Tag Archives: metabolism

Why Sleep Should Be Taken Seriously

As we continue in these days of uncertainty, we must strive to stay positive and find a silver lining. For me, I had the unusual opportunity to attend not one, but two online seminars just over a week ago. And the best part? They were free! Unfortunately, both had been set up to be live events but due to the current situation made good on their promise to deliver and went online instead. Now to most people, that doesn’t seem like a big deal. But when you consider most multi day conferences run anywhere from $300-$500, I call that a win. I wanted to share with you though the one conference that I know you would find the most valuable and interesting and that was the one on sleep and recovery.

Sleep Needs a Bigger Priority

One thing I’m sure most would agree on is that we need more sleep. Our lives have become this constant state of go and while most would complain about being tired or drained, the cycle seems to repeat endlessly. Have you ever noticed the amount of “energy” products that exist in the marketplace? While it appears to be highly unlikely to return to a time when we awoke at sunrise and were asleep by dark, we have to adapt or it can certainly kill us. Insufficient sleep is a public health concern.

Sleep Loss and Deprivation

There are many factors that contribute to insufficient or poor sleep, such as hormones and psychological factors, but the reality is with some focus and concentration on making sleep a priority, we have the ability to improve it. Lifestyle changes such as choosing to go to bed at the same time everyday, turning off all electronics 1 hour before going to bed, and either adopting a meditation or breathing regime can go a long way. You simply can’t afford to not improve your sleep and following are 10 reasons why.

What Poor Sleep is Costing You

  1. Poor sleep is linked to higher body weight. People with short sleep duration tend to weigh significantly more than those who get adequate sleep. In fact, short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity. In one extensive review study, children and adults with short sleep duration were 89% and 55% more likely to develop obesity, respectively.
  2. Poor sleepers tend to eat more calories. Studies show that sleep-deprived individuals have a bigger appetite and tend to eat more calories. Sleep deprivation disrupts the daily fluctuations in appetite hormones and is believed to cause poor appetite regulation. Those who get adequate sleep tend to eat fewer calories than those who don’t.
  3. Poor sleep causes poor concentration and productivity. Sleep is important for various aspects of brain function. This includes cognition, concentration, productivity, and performance. All of these are negatively affected by sleep deprivation.
  4. Poor sleep can negatively affect athletic performance. Less sleep duration has been associated with poor exercise performance and functional limitation.
  5. Poor sleepers have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke.Sleep quality and duration can have a major effect on many health risk factors.These are the factors believed to drive chronic diseases, including heart disease.
  6. Poor sleep affects glucose metabolism and type 2 diabetes risk. In a study in healthy young men, restricting sleep to 4 hours per night for 6 nights in a row caused symptoms of prediabetes. Poor sleep habits are also strongly linked to adverse effects on blood sugar in the general population.
  7. Poor sleep is linked to depression. Mental health issues, such as depression, are strongly linked to poor sleep quality and sleeping disorders. It’s been estimated that 90% of people with depression complain about sleep quality. Those with sleeping disorders like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea also report significantly higher rates of depression than those without.
  8. Poor sleep decreases your immune function. Not the best thing to hear during these times. Even a small loss of sleep has been shown to impair immune function.
  9. Poor sleep is linked to increased inflammation. Sleep can have a major effect on inflammation in your body. In fact, sleep loss is known to activate undesirable markers of inflammation and cell damage. Poor sleep has been strongly linked to long-term inflammation of the digestive tract, in disorders known as inflammatory bowel disease.
  10. Poor sleep affects emotions and social interactions. Believe it or not, sleep loss reduces your ability to interact socially. Kind of like the reason for being a moody monkey. Researchers believe that poor sleep affects your ability to recognize important social cues and process emotional information.

The bottom line: along with nutrition and exercise, good sleep is one of the pillars of health. You simply cannot achieve optimal health without taking care of your sleep.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Calories Do Count

Calories count and if you think they don’t let me explain something. You simply don’t comprehend one of the basic physical laws of life, known as the First Law of Thermodynamics. It states that energy can neither be created or destroyed but merely transferred or changed from one form to another. In regards to calories, they represent the energy or heat contained in a food item. When we ingest the calories (energy) it becomes a part of us in some form. We have lots to discuss.

Good vs. Bad

There’s no such thing as good calories or bad calories. Calories are a unit of measure; a calorie is a calorie. Take for example the distance of a mile. You can walk/run a mile, swim a mile, or bike a mile. One might be easier than another but that doesn’t change the distance. It’s still a mile. A food changes based on its nutrient composition and that can impact how much it will fill you up or how helpful it might be for your long term success for fat loss. A calorie is simply the amount of energy a food item contains. What changes is the nutrient composition.

Important Numbers to Know

Your metabolism (the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life) is a collection of numerous processes, not one single number. Here’s what goes into determining your metabolism.

Resting or Basal Metabolic Rate (RMR/BMR) – RMR/BMR is the number of calories you burn each day at rest, just to breathe, think, and live. This represents roughly 60 percent of your ‘energy out’ and depends on weight, body composition, sex, age, genetic predisposition, and possibly the bacterial population of your gut. In general, men and larger individuals will have higher RMR/BMR rates.

Thermic Effect of Eating (TEE) – TEE is the number of calories you burn by eating, digesting, and processing your food. (Yes, this requires energy.) This represents roughly 5-10 percent of your ‘energy out’. HINT: You’ll burn more calories digesting minimally processed whole foods compared to highly processed foods.

Daily Caloric Expenditure (DCE) – DCE is the calories you burn from purposeful exercise, such as walking, running, going to the gym, gardening, riding a bike, etc.
Obviously, how much energy you expend through DCE will change depending on how much you intentionally move around.

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – NEAT is the calories you burn through fidgeting, staying upright, and all other physical activities except purposeful exercise. This, too, varies from person to person and day to day.

Energy In vs. Energy Out

This relationship between ‘energy in’ and ‘energy out’ is known as the Energy Balance Equation, and it’s the most commonly accepted model for calculating a person’s energy balance and how much weight they’ll lose or gain over time. In theory: If you eat less energy than you expend, you should lose weight. If you do the opposite (i.e. eat more energy than you expend), you should gain weight. This equation at times can really frustrate people.The mismatch between expectations versus reality is not because the Energy Balance Equation is wrong, or a myth. Nobody’s body defies the laws of physics. It’s because the equation is more complicated than it sounds. For one, it is influenced by things like sex hormone levels, macronutrient intake (especially protein), exercise style / frequency / intensity, age, medication use, genetic predisposition, and more. “Eat less, move more” is a good start but that advice alone isn’t enough. Here are some of the reasons why

• The number of calories in a meal likely doesn’t match the number of calories on the labels or menu. Food labels can be off by as much as 20-25 percent.
• The amount of energy a food contains in the form of calories is not necessarily the amount of energy we absorb, store, and/or use. The food we eat has to be digested and processed by our unique bodies. The innumerable steps involved in digestion, processing, absorption, storage, and use — as well as our own individual physiological makeup — can all change the energy balance game.
• We may absorb more or less energy depending on the types of bacteria in our gut. Some people have larger populations of a Bacteroidetes (a species of bacteria), which are better at extracting calories from tough plant cell walls than other bacteria species.

Energy out varies a lot from person to person too. Energy out, energy burned through daily metabolism and moving you around, is a dynamic, always-changing variable. Our human metabolisms evolved to keep us alive and functioning when food was scarce. When energy in (degreased caloric intake) goes down, energy out goes down to match it. (I.e. We burn fewer calories in response to eating less). That’s how our bodies avoid unwanted weight loss and starvation. It’s how humans have survived for 2 million years. Therefore, trying “what used to work” for you, or relying on calorie counting, often won’t get you the results you want. As your energy balance evolves, so must your strategies for losing fat or maintaining your weight. Understanding energy balance means setting better expectations about body change.

What About Dieting?

Losing weight doesn’t “damage” your metabolism but because of the adaptations your body undergoes in response to fat loss (to prevent that fat loss, in fact), energy out for those who have lost significant weight will always be lower than for people who were always lean. Losing weight, and keeping it off, is accompanied by adaptive metabolic, neuroendocrine, autonomic, and other changes.These changes mean that we expend less energy — around 5-10 percent less (or up to 15 percent less at extreme levels) than what would be predicted based on just weighing less and can last for up to 7 years! THIS IS WHY DIETING DOES NOT WORK LONGTERM!!! Nothing really has been “damaged” but the body has adapted to the stresses put on it.

Real Strategies for Real Success

The physiology of weight loss is complicated, but the best strategies for losing fat and keeping it off don’t have to be.

1. Eat plenty of protein. Protein is essential when trying to losing weight / fat. Protein helps you keep that all-important lean body mass (which includes connective tissues, organs, and bone as well as muscle). Protein significantly increases satiety, which means you feel fuller despite eating less. Just by eating more protein you burn more calories, because of the increased thermic effect of eating.
2. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, quality carbs, and healthy fats. Vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, water, and fiber to help you fill up during meals, stay full between meals, keep you healthy, and recover from your workouts.The carbs will fuel training, boost leptin (a super important hormone), keep up sex hormones, and prevent feelings of deprivation. And the fats also keep up sex hormones, boost the immune system, suppress excess inflammation, and make food taste really good.
3. Adjust your intake as you plateau, or to prevent plateaus. As your weight loss progresses, you will need to lower your calorie intake further to continue to progress, as your smaller body will burn fewer calories, and your body is adapting to your diet. Be ready, willing, and able to adjust portion amounts.
4. Understand that this is complex. So many things influence what, why, and when we choose to eat. Too often, eating and body size / fatness are blamed on lack of knowledge, lack of willpower/discipline, or laziness. In reality, food intake and body composition are governed by a mix of physiological, biological, psychological, social, economical, and lifestyle influences, along with individual knowledge or beliefs. One of the simplest ways to make your decision processes easier is to create an environment that encourages good food choices and discourages poor ones.
5. Do a mixture of resistance, cardiovascular, and recovery activity. Resistance training helps you maintain vital muscle mass, burn calories, and improve glucose tolerance. Cardiovascular exercise improves the health of your cardiovascular system, helps you expend energy, and can improve recovery. Recovery work (e.g. foam rolling, walking, yoga) helps  you maintain consistency and intensity with resistance and cardio training, making them more effective.
6. Find ways to increase NEAT. Even small increases in activity can account for hundreds of daily calories, and therefore make a big difference in fat loss efforts.
Some ideas: Get a stand-up desk or a treadmill desk; fidget; pace while on the phone; take the stairs; park your car farther away from where you’re going, etc.
7. Develop a solid nightly sleep routine and manage your stress. Sleep is just as important to your success as nutrition and activity levels. Don’t pretend that you can get by with less. It simply isn’t true.
8. Have some self-compassion. There are going to be meals or days where you don’t eat as you “should”. It’s OK. It happens to everyone. Recognize it, accept it, forgive yourself, and then get back on track.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

12 Days of Fitness 2016: Day 6 – Understanding Your Metabolism

(This is Part 6 of a 12 part series to provide you with some useful health and fitness info over the holiday season)

Metabolism. It’s a word we’ve all heard and especially in terms of talking about weight control. We usually use it as an excuse for why we can eat whatever we want when we are younger, and more often as an excuse for why we get bigger or can’t seem to meet our weight loss goals. The truth is, metabolism does have a lot to do with body weight and energy balance. Perhaps a better understanding of what metabolism is and how we can use it to work for us, instead of against us, is the secret to achieving and maintaining a fit, healthy body for running and for life.

Energy Expenditure

It is widely known that if you want to lose weight, you have to create a negative energy balance. In other words, you must expend more energy than you take in. Energy expenditure doesn’t just occur through physical activity. Our daily energy expenditure can actually be divided into three categories:

  • Basal (resting) metabolic rate (BMR)
  • Thermic effect of food (thermogenesis)
  • Energy expended through movement (DCE))

For this discussion, let’s look at the BMR. The basal, or resting metabolic rate is typically what people are referring to when they say their metabolism. It is defined as the amount of energy (or calories) required each day to keep your body functioning while at rest. More specifically, it is the energy that keeps the brain functioning, the heart beating, and the lungs breathing, in addition to many other cellular processes.

It is responsible for about 60-75% of our daily energy expenditure, but may account for less in individuals who are very physically active.

Determining the BMR

BMR can vary greatly between individuals and there are a few personal characteristics that determine one’s metabolism. The first is body size. In general, larger people have higher metabolic rates than smaller people. It is based on surface area so that a greater surface area equates to a higher metabolic rate. Therefore if a tall person and a short person both weighed the same, the taller person would have a higher metabolic rate due to the larger surface area. However, the composition of body weight is the biggest determinant of metabolic rate. Fat-free mass, or FFM (muscle, bones, organs) is metabolically active (calorie-burning) tissue so the more you have, the higher your metabolism, hence the importance of incorporating resistance training.  If two individuals were the same height and weight, the one with more FFM would have the higher BMR. In general, athletes have RMRs that are ~5% higher than their non-athletic counterparts due to more muscle mass as opposed to fat mass. Knowing your FFM is the best way of determining your BMR and therefore your daily caloric needs. The preferred method of obtaining FFM is through underwater weighing, though not always feasible or practical. Other options such as body fat measurements through calipers or body fat scales can provide a reasonable estimate. Once FFM is determined it can be used in a prediction equation, like the Cunningham equation, to determine BMR:

BMR = 370 + (21.6 x FFM[kg])

Other Factors on Metabolism

Age and sex also have an effect on metabolic rate. One’s metabolism is the highest during periods of rapid growth such as infancy or puberty, which is why feeding babies and ravenous teenagers is important. As we age, however, we start to lose muscle mass and thus the metabolism begins to slow. It is estimated that we lose ~2-3% of our previous BMR for each decade of life past 30 years old. Also, since women generally have more body fat and less muscle than men, men typically have higher metabolic rates but are still subject to declining BMR with age. Other factors to consider when thinking about metabolism include:

  • Hormonal disorders such as hyperthyroidism, which will increase your BMR, and hypothyroidism, which will decrease your BMR.
  • Acute injury or illness can temporarily increase your energy expenditure.
  • Having a fever increases the metabolic rate by ~7% for every degree increase above 98.6° F.
  • Finally, living and exercising in tropical climates can increase BMR anywhere from 5-20%.

Metabolism’s Affect on Weight Loss

The big question is how to manage weight loss and metabolism to find a healthy weight that will allow you to perform optimally, but is also easy to maintain. One of those tips was to make sure you don’t cut calories too drastically. Having too few calories can lead to the body breaking down protein, and therefore muscle mass, for energy. As we just learned muscle mass is the biggest determinant of metabolic rate and the less of it we have, the lower our metabolism will be. The lower the metabolism, the less calories are needed for daily maintenance, and the harder it becomes to lose weight. Another issue is that the more we restrict our calories, the more efficient the body becomes at using the calories that we do give it. Normally efficiency is a good thing, unless we are trying to lose weight. When trying to lose weight, or create a negative energy balance, we don’t want the body to be efficient at using calories so that it has to work harder and thus burn more calories. The final difficulty involving weight loss and metabolism is that as we lose weight, we require less energy (because BMR is determined mainly by body mass). This means you need to continually decrease your intake to account for the decrease in metabolic rate.

Managing Weight Loss and Metabolism

To off-set the natural decline in metabolism that comes with age, start and continue a weight training program and do it 2-3 days per week to preserve lean muscle mass. To avoid big drops in BMR, limit calorie restriction to ~15% less than what is required to meet your maintenance and training needs. So if you needed 2300 calories a day to meet your BMR + training expenditures, you should only reduce that by ~345 calories per day (consume ~ 1955 calories per day). Be realistic about your weight loss goals and once you reach those goals, stop dieting. Your BMR will return to normal once calorie restriction has ceased and a normal caloric intake is resumed. Don’t fight against your metabolism but learn how to structure your nutrition to fit with it. Some factors contributing to metabolism are out of our control or very difficult to change. Furthermore, metabolism is a finely tuned and highly regulated operation of our bodies and we function best when it is in balance.

See you tomorrow for Day 7 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better


Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day 1 – Why Not Eating Enough Won’t Help You Lose Weight
Day 2 – 5 Ways You’re Self-Sabotaging Your Workouts
Day 3 – 10 Fitness Fibs You Tell Yourself
Day 4 – Never Diet Again!
Day 5 – Benefits of Exercising in Winter – Outdoors!

12 Days of Fitness 2016: Day 1 – Why Not Eating Enough Won’t Help You Lose Weight


(This is Part 1 of a 12 part series to provide you with some useful health and fitness info over the holiday season)

We all know that calories matter a lot when it comes to weight loss. As long as you eat fewer calories than you burn, you should lose weight. The logic is sound for most healthy adults, but we can also take that logic too far. In the case of healthy, sustainable weight loss, more restriction doesn’t always lead to better weight loss. In fact, regularly eating too few calories can put you at risk of malnutrition, resulting in unhealthy weight loss, nutrient deficiencies, or worse, possibly weight gain. For someone trying to lose weight, not eating enough can be more detrimental to them than eating too much.  How little then is too little?

Fasting vs Under Eating

The difference between fasting and chronically under eating (which can lead to starvation) is a matter of duration. Fasting is commonly practiced on a timescale of several hours, but while the term has earned itself a bad reputation from notorious fasting diets fasting for weight loss can be safe. Our bodies were actually designed to handle short-term fasts, like when we don’t eat for eight hours during sleep. We also go anywhere from 4–8 hours without eating when we skip meals during life’s busier moments. On the contrary, going without food for several days or eating less than the calorie minimum for weeks to months puts you at risk of malnutrition. As well-nourished individuals, we do carry enough stored fuel to meet our needs for 1–3 months in the form of muscle tissue and fat. However, our body can only store 1–2 days’ worth of glycogen (the body’s carbohydrate stores), which, if not replenished, is quickly used up to maintain blood sugar. After several days of undereating, the body switches to energy-conservation mode, meaning your metabolism slows way down, making you feel tired and edgy. As carbohydrate stores run low, protein and fat become the dominant sources of fuel. After 48 hours without food, your body runs out of glycogen to power the two organs that need it the most: the heart and the brain. While glucose is the only fuel blood cells can run on, the brain will begin to adapt to power itself with ketone bodies made from fat. To meet basic energy needs, your body ramps up breakdown of muscles and organs in addition to fat. Eating at such a low calorie level makes it very difficult to obtain all the essential vitamins and minerals through just food alone.

Why Under Eating Is a Bad Idea (and Won’t Actually Help You Lose Weight)

For most of us, consistently eating less than the calorie minimum is a bad idea because it leads to a:

  1. Slower metabolism and lousy side effects. With too few calories on board to power you through your daily activities, your body learns to live on less by significantly slowing your metabolism. Short term, you may feel sluggish, irritable and apathetic. Once you stop undereating, it takes a while before your body to recover and your metabolism to rev back up.
  2. Loss of valuable muscles and organs. Just because you’ve adapted to using ketone bodies doesn’t mean your body won’t need glucose at all. A minimum blood glucose level must be maintained to keep you alive so your body continues to break down muscles and organs. It’s a major problem in the long run, because your body doesn’t distinguish between essential tissues (think: heart, kidney, blood cells) and less essential tissues (think: skeletal muscle). Over time, this breakdown weakens and damages your vital organs.
  3. Higher risk for nutrient deficiencies. Eating very few calories will also decrease the variety of foods you can eat, increasing your risk for nutrient deficiency. The type of nutrient deficiency that can occur depends on the food(s) that are being restricted. This includes but isn’t limited to deficiencies in calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin D and the B vitamins, in addition to dangerous electrolyte imbalances and protein malnutrition.

Everybody is different, so it’s important to experiment and see what works best for you. Just know that under eating is not a good long-term solution for living a healthy life or achieving or maintaining weight loss.

See you tomorrow for Day 2 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better



12 Days of Fitness 2015: Day 5 – The 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Feel Hungry When Trying to Lose Weight

(This is Part 5 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful blurbs and  tips to keep your fitness in focus over the holiday season)

ee7f164e38f7ea95_stk72137cor_1_.previewLosing weight is a daunting task. Contrary to common belief, it’s not as linear as just eating less and moving more and when you couple that with the fact that food is such a large part of our social environment, one is left little room for error. The great news is that weight loss is possible and does happen when the focus is on getting the job done with consistency backed by real knowledge and not misguided and misinformed beliefs. One of the many things that should never be an occurrence but happens to people who are trying to lose weight is the sense of hunger. Here are 5 scientifically convincing reasons why you should never be hungry and start losing weight correctly.

Hunger is Nature’s Survival Mechanism

Hunger, just like pain, happiness, thirst, or anger, is a completely natural feeling. It’s not likely we ignore those signals but for some reason people are willing to ignore hunger signals. Hunger is the body’s cue telling us we are lacking either calories or nutrients or both. Ignoring it most likely leads to stronger and stronger hunger cues to the point of causing negative physical and mental side effects.

Hunger Isn’t Necessary For Weight Loss

Hunger is a completely natural signal that your brain sends to your body; we can get them whether dieting or not. When dieting however, ignoring those signals will get you nowhere fast. Sufficient calories and nutrition are an important and essential part of the weight loss process.

Hunger Negatively Affects Your Metabolism

Calorie deprivation is a sure fire way to wreck the metabolism. When the metabolism gets out of whack, it can take some time for it to readjust. Two important appetite-controlling hormones to understand when trying to lose weight are leptin and ghrelin. These hormones signal when it’s time to eat, and they also send signals when you’re satiated. When the latter happens, your body receives a cascade of signals that it is in a fed state. When in this state your body is more likely to shed its energy reserves (fat). The opposite is also true. When in a state of constant hunger your body senses a lack of available fuel in its future and chooses to hold onto the fat it has in case of emergency.

Strict Adherence to Restriction Leads to Poor Habits

Restriction is commonly associated with weight loss. It’s almost assumed you have to tolerate these feelings if you want to lose weight. This excess restriction does nothing but suppress your desire to eat until the feelings are no longer bearable. In the end, you end up bingeing from food deprivation. You go three steps forward and then take three steps back and then wonder why you can’t lose any weight. Try eating real food at a smaller calorie deficit, take it slower, and feed your body when it tells you it’s hungry.

 Hunger is Not a Sustainable Feeling to Tolerate

There are millions of people in this world who live with the pain of hunger daily. No one in the civilized world has any reason to tolerate hunger pains. Living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a healthy body composition doesn’t mean you have to live your life in a constant battle with hunger.You shouldn’t have feelings of hunger on your mind all day long. Eating should be more of an involuntary action. It should happen in the background as you live your life. Constantly having to pay attention to your stomach is both physically and emotionally exhausting. Don’t even try to battle it. You will always lose in the end.

If you’re always feeling hungry it’s time to take a close look at your nutrition. You likely need to increase your overall calories or start adding in more nutrient dense foods. Losing weight and being at a healthy weight shouldn’t be that difficult. It’s your body’s natural state and what it ultimately wants to be at. Go with the flow and listen to your body.

See you tomorrow for Day 6 of the 12 Days of Fitness


Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Day 1 – Chew Your Food
Day 2 – Fitness for the Road
Day 3 – The Many Names of Sugar
Day 4 – Side Stitches: Causes and Treatments


Why Have Your Weight Loss Efforts Backfired?

Seems like an easy question with an even easier answer. Confessions such as “I eat too many things I’m not supposed to”, and “I don’t exercise enough” are usually the excuses (ahem, answers) to that question. But what about the chronic dieter or the individual who really does pay attention to what they eat and stays moderately active but all to no avail? Without pinpointing all of the potential issues, there are some hard facts that those seeking weight loss need to understand. While the popular mindset is that in order to lose weight you simply need to eat less, it’s not that simple and in fact, not eating enough is usually a bigger problem than eating too much.


It is understood that 1 pound of fat is the equivalent of 3,500 calories. With that in mind, it is then hypothesized that in order to lose 1 pound of fat, you must burn an excess of 3,500 calories above and beyond what your body already needs, or what is more appropriately referred to as the basal metabolic rate (BMR). Burn 7,000 calories and you lose 2 pounds of fat! Sounds good in theory but it doesn’t work that way. First, understand that the BMR is a critical component to comprehend. Think of it as your body’s idle speed – the amount of calories it burns daily without even an ounce of thought. What creates the BMR? Organ functions, breathing, the brain, and lean tissue (aka muscle). BMR, like finger prints, is unique to each individual. Some are higher or lower than others naturally and others are higher as the result of training. (more lean tissue, the higher the BMR). When those needs are not met properly through the diet (i.e. calories) the body finds a way to naturally reinforce those demands on its own, and that’s where the fun begins.

A Slippery Slope

When dieting and weight loss comes to mind, most just think that cutting calories is the way to go. Not losing weight? Just cut the calories lower. However, not eating enough calories causes many negative metabolic changes. The body is the perfect machine and senses a large decrease in dietary energy. A large calorie deficit might work for a few days or even weeks, but eventually your body will wake up and sound alarms that it needs to conserve energy. It doesn’t want to just waste away. It needs energy to survive. So, what does your body do when it senses prolonged energy restriction? It breakdowns lean tissue and begins a chain reaction of survival mechanisms

  1. Decreased thyroid production – Your thyroid is responsible for fat, carbohydrate, and protein metabolism among other things. Your body has the ability to slow down thyroid output in an effort to maintain energy balance.
  2. Decreases muscle mass – Muscle is highly caloric intensive to maintain. In a prolonged extreme calorie deficit, it is one of the first things that your body looks to get rid of. Your body needs the fat, wants the fat, and the muscle can be spared. It breaks down the muscle tissue and uses it for energy.
  3. Lowers testosterone levels – An important hormone for both men AND women, testosterone is just one of many hormones that are affected with severe calorie restriction. Testosterone is anabolic to muscle tissue. Without it, it becomes that much harder to maintain, let alone put on muscle mass.
  4. Decreases leptin levels – Leptin is one of many energy regulating hormones. More importantly, it’s a “hunger” hormone that tells you whether to eat or not. High leptin levels signal that it’s OK to stop eating, while low leptin levels are a signal to eat more energy. Because of this, leptin levels decrease in calorie restricted environments.
  5. Decreases energy levels – There are many physical actions your body takes when you’re not eating enough calories to lose weight, but there are also some mental ones. Neurotransmitter production is limited, which can lead to a lack of motivation. It’s your body’s way of telling you to “slow down” – conserve your energy.

How Much Should I Eat?

The goal should be to eat as many calories as possible and still lose weight. Contradictory to what most people would think but let’s examine further. It’s not a license to eat whatever and how much you want, but you have to be able to feed the body’s biological needs first before you can even consider slashing its source of fuel. There is no perfect number. Everybody’s metabolism is different but any one of the calorie calculators found on-line are a good starting point. They can’t take into account all the individualistic variables but they will give you a more realistic starting point than some fad diet. And it’s better to err on the side of higher and then adjust down if necessary.

Why Weight Loss is Such an Issue

The problem is most people want the weight gone, and they want it gone now. Weight loss is a patience game. It takes time and consistency to make it work. Losing 1-2 lbs per week is desirable and contrary to what the media would have you want to believe. At this pace, it will ensure that the majority of your weight loss is coming from stored body fat instead of muscle.  So if your progress has stalled, but you think you’re eating the right foods and exercising intensely, more than likely your problem is that you’re not eating enough calories to lose weight. Eat as much as you reasonably can, get in as many nutrients as possible, and your weight loss will start moving forward.


Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Sugar, Oh How Sweet It Isn’t!

w1NAvR51K1pe_e_uxPNWaDl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9Some people like salt; others like sweet.  While I’m not really opposed to either, I’m generally more of a sweet tooth. Sugar in my coffee, sweet tea, and while not really a candy fan, desserts can be planned around for at meals.  But over the years my tastes have changed and as my knowledge of nutrition continues to grow, things don’t necessarily need or seem to be as sweet.

Sugar Is A Drug

When you mention the word drug, a few things come to mind. You could be referring to a prescription written by a doctor or you could be referring to one of any substances used to elevate your present state of mind.  The word could also be used to describe anything that enhances or changes the state of things to the point of addiction, like exercise for some. But rarely if ever is food, the very sustenance that keeps us alive, described as a drug.  For those that have an unfortunate issue with food being “drug-like”, this is a reality.  However, for the millions who were raised and thought that fat was the enemy, low and behold we have fallen into the trap of a substance that has snuck below the radar for years and had us eating out of the wrong hand per se until now.  The enemy or drug is sugar.

What Does The Research Say?

Back in the 1970s, government agencies joined forces and mandated that fat consumption needed to be drastically reduced in the American diet to stave off heart disease and numerous other ailments. The good news is that as a population fat consumption decreased. The bad news – very bad news – is that heart disease and related illness skyrocketed to epidemic proportions. The culprit? Sugar.  While sugar intake had dropped in the 1970s, an alarming trend of increased intake of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) began. HFCS and sugar are the same thing to our bodies metabolically (they’re both sugar) but HFCS became cheaper and more efficient for the food industry to produce for the fat that was being taken out of food.  The result? More intake of sugar that we’re genetically programmed to be “addicted” to – fructose.

According to Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist from the University of California – San Francisco, there is nothing in nature that isn’t sweetened by fructose that is harmful to us.  It is in essence nature’s way of alerting us to food that is safe and healthy to eat. The problem is that in America’s diet, or what is referred to often as the Western Diet, there is fructose everywhere minus the real nutrition it generally accompanies (vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc.) such as in a piece of fruit.  Dr. Robert Atkins, most notably recognized as the creator of the infamous Atkins’s Diet, had shown in his research the negative effects of sugar on our metabolisms. While most want to look at his diets and say Atkins was all about eating all meat and no carbohydrates, his research clearly began what the new research is discovering further – that sugar is harmful to the body particularly when it is consumed in any unnatural state (i.e. candies). And because of its almost programmed “good for the body means more is better” quality, we have almost (some have) developed an addiction to having more to satiate our inability to feel satisfied.

What Can You Do?

Obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease had all previously been linked to a bad diet full of saturated fat.  New research reported in a recent 60 minutes segment is proving that all of these health conditions are 75% preventable by limiting sugar intake. The recommendations are 150 calories for men (or approximately 38 grams) for added sugar per day and 100 calories (approximately 25 grams) for women per day. That equates to only one 12 ounce soft drink per day. But when you exclude the obvious offenders like candy or other sweets, sugar is a bigger part of our diet than most realize.  Breads, condiments, juices, yogurts, processed foods, etc. all contain added sugars.  Consume fresh, whole foods as often as possible and if you must eat a packaged food item, ignore the marketing on the package and learn to read labels more thoroughly and examine the ingredient list.  Sugars take all kinds of monikers, from words ending in “ose” or “ol” and “dextrin” or syrups of any kind.  Sugar is sugar and whether a 100 calorie pack or a banana, the sugar is the ultimate enemyy.

You can also view Dr. Lustig’s lecture on YouTube titled “Sugar – The Bitter Truth” to learn more and perhaps rethink the way you eat.  I know I have.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.


My 2012 Fitness Challenge personal update – 17,000 push ups done as of publishing time.


12 Days of Fitness 2011 – Day 5: Speeding Up A “Slow” Metabolism

CECIL(This is Part 5 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful fitness tips over the holiday season)

If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard the “I have a slow metabolism” excuse for an individual’s inability to lose weight, I’d be a millionaire. Yeah, a slow metabolism must also affect the center of the brain that controls making the best healthy food choices too.  I see it all the time.  The chronic dieter who loses 10 pounds, gains 8, lose 8, but gains 10 back! Or the person who claims to eat nothing all day and still can not lose a pound. How does that happen? If their metabolism was indeed slow, they would have never lost the weight in the first place.  The problem there in lies that it is not the metabolism that is slow; it is its creator – YOU!

You Truly Are What You Eat

Metabolism is a term most people have heard but do not clearly understand.  An individual’s metabolism is essentially the sum, or energy cost, of all the processes in the body that get it to go. While there are certainly individual differences in every one of us, our metabolisms are in effect the net result of our mass (keep in mind that a larger a person whether fat or muscular, has a higher metabolism than a smaller person), our level of activity, and the only genetic factor that counts in this case, our basal metabolic rates (the operating cost of our organ systems). Of the three, we have a direct influence on two of those factors: mass and level of activity. Therefore, a “slow metabolism” is more the effect of poor lifestyle choices and very little to do with what mom and dad gave you.

The Not So Quick Fix

The good news: for those who think they have a “slow metabolism”, it can be sped up.  The bad news: it takes time and hard work.  Here’s how:

  • Build muscle. Muscle does increase metabolism more than fat, but not by much. For every 1 lb of muscle, research shows there’s just about a 9 calorie/day increase in metabolism. But don’t let that discourage you. Of course it all adds up and most importantly, resistance training maintains lean tissue, thus preserving your ability to burn more calories as the years go by.
  • Eat more. Yes, you read that right but it’s not what you think. When you eat, your metabolism increases to digest and use the food.  Eating frequently, albeit cleanly, does more to keep the fire stoked (and blood sugar stable) than skipping meals or not eating, which is guaranteed to kill the fire.
  • Eat breakfast. It’s simple and you heard it before but eating breakfast stokes the metabolism after the 6-8 hour slumber. Skip it and the body struggles to burn anything all day, but rather stores it all.
  • Increase the intensity of your workouts. Long, slow cardio sessions do little to nothing when the workout is done.  Shorter, higher intensity exercise bouts cause a much longer increase in metabolism, even hours after your workout is over.

Just remember – you’re not a prisoner of your metabolism.  You are its creator.

See you tomorrow for Day 6 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.



Thanksgiving Survival Tips

d_56234_22604_061113104442684Definitely one of my favorite holidays of the year, Thanksgiving unfortunately strikes fear in the eyes of those who have struggled with or are in the process of  losing weight. Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be one of those gatherings where you feel (and look) ashamed afterwards. Neither is it something you “get through” This Thanksgiving, allow me to equip you with basic caloric information on some holiday favorites and healthy eating tips. It’s up to you to choose and portion it out intelligently so that you don’t end up looking at your belt notch in shame. Remember, Thanksgiving is a joyous occasion and that one overindulgent meal won’t be the one that makes you gain weight. It is the many large meals in a row and consistently poor eating habits that will do you in.

Thanksgiving Survival Guide

1. Use a smaller plate. Studies have shown that when we eat from a smaller plate, the illusion is created that we are eating from a full plate, thus making us feel like we’ve eaten enough.

2. Eat what you like, but in smaller portions. Don’t skimp on the pie or your favorite indulgent sides. Enjoy it all and most times, only a taste is necessary to satisfy your craving.

3. Drink lots of water. While it’s important to stay hydrated, drinking water between bites or even before the meal will make you feel fuller sooner.

4. Don’t starve yourself for the “feast” or “feasts”. Simply “banking” your calories for the big meal is a sure fire way to send your metabolism into a spiraling frenzy.  Eat as you would normally that day and avoid the sudden blood sugar surges and crashes. (Fun Fact: The myth that tryptophan makes you sleepy is just that – a myth.  The amount of tryptophan you would have to consume to make you sleepy is way more than even the heartiest eater could consume.  What makes you sleepy? The extraordinary large amount of calories at one meal that cause the blood sugar to rapidly rise and subsequently crash hard afterwards.  Think about it.  Do you get sleepy eating turkey any other time of year?)

5. Eat slowly. Chew your food; enjoy it; savor it; don’t inhale it.  Eating faster than the brain can process the signals from the stomach that you are full will almost certainly lead to overeating.

6. Eat plenty of salad and vegetables. No different than any other meal, fill up on the fibrous, good for you vegetables for a more nutritious, satisfying meal that won’t break your belt.

7. Limit your drinking to a glass of red wine. To be really conscience of your eating and its aftermath, limit your “liquid” calories.

8. When you feel full, stop eating. Sounds too much like common sense, but don’t eat to the point of uncomfortableness. Enjoy the day and all you have to be thankful for, especially being able to push away and walk from the table.

9. Go for a walk after the meal. Movement stimulates good digestion. Get up and move around after the meal, and more than just going from dining room table to recliner.

Food For Thought

And here’s some caloric information for those Turkey Day favorites (a serving size should be just about 4-5 ounces of turkey or other meat):

Roasted Turkey (4 oz.): 153 calories, 5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, <1 g carbohydrates, 92.5 mg cholesterol, 397.5 mg sodium

Pumpkin Pie (my personal favorite) (5.4 oz.): 260 calories, 12 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 33 g carbohydrates, 85 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium

Gravy (2.2 oz.): 80 calories, 7 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 3 g carbohydrates, 5 mg cholesterol, 40 mg sodium

Mashed Potatoes (8.3 oz.): 230 calories, 6 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 39 g carbohydrates, 15 mg cholesterol, 30 mg sodium

Candied Yams (6.0 oz.): 170 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 37 g carbohydrates, <5 mg cholesterol, 15 mg sodium

Cranberry Sauce (3.6 oz.): 120 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 31 g carbohydrates, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium

Stuffing (3.8 oz.): 160 calories, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 21 g carbohydrates, 15 mg cholesterol, 220 mg sodium

Remember, one day will not make or break your health and fitness success.  Enjoy it and be thankful for all there is to be thankful for. My best wishes for you and your families to have a Happy, Healthy and Delicious Thanksgiving!

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.



Say No To Dieting

no-dietIt’s a new year.  A fresh start; a new beginning; a clean slate – however you want to define it.  And when it comes to my area of expertise, a new year means a lot of hope by the masses placed on erasing last year’s bad nutrition and exercises habits…with new ones.

The Great Diet Dupe

I shouldn’t have to say this because it should be more than common knowledge by now, but diets simply don’t work.  Yet every year a new “diet” plan emerges and some of the top selling books of all time have been diet books.  Am I missing something? Nope. But what I know and what others want to believe is vastly different.  I know the truth, and it’s not based on emotion but fact.

The Word DIE is in Diet

Diets are a sure fire way to destroy, flat out kill the basic physiology of the human body.  Why then do they sometimes show initial promise?  It’s an illusion (a very, very small percentage of people on a particular diet will see long term, positive results) and anyone who drops calories will always see an initial weight loss, but long term success is 99.9% guaranteed failure. Here are some of the many true, hard facts about diets:

  • They destroy your metabolism through week after week of calorie restriction by slowing down the processes that keep you alive.  It’s your body’s way of sparing energy due to the decreased influx of energy (calories).
  • They eventually lead to massive breakdown of muscle tissue, further decreasing metabolic rate.  Muscle tissue is one of the primary calorie burning furnaces of the body (organs are the top, but without them…well, you figure it out.)
  • The drop in metabolism and calorie burning tissue causes any “weight” loss that does occur to be quickly reversed when normal eating is resumed due to the damaged metabolism.
  • Generally require that you give up your favorite foods for weeks and months at a time—highly unrealistic for the human psyche.
  • Inevitably lead to stalled fat loss and fat loss plateaus.
  • Plummets natural hormone levels and overall lethargy, frustration, and misery.
  • Works against the body, not with the body.
  • Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Don’t buy into gimmicks.  Don’t buy into hype.  Don’t buy into lies. It will only leave you in a swirling eddy of sneaking weight gain that this time next year is just another few more pounds to drop.