Introduction: In this podcast episode: is it true that exercise won’t make you thin? How to get rid of the extra little bit of flab in the mid-section, whether testing really improves performance, running during your period, more on magnesium and the formation of a local Spokane/Coeur D’ Alene area HCG fat loss group.
Ben: Hey podcast listeners, this is Ben Greenfield and you may have noticed that in last week’s podcast episode number 54, some of you encountered a simple little 2 minute video on magnesium. A great video but it actually wasn’t the featured podcast. I don’t know why iTunes actually did that. But what you should have gotten was a fantastic interview on the book The Magnesium Miracle with Dr. Carolyn Dean. So for some reason you had a real short video appear in your iTunes subscription last week for this podcast. Then go back and listen to that interview because that was a great featured topic, and last week I know that we primarily featured a feature topic and not much else. This week we are featuring a Listener Q and A with our featured topic being my response to the article in Time Magazine, Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin. So what we’re going to do is start off with today’s special announcements. We’re going to move on to the Listener Q and A. And we’re going to finish with my response to that very interesting rather controversial article by John Cloud about why exercise won’t make you thin.
The first question this week comes from Listener Scott.
Scott asks: I train really hard, and have a pretty clean, healthy diet, Yet I still have a layer of like “flab” at the bottom of stomach–like the skin is not taught at all. I had my body fat tested a few weeks ago and I am at about 3-4% and have been as low as 1-2% in the past so why is this fat or skin still there? Do you have any suggestions to get rid of it or am I just being vain? I’d appreciate the feedback.
Ben answers: Scott, first of all let me say that your body percentage is not only incredibly low if it an aesthetic appearance that you’re going after – 6 pack abs, a cut look, whatever the case may be – it’s actually pretty dang close to too low. Meaning that your body has essential fat reserves that must be in place for proper energy levels, hormone formation, testosterone formation, the ability to boost your metabolism, to maintain adequate lean muscle and you are really on the verge. The layer of flab at the bottom of the stomach is likely apparent to only one person and that would be you. I would imagine if you had your shirt off and were walking down the beach then no one would think that you had a layer of flab in your stomach. It’s common for many of us to look in the mirror and feel like our bodies don’t look exactly like how we would like them to look. That’s natural. But you can get carried away with it. I believe the name of the disorder is body dysmorphic disorder when you’re looking at yourself and you can just never seem to get that perfect body that you want. It’s ok to like perfection and to want perfection until it becomes unhealthy. I would caution you not to attempt to lose any more body fat than you’re currently losing. Now I’m going to throw this out there. Let’s just say that that layer of flab that you’re seeing is not really fat but is actually some type of inflammation. Some type of bloating, some type of water retention. Well if that is the case then there may be a fix for it. I had a guy come to me in my studio a couple of years ago and he was in a similar situation as you, in fantastic shape and he pulled up his shirt and he showed me his abs and he did have a little bit of extra kind of right above his hips and what we did with him was we completely eliminated any processed sugars from his diet. Specifically the Tail Mix that he was consuming on a daily basis that had the added fructose powder on top of it, if you know what I’m talking about – like the pineapple, papaya, kiwi type of Trail Mix with the dried fruit – but the type that has added sugar, not just dried fruit. Within two weeks his abs were completely flat and that small amount of what I would call swelling in the abs had disappeared. So if you do have a processed sugar in your diet that is what you would consider a staple, something that you eat everyday – that really is a sugar, even if it’s coming from something healthy – and the way that you describe yourself I would imagine that any processed sugar in your diet probably is coming from something healthy like a Trail Mix, that’s one of the most common things I see with the people I’m working with, then eliminate it and see what happens. But know you’re pretty low on body fat already and you need to be careful. So good question, Scott.
Ok, so the next question is from Listener Al. Listener Al basically asked me to comment on a post that he took from the website of someone named Paulo Sousa who’s a triathlon coach over in Europe. And this is going to be especially interesting to any of you athletes out there because here’s what Paulo says…
Coach Paolo Sousa writes: When there is some sort of test that improves performance, I will do it. Most of those tests only serve to either be another service that you can charge athletes, or a way of justifying pseudo-scientific work and/or jobs. If I thought lactate tests were helpful, I would do them myself. I stopped doing lactate tests back in 2003. VO2max tests are interesting, but with little value to the training process. Not to mention that there is research that found no correlation between lactate test results and performance. What happens is that everyone is so happy to do that kind of testing, they feel good about the pseudo-scientific side that adds to training. My personal favorite is doing tests at the beginning of the season, so when you repeat the tests a few weeks later, there is so much improvement, you feel so good about yourself. So it’s not that I am old-school, or ignorant about these matters, it’s just that when it comes to training I am only interested in performance.
Ben answers: Well here’s my response to Paulo. As many of you know I actually do have a little bit of skin in the game. I have a lab in Spokane, Washington where we do not only bike fits and swim analysis and running gait analysis and sweat sodium tests, but we also do these tests that he’s talking about. Specifically the blood lactate test where you give a drop of blood at every few intervals as exercise gets more and more difficult to figure out where your body starts to produce lots of lactate acid, and we also do this VO2 max test where you measure the amount of oxygen that your body is consuming during exercise. Now the whole idea behind these two tests is for the blood lactate test, your body will get to a point where it’s producing a lot of blood lactate and when that begins to happen it indicates that you’re using a lot of fast twitch muscle, it indicates that you’re using a high amount of carbohydrate as a fuel. So if you were doing an aerobic event, the heart rate at which your blood lactate levels tend to rise quite significantly would be a heart rate that you would want to avoid so you don’t burn through your carbohydrate stores too prematurely. Remember, lactate acid is not bad. Your body loves it. Your body needs it for exercise. It takes lactate acid that you produce in the muscles and shuttles it back up to the liver, converts it to sugar and then brings it back down to the muscle for you to use for energy. So lactate acid is good. It’s just when it’s being produced in high amounts, it’s indicating that something is happening on the muscular level, that’s not conducive to being able to exercise for a lot longer than 60 to 90 minutes. So when we find out the heart rate at which that occurs, we can turn around and tell the athlete ok, well when you’re doing whatever, a 100 mile bike ride, an Ironman triathlon, you need to be cautious if you’re getting up to this heart rate where your lactate levels are going up. I don’t know about these studies that Paulo refers to that says that there are studies that show no correlation between this type of lactate testing and the actual performance in the athlete – well I have plenty of case studies with the local athletes that I work with and I’ve seen plenty of heart rates that were given to me after Ironman triathlon and I’ve correlated those to lactate tests in the laboratory and I can tell you that the athletes who went above lactate threshold over and over and over again especially on a hilly course – most of the athletes that I looked at were from Ironman Coeur D’Alene, these athletes had poorer marathon run performances afterwards. They just didn’t have enough legs to run on. So I as a coach find a lot of value in those tests, I don’t know about results, I don’t know about studies but I know that the athletes that I coach – that blood lactate value is an important value to me if I have a local athlete who’s coming into my lab to get that test done. It’s not pseudo-scientific, it’s just a coaching tool that I use. Now with the VO2 max testing, I do have a little bit of a bone to pick with the VO2 max testing. Most people get it just to find out how big their lungs are, to essentially give themselves a number to brag about. I wrote an article in Triathlon magazine back in May about this, but the only thing that I use that VO2 max test for when I bring somebody into my lab and I hook them up with a mask and a tube that they breathe in and out of is to figure out how many calories they’re burning during exercise. I don’t really care how big their lungs are. That’s not that important to me. I suppose that if they’re doing a training session or a series of training sessions, I could find out if it actually improved them but I really don’t use that test as a marker to test improvement. I’d rather send somebody out and say ok, you can bike 5 miles faster so you’ve improved. What I use that test for is to find out how many calories is burning during exercise so we can find out how many calories is going to be necessary to refuel their muscles after they work out or to help them lose weight or to help them gain weight and the other thing we can find out with that test is if you take the number of calories that they’re burning, most people can replace during exercise, especially during endurance exercise, about 30 to 40% of what they’re burning and this was based off research done down in South Africa by one of the world’s most well recognized and respected physiologists Dr. Tim Nolks. And so, if you find out that you’re burning 1000 calories during a training session then you could potentially replace 300 to 400 of those calories per hour during exercise. So there’s a lot of value to these tests and I would disagree that they are just pseudo-scientific ways for coaches to make money. I mean, I do these tests to myself and I use the numbers and I wear a heart rate monitor during any event that lasts longer than about 2 and a half hours because these tests do show you what’s going on inside your body. So that is my response to the statement Al, and I would thank you for asking me to comment on that and if you would like me to comment on something or you have a question, remember you can email [email protected].
Lindsey asks: I’m currently training for a marathon and I try to stick to a pretty healthy and efficient diet for my training. But my question is, how do you suggest I combat my monthly woman issues, without binge eating and feeling like absolute crap all the time. (Now she does have a 2 part question. She goes on…) Also do you know of some good SI joint stretches. I happen to have been diagnosed with sacroillitis due to two car accidents and being a former college soccer player turned endurance athlete. I listen to your podcast regarding strengthening the glutes , but some days I am in a heck of a lot of pain.
Ben answers: Let’s go ahead and address the first part of Lindsey’s question and that is how do you suggest I combat my monthly women issues without binge eating and feeling like absolute crap all the time? First of all, let’s talk about it from an exercise standpoint, and I do realize that I’m obviously not a woman and you have issues that I probably could never comprehend having Lindsey, and I don’t pretend to know exactly what it is that you go through each month when you’re trying to train for a marathon. I do have a wife. I do run with her on a regular basis, both during her time of the month and not during her time of the month and I’ve seen the cramping and I’ve seen the desire for binge eating. I’ve seen it all, or at least been there. So the main inconvenience with the running is of course the pain and the cramping, etc. I’m assuming that’s what you’re referring to when you’re saying “combating.” We’re not talking about the actual binge eating which we’ll talk about in a second. But running and physical activity in general has been shown to help women cope with the physiological changes that happen during your periods. Because running lifts your mood and it lifts that kind of lazy slothful state that you have to overcome. It can help to stop cravings – like binging on chocolates – and it can help you just to get you out the door and distract you from thinking about your physical state. Some women will feel heavy with their periods and physical activity – just the sweating that you’re going to experience – that can help with combating some of the water retention. Now the problem is that a lot of times running can be very uncomfortable. I would suggest that you be open to some of the cross training methods that are non-impact that can help to maintain your cardiovascular status so that you can still train for the marathon. Of course the top one would be bicycling, whether indoors or outdoors. That’s a great cross training mode that you can use during that time of the month to still get a good workout in. The elliptical trainer would be another, aqua jogging would be another, but there are alternative methods that can help you with some of the cramping but know that stopping exercise during your period is probably one of the things that is going to most contribute to your food cravings, grumpiness, etc. Yoga is another great activity that you can do just to help restore balance to your body and your mind, protect you from stress, protect you from illness. There are poses in yoga that can be effective in relieving cramps and relieving tension and easing anxiety. And one of those for example would be the downward dog but there are many others such as the plank pose, the cat pose, the cobra pose. So if you’re not doing yoga, that would be another exercise or activity that you could look into. And then just from a supplement standpoint, my wife has two that she keeps around. One is called EnnerEssence. One is called the PMS Relief Formula. The EnnerEssence is essentially just a woman’s multivitamin and it’s designed to support you during your reproductive years, to help you maintain a normal cycle and it’s just got a custom herbal blend. Thing like red raspberry leaf and cranberry. It’s got some probiotics in there, nettle’s leaf, full spectrum of multivitamins but I’ll put a link to that in the Shownotes Lindsay. The other one that can really help is called PMS Relief Formula. It’s things like wild yam, St. John’s wort, vitex, ginko – but essentially that also contains just a blend of ingredients, natural ingredients. It’s not a pharmaceutical drug or chemical but that can help with anxiety, depression, fluid retention, bloating, breast tenderness, food cravings. So those are two that I would look into. My wife takes both of them and I’ll put a link to those in the Shownotes. The EnnerEssence you take on a daily basis. The PMS Relief Formula – you would take during your period. So hopefully that’s helpful. And the second part of your question, do you know of some good SI joint stretches? Well basically Lindsey, your sacroiliac joint is such that there aren’t really good ways to stretch the actual ligaments around the SI joint itself. The flexibility that’s going to contribute to helping your SI joint feel better would essentially be the four muscles that surround the pelvis itself and that contribute to a forward tilt of the pelvis, posterior tilt of the pelvis or a tightening of the pelvis. That would be your hip flexors, your hamstrings, your abdominals and your lower back. Now yoga is fantastic for improving pelvic mobility. Dynamic stretches, leg swings are very good at improving pelvic mobility. I’ll tell you the exact stretches that I personally utilize because I have had to fight SI joint quite a bit and I do these exercises each morning and I’ve been very successful in eliminating my SI joint pain. I did go through, prior to incorporating these stretches, the program that I outline in my book Run With No Pain over at www.runwithnopain.com but once I got everything under control by using those methods, I just do this every morning. I do a lunging stretch where I just hold myself in a lunging position. My arms outstretched over my head to stretch my hip flexors. I do a lying hamstring stretch where I like on my back and pull my hamstrings or my straight legs up to my chest. I’ll even do a little what’s called PNF where I press out against my hands real hard for about 6 seconds then relax that leg and pull it back in to improve the hamstring stretch that occurs. I will do basically what’s called a cobra stretch which I actually just mentioned which is a yoga stretch where you’re lying on the ground stomach first pushing yourself up off the ground as high as you can while keeping your hips down in contact with the ground and looking up almost the way that you would see a cobra rise up off the ground if it were coiled. And then the last one that I’ll do for the abdominals is real similar to a hip flexor stretch. I’ll stand on one leg and I’ll pull myself up into a quadriceps stretch but then I’ll lean over and by doing that, you can actually feel it in the abdominals but as far as the SI joint, that’s a collection of pretty tight ligaments down there in the SI joint. It’s not really about flexibility that you should be concerned with, as much as some of the major muscles that surround the hip joints themselves. So great question Lindsey, then we’re going to move on to the final comment – it’s really not a question, it’s a comment from Listener Eric but his comment showed that I needed to mention something kind of important so first I’ll read his comment.
Eric says: Ben, I want to thank you for the Magnesium info. A while back I purchased the Ancient Minerals magnesium bath flakes mentioned on your podcast and started using them on a semi-weekly basis and the evening before a triathlon. As you know, in between races I started having muscle spasms and cramps, and even started having spasms wake me up at night. About two weeks ago, I add a magnesium supplement called magnesium gluconate since taking a magnesium bath every 3 days or so would be too expensive for me. I sweat ‘profusely’ when I work out…and after listening to the podcast and some reading last night, the light bulb went off. Even though I use Infinity nutrition products, and take the baths, I was probably not replacing magnesium as quickly as I was depleting it…which I realized last night was probably the culprit to another issue I developed sometime this spring – when the temps started to climb which was asthma like symptoms – especially when I swam. I was getting that ‘hypoxic feeling’ way to easily when I was swimming in combination with shortness of breath – more than earlier in the training season. In an open water workout this past Tuesday – somewhat rigorous – I noticed I was not getting that ‘hypoxic feeling’ in my chest that I grew to expect. I believe I credit that, and the lack of muscle cramping, to my increased supplementation of magnesium. So, thank you Ben!
Ben: Well if you’ve been listening to this podcast for any period of time, you know that magnesium is kind of the ultra sexy supplement that we’ve been talking about for a while and it’s the new secret power, secret weapon of endurance athletes and I’ve got almost all my athletes using it now and seeing results similar to what Eric describes. However, Eric, the magnesium bath flakes – those work well, but your strategy with the bath flakes is you want to use those after a hard workout. So if I have a real tough weekend workout, I will do a bath in those bath flakes, not real hot bath because it can actually inhibit absorption, but I’ll get those magnesium flakes and I’ll put a link to that in the Shownotes, but I don’t’ use them very regularly and especially not every 3 days like you mentioned. Only after a real tough workout. What I use is the oil – it’s way more practical than taking a half hour bath, you just spray a little oil where your muscles tend to be sore. It’s called transdermal magnesium oil. I’ll put a link to that in the Shownotes too, but that is magnesium chloride. Magnesium gluconate that you mentioned, whether for oral supplementation or topical supplementation is kind of outdated. It’s not as effective, it’s not what I would recommend. The nice part about that transdermal magnesium oil is not only is it magnesium chloride which is some of the best absorbed form of magnesium, but you don’t have to just spray it on your muscles. I talked to Dr. Mark Sircus about this, the author of Transdermal Magnesium Supplementation and the guy literally nebulizes it into his lungs. He takes this spray and I have some sitting in my bathroom right now, and he’ll spray it about 10 times just straight into his lungs and breathe it in as a form of magnesium supplementation, oral magnesium supplementation. So then you’re killing two birds with one stone from a financial standpoint. You only have to get the magnesium oil. You use it transdermally, just spraying it on your skin and in sore spots but then you also just spray a few sprays into your mouth. So how do you know you’re getting too much? Your body has a very simple red flag. If you use too much of it, you get loose stool. You get diarrhea and then you back it off to the point where you don’t have that happening and that’s how much works for you. So, topical magnesium and especially magnesium chloride oil is far better absorbed than that magnesium gluconate you mentioned. So I would recommend that you utilize that and I will put a link to it in the Shownotes. So we’re going to go ahead and move on to this week’s featured topic on why exercise won’t make you thin.
Ben: So here’s the deal, if you don’t know about this article then maybe you’ve been hiding under a rock or maybe you have better things to do but I have received tons of questions from my listeners this week about it. And I know that it’s been talked about a lot on other blogs, on other podcasts and I don’t want to just kind of repeat what everybody else is saying but I do just want to give you my honest opinion of it. I have to tell you right now, take a sip of my San Pellegrino water here to wet my whistle – did you hear that? Yeah that’s my sparkling water, gotta love it. I got to tell you right now, I haven’t read the article. I don’t know that much about it. I heard a couple of people talking about it in a couple of different podcasts and I’ve never read the article. I decided that to give you my honest opinion on this article that I’m going to read it and I’m going to judge it and analyze it right here on this podcast in real time as you’re listening. So you’re going to kill two birds with one stone today. A, you’re going to hear me actually read the article, and B, you’re going to hear me comment on the article as I read it. So, honestly I just printed this off from the internet. I haven’t read it and I don’t know that much about it. I don’t know much about the author. I think he is the fitness author or maybe the nutrition author for Time Magazine. So, I know some of you are going to wonder why I didn’t prepare better for this podcast, but ultimately I want you to hear this at the same time that I hear it and I just want you to hear me think out loud about how to intelligently analyze something like this because just the title “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin?” is obviously going to raise your eyebrows and make you wonder a little bit. So that’s why I chose this article to talk about. So, the tough part is that some of this is written in the first person, when I’m reading it, that’s not me talking. That’s the author talking. So, let’s go ahead and jump right in.
Time Article: “As I write this, tomorrow is Tuesday, which is a cardio day. I'll spend five minutes warming up on the VersaClimber, a towering machine that requires you to move your arms and legs simultaneously. Then I'll do 30 minutes on a stair mill. On Wednesday a personal trainer will work me like a farm animal for an hour, sometimes to the point that I am dizzy — an abuse for which I pay as much as I spend on groceries in a week. Thursday is “body wedge” class, which involves another exercise contraption, this one a large foam wedge from which I push myself up in various hateful ways for an hour. Friday will bring a 5.5-mile run, the extra half-mile my grueling expiation of any gastronomical indulgences during the week.
I have exercised like this — obsessively, a bit grimly — for years, but recently I began to wonder: Why am I doing this? Except for a two-year period at the end of an unhappy relationship — a period when I self-medicated with lots of Italian desserts — I have never been overweight. One of the most widely accepted, commonly repeated assumptions in our culture is that if you exercise, you will lose weight. But I exercise all the time, and since I ended that relationship and cut most of those desserts, my weight has returned to the same 163 lb. it has been most of my adult life. I still have gut fat that hangs over my belt when I sit. Why isn't all the exercise wiping it out?
It's a question many of us could ask. More than 45 million Americans now belong to a health club, up from 23 million in 1993. We spend $19 billion a year on gym memberships. Of course, some people join and never go. Still, as one major study — the Minnesota Heart Survey — found, more of us at least say we exercise regularly. The survey ran from 1980, when only 47% of respondents said they engaged in regular exercise, to 2000, when the figure had grown to 57%.”
Ben: Ok, I’m going to stop right here for a second. When I’m reading over his introduction to this, the first thing that comes to my mind is well, if you’re overweight or you still have this gut fat that hangs over your belt when you sit, who’s to say that you’re even exercising properly. Just reading over your description of what you do, I don’t really know if you are consuming a healthy nutrition plan, I don’t know a lot about the exercise that you’re doing but from what you described to me, a lot of it is kind of just the stereotypical do what happens to be fashionable gym type of workouts that a lot of times aren’t based on fat loss research. So just using the author as a case study, I have to say that just the fact that this guy exercises but still has gut fat that hangs over his belt does not mean that everybody who exercises is going to have the same problem. Those of you who listen to my podcast know that there’s three things that I preach in an exercise program: you got to have high intensity intervals, you got to have a few long cardio sessions and you got to do resistance training. It looks like he’s doing a good mix of stuff but I don’t know how his nutrition program is like either. So, he continues…
Time Article: “And yet obesity figures have risen dramatically in the same period of time (he’s talking about that 1980 to 2000, when gym memberships went up.) A third of Americans are obese, and another third count as overweight by the Federal Government's definition. Yes, it's entirely possible that those of us who regularly go to the gym would weigh even more if we exercised less. But like many other people, I get hungry after I exercise, so I often eat more on the days I work out than on the days I don't. Could exercise actually be keeping me from losing weight?
The conventional wisdom that exercise is essential for shedding pounds is fairly new. As recently as the 1960s, doctors routinely advised against rigorous exercise, particularly for older adults who could injure themselves. Today doctors encourage even their oldest patients to exercise, which is sound advice for many reasons: People who regularly exercise are at significantly lower risk for all manner of diseases — those of the heart in particular. They less often develop cancer, diabetes and many other illnesses. But the past few years of obesity research show that the role of exercise in weight loss has been wildly overstated.
“In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless,” says Eric Ravussin, chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University and a prominent exercise researcher. Many recent studies have found that exercise isn't as important in helping people lose weight as you hear so regularly in gym advertisements or on shows like The Biggest Loser — or, for that matter, from magazines like this one.
The basic problem is that while it's true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger. That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we just accrued. Exercise, in other words, isn't necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder.”
Ben: I’m going to stop right here. If you’re exercising to lose weight, you’re only doing half of the equation. The whole idea is that exercise and nutrition go hand in hand. So if you are exercising and then you’re just eating whatever you want, whether you exercised or because you’re not watching your nutrition, then yeah of course you aren’t going to lose weight and exercise isn’t going to make you thin. To me, leaping out from this page right now is just a big “so what?” or “Yeah, duh.” Because exercise is about self-control but the nutritional aspect of it means you take that same self-control that you’re using to exercise and you actually apply that to your nutrition plan, your post-workout plan as well. If you’re exercising in order to eat, that’s fine but yeah you aren’t going to lose weight. I think that isolating exercise from nutrition – you just cannot do. I mean on the wall, both my studios, are written on the wall “Fat Loss, Nutrition, Human Performance” because all of it goes hand in hand. So he goes on…
Time Article: “Earlier this year, the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE — PLoS is the nonprofit Public Library of Science — published a remarkable study supervised by a colleague of Ravussin's, Dr. Timothy Church, who randomly assigned into four groups 464 overweight women who didn't regularly exercise. Women in three of the groups were asked to work out with a personal trainer for 72, 136 min., and 194 minutes per week, respectively, for six months. Women in the fourth cluster, the control group, were told to maintain their usual physical-activity routines. All the women were asked not to change their dietary habits and to fill out monthly medical-symptom questionnaires.
The findings were surprising. On average, the women in all the groups, even the control group, lost weight, but the women who exercised — sweating it out with a trainer several days a week for six months — did not lose significantly more weight than the control subjects did. Some of the women in each of the four groups actually gained weight, some more than 10 lb. each.
What's going on here? Church calls it compensation, but you and I might know it as the lip-licking anticipation of perfectly salted, golden-brown French fries after a hard trip to the gym. Whether because exercise made them hungry or because they wanted to reward themselves most of the women who exercised ate more than they did before they started the experiment. Or they compensated in another way, by moving around a lot less than usual after they got home.”
Ben: I’m going to stop again here. Because this is the second time that I’ve gotten the idea from this author – both in his introduction and in what he just said that he thinks that people exercise so that they can eat more. He thinks that one of the reasons to exercise is to that you can eat more. I would caution you listening in, that yes, that’s a cool part about exercise – is that I can eat a big juicy hamburger and I can know mentally that if I want to go ride my bike 40 miles the next day, I’m going to burn off that hamburger. But that should not be the focus of exercise. I am a big proponent of exercise not being focused on weight loss as much as on some type of event. My most successful clients are the ones who exercise because they’re going to do a 5k or because they’re going to do a 100 mile bike ride to raise money for cancer or because they’re going to do a triathlon. The people who exercise for exercise’s sake or the people who exercise just to keep fat loss off typically have a little bit more trouble and struggle a little bit more with these goals and especially the people who exercise so they can eat – those are the people who do the worse. So yes, a side benefit of exercising is you can eat more, but you should not have at the front of your mind the whole reason for you exercising being so that you can eat more, because that is dangerous and this author is kind of walking a dangerous line by exercising for that reason. He goes on…
Time Article: “The findings are important because the government and various medical organizations routinely prescribe more and more exercise for those who want to lose weight. In 2007 the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association issued new guidelines stating that “to lose weight … 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity may be necessary.” That's 60 to 90 minutes on most days of the week, a level that not only is unrealistic for those of us trying to keep or find a job but also could easily produce, on the basis of Church's data, ravenous compensatory eating.”
Ben: Ok I got to say that I have to agree with the author here, in modern industrialized society physical activity – not just exercise – but physical activity, doing 60 to 90 minutes of that a day when you’re sitting in a car or sitting on the bus, sitting in the subway, sitting at work, sitting in your office, sitting at the computer and then sitting to go back home and sitting to eat dinner can be very tough. That is why I think some of the things that are coming down the pipeline in terms of standing desks, for example I’ll stand when I record this podcast, whenever I work in general, I’m standing. Walking around when you’re working, walking on the treadmill when you’re working, riding your bicycle to work, all of this stuff is harder to do in our modern society, but believe it or not if you’re just starting and stopping your watch when you engage in physical activity and you’re counting physical activity as walking to lunch, doing a short bike ride after work, standing up when you’re working and walking around – all that stuff is physical activity. So that 60 to 90 minutes doesn’t mean you have to do it at the gym, but yeah it is tough to get in. I agree. You have to re-invent your lifestyle. So he says…
Time Article: “It's true that after six months of working out, most of the exercisers in Church's study were able to trim their waistlines slightly — by about an inch. Even so, they lost no more overall body fat than the control group did. Why not?
Church says, “I see this anecdotally amongst, like, my wife's friends,” he says. “They're like, ‘Ah, I'm running an hour a day, and I'm not losing any weight.'” He asks them, “What are you doing after you run?” It turns out one group of friends was stopping at Starbucks for muffins afterward. Says Church: “I don't think most people would appreciate that, wow, you only burned 200 or 300 calories, which you're going to neutralize with just half that muffin.
You might think half a muffin over an entire day wouldn't matter much, particularly if you exercise regularly. After all, doesn't exercise turn fat to muscle (No. Sorry, that’s me.) And doesn't muscle process excess calories more efficiently than fat does?”
By the way, exercise doesn’t turn fat into muscle. Exercise utilizes fat by turning it into sugar, muscle is produced via an entirely different mechanism.
Yes, although the muscle-fat relationship is often misunderstood. According to calculations published in the journal Obesity Research by a Columbia University team in 2001, a pound of muscle burns approximately six calories a day in a resting body, compared with the two calories that a pound of fat burns. Which means that after you work out hard enough to convert, say, 10 lb. of fat to muscle — a major achievement — you would be able to eat only an extra 40 calories per day, about the amount in a teaspoon of butter, before beginning to gain weight. Good luck with that.”
Ben: Let me remind the author that exercise boosts your post-workout metabolism. It’s not just the muscle that you put on. It’s your post-exercise metabolic rate that goes up and that is the thing that burns the significant amount of calories. Not the muscle. I don’t think a lot of people preach – a lot of trainers preach it’s the muscle that burns most calories, it’s the post-exercise consumption of more oxygen that burns calories. That’s why you got to get your heart rate up when you exercise.
Time Article: “Fundamentally, humans are not a species that evolved to dispose of many extra calories beyond what we need to live. Rats have a far greater capacity to cope with excess calories than we do because they have more of a dark-colored tissue called brown fat that helps produce a protein that switches off little cellular units called mitochondria, which are the cells' power plants: they help turn nutrients into energy. When they're switched off, animals don't get an energy boost. Instead, the animals literally get warmer. And as their temperature rises, calories burn effortlessly.
Because rodents have a lot of brown fat, it's very difficult to make them obese, even when you force-feed them in labs. But humans have so little brown fat that researchers didn't even report its existence in adults until earlier this year. (Which is not true, dude. Because in my exercise physiology class at the University of Idaho – 6 years ago, we were talking about humans and brown fat. so I’m not sure what you’re talking about.)That's one reason humans can gain weight with just an extra half-muffin a day: we almost instantly store most of the calories we don't need in our regular fat cells.
All this helps explain why our herculean exercise over the past 30 years hasn't made us thinner. After we exercise, we often crave sugary calories like those in muffins or in “sports” drinks like Gatorade. A standard 20-oz. bottle of Gatorade contains 130 calories. If you're hot and thirsty after a 20-minute run in summer heat, it's easy to guzzle that bottle in 20 seconds, in which case the caloric expenditure and the caloric intake are probably a wash. From a weight-loss perspective, you would have been better off sitting on the sofa knitting.”
Ben: Ok, the author makes a good point here. That is something that I see a lot. People take something that was designed to replenish calories during a football game that lasts three hours with multiple high intensity intervals and they consume it after a 20 minute run. He does make a good point there. Hold on, I’m thirsty. That reminded me about my Pellegrino. Ok. He does make a good point there. You have to really take into account when you’re eating that energy bar after a workout, you’d better have done a workout that that energy bar was designed for and not just kind of have walked around for a little while or done something real short.
Time Article: “Many people assume that weight is mostly a matter of willpower — that we can learn both to exercise and to avoid muffins and Gatorade. A few of us can, but evolution did not build us to do this for very long. Self-control is like a muscle: it weakens each day after you use it. If you force yourself to jog for an hour, your self-regulatory capacity is proportionately enfeebled. Rather than lunching on a salad, you'll be more likely to opt for pizza.
Some of us can will ourselves to overcome our basic psychology, but most of us won't be very successful. “The most powerful determinant of your dietary intake is your energy expenditure,” says Steven Gortmaker, who heads Harvard's Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity. “If you're more physically active, you're going to get hungry and eat more.” Gortmaker, who has studied childhood obesity, is even suspicious of the playgrounds at fast-food restaurants. “Why would they build those?” he asks. “I know it sounds kind of like conspiracy theory, but you have to think, if a kid plays five minutes and burns 50 calories, he might then go inside and consume 500 calories or even 1,000.
Ben: I don’t think they built those playgrounds for kids to exercise in. I think they built them to get kids to go.
Time Article: Last year the International Journal of Obesity published a paper by Gortmaker and Kendrin Sonneville of Children's Hospital Boston noting that “there is a widespread assumption that increasing activity will result in a net reduction in any energy gap.” But Gortmaker and Sonneville found in their 18-month study of 538 students that when kids start to exercise, they end up eating more — not just a little more, but an average of 100 calories more than they had just burned. If evolution didn't program us to lose weight through exercise, what did it program us to do? Doesn't exercise do anything?
Sure. It does plenty. In addition to enhancing heart health and helping prevent disease, exercise improves your mental health and cognitive ability. But there's some confusion about whether it is exercise — sweaty, exhausting, hunger-producing bursts of activity done exclusively to benefit our health — that leads to all these benefits or something far simpler: regularly moving during our waking hours. We all need to move more. But do we need to stress our bodies at the gym? Look at kids. In May, a team of researchers…”
Ben: I’m going to tell you right now, this is kind of long but what he says about the team of researchers is that they studied kids who were engaging in lots of physical education classes versus kids who were engaging in a much lower amount of physical education classes and what they found was that even the kids who were engaging in more physical education classes overall during the entire day – they didn’t end up moving more. And he says…
Time Article: “Once they get home, if they are very active in school, they are probably staying still a bit more because they've already expended so much energy. The others are more likely to grab a bike and run around after school.”
Ben: Ok, I would tend to agree with that, and this is me speaking again. That kids who exercise more at school might not have quite so much energy when they get home. I’m not sure what that has to do with weight loss, let’s see what he says.
Time Article: Another British study found that kids who regularly move in short bursts — running to catch a ball, racing up and down stairs to collect toys — are just as healthy as kids who participate in sports that require vigorous, sustained exercise.
“Could pushing people to exercise more actually be contributing to our obesity problem? In some respects, yes. Because exercise depletes not just the body's muscles but the brain's self-control “muscle” as well, many of us will feel greater entitlement to eat a bag of chips during that lazy time after we get back from the gym. This explains why exercise could make you heavier — or at least why even my wretched four hours of exercise a week aren't eliminating all my fat. It's likely that I am more sedentary during my non-exercise hours than I would be if I didn't exercise with such Puritan fury. If I exercised less, I might feel like walking more instead of hopping into a cab; I might have enough energy to shop for food, cook and then clean instead of ordering a satisfyingly greasy burrito.”
Ben: Ok, the author makes a lot of really interesting psychological observations here. What I would say is I disagree with him that exercise makes you more likely to feel entitlement to a bag of chips when you get home. I think that exercise teaches us better self control. I think that if you go on a hard 30 minute bike ride at the gym on your way home from work, you are going to really feel like you’re great at self-control, you have buffeted your body and you’re going to do it more and you’re going to eat a healthy dinner. I find that in most of my clients they have an all or nothing approach. If they don’t exercise they’re more likely to throw up their hands and have ice cream for dinner. If they do exercise, they’re more likely to say hey you know what? I’m awesome. I have self-control and I can keep having self-control. So just from what I observe with my clients, I would disagree with the author on that point. However I would agree with the author that having that mentality that exercise is just some simple exercise in a bottle prescription where we go to the gym for a half hour each day to help us maintain a healthy weight – I agree with him that that is wrong. Exercise is about moving around all day long. That’s why I’m standing while I record this podcast. That’s why I walk as many places as possible. That’s why I don’t let myself sit down during the day in office chairs. Because you’re more likely to just stay there with your butt planted. So the author does make some good points that you got to move. The human body was designed to move, to farm, to hunt, to plant, to harvest, to gather. It wasn’t designed to sit around in these little office chair devices. So I do agree with him. So he goes on…
Time Article: The problem ultimately is about not exercise itself but the way we've come to define it. Many obesity researchers now believe that very frequent, low-level physical activity — the kind humans did for tens of thousands of years before the leaf blower was invented — may actually work better for us than the occasional bouts of exercise you get as a gym rat. “You cannot sit still all day long and then have 30 minutes of exercise without producing stress on the muscles,” says a neurobiologist at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center who has studied nutrition for 20 years. “The muscles will ache, and you may not want to move after. But to burn calories, the muscle movements don't have to be extreme. It would be better to distribute the movements throughout the day.”
For his part, Berthoud rises at 5 a.m. to walk around his neighborhood several times. He also takes the stairs when possible. He says, “Even if people can get out of their offices, out from in front of their computers, they go someplace like the mall and then take the elevator,” he says. “This is the real problem, not that we don't go to the gym enough.”
I was skeptical when Berthoud said this. Don't you need to raise your heart rate and sweat in order to strengthen your cardiovascular system? Don't you need to push your muscles to the max in order to build them?
Actually, it's not clear that vigorous exercise like running carries more benefits than a moderately strenuous activity like walking while carrying groceries. You regularly hear about the benefits of exercise in news stories, but if you read the academic papers on which these stories are based, you frequently see that the research subjects who were studied didn't clobber themselves on the elliptical machine. A routine example: in June the Association for Psychological Science issued a news release saying that “physical activity … may indeed preserve or enhance various aspects of cognitive functioning.” But in fact, those who had better cognitive function merely walked more and climbed more stairs. They didn't even walk faster; walking speed wasn't correlated with cognitive ability.
There's also growing evidence that when it comes to preventing certain diseases, losing weight may be more important than improving cardiovascular health. In June, researchers released the results of the longest observational study ever to investigate the relationship between aerobic fitness and the development of diabetes. The results? Being aerobically fit was far less important than having a normal body mass index in preventing the disease.
So why does the belief persist that exercise leads to weight loss, given all the scientific evidence to the contrary?”
Ben: Let me interrupt for just a second here. I think it’s interesting that he’s saying that the intensity of the exercise doesn’t matter when multiple studies have shown that it does when it comes to boosting your metabolic rate and producing the effects of aerobic activity such as an increase in capillary density, mitochondria density, stroke volume of heart, down regulation in the resting heart rate. There’s quite a bit to be said for the intensity of exercise and especially, it kind of flies in the face of what he was saying earlier about us not having the 60 to 90 minutes of time to exercise during the day. If you don’t have 60 to 90 minutes of time to exercise during the day, yeah a brief very intense bout of 30 minutes of exercise if you control yourself nutritionally the rest of the day is still going to give you a ton of benefits and more benefits than just waking 30 minutes. So he goes on…
Time Article: “Few obesity researchers promoted exercise as critical for weight reduction. As recently as 1992, when a stout Bill Clinton became famous for his jogging and McDonald's habits, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published an article that began, “Recently, the interest in the potential of adding exercise to the treatment of obesity has increased.” The article went on to note that incorporating exercise training into obesity treatment has led to “inconsistent” results. “The increased energy expenditure obtained by training may be compensated by a decrease in non-training physical activities,” the authors wrote.
Then how did the exercise-to-lose-weight mantra become so ingrained? Public-health officials have been reluctant to downplay exercise because those who are more physically active are, overall, healthier. Plus, it's hard even for experts to renounce the notion that exercise is essential for weight loss. For years, psychologist Kelly Brownell ran a lab at Yale that treated obese patients with the standard, drilled-into-your-head combination of more exercise and less food. “What we found was that the treatment of obesity was very frustrating,” he says. Only about 5% of participants could keep the weight off, and although those 5% were more likely to exercise than those who got fat again, Brownell says if he were running the program today, “I would probably reorient toward food and away from exercise.” In 2005, Brownell co-founded Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, which focuses on food marketing and public policy — not on encouraging more exercise.
Some research has found that the obese already “exercise” more than most of the rest of us. In May, Walter Reed Army Medical Center reported the results of a small study that found that overweight people actually expend significantly more calories every day than people of normal weight. He isn't the first researcher to reach this conclusion. As science writer Gary Taubes noted in his 2007 book, “The obese tend to expend more energy than lean people of comparable height, sex, and bone structure, which means their metabolism is typically burning off more calories rather than less.”
Ben: That also seems like kind of a “No duh” statement to me because of course they’re moving around bigger bodies. So in short, he finishes and he says…
Time Article: In short, it's what you eat, not how hard you try to work it off, that matters more in losing weight. You should exercise to improve your health, but be warned: fiery spurts of vigorous exercise could lead to weight gain. (I’m really hoping that he’s being sarcastic there.) I love how exercise makes me feel, but tomorrow I might skip the VersaClimber — and skip the blueberry bar that is my usual post-exercise reward.” The end.
Ben: So I want to hear your comments on this article. Go to www.bengreenfieldfitness.com and leave a comment in the Shownotes about how you feel. After reading this, my basic conclusion is that if what John Cloud says is true than what the typical American needs to do is create a lifestyle for themselves that requires them to move as much as possible. Parking farther away when you go to the grocery store, taking the stairs everywhere no matter what, even when you’re on the 8th floor of a hotel. Making sure that you stand as much as possible when you’re at your office and if you’re not able to stand you take walk breaks or quick breaks as often as you can and then from a nutrition perspective, you shouldn’t frame exercise as something you engage in so you can eat. You use exercise to achieve a loftier goal, preferably something even beyond a weight goal – something like a performance goal. Something that takes your mind off of the weight and the fat and the calories and focuses it on something that’s more fun to pursue. Yeah, there’s lots of stuff in here, but those are my thoughts. So you heard what I agreed with, you heard what I didn’t agree with. Now I want to hear from you. So leave a comment in the Shownotes. Tell me what you think about the article Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin. If you want to review it again go to the Time website or just click on the link that I have in the Shownotes. Folks, that is all for today’s podcast. Remember to go leave us a ranking in iTunes so that we can get the word out about the podcast and if you want to support the podcast then go to the Shownotes and click on the donation button that’s there in the bottom and leave us a donation. I’ll send you a t-shirt if you do. Finally, remember back to the special announcements, email me if you want one of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Pacific Elite Fitness cycling jersey and short kits and also if you’re local in the Spokane/Coeur D’Alene area, email me if you want to be part of the HGC group that’s starting up in September. Coming up on the program we have an interview on hypnosis and fat loss. We’ve got an interview on a diet called the paleo diet and we have a super swimming special for you swimmers and triathletes out there. Until then have a great and healthy week, this is Ben Greenfield signing out.
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