Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Abundant Assets

In the dark ages, bodies were shameful. We were painted as if we were just heads floating over skinny, shapeless robes. Think Nicole Richie. Though, shapeless is apparently a timeless trend, it should be said the Dark Age Apostles never wore the Audrey Hepburn sunglasses but their sandals were always righteous.

Paintings are now arguably more interesting but the clothes haven’t changed much at least in their ability to accommodate our real-life curvy parts which are, apparently, still shameful. It’s funny that supermarkets have two isles of sugary breakfast cereals but in order to get dressed in the morning you can’t eat any of them. And, that fitness is fashionable yet fashion won’t accommodate a fit frame. Who should be ashamed here?

I’ve spent many an afternoon in dressing rooms trying to molt out of some frock because it slid over my head nicely but when my lats flared in an attempt to get the thing back off over my head, I’ve gotten hopelessly stuck. Who wants to go to the checkout counter caught in a strangle-hold by some ill fitting sales item that’s draped over head like a sock puppet and flapping open ‘hospital gown’ style in the back because flexing puts the zipper out of reach? If you call 911, will the Fire Department respond with a seam ripper? Or do you just go through the check out nonchalantly with a casual ‘I’d like to wear it’, toss you wallet out overhead through the flapping sleeve and then shuffle to the parking lot to blow out the seams ‘Incredible Hulk’ style because that’s way more dignified.

As it is, I’m confined to a few styles. Nothing with sleeves – makes my arms look like kielbasa; nothing with frills – it’s like garnishing flank steak with powdered sugar; and nothing too girly – it’s confusing even to me. So, when I started the new squat protocol and began sprouting a ‘squat ass’ that busted out of my jeans, I felt even more constrained.

As it is, statistically I’m doomed. A middle-aged single woman who only ever kicks up her heels when they’re clad in sneakers, is now sidelined in sweatpants 24-7. Mingling in the market with the women who spent $7,000 on their boobs – I went with the free ones – puts me at quite a disadvantage if I ever hope to date. But just in case buts are in vogue and nobody told me, I thought I’d poll my single male friends. Mind you, these are CrossFitters and they are men who stand behind strong women, literally, so the perspective may be skewed but, as it turns out, I’m glad they’re backing me up.

Michael Street, whose coaching reengineered my rearview, said, “Everyone needs to squat. Everyone needs a functional bootie. I think the best thing to do is tell people that if they don’t like it, we can change the training when the time comes. Usually it happens that they like having the “new them”, curves and all, it is something that is actually part of the programming for us all (intrinsic to our design – read: genetics/DNA). I think the best thing to say is “you’ll be fine”.

Reza Farsin, fleshing out the DNA angle, said, “Anyway, my ASSessment on this topic: well as they put it, I am an ass man. :) so the curvier and more pronounced it is the better - don't get me wrong about what they are packing, I rather solid stuff not smooshy stuffs. And by the way Yoga ass is a turn off for any guy at least the ones I know. By the way, I think there is theory called natural selection, that talks about how a man and woman are selecting their mate only base on survival rate. essentially what I understood it was saying, was that girls with bigger and curvier bottom can have more children easier, and male are hardwired to want them cuz they want to spread their genes. But who am I to talk about these kind of theories. I only look to justify my [preferences]”

Craig Cooper of NorthWest CrossFit clearly studied the topic and said, “'Squat Ass' is hot. I won't even look twice at a flat and/or flabby assed woman because a dysfunctional posterior chain affects many other aspects of your life besides your squatting abililty, most notably your performance potential in the bedroom. Besides, I like woman who can perform work, and a 'squat ass' tells me that she could probably help me move, and won't whine and complain when I suggest that we do something physically demanding. Except for the face, the ass is the next place I look in my assessment of a woman's physique. Spotting a 'Squat ass' is simple: it should be uniformly shaped, like two teardrops, and should bounce uniformly with every step. Fat asses jiggle, flat asses don't move, Squat asses bounce. I honestly couldn't care less about how a woman dresses.”

This being Seattle, it makes sense to give Sir Mix a Lot a mention and Harlan Worden paid the poet his dues when he said, “Interesting blog topic! Sir mix a lot made a ton off ‘Baby Got Back,’ so there must be something to it. For me it is about proportion. Everything looks right than you got something. And flabby proportion is never good.”

Perhaps on Sir Mix A Lot’s writing team, Vinay Venkatachalapathy said, “I like em juicy(not skinny) :) I don't care if its tight or jiggly and i don't care if they can squat well or not. Women with "squat ass" as you put it look good in stretch pants like hiking pants. I always enjoyed watching them hike in front of me.”

And finally, James Duggins puts it simply, “Thanks to CrossFit, the first thing I check out when I oggle a women is the posterior area. It's a great way to determine said woman's strength potential. That and it's nice to look at.”

No matter what I do, I always worry that my size is a measure of me even though I, of all people, know better. In good and bad ways, we give numbers a value greater than they deserve. My butt may have pushed it's way out of my skinny jeans, but it also pushed 22o pounds through a full range of motion. It's time I wrote my 1 rep max on the tag of the most expensive jeans I own, and be done with it already.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pondering Genes

A man is shot and walks it off. He’s gulped a glass of whiskey every day since and swears the bullet jostles in his barrel chest. Now he’s 106 and can’t slow down long enough to die. There’s always that guy. He’s on the news because he’s darn old by accident and that’s interesting to the rest of us. He keeps chuckling either because he’s daft or because, in an entire lifetime, he finally ended up on TV for something that clearly wasn’t intentional.

My great Uncle Cese – ironic for a man who couldn’t die – committed suicide in his 90s just to spend his next wedding anniversary with his late wife of 50 plus years. A lifetime of alcohol mixed in a cocktail of countless other questionable habits couldn’t do in ninety years what carbon monoxide did in minutes. My mother, on the other hand, couldn’t keep her own health from unraveling in half the time. What makes a man with a will to die live and a woman with an iron grip slip away?

I spent a week in Vermont among family wondering whether our genetics or our lifestyles would prevail. If I’ve been right about lifestyle, will I watch more people I love succumb or am I just the crazy superstitious sibling wrapped up in a religion called diet and exercise? Have I joined a cult of nonsense, engaged in ritual rain dances – choreography designed to revitalize our parched nutritional worlds and gain us favor with a God in which we may only believe in passing and sometimes just in case? I thought about that while eating a wedding cupcake.

At the wedding – my sister’s – my mother’s absence was as striking as her presence often was. She was always notable. And she would have been a hypochondriac if she hadn’t died of all the things she said she would. But then you have to wonder if she conjured the boogie-bugs and invited in the vampires for a slow suicide of stress and fear caused by continuous predictions of her own demise. Either that or she was way more intuitive than anybody gave her credit for because none of us wanted to imagine she was right. Are my own habits saving me from her fate or making my life more comfortable while I wait for my genetics to overtake me anyway?

I drove across a state of lonely roads I barely remembered and narrowly navigated to get back to my childhood home leaving the wedding behind me. Big, wet tears spilled from under mirror sunglasses and a mass of blowing hair. I wasn’t ready to see the house I grew up in filled with all the things I knew except my mother. Everything would be sitting in the same spot she placed it. Each item left there by her dewy-eyed husband who carefully dusted around the residue of her delicate fingerprints.

Do I bet my life on genetic inevitability, try to avoid blunt force trauma and outright gluttony while my own drama plays itself out to its early end like my mother and the rest of her family? Or will I find myself just as bullet proof as my father’s family and, pickled in gin or not, live to bury everyone I know? I’ll die to find out. Either way, the cupcake made me nauseous.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Shot of Reality: Falsely Fueled

Craig, as you read the following post and the grin begins to permeate, please pause before you dial my number, compose yourself and spend a moment reflecting on the evils of self-righteousness. Seriously, I can hear the 'I-told-you-so' face over the phone and I'm sure to respond with that particular flavor of snippy you like so much. All together an unpleasant and unnecessary interaction, dontcha think?

On July 5th - that would be the day after a late night of fireworks - I had a 5:30a client. I refuse to get up any earlier than my usual 4:30a but with less preening and less pausing for thoughtful contemplation of BBC Worldwide as I ate my breakfast, I could still get to work on time. Oh, and I elected not to spit-shine my flip flops, touch-up my toenail polish or iron and starch my best go-to-meetin' sweats. The blueberry antioxidant face mask guaranteed to spackle over, smooth out or generate an attention-deflecting Jedi mind trick to hide my crows feet would have to go too. Unfortunately, the life I chose always forces me to first eliminate 'girl' from my world leaving me plain but prepared.

I remembered too late that my diva scheduling demands of no-earlier-than 6a (and only the green M&Ms), was not based on sleep demands and self care, but the operating hours of Starbuck's. Nothing opens that early. Nothing. In my neighborhood nobody but me could think about coffee at that hour. The resident vampires were just making their way home from a night of bloodletting debauchery as I eased out of the 'hood and onto the highway.

No bother, really.

At about 6a, as my client sweated and strained, I was blaming my unnatural sluggishness on lack of sleep, tough recovery from a workout, old age and/or voodoo stink-eye curse (I'm sure it wasn't meant for me - it ricocheted and I walked into it like a lingering toxic cloud of Axe Body Spray). Between 6:30a and 7:00a, I darted out for coffee while I longed for a nap between clean, crisp sheets. Oh, and cancellations. Sweet cancellations. Sorry folks - love ya' - but sometimes, only sometimes, I'm a bad trainer and I like it just a little when you're not here. I grow fonder in your absence, I swear.

At 8a, I was chipper and as for clients? Bring ‘em! Could it be the coffee that I've told Craig again and again that I really like but don't 'need'?


I’ve done the research on caffeine a trillion times and every time I get mixed results. Maybe it’s because I was always looking for a loop hole that I always found one. After all, on a Vermont farm with no central heating and a guaranteed early morning rousting from bed, you’re practically weaned on the stuff even if it’s just to warm your hands on the mug while the woodstove fires up.

It didn’t surprise me when, again, I sought sources to explain the impact of caffeine on my system only to find more fuzzy answers. This time though I realized that, at very least, caffeine helped hide the toll my lack of sleep was taking. I decided that day to increase my sleep and I suppose it’s no surprise that it decreased my dependency and my urge to consume coffee.

“I do see health issues stemming from the overconsumption of caffeine,” said Dr. Carlston of Total Body Wellness in Issaquah. When my research became tedious, I turned to Dr. Ladd Carlston. He’s my go-to guy because he's a man who’s very passionate about patient care and I knew he’d have some insights. He continued, “ This effect is indirect - meaning that my patients (the ones that over consume caffeine) are fatigued and burned out because their bodies have been over stimulated by the caffeine and left exhausted -decreasing their healing response, increasing mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, and of course - making them more tired than they ought to be!”

It sounds a little too familiar. Except for the mood swing part, of course (and, again Craig, have you learned nothing? Now is not the time to chime in either.)

So, sleeping more helped but is cutting back on caffeine enough or does it require, gasp! giving it up entirely? What level of consumption would be safe for me, I wondered.

“This is very difficult to answer. Of course a ‘safe’ level of consumption would be different for each person. I do think that the body adapts to consumption in a way,” Dr. Carlston said.
It’s just the kind of loop hole I yearned for because, as long as I roll out of bed at 4:30a, I was having a hard time imagining mornings without a little pick-me-up.

“but usually caffeine consumption and stress go hand in hand (haha),” said Dr. Carlston, “Stress draws on the adrenals for their reserves, and caffeine depletes the reserves, so it is a double whammy that can be very damaging long term (depending on the patients overall state of health).”

Once you’ve burned out your adrenals, what does it take to recover?

“It can be very difficult to recover from depending on the state of health that the patient was in going into it, said Dr. Carlston, “Ideally, you'd go to a tropical island and have no stress and eat nuts and berries for a year and then you'd MAYBE be back to where you were before the adrenals started depleting, but that is not an option for most people (lol)”

Now, if he writes me a prescription for that, does the HMO cover it? In the meantime, can I get that Americano half-decaf?

The Research

Genetic polymorphism of the adenosine A2A receptor
is associated with habitual caffeine consumption
Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto, Canada.

Our findings show that the probability of having the ADORA2A 1083TT genotype decreases as habitual caffeine consumption increases. This observation provides a biologic basis for caffeine consumption behavior and suggests that persons with this genotype may be less vulnerable to caffeine dependence.

Coffee and health: a review of recent human research
Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University

Coffee is a complex mixture of chemicals that provides significant amounts of chlorogenic acid and caffeine. Unfiltered coffee is a significant source of cafestol and kahweol, which are diterpenes that have been implicated in the cholesterol-raising effects of coffee. The results of epidemiological research suggest that coffee consumption may help prevent several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes mellitus, Parkinson's disease and liver disease (cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma). Most prospective cohort studies have not found coffee consumption to be associated with significantly increased cardiovascular disease risk. However, coffee consumption is associated with increases in several cardiovascular disease risk factors, including blood pressure and plasma homocysteine. At present, there is little evidence that coffee consumption increases the risk of cancer. For adults consuming moderate amounts of coffee (3-4 cups/d providing 300-400 mg/d of caffeine), there is little evidence of health risks and some evidence of health benefits.

Coffee consumption and human health--beneficial or detrimental?--Mechanisms for effects of coffee consumption on different risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Coffee is also a rich source of many other ingredients that may contribute to its biological activity, like heterocyclic compounds that exhibit strong antioxidant activity. Based on the literature reviewed, it is apparent that moderate daily filtered, coffee intake is not associated with any adverse effects on cardiovascular outcome. On the contrary, the data shows that coffee has a significant antioxidant activity, and may have an inverse association with the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus.

The health consequences of caffeine

Acutely administered caffeine modestly increases blood pressure, plasma catecholamine levels, plasma renin activity, serum free fatty acid levels, urine production, and gastric acid secretion. It alters the electroencephalographic spectrum, mood, and sleep patterns of normal volunteers. Chronic caffeine consumption has no effect on blood pressure, plasma catecholamine levels, plasma renin activity, serum cholesterol concentration, blood glucose levels, or urine production. Caffeine does not appear to be useful for increasing the motility of hypomotile sperm in artificial insemination or in the therapy of minimal brain dysfunction, cancer, or Parkinson's syndrome, but it may be effective as a topical treatment of atopic dermatitis and as systemic therapy for neonatal apnea. Caffeine does not seem to be associated with myocardial infarction; lower urinary tract, renal, or pancreatic cancer; teratogenicity; or fibrocystic breast disease. The role of caffeine in the production of cardiac arrhythmias or gastric or duodenal ulcers remains uncertain.

Caffeine and Exercise

Effects of eight weeks of caffeine supplementation
and endurance training on aerobic fitness and body composition
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Human Performance Laboratory,
Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences

The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of daily administration of a supplement that contained caffeine in conjunction with 8 weeks of aerobic training on VO(2)peak, time to running exhaustion at 90% VO(2)peak, body weight, and body composition. Thirty-six college students (14 men and 22 women; mean +/- SD, age 22.4 +/- 2.9 years) volunteered for this investigation and were randomized into either a placebo (n = 18) or supplement group (n = 18). The subjects ingested 1 dose (3 pills = 201 mg of caffeine) of the placebo or supplement per day during the study period. In addition, the subjects performed treadmill running for 45 minutes at 75% of the heart rate at VO(2)peak, three times per week for 8 weeks. All subjects were tested pretraining and posttraining for VO(2)peak, time to running exhaustion (TRE) at 90% VO(2)peak, body weight (BW), percentage body fat (%FAT), fat weight (FW), and fat-free weight (FFW). The results indicated that there were equivalent training-induced increases (p <> 0.05) in BW, %FAT, FW, or FFW for either group. These findings indicated that chronic use of the caffeine-containing supplement in the present study, in conjunction with aerobic training, provided no ergogenic effects as measured by VO(2)peak and TRE, and the supplement was of no benefit for altering body weight or body composition.

The acute effects of a caffeine-containing supplement on strength, muscular endurance, and anaerobic capabilities
Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences, Human Performance Laboratory,
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The purpose of this study was to examine the acute effects of a caffeine-containing supplement on upper- and lower-body strength and muscular endurance as well as anaerobic capabilities. Thirty-seven resistance-trained men (mean +/- SD, age: 21 +/- 2 years) volunteered to participate in this study. On the first laboratory visit, the subjects performed 2 Wingate Anaerobic Tests (WAnTs) to determine peak power (PP) and mean power (MP), as well as tests for 1 repetition maximum (1RM), dynamic constant external resistance strength, and muscular endurance (TOTV; total volume of weight lifted during an endurance test with 80% of the 1RM) on the bilateral leg extension (LE) and free-weight bench press (BP) exercises. Following a minimum of 48 hours of rest, the subjects returned to the laboratory for the second testing session and were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups: a supplement group (SUPP; n = 17), which ingested a caffeine-containing supplement, or a placebo group (PLAC; n = 20), which ingested a cellulose placebo. One hour after ingesting either the caffeine-containing supplement or the placebo, the subjects performed 2 WAnTs and were tested for 1RM strength and muscular endurance on the LE and BP exercises. The results indicated that there was a significant (p <>Physiological and cognitive responses to caffeine during repeated, high-intensity exercise
Institute of Sport and Exercise Science, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland

This study investigated the effects of caffeine on repeated, anaerobic exercise using a double-blind, randomized, crossover design. Seventeen subjects (five female) underwent cognitive (reaction time, number recall) and blood (glucose, potassium, catecholamines, lactate) testing before and after consuming caffeine (6 mg/kg), placebo, or nothing (control). An exercise test (two 60 s maximal cycling bouts) was conducted 90 min after caffeine/placebo consumption. Plasma caffeine concentrations significantly increased after caffeine ingestion, however, there were no positive effects on cognitive or blood parameters except a significant decrease in plasma potassium concentrations at rest. Potentially negative effects of caffeine included significantly higher blood lactate compared to control and significantly slower time to peak power in exercise bout 2 compared to control and placebo. Caffeine had no significant effect on peak power, work output, RPE, or peak heart rate. In conclusion, caffeine had no ergogenic effect on repeated, maximal cycling bouts and may be detrimental to anaerobic performance.

Influence of caffeine on perception of effort, metabolism and exercise performance following a high-fat meal.
Department of Sports Science, University of Wales, Swansea, UK

This study examined the effects of caffeine, co-ingested with a high fat meal, on perceptual and metabolic responses during incremental (Experiment 1) and endurance (Experiment 2) exercise performance. Trained participants performed three constant-load cycling tests at approximately 73% of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) for 30 min at 20 degrees C (Experiment 1, n = 8) and to the limit of tolerance at 10 degrees C (Experiment 2, n = 10). The 30 min constant-load exercise in Experiment 1 was followed by incremental exercise (15 W . min-1) to fatigue. Four hours before the first test, the participants consumed a 90% carbohydrate meal (control trial); in the remaining two tests, the participants consumed a 90% fat meal with (fat + caffeine trial) and without (fat-only trial) caffeine. Caffeine and placebo were randomly assigned and ingested 1 h before exercise. In both experiments, ratings of perceived leg exertion were significantly lower during the fat + caffeine than fat-only trial (Experiment 1: P < s =" 1.8" s =" 2.2" s =" 2.2"> 0.05) and constant-load exercise (Experiment 2: control: 116 (88 - 145) min; fat-only: 122 (96 - 144) min; fat + caffeine: 127 (107 - 176) min; P > 0.05) was not different between the fat-only and fat + caffeine trials. In conclusion, while a number of metabolic responses were increased during exercise after caffeine ingestion, perception of effort was reduced and this may be attributed to the direct stimulatory effect of caffeine on the central nervous system. However, this caffeine-induced reduction in effort perception did not improve exercise performance.PMID: 16815783 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]