Saturday, June 6, 2015

Don't Resist the Exercise

Through my own experiences and research I have been starting to believe that weight lifting, also known as strength training or resistance exercise, is the most ideal form of exercise to ensure health and longevity. Unfortunately, this isn't so obvious from just observing the world around us because there aren't many great examples of people lifting weights to optimize health. When we think of weight lifters our heads jump to body builders, power lifters and now we may also think of cross-fit athletes. These are examples of people that are using resistance exercise for overstimulation to either cause super-physiological hypertrophy of the muscle or super human performance in a sport. Not to mention, participants in these arenas may or may not be taking some questionable supplements. Furthermore, someone who chooses moderate jogging or bike riding as their activity of choice is likely to be more fit and healthier than someone who is relatively inactive. The jogger may also make many other life choices that are healthy that the inactive person doesn't do like not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, reducing stress and getting enough quality sleep. The jogger is just a healthier person overall and this doesn't prove that jogging is the best form of exercise for health. You can say the same thing about someone who lifts weights regularly compared to someone who doesn't exercise at all, so just comparing people and looking around at examples isn't the best way to determine what is the most ideal form of exercise. Furthermore, while I do believe resistance exercise is the best way to optimize health and longevity, the way to approach training will vary from person to person depending on body type, training response, hormonal balance, adrenal function, life priorities, personal preference and many other factors. Just like with diet, there is no one size fits all approach and it's about finding what works best for you.

A few of the benefits gained from resistance exercise are:

Glucose metabolism
When done appropriately there are many biological and physiological effects of resistance exercise that make it the optimal mode of exercise for weight management and improved metabolism. Many people say they don't want to lift weights because they want to lose weight so they run instead. Running can lead to weight loss, but sometimes also through a loss of muscle mass, which is not the goal. Muscle is a very metabolically expensive tissue to have around, in other words, muscle requires a lot of energy to function so naturally, if you have more muscle you will burn more calories because your body has to burn more fuel to support all the muscle it has around. This is one of the reasons muscle is lost when you don't exercise regularly, your body doesn't keep muscle around unless it absolutely has to. When you contract your muscles you induce the transport of glucose into the cells without the requirement for insulin. Therefore, if someone is diabetic they can still clear glucose from their bloodstream via muscle contraction. High intensity training also depletes the muscle stores of glycogen, increasing glucose turnover and moving glucose from the blood to be stored in the muscle. Over time this will decrease the body's need to release insulin and allow the cells to become more insulin sensitive. Insulin is an anabolic hormone and it helps build muscle and store fat. In order to burn fat, insulin levels must be able to be reduced to release the enzymes that allow for fat mobilization. This is one of the reasons it can be difficult for someone who is diabetic to lose fat, because they live in a state of chronically elevated insulin to try and force the insulin signal, but since their cells are resistant they don't hear it. Resistance training aids in weight loss by decreasing insulin levels which allows for fat mobilization while increasing muscle mass so you lose fat but not muscle.


Cardiac function
 Many people believe to improve their cardiac function they need to do classic "cardio" like a long run or a spin class. Some don't think that resistance exercise can improve cardiac function and some even believe it is detrimental to the heart. Studies have shown improvements in cardiac function after resistance exercise in people with congestive heart failure. The American Heart Association even includes resistance exercise protocols in its recommendations for preventing heart disease. It was believed in the past that muscle contractions can increase peripheral vascular resistance and trap blood in the veins, but just the opposite is actually true. Resistance exercise increases vasodilation which decreases vascular resistance allowing increased blood flow to the muscles to support the high intensity activity. These muscular contractions then help milk the blood in the veins back to the right side of the heart which directly stimulates increased blood being pumped out of the left side of the heart, to supply blood to the muscles and the rest of the body. Your heart doesn't just beat when you're running or are on a stationary bike, it beats all the time and resistance exercise can help improve this process.

Bone Density, Muscle mass and function
These next two positive benefits are probably the main reasons I personally believe strength training is the best form of exercise for health and longevity. Decreased bone density, also referred to as osteoporosis and loss of muscle mass and function with aging, also known as sarcopenia are two conditions thought to just be part of normal aging. Both of these conditions are multi-faceted and have complicated mechanisms that are incompletely understood and while there's still lots of research to be done it does seem that resistance training could help treat or even prevent both of these conditions. It has been shown that athletes and individuals who regularly perform weight bearing exercises like squats, deadlifts, running and jumping are able to increase their bone density. Nutritional approaches to osteoporosis have had mixed results and do not seem as effective and consistent as resistance exercise. Similarly, there has been a lot of research showing the safety and effectiveness of strength training for preventing sarcopenia. It is important to mention that sarcopenia is the loss of both muscle mass and function. This is why nutrition alone and hormonal approaches to increase muscle mass aren't totally effective treatments for sarcopenia. Just increasing muscle size doesn't solve the problem of muscle quality, that's why proper nutrition must be combined with resistance exercise. The improvements in muscle mass and function and bone density improve the quality of life for the elderly significantly because they can move around and perform daily tasks much easier. They are also less prone to falling and if they do fall are less likely to be injured since they have more muscle and bone density to break their fall. It was old wisdom that said elderly people shouldn't lift heavy things because they're weak and frail, but the truth is the exact opposite: elderly people are weak and frail because they don't lift heavy things. 

These are just a few examples of the benefits of resistance exercise. There are many others I haven't mentioned liked: improved sleep quality, relief from depression, increased HDL, improved blood pressure, arthritis relief and still others. Overall it is most important to stay active and move around a lot, but resistance exercise should also be included in that regimen to maximize health and longevity. Strength training can be done many different ways and it's up to you to decided what exercise, equipment, schedule and structure you want to pursue. In future blog posts I wouldn't mind discussing some of these plans of attack and share what I like.

Stay healthy San Diego,


Much of my inspiration and the information for this post came from the book Body by Science by Doug McGuff, M.D. and John Little.  Their website is:

Cardiac function



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A day in the life of Devin- "Breakfast"

I decided to write a series of posts where I walk through a typical day of mine and discuss what I do and the reasons I do them. This is a good way to bring up different health topics and maybe share a few recipes along the way. I am in no way saying I do things perfectly and I'll bring up ways I want to improve as I come across them and would be open to any suggestions people have.

The first thing I do when I wake up is make a cup of bulletproof coffee, a mixture of coffee and fats created by a guy named Dave Asprey. The way to make bulletproof coffee is to blend grass fed butter and coconut and/or MCT oil into your coffee in the morning. The recipe I normally follow is:

-2 cups of brewed coffee (I use an aeropress since it's easy and I'm usually only making one cup for myself so it's better than brewing a whole pot)

-2 tablespoons grass-fed butter

-1 Tablespoon coconut oil

-1 Tablespoon MCT oil

All you have to do is combine the ingredients in a blender and blend for 10-15 seconds. When you're done you should have something similar to a latte and look something like this:

If you don't blend and try to stir instead it won't mix well and will be kind of gross to drink. Also blending forms something called fat micelles which make the fats much easier for your body to absorb. Therefore, the blending is not only important for drinkability but also bioavailability of the healthy fats. When consuming these fats it's important to start slowly. I've been doing this for several months now so I'm used to it, but it's important to slowly work your way up and give your body a chance to get used to digesting so much fat at once.

Lets break down the benefits of each ingredient.

Many know that coffee has health benefits, one of which being high levels of antioxidant polyphenols. Combining coffee with cream is a more common addition of coffee than butter but studies have shown that the protein in milk can bind to the polyphenols in coffee and make them less bioavailable. Butter has very little of these proteins left, so the polyphenols are more absorbable. As a general rule, fat helps you absorb nutrients better, especially the fat soluble vitamins.

Grass fed butter has benefits above regular butter including higher amounts nutrients like the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K2 and higher amounts of butyric acid. Butyric acid has been shown to be beneficial in strengthening the immune system and can even heal the lining of the intestines. Grass fed butter has a deeper yellow color due to the greater nutrient density and tastes way better especially when blended into coffee. Just make sure you get the unsalted kind because salt doesn't taste very good in coffee.

Coconut oil has gained popularity as of late, and the reason I like to include it in my coffee is for the high amounts of lauric acid it contains. Lauric acid has been shown to be a strong antimicrobial which can be helpful by getting rid of unwanted bacterial and fungal overgrowth in the body. It is also effective topically which is why some people use it on their skin, in their hair or even as a replacement for deodorant.

MCTs, or medium chain triglycerides, are saturated fatty acids containing 6,8 or 10 carbons in a hydrocarbon chain. Normally fats need to be packaged and processed through lipoproteins like LDL and HDL, but MCTs do not need to go through this process. Therefore, MCTs are absorbed much quicker than longer chain fatty acids and can be used immediately for energy. This can be beneficial to athletes, especially those competing in long distance activities like a marathon who can benefit from staying in a fat burning state during competition. MCTs help stimulate the production of ketone bodies, which are made from fat and are the only energy source utilized by the brain besides glucose. Diabetic patients may benefit from MCTs while consuming a low carb diet to fuel their bodies and brains without releasing insulin.  MCTs have also been shown to aid in appetite regulation and increase thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is just a ramping up of the metabolism to burn more calories through the release of heat. Appetite regulation and thermogenesis leads to decreased food intake and a faster metabolism, which are advantageous in treating metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes. MCTs have also been proven to have neuroprotective effects, which could help prevent or treat things like epilepsy and Alzheimers. There still needs to be more research on MCTs and their highly concentrated alter ego: MCT oil. The preliminary results are very promising though as they seem to have a big impact on metabolism and the brain and are beneficial for athletes and patients with chronic diseases.

Now that I've scratched the surface of the benefits of the ingredients lets look at the reason behind having such a huge bomb of fat first thing in the morning.

It has been shown through many studies that calorie restriction is able to extend lifespan. Unfortunately, although it's beneficial, chronic calorie restriction is not very enjoyable or practical for most people. The good new is that they have discovered intermittent fasting is able to reap many of the benefits of calorie restriction by a similar manipulation of your hormones and biochemistry but is easier to follow and allows for recovery periods. A common method of intermittent fasting is done by skipping breakfast and then eating all of your meals between an 8 hour window, generally between noon-8pm. Unfortunately this can also be difficult to do especially if you have to perform well at work early in the morning, or you're like me, and you prefer to work out in the mornings. The same guy, Dave Asprey, that invented bulletproof coffee calls replacing breakfast with fatty coffee bulletproof intermittent fasting. Since your body hasn't had any carbs or protein it still thinks it's in the fasting state since the fat you ate didn't cause the release of insulin. Therefore, you still gain the benefits you would gain from normal intermittent fasting, but you have fuel to aid you in your day. You can still take advantage of intermittent fasting and reap the benefits of fat soluble vitamins, butyric acid, lauric acid and MCTs. You also don't experience the same crash you would get from eating a high carbohydrate breakfast that spikes your insulin and leaves you hungry an hour later. For me, the caffeine and MCTs make for a great pre-workout drink to help me crush it at the gym.

A big criticism of bulletproof coffee is that it displaces what could be a nutrient dense breakfast with just fat. I have argued that the fats in bulletproof coffee are beneficial to your health, but also mimicking intermittent fasting in a way that's easier on the body is another reason to do it. Therefore, bulletproof coffee shouldn't be compared to a nutrient dense breakfast, it should be compared to eating nothing at all. If you can eat a large, nutrient dense breakfast high in fat and protein daily and don't have aspirations of trying intermittent fasting, then bulletproof coffee probably won't be your thing. Unfortunately most people don't eat a large nutrient dense rich in protein and healthy fats but instead things like cereal, donuts, pastries or bagels. Also some people want to try intermittent fasting but have struggled with it in the past. In those cases it might be beneficial to give bulletproof coffee a try and see if it helps you feel and perform better.

Stay healthy San Diego,

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Paleo starting point

I wanted to write this post to talk a little about the Paleo diet. There are some misconceptions out there so I wanted to give my take on the diet and why I think it is a useful stepping stone towards optimal health.

The first rule of the Paleo diet I want to stress before talking about anything else is eating mostly unprocessed and whole foods. People often times get distracted by other parts of the Paleo diet but I want to talk about food quality first because I think it is most important. For some reason, whenever talking about dieting there is alway so much discussion on quantity. It's always "eat less calories to lose weight" or "eat more protein if you want to gain muscle" or "go on a low carb diet, they're the enemy" or "go on a low fat diet, it's the enemy." Instead of talking about quantity there should be more discussion on food quality. I'm going to start talking like a food hippie here for a second but hang in there with me. Eating is actually quite an intimate process that should be respected, not abused. We should be grateful to the food for giving us life and energy, not fearing that it will make us fat or demanding simple pleasure from it. When you eat, you are taking that thing into your own body and it gives you life and actually quite literally becomes the new you. What do you want to become the new you? High quality foods that were prepared with care or processed foods made and packaged in factories that only exist to make money?

The Paleo diet was born out of the idea that humans should be eating foods that we are well adapted to eat and that our ancestors have been eating for well over 10,000 years. Many people get lost on this point and try to make Paleo more about a historical reenactment but the fact is this is just the starting point and a way to help make a roadmap for the diet. You don't needs to use anthropological data to justify eating something, if it's something that's good for you that you tolerate well, then go for it. Two examples of pleasure foods in the Paleo community that were not eaten by our ancestors are coffee and chocolate. Neither were eaten in the Paleolithic era but, if tolerated by the individual, they can have many benefits so they don't need to be excluded just on the basis that they're relatively new foods.

The food groups generally omitted from the Paleo diet are: grains, legumes and dairy. These foods may seem like they've been around for awhile but in actuality, not nearly as long as other foods like meat, nuts and berries. Now because of agricultural practices, processing, genetic modification and many other reasons these food groups (there are others, but these ones especially) seem to be even more troublesome and inflammatory to the human biology today. Cutting out grains, legumes and dairy is only a starting point and from there you can decide what works best for you and what doesn't. There will be some people who tolerate these different foods better than others but once you cut them out for a couple weeks to a month and then start reintroducing them into your diet, it will become clear which cause distress and which do not. Dairy can be very problematic to some that have allergic reactions to it, but very beneficial to others. Of course there is a spectrum and you ultimately have to be the judge of whether it's beneficial for you or not. In Paleo fashion, though, you should look for high quality, minimally processed dairy that will be the most beneficial and the least offensive. Many people respond better to goat's milk than cow's milk. The assumption is that we are more biologically similar to goats than cows in many ways so we tolerate their milk better. If dairy has bothered you in the past, switching to goat milk may have some positive benefits, but the only way to find out is to give it a try. Grains and legumes, unfortunately, have built in defense mechanisms in order to prevent animals from eating them so that they can continue to grow and survive. Some people, however, can benefit from grains and legumes as long as they are prepared correctly via fermentation, sprouting, soaking, cooking and other methods. It can often times be difficult to find properly prepared and handled grains and legumes that haven't been highly processed and modified, which is why many in the Paleo community just avoid them, but if you do the self experimenting and can find high quality grains and legumes that don't bother you it might not be a bad idea to include in your diet.

One of the reasons I like the Paleo diet is that health and self experimentation are at the heart of the diet. The Paleo diet doesn't need to be low carb or high fat or low fat or high meat, but it can be any of those things if you design it that way and decide that's the best model for you and your goals. It's just a starting point to finding out what is the diet that's going to help you feel, look and perform the best. It's about finding a diet that meets your needs and can help to correct: digestive distress, food cravings, blood sugar swings, autoimmune conditions, inflammatory diseases and many more. I'm not guaranteeing the Paleo diet will fix all of those conditions, but finding the ideal diet for YOU can have the potential to do many powerful things and greatly affect your health and well being.  There's a program called Whole30 that's a great place to start with the Paleo diet that walks you through the month long challenge and gives you the rationale behind it and tips to succeed. If you're thinking of starting the Paleo diet I suggested visiting that site first.

I hope this was a good introduction/clarification and wasn't too long and confusing. In later posts I hope to give more tips and suggestions on how to make the Paleo diet work for you but for now this is just an overview. And seriously, check out Whole30 for more info and give their 30 day challenge a try.

Stay healthy San Diego,

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Big Four

Although I do not have any authority in the health and wellness community (yet) I am sometimes asked by friends, family and acquaintances what they can do to lose weight and improve their health. I used to think I had this question all figured out back when I was in nutrition school, but the more I learn, the less I feel I know. Many people out there in the health field will say things like "it's simple" and "we've got it all figured out people just need to stop being lazy and follow our advice." Newsflash: it's not simple, it's very complicated actually and the best approach to health for each person needs to be individualized based on their own environment, genetics, hormones and epigenetics. A lot of the advice out there are guidelines for the masses and doesn't take into consideration inter-variability between individuals. There is a spectrum to how people respond to many different treatments and stimuli. If you look at coffee, people have known for a long time that some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others and there exists a spectrum where some people are very sensitive, some people are not very sensitive and then most other people fall somewhere in the middle. Coffee has been shown to be high in antioxidants and actually accounts for a majority of all antioxidants consumed by Americans each year. This is great news for a country so in love with their cups o' joe, but they're finding now that there is a spectrum of responses to this antioxidant capacity as well. Antioxidants is something we like to think we just automatically get from eating (and drinking) healthy things, but it turns out even that may depend on your genetics.

While optimal health may depend on many things and be highly individualized there are improvements everyone can make no matter who you are or what your environment, genetics and epigenetics look like. The four main areas of improvement are: sleep, stress management, diet and physical activity. This is not a comprehensive list but these four areas are almost guaranteed to help you no matter what your own personal health status may be.

Many people do not get enough high quality sleep and this can affect almost every other aspect of life including mental and physical performance, immunity, energy, weight management, stress reduction and many more. Artificial lights and overuse of stimulants for energy has thrown off our natural circadian rhythm and negatively affected sleep quality. Because of this most people are now sleep deprived. Fitness and nutrition expert Shawn Stevenson wrote a great book on the importance of sleep and 21 tips on how to sleep better called Sleep Smarter. He also has a great health and wellness podcast called the model health show and he discusses these tips in episodes 4, 5 and 6.

While we do not face many of the stresses our cavemen ancestors faced we have our own, arguably worse mountain of stressors to contend with in modern day society and many people believe we aren't wired to handle the amount and types of stresses we face every day. During caveman times if you saw a lion running after you, your body would release a stress response that would help you run away from danger. Now we still elicit that same stress response but don't have the same release of running away from danger. This chronic stimulation from driving in traffic, dealing with passive aggressive abuse from our boss at work, bills, busy schedules and so on, without a possible escape or release has been proven to be terrible for our health on many levels. Finding ways to mitigate this stress is no easy task but is something we must be conscious of because we all deal with it on a daily basis. Breathing exercises and meditation are a great way to take action and become mindful of what is causing us the most stress and how to fight back.

Diet is one of the obvious choices for improving health and something I have been interested in for a long time. Like I  mentioned earlier, the optimal diet for each person is highly individualized and takes a great amount of effort to determine. Furthermore, there is no one diet that is best for someone throughout their entire life. As we age, the environment around us changes, our health improves or declines and our optimal diet changes. Fortunately, in the theme of keeping things simple, there are easy steps to help improve diet. One of the things I have found most empowering is learning how to cook and prepare my own meals. In doing this you begin to take control of what you're eating and better monitor what works and what doesn't work to improve your health. Another big and simple tip is to eat real, whole foods. While you're at the grocery store picking out foods to help you start to prepare your own meals you might as well stick to the outside of the grocery store. Eat things that don't have a label and aren't packaged and processed. The switch to highly processed and commercial foods has been terrible to human health. Earlier in this century, food companies thought they could use technology to man make foods for us that are cheaper and better than the way nature does it. We're now finding out this was completely wrong and the system of digesting and processing food is very complex and using technology to mimic what nature has already done so well isn't worth it. We evolved along with the world around us and if we stick to eating whole and natural foods our bodies will know what to do with them and handle the rest.

It is very common in the world we live in to have your day look something like this: Sit in the car, drive to work, sit in the cubicle on the computer all day, sit in the car on the drive home, sit at the dinner table, sit on the couch watching TV until bedtime. As humans we weren't designed for this much sitting, that's why the new phrase "sitting is the new smoking" has been coined because it's bad for our bodies to be stuck in this one position for so long. On the same side of the coin a typical day at the beginning of the industrial revolution before cars and cubicles looked like this: walk to work, spend all day standing at a conveyor belt, walk home. During this time many people suffered injuries from standing too much and that's why they always said "standing is the new smoking." Not really because they weren't that clever back then and also they didn't realize smoking was bad yet but I think you get the point. Probably what people should be saying is"static positioning is the new smoking." Our bodies are designed to be moving around all day not stuck in these predetermined postures one way or another. It's important to stay active and moving throughout the day and constantly changing your position. Standing, walking and moderate sitting should be part of everyone's daily routine to keep our body guessing and our overall activity level high. Notice I haven't mentioned actual exercise yet. This doesn't mean exercise isn't important but it is also important to make sure we're staying active the other 23 hours of the day when we're not in the gym.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list of improvements to make to help improve your health. This is just a short long-winded introduction based on my own thoughts and experiences on these four aspects of health and wellness. I hope to dive deeper and learn more about each of these aspects of health and post about them in the future.

Stay healthy San Diego,


Coffee antioxidants

Sleep epidemic

Shawn Stevenson

Cooking websites

"Sitting is the new smoking"

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Honest N-of-one

Hello there everyone!

I wanted to start this blog as a way to organize my thoughts and share what I have learned about health, nutrition and exercise over the past year or so. I have always been interested in nutrition and exercise, I even got a masters in biochemical and molecular nutrition. I'll wait while you're impressed for a second, I know that sounds super impressive. But to be honest (and as I'll explain later honesty will be a theme of this blog as you may have guessed from the title) I didn't feel like I had learned much about nutrition when I left graduate school. I learned a lot about biochemistry and I had been given facts about nutrition and looked at tons of conflicting studies that just left me confused.

About a year ago, thanks to Joe Rogan, I started listening to podcasts. I currently work as a lab tech in a research lab and there's a lot of repetitive pipetting which is a great time to listen to podcasts and learn a little something or maybe have a laugh. I knew I wanted to listen to podcasts related to health, nutrition and exercise since that's what I'm interested in but it seemed like all the top ranked nutrition podcasts were all paleo related. I had heard of the paleo diet before and I was like ""no thank you that's the dumbest diet I've ever heard." Eventually I gave in and started listening, albeit begrudgingly at first, to some of the paleo podcasts. After a few months of hearing a lot of the same messages over and over again and thinking through the concepts in the context of what I had learned in the past I knew there must be something to this whole paleo, ancestral approach to things.

This past September I moved into a new apartment and I decided to turn over a new leaf. I decided to start cooking the majority of my meals and even started bringing my lunch into work. After doing that, I decided to start eating a more paleo-like diet and experimenting with what made me feel good, look good and have more energy (these are three things I think we can all agree we'd like from a diet and a lifestyle, right?). In later posts I'll share what some of those things I learned and tried are but for now I just wanted to explain the title of this blog and my current philosophy about what it takes to take control of you health and become the best version of yourself you possibly can be. "Current" is the key word in that last sentence because as I learn new things I'm always changing and  adjusting my views and game plans.

In science, we carry out experiments to help answer questions about the population on the whole. Since it's impossible to carry out a study on the entire population, we use a smaller subset of people in the experiment to make predictions about what that will mean for the population as a whole. The people participating in the study is known as the sample size or often abbreviated as n. In a drug study with 100 people, if half receive the drug being tested and the other half receive a placebo then the n=50 for each group. This is a way over simplification of study design but it's just to explain why I named the blog what I did. Generally speaking, in a study, the larger the n the stronger the power of the study which allows you to make better predictions about the population.

Why then would I call this blog honest N-of-one? Isn't an n=1 just about the worst you can do without having no experiment at all? Actually the answer is quite the opposite. At the end of the day, all the studies you hear are just averages and they can only give generalized information that may or may not apply to you. Ultimately, you have to take steps to take control of your health and decide what works best for you. There could be 100 studies saying a certain food is good for you, but if you eat it and it makes you throw up every time then it may not be a good idea to eat that food. People will always say "I could never eat that" or "I could never stop eating that" but the truth is you really never know until you try it. The second half of being an honest N-of-one beyond experimenting with yourself, is being honest with yourself. There are a lot of people, companies, organizations out there that will lie to you because they are pushing an agenda. Don't join them and start lying to yourself, do yourself a favor and be honest about what actually makes you feel good and helps you live a better life. The point behind honest N-of-one is to go out there and take control of your health constantly learning new things about yourself along the way. Your own personal N-of-one experiment (also known as life) is the most important experiment, by far, to living a happy and healthy life.

'Til Next Time,