Archive for January, 2012

Many people at the beginning of this year made the quest to find better health, lose weight, or possibly gain more energy. But, are they doing the right thing to attain this? I was at the gym the other night gazing among the attendees. This year and like every other year at this time, the gym is slam packed with people running, jumping, working as hard as they possibly can to reach their goals.  I applaud them for their valiant and courageous efforts.  Honestly, these hardworking individuals are going about it the wrong way.  Chronic cardio or better yet, exercsing at higher intensities for an extended amount of time is not the route you take for optimal health and continued weight loss.  You are setting yourself up for failure, stagnant weight loss, and multiple trips to the doctor with common colds and joint injuries.  Here’s why:

Humans, like all mammals, evolved with two primary energy systems that powered the skeletal muscles of our hunter-gatherer ancestors 40,000 years ago and that is what keeps us all well-powered the same way today. 

The first energy system relied heavily on the slow burning of fats, keeping us fueled while we were at rest or sleeping, yet also allowing for continuous or intermittent low levels of aerobic activity (think of our ancestors walking through the woods for hours on end looking for vegetation in the form of berries, roots, insects and the occasional small animal).  It makes sense. Fats are very efficient fuels that are stored easily in the fat cells and burn easily and cleanly when lots of oxygen is present (as when we are breathing normally). Even if there’s no food in the immediate area, a well-trained fat-burning hunter-gatherer could continue walking and foraging for days without compromising his or her health or efficiency.

The second major energy system we developed through evolution was an ATP-fueled system that allowed for intense loads of work to be done in very brief bursts (think of our hunter-gatherer ancestors sprinting to the safety of a tree to avoid being eaten by a a sabertooth cat).  ATP is always sitting right there within the muscle cells, available in a split second, and it is the highest octane fuel we have.  In fact, it’s ATP and adrenaline that allows the father of a young boy to pick up an extremely heavy object  preventing his son from being smashed to death.  Unfortunately, the muscles can only store about 20 seconds worth of this valuable fuel to complete life-or-death tasks. If our ancestors survived that quick sprint to safety away from the cat, their ATP reserves were filled again within minutes using the other energy systems.

Bottom line: Fats and ATP were the two primary energy sources for locomotion: we either moved slowly and steadily or “fight or flight” fast, and we became stronger and healthier the more we used only those energy systems.

So, what do we get from this?  We did not evolve to rely heavily on a carbodydrate-fueled energy system, and yet, carbohydrate metabolism seems to rule our lives today.  I here all the time how doctors are telling people to go on these low-fat diets.  Yes, carbohydrate (in the form of glucose) can play a major role in the production of energy in skeletal muscle, but it turns out that the heart and skeletal muscle prefer fatty acids (fat) as fuel over glucose.  We are in a carbohydrate driven world.  Take a look at the majority of all food product commercials.  I’m not telling you to go out and eat a bunch of fat.  I’ll talk about balanced eating at a later date.


Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t regularly ramp their heart rates up for over an hour a day like so many of us do now. Even when the concept of organized hunting came along, it would appear that our hunter-gatherer ancestors relied more on superior tracking ability (using our brains) and walking (using our superior fat-burning systems), rather than on actually “chasing down” their prey.  How often would our ancestors been eaten running through the woods with all the lions, tigers, and bears? Very.  In fact, wasting valuable energy reserves (and increasing carbohydrate [glucose] metabolism by a factor of ten) by running hard for long periods of time was so counterproductive it would have likely led to the demise of mankind.   Not only would they have lost tons of energy and been exhausted in the hunt,  they would have become the prey themselves.

Well, we know that this current popular high intensity aerobic pursuit is a dead-end. It requires huge amounts carbohydrate (sugar) to sustain, it promotes hyperinsulinemia (overproduction of insulin), increases oxidative damage (the production of free radicals) by a factor of 10 or 20 times normal, and generates high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in many people, leaving them susceptible to infection, injury, loss of bone density and depletion of lean muscle tissue – while encouraging their bodies to deposit fat.  Higher cortisol levels, more stress, save the organs and store the fat.  Then, more carbohydrates needed for energy.  Workout harder, eat more.  It shouldn’t be that difficult.  What, then, is the answer?

Knowing what we know about our hunter-gatherer ancestors and our energy systems, we would ideally setup an aerobics plan that would have us walking or hiking several hours a day to maximize our true fat-burning systems and then doing intermittent “life or death” sprints every few days to generate those growth spurts that create stronger, leaner muscle.  Increase your daily NEAT.  Anything that burns calories that is not structured exercise, eating, or sleeping.  Take the stairs, stand while talking on the phone, horseplay with your children, etc.  Strength train 2-3 times a week to maintain your muscle mass.  Whatever you do, don’t exercise for more than 45 minutes at a time and don’t do it everyday.  This is not the way.  If you’re goal is a marathon, then you have to do what you have to do.  If optimal health, weight loss, and reduced sickness is on your list, be active, don’t over exercsie, eat clean, and sleep well!


It’s that time again. You know, the New Year, the resolutions, the changes everyone is going to make for the better.  When it comes to health and fitness don’t make the mistake of going extreme and setting overly lofty goals.  You will only set yourself up for failure and make things worse.  People, who are in shape, make the commitment daily and challenge themselves to be consistent and make health and fitness an everyday habit.  Starting the New Year off on the so-called best new diet or working out 7-10 hours a week is not the right approach.  I’d suggest incorporating something small like telling yourself to eat 5 total servings fruits and veggies a day and limiting processed foods. Or, telling yourself you are going to the gym 3 times a week for the first month.  Jumping into things too often, too quickly will lead to burnout and possible injury. 

What do you do?

1)     Choose an obtainable goal. To say you are going to look like a super model is not realistic  for most of us, but promising to include more daily physical activity in our lives is very possible.

 2)     Avoid choosing a resolution that you’ve been unsuccessful at achieving year after year. This will only set you up for failure, frustration and disappointment.  If you are still tempted to make a promise that you’ve made before, then try altering it.  For example, instead of stating that you are going to lose 30 pounds, try promising to eat healthier and increase your weekly exercise.

 3)     Create a game plan.  Write a comprehensive plan.  All successful businesses start with a business plan that describes their mission and specifics on how they will achieve it.  Write your own personalized plan and you’ll be more likely to succeed as well.  Make your health your own business that you work on day to day.

 4)     Break it down and make it less intimidating.  Instead of creating one major goal, break it down into smaller pieces.  Setting several smaller achievable goals throughout the year, will help you to reach your main goal. Then, if you aren’t able to reach your final goal, you will have many smaller, but still significant, achievements along the way.  For example, if your goal is to complete a 10K race, your smaller goals could be running a 5K in less than 30 minutes and adding strength training weekly to help with your endurance.

 5)     Get Support for Motivation and Accountability.  Just be sure to set limits so that this doesn’t backfire and become more irritating than helpful.  You want people to help  you but not too pushy.  You just need a little kick in the rear on occasion.  For example, if you resolve to be more positive ask them to gently remind you when you start talking negatively.

 6)     Reward yourself with each milestone. If you’ve stuck with your resolution for 2 months, treat yourself to something special.  But, be careful of your reward type.  If you’ve lost 5 pounds, don’t give yourself a piece of cake as an award.  Instead, treat yourself to a something non-food related, like a pedicure or a massage.

 7)     Get professional assistance.  Everyone needs help and sometimes a friend just isn’t enough. Sometimes you need the help of a trained professional.  By hiring a fitness professional, the chances of injury and burnout will be diminished.  Research studies have shown that assistance from a fitness professional greatly improves peoples success rate.  Just make sure you do your homework and find the most qualified person.  Ask around, get reviews.  Training with a friend also reduces the total cost of the fee.

 8)     Limit your number of promises. You’ll spread yourself too thin trying to make multiple changes in your life.  This will just lead to failure of all of the resolutions.  Stick with what you can attain and don’t make promises you can keep.