Sunday, February 26, 2017

Intermittent Fasting for Health and Fat Loss

Done properly fasting can be very beneficial for improving health and accelerating fat loss.   There are many different types of fasts, but the most popular and practical is called intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting gives your body more time to effectively digest what you are eating and eliminate waste. 

You can get most of, if not all, the same benefits of fasting, with intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting involves reducing your food intake in whole or in part, either a few days a week, every other day or daily.  The most popular way to do intermittent fasting is to restrict your daily food intake to a specific window of time - typically a six to eight-hour timeframe each day.

For example, if you skip breakfast and make lunch the first meal of your day, you might restrict your food intake to the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. If you are a breakfast lover, your window could be between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.  The key is to eat only two meals, and to ensure you eat the last meal at least three hours before bedtime. When you eat three or more meals a day, you rarely, if ever, empty your glycogen stores (storage form of glucose – mostly in your liver), mainly because it takes about eight to 12 hours to burn the sugar stored in your body as glycogen.

By fasting about 14 to 16 hours a day, you give your body enough time to drain your glycogen stores and shift into fat-burning mode. This pushes your body to use fat as a fuel.  Because fat is a slow-burning fuel, you will not only have a more balanced energy supply, but you will also avoid the typical sugar "highs" and "lows" that come with typical diets.

While you will undoubtedly feel hungry on occasion, that is perfectly normal. Once your body adjusts, you may be surprised to discover how much less food you will consume to feel completely satisfied. In many cases your food cravings literally disappear once you have regained your ability to burn fat for fuel.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting provides a number of health benefits including:
  • Forces the body to become efficient at burning fat as the primary fuel which helps eliminate sugar cravings
  • Increases growth hormone to help build muscle and promote overall health and wellness
  • Enhances brain health and helps prevent neurological disorders like Alzheimer's
  • Reduces oxidative stress and fights aging and diseases like cancer
  • Lowers triglycerides and reduces inflammation
  • Dramatically boosts brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons.
  • Dramatically increases the process of Autophagy
Benefits of Autophagy

Autophagy means “self-eating” and refers to processes that your body uses to clean out various debris and detoxify while also recycling damaged cell components.   It is quite literally like your body’s recycling program.   It improves metabolic efficiency, gets rid of faulty parts, and stops cancerous growths.   It also helps to dramatically decrease inflammation throughout the body.

During the bio-energetic challenge of exercising or fasting, autophagy is increased.   This stimulates stem-cells including muscle stem cells which can help prevent sarcopenia (muscle loss with aging).     So, intermittent fasting can help maintain the regenerative capacity of muscle stem cells.

There are three ways to boost autophagy:   exercise, fasting, and nutritional ketosis. 

Who Can Benefit from Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting can benefit just about everyone, but athletes may benefit even more. A 2016 study that tracked the effects of intermittent fasting on 34 resistance-trained men found that restricting their eating to an eight-hour window positively affected several health-related biomarkers, while decreasing fat mass and maintaining muscle mass.

While additional studies need to be completed to further investigate the effects of intermittent fasting on athletes, it seems that intermittent fasting could be used during maintenance phases of training when the goal is to maintain muscle mass while reducing fat mass.

The Importance of Proper Food Choices during Intermittent Fasting

During intermittent fasting and reduced food intake, your food choices are very important. Since you'll be eating less, it's vitally important that you get proper nutrition from your food. Healthy fats are essential because intermittent fasting pushes your body to switch over to fat-burning. Particularly if you begin to feel tired and sluggish, it may be a sign that you need to increase the amount of healthy fat in your diet.

Cutting net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) is equally important. Focus on:
  • High quality fat intake in the form of avocados, coconut oil, organic grass-fed butter, organic egg yolks and nuts.
  • Moderate amounts of high-quality protein from organically raised, grass-fed or pastured animals, which translates to no more than 40 to 80 grams of protein per day
  • High amounts of fresh, low-net-carb vegetables, ideally organic
Contraindications for Fasting

Although most people can safely benefit from intermittent fasting, it's important to take caution if you have certain health challenges. Do NOT use fasting unless approved by your physician if any of the following are true:

  • You are underweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or less
  • You are malnourished
  • Children should NOT fast! They need nutrients for continued growth; if your child is obese, consider cutting him or her back on refined grains and sugar to promote weight loss
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women should NOT fast because a consistent flow of nutrients must be shared continually with the baby to ensure its well-being
  • If you take medications that should be taken with food you will need to be very cautious about fasting and consult with your physician first.   This is especially true for diabetics and those with gout.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Nuts – Ideal Health Food compatible with any Dietary Approach

While there are many areas of nutrition and diet rife with controversy there are certain foods that just about any dietary approach agrees are highly beneficial.   One of these foods is nuts!
Nuts come in many varieties and if properly prepared are a good fit for any dietary approach regardless if it is low carb, high carb, or any other variation.    Of course nuts are NOT a good idea for those with food allergies to nuts!

In a review of 29 published studies, scientists recently revealed that, in comparison with people who don’t eat many nuts, those who eat just 20 grams — as little as a handful a day — lower their risk of several serious conditions by astounding percentages:
Heart Disease – 29%
Cardiovascular Disease – 21%
Cancer – 15%
Respiratory Disease – 52%
Diabetes – 39%
Infectious Disease – 75%

The ideal amount to eat is an average of about two dozen almonds or 15 pecan halves per day; and there was not any increased benefit from eating more than that.

What is a nut anyway?

As per Spice Inc.:

“A true nut, botanically speaking, is a hard-shelled pod that contains both the fruit and seed of the plant, where the fruit does not open to release the seed to the world. Some examples of botanical nuts are chestnuts, hazelnuts and acorns.”

Peanuts are actually a legume. Drupes are a type of fruit with an outer part and a single seed inside, like a peach or cherry, but almonds, pecans and walnuts also drupes. The difference is, the seed is eaten rather than the outside.

Culinary nuts can be fruits, seeds or actual botanical nuts, used as a stand-alone snack or in a recipe. 
Gymnosperm and angiosperm seeds are also nuts.  Gymnosperm seeds are unprotected by an outer shell — such as ginkgo and pine nuts. Examples of an angiosperm are Brazil and Macadamia nuts.

The Research is Clear:  Nut Consumption can Increase Lifespan

In a study looking at 819,000 participants from different regions, sexes and backgrounds, and with different risk factors, nut consumption proved to reduce their disease risk in most cases.   The researchers concluded:

“In 2013, an estimated 4.4 million deaths may be attributable to a nut intake below 20 grams per day in North and South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Western Pacific. These findings support dietary recommendations to increase nut consumption to reduce chronic disease risk and mortality.”

Nuts – High in Beneficial Fats and Fiber

Although there is still disagreement about whether certain fats are “good” or “bad” there is a high consensus that the fats is nuts may improve overall health.  

The exact nutrients in nuts vary considerably. An ounce of almonds contains 3.4 grams of fiber, while cashews have only 0.9 grams. Almonds have the most protein with 6 grams, while macadamias have 2.2 grams.

Cashews contain 157 calories and 8.6 grams of carbohydrates, while the same amount of macadamia nuts have 204 calories and 3.9 grams of carbs; Brazil nuts have the least number of carbs at 3.5 grams.

Most of the fat in nuts is monounsaturated fat, including omega-6s and omega-3s. Macadamia nuts have the highest amount of monounsaturated fats — 16.7 grams — compared to 2.5 grams in walnuts, and Brazil nuts contain the most saturated fat with 4.3 grams.

For the record the myth that eating saturated fats is bad for you and will cause heart problems, as so many health professionals keep saying, is not true and has been soundly disproven.

More Benefits of Nut Consumption

People who eat a lot of nuts don’t tend to experience significant weight gain, or weight loss, either, according to another meta-analysis of 33 studies done in 2013.

Other studies show that eating more nuts may decrease your risk of other chronic conditions and diseases including high blood sugar, colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer and pancreatic cancer.

Micronutrient Content of Nuts

Almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E as well as riboflavin, magnesium and manganese, and are high in fiber.

Eating a handful a day may help to improve your health; help people who are overweight achieve their weight loss goals and lower blood pressure; and can help people with Diabetes.

Pistachios also contain high amounts of fiber (3 grams per ounce), and they are also a good source of vitamin E and magnesium. Besides helping to optimize your cholesterol, they can help improve several aspects of heart health.

Brazil nuts are a fantastic source of selenium which is critical for the production of key anti-oxidants and supports detoxification and is directly linked with 24% reduction in cancers of all types with even more potent protection for certain cancers including breast, colon, prostate, and thyroid cancer.  In addition, as many as 1 billion people worldwide may be deficient.

•  Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, making them beneficial for the prevention of coronary heart disease. They help improve blood flow, and are also linked to increased deductive reasoning.

Peanuts, being a legume, may come with large amounts of extra oils that are not good for you. This is particularly true in peanut butter, with the unnecessary addition of sugar or worse, so always make sure your nuts and nut butters are free of these.

How to Prepare and Eat Nuts

While nuts can help improve your health the key is not to overeat them – you only need a small amount — say one-third cup per day.    Also, it is important to see what is added to nuts and how they are prepared.   

Try to avoid added oils which is often the case with nuts – in most cases these decrease the benefits of the naturally occurring fats in nuts.   Added sugars such as honey (honey roasted) also decrease the benefits. 

If you like roasted vs raw the best option is to roast them yourself, but if that is out of the question stick with “dry-roasted” to avoid those extra added fats.   To roast your own pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and place the nuts on a sheet and bake for 5 – 10 minutes then allow them to cool.
As with ALL foods organic is always the best choice to minimize your exposure to pesticides, chemicals and other toxins.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Branched Chain Amino Acids for Improved Performance and Health

Branched Chain Amino Acids aka BCAAs  are made up of three essential amino acids:  leucine, isoleucine, and valine.    Amino Acids are what all proteins are made of, and essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body – they must be consumed in your diet.     Branched Chain Amino Acids BCAA’s make up 40 percent of the daily requirements for all nine amino acids.   

As the name implies BCAAs have a branched chain that simplifies the job of converting each amino avid into energy during intense exercise.   The make up about 35 percent of all muscle, and the more BCAA’s a muscle contains the more they will be used for energy which slows the breakdown of muscle.

BCAA’s are contained in many proteins including meat, fish, chicken, eggs, and in very high quantities in whey protein.    They can also be taken in supplement form which has the advantage because free form BCAAs bypass the liver and gut and go directly into the blood stream quickly upon ingestion.

Is BCAA Supplementation helpful or necessary?
The greatest benefits for muscle building and maintenance seem to come from maintaining a high enough overall protein intake (1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight) AND having a high BCAA content along with effective resistance training.

That being said there are some very real benefits to BCAA supplementation:

BCAA’s increase muscle protein synthesis – Taking BCAA’s with resistance exercise results in maximal protein synthesis because they both trigger the MTOR signaling pathway which is essential for building muscle.  Supplemental BCAA’s also minimize muscle loss during times of inactivity, injury or illness.   Now an even better supplement for this purpose is HMB which is an amino acid derivative of the BCAA Leucine.    In fact, it is so powerful in this respect that is often given to cancer patients to minimize loss of lean tissue.

Leucine in particular can increase protein synthesis by as much as 145 percent when taken after strength training, but taking it as part of a complete BCAA supplement will provide even more benefits.  A ratio of 2 – 4 to 1 parts leucine to the other BCAA’s provides optimal benefits.

For aging adults BCAA’s are very important because muscle loss known as sarcopenia occurs with aging and it becomes increasing hard to maintain an anabolic, muscle preserving environment in the body.  This combined with lower levels of activity and a tendency towards reduced overall protein intake can create the perfect storm for significant losses of muscle mass.

Specifically, BCAAs with 40% leucine have been sown to elevate protein synthesis in seniors in a dose depending fashion.

BCAA’s support fat loss – in particular taking BCAA’s during dieting or fasting can help increase fat loss while helping to maintain muscle mass.   For those on a low carb or ketogenic diet BCAA’s mixed with MCT (medium chain triglycerides) provide an ideal pre-workout shake that will not raise blood sugar or insulin but provide quick and sustained energy during workouts while minimizing muscle breakdown.

BCAAs can help maintain proper hormone balance during intense training.   A study showed that taking 6 grams of BCAAs daily resulted in higher testosterone to cortisol ratio.    The BCAA group also showed lower levels of inflammation.       This means they help to maintain an anabolic, muscle building environment while attenuating the negative effects of stress from working out.

BCAAs can also increase endurance and decrease fatigue – This is where BCAA’s really shine!  Research has shown that BCAAs can be burned for energy and enhance the ability to burn fat – both of which directly improve endurance and decrease fatigue.  BCAAs also minimize fatigue by inhibiting the uptake of tryptophan into the brain which lowers serotonin temporarily.    Fatigue is a mental phenomenon caused by the brain.    In one trial people who took BCAAs for three days and then did an exhaustive exercise test had 17.2 percent greater resistance to fatigue.

BCAA’s Decrease Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - Studies have shown that BCAAs reduce DOMS allowing people to train intensely more frequently.

BCAAs are used medically to treat liver disease; prevent muscle loss with aging, illness and injury; and reduce mortality with cancer.  They also help increase the formation of mitochondria (the energy producing organelles of cells!).

There are many effective BCAA supplements but one stands out among the rest:   Scivation Xtend BCAAs are research proven and available from Amazon and Vitamin Shoppe.  

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Reciprocal Inhibition and Why It is Important!

Reciprocal Inhibition is the process where one muscle inhibits the action of another muscle.   There are many examples but one of the most important examples is the Hip Flexors and the Gluteus Maximus (aka “Glutes”).      These two muscle groups work in tandem in human movement:  one flexes the high and the other extends the hip.     So they function as a team and they are always “talking” to one another through the nervous system.

When one gets turned on it turns the other one off!    This is REALLY important or we would not be able to move and this is happening all over your body as you move all the time.   Another great example is the bicep and tricep – the bicep flexes the arm and the tricep extends it and to get movement ONE must turn on and the OTHER must turn off!

Now that we understand Reciprocal Inhibition lets learn how to use it to our advantage to create more mobility and stronger muscle activation!  

Most of us spend a lot of time sitting with our hips flexed while at work, while driving and flying, and while relaxing watching TV or eating.     When our hips are flexed our hip flexors are shortened, and they get used to being in this position.     This can create a challenge in several ways including causing low back pain (since they connect to the low back and the upper thigh), and this can prevent the glutes from being activated properly because if they hip flexors are shortened the glutes get deactivated!

So it is very important to stretch the hip flexors every day in order to return them to a proper length which prevents low back pain AND allows the glutes to activate maximally.  Here is a great article showing 4 hip flexor stretches with video that are easy to incorporate into your routine:

Ideally you should do them at least once and preferably 2 – 3 times per day but DEFINETELY before workouts since maximizing glute activation is key for getting the glutes stronger, preventing injury, and toning the glutes!  

Reciprical inhibition also works the other way meaning that the harder you contract one muscle in a pair (say the glutes) the more the other muscle relaxes!    So some of the best dynamic stretches involve deliberately contracting one muscle (like the glutes) during a stretch of its opposite – like the hip flexors.

Try it – it really works!