Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 24, 2013

Fitness column: Protein is answer to multiple questions

On Fitness
Art McDermott

---- — Question: Why do most people gain and lose weight and so few keep it off? How do we stop the cycle?

Answer: This is a very common problem. Part of the issue lies in the inability to see past the “diet” mentality and realize that proper nutrition is a lifestyle…forever.

The average dieter will follow a routine for a certain timeframe, perhaps achieve their goal and then go back to their old habits. They never truly get in a healthy pattern with long-lasting change. Instead, they rely on quick fixes.

Proper nutrition lasts a lifetime. You can stop the cycle by not seeing nutrition as a cycle at all. It is OK to have a cheat meal once in a while, but once that cheat meal is over, you must have the discipline to stay focused on long-term health.

Our society is loaded with temptations and the food industry itself is counting of the average person to become addicted to refined sugar. This keeps customers coming back and is great for profits. Sadly, it is not so good for our health.

Question: How do I “lean out”? How do I “bulk up”?

Answer: It is amazing how similar these two goals actually are. A typical adult client may come to us looking to lose 20 pounds of body fat. While an athlete hoping to play football may look for advice to bulk up. I advise them both to crank up the protein levels using the same formula. Here it is: Take your body weight and round it down to the nearest 25-pound increment. This number is equal to the number of grams of protein you should eat per day. This simple rules follows many of the guidelines found in the literature.

The first thing you will notice is the size of this number. That is a LOT of protein. The key difference between an individual looking to lose weight and the high school athlete looking to gain muscle mass is carbohydrate intake.

Someone looking to lose 20 pounds must limit the carbs – especially processed carbs such as bread, rice, cereal, pasta, crackers and all refined sugars. The athlete looking to gain size must eat a high level of carbohydrates. Muscle building is dependent upon able carb intake. Notice I am not mentioning much about fat intake. Fat is not the real problem here.

Remember the expression: Fat does not make you fat. Carbs make you fat and we use protein to control it.

It does get much more detailed than this as we dial things in, but that is beyond the scope of this column.

Question: What are the elements of a successful fitness plan?

Answer: For a general fitness program, here is what I boiled this one down to:

1. Exercise four to six times per week. Divide this evenly between lifting weights and interval-based cardio workouts.

2. Keep things fresh by varying your routine every four to six workouts. Workouts should not be drudgery. If they are, you will not stick with it for the long run. Mix in different activities like boxing, rowing, plyometrics, running, lifting with free weights and swimming.

3. Maintain a relatively high protein level with lean meats, eggs, fish and whey protein shakes.

4. Learn how to cook veggies in a variety of ways; in soups, grilled, roasted – everything except fried! You cannot overdo the veggies. Whenever possible shop locally for organic food.

5. Get adequate sleep. This one is tougher than it seems as we all know, but shut down the screens a little earlier and notice the positive impact this has on your sleep patterns.

6. Drink plenty of water. Shoot for 50 percent of your body weight in ounces of water each day.

7. Avoid: alcohol in excess, processed carbs, smoking and other environmental toxins.

8. Enlist a partner. Do all of the above with someone who shares the same goal makes a huge difference.

9. Follow the 90-percent rule. If you follow your plan 90 percent of the time, you will succeed. It is OK to treat yourself once in a while as long as the treat does not become the norm.

Question: What are the most common injuries in kids and how can we avoid them?

Answer: One alarming pattern we see now is the rapid rise of “overuse” type injuries in younger and younger athletes. All too often parents get pulled into a “more is better” syndrome by enrolling their children in too many programs. It is not uncommon to see a young athlete participating for town-based teams, along with one or even two different private teams.

The sport of hockey is notorious for this pattern. I was at a presentation once by Boston Bruin Hall of Famer Ray Bourque and former Bruins player and coach Steve Kasper. Both men presented the same message. I paraphrase: “Get off the skates once in a while! Do other sports and gain other skills. It will help your game, not hurt it.”

By participating in one sport too often athletes are at risk of overuse injuries common for that particular sport. This is dangerous and unhealthy. Often we see athletes competing in multiple games throughout the week and even more during tournaments on the weekend. They are simply not prepared properly to be competing so often, and injury is often the result.

Another effect of this level of specializing is burnout. Athletes asked to compete at only one sport at the expense of all else often grow to hate that sport and quit altogether.