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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Electrolytes - What the hell are they and why do I need th

We hear about electrolyte replacement all the time in advertisements for sports drinks, but do you know what they are or why you need to replace them? Chances are you don't, so I'll shed a little light on this subject.

Electrolytes are chemicals in the body that allow your cells to function properly. Electrolytes do many things like regulate muscle contractions, regulate fluid/water movement through the body, allow the cells to generate electricity, and maintain the cell wall structure. Your kidneys work constantly to keep electrolytes in proper balance.

There are a whole host of electrolytes in the body:

* Hydrochloric acid
* Nitric acid
* Sulphuric acid
* Hydrobromic acid
* Hydroiodic acid
* Perchloric acid
* Acetic acid
* Carbonic acid
* Amonnia
* Lithium hydroxide
* Sodium Hydroxide
* Potassium Hydroxide
* Rubidium Hydroxide
* Cesium Hydroxide
* Calcium Hydroxide
* Strontium Hydroxide
* Barium Hydroxide

The ones we are most concerned with are sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate.

Sodium is responsible for fluid regulation in the cells. It is very important to the body for proper hydration and functioning of the body's systems. Sodium is also important for the brain, as it regulates electrical activity. Having too much or too little sodium can be either crappy or fatal! Your body is a machine as you have heard before and it is run by electricity. This is a gross oversimplification of the incredibly complex systems in your body, but I like to keep it simple.

Potassium regulates the heartbeat and muscle functions. Improper levels of potassium can negatively affect the nervous system and cause irregular heartbeats.

Chloride is another one that has a profound effect on proper hydration levels. Chloride balance is very closely regulated by your body to ensure optimal functioning.

Finally on our big 4 list is Bicarbonite. Bicarbonite is a buffer for your cells. It works to maintain proper acidity levels in the body.

Your electrolyte balance can be affected by a number of different things like excess sweating, vomiting and diarrhea, eating disorders, and medication intake. Maintaining a proper balance is key to making sure that your body functions at its peak. For our purposes, sodium and potassium are the biggest threats to electrolyte imbalance because they are substantially depleted through excess sweating, as during intense exercise. Since intense exercise is what TPS is all about, it just makes sense that these are the two we should focus the most on.

So if we know what the most important electrolytes are for our purposes (exercise) and we know how we lose them, what's next? Why we need to replace them, of course, is next. If you don't replace electrolytes lost during intense exercise, a number of things could happen: you could see a decrease in sports performance during your workout/game, you could become dehydrated, you could suffer kidney/nerve/cardiac tissue damage, you could remain dehydrated even if you drink water.

Now don't get too nervous here - it is fairly unlikely you will die or suffer permanent damage from a hard sweaty workout, but it is not impossible. There are plenty of TRUE stories of high school wrestlers cutting weight by taking a sauna or exercising in a rubber suit and having kidney failure and/or death as the result. (NOTE: Never never never never wear one of those ridiculous rubber suits during exercise to lose weight, ever). Their coaches should be prosecuted for allowing and encouraging this, by the way. These are tragic and extreme cases, but I use it to illustrate the importance of proper rehydration. Your chances of this happening are slim unless it is very humid or you are exercising very intensely for a long time.

So what are some of the best ways to restore electrolytes to your body after a workout? This is actually easy. Restoring electrolytes after exercise can be done in a number of ways. It could be as simple as grabbing a Gatorade. If you are on a calorie-restricted diet, this is not the best option; Gatorade has a large amount of sugar in it and isn't the best choice for everyone. Coconut water is a great choice, too, and it only has about 6 grams of sugar per cup, much less than a sports drink. Eating a banana or an orange right after your workout is a great idea if it was a particularly sweaty session. The naturally occurring sugar in the fruit is nowhere near as bad for you as the high fructose corn syrup in many commercially prepared sports drinks either.

You can make your own electrolyte replacement drink by mixing 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 4 ounces of orange juice with a liter of water. Sure, it's a lot of work but it's better than high fructose corn syrup!

Eating a whole food meal about an hour after exercise that contains broccoli or spinach will help, too. Vegetables are an outstanding source of many micronutrients and you should eat a wide variety of them to make sure you are getting what you need.

I hope that I have shed some light on what electrolytes are, why you need them, and how to replace them, so that your body is ready willing and able to work at its peak.

Fruit is bad for you.

I get this question all of the time when doing nutrition consultations. It goes something like this, I'll prepare a meal plan for someone to follow and during the review, the client will look in horror and see that there is fruit in the diet. The usually say something like this: I can eat fruit? I thought fruit was bad for me because of all the sugar.

Naughty banana

I then say something like this: Well, fruit is all sugar, and they recoil in horror again and say something like: Won't all that sugar make me fat? At this point I go on to explain that ALL carbohydrates are forms of sugar. Again, a look of total horror is on their faces. I now need to explain further that carbs and sugar are not the enemy. Carbohydrates are an essential part of a balanced diet, and fat loss plan. Eating the wrong kinds of carbs (sugar) at the wrong time is your enemy, no different than eating the wrong kind of fat.

Fruit is comprised of simple sugar which isn't a bad thing. The simple sugars in fruit are good because they are unprocessed, natural sugar. The simple sugars that people are generally afraid of, and rightfully so are found in items contain processed sugar. Processed sugar is found on canned fruits, soda, candy, juice and most prepared foods. Most of these foods contain high fructose corn syrup which is terrible for you. So when we say to eat fruit, we mean real fruit. Apples, oranges, bananas, pomegranates, all kinds of berries and any other kind of fresh, whole fruit that you enjoy. We don't want you to eat canned or processed fruit. Frozen fruit is fine as long as it is just fruit. Nothing packed in syrup or in "it's own juices" is good for you. Just plain old fruit.
I love cantaloupe.

Fruit has many other benefits, such as tons if vitamins and minerals, fiber and a high water content. Watermelon, for example, is on outstanding source of vitamin c and lycopene.

Strawberries are another excellent source of vitamin c and manganese. They also contain a ton of antioxidants that prevent free radical damage to your cells.

Pomegranates are a super fruit that contain high amounts of vitamin c, potassium, ellagic acids and other nutrients to prevent free radical damage.

These are but a few examples of why you should not recoil in horror at the thought of eating all of the sugar in fruit. Fruit is good for you, it tastes great and adds a ton of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that help your body stay healthy.

Add a wide variety of fruit to your diet. It will keep your taste buds happy and help your body to perform at its peak. I'm going to have an apple right now.

5 things that don't work for your fitness plan Part 3

It's time for Part 3 in our 5 Things that don't work for your fitness program series . Up this month is " I just want to tone so I'll use light weights because I don't want to get too bulky". This really applies to the ladies, but sometimes to the less than manly men.

When I hear people say they want to tone, it says to me that they don't have a clear cut goal and without a goal you can't get results. You are walking around aimlessly.

What is "tone"? Well, it's basically a state of involuntarily electrical activity in your muscles. Muscle tone is loosely defined as minute muscular contractions that constantly exist in skeletal muscles. So if your goal is to tone up, you just don't have a goal. Get one. A real goal is more like losing 10 pounds of body fat or gaining the ability to run a 6 minute mile. Those are goals. Get one. They are free.

When most people say they just want to tone up, they usually mean that they want to look better. They want firmer muscles, but not added bulk. The majority of people who lift weights do not want to look like a bodybuilder. That's fine. Not having a clear goal isn't and not training properly has no excuse.

Here's the thing, weight training is called progressive resistance by many and this is a pretty good definition. Progressive resistance means that you need to progress constantly. Progression can come in many ways, more weight, more reps, more sets, less reps with more weight and a thousand more. If you don't progress, you are maintaining at best, at worst you are backsliding. You must always strive to be better today than you were yesterday at everything you do. All the time.

When we hear people say they will use light weights because they don't want to get too bulky (especially girls) and it is more frustrating than you can imagine. Using light weights doesn't do much. It's better than nothing so I guess that's something, but who wants to be better than nothing? I can't tell you how many girls I train that lift a lot of weight that are not bulky at all, they look like lean, healthy athletic girls.

The myth of "light weight for tone" stems from old school gym nonsense and the mainstream media. A lot of "advice" has been passed down in gyms for many years and much of it is bad information. The media is guilty of giving out whatever story sells magazines or gets viewers to watch. They should be in the business of journalism, but that's a whole other article.

Light weights to increase tone is also frequently given out as advice by doctors. Sure they are smart, but do they know much about strength training? Most do not. Doctors don't get any fancy book learning on fitness in med school. They learn how to fix you when you are broken. My job is to keep you from getting broken by teaching how to be healthy. How's this, I'll give out fitness advice and I won't try to practice medicine if doctors stop giving out advice like "lift 5 pounds for 20 reps". Just a pipe dream.

I've written time and time again that there are different types of strength. The most important type of strength for ALL goals is limit strength. This is loosely defined as how much you can lift for one all out repetition. Limit strength is a key component of fitness. You must lift something heavy. Raising limit strength is crucial to making gains everywhere else. This does not mean that you have to squat 1000 pounds. It does mean that you need to challenge yourself with weights that are near your limit (with excellent form for whatever reps scheme you are doing) in order to progress. The more you can lift for one rep, the more you can lift for multiple reps. The more you lift for multiple reps, the more calories you burn during and AFTER your workout. This is called EPOC. EPOC is simply how many calories you burn after exercise.

More on limit strength: let's say that you can squat 75 pounds once, and you can squat 55 pounds 5 times. If you get your squat up to 100 pounds once, you will squat more weight for 5 reps. Doing this requires more energy (calories) thusly allowing you to burn more fat all day as long as your diet is in order.

Lifting light weights for tone does not challenge you unless you are a raw beginner. The challenge does not last long because your body will adapt to the stress you put on it. This is called the SAID principle. SAID is Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands and it means that as you do anything with your body, it gets better at doing it. This applies exactly to the subject of our article. It is a scientific LAW. I didn't make this stuff up. It is simple, basic legit science. It has been proven, it cannot be disputed. Another thing with raw beginners is they get very strong fast. This is due to the SAID principle and the body learning how recruit more available muscle fiber and using the nervous system more efficiently during exercise.

Think back to when you first started lifting weights or if you've ever seen a beginner do a dumbbell bench press with a very light weight. They flail around with their arms wiggling and can't control the weight. As the workout goes on, they get better form one set to the next. Did they just get super strong after the second set? No. Their body learned how to do what was being asked of it. This is the SAID principle at work. If you stick with the light weights, you will not make any progress. No, I am not saying that you should all try and work up to 150 pound dumbbells for reps. I am saying that you must constantly try and improve your performance. This is easily done by increasing the weight in small amounts, or doing a few more reps, or an extra set. You can't stay on the 10 pound dumbbells forever. Start light, start right and add weight when you can.

I hope I have busted this myth for you. Stay tuned to the TPS site for the next 2 article in the series.

5 things that don't work for your fitness plan Part 2

This is the second installment of our five-part series on stuff that doesn't work in your fitness plan. I said "stuff" because it's just that, stuff. It's not organized, it's not based in science, it's just stuff. Stuff doesn't work. You need a plan, and you need to stick to it.

With that said, our second article is on the ever-popular "Skipping meals to lose weight" method of stuff. Skipping meals to lose weight is just a bad idea all around. It doesn't do any good for your body in the long term. Sure, skipping meals to lose weight does work initially, but it loses its effect and has disastrous consequences down the road.

When you skip a meal, there is a net caloric reduction. Weight loss is based on calories in versus calories out. Less calories equals less weight, right? Wrong.

To lose weight effectively, we need to consider a few things that you might not be aware of:

-your body is basically a machine

-machines need fuel to run

-machines need the best fuel to run optimally

-losing weight on the scale isn't always best

-too little calories can actually slow your metabolism

-we want to lose fat

-we want to, at the minimum, preserve muscle mass; we do not want to lose it

-skipping meals slows down the metabolism

I know, I know, that's a lot to think about, so I'll explain it in simple English, the language of America. Most people don't know the difference between good weight loss and bad weight loss. Have you ever seen someone who is pretty big go on a diet and lose a bunch of weight? They usually go from looking like a big fat person to a small fat person. Sure they lost weight, but was it healthy?

For the most part, they have lost a bunch of muscle and slowed their metabolism to a crawl. Muscle is metabolically active, meaning it burns calories. Fat is not metabolically active. It does nothing, it's just fat. When you lose muscle, you slow down the metabolism and you burn less calories all day. Dieting and skipping meals generally slows your metabolism down drastically. In the early stages, you will lose weight, some of it is water and some might be fat or it might be muscle. It is most likely muscle.

The reason that your metabolism slows down is because when you don't eat frequently your body tries to store calories because it goes into "starvation" mode. When this happens, it stores calories as fat. As I said, in the beginning you will see a weight loss and it could be fat, but as you keep on doing it, the body shifts its focus to fat storage and muscle burning. This is a survival trick the body still has in it from ancient times when it didn't know when the next meal was coming. It is easy for the body to store fat to use as fuel in times of emergency. It is also easy for the body to burn muscle as fuel, especially when meals are skipped. Your body thinks it needs to go into "starvation" mode and store fat to preserve itself later.

You can now see that when you skip meals you will lose weight because the body is losing muscle at a faster rate than it is storing fat. When you lose muscle and gain fat your metabolism slowly dies. If you keep skipping meals to "lose weight" you will become a skinny fat person. Unless you are a professional "heroin chic" model, I doubt this is the look you are going for.

So what should you do? You need to feed your body every three to four hours with a small meal that contains all of the macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Exactly what you should eat is beyond the scope of this article, but I have written extensively about it and there are many articles on the TPS website on the "Nutrition Corner" page.

Take-home messages from this gem of junk science debunking article:

-skipping meals to lose weight doesn't work

-skipping meals to lose weight slows your metabolism and makes you FATTER

-skipping meals to lose weight makes your metabolism die

-eating frequent, small meals jacks your metabolism into overdrive, making you a fat burning furnace

-your body is a machine that needs premium fuel to run optimally-oatmeal, lean protein, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables, and water are all great examples of premium fuel

-the scale is not your friend

-the mirror is your friend

-read all of the articles on the "Nutrition Corner" page for more great ideas of what and when to eat

Stay tuned over the next three months for the rest of the series.