Exercise is the best prevention to COVID-19

We’ve known for a while that exercise is good for our immune system. Active individuals are less susceptible to viral infections and inflammation.

A recent study looked at how COVID-19 affected adults based on their pre-existing levels of physical activity.

The study included 48,400 adults in Southern California that tested positive for COVID-19. The patients were assigned to one of three groups based on how much exercise they got each week. The first group would get 150 minutes, or more, of exercise each week. The second group was inactive and got from zero to ten minutes of exercise per week. And the last group was right in the middle getting between 11 and 149 minutes of exercise per week.

Each group was then tracked based on whether they were hospitalized, admitted to the intensive care unit or died.

What they found was that the individuals getting no exercise, i.e. 10 minutes or less, were 2.26 times more likely to be hospitalized compared to the group getting the most exercise. And for those in the middle group of exercise, i.e. 11-149 minutes, they were 1.89 times more likely to be hospitalized than those getting at least 150 minutes per week.

So that does 150 minutes of exercise per week look like? This is 30 minutes per day on weekdays. This would be similar to going for a run over the lunch hour for half an hour. Of the 48, 440 patients that tested positive for COVID-19, only 6.4% got this much exercise. 14.4% of patients did no exercise, or up to 10 minutes, each week. This leaves about almost 80% of patients that get 11-149 minutes of exercise per week.

Perhaps the most interesting finding of this study was the fact that physical inactivity was strongest risk factor with how severe COVID-19 would affect the individual. Physical inactivity is a greater risk factor than smoking, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and cancer.

This should be a wake up call to anyone that wants the pandemic to be over and to get back to what life used to like. If we want to see fewer hospitalizations, admittances to the ICU and deaths to the ICU we need to make sure we achieve a minimum level of physical activity i.e. at least 30 minutes per day.

Citation

Sallis, R., Young, D. R., Tartof, S. Y., Sallis, J. F., Sall, J., Li, Q., & Cohen, D. A. (2021). Physical inactivity is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes: a study in 48 440 adult patients. British journal of sports medicine.

Anti-histamines and the Impact on Exercise

It’s that time of year when golf courses are open and home owners are tending to their yards and gardens. And nothing could be worse for the allergy sufferers that have to deal with congested airways, itchy throats, watery eyes and constant sneezing.

Fortunately there are over-the-counter products that help deal with the histamines that cause many of these symptoms. But as with many medications there can be side effects beyond the relief of symptoms.

A recent study looked at how anti-histamines blunt the benefits of exercise. Histamine function is vital to the short and long term benefits of exercise. However when the body has a reaction to dust or pollen the immune system stimulates the release of anti-histamines to deal with this.

But when it comes to exercise histamines play an important role in circulation, capacity and glycemic control. The researchers wanted to know what impact anti-histamines would have on these areas of our health.

For the study healthy male participants were assigned to a control group that would receive a placebo or anti-histamines. The subjects then followed a six week exercise program to assess the impact of anti-histamines on circulation, exercise capacity and glycemic control. These areas are directly related to overall health, performance and disease i.e. diabetes.

The researchers noticed the following results:

  • the group taking the anti-histamines had 35% lower muscle perfusion post-workout i.e. less circulation
  • time to exhaustion increased 81% for the placebo group versus 31% for those taking anti-histamines
  • peak power increased 12% for the placebo group versus 7% for the anti-histamine group
  • fasting blood glucose levels decreased only with the placebo group
  • insulin sensitivity increased 26% for the placebo group but only 1% for those taking the anti-histamines

The take home points:

  • The study involved only healthy males and and results may not be replicated for other groups i.e. females or unhealthy subjects.
  • The dose of anti-histamines was quite high at 880 mg of H1/H2 histamine blockers. Common over-the-counter products may have 10% this dose at 80-100 mg.
  • The study involved healthy subjects and investigated the impact on glycemic control. How would the results have differed had those with diabetes been involved in the study?
  • The study is quite small, i.e. 20 subjects, and short, i.e. six weeks. What the results look like with a larger sample size with an experiment that continued for a longer period of time?
  • Understand that anti-histamines do impact circulation, performance and glycemic control. Consider these when taking medicines with these ingredients and how they may impact blood flow, exercise capacity and the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates.

Van der Stede, T., Blancquaert, L., Stassen, F., Everaert, I., Van Thienen, R., Vervaet, C., & Derave, W. (2021). Histamine H1 and H2 receptors are essential transducers of the integrative exercise training response in humans. Science Advances7(16), eabf2856.

The Effect of Exercise on Nutritional Choices

After you train what is your plan for nutrition? For some, they don’t want to think about eating anything for a while. Their heart is still pumping. Their temperature is up a bit. And there may be a bead of sweat on their brow.

All of these may result in the individual not having a huge appetite post-training.

A recent study looked to see how exercise influences our nutritional choices. The timing of this study is interesting as with COVID more gyms are closed and therefore more of us are more sedentary and consequently have put on a few pounds as a result.

For this study researchers had 41 individuals made up of 23 women and 18 men divided into one of two groups. The subjects ranged from 18-29 years and had an average BMI of 23.7. A BMI of 25 is considered overweight.

One group would perform 45 minutes of exercise and the other group would rest. For the following visit the two groups would switch and do the other condition i.e. rest or exercise.

Before the visit the participants would fill out questionnaires asking them how hungry or full they were, the preferred amount of food they would want to eat and how long they would wait until they ate.

What they found is that exercise resulted in a greater amount of food to be eaten post-exercise, both immediately and 30 minutes post exercise. As well, after exercise there was an increased preference for immediate consumption of food.

Takeaways from this study:

  • None of the subjects were above 30 years. How closely would the results match for a study with subjects over 30?
  • The exercise in the study was 45 minutes on a stationary bike at 60% of VO2max. Would the same results be expected for exercise of different duration, intensity or type?
  • Would similar results be expected for overweight or obese individuals as this study didn’t include these populations?
  • This study tells us we will tend to eat more and sooner after exercise. This means if a caloric deficit is a goal we need to be aware of how exercise plays a role in influencing how much we choose to eat and how soon.
  • Have a plan in place prior to exercise to control both the quantity and quality of the post-workout meal.

Koehler, K., Beckford, S. E., Thayer, E., Martin, A. R., Boron, J. B., & Stevens, J. R. (2021). Exercise Shifts Hypothetical Food Choices toward Greater Amounts and More Immediate Consumption. Nutrients13(2), 347.

Exercise and a healthy diet as children pays off as adults

Do you ever think about the things you had to do as a child?

I mean when we were kids our goals were to play with our friends, have fun and eat candy. And our teachers, parents and priests were there to help us with the ABCs, to make sure we ate some fruits and vegetables, that we got to bed on-time and learned how to be helpful functioning citizens of society.

And we would give push back from time to time on the different things that were expected of us. We would question when we would ever have to calculate what time a train would arrive that travelled at 95 km/hour and left the station at 930 am. We now have google for that.

But if your parents encouraged you to play sports and eat your broccoli you probably owe them a thank you. Because new research shows that the healthy choices made in the early years help us later on. As a parent, it’s advisable to encourage your children to exercise and play on this solid wood playhouse to promote their health.

Researchers at UC Riverside (California) put young mice into 4 groups. One group did exercise, another did no exercise, a third was fed a healthy diet and the fourth was fed a typical Western diet. The Western diet was higher in fat and sugar. These protocols for each group were followed for 3 weeks which is when mice reach sexual maturity. All mice were then fed a healthy diet for 8 weeks.

The researchers then measured aspects of behaviour, aerobic capacity and hormones.

What they found is that the mice that exercsed or were fed a healthy diet were less anxious as adults, they had greater muscle mass and brain mass. Those that were fed a Western diet became fatter and preferred unhealthy foods.

Of the hormones they investigated leptin was one that responded to exercise early on. When children exercise they have higher leptin levels later in life. This is important as leptin is produced by our fat cells and helps control body weight by increasing energy expenditure. It provides a signal that less food is required. So higher leptin helps us burn more calories and eat less.

These findings regarding leptin were consistent regardless of the diet followed. It was the exercise that was responsible for these effects on leptin.

The same research group had previously observed that too much fat and sugar as a child alters the microbiome, i.e. our gut bacteria, for life even if we eat healthier later.

Key points from this study:

  • While this was a study with mice there is the potential for a similar response with humans.
  • The earlier in life we start with healthy nutrition and exercise the better our health as adults will be.
  • Nutrition and exercise are inseparable. We cannot achieve optimal health in the absence of either.
  • Poor habits established as children can be hard to undo or reverse as adults.

Citation

Cadneye, M. D., Hiramatsu, L., Thompson, Z., Zhao, M., Kay, J. C., Singleton, J. M., & Garland Jr, T. (2021). Effects of early-life exposure to Western diet and voluntary exercise on adult activity levels, exercise physiology, and associated traits in selectively bred High Runner mice. Physiology & Behavior, 113389.

Meet Coach Emily

Some of you may already know Emily Epp, one of our student interns. But do you know Emily’s story?

Read on to learn about her story including training for and completing swimming across the English Channel.

HOW IT BEGAN
When I was 10, I told my parents that I wanted to swim the English Channel. To be honest, I do not remember if I was joking at the time, or if I legitimately had the Channel in my sights. Everyone around me thought it I was being a cute kid spewing out unrealistic goals and they found it funny. Around 3 years later Brent Hobbs (who swam the English Channel in 2012) approached me and asked if I still wanted to do the swim. At that point I had developed a love for open water swimming and agreed to try and see if I liked it. That summer I attempted my first lake swim of 4 hours, barely. The water during that swim was 18 degrees C and I was freezing. From looking back at my journal, at about “ half way through the first hour I was so cold my hands and arms were frozen and my goggles were too tight.” I was in a bad mood. We had a long way to go if I planned on swimming the Channel. 

TRAINING
From that point on training became more serious. I was already a very active and competitive swimmer in the pool training nine-two hour practices a week with the Kelowna Aquajets Swim Club. But training to swim in the cold water (under 15 degrees C) for many hours was something that had to be done in the lake. We started with 2 hour swims on the weekends in the lake continuing into the fall until the water was under 10 degrees C. Winter would pass and I would start my weekend lake swims in March gradually building up my cold water endurance to 6 hours (in addition to my KAJ swim practices). With the water being very cold at the start of spring and the end of fall, sometimes I would put on a wetsuit just so that I could swim longer; however, for the Channel a wetsuit would not be allowed. Once I turned 16, Channel training was my primary focus. With this came preparing for any challenges that may occur. The English Channel is a shipping water way located between England and France and at its narrowest point is around 32 km in width (I swam 47 km). The water does not get much above 17 C and can be as cold as 12 C. With that, weather can be unpredictable leading to massive winds and water swells. Training in Okanagan Lake did not do justice to anything I would face while swimming the Channel. 

QUALIFIER
The English Channel Association requires all applicants to complete a legal 6 hr qualifying swim. Without the qualifying swim an applicant would not even be looked at for a potential attempt. To make this swim legal it must be swam in less than 15 C water, you cannot stand on the bottom of the lake or touch/ hold a boat. You can only wear a swimsuit (no wetsuit), and a single cap and goggles. I completed this goal in the fall of 2016 officially qualifying me for the channel.
That winter passed and my channel swim window was scheduled for July 14-21. Every Channel swimmer is scheduled a week of possible dates to do their swim based on the weather. Because I spent all of my training in a lake we wanted to do a swim in the ocean. We decided that I would attempt to circumnavigate Bowen Island in Vancouver (~ 30 km). 

BOWEN ISLAND

Bowen Island was the first swim that came anywhere close to the extremes of the Channel. Although the weather was lovely, I experienced some new challenges. These included currents, ocean waves and swells. There was one point in my swim at the last turn of the island where my smooth swimming came near to a stop. The waves picked up and the current became strong enough to almost prevent me from moving a meter. During this time the biggest and most important struggle started to appear. . . nausea! During Bowen Island we thought I was only malnourished and my body was feeling sick from lack of nutrition and fluids. For the remaining hours I forced myself to drink my liquid nutrition drink no matter how crappy I felt. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, I never vomited during Bowen Island. After finishing the circumnavigation we had a good idea of what we needed to prepare for the channel and from there we started “tapering.” 

NIGHT SWIM

For one of my last lake swims before I would fly to England, Brent and Phred (two swimmers who supported and coached me through the entire process) decided to join me for one last 5 hour swim. The catch was that this swim would be done in the dark. We started around 11 pm and finished around 4 am. Ironically, this was probably the most fun of any previous swims. I have always enjoyed swimming in the dark. I think it is peaceful and relaxing. When you can’t see anything there is nothing but you in your own thoughts. During this swim we decided to make it fun by using glow lights and fun coloured diving lights to help “ brighten up” the swim. 

SWIMMING THE ENGLISH CHANNEL
July came very quickly and we found ourselves on a plane to England, along with my coach Brent. We arrived on the 11th and after meeting with Andy (my escort boat driver) and crew, we found out I would swim on the very first day of my window, July 14th at 3 am. This was a surprise because most swimmers wait their entire window before they get a chance. My mom was still at home and had not planned on flying in until the 15th. Telling her over the phone she would miss my swim was hard since I wanted her there just as much as she wanted to be there. However,after pulling some strings she got an earlier flight and would just make it. Sadly, around 12 pm we got a call that the winds had picked up and the swim wouldn’t go. It was frustrating because of all the uncertainty. Big questions such as “ will I get to swim?” and “would I complete it if I do?”. The next morning we got a call that I would start my swim at 3 pm. My Channel swim day started lovely in the way that it was sunny; however it was a little windy turning the water into small swells. Around 2 hours in, the winds picked up more causing 2 m swells. This was also when I began to get nauseous just like I had during the Bowen Island swim. We realized that I was not sick from being malnourished, but sea sick. This time I did throw up and continued to do so every 20 min for 5 hours. The pattern went as follows: 

  1. Chug a half water bottle of liquid food (tastes like hot chocolate)
  2. Throw up 30 seconds later
  3. Swim like a new human for 10 min 
  4. Count the Jellyfish (P.S: there are 421 that I counted)
  5. Start feeling sick 
  6. Chug a half bottle of food

Once the 5 hours of horror past, it got dark and suddenly I began to feel better again and the vomiting stopped (likely due to the inability to see the horizon bobbing up and down).  Normal Channel swims finish with the swimmer standing on the dry rocks of the French shores. They collect a rock and take a photo before their 2 min on shore is over (2 min since technically swimmers never cross the border). My swim ended more abruptly. I finished on a cliff face, or more specifically the Cape Gris Nez Cliffs. I was slammed onto the cliff face ripping my swim suit and leaving several bruises. I happened to be terrified of waves. Something about swimming with them always freaked me out a bit. Because I finished my swim in the dark, I could not actually see the waves that threw me into the rocks, we estimate they were between 4 and 5 ft tall. Andy (my boat driver) clocked my swim at 2:57 am making my swim just under 12 hours long. 

FAILS

Although my swim ended successfully, I had many failures along the way. I stopped short of my goal time in many cold water swims, cranky, and tired. My successful 6 hour qualifier was not the first time I had attempted it. I had tried the previous fall and just made it past 5 hours before I was too cold to continue and in tears from frustration. Most swims were miserable and I spent a good chunk of time on some feeling sorry for myself. I have always found ways to blame myself for my “failures” in any sport. I beat myself up and wonder why I didn’t just push myself a little harder. My team and I also failed together several times. We failed to read my body properly leading to moderate hypothermia. However, as swims went on we got better and learned the signs my body gave us when it needed help. 

MOTIVATION
I had decided early on that I would do my swim as a fundraiser for Canuck Place Children’s Hospice (end of life and care home for children) and was able to raise $120,000. My sister, Elan, has been involved with Canuck Place for years and they truly changed her life. I thought that I could give back by donating through my swim. This was the center of my motivation. It is much harder to disappoint someone else, than it is yourself. I did the swim for them and knowing they were all looking at me and cheering me on. Doing the swim as a fundraiser for such a special group of people made me want to succeed even more than my own desire to complete my dream. At the end of the day it was the people around me that helped me get through it. Obviously I swam the Channel and went through the physical struggles by myself, but I did not go through the process alone.

CHANNEL DEPRESSION
This is the part that people don’t talk about. Channel swimmers and everyone around them always prioritize the swim itself. They talk about how they trained for it, how they swam it, what challenges they faced during the swim, how happy and relieved they are that it is over, but rarely do they talk about what happens months after the swim when all the hype and excitement is over. Once all the excitement fades, there are some identity struggles. This “what do I do now” question kicks off the beginning of the Channel depression phenomenon. I still struggle with this today, almost 4 years later. Because I swam the Channel at 17, I swam the summer between grade 11 and grade 12. I had been a competitive swimmer with the Kelowna Aquajets since I was 9 and speed swimming was very important to me. While training for the Channel I was under the impression that I could train for the Channel (marathon training) and speed swim train to high levels at the same time. Anyone who has done any sort of marathon or competitive sports that race short distances know that this is not possible. I could not sustain my speed in the pool while getting stronger in the lake. Although I struggled with “ getting slower” and the inability to swim best times at competitions, I always had my Channel training to fall back on and cover for me. If someone in my club asked me why I wasn’t swimming my best I could always say “ oh I did a long swim the other day and am a bit tired from that.” It was true. How could I swim my fastest when I was swimming 10 hours or more extra a week. Once my Channel swim ended, I did not have that excuse anymore. I only saw a plateau in my speed swimming. During my grade 12 year I slowly lost the motivation to swim and because I am a stubborn girl who only saw herself as a swimmer, I beat myself up for missing the practices I couldn’t even get myself to go to. Then I would beat myself up more for not having the motivation to go to practice. Over the process of 10 months I slowly dropped swimming altogether. School was also a struggle. Because of the many internal conflicts my grades started dropping and I was joining clubs I never would have tried before to fill my time up. I tried out for basketball. . . and I did not make the team (I was awful so do not blame the coach). I also tried out for a play and surprisingly did get a part as Susan in Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Although most people would think I had no reason to be sad, I was. I felt like the one thing I knew, swimming, was over and I had no other identity. In mt first year of college I joined the Kelowna Paddle Centre to do a sport that was not swimming. It was this sport that became a new passion and gave me new goals. From there I joined Okanagan Peak Performance Inc. to help my paddling performance. I have been at OPP for a year and a half now training in the sport of powerlifting and interning to be a strength and conditioning coach. This has helped me redefine myself and make new goals. Although I do sometimes look back at my swimming days and shed a tear thinking back to all the different emotions that go with it (even while writing this blog), I am happy I experienced it because without that pain I may not have found a new sport I love or have the chance to tell others my story.

Strength Training for Running – How and When it Helps

Do you consider yourself healthy?

Or more specifically, do you consider yourself athletic and in-shape?
If so, how do you measure your fitness or athleticism?

The bodybuilder might consider their success by the circumference of their biceps. The powerlifter might base success on what they can deadlift, squat and bench. And the non-athletic person might claim to have had a perfect physical the last time they saw their doctor.

Depending on which group you identify with will determine which metrics you consider important.

There’s no denying that running is a great measuring stick of our health and fitness. 

Running is basically jumping from one leg to the next. Running fitness is associated with longevity. And when we are better at it, i.e. a faster runner, we tend to do better in sports.

So if we can agree on the importance of running we should want to do the things that help us run faster. For a while now we’ve known that resistance training helps our running performance. 

But how effective is it? And when does it pay dividends during a race?
A 2015 Brazilian study looked to answer these questions. 

What did they do?
18 runners (average age 34 years) were divided into 2 groups for 8 weeks. Race times for these runners ranged from 35-45 minutes for a 10 km race. One group of 9 did strength training whereas the other 9 did no strength training. None of the participants had done strength or plyometric training previously.

Below is a table showing the exercises performed over the 8 weeks as well as the sets and reps performed. All of the exercises were for the lower body with an emphasis on the leg extensors i.e. the quads.

ExercisesPhase (weeks)Volume
Half-squat, leg-press, plantar flexion, and knee extension1–23 series 8–10 RM
3–4 3 series 6–8 RM
5–6 3 series 4–6 RM
7–8 2 series 3–5 RM

What did the measure?
Researchers wanted to know the impact of resistance training on:

  • incremental test i.e. VO2max
  • running speed
  • 10 km time trial
  • 30 s Wingate
  • maximum dynamic strength

So what did they find?
1 RM strength (up 23%), drop jump (up 12.7%) and peak speed (up 2.9%) improved considerably for the strength training group compared to the control. 10 km time trial improved 2.5% for the strength group compared to -0.7% for the control. The improvement in 10 km time was attributed to faster speeds during the last quarter of the time trial (specifically the last 2800 m). In absolute values the resistance training group shaved 65 seconds off their 10 km time trial whereas the control group added 18 seconds.
There was no significant difference with anaerobic measures i.e. Wingate, maximal oxygen uptake i.e. VO2max or running economy.

Limitations of this study
Only moderately trained runners participated. Different results might be expected for those new to running and elite runners.

None of the participants had previous resistance or plyometric training experience. The results would not be as significant for those with a background in strength training. 

The exercises selected focussed on the quads. How would the results have differed if the program included hip dominant exercises such as deadlifts or hip thrusts?

The study provides no details on the tempo of the lifts performed. Would the results differ if specific attention was given to all three phases of a muscular contraction? i.e. eccentric, isometric, concentric

All the participants of the study were male and relatively young. Would the same outcome be expected for female and more senior runners?

The take home message
If you are a moderately trained runner that doesn’t already include resistance training in their program than you should start. There would also be benefit to including some posterior chain exercises and gradually introducing some plyometrics.

Doing so won’t change your VO2max or anaerobic metabolism but you will run faster. Especially near the end of the run when those who don’t strength train will be slowing down.

Citation
Damasceno, M. V., Lima-Silva, A. E., Pasqua, L. A., Tricoli, V., Duarte, M., Bishop, D. J., & Bertuzzi, R. (2015). Effects of resistance training on neuromuscular characteristics and pacing during 10-km running time trial. European journal of applied physiology115(7), 1513-1522.

Anterior Pelvic Tilt and Hip Mobility

There’s no denying the importance of the hips in sports performance. The high degree of mobility at this joint allows us to sprint, cut, change direction, raise or lower our center of mass and jump with as much force as we can produce.

But before we get started on increasing the mobility or sttrength of our hips we should make sure the hips and pelvis are optimally positioned for our posture.

Sometimes the analogy of a bowl of water is used to convey the concept of the positioning of the pelvis.

When we have anterior pelvic tilt we can imagine water spilling out of the front of the bowl. The opposite is true of posterior pelvic tilt.

I’m not suggesting we should all have a neutral pelvis but instead we should be aware of our posture and how this can impact our movement.

A 2014 study (reference below) looked at how our hip mobiliy is influenced by anterior, neutral or posterior pelvic tilt.

The researchers examined the hips of 48 subjects that had surgery due to femoral acetabular impingement (FAI). The various positions of anterior pelvic tilt (10 degrees), native (no tilt) and posterior pelvic tilt (10 degrees) were analyzed in terms of hip flexion, hip internal rotation, hip adduction and the position of osseus (bony) contact (impingement).

What they found was that anterior pelvic tilt was associated with lower hip flexion (6 degrees), lower internal rotation (15 degrees), lower hip adduction (8.5 degrees) and increased contact at positions of impingement. When the subjects were positioned in posterior pelvic tilt these three ranges at the hip increased and there was decreased inpingement.

So for the following athletes this would be a concern for :

  • The sprinter because speed = stride rate x stride length. Less hip flexion may result in a shorter stride.
  • The hockey goalie getting into the butterfly position. A loss of 15 degrees of internal rotation will make this more difficult.
  • The breaststroker in swiming. Finishing the frog kick to propel the body forward requires squeezing the legs together with adduction at the hip.

Even if your goal is not related to sports performance it doesn’t hurt to be aware of your posture and alignment. Most of us will have some level of anterior pelvic tilt and that can be OK and works well with our natural lumbar arch. The goal is to be aware of it and recognize when our posture deviates too much and what to do about it.

Ross, J. R., Nepple, J. J., Philippon, M. J., Kelly, B. T., Larson, C. M., & Bedi, A. (2014). Effect of changes in pelvic tilt on range of motion to impingement and radiographic parameters of acetabular morphologic characteristics. The American journal of sports medicine42(10), 2402-2409.

Built for Show – And for Go

There seems to be a school of thought when it comes to resistance training that you’re either training for performance or for aesthetics. It’s either bodybuilding or strength and conditiong. Built for show or for go.

It was as though the two goals were mutually exclusive and could not overlap.

Meatheads would mock those who couldn’t build 20 inch arms. And athletes would point out all the gym rats that trip over their own feet during a game of football.

But is that the case?

If you train for hypertrophy i.e. size, does that mean you’ll be useless on the playing field?

New research says that’s not the case.

The study look at muscle volume and strength and compared this among three groups 1) elite sprinters n= 5, 2) sub-elite sprinters n= 26, and untrained controls n=11. All study subjects were male. Elite sprinters were defined as though that could run a 10.10 second 100 meter and sub-elite as though that could run the 100 m in 10.80 seconds.

To put in perspective how fast a 10.10 second 100 metre is, only four Canadians have ever run a sub 10 second 100 m including Olympic champion Donovan Bailey and Olympic bronze medallist Andre De Grasse.

The study subjects underwent MRIs to determine muscle volume of 23 lower limb muscles and 5 functional muscles. These were then correlated to 100 m times and isometric strength.

What they found was that the muscularity of elite sprinters was greater in elite sprinters than sub-elite and both were greater than the controls. In particular the hip extensors showed the biggest difference among the groups and this accounted for 31-48% of the variability in 100 m times.

Of the hip extensors it turns out the gluteus maximus alone accounted for 34-44 % of variance in 100 m sprint time.

There is substantial difference in the size and volume of the gluteus maximus in elite sprinters compared to sub-elite sprinters and even moreso with untrained controls.

In terms of isometric strength, plantar flexors, or the muscles we use to point our toes, showed no difference. Both sprint groups were stronger, isometrically, but this was not related to sprint times.

The take home message is that you can train to be like J-Lo and Usain Bolt at the same time. Building a bigger backside helps fill out your favourite pair of denim and sprint faster.

Miller, R., Balshaw, T. G., Massey, G. J., Maeo, S., Lanza, M. B., Johnston, M., & Folland, J. P. (2020). The Muscle Morphology of Elite Sprint Running. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Caffeine and Fat Burning

Do you drink coffee? More importantly, do you use coffee to help with your training or performance?

I know there are some people that can’t touch the stuff before training or it results in a trip to the bathroom mid-workout. Personally, I love to sip on a cup of coffee for an early morning workout for a bit of a boost.

But does it help? Specifically with respect to fat burning, does caffeine help? And does it make a difference what time of day you have a cup of coffee in relation to your training?

A recent study looked to answer this question. They wanted to know if caffeine would boost fat burning.

What they did was have the experiment subjects have a drink 30 minutes before an aerobic exercise workout. The subjects included 15 males averaging 32 years old. The subjects did 4 sessions 7 days apart. This allowed them to experience all 4 test conditions of coffee, placebo, 8 AM training or 5 PM training.

The researchers controlled for fasting, exercise and other stimulants consumed. They wanted to make sure the subjects weren’t doing workouts before coming to the lab or slamming back a Red Bull either.

The researchers used indirect calorimetry to measure maximal fat oxidation (MFO).

So what did they find?

MFO and VO2max were greater in the PM than in the AM.

When the groups consumed caffeine there was 10.7% greater MFO in the morning (i.e. 8 AM) compared to the group that consumed a placebo. And with the 5 PM group MFO was 29% greater when caffeine was consumed instead of a placebo.

So the two big takeaways are that:

  1. Caffeine works and helps increase MFO
  2. Results were better with the afternoon versus the morning group

A few things to keep in mind include:

  • Would we see the same results for different ages rather than everyone of approximately 32 years?
  • Would we see the same results for women?
  • Would we see the same results for sedentary individuals? All the participants in this study were already active.
  • Would the results have differed if more caffeine was consumed? The subjects consumed 3 mg/kg bodyweight. So an 80 kg individual would ingest 240 milligrams of caffeine. (a cup of coffee has about 100 mg)

Lastly, don’t lose sight of the fact that the best time to exercise is when you can make time for it. Different chronotypes do better at different times of day. And although afternoon caffeine resulted in more MFO compared to the morning don’t forget of the fat burning powers of sleep. If an afternoon cup of coffee disrupts sleep it may not be worth it.

Ramírez-Maldonado, M., Jurado-Fasoli, L., Del Coso, J., Ruiz, J. R., & Amaro-Gahete, F. J. (2021). Caffeine increases maximal fat oxidation during a graded exercise test: is there a diurnal variation?. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition18(1), 1-9.

Obesity to Become Main Cancer Risk

Growing up we always associated smoking with cancer. We’d have the school assemblies to prevent us from lighting up. The packages of cigarettes had images of disgusting gum and tooth disease caused by smoking. And we all knew a relative or loved one that was a smoker and passed away from cancer.

That could all change.

Obesity could overtake smoking as the main cancer risk by 2040 in women and soon after in men.

And with the pandemic this isn’t getting any better. Since this time last year most people have put on a few pounds, are less active and eating more junk food. And when the food delivery services show up in our neighbourhood it’s usually bringing fast food. Combine this with more people quitting smoking and it’s easy to see how obesity will overtake smoking as a greater risk for cancer.

So what’s the big deal with obesity?

Well fat isn’t inert tissue that gets added to the body and has no effects. It doesn’t just sit there quietly but is active. It sends signals to other tissues and organs that affect growth, metabolism and reproductive processes.

When we are obese we are vulnerable to tissue damage and developing tumours. And there are least 12 types of cancer linked to carrying excess weight. Regular exercise is important for cancer prevention specifically breast and colon cancer.

A recent study in the UK involved exercising mice three times per week for 30 minutes. These mice showed lower levels of inflammation, which can lead to the development of tumours. As well, the mice that exercised improved their metabolism, had less fat in their livers and moved more quickly.

In the UK there are 135,000 new cancers per year (about 4 in 10) deemed to be preventable. Exercise can be a great way to reduced the chance of obesity and thus lessen the chance of developing cancer.

Bianchi, A., Marchetti, L., Hall, Z., Lemos, H., Vacca, M., Paish, H., & Wilson, C. L. (2021). Moderate Exercise Inhibits Age-Related Inflammation, Liver Steatosis, Senescence, and Tumorigenesis. The Journal of Immunology206(4), 904-916.