Monday, July 28, 2014

Are you Hitting your Muscle Targets? How to Find, Feel and Fire your muscles for optimal performance

Have you ever done an exercise and wondered if you're working the muscles involved with that movement? Is that hip thruster really firing the muscles in your butt and back of the legs, for instance? How about those dips? Getting the back of the arms? If we don't feel the movement, it doesn't mean it's not working, BUT it's nice to check that we're really engaging the fibers. It's a lot easier to do these checks when we know what movement the muscle makes.

Here's an example of how you can begin to check if your movement is getting the muscles you want to target.
Effective Muscle Targetting?

Find the Muscle*

First thing we need to do is get a kinesiology book (Manual of Structural Kinesiology -finally available in an ebook version [UK || US]  is still my fave here). If you want to just look at the muscles and bones,  i really like Muscle System Pro. Second, with these tools in hand, we need to check two things
  • where the muscle attaches (at both ends); 
  • how it moves around what joints.
Lets take the biceps of the arm (biceps brachii). "Bi" gives us a clue that there's two somethings here, and when we look at the attachments we see that the top of the biceps attaches in two places - it has what are known as two heads (the triceps, back of the arm, you guessed it, has three heads, attaching in three places).

The biceps long head attaches coming up the outside of the main upper arm bone, the humerus, and through a groove there, into the shoulder bone, the scapula. You can imagine that means some part of that muscle will help pull the arm up and out at the side (abduction). 

The long head attachment
is offset from the front of the humerus
and attaches into the scapula
(shoulder bone) helping
to bring the arm up and out
to the front and side
The short head attaches to the front but
also over from the humerus
helping to turn the humerus in
and pull to bring the forearm up
The short head attaches more towards the front of the body, but also on the scapula at what's called the coracoid process - many boney bits that jut out at all are called a "process" Attached to the front, gonna pull to the front.

biceps attaching to
inside of radius
Next bit is where does this muscle end? Intriguingly - the biceps ends up attached to the radius, one of the two bones in the forearm (the bony bit of the elbow, that's the top of the ulna; i always think of the radius as the thumb bone, because that's that it sits closest to at the hand end.). If you look at the picture you can see that attachment is kinda on the inside of the radius. So, if you had your hand lying flat palm down on the table and someone pulled up on the inside of your forearm, what would your wrist do? Turn over maybe?

Now we have three attachment points for the muscle, which means a bunch of actions are possible:

The most famous aspect of the biceps in weight lifting is of course the curl - elbow flexion - and yes we can see that bending the elbow is a big action that the biceps supports (it's not the only contributor).
Radius bone:
thumb side of forearm
Because of the way it attaches to the forearm, we can also see that it's going to be pulling the wrist up - into supination - hence the curl happens usually with a dumbell facing into the curl as the weight comes up. 

 The biceps doesn't just curl forward and rotate the forearm. We have this interesting double connection at the front and side of the biceps at the shoulder blade bone. From this we know that the arm is going to come up, and also tend to go to the side - so maybe 45 degrees between dead out to side and dead out front. 

ALSO with these two attachments, the bone, the humerous, turns in - internal rotation. So that's another movement to use in exploring this muscle.

Feel to Fire the Muscle

Now that we know what the muscle does, we can experiment with feeling it. 
So let's try this sequence to hit all the movement points:

TURN WRIST IN: With your arm out straight (extended) Turn your wrist so that hand is up - make a fist if you wish - you can explore turning it up as far as you can. Feel the biceps just from doing that? The more you want to turn up and over at the wrist, the more you fire the biceps. 

BEND ELBOW: Next, try the wrist turn while you start to bend your elbow, go 45 degrees, try it, 90, try it, keep going till you have your forearm close to touching your upper arm. Feeling greater squeeze in the biceps just from that?

TURN UPPER ARM IN:  With your wrist up and over, arm bent, move your fist towards your chest to rotate the arm in. 

LIFT UP AND SLIGHTLY OVER: Ok, with wrist up and over, elbow bent and fist turned towards chest, imagine you're going to stretch to yawn, how you'd bring your elbow up for that, maybe stick out your chest a bit  - do it slowly. Feel the muscle from the elbow to up into the shoulder.

Classic Arnie at the Gun Show: note
right arm is more to the front
than to the side.
You may need to play with this a bit to find how high up to bring your elbow (likely not more than at 90 degrees from the chest) and how much to the side to bring it (45-70 degrees away from the chest) - all the while with the wrist turned up and over. 
When you're rocking this you'll feel a big squish in the muscle -  likely at about 45 - 60 degrees away from the chest.

Now what does that look like? 

Example: The Gun Show: Optimal Contraction

Likely, the position you find yourself in for this mega squish of your big guns is similar to Arnie's right arm in the pose shown in actually both arnie pics in this post.

Notice that Arnie here has one arm right out to the side and one arm up in our wrist twisted, up but in towards the chest - and how the biceps in that arm (the right arm) are squished up more - and look more PEAKED.

Now you know why  a gun show looks like this classic pose: that's the optimal position to get all three attachments working, in the maxed movements around the two involved joints to create the biggest flexed contraction of the biceps. 


Old school body builders like "Prof. Matysek" would find these kinds of positions and just squeeze them for time to create the necessary stimulation for them to adapt and grow (check out copies of the books here). In fact these guys' capacity to trigger an control a single muscle on command showed some pretty awesome sensory-motor cortex mapping/practice.

A word for this kind of fixed-position squeeze is an isometric - we've been looking at a flexion contraction (you can explore extension contractions too)

 Isos (for short) are awesome to play with - and even better again if you understand how the muscle works and use that to find what can get it to turn on effectively. Heck, just going through this sequence with my left arm a few times has really made me aware of that muscle. Sheesh.

Now you have a map to start exploring whether or not you're really getting the most you can out of a movement. 

More than one way around a joint

Important to note resistance training is optimal when it targets a range of movements. After all there are loads of movements for the biceps alone to hit the muscle in different ways. 
But now you can figure out why a preacher curl bench for biceps will have the arm elevated away from the chest, pretty much at shoulder height - really working the short head attachment. 

What moves might help work the long head - side attachment more? 
In doing a curl how would you optimise wrist up and over while keeping the internal rotation of the upper arm. 

Muscle Kinesiology is Fun: Exploring ALL your muscles in movement

You can work through each muscle and muscle group all day long. For the glutes for instance, you can
structural kinesiology[UK || US] :
great guide to
find, feel and test
the muscles of movement
explore why lunges at 45 degrees are great for glute meds, rather than back and forth for glute max. Again, i love that Structural Kinesiology text for learning about movements and running these checks 

Likewise check out all the bundles in the hamstrings and their action and attachment - check the movements there. 

This kind of unpacking of muscle action around a joint also helps explain why we may get sore in unexpected places - like squats killing the inner thighs (adductors)

Hope this helps you discover your body and lets you self-check if your practice is hitting the targets in your movement that you want - and also gives you a way to tune your movement for your self - what's YOUR best position for an optimal contraction of a given muscle? muscle attachment?

Bonus: It's all in the Bone Movement 

One more observation: if we get the movement of the bones RIGHT, the muscle contraction takes care of itself. It's actually a lot more effective to think about the movement the bone movement than the muscle. We're really doing that above: what is the movement of the arm, when lead by the focus on what and how the biceps move.

We can move up to larger movements that engage more joints, too.  If you're interested, here's a fantastic example about how to get the lower body bone movement working for the overhead press  - just by exploring the skeletal positioning.

By working through the way the bones are moved around their joints - and optimising for that - not only does great muscular activation occur, great movement patterning begins, too.

So let's get the rhythms of the beautiful bones...


Note on Name: "Find the muscle" is also a drill Eric Cobb teaches in Z-health 9S: Strength and Suppleness - this is a technique to help bring attention to particular muscle fibers in a movement that may not be firing and to get them online. A coach does an assist to help the athlete check activation of all the fibers. In our case, we're stepping back a bit literally to find the muscle first before getting into activation of areas of the muscle.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Calories as currency: how to get the best food value per calorie spent

What are our calories buying us when we eat food? We know all foods are measured in terms of their fuel value - how much energy it takes to burn them. But how much food value is that calorie giving us? 1 calorie of donut, vs one calorie of spinach, say. Are we getting high or low value for that calorie cost?
If calories were dollars - a true green back? -
how much nutrient value would i want from each calorie dollar spent?
What do we need from our calories? The stuff to build bones, hormones, hair, sex drive, joy, cognitive performance.  

To be explicit - we are encouraged to eat lots of different foods because we need the stuff that's in those substances to keep all the bits of us going. 

We're complex systems, growing, changing, responding all the time. The donut gives us high fuel but low nutrients back for the calorie cost we pay. That's lousy. We can get better value for that calorie cost by diversifying our food portfolio.

Que es mas macho: donut or spinach?
So why, if we need this complex mix of stuff do we focus so much on calories, which tells us nothing about the stuff that we need to survive and thrive? Simple! We have poor models! We have been trained over the past 40 years - perhaps as whole food has become increasingly replaced by processed food - to think about our fat, to think that calories mean fat. WE all know the equation:we have to reduce calories to have caloric deficit to burn off fat. 

But that equation is increasingly being seen to be incomplete.

ok, what has greater nutrient value per calorie spent?
First, many folks are also showing, that equation isn't always so straight forward: how well we burn fat depends often on our food choices, not just calories. Second, calories don't mean fat: they are just a measure of energy applied to food that has a whole lot to do with how we chemically process carbon in order to keep going. We are carbon based, for sure, but we need more than carbon to thrive. Do you want to thrive? then consider this next question:

What are our calories buying us in terms of the rest of the stuff we need from food to thrive? What happens if we start to think about calories as currency? And we use that currency to buy nutrient density. And as in any shopping practice, we look for the best values for what we can buy

Ok, so how do we make that value purchase? We can check out Nutrient Density to Calorie cost ratio. 

The idea of nutrient density has been around for awhile. I first heard Ryan Andrews of Drop the Fat Act and Precision Nutrition talk about nutrient density as the ratio of nutrients to calories, and many others have described this since. So spinach has a higher nutrient density per calorie than a donut. This equation simply means that there is more of all the stuff we need in a day from spinach per calorie burned than there is in a donut. 

What if we think more deliberately about this ratio:
Like any budget, we only have so much currency to spend in a day before we start going into debt. (ironically in food eating we only have so much currency before we go into surplus - most of us don't want the surplus). 

So our question becomes: how do we spend our calorie budget to get the best value for ourselves in a day?
what's your food to fuel value?

With our calories, we need to buy things like phytochemicals, fiber, fat, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, starches, fatty acids - in other words - food.

The easiest way to focus on nutrient density (nutrient bang for caloric buck) is to focus on whole food. Eat your veggies whole; get lots of colours on the plate, away we go. Get great protein from veggies and legumes; from sustainable fish; from meat - all the beast including offal like liver - and broth from bones. 

Food, we agree, is more than fuel. Food is a gestalt: more than the sum of its parts
 It’s also more than the sum of its nutrients, since most foods contain not only macro and micro nutrients but all the other bits and pieces that enable these components to be absorbed and used. Just as a reminder the foods we eat food to replenish everything from fuel to tissue to hormones.

FOOD and workouts That means how smart we are in the gym about what we’re doing in a given work out, how well we can balance, how best we handle fatigue, how hard we can push ourselves, how well we recover is all founded around the quality of how well we replenish not just fuel but nutrients - which include macro, micro, phyto nutrients and the, vits and mins - we need to function as neuro-chemical, physio-psycho-social systems.  

How do we figure out Nutrient Value to Calorie Cost? WE can get really intrigued about this, but let’s ball park it:
  • green leafy veggies are high in nutrients/low in calories - that's an awesome ratio
  • black beans are fantastic veggie protein, high in nutrients, good in feeling full (satiety)

If we want to check whether a particular food has a good N-C value, take a look at the Nutrition Data site - not perfect but a good guide for nutrient to calorie ratio. 

Lets check the black bean example

In that first square graph, we see that black beans are nutritious and filling. In the second square graph We see they're mainly a source of carbs - as veggies and legumes are - but also well up in protein - with complete essential amino acids (just like meat). Also, good range of nutrients - Add in some spinach or broccoli and you're in a happy place.  

We can do this all day long. Look at liver

Liver is really good in its nutrient density to calories: 200g (about 6oz) is 350Kcal with an excellent nutrient profile - double that of turkey in terms of minerals and vitamins, even though both are excellent protein sources; turkey scores higher on being just about all protein - if that’s important.  So with turkey’s nutrient profile, we’d have to add in dark veggies to get the equivalent nutrients and end up with about the same calories on the plate. Cool eh? (here's a previous story just about liver)

Some whole foods that start to push the N-value to C-cost balance
Nuts are nutritious but we pay a high calorie cost for the nutrients we get in return. This cost doesn't mean nuts are evil. Oh no - it means that we can use the price we pay in calories judiciously rather than thoughtlessly. The biggest calorie cost we pay is in fat - and if we know something about fat, we know that's a very sustaining fuel. 

When would we need to have some high, long lasting fuel, in a small package that can be consumed quickly? 

We may start to see why having only a few nuts for a big hit of fat and some protein may be useful for sustained energy when we want to travel light, and not focus on meals. But we can also see those few nuts may not keep us feeling satisfied if we're not well occupied - like running or doing manual labour.  Or as a bedtime snack - 1tbsp of almond butter can be a great way to spend some calories for some fuel just before bed - to keep us happy when sleeping - esp when we're doing some leaning out. 

When the Calorie Cost to Nutrient Value is worse than zero: Highly Processed foods 

Where the scales really start to tip is around pasta, cookies, and some (not all) breads like croissant or basically, white/processed food. The nutrients are so low as to be just fuel. That can be ok and fun from time to time. But when the fuel quality is shite sources like corn syrup and hydrogenated fats (ingredients in a lot of fast food and frozen boxed foods) then the nutrient value we get from the calorie cost is dreadful. 

In other words, we're paying for calories and JUST calories - and possibly, pending on ingredients in processed food, getting some really harmful stuff into our systems. 

A comparison of nutrient value per calorie cost

Consider that 1 ounce of liver (28g) has half the calories of 1 croissant (also 28g) but also double the nutrient density, and complete essential amino acids profile. The nutrient value is 3 times higher (lets say) for the liver than the croissant. 

Now, i will defend a parisian almond croissant to the death. TO THE DEATH - but i can also count on the boulangerie using great flour, real butter, not a ton of sugar, and true hand made home made goodness. And the number of times i get to Paris is so rare, i just don't care about the calorie cost. My bod can handle this once in awhile. And if it can't what a way to go. 

BUT - a parisian croissant is a whole different story in ingredients than say that 50+ ingredient Krispy Kreme donut. In any processed/fast food, looking for hi fructose corn syrup, transfats, food additives - all things that are not great for either our livers or our brains. Dam, eh? It's these special non-whole-food extras that make a food label useful: what's NOT food that's in this thing? why is it there? 

How does that ingredient list of weird extras effect the calorie cost i'm paying for the nutrients i need back? I have only so many calories to spend in a day. Can i afford it, as Suze Orman asks in things financial.

What's our Food to Fuel Value, our Nutrient to Calorie Cost?

Here's an interesting finding:
By looking for High Value foods, we can actually kinda forget about the calorie budget part. 

If we optimise for High Value foods, it becomes harder to overdo the calories. 

If we optimise for high nutrient value foods, calories take care of themselves.
If we optimise for high value foods, and we want to get lean, we just have to check portion sizes - an easy way to do that is get smaller plates: use a lunch plate instead of a dinner plate. Experiment. 

Why think about calories at all, then? Two reasons: it's a ratio; it's a start

Many of us have a poor understanding of what food is and why we eat it beyond how it deals with hunger. 

By looking at foods as giving us more than either satiety (fullness) or fuel (energy), we can start to explore how those food values (nutrients) relate to these other values (calories) and start making sense of all this data. 

Also, Calories aren't evil - trying to solve dietary issues with calories alone is, well, at best, incomplete (i didn't say stupid; i said incomplete). So one way to think about calories is as currency: what do they buy us?

By learning about nutrient density - about how great whole foods are for providing nutrient density - we can then exercise better choice in what we "buy" with those calories. 

Get the best value we can from the calories we have and we'll hit satiety, fuel and leanness. We'll also be able to understand how to buy in the right amounts of food for the kinds of activities we're engaged in. More when we need more (exercising, working with a lot of load/movement); less when we need less (having a lie-about weekend, watching football). 

We don't need this equation to be happy; for folks who can just focus on whole foods, fantastic - but for folks who have tried the calorie world, and may want to have a better handle on how to make that focus work better - plugging in nutrient density to calories is way more meaningful/useful - i'd argue. 

Just focussing on calories is likely to lead to being ripped off - just as just focusing on price of something rather than quality to price - is likely to lead to buying crap

Nutrient density means that food gestalt: not just protein or carbs or glycemic index but the WHOLE, whole food picture. 

Food to fuel cost is just a way of evaluating getting the best value we can for our bodies (including our brains) from the food choices we make.

What do you think?

 Ok TC Luoma, take it away. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tuning rather than "Behaviour Change": the Make Better Normal Quest

Have you heard about behaviour change (we have standards in the UK about even this)? If you have a "bad" habit, it's a behaviour that you need to persuaded or nudged to be different, because we don't know what's good for us, and wouldn't do it if we were told to.

hmm - proximity of grocery stores to low income areas. Right
and YOUR behaviour is what needs to change?
Ever felt you needed "behaviour change" - maybe you'd like to stop reflexively reaching for that cookie, so you need to change that behaviour? Ya, ok. that's one way of seeing the situation, but what if it were one of the worst ways to address that particular foible? Behaviour change says a lot of stuff that frames YOU as the problem - it's as if we carry these diseases - that are our fault for catching in the first place - and we need to be cured - either

This paradigm of finding ways to change behaviours is becoming an increasingly dominant trope - i see it in research grant funding calls under the Health umbrella: how can we support technology to support Behaviour Change? There's the guidance mentioned above.  There is a Center of Behaviour Change

Indeed, Behaviour Change is a very "health as a medical condition" model - it comes out of clinical psychology - which comes out of working with troubled people. I'd also like to suggest that "Behaviour Change" as a big C concept that one needs like one need any medical intervention may be distinct from Theories of Behaviour Change - which is more about - why do our behaviours change? That's more exploratory than application. Nope, i'm talking about the assertion that the right way to go about a problem with health or wellbeing is, right off the bat "behaviour change" as in, from the above guidelines "train staff to help people change their behaviour." Right.

What if we postulate that Behaviour Change as this concept, might not be the best model for non-clinical people? for every day interactions and wellbeing? What if health weren't a medical condition?

 I'd like to share a few thoughts on why i think "behaviour change" as a paradigm for wellbeing for the rest of us is often (not always but way way too often) a systemic, political cop out, and propose something else that may be more meaningful and actionable in the every day: tuning.

Why bother with language change? As Debra Cameron pointed out in the 80s - she wasn't alone - and a host of dead white guys before her - language frames/creates culture, and culture is what becomes the status quo. And if the status quo is mainly expressed as a language of blame the individual for their oppression, we are caving in to crap rather than addressing the context of our servitude.

The following is a set of idea sketches around tuning. Your thoughts appreciated.

 put the load right on me - or not

Where is this angst with a term coming from? When i hear change, i hear that as an expression of significant transformation: change from one state to another - almost two different things. When i hear about behaviour change, and setting scenes from clockwork orange aside, there seems to be an assumption that i'm doing something wrong, and that must change. Again, that's my vibe, but if we look at the literature around this phrasing, you'll likely recognise this.

Now, there's an app for that
Colleagues of mine argue yeah but sometimes a person really DOES need to change in that transformational way. Indeed, but isn't that the rare case rather than the norm? The extreme end perhaps of tuning?

What's Tuning vs Change

Which brings us to the tuning concept: it's a range of values. Let's look at eating for instance, and why change breaks down as a paradigm. As a colleague at microsoft research, Natasa Millic-Frayling puts it "we all eat. do we need to change that?"

Exactly. We all eat. If we "change" eating to not eating, we have about 40 days, give or take,and then death ensues. If we include drinking in that - so no fluids, esp water, it goes to three days. Really simple. Eat or die (cake or death?)

Depending on our aspirations, we may find that we can eat better to support those desires. IF we want to be more creative and alert at work, we might dial up the whole foods like dark greens and dark berries, and dial back the nutrient poor calorie dense foods like cookies in the afternoon. We might dial back overall amount of food for awhile too to find our sweet spot.

Skills, Knowledge, Practice, Context: choice?

These ideas may sound very simple, but there's actually a hell of a lot going on in there. How would someone even begin to know to pick those combinations to spark the brain? to beat a slump? How would they figure out which bits are working or not? How would they sustain that practice if all their buddies are still serving up the Krispy Kremes?

You can see, there's a lot of knowledge happening in there, there's some skills about potentially how to access these foods efficiently and prep them, say, for work; there's a context that plays a role around opportunities to go get these foods. I just saw a story where teaching assistants in the UK are paid less than the minimum wages and have to work on average two extra jobs to get by. What support do they have to get brain foods, or do experiments to tune in what ratios work for them? And if we can't practice something with some regularity, we do not develop skills. we do not reinforce knowledge.

If we don't have knowledge, skills, opportunities to practice, how can we make choices? how can we make informed choices?

Want to learn more about Tuning for Creativity?
try this slide share on in5 for creative excellence

So the concept of TUNING vs Change says, you probably don't need to change around eating - you may need some knowledge about how food choices align with your values and aspirations; you might need some skills about how to execute that knowledge, and you might need some access and social support to build that practice.


Tuning isn't also just about the individual. Tuning can be about how do we better design our environments and infrastructures to support better creativity, better quality of life - better health?
My humble hypothesis is, if we had a better normal, there wouldn't have to be behaviour change.

Why do we need behaviour change? Does Normal Suck?
What is an example of make better normal. If there isn't an elevator, except for parcel delivery and handicap access (sort of like designated parking spaces) people would take the stairs. Why does that little bolus of stair taking matter? Because our sedentary lifestyles, research indicates, are having an effect similar to smoking: they're killing us. More movement more of the time is key physiologically.

What cultural priorities are expressed in these technological marriages?
Another example of making better normal: put sit stand desks in people's workspaces. Again research shows that given the option, people will make use of standing positions 50-60% of the time. More movement: better health, and standing does the trick. (Here's an overview of this sit/stand related research)

Another example of making better normal: stop subsidising corn and feedlot beef - driven by fast food - and why have we elevated fast food to an art form? so more people can eat in the car (1 in 5 meals in the US is consumed in the car) because they are too tired to get up early enough to have breakfast, or too tired to make dinner. Work sucks. Do you eat lunch at your desk? is any of it processed food? See? Now what's going on there?

This cycle that reinforces the status quo is what i'm talking about: normal sucks. Normal in a knowledge worker culture is sedentarism, long hours, poor pay and crap food choices at the grocery store.

And you tell me i have bad behaviours and need to change? That it's my fault i'm overweight/obese?

The Un Status Quo - Design to Make Better Normal; Make Normal Better

What if meal trucks that served healthy foods to time starved workers running three jobs, had it there in the am and prepapred great food to take home for their families? What if that business model were the norm? So many folks out of work - so many folks who can learn and maybe love cooking skills. This idea came out of a great chat with Casey Choosewood of NIOSH/CDC who care about wellbeing at work as a whole person issue.

What if there was technology that coordinated fresh veg that stores were getting rid of (stores have made public how much fresh food gets binned each day) and rather than wasting could be used by this food truck posse at reduced cost? so that rather than using food subsidy coupons to go to a fast food joint, they got tasty delicious meals?

i keep imagining food trucks like those hannah grant has for team support of her Saxo bike team - filled with people over 50 who have been laid off and love to cook, and now they get wages and great meals as a perk to take home and new skills. They work with high tech info systems that coordinate food disbursement. Maybe they go on to open their own businesses. Or run the food trucks, or coordination or...

Behaviour change: mistaking the site of pain for the source of pain

You'll hear a lot of movement specialists say "the site of pain is not the source of pain" - in other words having a sore shoulder doesn't mean the issue is in the shoulder. It could be a visual issue; could be scar tissue triggering something; could be something happening in the liver 

From just the number of folks i've worked with, this lesson comes back over and over again - work with someone with shoulder pain; affect considerable change by looking at visual performance (can you stair at a dot? some people find this really challenging): deal with that, wow, look what happens with range of motion in the shoulder.

TUNING - it's not about the site of pain; it's options; exploration - having the skills/knowledge/context to find what works for you, for now. Tuning the environment to find what supports a better normal

For me, what i'm finding is that behaviour change - perhaps especially in the hands of popular press or even energised researchers who are not subject experts around cognitive behavioural therapy, it's really easy to jump on the behaviour change band wagon: you there, you're overeating. stop that. wait, i have an app that will fix that and persuade you and build new habits. You won't even know you're being manipulated into this new habit. 

Yes that's extreme - maybe - but i'm having a moment. 

Tuning says - i don't actually know exactly what optimal is - i have some heuristics that we can start from to get to alignment - to dial in practice to values and aspiration -

imagine a gifted mechanic working with a car that seems to be making that funny pinging sound - sure sometimes that person might know - or might believe they know - exactly what it is right off - but how often does that happen? what's more likely the case? They work the problem.

We're way cooler than cars. When we work a problem it's not to find THE solution - who knows what THE solution is or even if one exists but AN APPROACH THAT WORKS and adds to our resilience.

Hence, Tuning also says there are multiple paths to an effect. For instance - having trouble burning fat? Maybe some food tuning could happen, but if that feels insurmountable what about looking at sleeps? what about looking at having a coffee with friends? Un huh, as i've written about elsewhere - because we're complex systems we have many ways to tune in better performance, better alignment 

Tuning says: make better normal - how do we tune our environments so that it is effortless to be optimal?
does this mean better quality food in the canteens at work? group support to walk? Better ways to coordinate work for optimal sleep?

Social options to engage in volunteer activities at times you're available? Colleague Ryan Andrews found a garden activity, i think, where he can work in a garden during the week, and the food goes to folks in need. Isn't that cool? That would do so much for us over watching TV at night. Blending movement, socialising, getting tired in the body, recovering in the mind. awesome. Here's an example of this kind of activity.

And again, for some folks trying to get by with multiple jobs, who are "time starved" - they have no time to give - and that's not a behaviour change issue - at least not theirs, right? How do we design systems to support this wellbeing, systemically? back to Food Trucks? Do we pick on ourselves and each other because it's easier than say, taking on fast food or monsanto (more on that point here)?

Yup, what i'm proposing by tuning is to find paths to design against the status quo to make better normal, and evolve the status quo into where better is normal. And while we do that, stop looking at each other as if we're sick rather than the system that produces illness.

We know the story right? 19th C work conditions folks weren't obese as food was not abundant, but all sorts of other diseases associated with work conditions were rife and killing people. These were systemic. In the knowledge economy calorie dense nutrient poor, sedentary LIFESTYLES reinforced status quo - resistance is - well, challenging. Make Better Normal - help tune in better.  Less effort more "better normal." 

Tuning is More Complex than Behaviour Change - Respect the Complex
For me, the idea of tuning and that it's about exploring multiple paths to find those sweet harmonics that make things click, individually, socially, who knows, maybe politically, is that it's not a single factor, big pill solution. "behaviour change' says "you there: you eat too many cookies: stop eating cookies" 
Why? Maybe if we looked at the work place we'd see there's no social interaction or support, and if we looked at improving workplace interaction quality, the cookie thing would fall away - effortlessly. 

Our complexity is a gift - it means we have thousands of ways to make progress over thousands of paths.   Tuning is a gentle dialing in or tweaking of possible paths of things we already do to help them get closer in tune, to push a metaphor, with what we value - for ourselves, our families, our community, our work, our lives together. 

Tuning  asks what in the whole context - not just me - can be tuned better to support a better normal for all of us, all the time. 
How do we design to make better normal/make normal better? IF we do that, doesn't behaviour change largely just go away?

food for thought, anyway.
As said, the above is some sketches - keen to hear your thoughts.
to me, Tuning feels more explorable, testable, safer, and less "your fault" than the medical/clinical model of behaviour change. That reduced threat may also make that change you seek more doable. And being motivated to design better tuned systems may reduce the need for changed anything anyway, eh?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What's the Right Fish to Eat and How Travel Healthy When Road Food is Crap

What kind of protein is the right protein to eat? how eat right on the road? does age matter - for working out or eating?

At a recent workshop a variety of colleagues asked me about food. Actually, that's not quite right.
Words like Protein and Calories came up - food not so much - we'll come back to that one.

I have a wonderful email from a colleague asking a few more of these "things we consume" type questions, so i thought, why not share? We've all i bet had some of these questions ourselves, so let's dig in. Here's the note:

What fish is good for protein? All everyone seems to talk about is Tuna and Salmon. As a fish/veggie it’s interesting to see how many blogs etc. are chicken-centric.
Also I meant to ask, I  can spend weeks away from home, what were the greens and protein that you mentioned?

"What fish is good for protein?"

I love that question: there's so much going on in it, isn't there? What i'm seeing is a sense that fish is a good thing, in this case for Protein, and what is good for that? There's a special interest around fish because it seems the person doesn't do red meat - so the only thing in the "with eyes" category of food, would be fish.

So how approach this?
in a word: mackerel  (N. Atlantic, Chub) 
Another word: sardines.
here's why:

The kinds of things going on in my head are
- well yes fish is a whole protein so good stuff - but the reason a lot of people eat fish is for the double benefit of the types of fats in it (omega 3's in particular) as well as protein.

 food colour chart
easy heuristics
to get colours
on your plate
for whole food
Vegetarians have the wonderful opportunity to get a rich variety of protein by combining deep rich colors on the plate - thereby doing better than many meat eaters in getting the phytochemicals we need to help process food and recharge the electrochemical soup that is us.
Quick aside: Various kinds of phytochemicals help the minerals and vitamins in our foods do what we need them to do. They also have cool assistive properties - like Lutein found in spinach - great for eyes (more on phytos here)

Indeed, meat eaters are encouraged to have as many awesome vegetarian days a week as possible. Why? we need more kinds of nutrients than are in muscle meat alone.  And yup, even if you're getting your weekly shots of liver for example most of us still need the phyto mineral vitamin goodness of whole foods whole colour palette.

Colour combinations: An easy way to eat for whole health?

COLOUR (see info graphic here). Take this challenge: what's
the most number of rich colors you ever get on a plate - from the darks of black beans to the rich purples of beats, greens of kale or spinach, whites of cauliflower, deep yellows/oranges - where will you go for these? Focus on colours, striving for that over a day, over the course of a week, the phytos and related come for free. And we're talking whole food here, not processed food with colouring, eh?

Protein by Colour Combination - and yup, if the focus is on optimising colour, you'll get all the protein you need - and it's not the old beans and rice combo you may have thought was essential (overview on whole proteins via veggies and legumes here)

FISH CHOICE! i digress - to the fish choice posed...THAT DEPENDS

Tuna or salmon? if one plans on having more than one meal for the rest of their lives - if fish is a regular part of the diet - it doesn't matter - variety is good.

Salmon - in the wild - may have higher protein per gram than tuna. But again, in a headspace focused on optimising colour and whole food variety, it all evens out.

That said, you'll notice i also said about salmon "in the wild"  - most salmon in the stores in the EU is farmed. (Oh to be in washington state in june/july when wild king salmon is everywhere and dirt cheap). But this is a choice about farmed or chose for not farmed. How make that choice?

It's not clear to me that farmed salmon is ecologically viable or that it has the same bits to it that attracts people to it in the first place (previous post outlining concerns about farmed salmon): we are what we eat; fish, no different - if farmed salmon are getting fed a lot of corn as food (not their natural food source for sure, right?), not only is that odd, it also has physiological side effects: they are not going to be producing the omega3's in their fats in the same way that a fish chowing on algae is. And we kinda need omega 3's to balance all the omega 6's in our lives (more on that balance equation here) So for both the issues around farmed salmon practices and around nutrient quality of farmed salmon personally i tend to avoid farmed salmon.

The other consideration of fish that's netted up out of the waters is mercury levels. What do we know about these? Typically not going over a pound of big oily fish a week is good - in fact the recommendations may be for less, pending type of fish - because of the mercury concerns.

But there is a fish one can have without fear of wrecking stocks or ingesting poison, and so far that's been the little guys like mackerel (from the north atlantic) and sardines. Awesome in the morning to kick off the day with good stuff. Half a mackerel and some spinach, perhaps serve the spinach in a home-made broth (i have to tell you about pressure cookers and broth. oh wow! another time). Wow.

So how's that for the fish/protein thing?

q2: TRAVEL and keeping up decent food values.

As a travel back up when i have no idea what the veggies will be like or the protein source (what to do when the only thing with eyes is farmed salmon?) i travel with supplements. Two in particular: protein powder and greens.


 i like rice based protein powders and i get them from in the US(try code MCS110 if you order for 5% off) or i like sun warrior  in the UK or US.

TIP for LEAN DESIRE - Even if there is food at the venue, esp if you're trying to cut weight, having a wee protein shake (just protein and water) before going out to dine can let you eat less of the served food and still feel good.


We've touched on the wonders of phytochemicals. Well, veggies/fruits have more happening in them than phytos. So how travel with the goodness of greens? Dehydrate them, of course.

There are all sorts of greens powders where various combinations of various good things have been pulverised to optimise available goodness. In this space, I  dig a particular brand of greens  made in canada and available in the UK and North america - by Enerex.  In the US a lovely company, takes care of distributing and working with Enerex canada. I mean it: these are passionate people. In the UK, you can get the greens from bodykind (i like the ones with mixed berries to change it up, too).

I like this brand because it's been used in research studies. You may have a greens that you like - that's cool - i just like the results on these. so it's the one i recommend - no affiliate ties - nothing - just like the stuff.

WHOLE FOOD FALL BACK - please note - i'm talking about protein and greens here rather than whole foods by way of travel expedient.
The reason that whole food is better more times than not is that it comes prepackaged with all the wrappers of phytos and vits we need to make the most use of what's in these foods. Same with vitamins - these are SUPPLEMENTS to whole foods, gap fillers for occasional use. ANd they're ok too as we learn to get better and more efficient about finding and prepping those whole foods.  In short: go for whole foods in your travels whenever possible - not processed crap served at a buffet or slathered in goodness knows what - but stuff you can identify.

Other travel strategies that i use: stay at a hotel that has a fridge and possibly a stove top and then get some food at a local grocery. Locations of such things can be sourced in advance of travel. Marriott seems to have a variety of hotel types that have the kitchenette options. I like Residence Inn's for these reasons.  And residence inns will go and get your groceries as part of your stay. Just give them the list; the stuff will be in your room.

Folks at PrecisionNutrition have even more strategies for travel - and they also have a pretty durn good plan towards food in general (overview of Precision Nutrition v3) I think they've also recently cut the price in half for PNv4, too. You can check it out for free with these Strategies for Success (43page pdf)

If not into cooking, Just having a fridge can be awesome. You may need to ask the hotel: if the fridge is one of those you get charged for anything you take out? ask housekeeping to take everything out for your stay - they may get a little stroppy about it, but they will do it. Then you have your fridge.

Cans of sardines are also easy to source at most stores, and will keep in the fridge. So will cans of black beans (high ratio of protein).

Other SUPS for travel
i like to take vitamin d, and for vegetarians a b supplement. In fact this is one time a multivitamin may not be a bad idea since food quality may be uncertain.

Ok, i also take zinc and magnesium with me. Zinc can be v.useful when fending off a cold - a constant travel risk - and zinc, magnesium and b6 have been shown to help sleep if you're low on these minerals/vits - and sleep is a toughy on the road. And most of us are low on magnesium. So i use a chelated zinc and chelated magnesium - that means they have proteins with them that let the minerals cross from the gut into the rest of the body.

FISH OIL ASIDE Also, while i take fishoil in liquid form at home, travelling with fish oil pills is awesome.
There's loads of brands - i recommend looking for triglyceride based rather than ethyl esthers purely for absorption rates. Take less of the natural stuff for better return.

If you're looking for a brand, I love nordic naturals again because it's used in a lot of fish oil research. If you're in the states, and would like to try this brand, here's a way you can get a discount
1. go to
2. click on "patients referred by practitioners". for a product and order page.
3. use code 88791 for “patient self sign up” when asked 
4. and i'd recommend hit Arctic Omega Liquid - 8 oz
here's a note: YOU get a discount this way; not me. it's not an affiliate thing. it's just folks coming to this company via me get better than standard retail prices for great quality. 

Here's another geek thing for travel - take a bowl, and possibly a steal travel mug
For bowels i love correll - unbreakable, washable pseudo china. i can travel with a bowl, have little packages of miso soup, and, if there's a fridge i can get spinach or even dehydrated sea weed that blossoms in the hot water - make the miso soup, put in some greens - the hot water blanches the greens and i'm off.
The only thing to ask the hotel about in advance is: can i have an electric kettle put in my room. In canada and the UK this is pretty standard (we like our tea) but in the US, not so much anymore, but usually easy to get.


There's a lot of info here, but the heuristics are simple: get loads of rich colours on your plate and you don't have to think about anything.
Think whole food rather than macronutrients, so asking about fish is great rather than protein, for example, awesome (we eat food not macronutrients - unless we're living on supplements)

NEXT complement to food: having a plan for getting your body jazzed up if there's no gym at the hotel, or the gym at the hotel just has cardio machines. Maybe we can talk about those strategies in the future?


Hope some of these suggestions help.


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