Can Chlorella Offset Low Immunity During Intense Training?

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Do you like to exercise hard? Are long and grueling training sessions a regular part of your routine? If so, the research shows you’re more likely to get sick or experience adverse symptoms similar to a cold or flu.(1,2) Contrary to popular belief, it’s not simply a high total training load that depletes immunity, but rather how abruptly your training ramps up that leaves your immune system compromised and susceptible to attack.(3) In fact, experts have uncovered dramatic increases in training volume are perhaps a better predictor of upper-respiratory tract infection (URTI) than just your training load alone.(4) However, as an athlete you often have no choice, you have to push the accelerator to the floor and train hard to compete with the competition.  

This is an area where supporting the body via diet and supplementation can add some extra support to protect you from infection or adverse symptoms, so your progress doesn’t go off the rails before a major competition. The difficult part is figuring out just what foods or supplements to add. Let’s take a closer look at food-based supplement that may hold some promise for athletes.

What Is Chlorella?

Chlorella is a round, green micro-algae rich in chlorophyll that grows only in fresh water. It’s tremendously nutrient-dense, but cannot be broken down by the human digestive tract due to its hard cell wall, and thus can only be consumed via supplementation. Chlorella is a complete protein source containing all essential amino acids, a significant source of iron and vitamin C, as well as 100mg of omega-3 fats per teaspoon.(5,6,7) It’s also a tremendous antioxidant, containing several potent free radical scavengers such as chlorophyll, vitamin C, beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein.

In terms of immune system function, chlorella has a unique ability to enhance innate immunity - your body’s “first line of defense” against infection - by increasing natural killer cell activity and thus protecting you from catching a nasty cold or flu. (8)

The important question for athletes is can supplementation during training help as you ramp up training to peak for high performance and competition? While the research is limited, there are some interesting findings.

Chlorella & Athlete Immunity

A recent study in the European Journal of Nutrition looked at the benefits of chlorella on immune function in athletes ramping up training intensity over a two-day period. Twenty-six recreational athletes participated in the study, with half the group receiving 6g of chlorella daily (divided between breakfast and dinner) and the other half a placebo. Baseline levels of secretory IgA – a well-recognized biomarker of the first line of defense protecting the intestinal epithelium from gut pathogens - were taken at the outset of the study, after 4 weeks of basic training, then again at 5 and 6-week marks.(9) At the 4-week mark, the athletes engaged in two-a-day intense training sessions in the morning and afternoon. On Day 1, the first training session was a step-wise maximal oxygen test, followed by a second training HIIT training bout in the afternoon. On Day 2, the first session was a long endurance ride followed by another HIIT session in the afternoon.

What impact did the chlorella supplementation have on the cyclists?

The sIgA levels in the chlorella group were significantly higher after the two-day intensive training block compared to controls. (10) Previous research shows as secretory IgA levels increase, risk of colds and flus decreases in athletes. (11,12,13,14) Therefore, these results suggest athletes could be more protected from colds and flus with chlorella supplementation (however no differences in infections or symptoms were seen in the study). (10)

So, what does all this mean for you the athlete? The research on chlorella and performance isn’t very robust, but it is quite interesting.

The polysaccharides and glycoproteins present in chlorella have been shown in previous studies to boost immune system function. (15,16) It’s also been shown 4-8 weeks of chlorella supplementation does have a significant effect on increasing sIgA levels, and one study in particular on Japanese marital artists found chlorella was able to buffer decreases in sIgA during intensive training compared to controls. (17,18)

The Bottom Line: Chlorella supplementation, 6g per day 2-4 weeks out from a training peak, may be a simple and effective strategy to support immunity for athletes pushing themselves hard in preparation for competition.

Secretory IgA is your body’s first line of defense against foreign invaders. Low levels of sIgA have been associated to increased risk of URTI and the associated adverse symptoms. The ability to offset the increased demands on your immune system when peaking for competition is crucial for high performing athletes. Chlorella is a nutrient-dense, convenient supplement option that can be added into protein shakes as a powder in the morning, or taken in capsule form during meals. If you’re looking for added immune protection as you peak for performance, chlorella supplementation may hold promise as you ramp up your training to reach the top of the podium.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Red Wine Make You Healthier? 11 Factors To Consider

Red wine has been consumed for centuries, dating all the way back to 7,000 BC in China and 4,500 BC in Greece, and when Rome conquered Greece it became embedded into Roman culture.(1) Not surprisingly, it became a huge part of the Southern European lifestyle in countries along the mediterranean, whom still typically consume wine with meals. More recently, in the 1980s the term "French Paradox" attempted to explain why the French had the lowest incidences of cardiovascular disease despite a high-fat diet (see Nina's Teicholz expert podcast for the full story) and regular intake of antioxidant-rich red wine was thought to be a factor.(2

Most people (and doctors too) believe red wine to be superior for overall health, compared to beer and alcohol. While this isn't necessarily the case (more on this in a future post), the research shows red wine may be beneficial for supporting better brain function, cardiovascular health, inflammation control, blood sugar balance, and cancer protection. Not bad for a little grape!

What gives red wine its health promoting properties? A group of phytonutrients called polyphenols that are made up of over 8,000 compounds, and in red wine found in the dark red skins of the berries. Polyphenols can be roughly divided into flavonoids and non-flavonoids. Flavonoids act as powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. They come in many flavours; flavones (i.e. apigenin in parsley), flavonones (i.e. naringenin in citrus fruits), isoflavones (i.e. genistein in soy), flavonols (i.e. quercetin in onions), flavanols (i.e. catechizes in green and white tea), and anthocyanins, a key flavonoid found in red wine. The key non-flavonoid in red wine is resveratrol, by far the most well-know red wine nutrient. 

Let's take a closer look at these phytochemicals.

Polyphenols in Red Wine

a) Resveratrol

The resveratrol content of red wine is a key indicator of the potency of its health benefits. Resveratrol, a non-flavonoid phytochemical classified as a stilbenoid, is a powerful antioxidant that helps to quench the inflammatory fires sparking up inside the body. You may be experiencing high levels of antioxidant stress if you have high belly-fat, achy joints, struggle with high blood sugar levels or a chronic condition. The wine with the highest amount of resveratrol will likely pack the biggest antioxidant punch. What grape has the most resveratrol? Pinot Noir. It's head and shoulders above the rest, consistently showing the greatest concentrations of resveratrol compared to other grape varieties, regardless of where they come from. Pair a nice Pinot Noir with your weekend dinner and you can reap the health benefits.

b) Anthocyanins

What if you you’re not a fan of the lighter bodied Pinots? It’s not just resveratrol that makes red wines beneficial for your overall health. Another polyphenol compound called anthocyanin gives wine its deep red color. The darker and more full-bodied the red wine, the greater the content of anthocyanin. What type of grapes have the most anthocyanin? Experts found that Cabernet varieties have the greatest concentrations of health promoting anthocyanin, so if Pinot Noir’s are too light for you, try pairing a Cabernet Sauvignon to boost your intake of these health promoting polyphenols.

Health Benefits of Red Wine

By far, wine is considered to be the healthiest form of alcohol. Let's review the science behind the benefits of this ancestral beverage.

#1 High in Antioxidants

The polyphenols found in red wine are very high in antioxidants, which fight off oxidative stress in the body, due to high sugar/processed food diets, pollution, smoking, weight gain, chronic disease, etc. In the matter of weeks, wine can increase plasma levels of antioxidants significantly, as well all lowering levels of inflammatory biomarkers.(3,4

#2 Supports Healthy Gut Microbiota

Polyphenols have been shown to increase beneficial strains of "gut warriors" like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium, keystone species found in healthy individuals that promote superior health and performance.(5) Traditionally fermented red wine may also be an effective strategy for supporting increased bacteroides levels in the gut, thought to be a reliable biomarker of a healthy gut microbiome.(6)

#3 Fights Cardiovascular Disease

Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease (CVD) as its known in the medical community, is the world's number one killer accounting for over 33% of deaths worldwide.(7) Studies show red wine increases beneficial HDL cholesterol and lower harmful oxidized "bad" LDL cholesterol.(8,9) Many practitioners believe red wine lowers blood pressure but the research is mixed.

#4 Boost Brain Health & Prevents Dementia

Resveratrol has brain protecting benefits, supporting the energy producing mitochondria of the brain that are crucial to health, longevity and fighting off dementia.(10) Prospective studies, watching groups of people over a long period of time, show that regular red wine drinkers have lower risks of dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.(11,12,13

Common Additives & Contaminants To Consider

Unfortunately, the modern processing and commercialization of wine has led to some adulteration of good processing practices. Here are a few things to watch out for when you purchase your next bottle;

  • Sulfites - Sulphur dioxide is typically added to most wines as a preservative to increase shelf-life. White wines often have more sulphites than red, and organic wines contain about 3x-less sulphites than standard wines, important to consider if you're sensitive to sulphites.
  • Mega Purple - If you get a red stain on your teeth from your red wine, make sure it's the last time you drink it. Mega Purple is a grape juice concentrate many producers add to produce the desired colour. 
  • Histamines - Certain foods like wine, cheese, processed meats, eggs and fermented foods contain high levels of histamines. Some people may struggle with histamine intolerance, and experience increased sneezing, headaches, diarrhea and itchy skin when consuming these foods.
  • Sugar - Certain winemakers will add more sugar to increase the palatability, yet it doesn't tell you on the bottle.
  • Phthalates - Typically found in plastics, a recent study shockingly found that over half of the wines in France tested positive for phthalates, a potent endocrine disruptor.(14)

Does Red Wine Make You Healthier?

So, does red wine make you healthier? Not quite. A recent study at John Hopkins University School of Medicine investigated over 700 Italians, aged 65 or older. Researchers examined their urine samples and followed up 9 years later and found no association between resveratrol levels and cardiovascular disease, cancer or all-cause mortality.(15) Furthermore, you can also obtain these healthy polyphenols from eating grapes and other fruits and veggies with darker skins.

However, if you enjoy the occasional (or regular) glass of red wine... fear not. Many of my clients rest easier at night knowing studies show that people who abstain from alcohol completely do not live any longer than those who drink alcohol in moderation.(16) (Insert collective sigh of relief... phew!) At this point, the research suggests its neutral.

How Much Red Wine Should You Drink? (If At All)

If you do enjoy red wine, it is a rich source of antioxidants and can support healthy gut bacteria (in moderation). My preference is polyphenol-rich Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon grape varieties, or any wines from trusted winemakers using traditional winemaking methods. Remember, always consume wine in moderation - 1-2 drinks for men and women per night - and include multiple alcohol-free nights in the week as well.  

Enjoy your next glass of vino and all those antioxidants! Cheers, Santé, Salud.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

Did you know alcohol promotes salt loss? Listen to expert Dr. James DiNicolantonio PhD in Episode #26 of the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast...

Salt - Evil Additive or Essential Nutrient?

Salt has been a highly valuable commodity throughout the history of mankind — so revered that terms like “worth their salt” are used widely to describe a person’s integrity. Yet today, every newspaper, magazine, and blog seems to be telling us to avoid salt like the plague!

With all the conflicting information, it’s no wonder one of the most common questions I get asked by patients and athletes alike is... “should I reduce my salt intake?” The low-salt dogma is now so ingrained many people don’t even stop to question the advice.. Is salt really an evil additive that increases the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, or is there more to the story?

The Evolutionary Perspective On Salt

If we look back throughout evolution for answers, expert researcher estimated the average sodium intake to be approximately 800 mg per day amongst Paleolithic hunter-gatherer population, far less than today’s daily consumption of 3,300 mg.(1) This is still supported today by scientitists in the field of Paleolithic nutrition, such as Dr. Loren Cordain

However, salt expert Dr. James DiNicolantonio PhD believes the early research in this area is flawed, because it overlooks the fact that our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed the entire animal (not just the muscle meat, as per the initial research suggestions), including the blood, skin and cartilage of animals where massive amounts of sodium are stored. Taking this into account, he believes our hunter-gatherer ancestors likely consumed about 3,000-4,000mg of sodium daily, about the same as we currently do today and double the general recommended intake of government guidelines.

The Benefits of Salt

Salt is an essential mineral, without it you would die. Salt is critical for so many functions in the body it's nearly impossible to list them all, a brief selection includes; salt is required to maintain ideal blood levels in the body, to effectively pump your heart, to digest your food, for cells to communicate with one another, to make your bones and keep them strong, to prevent dehydration, etc. Salt is also crucial for preventing muscle cramping, supporting healthy nerve function, blood sugar balance, immune function and the general health of all cells in your body. The risks of not consuming enough salt are significant and rarely discussed.

If you're simply trying to lose weight and improve your health, restricting salt is likely not the answer either.  The latest research shows long-term salt restriction can actually increase your risk of heart attack or stroke, elevate triglyceride levels, and actually worsens your insulin sensitivity (increasing your risk of weight gain and all chronic diseases, including heart disease).(2,3) 

The Standard Recommendations for Salt

The American Heart Association (AHA) states you should aim for less than 2,300 mg daily to prevent high blood pressure and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease (and less than 1,500mg if you're African American or have high blood pressure). It seems logical that if you simply reduce your intake of salt, you could reduce your blood pressure and improve your overall health, but where did these recommendations come from?

In the 1980s, a major worldwide study on the connection between salt intake and blood pressure was conducted, and researchers found that cultures in which sodium intake was low had lower incidences of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Animal studies confirmed that rats fed very high sodium diets rapidly developed high blood pressure and subsequently the “war on salt” began and hasn’t stopped to this day.

The Research On Salt & Cardiovascular Disease

Does the research actually support a low-salt approach, or is it more hype than substance? A review of the research shows that our salt consumption in the 18th and 19th centuries was far greater than today, and the levels of heart disease in the population were extremely low. Fast-forward to the 1970s when the Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released and recommended for the first time that Americans restrict their salt intake in attempt to fight heart disease (despite the Surgeon General at the time stating there was "no evidence" to support this recommendation).(4)

Since then, our overall salt intake has been steadily on the decline over the past four decades yet heart disease levels have hit records highs. In short, salt seems unlikely to be the culprit. 

First, consider that 80% of the population with normal blood pressure (less than 120/80mmHg) are not sensitive to effects of salt raising blood pressure at all, while 75% of those with mild-hypertension are also not salt-sensitive, and even those with diagnosed hypertension (above 140/89mmHg) over half are also not sensitive to salt.(5)

Next, consider the countries with the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease (CVD) - like Japan, France, and South Korea - all eat high-salt diets.(6) (In fact, Japan has the longest life expectancy of any population on earth.) Alternatively, countries with the lowest salt intakes in Eastern Europe - about 50% less than the Japanese - have a 10-fold greater risk of death. 

In Korea, the women with the highest salt intake have a lower risk of hypertension compared to low-salt eaters. Of course, the fact that salt is consume in Korean from salted kimchee and fermented foods, and in Japan via seaweeds and fish have a huge impact on these effects.

What about if you already have hypertension? The research does show that if you already have high blood pressure, lowering your salt intake could benefit you by a reduction in blood pressure of 3.6/1.6mmHg.(7) Unfortunately, this minimal improvement in blood pressure will actually ramp up compensatory mechanisms that compromise your health, as your body attempts to preserve this essential mineral.

Consequences of Low-Salt Diet

What happens when you restrict sodium intake in your diet? A chronic lack of salt triggers a few important survival mechanisms in the body.

First, your kidneys increase sodium retention (and reduce excretion) via the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system in an effort to conserve salt, which may even increase your blood pressure.(8) Second, your sympathetic nervous system gets activated, increasing your heart rate four to five beats per minute. This is due to the adrenaline release that constricts your arteries as your blood volume goes down, requiring your heart to pump harder to meet the demands. This places additional "stress" on your heart and arteries, and makes you more susceptible to chronically high blood pressure.

 If you have high blood pressure, salt restriction has also been shown to increase inflammatory markers, LDL lipoproteins, triglycerides and total cholesterol to HDL ratio, all reliable markers for poor metabolic health.(9,10). So, the real question seems to be, how much salt should you consume?

How Much Salt Should I Consume? 

Expert Dr. James DiNicolantonio suggests you should aim for between 3-6 grams of salt per day, (which equals about 1 1/3 to 2 2/3 teaspoons per day). If you're overweight (or looking to improve your health), eat a standard Western diet high in processed carbs and sugar, you'll likely be getting a very high sodium intake (in the form of refined sodium chloride) with very little potassium. The ratio of sodium-to-potassium is a crucial piece of the puzzle and often overlooked by doctors who tell patients to restrict their salt intake. 

Research shows good evidence that the “sodium-to-potassium ratio” is a very important metric for vascular health, showing strong associations with blood pressure and cardiovascular disease (versus only addressing individual sodium or potassium levels).(10) Fruits and veggies are naturally very high in potassium and low in sodium, therefore a diet emphasizing these foods (i.e. low-carb, high fat of LCHF diet) will boost potassium levels significantly and promote the right "sodium to potassium" balance. You can still add sea salt to meals, aim for the lower end of 3-6 gram suggestion (1 1/3 tsp per day) and titrate up as you lose weight.

Salt, Athletes and Overtraining

If you’re an avid Crossfitter, runner, or exerciser and eating cleanly – minimal processed foods, snack foods, and convenience foods – then chances are you are not getting enough salt. You should aim for the upper end of salt range, toward 5-6 grams per day.

Intense exercise in the gym or training outdoors can lead to significant sweat loss - approximately 1,200mg of sodium loss per hour - and the typical sports drink only provides about 300mg of sodium per 500mL If this persists for too long, you can develop symptoms of over-training due to low sodium status. (This is especially important if you follow a low-carb or keto approach).

Low salt status can hamper your training by impairing muscular strength and work capacity due to low sodium levels increasing the acidity of your cells.(12) Not only that, your cells that produce cartilage (called chondrocytes) required adequate amounts of sodium to work properly and repair your connective tissue. Thus, low-salt diets can worsen joint health. 

The problem is very difficult to pick-up with traditional medical diagnostics, as the blood levels of sodium will typically remain in the normal range despite the athlete experiencing symptoms of sleep disruption, low mood, and increased thirst and urination — all common symptoms in over-trained athletes. If your blood levels are low, the medical condition is called hyponatremia and it can be very serious (even fatal), so be sure to seek medical attention if you feel light-headed, faint or vomiting during training or competition.

If you're training intensely consume salt approximately 2,300mg of salt per litre during exercise.(13) Also, remember to add a variety of sea salts (see below) liberally to your food to increase recovery and support overall health. If you train in warmer weather, this becomes even more important.

Table Salt vs. Sea Salts

So, what type of salt is best? Regular old table salt, sea salt, or the fancy salts from the Himalayan mountains? Table salt only contains two minerals - sodium and chloride - and is also heavily processed, devoid of important trace minerals, and contains harmful anti-caking additives like sodium silicoaluminate. Table salt does however contain iodine, lost during intense training and critical for healthy thyroid function.

Sea salts or Himalayan pink salts naturally contain 50-70+ essential trace minerals and are far superior to add to your diet to improve health and performance. Redmand salt from Utah contains the greatest concentration of iodine amongst the sea salts, while Himalayan salt is highest in potassium, Hawaiian Black Salt rich in iron and Celtic salts highest in magnesium. (Note - If you struggle with low iodine, your diet should provide the bulk of your iodine intake via seaweed, kelp, etc.)

Salt is essential for health (not an evil additive). As a general rule, aim for 3-6g of sodium per day. If you're out of shape and trying to lose weight, aim for the lower end of the range as low-salt diets can hinder insulin sensitivity and health. For active people. you can be more liberal with your salt intake to offset sweat, support performance and recovery. Remember, too much  salt is seldom the problem for most people. Natural sea salt in the form of Himalayan, Celtic, Redmands, Hawaiian, etc  is crucial for your overall health, performance and recovery... And it tastes great!

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

Want to Learn More? Listen to Dr. James DiNicolantonio PhD in Episode #26 of the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast...

 

REFERENCES
1) Eaton S et al. Paleolithic Nutrition. A consideration of its nature and current implications. N Engl J Med 312(5):283-289. 

2) O’Donnell M et al. Urinary sodium and potassium excretion, mortality, and cardiovascular events. N Engl J Med. 2014 Aug 14;371(7):612-23. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1311889.

3) Garg R et al. Low-salt diet increases insulin resistance in healthy subjects. Metabolism.2011 Jul;60(7):965-8. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2010.09.005.

4) Bayer R et al. Salt and public health: contested science and the challenge of evidence-based decision making. Health Aff (Millwood) 31(12):2738-2746.

5) Overlack A et al. 1993. Divergent hemodynamics and hormonal responses to varying salt intake in normotensive subjects. Hypertension. 22(3):331-338.

6) http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/coronary-heart-disease/by-country/

7) Graudal N, et al.. Effects of low-sodium diet vs. high-sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterol, and triglyceride (Cochrane Review). Am J Hypertens. 2012 Jan;25(1):1-15. doi: 10.1038/ajh.2011.210.

8) Kitchen T et al. Baroreceptor sensitivity in prehypertensive young adults. 13 (6 Pt 2):878-883.

9) Nakandarkare et al. 2008. Dietary salt restriction increases plasma lipoprotein and inflammatory marker concentration in hypertensive patients. Atherosclerosis. 200(2):410-416.

10) Harsha et al. Effect of dietary sodium intake on blood lipids: results from the DASH-sodium trial. Hypertension 43(2):393-398.

11) Perez V, Chang E. Sodium-to-potassium ratio and blood pressure, hypertension, and related factors. Adv Nutr. 2014 Nov 14;5(6):712-41.

12) Blank M et al. Total body Na(+) depletion without hyponatremia can trigger overtrading-like symptoms with sleeping disorders and increasing blood pressure: explorative case and literature study. Med Hypotheses 79(6):799-804.

13) Sharp. Role of sodium in fluid homeostasis with exercise. 231S-239S.

 


 

7 Ways Ashwagandha Can Protect Your Thyroid

A sluggish thyroid is typically rooted in stress, and ashwagandha can be supportive if you’re struggling with low thyroid symptoms. Discover the benefits of this powerful herb and how it can naturally ease anxiety, inflammation and more.

Stress is major root cause of thyroid dysfunction. Improving your resiliency – capacity to cope with stress – is a key component to maintaining healthy thyroid function. Too many stressors – whether they’re physical, mental, or emotional – compromise your resiliency and lead to cracks in the foundation of thyroid health.

Uncontrolled stress can dampen the signal from the brain to the thyroid, lowering thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), the message that tells your thyroid to ramp up metabolism. (1) Poor resiliency and high stress can also kick up inflammation in the body, impairing the ability of thyroid hormones to bind onto receptors to exert their beneficial effects. (2)

Uncontrolled stress can lead to a slower metabolism.

While treating the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction – whether it’s sluggish bowels, weight gain, fatigue, cold hands and feet, etc. – is important in the short-term, the long-term solution is to address the root causes. A common root cause of thyroid dysfunction is stress. (3)

Adaptogen herbs can help the body cope with stress and have a unique capacity to increase your resiliency. This is crucial in the short-term while you build solid nutrition, movement and lifestyle habits into your daily regime to increase resiliency (and fight off stress) in the long run.

What Is Ashwagandha?
Too much work, too many social commitments, too much screen time and lack of sleep can all place a heavy toll on your nervous system. When stress mounts, your thyroid will feel the effects.

Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha), a traditional herb that grows in drier areas of Africa, the Middle East and India, has been used in Ayurveda – the traditional medicine practiced in India – dating back to 6000 BC as a tonic for the nervous system and warding off stress. (4) The leaves of the ashwagandha plant are commonly used in fevers, the flowers as a diuretic, and the root in particular is revered for its ability to combat stress, inflammation and anxiety. (5) The active chemical constituents in the root include alkaloids and steroidal lactones that exert anti-stress activity. (6,7)

7 Natural Benefits of Ashwagandha

1. Ashwagandha Calms Anxiety.                                                                                                     When the emails don’t stop coming in, work deadlines are missed, or you’re just constantly “on the go,” your body is in a perpetual “fight or flight” state of adrenaline and cortisol stress hormones. As a result, you start to feel too revved up or your mind is constantly racing, both of which are common in clients who struggle with anxiety. In animal studies, ashwagandha has performed on par with anti-anxiety drugs like Lorazepam and been shown to reduce brain markers of clinical anxiety to the same degree. (8) Anxiety or anxiety-like symptoms are very common symptoms of thyroid dysfunction and a surefire sign your body is struggling to keep up.

2. Ashwagandha Cools Chronic Inflammation                                                                     Inflammation is a triple whammy for thyroid sufferers, because not only does it impair thyroid hormone output, it inhibits the ability of your hormones to bind effectively to receptors and exert their metabolism, mood, and mind boosting effects. (9) Chronic inflammation also damages mitochondria function, the energy producing “furnaces” of your cells, leading to constant fatigue and poor energy. (10) Ashwagandha helps to protect your cell membranes from lipid peroxidation, the damage that occurs from chronic inflammation. (11)

3. Ashwagandha Adds Antioxidant Defense                                                                                     The greater your stress load, the greater your likelihood of systemic inflammation in your body and thus too much oxidative stress. These little “fires” across the body create reactive oxygen species (ROS) that wreak havoc on your health and must be put out. This places a tremendous burden on your body’s stress response. Ashwagandha provides robust support to your antioxidant defense system – along with a diet of grass-fed and wild meats, vegetables and healthy oils – and optimizing your antioxidant intake during times of stress is a major support for your health and thyroid. (1213)

4. Ashwagandha Boosts Immunity                                                                                             Nothing derails your performance at work or in the gym quicker than a nasty cold or flu. Excessive or chronic stress – without adequate rest and resiliency – typically results in frequent colds and flu, something thyroid sufferers frequently battle during bouts of fatigue. Ashwagandha has been shown to increase white blood cell (WBC) counts, improving your body’s “first line of defense” against foreign intruders. (14) A little ancestral herbal support can go a long way to getting you through long, stressful work days.

5. Ashwagandha Improves Brain Fog                                                                                                  A common symptom of thyroid dysfunction is brain fog – that feeling like you’re a little spacey, disconnected, or not quite yourself. Brain fog is one of the most common complaints thyroid sufferers have, and although it’s not debilitating, it makes all your tasks at work and home more difficult. Unfortunately, most people reach for an added caffeine boost to push through brain fog. Ashwagandha has been shown to support improved cognitive function and memory in those with prolonged illness (as well as post head injury). (15)

6. Ashwagandha Increases Work Capacity                                                                                 Animal studies have shown that supplementing with ashwagandha was able to significantly extend time to exhaustion in mice, doubling their total work capacity. (16) In clinical practice, ashwagandha can be very supportive to clients with a sluggish thyroid because it helps to increase resiliency without providing a caffeine-like stimulus – which other adaptogens can induce – and therefore can provide support at work and in the gym.

7. Ashwagandha Supports Nervous System                                                                                      Life is busy. Many people feel like they’re “constantly on the go” or “running on adrenaline” throughout the day. Eventually, your body can’t keep up and symptoms of thyroid dysfunction take root. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps your body “pump the brakes,” helping to shift your nervous system into relaxation mode, so you can recover and rebuild your resiliency. Ashwagandha root has GABA-mimicking activity, and the metabolites of its constituents may promote the health of new nerves. (17)

How To Use Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha can help improve resiliency, and thus thyroid health, and is great support to your nervous system. Look for supplements containing approximately 300-600mg standardized to 1.5% withanolides (prepared from the root) and take at bedtime. Dried herbs, teas and powdered forms of ashwagandha can provide mild support (best as a prophylactic if you’re already feeling good), although they are not typically potent enough if you’re struggling with thyroid dysfunction.

Take ashwagandha at bedtime for optimal thyroid health. (Note - Pregnant women should avoid ashwagandha as it may cause miscarriage. If you’re taking sedatives or antidepressants, make sure to check with your doctor before combining with medical herbs like ashwagandha, as it may increase the effects.

Adaptogens like ashwagandha are very supportive in the short-term, but the long-term solution involves reviewing and addressing fundamental lifestyle factors that are taxing your resiliency (and thus your thyroid). Here is a quick list of common “energy suckers” that take their toll on your nervous system

  • Lack of sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, with added naps if needed.
  • Too much caffeine. If you struggle with thyroid dysfunction, ditch the coffee.
  • Too much alcohol. In the evening, it impairs deep sleep and capacity to recover.
  • Too much “tech.” If you’re rundown, take at least one day per week “off” from your phone and other devices.
  • Breathe. Practice deep breathing exercises to activate your vagus nerve and calm your overactive “fight or flight” nervous system.

Increasing your resiliency with ancestral adaptogens like ashwagandha can be a great short-term intervention to increase resiliency and support your thyroid, and when combined with lifestyle interventions to reduce cortisol, can be very effective for mitigating stress-induced causes of thyroid dysfunction.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

The Hydration Debate - How Much Water Do You Really Need?

As we move into the summer, the competitive season for endurance sports hits full swing. Regardless if you’re an experienced runner or novice, you’ve likely been reminded by your run coach or peers “make sure you drink enough water during your run!”

For years the recommendation from run coaches has been to drink beforeyou are thirsty, to prevent dehydration and subsequent decrements in performance. But if you aren’t racing at the front of the pack, do you need this much water?

Hydration is currently a hot topic and it’s divided into two main camps: the traditional camp who believes you should pre-hydrate by drinking 8 cups of water daily, versus a growing camp who believes you should only drink when thirsty. It can be a complicated topic, especially when the men and women in white lab coats can’t even agree on the best strategy. So, what are the best guidelines for you?

THE RECOMMENDED GUIDELINES

The American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) recommendation for endurance athletes is to consume 5-7ml water per kilogram bodyweight in the four hours before exercise. This translates to approximately 340-477ml for a 150 lb. female and 455-636ml for a 200 lb. male. The general recommendation is to drink until your urine is clear. This seems very reasonable, so why the sudden change in thinking?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that straightforward. Just because you drink water doesn’t mean you’re absorbing the water. The composition of the water largely determines how much you absorb. If you drink distilled water with no salt, you won’t absorb the water and you’ll begin to deplete your blood sodium levels leading to hyponatremia.

THE DANGERS OF TOO MUCH WATER

 Hyponatremia sets in when the fluids you consume are greater than the amount of fluids you lose via sweat. Common symptoms of hyponatremia include nausea, muscle weakness, and disorientation, which can be easily confused with symptoms of dehydration. The problem becomes dangerous if you give a person suffering from hypoatremia more water. Increased water will further dilute their blood sodium levels which can lead to cerebral edema, pulmonary edema, and death.

When a Boston marathoner died of hyponatremia in 2002 the wheels were put into motion to find the answers behind what hydration strategy is safest for all athletes. This led to the recent “drink to thirst” stance on hydration and a new set of recommendations.

NEW THINKING – DRINK TO THIRST

In fact, this new thinking goes all the way back to the early 1990s when a ground-breaking study was published by Dr. Tim Noakes PhD and his colleagues regarding the potential danger of overconsuming water during exercise. Contrary to popular belief, they found drinking too much water was far more dangerous than not drinking enough. The body’s inherent mechanism to maintain hydration balance has since been shown to be more than enough to keep you hydrated and prevent the catastrophic effects of hyponatremia. This has led to changes in recent recommendations for endurance athletes to simply “drink to thirst.”

WHAT ISN’T DISCUSSED – THE COMPOSITION OF WATER

The composition of your water – specifically the amount of salt and carbohydrates – plays a major role in hydration and your capacity to actually absorb the water you are drinking. Just because you drink a lot of water, doesn’t mean you’re hydrated. If you pee just as much as you drink, you’re likely not making the most of your water intake. Many people can actually drink less and be more hydrated.

As mentioned above, if you drink too much distilled water you’ll flush out sodium from your body, depleting blood sodium levels and leading to hyponatremia. Fear not, it’s very rare to die of hyponatremia, but if you’re an elite level athlete it’s still a major concern.

You need salt and carbohydrates added to your water to maximize absorption. Nature is very smart; the fructose in a piece of fruit is naturally surrounded in fibrous pectins, which lead to a gradual release of fructose for energy. In sports drinks, your gut receives a large bolus of fructose all at once which can slow gastric emptying rate or the speed at which food and liquids leave your stomach. Too much fructose, or too many sips from a sports drink can lead to bloating, discomfort, and subsequently poor performance.

GENDER DIFFERENCES IN HYDRATION

Interestingly, there are differences between men and women when it comes to hydration. The female hormonal terrain is more complex than that of men, which impacts the hydration question. The research of Dr. Stacey Sims PhD highlights that women are more susceptible to hyponatremia during their high hormonal phase – between ovulation and menses – than during their low hormonal phase. Furthermore, fructose is poorly absorbed in women compared to men, which can slow gastric emptying rate.

So, what does this mean for you if you are a woman? Effectively, a “drink to thirst” strategy is not the best approach as hormonal shifts in estrogens as well as high stress (e.g. exercise!) can alter vasopressin release, which decreases a woman’s thirst cue during the high hormonal phase.

HOW SHOULD I HYDRATE?

Your hydration plan should depend not only on your gender, but your level of competition and general state of hydration. To stay hydrated away from competition, an ancestral diet is a great platform for maintaining hydration because it’s naturally high in animal protein, vegetables and fruits, which provide a wealth of water and electrolytes to help keep you hydrated. Naturally salty foods like oysters, mussels, sardines, cured meats, olives, etc are great additions to your nutritional arsenal.

A general way to tell if you’re adequately hydrated is to look at the color of your urine. If it’s completely clear, you are likely over-consuming water and over-hydrating. If your urine is a darker yellow color, you likely need to increase you veggies and fruit consumption and add more water into your diet (Note – if you are taking a b-vitamin supplement it will lead to a very bright yellow urine. This does not mean you’re dehydrated). A urinalysis test can confirm your hydration status.

The average exerciser likely does not sweat enough to warrant the ingestion of large amounts of water and the old refrain of having a cup of water at every drink station isn’t necessarily the best strategy. Don’t worry about passing over a few water stations at your next race, let thirst be your guide and simply drink if you feel thirsty.

For elite runners, a useful strategy to determine your hydration plan is to weigh yourself before and after your run. If you’ve gained weight then you’re definitely over-consuming and you need to dial back your water intake.  If you lose more than 2% of your bodyweight, you need to bump up your intake.

It’s great to see so many people being active and training to compete in 10k, half and full marathon events throughout the summer months. Listen to your body and pay attention to a few key metrics – bodyweight, urine color, hormonal phase in females –  to ensure you’re optimally hydrated to look, feel, and perform your best!

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

(This article originally appeared at ThePaleoDiet.com)

Late-Night Eating: The Modern Circadian Mismatch

Renowned evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky said “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”[1] Throughout our evolution, we have lived in daily cycles of light and dark. These cycles have led to the development of natural circadian rhythms that impact many aspects of our health and vitality.

Circadian rhythms are triggered by the bright light stimulus in the morning and darkness in the evening. The hypothalamus area of the brain – specifically the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) – is the master regulator, synchronising the body’s circadian clock based on information it receives from photoreceptors in the eyes in response to light [2]. The impacts of circadian rhythm are wide-reaching;

Disruption of the circadian clock can have a big impact on the body’s ability to function optimally. Jet lag – that feeling of fatigue, disorientation and mental sluggishness after travelling through multiple time zones – is a classic example [3-6]

Unfortunately, the negative effects can be more serious than just a little sluggishness. The incidence of workplace injuries and traffic accidents increases when the clocks move forward in the spring [7, 8].

Experts are just starting to uncover the many potential ripple effects of circadian dysfunction on our health: from heart disease [9, 10] and cognitive decline [11, 12], to blood sugar dysfunction and increased diabetes risk [13]; to changes in body-fat storage and breakdown [14-16], reduced liver, pancreatic, and cardiac and skeletal muscle function [17-25].

LATE-NIGHT EATING & CIRCADIAN RHYTHM

Today, there are many ancestral circadian mismatches with modern life. Late-night eating may be one of the most glaring incongruous elements. We’re in the midst of a weight gain and obesity epidemic with 70% of adults over the age of 20 in America are overweight or obese and 50% of the population now classified as pre-diabetic or diabetic.[26-27] A body of research is appearing showing that late-night eating may be a significant contributor [27-29].

A 2014 study of overweight and obese diabetics investigated the impacts of a late-night snack on their requirement for supplemental insulin. Subjects were divided into carbohydrate, whey protein, casein, or placebo groups. All groups required significantly more insulin after all late-night snacks, though the protein snack did compare more favourably to the carbohydrate snack [30]. These results confirmed a 2003 study on late-night eating and diabetics. This earlier study showed consistently higher blood sugar levels when snacking late at night, regardless of the macronutrient composition of the meal [31].

Why is late-night eating potentially so bad for us? One possible explanation is our circadian rhythms may prevent us from effectively managing food eaten later at night. There is evidence showing the thermic effect of food is reduced in the evening, due to the circadian regulation of insulin sensitivity, meaning your blood sugar and insulin response to carbs at night is more exaggerated than during the day [32].

SOLUTIONS FOR A MODERN CIRCADIAN MISMATCH

Our Paleolithic ancestors would’ve rarely (if ever) eaten after dark. Yet in today’s modern world, the light emitted from iPads, laptops, TVs and mobile devices make it far easier to stay up later at night. This presents a circadian mismatch to our evolutionary biological clocks which translates into more opportunity (and likelihood) to eat. If you’re struggling with weight gain, chronically high blood sugar, pre-diabetes or diabetes then shifting your focus to “meal-timing” can be a simple and highly effective part of the solution to improving your health.

To support a healthy circadian clock, implement the following “meal-timing” strategy:

  • Avoid eating late at night – consider abstaining from all food after 6:00 or 7:00 pm or ditch your late-night snacking while on the couch and try sipping on a herbal tea instead.
  • Go for an evening walk, do some light stretching, or take a relaxing bath.

In my experience as a clinician, I see major progress in clients who decide to abstain from food in the evening. Once they get through the first few nights, the cravings plummet and it becomes much easier to ingrain the new habit.

Supporting your circadian clock with meal-timing strategies can be an “easy win” to restoring health and vitality [33]. It’s simple and highly effective. 

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

(This article originally appeared @ThePaleoDiet.com)

REFERENCES

1. Gerhart-Hines, Z. and M.A. Lazar, Circadian metabolism in the light of evolution. Endocr Rev, 2015. 36(3): p. 289-304.
2. Guler, A.D., et al., Melanopsin cells are the principal conduits for rod-cone input to non-image-forming vision. Nature, 2008. 453(7191): p. 102-5.
3. Tapp, W.N. and B.H. Natelson, Circadian rhythms and patterns of performance before and after simulated jet lag. Am J Physiol, 1989. 257(4 Pt 2): p. R796-803.
4. Leloup, J.C. and A. Goldbeter, Critical phase shifts slow down circadian clock recovery: implications for jet lag. J Theor Biol, 2013. 333: p. 47-57.
5. Comperatore, C.A. and G.P. Krueger, Circadian rhythm desynchronosis, jet lag, shift lag, and coping strategies. Occup Med, 1990. 5(2): p. 323-41.
6. Vosko, A.M., C.S. Colwell, and A.Y. Avidan, Jet lag syndrome: circadian organization, pathophysiology, and management strategies. Nat Sci Sleep, 2010. 2: p. 187-98.
7. Coren, S., Daylight savings time and traffic accidents. N Engl J Med, 1996. 334(14): p. 924.
8. Varughese, J. and R.P. Allen, Fatal accidents following changes in daylight savings time: the American experience. Sleep Medicine, 2001. 2(1): p. 31-36.
9. Maemura, K., [Circadian rhythm and ischemic heart disease]. Nihon Rinsho, 2013. 71(12): p. 2124-9.
10. Marchant, B., Circadian rhythms and ischaemic heart disease. Br J Hosp Med, 1996. 55(3): p. 139-43.
11. Gehrman, P., et al., The relationship between dementia severity and rest/activity circadian rhythms. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat, 2005. 1(2): p. 155-63.
12. Ancoli-Israel, S., et al., Variations in circadian rhythms of activity, sleep, and light exposure related to dementia in nursing-home patients. Sleep, 1997. 20(1): p. 18-23.
13. Afsar, B., Disruption of circadian blood pressure, heart rate and the impact on glycemic control in type 1 diabetes. Diabetes Metab Syndr, 2015. 9(4): p. 359-63.
14. Cincotta, A.H., et al., Circadian neuroendocrine role in age-related changes in body fat stores and insulin sensitivity of the male Sprague-Dawley rat. Chronobiol Int, 1993. 10(4): p. 244-58.
15. Wang, L. and S. Liangpunsakul, Circadian clock control of hepatic lipid metabolism: role of small heterodimer partner (Shp). J Investig Med, 2016. 64(7): p. 1158-61.
16. Gnocchi, D., et al., Lipids around the Clock: Focus on Circadian Rhythms and Lipid Metabolism. Biology (Basel), 2015. 4(1): p. 104-32.
17. Gerhart Hines, Z., et al., The nuclear receptor Rev-erbα controls circadian thermogenic plasticity. Nature, 2013. 503(7476): p. 410-413.
18. Bookout, A.L., et al., FGF21 regulates metabolism and circadian behavior by acting on the nervous system. Nat Med, 2013. 19(9): p. 1147-52.
19. Shostak, A., J. Meyer-Kovac, and H. Oster, Circadian regulation of lipid mobilization in white adipose tissues. Diabetes, 2013. 62(7): p. 2195-203.
20. Boden, G., et al., Evidence for a circadian rhythm of insulin secretion.Am J Physiol, 1996. 271(2 Pt 1): p. E246-52.
21. Degaute, J.P., et al., Quantitative analysis of the 24-hour blood pressure and heart rate patterns in young men. Hypertension, 1991. 18(2): p. 199-210.
22. Zambon, A.C., et al., Time- and exercise-dependent gene regulation in human skeletal muscle. Genome Biol, 2003. 4(10): p. R61.
23. Carter, R., et al., Non-alcoholic fatty pancreas disease pathogenesis: a role for developmental programming and altered circadian rhythms. PLoS One, 2014. 9(3): p. e89505.
24. Kettner, N.M., et al., Circadian Homeostasis of Liver Metabolism Suppresses Hepatocarcinogenesis. Cancer Cell, 2016. 30(6): p. 909-924.
25. Zhou, D., et al., Evolving roles of circadian rhythms in liver homeostasis and pathology. Oncotarget, 2016. 7(8): p. 8625-39.
26. CDC: Center for Disease Control & Prevention. Retrieved from – https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
27. Menke, A., et al., Prevalence of and Trends in Diabetes Among Adults in the United States, 1988-2012. JAMA, 2015. 314(10): p. 1021-9.
28. Cleator, J., et al., Night eating syndrome: implications for severe obesity. Nutr Diabetes, 2012. 2: p. e44.
29. Gallant, A.R., J. Lundgren, and V. Drapeau, The night-eating syndrome and obesity. Obes Rev, 2012. 13(6): p. 528-36.
30. Colles, S.L., J.B. Dixon, and P.E. O’Brien, Night eating syndrome and nocturnal snacking: association with obesity, binge eating and psychological distress. International Journal of Obesity, 2007. 31(11): p. 1722-1730.
31. Kinsey, A.W., et al., Influence of night-time protein and carbohydrate intake on appetite and cardiometabolic risk in sedentary overweight and obese women. Br J Nutr, 2014. 112(3): p. 320-7.
32. Kalergis, M., et al., Impact of bedtime snack composition on prevention of nocturnal hypoglycemia in adults with type 1 diabetes undergoing intensive insulin management using lispro insulin before meals: a randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial. Diabetes Care, 2003. 26(1): p. 9-15.
33. Bo, S., et al., Is the timing of caloric intake associated with variation in diet-induced thermogenesis and in the metabolic pattern? A randomized cross-over study. Int J Obes (Lond), 2015. 39(12): p. 1689-95.
34. Mattson, M.P., et al., Meal frequency and timing in health and disease.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2014. 111(47): p. 16647-53.

"Chop Wood, Carry Water”– 7 Leadership Traits of Elite Captains

In 1997, an undergraduate student at Wake Forest University contributed to a chapter in a clinical psychology textbook chapter titled “Blowhards, Snobs, and Narcissists: Interpersonal Reactions to Excessive Egotism”. The chapter highlighted a strong connection between how arrogant people speak and how their body language can significantly compromise a group or team’s cohesion. The remarkable thing about this study is one of the collegiate student co-authors was Tim Duncan, one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA.

In his ground-breaking book The Captain Class, Sam Walker takes on the monumental task of identifying the greatest teams in the history of sport (settling on 16 teams from across the world after starting with 1,000) and identifies the unifying characteristic that made these teams so great… the captains!

Sam identified the seven following traits of elite captains in the greatest teams in history, listed here below;

One of the seven traits of elite captains is "a willingness to work thankless jobs in the shadows", to do the little things that don’t get the fanfare but are absolutely necessary for success. In short, elite leaders “chop wood, carry water”(taken from the ancient Zen proverb that reads “before Enlightenment, chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.”)

This metaphor highlights that success in life lies in the the mundane tasks – folding laundry, doing the dishes, chopping vegetables – that are often mind-numbing but when performed with mindfulness, serve as the foundation for building character and ultimately success.

For example, Tim Duncan had a phenomenal ability to shoot and score the basketball (what is most revered and praised in basketball), but more often than not, passed to open teammates. He wasn’t worried about his statistics or how many points he scored, he was worried about winning. That’s why he set picks for other players (so they could score), played aggressive defense and protected the rim. That’s what the team needed from him, so he did it. He chopped wood, he carried water.

The leaders and captains on the 16 greatest teams in history lowered themselves in relation to the group or team to ensure they earned the right to push their team toward greater success in difficult moments. They didn’t talk down to teammates or emphasize their accomplishments. Tim Duncan could have scored more points; he chose not to so his team could win. He fulfilled the functional role on his team.

In what ways could you “chop wood, carry water” in your life? Rather than needing to go to a yoga class to practice mindfulness and stay present, what ordinary (and often boring) tasks at work, at home, or on the playing field can you reframe into an opportunity to diligently perform without the constant need for praise? The captains of the legendary All Blacks New Zealand rugby teams epitomized this, cleaning up the locker rooms after games themselves, performing the mundane tasks that shape character and ultimately leadership.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

Want to learn more about the “7 Traits of Elite Captains”? Listen to Sam Walker’s interview on the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast...

 

 

 

7 Ways Gut Microbiota May Impact Athletic Performance

Your gut is home to over 100 trillion different microbes that play a synergistic role in your health and performance. The majority of your gut microbiota are made up of bacteria that reside in the colon, however viruses, fungi and protozoa also play key roles.(1) Scientists are still uncovering all the complexities of how these microbiota influence our health, although we do know they help to support vitamin production, the breakdown of fiber and communicate directly with your immune system.(2)

The question for athletes is… “can your gut microbiota impact your athletic performance?” New research suggests it can. Let’s take a quick look at seven potential areas of interest;

1)    Leaky Gut

Intense training puts a tremendous stress on the gastro-intestinal system, leading to altered blood flow and local inflammatory changes.(3) This can compromise the integrity of your gut wall, leading to intestinal hyper-permeability (i.e. leaky gut) and thus increased inflammatory response and potential for immune disturbance. In short, intense training puts a stress on your digestive system and it comes at a cost.

2)    Allergies

Allergy is common in athletes who train in more extreme conditions, like the cold air at altitude (or during winter months) or the chlorine in the water of your local pool.  If you have an allergic condition, you’re at much greater risk of upper respiratory tract infection (URTI).(4) Nothing derails performance quicker than a nasty cold or flu. Probiotics have been shown to reduce the incidence and severity of URTI in athletes.(4)

3)    Lack of Energy

If you’re training intensely and not providing sufficient caloric intake to meet your daily energy demands, your recovery, performance and health will all suffer. This is referred to as “relative energy deficit” (REDS) in the scientific literature.(5) In this low energy state, changes in gut microbiota are commonly seen and could potentially be used as future biomarkers of increased “stress load” on the athlete.

4)    Mental Stress

Persistent psychological stress has also been shown to significantly alter gut bacteria. This is commonly seen in patients with chronic fatigue or post-traumatic stress disorder.(6)For athletes, whether it’s the stress of a collegiate athlete balancing school and sport or an elite athlete preparing for competition, mental stress can trigger significant changes in the microbiota. These changes could potentially influence inflammatory response, immunity, blood glucose response to meals, etc. and thus impact your ability to recover and perform.

5)    Inflammatory Response

In clinical practice, clients suffering from inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or gout display a common dysfunction in the balance of “good” to “bad” gut bacteria.(7) This type of low-grade inflammation is also seen in osteoarthritis and rotator cuff tendon degeneration, which means getting back to the root cause – diet, movement, lifestyle – can go a long way to cooling the response.(7)

 6)    Bone Health

Bone density can be a significant concern for endurance and female athletes. The gut microbiota has been suggested to have an impact on bone mass via altering immune system function, impacting the hormonal regulation of bone formation and via bacterial metabolites that act as cellular messengers.(8) Experts believe the gut microbiota may someday prove to be a reliable biomarker for bone health. 

7)    Body Composition

Your gut bacteria can also greatly influence your body composition. A recent study found colonized the gut of healthy mice with the “obese microbiota” of overweight mice resulted in significantly greater total body fat mass compared to colonizing them with the “lean microbiota” of healthy mice.(9) Researchers believe certain bacteria may have an increased capacity to harvest energy from the diet, leading to weight gain.

The research on the role of gut bacteria and athlete performance is in its infancy. Modifications in diet, training regime and lifestyle factors like sleep may provide a novel way to influence the gut bacteria to support more robust, resilient and higher performing athletes.

 

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

Want to learn more? Listen to expert Dr. Tommy Wood talk about the "Athlete's Gut" and common digestive problems on the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast...

 

References

1)    Ley RE, Peterson DA, Gordon JI. Ecological and evolutionary forces shaping microbial diversity in the human intestine. Cell 2006;124:837–48.

2)    Ursell LK, Metcalf JL, Parfrey LW, et al. Defining the human microbiome. Nutr Rev 2012;70:S38–S44.

3)    Clark A, Mach, N. Exercise-induced stress behavior, gut-microbiota-brain axis and diet: a systematic review for athletes. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016; 13: 43.

4)    Bermon S, Petriz B, Kajėnienė A, et al. The microbiota: an exercise immunology perspective. Exerc Immunol Rev 2015;21:70–9.

5)    O'Sullivan O, Cronin O, Clarke SF, et al. Exercise and the microbiota. Gut Microbes 2015;6:131–6

6)    Leclercq S, Forsythe P, Bienenstock J. Posttraumatic stress disorder: Does the gut microbiome hold the key? Can J Psychiatry 2016;61:204–13.

7)    Steves CJ, Bird S, Williams FM, et al. The microbiome and musculoskeletal conditions of aging: A review of evidence for impact and potential therapeutics. J Bone Miner Res 2016;31:261–9.

8)    Ohlsson C, Sjögren K. Effects of the gut microbiota on bone mass. Trends Endocrinol Metab 2015;26:69–74.

9)    Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Mahowald MA, et al. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature 2006;444:1027–31.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ancestral Foods to Boost Athletic Performance

The ancestral diet revolution is in full swing, and, as a result, more and more athletes are choosing to adopt a Paleo-based approach to eating in order to improve their performance. One question I get asked a lot by clients who are thinking about going Paleo or even those already in the community is “Are there specific foods that can help me with my athletic performance goals?” The answer is absolutely yes.

One of the reasons I believe the Paleo diet is the best template for athletes to build a perfect personalized diet from is because, by definition, it includes all of the key factors you need to be healthy, recover well and perform at your best when exercising intensely. With that in mind, here are my top 5 Paleo performance foods that should be a staple for almost all athletes.

#1 Eggs

We should primarily be emphasizing protein when discussing exercise, performance and building lean muscle. Wild game meats, grass-fed beef, free-run poultry and wild fish should all be staples of an athlete’s diet. However, eggs often don’t get the attention they deserve!

Eggs are the most complete source of amino acids and rank the highest when it comes to assessing protein quality based on their biological value (BV) and protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCASS – impress your friends with that mouthful!).

Eggs have all the things you look for in a high-quality protein: the greatest quantities of all the essential amino acids that your body cannot produce and must obtain from food, as well as the highest concentrations of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) ­that make up one-third of the amino acid pool in your muscle and help to trigger the genetic mTor pathway that upregulates muscle protein synthesis.

Eggs also contain an abundance of other key nutrients, including omega-3 fats for cardiovascular health, vitamin D and A for immune support, choline for better brain function, vitamin B12 for energy, and selenium to maintain adequate metabolism and thyroid function.

You don’t have to go all Rocky Balboa and eat them raw first thing upon rising, but in general male athletes should aim to consume 24-36g of protein per serving (4-6 eggs), while females should aim for 20-30g (3-5 eggs). They make a great breakfast option, but plan to alternate every other day to keep variety in your diet.

#2 Butter

For the last 30 years, saturated fats like butter have been erroneously considered the number one enemy in conventional medicine, supposedly responsible for heart disease and poor health. However, the scientific community is now clear that saturated fats aren’t bad for us, and in fact are extremely important for overall health. Sports nutritionists also realize that saturated fats are a key weapon for athletes to accelerate recovery from intense training.

Saturated fats play a critical role on a couple of fronts. First, they are shown to help athletes recover from intense exercise and over-training. Studies have found that athletes who are rundown during periods of intense training typically have low cortisol and low testosterone levels, to go along with fatigue, excessive delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), low libido and low mood… all hallmarks of over-training. The research shows that athletes who follow high-fat diets (e.g. the Paleo diet) versus low-fat diets recover much more effectively from intense training, are able to correct low hormone levels and avoid classic signs of over-training.

Saturated fats can also be a great tool for endurance athletes, because unlike most fats they can be absorbed directly by the gut and used for instant energy (other types of fat must be first be processed by the liver). This means saturated fats like medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) can effectively be used like carbohydrates for energy during runs, rides, swims, or metabolic conditioning (like bootcamps or CrossFit WODs). But, because you get 9 calories when using fats for fuel versus 4 calories when using carbs, you dramatically improve your fuel efficiency. This can translate into better performance.2  Remember, to improve fat-adaptation as a fuel source it will take at least several weeks of a higher fat, moderate protein and low carb diet to truly enhance your capacity to rely on primarily fat for fuel.

Excellent sources of saturated fats and MCTs are butter, ghee, coconut oil or red palm oil. You may want to even try a supplemental form with higher concentrations of MCTs to get more bang for your buck. Try 1 tbsp. in your pre-workout meal or snack and then build your way up from there. Experiment to find the right amount for you, as some athletes note dramatic improvements while others can get bogged down by stomach cramps.

#3 Beets

Beets have been in the news lately because of their newly discovered ability to improve endurance exercise. The consumption of large quantities of beets has been found to dramatically increase blood nitrate levels (not to be confused with nitrites, the preservative found in deli meats). This promotes nitric oxide (NO) formation, which is a powerful vasodilator that produces significant endurance benefits in athletes.

A recent study from Exeter University in the United Kingdom showed that athletes consuming concentrated beetroot juice before an endurance training bout resulted in less energy expenditure to maintain the same pace.3 Although several studies support this finding, the benefits seem to be limited to novice or moderate level exercisers. If you’re an elite performer the research is mixed so you may not experience any benefit.4

Try consuming 500ml of beetroot juice or the equivalent in concentrated form about one hour before exercise and see for yourself if dietary nitrates may be the missing link that helps upgrade your performance. (Be aware, your urine will turn a more darkish yellow/red color following beet consumption. This is perfectly normal!).

#4 Leafy Greens

Exercise is catabolic by nature as your body breaks itself down cells to fuel training. This training stress on the body leads to oxidative stress and the production of free radicals that can damage your cells. Protecting against this oxidative damage is crucial for recovery and ultimately future performance. 

Leafy greens are loaded with antioxidants that protect against exercise-induced oxidative stress. Recently, the British Journal of Nutrition showed that the both short and long-term intake of the watercress – a leafy green loaded with beta-carotene and alpha-tocopherols – was able to significantly blunt exercise induced DNA damage. The great thing about a Paleo diet is that it’s not just rich in protein, but also rich in greens. Upgrade your recovery by including leafy greens like watercress, kale, spinach, chard, and arugula at all your meals.

#5 Coffee (Caffeine)

Ok, this one isn't 100% ancestral, but it can provide a terrific performance boost. Countless performance-enhancing supplements are now available, some of them better than others. But if you want to find the best supplement to improve your performance, look no further than your morning cup of joe!

While coffee is a gray area in Paleo community, for me an ancestral approach to performance forces you to get back to basics (i.e. eat real food) and steers you away from the marketing hype and self-proclaimed ‘latest and greatest’ manufactured performance-boosting products. Caffeine, found naturally in tea and coffee, is truly one of the best performance-enhancing drugs in the world. In fact, supplemental caffeine is the “secret” ingredient in virtually all the marketed weight loss and performance supplements because it’s so effective! Why not get it from it’s natural source?

What can caffeine do for you? Let’s take a closer look.

Caffeine is a great tool to use to improve your work capacity. Studies of all types of athletes – from cyclists and runners, to weight lifters and martial artists – find that caffeine intake improves the amount of work you can perform during a given bout of exercise. That means more sets and reps during lifts (although not a vastly improved 1-rep max), more hill repeats, more miles on your run, and more rounds in the ring.1 Not only that, caffeine helps to decrease perceived exertion, which means your exercise feels easier. (I am quite sure all athletes who push themselves to the limit would love training to feel a little easier!)

The research shows the ideal dose of caffeine is 3mg per kilogram bodyweight. For example, a 180-lb male (divide by 2.2 to calculate weight in kg = 81.8kg) would aim for about 240mg of caffeine before exercise, while a 150-lb female (divide by 2.2 = 68.2kg) would shoot for about 200mg. A typical cup of coffee contains 150-200mg of caffeine that gets absorbed into your bloodstream after 15 minutes, reaching peak concentration in your blood about 60 minutes after ingestion.

A word of caution: going above 6mg/kg bodyweight can elicit negative side effects like irritability, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and even fatigue and low mood. Remember, a large cup of coffee will have between 400-600mg of caffeine, a very large dose, so be sure to estimate your daily intake to maximize the benefits and minimize the drawbacks.

Whether or not you’re following a strict Paleo diet, be sure to include these five primal performance food staples when peaking for competition and you’ll soon bust through plateaus and achieve your performance potential. Be sure to individualize the doses to find the right balance for you and your sport.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

Want to learn more? Listen to Paleo founder Dr. Loren Cordain in Episode #10 of the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast.

Check out more articles in the HYPERTROPHY SERIES...

What's The Best Marker For Improving Cancer Survival?

Every year, there are 14 million new cancer cases diagnosed globally and diagnoses are expected to increase by 70% in the next 20 years. These staggering statistics highlight just how pervasive cancer is in our society; everyone has a friend, loved one or colleague affected by cancer. On the bright side, your genetics accounts for only 5-10% of your actual cancer risk, whereas diet, exercise, and lifestyle factors impact the overwhelming majority of your cancer protection. So, what can you start doing today to help upgrade your cancer protection?

Building Strength For Health

Strength is an essential attribute for healthy living. Lean muscle mass is a very active metabolic and immune tissue that promotes health and vitality, as well as protecting against chronic degenerative conditions like cancer. It’s well established in the medical literature that exercise helps to reduce the incidence of cancers and the mortality rates associated with cancers.1 That’s right, increasing your activity levels or simply “moving more” is a powerful way to protect yourself against cancer. In fact, if you’re stuck at your desk all day, the research shows a dose-response association between how much you sit during the day and mortality from all causes and states that doctors should actively “discourage sitting for extended periods of time”.2  In fact, a review study of almost one million people showed simply adding more non-vigorous exercise (i.e. more walking) into your daily regime can lower your risk of death from chronic disease by 19%.3

Strength & Cancer

How does strength and lean muscle fit into this equation? A new study attempted to isolate the potential benefits of improving strength - independent of other variables like body composition, aerobic fitness, functional assessments - and its effects on cancer. Thirty-nine studies examining 7 different types of cancers and found that muscular strength was the only marker that consistently improved in all cancer survivors.4 That’s right, simply building strength is one of the best ways to protect yourself against many cancers.

The good news is you don’t need to head to a gym to start getting stronger (although it is a great place to achieve that goals as well!). Simply performing bodyweight movements is a great way to reap all the benefits of building lean muscle. Start by performing a squat. Grab your desk or kitchen table chair and place it behind you (preferably against a wall or anywhere where you can be sure it won’t slip out from underneath you). Next follow these simple steps;

  • Stand in front of the chair and squat down to sit in the chair.
  • Pause for 1 second, and then stand up again.
  • Repeat this for 5-10 repetitions (reps), and then rest for 60 seconds.
  • Perform 1-3 sets or rounds of the 5-10 repetitions.

Congratulations, you just performed anywhere from 15-30 squats. Every week add a few reps until you get up to 20-25 total. Leg movements like squats activate the biggest and strongest muscles in your body – gluteus, hamstrings, quads, low back – that help to trigger the hormonal response needed to build muscle. As you become more comfortable, you can add more weight. If you have a history of injuries or find a chair is too low for you, then simply put some books on the chair to reduce the range of motion (i.e. how deeply you squat) and “tap” the books with your backside, rather than sitting completely.

Increase your movement to build strength and protect yourself from chronic diseases like cancer. No drug or supplement in the world can improve your health, wellness and vitality like movement. It’s that simple… Get started today and feel the difference.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSC, CSCS

Want to learn more? Listen to expert Dr. Charlie Weingroff PhD talk "time-efficient" movement in Episode #18 of the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast.

Endurance Training Dilemma - High vs. Low Carb

Endurance athletes train hard and train often. Regardless of whether you’re an elite competitor or trying to achieve a new personal best, maximizing your recovery and performance with the right nutrition plan is an absolute “no-brainer.” The problem is, with so much conflicting information out there, how can you find the best approach to meet your goals? Traditionally, endurance athletes have focused on high carb diets and gels during exercise to fuel workout performance. However, recently more and more athletes eating low-carb, high fat (LCHF) and ketogenic diets have promoted the use of fat as the ideal fuel source by dramatically reducing carbohydrate intake.

There are experts on both sides of the “low-carb” versus “high-carb” debate, making it a fine line to tread. How are you supposed to determine the best strategy for you? The answer is an individualized approach to your nutrition.

GET CLARITY ON YOUR GOALS

For elite or professional athletes, the goal is very straight-forward… win. Achieving the best possible performance is the target and nutritional strategies are all geared to achieve that goal. Sometimes, this can be in opposition to promoting health. For example, using large quantities of simple sugars during exercise is a highly effective strategy to maintain high-intensity work output. However, the chronic ingestion of simple sugars over time can have detrimental effects on things like insulin levels, gut health, inflammatory status. For regular folks, is your primary goal to complete a personal best time, or is it equally as important for you to lose weight and improve your health? If the answer is “yes”, then you need a different strategy for how to best fuel your body.

FUELING FOR ELITE ENDURANCE PERFORMANCE

Elite level runners and cyclists move fast. They’re working at a very high exercise intensity, and the research is clear, as exercise intensity increase so does the body’s reliance on carbs for fuel (see Figure 8 below). (1)


[adapted from Romijn, J et al. (1)]

Stephen Phinney’s research showed that “fat-adapted” ketogenic athletes could burn more fat for fuel than non-keto adapted athletes, however this occurred at low exercise intensities (i.e. 65-70%), not the high intensity of elite competition. (2)

Ultramarathon-Fuel-Use-577x630.jpg


[adapted from Phinney, S et al. (2)]

Finally, research from the Canadian Sport Institute highlighted the breakdown of macronutrient utilization during ultra-marathon competitions (100 mile races) by elite levels runners (see Figure 4 below). Researchers found all athletes practiced fueling strategies that maximized carb intake during competition, which is congruent with the contemporary evidence-based recommendations. (3)

Now, there is emerging evidence to show that training in a low-carb or fasted state (i.e. Train Low or Sleep Low strategies) can induce favourable changes in fat metabolism for high level athletes.(4,5,6) The research reveals as little as 5 days of training on a LCHF diet can reboot the muscle and augment fat-burning capacity and this persists despite carbohydrate intake during exercise.(6) Therefore, LCHF can be an effective strategy for elite athletes to employ during specific training days or training blocks to improve performance. However, it’s important to note that chronic low-carb or very-low carb (i.e. a ketogenic diet) intake can reduce pyruvate dehydrogenase in working muscles; an enzyme that’s essential for the effective metabolism of carbohydrates for fuel.(6) Not ideal if performance is your goal.

FUELING FOR RECREATIONAL PERFORMANCE & WEIGHT LOSS

Many of my clients who decide to run a 10k race, marathon, or bike race at a recreational level are doing so to improve their health, lose weight, and connect with like-minded people. When this is their goal, it creates a different “context” from elite performers and requires a different nutritional strategy. For example, it’s not uncommon to see overweight clients, who train months for a marathon or long bike race, fail to lose any body-fat despite logging hours and hours of training.

In this population, the addition of more simple sugars before and/or during training, as well as the consumption of a moderate to high carb diet can easily lead to a caloric excess and chronically elevated insulin levels, inhibiting their capacity to burn fat effectively for fuel. In terms of health, chronically elevated insulin levels can also significantly increase the risk of all chronic diseases. (7)

Rather than using a black or white approach, re-asses your goals and identify your number one priority. If weight loss is your goal, alongside friendly competition, then following the same recommendations given to elite athletes is likely going to be a major roadblock. A lower carbohydrate diet may be your path to success.

If performance is your goal, adopting low-carb feedings prior to specific training bouts or phases may provide benefits, however there is a lack of evidence to show a clear benefit to low-carb fueling during endurance competition. In short, carbs are still king on race day.

In the end, whether you’re an elite endurance performer or recreational enthusiast, tailoring your nutrition approach will yield the greatest results, whichever side of the fence you land on.

(This article originally appeared on ThePaleoDiet.com)

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

Want to learn more? Check out Episode #2 - "Metabolic Flexibility" of the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast with Dr. Mike T Nelson PhD

 

References

1) Romijn, J et al. Regulation of endogenous fat and carbohydrate metabolism in relation to exercise intensity and duration. Am J Physiol. 1993 Sep;265(3 Pt 1):E380-91.
2) Phinney, S et al. Capacity for moderate exercise in obese subjects after adaptation to a hypocaloric, ketogenic diet. J Clin Invest. 1980 Nov;66(5):1152-61.
3) Stellingwerff, T. Competition Nutrition Practices of Elite Ultramarathon Runners.
Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2016 Feb;26(1):93-9.
4) Marquet L et al. Enhanced Endurance Performance by Periodization of Carbohydrate Intake: “Sleep Low” Strategy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Apr;48(4):663-72.
5) Volek J, Noakes T, Phinney S. Rethinking fat as a fuel for endurance exercise. Eur J Sport Sci. 2015;15(1):13-20.
6) Burke L. Re-Examining High-Fat Diets for Sports Performance: Did We Call the ‘Nail in the Coffin’ Too Soon? Sports Med. 2015 Nov;45 Suppl 1:S33-49.
7) Menke A et al. Prevalence of and Trends in Diabetes Among Adults in the United States, 1988-2012 JAMA. 2015;314(10):1021-1029.

5 Reasons Why You Should Eat Saturated Fats

No nutrient has been more vilified or voraciously attacked over the past half-century than saturated fat. Going back to the 1950s, when heart attack rates dramatically increased government and medical authorities rallied to uncover a “smoking gun” cause of heart attacks, and thus the “Diet-Heart Hypothesis” by Dr. Ancel Keys was born. The experts determined, that saturated fats – high in cholesterol - were the cause of heart disease. This “hypothesis”
was not uniformly accepted. Many scientists at the time were strongly outspoken against the Diet-Heart Hypothesis, citing evidence that directly contradicted the theory and highlighting the fact it was based solely on epidemiological studies, which can only prove association and not causation. Nevertheless, politicians and health authorities ran with the “Diet-Heart Hypothesis” and it became the foundation from which the next 60 years of nutritional advice would be based.

Unfortunately, the dramatic and sweeping changes to the average American diet – which were not evidence-based – came at high cost and didn’t hold up over time. Your fear of saturated fat, while deeply-ingrained, is not substantiated. Here is a closer look at five key reasons why you should eat saturated fats.

1)    Saturated Fats Do Not Harm Your Heart

Cholesterol is essential for life. It’s produced overwhelmingly by your body – approximately 70% of your total levels – as an integral part of cellular membranes and communication and as a building block for hormones. In 2014, a ground-breaking study show that increasing dietary saturated fat intake had no effect on “dangerous” plasma saturated fats, however they did find ramping up carbohydrate intake increased plasma saturated fats in a “dose-dependent” manner.(MB) In short, if you are overweight or in poor health, eating too many carbs, processed carbs and sugar was the major driver of heart disease risk. All the research today agrees, there is no association between saturated fat intake and heart disease.(1)

2)    Saturated Fats Increase HDL Cholesterol

High-density lipoproteins, commonly known as “good” HDL cholesterol, are not cholesterol at all but rather a “water-taxis” that ferry cholesterol away from your arteries toward your liver where it can be reused or excreted. High HDL levels, particularly as a ratio with triglycerides, are strongly associated with lowering risk of death due to heart disease.(2) Eating saturated fat raises your HDL levels, thereby providing you protection from CVD and not exposing you to risk.

3)    Saturated Fats Increase “Big, Fluffy” LDL

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are also “water-taxis” ferrying cholesterol away from your liver and toward your arteries (in the opposite direction to HDL). LDL is considered the “bad” type of cholesterol, however this is an over-simplification of the whole story. Small, dense LDL particle counts (think of golf balls) are a reliable predictors of heart disease risk, however they aren’t the only type of LDL calculated in your blood lab tests.(3) Big, fluffy LDL (think tennis balls) is not associated with worsening your CVD risk and this is the subtype that increases with increased consumption of dietary saturated fat.(4,5) The trouble is, you don’t pick this up on standard lab tests.  In short, the rise in LDL you see from eating more saturated fat doesn’t worsen your heart (or overall) health.                                

4)    Saturated Fats Are Great For Cooking

Oxidation is the process that occurs when unstable fats, typically polyunsaturated, are heated at high temperatures. Saturated fats contain no double bonds, making them incredibly stable at high temperatures and therefore ideal for cooking. Butter, beef tallow, lard have all been used for centuries as a staple in cooking. After the war on saturated fats started in the 1960s, saturated fats were replaced with polyunsaturated omega-6 fats, thought to be better for your health because they lowered your total cholesterol levels. While this is indeed true, they’re also highly unstable and oxidize quickly, a major reason they’ve been shown to worsen heart disease risk and even cause cancer.(6)

5)    Saturated Fats Are Nutrient-Dense

An often-overlooked aspect of dietary saturated fats is the fact they contain essential fat soluble vitamins like A, E and K2. Vitamin E is a strong fat-soluble antioxidant that keeps your cell membranes healthy, vitamin A supports your innate “first line of defense” immune system and vitamin K is critical for vascular health (thereby improving your heart health!).(7,8,9)

 

Still not convinced? The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation recently removed the “upper limit” of saturated fat intake (previously set at 10% of fat intake) as there was no evidence to support such limits. This should have been front-page news across all newspapers and media outlets… however it was met with a mute response.

The bottom-line: Saturated fats are important for overall health and vitality, no evidence exists to support them as “harmful”, despite a half century of industry-fueled efforts to promote this claim.

Remember, context matters. Personalized nutrition means each individual will thrive on a varying amount of healthy saturated fats.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

Check out the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast with expert Nina Teicholz for the whole story on "Why We Fear Saturated Fats"...

 

 

 

 

 

7 Simple Benefits of Fasting

We didn’t always have the option to eat all day long. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would go days, even weeks, with no food yet managed to cope and survive under these conditions. Before the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago food availability was highly unpredictable, in abundance in the summer and scarce in winter. Fasting has been a natural part of our evolution and practiced for millennia by all faiths as a means of “cleansing” the body and mind, yet today medical authorities warn us of the dangers of missing a meal (or even a snack).

Hippocrates, the godfather of modern medicine, over 2,000 years ago stated the treatment for weight gain “should include exertion and eating only once a day” while the ancient Greek writer Plutarch remarked “instead of using medicine, better fast today.” Fast-forward to the middle ages and renowned Swiss German doctor and scientist Paracelsus wrote “fasting is the greatest remedy – the physician within”, while Benjamin Franklin also believed “the best of all medicines is fasting.”

Let’s take a closer look at the physiology of fasting, then explore some of its potential benefits.

What Happens During Fasting?

Fasting is the controlled and voluntary removal of all food for a specific period of time. When you fast, your body’s blood sugar and insulin levels begin to fall. To ensure your body (and brain) have energy, your liver releases its glycogen carbohydrate stores to supply organs with glucose and keep blood sugars stable. You typically have enough glycogen in your liver, and muscles, to keep you going for 24-36 hours. Once you’ve exhausted your glycogen stores, your liver produces glucose from the amino acids (via a process called gluconeogenesis).

After two to three days, your low insulin levels will stimulate the breakdown of triglycerides, the kind of fat found in your body-fat stores. The triglyceride is broken down in its three free fatty acids that can be used by virtually all tissues for energy (except your brain) and glycerol backbone is used to make more glucose.

To keep your brain happy, your liver begins to produce ketones – beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate – which provide your brain with approximately 75% of its fuel requirements. Ketone production can ramp up as much as 70x during fasting. Lastly, during fasting your body pumps out significant amounts of growth hormone (GH) in order to preserve muscle mass and lean tissue.

The Benefits of Fasting

In the early 20th century, the Journal of Biological Chemistry described fasting as a “perfectly safe, harmless and effective method for reducing the weight of those suffering from obesity.” Let’s review some of the benefits of fasting for weight loss and blood sugar and insulin control.

1)    Simplicity

Fasting is very straight-forward; do not eat. You can drink coffee, tea or bone broth but do not eat. Dietary advice that is simple is the most effective, and it doesn’t get simpler than “do not eat”.

2)    Cost-Effective

Fasting is free. No expensive medications, supplements or superfoods.

3)    Convenient

Fasting can be done anywhere, no equipment, supplements or special foods required.

4)    Flexible

It doesn’t matter if you’re vegan, Paleo or anything in between... . Fasting fits any dietary approach or individual.

5)    Lowers Insulin

Chronically high insulin levels are associated with weight gain, and high triglycerides levels, dramatically increasing your risk of heart disease. Low-carb and keto diets are both terrific for reducing insulin levels, however fasting is truly the biggest “metabolic hammer” for lowering chronically high insulin levels and reversing insulin resistance. (If you’re on diabetes medications, talk to your doctor before starting any new fasting protocol.)

6)    Cools Inflammation

Weight gain and diabetes (type-2) are strongly associated with systemic inflammation, as measured by CRP-hs levels on your blood work. Fasting is a terrific tool for lowering CRP levels and cooling head-to-toe systemic inflammation.

7)    Improves Lipid Profile

High levels of small, dense LDL cholesterol, as well as high triglycerides mentioned above and lipoprotein (a) all serve as reliable markers for cardiovascular disease risk. Fasting has been shown to reduce all three of these parameters. It makes sense that if you abstain from food, your body will breakdown its own fat stores to fuel activity, thus improving your lipid profile.

If you’re overweight, pre-diabetic or diabetic (type-2) fasting can be a powerful tool to reversing chronically high blood sugar and insulin levels, poor metabolic health and CVD risk. Today’s constant snacking society and plethora of processed foods has no doubt contributed to the current obesity and diabetes epidemic. Fasting is a simple, effective and cost-efficient strategy to improve your health.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

Ps. To learn more check out my recent interview with obesity and diabetes expert Dr. Jason Fund MD who uses fasting regularly in his practice. 

5 Reasons Ectomorphs Struggle To Build Muscle

Ectomorph.png

One of the most common reasons athletes, Crossfitters and "skinny guys" come to see me in clinic is to add more lean muscle mass to their frame. They'll often complain that “no matter how much I eat, I just can’t gain any weight!” Naturally taller and leaner body types who find it easy to stay slim often struggle with adding more size. There are number of factors that can make it more difficult for you to add 10-15 lb. of additional muscle so you can raise your performance in the gym or on the playing field (or just look good naked).  

Let’s take a closer look at five common roadblocks that prevent you from gaining lean muscle.

1. Your Body Type

There are three general somatotypes – the technical term for classifying body types – that play a major role in determining your capacity to add muscle to your physique. An ectomorph body type is classically long and lean, with a robust metabolism and thyroid function that prevents them from gaining much fat, but also limits their muscle-building potential, as well.

There are 3 general body types – ectomorphs are long and lean and tend to have a hard time putting on weight

Compare this to the endomorph or pear-shaped body type – naturally rounder and heavier individuals – who gain muscle more easily but also accumulate more body fat as well. (Mesomorphs are the naturally athletic, solid and strong somatotype that gain muscle easily and burn fat easily… the genetic jackpot winners!).

Does this mean if you’re an ectomorph you’re doomed to “pipe-cleaner” arms or minimal curves forever? Absolutely not. But it does mean you’ll need to make a more substantial effort with how you eat and be more precise with how you train to achieve your muscle-building goals.

Ectomorphs typically have greater sympathetic nervous system dominance, lower testosterone levels, and slightly weaker digestive function, which can lead to a lack of anabolic muscle-building hormonal terrain, a mild drawback for adding weight.

Likewise, a revved up metabolism means you have a higher caloric need and digging a little deeper on the nutrition front will help you nail down some macronutrient (i.e. protein, fat and carb) targets to help you achieve your goal. While these are generalities, they provide a framework to let you know you may need to do things a little differently than your friend or coworker to find the best diet and exercise plan for you to add more lean muscle.

2. Not Enough Calories

You may think you already eat a lot, but if you struggle to add lean muscle you’re probably not consuming enough calories. It’s not just protein you need to build more muscle (I’ll cover that next) but a surplus of calories to create an anabolic environment in the body. If you don’t achieve your total intake of calories, you’ll never have enough “bricks” to build the body you want.

One common pitfall that Paleo-dieters fall into is a low-carb approach to eating. Because an ancestral or Paleo approach lends itself so well to a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet, it’s easy to get pulled toward this macronutrient balance, leading to a shortfall in not only your carb intake, but total calories, as well.

While LCHF is a fantastic way to lose weight and improve your health if you’re overweight, it’s not the best approach to trigger muscle growth and the caloric excess you need to create an anabolic, muscle-building environment. Carbohydrates also help stimulate the release of insulin, and when combined with strength training and a caloric surplus, provides the ideal terrain for building muscle. Not only that, carbs are the fuel you need to refill muscle glycogen – the carb stores in your muscle tissue – and when training at high intensity, carbs are your primary fuel, so don’t cut yourself short.

Start adding more Paleo-friendly carbs like yams, sweet potatoes, plantains yucca, and root vegetables to all your meals. If you consume shakes pre- or post-exercise, try adding unpasteurized honey (1-3 tbsp) to add more “low-fermentable” carbs to your nutrition arsenal.

3. Not Enough Protein

The common refrain in sports nutrition is to aim for about one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day to meet your muscle-building needs, while the research indicates that you only need 20g of protein post-exercise to stimulate lean muscle protein synthesis. However, there is more to the story. Expert researcher Dr. Bob Wolfe, PhD, has recently shown that when you consume protein in greater amounts, you dramatically reduce the rate at which your body breaks down protein. (1)

Consider for a moment a 154lb male who might break down anywhere from 300-400g of protein in a day. A metabolically gifted ectomorph will likely be more toward the top end of this range. Eating more than 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, or more than 20-30g post-exercise, doesn’t help you build more muscle directly, but dramatically slowing down the rate at which you break down muscle will help you build and maintain a more athletic and muscular body type.

A recent study of individuals consuming 3g per kilogram of body weight (1g per 1.36 pounds) over the course of a year showed no adverse effects on kidney function (a common concern for those adopting a high-protein diet) and superior body composition results to others in the study at lower protein intakes. (2) Be sure to achieve at least 1.0-1.35 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight if you struggle to add lean muscle.

4. Not Enough Compound Lifts

A common mistake many people make in the gym is not including enough compound exercises in their regime. They opt instead for more isolation work to improve their physique. While biceps curls and leg extensions might be a good way to improve your muscular definition, they don’t create the anabolic environment you really need to pack on muscle.

Testosterone is a major anabolic hormone in the body, triggering the growth of lean muscle mass when paired with strength training and caloric surplus. Major lifts like squats, deadlifts, Olympic lifts and their variations trigger much greater increases in testosterone compared to isolation exercises. (3)

Studies show the lifts performed in higher volume (10 sets of 10) or at higher intensity (1RM x 6-10 sets better than 1RM for 3 sets) can both trigger tremendous increases in testosterone, which means both novice and advanced trainees have effective options. (4)

Perform at least two compound lifts at the start of every training session, training 3-5 times weekly, to stimulate the testosterone and anabolic response needed to add lean muscle.

5. Too Much Cardio

Now that we’ve covered the right eating and exercise strategies, we need to make sure you’re not sabotaging those gains with excessive exercise. Athletes often engage in long training sessions or a large number of sessions in a week believing that “more is better.” If you struggle to add muscle, it’s not necessarily more exercise you need, but more exercise efficiency.

When it comes to exercise, more is not always better. 

On the cardio side of things, be sure not to add long, steady state exercise days while training to gain lean muscle. This will more rapidly raise stress hormone levels and catabolize your lean muscle. Furthermore, if you’ve already been training this way, more sessions of high volume, long distance work is not likely to make you fitter, either.

You need to change your mindset and think like a sprinter. Shorter, more intense bursts are what you need to build more power in your strong posterior chain muscles – glutes and hamstrings – that help to build a strong, powerful and athletic body. (5)

Ditch the steady-state cardio and add more sprints to your regime. Aim for two days per week and sprint at a distance of 50 and 100 meters for 5-6 sets. Be sure to rest at least two minutes between sets, as your goal is to run as fast as possible and not “feel the burn” during your workouts.

If adding lean muscle is your top priority and you’ve struggled to achieve your goal, get back to basics. You don’t need any fancy equipment or elaborate eating strategy. Increase your protein and caloric intake and pair it with compound movements and sprints to maximize your anabolic hormones, build lean muscle and achieve your desired weight.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

Check out more articles in the HYPERTROPHY SERIES...

Learn more about how testosterone impacts hypertrophy in the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast episode #12...

7 Effects of Ketogenic Diet on “Weekend Warrior” Athletes

It seems like 2017 is the year of the ketogenic diet. A new study examined the impacts of a 6-week ketogenic diet on body composition, health and fitness markers in healthy middle-aged men. So, if you’re active and want to take a glimpse into the effects of adopting a keto diet may have on your health and performance, here is your chance to take a sneak peek. Let’s review

Forty-two men in their late 30s were recruited for this 6-week study. They were fed a non-calorically restricted ketogenic diet – comprised of 70% fat, 20% protein and 10% carbs - and assessed for ketosis using urinary testing.(1)

1)    Weight loss

Ketogenic diets are a very effective tool for weight loss. Interestingly, even in this calorically controlled study, the men lost an average of five pounds, half of which was lean muscle and half body-fat.

2)    Strength

Hand-grip strength was tested over the 6-weeks and it rose marginally by 2.5% during the month and half, although the results are not statistically significant.

3)    Endurance Capacity

Cycle endurance exercise capacity was compromised in the men, falling by 2.4% over the course of the study. While this effect is minimal in a recreational exerciser, it can be a game-changer for professional or elite athletes. It can take up to six months (sometimes even a year) to fully regain your performance after adopting a keto diet.

4)    Peak Power

Like endurance capacity, peak power cycling also declined in the subjects by an average of 4.1%. This is a common finding in new “keto athletes”, you lose some horse power in your top gear.

5)    Blood Lipid Changes

Total and LDL cholesterol levels increased by 4.7 and 10.7%, respectively in the men, whereas there were no changes in triglycerides or HDL cholesterol.

6)    Glucose & Insulin

Not surprisingly, blood sugar levels dropped by 3.0% in men and fasting insulin levels by 22.2%. The insulin reduction is quite impressive, considering these were healthy men, and reinforces the evidence that supports the ketogenic diet being the biggest “metabolic hammer” to lower insulin levels.

7)    IGF-1

Insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) is a powerful anabolic hormone and is commonly dramatically elevated in overweight, obese and diabetic subjects, contributing strongly to the disease progression. The keto diet could drop IGF-1 levels by 20.2 % in these healthy middle-aged men.

A ketogenic diet can be a powerful tool for many goals. In the general population, it’s great for weight loss and improving blood sugar and insulin levels - key underlying factors to most all chronic diseases – and results in only mildly detrimental impacts on exercise performance. This can often be off-set by simply adhering to a keto diet for a longer period of time. However, in elite or professional athletes engaging in heavily glycolytic sports, the cost of reduction in power and reduced endurance capacity may be too high a price to offset the benefits of a keto approach. Have clarity in your goals and pick the right nutrition “tool” to achieve it!

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

Want to learn more? Listen to expert Ryan Lowery PhD(c) talk keto diets and performance on Episode #33 of the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast...

3 Ways Gut Bacteria Can Harm Your Thyroid

Today, approximately 30 million people are struggling with a thyroid problem and many more are undiagnosed. Women are much more affected by thyroid problems, compared to men, with one out of eight impacted in their lifetime and the likelihood increases as you age. Alarmingly, while most cancer diagnoses are on the decline over the past decade, thyroid cancer rates have been increasing. The obvious question to ask is why are thyroid conditions becoming so commonplace? Like most chronic and degenerative conditions it's multi-factorial, and one key factor affecting your thyroid health is your gut bacteria, also known as the microbiome.

When you’re born into the world, the bacteria that you are exposed to as a newborn set the tone for shaping your microbiome, the trillions of “good” and “bad” gut bacteria that live in your digestive tract (and on your body). Important is the microbiome to your health? Consider a few facts; nine out of every 10 cells on your body is from bacteria and the overwhelming majority of the DNA on your body comes from the bacteria in your gut and on your body (and only 1% from mom and dad). The latest research suggests that it’s the interaction between the two that heavily influence your health and vitality.

Your microbiome plays a key role in supporting optimal thyroid function; balancing blood sugar, cooling chronic inflammation, supporting immunity and converting thyroid hormones.

Your thyroid gland is effectively a bellwether for overall health, signaling a problem in some other area of the body. It’s like the lights on the dashboard of your car, your thyroid alerts you to a problem somewhere else in the body. Therefore, when your microbiome gets out of balance, your thyroid gland will be negatively affected, resulting in poor cognitive function, low mood, sluggish metabolism, poor energy levels… the list goes on and on.

What common factors can cause an imbalance in gut bacteria? The following is a quick list of common aggravators;

·      Western diet (i.e. high carb and processed carbs)

·      Excessive sugar intake

·      Being overweight (or obese)

·      Over-use of antibiotics

·      High chronic stress levels

·      Over-use of stomach acid lowering drugs

·      Birth control pills

·      Gluten consumption

·      Lack of exercise

·      Excessive high-intensity exercise

Unfortunately, conventional medicine treats only the symptoms, like placing duct tape over the warning light (so you can’t see it anymore). It doesn’t address the fundamental question of “why” your microbiome (and thyroid) are out balance in the first place.

3 Gut:Thyroid Connections

Your diet plays a fundamental role in shaping your microbiome, the bacteria in your gut playing a massive role in supporting optimal thyroid health. Let’s take a closer look at what happens when your microbiome gets out of balance.

1)    Gut Bacteria & Blood Sugars

Recently, researchers made a major discovery with respect to the impact your microbiome has on your blood sugar response to meals. Let me explain. The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly the sugars from the food you eat get into your bloodstream. In general, the more slowly and steadily your blood sugar levels rise (i.e. low-GI foods) and the better off you’ll be in terms of health and body composition. Conversely, high-GI foods will rapidly increase blood sugars and the blood sugar hormone insulin, leading to increased likelihood you’ll store more of the “excess energy” as body-fat, as well as new research showing it leads to poor cardiovascular and cognitive health in the long-term.

A recent study decided to test the GI-index hypothesis by testing different people - over 800 people fit and overweight subjects - with the same exact foods (i.e. low, medium or high-GI foods). In theory, the GI-index of a food (i.e. an apple) should be very similar for all individuals. However, in practice researchers found markedly different blood sugar response to exactly the same foods.(1) Overweight subjects eating low-GI snacks were exhibiting very large blood sugar spikes, and thus, the authors concluded the gut bacteria was exerting a significant impact on blood sugar response from person to person.

In short, your gut bacteria play a major role in your blood sugar response to food (regardless if it’s a “healthy” choice). This has major trickle down effects on your thyroid because big blood sugars swings lead to energy crashes and a subsequent over-reliance of caffeine and sugar for energy. Blood sugar and insulin dysfunction is a major underlying cause of thyroid dysfunction and restoring a healthy balance of gut bacteria is crucial for stabilizing blood sugars.

2)    Microbiome & Chronic Inflammation

If your microbiome is out of balance you’ll likely struggle with consistent bouts of gas, bloating, constipation (or loose stools) and digestive discomfort. An imbalance of “good” to “bad” gut bacteria – known as dysbiosis in medical terms - can wreak havoc on thyroid function because it can trigger a low-grade and systemic inflammatory response by your immune system. Your gut is home to over 80% of your immune system and inflammation is its first response to an insult or damage.

Chronic inflammation throws off your thyroid function in a couple of ways. First, inflammation ignites a fire in your brain (upstream of your thyroid gland), dampening the message from your brain to your thyroid to produce thyroid hormone.(2) This results in low TSH output from the brain, and thus low T4 output by your thyroid. The less thyroid hormone your body makes, the less energy every single cell in your body receives. (No wonder you’re tired).

Next, inflammation impairs thyroid hormone conversion downstream of your thyroid at the tissue level.(3) The fires of low-grade inflammation wear out the receptors at a the tissue level, much like fraying the charger connector on your iPhone, once it no longer fits, you can’t recharge your phone. Similarly, your body can’t recharge its cell and convert T4 into the active T3 hormone.

3)    Microbiome & Thyroid Hormone Conversion

One of the most overlooked aspects of thyroid health is the conversion of thyroid hormone. Your T4 hormone (i.e. thyroxine) made by your thyroid gland, must be converted to the “active” T3 (i.e. triiodothyronine) thyroid hormone to exert its positive effects in your body. If you can’t convert T4 into T3 effectively, you won’t reap the benefits of healthy thyroid function, such as a clearer mind, better mood, quicker metabolism, healthy bowel function, healthy skin and hair, the list goes on and on.

Once again, dysbiosis and an imbalanced microbiome is a major roadblock to thyroid hormone conversion. In fact, 20% of your T4 thyroid hormone is converted to the active T3 form in the gut, therefore if struggle with regular gas or bloating, constipation or consistent discomfort then chances are you’ll have poor conversion.(4) In short, if your digestive system isn’t running smoothly, your thyroid won’t likely be either.

How To Re-Establish A Healthy Gut Microbiome

If you look at modern hunter-gatherer tribes, like the Hadza in southern Africa that mimic our Paleo ancestors, you see stark differences in gut bacteria compared to Western men and women. The Hadza gut microbiomes have much greater bacterial diversity and richness compared to ours in America, Europe, or other industrialized countries.(5) A recent study compared the microbiomes of Western children to those living in rural areas of north Africa where exposure to sugar and a Western diets is non-existent. Researchers found incredible contrasts in bacterial diversity between Western and rural African children. The Western children’s microbiome was predominantly made up of a family of bacteria called firmicutes (fer-MI-cue-tees), whereas the rural African children’s microbiome was made up of primarily the bacteroidetes family (and little firmicutes) and robust diversity of “good” gut bacteria.(6) Excessive firmicutes is problematic because its capable of synthesizing sugars at a rate of 100x more than other bacteria. When levels are high, typically due to consuming too much sugar or processed carbohydrate, you’re more likely to develop dysbiosis and possibly more likely to struggle with thyroid dysfunction.

Your diet is the fundamental player in establishing your microbiome. When you’re struggling with dysbiosis, mimicking our hunter-gatherer ancestors is a great place to start to turn things around. Here is a short-list of nutritional interventions to start the process of rebuilding a healthy microbiome;

1)    Remove all added sugars

2)    Remove all processed carbs

3)    Reduce daily carb intake (if following a moderate to high carb diet)

4)    Eliminate all caffeine

5)    Eliminate all alcohol

6)    Limit fruit (berries are typically best)

7)    Add small amounts of fermented foods (if it aggravates your condition, discontinue)

8)    Achieve at least 25g of fiber per day

9)    Add a soil-based probiotic daily

It may seem daunting to make so many changes, but fear not, a few weeks or months (if you’ve been struggling for some times) is typically sufficient to reshuffle the balance of healthy gut bacteria and start reversing thyroid dysfunction. Get started with these simply tips and your brain, body and thyroid will thank you for it.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

 

 

 

Can You Bank Sleep? (To Improve Future Performance)

Today, we just don’t enough sleep. Our modern high-tech society seems to be wreaking havoc on our sleep time (and quality), and ultimately health and performance. The average America adult gets only six and a half hours of sleep per night and alarmingly 33% of the population gets less than 6 hours of sleep per night. One of the most common question I get from clients to offset their sleep debt is “can I just sleep more on the weekends?” It’s an interesting question, but unfortunately the current research suggests no… you need to be consistent with your sleep to reap the health and performance benefits.

However, new research is uncovering another way to potentially “hack” your sleep debt; adding more sleep before a period of sleep deprivation to offset the performance decline.

This could have deep implications for numerous clients; athletes, executives, entrepreneurs, soccer moms, policeman, fireman, etc. For athletes, the best practice for sleep is to achieve

10 hours per night (i.e. 70 hours per week), and not surprisingly, very few athletes achieve this dose. Therefore, “sleep banking” or adding more sleep in the run up to busy or stressful training period where sleep may be compromised is an interesting concept.

Researchers investigated the effects of “sleep banking” prior to a period of sleep deprivation to see if it could off-set the typical declines in cognitive and physical performance seen after sleep deprivation. They took 12 healthy men and extended their sleep for six days, assessing physical performance and neuromuscular function before (and after) one night of total sleep deprivation. The study found adding an extra two hours of sleep per night, over six days, significantly improved time to exhaustion during sustained isometric muscular contraction.(1)

The researchers speculated the positive effect of “sleep banking” was due to decreased perceived exertion from the additional sleep. They suggested sleep extension may be most beneficial for more neurologically fatiguing exercise, such as endurance and ultra-endurance, CrossFit athletes, marathoners or anyone who is chronically sleep deprived. Professional athletes crossing multiple time zones, playing back-to-backs, or during the latter stages of the season when sleep deprivation is more likely can be highly beneficial.

Interestingly, the authors published previous results on “sleep banking” impacts on cognitive function, which also showed positive results.  

The Bottomline: Using a “sleep bank” strategy by adding two hours of additional sleep for six days prior to a period of sleep deprivation may improve performance by improving perceived exertion of the training bout.

Sleep is the ultimate brain and performance “hack”; it’s free, it doesn’t require any special equipment, and you can do it virtually anywhere. Many clients, both weekend warriors and professional athletes, look for exotic and novel approaches to improve performance. While these can provide benefit, getting back to our ancestral roots and prioritizing fundamentals components of health – like sleep – yields surprisingly robust benefits in a very short amount of time.

Now go gets some extra sleep!

 

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

HIIT Sprints & Adults Over-50: The Minimum-Effective Dose

As you get older, it’s more difficult to maintain lean muscle mass. Muscle is not only a crucial factor in physical performance but also a key marker of healthy ageing.(1) After the age of 50 muscular power starts to decline, more rapidly than strength qualities, making it an important factor to focus on during training. Power isn’t just for dynamic sports efforts, your fast-twitch muscles are essential for “catching yourself” as you fall and hip fractures are significant risk factor in older populations.(2) The good news is maintaining muscular power predicts a reduction in future falls, so not only is focusing on power qualities during exercise important for performance, but overall health as well.(3)

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a fantastic tool to improve aerobic fitness, body composition, strength and power.(4) HIIT involves brief, intermittent bursts of training at high-intensity with low-intensity rest periods sprinkled in between. However, in older adults it typically takes much longer to recover after HIIT sessions. Therefore, the question is how little HIIT does an older person need to reap the benefits, while mitigating the excessive muscular damage and inflammation. In short, what is the minimum-effective dose of HIIT training in older adults over 50? A recent study attempts to answer the question.

In this study, 36 healthy but sedentary men between the ages of 56-65 were divided into two groups; one performing the HIIT intervals while the other did remained inactive. Researchers wanted to assess their power output, body composition, and effects on balance post-training. Furthermore, since there is not a lot of research on HIIT in older men, it’s important to note they added 6 weeks of “pre-conditioning” before the study to ensure all the participants had the fitness to take part in the study (i.e. they didn’t want to break anyone!).

For six weeks, the men performed 6 sets of 30-second sprints every 5 days on a cycle ergometer with three-minute rest periods in between bouts. Researchers found the sprint group had a 26.5% increase in peak power output following the six week training protocol.(5) While this sounds very impressive, it’s likely exaggerated due to their age and the fact the men were sedentary. Remember, normal ageing is associated with a steady decline in power.

The sprint group also got much leaner performing HIIT sessions, compared to the 6-week preparatory phase were little improvement was seen. While the research isn’t clear on why this occurs, the study authors believe improved fat oxidation during exercise and at rest, as well as appetite suppression were the likely causes. There was no effect in this study on balance from the HIIT sprint sessions.

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The Bottom Line: Low frequency HIIT training (every 5 days) is an effective and efficient training intervention for adults over 50 to improve power output and body composition.

HIIT training provides a variety of benefits to clients. In older populations, it appears you can adjust the training frequency and still reap tremendous benefit, making time-efficient HIIT exercise even more appealing in older adults and seniors.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN CSCS

 

 

 

 

Top-6 Calorie Dense Foods (And How to Avoid Them)

There is a growing debate in the nutrition community about the cause of obesity; too much sugar or too much fat? While the debate rages online, the research experts are actually in agreement… it’s both! Consuming an excess of calories leads to weight gain, while a caloric deficit leads to weight loss. (There is also the “endocrine theory” for weight loss, but I’ll address that in future post). It sounds straight-forward in theory, however in practice it can be tremendously challenging to implement.

Calorie-Dense & Highly Palatable Foods

In nature, foods are typically rich in fat or rich in sugar… not both. Processed foods, on the other hand, are rich in BOTH sugar and fat (as well as salt) which triggers the reward centers in the brain. Research scientists have known for decades the best diet to fatten up mice is a combination of fat and sugar, and ironically, today’s standard American diet (SAD) frighteningly mimics this combination.

Grocery and convenience store shelves are lined with a record number of processed foods, over 45,000, which obesity expert Dr. Stephan Guyanet PhD has shown contributes strongly to over-eating.(1) He states this is due to their high palatability, as well as convenience. From an evolutionary perspective, if a food is easy to obtain and calorically dense, your brain is hard-wired to crave it. In our hunter-gatherer past these foods were incredibly difficult to obtain, today it’s ubiquitous and all around us.

The top-6 calorie-dense foods, as outlined by the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, are as follows;

1)    Desserts (grain-based)

2)    Breads

3)    Processed Chicken Dishes

4)    Soda Pop & Energy Drinks

5)    Alcohol

6)    Pizza

(*If you live in Canada, the UK or Europe the average intake is not too far off.)

Based on this list, it’s not surprising that 66% of the population are now overweight or obese (with obesity rates skyrocketing) and 50% of the population pre-diabetic or diabetic.(2) This is a big problem for healthy ageing – and for the cost of healthcare – as chronically high insulin levels is a reliable predictor of virtually all chronic diseases.(3)

You might notice that fruit, vegetables, nuts, animal protein are nowhere to be found on this list. It’s not too many bananas, carrots, peanuts or steaks contributing to the overwhelming weight gain and obesity epidemic. It’s the over-consumption of calories from processed foods - sugars, fats, salt, etc. - which are incredibly palatable, addictive and convenient. (Yes, there is also an insulin hormone part of the equation, but it includes the calories model. More on this topic in a future post). If you crave a food, and its close by, the research shows most people will eat it.

Reboot Your Brain for Weight Loss

The simplest way to reduce calories and achieve weight loss is to adopt of a low-carb, high-fat diet (LCHF). Ironically, by following a LCHF nutrition approach and completely avoiding “calorie-counting” you can achieve remarkable weight loss results.

A major reason for this effect is you eliminate the top-6 calorie-dense foods, resulting in a caloric deficit… perfect for weight loss. But that’s not the only benefit. By removing these foods, you also remove the greatest triggers of “food reward” to the brain. By shutting down this evolutionary drive to consume highly palatable foods you end up reducing cravings… resulting in less snacking… caloric reduction… and ultimately long-term weight loss.

 

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS   

3 Ways Camping Can Reboot Your Circadian Rhythms

Sleep problems seem to be the “new normal” these days. Most of the clients I see in clinical practice complain of difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep regularly throughout the week. Sleep quality isn’t the only problem. The average person gets a mere 6.5 hours of sleep per night (a far cry from the 8 hours our grandparents slept two generations ago) and over 33% of the population get less than 6 hours per night.(1) New research shows lack of sleep is also a major factor contributing to blood sugar, insulin imbalances and chronic disease (not to mention poor athletic performance), so rebooting your sleep and recovery are critical.(2) It seems late nights watching iPads, working on your laptop, or scrolling social media is dramatically changing our modern sleep patterns.

What can you do to reboot your sleep? A new study suggests the solution is simple… go camping!

Researchers from the University of Colorado found only a few days of camping was sufficient to powerfully reset your sleep hormone melatonin, critical for optimal recovery and rejuvenation. The study compared people who went camping over a weekend with those who stayed home and found the campers went to bed almost two hours earlier than those who slept at home.(3) Interestingly, even after the campers returned home from their camping trip their melatonin hormone output ramped up 80 minutes earlier than normal. That’s a very good thing if you struggle with poor sleep

Melatonin, your body’s sleep hormone, is powerfully influenced by your body’s natural hormonal circadian rhythms that run on a 24-hour clock and are triggered by exposure to morning light and darkness in the evening. Unfortunately, modern living - staying up late watching TV, surfing the net, or updating social media on your phone - exposes you to stimulating blue light which throws off circadian rhythms and thus deep sleep.

Here are three reasons why getting outside may be so crucial for setting healthy circadian rhythms.

1)    Exposure to Morning Light

The early morning sun is a major stimulus for healthy circadian rhythms. One of the reasons people struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in northern cities with a true winter climate is because they typically go from their warm house, to warm car, to warm office without stepping foot outside. Even on a cloudy day, outdoor light provides greater than 100,000 lux of light intensity, a key trigger to circadian rhythm. Sleeping outdoors is a great way to reboot this ancestral adaptation.

2)    Early to Bed (It’s Hard to Stay Up Late Camping)

When the sun goes down and you’re camping in the woods, it gets dark very quickly. Interestingly, sitting around a campfire in the evening doesn’t stimulate your brain like the blue light emitted from iPads and mobile devices. The warm orange/red light spectrum of the fire is soothing to your nervous system and support relaxation in preparation for sleep. the That’s why most people have a hard time staying up late when they go camping.

3)    Seasonal Changes in Circadian Rhythms

Researchers also compared camping in the middle of summer, versus the dead of winter, on circadian rhythm adaptation. They found the campers circadian rhythms adapted differently depending on the season.(3) This has profound significance for the rest of the population because most people are busier, work longer hours and are more stressed during the Winter solstice (i.e.  shortest days of the year) compared to summer. These findings suggest we should take a lesson from our hunter-gatherer ancestors and get to bed earlier in winter.

The findings of this small study suggest a weekend of camping may be a powerful intervention for restoring circadian rhythm, improving sleep and recovery. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, improve performance or upgrade your health… a healthy circadian rhythm will support your goals

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS