What’s NBF all about – a refresher

Fitness, Exercise, Sport, Triathlon

What’s NBF all about? More than this picture, that’s for sure…

To celebrate the 40th post of No-brainer Fitness, I thought it worthwhile to offer a brief recap.

Basically, in case you are still wondering, or if you are fairly new to No-brainer Fitness, here’s what it’s all about, in the form of an interview, but definitely in No-brainer Fitness style:

What does NBF stand for?

NBF is my acronym for No-brainer Fitness.

Ok, smart ass, but what is it all about, really?

No-brainer Fitness is about getting fit so as to be, and remain, as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.

Why the “No-brainer” part?

Because it is my contention that, in order to get and remain fit, you don’t need to do anything very complicated. Also, the benefits of being fit are so good and numerous, that you should not have to think twice about it.

Don’t you have some secret agenda?

You mean other than helping others reap the benefits of fitness?

Yes.

No.

C’mon, admit it! You are trying to create a cult to fitness, or at least get rich from this, aren’t you?

Well, it would be nice to make a living helping others, but I still do it for free.

So, no cult?

No cult. Quite the contrary, I promise.

Ok, prove it: How does one get fit?

You need to move more. A lot more. On a daily basis. Not just 30 minutes of intense exercise every other day, and then sitting on your chair or sofa the rest of the time. Instead of seeking ways to save your energy, you need to get into the habit of using more energy. Walking more, taking stairs instead of escalators or elevators, doing some light strength exercises, not sitting so much at work, picking up a fun sport again, etc.

That sounds like hard work: I’m getting tired just reading about it. How does one get there?

A big part of it is changing your mindset so that you no longer think about moving as hard, but as something that your body craves, much like you crave food. Our bodies really do crave movement, and as you get moving, you start to feel it more keenly.

Talking about craving, what about eating super foods and taking supplements that will make me fit and healthy and help me lose weight? Isn’t that a lot easier?

There is no such thing as “super foods”, and if you eat well, you don’t need supplements. Losing weight comes naturally from moving more and eating a good diet, not from dieting. But the key is moving more. First and foremost, that’s what you have to focus on. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something (like supplements).

Unlike you?

Unlike me.

But if we wanted to buy something from you, we could. Right?

Well, if you are interested in picking up running or triathlon as a sport, because those are great ways of getting and remaining fit, I could help with that, too. And for that, yes, I do get paid, because it demands much more attention to make sure it is done right, and you reach your personal objectives.

What else do you provide? Surely it can’t be that simple…

It is. Really. But I try to make it enjoyable to do the right thing, and I provide advice to help steer through the wild west of products and tips out there. Because being fit is both simple and fun.

Hmmm… What else?

Well, it doesn’t hurt to stay away from things that are clearly bad for you, what I call NOT FOOD. But the key, I insist, is in moving a lot more.

Ok, I think that’s enough for now. I almost believe you.

Feel free to ask me other questions. Or read some of my 39 previous posts; you are sure to find more about what NBF stands for, and how to be more fit.

Move on!

Health, Fitness, Exercise

Working on some visuals for No-brainer Fitness… Feedback welcome.

 

An Ideal Vacation

Training, Vacation, Exercise

Do you put your feet up on vacation? Here’s a different idea.

Here’s my idea of the ideal vacation:

Get up a little before dawn and head to the beach in your swimsuit and goggles. As the sun rises, dive in and do a 30-60 minutes open water swim. Spend a few more minutes checking out the local wildlife (a.k.a. cute fish; barracudas should be avoided). Climb back on the beach, shower away the salt, dry yourself a little, then head off to breakfast.

Rest for a few minutes, perhaps updating your Facebook status or just lounging by the pool (no one else there yet at that time). Then get dressed to go cycling. Get on the bike and ride 2-4 hours. Get back and eat some lunch. Rest by the pool for a few minutes, or head to bed for a nap. Don’t fall asleep on a chair in the sun!

Before the afternoon is over, put on running shoes and head out for a run. Nothing fancy; 45 to 90 minutes. Enjoy the scenery and the warmth. Once done, have a nice shower, and go get some dinner.

Lastly for the day, spend a quiet evening relaxing in good company. Hit the pillow around 09:00 or 09:30 at the latest (trust me, you’ll be tired). Sleep well, dreaming of flying (a dream I often get when swimming in the ocean during the day).

Repeat, varying the durations and intensities, for a few days in a row (5-6). Some days are harder and faster, some are long and slow. No need to do all three sports on all days, either. Optional, at the end of the week: after a day of mostly resting, do a triathlon or some other race (could be as little as an Olympic distance, but a half Ironman or even a full is possible).

If you can afford it, spend a few more days relaxing and optimizing your recovery by moving some more, at a lower intensity. But even if you need to pack up and leave the very next day, such a vacation is sure to have re-charged your batteries for a while.

How does that sound? Have you had the chance of doing something like that before?

Swimming, Exercise, Training, Cozumel

Our swim “buddy” in Cozumel. Yes, it is a barracuda. No, it was not “relaxing” to have that near us as we swam.

This past September my wife and I spent 10 days in Cozumel. On the eighth day of our vacation I accompanied her through her first half-iron distance triathlon (without drafting). So we got to enjoy a fabulous 6 days of training in the heat, and a fantastic race (also in the heat).

Whether you are runner, cyclist, swimmer, or an “all of the above” enthusiast, variations on that theme can be a great deal of fun: Training camps, destination races, training vacations, etc. Going away just to train is an ideal way to dramatically increase your fitness level a few weeks before an “A” event, or to kick-start a new season. Or simply to have a different kind of vacation, a more active kind of vacation.

It sounds like the training regimen of a professional athlete, you say? To some extent, it does. It can be a taste of it, but without the pressure of having to perform. The best of both worlds, so to speak.

But the “ideal vacation” I described above does not need to be very intense, or for athletes only. It can be modified in various ways to make room for sightseeing (be it the volcanoes of Hawaii, the ruins of Mexico, the shops and museums of a large city) and the intensity can be adjusted to your own needs. Of course, the rest of the family can tag along, enjoying the other activities of the place while you are out training.

You can obviously do it at home, taking a week off from work to focus on training. We call that a “crash week” in training lingo. Keep in mind the downside of staying at home to take a training vacation: you can all too easily get sucked back into normal home stuff, and lose the focus on the training-resting combination that is what gets your fitness level to go up. Also, at home, you might have to cook, whereas on a training vacation, if you plan it well, someone else does it for you.

I prefer such a training vacation to be in a warm place, with an ocean to swim in and decent roads for riding. Trails for running are a big plus, but not mandatory.

You can find such places on your own, perhaps by organizing it around a marathon or triathlon event you wish to participate in. Probably not one where you want to do a PB, otherwise you’d be in taper mode and training less. But for shorter races, and without being too competitive, you can get both a great week of training and a fun event.

A better alternative is to simply sign up for a training camp.

It’s the kind of thing you can improvise for yourself, for instance by booking a week at an all-inclusive resort in Cozumel and taking your own training program along. However, the packaged deals, including coaching supervision, offer many advantages, and can be obtained for not much more money than going on your own.

If this sounds like something you’d like to do, leave me a message: I’m working with people hosting such a camp in Costa Rica in March, and there’s still room for a few athletes of all levels. It would be my pleasure to be your coach there.

Winter is coming (in the Northern Hemisphere). A training vacation is really ideal for fighting the winter blues. Not to mention getting ready for a new season.

Swimming, Training, Vacation

The author, enjoying a bit of post-swim fish sighting.

Photos credits: Sacha Veillette and Sophie Tremblay-Paquet

Now that’s my kind of conspiracy theory

Fitness, Health, JFK, History

Finally, a JFK conspiracy worth subscribing to…

I recently visited the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

I’m no history buff, nor am I particularly into admiring political figures of the past (or present, for that matter). But I must admit that the visit turned out quite fascinating on various levels.

This guy (John F. Kennedy, to be precise) clearly died way too soon. I picked up a few good quotations and a new-found respect for what he tried to do during his brief stint as POTUS.

And I got one major surprise in the process, as the picture at the top of this post hints at.

You see, back in the early 1960s, people like JFK were already very concerned about the fitness level of Americans.

JFK re-launched a council on fitness early on in his presidency, and got a fitness program created and disseminated to schools in the US. Later on, he enlisted the help of the artist who was then drawing the Superman comics and asked him to create a special story in which Superman went on a mission to help kids get into better shape.

You could say that JFK was conspiring with a few other people to improve the fitness of Americans. That’s the kind of conspiracy that’s worth talking about.

Keep in mind that this was back in the early 1960s! Already then, there was unease about the fitness level of people, and of kids in particular…

JFK, Superman, Fitness, Health, Exercise

This is done to promote fitness. Let’s hope I don’t get sued.

Some things change, some things stay the same

Sadly, JFK died before the book was published, but his successor got the comics published, as you can see from the other image.

Did it work? Apparently not; the general population, and kids in particular, have been getting less fit, even though elite athletes have been getting better and records have been broken systematically. You could say a wider chasm has been growing in terms of fitness, even as people have been getting wider…

What’s really interesting, however, other than the fact that this was happening already over 50 years ago, is that very little has changed in terms of what is being recommended as regular physical activity. Except perhaps that infamous rope climbing thing (now we beat the crap out of floors with ropes). Sit-ups, pull-ups, push-ups, running, variations on those themes.

We also have a lot more evidence, scientific at that, about how much to move, and at what intensity. Guess what? We should be moving every day. That’s a no-brainer.

Why has it not worked?

That’s a fair question. Consider the simple fact that we’ve known for a long while how to maintain our bodies; we’ve just fallen short of finding better ways to get people moving when they are not.

Perhaps part of the problem is the lack of understanding of how to best promote fitness among kids. Standardized tests and competitions are not the way to go; measuring personal improvements based on heart rate and deployed effort is much better, as Dr. Ratey illustrates in his excellent book Spark, (and about which I provided a brief review a few days ago).

We tend to focus on providing logical, rational, scientific arguments, trying to convince everyone of the importance of moving. Unfortunately, that does not work. Our relationship to effort is one based on emotion, not rationality. That’s the real problem. Something even Superman couldn’t fix.

What can’t be denied is that the last 50 years have seen a continued rise of suburban lifestyles that almost make cars mandatory even as schools have been cutting their physical education courses and made free play practically illegal in schoolyards. Instead of walking everywhere and playing, sometimes rough, now kids are driven and made to behave all the time when in fact what they need is to learn to use their bodies in a fun way and spend energy.

In any case, let’s not forget that we’ve been struggling with this for a while, so a solution is not likely to be easy. But we’ve known for a while that we need to move more, on a daily basis. That remains the key.

Moving On

By the way, the council on fitness still exists, and every few years a new document is created, new guidelines are provided, and so on. It’s an ongoing battle. The documents are getting thicker, perhaps so they can be used for weight lifting some day. The site is there, though I have yet to find useful advice there.

Instead, we should all join the conspiracy directly and get moving. No thinking, no arguing, no rationalizing. Just moving.

Should you happen to be in the Boston area, I highly recommend a visit of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. If you go, do as I did (and dragged my mom into doing with me): Walk from the nearest T stop instead of taking the bus. That way you’ll keep to the spirit of John “Fitness” Kennedy…

Images “borrowed” from the JFK Presidential Library and Museum Web site, which is visible to everyone, and that I highly recommend visiting to anyone in the Boston area (so please don’t sue me for having used them).

 

Also From the Library of No-brainer Fitness

Books, Reading, Exercise, Brain

Books: So much knowledge, so little time to read!

A brief pause in the flow of coaching- and diet-related posts.

Time to briefly talk about some of the books I read lately. This won’t take long…

Spark – The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain

I had started reading this book by John J. Ratey, MD, and Eric Hagerman, when I wrote my first post on my library. It was very promising, and it kept its promises.

Meanwhile, the news has been filled with related findings and even a few mentions of Dr. Ratey. This book remains well worth the time, even if you are up to date on current health news about the proven and possible benefits of exercising.

In a nutshell, there is strong evidence that vigorous and regular exercise is at least equally as effective as the best medication out there for problems like ADHD, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorders, to name just a few. There are hints that with a good exercise regimen, medication can be banished or at least reduced, provided things are done in the right order.

The most important aspect of the book, in my scientific opinion, is that the authors do not simply state such conclusions, but also indicate what the physiological reasons might be according to the most up to date research.

They are also making it clear that of all the possible interventions, by which I mean medication, diet, talk therapies, only physical activity appears to have a mechanism to bring about long-term improvements.

I highly recommend this book. It should be mandatory reading to all doctors, as well as to anyone half-serious about fitness and health.

Reaching Another Level – How Private Coaching Transforms the Lives of Professional Athletes, Weekend Warriors, and the Kids Next Door

This very light book by the founder of CoachUp, Jordan Lancaster Fliegel, is a high benefit-price ratio for coaches and would-be coaches.

Although it is heavy on the professional athlete side of the ledger, and it risks playing into the dangerous notions entertained by many parents of seeing their kids become such athletes, the lessons about the role a good coach can play are very real.

There is little to learn, and little wisdom for coaches with years of experience, but the reading is light, and the examples quite interesting. I do not regret the time spent reading it.

I have yet to make use of CoachUp, but you might want to look it up as well.

SCRUM – The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

Not all of us can live from coaching and writing a health and fitness blog. And although not all of us are involved in the design and development of high tech toys, er, products, there are very interesting lessons to be gleaned from this book about the now-ubiquitous development methodology (or philosophy) dubbed “Agile.”

Jeff Sutherland is one of the original group of people who together gave birth to the Agile Manifesto. Not just happy with writing such a radical declaration, based on his vast experience, he went on to formalize what is often erroneously referred to as the Agile Methodology. The result is the SCRUM Methodology, which is promoted by his company, also called SCRUM.

Now, what was most interesting about this book for the rest of us not involved in software development and product management is that the teachings about how to approach problems and provide solutions is completely general.

Sutherland spends a few chapters, certainly among the most interesting of the book, showing how an Agile way of thinking can be used to solve the world’s problems.

I read the book primarily from the standpoint of a product manager frustrated by organizations paying lip-service to the Agile approach, but I ended up learning about how to solve any problems, and how to get more done in any sphere of life.

Perhaps not a book for everyone, but certainly not a waste of time for healthcare professionals, environmentally-conscious folks, and the rest of the generally curious population.

That’s it for this installment.

Oddly enough, and totally by accident, I just realized that all three authors are living in or around the Boston area; both Scrum Inc. and CoachUp are based in Boston, and Dr. Ratey is at Harvard. One does not need to be in Boston to make it on my reading list: It just happened that way.

Have you read any interesting books lately?

Have you read any of these books, and do you have insights you would like to share?

Photo from the library of Sacha Veillette

Why do we keep talking about dieting and special diets?

Dieting, Diet, Food, Movement

What shall we eat? No more pixie dust, that’s for sure…

Recent posts by one of the very few sources I consider reliable on nutrition prompted me to revisit the theme of diet. So I hope you can stomach one more post on this topic. I’m going to try to make it worth your while by presenting a hint of a solution.

If you have not yet read what Dr. David Katz has to say on the subject, stop reading this right now, and go read a few of his posts instead. I won’t mind. Really.

Still with me? Perhaps you only have a few minutes, so allow me to summarize the current status. (And provide links to his most recent and relevant posts; some are on LinkedIn and may require an account to access.)

Let me make something clear right off the bat:

Dieting does No Good

Dieting does not work. It’s that simple. I’ve written about it myself, and this post by Dr. Katz is quite entertainingly showing that all serious nutrition experts, those not trying to sell you something, say so.

This video about a much-publicized recent study does what journalists always (erroneously) think is better journalism: providing statements from both sides, even though it is a non-debate.

Even having a good overall diet, eating food (not too much) and mostly from plants, is not enough if you are trying to lose a lot of weight, and/or remain healthy for a really long time. For that, you need to exercise, to move, on a daily basis. It is a lifestyle issue, not a diet issue.

But that’s hard work. Are we sure there’s nothing we can do about the food we eat? (Or so we keep asking ourselves.)

In the absence of successful “mainstream” diets, people turn to even stranger diets, like the would-be paleo diet. But even that, as I’ve indicated previously, and as Dr. Katz has put it time and time again (as reported here as well), is part of repeated attempts at making believe we can get fit and slim without doing real work.

So despite dieting not working, why do we keep talking about diet as if it is the solution? Why is it that every so often a new kind of special diet starts and claims to be the solution we’ve been looking for?

Basically, the question is:

Why do we keep focusing on dieting?

Because it is appealing to us.

Most (all?) of us have a tendency to seek easy fixes, magical solutions, silver bullets. I feel this is primarily due to our innate tendency to assign simple cause and effect relationships to phenomena: if this bush moves, that’s probably because there is a tiger ready to jump on me, sort of thinking. In this case: I’m getting fatter, so it must be what I’m eating.

To some extent it is, but that’s not the point. We focus on the wrong culprit at the expense of the white elephant on the couch.

The main aspect of our lifestyle that is different from what our ancestors of even a hundred years ago had to deal with is lack of movement.

Yes, it would be harder to move a lot more; it is effort. But there is more at play:

We are constantly bombarded by good stories that, even though they are scientifically unsound, appeal to our innate need for those causation narratives. Those stories are how modern snake oil salespersons get us time and time again.

If, as I surmise, this is a big part of the problem, it also suggests a way to fight.

A way forward?

While I generally agree with Dr. Katz that we should “grow up” about it, and that we must make the effort to eat well, along with exercising, not smoking, etc., I think we need a pro-active approach as well.

Since the ease with which stories can be created about special diets is part of the problem, perhaps a good story could be part of the solution. We need new narratives to replace those of the pixie dust diets, successful precisely because, although they don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, they appeal to us through simple (simplistic) stories. We can keep telling ourselves, and others, the well-articulated lies we were told by the dieting peddlers precisely because they are simple enough.

On the other hand, the “I eat food, not too much, mostly from plants” story requires more explanations when you try to discuss it with others, and few of us have the knowledge to feel comfortable doing that.

There should not be a need for more explanation; our ancestors did not feel such need. They just ate what food they had.

The problem nowadays is that we have way too much, and it is all way too rich for our own good. In a see of contradictory advice and the occasional about-face of scientists themselves (which is even harder to explain for non-scientists), we all feel a need to justify our choices.

What better way to justify those choices than a good story?

So that’s the narrative, the story, we need to work on, instead of just de-bunking the others (not that there’s anything wrong with de-bunking). Allow me to have a go at a first draft.

A proto-story for healthy living

Begin Story

I am a human being, an animal that has evolved over millions of years to actively seek and eat a wide variety of plants and other animals.

Lately I’ve been extracting even more nutriments from my environment by cooking and domesticating my food sources. That’s great progress.

But my body has not yet evolved to remain healthy by staying put all the time and eating heavily processed stuff. Yes, stuff: there is no better word for some of what our modern society provides.

So I need to move on a daily basis, a lot, and eat foods that are as close to their natural forms as possible. That means different things to different people, but to me it means plants and some animals that have not strayed very far from their natural lifecycles. When I eat that way, I find that I eat less because I feel full sooner. And the more I move, the more I crave good food, and the better I feel.

If machines and chemical processes other than the digestive systems of other animals have been involved, I am very careful with how much I consume.

And always, no matter what I eat, I make sure to move a lot. Everyday.

End Story

That’s it. C’mon, it’s not that hard to memorize. Give it a try. You can even substitute something for “plants and animals” if you are so philosophically inclined. No problem.

Or comment with suggestions to improve it…

But, in any case, I have a final piece of advice for you about the claims of Diet Peddlers:

Diet, Exercise, Movement, Everyday

What to do when somebody tries to convince you their dieting approach is going to work…

Top picture from Pixabay.

What makes a good coach? Part 3

Coaching, Triathlon, Competition, Ironman

Coaching sports like running and triathlon: a league of its own.

Back in March (of 2014), my wife and I attended a triathlon expo at MIT. (It had nothing to do with MIT; it just happened to be held at their sports facilities. MIT has a very nice pool, by the way.)

We were there mostly to buy some equipment and supplies in preparation for the season. But we had a couple of nice surprises once we got there: first, we got to meet one of the original ironman finishers; second, we got to listen to Siri Lindley give a talk about coaching. (Well, she spent a lot of time talking about her career as an elite short-course triathlete, but the part about how she got there, and how she herself was coached, was informative.)

For those of you who don’t know her, Siri is coach to Mirinda Carfrae, the current Ironman World Champion (she’s been the champ three times so far) and championship course record holder among women.

So this post is really about coaching adults in the context of sports like running and triathlon, and, more specifically, the coaching of fairly serious athletes (or “intense” athletes, because if not elite athletes, you have to be intensely into training in order to pay for the services of a coach). Combined with the previous post on my personal experience, and the one about coaching in general, it is the background material I’ll need to conclude the series in Part 4.

Now, I have to admit that I’m no groupie of elite athletes or their coaches. I prefer to do, instead of watching or reading about them. We were not at the event in order to listen to Siri. We just thought: “We’re here, and we have a bit of time, so let’s sit down.”

It was time well spent, nevertheless, not just because it confirmed many of my own conclusions about what makes a good coach, and what makes a good athlete. I’ll list those attributes later, but for now, allow me to give a few key notes from her presentation.

Focusing

Siri only coaches a few athletes. I seem to recall she said 12, but it definitely was something between 10 and 15.

This makes sense at such an elite level as top Ironman competitors, since the pros and elites need specialized coaching, and are willing (or able) to pay for it.

The point, however, is not how much Siri gets paid by her athletes, but what she emphasized: She feels that only with so few athletes can she really provide good coaching.

It stands to reason that the more athletes one has to coach, the less time and attention can be given to each. That’s why joining a club is an excellent way to find a bit of support and coaching advice, but you get less personal attention that way.

For truly personal attention, you need to be one of few athletes being coached. Beware of coaches who work for a team or club and also coach more than a handful of athletes: You may be getting cookie-cutter advice and training programs that masquerades as individualized coaching.

Customization

Because she only coaches a few athletes, Siri is able to customize the training regimen of each so as to maximize the effect of the training. Or is it the other way around?

One thing is certain: She does provide very specific attention to each of her athletes; they each have their own season plan, and training session plans, and every plan in between.

This is key because, although the training principles are the same, and the general physiology is the same for all humans, no two persons react entirely the same to training on a daily basis. This is due in part to small differences in biology and in large part to previous training, current state of being, and psychology. That is normal.

Similarly, Siri does not treat all of her athletes the same, either during training or competition. To my surprise, she admitted acting almost like a cheerleader to some, while to others she is the quiet and wise adviser, and to others she can even be the forceful (not to say harsh) boss telling them to get their acts together.

This is squarely in the psychology realm: We are all different in terms of what we need to get, or keep us, in the correct frame of mind to perform. Elite athletes are no different (and perhaps even more sensitive and insecure at times, because of the added pressure of making a living out of sports).

The key point: no two individuals need exactly the same thing at the same time. So personal attention is mandatory for good coaching.

Knowledge

Siri was a top competitor in Olympic distance triathlon. She got there through some good coaching, but also through a lot of grit and determination.

However, there is no need to have been a top athlete to be a good coach. That’s a truth that’s often hard to believe by those who have never really been coached before. But it is true.

What is less obvious to most wannabe triathletes is that, unlike most top triathletes, even those who later make a living out of coaching, not all great athletes make good coaches. Only a few really pick up the fundamentals of coaching, and understand more than what works for them. Because what works for you is likely not what works for others. And a good coach knows enough to adapt to what each athlete needs.

What should a coach know?

In triathlon, it gets tricky, because of the three sports. A good triathlon coach must know enough about the bio-mechanics of swimming, cycling, and running. That’s in order to be able to work on form, not just intensity, in all the three sports while making sure to prevent injury (as much as humanly possible). Ideally, a good coach is able to bring about the necessary changes to technique and form to optimize performance.

But a good triathlon coach must also know about how those three sports are put together in triathlon, and how the body reacts to going from one to the other, and then on to the other.

That means having some first-hand experience in the sport is a good thing. Perhaps necessary. But being a top competitor is not. It can even be a detriment, as I think it is for fitness instructors and personal coaches, because of the “hey, it worked for me, so it will work for you as well” factor. (Or the “look at me, I was a champion, so I must know what I’m doing” factor. In either case, it is a fallacy.)

Also, understanding the physiology, psychology, and science behind training is mandatory. Too many coaches simply push their athletes to the breaking point, under the old philosophy of “no pain, no gain”. For some athletes, this leads to breakthroughs. For most, it leads to breakdowns. That old notion is now dismissed; there are much better ways to train.

The coach has to know when to push, and when to hold back an athlete. And with pros, elites, and would-be top competitors, the holding back part is often more critical. And difficult.

Planning

Finally, a good coach, much like Siri indicated, must be able to understand where his or her athletes are at, and where they aim to get, and plan a reasonable path from one to the other.

That’s precisely how Siri started working with Mirinda Carfrae, according to the talk she gave back in March. Although Siri had not done iron distance races herself, she was able to understand what physiological changes would be needed, and to chart a course to make them happen. And with an athlete like Mirinda Carfrae, who was hardly new to the sport, that was a pretty tall order.

Which of course begs the question:

What about athletes?

Being a good coach is only part of the equation. The athletes also have to do their share of the work. And with all the training and intensity, that part is of course the hardest.

But there is one aspect in which coaching for running and triathlon, and coaching in general, differ a great deal: Pros and elites (and triathlon freaks) are highly motivated, so they don’t need to be coaxed into doing the workouts. More often than not, they have to be calmed down, and forced to take rest. Not at all like the majority of folks trying to get into better shape in order to be healthy, who have to be convinced off the couch.

So a coach to such athletes does not need to cajole them into showing up at training, or find ways to keep them interested in the sport. But they should also not burn them out, or make them hate training.

On their side of things, athletes who want a running or triathlon coach and are serious about it must do one thing to deserve their coaches: Listen.

By this I mean to fully engage themselves into the process, and follow their coaches’ advice. Not argue, not go looking for second opinions, not say “I know what I need”.

Perhaps that holds true for any kind of athlete, and any kind of sport. But let’s leave that for the next, and final, post on what makes a good coach…

Picture from Pixabay.

Revisiting the “The Paleo Thing”

Paleo, Diet, Movement, Daily

Hunting appears to have defined us, but it is only part of the (pre)history.

Since writing the “Let’s do the Paleo Thing (yeah!)” post a couple of weeks ago, I came across a highly relevant article from National Geographic.

So I thought I would share the link, and cherry-pick some of the key passages to save you time. It is well worth the read, so I urge you to not just read this post.

Now, although the article was actually published before I wrote my blog post, I must insist that I had not read it.

It just so happens that the article makes pretty much the same arguments I did, only with more smart people being quoted in the process:

1) The Paleolithic is defined by more than what humans ate, and the main problem is the change in lifestyle, not what we eat:

“Studies suggest that indigenous groups get into trouble when they abandon their traditional diets and active lifestyles for Western living. Diabetes was virtually unknown, for instance, among the Maya of Central America until the 1950s. As they’ve switched to a Western diet high in sugars, the rate of diabetes has skyrocketed. Siberian nomads such as the Evenk reindeer herders and the Yakut ate diets heavy in meat, yet they had almost no heart disease until after the fall of the Soviet Union, when many settled in towns and began eating market foods. Today about half the Yakut living in villages are overweight, and almost a third have hypertension, says [biological anthropologist William Leonard of Northwestern University]. And Tsimane people who eat market foods are more prone to diabetes than those who still rely on hunting and gathering.”

“Many paleoanthropologists say that although advocates of the modern Paleolithic diet urge us to stay away from unhealthy processed foods, the diet’s heavy focus on meat doesn’t replicate the diversity of foods that our ancestors ate—or take into account the active lifestyles that protected them from heart disease and diabetes.”

2) Knowing exactly what our ancestors ate is nigh-impossible:

“But is it true that we all evolved to eat a meat-centric diet? Both paleontologists studying the fossils of our ancestors and anthropologists documenting the diets of indigenous people today say the picture is a bit more complicated. The popular embrace of a Paleo diet, [paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas] and others point out, is based on a stew of misconceptions.”

3) While meat was indeed part of the diet of our ancestors, the use of fire to cook food was perhaps more important in the greater scheme of things, and we definitely were eating plants, including grains, to survive:

The real Paleolithic diet, though, wasn’t all meat and marrow. It’s true that hunter-gatherers around the world crave meat more than any other food and usually get around 30 percent of their annual calories from animals. But most also endure lean times when they eat less than a handful of meat each week. New studies suggest that more than a reliance on meat in ancient human diets fueled the brain’s expansion.”

“So how do hunter-gatherers get energy when there’s no meat? It turns out that “man the hunter” is backed up by “woman the forager,” who, with some help from children, provides more calories during difficult times. When meat, fruit, or honey is scarce, foragers depend on “fallback foods,” says [paleoanthropologist Alison Brooks of George Washington University].”

““There’s been a consistent story about hunting defining us and that meat made us human,” says Amanda Henry, a paleobiologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. “Frankly, I think that misses half of the story. They want meat, sure. But what they actually live on is plant foods.””

“If [Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham] is right, cooking not only gave early humans the energy they needed to build bigger brains but also helped them get more calories from food so that they could gain weight.”

Oh, and by the way, we have kept evolving, as can clearly be seen by looking at the various populations around the world, and things like lactose tolerance into adulthood:

“All humans digest mother’s milk as infants, but until cattle began being domesticated 10,000 years ago, weaned children no longer needed to digest milk. As a result, they stopped making the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the lactose into simple sugars. After humans began herding cattle, it became tremendously advantageous to digest milk, and lactose tolerance evolved independently among cattle herders in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Groups not dependent on cattle, such as the Chinese and Thai, the Pima Indians of the American Southwest, and the Bantu of West Africa, remain lactose intolerant.”

“What’s more, she found starch granules from plants on fossil teeth and stone tools, which suggests humans may have been eating grains, as well as tubers, for at least 100,000 years—long enough to have evolved the ability to tolerate them.”

In conclusion (because this is already getting long):

“We have gotten so good at processing foods that for the first time in human evolution, many humans are getting more calories than they burn in a day. “Rough breads have given way to Twinkies, apples to apple juice,” [Wrangham] writes. “We need to become more aware of the calorie-raising consequences of a highly processed diet.””

“It’s this shift to processed foods, taking place all over the world, that’s contributing to a rising epidemic of obesity and related diseases. If most of the world ate more local fruits and vegetables, a little meat, fish, and some whole grains (as in the highly touted Mediterranean diet), and exercised an hour a day, that would be good news for our health—and for the planet.” (Emphasis mine.)

Reference:

The Evolution of Diet, by Ann Gibbons, National Geographic, September 2014, p. 35-53

Picture from Pixabay.