The Improbable Eating Habits Of Olympic Champions.

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By Raymond Onyango.

Fitness is a multi-billion-dollar business worldwide. According to the international current affairs magazine, TIME; Americans alone spend an estimated 19 billion dollars a year on gym memberships. In an article titled, ‘Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin’, author John Cloud, notes that in spite of this colossal amount of money being poured into health club memberships, obesity rates in the United States Of America have continued on a seemingly uncontrollable upward spiral, with an estimated one-third of the entire American population now considered obese under the definition offered by the federal government.

The author’s argument against exercise is based on an interesting piece of logic. He reckons that the problem with exercise, is that it makes you hungry, and the more you exercise, the more hungry you get and thus the more you want to eat. As he puts it, a hard workout will burn maybe 200 to 300 calories, which you could put back with a single muffin, and so when you exit the gym and settle down to a sugary snack right after that hard workout, you are probably working against your very own weight-loss efforts.

His solution – and he quotes several experts to back it up – is that you should watch what you eat as the central core of your weight loss efforts, and he proceeds to caution the reader that ‘fiery spurts of vigorous exercise can lead to weight gain.

Predictably, this article caused a huge controversy, when it was first published in August 2009, attracting widespread condemnation from Fitness professionals all around the world, and triggering a raging debate in the global wellness community, dwelling on what the New York Times described as one of the most intriguing and vexing issue in physiology – Can Exercise Make You Thin?

Above the blaring cacophony of competing ‘expert’ opinions, a plausible answer to this question is to be found in the most befitting arena of all – the London 2012 Olympics.  Thanks to the British love for tabloid news, the media has been a buzz with the most trivial details of the games as well as the athletes themselves.  For instance, we got to learn about the dietary habits of some of the world’s most illustrious athletes, and boy! They are not exactly what you would expect from athletes of this caliber!

Michael Phelps the American swimming sensation, who made history at the London Games, becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 22 medals, 18 of them gold, not surprisingly eats like a horse. What is surprising is the amount of junk food the guy packs away on a daily basis – 3 fried egg sandwiches, choc chip pancakes, a 5- egg omelet, French toast and grits – just for breakfast. Phelps also consumes a whole kilogram (yes, a whole Kg!) of pasta everyday, plus ham and cheese sandwiches, pizza all chased down by a couple of liters of soda…and the guy is still as lean as a cheetah!

At a whooping 8,000 calories a day, Michael Phelps is taking in almost 4 times the recommended average calories for a male adult and yet he is still as lean as they come. There couldn’t be a better answer than this to the question – Can Exercise Make You Thin? Michael Phelps is living proof that Exercise Can Make You Thin, even if you must, like he does, train for up to 5 hours a day. Now that he is retired, one thing that is certain from this point forward is that even the great Michael Phelps, can gain weight, if he continues to eat like this, without a maintaining a commensurate level of exercise.

The fact of the matter is that neither extreme is sustainable. When you lose weight exclusively though calorie restrictive diets, the weight loss is indiscriminate and your body readily cannibalizes it own muscle tissue to bridge the calorie deficit. The result therefore is that as you lose weight, you also muscle mass which as you well know is the metabolic engine of the body and you further weaken key bodily organs and structures including your heart as well as your bones. Constant dieting for her demanding movie roles is believed to be one of the reasons why actress Gwyneth Paltrow was diagnosed with the degenerative bone disease osteopenia, a precursor to osteoarthritis – at the age of just 37!  Not to mention that the very moment you begin to eat normally again, you will rapidly gain back all the weight you have lost.

On the flip side, even if you exercise plenty, but eat too much junk; you are still not immune to the effects of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, or the cumulative effects of over consumption of highly processed food, which while high in calorie value is utterly devoid of any real nutritional value. In the long run you will end up malnourished and probably obese, when work or family gets in the way of your exercise habit.

In my book, the most effective and sustainable approach to weight loss lies in finding balance between the two. You don’t have to subsist exclusively on vegetables and mineral water in order to lose weight and be healthy, but you mustn’t imagine that a single hours worth of gym 3 times a week gives you the carte blanche to eat anything you please – because it doesn’t! You have got to ‘eat better and move more’ if you hope to get thin and stay that way for a lifetime!

Have a balanced week will you!

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Absolutely Flat Abs!

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3 Things You Can Do To Get There!

By Raymond Onyango.

Flat Abs

A flat, toned abdomen probably ranks first, as one of the most desirable outcomes of engaging in a regular exercise regimen, and one of the most elusive, to say the least!  And yet whenever I go down to the coast, or my hometown of Kisumu, every single fisherman on the lake, has a perfect set of six – pack abdominal muscles worthy of a fitness magazine cover!  They are the living proof that you don’t need to pop pills, or accumulate silly gadgets in the pursuit of a flat abdomen, you just need to modify your approach to abdominal exercise. Here is how.

Improve Your Posture

The Major Abdominal Muscle Groups

Your body has three main weights – the head, the chest and the hips. Keeping these weights in alignment, is a function that is mostly executed by four main abdominal muscle groups namely:

Transversus abdominus: The deepest muscle layer. Its main roles are to stabilize the trunk and maintain internal abdominal pressure.

Rectus abdominus: Slung between the ribs and the pubic bone at the front of the pelvis. This muscle has the characteristic bumps or bulges, when contracting, that are commonly called ‘the six pack’. The main function of the rectus abdominus is to move the body between the ribcage and the pelvis.

Six Pack Abs

External oblique muscles: These are on each side of the rectus abdominus. The external oblique muscles allow the trunk to twist, but to the opposite side of whichever external oblique is contracting. For example, the right external oblique contracts to turn the body to the left.

Internal oblique muscles:These flank the rectus abdominus and are located just inside the hipbones. They operate in the opposite way to the external oblique muscles. For example, twisting the trunk to the left requires the left side internal oblique and the right side external oblique to contract together.

Sit Tall

Sitting for too much of the day, often with poor posture as is the case with the great majority of us, has everything to do with weak abdominal muscles and strained lower backs. Most of the work our abdominal muscles do on a day to day basis is low in intensity, but long in duration, such as simply holding the upper body upright for hours every day. If you can consciously begin to improve your workout by sitting and standing tall, you will have laid a firm foundation upon which to build that flat abdomen you desire.

Think Whole Body

Think whole body

A common misconception is perpetuated by several health and fitness magazines is that getting flat abs is all about, doing tons and tons of crunches, sit ups and other abdominal exercises. Not only does this approach not work, even worse it encourages muscle imbalances in the body that can lead to host of expensive and draining medical conditions. The Human Body is a study in balance, and the abdomen is no different.

Remember our fishermen in Kisumu and Mombasa. I can bet you my last shilling that they have never done a sit up or an abdominal crunch in their lives and they certainly don’t posses gym memberships. On the other hand, they spend all day Rowing boats, Hauling In laden nets and hauling heavy baskets of fish ashore. In a nutshell, they use their bodies, and that in turn is what gives them such incredible muscle tone.

To get a flat abdomen, you have to train, you legs, arms and all other parts of the body in equal measure, The more muscle groups you call upon, the more you rev your metabolism and the more the pounds will drop off…even around the waistline! Huge compound exercises such as Squats, Lunges, Pull Ups, Push Ups, The Plank And the Bridge should form the core of your strength-training program. Your abdomen will benefit from it!

Eat Better

Fresh Produce

As you well know by now, all your efforts in the gym will come to naught if you don’t follow though with some sensible eating habits. Counting calories is a grand waste of time and you don’t have to subscribe to any complicated sounding diet plan either. Generations upon generation of our ancestors were able to feed themselves competently without professional help. They did it by eating wholesome, fresh, unprocessed food, devoid of any preservatives of flavor enhancing additives. They did it by approaching food as a source of nutrition and sustenance, rather than today where we are guided by taste and convenience as opposed to nutritional value.

Unprocessed food is the way to go

Most importantly however, they did it by being simple. The most successful approach to healthy eating, is that which is simple and easy to maintain for life. If you go in for an expensive diet plan, or one that is overly restrictive in its scope, you will fail primarily because you will not be able to maintain it for a meaningful period of time. Simply cut out as much of the processed stuff as you can, and go back to eating the way our grand parents and their parents before them did. It might take you a little longer to prepare a meal from scratch with fresh ingredients, but it will also help you live longer!

Have a great week will you!

Bare Bones

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Keys to help you maintain healthy bones

By Raymond Onyango.

 One of the greatest miracles of mother – nature is that life occurs where you least expect it. Your bones for instance are living tissue even though they may not seem like it. They have blood vessels, nerves and bone marrow where all of your blood cells are created. The human body is constantly tearing down and building various bones in your body all the time, though the action of a group of highly specialized cells known as Osteoblasts and Osteoclasts.

Osteoblasts are the builders, they make collagen and hydroxypatite the basic building blocks of bone tissue. Osteoclasts on the other hand are a separate group of larger cells whose function is to dissolve bone by acting on the mineral matrix. They  secrete various acids and enzymes, which break down collagen and dissolve the bone structure. This constant tearing down and rebuilding is what keeps our bones healthy and stands in the way of degenerative bone conditions such as osteoporosis and arthritis.

In his iconic book, Gun’s Germs and Steel, author Jared Diamond makes note of how the discovery of antibiotics greatly increased the lifespan of the average human being. But living longer also means that we are using our joints long beyond what nature had perhaps originally intended. As a testament to this fact perhaps, half or all women and at least a quarter of all men currently walking the planet will experience first hand, the ravages of bone disease and its limiting impact on an individuals life. One of the primary reasons for this is the fact that your most active bone making stage lies between age 20 and 30 – around which time you reach peak bone density.

From here on the only way to go is downhill. It made news headlines on major networks mid last year, when actress and mother Gwyneth Paltrow announced to the world that she had been diagnosed with Osteopenia, a precursor to the brittle bone disease Osteoporosis. The problem was diagnosed in a bone scan after she suffered a leg fracture. Her doctors tested her vitamin D levels, which turned out to be extremely low a fact several experts attributed to the endless dieting that comes with Hollywood stardom. But Gwyneth Paltrow is only 37 and this is what should get the alarm bells ringing in your head. It could just as well be you!

Eat Better

At the very forefront of your bone conservation efforts, should be a diet rich in leafy green vegetables and fruit. Greens give you calcium, Vitamin K, Potassium and other important minerals; your body needs to lay down bone tissue.   You also need vitamin D to aid proper bone mineralization. One of the largest sources of vitamin D is sunlight, although you do absorb some through the stomach by way food. Vitamin D has many other important functions in the body. For instance vitamin D helps to maintain normal blood levels of calcium by promoting calcium absorption in your intestines. An adequate amount of Vitamin D is important to keep young children from developing rickets or bowlegs, as they are commonly known.

Move More

Your bones will get stronger if you use them more. It is one of those medical conundrums. Simply resting the entire weight of your body on your legs when jogging or walking around the neighborhood in the evening will give your body the signal to lay down more bone material to reinforce your bones. Women especially need to embrace strength training with open arms in the fight against bone disease.  In the last decade no less that two- dozen studies have been published highlighting the positive relationship between strength training and greater bone density.

Beyond this is the fact that strength training helps us to enhance the structural integrity key weight bearing joints such as the knees, hips and lower spine. Without the adequate strength conditioning, you can almost be assured of developing problems with your joints at some stage in your life.

 If you want to stay healthy and independent well into your old age, you need to begin to lay a firm foundation right this moment. It is never too late to begin; if anything numerous studies have proven that even subjects in their 80’s can still improve their bone density through regular exercise.  Huge compound movements such as squats, Lunges, Push Ups, Pull Ups and Dips Should comprise the backbone of any successful strength-training program. Virtually every one of these can be done from the comfort of your own home without the need for any equipment whatsoever. All that’s left is for you to get started!

Have a brilliant week will you!