Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fat Burning Follow Up!

What's the deal with the Fat Burning Zone?

Well, as I wrote in the this post, it's a heart rate zone that utilizes a fuel mix consisting of a majority percentage (50-60%) of fat.

As some comments suggested, 30 minutes of exercise in the lower fat-burning zone will burn an equal amount or slightly more fat than a 30 minute workout in the upper cardio zone, but the 30 minute workout in the cardio zone will burn more overall calories.  In terms of weight loss, burning more calories is best.

Sort of.

While training in the upper end of the cardio zone burns more calories, it is a training zone beginners, unconditioned people, and people who carry excessive weight should generally avoid.  Working out at 70-85% of one's maximum heart rate is strenuous work.  When an unconditioned person attempts to continue working out at this level of intensity, they are likely to feel exhausted, overtrained, and unsuccessful.  They are likely unable to maintain high intensity for a long workout.  They may become more susceptible to injury.  In these cases, they are more likely to drop out of the program from burnout.  Additionally, people who suffer from a variety or conditions like hypertension, obesity or morbid obesity, or heart disease, might be advised against this level of exertion by their doctors.  In these cases, they might instead be advised to build their endurance through longer workouts (up to 45 minutes!) in the "fat burning zone."  In this way, they burn a high percentage of fat calories safely and effectively, and may actually burn the same number of calories as a "cardio" workout of half the duration!  Most importantly, they will feel successful.  Finally, as a trainer, I advise people to pursue activities they enjoy, and some people are simply not interested in high intensity work, no matter how much MORE fat or more calories they can burn. 

Though the number of calories burned in a 30 minute workout in the cardio zone might look impressive on paper, the reality is that high intensity workouts strain the heart, muscles, joints, and tendons, and may not be the best workout for everyone, regarless of caloric burn!  As I once read with respect to exercise and intensity, "Make haste.  Slowly."

As a trainer, I strive to give my clients a roadmap to safe, effective, and enjoyable weight loss and fitness.  I cannot imagine a circumstance in which I would recommend that a conditioned athlete take down the intesity of their workouts to shed some fat!  I might instead look at their nutrition or strength training plans.

Yet, when an unconditioned client begins their journey to safe weight loss, I usually begin by suggesting that their aerobic workouts remain in the "fat burning" zone.  It's a concept that's easy to understand for many people.  It's a location on a chart.  I use the term for lack of a better term, and it's an effective tool for illustrating to people how their body changes as the intensity of their work changes.

The titles of "fat burning" and "cardio" zones are simply helpful misnomers.  They describe, roughly, how the body is consuming fuel.  Posting these guidelines was simply a statement of facts.

The Life of A Carbohydrate

The last decade has not been kind to the carbohydrate.  We've heard that carbohydrates make us fat, they cause the 3 pm "crash", give us diabetes, and according to some, may not even be necessary.  That's quite a list of offenses for one major component of the Big Three Macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates)!  It sounds like carbs are out to kill us!  What exactly did carbohydrates do to earn this ignoble reputation?

The answer is neither short nor easy.  We'd need to take a look at modern farming, advertising, fast food, emotional eating, and processed foods to understand the full scope of this complex issue.  That's a lot of information.  So, let's start at the beginning.  The best way to discover the truth about carbohydrates is to first understand what carbohydrates do when they enter the body, and how the body reacts in the presence of this four-calorie wonder.

What Is A Carbohydrate?

A carbohydrate is a chemical compound of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.  Hydrogen and oxygen are usually present in a 2:1 ratio (H2O), hence the “hydrate” suffix.  They are classified as either simple or complex based on the number of simple sugars in each molecule.  Carbohydrates include sugars, glycogen, starches, dextrin, and cellulose (indigestible plant fiber).

Simple carbohydrates contain either one or two simple sugars bound together.  A monosaccharide contains one simple sugar.  Fructose (fruit sugar), glucose (“blood sugar”), and galactose (milk sugar) are each examples of a monosaccharide.  Disaccharides contain two simple sugars, and include sucrose (fructose + glucose) and lactose (glucose + galactose).

Complex carbohydrates, or polysaccharides, contain three or more simple sugars bound together and include starches and fiber.

How Do Our Bodies Use Carbohydrates?

Our bodies can only absorb monosaccharides (fructose, glucose, and galactose), therefore, we must break down di- and polysaccharides into simple sugars.  From our stomach, they enter the small intestine and then the portal vein.  The portal vein leads to the liver, the location in the body where simple sugars become glucose and then enter the bloodstream.

When glucose enters the bloodstream, the body uses it in one of three ways:

1.      It is burned immediately for energy if blood glucose levels are not stable at 20 grams of blood glucose circulating per hour.

2.      If the body’s energy needs are not immediate, the pancreas releases insulin which converts glucose into glycogen.  The glycogen is then stored as energy reserves in the brain, muscles, and liver.

3.      If glycogen stores are adequate in the brain, muscles, and liver, and there is an excess of glucose, the liver converts the excess glucose into fat.  The fat is stored as triglycerides (blood fat), cholesterol, and adipose tissue (body fat) around the body.  If needed, these fatty tissues can be burned for energy as fatty acids, but they will not be converted back into glucose.

Why Is Fiber Important?

Fiber is a carbohydrate that comes from plant matter.  It is either soluble, which means that it dissolves and enters the blood stream, or insoluble, which means that it remains in the digestive tract.  Both types of fiber are important for maintaining health, but are not sources of energy. 

As soluble fiber moves through the blood stream, it binds to the fatty acids that would turn into LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff).  The soluble fiber + pre-cholesterol is then treated as waste and removed from the system, preventing the synthesis of cholesterol.  A diet rich in soluble fiber may reduce cholesterol by preventing its synthesis. 

Insoluble fibers like cellulose serve two purposes in the body.  They help keep the digestive tract regular by moving bulk through the intestines.  Because it helps insoluble bulk move faster, it prevents some starches from breaking down and entering the blood stream.  Insoluble fiber is important for people losing weight because it does not dissolve, so they will feel full longer, and it helps prevent starches from converting into sugars, thereby regulating blood sugar and insulin levels. 

What Are The Glycemic Index and Glycemic Loads of Foods?

The Glycemic Index (GI) refers to the relative degree to which blood sugar increases after the consumption of food.  Foods are given a value which relates to the amount blood sugar increases in comparison to pure glucose (100).  For example, a raw apple is assigned at GI value of 40.  This means that when you eat a raw apple, your blood sugar will increase only about 40% as much as it would if you consumed pure glucose.

The Glycemic Load (GL) of food refers to the carbohydrates and portion size of a food.  A food higher in carbohydrates like watermelon is assigned a low GL because of its small portion size.

The University of Sydney maintains a comprehensive database of common foods.  You can find the link here.  You can search for food by name and by GI and GL values.

The Harvard School of Health recommends consuming foods with GI values of 55 or below and GL values in the low teens.  While there is much controversy over the value of a diet based on the GI and GL foods, there are a few points that many will agree are universal in the goal to eat more healthfully.

·         Make the switch from:

o   Instant or white rice to basmati or brown, or quinoa, spelt, or slow-cooking barley
o   Instant oatmeal to steel cut or old fashioned oats
o   White bread to whole grain, sprouted grain, or stone ground bread
o   Canned fruits and vegetables to fresh
o   Boiled vegetables to lightly steamed or raw

With respect to grains, a good rule of thumb came from a friend’s nutritionist, “The longer a grain needs to cook, the longer it takes to digest.”

Using the GI and the GL as a tool can help you choose foods which will aid in losing weight or maintaining good health. 

Putting It All Together

Carbohydrates are a necessary and vital part of our daily diet.  As we’ve discussed earlier, the general rule is that carbohydrates should make up approximately 50% of your daily caloric intake.  People with insulin resistance and diabetes may require less, while endurance athletes may require more.  Carbohydrates turn into glucose, which can be burned immediately, or synthesized into glycogen, the fuel that moves our bodies.  When glycogen levels are at full capacity in our brain, muscles, and liver, only then is excess glucose stored as fat.  The source of the simple sugar is irrelevant with respect to the body’s response to glucose.  People with more muscle mass store more glycogen than people with less muscle mass.

Soluble and insoluble fibers are carbohydrates which the body cannot use as fuel.  Soluble fiber helps prevent the synthesis of LDL cholesterol, while insoluble fiber prevents starches from converting into simple sugars and entering the blood stream.  By keeping the digestive tract regular, insoluble fiber regulates blood sugar levels and insulin secretion.

The Glycemic Index and Glycemic Loads of Common Foods are useful guidelines for people looking to improve dietary choices.  Switching to diets rich in carbohydrates from whole, unprocessed grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans will aid in weight loss.  As with all dietary recommendations, portion control is essential.  While these foods are extraordinarily rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, consistently consuming excessive portions is counterproductive to the goal of maintaining good health.

Consuming reasonable amounts of carbohydrates won’t make us fat or unhealthy.  Eating too many unhealthy carbohydrates too often leads to increased body fat, high cholesterol, excessive triglycerides, heart disease, high blood pressure, and increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.  Yet, in the journey back to good health, carbohydrates are an ally.  We’ve learned that the body uses a mix of glycogen and fat to move us, to fuel us, to make us GO!  This means that fat burns constantly in the presence of carbohydrates!  Maintaining regular blood sugar levels will allow your body to burn fat regularly and efficiently throughout the day and can help prevent the onset of diabetes.  You’ll give your pancreas a break when you require less work from it.  Additionally, your energy levels will neither peak nor plummet when you eat regularly.

At a mere four calories per gram, carbohydrates really are the Four Calorie Wonder.

Source: Fitness: The Complete Guide. Fredrick C. Hatfield, Ph.D. International Sports Science Association, Carpinteria, CA. 2010



Saturday, June 25, 2011

Determining Your Maximum Heart Rate, Cardio Zone, and Fat Burning Zone

The following formula is for determining the rough estimate of your maximum heart rate. While exercising, you should try not to exceed this number, as it puts too much stress on your heart

Max. HR = 220 - your age

For example: A 34 year old's maximum heart rate is: 220 - 34 = 186 bpm
If that 34 year old wants to work out in the cardio zone (70-85% max. hr), meaning her body uses glycogen as the majority percentage of fuel, she would use the following formulas:
  • The low end of the cardio zone means that the heart is beating at 70% of it's max.
    • (220 - your age) x 0.7 = low end of cardio zone
  • The high end of the cardio zone means that the heart is beating at 85% of it's max.
    • (220 - your age) x 0.85 = high end of cardio zone
For our 34 year old, the formulas would yield the following results:
  • Low end: 186 bpm x 0.7 = 130.2 bpm
  • High end: 186 bpm x 0.85 = 158.1 bpm
If our 34 year old wants to exercise in the cardio zone, she should keep her heart rate between 130 and 158 beats per minute.

If our 34 year old want to work out in the fat-burning zone (55-70% max. hr), meaning her body uses fat as the majority percentage of fuel, she would use the following formulas:
  • The low end of the fat burning zone means that her heart is beating at 55% of it's max.
    • (220 - her age) x 0.55 = low end of fat burning zone
  • The high end of the fat burning zone means that her heart is beating at 70% of it's max.
    • (220 - her age) x 0.70 = high end of fat burning zone
For our 34 year old, the formulas would yield the following results:
  • Low end: 186 bpm x 0.55 = 102.3 bpm
  • High end: 186 bpm x 0.7 = 130.2 bpm
If our 34 year old wants to exercise in the fat burning zone, she should keep her heart rate between 102 and 130 bpm.

You might have noticed that the upper end of the fat burning zone and the lower end of the cardio zone are the exact same number. Maximum heart rate and exercise zones are estimates. They outline a general range that identifies what our bodies do during different intensities of work. When our 34 year old exercises and keeps her heart rate at the upper end of fat burning and lower end of cardio, her body uses nearly equal amounts fat and glycogen as fuel.

Source: Fitness: The Complete Guide.  Fredrick C. Hatfield, Ph.D.  International Sports Science Association, Carpinteria, CA.  2010

Edited by Natalie at 4:08 PM

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Favorite Protein Shake

I've been asked more than once for a great protein shake recipe.  If you're looking for a great pre-workout, meal replacement, recovery, or filling, high-cal shake, this one's for you!

Combine the following ingredients in a blender:

1 cup ice
1 cup yogurt (for extra protein, try Greek yogurt)
1 banana
2 tbsp. peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower butter
1/2-1 cup milk, soy milk, or almond milk
1 scoop protein powder (optional)

Blend together to desired consistency.  Serves 2
Nutritional Information (may vary with your choice of ingredients)
  • Total Calories: 306
  • Fat: 11 g
  • Carbs: 34 g
  • Protein: 20 g
Do you have an allergy?  How can you modify this recipe to make it work for you?  Please share under the "comments" section!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I Challenge You!

Hubs and I had a little fun last weekend with pedometers.  Nerd.  Alert.
His company is in this worldwide competition with other teams to see who can amass the most steps per day as calculated on a pedometer.  No extra shakes.  No jumping in place.  Sometimes you get "steps" when you drive, or an extra step when you bound down stairs, but they're fairly accurate.  In the spirit of competition, he and I decided to compete over Memorial Day weekend.  I might have won had I not decided to take a nap on Sunday.  Wah wah waaaaah.

Here's the challenge:  According to a 2004 study by Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke, the average woman walks approximately 5210 steps per day, and the average man walks 7192 steps per day.

For one week, beat that.  If you're sitting down, and it's 5 pm and you've only got 3227 steps, get up and go for a 20-30 minute walk.  You'll be amazed at what a small effort can produce.  If you decide to go for a walk or run in the morning, don't forget your pedometer!  Put it on the second you get up and take it off as you're climbing in bed.  Log your numbers nightly.  Beat the national average!

So, by next Saturday, June 11, get a pedometer.  They're dirt cheap at walking stores and equipment stores.  Try to beat the national average for 7 days in a row.  If you've got a spouse and/or kids, make it a family competion!  Get everybody involved.  Winner gets a new book or gets to choose what movie to watch on Netflix.  Whatever.  The key is to have fun and get everybody moving.

There's some quote that goes "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."  Take that step towards an active lifestyle.

So this week, go out and get a pedometer.  We'll meet here in a week and start!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Getting Help

The harsh, heartbreaking reality of being a personal trainer and fitness advisor is that many times, it's got nothing to do with fitness and nutrition.  Excess weight is sometimes an external illustration of the hate, self-loathing, pain, frustration, anguish, and sadness somebody is carrying with them.  It's nothing that a high-protein diet or cutting calories can fix.  Many times, people are literally carrying the weight of their childhood, and the weight of a child, with them every day.  Some people hide it well.  You'd never know that empty stomach was full 10 minutes ago.

Not a day goes by that I don't see these problems.  And I'm a fixer.  I would love to have the tools to fix everybody.  I'm all about solutions.  But I can't.  These problems are bigger than me, and they're bigger than the people who carry them.  Sometimes, we've got to admit it's bigger than us and surrender.

Seek help.  You're worth the time and struggle needed to get better.

Here is a link to Overeaters Anonymous.  Please love yourself enough to find a meeting.  Love yourself even more and go.  This is your life, and you deserve to live long and happily.

With much love,