Fitness Training On-demand: Convenience and Value for the Consumer

It’s no surprise that the same technology that brings us family face time and bu

siness meetings from remote locations has entered the world of fitness. We’ve been using exercise apps for years, and personal trainers can book sessions online through a variety of programs. Taking the next step to actually training through cyber-space is the most logical progression.

The virtual gym is a win-win for both trainers and clients; the biggest selling points being convenience and cost effectiveness. For the individual with a busy schedule, it is no longer necessary to make the time to travel to a gym. Young mothers can even meet their trainer while their babies are down for a nap. Per-session costs are usually less than the standard one-on-one charge, and no gym membership is required. In addition, most exercise modalities are offered, including yoga, Pilates, and even group classes. Online training is often considered a significant improvement over video workouts, because the instructor is live and can personalize your routine as you go.

There is a growing marketplace for virtual training, sometimes called “Skyper-cize.” Consumers can access workouts via YouTube, Google+, or any video conferencing application such as FaceTime. Companies like Gymgo, Virtufit, and Premier Fitness offer pre-vetted trainers and special packages to those who are looking to try an online trainer but don’t know where to start. The wide selection of trainers available online provides a greater range of choices and available times. Many private trainers also are adding online training to their business practices. Online training allows business to be dictated by fitness rather than the other way around.

Of course, nothing is perfect, and for all its value there are still drawbacks to virtual training. Attention to detail will lessen in comparison to a face-to-face session, and a certain level of user ability is desired and often assumed. For instance, beginning exercisers and persons with balance issues or in rehabilitation from an injury would likely not be good candidates for virtual training. Clients also need to be aware of false promises! Be sure that the trainer is truly qualified; look for trainers with a certification from an accredited organization. Find out specifically what you will be getting for your money, and request a virtual interview before making a purchase.

Virtual training is certainly the wave of the future, from group classes to one-on-one coaching and exercise, and like any new direction there are great benefits and some risks. Be open to the possibilities for your health and wellness while being mindful of potential hazards.

American College of Sports Medicine

Why Am I Not Getting Leaner?

“I religiously track my food and exercise. I’m eating 1,300 calories (the number my tracker told me to eat if I want to lose 2 pounds a week). I’ve been following a strict diet and the scale hasn’t budged. My friends tell me I am eating too little. I think I must be eating too much because I am not losing weight. I feel so confused… What am I doing wrong?”

I often hear this complaint from weight-conscious people who don’t know if they are eating too much or too little. They believe fat loss is mathematical. Exercising to burn 500 calories more or eating 500 calories less per day will result in losing 1 pound (3,500 calories) of fat per week, correct? Not always. Weight reduction is not as mathematical as we would like it to be.

Is It a Diet or a Famine?
If you are already exercising like crazy and are eating far less than you deserve—but the scale doesn’t budge—you might wonder if something is wrong with your metabolism. Are you eating the wrong kinds of foods? What’s going on?

When athletes have excess body fat to lose, they tend to lose it relatively easily. But when they get close to their race- and/ or dream-weight, fat loss can slow to a crawl. That’s when frustration sets in. You might think reducing your calorie intake even more would be a good idea. No. You would deprive your body of too many nutrients, to say nothing of decreasing your energy to perform well.

When you significantly restrict calories, your brain perceives the lack of food as a famine. Doing extra exercise makes the situation worse, especially when your body is at a low weight. With no excess fat to lose, your body conserves energy and maintains weight at a calorie intake that historically would have resulted in fat loss.

Nature protects the body from losing weight during a (perceived) famine by slowing your calorie-burn: The heart rate slows (not due to fitness but rather to lack of fuel). Blood flow to extremities slows to keep your organs warm. Your hands and feet feel cold all the time. The stomach/intestinal tract slows; constipation can become an issue. The hormonal system reverts to preadolescence. Women produce less estrogen and stop having regular menstrual periods. Men produce less testosterone. You feel excessively tired. You can muster up energy to exercise, but then are droopy the rest of the day. Fatigue becomes your middle name.

The Role of Genetics
When an athlete complains about lack of fat loss despite rigid food restriction, one of my first questions is “How do you look compared to others in your genetic family? Are you leaner—or far leaner—than they are?” The standard response is “far leaner.” Remember, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Nature’s blueprint for your body might differ from your dream physique.

Pay attention to what others say about your body. If your mom or partner says you are too thin, listen up and stop striving to be leaner yet. Rather than struggle to lose those last few pounds, gently accept your physique and be grateful for what your body does for you. It is strong, healthy, powerful, and able to do what you ask it to do (run a marathon, raise a family, train for and complete an Ironman, bike 100 miles, etc.). It is a resilient vehicle that carries you through each day. It’s good enough. Hopefully, you will not have to experience a broken leg or be diagnosed with cancer before you learn to be grateful for your body and how it allows you to walk, run and live an active lifestyle—regardless of your size or shape.

Eat More, Get Fat? 
You can stop the diet/famine by eating more; you will not instantly get fat. Rather, your metabolism will quickly return to normal. If your body is too thin, it will strive to restore itself to a genetic weight. This is why athletes can have a hard time staying at their “racing weights.” Being too thin is very hard to maintain.

If you believe you still have excess flab to lose, yet the scale doesn’t budge despite your strict diet, what can you do? I generally recommend eating more and exercising less. To the shock of many of my calorie-deprived clients, this tends to work better than exercising more and eating less. Sounds counter intuitive. How can that be true?

Think of your body as being a campfire. When it has three logs to burn, it generates a lot of heat. When it has just one log, it produces just a small flame. The same is true of your body; the more fuel it has, the more calories you will burn.

While adding calories, focus on the benefits: how much better you feel, the power in your workouts, your happier mood and better quality of life. If you don’t trust your body and are fearful that eating more will result in your regaining the weight you worked so hard to lose, get help. A sports dietitian can guide you through this process. Use the referral network at SCANdpg.org to find your local expert.

Are Fitness Trackers Helpful? 

Fitness trackers offer information that is interesting but not precise. Something strapped on your wrist can sort of measure what your legs are doing, but many variables impact accuracy. For example, pushing a baby jogger with straight arms gives a different step count than if you were to run with freely swinging arms1.

As for energy expenditure, note that some of the calories reported as being burned during your workout include calories you would have burned in that hour regardless of exercise. Knowing calories burned can be dangerous. “Oh, I just burned 500 calories, so now I deserve to eat ice cream!!!” Tracking might not enhance fat loss2.

Your body is your best calorie counter. Instead of tracking calories to determine if you have eaten the correct amount, try listening to your body. Before you eat, ask yourself “Am I eating because my body needs fuel—or because I am bored, lonely, or stressed? Am I stopping eating because I am satisfied, or just because I think I should?” By eating mindfully, you will not overeat nor under eat. You’ll simply relearn skills from childhood when you ate when you were hungry, stopped when you were content, maintained a good weight, and never ran out of energy. Life is better when you are free from being in food jail.

About the Author 
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., CSSD, has a private practice in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875), where she helps both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes create winning food plans. Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer are available at nancyclarkrd.com. For her online sports nutrition workshop, co-presented with exercise physiologist John Ivy, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

American College of Sports Medicine

Anywhere Fitness

Holiday travel brings images of the seashore or the mountains and all the activities of the great outdoors; swimming, boating, hiking, biking and fresh air. In reality, travel isn’t always so picture-postcard perfect, so if you’re taking a trip that doesn’t include physical activity, a little creativity and resourcefulness will be necessary to stay on top of your game.

Probably the biggest obstacle to keeping active while traveling is the extended amount of time spent sitting. Long flights, train trips and hours behind the wheel of a car are just some examples. There are also itineraries that keep you sedentary, such as the many hours in conference sessions associated with business travel. When you add in the reduced access to exercise accommodations, you can really lose ground regarding your fitness goals. But there are ways to overcome these snags.

Before you leave on your trip take account of what your surroundings will be. Does the hotel where you are staying have a fitness center? A pool? Is there a park nearby where you can take an energizing jog? Park benches are excellent props for incline pushups, squats, seated leg lifts and other bodyweight exercises. Pack your work out gear so that you can take advantage of these settings and keeping active will be easy.

The truth is, if you have space enough to move, you can insert a little exercise. Walking is probably the most versatile, and a vigorous daily walk is a recognized way to stay fit. You can walk the airport, or the hallways of your hotel or its neighboring streets. Do a heel to toe pace, rolling through the foot and pushing off the toes; pump your arms to increase the heart rate; alternate with lunges to work the leg muscles.

When you are in the room, a circuit work out is an excellent way to make effective use of downtime. Without a single prop, you can perform a circuit which combines:

  • squats
  • lunges
  • knee lifts
  • plank holds
  • roll ups

Consider purchasing something portable—such as exercise bands or tubing. Most sporting goods stores and department stores sell them. They are inexpensive and offer an easy way to add resistance to your routine. They also come with exercise examples and descriptions. Handy! If you like direction, there are many video workouts that can be downloaded or streamed to your computer or portable device.

Turning downtime into a quick, refreshing work out is easy if you think about it; but it requires commitment, because it’s also easy not to exercise. Decide what your plan will be, schedule it into your daily agenda and set reminders. That way you’ll be sure to stay in top form while you’re away.

By Sue Brown

Meal Timing: Does It Matter When You Eat?

Meals and snacking patterns often need to be altered when traveling. As a result, I get questions from both athletes and non-athletes alike about how to best fuel their bodies: Should I stop eating after 8:00 p.m.? Which is better: to eat three or six meals a day? Does it really matter if I skip breakfast? Because meals can be a central part of our social life—and busy training schedules can contribute to chaotic eating patterns—many athletes disregard the fact that food is more than just fuel. When (and what) you eat impacts your future health (and today’s performance).

Food consumption affects the central clock in your brain. This clock controls circadian rhythms and impacts all aspects of metabolism, including how your organs function. Restricting daytime food and eating in chaotic patterns disrupts normal biological rhythms. The end result: erratic meal timing can impact the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD), type-2 diabetes and obesity.

Breakfast: Is It Really the Most Important Meal of the Day? If you define breakfast as eating 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories within two-hours of waking, about one-fourth of U.S. adults do not eat breakfast. This drop in breakfast consumption over the past 40 years parallels the increase in obesity. Breakfast skippers tend to snack impulsively (think donuts, pastries, chips and other fatty foods). They end up with poorer quality diets and increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and overweight/obesity.

Eating a wholesome breakfast starts the day with performance enhancing fuel at the right time for your body’s engine. If you exercise in the morning, fuel up by having part of your breakfast before working out and then enjoy the rest of the breakfast afterwards. This will help you get more out of your workout, improve recovery—and click with natural circadian rhythms.

Meal Frequency: Is it Better to Eat 1, 3, 6, 9 or 12 Times a Day? In terms of weight, eating 2,000 calories divided into 1, 3, 6, 9, or 12 meals doesn’t change your body fatness. In a study where breakfast provided 54 percent of the day’s calories and dinner only 11 percent of calories—or the reverse, the subjects (women) had no differences in fat loss. Yet, in terms of cardiovascular health, the big breakfast led to significant reductions in metabolic risk factors and better blood glucose control. The bigger breakfast matched food intake to circadian rhythms that regulated metabolism.

Athletes who skimp at breakfast commonly get too hungry and then devour way too many calories of ice cream and cookies. If they do this at night, when the body is poorly programmed to deal with an influx of sweets, they are paving their path to health issues. Hence, if you are eating a lot of calories at night, at least make them low in sugary foods, to match the reduced insulin response in the evening. This is particularly important for shift workers, who eat at odd hours during the night and tend to have a higher rate of heart disease.

Should you stop eating after 8:00 p.m.? There’s little question that late-night eating is associated with obesity. Research with 239 U.S. adults who ate more than one-third of their calories in the evening had twice the risk of being obese. Among 60,000 Japanese adults, the combination of late-night eating plus skipping breakfast was associated with a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

A study with 2,200 U.S. middle-aged women reports each 10 percent increase in the number of calories eaten between 5:00 p.m. and midnight was associated with a 3 percent increase in C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. Inflammation is associated with diabetes, CVD and obesity. Wise athletes make a habit of eating the majority of their calories earlier in the day, to curb evening eating.

The Best Plan: Plan to Eat Intentionally. Failing to plan for meals can easily end up in missed meals, chaotic fueling patterns and impaired health, to say nothing of reduced performance. If you struggle with getting your food act together, consult with a sports dietitian who will help you develop a winning food plan. Use the referral network at http://www.SCANdpg.org to find a local sports RD.

Instead of holding off to have a big dinner, enjoy food when your body needs the fuel: when it is most active. If you worry you’ll eat just as much at night if you eat more during the day (and you’ll “get fat”), think again. Be mindful before you eat and ask yourself: Does my body actually need this fuel?

Most active women and men can and should enjoy about 500 to 700 calories four times a day: breakfast, early lunch, second lunch, and dinner. To overcome the fear that this much food will make you fat, reframe your thoughts. You are simply moving calories in your pre- and/or post-dinner snacks into a substantial and wholesome second lunch (such as a peanut butter-honey sandwich, or apple, cheese and crackers). The purpose of this second lunch is to curb your evening appetite, refuel your muscles from your workout earlier in the day (or fuel them for an after-work session) and align your food intake to your circadian rhythms. Give it a try?

By Nancy Clark, MS RD CSSD

Staying Active By Airport Walking

Whether traveling for business or pleasure, chances are that many of us will find ourselves in an airport at some point in the coming months. While travel days can sometimes be chaotic as you try to get to the airport on time, haul luggage in and out of the car and make sure you have not accidentally left any of the necessities at home (even though you triple-checked to make sure you have your phone charger), incorporating walking as part of your experience can have many benefits. Here are some of the ways walking can benefit you and your family during travel:

1. Meet physical activity guidelines – Current guidelines recommend that adults accumulate the equivalent of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as walking. This activity can be accumulated in sessions as short as ten minutes. Regularly engaging in this amount of physical activity can reduce the risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. It is important to realize that even on days when you’re traveling, the airport can be a great place to sneak in some physical activity. For example, you can choose to walk to your departure gate instead of riding a train or shuttle. In addition, if you arrive to the airport early or have time between connecting flights, you can use that time to walk around instead of sitting at the gate.

2. Relieve stress – Beyond the multitude of health benefits offered by engaging in regular physical activity, walking while at the airport can help relieve some of the stress associated with travel. If you are a nervous flyer, taking a walk through the airport before boarding your flight may help calm you and improve your mood. In addition, if you are traveling with children, walking around the airport is a great way to let them release some energy before takeoff. Walking before and between flights may also be beneficial for anyone who suffers from circulatory problems, improving blood flow before a long flight.

3. Find adventure – Many airports across the U.S. have art and culture exhibits set up for visitors to enjoy. Some focus on the history of the city or the airport itself, giving visitors a chance to experience the city without ever leaving the airport. Other airports display impressive artwork from local artists or keep children occupied during long waits with interactive exhibits. Doing a bit of pre-travel research about the airport out of which you will be flying or connecting could provide you with an idea of any art or cultural exhibits you may want to check out! Next time you are headed to the airport, make sure to take a comfortable pair of shoes so you can walk, de-stress and enjoy the journey.

Quick Tips:

  • If you are traveling for business and footwear is an issue, pack a pair of comfortable shoes in your carry-on bag so you can quickly change to walk around.
  • You can always ask an airport employee if there is a way to get to your departure gate or desired destination by walking instead of taking a train or shuttle.
  • Check out the website of the airports from which you will be departing or connecting to see what kind of art or cultural exhibits they may have!
  • If traveling with others, take turns walking in smaller groups so you can watch each other’s luggage.

By Virginia Frederick