Wherein I attempt to share useful advice

So needless to say, being injured has been an interesting (albeit unpleasant) experience. This bizarre cycle of losing tons of fitness through excessive resting and then re-injuring myself as soon as I try to start back up again — that has gotten very old very quickly.

I’ve run into three problems:

1. Diagnosis — I really don’t have the problem figured out completely. I wasn’t sure if I just strained a muscle (I was thinking soleus) or if I straight-up tore something (like a vertical tear in the achilles or something).

2. Re-injury prevention — Because I didn’t know what I did, I’m not clear on how I can avoid re-injuring myself. That’s the thing: for the first few weeks, I wasn’t sure if it was a result of running and cycling, running and swimming, just plain running, or even just plain cycling. I’m still not 100% certain how I did it in the first place, and that makes it pretty tough to avoid doing it again.

3. Rehab — It’s really easy for you to play armchair physiotherapist and say, “Duh—stop running, moron!” But newsflash: it’s an injury in a largely tendinous region of the body. That means it’s difficult to get a lot of blood flow in there, and when it’s hard to get blood flow, it’s hard to heal. So to some degree, I need aerobic exercise to keep a higher rate of blood flow. The other question is, do I put heat on it (like I would a muscle strain) or do I ice it (like I would a tendon injury)?

Fortunately, in the middle of all of this, the world’s finest exercise science and sports nutrition minds were convening a conference in Spain. And since it’s 2015, that meant I got to follow along via Twitter. Asker Jeukendrup had to make things one step simpler when he took all of the cool info I saw in 140-character tweets and summarized it like this:

Graphic summarizing how to get over an achilles tendon injury.
Holy simple, right?

Being the self-diagnosing hypochondriac that I am, and since I couldn’t get an appointment with a running doctor until December, I decided to start treating it like a tendon injury. I’m downing gelatin and vitamin c, and I’m trying to avoid impactful exercise.

So I had a recovery regimen to commit to. Then I read Born to Run (which, I should mention, was a brutal hatchet job on Ann Trason — but that’s a different story), and I started wondering about whether the new pair of Nike Pegasus shoes I got last Christmas are playing a role. Christopher McDougall, of course, hangs out with Jon Krakauer and therefore doesn’t have a lot of credibility in my book. But he’s not the only one out there who has suggested running shoes might play a role in the high rate of injury among North American runners.

The other day, I found myself in the mountains with a group of people leaving on a little nature hike. I’d talked them into doing it on the lower elevations of the Aspen Grove-Mt Timpanogos trail. After moseying along for the first mile with the group, I got an itch, poked my way to the front and took off on a little jog up the trail. When I got to the turnaround point, I didn’t feel like turning around—so I didn’t. I kept going.

It wasn’t until I’d gotten about three miles and 1,800 feet up the trail that I decided to call it a hike. By then, I could see the summit far above, with the clouds hovering, brooding over the snow-covered dampness of the mountain. So I bounded back down, fully expecting to have worsened my injury.

To my surprise, the next day my calf felt pretty good. I’d even felt some tightness while I was headed up, but that was all gone when I woke up the next morning. The familiar soreness in my gluteal and vastus muscles was back—and that just plain felt awesome.

But it got me wondering about trails. Maybe there’s still something I can do on trails. Maybe snowshoe season will be nicer to me than I expect. We’ll see.

The Headlines Are Alive …

… with the sounds of high fructose corn syrup.

So what’s so bad about HFCS? Is it really any worse than table sugar? Aren’t they practically the same thing? Does it really have anything to do with people gaining weight? Why do people lose so much weight just by giving up soda? I don’t have all the answers … but if you read between the lines, you can probably figure it out.

Earlier today I came across the biggest “duh” non-surprise headline from the NY Times: “High-Fructose Heart Risks.” If you’re someone who doesn’t care to click and read it yourself, fret not, because I’ll summarize for you:  One study suggests that high-fructose corn syrup — even when consumed in smaller amounts over a short period of time — may have deleterious effects on your cholesterol. In other words, you may not have to drink very much HFCS-laden soda pop to trash your health.

Why would I say that’s not much of a surprise? Well, it wasn’t that long ago that Princeton researchers discovered mice could get fatter by eating HFCS than by eating table sugar. And as the folks who made the movie King Corn (which I still haven’t completely watched) learned, the increased consumption of high-fructose corn syrup seemed to magically coincide with the rise in obesity in the United States. (The corn growers argue that HFCS consumption has now fallen but obesity hasn’t, thus demonstrating a lack of correlation. But that observation seems to ignore the fact that becoming un-obese is pretty difficult to do once you’ve achieved it.)

A screen shot from Dr. Lustig's presentation — fat storage from fructose vs. glucose.
A screen shot from Dr. Lustig’s presentation — fat storage from fructose vs. glucose.

Dr. Robert Lustig, a prominent (and biased — he’s written and profits from books about sugar) university professor, says that fructose must be processed through your liver, where fat is made, rather than directly to your cells like glucose and starch. But he also says there is no difference between HFCS and table sugar, because both are about equal parts fructose and sucrose. Dr. Asker Jeukendrup, in a video he made for Gatorade, says “fructose is a lot slower” than other sugars. I’d imagine if Gatorade wasn’t funding the video, he’d explain that fructose — combined with the natural fibers in fruits — is slower, whereas, when you take out the fiber, it still goes to the liver, but it gets there a lot faster.

So is HFCS solely responsible for the obesity epidemic? No, I don’t think so — not independently anyway. There’s also been a bit of an inactivity issue that has come with it. Together with trans fat, HFCS and the invention of the personal computer seem to have created the perfect storm. And when you have multiple causes for a problem, you can’t expect to have a single, one-size-fits-all resolution.

But one thing you can do is to start reading ingredient labels. When you do, you’ll be surprised how often you see HFCS. Try finding a loaf of bread without any HFCS in it — not an easy task. Then make a commitment: Don’t buy it, and don’t eat it. Stay away from anything that you know contains HFCS. Chances are, you’ll still eat some of it, but you won’t do it knowingly. If you don’t buy it, you won’t eat it, so don’t buy it.

This information does not constitute medical advice. This is all my opinion … so don’t be a spaz about it!

Exercise and Weight Loss, part 2

So my blog’s been getting a lot of traffic from Russia lately … not sure what that’s all about, since I’m not using the Cyrillic alphabet. I’m hoping my blog doesn’t get commandeered by pirates.

Anyway, if you don’t know who Asker Jeukendrup is, he’s one of the foremost names in nutritional science, not to mention an Ironman triathlete. The other day, he started posting some really interesting infographics to his Twitter feed. But the one that caught my eye most was this guy:

Graph answering the question, "Are you or aren't you a fat burner?"Pretty fascinating stuff. As you can see, the point he’s making is that not everybody burns* fat at the same exercise intensity, although you can pretty reliably say that when someone really kicks it into high gear, their fat substrate usage drops.

It was pretty interesting to see in graphic format, but what was really striking to me was the text he tweeted with it: “Are you a #fatburner? Some people are. Some people aren’t, even if corrected for diet & other factors.”

The trouble with “to be” verbs is that they suggest you’re either a fatburner or you aren’t — and that there’s nothing you can do about it. And when you let people take a fatalistic viewpoint — i.e. blame it on their genes — they throw up the white flag of surrender pretty quickly.

Every year, when my employer tests employees’ wellness metrics, I hear people in the hallways talking about how they must have a genetic predisposition toward high cholesterol or obesity or whatever. And maybe they do. But unless you’re a really extreme case, there’s a pretty good chance that you can do something about excess belly fat.

Obviously, I wasn’t the only person wondering about this Twitter post, because, if you read a few posts below this infographic, you get this little insight:Asker Jeukendrup says that fat burning is trainable after all.And above that one, you get this: Asker says the average mom needs to just get out and get active to burn fat.The point of the post was not, “Are you or aren’t you a fatburner?” It was that some people burn fat at different exercise intensities than others, and some have a long way to go before their bodies are trained to burn fat at all. Your body’s ability to burn fat is going to depend on certain lifestyle decisions you’ve made in the past. If you’ve spent years overeating and being relatively inactive, your body might have some adaptations to make before you can really get the fat burn going. If you participated in a high-intensity sport in the past, your body may have may adaptations that affect your ability to burn fat now.

But that was the whole point of my previous post about aerobic conditioning: To get your body burning fat, you need to make the adaptations that come with improve aerobic fitness. Will you get ripped or cut on aerobic fitness alone? Maybe, maybe not. Will you lose tons of weight? Regardless of whether you do or you don’t, you’ll get healthier by adding a habit of regular aerobic exercise to your life. And thus far, the science says that if you want to lose belly fat, aerobic exercise is the way to go.

What I thought was even more interesting was this other infographic he posted: Graph showing that low intensity is better for burning fat than high intensity exercise, and that eating carbohydrate beforehand reduces fat burn during your workout.Now, obviously, I like this one because it backs up what I was saying in my other blog post: high-intensity exercise, such as lifting weights or sprinting, taps into fat less than moderate-intensity exercise. But there’s another important element here: the fact that eating carbohydrate within an hour before your workout lessens how much fat you use in that workout. So there’s a tip for you — if you’re trying to reduce body fat, don’t eat carbs before your workout.

Obviously, there’s more to the subject of fat loss than I can squeeze into this one blog, so I’m going to save some for later. Bottom line: Don’t give up on exercise and diet for weight loss. Just recognize that it might take more effort and time than you might’ve expected.

*Before you go into a conniption over the usage of the term “burn” here, yes, I read that article about how fat isn’t really burned but exhaled. But for the record, there is still heat resulting from that chemical interaction, so the term “burn” isn’t completely without justification. Just sayin’.

The Indignity of the Bonk (aka, the “hunger knock”)

My wife set a new personal best in the 5k this morning. She’s my new hero. Cadel Evans just won the Tour de France. Go Cadel.

I, on the other hand, didn’t have such a great athletic day. I set off on a 40-miler—what shouldn’t have been such a big deal. Of course, I knew it would include a whole bunch of climbing along the way. And I should probably mention that I’ve become the epitome of a short distance specialist in recent years. I train for hour-long races because I don’t have to spend my whole Saturday preparing for them.

The first part wasn’t bad—a few strength-endurance climbs past the hill I usually use for hill repeats. The trouble is, after I get on top of those climbs, it’s all rollers from there out: up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, etc.

The last roller was particularly brutal. It lasted for at least five minutes before I got to the summit. Finally, I was overcome with relief when I came to the end of the pavement at 20 miles in, which was to be the turnaround point of my ride.

There, I bumped into another rider who shares my first name. Nice guy. We got to chatting, and I discovered he was riding an $11,000 titanium bike. Awesome, but ouch, is that ever a lot of money. Anyway, we were yapping about LOTOJA and the Ultimate Challenge and this and that, so I figured I’d just ride with him. Now, bear in mind that it was rollers there, so it was also rollers back. Up and down, up and down we went. When we went on the downhill, he’d gap me a little, so I started tucking in behind him. When we came to a hill, I’d roll back up beside him and resume talking his ear off about it. He was a good sport about it, but I have to wonder if he’d have preferred a quiet solo ride.

After perhaps a half-hour of hard-easy rollers, we got to the descent and started rolling down at a decent clip. But that’s when it happened: despite not really pedaling, I found myself bonking. Weird. I’d only brought water along for the ride, so I guess it wasn’t a surprise, but still, on the descent? Weird.

I rolled up to my riding buddy, told him I was bonking and said, “I’m going to let you go; have a great ride.” He said goodbye, and I watched him pedal off into the distance ahead of me.

Fortunately, the rest of the ride to my house was downhill, so I figured I could coast most of it. Still, I found myself overwhelmed by bonk on the way down. Yuck.

Have you noticed that when you’re bonking, everything feels like an insult? Everything. For some reason, the road was coated by this sandy dirt, and when the semi trucks would zip past going the other direction, they’d kick up a cloud of this dust. It would hit me in the face and sting a little. For whatever reason, I was feeling a little humiliated by this whole scenario, but, since I was riding without a cell phone, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. I just slowly coasted and then spun my way back to my house, daydreaming about pizza—always pizza—along the way.

When I walked in the door, my wife asked, like she always does, “How was your ride?” This time, my response was, “I’m completely bonked. I need something to eat.” I quickly downed a couple of bite-size Toblerone bars, poured myself a glass of milk, opened a granola bar and started munching. I inhaled a dozen crackers, sliced off a good-size chunk of cheese and sucked up a few fruit snacks. I swear fruit snacks are like bonk medication. For you hypoglycemics who have to deal with this on a regular basis, my condolences.

I followed my eating binge with an hour-long nap and a shower, part of which I took sitting down. I’m feeling better now, but, ugh, I’m not exactly itching to get out and do another long ride again anytime soon.

Okay, so it’s been a while …

Why am I blogging now? So I can rant and rave about something.

Already, so here’s the deal: Losing weight is not a priority for me. I’m actually about two or three pounds lower (today, anyway) than I’d like to be. That probably means I’m shy on muscle mass at the moment. BUT, I know weight loss is a huge priority for a lot of people out there, so I just wanted to throw out my opinion on the subject:

First off, I think people place WAY too much emphasis on weight. Look, weight is ONE measurement for health. BMI is another. Neither of those gives you anything more than a narrow perspective of health, however. You can be low-weight and still be incredibly unhealthy. Trust me; I’ve seen it. So step one here is to quit worrying about the bathroom scale so much—if you’re like me, your weight will vacillate by two pounds every night anyway.

Next, I keep reading these web sites that promote low-carb lifestyles. They seem to think the cause of obesity is carbohydrate. Well, I’m sorry, but the human race has been eating carbs for THOUSANDS OF YEARS, and the obesity/overweight epidemic is maybe 30 years old. "But Caloi," you say, "our ancestors were also more physically active than we are." Well, there’s your solution then: Don’t cut the carbs, increase the activity.

For some reason, I feel like this advice falls on some deaf ears sometimes. People seem to want to know what the minimums are when it comes to exercise—what’s the minimum amount of exercise I can put in and still gain the health benefits? I’m sorry if you’re someone who’s asking this question, but my answer is that if you’re going for the minimum, you may as well forget about it. For you to really, truly benefit from exercise, you need to enjoy what you’re doing and you need to do it often. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it often enough. If you hate treadmills, forget it. You need something you can stand to do for HOURS before you get sick of it. Those skinny cyclists and runners you know aren’t putting in the minimum. They’re putting in hours of exercise. They’re so compelled to do it, they’ll keep doing it even after they break bones and get told not to do it by their doctors. They sincerely enjoy doing it.

What kind of exercise should you do? That’s partly up to you, but it’s also partly up to your body. Bear in mind that the amount of muscle fiber you have will change how well you react to certain types of exercise. If you’re packed more with Type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers, you’re going to run yourself into the ground trying to run marathons. Fast-twitchers are more prone to inflammation. On the other hand, if you’re a Type I (slow-twitch) kinda guy (or girl), you probably won’t ever see the results from lifting weights. Most of us are somewhere in between, so most of us should be doing a little of both—endurance/cardio and strength/power. You’ll reach your optimal shape with a combination of both.

If you want to look at improving your eating habits, look for something that is younger than carbohydrate. In my opinion, there are really two or three ingredients you ought to watch out for in foods. These are:

Trans Fat otherwise known as hydrogenated oils. If you see hydrogenated anything oil on the label, put the food down and back away slowly. Don’t buy it so you won’t eat it.

High-fructose corn syrup or HFCS if you prefer. It’s kinda freaky that high-fructose corn syrup was discovered at about the same time as the beginning of the obesity epidemic, and it’s a bit wacky that even the experts know that the body doesn’t process HFCS the same as it does other sugars.

Truth is, I’m also not a fan of caffeine or aspartame, and I avoid them like the plague. It’s my opinion, but your body knows what to do with sucrose and even fructose—it doesn’t know what to do with aspartame. Caffeine will just mess up your sleep cycle and force an unnecessary high on your body. I’ve also read it can lead to heart problems.

So that’s my little treatise on health. I hope you’ll take it for what it’s worth, go eat some bread, stop dieting, and ignore that Atkins-funded moronic study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Annual Health Exam

Just like the past two Novembers, I had my insurance health exam just yesterday. I was disappointed with some results and pleased with others, but all in all, there weren’t really any dramatic changes—and that was a bit of a let down.

Perhaps most interesting, my blood pressure ‘worsened.’ See, I have a thing with needles—they freak me out. I can even sit there and let someone put it in, but I get really tense when it happens. I sorta freak out on the inside. Go figure, immediately after being poked with a needle, I was shuffled into the blood pressure line. I asked the nurse to check it twice for my convenience. The first check showed 140/90—right on the line to be considered hypertensive. But the second check (administered immediately after the first check) was already down to 134/84. Usually, in any other doctor’s office, my blood pressure is more like 112/72-ish (even when I got my wisdom teeth removed earlier this year), so I’m going to chalk that one up to test or needle anxiety.

I was a bit weirded out when they decided to do a bodyfat analysis. Just two weeks ago, I checked on the hand-held bodyfat analyzer at the gym, and it gave me about 7 percent. For my insurance exam, I registered 13 percent. Just today, I checked at the gym again and it was more like 10 percent.

The part that really surprised me was my cholesterol. I’d been eating ‘healthy’ for the entire year just hoping to bring this number down from last year. Last November I registered a 126 for LDL, a 49 for HDL, and a 193 for total cholesterol, so I was hoping to beat these numbers. This year, my LDL was 123—pretty much the same—my HDL was an incredible 61 (I have yet to talk to another male whose HDL was higher than 50), but my total cholesterol was 201 (!). My blood sugar, which changes from day to day anyway, was up to 91, while my triglycerides, which weren’t checked last year, were a mere 87.

So when you get done with your tests, they steer you into a room with a consultant to tell you how to ‘improve.’ Our nurse started by asking about the bodyfat numbers, which evidently didn’t get recorded, so I told her about my conundrum with the differences from one week to the next. Her reply, "Oh, well, usually only athletes have bodyfat percentages as low as 7 or 8—marathon runners and that sort of thing." I was pretty disgusted with the system by this point, so I just sort of rolled my eyes while my wife tried to explain to the woman that I work out WAY more than I need to. I suppose I need to run marathons to get my normal bodyfat numbers back.

Next, she tried to instruct me about lowering my total cholesterol. "That’s usually accomplished with dietary changes …" I cut her off to save time, "I’ve already tried that. It doesn’t look like it worked." I suppose I was a bit rude, but I was feeling pretty impatient with it at this point.

Two thoughts:

1. It’s possible that I messed up my bod by eating a bunch of unhealthy foods the night before. We were invited over to a Sunday night pre-Thanksgiving feast with a few other couples, and I had plenty of chicken, potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie, etc. Still, I would that that would only affect my blood sugar and perhaps my triglycerides (again, my blood sugar was high, but the triglycerides were very very low).

2. I’ve read a few things in recent months suggesting that extremely carb-filled diets (probably including my own) tend to promote internal inflammation while diets higher in veggie content tend to reduce it. I’m not talking about vegetarian diets, by the way—this has nothing to do with meats. But here’s my thought process: cholesterol is basically just your body’s resurfacing agent for your vascular system. It exists to fill in the cracks when your blood vessels are damaged. Damage is probably related to inflammation. Perhaps my LDLs are higher because I’m eating a diet that’s promoting inflammation in my blood vessels. Perhaps if I ate more veggies, I’d fix that problem.

Trouble is, I’ve never really been a huge veggie fan. I suppose I’ll have to think this over and perhaps do some experimenting. Hmmmm.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.

Health Blogging?

I’ve been a bit of a health nut in recent months. Truth is, I’ve been reading a lot about certain health subjects for the sake of my job as I’ve been asked to write about certain health subjects lately. It’s been pretty interesting. My wife thinks I should’ve majored in health science in college since I’ve become so consumed with the subject.

So I got thinking maybe I ought to write about that on the blog once in a while. Usually, I shy away from it because, hey, I’m no health professional—I only earned a B+ in my last biology class, and that was all the way back in 2002—and people don’t always find this stuff as fascinating as I do.

That said, I’ll probably still go off on the subject from time to time because, hey, sometimes a blogger needs material, right?

Figured I’d make that public.

P.S. Boz, thanks for the cycling stuff. I watched most of it last night—of course I had to rewind and watch the time trials a few times.