There is one expression I hear a lot that drives me up a wall: “I worked out so I earned (insert food or beverage choice of dubious nutritional value)”. While calories in and calories out do matter, and the more active you are the more calories you can consume without being in a surplus, the idea that humans need to “earn” their food is anathema to me, particularly when we use that concept to justify eating something that we want but know isn’t the best food choice. If we want to eat something and make a conscious and deliberate choice to eat it, we shouldn’t have to justify it to ourselves.
Instead, I prefer to think of food as fuel. Think about a car for a minute. If you drive a car at a steady average pace under normal conditions, it will burn gas at a certain rate, and you will need to keep refueling it at a certain rate to keep it going. The further or faster you drive it, the more fuel it will use. If you load it up or tow something with it, it will burn fuel at a faster rate and need to be filled up more frequently. If you drive more slowly or for a shorter distance, you need less gas and won’t need to refuel as often.
Grossly oversimplified, the normal human metabolism works in much the same way. If your activity or exertion level increases, you will need more fuel. If either decrease, you need less. In short, on the days where you are lifting, carrying, running, or whatever it is that you enjoy doing for moderate to intense exercise, you will need more fuel.
Let’s go back to the car analogy for a minute. Think of the human body as one of those fancy cars that requires 93 octane or higher gasoline. If you fill it with the wrong octane, the car doesn’t run very well. It will shudder, make funny noises, and generally make its displeasure known. Whole foods are premium gas, and processed or “junk” foods are 87 octane. If you put the right amount of whole foods into your body, your engine purrs. If you put the wrong amount in, or if you put the wrong fuel in, you’re not going to get peak performance. Is it okay to use a different fuel sometimes? Sure, but the more you do it, the worse your performance will be.
Do you want to be strong and active as you age? Do you want to stay in your own home for as long as possible? If you do, are you doing any resistance training? Inactive individuals over the age of thirty lose between three and five percent of their muscle mass per year, resulting in long term problems with daily living activities. Current research shows that adults over the age of forty should incorporate weights into their exercise routine to prevent this long term muscle loss, or sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is one of the primary reasons why individuals are not able to live on their own, but routine weight lifting or use of resistance bands combined with proper protein intake helps slow the rate of muscle loss. In some cases, resistance training and proper nutrition even can help reverse the process of muscle loss. So if you want to be active well into your later years, seek out a resistance training program that fits your lifestyle.
One of the most significant changes I ask most of my fat loss clients to make is increasing the amount of low intensity steady state cardio (LISS) that they do during the day. LISS is a proven way to increase the amount of calories that your body uses without stressing it out. The easiest and most common form of LISS is walking at a pace at which you can easily carry on a conversation. For some clients, adding a walk to their morning or evening works, while for others, it’s simpler to just park further away, to take the stairs, or to take two trips to put the laundry away rather than use a big laundry basket so they can do it in one. These small changes can lead to big increases in activity levels and thus the amount of calories your body uses during the day. This in turn accelerates fat loss. Want to learn how to add LISS into your life? We can help!
Over the past few weeks, we have taken a quick look at the benefits of high intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate intensity steady state cardio (MISS). Now you may be asking “Well, what should I be doing?” The answer, as it so often is in nutrition and fitness, is it depends. What does it depend on? There are several things. Your goals, the amount of time you have available, and what you enjoy all play a role. Ideally, there is a place for both in your workout routine, but if you truly are crunched for time, talk to us about your needs and we will help find the right balance for you.
Are you looking to increase your cardiovascular endurance? Look no further than moderate intensity steady state cardio (MISS). Running, rowing, or biking at a slightly elevated heart rate two to three times a week for as little as twenty minutes can make a huge difference in your cardiovascular capacity. All of these activities are also a great way to get outside, connect with nature, and have some time away from our day to day stresses. Be careful to avoid too much MISS if fat loss is your goal, however, as some research has shown a correlation between excessive MISS and stalled fat loss. Have you hit a plateau in your fat loss? We can help you identify if your workouts are helping or hurting your progress.
Are you doing high intensity interval training (HIIT)? If not, there are a lot of reasons why you should consider adding it to your workout routine, especially if your goals include fat loss or improved cardiovascular capacity. So what is HIIT anyway? It is a style of workout that includes periods of intense work with periods of recovery. One type of HIIT workout is the Tabata style workout, in which an athlete performs a certain movement for a period of time, then rests for a designated period of time. Think twenty seconds of pushups followed by ten seconds of rest, repeated for ten minutes. Studies have shown that this type of workout improves cardiovascular function and, in connection with proper nutrition, helps reduce whole body fat mass when performed consistently. HIIT workouts can be done with or without added weight, don’t require a fancy gym membership, and generally can be done in a short period of time. So if you are looking to score a fitness home run, think HIIT!
I stumbled across an opinion piece the other day advocating for a national institute of nutrition. The author makes some good points, particularly with regard to the need for nutrition science that isn’t dependent on grants from commercial entities. In light of the amount of junk studies put out there for quick headlines (see last week’s post), it sounds like a good idea to me. Take a look and let me know your thoughts in the comments! thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/410620-the-case-for-a-national-institute-of-nutrition
Every day or two, we read or hear about some new study that suggests we change the way we eat immediately to lose weight, stave off some disease, or lead a longer, more active life. Often one study directly contradicts the findings of another. The New York Times just published a great piece on the current shortcomings in nutrition research, and unfortunately, those shortcomings aren’t going away any time soon.
The takeaway? Don’t change your dietary habits with the news cycle. Take the time to find out whether a study’s findings are supported by the greater body of research, or ask someone like us who actually enjoys diving into the scientific literature and research reviews.
There are a ton of online nutrition programs these days. While unfortunately some are out and out scams, there are a lot of programs that can be transformative. One problem I see a lot is that a person may choose a program that isn’t right for them. Three examples: a) if you don’t know what macros are, you likely will struggle with a macros based program that doesn’t provide a lot of hands-on support; b) if you don’t know your way around a kitchen, a program that doesn’t help you to develop meal prep skills probably won’t be a good match; and c) if the program doesn’t take into account your preferred activities and activity level, you likely won’t get good results. It’s really important to research whether the program or programs you are looking at address each of these issues and if so, how. Nutrition coaches can be a great resource in figuring out which program may be right for you. If you are wondering how to find a program that works for you, give us a call! We’re happy to chat about your options.
Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I HATE to run, and if they are being honest instead of polite, they’ll probably tell you I am not very good at it. I have worked hard on improving this spring and summer, and while I am not going to set records of any kind any time soon, I no longer feel like I am going to die if I run for more than a mile. Part of my running program this summer involved interval work at the track where I would run a certain distance at a certain pace, then walk a set distance to bring my heart rate down, then do it over and over and over again. Over time, the distance at running pace increases and the walking time decreases. When I started, I was walking and running about the length of a football field. Now, I “get” to run as much as four football fields to walking one. It’s tedious, so during the walks, I like to people watch. A couple of weeks ago, it was over ninety degrees at eight in the morning, so there were only two other people on the track. One was walking laps when I got there, and was joined a few minutes later by another. They began to do intervals of about the same length I had been doing when I started. The person who arrived late stuck it out for about fifteen minutes, while the other kept at it even after her friend left. Watching her work brought home to me how much she must want to improve, and how far I had come on my own journey. As luck would have it, we both ended our workouts around the same time, and as we were leaving, I simply told her “Great job today.” It was - I know from recent experience just how hard it is for a non-runner to do what she had just done. The look on her face said it all - pure joy that someone believed in her as an athlete. That made my day, because I remember the first time someone called me athletic. I was forty-three, and had NEVER thought of myself as having any athletic gifts whatsoever. That moment changed the way I thought about myself (thank you, Coach Joe!) and four years later, I haven’t looked back. The moral of the story? Those few words of encouragement may just change someone’s life.
Amy Mariani is the owner of Fit & Fabulous LLC in Winchester, Massachusetts. She is also the nutrition coach at www.mountainstrength.com. Her mission is to help people eat healthy and love life.
Please note that you should consult with your physician prior to embarking on any major changes with regard to your nutrition. Unfortunately, absent authorization from a medical professional, we are unable to provide individualized nutrition coaching to anyone under the age of eighteen, or to persons with certain medical conditions. We are always happy to work with authorized medical professionals under these circumstances.