Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Athletic Performance?

April 7, 2014

   Did you know that consuming alcohol after a workout, practice or competition can cancel out any physiological gains you may have received during your session. Not only does long term alcohol use diminish protein synthesis that results in a decrease in muscle build-up, short term alcohol use prevents muscle growth, which is one of the reasons we work out so hard.

   Now, I'm not saying you should become a teetotaler. I like wine tasting and here in Cambria we live in one of the world's great wine regions. But if you're trying to make progress — whether you're a walker or an elite athlete — it's wise to be judicious about alcohol consumption. We know a lot more about its effects on athletic performance today than we did back when Tour de France riders drank wine on their bikes during a race!

In view of Alcohol Awareness Month in April, here are some effects to be aware of on athletic performance when drinking alcohol:

Human Growth Hormone — To build bigger and stronger muscles our body needs sleep to repair itself after a workout. Because of alcohol's effect on sleep the body is robbed of HGH or human growth hormone. HGH is a part of the normal muscle building and repair process and the body's way of telling itself your muscles need to grow and get stronger. It can decrease this secretion by as much as 70 percent.

Testosterone — One thing that is essential for muscle development and recovery is testosterone. But alcohol triggers the production of a substance in your liver that is toxic to testosterone. And yes, testosterone is important for women too. According to Clif Arrington, of based in Hawaii, says it can improve memory, boost energy, revive your interest in sex, and in general increase your entire sense of well being.

Dehydration and Muscle Cramps — Alcohol slows down the body's ability to heal itself. Alcohol is a toxin — toxins travel through our bloodstream to our body's organs and tissues. By the time you become severely dehydrated your body no longer has enough fluids to get blood to your organs. In extreme situations an individual can go into shock which can be life threatening. 

Vital Nutrients — Not only is alcohol lacking any nutritional value it also inhibits the absorption of thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B12, folic acid and zinc. Thiamin is essential to optimal performance. It plays an important role in metabolizing carbohydrates. Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy red blood and nerve cells. Folic acid is involved in the formation of new cells. A lack of folic acid causes megoloblastic anemia which is a lowering of oxygen carrying capacity. This will effect one's endurance. Zinc is essential to your energy metabolic process.

Energy Source — Once absorbed through your stomach, small intestines and cells, it can can disrupt the water balance in muscle cells. This disruption changes their ability to produce ATP, adenosine triphosphate, which is your muscles’ source of energy. ATP provides the fuel needed  for muscle contraction.

   So given all this information I will conclude that, yes indeed, alcohol does affect athletic performance. And let's face it whether we are running our first 5k, powerwalk, marathon, triathalon or just trying to build muscle and stay healthy it can effect our ability to reach our goals. I truly believe that we are all athletes in our own way and the more information we have to figure out the best way we can achieve our goals the easier it is to make those decisions along the way.

Muscle Mass and Aging

March 31, 2014

   Your skeletal muscles, also known as lean muscle, are the muscles that attach to your bones and are under voluntary control. As you age your skeletal muscle mass starts to deteriorate. I'm writing this post with the thought that I can give you a realistic sense of what happens to your muscles as you age, and then I'll conclude with the good news about weight bearing and aerobic exercise.

   Starting at age 40, muscle mass begins to decline. It accelerates by 50. Bone mass or density loss in women after menopause is common and our bones begin to lose calcium and other minerals. The rate of muscle loss is faster than the muscle we gain. Our bodies don't work as efficiently as they used to, which leads to a slower metabolism and fat accumulation. Muscle weakening or atrophy sets in. The reasons for atrophy are many. I will share four of them with you: age, sedentary lifestyle, medications and disease.

Age Related Changes in Muscle

   Muscles lose their size and strength as we get older, which contributes to fatigue, weakness and less tolerance to exercise. This is due in part because the number of muscle fibers start to reduce in size and numbers. Muscle tissue is also replaced more slowly. As the nervous system changes, muscles become less toned and the ability to contract them gets more difficult. Bone structure changes result in a loss of bone tissue, calcium and other minerals making this another contributing factor. Joints lose their lubrication (synovial fluid) becoming stiffer and less flexible.

Sedentary Lifestyle 

   You've heard the saying, "use it or lose it". Inactivity causes our joint cartilage to shrink and stiffen, reducing joint mobility. A sedentary lifestyle causes muscles to lose their mitochondria. The main function of the mitochondria is to produce energy for various parts of the body. It burns fat or sugar for energy. If the body does not need energy, fat gets stored. This fat increases the number of fat cells in the body making it harder to lose weight. Being sedentary increases the body's capacity for fat storage, which results in a greater chance for developing high levels of LDL or bad cholesterol. A common thought is that this inactivity causes transdifferentiation (a conversion of one differentiated cell type into another) resulting in the muscle cells changing to fat cells. The body gets signals that it no longer needs those muscle cells.


   There are a few medications prescribed for specific conditions that cause muscle weakness. One of those medications is systemic corticosteroids, often prescribed for people with asthma or inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Statins are used for preventing and treating atherosclerosis that causes chest pain, heart attacks, strokes, cholesterol and diabetes - muscle pain is one of the side effects.


   Many chronic diseases commonly cause muscle weakness. In some conditions this is due to reduced blood and nutrient supply to the muscles. Chronic kidney disease, anemia, lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, depression, peripheral vascular disease, chronic pain are some of these diseases. Osteoporosis is a disease directly related to the gradual loss of bone proteins and minerals resulting in fragile bones making an individual more at risk for fracture.

Exercise and Strength Training

   The good news is that strength training can address just about all of the above issues. And, you can start - with a doctor's approval - at any age.

  The beneficial effects of strength training include replacing muscle, reducing fat, increasing metabolic rate, relieving or decreasing low back and arthritic pain, lowering blood pressure, minimizing osteoporosis, enhancing glucose utilization, mitigating depression and improving blood lipid levels.

   The amount of exercise on regular basis should be reasonable and represent a doable commitment of time. Lets face it, if it becomes another chore we will discontinue it like all the rest of those disliked chores. Aerobic activity should be 5 days a week of moderate intensity for a total of at least 150 minutes according to ACSM guidelines.

   Muscles are the engine of the body. Strength training enables these muscles to get stronger, helping us to use them more effectively and with less effort. For musculoskeletal fitness the recommendations is 8 to 10 resistant exercises performed 10 to 15 times each as a set 2 to 3 days a week, according to ACSM guidelines.

   I strongly feel that exercise and strength training are essential to living a healthy and productive long life.

Diabetes Alert Day - And A Personal Story

March 24, 2014

   Tomorrow is the American Diabetes Association Alert Day. It's a day we're reminded to take the Diabetes Risk Test to find out if you are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The test is available year round.

   Do you or someone in your family have diabetes? Diabetes runs in my family. Both my parents were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the their mid 50s. They were diagnosed in the days when urine was tested for glucose . 

   Of people who have diabetes about 90 percent have type 2, which occurs when for some unknown reason the body cannot use insulin effectively. The pancreas is designed to produce enough insulin for the body. But if the body does not use insulin effectively, over time the production decreases. Sugar builds up in the blood and overflows into the urine. It passes out unused, depriving the body of an important source of energy.

   My fathers life with diabetes is what I wish to share with you. In the early 80’s we were noticing our usually active and energetic father tiring easily. Always one to stay well-hydrated, his constant thirst was something that we noticed.

  A visit to his primary care physician resulted in diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. The doctor set up a treatment plan of regular glucose monitoring, diet change, daily walks and medication. With careful monitoring and implementation the new regime allowed dad to stabilize his condition for another 20 years. He even took up motorcycle riding, something he had always wanted to do. Frequent rides to the beach replaced my childhood memories of week-end sailing excursions. 

  In early 2001 my mom, his wife of 39 years, passed away and dad's diligence with taking care of his condition began to waiver. In his early 70’s he ate out more frequently and began to ignore some of his dietary restrictions. Depression found him sitting more and instead of several walks a week and motorcycle rides, he switched to movie watching from the sofa and snacking. My visits often included long walks with him along the waterfront, gym workouts and comfortable strolls heading for a meal or coffee break. As time passed dad moved to Leisure World in Seal Beach, California, which offered lots of activities and companionship.

  In October 2009 dad was diagnosed with emphysema. That explained his shortness of breath and fatigue. Shortly thereafter he became an insulin dependent diabetic. Now having to give himself shots several times a day his little blue bag and ice chest became his new companion. At 77 dad’s memory faded and the constant need for oxygen made his ability to recall things a real chore - notes and timers were added to his regime. 

   With these new conditions problems soon arose. He would forget to administer his insulin, or forget he had already done so, or forget to eat. The paramedics became familiar with his address and his condition... as well as his local hospital. After hospital stays dad would return home bright eyed and peppy back to the father I knew reaping the benefits of regular meals, consistent medication and monitoring. It didn’t take long, once he was home, before this scenario would be repeated.

   My father passed away on June 10, 2013 taking his last breath at home as he wished. He was 82.

   I write this in honor of him but also to share this story to remind that life with diabetes can be as full as you want it to be if you take all the steps needed to keep it under control.

May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month

    Bone is living tissue. It's constantly being replaced by new bone. Osteoporosis occurs when the body fails to form enough new bone or when too much existing bone is reabsorbed by the body, or both.

Images of female adults starting with young to middle-aged to older showing how weak bones can cause the spine to collapse as we age

   Anyone can suffer osteoporosis. Bones can become fragile and are more likely to fracture due to the loss of density. Density is the amount of mineral matter per square centimeter of bone. Bone mineral density (or BMD) is used in clinical medicine as a method of measuring bone loss and fracture risk.

    One mineral that's important in the building of bones is calcium. About 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies is in our bones and teeth. Each day we lose calcium through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine and feces, but our bodies can't produce new calcium. It's important that we get enough calcium for our bodies through food that we eat. If we don't, it will be taken from our bones. Over time this leaching from the bones causes osteoporosis.  Studies indicate that 16 percent of women and 4 percent of men ages 50 and older have osteoporosis.

What foods contain calcium?

    Sources include dairy products like low-fat and non-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. Vegetables that contain calcium are soy beans, okra, collard greens, spinach, kale, and broccoli. Brazil nuts, almonds, sesame and chia seeds are calcium rich foods. Juices such as orange, apple, and mandarin contain significant amounts of calcium as well as some breakfast foods like soymilk, cereals, and breads.

How much calcium does your body need?

Women are prone to osteoporosis earlier in life than men. The following recommendations includes the total daily amount of calcium from food and supplements.

50 and younger - 1,000 mg
51 and older - 1,200 mg

70 and younger 1,000 mg
70 and older 1,200 mg

What About Supplements?

    I strongly believe that we should try to get our nutrients from whole foods. But, I understand that not all of us can do this with our busy lives, family schedules and other commitments. If you feel you need to take supplements here are some good guidelines to follow.
  • Look for labels that state purified or have the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) symbol. The USP Verified Mark on the supplement label means the the USP has tested and found the calcium supplement to meet standards for purity and quality.
  • When reading the label, pay close attention to the amount per serving and serving size.
  • Avoid taking it all at once each day. Calcium is absorbed best when taken in amounts of 500 – 600 mg or less.
  • Take your calcium supplements with food.
  • When starting a new calcium supplement, start with a smaller amount to better tolerate it such as 200 - 300 mg daily for the first week and include plenty of water.
  • Most importantly talk with your healthcare provider about possible interactions between your prescriptions or over-the-counter medications and calcium supplements.

      Sometimes bone loss occurs without any cause. But there are a few tendencies science has observed. The tendency to have bone loss and thin bones is passed down through families. White women are more likely to have bone loss issues. Other causes include medical conditions, medications,  low body weight, menopause, drinking large amounts of alcohol , smoking and being confined to bed.

     Awareness and prevention is your best line of defense. It's important to have regular bone density screenings so that you and your physician can prepare the best course of action for you.

March 20, International Day of Happiness

March 17, 2014

   What constitutes happiness for you? Is it more money, more things, free time, many friends, good health, a safe place to live, laughter? As different as we are as human beings so is our definition of happiness.

   I realize that happiness is not easy to define. My definition is wide ranging. But a core piece of it is a feeling of being healthy and mobile. There was a study done in the late 90s which focused on the concept of vitality. They called it "a positive feeling of aliveness and energy." That's great! It's a pretty involved research paper and you might say we already knew this, but what a great topic to investigate.

   There has been lots of thinking about well-being, perhaps the most famous I remember is Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs which was a popular topic in college psychology classes. Many people still immediately relate to it and would say that self-actualization defines happiness.

International Day of Happiness

   This Thursday, it's the 2nd International Day of Happiness which was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012. The language of their resolution starts:

"Conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal..."

That ties right into our Declaration of Independence in which Thomas Jefferson wrote:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Even Abraham Lincoln gave us one of our most quotable quotes:
"Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be."
   Reading a bit of history, Americans didn't invent the idea but we certainly pushed it forward as something more than a personal thing. It's part of the charter of the country. I think it's a good thing that happiness is getting a worldwide official treatment. It's a reminder, even in one small measure, of what makes life worth living.

Happy to be SLO

   Remember when San Luis Obispo was the happiest city in America? That was on Oprah in 2011. It actually came from research done by Dan Buettner on his concept of happy places called Blue Zones. SLO made the cut. Here's a picture of Dan Buettner at Bubblegum Alley.

   His research is very interesting stuff. To some degree I'll bet many of us chose to live on the Central Coast because of the quality of life he recognized, too. There are lots of reasons.

   Maybe it's our love of the outdoors. We have more than 6,500 acres of open space to hike, walk and cycle with fresh air and uncrowded areas everyone can enjoy. Many of us are well aware of how we impact our environment so we recyle, reuse, and conserve in an effort to keep our impact on the land less intrusive contributing to the specialness of the area.

   Whether it's over a glass of Zin or on a walk on the beach, connecting with friends and family is a way of life - conversation, family style meals, social activities, events, farmers markets and holiday celebrations helps us all feel special and valued. Fund raisers are a big part of the community supporting each other, whether for a family, individual or a cause such as a new school, library or art facility. This act of pulling together as one big family contributes to a greater support system which all human beings need.

   Art is another central coast love. There are many high quality art events both visual and hands on. Giving plenty of choices for everyone to enjoy. Many residents are former and active professionals who share their love of the arts with our community .

   The Central Coast has a Mediterranean climate - warm and dry in the summer and cooler and wetter in the winter. Our weather averages in the 70's as the high and 50's as the low year round. Communities are smog free. March winds bring big waves that local surfers delight in and serve as an invigorating challenge for many cyclists. Along the coastal areas fog is prevalent during the spring and summer months. The warm October and November season comes just before of our holiday season. Rain although lately very sparse is a welcome signal to our winter months.

   Since 1989, the Community Action Partnership's Homeless Services program in SLO provides emergency shelter, on-site information and referral services, and assistance in finding permanent housing for those in need. We have 3 excellent hospitals within a 60 mile radius available to everyone in the community providing state of the art medical services.

   San Luis Obispo is our own pot of gold offering a wonderful way to live, thrive and grow at any age. Who couldn't be happy living here?

   Bring a friendly smile to everyone you see.

March Madness Comes to Cambria For 2 People I Know

March 9, 2014

   I have the "privilege" of being in a relationship with a man who lives, eats and breaths University of Kansas Jayhawk basketball. He once lived in student housing within a stone's throw from one of the nation's most historic basketball arenas. And it just so happens that John Linn, of Linn's of Cambria, is also a KU grad and has many good memories of cheering on the Jayhawks in that arena.

   To be honest, I really don't care, even though I am periodically reminded the inventor of basketball, James Naismith, was KU's first coach in the 1890s.

   Actually, there is one interesting thing to me about that: Naismith was a physical education teacher who created the game to help athletes maintain their fitness during the winter months in Massachusetts. Even though basketball exploded in popularity and became a highly competitive sport, his passion was always to teach exercise and fitness. That's music to my ears.

Playing Sports Burns Calories

   Remember the sports you played as a kid? You weren't counting calories then. It was just plain fun. No matter what it was -- basketball, tennis, volleyball, softball, etc. -- there was a fundamental joy in playing a game. For many who aren't active, the thought of lifting weights or doing the Stairmaster for an hour doesn't sound very inviting. Time to pick up a racket, glove or ball again.

   If an organized sport like softball or basketball is your thing, Morro Bay has adult softball and soccer leagues. San Luis Obispo offers 3-on-3 basketball as well as softball, soccer and ultimate frisbee. If you'd rather not drive so far to play organized games, there's no reason you can't lace 'em up and shoot baskets on the court at the Vet's Hall parking lot. According to just shooting baskets for an hour burns 238 calories.

  I find it has been fun to discover a new sport. For me that's cycling. I ride with a Sunday morning women's group that goes informally by the name Bella Rollers. I've also ridden with the Slabtown Rollers of Cambria. They're a great group of people. Some other cycling groups are Team Medicare and The Old Farts Club. I don't have a website or Facebook page for you but if you want to find out more just drop by the Cambria Coffee Roasting Company after 10 am and start chatting with someone in a bike outfit. Hey, that's how it works in Cambria!

   Another growing sport in Cambria is pickleball. Great name -- it got me to look it up when I first heard of it. I can see it's appeal. Pickleball is like playing ping pong on a tennis court. It's gentler on the knees and body yet gets you moving. Check out the group Cambria Pickleball By The Sea. They play Tuesdays, Thursday and Sundays at the Coast Union High School tennis courts. They say once you start playing it gets addictive.

   Speaking of tennis, the Cambria Tennis Club is a private group that accepts new members. They maintain and use the courts at the high school. The great thing about tennis is how the racket technology has made the game easier and more fun. And the Joslyn Recreation Center has sports groups, too, like the Table Tennis and Lawn Bowls clubs.

   Oh, and there's golf. It's a game I have envisioned taking up. With lessons most people can play well enough to want to come back again and again to improve their game. I love the idea of walking the course, burning calories, enjoying being outside and engaging in friendly competition. We're blessed with some beautiful courses in Morro Bay and SLO that aren't too expensive and perfect for beginners.

   If James Naismith were alive today I'll bet he'd tell you to just get out there and play... and have fun, whether it's basketball or pickleball.