Ellen Petrick

1 2 3 11

The Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth


Ponce De Leon was looking in the wrong place…  when he was searching for the fountain of youth he should have checked out a gym!

We all know that aging comes with certain changes.  There are changes in body composition, losing muscle and gaining fat.  There is a loss of strength.  Maybe posture starts to sag a bit.  Maybe skin starts to sag a bit to! And then we start to see changes in function – you can’t do the things you used to.  Perhaps there is a change is cognitive skills.  And the risk for most of our chronic diseases goes up: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.

But exercise can help either reverse, delay, or reduce the risk of all of these changes!

Yes, we know that exercise can help you hang on to muscle and cardiovascular strength that will, in turn, help you maintain function.  And it’s generally accepted the exercise can help reduce the risk of lots of different chronic diseases.  It’s been called the most effective medicine we have!  But we are starting to see that exercise effects the body on the molecular level, even changing your genes, in ways which can turn back the clock in a dramatic way.

Let’s take telomeres for example.  Telomeres are strings of base pairs found at the end of each of your strands of DNA.  They form a protective cap.  These telomeres take some wear and tear every time your cells divide (Most of your body’s cells are continuously dividing to replace worn out cells and to heal injuries). With each cell division the telomeres get shorter.  Until they are gone.  Now your chromosomes may unravel or start to stick to each other and you can pretty much kiss that cell good bye.  How can you keep your telomeres long and flowing like a super models hair in a shampoo commercial? Exercise.

And research has also found evidence that exercise increases skeletal muscle gene expression through epigenetic changes, increases the number and function of mitochondria and their genes, increases mRNA expression, and increases the number of skeletal muscle stem cells.

If you are worried about your cognitive function, exercise dramatically increases the levels of brain derived neurotropic growth factors.  This may be one element of the effects of exercise in people with dementia and Alzhiemer’s.  Several studies have found delayed or improved cognitive outcomes, increased self-efficacy and reduced hippocampal atrophy.  The hippocampus is the part of the brain thought most involved in memory formation and recall.  Exercise has been one of the most successful interventions.

But what about what’s really important?  I want to get carded when I buy alcohol at the grocery store!!

Exercise for the win again!  When researchers compared butt skin [*they wanted to make sure the effects they were seeing weren’t the result of sun exposure, which may or may not have worked depending on their sample] of sedentary and active people between the ages of 20 and 84, the skin on the active older butts was much more like the skin on the 20 to 30 year old butts.  No, they didn’t just stare at it – they took samples and looked at it under the microscope.  Even better, when they had a group of sedentary people over the age of 65 start an exercise program (just half an hour twice a week for six months) their butt skin got younger!

And if you don’t want to show the supermarket checker your butt skin, no worries!  When people are given pictures of identical twins showing just their faces, the ones that exercise are consistently judged to look younger then the sedentary sibling.

But if you really really don’t want to exercise I have one more solution for you – my bathroom mirror.  It is perfect.  I ALWAYS look awesome in this mirror.  I never have any wrinkles or frown lines. My pores are imperceptible. No zits or blemishes. I don’t have any grey hairs.  And there are never any of those weird beard hairs that come out of nowhere.  My skin look lit from within….  Of course the lighting is not great.  And the counter is wide, so you can’t get close.  And it has a sort of film on it that I can’t seem to get off….  But if you just hang out in my bathroom for the rest of your life you’ll look great!  Maybe I can figure out a way to run an exercise class in there….

Questions? Comments?  I’d love to hear from you!


So You Say You Want a Resolution?

So You Say You Want a Resolution….


I’m seeing a lot of new faces at the gym right now.  A little bit crowded.  But I’m not worried because I know it will clear out very soon….

We have all heard the research.  Depending on which report you read, somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of Americans make New Years resolutions.  But six months later only ten to twenty percent of these people will consider themselves successful at keeping them.

And maybe that’s part of the problem – we’ve all heard the research.  According to several studies, one of the best predictors of whether or not you will keep your resolution is your level of self-efficacy.  That is, do you believe that you can do it?  You hear over and over again that practically no one is able to keep up with their resolutions, so you may feel that it is almost impossible for you to keep yours up.  When you think that something is impossible, you tend not to put as much energy into it…  you may skip on the planning necessary….  you cut yourself a bit too much slack.  After all – it’s impossible!

Self-efficacy is not just believing in yourself.  When you have a lot of self-efficacy, you know you can reach your goal AND you figure out what you need to do to reach it.

For example, most people slip up on their resolution sometime in January.  Yep, right in that first month!  Studies have shown that there is no difference in the number of slip ups between people who keep their resolutions and those who fail.  The people who are successful simply figure it was a slip up, maybe brainstorm some way to avoid it in the future, and keep going.  The people who fail, quit.

So how can you be one of the successful people?  There are a few things you can do to make sure you reach your goals.

First off – choose the right goal!

And yes, goals should be specific, measurable, blah blah blah…  but what I mean is figure out what it is you really want.  Why are you thinking about changing your life (yes, you will have to change your life) for this goal?  What will be different?  Why will that be good?

Let’s take “ I want to be a vegan” for example.  [We can discuss the health and ethics implications of a vegan lifestyle in future blogs – let me know if it is something you would be interested in].  Do you want to start eating a vegan diet because you hope to lose weight and look better?  Because it might decrease your cancer or heart disease risk?  Because you feel it is wrong to eat things with faces?

There are actually some pretty interesting research studies on how successful people are at keeping a vegan diet (I didn’t just choose that example at random!).  It turns out that the people who wanted to eat a vegan diet in order to enhance their appearance (because all vegans look like Gwyneth Paltrow) were the people who gave up the fastest.  People who switched to a vegan diet because they thought it might prevent them from ending up in an early grave did a little better.  The specter of death and all.  The people who were most likely to still be eating a vegan diet several years later were the ones that felt it was morally wrong to eat any animal products.  No mention in the research on their resemblance to Gwyneth Paltrow.

This actually makes me feel a little better about society in a way.  Eating a vegan diet can be very difficult.  The fact that people gave it up when their only goal was to look better means that their appearance wasn’t really that important to them in the first place!

Second – plan!  Seriously!  I mean really really plan.  You are talking about changing your life.  Changing the way you have always done things.  Changing who you are.  You need a plan!  It won’t just happen by magic.

Let’s take the vegan example again.  Of course you will need to change what you are eating.  So that means maybe cookbooks or magazines, or at the very least reading a lot of labels.  It means cleaning out cupboards.  It means making time for shopping trips.  Lay out all your meals and snacks for the week.  But it’s so much more!  Maybe you are going to make an acai smoothie bowl for breakfast.  That will take longer to prepare than the coffee and donut you usually have (I almost said coffee and cigarette).  So you will need to get up earlier.  So you will need to go to bed earlier.  And what will you say when your friends want to meet up for Korean BBQ?  What will you feed guests?  What about when you are traveling?  You can plan for all of these things.

Third (and this is not backed by any research I’m aware of but I’m sure it’s true) – don’t start your resolutions in January.  At least not in Chicago.  It’s cold.  It’s dark.  Every once in awhile the snow melts for a few days and then it’s nothing but mud and dog poo.  Just curl up on the sofa for about three months.  Wait until spring – the days are longer, the plants start growing, there’s food besides winter squash and turnips in your CSA box…  Spring is a much better time to make life changes.  You can use that extra time to plan!

Questions? Comments?  I’d love to hear from you!


The Gift of ….Discomfort

The Gift of …..Discomfort


Usually around this time of year I make a big batch of my “healthy” truffles (they are high fiber, high  protein, no added sugar – just the dates etc.) and roll them in various toppings like coconut, candy cane, green tea, and mocha powder and bring them for my classes and my clients…


No time for truffles this year….

Barely time to breath this year…

But I WILL continue to give you the gift I give year round – the gift of discomfort.


You may think you don’t want this gift – who wants to be uncomfortable?  But I can guarantee you that if you don’t make yourself a little uncomfortable now you will be much more uncomfortable later.

The “use it or lose it” saying is sort of old and tired but it’s true.  For pretty much every system in your body.  Your body is very efficient.  If you are not using a particular tissue (muscle tissue, bone tissue, even nervous system tissue) your body will not use any of its precious resources to build or maintain it.  So muscle wastes away, bones get brittle, and you continue to lose connections in your brain.

So when you come to class or have a session with me, I don’t expect you to feel entirely proficient.  One of my clients said to me the other day “ I tried to get my husband to come to class with me, but he wouldn’t come.  He said he didn’t think he would be good at it.  I told him – that’s the point!” Exactly!  You’re not supposed to be good at it!  It’s supposed to feel somewhat awkward and challenging!

Weights need to be heavy enough to bring the muscles to fatigue in order to stimulate the growth of new muscle tissue.  Bones have to receive either impact or tension from those same muscles to get those osteoblasts out building new bone.  Your brain needs to be exposed to new, awkward feeling movement patterns to cause the release of neurotropic growth factor.  High intensity cardio intervals not only result in a stronger heart with a higher stroke volume, a denser capillilary bed, more mitochondria, more red blood cells, and higher levels of various enzymes related to energy conversion – recent research shows it ALSO results in better memory and a larger brain volume!

I would also argue that the psychological effects of regularly practicing – and surviving – the physical discomfort of a difficult exercise routine helps you to endure the more mental discomforts and stresses of modern life.  The physical discomfort of exercise helps you build resilience….

A client asked me the other day after a particularly difficult interval – “When does it get easier?”

Answer: “Never” (Cue my big grin).

It should never get easier.  As you get stronger, you lift heavier weights.  As you become more agile, you perform more complicated foot work.  As your cardiovascular capacity increases you go faster! It never gets easier….  But you DO feel better as you do it.  Is it bad to say you get used to the discomfort?

Do you have to kill yourself on every workout? NO!  Proper rest and recovery is also important.  But you should be sure to find your limits, and push them a little bit, on a regular basis.

Speaking of – Please join me in my classes for the 400 on January 2nd  (for the uninitiated – 100 push-ups, 100 pull-ups, 100 squats, and 100 ab exercises)!

So there you go – YOUR WELCOME!


Happy Holidays Everybody!

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you!


Build Muscle to Burn Sugar

Build Muscle and Burn Sugar


There has been a lot of research on the effects of cardiovascular endurance exercise and reducing the risk of diabetes as well as controlling type two diabetes symptoms.  Doctors now routinely advise their patients with type two diabetes or pre-diabetes to exercise by doing things like brisk walking three to five days a week.

And that’s great!  Walking is great!  Much, much better than sitting…  but if all you do is cardiovascular exercise it will get harder and harder to control your blood sugar levels.  Even if you increase your intensity.

That’s because without regular strength training you WILL lose muscle mass.  An average of 5% every decade.  And this is a problem if you are already struggling with your blood sugar levels.

Muscle runs on sugar.  When you walk, your muscles contract, and sugar gets used up.  But walking doesn’t build new muscle tissue.  It’s not hard enough.  In order to get the body to build more muscle you have to ask it lift something it almost can’t lift.  This challenging resistance provides the stimulus to create more muscle instead of breaking it down.  So strength training is the key to maintaining or even building more muscle that will keep burning up that sugar.

As a bonus, muscle tissue has a way to pull sugar out of the blood, even if your insulin sensitivity is low.  Normally, you need insulin to get the sugar from your blood stream into the cell.  If your insulin sensitivity is low, that means that even when there is plenty of insulin around, you still can’t get the sugar out of the blood because you cells are not “sensitive” to insulin anymore.  Muscle cells that are working hard use a totally different molecule called GLUT4 to pull sugar out of the blood – so once again – more muscle means lower blood sugar!

A study in 2010 studied over 300 people with type two diabetes in four groups: no exercise, just cardio, just resistance, and both for seven months.  No surprise, the group that did no exercise had a slight increase in A1c.  A1c is like a long term measure of your blood sugar levels – not just how high they are right now, but how much they have spiked over the past three months.  The exercising groups all saw a reduction in A1c, but only the combo group had a significant decrease.  The most interesting thing to me was that while both of the groups doing resistance work reduced body fat, the group doing only cardio did NOT reduce body fat, but DID reduce weight….  If they didn’t lose fat, this means they actually lost muscle mass.  The study was only seven months, but I suspect that these subjects would start having a more difficult time controlling their blood sugar as time went on…

A new study out this year followed over 7000 people over 19 years.  They did all sorts of tests on them including body composition and A1c and the subjects gave reports of their exercise behaviors.  By now you probably know how I feel about studies that just ask people about how they have done things (exercise, eating, it doesn’t matter – there’s a lot of error there!) but there was still some interesting tidbits.  One thing that really stood out was that as less than an hour of resistance training a week was enough to significantly reduce the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

I see it with clients that are worried about diabetes.  I see it with people who are wanting to lose weight.  Everyone thinks they need to spend a lot of time on the treadmill.  First of all – SO BORING!  But more importantly, you are probably missing out on the real key to controlling your blood sugar levels.  The more muscle you have, the more sugar you will use up, and the less sugar you will have floating around your body to damage your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels…..


Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you!


If the Shoe Fits…

If the Shoe Fits…


People ask me all the time what the best shoes are.  I really have trouble answering those questions.  It’s the same way with “What’s the best strength exercise?”  Or “What’s the most important stretch?”

For what? For who? On which day? If there was just one answer to those questions then we could all just do one exercise. Same thing with shoes. Different shoes are meant for different purposes and different shoes are more appropriate for different people at different times.  Sometimes I tell people “thick socks”, but then they are like “Well, I can’t wear just socks to work!”

Sorry.  Let me just get down off this horse…

Thankfully some recent research will help me answer this question more thoughtfully.

A group of 39 heel strikers (people who tend to hit the ground with their heel first when they run) were studied wearing three different types of shoe as well as going barefoot.  What they found was that it didn’t matter which shoe they wore – their basic movement pattern stayed the same.  BUT in order to maintain that movement pattern in all three shoe types, they had to expend more energy in some types than others.  The shoe types that required them to use more energy seemed “less comfortable”.

It seems that there is a preferred movement path for each of the little joints in your foot.  The right shoe for you is the one that allows your foot to follow this movement path in the most efficient way.  That is – it should feel “comfortable” right away.  None of this breaking them in stuff.  And it should feel comfortable as you move around in whatever way you will move while wearing them.  Running if it’s a running shoe.  Walking if it’s a walking shoe.  Shuffle ball change if it’s a tap shoe. What do you do in your “work shoes”?  Stand at the water cooler?  Just sit around looking suave?  I get to wear sweatpants to work….  Just saying…..

The only type of “shoe” that changed the movement pattern was barefoot.  There are many foot scientists out there (is that a thing?) that are arguing that barefoot is our natural state – the way our bodies are meant to operate.  When we encase our feet in stiff padded shoes we remove a whole array of possible stimulation that we could use for proprioception and stability.  We ignore over a third of the bones and joints in our body. And the effects can be felt all the way up the kinetic chain.

I personally feel there is a huge benefit to training barefoot.  It completely changed my gait and allowed me to run again when I was told it would never happen.  I also feel it has allowed me to maintain a decent level of balance and stability even though my autoimmune condition has resulted in sensory limitations in all four limbs.  And it’s just more comfortable.  I wore a floor length dress to prom so that my feet wouldn’t show and I could go barefoot….

BUT it’s not practical or advisable to simply kick off your shoes and violate health codes everywhere.

First of all, it’s almost winter in Chicago.

Second, you wouldn’t pick up 50 pound weights your first time at the gym and you shouldn’t think you can start doing everything barefoot without training all of those muscles and joints first.  And just like gaining strength and control anywhere else in the body – that takes time.

What can you do?  Go to barefoot classes like yoga and barre.  Do some barefoot training on your own – even just simple strength exercises like squats and lunges become a whole different thing when performed barefoot.  And don’t worry too much about your feet being gross.  Believe me when I say your hands are actually FAR worse….

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you?


I Had Something Up My You Know What…

I Had Something Up My You Know What….


So, two weeks ago I had something up my (pardon my French) behind..  It was a camera.  That’s right, it was time for my biennial colonoscopy!

Lots of people have remarked, “But you’re too young to be worried about that!”

Not so…

My father died of colon cancer 6 years ago at the age of 62.  Normally, the recommended age to get your first colonoscopy is 50.  But if you have a family history the recommended starting age is 40.  If you’re clean they figure it was lifestyle and not genetics that led to your relatives diagnosis, then you don’t need one for another ten years.

When I went to get my first colonoscopy two years ago we fully expected I would be clean as a whistle.

After all, it was like my father was trying to get colon cancer.  He was obese.  He never exercised.  He ate lots of meat, particularly processed meat.  He didn’t have much use for veggies or fiber.  He smoked. He was over 50. And he had symptoms of GI problems for over two years before he went to the doctor.

I, on the other hand, was a paragon of colon cancer virtue.  I was slim and fit.  Exercised all the time.  Limited my meat consumption.  Ate tons of veggies and fiber.  Never smoked.  Under 50.  Went to the doctor on schedule.

I should have been golden!  Except that I wasn’t.

They found three huge polyps.  One of over 3 millimeters. Adenomas.  The kind that can become cancerous.

But here is the totally awesome thing about colonoscopies – they took them right out before I even knew they existed!

Yes, the prep is no fun.  I don’t like the weird eating plan for the week before hand where I can’t eat anything I would normally eat (nuts, seeds, high fiber veggies).  And the two days before hand when literally the only veggie that was allowed was mashed potatoes (my husband was so happy).  Or the day before hand when you can only have clear fluids.

Or the truly horrible nasty stuff you have to drink (64 ounces of it plus two more 64 ounce glasses of water in an hour – I almost couldn’t do it).

But none of that is as uncomfortable as colon cancer…..

So I will keep doing it.  And I’ll only complain a little bit.  Besides, this last one was clean!  So now I get to wait a whole THREE years before I need to do it again….

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you!


Be Thankful for Gratitude

Alright, so this is an old one…

But it’s still true!

Be Thankful for Gratitude


Maybe you go around the Thanksgiving table and make everyone say something they are grateful for before you allow them to stuff their faces (I am thankful for stuffing and gravy…  For the first three or four servings.  Then I curse its existence).  This is a good place to start, but perhaps you should include some gratitude practice a little more often if you want to benefit your health.

Gratitude has two parts.  First, that there are good things in the universe.  We tend to adapt quickly to any new emotion – so that new car, or new job, or new friend is only exciting and positive for a limited amount of time.  Then we get used to it and don’t appreciate as much as we did initially.  Gratitude recognizes these good things and keeps us engaged with them.

Second, gratitude acknowledges that these good things come from outside of ourselves.  We have these good things not solely as a result of our own brilliance but at least partly through the actions of others.  We accept our dependence on other people for some of the things in our lives that give us joy.

As you might imagine, people who have a more grateful attitude experience more positive emotions.  They are more empathetic, less aggressive, more joyful, and experience less depression.  Grateful people have more and closer relationships with other people.

What you may not expect is that grateful people also have lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems, better sleep, and less pain.  Grateful people also take better care of themselves, are more likely to exercise and eat more nutritious meals.

I know what you’re thinking – people who have better stuff going on in their lives are happier and if you are happier you are going to have lower blood pressure etc. (or at least that’s what you should be thinking. Question everything!).  But no relationship has been found between peoples’ income, employment, or history of trauma and their level of gratitude.  I’m sure you can picture someone who has it all and can’t stop obsessing about what they still don’t have, as well as someone who seems to have nothing good going for them and still manages to find the silver lining.  In fact, having a grateful attitude is one indicator of resilience.  That is, when something really horrible happens to you, you will be more likely to get over it and move on if you have a grateful attitude.

And something to be really grateful for?  You can learn to be more grateful!  And all you need to do is practice.  In several studies participants were divided into two groups.  One group was simply told about the benefits of gratitude, the other group was given gratitude journals in which they recorded things they were grateful about each day.  After six weeks, the group using the journals saw significant increases in positive emotions as well as decreases in pain and inflammation.

I’m going to start practicing right now.

I am grateful for my new neighborhood (four years back in Oak Park!) filled with interesting, kind, generous people who keep inviting me to block party stuff even though I never go.  Because someday I might.

I am thankful for my family, near and far, who are always there for me even when I am being annoying and unreasonable.  Especially when I am be annoying and unreasonable.

And I am thankful for my job and all the people who make it possible.  I am thankful for my incredible boss who encouraged me to begin my career in fitness and helped me train and prepare even though I was just a science nerd with absolutely no experience in athletics (always picked last in gym!) And I am particularly grateful for all of my clients and class participants who let me boss them around all day.  Seriously, ask my siblings, it’s my dream job…..

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you!


Can I Get a Pill for That?

Can I Get a Pill for That?


Several people sent me an article from the New Yorker last week that described a possible pharmaceutical alternative to attain the benefits of exercise without actually exercising…

Are they trying to tell me something?

Reading the article reminded me of taking my elderly grandfather to a doctor’s appointment for a follow up after his recovery from a hairline fracture in his hip.  He was still having trouble walking, pain when getting up and down from his chair, and everything felt hard in general.  The doctor asked him if he was doing his physical therapy exercises, such as walking up and down the hallway of their condo…

“What?!?!  No!  Don’t you have a pill for that?”

At the time, the answer was no.  But that might change in the near future.

Researchers have been working on several different compounds that each mimic the effects of exercise in different ways.  One compound, GW 50516, works on a gene called PPAR-delta that sends a signal to burn more fat.  It’s incredibly effective in mice.  Even eating a horrible diet and getting little to no activity, mice taking 516 are able to stay lean and control their cholesterol levels.  Another drug, compound 14, causes obese sedentary mice on a high fat diet with no exercise to lose weight and normalize blood sugar levels in just one week.  Irisin, a hormone, can turn regular white fat into metabolism boosting brown fat, and still other chemicals can actually change muscle fiber type from carb burning fast twitch to fat incinerating slow twitch.

In mice.  In petri dishes. In the lab.

When compound 516 was given to mice in large doses for two years, many of them developed cancer.  Everywhere.  Skin, GI tract, reproductive organs, even their tongues.  But they are working on that problem.  And a few other issues.  Chances are there will be some sort of exercise pill on the market in the next ten years.

But what will it do?  All of these chemicals were found by chance.  When scientists look at all of the compounds in the body that are released by just a single bout of exercise the number is in the thousands and we don’t have any idea of the effects of the majority of these compounds.  And what about long term exercise?

This is not to say that I think an exercise pill is a bad idea.  There are lots of really interesting and totally legitimate applications for something like that.  For example, my grandfather.  He was frail.  It really was very difficult and uncomfortable for him to move around.  A short term exercise pill prescription may have gotten him over the hump.  Or someone recovering from surgery.  A pregnant woman on bed rest.

Notice I have not mentioned “ I would really rather sit on the sofa and watch Game of Thrones” as a legitimate application.

And that brings me to my argument against replacing exercise with a pill for the general population.

One of the biggest benefits of exercise for me has not been physical, but psychological.  When you workout, if it’s going to be effective at causing changes in your body, it’s going to be uncomfortable.  And that’s ok.  It’s temporary.  You can be uncomfortable for a short time, and then it’s over.  You got through it.  Exercising regularly (and making yourself uncomfortable regularly) allows you to practice and build resilience.  It is an attribute that is truly crucial for psychological wellbeing, and one that I don’t think gets enough attention.  The difference between people who are happy and people who are miserable is very rarely correlated with the person’s actual situation. Instead, people who are resilient are able to bounce back from even horrific circumstances, while people with less resilience are beaten down by the smallest disappointment.

I used to be a delicate flower.  Exercise is what made me a sturdy mule.  Yes, I would much rather be a mule.  And I don’t think you can get that from a pill.


Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you!


Pump It Up: How Much Protein Do You Need?

Pump It Up: How Much Protein Do You Need?


First, a quick apology for technical difficulties earlier this week.  The blog that went out on Monday was not from me (As you may have guessed when you got to the end and saw “Mary Kay” mentioned.  Makeup is not exactly my thing).  That was actually a post from our Personal Training and Athletic Conditioning Director Chris Weiler.  But if you received the post in your email you did not get to see that heading.

And then the computer sent out a random post that I wrote back in August on Tuesday….No idea why.

So – with that out of the way: Down to Business!

You may think that only Hanz and Franz (the grey sweat suit clad meat heads form Saturday Night Live that want to PUMP – YOU UP!)  need to think about eating extra protein.  After all, the Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is only 0.36 grams per pound of body weight.  If you weigh 150 pounds that’s only 54 grams of protein.  Ideally this protein is spread throughout the day, so maybe 20 or so grams at each meal.  A palm sized serving of chicken breast is about 29 grams of protein.  Some people will say you can only absorb 20 to 30 grams of protein at a time – not really true.  You will totally digest all that protein.  You just won’t use it to build or maintain muscle.  You might use it for other body structures, or you might just use the calories for energy (or store them for later).That doesn’t sound so bad – a cup of greek yogurt at breakfast, a cup of lentils and black beans at lunch, a chicken breast at dinner.

But recent research suggests that RDA only cuts it if you are young and sedentary…

We always knew that heavy strength training resulted in greater protein requirements.  Hanz and Franz appear to have built their muscles out of helium balloons, but real muscles are made mostly of protein.  When you do resistance training exercises, you cause microscopic damage to your muscle tissue.  But this is a good thing!  As your body repairs and rebuilds this tissue it makes it stronger… If it has the necessary building materials available when it needs them.  Hence the recommendation for spreading your protein intake throughout the day so your body always has the raw materials ready to make muscle.  So you might need 0.6 to 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight a day if you are strength training.

What about if you are a little older and you’re just doing a light conditioning class here and there?

If you are over 55, you are probably losing muscle.  It becomes harder and harder to maintain muscle mass as you age.  And as you lose muscle your metabolism goes down – even if you exercise.  And if your metabolism goes down and you keep eating the same number of calories – you gain fat.  A very convincing research paper in Frontiers of Nutrition this past May suggests that people over 55 may need as much as 0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day to prevent muscle wasting, particularly if you are strength training.  That’s 102 grams of protein if you weight 150 pounds!

And endurance athletes are not off the hook either – a study in PLOS One last year found that 0.63 grams of protein per pound of body weight was required to prevent muscle wasting in this population.

For a lot of people I talk to – this is a LOT more protein then they are currently eating.  Some people turn to supplements, but I still really recommend whole foods as much as possible. You should also be aware of the bioavailability of different proteins.  Black beans for example have 24 grams of protein per serving.  Which sounds great except that you really only absorb about 50% of that.  So you have to eat twice as much.  And it’s not a complete protein.  I myself try to limit my consumption of meat because of my high risk for colon cancer.  But getting your protein from plant sources takes a little more effort, AND it can mean a lot more calories to get the same amount of protein.

Take peanut butter.  This is everyone’s “go to” when I tell them they are not getting enough protein. “But I had some peanut butter!”  Yes, peanut butter is actually pretty good for you.  Its fats and protein are enough to increase feelings of fullness.  It has lots of other nutrients going for it. Great snack. It would take about a half a cup of peanut butter to get 25 grams of protein for muscle building.  Oh, and did I mention it has pretty low bioavailability?  Make that a cup.

It DOES take some planning.  You are going to have to explore different protein sources, do some meal and snack prep ahead of time, and experiment to find what works and what you like.  And planning.  Seriously.  Planning.  Did I mention planning?  But eventually what used to take lots of work and planning just becomes “what you do”.  Eezy Peezy Protein Squeezy.

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you!



Feeling the Burn: Is it Lactic Acid?

Feeling the Burn: Is it Lactic Acid?


For a very long time we have been told that the burning sensation we feel in our muscles during intense exercise is due to accumulation of lactic acid.  We complain about lactic acid as our muscles start to tremble and fatigue before we can finish our set.  On top of that, we suffer through the delayed onset muscle soreness the next day believing that it to is a product of lactic acid.  Certain elite athletes, like Michael Phelps for instance, have been measured to have much lower blood lactate levels just after intense exercise then us mortal humans.

So lactic acid is BAD – right?  We should try to get rid of it – right?!?

Nope.  We had it all wrong.

First of all, lactate itself does not cause the burning sensation – hydrogen ions do that.  Both lactate and hydrogen ions are produced during exercise and as intensity increases, they are not recycled as quickly and they can accumulate in the muscle.  But lactate is not a waste product – it is just an intermediate.  Lactate itself is actually used as fuel in the muscle cell, and throughout the body.

Lactic acid doesn’t cause the fatigue either.  Fatigue is a result of either your muscles exceeding their oxygen supply, and/or running out of glycogen for fuel.  Lactate actually prevents fatigue by helping to prevent depolarization of the muscle cell.  Your muscle cell must stay polarized in order to contract.

What about that aching and soreness the next day?  When I can’t brush my hair because I can’t bring my arm over my head (not that I brush my hair very often), or walk down the stairs properly?  Nope.  That’s not lactic acid either.  That’s the result of microscopic tears in the muscle tissue and the inflammatory response to that damage.

Alright, well what about all these athletes and their low blood lactate levels?  Lower lactic acid must result in better performance right?

Well remember how lactate is actually a fuel that your muscles can use?  When they used to measure lactate levels, they always measured blood lactate levels.  If the lactate is in your blood, then it isn’t in your muscle cell anymore, where it could be used for fuel.  When scientists decided to measure the lactate levels inside the muscle cells themselves they discovered that normal active people are using about 75% of the lactate they produce as fuel – the other 25% is what leaks into the blood stream.  When they measured the levels of lactate inside the muscle cells of certain athletes (like Michael Phelps) they were actually producing just as much lactate during intense exercise.  But they were using over 85% of it as fuel!  So only 15% leaked into the blood – which meant lower blood lactate levels.  The scientists hypothesize that being able to use that additional 10% of the available lactate as fuel may be one of the things that gives athletes an edge.

So how do you train your body to use more lactate?  Not enough research yet to say definitively, but it looks like “lactate threshold training”, where you bring your heart rate up to 90 percent of your max and keep it there for half an hour might work.  But that sounds miserable.  Thankfully interval training also shows promise!  I’d much rather work really really hard for thirty seconds three or four times than just  pretty hard for half an hour…..

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you!



1 2 3 11
Follow Us on FacebookFollow Us on TwitterFollow Us on Yelp
Sign-up Now to Receive Club News
Sign Up Now
Today’s Classes
  • 6:00 am - Spinning®
  • 8:00 am - Spinning®*
  • 8:00 am - Pilates Matwork: Conditioning*
  • 9:00 am - Total Barre*
  • 9:00 am - Spinning®*
  • 5:30 pm - Spin & Sculpt
Club Hours
Club hours on Thursday
5:30AM - 10PM
Day Open Close
Monday 5:30AM 10PM
Tuesday 5:30AM 10PM
Wednesday 5:30AM 10PM
Thursday 5:30AM 10PM
Friday 5:30AM 10PM
Saturday 7AM 7PM
Sunday 7AM 9:30PM
Nursery Hours

Mon. - Fri. 8AM - 3PM
Mon. & Wed. 5PM - 8PM
Sat. 8AM - 1PM
Sun. Closed

We’re Closed
04-12-20 (Easter)
05-25-20 (Memorial Day)
07-04-20 (Independence Day)
09-07-20 (Labor Day)
12-25-19 (Christmas Day)