For the vast, vast majority of the time that our species has been on this planet, we spent our time out of doors and burning a tremendous amount of calories as a result of daily life. Our activities were chiefly geared towards survival… building shelter, gathering food, hunting animals, and finding a way to use whatever we came across to our advantage. We existed this way for tens of thousands of years.
It is a relatively new phenomenon in which we find our state of existence today – one of comfort instead of merely scraping to survive. Food is no longer a scarce commodity for most of us. And certainly the majority of us don’t expend any more energy than it takes to drive to the grocery store or to a local restaurant in order to procure that food.
One problem is that, genetically speaking, it takes a long time for changes to occur that allow us to adapt to new circumstances. And the time that we have been able to acquire food without burning calories is really just a few ticks on the cosmic clock. This is one of the major reasons why we suffer from so much obesity and chronic disease today.
It will pay to also keep in mind that building muscle along with burning calories is vital – the number one marker of aging is loss of muscle mass! Every single disease of aging is one way or another affected by exercise… either by instructing the body to use sugar appropriately or shifting the balance from storing fat to using it for energy to build muscle.
The way to address this is to better understand the kind of exercise and activity that our bodies are geared to respond to most efficiently and to make sure that we are getting all of the “materials” required to build, and recover from, as a result of those activities.
The exercise piece is pretty simple, and I want to highlight just a few facts that should be remembered…
1) The kind of exercise that we are genetically geared to benefit from is interval training.
Back in caveman times, our activities consisted of short bursts of intense exercise separated by periods of milder exertions. Our heart rate and blood pressure would have spiked and dipped – and, indeed, research now shows that the wider range of heart rate and blood pressure that we can achieve within an exercise session results in better cardiac health and fat loss.
The idea of going out and running for an extended period of time at the same rate of speed (resulting in a consistent heart rate, although elevated) is foreign to our bodies, genetically speaking. In fact, the rush of endorphins that happens after a period of this sort of exercise, known as the “runner’s high”, is actually the body preparing to die. As cavemen, if we went out and ran for 6 miles without stopping, that was an indication that whatever animal was chasing us wasn’t quitting and the rush of endorphins was actually the body giving us a temporary state of euphoria before we got mauled.
So, you can adapt whatever your favorite activity is into interval training by doing it intensely for short bursts separated by longer periods of less intense activity. It seems that a 1:3 ratio of time in this pattern works well. One way to make sure that you are doing it properly is to monitor your heart rate to verify that your heart rate is spiking while doing your burst and then coming down to a baseline during the less active phase.
2) It is imperative that you spend half of your exercise time in muscle-building activities.
Maintaining your muscle mass affords various metabolic advantages as you age.
One is that the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn while you are sitting around not doing anything. This is called your basal metabolic rate. It takes more energy to maintain muscle mass – and so you will be able to offset more consumed calories when you have more muscle.
The second is that as you age it is actually your own muscle mass that is a major source of amino acids that your body will use to make other important components – like enzymes, brain chemistry and immune system constituents. So having more muscle tissue helps stave off chronic disease and age-related decline.
The nutrition aspect can seem daunting, but there are a few general principles to understand, and then apply those principles to you in your particular situation.
1) A matter or materials to needed to build.
Even if you hire the best workers, you can’t build a house without bricks and mortar and planks, etc. By exercising, you are in a sense instructing your body to build. The materials that are necessary to do that building are amino acids.
Proteins are nothing more than unique, long chains of amino acids. The job of digestion is to ultimately break those long chains down into individual amino acids so that they may get absorbed through the gut. Then, your body will take those individual amino acids and “re-assemble” them (using your unique blueprint) into different proteins – you! These may come in the form of enzymes, brain chemicals, immune factors… and many, many different cells, including muscle cells.
My belief is that many active people do not get enough protein in their diets for optimal building and recovery from their activities, workouts and athletic endeavors. My rule of thumb is that you should get somewhere between .5 g and 1 g of protein per pound of body weight… the more active you are the more you need (Elite athletes may require as much as 2g/lb of body weight).
So an active, 130-pound woman should probably strive for at least 100g of protein a day. A typical 180-pound guy should be getting more like 150g/day.
There are simple computer programs that can be downloaded for you to monitor your diet and the amount of protein that you are ingesting in a day. This becomes even more important if you notice that you are not performing well, recovering well, or responding to your exercise as you had expected.
One convenient way of getting extra protein in your diet is to supplement with a high-quality protein shake. A purified Whey Protein is a great way to get extra protein in a form that the body will readily absorb and use. Vegetarians can use an equally high-quality shake called Plant Fusion.
2) You are what you eat… AND ABSORB.
Many people make the mistake of assuming that if they eat 40g of protein (a 6 ounce piece of chicken or fish) that they actually make full use of those 40g.
This is likely not true for many of us. Why? Because our digestion doesn’t work as efficiently as it should. This can happen for many reasons, including; lack of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid, poor eating habits, interference by many prescription or over-the-counter medicines, and even simple aging.
The easiest way to remedy this problem is to take a plant-based digestive enzyme when you eat. I don’t even think of this as supplementation – it is more like “replenishment” – you are adding back to the food what was removed when that foods was cooked and/or processed.
3) Supply the materials at the right time!
An optimal time to supply some amino acids for building and repair is soon after a workout or physical exertion. This is a great time to have your protein shake – about 30 minutes after you work out.
However, there is an often missed physiological fact that, when ignored, can make it harder to build, repair and recover from your exertions. Your body has a harder time using amino acids to build muscle when those muscles are in an acidic state. So doing something to alkalinize your system immediately after a workout, and then taking your protein shake 30 minutes later, will help you make quicker and more substantial gains. My favorite product for this is called Greens First that contains the equivalent of 15 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables all in a tasty powder.
A scoop of Greens First in some water immediately after working out, and then some protein 30 minutes later, will have you in prime condition to recover from your workout, build muscles as a result of that workout, and have you ready for your next workout in quicker fashion than you ever experienced before.
Lastly, there are a few other factors that need to be discussed in regards to your body’s performance in working out.
1) What you lose in sweat needs to be replaced – before you lose it!
Sweating is the mechanism by which your body attempts to cool down in the face of increase core temperature from your exertions.
But sweat is not just water – it also contains electrolytes – very important minerals that need to be replaced – sodium, potassium and magnesium are the key ones. Of those, I would say that magnesium is the poor stepsister that gets ignored by most of the common sports drinks.
My favorite sports replacement drink is called Endura. The reason I like is so much is because it contains an aggressive amount of magnesium, along with potassium, sodium, and malic acid (for extra energy) and a form of sugar that resists the spike and crash that the other drinks can cause.
I recommend drinking 16 ounces of Endura starting a few minutes before your workout (or game) and into the beginning of your workout. This will, in essence, give you some energy and a head start on replacing your electrolytes before you even lose them. You will see a noticeable difference in your workout and your recovery.
If you get leg or foot cramps at night, that is likely an indication that you are not replacing your electrolytes appropriately – and you will see a difference within days of adopting this practice.
2) There are alternative sources of “energy” for your workout.
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are a form of fat that is readily absorbed through the digestive track and quickly transported to the liver where it is used for energy. This is an “alternative” source of energy (other than sugar) that can be used during workouts.
Coconut Oil is the best source of MCTs and I recommend putting a teaspoonful on MCT OIL into your Endura drink before you work out – you will notice better energy and endurance during the workout and less of a tendency to get sore muscles.
Following these simple rules will have you primed to perform, build and recover from your workout or athletic pursuits like never before!