Monday, July 29, 2013

Are you getting the most out of nutrition labels?

Tonight is just a quick post as we are settling in to our new home in Arizona.  Thankfully, the weather was extremely un-August-like today (88 Fahrenheit) and we've been able to give a little love to our neglected landscaping. 

Meanwhile,  we're excited to announce we've got another partnership for guest authorship, ThisIsFit workouts.  Laura is a fantastic partner in getting the word out about fitness and nutrition and posts regular workout videos you can do quickly and right in your home.  

Our posts with her, in keeping with her "very busy" and 'time is short" approach are more brief than our usual offerings.  We'll be giving "quick tips" on nutrition, designed to help everyday people in making better decisions.  Our first post on This Is Fit is how to get the most out of nutrition labels.

And, fear not, next week we'll be back on our regular broadcast schedule.  Be save everyone!

Michael and Michelle

Genes, Boxes and a Milestone

Today's post is a bit of a blender.  There's a lot going on here at 40SomethingFitness and we wanted to keep our readers up to speed with the very latest.

First, a celebration!  Since opening our virtual doors in January, we are just about to hit the 10,000 views milestone! We can't thank all of you enough for your support!  So, take a little bow.  We'll wait.

Done?  Okay, good.  Moving on.

C'mon, you know you're singing it!

Housekeeping: We're also in the throes of a move from Minnesota to Arizona (quite a switch, I know), so we may be a little scarce over the next week or two, both here and on our social forums.  Fear not, we will be back with a fresh set of ideas to educate, inform, and inspire.  

Artists rendering of our road trip - actual results may vary.

Contest: Faaabulous Prizes!
I'd also like to take a moment to pitch the Google+ Fitness and Nutrition community.  I know people have their feelings about G+, but this community is growing fast and we're working hard to keep the feed high quality and un-spammy.  We're also sponsoring a writing contest on the community.  Submit a short article and your post could be featured on all of the forums and blogs of our moderators.  How's that for bragging rights?  Here are the details:

Challenge Subject:  Why Fitness and Nutrition is Important for Good Health
Post Criteria:  100 -150 words in length

Reference Google+ and  *Fitness & Nutrition Community* within the text of your post

How To Submit Your Post:
1. Join Fitness & Nutrition Community -
2. Post your submission either linking to your blog or directly to G+ under the#FNContest  Category.
3. Add #fncontest  to identify your post for the contest.
4. Posts will be accepted from July22 through August 23.

The winning post will be shared out through our extensive Fitness and Health Network both within and outside of Google Plus.
Your Logo & Link posted on the +DRS Health Blog sight and their 21 Landing Page Network.
You and your post will be featured in a Fitness & Nutrition Community HOA which will be premiered at and .  DRS Health will also give the winner a 30 day supply of H3 Rapid Recovery.
Runner Up - will receive a 15 day supply of H3 Rapid Recovery. 

Finally, we're excited to announce a partnership with as featured authors in their news section (and other forums currently in super-secret negotiations).  We'll be regularly publishing original content there to add to their growing network of contributors.  So please check them out.

Which brings us to this week's post:

Are your genes making you fat?

In fact, our latest offering is featured on GoFitty.  A reader shared an article with us from Science Daily that published the results of a study which seemed to indicate that people were able to shut off their fat genes through exercise.  Naturally, that raised a whole line of conversation about how much of an impact genetics have on body composition.  We combed through the studies and publications and learned quite a bit.  Check out our full story.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Don't waste your time with exercise

That's right, I said it.  And I'm not sorry.  But before you gather up the pitchforks and torches or make a call to "Shady Acres" to see if they have an opening for me, hear me out first.  

Recently, a friend shared this story with us:

He was at the gym, when an "older guy" came up and asked if he could work in.  The man was chatty, said he wished we could get some younger guys to do the lifting for us. Our friend told him that's why he was lifting, to be younger again.

The gentleman said, "I've been lifting for 50 years; started when I was 12. My mother said it would get easier. She lied. It just hurts more. It's not really possible to get in shape."

I hate to think how many hours of his life this man frittered away, all the while utterly missing the point.  Those are hours he will never get back.  And he'll never see the rewards that were right there for the taking either.  

Another conversation Michelle had with a young novice lifter:
The young woman was frustrated.  She hasn't been losing any weight and she hasn't seen any improvments in strength either.  Michelle looked into her workout log and saw that she has been doing the same weight for the same number of reps for as far as she cared to scroll back.  Except for one day.  On that day, she increased the weight a couple of pounds.  Her comments were, "this is definitely harder. Help!"  After that, she went right back down again.  

Michelle explained to her that she had to push herself.  That the only way she would grow or see improvment was to increase the weights.  The young woman said she couldn't do any heavier weights; she only "ended up gritting her teeth and pulling something". 

That conversation ended with Michelle just shaking her head.

By now, I'm sure you're seeing my point.  But I'll spell it out anyway.

If you don't have a goal, you're wasting time at the gym.
If you don't have a program that is designed to reach your goal, you're wasting time at the gym.
If you aren't pushing yourself when you're at the gym, making every day a little better than the last, you're wasting time at the gym. 
If you go home and throw it all away with poor nutrition, you're wasting time at the gym.  

You pay good money for your membership.  You put in good, valuable hours of your life when you go.  For most of us, this isn't spare time or spare change you couldn't find anything else to do with.  It's a squeeze.  So, why would you commit precious time and money to activity with no purpose and no results? 

"But I just want to be generally fit and healthy; what's wrong with that?"

Here's a secret: there is no such thing as a maintenance work out.  Let that sink in for a moment.  

There's your problem right there!
Your body adapts very quickly in response to exercise.  Your ability to perform - strength, endurance, power - are measurably improved after one session.  Go back a day or two later and you'll be able to do a little more than before.  It may not be much.  Hell, it may not feel like anything, but it's a fact.  

A "maintenance" routine is truly nothing more than getting stronger, faster, better, and then, without progression, deconditioning until the same routine becomes challenging again.  This is akin to having an oil leak in your car and never fixing it, just continually adding a quart.

Five things you can do to make your workouts count.
1.  Be present.  We've written before about the value of getting your head in the game, not just in the gym, but in anything that matters to you.  It seems obvious, but in our multitasking world, I think most of us are accustomed to dividing our attention out of habit. 

2.  Have a goal.  Again, it seems obvious, and it is written about regularly, but even within your individual workouts, you should have a goal.  "Today I'm going to do one more 'X'." or "Today, I'm going to increase my speed by .5mph for the first five minutes."  

3.  Don't sell yourself short.  You are capable of more than you think.  Don't you want to find out how much more? 
Now - HE - is done!

4. Compete with yourself and keep score!  This goes along with #3, but bears calling out.  If you are doing the same weight for the same reps, or hitting the same speed on the treadmill for the same distance, you are leaving your gains on the table.  Not to mention, as you condition, you burn fewer calories doing the same workout.  A five-rep set isn't over because you hit five.  It's over when you push up your last rep with good form.  (Michelle and I call this "the world's longest rep")

5. Don't be afraid to suck.  Okay, once again, let me explain before you hit the "close window" button.  We gravitate to things we are good at.  It feels good to be good at something.  But, in the gym (as with many places in life), the places where we feel least competent are the places we can grow the fastest.  And there's only one way to improve a weakness: challenge it.  Again and again.  Make your weakness your new strength.  

Wrapping up, I'd like to make sure we end on a positive note.  You've already committed your time and your money to getting to the gym.  That's a huge step.  Make those hours count.  Think about how you will remember those hours years from now.  You're welcome. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

At 42, Things I Wish I'd done Differently

As I roll over another in a growing collection of milestones in my life, I note that this one is unique in a few ways.  This birthday, my 42nd, also marks a year since Michelle and I returned to the gym and transformed our lives with fitness and nutrition.  In that time, Michelle has commented several times that she sees me a bit differently - that I've "come into my own".  I believe I am starting to understand what she means and maybe even sense it for myself.

I think it's common for those of us in our middle years to look back with a grimace at some of our "less shiny" moments.  But I've learned an awful lot in the past twelve months.  And, as I think about what I would tell my younger self, I wonder if any of you will be surprised or challenged by what my new perspective has brought forth.  

See - here's the thing: as many poor decisions as I've made in my life, I don't necessarily want to go back and undo any of them.  Okay - there are a couple in particular I'd just like to wipe off the map.  But, really, my life, for better or for worse, is a product of the choices I made, so wishing it away seems like I would be erasing part of who I am today.  That said, I think many of those moments would have gone very differently with the 42 Michael at the wheel.  

Abandon "Should"
"Should" is the worst word in the English language, and once, it was the bane of my existence.  In the future tense, "should" represents a whole host of obligations and commitments, most self-imposed, that pile up in front of you until they feel insurmountable.  In the past tense, "should" represents regret and guilt for those things you never got to (or wanted to get to).  

Since then, I've learned to reject "should".  If I catch myself saying it, then I stop.  I examine the thing in front of me and decide:  "Are you important? Will you make my life or my relationships that I value better in some way?"  If yes, then it goes into the "will" pile.  If not, I put it aside and don't spend time worrying about it anymore.  

Do not allow others to define you. 
For me, as with many, this goes back all the way to the messages I received in childhood.  I never really let anyone sway me toward what I was.  But I sure let people into my head about what I wasn't.  And - the thing is - I can't remember anything I've undertaken that I simply could not rise to.  But I do remember pretty clearly the times that I chose not to start down a path because of those voices.  

The beauty of the last year for me is that I have managed to do and become exactly the things I set out to accomplish.  I couldn't do those things when I started.  Flat couldn't.  But through effort and dedication and with the support of a truly amazing wife, I can now. Just because you can't - yet, doesn't mean you can't ever.

Don't waste any time with people who don't treat your friendship as a precious gift.  
Dr Phil (yes - I believe the man is a modern-day sage) once described these people as "takers".  They only use you for commiseration.  They bring you down, hold you back. Suck the life out of you.  Learn to recognize these people.  They're needy, always in crisis, and always seeking validation.  Drop them like a bad habit and never look back.  Friends - true friends - add to your life.  It's not that you become a taker yourself; you enrich and support each other.  I shake my head at all the people I allowed to attach themselves to my life, sucking me dry, because I was a good person and, therefore, should help them - again, and again, and again... 

YOU are worth making a priority.
My whole life (like many of us) has been wrapped up in service to others.  A veteran, a parent (a very young one), a spouse.  I spent so much time putting my own well-being aside to take care of other people, I never had anything left for myself.  Let me tell you how wrong-headed that is.  How can you possibly be a good father, husband, supervisor, or friend when you are completely strung out, exhausted, and unhappy with yourself.  People so often use their service to others as a mask for their own personal dissatisfaction with their bodies and their lives.  Until they break...

I think that these things may have dramatically changed certain paths in my life.  And even if the path itself didn't veer in another direction, it certainly would have been less rocky.  

But, we can't change the past; only learn from it.  I am in the best place in my life that I have ever been.  I'm comfortable with who I am, how I feel, how I look, and who I share my time with.  The next 40 years are going to be awesome!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Can You Really Improve Your Metabolism?

My last 45 was Men at Work.
One aphorism that seems to accompany aging is that, after 40, we start "slowing down".  It seems to be an inevitability; we can't eat as much, do as much, or muster that seemingly endless reserve of energy we had in our 20s to power through a crunch period.  And we've all said it: "My metabolism ain't what it used to be."

Metabolism may well be one of the most blamed (and least understood) villains of weight loss.  Claims all over the news and Internet extoll the virtues of one product, food, or detox smoothie, saying it will "increase your metabolism" to aid in weight loss, though little change actually ever results from these wonder cure scams.

So, what is it?  How does it work?  Can you actually increase your metabolism?  Does it even matter?  In today's post, we'll try and put it as simply and completely as possible, so you can put it to work in your daily life.

Metabolism Defined:  

In the simplest terms, metabolism is the ability to get nutrients into your body, process and deliver them to the systems that require them, and expel unneeded waste from the body. The systems involved include, of course, your digestive system, your liver, kidneys, thyroid, pancreas, and the circulatory system.  Really, there are infinite reactions and activities that could be included, but these are the heavy hitters.  

Understand that your body, much like the starship: Enterprise, is a set of counter-balances and back-up processes.  When threatened, we can pull resources for a short burst of "better than 100%" energy.  When power or resources are damaged in one area, the body diverts alternative sources of energy to other systems.  When things are truly dire, we divert all of our bodily resources to "life support".  I won't ask whether you're a James Kirk or Jean Luc Picard supporter; some things are just too controversial for this forum. 

In many discussions about human metabolism and weight loss, it is reduced to the concept of calorie burning.  You can look at it in that context.  But, since different nutrients (and, therefore their potential caloric energy) are taken up by different systems, if you're thinking purely in that sense, you'll miss out on some very important distinctions.  Our approach to nutrition veers away from calorie-centric and focuses more on macronutrient management.

If sweating was the key, every guy in the sauna would be RIPPED!

Metabolism is NOT: 

  • Your heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Breathing heavy
  • Body heat
  • Perceived "energy level"  

These are by-products of activity.  Products that are billed as "energy boosters" are not metabolism-enhancing.  They are stimulants that increase your heart rate and/or give you the sensation of alertness.  Don't be fooled.  

Can we Really Affect Metabolism?

The short answer is: yes!  Scientific studies consistently show that we can manipulate the mechanisms  that take in, absorb, and process nutrients, both independently and as a whole system. If we break it down into four components, we can easily examine ways that will make a difference.  

In addition, we have to examine our approach to metabolic repair in three phases: 

  1.    Stop inflicting more damage
  2.    Repair existing damage
  3.    Optimize performance for the future

*** SAFETY DISCLAIMER: If you have any condition and especially if you're on meds for things like thyroid levels, cholesterol control, or blood sugar management, make sure you make any changes in your diet/lifestyle in partnership with your doctor.  Even "good" effects of dietary changes can be risky if you mess with the balance established by your medication.

So, let's dig in.

Component 1: Intake.

For our discussion, we'll consider "intake" everything from your mouth to your intestines.  Once it passes through the intestine wall, we'll call that processing.  Intake metabolism involves: quality, digestibility, and timing of food consumed and your digestive tract's ability to break it down into a consumable form.

The human body uses a multi-stage system to get food into a usable form.  Chewing and the stomach handle the mechanical breakdown to pieces that are small enough to act on.  The stomach sanitizes the food particles with acid, killing off bacteria.  Different enzymes specifically target proteins, fats, and carbohydrates and attach to them for transport through the intestinal wall.  Vitamins and minerals are either fat soluable or water soluable, depending on the type. 

What you can do:
     1. Stop inflicting damage.  Since our bodies are designed to take in nutrients as fats, proteins, and carbohydrates as well as micronutrient vitamins and minerals, choose foods that are rich in these substances and limited in non-nutrient additives.  These elements may not be caloric (because they can't be digested), but they represent extra work for your system to do.  Choose foods that are more bioavailable, naturally taking the strain out of your system.  

Manage your portions.  The stomach is involved in mechanical breakdown of food, like a food processor.  What happens if you overload a food processor?  You get uneven breakdown because movement is restricted.  The same thing when you overload your stomach; you get bloated, uncomfortable, and your digestion is hindered. This can lead to a vicious cycle as over-filling your stomach often leads to heartburn, for which you take antacid (even though it's not the acid's fault) which makes your food harder to digest, which perpetuates the backlog.  It's a good case for eating more, smaller meals for many people.

When is the right time to eat?  We are a proponent of sticking to a schedule so that we don't get too low and we don't overeat at any given time.  But, eat when you're hungry.  The time of day may determine what kinds of foods you choose, but the whole "no food after 7pm" thing is a non-issue, metabolically.   

     2. Repair existing damage.  Learn whether you have sensitivities to particular foods.  Most food allergies are specifically related to a particular protein.  Only about 1% of people have Celiac's disease, but at least 6% have gluten sensitivity, which can really negatively impact the digestive surfaces of the intestines, leading to malabsorbtion of the nutrients you need.  If you feel particularly uncomfortable after eating a particular food (dairy, nuts, etc.) it may be an indication of sensitivity.  Eliminate only one element at a time and stick with it for at least a week to see whether and how it affects you.

     3. Optimize your system.  Get plenty of water!  A shocking number of people walk around partially dehydrated all day long.  Water is an essential component of the digestive process.  Some sources recommend limiting water intake during meals, as it dilutes the stomach acid that breaks your food down.  Also, make sure you're getting some healthy fats in your diet to aid with the digestion of fat-soluable vitamans and minerals.  

Component 2: Processing.

As we discussed earlier, "processing" begins at the intestine wall and describes the mechanisms used to prepare nutrients for distribution.  The line here between processing and distribution is a little fuzzy, but, we're just doing this for ease of discussion, so we'll accept the arbitrary split.

Once macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals have made it through the intestine wall, these components pass through your liver and circulatory system.  They're spurred along by hormones, which are the "traffic cops" of the digestive process.  

What you can do:
     1. Stop inflicting damage.  The liver is a beast of a filtration system.  It's also grand central station for the nutrition process.  In addition to the recommendations in "Intake," limit alcohol use.  Limit fructose in your diet (e.g. sugar-sweetened drinks and foods with high-fructose corn syrup).  These both put additional strain on your liver in return for NO real nutritional benefit.  Refined carbohydrates and non-refined simple carbs in excess continually spike insulin levels, which will make your muscles insulin resistant and may eventually exhaust your pancreas entirely.

**Note - there is still controversy in the nutritional community about the relative cost/benefit of fats (particularly saturated fats) compared to carbohydrates.  Here's our take:  Fat consumption, as a nation, has gone down over the last 30 years, yet obesity and related conditions continue to increase. This demonstrates that the relationship between fat consumption and these conditions is not as strong as once thought.  Refined carbohydrates (sugars, flour), meanwhile, continue to play an ever-increasing role in our daily intake because they are inexpensive, last forever, and are tasty.  You're probably eating them in places you never expected, like low-fat dressing.  These ingredients, in contrast to fats, offer nothing nutritionally beyond energy.  So, whether you could cut fat or not, you can always eliminate foods heavy in refined carbs without any risk of malnutrition.  So - fat-haters - we hear you; we still stick with the recommendation to ditch the refined carbs.  

     2. Repair existing damage.  As many as 1/3 of Americans have metabolic syndrome, characterized by fatty liver (the non-alcoholic version of cirrhosis) and insulin resistance.  We're not getting any younger, and the effects of these things are cumulative over time.  Together, fatty liver and insulin resistance lead to inflammation of the joints, increased "bad" LDL cholesterol, decreased "good" HDL cholesterol, and significantly increased risk of heart disease.  You can reverse these conditions by removing the refined carbs, maintaining a healthy level of balanced fat intake, and exercising (even very moderate levels of activity).  The result of which will likely be weight loss - itself an aggrivating condition of metabolic syndrome.  

     3. Optimize your system.  Regular bouts of exercise increase insulin sensitivity.  High-intensity cardio activities, like sprint intervals, as well as strength training are most effective, but steady-state cardio like jogging or aerobics also positively impact insulin sensitivity.  The effects only last for about 24-48 hours post-workout, though, so consistency is key.  

Component 3: Distribution.

Distribution involves actually getting nutrients to the places in the body where they can be used. We're now talking about the cells and tissues that are the end users of what we eat.  People don't often think of the demand side of eating beyond their stomach.  But, trust me, this is where it's at.  

We typically associate aging with changes in skin tone, muscle mass, bone density, and energy levels. These are the "demand" activities we need to stimulate to derail the aging process.  The food and pharmaceutical marketers want you to believe that you need a pill for vitamins, a supplement for digestive health, another pill to fight off the heartburn, a drink for energy, yet another pill for vitality, and Cheerios to be "heart healthy".  That is, if you're not already on statin drugs to fight down the cholesterol.  Do we REALLY believe that the human body is so fundamentally broken that it can't maintain a healthy, functioning system without all this medical intervention at every stage? 

What you can do:
     1. Stop the damage.  Cellular health is maintained by a steady stream of essential fatty acids.  Diets extremely low in fat, or ones that provide only the kind of artificially hydrogenated trans-fats found in fast food and low-grade processed foods do not deliver what the cells need to repair and restore.  Inflammation in the joints can also be positively impacted by ensuring you have sufficient fat in your diet, along with reducing the intake of refined carbs, which promote inflammation.  

     2. Repair existing damage.  Cellular damage is from the process of oxidation.  These damaged cells, if they don't self-destruct properly, become free radicals, which are essentially "baby cancers" waiting to attach to something and create more damaged cells.  Including anti-oxidant-rich foods, such as blueberries, in addition to ensuring you're consuming sufficient amounts of healthy fats, will help reduce this oxidation process.

     3. Optimize your system.  In two words: create demand.  As children and young adults, our bodies were operating on biological imperatives: grow, survive, and reproduce.  These imperatives are accompanied by a flood of hormonal activity that brings renewal.  Those days may be starting to fade into the rear-view mirror, but you can still create stimuli that spark an increase in those hormones and the activities that go with them.  Lifting weights stimulates testosterone, growth hormone, promotes bone density, and, if done correctly a little thing called protein turnover (which we've written about before).  Lifting also creates a unique level of demand for new energy in your muscles, dramatically increasing your glucose uptake.

Another, often overlooked method of increasing your resting metabolism is to gain weight.  I know - everyone is talking and thinking about losing weight.  But body weight is a key factor in the equation of daily energy consumption.  Obviously, the weight we'd like you to gain is muscle and not body fat.  But it can't be ignored: people who weigh more burn more (and the opposite is true as well).

Component 4: Expulsion.

At the end of the day, your body needs to be efficient and effective at eliminating non-digestible and waste material to complete the cycle.  People with damage in this phase of their metabolism are, in fact, at risk for reabsorbtion of toxic materials and bacteria the liver and kidneys selected to eliminate.  "Cleanses" are a popular staple of pop-fitness pseudo-science. But, the fact of the matter is, your body is designed to handle this task as well.

If you are not regular, join the club.  Probiotic foods and supplements as well as fiber supplements are flying off the shelves.  Don't ignore this!  The simplest and most reliable indicator of digestive health is regularity.  My own experience with IBS lasted years, and only ended when I cleaned up my diet and started getting enough sleep.  

What you can do: 
     1. Stop inflicting damage.  As I mentioned in the "intake" portion, our bodies are designed and equiped to digest certain nutrients.  The body can certainly absorb things that don't conform to this list, or medicines wouldn't heal and poisons wouldn't kill when ingested.  But, on the whole, the body considers its list of "foods" to be protein, fat, and carbohydrate, along with essential vitamins and minerals.  Anything else you eat, dyes, colors, preservatives, flavors, and texturizers are in the "not food" list.  This leaves it to your gut to deal with.  In a previous article, I compared the difference between a breast-fed baby's diaper and a formula-fed one.  The difference should make you really think about what you put your gut through every day.  Eat foods that are close to their natural state, things that will go bad in a week if you don't put them in the freezer.  The fewer ingredients on the label (most of what we buy doesn't even have a label) the better.  And, also mentioned previously - hydrate. Sip water consistently throughout the day.  Keep it around you.

Cleanses and diuretics are not the answer.  In many cases, they can be unsafe, because they can alter the PH or water balances in your system.  At best, they will provide temporary symptom relief that will be short-lived.

     2.  Repair existing damage.  If you've already learned about food intolerances and dealt with them, you're well on your way.  As long as there hasn't been any permanent damage done to your digestive tract, the removal of foods to which you're sensitive and a diet of whole, fresh foods should induce your system to "bounce back."  If, after 4-8 weeks of clean eating and good hydration, you haven't noticed real, positive change in this aspect of your life, it's time to see an allergist or internist to figure out what's going on.

     3. Optimize your system.  In addition to hydration, certain minerals figure prominently in this aspect of digestive health, magnesium chief amongh them.  (Look at the ingredients of many laxatives, milk of magnesia, e.g.).  Green vegetables, such as brussel sprouts, are great natural sources of magnesium.  This is actually the only nutritional supplement we take.

Really, that's it? Diet and exercise?  

There's a reason people keep coming back to the same old standbys; you just can't skip the fundamentals.  But, hopefully, reading this, you've got a little new perspective on the precise mechanisms that affect your metabolism and how you can impact them.  I'd like to add that this is really just scratching the surface of a very deep subject.  But, get the fundamentals right and see what happens.  If you're not seeing a significant improvement in a few weeks, it's time to take additional steps, with the assistance of a doctor and nutritionist.