Coconut oil has elbowed its way onto grocery store shelves across the country, and it is rapidly growing more popular. This trend is a change from the 1990s, when coconut oil fell out of favor because of its high saturated fat content. Now coconut oil manufacturers bill this tropical fat as a healthy alternative to other oils. Many vegans rely on coconut oil as a sweet vegetable fat, and coconut oil is also a popular fat for anyone who is following a Paleo diet or eating lactose-free foods.
Should coconut oil be in your diet? To decide whether coconut oil is right for you, you need to know which nutrients your body needs. The best way to learn this is with a blood test. InsideTracker blood analysis measures key biomarkers in your blood and provides nutrition recommendations based on a database of over 7500 foods to help you choose foods that will help to optimize your well-being and performance. Read on to learn more about coconut oil and whether it has a place in your grocery cart.
What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil comes from pressing out the natural oil in coconut flesh. It’s very popular in southeast Asian cuisine and has a variety of culinary uses, including cooking and baking. Many people use it to make stir-fries and sautéed dishes, but it’s not ideal for frying because it has a lower smoke point than other oils, such as canola and peanut oil. Unlike its counterparts, coconut oil is solid below 76 F because it has a very high saturated fat content, which makes it resistant to spoilage and gives it a very long shelf life. In fact, coconut oil contains about 90% saturated fat, much more than butter (about 64%), beef fat (40%), peanut oil (17%), olive oil (15%) or canola oil (7%).
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that saturated fats should make up less than 10% of total daily calories to reduce total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol levels. High levels of LDL can result in a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries, and eventually, LDL cholesterol can enter your blood vessel walls and begin to build up under the a restricted blood flow. Although some research has questioned the link between saturated fat and poor heart health, studies have found that replacing saturated fats and trans fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats reduces the levels of LDL cholesterol and increases the levels of HDL cholesterol, improving heart health.
What are the benefits of coconut oil?
The saturated fat in coconut oil and other plant-based oils is generally considered to be healthier than saturated fats from animal sources. In addition, recent studies have shown that coconut oil in its natural form boosts healthy HDL cholesterol. HDLs act as cholesterol scavengers, carrying cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver, which removes it from your body. The higher your levels of HDL, the healthier your heart is likely to be.
However, the fat in extra virgin coconut oil is different from the fat in hydrogenated coconut oil. Hydrogenation creates trans fats, which are made by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats. This process creates fats that are less likely to spoil than naturally occurring oils, thus extending the shelf life of the foods they’re used in. Research studies show that synthetic trans fat can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol, which increases a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease. Coconut oil received a bad reputation in the 1990s partially due to hydrogenated coconut oil, which has a high trans fat content.
Virgin coconut oil is also different from other oils because it has a high medium chain triglyceride (MCT) content, whereas most oils consist entirely of long-chain triglycerides (LCT). Our bodies actually metabolize MCTs differently than LCTs, transporting MCTs directly from the intestines to the liver, where they’re more likely to be burned off as fuel and slightly raise the metabolic rate. In contrast, LCTs are more likely to circulate throughout the body and be deposited in fat tissue. So, the MCT content in coconut oil has two benefits for athletes: it can be metabolized quickly for energy and it may increase HDL cholesterol.
Because it is quickly metabolized, coconut oil can provide a significant amount of energy from fat; fats contain 9 calories per gram, compared with 4 calories per gram in carbohydrates and protein. Fat’s calorie density, along with your body’s nearly unlimited storage capacity for fat, makes it your largest reserve of energy. One pound of stored fat provides approximately 3,600 calories of energy. While these calories are less accessible to athletes performing quick, intense efforts like sprinting or weight lifting, they become essential for lower intensity and endurance exercise such as long-distance cycling and running. In fact, your body actually stores some fat in the muscle fibers themselves.
Should I eat coconut oil?
To sum it up, coconut oil has a terrific flavor, and there’s no harm in using it in small amounts. However, due to its high saturated fat content, it should be used sparingly. Most of the research that has been done on coconut oil thus far has consisted of short-term studies that have examined its impact on cholesterol levels, which means that we don’t really know how long-term consumption of coconut oil will affect heart health. Furthermore, coconut oil might not be as nutritious as other plant-based oils, such as olive oil, because these oils are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, which means they lower LDL while increasing HDL cholesterol.
So coconut oil can provide some of the calories you need to have from fat, but a little bit goes a very long way. To learn more about how to incorporate healthy fats into your diet, sign up for InsideTracker today.
Many people think of nutrition bars as a health food, but are they really good for you? Unfortunately, the answer is not a simple yes or no. Some brands of nutrition bars can make for a healthy quick snack, but many varieties contain as much calories and sugar as a candy bar! While nutrition bars are a convenient way to stock up on calories and carbohydrates, don’t become dependent on them and miss the benefits of whole foods in your diet.
What are some alternatives to nutrition bars?
If you find yourself grabbing a nutrition bar instead of sitting down and eating breakfast, there are several other options that are easy to prepare! Try some of these meals the next time you find yourself strapped for time in the morning:
- Oatmeal with brown sugar, almonds, skim milk, and a banana
- Dried fruit and a hard-boiled egg
- Low-fat yogurt with granola and nuts
If you’re looking for a good pre or post-workout snack, you should concentrate on incorporating healthy carbohydrates, protein, and fat, combinations in order to keep yourself energized during your workout and recover quickly when you’re done. Try some of these easy alternatives for a meal or a snack:
- Hummus sandwich on pita bread with carrots – this protein-and-carb combination will help keep you satisfied during a long workout.
- Sweet potatoes and kidney beans – sweet potatoes are high in carbs, fiber, and vitamin A, while kidney beans will provide you with the protein that you need for muscle recovery.
- Oatmeal with brown sugar, almonds, skim milk, and a banana - oatmeal is a great choice for long runs because it helps keep you satisfied without weighing you down
- Peanut butter & honey on whole-wheat toast – this snack is popular among vegetarian athletes because peanut butter is an excellent source of protein.
- Low-fiber cereal with skim milk – Since muscles can convert simple carbs into energy faster than fiber-rich foods, try low-fiber cereal if you’re eating right before exercise.
- Low-fat yogurt with banana – bananas are an excellent source of both potassium and carbohydrates, while the yogurt provides your body with the sugar and protein that it needs to stay energized.
- Lean hamburger on a bun and some mixed yogurt and fruit – red meat is an excellent source of iron and protein, and serves as a perfect compliment to the vitamins and minerals that are found in the fruit.
- Hard-boiled eggs – not only are eggs a great source of protein, but this low-calorie snack is also a great choice for people who are watching their weight.
What if I want to make my own nutrition bar?
Convenience is a big factor in nutrition bars—there is no mess, no preparation, and no refrigeration required. The bars also have a long shelf life, so you can store them in your desk or cupboard without having to worry that they will spoil. However, you can’t control the ingredients, so if you have the time, you might try making your own nutrition bars. Here are some healthy ingredients to use in your homemade bars:
Oats – Oats are one of the healthiest grains. They’re high in fiber, help lower your cholesterol, and keep you feeling fuller for longer periods of time. They’re also a great source of , copper, , selenium, , manganese, and vitamin E.
Seeds and nuts – Many nutrition bars contain seeds or nuts, which can be part of a healthy diet. They’re high in protein, which will help you feel full and provide you with energy throughout the day, and also contain fiber, vitamin E, and selenium. Pumpkin seeds are one of the best non-meat sources of , and flax seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Sunflower seeds are also an excellent way to increase your intake of vitamin B1 and vitamin E.
Dried fruit – Dried fruit is one of the healthiest sugar substitutes. They’re high in fiber and phytochemicals, which provide a range of beneficial functions like improving your immune system and reducing the risk of poor cell health. However, be careful when picking your dried fruit—avoid brands that contain added or refined sugar.
Healthy fats - Some types of cholesterol and decrease healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.are good for you in moderation. Olive, soybean, corn, and safflower oil are much better for you than the partially hydrogenated oils that are commonly used in many nutrition bars. Processed fats can increase unhealthy LDL
If you eat nutrition bars, choose healthy ones and eat them in moderation. Be sure that your diet also includes plenty of fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains! Based on your blood analysis, can help you to choose a varied diet that will meet your body’s unique needs. plans
Want healthy bones? Be sure that you are getting enough calcium! Many people—both men and women—fail to meet their recommended dietary intake of calcium. In fact, some studies show that 90% of women and 70% of men don’t consume the recommended daily allowance of calcium. To maintain optimal health, men and women aged 19-50 need 1000 mg of calcium each day; women over 50 and men over 70 need 1200 mg per day. This is especially important for women, who are at a greater risk for bone-related disorders like osteoporosis. Athletes are another group who need to pay close attention to their calcium since they need to have strong bones in order to compete at their peak!
The best way to learn about your calcium status is through a blood test. InsideTracker is a blood analysis service that measures key blood biomarkers, including calcium. If your calcium levels are too low or too high, InsideTracker gives you simple nutrition, exercise, supplement, and lifestyle interventions to improve them.Why is calcium important?
Almost all of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth. Bones are living and growing calcified connective tissues that form the major part of your skeleton. Calcium is an important part of the “bone mineralization” process, which helps to give your skeleton its structure and strength.
In bone mineralization, small amounts of calcium are removed from and replaced in the bones. If your body doesn’t receive enough calcium through diet or supplementation, your bones become weaker. Having low calcium levels puts you at greater risk of breaks and fractures because more calcium is removed from your bones than is replaced, especially if you participate in such high-impact sports as running or gymnastics.
In addition to protecting our bones, calcium plays an important role in other physical functions, such as muscle contraction, nerve conduction, regulation of enzyme activity, and the formation of cell membranes. Maintaining proper amounts of calcium can also help prevent high blood pressure.
What happens if you don’t get enough calcium?
When you’re chronically low in calcium, your bones and teeth begin to slowly deteriorate because your body is using its calcium stores to perform other functions, such as muscle contraction and forming new cell membranes. Poor blood clotting can also occur as a result. Osteoporosis, which literally means “porous bones,” is the condition that is most often associated with inadequate calcium. If you have osteoporosis, your bones have begun to weaken. Low calcium intake is a problem for post-menopausal women, who are already at a larger risk for developing bone-related disorders. In fact, an estimated 10 million Americans, which includes 8 million women and 2 million men, have osteoporosis.
What are some good food sources of calcium?
So, where can you get your recommended intake of calcium? When people hear “calcium,” they often think of dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, which are rich sources of calcium. Low-fat dairy products have nearly the same amount of calcium as full-fat versions. There are also good non-dairy calcium-rich foods for anyone who is sensitive to lactose, or prefers to avoid dairy products. Dark leafy greens such as kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage are good sources. A three-ounce serving of canned salmon (with bones) provides nearly 20% of the daily requirement. And, if you’re looking for new calcium-rick foods to add to your diet, try kelp, quinoa, and okra. Your InsideTracker Nutrition and Food Basket pages offer lots of great suggestions for foods that will help you to improve your calcium levels.
What factors can affect calcium absorption?
Food, age, alcohol consumption, and vitamins can all affect how efficiently your body absorbs calcium. Taking a vitamin D supplement with food can enhance your body’s ability to absorb calcium. In fact, studies have shown that athletes who are older than 60 who take vitamin D with calcium can improve their strength, physical performance, and reduce the incidence of falls. While vitamin D improves absorption, many other factors make it harder for your body to metabolize calcium. Oxalic acid, which occurs naturally in dark leafy vegetables, binds to calcium and inhibits its absorption by the body. The amount of oxalic acid in greens varies. So, if you’re trying to increase your consumption of calcium-rich foods or taking a calcium supplement, try not to eat foods like spinach, parsley, and rhubarb at the same time you are consuming calcium. Here are some other factors that can influence calcium absorption:
- Age – your body’s ability to absorb calcium decreases as you age, so older adults need to consume more each day.
- Caffeine intake – the stimulant in coffee and tea can moderately increase calcium excretion and reduce absorption. For instance, one cup of regular brewed coffee causes a loss of 2-3 mg of calcium.
- Alcohol intake – alcohol can reduce calcium absorption and inhibit certain liver enzymes that help convert vitamin D to its active form. However, the amount of alcohol that is needed to affect calcium status is unknown.
If you feel you aren’t getting enough calcium from foods, you may want to consider taking a calcium supplement. Calcium supplements come in two forms: calcium citrate or calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is dependent on stomach acid for absorption, so this form is more readily absorbed while taken with food. Conversely, calcium citrate, which is less common in supplement form, is absorbed equally well with or without food. Another thing to keep in mind with calcium supplements is the amount of elemental calcium. You can find this information on the supplement facts label on the bottle, but in general, calcium carbonate is 40% calcium by weight, whereas citrate is 21% calcium. The percentage of calcium that is absorbed by the body depends on the total amount of elemental calcium consumed at one time—as the amount increases, the percentage of absorption decreases. Absorption is highest in doses that are less than or equal to 500 mg, so if you’re taking a 1,000 mg/day of calcium supplement, take 500 mg at two separate times during the day.
Before starting to take a supplement, be sure to talk to your doctor. It’s important not to take too much calcium in supplement form. If you frequently take large amounts of calcium, you could be putting yourself at risk for hypercalcemia, which can result in decreased kidney function and calcification of red blood cells. Symptoms of hypercalcemia can include frequent urination, bone pain, fatigue, and constipation. So when it comes to calcium intake, more is not necessarily better. In fact, pre-menopausal women who take high amounts of calcium are at an increased risk for hip fractures.
Since calcium plays such an important role in your health and physical performance, sign up for an InsideTracker plan today to find out what your calcium levels are and how to optimize them!
Combining the best time-tested and cutting-edge practices, Tri-Hard founders Jason Gootman and Will Kirousis coach driven triathletes of all levels of ability in the Boston area, throughout New England, and around the world. Tri-Hard athletes include several professional triathletes as well as numerous qualifiers for the Age-Group World and National Championships (including a world and national champion), the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, and the Ironman World Championship. Jason and Will bring to their coaching a deep passion for endurance sports combined with knowledge and experience.
InsideTracker and Tri-Hard will make a great team to help athletes reach their peak performance. One of the key pillars of the Tri-Hard conditioning philosophy is that “Optimal health = Optimal performance.” This philosophy fits perfectly with InsideTracker blood analysis. InsideTracker measures up to 20 blood biomarkers essential to overall well-being and athletic performance. For each person, InsideTracker derives the optimal zone for each biomarker based on that person’s unique demographic characteristics, such as age, gender, height, weight, and ethnicity, as well as their fitness level and performance goals. If you are not in your optimal zone for a biomarker, InsideTracker provides simple nutrition, exercise, supplement, and lifestyle changes to help you improve. Optimizing your biomarkers puts you in the best possible position to take advantage of Tri-Hard coaching.
In addition to their Tri-Hard coaching, Jason and Will regularly present seminars, workshops, and clinics throughout the United States. They have presented at international conferences hosted by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, at coach-training programs sponsored by USA Triathlon, and for going on 10 years at TRI-MANIA (formerly the Multisport World Conference and Expo). Jason and Will, academically trained exercise physiologists, are also USA Triathlon and USA Cycling Certified Coaches, Certified Strength and Conditioning Coaches, and Certified Sports Nutritionists. They are frequent contributors to Triathlete magazine and Inside Triathlon. Their training advice has also graced the pages of the Boston Globe, the Forbes magazine website, the Ironman website, and international triathlon magazines. Jason and Will also direct the annual New England Triathlon Symposium. For more information about Tri-Hard coaching: www.tri-hard.com.
Whether you enjoy a hot bowl of soup in the winter or a cool soup on a summer night, many people open a can of soup for a quick meal when they’re in a hurry. But how nutritious is that canned soup?
The nutrient value of canned soups varies depending on the type of soup and the way it is made. Canned soups do contain some vitamins and some fiber. While processing may remove some of the nutrients, such as water soluble-vitamins, other nutrients, such as fiber, may become easier to digest and absorb. And canned soup is convenient and easy to prepare.
But there are also drawbacks to eating canned soup. One problem is that soup nutrition labels typically show the amount of nutrients in a one-cup serving, but many people eat twice that much soup in a meal. Here are some ingredients to watch out for in canned soup:
Sodium – Manufacturers add sodium as a preservative and flavor enhancer. While sodium is an important mineral that helps maintain a proper fluid balance in your body, many people consume too much salt in their diets. Sodium overload may make you feel bloated, because your body retains excess fluid. That’s uncomfortable, but there may also be more serious consequences: your kidneys may retain water, which can result in increased blood pressure, greater likelihood of strokes, and a higher risk of heart disease. The recommends that people should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. The healthiest soups contain 360 – 600 milligrams of sodium per serving, but one cup of canned soup can contain 800 or more milligrams of sodium! Since a typical can holds at least two cups, a bowl of soup may pack a day’s worth of salt.
Fat – A one-cup serving of a cream-based canned soup may contain 7 grams of fat, and fat may account for more than half the calories in the soup. Worse yet, the fat in these soups tends to be saturated fat, which is known to raise total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels.
Bisphenol A (or BPA) is a component of the liner used in some cans. This chemical has been associated with reproductive abnormalities and a heightened risk of certain cancers. BPA can leech from the liner into the food. A test of canned foods (including soups) found that almost all of the name-brand foods contained some BPA.
How can I make canned soup healthier?
If you love the convenience of canned soup, here are a few ways to spice up the nutritional value of your quick meal:
- Choose healthier canned soups. Look for low-sodium, low-fat, organic soups featuring beans, vegetables, and lean protein that provide at least 10% of your daily fiber.
- Add fresh or frozen vegetables to increase the fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If you use frozen vegetables, choose plain varieties without added salt, preservatives, or sauce.
- Toss in spices instead of salt to punch up the flavor of low-sodium soups without increasing the salt content.
- Look for cans labeled “BPA-free.” Steel bottles or cans generally don’t contain BPA, while many aluminum cans and bottles do. You can tell if a can is steel or aluminum by looking at the can’s label. The labels are typically glued onto steel cans, but the labels on aluminum cans are sprayed on most of the time.
Because there are so many different types of soup, the calorie and nutrition content can vary tremendously. Be sure to scan the nutrition label for more information.
What are the benefits of homemade soup?
Making your own soup takes time, but it gives you complete control over the ingredients and how you prepare them. Homemade soup can also save you money compared to canned soup. Cook a large batch of soup, then freeze small portions for meals that you can heat quickly.
To help you decide which type of soup to make, take a look at your page for foods that will help you optimize your out-of-range biomarkers and add those foods to your soups. Or check out the suggested soups on your Food Basket page. Try these tips to make your soup even healthier:
- Add fiber to slow the absorption of sugar into the blood, to improve your digestion, and to feel satisfied for longer, which is great for weight-loss. Fresh vegetables and beans are great sources of fiber. The skins of many soup vegetables are naturally high in fiber, but are often removed during the canning process.
- Use unprocessed whole foods, especially vegetables, beans, and grains for the most vitamins and minerals.
- Skip the salt. Lemon juice and vinegar will brighten the flavor of your soup without adding sodium. Herbs add flavor, antioxidants, and vitamins.
- Choose broth instead of cream for less fat. Broth-based soups are typically much lower in fat, but if you still love the taste of “creamy” soup, there are several healthy alternatives. For instance, add extra pureed vegetables, such as potatoes, squash, and beets to the broth. Evaporated milk and even low-fat or fat-free plain yogurt are also great substitutes for cream.
Some healthy soups to cook for yourself include: chicken soup (everyone’s favorite!), minestrone, cabbage, Tuscan bean, and borscht (which is beet soup). Any combination of vegetables and lean protein (think chicken breast or beans) can go a long way to helping you to create a healthy soup! What’s your favorite soup?
Are you losing weight? Are your wounds healing more slowly? Has your endurance dropped? If so, you may have a zinc deficiency. This mineral is essential to maintaining good health and optimizing athletic performance.
In fact, athletes need to pay special attention to their zinc consumption because of its key functions in the body. Healthy cell division and metabolism depend on having enough zinc; it aids in repairing your tissues after exercise. Zinc also plays a role in hormone production, including testosterone, which is essential for building lean muscle mass. You need zinc to maintain a strong heart and respiratory system, as well as healthy cholesterol levels.
Here are some other things that zinc does to help keep you performing at your peak:Increase your aerobic capacity - Your “VO2max”, or aerobic capacity, is a measurement of how much oxygen your body is able to supply to your muscles—which can limit your athletic performance if the amount is too low. Research has shown that adequate zinc levels improve VO2 max.
Strengthen your immune system and decrease inflammation – When a virus or bacteria invades your body, zinc travels to key cells that help fight against infection and ensures that inflammation does not spiral out of control in the body. Having adequate levels of zinc means you are less likely to be sick and more likely to recover quickly, so that you lose less training time.
Improve your bone health – Athletes who have low levels of zinc are at risk for decreased bone mineral density, which can lead to bone fractures. Zinc is necessary to form collagen tissue, to unite bone fractures, to heal wounds, and to prevent osteoporosis.
How do you know if you’re not getting enough zinc?
The most reliable way to know whether you are consuming enough zinc is to have a blood test, such as the InsideTracker Performance Plan. InsideTracker’s blood analysis will show exactly what your levels of zinc are and whether they are optimal for you. You may also notice some signs of zinc deficiency, such as decreased appetite, low energy, and reduced endurance. Other symptoms include white spots, bands, and lines on finger nails; hair loss; skin rashes; acne; diarrhea; poor eyesight; and impaired taste, smell and memory.
Athletes may be at greater risk for zinc deficiency because you lose zinc when you sweat. Wrestlers, gymnasts, and other athletes who eat less to control their weight may fail to consume enough zinc. Vegetarian and vegan athletes have a greater risk of zinc deficiency since many zinc-rich foods are animal products. Also, because zinc from non-animal foods is harder for your body to absorb, vegetarians may require as much as 50 percent more zinc than meat-eaters. Vegans and vegetarians typically eat high levels of legumes and whole grains, which contain antioxidant compounds called phytates that work to bind zinc and inhibit its absorption. Finally, endurance athletes who follow a high carbohydrate diet that is low in proteins and fats may be at increased risk for zinc deficiency.
What are some of the best dietary sources of zinc?
Zinc is an essential mineral that is found naturally in some foods, and can be consumed as an additive in other foods or taken as a supplement. Being an essential mineral means that your body can’t produce zinc on its own, so it’s important to pay attention to the level of zinc in your food. In addition, your body lacks a storage system for zinc; you need to consume it every day to maintain adequate levels. Some of the best dietary sources of zinc include:
- Seafood such as oysters, Alaska king crab, and lobster
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt
- Beans, including garbanzo and kidney
- Nuts, such as almonds and cashews
- Chicken, especially dark meat such as thighs
You can also increase the amount of zinc available in your diet through food preparation techniques, including soaking beans, grains, and seeds in water for several hours before cooking and allowing them to sit after soaking until sprouts form. Vegetarians can also increase their zinc intake by consuming more leavened grain products, such as bread, rather than unleavened products, such as crackers.
People who want to increase their blood levels of zinc should avoid foods rich in phytates (such as broccoli, grains, and legumes) and iron, copper, and calcium supplements because they inhibit zinc absorption in your gut.
To make sure you’re getting enough zinc, men should aim to consume 11mg per day, and 8mg per day for women (women who are pregnant or nursing need about as much zinc as men). You can get zinc from many different foods; three ounces of beef tenderloin provides 4.4 mg of zinc, ½ cup of baked beans has 2.9 ounces, and 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt has 1.7 mg.
If your zinc is too low, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking a zinc supplement. To improve absorption of a zinc supplement, take it with a meal containing zinc-rich foods. You can also increase zinc absorption by choosing a supplement made from zinc acetate or zinc sulfate because these are soluble.
But be sure that you don’t overdo your zinc consumption. Too much zinc can reduce your levels of HDL cholesterol and may contribute to unwanted weight loss. Excess zinc can also impair your immune system. Consuming very large amounts of zinc can result in zinc toxicity which causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches. The recommended upper intake level for zinc is 40 mg per day.
An InsideTracker blood test offers the best way to monitor your zinc levels and be sure that you get enough but not too much. If you need help with finding zinc-rich foods you like, InsideTracker nutrition software provides personalized food recommendations to dial in your optimal zinc levels.
What’s a small thing you can do that can have a big effect on your performance? Drink enough water. Our bodies are mostly comprised of fluid, which means that every cell, tissue, and organ needs enough water to function. While plain H20 is the most important part of hydration, you also need electrolytes like potassium and sodium to perform at your best.
Why should you pay attention to hydration?
Hydration is necessary to maintain peak performance. Water regulates your body temperature, lubricates your joints, and transports nutrients throughout your body. Staying hydrated is particularly important during exercise because you lose water through sweat. The longer and more intensely you work out, the more necessary it becomes to get fluid into your body. When you don’t replenish your fluids, it becomes harder for your heart to circulate blood. A decrease in blood and plasma volume can contribute to muscle cramps, dizziness, fatigue, heat stroke, and heat exhaustion.
In addition to water, your body loses electrolytes when it sweats. Chloride, potassium, and are major electrolytes, which are minerals in your blood, urine, and bodily fluids that contain an electric charge. Your body’s cells use electrolytes to carry electrical impulses that help your cells communicate with each other and give you the ability to taste, see, smell, touch, and hear. measures potassium and sodium in your blood to help you maintain your well-being and to reach your personal fitness potential.
Do athletes have any special hydration requirements?
If you’re an athlete, how much water should you drink? The answer varies depending on how much and how intensely you exercise – and how much you sweat. However, there are ways to gauge whether you’ve hydrated enough:
- Monitor your urine – light-colored urine means you’re probably adequately hydrated, but dark, concentrated urine can indicate that you’re not drinking enough water
- Weigh yourself before and after workouts – weight loss that occurs directly after a workout is likely to be caused by a fluid reduction
During the first hour of exercise, you should rehydrate with water. Many athletes use these basic guidelines from the as a reference point, and then adjust their water intake to fit their hydration needs:
- At least 4 hours before exercise, drink about 2-3 milliliters (mL) of water or a sport beverage per pound (lb) of body weight. For instance, a 150-lb athlete needs to drink 300-450 mL, which equals about 10-15 ounces of liquid
- Consume approximately 8 oz of fluid every 15 minutes
- After exercise, consume about 16-24 fl oz of fluid for every pound of body weight lost during exercise
Why is sodium important?
Many people associate sodium with high blood pressure, heart disease, and canned foods, but it serves important functions in keeping your body healthy:
- Maintains fluid balance in your cells
- Helps to transmit nerve impulses throughout your body
- Helps muscles contract and relax
Because sodium is found in so many foods, it’s fairly uncommon to develop a sodium deficiency unless you’re having a bout of excessive vomiting or diarrhea. If you’re losing a lot of water, you’re probably also losing a lot of sodium too. Symptoms of a sodium deficiency include muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and inability to concentrate. Drinking too much fluid, especially plain water, can result in hyponatremia, a dangerous condition in which there is not enough sodium in your body fluids. If the deficiency really becomes serious, the body can go into shock and the circulatory system can collapse.
Conversely, if our diets contain too much sodium, our body tissues tend to retain water. For reference, the 2012 American Heart Association recommended that people consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day – just a bit more than 1/2 teaspoon of salt. For comparison, a medium order of fast food French fries contains about 260 milligrams of sodium. A recent study reported that Americans are consuming even more sodium – 8% more in 2010 than in 2001. Consuming too much salt can cause the kidneys to retain water, which can sometimes result in increased blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
Why is potassium important?
In addition to helping to maintain a proper fluid balance in your body, potassium also performs the following functions:
- Keeps the blood from clotting
- Maintains the body’s pH balance
- Carries nutrients to the cells
- Protects the stomach lining from the damage that could be caused by stomach acids
- Maintains healthy blood pressure
- Promotes heart health
- Preserves bone health
Athletes should be especially concerned with their potassium intake; potassium plays a role in the storage of carbohydrates to fuel your muscles. In addition, the frequency and degree to which your muscles contract depends heavily on having the right amount of potassium in the body. When you don’t get enough potassium in your diet, or when the movement of potassium through the body is blocked, your nervous and muscular systems can become compromised. The Adequate Intake (AI) for potassium is 4.7 grams per day, but most Americans don’t consume enough potassium in their diets.
One reason for our low potassium levels is that Americans generally don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Bananas are a great source of potassium which helps to promote muscle recovery. Fresh fruits, especially citrus and melons, and vegetables, especially leafy greens and broccoli, are also rich in potassium. You can also find the mineral in fish, most meats, and milk. Sweet potatoes and legumes like lima and kidney beans are also high in potassium.
Because you lose potassium through sweat and urination, you need to be consuming these potassium-rich foods each day, especially if you’re an athlete. Low potassium levels can reduce your energy and endurance. A recent Australian study with highly trained athletes showed that drinking a caffeinated beverage immediately before exercise can help to maintain adequate potassium levels in your blood and delay fatigue during your workout.
Your body will definitely let you know if you’re not hydrated. If you’ve been experiencing muscle cramping or high levels of thirst, get your potassium and sodium levels checked with the Plan. If your potassium or sodium levels are not optimal, will give you some recommendations about what to change in your diet, and introduce you to some new foods that will help you do that.
Nutrition software can help you improve your diet. And a healthier diet can help you boost your endurance, speed, and flexibility. But only one nutrition software program, InsideTracker, actually tells you exactly which nutrients your body needs.
Based on blood analysis. Only InsideTracker includes a blood test that analyzes 20 biomarkers most important for your overall wellbeing and athletic performance. By measuring these biomarkers in your blood, the service can tell you which nutrients to consume in order to optimize your nutrition.
Optimal, not normal. Nutrition recommendations from InsideTracker are completely customized for you. What makes InsideTracker different from other nutrition plans is its integration of an “optimal zone” in the blood analysis—a range that is specific to you and takes into account your unique demographic information, such as age, gender, ethnicity, activity level, as well as lifestyle and performance goals.
Cutting-edge software algorithm. InsideTracker’scalled B.R.I.A.N (Biomarker Research Integrative Analysis Network) determines the optimal zones for each marker based on the latest peer-reviewed research. For example, the normal range for a woman’s level of ferritin, a blood marker for iron, is between 12 and 150 units. But InsideTrackerrecommends that an active woman in her 20s should have 40 - 150 units of ferritin for optimum performance. If you are not in your optimal zone, InsideTracker nutrition software will recommend effective and simple nutrition interventions to improve your biomarkers. Where appropriate, you will also receive recommendations for supplements as well as lifestyle and training modifications that are specific to your needs.
How can using InsideTracker nutrition software help you?
The benefits of following your customized InsideTracker nutrition recommendations can include:
- Enhanced performance
- Increased metabolism
- Reduced pain and injury
- Improved sleep
- Increased energy
After using InsideTracker nutrition software, one US Olympic track cyclist discovered that she was very low in vitamin D, which is a nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium and maintain strong bones; regulates the immune system; and enhances energy levels. InsideTracker recommended some simple interventions that increased her levels of vitamin D, and ultimately helped her to win two silver Olympic medals!
What else does InsideTracker nutrition software provide?
- Powerful tracking tools. Each of your blood results appears on an easy-to-read graph. And InsideTracker shows your follow-up blood test data on the same graph, so that you can see trends and take action
before you have a problem.
- Food for your needs and preferences, based on the results of your blood test, instead of a generic cookie-cutter menu. Starting with a database of over 7500 foods, InsideTracker nutrition software can take into account your special dietary requirements such as Paleo, gluten-free, or vegan. For instance, if you are lactose-intolerant and still want to get an adequate amount of calcium, InsideTracker will recommend non-dairy, high-calcium foods.
- Food Basket. The InsideTracker nutrition software creates a Food Basket, a nutritionally balanced, customized plan for a day’s worth of calories. Each Food Basket is calculated to improve biomarker levels that are high or low. One of the most helpful parts of the Food Basket is the nutritional information that is shown next to each item, including serving size, calories, and the amount of each nutrient in the recommended serving. You can return to your Food Basket as often as you want to find new foods.
- Nutrition Page. For each biomarker, InsideTracker shows you a set of foods to eat or avoid for optimal nutrition. Each recommendation includes a picture of the food, a written description of how it can improve your diet, and the specific biomarkers that the food raises and lowers.
- Supplement advice. While a diet based on whole foods is the best way to improve your wellbeing and performance, in some cases it is difficult to optimize a biomarker with food alone. If taking a supplement might be helpful, InsideTracker will explain which supplement to take, the optimal dosage for you, and when to take it. Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any supplementation plan.
So, by adding to your daily diet the foods that the InsideTracker nutrition software recommends, you can give your body the nutrients that you are lacking. Evidence-based nutrition with InsideTracker will improve your overall wellbeing, as well as your athletic performance. The program is easy to use because InsideTracker customizes and gathers all the relevant information for you. Plus, it’s a great way to discover new foods.
As Jarrod Shoemaker, a US triathlete Olympian, noted “with InsideTracker, you understand your athletic demands and manage your diet to maximize your performance.” He summed up perfectly what the InsideTrackeris all about—by combining the latest scientific research with information about the unique biochemistry of your body, this nutrition software helps you to become more informed, more fit, and a better athlete!
InsideTracker sends our thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. We are very grateful that both Marisa and Mick are safe.
With its hills and unpredictable weather, the Boston Marathon is one of the most challenging. Despite the difficulties, tens of thousands of runners tackle it every year. Two of this year’s runners took time out of their race prep to share how using InsideTracker has helped them in their training. Read on to meet Marisa Nucci and Mick Brown, endurance runners who both chose InsideTracker to help them prepare.
Marisa Nucci is an avid runner, looking forward to her fourth marathon. Her personal best is 3:26. After a year of job changes that affected her time to train, she is hoping to “stay around 3:30” this year. Marisa also trained for and competed in the 2013 CrossFit Games Open, which had a positive impact on her marathon training.
So what did Marisa and Mick learn from their InsideTracker blood analysis? Marisa was very interested in getting her results because for 18 months she has been eating a primarily Paleo diet, avoiding grains, dairy products, and refined sugar. “One of the potential downfalls of Paleo is that a lot of people will take in too much meat and too many fats through nuts and seeds,” said Marisa. “I fell victim to that … since I have never been all that great at preparing foods ahead of time.” Marisa’s InsideTracker analysis showed that her LDL was too high. Some other markers were out of range, including iron, which was a problem for her in the past.
After getting her results, Marisa focused on eating leaner meats and more vegetables with higher nutritional value, as well as on reducing the amount of nuts and seeds in her daily diet. “I personally feel as though the changes have been extremely positive. I have felt more energized and consistent and feel as though it has truly helped me throughout the peak and end of the training process for Boston Marathon.”
Mick Brown, who calls himself the “Aussie Clydesdale,” is running for the Mass General Marathon Team. After completing his first marathon in 2010, Mick has run six marathons and two ultras. In fact, he just won the Chicago Lakefront 50K on March 23rd. “My goal [for the 2013 Boston Marathon] is to break my PR of 2.59.41, set in Chicago 2012,” says Mick. “Doing that in Boston is obviously a lot tougher than in Chicago!”
For Mick, InsideTracker blood analysis revealed elevated Creatine Kinase and glucose, as well as a vitamin D deficiency. Mick felt that the high level of Creatine Kinase was a result of a race he had run shortly before his blood test. To improve his vitamin D levels, Mick started taking a vitamin D supplement. He also cut back on sugary foods to bring down his glucose levels. When asked how the changes have affected him, he says, “Nutrition has definitely made a difference! I still have to get more dialed in though.”
Mick believes that “personalizing nutrition and customized training programs based on biomarkers are clearly the way of the future.” Based on his own experience, he sees value in InsideTracker for athletes at all levels achieve their personal goals. “As with everything,” adds Mick, “it requires commitment and active participation.”
Everyone on the InsideTracker team sends their best wishes to Mick and Marisa for a successful 2013 Boston Marathon. We think Marisa summed it up perfectly when she said, “I am looking forward to truly enjoying myself, the crowds, the athletes, the inspiration and the energy all the way from Hopkinton to downtown Boston!”
If you live in a temperate climate, or you don’t get outside for at least 15 minutes each day, you may have low vitamin D Why? Because your body actually makes most of its vitamin D from sunshine, and if you don’t get enough sun, you are likely to have low vitamin D. Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D provides several important benefits to our bodies, but it can be difficult to get your daily requirement of the vitamin since few foods are naturally rich sources.
And if you don’t get enough vitamin D, it can affect the way you feel and how well you perform. An InsideTracker blood test showed that an Olympic track cyclist had very low levels of vitamin D. InsideTracker gave this athlete and her coach a set of simple interventions to increase her vitamin D. That helped to make a measurable difference in her performance. And it contributed to her success in at the 2012 Olympics in London where she won two silver medals in track cycling!
Vitamin D has several important functions in the body, many of which are crucial for athletes. For instance, vitamin D helps to:
- Increase bone health along with the help of calcium. Strong bones are especially important to athletes because our bones protect our hearts and lungs, and anchor our muscles. If you’ve ever suffered from a stress fractures or broken bones, you know that weak bones can hinder your athletic performance, which is why vitamin D is so important for people who are physically active.
- Increase muscle mass and strength. One study found that vitamin D acts directly on muscle to increase protein synthesis, which can lead to an increase in muscle mass, weight gain, and a decrease in the rate of muscle fiber degradation. Vitamin D also increases the size and number of the muscle fibers that are used for short bursts of speed and power, another benefit for any athlete who seeks to perform at their peak.
- Improve lower body strength. Taking vitamin D with calcium can help you build strength in your legs, improve your overall physical performance, and prevent falls.
- Regulate the immune system and protect against certain diseases. Research suggests that vitamin D may play a major role in the inhibition of viruses. If your vitamin D is low, your immune system may be less effective.
What happens when you have low levels of vitamin D?
According to the government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the majority of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults have Vitamin D blood levels of 30 ng/mL - 74 ng/mL. The recommended daily intake is 600 IU, but if your vitamin D levels are low you may need to take more. The only way to know whether your vitamin D levels are adequate is to have your blood levels checked. InsideTracker blood analysis includes vitamin D and will tell you not just whether your levels are normal, but whether they are optimal for you.
So, what can happen to your body if you’re deficient in vitamin D? Since vitamin D plays such an important role in our bone health, low levels of the vitamin can result in bone pain, but many people don’t experience any symptoms, which is why it’s so important to get your blood levels checked. InsideTracker Fitness and Performance Plans both include blood tests for vitamin D. Low levels of the vitamin have been associated with the following conditions:
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Cognitive impairment in older adults
- Severe asthma in children
- Stress fractures
- Decreased muscle strength
InsideTracker has worked with many athletes who have low vitamin D but do not realize it.
What are some causes of vitamin D deficiency?
There are many reasons why you may have low levels of vitamin D. Some of these factors are modifiable, but others (like skin color) are beyond your control. However, don’t worry, because no matter who you are, there are ways to increase your levels of vitamin D. Here are some risk factors to look out for:
- You don’t consume enough vitamin D from food. If you’re a strict vegetarian, you may want to consider a vitamin D supplement or consuming more foods that are fortified with the vitamin because many of the natural sources of vitamin D are animal-based. Think fatty fish (such as sardines, mackerel, and salmon), egg yolks, butter, beef liver, cheese, and fish oil. Some foods, such as milk, yogurt, cereal, and orange juice, are now fortified with vitamin D.
- You don’t get enough exposure to the sun. Your body naturally makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sunlight. If you live in a northern latitude (for instance, Boston receives less sunlight than Miami), or you use lots of sunscreen (which blocks the UV radiation that you need to synthesize vitamin D), or you wear clothing that covers most of your skin, you may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency. This means that athletes who train indoors during winter months may have to rely on their bodies’ vitamin D stores, which further increases their risk for deficiency. It’s important not to overdo your sun exposure, though, because of the risk of skin cancer.
- You have darker skin. The pigment melanin, which is more prevalent in people with darker skin, reduces your body’s ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure.
- You are an older adult. As you age, your kidneys are less able to convert vitamin D into its active form, which increases their risk for deficiency. Certain medical conditions, including Chrohn’s disease, cystric fibrosis, and celiac’s disease can affect your body’s ability to absorb vitamin D from any food that you consume.
How can you increase your vitamin D?
The three ways to raise your vitamin D levels are through diet, sunshine, and supplements. If you have one of the risk factors listed above, you may find that it is difficult to raise your vitamin D to optimal levels with food alone. Because of the dangers of excess sun exposure, you might want to talk to a physician to see if taking a supplement is the right choice for you. In the case of supplements, vitamin D is available in two forms: D2 and D3. Since most steps involved in the metabolism of vitamin D2 and D3 are nearly identical, the two forms have traditionally been regarded as equivalent. While nutritional doses of D2 and D3 are equivalent, however, high doses of vitamin D2 are less potent.
Can you get too much vitamin D?
Before you start popping vitamins, it’s also important to note that excess vitamin D can cause problems. While your body regulates the amount of vitamin D from sunshine, if you take too much vitamin D in supplements, you may feel weak, nauseous, have poor appetite, and need to urinate frequently. Studies suggest that taking more than 5,000 IU of vitamin D per day in supplements could actually worsen athletic performance. You should know your vitamin D level so that you can choose the correct intervention. (The 25-hydroxy vitamin D test is the most accurate way to measure how much vitamin D is in your body and involves a simple blood sample, which is part of the InsideTracker service.)
To sum it up, if you go outside daily and have reasonable exposure to the sun, your vitamin D levels might be fine. But the only way to be sure is to get your blood tested. InsideTracker will measure your vitamin D levels and tell you how to improve them if they are out of range. Since so many Americans have low levels of vitamin D, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
As an athlete, you work hard to improve your physical performance. But more training is not necessarily better training. Without enough rest and recovery, intense training regimens can actually backfire and compromise your ability to perform well. Exercise breaks down your muscles; rest stimulates growth and repair. The combination of too much exercise with too little recovery time can result in over-training syndrome.
How can you tell if you are over-training? If you have a sudden drop in performance, feel fatigued, and have trouble sleeping, you may be over-training. Another indicator is the level of testosterone in your blood. Research has shown that repeated heavy endurance exercise without adequate rest can cause a significant decrease in testosterone. The InsideTracker Performance Plan analyzes 20 biomarkers including testosterone, and can show you whether you should consider adjusting your training load.
How much testosterone do you need?
Testosterone is a steroid hormone that is present in the bodies of both men and women. In men, the testes produce testosterone. A man’s testosterone levels are highest in the late 30s, and then decrease by 1-2% each year. Women’s ovaries produce much smaller amounts of testosterone.
While testosterone levels vary depending on age, sex, and fitness, these are general guidelines:
- Men: 348-1197 ng/dL of total testosterone
- Women (18-49): 8-48 ng/dL
- Women (50+): 3-41 ng/dL
takes into consideration your age, gender, ethnicity, lifestyle factors, type and amount of athletic activity to determine your optimal range for testosterone. If your testosterone is low, will recommend interventions to help you increase your levels, including lifestyle, training, and nutrition modifications.
Why is testosterone important for athletic performance?
Testosterone plays a key role in development and maintenance of both muscle mass and strength. Optimal levels of this hormone are necessary to create and preserve bone density. Without enough testosterone, bones can become weaker and more likely to fracture or break. Testosterone also contributes to the body’s maintenance of energy levels, so this hormone can increase your energy during workouts and help improve your endurance. Finally, testosterone contributes to effective brain activity, including learning and memory skills, which is important for athletes who need to learn new plays and routines. So, if your testosterone levels are low, you might not be performing at your peak.
What are the symptoms of low testosterone?
In men, symptoms of a testosterone deficiency include diminished sex drive, decreased muscle mass, decreased muscle strength, reduced bone mass (potentially leading to osteoporosis), and increased body fat. While testosterone deficiency is typically considered to be a male problem, low levels can cause problems for women, too. Symptoms of low testosterone levels in women include hot flashes, irritability, loss of sexual desire, and sleep disturbances. Women may also experience loss of muscle mass, decreased bone density, and loss of body hair. In both sexes, low testosterone levels can have a profound impact on mood, so if you find it difficult to concentrate, and you’re tired and irritable, you may have low testosterone.
How can you improve your testosterone levels?
If your testosterone is low, there are natural ways to increase it. First, allow ample time for sleep and recovery. The length of your recovery period depends on the intensity and duration of your workouts, so listen to your body and adjust your training regimen accordingly. Your body also needs enough good-quality sleep to repair the damage that normally occurs in training.
Second, pay attention to your diet, especially your pre-workout meals and post-workout foods. Check your InsideTracker nutrition page for foods rich in the vitamins and minerals you need for optimal performance.
In addition to testosterone, inflammation and creatine kinase are also indicators of over-training. One of the most valid and reliable methods for assessing muscular damage is to check for increase in blood serum levels of creatine kinase, the primary enzyme regulating the metabolism of the muscle. Creatine kinase (CK) is located inside healthy muscle cells, so even small amounts of CK in the blood mean that the muscle cells have been damaged. This can happen through strenuous exercise, so increases in blood levels of CK are one indicator of muscular trauma. Conversely, inflammation is your body’s way of removing damaged cells. Excessive exercise with inadequate amounts of rest can increase inflammation because your body has not properly healed between workouts.
If you suspect you are over-training, don’t keep pushing yourself. Sign up for an InsideTracker blood analysis to measure your testosterone – and get some rest.
RunnersConnect is a team of expert coaches and fellow runners dedicated to improving your training and racing through community motivation, coaching support, and proven training plans.
Everyone at RunnersConnect loves running, and we want to spread our expertise and passion to inspire, motivate, and help you achieve your running goals. We don’t believe in gimmicks or secret formulas. Our training plans, articles, and coaching support are all based on the latest scientific research. That’s why we love working with InsideTracker.
Using InsideTracker’s data-driven blood analysis to optimize nutrition and athletic performance is exactly the scientific approach we value. We believe that if you have a meticulously researched, scientifically driven, and customized plan, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
At RunnersConnect, we provide custom training plans that connect you with a team of expert coaches and likeminded runners, as well as strength training programs and guidance on how to run with better form. We’ve recently released a free eBook, 16 Weeks to a Faster Marathon. Download it now.
Aging is no excuse to stop exercising and eating healthfully! In fact, it is even more essential to maintaining your well-being, especially because your body’s ability to metabolize some nutrients changes as you age. This post discusses the role of vitamin B12 in the body and how important it is to monitor this nutrient as you get older
How does age affect your fitness?
Regardless of your age, you need to consume enough calories in order to engage in athletic activity, as well as to perform the activities of daily living! As you age, your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food decreases. One example of this is vitamin B12, a nutrient that is essential to red blood cell formation. InsideTracker measures your vitamin B12 levels in the Performance Plan, because of the important of this vitamin to athletic performance.
What is the role of vitamin B12 in the body?
You need vitamin B12 in order to produce and maintain your red blood cells, nerves, and DNA. Getting too little B12 can lead to anemia, a deficiency of red blood cells, which is a condition that can cause you to feel tired and weak. When you don’t absorb enough B12 from your food to make red blood cells, your body’s oxygen capacity decreases, along with your endurance.
In addition, vitamin B12 deficiency can increase your chances of having skin numbness and tingling, poor mental health, as well as decreased cognitive function, and poor coordination. Some research suggests that athletes with poor or marginal nutritional status for vitamin B12 may have decreased ability to perform high intensity exercise. In women specifically, higher B12 levels correlate with enhanced athletic performance. This is likely due to B12’s role in the synthesis of new cells, such as red blood cells, and to its role in the repair of damaged cells as the body rebuilds tissues.
There are actually two forms of vitamin B12—one that occurs naturally in foods and a crystalline form that is artificially created in a lab. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms per day for adults regardless of the form. The natural, food-bound form of vitamin occurs mostly in animal products, including milk, yogurt, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. As a result, vegetarian and vegan athletes are more likely to be deficient in vitamin B12. Another group at risk for vitamin b12 deficiency includes anyone over age 50, because as they age, some people are less able to absorb food-bound vitamin B12. To compensate, mature athletes should increase their intake of foods that are fortified with B12 or talk to their doctor about taking a supplement. Similarly, athletes who are on calories restricted diets to maintain weight levels, for such sports as wrestling. Many foods now contain artificial B12 including breakfast cereals and juices. If you want to increase this vitamin in your diet check the nutrition information label to see if the vitamin is present in your favorite product.
Why should older adults pay more attention to vitamin B12?
The physiology of vitamin B12 is complex. In order for your body to absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12, digestive processes in the stomach and small intestine must break down the proteins that bind the vitamin. Gastric acid releases vitamin B12 from the food that you consume, which becomes a problem for some older adults because they produce less stomach acid as they age, thereby increasing their risk for B12 deficiencies. Specifically, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimated that 3.2% of adults over age 50 have seriously low levels of B12, and up to 20% may have a borderline deficiency.
Although many people over 50 have low vitamin B12 levels, no public health policies recommend routine screenings for this vitamin, as doctors do for cholesterol or high blood sugar. This makes prevention and early detection of vitamin B12 deficiency incredibly important for the health of older adults—another reason for choosing the InsideTracker, which monitors this key biomarker. If you’re concerned about which form of vitamin B12 you should be consuming, existing research does not suggest that either form is able to be absorbed more efficiently than the other—bioavailability of the vitamin is purely a matter of an individual’s hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
What are the signs of a B12 deficiency?
Because a deficiency can be slow to develop, it may be difficult to notice symptoms. The best way to test the amount of B12 in your body is to have your blood analyzed by InsideTracker, which will tell you if you’re at your optimal nutritional range. Unfortunately, since there are so many symptoms of a possible deficiency, the condition may be misdiagnosed or overlooked. Talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Numbness or tingling in your hands, legs, or feet
- Difficultly walking or balancing
- Difficulty thinking and memory loss
- Swollen tongue
- Jaundice (a yellow tinge to your skin)
If spotted early, vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively easy to correct with the right nutrition and supplement regimen, so be sure you know your levels of this nutrient if you want to maintain optimal athletic performance!
Many athletes believe that caffeine helps them feel more energetic during a workout and gives them an extra edge during competitions. But what does caffeine really do, and do the downsides of caffeine outweigh its benefits?
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a plant product that may be one of the most widely used stimulants in the world. The average caffeine consumption for Americans is about 2 cups of coffee per day, but you can also find caffeine in tea, chocolate, cocoa, energy drinks, and soda. Caffeine is often referred to as a nutritional ergogenic aid (meaning that it can enhance physical performance), but it has no nutritional value by itself. Your InsideTracker plan will give you recommendations for optimizing your nutrition to improve your athletic performance. Read on to find out how caffeine affects you.
How does caffeine affect your body?
Here’s how it works: after you consume caffeine, it is quickly absorbed from the stomach and peaks in your bloodstream in about 1-2 hours. Since most of your bodily tissues absorb caffeine, it can affect your entire body. Any caffeine that lingers in your bloodstream goes to the liver to be broken down and excreted in urine.
How does caffeine affect endurance?
When you exercise, your body uses glycogen, a type of sugar that you get from food, for energy. But once those stores are depleted at the end of a long workout, you may feel tired or sluggish—signs that you have “hit the wall.” Caffeine slows the depletion of glycogen by encouraging the body to use more fat as fuel, which helps to conserve energy over long periods of time.
For this reason sports that deplete a lot of glycogen, specifically endurance events, benefit the most from caffeine consumption. Activities lasting longer than an hour with sustained effort, such as running, cycling, and cross-country skiing, all benefit from caffeine supplementation by allowing athletes to increase their endurance, accuracy, and speed. Conversely, caffeine provides no tangible benefits for strength and power activities, such as weight-lifting.
How does caffeine affect cognitive function?
Since caffeine enters almost all bodily tissues, it affects your nervous system and your brain. Caffeine acts as a stimulant and wakes you up, which means that when you consume it, you will feel more alert and react faster.
Drinking caffeine prior to physical exertion might actually help reduce the perception of pain. According to a study published by the department of kinesiology at the University of Illinois, people who drank caffeine experienced less anxiety associated with strenuous exercise, which may account for their lower perception of pain. For example, if you’ve ever felt your muscles burn during intense exercise, consuming caffeine before you start your workout may dull this sensation.
How does caffeine affect hydration?
To maintain peak performance, you have to stay hydrated. Water regulates your body temperature, lubricates your joints, and transports nutrients throughout your body. Staying hydrated is particularly important during exercise because you lose water through sweat. The longer and more intensely you work out, the more necessary it becomes to get fluid into your body. When you don’t replenish your fluids, it becomes harder for your heart to circulate blood. A decrease in blood and plasma volume can contribute to muscle cramps, dizziness, fatigue, heat stroke, and heat exhaustion.
We’ve all heard the warning that caffeine has a diuretic effect and dehydrates you. However, research shows that this widely-held assumption is actually not true unless you consume a large amount of caffeine. Caffeine does not dehydrate you unless you drink more than 500-600 milligrams (the equivalent of 5-7 cups of coffee) per day. Below this level, your body does not lose any more fluid than the beverage itself provides. For comparison, an 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 100 milligrams of caffeine, and an energy drink can have as much as 242 milligrams per serving (though caffeine content varies between energy drink varieties). While caffeine may cause a little more fluid to be excreted as urine in a 24-hour period when compared to plain water, this effect is fairly mild and does not affect hydration. For anyone who loves coffee, the good news is that caffeinated beverages actually provide a sufficient amount of fluid for rehydration, even among people who exercise regularly in hot, humid conditions.
Although caffeine does not appear to have a significant impact on hydration, it can have other effects on your kidneys. One particular study has shown that caffeine can cause increased excretion of sodium from your body, but this usually does not cause problems in normal, healthy adults. However, the salt balance in your body can affect certain medications, so talk to your doctor if you have any questions about any medications that you are taking.
Are there any side effects of caffeine?
The majority of the studies done on caffeine suggest that people can safely consume up to 3-4 cups of coffee per day. Other caffeinated beverages, such as tea, appear to provide some benefits to your health. However, the key with caffeine is to consume it in moderation. People who drink caffeine in excess (more than 300 milligrams or four cups of brewed coffee per day) report feeling jittery and anxious, and may feel stomach pain and heart palpitations. Keep in mind that one cup of coffee is about eight ounces, so if you tend to order a large coffee (which can range anywhere from 24-32 ounces), remember to count that as the appropriate amount of servings!
For some people, caffeine can have a profound effect on sleep, even if they consume it many hours before going to bed. However, conflicting research shows that caffeine will not measurably effect sleep duration in most healthy adults. Basically, if you have trouble sleeping, avoiding caffeine may be one way to help manage this problem.
Caffeine can have some serious downsides for certain groups of people who are more susceptible to its effects. The elderly, children and teens, pregnant women, those with high blood pressure, anxiety, or heart disease should avoid caffeine completely. If you’re concerned about how caffeine may affect your health, you should speak with your doctor.
Can coffee make me gain weight?
A plain cup of black coffee has only about two calories and no fat. Since plain coffee does not contain enough calories to provide energy for your body’s cells, it should not cause weight gain. However, once you start adding milk, cream, sugar, or other flavorings, the calories can begin to add up. For example, one tablespoon of cream can add about 50 calories to your beverage, whereas an equivalent of half-and-half contains 20 calories, and skim milk might contain only 5 calories. Some popular coffee drinks are as sweet as desserts and can contain hundreds of calories! Many brands of energy drinks deliver their jolt in the form of caffeine and sugar, so make sure to check the nutrition label on your drink to figure out if your form of caffeine is also going to help you pack on the pounds. When it comes to weight gain, all calories count—even the liquid ones—so watch what you’re adding to your drink! If you are trying to lose weight, remember that InsideTracker can suggest healthy foods that will provide the nutrients your body needs while keeping your calorie count low.
While caffeine does have a performance-enhancing effect for some athletes, be careful how you use it! The effects of caffeine can vary from person to person, so make sure that you know how your body is going to respond before chugging coffee right before an important competition. Otherwise, enjoy your cup of Joe!
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White blood cells play an important role in your body’s immune system, searching the blood for invading viruses, bacteria, and fungi. When a foreign virus or bacteria enters your blood, the white blood cell, or leukocyte, recognizes and destroys the invading particle before it can cause disease. There are several different types of white blood cells, each with their own function. Some directly destroy the foreign bacteria, while others attack cells that are infected by viruses. Other types of white blood cells can even play a role in allergic reactions!
Since white blood cells fight off infection, people tend to think that elevated levels are actually beneficial. This is not necessarily the case! A high white blood cell count isn’t a specific disease, but it can indicate another problem, such as infection, stress, inflammation, trauma, allergy, or certain diseases. That’s why a high white blood cell count usually requires further investigation. The InsideTracker blood analysis measures your white blood cell count, and will tell you whether it is in the optimal zone for you. If your white blood cell count is elevated, you should speak with your doctor.
What are the symptoms of elevated white blood cell count?
The only way to truly determine if your levels are too high is to get your blood tested, by your physician’s office or through InsideTracker. People with high white blood cell count, a condition called leukocytosis, typically don’t have any specific symptoms, but may have a medical condition that is responsible for raising white blood cell levels. The specific number for high white blood cell count varies from one lab testing facility to another, but a general rule of thumb is that a count of more than 10,500 leukocytes in a microliter of blood in adults is generally considered to be high, while 4,500-10,500 is considered within the normal range. Since high white blood cell count can be a symptom of another underlying problem, you might experience symptoms that are associated with that condition. However, people with leukocytosis may also experience a combination of these symptoms: fever, fainting, bleeding, bruising, weight loss, and general pain.
What are the causes of elevated white blood cell count?
There are a few reasons why you might have high white blood cell count. They include:
- Infection – as infection-causing bacteria or viruses multiply in the blood, your bone marrow produces more white blood cells to fight off the infection. Infection can also lead to inflammation, which can in turn cause the number of white blood cells to increase.
- Smoking or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – essentially, COPD means that you have a lung and airway disease like emphysema or chronic bronchitis that blocks proper airflow. It is commonly caused by cigarette smoking, which results in inflammation in the lungs and air passages. As you gain more inflammation in your lungs and airways, your body will produce more white blood cells to fight it off.
- Leukemia – leukemia is a type of cancer that dramatically increases your number of white blood cells. Leukemic white blood cells are often non-functional, which may increase the risk of infection in these cancer patients.
- Immune system disorders – some auto-immune disorders like Crohn’s or Graves’ disease can elevate your white blood cell levels. If you have one of these conditions, your doctor should monitor your white blood cell levels.
- Stress – finally, emotional or physical stress can also cause elevated white blood cell counts. The good news is that white blood cell levels will return to normal after the stress is gone.
How does exercise affect your white blood cell count?
If you got your blood tested right after working out, you might not have to worry—your body actually increases your white blood cell count during exercise! In fact, this increase in the activity of your white blood cells might actually allow your body to identify disease-causing organisms more rapidly than under normal circumstances, which is yet another benefit of exercise. Immediately after exercise, your levels of white blood cells increase in proportion to the intensity and duration of the workout. One study showed that runners’ white blood cell levels triple during a marathon. Since the amount of white blood cells then drops to its normal level after exercise, you should ideally wait one day after a heavy workout session to get your blood tested.
What types of foods will help to decrease your elevated white blood cell count?
What you eat also has an effect on your white blood cell count. To keep your levels in check, avoid eating foods that are high in fat, calories, sugar, and salt (such as fast foods). Aim for foods that are high in antioxidants like vitamins C and E, fiber, calcium, fish oils, mono-unsaturated fats, and low on the glycemic index. Your InsideTrackerSome foods that have been shown to have an effect on lowering inflammation include garlic, grapes, herbs and spices, soy protein, nuts, olive oil, black and green teas, and vinegar. Aim to eat at least six servings of fruits and vegetables per day, which will benefit much more than your white blood cell levels. Other specific nutrients to increase in your diet include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids – omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat (or PUFA) that is known to increase heart health and elevate the activity of phagocytes, a type of white blood cells that protect you from foreign bacteria. Omega-3 PUFAs are found mainly in fatty fish like trout, herring, and salmon, but also in walnuts and flaxseed. Studies have shown that PUFAs significantly increased white blood cell counts in women on a controlled diet.
- Antioxidants - Antioxidants are a type of a molecule that protects our cells against harmful molecules called free radicals, which damage cells, protein, and DNA (for instance, free radicals cause peeled apples to turn brown). Eating more phytochemicals helps protect against this type of damage. Phytochemicals with antioxidant capacity include allyl sulfides (found in onions, leeks, and garlic), carotenoids (in fruits and carrots), flavonoids (fruits and vegetables), and polyphenols (in tea and grapes). While they don’t specifically work to increase white blood cell count, they help to support a healthy immune system.
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C helps the body to produce more white blood cells, which in turn helps the body to fight infections. All citrus fruits—including oranges, lemons, and limes—contain vitamin C. You can also get vitamin C from other fruits, such as berries, papayas, pineapples and guavas, and vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and bell peppers.
In addition to these nutrients, you may want to invest in some non-alcoholic beer! Believe it or not, one study showed that drinking 1 to 1.5 liters of non-alcoholic beer for 3 weeks before and 2 weeks after running a marathon helps to reduce both inflammation and white blood cell count!
As an athlete, make sure that you know your white blood cell levels so you can optimize your performance and your overall well-being by taking the proper action if you find out they’re too high!
Would you like to have more energy, improve your memory, reduce your appetite, and improve your athletic performance? One simple change can help you to do all these things: Get more sleep.
Athletes, for example, spend a considerable amount of time and money trying to find the right sports drink, nutrition bar, or protein powder that could give them the extra edge during a competition. But an extra hour of sleep each night might be a better way to improve athletic performance than any product on the market! Getting enough good sleep can help to boost your speed, accuracy, and reaction time. If you are sleeping poorly, InsideTracker blood analysis can identify nutrient deficiencies and provide recommendations for how to improve your sleep.
How does sleep affect you?
Not only can too little sleep make you feel tired the next day, but it can also have a big impact about what’s going on inside of your body. Sleep is the time for your body to complete all the phases that are needed to repair your muscles and release hormones that regulate your growth and appetite. If we don’t get enough sleep, we don’t have enough time to recover. Here are the specific ways that sleep deprivation can ruin your game:
Decreased energy – when you’re sleep deprived, your body’s ability to store glycogen diminishes. Your body converts glycogen to glucose (a type of sugar), which your muscles use as a primary source of fuel during exercise. Glycogen is particularly important for giving your body the energy that it needs for endurance events, so if you don’t get enough sleep, you will probably feel less energetic than usual whether you are competing in a road race or juggling tasks at work.
Poor reflexes – getting an insufficient amount of sleep can slow your reaction time. One study showed declines in split-second decision-making following poor sleep, and showed that subjects who were well rested had increased accuracy on tasks that required quick decisions.
Hormone changes – some research suggests that sleep deprivation increases levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can impede healing, increase the risk of injuries, and worsen memory. Additionally, it decreases levels of growth hormone that helps repair the body, which could prevent an athlete from recovering adequately from heavy training and further increase the risk of injury.
Conversely, getting enough sleep can have some great benefits: improved athletic performance, reduced appetite, and better memory function. For example, Stanford University tracked the sleep habits of the school’s basketball team and found that players increased their speed by 5% when they added an average of two hours of sleep each night. Studies have also shown that adequate sleep reduces feelings of hunger and helps to control appetite. When you are well rested, you are better able to focus and to learn more efficiently.
How much sleep do you need?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the amount of sleep that you need depends on your age, lifestyle, and health. Generally, most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but athletes might actually require more because all the stress and practices require more recovery time. Pay attention to how you’re feeling in order to effectively gauge if you’re getting enough sleep. Most people feel drowsy during the early afternoon, but if you find yourself consistently falling asleep during the day, you might be sleep deprived.
While it is important to get enough sleep, keep in mind that not all sleep is created equal. Sleep occurs in a series of repeating stages that are actually very different from each other, but all play an important role in helping you feel well rested. The stages are transition to sleep, light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. You sleep in cycles during the night, moving back and forth between deep sleep and REM sleep. However, if you’re still having trouble waking up in the morning and staying awake throughout the day despite giving yourself plenty of time for sleep, you might not be spending enough time in the different stages. Deep sleep and REM sleep play especially important roles in self-repair. In deep sleep, blood flow to your muscles increases, which helps to restore energy and to repair tissue. Consolidation of different types of memories occurs in both deep sleep and in REM sleep.
How does nutrition play a role in sleep?
Nutrition and sleep directly affect each other. Studies suggest that magnesium plays a role in sleep. Magnesium is considered to be an “anti-stress” mineral because it works to calm the nerves and relax the muscles, which in turn can help people fall asleep. InsideTracker Fitness and Performance Plans measure magnesium in your blood. If your level is below optimal, InsideTracker will recommend foods that are good sources of magnesium, such as leafy green vegetables, whole grain cereals, nuts, and seafood. For even more food suggestions that will help you to optimize your magnesium levels, explore your InsideTracker and pages. InsideTracker will also suggest lifestyle and exercise modifications that can help to improve your sleep.
Your eating and sleeping habits can interact in other ways. Overeating, for example, increases your risk for weight gain and sleep apnea, a condition that is characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep. For some people, eating fatty or spicy foods at night can increase the risk for conditions that may disrupt sleep, such as acid reflux, heartburn, gas, and cramping. When you sleep poorly, you feel more hunger and tend to eat more. Getting more good sleep will reduce your appetite
How can you improve your sleep?
Getting enough sleep may be challenging, especially if you are juggling between exercise, work, and family obligations. Here are some ways to sleep better:
• Keep a regular schedule - go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
• Get regular aerobic exercise, but avoid intense exercise within 4 hours of bedtime
• Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, and use it mainly for sleep and sex
• Set – and stick to – a time to shutdown computer, email and television at night
• Reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake. These substances are known for disrupting your sleep!
• When you travel, it’s important to give yourself enough time to acclimate, especially if you are traveling for an athletic competition or are traveling across time zones. If you can, try to get to the event a few days earlier so your body has time to get back on a normal schedule.
• Avoid sleep medications unless a doctor prescribes them. Over the counter sleep aids can actually disrupt the quality of your sleep and may make you feel groggy the next day. Instead of taking medications, try some deep breathing techniques or do something that relaxes you before going to bed.
• Get an InsideTracker blood analysis to see how your biochemical status may be affecting your sleep
Remember, adequate sleep is an essential part of living a healthy life and of achieving your athletic goals!
InsideTracker is excited to introduce our new partner, AMRAP4Life to our community!
AMRAP4Lifeis a social network for sharing tips, expert research, inspiring stories, personal achievements, photos, and much more, with the goal of helping you to lead a healthier life. Additionally, it’s a great way to meet other people following a similar fitness journey.
InsideTracker has recently published several data-driven examples in which athletes across all disciplines and intensity levels have used the InsideTracker blood analysis program to reach past their fitness goals. At AMRAP4Life, our Wall of Champions is also filled with posts from members who are dedicated to beating their personal records – and actually doing it. This is exactly why we’ve teamed up with InsideTracker. As strength and conditioning athletes and CrossFitters themselves, our Founders see the value in being able to understand your body through InsideTracker’s service.
At AMRAP4Life, we know that when people make adjustments to their diet or activity, it’s important to (1) stay accountable and (2) leverage support. At AMRAP4Life we think of fitness as a lifestyle and a mindset, not a temporary change. Whether you’re new to the fitness world, a seasoned athlete, or an Olympic medalist, it’s important to immerse yourself in a community that will drive you to apply your new knowledge and stay committed.
AMRAP4Life exists to provide dedicated athletes with a community and forum in which there are tips, ideas, and encouraging words that act as the foundation for long-term success. AMRAP4Life is your community – join, connect and help build it at https://www.amrap4life.com/ !
Now there’s another reason to eat your fruits, vegetables and whole grains – to get phytochemicals —plant chemicals that have been shown to have a wide range of health benefits. Because they are common in plant based foods, you’re probably getting plenty of phytochemicals without even knowing it! An InsideTracker plan can tell you if you need to consume more of certain nutrients, and recommend plant-based foods that will help to improve your diet. Here is a breakdown of what phytochemicals can do for your body.
What are some common phytochemicals?
Because phytochemicals aren’t believed to be essential for keeping you alive, they’re not considered in the same category as vitamins, minerals, and other macronutrients. Even so, research suggests that phytochemicals are responsible for a wide range of health and disease-prevention benefits. Phytochemicals are commonly found in fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and plant-based beverages like tea.
There are over 25,000 types of phytochemicals, and each provides many different benefits to your body. Here are a few:
- Antioxidants - Most phytochemicals have some antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are a type of a molecule that protects our cells against harmful molecules called free radicals, which damage cells, protein, and DNA (for instance, free radicals cause peeled apples to turn brown). Eating more phytochemicals helps protect against this type of damage. Phytochemicals with antioxidant capacity include allyl sulfides (found in onions, leeks, and garlic), carotenoids (in fruits and carrots), flavonoids (fruits and vegetables), and polyphenols (in tea and grapes)
- Isoflavones - Found in soy, these phytochemicals imitate human estrogen and can help to strengthen bones and improve well-being in older women
- Indoles – These compounds in cabbage have been shown to stimulate certain enzymes that could reduce the risk of uncontrolled cell growth
- Saponins – Phytochemicals found in beans, saponins appear to strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of poor cell health by interfering with the replication of abnormal cell DNA. Capsaicin, a phytochemical found in hot peppers, helps to protect DNA
- Antibacterials – The phytochemical allicin from garlic has anti-bacterial properties
- Proanthocyanidins - Some types of phytochemicals bind to cell walls and prevent pathogens from adhering to them. For instance, the proanthocyanidins found in cranberries can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections.
How can I incorporate more phytochemicals into my diet?
Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables! Orange-colored foods like carrots, yams, cantaloupe, squash, and apricots provide carotenoid phytochemicals. Red-, blue-, and purple-colored foods like eggplant, red cabbage, and dark grapes contain a type of phytochemical called anthocyanidin. The glucosinolate and lignin phyotchemicals occur in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Citrus fruits, onions, broccoli, kale, celery, garlic, and hot peppers contain a variety of phytochemicals. Most foods, except for some alcohols and refined sugars, contain some phytochemicals. When in doubt, choose brightly colored or strongly flavored fruits and vegetables, which are the best sources of phytochemicals.
Is there any specific recommended intake of phytochemicals?
Since we don’t know exactly how the body absorbs and metabolizes phytochemical compounds, the Institute of Medicine chose not to create a Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for these compounds. However, organizations like the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society recommend consuming a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods that are rich in phytochemicals. The current recommendation from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to consume 5 or more cups of fruits and vegetables per day. In other words, about half of the food you eat each day should be fruits and vegetables.
As with vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals are probably most beneficial when consumed as whole foods, instead of supplements. Phytochemicals in supplement form many not be as easily absorbed by the body as those from food. Additionally, by replacing actual food with supplements, you may be missing out on other important components of the food, such as the fiber that is found naturally in fruit skins or whole grains. Current evidence suggests that eating a balanced and diverse diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will support your overall health, so you should increase your intake of these foods if you want to consume more phyotchemicals! And have an InsideTracker blood analysis to be sure that you know which nutrients you actually need.
Getting regular exercise during the cold winter months can be difficult, especially if you hate jogging on the treadmill or power walking through the grocery store. Snow, wind, and freezing temperatures can discourage even the most motivated person from exercising, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Exercising during the winter is important because it will make you feel more energetic, which should make it easier for you to get out of bed on those cold, dark mornings. Based on your blood analysis, InsideTracker can recommend foods that will boost your energy level and keep your strength up throughout the day! If you’re the type of person who is affected by shorter daylight hours, keeping active can improve your sense of well-being…and help you avoid the desire to eat more during the winter months! If you’re tempted to stash away your workout gear and hibernate for the winter, here are some ways to combat the cold:
Many people make the mistake of dressing too warmly during a winter workout. When you exercise, you produce a considerable amount of body heat that makes the weather feel warmer than it actually is. However, the problem starts when your sweat dries and you start to get chilled. What is the solution? Dress in layers! When you start to sweat, you can add and remove clothing as necessary.
Avoid making cotton your first layer since it absorbs moisture and stays wet near your skin. Instead, wear a thin layer of synthetic material that is designed to draw sweat away from your body. Then, add a layer of wool or fleece for extra warmth and top that with a breathable, waterproof outer layer. Resist the temptation to pack on a heavy jacket or vest because it may cause you to overheat, especially if you’re engaging in an aerobic workout. If it’s particularly cold, you can wear a face mask or scarf to heat the air before it enters your body. Of course, it’s always best to experiment with a wide variety of clothing that suits your level of exercise intensity. Remember that stop-and-go activities, such as alternating walking and jogging, can make you more susceptible to the cold weather if you start to sweat and then cool off.
Conceal your extremities
Your hands, feet, and ears are most vulnerable to frostbite. In cold weather, the blood flow is typically concentrated in the middle of your body, which leaves less for your extremities. To protect your hands, try wearing two layers of gloves—a thin layer underneath a heavy layer—so that you can remove the top layer if your hands start to sweat. For your feet, consider purchasing sneakers that are a little big so that you can wear thick thermal socks. Your ears are also important, so don’t forget to bring a hat or a headband!
Watch the weather
Working out in a cold rain can make you even more vulnerable to frostbite. If your clothes get wet, your body temperature may fall, even if you’re wearing multiple layers. So if it’s exceptionally cold and raining, do your workout indoors or skip it completely until the weather improves. Wind is also a problem. Even if you dress warmly and wear multiple layers, wind can make outdoor workouts unsafe because the wind can penetrate your clothes and remove any warm air that surrounds your body. A good rule of thumb is to choose an indoor activity if the temperature dips below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s particularly windy outside, do the second half of your workout with the wind at your back. That way, you’re at less risk for getting chilled after you’ve worked up a sweat.
Choose your workout gear wisely
If you’re the type of person who enjoys an early morning workout, be sure to protect yourself during the dark winter mornings by wearing reflective clothing. Similarly, wear shoes that have enough traction to prevent slipping in the ice and snow. Chemical heating packs are also great ways to warm up your hands and feet. And of course, be sure to wear a helmet when skiing or snowboarding!
Also keep in mind that sunburns don’t just happen during the summertime—you’re especially vulnerable to the sun’s rays if you’re working out in the snow or at high altitudes. So, choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 and opt for a lip balm that contains sunscreen. Don’t forget to wear dark glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from snow glare.
Eat and drink to protect yourself from the cold!
Hydration is not just for the summer! You can become just as dehydrated in the cold weather as in the hot weather, but it may be harder to notice. Sweating, urinating, and breathing all release water from your body, so be sure to drink lots of fluids before, during, and after your workout.
Fueling your workout is a little more complicated. You need to consume an adequate amount of food in order to have enough energy to exercise, and this fact is amplified during the winter when you also have to generate enough body heat to keep yourself warm. The good news is that the digestion process does much of the work for you since it creates heat in the process of distributing energy throughout your body. This process, which is known as thermogenesis, helps your body generate about 10% more heat after 30-60 minutes after eating than when you have an empty stomach. The key to fueling your winter workout is to consume nutrients that are digested quickly and easily, but provide enough energy for long efforts. Carbohydrates like oatmeal, bananas, pasta, and peanut butter on whole-wheat toast are great ways to warm up and fuel up for working out in the cold!
Educate yourself about frostbite and hypothermia
The best way to stay safe and healthy is to stop a problem before it starts! Frostbite commonly occurs on exposed skin, such as your cheeks, nose, and ears, but it can also happen on your feet and hands. Watch out for loss of feeling, a stinging sensation, or numbness on your body. If you experience any of these symptoms, get inside as soon as possible and slowly warm the affected area. Be careful not to rub the area since that can damage your skin. If the problem persists, you should seek emergency care immediately.
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean that you should stop exercising! With a little extra preparation, your winter workout can be fun, safe, and satisfying!
InsideTracker is pleased to introduce uBiome, a citizen science project that gives you access to cutting edge sequencing technology to understand your health through the microbiome. Like InsideTracker, uBiome gives you a window inside your body. While InsideTracker measures biomarkers in your blood, uBiome analyzes the microbiome, the microbes living inside your body.
The microbiome comprises the trillions of bacteria that live on and in us. Like the rainforest, the healthy human microbiome is a balanced ecosystem. The correct balance of microbes serves to keep potential pathogens in check and regulate the immune system. Studies have linked microbiome imbalance to autism, depression, and anxiety, as well as many gut disorders, eczema, and chronic sinusitis.
Using techniques used in the Human Microbiome Project, uBiome can tell you what microbes are living in your body, compare you to others, and keep you up to date on research that applies to your data. Your data will go toward building the largest database of microbiome information in the world.