Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Guru Who Should Know Better

If there's one thing I've learned in my dozen or so years in the fitness industry, it's that there are very few, if any aspects of nutrition and fitness that are black and white.

That is why I was very surprised to read the opinions (stated as fact) of a well-known author of a weight training book (whose name shall remain anonymous - this individual is a bestselling author and an advocate of super-slow training).

The topic was on exercise - particularly cardiovascular exercise and how it may cause joint damage. I actually didn't disagree with the original blog post, although the comments that ensued prompted me to ask some questions. That's where things got interesting...

To preface - I am very pro-weight training. Lifting weights is probably the single best intervention for improving function, body composition (lowering body fat) and keeping posture, hormone balance and longevity intact. This is where he and I agree, and then it happened...

The author in question began making some curious claims - without qualification (my comments in italics)

"Too much joint movement wears out the joint faster"

No qualification, no acknowledgement of the complexity of joint degradation. There are many predisposing factors to joint wear that this individual glossed over. To simply state that using the joints too much causes them to wear out is ill-informed.

"Adding cardio after strength training will not provide additional physiological benefits"

A curious statement to say the least as burning additional calories will contribute to the deficit necessary to attain fat loss. Further, there are numerous health benefits to adding cardio to a comprehensive health program.

The debate then switched to what constituted "health markers". Here are some more gems from this guy:

"Lower resting heart rate and higher Vo2 (a measure of oxygen distribution capacity) are NOT health benefits and could be a detriment."

Hmmmm... in the words of Carl Sagan, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I asked him if he had any data to back up this rather lofty and unconventional claim. (note: I'm okay with unconventional provided there is provenance, plausible theories or some repeated clinical findings). He presented none of this, insisting instead that I produce evidence that cardio impacts any markers that weights does not - a point that I never argued against. What I DID contend, however is that cardio impacted certain health markers to a GREATER DEGREE than did weight training (a contention to which I provided evidence for). It would only stand to reason then, that a combination of the two (and sound diet, of course) would produce the most optimal cardiovascular results.

His response after I posted studies... I "pick and chose and ignored the other evidence". Funny how he provided NONE of this supposed "contrary evidence". Not only did he not provide any evidence to the contrary, he went on to say that "the degree (of which a health marker is changed) is unimportant. Another curious blanket statement considering that there are varying degrees of "high".

He also claims;

"Weight training lowers blood pressure as much as cardio"

Great, show me the evidence....(crickets chirping)

I also provided ample studies showing an inverse relationship between mortality and high vo2 as well as resting heart rate as an independent risk factor for mortality and cardiac events (these supposed "non-factors when it comes to health). For good measure, I provided evidence of cardio training lowering markers of inflammation, blood lipids and blood glucose.

Here's another one of his assertions regarding exercise and the joints:

"It is proven beyond a doubt that millions of aerobically-active people are injured and require surgery"

It is also "proven beyond a doubt" that many people who eat rice have black hair, but I'm not going to go around telling people that eating rice causes you to have black hair. You would also think that "proven beyond a doubt" would mean that there are reams upon reams of studies demonstrating such.... still nothing. He presented anecdotes, conjecture and heresy to defend this one. Further, he made no qualification regarding predispositions, types of "aerobics", intensities or durations - all important factors to consider when making such a claim.

To be clear - excessive and otherwise inappropriate aerobic training can lead to joint wear/pain in predisposed individuals. To claim, however that wear is an inevitability - regardless of predisposing factors is careless and completely misguided. I provided a study showing that individuals showed IMPROVED joint function with walking.

He ended by making a pseudo-qualification to one of his arguments, but disguised it such a way that it didn't look like he agreed with me. I made one last request for evidence (after a follower of his tried to unsuccessfully defend his untenable arguments). It ended with him telling me I had stooped to "jabs and barbs" (a response to me calling his claims as "glib generalities").

To Summarize

Weight training is awesome. Weight training in addition to healthy eating and cardio will supply benefits above and beyond just weight training. Well-planned programming is key and one must be careful not to overdo things and to incorporate variety.

There is no room for blanket statements in the world of exercise. It's also imortant to look at the evidence objectively and not let the pendulum swing too far the other way.
I don't make a point to go out of my way to question people, but I do hold people who write books on the subject to higher standards. Also, upon browsing this guys blog archives, he seems to have no qualms about ripping those he disagrees with, whilst cherry picking information that supports his views.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Book worth a Look

If you haven't had a chance to read "In Defense of Food - An Eater's Manifesto" by Michael Pollan, do yourself a giant favour and pick it up. Hidden amongst the endless reams of mediocrity that is the "diet books" section of your bookstore, Pollan's book shows where we went wrong and delves deep into the complicated aspects of modern diet. He also gives great ideas on how to reverse our eating patterns.

This isn't about dieting, losing weight, increasing performance but more about getting back to "real" food and rediscovering the joy of eating. These are monumental steps towards healthy eating and will help anyone no matter what their goals.

Here's a list of things we can do to set a course for healthier eating (from the book and as published in Diet-Blog):

Don't eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food

Our mothers and grandmothers are likely as confused as we are about food. We need to go back a couple of generations to get past the era of modern food. Pollan uses the example of tubes of flavoured yogurt. Heck, I wouldn’t have recognized those 110 years ago!

Avoid food products that make health claims

For a product to make health claims on its package, it must first have a package, so right off the bat it is more likely to be a processed than a whole food. If they have to try and convince us it’s healthy, it’s usually not. Real foods make health claims, but for the most part it is the products of food science that make the boldest claims, and these are often founded on incomplete or erroneous science.

Get out of the supermarket

The supermarket, the convenience store and fast-food outlets are the best places to avert a life-shortening western diet. It is hard to eat badly from a farmers' market, from a weekly organic vegetable box or from your garden. I personally believe you don’t have to avoid the supermarket, but rather it’s a good idea to avoid most of the processed products that are sold there. It is never a bad idea to frequent farmers markets as you’ll get more locally grown goods.

Eat mostly plants, especially leaves

Almost everybody agrees that plants are really good for you. Without plants, for example, we would be hard-pressed to get enough vitamin C, an essential nutrient that humans long ago lost the ability to synthesize themselves. Aside from what’s in the plants – eating more plant foods means you’re eating less of other unhealthy and otherwise caloric fare.

Eat wild foods when you can

Two of the most nutritious plants in the world are weeds - fat-hen (also known as lamb's quarters) and purslane. Wild greens tend to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than their domesticated cousins. Wild animals, too, are worth adding to your diet when you have the opportunity, if you can be sure you are not putting further pressure on endangered species. Game generally has less saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids than domesticated animals and wild fish generally have higher levels of omega-3s than farmed fish.

Don't look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet

Scientists have spent an exhaustive amount of hours trying to tease out the disease-fighting components of particular diets. Yet when researchers extract a single food from a diet of proven value, it usually fails to adequately explain why the people living on that diet live longer or have lower rates of heart disease or cancer than those eating a modern western diet. The whole of a dietary pattern is evidently greater than the sum of its parts.

Eat less

Calorie restriction has repeatedly been shown to slow aging in animals, and some researchers believe it is the single strongest link between a change in the diet and the prevention of cancer. The people of Okinawa, for example, one of the longest-lived and healthiest populations in the world, practice a principle they call hara hachi bu: eat until you are 80% full.

Eat meals

We are snacking more and eating fewer meals together. Americans have added to the traditional big three "eating occasions" - breakfast, lunch and dinner - an as-yet-untitled fourth that lasts all day long: the constant sipping and snacking while watching TV, driving, and so on.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Are Fad Diets Fading?

Popular diets seem to have faded lately - a trend noted by Jim Foster, editor of Diet Blog. A recent study has confirmed his suspicions.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

It's about time!

I know, I know, I'm supposed to have a blog because hey, it's the "thing to do". I drag myself kicking and screaming into the world of blogging with some trepidation, but with some excitement as well. I currently write for Diet-Blog and this will continue to be my priority source of blogging (highly recommend checking it out). As a result, this blog will operate on a somewhat unpredictable schedule - when I have a spare minute/need to vent... that sort of thing.

The aim of this blog is to provide useful information about achieving optimal health and losing body fat. My goal is to reach as many people as possible with information and inspiration to help change lives. Oh, and there will be some opinionated rants and controversy thrown in for good measure!

My posts will range from issues of fat loss, health, fitness, performance and nutrition to the occasional sports and entertainment rant. They will include my thoughts, but also links to stories, studies and otherwise interesting and/or useful stuff.

This blog will also replace my health bulletin. I sincerely thank all those who subscribed to it (and those who had it mercilessly dumped into their inboxes unsolicited). I sincerely thank you for reading this blog and hope you find the information educational, applicable and inspiring. I invite you to share your thoughts, suggestions and questions.

The journey of optimal health is a highly individual one - let's find the right path together!