For those of you who didn’t already know, I write for The Week’s health magazine called Smart Life and the following article appeared in the November 2012 issue. The magazine is pretty cool actually. They are only about a year old and are slowly gaining readership. They have a good collection of articles in each issue and more importantly, an issue editor who cares about the content. Definitely something to check out if you are into magazines.
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Keep it sane. Keep it simple.
Why your shoes are making you poor and your sports drinks are making you fat.
Like a lot of things in life, thanks to smart marketing, we have been misguided into believing that health and fitness depend on external factors like complicated analyses and branded health foods. A list of such marketing gimmicks can be very long, but I’ll discuss today, my top three repeat offenders in any layperson’s fitness life.
- Expensive shoes
- Body composition analyses
- Sports drinks
Shoes are awesome. They come in a million color combinations, cost from nothing to everything and can make or break your ‘cool quotient’. But the question here is, are they necessary for training? Yes and no.
If you’re training for performance, be it weight lifting or playing a sport or running or sprinting, shoes become an absolute necessity. But for the general fat loss enthusiast, shoes are nothing more than an(other) expensive buy.
Realize that your feet contain 19 muscles, 107 ligaments, 26 bones and 7000 nerve endings and that they all require activation and/or strengthening in order to optimally perform during long term usage (i.e life). That being the case, it goes without saying that your feet need to be ‘used’ and shoes, with all the padded soles and constraining enclosures, don’t help because they end up over-protecting your feet and end up acting like crutches for your feet.
By living without shoes i.e. walking barefoot at home, training barefoot and gradually increasing intensity etc., you, firstly, strengthen the finer muscle fibers, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue that help keep your feet healthy and, secondly, facilitate better coordination due to improved neuromuscular communication within the body by means of activating the thousands of nerve endings on your feet and toes.
Summing up: Wear shoes. Look cool. But spend enough time barefoot too. Your feet will thank you. Barefoot shoes like Vibram, Merrell and Innov8 are great options to strengthen your feet while still keeping them protected from sharp objects and high heat.
Body composition analyses
Anytime anyone joins a new upscale gym, one of the first tests that is done on them is the body composition analysis i.e. determine how much of their body weight is fat, how much is lean mass (muscle, bone etc.) and how much is water.
In a world that believes ‘the more complicated a process is, the better it is!’, such analyses are done using different methods – from very cumbersome acts like hydrodensitometry (underwater weighing) to more technologically advanced and convenient methods like bioelectric impedance analysis (BIA), Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) and Whole Body Gamma Counter (WBD) to more basic methods like skin-fold measurements and Body Mass Index (BMI) calculations.
Though there are multiple methods available today to perform a body composition analysis, there are some inherent flaws in all of them.
- Most convenient or easy or basic methods are grossly inaccurate. BIA, BMI and skin-fold methods can show numbers that are anywhere from 5 to 30% away from the real number.
- The methods that are fairly accurate are either super cumbersome (like hydrostatic weighing) or ridiculously expensive for the purpose (like DEXA and WBD).
- And most importantly, none of these numbers actually matter for the general fitness enthusiast or even to athletes until they get to the elite level. For someone who is looking to lose fat, the plan of action is to eat right and train smart. Knowing how much percentage of their body weight is fat does nothing with their progress other than encouraging obsessive behavior. In other words, unnecessary stats don’t help.
All this said, I have my own body fat testing apparatus. It is a complex piece of equipment and it provides you with exactly the answer you need to help you move ahead in your journey. I didn’t design it and I don’t get a get if you use it, but I strongly recommend that you purchase and use it.
It is called ‘the mirror’ and it only has one reading – ‘If it jiggles, it is fat’.
Summing up: Save your money and sanity. See yourself in the mirror often and get a picture every week. In a few weeks you’ll be able to clearly say if you’re gaining or losing fat and where.
Gatorade and other such sports drinks are a fitness enthusiast’s elixir today because he/she believes that his/her training was intense enough to require special recovery fluids and that consuming a well-branded drink will help achieve his/her goals better and faster.
Unfortunately, a lot of this ‘belief’ is born from the smart marketing that is used to sell these sugary drinks to the common man. While the composition of any sport drink is water, lots of sugar, food coloring, preservatives and additives the marketing emphasizes on the presence of electrolytes. As important as they sound and as important as they are for an intensely performing human body, electrolytes (like sodium, potassium, chloride etc.), are very easily available without sugar, preservatives and additives from whole foods.
Most people get enough sodium and chloride just from salting their food well and more than required amounts of potassium and bicarbonate can be easily obtained by eating bananas or, even better, drinking tender coconut water. For example, while a 1 liter of Gatorate Rain provides you with 120mg of potassium (along with 56grams of sugar!), one serving of tender coconut water can nourish you with approximately 250mg of potassium.
The fact is that recovery drinks do help, but only when training at an extremely high level of intensity. I (and many of my fat-loss and performance seeking clients) have been training intensely for many years now, and not once have I found the need to even sip on a sport drink or recommend one to my clients.
Summing up: Quit drinking sugary colored fluids irrespective of whether they have a ‘healthy’ marketing label associated with them or not. Choose whole real foods. A good diet will, by design, provide you with the required amount of electrolytes to satisfy your body’s needs.