Category Archives: Running

To Better Health, the Easy Way.

It is probably true  that everyone knows a person that is either obese, diabetic or pre-diabetic. That is a very sad statement of the health or our nation and the world.  The epidemic of obese and diabetic people  has exploded in the last 40 years even though many have done their best to “do their best” by exercising and eating according to the Standard American Diet recommendations of low-fat high carbohydrate. Check out this video: BBC Panorama: “Diabetes: The Hidden Killer” (2016).   People are working hard on their diet and exercise, but  they are not succeeding. Why? Denise Minger has an excellent book on the subject: “Death By Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined our Health,” (2014).

adult-obesity-in-america

I started taking a closer look at my own health and fitness back in 2013 after reading Prof. Tim Noakes website “Real Meal Revolution”. Prof. Noakes is a well known expert in running and exercise science and nutrition having written  the well known books: “The Lore of Running,” and “Waterlogged.”  Both of which I highly recommend.  There is one caveat, though, as Prof. Noakes will tell you to ignore the high-carbohydrate nutrition information in the Lore of Running, as he now is convinced, and the science is supporting, low carbohydrate diets for weight loss, health, and even endurance sports performance. (see the books by Volek and Phinney: “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living” and “The Art and Science of Low Carb Performance”). More references are listed on our nutrition page.  In August of 2013 I eased into a low carbohydrate lifestyle and since 2015 have been eating a very low carbohydrate, moderate protein, optimal diet consisting of less than 30 grams of carbohydrates per day, protein to support lean body mass, and good fats to satiety. The key is to eat no added sugars or high sugar foods, no grains and no vegetable oils, avoiding processed foods as much as possible.

What has been the result?  To keep it simple… weight loss without hours of cardio. More importantly my annual physicals show lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose, and a much healthier liver.  Healthy, Happy, and  Medication-Free.  In fact, LCHF was the standard of care for obesity and high blood sugar before insulin was discovered.

So if you struggle with weight, study the Low Carbohydrate “way of eating” in the references listed and on the web. Then try it out for yourself. It is not a sacrifice diet, since calories are not the focus, and thus it is easy to make into your normal lifestyle. What can be easier than eating eggs, meats and leafy vegetables.

Here is an easy to read online  ebook:  Ultimate Diabetes Control On Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) Diet” to get you started on LCHF.  More later.

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Build Lean Body Mass!

More reasons to focus on building lean body mass, not losing weight and fat per se.  The health benefits of maintaining and improving your muscle mass are many… watch this video and see what I mean:

 The Underappreciated Role of Muscle in Health and Disease — Jamie Scott

Art by jacques gamelin

 

Become a “Bonk-Free” Athlete.

You may be aware that I have been on a Low-Carb, High Fat (LCHF) eating plan since last September and although I have not been very public with my results, I feel that this is the best way-of-eating  for me. What is LCHF? It is where you get most of your calories from fats and the least from carbs. Typically your total calories are from 75% fats and saturated fats, 15% protein and 10% carbs.  On this plan I have maintained my weight at the lower end (about 144 lb.) of the last 15-years range (140 -160) without spending all my time running or riding. In fact, I took the fall and winter off from training, only doing small workouts and some weights. Those of you that ride with me on Tuesday night know that I am not as strong climbing, but my overall average speeds are not bad for not training, and I have good endurance.  Since I am now training for the Army 10-mile run race in October, I have been even more interested in how well I can perform on a LCHF diet.

I recently read a book on this subject — “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance” by Volek and Phinney, two doctors who have evaluated the performance of LCHF athletes.  In this book they discuss that once an athlete becomes keto-adapted, that is where their primary source of energy comes from fat, their endurance levels will increase dramatically. We have about 2 hours of stored carbohydrate that can be used for energy in our bodies, but even the leanest person has more than twice that amount stored in fat. But that fat is not available unless you are keto-adapted.

I came across a blog post from Sami Inkinen, an elite triathlete that sparked my interest. It is an experiment of 1, but quite controlled and he has very interesting results. He has measured the type and amount  of energy used  during controlled tests using the same equipment 3 time while going from a high carb diet to a LCHF diet.  On the first test, he was eating a high-carb diet and guess what…. he has about 2 hours of carbs available and even though he had done hours of training  in his “fat burning zone” he could not exceed 200 calories per hour from fat-burning at race efforts. Hence he would run out of energy once his carb stores were gone.  A year later he did a second test on a moderate-carb/moderate-fat diet and his fat-burning numbers increased significantly, to 400 calories per hour at the same race effort.  Finally, he performed a third test on a LCHF diet with the same parameters  and increased his fat burning ability to 600- 750 calories per hour. The chart says it all.  At 300W his bonk-time went from 2 hours to 5 hours!  Interested? I am. I would love to see what happens with elite athletes such as marathoners and pro-cyclist if they were  to  go low-carb.  I’ll let you know how my “experiment of 1” goes…

Endurance on LCHF diets.

Is jogging bad for “older” people?

Other than the reference to those over 45 being “older” people, this is a great article with encouraging news for adults who’d rather stick with their favorite impact exercises and save the silver sneakers for  – well, someone else!

Thanks for sharing the link Dawn! (Key parts of blog captured below).

Is there any scientific study to substantiate the claim that older people (over 45) should limit high impact exercises such as jogging, sprinting, etc.?

…There is also little evidence to support the widespread belief that high-impact exercise speeds the onset of arthritis. In a 2013 study, adult runners, including many aged 45 or older, had a lower incidence of knee osteoarthritis and hip replacement than age-matched walkers, with the adults who accumulated the most mileage over the course of seven years having the lowest risk, possibly, the study’s author speculated, because running improved the health of joint cartilage and kept them lean as they aged. Similarly, a 2006 review of studies about jogging and joints concluded that “long-distance running does not increase the risk of osteoarthritis of the knees and hips for healthy people who have no other counter-indications for this kind of physical activity,” and “might even have a protective effect against joint degeneration.”

Running and similar high-impact activities likewise have a salutary effect on bone density, said Dr. Michael Joyner, an exercise physiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and an expert on aging athletes, of whom he is one. Over all, he continued, he is “skeptical” of the idea that older people should avoid high-impact activities. “A lot of concerns about age-appropriate exercise modalities have turned out to be more speculative than real over the years,” he said, adding that during his research and personal workouts, he’s seen many seasoned adults pounding the pavement without ill effects.

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Turn It Upside Down!

The USDA “Food Pyramid” has been around for 21 years, based on the dietary recommendations of the late 1950’s and official recommendations from the USDA in 1977. But data shows that  the population of the world is the most obese that it has ever been.  Seems that the low fat diet plan is not working (see the chart below), doesn’t it?  Have you ever wondered why our grandparents ate all the bad stuff but weren’t obese?  I did.  As it turns out, there is a lot of new research that says they were right and that the low-fat, low cholesterol, and no saturated fat diet is actually causing the obesity epidemic along with several other modern  problems.DSCF3700

My grandmother was a great cook, not a five-star restaurant chef, but she made foods that we all enjoyed and were better than you can find in any restaurant these days. Why?  Because she used what she had, all natural foods including fish and game meats that my grandfather hunted, cooked in butter and lard.  Lard? Yep. She made the best fried (in-lard)  fish with corn-meal batter that I have ever had. Hands down! When her freezer got too full of fish, she would have a fish-fry and invite all the family and friends.

One of my favorite memories of her is the Thanksgiving dinners, where she would make each person’s favorite dish. All at the same time and all excellent. Sometimes for 11+ family members who came for the dinner. You would have thought that our family would be all overweight and in bad health from all that tasty, high-fat food.   But that was not the case.  My best description of my family’s diet philosophy was “everything is ok, just in moderation.”  It was high in everything, low in nothing and all made from scratch. We hadn’t yet heard of the food pyramid. As it turns out, there is now a lot of good scientific research to say that the food pyramid is upside down.  In this and later blog posts, I’ll explain.

Dr. Tim Noakes (source: Wikipedia)

I’ve been a follower of Dr. Tim Noake’s (University of Cape Town professor of exercise and sports physiology) books and writings for a couple of years now. Dr. Noakes is the author of several books that challenge the general notions and commercialized hype that rules the sports world. See the “Lore of Running” and “Waterlogged” which I have discussed before.  His research into human performance and physiology is very well respected.  He has debunked several widely-accepted ideas including the idea that you must drink to excess (promoted by the sports-drink industry) to be able to perform well in endurance events.

His latest research push is into the impact and efficacy of the low-fat dietary recommendations that were introduced in 1977 which promoted the following (from www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines):  Increase carbohydrate intake to 55 to 60 percent of calories while decreasing dietary fat intake to no more than 30 percent of calories, with a reduction in intake of saturated fat, and recommended approximately equivalent distributions among saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats to meet the 30 percent target. They also recommended to decrease cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day, sugar intake to 15 percent of calories, and to decrease salt intake to 3 g per day.

The USDA’s original food pyramid from 1992.

In 1992 the USDA published the now famous “Food Pyramid” seen to the left.   These recommendations have been adopted around the world and the words “low-fat” are on everything in the grocery store from cookies to yogurt to salad dressings.  The result was the demonizing of several common foods including butter, lard, eggs,  and full-fat dairy products. The push was towards grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.  Butter and lard were replaced with margarine (read: trans-fat), vegetable oils and polyunsaturated fats. Eggs and bacon were out.  Lean turkey was in. Much of our food supply became wheat and corn-based because grains were subsidized by the USDA and therefore cheap and plentiful.  Even the livestock are fed corn. Every product on the store shelf became labeled as low-fat and grain-based. Try to buy a non-low fat yogurt in your grocery store, there are one or two containers among the 100’s of low fat yogurts (which all have added sugar, by the way). Most low-fat products have added sugar to make them palatable, often in the form of the very cheap but very bad High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).

Dr. Noakes became interested in the low fat vs low-carbohydrate diet issue  when his own weight and pre-diabetic condition  became a problem. Although he has run more than 70 marathons, as he aged he was unable to control his weight.  In this article he explains his justification  for moving to a Low-Carbohydrate High Fat (LCHF) diet.  He is carbohydrate-resistant which makes him unable to tolerate high carbohydrate diet.  It is ironice that LCHF was the recommended method of losing weight (called “Banting” after William Banting) from the 1860’s to 1959, when it was replaced by the Low-Fat High Carbohydrate (LFHC), so called “Heart Healthy” diet (due to Ancel Keys’  flawed analysis that led to the claim that cholesterol causes heart disease).

Obesity vs Low-Fat Guidelines.

So how have the low-fat, low cholesterol, high carbohydrate recommendations worked out? A very compelling article summarizes the correlation and reasons why the “Low Fat War” was a mistake.  The correlation is uncanny, but that is not proof. Recent scientific studies have shown that the Low-Fat guidelines are indeed wrong.  In addition, many health problems that are epidemic these days are being attributed to the HCLF lifestyle.

I have never had a big problem with weight, but have always been annoyed that my weight would fluctuate 10 lbs (a lot on my small frame) when I stepped back from intensive training.  The other issue is that no matter how many miles I would ride or run, I never seemed to lose that last bit of fat around my middle. In mid-September I decided to try reducing carbs in my diet and to keep track of the results. Studies have shown that weight can be easily maintained on 100-150 g/day and reduced on 50-100 g/day without restricting calories drastically. Going less than 50 g/day will make losing weight easy. Check out authoritynutrition.com‘s articles for good advice on this subject.  In the US, many individuals get 40% of their calories from sugar, and eat more than 600 g/day of carbs.  No wonder we are an obese society. Studies have shown low-carb diets are better at reducing fat than low-fat diets.

In one study, 53 overweight/obese women were randomized to a low-carb group or a calorie restricted low-fat group, for 6 months. (http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/88/4/1617.long)

Initially I just lowered the overall carb total, then after a couple of weeks I went to less than 150g/day.  Initially, I was craving carbs, but then when I realized that I was having more motivation, less 10:00 AM sugar lows and cravings for cinnamon raisin bread I decided to get down to under 100 g/day of carbs.  I have eliminated almost all breads, potatoes, pastas and other grain-based foods. Added sugar, honey and other forms of sugar are totally out.   After a couple of weeks, the carb cravings went away and I actually was less hungry. Although this is not a scientific result, I have lost 5-6 lbs (~4% of starting weight) while eating more meats, eggs, cheese and generally higher fat foods. This is while at the same time not riding or running significantly since the end of September (my usual fall hiatus from training).  In past years my weight would have been 7 to 8 lbs. higher during this time of year. So this year I am essentially 11-14 lbs lighter than last year when I took time off.  I think that is very significant!

In future posts, I will talk about what my research into the literature on the LCHF lifestyle has found including the health benefits. I  will cover sugar,  grains, eating fat to lose fat and why a “calorie is not a calorie” among other topics. I think you will find it interesting and eye-opening. It has been for me.

Stay tuned….

Where did My Muscles Go?

The general public consensus is that we lose muscle mass (size and strength, too) as we age. But there are  notable exceptions to the rule — athletes who have performed exceptionally well into their 70’s and even 80’s.  See the World master’s rankings. For example, in the 2012 10K  rankings list there are 38 runners age 60 to 85 that ran the 10K in less than 40 minutes, including the US runner, Nolan Shaheed (35:26 10K, 60-65 age group) who has age group records at several distances.

Muscle mass comparisons source: Joe Friel

Well known triathlete coach Joe Friel just posted in his blog  an article about maintaining muscle mass and the notion that we are destined to lose muscle. He reviews the latest studies that actually show little or no muscle mass loss is due to aging. What, you say?  There are athletes that maintain muscle mass well into their 70’s, the key is that they work at it. See the photo from coach Joe Friel’s blog at the right. The middle muscle scan photo is a stark reminder that we are too sedentary in our lives. From sitting at our desks for 8-10 hours all day then watching TV for 3-4 hours at night. How many of us do 1-2 hours of strenuous activity each day, or even 30 minutes as recommended? Less than 3% of the US population according to some studies I have seen.

There’s a second aging/sedentary lifestyle issue here, not only does a sedentary lifestyle cause you to lose muscle mass, it also causes the loss of nerve control of the muscles.  Older, sedentary people have less nerve connections to their muscles, thus can’t recruit the muscles they have.

Just another brick in the wall of information that says that we must keep moving, keep exercising, keep the intensity up, and just don’t sit around. Guess I’ve been right to keep that big commercial walk-behind mower for the last 20 years.  I’ve always joked that it was my exercise program — 2-3 hours a week of walking at 3 MPH in tight circles.

Come to tonight’s event at 6:00 PM the Red Hook Public Library where fitness instructor Diane Brent will present “Every Movement Matters” More information here. Learn how you can:

Just Keep moving!

Cramping…. Do You Really Know What Causes Muscle Cramps?

I have been a continual cramping machine since I started running in high school and continuing ever since.  Mostly, it is the “charlie horse” cramp that occurs when stretching or sitting in a chair, but I also cramp on the long rides, usually after 50 to 60 miles of hard effort.  The cramps will affect my calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and the abductor/adductor muscles. Generally any muscle used to spin those pedals on those long, hard efforts. I like everyone else always thought it was caused by low electrolytes in my system due to the long effort.  In attempts or prevent cramping,   I have swallowed electrolyte pills at regular intervals, drank lots of water, drank less water, drank electrolyte drinks, and tried many different things in an effort to prevent cramping, all unsuccessfully. So I’ve been reading up on the subject.

I found an article where   Joe Uhan summarizes the state of the science concerning the true cause of cramping, see  his blog entry “Cramping My Style.” Here is what I learned:  Surprise…. the notion that salt, or the lack of salt causes cramping is based on a 100-year old scientifically-flawed study of British miners. As it turns out, there are no scientifically sound studies that link low electrolyte (or salt) levels to exercise-induced muscle cramping.   One study  (Schwellnus, Drew et al. 2011), found that no difference in hydration or blood sodium concentrations between crampers and non-crampers. So what is the cause?  Nobody knows for sure, but one new theory is that it is a neuromuscular mechanism to shut down the muscles to protect the body from harm that might result from continuing to perform at a high level. This is part of the “Central Governor” theory proposed by Dr. Tim Noakes (Science of Sport) in his books the “Lore of Running” and “Waterlogged.”

Oddly enough, it has been found that tasting salt (or pickle juice)  can stop cramping very quickly, too fast for the salt too have been absorbed into the blood stream. Hence the theory that it is the brain and the nervous system that controls the cramping response, not the electrolyte or water balance. Essentially fooling the brain into allowing you to continue cramp free.

Whatever you think, Joe Uhan’s blog  shed some interesting light on the subject and even gives a list of things that we can do to reduce the occurrence of muscle cramps and to manage them when you get them. Most of the recommendations are not about training your muscles or taking supplements, they are training your brain to allow you to continue.   Good advice to consider.

Re-Thinking Carbs.

Interesting article in Runner’s World quoting Dr. Timothy Noakes, recognized sports scientist and author of the “Lore of Running,”

which I am reading right now.  An 1100+ page volume with a wealth of information on exercise science and the myths that we all think are true, including carbo-loading, drinking lots of sugary sports drinks, etc. A difficult read, but worth it if you have the time.

The Barefoot Bubble, Has it Burst?

Runner’s World published an article recently saying the barefoot fad is over, saying that the sales of barefoot and minimalist shoes have dropped significantly (13-14%) and shock absorbing or motion control shoes sales have increased by 25%.  Actually they used the word “plummet” but I’m not sure that 13% is a “plummet.”  Others are wondering the same thing: The Science of Sport (Sportsscientists.com) has an article published today that discusses this claim and the characteristics of barefoot/minimal shoe running. It seems to me that the drop in sales may just be a return to the mean since minimalist shoes were the biggest growing running shoe segment a year ago.

Shoe statistics aside, it is interesting to ask how runners are doing with minimalist/barefoot shoes?

L-R: Asics Motion control shoes, NB Minimus, and Nike Free v3.0

L-R: Asics Gel 1160, NewBalance Minimus, and Nike Free v3.0

A bit of history. The barefoot movement started in my memory with Zola Budd who competed  in the women’s 3000M  in the Olympics running barefoot in the 1980’s. She trained and raced barefoot almost exclusively. The barefoot trend became over-hyped with the popularity of the book “Born to Run.”  At that time I was running in Brooks shoes, doing 5K an 10K races, running about 50 miles per week. I had no interest or knowledge of minimalist shoes. They reminded me of the spikes I ran with in high school and the way my knees hurt after an extremely hard workout (which was all we did at that time).

My experience with barefoot and barefoot shoes started back in 2003 when I was running with my kid’s high school cross-country team during the summer to help the athletes get a good base in for the fall’s cross-country season. We would run on the football and soccer fields in the early morning,  eventually building up to 1 to 2 hours of barefoot running. No, I didn’t start out running 2 hours barefoot immediately, I see entries in my log that say 12 minutes, 20 minutes, etc. barefoot in the beginning, either at the start or end of a run.  By the summer of 2004 I was running more than 60 minutes barefoot (8 miles or so) and enjoying the cool grass on my feet in the morning. There was the occasional sharp stone or bee-sting, but for the most part my feet were strong, uninjured and just a bit calloused. I attributed much of my running ability at that time to the long barefoot runs.  Unlike Zola, my feet could not handle the coarse track surface or running roads barefoot, so I started buying barefoot shoes to wear on the rougher surfaces. I had the original Nike Frees when they came out and have worn most of the versions (the minimal ones) ever since.  I wore them training and racing, although for racing I sometimes wore Nike’s “Mayflys” which was a minimal racing flat that was designed to last about 40 miles. They weighed about 4 oz. and didn’t last much more than 40 miles. Still have a pair in my collection, though I don’t race in them these days.  The photo above shows the shoes that are sitting on my shelf, guess which ones I use most.

Five Fingers

Recently I bought a pair of Vibram’s FiveFingers shoes to try. These are probably the epitome of barefoot shoes having separate toe pockets and protection on the soles. Somewhat like toe-socks with tougher soles. The challenge is to get them on quickly.  I’ve been wearing them for short periods indoors to get used to them. No running in them yet, but will start in a few days with short runs (treadmill first, then outside on smooth surfaces).  So far I find (to my surprise) that they are very comfortable.

So do I think barefoot/minimal shoes work? From my experience, yes.  But you have to look at the mechanics of my stride also. I am a forefoot strike runner, so the flat shoes allow my feet, achilles and calves to work efficiently at storing and transferring energy from the foot strike to the push-off.  I had very little knee, ankle or foot issues since starting barefoot running in 2003.  In the 1980’s running in motion control shoes (which I broke down quickly due to pronation) I had lots of sprained ankles and sore knees. I could and did sprain my ankles on flat pavement.  Hard to compare the two eras, but I ran just as hard and trained just as many miles in the 2000’s with less knee issues and almost never spraining my ankles.

The Science of Sport article discusses the difference between heel-strike and forefoot strike runners when it comes to minimalist shoes. They observe that not every runner changes to a forefoot strike when running barefoot, and for those that continue to heel strike, the impact loads on the feet and legs are 4x what the forefoot strike runners experience running barefoot. When they return to the shock absorbing shoes, both have the same impact numbers.  This may explain some of the reasons why runners have tried these shoes and gone back. Not everyone can change their foot-strike. Some who are successful in changing their foot strike find that that they get injuries after some time that may be attributed to the new foot strike.   Some runner’s experience with these shoes and changing their running stride mechanics resulting in injuries can be found here.

Another reason also discussed was the typical runner’s impatience with taking it slow, some have bought the minimalist shoes and tried to continue to  do the same mileage immediately, with the expected result. Sore joints, stress fractures in the feet and other injuries.  Our bodies are amazingly adaptive, but the process is slow.  The Science of Sport article says it best:

“Ultimately, injuries will be caused by exceeding a threshold of adaptation, and footwear, biomechanics and factors like flexibility and muscle strength may contribute to this threshold.  It can be shifted, higher or lower, but not in a manner that is yet predictable or formulaic, because it’s too complex to link A to B. “

So what is the answer to the question of whether or not  the barefoot/minimalist shoe   is a fad that is over?  I say maybe, maybe not.  We all have to do what works for us and not let marketing hype push us into something inappropriate.  These shoes work for some, but not all.  My personal sense of the debate is that less shoe is better, but it may not be for everyone. Drastic changes to shoes or running mechanics require long periods of adjustment that most runners do not want to wait for. So listen to all the information, but do what works best for you in the long run.

So How’s your Big Toe Doing?

Strange question, you ask?  If you are a runner, it is a question that you should be asking yourself, as the big toe is  a very BIG part of your running mechanics.  You can’t run efficiently without involving the big toe and the mechanics of the foot in general. As a proponent of minimal shoes and even barefoot training, I learned many years ago that my feet make me an efficient runner. I started running barefoot on the grass around 2004 and found soon after that my running strength and efficiency improved greatly.  I had less foot issues and stronger ankles — I have since my high school cross-country days always turned my ankles (seemingly for no reason, even on flat pavement).   The next few years I had some of my best racing numbers ever.

But that is a tangent…. back to the big toe.  Why does the big toe affect your running? See the following article by running coach, triathlete, and physical therapists Chis Johnston and Bruce Wilk entitled: “Understanding the Great Toe for Great Running.”

They present some exercises for manipulating the big toe and the plantar fascia to make it more flexible and thus more efficient. Your feet are an amazing mechanism. Take care of  them and you’ll enjoy better and easier runs!