Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Scoop on Supplement Safety and Regulations


More and more people are turning to supplements as a way to fill in the gaps in their diets. The elderly rely on nutritional supplementation to keep their bones strong and minds sharp. Bodybuilders and weightlifters have turned off the steroids and turned on to natural supplementation to increase muscle and reach training goals. There are nutritional drinks available for children to keep their recommended daily allowances at a positive level.

With so much reliance on supplementation, it’s a good idea to answer a few of the questions that are brought up on a regular basis: Are supplements safe? Are supplements regulated? What do they do?

Supplement Safety

The safety of supplements has long been in question since the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not actively regulate supplements. In fact, there is little interference by the FDA unless gross negligence is found to be present — and even then what items are pulled is arbitrary.

The USDA also has no say when it comes to supplements. When it comes to choosing a supplement, it is best to choose a name brand and a company that has been around for a while and deals with nothing but supplements. These companies are built on their reputation and integrity — if they lose either, they lose their company altogether. This may not seem like the greatest way to choose, but it is better than finding out your supplement is made by a company that also makes tires.

Supplement Regulation

Supplements are not required to meet the same safety and effectiveness guidelines as drugs because they are considered a “food.” FDA approval is not required in order for a dietary supplement to be sold, but there are some governing groups that do sift through the imposters and put their stamp of approval on proven supplements.

The United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International and United National Products Alliance are groups that can help distinguish the good from the bad. You’ll find at least one of these seals of approval on supplements that are legitimate and pure.

A lot of supplements sold cheaply worldwide are often found to have completely worthless substances in them and usually not a speck of the supplement you are purchasing. The next step is to do some research. There’s a lot of information at your disposal online, and it’s worth your time to discover what is legitimate and what isn’t. A third option is to check with the Better Business Bureau and look at other sites to check for complaints about the company or manufacturer.
Ingredients, Side Effects and Allergies

Reading the label will sometimes give you a very good idea of what you are getting. It only takes a minute, but it can be the difference between buying a pure product and bogus one.

Not all supplements will list their ingredients — that’s a red flag. Ingredients are listed in the order of most to least. If you buy a protein powder and whey is number seven or eight (or last) on the list, you are getting powdered filler with a dash of whey protein. That’s not worth your time or money and will do nothing for your health.

In early 2015 in a crackdown on misleading labels, GNC agreed to strict testing regulations after New York’s attorney general alleged that 80 percent of herbal products sold by GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart didn’t actually contain any of the herbs listed on the product labels.

Be diligent and don’t be swayed by “deals,” because you may end up with something that will do absolutely nothing for you. You will also need to check the label for possible side effects and/or allergic reactions. If a supplement has a filler with a milk base, a person who is lactose intolerant may react to it. If you’re on prescription medications, checking with your physician is important to rule out any possible drug interactions.

What About Muscle-Building Supplements?

Weightlifting is an important part of so many people’s lives — it’s no longer just the 20-something men trying to build up their bodies. Women, teens and the over-50 crowd have all begun to seek the benefits of weightlifting. You don’t have to supplement to lift weights, but muscle mass, form, strength, agility and recovery will be greatly enhanced by using an all-natural supplement.

Pure whey protein or 100 percent creatine and amino acids are all excellent supplements that have science, years of testing and results to back them; the improvements made with these supplements is undeniable. So if weightlifting is part of your fitness routine, taking a supplement is more helpful than not taking one at all.

Considering all these issues may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Bottom line: Do your research and talk to your health care providers and you’ll be able to reap the many benefits of supplements.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Common Cause of Running Injuries Most People Overlook

It may sound counterintuitive, but the best long-distance runners didn't get so good from running alone. To run harder, better, faster, stronger, they supplement their runs with other forms of exercise like cross-training, strength training, and interval running. Studies show these are all important elements in any training plan to become a better runner .

But many runners still neglect one crucial component of training: improving their balance. Research shows balance training can be used to prevent and treat acute ankle sprains, and reduce the chances of ankle injuries in the future .

After all, the last sound any runner wants to hear while running is a Rice Krispies-style snap, crackle, or pop signaling the dreaded ankle sprain. Depending on its severity, a sprained ankle can disrupt even the most carefully planned training schedules and take anywhere from four weeks to a seemingly endless 12 months to fully heal. Ain't nobody got time for that.

The Source of the Sprain

Unlike repetitive stress injuries—like shin splints or runner’s knee—traditional ankle sprains are acute, trauma-related injuries from rolling an ankle on uneven terrain. This stretches or tears one or more main ligaments that connect the ankle to the foot, creating swelling and bruising at the site of injury. And it's even more common than you may think: An estimated 25,000 people suffer an ankle sprain every day in the U.S.

But you don’t have to twist your ankle on a trail or an uneven sidewalk to experience a bothersome feeling in your lower leg. Moderate (rather than trauma-related) ankle or foot pain can also affect runners. "A large percentage of runners tend to overstride or pace improperly, which can lead to ankle soreness,” says Chris Johnson, a physical therapist, All-American triathlete, and triathlon coach.

Another reason why runners get the short end of the ankle-sprain stick: Running is a plyometric activity, and bounding from one leg to the next with relatively short contact times puts considerable demand on a runner’s muscles and joints, which can lead to injury, Johnson explains.

And that's where balance training comes in: “If a runner has difficulty balancing on one leg on solid ground, running will be that much more difficult due to the increased forces and dynamic nature of the sport,” Johnson says. 

Need more convincing to improve your balance? Check out these four reasons:

1. You'll develop Herculean ankle strength.

"Balancing exercises can strengthen the ankle and surrounding musculature that provide stability while running," Fitzgerald says. One study found that athletes with chronic ankle instability demonstrated significant improvements in their ankle strength after completing a four-week balance training programs .

2. You'll improve your sense of awareness.

A neuromuscular component of balance known as proprioception (try saying that 10 times fast), or your sense of where your limbs are positioned in space, becomes impaired during an ankle sprain. Single-legged exercises train the brain to anticipate and coordinate movements in one’s leg muscles, making athletes less prone to recurrent ankle sprains . That's also why strength training, with a focus on improving balance and proprioception, can help runners (especially trail runners) skirt around surprise bumps and obstaces on the ground by heightening their awareness of where either foot will land, relative to other objects .

3. It helps you balance on one leg (a.k.a. run).

“When you run, there’s a period of time when you’re completely in the air—unlike walking, when one foot is always in contact with the ground,” Fitzgerald says. “In this sense, running can be considered a very coordinated series of one-legged hops.” Single-leg exercises (like the ones we highlight below) can improve running-specific strength and limit any imbalances that might occur.

4. It requires little to no equipment.

Balance training can be done literally anywhere, at any time. Most single-leg rehab exercises fit easily into any routine, allowing injured runners to multitask like a boss.

Your Action Plan

So you've twisted your ankle—now what? First, it’s important to keep pressure off of the injured leg (remember RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Next up: See a doctor who can recommend the best course of treatment, which may or may not involve an ankle brace to maximize ankle protection and minimize swelling.

Whatever you do, don't run. Running too soon after a sprain may inflict permanent damage. In fact, people who have already had an ankle injury are five times more likely to have another ankle issue in the future . “Too often, I find that injured runners who seek physical therapy services are in denial,“ Johnson says. “They make the situation worse or prolong it by trying to run through it.” Chronic ankle instability from an incompletely rehabilitated ankle sprain can lead to further impairments and dysfunction, he adds.

A better plan of attack: Focus on low-impact activities, like swimming, cycling, or rowing, which don’t require sharp, sudden ankle motions. As athletes gradually ease themselves back into the groove of running, Johnson recommends safeguarding against injury by not increasing their mileage more than 30 percent each week. (Other pros suggest following the 10 percent rule as an even more moderate plan for increasing mileage.)

Finally, improve ankle strength and minimize the risk of re-injury with simple balancing exercises. These five moves are easy enough to do anywhere, anytime—even while brushing your teeth—to fortify injured ankles.

1. Single-Leg Balance

"Simply balancing on one leg without shoes is a great first step for most runners,” Fitzgerald says. Begin by balancing on the injured leg with a stable object nearby, such as a desk or a table. Perform the exercise without shoes, standing on a flat, stable surface. Count to 10, then rest. Eventually, work up to 60-second holds. Try to do three 60-second sets twice a day.

2. Single-Leg Balance with Additions

For an added challenge, balance on your injured leg with crossed arms, then with closed eyes. Finally, attempt to stand with the injured leg on a cushion (but build up to this slowly). Each of these additions will destabilize the body, making the single legged balance more difficult to perform. For each, count to 10, then rest. Eventually, work up to 60-second holds. Try to do three 60-second sets twice a day.

3. Single-Leg Alphabet Drawing

Once balancing on one leg becomes easy, Fitzgerald recommends dynamic balancing exercises. Stand on one leg, tracing the letters of the alphabet in the air with the elevated foot. “This dynamic motion requires the ankle to work much harder to stabilize the body,” he says. Complete the alphabet on one leg, then switch. Complete three sets on each leg.

4. Single-Leg Squat

Single-leg strength exercises such as pistol squats are very specific to limiting asymmetries and improving running strength, Fitzgerald says. To perform a single-legged squat, begin by standing on one leg, arms extended straight in front of the body. Slowly lower the body so that the standing leg almost makes a 90-degree angle with the ground. Return to the starting position slowly, controlling the movement as you rise. For added ankle strength, perform these exercises barefoot. Work up to 10 reps on each leg.

5. Slow-Motion Marching Drills

To further recuperate functional ankle instability and correct gait imbalances, Johnson recommends dynamic slow motion marching drills. March forward in a slow motion, keeping the thigh and knee flexed at a 90-degree angle. Perform the exercises barefoot with relaxed toes. First, attempt to march wobble-free for 30 seconds. To master the exercise, march wobble-free for 60 seconds.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Does Working Out in the Rain Make You Sick?

It's a common medical myth that being outside in the rain or cold makes you sick. So, it's natural to assume that, by the same logic, working out in the rain or cold -- or both -- makes you sick. Neither, of course, is true. Being in rainy or cold conditions during exercise is not a direct cause of viruses like cold or flu. You must come into contact with a virus to contract these illnesses.

Why the Myth Endures

The myth endures because it appears to people as if rainy or cold weather contributes to illness. Certainly there is a strong correlation between rainy or cold weather and viruses like cold or influenza. This is because more people are infected with these viruses during cold and/or rainy months. Plus, being outside in cold rain can cause temporary flu-like symptoms, like shivering or a runny nose. But in these cases, correlation does not imply causation. Viruses cause these illnesses, not weather patterns.

Being Indoors with People

Cold and flu viruses tend to spike any time cold or rainy weather keeps people indoors more often than usual. During these times, people tend to be in closer proximity to one another as well. When you inhale the virus particles that a person breathes or coughs into the air, you can be infected. Whether to exercise indoors or outdoors is not the issue.

Body Temperature Drop

When you get wet outdoors, your body temperature drops. This is offset somewhat by exercise, which increases your body temperature. Even so, especially cold rainy conditions may cool the body enough to cause hypothermia, particularly if your clothes are drenched in water. Hypothermia strains the body, including the immune system, and this may heighten your chances of becoming infected with a virus. In such cases, rain may aggravate your immune system, but it is not the direct cause of illness.

Immunity Benefits of Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise helps boost the function of the immune system. This is true regardless of weather conditions. In other words, your immune system function will improve whether you choose to exercise indoors or outdoors during a cold rain. This can make you less likely to contract a cold or flu virus.


Exercise common sense when carrying out your exercise plan in the rain. recommends staying indoors if the outside windchill reaches zero degrees F or lower. By the same token, it's probably unwise to exercise outdoors in freezing rain, in which quick accumulation can make you more prone to falls and injury. If you have asthma or any other chronic illness, consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.