2014 Holiday Foam Roller Giveaway

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Multiple Chances To Win!

roller

Can you believe Thanksgiving is over and the holidays are just weeks away? I’m celebrating by giving away a 6″ x 36″, EPE Black High Density Foam Roller, Round, 1.9 lbs per cubic foot, just like the one I use nearly every day. You may have read on this blog how important the foam roller is for my mobility and muscle pain management. For me, there is no better treatment for delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, than spending quality time with my foam roller.

The winner will be determined by a drawing to be held on December 20, 2014.

There are a few different ways to enter and you can earn multiple entries:

  • Sign up to receive the free Fit Over 50 Newsletter to earn a chance to win. Anyone already signed up will automatically earn a chance–no need to do anything.
  • To earn additional chances, simply refer your friends–for each person you refer that voluntarily signs up you will earn an additional chance in the drawing. The person you refer MUST sign up in order earn the additional chance. These is no limit to the number of chances you can earn!
  • Like” the Facebook page. Anyone who has already “liked” the Facebook page will automatically earn a chance–no need to do anything.

 

Thanks for entering, good luck and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

My Twisted Relationship With Gluten

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally enjoy and use--should you purchase using these links (products cost the same) I will receive a small commission. Please, help keep the lights on! Full disclosure policy.

bread-pasta-glutenLet’s face it, being gluten free is in! You and I probably can most likely name several people we know who are avoiding or giving up gluten and the internet and supermarket tabloid headlines are full of gluten free celebrities. Everyone seems to be talking about gluten–some calling it evil, others defending it and their choice to enjoy it. I heard a news story on the radio stating something along the lines that most of people, including those who are going gluten free, can’t articulate what gluten is. Sound like a fad?

What is gluten? According to the Celiac Disease Foundation:

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (durum, emmer, spelt, farina, farro, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together.

Make no mistake, gluten is extremely harmful for those with celiac disease, which is a genetic, autoimmune disease affecting about 1% of the United States population. From celiac.org, the following describes how gluten affects those with celiac disease:

When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.

So, my question, “Is gluten bad for those of us not diagnosed with celiac disease?”

homemade-pizza

One of my best homemade pies :)

Why am I so concerned? For one, I absolutely love the taste of foods containing gluten:

  • breads, cookies, cake, pies, donuts
  • pizza
  • beer
bread-machine

My never used bread machine

I own a bread machine and at one time played around with growing my own yeast dough. I have many pizza cookbooks, baking pans and stones. My house has not one, but two beer keg/taps! It’s safe to say I’m a major lover of gluten and gluten-containing foods.

Not one, but two beer taps...

Not one, but two beer taps…

But, does gluten love me? :) Looking back at my childhood, I don’t remember chronic digestive issues but I definitely experienced occasional GI discomfort which I though was just normal. As an adult I never felt like I had any symptoms pointing to a chronic digestive problem as I consumed massive amounts of gluten routinely. I’m talking about eating an entire pizza at one sitting or killing a box of donuts myself. Let’s not even talk about beer! :)

The point is, there were no obvious signs at the time that gluten affected me in any way. In May of 2014 I decided to conduct an experiment and try my hardest to go gluten free (there was a specific reason for this n=1 experiment which we shall get to shortly) for at least 90 days. I know I wasn’t completely gluten free because it turns out gluten is in just about everything! For example, I had no idea soy sauce had gluten in it, but many brands do, so I ate sushi for lunch and inadvertently consumed gluten. During those 90 days I would estimate I was 99% gluten free and I have to say I seemed to feel noticeably better both physically and mentally. This is clearly an observation based on correlation and I have no way to prove causation (meaning I can’t scientifically prove that removing gluten from my diet actually caused me to feel better). The mind is a powerful thing and who knows if I just felt better because my brain thought I should feel better, the classic “placebo effect.”

Regardless, if I felt better physically and mentally because of actual physiological reasons or merely because my mind “believed” it, the result is the same and I achieved a favorable outcome. The experiment, however, surfaced a much bigger benefit for me–something that is key to my larger nutritional goal, let me explain…

Why Gluten Free Works For Me

I strive to achieve my version of a Primal/Paleo eating pattern which I have been attempting and refining over the past few years. In a nutshell, I try to avoid:

  • refined sugar
  • grains–especially wheat
  • processed food

When I first started I tried very hard to adhere to the the 80-20 rule, stick to the plan 80% of the time, which I feel is a good way to ease into any kind of restrictive behavior change. I would estimate nearly 100% of the 20% of the time my eating fell eating outside the pattern probably included some food or drink with gluten. As I have repeated many, many times on this blog, sugar and grains are highly addictive substances for me and a tiny bit has the potential to turn into a binge which can lead to complete failure. So the 80-20 rule and the concept of “cheat” meals can be problematic for me. What I found when attempting to go gluten free–I mean really applying myself–is I began sticking to the plan much greater than 80% of the time!

Let’s go back to why I decided to conduct the gluten free experiment back in May of 2014. About a 15 months prior I had injured my ribs and, as a result of a CT scan, the radiologist found a nodule on my thyroid gland. There is a family history of thyroid issues including three immediate family members who currently take a thyroid medication. One of my top health goals is to never have to take a prescription medication long term, and it seems, for the most part, once on thyroid medication, always on thyroid medication. I began going back into my blood work history, looking at my TSH and I noticed a concerning trend–my TSH levels had begun to creep up, which can indicate the thyroid gland isn’t working properly.

Keep in mind I have no symptoms linked with a malfunctioning thyroid and my TSH and other thyroid blood levels were still in the acceptable range, but I saw them trending in the wrong direction. I began looking for possible explanations, one of which is Hashimoto’s disease, which is condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland and destroys its ability to function. Can you guess what the treatment for this is? That’s right, take a thyroid hormone replacement drug–exactly the outcome I want to avoid!

What causes Hashimoto’s disease? According to the Mayo clinic:

Doctors don’t know what causes your immune system to attack your thyroid gland. Some scientists think a virus or bacterium might trigger the response, while others believe a genetic flaw may be involved.

Further research beyond the established medical community and “conventional wisdom” revealed a strong connection between celiac disease and Hashimoto’s disease and:

Gluten can also trigger the very autoimmune reactions that cause you to have Hashi’s, since supposedly, the cells of your thyroid are similar to the cells of gluten, i.e. an attack on one is going to make your ripe for the attack on the other.

This was the basis for my 90 day gluten free experiment–I wanted to see if eliminating gluten helped with my thyroid hormone numbers. I have subsequently been tested and, thank goodness, do not have Hashimoto’s disease (I am in the midst of figuring out the whole thyroid issue, more on this in an upcoming post). What I did notice while trying in earnest to go gluten free is, when I permitted myself no wiggle room and treated the situation as if I had celiac disease and a single molecule of gluten might be harmful, I found myself eating clean with much less effort and struggle. I no longer had to contend and struggle with the “what’s one bottle of beer going hurt” scenario! Outside of sugar, the most tempting foods that cause me to stray from my preferred dietary pattern seem to include gluten. So, when I treat gluten almost as if it were a life-threatening poison (as it can be for severe celiac sufferers), I seem to not only eat more cleanly, but I do it with much less stress!

For me, aggressively attempting to avoid gluten has become a key tool in maintaining my preferred eating pattern and, more importantly, helped me reduce the stress associated with keeping the pattern and therefore increasing the consistency and sustainability of the diet. Is that to say I will never eat pizza, have a piece of birthday cake, or drink a beer? Hell no! :) I am still going to enjoy my life!

Do I care about the eye rolls that occasionally happen when I pass on bread at the restaurant? Nope. My goal is to try my hardest to use avoiding gluten as a tool to pass on foods containing grains and sugar as well as processed foods. It scares me when I encounter folks who tell me they are gluten free and then say, “It’s not so bad, I really like XXXXX brand of gluten free brownies, they taste great!” Replacing gluten containing products with other forms of processed garbage and full of sugar doesn’t fit my strategy at all–eating real, whole unprocessed food is my goal.

Please comment on your relationship with gluten. Does gluten overtly affect you physically? Do you think the gluten trend is hogwash? I want to know and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and beast in the gym!

 

Consistency Is Key To My Success

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally enjoy and use--should you purchase using these links (products cost the same) I will receive a small commission. Please, help keep the lights on! Full disclosure policy.

Consistency

One of the biggest keys in my quest for optimizing health and fitness is consistency. This applies to both the food I eat, exercising my body, as well as other behaviors I believe are keys to health, like sleep and fasting. Throughout my life I go through cycles where I am consistent when it comes to practicing one or more of these behaviors and then, sometimes by choice or sometimes by circumstance, I lose discipline and stray. Sleep is a good example (as I outlined in this post)–when I don’t focus on getting the proper amount of sleep, bad things usually happen, including getting sick, poor gym performance, and being grumpy to name a few. Eating poorly, especially sugar and wheat (because they are remarkably addictive to me), can be a serious problem–if I allow these things into my diet, even a little bit, on a regular basis, I can find myself doing very destructive things, like gobbling a box of donuts to combat stress. My goal is to consistently practice all of these critical behaviors at the same time: good diet, exercise, sleep, intermittent fasting. When I’m hitting on all cylinders, my mental, emotional, and physical optimization skyrockets resulting in:

  • better mood
  • increased performance
  • less illness
  • reduced mental and physical stress
  • a stronger and leaner body

As a result of much self experimentation, here are some of my “hows” and “whys” on consistency…

Turn Key Behaviors into Habits

Brushing-habitWhen I was a kid, my parents stressed the importance of dental hygiene and, for as far back as I can remember, I had to brush my teeth, at minimum, once in the morning and again before bed (if not after every meal if possible). This behavior, now a habit, is so ingrained in my being that, at the advanced age of 50 :) , I don’t consciously think about brushing my teeth twice a day, it just happens. Consistency. I’ve tried to make the following key behaviors habits, just like brushing my teeth:

I’ve found a few tricks that have helped me turn the above behaviors into habits:

  • follow a program or framework
  • do things at a consistent or set time
  • track or document progress toward goals

My history clearly shows that following a program or framework helps me convert a behavior into a habit and, when there’s a lack of structure, habits don’t form and consistency drops. Let’s look at my weight lifting past as an example. Before following the StrongLifts 5×5 (and now the StrongLifts Advanced) program, I thought I had structured approach to lifting weights. In reality though, I was the guy wandering around the gym hitting the chest, shoulders and triceps six different ways on “chest day” and then back and biceps on “back day” and twice a year I would throw in a “leg day.” :)

The problem for me with a very loose approach like the above is there are too many decision points. Lack of strict structure meant I was “allowed” to make make decisions on the fly and a decision might be, “I’m too tired this morning, so I’ll just skip ‘chest day’ and make it up tomorrow.” Having this kind of built in “opt out” mechanism constantly forced me think and make participation a choice and that’s not a habit. A habit is something I just do without thinking about it.

With my current approach, each workout, exercise, weight and rep is mapped out. If I skip a workout, the program gets messed up. Of course there are days when I skip workouts, but when this occurs, I work very hard to get back on schedule because the program builds on itself and I hate getting out of rhythm. Since moving to this very structured program about three-and-a-half years ago, my workout consistency has been remarkable (injuries aside)–so I know this is a key to consistency for me.
Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss

This applies to my current preferred eating pattern as well, which is my implementation of Primal/Paleo eating. By following my personal version of this eating framework, where I concentrate on eliminating refined sugar, grains, and processed food from my diet,  the decision points about what to eat drop dramatically and eating the right stuff becomes a habit instead of a series of agonizing decisions. When the waiter brings bread to the table now I don’t even think twice about if I should eat it…I just don’t out of habit…simple.

Another trick I have successfully used to turn these behaviors into habits is making a huge effort to execute the behaviors at relatively the same time of the day. I like to work out in the morning and I know my if I wait until the evening the chances of my skipping the workout increase dramatically. So just focusing on scheduling my workouts first thing is a simple way for me to make working out a habit and increasing consistency. The same thing applies to eating for me. It didn’t take long for me to turn my intermittent fasting behavior, trying to only eat in a set eight hour window, into a habit because I set the fasting time each day to start an noon and end at 8pm. Again, no decision points, just wait until noon to eat when possible.

Lastly, I have found documenting goals and performance against those goals to be a important factor in turning behaviors into habits. I am a results oriented person and I like to challenge myself on many fronts. From a weight lifting perspective, when I did not have a specific, documented goal and, just as important, tracking my progress toward that goal, I never made significant progress in actually getting stronger. I can remember lifting about the same weight on bench press for years, give or take 10 lb. Once I set a goal and began tracking my progress toward the goal (using a structured program), my bench press performance has increased dramatically. The same thing applies to other behaviors, like sticking to my desired eating and sleeping patterns. Until I started tracking my actual sleep times (using my FitBit One tracker) I had no idea how bad my sleep habits were. So, setting goals and tracking progress toward these goals is key for me.

Keep It Fun and Interesting

Whether it’s exercise or a specific diet strategy, if it’s not enjoyable, it most certainly won’t become sustainable activity in my life. For instance, I have never really enjoyed running, yet many times over the years I’ve attempted to incorporate running into my fitness regime. I’ve tried all kinds of tricks and distractions to make running enjoyable (listening to music, varying the distances, etc.), but have never been able to force myself to like it. I have finally learned, running is not my thing so I no longer fight it and just concentrate on physical exercise that I enjoy. This has resulted in enjoyable, consistent, long-term participation in these activities.

Fun-cookingI’ve also tried to make the implementation of my eating strategy fun and interesting through cooking. This isn’t a stretch for me I have always liked to experiment in the kitchen and cook. Some folks hate to cook and that is probably going to make an eating scenario like mine, avoiding processed foods, sugar, and grains, hard to sustain since most packaged and restaurant meals don’t really work. There are so many great cookbooks and web sites with recipes out there for creative, healthy dishes, that when I have the time I like to get my hands dirty (okay, probably a better way to make this point :) ) and try new things in the kitchen and this helps me stay consistent with my dietary goals.

Avoid Injury and Illness

injuryNothing is more frustrating to me and can derail my health and fitness goals than injury and illness. It’s almost guaranteed that athletes that challenge themselves and push for aggressive fitness goals are going to suffer injury–at least that’s been my experience. I hate working so hard to hit the next personal record on a lift and then get injured or sick, and have to recover and start the process over again. Similarly, on the rare occasions I get the flu or am sick enough to miss work, I tend to temporarily discard my preferred eating pattern and default to comfort food which often times is not the most healthy option. There are a few things that have helped me to avoid the dreaded injuries and illnesses:

  • start slow, it’s a marathon not a sprint
  • listen to my body and understand my limitations
  • don’t ignore mobility
  • get enough sleep

One of the great things about a beginner weight lifting program, like StrongLifts 5×5, is, if you follow the program as documented, you start with incredibly light weights and then progressively add a small amount of weight each workout until you fail. In fact, the programs starts each exercise with an empty barbell (45 lb.). When I first started the program I was tempted to “cheat” and add additional weight because the exercises were too easy. DON’T DO IT! Trust me, the weights get heavy soon enough so take the time, when the weight is light, to concentrate on form. Proper form in any exercise is what prevents those injuries. It doesn’t matter if I am walking, lifting, swimming or doing sprints, starting slow and concentrating on form is key to avoiding injury and promotes consistency.

Using the same “start slow” technique for diet and intermittent fasting was key as well. When I first decided to go Primal/Paleo, I did it in stages and made liberal use of the 80/20 technique–I tried to eliminate sugar, grains, and processed food 80% of the time and allowed leeway the other 20%. I knew from others’ experiences that changing cold turkey would be too difficult and my chances of consistency and long-term success would be slim. Same thing with fasting–I tried the eight hour eating window a couple of times a week in the beginning and in no time at all, with minimal struggle, intermittent fasting became a consistent way of life.

It is critical for me to listen to my body and know my limitations when it comes to working out and eating. I have preached quite a bit about how I follow a strict weight lifting program which progressively adds weight to each workout, but eventually everyone hits a wall and can no longer add weight. Over the three plus years I’ve been doing this style of program, there have been plenty of times where I just know to back off from a particular attempt because my body is just not ready to endure the stress at that moment. There is fine line between pushing past a mental obstacle and just going for it and understanding when to stop and not risk injury. I would much rather avoid an injury and be able to come back in two days to try again than to have to wait two or three months to heal and start over with very light weight.

I also have to listen to my body when it comes to eating. Some days my body craves more carbohydrate than other days and some days my body needs red meat. Once in a while my body feels like a complete cheat meal, so, with prudence, I’ll eat things that are far from my preferred foods. I’ve found it critically important to listen to my body in order to keep a long-term consistent diet strategy in tact and when I do my chances for success are greatly improved.


For years I ignored stretching and mobility and, in so doing, I’m sure I’ve suffered needless injury and certainly have hurt my performance. It wasn’t until I read the book, Becoming a Supple Leopard, and began using a foam roller and proper stretching on a consistent basis was I able to get rid of the pain and tight muscles that made doing compound barbell lifts unbearable for me.
Just adding a five minutes of foam rollling and stretching before and after each workout has done wonders and the result is better consistency because of reduced injury and minimal aches and pains (DOMS).

Sleep in general is such an important aspect of my health, but even more important as a weapon against illness and injury. In the short few months I’ve been tracking my sleep habits with my FitBit One, I have already observed a correlation between lack of sleep and getting sick. I also know that, due to the stress of heavy weightlifting, my body requires quality sleep in order to recover and rebuild. For me, not focusing on getting the proper amount and quality of sleep is simply inviting illness and injury which, in turn, negatively affects my consistency in all aspects of health and fitness.

Conclusion

Being consistent in all aspects of health and fitness isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s certainly a key factor in my goal to optimize my life as I age.  These aspects include exercising, eating properly, and getting quality sleep. My consistency in these areas increase dramatically when behaviors become habits, I keep it fun and interesting, and when I avoid injury and illness. If I can use these techniques to be consistent, the benefits are amazing!

How do you manage consistency in your quest for health and fitness? Please leave a comment and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

 

My Secret Weapon: Sleep

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally enjoy and use--should you purchase using these links (products cost the same) I will receive a small commission. Please, help keep the lights on! Full disclosure policy.

sleeping-coupleI have been a member of the “Type A,” high stress club for most of my adult life. This behavior started in college as I went to class and studied during the day, waited tables at night, and spent any spare moments doing what college kids do: party! This behavior continued as I embarked on my career as a programmer/analyst–in the office early, work late then hit town for a few drinks and relaxation. Then I got married and eventually the kids came along while juggling a high-stress sales job. Does any of this sound familiar? :)

stressed-manI can say with great certainty the above lifestyle did not promote healthy sleep habits. In fact, like many of you, I was often proud of my ability to function on very little amounts of sleep, not knowing or really caring how it affected my health. Yep, I was the proverbial, “I can sleep when I’m dead” guy.

The scientific journals are full of articles detailing the importance of getting enough sleep and the bad consequences if we don’t. I’m not going to fill this post up with links to those articles–just type “importance of sleep” into Google and you can read to your heart’s content. :) I will say this about the the articles that try to specify the precise amount of sleep an human should get in order to be health, it’s my belief each of us are unique and, like most anything, each individual has different sleep requirements. Heck, we all know people that need eight or more hours a night as well as super high functioning folks that claim to be able to exist on a mere four or five hours.

With that said, I can only relate the importance of sleep for me as your mileage will most certainly vary. For me, sleep is one of my “Big 4” factors for optimizing health and ranks right up there with diet, exercise and controlling stress. By the way, no big secret, the “Big 4” are all related and greatly affect each other in one way or another. For example, when I eat poorly, especially drinking to much alcohol, my quality of sleep is greatly affected which leads to increased stress. Conversely, when I exercise hard, I feel less stress and usually am rewarded by good quality sleep.

In fact, since I have been following concentrating on heavy-weight, low-rep compound barbell workouts, my body requires high quality sleep to recover and repair from the stress. I really don’t have too much trouble falling to sleep when I am able to follow my workout plan and do my lifting three times a week.

How can I tell if I’m getting enough sleep? Simple things, really:

  • I’m happy and in a great mood
  • Lower stress levels
  • Strong and productive workouts
  • I feel efficient and productive
  • My mind is sharp and creative
  • I’m able to relax
  • I wake up in the morning without an alarm clock

flyingTrouble for me happens when life gets in the way, which happens more often than I like. Here’s a perfect example: I have to go out of town for work leaving on a Wednesday morning and returning on Friday. Chances are I will have to wake up very early on Wednesday morning to catch an early flight–normal sleep is cut short with an alarm and I miss my regular early morning workout. Airline travel is stressful for me anyway, but since my sleep has been cut short and I’ve skipped my workout, the stress is tripled. :( When on the road, my days and nights are usually packed with customer meetings and dinners which can lead to eating bad food and drinking too much alcohol which most certainly results in poor, low quality sleep. This usually means I’m too busy or not motivated to properly workout while I’m out of town which hurts my ability to deal with stress which further hurts my sleep. If I happen to be traveling out of my home timezone, then you can add jet lag into the equation as well and, by the way, it takes me several days if not weeks to recover from a week on the West coast.

You see that a simple three day business trip, especially to a different timezone, has the potential to seriously disrupt all of my “Big 4” factors especially my sleep. But this is just part of life and my job requires some amount of travel, so I try my best to plan my trips so I can mitigate the ill effects of travel but sleep disruption is the hardest to deal with. Let’s face it, I can control every bit of food and drink that goes into my body and I can make an effort to work out while on the road–I can’t, however, force the airlines to make their flights around my delicate sleeping schedule! :)

When I am home and a little more in control, it’s still a challenge for me to have the discipline to get my sleep in. Sometimes I have had to make it priority to forgo some things I want or need to do and just go to bed. I’ve found the benefits (see that list above) far outweigh writing that email, or catching up on Facebook, or whatever else might distract me from getting that precious sleep.

Specifically, how much sleep do I really require? I have figured out the best way to answer this question to conduct an experiment on myself (n=1 test). I’ve been tracking my sleep with my FitBit One tracker, which is probably not super accurate, but good enough for me to get a sense of how much sleep I’m getting and what what quality of that sleep is (how many times I wake up and am restless throughout the night). After monitoring for a few months two things jump out:

  1. Before tracking, I really had no idea how much or little sleep I was getting and, probably more importantly, in general I wasn’t getting the amount or quality of sleep my body needs.
  2. The most useful information I get from tracking sleep, both quantity and quality, comes from matching the recorded data with how I actually feel the next day (again, see the list above).

So much like tracking calories eaten or weights/reps lifted, monitoring my sleep most definitely has helped me understand when I’m not getting enough quality sleep and helps me to change my behavior and make sleep a priority. The results for me clearly show a direct correlation between sleep and mood, stress level, personal production, etc.

10-13-2014-sleep-detailLastly, through sleep tracking, I also noticed a correlation between lack of sleep and getting sick. Last month I caught a nasty cold and a review of my sleep data in the days prior to the illness show me getting far fewer hours of quality sleep time that normal. I’m not willing to say lack of sleep caused me to get sick, but I do believe sleep if a major factor in keeping my immune system strong.

I think most of us feel better when we get good high-quality sleep. When I’m grumpy, unmotivated, and unproductive one of the first things I concentrate on is making sleep a priority and I find things turn around quickly. However, if I ignore the signals and sacrifice sleep everything seems to spiral out of control and often times I end up getting sick! :( I have learned my secret weapon for optimizing my health is quality sleep.

Is sleep a priority for you? What tips do you have for getting good, quality sleep? I’d love to get your comments and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!