Hey! I’ve moved!

Thanks to all my readers for frequenting the blog, asking superb questions, and just all in all being nice people.

All updates to this blog can now be found at: http://eugenization.com/wordpress/

So to keep on getting your daily dose of exercise science and nutrition with a sprinkle of studies and articles,  adjust your web browsers and RSS feeds accordingly.

Exercise – It’s All in Your Head.

Arnold talked about it in “Pumping Iron.”   Most trainees worth their salt exercise it, at least most of the time.  Of course, great coaches like John Wooden or Yogi Berra make it a must from their teams.

I’m talking about mindfulness, of course.  More than just mere mindfulness,  however – I’m talking about putting conscious intention into all of your exercise efforts.

There’s more to exercise success than merely showing up and going through the motions.  Exercising with intention – making the so-called “mind-muscle connection” – is more than just a bunch of bodybuilder nonsense.  When you’re determined to make your target repetitions and weights, your performance is better.  You get a deeper sense of fatigue and stimulation in your muscles.  And, arguably, you set the stage for better gains – at least, according to a study in the journal Psychological Science (full text found here.)

In this study, Drs. Langer and Crum examined the role the mind plays in the benefits received from exercise (vis a vis the “placebo effect“).  A group of 84 hotel room attendants were randomly divided into two groups and were tested for various measures of health (BMI, blood pressure, weight).  One group was given a consultation explaining that the work they do was good exercise; the other group, nada.

The end result?  The group that got the consults (that “believed” their work was exercise) lost weight, while the other group didn’t.  The informed group improved on other measures of health as well, and if the study is to be believed, the differences between the groups were nil (aside from the information sessions, of course).

The results imply that merely thinking about exercise’s benefits can amplify (or in this case, create) its effects.  Placebo – yes, but potentially powerful.

Next time you hit the weights, remember: practice mindfulness.  Exercise with intention.  Make the mind-muscle connection.  Put aside all the distractions and take some time back from your life for yourself.

The REAL Reason You Can’t Make Progress.

“There’s not enough time in the day.”

“I’m too busy at work.”

“I’m exhausted at the end of the day.”

“My weekends are too hectic to plan and cook for the week.”

“I’m too out of shape to start lifting weights.”

I empathize with you (no, really; I do!). Life is hard. And all of these are real, valid reasons for not being able to achieve that ideal body.

But whatever your reason is, it’s not the real reason you haven’t done it.

The real reason is that you haven’t made achieving an exceptional physique a priority – a MUST.

There are certain things in your life that are non-negotiables – no matter how harried, how stressed, how strapped you are for time, these things get done.

Some examples include:

  • Brushing your teeth every morning
  • Bathing
  • Spending time with your children

It’s important to note that none of these things are things you have to do everyday – you certainly could get by without bathing everyday (although it would be more noticeable with some of us than others) – but if you’re like most people, these activities are performed daily, without fail. You probably do them without conscious intention.

What’s most fascinating is what happens if, for some obscure reason, you miss a day (too rushed in the morning, so you forget to brush your teeth). The discomfort is more than just mental – you get a palpable, physical sense of unease. It’s almost as if your body misses the routine task.

The same must be true for your efforts in the gym and at each meal. How far would you get in your career if, upon awakening, you skipped out on work because you just didn’t feel like it? Exercise (particularly strength training) must be similarly non-negotiable.

You’ve got to make working out a habit. Eating right has to be done almost without conscious intention. Anecdotally, this rings true; most people, once they’ve adopted a more healthful style of eating, feel physically unwell upon eating junk food.

When you decide to make fitness and health a non-negotiable; if you give your intentions power by writing them down, scheduling workouts, visualizing your outcome, and setting goals, an interesting thing will happen.

Your workouts will be done. You will begin to eat more healthfully. You’ll make progress.

And you’ll end up stronger, fitter, and healthier.

I Hate To Say, “I Told You So…”

…but “I told you so.”

Can’t get enough of my wild rantings on cholesterol?  Check out:

Aim First, Before You Shoot. 

Greater Chance of Death With Lower LDL.

Fat is Not To Be Feared. 

DIY Bars.

Bar none, the best way to insure success on a fat loss regimen is prepare your own meals.  No better option exists as far as controlling portioning, nutrient partitioning (carbs vs. fat vs. protein), and ingredients (high-fructose corn syrup no more!).

So if you’re going to all the trouble of cooking your own meals, why settle for a commercially-produced protein bar for your pre and post-workout nutrition?

There are woefully few protein bars I recommend to clients; most contain high-fructose corn syrup, soy, or other unneccessary fillers.  Nutrient profiles for most meal replacements are lacking.  Also, most of them just plain taste bad.

One viable alternative is make your own protein bars from nuts, seeds, protein powder, etc.  I believe Alton Brown (of Good Eats fame) even made a nutrition bar on one of shows (although it was way high in carbohydrates).  Personally, since I have the cooking skills of a spiny anteater, a service like YouBar is quite awesome.  YouBar allows you to custom order nutrition bars – you can either use one of their templates or make custom requests.  If you’re lactose-intolerant, gluten-sensitive, vegan, whatever, you can create a bar to suit your personal nutritional profile.

Of course, pre and post-workout nutrition should ideally be in liquid form, but being able to control ingredients is a plus.

Aim First, Before You Shoot.

Do you lift weights? If you do, do you also take a statin (such as Zocor or Lipitor)? If so, you may be shooting yourself in the foot (from a muscular standpoint), and not doing yourself a whole lot of good from a health standpoint. In fact, you’re likely worsening your health.

Bold words; I know. Read on.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ll know I’m no fan of the lipid hypothesis (namely, that cholesterol/saturated fat/LDL cause cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks).

Often, clients, trainers, friends, and random internet folk question how I can take such a hard-nosed stance on this issue since it’s widely accepted by doctors that the lipid hypothesis is true, i.e., high cholesterol/saturated fat intake/LDL causes heart attacks. The answer? If it’s true, then you should be able to prove it. But, when examining the so-called evidence for the lipid hypothesis, you quickly discover several things:

1) The data don’t support the hypothesis.

I’ve previously blogged about how major studies dealing with cholesterol and mortality show a higher risk of death with lower levels of cholesterol. This trend holds true across the board. And if you think about the etiology of heart disease and the different functions of fat and cholesterol in the human body, then this makes sense. After all, humans have been eating stuff like eggs, animal flesh, and animal organs almost since our origins. If we really weren’t supposed to eat this stuff, how would we have survived?

2) There are too many “black swans” for the hypothesis to be true.

Nassim Talib has a great book out now called The Black Swan, the subject of which is a classical fallacy from logic. Talib doesn’t use it in this way, but a black swan is that one example that renders your theory invalid. The classic example:

Your theory is “all swans are white.” To defeat your theory, I merely have to produce one black swan. If one black swan exists, then logically all swans cannot be white.

Similarly, if your hypothesis is, “high consumption of saturated fat causes heart disease”, then I merely have to say, “The French eat more fat than us, and they have much less incidence of heart attack. So do the Swedes (who eat a completely different diet from the French). The Masai and Inuit eat fat almost exclusively, yet incidence of heart attack is virtually nil.”

That’s a veritable flock of black swans, if you ask me.

3) When looking at interventions that are supposed to help (i.e., by lowering cholesterol), they end up killing more people.

This article from the NY Times caught my attention, and it’s been the most discussed topic between my clients and I. Some of them are confused – how can a drug that lowers cholesterol cause an increase in arterial plaque? – but many of them have heard the soapbox tirade before (See #1).

Dr. Eades, in his usual way, wrote an incredible blog post about the ENHANCE study, so I won’t bore you with the details. As usual, the quick hits:

The most telling facet is that the effect was most dramatically seen in those who took Vytorin vs. just Zetia; those who had the lowest LDL levels (the lower the LDL level, the more plaque was present).

The ENHANCE study was completed in 2006. And it’s….2008? Why did they delay publication? Is it because Merck and Schering-Plough went looking for some white swans and came up with a whole bunch of black ones?

“‘LDL lowering, however it occurs, delays development of coronary atherosclerosis and reduces risk for heart attack,’ Dr. Grundy said this week.” Does it really, Dr. Grundy? Or are you just sidestepping the data?

and finally,

“Because the link between excessive LDL cholesterol and cardiovascular disease has been so widely accepted, the Food and Drug Administration generally has not required drug companies to prove that cholesterol medicines actually reduce heart attacks before approval. They have not had to conduct so-called outcome or events trials beforehand, which are expensive studies that involve thousands of patients and track whether episodes like heart attacks are reduced.

In other words, shoot first, apologize later – if they apologize at all, that is. Seeing what happened in the VIOXX case, that apology’s not likely unless it comes from the business end of a court docket.

Does this kind of stuff make you want to tear your hair out too? Post to comments.

Muscles, On The Cheap.

Seen today in the local sporting goods store:

perfect pushup

A mere $60 for the “travel” version.

I’ve got a better idea – how about you do some honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned, non-accessorized pushups in your hotel room and save yourself $60?

Every year, hundreds of gizmos and gimmicks are invented to purportedly improve fitness and make exercises more effective – and most of them fall far short of expectations.  One thing is certain: Good ol’-fashioned hard work on the basics works – no need for a money-back guarantee, either.

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