Client Success Story – Allyson

Name: Allyson
Age: 26
Height: 5’7″
 
Allyson’s Training Program
Allyson came to me as a former athlete, but with an injured back and suboptimal metabolic markers. She wasn’t as strong as she wanted to be and in some areas she was lacking significantly (i.e., unable to perform an unassisted pull-up or chin-up). Her schedule was such that she couldn’t train regularly at a specific time, so she opted for an 8-week cycle of remote coaching where I programed for her and gave her feedback based on the videos she uploaded to the web. As detailed below, after training with me for 8 weeks she increased strength, got rid of her back pain, and improved her metabolic markers.

Duration of Training
One 8-Week Cycle (performed remotely) based on the Starting Strength methodology.
 
 
 
 
 
Before & After Statistics
 
Starting Weight for Lifts (lbs):
Squat 95x5x3, Press 65×5×3, Bench Press 50x5x3, Deadlift 135×5, Chin-Ups: Unable to do any at all.
 
Ending Weight for Lifts (lbs):
Squat 170x5x3, Press 72.5x5x3, Bench Press 85x5x3, Deadlift 185×5, Chin-Ups: Able to do both an unassisted chin-up and pull-up strict.
 
CrossFit Total Maxes (lbs):
Squat: 225×1, Press: 92.5×1, Deadlift: 240×1. Total = 557.5


In Her Own Words
 
As a former athlete, I’m no stranger to hard work and dedication. However, as I entered PA school that hard work and dedication was transferred to my studies and my patients. After graduating and settling into my first job I knew it was time to get back to focusing on my health. Practice what you preach right? I had some brief exposure to CrossFit years earlier as a good friend of mine owns a local box in Virginia. I started at Solace New York and within a month knew I needed to step back and focus on proper form and my strength. With my schedule the traditional strength cycle wasn’t an option but Hayden’s remote training program was perfect. We went over the proper form at the beginning of the cycle and throughout the cycle I filmed each lift at my working weight for the day. Hayden gave great feedback online and occasionally in person if we happened to be at the gym at the same time.

There are such great mental and physical benefits to this type of training. I injured my back performing CPR for an extended period of time during school and since then have struggled with nerve pain down my right leg. I received an epidural that I was told would help with the problem for several months. It did just that. The nerve pain returned. At 26 I did not want to rely on medication for back pain. After the Starting Strength program I am completely pain free. Strengthening the muscles around the vertebrae and discs is vitally important for everyone’s longevity, but especially for those of us who have suffered an injury.

In addition to physical strength, this type of training really does have an impact on overall health. Hypercholesterolemia runs in my family. I had testing several months prior to the starting strength cycle and again just after its completion. My total cholesterol dropped over 50 points with a drastic reduction in LDL and a slight increase in HDL. Additionally I cut my triglycerides in half. Starting Strength and an improved diet made those changes possible. You can’t always fight biology but you can sure set yourself up for the best possible outcome.

I’m incredibly happy with what I’ve gained but I know my best is yet to come. I plan on many more cycles, both Powerlifting and Olympic lifting. The process is addicting. I can’t stay away for long. Seeing what your body is capable of is such a joy and being the one asked to open the pickle jar… priceless.
 



Allyson getting her first Chin-Up & Pull-Up towards the end of her remote strength cycle.

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Does CrossFit Impair Attentive Processes?

I recently caught up on the published literature pertaining to CrossFit training and decided to highlight this particular study (Perciavalle et al., 2016) as it possesses significant problems in both experimental design and results interpretation. This study sought to determine if CrossFit training results in negative effects on attention-related activities by virtue of high blood lactate levels. The underlying rationale is that high lactate levels were previously associated with negative effects on cognition (attention, memory) and CrossFit is known to raise lactate levels. Therefore, high levels of lactate may correlate with impaired cognitive ability.

The Takehome: This study presents us with many problems, the first of which is the premise. Asking whether CrossFit training will lead to attention deficits isn’t very novel. It’s known that exertion/fatigue impair cognitive function (memory, reaction time, etc.) So, the study hangs specifically on whether blood lactate levels can be correlated with poor attentional performance. However, the design does not use a correlation (regression) analysis – it compares means. In addition, the statistics applied to the comparison of the means (ANOVA) is inappropriate since the groups are simply different time points measured on the same individuals. An ANOVA requires that the groups be independent. Finally, the pool of participants had higher than normal baseline (before testing) lactate levels and were all on creatine supplementation, thereby adding additional variables the study did not explain or control for. Fortunately, the result of this study, that CrossFit training temporarily (until 15 minutes after training) impairs attentional performances, is not really novel or surprising. Therefore, the design and interpretation issues that cast doubt on the validity of this result won’t affect the broader field of study much at all.

STUDY DETAILS
Experimental Design:

  • 15 male CrossFitters were recruited for this study.
  • All participants were consuming Creatine daily (mean: 3.80+/-0.62g).
  • The CrossFit WOD 15.1 was used as the training stimulus. It consisted of 27-21-15-9 reps of Rowing (calories) and Thrusters (43kg barbell).
  • Measurements were taken at three time points: 5 min before the WOD, when the WOD ended, and 15 minutes after the WOD ended.
  • Physiological measurements included blood lactate and glucose levels.
  • Cognitive measurements included 1) Attention and Concentration Tasks (ACT) which is a series of tasks performed on a computer, 2) a Reaction Time (RT) test based on how quickly the participant can indicate when a symbol appears on a computer monitor, and 3) a selectivity of attention test was used which assessed audio and visual recognition while attention was split across two tasks.
  • A 1-way ANOVA was used to compare differences among groups (time points).

Results:

  • Levels of blood lactate before the training were significantly higher than levels that normally occur at rest.
  • Blood lactate levels increased significantly by the end of the training workout and returned to baseline by 15 minutes after.
  • Blood glucose did not change significantly as a result of training.
  • Reaction time, execution time, number of omissions, and number of errors were significantly increased at the end of training compared to before training. These values all returned to levels similar to baseline by 15 minutes after training.

Limitations:

  • No women were examined in this study (only men) and the age of the participants was not listed.
  • All participants were taking Creatine as a supplement, so any conclusions drawn can only be of the effect of CrossFit training AND Creatine supplementation. We cannot say the effect of CrossFit alone.
  • Use of a 1-Way ANOVA for statistical analysis assumes that the groups being compared are independent. If the same individuals are compared/present in all groups (as they were here), this violates the rules for use of an ANOVA. So, this approach is inappropriate. A repeated measures approach should have been used.
  • The question (hypothesis) being asked isn’t tested properly. To test for correlations between lactate levels and attention deficits, a regression analysis should have been conducted, not a comparison of means.
  • The conclusion of the study (athletes with high blood lactate before training who partake of CrossFit will have their attentional performances limited), does not match the question (hypothesis) of the study. It is a re-purposing of the work after the fact.
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Are You Training? Get A Notebook!

After all these years, one thing I constantly find myself saying to my clients/athletes is, “Get a notebook.” I want them to have a physical record of what they are doing when they take class or do sessions with me. Even when I give explanations as to why it’s important, my conversion rate is low. To be fair, there are many more reasons to have a notebook than can be said in a quick discussion. Therefore, I decided to write this article to explain in more detail why a notebook is so important.

The Assumption – Training, Not Exercising: There is an important assumption I have made when writing what follows below. The assumption is that when you go to a gym or take a fitness class you are training, not exercising. Exercise is physical activity with no purpose or desired outcome. Exercise lacks goals. Exercise is activity that will make you sweat, that isn’t part of any particular program, that you may be doing because you like the way it feels, but when all is said and done may not even make you healthier. Exercise doesn’t need a program or a coach because it is not directed towards any outcome. If, on the other hand, you have a goal (improve metabolic markers, improve body composition, get stronger, develop a new skill), then to achieve it you must partake in structured physical activity, which is referred to as training.

Why You Should Have a Physical Notebook: There are a variety of reasons you should have a physical notebook if you are training:

It Helps You Keep Track of Things You Learn. During each training session or class you may receive some interesting pieces of information or some tips on how you can improve. For example,

  • Your Coach gives you a better way to break up your reps in a conditioning piece.
  • You get a tip on how to make that first muscle-up easier.
  • Your Coach recommends a different scaling option.
  • You realize you need to use self-spotting arms now and have to remember what pin holes they should go in.
  • Your form is a bit off on a movement and you have to remember to work on it.
  • You realize you perform better when you take an extra warm-up set in your heavy squats.
  • Your Coach explains how a specific type of mobility is holding you back on your front squats and gives you a routine to improve.
  • Your progress/score in class requires that you write a score for each 30 second work interval during your 10 sec rest periods.

If you write the above notes down in your notebook they will be there to remind you in future sessions. You’ll see them as you flip through your notebook. If you don’t have a notebook to write the observations in, you will be leaving it up to chance if you’ll remember them correctly (or at all)…and odds are you won’t.

It Helps You Take Your Next Step. What you do in each training session is dependent upon what you did in prior sessions. For example,

  • 70% of your 1RM.
  • 5lbs heavier than last time.
  • 80% of your max heart rate.
  • Aim for more reps than last time.

The above are all common training directives that reference past performances. Using a notebook will make sure this information is available when you need it. Otherwise, you’ll just be guessing, and more times than not you will overshoot or undershoot what is appropriate for you.

It Helps You Track The Unexpected. Maybe when you started training things didn’t go as planned that day. Maybe you weren’t feeling good from something you ate or from not getting enough sleep. You might be able to still train, but your performance might be less than ideal. If you make a note of this in your notebook, you’ll be able to refer back to it and plan future sessions properly (i.e, not changing your programming because you just had an off day). Similarly, if you’re having a particularly good day and you decide to change things a bit (i.e., going heavier/harder), you’ll want to make a note of that so that in the future you don’t mistake that day for a typical one.

It Has Nostalgic Value. There’s nothing like going through your bookcase years in the future and thumbing through your old training notebooks. The notebooks will literally have your blood, sweat and tears in the pages. It’s a great feeling.

But I Record My Training Online. A Notebook Is Redundant!: This is a common remark nowadays because there are many online platforms for delivering workouts and tracking training data. The way I see it, just because you track your training online doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a physical notebook too. I regularly track my training data online, but I also have a physical notebook. Here’s why:

Technology Can Fail. Servers can crash or go down for maintenance. In addition, cellular and wifi networks can go down or have connectivity/reception issues. This can make accessing your digital training information inconsistent, hard, or even impossible. If you are trying to access or upload information and you run into one of these problems, you start wasting valuable training time. Also, there’s really no guarantee that any online data is safe. So, think of your physical notebook as a fail-safe master copy.

Technology Is Slow. It is substantially quicker to jot notes down in your physical notebook compared to unlocking your phone, launching an app, finding the right place to write your notes, typing the notes in and then saving the notes. The same kind of time investment occurs when you use online tracking platforms to retrieve your information. Extra time is taken each way. And if you do intense conditioning, you certainly don’t want to be accessing your phone when you’re drenched in sweat, dazed and confused.

Summary: To sum things up, if you are training, get a physical notebook. If you’re not training and only exercising, then you can’t complain about not getting results, not developing skills, and so on. Well, of course you can complain, but your Coach is going to give you side-eye for the reasons listed above. On a more philosophical note, if we ignore goal achievement for the moment, training means you are on a journey and that you are trying to be better than who you were yesterday. It’s really about trying to become the best version of yourself that you can be. In other words, it’s growth process and a physical notebook is a symbolic reminder of this process. There’s always another page, chapter, or book waiting to be filled.

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Different Adaptations to Exercise in Young and Older Adults

Although the health benefits of exercise are indisputable, the cellular and molecular mechanisms are not fully understood. In addition, the extent to which these mechanisms differ among different types of exercise and in different populations (e.g., younger and older) remains unclear. A recent study by Robinson and others in Cell Metabolism examined the molecular changes taking place in young and older adults after conducting different forms of exercise: Resistance Training, High Intensity Interval Training, and Combined Training.

The Takehome: The different training modalities all improved markers for health and fitness, but in slightly different ways. High Intensity Training yielded the greatest changes, improving cardio-respiratory fitness, insulin sensitivity, mitochondrial respiration and fat-free mass in both young and older groups. Resistance Training improved fat-free mass, leg strength and insulin sensitivity in both age groups. This is an important point as most people believe metabolic parameters cannot be improved without metabolic conditioning (aerobic/anaerobic training). Here we see that in both young and older individuals, insulin sensitivity can be improved with resistance training. Combined training (which was actually aerobic training and lower volume strength training) improved cardio-respiratory fitness, fat-free mass and leg strength in both age groups, but only improved insulin sensitivity and mitochondrial respiration in the younger age group. Since this “combined group” was not a simple combination of the two other groups, it is unclear if this decrease in effectiveness in the older group resulted from a switch to aerobic training, the reduction in resistance training volume or a combination of the two. At the molecular level, High Intensity Training resulted in the greatest changes of gene and protein expression in both young and older individuals, particularly for genes associated with mitochondrial function (the energy powerhouse of the cell). Gene expression differences resulting from Resistance Training and Combined training were less numerous than for High Intensity Training and were more prominent in older adults than younger adults. Further studies will be needed to explain the significance of these different gene expression changes in the two age groups, particularly given that one or more changes at the molecular level seldom lead to straight-forward cause and effect behaviors.

STUDY DETAILS
Experimental Design:

  • Two age groups were studied. Young (18-30 years) and Older (65-80).
  • Both groups were relatively evenly balanced with males and females.
  • Three exercise modalities were assessed: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Resistance Training (RT) and Combined Training (CT).
  • HIIT consisted of 3 days/week on a cycle ergometer with 4 cycles of 4 min high intensity (>90%) and 3 min active rest (light pedaling).
  • RT consisted of numerous machine and free weight exercises performed within 60 minutes 4 days/week. Mon and Thurs were the lower body days. Tues and Fri were the upper body days. Total sets increased in number from 2 to 4 over the course of the study and repetitions were in the 8-12 range.
  • CT was actually not a combination of the two prior modalities. It consisted of 30 minutes of cycling at 70% of each participant’s VO2max 5 days a week and a RT program similar to the RT group above, but with fewer exercises.
  • The exercise/training period was 12 weeks and measurements were taken 72 hours after the last training session.

Results:

  • HIIT training improved cardio-respiratory fitness, insulin sensitivity, mitochondrial respiration and fat-free mass in both young and older groups.
  • RT improved fat-free mass, leg strength and insulin sensitivity in both age groups.
  • CT improved cardio-respiratory fitness, fat-free mass and leg strength in both age groups, but only improved insulin sensitivity and mitochondrial respiration in the younger age group.
  • Only HIIT improved aerobic capacity.
  • HIIT resulted in the largest gene expression changes regardless of age.
  • In older adults, HIIT resulted in greater gene expression changes than RT and CT.
  • 11 genes that were down regulated with age were upregulated after HIIT training in older adults.
  • Only HIIT increased mitochondrial protein synthesis in both younger and older participants.
  • RT and CT produced increases in mitochondrial protein levels in older groups only.

Limitations:

  • Training history of the participants was not assessed.
  • Combined training was actually a different type of training. Instead of combining HIIT training with RT, the authors directed participants to perform aerobic training 5 days per week and the resistance training they did in combination was of a lower volume than found in the RT group.
  • Because the CT group was a different stimulus althogether, we cannot say if the reduced effectiveness of this modality (particularly in older adults) is due to the switch to aerobic training, the reduction in resistance training volume or the combination of the two.
  • Just because genes are upregulated, doesn’t mean that the upregulation of those genes has beneficial effects on health.
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Client Success Story – Dan

Name: Dan
Age: 33
Height: 5′ 10″

Dan’s Training Program
Dan came to me with no formal training history. He had never even done certain basic barbell lifts (squat, deadlift). His major goals were to get instruction in proper form for the barbell lifts and to get a bit stronger. However, he presented with an added complication of constantly suffering from back pain. With no prior history of injury or serious training, I suspected the pain would disappear as he strengthened his back with proper technique.

Duration of Training
One 9-Week Cycle based on the Starting Strength methodology.
 
 
 
 
 
Before & After Statistics
 
Starting Weight: 150
Ending Weight: 165
 
Starting Weight for Lifts (lbs):
Squat 95x5x3 (with difficulty keeping knees out), Press 65×5×3, Bench Press 105x5x3, Deadlift 110×5 (with difficulty setting back and regular back pain), Power Clean 65×3×5
 
Ending Weight for Lifts (lbs):
Squat 165×5, Press 90×5, Bench Press 145x5x3, Deadlift 180×5 (with no more back pain), Power Clean 100×3×5


In His Own Words
 
One day I was fed up with being unhealthy and decided to make a change. I joined a gym and found a 5 day split weightlifting program. I was committed and didn’t miss a day at the gym for the first two months. I felt much better but I wasn’t making any progress. My weight remained flat at 150lbs and I wasn’t getting stronger.

I did some research and discovered the Starting Strength Program. I really liked the linear progression model but I was hesitant for safety reasons. I had constant lower back pain and was afraid that lifting heavy free weights might make it worse. That’s when I decided to train with Hayden so I could learn proper technique and minimize risk of injury.

I had never done a squat or deadlift in my life. Hayden took the time to teach me proper technique and ensure that I didn’t injure my back. The results were better than I expected. Over the course of 9 weeks I gained 15 lbs, mastered the major lifts and changed my lifestyle. The best part about it was that my lower back pain completely disappeared. I tried so many different remedies including acupuncture, chiropractors, massage and stretching but nothing helped. Once I strengthened my back, my posture changed and now I’m pain free.

Starting strength was a great program for beginners and I would highly recommend Hayden as an instructor. He is very knowledgeable and professional.

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Metcon Strong – Free Programming for Conditioning

A great deal of the programming I do for my clients, and for myself personally, has a bias towards strength. The primary reasons are as follows: 1) Strength is a general adaptation and its development improves a number of physical attributes and skill sets (Power, Coordination, Balance, etc.). So if you want to get better at life, getting stronger is the best place to start. 2) As humans age we lose bone and muscle mass which leads to numerous chronic conditions later in life. The stronger we are, the less these musculoskeletal issues affect us, and the greater our quality of life.
 
I am a big believer that a base level of metabolic conditioning (cardiovascular endurance) is necessary for optimal strength training, but if a strength-biased program is undertaken, the incorporation of conditioning must be done carefully, particularly if one is new to training. During training we must always manage the stress we impose and how we recover from that stress. Therefore, if our conditioning imposes too much stress on our body, we may not be able to recover in time for our next strength training session. And that means no gains.

Conditioning can be dialed in at manageable stress levels fairly easily if we stick to monostructural activities like rowing, biking, and sled pulls/pushes. However, this type of training can get monotonous, particularly for individuals who have done more varied types of conditioning in the past. Consequently, I have decided to launch a programming series named “Metcon Strong” which will highlight conditioning pieces I find or create that can be done with minimal to no negative consequences on one’s strength training.

These pieces of programming can be found on my Science for Fitness Instagram account (@scienceforfitness) and will be posted several times a week during periods when I am running my class-based strength cycles. They can be viewed in bulk by searching for the Instagram hashtag #metconstrong. Feel free to try them out if you want to add some conditioning to your program, but before you do, please keep the following in mind:

  • It should go without saying that if you are not eating and sleeping enough to conduct your strength training program with optimum results, adding conditioning is going to be an even rougher haul. If you have these kinds of issues, it’s probably better to omit conditioning. Similarly, if you are brand new to strength training and/or embarking on a linear progression, especially with little to no familiarity with the lifts, conditioning will likely be too much of a stressor to combine with your strength training.
  • Ideally, your Metcon Strong conditioning should be done on your strength training days after your strength training. This leaves your rest days as rest. Remember, you don’t get strong by lifting weights, you get strong by recovering from lifting weights.
  • The Metcon Strong programming pieces will invariably be very light for weighted movements. Remember, the idea is that you are doing serious strength work at least 3 times a week, so adding heavy weights to your conditioning would be counterproductive.
  • For the most part this programming series will have no running. I feel the risk is a little bit too high. A bad step and you could twist something, setting your strength training back quite a bit. Further, the eccentric component to running is substantial and this can make recovery hard to manage.
  • For EMOMs, I recommend doing a test round to see if you’re being left with enough rest to complete the full EMOM. If not (remember fatigue will creep in as the rounds progress), scale the number of reps and/or rounds down to something you can manage.
  • Some programming may not be appropriate for certain days of your training or may not be appropriate at all. For example, completing a conditioning piece with Wall Balls two days before your heavy squat (Intensity) day likely won’t allow you enough time to recover. Further, you may find that certain movements you can’t really recover from at all. Make the changes you need as you discover more about how your body responds.
  • Be extra careful with conditioning that uses your shoulders or triceps. These muscles are smaller than your leg and back muscles and tend to be more sensitive to overtraining.

Finally, remember that I do not know what strength programming you are doing, nor what level of conditioning you have. So, you may need to adjust the Metcon Strong programming in other ways. This is fine. The best programming is always that which is tailored to the individual, so make modifications as needed.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.

~Hayden

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Client Success Story – Walt

Name: Walt
Age: 46
Height: 6′

Walt’s Training Program
Walt had significant mobility and range of motion restrictions when he came to me. He wanted to improve his movement patterns and get stronger. As a Master’s Athlete, some modifications to his programming were necessary, but I still began him using a Starting Strength linear progression in my Solace Strong class. He took three 8-week cycles with me, each interspersed with periods of CrossFit classes. I modified his strength programming as he progressed through each cycle to permit continued progress.

Duration of Training
Three 8-week Cycles.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Before & After Statistics
 
Starting Weight for Lifts (lbs):
Squat 135×5 (with depth issues), Press 85×5 (with significant shoulder flexibility limitations), Bench Press 145×5 (with R/L arm imbalances), Deadlift 165×5 (with difficulty setting back tight), Power Clean 85×3
 
Ending Weight for Lifts (lbs):
Squat 225x5x3 (1RM = 260), Press 130×5 (1RM = 150), Bench Press 185×5, Deadlift 265×5 (1RM = 345), Power Clean 135×3


In His Own Words
“For years, I would spend time lifting weights at the globo gyms. For years, nothing really changed. Not from my body perspective; not from my strength perspective. One day, I looked around at all of the people who were in the locker room and they all looked the same. And always have. I realized that I needed to change whatever it was that I was doing.

Back in May of 2015, I walked into Solace and started to do CrossFit. By September of 2015, I committed to it full-time. Only at that time did I find out just how weak my legs were and how incorrectly I had been lifting weights all this time. I spoke to Coach Hayden about Starting Strength and signed up for my first cycle in October of 2015.

The first time that Hayden saw me squat, I thought he was going to faint on the spot or kick me out of the program. Whatever I was doing was THAT bad. But he did not quite faint. Or kick me out. Hayden very patiently worked with me on my squatting. His pointers and vigilance to the program and what needs to be tweaked in the program resulted in my squatting properly for the first time in my life. But not only that, much to my amazement, my numbers began going up. I was lifting more and more. Not only on squats, but with the other lifts. I was suddenly deadlifting, bench pressing and pressing correctly. I was now also doing a more dynamic lift such as the power clean.

After my initial strength cycle, I returned to CrossFit and was amazed at what a difference the extra strength made. I have now done 3 such cycles, all with Coach Hayden overseeing me. His attention to detail and not allowing me to slack off has paid off in that I can now lift heavier weights than I ever have in my life. All of this, helps me on the other side of the floor with CrossFit. I have committed to several such strength cycles per year. Thanks to Hayden, my goals for what I can lift keep increasing.”



Walt achieving a new 1RM in the Press and Deadlift on 12-18-16.

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The NY Times’ Discussion on “Too Much” Dietary Protein

The New York Times recently posted an article which leans heavily towards the notion that people are now consuming protein at levels that are not healthy or safe. As is customary for New York Times health and science pieces, this article is full of oversimplifications, selective interpretations and omissions. Below is my brief takehome summary of the article, followed by specific article statements (in bold) and my responses (plain text).

The Takehome: This NY Times article largely tries to make a case for there being too much protein in people’s diets and also that these high levels of protein are unhealthy. This type of slant for an article is a disservice to the public because it is known that too much of any macronutrient can be unhealthy for a variety of reasons. What would be helpful is knowing how much protein exactly is too much for specific types of individuals. Of course, this is where research falls short and where this article turns a blind eye. We don’t have enough science controlling for individual factors and protein intake, but we know for a fact that significant muscle mass is lost in aging and higher than daily recommended allowances of protein are essential when exercising. Further, protein is expensive. So, odds are, too much protein is likely not massive societal problem (certainly not compared to the over-consumption of sugar). Indeed, most of the clients I train come to me very thin/frail and eating very little protein.

Specific Article Statements:

1. “The vast majority of Americans already get more than the recommended daily amounts of protein from food…and there are no rigorous long-term studies to tell us how much protein is too much.”

Recommended daily amounts of protein are notoriously vague. They don’t take into account age, sex, current lean mass, activity level, or target lean mass (if trying to gain muscle). As far as long-term studies are concerned, there are very few of these that exist for anything. Regardless of the factor being studied (food, supplements, drugs), it’s very hard to conduct long-term studies. If you only plan to consume products that have long-term studies backing their safety, you’re going to have a hard-time finding things to eat.
 
2. “You can eat 300 grams of protein a day, but that doesn’t mean you’ll put on more muscle than someone who takes in 120 grams a day,” Mr. White said. Meanwhile, “you’re robbing yourself of other macronutrients that the body needs, like whole grains, fats, and fruits and vegetables.”

You’re only robbing yourself of other macronutrients if you are reducing your intake of those other macronutrients. Just because an individual increases the amount of protein in their diet, doesn’t mean they are reducing the levels of other macronutrients. This has to be examined on a case-by-case basis.
 
3. “…a recent small trial found that older women who lost weight on a high protein diet did not experience one of the important benefits that usually follow weight loss, an improvement in insulin sensitivity, which reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.”

The study cited found this phenomenon in older obese women who were given a hypocaloric diet. That is, they tested high protein in women who were eating low calorie diets to lose weight. So, they were mixing two variables, caloric restriction and high protein. They do not separate out these effects. And of course, for those not overweight, this study does not have relevance.
 
4. “Large population studies also suggest an association between habitual high protein intake and a heightened risk of diabetes.”

The NY Times doesn’t give citations for these studies, so this doesn’t help clarify anything.
 
5. “Doctors also have concerns about the long-term effects of maintaining a high protein diet. Studies show that protein-rich diets do not preserve muscle mass over the long term, and doctors have long cautioned that a high-protein diet can lead to kidney damage in those who harbor silent kidney disease by putting extra strain on the kidneys.”

Again studies here are not cited. To the next point, yes certain doctors have concerns, but these concerns are only loosely based on science. High protein is a potential issue for individuals who have kidney problems – a special case scenario. If we’re going to take the stance of cautioning everyone away from “high” protein because they might harbor a silent disease…well, this just isn’t being done for the millions of other potentially hidden diseases/conditions that may be exacerbated by dietary factors. This just isn’t how medicine works.
 
6. “Furthermore, some researchers worry that the muscle building properties that consumers seek in protein may be a double-edged sword, perhaps even leading to an increased risk of cancer.”

This is a possibility (based largely on animal and cell culture studies), but we need more data. We need to better understand in what populations and in what doses this phenomenon may exist.
 
7. “Several large observational studies have linked high-protein diets with an increased incidence of cancer, heart disease and other ills. One study led by Valter Longo, the director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, followed a nationally representative sample of 6,381 adults. It found that those who ate a high protein diet between the ages of 50 and 65 were four times more likely to die of cancer than those who consumed less protein.”

Yes, but the author of this NY Times article conveniently leaves out other data from this same study which indicate that high protein intake was associated with reduced cancer and reduced overall mortality in respondents over 65 years old. So, again, the data is not yet clear.
 
8. “Consumer groups have warned about the potential contamination of protein products, which are categorized as dietary supplements and loosely regulated. A Consumer Reports test of 15 protein powders and drinks in 2010, for example, found arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury in some of the products tested.”

These metals are found of lots of foods in trace amounts. Were the levels found excessively high? Again, citations are not given for this study. The lack of regulation of supplements is a legitimate concern (as I’ve discussed previously), but there are good quality protein supplements out there which are tested for purity by independent third parties. So, this concern can be mitigated.
 
9. “‘Nothing beats real food,’ Mr. White said.”

Finally, a statement I agree with. The bulk of your protein should come from meals, but if you’re someone who is having trouble getting enough protein on a daily basis, supplementation is something I would recommend. Consuming 1g of protein per lb of body weight (or target body weight if trying to gain muscle) daily is a general guideline that continues to work very well to this day.

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Using Skulpt Chisel for Body Composition Measurement

skulpt-chisel

For many people, reaching their health and fitness goals means reducing their body fat or gaining muscle mass. In all likelihood, there is greater interest in the former. So, what’s the best way to go about measuring it? The major ways to measure body fat percentage are as follows:

1. Visual Changes: Look at your body over time.
2. Skin Calipers: Use measurement calipers to measure “pinch-able” fat at different locations of your body.
3. DEXA: X-ray beams are used to assess lean and fat mass.
4. Hydrostatic Weighing: Body fat composition determined from your dry weight and weight when submerged in water.
5. Air-Displacement Plethysmography: Similar to hydrostatic weighing, but using air displacement instead.
6. Electrical Impedance: Using tiny electrical impulses to measure signal return rates, which are specific to different tissues.

There are drawbacks to each of the above. Visual changes can be hard to see if you are losing small amounts of fat mass or if the fat is being reduced more heavily in certain body parts than others. Skin calipers have a fair bit of user error and can only take measurements from certain body parts (not necessarily the ones where you have most of your body fat). DEXA, Hydrostatic Weighing and Air-Displacement Plethysmography have the major drawback of being expensive.

Given the above, I tried to settle on a method that I would regularly use to assess body fat on myself (I do a lot of experimenting with training programs and nutrition plans). I started with Hydrostatic Weighing at a time when I was carrying the most fat (May 2015) and the results told me I had 9.5% body fat. I don’t have a picture from that time, but it really didn’t make sense. Hydrostatic Weighing is often considered a gold standard because the science behind it is robust. However executing the technique is somewhat tricky as user/subject error can skew the results. Indeed, something must have went wrong. Perhaps I didn’t expel enough air when under the water. Perhaps it wasn’t calibrated right. Whatever the reason I knew I had to be around 13-15% fat and I didn’t want to keep spending money to sort it out.

Instead, I backed the Skulpt Chisel on Kickstarter which uses electrical impedance. Typical electrical impedance devices (which are generally scales) send a signal through your entire body and read the signal once it returns…after having taken the shortest route to get there. Thus, these devices are susceptible to changes in body hydration, how fed you are, etc. The devices also base their calculation on how tall you are, how much you weigh, and so on. The Skulpt Chisel doesn’t make these kinds of estimations. It sends and receives its signals locally as they passes through specific parts of your body (biceps, thigh, abdominals). Thus, the signals pass through the muscle and the fat of your area of interest. Comparisons made by the Skulpt Chisel team demonstrated that the Chisel was 5 times more accurate than regular impedance scales and deviated from DEXA measurements (the more expensive gold standard) by less than 1.5%.

For my interests, I wasn’t that concerned with absolute accuracy. I wanted a device with accuracy for sure, but I wanted one that could track changes (sometimes small ones) consistently over time. So, once my device came, I decided to try it out. Here’s how it went:

Age: 38
Testing Period: April 2016 to October 2016 (6 months)
Training Regimen: 5 days per week. CrossFit and High Intensity Conditioning classes with some supplemental maintenance strength training on the side.
Nutrition: Not regulated. A handful of meals each day were Paleo, others were not. However, I knew based on prior information that the calories and macronutrients I was consuming were appropriate for me to lose fat.
Visual Changes:

April 2016

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October 2016

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As you can see, I was reasonably lean when I started the experiment, but managed to get even leaner by the end. The reduction in fat mass was therefore not major, but that’s exactly what I wanted to experiment with; I wanted to see how well the Skulpt Chisel would pick up on a relatively small change. Below I highlight the specific data the Skulpt Chisel gave me.
img_3969-edit summary-edit
Note that the graphs above are a bit different do to a change in software version that happened during my experiment. You can see that my body fat percentage dropped from 14.7% to 12.1%. Note the starting body fat percentage of 14.7% made much more sense than the 9.5% that hydrostatic testing gave me (which was measured when I was carrying even more fat than I am in the picture shown on the left).
 
Shown above is also a readout for muscle quality. Skulpt Chisel measures this based on the fact that higher quality muscles will have less stored fat and, if bigger, will demonstrate greater electrical charge storage capacity and greater time delays as the signal returns. I wasn’t too concerned about this measurement given that my muscle size (visual appearance) and how much weight I can lift is what’s most important to me, but it’s a nice feature to have.
 
To close, I want to highlight what I really love about the Skulpt Chisel and that is how you can get a readout of your body fat percentage in specific areas of you body. This is crucial because 1) most of us want to look leaner in a specific area (i.e., Abdominals) and 2) our bodies tend to collect more fat in certain areas than others. For me I tend to carry more weight in my abdominal region and my buttocks (over my gluteal muscles). Of the two it’s my glutes that carry the most fat by far. So, did the Skulpt Chisel pick this up?
img_3972-edit fat-back-edit
Again, the summary figures above look a bit different due to the software versions, but you can see quite clearly a large amount of fat in my Glutes at the start (21.8%, 24%) which is then reduced, but still somewhat high at the end (13.5%, 14.3%). So, yes, the Skulpt Chisel picked up on this key site-specific difference and its change over time.


So there you have it. The Skulpt Chisel can be purchased for $99. It interfaces with your smart phone, so that’s all you need. Given the information offered by the device and how reasonable the price is, I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve been recommending this device to all my clients that are serious about tracking their body composition changes, so if you too are interested in the information it has to offer, check it out.

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Political Awareness: My Promise to Do More

Years ago a friend of mine engaged me in a conversation about politics and I didn’t really have anything to add. He asked me why I wasn’t keeping up with things in the world and I responded by reminding him I’m a “science guy.” There’s only so much time I can commit to things each day and US politics doesn’t really affect me – it’s a “separate subject.” Over the years I began to realize that not only was the media misrepresenting and misunderstanding science, but so were elected government officials. One reason for these missteps was simply because so few scientists are actually in government. I made note of this in my mind, but moved on with my work.

When the 2013 US budget sequestration hit, it became very apparent that government can have massive effects on science, health & medicine. Grant funding for research dried up, senior faculty around the country had to retire early and young investigators couldn’t get jobs because colleges, universities and medical institutions went on a hiring freeze. Still, the takehome for me was that government was very important to research funding and I left it at that. Over the course of the past 5 years, though, we have see science, health and medicine feature prominently in the political arena. Laws concerning food safety, taxation of sugary drinks, genetic manipulation of produce, and health effects of natural gas mining are just some examples. The world is growing and issues are starting to hit closer to home.

The results of this year’s national election, which resulted in both a Republican President and Republican-controlled congress, shocked a large portion of the nation and will likely result in major policy changes towards areas such as medical care and environmental health/safety. It is my experience that whenever one is shocked by an outcome, it indicates a lack of awareness. Americans are now realizing that they were “asleep” with respect to the interests, priorities, and values of a great many other Americans. I realized I was too and I decided I needed to do more.

Aside from being more engaged locally, I realized that through Science for Fitness I can reach a wider audience. The results of the most recent election offer a number of arenas where Americans need to stay vigilant and work to affect change, but Health & Medicine are the areas that I will address through the reach of Science for Fitness. As always, my primary goal is to educate and increase awareness. In order for us to affect change or prevent unwanted change, we all must be aware of issues coming to the forefront.

Below is a summary of what you can expect from me going forward.

On Key Matters Pertaining to Health & Medicine:
1) I will give updates and information regarding government investigations, referendums, court rulings, laws, etc.
2) I will give reminders as election seasons approach and highlight key ballot measures across the country.
3) I will not tell my readers/followers how they should vote.

#3 is important. I try and minimize subjectivity as much as possible through Science for Fitness and these additions will be no different. Some may say that in the political arena I should advocate my particular opinion, but that really isn’t what this site is about. Ultimately, a voter’s decision will be based on the sum total of issues that are most important to them. Engaging them in that discussion detracts from my mission to educate.

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