Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Anti-inflammatory Diet for Better Recovery

If I didn't go to school to learn about physical therapy, I'm almost certain I would have gotten a degree in nutrition. Actually, rehab and nutrition are very closely related since what you eat can directly effect your recovery and progress. In an ideal world, all of my patients and clients would eat an anti-inflammatory diet and I have no doubt that they would have increased performance, faster healing times, and more energy. But since nobody likes to be told what to eat, all I can do is gently educate, provide them with resources, and wait for them to approach this lifestyle on their own. And of course, lead by example!

Some readers may identify this as a "paleolithic diet". Since labels can get messy, I prefer to just call it EATING REAL FOOD. A good rule of thumb is that if Mother Nature didn't create it, you probably shouldn't be eating it.

Poultry, fowl, beef, seafood, pork, game meat, whole eggs, etc. All of these are accessible in nature. Less desirable options may include perservative-free deli meat, canned fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, crab, etc.), or nitrate-free bacon. Invest in the HIGHEST quality meat you can afford. Quality meat means GRASS-FED, PASTURE-RAISED, and LOCAL. If this isn't possible, at least opt for ANTIBIOTIC/HORMONE-FREE options. The lowest selection would be grain-fed, industrial animals. (And for you really stingy folks, no, slim jims and pork rinds do not qualify as "meat".)

Broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, spinach, kale, lettuce, turnip greens, mustard greens, squash, zucchini, onions, cucumbers, radishes, cucumbers, peppers, cabbage, swiss chard, mushrooms, etc.

beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, winter/summer squash, pumpkin, etc

apples, grapes, pears, melon, berries, peaches, plums, nectarines, bananas, kiwi, citrus, tomatoes, etc.

coconut (meat, oil, butter, milk, etc.), clean* lard, butter, ghee, olives (olive oil), avocado, omega-3 fish oils.

Including tofu, edamame, soybean oil.

Beans (including black/white peas, chick peas, peanuts/peanut butter, etc.) Green beans and lima beans are acceptable.

Gluten is a wheat protein that is highly inflammatory. Grains include barley, wheat, rye, bulgar, quinoa, rice, corn. That also means no pasta, cookies, crackers, bread, flour.

This includes soybean oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, sesame oil, rapeseed oil, corn oil, etc.

High fructose corn syrup, agave, syrup, honey, coconut sugar, raw sugar, etc.

aspartame, cyclamate, saccharin, sucralose.

Sample Menu (Female):
Breakfast: 1 cup coffee, 2TBS coconut milk
3-4 eggs, scrambled in 1TBS butter/coconut oil
Lunch: roasted pork chop (palm-sized)
3-5 cups fresh salad w/ 2TBS olive oil/balsamic vinegar
Snack: 1 small apple
10-20 almonds
Dinner: pan-seared steak (palm-sized)
2-3 cups broccoli topped with 1 TBS butter
Sample Menu (Male):
Breakfast: 1 cup coffee, 2 TBS coconut milk
4 scrambled eggs with pan-browned, ground beef (palm-sized)
Lunch: chicken breast (two palm-sized portions)
3-5 cups spinach and garlic sauted in 2 TBS butter
Snack: 20 almonds
2 hard-boiled eggs
Dinner: chuck roast slices, from crockpot (two palm-sized portions)
3-5 cups fresh salad w/ 2TBS olive oil/balsamic vinegar
Need More? Check my BLOG ROLL, or check out the following books:

Melatonin Makes You Fat?

I have a confession to make: I've been overdosing on melatonin for the past year. Certainly not the worst thing ever, but I was a bit naive to the consequences. MELATONIN is a hormone that is naturally produced by the pineal gland. This organ regulates other hormones and establishes the body's circadian rhythm to play out on a 24 hour cycle. Proper circadian rhythm is crucial for healthy sleep patterns (getting sleepier as the sun goes down, and awakening as the sun rises.) Melatonin is the driving hormone that tells your body when to wind down, since it is sensitive to changes in light. This is precisely why you are more tired in the dark, winter months, and have more energy in the bright, summer months.

Melatonin also has an effect on a female's menstruation cycle. Since the female's menstrual cycle actually "mirrors" the moon cycle, it's no surprise that the timing of ovulation is dependent on proper daytime and nighttime exposure (and not being boarded up all day in an artificially-bright office.)

Over the past few months while I was supplementing with high doses of melatonin (10mg a night! A typical dose is between 1-2mg,) I slept like a freaking baby. Within 20 minutes of popping one of those pills, I was immediately dozing off and actually managed to turn my brain off. No more racing thoughts of muscle insertions and origins during my physical therapist assistant program! Hurrah! With supplementation, I only woke up 1-2 times a night verses waking up 4-6 times a night without the assistance. In addition, it was easier to fall back asleep and stay asleep. In the most stressful period of the program, I believe I was supplementing with melatonin about 5-6 days a week, if not every single night. And this continued... for months.

Fast-forward 16 months later, and I am successfully a PTA graduate. I also successfully gained almost ten pounds. For reference, I have always been a thin girl. At my leanest and even my healthiest, I maintained below 110lbs with boundless energy. I slept naturally well, I wasn't stressed, I woke up everyday eager to exercise and get outside (primarily body weight exercises and Crossfit-esque workouts), and I was eating practically limitless amounts of whole, natural foods. I was flyin' high. And despite academic and financial stress devouring me during my later months as a PTA student, I tried to stay as healthy as possible. In fact, this is where maintaining my health mattered MOST. I went outside and "played" less, but I still ate clean, healthy portion-sized paleo meals and attended the gym three times a week. My training focused on 45-60mins of heavy lifting (squats, lunges, rows, deadlifts, chin-ups, push-ups, etc.), plus an average of 6-15 miles of bike riding per week. I now weight about 117lbs. Now I'm not complaining, and I'm sure a few of those pounds were muscle. But it did come as a little surprise to me. In addition, my menstrual cycles were all over the place. I'd get them, eventually, but they were incredibly sporadic.

Regardless, I still love you, Swanson Vitamins!
I was surfing through Marks Daily Apple one afternoon when I came across an old post about melatonin supplementation. If you sift through some of the comments, quite a few individuals (notably females) complained that they started gaining weight during the same time they were taking melatonin, despite eating clean and exercising. So what gives?

Research shows that animals injected with melatonin can either gain weight OR lose weight, depending on the species. In humans suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), melatonin seems to speed up the metabolism.

However, recall that SEROTONIN is necessary to convert into MELATONIN. If an individual requires melatonin to sleep at night, more than often they are deficient in serotonin because the conversion simply cannot take place. A lack of serotonin has a direct effect on increasing appetite, particularly for carbohydrates. Taking supplemental melatonin will NOT re-establish healthy serotonin levels. In this case, melatonin isn't exactly the cause of an increased appetite (and thus weight gain), but could be masking a bigger problem that needs to be dealt with directly.

How do you naturally increase serotonin levels? Expose yourself to sunlight for an average of 20-60 minutes everyday, preferably upon waking. In one study, thirty-six people with SAD were exposed to a light box consisting of 2,500 lux. In two weeks, they were eating 50% fewer carbohydrates during the second half of the day than they had prior to therapy. I have to admit, during my program, I got out in the sun a lot less...

Consider this phenomena from an evolutionary perspective. In the dead of winter, there is less food available. Biology tells us, "store more fat!" Which macro nutrient is most efficient at fat storage? Carbohydrates, due to the surge in storage-hormone insulin. It's no mistake that high-carb root vegetables and tubers, such as sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin, grow in the preceding months to winter. In evolutionary times, these starchy foods are introduced at the prime moment to initiate fat storage for the colder months when there is less food supply.

Another piece of the puzzle is the effect that melatonin has on the THYROID. The thyroid is a major player in metabolism, and pathologies associated with the thyroid can either be HYPERTHYROIDISM (overactive thyroid, with an increase in metabolism), or HYPOTHYROIDISM (under active thyroid, with a decrease in metabolism.) Melatonin is suspected to DOWN-REGULATE the activity of the thyroid gland, therefore exacerbating any issues with a sluggish thyroid. What else may contribute to a sluggish thyroid? Chronic calorie restriction (which a lot of females do!) Incidentally, when I'm stressed, I tend to eat LESS (weird, I know,) regardless of increased activity. Thyroid problems also run rampant on my father's side of the family in all the females. Great!

So, can we make the conclusion that melatonin definitely causes weight gain? Unfortunately, the literature still looks a little weak. Regardless, there are theories pointing to this phenomena, and obviously quite a few personal experiences floating around the web. As for me, I'm saying FAREWELL to daily doses of melatonin. Not just because I'm curious if I'll get to my "pre-melatonin" weight, but I now understand the potential ramifications of orally taking melatonin for the long term.

Do you take melatonin? Have you noticed any changes in your weight, appetite, mood, sleep behaviors?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Nutrition Musings

Just a little heads-up... While the hour spent at the gym today is going to influence your results, so is the other 23 hours of your day. Don't neglect this reality. Unless you're a professional athlete, don't jeopardize your goals by thinking you can out-train a bad diet. This isn't just about looking great naked, but also about your HEALTH and WELL-BEING! Even if you can "get away" with eating donuts for breakfast or chugging down a soda and candy bar every afternoon, this is not OPTIMAL. Your training will suffer, your blood sugar levels have probably gone haywire, and eventually this kind of behavior will catch up to you.

Contrary to what you may believe, eating "healthy" does not have to be scary, disgusting, incredibly expensive, overly time-consuming, boring, or wildly restrictive. Forget everything you know about "eating healthy", and everything you think you know about it. (Read: fat does not necessarily make you fat, the idea of "starvation mode" has been taken wildly out of proportion, high cholesterol in your diet does not necessarily translate into high cholesterol in your body, and just remember that the agriculture industry helps to fund the Food Pyramid...) Now listen up.

Simplest Rule of Good Nutrition Ever: EAT REAL FOOD!

Real Food = Meat (poultry, beef, seafood, pork, rabbit, deer, etc.), eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. If Mother Nature didn't create it, you probably shouldn't be eating it.

Chowing down on a ribeye at Morton's Steakhouse. Perhaps the reason why my boyfriend doesn't take me out to eat anymore... ;-)

Fitness Musings

The typical gym can be an intimidating place. And while I (generally) believe doing something is better than nothing, I also believe that a LOT of time is WASTED in the gym by the average American. Shell out thirty bucks or so a month, do a couple curls, run a lap on the treadmill, maybe sit on a machine and move your arms around a little (not like you're sitting enough in daily life or anything...) Unsurprisingly, most of the people there look and feel the exact same way they did last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Time and money are precious things -- I think that we can all agree that you should never waste them.

The human body is designed to jump, climb, pull, row, push, carry, press, sprint, squat, lift, and push. There should be a focus on QUALITY over QUANTITY with these specific movement patterns. In general,  COMPOUND MOVEMENTS (exercises that incorporate many muscle groups, such as a squat) should be emphasized over ISOLATION MOVEMENTS (exercises that single out a muscle group, such a bicep curl).

Millions of us already have some sort of dysfunctional ailment: Back ache, knee pain, tight hamstrings, hunched shoulders, flat feet... These ailments are usually the result of poor, repetitive movement habits. To change the way you stand, walk, lift, and sit can drastically reduce excessive pressure on the joints, increase muscular strength, and eliminate nagging aches and pains. Regardless of whether you hit the gym or not, you actually "exercise" everyday. You squat on the toliet, you lift objects over your head, you carry things around. This is why it is vital that we train these movement patterns to eliminate excessive wear and tear on joints, ligaments, and tendons while maximizing strength and mobility. When you're strong, healthy, and your body is functioning optimally, things just seem to "work".

The crucial point again is that QUALITY MATTERS!

Why Do You Train?

What does training mean to you?

My fitness journey began on my stationary bicycle. At the vain age of sixteen, I initially got involved with exercise to "get toned". I ate fast food nearly everyday and would barely even look at a vegetable, but, you know, not like that would matter or anything... I used to ride my bike in the evenings for up to an hour almost every night. And I wouldn't just pedal along slowly, I would be CRANKIN'! It was therapeutic. It's almost like I'd enter an alternate reality, tripping out on endorphins and Tool's beautiful riffs from my iPod.

"Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition, missing opportunities and I must
Feed my will to feel my moment drawing way outside the lines..."

To be honest, I don't even remember getting excited over any weight loss (I never even needed to lose weight!) The biggest change was in my mind. I had more confidence, I felt stronger, I slept better at night, and I felt emotionally "lighter".

I progressed to workout tapes, and I especially loved Tae-Bo. I began to eat "better" because I realized fast food and candy didn't fuel me well. As time went on, I began lifting (light) weights on my own, running, and learning new strengthening exercises like lunges and squats. After meeting Dallas Hartwig in 2009, I was introduced to deadlifts, barefoot running, the paleo diet, and Crossfit. I was like a new woman! I started making my own "body weight circuits" and finally started seeing positive changes in my body composition. I researched fitness like it was my job and experimented with all sorts of exercises and routines.

My journey through fitness has changed dramatically. From a tiny girl logging dozens of hours on her bicycle to a strong woman squatting over 1.5 times her body weight, the evolution is obvious. Regrettably, sometimes I focus too much on the logistics of my workouts. I've been known to get pretty bummed if I couldn't hit "x" amount of reps at "y" amount of weight on a certain day. These are the times I forget to acknowledge why I train. I train to get better, but that doesn't necessarily mean more reps or heavier weights. Getting better may just mean showing up on a really crappy day. It may mean you are one day closer to your goals. It may mean finally being honest with yourself and making sure to accomplish full of range of motion in an exercise (ahem, chin-ups!) It may mean being able to leave all your "baggage" at the door and completely immerse yourself in that special one-on-one time with just your mind and body.

Whatever your reason may be for fitness, don't forget it. Don't get wound up in where you "should" be with your goals; recall how far you have gotten already and what this journey has already done for you. Even when you reach that next goal, don't give up! Keep challenging yourself. You're not going to be able to kick ass everyday. But the point is that you showed up and you gave it your all!

"And following our will and wind we may just go where no one's been.
We'll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one's been.
Spiral out. Keep going..."