Skip to content

You Are What You Eat

July 18, 2009

“I got plenty of sleep, but I’m still so tired.” “I have a headache, and I have no idea why.” “My stomach is killing me.” “I am 10 years old and have already acquired type 2 diabetes.” Yes, that old American saying is undeniably true. As I’ve mentioned briefly in a previous post or two, your food is your fuel. It is meant to provide nourishment to our bodies so that they can function at the optimal level. If you put bad things into your body, it will let you know. I’m not just talking about performance during a workout or an athletic activity, but during your everyday life. If you are eating processed, sugary foods that do not belong in your body, you are feeling it. Unfortunately, the average person living in this country doesn’t know the difference, because he/she has grown up eating the unhealthiest diet of them all: the American diet.

gross

The problem is not entirely with the American people, but mostly with the food industry and the government. These food companies are constantly lobbying the government to subsidize them to produce the cheapest food possible. In other words, the big food corporations are making sure to use the money given to them by the taxpayers to produce “food” that will yield the most profit for them. At the heart of the matter is the growing if vast amounts of corn; it’s one of the cheapest crops out there. These companies then genetically modify this corn to serve whichever purpose is appropriate for the product they’re concocting, be it a sweetener (high-fructose corn syrup), a thickening agent (modified corn starch), or the ever-so-poisonous preservative called trans fat (hydrogenated corn oil), etc. Even many of those foreign ingredients whose names you cannot pronounce stem from the production of corn. In addition, the government uses corn to cheaply feed the animals from which our meat and eggs come. This is where ecol i originates; these animals are being fed food that does not belong in their bodies (kind of like us Americans and all of the diseases that plague us). Of course, this just skims the surface of how corrupt the industry is. For more information on the issue, I recommend the movie Food Inc., as well as Michael Pollan’s bestseller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Because the people who decide what America eats are so corrupt, they often disguise their cheap, well-preserved, products with misleading labels. I will not get into all of the tricks the food industry plays on you, but I will tell you that they take you for an ignoramus who will believe anything they tell you. Do your research: read the labels. The only foods that truly give your body what it needs to maintain a healthy immune system are foods that come from nature. If you are always fatigued, crotchety, sick, etc., stop wondering why. Now you know why: it’s your diet. It’s the food they are feeding you to keep them rich and you craving more. Forget about medicine to make you better; that’s just treating symptoms instead of the real problem. Educate yourself on what is really good for you, and I promise you that if you begin to convert yourself to a diet of whole foods, you will feel better than any medicine could ever make you feel. Consequently, your mind will be clearer, you will be happier, you will be more energized and productive, you will rarely be sick, you will look more vibrant, and you will add years to your life. How do you think our ancestors had the energy to survive everyday? Oh yeah, there was no McDonald’s.

So you’re probably thinking something along the lines of,  I get that something has to change, but how do I educate myself? Have no fear, for I am here to direct you to self-empowerment. I recommend that you explore two blogs. The first is Mark’s Daily Apple, a blog by “primal” fitness/nutrition expert and author of The Primal Blueprint, Mark Sisson. The emphasis there is trying to emulate what our hunter/gatherer ancestors would have done in terms of what we eat and how we use our bodies (before we messed things up). The second blog I recommend that you visit is Healthy Eating Naturally, a blog by natural food enthusiast and author of 101 Tips: Healthy Eating Naturally, Emily Davidson. The blog is full of information, recipes, and personal insight when it comes to a regular people living healthy lifestyles. The book, in particular, is probably one of the most valuable things that ten dollars can buy these days with its easy-to-understand advice and explanations of the why and the how of a healthy diet.

veggies

Just remember that you always have the power to change your lifestyle. It takes some time, effort, and research, but there is no greater reward than feeling the way we’re supposed to feel: truly alive and well. That’s something worth my passion.

Eat well = stay well,

Griffin

Advertisements

Runners, Lifters, and Fit People

July 16, 2009

A friend of mine very recently came to me for some advice on how to turn his health habits around. When exercise came up, he explained that he used to work out fairly frequently, and that his routine was simply a “total body workout” that he performed three days a week. He told me that exercise was discouraging for him because he was so sore afterward that he couldn’t bring himself back for more “punishment,” as he put it. I figured that since he needed some tips on how to establish a safe, effective routine that doesn’t wear you down, some of you might be looking for the same type of guidance.

One year ago today, I would be on my millionth 45-minute run in a row (That’s a gross exaggeration, but you get the point). I was afraid of changing anything because I thought running every day was a “safe” way to make sure I was burning calories and keeping my heart and lungs in shape every day. There were some problems, though: my body was easily adapting to the same routine, the joints and muscles in my legs were taking a very unhealthy beating, I was getting bored and unmotivated, and I was neglecting the rest of my body. Something had to change, but that change didn’t come quickly. It took a lot of research, trial and error, and letting go of the notion that I wouldn’t be able to keep a healthy cardiovascular system and/or level of body fat if I didn’t run every day. Instead of going through such a long deliberation process, try applying this advice. To me, these principles are among those crucial to distinguishing someone who works out from someone who is actually fit:

Work different systems and muscle groups each day. If you went on a run yesterday, try to leave your legs alone today. Instead, do a resistance workout that focuses on a couple of upper body muscle groups. The key to staying fit is to make sure your routines are well-rounded. If you’re only running, your heart and lungs are probably in decent shape (provided you’re continuously making the run more challenging), but you’re neglecting strength, flexibility, and your entire upper body. If you are only lifting weights, you are neglecting your heart and lungs’ ability to help burn fat and to consistently deliver adequate oxygen to every place that needs it (especially if you’re taking your time between sets). If you’re only “interested” in a specific body part, you can still emphasize it, but that should not excuse you from keeping the rest of your body in shape as well. For instance, if you are involved in a sport or a job that requires a strong back, incorporate a second back workout into that of a different muscle group that week.

Balance resistance training with cardiovascular training. All workouts should get your breath going and your blood flowing, but I will generally categorize workouts based on where the primary focus is: muscle strengthening (resistance) or heart/lung strengthening (cardio). You can (and probably should) be doing them both during a single workout (e.g. A plyometric workout is a cardio vascular workout that also shreds your legs), but the most direct purpose of the exercise is what we’re talking about now. I like to work out 6 days a week, switching off between resistance and cardio exercises (one of the “cardio” exercises being yoga, which is actually much more than just cardio; I highly recommend it). Some like to train only one muscle group per day (e.g. chest, legs, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps…or something of that nature), but this leaves no room for cardio days. Instead, I like to work 2-3 muscle groups in one workout, followed by a cardiovascular routine the next day. For example, a week might look like this: chest and back, sprints, biceps and triceps, yoga, shoulders and legs, long bike ride with intervals. I’ll also add a short core routine 2 or 3 times a week, usually on resistance days. The combinations are up to you; just make sure you’re taking care of your entire body in a way that allows its different parts to rest before you go after them again.

Take a day off. Our bodies are not becoming stronger while we work out, but rather during the time they have to recover. In addition to switching your focus of exercise every day, it’s important to take a rest day once or twice a week. As I said above, I work out 6 days a week, not 7. This is not to say you can’t be active and have fun getting some form of exercise on that 7th day, but don’t engage in a rigid, hardcore workout. Instead, play a pick-up game of basketball or frisbee, go on a long walk, etc. It’s important to maintain active as long as you’re not putting the usual 6-day-a-week stress on your body. If you’re just starting out, you might only work out 3-5 days a week, which is perfectly fine. If this is the case, just remember to intersperse your rest days so your body performs consistently.

Flexibility is the most important thing. As I mentioned briefly in my last post, you cannot forget to stretch. Aside from the routine warm-up and cool-down that you should be doing before and after every exercise, you should be taking a chunk of time each week (I like to do it on my rest day) to actively stretch your whole body. Even if you’re stiff and muscular, there is always room for improvement. Bicep curls and bench presses aren’t going to keep you from becoming the old man with the cane someday; stretching regularly will. If you’re doing yoga every week, you’re getting a considerable amount of stretching and flexibility work right there. Most importantly, though, is that you’re challenging yourself with the stretch. Stretching, like all types of exercise, should not have you just going with the motions. You should be fighting for more of a stretch every time, because that is the only way to improve yourself. Please don’t think I’m telling you to be merciless on yourself; you’ll end up tearing a lot of tissue. What I’m saying is that you should always try to be at the point where you’re really feeling the stretch, sometimes experiencing slight discomfort, but not much more than that. If you are consistently working on your flexibility, you know that the feeling of a limber and connected body transcends that of even the strongest chest or the fastest legs.

Yoga

All in all, I’m trying to encourage you not to be the guy who can deadlift 550lbs, but can’t lift his leg higher than shin-level. I’m urging you not to be that “fit” young woman who runs marathons, but has to hire help to lift her moving boxes. I hope, even if you’re one who doesn’t “care” about cardio or flexibility, or one who isn’t interested in getting stronger, that you’ll begin to look at the big picture. By treating your body as a whole unit, you will build functional strength and vitality, instead of simply overworking one or two parts of your ever-so-connected system.  If you’re killing the same type of exercise, give it a rest and tackle everything equally. That’s what I call fit.

Stay well-rounded,

Griffin

Don’t Back Off

July 14, 2009

Have you ever seen that man or woman jogging by the same place at the same lethargic pace every day? Or maybe you’ve seen the other one who is always at the gym doing the same exercises with the same weights for the same amount of repetitions. No matter who you’ve seen doing the same mundane routine (it could even be you) over and over again, I can almost guarantee you one thing: their bodies haven’t changed in a long time.

When I was first beginning my exercise habits, I practically started on a whim, knowing next to nothing. I was not consulting with anyone who knew what they were doing, nor was I actively seeking out information from written sources. I just figured that if I went for a run all the time and did some bicep curls here and there, that I would magically become fit sooner or later. By the following summer, I was waking  up every morning and doing 30 slow-motion push-ups, followed by a 45-minute jog later on in the day. Every day. I saw results at the beginning; my waistline was slimming slightly, and my arms and chest were a little more toned than they were in my sedentary days, but the way I looked and the way my body could perform were not reflecting the amount of time I put into working out every day. What was the issue? My body got used to it.

Back in the days of hunting and gathering, humans were always active and food was very sparse at times. Our bodies’ incredible efficiency at storing energy and adapting itself to specific physical tasks was an enormous benefit back then. After all, it was only nature’s way of helping us survive: storing fat to prevent starvation and “figuring out” the daily tasks the body had to perform. The problem these days is that most of us have no problem finding some form of “food.” Furthermore, most of us do not depend on our physical capabilities to survive on a day-to-day basis. So in the modern world, one might say that our bodies are actually too efficient and too adaptable for the lifestyles we live. The physical mechanism doesn’t know the difference between someone who has to hunt for food and someone who sits in an office all day. All the body knows is that it is human, and it will do what the human body was designed to do: survive. (For a more in-depth look at “primal” fitness and nutrition, visit Mark Sisson’s Blog.)

So how do we apply this concept to the way we exercise so that we are constantly building a stronger body and avoiding the dreaded “plateau?” The answer is quite simple, though it may be easier said than done: challenge yourself. If you want to progress, you have to work hard. There are no secrets, gimmicks, or shortcuts when it comes to true fitness; what you put into your exercise habits is what you get out of them. Don’t be that person who is frustrated at the lack of change when he/she is jogging lightly for 30 minutes every day. Step out of your comfort zone if you want to move forward. Granted, if you are just beginning to exercise, a light jog may be enough to do you in. But no matter who you are, your workout should undoubtedly reflect your fitness level. Remember that the quality of the workout is not always measured in the amount of time it takes or the amount of weight you lift, but how hard you’re working to finish it. In other words, if you’re bench pressing 250lbs, I’d call that impressive…unless it’s easy for you. As soon as you don’t have to work hard to complete a workout, it’s time to step it up. Here are a few tips to help you start sophisticating your workout time:

Hard work

Instead of going for a moderate jog, try interval training. The supreme ruler of all ineffective workouts is the classic jog that many people still seem to revere. To make the workout more challenging and effective, trying sprinting in intervals. For instance, warm up with a walk or a light jog. Stretch your legs and then warm up again, this time preparing to sprint. As your speed increases, keep pushing yourself for 20-30 seconds as hard as you can possibly go. Then walk it off for a minute to a minute and a half and repeat for a total of 5-8 times. This is called anaerobic exercise, which forces your body to burn more of that excess stored energy in order to rebuild itself after such intensity into a stronger-than-yesterday machine.

Resistance training should be tough. Do not choose a weight or a number of repetitions arbitrarily. The only way your muscles are going to get to the point where they need to repair and strengthen themselves is if you push them there. A general rule for lifting weights (introduced to me by Tony Horton and his revolutionary P90X home workout system) is that, if you’re looking for more strengths and muscle growth, choose a weight that allows you to perform 8-10 repetitions of the exercise before being unable to complete any more. For a leaner, more endurance-oriented muscle group, choose a weight that allows you to perform 12-15 repetitions. As for bodyweight exercises (push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, etc.), you should be performing sets of maximum repetitions. That means doing those push-ups until you are stuck on the ground because you have no strength left to push yourself up another time. Too many people stop when they feel a burn, but that burn is what is going to stimulate those muscles to grow.

Minimize rest time between sets. During a resistance workout, you should still be involved in the workout as a whole and shouldn’t be taking your time between exercises. Not only does this force your muscles into the habit of being able to recover and act quickly, but it acts as a form of interval training for your heart and lungs. No matter the type of exercise, it requires oxygen, so keep the blood flowing!

Change it up. Just as your body adapts to the intensity of a given exercise, it will adapt to the exercise itself as well. In order to keep your muscles alert and challenged, change the exercises you’re doing every 2 or 3 weeks. For example, if your push-up workout consists of standard push-ups, wide push-ups, and military push-ups, change to other variations after doing it a few times.

Don’t forget to stretch. Too many people blow off their flexibility because it doesn’t yield immediate anabolic results, or because it doesn’t feel like it’ burning your belly off. Well those people are dismissing long-term health and vitality. I’m always saying that no matter how much weight you can lift or how fast you can run, your body will grow older faster if you neglect its joints and connective tissue. Stretching keeps your muscles prepared for progress instead of tight and timid. By stretching regularly, you become less prone to injury and more capable of performing even the most basic physical tasks more efficiently. Yoga is a wonderful way to combine flexibility with core strength and bodyweight resistance, while promoting proper breathing and mental clarity.

Last but not least: eat real food. Plain and simple: artificial, processed foods drain your energy, cloud your mind, and are slowly killing millions of Americans.

The bottom line here is that keeping your body in true shape takes effort. This does not have to be an effort that you can’t enjoy. If you eat real, whole foods that fuel your body, and if you think of every day’s workout as a new chance to make yourself healthier and more resilient (rather than as a chore), you’ll find that you’re more than willing to engage yourself and commit to what you’re doing.

Keep working hard, and stay well.

-Griffin

Take a Deep Breath

July 13, 2009

So many people feel “inexplicably” fatigued, run down, cloudy-headed, sick, physically weak, or a combination of these things. The good thing, though, is that it’s not inexplicable at all. In fact, everything that your body does to you is a reflection of what you do to your body. Though I’m a firm believer that your diet plays the most prominent role in dictating how you feel, there are plenty of other important factors such as the amount of sleep you’re getting, your level of activity, the amount of stress you are under regularly, and how much oxygen you’re allowing yourself to take in on a minute-to-minute basis. That’s right; I’m talking simply about the way we take every waking breath.

In a society where everyone seems to be entered in an unspoken contest to see who can hide his/her gut the most, we are subliminally discouraged from breathing deeply. Instead, most of us take what is known as a “shallow breath.” Even in my experience teaching private voice lessons and children’s choirs, the first time I ask anyone to take a deep breath, it’s not deep at all. The mouth opens wide, the shoulders raise, and the exhale takes about half as long as it should. The key to a deep breath is not in how high you can raise your shoulders, but more or less how still you can keep them. There’s more. Let me explain.

In order for us to be able to take in as much oxygen as possible, nature provided us with a muscle called the diaphragm, which sits just under the ribcage. Every time we breathe properly, the diaphragm pushes downward and outward so as to move the organs in our midsection out of the way, hence the dreaded expansion of the abdominal region. The lungs then have adequate room to expand to the best of their ability, allowing the blood to deliver as much oxygen as it can to all of the body’s organs and muscles, including the brain. When we take shallow breaths, we are depriving our entire body of one of its most vital needs.

So why do so many of us breathe improperly? As I mentioned briefly, it is a learned subconscious habit that society has helped us develop. If you watch an infant breathe, his/her stomach expands with every breath. The baby doesn’t know that our country is the fattest in the world and also the most afraid to expose any bodily flaws. That baby is simply breathing the way nature built it to breath: to obtain and to use as much oxygen as it possibly can. The same evidence is present in any human who is sleeping. Consciousness is temporarily turned off, and breathing becomes a purely biological function. The result: expansion of the midsection and a solid supply of oxygen while the body recovers from the day.

So how do you get into the habit of taking deep, life-giving breaths? Well it’s more difficult for some people than you may imagine, so here are a few tips:

The breath comes from below. Think about the breath coming from under your belly button instead of from the top of your chest. The lower you can visualize the breath “pulling” from, the better.

Maintain good posture. If you are hunched or collapsed, your lungs and midsection have much less room to expand. Also, if you’re standing up straight, the expansion that you may think is so detrimental to your image (it’s not; people don’t even notice) is even less noticeable.

Breath through the nose. We have more of an inclination to raise our shoulders and take a shallow breath if we breathe through the mouth. Instead, stand up straight and inhale through the nose while making a conscious effort to avoid moving the chest or shoulders at all. I’ve found this to be a very effective method of training oneself to breathe deeply.

I encourage everyone to make it a habit to breathe the way we were designed to breathe. I think you’ll find that you have more energy and vigor, even if it’s just a slight increase. It’s even more important to breathe efficiently while exercising or doing anything active, so getting in this habit will undoubtedly give you that extra spurt of physical drive when you need it during a workout (trust me on this one). Most importantly, though, by breathing properly you are giving your body what it needs, and that is the most important concept when it comes to staying well. Treat your body in a way that is harmonious with nature and you will begin to find that you’ve never felt so alive.

Stay well,

Griffin

A new blog was born today.

July 12, 2009

Hi, everybody. I’d first like to thank you for visiting my blog. It’s here simply so I can share with you the knowledge and experience I’ve gained (and clean up the myths dated concepts) in the realm of health and wellness, with an emphasis on fitness. This is for those who need to be empowered with information and guidance to better their quality of life through exercise. Whether you are just beginning to incorporate a “workout” into your routine, or you’re already on the everlasting quest to strengthen and take care of your body, I hope you can take something useful or inspiring from this blog. If there are any topics on which you’d appreciate a blog post, let me know; I’d love to answer anybody’s questions. For more information on who I am, visit the “about” page. Posts coming soon!

Stay well,

Griffin