Invitation, Yoga Sculpt, and a Beautiful Romanian Named Simona

The Jidori chicken was tasty, bathed in adobo sauce with rapini, caramelized red onion, and potato panadera. When we were seated, she moved her chair from the opposing side of the table to my adjacent side. I liked that. She ordered the sea bass. “Tell me about yourself,” she said. (She stole my line.) Simona is the kind of woman who gets noticed when she walks into a room. Her looks are striking. She has a thick accent. She grew up in the dictatorship of Romania, which gives her a different perspective than most. She’s grateful for a life and a freedom that most people take for granted. She talks about how coming to America was the best thing that ever happened to her.   

A half hour before looking into Simona’s hazel eyes and enjoying the Jidori chicken, I was in a pool of sweat at CorePower Yoga in Yoga Sculpt class. Wow. I was not expecting that. It was hard. It was hot. Nearly 100 degrees in the room hot. And the instructor was all business. He talked so fast I could hardly understand what he was saying. It was obviously choreographed. I tried to follow the moves as best I could.

I’ve never been much into yoga. Nearly all the yoga classes I’ve taken in my life have been on the invitation of a girl. Girls seem to like yoga. Like really like yoga. Really. I’ve never seen what the fascination with yoga is. But this class, on this day, in this very hot room, was not yoga. This was yoga meets cardio and muscle sculpting with dumbbells. And it didn’t stop for 60 minutes. Within five minutes, I was completely drenched. Throughout the class, I had to stop every couple of minutes to towel the sweat off my face and body. The last time I sweated this profusely was during a half marathon in Tel Aviv in July when I competed in the Maccabiah Games.

I could sit here after midnight, writing this blog post a few hours after the class, still thirsty from all the water I lost through sweat, and say it was easy for this lifelong athlete. But I would be lying. It wasn’t easy. And it taught me something about exercise and about myself. First, about exercise: Specificity of training cannot be underestimated. Just because you’re good at one thing doesn’t mean you’ll be good at something else. Being a newbie at Yoga Sculpt is very difficult, no matter how fit a person is. For crying out loud, there were girls in the class who did a better job keeping up than me. Although I’m 99.9% sure I would kick their ass on the track, they have something on me: Experience. Specificity of training. Even the best Kenyan distance runners in the world would have had trouble in this class. Second, about myself: 33 years of running 6 days per week has enabled me to master something. My body knows how to run. It is as natural a movement for me as walking is for everyone else. I often expect that running is my savior, that no matter what the challenge is in my life, running will save me and protect me. But today I was humbled. I’m a long way from the 8th grader who did 24 chin-ups to break the school district record. I don’t have that kind of specific fitness anymore. It made me feel sad that I lost it somewhere. And it hurt my confidence.        

“Want to take a yoga class with me?” Simona texted me about a week ago. I didn’t want to tell her that I don’t like yoga. “Sure, sounds like fun,” I replied. “It’s cardio and light weights,” she said.

The Best Explanation of How Running Slower Makes You Faster

 

When I was a kid, I loved watching the TV sitcom, I Love Lucy. Lucille Ball was one in a million. There was a famous episode during which Lucy and her friend Ethel work at an assembly line, where they were assigned to wrap pieces of chocolate as they came down the conveyor belt. At first, the job was easy. The chocolate pieces were coming down the belt at a slow enough speed that Lucy and Ethel could easily grab each piece of chocolate and wrap it.

Then the speed of the conveyor belt quickened, and Lucy and Ethel had their hands full. Literally. They couldn’t wrap each piece of chocolate in time before the next piece was already passing them, so they grabbed handfuls of chocolate and shoved them in their pockets and in their mouths. It was hilarious, and that episode became a famous part of TV history.

Little did the director of that scene know that he revealed the secret to how to become a better distance runner. 

Clearly, increasing the speed of the conveyor belt didn’t work. Lucy and Ethel weren’t able to keep up with the pace of the belt. If the company that Lucy and Ethel were working for wanted to produce more wrapped chocolates in less time, they should have had more factories with more assembly lines and more workers like Lucy and Ethel wrapping chocolates coming down the multiple conveyor belts.

Deep inside your muscle fibers, those factories are the mitochondria, and those workers—the Lucys and Ethels—are the enzymes that catalyze the chemical reactions involved in aerobic metabolism. The more mitochondria your muscles have, the greater your muscles’ capacity to use oxygen and the faster pace you will be able to sustain. The most efficient way to make more mitochondria—more factories, more assembly lines, and more workers—is to run more. And to run more, you have to slow down your runs, because there is an inverse relationship between training intensity and duration: The faster you run, the lower the total amount you can run.

The number and size of mitochondria in your muscle fibers is sensitive to the volume of work performed. When the factories are stressed because of greater demand, more and larger factories will be built to increase their supply to match the demand. If those pieces of chocolate kept coming down the conveyor belt long after the 30-minute I Love Lucy episode was over, more conveyor belts, and more and larger factories to hold those conveyor belts, would have been built to keep up with the demand for chocolate.       

One of the biggest mistakes runners make is thinking that to run faster in races, they need to run faster in workouts. So they run their workouts faster than their current fitness level dictates. I once coached a college runner who ran 19 minutes for 5K and she told me she wanted to be trained like a 17:30 5K runner. So I told her to run a 17:30 5K and then I’ll train her like a 17:30 5K runner. Races, which tell you your current level of fitness, dictate the training speeds, not the other way around. As a distance runner, don’t run to practice running faster; run to improve the physiological characteristics—to make more assembly lines—that will enable you to run faster in the future. Even if it’s not as funny as the I Love Lucy chocolate episode. 

2:00:25, and What That Means for the Rest of Us

 

Yesterday, Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya, along with two other East African runners, attempted to run a marathon in under 2 hours, as part of Nike’s Breaking 2 project. On a flat, criterion-style course with groups of pacesetters, perfect weather, on-course nutritional support, and even specially-made shoes, Kipchoge, the Olympic marathon gold medalist last year in Rio, held on to the pace longer than the others, finishing in 2 hours and 25 seconds. That equals a pace of 4:35 per mile. To put that in sharper perspective, he ran for 2 hours at a pace of only 45 seconds per mile slower than his best time for 1 mile (he has run 3:50 for 1 mile). Elite runners are not just fast; they can endure. And that is a lesson for all of us. 

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Runners are always telling me they need to do speedwork to improve their 4-hour or 3½-hour marathon. But it is not speed that is limiting your marathon performance. It is endurance, the ability to sustain a high fraction of your maximum. Scientists refer to this as the “fractional utilization of VO2max.” Train your legs to sustain a faster aerobic pace—a higher fraction of your VO2max—and your marathon (and half-marathon) will improve.

If you’re not a runner, this ability to endure is also important, because endurance is a big part of life. As I wrote in The Inner Runner, “With all of the technology and amenities and surplus we have in our Western culture, we can go through most of our lives and never find out how far we can be pushed, how much we can endure, how much we can handle. But when we push the limits of our endurance, we find out how much we can endure.”

What Eliud Kipchoge showed, indeed shared, with us yesterday is not only what the human body is capable of, but also the inspiration for all of us to make the choice to learn just how far we can be pushed, how much we can endure, how much we can handle. And conquer the cowardice in ourselves.

Incisions and Time

 

A fraction of a second. watch

That’s the time it takes to cause damage to our bodies. Whether a car accident, a cat scratch, or a surgeon’s incision, it takes less than one second to cause bodily damage. 

Weeks to months. 

That’s the time it takes to heal the damage. Whether a car accident, a cat scratch, or a surgeon’s incision, it takes weeks to months to heal the bodily damage. 

Why? 

Why the difference in time?

What if a bone took just as long to heal as it does to break? What if the swelling and scarring from a surgeon’s incision healed by the time we woke up from the anesthesia?  

I have always been interested in how damage is created so quickly, but the healing of that damage takes so long.

Why?

Why the difference in time?

There must be a reason, some evolutionary advantage to a slow heal. Is it to force us to slow ourselves down and give ourselves a rest? Does a forced rest somehow give us an evolutionary advantage? 

If you read my blog or follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you know that I had hernia surgery three weeks ago. So this difference in time between damage and healing has been on my mind. It sucks that I can’t run. But I have to patient and let my body heal. As I wrote in The Inner Runner:

“When we lose our ability to run because of illness or injury, it’s easy to feel helpless, vulnerable, and even scared, because the fitness and vibrancy we get from running is taken away. With all the people who don’t want to exercise, it’s a sealed box to be in when you’re entirely willing but physically unable to or precluded from running. There is a huge difference between not wanting it and having it taken away.

My biggest disappointment that comes from not running, and from the accompanying loss of fitness, is the existential crises and near-depression that mounts. I’ve always seen myself as someone working on being the complete package of a sound mind in a sound body. Running is a huge part of me, but I struggle with it not being all of me. On days that I don’t run, which are few and far between, I feel guilty, like I missed out on something important. I suppose this falls within the realm of addiction, and I guess others would say I’m addicted to running. Interestingly, research has shown that the risk for exercise addiction is associated with narcissism. Highly committed exercisers have substantially higher levels of narcissism than less committed exercisers. Am I so narcissistic that I can’t miss a single run? When I can’t run, I am soundly disappointed to find such weakness and doubt. Surely I cannot be so lame that the only thing that matters is chasing a time on the stopwatch or looking good in the mirror. I have so many other things to be happy about and thankful for, but here I am feeling weak, out of shape, under-engaged, and anxious.

It’s hard to say that my few injuries or other illness-driven breaks from running were ever worth it as a learning experience, because, quite frankly, it sucks and I want to run. What do injuries teach you anyway? That you can’t do what you want to do in the way you want to do it? If you get injured while training for a marathon, does that teach you that you can’t run a marathon? That’s not what you want to learn. Perhaps injuries teach you the importance of training smarter. But you don’t necessarily need an injury to learn that lesson. I’ve spent my entire career trying to teach runners and coaches how to train intelligently, and I’ve written multiple books about it. If nothing else, injuries or other forced times off certainly do encourage you to put things in perspective.

Each time I return to running, I am more thankful for it and feel a growing sense that I must take care that my life would still be fulfilling if I were never able to run again. Not running doesn’t detract from my value as a person, nor does it yours, although it often may feel like it does. We are more than a weekly mileage total or a PR. We are more than a VO2max value or a 10-mile run or a bib number. Yet we are all of those things, too. Running does not define who we are; we define who we are.”

FitnessFest, Weight Loss, and Drastic LIfestyles

 

I just got back from FitnessFest in Mesa, Arizona, where one of my presentations was on weight loss. It’s a hot topic, of course, given that nearly 70% of the U.S. population is overweight or obese. 

Once you lose weight, you want to keep it off. There is little point to going through the exercise (pun intended) of losing weight if you’re just going to regain it. Maintaining lost weight is itself a lot of work, and most diets don’t emphasize the critical aspect of being able to maintain weight.

fat to thin

 

Just as your body adapts to every running stride you take, so, too, does it adapt to the pounds you lose. A multitude of hormones are involved in the regulation of body weight, the concentrations of which are altered after you lose weight. Many of these alterations persist for at least a year after you start to lose weight, even after you have started to gain the weight back, suggesting that the high rate of weight regain among dieters has a strong physiological basis and is not simply the result of lack of willpower or the resumption of old habits. Because most weight-loss studies are of short duration, the only reliable proof of what works for permanent weight loss comes from the people who have actually achieved permanent weight loss. And the studies that have examined those people have shown that no one diet is better than any other. Behavioral factors—monitoring weight, exercising daily—matter more.

For example, in a study by a group of scientists at the University of Colorado–Denver, the physical activity patterns of weight losers in the National Weight Control Registry were examined. Successful weight losers engaged in an average of 41.5 minutes per day (290 minutes per week) of sustained moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, while a control group of overweight individuals exercised an average of just 19.2 minutes per day (134 minutes per week) and a control group of normal-weight individuals exercised an average of 25.8 minutes per day (181 minutes per week).

In another study from the Brown University Medical School and Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, scientists compared the amount and intensity of exercise of successful female weight losers to individuals who had never been overweight. To be in the study, the people in the weight-loss group had to have had a body mass index (BMI) of at least 25 at some point in their lives, but at the time of the study were of normal weight (with a BMI between 18.5 and 25), had lost at least 10 percent of their maximum body weight, and kept off at least 10 percent of their weight for at least 5 years. Conversely, the people in the always-normal-weight group had no history of being overweight or obese (defined as a BMI of at least 25) and had to have always had a BMI between 18.5 and 25. Their weight also had to be stable, being within 10 pounds of their weight for at least 2 years prior to the study. The scientists discovered that the weight-loss maintainers spent more total time being physically active and spent more time doing high-intensity exercise when compared to the always-normal-weight group.

What do we learn from this research? Individuals who have lost weight require more exercise to maintain their new weight and BMI than individuals who have never been overweight and who weigh the same and have a similar BMI as the previously overweight person. In other words, if you’re 200 pounds and you lose 50 pounds so that you’re now 150 pounds, you will always need more exercise to maintain your 150-pound weight than will your friend who has always been 150 pounds. But why? Why isn’t 150 pounds always 150 pounds?

Energy balance, like most of human physiology, is largely regulated by your central nervous system, which senses metabolic status from a wide range of hormonal and neural signals and controls energy intake. In other words, when you’re thin, your central nervous system “knows” you’re thin because of the feedback it gets from specific hormones, and it regulates your appetite and storage of fat accordingly. When you’re overweight, your central nervous system “knows” you’re overweight because of the different feedback it gets from specific hormones, and it regulates your appetite and storage of fat accordingly. When you’re overweight and lose weight, your central nervous system “thinks” it needs to “correct” for your weight loss and it activates multiple compensatory mechanisms (making you feel more hungry, for instance), including changes in circulating hormones and reductions in resting metabolic rate and the efficiency of your mitochondria to produce energy via aerobic metabolism.

These mechanisms all work together to encourage weight gain and return to your original weight. To be a successful weight loser and maintain your new weight, minimize the magnitude of these compensatory adaptations by losing weight relatively slowly, using small energy deficits. In other words, don’t drastically change your life all at once by eating much less than what you’re used to and running much more than what you’re used to in an attempt to lose 5 or more pounds per week. It’s hard to sustain that drastic lifestyle. Let the drastic changes happen over time, a little at a time, so that they become habits and so that your metabolism and central nervous system have time to adjust and adapt to your changing weight.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true” remove_url=”true” remove_hidden_hashtags=”true” remove_hidden_urls=”true”]Don’t drastically change by eating much less & running much more to lose weight. Let drastic changes happen slowly so they become habits.[/tweetthis]

Running as a habit is very effective at keeping your weight off once you have lost it, because running steers the calories you consume away from energy storage and into energy use. People who don’t exercise are not only more likely to gain weight, it is inevitable that they will.

Excerpted from Run Your Fat Off. To order, go to Amazon or get a signed copy at Run-Fit.com.

Hernias, Foresight, and Symmorphosis

The human body is truly remarkable. Within a few days following my hernia surgery last week, I started to have discomfort/pain on the underside of my shoulder, which is starting now to dissipate. When we have trauma to one part of our body, pain is often referred to another part, perhaps as a safety mechanism to draw our attention away from the trauma site so our body can focus on healing. Even with my PhD, I am still often astounded by how our bodies are designed to function, and how evolution and/or divine intervention​ could have accounted for such traits. Although divine intervention can perhaps see into the future, evolution has no foresight.

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This issue of my hernia surgery, foresight, and human design takes me back to an interesting concept I studied when working on my PhD—symmorphosis. The theory of symmorphosis, first proposed by Ewald Weibel, proposes that an organism’s structural design is regulated by its functional demand. As Weibel wrote, “…that the quantity of structure incorporated into an animal’s functional system is matched to what is needed: enough but not too much.” The theory of symmorphosis, then, seems to be consistent with the major tenet of evolution—natural selection—because natural selection will only sustain traits that are needed for success. Any “extra baggage” will not be supported and become extinct. For example, under the theory of symmorphosis, one would expect the cardiovascular system to be designed to supply just enough oxygen to the tissues for them to function—”enough but not too much.” However, even during maximal exercise, some of the oxygen traveling to the tissues in the arterial circulation returns to the heart in the venous circulation, and is thus not used by the exercising muscles. It appears, therefore, that the design of the human body, at least in some cases, has added a little in reserve, as if to provide a “safety net” to prevent the system from failing if and when it is overloaded. In this light, the theory of symmorphosis does not seem to be consistent with natural selection, since traits or behaviors do not evolve for future utility; natural selection has no foresight. 

Since symmorphosis implies that it is demand driving the change in structure, the limits of human performance can only be exceeded if the demand becomes greater. Given that modern human’s lifestyle is more sedentary than that from which he evolved, it may be expected, if the theory of symmorphosis is correct, that the limits of human performance will decrease with further evolution.

Or my shoulder pain could just be from the carbon dioxide gas the surgeon used to inflate my abdomen during the surgery so he could see what he was doing. But that’s not nearly as romantic or sexy, so I’m going with my referred pain theory.

Top 10 Marathon Tips

 

1. Pace

The best way to run your fastest possible race is by starting out at the pace you can maintain the entire race. So run the first mile at the pace you expect to average for the whole marathon. You can’t put running time in the bank. You will end up losing more time in the end than what you gained by being “ahead of schedule” in the beginning. No matter how strong your will is, the metabolic condition caused by running too fast too early will force you to slow down during subsequent stages of the race. While it may feel easy, especially in the marathon, to run the first mile of your race at the same pace as the last, your patience will pay huge dividends during that last mile. Ideally, the second half of your race should be equal to or slightly faster than the first half. This requires accurate knowledge of your fitness level, confidence to stick to your plan when others have taken the early pace out too fast, and a good dose of self-restraint. Your workouts are invaluable for providing you with knowledge of your fitness level and for predicting your average race pace.

2. Sugar

Research has shown that fatigue can be delayed if carbohydrates (glucose) are consumed during exercise. The carbohydrates should be easily digestible so they are absorbed quickly into the blood. Carry Gu packs or pick them up at an aid station and start ingesting them before you feel fatigued.

3. Hydrate

Water is vital for many chemical reactions that occur inside your cells, including the production of energy. When you sweat, you lose body water that slows metabolic rate. Your blood volume also decreases and becomes thicker if you don’t replace fluids. The result is a lower stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped by your heart per beat), cardiac output (the amount of blood pumped by your heart per minute) and, ultimately, a decreased oxygen delivery to your muscles. Your running performance starts to decline with only a 2 to 3 percent loss of body mass due to fluid loss.

4. Draft

It’s much easier to tuck in behind someone and let him/her pull you along than it is to maintain the pace on your own, so let other people do the work for as long as possible, especially if it’s windy. The oxygen cost of running (and therefore the perception of effort) increases when you run into a headwind. Let someone break the wind for you. 

5. BodyGlide

When you run for long periods of time, you can get chafed in places you don’t want to get chafed, which can make the marathon miserable. Apply BodyGlide before the race to any place that will be rubbed up against, such as inner thighs, nipples, and below your armpits.     

6. Bathroom

Although the urge to go to the bathroom is often suppressed while running to conserve water, nervousness and anxiety often intensify that urge, so take care of business before the race.

7. Breakfast

Eat a light breakfast of carbs and protein. No fiber, no fat.

8. Nothing New

The day of the marathon is not the time to do anything different. Wear the same clothes and shoes you have been wearing in training. Don’t buy new shoes to wear in the race. Nothing—not even your underwear—should be new. 

9. Divide

It can be overwhelming to think of running 26.2 miles (or 42.2 kilometers!) all at once. So divide the marathon into smaller segments. Focus on each mile at a time. If you’re aiming for a specific time goal, focus on attaining that goal at each mile checkpoint. For example, if you want to break 4 hours, that’s 9:09 pace. So focus on running the first mile in 9:09, the second mile in 9:09, the third mile in 9:09, etc.    

10. Be and Act Positive and Confident

One of the distinguishing characteristics of successful people is their unrelenting ability to remain positive, even in the face of negative circumstances. You often cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to what happens to you. Remaining positive when details before or during your race don’t go as planned will go a long way to keeping you calm and helping you to run a great race. If you go into the race thinking you’re not going to do well, you likely won’t. Even if your training hasn’t gone as well as you wanted, you’re not feeling well, you just broke up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or whatever the negative case may be, when you step to the starting line, remove all negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. You owe that to yourself. When you are at the starting line, none of those negative things matter. The only thing that matters is the run in front of you. So carry yourself with confidence.

For more tips and 20-week marathon training programs, check out the bestselling book, Running a Marathon For Dummies.

Exercise and Your Brain

 

When I wrote The Inner Runner, one of the things I wanted to address is how running changes us on the inside. Exercise doesn’t just affect the heart and muscles; it also affects the brain. It’s an interesting field of science called neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to change.

Running causes morphological and neurochemical adaptations in the brain. It increases the volume of every region of your brain, including the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, parietal lobe, and hippocampus, and prevents the atrophy that often accompanies aging. Conversely, an inactive daily life is a risk factor for brain atrophy, specifically of the frontal lobe—the part of the brain responsible for emotions, problem solving, reasoning, and planning. Specifically, it affects your ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, the choice between good and bad actions, the suppression of socially unacceptable responses, and your ability to determine similarities and differences between things or events. All of these factors are negatively affected with lack of exercise as you age and positively affected by staying or becoming active. Running also facilitates the interaction between the frontal lobe’s prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain’s frontal lobe that helps dampen the amygdala’s fear and anxiety signals. With fewer constraints from fear and anxiety, we can think more clearly and freely.

If increasing the volume of your brain isn’t enough to make you more creative, running does something even more spectacular to your brain. It causes neurogenesis—the formation of new neurons—in specific parts of the brain. Previously thought to occur only in the developing brain of a fetus and newborn, it’s now accepted that neurogenesis occurs even in the mature brains of adults. The primary part of the brain where this neurogenesis occurs is the hippocampus, which is located under the cerebral cortex in the medial temporal lobe. The hippocampus is critically important for short-term and long-term memory, spatial navigation, and the regulation of emotions. Interestingly, it is one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain on Exercise
The hippocampus also contains high levels of glucocorticoid receptors, which makes it more vulnerable to long-term stress than most other areas of the brain. Studies have shown that animals that exercise undergo a sustained increase in neurogenesis in the hippocampus compared to animals that don’t exercise. For example, when mice are given free access to a running wheel for a few months, they have more than twice the number of new cells formed in their brains compared to mice with no access to a running wheel.

Neurogenesis also means that running makes you smarter. Increased interactions between nerve cells means more parts of your brain can communicate with one another. And all this communication fosters what scientists call divergent thinking—what we call thinking outside of the box. A number of studies have shown that running improves fluid intelligence, including problem-solving ability, memory, learning, and pattern recognition. These improvements in cognitive function are even more observable as people age. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that lack of physical activity in the elderly is a risk factor for poor cognitive functioning. It seems that if you want to remain mentally sharp as you age, you had better run, or at least do some form of exercise. Physical activity triggers molecular and cellular changes that support and maintain brain plasticity. Studies have shown that physical activity sustains cerebral blood flow, increases nutrient supply to the brain, and facilitates neurotransmitter metabolism, all of which help you to think better.

[tweetthis]Running makes you smarter because of Increased interactions between nerve cells in your brain.[/tweetthis]

It’s likely that the relationship between physical activity and cognitive performance is reciprocal—increased physical activity leads to better cognitive functioning, and brighter people exercise more. I don’t know that I run because I’m smart or that I’m smart because I run, but I know that running enables me to think in ways that I probably wouldn’t if I didn’t run.

And what about that runner’s high everyone talks about? I swear I must be endorphin-deficient because I don’t ever recall feeling euphoric during or after a run. It turns out that the runner’s high is not due to endorphins after all. Endorphins are released into the blood stream from the pituitary gland and can only marginally enter the brain through the blood-brain barrier. Studies have shown that running activates opioid and cannabinoid receptors, releasing these chemical compounds in the frontolimbic region of the brain after sustained moderate- or high-intensity aerobic exercise. There is a high correlation of opioids and cannabinoids to the perceived euphoria of runners. So when you run, your brain is literally on drugs.

 

Weight Gain, Arrows, and Clapperboards

 

A few years ago, I was standing in the diet and weight-loss book aisle of a bookstore, talking to a woman about losing weight. “I walk 2 miles a day 5 days a week,” she told me, “and I’m still not losing weight.” Sounding like she was frustrated, I tried to explain to her how many calories each mile of walking burns and the “calories out” part of the weight-loss equation. If I had had a pencil and piece of paper with me, I would have drawn her this diagram:

 

Weight gain

 

Following the left arrow in the diagram above and matching up the colors, you can see what carbohydrate, fat, and protein are used for in your body. Carbohydrate is used for fuel by your muscles and exists in your body in two forms: Glucose in your blood and glycogen (a branched chain of glucose molecules, which is the stored form of carbohydrate) in your muscles and liver. Any carbohydrate that you eat is used to replenish blood glucose and muscle and liver glycogen. Protein is used to build things like muscle tissue, enzymes, and other parts of cells that carry out specific functions. Fat is an important component of cell membranes and is used as a fuel, as insulation, and to protect your internal organs. Where things go awry is when you follow the right arrow in the diagram above. If your body doesn’t need to carry out the functions to the left, all of the extra calories from carbohydrate, fat, and protein follow the path of the right arrow and are stored as fat. The 2.1 billion people in the world who are overweight are overweight because the calories they consume follow the path of the right arrow. It’s as simple as that.

Your level of physical activity and your caloric intake are tightly coupled over a wide range of physical activities. However, this tight coupling is lost in people who don’t exercise at all, and caloric intake is inappropriately high, which causes people to gain weight.

The big secret to not gaining weight is to never go down the path of the right arrow. How do you do that? You must create an environment that forces the calories to follow the left arrow. How do you create such an environment? I’m glad you asked.

Running lowers your carbohydrate fuel tank, which creates a metabolic demand because carbohydrate is the muscles’ preferred fuel. Lowering that fuel tank is threatening to the survival of your muscles, so any carbohydrate you eat will be used to refill the tank. The synthesis and storage of glycogen—the refilling of the carbohydrate fuel tank—is controlled by the hormone insulin and the availability and uptake of glucose from the blood. Through its effect on specific proteins that transport glucose, insulin draws glucose from the blood into muscle cells to be stored. The glucose is then used to make new glycogen. The higher the blood insulin concentration and the greater the availability of glucose, the faster glycogen is synthesized and stored.

The same thing happens with protein. When you run, you send a signal to build structural and functional proteins and you cause microscopic damage to the muscle fibers, so the amino acids from any protein you eat will be used to build those structural and functional proteins and repair the damage to the muscle fibers to make them stronger and more durable.

To prevent fat from accumulating on those love handles, you must create a metabolic demand so that the calories are used for other, more important needs. Make the love handles wait. If you are always mobilizing energy for it to be used, you’re not storing it as fat. Running creates the metabolic demands, giving you the director’s clapperboard so that you decide where the calories go. And that is exactly one of the goals of the Run Your Fat Off program—to make you the director of the calorie movie, dictating where your calories go and how they are used.

Cardio is Bad for You

Cardio is bad for you.

CoverI was told today that I can’t be interviewed on a podcast about my new book, RUN YOUR FAT OFF, because I would contradict other guests on the show who have talked about the dangers of excessive cardio. This is what I was told: 

“We have to ensure we stay close to our messaging. We have so many experts on the show talking about the potential damage from excessive cardio and running, I think it would be a negative for us (you and us) to have you on the show, because it would come across as contradictory. I hope you understand.”

Seriously? So I can’t be on a podcast because I may contradict what others have said? 

There is a MOUNTAIN of evidence to show the many physical, psychological, and cognitive benefits of running and other cardio. To be fair, there is some research to suggest that large amounts of endurance training—like running many marathons and ultramarathons over many years—can cause fibrosis of the heart, but that is true for such a small percentage of the population that exercises. Most people will not do any damage to their heart by running, and quite the contrary is true: Running (or other aerobic exercise that sustains a high heart rate) is EXCELLENT for your heart, making it a larger and stronger pump and increasing its stroke volume and cardiac output. Make a bigger, stronger heart and you make a healthier person. Because you cannot live very well or very long without a healthy heart.

This is just the latest issue that has been served on my plate from the fitness industry. The fitness industry really has a problem. They tell people want they want to hear (like cardio is not good for you), make exaggerated claims (lose 10 pounds in 10 days with Diet X), and people talk through their asses without any education behind what they say. I’ve had enough.

If I weren’t so deeply passionate about running and what it can do for a person’s life, I would seek a career in a different industry. That’s one big thing I miss about being in academia. I miss being surrounded by very intelligent, highly-educated people, who seek the truth through experimentation and hypothesis testing. That doesn’t mean that all fitness professionals don’t know what they’re talking about. Certainly there are. But not having someone on a podcast because his message contradicts what previous guests on the show have said is ridiculous, especially when that person has the body of research to back it up. 

It’s going to be hard to spend the next 30 to 40 years dealing with crap like this. I hope you get my new book to learn the truth about weight loss, calories, metabolism, and running. It’s worth a read. I donate ten percent of sales to the American Heart Association in memory of my father and Susan G. Komen for the Cure in memory of my mother. 

https://www.amazon.com/Run-Your-Fat-Off-Running/dp/1621453359

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