great for helping you fall asleep earlier on the weekend.

1-2 weight lifting sessions

Note: If lifting heavy, these can also be tiring, so may be better to do during the weekend.

Endurance cardio: Walking, cycling, swimming, pilates, brisk yoga class, dance class. Should be at an easy enough pace that can be maintained without needing to stop and rest.

Intense cardio: High Intensity Interval Training via cycling, rowing, swimming, running, jump rope, running stairs, or other cardio form. The goal is to get your heart rate near your max (around 220 – your age), then recover, repeat. Another option is to use the bodyweight exercises. You can also utilize exercise videos on YouTube that are bodyweight interval training.

Examples:

  • 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds easy (“Tabata”)
  • 30 seconds hard, 60 seconds easy
  • 30 seconds sprint, 90 seconds easy
  • 45 seconds hard, 60 seconds easy
  • 60 seconds hard, 60 seconds easy, etc

Body weight exercises: Can be done at home, in a park, at a gym, etc.

  • Box jumps, jumping of any sort
  • Squats
  • Jump lunges
  • Pushups
  • Pull ups
  • Chin ups
  • V-ups
  • Tricep dips
  • Back Extensions
  • Sit ups
  • Leg Raises
  • Plank Holds
  • Bridges
  • Burpees

Weight training: Strength in a gym setting, focusing on sheer strength gains within functional movements. All movements with additional weight to bodyweight.

If you do not have access to a gym, you can purchase weights or use heavy objects around the house (with good form and safety!) for exercises. Tons of strength workouts can be found online, on Bodbot.com, on my blog, and on youtube. Youtube videos can show proper form, but if your budget, allows, it is best to have a personal trainer show you how to do the moves.

Examples: Deadlifts*, squats*, overhead press, bench press, lunges

Yoga/Stretching/Core: If you can spend a few minutes stretching and meditating daily, that is ideal. Doing yoga, longer stretching, and core workouts 1-2 times per week is great for reducing stress and maintaining flexibility. These can be done at a gym or at home. There are many free videos online for yoga, stretching, and abdominals.

Nutrition

There are some basics you must know and understand in order to make educated food decisions for life. I recommend memorizing the foods listed as examples of each macronutrient. I have placed each food into which macronutrient it is predominately.

Carbohydrates:

These are used for energy and are all broken down into sugar in the stomach and intestines. While all carbohydrates are technically composed of sugar, they have very different effects on our blood sugar due to their fiber content and processing/cooking method.

Carbohydrates elevate our blood sugar, which releases insulin, which tells our body to store fat. Too many carbohydrates are the most direct cause of weight gain. Refined carbohydrates and sugars are the worst, because they elevate blood sugar the fastest and usually have a higher total carbohydrate load.

Sources of carbohydrates: Rice, bread, naan/roti/chapati, noodles, all sweets, all fruits and juices, starchy vegetables like potatoes and winter squash

Unexpected sources of carbohydrates: milk and yogurt (does have some protein, but has natural sugars), all beans/chickpeas/lentils (have some protein, but more carbs)

Vegetables: are technically a carbohydrate, but they are rich in fiber, which slows absorption and increases satiety. Vegetables can be eaten in unlimited quantities, as they are not calorie dense (except starchy veg like potatoes and winter squash, corn)

Tips for carbs: Eat a lot of vegetables. Choose whole grain and brown carbs over white carbs. Avoid sugar (try adding no more than 3 tsp TOTAL to tea, coffee, etc per day. Avoid dried fruit and fruit juice, and just eat whole fruits.

Weight loss portions: [These are highly variable but a generalized recommendation.] No more than ~100-150 calories/25-40g for women and 150-200 calories/40-50g for men worth of carbohydrates per meal.

  • 120 calories is a half cup of cooked rice, half cup daal, half a naan, half cup pasta, a medium 7’ roti or chapati, or 2 idlis.
  • 1 cup low fat yogurt/raita has 120 calories, 10 g protein, 15 g carbs as sugar
  • Everyone, especially if vegetarian, must factor in that beans and lentils contribute to your total carbohydrate content, and reduce “pure carbohydrates” accordingly.

Maintenance portions:  No more than ~150-300 calories/40-60g for women and no more than ~200-400 calories/50-1000g for men of carbohydrates per meal.

  • 240 calories is 1 cup rice or daal, 1 naan, 1 cup pasta, or two small chapatis or rotis.
  • A tablespoon of sugar is 45 calories, all carbs. (Note: people who are super active may require more carbohydrates than this, this is just an estimate.)

Cooking tips & info for breads/rice/idli: http://www.indiacurry.com/nutrition/rotidosaidli.htm

Fat:

Used for absorption of fat soluble vitamins, energy, hormone production, fat storage. Great for increasing satiety and slowing carbohydrate absorption.

Fat is commonly attributed to weight gain and high cholesterol, but excessive and refined carbohydrates are actually more responsible for these issues. Fat content should be monitored due to avoid excess calories, but it is not bad! However, higher fat foods have a lot of calories, so you must eat smaller portions of them.

Sources of fats: all oils, ghee, coconut milk, coconut, heavy cream, avocado, egg yolk, fatty cuts of meat such as lamb, pork, beef

Unexpected sources of fat: tofu/paneer (has some protein, but majority fat), nuts, peanut butter, cheese (all have some protein, but mostly fat), deep fried foods such as samosas and papad)

Weight loss portions: No more than ~100-250 calories/10-25g for women and 150-300 calories/15-30g for men worth of fat per meal.

  • 120 calories is 1 tbsp oil or butter or 2 tbsp cream. Half an avocado is 150 calories. 1 cup full cat coconut milk is 550 calories. ¼ cup of nuts is 200 calories.
  • Everyone, especially if vegetarian, must factor in that tofu, paneer, nuts, seeds, and cheese contribute to your total fat intake, and reduce “pure fats” accordingly.

Weight loss calories: I am hesitant to be too specific about this, as everyone is HIGHLY different. I encourage you to meet with a dietician about your exact calories needs. There are also calculators online to input your weight, height, and activity level to get an estimate – but they are highly variable. Women might aim for 1300-1600 calories per day for weight loss. Men might aim for 1500-2400 calories for weight loss. This depends on your startign weight and ending goal weight and activity level.

Maintenance portions:  Around ~200 calories/50g for women and ~200-400 calories/50-80g for men of fat per meal.  (Note: people who are very active may require more calories than this, this is just an estimate.)

Protein:

Used for muscle maintenance and building, repairing all cells, immunity cell production, hair/skin/nails, necessary for life and cell reactions. Great for satiety and slowing carbohydrate absorption.

Sources of protein: All fish, seafood, poultry, lamb, beef, chicken, pork, protein powders, cottage cheese, hemp/soy protein powder, egg white

Protein goals: .6 – .8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. People who lift weights often and heavy may go over this recommendation, up to .9 or 1g per pound. Those with kidney issues should consult an MD.

During weight loss, high protein intake helps preserve muscle mass and increase satiety. For example, a 70kg woman might aim for 90-140 grams of protein per day.

Portions:

  • A palm size of chicken/fish/beef/pork has about 25 grams of protein. ¼ pound of lean protein has around 25 grams of protein. One egg has 7 grams of protein.
  • 1 cup low fat yogurt/raita has 120 calories, 10 g protein, 15 g carbs as sugar
  • 1 cup Indian curd has 160 cals, 13 grams of protein and 1 cup cottage cheese has ~15 g.
  • 1 cup cooked lentils has 220 calories and 18 g protein, 40g carbs.
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas has 270 calories and 15 g protein, 45 g carbs.
  • ½ cup tofu has 10 g protein and 100 calories.

Veg tips: It is easier to divide protein intake into three meals. It is difficult for vegetarians to meet the protein requirements sometimes, especially if they don’t eat dairy. Vegetarians might consider a protein shake with hemp, whey, or soy protein powder to help meet protein needs. Note that for vegetarians trying to lose weight,  in order to meet protein needs with lentils or chickpeas, less rice or whole grain bread (such as ¼ -½ cup) should be eaten at meals.

Sample non-veg and veg meal:

  • ½ cup rice with 1-2 palms of chicken with ¼ cup masala sauce and as much vegetables or salad as desired.
  • 1 idlis with ⅔ cup lentils and 8oz yogurt with small handful almonds
  • 1 roti wrap with 1 palm chicken (or ⅔ cup chickpeas) and 2 tbsp masala sauce + 2 tbsp raita and unlimited vegetables in the wrap/on the side
  • A huge mixed vegetable salad with 1-2 palms chicken or (1 cup chickpeas), dressed with ¼ cup raita and 1tbsp olive oil
  • ⅓  cup rice with ¾  cup lentils in ¼ cup masala sauce with unlimited vegetables or salad.

The origins of action, and an exercise in self awareness

When I sit down to write a post nowadays (yes, meaning 3-4x per year), I first think about what it is I am trying to accomplish. The original intent of my blog was to empower people through nutrition education. While that is still my intent, the way in which I do so has changed. Before, I tried to create simple, delicious recipes to “prove” that healthy food could taste great, and does not have to be laborious. Now, I feel a transition to more informational and contemplative posts. I will always believe that knowledge is power, and education is necessary and empowering. But my professional experience over the last two years has demonstrated that information is not enough. People must both have the motivation to do something as well as the information and tools to follow through for meaningful change to occur.

Motivation is tricky. We are all motivated to do certain things in order to achieve desires, and we usually are cognizant of that connection. What we seem to be blind to is not what we need to do to achieve our objective, or even what are our roadblocks are, but why those roadblocks exist. I get annoyed while reading when an author writes purely in theory and doesn’t clarify with an example, so here is a simple one:

Darla is a bit overweight but eats fairly well most of the time, albeit a sweet tooth. She knows how to reduce carbohydrates and calories to lose weight and wants to lose weight, and realizes that her main barrier is when she that she continues to eat sweets.

WHY she has a sweet tooth may not be clear to Darla. Even if Darla has an idea about what drives her to eat sweets, my experience leads me to presume that it is an incomplete awareness, or a sugar-coated one. And this is a perfectly understandable defense mechanism! When something in our life does not match up to our ideals, it is far less painful to place the blame elsewhere, ignore it, or deny it. The problem with these tactics is that the root problem remains, and breeds increasingly more compensations (problems).

My goal for this post is to challenge you to discover your barrier and at least attempt to identify why it exists. Identifying the barrier is not very hard, but in order to even come close to identifying the root cause of your barrier, you must be incredibly self compassionate. Whatever it is, it is okay, and there is a 100% chance you are not the only one with that challenge/thought/history/desire.

While I am biased in the direction of attacking health issues, you could apply this exercise to any issue in your life or goal you want to meet but are struggling to. I did this for myself and identified a couple deep deep rooted issues that have led to my barriers. I don’t expect to fix these over night, and I realize that one or two may be life long practices, and one or two may fade in and out of my life. And that is okay. The point is awareness, without which we are all relegated to the inertia of now.

Use a real PEN AND PAPER to do this exercise.

  1. Identify the goal you are struggling to reach.
  2. List the steps or parts required to achieve the goal.
  3. Circle the steps or parts that you are not able to complete, or struggle to complete consistently.
  4. For each circled step, draw an arrow outward and write why you are not able to do so. If there is more than one reason, draw multiple arrows.
  5. For each arrow, ask why and draw another arrow leading to the answer.
  6. Ask why 1-3 more times, until you cannot dig any deeper or the reasoning becomes circular.

Below is a fake, common example.IMG_4533

In the sample above, this woman may have identified that her job is no longer fulfilling and her marriage is unhealthy, both exacerbating her emotional eating tendencies. Are these easy admittances? Hell no! Realistically, these things do not usually come out in one, simple exercise, but it is good to get the wheels turning.

I can one hundred and fifty percent guarantee you that you will answer why without any issue and then feel like you are done. You are not be done with this exercise until you feel uncomfortable.

Once you feel slightly sweaty and panicked, you know you have hit the nail on the head.

It doesn’t mean you have to do anything about it today, tomorrow, or ever.

It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you, your past, or your future.

All it means is that you have learned something about yourself, and you will forever be empowered by this information. You can throw away the paper and never think about it again. If you decide to do something proactive, that is fantastic, and I encourage you to seek external help in doing so.

Because if it was easy enough to do on your own, you would have done it already.

Not settling

Hi everyone!

Times have been wild since I have last written. I have been working at the same primary care medical practice, went backpacking solo through Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru, completed a part time post-bachelors program, and have been experimenting with some other projects and goals. ;)

My two year anniversary at the practice is coming up soon, and I have been thinking a lot about what I have learned. My role has been something similar to a health coach, and I have worked with patients with a wide variety of conditions, goals, and personalities. These are people that are both just like you, and not at all, coming from every stage and experience of life.

I am fortunate to be able to get to know patients on a very personal level. I learn their stories, understand their environment, and listen to their struggles, triumphs and goals. This is one side of the equation of their reality. The other side is genetics and epigenetics (the nature in nature vs. nurture). All of these factors converge into a complex web that determines their health and disease state at the present moment.

You cannot know 95% of these things when you look at a person on the street or meet them at an event. It would be hard to know most of this stuff even if you had been known them for years, unless you have a medical background and ask a lot of personal questions… Being able to see how each side of a person, including their genetic and environmental history, lifestyle choices, motivators and challenges, interrelates with their medical pathophysiology has increased my compassion for others and understanding of the amount of power that people actually have to change.

It isn’t just medical conditions that have complex roots; it is every aspect of a person. Their personality, quirks, habits, and choices are all influenced by a multitude of factors. For example…

  • Mood disturbances and mental disorders are tied to neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain, which could be genetic, environmental, chemical, or even nutrition related (not adequate intake of necessary precursors)
  • People have varying levels of pain perception and stress tolerance due to stress exposure in utero
  • Overweight people may be more susceptible to overeating due to low dopamine or altered gut bacteria (ex: h. pylori in excess results in stomach ulcers, but a deficiency leads to a lack of leptin, which is responsible for satiety)
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity is influenced by the hormonal exposure in utero (and theoretically there are external factors that can alter this hormonal environment)
  • It is theorized that some mental issues, including chronic anxiety and poor self esteem, are related to lack of parental attachment in early life
  • Our diets play massive roles in our mood, energy level, sleep, immunity, health, weight, and daily choices. And our diets are massively influenced by our geography, early life experiences, parenting, and socioeconomic past and status.
  • Habitual drug or alcohol use can create a cycle involving neurotransmitters that makes it very difficult to break free of (but also- what spurred the first use? )

I think recognition of the influential unknowns also has huge implications for how we interpret and interact with others. With the understanding that each individual is the outcome of an extremely complex web of factors and events, we can have a bit more compassion for our fellow human beings . We are constantly being influenced and changing, and we can’t know what all of those factors are for ourselves (let alone others). More compassion from the acceptance of our ignorance and the complexity of nature v. nurture interactions, in combination with efforts to change what we aren’t content with, could bring about some seriously positive change in the world. Instead of judging other people (and ourselves!), we should try to be more accepting, while empowering others to make the changes they desire.

I have emphasized the complex roots of personalities and medical conditions in order to bring about compassion, not hopelessness. Most days, I hear someone somewhere saying that they have ‘always been’ a certain way. Whether it’s being overweight, anxious, depressed, or whatever, they appear resigned to this particular trait. It seems logical to me that the best way to change something is to get to the root of the problem, and so I have tried to trace back to the start of a certain problem, habit, or quality. Things quickly turn very murky, as there is not usually one answer.

What I have realized though, is that it does not matter.  There are countless elements that influence who we are that we cannot change. While you can’t change your early life development, genetics, or what others do to you, you can change what you do and how you think. After all, our bodies are made of the foods we eat, and our personas are made of  our actions, words, emotions and thoughts. We do not need to feel resigned to our condition. There are so many things (mental, physical, emotional, personality traits, habits, spiritual) that we can change and the tools are great and varying:

  • Sleep
  • Diet
  • Addressing medical conditions properly, proper medications
  • Probiotics (this can be complicated, different strains do many different things)
  • Supplements, herbs (with medical advising)
  • Therapy of all types
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
  • Meditation
  • Yoga, Tai Chi
  • Introspection, brain storming, goal setting and planning
  • Calendars and list making
  • Positive self talk, positive affirmations
  • Regular reminding self of values
  • Life coaches, health coaches, career coaches, advisors
  • Education, books, reading, studies

In summary, you are awesome. People are complicated with incredibly different life situations. Better to have compassion than pass judgement on others, and  focus on making the changes you wish to seek in yourself – because you can. I hope you all have an awesome Friday and weekend!

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me, the salt flats in Bolivia 

 

 

How much protein do you really need?

Hello readers and friends!

It has been over a year since my last post and I have MISSED you. Blogging for the medical practice that I work for and other business and creative projects has really sapped my writing-time, but I am back! At least, I am going to try. :)

Today, I want to give a quick summary on how much protein is appropriate for an individual, as this is something that varies based on genetics, height and weight, body composition, goals, and activity level. After reading many studies, it is clear that while we do not know the exact amount or protein appropriate for everyone, the RDA underestimates our needs. The RDA says .8 grams per KILOGRAM of bodyweight is fine, but this quantity leads to negative nitrogen balance in multiple studies. Negative nitrogen balance means that the body is losing more nitrogen than gaining, aka losing muscle mass, which is rich in nitrogen-containing amino acids.

Assuming a person is does not have any confounding medical conditions (like kidney failure), here are the recommendations that the literature points to as the current best guess:

People engaging in strength training:  1.6 to 1.8 grams of protein per kg bodyweight daily. Note: It is important to get this amount even on days when you are not training, as those are the days that muscular repair is occurring.

People engaging in endurance training: 1.2 – 1.6 grams per kg bodyweight daily.

Non-exercising maintenance: 1.2 grams per kg bodyweight daily. For those who are inactive or taking an extended break from exercise.

Calories and protein have interesting relationship. You may be able to ‘get away with’ eating less protein if you eat more calories, and conversely, eating more protein at a lower calorie intake may spare muscle while losing weight. So, the lower you are on these ranges for protein, the more important overall calorie and macronutrient intake is.

How determine what these ranges mean for you: Take your weight in pounds and convert it to kilograms (multiply times 0.453). Then, multiply that number by the  low- and high-end factors to see what your daily range is.

Before weight training and interval training, it is best to get a small portion of carbohydrate in at least an hour beforehand. This will provide glycogen/glucose substrate for a better workout, as these more intense workouts tend to burn more glycogen than fat during the exercise session itself (and more fat in the hours following).

As far as protein timing, protein before a work out is fine, as it will still be digested during and after the workout. The key is to get enough protein each day, regardless of timing. However, there is some minor benefit to getting protein in within the 30 minute window after a workout. If you have muscle gain goals, having a protein shake (or protein rich meal) right after weight training could be beneficial. Protein powders are processed and are utilized more quickly than whole foods, so they are best used during or after workouts rather than before. Studies on supplements are pretty inconclusive or unconvincing, so they probably are not needed. If you really want to, branched chain amino acids have the most science to justify their use for muscular repair and reduced soreness.

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Feed the lifts!!!! 

What you don’t know about personal trainers

I am no longer personal training, but I did put in about 5 months at a large commercial gym chain that most everyone has heard of. I went in excited to help people get stronger and fitter and ended up looking forward to leaving the job, as it wasn’t what I had expected. At all.

1. The certification matters.

When you think of a personal trainer, you probably picture a hyper-fit burly dude whose knowledge does not extend much past the perfect ratio of eccentric to concentric motion during a bicep curl for max muscle gainzz. While there may be a few of those out there, most personal trainers are very intelligent and driven people. Most gyms will not hire you without a certification, and some are much better than others. NASM Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) is the best certification and it is not easy to attain. With a BS in biochemistry under my belt, I thought the exam would be a cinch. It was fine, but I certainly had to put in a good amount of studying for it. The level of biochemistry, physiology, and anatomy is surprising – and necessary for the makings of a good personal trainer. There are definitely some good trainers out there without that cert, but if I was going to hire a trainer, I would make sure they had the NASM CPT. If you have a solid personal trainer, there will be a lot of science behind their programming for you.

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2. They are under tremendous sales pressure.

I had no idea that personal trainers had to meet monthly minimums in multiple categories until I was actually in the position. 500$ a month in supplements, 3,000$ in personal training, and 5 new clients per month or you don’t get your commission. In order to meet these numbers, trainers often bump down the pricing of their training, which means they get paid less for each session. If you are paying 100$ per session, they are only seeing about 20 or 25$ of that. If they lower their price to 80$ a session, a “special deal for you” of course, they are getting even less. And it is not just the personal trainers that are under pressure. The membership team has minimums they need to make by the end of each month too, and the chain manager doesn’t get his bonus if everyone beneath him doesn’t meet their quotas, so he or she is on everyone all the time. If you want to get the lowest price possible for your gym membership, go at the end the month. If you want to take full advantage of the system, you can probably try the gym for free for up to a week during the month and sign up at the end for the lowest price. You will also likely be offered a free personal training session, which you could utilize. Having been on the other side though, if you know for certain you aren’t going to buy a package, it would be kind of you to not use that time with a trainer. They won’t be paid for it and they could use that time training a paying customer or trying to find new clientele.

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3. A good training program may seem easy at first.

Everyone has muscle imbalances and asymmetries that need to be corrected before going hard and heavy. A responsible trainer will identify these weak spots and have their client begin their training program with a stabilization phase. This phase may be short or long, depending on how out of whack the body is and is necessary to correct the body’s alignment and bring it to a state that able to perform exercises with proper, safe form. The stabilization phase is light and repetitive and may not seem like it is doing much. It is, and it’s setting the foundation for a safe and maximally beneficial program to follow. You will never reach your max strength potential if you do not first achieve a base level of stability, flexibility, and muscular balance.

4. The best trainer in the world cannot make up for a shitty diet.

It is okay to not work out and eat tons of sugar and processed foods, just like it is technically okay to harm your own body in every other way. However, if you choose do these things, take responsibility for your actions. I think it is wrong that the government and media push false information about nutrition and health to the public and I want to help make the truth widely known so that each and every person can make informed decisions about their lifestyle. However, once a person has done their homework and knows the full story, whatever they choose to do or not do is fine with me. If you are not meeting your weight loss goals and are working out every single day with your trainer while eating cereal, sandwiches, candy, soda, and other crap – don’t blame the trainer. Your weight and the way your body looks is majorly a function of what you put in your mouth. Working out can alter what your body does with the food that you eat, but that has its limits. (In addition, of course, to the awesome health, mental, physical, and emotional benefits of exercise!)

5. I truly think that everyone can benefit from at least a couple sessions with a solid personal trainer.

Whether you are a seasoned lifter or fitness newb, spending some time with a personal trainer can help you. It is incredibly important to have proper form when exercising, and most people do not. Personal trainers can help you break through strength plateaus, lose weight, learn proper technique, and be there to support you and your goals. They want you to succeed! I know that personal training is expensive for many people, so if you want to get the most out of your 55 minute session, warm up and stretch before you meet with the trainer! These things are required before a safe session, so if you don’t want to allocate paid time to them, be sure to come early and gitterdone!

If you have any questions – leave a comment! :)

Aside

I read the awesome article Bariatric Medicine: Seven Exciting Developments” by Sean Bourke MD on a flight from NYC to San Francisco last weekend. I identified with it enough feel compelled to summarize my favorite points for you all. Dr. Bourke is a bariatric doctor, meaning he works with those that are overweight or obese (and thus often times diabetic).

1. “Not all calories are created equal” is finally becoming accepted and substantiated.

Everyone differs in their level of tolerance for carbohydrates. Some people need more, while others need less. Some people need very little, whether it is for life or for the short term to treat a disease. Eating carbs above an appropriate level for your genetics, environment, and activity can lead to fat gain (adiposity), fat making you sick (adiposopathy), or both. In the last 40 years, diabetes and obesity have skyrocketed. What has been the major change in dietary habits? More carbs. As Dr. Bourke put it, “Carbohydrates, not [dietary] fat, may well represent our greatest metabolic and cardiovascular health risk contributing to obesity.” Because humans cannot consume more than 30-40% of their calories from protein, those that must eat a very low carbohydrate diet must make up the difference with fat intake. These people, namely those who have type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, or metabolic syndrome, would do best with a well-designed low carb diet including particular fats while avoiding others.

Fats to emphasize: Heart healthy mono-unsaturated fats from avocados, nuts, olive oil. Heart neutral saturated fats from coconut and grass fed meats. Omega-3 rich fats from fish like salmon and tuna.

Fats to avoid: Omega-6 heavy fats found in vegetable, corn, and soy oils. All trans-fats, always, no matter what, because I said so.

In cool news, there is a test currently being developed to pinpoint an individual’s carbohydrate tolerance, so that exact recommendations can be given in the future!

2. Blood work is becoming more meaningful.

We now know and understand that heart health is more than just a cholesterol level. Most people are aware that HDL is good and LDL is bad. But now we can dig even deeper. LDL is also divided into subsets based on particle size. Some LDL’s are large and fluffy in our blood and others are hard and dense. The hard dense ones make you more likely to get a clogged artery and have a heart attack. The large fluffy ones are more likely to bounce of the walls of your arteries and not create a blockage.

And guess what alters our HDL and LDL levels, as well as affecting the LDL size….

Carbohydrate intake.

White flours and sugar increase LDL, particularly the small, hard LDL. Luckily, there is now testing available to determine what an individual’s levels of the various sizes of LDL are. Lipid fractionation yields blood results that can help doctor’s make more personalized recommendations for diet and lifestyle habits of their patients.

3. Ketogenic diets may provide antioxidant protection to the body.

Ketogenic diets are not for everyone and should not be confused with keto-acidosis, which necessitates higher levels of ketones in the blood. A ketogenic diet involves eating a low enough quantity of carbohydrates daily to force the body to produce ketones to burn for energy. A recent study by Shimazu et al found that a ketogenic diet may produce epigenetic changes to our DNA that prevent oxidative stress and free radical formation. This in turn may slow aging and help prevent diseases like coronary artery disease and Alzheimers.

4. For many patients, exercise is not the best way to lose weight.

Before interpreting that as a go ahead to forgo cardiovascular or muscular training, let me first say that exercise is extremely important for a plethora of reasons, like increasing insulin sensitivity, bone density, heart health, stress reduction, and general sexiness. However, exercise is should not be your big guns for weight loss. What you eat is the key to losing weight and is the basis of your health (at least in my opinion). You cannot outrun a crappy diet.

5. “Nutrition is the linchpin on which the solution to obesity crisis must turn.”

80% of the 600,000 food listed in our food supply have added sugar. Each American eats an average of 156 pounds of sugar per year, up from only 5 pounds in the 18th century. The solution? Eat real food.

Not all calories are created equally, and any system that allows you to interchange a Twinkie for 1.5 apples is wrong.

Things I have learned these last 9 months in San Francisco… Part 1

Hi world. I have been gone so long, essentially since moving to San Francisco, and yet I have thought about this space every day. I have been learning and doing so much in the time that has passed. I can only hope I have grown a fraction as much as I feel I have learned.

I have had this post (and several others) as a draft for a month now  thinking I would add and improve. I am just going to publish it and do this piece by piece. Baby steps!

Paleo is not the end all cure all to all diseases. I had the idea that going strict paleo could put any Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis sufferer into remission, ameliorate most GI issues like reflux, pain, indigestion, and bloating, and get everyone’s blood work going in the right direction. What I have learned is that paleo can do these things for some people, but it cannot completely cure others. Some people do just fine with, or even need, a higher carbohydrate diet and a little rice isn’t going to kill them. Some people actually do benefit from reducing meat consumption if their lipid profile is resiliently out of whack.  However, as I have said before, this is not the majority and saturated fat is not the enemy. For me personally, paleo has rocked my blood work in the best of ways. I went from average-to-fairly-good HDL and LDL numbers to an HLD to LDL ratio that made my doctor say “You must be one of those genetic freaks.” Only I’m not – it has all been diet. Diet truly is the foundation of all health, in my opinion. However, some people can eat paleo till the cows come home and go out to pasture again and still suffer. Which brings me to my next learning.

Our health is just as much in our minds as in our bodies. We truly can think ourselves  sick or in pain. With that, we must be willing to think positively and channel being healthy and happy. No amount of medication, weight loss, supplements,  or exercise is going to make you “better” or “healthy” or “thin”  if you do not truly want to be. This may sound crazy, like why would anyone want to be sick or unhealthy, but it is true. People can take comfort in their conditions. The labels give them license, excuses to keep doing what they have always done. Similarly, people can take comfort in their extra weight and may not truly want to lose it, despite what they say. This is fear. It can be fear of rejection once the weight is gone, fear that they will won’t be happy at their new size, fear of failure.  Sometimes what looks like obesity, diabetes, chronic pain, etc, is really concealed self-hate, depression, anxiety, and addiction. To truly heal oneself, the whole picture must be assessed and treated from all sides. From the inside out, diet and exercise. From the mind to the body, through various types of therapy, meditation, yoga, stress reduction. From the surface of the problem down to the roots.

 

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the journey to summit Mt. Shasta – May 2013