You can only lose weight on low carb diets, say low carb diet fans. And go on to tell us that athletic performance is just as good when you say no to carbohydrates.
But already in 1939 two Danish scientists put people on a low, moderate or high carbohydrate diet and after a week assessed their endurance to exhaustion on a stationary bike. The people on the low carb diet lasted 81 minutes. Those on a high carb diet were able to ride for 206 minutes (Christensen EH, Hansen O, Zur Methodik der respiratorischen Quotient-Bestimmungen in Ruhe und bei Arbeit. Skand Arch Physiol 1939, 81:137-71).
And in the last 71 years the pile of scientific evidence for this effect has accumulated; the latest study I am aware of that looked into it is from 2006, where scientists from New Zealand put cyclists on either a high carb or high protein diet with no difference in calories consumed. They as well came to the conclusion that a high protein diet has a detrimental effect on cycling performance.
Yet we get tons of what pretty much amounts to “now explain that away!” defenses for fitness on low carb, where someone knows someone who or even himself went low carb and experienced astonishing athletic success.
What we don’t know is if that account is truthful or how the person would have performed with an adequate amount of carbohydrates. Which is why scientific research is always conducted in an environment where all factors that can come in to play are accounted for.
Yet even when low carb fans do look at the mountain of scientific research that clearly indicates a low carb nutrition is hindering athletic performance, a remarkable capability of selective cognitivity comes into play, that effectively blinds out everything that simply cannot and shouldn’t allowed to be.
An Australian study had cyclists on a low carb diet with a high carb day right before a race. They found no significant impact on fat adaption, meaning that stamina didn’t improve by the body previously having used more fat for fuel and then doing a carb-loading. But one blog author titles his piece “Low-carb diet gives endurance athletes more stamina” and tells us:
The authors [of the study] therefore conclude that a low-carb diet is not of interest to endurance athletes. “A high-fat, low-carb diet, followed by 1 day of carb restoration, increased fat oxidation during prolonged exercise, yet, this study failed to detect a statistically significant benefit to performance”, they write. We on the other hand, not hindered by a knowledge overload, draw the opposite conclusion.
A 2004 paper (PDF) tries to make a point for moderate low carb diets, but it too has to conclude that “performance is limited by the low muscle glycogen levels induced by a ketogenic diet, and this would strongly discourage its use under most conditions of competitive athletics”. On a popular low carb forum however, we find mention of this paper in a completely different light:
I have no doubt, that you can run marathons on a low carb diet. I’ve been on a low carb diet for 1 1/2 year and I don’t think, that my endurance has decreased.
There’s also a very good scientific paper about ketogenic diets and physical performance:
The problem is, most people won’t believe in the superiority of low carb diets, as long as all professional athlets follow a high carb diet.
It’s really strange, that nobody can tell just a single name of a professional athlet following a low carb diet. As far as I know, Lance Armstrong was not on a low carb diet, he was probably just better doped than the others
The discussion then continues and puts the blame on “carb-indoctrinated” trainers that just can’t acknowledge that a low carb diet is at least as good for professional athletes.
In my opinion this disregard and abuse of scientific research is akin to denying that gravity exists, because one day an apple might come along that just might fall upwards.
Picture courtesy of Richard Masoner.
There already is an article about this, but I felt the issue was important enough to be addressed in a video:
Scooby and I are often criticized for being overly conscious of safety in our weightlifting at home advice. Our general word is that squats, deadlifts and benchpresses with a barbell require safety measures and professional supervision.
Unfortunately, we have been proven right. A sixteen-year-old teenager from Wisconsin attempted a 185 lbs benchpress in his parents’ basement and the weight dropped on him. By the time help arrived, he was dead.
It may sound like queasiness and not the cool thing to say when we discourage those of you training at home from potentially dangerous exercises, but, to use a really beaten expression here, rather safe than sorry.
Scooby discusses some important points about safety and this accident at depth in his blog.
Picture courtesy of “Usodesita“.
Overtraining is a term most people into fitness have heard about. But what actually is it and how can you tell if you are doing it?
What is Overtraining?
Essentially overtraining is training at a rate higher than the body’s recovery rate – more is asked of the body than it recuperate from. And it is during rest, not exercise, that the body gets stronger and develops improved abilities, therefore not giving it enough rest limits its development potential.
The first reaction many people have when they stop making progress is to think they have to work harder to achieve their goals. May that be training with heavier weights, doing more exercises or running longer or faster.
But when you are overtraining and do this, you are asking your already taken beyond its limits body to do even more. As it already didn’t have enough of rest before you stepped it up even further, you are making everything worse and achieve the exact opposite of what you want.
Signs and Symptoms
When you are into fitness and try to get better at your chosen sport, you have to take your body to its limits. But how can you tell if you aren’t actually going beyond the limit?
The symptoms of overtraining are different for each and everyone, so it pays off to know your body very well and see how you feel. Some indicators to watch out for are:
- A sudden drop in performance
- Feeling tired, despite getting enough sleep
- General aches and pains
- Sleeplessness or problems sleeping
- Increased number of colds
- Decrease in training capacity / intensity
- Moodiness and irritability
- Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
- Decreased appetite
- Increased number of injuries
The occasional cold or headache doesn’t mean that you are overtraining, but if any of these remain with you for a longer time, then you should take it as a warning sign.
If you aren’t sure if you are overtraining or not, just a try a week without fitness and look how you feel at the end of it. Because the number one cure is rest, rest and rest again.
How long you need to rest depends on how severely you are into overtraining. If it is a slight case a week off may be enough. If it is a severe case, as in having gone on for months, then you may have to rest for weeks.
Take this time to find out what lead you into overtraining in the first place. Examine your training schedule and when it’s time to get started again, ease back into training by doing light workouts and only very gradually increase the difficulty level. It also pays off to keep track of your performance, so drops can easily be spotted.
Also don’t forget to keep an eye on your activities outside of sports: Do you give your body enough and the right kind of food to perform or does a stressful job contribute to your general stress level? Get the complete picture of your state of being.
Don’t do it!
Finally, and most importantly, don’t get into overtraining in the first place! If you are a beginner and try workouts designed for seasoned athletes that is a sure ticket to overtraining, if you don’t injure yourself first. Judge your abilities realistically and keep in mind that it is always better to underperform than to overperform, because underperforming may slow your results, but it won’t keep you out of the fitness loop for weeks or even months.
Picture courtesy of Andy Newson.
Nothing seems as simple to do as a push-up: Drop down to the floor and just do it. But if you never worked out, are generally out of shape, overweight or need to build your basic strength, then push-ups can be a daunting task.
This video discusses what and what not to do when you start this exercise and shows you a program you can do at home that takes you from wall push-ups to wide push-ups:
The best way to lose weight and maintain the loss is a diet moderate in protein and incorporating low glycemic index foods, reports a large study funded in part by the European Union. But is it? A closer look at the results reveals inconsistencies and problems.
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a numerical scale that classifies how fast and by how much a food raises the blood sugar level. Foods low on this index only lead to a moderate rise, while a food with a high GI number has a stronger effect. And the higher the blood sugar level, the more insulin the body produces, with insulin being a hormone that plays a role in the regulation of hunger.
The hypothesis behind the GI is that raising the blood sugar level only moderately will lead to less insulin and in turn to less hunger and more satiety, equaling less consumption of calories.
The Diogenes Study
The above study now, named Diogenes, standing for “diet, obesity and genes”, did the following: four groups of people were randomized and put into groups whose diet had either a high protein / high GI, low protein / high GI, high protein / low GI or low protein / low GI composition. For two months these groups had to undergo a severe caloric restriction and after that were left to their own devices. After a further four months it was examined how much weight the groups had gained back and the results showed that the groups with a low GI diet only experienced an average increase of 0.67 kg, while the high GI groups underwent a regain of 1.67 kg.
Now we sail into the first problem: Diets that mainly consist of low GI foods lead to less glycogen in the muscles, glycogen being a form of sugar used as an energy reserve for times when the free sugar (glucose) in the blood has been depleted. One gram of glycogen also stores 3-4 g of water.
A study from 1996 looked at glycogen concentration in the muscles after 30 days of either a high or low GI diet and found that in those on a low GI diet, the concentration had been lowered by 14%. If we now hypothesize that the overweight participants of the Diogenes study had an average pool of 600 g of glycogen before the study was started and each gram of glycogen stores 3-4 g of water, then 400 g of the low GI groups’ weight loss can be accounted for by the lowered glycogen reserves.
A further look at the Diogenes study’s results reveals that the group on a high protein / high GI diet had an increase of fat-free mass of 1 kg on average, while the high protein / low GI group only experienced an increase of ~0.54 kg. The study doesn’t mention how that was accounted for. All that we get is:
A reduction in the glycemic index of 4.7 units resulted in a 0.95-kg difference in body weight between the high-glycemic-index groups and the low-glycemic-index groups. Since there were no differences in fiber intake, the difference in body weight, though small, can be ascribed to a true effect of the glycemic index.
If we factor in what I outlined above, the small difference becomes even smaller.
The problem low GI diets have in general is that it is next to impossible to judge where a food truly ranks on the scale. There are lists out there that give numbers, but those are highly unreliable. A white potato may range from a low to a high GI and as foods usually are eaten in combinations, we are further left in the unclear, as a steak (GI 0), potatoes (GI 56-111) and lettuce (GI 15) all have different numbers – which one are we supposed to go by?
And if that wasn’t enough, all these foods also have a “glycemic load”, meaning we also are supposed to calculate in the amount of a food that we eat to find out by how much it will really raise our insulin. To get this number, all we have to do is take a food’s GI number – you’ll just have to decide on one – and multiply it with the amount of carbohydrate in your portion of the food and divide that by 100.
Even the Diogenes authors acknowledge that all this might be a little difficult. One of them told the New York Times:
“Glycemic index is a difficult concept to follow,” said the lead author of the study, Thomas Meinert Larsen, of the University of Copenhagen. “If you look at tables listing glycemic index foods, the data are not very reliable.”
Conflict of Interest?
Last but not least what remains to mention is the support that the study received and the possible interests involved in it. Mostly paid for by the European Union, Diogenes was also sponsored by various companies, which by itself is not questionable, as conducting large studies requires considerable funds. But it does raise an eyebrow when at the end of the study one of its authors declares that he receives lecture fees from Nutrition et Santé, a Belgian company, that also sponsored the study through providing their “Modifast” weight loss shakes.
Yet all the above points, that surely merit some closer inspection, haven’t stopped various media sources from proclaiming that a “high protein, low glycemic index diet helps keep pounds off” (Boston Globe), that the study “identifies foods that promote weight maintenance” (Los Angeles Times) or that we have to “think more protein, fewer carbs to maintain weight loss” (Businessweek). The Times of India goes even further: “Diet study finally solves obesity riddle”.
The full New England Journal of Medicine article of the study is available from the Diogenes website (PDF).
Picture courtesy of Graur Codrin.
When it comes to resistance training, one of the most common questions I see is “I just started out, is this workout ok for me?” And what then sometimes follows is a workout plan that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger pale. A week or two later the follow-up sometimes goes like this: “I did benchpresses but I think I pulled a muscle” or “I did inclined flyes, but I only felt them in my biceps. I thought they are a chest exercise!”
So here are five tips on what your expectations should be about what can be reached in what time and what you should do if you just started out or have only a couple of months experience.
Keep it Realistic
If you just discovered working out or have only done it for a short while, don’t count on looking like Superman or -girl by this time next month. Building muscle is a slow process. If it was something you can do in four weeks then we all would look like underwear models. Expect to see a difference in strength after four weeks of training and a noticeable difference in appearance after six months.
Keep it Simple
If you are a beginner you don’t need to tackle one muscle group from five angles with as many specialized exercises. The muscles that support the main muscle being worked on are not yet developed enough to do their job and you don’t yet know how these exercises feel when done correctly. You might end up exercising a muscle totally different from the muscle you actually think you are working on. An example that comes to mind here is a triceps exercise called “skullcrushers”, which require you to hold your upper arms still. Many beginners won’t manage that and will involuntarily move the upper arms and turn the whole thing into a mixture of skullcrushers and yet another exercise, pull-overs, which involves the chest muscles. This happens because the deltoids, which act as stabilizers during skullcrushers, aren’t yet fit enough to, well, stabilize.
Do Compound Movements
The last directly leads us over to this recommendation, because compound movements, those that involve many muscle groups at once, set up your basic strength in the larger muscles and get all those smaller muscles ready for the more detailed tasks. For example, push-ups not only train the entire chest, but also the triceps and the deltoid muscles. This preparation will later help your deltoids do the stabilizing when you integrate the above mentioned skullcrushers into your workouts.
Do Whole Body Workouts
As a beginner you aren’t taxing your muscles to physical exhaustion and can do whole body workouts 2-3 times a week. In the early stages it is the less the muscles that tire, but the brain, that is stressed from learning to activate all required muscle fibers and concentrating on doing the movements correctly. Intermediate and advanced trainees truly tax their muscles to the limits and need to rest for longer amounts of time before exercising that area again, but the brain is able to recuperate faster.
Gauge your Fitness Level
If you are unsure where you stand, there is a very simple way to find out. If you aren’t able to do at least 30 consecutive push-ups in fully controlled form, which means 2 seconds up and 2 down, and seven pull-ups without kicking yourself off the ground or swinging, then you most likely won’t benefit from more evolved workouts as much as you could. Concentrate on whole body workouts and compound movements until you reach these two requirements, which most likely will take about six months. An example for a beginner program you can find here.
Picture courtesy of “Ambro“.