Sunday, August 28, 2011

Selecting the Right Running Shoes

Do not underestimate the power of your shoes to propel you forward or hold you back. We are usually drawn to the bargain shopping experience, and so we tend to do the same with our running shoes. But many of us will not bargain shop for a bad quality pair of pumps or work shoes, so why do we do it with the shoes we use to work out?

However, I do understand that the task of picking a good quality pair of running shoes is daunting, especially since we are not experts and find it difficult to understand the technical aspects of shoe design. But there are a few simple steps you can follow to choose the right pair of shoes for your feet.

What type of feet do you have?
Everyone has different feet, and so the shoes that we feel comfortable in are also very different. Between your heel and the balls of your feet, there is an arch on the inside of your feet, right? Depending on how high or low that arch is, you would need a different type of shoe. To measure you can dip your feet in water and step on a surface where you can see the outline of the shape the water would make when you step off (e.g. paper towels).
  • A regular arch is where the part of your foot that touches the floor when you stand is a little less than half the width of your foot. This also means that there would be less pressure on the left or right side of your foot as you balance. People will regular arches should focus on comfort and stability, and so you should stay away from shoes where the whole sole has no inward arch. And definitely stay away from shoes where the sole has an outward arch. An example of a good shoe for the regular-arched people is the Adidas Women's Supernova Glide 3. See the curve where your foot arch is? That’s exactly what your foot needs.

  • A low arch (also called overpronation or flat feet) is where the part of your foot that touches the floor where you stand is almost the entire width of your foot. So there is a lot of pressure on the inside of your foot where there shouldn’t be because you roll inward as you walk. Stay away from shoes with an arch as those would be uncomfortable.  An example of a good shoe for the low-arched people is the New Balance 1123. See how it seems to focus more on motion from the heel to the toes as you land? That’s what your foot needs.
  • A high arch (also called underpronation) is where the part of your foot that touches the floor where you stand is pretty thin, and almost not visible. There is a lot of pressure on the outside of your foot because the inside basically does not touch the ground. You need shoes that have a lot of cushion to absorb shock so that they could push some of the pressure off of the outer foot. An example of a good shoe for the high-arched individuals is the Nike Air Max+ 2011. See the cushioning on the shoe? That’s what your foot needs so your ankles don’t get sprained. I’m partial to Nike for underpronation because they make a lot of well cushioned shoes.

Although this is a great start, I want to stress that if you have a running store near you, please go there. They would measure your foot, your arch and degree of pronation, as well as your posture, what surface you run on, how long you’ve been running, and how much you weigh. Take your old shoes when you go to a store because they help the clerk figure out how you run. All the shoes I’ve named above are from major sneaker companies that have specialty stores. Go to one if you have a store near you. If you do not, use the tips above. And remember that your shoes could make or break your workout routine, so please invest in them.

If you have questions, let me know. It is not an easy process selecting the right shoes if you are serious about working out, but when you get the right ones, it is well worth it.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

When is a Salad Not a Salad?

The conditioning we have received is to tag certain words in our brains as good, and others as bad. For example, if I said the word ‘burger’, you would immediately think juicy with tons of calories. And if I said ‘salad’, you would think dainty, few calories, possibly tasteless, and good for you. If you’ve ever been to a Nigerian 10-year old birthday party and looked at the mayo-infused coleslaw being served, you’d think again. Some salads are worse than a Double Whopper. The word salad is just that, only a word. Restaurants can get away with a lot if they just name an item a salad.

The same theory goes for a burger. If you make it absolutely greasy with greasy onions, tons of cheese, and tons of fatty dressing, of course it is unhealthy. But if you stick to lean meat, get a low calorie bun, skip the cheese, and minimize the dressing, a burger can actually contain less calories than some salads out there.

So what should you look out for when choosing or making a salad? What defeats the whole purpose of having a salad? Here are some of the items:

Bacon: I don’t even need to point this one out to you. Bacon is pretty greasy and salty, and although it’s, you know, bacon, and it’s delicious, a few strips can defeat the purpose of having a salad. It is really not that filling as well, so it just feels like eating empty calories. Try to stick to other forms of lean meat.

Dressing: Rather than use creamy dressings, I would stay try to stick to small servings of vinaigrettes or olive oil. If you absolutely must use a creamy dressing, serve it on the side so you can use just a tad as you eat the salad. There is no point if the number of calories in the dressing is more than the whole salad.

Nuts: Be very careful here. People like to throw in some nuts here and there to spruce up a salad, but when it starts to take over the salad, then there’s a problem. Nuts are great for you, but just like anything, they do contain calories too, and so we can’t eat them endlessly and expect to get away with it. Oh, and stick to nuts with low salt content.

Greens: All edible greens are great for you. But some are better than others. I live by the rule: the greener the vegetable, the better it is for you. Greener vegetables have more vitamins and antioxidants than bland-colored vegetables. So to all the lettuce lovers, come to the spinach side!

Meat: Let’s face it; a plain salad is just blah. You can make your salad taste better and be more filling by adding in some meat. But it’s important to be careful with the type of meat you use in a salad. I once saw a salad with bacon bits, sausage, and chopped burger patties. You may as well just eat a few pizzas. With salads, try to stay in the lean meat or fish category: chicken or turkey breast, lean beef, salmon, etc.

Dried fruit: I love love love fruit in salads. They help to naturally sweeten the vegetables. But please pay attention to the number of calories in the fruit you use when using dried fruit. Some dried fruit are caramelized with sugar and syrup, and that could multiply the number of calories in the raw fruit. If possible, stick to fresh fruit like berries, peaches, oranges, and apples with a low number of calories and tons of other benefits.

Now, just to give you an idea of real-life salads out there that contain over 1000 calories. These are all American restaurants, so if you’re outside the US, these may not apply to you. But I just want you to see how easy it is to pick a bad salad.
  • Cheesecake Factory Grilled Chicken Tostada Salad (contains corn tortillas, avocado cream and sour cream) – 1130 calories
  • Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad (contains cheese quesadillas) – 1400 calories
  • Outback Steakhouse Queensland Salad (contains bacon, cheese, croutons, and mustard vinaigrette) – 1410 calories
  • IHOP Chicken & Spinach Salad (contains fried chicken, bacon and garlic bread): 1600 calories
If you make a spinach salad with turkey breast and some blueberries with balsamic vinaigrette, you could eat about 200 to 300 calories depending on the size. See the difference? The summary is it's easy to assume it's great because it has the word salad in it, but ALWAYS PAY ATTENTION TO THE CONTENTS OF YOUR SALAD!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gym Machines You Should Probably Avoid

This is going to sound a little contradictory, but going to the gym shouldn’t mean you frequently use all the machines there. Let me explain. Every manufacturer wants you to believe his latest creation will change your workout forever. Strength training machines were created to make your life easier as you work out so you wouldn’t have to build your own exercises. And who doesn’t like that? However, some of them are not necessarily good for our bones, joints, and in some cases, even the other muscles in our bodies. It doesn’t mean they won’t work, it just means if you keep using them long term, you could actually hurt yourself. What are some of these machines?

Seated Leg Extension: If you Google “Gym Machines to Avoid”, this would almost come flashing on your screen like a siren. Seated leg extension machines can vary from one to the next. However, the basic idea is that if you lock your thighs in place, and hold your ankles behind a roller, you can build your quads (your thigh muscles) by lifting your legs from your knees down. It’s a little hard to describe so see the picture above for an idea. The positive is that it does work on your thighs. The negative is that a lot of pressure is applied to your knees because of the range of motion. So what can you do instead? I say you can’t go wrong with some squats!

Seated Rotation Machine: I know, I know, this machine looks like it will give you a cinched waist. But in reality, it can put a lot of pressure on the spine as you are rotating quickly. Some seated rotation machines even go the opposite way allowing you to rotate your lower body, but not your upper body. Doing this speedily can also put too much pressure on your spine. To strengthen the sides of your waist, do some exercises like the bicycle or any kind of side crunch.

Leg Press Machine: This is a favorite in gyms because people feel like they are working hard on their legs without actually exerting too much energy. Simply straighten your legs? Sounds great! But this machine has the same issue as the leg extension machine: you put undue pressure on your knees because you’re not allowing your upper body to help you at all. What’s a good alternative? Need I say it? The squat! For some good extensions, you can also try the lunge.

Ab Rocker: You know that machine that looks like a mini-rocking chair that you put on the ground, hold the bars, and do crunches? No? See the picture above. It was the infomercial craze back in the day. But recent studies have shown that this machine just puts pressure on your spine and your neck, and what’s worse is that it really doesn’t work your abs as well as a regular crunch. Ouch. What’s the alternative? Just do some crunches or sit-ups.

Behind-the-neck Lat Pull-Down: This is the lat pull-down machine that forces your chest forward as you pull the weight down towards your upper back. The problem with this machine is that it forces your chest into a position that is not very helpful in building muscle. Because the position is unnatural, it can leave you without the benefit of the exercise because you didn’t do it correctly, or it can cause shoulder pain if you did do it correctly. There’s hardly a winning scenario here. What are some alternatives? Do lat pull-downs, but on the front not the back. Or use dumbbells behind you and lift them up in a straight line behind your lower back.

The more I exercise, the more I realize that we can rarely go wrong with using our own body weight or using free weights like dumbbells. The trick is just learning how to use them right. Machines aren’t bad, but they do add a little complication, and it’s sometimes difficult to figure out which ones are the most beneficial because everyone is singing that they are the best and will give you a rocker bod. They even use those fitness models in the ads that make you run straight to the gym. But pay attention to how your body feels as you use these. Does something not feel right? Does it feel like your body was not meant to move that way? Then stop and try to do something else.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Photo credit:,,,,,

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Outdated Diet Rules

No carbs here, no fat there; we’ve all grown accustomed to hearing some of the common rules when it comes to what we eat. But from the time when some of these rules became popular till today, are they still true? Have we been wasting our time on some things that really don’t matter much when it comes to weight loss? Let’s see.

Outdated rule 1: Cleanse your body to lose weight.  Some of you will hate me now, but recently, doctors have told us that cleanses are just a temporary way to starve your body. It’s almost like saying “I won’t eat for a week.” Of course you will lose weight! Your calorie count has dropped drastically, and so the number of calories your body has to burn is significantly less. But the one thing about cleanses people don’t seem to understand is that it is temporary. When you go back to your regular diet, nothing has really changed. Now, doctors seem to support cleanses only if you are using it as a way to jumpstart a diet program, meaning that you are not going back to your regular diet once it’s over. Plus, our bodies were already created to do their own detoxifying so it is difficult to understand the point when people say cleanses help them get rid of toxins. The summary is: You can do it if you must, but cleanses have not been shown to keep weight off long-term.The best way to keep weight off is to start eating right.

Outdated rule 2: I can eat anything I want as long as I exercise. Bummer. This is so not true. Let’s talk a little about how weight loss happens. When you consume 3500 calories more than your body burns, you put on 1 pound (i.e. 7700 calories to put on 1kg). So in essence the reverse is true as well. You need to burn 3500 calories in excess of what you consume to lose 1 pound (or 7700 calories to lose 1kg). The good thing is that all that 3500 calories is not burned just during exercise. It includes all your movements and bodily activity throughout the day (which could be up to 1500 calories depending on your own body). On the other hand, this tells you how difficult it is to lose just 1 pound. Running for half an hour can burn anywhere from 200 to 600 calories depending on your weight, your age, your sex, and your speed. Standing in line at KFC, you would probably see meals that range from 300 to 1500 calories. So if you choose the right dish at every meal, you could be saving yourself thousands of calories throughout the day, where it could take you hours to burn off even just 1000 calories at the gym. I’m sure we all took Math in school. Which do you think holds more weight?

Outdated rule 3: Eat your dinner before 7pm. Please help me understand this rule. If you eat after 7pm, will the gods come after you? Your body really doesn’t tell time, you know. The reason this rule was ever created was because bedtime used to be a standard 10pm type of deal, especially for those that went to work during the day. With the different lives that we lead, people go to bed at all hours and wake up at all hours. The real idea was that people should try not to eat over 3 hours before bed. But why is this important anyway, you ask? Watch your cravings one day. For some reason, we tend to do most of our mindless eating late at night. And so establishing a ‘food curfew’ is like forcing yourself to control your nighttime snacking. Also, during the day, you tend to burn as you eat because you walk around, exercise, chat, and do a bunch of other stuff. Late at night, you tend to wind down and chill. If you’re eating a ton of calories at this time, you’re not really burning too much. So it’s less about dinner after 7pm, and more about controlling what you eat right before bed.

Outdated rule 4: Eliminate all carbs from your diet. Your body needs energy, and carbs are the best way to get it. I understand the reason this rule ever came to being though. Humans have spent a lot of years creating processed food, and so when we think of carbs, we think of processed carbs. Processed carbs do contain a higher number of calories than unprocessed carbs. And they tend to digest much faster leaving you hungry again pretty quickly. The trick is not to eliminate carbs from your diet, but to try as much as possible to stick to unprocessed carbs like oats, brown or local rice, whole grain cereal, whole grain bread, or whole grain pasta. Hopefully, you got my point with all the ‘whole grain’ in there. When there are too many ingredients in your food that you can’t pronounce, something is up.

Outdated rule 5: Skipping meals is a great way to lose weight. The truth is that some people are successful with this because it all comes down to calorie count, right? If you skip a meal, you probably have cut out a few hundred calories from your day. However, in my experience, if you work out a lot, your metabolism increases. In this case, skipping meals only means that you’re still going to be hungry and might either go on a snacking binge, or get ravenous and eat more than you would have during your next meal. Skipping breakfast for me means anything I see between breakfast and lunch hours is a potential meal (yes, including people). Rather than skip meals, eat smaller portions during regular intervals. Try not to give your body the chance to get too hungry.

Outdated rule 6: Energy drinks are the way to go. When you buy your next energy drink, look at the calorie content on the bottle. It is baffling, isn’t it? Sometimes, energy drinks are sold as these tools to help you work out. But if the difference between drinking and not drinking that 200-calorie energy drink is that you burn an extra 100 calories, it really has added an extra 100 calories to your day rather than decreased your total calorie count. Plus, most energy drinks are just sodas with more caffeine. If you are lacking energy, eat a fruit. The natural sugars give you a boost, and most fruits are low in calories. A similar theory goes for protein shakes. Be very careful when you select protein shakes or protein bars. All that glitters is not gold. They should be low in calories (about 100 to 150 per serving) and contain a large amount of protein (20g or more).

Outdated rule 7: Drinking diet soda will help you lose weight. While diet soda might be better than the regular version, the reason it contains less calories is that it is made with substitute sweeteners instead of sugar. These sweeteners have been proven to cause us to crave more food. So if you’re drinking a Diet Coke, there is a higher probability that you’ll snack or eat more during your next meal. And we all know how I feel about over-processed foods. Why not stick to 100% juice, lightly sweetened zobo (dried hibiscus juice), or other local drinks which contain natural sugars and usually contain fewer calories? Or better yet, stick to water or tea, which contain no calories?

Outdated rule 8: Steer clear of fast food. No, I’m not saying go ahead and make a regular dinner date with KFC. But nowadays, a lot of fast food restaurants have low calorie options. McDonalds now has the breakfast sandwich for 300 calories, and the Premium grilled chicken sandwich for 350 calories. KFC has a Honey BBQ Sandwich that contains 320 calories. I’m still a little scared of Taco Bell though. No one really knows what’s in their meat…

Outdated rule 9: Organic is always better. In theory, organic is better; it is more natural. However, here is the truth most people don’t know. The word ‘organic’ does not really mean too much because there is no standard for what can be called organic and what can’t. In other words, the manufacturer decides whether he wants to slap on the name organic or not. So it’s not about the food being natural – unprocessed is good – it’s about the fact that organic does not necessarily mean unprocessed. So what can you do? As a consumer, it is your job to pay attention to what you buy. For example, if a jar of peanut butter says ‘organic’ but it has more than five ingredients, steer clear. Rather than focus on that word, focus on the contents of the foods you are paying for.

Do you have any more outdated diet rules to share? I could go on all day, but then who is going to read pages and pages of that?

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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