What to Feed the Jaguars

First off, I am not talking about the wildlife variety of jaguars. The Jaguars I speak of today are the NFL football team located in Jacksonville, Florida. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the only place jaguars are still found in the U.S. is in Arizona.  I wonder how the Arizona Cardinals feel about that?  But I digress.  A good friend of mine alerted me to an interesting article in the New York Times a few weeks back discussing how the performance of many members of the Jaguars has improved since working with nutritionist Anita Nall Richesson.  A former Olympic swimmer turned holistic nutrition specialist, Nall Richesson began to improve the players’ diets.

The article starts out "The Jaguars’ high-traffic cafeteria used to be a snack trap, characterized by unmarked sugars, hidden calories and hard-to-see preservatives.  With its cookie buffet and pizza day, the players ate it up, never stopping to think the low-grade fuel they were pumping into their bodies could be making the team sputter."  Hmm, does that sound eerily similar to any corporate cafeterias you have been too lately?

Nall Richesson started by giving the Jaguars' kitchen a serious overhaul. The cookie buffet was replaced with whole fruits and gluten-free snack bars.  White flour pasta and standard canned sauce were replaced with gluten-free pasta and a red sauce with no artificial preservatives.  At the smoothie bar, which has fresh fruit and honey but no sugar or dairy, Nall Richesson was happy to spot a player reading the ingredients on the cartons of coconut milk and almond milk.

Under Nall Richesson’s supervision, tight end Marcedes Lewis lost his taste for pineapple upside-down cake and soda, and started craving salads. Lewis, 26, admits he had never given much thought to what he ate.  He was, in his words, a reckless eater, until a food sensitivity test uncovered an intolerance to many of his favorite foods, including pineapple.  Dining out one night at a steakhouse near his downtown apartment, Lewis was careful about his order.  He passed up steak for roasted chicken and asked for a side of green beans served dry, without butter.  He also ordered a shrimp appetizer and a sweet potato dish but passed on desert, skipped the soda and opted instead for a glass of water with a slice of lemon, and limited himself to one piece of French bread instead of devouring the whole loaf, as he said he often used to do.

So what have these nutritional changes done for Lewis?  Well, he started the season carrying 275 pounds on his 6-6 frame and now he is down to 254 pounds.  “I recover faster,” said Lewis.  “I’m running better.  I have more energy.  And I’m still strong.  This is Week 14 of the season and I feel good.  That is ridiculous.”

Actually, it's not ridiculous at all.  You see, loading up on cookies, pizza, bread and other high sugar snacks isn't just bad for your average Joe - it's also bad for pro football players.  Yes, they are generally a lot more active than your average American and possess a tremendous amount of athletic talent, yet even with their high activity level comprised of rigorous training and competition they still suffer the ill effects of a poor diet: fatigue, difficulty losing or maintaining their weight, and poor recovery times.

So what does this mean for you?  Well, no matter what your level or ability as an athlete - recreational exerciser, weekend warrior or professional athlete - you need adequate calories and nutrients from healthy sources to balance the energy demands of repetitive training, competition, recovery and growth.  If you are looking for a performance edge, consider overhauling your diet.  Focus on whole foods: lean proteins, fruits, veggies, beans, nuts and seeds.  Also consider eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet for a few weeks and see how you feel, or consider getting a food sensitivity test.

Proper nutrition can provide you the "missing link" to enhanced performance.  Just ask the NFL Jaguars.  Who knows, with proper nutrition you might just be able to break that personal record you have been dreaming about!

Now I'd like to hear from you:

Do you feel changing your diet could improve your athletic performance?

Have you ever tried any dietary changes in the hopes of increasing your performance?

If so, what changes did you notice?

If Homer Can Do It, So Can You!

A few months back I wrote a post about the many benefits of exercise. Exercise really is medicine and ideally you want to get a dose of it every day.  So are you exercising on a consistent basis?  If not, is it because you are feeling a bit unmotivated?  Maybe you have been getting a little too in touch with your inner couch potato?  If so, watch the video below for a little dose of inspiration from the most unlikely of sources - one of the world's most famous couch potatoes.  If Homer can do it, so can you!!

To Lose LB's Get Your ZZZ's

Most of my patients are not surprised to hear how beneficial getting enough sleep is for their overall health, but many who are trying to lose weight are surprised to learn what an important impact it has on their weight.  Most weight-loss diets and exercise plans won't work well if you're sleep deprived according to sleep specialist and clinical psychologist Michael Breus, who was interviewed for a recent article on mind-body health in Success magazine.

Even if you exercise religiously and eat well, you may still struggle to lose weight if you are sleep deprived.  Researchers found that depriving healthy men of sleep led to increases in the hormone grehlin (not to be confused with... but actually similar to in a weird way...gremlin), which increases hunger, and decreases in the hormone leptin, which decreases hunger and signals satiety.  This led to increases in their cravings and hunger for calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate foods.  Definitely not good for the waistline.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

It's actually pretty rare that people need 8 hours of sleep according to Breus.  A better number is 7.5 hours because it provides five full sleep cycles of 1.5 hours each.  Everyone is different though - some people may actually feel best after 6 hours and for others it may be 9.  Listen to your body by taking note of how you feel depending on how many hours you sleep you get.  Whatever your individual needs, not getting enough sleep slows down your metabolism.

Tips For A Good Night's Sleep

  • Your pillow turns out to be a critical factor in how well you sleep, so one of the easiest things you can do is get a new pillow, which should be replaced every 18 months (some need replacement every year), Breus says.  If you sleep on your side, choose a pillow that’s thicker.  If you sleep on your back, get a thinner pillow.

  • Try counting backward from 300 by threes. “It sounds crazy but it works,” Breus says. “You can’t think of anything else, but it’s so doggone boring, so you’re out like a light.”

  • Switch to decaf drinks by 2 p.m. Caffeine can stay in your system up to 12 hours.

  • Avoid alcohol within 3 hours of bedtime.

  • Complete any aerobic exercise at least 3 hours prior to bedtime.

  • It may sound a little odd, but try setting an alarm clock to ring for bedtime, Breus says.  If you must awake at 6:00 a.m., count back eight hours and set an alarm for 10:00 p.m.  That allows you time to get ready for bed and still get 7.5 hours of sleep.  Otherwise, people tend to get on the computer at night or watch TV, then look up at the clock and see it’s late. “They don’t know where those hours went,” Breus says.

If you have been struggling to lose weight even though you feel you are doing all the right things in terms of nutrition and exercise, I encourage you to consider sleep deprivation as a potential cause and work on getting some more sack time.

Now I'd like to hear from you:

Do you struggle with getting enough sleep?

Have you had success using any of the tips above?

Do you think sleep deprivation could be hampering your weight loss efforts?

Is Your Bathroom A Minefield Of Toxins?

Unless you have already done some research into what ingredients are in the personal care products you use, the answer to the above question is most likely yes.  How is this so?  Well, there are major loopholes in U.S. federal law that allow the $50 billion beauty industry to put nearly any chemical they want into personal care products, even chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and disruption of our hormones, with no required safety assessment and inadequate labeling requirements.  In fact, back in May, the President's Cancer Panel sounded the alarm about the health risks of toxic substances used by millions of Americans in their daily lives.

Last week, The Story of Stuff Project released another compelling short film called The Story of Cosmetics (below), which employs the trademark Story of Stuff style to examine the pervasive use of toxic chemicals in our everyday personal care products, from lipstick to baby shampoo.

For more information about some of the startling facts discussed in the film click here.  And for more information on the recently introduced law discussed in the film see The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010.

Okay, so now what?  Here are some ways you can reduce toxic exposures in your home:

  • Simplify: use less stuff less often, and choose products with shorter ingredient lists and fewer hazardous synthetic chemicals.

  • Just Say No to Fragrances: it’s best to avoid the mystery concoction known as “fragrance” because it is often made from a dozen or more secret chemicals.

  • Read Labels: there are great resources online to help consumers make more informed decisions.  One of the best is the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database at www.cosmeticdatabase.org, which ranks products for toxicity on a scale of 1 to 10.  Spend some time evaluating the products you use every day and odds are you will want to make some changes...I found out I need to find a new pomade and deodorant.

If this blog post strikes a cord with you, please pass it on to your friends and family.  Also, consider asking your U.S. Representative to support the Safe Cosmetics Act.

I am curious to know your thoughts:

Are you concerned about toxins in your personal care products?

If you looked up any of the products you commonly use on the Skin Deep database, were you surprised by what was in them?  If so, are you willing to switch products?

Vitamin D - Odds Are You're Not Getting Enough

Vitamin D is the latest nutrient in the media spotlight, and for good reason.  Technically not a "vitamin," vitamin D is in a class by itself.  Its metabolic product, calcitriol, is actually a hormone that targets over 2000 genes (about 10% of the human genome) in the human body.

Current studies have implicated vitamin D deficiency as a major factor in at least 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, birth defects, autism, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, periodontal disease, and more.  That’s an impressive list.  Besides keeping many diseases at bay, recent studies have even suggested that higher levels of vitamin D can benefit athletes – improving muscle strength and power, lowering inflammation and the risk of stress fractures, and boosting the body’s immune system during training leading to less colds and flu.

Based on the research it is clear vitamin D is vital to optimal health.  It is also very clear that most of you are probably not getting enough.  According to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine last year, approximately 77 percent of Americans have “insufficient” levels of vitamin D.  Back in the days before the advent of indoor jobs and the diligent use of sunscreen due to concerns about skin cancer (some of you may remember slathering on oil instead of sunscreen – yikes!) we humans got plenty of vitamin D from that big yellow ball in the sky.  The skin produces approximately 10,000 IU of vitamin D in response 20–30 minutes of sun exposure.

While sun exposure is the fastest and easiest way to get more D, it is also the most controversial.  After all, those are the same skin-wrinkling, cancer-causing rays that make dermatologists squirm.  In their Position Statement on Vitamin D, The American Academy of Dermatology states: “There is no scientifically validated, safe threshold level of UV exposure from the sun that allows for maximal vitamin D synthesis without increasing skin cancer risk.”  Sunscreen blocks 97% of the body’s ability to make Vitamin D.

Okay, so getting enough vitamin D from the sun is probably not a good idea.  You should be able to get it pretty easily from your food then, right?  Unfortunately that will be tough, since even most foods fortified with Vitamin D don’t actually have that much.  One cup of fortified milk or orange juice comes in at a surprising low 100 international units (IU) and 4 ounces of salmon has 500 IU.  While there is still debate on how much Vitamin D you should be getting each day, many experts agree that most people need between 1,000 and 2,000 IU per day, and if you are deficient you may need as much as 5,000 to 10,000 IU per day (Note: If you take more than 5,000 IU per day you should only do so under a doctor’s supervision).  Simply put, to get enough Vitamin D most of you will need to take a supplement.  You want to look for Vitamin D3 - the biologically active form - rather than the inactive Vitamin D2 contained in many vitamins and prescription forms of Vitamin D.

The only way to know if you are getting enough Vitamin D is to get tested and then supplement based on your level.  Ask your doctor to test you for 25-Hydroxy (OH) Vitamin D.  The current range for normal at most labs is 30 – 100 ng/ml but many experts recommend that for optimal health you want your level to be 50-80 ng/ml.  I routinely check a Vitamin D level on all of my clients and unless they are already supplementing or spending a lot of time in the sun the overwhelming majority have levels below 30 ng/ml.  Once you get tested your doctor can then recommend the most appropriate dose, retest your level in a few months, and adjust your dose accordingly.

My recommendations for optimizing your health with Vitamin D: get tested, supplement, retest, and adjust your supplement dose to maintain optimal levels.

Now I would like to hear from you:

Are you getting enough Vitamin D?

If you have been tested, were you surprised by your results?

If you are already supplementing to correct a deficiency, what health benefits have you noticed?