Archive for June, 2009

Afterburn? Now just another fitness myth! New study shows exercise has little impact on fat metabolism once your workout is over.

June 17, 2009

You’ve probably already heard it from me, if not you’ve heard some other fitness authority tell you that the “fat burning” zone is a myth…. It was just a catch phrase that people glommed onto, but the real truth is it was just a euphemistic term for low intensity cardio exercise.

Now another myth is being busted thanks to a new study published in “Exercise & Sports Medicine” this past April.

This not only caught me by surprise, it even surprised the lead researcher, an exercise physiologist from the University of Colorado. The article says that moderate duration exercise (of less than 1 hour) has little impact on burning fat after the workout is done. It also says that, “despite decades of research on exercise and fat metabolism, there is still no clear understanding of how exercise helps to regulate fat mass.” Yep, this is bad news for those of us who tout exercise as a way to rev up your metabolism and turn ourselves into fat burning machines. However, my world has not been completely turned upside down just yet. Some things still remain true. For example, exercise still improves the muscles’ ability to oxidize (“burn”) fat, at least while you’re in the act of exercising. The myth that has been busted is that you can still be burning fat long after your workout is done. Gone is the theory that our bodies can still be burning fat 24 hours after our last workout. Is there any such thing as “afterburn” now? According to an associate professor at the Ottowa School of Human Kinetics, unless you consider 15 – 35 minutes to be a long time, your metabolism pretty much goes back to where it was by the time you’ve finished your post-workout shower!

For the study published this past April, Edward Melanson who wrote the article, used 65 people of varying fitness levels, from highly conditioned to sedentary and various body types, from lean to obese. He had them cycle at various intensities until they each burned 400 calories. Then he monitored them closely for 24 hours afterwards. None of the subjects showed enhanced fat burning during or after their workouts. Needless to say, this was not the result most fitness experts expected to hear!
Bear in mind, this is not a license to hang up your running shoes. Regular exercise is still a key factor in improving and maintaining your health. Plus, you still burn many more calories exercising than watching TV and, your body still looks a heck of a lot better with muscle tone than flab.
The other rule that hasn’t changed is that the number of calories you burn during exercise is still under your control. You can work out longer, or more often, or at higher intensity to increase your caloric expenditure. Doing intervals while you jog, cycle or swim will up the numbers of calories you expend. You can also try learning a new physical activity. You always work harder when you’re less efficient at something. Whichever method you chose, you just have to hit the grand total of 3,500 burned calories. Whether it’s a fat, protein or carbohydrate calorie, torching 3,500 of those babies will lead to a pound off of you. Will it be a pound of fat? Unfortunately when we lose weight, it is usually a combination of fat and muscle (we don’t count water weight). So, be sure you’re eating enough protein.
The take home message here is the oldest equation in the book. Weight loss is a simple mathematical equation of calories in vs. calories out. If you burn more calories (of any type) than you consume, you will lose weight. The more calories you burn, the faster that will happen. This should not be a news flash to anyone.
On a final note, your body’s basal metabolic rate in general is a very powerful weight loss tool. Think of it this way, a typical 120 lb. woman burns about 1200 a day doing nothing more than breathing. (A good rule of thumb to guesstimate your BMR is to take your body weight and multiply by 10). Now, add a good hour or so of moderately hard to hard exercise a day to burn off an extra 400 – 700 calories, and you’ll be dropping the LB’s in no time!
*Please refer back to previous blogs to learn more about figuring out your basal metabolic rate and interval training.


Perk Up! The scoop on coffee.

June 1, 2009

Three good reasons to “Perk Up!”

I didn’t become a regular coffee drinker until my 20’s. I was working in film production at the time and could not figure out how people on the crew could even stand erect much at 5AM. I could barely handle the drive to the set, much less hold a coherent conversation and function. I remember it being pitch black outside and someone said to me, “why not have some coffee?” I said, “OK” and poured myself a cup. Within minutes, it was as if I was having a divine experience. I suddenly felt ready to conquer the day. I looked at my little Styrofoam cup with the brown magic inside and said, “where have you been all my life?”

Caffeine has been researched so much that it actually may be more confusing than clarifying. There are enough studies for any lawyer to make a case either in it’s defense or it’s demise.

I’m a staunch believer in its many benefits, and as more and more research comes out, I feel even more validated. However, I don’t deny there are many caveats and for some, the cons can easily out weigh pros.

First, let’s discuss my number one reason for loving those lattes, and why so many other fitness nuts and athletes are in my corner. There are several studies showing that caffeine enhances physical performance and endurance if it isn’t overused. Caffeine improves athletic performance, increases energy and delays fatigue. Two recent studies showed that caffeine taken one hour before exercise had a large effect on reducing muscle pain during exercise. The caveat is the effects weren’t as noticeable on the individuals who were already heavy caffeine users.

My next favorite reason for drinking caffeine is that it improves fat burning by increasing fat metabolism. Caffeine has been showed to spare muscle glycogen (those are the carbohydrates stored in your muscles that you burn when exercising), which enhances body fat loss. Caffeine can help the body break down fat about 30% more efficiently if consumed prior to exercise. Remember, you must be exercising for this to happen! Also, if you’re the type of person who likes to work out early in the morning and don’t feel the need for breakfast, that may be because caffeine can keep blood sugar levels elevated, leaving you less hungry during and just after exercise.

Spoiler alert: A new study suggests that drinking coffee just before a workout can be a bad idea for some. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports that the amount of caffeine in just two cups of coffee limits the body’s ability to increase blood flow to the heart during exercise. That’s a big problem since the body demands more oxygen and nutrients during exercise. It’s the heart’s job to pump the necessary amount of blood (which carries oxygen and nutrients) to the muscles needing it. For people who exercise at altitude, the reduction in blood flow is greatly magnified. So for people who have high blood pressure or other heart conditions, you may want to think twice about caffeine before exercise.

Spoiler alert #2: Caffeine can increase the body’s levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone”, which can have several negative affects on health from weight gain and moodiness to heart disease and diabetes. Many experts believe that increased levels of cortisol create stronger cravings for fat and carbohydrates, (i.e. comfort foods) and, that cortisol causes the body to store fat around the belly. Abdominal fat has more health risks than other types of fat.

Back to the good news, the third reason I vote for Joe is that caffeine stimulates the brain, increasing awareness and concentration. Basically, it helps you focus. I’ve got a lot of clutter in my brain, personally, so this is bit benefit in my book!

Coffee factoids:
– Coffee can contain anywhere from 72 to 130 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce serving, depending on the bean source and the brewing methods.
– Coffee can be a surprisingly good source of antioxidants.
– Caffeine is a diuretic. Be sure to drink plenty of water the more caffeine you drink.
– Caffeine used to be on the IOC’s (International Olympic Committee) banned substance list.

According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate doses of caffeine of about two to four cups of brewed coffee a day (200 to 300 mg), aren’t harmful for most people. Negative health affects typcially come with heavy daily consumption of more than 500 to 600 mg/day (about four to seven cups of coffee).

Sorry if you tea-totalers feel neglected. But you probably already know there’s plenty of good news for you. The health benefits of tea are well known thanks to the antioxidant flavinoids. Tea contains less caffeine than coffee so you can drink more of it without worrying. Green tea can contain anywhere from 9 to 50 milligrams per 8-ounce serving. Black tea typically contains between 42 to 72 milligrams per cup.

Bottoms up!