Reversing The Ugly Obesity Trend
As I prepare for my next endurance event, the Carlsbad Marathon, I think about how it all started; through my insatiable appetite to be fit and healthy. For all of those that have ever experienced running a marathon or participating in a triathlon, the “high” you get from successfully completing these events is undeniable. I can’t get enough of it. Why do I do what I do? I think about my youth and what has shaped me over the years. When I was in grade school, I always struggled with weight. I wasn’t obese, but I spent much of this time 20-30 pounds overweight. I’m not sure what my thought process was, but I just knew I didn’t like it. During those years, I would diet. My Mom was very helpful. She would put the right foods (and portions) in front of me and I’d ultimately lose weight. But it never lasted. I would ALWAYS put the weight back on; and there were constant repercussions. Kids can be very cruel; in school, I was ragged on incessantly, and was always called “fatso”; this I truly resented!
As I entered high school, my weight struggles continued. However, being overweight had a much deeper impact on me socially and personally. I was into sports so I was at the mercy of the “star” athletes who played cruel pranks on the fat kid. Girls had no interest in me. I was ostracized and ultimately became deeply depressed. I also struggled with an eating disorder.
Ironically, it took the end of my competitive sports career to truly understand what it took to be healthy. I needed a competitive outlet. Then, as I mentioned in my December article, I saw a world-class triathlete by the name of Julie Moss stagger to the finish line in the 1982 Ironman triathlon in Kona. She inspired me considerably. But, how would I get involved? What would it take? Well— the first thing I needed to do was make a true commitment. I signed up for an Olympic Distance triathlon. I’ll never forget it. It was the Solana Beach stop of the fledgling United States Triathlon Series (USTS). I was 22 years old and this was totally “out of the box” for me.
I began to train – and train a lot! I had never raced in a triathlon before so I prepared for it out of fear; and as we all know, fear is a great motivator. I was especially nervous about doing a one-mile open water ocean swim. How in the world would I swim one mile? I also began to eat healthy foods and using supplements. In the weeks leading up to the event, I began to notice something; my body began to change. All of a sudden, I had dropped 20 pounds and my physique actually began to look athletic! This had never happened to me before. I can’t tell you how good it made me feel. As the triathlon drew close, I became very excited about what was happening. This lit a bigger fire in me. I really liked the results and never looked back. Well, I completed the Solana Beach Triathlon on a beautiful Summer day back in 1983. What a thrill! Since then I have competed in more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance and longer and this newfound lifestyle had a profound impact on my health. Triathlons (and endurance events in general) are “lifestyle” sports. Your daily routine must be in line with your training; this means that eating right and supplementing are a must. I’ve been doing this for close to 3 decades, and now at 50, I’ve never been more fit.
I tell this story because I want to warn kids and teens who may be in the same situation I was once in. I truly suffered on both a physical and emotional level. It’s a hard life that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
The childhood obesity epidemic is well documented. According to the Centers for Disease Control website, results from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicate that an estimated 17% of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are obese. Obese children and adolescents are at risk for health problems during their youth AND as adults. Obese children and adolescents are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.
The really scary thing is that obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults. For example, one study found that approximately 80% of children who were overweight at aged 10–15 years were obese adults at age 25. Another study found that 25% of obese adults were overweight as children. The latter study also found that if children were overweight before 8 years of age, obesity in adulthood was likely to be more severe.
February is Heart Health month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. The childhood obesity epidemic has been a main contributor to an alarming trend in our country. So, what can we do reverse this trend?
It all begins at home. Parents must emphasize healthy eating, exercise and proper supplementation. I call these the “Big 3”. In this day and age of processed foods, be sure to have truly healthy foods in the house. Consider shopping at health food stores rather than chain supermarkets. These stores have fresh, organic foods, the highest quality vitamins and supplements, and a source of reliable nutrition information. In addition, be sure to monitor the time your kids spend playing video games, as many will spend countless hours sitting in front of a TV doing exactly that. These children risk becoming obese and developing associated health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to limit children’s total TV, video game and computer time to two hours each day.
For me, exercise had a profound impact on my health on so many levels. When I first began exercising in 1982, I never thought that it would lead to where I am today. Exercise just plain makes me feel better – it gives me limitless energy. The merits of regular physical activity – from preventing chronic health conditions (such as cardiovascular disease) to promoting weight loss and better sleep – are impossible to ignore. And anyone can realize these benefits, regardless of age, sex or physical ability. Starting an exercise program may sound intimidating. However, all you need to remember is that your main goal is to boost your health by meeting the basic physical activity recommendations: 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days per week or vigorous-intensity activity at least three days per week. In addition, it’s VERY important to get some resistance training in (weights) at least twice per week. Lifting weights will supercharge your workout. Resistance training burns fat and calories, as well as builds muscle. The healing of the stretched muscle is what makes resistance training unbelievable at increasing metabolism, which, in turn, burns more calories and builds muscle mass. For each pound of muscle you add, you will burn an additional 50 calories per day. If you implement the above, you will go a long way toward leading a healthy, active, vital life.
Lastly, I included supplements as part of the “Big 3” to prevent obesity and promote cardiovascular health – and for good reason. Supplements have been life changing for me – especially through my 40s. I recommend the following five “energy” supplements that are truly heart healthy additions to your overall wellness regimen:
CoQ10 is one of those encompassing dietary supplements with both general health benefits (e.g., anti-aging, antioxidant function) as well as specific health applications (e.g., cardiovascular support, diabetes control, etc). It is a fundamental component in energy production, immune response and protection against damage by free radicals.
Co-Q10 is part of the mitochondrial electron transport system and is synthesized in all cells. It is essential to the body’s production of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This holds special importance for the heart, which is loaded with mitochondria and has the body’s highest concentration of Co-Q10 because of the significant demands made upon it.
Aging reduces access to Co-Q10. Although it is obtained from the diet (mainly from fatty fish, organ meats, and whole grains) as well as synthesized in small amounts, both of these routes decline with age. The body’s declining capacity to extract and assimilate Co-Q10 in later years plays a role in the development of various cardiovascular conditions.
Ubiquinol is the reduced form of CoQ10 and the most highly absorbed. Ubiquinol is directly used in human metabolism as a lipid-soluble antioxidant. While standard CoQ10 (ubiquinone) supplements can be converted into ubiquinol in the body, this conversion can be less efficient in some individuals, based on age, genetics, blood sugar status or level of oxidative stress.
According to Kaori Dadgostar, Ph.D, Co-Q10 is a great antioxidant as well as a mitochondrial co-factor that assists in energy production. “Co-Q10 is found in all cells, and supplementation provides various health benefits in both young and old individuals,” explains Dadgostar. “Co-Q10 supplementation is especially essential for those who are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) since statins interfere with the biosynthesis of Co-Q10. Co-Q10 has an extremely low bioavailability in the body, and it is important to obtain Co-Q10 products that are made with the biologically active ubiquinol form and/or products with a refined delivery system(s) to enhance bioavailability.”
The mainstream media has been reporting on the benefits of fish oil for years. Studies have shown that the Omega-3′s found in fish oil help prevent and fight heart disease, cancer, depression, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, ulcers, diabetes, hyperactivity and other diseases. For my needs, the healthy fats found in fish oil increases energy levels and fights inflammation. While Omega-3′s can be found in flaxseed, walnuts and a few other foods, the most beneficial form of Omega-3, containing two fatty acids – EPA and DHA – which are essential in preventing and fighting both physical and mental illness, can be found only in fish. Be sure to take fish oil products from companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants to assure the highest purity of its fish oil supplements.
Dadgostar says that EPA and DHA are the preferred forms of omega-3 fatty acids for cardiovascular health and development as well as the maintenance of healthy brain and eye function. Conversion of alpha-linolenic acid, (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in plant sources, into EPA and DHA is extremely low (~0.04%) (Br J Nutr. 2003 Aug; 90(2): 311-21). “The most efficient way to increase EPA and DHA levels in plasma, tissues, and human milk without environmental contaminants is to obtain them directly through fish oil supplements,” states Dadgostar. “As previously suggested, be sure to get products that meet the highest quality control standards.”
Glycine Propionyl L-Carnitine (GPLC):
Backed by years of scientific research, GPLC, (glycine propionyl-L-carnitine), has been shown to assist the body in a number of ways including:
- Cardiovascular Health: Studies show that GPLC is proven to increase nitric oxide retention, which is important in regulating blood circulation and improving the vasodilatory ability, (increased blood flow capability), of blood vessels.
- Energy: GPLC is proven to increase nitric oxide levels in the human blood stream resulting in the optimization of endurance, stamina and recovery. GPLC assists the delivery of oxygen and nutrients through vasodilation, encourages blood flow, and helps the production of ATP energy while diminishing harmful free radical buildup in the body.
- Recovery: Through its antioxidant properties, GPLC aids in muscle recovery by not only speeding up post workout recovery, but also recovery time during training. This helps increase both endurance and stamina.
Dadgostar elucidates, “GPLC contains propionyl-L-carnitine, (PLC), a patented propionyl ester of L-carnitine, which is the preferred carnitine form in the muscle to assist with energy production. Clinical studies have shown that PLC not only increases the transport and metabolism of fatty acids in the mitochondria, but also increases the oxidation of glucose and lactate as well as muscle glycogen stores, which, in turn, enhance exercise performance/endurance. The beneficial effects of GPLC are enhanced by co-supplementation with Co-enzyme Q10.”
High-intensity exercise means different things to different people, but it always means stressing muscles beyond their normal limit. Regardless of how we individually define “high-intensity”, the effect on our bodies is the same. Intense exercise/exertion taxes our muscles to stay energized. The resulting energy demand/supply mismatch leads to a drain in energy, depleting the cellular energy pool. This loss of cellular energy is a major disruptive factor because re-supplying this energy is slow and metabolically costly. Ribose accentuates the body’s natural process of energy synthesis and aids in the reduction of energy loss during stressful times and accelerates energy and tissue recovery. Through this action, ribose helps muscles regenerate lost energy and minimizes any physiological consequences when energy is depleted.
Whey protein is an excellent protein choice for anyone whose wants to maintain and improve their health and age gracefully. Whey protein isolate, the purest fraction of whey protein available, is unsurpassed as a source of the essential amino acids required in the daily diet. Essential amino acids are the building blocks for healthy muscles, skin, nails and other body tissue.
For my purposes, endurance athletes need more protein in their diet, often as much as twice the recommended daily allowance for optimal performance. Whey Protein makes a difference for the following reasons:
- Whey protein is a naturally complete protein, meaning that it contains all of the essential amino acids required in the daily diet. It has the ideal combination of amino acids to help improve body composition and enhance athletic performance.
- Whey protein is a rich source of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), containing the highest known levels of any natural food source. BCAAs are important for athletes since unlike the other essential amino acids, they are metabolized directly into muscle tissue and are the first ones used during periods of exercise and resistance training. Whey protein provides the body with BCAAs to replenish depleted levels and start repairing and rebuilding lean muscle tissue.
- Whey protein is an excellent source of the essential amino acid, leucine. Leucine is important for athletes as it plays a key role in promoting muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth. Research has shown that individuals who exercise benefit from diets high in leucine and have more lean muscle tissue and less body fat compared to individuals whose diet contains lower levels of leucine.
- Whey protein is a soluble, easy to digest protein and is efficiently absorbed into the body. It is often referred to as a “fast” protein for its ability to quickly provide nourishment to muscles.
- Whey protein helps athletes maintain a healthy immune system by increasing the levels of glutathione in the body. Glutathione is an antioxidant required for a healthy immune system. Exercise and resistance training may reduce glutathione levels.
“Whey protein provides all the necessary amino acids that are used during exercise with minimal amounts of fats, cholesterol, and carbohydrates,” explains Dadgostar. “Whey is easily digested and absorbed and can be used as a nutritional supplement and/or as a meal replacement. It is recommended to obtain rBST-free whey protein from organic or natural dairy sources for the best quality and health benefits.”
I urge all parents to be proactive and initiate a wellness regimen for their children. As previously stated, the childhood obesity epidemic has been the main contributor to heart disease in adults, the leading cause of death in the United States. It is well documented that obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults. Let’s reverse this trend. Our children and our children’s children will live longer, healthier lives.
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