An FMS Discussion Part II

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The corrective strategy

Test. Apply a corrective exercise. Re-test.  This concept is HUGE.  The test/re-test process is just massively important in any situation (technology, medicine, cooking, and yes, human movement) if you want to know if a particular intervention works.  Dr. Eric Cobb of Z-Health first introduced the importance of the test & re-test to me.  The concept is equally important in the FMS.  What does it mean and what does it look like?

We can test all sorts of things.  We can test a movement pattern for pain or tightness.  As it pertains to the FMS, we want to at some point test and re-test the seven different movement patterns.  Beyond that, I could use stepping up and down stairs to test for knee pain.  We could bend forward or backward to test for back pain.  I could go into a hip flexor stretch on each leg to compare tightness in each thigh.  I could stand on one leg to test balance.  If you’ve got some sort of difficulty with a particular exercise then that’s a test.  So we test something. Then we apply some sort of corrective.  Then we re-test.

We might foam roll and/or stretch to increase mobility of a joint.  Then we could re-test.  Did anything change?  We might then employ a stabilization exercise.  Then we re-test.  Did things improve or not?  We could move from static stabilization to dynamic stabilization, that is, we can look at stabilizing a joint while moving other joints.  If we see improvement and it holds, then we should practice our new and improved movement.  A phrase I heard at the FMS is “Move well then move often.”  We want to ingrain these new, good movement patterns.  We want to make them habitual.  If we load the movement pattern with weights then we look to get stronger in these new movement patterns.  We can continue to re-test over the course of time to ensure we haven’t regressed back to poor movement.

My strategy: addressing the ankle, knee and hip

Some of my years-long issues regarding my low back, my right knee and left heel/Achilles are still lingering.  These issues aren’t terrible and they hardly limit me but I still would like to clean them up a bit.  My right hip tends to be tight.  I have intermittent moderate right lateral knee pain.  My left calf tends to be tight.  I’ve got some impingement in my right ankle.  Fortunately, my FMS score is a solid 18 out of a possible 21 which means that it’s safe to exercise and work out vigorously.

Mobility restoration

I’ve employed several tools to restore lost mobility and overcome some movement restrictions.  I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve had some dry needling done to my right thigh and hip flexor area.  (I’ve since had some done on my right shoulder as well.)  This has done a very nice job of relaxing some muscles that were in spasm, thus enabling a greater range of hip extension.  I’ve also been using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, and a barbell to get into the gunked up areas of my quads, calves and low-back/quadratus lumborum area.  As I mentioned, my right hip and low back are troubled areas, so I’ve spent more time working there than on my left side.  (Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD has some great ideas on addressing restricted tissue.  Check out pages 34-37 of his new book Becoming a Supple Leopard for a variety of ways to smash the quad and un-glue matted-down tissues.  I’ve been doing a lot of this stuff to great effect.)

A lacrosse ball has been especially useful in getting into my glute minimus and tensor fasciae latae (TFL).  I’ve also been using the Stick on my calves and posterior tibialis.  You can really experiment with a variety of objects, angles and positions when going after these tight, sore areas.  With regard to the test/re-test scheme, it’s  a good idea to mash out one side of your body–your right glute for instance– then mash out the other side.  How do they compare?  Is one side more beat-up than the other?  If so, spend more time working there.  See if over time you can even them out.

Once I’ve spent a few minutes going after soft-tissue restrictions, I go into some joint mobility drills.  Here are some examples:

3D ankle mobility

Hip flexor stretch, pigeon stretch, hip slide

Stability restoration

half-kneeling with rotation

chop & lift

half-loaded lunge

 

Reactive neuromuscular training:

The only way to do it right is to do it at all.  There is often a bit of frustration or struggle with this process–but that’s good!  Here, we actually help facilitate bad form–we “feed the mistake” in other words.  In this way the unconscious movement fault is made conscious.  Now we have a chance to correct the thing.  What does this look like? (squat w/band around knees, split squat w/tube)

 

 

 

 

Supple Leopard Preview & Bulletproof Coffee

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The Supple Leopard Project

I love human movement and performance.  One of the best resources for this type of thing is Kelly Starrett’s MobilityWOD.com.  Kelly is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and he runs San Francisco Crossfit.  MobilityWOD has won various awards, and Kelly’s been featured in Competitor Magazine, Inside Triathlon and others.  MobilityWOD is chock full of valuable, do-it-yourself movement maintenance and movement enhancement techniques.  If you’re an athlete and/or you don’t move as well as you should then get a look at MobilityWOD and start playing with some of the drills.

The big news is Kelly’s got a book coming out April 23 called Becoming a Supple Leopard and I’m quite excited about it.  (What does “supple leopard” mean?  It’s something he often references.  The leopard is powerful, graceful, sleek.  Wouldn’t you like to be one too?)  For your viewing pleasure, here’s a 50-page preview of the book.  Click the image to pre-order.  I need to order my copy.  I think it’ll be great.

Bulletproof Coffee

If you’re interested in nutritional experimentation, then you may will fall in love with Bulletproof Coffee.  A friend sent me a link to a rundown of the whole gig.  Go there to get all the information.  For expediency’s sake, here’s the recipe:

  • Start with 4-500 ml (2 mugs) of black coffee brewed with my mold-free Upgraded Coffee beans.   (Why this is important)
  • Add 2 Tbs (or more, up to 80 grams, about 2/3 of a standard stick of butter) of Kerry Gold or other UNSALTED grass-fed butter
  • Add 30 grams of MCT oil for max energy, weight loss and brain function (this is 6 times stronger than coconut oil, your next best choice)
  • Blend with a pre-heated hand blender, Magic Bullet, or (best) counter top blender until there is a creamy head of foam. (It doesn’t work well if you mix it with a spoon)

I’ll not lie, I didn’t use the Upgraded Coffee for this recipe nor did I use MCT oil, but rather I used some sort of decent coffee and coconut oil.  (I’m fairly interested in trying the Upgraded Coffee but it’s a bit pricey as is the MCT oil.)  I’ve been drinking this stuff recently and–WOW!–it’s pretty interesting.  I normally eat a fairly decent sized breakfast (bacon, eggs, fruit; oatmeal, nuts, fruit, butter; big smoothie) but this Bulletproof concoction has kept me amazingly full for several hours.  I’ve been drinking this before workouts, runs, and bike rides.  I’ve been feeling full (but not stuffed or bloated) and very energized.  I’m a big fan of the high fat content and I’m glad I’ve discovered this Kerry Gold grass-fed butter.  That’s a new staple for me. Oh, yes, it does sound a little weird this new drink.  If you’re scared, avoid it.  If you’re an adventurous sort, give it a shot.

An FMS Discussion: Part I

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The Functional Movement Screen is a subject I’ve been studying (and writing about) recently. I recently had the pleasure of traveling to San Francisco to attend the Functional Movement Screen (FMS).  I got to meet some interesting, smart people and some great information found its way into my brain.  So what is the FMS?  From the FMS site:

Put simply, the FMS is a ranking and grading system that documents movement patterns that are key to normal function. By screening these patterns, the FMS readily identifies functional limitations and asymmetries. These are issues that can reduce the effects of functional training and physical conditioning and distort body awareness.

The FMS generates the Functional Movement Screen Score, which is used to target problems and track progress. This scoring system is directly linked to the most beneficial corrective exercises to restore mechanically sound movement patterns.

Movement patterns vs. Muscles

A key component of the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) paradigm is the idea of training movement patterns rather than individual muscles. For example, what muscles does the squat use?  Pushups? The deadlift?  For that matter, what muscles does basketball, gymnastics, swimming, or raking leaves use?  The answer is a lot of muscles, and these muscles must work together in sequence to create movement. (A better question might be “What muscles don’t these activities use?) This concept of addressing and thinking in terms of patterns rather than muscles is important in terms of how our brain works.  When we walk, our brain doesn’t say, “Fire the glute max, and medius, now the semimembranosus, now the semitendinosis, biceps femoris, now the gastroc, soleus…”  The brain says, “Extend the hip.”  The brain has a map of our movement patterns and it executes our movements based on that map.  An analogy might be a song.  When we hear a song we hear a song.  We typically don’t listen to the individual instruments absent the other instruments.  We hear a cohesive, coordinated song. While it may be appropriate and necessary to analyze individual muscles in some therapeutic processes, remember that our brain drives our movements via coordinated patterns.  Very typically our pain and dysfunctional movement is due to faulty movement patterns in our brain.  The FMS strategy helps restore those patterns.

Mobility first.  Stability second.

World-class mobility and stability

Gray Cook discusses developmental movement from infancy on up.  Babies start as helpless, wiggly blobs with no balance or coordination of any sort.  At some point in their lives they may become gold-medal gymnasts, top professional tennis players, surfers, piano players, chansaw jugglers, stilt walkers–who knows what?!  In other words they go from a highly mobile yet uncoordinated state to a much more stable and coordinated state.  This ability to blend mobility and stability into movement is called motor control. (Unfortunately due to the Western lifestyle which is chock full of sitting, these former masters of motor control often turn into weak, rigid, unbalanced, uncoordinated zombies racked with pain.  It’s not simply “age” that robs us of motor control.  We choose to avoid moving–and then we become unable to move well.)  The big point here is mobility precedes stability, and we certainly need both.

It’s important to understand that joint stiffness isn’t the same as stability.  A joint often stiffens due to injury or lack of movement.  If we are unable to effectively stabilize a joint, then that joint may stiffen as a sort of a plan B by the nervous system.  A stiff, poorly moving joint is not a healthy joint.  Why?  Primarily a stiff joint brings on poor proprioception.  In the grand scheme, a stiff joint is a poor transmitter of information to the brain, and a poor receiver of information from the brain.  It doesn’t pay attention well.  If you have trouble standing on one leg, it’s very likely that one or more of your joints are stiff.  For an illuminating discussion of the mobility/stability concept, please read the Joint by Joint Approach from Gray Cook.  The concept was born out of the observation that as we look at the skeleton from the ground up, we tend to see an alternating pattern from joint to joint in which one joint tends to be stiff and the next joint tends to be loose and sloppy. It might be a bit technical for some people but the big chunks of information will be digestible for most and it’s a very powerful concept when thinking about movement dysfunction.

Asymmetries

Might an asymmetry be hiding in this athlete?

A key part of the FMS is the recognition of and correction of asymmetries. Often when someone goes through the FMS we’re able to expose asymmetries in range of motion (ROM), balance, coordination, strength, etc. One side of the body is good at a movement while the other side isn’t.  (The half-kneeling exercise often exposes an asymmetry.) Typically the test subject has no idea the asymmetry exists. He or she has been moving through life unconscious that they’re lopsided and out of whack.  In other words, we’re helping create awareness.

 

But why do we care about asymmetries?  Think about this: If we go to perform a squat, a deadlift, a jump, a press–some sort of movement that requires strength, power and coordination–but we’ve got one side of the body that can’t handle the job, do you think at some point we might incur an injury?  If one side is mobile, stable, and strong while the other side isn’t, what do you think might happen?  Could we see a situation where lifting something off of the ground might cause some weird torquing forces through the hips or spine?  Hello herniated disk.

Next I’ll discuss the corrective process and use some of my own issues as examples.


Book Review: Anatomy for Runners

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Are you a runner?  Do you know a runner?  If yes, then I HIGHLY recommend Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry. MPT, CSCS.  It’s simply a fantastic book on the hows and whys of overcoming running injuries and increasing your performance.

Dicharry hits numerous nails very solidly on the head.  He doesn’t just talk about treating the symptoms of our injuries. Rather, he gets at the true causes of our injuries–namely we don’t know how to stabilize our spine, hips, knees, ankles and feet appropriately.  We’ve forgotten how to move!  The book covers anatomy, gait mechanics, soft tissue maintenance, corrective exercises, footwear, orthotics, stretching, strength. Chapter 9 is a self-assessment process to help you figure out if you’re both mobile and stable enough to run.  If you’re lacking in those departments, he presents strategies and exercises to shore up your weak areas.  Impressively, he presents all this fairly technical information in a very easy-to-read kind of way.  This isn’t a dry, boring textbook.

Dicharry is a physical therapist, strength coach, running coach and a cycling coach; so he knows his science.  But, I think one of the most important aspects of Anatomy for Runners is that Dicharry writes from the perspective of a formerly often-injured runner.  This point-of-view is one with which I and probably a lot of other people will identify.  He cites numerous conversations with doctors that told him to rest and he’d get better.  He’d rest, run again, then he’d be injured again.  (Guess what, resting doesn’t fix anything!  If you’ve got a flat tire and you quit driving the car, the flat won’t fix itself.)  Other docs told him him he should probably quit running.  If you’ve heard that then you know how maddening and disheartening that advice is!  He didn’t quit.  He did the good work of figuring out how to run properly. I think his words will give hope to people who may have arthritis, worn cartilage, worn menisci (that’s plural for miniscus) and other “injuries” that may have lead physicians to tell you to quit running.

So it’s almost Christmas.  People are asking you what you want and you’re wondering what to buy for them.  Click the link below and get this book!

New Developments: Changing Exercises & Squat/Deadlift Reading

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The New Workout

A couple of posts ago I outlined my new strength program which I adapted from a Mike Mahler program. I stayed with those exercises for six weeks. Now I’m rotating most of those exercises out for new exercises that are as Pavel Tsatsouline says, the “same but different.” This means that the new exercises should look like and require similar movement patterns as the previous exercises.  Here are my changes:

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I’m still doing barbell cleans but now each week I’m either doing cleans 2x/week and barbell snatches 1x/week or vice versa. I’m trying to learn to snatch the barbell and I’m pretty new to it. I’m still doing Renegade Rows and I’m trying to find time to do Turkish Get-ups 2x/week instead of just once. The TGU is very difficult so I figure I need to work on it more. (If you’re not good at something, you don’t like doing it and it’s real hard–then you should probably do a lot of it.)  Similarly, I’m keeping the kettlebell windmills.

I plan to stay with this new scheme for four weeks and change it up again. I’ve also added weighted 45 degree back extensions 1x/week. I believe this plus the good morning will help my deadlift and squat numbers go up.

Why have I rotated the exercises? I’ll let powerlifting expert Louie Simmons of the Westside Barbell Club explain:

“Science has proven that training at a 90% or above for 3 weeks will cause physical and mental fatigue. With the Westside conjugate method we switch a core barbell exercise each week to avoid accommodation. “

Further, from a mental viewpoint, changing exercises keeps things interesting.  I like doing new things.  There are a ton of useful exercises out there.  By cycling the exercises I get to stimulate the mind.

(BTW, Louie also says they at Westside “live on the good morning.” Seems that it’s essential for improving the squat and deadlift. Thus I’ll likely do some version of it for a long time to come.)

My sets & reps scheme is a variation  on the Windler 5-3-1 protocol.  It looks like this:

Week 1: 3 sets x 5 reps.  I work up to a 5RM and do three sets

Week 2: 3 sets x 3 reps done in similar to the 3×5

Week 3: 5 reps – 3 reps – 1 rep

Week 4: Back off.  I may skip lifting altogether or do something alone the lines of 1×10 reps at 50% of my 1 RM.  The point is to take it easy and RECOVER.

Westside Barbell Squat & Deadlift Manual

Speaking of Louie Simmons and Westside, I recently got the Westside Barbell Squat & Deadlift Manual. There’s a wealth of fantastic info in there from literally the strongest group of people on the planet. (I look forward to reading the Westside Barbell Book of Methods and the Bench Press Manual as well.)

Most interestingly, I learned that those guys change their main exercises every week–but they very rarely do the standard issue competition powerlifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift.  They do variations on those exercises: box squats, board bench presses, good mornings and a billion other variations on the competition lifts.  They use bands and chains to vary the nature of the resistance on the bar.  Different bars are used and different speeds are used when lifting.  Why? It goes to the concept Louie mentioned up above.  All these variables are changed in order to prevent accommodation. If you’ve accommodated to the exercise then you’ve essentially gotten used to it and progress will slow.

 

Stuff You Should Know About

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Here are several things from food, books, exercises and blogs of which you should be aware.  This is information and exercise that will improve your health and performance.

Look at this blog: MobilityWOD

MobilityWOD.com or Mobility Workout of the Day is a blog from Dr. Kelly Starrett.  Kelly is a San Francisco-based physical therapist and Crossfit affiliate.  His blog is chock full of how-to videos designed to improve your movement and fend off or overcome injury.  Just the other day I watched Tight Ankles = Bad Squatting.  I tried the drill and my years-long on-again-off-again right ankle pain was gone!  Gotta love instantaneous results!

Read this book: Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes by Shirley Sahrmann

Okay, read this book only if you’re a fitness or injury rehab professional.  Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes is a tremendously detailed text on how to identify and fix movement problems.  I’m wading through it right now and it’s a challenge but the information is amazing. If you’re in the fitness/rehab industry, definitely get this book.  Dr. Sahrmann’s second book is Movement System Impairment Syndromes of the Extremities, Cervical and Thoracic Spines.  I’m looking forward to that one too.

The author, Shirley Sahrmann, DPT is a pioneering, award-winning physical therapist.  She’s a professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Take this supplement: Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for a wide range of healthy human functions.  Vitamin D is a key component of calcium absorption and thus bone health.  Low levels of Vitamin D are associated with asthma and some cancers.  It seems to offer a protective effect against multiple sclerosis and it boosts immune function. Unfortunately Vitamin D doesn’t show up naturally in too many foods.  Some foods are fortified with Vitamin D but supplementation may be the best way to ensure adequate Vitamin D intake.

Humans with sufficient sun exposure have the ability to manufacture Vitamin D.  It’s still cold in much of the country so that means minimal sun exposure–so there’s a good reason to supplement.  (Interestingly, using to much sun screen too often may be problematic in Vitamin D production.  Like many things, eliminating sun exposure may be unhealthy.  Don’t be terrified of the sun.)  Further, people with dark skin and older folks have a tougher time manufacturing Vitamin D.

Recommendations vary but it’s from 2,000 and 5,000 IU per day from supplements and sun is a good idea.  Big men need more Vitamin D than small women.

Do this exercise: the deadlift

Picking up heavy things off of the ground is something homo sapiens have been doing since… well… before we were actually homo sapiens.  As long as there’s  gravity we’ll keep doing it.  That’s what the deadlift is: pulling a weight off of the ground from a dead stop.  The deadlift isn’t just for powerlifters either.  It’s a tremendous total-body strengthening exercise that anyone can do with proper coaching. If you learn to deadlift then you’ve learned to use good body mechanics to lift an object.

Here’s a good instructional article on the deadlift from Stronglifts.com.  And here’s a rather poetic video on the deadlift from Crossfit.

Eat this: coconut oil

Coconut oil seems to carry a whole raft of health benefits.  Weight loss, improved immune function, better digestion, favorable cholesterol profile are a few of the likely benefits of coconut oil consumption.  You can cook with it, put it in smoothies, rub in on you skin and put it in your hair.  What other product is so versatile?

Book Review: Easy Strength

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If you’re reading this blog then you probably have some interest in getting strong(er).  Since you’re interested in this laudable endeavor, you should know the names Pavel Tsatsouline (just Pavel will do) and Dan John.  Further, you should be aware of their newest book Easy Strength.  The book is targeted at athletes (which really is everyone to some degree) and coaches.  The gist of book is how to get stronger with the least effort.  The idea is to spend the minimum amount of time getting stronger so that the athlete has plenty of time and energy to practice his or her sport.

Most anything from Pavel or Dan is worth reading and understanding.  Easy Strength is no exception.  The book is more than just a bunch of different workouts.  Four quadrants are examined in which an athlete might find him or herself during a career.

Quadrant I sees the athlete (often a kid) introduced to all sorts of games, exercises and movements.  This quadrant is an inch deep and a mile wide.  An athlete in Quadrant II may play a specific sport which requires a mix of strength, speed, mobility, endurance, etc.  Think basketball, football, soccer, wrestling…  An athlete in this quadrant must work on all these qualities and thus can’t be the best at any one quality.  The athlete must live with compromises.  Quadrant III is where most of us live.  We’ve narrowed our focus to a few things but we’re not world champs.  Quadrant IV is for pinpoint specialization.  Here you’ll find weightlifters, sprinters, elite distance athletes, etc.  These athletes have a very narrow focus and thus have very narrow training needs and requirements.  The authors refer back to these quadrants throughout the book, and give considerations for the training needs of each of these athletes.

A quick word on the word “stronger.”  It doesn’t necessarily equate to “bigger.”  Many athletes (and everyone else on earth) need strength but not lots of muscle mass.  Easy Strength takes this into account.  Meanwhile some readers do want more muscle mass.  This issue is also discussed in the book.

Oh, and the book is also chock-full of all kinds of workout programs and reasons to use them.  A continual theme throughout the book is “less-is-more,” and the workouts reflect this idea.  The problem is there are so many interesting workouts that like me, you may find yourself wanting to do “this one and that one and that one and that one too!”  Pavel and Dan would tell you to pick one and stick to it.  Get all you can out of it then move to another workout.  Don’t blend this one with that one.  So I picked one.  It’s the 40-Day Workout.  The workout is similar to the Power to the People deadlift workout.  For a very thorough description of this workout read Dan John’s blog post called Even Easier Strength.  Here’s the basic rundown:

Pick five exercises: a press, a pull, a hinge (deadlift, kettlebell swing, Romanian deadlift), a squat, a loaded carry, possibly an ab movement.  (A pull and a hinge may be combined as in a deadlift for instance).

Do these exercises five days a week.  Do about 10 reps per exercise.  That may come in sets of 2×5 reps, 5×2 reps, 3×3 reps, six singles or other combinations that come out to about 10 reps.  Work hard–but not very hard.  These workouts are practice, not a red-line suffer-fest.  The workouts should feel fairly easy.  You should feel strong at the end of your workout, not flattened and half-dead.  Don’t max out on reps or weight but rather nudge the weight up gradually as you move through the 40 days.

I’ve taken about a month off from lifting.  My goal is to get stronger generally and a little more muscular.  My workout looks like this:

Warm-up: Z-Health mobility work, core activation, jump rope, kettlebell swings, body weight lunges/squats, med-ball throws or some combination of these.

Main lifts:

  1. Front squat
  2. Barbell overhead press supersetted with face-pulls, batwings and some band pull-aparts
  3. Deadlift
  4. 1-arm farmer walk
  5. strict leg lifts
    (Technically there are more than five exercises here, but the additional shoulder exercises are supplemental exercises, not heavy main lifts.)

To get a little bit of a cardio boost I go through the work as fast as I can–but not too fast.  I rest as needed but I’m pretty much lifting as quickly as I can load and unload the plates.  I’ll take more rest as the weights get heavier.

I’m really enjoying this workout.  I get to lift every day.  I don’t kill myself doing it and it’s fun to add a little weight each time.  Plus it’s simple.  I don’t have to mind too many variables.  A couple of my clients are playing with this workout as well.

Easy Strength is a great read.  It’s fairly profound in its message with extremely valuable information from the most experienced strength coaches in the world and reasonably easy to understand.  If you’re even semi-serious about getting stronger–as any human should be–you need this book.

 

First Day on the Clean Program

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This post isn’t about power cleans, hang cleans, kettlebell cleans or anything involving a weight of any sort.  I’m spending a few days this week trying a dietary cleanse called the Clean Program.  It’s typically a 3-week program but I’m only doing it for about four days.  My wife is on her final week of the program and she loves the way she feels.  I probably wouldn’t have given this thing a shot if she wasn’t a) trying it at all and b) feeling fantastic while doing it.

The idea of Clean is to detoxify the body and give the digestive system a rest. You eat one solid-meal food a day and drink two juices and/or smoothies per day.  Clean has you eliminating a variety of foods–even a good number of fruits and vegetables: tomatoes, citrus fruits, soy products, dairy products, eggplant, raw fish, wheat, corn, barley, spelt, kamut, rye, couscous, oats, booze, sugar, and caffeine among other things.  There’s also a minimum 12-hour fast between your evening meal and your morning meal.  Sounds like a big party right?

Now, I’ve always been skeptical of these things.  Sounds like a lot of gimmicky nonsense and shoddy science.  That said, I’ve never actually done any research on this process.  I do recognize there are health benefits to fasting from time to time and I absolutely understand that even those of us who eat a “healthy” diet are quite likely consuming some junk we shouldn’t be eating.  The biggest motivation for my trying this program is what it’s done for my wife.  It’s very strong anecdotal evidence that something good might come from it.  We’ll see what happens…

Product Review: Gatorade G Natural and G2 Natural

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I’ll admit I’m a little bit excited in that someone at Gatorade reads my blog and sent me a couple of their new products to test.  (I almost feel like a real journalist!)  Gatorade G Natural and G2 Natural are two sports drinks that Gatorade is marketing as a natural alternative to their regular sports drinks.  Both drinks are part of Gatorade’s Perform line of drinks.  This means they’re designed to be drunk during a workout or competition.  (Pre-competition/workout and post-competition/workout drinks are also available.)  G Natural is a full-calorie drink with 50 calories per serving while G2 Natural is a low-calorie drink with 2o calories per serving.  The G Natural I got was orange flavored.  G2 Natural was berry flavored.

I drank the G Natural on a tough, quick bike ride up Lookout Mountain in Golden, CO.  It was warm and the road was steep.  A sports drink was definitely in order.  I drank the G2 Natural after a five mile run.  I found it refreshing and adequate to the task.

Flavor is probably the most important factor as to whether or not someone likes a sports drink.  (Research has shown people will drink more if a drink is flavored as opposed to an unflavored drink like water.)  My personal preference is for a light-flavored drink but this is a rare find among sports drinks.  I found the G Natural flavor to be a bit strong, but it was nothing severe.  I’d be perfectly happy to find this drink at rest stops during a bike tour or a running event.

Overall, I think this new Gatorade product is just fine and if you’re a fan of Gatorade then you’ll probably like these drinks.  What has me thinking though is to what degree is this new product actually “natural?”  To me, calling something natural implies that it is a minimally processed product.  In my mind, natural foods should contain no engineered chemicals or food additives that I can’t pronounce or produce in my kitchen.  So what’s in Gatorade Natural?  (Specifically, we’ll look at what’s in the orange flavored drink.)

First is water.  Nothing remarkable there.  Second is sucrose.  What is that?  A sugar naturally found in plants but it can also be manufactured in a factory or lab.  I don’t know where Gatorade gets its sucrose.  Second is dextrose, AKA glucose.  Glucose occurs naturally but commercial glucose is derived from plants, most commonly from corn–but this isn’t corn syrup.

Erythritol is next.  (Ever cook up a batch of erythritol?)  This is a sugar alcohol.  It’s sweet but has almost no calories, therefore it’s often used as a sweetener in nutritional supplements and soft drinks like Gatorade.  It’s derived via fermentation of glucose.  This sugar alcohol tends to be easier on the digestive tract than other sugar alcohols like maltitol, sorbitol and xylitol.  Erythritol also doesn’t affect blood-sugar levels thus making it fairly safe for diabetics.  In my view, this is not a natural substance.  That said, it sounds like good stuff to me.  From the way it’s described, erythritol is a fairly benign sweetener and I have no problem using it on a consistent basis.

Next is citric acid.  That’s in a lot of things.  It’s used as a food flavoring and preservative.  It’s also found naturally, often in citrus fruits.  (Guess what else.  If you buy a large enough quantity of it, the authorities may suspect you of terrorist activity because of citric acid’s role in the production of HMTD, a very powerful explosive.)

The always popular natural flavor is next on the list.  The Code of Federal Regulations defines as natural flavoring as such:

“The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. Natural flavors include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in §§182.10, 182.20, 182.40, and 182.50 and part 184 of this chapter, and the substances listed in §172.510 of this chapter.”

So is natural flavor natural?  You be the judge.

Sea salt follows natural flavor on the ingredient list.  I’d call this some fairly natural stuff.  It comes by way of evaporating sea water thus leaving sea salt.

Sodium citrate is next on the list.  (One of three types of sodium citrate, trisodium citrate is the only food additive.)  This is a tart flavoring and preservative used in various drinks as well as an anticoagulant in order to help preserve blood in blood banks..  It’s a relative of citric acid.  How is it produced?  If you’ve got a chemistry background, it shouldn’t be too tough.  Can you find it in what most of us would call “nature?”  Unlikely.

Finally we’ve got beta carotene (for color).  (Can’t have a natural drink without color right?)  Well, it’s fairly natural stuff.  It’s what gives carrots and other orange veggies and fruits their orange color.  (Wouldn’t it be ironic if the beta carotene in orange flavored Gatorade Natural came from carrots instead of oranges?)  Beta carotene is quite possibly very healthy for you so long as it’s consumed in it’s natural state; that is as a whole food along with the thousands of other compounds found in carrots, oranges, pumpkins, sweet potato, orange peppers, etc.  In contrast, if you’re a smoker and you consume enough beta carotene in isolation, your chances of lung cancer go up.

What’s my point here?  The term “natural” can be applied to almost any food.  There are no specific regulations concerning its use.  We’re starting to learn that highly processed foods are unhealthy for us.  Organic foods are becoming more popular and many of us recognize the health benefits of eating non-processed or minimally processed foods (i.e. stuff that’s simply pulled out of the ground or yanked off a tree branch.)  Thus there is profit to be made by way of foods we might generally consider natural.  Is Gatorade Natural actually natural?  It depends on your definition.  Almost anything on earth or in the universe might be considered natural.  (Supernatural probably isn’t the correct term for  Gatorade Natural either.)  Does it contain some naturally found substances?  Yes.  Does it also contain some highly processed substances?  Also yes.

Am I calling Gatorade Natural a bad or unhealthy product?  No.  I truly have no idea of the overall health effects of Gatorade Natural.  I personally have no fear of consuming the product.  It may well be the ideal thirst quenching fuel for many athletes.  At the same time, it’s not quite what I consider to be a natural product.