Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Do Your Knees Hurt?


Over 30% of athletes complain of knee pain. NBA players have made it common practice to have procedures on this joint, ranging from cartilage “clean-ups” to injections of healing factors (i.e. PRP, etc.). Most recently, just one great year or even one performance pays out money and endorsements what previously took years to accumulate. As a result, modern movements seek speed and power with only the present in mind. While Derrick Rose leaps into a jump stop and Tiger Woods hits monstrous drives, athletes of old had to pace themselves for a career to accumulate similar endorsements and fame. Thankfully, recent research has confirmed this theory of maximal effort being the primary culprit of knee pain.

The July 2012 study came out of the University of Southern California, specifically the Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy department. The authors examined elite dancers because they are exposed to the effects of repetitive jumping and leaping similar to other athletes. These subjects had patellar tendinopathy, a more all-encompassing diagnosis than tendonitis. The reality is a true tendonitis (where inflammation of the tendon is the primary dysfunction) is a rare occurrence. “Tendinopathy” or “tendinosis” are now considered appropriate terms to describe the more common tendon dysfunction, which is degenerated and frayed. A treatment approach primarily geared toward reducing inflammation can then be expected to have little to no effect.

The dancers with patellar tendinopathy demonstrated 82% greater PEAK braking ground reaction force (GRF) and 126% greater impulse, the TIME of force production (See Sparta Point 7/11/12). The braking GRF is separate from vertical GRF, but generally refers to horizontal forces that help stabilize the athlete or allow them to change direction. Landing ANGLE explained the majority of this braking impulse, which makes sense because angle refers to the shin position relative to the ground (see Sparta Point 6/15/2011).

We also know that one of the most proven tendinopathy treatments is eccentric exercise, which emphasize the slow lowering portion of a lift (see Sparta Point 4/13/11). These lengthening contractions increase muscle length, but more importantly affect your GRF movement signature (see Sparta Point 6/13/12). By emphasizing a prolonged impulse and force, rather than peaks, stress can be taken off the joint and dispersed across more of the soft tissue.

We have successfully identified knee pain, both silent and obvious, by a decreased RATE of force production on our plates. After this analysis, we have taken only weeks to treat and cure lifelong knee pain in both NBA stars and high school All-Americans with this exercise below, the 1 leg box squat.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mental Toughness


I was recently asked how it is that athletes can drag themselves through unrelenting physical and mental suffering in events such as the mountain stages in the Tour de France. This topic came up when French rider Thomas Voeckler was trying to get the polka dot jersey and then retain it on two back-to-back stages with several challenging climbs during long rides in the Pyrenees.
This reminded me of a paper published in the Harvard Business Review a few years ago (Jones, 2008). In it the author reported on studies of Olympic medalists and successful business people which revealed the following characteristics which may be defined as subsets of mental toughness. He wrote that the interviewees were found to:
  • have the ability to psychologically manage pressure
  • pay meticulous attention to goals
  • have a strong inner drive to stay ahead of the competition
  • be internally rather than externally focused
  • be self-directed
  • concentrate on excellence
  • not be distracted by others
  • shrug off their own failures
  • be masters of compartmentalization in their lives
  • rebound from defeat easily
  • never self-flagellate
  • have a relentless focus on the long term attainment of goals
  • carefully plan short-term goals
  • never stop striving for success
  • reinvent themselves following a success
  • celebrate their wins
  • analyze the reasons for their success
  • be very confident of their abilities
Jones also wrote that mental toughness “is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to, generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer and, specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident and in control under pressure.”

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tree-Lined Streets Have Cleaner Air


I posted last week about the pros and cons of exercising in polluted air, and touched very briefly on the importance of choosing routes/locations that minimize your exposure. For example, river-side bike paths are great, because pollution drops exponentially as you move away from roadways, and trees can help block the bad air.

    But it turns out I was underestimating how important trees and other greenery might be in keeping air clear. A new study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology (abstract here; press release here) suggests that "judicious placement of grass, climbing ivy and other plants" can reduce street levels of nitrogen dioxide by up to 40 percent, and particulate matter (the really nasty stuff, primarily from diesel engines) by up to 60 percent. That's much higher than previous estimates, which tended to be around 5 percent. The key: the new research takes into account the properties of "urban canyons":

    The swirling air created by tall buildings means that air spends longer in city streets than it does in other locations. Vegetation sucks more pollution out of the air than brick walls or concrete, and that effect is amplified dramatically when you take into account this canyon effect. Seems like a good reason for cities to justify spending money on urban greenery, and a good reason for choosing to run or bike along roads and paths with lots of vegetation -- in addition to the fact that these types of paths are simply more pleasant.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sleep for Athletes


1. How much to Sleep

I wrote about REM cycles in the past, and I‘m a firm believer you should sleep in multiples of 90 minute blocks to match your REM cycles.  That is 3 hours, 4.5, 6, 7.5 or 9 hours.  You should never have an alarm clock wake you up in the middle of deep REM sleep, or else you will feel groggy all day. Some experience the “cobwebs in the brain” sensation.
Why on earth people are told to sleep 8 hours a night is beyond me (I am sure it’s a nice easy calculation of 8hr work, 8hr sleep, etc.).  Meditating or reading for 30 minutes makes sense as that makes 0.5 + 7.5 = 8 hours.  People who sleep 8 or 8.5 hours are usually the ones who “can’t wake up” or “feeling tired all the time”.
For me, my standard is usually 6 hours, sometimes 7.5 on a weekend when I sleep in, and sometimes it’s only 4.5 hours when I stay up late.
The trick is how to be “alert” enough in your sleep to be able to have the “consciousness” to wake up.
It takes a bit of practice, and trial and error, but all you have to do is calculate how long it takes for you to fall sleep (meditation helps!) and do the math.  Perhaps it may be better to sleep at the same time every night once you get your rhythm established.
If you have a hard time waking up, try good ol’ caffeine or better yet try Phenylalanines and Tyrosine but watch the sugar intake on some of these drinks.

2. How Long to Nap

Based on the above, it’s obvious that my naps are 90 minutes long, give or take a few minutes each way.  I’ve heard 15 or 20 minute naps are the way to go, on the sofa and NOT in your bed, but that’s all a matter of choice.  I have no problem getting under the sheets.
Here in Italy, with summer temperatures over 35C or 100F, it’s normal to take a nap after a big lunch between 2 and 5 pm.  (NOTE: do NOT call me during this time)

3. When to Wake up for a 8am Event

Sometimes you have a 8 or 9 am heats. Thus I feel you need 4 hours to “wake up” for speed and power events.  So that means a 5 am wake up call, just for the sake of waking up.  Get up, get a coffee, watch TV in the hotel room, whatever.  Just stay awake.
For distance runners, it’s a different story, as they do not have the high intensity neural requirements of a sprinter. 
This is why “prime time” (i.e. between 8 and 11pm) is best for the sprints… both for TV as well as neuro-physiologically.

4. Sleep Deprivation from Late nights or early wake-ups

I believe you can go 1 day on less sleep than normal, and still be functional both mentally and physically.  Stretch that 2 or 3 days at you may be in trouble.  (Students, are you reading this?)
So if you have a 7am marathon start, and you have to catch the 4 am shuttle, don’t worry and just wake up at 2:30 or 3am.  Just make sure you don’t wake up in a deep sleep (see above… 4.5, 6, 7.5 or 9 hours of sleep).  One night of less sleep won’t make a difference, unless you believe it will, then you’re screwed.
In the long run, less sleep for one single night it won’t matter.  But abuse it, and you may end up getting sick with a weakened immune system, among other things.

5. Effects of Speedwork and CNS

This topic rarely lets documented, but CNS (central nervous system) overload is like being hung-over from alcohol without drinking alcohol.  This can occur when you do too much speedwork or a high volume of high intensity Olympic lifts or even plyometrics.
I noticed that after an intensive speed workout, or even a lifting session with power cleans and dead lifts, I get the “restless leg syndrome” as well as not being able to sleep that night.  So watch out for this phenomenon and try to adjust your sleep patterns around it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Increase Strength and Size With Short Rest Intervals To Achieve the Maximal Testosterone Response


ncrease strength and muscle size by using short rest intervals to achieve the greatest testosterone response to training. An interesting  new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that to produce the greatest results, it’s essential you program all elements of your training, including rest, load, volume, type of exercise, and tempo.

This study used two traditional training protocols and compared the effect of 60- or 90-second rest intervals on testosterone and cortisol response in trained young men. A hypertrophy protocol used an intensity of 70 percent of the 1RM with 3 sets of 10 reps, and a strength protocol used an intensity of 85 percent of the 1RM with 8 sets of 3 reps. Both protocols trained the barbell bench press, back squat, lat pull-down, and knee extension.

Results showed that the 60-second rest interval using the hypertrophy protocol produced a 22.5 percent increase in testosterone response, which was the greatest increase of all trials. The hypertrophy protocol using 90-second rest intervals produced the second greatest testosterone response, boosting testosterone by 20 percent. Still significant, both rest intervals of 60 and 90 seconds using the strength protocol increased testosterone by about 13 percent. None of the protocols increased cortisol, indicating these protocols can help you gain muscle and strength without causing too much stress.
The reason you want to make sure you elevate testosterone as much as possible is that it increases protein synthesis in men of all ages, and can also stimulate other anabolic hormones such as growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Both are critical for increasing muscle mass and improving body composition. IGF-1 is often overlooked as a valuable anabolic hormone, but it is potentially the best for reducing muscle protein degradation, while “kick starting” muscle building.  Another benefit of testosterone is that it increases the number of satellite cells, which must be present for muscle hypertrophy to occur—more satellite cells means more muscle growth.

This study comes after a few recent studies suggesting that testosterone response to training is  very individualized, varying greatly based on factors such as training experience and diet. Other findings have shown no statistically significant testosterone response to  protocols that do not use total body training, are restricted to machine-based training, or use an inadequate volume load.

Researchers suggest the key to boosting testosterone is to use large muscle group lifts with training cycles that favor hypertrophy and strength protocols and shorter rest periods. The key is to elevate lactate during training to increase the catecholamine hormones, which boosts testosterone. Such a method will also elevate growth hormone and further support body composition.

Be aware that although shorter rest intervals may require slightly lighter loads, they can increase motor unit recruitment if programmed properly. The greater motor unit recruitment will use more muscle fibers and allow greater hormone-tissue interaction within a larger percentage of muscle mass. Recent studies have shown that only the muscles you train will benefit from circulating anabolic hormones like testosterone.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Happens to Your Body When… You Haven’t Properly Trained for Your Marathon?


The gun has gone off, and everyone is now moving. Our weekend warrior is in the hind portion of the herd, to be certain, but he’s finding some space as the crowd spreads ever so slightly. He looks to settle into a pace. He’s feeling good.
It’s the first several miles, and the sweat is pouring off of him. This part is normal, of course. His heart rate has risen – how much is in part determined by his pace and his fitness level. For a seasoned marathoner, this is an easy stretch. For weekend warrior, he’s perhaps feeling a little uncomfortable.
Over the course of the next several miles, his heart rate will likely not drop slightly as it does during the “comfort zone” for seasoned runners. The weekend warrior, without a long and consistent training schedule, may not have perfected his pace. Though he’s keeping up, the pace may increasingly feel strained, ungrounded. He visits the water points. He’s feeling thirsty, of course. He knows the dangers of dehydration at least from a bit of reading he did in the marathon packet he received. It’s possible he makes the rookie mistake of loading up on too much water and now is beginning to notice a bloated sensation which makes him feel a bit sluggish or even nauseated.
Our weekend warrior has passed the halfway point now as well as his store of glycogen. It’s possible (especially if he’s not especially fit) that he may have run out of glycogen fuel a while ago. This is a critical turn. The body must now burn fat to continue. Well-trained, seasoned long-distance runners tend to be more efficient fat burners than poorly-trained individuals like our weekend warrior. He’s likely feeling a little hazy and jangled. He’s beginning to feel the force of the progressive pounding on his joints. Fatigue is also beginning to set in for our good man. As a result, his stride has become less efficient, which only worsens the joint impact and jarred sensation. His muscles are feeling the pain as well. Lactic acid is building up quickly. As for any runner, his body is trying desperately to repair the incessant damage, resulting in inflammation and contributing to some excruciating muscle cramping that is now challenging his pace. His respiration is going downhill, and his muscles aren’t getting the oxygen they need.
As he passes mile twenty, our warrior’s blood sugar is bottomed out, his breathing is increasingly strained, and he’s beginning to feel disoriented. After the bloated feeling he got from drinking too much earlier, our warrior passed up water too often and now finds himself dehydrated. (Solid, consistent training teaches you where that fine line is.) His body is going into protein catabolism. That carbohydrate drink isn’t enough now. In fact, it only helps induce a nasty bout of vomiting. He’s entering a mental as well as physical exhaustion, and his pace has entirely fallen apart. In fact, he’s not even running in a straight line but wavering from the exhaustion and disorientation. His heart rate is too high, his oxygen intake inadequate. His knees buckle, and he blacks out on the pavement. He’s hit the wall and then some. He’s lucky in that he’s treated for arrhythmia, dehydration, heat stroke and exhaustion but not for cardiac arrest or renal failure resulting from rhabdomyolysis.
Had our weekend warrior properly trained and logged many miles before the big race he would have learned a few important lessons about nipple/thigh chaffing, cramps, blisters, hydration, plantar fasciitis, ITBS, his pace, shoes, stomach and mental strength. Instead he had to learn them all at once and will be paying the piper for his hubris. He won’t be moving around much for the next week, and he’ll be more sensitive to heat stroke in the future. And though he won’t have the ability to say he finished, he’ll have a dramatic story (and hopefully a lesson learned).



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Veggie Stress – 10 Tips to Win the Race Against the Rot Clock


Here are some helpful suggestions to make the most of your produce.
1. Buy smaller amounts of produce more frequently.
2. Wash leafy greens before storing in the fridge.
3. Don’t wash herbs, berries, and mushrooms until usage – they will rot even faster.
4. Store fruit and vegetables separately. As fruit ripen, they release ethylene, which increases the rate of ripening/spoilage for nearby vegetables. (You can also use this to your advantage if you need to ripen an avocado overnight – place it in a brown paper bag with 2 apples on your counter top)
5. Some produce does not ripen any more once refrigerated – stone fruit (not cherries), melons, mangoes, apples, pears, avocados and tomatoes. Consider moving them to the fridge once they are ripe enough.
6. Knife skills. Buy an expensive chef’s knife that won’t dull after 2 weeks. Practice your cutting skills so that you won’t be intimidated by prep time required to make a salad or sauteed vegetables. A bit of practice and you can reduce your veggie preparation time by 50%-75%.
7. When in doubt – use sliced and diced veggies as a colorful addition to pizza topping.
8. Smoothies – many an overripe banana, strawberry, etc… are perfectly fine for consumption but for the yuck factor. Throw them into a blender with low fat yogurt, ice cubes, and as little honey as you can, for a yummy tasty treat.
9. Schedule the day/hour of your veggie purchase to when you have some free time to care for them. Weekend mornings, for example.
10. Pre-cook as many of your veggies as you can the day you get them – peel, place on a roasting pan and drizzle some olive oil plus salt, then roast until soft. Now your veggies are ready to be added to any dish during the week.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Identify & Remove Toxins That Limit You


Toxins can be from food (wheat, legumes, etc.), the air, water, mold, clothing, or for some, even your cell phone.  I won’t be able to cover every possible toxin in this article, but I’ll show you how to identify and remove the most common and damaging.
One of the first ways I started biohacking was with a game called FreeCell.  This is a simple online game you can play where you match squares.  I played the game for several weeks to establish a baseline, then I started testing.  I was looking for a way to track how certain foods effected my brain function.  A few weeks of trial and error revealed that two days after eating wheat – my score dropped significantly.Read More

Friday, July 20, 2012

Study Finds Calorie-Burn Up 14 Hours after Vigorous Exercise


   TIME magazine two years ago proclaimed that exercise “is good for you, but it won’t make you lose weight.” The author claimed that exercise caused him to overeat and may actually be “keeping him from losing weight.” I responded with a “talk back” piece explaining why the TIME story had it wrong. (Link below)

   The TIME author complained that he ate more on days he worked out. Like a dog chasing its tale, he argued, exercise was getting him no where. He was overlooking an important benefit, according to a new study.

   The study found that replacing the calories burned while exercising doesn’t keep you from losing weight—because you keep burning extra calories long after you stop exercising.
You’ll lose faster, of course, if you don’t eat substantially more on the days you exercise. Some forms of exercise don’t cause you to eat more. We’ll discuss that below.

Let’s start with the new study.

   The Study

One thing that sets the new study apart is the strict control of variables, including diet and physical activity. The study created a real-life situation in the laboratory.
Senior researcher David C. Nieman and his team of researchers at Appalachian State and the University of North Carolina studied 10 men, ages 22 to 33, using a metabolic chamber. The metabolic chamber was a sealed room much like a small hotel room. It included a bed, sofa, multimedia laptop, telephone, toilet and a sink. It also included a stationary exercise cycle. Food was sent in through an air-locked entrance. This allowed the researchers to determine calorie burn before, during, and after exercise. They also controlled and measured the food that was eaten.

   Each participant began with a rest day in the chamber; they did normal tasks such as washing, eating, brushing their teeth, but very little physical activity except two minutes of stretching every two hours. On a second nonconsecutive day they followed a similar routine—and cycled vigorously for 45 minutes beginning at 11 a.m. In this case “vigorous” was 57% of workload maximum, which corresponds to 73% of VO2max.

      Subjects were instructed to avoid exercise on the days before entering the chamber and to consume food from a specific list. Oxygen consumption and energy expenditure were measured continuously during the time in the chamber, including the exercise period. They continued living in the chamber after the bout of exercise so that metabolic rate and calorie burn could be monitored.
Importantly, calorie consumption was increased on the exercise day to precisely match the calories burned during the exercise period.
“Energy intake and expenditure were tightly matched on both rest and exercise days to ensure zero energy balance under both conditions, and the daily activities of living were controlled,” Nieman et al wrote.

   The men burned an average of 519 calories during the bout of exercise on the bike. Significantly, they burned an additional 190 calories on average during the 14.2 hours after exercising. The net additional calories burned compared to the rest day was 709. “Our data support that vigorous cycling has a significant effect on 24 hour energy expenditure under conditions when energy intake is balanced with energy expenditure,” the researchers wrote. “The magnitude (190 kcal) and duration (14.2 h) of net energy expenditure…are greater than previously reported in most studies conducted outside a metabolic chamber,” they added.
So, even if you replace the calories burned while exercising, you’ll still burn more calories than you consume.

     If you eat less than you burn while exercising, you’ll do even better.
“That means a person would lose one pound after five intense exercise bouts if they resisted the temptation to eat more [on exercise days], ” Dr. Nieman told USA TODAY. Two workouts a week would translate to one pound every two and a half weeks. (A pound of fat contains 3500 calories.)
It seems that TIME magazine was too quick to write off exercise as a means of weight control.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Q&A: Linking gait and sleeping with Alzheimer's


Q: What are some of the characteristics of how gait might change?
A: Walking becomes slower or more variable. The research presented at the meeting is robust. These links have been suggested before, but this is the first science to support it. In several of the studies, gait changes were noted before cognition changes. One of the studies showed there was no link between walking and memory, but there is a link between walking pace and variability and executive function (a set of mental processes)
 Q: Can an untrained family member see the changes in gait or is a specialist required to detect it?
A: The changes might be very hard for a loved one to pick up, but even if you suspect a change, then find out what the underlying cause is by going to a specialist.
Q: What else did the study note about sleep and cognition problems?
A: Participants who slept five hours or less had lower average cognition than those who slept seven hours a day. Those who slept nine hours a day or more had lower average cognition than those who slept seven hours per day. And too little or too much sleep was cognitively equivalent to aging two years.
 Q: What is one of the most common early warning signs of Alzheimer's disease?
A: Loss of interest is an early sign of the disease. I hear it over and over. People will say their husband or wife did something all the time and then over the period of a few months they didn't do it anymore. There could be a number of reasons why they stop doing something they love. But that change in interest and personality should move you toward getting a diagnosis.
Q: If a loved one stops doing something he or she loves, does that mean they have Alzheimer's?
A: Not necessarily. Depression could be another reason, but it is important to find out why they've stopped doing something and take the necessary steps to get them tested. This can happen years before they become demented.
Q: Can you be more specific about some of the things people will stop doing?
A: Very often, there's one person in the household who pays the bills. If you see them struggling to manage the finances, it is time to get a diagnosis. Following recipes and cooking might also be difficult for someone in the early stages of the disease.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Maximizing carbohydrate absorption during exercise


Great first day at the International Sport Nutrition Conference in Canberra. Several interesting sessions that I’ll post about in days to come. For now, since I have just a few minutes before dinner, a few notes about Asker Jeukendrup‘s session, which he called “Carbohydrate: boring old or exciting new?”
In the “boring old” category, he took aim at the ACSM’s position stand, which states:
For longer events, consuming 0.7 g carbohydrates/kg body weight/h (approximately 30-60 g/h) has been shown unequivocally to extend endurance performance.
Now, it’s well known that if you take a drink with glucose in it, the fastest you can possibly make use of it is at a rate of about 0.8-1.0 g/min, no matter how much carb you have. The rate-limiting step is absorption from the intestine, which doesn’t depend at all on how big or small you are, so the guidelines shouldn’t be expressed “per kg body weight” — it should just be 30-60 g/hr (with the high end corresponding to the 1.0 g/min which is the fastest we can make use of glucose).
However, there are ways around this rate-limiting step. Over the last five or six years, Jeukendrup’s group has done a long series of studies on combining glucose and fructose. On its own, fructose is absorbed slower that glucose. But it’s transported across the intestinal wall by a different mechanism, so you can have both glucose and fructose being absorbed at the same time. Add them together, and you can get about 1.7 g/min that the body actually makes use of.  (And this is, indeed, the formulation used in Power Bar’s “C2 Max carb mix” bars and gels.) So Jeukendrup suggests that ultra-endurance athletes should aim for closer to 90 g/hr of carbs, and he showed some data from Ironman triathlete Chrissie Wellington, who does precisely that (and who just set a new Ironman world record in Arizona).
Does this apply to everybody? Well, it’s not such a big deal for shorter events. He offered these loose guidelines (which I copied down quickly — if I made any mistakes, I’ll correct them when I get the official proceedings):
  • less than 45 min: no carbs needed (but he later noted that some new studies are now showing that “mouth rinsing” with carbs can have an effect with exercise bouts as short as 30 min)
  • 45-75 min: mouth rinsing, with any type of carb
  • 1-2 hr: up to 30 g/hr, any type of carb
  • 2-3 hr: up to 60g/hr, carbs that are oxidized rapidly like glucose or maltodextrin
  • more than 2.5 hrs: up to 90g/hr, MUST be a combination of carbs that are absorbed via different mechanisms (e.g. glucose or maltodextrine combined with fructose in a 2:1 ratio)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Practice Yoga: Less Stress, Faster Recovery, More Power & Increased Strength


Practice yoga to minimize stress and speed recovery from training, while increasing well-being and other fitness markers.  A new study found that yoga can produce dramatic improvements in fitness in addition to minimizing stress if practiced regularly.

The study published in the International Journal of Sports Science and Engineering tested the effect of an 8-week yoga training program on a variety of fitness markers including agility, power, speed, and muscular strength in college students. Yoga was done five days a week for one hour and included yogic breathing and 45 minutes of hatha yoga poses. At the end of the study, fitness markers were measured with a muscular strength sit-up test, an agility shuttle run, a standing broad jump test for power, a speed test using the 50-yard dash, and an endurance test using the 600-yard run.

Results showed dramatic improvements from the yoga training in the sit ups, agility, power, and speed tests. Most impressive, the yoga group increased 50-yard dash time by 0.2 seconds, increased power as measured by the broad jump by 22 percent, and improved shuttle run speed by 0.5 seconds. The sit-up and endurance tests also reached significance, whereas a control group that did no yoga or training had no improvements on any tests.

For best results with yoga, practice in addition to your regular strength and conditioning. The value of lifting heavy loads for hypertrophy and neuromuscular strength is enormous, but this study provides evidence that yoga will support your goals and may provide additional benefits. For example, other studies have found that yoga practice can support neuro-endocrine response and increase the secretion of melatonin, leading to greater feelings of well-being in participants. Melatonin can also aid in restful sleep, and is a powerful antioxidant that may convey therapeutic effects.

Other studies have shown yoga can reduce chronic low back pain, improve balance and gait mechanics in the elderly, and decrease anterior pelvic tilt.

I have found that yoga is very useful for restoring adequate muscle length and may help prevent injury, while giving you time to de-stress and support recovery from training. I suggest practicing yoga at least three days a week to get benefits, and to always avoid positions that cause pain by using proper biomechanics.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere: Let’s Get ‘High(Hy)’-drated

by Amy Kubal

Water: What is it good for?
  • Our bodies use the ‘wet stuff’ to moisten and digest food, transport nutrients, get rid of waste, serve as a solvent for biochemical reactions, and dissipate heat (got sweat??).
  •  The average adult body is between 50-65% water (approximately 45 quarts).  Men tend to be more ‘watered down’ than women; 60-65% and 50-60% respectively.
  • Blood is about 93% water, muscle 73% and fat 10%.    During normal metabolic processes the body actually ‘makes’ its own water (about 8-16 oz/day).
  • Losing just 2% of body weight in fluid can decrease physical and mental performance by up to 25%.  If you start feeling groggy in the afternoon – you may just need to ‘wet your whistle’.
  • Feeling a little ‘stopped-up’?  If you’re short on fluids you may also be ‘full of (insert four letter word here)’.  Adequate fluid intake will help you keep the lake adequately stocked with ‘brown trout’…  (In case you’re a little lost – think constipation…)
  • Thirsty?  You feel thirsty when there is an increased concentration of particles in the blood.  You’ll start ‘craving the wave’ once you’ve lost ~1.5-2% of your body weight in fluid.
  • If you’re ‘sweating buckets’ – drink up!  Losing 10% or more of your body weight in sweat can be deadly!!
So, yeah water is kind of important.  Without it you’ll probably make it around 3-5 days before meeting your maker…  But does that mean you need to invest in a ‘set of water bottles’ or start toting a gallon jug of H2O everywhere you go?  Probably not and here’s why:
  • The water you drink isn’t the only fluid that counts toward your ‘quota’.  Many foods are great sources of fluid and drinks like tea and coffee count too!  Coffee and tea are 99.5% water, soup and bone broth count too!  Lettuce and cucumbers are 96% water; broccoli and cauliflower ~91%; spinach and cabbage ~93%; watermelon, grapefruit and cantaloupe fall at around 90-92%; peaches, plums, apricots, blueberries, pears and oranges ~85-87%.  Fresh produce is a great big water party!
  • Consider your climate – is hot or cold, dry or humid?  How much time are you spending outside and how much are you sweating?  All of these factors play into how much guzzling you’ll need to do.
  • If you’re looking for an easy way to monitor your hydration level – Ur-ine luck!!  Yep, you got it – check the pee color.  You’re looking for ‘weak lemonade’ not ‘apple juice’.  If you see neon lights – that multi- or B-vitamin supplement you’re taking is likely to blame.  If it’s a crazy pink/purple and you just ate beets – don’t shed any water-filled tears; you’ll live!  If you see blood get it checked out ASAP; this could be a sign of kidney injury/disease or stones, urinary tract infection, or prostate issues.  And if that still leaves you confused try this quiz or this calculator to help establish a starting point.
Is your tank perfectly fluid-filled, running dry or overflowing?  It’s not too tough to figure out.  For drinking purposes, water is best – soda, diet soda, juices, Crystal Light, etc., are not your fluid friends.  Stick to good old H2O (I like mineral water – it’s kinda bubbly…) and get ‘high(hy)’-drated.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sprinting, Not Jogging, Sheds More Harmful Belly Fat, Study Says

Sprinting, not jogging, helps men lose harmful belly fat faster, scientists in Sydney found.
Eight-second bursts of sprinting on an exercise bike repeated intermittently for 20 minutes helped overweight men lose 2 kilograms (4 pounds) of body fat over 12 weeks, researchers at the University of New South Wales said today. Importantly, there was a 17 percent reduction in fat stored around their liver, kidneys and other internal organs that is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
The findings, published in the Journal of Obesity, add to evidence that high-intensity exertion may result in greater fat loss than less vigorous forms of exercise such as jogging. The research also indicates bouts of sprinting over 20 minutes three times a week may be enough to spur a significant reduction in fat, including around the trunk, in overweight young males.
“Sprinting is a very efficient form of exercise and it’s fun,” said Steve Boutcher, an associate professor in the university’s school of medical sciences, who led the study. “Other studies using aerobic exercise, such as continuous jogging, have found that the amount of exercise needed to produce a similar decrease in visceral fat was about 7 hours per week for 14 weeks.”
Two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight and one-third are obese, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The obesity rate may rise to 42 percent of the U.S. population by 2030, the CDC said in a May 7 report.

Adding Muscle

The Sydney researchers randomly allocated 46 inactive men in their 20s into either an exercise or control group. Those selected to exercise were required to sprint for 8 seconds on a stationary bike followed by a 12-second recovery phase in a training cycle lasting 20 minutes and repeated three times a week over 12 weeks.
Weight and waist circumference increased in the control group. While those in the exercise group lost weight, they put on 1.2 kilograms of muscle in their legs and trunk, according to the study, which was supported by Diabetes Australia.
“Participation in regular aerobic exercise typically results in little or no gain in muscle mass, whereas moderately hard resistance exercise over months may increase muscle mass,” Boutcher said.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Increase Squat Strength and Power With Free Weights—Don’t Rely on The Smith Machine

Increase your squat strength and power by training with free weights rather than relying on the Smith Machine. It’s no surprise to most of the readership, but a couple of new studies reinforce the value of using free weights to make up the core of your strength and power training program, whether in the squat or bench press.

A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research measured lower limb muscular activity in the free barbell back squat and the Smith machine squat and found that the biceps femoris and gastrocnemius activity were increased between 26 and 49 percent during the free weight squat. The increased leg muscular activity in the hamstring and calf was due to the muscles’ role in stabilizing and supporting the ankle, knee, and hip joints in the unstable environment of the free barbell squat. In addition, the vastus medialis and lateralis muscles of the quad were more active during the free barbell squat than the Smith machine squat, whereas activation of the trunk stabilizers was similar between the exercises.

The free barbell squat should be a staple of your training program, and it’s possible to further manipulate muscle recruitment by training the front versus back squat or altering foot width. For example, electromyographic data suggest that the front squat is more effective than the back squat for activating the vastus lateralis and the rectus femoris of the quads, while placing less compressive forces on the knees. A very wide foot width—similar to powerlifting squat or sumo squat—has been found to recruit the glutes more than a narrower stance.

One possible use of the Smith machine is to manipulate recruitment of the lower body musculature by moving the feet out in front of you. For example, a 2002 study found that in the Smith machine squat with the feet 12 inches in front of the bar, the quads and hamstrings were fairly evenly emphasized. When the feet were placed 18 inches in front, the hamstrings and glutes received the greatest emphasis, with the quads getting only a little.

Therefore, you could occasionally use the Smith machine to hit the posterior chain with a really heavy load, since evidence shows trainees can lift about 5 percent more weight on the Smith since they don’t have to worry as much about balance. But, don’t rely on the Smith for training power—a key component of any athlete or serious lifter’s program.
Two new studies in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research show that when explosive lifts are measured on the Smith machine, peak and average power output are compromised. Both studies used the bench throw—a ballistic version of the bench press—but the results apply to both the upper and lower body.

Researchers found the Smith machine resulted in a significant reduction in peak force, power, and velocity in the bench throw. Power if reduced because when explosive movements are performed on a Smith machine, the load of the concentric phase increases and impairs the potentiation from the stretch-shortening cycle and there is a decrease in the stretch velocity for the eccentric phase.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

First-time Olympian rips Michael Phelps’ work ethic

 Two weeks after getting smoked by Michael Phelps at the U.S. Olympic trials, swimmer Tyler Clary blasted the 14-time gold medalist and his training habits in a contentious interview with his local California newspaper.
Clary, who qualified for his first Olympic team after finishing 1.5 seconds behind Phelps in the 200 fly, says Phelps doesn't train hard in practice. He resents that Phelps has so much talent but doesn't have the work ethic to go along with it.
He told Jim Alexander of the Press-Enterprise:
"The fact that [Phelps] doesn't have to work as hard to get that done, it's a real shame. I think it's too bad. You see that all too often, where you get athletes that are incredibly talented that really take it for granted. I think the things he could have done if he'd worked as hard as I do would have been even more incredible than what he has pulled off."

Phelps has won the most gold medals in Olympic history. He surpassed Mark Spitz for most golds at a single Games. This year, he's a lock to set the record for most medals ever won. He has 54 gold medals in international competition, will be competing in his fourth Olympics and has set world records for the better part of a decade. But, yeah, he's left a little bit on the table. What more can he do? Set world records in events he doesn't swim? Win medals at the Winter Olympics? Race on the moon?
You can see why Clary would harbor such bitterness and jealousy of Phelps. Clary's delusions of grandeur have turned into realities of bronze. His best international finishes -- 400 IM silver medals at the 2009 and 2011 world championships -- were made possible because Phelps chose not to swim the event. Phelps made his 400 IM return at trials and Clary was promptly booted to third place and off the Olympic team.

"Basically, he was a swimmer that didn't want to be [at practice.] They can talk about all of these goals and plans and preparation they have. I saw it. I know. It's different. And I saw somebody that has basically been asking to get beat for the longest time."
Here's the thing: Clary isn't wrong. It's no secret that Phelps made a conscious decision to take it easy after the 2009 world championships. After nine straight years of international competitive swimming, he probably needed the break. It was a recharging of the batteries. But we're past that now. Phelps' performance at the U.S. Olympic trials -- where, once again he crushed Tyler Clary in two events -- was good enough to quell any concerns about the shape he's in before London. The plan worked. It may not be enough to win seven gold medals in London, but it's going to win him a handful of golds and get him to the podium every time he steps into the pool.

These statements coming from any swimmer not named Ryan Lochte are like a chihuahua snipping at a rottweiler. Even from Lochte (who would never say such a thing, regardless of whether he believed it or not) it'd be over the top. Phelps' results speak for themselves. He hasn't fallen off -- not that we've seen. If Phelps was an example of wasted talent then he'd be ripe for criticism. As it stands now, he's the poster child for making the most of it. Whether or not he takes every set seriously or shows up early to morning dryland is irrelevant so long as he keeps winning.
"I've always called myself more of a blue-collar worker, as far as swimming goes. I work my (butt) off all the time. That's not to say that everybody else doesn't."
Well, that's exactly what you're saying.
"But the fact that I know I work harder than he does makes me appreciate every little goal and every little gain that I make."
To Tyler Clary, Michael Phelps is everything. To Michael Phelps, Tyler Clary is just another guy touching the wall after him.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Natural Melatonin Boosters


A reader recently asked if there were any natural ways to increase melatonin production without resorting to supplements. I replied that the best way to encourage nighttime melatonin release is to minimize light exposure close to bedtime. I went on to explain that certain foods such as cherries, grapes and walnuts also contain naturally occurring melatonin and may, therefore, make good, late night snacks.

As a general rule, I recommend keeping your sleep environment as dark as possible prior to and while sleeping. In our home, we reserve the last 15 minutes of the day to meditating in a near dark state. After we’re done, we roll into bed and fall fast asleep. Not only is this a relaxing way to unwind at the end of the day, but it’s also a scientifically validated means of boosting endogenous (internal) melatonin production.
Meditation is, without a doubt, the best way to encourage your pineal gland to excrete more melatonin. Several studies have found that regular and short term meditators have higher nocturnal melatonin levels than those who do not engage in a daily meditative practice. The ramifications of this may be more expansive then you’d imagine. The role of melatonin in the sleep process has been well established. However, what isn’t as well known is the fact that melatonin acts as a protective, systemic antioxidant. For this reason, it is being seriously investigated in conditions that are affected by oxidative stress, including cancer and heart disease.
In addition to meditation, diaphragmatic breathing and yoga are other documented mind-body practices which elevate serum melatonin and generally enhance well being. In some studies, increases in antidepressant neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, have likewise been noted in yoga practitioners. The advantage that all of these mind-body approaches have over supplements and synthetic “sleeping pills” is that they employ mindfulness. Daily practice of deep breathing, meditation and/or yoga assists one to become more in tune with the body, emotions and surroundings. Instead of simply taking a pill and tuning out, you tune in and let go. You become more aware, but less attached to emotions, sensations and thoughts that often trouble your sleep. And, in doing so, you become empowered because you’re present, but not as reactive to the details of life. That’s why I recommend adopting sleep hygiene and mind-body exercises prior to resorting to other natural remedies, over the counter medications and pharmaceuticals.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Maximizing carbohydrate absorption during exercise


In the “boring old” category, he took aim at the ACSM’s position stand, which states:
For longer events, consuming 0.7 g carbohydrates/kg body weight/h (approximately 30-60 g/h) has been shown unequivocally to extend endurance performance.
Now, it’s well known that if you take a drink with glucose in it, the fastest you can possibly make use of it is at a rate of about 0.8-1.0 g/min, no matter how much carb you have. The rate-limiting step is absorption from the intestine, which doesn’t depend at all on how big or small you are, so the guidelines shouldn’t be expressed “per kg body weight” — it should just be 30-60 g/hr (with the high end corresponding to the 1.0 g/min which is the fastest we can make use of glucose).
However, there are ways around this rate-limiting step. Over the last five or six years, Jeukendrup’s group has done a long series of studies on combining glucose and fructose. On its own, fructose is absorbed slower that glucose. But it’s transported across the intestinal wall by a different mechanism, so you can have both glucose and fructose being absorbed at the same time. Add them together, and you can get about 1.7 g/min that the body actually makes use of.  (And this is, indeed, the formulation used in Power Bar’s “C2 Max carb mix” bars and gels.) So Jeukendrup suggests that ultra-endurance athletes should aim for closer to 90 g/hr of carbs, and he showed some data from Ironman triathlete Chrissie Wellington, who does precisely that (and who just set a new Ironman world record in Arizona).
Does this apply to everybody? Well, it’s not such a big deal for shorter events. He offered these loose guidelines (which I copied down quickly — if I made any mistakes, I’ll correct them when I get the official proceedings):
  • less than 45 min: no carbs needed (but he later noted that some new studies are now showing that “mouth rinsing” with carbs can have an effect with exercise bouts as short as 30 min)
  • 45-75 min: mouth rinsing, with any type of carb
  • 1-2 hr: up to 30 g/hr, any type of carb
  • 2-3 hr: up to 60g/hr, carbs that are oxidized rapidly like glucose or maltodextrin
  • more than 2.5 hrs: up to 90g/hr, MUST be a combination of carbs that are absorbed via different mechanisms (e.g. glucose or maltodextrine combined with fructose in a 2:1 ratio)
Anyway, that’s a quick overview of some of the take-home messages he offered. There was lots of discussion afterwards, so if you have any questions about any this stuff, feel free to post ‘em in the comments section and I’ll answer if I can.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training

Fortunately, new research continues to demonstrate how strengthening exercise can be just as important for health and fitness as ‘cardio’. This can be reviewed in detail in the article: Why Strength Training is Important.
People usually think of these benefits in terms of physical health. But what people don’t realize is that strength training can be beneficial for mental health as well.
There is now good evidence (presented in an excellent review article published in 2010) that strength training alone can be beneficial for a variety of mental health issues (anything affecting the brain, really) such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain (low back, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia), cognition, symptoms of fatigue, self-esteem, and sleep, to name just a few.
Let’s discuss these effects, as well as some plausible mechanisms, by going over the previously mentioned review article. Read More

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Heat is on! Keep your food safe!

Amy Kubal

Foodborne illness and food poisoning are serious business – the CDC estimates that there are approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each yeardue to unsafe food.  When it’s hot, bacteria are in heaven – thriving in warm (90-110 degrees Fahrenheit), moist environments.  Here are some steps you can take to keep your food safe and avoid a date with pain and misery.

  • Scrub-a-dub-dub: Wash your hands before, between and after handling foods; after touching your hair, face, door handles, etc; and after using the bathroom. 
  • You gotta keep em’ separated: Use separate cutting boards, knives, and utensils when working with raw and cooked foods, vegetables and meats.
  • Stay out of the Danger Zone!!!  Food temperatures between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit are the most conducive to bacterial growth.  Keep cold foods below 40 degrees and hot foods above 140 degrees to keep them safe.
  • Cool It!  Foods containing eggs (mayo would fall in here), meats, seafood or dairy (cheese, cream, etc) that are being served cold need to be kept below 40 degrees and should not be held at or above room temperature for more than 2 hours (this includes prep, storage and serving time).
    - Put out small amounts of food at a time and restock when it runs out.
    - Invest in one of those nifty little kid swimming pools – fill it with ice and use it to hold and keep cold foods cold.
    - If foods are stored in coolers use plenty of ice and keep the coolers in the shade.
  • Let’s heat things up!  Keeping cold foods cold is BIG, but keeping hot foods above 140 degrees is equally important.  Bacteria grow best in ‘lukewarm’ temperature zones.  It’s especially important to keep protein foods out of the danger zone and never let cooked meats, etc. set out (even in warming/chafing dishes) for longer than 2 hours.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure your meats are done – this is especially important when working with ground meats!
  • When thawing and marinating meats do so in the refrigerator – not on the counter.  And never use leftover sauce or marinade that held raw meat on cooked foods without boiling it first!
  • Serve cooked meats on a separate, clean platter – not the one that held them when they were raw. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sleep Well For Optimal Performance and Recovery: Tips On When To Train When You’re Tired

Get enough sleep to perform at your best and speed recovery. It is no surprise that sleep deprivation will hinder performance and delay recovery, but a new study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology shows that the effect is much greater in the afternoon.  Additionally, animal studies show that when sleep deprived, intense exercise will lead to an impaired immune system, a much greater inflammatory response, and will accelerate the development of cancerous tumors!

The best solution is to prioritize sleep and always get adequate rest. But, if you must occasionally train or compete with a lack of sleep, try to do so in the morning for better performance. The new study compared the effect of sleep deprivation in trained subjects on maximal sprint performance in the morning or afternoon. Participants were given a normal night’s rest or a short night’s rest of four hours and then performed a Wingate sprint cycle test at either 8 am or 6 pm.

When participants were rested, peak and mean power were greater during the evening test than in the morning. When sleep deprived, peak and mean power were much greater during the morning test than the evening test. In fact, there was no drop in performance in the morning when sleep deprived, indicating that if you get a bad night’s rest, you might as well get up and train, rather than waiting until later in the day. But, if you are well rested, you will likely perform better in the afternoon when core temperature is naturally elevated. Of course, everyone is unique and you may find that you perform best mid-day—the point is to always get adequate rest.

Another finding is that IL-6, an inflammatory factor that is produced by intense exercise was greatest when participants were sleep deprived and performed the test in the evening. IL-6 remained elevated throughout the one-hour recovery period, whereas following the other test scenarios, it was reduced by the end of recovery. Researchers suggest that the extra stress of sleep deprivation leads to abnormal increases in inflammatory response and suppresses the immune system. The effect on the body won’t be lasting unless you are chronically tired or under intense, persistent stress.
For example, a recent study of mice who were genetically predisposed to develop cancer, were forced to perform intense exercise in a sleep-deprived state. Doing so resulted in a significant increase in biomarkers such as IL-6 and the development of cancerous tumors. This didn’t occur in mice that got adequate sleep.

Take away the understanding that for best performance and recovery, you must get adequate rest and minimize stress. If you have to train in the afternoon when exhausted, take a blend of antioxidants such as green vegetables, glutamine, and supplemental amino acids to help you recover from the inflammatory response. Do whatever is necessary to avoid always training in the afternoon in a sleep-deprived state!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Putting Ashton Eaton’s performance in to perspective

  • If Ashton Eaton were a team, he would have placed 6th as a team at the NCAA Division 1 national championships. He would have won the 100m, long jump, and placed third in the hurdles. He would have also qualified in the 400m and pole vault. With his 100m / 400m times one can only assume he'd be great at the 200m as well so if we were to do the 100m, 200m, long jump and hurdles he could have placed as high as 4th. As a team.
  • Asthon is likely the top long jumper in the U.S. He took one jump and passed on his remaining two. The rain was so hard people were slipping off the takeoff board yet he broke the decathlon world record in the event. He managed a mark that it took 6 attempts, considerably warmer and dryer temperature and more wind for the eventual open long jump winner to best by just a couple inches. As it stands, Eaton's mark is still the 2nd best mark at the Olympic trials.
  • Think of how good a person is to be able to run 10.21 for 100m, 46.70 for 400m, 13.70 for 110m Hurdles OR 4:14.48. Now imagine that being one dude. And he's also a good thrower and jumper too.
  • He has long held the title of best running decathlete (cumulative score of his running events) but with his performance in Eugene his is also now the second best ever jumping decathlete. If it weren't for the rain he would easily hold that title too.
  • Some people knock decathletes at being 'jacks of all trades but masters of none'...not too many people can say that about Eaton.
  • He has the Olympic games "A" standard in the long jump and the "B" standard in the 100m.
  • He destroyed a field that included two of the greatest multi-eventers of all time (Clay and Hardee) as well as several other previous multi-event national champions.
  • By most accounts, the weather, especially on Thursday, cost the athletes at least 200 points on their total and perhaps as much as 300. It was cold and there were no breaks in the rain on day 1. Other events were delayed or cancelled...but not the decathlon.

Monday, July 2, 2012

What's REALLY causing your headache?

(NaturalNews) Are you sick of that throbbing, tight, aching headache day in and day out? Spending countless dollars on "headache relieving" medications, with no relief? The answer may be much easier than popping an ineffectual pill with multiple side effects, one of which is a HEADACHE! Finding the source of your headache, whether it be from your neck, tight muscles, or the food you are eating, chiropractic care can help to reduce or eliminate your symptoms, sometimes after only one or two treatments.

Headaches can start for many reasons, some may include:

• Prescription drug side effects

• Nervous system dysfunction caused by the vertebral subluxation complex (VSC); (Nerves, muscles, soft tissues, bones and chemicals all make up the VSC).

• Tight (hypertonic) muscles in the head, neck, shoulders (caused by "text neck"/forward head posture)

• Processed foods (preservatives, artificial colors, chemical substitutes)

• Vitamin B or D deficiencies

• Dehydration

The effects of technology on our bodies

Most of us spend too much time looking down at the computer screen, reading on tablets, or texting on our cell phones. The constant flexed neck posture ("text-neck") causes the muscles at the base of the skull (suboccipitals) to become stretched tight. This forward head posture places increased stress on your neck causing your cervical spine and upper back muscles to work harder to keep your head and chin upright. Soft tissue and joint manipulation performed by a chiropractor can help reduce tight muscles, trigger points, and joint irritations.

Food and drugs may be to blame

Food additives such as Splenda, aspartame, MSG, wheat/gluten, soy, high fructose corn syrup, and sodium nitrates found in lunch meats/hot dogs contain chemicals that have been linked to causing headaches. Avoiding toxic ingredients will help reduce dietary causes of headaches. Another important fact to note is that nine of the top ten prescribed drugs in the United States list headaches as a side effect; including Zocor, Prilosec and Amoxicillin.

Treating the cause of your headache... naturally

"A report released in 2001 by researchers at the Duke University Evidence-Based Practice Center in Durham, NC, found that spinal manipulation resulted in almost immediate improvement for those headaches that originate in the neck, and had significantly fewer side effects and longer-lasting relief of tension-type headache than a commonly prescribed medication" (The American Chiropractic Association).

Knowing what's in your food, the side effects of the drugs you take, having adequate Vitamins B/D, staying hydrated, and having a chiropractor find the source of your headaches can help to alleviate the pain you've been suffering with day after day.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Why Supermarket Tomatoes Taste Like Cardboard

By Emily Sohn

         Most supermarket tomatoes are flavorless at best, and a single gene mutation goes a long way toward explaining why. The mutation arose as breeders cultivated tomatoes to ripen evenly, a trait that makes harvesting cheaper and more efficient. As pretty as they look, though, mutated tomato fruits are less efficient at photosynthesizing, found a new study. As a result, they make less sugar and other compounds, which means they often taste far worse than tomatoes that may look blotchy but are full of explode-in-your-mouth sweetness.
For consumers who like their Caprese salads rich and complex, the results suggest that, for now, heirloom varieties at co-ops and farmer's markets may be your best bet. Eventually, the findings could help breeders put more satisfying flavor profiles back into everyday grocery store tomatoes.

         "When you have fruit or berries and you sprinkle sugar on top to accentuate the flavors, you can see how every little bit helps," said Ann Powell, a biochemist at the University of California, Davis. Our sensitivity to sweetness makes a gene for sugar production extra-important. "By knowing which gene it is, breeders can now select for varieties when plants are young."
For some 70 years, tomato breeders have worked to create fruits that are uniformly light green before they ripen. The advantage of this even coloring is that fruits become ripe all at once, instead of at the top end first. That makes it much easier for farmers to tell when it's time to harvest.
                Motivated more by the question of why tomatoes bother being green in the first place than by the question of why tomatoes so often taste terrible, Powell went on a hunt for proteins inside the fruit called transcription factors, which direct the genes that code for various traits.

That search led her to a type of protein in tomatoes called GLK. When intact, she and colleagues report today in the journal Science, the protein makes pre-ripened fruits appear dark green at the shoulder, where flesh meets stem. With the mutation, on the other hand, fruits are light green all over before they turn red.
          Scientists have known for a long time that two GLK proteins in the leaves of tomato and other plants direct the production of chloroplasts, which are responsible for photosynthesis, turning sunlight into sugars, and some of those sugars travel into the fruit to add sweetness.
Now it appears that the fruits of tomato plants also contain a GLK protein, which boosts sugar production just enough to make a real flavor difference. The dark green shoulder is a sign that extra photosynthesis is happening. Chemical analyses showed that tomatoes with normal GLK proteins also contained more lycopene, an antioxidant that gives tomatoes their red color.

           Once tomatoes turn red, though, it becomes impossible to tell which fruits have the mutation, making it highly unlikely that a supermarket shopper would be able to pick out tomatoes with naturally higher levels of sugar.
             In fact, the chances of un-mutated tomatoes showing up in any major grocery store are extremely slim. When Powell and colleagues looked at 25 commercial varieties of tomatoes from all over the world, they found the exact same mutation in all of them.
"The mutation they describe in their paper is in literally 100 percent of modern breeds sold in grocery stores today," said Harry Klee, a molecular geneticist at the University of Florida, Gainesville, who studies the chemistry and genetics of flavor in fruits and vegetables. "It's a really good illustration of some of the problems with modern breeding of tomatoes."
The GLK mutation isn't the only reason why supermarket tomatoes are so often tasteless, Klee added. But it's an important reason, and it demonstrates how focusing on aesthetics can end up sacrificing other important qualities in an entire generation of produce.
"When you focus on one thing and neglect the other -- the other being flavor -- you can have some really bad unintended consequences," Klee said. "The consumer is going to have to realize that their tomatoes may not look perfect. There may be a patch of green around the top of the fruit. But to me, I would say, if I see that a fruit is not perfectly red and perfectly uniformly ripened, maybe it's going to taste better."