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Interview: The Special Forces Performance Mindset

We’ve put out quite a few articles on how to support your performance – with fitness, nutrition, recovery – but this month we wanted to provide a treat by giving you a glimpse into an aspect of performance not found in the everyday fitness routine – you know, the kind of performance only found when skydiving with a full scuba kit strapped to you. Well, we wanted to bring to you a “special” guest for this, so we went looking to find one to speak about the special forces performance mindset. CoreTek Performance Fitness had the opportunity to speak with Master Chief Giuseppe La Russa, a member of the Italian Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei e Incursori Teseo Tesei COMSUBIN. In case you are wondering, those are the Italian Navy’s SEALs.

We asked Giuseppe ten questions about his time in special forces and how performance factored into his service and experience. What you will see is that his answers flesh out three key areas of performance: focus, training, and adaptability. While these came into play at different parts of his experiences, these are aspects that you too can bring into your approach towards performance training. They equally apply to your training, nutrition, and recovery. We will focus on these in future performance articles, but for now, enjoy the interview…

We must never give up in the face of any problem that life throws at you, we must be aware that there is always a remedy or a solution to everything

Master Chief Giuseppe La Russa

The Interview

CPF: How did you get started in the special forces?

GLR: In 1982 I was in the non-commissioned officer school of Taranto, and participated in a conference conducted by Incursori instructors, in which they showed us videos explaining their lifestyle. So me and a dear friend of mine, intrigued by this, decided to submit applications. After the NCO course, I was immediately deployed to a large but very old ship for four months, after which they transferred me to another smaller one based in Sicily, where the task was to carry out patrols along the Libyan coast. On this ship, I suffered greatly from the sea and my desire was to take my leave.

One day the Commander calls me and informs me that they had accepted my application for the raider course, which I had done at the time, fascinated by those videos, even though I didn’t know what the word Incursor meant, or what this activity actually included. I was only sixteen years old and I had no awareness of the importance and the real tasks that were carried out by the operators belonging to this group. He also told me that if I managed to finish this course, I would avoid sea tours in the future, so I accepted. This was why I am part of the special forces today. However, I do not deny that the journey was hard and tiring.

CPF: What is the mindset that best allowed you to get through training?

GLR: I can answer this question briefly, I DID NOT WANT TO GO BACK ON BOARD TO SAIL. The suffering was enormous as was the willpower that never left me. The relationship of brotherhood that we have established between us adventure companions during this journey was fundamental to get to the end, we helped and comforted each other. The difficulty in passing this course can be understood from the fact that at the beginning we were about 70, on the day of the training after a year, there were only 6 left.

CPF: Did that mindset help with later service, or did it have to evolve to cope with new challenges?

GLR: I certainly had to change my mind after the course. The challenges I had to face were very different from what I had imagined, from watching those famous videos, I had to adapt to operational needs. When we arrived at the department we were divided into teams. I was assigned to an operator much older than me who had to follow me in training and in my professional training. It was really hard, especially the first three to four years.

CPF: What would you say is the key to special operations performance success?

GLR: What is the key to success? It is a bit difficult to answer this question. I’ll try. I think this, both in the operation and in the training and is nothing more than concentration, training, obedience and respect.

CPF: How would you recommend someone bring a special forces mentality into their regular life to improve performance?

GLR: Well, it is not easy, unfortunately, the military mentality is difficult to make it coincide with the civil one. The military are used to obedience, to respect rank and seniority, especially we in the special forces are used to respecting the latter. From my experience, I could give some advice, we must never give up in the face of any problem that life throws at you, we must be aware that there is always a remedy or a solution to everything.

CPF: What types of training did you find most challenging? 

GLR: For me it was the underwater part. By breathing oxygen and being underwater for more than two hours, the body suffers from fatigue.

CPF: How did injuries affect your performance? How did you recover?

GLR: Let’s say that I was one of the luckiest, I have had very few accidents. The first accident that happened to me was the fracture and explosion of the index finger of my right hand, in this case I had some problems at work, being also a rock climbing instructor. For a long time I could not do my job, but with willpower and determination I was able to get in shape to start over. Later I had a broken shoulder, in this case, the problem was less serious, because I was outside the operations department and my main activity was intelligence. Also in this case, thanks to physical activity and willpower, I returned, let’s say almost operational.

CPF: How would you describe the mental training needed to perform at a special forces level?

GLR: I think mental training is essential. The operators who are part of the special forces must always be very focused, especially when you have to conduct operations.

CPF: How did special forces training transform your views on training and performance?

GLR: Physical training is modified according to operational needs, you have to be very flexible in this field. In my long career I have had to adapt to several changes.

CPF: What was a typical day of special forces physical training and what mentality did you find best suited for it?

GLR: The typical training day of the special forces is: start with about an hour of physical activity, which can be running or gym, then continue, with a more targeted training, which includes: diving, patrolling, rock climbing, parachuting, shooting range activities or navigation on high-speed boats.

– Train Hard

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fitness program failure

Fitness Program Failure: Top Five Reasons

Fitness program failure happens for a reason, and with so many out there, both online and at local fitness facilities, you need to understand the top five reasons why programs can fail – as it will improve your chances of starting one that will work for you. That said, let’s paint a picture…

You just saw this great online program, or maybe it was a flyer at the gym. You know the one…it states you can get (fill in the blank) results in 12 weeks? The fitness guru on the material is in great shape, the sales pitch sounds great, you see lot’s of testimonials, fitness technical terms were all over…you buy it, you sign up, you download it, all excited, and in a month you’re wondering how anyone does it. You’re not alone, and you have probably encountered at least one of the five top reasons for fitness program failure…

1. Time

Having the proper time to follow a fixed workout program can be one of the most challenging aspects. To make the program work, you have to follow its schedule, both in terms of days of the week, but also in duration. For example, say it’s a 90-minute routine, five days a week, for 10 weeks…Can you do that? Many individuals look at plans online, and come away with the age-old “I can do that” and then find out it’s not so simple. There is also no real answer to this challenge outside of the one that you bring to the situation: Either you have the time, or you do not (and do not forget proper rest!). But that is the issue time brings to your efforts to follow a fixed routine, and why you are setting yourself up to see less than expected results if you cannot put in the time the program assumes.

Take away – you are going to struggle to follow the program, and get expected results, if you cannot provide the time the program requires. This is true whether you are using the local gym or working out at home. Do some real research into the program’s time requirements, and lean conservative in your schedule assumptions. And if you are working a home-based program, and do not live alone, then others might affect this too.

2. Acces

Do you have access to the equipment the program calls out? If it is a home-based program, do you have everything you need at home? If not, can you get them? Do you have space for them? Before you think the gym is safe for this element, think again. How many times have you been to the gym and it was packed? You could not get anything you wanted that night? Well, this plays out more so in a fixed fitness program – in that, say it’s leg day on your program, and every squat rack, leg press, leg extension, and leg anything is in use. And it’s the only time you have that day…You see where this is going. If your program is not built with alternative plans for when this happens, it can create a disappointing day.

Take away – consider the equipment and space access expectation of the program. Nothing at home…are you OK with shelling out extra costs to acquire the gear? Have a gym membership…how packed does the gym get during your available workout times? You need to consider how well you can access the program’s needed elements throughout the duration of the program. Even the “at home, no equipment required” program can have access issues – can you access space to workout each day?

3. Program is not for you

This is simply making a poor program selection. It can be for various reasons, but we need to be thinking about how our body responds to types of training, and whether a program we want is a program that will work. This is not a repeat of the Time and Access issues noted above, but rather that the program is not suited for your physiology, personality, etc. If you are not fond of resistance training, then “Muscle Mike’s 10 Week Bulk Up Blitz” might not be your thing…in that are you going to bring the drive to get each workout done? Are you going to follow the program? Will obstacles easily make you put off a session? Or, perhaps the program reflects what you were, but no longer are? That is, maybe that program would have been perfect for the you fresh out of college, but is it perfect for your late 40s and family life? In the end, your ability to avoid fitness program failure is also partly driven by how well it suits you.

Take away – know thyself and choose wisely. Your program is likely not going to have a trainer to adjust it as you progress or have issues – but is a “buy and follow” deal. So take the time to think about what you really can handle and are in the mood to do. While the program is intended to change your body, you need to start by looking at your body. Be real with age, injuries, likes, dislikes, etc. The more honest you are, the better you will pick a fitness program you can follow. You can always build on success.

4. Nutrition

This is where we just need to have some brutal honesty. Your dedication to your fitness program is all thrown into the waste bin if you blow the nutrition side of the process. Hitting every workout, full intensity, week after week is great until you hit the local fast-food drive-through five nights a week. If you look at most of the programs out there, they are going to talk about nutrition. Now some may be trying to get you to buy certain foods, etc – but the bottom line is they are saying the full benefits of the program are only found when the nutrition backs it up.

Take away – there is an old saying: abs are made in the kitchen. That very acutely sums up this point. You need to understand your fitness is made of your nutritional intake as well, and you undermine any fitness program if you cannot maintain proper nutrition. Moreover, you need to look up what is needed for your program too – maybe it’s a high protein, high-calorie, low carb, gluten-free, etc – you might find it’s not easy to follow.

5. The program is…garbage

Well, you knew this one was coming. There is a lot out there for fitness programs. Some are created by educated and trained individuals or teams. They base their routines and instructions on proven and safe processes and information. And there are a lot more from that person who goes to the gym, looks great, can drop a lot of cool-sounding fitness buzz words, recite advice they heard from an expert – but actually are not trained or certified in what they are putting out. In short, they are putting out pseudo-science garbage and setting you up for fitness program failure. And sometimes, it can be dangerous. So if the program is garbage, it’s not going to work. Worst case, it can also risk injury.

Take away – do not be fooled by what the marketing looks like. Take the time to check up on the credentials of the program. Just because someone can pay to have ads always in your face, does not mean they are a quality fitness program creator.

In the end, this is not telling you not to purchase a fitness program. Quite the opposite – a fitness program is a great tool to develop your performance and improve your health and we encourage you to go for it! But, what we want you to be tracking is that there are many reasons these programs can fail, and we hate to say it, but often the reason falls on the buyer, not the program. Do your research, consider our top five tips, and as always…

-Train Hard!

negative effects of excess weight

Research Update: Can Exercise Counter the Negative Effects of Excess Weight?

You’ve probably already noticed in several news organizations the publication of research findings in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology that assessed the claim that a high cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) might mitigate the detrimental effects of excess body weight on cardiometabolic health, termed the ‘fat but fit’ paradox. Can CRF negate the negative effects of excess weight? Let’s find out…

We’re going to skip to the end of the story for you:

According to study author Dr. Alejandro Lucia of the European University, Madrid, Spain, “Exercise does not seem to compensate for the negative effects of excess weight. This finding was also observed overall in both men and women when they were analysed separately.”

…refute the notion that a physically active lifestyle can completely negate the deleterious effects of overweight/obesity…

Joint association of physical activity and body mass index with cardiovascular risk: a nationwide population-based cross-sectional study

Study highlights

The specific study notes, “…the present findings, which are based on data from insured active workers across Spain, represent one of the largest studies to date (n = 527 662) and refute the notion that a physically active lifestyle can completely negate the deleterious effects of overweight/obesity.”

Want more data, then try “…a study conducted in 2196 participants reported that although PA was associated with a lower CVD risk within each BMI category during a 30-year follow-up, individuals with overweight or obesity presented with an increased CVD risk regardless of their PA levels…”

Or let this one sink in, “… in line with our findings, a systematic review concluded that an excess BMI is associated with increased CVD risk irrespective of PA levels.” Put another way, physical activity (PA) levels for those with a high BMI, did not alleviate cardiovascular disease (CVD) risks.

We’re not selectively pulling from this study. It shows PA is a good thing for any BMI level, but the study does not find that PA negates BMI or excess weight affects on health or CVD risks.

How did we get here?

The key point to notice is the researchers wanted to use science to test the “fat but fit” claim that has grown in recent years. What has driven this claim in several areas of modern culture is the conflation between a healthy body image and a healthy body. One is emotional, the other physiological. Too many supposed health and lifestyle outlets have been amplifying the belief that all that matters is that you are happy with who you are, and any level of activity is sufficient for health. First, we’re going to stay away from that argument here – there’s too much to unpack. Second, this study shreds that from the physiological aspect.

Third, if you have weight to lose, you have weight to lose. It’s not criticism, it’s about health.

A performance-focused solution

Building your lifestyle program around performance is a solid method to combat the negative effects of excess weight. Below are three tips, each from our performance triad, on how you can tackle your BMI, if needed.

Nutrition: Get serious about what you eat. No really, get f*ing serious about what you eat. Do not go nuts, do not go to extremes. But performance management of your BMI means you own your results. Performance diets are not guesswork, either – you need to spend some time with a pencil and calculator. Knowing your daily caloric and macronutrient needs to reach and sustain your performance means taking the time to run the numbers. Want more nutrition advice, then check out our article on Performance Diet Tips.

Fitness: Solve your time issues by using short duration, micro-HIIT sessions. These have shown the potential to be more beneficial than traditional exercise routines that rely on steady-state. Sound new? Their not – a 2016 study showed that one minute of intense training within a 10 minute period yielded the same results as a 50-minute steady-state trained group over a 12-week period. See our full Fitness Tip on Micro-HIIT.

Rest: As much as you exercise, and feed your body, a notable portion of your ability to manage weight comes from your rest cycle. Check out a good overview at The Healthy on how sleep helps burn fat. For now, here are some quick tips to help ensure you get proper rest: stick to a regular time for bed, it will keep your body on a schedule, do not over-sleep on the weekends, or off days, as this too will impact your body’s ability to manage its rests cycles, be careful with naps; they are fine, but too many, too long, or at the wrong time, and you can mess up your body’s sleep cycle, and during the day, get as much exposure to light as possible; this not only helps the body develop vitamin D, but also helps tell it to be awake. You can see more from us on rest here.

– Train Hard!

Top Winter Performance Tips

You are not alone if you struggle to maintain your fitness routine during the winter months. Your routine faces shorter daylight hours, harsher weather, holiday events, family gatherings, and of course, lots of food. If you feel like you have to choose between performance and the season, then let’s do a reset on that mentality, and then get down to work with our top winter performance tips!

First, it’s all on you. If you want your routine, then it’s not a choice at all – you just get it done. With the proper performance mindset, you will find you can easily sustain your performance during the winter months.

Second, you are going to have to make some adjustments to deal with the variances of the winter months. Proper planning is about adapting to life’s events to keep you on your performance track.

Third – with all the winter events, you better have some fun and down time in there. Performance is balance. As hard as you push and focus on your plans, you need mental health as well. Time with friends and family, a day or two of rest, and other items are just as important to sustaining your performance as squeezing out one more AMRAP session.

We’ve done cold-weather exercise before – but this time, we’ve selected three tips for each of the performance triad elements – fitness/movement, nutrition, and rest/recovery, to focus on key areas to keep your performance on track.

Exercise

For this part of the performance triad, in the winter months, there are three key tips to keep you on track:

  • Stay Active: Keeping active is the key to coming out of the winter months with your performance levels intact. No matter what the schedule, travel plans, weather forced closures, etc, you can run, jog, walk, do home workouts of bodyweight exercises, yoga, callisthenics, etc. By keeping active, you will keep your metabolism fired up, which will help in many areas: weight management, stress management, hormone balance, and sleep patterns.
  • Dress for the Weather: It can be tricky or at times deceptive to dress for winter exercise. Too much, and you can develop hyperthermia, too little and you risk developing hypothermia. Layering is the best approach. We can break it all down, our send you here, where Very Well Fit has a great article on cold-weather layering.
  • Join a Class: One of the best ways to stay motivated is to develop a means of accountability. If you find yourself wavering during the winter months, a class is a way to impose a sense of accountability to your efforts. Whether because you spent the money, or you do not want to be a no-show in front of others – class membership has been shown to help in fitness routines. If commitment is not an issue – then try taking a class in something you would not do the rest of the year when you are on your normal routine. Yoga, spinning, CrossFit, and others are great ways to keep active, make new fitness friends, and have fun.

Nutrition

With all the food choices, most of which are carb and sugar loaded, it can appear challenging to sustain a performance diet – but we can help with these tips (which all directly tie together):

  • Plan Your Meals: This is a tip that is a constant year round, but likely more important during the winter months when gatherings, family meals, and sweets abound. It can be easy to get caught up in all the food – but this is where meal planning can save you. By planning your meals, you can ensure you sustain proper nutrients, and not face the cravings of an empty stomach vs plate of winter sugar cookies! Planning your meals does not mean you cannot have sweets or those other holiday meals – rather, by planning you will ensure that you are getting proper nutrition at all other times, and not over-indulging when those festive times come.
  • Limit Sugar: Excessive sugar intake is one of the quickest way to add to fat storage. Now this might be hard during the winter season – this is one where you need to focus on keeping your sugar intake under control. But if you plan your meals, as noted above, then you will help keep your body fuelled and it will be easier to resist sugar and all the excessive calories that come with it.
  • High Protein Intake: Protein is a key tool in diet management. It keeps you satiated – meaning you are less likely to indulge in excess eating, and helps your body burn calories by being a denser material to digest. Ensure your meals contain good sources of protein, such as chicken and fish, and you will help control your desire to eat excessive amounts of unhealthy food items.

Rest/Recovery

The third part of the performance triad, and often most neglected is rest and recovery. Your winter performance routine needs to have adequate rest and recovery to ensure you are maintaining a balanced performance pattern. Here are three tips to support your efforts:

  • Get Adequate Rest: While the nights may be longer, many do not get adequate sleep and rest during the winter months. Limited and insufficient sleep can have even more effects on your body than muscle health. If you are one who puts off getting adequate rest, you risk impaired concentration, mood changes, weight gain, and a weakened immune system – something you do not want at the peak of cold and flu season! We’ve listed tips before, here, to help you get your proper rest and recovery time.
  • Stretch/Do Yoga: Recovery means resting your muscles. Not only through sleep, but also through stretching and exercise such as yoga. These techniques will help your muscles rest and recover from resistance training or hard cardio training. By giving your muscles care, you not only reduce the risk of injury, but also aid in their ability to recover and provide sustained performance training. If you are looking for tips on specifics, you can check out our other work on adding yoga to your routine.
  • Vitamin D: Make sure you get as much natural sunlight as possible. Natural sunlight exposure is the easiest and most reliable way for most people to get vitamin D – and the hardest to maintain in the winter months. Normal exposure of the hands, face, arms, and legs to sunlight 2-3 times a week for 10-30 minutes is sufficient time to produce enough vitamin D. The necessary exposure time varies with age, skin type, season, time of day, and other factors. During periods of sunlight, vitamin D is stored in your body fat and then released when sunlight is gone.

If you just finished reading, and are thinking these top winter performance tips sound easy – they are, but at the same time, so many people fall off their performance routines during the winter months because they do not follow these simple steps. So easy yes, but yet not done by so many who come out of winter wondering how they got out of shape!

In the end, do not confuse a performance mindset with difficulty. It’s the dedication during the winter months that makes your performance, not the difficulty. Follow these tips, and watch how you charge into spring weather!

– Train Hard!

negative effects of excess weight

Achieving Your Target Weight – Doing the Math

Achieving your target weight goal should not be the difficult challenge so many encounter; however, so many seem to have a hard time keeping on a path to reach it…sound familiar?

Many people struggle to stay on track to hitting their weight goals, and the solution may be as simple as dusting off a calculator, doing some math, and keeping track.

First, we’re going to assume that you have all the other parts dialed in – workout routine is built to get your results and you are eating a macronutrient balanced diet. What we are going to work on here, for you, is the science of weight control for achieving your target weight.

Let’s start with losing weight

Dropping weight for most means lowering body fat composition. In numbers 3,500 calories is a pound of body fat. To lose a pound, per week, you need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories. You can get there through burning calories (exercise), diet (eat less), or both.

Easy – maybe. So why do so many start this path, see beginning results, and then nothing? Answer is easy (hint, but keep it a secret…it’s the math)

What is the math of weight management

Everyone has a basic daily caloric intake need – officially known as your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). 

This is the amount of calories you need on a daily basis to maintain your body weight. There are two formulas (using the MIFFLIN ST. JEOR EQUATION):

Men: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5
Women: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161

Basic Activity Factor

1.2: If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) = BMR x 1.2
1.375: If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) = BMR x 1.375
1.55: If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) = BMR x 1.55
1.725: If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) = BMR x 1.725
1.9: If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) = BMR x 1.9

TDEE Example

Let’s meet Alex. Alex weighs 108 kg, 180 cm tall, 36 years old, and does light sport 3 days a week. Following this:

((10 x 108) + (6.25 x 180) – (5 x 36) + 5) x 1.375 = 2791 calories

Per week, Alex needs 19,537 to maintain his weight of 108 kg.

Now to lose a pound (.45 kg), Alex needs to reduce his caloric intake to 16,037 per week. And so he does, and the weight starts coming off, until it doesn’t. What happened?

This is where you are now going to understand how to avoid this pitfall. As the weight comes down, the math changes.

Let’s assume Alex is now 103 kg:

((10 x 103) + (6.25 x 180) – (5 x 36) + 5) x 1.375 = 2723 calories, or, 19,061 calories per week.

If Alex still has his diet adjusted to 16,037 calories per week, his deficit is only 3,024. A lot, but not enough to get off a pound. And as his weight drops, this will continue to be an issue.

And this is the mistake so many make in trying to achieve their target weight – keeping up the simple math behind the numbers.

So how do you avoid this? Simple – we recommend that for every 5 kg of weight loss, you do the math – work out your new TDEE.

If you are not seeing great results, and think your program is not working – it likely is for the most part, but it needs updating.

If you want to put away the calculator, you can head here, for a free online TDEE tool.

But you want to gain weight

Adding high-quality protein to your diet is essential for building muscle. Based on current research, your should consume 0.8g of protein for each kg of body weight as part of your TDEE. Let’s be clear – 0.8g per kg, just to maintain weight.

Research suggests that to support muscle development, one should increase protein intake to 1.5-2.0g per kg of body weight. For example, in a 90 kg individual, that would equate to 135-180 grams of protein per day. We strongly recommend your protein intake come from natural food sources; seek guidance from a registered dietician if you want to assess the affects of supplementation on your specific body.

In the end

This is why fitness programs, the good ones, will cycle through different elements every 3-6 weeks (depending on the program). It is because your body adjusts to a diet and workout. The same effort and calories that worked when you started a routine are not the ones that are going to get you across the finish line. Achieving your target weight means taking the time to monitor your progress, and make adjustments.

– Train Hard!

Vitamin D Benefits: Science or Hype?

First, what is Vitamin D exactly?

Vitamin D is required for the regulation of the minerals, calcium, and phosphorus found in the body. And in addition to calcium, it is an important aspect of maintaining proper bone structure.

Natural sunlight exposure is the easiest and most reliable way for most people to get vitamin D. Normal exposure of the hands, face, arms, and legs to sunlight 2-3 times a week for 10-30 minutes is sufficient time to produce enough vitamin D. The necessary exposure time varies with age, skin type, season, time of day, and other factors. During periods of sunlight, vitamin D is stored in your body fat and then released when sunlight is gone.

Vitamin D’s ability to help build strong bones by increasing the body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorous is long known. However, recent years have seen it associated as a defense against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mood swings, and depression. But current studies are now altering our understanding of this vitamin, and while not diminishing its importance to our body’s health, may be challenging some decades-old hype.

In 2014, in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers recruited and studied the vitamin D effects in over 25,000 healthy U.S. adults over 50 for an average of almost 5 1/2 years. The study concluded that vitamin D supplements did not lower the risk of cancer, stroke, or heart attack.

And in early 2019, researchers published an analysis of prior studies on the link between vitamin D supplements, cancer risk, and survival. The analysis found no link between supplementation and reduced cancer risk; however, studies suggested that taking vitamin D supplements may lower the risk of dying from cancer by 13%. The study did not determine if the potential vitamin D supplement effect actually caused the body’s own immune system to improve and fight cancer, or if the supplement was directly responsible. In contrast to these possible positive results, a recently published Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL) noted that in a large study of more than 25,000 participants that those taking a vitamin D supplement did not lower rates of heart attack, stroke, or cancer. However, among people who later developed cancer, those who took vitamin D supplements for at least two years had a 25% lower chance of dying from their cancer compared with those who received a placebo.

Possible Assistance in Weight Loss

There is limited evidence vitamin D levels may affect one’s ability to lose weight.

In a 2009 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, some participants taking daily calcium and vitamin D supplement were able to lose more weight than subjects taking a placebo supplement.

Possible Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Respiratory Inflammation Risks

An April 2020 article in the periodical Nutrients, suggests vitamin D can reduce risk of infections.

According to the article’s researchers, vitamin D supports mechanisms that can lower viral replication rates and reduce concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines that produce lung inflammation that typically leads to pneumonia, as well as boosting concentrations of anti-inflammatory cytokines. Again, there are mixed results on this too, as several observational studies and clinical trials did not observe any effect from vitamin D in reducing the risk of influenza.

Foods highest in vitamin D on wooden background.

Natural Sources of Vitamin D

Foods that provide vitamin D include:

  • Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon
  • Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks

Depositphotos_45202029_xl-2015

Vitamin D Supplements

While research is ongoing, there are benefits from taking vitamin D supplements to promote bone health; however, large amounts of vitamin D are not required to get the benefit.  Notably, a 2010 study published in JAMA showed that intake of very high doses of vitamin D in older women was associated with more falls and fractures.

But too much vitamin D (or any supplment) can create risks. Taking a supplement that contains too much vitamin D can be toxic in rare cases. It can lead to hypercalcemia, a condition in which too much calcium builds up in the blood, potentially forming deposits in the arteries or soft tissues. It may also predispose women to painful kidney stones.

Vitamin D2 and D3

The most important forms of Vitamin D for the human body are D3 and (to a lesser extent) D2. If you select to take vitamin D supplements, choose a quality supplement and eating some foods fortified with D3.

Creatine Supplements: Effects on Muscle Performance

There are a lot of articles out in the fitness world that talk about the wonders of creatine supplements. Many supplement companies not only have creatine as a standalone product, but include it in pre-workout mixes.

So this stuff must be great, right? As we did with our Pre-Workout article, we’re going to try to give you simple, yet science based take on creatine to help guide you in your health and fitness decisions.

So what is creatine, and how does it work?

Let’s start with the science – adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the most basic form of energy in your body’s cells. It plays a fundamental role in metabolism and muscle function.

Biochemically, ATP is a nucleoside triphosphate, which indicates that it consists of three components: a nitrogenous base (adenine), the sugar ribose, and the triphosphate.

In muscle performance, ATP acts in the following manner with myosin, which is a motor protein best known for its role in muscle contraction:

  • ATP prepares myosin for binding with actin by moving it to a higher- energy state and a “cocked” position.
  • ATP must bind to myosin to break the cross-bridge and enable the myosin to rebind to actin at the next muscle contraction.

Mechanism of muscle contraction.

For training, or any intense muscle activity, your muscles typically store only enough ATP for 8–10 seconds of high-intensity exercise. After this, your body must produce new ATP to match the demands of your physical activity.

Simply put, this is why you can burst few short periods of energy and muscle movement, but cannot sustain those levels.

We’re getting to the part about the creatine…

A study by the Centre for Human Sciences in 2000 showed that fatigue sustained during short-term, high-intensity exercise is associated with the inability of skeletal muscle to maintain a high rate of anaerobic ATP production from phosphocreatine hydrolysis – and that the ingestion of creatine monohydrate at a rate of 20 g/d for 5-6 d was shown to increase the total creatine concentration of human skeletal muscle by approximately 25 mmol/kg dry mass, some 30% of this in phosphorylated form as phosphocreatine.

Moreover, the study showed that a loss of ATP during heavy anaerobic exercise was found to decline after creatine ingestion, despite an increase in work production. These results suggest that improvements in performance are due to parallel improvements in ATP resynthesis during exercise as a consequence of increased phosphocreatine availability.

Short version – Creatine supplements increase your body’s stores of phosphocreatine, which in turn helps support your body’s ability to create ATP and replenish the depleted supply to continue fueling muscle activity.

Other Creatine Benefits

Increase in the water content of your muscle cells.

Increase in repetitions and weight loads of training sessions.

May reduce muscle breakdown and assist in post work out recovery.

Lastly, a study in 2010 from the Department of Sport Science was conducted to determine the effect of resistance training for 8 weeks in conjunction with creatine supplementation on muscle strength, lean body mass, and serum levels of myostatin and growth. The researchers found that creatine increased muscle mass when added to an exercise regimen and resulted in a “significant decrease in serum levels of myostatin,” which is a protein that inhibits muscle cell growth.

So that’s it – creatine helps your body maintain its ATP levels, which in turn help muscle output, recovery, and growth.

Does that mean you should take it?

That is a discussion between you, your health provider, and if available, registered dietician. But hopefully, with our comments, you are now better informed about one of the more prolific supplements on the market.

As always

-Train Hard!

 

Healthy Food Tips in a COVID-19 World

With everyone adjusting to life in a COVID-19 world that requires more time inside than before, it is easy to slip into some unhealthy, or at least unwise, eating habits that can challenge your efforts to stay focused on a healthy lifestyle. While we will all have to cope with the foods we have, there are two simple steps you can take to assist your body in keeping healthy.

Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats.

Natural sugars include fruit sugar (fructose) and milk sugar (lactose). Added sugars are the various forms of sugar that are added to processed foods, sweetened beverages, and snacks that are readily on hand at most food stores. Foods high in added sugars have very little nutritional value – think empty calories that your body will have to work off. While you ideally want to keep added sugar as low as possible, you should try to keep your total daily intake to no more than 10 % of your calories.

Saturated fats are associated with an increase in the total of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.  That’s right, the “bad” cholesterol. Moreover, increases in LDL are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Major sources of saturated fats include items such as full-fat cheese, pizza, grain-based desserts, dairy-based desserts, fried foods, sausages, franks, bacon, and ribs.

Trans Fats are even less healthy. They are naturally found in some foods, but mostly come from processed foods (“artificial trans fats”). These increase LDL and contribute to increased cardiovascular disease risk. While low levels of Trans Fats can appear as zero in nutrition labels totals – watch out for ingredients such as “partially hydrogenated…” – which means Trans Fat is in your food, just at a low level. And remember, low level here, low level there… it adds up.

You should look for foods with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, as these promote high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels – this is the “good” cholesterol.

Reduce sodium intake.

Sodium (think salt) is typically related to blood pressure. As we know, maintaining a normal blood pressure level keeps cardiovascular risks low. But there are variances in the recommended levels of healthy sodium intake: low-risk and high-risk individuals do not need the same amounts. We recommend you check with you health provider, or your national dietary guidelines for specifics on how much sodium you should consume.

What makes it hard to manage your sodium intake is how much it is used in the food manufacturing and processing cycles. Notably in canned, processed, and even restaurant prepared meals.

Steps to help manage your sodium intake:

  • Read nutrition labels and pay attention to sodium contents
  • Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods
  • Do not add salt to your food; but rely on its natural sodium content

For individuals with hypertension, following a low-sodium dietary eating plan is recommended. Ask your healthcare provider for details.

As you can see from these two areas, the ready to eat, simple, and often comfort foods many turn to when they are at home for long periods are likely to contain excessive sugars, fats, and sodium. This is not to say never have pizza night on the couch. Far from it. Rather, we need to be smart, use healthy guidance for our food selections, and keep processed food snacks and other items to a minimum.

In the end, be mindful that our eating habits are likely changing as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, and it will be easy for us to slip into foods that while easy to obtain or prepare, undermine our efforts to maintain our healthy goals. Remember, you can never out-train your diet. Being fit always includes your diet.

Train Hard (and Eat Smart)!

Holiday Fitness

Tis the season…

As we end 2019, and look ahead to our new fitness challenges in 2020, it is important to remember that your goals are met one workout, one rep, one kilometer, one step, and one day at a time.

Looking back on this year, take pride in all you accomplished towards your fitness goals. And importantly, do not give up if you fell a little short. Rome was not built in a day, nor a year – but over time. Your goals will be there – just keep training!

So as we go into this season, remember that even with the craziness it can bring – travel, shopping, large meals, full houses of families, and yes, stress – keep training.

Not only will exercise help keep you healthy, but will also help with the stress of the season. So set so time aside, and stay active. But knowing that time is not on your side at times, here are some ideas we have to help you ensure you can keep active while keeping merry:

  1. Old school basics – push ups, sit ups, body squats, and burpees. These are great simple resistance exercises when you cannot get to the gym. Three sets of 10 in the morning, and you are ready for the day.
  2. Yoga – simple 30 minutes. No need for hard core asana sessions. You can find many quick routines online if you have never tried yoga. 30 minutes in the morning, and you will feel refreshed and energized for the day.
  3. Brisk walk – throw on some trainers, dress for the weather, hydrate properly – and hit the streets, road, trail, or where ever you can go. Stick to 30 minutes, get in some HITT intervals, and then seize the day!
  4. Quick jog session – perfect way to keep some “me” time, clear your mind, and do wonders for your cardio system. Add some HITT, and you have a solid 30 minute tool to recharge your mind and body.

Now you’ve probably noted a theme here – 30 minutes. That’s intentional. We know the holiday season is busy. If you have time to maintain your regular work outs, great! But we know that many are feeling the stress of the holidays, and spending too much time at the gym, or just doing your program may add to your stress. So keep it simple – 30 minutes. Your body will stay fit, and your mind refreshed.

And lastly, get creative! Live somewhere with snow? Cross country skiing is a great full body work out and can be done with the whole family! Our point is that you do not have to stress about staying active in the holidays. There are simple ways to give the season its due attention, and still keep moving towards your goals.

So as we wrap up 2019, remember…

Train Hard!

Maintain proper rest

Proper Rest for Recovery and Growth

With all the effort into your workout and diet, did you realize that failing to add the proper amount of rest and recovery into your efforts can undermine and work against you?

Sleep is an important part of your body’s repair and maintenance efforts. For athletes, sleep is the time where the concentration of growth hormone in the body is at its highest. These hormones are the building blocks to your muscle recovery and growth.

How important is that good night’s sleep to your recovery?

A 2018 study performed by Uppsala University in Sweden took fat and muscle samples from 15 healthy young men on two separate mornings – one after a good night’s sleep and the other after they lay awake all night. After the sleepless night, the participants’ muscles showed signs of protein breakdown. Their fat tissue, in contrast, had elevated levels of proteins and metabolites that are involved in promoting fat storage.

Limited and insufficient sleep can have even more effects on your body than muscle health. If you are one who puts off getting adequate rest, here are other things you might encounter:

  • Memory issues
  • Impaired concentration
  • Mood changes
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Risk of diabetes
  • Weight gain
  • Risk of heart disease
  • Poor balance
  • Reduced sex drive

Now before you think that another shot of an energy drink solves all this…

Stimulants (caffeine, energy drinks, etc) aren’t enough to override your body’s need for sleep. In fact, these can make sleep deprivation worse by making it harder to fall asleep at night. Which, you guessed it… may make you end up in a cycle of insufficient sleep.

So what are the signs this may be an issue? One sleepless night, or one tired day is something we all experience. It is not the one time or rare occurrence that we are talking about. What you should watch out for are signs of:

  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Constant fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Concentration issues

And remember what you can tolerate as part of your routine, and how much sleep you need, is not a constant throughout your life. Just because you could push your limits in your 20’s does not mean those are your same limits later in life. As your body changes over time, so does your metabolism and other physiological aspects that will impact how much sleep you require to stay healthy, and see the benefits or your training efforts.

If you are in need of a few basic tips to manage your rest cycles, try these:

  1. Stick to a regular time for bed, it will keep your body on a schedule
  2. Do not over-sleep on the weekends, or off days, as this too will impact your body’s ability to manage its rests cycles
  3. Be careful with naps; they are fine, but too many, too long, or at the wrong time, and you can mess up your body’s sleep cycle
  4. During the day, get as much exposure to light as possible; this not only helps the body develop vitamin D, but also helps tell it to be awake
  5. At night, limit the amount of exposure to bright lights – like television, and computer screens – this will help ensure your body knows it is time to shut down
  6. When it is time to sleep, keep the room dark
  7. Try to avoid physical activities such as exercise within three hours of your expected bed time – exercise activates your metabolism, which in turn makes it hard to sleep
  8. If you do want to add an activity to help you rest, there are simple yoga techniques that you may find beneficial,
  9. And, limit caffeine and alcohol at night; one clearly does not work well with trying to rest, and while the other might make you relax, it can interfere with your sleep cycle once you are asleep

If you are looking for more advise and understanding on the importance of sleep and recovery, we recommend you try these resources by Sleep Help:

As we always end our sections with Train Hard, in this case…

– Rest Hard!

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