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True or False: Exercising on an empty stomach will burn more fat calories?

Posted on October 30, 2017


The idea that exercising on an empty stomach will burn more fat calories has been around for some time. You have maybe heard of the book Body for Life by Bill Phillips. It came out in the late 1990s, and in  it, Phillips suggests performing cardiovascular exercise in the morning prior to eating breakfast to allow your body to burn more fat calories.

The theory is that if you work out the first thing in the morning before breakfast—or even later in the day after having fasted for 6 or 8 hours—your body will have less glycogen (stored carbohydrates) to burn for fuel. As a result, your body will tap fat stores sooner during the exercise session to maintain energy levels. Theoretically, this would lead to burning more fat calories, and you potentially would lose more weight from your workouts.

It is true that during lower-intensity workouts—walking, for example— you burn from fat stores a higher proportion of the calories you require for fuel or energy, as compared with higher-intensity workouts such as running. However, the absolute or overall number of calories you burn during higher-intensity workouts is much greater than when you are doing lower-intensity workouts. That’s why even though the proportion of fat calories burned during high-intensity workouts is lower, you actually burn more fat calories overall during high-intensity workouts. I know this is confusing!
Look at it another way: If you work out prior to eating breakfast or after a 6–8 hour fast, it is likely your energy levels will be lower and you will not be able to exercise at higher intensities, if that is your goal. The result could be that you burn fewer calories (even fat calories) during your workout. Most fitness professionals recommend eating 100–200 calories prior to exercising to help you maintain your blood glucose level as well as your energy level during exercise.

Researchers have studied this topic, and a review article titled “Does cardio after an overnight fast maximize fat loss?” was published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal (Schoenfeld, 2011). The author states, “In conclusion, the literature does not support the efficacy of training early in the morning on an empty stomach as a tactic to reduce body fat. At best, the net effect on fat loss associated with such an approach will be no better than training after meal consumption, and quite possibly, it would produce inferior results. Moreover, given that training with depleted glycogen levels has been shown to increase proteolysis (muscle breakdown), the strategy has potential detrimental effects for those concerned about muscle strength and hypertrophy.”

Research has also clearly shown that if we wait for long periods of time to eat between meals, we often get ravenously hungry and overeat when we do sit down for a meal. Imagine not eating for 6 or 8 hours and then also performing a workout prior to eating something!

Safety should be considered as well. Many people get light-headed or dizzy if they try to perform physical activity on an empty stomach, which could lead to fainting and possible injury.

I certainly understand the desire to try to tweak our workout routines in an attempt to burn a few more calories or shed a few extra pounds. However, I urge you to always use the common sense test when you hear or read about new workout programs, techniques or suggestions—especially if someone is selling a new and exciting product. I know many people who tried the don’t- eat-before-working-out-in-the-morning routine. Almost all of them lost a few pounds, but the routine didn’t last. After a few weeks or a few months at most, they were back to their normal habits.


Schoenfeld, B. Does cardio after an overnight fast maximize fat loss? Strength and Conditioning Journal (2011), Vol 33, pp. 23-25.

True or False: You must burn approximately 3,500 calories to lose a pound?

Posted on October 10, 2017


YOU’VE JUST COMPLETED another 30-minute workout on the exercise bike. You worked up a good sweat, and you’re feeling great about yourself! As you climb off, you check the number of calories you burned during the workout. The digital display says 300 calories. You think to yourself, “Hey, that’s pretty good!”

Then you remember what your mother-in-law told you last week—that you have to burn 3,500 calories to lose a pound. Arrrgghh! After some quick calculations in your head (and praying she was wrong), you figure you need to climb on that bike about 11 more times to reach that number.

The calories that need to be burned to lose a pound can seem overwhelming to some, but don’t despair; it’s not as difficult as it might seem.

Your mother-in-law indeed was right: You need to burn around 3,500 calories if you want to see your scale register a pound less. An article on states, “Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilograms) of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound. So if you cut 500 calories from your typical diet each day, you’d lose about 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). It isn’t quite this simple, however, as you usually lose a combination of fat, lean tissue and water.”

As stated in the article, the concept of having to burn 3,500 calories to lose a pound might be a bit of an oversimplification. Consider that there are 454 grams in a pound and roughly 9 calories in a gram of fat. It would appear that you would really need to lose 4,086 calories (454 x 9) if you wanted to lose a pound—a pound of fat, that is.

But fat (adipose tissue) contains things other than pure fat—small amounts of protein, connective tissue and water, for example. When we work out, we generally don’t burn just fat, so that is where the 3,500 number comes from. Experts have worked on highly complex calculations that attempt to determine how many calories we would need to burn to lose weight if that weight loss comes from fat, lean tissue, a combination of the two, etc. This short chapter is not the venue to fully explore these calculations, as they truly are complex and can be confusing. Although 3,500 calories might not be the exact number of calories you need to burn to shed a pound, it certainly is in the ballpark. And it is a great benchmark or place to start if you want to begin monitoring your calories for weight-loss  purposes.

So what do you need to do to achieve a caloric deficit of approximately 500 calories a day (3,500 calories a week) and lose a pound? I would highly recommend using a combination of physical activity and a slight calorie reduction. If you can manage to burn 300 calories a day from physical activity and eat 200 fewer calories (there are about 200 calories in a bagel)—and do it consistently—you should be able to lose about a pound a week. That would be over 50 pounds in a year!

Most people don’t  gain weight that fast, but many get frustrated when it doesn’t come off as quickly as they would like. I believe small, sensible changes that you can tolerate and maintain are the key to weight-loss success.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics. health/calories/WT00011. Website accessed July 20, 2012.

True or False? It is better to do your cardio workout before lifting weights?

Posted on August 22, 2017


I’VE BEEN TEACHING and working in the area of fitness and wellness for nearly 20 years. One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “Should I do my cardio workout before or after I lift weights?”

Current exercise guidelines/recommendations encourage us to engage in both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training, so it is not surprising that this question arises so frequently. My response has changed little over the past 20 years and usually begins with, “It depends …”

I believe the order in which you perform your exercises should depend on your goals. For example, if your goal is to improve cardiorespiratory fitness, you are likely better off starting with your cardio workout. If your goal is to get stronger or increase the size of your muscles, then lifting should probably come first. If your goal is simply to be active and improve your overall health, it probably doesn’t matter if you hit the weights or the track first. I personally like to mix up the order of my workouts, which helps me overcome the boredom factor.

When we exercise, our muscles use stored energy called glycogen. If we do cardio exercises first, we will have less energy available for our lifting routine, and vice versa. Plus it is harder to get in a great cardio or weight-training session if we are already tired or fatigued. Imagine trying to do heavy squats after a five-mile run or running five miles after doing heavy squats. I cringe just thinking about it!

For most of us, the order really doesn’t matter. The truth is that the majority of people don’t meet even the minimal recommendations with regard to how often they should be lifting weights or doing aerobic exercise. I see people too often get stressed about questions such as: What is the best order for my exercises? Which machine will give me the best workout? Exactly how many sets and repetitions should I be doing? Find a routine you enjoy and will stick with.

A fair amount of research has been conducted on the topic of concur- rent training. Leveritt et al. (1999) published a review article in the journal Sports Medicine in which they examined 86 previously published articles on the topic. The authors concluded that research investigating the neuromuscular adaptations and performance improvements associated with concurrent strength and endurance training has produced inconsistent results. Some studies in which cardio exercises were performed before weights limited improvements in strength and power development in research participants. However, results from other studies have not shown  this limitation. If you are a high-level athlete trying to improve your overall fitness or performance level, you might consider doing aerobic exercises and weight training sessions on separate days. On the other hand, if you are like me and are exercising for general health, don’t stress over the order of your exercises. I’m a big fan of the KISS principle—Keep It Simple, Stupid—especially when it comes to our workout routines. To  me, consistency is what’s vital, not which type of exercise you perform first.

Leveritt, M., Abernethy, P., Barry, B., and Logan, P. Concurrent strength and endurance training: A review. Sports Medicine (1999), Vol 28, pp. 413-427.

True or False: Riding a bike can increase your risk for erectile dysfunction?

Posted on August 14, 2017

True.                   myth-9-bike-seat

MY WIFE AND I are what I consider moderate recreational cyclists. Years ago when we were first married—and a bit more adventurous—we did a fair amount of mountain biking in the hills of upstate New York and the beautiful western slopes of Colorado.

Now we enjoy hitting the bike trail near our house once or twice a week and going on round-trip rides that usually range from 15–20 miles. Although we are not cycling fanatics, I have to admit that I had a slight panic attack when I first started researching this topic, wondering if our cycling outings were putting me at risk for erectile dysfunction, commonly referred to as ED. Most fitness and wellness experts confirm that riding a bike is great exercise. Bike riding can help us burn calories and maintain our optimal weight, help maintain or improve our cardiorespiratory fitness level, and help tone and firm muscles in our lower body and midsection.

Riding a bike can also have a positive impact on the environment (decreased emissions from vehicles, for example) and on your wallet (less money spent on gas and parking). Some people even choose to not own a car, making their bicycle their sole means of transportation. I say great for them!

Although cycling is a wonderful form of exercise that is generally considered safe, there are risks associated with cycling just as there are with most forms of physically activity. Riders sometimes incur non-traumatic injuries to the knee, neck, shoulder, wrist, hand and back. Current research also sug gests that cycling might put some male riders at risk for ED.

Simply defined, ED is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection during sexual activity. So what is it about cycling that could lead to ED? Cycling might lead to a reduction in blood and nerve supply in the perineal region (area between the scrotum and anus), resulting in reduced blood flow and sensation to the penis. Roughly 5% of cyclists suffer from ED; however, this number could be higher, as some men might be reluctant or embarrassed to talk about the condition.

Sommer and colleagues (2010) published a literature review in the Journal of Sexual Medicine on this topic, where the authors state, “There is a significant relationship between cycling-induced perineal compression leading to vascular, endothelial, and neurogenic dysfunction in men and the development of ED.”

So as you spend more time on your bike, your risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction increases. However, the authors also state that they strongly recommend engaging in moderate, safe and reasonable bike  riding.

I could not find a specific recommendation for what is considered a safe number of daily or weekly hours for male bicycle riders. A lot depends on differences in equipment, anatomy, etc.

I would say, however, that if you find your cycling leading to tingling, numbness, or loss of sensation in the perineal region or a change in sexual function, it would be wise to back off a bit.

Meanwhile, you might consider trying padded shorts; standing  every 5–10 minutes while cycling to promote blood flow; keeping your seat level, or even tilting the seat front down just a bit; going to a bike shop and getting properly fitted for your bike; or switching to a recumbent  bike.

As with most things I write and speak about related to health, I think moderation is the key—and so is common sense. I still consider cycling a safe and effective form of physical activity, and I plan on continuing to hit the bike trail with my wife once or twice a week.

Sommer, F., Goldstein, I., and Beate-Korda, J. Bicycle riding and erectile dysfunction: A review. Journal of Sexual Medicine (2010), Vol 7, pp. 2346-2358

True or False: Pilates gives you long, lean muscles?

Posted on May 24, 2017


PILATES IS A low-impact method of exercise that usually combines stretching and muscular endurance activities. Pilates exercises can be performed on either a mat or a specialized Pilates apparatus.

There are several variations of Pilates; some are geared toward rehabilitation, while others are geared more toward general fitness. I find it interesting that Pilates was popular with dancers before it started to gain popularity with the general population. Today, millions of people participate in daily Pilates exercise classes, follow along with Pilates videos or perform Pilates on their own.

When I hear people talk about Pilates, I often hear the claim that Pilates exercises increase muscle length, resulting in longer, leaner-looking muscles—a misconception certainly perpetuated on the Internet. Here is a direct quote I recently found online: “However, there is a definite emphasis on eccentric conditioning in Pilates, and it is thanks to it that we develop longer, toned muscles instead of short and bulky ones.”

If you have ever engaged in Pilates, you certainly know it can be an intense and challenging workout. I vividly remember the first time I joined my wife at the gym for a Pilates class. After the first 5 or 6 minutes, I knew I was working my muscles in ways they hadn’t been worked before. Some  studies have shown that Pilates gives you such an intense workout that it actually leads to slight increases in muscle hypertrophy—the size of your muscle.

Generally speaking, there are three types of muscle contractions. 1)Concentric contractions occur when your muscles are being shortened, as when you raise the weight during a bicep curl. 2)Eccentric contractions occur when your muscles are being lengthened, as when you lower the weight during a bicep curl. 3)During isometric contractions, muscle length doesn’t change.

Because many Pilates activities have a greater focus on eccentric contractions, people might think you get longer muscles from Pilates. However, eccentric contractions don’t lead to an actual lengthening of your muscles; in other words, eccentric contractions don’t result in your muscle “stretching” from being 4 inches long to 5.5 inches long.

Pilates does improve flexibility, but that improvement doesn’t affect muscle length. Lots of things can improve our flexibility—static and dynamic stretching as well as regular physical activity, for example—but these activities don’t change muscle length. Think about it: If Pilates really did lengthen muscles, those who did lots of Pilates could potentially look a bit misshapen! A recent review of the beneficial effects of Pilates (Cruz-Ferreira 2011) suggests that Pilates is effective at improving flexibility, dynamic balance and muscular endurance. Other outcomes evaluated in this literature review included reaction time, number of falls, physical self-concept, life satisfaction and the perception of health status. However, there is limited evidence to suggest that Pilates is responsible for having an impact on these additional measures. In fact, the authors didn’t even consider “muscle lengthening” as a potential positive impact of Pilates.

If you have never experienced a Pilates class, give it a try! Even though my first one was incredibly challenging and resulted in some muscle soreness for a couple of days, I still perform a variety of Pilates activities on a weekly basis.

Cruz-Ferreira, A., Fernandes, J., Laranjo, L., Bernardo, L., and Silva, A. A systematic review of the effects of Pilates method of exercise in healthy people. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (2011), Vol 92, pp. 2071-2081.

True or False: Swimmers live longer than runners?

Posted on April 20, 2017


I LOVE TALKING to people about swimming! Over the past 20 years I’ve had hundreds—maybe even thousands—of conversations with people about swimming. Most agree that swimming is a great form of physical activity and beneficial for good health … and most are quick to let you know that they’ve tried swimming and it’s not for them. Are you one of these people?

The conversation usually goes something like this: “Oh yeah, I tried swimming for exercise a few years ago. Wow, was it ever hard! I just couldn’t get the breathing down, and after a lap or two I would get a panicky feeling and would have to stop. I was also confused about how to perform the strokes properly—and the little dive-under-the-water, twist, and kick-off-the-wall move at the end of each lap—forget about it!”

I would then ask how many times they mustered the courage to get in the pool and swim before deciding to give up on it, and the response was usually, “Oh, three or four times.”

I have been a recreational swimmer my whole life, but I didn’t swim an actual lap in a pool until I was in my late 30s. My parents never signed me up for swim lessons when I was young, and I learned to swim the old-fashioned way: Someone tossed me into a lake in water over my head, and I struggled to stay afloat, eventually learning how to swim. I started swimming pool laps when I got interested in triathlons, and I’ve done three or four in the past few years.

I struggled mightily the first few times in the water. I was able to complete a lap or two, but then I’d have to stop due to fatigue and exhaustion as well as a panicky feeling of not being able to catch my breath.

But I stuck with it and came up with a plan: Every time I entered the pool, I would attempt to swim one more lap. It worked! After about three or four months and a constant battle against a little voice in my head to quit, I was able to swim a mile without stopping.

I’ve certainly read a lot about the benefits of swimming, and I have to admit that I’m a true convert. Swimming can help you improve your cardiovascular endurance, yet it is low impact; injuries to the ankle, knee, hip and back are usually not as frequent in swimmers when compared with runners or those who play racquetball and similar sports.

There is also something very soothing, relaxing and almost spiritual about being in the water. Even after a fairly long, tough swim, people report feeling refreshed and reinvigorated.

With all the benefits that come with swimming, I have to say I was a bit surprised when I first learned of research that had been published comparing mortality (death rates) in swimmers versus runners, walkers and individuals who didn’t exercise (this research was done on men). The authors (Chase et al., 2008) reported that over a 13-year period 1,336 of 20,356 runners died, 1,747 of 15,883 sedentary individuals died, 292 of 3,746 walkers died and 11 of 562 swimmers died.

So swimmers had 53%, 50%, and 49% lower all-cause mortality risk than did men who were sedentary, walkers or runners, respectively. The authors didn’t provide much information about why swimmers seem to experience lower mortality rates, but the low-impact therapeutic nature of swimming certainly might contribute to it.

I obviously am a big fan of swimming. But if you like to run, cycle, walk, play basketball or engage in similar sports, I encourage you to continue. If you have never tried swimming—or tried it at some point and stopped—I encourage you to get some pointers on how to swim, and then get in the water and make swimming a regular part of your physical activity  routine.

Chase, N., Sui, X., and Blair, S. Swimming and all-cause mortality risk compared with running, walking, and sedentary habits in men. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education (2008), Vol 2, pp. 213-223.

True or False: You sweat more when you are in better shape?

Posted on March 20, 2017


YOU DECIDE TO head to the gym with your best friend for a 30- or 45-minute cardiovascular workout. Shortly after arriving and hopping   on the treadmill, you are dripping wet with sweat, but your friend has barely reached the point where her skin is glistening from perspiration. You wonder if it is because you are working out at a higher intensity. Nope—you are both running at 7 miles an  hour.

Maybe it’s because you are bigger. Again, no—you both are approximately the same height and weight.

Maybe it’s because you are in better shape. You do recall reading on the Internet that individuals who are in better shape sweat more. But that doesn’t make sense, because your friend works out much more than you do, and she even runs road races—and you don’t.

In reality, it could simply be that you sweat more easily than your friend!

Sweat is primarily water with a bit of sugar, salt, ammonia and urea. Each person has 2–4 million sweat glands. Women generally have more sweat glands than do men, but women’s sweat glands are less active.

The greatest concentration of sweat glands in humans is on the bottoms of our feet, on the palms of our hands and in our armpits. Many people think sweat smells bad, but sweat is relatively odorless. Sweat mixing with bacteria on the skin creates the strong and sometimes-repulsive odor we smell after someone has been sweating.

Sweat is one of the ways we dissipate heat to cool our bodies, especially during exercise. Exercise raises body temperature, prompting increased sweating. Interestingly, some animals—dogs, for example—don’t have sweat glands. They pant to cool down, losing heat through their mouths and tongues.

Sweating rates in people vary a great deal. As in the scenario above, some people sweat easily and sweat a lot. Others can engage in intense physical activity and sweat very little.

Does our state of physical fitness have a bearing on how much we sweat? A recent article published in the American Journal of Physiology by Jay and colleagues (2011) examined sweat rates in research participants based upon Vo2 peak, a measure of how much oxygen a body can take in and use during exercise. Generally speaking, individuals who are in better shape have  greater Vo2  peak.

Following the study the authors concluded, “The present study clearly demonstrates that large differences in Vo2 do not influence changes in core temperature or sweating during exercise in a neutral climate.”

Being in great physical shape didn’t affect sweating rates in research participants; however, as we up our training regimen and improve our physical conditioning, our bodies become more efficient at retaining electrolytes that are important for performance.

So don’t feel bad if you sweat more than your friend or she sweats more than you do. The important thing is that you get out there, are active and have fun doing it!

Jay, O., Bain, A., Deren, T., Sacheli, M., and Cramer, M. Large differences in peak oxygen update do not independently alter changes in core temperature and sweating during exercise. American Journal of Physiology (2011), Vol 301, pp. 832-841.

True or False: Static stretching before activity helps reduce injuries?

Posted on January 9, 2017


Oh, the good old pre-game static stretching routine. Most of us have done it thousands of times over the years, but why exactly were we doing it, and what exactly was it supposed to  accomplish?

Static stretching is where you get your muscles in a position of stretch and hold them there for 30–60 seconds. One common static stretch is standing with one leg in front of the other, keeping your legs straight, and then bending forward to try to touch the ground. Go on—give it a try. If it’s been a few years since you have done this, it’s not likely that your fingers will make contact with the ground. But if you can get them as far down as your ankles, you’re doing pretty well!

Static stretching started to gain popularity in the late 1800s and became highly popular in the mid-1900s. Most coaches believed—and many still do—that static stretching prior to activity would both improve performance and decrease injuries. It turns out that neither of these is true.

Current research shows that static stretching prior to explosive-type movements such as sprinting or jumping actually decreases performance. (See chapter 8 in my first book for more information on this.)

And most research conducted on stretching to prevent injury shows little correlation between stretching prior to activities and reduced injury rates.

Small and colleagues (2008), in an article titled “A systematic review into  the efficacy of static stretching as part of a warm-up for the prevention of exercise-related injury,” state, “Results seem to indicate that there is moderate-to-strong evidence that routine application of static stretching will not reduce overall injury.” Research conducted on military personnel has shown the same results; stretching prior to physical training doesn’t reduce injury rates in soldiers.

So if the practice of performing static stretching prior to being active doesn’t improve performance or decrease injury rates, why do we do it? I think the reason is simple: That’s how it’s always been done. Many coaches— especially those who work with younger athletes—don’t stay current on the latest research in the area of exercise and sport science. They fall back to what they were taught or told to do when they were athletes. For some coaches, this could have been 20, 30, or even 40 years ago. My wife and I have three boys in sports year-round, and we have seen some interesting pre-practice and pre-game routines! I’m sure many of you have as well.

I want to be clear: It’s not that static stretching is bad, but many fitness professionals now suggest saving static stretching until after your practice or game. Before physical activity, you’re better off to engage in some light cardiovascular exercise to get your blood flowing and your body temperature elevated slightly.

You also might try some active or dynamic stretches or warm-up activities to ready your body for activity. I’d much rather go for a light jog than bend forward and try to touch my toes again!

Small, K., McNaughton, M., and Matthews, M. A systematic review into the efficacy of static stretching as part of a warm-up for the prevention of exercise-related injury. Research in Sports Medicine (2008), Vol 16, pp. 213-231.