The Right (& Wrong) Ways to Lose Weight

Written by: on Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
woman strength training

Remember: cardio and strength training are both important parts of your exercise regimen.

Exercise is medicine, what you put into your mouth matters, and there are no quick fixes. These are the key messages worth a reminder as everyone is getting on the weight-loss bandwagon for the New Year. Given that two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, and that healthcare costs (to say nothing of quality-of-life costs) are staggering, we need to figure out how to turn this ship around. Here are eight truths about diet and exercise that anyone trying to lose weight (or even maintain weight) and stay fit should know:

1) Miracle slim-down diets (aka “crash diets”) do not work. Is it true the less you eat, the more weight you will lose? No. A big slashing of calories poorly predicts how much weight you will lose because your body adapts to perceived “famine” conditions by conserving energy.

close up of broccoli

The secret to weight loss: a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables (like broccoli), whole grains, legumes, healthy fats (like olive oil), and lean meat and dairy (if you eat dairy).

In a three-month study, young, healthy women were given a diet to lose weight. One diet had a moderate (-400) calorie deficit; this group lost six pounds in 3 months. The other diet had a severe (-850) calorie deficit; that group lost only 8 pounds. This was far less than predicted and related to a drop in resting metabolic rate. The body’s ability to conserve energy is quite powerful! If you want to lose weight, plan to chip off just a few hundred calories at the end of the day, rather than starve yourself by under eating all day.

In fact, men who want to lose weight should not crash diet, either. They will lose not only muscle but also testosterone (a muscle-building hormone). In a three-week study, soldiers ate a high-protein diet (3 x the RDA; 2.4 g pro/kg/day) but under ate calories by 40% below the amount needed to maintain weight. While the very high-protein intake helped counter loss of muscle, it did not maintain testosterone levels. Remember: chipping off a few hundred calories is preferable to a chopping off a thousand. Two fewer cans of soda or beer a day can make a difference in weight!

2) It doesn’t matter how often you eat; what matters is calories. Are dieters better off eating three small meals plus three small snacks—or eating the same amount of calories but in just two meals? For two weeks, obese middle-age women ate calorie-controlled packets of food either two or six times a day. Either way, the subjects reported being hungry. Eating six smaller meals did not appear to improve appetite response. So take your choice how often you want to eat, being sure to keep the total calories within your daily calorie budget.

Cup of coffee

Coffee has many health benefits—thanks to its antioxidants—but weight loss is not one of them.

3) No, coffee can’t curb your appetite (sorry!). Many dieters drink coffee for breakfast, swearing it curbs their morning hunger pangs. Yet, a study with 12 subjects reported no differences in appetite (and subsequent food intake) when their breakfast and mid-morning beverages were 1) water, 2) water+caffeine, 3) decaffeinated coffee or 4) decaf+caffeine. At lunch (4.5 hours after breakfast), the subjects reported similar amounts of hunger and ate similar amount of calories, regardless of their caffeine intake. The coffee did not effectively curb their appetites.

4) Listen to your body. What happens to food intake when healthy college men who exercise regularly are told to sit for 10 additional hours a week for 8 weeks?  They naturally eat less! At baseline, the subjects ate about 2,600 calories a day (47% carb, 18% protein, 32% fat). When they were told to be more sedentary, they intuitively ate less than baseline. They chose the same foods, just smaller portions. Only 1 of the 8 subjects ate more than at baseline. The moral of the study: If you get injured and cannot exercise, your body can naturally desire fewer calories. The trick is to listen to your body’s cues.

5) Regular exercise does more than just keep you fit. Exercise can impact not only weight but also the kinds of microbes that grow in the gut. In mice, the kinds of microbes differ by 40% between sedentary lean and obese mice. Even mice made obese by a high-fat diet—but allowed to use an exercise wheel—had a lean phenotype compared to the sedentary obese mice with no access to the exercise wheel. The exercised mice had distinctly different gut microbes. We need more research to understand how exercise impacts gut microbes in humans and how those microbes impact metabolism and weight.

Dumbbells

Lifting weights boosts bone density and your resting metabolism (which is key to how many calories you burn a day).

6) You’ve got to lift weights. Female athletes commonly have low bone mineral density. Is this related to their being light in weight? Having low body fat? Less muscle? A study of 44 female D-1 athletes (from cross-country, tennis, basketball, and soccer teams) suggests that bone mineral density significantly relates to muscle mass. The more muscle, the better the bone density. Keep lifting those weights!

7) Any exercise is better than no exercise. Does very slow walking (1 mile/hour) on a treadmill desk offer any health benefits? Yes. In a study, 32 college students consumed 300 calories of glucose and then either 1) remained sedentary for two hours or 2) for two hours, alternated walking on a treadmill workstation for 30 minutes then sitting for 30 minutes. The results suggest even very slow walking helped with blood glucose control. Bottom line: being sedentary is deleterious to health.

8) Getting older? Make it a point to move more. Regular leisure-time exercise patterns drop from childhood to adolescence and become unacceptably low in adulthood. One reason may be that we spend many hours at our desks working—with little time for leisure or even vacation. This is why it’s even more important to make an effort to fit in exercise as often as possible. And try to get up from your desk at regular intervals….and walk (even around the office) if you can. Remember, every little bit helps!

What to Eat After Exercise…So You Don’t Gain Weight

Written by: on Sunday, January 22nd, 2012
woman lifting a barbell

It's easy to negate the effects of a good workout by eating the wrong foods afterward!

What’s best to eat for recovery after a hard workout? That’s what marathoners, body builders, and exercisers ask. They read ads for “recovery foods” with the “perfect” ratio of carbs to protein and a “proprietary” formula— and emphasize immediate consumption the minute you stop exercising. But the truth is that engineered recovery foods, which often cost more, are actually no more effective than standard foods.

Q: Who should eat a recovery diet?

A: Too many athletes are obsessed with rapidly refueling the minute they stop exercising.  They’re afraid they’ll miss the one-hour “window of

best recovery food for exercisers

Skip the pricey "recovery" foods; a glass of low-fat chocolate milk may be all you need.

opportunity” when replacement of glycogen [stored glucose] is fastest. But refueling still occurs for several hours after exercise, just at a slowing rate. So there’s no rush! Given a steady influx of adequate carb-based meals and snacks, muscles can refuel within 24 hours. If you have a full day to recover before your next training session, or if you have done an easy (non-depleting) workout, you don’t need to obsess about refueling immediately afterward. Over the course of the next 24 hours, you should repeatedly consume carbohydrates with each meal/snack, along with some protein to build and repair the muscles (e.g. chocolate milk or a fruit smoothie).

Refueling as soon as tolerable is most important for serious athletes doing a second bout of intense, depleting exercise within six hours of the first workout, including:

√ triathletes doing double workouts

√ soccer players in tournaments

√ people who ski hard in the morning and again in the afternoon.

The sooner these athletes consume carbs to replace depleted muscle glycogen and protein to repair damaged muscle, the sooner they’ll be able to exercise hard again.

Q: How many carbs do I need?

A: According to the International Olympic Committee’s Nutrition Recommendations, adequate carbs means:

Amount of exercise Gram carb/lb Gram carb/kg
Moderate exercise (about 1 hour/day) 2.5 to 3 5 to 7
Endurance exercise (about 1-3 h/day) 2.5 to 4.5 6 to 10
Extreme exercise  (more than 4-5 h/day) 3.5 to 5.5 8 to 12

 

For example, a 150-lb triathlete doing extreme exercise should target about 500 to 800 grams of carb/day (2,000 to 3,200 carb-calories). That’s about 500 to 800 grams of carbs every 4 hours during the daytime.

Q: What are some good carb-protein recovery foods?

recovery food for exercisers

Simple recovery food: cereal (carb) and low-fat milk (protein). Nothing elaborate and pricey necessary!

A: Your recovery meals and snacks should include a foundation of carbohydrate-rich breads, cereals, grains, fruits, and vegetables plus a smaller amount of protein (at least 10 to 20 grams per recovery snack or meal). Best bets:

√ fruit smoothie (Greek yogurt + banana + berries)

√ cereal + milk

√ bagel + (decaf) latté

√ pretzels + hummus

√ baked potato + cottage cheese

√ turkey sub

√ pasta + meatballs

Do NOT consume just protein, as in a protein shake or protein bar. Protein fills your stomach and helps build and repair muscles, but it does not refuel your muscles. Your muscles want three or four times more calories from carbs than from protein. If you like the convenience of protein shakes, at least add carbs to them. That is, blend in some banana, frozen berries, and/or graham crackers.

Keep in mind that recovery calories “count.” I hear many frustrated dieters complain they are not losing weight despite hard workouts. Perhaps that’s because they gobble 300 or so “recovery calories” and then go home and enjoy a hefty dinner. By organizing your training to end at mealtime, you can avoid over-indulging in recovery-calories.

Q: What about recovery electrolytes? Do I need them?

woman exercising hard outdoors and sweating

Simple foods still work best after a particularly tough workout, particularly if you sweat a lot.

 

 

A: After a hard workout, many athletes reach for a sports drink, thinking products like Gatorade or PowerAde are “loaded” with sodium (an electrically charged particle). Think again! Milk and other “real foods” are actually better sources of electrolytes than most commercial sports products. These electrolytes (also known as sodium and potassium) help enhance fluid retention and the restoration of normal fluid balance. Here’s how some common recovery fluids compare:

Beverage (8 oz) Sodium (mg) Potassium (mg) Protein (g) Carbs (g)
Water
PowerAde 55 45 19
Gatorade 110 30 14
Low-fat milk 100 400 8 12
Chocolate milk 150 425 8 26
Orange juice 450 2 26

 

As you can see, after a hard workout, recovery fluids that such as chocolate milk, orange juice, or a latte offer far more “good stuff” than you’d get in a sports drink. Sports drinks are dilute and designed for drinking during extended exercise.

bagel with peanut butter

A bagel with peanut butter provides carbs, protein, and sodium—important for replenishing after a tough workout.

To assess how much sodium you lose in sweat, weigh yourself naked pre and post an hour of exercise, accounting as best you can for any fluid consumed. Loss of one pound equates to loss of about 700 to 1,000 mg of sodium. If you sweat heavily and lose a significant amount of sodium, you can easily replace those losses with pretzels (300 mg sodium/10 twists), a bagel (500 mg) with peanut butter (200 mg/2 tbsp), Wheaties and milk (300 mg), or a spaghetti dinner with tomato sauce (1000 mg/cup Ragu sauce). The truth is: most athletes actually consume plenty of sodium, from everyday food!

Q: What should I eat before I exercise?

A: According to research presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, consuming protein before lifting weights enhanced recovery better than consuming a protein drink afterwards. That’s because your body digests pre-exercise protein into amino acids during exercise and puts those amino acids right into action repairing damaged muscles.

Q: I never really feel like I recover well. Is something wrong?

woman running on beach in sweats

Sure, you love your morning runs, but make sure you take at least a day off every week to rest; your body needs it!

A: If you have to drag yourself through workouts, there could be an underlying issue. The most common:

√  You’re overtraining. Rest is an essential part of a training program; muscles need time to refuel and repair. Take at least one, if not two, days off from exercise per week.

√  You’re anemic. Anemia is common, so have your doctor monitor your serum ferritin (stored iron). If your iron stores are depleted, you’ll feel needlessly tired during exercise. An estimated half of female athletes are iron-deficient, as indicated by low serum ferritin stores. (About 14% of all women are iron deficient.) A survey with collegiate male runners suggested about 20% had low serum ferritin. Iron supplements help resolve the problem, along with a good recovery diet.

So the moral of the story is: Eat wisely, and you’ll recover well—and feel great without gaining extra weight!

Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD January 2012

Looking for a way to get fit quickly? Read this….

Written by: on Friday, July 15th, 2011

 

Man sprinting on treadmill

Hate the treadmill? There's new reason to jump on...

By Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD

 

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is effective, though it’s hard work! Once you are fit, you can then reduce the exercise intensity to a more enjoyable (sustainable) level. Dr. Martin Gibala of McMaster University in Ontario does not believe HIIT is a heart attack waiting to happen, but recommends untrained people first get a proper medical check-up. Here are some HIIT pointers:

HIIT can be an effective part of a weight reduction program. Overweight men who did twenty minutes of HIIT (8-second sprints with 12 seconds recovery) 3 times per week for 12 weeks achieved a 7% drop in body fat. In another study with untrained, slightly overweight women ages 30-45, those who did high intensity exercise lost more weight and body fat than those who did lower intensity training. One benefit of high intensity exercise is it can suppress the appetite (temporarily) compared to lower intensity exercise.

HIIT can create a significant afterburn. Men who expended roughly 500 calories during 47 minutes of vigorous exercise continued to burn 225 extra calories in the next 18.5 hours.

This was just some of the research presented at the annual meeting—in Denver, May 31-June 4, 2011—of The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the world’s largest organization of sports medicine and exercise science professionals. Over 6,000 exercise scientists, sports dietitians, physicians and other health professionals gathered to share their research. Other interesting research:

Why do women struggle harder than men to lose undesired body fat? Perhaps because they are women! In the animal kingdom, female animals generate less body beat after overfeeding compared to the males. Research with humans suggests similar energy conservation. When four men and four women were overfed ice cream for three days (150% of energy balance needs), the men burned off some of the extra calories while the women conserved energy.

 

Calorie/heart rate panel on cardio machine

You may not be able to trust the calories burned on your cardio machine's program display.

Should you believe the calorie estimates displayed on exercise machines? Doubtful. The Precor EFX556i overestimated energy expenditure, particularly with women.

 

When athletes lose weight, they lose muscle as well as fat. For example, soldiers during nine weeks of combat training lost 9 lbs (4.2 kg) body weight, of which one-third was muscle loss and two-thirds fat loss. They consumed about 15% fewer calories than required to maintain weight.

Even bodybuilders and figure competitors do not lose just body fat when they “lean out.” In the 12 weeks pre-competition, male bodybuilders lost about 4 lbs (1.8 kg) lean body mass and 11.5 lbs (5.2 kg) body fat. The female figure competitors lost about 5.5 lbs (2.6 kg) lean and about 6.4 lbs (2.9 kg) fat.

 

Sitting on stability ball at a desk

Swap out your chair at the office, burn more calories!

One way to burn a few extra calories is to sit on a stability ball while you are at work. At a call center (where 90% of the time is spent sitting), the employees who sat on the stability ball for five hours during the workday burned about 260 more calories per eight-hour shift. Theoretically, that could lead to loss of 26 pounds in a year! They burned about half a calorie more per minute sitting on a stability ball than sitting in a chair. The biggest barrier to using stability balls: aggravation of pre-existing back pain.

 

Trained cyclists who consumed equal calories of either a sports drink or banana chunks during a 75-kilometer cycling time trial performed similarly. The banana, however, offered a beneficial anti-inflammatory response. Natural foods generally offer more benefits than engineered sports foods.

Chocolate milk is a popular recovery food that contains carbohydrates to refuel muscles and high quality protein to build and repair muscles. Both full-fat and skimmed chocolate milk offer similar recovery benefits.

 

tall glass of beer

Non-alcoholic beer: a great drink for athletes?

Beer is a plant-based beverage that offers both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Marathoners who drank 1 to 1.5 liters of non-alcoholic beer per day for three weeks prior to a marathon and two weeks after the marathon experienced less post-race inflammation and fewer colds. Non-alcoholic beer offers a wise way to enjoy the natural high of exercise along with positive health benefits.

 

Have you ever wondered how much elite endurance athletes consume during an event? A post-event survey of Ironman triathletes, marathoners, long-distance cyclists, and professional bike racers suggests the Ironmen consumed about 70 grams (280 calories) of carbohydrate per hour; the cyclists, 53 grams (212 calories) and the marathoners, 35 grams (140 calories). The endurance athletes who consumed the most energy had the best performances.

How common are intestinal problems during endurance events? About 31% of the Ironman competitors reported GI serious problems, compared to 14% of the half-Ironman competitors, 4% of the cyclists, and 4% of the marathoners. Those with a history of GI distress reported the most symptoms, as well as those who exercised in higher heat.

If you are going to be competing in the heat, you might want to pre-cool your body. One way to do that is to enjoy an ice slurry. Runners who consumed about 14-ounces of ice slurry before they exercised in the heat were able to run about 1% faster during a 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) race.

Female athletes commonly restrict their food intake. Among 44 female high school cross-country runners (16 years old):

— 39% restricted food, thinking being lighter would help them perform better.

— 42% reported missed or absent menstrual periods in the past year, a sign of being under-fueled.

—They were eight times more likely to believe missing multiple periods was a sign they were in better shape.

These young women need to be educated about the medical problems associated with missed menstrual periods!

To resume menses, amenorrheic women need to correct the energy deficit. Those who drank a 360-calorie carbohydrate-protein supplement resumed menses, on average, in about 2.5 months (±2 months). The longer they had been amenorrheic, the longer they needed to resume menses.

(More ACSM highlights are available at www.acsm.org [click on “news releases”].)

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Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD July 2011. Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels both casual and competitive athletes. Her office is at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill, MA (617-795-1875). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for new runners, marathoners offer additional information. They are available at nancyclarkrd.com. See also sportsnutritionworkshop.com.

Exercise is better than medicine!…and more

Written by: on Friday, June 10th, 2011

 

Woman and man running, exercising

Get out there and exercise: doctors' orders!

Each year, more than 5.000 health professionals gather at the Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM; www.acsm.org). At this year’s meeting (Denver, June 1-4, 2011), exercise physiologists, sports medicine doctors, and sports nutritionists shared their research and offered updates. Here are three updates that might be of interest.

The power of exercise
“Exercise is medicine” is the slogan for ACSM’s public health campaign to teach people the importance of living an active lifestyle “Exercise is better than medicine” would also be a good slogan! According to Dr. Karim Khan of the University of British Columbia, lack of physical activity is the biggest public health problem in the 21st Century. (I know, I am “preaching to the choir” because you are undoubtedly already active. But I’m sure you have friends and loved ones who spend too much time on the couch. Please pass along this message along to them.)

We know that exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, dementia, and other diseases of aging. But what most people don’t know is 16% of North Americans will die from low fitness/sedentary lifestyle. That’s more than the 14% of people who will die from “smokerdiabesity” (smoking, diabetes, and obesity combined). If exercise is so good for us, why are so many people failing to exercise regularly? And how can we get them to exercise by choice? Incentives work in the short term. That is, employees who get a discount on their health insurance premium will initiate an exercise program. But in the long term, people maintain an exercise program if it gives them pleasure, makes them feel good about themselves, improves their mood, and offers friendship.

Wanna-be exercisers should take weight loss out of the equation. That is, if they are exercising just to lose weight, what happens when they reach their goal? They’ll still need to keep exercising to maintain that fat loss, so they had better start a program they are interested in enjoying for the rest of their lives!

Just as MDs monitor blood pressure and weight, they should also monitor physical activity. Thanks to ACSM’s Exercise is Medicine campaign, doctors are now being encouraged to prescribe exercise to their overfat, underfit, (pre)diabetic clients, telling them how often, how hard, and how long to exercise. This written prescription has been shown to help improve exercise compliance.

Nutrition for injuries
Unfortunately, part of living an active lifestyle seems to entail being injured; no fun. Athletes with injuries should pay attention to their diet. If they are petrified of gaining weight (yes, petrified is a strong word, but it seems fitting to many injured athletes who seek my counsel), they may severely restrict their food intake. One runner hobbled into my office saying, “I haven’t eaten in two days because I can’t run…”

While injured athletes do require fewer calories if they are exercising less than usual, they still need to eat an appropriate amount of fuel. Injuries heal best with proper nourishment. For example, if you have had surgery (such as to repair a torn ligament), your metabolic rate might increase up to 20%. Using crutches increases energy expenditure by 5 to 8%. If a wound happens to get infected, metabolic rate can increase by 50%.

When injured, you want to eat mindfully, so that you eat enough calories—but not too many calories. Before you put food into your mouth, ask yourself: “Does my body need this fuel? … Will this food provide nutrients to help my injury heal?” Your mind may want excessive treats to comfort your sorrow, but the nutrient-poor cookies that help you feel happier for a moment can contribute to undesired fat gain that will increase your misery for the long run.

If you have ever had a broken bone, you have seen first-hand the muscle wasting that occurs when, let’s say, a leg has been in a cast for 6 to 8 weeks. The good news is, according to Dr. Stuart Phillips of McMaster University, muscle strength and power returns quicker than muscle size. You can minimize excessive muscle loss by eating adequate protein. The typical (and adequate) protein intake is 0.5 g protein per pound of body weight per day ((1.1g/kg/day). During recovery, a better target is about 0.7 g pro/lb (1.6 g/kg). For a 150-pound athlete, that’s 75 to 105 g protein for the day, an amount easily obtained through your diet. Simply choose a protein-rich food at each meal and snack throughout the day to help maximize healing and minimize muscle loss.

Creatine and health
Creatine has been shown to enhance performance in sports that require short bursts of energy (including ice hockey, sprinting, soccer, weight lifting). The question arises: Is creatine harmful? According to Eric Rawson, PhD of Bloomsburg University in PA, creatine is safe. Although critics have tried to implicate creatine in athletic events that resulted in death, other factors were involved, such as excessive exercise in extreme heat.

The NCAA and other sports organizations discourage the use of creatine in teenage athletes. Teens who take creatine while their bodies are growing will never know how well they could have performed with simply a good sports diet and hard work. The question arises: Will athletes who take creatine be enticed to try other ergogenic aids, such as harmful and illegal steroids? The answer is unknown.

On a daily basis, the brain uses creatine to help us think and process. (Thinking requires quick energy, and creatine enhances that metabolic pathway.) Taking creatine supplements can increase brain creatine by 4 to 9%.
When the brain is tired, as happens with sleep-deprivation, creatine may be able to enhance brain function. For example, sleep deprived rugby players who took creatine improved their accuracy when throwing a ball (compared to those who did not take creatine). The effect was similar to if they had taken caffeine, another alertness-heightener.
Creatine might be helpful for athletes who suffer a concussion. Research with animals suggests taking creatine pre-concussion enhances recovery. Granted, few athletes know when they will get a concussion, but anecdotes tell us that hockey players who routinely take creatine (and have higher brain creatine status than athletes who do not take creatine) report enhanced recovery. In certain medical situations (such as muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease), creatine can also have a health-protective role.

Copyright: Nancy Clark, MS, RD CSSD June 2011