Saturday, December 29, 2012

What Ever Happened To Jarrod?

The American Heart Association’s (AHA) heart-check mark that has been on grocery-store products for 17 years is now extending to the restaurant industry, with a certain sandwich chain paving the way.

Last month, Subway became the first restaurant chain to participate in the AHA’s Heart-Check Meal Certification program, a two-year pilot program in which menu items that meet the required nutritional criteria can display the AHA’s Heart-Check mark.

“Subway is very proud to be the first restaurant chain to receive this certification,” says Lanette Kovachi, R.D., senior corporate dietician at Subway. “We look at this as a third-party endorsement and as an extra opportunity to educate consumers regarding healthier options. It’s not just us telling our customers that we have healthier choices; now it’s the AHA, a trusted organization, delivering that message”

The program is based on various nutritional criteria, including limits for calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, and sodium. It also includes a minimum level of one of six beneficial nutrients. Subway qualified by fortifying breads with nutrients and fiber, setting strict calorie and fat criteria, reducing sodium by nearly 30 percent in FRESH Fit sandwiches, removing artificial trans fats, and offering a large variety of sandwiches that are low in saturated fats and cholesterol.

“Most consumers are uncertain what most certifications mean, but find them reassuring and positive elements on packages if they are relevant to the category or brand proposition,” Greg Prang, senior ethnographic analyst at the Hartman Group, a Bellevue, Washington–based consumer insights firm.  “Placing certifications next to menu items can help to extend a halo of healthfulness for a foodservice provider.   So in the consumer’s mind, adding a heart-healthy symbol just works to extend the health halo (image is everything…), since freshness is a cue to healthfulness.” [1]

I can still remember the Subway ad campaign from several years ago that featured a man named Jarrod who lost around 200 pounds by eating strictly from the Subway menu.  It’s important to note though that Jarrod cut his daily calorie consumption from 10,000 to 2,000 per day.  This is the reason for the weight loss; portion control!  Subway just benefited from his story. 

It must be pointed out that only a limited portion of the menu meets the AHA Heart-Check criteria.  You can still make poor choices at Subway, but in their defense at least they give you decent options if you are in a pinch for food.  The main reason the Fresh Fit menu is a positive in my mind is that it creates awareness about how much you are truly eating.  I think most people would be overwhelmed if they knew how many calories they consume when eating outside of the home.   In fact, I conducted a real world experiment with a few teenage athletes a few years back.  Before I leave the topic of Subway if “fresh” means you get your avocados from a plastic tube, than yes, Subway has “fresh” food.

On the topic of eating out we recently returned from a vacation on the west side of the state, Traverse City in particular.   I have become fascinated with what is known as the farm-to-table restaurant.  The idea is that the chef and his staff source most of their raw ingredients locally from farmers and artisans (cheese and bread makers for example).  On the west side of the state (Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Fennville) this philosophy is much more prevalent than it is in southeast Michigan.  Access to an abundance of farm fresh food is the primary reason but it is also a point of pride as well.  I won’t get into to much depth here but even after that experience the best and most nutritious meals are the ones cooked in your own home with ingredients you purchase from the farmer’s market and pick from your own garden.  I say this due largely to the sheer volume of the restaurant business.  They are limited in their ability to serve 100% fresh local ingredients that are prepared with care and attention.  Some places come very close, in fact I am going to start a new blog committed to the subject, but it’s never as good as traditionally prepared home cooking.

With the increased popularity of farmer’s markets and locally sourced food it’s apparent that the quality of the food we consume is important to us.

To prove it, research firm Mintel recently released a study showing that just over two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans choose healthier foods to stay well.

"Consumers are more aware than ever of their own nutritional deficits and what poor eating habits can do in terms of their long-term health," says John Frank, category manager of CPG good and drink reports at Mintel. "As a result, today's consumers are seeking out healthy food with greater urgency. However, skeptical or confused consumers aren't likely to pay a premium for healthier food, making it hard for manufacturers to justify investment in nutritional/ingredient upgrades."

Some 31 percent of consumers choose healthy foods to lose weight and 30 percent do so to maintain weight. Mintel's report shows that the fact that these percentages are fairly similar across all age groups illustrates how widespread the interest in healthy eating is.

This creates a growth opportunity for retailers, as they can create their own private label versions of healthier products to generate higher profits, fill a growing need of consumers, and also reinforce a retailer's identity in the marketplace.

Based on Mintel's research, as age increases, so does the likelihood that adults are maintaining a mostly healthy diet. Nearly half (48 percent) of Americans 65 and older say they pay close attention to how they eat compared to only 32 percent of 18-24-years olds. Nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of the 65 plus age group (the highest percentage of any demographic) say they do not exercise at all. This could be a principal reason for their healthier eating habits, as that is their main way of controlling their weight and health.

"Younger adults generally still feel invincible and have a more naturally active metabolism, making it easier to maintain their weight," Frank says.

Mintel research also reveals that women tend to think that they know what's good for them more so than men. Sixty-seven percent of men think themselves as a good judge of what healthy foods are versus 76 percent of females. Perhaps that's because 64 percent of women say they read nutritional information on products, while only 56 percent of men do the same. It also appears that Americans are trying to create healthier children, as 67 percent of women and 57 percent of men claim to eat healthy food more often to set a good example for their kids. [2]

Eating out is a wonderful social exercise and if you are in a pinch getting a decent sandwich from Subway is a better option than getting a bucket of KFC with biscuits for dinner.  That said, home cooked meals prepared with seasonal ingredients are the ideal way to deliver great tasting food and robust nutrition to your family and friends!

This is What Happened To Jarrod…


Sunday, December 23, 2012

How to get bigger and stronger without supplements...

Last week I wrote about the growing trend of children that are turning to steroids to improve to enhance their performance or appearance.  Clearly this is not the direction we want our children to turn.

However, what we must acknowledge is that kids and often times with encouragement or prodding from others, still want to get bigger and stronger.  We need to have this conversation and more importantly we must arm ourselves with the proper strategies to help them do this without resorting to the use of supplements let alone more treacherous substances like steroids.

So where do we begin.  When I was in high school I was advised to eat a lot of steak, potatoes and pasta.  All that did was make me feel like a slug because I felt like sleeping all day.  Yes, this probably is a very good strategy to add weight but rest assured it won’t be the type of lean muscle you have in mind.

So let’s throw out the old school notion of stuffing yourself with lots of protein and carbohydrates.

When I was in college I was constantly told that because I trained so hard and put so much time and effort into skill practice and physical development that I was missing a huge opportunity by not using supplements.  Their theory was the food wasn’t enough and I was wasting my time and energy by not boosting my training with powders and pills.  So I started doing some research and unfortunately my sources were a little one-sided and I never gained an appreciation for the entire picture.  Just like specializing in one-sport my sports nutrition knowledge was very narrow and left huge holes in my plan over the long term.

Suffice to say that after spending thousands of dollars on protein powders and other supplements over the course of my post high-school athletic career my performance never improved.  In fact, it dropped of significantly because I lost sight of what was important.  That is a story for another day but the take home point is that it turned out that the supplements were a significant waste of my time and energy and a very powerful drain on my limited bank account.

Second key point to go along with the flawed notion that you have to stuff yourself with carbs and protein, supplements are a waste of time. I found out the hard way but that is to the benefit of the generation of children that I know work with.

Supplements are like the high hanging fruit.  Why waste your time and energy bypassing all of the low-hanging fruit to reach for something than can be better attained from the ground level?

So what is the low-lying fruit as it pertains to youth strength and muscle development?  There are three areas that if addressed effectively can be the solution to greatly improving a young persons strength and muscle size in addition to providing an all important boost to their overall lifestyle (mood, emotional stability, academic and athletic performance).

Eat better food

Most kids are overfed and undernourished.  It is my strong belief that children get plenty of calories but the foods they do consume are usually of poor quality and thus lack essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that are vital for muscle building and restoration.

Most children sustain themselves on processed foods that are loaded with carbohydrates and contain low-quality fats and protein.  Clearly this is not the type of material they need to build strong bodies.

Body building foods are whole foods like eggs, grass-fed meat and poultry (the whole bird, dark meat included!), nuts, whole dairy from pastured cows, and plenty of vegetables and fruit.  Think of these foods as the materials for the actual physical structure of a building (the body) and it’s wiring (nervous system) and food like whole grains and starches are the energy or manpower required to build the structure.  Children need both but most do not get enough high-quality fats and protein.

Get more sleep

Today’s youth sport culture often revolves around schedules that are just as demanding as those experienced by professional athletes.  Especially when you consider that the pros have the luxury of charter flights, first class hotel accommodations, in addition to therapists and dietitians to manage their recovery and nutrition needs.  It should also be noted that most professional sports leagues have at minimum a 3-month off-season.

It’s very common during the school year for athletes to arrive home after a game at 11PM or later and it may take them a while to come down from the emotional high of an intense game and may not fall asleep until well after midnight. Then they are up at 6AM or earlier to sneak in a little bit of homework.   Needless to say this is not a recipe for building muscle, nor is it conducive to success in the classroom either.  In fact it’s a perfect storm that if practiced routinely will slam the brakes on optimal growth and development.

Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory has been following the sleep patterns and athletic performance of Stanford athletes for years. Her research continues to show that getting more sleep leads to better sports performance for all types of athletes. [1]

Lack of sleep, or “sleep debt,” appears to have a negative effect on sports performance, as well as cognitive function, mood, and reaction time. Making regular sleep as much of a priority for athletes as practicing their sport and eating right can avoid much of this.

Researchers speculate that deep sleep helps improve athletic performance because this is the time when growth hormone is released. Growth hormone stimulates muscle growth and repair, bone building and fat burning, and helps athletes recover. Studies show that sleep deprivation slows the release of growth hormone. Sleep is also necessary for learning a new skill, so this phase of sleep may be critical for some athletes.

Sleep experts recommend seven to nine hours of daily sleep for adults, and nine to ten hours for adolescents and teens. [1]

Train smart

Right behind the flawed idea that you need protein powder to build muscle is the notion that you have to lift heavy weights to get bigger and stronger.  While that is certainly part of a very large equation it’s fruit that is still a little too high for most kids to worry about.  Going to the gym and trying to squat and bench press as much weight as you can will more than likely lead to injury, poor performance and wasted energy before it boosts your muscle mass.

Training is definitely an important aspect of adding strength and muscle but first you have to have a plan.  Timing is important.  The optimal time to add size through the use of resistance training would be in your sports off-season.  If you don’t have an off-season this is very likely a major reason you have trouble adding muscle.  If you are constantly tearing your body down, this is essentially what happens when you train and play sport, you never allow for optimal recovery and repair.

As an example a physical therapist for the Canadian women’s gymnastics team once told me that every summer the girls would take two weeks off to spend with their families.  When they came back many off them had literally grown several inches because they unloaded their bodies over their break which allowed for natural growth to occur.

There is a very good reason gymnasts are small in stature and it has a lot to do with an ultra demanding training schedule that interferes with the natural physical maturation process, a process that is best taken advantage of during adolescence.  And down time is essential.  This doesn’t mean they should lie around and play video games all day long for weeks on end but it does mean taking a few weeks off every 2-3 months to allow the body to repair and build.

Another important training consideration is taking part in an activity that directly counteracts your effort to gain muscle.  If you are a teen basketball player looking to add size to your slight frame running cross country in the fall to get yourself in shape for the winter may seem like a good idea but endurance training and building muscle do not go hand in hand.  Take a look at any elite level endurance athlete and they are all very thin with low muscle tone.  Meanwhile short-distance sprinters are well muscled.  If you are looking to add muscle your preferred mode of endurance training should be short burst activities such as sprint intervals or body weight circuits.

Finally, body weight training such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats and lunges should be mastered before adding any external resistance and are more than adequate activities for adding strength and muscle to adolescent frames.  Bodyweight training (low-lying fruit) allows children to develop foundational strength and once that foundation is solidly in place then added resistance can be included. 

In summary, children need to address the basics before they ever think about using supplements or start lifting weights.  Most kids don’t sleep enough, eat poor quality food and don’t allow time for their bodies to develop because of year-round sport demands.  No amount of supplements (even if they were effective and most aren’t) or weight training could make up for this gaping hole created by poor lifestyle habits.

I briefly touched upon the importance of the low-hanging fruit of adequate rest, better nutrition and smarter training but I have included links to past articles that cover the nutrition and sleep topics with more depth.  Those links can be found at the bottom of this page.

Sample Scenario
I will wrap up this topic with a sample scenario.  A few weeks ago I started coaching a young man (age of 16) with a very slight frame.  This boy has very good athleticism and is very mobile.  Also upon evaluation he has a few postural red flags that caught my attention, likely due to the fact that he is a one-sport athlete.  Because of these postural issues he is not a good candidate for resisted squatting, it would do more harm than good.  We will work on exercises with the intent of correcting these issues to keep him in the game for the long-term.   That said we would do more than just corrective exercise.  Strength, power, and speed training will be included but it will be implemented in way that builds him up while not feeding into his dysfunction.

From a nutrition perspective I always like to start off with things that can be implemented very easily.  I like to introduce one concept/habit at a time.  With compliance these small steps add up and over time can have a big impact.

Habit #1 for this young man is getting more body building nutrients into his eating.

He told me he essentially eats three times a day.

Usually he has a smoothie for breakfast.  All he should do is add a tablespoon or two of natural almond/peanut butter to his smoothie.

For lunch take a snack pack filled with mixed nuts to eat with his school food.  Good choices are almonds, pecans and walnuts.  Preferably unsalted.

For dinner add a glass of whole milk.  Ideally choose organic milk from grass-fed cows.  To make it easy for you the best source of milk I have found is from Thomas Organic Creamery (from nearby Henderson, MI).  You will find this milk at Whole Foods or Plum Market.

Once he "owns" these habits we can implement Habit #2.

In this example I learned the boy did not have a nut or dairy allergy and actually enjoys those foods making adherence to my recommendations more likely.

Happy Holidays!

Additional Resources

Eat Better Food

Get More Sleep


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Youth Steroid Use on the Rise...

A new study shows that about five percent of middle and high school students have used anabolic steroids to put on muscle, and that as many as one-third of boys and one-fifth of girls have used protein powder or shakes. Between five and 10 percent admitted to using non-steroid muscle-enhancing substances like creatine.

The findings came from a survey of more than 2,700 adolescents enrolled in middle school and high school in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Marla Eisenberg, lead author of the University of Minnesota study, said 5.9 percent of boys in the survey reported using steroids, while the rate among girls was 4.6 percent. Steroid use is a felony without a prescription.

The findings were surprising, Eisenberg said, especially since some of the steroid users were only in seventh or eighth grade. [1]

And remember these children were from Minnesota, not a football crazed southern state such as Texas or Alabama!  Just a sleepy mid-western state much like our own.  How could steroids use be a problem at a place like that?

The pressure to win, to look a certain way are powerful lures that can engulf a developing young person.  In the sports culture we are told that we have to get bigger, faster, and stronger and yet, no one really tells us how to accomplish this.

Coaches, trainers and parents though often well meaning need to be more careful about what they say to young people that can be easily influenced and look to us for guidance not statements.  If you make a comment like you need to get stronger or bigger you had better be prepared to provide that child with the recipe to do so.

Left to their own devices children will make poor decisions more often that not from lack of worldly experience and knowledge.  If I am kid and my coach tells me I need to get bigger and stronger I might visit the local vitamin/supplement store and get some “performance enhancing” powders and pills.  Or in the worse case scenario maybe they decide to talk to the big guys at the local gym and ask them for advice, they are big and strong after all…  More on why this is such a bad idea aside from the obvious reasons a little later on.  The obvious reason young athletes should avoid advice from bodybuilders; they might look like a statue but they also move like one. 

More often that not bodybuilders resort to weightlifting because they have figured out that because they can’t move like athletes at least they can try to build themselves up to look like one.  These individuals are nick-named “mirror athletes” because they want to look in the mirror and see an athletic-looking image, but they have absolutely no interest in trying out for any of the athletic teams.

In fact it is estimated that about half of the users of anabolic steroids are not athletes at all. They have no interest in competing – at least not on the athletic field. However, they are interested in competing for the attention of members of the opposite sex, and they are using anabolic steroids to look better.

A common thread shared by athletes that perform at a high level, they all move extremely well.  The ability to accelerate, change direction quickly and apply force to a swing, kick or throw requires coordinated strength and timing, two qualities that are greatly diminished by bodybuilding.  Sorry for the rant but I couldn’t resist.  Just remember when it comes to training to improve sports performance or performance in the game of life train movement not individual muscles!

Another compelling reason to avoid advice/contact with the big guys at the local gym…

Kids usually obtain steroids from body builders or weight lifters in local gyms. Often these substances will come from Mexico or the Internet. Most recently, over the past two years, a steroid ring of high school students was broken up in Utah, and another one last year in Arizona.

When surveyed, most kids say that they get their drugs from local distributors. Often those distributors are at the local private gyms. They are people who may approach the kids, or the kids approach them. The Internet is a readily available source for these substances; however, that does not negate the fact that many kids report getting anabolic steroids from local gyms. Rarely do they obtain them from a physician or veterinarian.

Linn Goldberg, MD, head of the division of health promotion and sports medicine at Oregon Health & Science University. [2]

Back to the issue at hand of the use of performance enhancing substances by still developing young people.

I recently spoke with a mother who told me that her son’s hockey coach (who happens to be a former NHL player) told the boy that he was to short to play goalie in the NHL… The boy is 12 years old!  I desperately want to go off on yet another rant but I am confident enough that you will acknowledge the absurdity of this bone-headed statement.  As result of this comment the parents want to do make their son feel better and decide to go out and get nutrition shakes to give to their son.

First point to make in this regard is the choice of nutrition shake was less than ideal (Ensure, even though I am sure it’s fortified with omega-3’s and probitocis-sarcasm alert!) but more importantly it could send a message to the boy that taking a supplement will solve the problem, it’s a solution.  Supplements are never the solution and in fact can be a precursor to a slippery slope toward more “advanced” performance enhancing substances.  The “under-sized” boy would make more progress toward his goal by dumping the drink and taking the comment from the coach and using it to focus his energy on things within his control like his practice and nutrition behavior.  This is where the guidance from parents and coaches becomes a necessity to keep a developing young athlete on the right track.

There are plenty of undersized athletes competing at a high level in all of the major professional sports leagues.  They have excelled because undoubtedly they have used the label of being to small or to slow to fuel their competitive drive.  They have had to struggle and compete for every opportunity.  They understand their size may be an obstacle but it will only stop them if they allow it to.  These athletes often maximize their abilities by refining skills to the point of near mastery and developing an attitude and competitiveness that creates a champion not only on the field of play but also in the game of life!

It’s not the size of the obstacle that determines your destiny rather it’s the size and depth of your commitment that defines what you ultimately become. 

To fall short of any goal as long as you pursue it with integrity and maximum effort will always leave you with a reward in the end, and more often that not it will be far greater than what you first set your sights on at the beginning of your journey.  However, taking a short cut to a goal may provide you with a positive result but even if no one else ever finds out you will always know your truth.  I wonder if Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds still believes it was worth cheating.  My guess is probably not because what they achieved was built upon a lie.  The riches may remain but they lose something along the way that they will never be able to get back.

The Hidden Truth:  Dietary Supplements

In 2009, Americans spent $26.7 billion on nutritional supplements, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, a trade publication.

What most of us do not realize is that supplement manufacturers routinely, and legally, sell their products without first having to demonstrate that they are safe and effective.   As a result, the supplement marketplace is not as safe as it should be. The labels also make absurd claims at times, and these are beyond any scientific proof. Thus, it’s always better to consult a doctor or sports medicines specialists prior to buying any of the bodybuilding supplement products.

Many people are unknowingly using anabolic steroids by virtue of the supplements that they are taking that are spiked with anabolic steroids.  Multiple studies have shown that as many as 20%-25% of the bodybuilding products sold over-the-counter in health food stores may be loaded (spiked) with anabolic steroids and other substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Many kids could be taking something that's not even manufactured with any standards or safety controls? The DSHEA Act of 1994 excludes the FDA from analyzing supplements that are sold in your local stores. Thus, it is truly, "May the Buyer Beware." Ephedra is a prime example. It took many deaths, heart attacks, and other adverse events to finally ban that substance after years of use and very dangerous consequences. The International Olympic Committee did a study that involved supplements in the United States. They found 18% of supplements were spiked with true anabolic steroids, although the label did not show them as containing these substances. So in the United States, because of this law, it is definitely buyer beware. [2]

It should also be noted that if a child goes into a supplement shop they are likely getting advice from a salesperson who very likely has no background in nutrition counseling let alone how to council youth nutrition.  Even if they are a credible source of information they can’t possibly know your unique needs and what, if any supplements are right for you.  Supplement use is definitely a topic that must be addressed first and foremost with your doctor or pediatrician.

Statistically Speaking

Many experts agree that about one million students – as many as 6% of all U.S. high school students-have admitted to knowingly using anabolic steroids. And the usage rate is on the rise.

In 1993, one in 45 high school students used anabolic steroids.

By 1999, the number was one in 27.

Today, one in 16 high school students admits to using anabolic steroids. (How many more continue to hide?)

More than 1 in 20 high school girls has already used anabolic steroids and the number of female users is increasing. In fact, the fastest growing user group is young high school girls.

It’s not an older kids’ problem, either. The median age of a student at first usage is 15.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that more than a half million 8th and 10th grade students are now using these dangerous drugs, and increasing numbers of high school seniors do not believe steroids are risky. [3]

Health Implications and Side Effects

Steroid use commonly causes severe acne and fluid retention, as well as several effects that are gender and age-specific:

For men—shrinkage of the testicles (testicular atrophy), reduced sperm count or infertility, baldness, development of breasts (gynecomastia), increased risk for prostate cancer.

For women—growth of facial hair, male-pattern baldness, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris, deepened voice.

For adolescents—stunted growth due to premature skeletal maturation and accelerated puberty changes, and risk of not reaching expected height if steroid use precedes the typical adolescent growth spurt.

In addition, people who inject steroids run the added risk of contracting or transmitting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis. [4]

Steroid Abuse by School Age Children: A Guide for Parents and School Officials

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness Nutrition Specialist


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Why Do Kids Need an Energy Boost?

Energy is a good thing and children seemingly have and should have an endless supply of it.  Unfortunately a growing number of kids are resorting to artificial means in order to get a jolt.  I will get into some of the reasons kids lack energy a bit later but this issue is red hot right now as Federal lawmakers are pushing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to restrict caffeine levels in certain energy drinks, which have been linked to multiple deaths.

A pair of United States Senators want caffeine limits on the beverages after emergency room visits involving such drinks jumped 10-fold from 2005-09.  The Senators are also concerned about other ingredients contained in these drinks, such as guarana, taurine and ginseng. These are generally considered safe when used as food flavorings, but in these drinks, they are used in much higher doses as energy-boosting supplements. The Senators worry that mixed with the caffeine, these stimulants may be unsafe.

5-Hour Energy drinks have been cited in the deaths of 13 people in the past four years, according to reports received by the Food and Drug Administration.

5-Hour Energy has been associated with 92 adverse event reports in that time, including 32 hospitalizations, Shelly Burgess, an FDA spokeswoman said Wednesday. The death reports are open cases being investigated by the FDA, she said.

It was revealed last month that Corona, Calif.-based Monster's drinks have been cited in the deaths of five people in the past year, according to incident reports that doctors and companies voluntarily file with the FDA.

5-Hour Energy said on its website that its energy shot contains the same amount of caffeine as 12 ounces of the leading cup of premium coffee.

In a statement, Living Essentials spokeswoman Elaine Lutz said, "it is important to note that submitting a serious adverse event report to the FDA, according the agency itself, is not construed by FDA as an admission that the dietary supplement was involved, caused or contributed to the adverse event being reported or that any person included in the report caused or contributed to the event." [1]

Energy drinks were the topic of one of my recent articles and earlier in the summer I touched on the importance of sleep to youth athletic development.  The following research shows a potentially strong association between energy drinks and poor sleep quality.

To determine the extent of energy drink use and the association with sleep problems and sleepiness during combat operations, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research analyzed data collected by Joint Mental Health Advisory Team 7 (J-MHAT 7) to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2010. The analysis showed that 44.8% of deployed service members consumed at least one energy drink daily, with 13.9% drinking three or more a day. Service members drinking three or more energy drinks a day were significantly more likely to report sleeping 4 hours or less a night on average than those consuming two drinks or fewer. Those who drank three or more drinks a day also were more likely to report sleep disruption related to stress and illness and were more likely to fall asleep during briefings or on guard duty.  [2]

The above study must be taken with some reservation considering the high stress environment that is experienced by active duty service members.  I know that kind of environment would negatively impact my ability to sleep.  It is unclear whether service members with sleep problems used more energy drinks to stay alert, or if heavy use of energy drinks led to sleep disruptions; published studies suggest a cyclical combination of both.

So why is poor sleep quality such a big deal especially for developing young athletes?

Med Page Today has an article discussing the correlation between a lack of sleep and increased rate of injuries.  The article cites a paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics and notes that sleeping less than 8 hours showed a statistically significant increase in injuries in adolescent sports.  I was more surprised to read that 77% of the students reported sleeping less than 8 hours. Perhaps all these energy drinks…

According to Matthew Milewski, MD, of Children's Hospital Los Angeles,
"Adolescent athletes may benefit from additional sleep as they get older. We'd like injury prevention programs to focus on sleep education."

Of the more than 38 million children who participate in organized sports each year, about 10% will receive medical treatment for sports injuries. Roughly half of the injuries are believed to be related to overuse, and about 50% of those are believed to be preventable, Milewski said. [3]

Several factors are thought to be associated with a greater risk for sports injury, including increased participation and specialization, strength training, and decreased time off, but it's possible that lack of sleep contributes as well.

Insufficient sleep -- defined by the CDC and the National Sleep Foundation as less than 8 hours per night among high school students -- is epidemic in this age group, Milewski said, pointing to a CDC study that found that about 68.9% of high school students were getting an inadequate amount of sleep.

Over a 21-month period, 57% of the athletes sustained injuries that were recorded by athletic trainers at the school; 38% of all athletes suffered multiple injuries.

Injuries affected a wide range of body parts, most commonly the hand or wrist (30 injuries), knee (28), shoulder (24), ankle (19), back (18), and head (17).

After multivariate adjustment, getting insufficient sleep was the strongest independent predictor of injury. [3]

The study joins previous analyses that have found associations between getting enough sleep and benefits for adolescents. For example, delaying the start of the school day at a private high school in Rhode Island resulted in teens getting more sleep, which in turn was associated with improvements in alertness and motivation and less daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and depressed mood. [3]

I have a strong sense that the current youth sport and technology culture are partially responsible for poor sleep quality in children. Young athletes experience competitive demands that closely rival that of fully developed professionals.  Kids play late at night and often has to get up early the next morning for school, maybe even an early practice or game. The quality of their nutrition is poor and they live this cycle nearly year round.  They have little downtime for physical and mental recovery, despite bodies that are literally changing everyday due to growth and development and restoration is exactly what is required for them realize and sustain physical and mental performance improvement.  Contrast this to pro athletes that travel on charter flights, have trained nutrition, fitness and therapeutic professionals at their beckon call and most importantly have at minimum an off-season of 3-4 months.  What ever lead us to believe kids could handle a pro-style schedule when they clearly are under equipped to do so?  Many kids are also over-stimulated due to constantly being connected via technology such as cell phones.  I am sure I am not the only one that knows a kid that text at all hours of the night?  Is it any wonder they may resort to something like an energy drink? 

This type of lifestyle for children can be the start of a slippery slope of behaviors that result from poor sleep quality and the ensuing fatigue that accompanies it.  Any program that hopes to maximize a child’s athletic development or classroom performance must address the importance of quality sleep.

Additional reading:

The importance of sleep for youth athletic development

Energy Drinks useful or slippery slope

As if energy drinks weren’t enough for parents to worry about now food companies are juicing up snack foods like Cracker Jacks!

The Detroit Free Press’ Mitch Albom also recently touched on this topic:

5-Hour Energy warned about deceptive ads:

Statistically Speaking
Military and civilian findings show that more than half of adolescents and young adults drink at least one energy drink per month, with approximately 6% consuming energy drinks daily. [2]

According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, the total amount of caffeine contained in some cans or bottles of energy drinks "can exceed 500 mg (equivalent to 14 cans of common caffeinated soft drinks) and is clearly high enough to result in caffeine toxicity." 

The Monster Beverage Corporation has stated that a 16-ounce can of Monster Energy contains 160 milligrams of caffeine (equivalent to more than four cans of Coke). A 24-ounce can of Monster contains 240 milligram of caffeine (equal to nearly seven cans of Coke).

Because of their high caffeine content, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that energy drinks "should never be consumed" by children or adolescents. 


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Confused Yet? What's Really In Your Food...

Want to avoid pesticides and antibiotics in your produce, meat, and dairy foods? Prefer to pay more to make sure farm animals were treated humanely, farm workers got their lunch breaks, and farmers use sustainable practices that benefit the environment and protect local communities?

Food labels claim to certify a wide array of sustainable practices. Hundreds of so-called eco-labels have cropped up in recent years, with more introduced every month — and consumers are willing to pay extra for products that feature them.

While eco-labels can play a vital role, experts say their rapid proliferation and lack of oversight or clear standards have confused both consumers and producers.

"Hundreds of eco labels exist on all kinds of products, and there is the potential for companies and producers to make false claims," said Shana Starobin, a food label expert at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Eco-labels have multiplied in recent years in response to rising consumer demand for more information about products and increased attention to animal and farm worker welfare, personal health, and the effects of conventional farming on the environment.

"Credible labels can be very helpful in helping people get to what they want to get to and pay more for something they really care about," said Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety at Consumer Reports. "The labels are a way to bring the bottom up and force whole industries to improve their practices."

The problem, Rangan and other said, is that few standards, little oversight and a lot of misinformation exist for the growing array of labels.

Some labels, such as the USDA organic certification, have standards set by the federal government to which third party certifiers must adhere. Some involve non-government standards and third-party certification, and may include site visits from independent auditors who evaluate whether a given farm or company has earned the label.

But other labels have little or no standards, or are certified by unknown organizations or by self-interested industry groups. Many labels lack any oversight.

And the problem is global, because California's products get sold overseas and fruits and vegetables from Europe or Mexico with their own eco-labels make it onto U.S. plates.

The sheer number of labels and the lack of oversight create a credibility problem and risk rendering all labels meaningless and diluting demand for sustainably produced goods, Rangan said. [1]

In California, on November 6 voters rejected a ballot measure that would have required labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients.  I wrote about this ballot proposal a few weeks ago.  The shocking aspect of this failed ballot initiative is that 90% of Californians polled supported the measure.  So why did it fail?  That’s a story for another day, but suffice to say follow the money.

The best way to avoid unwanted additives is to avoid all processed and packaged foods.  The certified organic label also ensures it is free of genetically modified ingredients.

What’s in a name?

While the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has stepped in to say that calling High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) “corn sugar” is not acceptable, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), whose job it is to decide whether or not ads aired on television are deceptive, has not.  The FTC is still allowing the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to advertise HFCS as “corn sugar” in TV advertisements.

In an effort to combat rising obesity rates, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas, and other food establishments. If approved, the ban could take effect as early as March 2013.

So what’s the big deal about HFCS, why are health experts and the media demonizing it?  According to Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, the fructose in HFCS can only be metabolized by your liver; since all fructose gets shuttled to your liver, and, if you consume high amounts of it, fructose ends up taxing and damaging your liver in the same way alcohol and other toxins do.  And just like alcohol, fructose is metabolized directly into fat—not cellular energy, like glucose.“

Natural health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola adds; “fructose is 'isocaloric but not isometabolic." This means you can have the same amount of calories from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, but the metabolic effect will be entirely different despite the identical calorie count. Excessive fructose consumption is at the heart of the obesity crisis, but cutting down on fructose consumption will require much more comprehensive changes to the American food industry, as well as dramatic changes to nutritional recommendations issued by the US government.”

I think most families are aware that excessive consumption of high fructose corn syrup is a negative and have made their will known by purchasing more whole foods and less processed food that is usually heavily laden with HFCS.  In fact, your response has been so strong it has forced the mass corn industry to respond with a shell game with their attempt to call HFCS, corn sugar.  The corn industry has also launched a campaign to separate the myth from the facts about HFCS.
They also have enlisted several experts including a few doctors to help convince the public that HFCS is safe and natural.  I don’t want to be cynical but I looked into the background of their leading health expert Dr. John S. White.  In Dr. White’s bio it stated that he enjoys an affiliation with the CRA based in Washington D.C.  So is this a political issue for Dr. White or one based upon sound facts and principles?

I don’t want this to degrade into conspiracy central but research must always be viewed through the lenses of who is behind the funding of said research.
Consider these two examples:

A recent study claiming red meat consumption causes premature death is flawed in a number of important ways. Among many other problems, the nutrition data for the study was collected via food questionnaires, meaning people had to recall what they’d eaten in the past. Furthermore, what the study found was what appears to be an association, which should not be misconstrued as causation, as some media outlets have portrayed it.

Confounding factors also appear to have been insufficiently accounted for, as those who ate more meat also had increasing incidence of obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and lack of exercise—all of which can shorten your lifespan.

There are vast differences between concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and organically raised, grass-fed beef, both in terms of nutrient content and contamination. A joint effort between the USDA and Clemson University researchers in 2009 determined a total of 10 key areas where grass-fed beef is better than grain-fed for human health. This too is a confounding factor not addressed in the study referenced below.

The fact that numbers can be fudged and facts twisted or withheld from public view is quite disturbing.  But quite simply getting back to nature can make the solution easier to accomplish.  Select as many whole foods as possible from local farmers that you can trust and cook as many meals as possible from scratch.  In addition to the foods that you eat, engage in vigorous exercise and liberating free play and you will have gone a long way toward safeguarding your health.  And thus eliminate the need to rely upon anything that needs to be proven through research.  Start you own research project; eat whole foods obtained from the farmers market and exercise with a purpose for an entire month and your body will tell you the results.  My guess is you just may gain a whole new outlook on life and earned the ability to throw away a few bottles after all is said and done.

Additional Reading

Here are the 10 key areas that Clemson/USDA researchers found grass-fed beef to be superior to grain-fed:

This article provides valuable insight on deciphering the claims on egg cartons.
Natural, free range, cage free or organic eggs, what’s the best choice?

When you hear the name Nestle’ some type of chocolate candy probably comes to mind.  What about Pfizer (drugs…)?  It caught my attention last week that the Nestle’ company attempted to purchase the nutrition division of Pfizer.  This is yet another example of why it’s best to obtain our food locally from farmers and vendors we know and trust.

What’s in your food, the truth about GMO’s: