22 April 2010

Confusion Over Dietary Fats

I know I said I wasn't going to write about diet but given that there's so much confusion over fats in foods, what fats are good and which are bad, I thought I'd have a dig in my personal archive and summarise it for you.  Think on it as a sort of Fatty-Fatty-Crib-Sheet.

While there is increasing evidence of the protective, curative and life-enhancing benefits of omega 3,omega 6 and omega 9, throughout the Western world, most people consume far too little of the essential fats and far too much of all the others.

Omega 3,6 and 9 fats play a key role in brain development, heart protection and healthy vision. They help relieve allergies and can create periods of remission for those suffering from Crohn's disease, IBS, colitis and ulcerative colitis. Both adults and children with joint pain, asthma, eczema and psoriasis can benefit from the  anti-inflammatory properties of these fats.

They assist our fitness goals by improving stamina and endurance, decreasing recovery times, improving protein and amino acid utilization, increasing metabolic rate, improving oxygen uptake, optimizing glandular function and heightening reflexes and concentration.

Types of Fats

Essential fatty acids

These are polyunsaturated fats and are liquid at room temperature. There are three groups - omega 3, omega 6. EFAs are essential and our bodies cannot manufacture them.

Linoleic, otherwise known as omega 6 fatty acids, are found in most vegetable oils. You don't need much of them and excessive amounts can speed up the growth of cancer cells. Proportions of omegas 3 and 6 are important. Oils with lots of 6 and very little 3 put you in double jeopardy because of the likely cancer-forming properties of the omega 6s and because they also have a negative effect on the heart protection benefits of omega 3.

Alpha-linolenic, or omega 3 fatty acids are the healthiest of all and abound in oily fish and some vegetable oils, especially those made from rapeseed, walnuts and flax seeds. They protect against heart disease and cancer and are very important during pregnancy for the proper formation of the baby's brain cells.

Non-Essential fatty acids

This is the category that Omega 9 falls into.  This is because omega 9 can be created by the body from  unsaturated fats.  Oleic acid (most common omega 9) is associated with a decrease in breast cancer risk.  It is the main component in olive oil and can be found in other monosaturated fats.  It also occurs as Erucic acid in rapeseed, wallflower seed and mustard seed.

Omega 3,6 and 9 Ratio

The ratio at which you intake fats is important.  As is mentioned above, too much 6 can cancel out the benefit of the omega 3s.  The optimum ratio is thought to be 2:1:1 (3,6,9).  The recommended dose for those on a heavy weight training schedule would be 15ml blended per 50lbs of bodyweight.

Buying a blended oil with the right ratios such as Udos oil means it can be added to the food you’re already  eating in order to get the amount you want and consuming it this way is cheaper than getting 15ml in capsules.

Conjugated linoleic acid

Occurs in free-range cattle raised on natural grassland. Has anti-cancer properties and stimulates the human body's conversion of stored fats into energy.

Monounsaturated fats

Olive oil is the most commonly used and, although liquid at room temperature, it solidifies if refrigerated. The  richest sources are olives, olive oil, avocados, walnuts and walnut oil, peanuts and peanut oil. Monounsaturated fats are much better for your heart and can even help reduce cholesterol. They appear to have no role in the formation of cancer.

Polyunsaturated fats

These are liquid even at low temperatures and extracted from plant sources like sunflowers, safflowers,  rapeseed and corn. Generally healthier than saturated fats, these have a high content of omega 6 EFAs in relation to omega 3. This imbalance means we now consume four times more 6s than 3s. Even though 6 is essential, this ratio has been linked to mental and physical disorders.

Saturated fats

Nearly all animal fats from meat and meat products - milk, cream, cheese, butter, lard and suet - go solid at room temperature. These can increase cholesterol which in turn locks arteries and causes heart disease. Though there is little evidence they play a role in the development of cancer, many experts believe that lower consumption reduces the risk.

Trans fats

Do not occur in nature but are the result of a catalytic process to solidify the cheapest vegetable oils used in food manufacture. The resulting hydrogenated fats are used in margarines, take-aways, ready meals, cakes, biscuits, crisps and sauces. Consuming these raises the risk of heart disease. There is evidence that trans fats are linked to a risk of breast cancer.

Off the Supermarket Shelf

Olive oil
Reduces blood levels of cholesterol, contains monounsaturates and is low in omega 6.

Rapeseed, walnut and flax seed oil
All low in saturated fatty acids, substantial monounsaturates and a good source of omega 3 and 6 EFAs.  It should be noted though that flaxseed oil has a ratio of 4:1 omega 3:6 which leaves it a bit low on the omega 6 side.

Coconut and palm oils
Contain large amounts of saturated fats, little monunsaturated and virtually no omega 3. Avoid it.

Can You Get Too Much of the Good Stuff?

In short, no.

When you get more than 12-15% of total calories as n-3s, there is a fat "burn-off" based on increased metabolic rate. Other than exceeding liver capacity and getting nauseous, or not sleeping because of too much energy because you took it too close to bedtime, it doesn't appear so.

In tropical climates too much oil can make people sweat more easily, that’s not necessarily bad, but if you’re heading off somewhere tropical you’ll have to remember you may well need to drink more water.

How much is optimum?

Generally 15-30% of overall calories should come fats and the majority (if not all) of these should come from healthy sources such as fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, fish and meat. 15% is at the lower end of the scale and should only be followed for short periods of time.

Further Reading
For more information I recommend reading any of Anita Beans books , a raft of articles from ultra fit magazine that unfortunately aren't online, new scientist magazines health section, Dr Udos Fat FAQs, Tom Venutos book 'Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle'.  For great recipies see JAGs Health & Fitness blog and Stella Does Healthy Eating.

16 April 2010

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses.

So many folk say they want to be able to go to the gym/run 5K/do weights etc.  I tell them that with a plan, they can.  They maybe make a start and then slacken off and stop working out so often or just stop.  My knee jerk reaction used to hearing this used to be along the lines of 'well clearly you don't actually want to be able to do x/y/z'.  But now instead of merely replying with a quip, I ask them why they have stopped or haven't gone to the gym today, and then out tumbles the string of excuses...  Now, I've been called a lot of things for these replies, including a 'gym nazi' which is one of the nicer names, but it wouldn't get the heckles up there wasn't some truth in it!

Below are some of the classic excuses I've heard recently and my thoughts on these.

'You see, the thing is, I just don't have the time'
In life, if you really want to do something then you WILL prioritise it.  It will become an appointment in your diary.  This is true for many things, lunch with friends, evenings out, doctors appointments, holidays, think about it.You don't need a lot of time to get results.  You can do a warm up, cool down and a full body weights session in 30 minutes.  You can do an high intensity intervals session in 20 minutes.  Quality over quantity!  You DO have the time.

'I can't be bothered today'
What exactly can't you be bothered with?  Put on your gear.  Get on with it.  Once you start warming up you'll probably find your motivation again and complete your workout, even if it's not with your usual vim and vigor. Even twenty minutes makes a difference and you'll probably feel better for having gone too.  If 'I can't be bothered' is becoming a more regular part of your repertoire then maybe it's time to re-examine your routine, perhaps you need to change it, try something new, ditch a piece of equipment in favour of another, perhaps even set some new goals and find some new inspiration.

'My head/knee/elbow/back hurts'
That does not mean that you can not do something.  If the pain is not serious then you have options.  If you have books and magazines then have a flick through to see if there are alternative ways of working the same muscles that do not involve your injured joint or limb or takes the pressure off it.  Google the exercise you want to avoid and browse alternatives.  If there are gym staff handy then ask them to show you something new.  Go for a swim or a walk instead.  Jump on the cross trainer instead of the treadmill.  Even if you warm up and have a good long stretch that's still going to do you more good than sitting on your bum doing diddly-squat.

If the head/knee/elbow/back thing is recurring then check if you are performing your workout correctly, go and see a doctor or a physio and start working towards sorting it out.  Unless you're getting your legs chopped off then there are NO excuses.  Even if you do get your legs chopped off then there's still hope for you, a paraplegic has sailed across the ocean, a woman paralysed from the waist down has kayaked hundreds of miles, a guy who was told he would never walk again 6 months later did the London marathon on crutches.  Gerronwithit!

'My muscles hurt from yesterday'
If your workout for today isn't loading the muscles that are sore then go.  If your legs are stiff, a good warm-up followed by a light jog or going for a walk or a swim will actually aid the recovery process.  The blood gets moving round the body, more oxygen gets delivered to the muscles, lactic acid gets flushed out. If the soreness isn't too severe then you'll probably find you'll have loosened off enough after your warm up to carry on with what you had planned in the first place.  It is hugely important when you have muscle soreness to keep moving and not allow yourself to stiffen up, unless you really want to be suffering tomorrow as well.  If you have a desk job then keep getting up and wandering around, if you can't leave your desk then stand up and do hip circles, walk on the spot, anything!

'My kits dirty'
So?  Are you seriously telling me you don't own a clean pair of knickers, a clean pair of socks and a clean t-shirt?  Ok, it's a bit minging, but I'd rather chuck on dirty shorts (with clean undies) than do nothing.  If you've noticed early enough then chuck it in on a 30 degree quick wash and hang it up straight away, most kit will be dry in no time at all.  Go and treat yourself to another full set of kit.  There's nothing more frustrating than heading to get changed and finding the drawer empty and all your kit festering in the washing basket.  Sort it out and do not let it happen again.

'I finish at 5 and I need my tea and then it's too late'
Bollocks.  This is about being organised and planning your meals.  Shove a banana and some protein down your neck at your desk at 4, if you're not allowed to eat at your desk then sneak into the bogs and wolf it down, you can hit the gym at 5 when you finish and have your tea a teeny bit later.  Plenty folk work 9-5 and still manage to work out.

'I don't know what to do'
What do you want to do?  What do you enjoy?  What are your goals?
Buy a book, if it's general fitness you're after then you can't really go wrong with John Shepherds Your Own Personal Trainer, if you're interested straight off in weight training then buy Alwyn Cosgroves New Rules of Lifting (for women or men).  If you're really stuck, see what classes are on and try some of those, you don't have to go to the same one every day or even every week.  Book a session with a personal trainer.  Have a look at workouts on the net.  Buy a hand full of fitness magazines and see if there's a routine in there that you think you'd enjoy.  Never tried running?  Have a look at 5K plans.  Need something easier on the joints?  Do the same plan but on a cross trainer!  Join a swimming club or a sports club.  The possibilities are endless!

'I can't join a gym' or 'I can't afford it'
What's wrong with the great outdoors?  If you do have to be in all the time then there's a freeview fitness TV channel, if you don't like it or can't get it then buy a couple of DVDs , you don't have to be a gym member to be able to work out.  Small space?  Most workout dvds do take this into account.  You don't need lots of kit either, none if you're just doing body weight exercises and a couple of dvds.  A small set of adjustable dumbells and a mat is about all you'll need to begin with for resistance. If you have space then a skipping rope, a swiss ball and a bench will provide about all you'll ever need.

'I've got kids'
Even better, they make great weights, get them to cling to your legs while you try and hoover.  Got 2?  Make one batter, one bowler and you're the poor sod who has to do sprints to fetch the ball, and no, you can't just get your dog to fetch, that is cheating!

'I travel a lot for work'
I have a few choice words for you, pressups, dips, planks, squats, lunges.  Do them as a circuit without a rest.  If you're lucky, some of the hotels you get chucked into might have spa/gym areas.  Use them.  Have a look on youtube for the hotel room workout and have a look at other body weight exercises.  Resistance bands are small and light, take those for some resistance.

The long and short is that if you do want to reach your goal, prioritising and planning are all that are needed.  For sticking points there are always points of reference; professionals, books, the web, friends in the know.  It is up to you to man-up and get on with it.

12 April 2010

The First Post: Snowboarding Season Is Well and Truly Over

After a fantastic snowboarding season which took me to Furedalen and Eikedalen in Norway, Val D'Isere in France and Vemdalen in Sweden, it's time to start focusing more on fitness for windsurfing again.

What this translates to in the gym is a shift more toward the endurance side of rowing and away from the speed side.  More longer rows using lower strokes per minute but still going for good times, that doesn't mean that my hear trate won't get high though, on my last 10K which I rowed at 23spm my heart rate hit 195!  With the weights I'm re-introducing non weighted step ups onto a much higher platform along with some more diverse shoulder work and an improved core and back routine.  Think about the actions when up-hauling, beach/water starting, pumping the sail to get the speed boost in light winds and you can see where each of the elements of my training come into their own.

With workouts 6 days a week, recovery is hugely important to me.  Good warm ups, good cool-downs and a damn good stretch after every session goes a long way towards easing the ache.  Luckily, there's a heli-deck on this vessel (I'm offshore at the moment) so a half hour walk after shift warms me up again, loosens everything off that's tight and leaves me relaxed and ready for bed.  A protein shake before and after my workout means my body has the right munch to repair it's self on.  A couple of neurofen before bed also reduces the effects of the not-to-be-dreaded DOMS!!

Hand in hand with exercise comes diet.  Frankly, I've learned the hard way, if your diet is rubbish, you needn't expect any amazing results.  I'm not going to harp on about macro nutrient splits, eating clean and lean or anything of that ilk as the net is already awash with dietary advice.  One thing I will recommend though is that you read up on it, find the diet that suits your activity level, goals and lifestyle and bloomin' well stick to it. You can strike a balance, it'll just take a bit of mental and physical wrangling to find it!