Saturday, January 29, 2011

Gimmie a 'P'...Gimmie a 'Rotein!' -- Gotta Love that Protein!


Why the chicken and the bodybuilder both LOVE the egg...and you should too! Alright folks, this one is all about the protein. Protein is of course one of the three major energy sources, along with carbs and fats, but there is so much hoopla, information, misinformation, myths, rumors, and food propaganda swirling around out there it's no wonder why much of the populous are confused about what is actually true and what they should be putting into their mouths. (I will say though, that a no-brainer should be that they shouldn't be shoveling the Big Macs in at such a staggering rate...hehe!)

Back on track...WHY we love protein is that it is integral in muscle repair and growth. After you break down that muscle tissue during a workout, in order to rebuild it back stronger you need to supply your body with the nutrients to do so. Protein is a must-have post-workout, and the quicker you refuel the better; optimally within 30 minutes of finishing your workout.

How much protein should you be getting? That depends on a few things, but an easy rule of thumb is that you should aim for 1/2 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight a day. (So if you weigh 150 pounds try to get between 100 to 150 grams total.) That probably sounds like a lot to the 'average folk' but honestly body builders and certain athletes actually try to consume even more, especially those doing more weight work, sprinters, and aiming to build mass.

But protein has a lot to offer; it not only is the primary muscle friendly nutrient but it also helps you feel more satiated.
Protein is broken down more slowly by the body than carbs so it will help you feel fuller for longer after you eat it. (You'll feel fuller longer, and much better, after a healthy omelet breakfast than one consisting only of a glazed donut.) For athletes and fitness fans the best route to go is to combine a protein and carb source right after a workout and make sure you get enough protein the rest of the day too. So here are a few foods you should make friends with:

  • Eggs: Eggs will pack around 6 grams of protein per egg; you don't have to go Rocky style and drink them though. Some people worry about the cholesterol found in egg yolks, and while studies have actually shown the positives of regularly eating eggs far outweigh the negatives you can go yolk free with a liquid substitute.
  • Lean Meats: We're talking turkey, chicken, and bison too, are all protein packed and have generally have lower fat stats than your other meats. Yet if you go with leaner cuts of beef you will still be chowing well.
  • Seafood: Our friends under the sea are golden when you look at their protein counts. Shrimp (my fav!) are not only super high in protein, 18 grams per 4 ounce serving, but really low in fat and calories. The same serving size is merely 90 calories and with 1 gram of fat! Tuna too is an excellent source, as is salmon. Salmon may look like it is high in fat, but it is the 'good' kind, Omega 3 fats, that is linked to heart, brain, and overall health so don't be afraid of it.
  • Cottage Cheese: If you opt for low fat cottage cheese you'll find that a 1/2 cup serving has around 12 grams of protein and is delicious if paired with a pear...hehe, or any other kind of fruit too.
  • Supplements: Going the supplement route can be your best bet if you are pinched for time or are finding it hard to get your protein needs met with foods alone. But be careful to scrutinize labels; some bars or drinks may be trying to sell you with claims that upon careful reading don't quite live up to their own hype. If you go for a bar seek one with a minimum of 10 grams of protein and not just loaded with sugar.
These are just a few sources. Finally, if you are a vegetarian you need to be extra certain you get enough protein throughout the day because it can be trickier. Tofu, tempeh, and other faux meats are good even if their protein stats are a little lower than the real deal; bean are also good.

So let's hear it for the all-mighty egg, and the rest of our list...of course don't skimp on the carbs and healthy fats either (don't get me started on how much I hate Atkins!) but those, my friends, are topics for another post!

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nice stems! Get the legs of a runner and keep 'em...


As a runner, I'll admit that my legs have to be my favorite body part. Not just the way they may look but what they represent; what they allow me to do, what they have accomplished, the times we've shared. (haha...that sounds a bit odd, but the little buggers have been to some pretty awesome trails, gutted out some tough track workouts, and been troopers!) But in regards to aesthetics alone, it's pretty safe to say that runners have killer legs...that's what logging miles upon miles each week religiously will do for you! Yet pounding out straight miles at a leisurely pace isn't going to do the trick alone; in a cruel twist of fate yes, even aging runners can be burdened with some jiggling.

To keep those legs taut and those muscles toned you have to have a certain degree of power involved in your workouts. Think harder intervals, speedwork, explosiveness. In contrast to straight medium effort cardio, intense workouts break down the muscles much more; that may sound like a bad thing but it's not because you HAVE to break down the muscles in order for them to build back stronger.

What does all of this mean to you? Well, my friends, it means that if you want to keep those legs looking long, lean, and firm you have to include some explosiveness or power moves. There are a few ways to do this, but for the sake of brevity (and the fact that not everyone has the luxury of a ton of extra time to run lots of miles AND do lots of drills, plyo's, interval workouts, etc.) here's a quick routine that will get those quads, hamstrings, and glutes working overtime.

  • Bounding for Distance: Take a trip back to the playground; while it may look like exaggerated skipping, bounding is actually a plyometric move that hinges on explosiveness. Push off as hard as you can each time, extending your legs, trying to cover as much distance before the next foot falls. Go for 40 meters, allow yourself a full recovery, and then do another 40 meters.
  • High Rabbit Hops: Just as it sounds, with both legs together jump as high as you can off the ground and reach your knees up towards your chest. You want to not only try to get as far off the ground as you can, but speed is also a goal; try to get your knees up and then back down to the ground for the next hop as fast as you can. Do a total of 15 hops, rest, and repeat.
  • Lunge Exchange: Standing legs together, jump down into a lunge position with your right leg in front; then in a single motion jump up, bringing your left leg in front and your right leg in back, back down to a lunge. Keep doing this, alternating legs. Do this for a total of 20 lunges (10 on each side), rest, and repeat.
  • Step-ups: Find a bench or chair and put your right foot up on it, you want your knee to be bent about 90 degrees. Keeping your right foot planted, shift your body up off the ground and extending your right leg until it is straight; in a fluid motion you'll also raise your left leg up with you until it is bent about 90 degrees. Once there lower yourself back down to the starting position and back up again; do a total of 15 step-ups for each leg, rest, and do a second set for each leg.
These are great to do AFTER you have warmed up from your cardio. They are plyometrics and your muscles have to be warm and loose before doing them; also, the key is to do each move correctly and the old saying of quality over quantity applies. Finally because they are to be done at a near maximum effort, give yourself a full recovery between each set and exercise. Add them in twice a week after a run and you'll see results not only in muscle tone and strength but they will help make you faster too! And heck, even if you aren't necessarily a big running fan, you'll at least have the legs of one! :)

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Visions of Helga Schwarzenegger Dance in Their Head


“I don’t lift weights because I don’t want to get too bulky.” That is the (lame) excuse too many women use anytime the issue of the weight room comes up. For some reason far too many associate dumbbells with Arnold Schwarzenegger and they take that image and morph it into a she-beast. They then are under the misguided notion that if they were to lift weights they’d morph into this quasi-woman who eats men for breakfast.

That may be a little extreme, but the idea that women should avoid the weight room is a MYTH! In fact, women need the weight room more than ever, especially as they age. As we age we naturally tend to lose muscle mass and the metabolism drops; by regularly engaging in resistance training you can negate muscle loss, in fact build it, and in turn elevate your metabolism. Relying on cardio alone will not do the trick; so ladies, make friends with the weight room!

Now you may be thinking, “But I see some of those women bodybuilders and they are really bulky.” Yes, if that does happen to be your end-goal, with specific training and diet some women can achieve a highly defined and bulging image; but to get that big you have to really pound the weights and even then very few women can achieve that look. (In fact they are working against Mother Nature as the extra estrogen makes it very difficult to get that appearance.) The majority of women though, don’t want to vie for a Strongwoman medal and to reap the rewards of a slimmer, leaned out look you will want to rely on the lower weight and higher reps method.
Doing a weight routine that hits every muscle group in sets of 12-15 reps is the name of the game; the weights may only be 5-10 pounds but because the volume is higher the muscles tire in a more aerobic capacity. So instead of trying to see what your max is, you gradually weaken the muscles, granting you shape without the bulk.

Avoiding weights and relying solely on cardio can get you to lose weight, can improve your aerobic endurance, but it can also leave you muscularly weaker and even lead to the dreaded skinny-fat syndrome. Doing resistance training three days a week in addition to your regular cardio routine should be a top priority (You can also combine the two for a quick, effective workout); not only will you see the results but you’ll feel them too. Think how much quicker you’ll be able to run when you build up the strength in those legs; in fact by strengthening your entire body you’ll be more efficient and be able to go both faster and for longer. So make a date with that dumbbell!

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Gym Offenders Caught! - Take Two


We love a good pump-up song as much as the next person, but that elliptical machine is not the American Idol stage, my friend! Tone-deaf Tom is not at fault for plugging in while he sweats, (In fact it's been shown that listening to upbeat, louder music can improve your workouts...and check back soon for an article on that!) and we'd even let him get away wish humming a few bars, or carrying out a few chorus lines at a reasonably lower level. But, we've all heard the guy in the far corner of the gym literally belting out not only the refrains but all the lyrics like he was taking a stab at Karaoke night!

The trouble only doubles when Tom's choice of music is a wee bit odd, (We don't want any Michael Bolton revivals in our gyms!) and so this is another Gym Offenders Caught. Take heed people to scrutinize your playlists; but really whatever gets you moving, we won't judge so long as we don't all have to listen to it.

On that note...who'd like to share some of their own favorite songs that get them energized and ready to hit it?

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Are you looking at me?!?!

We are rather self-conscious creatures by nature. Some more than others; we hear giggling behind us and turn to check if there is something on our back. There are whispers coming from the cubicle next to yours and at once your ears strain to hear the muffled voices, certain they are talking about you. It's a common reaction, but the truth is that most of the time those giggles weren't because you had sat in something and those whispers had nothing to do with you.

The same thing happens at the gym; we tend to read signs that just aren't there. I was talking to a friend and asking him how his workouts were going and he averted his eyes, "Well, I did go to the gym the other day but then some lady walked in and..."

"You let some little old lady intimidate you and you left gym?!?" I teased him. [As a side note the gym in question is a small one located in an apartment complex that isn't used too much, so those who regularly workout get the luxury of pretty much having it to themselves.]

So it turns out that my friend was doing some warm-up reps on the pull-down bar, enter little old lady, she sits on the recumbent bike, she casts an eye in the direction of my friend working out and he gets embarrassed. "I wasn't doing that much weight and I was going to put more on, but then if I did that I know she would have thought I was just adding weight because I wanted her to think I could do I just left...but I did get my run in," was his explanation.

"You thought, that she thought, that you thought..." I joked back. But this can be a fairly common situation; you see someone looking at you a certain way and you get embarrassed and start to second guess yourself. Do they think I'm a wimp? Should I be running faster on this treadmill? I was going to put more weight on the bar anyways, but if I do it now will that hot chick sitting on the next bench think I'm only doing it to impress her?

Wow, we sure have a way of thinking that EVERYONE is as interested in our workouts as we are! Just kidding, but don't feel too bad because we are all guilty at it at one point or another. But if you let those insecurities get in your way, not only at the gym but in life, you'll only be limiting yourself. Most people are not concerned with what a stranger at the gym is up to. They aren't necessarily judging you if they happen to glance your way, and they could be just casually looking around and in their own little world. Worst case scenario is that they are looking right at you, and maybe thinking something about you...but WHO CARES?! If hey think you're a weakling...well at least you're working out and getting stronger. Maybe they are going faster on the treadmill than you, but you're all in different kinds of shape and have different goals. And in fact it could be a positive thought they have about you, maybe they are wondering how you get such awesome legs.

Don't let what you think others are thinking about you intimidate you. It will be a roadblock that keeps you from improving, from achieving your goals, and in the end cause you undue duress. Go about your your thang, and if someone has anything to think about it, let them. As I told my friend, "Next time you show that old lady you OWN that gym!"

(As a disclaimer, I told him that in jest, and by no means do I condone beating up, intimidating, or scaring little old ladies in the gym.)

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Crazy About Pilates -- Everyone's Doing it...Should I??


Q: I keep reading that a lot of celebs (with amazing bodies!) are doing yoga and pilates to stay in shape. What's up with this latest fitness trend, and does it live up to all the hype? Is it really all that these celebs do to get their toned and slim figures?

A: Pilates and yoga may seem like new age type stuff, but these practices have been around for quite a while...but they are just making their way to the Western world. Yoga in particular has been around for centuries and is tied in with a philosophy and often meditation. There are also various forms of yoga, but the most common ones you'll find at a gym are centered around flexibility and strength, holding static poses similar to isometric exercises. Pilates is relatively newer, developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900's. Okay, enough of the history lesson; Pilates hinges on seven principles that stress control, precision, and the importance of the body's core.

Pilates is excellent at strengthening the muscles that make up the core: not just the abs, but the obliques and back too.
Because it forces you to breath in a timed manner and to keep the core taut (often called scooping) this will make the stomach area appear flatter. Over time that tone is achieved and all of the moves are aimed at creating a long, lean look. Pilates can be done on a mat or a reformer machine and the adage of quality over quantity is paramount; often you may only do 9-12 rep's of a certain exercise but they are done slowly and controlled.

Both yoga and pilates are great ways to firm up the core muscles and they do work other areas of the body too, but to see the results you want (especially if that's weight loss) they need to be used in conjunction with other activities, especially cardio. Yes, you can build lean muscle, improve flexibility, and range of motion with these kinds of exercises, but to burn enough calories and promote weight loss you have to elevate your heart rate and keep in there with cardio. When celebs say the only thing they do at the gym is yoga, I tend to find that hard to believe; they have to be logging time on the treadmill or exercise bike too!

Finally, while the poses and moves used in yoga and pilates will build strength, one shouldn't forego lifting weights completely. To get enough resistance to really build muscle mass you need to have enough weight working against you, and that's where dumbbells and machines can really help you out. Incorporating yoga and pilates into your exercise program is great (and lots of people enjoy that there is a mental aspect tied in as well that they find relaxing or refreshing) but they aren't some mystical workout magic bullet. To get the body you want, and achieve your own personal goals, you need balance and variance in your routine which includes cardio, resistance training, and flexibility/range of motion work!

If you've got exercise and fitness questions you'd like to have answered, submit them to:

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Moves We Love -- Getting Twisty With It

So a Russian, a Priest and a Rabbi walk into a gym...JUST KIDDING! But the move we're loving this Friday is called the Russian Twist. Why do we love this move, what the heck is it, and why must you try it? Read on:

  • The What: A basic version of the Russian Twist can be done seated on the floor. Start in a seated position, legs bent at the knees and then raise your feet a couple of inches above the ground; so you'll be balancing on your tailbone, folks. Now grab a 5 or 10 pound weight and hold it in your hands; keeping your legs pointed forward you'll rotate your torso first to the left, bring the weight until it is just above the ground, move back to center, and then rotate to the right, then back to center. The entire time you want to keep your abs contracted nice and tight.
  • The Why: This is a great ab exercises as it not only works your front but your obliques as well. It incorporates balance which strengthens those little muscles sometimes hard to isolate. Further your hip flexors and lower core muscles come into play to keep you centered on that tiny tailbone!
  • Even Better: The Russian Twist can be modified in a number of ways; the standing one (which is good for anyone who needs to be careful not to overstrain their hip flexors) where you hold your weight and slowly rotate your torso side to side. There is also the Lunge Russian Twist where you start in a standing position, lunge your right leg in front and dip down, gain your balance and then rotate your torso (with weight) to the right, back to center and step out of the lunge. Repeat with the left leg and rotate torso to the left. This one is great as it then targets those thighs and glutes too!
Let's hear it for the Russian Twist! Incorporate this move (start out with 1-2 sets of 30, which will be 15 on each side, and then work up to 3 sets.) seated, standing, or with the lunge and reap the rewards.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wednesday's Motivation -- Get that butt out the door!!

You see those shoes staring up at you, taunting you, but suddenly the three feet between them and your comfortably seated tush seem to stretch on for miles. If you're struggling and need a little motivation to get in that workout here are a few tips:
  • Make a deal with your inner sloth: Tell yourself that you'll just get out and do a few minutes...that you won't make yourself do your 'full' workout. More often than not once you get on that elliptical and the first 5 minutes have passed you'll get that endorphin rush and be motivated to actually finish that full workout that seemed too daunting before.
  • See into the future: No, you won't be whipping out that crystal ball, but instead envision yourself AFTER you finish your workout. Think of how strong, accomplished, and energized you will feel and just know that that feeling is far better than the on you'll be feeling after a couch-fest.
  • Amp the tunage: Get excited for your workout by putting together a new playlist, one that keeps you pumped up and moving! 
  • Will you be my friend? : Find a buddy to hit the gym with you or go for a run with. The time will go by faster when you're chatting those miles away and if you set up your gym date in advance you'll be far less likely to blow it off.
Alright guys, so that's your flash of motivation today! We'd also love to hear some of your own tricks to getting out the door, so feel free to share. Have a wonderful day and don't trip on those shoelaces! :)

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Monday's Slap of Reality - Workout or Get Fat!


Did that get your attention? Unless you want to pack on the pounds as you age, you need to be active; such is the conclusion of the latest study out of Northwestern Medicine research. Well, if you’ve been reading this blog and the website your reaction should be the same as ours…and resounding, “Duh.” Alright sarcasm aside, plenty of people around the US, and the rest of the World, still seem to find this as news to them or else they simply have chosen to ignore the facts.

Published in the December 14th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study done by the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) is the first of its kind to not only span 20 years but it also checked in with the 1,800 female and 1,700 male participants the most frequently. In the past check-ins were only done a mere two times (start and stop) but this one had seven follow-ups and is currently still plowing ahead towards year number five. And the results?

For the women, those who partook in regular high activity (almost every day, people) were able to stave of an excess of 13 pounds. Let’s hear it for the ladies. The active men also kept some weight at bay, an average of 6 pounds, but it seemed that they ended up consuming proportionately more calories than the women and overestimated just how much they actually worked out, hence the contrast. “Everyone benefits from high activity, but I was surprised by the gender differences,” notes Arlene Hankinson, M.D., the lead author of the study and an instructor of preventative medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She goes on, “It wasn’t that activity didn’t have an effect in men, but the effect was greater in women. Now women should be especially motivated.”

But reality goes on…what is the definition of highly active? Again our blog readers should know that a leisurely stroll doesn’t make the grade. “High activity was the only kind that made a significant difference,” Hankinson harps, “Not many people actually do that.” In fact of those participating in the study it was only a mere 12 percent.

Outside of kicking that spare tire to the curb, a myriad of other health related perks come with being a fan of fitness and healthy living. What those behind this and other studies hope to portray is that we must impart to our youth that being active is essential and that they then have to carry that into adulthood. Cites Stephen Sidney, M.D., coauthor of the paper, “Common medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity have their origins in childhood and can generally be prevented by maintaining a normal weight, not smoking, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet throughout life.”

A final note; just because you were a sport’s star ‘back in the days’ that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. Some were under the misinformation that it’s okay to become sedentary as we age, but you can’t look at working out in your youth as a way to ‘stockpile it up’ for the years to come…we aren’t squirrels here people! Actually age is working against us as Hankinson confirms, “It’s difficult to avoid gaining weight as you age. Our metabolic rate goes down.”

A surefire way to decrease that metabolic rate is to not only continue regular cardio but also resistance training to negate muscle loss. Everyone is busy, but that isn’t an excuse to let your fitness, and your health, fall to the wayside. There are plenty of ways to bust a sweat and an effective workout in 30 minutes or less…you owe it to yourself. And heck, being able to strut around 6 to 13 pounds slimmer than your peers is also a nice boost to the old ego!
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Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Year an Evolving You


Happy New Year!!

Depending on on just how crazy your own send off to 2010 was last night you could be reading this on the morning of the great 1-1-11, the afternoon, ooooor right at the tail end of the day! :) At any rate, while we've already established that we're not into the whole "I'm gonna get fit this year!" in the traditional New Year's Resolution kind of way, that doesn't mean that you can't use this as an opportunity to reflect on where you are right now and where you'd like to be.

Think of it kind of like taking stock, and that doesn't pertain solely to health and fitness alone. Think of areas in your life that you are happy about, remember those, and then look for areas where you can improve. If you find a glaring aspect that you aren't happy about, think of things that perhaps you can do to change that. Some areas may seem out of your control, but then shift your outlook on them and see if there isn't a way you can at least improve the situation (or how you feel about it) so it isn't weighing on you. Often acknowledging you just can't do anything and accepting you're just strapping in for the ride can ease some pressure and help you 'let go.' For certain relationships, holding onto grudges or getting worked up over anothers' actions isn't doing you any favors and that added stress isn't good for your health.

But back to aspects of your life that can be used as catalysts for improvement in the future. Think of those missed zzzzz's, for while coffee may act as a mask and help you keep on plugging it isn't really helping the situation. Set a timer a half hour before you should be in bed and then power down, brush your teeth, and hit the sack. Looking to get ahead in your job; make a list of things that can help you actively get ahead. Writing down your goals makes them much more concrete and is something that some of the most successful people acknowledge they do. This then parlays over to your fitness routine, think of your workouts as appointments, write them down, and stick to them. You can even have that gratifying experience of checking off that appointment when you've stuck to it!

Finally, it's been said that you can think of a new year as a clean slate, that you can wipe away all the things from the past and start anew. In one sense that can feel empowering, but then again you shouldn't forget all the things that have happened in your life thus far...the good and the bad. Cliched as it may sound you most likely have learned something from the bad, and if you are still struggling use that as motivation to take steps to change that. Exercise is also a perfect outlet to sweat out those frustrations and retain some sanity in crazy times.

So let's welcome a new year, but no matter the areas in your life that you are unhappy with, it doesn't need to be a new you, but rather a work in progress take stock, write some goals, then get to doing!

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