Monthly Archives: September 2013

Exercise During Pregnancy: a Discussion

Lea-Ann Ellison, 35, has been an avid follower of CrossFit training for several years.

Today I was at a loss for what to write about… until this story showed up on Google News: Health.

The article discusses the debate started when Crossfit posted pictures of Lea-Ann Ellison, 8 and a half months pregnant, doing Olympic lifts to their Facebook. There are around 2000 comments debating the merits of Lea-Ann’s routine, but I wondered, what does science have to say?

As usually it seems there are no definitive answers. 

Before I continue, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you all that…

I am not a doctor. Take any conclusions I draw or allude to as you would from a friend, not a medical professional.

Phew, anyways. Continuing with the subject at hand…

Main Facts

  • She is 35 years old and a former body builder
  • This is her third pregnancy
  • The images were taken 2 weeks before her due date
  • She has been actively training since she was 16, and a Crossfitter for the past two and a half years.
  • Her OBGYN approved her continuing exercising, as long as she met certain guidelines, such as staying at low weights (usually using no more than 35lbs–the barbell in the picture only weighs 45), never doing lifts she did not feel totally in control of, and not “pushing to the limit” such as the style of Crossfit usually dictates.

Ellison’s claims that by staying active, she has avoided getting many of the common ailments that are common with pregnancy…

No back aches. No sciatic nerve issues. No sickness or cravings. I attribute this all to being healthy and strong. And studies show that strong fit mums have strong healthy babies. Exercise keeps weight issues down and that of course keeps diabetes rates low. Exercise also produces endorphins from the mother that get passed along to the baby. Happy mom equals happy baby.

Last note on the case for Ellison: a caller in this interview did bring up that if the pictures were of her holding a young child “who may even weigh up to 100 pounds” over her head, “no one would say a thing, it would be totally normal.”

Science Approves of Brawny Mommies…to a Point

Scholars tend to agree with Ellison, with the caveat that she doesn’t push herself too hard. It is not recommended to start Crossfit, at least in it’s usual form, during pregnancy, but many doctors believe that women who exercise on a regular basis have no reason to stop because they are expecting. (Hartmann)

The current advice accepted by the general medical community is for mothers to continue the exercises that they were doing previous to conception, but to be very aware of their level of exertion. (WebMD)

  • You should be able to speak full sentences at any time during an exercise
  • Beware of warning signs
  • Don’t try to set a PR! Keep in mind that as your pregnancy progresses, you won’t be able to do as much. Don’t try to keep up with previous times or lifts–you’re exercising for the health of you and your child, not competitively.
  • Abdominal exercises are fine to perform during pregnancy, but as with any exercise, pay attention! If it feels “weird” or uncomfortable, stop. Past the first trimester, it’s not a good idea to lie on your back, so substitute conventional abdominal exercises with modified or standing versions.

Danger Signs to Watch For

If you experience any of these while working out during your pregnancy, stop and call your doctor immediately:

  • Nausea that persists after you’ve cooled down
  • Sudden change in body temperature
  • Heart palpitations
  • Swollen calves
  • Vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking –contact a health provider immediately, or go to the ER
  • Fainting
  • Sharp pains in your chest or abdomen

As always, workout smart, not hard, especially when you’re making a new person! (Babycenter)

Parting Thoughts

I’ve yet to boot up the ol’ in-unit 3D printer, but this information makes me a little less scared of it. I feel for Ellison, though I’m not sure what my opinion of her actions are. Sure, she wasn’t actually lifting that much in the picture, and the images were originally taken for a personal photo shoot. But how will a non-informed mom take this? Will she do her research and see that Ellison was careful? What about a mom with body-image issues?

What do you think of Ellison’s action?

If you’ve been pregnant, what exercise, if any, did you do?

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How Important is a Good Workout Playlist?

Need to go to the gym, but not feeling motivated? Feeling run down by the world? Craving that pre-workout supplement, or maybe having a moment where you considering purchasing some? Science says that you can get similar benefits from your ear buds as from your local GNC.

Music as a Supplement

Music, undeniably, affects our bodies production and regulation of hormones, cytokines, peptides, and signalling molecules for neurotransmitters. Our emotions, stress levels, and immune function are thus altered while we listen to those sweet beats (Gangrade). It stands to reason that the right tunes can give us a physiological boost, as well as a psychological one.

Techno music, specifically, has been found to cause a significant increase in heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and a raise in emotional state. A 1998 study suggests that 30 minutes of fast techno music would out perform many pre-workout supplements, by boosting not only your heart rate and blood pressure, but also by increasing your endorphines, GH, and noripenephrine by about 50%.

Effect of 30 minutes of techno and classical music on heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure (data adapted from Gerra. 1998 by Suppversity)

Relative (to baseline) neurotransmitter, catecholamine and hormone response to 30 minutes of techno vs. 30 minutes of classical music (data adapted from Gerra. 1998 by Suppversity )

What if you don’t like techno? Don’t listen to it! Being subjected to music you don’t like can make you feel tired faster, and raise your perceived exertion without any actual increase in heart rate(Nakamura).

You’ll get similar benefits by listening to any music that syncs with your heartbeat. As you exert yourself further, you’ll get more bang for your [heart] pump by listening to music that matches the tempo of your body (Karageorghis).

Resources for the Perfect Playlist

I’m a huge fan of Steady130, a site that creates monthly original mixes and organizes them by beats per minute. They have a few different genres of songs, and I either stream them from my phone or download them (depending on how reliable the WiFi will be where I’m working out). 

If you want to look up the beats per minute of any song, check out songbpm or runningplaylist.

Closing Thoughts

Do you run to music?

What kind of music do you perform cardio to, vs. anaerobic (lifting)?

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What is Runner’s High?

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I would class myself as a runner. A slow runner, but a runner. I only recently broke a 30 minute 5k, so I’m by no means a speed demon, but as we learned from the video yesterday, women aren’t meant to be that fast…right?

Regardless, running is my therapy. It’s what I feel like I need to do when I’m overwhelmed with the world and all I want to do is hide. It seems that if I run long enough, any problem can be solved, any load can be lightened.

I also want to run when I’m feeling particularly happy and engaged. I am guilty of being a “drunk sprinter,” and I think it’s because my body knows that I’ll feel awesome if I run, even if it’s down a bar crawl street in boots.

Regular runners call this the runner’s high, others who engage in cardio that isn’t running may call it exercise high. But what is it, really?

Endocannibids and Euphoria

According to research done by Raichlen and Affiliates at Arizona University, at a certain level of intensity (usually around 20-30 minute of moderate to intense effort for humans) cardio exercise has an affect on endocannibids, which play a significant part in our moods by signalling the production of endorphins and canniboids. 

Say What?

The “high” is partially the pituitary gland sending out endorphins to help your body push through the pain when you have maxed out your muscle glycogen stores and switched to anaerobic activity (fat burning instead of glycogen burning). However, endorphins cannot get through the blood-brain barrier, and therefore can only be responsible for the lack of physical discomfort, and natural pacing rhythm achieved. The canniboid anandamide, however, can and does get through the blood brain barrier, and is released when the CB1 receptor is triggered by those handy endocanniboids I mentioned earlier, which are released during prolonged physical stress.

How Long Do I Have To Run Until I Like It?!

A common question asked to runners is “how can you like doing that to yourself!?” We usually roughly translate that to “How long do I have to run until I’m not thinking about how much I don’t want to run anymore?”

This is different for each person. The mechanism of runner’s high can be simplified to bustin’ A hard enough for long enough that your body releases morphine to help your muscles keep moving. Timing it seems to be a matter of how hard you’re willing to work–the slower you go, the longer you have to wait.

However, the “golden” advice I have heard time and time again is “30-60 continuous minutes of working.” If you’re not there yet, I highly suggest either C25k training, or just starting with what you can do and working your way up (worked for me!).

If you’re an experienced runner, but perhaps not getting the same “high” as before, try varying the speed of your runs, doing a fartlek run (you have no idea how many puns I have to put up with), or perhaps trying hill sprints to get that same glow going.

Parting Thoughts

Have you ever had an exercise induced feeling of euphoria?

Do you do cardio regularly? Why?

If you’re a LCHF runner, do you get a runner’s high really quickly? Because I certainly do… and now I know why!

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Controlling Emotional Eating

I’ve only met a few people who are unfamiliar with emotionally eating, and I’m not sure I believe them. For this particular discussion I’m going to focus on emotional eating triggered by stress, instead of boredom.

Before we even begin, let me just make sure the record is straight: I pride myself on my control of my emotional eating, but there is still a gluttonous beast within me that every so often, slips its chain.

icecream

Objectively Speaking:

To qualify it as a subject worthy of study, the parameters set (via WebMD) are:

  1. Sudden onset
  2. Feeling like the hunger must be satisfied immediately; excessive urgency
  3. Continuing eating while full, possibly to the point of discomfort
  4. Feeling guilt during and/or after consuming the meal.

Generally, this kind of hunger is brought on by stress–be it sadness, anger, guilt, or fear. It’s one of the oldest evolutionary responses: “I need fuel, there’s going to be a fight or a flight.” 

The First Step: Recognition

Just like any problem, the first step is recognizing that there is a problem. For me, this is generally mid spoonful just after I’ve reached the point where yes, those calories definitely count, there is no way I can rationalize that away as “just a taste.”

I like to think that educating yourself on brain chemistry will help you combat your cravings and urges when next you catch yourself in the act–generally, this is my approach when I’m gorging because of frivolous reasons. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing really does help you control it. 

Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?!

What science can tell us:

  1. Ghrelin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry, is released just as reliably when we’re stressed as when we have gone for several hours without food. Ghrelin also has some interaction with the hormones that control depression and anxiety, and can act as a natural antidepressent (though this sounds like a jump off into a conversation about anorexia, I’d rather not go there, at least not today). Source
  2. Those who lack fish oil in their diet are more likely to have low moods, which may cause stress eating. This is because they run low on docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. This can be mitigated by taking fish oil pills, if you either don’t like fish or don’t like its effect on your wallet.
  3. Often times we crave food that was given to us as a reward in the past, especially during childhood. This alone is a fantastic argument against giving food “prizes” to kids for good behavior. Source
  4. Foods that are high in fat and/or sugar often stimulate various hormones in our brains that cause us to feel happy and/or relaxed.

Why Am I Craving Sugar?

Craving sugar can happen for one of two reasons, and it’s usually a combination of both:

  • You were given sugar as a child to make you feel better, and associate it with comfort, love, and safety.
  • Your body wants a blood sugar spike.

Craving sugar because of your past is something that must be overcome psychologically, and unfortunately that’s as much as science can tell us at this point. However, it’s somewhat rare for that to be the only reason I really want that mocha instead of black coffee when I’m having a rough day.

The blanket reason seems to be adrenal fatigue. If you haven’t had enough sleep–be that because of too full a schedule, or laying awake worrying about things–or are spending too much time feeling “rushed” or pressured, often times your body will turn to an outside source of energy to keep you awake. Blood sugar spikes do this quite well, especially since our body conveniently forgets that we will, inevitably, have a blood sugar crash, which will only make it all worse.

Next time you’re craving something very sugary (not fatty, so think something along the lines of hard candy), stop and evaluate how tired you are, physically and emotionally. If “exhausted” is an adjective you’d assign to yourself, perhaps try finding a quiet corner and relaxing/take a nap (guide to timing your nap) before you dig in, and see if you don’t feel better.

Why Am I Craving Fat?

This answer is rooted more in evolution, but isn’t entirely unlike our desire for sugar or carbohydrates.

Think about how a human’s day went before the agricultural revolution: We use up a lot of calories for our size because of our brain, so, in order to supply those calories, humans evolved to eat mostly dead animals. In order to survive, they hunted. If the hunt was unsuccessful, they went hungry. If they went hungry for too long, they died.

For this reason, we developed a preference for fatty animals, and our bodies have adapted to process both animal fats and proteins exceptionally. Our bodies can be fueled entirely on these two food sources (given that the animals had a natural diet and thus have nutrient rich flesh, which unfortunately is usually not the case today).

When a hunt was successful, those who helped were most likely physically spent, and eating the best parts, especially on the outside of the animal, was their reward. This is the theory behind why we crave it during stressful times: eating fat signals to our brain that we will not starve.

This video explains it well, though I do not completely condone taking chunks out of a stick of butter (I can’t really argue why it’s bad, it’s just … icky. If that’s your thing though…). Warning: this is an advertisement, but it is factually correct: Eat More Butter from Tiny Falcon on Vimeo.

Ending Thoughts

I hope that this post explained a little bit about how brains work in the face of delicious treats, and maybe I helped someone out there.

As always, for any craving, I’m a big advocate of drinking a 16+ oz glass of cold water first. I also think distraction works amazingly well. If you have a computer in front of you, pick your poison; at a party, my favorite thing to do is try to remember every word to a song, or start a conversation with someone about a very engaging topic. Being alone is always the hardest, but is also usually the only time you can nap if you feel that’s why you’re feeling peckish.

How do you combat your cravings? 

What do you crave when you’re stressed? 

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The case for Intermittent Fasting

This past weekend was the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. On this day, Jews around the world (and their doting husbands, apparently) do not eat from sun down to sun down, and reflect on their misdeeds of the previous year and how they can better themselves.

The effects of fasting has many purposes. For the very religious, the belief is that the spirit–the life force that animates the physical body–is forced to be uncomfortable as it’s “home” suffers. For the not-so religious, such as me and my husband, the mental and emotional blunting that comes along with fasting serves as an official time to reflect and be in a semi-meditative state for much longer than is usually possible. We have made it our “family” custom to spend this time together, really appreciate each other as people, and talk out any problems that may have been festering throughout the year.

And for everyone, the effects fasting has on blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, and disease prevention can be interesting, to say the least.

“Eat like a lion”

That quote seems to be fairly popular within the intermittent fasting(IF) community, and it’s not hard to see why. Our ability as humans to run long distances serves as proof that we were, for a long time, a persistence hunting species (we actually still are in some parts of the world).

If you’re interested in learning more about our long distances abilities, this is a great talk to watch:

The major take-away quotes from this video that relate to fasting are:

Two million years ago the human brain exploded in size. Australopithecus had a tiny little pea brain. Suddenly humans show up — Homo erectus — big, old melon-head. To have a brain of that size, you need to have a source of condensed caloric energy. In other words, early humans are eating dead animals — no argument, that’s a fact. The only problem is, the first edged weapons only appeared about 200,000 years ago. So, somehow, for nearly two million years, we are killing animals without any weapons. Now, we’re not using our strength because we are the biggest sissies in the jungle. Every other animal is stronger than we are — they have fangs, they have claws, they have nimbleness, they have speed. We think Usain Bolt is fast. Usain Bolt can get his ass kicked by a squirrel.”

“Maybe we evolved as a hunting pack animal. Because the one advantage we have in the wilderness — again, it’s not our fangs and our claws and our speed — the only thing we do really, really well is sweat. We’re really good at being sweaty and smelly. Better than any other mammal on Earth, we can sweat really well. But the advantage of that little bit of social discomfort is the fact that, when it comes to running under hot heat for long distances, we’re superb, we’re the best on the planet. You take a horse on a hot day, and after about five or six miles, that horse has a choice. It’s either going to breathe or it’s going to cool off, but it ain’t doing both — we can. So what if we evolved as hunting pack animals? What if the only natural advantage we had in the world was the fact that we could get together as a group, go out there on that African Savannah, pick out an antelope and go out as a pack and run that thing to death? That’s all we could do. We could run really far on a hot day.”

It can be logically argued that it is not natural for us to eat 3 small meals and snacks a day. This is the foundation for the theory of intermittent fasting as a whole.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

IF is the practice of fasting for a period of 10+ hours.

The most popular options are not eating for 14-16 hours every day, and having a “window” of allowed caloric intake, or fasting completely for 24 hours, twice a week, with normal intake the other 5 days.

Brad Pilon explains it best here:

Benefits to IF

There is evidence that regular fasting for short amounts of time (under 48 hours) has a similar effect on the body as regular exercise on both heart and brain function and disease resistence, though there are still some unknowns. Multiple studies have found implications that fasting regularly can reduce the risk for disease, even in those genetically prone:

“After 3 months of IF or regular every-day feeding (control) diets started in 2-month-old rats, myocardial infarction (MI) was induced by coronary artery ligation [tying]. Twenty-four hours after MI, its size in the IF group was 2-fold smaller, the number of apoptotic myocytes in the area at risk was 4-fold less, and the inflammatory response was significantly reduced compared with the control diet group. ”

— Cardioprotection by Intermittent Fasting in Rats
Ismayil Ahmet, MD, PhD; Ruiqian Wan, PhD; Mark P. Mattson, PhD; Edward G. Lakatta, MD; Mark Talan, MD, PhD
Available here: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/112/20/3115.long
 

Essentially the findings of that study are that rodents kept on an IF schedule suffered less cell death, and repaired more efficiently from the injury of having one of the valves in their heart tied closed (as close as researchers could get to mimicking a heart attack).

There are some studies that also suggest IF could have a hand in preventing Alheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease when started by middle age or sooner:

“IF may therefore protect neurons against adverse effects of Aβ and tau pathologies on synaptic function. We conclude that CR and IF dietary regimens can ameliorate age-related deficits in cognitive function by mechanisms that may or may not be related to Aβ and tau pathologies.”

– Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction ameliorate age-related behavioral deficits in the triple-transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease
Veerendra Kumar Madala Halagappa; Zhihong Guo; Michelle Pearson; Yasuji Matsuoka; Roy G. Cutler; Frank M. LaFerla; Mark P. Mattson,⁎
Available here: http://matsuokalab.georgetown.edu/pubs/2007%20Neurobiol%20Dis%20Caloric%20restriction.pdf

Lastly, there is evidence that IF can provide the same benefits to resting glucose and insulin sensitivity as a reduced calorie diet, even if the subject ends up eating as many calories (over a 48 hour time period) as they would had they not been restricted in any way:

“The findings of this study suggest that IF can enhance health and cellular resistance to disease even if the fasting period is followed by a period of overeating such that overall caloric intake is not decreased.”

– Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake
R. Michael Anson, Zhihong Guo, Rafael de Cabo, Titilola Iyun, Michelle Rios, Adrienne Hagepanos, Donald K. Ingram, Mark A. Lane, Mark P. Mattson
Available here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC156352/
 

Conclusion

I have never done IF, but writing this article has made me reevaluate my eating schedule. I’d love to try this, my only concern is the social aspect of it.

Have you ever fasted for health reasons? How did it go?

Do you practice IF? Why?

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Curry Chicken without the Coconut

Hello all! Welcome to my very first recipe blog.

I’m going to show you how to cook one my very favorite weeknight dinners. It’s super easy and super keto. Also it’s a curry with NO COCONUT in it! Hurray! One of my biggest trials with keto is that a lot of my favorite resources have started talking about how wonderful coconut is for you, and how helpful it is with LCHF diets…but alas, I am terribly allergic.

Without further ado, here is Chicken Curry, as performed by the newest Gatesman.

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Get out a nice big frying pan. I used stainless steel but there’s no reason not to use whichever one you want–just keep in mind that this recipe serves either 2 very hungry people or 3 normal people.

Add about 2 tablespoons of some kind of fat, I used olive oil because that’s what I had. Turn the pan to low to warm up.

While the pan is warming up, cut one of those big white onions in half. Put away one half, and dice the other half, like so:

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The oil should be hot now, so put those suckers in the pan. Add a cup of water right after you put them in…

….I know I know But Becca! this doesn’t let them caramelize. Keep in mind that this is my go-to week night dinner for when I want to be not-cooking ASAP. If you have the time to let them, then please, caramelize your onions. But it you don’t and you’re just going to burn them and call them caramelized, put the water in so you have tender onions, not burnt cracklings.

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Stir that sucker around. This is a good time to also add a heaping tablespoon of diced garlic or garlic in olive oil (what I used)

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Next up, get out two chicken boobs, or about 20 oz worth, raw. For you on the East coast, I used two of those massive ones from Wegmans.

Cut them up into pieces equal to or smaller than the size of your thumb. Put them in the pan with the onions and garlic.

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You can turn the heat up a little bit at this point, to low-medium. Or y’know, whatever you feel is appropriate–gas ranges are like that.

This is how high mine was, though:

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Alright, here comes the fun part!

I usually do a base layer of Badia Curry Powder. This is a pretty standard, American palate friendly curry powder, and it’s about $1.50 for 6 months worth.

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After the base layer is applied, it’s time for The Expensive Curry. These are my pistols in my own personal cooking Western.

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I usually apply 2-3 of the 5 options, depending how I feel and what smells like dinner to me that night. For this particular meal I used Tandoori, Balti, and a little bit of Maharajah.

This is also when you should apply your spice–I used about 2 teaspoons of Huy Fong Foods’ (that’s the company that makes Sriracha) Chili Garlic Sauce. Think strong thoughts. 

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Stir that bad boy up. Add another cup of water.

At this point, if you want to have a low fat meal, continue to simmer until done. It’ll look something like this

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However, those on the keto goodness track, add yer dollop of sour cream now. Or I guess your coconut oil if you’re reading this post for no good reason.

Yes, I’m using sour cream as a replacement for coconut. No, I’m not ashamed or sorry.

Yes, I’m using a cow product in Indian food. Deal with it. I’m just sacrilegious like that. If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. And so on…

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Stir that bad boy up, simmer for a few more seconds until it’s pleasingly combined, and you’re done!

I served mine over cauliflower in various forms. My husband eats his over rice. We both win.

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2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups of water
2 chicken breasts
2 tbsp sour cream
generous curry powder
generous garlic
half a white onion
1 tbsp chili garlic sauce
1 tsp kosher salt

1. Add 2 tbsp oil to a pan. Turn flame on low
2. As the pan is warming up, chop up the onion
3. Add the onion to the pan. Add 1 cup of water and stir
4. Add diced up garlic, or garlic in olive oil (what I used, I’m lazy). Stir
5. Cut the chicken into pieces the same size as, or smaller, than your thumb
6. Add chicken to pan. Stir
7. Allow chicken to cook until halfway through, or about a minute.
8. Add curry powder, the second cup of water, and chili garlic sauce to pan. Stir
9. Add the sour cream (this is used in place of coconut milk, I find it’s a perfect replacement!). Stir
10. Check one of the bigger pieces of chicken for doneness, but it should be all set.

Serve over “rice’d” cauliflower, mashed cauliflower, or regular rice. If you put in as much chilli as I direct, you may want to put an extra dollop of sour cream on top 😉

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For the whole recipe: 

980 calories, 16 g total carbohydrates, 3 g fiber (13 g net carbs), 119 g protein, 43 g fat

For 1/3 (one serving)

327 calories, 5 g total carbohydrates, 1 g fiber (4 g net carbs), 40 g protein, 14 g fat

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