Calorie tracking

The basic “law” is:

Calories consumed – Calories burned = (+) Fat storage or (-) Fat/Weight loss

Everyone has heard this mantra, but how straightforward is calorie tracking?  It depends on how accurate you want to be.

Calories are units of energy (1 pound of fat stores 3500 calories). For example, if you normally eat 2000 calories per day and burn 2000 calories daily–you are in energy homeostasis. If you add 200 calories to your regular diet or reduce 200 calories from what you normally burn, you will put on a pound of fat after 17-18 days (3500 / 200 = 17.5 days). Conversely, if you cut your calorie intake (or add to the calories burned), you would lose weight (ideally, but not necessarily, fat) the same way. It’s worth pointing out that those who diet alone (without exercise) can  lose muscle weight as well as fat weight. Not ideal!!!

As simple as that is, it’s NOT so easy to measure your own caloric input & calorie burn.

Caloric input is easier, but who is really going to measure out 3/4 cup cereal and 1/2 cup milk before eating?? I’m impressed if any of you has actually done that. And if you eat lots of the recommended “real” foods like fruits, veggies, anything homemade, or  different cuts of meats bought from the butcher–there could be quite a lot of variation. I doubt you buy ground beef and ask the butcher what the exact fat content is (they probably don’t know). Even so, you can get a decent estimate of calories consumed per meal or per day.

As far as measuring Caloric expenditure, that is much more complex. Calories burned include those we all use for daily metabolic function (BMR), food processing, and exercise.

1) Basal metabolic rate (BMR) (60-75% of daily calories burned)-you may think you’re doing “nothing” just sitting there, but we each have our own resting rate of metabolism (BMR). You need energy for breathing, blood circulation, etc… There can be A LOT of variation among individuals due to:

a) Body composition:  if you are larger or have more muscle mass–you will have a higher resting metabolism (10 lb of muscle burns ~50 calories per day at rest while 10 lb of fat burns ~20 calories/day).

b) Gender: males tend to have higher muscle mass and therefore higher metabolic rates

c) Age: unfortunately, we tend to add fat and decrease muscle mass as we get older (therefore older adults have slower metabolism)

2) Food processing(10% of daily calories burned)–digesting, processing, transporting and storing food takes energy, but this number is very stable and you can’t easily change it. Interestingly, I was reading up on meal frequency and its effect on metabolism…and my scientific interpretation of the literature is that there is  no direct relationship. I’ve personally always liked eating many small meals daily, but there is no conclusive evidence that this alone changes your metabolism. Your body is way too good at regulating energy homeostasis to trick into burning more calories by changing eating frequency (assuming you still get the same total # of calories).  It’s all about the basic equation up top (TOTAL calories in, no matter how  you do it). So if you prefer 3 meals of 667 calories each, you will come out the same as if you eat 5 meals of 400 calories each. 3 x 667 = 2000 vs. 5 x 400 = 2000.

3) Exercise!!–YAY.  This is the one you can change the most. The basic rule is that the more vigorous the exercise, the more calories you’ll burn.  Sometimes this is hard to measure, but a quite a few online tools are out there where you can include some personal info to get an estimate of your BMR as well as your favorite form of exercise. I would just add +/- 10 % to any estimates you get online. If you want to lose weight, be conservative and subtract 5-10 % of those estimates & you will either be “right on”or happily surprised.

Here are a few options that I played around with from the web. Have fun!!

Ultimately, if you do spend the time to measure all of these variables and your weight is NOT changing, there is a good chance you are mis-estimating your BMR  or that you are not accurately counting your calories in.

Training for 10-mile race in 4 wks

friends/fellow boot campers before the race

friends/fellow boot campers before the race

Even though it’s been months since I ran in the inaugural Berkeley Half Marathon, I wanted to remember what I did for training in the weeks leading up to it. It all started when several of my boot campers convinced me to do it–peer pressure!

I wasn’t feeling as though I needed to be in better shape, but it’s always good to challenge yourself in new ways.

So I signed up 4 weeks before the start of the race and began training the next day. I hadn’t actually gone for a run in several weeks with travel, etc…so that first run (~7 miles of moderately hilly trail) was HARD!  I was cursing myself for signing up during that one.  It’s also worth noting that every MWF before & throughout, I did bootcamp 1-2x daily, so my cardio fitness was pretty good already.

Here is roughly what I did for runs:

Hill scale (0 = flat, 10 = extremely steep & hilly); Pace scale (0 = very slow, 10 = sprinting)

Week 1: 

Sunday–7 mile trail run (Hill = 5, Pace = 2)

Tues–4 mile trail run  (Hill = 3, Pace = 3)

Thurs–5 mile trail run  (Hill = 4, Pace = 4)
Week 2: 

Sunday–8 mile trail run  (Hill = 5, Pace = 4)

Tues–6 mile trail run-Wildcat Peak!  (Hill = 8, Pace = 4)

Thurs–5 mile trail run (Hill = 4, Pace = 4)

Fri–2 mile paved run (Hill = 2, Pace = 5)

Week 3: 

Sunday–9 mile trail run (Hill = 3, Pace = 4)

Tues–6 mile trail run (Hill = 4, Pace = 4)

Thurs–5 mile trail/pavement run  (Hill = 4, Pace = 5)

Fri–4 mile trail/pavement run (Hill = 3, Pace = 6)

Week 4: 

Sunday–8 mile trail run  (Hill = 3, Pace = 5)

Tues–6 mile trail run (Hill = 4, Pace = 6)

Thurs–5 mile trail run (Hill = 4, Pace = 5)

Me during the race-10 mile run

Me during the race

Week 5:

Sunday–RACE DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Hill = 1, Pace = 8)

Cool, but nice day in Berkeley…over 8000 participants!

In the end, I ran faster than I ever did in training averaging 7.45 minute/miles over 10 miles (a Personal Best)!! I finished in the top 10 for women in this event. That felt great. I was definitely glad I challenged myself–all that hard work was rewarded by finishing beyond my expectations.  I didn’t really clock times or distances that carefully throughout, just always pushed myself a bit. By the end, I realized that trail running & hills were awesome prep for me–the flat pavement seemed easy during the race.

After the finish-YAY!

After the finish-YAY!

Some asked why I didn’t do the half marathon or just do a whole marathon. The truth is, that has never appealed. I don’t enjoy long runs, both for the amount of time needed (I’m impatient) and I don’t think it’s very good for your body (way more stress on your joints than necessary).  I love long walks and short, faster runs. That’s just my speed.

Happy training!

Sore muscles

Most people who do my bootcamp workout for the first time (or any other “new” and/or strenuous exercise) feel sore or stiff for a day or two after the workout. This is totally normal!

When you use muscles you are not used to using OR you worked them at a higher-than-usual intensity level, you incur tiny injuries to the muscle fibers…resulting in “delayed onset muscle soreness.” The peak tenderness is typically 48 hours after the workout, and gradually gets better.

When you do the same activity again a week or so later, your muscles adjust and you feel little or no soreness. You just got stronger!

So what can you do to alleviate sore muscles after a workout?

1) Stretching the muscles can reduce lactic acid buildup

2) Apply ice packs for 20 min. after your workout to reduce muscle inflammation (Can be difficult to get all of your quadriceps muscles in one ice pack, however!)

3) Take ibuprophen or arnica to reduce inflammation & discomfort

4) Deep tissue massage. A simple alternative to getting a massage is to use a 6″ diameter roller ball. Lay on the roller ball with your body weight and roll up and down your newly worked muscles (See images above: clockwise from top left: back, hamstrings, quads, butt/hips).

5) Take a warm soak in a bath or hot tub

6) Light exercise! By getting the blood flowing, you get more oxygen to the muscles to promote healing

All these remedies (except light exercise) are most effective just after your workout, or at least the same day. 

Holiday eating

holiday cookies

Winter holidays, do you love them or dread them? It can be a stressful and busy time. Holiday parties and feasts with family and friends can kick you out of your normal eating habits–typically in a bad way. It’s hard to resist cocktails, eggnog, holiday cookies, pies, and other rich foods.

How best to cope?

1) Keep exercising! Even if you just go for a 15 min. walk and do 10 pushups and 20 sit-ups, you will feel better and get your metabolism revving. Try to do something active at least 5 days/week.

2) Moderation! If you know you’ll be splurging at a party, don’t show up ravenous. If you eat an apple before or drink a large glass of water, you will not be so hungry and you’ll make wiser choices. Keep portions small & stick with 1-2 cookies/desserts. Choose wisely and limit yourself to that.

3) Relax! You should not feel guilty about splurging every once in awhile. If you keep your healthy eating habits 90% of the time, that means you can splurge guilt-free for at least 2-3 meals or snacks/week. Enjoy it! Those extra cookies will not make much of a difference if you stick to the 90% rule.

Happy holidays!

Should I eat before exercise?

Lots of people ask me if they should eat before working out.

My answer: That depends…on how you feel, when you exercise, what type of exercise you do, and what you eat.  If you feel nausea when you exercise, perhaps skipping food right before is best. If you don’t have enough energy to get through your workout–you should definitely fuel yourself before. There is some evidence that showed better weight loss results in participants who skipped breakfast before a morning workout vs. those who ate breakfast before working out. It’s not clear whether this same pattern would hold for afternoon/evening exercise. Typically, eating very little (calorie restriction) does cause weight loss BUT it also reduces your metabolism. For active people, I never recommend skipping meals if you’re trying to lose weight. Instead, it’s better to have many small (healthy) meals throughout the day.

Before workouts (30 min before you start), consider eating something very easy to digest with good carbohydrates.

Examples include: banana, orange (any fruit), oatmeal, yogurt with granola/fruit, toast

Core strength & stability

I’ve noticed that when people struggle with many of the exercises in bootcamp–it usually stems from having weak “core” strength. Core muscles are ridiculously important–they help us stand, walk, balance, change direction, and they stabilize the spine, pelvis, and shoulder girdle. Core muscles help us lift heavier objects and they help athletes increase speed and power.

A strong core helps prevent injuries, improves posture, and engaging these muscles keeps you looking more trim rather than slouchy. 

Core muscles include all of the abdominal muscles, the muscles around your spine, your hip flexors, your butt muscles, and your hip adductors.  

An excellent basic core exercise you can do every day when you wake up or before bed: 15-60 sec of plank pose (see below). 


This picture is great because it shows which muscles are engaged. Start with 15 sec…work your way up to holding the pose for 60 sec. 

Morning workouts

Personally, I prefer to get up and go–get that workout in first thing in the morning. Is there any benefit to exercising in the morning vs. afternoon vs. evening?

Well, like most things, there is no one correct answer. However, most research supports the idea that evening exercise has detrimental effects on your circadian rhythm and can contribute to sleep problems.

So which is better: morning or afternoon exercise? 

Some swear by the morning fitness routine to boost their metabolism. There is some support for the benefits of exercising on an empty stomach (more likely in the morning), where the participants who exercised pre-breakfast lost 20% more fat than those who ate breakfast first. But they didn’t explicitly do the same experiment in the afternoon, nor was the sample size (12) robust enough to convince me of much. And it only included men, whose metabolism tends to differ from women. 

Read summary here:

Another study on mice showed the greatest improvement in disfunctional circadian rhythms resulted in later (not earlier) exercise. Again, while compelling, you still can’t directly compare those results to humans. 

No matter when you exercise, you get a metabolic boost and a number of other great benefits (improved sleep, better cardiovascular health, more energy, etc…) I would agree that whichever time you are more likely to do regularly is best.

Happy fun fitness!

Weekly workouts

I’ve started adding weekly workouts to my webpage: for those who can’t make it and still want to get in a little fun exercise. You can do 1 circuit if that’s all you have time/energy for or tackle 2 or 3. Every bit will help keep your metabolism up. Have fun & don’t forget to work on challenging yourself in one way each workout.

For example, today I concentrated on my form and range of motion while doing pushups.