BMI, Body Composition, and Longevity

We often scans folks for body composition and at some point body mass index (BMI) comes up. First, we have to talk about what BMI is, this is done by working with a simple formula of the weight in kilograms divided by your height in meters squared.

This is a good tool if you are working with folks that don’t work out, but if you are working with resistance trained individuals they can have a higher weight for their height but this is often due to lean mass. I’m a good example of this, since I weigh about 210lbs. at a height of 5’9.5”. This gives me a BMI of over 30 which is considered obese, but my body composition by Dexa scan is just about 15% which puts me in the normal category of body fat levels. Mind you most guys that weigh over two hundred pounds at my height are likely that size because they carry excess body fat, but you need to understand the subtlety there.

Research in the area of BMI to longevity seems to show what is known as a “j” shaped curve, where people with higher BMIs (over thirty) and lower (under 18.5) have higher all-cause mortality risk, but the lowest risk seems to be at having a BMI of 25 which is the cusp of normal to overweight. This is due likely to a number of factors; people that are super big have higher risks for things like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. Then small folks have very low reserves of everything so when you lose weight due to illness like the flu it can quickly become a life and death situation. Also, this is data from massive amounts of humans and what we are really looking at is individual response.

This is not fully rationalizing being a massive human being with muscle since your heart still has to send blood to that entire larger frame which puts more stress upon it. Very large human beings don’t live as long as normal sized folks and there is no way around that.

Body composition

This is what your weight is composed of. Most of the time it is referring to the two compartment model that divides the body in to lean mass (bone, muscle, most organs, ligaments, tendons, etc.) and fat mass (subcutaneous, brain, bone marrow (mind you the brain does not weigh 20 pounds, same with the bone marrow). So when you have a higher percentage of body fat it is typically due to increased subcutaneous fat which is the fat right under your skin, and visceral fat which is wrapped around your organs. Higher amounts of body fat are related to metabolic disease and other negative health outcomes and super low amounts of body fat are related to issues with fertility and other negative health outcomes. If your goal is to live as long as possible you want to have a body fat percentage between 6-20% if you are male and 15-32% if you are female. Being above that is not a death sentence but being above 25% for men and 40% for women we are talking about being obese and higher risks (I can go more in to optimal body fat in a later post if you are interested).

You can have a normal healthy BMI but have an obese amount of body fat percentage. So being a healthy weight is not always a good indicator of overall health. If you truly care about your health, learn about what your body fat percentage is and track it over time. You don’t have to be “shredded” or have super low body fat, but making sure you keep your level at a healthy or nearly healthy range can help you out. The average American tends to increase their body fat percentage each year of their life so do what you can to maintain yours (and decrease it if need be).

Finally, when your body weight changes from training or a diet if you take your body composition at the same time that you do that you can figure out what type of tissue you gained or lost. This is important, because sometimes you might gain muscle and lose fat, but on the scale not lose a single ounce. You can also do the body by Haagen-Dazs and gain fat while losing muscle, or go hard core training montage and lose weight while still gaining muscle.

Summary

BMI works well if you are working with sedentary folks, that being said you still need information on body composition to make some stronger assessments of health and wellness. Do your best to track your body comp so you can see the effectiveness of your diet or training. Thanks as always for reading and if you have any questions please drop in a comment.

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Better Living Through Chemistry: Sleeping

Keeping the trend alive with my knowledge of supplementation (and sleep hygiene) here is some recommendations of things I have both experience with and have seen researching showing that it enhances your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. As always pay attention to dosages and listen to your body. Another key here is having a night time routine that helps you sleep. These supplements are there to help you when normal methods are not working.

Melatonin

This is a hormone that your body naturally produces to help with the onset of sleep. Taking some additional melatonin before bed can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep. You can help your body produce more of this by avoiding blue light before bed, but that is rare these days since it requires you to be away from any type of electronic screen and no bright light bulbs in your house. You can wear blue light filtering glasses and they are quite cheap to find online. 3mg or more is all you need to help with sleep taken half an hour or so before bedtime.

Theanine

This is an amino acid analog that you find in things like green tea. It is useful to help with relaxation and works for about 2-4 hours. So taking this right before bed can help you feel a bit more relaxed and in turn fall sleep a bit faster. Dosages of about 100-200mg will help you relax, some sleep supplements will have as high as 500mg a serving.

Magnesium

This is a mineral that lots of people are deficient in since you get most of your magnesium from plants. Magnesium is important in a huge number of processes in the body like muscle relaxation and making ATP (along with hundreds of more enzymatic processes). Supplementing with this can help with relaxation usually taking in 100-400mg a day. There are also a huge amount of different types of magnesium that you can take, the form of magnesium citrate, threonate, or maybe gluconate are good choices to use. Magnesium oxide and chloride can cause bloating and diarrhea so avoid those forms to supplement with before bed.

Phosphatidyl Serine

This is another amino acid derivative that helps with brain functioning and decreasing stress hormone levels. You can find this in fish, but taking this before bed can also not only help with cognitive health, but also with relaxation. A typical dosage here is about 100-200mg, taken throughout the day up to three times.

Valerian root

This is an herb that can potentially help with relaxation. You can take this as a pill or in teas. It can potentially help with getting you to sleep, look to take about a dosage of 450mg each day taken an hour before bed. Be sure to take it before bed and you can feel a bit hung over from it. If you take it with licorice it tends to be better absorbed.

Chamomile

This is another herb that is usually used in teas to drink before bed to help with relaxation. A good cup or two can help you relax. This is due in part to the apigenin in it which has an anxiolytic effect and in higher doses causes sedation. You can also get apigenin from things like red wine and beer, but alcohol can have a negative effect on sleep quality and quantity.

Lemon Balm

This is another herb that can potentially help with getting you to sleep at night. This helps decrease anxiety and does so with a dosage of at least 300mg. You can get some of these effects by drinking this as a tea also before you go to sleep.

Phenibut

This is a nootropic from Russia with love. It will put you down hard and if you don’t sleep enough you will feel “hungover” from it. Meaning you want to only take this if you can for sure take 8 hours to sleep. Start with about 100mg of this per evening and then increase this with time if necessary. Avoid taking this every night and work your way in to rotation with this (maybe just one night on the weekends to really konk out).

Diphenhydramine HCl

This is the chemical in things like Nyquil and their other supplement that is a straight up sleep aid. This is actually using it as a slightly off label choice to help with sleep. I’m not a big fan, but a number of folks use this when they are having issues with it. I believe this isn’t liver toxic like acetaminophen which you find in the cold and flu medicine. Watch your dosages here and start with just one serving and see what happens. I’m not a fan, but some folks like it (enough that Nyquil obviously made a version of this just as a sleep aid).

Summary

There are a number of different supplements that you can take in order to help yourself unwind and fall asleep. Try out one or another at some point during your day and see what happens. Avoid caffeine and other stimulation for the appropriate amount of time before you go to sleep. I hope this helps some folks out there and as always thanks for reading.

Bench Assault Delta – A training program for Masochists

I really don’t want to do this program, but that is part of the reason I should. When I worked at Missouri State one of the strength coaches introduced me to a program known as the “bench assault”. This is a twelve week program of bench pressing heavy for reps twice per week with lots of volume afterwards. Throughout the years I did this program with friends maybe once a year or every other year. This is a hard program that not only helps create great progress, but crushing soreness and possible injuries if you don’t take not only the program seriously, but the recovery from it. I’m about to start this up again with a friend of mine along with whomever else wants to join us. We will send each other emails to hold one another accountable, and may god have mercy on our souls.

Here is the program link.

Now when you read the sheet on the google doc feel free to print it out or save it and change your numbers accordingly.

Notes:

The columns are each week, the center number is the weight that you lift. The number to the right of that is the reps that you do in that set. Any time things are listed as for example 10×20 that means 10 sets of 20 reps. Each week has two days of lifting and you should take at least 48 hours between each workout.

Still train your lower body as you normally would and be sure to squat the day before you bench press since the pec and shoulder soreness makes it very hard to get a bar on your back the day after doing this. Don’t do any other upper body work other than the optional day listed on the program. If you don’t get all of the reps on a given day for your first set on that exercise you must repeat it. Take the heavy weights seriously. The weights you pick for week one are meant to be a weight that you know you can do for 12 clean repetitions, not one that you hope you can do for 12. Be sure to go for long walks and do some light cardio most days to help with recovery and stretch out your upper body after training and on your days off.

You add or subtract the weights you are lifting from the loads you handled in the previous workout. If you start off with a weight that is less than 150lbs. then only make half of that jump (add 5 instead of 10). You have to sleep more than 8 hours each night on this program. If you can’t do that, don’t do this program.

I’ve made a number of changes to the original program to make this a bit friendlier on the body (read less brutal). Modify the exercises as you need to, but still follow the basic progression. If you give it a go let me know how it works out for you, and understand that this truly is an assault. Thanks as always for reading and have a nice day.

Better Living through Chemistry: Recovery from Injury

This is a brief post that I will elaborate on more soon, but if you have suffered a tendon, ligament, or connective tissue injury here are a few supplements that I have used to help with recovery and have seen some science showing its efficacy:

Protein- specifically collagen based protein. This is not an excuse to eat copious amounts of jello, but eating the gelatin from animal bones can help with soft tissue recovery. You can use higher levels the specific amino acids you find in collagen can also be used (glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine).

Biosil – this was suggested to me by Jamie Lewis and does work, helps with connective tissue recovery and the funny part is it also improves your skin and hair when you use it.

Magnesium and calcium – both minerals can help with recovery in their own way. Make sure you are at or above the daily RDA and space out their dosages.

Vitamin D, C, and K – can also all help with recovery and make sure you are above the RDA here also to help with this recovery.

Potentially help:

Fish Oil – to help bring down inflammation.

Curcumin – To also help bring down inflammation.

Summary

Here is a quick list of supplements that you can use to help recover after injury, but time is always the big key. Make sure you aren’t doing more damage and listen to your body when recovering from injury. Good luck and as always thanks for reading.

Float on – Float chambers review

Over the thanksgiving holiday my sister was kind enough to get a float for my wife and I. Now a float is laying inside of a chamber or room with about 9 inches of water that has so much Epsom salts in them that anyone can float them. The water is kept at a temperature so that you are completely comfortable not feeling too warm or cold (93 degrees Fahrenheit typically). The room is dark and has no sound after an initial relaxation period. This is a very different experience since for the first time (potentially since birth) you are conscious in a room with nearly no sensory input. There is no noise, no real sense of your own body weight, no real sensation of temperature and no visual inputs. You are left alone with your thoughts and the silence. You become quite aware of your heart beat and other body processes. Typically a float lasts 60-90 minutes.

How it went for me.

After taking a nice shower and getting in the chamber with ear plugs in my ears to keep from getting any salt water in them (used foam plugs but if I do this in the future I would buy your own silicon plugs and wear them). I entered the chamber and relaxed in there. After a little music played and I turned the lights off I was in complete silence. This was different, but very relaxing. I did slide around a bit in the chamber and my low back felt like it decompressed a bit which was nice. I’ve been consistently meditating for the past 9 months or so to help with the post concussive symptoms which has definitely helped me, so I spent the first who knows how long just meditating (which felt quite productive). Then my mind just wandered and I relaxed. I did need to take a break to use the bathroom at one point, probably shouldn’t have been so well hydrated beforehand if I do this in the future. It seemed like I was in there forever and I didn’t have any crazy mind altering experience inside, but after I left I was so relaxed I kept wanting to fall asleep. This calm seemed to stay with me for a number of hours later on in the day. The other nice occurrence is I ran in to an athlete I coached when she was at SLU which was fun.

Would I suggest this for others?

I would suggest about anyone give this a try. Definitely follow the recommendations and be sure to not have any cuts or open wounds since that water is incredibly salty. They do filter and clean the heck out of that water afterwards so don’t be afraid of it being gross from the previous occupants. It is a strange but relaxing experience that if you have the opportunity I would suggest giving it a shot to see how your react to it.

(Un)Broken: 90% combat effective…

The movie Soldier with Kurt Russell has a throwaway line part of the way through talking about how a guy who just had an eye ripped out is now only 90% combat effective since he has no depth perception (feel free to comment the link if you find it). This statement has stayed with me and I apply it to my training. At points you are going to be injured and because of that you are going to have to stop training certain body parts or movement patterns. Some folks will then use this as a rationale to not train at all. I’m a proponent of training everything else if there is no risk of damaging the injured portion further. Let’s get in to why you want to do this:

Gaining back muscle

When you are cleared for full training again if you need to gain a large amount of muscle back throughout your body it will take far longer than if you only need to bring up one or two muscle groups. The body has a finite amount of recovery capacity and will only be able to put on *maybe* a pound of lean mass per week. If you need to gain 10 pounds instead of just 2 it will take you 5 times longer to get back to where you were. So staying in shape here helps greatly

Gaining back function

The body works as a unit. Each limb and muscle is important, and it adapts to the demands placed upon it. If all of your body has adapted to very little work it will be hard to get your function back since you can’t tolerate that much work, and you need to recondition your entire body instead of just one body part. If your cardiovascular system is in good condition you can deliver more blood and nutrients to your entire body which in turn allows them to not only perform better, but to recover faster.

Systemic effects

When you train hard your body releases higher levels of hormones like growth hormone than you have at rest. These hormones in turn help increase your recovery of not just what you trained, but your entire body. There is also limited (and sometimes conflicting research) that there is carryover of training from one side of the body to the other. Meaning if you train one leg the other leg seems to have some positive effects, but not as great as it would have had if it trained. So doing hard work that pushes the rest of your body can help expedite the recovery of the tissues you injured.

Summary

Getting hurt sucks, if you train long enough it will happen. What you can control is the degree to which it effects your life. As soon as I was cleared to train after my shoulder surgery I was pulling a sled and riding the bike to keep some strength and work capacity in my lower body while the upper body was shut down. It gives you something to do to push yourself and a means to help enhance your recovery. Always listen to your body, but when you can start doing something to help maintain the rest of your body while another part starts to play catch up.

Two a day training programs (logic behind them)

My sister is looking to start training twice per day due to training before work doesn’t give her enough time to do all the training she wants to do. So she is looking to split up her training to twice per day. This requires setting up the training so that she hits the heavy and high power training before doing the hypertrophy and conditioning work later on in the day. Her basic training program goes as follows with the morning and afternoon session listed:

Monday – Squat

For the morning session do your heavy squats and then hit some abs and good mornings or your heavy supplemental exercise after. For your afternoon training session hit some lunges, abs, and then condition by doing sprints. For your heavy work just do sets of 8 or less for a total of 3-5 work sets and on the abs always do sets of 10 reps or more. For abs choose between planks, sit ups, hanging leg raises, side planks, or side bends. For your supplemental movements do sets of 6-10 reps and load them up for a total of 2-4 work sets and for the accessory movements in the afternoon do sets of 10-20 reps for 3-5 work sets. This holds true for all of the other days.

Tuesday – Military Press

Morning session will be military press work and doing pull ups as a supplemental exercise. Then in the afternoon hit your arm work and maybe some lateral raises along with band pull aparts. Go for a long walk for some conditioning if you want.

Wednesday – Deadlift

In the morning hit your heavy deadlifts and then hit some abs and Bulgarian split squats. In the afternoon hit some kettlebell swings, abs and then either bike sprints, rower sprints, or occlusion body weight squats.

Thursday – Bench Press

First session will be bench press and heavy dumbbell rows. In the afternoon do bodyweight low rows and push ups for a number of sets. You can then do a nice hike or swim for conditioning.

Friday – Front Squat

Start your day with fronts squats and then hit some abs and Romanian deadlifts. In the second session hit some hip thrusts, abs, and hill sprints or sprint some laps in the pool.

Summary

So with training twice per day, here is the basic breakdown of how I would lay things out in order to enhance performance. Now this program is not designed to focus on any one attribute, but just to help you get in better shape overall. If your goal is size, strength, body composition, etc. you will have to change up the programming accordingly, but the idea of doing your heavy work first and conditioning at the very end will always make the sessions run a bit better each day. Thanks for reading and if you have any questions please just let me know.

New Years Resolution club: Basics of setting up a diet

With the New Year there will always be folks trying to lose weight. I hope they are successful and this post is aimed at helping them set up the basics of how to change their diet to lose some weight. I could shameless plug the book my friend Jeremy and wrote here, but look it up if you want, otherwise just use this as a primer.

Priority one: Total calories taken in

This is where the battle is won or lost. Figure out how many calories you take in each day (suing something like MyFitnessPal or otherwise can be a good start). A simple way to do this is track your calories for a week and see how your body weight changes (in pounds). Take how much it changes over the week and multiply that number by 500 and that is how many calories you were above or below your needs each day. Your goal with weight loss is to keep yourself in a 250-500 calorie deficit each day. Follow this for two weeks or a month charting your weight loss and when you start to see less weight lost go ahead and decrease your calories again another 100-300 and run it again. If you find the amount of calories you are taking in is less thank your bodyweight (weight in pounds) multiplied by 10 you need to just maintain that weight for a little while and increase your calories to give your metabolism a break. The type of calories you take in here doesn’t matter if you just want to lose weight. You could eat nothing but Oreos and lose weight as long as you don’t take in enough calories and you would lose lean mass like crazy on that plan (don’t do that, it is a horrible decision).

Priority two: total protein taken in (macronutrient ratios)

Once you have the total amount of calories you want to take in each day it is time to figure out how many of those calories are going to come in from protein, carbs, and fats. Your goal for protein should be 1-1.25g of protein per pound of body mass to help preserve muscle mass. Fat should be .3g per pound of body mass, and carbs should be set at least .75 grams per pound of body weight. You should have some discretion calories from this point so you can put them in to the macronutrients however you prefer. You can look at the nutrition facts on foods you eat along with using apps that help you track your macros and just follow that to help you stay on track. Also, if you are trying to gain weight you can drop your protein intake down to .75-1g of protein per pound of body mass each day and increase the carbs and fats accordingly.

Priority three: nutrient composition

Now that you have an idea of the calories you are looking to get in and the macros they are in, we can start to look for higher qualities in those areas. For example animal protein is a better source than getting your protein in through only bread. Eating potatoes are a better source of carbohydrates than jelly beans. Make better choices here and you will likely get better outcomes, use some common sense for this (chicken breast is a better choice than fried chicken).

Priority four: nutrient timing

This is when you take in different nutrients and is relatively simple. Aim to get in protein throughout the day in generally normal boluses. This means take in 20 or more grams of protein with each meal with three meals per day (you can go a higher number here, but that isn’t necessary). Then take in carbohydrates specifically around your workouts (before, during, and after). Finally, take in fats the other points in the day when you are not taking in carbs since it slows down digestion of carbs.

Priority five: supplements (maybe)

If you are looking to help with weight loss you can look in to an ECA stack (ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin). This might help you lose a bit more weight if everything else is in order, but is not necessary. There are a number of other supplements that might help a bit here, but do your own research and look in to examine.com as a good reference here.

Side note: micronutrients

This is not getting in to the importance of different vitamins and minerals for long term health. This is an acute and simple method for setting up a diet to help you lose weight and learn what to track and follow. Make sure you are getting enough of your vitamins and minerals, especially over the long term in your life.

Summary

There are a lot of factors that go in to weight loss. Start off with the simple concepts and then work your way in to the minutia. Remember it first starts with caloric balance and then worry about your macronutrients. I hope this helps and if you have any questions please put them in a comment below.

ACSM central states presentation – Body Weight exercises

Recently my graduate student and I were able to give a presentation on performing body weight exercises with fitness groups to help get people in shape and help them have some fun while doing it. We have some videos on line with how to perform the exercises, but I wanted to spend a bit of time writing on it and showing the logic and math of how we program this to have a positive training effect.

Fun with math

Every time you lift your body you lift the weight of what you move (your limbs, torso, etc). This is pretty straight forward. Now in movements like a body weight squat you are moving most of your body so on average each time you do a body weight squat you are lifting about 88% of your bodyweight. This adds up quickly, for example when I do a squat with 225lbs. on my back weighing about 210 each time I do that movement I move about 400 total pounds (bar plus me (aka system mass)). If someone weighs 450lbs. and squats through the same range of motion they are having to produce the about same amount of force to lift the weight as I do. The key difference is I get to set the bar down after the set. For those folks it stays built in. Think about the forces they have to tolerate when doing a lunge or step up.

Exercises like push-ups have you lifting about 65% of your bodyweight with that load increasing if you elevate your feet and decreasing if you do them from your knees or with your hands elevated. This goes on and on for each exercise. This can help with progressing exercises like pull ups (since you are moving 95%+ of your own body weight) where you can know your body weight and add external loads to give you a training max to work off of.

Once you get an idea of the loads that need to be overcome when you are doing bodyweight exercises you can get an idea of how stressful this will be on the person and what you can do to progress them accordingly to the individual. Since you need minimal equipment for bodyweight work this is a great choice for anyone, but we don’t want to make this a maximal effort program where they are consistently only get one rep per set. I have friends that when they work with bariatric individuals they start them off on the leg press since it can be set lighter than their own bodyweight.

How to program

Aim to keep your sets and reps in the strength to conditioning range (5 or more). So if we want to get stronger with the movement we can start with 5 sets of 3-8 reps aiming to add more total reps each training session. If your goal is muscle size looking more in the 3-5 sets of as many reps as you can do with the goal of being between 5-20 reps per set. Finally if you just want to have better endurance look at sets of 15 and above repetitions or simply give yourself a high number of total reps to perform (over 50) divided up however you need to. Now for exercises like box jumps, clapping push-ups or pull ups keeping your reps below 5 each set and aiming for about 10-25 total reps per session will help you keep your quality of work high and net you the changes you are looking for (training power not endurance).

Summary

The body is a barbell and some of them are loaded heavier than others. When working with yourself or others keep in mind the load built in that needs to be moved along with the range of motion that it is being moved for. Body weight exercises are a great choice in any training program, and you should conquer your own bodyweight with basic movements before you start adding in external loads (specifically heavy ones). Go find a playground or monkey bars somewhere and progress your bodyweight training like you would any other workout. I’m attaching a link to the slides I presented along with some of the exercises we demoed to give you some ideas of partner based exercises you can do to make a training program more difficult. Thanks as always for reading and if you have any questions please let me know.

The Darryl

Hill sprints have been a long and tumultuous relationship of mine. I enjoy what they do for my health and performance, but the process is often painful and annoying. So getting friends to join you with running hills is always a great way to make this more enjoyable. Finding a way to make a game out of the hills makes them more enjoyable and is an easy way to autopilot how much work you are going to do.  Here is the example of one such workout.

The set up

When I was working on my PhD at Kansas there were a surprising amount of good hills to sprint in the town. Specifically, there was a hill that was only about 100 yards from the building that I worked in that was about 75 yards long with the last 25 being much steeper. One day two of my friends joined me for the hill sprints and we decided we would do these sprints according to the trees dotting the hill. This would work as a pyramid where we would start with the longest sprint walk back to the tree one closer to the hill top and repeat until we did the shortest distance then start working our way back down until we made it to the longest sprint one more time.

campanile hill
Google maps of the hill with the distance reported.

When you do the hill sprints this way the fatigue and recovery ratio stacks to make the first half worse, but the second half due to that previous fatigue does not feel much better. I do like how this counts the number of sprints for you. We did this entire series and turns out Darryl puked and so this method was then named. You can do the same thing on a football field where you start with sprinting 100 yards then walk back 90, sprint 90 and so on.

To this day I sometimes use golf balls or other simple objects to help me count and give me general distances of how many sprints I have done. I even like to use a pitch counter or baseball clicker to count.

Summary

Sprinting is always going to be a good form of conditioning for anyone that is able to. The advantage of running hills is it is easier on your joints and muscles than running on flat ground or downhill. The key is to walk back each time and take extra breaks if you need them. Thanks as always for reading and if you have any questions about how to set this up just let me know.