Coffee and Intermittent Fasting

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Intermittent Fasting has become one of the most popular dietary patterns in recent times. It is most popular within the health & fitness industry and many people are tinkering around with it to see if they can benefit from the plethora of health benefits associated with it.

Some of the most common questions surrounding fasting is;

What actually breaks a fast? And, can I have coffee?

The first question is fairly easy. Simply put, you’re eating or you’re not. Now for the coffee.

For most people, I wouldn’t be too worried about whether or not this is the case. The fact that you are already going 12-24 hours without any caloric intake places you ahead of the curve simply by being open to the idea that you don’t have to eat every other hour. Some coffee with full-fat cream isn’t really going to take away what you’re trying to accomplish.

Some people however, myself included, like to look a little deeper. So… let’s start with black coffee.

Here is how black coffee affects some of the more common fasting benefits.

Ketosis
Fasting is a quick and easy way to get into ketosis. You don’t have a choice in the matter. As your body depletes its glucose supply, it will automatically begin to break down excess body fat to produce ketones as a fuel source.

This study found that the consumption of caffeine boosted ketosis in humans.

Fat Burning
Fat burning is another popular benefit of fasting. As stated earlier, coffee has been shown to increase ketosis, so it would be safe to say that coffee also increases fat mobilisation and burning.

Insulin Sensitivity
In the short-term, fasting can reduce insulin sensitivity. This is a physiological measure taken by the body to preserve the little glucose that is remaining for the brain.

The real benefits occur over the long-term, where fasting is an effective way to improve your insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Just about everything that makes you more efficient at fat burning and expending energy, rather than the storing of energy,  like exercise, low-carbohydrate diets and fasting, tend to improve insulin sensitivity over time.

Coffee has a similar effect. In the short-term it reduces insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. With long-term use, coffee improves both insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Many studies have found that the more coffee you drink, the lower your overall risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Autophagy
Basically, it’s cellular cleanup. Autophagy is one of the ways that the body keeps its cells healthy and maintained, by recycling dead or damaged cells. Fasting is one of the best ways to induce autophagy. It is actually one of major selling points for fasting.

That covers black coffee. What about the common additions to coffee?

Coffee with butter, coconut oil or MCT oil
Technically, this is breaking the fast. If you’re consuming calories (and depending on how much fat you add, it could be a significant amount of calories), these calories break the fast.

Pure fat however, has little to no effect on insulin, blood glucose, or any other measure that would indicate a broken fast.

By adding some fat to your morning coffee, you won’t be burning as much body fat. You will however still be burning a lot of fat.

It will most definitely help you fast for longer periods. For some people, adding some fat to coffee can make fasting more tolerable. If you can go 12 hours on black coffee, but a tablespoon of MCT oil can help you get 16-24 hours, then the addition of MCT oil is probably a good thing.

It shouldn’t affect autophagy. It’s protein consumption that interrupts autophagy. Butter has a small amount, but it shouldn’t interfere unless you’re consuming it in large amounts.

Coffee with cream
An ounce of full-fat cream has almost a gram of carbohydrate (lactose) and protein. Some cream in your coffee won’t affect your fat burning very much, but it might reduce the amount of autophagy. The point here is that your coffee should be black with maybe a tablespoon of full-fat cream.

That being said, if you’re fasting you may be already eating a paleo or ketogenic type diet which have been shown to increase autophagy. This is all a matter of degree and probably still a net win.

The takeaway here is that some autophagy is not zero autophagy.

Coffee with almond / other nut milks
Firstly, why? Black coffee all the way please. Maybe a little full-fat cream. Ok, I there are a lot of people who can not tolerate diary and can’t really stomach black coffee. Enter the almond / other nut milks.

As long as you’re staying away from the sweetened versions, or those fortified with additional proteins, and you’re not having half a cup or more at a time, then a little nut milk won’t make much of a difference.

There isn’t much nutritionally to most nut milks.

Coffee with collagen
Collagen is one of my favourite things to add to my black coffee. It is however, pure protein. Consuming protein tends to increase mTOR and inhibit autophagy. All this means is that having collagen in your coffee during a fast will probably help with fat burning and suppress your appetite for longer, but it will reduce the benefits of autophagy.

Ordering coffee
Try black coffee. Nothing beats it. Drip. Pour-over. Espresso. Long blacks. Whichever the method. It’s the simplest way to maintain a fast.

Ask for full-fat cream. A lot of coffee houses will stock it. Just be careful when using the “cream” that is set out for customer use. That will usually be cream mixed with milk, giving you too much of a protein and carbohydrate hit that will potentially break the fast.

Avoid nut milks. A lot of places will use sweetened nut milks to add flavour to their coffees. They’ll also overdo the amount. An almond latte will have up to 8 ounces of almond milk, which will definitely break your fast.

Is all yoghurt equal?

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The same basic principles apply to making all types of yoghurt. The addition of specific strains of bacteria to milk followed by the an incubation period at temperatures warm enough to encourage growth and proliferation.

Yoghurt is milk transformed into a creamy, tangy and more nutritious product. At this point all yoghurt is created equal. From here, food producers have made the case to ruin a perfectly good thing with misguided additions, or reductions in an attempt to capitalise in the modern market.

Often, they remove perfectly good fats and replace them with gums, stabilizers, thickeners and gelatin in an attempt to recreate the natural creamy textures.

They can load it with sugars and/or high fructose corn syrup, assuming that the consumer can’t handle the tang of real yoghurt (we have been conditioned to prefer sweeter foods).

They turn a highly nutritious whole food with thousands of years of tradition into an edible product with little resemblance of its predecessor.

So, what to avoid?

Yoghurt with added sugar
Yes, sweet foods do taste great. But you would be surprised at how much sugar is added to manufactured yoghurt. Some varieties can have upwards of 20 grams of pure sucrose, which is far, far too much.

If you must have something sweet with your yoghurt, drizzle some raw honey on top. Another option, and probably better again is to add some fresh fruit, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or even a banana.

Yoghurt with added thickeners and stabilizers
Innately, people love the traditional thickness of yoghurt, but they have been conditioned to be scared of the fat that creates that texture. Manufacturers often remove the fat and replace it with additives.

These additives are not necessarily dangerous to human health, but there is some supporting evidence to suggest that some of these additives may increase your risk of obesity by altering the diversity of your gut bacteria. So, why risk it when you can eat the unaltered whole food?

Some yoghurts and even kefir will have prebiotic fibres, such as pectin or inulin added. This probably is a good thing, as adding a prebiotic may actually increase the overall health effects and support the microbial population.

Most low-fat yoghurt
A high percentage of the studies that find dairy products to be beneficial to human health, it is full-fat dairy that has been used. Conversely, when a study links dairy to adverse health outcomes, low-fat diary has usually been used.

Most likely, the reasons behind why full-fat dairy is so good for us is because of what it is not. Highly processed, with added thickeners or stabilizers, industrial fibres and sugars to make up for the missing fats.

Fatty acids in their natural state are generally associated with optimal human health. Such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in pastured-raised dairy products which offers some protection against cancer and heart disease.

There are times where low-fat alternatives can be beneficial for short periods of time, such as a bodybuilder in preparation for competition, who is looking for a high-protein, low-fat food source to kickstart post-workout muscle protein synthesis without the potential fat gain.

What about the good stuff?

Classic full-fat yoghurt
This is yoghurt in its natural state. It’s creamy (when made with full-fat milk), tangy and full of healthy bacteria. It’s classic.

Strained yoghurt
Also known as Greek yoghurt, strained yoghurt is just yoghurt with most of the liquid whey removed. This creates an ultra-thick, high-protein, high-fat creamy yoghurt that is great for a variety of uses, such as making Tzatziki dips, or for use in some Indian style curries. It’s also amazing with mixed berries or even some raw honey.

Skyr
This is an Icelandic yoghurt/cheese hybrid that incorporates both bacterial cultures and animal rennet to produce a thick, high-protein cultured milk product.

Skyr is non-fat, which is the traditional way to make it. Skyr makers would use the leftover milk after making butter. An efficient way to maximise your resources.

Making the most of eating yoghurt:

  • Try different types. Different yoghurts often contain different bacterial strain combinations. The variety of good bacteria will help improve you overall gut bacterial diversity.
  • Try different species. The fermentation process reduces the allergenicity of bovine whey and casein proteins, but may not be enough if you’re really intolerant. Try goat, sheep or even a non-diary version like coconut yoghurt.
  • Try smaller amounts. Start with a teaspoon at a time, building up from there. Remember, you’re adding new bacterial residents to your gut and they’ll need time to settle into their new surroundings.
  • Try sourer varieties. The more sour the yoghurt is, the less lactose remains. Lactose is a common gut irritant.

 

What is DHA?

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Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid.

Found naturally occurring in certain fish (with emphasis on mackerel, salmon, herring, and sardines), it has been shown to be one of the most potent health boosters on the entire planet.

Structure
DHA is what is known as a ‘Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acid’, as it is 22 carbons long, and has 6 double bonds (making it physically long in structure compared to other fatty acid molecules).

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DHA and the evolution of the human brain
An important turning point in human evolution was the discovery of high-quality, easily digested nutrients from coastal seafood and inland freshwater sources.

Previously, Neanderthals sourced protein predominantly from the red meat of wolves, large feline and hyenas. The is little to no evidence of fresh water aquatic species or marine sources of protein in the bone collagen of Neanderthal specimens.

In comparison, seafood consumption of early modern humans was a nutritional staple. Depending on geographical region, freshwater or marine sources of protein made up between 10-50% of the diet for these populations.

Freshwater sources occurred along rivers and included fish and/or water fowl and marine sources were coastal and included fish, shellfish and small slow-moving animals such as turtles or tortoises.

This study suggests that the discovery, and subsequent multi-generational exploitation of aquatic and marine food sources coincides with the rapid expansion of the brain that is unique to modern humans.

This exploitation coincided with a rise in cognitive development leading to a more elaborate enrichment in material culture, such as personal ornamentation, decoration of burials and pottery figurines.

Benefits of DHA in the diet
Supplementation of DHA has been shown to have profound effects on health, wellbeing and overall performance. Due to its somewhat broad influence throughout the body, these effects can impact a number of physiological systems, boosting health in a variety of ways.

DHA has a positive effect on diseases such as hypertension, arthritis, atherosclerosis, depression, adult-onset diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, thrombosis, and some cancers.

Brain health
The human brain requires somewhere between 20 and 30% of the body’s available energy. It is even higher during the early years of life. Both EPA and DHA are responsible for many of the brain’s unique cognitive capacities and advance brain functions.

As DHA makes up about 30% of our brain matter and approximately 50% of retinal structure in our eyes, it stands to reason that its consumption has the potential to impact our brain health and eye health. This has been well supported within the scientific literature.

Consumption of DHA has been shown to protect against age related declines in brain health, brain size, and associated reductions in neural function. With this has come an increase in performance during cognitively driven tasks, in conjunction with improved memory, and an improved capacity for learning.

DHA supplementation has also been shown to have a preventative effect on both dementia and age related cognitive decline, ensuring our mental function well into older age, while significantly reducing our risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Heart health
DHA has the potential to improve the state of the body’s cells, while simultaneously reducing harmful inflammation throughout the entire body.

Through these two mechanisms, the supplementation of DHA can cause significant reductions in blood triglycerides, blood pressure, and ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL cholesterol).

DHA has also been shown to reduce cardiac arrhythmias.

As a result, the consumption of DHA can greatly improve our cardiovascular health and function, significantly reducing our risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

In summary
DHA is one of the most important nutrients within the entire body, where it is used to make the cell membranes of literally every cell in the body, while also acting as a key structural component for tissues found in the brain, eyes, and skin.

With this in mind, its supplementation can improve brain health, increase cardiovascular function, and cause significant improvement in eye health and function. Making it one of the most effective supplements on the market.

The case for taking a walk after you eat

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At the end of a long day, it can be very tempting to dive into social media or Netflix the minute you’ve finished eating. But back before screens consumed all of our free time, an after-dinner stroll was a popular activity and one associated with improved health and digestion. 

Research backs this up. This study found that when older adults at risk for type-2 diabetes walked on a treadmill for 15 minutes after a meal, they had smaller blood sugar spikes in the hours afterwards. In fact, the researchers found that these short post-meal walks were even more effective at lowering blood sugar after dinner than a single 45-minute walk taken at mid-morning or late in the afternoon.

Simply put, the human digestive system breaks down and converts food into glucose, which is one of the body’s main energy sources. So after a meal, glucose floods a person’s bloodstream. For most people, this is at its highest about 45 to 60 minutes after eating.

Hormones like insulin help transport that glucose into cells, either to be used immediately or stored away for later use. However, for people with diabetes or impaired insulin sensitivity, too much glucose can remain in the blood, which can cause or contribute to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and a variety of other health problems.

So, what good does walking do? The muscles used to walk use glucose as energy. This glucose is taken directly from the blood as it is the most readily available energy source. Using energy to walk lowers the glucose levels in the blood.

This means that when your digestive system starts to release glucose into your blood, your blood glucose levels will not spike so dramatically.

This study from 2016 found that just 10 minutes of walking after a meal helped control the blood sugar levels of people with type-2 diabetes.

Along with combatting surges in blood sugar, a little post-meal movement may also aid digestion. Exercise stimulates peristalsis, which is the process of moving digested food through the GI tract.

Here are some of the other health benefits associated to taking a walk after meals:

  • More quality time with friends or family (if not walking alone);
  • Increased vitamin D exposure (in summer months);
  • Improved blood circulation;
  • Decreased triglycerides;
  • Strengthened immune function;
  • Reduced stress;
  • Improved sleep quality.

Even if you can only fit in a quick 10-minute walk in the evening, the long-term benefits will be worth it.

Using almonds for recovery

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About Recovery
Recovery nutrition encompasses a range of physiological processes that include:

  • Replacing the muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stores;
  • Replacing fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat;
  • Manufacturing new muscle protein a d cellular components that are part of the repair and adaptation to exercise;
  • Enabling the immune system to face the challenges caused by exercise.

 

Almonds for Sport
Almonds provide a wide range nutrients that help to keep the body healthy for sports and performance. A single handful per day will help meet your needs. Almonds provide protein, as well as monounsaturated fats, including the antioxidant vitamin E. They also include other important vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B2.

Refuelling
During the immediate post exercise window (0-30 minutes), athletes should consume a meal consisting of both carbohydrate and protein in a 4-5:1 ratio. This is important as the rate of glycogen synthesis is at its greatest. This is of even greater importance if the next training session or competition in within the 8 hours.

If the session is close to the next meal time this would be a part of the recovery process. Another meal following a similar ratio between carbohydrate and protein should be consumed. The type of food chosen would need to take into consideration the individual athletes daily caloric requirements, gastric comfort and food availability.

Rehydration
A fluid deficit incurred during training or competition has the potential to negatively impact on an athlete’s performance in future training or competition sessions.

To combat this, athletes should aim to consume 125-150% of their estimated fluid losses within the next 4-6 hours after a session. The addition of sodium, along with other electrolytes to a drink or with the post workout meal will reduce further fluid loss, therefore enhancing fluid balance and overall recovery.

Muscle Repair and Building
Both high intensity and endurance exercise cause a substantial breakdown of muscle protein. During the recovery phase there is decreased catabolism and a gradual increase in the anabolic processes of muscle tissue. Early intake of protein during the first hour after exercise promotes the increase of protein synthesis.

The quantity of protein needed to maximise this adaptation to physical activity is 15-25g of high quality protein. With the addition of carbohydrate to this meal, you will aid the body ability to transport the proteins into the muscles.

Immune System
The immune system is taxed by intensive physical activity. This may lead to athletes succumbing to viral infections during or after periods of intense training or competition.

Evidence indicates that the most promising nutritional immune protectors include adequate carbohydrate intake before, during and after high intensity or endurance exercise. Other nutrients that have been identified as immune protectors include Vitamins A, C, D, E, along with glutamine and zinc.

Including Almonds as part of Recovery
Here are some ways that you can use almonds to help you meet the goals of recovery:

  • Salted almonds and fluids enhancing hydration;
  • As part of a snack providing a source of protein to enhance muscle repair and building;
  • As a source of Vitamin E for the immune system.

Here are some examples of almonds being used in recovery meals

Breakfast:

  • Yoghurt with berries and chopped almonds or LSA mix;
  • Diced coconut, almonds, dates and apple.

Lunch:

  • Chicken and almond stir fry with root vegetables;
  • Lean meat, salad and a handful of almonds.

Dinner:

  • Chicken salad sprinkled with roasted almonds;
  • Red chicken, vegetable and almond curry with white rice (or cauliflower rice).

Snacks:

  • Almond bar;
  • Trail mix with dry roasted and salted almonds;
  • Yoghurt with chopped almonds.

 

MCT Oil 101

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Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are medium length fatty acids. The term “medium” refers to the length of the chemical structure of the fatty acid. MCTs are most often derived from coconut oil and sometimes made from palm oil.

Before we talk about MCT Oil it is important to understand what a fatty acid is and how to classify fatty acids.

Fatty acids are chains of carbons linked together, surrounded by hydrogen. These chains have a Methyl end (often known as the Omega end) and a Carboxyl group (acid end) at the other end.

The acid end is hydrophilic, meaning that it is water-soluble, while the rest of the fatty chain is hydrophobic, meaning that it is insoluble in water, and requires a water-soluble transporter to travel in the bloodstream.

These chains can vary in three ways. The number of carbons, the extent to which the carbons are saturated with hydrogen, and how the chain is shaped.

Fatty acids can be classified according to the number of carbon molecules in their structure:

  • Short Chain: Less than 6 carbons;
  • Medium Chain: 6-12 carbons;
  • Long Chain: More than 12 carbons.

Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT)
The following fatty acids that are classified as MCT:

  • Caproic acid (with a chemical structure of C6:0);
  • Caprylic acid (C8:0);
  • Capric acid (C10:0);
  • Lauric acid (C12:0).

How do MCTs work
MCTs are commonly known for providing you with ready to use energy and better brain function. They’re absorbed quicker than other fatty acids and are easily converted into energy.

Although all four can be categorized as MCTs, only C6, C8, and C10 bypass your digestive tract and go straight to your liver where they’re broken down into energy-packed ketones, then sent out to the rest of your body via your bloodstream.

C12, on the other hand, behaves much more like a long chain fatty acid, going through your stomach, breaking down in your small intestine, then absorbing into your blood to get converted into energy.

Whole Food Sources
The following foods are the richest in medium-chain triglycerides, shown as the percentage of fatty acids that are MCTs:

  • Coconut oil: More than 60%;
  • Palm kernel oil: More than 50%;
  • Grass-fed dairy: About 15%.

Although the sources listed above are rich in MCTs, their compositions will vary. For example, coconut oil contains all four types of MCTs, along with small amounts of long chain fatty acids.

In coconut oil, MCTs consist of greater amounts of C12 and smaller amounts of C6, C8 and C10. In fact, coconut oil is about 50% C12, making it one of the best natural sources of this fatty acid.

In comparison to coconut oil, grass-fed dairy sources tend to have a higher proportions of C6, C8 and C10 and a lower proportion of C12.

Benefits of MCT Oil
With their unique structure and the way that MCTs are metabolized in your body give them a host of benefits that you won’t find in other fatty acids:

  • Antibacterial and antiviral properties that may help balance gut flora and support immune health;
  • Easier to digest than most other fats;
  • They may help you lose excess body fat;
  • Appetite suppression;
  • Provide quick, clean energy, especially brain energy;
  • May reduce lactic acid build up in athletes and increase the use of fat for energy;
  • May improve insulin sensitivity.

MCT Oil v Coconut Oil
The coconut oil industry loves to market the idea that coconut oil is a great source of MCTs because it’s about two-thirds MCT Oil.

Although just about all of the cheap and abundant oils in coconut oil are good for you, the problem is that the science shows that you just can’t get enough of the really useful MCTs from eating coconut oil alone.

Pure MCT Oil will usually consists of just C8 and C10 and is approximately six times more effective that coconut oil.

Some MCT Oils are diluted with large amounts of C12, which is a cheaper and more abundant part of coconut oil that is sometimes marketed as a MCT Oil. This may not be a concern for most people, however these oils are only about twice as effective as coconut oil.

C12 is most well-known for its antimicrobial properties, since it’s the precursor to monolaurin, an even more powerful antimicrobial agent that is able to fight viruses and bacterial infections.

While C12 itself has disease-fighting abilities, monolaurin from C12 is even more capable of inhibiting the growth of pathogens due to having stronger antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.

If you’re after large amounts of C12 for its own health benefits, go for it. Just eat some coconut oil. You can get a fair amount of it from eating just a tablespoon or two.

If you’re after optimizing your brain function and overall performance, have a look into some quality MCT Oil.

Intermittent Fasting 101

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Intermittent Fasting (IF) is more of a dietary pattern than a diet. Simply put it is an eating pattern that cycles between feeding and fasting. Sounds simple?

There is no real specificity to which foods are to be eaten and which are to be avoided, with the focus being on when you eat your food. In this respect, it is more accurately described as an eating pattern.

Common methods of IF involve daily 16-hour fasts or fasting for 24 hours, once or twice per week.

Fasting has been a practice throughout human evolution. Our ancestors didn’t have access to supermarkets or fast food outlets, and at times food wasn’t even available for them to hunt or gather.

As a result, the human body was able to adapt to be able to function optimally bothe physically and cognitatively without food for extended periods of time.

In fact, sporadic periods of fasting is more natural than eating 3 or 4 meals per day.

Common methods of Intermittent Fasting
There are many ways to conduct a fast, all of which contain a period of eating and a period of fasting. During a period of a fast, you eat very little or nothing at all.

However, Paul Jaminet, the author of the Perfect Health Diet has a valid argument for the consumption of coconut oil and bone broth during a fast.

Here is a list of the most popular methods

  • The 16/8: Also known as the Leansgains protocol. It involves skipping breakfast and restricting your caloric intake to 8 hours, such as 12-8pm, then fast for 16 hours.
  • Eat. Stop. Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice per week.
  • The 5:2 diet: This method, you can consume up to 500 calories on two, non-consecutive days, then eat normally the other five days.

By reducing the total caloric intake over a period of time, all of these methods should lead to weight loss, so long as you’re not over compensating by overeating during your eating periods.

This can be avoided by eating natural whole foods such as, meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, with some fruits and nuts.

Most people find the 16/8 method the easiest, most sustainable method to adopt. It is also the most popular.

How intermittent fasting affects your cells and hormones
During periods of fasting, several things happen to your body on a cellular level. For example, your body adjusts hormone levels to make stored body fat more accessible as an energy source.

At the cellular level, certain cells initiate important repair processes and change the expression of some genes.

Here are just some of the changes that occur in your body when you fast:

  • Human Growth Hormone (HGH): HGH levels increase up to 5 times, this provides benefits to both muscle growth and fat loss.
  • Insulin: Insulin sensitivity improves and levels of insulin drop dramatically. Lower insulin levels allow stored body fat to be more readily accessible.
  • Cell repair: When in a fasted state, cells initiate cellular repair processes. This includes autophagy, where cells digest and remove old dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells.
  • Gene expression: Certain changes occur in the function of genes in relation to longevity and protection against disease.

These changes in hormone levels, cell function and gene expression are responsible for many of the health benefits of intermittent fasting.

Health benefits
There is a lot of science backed evidence showing the health benefits related to optimising weight control, the health of your body and brain. There are even some studies that suggest it may help you live longer.

Intermittent fasting and weight loss
Conventional wisdom discourages skipping meals, which is often associated with eating disorders and unsustainable crash diets. However, deliberately practiced IF, can be a powerful tool for weight loss.

Fasting involves caloric restriction. Sometimes, it easier to fast than to count calories.

Hormonal changes involved in fasting also promote weight loss, even if you don’t restrict calories. Fasting lowers the body’s levels of insulin, a hormone that prevents the release of stored body fat. With lower insulin levels, your body turns to stored fat for energy.

Here are some of the health benefits to intermittent fasting:

  • Weight loss: As mentioned above, when performed correctly, it can be a healthy weight loss tool.
  • Insulin resistance: This study showed that IF can reduce insulin resistance,  which could prevent type 2 diabetes.
  • Reduced inflammation: A key driver of many chronic diseases.
  • Heart health: IF may reduce LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers, blood sugar and insulin resistance. All risk factors for heart disease.
  • Brain health: IF may protect against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
  • Cancer. Animal studies suggest that IF may prevent certain cancers.
  • Anti-aging. Animal studies suggest that IF may extend lifespan.

Intermittent fasting and athletic performance
Initially, training in a fasted state might seem a bit contradictory. How can the body perform with fuel? Provided you’re not fasting for too great a period, IF can actually improve your athletic performance.

For endurance athletes, the benefits of fasting come from a two-pronged approach: training in the fasted state, and competing in the fed state. Fasted training can improve performance by forcing your body to adapt to lower glycogen stores and use glycogen more efficiently. Essentially, training in the fasted state adds another stressor, forcing your body to compensate and become stronger. This sets you up to get a huge boost from competing in the fed state.

Short-term fasting is also useful for power athletes. While fasting for several days at a time will hurt your progress, intermittent fasts less than 24 hours will not cause muscle loss or send your body into “starvation mode,” as long as you consume adequate calories and protein when you do eat.

On the contrary, when you lift in a fasted state, your body uses protein more efficiently afterwards, boosting muscle growth.

Weightlifters seeking to gain lean mass without also gaining fat should look into Martin Berkhan’s Leangains program, which specifies an eight-hour “feeding window” and a sixteen-hour fast every day.

Is intermittent fasting for everybody?
Like just about everything else in human nutrition, there is no one size fits all. This certainly applies to intermittent fasting.

For example, if you’re already underweight, pregnant, under heavy stress or have a history of eating disorders, a medical or health professional should be consulted prior to commencing a fast. In these scenarios, IF could actually have disastrous implications rather than be a benefit.

Some people just love food. There is nothing wrong with that. Enjoying traditional dishes from around the world can be a great experience. Bonus points if you’re sharing that experience with family and friends.

If you’re already eating a whole food diet, are generally more fat adapted, exercise moderately, have good sleep patterns, limit chronic stressors and are generally doing the things that make you happy then you’re probably in a good place to start playing with some fasts.

The bottom line
Basically, if you’re hungry, eat. Starving yourself only will cause additional stress.

If you’re already stressed, don’t IF. You don’t need another stressor.

If you’re completing high intensity training everyday, don’t IF. Unless you’re genetically gifted, you will need plenty of fuel to prevent overtraining.

If you’re not hungry, don’t eat.

Listen to your body. Try not to eat just because it’s midday and it is generally lunch time. At the same time, don’t feel guilty if you’re supposed to be in the middle of a fast and you’re reaching for a handful of macadamia nuts or some beef jerky. Try it out, skip a morning meal, sneak in a workout or go for a walk and see how you feel.

If you’re not ready, your body will tell you pretty quickly. Feeling lightheaded, reduced performance in workouts, cognitive decline or a general reduction in energy are all makers that you might need to fix a few things (food, sleep, stress, etc.) for a few weeks and try again.

In a perfect world, we’d all have an excellent metabolism, with a job we love and plenty of time to spend with friends and family. But unfortunately, it’s not and we don’t. We can, however, make the most of the world that we live in today.

Eat real food. Be active. Enjoy life.

Sprinting for better health and performance

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The 100m sprint is one of the most popular and prestigious events in the sport of athletics.

A sprinter has a powerful physique. Body shape, muscle strength, the relative lengths between the legs, heels and toes, as well as a primed nervous system to pull the whole machine together. These are just some of the physiological attributes required to make an elite runner.

Now all of us will not be able to compete for the coveted title of “the fastest man in the world”, but we can definitely use sprint based training to improve our own health and performance.

Sprint training can build lean muscle tissue, burn fat, improve your overall body composition and improve performance across a variety of sports. Sprinting is a physical fitness tool that delivers a return far greater with regards to health and performance benefits than the original effort required.

There are many reasons to conduct sprint training, but unless you’re a competitive athlete or a hardcore fitness addict, you probably aren’t sprinting as often as you should. This is a mistake.

Here are some reasons why you should add a few sprint workout in your physical training programming:

It burns body fat
Weight loss isn’t just about losing a few extra kilograms. It’s about burning excess body fat while maintaining or building lean muscle mass and bone density. Sprinting is excellent at burning body fat without the muscle loss that can be seen in endurance athletes. This study found that a sprint session can increase post-exercise oxidation by up to 75%. This indicates that sprinting can improve body composition by burning body fat.

It’s anabolic (it can build lean muscle and strength)
Sprint workouts can increase testosterone levels in male athletes. In this study from 2012, men and women completed three 30-second maximal effort interval sprints on a stationary bike with a 20 minute rest between each sprint. Muscle biopsies taken from their quads showed markers of protein synthesis (this is how muscle is built).

It may be even better for women than men. The study mentioned earlier showed an increase in protein synthesis of up to 222% in women and 43% for men.

It builds new mitochondria
The basic function of the mitochondria is to extract energy from nutrients and create ATP, the standard energy currency of the body. More mitochondria, more power available to our body and brain, more fuel burned, more energy produced. It’s better to have healthy mitochondria, and scientists are always trying to find ways to preserve or increase their numbers because so many degenerative diseases are caused by malfunctioning mitochondria. Sprinting is one way to make more.

Multiple studies have shown that the type of sprint work doesn’t really matter.

It’s more efficient than endurance training
Generally, sprint training requires less time than endurance training. Sprinting can be just as effective in many ways and completed just a portion of the time. Adding sprints (4-6 sprints, 2 or 3 times per week) to your training can be just as effective as cycling for 40 to 60 minutes at improving insulin sensitivity, arterial elasticity, and muscular density.

It works for elderly people
Even the elderly can benefit from sprint workouts. They might be slower than a younger athletes. Sprinting ability to build and maintain lean muscle tissue may help prevent muscle loss associated with ageing.

It can improve insulin sensitivity
Sprint training can improve insulin sensitivity, improves hyperglycemia in type 2 diabetics, and lowers post meal glucose response in diabetics. If you’re pre-diabetic or already suffering from the condition, sprinting will help.

There are many variations
Sprinting can be completed in a variety of ways. It’s not just the standard 100m sprint on the athletics track. Even though an effective workout, there are many ways to vary your sprint training. You can get on the bike, run some hill sprints, get on the rower or even push a sled. The variations can be endless.

One session, every 7 to 10 days may be enough for some people to notice some of the benefits listed above.

The 10,000 swing workout

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In a nutshell

  • Challenge yourself with four weeks or five of intensive kettlebell swinging to test your grit and improve body composition;
  • At the completion of the program, you will have done 10,000 kettlebell swings dispersed throughout 20 workouts. You’ll do 500 swings per workout;
  • Between sets of kettlebell swings, do one of the following: chin-ups, goblet squats, dips, or overhead presses;
  • Master your kettlebell swing pattern. It’s not a squat. It’s a hip hinge and a hip snap. Your arms should not travel above your shoulders.

Making progress with training
As humans, we thrive when we push our boundaries, reach goals, and beat our personal records. If we’re performing faster, fitter and stronger, we tend to feel more alive.

So, if you want to improve, you have to seek out new challenges, struggle, adapt and overcome.

The 10,000 kettlebell swing workout is a challenge that will rapidly transform your overall body composition in just four or five weeks.

 

The Program
In four or five weeks, the athlete is going to perform 10,000 proper kettlebell swings. These will be split over 20 workouts. That is 500 swings per workout.

Between sets of swings, the athlete performs a low volume, strength movement. Training either four or five days per week. Training two days on, one day off, then repeat.

  • Men should use a 24kg kettlebell;
  • Women should use a 16kg kettlebell.

Breaking it down. Swing clusters, sets and repetitions
Following this repetition scheme to reach 500 total swings per workout:

  • Set 1: 10 swings;
  • Set 2: 15 swings;
  • Set 3: 25 swings;
  • Set 4: 50 swings.

That is 100 swings completed, or one cluster. Repeat the cluster another four times and you will have completed you’re daily total of 500 swings. Between sets is where more conditioned or experience athletes can add a low volume strength movement.

The strength movements
Use a strength movement with low volume between sets of swings. Some of the best movements are:

  • Overhead Press;
  • Dips;
  • Goblet Squat;
  • Chin-up.

Other movements to consider could be a front squat, weighted pull-ups or even muscle-ups. This is where you can really personalise your program. I would stay with presses or pulls. It is fair to say that after 500 swings per day, you probably won’t feel like adding any extra hip hinge work.

Use a 1-2-3 repetition scheme for most movements. Here is an example using the overhead press:

  • 10 swings
  • 1 press
  • 15 swings
  • 2 press
  • 25 swings
  • 3 press
  • 50 swings
  • Rest for 60 sec.

For the strength movements, use your five repetition max weight. If you’re conducting dips, use a 2-3-5 repetition scheme.

If you choose to lift five days in a week, conduct strength movement on four of the days and pick a day where you will only conduct the swings.

You can use a different strength movement each workout, rotating through the movements mentioned earlier. My preference is to use two days of both overhead presses and pull-ups.

Only use a single strength movement each workout.

Rest
After each set of 10, 15 and 25 repetitions, rest for 60 seconds. After each set of 50 repetitions, extend your rest to three minutes. During this longer rest period, perform some corrective work. Conduct stretches as required, such as in the hips, or lower back. Add in some mobility movements to keep your body loose.

Here is what a sample week could look like:

Day 1

  • 10 Swings
  • Press 1 rep
  • 15 Swings
  • Press 2 reps
  • 25 Swings
  • Press 3 reps
  • 50 Swings
  • Rest 30-60 seconds; repeat 4 more times.

By the end of the workout, you’ll have completed 500 swings and 30 presses.

Day 2

  • 10 Swings
  • Chin-up 1 rep
  • 15 Swings
  • Chin-up 2 reps
  • 25 Swings
  • Chin-up 3 reps
  • 50 Swings
  • Rest 30-60 seconds; repeat 4 more times.

By the end of the workout, you’ll have completed 500 swings and 30 chin-ups.

Day 3 – Rest

Day 4

  • 10 Swings
  • Press 1 rep
  • 15 Swings
  • Press 2 reps
  • 25 Swings
  • Press 3 reps
  • 50 Swings
  • Rest 30-60 seconds; repeat 4 more times.

By the end of the workout, you’ll have completed 500 swings and 30 presses.

Day 5

  • 10 Swings
  • Chin-up 1 rep
  • 15 Swings
  • Chin-up 2 reps
  • 25 Swings
  • Chin-up 3 reps
  • 50 Swings
  • Rest 30-60 seconds; repeat 4 more times.

By the end of the workout, you’ll have completed 500 swings and 30 chin-ups.

Day 6 – Rest

Day 7 – Rest, or begin the cycle again

Swing Technique
There are several variations to complete the kettlebell swing. The two main variations being the American Swing, as seen in Crossfit workouts, and the Russian Swing.

The major difference between the two variations is that the Russian Swing is primarily a hip hinge movement with the kettlebell reaching to roughly chest height, and that the American Swing there is a secondary movement where the kettlebell is pulled overhead.

While there are uses for both variations of kettlebell swings, we will focus on the Russian Swing for this program.

The condition:

Swing the kettlebell between your legs and then in front of you up to chest level for repetitions.

The swing standard:

  • Maintain the box-squat alignment during swings and when picking up or setting down the kettlebell:
    • Keep your head up;
    • Keep a straight – not to be confused with “upright” – back;
    • Sit back, rather than dip down.
  • Extend the hips and knees fully on the top: the body must form a straight line;
  • The kettlebell must form an extension of the straight and loose arm(s) on the top of the swing.

What is next?
Firstly, congratulate yourself for completing this program. If done correctly, it can be  quite the challenge. Well done.

You’ll most likely be in much better shape than you were four or five weeks ago and you should be ready for the next challenge.

Keep swinging.

Natural ways to your lower blood pressure

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Your blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). There are two numbers involved in the measurement:

  • Systolic blood pressure. The top number represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats.
  • Diastolic blood pressure. The bottom number represents the pressure in your blood vessels between beats, when your heart is resting.

Your blood pressure depends on how much blood your heart is pumping, and how much resistance there is to blood flow in your arteries. The narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.

Blood pressure that is measured lower than 120/80 mm Hg is considered normal.

Blood pressure that’s 130/80 mm Hg or more is considered high. If your numbers are above normal but under 130/80 mm Hg, you fall into the category of elevated blood pressure. 

In 2012-13, 6 million (about 34%) Australians, aged 18 years and over had hypertension, defined by having blood pressure ≥140/90 mm Hg, or were taking an antihypertensive medication.

The good news about elevated blood pressure is that lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your numbers and lower your risk. Without the requirement for medications.

Here a several ways to naturally lower your blood pressure:

Losing some extra weight (if overweight)
If you’re overweight, even dropping a few kilograms can reduce your blood pressure. You will feel better and you’ll also be reducing your risks from other medical problems.

This meta-analysis in 2016 reported that diets resulting in weight loss lowered blood pressure by an average 4.5 mm Hg systolic and 3.2 mmHg diastolic.

Exercise and physical activity 

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There is strong epidemiological evidence that regular physical activity and moderate to high levels of cardio-respiratory fitness provide protection against hypertension and all-cause mortality in both normal and hypertensive individuals.

Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure by up to 3.2 mm Hg and 2.7 mm Hg, respectively.

This doesn’t always mean that you have to go out and run marathons or spend over 15 hours in the gym per week. An increase in physical activity can be a combination of common activities such as running or weight training. It just as easily be adding incidental physical activity to your daily routine, such as:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the lift;
  • Walking over driving;
  • Playing with a child or pet.

Adding 30 minutes per day is all that is required to make a difference.

Dietary modification
Making smart changes to your diet such as cutting back on sugars and refined carbohydrates can help you both lose weight and lower blood pressure.

This 2012 analysis of low carbohydrate diets and heart disease risks found that these diets lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 4.81 mm Hg and 3.10 mm Hg respectively.

Another benefit of lower carbohydrate diets are that you generally feel fuller for longer as you’re eating more dietary protein and fats.

Eating a diet high in dietary carbohydrate from processed or refined sources without adequate physical activity can lead to unwanted weight gain, elevated blood glucose and higher blood pressure scores.

Modern diets have increased most people’s sodium intake, while decreasing overall potassium intake. Eating more potassium rich foods such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, tomatoes, bananas and rock melon can help lower blood pressure by normalizing the sodium/potassium ratio of the body.

Eat some dark chocolate

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Dark chocolate (at least 70%) has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Eating about 45 g per day may help lower your risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and inflammation.

Supplement your diet
Adding these dietary supplements can assist in lowering your blood pressure:

  • Omega-3 fish oils;
  • Whey protein (from grass-fed cows);
  • Magnesium;
  • CoEnzyme Q10;
  • Citrulline.

Quit smoking
Despite the smoking rate in Australia decreasing over the past two decades, 14% of Australians aged 15 and over are still daily smokers.

On average, a smoker’s life expectancy is up to 10 years less than non-smokers, and 60% of long-term smokers will die prematurely from a smoking-related disease. Giving up smoking has been shown to reduce blood pressure and overall heart disease risk.

Reduce alcohol consumption
Alcohol should always be looked at as a moderation food. It can elevate blood pressure in healthy individuals. Alcohol can raise your blood pressure by about 1.5 mm Hg for each standard drink.

Moderate drinking is considered to be no more than two standard drinks per day.

Cutting back on life stressors

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Modern westernised society is full of external stressors. Family, financial, social and workplace demands are just some of the factors contributing to elevated stress levels. Finding ways to reduce your stress is equally important to your overall health as it is to your blood pressure.

There are many ways to reduce stress, all you need to do is find which methods work best for you. Here are just a few ways:

  • Meditation and yoga;
  • Practice deep breathing;
  • Spending time in the sauna;
  • Reading a book;
  • Taking a walk;
  • Watching a comedy;
  • Listening to music.

Quality sleep
Blood pressure will naturally lower while you’re sleeping. If you’re not getting quality sleep, it can affect your blood pressure. People of experience sleep deprivation, especially those in middle-age, can be at an increased risk of elevated blood pressure.

Not everybody is able to get a good nights sleep with ease. However, there are ways that can help set you up for some restful sleep. A regular sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up at similar times daily), less time on electronic devices in the evening, exercising during the day and making your bedroom dark at night can help improve your sleep quality.

Many experts suggest that the sweet spot for optimal sleep is somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.

Final thoughts
If you do suffer from hypertension, some of these strategies can be of benefit. However, talk with your doctor about possible solutions to might work best for you to reduce your blood pressure without the use of medications.