Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Way To Go Zin!

My buddy Zin was recently interviewed as part of KWGN's series on Diabetes. Check out the video of "Colorado Man Changes His Life After Diabetes Diagnosis".

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TRX Suspension Training Review - Guest Follow-up

Today's entry comes from my buddy Maarburg, from A Vicious Cycle, who purchased the TRX Force Training Kit a couple of weeks before I bought my Home Bundle.

I purchased the TRX Military Bundle for the 12 week program. My first thoughts on the program were that the workload to rest ratio didn't seem maximized, but being willing to try new things and ideas, I dove in. The abdominal workout was far in excess of anything I'd ever done when I was previously involved in body building/strength training. A few weeks of screaming obliques, and the inability to laugh pain free was discouraging. This is less the fault of the program and more my over-zealousness. Additionally, there are a number of leg movements that were counter productive to my cycling training.

I've since fallen back on a workout program that has proven successful for me, but swapping out the clunky, cumbersome free weight movements for the much more challenging TRX movements. For many years I've been a fan of High Intensity Training. The Military program as provided by TRX will, undoubtedly, yield tremendous gains in balance, strength, and stability. That being said, the shorter more intense workout that I'm familiar with is something that I feel more comfortable with and makes for a better historical comparison. Since switching over to a HIT style program, I've seen immediate results. I wish I'd had the foresight to take measurements when I first got the system.

There is a tremendous advantage to the TRX system, both in the range of motion, and the inherent mobility. You are no longer stuck on a bench pressing a weight straight up with your hands in a fixed position on the bar, and limited to a 90degree to horizontal motion. The TRX system actually allows you to vary the horizontal and vertical motion on something as basic as a Pectoralis Major Press. (Can't very well call it a "Bench" press anymore, now can I?) Using this exercise as an example, the motion I've adopted is more like a Pec Fly. This system allows the flexability to switch from Flye to narrow grip, to wide grip, to decline, to incline presses, all at whim. Very very useful. The adaptability of the TRX system is without compare. When I'm done with an exercise, I can feel the results of my efforts from the point of insertion to the origin. That means that I'm working the entire muscle, something that can be a bit of a challenge with free weights.

Probably the only negative things I can say about the TRX are that exercise from is even more crucial, and a bit harder to obtain, and the range of motion might provide a challenge for those not used to muscular development exercises. The "Tee-ing" of the feet helps to alleviate a bit of the later. These, potential, negatives are easily offset by the systems abilty to provide a workout that follows the bodies natural motion and engages stabilizing muscles that machines and even free weights do not. Did I mention that the entire system (including the manual and DVD) take up less room than a pair of shoes.

The TRX system, in my opinion, is more suited to Strength and Stability as opposed to Bodybuilding. The nature of the system makes it more difficult to isolate one muscle, a common goal in Bodybuilding. For my purposes, and I'm assuming a majority of the people that do strength training, this lack of isolation is actually a benefit. The TRX encourages a more balanced and functional strength.

When you come across something that is correct, and works, you just know it. The TRX System is one of those things.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Nectar of the Gods?

Continuing the discussion of sugars and Glycemic Index, I've recently been looking at agave nectar as a sweetener. Apparently I'm a little slow in finding this sweetener. I first became aware of it last summer I came across this article Making Your Own Power Gels For Less. At the time I didn't realize the significance because I wasn't in the market for an all-around sweetener.

Lately I decided to make my own gels again with all of my new knowledge of Glycemic Index and insulin response. My theory is that a gel should contain a hi GI component and a low GI component, that follows the recipe of most major manufacturers, and by varying the hi GI ingredient I can control when the sugar hits the bloodstream. I'll post more results on this experiment as I get results.

So I pulled out the article above again and noticed agave nectar and started reading that it affects blood sugar so minimally that it is considered safe for diabetics and can be used by low-carbers. But what does it mean for a sweetener to be low GI? Doesn't that really mean less evil than, say, table sugar? Well, not really. Let's look at some numbers:

Maltodextrin: 105
Glucose: 100
Plain bagel: 72
Honey: 62
Banana: 56
Oatmeal: 48
Yogurt (fruit): 36
Agave Nectar: 27
Yogurt (plain): 14

Strangely enough I happened to be at the grocery store recently (something I try to avoid at all costs) and happened to notice they carry an organic agave nectar! I figured WTF. I'm going to make gels with it, and it has such a minimal impact on blood sugar maybe I should use it as a sweetener and dump the artificial stuff.

My first reaction is that agave nectar has a very sweet taste, sweeter than honey. It is also much thinner than honey and pours very readily. So far I've only used it in my coffee and it seems to taste very similar to sugar. As I use it more I will report more experience.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

MCT Oil - The Importance of Being Medium

I came to a realization a few years ago. I'm a Medium. I don't mean I'm one of those people that talks to Elvis and your dead aunt Petunia. I mean everything about me is "medium." I wear medium T-shirts, 32x34 jeans - the most popular men's size, 10 1/2 shoe - again, the most popular men's size. I even eat my steak cooked medium. I'm not just medium, I'm extra medium. So maybe it is poetic justice that I write an article on Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs).

What exactly is a Medium Chain Triglyceride? Put bluntly, an MCT is a type of fat. Fats are organized into chains - the gory details of which are outside the scope of this article (which is a fancy way of saying I don't understand it) - and as the name implies, a "medium" chain triglyceride is a smaller molecule than long and very long chain triglycerides.

Some examples of LCTs are corn, safflower and soybean oil. Some examples of MCTs are coconut oil, palm kernal oil and butter.

OK, so why do we care about the length of our fats? This is the really brilliant part! You know how regular vegetable oil floats on water? "Oil and water don't mix," you might say. To this I would say, "Ha!" MCTs are water soluble. This is extremely significant in the fact that MCTs require no special processing to get into the blood stream, and, bile is not needed to digest MCTs. This means, and here's the good bit, the body processes and uses MCTs exactly like it does carbohydrates!

There are two other advantages which are very significant.

  1. Research suggests that while any fat helps to cause satiety (a feeling of being satisfied) and thus tend to limit caloric intake, MCTs cause satiety faster than LCTs. This means when MCTs are a significant component of the meal, people tend to eat less than when LCTs are used!
  2. Research also suggests that MCTs help in weight loss, possibly by increasing metabolism.
What does all this mean? In simple terms, butter is back, baby! That's right, putting real butter on your veggies not only helps them taste better (and let's be honest, anything that helps us eat more veggies is a good thing, right?), that butter gives quick energy, speeds up your metabolism, and helps to burn fat.

This is all even more significant for the endurance athlete. Medium chain triglycerides represent the best of both worlds - the quick energy boost of a simple sugar but the caloric density of a fat.

You want a "superfood?" Forget the blueberries and start using butter again.

Marie-Pierre St-Onge and Peter J. H. Jones, "Physiological Effects of Medium-Chain Triglycerides: Potential Agents in the Prevention of Obesity"

Marie-Pierre St-Onge*, Robert Ross{dagger}, William D. Parsons* and Peter J.H. Jones,

"Medium-Chain Triglycerides Increase Energy Expenditure and Decrease Adiposity in Overweight Men"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Insulin, Glycemic Index and Low Carbing

A few days ago I posted an article on Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load and the question that I'm sure is in both readers' minds is, "Who gives a shit?" In the interest of my own education, I hope this post will tie it all together.

Let's start off with a quick quiz:

  1. What is the goal of reducing carbohydrate consumption in a Low Carb diet?
  2. What is the state of ketosis?
  3. What is the purpose of insulin?
And here are the answers, in short form:
  1. Reducing carbohydrate consumption has the goal of regulating insulin production (decreasing or almost completely eliminating).
  2. Ketosis occurs when the body no longer is able to use sugars (specifically glucose ingested from food and glycogen, the stored form of glucose) and must resort to burning fats as the main fuel source.
  3. Insulin is secreted by the pancreas in response to a spike in blood sugar levels. Insulin's purpose is to regulate blood sugar levels by storing excess glucose (more on this below).
Typical protocol for a Low Carber in an Active Weight Loss phase is to reduce total carbohydrate intake to some threshold amount, typically this is around 20 or 30 grams of carbohydrate per day. The purpose of this is to drive the body into a state of ketosis in which the main fuel source switches from sugar to fat. Most Low Carbers will stay in ketosis for the entirety of their weight-loss phase.


Let's look again at the role of insulin in the body. Insulin plays a role in both carbohydrate and lipid (fat) metabolism.

In carbohydrate metabolism, insulin has two main functions:
  • Store sugar in muscle and adipose cells,
  • Stimulate conversion and storage of glycogen in the liver.
In lipid metabolism, to put it simply, insulin's main function is to spare fat. Insulin makes the body prefer burning sugar to fat as a fuel source and it indirectly stimulates storage of fat in adipose cells.

So, to summarize: For those of us trying to reduce body fat stores, insulin is bad.

The Low Carb Lifestyle

So where does that leave us? Traditional Low Carb diets ask us to cut out all carbohydrates (except fiber - I won't go into that here), however let's re-examine that idea. The goal of LCing is to limit insulin production. We know that Low GI/GL foods also limit insulin production. So do we really have to cut out all carbohydrate?

Thanks to Dr. Dean Ornish and popular-press making fat into the villain, many people interpret "Low Carbohydrate" as being the same thing as "High Protein." Unfortunately that is not the case. There is a condition known as "Rabbit Starvation" in which the body is given too much protein and it is not able to synthesize proper nutrition.

At most, only about 40% of macro nutrition should come from protein. The rest should come from fats and carbohydrates. In my own personal experience, it is very difficult to eat 60% or more of ones' calories from fat.

Connect the Dots

Low Carbing and Low GI/GL are made for each other. I consider the textbook diets of Dr. Atkins, et al. to be much like the "Dummies" guides. For most Americans who have little or no real understanding of what goes in their mouths, off the shelf LC diets are great. People are told what to eat, what to avoid and when to eat in very explicit, definite terms. Unfortunately, most people get tired of the rigidity and never make the final leap to go from "diet" (which is popularly considered a short-term fix for a long term problem) into "nutritional plan" or "way of eating."

From that point of view, I am not a Low Carber anymore. I'm just a person who makes nutritional choices based on what I know works for me.


"Physiologic Effects of Insulin,"

"Rabbit Starvation,"

"Ketogenic Diet"

Sunday, February 10, 2008

First Ride in the Big Room

Sunday is my long ride day. Today's schedule called for two and a half hours. That's a full 150 minutes of vomitron goodness. Yuck.

In strange, self-mutilation sort of way I have been enjoying my indoor training sessions. I don't have the hassles of choosing the route. I don't have to worry about the terrain being wrong for the training schedule. I can ride at night. I don't have to worry about how to dress or weather conditions or food/nutrition or hydration. And I get watch movies - something I don't get to do very often for one reason or another.

So I haven't felt really compelled to try riding outdoors yet this year. Perhaps if I wasn't on an organized training plan I would be going outside ever chance the roads are clear, like in previous years. But earlier this week I got an invitation to ride on Sunday and the weather was supposed to be very warm. Supposed to be. Like 50's warm - which is typical for mid- to late-February in Colorado.

I caught a ride with Zin and ShadowCat heading north to Deadhead's house where we would meet up with Deadhead, Howard, Popeye and PedalPusher. We stopped at Starbucks on the way so Zin could get his latte fix and we chatted as Zin drove. All was good until we were about 15 miles south of Loveland, at which point we hit a wall of cold air. The temp plummeted from the mid-40s to 25. None of us were dressed for 25. We knew at that point it was going to be a painful ride.

Finally everyone had shown up and we put on all the clothes we had with us and took off. It was painful. Within 5 miles I had lost feeling in my fingers (due to only having mid-weight gloves) and my toes were in danger of staging a rebellion. My core was warm enough and I happened to have a skier's neoprene face mask for the bottom of my face, so I wasn't too bad, but I wasn't enjoying the ride either.

Finally after 16 miles we decided to go up the road to a convenience store for a rest stop, the cut the ride short and head back. By the time we were done with coffee and snacks it had warmed up to an impressive 35 degrees. This was definitely not what I signed on for!

Back at Deadhead's house after 37.5 miles we had the post-ride feast. In this case apples, bananas, chips & salsa, and mixed nuts.

Arriving at my house (after a nice little nap on my part) we looked at the external was 57 degrees.

Think I'll stay in the dungeon a while longer.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

It's All About the Sugars, Baby

Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index (or GI) of a food is defined as the area under a two-hour blood glucose response curve. In other words, the GI of a food is a measure of how much glucose (sugar) is dumped into our blood stream over a two hour period. But why do we care about blood glucose? Because of the hormone insulin. Insulin is secreted in response to high blood glucose levels. If there is more glucose in our blood than we can use as fuel, insulin scrubs the glucose out of the body by storing it as fat. A side-effect of this mechanism is then blood sugar levels get low, the body is signaled to increase hunger and get more glucose because we are obiously low on energy, thus creating a vicious cycle of eating, storing fat and crashing.

Unfortunately, even though it sounds good in theory to look at blood glucose of a food, how often do we make a meal out of only kidney beans? Most people eat meals with multiple ingredients, each one of which will affect the blood glucose curve. For example, fats and protiens have little effect on blood glucose or insulin and when eaten with a high GI food, will slow down the absorption of the sugar and decrease the GI.

Foods are broken in high, medium and low GI values thus:

  • High - 70 or greater
  • Med - 55 - 70
  • Low - 55 or less.
An excellent resource for Glycemic Index is the Home of the Glycemic Index managed by the University of Sydney.

Glycemic Load

The Glycemic Index is based off of a 50 gram portion of food and the height of the blood glucose curve. It stands to reason, then, that a 25 gram portion of the same food would only produce a curve half of the height. Therefore portion size tends to mitigate GI also. Glycemic Load is a calculation used to take this fact into account.

The calculation goes like this:

The quantity (in grams) of a food's carbohydrate content, multiplied by its GI, and divided by 100.

For example, a 100g slice of watermelon has a GI of 72 but only 5g of carbohydrates. This gives us
(5g carbs * 72 GI)/100 = 3.6 GL

In comparison, a banana has a GI of 52 (avg) and carbohydrate count of 20g. This gives us (20g * 52 GI)/100 = 10.4 GL and white rice with a GI of 64 and 24g carbs/serving has a Glycemic Load of (64 * 24g)/100 = 15.4 GL.

Watermelon is a high GI food, banana is low GI and rice is medium, and yet as you can see, the Glycemic Load of each food is not predicted solely by Glycemic Index.


So insulin looks like the bad guy in all of this. It causes fat storage. It causes energy crashes. Insulin resistance (Metabolic Syndrome) has been linked to all kinds of health problems, including Type II Diabetes. Why then would we want insulin? I'll tell you:

For up to two hours after exercise, the body is very receptive to insulin's effects of delivering glucose to muscles. As a matter of fact, muscles are two to three times more receptive than at other times. This is the mechanism behind all of those fancy "recovery" drinks that are on the market now. The drinks are really just fancy forms of sugar water pushed into the muscles by insulin. The body is just as well served by chocolate milk, Smarties, or glucose tablets as long as they are consumed quickly post-exertion.

Studies also show that a bit of protein helps the body store glycogen as well. Most articles say the ratio should be 4 parts carbohydrate to 1 part protein and as little fat as possible (since fat delays absorption of the sugars) and the sugars themselves should be as high Glycemic Index as possible.

This means probably the best post-exercise snack one could have is 6 packages of Smarties (150g glucose) and 2 eggs (13g protein). I think I'll stick to the chocolate milk :D.

Base 1 - Week 2

When Training Peaks' Annual Training Plan Wizard told me

If your age is over 40, VC automatically uses 3-week cycles (2 on, 1 off), thus you will see "Week 1, Week 2, Week 4" instead of "Weeks 1-4" (3 on, 1 off) on your ATP. Week 3 is skipped for those over 40.

I was slightly offended. Well, maybe depressed is more like it. Yes, the mid-life crisis has firmly established itself.

I have to say, though, maybe there is some wisdom to this plan. With 4 1/2 hours of exercise left in this week, I'm looking forward to a rest day. My legs feel like someone has been beating them with a stick. Last night before getting on the bike, my quads felt like I'd been doing hill sprints all week. I think I've been doing the squats too deep. I haven't been going over 90 degrees, but I know my knees aren't used to this. In a sense, I think this is good - building muscle and tendons I've never built before.

If I would have just listened to the BlueEyedBikinBabe three years ago...

Live and learn :)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Cross Training

Tonight was my cross training night. One and one-half hours of easy exercise of my choice. Heh heh. Yeah, sure.

I decided I was tired of sitting on my bike riding nowhere, so I dusted off the old ski machine so that I could ski to nowhere. I used the ski machine a lot way back when. I had separated my shoulder in a very stupid alcohol related motorcycle accident (the bike was not moving at the time - told you it was stupid). I was off work and just laying around on the couch but I had a friend with a ski machine she wasn't using so I asked the doc if I could use it as rehab and he thought it was a good idea. Every day I would put a movie in the VCR and ski away in the living room.

Eventually my friend wanted the machine back and I bought a lightly used one. I didn't like it as much - the motion wasn't as smooth - so it went into the basement. Until tonight. Well, technically it is still in the basement since my workout room is inj the basement, but now it is set up and getting use.

Let me make a potentially longer story short: I was overconfident and it was a tough workout. I went into it thinking "I can ride centuries. I can ride mountains. I just rode two hours and forty minutes on the vomitron on Sunday. I can handle a nice, easy jaunt on the ski machine." Of course I forgot to take into account the fact that cycling and XC skiing use completely different muscle groups. I didn't take into account I was a little low on food today, and heading into ketosis.

I bonked at about one hour. Eventually I figured it out and took a shot of gel but that last 30 minutes were very painful. I bet I'm gonna be sore tomorrow. Just in time for strength training day. Oh, joy.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What's Cookin', Good Lookin'?

I was analyzing the statistics from the new hit counter I put in and see I'm getting hits from folks searching on Low Carb topics. When I told Mrs. Zen about this she suggested I start including some of the LC recipes and adaptations she's come up with over the years. Here are two quickies to get the ball rolling:

Tofu Lasagna:

This one is really simple.

  1. Take your favorite lasagna recipe
  2. Replace the noodles with a firm tofu cut into thin slices
  3. Layer sauce and noodles
  4. Bake according to the recipe

Yes, that's right. Owing to new advances in tofu sciences, Eastern chefs have now learned to secret to creating noodles out of tofu. They are called Shirataki noodles and can be found in any Asian market as well as many health food stores (like Whole Foods).

Shirataki noodles have a texture a tiny but more rubbery than the formed wallpaper paste (a.k.a. pasta) that most people are used to, but hey! Noodles are just an excuse to eat the sauce anyway, right? :D

Nutritionally Confused

I've called myself a "Low Carber" since about August, 1998 - going on 10 years. In that time I've spent a lot of time trying to understand how carbohydrates and insulin affect my body in different situations and share that hard-won knowledge with others who are struggling.

Now I find myself confused. While I'm still much lower carb than the typical American, I'm not staying in ketosis (which is the typical protocol when an LCer wants to lose weight) and yet I have visually observable results to my progress in only five or six weeks.

Now, to be completely fair, I have not lost one pound in all this visible progress. However, I try very hard to keep the focus on body composition, how I look in the mirror, and how the clothes fit rather than what the scale shows. I've always said I wouldn't care if I was 200 pounds, as long as body fat percentage was low.

And I like what I see, how I feel and how the clothes are starting to fit. Therein lies the confusion. Would my progress be better with full-on LCing? Would more carbs help? How about I just shut the hell up and be happy I have progress after being depressed for so long about my body and weight?

For now I think I'll continue the way I'm going:

  • Moderately low carb off the bike,
  • Low glycemic index off the bike
  • No caloric restriction (hoping to build more muscle)
Wish I had started working out like this 10 years ago.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

My Quads are on Fire!

Two hour and forty minutes on the vomitron tonight. Ugh. I never, ever, EVER! thought I would do that.

On the plus side, though, I have more evidence of those changes I wrote about earlier. Tonight's workout was supposed to be on rolling or hilly terrain, staying seated on the hills to build hip strength. Since I didn't feel like going outside today I rode the trainer, gearing up to simulate hills. In the past when my gearing was too big I felt like the tendons were trying to rip off my knees.

Tonight, however, my knees felt fine. As a matter of fact, I put the wedge shims back in my left shoe and my left knee was better tonight than it has been in years. Last summer I replaced the shims because they looked old, but lost them when my cleat pulled off my shoe at Triple Bypass and I never replaced them. Makes me wonder how long those shims had been worn out.

Back the to quads - tonight was really the first time in my cycling that I felt the stress in my quads rather than my knees. I've always known I was deficient in leg strength since I was never very athletic growing up. Now I think I have proof that I'm on the right track, athletically.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

I Train Like Robby McEwan?

I just f0und a cool article in the January 2008 Outside magazine by an amateur cyclist talking about the TRX. In one paragraph it mentions that sprinter Robbie McEwan uses the TRX (not surprising - I've read that triathletes like it). It also says,

"After my first go on the TRX, I felt soreness in core and stability muscles I didn't even know I had, a sure sign I was hitting my muscles deep. After using it a few times a week for a month, I was sprinting and climbing hills better than ever before."

Maybe there's hope for me yet this season :).

Friday, February 01, 2008

A Nice Back-Effect

Ever since we installed the new floor last fall my lower back has been sore from bending over and pulling all the staples. Sore enough that at times certain movements have been difficult and uncomfortable.

I've been using a lotion with the anti-imflamatory MSM to help with the pain and I kept thinking that exercising the back muscles themselves would help them get stronger and stop hurting. Unfortunately, my weight lifting routine didn't seem to do the trick.

However, since I've been working with the TRX I've noticed that my back feels better. I don't know if this is because I'm working the ab muscles more, or if the "functional" nature of the workouts hits the area of my back that needed work or perhaps a combination of both.

Workouts themselves have been going well. I'm able to get done with the "weight lifting" portion of my workouts much faster now. This is due to the fact that I don't have to drive to the gym, change clothes, wait around for equipment, change weight amounts, carry plates around, shower, drive home, etc.

The workouts have also switched from low weight, high reps to high weight, low reps and as I learn how to use the TRX I find myself sore in places I don't expect. For example, from the one-legged squats I seem to be getting sore on the outer edge of my calf muscle and from the suspended chest press I feel sore in the upper part part of the pec where it inserts into the shoulder.

Based on how I feel after last night's "heavy" workout, I think I'm happy that I only have two sessions this week. Next week is a different story :).

Customer Service

Completely out of the blue yesterday I got a call on my cell phone:

ME: "Hello?"
Steve: "Hi, this is Steve from Fitness Anywhere. I just wanted to follow up on the questions in your e-mail and see if there was anything else I can do for you."

I was struck speechless for a few moments. The e-mail in question contained a couple of quick questions about exercise equivalence charts and ways to adapt TRX workouts to more traditional exercise plans. I was satisfied with the response that Fitness Anywhere is working on that sort of thing and will have resources available in the next 6 months.

During our discussion I once again asked for a "master list" of exercise equivalents and was told that while that particular resource is not available, more information and more exercises will be available both online and on DVD, particularly exercises targeting specific activities. I did not confirm this but my gut feeling is they will be releasing workouts for triathletes.

I also suggested some form of public blog or forum where customers could interact with each other as well as company representatives. This, I found out, is a fairly common request and is in the works now also. They plan on rolling something out within the next three months.

Great customer service. One more reason to do business with Fitness Anywhere.