Archive for September, 2010

NxJ’er asks: should I eat oatmeal? Lots of carbs…

“I typically have oatmeal each morning, and load it up with strawberries and bananas. I noticed, though, on the package that there are a lot of carbs in oatmeal. I’ve been trying to watch how many carbs I eat recently, but as silly as it sounds, eating oatmeal for breakfast starts my day off right! Do you have any suggestions on how I can get the best of both worlds?” -NxJ’er

Good question.  I do think that a breakfast of oatmeal is healthy and I wouldn’t want you to stop eating it.  Do you have the regular unsweetened type or is the kind you’re using a flavor?  If it is a flavored variety, you can get an extra 10g of sugar that way.  Switch to regular and add your own “spices” like cinnamon and a touch of salt for sweetness/savory.  This way, you minimize the amount of sugar.

If it is a regular variety, then switch from a full package to ¾ or ½ and add more calories through eggs to add protein and satiation.  Eggs mix in nicely with oats in the microwave, believe it or not!

Note: carbs are important and you should have them!  One cup of unsweetened oats is only 25g of carbs, which is a healthy amount of carbs to have in the morning.  Try to aim for at least 30 grams of carbs per meal.


What is Creatine?

“Creatine – I’ve always heard about how creatine floods your muscles with water so when you stop using it you lose the mass, but I’ve now learned that the gains during use are still enhanced because of better synthesis and muscle energy etc. I’m considering taking small amounts (I want the benefits and not the massive bulk increase)… What are your opinions on it and what dosage would be right?  Are there any concerns with using?” – NxJ’er

A definition first, creatine is found naturally in the body’s muscle tissues and helps generate muscular contractions.  You can consume it in fish and meat; but as you noted, it is also bottled up in supplements.  Once the body makes it (or you swallow a pill or eat food), creatine is metabolized in your skeletal muscle, the heart and the brain.  It then becomes a major energy store for those tissues.

The “mass” you refer to is the bulking-effect that might cause muscles to retain water. Creatine is water-soluble, which means that it is not stored for long periods of time (read: you are not going to store it long enough to suddenly have “enhanced” muscle energy synthesis).  There is some evidence that supplemental creatine may enhance performance in high-intensity, short-term activities (think: sprints and weight-lifting).

If you wanted to try creatine supplements, the typical form is called “creatine monohydrate powder.”  The dosing is a loading dose of 20 grams or 0.3 grams per kilogram in divided doses four times a day for two to five days, followed by a maintenance dose of no more than two grams daily.  When taking supplement – it’s very important to take with water (6-8 glasses per day at least) to avoid dehydration.1

Concerns with using: creatine supplements should be avoided by children, adolescents, pregnant women, nursing moms, and anyone at risk for kidney disorders, such as diabetics.  Also, caffeine in coffee, tea and sodas seem to interfere with any beneficial effects of creatine supplementation.

For your goal, it doesn’t seem like supplemental creatine is necessary.  Any clean muscle gains you’d like to gain can easily be made with increasing calories from lean protein sources and legumes.


1. Williams MH, Branch JD.  Creatine supplementation and exercise performance: an update.  J Am Coll Nutr. 1998; 17:216-234.

Is Splenda really that bad for you?

Sucralose (brandname: Splenda) is one of the five nonnutritive (providing no nutrition) sweeteners that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The other four nonnutritive sweeteners are acesulfame-K, aspartame, neotame, and saccharin.  All diet drinks and foods have one of these sweeteners or a combination thereof.

The Controversy

Because much of the testing is done in animals and not humans, it is difficult for many people to feel assured that sugar substitutes, such as Splenda, are truly safe… However, the amounts that could possibly be consumed by humans (even if you ate Splenda all day long) are so much less than that given to animals.

In addition, with Splenda we know from metabolic studies that most if not all of the Splenda consumed is excreted in either the feces or urine in close time proximity to when it was consumed. This is a very good indication that Splenda does not undergo any chemical reactions in the body and nor does it spend that long of a period of time in the body.

Should You Avoid?

For the most part, individuals should avoid daily use of sugar free stuff and sugar free products that offer little to no nutritional value in the diet. This is because these foods may displace nutrient dense foods in the diet and result in inadequate intakes of nutrients and certain food components.

Remember: artificial sweeteners are NOT food; they are still chemicals!  They are considered “nonnutritive,” namely because they do not nourish your body in any way.

If I NEED a Diet Soda, How Much is Acceptable?

The position of the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, American Dental Association and American Dietetic Association is that splenda and the other four sweeteners are safe when consumed within the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). Tanya Zuckerbrot, Dietitian and founder of Skinny in the City, nicely summarized the ADI on common sweeteners.  The following is her analysis:

Found in: Sweet ‘n Low, Necta Sweet, some candies
Calories: 0
Strength: 200-700 times sweeter than sugar
Controversy: Back in the 70s this sweetener caused a scare due to bladder tumors found in rats who ingested it. Subsequently though, multiple studies found the tumors did not translate to humans, and saccharin is approved by the FDA.
Uses: Best in coffee and tea
Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI): 5mg/kg* of body weight, or about 9-12 packets per day

Found in: More than 6,000 products, including NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin, some diet beverages, gum, and puddings
Calories: 0
Strength: 160-220 times sweeter than sugar
Controversy: Approved in 1981 by the FDA, the sweetener’s safety was called into question by a 1996 report that suggested an increase in the number of people with brain tumors between 1975 and 1992 might correlate with the introduction and use of this sweetener in the United States. Eventually this was proven to be false. (If you have a condition called phenylketonuria, commonly known as PKU, do not use this product as it contains phenylalanine.)
Uses: Best for sweetening coffee, tea, gum, soft drinks
ADI: The FDA set an ADI at 50 mg/kg of body weight, or about 18-19 12-ounce sodas daily. One 12-ounce soda contains about 225 mg of aspartame; 1 packet of Equal contains 22 mg.

Found in: Sucralose, baked goods, beverages, chewing gum, frozen desserts
Calories: 0
Strength: Splenda can be 320-1000 times sweeter than sugar depending on its application.
Controversy: None. Before approval, the FDA reviewed more than 100 safety studies, including studies to assess cancer risk. The results of these studies showed no evidence that Splenda, made from altered sugar molecules, causes cancer or poses any other threat to human health. Some studies suggest that ingesting too much Splenda may increase sugar cravings.
Uses: Splenda works well for baking, since it doesn’t degrade when exposed to heat. You can also sweeten drinks, like coffee and tea, with it.
ADI: 5 mg/kg a day, 6 cans of diet soda

Splenda with Fiber
This is exactly what it sounds like: Each packet of Splenda with Fiber contains one gram of fiber. If you’re like most Americans, you’re only getting half the fiber you need. The recommended daily intake for fiber is 25-38 grams. If you’re a Splenda fan, switch to the fiber version — the only NNS with this on the market — and watch the grams add up.

Found in: Tabletop sweetener, beverages by Pepsico like Sobe Life, and Trop50. It’s made from a high purity extract called Reb A, which is the sweetest component of the stevia plant. It contains no artificial flavorings or preservatives, which makes it 100% natural.
Calories: 0 calories, 2 grams of carbohydrate per packet
Strength: 200 times sweeter than sugar
Word of warning: It has been deemed safe by the FDA but only in limited applications.
Best uses: Sweetening fruit, yogurt, cereal, coffee and tea
ADI: 4 mg/kg a day, 30 packets (for a person weighing 68 kg)

*To find your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2

Bathroom Exercise!? Part 2

In case you’re bored with performing bathroom squats (see description), here’s another exercise.

Firstly, are you standing in a stall right now?

Nice!  Stay in there for another 10 seconds and face the wall.  Let’s perform some “bathroom push-ups at work.”  The goal of this exercise is to prevent “office flabby arm.”  Don’t know how to perform a basic wall push-up?  Here’s a step by step.  See below:

  1. Stand with your arms outstretched, facing a wall (preferably not the stall door in case the lock isn’t secure enough to hold your weight!)
  2. Lean up against the wall, so that your body is at an angle.
  3. Bend your elbows until your nose nearly touches the wall, and then push back out to start.
  4. That was one rep – now do 10.

If you do quirky exercises in weird places, email Marissa and get yours up on the Daily Health Briefing!

NxJ’er Fitness Questions

QUESTION 1: “Do you lose a percentage of the muscle you gain if you don’t stretch properly after working out?  True or false?”

False.  You cannot lose muscle from not stretching.  You can only lose muscle when you stop using it and/or eat less calories to maintain the accrued muscle gains.  No matter what, it is important to stretch post-exercise to maintain a good range of motion and flexibility.  Stretching also helps preserve tendon elasticity and improve flexibility. Static stretching (holding a specific stretch for 20+ seconds) is best left for post-workout, when muscles are already warmed and fatigued.

QUESTION 2: “Why do you get running cramps?”

Running cramps, also known as “charley horses” or “side stitches,” are muscle spasms.  The National Library of Medicine gives a good description of what charley horses are and how to prevent.

QUESTION 3: “How often should I change my sneakers?”

Part 1: You should get new shoes every . . .
Correct answer: 350-550 Miles

While it varies depending on each person’s running style, body weight, and the surface on which she runs, most of us should change our shoes after running 350-550 miles.

Part 2: What’s one way to tell if your sneakers are too worn?
Correct answer: Twist them to see if they twist easily.

One way to see if shoes are worn out is to give them the Twist Test. If you can easily twist your shoe your mid soles are worn out and it is time for new shoes.


NxJ’er asks: % Max HR to Burn Fat?

“We know that to lose weight you have to burn more calories than you take in.  But is there an x-factor, where if you get your heart rate high enough you can actually burn fat (not just calories) irrespective of calorie intake/burn?  If so, what % of your max heart rate do you have to hit and at what rate will you burn fat?”

Fat burning zones based solely on heart rate are only for warm ups and cool downs nowadays.  Interval training might exceed fat burning in the short-term, but fires deep into a muscle and has huge latent fat burning benefits.  So yes – in effect, you can burn more fat by hitting higher heart rates.  You can determine your max by subtracting your age from 220.

There is a way to train your body to “burn more fat.”  It starts with exercising differently (see above link on interval training).  There is a concept called “exercise afterburn,” i.e., excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).  This is the amount of calories expended even after the workout is over.  If you workout hard, you will reap greater return.  Recovery is also important – therefore remember there are benefits to recovery and cross-training.

There are some exercise programs that can maximize EPOC.  Nerijus and Corey like to use these varieties in their development of specific training programs.  Here are a few to try out:

Continuous Interval Training: Altenrating 3-minute bouts of low-intensity (30%-40% HR max) and high-intensity (60-80% HR max) exercise for a period of 30-60 minutes.

Heavy Resistance Training: 2-4 sets, 8-10 exercises, 3-8 reps at 80%-90% 1RM, 2- to 3-minute rest periods.

Circuit Resistance Training: 2-3 circuits, 6-10 exercises, 10-12 reps at 50% 1RM, 30-second rest periods.

Bathroom Exercise!?

Are you sitting in a stall right now?

Great!  Here’s a bathroom exercise to try out.  Don’t be shy.  After you’ve done your business, stand up in the space between the stall door and toilet to perform some “bathroom squats at work.”  Don’t worry, this will only take 10 seconds.  Perform 10 squats (preferably with your pants up) to prevent “office flabby butt.”  Don’t know how to perform a basic squat?  Here’s a step by step.  See below:

1. Stand facing the stall door with feet about shoulder-width apart.
2. Contract the abs and keep them tight as you bend the knees and slowly squat over the toilet.
3. Keep the knees behind the toes as you hover over the toilet for a few seconds.
4. Squeeze your butt as you begin to lift up again, extending the legs.
5. Fully extend the legs until you’re back to standing position.