Taking Life One Day at a Time

Staying Fit! – Part 2

on June 8, 2011

Eating Mistakes That Squash Workout Results

I’ve been the sports nutritionist for three professional teams and numerous athletes in my private practice, and whether you head to a 9-5 job each day and work out when you can, or you earn a living exercising, the right nutrition plan is the real key to results. Here are five mistakes that may interfere with getting the most out of your training time:

Drinking a Protein Shake Before a Workout
Protein is digested much slower than carbs, so too much pre-workout can give you stomach cramps and prevent the carbs you need for fuel from getting absorbed and becoming available to your working muscles.
The Fix: Reach for a smaller quantity of protein, along with slow burning carbs pre-workout, and choose higher protein shakes, snacks or meals afterwards.

Exercising on an Empty Stomach
It’s physiologically impossible to burn pure body fat – during aerobic exercise you burn a combo of carbs and fat. When carbs aren’t readily available, your body is forced to break down its own muscle mass and convert it into blood sugar. That means by skipping, you may end up eating away at your own muscle instead of building it!
The Fix: If you don’t like the feeling of food in your stomach when you exercise stick with a liquid, like a small smoothie made with unsweetened frozen fruit and organic skim or soy milk.

Overusing Energy Bars
Overusing them can cause you to “eat back” the calories you burned exercising, preventing you from seeing results. A lot of my non pro athlete clients grab a bar post workout and eat a meal a few hours later, which may be overload when you consider that many bars are the equivalent of a turkey sandwich – and most people wouldn’t eat a turkey sandwich, then sit down to chicken stir fry a few hours later.
The Fix: If you’re going to eat within an hour of the end of your workout skip the bar, or go for it and pare down the portions in your next meal.

Not Eating Enough “Good” Fat
Every cell in the human body is partially made out of fat, including muscle, so “good” fat is needed to heal and repair post workout – without it you can stay sore and fail to see an improvement in strength and muscle tone.
The Fix: Include small portions of foods like extra virgin olive oil, avocado and almonds at every meal, and be sure to include a daily source of omega3 fatty acids.

Buying Into the Afterburn Myth
While it’s true that you will torch more calories in the hours after a workout, for most women it amounts to just an additional 50 calories burned, not enough to sanction a splurge (note: a medium original Pinkberry = 230 calories).
The Fix: My general rule of thumb: the 50/50 principle – if you’re trying to trim down you can afford to add about half the calories you burn to your usual intake, preferably about 50% before to help fuel the activity, and half after, for recovery. For example, an hour on the elliptical burns about 500 calories (for 150 pound person), which means you can safely “spend” an extra 125 cals both before and after hitting the gym – that’s the amount in about one slice of whole grain bread spread with one tablespoon natural peanut butter before, and a half cup each nonfat Greek yogurt and sliced strawberries topped with a tablespoon of sliced almonds after.


The 5 Biggest Exercise Myths

Did you answer 3 and 10? Of course you did. It’s the Pavlovian response. After all, anyone who’s ever picked up a dumbbell knows that doing 3 sets of 10 reps of each exercise is the quickest way to build muscle.

Except it’s not. In fact, it’s the quickest way to get nowhere with your workout routine, says Michael Mejia, C.S.C.S., a long-time Men’s Health fitness advisor.

Truth is, today’s most sacred exercise guidelines originated in the ’40s and ’50s, a time when castration was a cutting-edge treatment for prostate cancer, and endurance exercise was thought to be harmful to women. Worse, so-called fitness experts across the country are still spewing these same old conventional wisdoms, despite plenty of research indicating that they (the experts and the wisdoms) aren’t wise at all.

Chances are, these are the rules you exercise by right now. And that means your workout is long past due for a 21st-century overhaul. We asked Mejia to do just that. Here are the five muscles myths he most commonly hears. Hopefully, we’re about to bust them for good.

BONUS TIP: Get back in shape—and stay lean for life! Check out our list of the 100 Best Fitness Tips Ever!

The claim: It’s the optimal repetition range for building muscle.

The origin: In 1954, Ian MacQueen, M.D., an English surgeon and competitive bodybuilder, published a scientific paper in which he recommended a moderately high number of repetitions for muscle growth.

The truth: This approach places muscles under a medium amount of tension for a medium amount of time—it’s basically The Neither Here Nor There Workout.

Here’s the deal: Higher tension—a.k.a. heavier weights—induces the type of muscle growth in which the muscle fibers grow larger, leading to the best gains in strength; longer tension time, on the other hand, boosts muscle size by increasing the energy-producing structures around the fibers, improving muscular endurance. The classic prescription of 8 to 12 repetitions strikes a balance between the two. But by using that scheme all the time, you miss out on the greater tension levels that come with heavier weights and fewer repetitions, and the longer tension time achieved with lighter weights and higher repetitions.

The new standard: Vary your repetition range—adjusting the weights accordingly—so that you stimulate every type of muscle growth. Try this method for a month, performing three full-body sessions a week: Do five repetitions per set in your first workout, 10 reps per set in your second workout, and 15 per set in your third workout.

The claim: This provides the ideal workload for achieving the fastest muscle gains.

The origin: In 1948, a physician named Thomas Delorme reported in the Archives of Physical Medicine that performing three sets of 10 repetitions was as effective at improving leg strength as 10 sets of 10 repetitions.

The truth: There’s nothing wrong with—or magical about—doing three sets. But the number of sets you perform shouldn’t be determined by a 50-year-old default recommendation. Here’s a rule of thumb: The more repetitions of an exercise you do, the fewer sets you should perform, and vice versa. This keeps the total number of reps you do of an exercise nearly equal, no matter how many repetitions make up each set.

The new standard: If you’re doing eight or more reps, keep it to three sets or less. If you’re pounding out less than three reps, you should be doing at least six sets.

BONUS TIP: When it comes to making lifestyle changes that will improve your health, your first step is the most important one. Start here: 20 Little Changes for a Healthier Life.

The claim: This ensures that you work all the fibers of the target muscle.

The origin: Arnold Schwarzenegger, circa 1966.

The truth: You’ll waste a lot of time. Here’s why: Schwarzenegger’s four-decade-old recommendation is almost always combined with “Do three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.” That means you’ll complete up to 144 repetitions for each muscle group. Trouble is, if you can perform even close to 100 repetitions for any muscle group, you’re not working hard enough.

Think of it this way: The harder you train, the less time you’ll be able to sustain that level of effort. For example, many men can run for an hour if they jog slowly, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who could do high-intensity sprints—without a major decrease in performance—for that period of time. And once performance starts to decline, you’ve achieved all the muscle-building benefits you can for that muscle group.

The new standard: Instead of focusing on the number of different exercises you do, shoot for a total number of repetitions between 25 and 50. That could mean five sets of five repetitions of one exercise (25 repetitions) or one set of 15 repetitions of two or three exercises (30 to 45 repetitions).

The claim: Allowing your knees to move too far forward during exercises such as the squat and lunge places dangerous shearing forces on your knee ligaments.

The origin: A 1978 study at Duke University found that keeping the lower leg as vertical as possible during the squat reduced shearing forces on the knee.

The truth: Leaning your torso too far forward, so that your knees stay back, is more likely to cause injury. In 2003, University of Memphis researchers confirmed that knee stress was 28 percent higher when the knees were allowed to move past the toes during the squat. But the researchers also found a countereffect: Hip stress increased nearly 1,000 percent when forward movement of the knee was restricted. The reason: The squatters had to lean their torsos farther forward. And that’s a problem, because forces that act on the hip are transferred to the lower back, a more frequent site of injury than the knees.

The new standard: Watch a toddler squat. Push your hips back as far as you can, while keeping your torso as upright as possible. This will reduce the stress on your back and knees.

The claim:You’ll increase the support to your spine, reducing the risk of back injuries.

The origin: In 1999, researchers in Australia found that some men with back pain had a slight delay in activating their transverse abdominis, a deep abdominal muscle that’s part of the musculature that maintains spine stability. As a result, many fitness professionals began instructing their clients to try to pull their belly buttons to their spines—which engages the transverse abdominis—as they performed exercises.

The truth: “The research was accurate, but the interpretation by many researchers and therapists wasn’t,” says Stuart McGill, Ph.D., author of Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance and widely recognized as the world’s top researcher on the spine. That’s because muscles work in teams to stabilize your spine, and the most valuable players change depending on the exercise, says McGill. Read: The transverse abdominis isn’t always the quarterback.

In fact, for any given exercise, your body automatically activates the muscles that are most needed for spine support. So focusing only on your transverse abdominis can overrecruit the wrong muscles and underrecruit the right ones. This not only increases injury risk, but reduces the amount of weight you can lift.

The new standard: If you want to give your back a supporting hand, simply “brace” your abs as if you were about to be punched in the gut, but don’t draw them in. “This activates all three layers of the abdominal wall,” says McGill, “improving both stability and performance.”



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