Every year there’s a new flurry of health and fitness buzzwords that give rise to a mix of curiosity and anxiety. We’re tossed into the sea of second-guessing and confusion as trends ebb and flow, and the definition of wellness races forward in a new direction. Our minds spin over how to incorporate all the new information. Detox is out and “pretox” is in? Wait…what’s a mitochondria and why should I care? Sometimes, we’re sidetracked for months trying the latest trend in fitness or nutrition.
We’re going to break down five of the latest buzzwords in health today; Femtech, Microbiome, Mitochondria, Pretox and Recomposition, and we’re going to cover practical, non-intimidating ways they can fit into your lifestyle. Begone stress in 2018! Begone!
Am I the only woman who is starting to think she may never become pregnant (again) without the help of the Ava Bracelet? Some time around the holidays, when social media was already blowing up with engagement and baby announcements, I started seeing numerous Facebook and Instagram ads featuring well-known Bachelor and Bachelorette stars with their spouses (“casually” lounging around in their pjs at home…while filming ads for millions of viewers, of course). The stars raved to cameras about getting pregnant thanks to the Ava Bracelet. The wearable device helps women track their cycles and become familiar with the timing of ovulation. Is it just me, or is that not what peeing on the stick is for? One Ava customer says:
“I had migraine headaches randomly throughout the month. With Ava, I realized that I always get them like clockwork right after I ovulate. Ava didn’t solve my headaches (if only!) but it does help me be more prepared for them, so they never take me by surprise anymore.”
This is the first of many examples of technology aimed specifically at women. And all of our many complex, men-suck-because-they-don’t-have-’em hormonal and physiological ebbs and flows. Fun, fun, fun.
Femtech is becoming a billion dollar industry and encompasses technology designed to help women with “fertility solutions, period-tracking apps, pregnancy and nursing care, sexual wellness, and reproductive system health care.” According to Wikipedia…and who doesn’t trust Wiki? All I can say is: IT’S ABOUT TIME. Finally, we’re living in an age where public dialogue over women’s health isn’t quite as taboo. I’m not talking about women’s fitness and weight loss, I’m talking about the tough stuff. Miscarriage. Incontinence. Prolapse. STDs. IVF. Breastfeeding. Egg freezing. Cysts. Fibroids. Menopause. You name it. We’ve likely all dealt with something a bit sensitive and felt like we didn’t have *quite* as much support as we needed at times. With femtech, that just might change.
Not only are there apps and gadgets helping you learn more about your body’s rhythms but there are also some that help you troubleshoot and improve them. For example, MyFlo is a mobile app that helps with menstrual cycle tracking. It goes a step beyond telling you when to expect ovulation and “The Flo,” and offers up interesting tips for how to exercise and eat to nourish your body through the four unique hormonal changes a woman experiences in each cycle. This is what we call “functional medicine.” In other words, lifestyle changes that can impact your health all the way down to the hormonal and cellular level.
Don’t worry about trying to track every single aspect of your health through Femtech products because 1) you may break the bank, and 2) you might not need to go overboard. Hone in on the one thing you care about most; fixing PMS headaches, tracking your baby’s heart rate while pregnant, improving your sex life, or curing pelvic pain and dysfunction. You may find that by tackling just one aspect of your health, many other components of wellness fall into place too.
What IS this thing called the “microbiome?” So scientific sounding but I promise it’s not an untouchable topic for us common folk. The simplistic definition for microbiome is: “a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment and especially the collection of microorganisms living in or on the human body.” In short, “microbiome” encompasses the bacteria/fungi/viruses that colonize your skin, gut, colon, mouth and more.
There are emerging, evidence-based theories that the microbiome develops during the birthing process. MICROBIRTH, a film released in 2014, explains that a baby is exposed to its mom’s vaginal bacteria (cough cough, and sometimes fecal bacteria, cough cough) followed by skin and breastmilk bacteria at birth. The exposure to all this foreign stuff ramps up the baby’s immune system and sets them up for fewer non-communicable diseases later in life, such as Type-I Diabetes, Celiacs Disease, Asthma, etc. This is considered a “seed-and-feed” theory for how our microbiome gets its start.
While the diversity of the microbiome has been studied since as early as the 1600s, we’re still learning about it. Scientists are discovering new revelations that change the way they approach the use of molecular techniques and the study of the microbiome. They understand that there are differences in the microbiome between healthy individuals and those with diseases, and that the makeup of bacteria/fungi changes from site of the body to the next, just as it can from one individual to the next. Perhaps most compellingly, scientists now believe that the microbiome is extremely plastic, not just diverse. In other words, it can change over time. Thank goodness…because my tummy is still a wreck from the flu last week.
Most recently, “microbiome” has been at the edge of every health fanatics’ lips because it has been discovered that gut fungi serve a very important role in our overall health. That’s right, fungus is officially good. Apparently, the growth of good bacteria in our gut is aided by the good fungus in it. Moving forward we’re going to hear a lot more about probiotic supplements that incorporate fungus and “prebiotics” (supplements and foods containing fiber that properly nourishes gut bacteria). Stay on the lookout!
I’m not going to tell everyone to go out and buy the next probiotic overstuffed with prebiotics and fungi (might not hurt, though). But what I will say is that we can all take a moment to consider how out gut health impacts our mood, energy and overall health. So, a simple lifestyle fix is asking yourself which foods/beverages/supplements you regularly consume which might hurt vs aid your gut health. Making simple adjustments in your dietary choices is easy and it might change the makeup of all those bacteria/fungi that you’d rather not think about on a daily basis.
I’ve talked about mitochondria more than any of my clients and friends know. If you’ve studied kinesiology or exercise physiology then you have too. If you stretch your mind back to high school biology class and can remember anything about the Krebs Cycle or ATP, then you’re getting warm. To refresh your memory; the mitochondria are organelles (had to look it up to remember that word, haha) in the cell which regulate cellular metabolism. Think of them as tiny power generators in every cell of your body.
“Mitochondria” rarely comes up during coffee break. But that’s all starting to change. Prominent doctors such as Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Frank Lipman and Dr. Vincent Pedre are educating the public on how these organelles impact all aspects of our health. According to these doctors, when people suffer from “Feel-Like-Crap Syndrome,” their mitochondria aren’t functioning well and aren’t receiving proper support.
So how do we support these microscopic organelle thingys? Answer: Healthy fats. This is part of what spurred the popular ketogenic diet in 2017. But I’m not telling you to start counting macros and making every dietary choice a high-fat one. If you reeeeaaalllly want to go down that path, talk to a registered dietitian about your options (don’t come to me – I’m not a raving fan of any extremist diet). If you want to help nourish your mitochondria through simple but powerful ways, just stock up on healthy fats in your weekly meals. Don’t worry about counting macros or eating all fats, just make sure you’re eating some or all of the following on a regular basis:
Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Olives, Nuts, Seeds, Avocados, Salmon/Fish, Eggs, Edamame, Ground Flaxseed, Chia Seeds, Lean Grass-Fed Beef & Pork, Full-Fat Milk, Full-Fat Yogurt (And guess what?! Dark Chocolate and Parmesan Cheese make the cut, too. YAAAAAASSSS!)
“Pretox is the new detox.” Apparently. Instead of focusing on detoxifying one’s body from all the bad junk one ate and drank, some health professionals [and supplement companies] are recommending that people “pretox.” It sounds very oh-la-la, fancy, elusive and, like many health trends, expensive. But it’s not! For once.
“Pretoxing” is simply giving your healthy lifestyle a gentle makeover. It’s getting those extra hours of sleep, exercising, drinking enough water, cutting back on processed foods, caffeine and alcohol, and all those tried-and-true steps towards a healthier lifestyle. These measures are called a pretox because they’re given even more attention and focus preceding a big event or vacation where one knows overindulgence will be involved. Supposedly, these measures make the detox phase of getting back on track easier.
While I certainly haven’t seen any scientific studies backing up these assertions (i.e., that the detoxing after partying is easier done if pretoxing has taken place), these steps certainly can’t hurt. If anything, they probably make someone more aware of the negative effects of too much alcohol or too little sleep, and cause the individual to curb their behavior mid-wedding reception or beach vacation.
I’ve often found that the healthier we are, the more sensitive we are. What I mean by this is that we are more aware of the negative effects of toxic substances and choices. For example, someone who strips common food allergens like soy, alcohol, gluten, eggs and dairy out of their diet will be more capable of telling whether or not they have a negative reaction after reintroducing them. The body’s reaction will be more loud and clear versus when they’re immune suppressed and experiencing the aforementioned Feel-Like-Crap Syndrome due to assaulting their body with things they’re sensitive to.
Ironically, this goes hand-in-hand with the urban dictionary’s definition of pretox: “When you know you’re going have a ridiculous amount of alcohol over the weekend and you decide to go out for a few drinks the night before as preparation – it’s the drinking equivalent of stretching.” The fact that this is a real definition kind of kills me. But to sum, drink more = less sensitive to effects of alcohol. Drink less = more sensitive. And so it can go with other things, too.
There’s no need for anyone to get their feathers ruffled over this buzzword. Just stick to the health basics for “pretoxing” and “detoxing.” Get sleep. Eat plenty of fiber, lean protein, healthy fats, antioxidant rich fruits and veggies. Drink a crap ton of water every day. Exercise and get out of your desk chair from time to time. Reduce stress. Overcome and banish negative thought patterns like guilt and shame. Curb caffeine and alcohol. Stuff like that. Please don’t feel the need to overspend on some fancy supplement or juice diet that boasts it can reclaim your youth. Just don’t.
I was recently interviewed by Shape on the ins-and-outs of this buzzword. Definitely check that article out for a full explanation of “recomp.” A few highlights:
Recomposition is a fancy term for losing fat at the same time as putting on muscle. This is done to achieve a “lean and strong” body with overall improved fat:muscle ratios. The fat loss and muscle acquisition processes are very different but can be achieved together. The rate of muscle acquisition will not be quite as fast for someone trying to simultaneously lose weight but that’s okay.
For general nutrition, we need around .8 grams of protein per kg body weight every day (1 kg = 2.2 lbs). When trying to acquire muscle, this amount should be closer to 1 gram or higher. If someone is trying to lose weight by cutting calories at the same time as trying to gain muscle then they should aim even higher for protein intake; 1.5-2.0 grams protein per kg body weight a day. This amount of protein is easiest achieved through animal sources such as lean meats, fish and eggs since they have a high quality and quantity of amino acids. But a balanced diet incorporates a variety of whole foods so yogurt, quinoa, beans, lentils and other foods are healthful and contribute to the grams of protein, too. To sum, protein is essential for muscle growth and thereby altering body composition. A low-protein diet will not yield impressive muscle-gain adaptations, especially if there is a lack of exercise.
As for the exercise component to recomp, strength training via machines, free weights or body weight is an important part. This is not to say that cardiovascular exercise can’t add muscle to a person’s body (have you ever seen how impressively strong and dense an Olympic sprinter’s thighs are?!) but that strength training is a surefire way to add lean mass thanks to tapping into Type II muscle fibers (ironically, the same muscle fibers utilized by the aforementioned sprinters). Type II fibers are highly responsive to overload and will quickly adapt in size and contractile efficiency. These muscle fibers are best stimulated through reps in the range of 6-12, with muscle failure happening in that range. Muscle failure is a key element to building muscle. If you could keep going for a few more reps above the 6-12 rep range then you need to increase the amount of weight. True muscle failure is often accompanied by the inability to maintain form or continue working. So, when you reach that point, it’s the end of the set. Don’t compromise form for a few more reps because 1) you might hurt yourself and 2) there actually isn’t much of a point if your target muscle has reached fatigue.
There are a lot of ways to train for strength; supersets, circuits, alternating upper/lower body days, super slow or eccentric training, explosive exercises, and more. What’s important is that there is both a frequency to the training and adequate recovery. Muscle regeneration isn’t very effective when the body is chronically stressed (this can apply to mental stress or a lack of sleep, too!) so recovery days are critical. As for frequency of training, three times a week for strength is typically sufficient for the general population with basic weight loss and toning goals. For women looking to really lean down below 16-18% body fat, it will take a lot more dedication. Typically, women with these goals are athletes and/or competing in bikini or bodybuilding competitions. These individuals are usually on tight regimens, lifting 4-6 days/week and carefully monitoring their macronutrients with “bulking” and “cutting” phases built in.
If you want to put on lean muscle in an effort to improve body composition then simply try to gradually increase the amount of protein you consume and increase strength training volume, frequency and/or intensity. If counting macro-nutrients isn’t your thing then just focus on getting some quality protein at least two out of your main three meals. If strength training isn’t your favorite, try some explosive sprints or HIIT exercises that push your muscles to the point of fatigue. Even just two workout days a week that focus on explosive or strength movements will guarantee some margin of results and health improvements!
Yours in health and wellness,