Monthly Archives: May 2015

This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about training in the heat, fructose vs glucose study, whether men are more competitive than women, how to approach a tough workout, carb intake during exercise, the art of science communication, microwave myths, toxic art, and more.

Training in Hot Weather

A few articles this week focus on training in hot weather. One looks at using heat training as a performance enhancer, and another investigates the best ways to stay comfortable while exercising in the heat.

Canadian women’s soccer team use heat training to boost performance for World Cup.  This heat acclimation isn’t specifically to get athletes ready for games in the heat (although it will likely help), but relies on research suggesting that exercising in hot conditions has performance benefits as it stresses the body adapt and over time, helping produce more oxygen for working muscles. For example, this study showed that short-term heat training helped rowers improve performance. (Red Nation)

But the science isn’t settled: a study published this week showed that elite cyclists had no VO2 max improvements after heat training, although they did improve their performance in the heat.

cooling vestSlushies vs. Frozen Underwear for Hot-Weather Workouts.  For those more interested in feeling better during workouts in hot weather, Gretchen Reynolds looks at a recent study that examined at the best ways to deal with exercising in hot weather.  Much research has looked into “precooling” which involves lowering your body’s temperature before working out.
How do athletes precool?  Methods include draping wet cold towels around their neck, drinking an icy slushy drink to lower core body temperature, or wearing specially-designed cooling vests or even underwear containing frozen ice packs.  Taking a cold shower or jumping in a pool or lake before working out can be a simple way to precool (my favourite method – with my workout clothes on and getting all my hair wet). The study found that cooling the skin (ice packs/towels) might be better than slushies; most precooling methods were short-lived, but they allowed athletes to exercise at higher intensities, and reduced relative blood lactate accumulation and perceived effort.  (Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times).

sugarsDiet and nutrition is more complex than a simple sugar. This is an excellent summary  of a recent study suggesting that consuming fructose (the type of sugar common in fruits, honey, and corn syrup) is more likely to lead to cravings for high calorie foods than consuming glucose (the type of sugar used by our brains and muscles).  I like how Bethany Brookshire sums up the relevance of this study to our everyday eating habits:

Many people want scientific studies to offer one single answer on what they should eat. They want to know that if they add or eliminate just one thing, all their health problems will be solved. . . . “But the reality is almost always more complicated. Our brains and bodies are almost never exposed to pure glucose or fructose. Instead they are presented with sugars, salts, fats and proteins, all providing their own set of information to the body.”   (Scicurious, Science News).

Why do former high school athletes make more money?  A look at  a recent study that found that former high-school athletes achieve higher-status careers than those who didn’t play a sport. (The Atlantic, reporting on Journal of Leadership &
Organizational Studies, 2015

Are men more competitive than women?  Researcher Robert Deaner has used distance running to investigate this question.  (Medical Express)

track runner_Flickr_cc_runner_wisconsin_uDreading a tough workout? A simple trick can help you ease performance anxiety. Increasingly, coaches are looking outside of their field to boost performance in their athletes.  This article looks at a good way to approach hard intervals, borrowing from behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman’s “peak end rule” (we remember the pain of an experience based on 2 points – i.e., the peak and the end).  Running coach Steve Magness advocates for even pacing, saying “By evenly pacing intervals and focusing on staying smooth through the end, we can probably push the body further while creating a situation that is easier on the mind.” (Brad Stulberg, Runners World).

Recommendations for carbohydrate intake during exercise. Sports nutrition expert Asker Jeukendrup has put together a great chart to figure out your carbohydrate needs during exercise based on the duration of your workout/event.  He emphasizes the importance of practicing your nutrition to allow your gut to adapt before race day. (

The science behind Stryd, the world’s first running power meter.  Power gives an objective measure of workout intensity, and can be very helpful to monitor and plan training (most elite cyclists use power to plan workouts). Runners typically use pace, perceived effort, and heart rate zones, but a new tool may soon be available. This meter (Stryd) will help runners monitor their running economy, which is a strong predictor of performance.   (Outside)

Don’t overthink it, less is more when it comes to creativity. New research shows unexpected brain regions contribute to creativity. (Scientific American)

The art of science communication. William Zinsser on how to write well about science (BrainPickings)

No, your microwave isn’t dangerous. ACS Reactions does a good job dispelling food myths that get in the way of healthy eating.  (ACS Reactions)

Toxic Art. A professor figured out a way to use art to clean up polluted streams.  A wonderful blend of science and art. (Science Friday)

Last Week in Food, Health, and Fitness



Soccer Photo: By Matt Boulton  [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons;
Runner Photo by ms4denmark [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about how eating dairy before training might help prevent bone loss in cyclists, music that enhances exercise adherence, saturated fats and silly questions, why athletes shouldn’t skip breakfast, what to eat before racing, and more.

Eating dairy before training might help cyclists avoid future bone problems

cyclist_Tour_de_Bretagne_Féminin__wikimedia ATExercise is generally good for bone health because it stresses bones, which stimulates bones to become denser;  but non weight-bearing sports like cycling don’t have this benefit.  In fact, a study in professional male cyclists found that two thirds of them had abnormally low bone density.  This is a serious health concern, because fragile bones are  at greater risk for fracture.  Athletes lose calcium through sweat during exercise, which puts them at risk for bone loss if the type of exercise doesn’t benefit bones.

A study in female cyclists published this week found that eating a dairy-rich meal 90 minutes before riding can counter bone loss.  Leading sports nutrition expert Louise Burke was involved in the research, and explained that the pre-ride calcium-rich meal keeps blood calcium levels stable, so your body doesn’t borrow calcium from your bones to replace what’s lost in sweat.

The study found that a calcium-rich breakfast before an intense ride lessened exercise-induced changes in bone that results from calcium lost in sweat. The calcium-rich meal contained 1,350 mg calcium (that’s a lot of calcium – 1 cup of milk has 300 mg/calcium). What did the the cyclists eat?  The breakfast consisted of rolled-oats cooked in calcium-fortified milk, yogurt, and additional milk  (PLOS One May 13, 2015).

Bowl of yogurtIf your main activity is cycling, consider adding calcium sources to your pre-ride meals.  Good sources of calcium include dairy products, calcium-fortified soy milk and orange juice, canned fish with soft bones, mackerel, salmon, sardines, leafy greens of the cabbage family, and tofu processed with calcium sulfate. Also, adding weight-bearing exercise and strength training to your routine is a good idea, as these activities can stimulate bone growth.

Music + extra rhythm dramatically increases exercise adherence in cardiac patients

musicExercise is important to improve the health of cardiac patients, but generally adherence is poor. Researchers from the University of Toronto studied the impact of prescribing exercise with a personalized music playlist, and found that these patients did a better job following their exercise routine than patients exercising without music. Researchers synchronized the music to approximate an individual’s prescribed exercise pace (tempos within ±10 bpm exercise step-pace prescription). Half of the music group had “tempo-pace synchronization” added to their playlist – this is an embedded rhythmic sonic enhancement that researchers added to explore if these beat-accentuations could further improve exercise adherence.  Patients who had this extra rhythm in their music boosted their weekly exercise the most of all (by 70 percent compared to controls). Researchers theorize that this type of exercise adherence could boost life expectancy of cardiac patients by 2 and a half years. (Sports Medicine – Open, May 2015).

Music to Match Your Pace. Spotify just released a new streaming app that finds music to match your running pace. Sound intriguing (or confusing?) here is an early review.

More Links of Interest This Week

Does skipping breakfast affect performance? There’s a good chance it does, according to a study published this week. Even if you eat a big lunch, the effects of skipping breakfast seem to carry over until evening and can hurt your athletic performance and training adaptations. This study found that athletes who ate breakfast completed 4.5% more work  in an evening 30-minute bike time trial compared to when they didn’t eat breakfast. (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May 2015). You’ll find some healthy breakfast options here.

Saturated Fats and Silly Questions. New research on saturated fats has lead to much confusion. Expert David Katz explains what the weight of evidence (and not one study) says about saturated fat and heart disease.

  1. a high intake of saturated fat over time is generally associated with a correspondingly higher risk of heart disease, and other chronic disease as well. 
  2. a relatively lower intake of saturated fat is not necessarily protective if the saturated fat is replaced with something just as harmful, such as added sugar. 
  3. not all saturated fat is created equal, and some varieties are clearly innocuous. 
  4. most importantly, focusing on nutrients rather than foods tends to get us into trouble, not out of it!

If you focus on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts & seeds, your diet will likely be low in saturated fats.

Restaurant salads that can be worse than a Big Mac It likely surprises many diners that some salads have up to 1500 calories and more saturated fat than a burger. (Olga Khazan, The Atlantic)

cooking in cast iron adds iron to foods
Cooking in cast iron adds iron to foods

Simple intervention (lucky iron fish) for iron deficiency. Cooking in cast-iron works too! You’ll find more tips to get your iron in your diet here.

The deathly affects of pure caffeine powder. Caffeine powder is sold as a dietary supplement (virtually unregulated and widely available). Just 1 tablespoon is a lethal dose. (Murray Carpenter, New York Times)

Are you racing in the Ottawa Race Weekend? (I am – the 5km!). Some of the races start at times you may not be used to training at (the 5km starts at 4 PM), and you might be wondering what to eat before.  The graphic below is a general guide. You’ll find more tips on what to eat before hard efforts here.

eat before workout 3Cool Soups for Hot Weather

cool soups with text In summer we are inundated with a bounty of seasonal produce, but soups aren’t a common menu item.  Yet chilled soups are perfect for summer dining. They capture fresh and colorful produce at its peak, and provide a refreshing start to any meal on a hot summer day. These soups pair well with light meals featuring salads and sandwiches, but are also a nice contrast to heartier fare. Find out more about chilled soups, and the surprising health benefits of gazpacho.


Tour de Bretagne photo: by ludovic from Guissény. (Bretagne, Finistère), France (Marianne Vos) [CC BY-SA 2.0]  via Wikimedia Commons.

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Cool Soups for Hot Weather

supersoupstightSoups are typically a cold-weather food since they can deliciously warm the chill of cool days.  Because they are a simple way to consume a generous amount of health-promoting vegetables, soups can be extremely nutritious.  And research shows that soup has potential health benefits.

Do we need to save all that goodness for cold weather?

Enter chilled soups. In summer we are inundated with a bounty of seasonal produce, but soups aren’t a common menu item.  Yet chilled soups are perfect for summer dining. They capture fresh and colorful produce at its peak, and provide a refreshing start to any meal on a hot summer day. These soups pair well with light meals featuring salads and sandwiches, but are also a nice contrast to heartier fare.

Most popular chilled soups are vegetable-based and served as a starter to a meal. Soups range from creamy smooth vegetable purees to chunky style soups brimming with crisp vegetables. Ingredients are often simple and highlight seasonal vegetables. Although fruit-based chilled soups are commonly enjoyed in Northern and Central Europe, at this point most North Americans don’t seem as keen on filling their soup bowls with something cold and sweet! (I’m with the majority – fruit soups aren’t my thing).

Soups are ideal for a healthful eating pattern because they blend a variety of protective foods in one bowl.  Adding chilled soups to your spring and summer menus will allow you to enjoy delicious combinations of nutritious foods year round! Consider packing a refreshing chilled soup in a thermos for your lunch or for a picnic.

Great Gazpacho

gazpacho no backgroundMy favourite chilled soup is tomato-based gazpacho, a cold soup that originated in Spain. Its name means “soaked bread” referring to the original recipe that included bread crumbs. Although the most common versions today are rich with tomatoes and summer vegetables, you’ll find countless variations of this soup.

A recent study found that gazpacho consumption was associated with lower blood pressure and reduced hypertension in people at high risk for heart disease. Researchers speculate that these health benefits were “probably due to synergy among several bioactive compounds present in the vegetable ingredients used to make the recipe.”

Earlier research found that study volunteers who ate gazpacho twice a day for 7 days had decreased markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in their blood.

Cool Tips for Chilled Soups

  • Make ahead to allow enough time for chilling and to give
    the flavors time to meld
  • Use quality ingredients, especially in simple soups
    that focus on one or two vegetables
  • Add lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, or sherry vinegar
    to liven up the flavor of some soups
  • Swirl in a dollop of yogurt or low-fat sour cream
    to add richness
  • Garnish with colorful diced vegetables or fresh herbs
  • Serve with a vegetable juice ice cube
  • Use vegetable or chicken stock to lend body to savory soups

Chilled Soup Ideas & Recipes

Some soups that are usually served hot are delicious cold as well. Good ones to try are smooth purees featuring carrot, sweet potato, or squash. Green pea soups and corn chowders can also be delicious cold. Because cooler temperatures can dull some flavors, chilled soups might require more garlic or other seasonings than their hot counterparts. For some soups, you can use lemon juice or vinegar to accent the flavors.

More Healthy Recipes





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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about burger love, cost benefits of cycling, recovery baths for athletes, belly fat, gluten and athletic performance, figuring out headaches, strength training for a faster 5k, the best guacamole, and an easy recipe for making your own energy bars.

PEI Burger Love
2015 Burger Love Winner

The caloric math of huge burgers. Prince Edward Island holds an annual month-long  “Burger Love” event (this April, 145,527 burgers were eating eaten across the island). These burgers pack a caloric punch – some up to 2,000 calories. This eating phenomenon got PEI resident and health/performance physiologist Jamie Burr curious about how much exercise you’d need to do to burn off one of these 1500-2000 calories burgers. For a 30-y-old, 170 lb, 5’11 male, it would take . . .

  • 7 hrs continuous walking
  • 280 min easy jogging
  • 3 hrs  leisurely cycling
  • 2.6 hrs  swimming

(Human Performance & Health Research Laboratory Exercise Physiology at UPEI)

Portion size is a big issue with these burgers (as with many restaurant meals). Seems like a good way to taste these burgers would be to share with others: spit into 4, the calorie count would certainly be more reasonable!

6 times more expensive to travel by car than by bicycle.  A cost-benefit analysis of Copenhagen cycling found it is 6 times more expensive for society – and for you individually – if you travel by car instead of cycling.  It is the first time a price has been put on car use as compared to cycling. The analysis looked at road wear, pollution, health, congestion, noise, travel route, climate change. (Ecological Economics, May 2015).

A recovery ice bath isn’t (always) such a good idea. Ice baths have been a popular recovery tool for athletes after workouts, and a increasing number of studies are examining the practice. Many studies are questioning the use of icing for injured muscles, with some research showing it might delay healing, hinder recovery, and interfere with performance gains.  (David Despain, Outside)

Mann mit bergewichtTarget belly fat with exercise. Not all body fat is the same – location matters. Belly fat is physiologically different from the fat beneath your skin (subcutaneous fat).  Fat around the waist is mostly “visceral” fat, which is metabolically active and can promote inflammation throughout the body, increasing disease risk. Visceral fat appears to be a key player in insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, and possibly brain tissue damage that could lead to cognitive decline. In terms of cancer risk, the AICR reports that for women, a waist measurement of 31.5 inches or more indicates higher cancer risk, and for men, a waist measurement of 37 inches or more indicates high risk. It seems exercise is more potent that diet at reducing belly fat, according to several studies.  (New York Times)

Canada Food Guide criticized for endorsing fruit juice as a fruit serving by Canadian Obesity Summit presenters. Here’s why most people should limit fruit juice.Slice of bread with Gluten text - Gluten Free diet concept

Gluten-free diet won’t help athletic performance. Some athletes eliminate gluten from their diet thinking it might help their athletic performance. A new study in competitive cyclists used a controlled randomized double-blind, cross-over design to examine the influence of gluten. The protocol was something like this: athletes ate Diet A for 7 days, followed by a 10-day washout, then Diet B for 7 days, and were blinded to the gluten status of the study diet to reduce potential placebo effects (Diet A contained gluten, while Diet B contained no gluten). Investigators found that a gluten-containing diet did not influence performance (15 km TT), GI symptoms, well-being, and other inflammatory markers or indicators of intestinal injury in non-celiac endurance athletes. (Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 May)

You can read more about the evidence for athletes avoiding gluten and grains here.

For headaches, a lifestyle change may be better than a doctor visit.  Despite an increasing number of headache sufferers looking for headache causes through advanced diagnostics, more tests aren’t usually better, are expensive,  and could be harmful. Experts say lifestyle changes are likely better at solving the problem. Lifestyle changes include identifying triggers and avoiding them, improving sleep, reducing stress, improving diet, and exercising). (NPR Health, reporting on J Gen Intern Med. 2015 May;30(5):548-55.)

Young woman stretching and working out in parkIs it better for runners to be flexible or stiff? It depends which muscles or tendons you’re talking about. Although some research shows that fast runners have less flexible calf muscles, a new study looking at tendon stiffness shows conflicting results. (Alex Hutchinson, Runner’s World).

Strength training leads to a faster 5km run time. A recent study reinforces the benefits of concurrent strength training for improved running performance, and questions the practice of stopping strength training to improve race times.  After 6 weeks of strength training and endurance training, athletes in the strength training group improved 5k run time (on average by 3.6% – that’s =43 seconds on a 20-min 5k!) but when they stopped their strength training for 6 weeks (but kept running), they lost their new-found speed.  Exercise physiologist Yann Le Meur illustrates the study in the infograph below (Yann LE MEUR  summary of  Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2015 May 6.)

Most elite endurance athletes periodize their strength training and follow an easier plan or don’t strength train at all during race season.  The study was in recreational athletes who may not have been doing interval training, so it’s tricky to draw conclusions for elite athletes. If you’re an endurance athlete who doesn’t strength train, it would be a good idea to start (for many reasons beyond race performance). If you’re someone who completely drops strength training during the competitive season, it might be worth staying in touch with some of those strength moves.

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Even a 2-minute walk can counter some harms of sitting. The evidence that sitting for extended periods is harmful for health is mounting, showing sitting increases risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, kidney problems and premature death. A new study found that every hour that overweight adults spent sitting (watching TV) increased diabetes risk 3.4 %.  A growing body of research is investigating the best way to break up sitting bouts.  New research shows that replacing just 2 minutes of sitting each hour with easy walking lowered risk of early death by a third. (Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times)

Sedentary behavior is an emerging field of research. Our bodies were made to move! Even if you’re an athlete, if you have a desk job, schedule movement breaks.  Make Time for Break Time shows you how different amounts of activity influence  indicators of cancer, and likely other chronic disease risk.

What really works against bug bites. Consumer Reports investigates new, safer options to keep mosquitoes and ticks at bay.  Products with milder, plantlike chemicals (Picaridin  and oil of lemon eucalyptus) were the most effective, outperforming products with harmful DEET.   (Consumer Reports)


The science behind the best (and healthiest) guacamole (Washington Post, ACS Reactions)

Make your own energy bar!

double chocolate energy bites bowl with textIf you are looking for a nutritious “whole food” way to fuel your workouts, these little bites are for you! They are simple to make, delicious, and a terrific alternative to commercial energy bars. Their bite-size portion is often “just right,” so you can doll out energy as you need fuel during long hikes, runs, cross-county skis, or bike rides. The oats and raisins are a good source of carbohydrates, the peanuts provide healthy fats, rounded off with a double-chocolate hit of cocoa and chocolate chips.

View Last Week in Food, Health, and Fitness (May 2-8, 2015)




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