Supplements

There are tons of nutritional supplements on the market today, some are beneficial, some scams and some down right unhealthy. See below for a guide of the supplements I recommend taking on a daily basis.

Multivitamin

Hands down, the best way to ensure you get all the essential nutrients you need in the highest quality is to eat a good well balanced diet. Even with a proper diet however is is possible that you may miss some of your daily recommended vitamins and minerals, a multivitamin will help cover these gaps when they arise. It is important to recognize that there is no standard or regulatory definition for multivitamins thus it is extremely important to buy high quality multivitamins that lack fillers and binders. A whole food based vitamin is generally considered healthier than a synthetic vitamin as well.

Photo Credit: PPCORN

Fish Oil

Similar to a multivitamin the best way to consume all the necessary omega-3 fatty acids is through a healthy diet. Unfortunately most western diets do not include enough omega-3 fatty acids and thus a supplement is a good way to ensure you get enough. BodyBuilding.com sites omega-3 fatty acids as being able to support healthy cholesterol levels, boosts your mood and help maintain strong bones.

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Photo Credit: Doctor Murray

Supplements for Working Out

When working out consistently you put an additional stress on your body. I recommend taking a whey protein supplement immediately after lifting weights, as well as a creatine and glutamine supplement daily.  These three supplements in combination help the body to build muscle mass and recover faster. It is important to take high quality supplements with no fillers or binders. Consumer Reports found that many protein powders contain dangerous heavy metals so make sure you do your own homework before putting anything into your body.

Photo Credit: BodyBuilding.com

What supplements do you take, and how do they help promote overall health?

 

Superfoods!

It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s A Superfood!

So what are superfoods anyway? While there is no scientific definition of what a superfood is, it generally refers to a nutrient dense food that is considered to promote positive health. Merriam-Webster defines a superfood as:

a food (such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person’s health <Superfoods increase energy and vitality, regulate cholesterol and blood pressure and may help to prevent or fight cancer and other diseases.— Kathleen Back Brady, Tallahassee (Florida) Democrat, 26 Feb. 2014> <Because açai is rich in polyphenols and other antioxidants, it’s been hailed by some as a superfood or “miracle berry.” — Andrew Weil, Self Healing, October 2006>

Superfoods alone are not the key to a healthy diet, but they can be used to promote positive health.  Try to incorporate as much of these nutrient packed foods into your diet on a daily basis as possible. The majority of superfoods are plant based whole foods which is the key to a proper balanced diet. Below is a list of some of the most popular and most nutrient dense superfoods:

  • beans
  • beats
  • beetroot
  • blueberries
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • chia
  • chocolate
  • cranberries
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • goji berries
  • greek yogurt
  • green tea
  • kale
  • leeks
  • lentils
  • oatmeal
  • oily fish
  • pistachios
  • pomegranate
  • pumpkins
  • quinoa
  • salmon
  • spinach
  • strawberries
  • watermelon
  • wheatgrass

Many of these same superfoods can be found on the 25 Greatest Superfoods list with a more detailed description of what makes each one so super.

Super Food
Photo Credit: Body Kinetics

What is your favorite superfood?

Trail Running

There has been a major influx in trail runners over the past few years. Active noted that there has been a 36 percent increase over the the last five years in people who consider themselves avid trail runners. Why is it that more and more people are hitting the dirt instead of pounding the pavement? It turns out that trail running offers three huge benefits to road running. Trail running can be easier on your body, it can be a better workout and it offers scenery that can not be seen from any concrete sidewalk.

Health Benefits

Dirt trails can be far more forgiving on joints than concrete sidewalks and asphalt roads. The softer dirt surface helps to alleviate strain on your feet, ankles, shins, knees and hips. running can be hard on the body because of large amounts of repetitive force placed on our joints, running on softer surfaces such as dirt, sand or grass helps to reduce the maximum force on joints and can help promote healthier overall joint health.

Some of the forces that would normally be transmitted from the pavement up to the ankles, knees, shins, and hips are dissipated when the foot hits the ground on the trails because there’s some give there.

Dr. Scott Levin

Trail running is generally done in desolate remote areas removed from cars and building and typically have a high quality of air that you breath during your run as well. Making it healthier for both your joints and your lungs.

Training Benefits

There are two main performance benefits to trail running. Trail running typically involves a lot more hills that road running and will thus help build more muscle and power. Trail running also recruits stabilizing muscles that would not be used as much on a flat stable concrete side walk.  The imperfections of an uneven dirt trail helps strengthen these supporting muscles and ultimately increases overall ankle strength.

Running over uneven and varied surfaces makes the muscles of the lower leg work especially hard; think specific strength training for the lower leg muscles. I recently noticed how sore my lower legs were after a competing in an off-road multi-sport event. The tendons, ligaments and muscles all get stronger in response to this type of stress.

Matt Russ

Scenery

Finally and arguably the most valuable is the scenery involved with trail running. There is something special and relaxing about being able to remove yourself from the modern world and its distractions. Trails are an excellent way to get away from the busy city and allow yourself to connect with wilderness.

Photo by Reebok Fitness

Are you a trail runner or a road runner? Comment below which and why.

Stretching

Before beginning any physical activity it is wise to stretch to avoid injury, right? That is what most of us have heard for the majority of our lives. The fact is that stretching before activity may not actually help reduce the risk of injury at all though. If stretching isn’t the answer to avoiding injuring during physically straining activities then what is?

Robert Herbert and Marcos Noronha from the University of Sydney conducted an analysis and concluded that static stretching before exercise has been not been shown to prevent either overuse or acute sports injuries. Additionally its been found that static stretching before exercise can actually have a negative impact on performance. This negative impact may be due to muscle exhaustion while holding a stretch.

How to Avoid Injuries

To avoid injury during exercise it is recommended to spend additional time warming up and less time performing static stretches. Ideally, depending on the intensity of the exercise being performed you would warm up for at east 15 minutes followed by dynamic stretching. After the exercise, while your body is warm, it is then recommended to perform static stretches. Static stretching at this time helps improve overall flexibility and allows your body to cool down and your heart rate to drop post exercise.

 

 

brooke thomas, stretching, flexibility, mobility, stretching doesn't work
Photo by Breaking Muscle

How Much to Stretch

Flexibility is essential for avoiding injury, but too much of a good thing can be bad. It seems that the more flexible you become the less efficient your muscles also become at generating power. The tightness of your muscles allows them to act like a spring along with your tendons to generate power. A balance is necessary to be flexible enough to avoid injury but not overly flexible where your muscles lose their “natural spring“.

While performing static stretching post exercise, a good rule of thumb is to hold each stretch for 30 seconds. 30 seconds allows your body to reap the benefits of the stretch, whereas 60 seconds does not seem to add much, if any, additional value to your stretches.

Comment below on your stretching routine. What do you do prior to exercise to avoid injury?

To Walk or Not to Walk?

Any time I go for a run with a running group on a particularly steep hill, I hear a lot of comments such as “be sure to conserve your energy on the hills” and “don’t let your pride get in the way of walking the hills”. This always seemed strange to me, is conserving energy a common excuse used among runners so they can walk difficult section of a course without feeling bad about it or does it actually contribute to a faster overall race time? I set out to find the answer.

The justifications I have heard for walking up particularly steep sections of hills always boils down to energy conservation. I found that it can actually be beneficial to your overall race time to walk some hills in some situations. It is very similar to coming out too fast in a race. When you come out with too fast of a pace in a race and expend too much energy you can not maintain as past a pace over the remainder of the race thus resulting in a slower overall time. Walking up hills is very similar, if you expend too much energy on running them then it is possible that you will not have enough energy for the remainder of the race to get your optimal time. Clearly then, the decision to walk up a hill would depend on, where the hill is in the run, your current fitness level, and many other details.

Photo by Competitor

Even Max King, elite trail runner, walks up hills on occasion. In the 12K 2010 World Mountain Running Championships he managed to be the second American finisher by walking about 1/3rd of a kilometer over the race up particularly steep sections of the course.

I didn’t walk much, but there was a steep two-mile section of which I walked probably 10 percent. I never like to [walk], but sometimes it just makes sense.

-Max King

There are many different ways to walk a hill.  The correct form can be determined based on current fatigue level during the race as well as heart rate. The different variations of walking hills allow your body to recover and conserve energy in unique ways.

Try not to use energy conservation as an excuse during a run to walk because you are tired. When used appropriately in moderation and during the correct circumstances, walking can in fact yield a faster overall pace.

What are your experiences with walking up a steep hill vs powering though? How else do you conserve energy on race day?

You Gotta Tabata

Tabata is a form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). As the name implies this type of training can be quite intense and is recommended for individuals who currently have an intermediate to advanced level of fitness. While intense, this type of workout generates awesome results and is extremely effective at improving your metabolism for over 24 hours which makes it an incredible form of exercise for fat loss. This workout is named after Dr. Izumi Tabata who, with help from Irisawa Koichi, mainstreamed this style of workout by using it to train the Olympic Japanese speed skating team.

Tabata is an extremely simple yet strenuous exercise technique. It consists of 20 seconds of all out 100 % intensity work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. This 30 second cycle is repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes. Although 4 minutes is a short time, this workout can be quite difficult.  This short rest period doesn’t allow your heart rate to fully recover and thus results in significant aerobic and anaerobic gains. A typical Tabata session will consist of four to five of these 4 minute rounds separated by a 1 minute rest period.

One beautiful thing about Tabata training is that the exercise performed at full intensity can be any exercise you would like. See below for a few recommended exercise options. Note that some are significantly harder than others to perform for 20 seconds at a time for 8 cycles. This variety of possible exercises allows you to work your full body each workout and allows for significant variation between workouts.

  • Jumping Lunges
  • Standard Lunges
  • Air Squats
  • Weighted Squats
  • Burpees
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Planks
  • Sit-Ups
  • Crunches
  • Leg Raises
  • Push-Ups
  • Pull-Ups
  • Kettlebell Swings
  • Cardio (Running, Stairs, Rowing, Jump Rope etc.)
  • Curls
  • Dips

Above is just a sample of the many exercises that you could perform. Compound exercises are a good choice, since they work multiple muscle groups at once.

Photo by Elevate Interval Fitness

A good example routine could be:

  1. Air Squats
  2. Mountain Climbers
  3. Jumping Lunges
  4. Sit-Ups
  5. Burpees

If the above workout doesn’t leave you completely exhausted then you did not perform it at a high enough intensity. Try your luck with a Tabata routine and leave a comment below on your thoughts.

Heart Rate Training

Tracking your heart rate during your workouts is an excellent way to improve your routine. It is useful to ensure you are training hard enough but also not too hard. It can be a fun metric to track and a good way to see continuous improvement as you continue to train. Heart rate tracking has never been easier than it is today with all the new wearable technologies. Now instead of wearing a chest strap you can track your heart rate with only a watch or fitness tracker, these fitness trackers also allow you to track your heart rate continuously through out the day, not just your work out but also at work and even while sleeping. By tracking your resting heart rate you can also gauge whether or not you are fully recovered from your last workout or if you need more rest to avoid overtraining.

Why train with a heart rate monitor?

Heart rate monitors allow us to track how hard our bodies are actually working. As humans it is hard to judge a workout’s intensity solely on our perceived effort. By tracking our heart rate we can ensure we are working hard enough during intense workouts and also ensure that we are running easy enough during our recovery runs. We can do this by utilizing heart rate zones.

Their easy runs are too hard to fully recover and get the full aerobic benefits they should accrue, while threshold and VO2 max run (the harder, interval sessions) aren’t specific or hard enough to get the full benefits at the top end.

Therefore runners plateau easily and find it hard to achieve significant progress after the first couple of years of training.

-Tom Craggs

How to train with a heart rate monitor

To effectively use a heart rate monitor during training you should use heart rate zones. You will need to calculate your hear rate zones, and these will primarily be dependent on your age and current fitness level. Once you have determined your heart rate zones then you can take them to the pavement with you. On all your recovery runs ensure that your heart rate is within your recovery heart rate zone, this may feel slower than you are used to running your recovery runs in but that is the beauty of using a heart rate monitor, you will now truly be running at a pace that will allow your body to recover. The same is true for endurance runs, VO2 max runs etc. Whatever your plan is for your workout look up the corresponding heart rate zone and be sure to stay within the zone the entire workout.

Comment below how you like to use your heart rate monitor.