Monday, 10 December 2012

Carbohydrates and all things sweet!

Oh how we do love Carbs. And so we should these are the nutrients that fuel our very existence, without them we are nothing. Every movement, every thought and every experience is all made possible by the fantastic role of carbohydrates.

I bet it's been a while since you heard somebody praising carbohydrates for the fuel they are! Carbs usually get the bad rap and we are led to believe that any good weight loss plan should be based on minimal if not zero carbohydrate intake. HOGWASH!
The key to a quick fix weight loss, where you shed a considerable weight is totally achievable on a zero carb diet but try and sustain your weight loss, oh but try, try, try. Let me save you the disappointment, it doesn't work. And the reason why it doesn't work is because physiologically it is "HOGWASH" regardless of what any magazine or wafer thin celeb tells you. Physiology is physiology is physiology! No matter what way you try to trick yourself, you can not trick physiology. It's millions of years ahead of us, literally!!!

The only way to lose weight and sustain it is by "a balanced diet" consisting of appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, fats and protein, and regular resistance training exercise which stresses the musculoskeletal system. This will force more muscle proteins (actin and myosin) into the muscle cells, increasing the metabolic demand. The muscles answer to this is to increase the amount of power stations (mitochondria) which will burn more fuel more often and therefor you can sustain your new desired weight.
By changing to a balanced diet which means thinking about the nutrients you consume and opting for foods which enable you to fulfil your functions will cause you to lose weight steadily. If you couple this with resistance exercise twice a week where you target all the major muscle groups with 20 repetitions of a specific exercise twice, your body will adapt to the change and it will change accordingly.
If you are consistent with this new way of living your body will undergo a metamorphosis over a 4-6month period (Yes! It takes time) and your metabolism will alter. So long as you maintain this you won't need to worry about gaining weight even if you fall off the wagon from time to time.
As you understand this process and your body you can begin to add new types of resistance exercise and different regimes but do remember there are lot and lots of ways of changing your body. BUT you can not change how the physiology works. Understand the process, want to change and read the Nike logo "Just do it".

I'm not saying that carbs can be consumed at will without any consequence. Carboholics are the people who generally end up being over weight. There are many types of carbohydrate foods and the one we all need to be careful of are the sugars. The dreaded sugars.
The two main types of carbohydrates are complex carbs (brown rice, oats, wholemeal bread and pasta) and simple carbs (sweets, biscuits, cakes and chocolate). Both types are essentially the same thing or at least we break them down into the same thing in our bodies but the big difference between them is the rate which our bodies can do this.
Simple carbs can be broken up very quickly, the energy is released very fast and it's totally pointless for our bodies to try and burn fats when there are simple carbs around because these are so economical at providing quick energy. However their staying power is so low that 20mins after consumption your energy will crash because they are all gone and it will take a while to start burning the fats so the bodies answer is to crave more simple carbs. The cravings come about because instinctively our bodies know that the only way to get more energy fast is to eat some simple carbs. That's why you never crave brown rice, fish and salad when you are really hungry.
So you have some more simple carbs and the cycle repeats until you eat a good meal consisting of all three macro nutrients. If you get on a daily sugar roller coaster it is very difficult to break it.
Complex carbs are much more difficult to break open and therefore their energy release is much more gradual than simple carbs. The gradual energy release welcomes the chance for the body to burn some fats with these carbs. Remember fats yield more than twice the energy per gram than carbs so it makes physiological sense to do this. If you have a good complex carb breakfast like porridge it will yield its energy over a long period throughout the day and this will reduce the risk of getting onto a sugar roller coaster.

When we eat any carbohydrate our bodies release a hormone called insulin from the pancreas. The role of insulin is to tell every single cell in the body to stop burning fat and to start burning carbohydrate. Remember in "Nutrition 101" I stated that to store carbs we need to dissolve them in water. This is not cost effective and is why we don't store a huge amount of carbs. Fats are not water soluble and are much more economical to store. So any left over carbs get mixed with fatty acids and stored in fat cells, these too are difficult to break up and will not be accessed so long as insulin and carbohydrates are around.

So a good diet consists of all three macro nutrients (Carbs, Fats and a protein) but the complex carbs are a much better choice every time over simple carbs. I know something's in life just aren't fair but here is the catch. Once you get to your desired shape and weight and you incorporate some regular exercise into your life, which no longer seems like a chore you will get away with eating a bit more junk, so long as you return to the righteous path after faltering!


Monday, 3 December 2012

Nothing as it seems! Net Protein Utilisation

This blog entry is a follow up to the entry titled "Protein", the carbohydrate story will follow this entry.
Protein utilisation in the body relies on a very important fact about protein consumption. I stated in early posts that protein is broken into its most basic form of amino acids before it can be absorbed from the gut wall. It's then shipped to the liver when the amino acids are constructed into self proteins. These self proteins are recognised as being friendly by your immune system and a war is avoided. Proteins are a chain of amino acids linked together in a very specific way. If one or more of the "essential" amino acids are missing then the protein can not be constructed. If one or more of the non essential amino acids are missing our liver can construct these by tampering with what it's got.
So what does all this mean?
If you now understand the importance of protein intake and you are trying to ensure you consume enough (1g per 1kg of body weight or 2g per 1kg of body weight if you exercise regularly) on a daily basis it's time to think again!
Net Protein Utilisation means we can only construct proteins with amino acids which total the smallest amount of essential amino acids consumed per meal.
Picture lots of Lego towers of different heights. Some are 8 blocks high, some 12, some 27, some 19, some 14, some 9etc. The smallest tower is 8 blocks high. You decide you want to build a big tower using all the blocks. But there is a catch! You can only use the first 8 blocks of every tower. The rest you have to discard.
In that analogy the small 8 block tower represents essential amino acid. You can use these blocks to build a nice big tower but you can not use more than 8 blocks from the remaining towers.
Then to make matters worse lets say you have 10 replicas of this 8 block (essential amino acid) tower but you have 20 replicas of all the other towers. Now you can only use the bottom 8 blocks from the 10 replicas of all the towers and you must dicard the other 10 or 50% of these towers. That means a lot of protein gets discarded if you are not careful, very careful.

This is why it is important to try and consume more than one protein source at your big daily meal. Say meat, fish or tofu, with some lentils, protein source veg or rice. The more proteins going in together, the higher the Net Protein Utilisation (NPU) and therefore the easier it is for your liver to build proteins.
So when you read a food label that says this food has 20g of protein per 100g this does not account for the NPU. There is a high chance that a lot of this 20g per 100g is unusable protein and therefore it will be excreted. (Once again explaining that calorie counting is so much a waste of time I often wonder why am I even writing about it?) Unless you combine that food with another protein food source. Protein combining is very effective and it usually brings the NPU up quite significantly.
Another way of increasing NPU is by amino acid supplementation. I have a few friends who are gym buffs (which means they love themselves) most of them supplement with amino acids but in true bodybuilder style, I'm not sure they know why they take these little amino acid packs. Most of these have 2g of protein per tablet. So not a lot of the grand scheme of things but very very valuable for increasing NPU.
I try to eat quite well day to day and don't ever supplement. The only exception being when I am in full training for a maratathon when I add some plant based protein to my daily smoothie.
It will never be the point of this blog to tell you what to eat or how to train. What I will try and do is explain how things work so you can make you own decisions based on how you and your body work!


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Running advice for beginners! Consistency

I have been a personal fitness trainer for over 13 years and over that period I must have had conversation about running with hundreds and perhaps even a thousand people. It doesn't matter if  I am out socialising with friends in a pub, at weddings, birthday parties, on holidays, at social events with my children or at home in Ireland visiting my family, I get questioned about running and weight loss all the time. The vast majority of the time I quite enjoy these conversations and hence this blog.

Anybody who enjoys running and considers themselves a beginner or entry level runner usually wants to know how to run faster or longer. Then they usually want me to convince them that they can run a marathon because they just can't fathom this as much as they would like to.
What every beginner needs to understand is that in the absence of any pathological or orthopaedic condition it is very possible to run a marathon. However getting into the physical condition to run 42.2km without harming yourself is not an easy thing to do. If it was easy everybody would run a marathon at least once because of the sense of achievement that comes with finishing a marathon.
I'm not saying that any body with a pathological or orthopaedic condition should not be able to or aiming to run a marathon. However if this is the case then this person should consult their healthcare practitioner before commencing.

Running any distance requires a certain amount of training. This training is aimed at conditioning the heart and lungs, the musculoskeletal system and the gastrointestinal system to full fill the demand that the distance you want to run will place on them. The conditioning process takes time and most importantly it requires consistency.
In an earlier post I explained that the power stations in the muscle cells (mitochondria) shut down if they are not required. The opposite is true if you start to demand more from the muscles. The more and more you run the more power stations you need. You always have a few power stations that are closed but can be opened if the energy demand is high enough (when you open these idling power stations you will have a pink red face, sweat will be flowing out of you and you will be panting like an over excited puppy), unfortunately you can't sustain this for very long because your heart rate will be too high. However if you are consistent with your running you will build more power station making energy easier to access. Therefore you can regulate your heart rate much more because you won't have to pump as much blood to and from the muscles and lungs. Your performance is going to be completely dependant on the number of power stations you have working and your ability to control your  heart rate (heart rate control will be another days discussion).
The power stations all do the same thing but some are better at burning different types of fuel. There are some all round good power stations, some that can burn carbs a little better than fats and some better at burning fats. If you don't use these power stations (mitochondria) to produce fuel they will be shut down and all the workers will go home.

Imagine you are the mayor of a small town. Your town requires a certain amount of energy every day to function so you organise 2 power stations to meet the needs. There are also a few small sites that can produce energy but they are not cost effective, reliable or sustainable. However these sites are useful if there is a one off demand for more energy.
Over a short period your town receives a few contacts to start exporting more and more of the goods it produces. All the residence are excited and every body wants to make some extra money. The energy demands go up and up. You decide that another 3 temporary power stations are needed. You build them, hire the man power to run them and it's worth the investment with the revenue from the exports. The money it costs to run the new power stations is far exceeded by the revenue they create by supplying power to the factories.
If the contracts are completed and no new deals are secured the factories power demand will drop and the power stations are no longer cost effective. The best thing to do is shut the 3 temporary power stations and once again rely on the 2 permanent stations.

You see how this story fits with running. Two mitochondria supply the energy demands of a muscle cell. You start running, demand is increased so you make new mitochondria. These require energy to run but it's worth it for you so long as you run CONSISTENTLY! If you are sporadic and miss a few run sessions then the power stations shut down. You will not make any progress and your ability to run farther will be impossible. 
It's completely normal to miss a training session from time to time particularly if your body is finding it hard to recover. Always listen to your body, think about the adaptations leading to pain and injury. If you need to skip a session don't try and play catch up by squeezing a session in on a rest day. However don't make a habit of missing training session due to laziness, if you do you will shut down some power stations and progress will be impossible.

This is only part of the story behind why consistency is essential. The other half being heart rate control achieved by opening new capillary (new pipe lines) to allow faster fuel delivery to the power stations. In the effort to keep these entries short and simple I will write about this in a separate entry.

Twitter: @flashforfitness #RunSensible

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Why is protein important?

I have been asked specific questions about the macro nutrients I outlined in earlier posts. There seems to be some confusion about their specific function and questions about their necessity in our diet. So I'd like to address each macro nutrient with its own personal post. I'll start with protein because without it we are nothing. 
I would also like to make people aware that this blog is intended to raise people's awareness about the body, how it works and why it fails. The posts are a simplification of some complicated material. There is a lot more to each subject than this blog explains. However with the intention of keeping it simple some of the more complicated interactions need to be pushed to the side. 

Proteins are most notably known as being the building blocks of the body. This is true, however they have many more very important functions too. We can not ingest the proteins that we eat because these would present in our bodies as foreign proteins and our immune cells (our bodies army) would go to war with them, this battle would continue until either one of us was dead. If this event took place at every meal it wouldn't be long before the foreign proteins won the war. 
When we eat proteins our stomach breaks them up into their more simpler component - amino acids. Lots and lots of amino acids tied together make a protein. There are 20  different (food) amino acids in total. Our liver has a unique way of using any protein source to make all the amino acids EXCEPT 9, which are know as "essential amino acids". Essential amino acids means we must eat proteins which are constructed with these amino acids otherwise we can not build the structures correctly. And therefore some structures will be weak or dysfunctional. 
Of the 3 macro nutrients I would suggest that protein is the one we care the least about but is perhaps the one we should care about the most. I think this strange lack of obsession is derived because of its apparent inability to alter weight or body fat. As I explained in earlier posts proteins are not converted to fat and are not used as an energy source so their direct role in weight control is not very much. The majority of people in the western world want to shed a a few kilos "quickly" and this involves obsessing over carbs and fats and ignoring the uber super role of proteins. 
Proteins are used to build structures in the body, to make enzymes (these make things happen), to carry stuff (iron, calcium, magnesium and lots more) around in the blood, to regulate osmolarity (make sure you don't have too much or too little water in you body) and to stick molecules together. 
Proteins make up about 50% of your dry body weight, so are they important? I would suggest "very important. " Proteins provide a rigidity and form to our muscular system. The amount of proteins (actin and myosin) in a muscle will determine it's strength. The more protein you pack in the stronger the muscle becomes. That's how weight training works, you can not grow new muscle cells (the amount you are born with can never increase) but you can pack more and more proteins in which makes them bigger and more firm. 
Picture 3 pop cans lined up. One is empty, the second is half full (half empty if you are a pessimist) and the third is full and unopened. Now you have a cavity block and you want to place in on top of one of these pop cans! Which one do you think is more likely to hold the cavity block? The full unopened one right? I'd imagine the other two would crumble under the weight of the block. Well think of your muscles as being similar. If you pack them up with proteins by doing resistance training and eating good protein they become more like a full pop can. If you spend all day obsessing over carbs and fats, eating rice cakes and drinking hot water, you'll probably lose some weight, have very weak muscles (unable to run very far or very fast), which means a very slow metabolism and therefore it will be impossible to maintain weight loss. 
Weak muscles means you'll have poor performance when running, it will become more and more difficult to reach your goals and exceed your previous times. Muscles that are low on proteins feel like they have small bubbles inside them when you rub your thumb longitudinally along it's fibres (bicep muscle - rub thumb in a direction from elbow to shoulder). 
You will also be susceptible to infections (proteins have a key role in immunity) and sickness. One of the functions of the liver is to make little proteins (soldiers)that can fight and kill bacteria and viruses. If you don't ingest enough amino-acids or the correct types you run the risk of losing the battle because you are fielding a small inequipt army.  
You may struggle with dehydration or overheating when running, causing head aches because proteins regulate water levels in our bodies. You may also have increased demands on your heart  as a result of low blood pressure, causing dizziness, shortness of breath and  many other symptoms. You may have problems digesting food (poor enzymes) leading to tiredness and anaemia. Enzymes are tiny proteins with special capabilities that enable them to speed up or slow down chemical reactions. Poor enzymes means food can not get ingested before its excreeted and you end up with malnutrition symptoms. Another reason why calorie counting is USELESS!
The list is endless and the consequences of inappropriate protein intake can not be stressed enough. 
Runners who do not intake the correct proteins in the right amounts are always going to struggle with minor/major reoccurring injuries, low energy, dizziness, recurrent infections and (perhaps worst of all for a runner) poor performance. 
By stressing the muscles with resistance training 1-2 times per week as part of your running regime you will increase your muscle tone and improve your performance. Taking time to observe food labels for protein content and it's utilisation will enable you to intake the correct amounts of proteins per day. It is recommended that we eat no more than 10% of our total daily calorific intake from protein sources. Plant protein sources will be far healthier than animal sources. 
You know your body, you know what to do! 

The next entry will be similar to this but looking at carbohydrates.


Friday, 16 November 2012

Should I stretch before running or after?

When is the best time to stretch? Should it be before running, after running or should you stretch both before and after? This is a question which will get different answers from a whole array of health care practitioners all of whom claim their way to be the best.
So what's really best? Well first of all we need to discover what you are doing when you stretch. If we can do that you will be in a better position to choose when is best for you to stretch.
The act of stretching is performed by trying to take the 2 attaching ends of a muscle away from each other.  We do this to try and maintain the maximum function in a muscle. Remember if the muscles fibers can not slide over each other in a contraction then the function will be lost. Also if the muscle fibers can not reach their physiological end point you will also have a limited function. Limiting the function of a structure but placing demands on it as if the limits were not there will require adaptation elsewhere to fulfill this function. Adaptation will suffice until one structure along the chain eventually can no longer cope. Then injury will prevail.

We all stretch to limit inflexibility creeping into our bodies, not to increase flexibility. People who want to increase flexibility do yoga and specific stretching routines. I think it's safe to say that nobody every really gains any massive increase in flexibility by doing a 5-10mins stretch routine before or after running. 
When we exercise by running cycling or swimming we repetitively contract and relax our muscles inside their physiological range (the range with no pain or effort required) and this pattern will encourage the muscle to function well within this range. However the muscle can contract and stretch further into that range and should be encouraged to do so to prevent inflexibility creeping into the body. In order to prevent this inflexibility creep we can stretch the muscle to the end (or near the end) of its physiological range. This will require a little effort on your part and you should definitely feel a big stretch in the muscle while doing this. It's a good idea to remember "know pain, know gain" (see previous post) whilst doing this, you don't want to over stretch because this will have a counter active response. And you don't want to stretch so little that you don't reach the physiological end point. Proceed with caution!!!
When we run/cycle we encourage a great deal of inflexibility because the muscles never reach even near the potential range point. They are contracting to propel us forward and relaxing while propulsion takes place on the opposite side of the body. the relaxation period is short and the stretch in minimum, hence the creep of inflexibility. Consumed over weeks, months or years causes massive inflexibility. So it's a really good idea to stretch the big muscles involved in running (Gluteus maximus "bum", hamstrings "back of thigh", Quadriceps "front of thigh", Iliotbial band "outside of thigh", Gastrocnemius & Soleus "calf" and low back muscles) for 30-45 seconds each after finishing the run. 
I don't see the potential gains of stretching these muscles before running because you haven't allowed the inflexibility to creep in before the run. So stretching before the run is not going to do a great deal to combat inflexibility which I stated is what we are all trying to avoid, although most of the time we think we are increasing flexibility. Pre run stretching to prevent injury is not going to reverse the adaptation (as a result of predisposing and maintaining factors) which has preceded the injury. Stretch or no stretch that injury would have happened because the causative factors were not addressed, NOT because you didn't stretch.
However if you are injured or recovering from injury then it is massively beneficial to do some functional type stretches (dynamic movements done in a similar pattern to the exercise you are about to do) to encourage the function of the area before exercise. This type of stretch will preload the fascia (cling film substance around muscles, joints and bones) and allow for smoother muscle contractions. 
A concentrated muscular stretch routine after exercise will be very beneficial in preventing injury and improving performance by limiting inflexibility. An injured person should use dynamic (functional) stretching before exercising and a similar stretch routine after exercise to limit and prevent re-injury.


Monday, 12 November 2012

It's such a PAIN not being able to run!

It's such a pain not being able to run when you are injured, especially if you are training for a race. So is there anything you can do to get back running pain free? Are there things you can do that will prevent the pain returning? And how do you know when to stop?
In the late 70's and early 80's there was a buzz phrase "No pain, No gain" which is now know to be untrue. There are plenty of gains from exercising in a pain free zone and I would promote all training at a beginner and intermediate level to be performed pain free. However there are times at an advanced level where you might need to push into a slightly painful environment in order to maximise the power output you are training towards. It's during these small periods where you must "Know pain, Know gain" as recommended by Lorimer & Mosley (both are Australian neurologists that specialise in Pain) in order to avoid injury. 
If you are a runner or triathlete who feels they are unable to train due to injury then perhaps you need to think again. The following information is in direct relation to a person who is suffering from a mechanical injury resulting in pain. This type of injury really should have aggravating and relieving factors, it should also respond to NonSteroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs and/or pain killers. If the condition is of pathological origin then the following principles may not apply to you so easily.  
As we have seen in the entry "What does it mean when I am injured?" the body becomes injured and the symptoms of pain appear when you have reached the limit of adaptation. You body is failing to function within its usual capacity, you are still asking it to continue as before, eventually some structure will break, which is why you get the pain and dysfunction. Structure and function are completely reliant on each other. If the structure fails (let's say tendinitis, muscle strain, ligament sprain or fracture) then the function of that body part will fail too. 
To give an example, imagine how your calf muscle would feel the day after a training session that involved 20mins running uphill. If you were not used to this sort of training the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) would have micro tears in the muscle fibres and the cling film (fascia) that supports them. These micro tears will not allow the muscle to contract quite as smoothly as usual, which means when you require these muscle to function during an activity like walking they can't because the structure has changed (micro tears) and you need to adapt by walking funny. After a few days, so long as you don't continuously over stretch the muscle (maintaing factor) the micro tears will repair and the function will be restored. But on some occasions the causation and maintaing factors may not be that easy to recognise so the pain and dysfunction lingers, perhaps for a few months. The function can not be restored unless the structure is repaired. 
The first thing for anybody to do that has an injury is to try and identify the initial cause, the specific injury and the maintaining factor if it's not getting better. It is essential to know what caused your injury and what is maintaining the injury if you are to recover. If you have no idea, I would suggest seeing an Osteopath or another manual therapist to discover this. Our bodies have a fantastic mechanism to repair themselves but sometimes the surrounding factors of the adaptation failure (work stress, family demands, training goals, infections, poor diet among other things) prevent this repair process. An osteopath or manual therapist may guide the body back onto this path of repair in order to achieve a speedy or full recovery. 
Assuming you know the causation and maintaining factors, you need to first address these. You need to discover the amount of function you have available in the affected area and you need to stress this in a pain free manner if you want to recover. Pain is a subjective experience which means your pain experience is completely different to anybody else's. How you feel about and respond to pain is determined by how threatening the cause is to you. One of the biggest barriers to recovery from pain is fear avoidance. 
If you really enjoy running but have stopped due to pain and injury. You need to discover if there is any amount of running you can do without pain. Even if it's only 5-10 mins it is very important to do this so long as there is no pain. A complete avoidance of the activity (running, cycling) when you have the capacity to do a small amount without pain is going to stand as a barrier to your recovery and prolong you pain perhaps for months. 
If you run with a club or a group you are probably used to socialising after the run with a coffee or refreshment. I would suggest doing the 5-10min run (or whatever you can manage pain free) followed by joining the group for the social aspect, this you will find goes a long way to over coming the fear avoidance and will keep you motivated to make a speedy recovery. Avoiding running and missing out on socialising with your friends will allow you to focus more on the pain and your inability to run. This will make it more and more difficult to perform the function even if the structural damage is repaired and the function is available. 
If you do this you will discover very quickly that you can do a little bit more each time with out having any pain. However if there is pain it is advisable to stop, continue the techniques you are using to rehabilitate the problem (strapping, ice, heat, manual therapy) and then continue try to maximise the function at the next available opportunity. 
Once you are fully recovered you can combat re-injury by staying aware of the initial causation factor and by not allowing the maintaining factors (whatever they are) to prevent structural repair. If you feel the area becoming symptomatic follow the appropriate guidelines set out by your Manual Therapist, address the cause and continue running if possible. Remember "know pain, know gain", you will know your body and it's limits better than anybody else. If you feel damage is being done then stop immediately, if you feel pain but are still within your functional limits perhaps you can do a little more. Always run sensible. 


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Energy Gels, are they good, bad or ineffective?

If you have endured a long distance race like a marathon, 70.3 Ironman, Ultra Marathon or Ironman in the last decade you'll be fairly familiar with these little packets of sticky gunk. And you will know the difficulty that can arise when trying to swallow this while pushing your body to the limits of cardiac output. So is it worth the hassle?
Like all these things when you are racing you need to discover by trial and error if they will work for you, if you can swallow them on the move and if you can then keep it down. A lot of these gels will repeat on you for about 20mins after ingestion so it is important to find a brand that taste good but also does what it should. So what should it do?
If we look at these from a physiological point of view they are quite interesting. Energy gels are basically small packets of really easy access glucose, the energy stored in these is so easy to access that you can ingest some of it in your mouth. So about 20seconds after opening the little packet your muscles will be burning it up and the energy will be propelling you forward as you run or it will be turning your bike pedals. This happens because a very unique enzyme (these make things happen) in your saliva called amylase. 
All carbohydrates are chains of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. It doesn't matter if the carbs we are talking about are fizzy sweets or brown rice they are all still the same tree atoms, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen but what differs is the strength of the holding chains . 
The chains of very simple carbohydrates are not very strong. Picture these 3 atoms as being rocks of various sizes and picture the chains of simple carbs (energy gels) as being a paper chain which snaps very easy and therefore releases energy very easily. These carbs are already glucose (which is what we use at a cellular level) and they get burnt instantly (I gave analogies of fuel in previous posts, imagine these as burning like tissue paper) but yield energy for a very short time.
However this is where they can help us with one very interesting aspect of physiology and it's why we really only use them in long endurance races or during training for such events.  In the post "Nutrition 101" I said fats yield most energy but it's difficult to get them burning (because they are like logs of wood) and it requires a small amount of energy to do this. When you are a couple of hours into one of these races or a long training session your glucose stores start running low, you will be well into the fat burning zone and you will be burning lots of fuel. Since you need a small amount of energy to keep the fats burning and the carbs (glucose) is running low, the next easiest fuel to burn is proteins (building blocks) which is never a good idea. So to avoid this you can get the gels out!

Picture this; you set off on a 2hr run. For about 10mins you feel great. Then between 12-15mins you start thinking I'll never be able to keep going for 2hrs. Then when you get about 20mins into it you start feeling good again. You cruise along until about the 1hr10min point where you start feeling a bit tired and perhaps your pace begins to drop a bit. So you pop a gel, and you feel great then 15mins later you start to feel the energy drop so you pop another and this continues on a 15-20min cycle until you finish! And then you can refuel for the next session with some complex carbs and fats. 

Now picture this; you are cold so you crumple up a few news paper pages and set them on fire, you begin to heat up but after about 12-15mins you begin to worry that your newspaper is going to run out so you need to burn something else before the fire goes out. So you pop a few logs on your fire which take a few minuets to catch fire but 20mins after you started you have a nice fire giving you lots of heat. You keep piling the logs on and about 1hr10mins after you started you realise that you've put too many logs over the cinders, the flames are dwindling and there is a risk your fire will go out. All your news papers are gone so you take some tissues (energy gels) from the Kleenex box and stuff them under the logs. The flames ignite the logs and the heat returns. 15mins later you pile on my logs but the flames have gone. So you need more tissues (remember the news papers are gone) until you can go to the shop to buy another news paper. 

So Yes these little packets of sheer annoyance have a very important function and they work really well. They will prevent you from burning proteins which means you will recover quicker from a work out. Remember the muscle cells contain the power stations (mitochondria) which allows us to perform faster and longer, breaking these up would be counter productive. 

Next blog will be a break from nutrition and a discussion of PAIN!


Saturday, 3 November 2012

So you want to lose some weight?

Perhaps the largest presentation of injury I see as an osteopath  is mechanical joint strain. The typical areas of injury are low back, knee, neck or shoulder although just about any joint in the body can get injured. Carrying a few extra pounds of body weight is a very large predisposition for mechanical joint pain among other things. Being over weight puts unnecessary extra forces through your joints when you move. All of your synovial joints (any place where you know you have a joint, you can be sure it's a synovial joint) have supporting ligaments, shock absorbing cartilage, force transmitting bones, movement making muscles and message carrying nerves. Any of these structures can become injured and once the inflammatory process starts the pain will too! 
So it's always a good idea to control your weight particularly if you are going to start running and increasing the forces going through your joints. But that's usually easier said than done. 
The first thing I would like to say to anybody trying to lose weight (be it 1 pound or 100 pounds) is that whatever you know about weight loss is probably wrong. This is a topic that gets huge amount of media coverage selling things from, diets named after beaches or a  Medical Doctors to the promise of a " New you in 60 days" with some idiot holding a newspaper or (my favourite) a way of counting calories but still eating junk (like that's gonna work). You get the picture!!!
With all the media coverage and sales pitches trying to get you hooked on the next weight loss remedy it is truly difficult to find the real facts. So here are some facts about physiology, weight loss and maintenance of a stable weight once you reached your goal.
1lb of fat (think butter) has about 3,500cals.
The average male and female expend about 2,000 to 1,800 calories respectively per day. These are rough figures but the point is to understand the process not the actual numbers. 
2 x 1,800 = 3,600 so if a female wants to lose 1lb of body fat she must not eat anything for 2days, in which time the metabolism (see previous entry) will consume a 1lb slab of body fat butter! These figures suggest that weight loss by food control alone is going to be very very difficult. 
Most of the energy we generate in our body is heat, we know from previous entries that carbs and fats are required to generate this energy. So we need to increase total energy expenditure which will require using more carbs and fats for fuel. So the question is how do we do this?
Our muscle cells are at a fixed amount, you can not generate any more muscle cells but you can increase the productivity in a muscle cell. Proteins are the building blocks of our body and we can pack more proteins (actin and myosin) into a muscle cell by stressing the muscle (doing resistance exercise). Imagine each cell being a little village, when you exercise that cell it becomes a small town and in the case of body builders they have turned their cells into big industrial cities (which is why they have so little body fat). 
By increasing over all muscle tone using resistance exercise (to increase muscle cell productivity) your metabolism will increase. Now you as an entity require more fuel to work (you've just pushed a little harder on the car accelerator). If you also control the amount of carbohydrates you eat by reducing (not quitting) unnecessary carbs like biscuits, cakes and chocolate you will have less carbs hanging around for these (small town like) muscle cells to burn and therefore fats will be used more often as energy. These two factors (control of carbs and increase in muscle tone) will allow you to lose weight at a steady rate without starving yourself AND the weight you lose will be more likely to stay off. People doing this always report having more energy, well now you know that is because the fats they are using for fuel yield more than twice the amount of energy that the carbs were giving.
Trying to eliminate carbohydrates or fats from you diet  will enable you to lose weight quite rapidly. But unless you have the will power of a Tibetan Monk the weight you lose will be back on within a month. This is because your metabolism has slowed down instead of speeding up during that process and your muscles are falling apart instead of getting stronger. I'm not suggesting that a person needs to bulk up to lose weight, I am suggesting that resistance exercise is essential. 
The 3 macro nutrients are all very important. Cutting one out is very foolish as the all have specific jobs that we need to function. Without these nutrients you will eventually fall apart.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Energy Systems. What's happening to those macro nutrients when I run, bike or swim?

We have seen from the post "Nutrition 101" that our bodies are programmed to store fat and as a consequence of that we will burn carbohydrate before fat if both are available. Since carbs yield less than half the energy of fats, the question is "how can I access those fats for burning which will yield more energy and make me look in better shape?"
Since this is primarily a running blog lets take running as the example here but the story is the same for cycling, swimming and any other endurance activity.

The muscle cells store a small amount of glucose as does the liver. As we sit in work, lay in bed or watch TV our bodies use these glucose molecules for energy production, the energy is required to keep us ticking over (think of a car with the engine turned on and it's sitting still). This energy equates to our basal metabolic rate (the amount of fuel you will need to put in the car to keep the engine ticking over), as we get up from our desk, climb out of bed or get up off the sofa these muscle glucose stores will be burned up very quickly. The daily activities we do all require energy (remember the car, now you are beginning to press the accelerator) and this energy added to the basal metabolic energy equates to our metabolic rate (or metabolism). If you have eaten any carbohydrates you will be replenishing these stores all the time until you begin to run!!!
So you start running and you feel good for about 10-15mins because you have a lot of easy access glucose to burn. The part of the cell that converts glucose and oxygen into energy is called the mitochondria (think power station) and the trucks carrying the fuel to the power station are full of newspaper, fast burning low yield energy. Then from 15-20mins you feel like crap because your fuel stores are running low and your energy plummets. But then at about 20-22mins (you put some big wood logs on the fire) you start to burn the fats. Now your energy will increase and you will begin to feel good again. This energy surge will now depend on the amount of power stations you have active in your muscles.
If you increase the number of workouts and/or the duration, your muscle cells will build more (mitochondria) power stations and you will (like the Duracell Bunny) go for longer.

If you are new to running you need to understand that this will take some time and most importantly regular running however short the distance. If you are a runner but have taken some time off, the power stations are shut down if they are not used that's why you can no longer run as fast as before or for the same distance. It will take 2 -3 weeks of regular running to get your power stations reopened and fully functional.

If you keep your metabolism quite low by doing very little exercise the carbohydrates you eat will always prevent your fat stores from being used as fuel. This will give you low energy and you will feel tired and cold (newspaper burning does not give off heat for very long) most days. Some of the  carbs that are not burnt will be linked with fatty acids and stored as fats (no need for water). So yes carbs can and will be stored as fats. Excess carbs that have not be burnt or stored as fats are excreted (calories down the toilet). Another reason why calorie counting is an arbitrary weight loss plan.

The next entry I will discuss, how running can be used to lose weight and how you go about maintaining weight loss!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Nutrition 101! Running

As a runner it is important to understand nutrients otherwise you can never develop an appropriate diet to fulfill your demands. A sufficient diet is the first and perhaps most important step in preventing injuries.

To begin with we need to understand that there are 3 macro (large) groups of nutrients. There are carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Everything in your body is a combination of those three macro nutrients, so yes you are what you eat,,, but not really! Because when you eat foods you break them down into micro (very small) nutrients before ingesting them into your body. Once these micro nutrients are ingested our liver and some special cells around the body can build the products they need using these micro nutrients.
Carbohydrates get broken down into simple sugars most notably glucose. Fats get broken down into fatty acids and proteins are broken down into amino acids. This seems like a lot of hard work breaking foods into micro nutrients only to build them back up. However it is essential because our bodies recognise all our proteins (as self proteins) so we don’t attack them with immune cells (antibodies). If we ingest another animals proteins (these would not be self - foreign proteins) we would have an immune response every time we had a meal. “Not Good”. So we break protein into amino acids and rebuild those back into (self) proteins in the liver!
The presence of a foreign is why we get sick (Fever, Pain, Inflammation, Nausea) when we have a bacterial (small organism secreting protein) or Viral (small piece of RNA or DNA with a protein coat) infection. These proteins are foreign and our bodies go to war with them which makes us feel weak and tired.

If we look at the calorific value of these macro nutrients we see that:
Carbohydrates yield 4 cals/gram
Proteins yield 4 cals/gram
Fats 9 cals/gram

A calorie is a unit of energy so measuring calories I believe is a totally arbitrary way to try and lose weight because the end result of each macro nutrient is different therefore the calorie count gets very difficult to monitor. Let me explain!

A calorie (in food terms) is the amount of energy it takes to increase a kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius. So to discover the amount of calories in any food all you need to do is put it in a glass box under a kilo of water, set it on fire and measure the increase in water temperature when all the food is burned and work out the amount,,, or read the label!

Our bodies are programmed to store fat whenever possible, this is a unique mammillary trait to have as much stored energy in case of times of famine, since we now know fats yield the most amount of energy (9 cals/gram) they are the best to store. But what happens if you store too much and there is never a famine??? You get fat!
This programming also means that whenever carbohydrate is available, it will be burnt before the fats. This is achieved by the release of insulin from the pancreas (insulin tells every cell in you body to burn glucose instead of fat). Our bodies do this because fats are not water soluble and carbohydrates are, therefore you would need to carry a lot of water around if you were to store carbs like the way you do fats and with a low yield of energy (4 cals/gram) it just isn’t worth the time.

Carbohydrates are the easiest to burn up for energy (think of newspaper) but don’t last long, fats are more difficult to burn up (think of wood) and last a long time. Proteins are rarely used for fuel and are more difficult to burn than carbs (think of cardboard) with a relatively low yield of energy too.
The first indication that you are burning proteins as a source of fuel is the smell of amonia from your training clothes after you have finished a run or cycle. You may also develop sores at the side of your mouth or mouth ulcers. There are many more signs but these are the most noticeable. You might want to ensure you are eating the correct amount of carbohydrate and fats to minimise this. Proteins are the building blocks of the body and its never a good idea to smash up the blocks in the walls of a building.
Proteins are not stored in the body so whatever is not used is excreted therefore it’s pointless counting those calories!

The next time I will explain how you go about ensuring that you are in fact burning the fats when you are running! Isn't that what we all want to do?

Thursday, 18 October 2012

What does it mean when I am injured?

As runners we are all predisposed to getting injured and sometimes at a slightly higher chance than the sedentary population. But here is the catch,,, runners and fellow exercisers are more likely to recover faster and with better outcome than the sedentary population. Or to put it more simply,,, if a sedentary person gets injured the outcome may well be complicated.
The first implication of any injury or pain is that the body has reached its limit of adaptation. What this means is that at some point something happened which caused your body to alter the way it functions. This may have been a very minor and unnoticeable  event or it may have been something you remember. however something changed and your body would have began to adapt to this change.
If the causation of the adaptation was not resolved (either by your bodies ability to repair itself or by manual therapy) eventually your bodies ability to adapt will fail and injury or pain will be the result.
The initial event is what we refer to as either a predisposing or maintaining factor and this is what we as Osteopaths look for in the case history, it maybe something that can be corrected or it may be something that you have to factor into your lifestyle to avoid further injury,,, let me explain!

If you had a predisposing factor to the injury such as a structural change; slight curve in the spine or a slight leg length difference or an previous fracture then you will need to manage you condition and know your limitations to avoid further injury. However if there are no major predisposing factor and therefore no structural changes in the body as mentioned above, the mechanism of injury will be due to a maintaining factor. Maintaining factors are day to day habits and activities such as sitting with your legs crossed, poor posture and muscle strength, inappropriate footwear, inflexibility or running on uneven terrain to name just a few. You need to correct or remove this factor otherwise you will be prone to multiple injuries of the same muscle or joint OR further injury to more muscles and joints.
Injury by maintaining factors seem to be the most common in practice and they usually yield the best outcome. Often patients present with multiple maintaining factors to injury which they are completely unaware of in day to day life.

I recently had a female patient who came to see me because she kept getting a left calf muscle strain and could only manage a 3km run however she had been comfortable running 12km-15km 3 months previous without any problem. During the case history she explained that she had been a lot busier in work since the injury began. On further investigation this meant that she was giving 2-3 presentations per week whereas before she was doing 1 and often none. She only wore high heeled shoes when presenting and was now spending an estimated ten times the amount of time per week in heeled shoes. She had some osteopathic treatment and began to minimise the amount of time spent in the heeled shoes by wearing flat shoes to and from the presentation venues and within days the injuries began to subside.

That is a brief synopsis of the mechanism behind maintaining factors to injury and unfortunately not all cases are that straight forward but I hope it highlights the importance of being aware of you lifestyle activities in relation to your injuries.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

What am I going to discuss?

I am very interested in the mechanism behind how things work and as a runner and triathlete it sometimes gets quite interesting. I have a lot of material that I want to discuss on this blog. This is a brief list of some of the topics I plan to discuss but please feel free to ask any questions or suggest any topics!

-What does it mean when something starts to hurt?

-Nutrition 101. What is a calorie? Is calorie counting useful and where do people go wrong? What happens to carbs, fats and proteins in the body?

-When exercising what's going on with the energy systems? Which one is more efficient and which one is best for fat burning?

-What is pain, why do I get pain and what does it mean? Is all pain an indication to stop training?

-How do I improve CardioVascular fitness? What are the heart rate zones and why are they important?

-Is weight training beneficial for endurance athletes such as runners, cyclists and triathletes? What type of resistance training is beneficial and how often?

-Is it important to eat or refuel while running?

-Good books about running/training which will get you motivated!

-Any questions about any of this stuff are very welcome!