Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Don't eat the whole turkey! Avoiding gorging during the holidays

For many of us the holiday season offers cherished moments with family and friends celebrated with the joy of giving and food, lot's and lot's of food.

Though smiling on the outside, the holiday season is actually very stressful for a lot of the population. Many get anxious and are worried about over eating and gaining weight.  Most won't talk about their concern because they don't want to be seen as a Christmas killjoy.

We can have a good time without over eating.  Here are a few tips:

Avoid prompting others to over eat, and If someone says they're done at one plate, then so be it, enjoy their company and try not to cajole them into eating more.

Don't do the no eating thing during the day to save up over eating points for dinner.  This usually backfires because you're so hungry by the time dinner comes around you eat far more than you would have had you ate breakfast and lunch.

Although it's tempting to load the plate to make it look like the great pyramids, serve a normal sized plate.  You'll still enjoy all the food and you'll avoid the uncomfortable bloat that inevitably follows.

If you're set on going back for seconds then plan ahead.. Make your first plate smaller, then go back for less than half a plate of things you like the most.

Don't trick yourself with the "it's only one time" excuse to over eat.. in reality most of us have already over ate at the office party, have more than one family dinner to attend, will be eating left-overs for days, then we're hit New Years over eating.  Additionally it's likely that we've been over eating all year anyway so there is no way it can really be a one-time thing.

Enjoy your friends and family because of their human value, because of your history with them.. we don't need to pig out in order to enjoy the company of friends.

Besides, we all know that we regret over eating afterwards.  Why spend any time during the holidays regretting over eating?   Simply skip the over eating to begin with.  I promise you you'll still enjoy the celebration.

Click here to read what Heart and Stroke has to say about holiday eating

Monday, December 9, 2013

Is Mac & Cheese The Cheapest Way To Feed Kids?

While on air with Richard Cloutier (CJOB) talking about how most healthy food choices are cheaper than most unhealthy food choices, we had a loyal CJOB listener email the show..

"Cris is comparing the most expensive bad food to the least expensive healthy food.  Kraft Dinner is 50 cents a box and you can feed four kids on that."

He was referring to these comparisons I made in these blog entries:

 Healthy Food Still Cheaper; Despite new "Research"

 Healthy Food Cheaper: Potato chips 1134% more $$ than potatoes


I've heard the cheap mac and cheese argument before.  First, I'm not cherry picking the cheapest healthy foods, I'm picking common healthy foods that are readily available at all grocery stores, and comparing those to the most commonly purchased unhealthy foods.

At any rate the reality is I generated a lengthy list of healthy foods that are less costly than unhealthy foods.  The choices are real, the choices are available.

Right after the interview I went straight to Walmart.  I'm not trying to advertise for Walmart and not all shoppers will choose to shop for food there.  Regardless, Walmart will have amongst the lowest prices for food so it's a reasonable place to do lowest-cost food comparisons.

I went straight to the Kraft Dinner.  On air I claimed that rice, beans, and potatoes were cheaper than Kraft Dinner.. let's see if I was right..

Kraft Dinner $5.00/ kg

Great Value (Walmart brand) Mac and Cheese $2.22/ kg

Basmati rice $6.23/ kg

 Parboiled rice $1.25/ kg

 Brown rice $4.29/ kg

 Spinach lasagne $2.74/ kg

 Canned beans $2.19/ kg

 Oatmeal $2.00/ kg

Potatoes $0.66/ kg

If you shop you will find alternatives to mac and cheese that are more expensive, as well as cheaper.

Your choice. 

The fact is, it doesn't take much to find healthy foods that are about the same price as mac and cheese or, cheaper. 

So why do most believe the urban myth that mac and cheese is bar-none the cheapest food you can buy?  We love urban myths and never bother to fact-check them. It feels better to boast about  sensationalized things than to converse with straight-talk about facts.

Potatoes are one of the cheapest foods that still have a pretty good nutrient profile, and are easy to prepare in many tasty ways.  A big plus is that most people like potatoes.

You can see the spinach lasagne is about the same price as the mac and cheese, and that the actual Kraft brand of mac and cheese is about double the price of the lasagne.

So what gives here? A lot of this has to do with packaging.  The mac and cheese is sold in a much smaller quantity in a much smaller package allowing for a lower price per package.

Many shoppers will look at the package price only, and not realize that the price of the product sold by weight is actually not as cheap as it appears at first glance.

There are definitely healthy foods that are expensive, but there is a very long list of healthy foods that are cheaper than less healthy foods.  It's easy to divert our attention by focusing on expensive healthy choices like kale and allowing ourselves to cry and moan about the cost; or you can buy broccoli (which is about $2.10/ kg, less than mac and cheese), and has similar nutrient density compared to kale and spinach.  You don't need specialty items like kale or expensive fruits like papaya to meet your daily nutrient needs. I'm not saying don't eat kale (which is coming down in price as popularity rises, and you can grow it in your back yard for dirt cheap), or papaya.

I'm saying that for every expensive healthy food, there are at least a few less expensive healthy food alternatives. Turning to junk food because it's supposedly cheaper, is blindly following an urban myth.

Did you catch that?  Broccoli is cheaper than mac and cheese. So are apples, oranges, and bananas.

Carrots, broccoli, apples, oranges, bananas, eggs, rice, beans, oatmeal -- all are cheaper than mac and cheese.

You can meet all your energy and nutrient needs with less costly choices than are found through junk foods or cheap processed foods.

Are we really trying to find a way to buy the cheapest food simply because it's the cheapest?  What if the cheapest food doesn't nourish us very well?

Don't be duped by small packages and urban myths.

Shop smart, compare prices, and be aware of nutrient density.  Potatoes and beans are cheaper than mac and cheese and deliver more vitamins and minerals.

We're not just eating to get full. We need to meet our daily vitamin and mineral needs as well.  Keep this in mind while food shopping and you'll become a savvy consumer.

Healthy Food Still Cheaper; Despite new "Research"

I'll cut right to the chase..

In this sale comparison we see that bacon is a bit cheaper than boneless chicken breast, about $2.00 per pound less.

Well I guess that's it then; proof that the healthier lean poultry is more expensive than the fatty bacon.

That would be science without the science part though, you know, when you measure and compare the actual details?
 42 out of 100 grams are fat.  You are buying a lot of fat.

Chicken breast (boneless, skinless)
 4 out of 100 grams are fat. You are buying a lot of lean chicken.

So is the bacon actually cheaper?  If your goal is to buy fat and a ridiculous dose of sodium (42% of your money is going into fat) then the bacon is cheaper.  If you're looking to feed yourself or your family healthy lean cuts of meat and poultry, then the chicken is a better deal.

We're not further ahead over-consuming fat calories; this is a false economy.  Even if it were cheaper to eat unhealthy it would still cost families and the national economy more money in health care costs, not to mention the emotional costs of facing chronic illness, as well as the emotional turmoil that accompanies trying to quit over eating to lose weight.

 Cheesecake $13.00 for about 1000g

 Mixed veggies $6.00 for about 900g

Looks like the veggies are cheaper than cheesecake (about half the cost).  And we know which of these two delivers more vitamins minerals to you and your family.

 About 1600 grams (1.6 kg) for $11.00.  Good deal eh?

37 out of 100 grams are fat.  You are buying a lot of fat, not much potatoes, and it costs you more than actual potatoes.

 4500 grams (4.5kg) for $3.00.  

0 out 100 grams are fat.  You are buying all potatoes, and at a significant savings. 
Potatoes are about 66 cents per kilo.
Potato chips are about $6.87 per kilo.

Potato chips are 10X the cost of potatoes!

I've done this comparison before, a couple times.  I do it whenever there is a press release from some think-tank claiming healthy food is far more expensive than unhealthy food.

Last week a study published in the British Medical Journal resolved that healthy eating costs $1.50 per day more than consuming less healthy processed foods.  The study didn't actually compare any real prices in any grocery stores.  They looked at 27 previously done studies on the cost of foods.

I've always found in my real life grocery store bill comparisons or flyer price comparisons, that for the most part, healthy choices are less costly than junk food, processed foods, and fast food restaurants.

Please folks, don't believe the hype.  With few exceptions, healthy choices are cheaper.

Here's a reader comment from the "comments" section below the study..

"This study is nonsense!
How can you possibly think that meta data can actually give you information needed to do a study that tells real people that eat real food that it only cost on average $1.50 per day more.
First off $1.50 more than what? What is the base cost of three meals per day?
Where are you buying meat that cheep cuts are only 29 cents per serving less than good cuts. How many tons of meat must one buy at a time for that price?
I would love to tell you where to put this study!
I know my comment won't show up if I tell you that.
You people that like to crunch numbers, do you really believe the nonsense that you write into what you call a meta data study?
I have news for you.
Go shopping for food. By some crap processed food type products.
Then go shopping and buy fresh vegetables and fruits and see what the real difference in price is."


Here is the link to the study

 I'm not saying that it is inexpensive to eat.  I'm saying the cost of healthy food is very competitive with the cost less healthy food, and is often considerably cheaper.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Yoga is bad for you, and I told you so

How many lies does your yoga instructor tell you?

Here's a few..

Hot yoga will detox your body via sweating (impossible, kidneys and liver work 24/7 removing toxins from our bodies, sweat is ineffective at doing this).

Certain yoga positions "massage internal organs" and improve organ function (impossible.  Seriously, come on now!)

Yoga makes muscles long and slender (impossible, the length of a muscle between it's attachments does not change with stretching, nor will a muscle become more narrow.)

Yoga increases your fitness (very mild increase in fitness if you're unfit to begin with, about the same as from a walking pace. If you're already fit, yoga doesn't drive the cardiorespiratory system enough to make you more fit than you get from running, cycling, swimming, hockey, volleyball, or pretty much any vigorous activity).

And the big whopper, yoga is gentle and you won't get injured (many people get injured from yoga by pushing too hard, and trying to "go deeper" into senseless poses).

 I'm not ultra flexible, but in reality, nobody needs to be.  I stretch for about 10 minutes in total over a week.  No, those are not yoga pants, those are my long-johns 

Here's an article with a long laundry list of injuries and the reasons for them, that occur during yoga;

Yoga not always benign

ABC video on yoga injuries

The most offensive part of how most yoga classes are "taught" (more like preached, yoga is a religion, after all), is that yoga uses tried and true Machiavellian methods and cult indoctrination to convince people they should keep coming. It's the age-old promise of hope delivered with a well practiced smile, a deceiving smile.

Very, very few yoga studio's are not guilty as charged, in my observation.

Watch and see.. now that the initial honeymoon period of the recent yoga fad is waning and losing some of it's halo effect, we will see more and more real facts about yoga coming out.  More about the injuries, more about the obviously mythical claims, and more about how misleading yoga really is.  My only caveat is that there may be some genuine well intentioned yogis out there who don't lie about toxins etc, and won't try to push you into unrealistic poses.  Good luck in finding them.

This moderate amount of flexibility does not require 30 to 90 minute classes 3-5 times per week.  Just a few minutes every other day or so.  BTW, it was easy for me to go out in my back yard in -12C weather and strike this pose.  So much for the "need" for hot yoga

Here's an article I've done previously on yoga, which breaks down the most common phoney claims that are propagated by yoga.

Click on the link below to learn about phoney detox claims, how yoga isn't as "hard" as many think it is, and about research that shows it's fairly useless for fitness, has no advantage over simply stretching, and, say it ain't so, is NOT the be-all and end-all for stress management or a peaceful mind..

Is yoga the only exercise you need?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Living healthy bad for emotional health


That can't be right.  Isn't it true that regular exercise, healthy eating, and regular healthy sleep will infuse you with a healthy vigour?

Isn't it true that as fitness increases and weight decreases you feel more confident in your health and experience an overall increase in happiness and self esteem?

Yes, those things are true.  Here's what else is true, it's another one of those elephants in the room..

Many people face social rejection, every day, for making healthy choices.

It's an interesting irony.  We're inundated with stories in the media about how we're harming ourselves with poor eating habits and lack of exercise.  We see success stories of how people turned their lives around, reducing their cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and increased their fitness by living healthy.

We're inspired to do better, but when people start practicing what is preached, many face ridicule and rejection from others, even from friends and family.  People bear the burden of extra stress and humiliation for making healthy choices.  How healthy is that?  Shamed for trying to be healthy.  Now that's a real shame.

To be clear, there are positive stories where a family member decides to eat healthier and in so doing influences others in the family to start eating healthy as well.  Everybody wins there.

A client of mine recently told me about experiencing some stress about how this years family Christmas dinner was going to pan out.  They're making an honest effort to eat less and felt that the typical Xmas day pig out was going to be stressful for them.

They called a family meeting to talk about it.  Turns out the rest of the family was very supportive and revealed that they also wanted to eat less and reduce the amount of junk food consumed on Christmas day; they wanted the family time, minus the overeating.

That's positive.  I like hearing stories like that one.

Come on, eat like us. Join the party!

Eating this? Get lost loser!

I also hear people telling me that since they started eating healthy, that they've found most restaurants, with their high salt, high fat, high calorie meals, have extremely limited menu choices for healthy eating.

To overcome this the healthy eater needs to order off-menu.  That's when the eyes start rolling.  That's when the comments start, "why not treat yourself?  Just eat it the way it is.  It's not going to kill you."

The thing is, eating 100% more food than you need isn't a treat, it's a trap.  Many of those who get this and are trying to escape the daily cycle of overeating begetting more overeating, are faced with peer pressure to keep overeating, and face social rejection if they don't overeat.

I've had many people tell me about how stressed they feel when they go out for food with others or are invited to dinner in someones home.  The explain how they're singled out.  They become the laughing stock as low-ball jokes about them eating less are flung at them while the whole crowd has a laugh at their expense, which is typically followed up by them being told they should suck it up.

Eating healthy is like smoking; it's not socially acceptable in many occasions.

When you're eating a chicken salad and others are eating hot-dogs, it's not uncommon for the hot-dog eaters to wave their hot-dogs around saying, "Mmmmm.. you don't know what you're missing!  Sure you don't want one?  How's that rabbit food you're eating?"

Really?  How about not saying anything?  How about respecting others?  Or maybe simply say something positive, "hey that looks tasty".

I've seen so many people stop their efforts to eat healthy because the peer pressure was too much.  It's like you have to be a closet healthy eater.. don't tell anyone you eat low sodium nutrient dense food, shield yourself from the public humiliation.

That's not good.  Many folks are making an honest attempt to reverse poor health or risk of poor health, and many are trying hard to conquer eating disorders or occasional disordered eating where food is used to deal with stress.  For those trying to overcome these challenges (more than 70% of the population overeats daily), it's overwhelming to also deal with the ridicule for trying to do the right thing, so they stop trying, and their health remains at risk.

For many people being ridiculed for eating healthy isn't pleasant.  Why would it be?

When is ridicule and rejection a positive thing?

Humiliation and ridicule is an unfortunate human behavior.  It's something we have to learn to cope with, but does that mean that such behavior is justified?  I don't think so.  It happens, but when it comes from your family and friends, it carries more emotional impact.  Words can, and often do, hurt.

You would think that making healthy choices would be celebrated and supported, and often it is, but much of the time it isn't.

I think it's weird, and also unconscionable, to put all that effort into slagging someone for eating healthy or exercising.  I think those who do so have their own issues that they don't understand, and are definitely challenged when it comes to common courtesy and respect for others.

Overall it isn't worth succumbing to the trash-talk of others, even though it may feel like that's the easiest way to make to it stop.  If you're finding yourself in this position, it may be time to reflect on who your real friends are, as well as staying true to what's best for you and your health.  Your health is worth defending, and worth making lifestyle changes for.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Is sitting time killing us?

Lot's of headlines over the past few years about the idea that the more we sit, the sicker we'll get and the closer to death we'll be.

I've got a bit of a problem with this.

It's true; lots of research has found that the more time we sit doing nothing, the greater risk we are at of dying, even if we're otherwise physically active and fit outside of our sitting time.

However, there is hardly scientific consensus that short or moderate sitting time is hard-core bad for our health if we're otherwise physically fit and a healthy weight.

I looked at how much time I spend sitting each week compared to exercising.  I spend more time sitting.  I don't sit for 4, 5, or 10 hours at time.  I rarely sit for more than 45 minutes straight; but I sit more than I train.

Yet I continue to make gains in the gym, I get better at riding my bike.  My blood pressure is very healthy, cholesterol is about as low as it can get in the healthy range. I would prefer to have more time to be active, and would be better off for it, however, after a decade of having more sit time in my daily work, I have no health issues that would relate to sitting time.

Of course there is no way my personal experience can be a useful reference for a population.  What I'm trying to do is tone down the 'world coming to an end' message that is being touted in regards to sitting time being unhealthy. It's far less healthy to sit all day compared to being active, don't get me wrong.  But you're not going to die next week because you sat too long this week.

Take a look at conclusions from these studies:

Association between various sedentary behaviours and all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality: the Multiethnic Cohort Study. 2013

Conclusion:  Leisure time spent sitting, particularly watching television, may increase overall and cardiovascular mortality. Sitting at work or during transportation was not related to mortality.
Desk-based occupational sitting patterns: weight-related health outcomes 2013

Conclusion: High levels of desk-based sitting time were associated with an increased likelihood of negative weight-related health outcomes, whereas frequency of getting up from sitting at the desk was not.

 Physical Activity and Screen Time in Metabolically Healthy Obese Phenotypes in Adolescents and Adults. 2013

This study showed that physical activity, but not sitting time, explained why overweight people with fewer health issues had fewer health issues compared to other overweight people with health issues.  So both groups sat about the same amount of sitting time, but those who were more physically active outside of sitting time developed fewer health problems.

Are Sitting Occupations Associated with Increased All-Cause, Cancer, and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality Risk? A Pooled Analysis of Seven British Population Cohorts. 2013

Conclusion: Sitting occupations are linked to increased risk for all-cause and cancer mortality in women only, but no such associations exist for cardiovascular mortality in men or women.

Sitting time and cardiometabolic risk in US adults: associations by sex, race, socioeconomic status and activity level. 2013

Conclusion: Self-reported sitting time was associated with adverse cardiometabolic risk factors consistently across sex and race groups in a representative US sample, independent of other risk factors. Excessive sitting warrants a public health concern.

What's the take-home from all this?

As you can see, some of the studies show no significant health issues related to sitting.  Some show that risks are higher for woman, some show risk for everyone, even if you're physically active outside sitting time. Other studies I've read showed that more physical activity reduces all cause mortality; this is what we're used to seeing.  This remains true, but sit time may reduce the total health effects of otherwise healthy living, especially for woman.

Daily physical activity is really important for our health, too much sitting can be unhealthy, but it's not like living healthy is completely undone by merely sitting.

The bone density, muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility we gain from an active lifestyle outside our work time does benefit us so don't feel like because your job involves sitting you might as well give up.

I'm not saying ignore this new and somewhat unclear understanding of the adverse health effects of sitting too long, I'm saying pay attention to it, but don't fall for the hyped headlines.

Avoid sitting for prolonged periods.  From the research that has been done, it seems like sitting more than 5 to 10 hours a day is the worst.. A lot of this will be because if you sit that long, there is very little time left in the day to be active, and it would be very easy to overeat because total caloric expenditure for the day will be quite low when you sit all day compared to being active.

Some research is indicating that prolonged sitting may contribute to insulin resistance, but other studies show that sitting time for normal weight fit people does not contribute to insulin resistance.

For your overall health, I would be more interested in reducing body fat if overweight, changing what you eat, how much you exercise overall, and working on the behavior changes that allow you to feel passionate about making healthy choices.

For the sitting thing.. it makes sense to avoid sitting for long periods.  Get up and walk around, stretch for a few minutes, change what you're doing for a few minutes every 15 to 45 minutes.  Studies show workplace efficiency, cognition levels, and ability to focus, are all increased by taking frequent short breaks from your main task.

Be concerned with how much you sit.  Be more concerned with how much you eat, and how much exercise (including vigorous exercise) you get.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Does caffeine increase performance?

My mom was a coffee connoisseur; she had her own blend of preferred coffee beans that she ground fresh every morning.  The sweet smell of fresh brewed coffee permeated the house and it smelled sooo goood.

One day I asked if I could try coffee, I was about age 14 I think (can't really remember). One sip and I spit it out.  Coffee is an acquired taste.

My grandparents (RIP) said that in order for me to behave like an adult, I'd have to start drinking coffee, can't drink milk and water all my life.  Interesting.

I've had coffee drinking friends advise me that yeah, coffee can be bitter.. to get used to it, add lots of sugar and cream to cover up the taste.

I never saw the point of that.  Why not simply drink something you like the taste of in the first place?

Sure, but then you don't get the caffeine buzz.

When I've asked people if they liked the taste of coffee when they first tried it, most said they didn't.  They kept drinking it because of the buzz and it was the social thing to do.  Over time they got used to the taste, some coming to love it, others continuing to rely on the cream and sugar to tollerate it.

That's what most told me.  Maybe my infrequent casual survey of only a few is not representative, but still, the whole process has never appealed to me.

Aside from providing the masses with a morning pick-me-up buzz, caffeine also has a sports performance angle. Studies have shown that caffeine can increase performance in some people, but some studies show no effect or only placebo effect.

I thought I would give caffeine a try before a weight training workout to see if it affected my workout one way or the other.

I bought caffeine pills because the caffeine dose in coffee is highly variable and I wanted to ensure I could control my dose.

I started with a large dose, 200 mg 2 hours prior to, then another 200mg of caffeine 45 minutes before training.  About the same amount of caffeine in 2 to 3 cups of coffee.

On my walk to the gym I was feeling agitated.  Waiting for a light to change at a crosswalk I felt anxious and wanted to bolt across the red light.  I didn't, but I thought to myself, how do people put up with this feeling?  I found it near intolerable. My focus wasn't increased on caffeine, it was scattered by feeling jumpy.  Strike one for caffeine.

Nevertheless I continued onto the gym and thought, who knows, maybe this is just how you feel on caffeine, but exercise performance is still positively effected.

My focus was far worse on caffeine.  I know how to mentally get myself into "the zone" for training, and found my ability to do so was impaired by the caffeine.  Ironically I had to dig deep into my already trained ability to focus to overcome the reduced focus induced by the caffeine.

I managed 3 more repetitions on bench press than I did last time.  Was this a positive effect of caffeine? Maybe it was.  Right on, I thought, this is great!  On my calf raises I was baked.  Not the day for calves.  What about the supposed caffeine response?  How can caffeine positively effect my pectoral muscles, but not my calves?  Impossible.

Alas, I was simply experiencing the normal progression of training where when you're more recovered and adapted to the previous workouts you can do more work, and when you're not completely recovered you burn out early.  Not all muscles are always recovered to the same degree on the same day.  This day upper body was good to go, legs, not so much.

Caffeine had no positive effects on my workout, only negative.  I suppose one could get all hyped up about how they think caffeine will help them, so when they feel the brain buzz effects of caffeine they choose to become more motivated.  Caffeine has been shown to decrease sensitivity to pain durring exercise, so maybe thats how some find a benefit.

I would think though that if pain sensitivity was reduced risk of pushing too hard would increase, plus you never get to tune into your body because you're on drugs.  I say it's better to learn how to monitor discomfort levels during exercise so you can make the right decisions for when to push a bit more or back off.

Caffeine was a bust for my workout, strike two for caffeine.

The worst part was yet to come though.  I felt agitated and restless for the rest of the day, was up to 3 in the morning due to caffeine induced insomnia and felt like crap the next two days.  Strike three for caffeine.

A small but very interesting, and well controlled unique study on Placebo effects of caffeine on cycling performance was done in 2006.

Well trained cyclists were told they would be taking either no caffeine via placebo, a moderate dose, or a large dose of caffeine, then asked to perform 10 kilometre time trials on their bikes.

The unique aspect of this study is that all three trials received no caffeine, everyone got a placebo.

The results?

A 1.4% decrease in power compared to their baseline when the believed they had ingested a placebo, 1.3% more power when they believed they received the moderate dose of caffeine, and 3.1% more power when they believed they had taken the higher dose.

I think I hear a little bell ringing.  It's Pavlov.

For me the most interesting part of the study was that when asked how they felt, the cyclists in the study all reported feeling caffeine related symptoms (caffeine buzz).  The study subjects spoke to each other about how the caffeine increased their performance and they could really feel it, which caused the athletes to congratulate each other on feeling the buzz.  That would be the fake buzz that they didn't realize they were making up.

A similar study was done in 2009 on the Placebo effects of caffeine on short-term resistance exercise to failure

Similar set up to the cycling study.  Those who thought they were on caffeine had a lower rating of perceived exertion, and they pumped out a couple more reps. The performance increase results were the same as studies that use real caffeine.

These two studies are very important because they call into question the results of other studies that don't account for placebo effect.

I think for the most part caffeine use in sports is either useless, or near useless, interferes with athletes developing better body awareness, promotes the idea that performance comes in a pill, and promotes dependancy on pills for performance.

The studies show that athletes can improve their performance by feeling very positive about their abilities.

My study on myself showed that for me, caffeine is a nightmare.

Effects of caffeine on repetiti... [Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2007] - PubMed - NCBI

Placebo effects of caffeine on ... [Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2009] - PubMed - NCBI

The effects of different doses of caffeine on e... [J Sports Sci. 2012] - PubMed - NCBI

Effects of caffeine ingestion on rati... [Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2005] - PubMed - NCBI

Effects of caffeine ingestion on rati... [Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2005] - PubMed - NCBI

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Diet & exercise: Everyone is different. Or are they?

Whenever someone say's "everyone is different, you have to find what works for you", I know that whoever follows this mantra is going miss a lot of opportunity to have success with fitness and maintaining a healthy body weight.

 This sentiment is perceived to mean that two people may need drastically different exercise programs and food intake strategies in order to improve fitness and get all the nutrients they need, but this just isn't case, with the exception of medical conditions. For instance, a food allergy to nuts might cause a severe reaction or even death in one person, and for another, the same food is perfectly healthy, that's a dramatic exception, but not the rule.

However, even between those with allergies and no allergies, we would still find that all the aspects of the body were still pretty similar.  Both would still need balanced nutrition with about the same amount of daily requirements of the same nutrients from the same food sources, except of course those causing the allergic response.

Any person not getting enough vitamin C will develop survey.  No exceptions ever.  No human produces vitamin C, which is why we need to consume it (vitamin C rich foods are your best source).  Nobody is "different" in this regard.

If women don't get adequate amounts of folate in their diet prior to and throughout pregnancy, serious birth defects like spina bifida can occur.  This is why many countries fortify foods with folate, and why women are recommended to consume a balanced diet and take folate supplements.  This is true for all women, no exceptions.

People who don't exercise cannot become physically fit.  It's the exercise that stimulates change.  This true for every person.

What happens with the "everyone is different" mantra is that people become convinced that they are immune to fat loss because they are "different".  Or self proclaimed diet and exercise guru's use the "difference" argument to sell and promote unfounded strategies after convincing people that only their special program addresses their "differences".

Interesting.  When I'm in an exercise lab looking at oxygen and carbon dioxide breathed in and out, I see the same variables at play in everyone; no exceptions ever.  When people increase fitness, any person can observe telltale signs of physiologic adaptation, which are the same in everyone.

I've never had any person not get stronger when they exercise, except when overtraining (which includes emotional suffering as well as performance losses).

Lets's do a quick systems check:

Everyone has a brain, heart, lungs, liver etc, and these important organs are found in the same place, and they perform the same functions in every person.

Arms attach at shoulders, not the knees.  Everybody's biceps bends the elbow.

Everyones body temperature is about 37 degrees C.

Everyones blood cell levels when healthy, are in the same range for how many there are.

Everyone needs to breath air and consume food and water, and everyones digestive system works the same way when healthy.

Strength training makes everyone stronger.  Cardio training makes everyones cardio better.

Overuse injuries are predictable, because the bodies tolerance to exercise is governed by the ubiquitous design of the human body.  When someone is injured they will most likely respond the same way to same the rehab program as someone else with the exact same injury.  There is variability on time to recover, and the total degree of recovery, but the recovery process is the same: heal injured tissue and retrain it.

While there are there are definitely varying degrees of response to the same exercise between different people, with some being more tolerant of more frequent training and others requiring more recovery time, the same training adaptations are still occurring, just at a slightly different rate.

Each of us have more in common with each other than we have differences. This isn't a bad thing and doesn't subtract from our intellectual sense of self or personality traits.  Interestingly though, even with our diverse personalities, we'll still find groups of people who are very similar in personalities.

We can find medical exceptions to many of these commonly shared attributes but these variances don't nullify the rest of everything else that is near identical between all of us.

It's true that we need to find the foods and exercises that appeal to us individually, but really we're all doing the same thing with the same equipment, or at least, very similar equipment.

In practical application when I look at the nutritional and training needs say, of a bodybuilder and a marathoner, the two most commonly juxtaposed athletes, all of the core requirements between the two are the same. Both need to consume adequate amounts of a variety of foods to meet all the basic vitamin and mineral needs, otherwise predictable nutrient deprivation symptoms will start and health will deteriorate, and that goes for any human.

They both need about the same amount of good sleep, about the same amount of protein per kilogram of body mass, they both need fats and carbs, but the marathoner will need more carbs and fat (more emphasis on carbs) when cardio training volume is high and on race day.  We're still talking about the same need for cabs, proteins, and fats, but a small variance in the distribution of the same nutrients.

The carbs are not being used for something "different" in the marathoner versus the bodybuilder.  Both require carbs for energy for sustaining muscles contracting.  The marathoner's muscles are working for a longer period of time, but they still contract and relax in exactly the same way the bodybuilders muscles do.  The tiny contractile filaments are doing exactly the same thing. The marathoner will have developed their aerobic system more, but it is the same physiologic aerobic system the bodybuilder has.

The terms "bodybuilder" and "marathoner" serve practical purpose, but really we're talking  about two humans.  Do we train bodybuilders and marathoners "differently"?  I suppose it can be a matter of semantics.  What we're really trying to do is get the same basic design human body to get better at doing the same thing, but to greatly different degrees.  Both need to maximize muscle contractions, one for very brief periods producing near maximal or maximal force, the other contracting for very long periods with a fraction of peak force production.

If I look at my programs for runners versus bodybuilders or strength athletes, I'll see more similarities than true differences.  They both use weights to train, but of course the strength athletes spend proportionally more time doing the strength training than the cardio training.  But when both athletes to lunges, they're both doing lunges.

They'll both have a mix of high reps and low reps, but the marathoner will do more high rep sets compared to the bodybuilder.

Of course the runner, cyclist, skier etc, does significantly more cardio.  However in order to determine what intensity the two people should train at, both will undergo the same testing and will be given training that is based on the results of the tests.

When either is doing cardio, they are of course..  doing cardio.  Their hearts, lungs, and muscles are still engaging the cardiopulmonary systems, and if we looked at both on a treadmill in an exercise lab we would see the same things happening in both.

In terms of the degree to which each uses their aerobic system (the same aerobic system using the same components), we would see the endurance athlete has greater aerobic capacity (of course).

Importantly, they both have an aerobic capacity that is measured the same way, measuring the same things.

Let's look at muscles.  These images apply to every human on the planet.

This diagram includes an actual image of the contractile fibers (black and white)

This image is what is thought to be happening on the microscopic level.. in everyone.  Never mind the details for now.. the mechanism is the same.

We all have these, mitochondria, and they do the same thing in everyone; they make energy for our cells.

In muscle cells the mitochondria are right next to the contractile fibers.  Yes, these are in the same place and do the same thing in both marathoners and bodybuilders, though sometimes sport culture differences cause the two to feel at odds with each other, and they might not like to admit that their muscles are made the of the same things and do the same things.

What would happen if we convinced the bodybuilder and marathoner to switch places? To spend a couple years training and competing in the other sport?

First, this would pretty difficult to do because these two athletes are typically the antithesis of each other, often not paying much respect to the other.  A shame really, because they are mostly doing, you guessed it, the same thing.

They're pursuing a physical and personal challenge that inspires them to do better, to build their bodies to a higher level. I think if bodybuilders and marathoners could get passed the traditional prejudice they share for each other, they would find their trials, tribulations, and triumphs were pretty much the same experience emotionally, with very similar perspectives as well, on their physical training progress.

If we did find two noble and seemingly disparate athletes to switch off for a couple years we would see the bodybuilder losing muscle mass and gaining aerobic efficiency, and the marathoner would-be bodybuilder would gain muscle mass and strength and reduce aerobic performance.

No kidding.  Why?  Because their bodies would respond to the same training the same way.. because that's what the human body does.  It's coded into our DNA.

 Genetic variability between people dictates the degree of responsiveness to what exercise we do.  Some are more responsive to building mass, others more responsive to aerobic improvements.  Both have the same systems that work the same way and respond the same way, but the degree of response is the variant.

Some people have a genetic predisposition that is better suited to pursuing endurance sports, some for strength sports.  However, the mechanisms that allow for strength and endurance would still be the same between the two people.

My reason for writing this entry is to try and dispel the urban exercise myth that everyone is completely different.  Believing this causes a lot of confusion and the generation of more falsehoods.

I don't want people to be misled into believing that their exercise plan or nutritional plan has to be significantly "different" than anyone else's   Really we're all looking at the same variables applied to different degrees between us.

This doesn't mean that sedentary people should copy elite athlete programs to get fit.. well, actually it does mean that.  Literally.

Elite athletes didn't (or shouldn't have) start out with large volume high intensity training; they started out not as elite athletes, and started with the basics.  That is part of the elite development model, but we often are distracted by the optics of the end point of athlete development and so we don't make the connection that easy, incremental exercise is part of the elite athletes experience.

Anyone who is getting started should start of with very easy, simple exercises that were well within their current ability, and gradually increase loads as their ability increases.  This is what everyone does, including those who become elite athletes.  At some point they had to start with the basics.  So yes, the elite development path in it's entirety, properly and logically starts off well before the person is transformed into the elite athlete.

See how were all more the same than different? We don't all end up in the same place, but we start out about the same.

If a sedentary person tried to train with the same relative loads as a developed elite athlete, that would be a disaster.  Too bad this is actually quite common.  If they did that, they wouldn't actually be on the same program, because they would have skipped all the years of preparation the elite athlete did.

Next time someone tells you how different people have completely different nutritional needs or training needs, rest assured this can't be true, because skin and all, we're made of the same components that work the same way.  That's why the RDA for nutrients is aplicable to nearly everyone.  We all need about the same amount of vitamins and minerals to perform the same functions in us.

If any person on the planet doesn't consume sufficient iron, they will develop anemia.  There are no exceptions.  The reason this is the case is because human physiology requires a certain amount of iron to support critical functions in the body, mainly transporting iron, which is done in the same way in all humans.

What's great for all of us is that the variance to which we can adapt our bodies to is enough satisfy anyones drive.  Using nearly the same bodies, we can adapt to all the different activities and sports we know about.  Genetics play's a roll in dictating the degree we respond, so for peak performance if you're genes are better suited to respond to strength activities, choose a strength sport you like.  Natural endurance ability?  Choose an endurance sport.  Or, to heck with the genetics, you'll respond to anything you do, and you'll respond really well with good training and nutrition habits.

I'm not saying the hocky teams program is 100% identical to the rowing teams program, I hope nobody interprets that.. I'm saying that whether you're training for hockey or rowing, you'll find the two programs follow the same process:

Start with developing the same core competencies.

Gradually spend more time doing the exercises that are specific to the sport

In general most of the exercises will be the same, (pushing exercises, pulling exercises, leg exercises, core exercises, cardio training)

A hockey player and a rower both have brains that coordinate movement patterns, hearts that deliver blood and oxygen to cells, lungs that respirate, biceps that bend the elbow, a need for proper recovery, balanced nutrition, work, life, training balance..  More similarities than differences and the differences are really degrees of the same things.

Don't be fooled by fads, gimmicks, and pseudoscience claims about how the body works.

At the end of it all, all of our hearts are literally, in the same place.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Winnipeg vegan restaurant: Healthy?

What could be healthier than vegan food made with wholesome ingredients?

I'm not vegan, but I do love vegan food.  Even all veggie based foods can be made unhealthy though..

Here's what's in the patty of the burger I ordered:

Black beans, red beans, lentils, brown rice, onion, garlic, seasoned with chili, cumin, tomatoes and fresh cilantro.

Fantastic ingredients.

The rest of my burger consisted of a fresh baked organic whole grain bun, roasted red peppers, sprouts, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, house dressing, red onion, and lettuce.

Sign me up, that sounds great!  This burger tasted fantastic, but along with the side salad, I felt really stuffed afterwards. It was too much food.  Trying to be my own impartial observer, I questioned why I continued eating when I was thinking, "this is way too much food".  I reasoned, it's mostly veggies, it wont be too bad.

Beans, lentils, and rice in addition to being packed with great nutrition, are also somewhat calorie dense providing around 220 calories per cup (1 cup of grilled lean ground beef has 330 calories). It doesn't matter where you get your excess calories from; too much is too much.  An advantage of having more plant based foods in your diet is the high fibre low fat will have fewer calories but still be filling, plus deliver more vitamins and minerals.  This is sort of good, we don't really want to eat until full.  Doing so is a guarantee of eating too much. Still, it's preferable to eat a big plate of low calorie veggies and feel satisfied compared to eating a 1/4 plate of fatty food that has twice the calories and still leaves a lot of room in the gut that is tempting to fill.

At about 3 inches (7.5 cm) tall and 3.5 (9 cm) inches wide, this burger is taller than the average mouth can open.  Not too much of a big deal, but does this lean towards the concept of serving gargantuan serving sizes? Could it possibly be more reasonable to make a burger that you can actually fit your mouth around?

Trying to get your mouth around this huge burger will trigger most to perceive that this burger is better because it's bigger, and that it's a good deal because you get so much for your dollar, and even that it might be a bit of a fun challenge to try to eat this beast.  Each of these values associate a positive connection with an over-serving of food; and we might be completely aloof to the fact that our enjoyment of a great tasting huge vegan burger is actually supporting overeating.  That's why this kind of eating is referred to as "mindless eating".

It's also another reason I kept eating even though I contemplated stopping.  The high salt, carb (sugar), and fat content will have been messing with my brain, stimulating my appetite.  It's the food chemistry that causes us to feel ravenous while eating, and food companies know this, that's why food is made this way. 

We're responding to external triggers to eat more, as well as chemical triggers, found in high concentrations of salt, fat, and sugar.

What?  Say it ain't so.  A vegan restaurant using the same food composition tactic that big food companies use to get you addicted to their food?  Whether by accident or on purpose, making foods with high concentrations of this tripple threat tastes really good, that's why people gravitate towards it, but for sure the outcome is people will feel very compelled to want to eat it again, because of the resulting altered brain chemistry that increases appetite.

And what a nice twist on the tripple threat; make it vegan so it has the image of being healthy, thus diverting our attention from the fact that it's still very high calorie and high sodium, perhaps even allowing us to go into denial and justify the huge serving sizes because we perceive it all as being ok because it's green, it's local, vegan, organic, and animal friendly.  All good things for sure, but when the serving sizes are too big and sodium is through the roof, do we really want to fool ourselves?

I fooled myself, those are the justifications I made.  When I decided to do the breakdown of what I was eating from this much venerated vegan burger joint, I was surprised, and upset at the same time.  It was like an "et tu Brute" moment.

Serving sizes have increased by more than 40% since the 1980's, even more than 100% for some items like popcorn, soda, and potato chips.  We've become more expecting of the bigger is better idea, while not necessarily being cognizant of the fact that big servings results in mega calories.

At 448 grams, how does this vegan burger compare to other popular burgers?

Big Mac  209 g, 540 calories

Cheeseburger  115 g, 300 calories

DQ Ultimate burger  262 g, 760 calories  

DQ 1/4 lb Flame Thrower GrillBurger 239 g, 730 calories

The vegan burger consisted of a 173g patty, 111g bun, about 75g of veggies, and about 89g of some kind of spread.

Using nutrition databases on the internet I've put together a reasonable estimate of how many calories there are in this 1 pound burger.. 

I'm not sure what the fat content of the condiments are, but in total this burger will be anywhere between 500 and 600 calories, which isn't that bad at all, if that's the only item you oder, but it's very easy to miss hidden fats and sugars in the condiments so there might be more calories.   This burger could easily be 700 + calories, and is unlikely to be less than 500.  Very comparable to typical fast food burgers in terms of calories, but significantly more nutrient dense.

For the sodium content I called the restaurant and they were friendly enough to tell me how much sodium they put in a batch of 400 bean patties, which worked out to about 140mg of sodium per burger, which would be perfectly reasonable.  However, the food prep person I spoke with was candid, letting me know that the canned beans, the peppers and the other ingredients already have salt in them from their supplier, which will likely be very high sodium items.

The person on the phone mentioned since they went on a low sodium diet themselves that they had stopped eating food at this vegan restaurant.  She mentioned that they are not a low sodium place, but did mention that they are animal friendly. I told her I wish they were as concerned about humans health as much as they were about animals.  She sighed and said she would pass that along to the owners.

I told her some of the food they sell is just as high in calories and sodium as a meal at McDonalds so I'm reluctant to keep eating there. 

The sodium content in this burger is likely to be around 500 mg, but could be higher.

What about the fries?  Can you really make fries healthy?  Sure. I've made oven baked fries that were healthy.  I used spices instead of oil and salt to add flavour.

How do the vegan fries compare to other fast food fries?

Size small 206g, approximately 600 calories, and about 1600 mg of sodium.


Large fries  292g,  860 calories, 1180 mg sodium

Medium fries  113g,  360 calories,  270 mg sodium

Small fries   71g,  220 calories,  170 mg sodium

The fries were oven baked potatoes, "drizzled in sunflower oil, sea salt and pepper".  The sea salt thing is offensive to me.  Offensive because there is absolutely zero health advantage to sea salt.  It is no different than processed salt, but, it's sold as being a healthy alternative to regular table salt.  Why is that offensive?  Because it's a lie.  A lie meant to convince people that sea salt is better for their health, but is actually no different.  And you pay a premium for that lie.

Greasy fingers from greasy fries.  I don't find any redeeming nutritional qualities to these fries.  They are no better for your health than regular fries at any fast food place.

Burger and fries (small) total calories:  Between 1100 and 1300 calories.

Total sodium:   2000 mg +  (you need 1500 mg for a whole day and the upper intake limit is 2300 mg)

Order medium or large fries and you're over 1500 calories and 2500mg of sodium total.

I went to this place on opening day.  Couldn't wait.  Loved the taste.  Even tried the fries, which I didn't finish because they were just as greasy as any fries I'd had, and I don't like greasy.

I spoke to the owner about how greasy I thought the fries were and he didn't take it very well.  In fact he was quite certain one could drink a cup of olive oil straight and it would be good for you.  I told him no, drinking olive oil straight would have a laxative effect causing very oily stool, and although olive oil is healthy in appropriate amounts, consuming 1600 calories of olive oil at one time would certainly not be healthy.

I also pointed out that virgin and extra virgin olive oil have a low smoke point and are not suitable for high temperature cooking, such as baking fries in an oven.  Also, the high temps will break down much of the healthy compounds in olive oil negating any health effects.  You can get processed olive oil that is more heat stable with a higher smoke point, but typically other oils like safflower and sunflower oil are used for cooking.  Although he blew a gasket at me, he also contacted me later to apologize for doing so and comped me a meal.

I don't know if it was my conversation with the owner back then that caused them to switch from olive oil to sunflower oil, but I think I may have planted the seed.

Recently I spoke with a server working there after having finished a burger.  We spoke about the high calorie, high sodium thing, and how that seems to be the opposite of what a vegan, organic ingredient restaurant is trying to portray.  She replied, "it's burgers and fries, what do you expect?"

So they know their food is high sodium, and that much of what they serve is very high calorie.

I guess I expected that since this place is all about organic, vegan friendly ingredients, that finally somebody decided to create a restaurant that made truly healthy meals, including consideration for sodium and  total calories.

You will get substantially better nutrient density from the food at this Winnipeg vegan burger restaurant, which is promising, but your total calories and sodium with a burger and fries will be the same as high calorie fat bombs you get at any major burger joint, and the health risks with a high sodium, high calorie diet will still be the same.

You'll also get the same appetite altering effect (makes you more hungry the next day, makes you seek out high calorie foods).

If you manage what you eat anywhere, classic fast food burger joint or modern foodie joint, you can maintain a healthy weight, but beware of blindly falling into the habit of making these places a regular feeding trough.

It's still buyer beware, even when food is sold under the pretence of being natural and good.

This place has a lot of potential. Hopefully they realise that high sodium and high calorie is not so great.  We'll see if they change.

BTW, the burger and fries I bought for this review went in the garbage.  I didn't want to repeat my mistake of eating this stuff.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Salty lies: nutrition labels misleading

The average adult needs about 1500mg of sodium per day.

The upper limit for the daily intake is 2300 mg.

The average Canadian consumes around 3300 mg/ day, but many will take in over 7000 mg per day when eating out.

Nearly 80% of Canadians daily sodium intake comes from packaged processed foods and restaurant foods.

If you're exercising for hours and you're a salty sweater, you'll need more sodium, but I seriously doubt these manufactures thought that most of their customers are training for hours every day, thus resulting in an elevated upper sodium intake value.

CBC Market Place says the percent of daily sodium intake listed on most food labels is based on an intake of 2400 mg/ day, instead of the recommended 1500 mg/ day.   What could possibly motivate a company to make percentage of sodium intake for daily needs appear smallar than it actually is?

You all know I love myth busting.  Rarely am I more motivated to dig into something more intently than uncovering an urban myth where diet and exercise are concerned.

The column on the right in the food nutrition label shows the percentage of recommended daily value, the percentage of how much you need for a day.  The recommended daily intake for sodium is 1500 mg.

For the nutrition label below, sodium is shown at  290 mg, which makes up according to this label, 12% of the daily need for sodium.  290 is 12% of 2416.  That's 100 mg more than the 2300 mg upper tolerable intake, and 900 mg more than the recommended healthy intake of 1500 mg a day.

Here's the reality check on common food items:

Milligrams of sodium per serving size - percentage of daily intake

Organic yogurt:  85 mg   4% of daily value              calculated daily intake = 2125 mg

Multigrain bread:  300 mg  13%                                              2307 mg

Skim milk        140 mg         6%                                              2333 mg

Almond milk     150 mg        6%                                             2500 mg

Vegan kale juice  80 mg       3%                                              2666 mg

Low fat mayonnaise   135 mg 6%                                           2250 mg

Low sodium Ketchup 60 mg    3%                                          2000 mg

Mustard            55 mg    2%                                                     2750 mg

Canned pizza sauce  250 mg  10%                                           2500 mg

Canned kidney beans    350 mg 15%                                       2333  mg

Low sodium canned peas  15 mg  1%                                      1500 mg 

Canned sardines        200 mg  8%                                             2500 mg

Tomato paste            20 mg  1%                                                 2000 mg

Potato chips        180 mg  7%                                                     2571 mg

"Healthy" potato chips  210 mg  9%                                          2333 mg

If you use the percent of daily intake on nutrition labels as your guide for your sodium intake, you will always be far above the recommend intake of 1500 mg/ day.

The only product out of these samples that based the daily intake of sodium on the recommended intake of 1500 mg a day was Safeway "Eating Right" low sodium canned peas.  Hooray for Safeway!

But wait.. Safeway "Eating Right" multigrain bread used 2300 mg/ day, and Safeway brand tomato paste used 2000 mg/ day.

The superfood superstar, super expensive, ultimate-in-health-anti-cancer organic vegan kale juice?  They think you need 2666 mg/ day of sodium.

Even within the same brand, you can't expect consistency, and don't expect that makers of health foods are beyond tweaking their values to appear more healthy than they actually are.

The percent of daily sodium needs value is bogus on nutrition labels.  I wouldn't pay any attention to it.  Instead, look at the total milligrams of sodium and do the math yourself, since food companies math can't be trusted it seems.  Who knows if companies actually put in the amount of sodium they claim in the first place.  This is self-regulated by manufacturers, there isn't any third party process in place that ensures nutrition label claims are accurate.

A final note: Sea salt has the exact same amount of sodium in it as regular processed table salt and affects blood pressure exactly the same; there is zero health benefit to using sea salt instead of regular salt.  In fact sea salt might even be worse for you if it isn't fortified with iodine.

The Great Salt Shakedown, CBC Marketplace:

Marketplace tests the sodium levels in junior hockey players, masters swimmers, and non-athletes.

Government of Canada stats, info on sodium intake in Canada:

Reading food labels Health Canada