Tag Archive | exercise

What Women Need to Know To Lose Fat, Build Muscle, and Improve Performance (this one’s for you, ladies!)

With summertime and days at the beach right around the corner, this may be a time when many of you are feeling like you’re not quite bikini-ready. Some of you may have even been trying to get into shape over the winter and aren’t seeing the changes you had hoped for. I know for me, I see lots of men in the gym with toned bodies, great muscle definition and six-pack abs…and they don’t exactly seem to be going HAM to get it. I feel like I eat pretty clean and push myself, yet the results (while they are happening) are sloowwwwww. What gives?!

The thing is, women’s bodies differ significantly from men’s in terms of metabolism and somewhat in terms of exercise response. On top of that, there are considerable gender stereotypes and misconceptions that limit women’s ability to get useful advice about how to improve their physiques (i.e. the myth that lifting heavy will make you bulky and/or manly).

I found an article online by the Poliquin Group™ Editorial Staff on How Women’s Metabolism Differs From Men’s & What To Do About It that was so well written that I decided to share it with you all 🙂  They mention 5 key pieces of information that will empower you to meet your goals:

#1: At rest, women burn more glucose (carbs) than men and less fat. In addition, women tend to have greater fat storage after eating, which also contributes to their higher body fat percentage.

From an evolutionary perspective, it’s favorable for women to have more body fat because these fat stores will be used during pregnancy and lactation. Once young women become able to reproduce, their bodies will begin storing fat around the hips and thighs “locking it away” in preparation for having a baby.

The fat around the hips and thighs (called gluteofemoral fat) has a particularly high concentration of DHA, one of the three omega-3 fats. The theory is that gluteofemoral DHA fat is used to make breast milk, and that it is for the development of a baby’s brain.

Research suggests that U.S. women tend to have a low percentage of DHA in their gluteofemoral fat due to low intake of omega-3s. This typically leads to significant weight gain during pregnancy, because the woman’s brain is thought to monitor nutrient status throughout the body, sensing the low DHA stores.

This leads to excessive hunger cues, causing women to eat more, in the quest to store as much DHA as possible for nurturing an infant brain. In contrast, Japanese women have a much higher percentage of DHA in their fat due to high fish intake and are correspondingly leaner.

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What To Do About It: Regardless of whether you’re planning on having a baby, get adequate DHA in your diet. Shoot for a balanced ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats by limiting your intake of vegetable fats and oils.

Make your body metabolically flexible so that it is capable of burning fat for energy. Do this by limiting carbohydrates in your diet at certain times so that your body is forced to learn to burn fat. For example, try eating lower carb on a day when you aren’t training but higher carb on workout days. Doing anaerobic-style exercise such as weight lifting and sprints also improves the body’s metabolic flexibility.

 

 

#2: Women and men burn (and store) body fat differently. Women rely on fat for fuel during exercise to a much greater degree than men. This makes exercise absolutely essential for women to lose fat because of the unfortunate fact that women burn much less fat at rest.

In addition, women store fat right below the skin (subcutaneously), whereas men have more visceral fat. Visceral fat is metabolically active and a risk for cardiovascular health and insulin resistance. Meanwhile, for women, having a reasonable amount of lower body fat indicates better health and less heart disease risk!

Women tend to lose fat from the upper body first, but have a harder time losing lower body fat. As mentioned in #1, women’s bodies preferentially store fat for pregnancy, but they also have a greater number of alpha receptors in this region than men. The combination of alpha receptors and estrogen inhibits the loss of fat. Men have a higher total proportion of beta receptors, which makes it easier for them to mobilize fat to burn it off.

To get rid of stubborn lower body fat, research shows women must perform anaerobic training. For example, a recent study found that by adding a strength program to an aerobic exercise protocol produced superior fat loss. Women who did concurrent training lost 12.2 percent of fat mass from the legs, decreased hip circumference by 4 percent, and lost 9.7 percent of the original body fat. In contrast, the women who did aerobic training lost 5.7 percent fat mass from the legs, decreased hip circumference by 4 percent, and lost 5 percent of their original body fat.

Scientists suggest that the higher intensity of resistance exercise helps to stimulate the release of body fat from fat cells so that it can be burned for energy. In addition, it’s possible (though not definitive) that estrogen has a positive effect on fat burning during exercise via a few mechanisms:

• Estrogen appears to limit the breakdown of triglycerides in the blood stream for storage.

• Estrogen enhances epinephrine production for greater fat burning.

• Estrogen stimulates growth hormone, which plays a role in fat metabolism and stimulates blood flow.

What To Do About It: Perform strength training, favoring multi-joint exercises, with a focus on lower body and total body lifts such as squats, deadlifts, step ups, and lunges. Do high-intensity interval training on a track, bike, or by pushing a sled to target the alpha receptors and enhance fat loss from the lower body.

 

#3: Stress affects women’s metabolism, inhibiting fat loss. Of course, stress affects fat loss for everyone, but it’s possible certain kinds of stress are more harmful to women than men.

Stress leads to persistent cortisol secretion, and cortisol’s primary function is to increase blood sugar (bringing with it an insulin spike) so you have enough energy to get through a stressful situation.

When this becomes chronic, the body turns the hormone pregnenolone, which is a precursor to estrogen and testosterone, into progesterone, which is then used to make cortisol and aldosterone. Together these hormones lead to greater fat storage and more fluid retention. Not only will you have more cortisol, but you’ll have less estrogen and testosterone.

Women with lower testosterone than normal have a disadvantage when it comes to fat loss. Although elevated estrogen is not beneficial for loss, low estrogen isn’t either as we saw in #2, because it inhibits the greater fat oxidation that women experience during exercise. The body’s just not working right any more. Everything is out of whack and fat loss simply won’t happen.

What To Do About It:Find stress management strategies that work for you, whether it’s meditation, yoga, psychological therapy, or something else. (In addition, you might want to take an adaptogenic supplement if you think your adrenals are really out of whack)

Focus on optimizing your circadian rhythms. Consider that the body operates around a 24-hour circadian clock. Each person’s clock is slightly different, a trait known as chronotype or tendency toward being a morning or evening person. Chronotype reflects the time of the day that someone’s physical functions (hormone level, body temperature, cognitive faculties, eating and sleeping) are active.

When you adhere to your chronotype, you can promote balance and optimal health. When you go against the clock, the innate rhythms are disrupted. This will increase stress and make fat loss much more difficult.

 

#4: Intermittent fasting and calorie restriction tends to be detrimental for women but beneficial for men.

Intermittent fasting (IF) and calorie restriction is a glaring example of how stress negatively affects women’s metabolism compared to men. Both are metabolically beneficial for most men, allowing them to lose fat, lower inflammation, and improve disease risk factors.

However, research shows fasting is harmful for female reproductive health. Anecdotally, many women have reported that fasting has caused weight gain, blood sugar imbalance, sleeplessness, missed periods, and infertility.

Where men tend to lose fat with fasting, a large portion of women gain it. The mechanism behind this discrepancy likely has to do with how the female body responds to lack of calories. Scientists believe that calorie restriction, even sporadic restriction, causes hormonal dysregulation, and excess cortisol secretion with the body holding onto its fat stores. It’s a “protective response” as the body stores the fat for future survival when calories will be scarce.

What To Do About It: Avoid calorie restriction if you’re exercising at a high intensity or for long duration. Be very cautious with fasting. It sounds counter intuitive but if you give your body enough energy, with balanced fat, carbs and protein, your hormones will be in happy balance, stress will be lower, and your body will be more willing to give up your fat stores.

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#5: Young women have the same ability to build muscle as men. Older women appear to be at a disadvantage when it comes to building muscle.

A common belief is that women can’t build as much muscle as men because they don’t have as much testosterone. Technically this isn’t true. Recent studies show that protein synthesis and gene signaling that leads to muscle gains are nearly equal between young men and women.

However, women start out with less muscle and their bodies tend to be lighter and smaller than men’s, so increases a 10 percent increase in muscle for a woman will be smaller than a man’s in absolute terms.

In addition, very large increases in testosterone such as when a male goes through puberty or when one takes testosterone in the form of steroids do increase muscle mass. The small, transient post-workout increase doesn’t. Rather, the exercise-induced increase is thought to be linked to athletic performance.

A recent study illustrates this: Women and men performed a resistance training workout and then took a protein drink. Muscle protein synthesis was 2.3 times higher in men and 2.7 times higher in women than at rest. Men experienced a 45-fold higher increase in testosterone post-workout than the women, however this had no effect on protein synthesis or gene signaling, which are the primary factors for building muscle.

The exception is older women who have a reduced muscle building response to resistance exercise. They have lower protein synthesis than men of the same age in response to training, which appears to be maintained even when they take supplemental protein, however more research needs to be done regarding dosing.

It’s possible older women require a larger dose of protein or more of the amino acid leucine (which has been found to equalize protein synthesis in older and younger men).

What To Do About It: If you’re a woman who wants to put on muscle, you’re in luck! You won’t look like a man, but you will be able to build muscle in the same way men can. Consider this a good thing!

Do a periodized hypertrophy-style training program that favors moderate reps (8 to 12) and moderate load (65 to 85 percent of the 1RM) for a high volume.

If you just want to get lean, building muscle will help. A small increase in muscle mass will boost your metabolism significantly so you burn exponentially more calories at rest, enabling fat loss.

Use a training program that changes every 3 to 6 weeks to continually shock your body into adapting. Make sure to use heavy enough weights—one of the most common reason women don’t get results from training is that they use weights that are too light.

 

The takeaways:

  • Don’t starve yourself
  • Eat enough protein
  • Include healthy fats in your diet
  • Don’t be afraid of weights/lifting heavy
  • High Intensity Interval training is better than steady state cardio for fat loss
  • Keep stress levels under control

 

Ciao for now!

 

-E

 

 

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To Snooze, or Not to Snooze…That is the Question

Well, I hope everyone is off to a great 2014.  So far, we’ve had a blizzard and an epic cold front here in NY…which, on top of usual everyday work/life stresses, has made it EXTRA difficult to get up for my 5:20am weekday alarm to get to the gym. I’ve found myself hitting the snooze button more now than in the past, and was trying to figure out why, when I stumbled on a Huffington Post article by osteopathic physician, Robert Rosenberg.

He poses a good question when his patients ask “is it okay to keep hitting the snooze button for those extra zzzz’s?” … He tells them to ask themselves why they need to do that, and does it really make them feel better.

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Naturally, this got me thinking…Why do I feel the need to hit the snooze button? Do I really think an extra 8-10 minutes will make a difference?  Does it?  And furthermore, I had to admit to myself that I actually set my alarm earlier than I tend to get up to accommodate a hit or two of “Snooze.”  Can anyone else relate to this habit?

Dr. Rosenberg goes on to explain:
When you hit the snooze alarm, you are disrupting your current stage of sleep. And unfortunately, in many ways, fragmented sleep is worse than no sleep. As an example, if you are in REM sleep and you interrupt it with the snooze alarm, this can lead to an inability to process and reconcile emotionally laden memories from the previous day. In addition, fragmented sleep can result in moodiness, cognitive problems, and trouble paying attention.

The bottom line is that if you chronically find the need to hit the snooze alarm, something is probably wrong. You may be out of sync with your internal circadian clock. You may be a night owl trying to keep the work schedule of a morning lark. You may be someone who is failing at attempting to burn the candle at both ends. Alternatively, you may have a sleep disorder that unbeknownst to you is disrupting and depriving you of quality sleep. Hitting the snooze button is a poor substitute for healthy sleep

I hated to admit it, but as I read the article, I realized that the doc is right. If I’m feeling the need to hit the snooze button during the week (I don’t even set an alarm on weekends), I’m probably not getting enough sleep. I’m already using a sleep mask, which definitely gives me a sounder sleep by keeping any light out (laptop charging light, the moon, street lights, etc).  And I set my coffee maker up the night before so that I know a fresh, steaming cup of delicious java awaits me when I finally get out of bed…but I am STILL in a snooze button habit!

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Some suggestions that Dr. Rosenberg mentioned include “putting the alarm clock where you cannot reach it; using alarm clocks that work by putting out ever-increasing amounts of light as wake-up time approaches; having a coffee maker with a timer set for ten minutes before wake time and close enough so that you can smell it. Even getting a device that can automatically increase your bedroom temperature about one hour before it is time to get up can be helpful, as rising body temperature is another signal to wake up.”

I think I’m going to try putting my alarm clock out of arms reach and actually set the time for when I want to wake up, not when I want to start hitting snooze, haha.  Moreover, I also need to make sure my phone is in “do not disturb” mode so that my sleep is not disrupted by vibrations and dings letting me know someone wants to chat.

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I’ll report back after a while of trying this and see if I can kick the snooze button habit.  If anyone has any other tips, tricks, or snooze button confessionals, feel free to share!

Ciao for now,

-E

Sometimes Flu Comes Around and It Knocks You Down

Well, coming off the heels of last week’s gratitude post, I am certainly grateful for my health today! I’m back in action after being knocked down all day Tuesday with a 102h a°F fever, body ache, and chills. Yeah, super fun, right? I spent the whole day (literally) in bed just thinking how I would give anything to have my energy back and be able to do anything…like even walk to the kitchen without pain!

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I swear, when you’re chugging along, working out, with all kinds of energy and pep in your step, you start to feel invincible. Like super-human almost. Until illness or injury affects us personally, we can easily forget that the human body can, at times, be quite fragile.

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On the other hand, the fact that I’m up-and-at-’em today is also a testament to the resiliency of our bodies. I mean, just 48 hours ago, I felt like I was on my death bed, and today, I’m sipping coffee and writing this blog post! I think it certainly helps that I normally do a good job taking care of myself with plenty of rest, regular exercise, good diet, etc. And when I get sick, I take time to rest and let my body heal itself naturally. But still, I’m pretty in awe of the quick turnaround!

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Even though I felt better rather quickly, I have thought to myself about anything I could have done to boost my immune system even more to maybe prevent the next illness (especially now that it’s cold & flu season). Here’s a few I came up with:

  • On top of my typical water intake, drink 16oz extra of water per day (especially if I insist on having an afternoon cup of java!)
  • Be sure to have 4-5 servings of veggies daily, and supplement what I don’t eat with powdered Complete Greens (which actually don’t taste half bad, especially if you add them to a smoothie!)
  • MINIMUM of 6 hours per night of sleep. Not enough sleep = no gym…gotta prioritize!

What do you do to arm yourself against cold & flu season? I always love new tips 🙂

Hoping this finds you all healthy and happy!

Ciao for now!

-E

Awaken Your Inner Tiger

When we all have to balance work, family, errands, laundry, and trying to have some sort of social life, it can be challenging to get yourself to the gym. And it can be especially difficult to stay motivated if you’ve been logging in the hours but not seeing progress as quickly as you had hoped.

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On days like this you’ve got to dig deep and awaken your inner tiger, so to speak.

Motivational quotes always do it for me (those who know me know I always recite them, haha). So I’m going to share a few of my favorites to help keep you going through the mid-week hurdle…And if you haven’t gotten going yet this week, hopefully these light a fire under your tushy!

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I love this one (I touched on this topic in last week’s post).  On days where I’m just not feeling up to working out, I think about people who have loftier fitness goals…who maybe are just getting started and haven’t yet hit a stride…who are recovering from an injury…or who are struggling with depression or anxiety, making it hard for them to get out of bed.  Some days, when I do my workout, it’s for those people who may need an extra boost to get going.

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Another fantastic one.  So many times we sabotage ourselves by saying things like, “well, since I can’t do an 60 or 90 minute workout, it’s just not worth it.”  Or “I have so far to go…what’s the point?”  The point is, every little bit you do adds up. Success is a journey, not a destination (see, another quote…I just can’t help myself! haha). A friend of mine who was recently struggling with getting back on track finally had an Ahah! moment and she said to me just yesterday, “Taking it one day at a time.. My goal is to merely feel good; I am not focusing on the distance.” I was beaming because I know this is the mindset that will turn things around for her 🙂

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I am reminded of this quote almost every time I step in the gym.  Yes, there are people there who are real powerhouses…strong as an ox.  It’s impressive of course, but just as much as they inspire me, so do the people who I see consistently…week after week.  It doesn’t matter where they are on their journey or how far they have to go…what matters is their will and commitment to getting there, and THAT is inspiring.

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YES, YES, YESSSSS!  This is the difference between looking in the mirror and seeing a kitten…or a tiger!  If you think negatively or lack belief in yourself, it will hold you back…in life, and with your fitness goals.  But if you believe that deep inside you is a strong, fit, capable person, then that my friend is what you will become!

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Is your goal to lose 50 pounds? 20 pounds? 5 pounds?  Do you want to gain 20 pounds of muscle? 10 pounds?  Training for a marathon?  No matter where you’re going, or how long it will take you to get there, it starts with lacing up those sneakers and taking the first step. If you’re just starting out or just getting back into it, you may have to start slow.  Do what you can, and remind yourself that this is just a jumping off point, and you’ll get better and better every day.

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And finally, once you get started, don’t quit.  Remember why you started in the first place. It’s about feeling good, being healthier, and living better. Motivation is what gets you started, but habit is what keeps you going. (Yep just packed in a few more quotes for you!)

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I hope this gets you going or keeps you going this week! xox

Ciao for now!

-E

Paying It Forward

Recently, a dear friend of mine (who I didn’t even realize was reading my blogs) reached out to me and candidly and bravely confessed that she had been feeling at rock bottom. Down and out, stressed, not taking care of her health (physical and mental), and just not feeling her usually cheerful and awesome self. It broke my heart but also really inspired me because so many of us can be prideful when we are feeling down…we think no one will understand, we don’t want to burden others with our problems…What we often forget is that almost everyone feels this way at one point or another. And I think that it’s our duty as human beings to lift others up when we are feeling strong and positive, because we never know when WE might need some lifting up.

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Take yesterday for example. I took Sunday off from the gym (which I rarely do…I prefer taking rest days during the week) and woke up Monday on the wrong side of the bed. I didn’t go for my usual morning workout, just felt “off” all day, and kind of in a funk.  My friends who follow astrology were posing on Facebook about Mercury being in retrograde, and apparently that can lead to this type of stuff…who knows, haha, but it sounds good.

Anyway, amidst my funky mood, I received the most awesome message from that same friend of mine I mentioned above…She was proudly reporting that she’s been hitting the gym, found a workout buddy, and has been practicing some really great self-care. I mean, wow, if that’s not inspiring I don’t know what is. It takes guts to 1. ask for help/encouragement and 2. actually take the steps to pull yourself out of a rut.

What this friend of mine didn’t know is that SHE was my source of inspiration yesterday. After a long day of work and feeling really blah, I didn’t really feel like working out. I was kind of in the mood to do some self-loathing (lame, but it happens to the best of us, haha), but then I thought of my friend, and how proud of her I was that she dug deep for the motivation to get herself back on track…and I dragged my grouchy butt to the gym!

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While I marched on the StairMaster and slung some weights around, I thought of her and how she feels on days where she doesn’t feel up to working out, but she does it anyway. And when I got up this morning and resumed my morning workout, I looked around at all of the other people who got themselves out of bed to do something positive for their health, and I was so inspired.

On days where we’re feeling upbeat, strong, and capable, we have the opportunity to lift someone else up who might be feeling down that day. And in turn, we may inspire them to do the same when they get back on track.

“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” ― John Holmes

Ciao for now!

-E

Sometimes Stress Comes Around and it Knocks You Down…

Do you ever feel like so many little things are stressing you out that it just snowballs into one giant stress cloud that you can’t seem to get away from? Well that’s been me this past week. Some career choices on the horizon, working too much, an upcoming birthday (and with that, feelings of “I thought my life would be different/better at this age), and a few other things going on…it just sort of hit me all at once.overwhelm1Source

Normally I would workout rigorously to relieve the stress, but this week my body has rebelled and all I’ve wanted to do is sleep. I tried muscling through (literally) and going hard at the gym, but then when I woke up yesterday with a sore throat, I realized that my body was telling me to sloooowwww downnnn and rest.

So last night, I was in bed by 9pm and slept in until 7:30  this morning (rather than getting up at 5:15 to get ready for a pre-work day gym session). When I got up, I initially felt guilty for skipping the gym (especially because I had taken off the day before), but I also know better than to over-do it when my body is telling me it needs rest. I’d rather take two days off and have a great workout when I go back than push myself and have a bunch of sub-par workouts and still feel lousy.rest-daySource

It’s taken me years to figure out this balance and practice good self-care. We are all susceptible to stress and things we cannot control, so it’s important to figure out what works for YOU to feel better and manage that stress. Sometimes knocking out a gym session will do the trick, but sometimes you just need 2 or 3 days (or maybe even longer) to let your body unwind, recuperate, and feel   stronger.

As I sip my coffee and write this, I’m already starting to feel the itch for a workout, which makes me grateful that I took a couple days off. Tomorrow is going to be a killer gym sesh…I can feel it already 🙂

Ciao for now!
-E

Digging Deep for Motivation

I have to be honest, I haven’t really felt motivated/inspired to blog this week. Maybe it’s because I did a grueling workout Saturday that forced me to take a few days off from the gym to let my body recoup…which kind of threw
me off my game. I confessed this lack of motivation to my friend and, genius that she is, she suggested that I write about finding motivation. Brilliant!  It makes sense because so many of us, myself included at times, struggle to find the motivation to drag our butts to the gym or squeeze a workout into our already jam packed schedules.  Just like with my workouts, this blog is a commitment that I’ve made to myself and, of course, to those who read it.  And just like with working out, sometimes I just don’t feel like it! Haha

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Now sometimes, it’s good to take a little break…like if you’re sick, injured, or sleep-deprived. Self-care comes first, but there’s a line that we all walk that requires us to know when we truly need a break, and when we are being a tad lazy and self-sabotaging.  How do you know the difference??  Well, for me, that means thinking about how I’ll probably feel after I do the thing I’m procrastinating on. With a workout, sometimes I know I’ll feel better if I do it, but realize I need to scale back the intensity so I don’t push myself over the limit.  With the blog, I think of how disappointed in myself I’d be if I didn’t at least write a little something for the week (since a once-a-week posting was my original goal/commitment to myself).get motivated~Source

If you’re reading this, is there anything you’re procrastinating on that you think you might regret if you don’t do it? Remind yourself of your goal and of your commitment to yourself, and think of how accomplished you’ll feel after you finish it.

You can do it!

🙂

Ciao for now!
-E