What is Real? (Is it what you can taste and smell?)

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Lets face it.  We are living in a dream world. And the truly sad reality is that we don’t even know it.  You probably never tasted real food.  No two ways about it. If your first response is “No, It can’t be. I eat food every day”. It seems our problem then is that we don’t truly understand what we are tasting.  I would say that its okay because most people don’t understand it either, but the reality is that it is this lack of understanding that is going to end up being the death of us all.

Humans have a very profound distinction in that we are the only living creature on Earth that willingly eats things that we know are bad for us.   How many times do we talk about having cheats meals, and tell ourselves that ” I earned this”.  Its not a cheat meal because we think it is good for us.  We know it is bad, but the problem is that we still want it anyway.   So lets dig into that a little more.

If we look at the things that we know are bad for us a few things tend to stand out.  What do we like to eat as our cheat meals?  Cookies, Ice Cream, Pizza, Chips, and so on and so forth.  The initial thought is that we like these foods because they are sweet, salty or fats. And to some degree that is correct. There are plenty of studies that show that certain foods can activate or stimulate the pleasure centers of our brain.  That’s part of the answer but that’s not quite it.  things get a little deeper than that.   If all I wanted was something sweet then why doesn’t drinking a glass of nothing but sugar water taste or even sound appealing. Even if you were to drink it most people would agree that it was “too sweet”. We would drink some and then not want any more.   So maybe its not just the sugar that we are after.

There are quite a few studies that are starting to reveal that taste can actually change to reflect our nutrient needs.  It has been observed in grazing animal by watching the types of grass that they eat.  Animals that were made deficient in certain nutrients were found to change their diet and search out grass that had the missing nutrients.  They do not consciously know what nutrients are missing but what has changed is that their ability to taste has changed. The grass that tasted good last week is no longer the same grass they want the net week. The literally hunger for a nutrient and they taste different grass until they find the one that satisfies that nutrient hunger.

Humans are theoretically capable of the same thing, when women become pregnant their taste changes. They like different foods and are craving certain foods. We do the same thing when we get dehydrated, we crave water.  There are varying levels to our ability to acknowledge this. The main thing is that this is not necessarily pass down through genetics but through learned behavior. As we eat a larger variety of foods, our body begins to understand what foods fill gaps in its needs.  This seemingly can happen without out conscious understanding. There is also a limiter. Even the good things we eat, there are times when enough is enough.  When you are thirsty you don’t keep drinking until you make yourself sick. At some point your body lets you know that your are satisfied.  Our bodies are very capable of knowing how to take care of itself even without us knowing.

But somewhere along the way we fucked it all up.

If our body can learn to crave the things that we need, then why is that we find ourselves craving things that are so bad for us?

The answer is simple,  Gas Chromatology.

A few decades ago we came up with this process and the device that allowed us to identify certain molecules.  In this case they were able to identify what molecules were in a substance, and from there they were able to determine that molecule A is responsible for this taste, and that Molecule B was responsible for this smell.   Smell and taste would combine to create what we recognize as flavor.   With the knowledge of what molecules create flavor, the unimaginable happened, we started making stuff taste like other things.

If we think back to the sugar water that was “too sweet” earlier, we can add the numerous flavor chemicals used to create “lemon” flavor and now not only will we drink all the sugar water but we might even ask for another.     So what happened?

We like sweet stuff, but even then not too much sweet stuff. But if we add the right flavor and not only do we bypass our internal limiter on how much we want, but we might even or drink things we would have never started in the first place.

“Maybe they got it wrong. Maybe what I think Tasty Wheat tasted like actually tasted like mat11.jpgoatmeal, or tuna fish. That makes you wonder about a lot of things. You take chicken, for example: maybe they couldn’t figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything.”

There is an entire billion dollar industry based on flavor.  Since the first flavor molecule was identified there have been several thousand individual taste and smells identified that can be combined in infinite combination to create the flavors that we have grown fond of.  Everything from chips to drinks to even some of the meat and vegetables that we eat.  To varying degrees, almost any food that you buy at the grocery store has had something done to enhance to alter the flavor.

But Why? Simple Answer: because flavor will sell product. If you eat more of it, you will buy more of it.   Sadly, this not the end of the line.

Meat and Poultry is a very interesting business. The amount of beef, chicken, pork and other meats consumed on a daily basis is astounding.  The idea of how to increase profit margins when it comes to livestock comes down to this. The longer it takes an animal to get to market weight/size is longer that it has to be taken care of: food, water, shelter etc…  So how can I get animals to get bigger faster.  Its simple you have to get them to eat more.  How do they do it? Early experiments in just trying to cram more food down a chickens beak were… let’s just say, less than successful.  So, the trick was flavoring. If they flavored the food animals would eat more.

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Just like you and I have probably experienced, you can’t eat just one chip. Regardless of how hard you try, everyone always goes back for another, and another, and maybe another. And guess what? you probably weren’t even that hungry to begin with.  if it can happen to you and that damn bowl of chips, you can rest assured those animals fall victim to the same thing.  It tastes so good they just want to eat more.  chips

This isn’t a cry for animal cruelty, but it is a very different take on how we look on nutrition. The same concept that allows us to increase the rate that chickens gain weight, is very much the same concept that causes humans to gain weight.  The flavors in our food cause us to eat more than we should.

So how do I know? The flavor “recipes” of most foods are closely guarded secrets. Very closely guarded.  But there are some fairly recognizable ingredients.

Acetic acid Gives vinegar its sour taste and distinctive smell
Ascorbic acid Found in oranges and green peppers and gives a crisp, slightly sour taste, better known as vitamin C
Citric acid Found in citrus fruits and gives them their sour taste
Fumaric acid Not found in fruits, used as a substitute for citric and tartaric acid
Lactic acid Found in various milk or fermented products and give them a rich tartness
Malic acid Found in apples and gives them their sour/tart taste
Phosphoric acid Used in some cola drinks to give an acid taste
Tartaric acid Found in grapes and wines and gives them a tart taste

The other thing to keep in mind is sweeteners. Even artificial sweeteners. Drinking a diet soda because it doesn’t have sugar may not be as helpful as you thought.  We convince ourselves that we are eating healthier because it doesn’t have sugar, but the reality is that its not the sugar that is the biggest fault, its that you are still drinking a soda.

You can drive your car to work or you can carpool, but regardless you are still going to work.  Just the same,  doesn’t matter what gets you to drink the soda as long as you keep buying.

So now what?

In my nutrition classes, I usually tell people that if you find yourself craving cookies and not something healthy like a salad, apple or even mixed nuts then it is just that, only a craving.  the reality is that you can’t really escape flavoring in food. And to be honest its not all bad. We do it all the time anyways. Thyme, Basil, paprika, pepper, salt.  The key is understanding that there is good food, and then there is food made to taste good, and when it comes down to it, be aware of what’s in the food you eat and just make a better choice.

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For further reading

The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor

Steak: One Mans Search For The Tastiest Piece of Beef

Both by Mark Schatzker

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Is Crossfit WEIRD ?

There are plenty in the world that would call Crossfit a little weird, but could it be argued that Crossfit is too WEIRD.  This isn’t weird in the sense that Crossfit and the folks that have drank the Crossfit Kool-Aid are bizarre and strange, but more in the sense of Joseph Heinrich’s concept of W.E.I.R.D.

WEIRD is a psychology/sociology concept that was introduced by Joseph Heinrich.  His concept proposed that a disproportionate amount of behavioral science theory was being based on the American population. In this case, A recent survey of the top journals in  psychology revealed that 68% of subjects were from the US and fully 96% from ‘Western’ industrialized nations (European, North American, Australian or Israeli). That would mean that the studies on human behavior had a 96% concentration on only 12% of the world’s population. Or, to put it another way, you’re 4000 times more likely to be studied by a psychologist if you’re a university undergraduate at a Western university than a randomly selected individual.  In this way he supposed that much of research was being based off a biased sample of the population.

But what does that have to do with Crossfit and fitness? Is there a similar pattern reflected in the people who Crossfit?  Is there a sociological between these factors and the masses that Crossfit?  Joseph Heinrich coined the concept of WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) to define the distinctiveness of those identified in these studies, but can the same imbalance be found in Crossfit? Is Crossfit participation or biased towards a more WEIRD population?

W – Western

There are two ways that I have found this to be a distinguishing feature.   The first is through simple geography. Below was the listed allocations for Crossfit Games Regionals Qualifiers.

10 men and 10 women from Asia, Africa,  Latin America.

20 men and 20 women from Canada West,  Canada East and all U.S. Open Regions

30 men and 30 women from Australia and Europe

To put this in perspective, there are more than 7 Billion people in the world and of that three of the top five are from Asia (China, India, Indonesia), with that region representing just under 60% of the world population. However from this region there are only 10 Men and 10 Women invited to Crossfit Regionals.

1 Asia                          4,478,315,164      59.6 %
2 Africa                       1,246,504,865      16.6 %
3 Europe                     739,207,742           9.8 %
4 Latin America        647,565,336           8.6 %
5 Northern America 363,224,006          4.8 %
6 Oceania                      40,467,040          0.5 %

Based off the selection ratios this will bring about a higher “western” or primarily American or European representation despite the higher “eastern” population.  Some of this is by design in that the methods used by Crossfit to determine these allocations are to support the the relative competitiveness and spectator ship anticipated.

For a better breakdown of the Crossfit regions. Crossfit Games Regional Breakdown

I also like to take this a little bit deeper. Even in the break out of the higher percentage of “Western”  athletes, there is another “W” to be aware of.  Much of Crossfitters tend to be “White collar” workers. Business men and women of different levels,  teachers, nurses, etc. These is not a high showing of construction workers, plumbers, and other specific trade skills.  The exception here is military, Law Enforcement and Firefighters. This may because of the need for physical ability in the performance of their jobs.  “Blue Collar” workers may have physically demanding jobs, but most are not working all day and then coming into the gym.  Next time you are working around look around and see how many grease stained, dirty or calloused hands before working out.  These is nothing against Blue’collar workers but the reality is that if you spend your day outside working with your hands or in the environment and weather, then you tend to be less likely to come to into your local box before or after work.

E – Educated

This doesn’t mean that everyone who Crossfits has a degree or even a diploma, but when we talked previously about the preponderance of “White Collar” athletes, that is because most of them have received some form of Western education, regardless of level or institution. High School, Associates, Vocational, Bachelors, Graduate;

I – Industrialized

There are plenty of people that have had to do some workouts in some austere conditions. Military serving overseas in remote areas tend to be the bulk population for this. Most of us attend our local box down the street. They may not always have the latest and greatest equipment from Rogue, but generally they have some decent equipment in the form of barbells and plates, kettlebells, rowers, and a collection other implements. Some places will also have tires and sandbags, but these tend to get used less frequently.   Our equipment is steel bars, formed rubber places, forged cannonballs with handles.  Far and few are the people routinely lifting logs and rocks and other improvised items to work out.

R – Rich

Lets be honest Crossfit is not cheap. It’s not. I have seen a variety of different pricing options for memberships. Most places tend to do a monthly membership, but i have seen places that have punch card options.  With the monthly memberships I have seen some places charge on the low end of $100 a month and to the high end $325 a month.  Compared to the $19.95 memberships that are available at some non-crossfit facilities, a three digit Crossfit membership is an investment.  I believe receiving quality coaching is a much higher need for most of the population than just having access to equipment and a facility, but the reality is that we all do not have the time or the funds to justify having a Crossfit membership.  This is another reason that much of the crossfit population tends to be white collar workers with more disposable income.

D -Democratic

Democratic society may not be the biggest factor so much as being a capitalist society. It is no secret that Crossfit founder Greg Glassman is an Libertarian and it is reflected in the way that he manages his corporation and affiliates.  Each affiliate is essentially its own independent small business and is “allowed” to succeed or fail based on its own merits. This format has allowed Crossfit affiliates to flourish in countries / regions that are more small business friendly. This has not prevented affiliates from opening up in countries that are traditionally communist, or have increased government restrictions.

 

In the end, Crossfit is at its heart an “American-made” product.  Its draw has allowed it to become popular throughout the international community.  Despite the the spread of its popularity, there is a strong argument that Crossfit participants are strongly biased towards a WEIRD demographic.  Even though there is a stronger opportunity for Crossfit to be more popular and accessible in more Western or Democratic cultures, it has started to see growth all across the world. The question remains whether Crossfit will maintain this degree of bias but across higher participation numbers or will this bias begin to “even” out as the more people across the globe begin taking sips of the “Kool-Aid”

 

For Further Reading

World Population

The Weirdest People in the World

 

Tonic and Phasic – Why you can’t treat your muscles the same.

The basics are the same.  Our nervous system sends a signal. Groups of muscle fibers respond and contract.  Muscle groups work in concert with each other to create motion in our skeleton.  The action of this muscle contraction is across the hinge of any variety of joint.  Using this joint as a fulcrum, the two lengths opposite the joint either increase their angle or decrease their angle.

Got all that?  Ok good.  When our muscles contract and result in an increased or “opening” of this angle we call it extension. When we decrease or “close” this angle we call it flexion.  There are plenty of other actions that can occur. Rotation, supination, pronation… but we are going to focus on extension and flexion.

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Crossfitters and their Gear

Through the years that I have been involved with Crossfit I have seen quite the evolution in the amount of gear available, as well as the styles of gear that is now available. Some of the obvious styles changes is in the shoes that everyone is now wearing, but then there is also an abundance of specialized gear that has become more prevalent on the market. I think that some of it has been for the better, but at the same time not all of it has. Read More

Moving Dirt

As crossfitters and coaches we always ask for everyone to always give 100% effort. The reality of this statement is that from day to day your 100% may have varied results from day to day.  Results are not promised. The only thing guaranteed is the process.

Sometimes your 100 percent is a sprint, other days it might be a walk or even a crawl.  We all have days where we come in to the gym breathing fire, ready to Clang and Bang some weights and hit a few PRs. Other days we come in and we are measuring our success in the simple fact that we got to the gym that day.

We have all had those days, the weight seems a little bit heavier than usual. We aren’t moving quite as fast. Sometimes its because its the end of the week, or that we worked a crazy work schedule prior to getting to the gym. This should not be an excuse for not putting in the work, it is just realizing that everyday is different and everyday our performance may vary.

One of he best analogies that I have heard came from John Welbourne at Power Athlete. Training is like building a mountain. Some days you are moving dirt and building this mountain with a shovel, and other days all you have is a spoon. You can still give a 100% effort with what ever you have that day. thJTJ6DIHN

Every day is a chance to get better. I know for me that sometimes those are the best days to just find a workout that I can grind though. Not necessarily heavy Olympic lifting or very technical gymnastics, because I know that on these days I am just going to miss lifts I normally would make and end up walking away feeling defeated and beat up. These are the days I drag or push some sleds, throw around sandbags, flip some tires, hit some sledgehammer. I’m not working to PR anything, I am working on being able to grind out some work and move some dirt. Doesn’t have to be pretty.  All you need to do is supply the effort that you got available.  Rather than it being a day where you didn’t feel like you are firing on all cylinders, you can walk away having actually put yourself through a nice training session.

So on those days where you don’t need a rest day, but you aren’t up for an elaborate or technical workout, you can still get out and Move some dirt and still work on that mountain.

miracle-gro-natures-care-wet-large-7

 

The Laws of Fitness: The Law of Diminished Returns

Improving performance is a process.  It doesn’t happen over night and it doesn’t come without a lot of work. In fact,  one thing that becomes apparent as we progress as athletes: The better we get, the harder we have to work to get better.

Everyone starts their path of training at different times, with different levels of experience and for a multitude of different reasons. There is commonality in the things that happen to us when we all start, regardless of whether we are trying to run faster, go longer, lift heavier and more. quads

We get started on a new program, we start training and for the first week or so, we are sore. Our body is trying to get used to the “abuse” that we call training.  Soon after that we quickly see increases in strength and speed.  We start to see progress and it seems like all we have to do is more and the results will keep coming. The day eventually comes when the progress starts to slow down.  We have to do twice as much to get half the results.

Depending on our level of experience, the first 1-3 weeks of a new program is all about Inter-Muscular Coordination. This means that we our Central Nervous System is learning which muscles to use and when. We may be able to start moving more weight but it has nothing to do with strength. Imagine that you and friends were going to push a car. This phase would be like trying to pick which friends and how many you need to push.  The car is obviously going to be able to move faster, based off the fact that you have learned to recruit more to your cause.

The Next 1-3 weeks, is about Intra-Muscular Coordination. Now that our body knows which muscles to use, we now have to get all the muscles to work together.  This involves developing timing and balance. Not just getting one muscle to work at the right time, but being able to properly utilize a whole muscle group or groups.  Back to our car pushing analogy, this would mean getting everyone in our group to heave and push together and at the same time.

These first two phases are often considered the Novice phase. This has nothing to do with your level of experience or athletic background. This is solely based on how your body is responding to the stimulus. In these phases, it seems like everything that you do is making you stronger or faster and that all you have to do is keeping doing more. dyel

After so many week we finally hit the prized phase of Hypertrophy. This is the point where I body realizes that it has turned on the right muscles and that they are working together, but they need more. Your body then turned to increases muscle size and density in an effort to increase contractile force of the muscle.  In order for this phase to continue, we must continue to provide stimulus that our body will respond to. In addition to this we must also be able to provide the correct nutrition for our body to be able to grow and develop our muscles.

The unfortunate part is that most people do not always make it to this point.  They assume that because their progress has slowed down that the program is no longer working. This could not be further from the truth. Reaching this phase is where your body actually begins making changes. Far too many people will start a program and only do it for 6-8 weeks and then stop because their growth slowed, and then start something else. They then wonder why it seems that they never get any stronger.  People will consider this an insurmountable plateau and move on to a new program. In fact, once you reach the hypertrophy phase there will be several plateau’s that one will work through. gain-muscle-protein-meme-284x300

In contrast to this, muscles take a lot of protein and nutrients to be maintained and develop.  This is why if we take too much time away from training our muscles begin to atrophy.  Muscle mass that is very nutritionally expensive to build, and if it isn’t being used our body begins breaking it down so that the body will not need so many resources.

The worst part is that you can’t always just do more for the sake of doing more. There is only so much time in the day and so much volume that our bodies can endure without reaching the point of exhaustion and potentially causing injury.

There is no escaping it. The harder you work, the harder you will have to work. This is what will separate the novice athletes who are perpetually jumping from program to program, and the committed who work day in and day out.

The Laws of Fitness: Wolff’s Law

We work out with the intent of increasing the strength and size of our musculature.  At that the same time that we are working on our muscles, our body is also thinking about our bone structure.  Without a skeleton to provide support our muscles become practically useless. Our bicep cannot create flexion with out a joint and to structures with which to create flexion. Just like a crane is useless without a cable AND a boom, we are not able to create the movement we need without both parts. Luckily with all the time that we spend working on our muscles, our body is smart enough also strengthen our skeleton. Read More

The Laws Of Fitness: Davis’ Law

We do Yoga. We stretch. We work our mobility.  We do all of these things and more and generally with a few of the same basic ideas in mind. We want to improve our range of motion and reduce our chance of injury.

Davis’ Law is details how our soft tissue (tendons, ligaments and fascia) adapt under stress and lack of stress. Read More