Strong is the New Skinny, Part 2

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Joleen Wilson - Dietary Manager

Joleen Wilson, RD/LD, CNSC, CBIS

Written by Joleen Wilson, RD/LD, CNSC, CBIS, Registered Dietitian for Pathway to Eating Disorders Treatment

 In Part 1, I discussed how important it is to maintain muscle mass for a speedy metabolism.  Many folks, especially women, balk at the idea of resistance training, i.e. weights, believing that it will “make me bulky” or “I don’t want to look like a man”.  The truth is, women do not have the hormone profile that men do, which allows excessive hypertrophy of the muscles.  Women who strength train tend to look more toned, and isn’t that what we really want?  This week, I’ll explain which types of exercises are beneficial for a more “toned” look, and begin to take a look at which foods help support this type of exercise.

As a fitness enthusiast myself, I can tell you without a doubt that people don’t even know what 135 pounds or 145 pounds looks like anymore.  Since I first got involved in athletics, any time my weight has come up in conversation, which of course it does in competitive sports, no one has ever believed me.  People consistently think I weight about 15 pounds less than I actually do.  All the body mass index (BMI) charts and much of the things you read in magazines do not take into account muscle mass.  The chart in your doctor’s office doesn’t care what you can squat or dead lift.  The women’s magazine article about finding your ideal body weight doesn’t care how quickly you can row 2000 meters on an indoor rower.  Instead, many women focus on calorie-burning, cardiovascular, body weight exercises such as elliptical, jogging, and step class.  While these exercises can be good to get our heart rate up, they don’t offer the muscle building effects that high intensity and weight training exercises do.

Enter Crossfit.  I’m sure you’ve heard of this fitness trend that has been sweeping the nation.  Crossfit is defined as “constantly varied functional movement performed at relatively high intensity which will increase a person’s work capacity across broad time and modal domains”.  Crossfit workouts are based on functional movements that can benefit you in your everyday activities.  Movements include weightlifting, running, rowing, gymnastics, and more.  These exercises move the largest loads the longest distances, so they are ideal for maximizing the amount of work done in the shortest time.  The aim of Crossfit is to forge a broad, general, and inclusive fitness supported by measurable, observable, and repeatable results.  While Crossfit challenges the fittest men and women on earth, it is also scalable for any population, both young and old, making it perfect for anyone regardless of experience.

While Crossfit is an up and coming fitness phenomenon, it may not be for everyone, especially someone with a history of overexercising, orthorexia, or an untreated eating disorder.  Structured programs like Crossfit demand a lot out of athletes, and such, can be very demanding on your lifestyle and oftentimes can become an obsession.  There are many gyms that encourage their members to follow the “Paleo” or “Zone” diet in an attempt to shed body fat and increase muscle mass simultaneously.  This can be a dangerous scenario for someone predisposed to an eating disorder, as these persons may find themselves spiraling back into an eating disorder they thought they had conquered.  What first might be an innocent attempt to exercise more and eat more healthfully can turn into an unhealthy obsession.

In order to fuel your body properly for this time of exercise, you must consume complex carbohydrates and adequate protein in order to rebuild muscle cells between workouts.  Rest days are also important because it gives the body time to repair itself from small tears in muscles that occur during strenuous exercise, and this is how you get stronger.  Remember, muscle mass is directly correlated to overall metabolism and weight maintenance/loss over time.  In Part 3 of this blog, I will discuss ways to regulate exercise, stay on track, and fuel your workouts most effectively.

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