Sunday, June 25, 2017

What does "Grass-Fed" Meat Mean?

If you shop for the food in your family you have probably started to see the term “Grass-Fed” on more and more meat products.   You may have wondered what it means and what significance it has for human health.

To make it more confusing this term is often thrown in with other terms such as “Organic” and “Grass-Finished”.       To understand all this let’s start with talking about Grass as opposed to Grain Fed.     Cows and other Ruminants including cattle, goats, sheep, giraffes, deer, moose, and caribou to name a few have a natural diet based on what they have eaten for hundreds of thousands of years.     Their bodys' and specifically their digestive systems were shaped by evolution to eat green plants!

For thousands of years that is what they did eat, but in modern times cattle farmers learned that feeding a ruminant grains and corn will put weight on them much faster than their ancestral diet of green plants consistently mostly of grasses.      This translates to quicker time to slaughter, lower costs, and higher profits for the farmer!  Grain and corn is the metabolic equivalent of feeding cows a diet of “Twinkies” with all the consequences.      In addition, grain fed cows have a particular taste and Americans in particular have become used to it and partial to it.

Unfortunately, grain fed animals have a very different fatty acid composition than animals fed a grass diet.      Grass-fed cattle contain much higher levels of many beneficial compounds including anti-oxidants, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), Trans-Vaccenic Acid (TVA), Trace Minerals, and vitamins.      

The worst part is that most meat is not just grain fed it is injected with hormones and antibiotics that also speed up weight gain and the corn and grain is very low quality and heavily sprayed with pesticides so you’re eating tons of toxins when you consume meat raised this way!

Omega 3 Fatty Acids are essential fatty acids as our Omega 6 Fatty Acids meaning we must consume them and cannot manufacture them in our bodies.   We need both in a balance.     Unfortunately the American diet is way too high in Omega 6 fatty acids and this has big-time consequences to human health (see this previous blog post to understand the need for lower intake of Omega 6 Fatty Acids and Higher intake of Omega 3 Fatty Acids and how and where to get both - )

Anti-Oxidants are crucial for health and grass-fed meat has much higher levels of carotenoids like Beta-Carotene and others.    Carotenoids are fat-soluble meaning they tend to get stored in fats making the fat look yellow.      Yellow fat (like butter from grass-fed cows) is a sign of high nutrient density.    More carotenoids = more antioxidants and more nutrients (plus richer flavor!).  

CLA provides several key benefits including:

Improving weight loss and specifically reduces bodyfat! 
Helps increase lean mass including muscle and bone!
Potent Anti-Cancer Effects
Helps reverse atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries)
Improved digestions
Helps balance inflammation and immune function
Reduces food allergies and sensitivities.

TVA – aka Trans Vaccenic Acid is technically a trans-fatty acid, but unlike man-made transfats which are unquestionably NOT healthy – there are benefits to TVA.    Naturally occurring TVA in grass fed animal products may help lower cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in particular along with lowering triglycerides.  TVA can also be converted to CLA in your body.     Like CLA TVA seems to reduce risk factors associated with heart disease, diabetes, and obesity according to research from the University of Alberta.

Grass-Fed vs Grass Finished

Grass-Fed means that cattle ate nothing but grass and other forage (like hay or silage) for their entire lives.   This means they were never fed grain at any point. 

As the name implies Grass-Finished means the animal was fed grains but was “finished” eating grass before slaughter.    How much time eating grass vs grains and the quality of grains makes a BIG difference.      Just 90 days of grain feeding destroys all the benefits of grass feeding so knowing what the animal ate and for how long is key which is why you ideally buy beef from a farmer you know and trust!    

Alternatively buying meat that is organic AND grass-fed is by far the best option.     Just Organic means the grain fed to the animal was not sprayed with pesticides which is good, but this does not provide the many benefits of feeding the animal a grass diet as described above.

See next Month's Blog for a detailed explanation of the term "Organic" and how to interpret all those differrent lables such as "Certified Organic", "100% Organic", "All Natural", etc.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Do You Really Need to Drink Eight Glasses of Water Each Day?

Everyone knows you need 8 glasses of water each day to stay healthy right?    Wrong!   Of course, drinking water is essential and the best way to get the water you need is by drinking water (not soda, juice, or sports drinks), but it is a misconception that you need to drink 8 glasses per day and that more is always better.    

The National Academy of Sciences recently concluded that most Americans are adequately hydrated.   Direct Quote “The vast majority of healthy people adequately meet their daily hydration needs by letting thirst be their guide.”

Typically, about 80% of your total water intake comes from water and other beverages with about 20% from the food you eat.

Another associated myth is that if you wait until you are thirsty it is too late because you are already dehydrated.   For the vast majority of people your physiological thirst mechanism is triggered before you become dehydrated.

Another myth is that if your urine is yellow or deep yellow you are dehydrated.     This could indicate dehydration but urine color is also strongly affected by other factors including intake of certain vitamins and other chemicals we take in from food and drinks.

Dangers of too much water intake

There is a very real danger from excessive water intake and the number of people affected by this is growing – particularly in sports.   This may all stem from a paper published by the US Military stating that soldier should drink 64 ounces of water per hour in order to improve performance.  It was and still is widely embraced although there is not scientific support for this advice.  Even the American College of Sports Medicine recommends “…drinking ahead of thirst.”   The problem is this can be taken too far and in fact excess water impairs performance and actually can kill someone if it is excessive enough.   It is important to note that data demonstrates mild degrees of dehydration do not impair performance.

Excessive water intake coupled with exercise can result in exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH).   EAH is also commonly referred to as “Water Intoxication.”   In EAH, the body’s cells, including those in the brain, swell with too much water, which can be fatal.    When the body has too much water relative to its salt level, the salt level in the blood drops too low which leads to significant problems.

The Right Strategy for Water Intake

The easy answer to proper hydration is to pay attention to your thirst and drink accordingly.     This applies to sports drinks as well.   Also it goes without saying that not getting enough water is not advisable.  When you do not drink enough water it puts you at a much higher risk for kidney stones and this is one of the most painful conditions there is!   Dehydration can also negatively impact cognitive function and mood.

Dehydration is more common in children and the elderly, and risks of dehydration get higher as the temperature and humidity rise.   During hot humid weather the body sweats profusely but because of the humidity sweat does not evaporate so cooling is not nearly as effective and the body just keeps sweating without much effect on body temperature.   Dehydration is also much more common in extremely cold temperatures below freezing because the air becomes extremely dry and with each breath moisture is lost.     In addition, in cold temperature the thirst mechanism can fail to kick in.     The end result is that dehydration is a very serious risk in prolonged exposure and exercise in cold environments!

So How Much Water Do You Need?

While you probably do not need 8 glasses of water per day – it probably is not going to hurt you in most cases.    Actual fluid intake and needs will vary from individual to individual depending on their size, activity level, and the amount of water present in the foods they eat each day.
However, the take home message is simple – pay attention to thirst and drink when you are thirsty and try to stick with good ole H20 rather than juice or soda.      It is what your body needs without all the extra calories!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Kneeling High to Low Chop - The Best Core Exercise You are Not Doing!

Core stability is a big buzzword in fitness, and for very good reason.     The ability to keep the core stable is essential for proper movement and prevention of injury.      Stability has three aspects related to the planes of movement:

Sagittal Plane Stability – is the ability to prevent flexion and extension of the core from the low back to the top of the head.

Front Plane Stability – is the ability to prevent lateral flexion of the core from the top of the head to the low back.

Transverse Plan Stability – is the ability to prevent rotation of the core from the top of the head to the low back

Stability is about preventing movement – not creating movement!   All muscles can act as stabilizers, movers, or absorbers, but the muscles of the core spend a lot of time preventing movement in many activities from running to walking to jumping.    This is why exercises like the plank are considered functional because the plank is about using core muscles to prevent movement of the core as opposed to exercises like a crunch which is about creating movement.

To have a strong and stable core it is important to perform stability exercises in all three planes of movement.     The plank and side plank do a great job of challenging muscles to prevent movement in the sagittal and front planes, but that leaves the Transverse Plane.    This is significant because the vast majority of injuries occur in the Transverse Plane with Frontal Plane injuries close behind.

It is also important to note that rotational movement (movement in the transverse plane) is fundamental to human movement in general and the generation of explosive force in many activities from Golf to Tennis to Boxing.

One of the best ways to develop rotational stability in the Transverse Plane is doing high to low anti-rotation chops in a half kneeling position using either resistance bands or cable resistance with a rope handle or pole attached.


The anchor point of the resistance band/location of the cable handle should be position up high.     Your body should be facing perpendicular to a line from the handle/anchor point straight down and across your body.     You should be in a half kneeling posture down on one knee (the leg closest to the cable/band should flexed with foot flat on the floor and hip and knee bent at 90 degrees.   

The other knee should be down on the floor (use a cushion or mat!) with shin and top of foot along the ground directly behind the knee.   It is important that the knee is directly under the hip.  It is also important that the spine be held straight with a straight line from top of head through the spine and hip to the knee on the ground.    Extend the spine fully and keep your spine fully elongated throughout the exercise.

Reach across the body and place both hands on the resistance band/rope spread apart with hands shoulder width apart.gripping the band/rope.

Keeping the shoulders and hips facing forward the entire time pull the rope/band directly down and across the body and pause in the bottom position making sure there is no movement to in the shoulders or hips while maintaining a fully lengthened spine.   Then slowly return to the starting position.    Form is VERY important in this exercise.

Here are two great instructional videos:

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Squats and Anatomical Variation Among Individuals

Squatting is one of the fundamental movement patterns everyone should train, but it is very important to understand and consider the effect that individual variations in limb length and anatomical variances can have on exactly how each person can and should squat.

Everyone cannot and should not squat the same way!  Many trainers and individuals try to squat in “perfect” form with feet flat, no heel lift, feet pointing forward, with back upright and straight with butt to the grass but this is not only not possible for some people – it can actually get them hurt!

One of the biggest factors determining how an individual can squat is the relative length of their femur (upper leg bone) relative to their lower leg and upper body length.       In general, the longer the femur  and the shorter the tibia (lower leg) the more a person MUST lean their upper body forward in order to get thighs parallel to floor much less going below parallel.     This puts a TON of stress on the low back and in extreme examples trying to get to parallel is a BIG MISTAKE – swap for another exercise like a lunge or step up – nobody wins when you get hurt exercising!

To gain a really strong understanding of these concepts check out this fantastic article on this subject by Bret Contreras that includes video links to a short, but powerful video presentation on this subject using a stick model:  .     Once you see it you will never try to force someone into a fixed squat pattern again without really thinking it through.      Also check out these videos from Tom Purvis which show this clearly in a way that is very easy to comprehend and 

In addition to limb length differences there can be dramatic differences in the shape of the acetabulum (the hip socket), the head of the femur (ball of femur) and femoral neck angle.   The end result can mean very different squatting mechanics are required.     Here is a great article showing how these differences manifest themselves in squatting: