Tag Archives: insulin

Exercise DOES Work

6 Dec

Exercise DOES Work: Combat Holiday Overeating with Intense Exercise

by Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn1

We are now deep in the heart of the holiday season. You likely feel like you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off. As a matter of fact, you may be so stretched for time that your workouts have taken a backseat. Being strapped for time can also mean compromising your nutrition. What’s more, we all know that this time of year is the epitome of holiday parties, which means overeating less than optimal food choices.

That’s right, the holiday season is the hallmark of moving less and eating more, which can be a catastrophe for your body composition, health, and vitality. Chronic overeating, also known as a caloric surplus or a positive energy balance, can have major repercussions. While most of us think about the obvious weight gain, there are other factors to consider: overall health, cellular fitness, blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin resistance, risk for certain types of cancer, and many more.

While there many ways to avert these potential pitfalls and avoid becoming subject to this self-fulfilling prophesy, you may not have to become a recluse and steer clear of all the wonderful holiday goodies. New, appropriately-timed research suggests that keeping up with your daily workouts counteracts the negative metabolic effects of short-term overfeeding.

Researchers from the University of Bath in England recruited 26 healthy young men between the ages of 18 and 32. The lads were separated into two groups, one of which was an exercise group that performed 45 minutes of treadmill running at a moderate intensity (e.g., 70% VO2max) daily. The other group did no exercise.

Both groups were charged with the responsibility of significantly overeating. The non-exercise group was instructed to consume 50% more calories than their habitual intake. In order to ensure a consistent energy surplus (not to be canceled out by exercise energy expenditure), the exercise group consumed nearly 75% more calories than normal. Now that’s some serious overeating, and this went on for a full seven days!

In addition to the overeating, the researchers had both groups significantly reduce physical activity. Both groups were instructed to wear pedometers as a gauge of their activity, and the scientists had all participants reduce their steps from 10,000 daily (pre-study) to less than 4,000 per day (during the study). Besides running on the treadmill, the exercise group was forced to be just as lazy as the non-exercise group.

The duration of this experiment was one week. Both prior to commencing the study and after the 7-day period, the researchers collected various health measurements, including fasting blood sugar and insulin and biopsies of fat cells.

The results, in just one short week, were staggering. The non-exercising group displayed worrisome changes in fasting blood sugar and insulin levels. What’s more, their fat cells demonstrated health-derailing changes in the expression of key genes, which were a sign of much-maligned changes in metabolic functioning.

The exercise group, on the other hand, was not similar afflicted. As a matter of fact, the scientists concluded, “Vigorous-intensity exercise counteracted most of the effects from short-term overfeeding and under-activity at the whole-body level and in adipose tissue, even in the face of a standardised energy surplus.” The effect was so profound, that the authors of this study titled it “Exercise counteracts the effects of short-term overfeeding and reduced physical activity independent of energy imbalance in healthy young men.”

What does all of this mean for you? Simply put, you can offset the cascade of negative health effects that accompany overeating and less than stellar nutrition habits during the holiday season by making time for a vigorous daily workout.

As mentioned at the onset of this article, time is precious. What’s more, 45 minutes on the treadmill does not sound at all enticing, and you may not have that much time to spare. On top of that, it’s plausible that exercising at an even higher intensity and including some resistance training can provide further metabolic benefits. Heck, you may even be able to add some lean muscle mass if you play your cards right.

The solution: Barbell complexes. These efficient but nasty combinations pack as much bang for your buck as pretty much any routine you’ll find. What they lack in time and equipment, they more than make up for in intensity and metabolic demand.

The name of the game with complexes is to choose a series of exercises that can all be completed with the same barbell (or set of dumbbells). You take minimal rest between exercises and a short rest between sets, or rounds.

One of the more frequently asked questions when implementing complexes is the amount of weight to use. Generally speaking, the load is going to be pretty conservative. As a matter of fact, you might find that the barbell by itself provides enough of a metabolic stimulus. Muscular failure is not necessarily the goal, although you may base the weight on your weakest movement in one of the complexes. However, if you’re not questioning why you’re doing these halfway through—or earlier—then you’re probably not going heavy enough.

Each of these complexes will take only about 15 – 20 minutes to complete, and very little equipment will be needed. [Note: Please do a proper, thorough warm-up prior to commencing one of these routines.] You’ll simply choose one of these complexes and utilize the following guidelines for sets, reps, and rest:

• Beginner: 4 sets of 5 reps each exercise; rest for 90 seconds between sets.
• Intermediate: 5 sets of 5 reps each; rest for 75 seconds between sets.
• Advanced: 5 sets of 6 reps each; rest for 60 seconds between sets.
• Sadistic: 6 sets of 6 reps each; rest for 45 seconds between sets.

Generally speaking, each complex will contain some combination of the following:

• Explosive movement
• Lower body movement
• Upper body movement (push)
• Lower body movement
• Upper body movement (push)
• Miscellaneous

Without further ado, let’s get to the chaos!

Complex A:

• Hang Clean + Front Squat + Overhead Press
• Reverse Lunges
• Bent-over Barbell Row (overhand grip)
• Jump squats (no barbell)

Complex B:

• Hang Snatch
• Romanian Deadlifts
• Push Press
• Back Squat
• Upright Row
• Bar Rollouts

Complex C:

• Split Jerk
• Deadlifts
• Back Squat
• Lateral Lunges
• Bent-over Barbell Row (underhand grip)
• Lunge Jumps (no barbell)

Complex D:

• Squat Jumps (with barbell)
• Front Squat + Overhead Press
• Step Ups
• High Pull
• Burpees

You’ll simply choose one of the previous complexes and the appropriate set, rep, and rest guidelines shared above. You can incorporate these complexes as a workout themselves when you’re strapped for time. You can use them as a form of metabolic conditioning separate from your strength training workouts. Or, if you’re especially sadistic, you can use them at the start of your regular workout. You’ll just want to complete them when you’re fresh.

Just remember, these are not for the faint of heart. They are very challenging, albeit incredibly time-efficient. Not only will they offset any holiday overfeeding, you’ll actually find yourself in significantly better metabolic condition, and you may even drop some fat while you’re at it!


Walhin, JP et al. Exercise counteracts the effects of short-term overfeeding and reduced physical activity independent of energy imbalance in healthy young men. J Physiol. 2013 Nov 25. [Epub ahead of print]. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24167223


The Great Cholesterol Debate

25 Jan

The Great Cholesterol Debate

by Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn1

I have frequently been asked by folks who are serious about their health, fitness, and vitality on how they can improve their cholesterol. While I hesitate to call it a myth, it does seem that we have been deluded in our understanding of cholesterol and what causes “high” cholesterol. The aim of this article is to offer a clarification on what may lead to these high blood levels of cholesterol, as well as strategies to improve this marker of health.

In a nutshell, I would say that we have been misinformed as consumers by the media and health experts alike when it comes to cholesterol. That’s not to say that their intentions aren’t good, not at all. However, research really tells us that high cholesterol and high-fat diets are really NOT the cause of heart disease.

As a matter of fact, well-respected nutritionist and health advocate Dr. Jonny Bowden recently named the following four factors as far greater causes of heart disease that he labeled “The Four Horsemen of Aging.” They are: Inflammation, Oxidative Stress, Sugar, and Stress. In addition, Dr. Bowden recently co-authored a book recently titled, “The Great Cholesterol Myth.” May be worth looking into.

Did you that the high-cholesterol/heart disease “connection” began more than 100 years ago when a German pathologist theorized that cholesterol led to the development of plaques in your arteries? Did you know that his theory was later supported by a Russian scientist who fed cholesterol to rabbits and determined that it led to atherosclerotic changes?

Unfortunately, not too many people questioned the fact that rabbits are herbivores and do not naturally consume cholesterol:) Anyway, that breakthrough information started the notion that eating cholesterol leads to plaque deposits in your arteries, and at that time, it was believed that all cholesterol in your blood was due to dietary sources. But…

Did you know that your liver actually produces about 75% of your body’s cholesterol? That is indeed correct. So, even if you didn’t eat a single drop of cholesterol in your diet, you’d still have cholesterol in your body. And, that’s actually a good thing because cholesterol is needed by your cells to produce the cell membranes

My intention is to help you realize how little of an impact that dietary cholesterol has on blood levels of cholesterol. There are, arguably, studies that do connect cholesterol levels to cardiovascular disease — although we could pick those apart.

It seems that there are several reasons why health professionals would want to look at cholesterol in such detail. One, it’s relative easy to measure and monitor. Two, the cholesterol-lowering drug industry is highly profitable. And, three, it’s been imbedded in our heads.

Interestingly, while the goal of statin administration is to lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, a task at which it is markedly effective, research suggests that one’s risk of a cardiovascular event is only improved 25%:

Despite aggressive statin treatment to achieve target LDL-C levels, a residual risk for cardiovascular events of 65% to 75% is reported in statin studies. Factors contributing to residual risk other than LDL-C levels include components of non–HDL, such as very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), chylomicrons, VLDL remnants, and lipoprotein (a).

Going back then, what are the factors that really impact our cholesterol and how can we best manage our blood levels?

Metaphorically speaking, cholesterol accumulation on the walls of arteries can be compared to firefighters battling a blazing fire. Along those lines, we don’t accuse those brave men of arson because they’re at the scene of a fire. Rather, they are responding to a problem.

Cholesterol actually acts in the same way, as it is sent to repair damaged arterial walls. Cholesterol is sent in to “patch up” the damage induced by factors like smoking, chronic inflammation, metabolic disease, high blood pressure, etc. In a sense, elevated cholesterol may be “guilty by association,” as the body is simply responding to damage induced by these other factors.

Nutrition and lifestyle factors are the biggest, controllable factors in the battle against cholesterol. Wait, didn’t I say that dietary cholesterol has very little impact on blood cholesterol? I did indeed. But, that doesn’t mean that other food choices and nutrition habits don’t have an impact.

Dietary fiber has significant cholesterol-lowering properties. Fiber can interfere with the amount of bile — which is necessary for the breakdown of dietary fats — that is reabsorbed in the intestines. To make up for this loss, the liver must produce new bile salts, which are composed of cholesterol. So, increasing your fiber intake through vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, etc., can have a cholesterol-lowering effect.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve HDL cholesterol levels and reduce triglycerides. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce levels Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha, which is a marker of inflammation. What’s more, low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be closely related to high levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a marker of chronic inflammation, which implies that increasing Omega-3 fatty acid intake may reduce CPR (and systemic inflammation).

Not surprisingly, supplementation with Omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce C-Reactive Protein and improve insulin sensitivity. This latter improvement also seems to be important to managing cholesterol. Thus supplementing with a high-quality fish oil may have significant cardiovascular health benefits. (Recommendation: BioTrust’s OmegaKrill 5X.)

Certain herbs and spices like garlic, cumin, and ginger can have a cholesterol-lowering effect by blocking cholesterol uptake in the gut. Further, dark chocolate that’s high in cocoa (70% or more) has been shown to lower LDL while increasing HDL cholesterol.

Exercise and lifestyle (i.e., stress management) also play a significant role in lowering cholesterol.

The last point I want to come back to is that the liver is the predominant producer of blood cholesterol and nutritional factors — outside of dietary cholesterol — play a huge role.

One of the most-overlooked factors is actually blood sugar management and insulin control. That’s right, the hormone insulin actually plays a significant role in the liver’s production of cholesterol — that’s one reason why we actually see BETTER cholesterol numbers in low-carbohydrate studies. It’s also why we see increased risk for heart disease in low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets. Shocker!

Insulin resistance is actually an underlying cause of heart disease and cholesterol manufacturing (especially of the LDL variety). Insulin resistance results, ironically, from a diet high in carbohydrates — especially processed carbohydrates, sugars, and fructose.

Ironically, I say, because most people are prescribed a low-fat diet when they are diagnosed with high cholesterol. When you can’t eat fat, you are told to eat more carbohydrates. More carbohydrates result in chronically high levels of both blood sugar and insulin, which result in insulin resistance and high cholesterol.

Hmmm, interesting. Here is one of many studies that implicate insulin sensitivity as governing factor over cholesterol production:

Insulin sensitivity regulates cholesterol metabolism to a greater extent than obesity: lessons from the METSIM Study.

So, it’s likely that the very foods that you’ve been told NOT to eat are actually better for you — and your cholesterol levels — than the foods that you have been told to consume.

Food for thought =)