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What the heck are carbohydrates?

OK so everyone talks about them, everyone has an opinion on how many we should eat and what types are “good carbs” and “bad carbs”, but very few non-sciency people understand truly what carbohydrates are and how the body uses them. I’ll try and give the layman’s soup-to-nuts on carbs so that the rest of us can understand what the heck carbohydrates are, why they are important for most people, and maybe give you a leg up on all the buzz about diets and nutrition. This post won’t try to convince you one way or the other, eat how you like, it’s none of my business, but I figured I’d put this out there just so that when we talk about stuff in someone’s diet, you might have a clearer understanding of why we say what we say.
What really are carbohydrates?

Technically speaking a carbohydrate is just what the name implies, it’s a long carbon chain containing carbon atoms, hydrogen atoms, and oxygen atoms all chemically bonded together in a molecule. There are many different types of carbohydrates out there and different carbs (as I’ll call them from this point forward, just to make my typing a little easier) produce different results and have different characteristics. In essence carbs are either sugars or starches (cellulose) which means they can either be broken down by humans to use as energy or they can’t be completely broken down and used as energy. But just because a carb can’t be broken down for energy, doesn’t mean it’s useless in the body, many types of indigestible or semi-indigestible carbs are important for helping the body digest food, fiber acts as a medium to help clean up and break down other molecules in the digestive tract of humans and thus is very important to keeping us healthy, even though we can’t use it for energy, it’s important to take in a certain amount of fiber just to keep our “plumbing” working correctly. I won’t go into details, just know that without fiber, we’d have lots of issues.

The other types of carbohydrates, sugars, come in many different forms; monosaccharides like galactose, fructose, and glucose are single molecule structures that form the simplest of the carbohydrates that we can use as energy. While only glucose is used by the body, galactose and fructose can be broken down and reformed in our liver as glucose usually using chemical processes such as galactokinase and lactokinase. All sugars are broken down into glucose for energy before being used; this becomes important later when we talk about milk and fruit so store it away for later use. Polysaccharides are larger molecules made up of multiple monosaccharide groupings chemically bonded together. Sucrose (table sugar) and Lactose (milk sugar) are disaccharides. Because the human body can use glucose as energy, polysaccharides that contain glucose are broken down in the intestines and shunted to the liver where the glucose is either siphoned off to the blood stream for immediate use, or stored as glycogen (which is just a special long chain of glucose in a water matrix) for later release. Since glycogen is big and bulky, it’s not efficient for long term storage, so the human body has found a different way to store energy for the long term….. FAT. When glucose enters the blood stream, it’s either taken up by cells that need it, or it travels around until they are corralled and stored either as cholesterol (Free fatty acids) or adipose tissue (the body fat we all know and love). That’s all I’ll say about conversion to fat as it’s a whole other topic.
So we now know that all the different types of carbs out there are all made up of the same stuff. So why the “good carb”/”bad carb” hype? Well, even though the molecules are all the same in the end, the way food is constructed drastically effect how fast or slow it is broken down. This is where fiber comes into play, fiber and cellulose to be exact. Cellulose is large polysaccharides that cannot be broken down by the body at all, and the more you have, the harder it is to extract the smaller molecules that can be used. Most organic (grown) material has cellulose in it, and the breakdown of that cellulose takes time, giving your body a chance to meter out energy in a more controlled fashion, allowing the energy to be released slowly and thus give you a constant stream of energy. Remove the cellulose and fiber, and you speed up the digestion process. Essentially, the less “other stuff” in the food, the faster it’s converted to sugar. That’s why table sugar is so bad, it isn’t what’s in it, and it’s how fast we can use it. If you dump a lot of sugar in your body, some of that will be stored as fat because essentially our bodies just don’t burn it fast enough. The more processing done to a food product, the faster it can be digested. So white flour, processed sugar, and white rice are all fast energy foods that would be good after say a 10K run, but not so good for every day two or three times a day meals. That doesn’t mean you can never eat them again, it just means that if it’s your staple, you should either eat smaller amounts with time between them, or maybe eat them far less often than you do now (if you do it often). Nobody can tell you how much is right for you, but generally to be safe most experts say try to keep your complex carbohydrates to around 80 to 90% of your carbohydrate intake if possible.

The last thing I’ll mention is why other types of sugars are (usually) not as bad for you as sucrose. Because sucrose is 50% glucose and 50% fructose, ½ of it is shuttled directly into the blood stream immediately (or converted to glycogen if necessary), the other half is transported to the liver for conversion, fructose takes much longer to enter the blood stream as glucose. Because once fructose hits the liver, it then needs to be broken down into its component atoms and reformed as glucose and if you eat enough of it and it’ll be converted to glycerol (a fat derivative) which is a component in triglycerides. It also forces the liver to work relatively hard; this can, over the long term, generate issues such as scarring and damage the liver. Thus High Fructose Corn Syrup is not so good for us. Please note that fruit, while containing large quantities of fructose, are not free of sucrose, different fruits have different ratios of fructose to sucrose, thus different fruits are better for regulating blood sugar than others (this is important to those with insulin sensitivity or diabetes). Lactose is another disaccharide that we can eat (and drink) which has to be broken down before being used. Similar to fructose, lactose is cleaved in the intestines and brought to the liver, the glucose molecules are used, and the galactose molecules (the other monosaccharide in lactose) are converted to glucose for use. Again because of the processes required to cleave the molecule it’s slower acting than sucrose. Thus in normal quantities are not as quickly converted to energy.

To conclude, the idea of good carbs vs. bad carbs is an artificial construct that we give sugars simply to identify how the body will use the food we give it. Generally, I believe the best food you can eat is food that has been processed as little as possible, when you see grains that still have the germ and husk; you’re probably choosing a “good” carb. Of course the drawback is that those extras they leave in these types of carbs spoil faster, and are heavier to transport, and don’t cook up as quickly or stick together as easily as highly processed things. So you get a society with billions of people needing to eat, and food that is sometimes thousands of miles away from them, you must make it the most transportable and quickly administering that you can. Thus processing is, in fact, quite important in some situations and shouldn’t always be demonized as it is. I’d rather have a loaf of white bread than nothing.

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What is stopping you from becoming healthy?

That’s a big question, one that I run into all the time in one form or another. This post is really about how to eliminate the obstacles to becoming healthy. I’ll run over some of the reasons people give for not becoming healthy, some of the fears, and some of the methods you can use to turn your life around.
First let’s examine why people delay making healthy choices. In the United State and many western societies, food choices are both a blessing and a curse. Food permeates our society and is considered a staple in any gathering. Social pressure and fear of confrontation are common reasons for making bad choices. Ignorance of the products are another, much of the food in our grocery stores today is made up of so many ingredients and chemicals that it’s difficult to decide what is truly healthy and what isn’t. Many people associate food with emotion and use it as a buffer or safe haven. From our earliest childhood, most people see food as part of the family structure and thus subconsciously associate it with safety and happiness. Some people have just fallen into a pattern of laziness and decide that the same food choices they made when they were active can be continued even though they burn hundreds of calories less per day, slowly packing on tens (and in some cases over one hundred) pounds of fat. These causalities and many more contribute to our health problems.
The first thing I’ll talk about when we think of turning our life around is knowledge. Ignorance is our biggest enemy, understanding what effect food choices have on our lives is a big part of being successful in our life. You don’t need to be Jillian Michaels every day and make perfect choices all the time, you just need an awareness of what your choices are doing to you, and most of the time make the correct choice leaving a little wiggle room for those days when you feel you need to behave badly (and I consciously chose the syntax in the previous statement).
Think about the paragraph on reasons for bad food choices, you’ll notice that all but 1 talk about food, as opposed to exercise. Yes exercise is important for good health, but the real driver will be food. You can work out every day of your life, but if you eat terrible food, you’ll still be unhealthy. I know plenty of tradesmen that work very hard physically, every day, but still have cholesterol, heart issues, arthritis, bad skin, and fatigue and weight issues. Why? Because you can’t exercise away bad eating habits.
So, to the question at the top of the page. What is stopping YOU from becoming healthy? I can’t really answer that for you, but I can tell you that trying to view the whole situation all at once is a recipe for disaster. People see what they want to be, and feel so far from the goal that they don’t think they can do it. Don’t fall into that trap. Pick one or two things you’d like to do and do them, make one small change in your diet, let that settle in for a few weeks, and then pick another. For example, say one of your bad choices is a bag of chips when you eat your lunch, cut out the chips, maybe find an apple or some carrots. Sure it isn’t the same, but I’m pretty sure that in a week or so of doing it, you’ll forget you even cared about it. After you feel confident in that small victory, find another thing, do that, and rack up your victories. Soon enough you’ll have a solid base to feel proud of, and don’t be shy about letting others know. It’s ok to feel excited about small victories. When I turn down a bad food, I congratulate myself all the time, it’s a bit of a struggle sometimes to do the right thing, but that’s when you should be most proud of yourself. And “I forgot” should never be an excuse. If you tend to give up or not follow through, remind yourself, put reminders in your calendar with pop-ups. If you don’t have a calendar, go right now to Google, sign up for an account (it’s free and takes like 3 minutes), and put reminders in every two weeks to make one small change to your diet and exercise habits. Remembering is NOT an excuse.
Lastly, don’t let yourself make excuses. If you have a busy life, tell yourself that’s not an reason, if you have a child at home and feel like you can’t carve out 30 minutes to exercise, that’s not a reason (I mentor plenty of ladies that have 2 or 3 rug rats running at their feet while their doing the 30 day shred in their living room), if you have “picky eaters” at home and they complain, look them straight in the eye and explain that this is how it is, don’t give them the chance to dissent, it’s about your life, and it’s important. If you just “don’t like the gym” well tough luck, either get over it, or find alternate ways to work out. Excuses are just coping mechanisms, remove the excuses and face yourself in the mirror, you’ll end up being healthier, both mentally and physically for it. No pill, surgery, or fad diet will fix you; only changing the way you live will do that.

Why the scale lies to us

Ever start a new routine, say “OK, this time I’m going to eat exactly right, exercise, and weigh myself every week”, do great for the first month, then on week five step on the scale and realize you’re up 2 lbs? It happens to everyone who is trying for weight loss. Here’s my pitch to why this shouldn’t bother you, and why the scale is a big ass of a liar.

First lets take a make a few statements you should know. Please note these aren’t excuses, they are just plain science and should be heeded.

1) Home use scales are not accurate enough to distinguish less than a pound, so anyone worrying about those numbers to the right of the decimal, forget it, they mean nothing.

2) The human body, depending on your age, sex, weight, activity level, diet…etc. can fluctuate body weight up to 5 lbs. in EITHER DIRECTION on any given day, that means that if you step on today and weigh 190 lbs. and tomorrow and weigh 194, that’s nothing to be worried about, it’s normal. The day after you could step on and weigh 188 lbs., and I’ve seen this happen, so it’s not just some theory, it’s real.

3) Sodium is a killer. Most people in the US who eat at least some processed foods will have more sodium in their body than they need, really we need about 2000 mg if we don’t exercise, and anywhere from 2500 to 4000 if we exercise (depending on length, type, and intensity). Why is sodium relevant? Because excess sodium promotes water storage in the body, and water is HEAVY, it takes nothing to gain a lb of water weight in a day, and after a sodium heavy meal you can put on 3 to 4 lbs of water and not even realize it.

4) Different foods metabolize and are eliminated at different rates. I.E. a steak dinner may take 12 to 24 hours to be completely eliminated from the body, where as a salad might only take 2 hours to completely cycle and break down, fiber is a factor as well.

5) Changes in exercise routine messes with the metabolic rate. This is a good thing in general, but it will screw with weight loss in unpredictable ways, new weight training routines often cause a plateau in weight loss simply because newly activated muscle fibers require water and glycogen at the muscle site, and more energy in total to be sustained; this reduces any fat loss on the scale. But it’s a VERY GOOD THING, so don’t worry about weight plateau or even gain after changing up your routines.

OK so now that we have some facts that explain short term scale fluctuations, what do we do to minimize the panic that sets in? First, never judge your progress on a single scale session. I tell all the people I advise to log your scale numbers and take the forest view over the tree view. I.E. grab the last 6 or 8 scale measurements and look at the trend, if the trend is down, then you’re doing it right, the more sessions you can add, the more accurate the trend will be. And when I say this, I don’t mean taking 7 days in a row, that’s just not long enough, I mean like 4 to 8 weeks’ worth of numbers.
The second thing you should do is realize that the human body just doesn’t change that quickly. Nobody gains 10 lbs. of fat in 1 week, and I dare say that you would have a very hard time gaining even 5 lbs. of fat in a week. It would take a real, concerted effort to do this. So if your scale jumped 5 lbs. in a week, relax, it’s probably just water weight. Likewise don’t become too excited if you drop 5 lbs. in a few days, sorry guys, but just as you can’t gain that much, you really can’t lose that much that fast either. I’ll caveat that last statement with this, if you are morbidly obese or are overweight but train extremely hard for very long periods of time every day, 5 lbs. of fat in a week is possible, but in 99% of the cases, it’s not recommended or even healthy to do so. If you have enough fat that you can afford to lose 5 lbs. in a week, then you’re probably not in good enough shape to work as hard as you need to in order to do so.
The last thing I’ll mention is that with fat loss, consistency is key, the metabolism has built in safeguards to balance out any very high or very low calorie days, if you swing your calorie types, or amounts wildly throughout the week, it can be disastrous to your weight loss, I won’t get into details about why, but feel free to ask me in an email or tweet if you want to know more. Just know that if you’re consistently swinging from many hundred calories below maintenance to a few hundred calories above maintenance throughout the week that’s NOT the same as maintaining a 300 calorie deficit every day, the body reacts to extremes, and it reacts with fat storage, this is fact, not opinion.

What constitutes “good” food

I mentor on some health, exercise, and weight loss sites.  There are a lot of questions that fly around about types of food, healthy choices, and processed foods.  Here I’ll give you my take on what constitutes a well balanced diet.  I won’t really go very deep into specialized or “fad” diet types like paleo or South Beach but I may mention them as examples.

Let’s dive right in.  A healthy diet is one that you can live with forever, your diet should have a high percentage of un-processed foods such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, and it should contain a good balance of the three macro nutrient types (fats, carbohydrates, and protein).  The percentage is really up to you, but generally if you make carbohydrates about 40 to 60 percent of your diet, you’ll be ok, to go along with that, making the majority (80 to 90 percent) of your carbohydrates “good” carbohydrates, is a key way to be healthy.  You may question the concept of “good” carbs.  That’s a good place to start.  Good carbs are basically carbohydrates in a form that is as close to natural as can be expected.  I.E. nothing (or very little) taken out, nothing added as supplemental, nothing ground down smaller than required for consumption.  This is because our bodies and our stomachs were designed to process food in a certain way, deliver the food in a more processed way, and you essentially are eating partially pre-digested food, food that the body can break down faster than it should.  Since the body doesn’t have any way to meter out energy delivery, this means flooding the body with energy faster than it can use it, which means extra energy, which leads to fat storage.  This is key to the argument against enriched, processed, bleached flour vs whole grain stone ground flour.  Yes they are both crushed and pulverized, but one type (the white) removes much of the ingredients, and grinds the powder down very fine, essentially delivering the carbohydrates in a very ready way, and usually then adds back in nutrients (not good), where the whole grain flour still needs to be processed in the body, which takes time, allowing for a more even energy usage and less fat storage.  

Fats are another example of “good” vs “bad”.  I usually try to keep my dietary fat intake around 20 to 25 percent of my daily macro-nutrient intake.  And about 90 percent of that fat I try to make healthy (natural) fats.  Fats aren’t bad for you, it’s the altered fats that are really horrible.  Things like hydrogenated oils, and saturated fats are generally considered worse in most cases, because they contribute to arterial plaque and LDL cholesterol.  So keeping the majority of your fats of the unsaturated type are much better.  Plenty of foods have a high volume of unsaturated fats that are good for you, things like nuts, avocado, fish, and even certain meats are fine in the correct quantities.  

Protein is, of course, vital to health, on most days I try to keep my protein levels at or near 30 percent of my diet.  There’s all kinds of wild rumors about protein, most coming from the body building community, of which I’m very “plugged in”, but I’ll tell you right now, eating high percentages of protein doesn’t build muscle any stronger or faster than eating a moderate volume, there’s been absolutely no research to back this theory up, most studies say that anything above 30 to 35 percent protein in a diet is just converted to energy usage, even in the most intense muscle anabolism (gain) scenario.  The caveat’s to this are people using some kind of steroidal or hormonal supplement (Anabolic steroids, HGH…etc.).  With protein, you should watch for low quality proteins such as those from protein powders (yes, even the highest quality powder, whether it be whey protein, egg, or casein, is still less effective in the body than real food with protein, why?  Because the body doesn’t know how to correctly break down this protein, and relatively high percentages of it are lost to either waste or simple energy conversion).  

What does all this mean?  It means read your nutrition labels closely.  ESPECIALLY the bottom where it lists the ingredients.  Things added to foods are never as good as the natural features in a food.  Do a little planning of your diet ahead of time.  You don’t need to sit down and write out every meal you ever eat, but know your percentages, and have a few food types that are standby’s that you can go to if you know you are deficient.  I usually have a few chicken breasts and some broccoli (broccoli is a fantastic food, contains almost everything a person needs in some amount), and some almonds all hanging out at my house for the day I can’t decide.  

It’s really not that hard, and if you fill your days with good choices, those times (hopefully few and far between) when you make a bad choice, aren’t all that bad after all, and can be easily overcome by the good choices.  

As the saying goes, a body is made in the kitchen, not the gym.  The food you eat will make you healthy,  the exercise you do will make you strong, both are vital, but if I had to choose between healthy eating and exercise (gasp!), I choose healthy eating first, exercise second.

Feel free to ask any questions you want.  I’m happy to help.

 

-Banks

My Book is out!

I’m published! here’s the link:
Facing the Facts on Amazon Kindle

you can also purchase the book here direct from the publisher. Facing the facts book

It’s only out on Kindle as of the 10th of November, but it should be in Barnes and Nobles website and the regular Amazon book site in a few days!

Upcoming book “Facing the fAcTs” on sale soon

Yes, that’s right, I’ve written a book. This book will be a self-published manual for men who are going through the same issues I’ve gone through. The book will be a no-nonsense guide on how to cope with your situation, how to begin a new lifestyle, and how to become healthy and stay healthy.

While this book focuses on the male side of the issue (a side that has been all but forgotten in the weight loss industry), the facts and guides in the book will apply to anyone who is struggling with their weight and looking for a reasonable guide to putting their weight and their life back in order. Here’s a short exert from the book to whet your whistle.

” We should start this book with a few assumptions. If you are reading this book, you’re probably fat! If you’re reading this book, you’re probably a guy, either that or maybe a woman who is a little desperate. If you are reading this book you are at a point where you want to change yourself. I can help, but I can’t do it for you. Read this book if you want to learn how to become more healthy, don’t read this book if you’re looking for a quick fix. I don’t need money, I’m not rich, but I do ok, this book was written because there’s no book out there like it right now, not to let me retire rich, although I wouldn’t mind the money, I didn’t have a book like this for me, and had to do it all on my own, adapting female strategies to a guy, changing ratios, altering definitions, adapting research to me. I’ve already done the work, all you need to do is take it, LEARN it, and use it. While I made my best attempt to keeping things simple and to the point, some of the concepts in this book have no simple explanation, I only ask that you take the time to read and comprehend everything, I’m confident that if you read through this book, things that are confusing first, will come into clear focus after a couple of passes.”
Updates and release dates will becoming soon, I hope to have the book published and on the “rack” before the end of the year.

-Steve Hare

Workout levels, my observation from 25 years of working out

Right off the bat, I want to make sure people don’t take this post as a criticism of anyone’s workout intensity.   Everyone has their own idea of “high intensity” and only you (and maybe your trainer) can tell whether you met that level.

That being said, I have 3 levels of exercise,  none, recovery, and normal.

For me, normal is hard.  There’s no such thing as a “light workout day”, if I didn’t work hard, I count it as a recovery day.  

OK so what is hard,  hard means out of breath, maybe a few spots in front of your eyes.  Muscles are quivering with exhaustion,  joints might be a little sore, sweat everywhere (I spend about 1/3 of my workout time in the gym wiping stuff down.).

It doesn’t really matter what I’m doing, these features (or subsets of them) are universal.  After my 3rd squat set I am shaky walking and sweating like and S.O.B.   After my HIIT training I’m sucking down water, dripping sweat everywhere,  unable to speak other than the random grunt.  After a run, similar to HIIT except my feet generally hurt, and I have that well known “heat divot” in front of my eyes making walking in a straight line a little difficult for a minute or 3.  If I don’t have these symptoms, I know I didn’t push myself, thus I didn’t improve my physical fitness that day.  

So now that you know what is hard (from my perspective), I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret,  I only go this hard 2 to 3 times a week.  And yes, I’m in very good shape.  Being in great shape cardiovascularly and being strong doesn’t require 6 days a week of “hard” workouts, it requires being consistent in your weekly workouts, and watching your eating habits.

If you’re trying to become healthier (and yes, that includes fat loss) it doesn’t mean you have to spend 2 hours a day training, heck I rarely spend more than 45 minutes (30 of which are “hard”) working out, it requires that you work hard when you work, and that you do it every week a few times.  

So the next time you go to the gym or the track or lace up your running shoes with the intention of a “hard” workout,  think about how you feel during and immediately after it, if you don’t feel similar to what I described above, you probably didn’t push it very hard.  Just my two cents.

 

-Banks

my 5 favorite exercise tools that won’t break the bank

A lot of people think you need a gym to work out. While I am a member of a gym, that’s only because I do heavy lifting, and buying $1000 plus worth of weights isn’t in my plan (nor is it easy to store and use). People tend to think that you need big expensive equipment in order to work out at home; but the truth is, if you can find a 30 ft X 30 ft space of grass, you can work out just as hard as a guy with a $600.00 tread mill. Here are some of my favorite tools along with a short description
of what are good workouts for them.

1.Cones
Little, 6 inch orange cones can be a great agility course. Set them up in a zig zag, about 5 yards apart and they are a great way to work on explosive speed, lateral movement, and balance. By altering what types of stride you take you can change-up which muscles you use. Set 1 minute intervals and you can have yourself a great HIIT training session.

2.Jump rope
Little explanation needed. Jumping rope is a great endurance builder, plus it really sculpts your calves and quads.

3.Rubberized medicine ball
Pick one out that’s slightly heavier than you feel comfortable with. They cost around 45 or 50 dollars but you can do 6 or 7 different exercises with them. Most of them work your core and/or shoulders, but you can also use them as weight assistance for high repetition squats and wall sits to add that extra weight.

4.Agility ladder
These inexpensive training tools(about $25) can provide many different exercises that focus on either speed or agility. Most come with a DVD on some exercises to perform, but you could also find plenty of video tutorials at YouTube.

5.A bench
Yep, my favorite is free (big surprise). You can use a bench for everything from leg raises to Bulgarian lunges to step ups to jump overs just to name a few. For exactly zero dollars, you now have 5 minutes of a routine that will leave you breathless and fully worked out.

Mix in some free-standing push ups (of varying types), a few burpies and some sprinting with the 5 tools I list above, and you have yourself a nice little 45 minute routine that anyone can do at any public park (or even in the back yard). It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Happy exercising!

Vacation’s aren’t the end of the world

As I write this, I’m in Pompano Beach, looking out at the water from my 7th floor balcony, about to head down to the pool. But just because I’m on vacation, and yes, I’ve been having a few “wobbly pops” this week, that doesn’t mean I need to be totally unhealthy, or lose out on the fun. This morning I did a “Beach boot camp” with me and the wife, harder than a normal boot camp because I added sand into the equation, but I also plan on going down to the pool and probably having a few corona (lights) and a strawberry daiquiri or two as well. But dinner last night was pan seared sea scallops, mixed veggies and long grain wild rice (delicious), and 2 beers, breakfast today was 3/4 of a foot long subway egg-white sandwich, and lunch will probably be snacks (hummus, veggies, some fruit, some triscuits or wheat thins…etc, a good 450 or 500 calorie light meal), making sure I’m eating well is important, but it still FEELS like vacation this way, I’m not stuffing myself, I’m here with good friends, getting enough sleep, getting a good tan (wear your sun screen folks) and make sure you get your workouts in. I’ll do 3 hard workouts on this trip, and maybe 1 light workout. Not an overly demanding week for me (usually I do 4 hard and 2 moderate) but enough to keep me in line, but I get them out of the way early and I still have the whole day to be on vacation. This is the perfect answer to those of you who think vacation means you ruined your “diet” routine. It’s not a requirement to sabotage yourself when you go away.

best wishes,

Banks

What really IS High Intensity Interval Training

You hear all the time these days about the HIIT training (which is actually a redundant phrase as HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training). Do you know what it really is, what it’s purpose is, and how to achieve it? Many people think they do, but a high percentage of those people would be wrong.
HIIT is a type of hybrid training that involves fast twitch and slow twitch muscle training. It was originally designed to increase athletic performance and to increase something called the anaerobic threshold and localized muscular endurance. What does this mean? basically it means that you train for shorter periods doing almost any activity type, but at a far higher rate of performance than you would during long bouts of cardio.

Some of you may be thinking “so what’s the difference between HIIT and weight training then, since they are doing similar muscular activity?” While it’s true the goal of HIIT is to fatigue the muscle quickly, there is a very important difference between HIIT and weight training to failure. Where weight training (if performed correctly) is designed to push a specific muscle past the point of load that it can perform, essentially forcing a muscle to adapt and grow, HIIT training doesn’t push any one muscle past it’s work threshold all at once, it does it more gradually, while still being used anaerobically (see my post on weight training for the beginner exerciser here for more info https://bankshealth.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/weight-training-for-the-beginner-exerciser-and-technical-failure/). This means that while we are still looking for a failure point, we are achieving that failure for different reasons with HIIT than we do with weight training. Where weight training is looking to engage all of the muscle fibers in a muscle group and fatigue them quickly, HIIT is looking to draw all of the potential chemical energy out of a muscle site, using up all the oxygen and glycogen at a muscle site, this forces the body to adapt and allow for larger stores of glycogen, more efficient mitochondrial reaction (higher oxygen efficiency) and essentially better performance in that muscle group. To compare that with regular steady state cardio, with regular cardio, you should never become anaerobic, your body should always be able to replace oxygen and glucose reserves to keep you going at the increased metabolic rate.
For the reasons stated above, HIIT training has a very specific purpose, it’s designed to work muscle groups hard and fast. HIIT training sessions should be 10 to 40 minutes maximum, depending on how your endurance levels are, and the type of activity. The working to resting periods should be 20 and 40 seconds (respective) for beginners and as low as 30 and 15 seconds for highly trained athletes (that means 30 seconds of very hard work, coupled with 15 second rest periods) for anywhere from 4 repetitions to 20 repetitions. This means that a normal HIIT training routine will last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes if done right.
The difference between HIIT training and Weight training is that you CAN perform HIIT training next to cardio and not sustain any noticeable hormonal drawbacks as the hormones produced from HIIT training are similar to a moderate cardio routine, in other words feel free to do a 15 minute HIIT session followed by 30 or 40 minutes of cardio.
Who should be doing HIIT training? Well, anyone who wants to increase athletic performance, specifically people who need explosive movements coupled with long-term activity, for instance, hockey players, football players (both american and otherwise), basketball players, volleyball players, swimmers, moderate distance runners. HIIT training will allow for better muscle coordination along with the localized muscular endurance increases. HIIT training generally will NOT increase either workload of a muscle (I.E. you generally won’t become physically stronger with HIIT training) nor will it increase overall cardiovascular endurance (much, maybe small gains), it’s designed to work a localized muscle group, allowing you to perform at peak levels for longer periods and more periods, giving you that “burst” of energy even after an extended period, like a runners kick, or a better example would be a hockey player being able to put on a burst of speed to reach a puck in the 3rd period after a full game of hockey. That’s what HIIT training is really about.
Side effects and benefits of HIIT training are abundant. HIIT training is hard on the joints, be sure you’re physically able to perform HIIT training before you try it. Also anyone with cardiovascular or bone problems should consult a qualified medical professional before attempting HIIT. Of course, HIIT training will burn calories at a higher rate than straight cardio, but that is somewhat balanced by the fact that you can’t perform as long. Normally, a 20 minute HIIT training session with a 5 minute warm up and a 5 minute cooldown is the same caloric expense as about 50 to 60 minutes of moderate cardio. HIIT training (and any anaerobic activity) will create oxygen debt, which means that your metabolic rate will be raised for a time period post exercise (called EPOC or Exercise Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption), this means a slightly higher metabolic rate for a time after the exercise, anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours depending on the individual. HIIT training is NOT something you should perform every day, it’s hard on the body and long-term you could increase the likelihood of injury or arthritis, give your body plenty of rest days (or regular cardio) between, and make sure you stretch and cooldown after a HIIT session. There are other side effects of HIIT training, and in general it’s a great addition to any active and fit persons regimen, but it isn’t all you need to be athletic, nor should it be overused. If you have questions, please contact me.