Spinach: Nutritional Superstar or Potentially Harmful?

antinutrients

Hello Runners,

I’ll admit I struggled during a recent run. However, it wasn’t with the run itself, but instead with coming up for a topic for this blog post. COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in many ways, and for runners that has included cancelled and postponed events, which has affected training. This has also affected the schedule of blog posts I was going to write and share. So, now I’m trying to be creative and write about other topics that may be beneficial.

One topic that I have heard about in the past and have heard some physicians and nutritionists talk about more recently are antinutrients. So, in this post I thought I would talk about one of these antinutrients and how it might affect you.

What Are Antinutrients and What Do They Do?

Antinutrients are toxins commonly formed in plants to keep animals, bugs, and fungi from eating them. Antinutrients reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. The main categories of antinutrients include lectins, phytates, and oxalates.

In this post, I will specifically discuss oxalates, which are common in some of the vegetables that are considered to have the highest nutritional value. In future posts, I will discuss the other classes of antinutrients.

What Are Oxalates?

Oxalates, also referred to as oxalic acids, are natural compounds found in a variety of food sources. Some of the most common oxalates in food can be found in plant sources such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Oxalates can also be produced naturally by our body. In fact, most of the oxalates we have in our body are from those our body has produced.

In the body, oxalates can combine with calcium and iron to form either calcium oxalate or iron oxalate crystals, which are then excreted in urine, and thus are not be an issue. However, high amounts of oxalates can build up in the kidneys, leading to the formation of kidney stones. An estimated 80% of kidney stones are formed from calcium oxalate.

Also for people sensitive to oxalates, consuming even a small amount can cause burning in the mouth, eyes, ears, and throat. Large doses can lead to muscle weakness, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, especially in people with a high amount of oxalates already in the body.

Besides forming kidney stones, oxalates affect the absorption and bioavailability (ability to be used in the body) of calcium. This is significant because calcium serves several important functions for health and running performance (see below).

Foods High in Oxalates

Although oxalates are found in virtually all foods, there are several foods that are high in oxalate content. Green vegetables, especially spinach, beet greens, okra, leaks, and collards have some of the highest concentrations.

Here is a list of other foods high in oxalates:

Fruits: blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, kiwis, tangerines, figs

Vegetables: broccoli, rhubarb, okra, leeks, beets, potatoes, eggplant, sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots, celery, olives, rutabaga, chicory parsley, peppers

Leafy Greens: spinach, escarole, beet greens, kale, collards, Swiss chard

Nuts and Seeds: almonds, cashews, peanuts, sesame seeds

Legumes and Soy Products: miso, tofu, soy milk, green beans and kidney beans

Grains: bulgur, corn grits, wheat germ, whole wheat bread, amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa

Beverages: cocoa/chocolate, chocolate milk, black tea, instant coffee, dark beers

I decided to pick on spinach in this post for two reasons. One, spinach has one of the highest oxalate contents of any food. Second, spinach was discussed in a recent interview I heard with Dr. Jayson Calton. In the interview, Dr. Calton spoke on deficiencies that can occur due to lack of micronutrients in our diet and bioavailability of these micronutrients from the foods we consume. Specifically, Dr. Calton discussed a patient of his, who happens to now be his wife, who had advanced stage osteoporosis in her early 30s. Dr. Calton’s wife was consuming a lot of raw vegetables, including a raw spinach salad every day. He shared that by having her minimize the intake of raw spinach, as well as other raw vegetables, and supplementing with specific nutrients, including calcium, she was able to significantly improve her bone health.

So, should we stop eating spinach? Isn’t spinach a nutrient powerhouse?

Benefits of Spinach

Spinach is considered to be one of the world’s healthiest foods, with researchers identifying more than a dozen different types of flavonoid antioxidants alone that are present in spinach, not to mention all of its other vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients. Also, spinach has significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and if you combine that with its very low amount of calories, it is easily one of the most nutrient-rich foods in existence.

Spinach contains many important nutrients, which serve many important functions including the following:

  • Protects Against Cancer
  • Defends Against Heart Disease
  • Boosts Immunity
  • Stabilizes Blood Sugar
  • Maintains Healthy Vision
  • Supports Bone Health
  • Keeps Skin Glowing
  • Aids in Detoxification
  • Preserves Brain Health
  • High in Magnesium

For more of details on the benefits of spinach click here

In addition, spinach does contain a significant amount of calcium, which has several important functions for health and running performance.

Important Functions of Calcium 

In addition to its importance for health of the bones and teeth, calcium serves the following important functions:

  • Optimal nerve transmission
  • Blood clotting
  • Hormone secretion
  • Muscle contraction
  • Appetite control
  • Weight loss
  • Controls levels of magnesium, phosphorus and potassium in the blood
  • May help prevent certain cancers

Click here to learn more about the specific benefits of calcium.

Spinach: Nutritional Superstar or Potentially Harmful?

So, now getting back to the question of this post. Should we stop consuming spinach, although it has many nutritional benefits? I have heard some physicians and nutritionists recommend this because of the high concentration of oxalates in spinach and the effect these have on calcium absorption and bioavailability, as well as the possible formation of kidney stones.

However, there are ways to potentially reduce the number of oxalates in certain vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli and sweet potatoes that relate to how these vegetables are prepared. Boiling and steaming are techniques that can reduce oxalate content. Personally, I prefer steaming because this can minimize the loss of other nutrients compared with boiling. Also, soaking some of the high oxalate foods in water and a small amount of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice can potentially reduce the oxalate content. Also, avoid or minimize using raw kale, spinach, or Swiss chard in salads or smoothies. Instead, use greens with lower oxalate content such as green or red leaf or Romaine lettuce in salads and smoothies.

So, you certainly don’t need to give up spinach, especially since it has so many benefits. However, you may want to consider how you prepare it and consider using other greens, in addition to spinach.

However, there are exceptions for those with certain health conditions including: absorptive hypercalciuria and enteric hyperoxaluria. Individuals with these conditions should significantly restrict their consumption of high oxalate foods, such as spinach.

Other Important Factors

Research has shown that the intake of protein, calcium, and water influence the formation of calcium oxalate to a greater degree than the intake of oxalates from specific foods. High-protein intake can lead to kidney stone formation, while too much calcium in the body leads to calcification, crystallization, which can impact the risk for heart disease and kidney issues.

In addition, being properly hydrated is important for flushing the kidneys. This can also aid in removing other toxins from the body. In fact, I recently increased my water intake to about one gallon per day.

Bottomline

As far as the potential negative impact on health and running performance, oxalates are the least harmful of the antinutrients, with other antinutrients including lectins and phytic acid having a potentially greater negative effect. However, you should consider limiting the amount of raw vegetables, like spinach, kale and broccoli that you consume. Steaming can be a good option for these foods in order to lower oxalate content. Also, you may want to use other greens for your salads and smoothies, such as green/red leaf and romaine lettuce that have a significant lower oxalate content. Those individuals with certain conditions, including hyperoxolauria should restrict consumption of foods high in oxalates, especially in raw form. However, for most people there are significant benefits in consuming vegetables such as spinach. Just keep in mind which preparation is best and to include variety. Finally, avoid high-protein intake and consume a sufficient amount of water on a daily basis.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

Kim Wagner Jones, Lindsay K. Eller, Jill A. Parnell, Patricia K. Doyle-Baker, Alun L. Edwards, and Raylene A. Reimer. Effect of a dairy and calcium rich diet on weight loss and appetite during energy restriction in overweight and obese adults: a randomized trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Apr; 67(4): 371–376.

Vadim A. Finkielstein and David S. Goldfarb. Strategies for preventing calcium oxalate stones. CMAJ. 2006 May 9; 174(10): 1407–1409.

Noonan SC, Savage GP. Oxalate content of foods and its effect on humans. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 1999 Mar;8(1):64-74.

Mathew D. Sorensen. Calcium intake and urinary stone disease. Transl Androl Urol. 2014 Sep; 3(3): 235–240.

Bendsen NT, Hother AL, Jensen SK, Lorenzen JK, Astrup A. Effect of dairy calcium on fecal fat excretion: a randomized crossover trial. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Dec;32(12):1816-24.

Dave Asprey. The Bulletproof Diet.

Yuri Elkaim Super Nutrition Academy. Module 6 Lesson 4 Antinutrients.

Joseph Pizzorno. The Toxin Solution.

Jayson Calton. Supplements Revealed.

https://draxe.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-calcium/

https://draxe.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-calcium/

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/

https://draxe.com/nutrition/spinach-nutrition/

https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/calcium-fact-sheet#q5

What You Eat and Don’t Eat Can Affect Your Performance, As Well As Your Immune System and Your Susceptibility to Viruses, Such as COVID-19

positivity

 

 

 

Hello Runners,

I hope you continue to stay healthy and well in these crazy times. I also hope that you are connecting with other people, including loved ones and friends that you may not have been in touch with for a while. I have appreciated having more time together with my wife, Karen, and our dog, Zadar. I also recently connected with some college friends that I haven’t been in touch with for a while. It was a lot of fun! So, there has been some silver lining to our current situation. I hope you are finding your own silver lining and staying positive.

In a previous blog I provided some tips for building and boosting the immune system. One of the areas of science and medicine that is receiving more and more attention the microbiome and how it can impact health. In this post, I will briefly discuss what the microbiome is, how it can impact your immune system, and what you can do to support your microbiome, so that you can avoid the impact of COVID-19 and other viral and bacterial infections.

What is the Microbiome

The microbiome refers to all organisms that live in and on our bodies, includes bacteria, viruses, fungal organisms, one cell protozoa; basically all microscopic “critters” that inhibit our body. There are more than 100 trillion of these organisms in and on our bodies, which is over three times the number of cells in our body! Most of these microbes are beneficial, however some are not, and can cause disease.

Although all body surfaces, orifices, and cavities are teeming with microbes, the vast majority are located within our large intestine and make up what is known as the gut microbiome or microbiota. Since we can have the greatest effect on microbes in this area of the body, I will focus the rest of this post on the gut microbiome, and not microbiomes of other areas of the body.

The microbes that make up the gut microbiome can have a profound effect on all functions of our body, including hormone levels (can affect performance through such things as energy production), nutrient absorption, metabolism (important for producing the energy we need to run), brain function, and the immune system.

Variety is important for health and performance, when it comes to microbes. Unfortunately, the average American adult has ~1200 different species of bacteria in the gut. This number is significantly less than other populations, such as the Amerindian living in the Amazon of Venezuela which has 1600 species of gut bacteria. This lack of diversity in Americans can be attributed to our overly processed diet, overuse of antibiotics, and sterilized homes. However, the microbiome exhibits plasticity, meaning it can be changed and improved, thus providing us with the opportunity to shape it in a way that optimizes our health, as well as our performance.

How is the Microbiome Connected to the Immune System

As I mentioned, the gut microbiome affects many functions in the body, and it is worth discussing the role it plays in hormone levels, nutrient absorption, and function of the mitochondria because they can all impact our running performance. However, due to our current situation I will focus on the impact that the gut microbiome has on the immune system in this post, and save these other important functions for later posts.

The gut microbes of our microbiome are in constant communication with the part of the immune system (mucosal immune system) located in the intestine. These microbes help the immune system discriminate between harmless foreign entities like food and harmful ones like Salmonella. The microbiome helps train the immune system to make the distinction, so that we have a proper response of the immune system. An improperly trained immune system can lead to allergic reactions to substances that would otherwise be harmless, such as pollen.

Research has shown that the gut microbiome can not only impact the local or mucosal immune system, but also the more systemic immune system, impacting the rest of our body. For example, Hao et al. (2015) concluded from several research studies that consuming probiotics can also lower rates of upper respiratory tract infections, thus suggesting probiotic bacteria can tap into the function of the immune system in the gut (local) and systemically. Probiotics are basically strains of microbes that when taken can temporarily increase the number of microbes in the microbiome. Although there are no current studies showing a positive effect of probiotics on the lower respiratory tract, which is the primary region affected by COVID-19, the fact that microbes in the gut can affect the immune system in the lungs is promising.

In addition, there is some evidence that COVID-19 infection may lead to intestinal infection, as they found the presence of the virus in feces. (Zhang et al. 2020), thus showing the importance of the mucosal immune system in combatting COVID-19, as well as the systemic immune system.

How Can We Support The Microbiome In Order To Support Our Mucosal and Systemic Immune Systems

Basically, we need to provide foods that feed the good microbes and eliminate or at least minimize the foods that feed the bad microbes. This can be a challenge for many runners, who really heavily on foods and beverages with added sugars. These sugars feed yeasts and other microbes that can negatively impact our immune system and health. For events and long runs consider using supplements like UCAN, Vitargo, or Infinit-E (Millenium Sports), instead of the typical gels, sports drinks, etc. that contain significant amounts of added sugars.

It is important to add variety in the diet and not eat the same short list of foods day after day, week after week. This is the opportunity to get a little creative with your recipes and explore some new foods! Eating a wide variety of fiber-containing foods (especially onions, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes, as well as fruits, vegetables, legumes and some unrefined whole grains) provides different fibers to feed a greater variety of microbes, allowing them to flourish. This will also squeezing out harmful microbes, such as Candida. So as far as vegetables, “eat the rainbow”, that is eat vegetables of different colors. As far as fruits, berries are a great option!

You should consume enough fruits and vegetables daily that would include at least 25 grams of fiber per day. The average Americans consumes about half of this. These fiber-containing foods act as prebiotics, because they provide the food for beneficial microbes in the gut, which will promote their growth.

Other foods that can help support the microbiome include coconut oil, omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil or flaxseed oil), and fermented foods (unpasteurized sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, yogurt, miso, kimchi, kombucha). Probiotics, which are discussed below, can also be beneficial.

In addition the intake of other foods should be eliminated or minimized including: processed foods, gluten, dairy, added sugars, alcohol, caffeine, peanuts, beef, pork, and saturated and polyunsaturated fats. These can all be detrimental to the microbiome and gut health and thus, negatively impact the immune system.

What About Probiotics

We hear a lot about probiotics. So, what are they and what is their role in the microbiome and for our immune system health?

Probiotic means “for life” and are “live” micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host (FAO/WHO). Probiotic bacteria are transient visitors to the gut and offer a method distinct from diet to tune the microbiome, so that it can more effectively work with the immune system. As they drift through the digestive tract, probiotics communicate with resident microbes and intestinal cells. This can help in fighting colds, flus, and diarrheal illnesses. However, since most probiotics are not well-suited to live in the gut, they are transient and must be consumed regularly.

There are several considerations that should be made in selecting probiotics. First, the probiotics should be refrigerated so that the microbes are live. So, do not purchase probiotics that are not refrigerated because basically you are getting dead microbes that are of little or no value. The probiotics that are available are typically only a few different microbes, basically those that can be most easily produced by supplement companies. The effects of these probiotics can be unique to individuals because of differences in microbiota and this can vary daily as a person’s own microbiota fluctuates. So, it is impossible to predict the effect of consuming a specific probiotic. Thus, it is most beneficial to consume fermented foods in addition to taking probiotics.

Beware of claims by companies pushing probiotics. Avoid buying probiotics from online or e-commerce companies, especially those that sell only one product. Check to make sure third party testing was done in order to insure for safety of the supplement. U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) provides 3rd party evaluations on product’s labels for supplements. Only purchase supplements from reputable companies.

Discontinue use probiotic products that cause uncomfortable bloating, excessive gas, or headaches.

What’s Your Gut Microbiome Like?

There is still lots to learn about the microbiome and the impact it has on immune system, as well as other aspects of our health, and performance. You can learn about the health of your own microbiome through the American Gut Project. For $99 and a stool sample you can get a list of the bacteria in your gut to see how diverse your microbiome is, as well as how much of your microbiome is beneficial and how much is detrimental to your health. It is also possible to retest your microbiome to see if it has improved with any dietary changes you implement.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Stay healthy and stay positive!

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

References

Dr. Robynne Chutkan. The Microbiome Solution.

Dr. Tom O’Bryan. The Autoimmune Fix.

Dr. Mark Hyman, Interconnected Episode 1: The Missing Piece in Health and Longevity.

The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-Term Health by Justin and Erica Sonnenberg, Penguin Press. NYC, 2015.

Yatsunenko, T et al. “Human Gut Microbiome Viewed Across Age and Geography.” Nature, 486.7402 (2012), 222-27.

Zhang Y, Chen C, Zhu S et al. [Isolation of 2019-nCoV from a stool specimen of a laboratory-confirmed case of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)]. China CDC Weekly. 2020;2(8):123–4.

https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/modes-of-transmission-of-virus-causing-covid-19-implications-for-ipc-precaution-recommendations

Hao, Q, et al. “Probiotics for Preventing Acute Upper Respiratory Tract Infections.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2 (2015).

Shi N, Li N, Duan X, Niu H. Interaction between the gut microbiome and mucosal immune system. Mil Med Res. 2017 Apr 27.

Ben Greenfield. Beyond Training.

FAO/WHO Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food. 2002.

Disclaimer: All the information presented in this blog is for educational and resource purposes only.  It is there to help you make informed decisions about health-related fitness issues.  It is not a substitute for any advice given to you by your physician.  Always consult your physician or health care provider before taking supplements or using any other recommendation in this post. Use of the advice and information contained in this website is at sole choice and risk of the reader.  In no way will Denver Running Coach or any persons associated with Denver Running Coach or Enlightened Performance LLC be held responsible for any injuries or problems that may occur due to the use of the advice contained within this post.  Denver Running Coach and Enlightened Performance LLC will not be held responsible for the conduct of any companies recommended within this post.

Disclaimer: Dr. Brian Hand does not invest in or benefit in any way financially from any products mentioned in this post.

Critical Tips for Runners to Avoid Viruses and to Build and Boost the Immune System

 

Energetic runner

 

 

 

 

Hello Runners,

As we deal with the many challenges of COVID-19 and its impact on health and our lives in general, I wanted to briefly discuss how this might affect your training and achieving your running goals. Many spring events have been cancelled or postponed. In my next post, I will discuss adjusting your training if you have had an event cancelled or postponed. However, in this post I will discuss overtraining and how it can play increase your risk for contracting viruses, such as COVID-19, and how you can build and boost your immune system to prevent viruses from taking hold in your body and derail you from achieving your goals.

Exercise, including running, can be beneficial for the immune system, however too much of a good thing can be detrimental. I know for myself, I can tell if I’ve overdone it with my training, and overtrained, because I will come down with a cold. Basically, when we overtrain we overstress our bodies and our immune system is not as effective, thus we are more susceptible to viruses. Therefore, it is important to plan your training and properly recover from your workouts to avoid overtraining. In addition, there may be other stressors in your life, besides your training, that can make your more susceptible to viruses. Thus, it is important to properly balance lifestyle (including sleep, nutrition, daily schedule), training, and environment (including family, job). For training, it is important to follow a plan that progressively and appropriately prepares you for your next event and incorporates proper recovery, so you can avoid the effects of overtraining.

Signs of Overtraining

Below are signs and symptoms of overtraining. There are certainly more, but these are the ones that are most detectable:

  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Poor sleep
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Increase in muscle and joint injury
  • Rapid drop in body weight
  • Reduction in maximal exercise capacity
  • Increase in the number of colds
  • Swelling of lymph glands
  • Menstrual dysfunction
  • Decreased bone mineral density
  • Lower self-esteem and confidence
  • Mood changes
  • Lack of concentration
  • Fear of competing
  • Giving up when things gets tough

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, I would recommend taking at least 1-2 days off from running and then reevaluate to see if symptoms have improved. Moving forward with your training, you may need to cut back on your mileage and/or intensity. Also, you may need to reevaluate your training plan and consider if it is appropriately preparing you for your next event, or if you need a new training plan.

Tips to Build and Boost Your Immune System

In addition to avoiding overtraining, there are other important steps you can take to build and even boost your immune system to help you avoid viruses, like COVID-19, taking hold in your body.

Immune Building – Provide the Building Blocks for a Strong Immune System

  • Protein
    • The recommended protein intake for runners is 0.55 grams per pound of body weight. For example, I weigh approximately 155 pounds, so I should consume about 85 grams of protein to support my training and immune system.
    • Protein provides the building blocks necessary for antibody production, as well as the following benefits: decreasing occurrence of bacterial/parasitic infections and increasing immune response
  • Vitamins
    • Vitamins play an important role as antioxidants and some are involved in production of various components of the immune system. Therefore, it is important to get an adequate daily intake. The most important vitamins for the immune system include: B vitamins and vitamins A, C, and E.
    • I strongly recommend a multivitamin/multimineral complex from whole organic foods and not synthetics. Some examples would be Garden of Life and Intramax.
  • Minerals
    • Speaking of minerals, it is important to consume and absorb sufficient levels of zinc, iron, copper, iodine, and selenium which either serve as antioxidants or are involved in activity of various immune system components.
  • Fatty Acids (omega-3s)
    • Finally, omega-3 fatty acids provide beneficial anti-inflammatory properties and are involved in the production of antibodies.
    • Good plant sources include: flax seeds, flaxseed oil, hemp seed, chia seeds, walnuts, and microalgae oil.
    • Other good sources include wild-caught salmon and sardines.
    • Supplements: Plant-based omega-3 supplements offer the same beneficial DHA and EPA fatty acids as marine sources do for optimal health. If you insist on fish oil, choose organic, sustainably-harvested sources.

Immune System Boosters

  • In addition to immune system builders, you might consider adding one or two immune system boosters. My wife, Karen, has been making us daily cocktails with some of these immune boosters, particularly oil of oregano and astragalus.
  • However, you should use caution and possibly avoid these if you have an auto-immune condition, such as Hashimoto’s, etc.
  • Some foods that can boost the immune system include garlic, Reishi and chaga mushrooms, and probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, and kombucha
  • Supplements that can boost the immune system include: oil of oregano, astragalus, and Echinacea. However, you will want to make sure these come from a good and reliable source.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Avoid overtraining and stay healthy.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

Yuri Elkaim. Super Nutrition Academy. Everything You Need to Know About the Immune System.

Bob Seebohar. Exercise Physiology. USA Triathlon Level I Certification Clinic. June 7, 2013.

Ben Greenfield. Beyond Training. Victory Belt Publishing, Inc. Las Vegas, NV, 2014.

Dr. Edward Group. Supplements Revealed.

Dr. Edward Group https://globalhealing.com/natural-health/fish-oil-benefits/

Disclaimer: All the information presented in this blog is for educational and resource purposes only.  It is there to help you make informed decisions about health-related fitness issues.  It is not a substitute for any advice given to you by your physician.  Always consult your physician or health care provider before taking supplements or using any other recommendation in this post. Use of the advice and information contained in this website is at sole choice and risk of the reader.  In no way will Denver Running Coach or any persons associated with Denver Running Coach or Enlightened Performance LLC be held responsible for any injuries or problems that may occur due to the use of the advice contained within this post.  Denver Running Coach and Enlightened Performance LLC will not be held responsible for the conduct of any companies recommended within this post.

How To Develop and Implement Habits That Can Help You Lose Weight

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at this rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it – but all that had gone before.” – Jacob Riis (social reformer)

Happy New Year!

Each year approximately 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. One of the most popular resolutions is to lose weight. Unfortunately, by the time February arrives most have quit their resolution, and will probably make the same resolution next January. In fact, only about 20 percent of those who set New Year’s resolutions have stuck with them by the end of the year.

Why are so few in successfully following through with their resolutions? Most likely they didn’t develop the proper behaviors and habits necessary to be successful. Yes, goals or resolutions are important and provide direction, however it’s the systems and habits that we develop that are most important to our success.

I recently finished reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits, which I highly recommend. He shares some valuable insight on how to develop good habits and eliminate bad ones. In this article, I will touch upon a few that might help you get started in developing the habits you need to lose weight, or in achieving any other New Year’s resolution that you made.

Identity Focus

On important key to your success in losing weight, or any other goal or resolution that you have set for yourself, is creating an identity for yourself consistent with this goal or resolution. Then focus on becoming the person consistent with that identity, instead of fixating on a goal or resolution. Thus, instead of focusing on losing X pounds of weight, you might shift your mindset and identity to becoming a “healthy person.” Once you have identified that you are a healthy person, it can become easier to develop the habits consistent with becoming a healthy person, and in the process you will automatically lose weight and feel better.

With your new identity you can now ask yourself, “What would a healthy person do in this situation?” or “What do I need to do in this situation, as a healthy person?” You will then simply act like the type of person you already believe yourself to be. The process of building habits is really the process of becoming yourself.

This can help you avoid the “yo-yo” diet effect that many who try to lose weight experience. In this case, people focus on the goal of losing weight and not developing the identity and habits necessary for sustainable weight loss.

Awareness of Current Habits

The process of behavior change always begins with awareness. Therefore, it would be beneficial to list all of you daily habits. This would include things like brushing your teeth, showering, etc. Then ask yourself, “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Is this habit consistent with the identity I have of myself as a healthy person?” Then be on the lookout for unsupportive habits and verbalize this habit when it occurs, as well as what the outcome will be if you allow the habit to continue. For example, “It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and I’m reaching for that candy bar, like I always do at this time. I know if I eat it, I will feel satisfied for a few moments, but later will feel tired and feel bad that I ate the candy bar and start eating chips.”  You might begin replacing this with, “At two o’clock I will eat an apple.”

Design You Environment To Support You Being a Healthy Person

Your environment can provide cues that trigger your habits. So, it is important to design your environment to support that habits you want in your life and eliminate those you don’t want. Such examples would include: eliminating foods that don’t support you being a healthy person, such as candy, chips, cookies, etc. from your house or at least removing them from view. Instead, have healthier food choices in view, like a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table. Another example would be to have your workout clothes, shoes, and water bottle ready and in view the night before, so when you wake up, you just put them on and start exercising; no thought or significant effort necessary.

Start Small and Include an Appropriate Reward System Until the Habits Are Automatic

The great thing about building effective habits and behaviors is that you can start with small steps. For example, eating dinner on a smaller plate, so the portion sizes you eat are smaller. You might also start drinking more water and develop the habit of having your water bottle with you at all times, and drink a little more each day. Or, start walking 5 minutes a day, and maybe add 30-60 seconds every couple of days. Make walking enjoyable by doing this with a friend, with family, or your favorite music. The great thing about small habits is they have a compounding effect when performed daily; a one percent change daily leads to being 37 times better at the end of the year! This is the same extraordinary compounding effect that occurs when you invest in mutual funds. As a result, you can build momentum begin developing other good habits that can support you being a healthy person. The key is to start with small habits that are easy to do and which you could do on a consistent basis.

In addition, it can be helpful to set up a reward system, so if you walk at least 5 minutes a day 5-7 days per week you reward yourself appropriately, such as getting a massage or going to the movies. It’s important that these rewards are in the short-term because we are hardwired for immediate gratification. Weight loss is challenging because it can take months, or even years, to see significant weight loss, and this can be demotivating because you are not being rewarded for your efforts until months or years. Thus, it’s important to acknowledge and reward the small wins along the way.

You will most likely find that the small habits you begin become automatic over time, and you can then incorporate other habits that can help you become a healthy person, and then shift your reward system to these new habits.

Give Yourself the Gift of Movement

First, view all movement as beneficial; it doesn’t have to be structured exercise at the gym or performed for at least 20 or 30 minutes at a time. Second, change your mindset on movement from “have to” to “get to”. Start associating movement as a gift you give yourself. In addition to the gift of health you are giving yourself, you also give yourself the opportunity to spend time with a friend or your family on a walk, or walk by yourself in a favorite place or listen to your favorite music while walking. Giving this gift to yourself will allow you to better show up for loved ones in your life because you will be happier and more energized.

 

There are many other habits and tips that can be beneficial for weight loss. Many more than I can fit in one blog article, but I do want to leave you with a few more habits and tips that might help. Weight loss is complex and therefore it can be easier to identify as being a healthy person and develop habits consistent with this identity. I will share more tips in future articles.

Other Habits That May Help

  • Eat on smaller plates to reduce portion sizes and calorie consumption
  • Put vegetables on your plate first and they should fill up at least half of your plate
  • Chop up fruits and vegetables on the weekends and pack into containers, so you have easy access to them during the week
  • Purchase food in individual packages rather than bulk size
  • When eating out have the waiter box up half of your meal before you receive it, so you only eat half the portion size
  • Get at 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night

Other Tips

  • It’s better to do less than nothing at all, for example with movement
  • Keep a scoreboard of the good habits you have performed
  • Never miss a good habit more than once, simply do something (such as walking one minute instead of 5 minutes)
  • Acknowledge and appreciate the nonscale victories of living healthier such as skin looking better, waking up earlier, having greater sex drive
  • Have someone who will hold you accountable

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

Note: I am not promoting any specific diet for weight loss. In fact, I feel this one-size fits all approach does not work. You should consult with your physician before starting any weight loss program.

References:

James Clear. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Avery: New York, 2018.

Michelle Segar. No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness. AMACOM, 2015.

Should I Take Salt Tablets During My Long Runs and Half and Full Marathons?

Fueling-for-marathon-hydrating

“Strive for balance. Then shall you find harmony.”

Hello Runners,

In my last post, I discussed strategies you can use for running in the heat.

Another important consideration, when running in the heat, is replacement of electrolytes.

What Are Electrolytes And Why Are They Important?

An electrolyte is a substance that will conduct electricity when dissolved in water. They are essential for many of the body’s functions such as:

  • Skeletal muscle contraction for you to run (specifically the muscle needs calcium, sodium, and potassium and when these become unbalanced this can lead to muscle weakness or excessive contraction)
  • Heart function to deliver the oxygen and nutrients to your muscles to produce the energy you need to run
  • Nervous system function
  • Fluid balance
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Maintain proper blood pH

All important functions necessary to keep you alive!

An imbalance of electrolytes through loss can result in cramping, twitching, weakness, and if not addressed, seizures and heart rhythm disturbances.

The important electrolytes include: sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, phosphate, and chloride.

How Are They Lost?

Electrolytes are lost in sweat when we run. They can also be lost during a bout of diarrhea or vomiting.

How Should You Replace Them?

There are a number of different options for replacing electrolytes lost during exercise. Since balance between different electrolytes is important for them to function properly, I don’t recommend taking something that replaces only one or two electrolytes, like salt tablets.

Also, I don’t recommend many of the popular sports drinks including: Gatorade, Powerade, Propel, Vitamin Water, Accelerade because they usually contain lots of sugar/high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients, which can upset your stomach.

Here are some sources of electrolytes you might try (disclaimer: I have no affiliations with or investments in any of the companies that produce these products):

Tailwind nutrition endurance fuel

Nuun tablets

Lyteshow liquid concentrate

Ultima replenisher mix

Optimal Electrolyte by Seeking Health

Vega Clean Energy

Skratch labs mix

Coconut water in the refrigerated section of the grocery story by any of the following brands: Harmless Harvest, Unoco, Liquitera, Vital Juice or Juice Press

Another option is to make your own using by combining the following:

  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ cup of lemon juice
  • ¼ cup of lime juice
  • 1 ½ cups of unsweetened coconut water
  • 2 cups of cold water

I recommend experimenting with at least a couple of these during your training to find the one that works best for you to use for your event.

The amount of electrolytes you will need to take depend on several factors including: the temperature, humidity, your sweat rate, as well as your initial levels of electrolytes. The recommendations for electrolyte replacement typically focus on sodium. Typically, it is recommended to replace 500-1000 mg/hr of sodium for long runs and events, such as half- and full-marathons, as well as ultras and triathlons. However, you may need to adjust this depending on sweat loss. And remember, you will also be taking other electrolytes, along with sodium, to stay balanced.

You should continue to consume electrolytes after your long run or event (~500 mg sodium, along with other electrolytes).

In addition, it is important to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet because they are a great source of electrolytes.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

P.S. If you know anyone who might benefit from this post, please share this with them. Also, if this was beneficial, please “Like” our page. Thank you.

 

References

Bob Seebohar “Nutrition for Triathletes” presented at USAT Certification Training 2014

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/electrolyte-water#what-it-is

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/153188.php

Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Electrolytes panel – blood. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:464-467.

DuBose TD. Disorders of acid-base balance. In: Skorecki K, Chertow GM, Marsden PA, Taal MW, Yu ASL, eds. Brenner and Rector’s The Kidney. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 17.

General Guidelines for Preparing for Race Goal

Recently I was finishing up one of my long runs and started stretching. As I was stretching I overheard someone speaking with a friend of his about doing a marathon in the fall. I’m not into eavesdropping, but my ears perked up when he mentioned doing a marathon. She asked him what type of training program he was going to follow. His response was that he was basically going to “wing it”. Now there is a recipe for disaster!

So in this week’s blog I want to talk about the need for a plan to get to your running goals. Basically, you can’t just “wing it” if you want to be at your best on race day and avoid injuries.

Last time I mentioned setting realistic goals. This is your first step. Then you have to figure out how you are going to get there. Below are things you need to consider. For many of these I have just given some basic guidelines, which I will provide more detail on later either on this website or if you attend my workshops or if I work with you as a coach.

1. Proper shoes – If you are new to running or haven’t run in a while, I highly recommend getting fitted at a reputable running store. Make sure that the person who does your fitting is knowledgeable. You may want to ask running friends about this or you can ask the manager and/or owner of the store about shoe fitting. They should put you on a treadmill and videotape your stride as you run on the treadmill. They should be looking at how your foot strikes. They should also be finding out the type of arch you have (high, normal, flat). They should be measuring your foot length and width. When you do the fitting make sure you are wearing socks that you would run in. Also if you wear orthotics make sure you try on shoes with these. The salesperson should have you try on at least three pairs and at least two different brands. Walk around in these shoes and if possible see if you can run with them either on a treadmill in the store or better yet outside. It can be difficult to determine how comfortable the shoes will be while you are at the store, so make sure you find out about the store’s return policy. Also I would recommend getting a second pair, if not on that day, soon after. If you are really happy with that model pick up a second pair. Or you may want to go with another brand that you tried on which is similar. The problem with running shoes is that models don’t stay around for long. Running shoe manufacturers are constantly changing and discontinuing models. Sometimes the changes are beneficial; sometimes they are not.

2. Proper nutrition – Typically the recommendation for adults is approximately 55% of calories from carbohydrates, with almost all of these as complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), approximately 25-30% of calories as fats, with less than 10% of calories from saturated fats, and 10-15% of calories from proteins. For runners and other endurance athletes the percentage of total calories which are carbohydrate should be even greater, such as 60% or more. That means less calories from fat. My recommendation is to spread out your calorie intake throughout the day so that you are eating about every 2-3 hours. Also drink plenty of water. My recommendation is to divide your body weight in pounds by 2 and number is the amount of water in ounces you should take in each day, as a minimum.

3. Periodized plan – To get to your goal you will need to have a periodized program. If your goal is to complete a half marathon and you are just getting into running you are not going to just go out and run 13 miles. You have to build up to this in the proper way. Typically, your training should be divided into phases that will target certain aspects of your cardiovascular and energy systems, as well as muscles, to best get you to your goal and avoid injury.

4. Strength training and flexibility – Injuries are very common among runners. Approximately 70-80 percent of runners incur at least one injury each year that causes them to stop running for a significant period of time. Wow! Many of these injuries are due to muscle weaknesses/imbalances and poor flexibility. Therefore, for all runners there needs to be exercises done to address muscle weaknesses/imbalances and in addition, stretches need to be performed improve flexibility at the hip, knee, ankle, and shoulder joints to maximize performance and reduce injury risk. Core strengthening, of muscles including the hips, abdominals, and lower back is very important for runners.

5. Cross-training – To get better at running you need to run. But running alone can take its toll on the body. So it is important to incorporate cross-training once or twice a week. This would include biking, swimming, inline skating, etc. This will help to maintain your fitness level, but work some of your other muscles. It may be necessary to result solely on cross-training if you develop an injury that prevents you from running.

6. Support – We all need a support system, whether it is from family, friends, running clubs, etc. or more likely a combination of these. Preparation for your first half or full marathon is not easy and workouts sometimes don’t go as planned. Plus, we all have other commitments in life. Therefore, having a support network can play a vital role in our success in attaining our running goals.

7. A schedule – Based on our busy lives we have to determine how much time and what times we have available to devote to training. Typically, I schedule my workouts just like I would a dentist or doctor appointment. That way I can commit that time for my workout. So I highly recommend that you sit down and map out what days and what times you are going to have available to train.

8. Pacing – This can be difficult to do, but it is very important in races, so that you don’t fatigue too early.

9. A coach – I know I’m biased with this one. However, I strongly recommend a coach. They have been through this process of planning to achieve goals in races and can help you get to your goals, so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I know there are lots of online programs that you can get for free; however, keep in mind that these are very generic. The person who came up with these programs doesn’t know you. They have no idea what your fitness level and goals are, and certainly won’t know your schedule or any muscle weaknesses and areas where you lack flexibility. Only a coach who can work one-on-one with you will be able to determine these and design a customized program that will be best for you.

Stay tuned for more information which pertains to those points. I will be starting a series of blogs which includes strengthening exercises and stretches.

Until next time… see you on the road (or trail)