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November 25, 2007

Fish Oil, Green Tea, CLA - good fat for weight loss

Working out, but not seeing the fat loss desired? A big deal according to many human performance researchers is, of course, diet: it doesn't matter how much time is spent on a treadmill, if we consume more calories than we spend. Unused calories get stored, mainly as fat.

Nutrition is critical in no small part because we're electro-chemical systems, and different nutrients, with their different chemical profiles cause different reactions. There are three supplements that are getting a lot of research attention (a) to help rev up metabolism and thus get fat burning boosted and (b) to help utilize fat stores more efficiently. In the month run up to the holidays, you might want to check these out.

In the metabolism revving category, it's green tea. Yes, that simple beverage has huge benefits. In the fat utilization category, it's (purified) fish oil, no. 1, with CLA, a type of naturally occurring fat, coming in a good second. You may be asking yourself "fat to help burn fat? Green tea to impact metabolism?" Yes and Yes.

Over the next four weeks, along with my regular diet and workouts, i'm going to be adding in the recommended doses that research has shown to have fat utilization effects, and see what happens. The following goes through some of the details on why i'm giving this a shot.

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Fish Oil, Green Tea, CLA. Let's take them one at a time.
Fish Oil.
You may have heard of "good fats" like Omega 3's. Fish Oil is a great source of Omega 3's. One reason that fish oil may help fat get utilized more is that its particular construction, one study suggests that the fish oil helps keep insulin levels in check. According to David McEvoy, reporting on a study in the Journal of Obesity Studies, "insulin reduces the use of fat for fuel, while also promoting fat storage in the presence of excess calories. Insulin inhibits the action of hormone sensitive lipase, which is responsible for breaking down stored fat and preparing it for use as energy."

So, a natural way to supplement our diets with these fats is to eat fish regularly. There have been concerns expressed over the past couple of years about eating too much fish - not because fish itself is bad (far from it) but because of the stuff that's in the environment that gets caught up in fish.
Pollution. So purified fish oil is a good idea. But as with anything, not all fish oil is created equal. Check the label for the size of the capsule and the amount of EPA and DHA (the acids in omega 3's that make it work). Unless you want to take a mitt full of pills daily, higher levels relative to the size of the capsule are better. In the UK, one supplier i've found that seems to have a good ratio Nature's Best, with High Potency Fish Oil. Check out the ratios of fish oil to DHA/EPA: high enough to take only one capsule 3x's a day (best to take with food). This isn't an endorsement - it's a find - if you find other brands that look like they have good ratios and good purification processes, please post.

Note note note that fish oil is not a fat loss magic bullet: it's just one more "every little helps" as it were as part of a proper diet and exercise plan. Try this supplement without good diet and exercise, and it's benefits will be nullified.

CLA. Conjugated Linoleic Acid. Of Mice and Men...
CLA lives in the Omega 6 space. There's more debate about the value of CLA than of fish oil, but there's a growing number of studies - including in humans - that shows that this acid is another helper in the quest to keep fat motivated to burn. THe reason there's increasing interest is that studies seem to show that it helps reduce adipose tissue (belly fat) - at least so far in mice. Har! But there's at least one newer study out there showing that in general while BMI remained the same, over four weeks, body fat went down. Anecdotally, a lot of folks in the human performance space are saying that CLA is effective. The does again is about 3400mg of pure CLA a day (slightly less than a heaping teaspoon of the stuff - again, check out sources online for doses and serving types that suit you - powder or tablet or capsule - remember to look at the label carefully for amounts).

Green Tea, Thermogenesis and EGCG
Thermogenesis is the body creating heat - burning energy - by raising the metabolic rate above normal. Green tea has been shown to be good at this - safely.

So that's one good thing about green tea for health and diet. Another is that it's a powerful anti-oxidant, and that is supposed to be a good thing in the battle with aging/free radicals/heart disease and possibly some cancers. The thermogenic and anti oxidant effect is largely courtesy of epigallocatechin gallate found a bit in chocolate and in other tea types, but highest concentrations are in green tea. A 99 study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition claimed 43% increase in thermogenesis in adults with 90mg dose of per day.

It would take drinking about a liter of green tea a day to get these kinds of doses, hence getting supplements can be an effective approach. Also, some green tea supplements take care to get the caffeine out of the mix, too - and that is a good thing. As with fish oil, lots of companies make concentrated supplements: look around for the one that meets the concentrations and processes that look good for you. For instance, Nature's best tablet has ample For two pounds less, there's a product from Bodykind. Another interesting source of that green tea goodness may be a product from Tea Tech Jackie Chan is delightfully fronting: Tea Tech Green Tea, tea with a kick. This is 'instant' tea with a difference: it contains 100mg of those ECGCs which is equivalent to 8 cups (or 64oz) of brewed tea. So there's your thermogenic effect right there. If you're traveling to the states over the holidays, think of picking some up.

Putting 'Em all together
A product that combines green tea with CLA has been studied at UofToronto over 12 weeks, and been shown to support weight loss (total daily intake of 3,400mg CLA and 270mg EGCG.) This result is with folks who had waist lines of 34+ inches - well into the obese zone. Also, according to John Berardi's review, "some research (Blankson et al 2000) has shown that 12 weeks of CLA supplementation (at doses above 3.4g/day) can increase LBM [lean body mass] and decrease fat mass vs. olive oil. While the olive oil group gained 1.5 lbs of fat and no lean body mass, the CLA group lost 4.5 lbs of fat and gained 3 lbs of LBM." John Berardi is the founder of Precision Nutrition (reviewed here) and his "10 habits" approach to nutrition recommends fish oil and green tea as part of healthy daily eating.

While some products have started putting together combinations of these three ingredients (biotest's flameout puts together EPA/DHA and CLA; abs+ puts together green tea and CLA), it seems it is possible to "roll your own" from individual supplements. At least this is what i'm going to be doing.

Personal Testing
Now, my initial four week investigation is not particularly scientific: there are many variables that could impact this stint with supplements, and i'm not particularly invested in being rigorous in my control of them. That said, i'm also not planning to change my routine particularly in the next four weeks: the workout routine will be pretty much the same as this past month, as will the diet i use currently (based on PN). So, in that weak way i should at least get a sense of whether or not the approach makes a difference. Will report back.

November 20, 2007

Intervals - options for fitness and performance

Recently i was asked "how do you do intervals"? as in, with what piece of equipment. This question assumes that doing intervals is a good thing to do - we've touched on this before. It doesn't matter what your sport or activity is: interval training, or timed piece of intense work followed by a time piece of recovery, is a good supplement to any activity program, whether you go for walks in the park, play squash or weight train.

Interval Types: there are a bunch of ways to do intervals, and you can look on the web to find ones you trust for your preferred activity. The most common way to do intervals though is on or with some stationary piece of equipment, like a stationary bike, treadmill, rower, stepper, elliptical whatever, where the intensity can be adjusted.

You don't *need* to have this equipment: you can do intervals running or on a bike or in a boat or wherever.
One reason people prefer stationary equipment for this kind of training is that they don't have to focus on anything life threatening like traffic or waterfalls when they're going flat out. One great piece of low cost equipment that travels well for interval work is a jump rope. You can pace doing fast/high intensity intervals, with more relaxed recovery intervals. My fave rope is by U.S. maker Lifelines.

There's another couple of reasons a stationary thing can be useful: control over measures that a real environment can screw up. For instance, an interval, can be easily optimized with a machine where you can safely set things like cadence (how many times you pedal a minute for instance) and intensity (the gearing on a bike or the elevation and speed on a treadmill). All this work is usually gated relative to a percentage of your maximum heart rate or target zones (one set of calcs here - note that max heart rates can actually be sport specific: you may see a different max on a bike than when running, so actually doing a test for that thing can be a GOOD IDEA. saying that, when starting out, the basic calcs can help get you in the zone. Chat with your GP if you have concerns about stressing your heart.)

How to adjust these parameters for an effective interval set is a nicely researched sports science issue, and can be divied up into two categories: fitness interval work (one ref) that is simply pushing up a heart rate for a period (slow walk to fast enough walk to get heart rate elevated for a period) and performance interval work - where you're training for a higher level of performance improvement, and are pushing your heart rate harder. The rationale in each case is the same: improving capacity; improving health
A few types follow.

If you are just starting out a fitness routine, just once in awhile upping your intensity (go faster, go up a steep hill) for a period, and then bringing it back down, and going back up for 6-8 times is really great. Lots of warm up lots of cool down. Good! If you feel yourself huffing and puffing a bit (not so you'll keel over) that's excellent. Old running rule of thumb: can you still keep up a conversation while you're upping the pace? if not, bring it down a bit. The point is to plan out a workout and say i'm going to push for X intervals for Y minutes of intensity followed by Z minutes of recovery. Three hard effort followed by three minutes of recovery is great. Check your pulse at your neck for ten seconds after that first hard effort: how fast is your heart? what % of Max is it? that will let you know if you need to push a little harder to get to that zone for more intensity benefits (check with your doctor if this is ok for you).

In the area of performance protocols, one of the most discussed interval protocols, and one that i've used a lot is a stationary bike one known as the Tabata protocol. It very specifically says that you have to warm up (this is critical in all interval work), then you do 20 secs of HARD activity such that you are in a high gear but are able to maintain 90RPM. Then you stop for 10 secs. Like dead stop. You do 8 of these intervals. This was a significant study to show that you did not have to do a LOT of intervals to get max benefit (Clarence Bass covers the study in more detail and as well as a comparison of this protocol with another)

The critical thing about these intervals is the cadence. I've heard a lot of folks say they're doing tabatas when all they're doing is 20secs of "hard" work with 10 secs of rest. They're missing the cadence piece. This is the measure of hardness, as it were, and also a measure of whether or not you're able to keep up that intensity evenly for that period.

Why is this important? The goal of the protocol was to find out what was more efficient for developing increased VO2max - or volume of oxygen consumed. More is better. The protocol compared two groups: one with a 30 hard/60 recovery ride vs the 20hard/10 dead stop. Remember that the more oxygen you can get into the blood the better fat burner you are, too. When huffing and puffing, or simply able to take in better volumes of O2, you're providing what the blood needs to oxidize fat - to convert it to energy. Interval training - these bouts of pushing yourself a bit, followed by recovery, are a great way to improve your VO2max. Not only is it good for your heart, it's good for that fat burning and lean muscle growth.

This is not to say that other non-tabata intervals are not useful: this protocol was specifically designed to optimize training for improved VO2max. The 30/60 also had benefit, but not as much in the same period for that one effect. The 20/10 was also superior for burning subcutaneous fat, but the 30/60, i think, burned more calories.

As said there are loads of interval programs out there. The nice folks at cycleops who make devices you can fit to your bike to convert it to a stationary trainer, have several great videos on interval workouts for bikes. My fave is a hills workout where heart rate is used as a way to determine what gear to use: find a gear that will let you get to X% max of your heart rate when pedaling with Y cadence. (i usually just write the workout down and follow it while listening to a soundtrack or audio book rather than watch the video of 6 other people on trainers. Tho this vid of a race track is kinda interesting.)

Here the intervals in one part of the set are ten minutes of one minute at 60-65rpm with a 75-80% HRM followed by lighter gears for a minute of recovery. This is HARD. Make sure your doctor says you can do this kind of training before you try it. Another part of the set has five minutes slogging in the 50-55RPM with a 70HRM, followed by five minutes of light gear recovery. Look around for protocols that feel right for you. Just consider the source of who's recommending a particular approach and why, and also remember that any interval work needs to be preceded by a good 10 mins of warm up and an equal cool down. There's a great article just about the use of heart rate monitoring in cycling, too, at cycling performance tips.

If you're a runner, check out Tempo running and Fartlek training for doing in the field. They're very similar ideas.

You'll notice that one important piece of kit for intervals is a heart rate monitor. If you're in the gym, many machines have these built in. You may however want to think about investing in one yourself. As i've said before, in the UK, the best place i've found is

Another kind of interval training that has been supported by good science is performed with a kettlebell (more on kettlebells here) - again the training is to improve VO2max, and its inventor has a few critiques of the tabata protocol, too, all based on some good science. This one is *very* intense. I mention it only because it's the one interval workout i've found specifically designed for something other than a stationary gym machine, where the exercise with a free weight means that you're working your core and a whole lot of other muscles. I mention it just in passing, but an important thing to note is that, once again, cadence is key to the protocol, not just time of interval and weight (like selecting a gear) used.

So, wrapping up on intervals, i've talked elsewhere about their benefits for fat burning; this has just touched on benefits for VO2max and your heart health. Bottom line, adding some interval work to your health program is a Good Thing for a rich variety of health benefits.

November 18, 2007

Goals and Measures

If you say to yourself "I want to lose weight" or "i want to get strong arms" or "i want to bulk up" - that's great to have a desire. If that expression is not followed by a plan - a real, stick to it plan - that desire will not materialize. It's that simple.

Part of the process of getting fit/healthy is understanding clearly where we are now and where we want to go so we can build a path to get there. Two parts of this process are pretty simple: one is to have a clear goal, the other is to have clear ways to measure progress.

Sounds obvious, right? Well very few people i've spoken with about health/fitness actually have either a clear achievable health goal or a set of measures to know if they're making real progress. This post talks about a few ways to approach these basic parts of a health path.


it's apparently been shown that for any health program - whether eating or fitness - to have a continual, positive outcome, it's important to set goals that are SMART -

time specific

If you want to set a nutrition goal, saying "i wanna lose ten pounds" could be the right goal for your health, but figuring out by when and with what plan will help make it real (is one pound a month steady and sure better than one pound a week? slower but more likely to get off and stay off?)

You may need help figuring out appropriate goals: if you're just starting a resistance program, what's a meaningful goal for the end of the first 6 weeks? furthermore, what's a reasonable plan to begin with?


once you've figured a goal to achieve that you've figured out is attainable and that the plan you have for achieving it is realistic for the specific time frame, it's great to take measures before you start. You can see whether or not you've reached your goal if at the deadline you hit that mark. But what if you don't quite hit that mark? If you go under or exceed it, having a record of where you started and how you progressed is very useful for tuning your approach.

In nutrition, being able to see clearly how much of the time you stuck to your diet (was it 90% or only 75% of the time?) is a big win for being able to figure out where the problem may be. I like the precision nutrition approach here: they say eat six meals a day, and make sure you eat protein and some fruit and veg at each "feeding" - they have a chart with six meal slots and you just fill in whether you did or didn't "just do it" - it's easy easy to see if you met your target.

There's another study that has shown for weight loss, that a group that got onto the scale regularly (more than once a week) kept weight managed better than those that didn't (i found that on http://cbass.com - my hero: the guy's a lawyer and yet stays totally on top of the fitness literature)

A measure of where you are now, and where you get to - even if you don't exactly meet your goal - also is a great boast for showing progress, and providing some benchmarks for tuning those goals as well

So, if you're starting a workout or diet program, or thinking about starting one, looking at the SMART goal approach, and measuring up before you start and during your progress has shown that you're more likely to achieve those goals.

here's a couple of ways to measure your your progress
measure your neck and waist (add in hips if female)
Step on the scale
enter these results into the navy circumference method calculation to check your BF%

As for your workouts,
if you're on a bike: record your time, distance, and if you have a cycle computer, your cadence - gym stationary bikes usually have cadence. Check out how your heart rate improves over time doing the same intervals.

There's a whole lot more to measure if you'd like to get intrigued about monitoring progress, check out Precision Nutrition's Measurement Guide info online. You

Free Weights vs Machines

Sagital, transverse, frontal.

These are the formal names for the planes of motion that the body moves through when engaging in free motion. Such motion is natural. Such movements engage multiple parts of the body for the action itself and to support the action.

The more muscles involved, the larger the muscles involved, the more opportunity for fuel/fat burning. So this post is a wee meditation on why you might want to consider moving from that weight stack over to the squat rack; away from the pec deck and over to the dumbbells.

Lots of us go into the gym and use the weight machines. They're so convenient and safe! we can press our hearts out without fear of having anything fall on us, or lose our balance and feel pretty good about the numbers mounting up on the selector stack.

There are a couple of disadvantage of machines to machines:

- they don't support a true full range of motion - your arms or legs will not be moving on the exact planes they would utilize without the weight and

related to this

- because these other muscles that would help you balance if you were using freeweights are taken out of the equation, these related muscles are not getting a work out.

The main muscles not getting a work out are, ironically, the ones most folks obsess about: their core, and in particular, the abs.

When we use free weights (dumbbells, bar bells), we have to engage a variety of muscles to help stabilize the work. It may for a time mean lighter weights than what you can do on a machine, but the pay off is huge in all that related work: do compound resistance movements and you get your abs cooked for free. Eg, try a dumbbell lat row from the push up position: your lats AND your abs will feel it (along with your lower back, delts and pecs).

Free weights also mean more focus on the movement if the weight is sufficiently heavy that we take it seriously (10 reps max), more tension, more recruitment of muscle fiber, and more of all these things means more energy consumption, more fat burning.

The equation is simple: the more muscles we bring into play, the more muscle fiber activated the more energy needed, the more fat will be burned. This alone is reason to think about getting off the machine.

The one caveat is rehab: if you're rehabbing a muscle group because of injury, machines are great. But if you're healthy, and have your doctor's ok to work out, think about getting some advice on putting a program together than uses (1) free weights (2) full range of motion (3) compound movements.

eg, squat, bench press and bent over rows (mix in some ab work too initially) is a great basic routine that fits the bill.

A call to WOMEN (and men) who want to get trim: Lift HEAVY. Go ahead, pick something up!

This post is about going to the gym where folks either treadmill for awhile and then go do some sets on some weight machines or just use the machines or just use the cardio:

If you want to get fit / lose weight, skip the treadmill, skip the machines and
Think HEAVY; think BIG and think LESS is MORE.

if you've been a treadmill/elliptical/stair climber person in the gym, either now or in the past, ask yourself this: are you happy with the results?
Do you look in the mirror and say gee whiz i look great and feel great?

If you said "yes" - skip the rest of this post. Otherwise, hope you'll keep reading.

If you didn't say "yes i sure do" to that question, then here's a second question: why keep doing it?

Sometimes answers are: because it's familiar, because we like to feel like we've done something; we've heard it's supposed to be good for us; we've lost a few pounds in the past when we've done this; it's better than nothing.

Believe it or not, you're better off for the most part going for a walk in the fresh air, as pushing yourself on a stairmaster or similar cardio device if weight loss is the goal. Cardio machines are just that: they work your heart: they are high repetition low-ish intensity devices. They are NOT the best tool for optimizing weight loss or, effectively, getting your body into that lean mean machine of your dreams (couldn't resist the near alliteration there).

And here's something else: going from machine to machine doing lat pulls and bicep curls and leg extensions/leg presses (isolation exercises) doing 12 reps each machine for three sets isn't going to get you to your goal any time soon, either.

Only two things really effect weight: nutrition (as touched on last week: that's key) and heavy resistance training with compound movements (here's an example program from Mike Mahler).

All the research in strength and conditioning - i mean all of it - says if you want to make real changes to your body you need those two things: eat right; lift heavy (see this article on the hierarchy of fat loss for more).

What is heavy resistance?
Mainly, it's doing work that uses your biggest muscles: your butt and your legs especially at weights you can move for 5 reps MAX for 3-5 sets MAX. It means you also only need to focus on two moves that leverage those muscles: a pull and a press. There are many pulls and presses to chose from, but that'all it takes: 1 of each that works as much of the body at once as possible.

Initially, you may only be in the gym (or at home) with this kind of routine for about 15-20 mins. That's fine. It's building a base. 15 quality minutes is better than an hour literally spinning your wheels on a stationary bike. Besides, you have a life outside the gym: you'd probably like to get back to it sooner rather than later?

Doesn't matter if you're a guy or a gal: the science is the same.

For gals, though, the thought of heavy weights can be freaky for a couple of reasons: big weights seem impossible to move and potentially dangerous if moved, and there's the fear of "bulking up"

Heavy is relative though: heavy today may be something 12 weeks from now you would consider light. Heavy means sufficient to load: to that 5 rep max.

As for gals building up bulky muscles:forget about it. It takes so much
WORK to do that it's not funny AND it also take a different approach
to achieve this kind of hypertrophy (muscle growth). What a
gal can get from this kind of *strength and conditioning* work is strong and toned; what a guy can get is strong and toned: six packs with definition. We're not trying to build frankenstein bodybuilders - though if that's your goal, that's ok too: it's still lifting heavy-ish but the ratio changes. Here, we're talking more about building muscle to trim fat, get stronger, healthier all round.

For guys, there's a whole other set of issues when you talk about "lift HEAVY" from suboptimal exercises (too many bicep curls; not enough squats) or they don't use full Range of Motion. For example, if they squat with a barbell on their shoulders (and seeing guys squat in the gym is rare in itself) they rarely go as low as legs parallel with the ground, never mind all the way down; if they do pullups they rarely go to a dead hang with elbows locked out before coming back up. If they do pushups, their chest isn't touching the ground each time. You know who you are. They cheat in other words, so they don't get the results using weight that would let them do full range of motion would give them. Good intentions; not so great execution, consequent not so great results.

So what does heavy resistance, properly done, do?

Heavy (for you) resistance builds nice new and tightly packed muscle fibers. The more muscle fiber, the higher the cost to maintain your body. That cost is paid in terms of energy burned. That means calories. The more muscle you have the more calories you need to burn to maintain that muscle. It's that simple. More muscle; more calorie burning. When that energy doesn't come from fuel (like eating carbs), it comes from burning fat stores.

Interestingly, you can't just lift heavy and starve and thus burn fat. The best part of this approach is, as you workout more, you have to *eat* more to maintain your body weight; not too far down the line when working out, you have to eat more just to lose weight. Hard to believe but true!

So, in brief the advantages of going for Heavy means
- Less time in the gym
- Increased lean muscle building which = more calorie burning

and there's a few other benefits we haven't touched on:

- increased bone mass, which means healthier, stronger bones - and staving off osteoporosis.
- more energy, too, as the neuromuscular systems learn to work together better.

The great thing is is all you need to complement your diet to take advantage of this approach are two well chosen resistance moves. Just two: a push and a pull. That's it. Really. less is more.

A perfect routine that you can build up to doing daily like this:
a squat
a bench or floor press
bent over rows

That's it.

Mix this up with some interval work, and you'll be on your way to being a mean lean fat burning machine.

Intervals: taking the treadmill or elliptical or walk in the park to the next level

if you love your stationary bike or elliptical, here's how to make it work for you to have a MUCH improved effect not only while you're on the thing but once you get off it - yup, it will keep burning calories after you stop pedaling or stepping or running IF you follow a simple protocol.

The protocol is called "intervals"

Intervals are designed so that you balance hard effort with recovery for repetitions. For instance, 60secs of hard effort balanced with 30 seconds of lighter "recovery" effort.

My favorite interval set is called the tabata protocol: it's 20secs of hard effort with 10secs of absolute dead stop, for 8 intervals on a bike going 90rpm (revolutions per minute).

But, you may be asking, what's "hard effort."

There are several ways to calculate this:
if your bike shows power output in watts you can go for cranking out 200 watts pedaling like mad at say 155rpm for a minute, and then go down to 50 watts at about 60rpm.

Looks something like this on a stationary bike or this, with an elliptical
These show the lighter start, upping intensity and going harder.

Another, possibly saner, way to calculate hard effort is based on a percentage of your maximum heart rate. The standard rough estimate calculation is, for men, 220-age, and for women 226-age.

Hard effort is in the 85% zone of your max heart rate. So if your max heart rate is calculated at 190, 85% would be 190*.85=161-162ish

The idea would be to warm up for 5-10 mins, then do 30sec at 75%; slow down A LOT to recover for 90secs, then go up again, and do this 3-7 times, getting your heart rate (HR) up further each time. Then cool down. That'a about 20 mins.

Studies have shown that this kind of High Intensity Interval Training can be 9x's more effective at fat burning than steady state (just going the same pace) for that time on the treadmill. NINE TIMES!!

Now, your question may be how do you measure your heart rate throughout your workout? well, a heart rate monitor is a great tool for anyone doing cardio/aerobic activity. The equipment in the gym may have them built in which you access by grabbing the machine's handles. Otherwise, there are a number of folks that sell decent Polar Heart Rate Monitors quite cheaply, including Amazon. My fave UK supplier is http://www.heartratemonitor.co.uk/

You may ask yourself, do you really need to measure your heart rate: if you feel like you're working hard, isn't that enough? Actually, you could be working TOO hard too frequently and not know it:

Working too hard can be just as useless as not working hard enough. So having a clear measure of effort is one good way to make sure you're getting the optimal benefit. Working too hard too soon can mean you burn out, get discouraged, feel like crap and don't want to go near the bike again (been there; done that. no fun. depressing, in fact).

As with all programs if this kind of intensity is new to you, check with your doctor first.

Once you have the go ahead, you can make those 20 min sessions on the treadmill or bike or whatever pay dividends on the fat burning scale - or bathroom scale.

Blend intervals 3 times a week with lifting heavy two or three times a week and you have an incredible combination for burning fat, and building muscle to keep it burning.

As always, seeing the results of all this effort means eating right. A reminder that the most sensible program i've found is precision nutrition. with freebie 10 Habits to good nutrition.

More Fat Burning More of the Time

Here's a quick idea for getting more fat burning:

if you usually spend an hour doing cardio, think about finding a way to split your workout in half so you do 30 mins at one time of day and 30 mins at the other.

Why? Double recovery!

Recovery from workout is when most of your fat burning systems come into play: it's true - breathing hard is good for you - especially if you're doing intervals (we'll talk more about those anon).

I could spend all day talking about this, but the short explanation is, that when you're breathing hard in recovery from an intense bout of exercise, the fat burning or o2 metabolism (we have three - o2 is one of three that supplies energy) really kicks in.

So, if you do two shorter but still intense - that's 50% and above VO2 max for more than 10 minutes) you get two recovery periods, and thus hit the O2 metabolism twice. In other words, less time, but more frequency in a day means more fat burning.

This option is not easy: it can be challenging enough to find one workout slot in a day. But if you want to give it a go, try it and watch the results.

Here's one more related tidbit. If you're doing intervals, and/or these dual workouts, make sure to take in fuel during but especially after the workout. THere are a ton of reasons for this, but with respect to fat burning, fat burns in the presence of carbs - carbs stoke fat burning.

This doesn't mean eat a pack of crisps. If you've only done a twenty minute work out, you don't need an energy drink designed for a 50mile road cycle trip. But frink some skim milk, or eat some nuts and raisins, or dried fruit and some low or non-fat cheese: that's carbs mixed with protein and that's perfect.

I admit i'm addicted to energy drinks like cytomax and endurox (do NOT go near gatorade: it's crap) that let me blend carbs and proteins for during and post workout fast energy replacements, but there are a number of studies that say eating real food with the right balance is better for you than these concoctions. Before i get onto the joy of supplements like protein powder and beta alanine i'll just quit with the final reminder to keep drinking water.

Next time: why breakfast is critical before a workout

closing question: what do you do for your workout? how do you stay motivated?


Breakfast: It really IS the most important meal of the day

Catching up: Eating in the AM

As promised in the last post, i said i'd fill in why eating before a workout first thing in the morning is so important.

THere are a number of reasons, but one of the biggies that gets little attention is the liver:

overnight, while you're body is effectively fasting, the liver is producing the sugar/energy your body needs to thrive. So by the morning, the liver stores of sugar are largely depleted.

The body doesn't store much in the way of carbs. So any carbohydrate that's still in your system that needs to get used for fuel (broken down into sugar) first goes to replenishing your liver stores before it goes to feed your muscles. That's one. Two is if all your carb stores are going to get sugars into your liver, then what carbs are available as energy for your muscles?

So, before a work out, having some carbs in your system before you work out to help replenish your liver AND to be available for your muscles during workouts is a Really Good Thing. People who don't do this can experience less effective workouts in general or what's known as a "bonk" in the middle of their workout.

Have a piece of whole wheat toast, some peanut butter or nuts, and some fruit (better than fruit juice) 20 mins or so before you work out. After you finish working out, be sure to eat again: make sure you have both carbs and protein after your workout: your muscles need those amino acids from the protein to repair your muscles from the stress you've put on them. Think 1g of carbs per/kg of bodyweight and about .5g of protein for 1kg body weight for post work out replenishment. I like oatmeal made with apples and raisins and a shot of protein powder.

* IF YOU'RE NOT WORKING OUT FIRST THING IN THE AM, breakfast is still very important for many of the same reasons: your liver needs to be replenished, and you need those carbs for the work your body does in the am. BUT you don't need as MANY carbs, so your carb source is different.

In this case, you need to get some carbs from whole foods like veggies and NOT things like bread or pasta. Again, lots of reasons, but the simplest is that compare a serving of spinach to a piece of toast: the former is about 9cals; the latter 100.

So breakie on a day you're not working out right after eating could be an egg and an egg white and a side of spinach or broccoli. Before you gag, try this for spinach prep. Get a bag of baby spinach, take a big handful and put it in a sieve. Then pour some boiling water over the sieve just to blanch the spinach. Perfect. It's lovely next to the eggs. Perfect breakie.

If you're not an egg eater, you need to find some source of protein in the am to go with that bit of carb. Sliced turkey breast; miso soup, soy beans - anything lean.

Water Water Everywhere : Carry a bottle, fill it, empty it; repeat

As it gets a little colder out there, the desire to hydrate tends to go down.

And that's BAD - it's so bad!

Drinking only if you think you're thirsty is the worst indicator there is to whether or not you need water. There's a really simple way, and the benefits are huge. In fact staying hydrated is one of the best, cheapest things you can do for your daily health.

It's so easy to get dehydrated and dehydrated is bad for all sorts of reason. One of the main causes of constipation is not enough water. Folks who go without water - those 8 glasses of 8 oz's a day - also tend to get a kind of sticky facia. If you go for a massage, a massage therapist can almost immediately tell if you're dehydrated becuase your skin won't move as freely under the fingers.

But if weight loss/fitness is your goal, being under-watered is really bad for your muscles. Water in the cells of the muscles is critical. Muscles contract by hooking myocin on one fiber to actin on another. Imagine pulling up a rope by reaching one hand over the other: you get a much better pull if you can reach your left hand past your right hand and then pulling back. Imagine trying to pull up a fifty foot heavy rope by only being able to move your left hand one inch away from your right on the rope rather than say about a foot away. It's less efficient.

Same with your muscles: less hydrated, means they're less efficient. Less efficient muscles means less energy being produced, less calories used, less fat burned.

By the way, coffee and tea do not count as drinking water - they're sort of the opposite of water in that coffee and tea have diuretic effects, which is not what we want here.

Now the question may be, gee, i don't want to gain weight and i do when i drink lots of water. Well yes and no: you'll pee out what your body can't use, and unless you're about to pose for a figure competition, or deal with weighing in for a lifting competition, taking off water weight is one of the worst ways to diet - you want to diet healthy. Cutting out water isn't healthy; it's fake. Indeed, it's one of the biggeest reasons people on the Atkins diet gain all their weight back after going off the diet: cutting out carbs also causes mostly water loss. More on that some other time. Suffice it to say, a hydrated body is a happy body.

Also, quick note, thirst is NOT a good indicator of whether or not you need to take on water. The best indication is to carry a water bottle and empty it into yourself a few times a day. If you haven't refilled and emptied that bottle to the equivalent of 64oz, time to start doing some serious drinking.

One of the pluses of being hydrated: better rest; more energy too - it's all about that muscle efficiency thing.

Happy Fitness.
Remember there's lots of free nutrition resources at Precision Nutrition's forum too

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