Archive for November, 2011

150 Minutes Per Week

Are you devoting 150 minutes per week to exercise?  According to the new 2011 exercise recommendations (1) from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), there are a bunch of new exercises that can help us keep physically fit.

Functional training

The ACSM suggests integrating “functional fitness” — training that includes motor skills, such as balance, coordination, agility and flexibility such as yoga, pilates, or tai chi — around two-three days per week for 20-30 minutes (especially for older adults to prevent falls).  These neuromotor exercises can fit into a comprehensive routine for any age group.

Resistance training

The ACSM suggests training each major muscle group — two-three days each week.  The equipment can range from light resistance (bands, hand-weights and medicine balls) to heavy resistance (bench press, kettle-bells and smith machines).  The recommendations are to perform two-four sets of each exercise.  To improve strength and power, the ACSM recommends 8-12 repetitions (between the 8th and 12th repetition, the body should not be able to lift one more repetition).  For muscular endurance, the ACSM recommends 15-20 repetitions.

Flexibility training

The ACSM suggests incorporating flexibility training at least two-three times per week to improve range of motion.  Flexibility training can occur both before and after workouts, and as its own session (e.g., yoga).  This would include static stretching post-workout (holding the stretch for at least 30 seconds to two minutes), dynamic stretching pre-workout (functional-based warm-ups that help prepare the body for exercise, such as high-knees or lunge walking), and PNF stretches (proprioceptive muscular facilitation), which should be done with a coach or trainer to help push the stretch a little past what one is capable of performing alone.  The goal with performing flexibility exercises is to have the muscle already a little warm.  This is why static stretching is not recommended before a workout, since muscles are still cold.

Cardiovascular training

The ACSM recommends getting in 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (2.5 hours) per week.  Choose one of the three ways per week to meet this recommendation:

  1. Moderate-intense cardiovascular activity ≥30 minutes per day, five days per week  (150 minutes)
  2. Vigorous-intense cardiovascular activity 20-60 minutes per day, three or more days per week (75 minutes)
  3. One continuous bout and multiple shorter bouts of exercise (at least 10 minutes) to accumulate total (75-150 minutes)


This last point, number three, is a good one for those who feel they are too busy to workout.  According to the ACSM, this last point means that a person can still hit the recommended 150 minutes per week by exercising for a longer amount of time when available and breaking it up into smaller pieces when strapped for time.

Summary: what to do every week

Cardiovascular training (aerobic exercise): 150 minutes (5 days per week, 30-60 minutes per day of moderate intensity), or at least 75 minutes (3 days per week, 20-60 minutes per day of vigorous intensity).

Resistance training (weight training): 2-3 days per week, 2 days between sessions, 2-4 sets per exercise, 8-12 reps per set or 15-20 reps per set.

Flexibility training (stretching): 2-3 days per week.

Functional training (pilates, yoga: 2-3 days per week, 20-30 minutes per day.

Sample fitness calendar

  Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Exercise Running or walking Weight training, stretch after Cycling, stretch after Weight training, stretch after Pilates or yoga Running  or walking OFF
Minutes 30 minutes 30 minutes 45 minutes 60 minutes 60 minutes 20 minutes  

Total: 95 minutes cardio, 2 days strength training, 1 functional exercise, stretching throughout the week.


Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise. Garber, C.E., Blissmer, B., Deschenes, M.R., et al. America College of Sports Medicine, Indianapolis, IN. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2011 July; 4(7): 1334 -1359.


Black Friday Online: Gets You a WODAT

Sure, you can burn off a quarter of your Thanksgiving dinner running from store to store, shlepping packages around town (precisely, 70 calories per half hour according to  But talk about efficiency when you can (1) get all of your goods at our marketplace and (2) get in a real workout that burns off all those calories, simply because you have the time.  Here’s your Workout of the Day after Thanksgiving (WODAT).

Workout of the Day after Thanksgiving (WODAT)


(10x) Plank position–> walk into standing, back to plank position

(10x per leg) Side lunges

(5x) Grapevine

(5x) Jog into sprint, back-jog to start

(20x/15x/10x) Bridges (20 times with both legs on the floor, 15 per leg: bent knee to chest, 10 per leg: straight leg to sky)


Each exercise lasts for 1-minute, repeated 2x. Cool down and stretch at the end. Here it is:

– Ice skaters on the slide board
– Box jumps (2 boxes, one higher than next)
– Body saw/pike combo on ball or bench
– Cable row with isometric squat
– Rowing machine
– Walking lunge holding 15-25 lb weight overhead
– Rest station or plank
– Assisted pull-ups
– Push-ups with medicine ball (roll ball to each hand in between reps)
– Hanging leg raise (bent knee or for more challenge, straight legs)
– Inverted row (on rings)
– Elliptical
– Wall ball squats (physioball behind back, up against wall)
– Rest station or plank


5 minutes on the upright bike or treadmill.


Stuff the Turkey Vs. Yourself

Last year, I wrote a post providing three strategies to feel a comfortable “7” on the hunger-fullness scale at Thanksgiving dinner.  Read on for more tips to stay in check at tomorrow’s feast.

Tips one through three…

The brief recap from the post (linked above): (1) sip drinks versus chug, (2) skip second servings, (3) “just say no” to someone’s special home-made delight when it’s being forced on you and you don’t want to try it…  If your family is keen on the force-feeding tactic, that third tip is (semi) funny.

4. Eat normally before dinner.

Skipping entire meals has been shown to escalate overeating at a later meal that day.  Stay on track with your regular eating habits.  Have breakfast.  Eat Lunch.  Enjoy a mini snack (try an apple and one ounce of cheese) before dinner.

5. Beware of traditional calorie-laden delicacies. 

Stuffing, gravies, cranberry sauce, buttery sweet potatoes, and pies are a hefty caloric spend.  Focus the plate on veggies and protein from turkey, using the above items as “a garnish,” if you’re trying to watch what you eat.

6. Don’t deprive yourself.

It is Thanksgiving.  You’re supposed to eat the chocolately thing your aunt made this year!  According to Dr. Brian Wansink, expert in mindless eating behaviors, the best way to change a habit is to not feel deprived when you’re changing it.  He recommends keeping the comfort foods but eating them in smaller servings.

For more tips to help curb your appetite over the holiday, read this previous post about how to enjoy your company and food equally 🙂

Preventing Winter Weight Gain

Magazine articles, TV, ads… Do people gain an alleged 10+ pounds (4.5 kgs) between Thanksgiving and the New Year?  If you fear holiday weight gain coming your way, think again.

Average winter gains

For an individual who is not presenting with an overweight or obese body mass index (BMI), the average weight gain has been shown to be at an average of 1.1 lbs (0.5 kgs). (1)  Unfortunately, as one maintains weight in the overweight or obese category, it is more likely that he or she puts on extra weight during the winter months.  According to a study in Nutrition Review, that extra weight can be as much as 5 lbs (2.3 kgs). (2)  Over the years, extra poundage each year can be catastrophic to your physique.

Best way to maintain or lose weight

To lose or maintain weight, focus on calories first.  The bottom line is that calories count most when it comes to any change in weight.  The best (and only) way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than your body burns.  When that sinks in…

There are strategies to keep calories low

During the winter season, it is easier to eat out more, take extra servings at the holiday dinner table and drink festive, fun-colored beverages.  What to do in these instances…

PORTIONS.  It’s so cliche, it’s almost offensive.  Take a look at your plate and remind yourself that if you like it, you can always wrap up half for later or try it again another time.

EAT IN.  Eating out is awesome, but the portions are 2-3x larger than normal.  Eating in allows you to control both portion size and ingredients. Plus, it is fun to make stuff 🙂

MORE FRUIT.  Again… so cliche… offensive.  The amount of fiber in a piece of fruit (4 grams+) for the low amount of calories is the best deal ever.  For only a small calorie spend you can feel full instantly– and taste the sweetness.  What more can you want in life?

MORE VEGGIES.  Fiber and nutrient-dense, eating more vegetables is the easiest way to upgrade your plate from zero to super healthy. Plus, veggies are low in calories for the amount they fill up your belly (again, think fiber).

“SCRAPE” HOME-MADE DESSERTS.  There’s a whole buffet of desserts, and you want… all of them.  Instead of taking a slice or a whole piece, use the “scraping method.”  Nope, you won’t find this on google or wikipedia.  Scrape the serving knife of the dessert of choice onto the edge of your plate, creating 1-2 bite sized portions.  Have around “five bites” of different desserts.  Yum!

DOWNGRADE YOUR DRINK.  Do you really need the spiked apple cider with cinnamon whip?  Okay, maybe you do 🙂  But you probably don’t need two of them.  Downgrade your drink by choosing the less “spicy” types.  Examples: festive, colorful drinks add on a minimum of 100 extra calories.  Wine, light beer, vodka with diet soda or seltzer drastically reduces total calories for the night.  Yesterday’s post reviews how alcohol can affect your physique.


The fact of the matter is that most people tend to eat too much food — too many carbs, too much fat, and too much protein, not to mention too much alcohol– this all leads to an excess of calories and weight gain.

During the holiday season, people eat too much and exercise too little.  If you slash your dinner plate in half and go to the gym a day or two more than normal, great things can happen.


(1) Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O’Neil PM, Sebring NG.  A prospective study of holiday weight gain. New England Journal of Medicine. 2000;Mar 23;342(12):861-7

(2) Roberts SB, Mayer J. Holiday weight gain: fact or fiction? Nutrition Review. 2000;Dec;58(12):378-9.

Yep, Alcohol Affects Your Fitness

Working out in the gym like an animal?  Not seeing results?  Alcohol (even just a few drinks) can counteract the good work you put in.

Brief review: alcohol metabolism

You drink alcohol, it moves down the esophagus, it enters the stomach and small intestine.  Small blood vessels escort alcohol (known as ethanol, or EtOH to the body) through the bloodstream to its next destination, the liver.  In the liver, EtOH gets metabolized.  The rate at which it is metabolized determines EtOH’s effect on the brain and body.

The liver can process around one ounce of liquor (or one drink) within one hour. If the rate of alcohol consumption exceeds the rate of metabolism in the body, then the liver becomes too busy to handle the increased level of EtOH.  As a result, the additional EtOH accumulates in the blood and body tissues (EtOH prefers brain and muscle out of all the tissues that it can permeate) until it can be metabolized by the liver.

Food will slow down the rate of EtOH absorption.  EtOH is absorbed through the stomach but even more rapidly through the small intestine.  Without eating food, EtOH is absorbed 3x faster.  Even with food, having more than one drink within one hour results in high blood alcohol levels that can last for many hours afterwards.

Now onto why this is a “buzz kill” (tee hee) for your bod.

Acute effects

One fine evening, you ingest more than one serving of alcohol (one drink for women; two drinks for men).  Perhaps you take a blood alcohol content (BAC) test and find out your blood level is close to or in the range of .08% to .10%.  In other words, you are legally intoxicated.  It will take a while until you become sober once again.  You get to sleep at some point… and wake up feeling groggy.  Oh no, a workout is approaching later that day.  Muscle development and recovery are affected in the following ways:

#1.  One night of heavy drinking alters sleep.  Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is secreted naturally during deep sleep.  HGH is responsible for normal muscular growth and repair.  Alcohol can decrease the secretion of HGH by 70%.(1)  Focusing either at work or in the gym will also be more difficult since memories are consolidated during the sleep cycle, and alcohol does not allow your body to enter into the deep phase, where consolidation occurs.

#2.   Alcohol disrupts the water balance inside of the muscle cell.  Dehydrated muscle cells slow down body’s ability to both get proper nutrients to grow and develop, but also heal.  Dehydrated muscle cells also impair the body’s ability to produce ATP (the muscle’s source of energy), which helps muscles contract.  Lowered ATP means less endurance and poor performance during a workout.

#3.  Alcohol consumption depletes important vitamins and minerals.  Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) is depleted the most with increased alcohol consumption.  B1 is integral in metabolism of all three macro-nutrients.  Pop a vitamin?  May or may not help since alcohol in the bloodstream and tissues inhibits the absorption of this vitamin.

Long-term effects

If consuming five plus drinks in one night can affect brain and body tissues for up to three days (1), then over time, consecutive nights of drinking more than one serving has the ability to be very destructive to the body.

#1.  The ability to retain information is limited.  As in an acute state, alcohol affects the sleep cycle.  Memory consolidation gets impaired over time, since alcohol can damage nerve cells and eventually cause brain damage.

#2. Testosterone levels drop.  Looking to build muscle?  Think again, testosterone is the key hormone that helps build and maintain muscle growth — with increased alcohol intake this hormone becomes impaired.  What results is an enlargement in breast size and impotence.  Among females it is possible to see menstrual irregularities and infertility.

#3.  Protein synthesis is diminished.  Chronic use of alcohol can lead to a “muscle wasting” effect.  This is because alcohol can diminish protein synthesis, which results in a decrease in muscle build-up.(1)


The goal of the corporate athlete is to be at peak mental and physical performance.  Drinking in moderation is key to achieving your fitness goals.


(1) Firth, G. For the Athlete: Alcohol and Athletic Performance. Pamphlet on Alcohol and Drug Education from the University of Notre Dame, accessed 11/16 via this link.

(2) Vella L.D., Cameron-Smith D. Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery. Nutrients. 2010; 2(8):781-789. (Full PDF here)

(3) Frias, J.; Torres, J.M.; Rodriguez, R.; et al. Effects of acute alcohol intoxication on growth axis in human adolescents of both sexes. Life Sciences. 2000;67:2691–2697.

(4) Brad21.

10 Essentials for Best Nutrition

“If I cannot do everything nutritionally (I’m overly busy, don’t care about it most of the time) what are the most important foods/drinks/supplements that I should focus on for optimal health?”

Focus on categories versus specific foods, drinks and supplements.  Here are the essentials:

1. Fruits and vegetables (everyday, at every meal)

  • Focus on dark green and orange
  • Tip: the darker the pigment, the more nutrients they have

2. Fish (> twice a week)

3. Less red meat (1-2x per week) 

  • Focus on other lean protein sources such as, poultry, turkey, fish, legumes and beans as a replacement
  • Tip: if you ate it for lunch, try something else for dinner

4. Make all your grains whole grains (everyday)

  • Focus on whole wheat, whole grain carbohydrates
  • Tip: white carbs are only useful post-workout in a sensible portion

5. Fat-free or low fat dairy (everyday)

  • Focus on yogurts, milk and cheese
  • Tip: if you do not eat dairy, look for alternative calcium/vitamin D sources such as almonds, sardines and spinach.  This is where a supplement might come in handy

6. Limit liquid calories with little nutrition (limit: sodas and alcohol)

  • Focus on tea, coffee, seltzer and water to hydrate
  • Tip: a diet soda is okay to replace a regular soda as long as consumption is sensible (1-2 per day)

7. Whole food snacks (everyday)

  • Focus on non-packaged foods
  • Tip: try nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and homemade foods

8. Don’t deprive yourself of the foods you really love (include them sensibly)

  • Focus on a few favorite foods in appropriate portions
  • Tip: abiding by serving sizes helps in this game so as not to overeat later on

9. Use monounsaturated oils (most days of week)

  • Focus on olive and canola oil to cook with or dress up salads
  • Tip: monounsaturated oils are heart healthy; many salad dressings are the opposite of this

10. Use supplements sparingly

  • No supplements needed if you follow the above bullet-points (unless pregnant or with chronic disease)
  • Tip: A standard multivitamin (3x per week) is okay if you really think you need one for piece of mind

Recipe Fridays: Lentils & Brown Rice with Sautéed Onions

If you like Middle Eastern cuisine, this is your evening recipe.  If you do not know how to cook, today’s recipe is probably not the best one to start out with; but it is reasonably fast and simple, and of course– delicious!

The glycemic load…

Since you already read yesterday’s post about the difference between glycemic index and glycemic load, you know that although this dish has a high GI, it has a relatively medium GL for one serving.  That is because there is a good amount of fiber (9 g) in this dish (women need 25 g per day; men need 38 g per day) and a healthy amount of good fat (the unsaturated kind) at 23 g.  Fat slows the gastric emptying time, and therefore the speed at which the carbohydrate from the food is absorbed into the bloodstream.

The filling factor

On a scale of 1-10, 10 being Thanksgiving-day-stuffed-like-a-turkey full, this is a good 7-8 depending upon your appetite and size.