Can bees sting you more than once? They sure can, do and did; I have proof! Yesterday I was creating a planter for my front veranda of ornamental grasses and kale. I had put the planter on the lawn to avoid making too much of a mess on the veranda. I saw a bee in the adjacent garden, but didn’t pay it too much attention. When I lifted the completed arrangement up to carry it onto the veranda, I felt a sharp, prickly sensation on my upper leg, just above the hem line of my shorts. Thinking it was just a piece of plant material, (ornamental grasses can be sharp) I sort of brushed at it. (my hands were full) I then felt a second similar sting, so I set the pot down and checked my leg. A fat, fuzzy bee was latched on to my leg, working on a third sting!
I was always under the impression that bees only sting once then die. So, I googled the question; this is what I discovered:
Queen and worker bumblebees can sting. Unlike in honeybees, a bumblebee’s sting lacks barbs, so the bee can sting repeatedly without injuring itself; by the same token, the sting is not left in the wound. Bumblebee species are not normally aggressive, but may sting in defence of their nest, or if harmed.
I guess that was a bumblebee then, definitely a bee (she was fuzzy and fat) and not a wasp or a honeybee. I say “she” because I also learned that only the females sting. This picture shows the difference is their appearance…
The bumblebee bites/stings were quite distinct on my leg within seconds. I didn’t think to take pictures until today, 24 hours later. What is amazing (to me) is that the leg is still very sore, swollen and hot even though the sting marks themselves are no longer obvious.
I may go back to the scene of the crime to see if there is a bumblebee nest in that corner of my garden. I did some research on the subject, so now know what to look for. I will not harm the nest if I discover one, just want to be aware of its location to keep my grandchildren away.
Losing your mother changes your life in many ways. I lost my own mother twenty-five years ago today, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her, wishing she was still here. She barely got to know two of my sons and never did meet the third. With my sons all grown up and four sweet grandchildren of my own now I wish she could share the joy they all bring to our lives.
My mom died just after reaching her 65th birthday; I was 34. She was diagnosed with lung cancer and dead within 3 months, so we had very little time to get used to the idea of life without her before she was gone. She didn’t even have enough time to rally from the shock of the diagnosis to begin to fight for her life. Losing your mother leaves you shell shocked for a long time afterward.
My father had just retired and she planned to do the same. It would have been well deserved after working from the tender age of fourteen with only a brief hiatus to bear six children in eight years. Years of work and raising children were finally in the rear view mirror as she looked forward to a more carefree life.
With six children and 13 grandchildren (at the time) spread out over Canada and USA, my mother looked forward to visiting with them all often. She was the travel planner and organizer, my dad was more of the stay at home type. In fact, after her death my father rarely travelled more than a few kilometers from his home. He was heartbroken, literally.
My mother’s untimely death changed my life in many ways. Concerned that my own life expectancy may only be 65, I reduced my work hours and the accompanying stress level by changing departments. The goal was to concentrate on the important things like spending more quality time with my three young sons (I had a third not long after she died) and my husband. Volunteering at the boys’ schools, on field trips and for their sports teams became my focus. I do not want to feel that I should have spent more time with them when I am older.
When my boys were grown up and independent twelve years later, I once again began searching for more out of life. I made another drastic change and retired (very early) completely from hospital work to start my own gardening business.
Losing your mother makes you introspective, comparing your mothering style to hers. Not just your mothering style really, but all your mistakes and regrets, as well as the hopes, dreams and triumphs too. It’s like a wake up call to improve the quality of your own life. During her last three months, my mother and I spent many hours discussing such things.
As my grandchildren grow up, I try to spend as much time with them as I can as well. I hope to be around to witness their milestones, something my mom missed out on.
Cancer research is changing. In the right direction. Instead of focusing on expensive and harmful medications and treatments that compromise every organ in your body, research is looking for ways to outsmart the cancer.
For example, stem cell research has scientists hopeful and busy looking for ways to use these unique cells to fight many diseases, not just cancer. Stem cells are the earliest form of cells within the human body, formed four or five days after an embryo is fertilized, and before the embryo is implanted in a uterus. They are uniquely non-specific when they are formed and don’t take on specific functions (differentiate in scientific terms) until they divide and grow.
With the popularity of invitro fertilization on the rise these days, stem cells are becoming more available as any embryos not used in the fertilization process can be donated to science for research and treatments. Of course, this raises ethical concerns, since the embryo is destroyed in the process of harvesting the stem cells. The concept however, is brilliant.
Stem cells can also be harvested from umbilical cords after childbirth and frozen for use. These cells have been successfully used to treat children with blood cancers (leukemia) and certain genetic blood disorders. Since stem cells have the ability to turn into various other types of cells, scientists believe that they can be useful for treating and understanding diseases. For example, stem cells can be used to:
grow new cells in a laboratory to replace damaged organs or tissues
correct parts of organs that don’t work properly
research causes of genetic defects in cells
research how diseases occur or why certain cells develop into cancer cells
test new drugs for safety and effectiveness
Adult or non-embryonic stem cells are found in infants, children and adults. What makes them different from the embryonic kind is that these stem cells come from developed organs and tissues in the body. Unlike embryonic stem cells though, adult stem cells can’t differentiate into as many other types of cells. They’re used by the body to repair and replace damaged tissue in the same area in which they are found. For example, mature human tissue such as nerves, bone, blood, muscle, liver and skin all have different types of cells.
Hematopoietic stem cells are a type of adult stem cell found in bone marrow. They make new red blood cells, white blood cells, and other types of blood cells. Doctors have been performing stem cell transplants, also known as bone marrow transplants, for decades using hematopoietic stem cells in order to treat certain types of cancer.
A recent breakthrough has scientists able to genetically program adult stem cells to behave like embryonic stem cells so they can be used as specialized cells throughout the body, for any organ or tissue.
How do you know you have environmental allergies or sensitivities to common products and even foods? Listen to and trust your body! I have learned the validity of this simple piece of advice over the years.
For example, this is my evidence that I have personally compiled and learned to listen to. How many of these (or similar reactions) apply to you?
sneeze when walking past the highly scented laundry soap and fabric softeners in a grocery store?
sneeze or cough when popular (Febreeze comes to mind) room deodorizers or air fresheners are used?
cough when adding soap to your sink or dishwasher?
get an instant tightness in your chest when walking by a house whose dryer vent is on spewing the scent of Bounce into the air?
get the same reaction from yards sprayed with fertilizer and or weed killer, from blocks away?
have to open the windows and turn on vents before cleaning bathrooms?
get an instant headache walking through the fragrance department of a store? (why do they have to place those right at the entrance to the store?)
get an instant headache from the different perfumes in a crowd? For example, I dread going to the NAC (National Art Center here in Ottawa) because each elderly lady there seems to have an entire bottle of perfume on. The blend is not pleasant!
get stomach cramps and diarrhea after eating some foods.
get skin rashes after eating certain foods.
I saw an article recently about cancer causing ingredients in many common dish soaps. The offending products include:
Legacy of Clean
Simple Green Naturals
Bon Ami Dish Soap
I must admit I have never heard of many of these brands of dish soap, but do know Dawn, Palmolive, Sunlight, Finish and Cascade are on my avoid list as they bother me. I used to have to leave the room when running the dishwasher.
These reactions that I have experienced are the reason I use Melaleuca products in my home. They are all natural, many with tea tree oil (from the Australian melaleuca plant) as a main ingredient. By using these products, I have reduced my contact with ingredients that aggravate my allergies and sensitivities. I no longer have to open the bathroom window when cleaning, and can run the dishwasher while working in the kitchen.
If you have similar reactions to any products or foods, trust and listen to your body. You may have allergies and sensitivities too. Then get proactive to improve your health and the quality of your life. Remember, you are in the driver’s seat!
Although lectins are proteins, they are not as good for us as one would think. They are beneficial in plants as they keep insects (kind of like a defence mechanism) away and contain nitrogen which is essential for plant growth. In the human body however, lectins can be toxic!I
The reason lectins cause us so much grief is because they are incredibly sticky and therefore cannot be digested properly. Instead, they adhere to the cells in our guts so that vitamins and minerals do not get absorbed. They also stick to insulin receptors, blocking the hormone called Leptin, so your brain never recognizes when you are full. I’m sure you can guess where this is going. Yes, lectins increase your appetite. Amongst other things.
Increased appetite means weight gain is at the top of the long list of bad things lectins cause. The rest of the list includes achy joints, indigestion, digestive damage, fatigue, brain fog, constipation, mood swings, immune system suppression, depression, and overall poor health.
Everyone has heard of gluten and how millions are avoiding it whether they need to or not. Gluten is a lectin, but there are many other lectins that cause just as much grief (or more) for people with food sensitivities. In fact, if you have been diagnosed with Celiac’s disease, you should avoid all lectins.
Well, people like myself that suffer from a wheat (but not gluten) allergy realize that it is a protein in wheat that triggers my reactions. I was never told however that it was a lectin or that I might be lectin intolerant. This probably explains why those without Celiac’s disease or a gluten allergy (like myself) who have eliminated wheat from their diets feel so much better.
Wheat germ lectin has been shown in research to impact the immune system by increasing inflammation within our bodies. Not just in our stomach or intestines, but all over our bodies. Have you heard of “leaky gut syndrome?” This happens because lectins punch holes in our intestines (hence the leaky gut) letting toxins and bacteria out of your gut to invade and cause inflammatory responses in many other organs.
This resulting long-term inflammation has been linked to many serious medical conditions including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, uterine fibroids, breast and ovarian cysts, auto immune diseases and small airway obstruction (asthma) in lungs. I was experiencing most of these health issues when I was first diagnosed with my wheat allergy. It took me persistence and quite a long time to figure this out.
Now for the good news! Lectins are not always bad. Recent research reveals that lectins have been shown to be beneficial in some revolutionary uses. I say revolutionary because the use of natural plant extracts instead of harmful and expensive chemical medication is just that. This is quite exciting, except perhaps to the mega-rich and powerful drug companies. Oops, sorry, I am digressing….Here are some of the revolutionary uses I spoke of:
Small amounts of lectins may help the good bacteria that live in human digestive systems.
Research suggests that lectins may be useful for helping to identify and diagnose cancer. Lectins are also being studied for their potential to slow down the rate that cancer cells multiply.
Researchers are even looking at lectins as potential treatments for illnesses caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
So, do you continue to consume foods containing lectins or eliminate them from your diet? Well, that depends on how badly they affect you. In my case I avoid wheat. Keeping a journal of foods (lectins) you eat and how they affect you can help decide which ones to eliminate from your diet.
These are the foods with the most lectins, in descending order:
legumes (peanuts, cashews, beans, soybeans, peas, chickpeas, lentils) with uncooked red kidney beans the worst, as well as butters from these (peanut butter, hummus)
wheat, corn, rice, oats and quinoa
nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers)
dairy products containing casein A1 (most North American cows)
corn, soybean and sunflower oils
squash family (zucchini, melons, cucumbers)
soy products (milk, beans, sprouts, tofu, oils)
many fruits, including bananas. See list below for lectin-free fruit
The answer for those of you without an obvious reaction is to simply reduce the lectins you eat. It is not necessary to completely eliminate them, and there are ways to reduce the amount of lectins you are putting into your body. Sprouting, fermenting, removing the seeds, or cooking the culprits well will severely diminish the lectins’ potency. Get your pressure cooker out and dust it off!
What foods are left to eat that are lectin free you ask? If you don’t have any of the above health issues to try to clear up, don’t worry about them, lectins obviously don’t affect you. If you do feel the pain (literally), eat the lectin rich foods (above) but ensure they are well-cooked and in moderation, and eat more of these lectin-free foods:
mushrooms, onions, garlic, celery, and carrots
broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus
leafy greens (spinach, kale etc)
sweet potatoes (cooked)
cherries, apples, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, and lemons
sheep, goat, and coconut milk as well as South European (A2) cow’s milk
almonds, almond butter
olives and olive oil
The moral of this story is to listen to your body. If you suffer from many or any of the health issues listed above, maybe you are lectin intolerant! I wish I had this information ten years ago when I was going through my personal battle to figure out what was wrong with me. My doctor wanted to put me on antidepressants, but I refused, believing it was more complicated than that. I’m sure glad I did. I feel better now pushing 60 than I did throughout most of my 40’s and early 50’s!
You can’t buy motivation. Most runners probably wish they could.
We hit walls. Life can seem to get in the way of running–so having a playbook of motivational techniques is important for runners at every level who are fighting the same battle to log miles.
Running motivation can come in different forms when the finish line isn’t in sight–new running shoes, a new training plan, or even joining a running club. But at its purest, motivation is the human desire to do something; unlocking that desire may be even more difficult than the task itself.
Joshua Sommers finds it within himself–the hedge fund VP is also a triathlete who has competed in over 100 races. When asked what motivates him, he keeps it simple.
“The pursuit of excellence and self-improvement.”
We aren’t all like Joshua, but we can learn from him. In this piece, we’ll explore what types of motivational tools different runners can use, and how they can impact your training–and your life outside of running.
Motivation for Beginner Runners
As a new runner, it can be daunting to look at the miles ahead and know the only way to get there is with your own two feet.
Set a Goal
Begin at the end. Setting a goal provides something a runner can work toward. It can be a number of different things: maybe it’s weight loss, or picking a 5k race, or a certain number of miles a week, or even a half marathon. Whatever that goal is, keep it in mind each time you lace up those sneakers for a jog.
This will also help track progress. Write the goal down and place it somewhere you’ll see it every day, keeping markers of the steps taken to achieve it. After a few weeks, look back at the work accomplished and you’ll be able to see it actualized. See yourself achieving those goals and surpassing them.
Get Social While Holding Yourself Accountable
Incorporating a training partner into your new life as a runner has layered benefits. Finding a running partner will provide an immediate desire to run, even if simply knowing that person is counting on you.
Executing on a training program together, with a shared goal, can increase the level of accountability. Joining a running club or finding a running partner removes the element of choice, the ability to reason with yourself and find ways not to run. Excuses are ever-present, and a good running partner won’t take “no” for an answer.
Even though running is an individual pursuit, clubs and teams are everywhere. Besides the motivational aspect, things like networking and safety and developing a sense of community are all extended benefits of making running social.
Make it Routine A morning run can ripple positively into the rest of your day. Acute aerobic exercise activates the prefrontal and occipital cortices in the brain, increasing “executive control.” This can help improve cognitive ability and can help control emotion.1 Morning runs can have effects that last into the night, like improving sleep quality.2 And it doesn’t stop there; studies suggest running can have overall health and cognitive benefits, especially later in life.3
Besides the mental and physical benefits, there are less social obligations in the morning. You won’t get stuck at work or be tempted by a happy hour at 6am. Even if you’re not a morning person, you can likely train to become one. Pack all your running gear the night before. Set an alarm and place it across the room, forcing you to skip the snooze button.
Developing a morning running routine provides a nice reset of the body’s clock; it can feel like adding hours to the day. Another benefit? A solid training schedule can positively impact your regular schedule.
Ted Bross is a newly-graduated medical student starting his residency. He has participated in almost 30 ultra marathons, and developing a running habit helped him with medical school.
“Part of what helps me get through several of the mental stressors of medical school is pushing my body physically and relieving that stress. It makes me more of a disciplined athlete and is something that has given me a lot in my life.”
Develop a Training Plan
Checking boxes on a training plan can feel really good. It also answers some of the mental questions runners ask themselves before setting out: Where should I go? How long should I run? What pace am I aiming for? Just look at the running program, where it’s all outlined. Remember to develop your training plan in alignment with those goals you’ve set. And try to incorporate one long run per week.
A comprehensive training plan should incorporate all aspects of your routine. Account for extra pre-run warm-ups and post-run stretches. Add in weekly or monthly goals. Budget some days off. Your training plan doesn’t have to be a bible, but should be a document frequently returned to, and one around which other aspects of life can be considered.
“I train on average for about ten sessions a week, for a total of ten hours a week,” Sommers said. “I’m spending all this time on it, so I want to get the most out of my workouts.”
Motivation for Experienced Runners
There’s a fine line between getting into a groove and finding yourself in a rut.
Buy Some New Gear
Sometimes you need to pick low-hanging fruit. Purchasing some new running clothes, like a new pair of running shoes or running shorts, can provide motivation to run and test all that new gear. Depending on what you buy, it may also improve your training (like a fitness tracker).
New gear can also serve as a reward; small goals can be treated as important steps to accomplishing larger goals.
There’s also the “gear guilt.” Shiny new toys should be used instead of sitting in the back of a closet. Some may think using money as a type of running motivation is shallow, but there are few drivers in life like cold hard cash.
So much of success when running comes before (and after) feet hit the pavement. Nutrition should be looked at holistically, because supplements can provide a boost during the run and also help with recovery.
“Especially in the longer races, figuring out nutrition is something most people don’t spend enough time on.”
Pre-run supplements include caffeine for energy, calcium for bone health and even creatine to reduce muscle inflammation. Post-run, focus on protein for muscle recovery and fish oil to reduce muscle soreness.
HVMN Ketone, a ketone ester drink, can be used both as a pre-run supplement and a recovery mechanism. By elevating ketone levels in the blood, HVMN Ketone unlocks a fuel source the body produces naturally, one fundamentally different from carbohydrates or fats. Post-workout, taking HVMN Ketone can expedite the resynthesis of glycogen (by 60%) and protein (by 2x), which enable faster recovery.4,5
Varying training can provide easy motivation to try a new sport–one you know can improve your running–and it’ll also keep you active on days you’re not running. It can also supplement during rehabilitation periods from physical injury, and improve overall physical performance.6
Specifically, cross training can improve VO2 Max capacity (the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen utilized during intense exercise).6 Swimming and cycling are great choices, but things like yoga can also increase flexibility and balance.7
By introducing strength workouts or cross training into your regimen, motivation can be found in presenting new challenges and accomplishing new goals.
Switch Up Locations
Don’t become a running rodent. Running on a treadmill can feel like a hamster on a wheel, just like running the same path multiple times a week can feel Groundhog Day-esque. The essence of running harkens back to being outside, and in a more spiritual sense, connecting with the space in which you’re traversing.
It’s easy to feel invigorated by discovering a new place or hitting a new distance, so trail running or cross country running are always good motivators for the simple fact that they place you out of your element. The simple feeling of dirt under the feet and soaking up the essence of the trail provides an immediate lift and motivation.
We’ve also heard from runners that there’s something special about running in the rain (even if it’s the last thing you want to do). It presents a new challenge, and almost a primal sense of motivation; you’re miles away from home, and the only way to return is to run back. Your heart is pounding, you smell the rain, each wet step is experienced in a totally new way–it’s an hour that can feel different than all the other hours in the day.
Motivation for Advanced Runners
Advanced runners can have the most difficult time finding motivation because running is such a part of their life that it becomes an unquestioned obligation.
Remember (and Embrace) the Pain and Vulnerability
Stop and ask yourself: Why do I run? If running has become numbly intrinsic, this question can serve as a reinvigorating reminder to look within and remember why you fell in love with running in the first place.
Because running is hard; it hurts; it requires time; it takes mental fortitude. Some might think this is admitting defeat–but reminding yourself that you’re accomplishing something difficult can inspire you to keep going.
In a physical sense, powerful running comes from your core. So, in essence, you’re running from the gut. There’s something vulnerable about exposing yourself in that way, and showcasing the ability to be broken down (and thus built back up).
It can all come to a head at the end of a race. Ted Bross has been there.
“You share some really special moments. You’re pretty raw emotionally, when you get broken down physically there’s less barrier to connect with people.”
Ditch the Tech (This Includes Music)
Technological tools have forever changed running, giving anyone the opportunity to track pace and miles and calories burned. These also changed training by providing actionable targets to hit and measure performance.
Select one day to run untethered by technology. It can serve as a great way to reconnect with the simple joy of running, ditching the gadgets to escape the metrics. Sometimes you have to operate on feel, and it can be motivating to find that energy within yourself instead of hitting a number on your wrist. Some of your best runs aren’t necessarily your fastest.
Many of us train with music, but that can act as a barrier between you and the world in which you’re running. If you’re participating in a race that doesn’t allow music, it’s especially beneficial to train without tunes and run to the beat of your own pace.
Improve Your Diet
Seeing results provides motivation to continue working. The results garnered from eating healthy show themselves in training. While carb-loading has been a staple of many runners’ race day routines, growing evidence suggests that a periodized approach to nutrition is optimal, especially for long distance races. For example, a marathon runner might undertake periods of training with a low carb, high fat diet to boost fat burning followed by maximizing carb fueling for a race.
Exercise after an overnight fast can also increase fat oxidation, which can help with weight loss and, when the body gets better at burning fat, it can also help increase endurance.
“My diet isn’t as good as I would like it to be,” admitted Sommers. “But that’s more a function of time and other stress factors, like if I’m traveling or if I don’t have time to cook what I want.”
Even the most elite triathletes struggle to incorporate diet into life.
Trying a new diet can have results both in training and recovery, and noticing the difference provides a motivation to continue pushing your personal best with newfound fuel. But that happens on an even smaller level. Incorporate a new fruit or vegetable into your diet.
Haven’t had Brussel sprouts since your grandma served them boiled? Give them another try (and maybe try roasting them) and fold in more vegetables over the course of your training.
Even for those unwilling to make extreme dietary changes, there are incremental benefits to be had by cutting back on refined sugars, avoiding seed oils and getting plenty of omega 3s.
Enjoy the Small Wins
Advanced runners arrive at a point where they can only improve so much. It’s a point of fear for many–that they’ll plateau, and eventually decline.
So the small wins are important to celebrate. Seconds off your mile pace, or increased weight while strength training or even a feeling of energy after a run–individually these are small, but together they can make a big impact. The world’s elite athletes understand the power in recognizing small successes.
Accomplishing small wins while training provides a motivation to keep achieving them, and the confidence they’ll translate to race day.
Motivation is an Endless Cycle
Remember: motivation comes and goes. But recognizing when you’ve lost motivation is almost as important as getting it back.
The struggle challenges all different levels–from beginner to expert runners. On the running journey, goals will be accomplished, routines will become stale, good habits will wane. This is all part of the process.
Finding the ability to motivate yourself won’t just improve your running. It’ll improve your life overall, and some of these strategies should translate to life off the running road.
Go forth. Run. And maybe find a bit of yourself in the process.
Originally posted on HVMN by Nate Martins, this article on cross training was adapted for use here on Lorieb.
Dedicated training is something to be admired. Many athletes strive for the ability to get up and get out every single day whether it’s for a specific race or event or even, simply driven by a goal. Often that can mean adhering to a training plan based on both repetition and incrementally increased difficulty–monotony and overuse be damned.
But you may get hurt. Or plateau. Or experience a disruption in your training schedule. These can all be detrimental to accomplishing a goal. Then there’s also that inevitable boredom of doing the same training day in and day out. You swear that footprint on the trail was yours from yesterday.
Enter cross training, an exercise program usually employed outside of these intense training blocks to add some variance (physically and mentally) to workouts. It keeps the body guessing, and has many athletes reap the benefits for their main sport: decreased injury potential, and added strength to the most-used muscles.
Here, we’ll detail the science behind cross training, how to work it into your schedule, and some new exercises to try. Your main sport will thank us.
This is Your Body on Cross Training
Simply put, cross training is training in another discipline in improve your main sport. The options are almost limitless–runners can strength train, swimmers can paddle board, cyclists can do yoga. The goal is to supplement your main sport with training that’s beneficial for certain muscles, movements, or even, your brain and mood.
For most athletes, the inclusion of cross training into a workout plan is triggered by an injury sidelining them from regular training. I was no different–hours of basketball and running led to knee pain (from patellar tendonitis, known as “runner’s knee” or “jumper’s knee”) . But I was stubborn. When I should have stopped the joint-pounding activities, I continued to beat them like a drum. It got to a point where the pain wasn’t worth the workout; but I couldn’t give up working out all together. So I started swimming and incorporating yoga into my routine, which delivered positive and painless results.
Turns out, I’m not alone. Up to 56% of recreational runners experience injuries, with most of those relating to the knee.1 Supplements can help (like glucosamine, which promotes the development of cartilage), but up to 75% of those are overuse injuries.1
Since a majority of injuries happen due to time dedicated to a single sport, cross training can help prevent injuries for the simple fact that it forces athletes to spend less time training singularly. Cross training doesn’t just maintain activity by reducing the risk for injury–it also can increase performance.
A study of 27 male runners were assigned one of three different resistance training regimens (in addition to their normal endurance training): heavy resistance, explosive resistance or muscle endurance training. In all three groups, running endurance performance increased.2 The heavy-lifting group in particular saw improvements to high-intensity running characteristics, like sprinting at the end of the race.2
The benefits of cross training aren’t just physical; there’s also a potential mental benefit of switching it up. Mental fatigue can impact physical workouts–you may be less likely to workout knowing that you’re facing the exact same exercise every day. Especially if an athlete is in-season or training for a specific event, cross-training can provide an exciting challenge. It’s easy to be training heads-down; cross training can help you see the forest between the trees.
Implementing Cross Training
Divorce yourself from the idea that cross training takes away from your regular training schedule. While you’ll inevitably be spending time away from your sweetheart sport, absence makes the muscles grow stronger.
There are three main groups of cross training for endurance athletes: strength training, aerobic low-impact work and aerobic impact work, and each can be part of a cross training program.
Touching upon all major muscle groups is important for effective strength training.
Incorporating strength training into an endurance regimen can enhance physical fitness, as it did in this meta-analysis of distance runners.3 Even just 30 minutes per week, once or twice a week, can suffice. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be done in a gym; you can take the at-home approach to incorporating plyometrics or things like push ups.
Regardless of where you strength train, a full body workout will maximize the time you spend training. Consider hitting all the major muscle groups such as arms, chest, shoulders, back, core and legs (more on this later).
Aerobic Low-Impact Work
Probably the reason many athletes experiment with cross training: take stress off those weary joints and reduce injury risk.
Low-impact activities or no-impact workouts can be done two or three times as week. It’s easily implemented, as it can replace an active recovery day or even a harder workout day depending on the exercise; so for those who think they’re losing gains because of cross training, you may actually find yourself enjoying the cross training more than your main exercise.
Cycling, swimming and rowing are some of the most popular low-impact workouts. For flexibility and core exercises, yoga and pilates are go-tos. And you may even be able to workout longer and more frequently using these types of workouts due to the lack of stress they cause the body (swimmers can work out every day, and they’re hitting all the major muscle groups). For example, if you planned on running 45 minutes, you could easily spend 70 minutes cycling.
Aerobic Impact Work
Maybe the reason you’re reading this article is because of too much aerobic impact work.
If you’re training, the amount of aerobic impact work will likely be higher (and may be your only focus during that training block). But in the off-season, or times when you’d like to give your body a break, aerobic impact work should be done once or twice a week. As a general rule, cross-training is meant to limit the impact on the body.
Typically, cross training is meant to offer your body a break from the impact it faces during regular training. You can play team games, train run, circuit train or do CrossFit as a cross training method, as the impact is likely different from your normal routine. But be mindful: any impact work still puts strain on the body.
The Importance of Rest
Before getting into the specific exercises to try, remember the need for rest. Your muscles are asking for it.
The goal of every training session is to break down muscle and without recovery, a portion of that work might be wasted. During recovery, the body begins the process of rebuilding what has been broken down.
Muscle protein synthesis can increase by as much as 50% in the hours after a workout, helping encourage muscle growth.4 Concurrently, muscle fibers are rebuilt. These processes are a normal part of exercise, and recovery allows the muscles to become stronger. Fluid restoration is also key, as it helps deliver nutrients to organs and muscles through the bloodstream. And acids (via that hydrogen proton associated with lactate) accumulate during workouts–so recovery provides time for the body to restore intramuscular pH and blood flow for oxygen delivery.
In-season, professional triathlete, Kelsey Withrow, is laser-focused on training. When she’s not training, it’s all about recovery.
“As a professional triathlete, I focus all my time on swimming, running and biking. The rest of the time is for recovery.“
Kelsey Withrow, professional triathlete
Even though cross training is meant to give the body a break from regular training, it’s still is a source of stress and requires recovery time (or you might burnout). For most athletes, it’s difficult to slow down. Many of us are goal-oriented, hardworking and ultimately–a bit stubborn. Budgeting recovery time is essential, as is providing your body with the necessary fuel to recover properly.
Doing the same exercise can be mentally exhausting, leading to a mental fatigue that wears down on your desire to even do the workout. Research has shown that the mind is usually a good gauge of the body,7 with a mental strain reported by a questionnaire being closely related to stress signals in the hormones of the body. By switching it up with cross training, and also ensuring rest days, the mind will get a chance to recharge too.
Cross Training Exercises
Now is the time to incorporate cross training workouts. The exercises below touch on several different areas of exercise, from strength training to both low-impact and impact aerobic activities.
You can begin by folding in some additional exercises to your existing workouts. Runners may try hills or cyclists may try 30 second sprints–this isn’t cross training exactly, it’s just extra training. The benefits of cross training come with learning something new and focusing on different areas of the body that regular training can neglect.
Try working some of these exercises into your routine. It’s important to pick which is best for your personal needs.
A great whole body workout, swimming is one of the low-impact exercises most often used for recovery or cross training. Interestingly, reports show many people enjoy water-based exercise more than land-based exercise.8
Swimming works the whole body; it increases heart rate without the joint-pounding stress of running, it builds endurance and can also build and tone muscle. Because of these benefits, it’s a great option for recovery–a study showed that patients with osteoarthritis showed reduced stiffness, joint pain and overall less physical limitation.9
It also torches calories. Swimming has shown improved body weight and body fat distribution when compared to walking.10 An average person can burn almost 450 calories when swimming at a low or moderate pace for one hour. At increased pase, that could go north of 700 calories. For comparison, running for one hour at a leisurely pace burns about 400 calories.
Outside of the aerobic benefits, swimming (and water training, like deep-water running) has shown to improve cardiovascular health and lung capacity.11,12,13
To incorporate swimming into your cross training routine, first find a place to swim. Then gather the necessary tools (like goggles, swim cap, fins, etc.), and brush up on form before jumping in the pool. Try it one to three times a week for 30 minutes to start.
Another low impact workout, cycling is a great way to reduce stress on those joint while still clocking in the aerobic hours.
Similar to swimming, cycling burns calories at an impressive clip, anywhere from 400 – 1,000 per hour depending on the intensity of the ride. And since cycling is also a resistance exercise, it’s not just burning fat–it also builds muscle.
A systematic review analyzed the benefits of cycling, showcasing a myriad of results. There was a positive relationship between cycling and cardiorespiratory fitness, cardiovascular fitness and general fitness.14 Whether on the road, the track, or in the gym on a stationary bike, the benefits of cycling as a cross training mechanism stem from the fact it’s a low impact, muscle building, aerobic workout. It can help athletes train if they have experienced an injury.
There are several ways to train on a bicycle. You can ride hills to build muscle and strength, or do shorter sprints to build speed. There’s also an option for endurance, with riders cycling hundreds or thousands of miles over the course of a long session. For beginners, get a feel for the workout on a stationary bike. As you advance, visit a local bike shop to get your bike properly fitted.
Many endurance athletes don’t consider strength training as part of their workout routine, but it can help prevent injury while improving strength for your main sport. For runners, maybe that’s improved core strength for economy. For cyclists, maybe the outcome is a higher power output. Regardless of your sport, strength training is imperative to improving endurance for runners15 and cyclists.
In a study of postmenopausal women, high-intensity strength training exercises showed preserved bone density while improving muscle mass, strength and balance.16 It can also help prevent injury. In a study of soccer players who strength trained in the offseason, hamstring strains were lower (and that group also saw increases in strength and speed).17
“You spend so much time beating your body down in-season, but I find that I’m healthier and stronger when I lift. With long distance, being strong helps. I try to put on a lot of muscle during a short period of time.”
Kelsey Withrow, professional triathlete
The mental benefits of resistance training have also been documented; studies have shown it improves anxiety and depression.18,19
A good strength training regimen will focus separately on different muscle groups. There are several options for lifters of all different levels, but starting with some simple bodyweight exercises (like push-ups or pull-ups) can allow you to build toward free weight training, weight machines, or rubber tubing. A meta analysis of periodized training–varying your strength training workouts–has shown results for greater changes in strength, motor performance and lean body mass.20 So don’t get stuck doing the same routine over and over again. A good way to push yourself is to incorporate overload training into some of that strength work.
If you’re strapped for time, a full-body workout once or twice a week (with dedicated recovery time) should suffice. Make sure to also spend some time nailing down form in the weight room, as improper form and too much weight can lead to injury.
An ancient practice designed to create a union between the body and mind, many athletes seek out yoga for its ability to increase strength and flexibility while also promoting mental health benefits.
Yoga can improve performance by targeting specific aspects of flexibility and balance–one study, which took place over the course of 10 weeks in male collegiate athletes, saw improvements in both balance and flexibility.21 In older adults, studies have shown improved balance and mobility.22 Strength is also a target of many yoga programs, especially in the core. Even a study in which a specific pose (sun salutation) was used six days per week for 24 weeks, participants saw increased upper body strength, weight loss and endurance.23
But with yoga, the body is only half the game. It has been shown to decrease cortisol levels (the stress hormone),24 along with the ability to lower levels of depression, stress and anxiety.25 There have even been studies which showed overall quality of life improvements in seniors.26 Maybe part of these mental benefits are linked to better sleep quality. One study illustrated that a group participating in yoga fell asleep faster, slept longer and felt more well-rested in the morning.27
Yoga isn’t an aerobic workout, but it stretches muscles, builds strength and has been shown to improve mood. Because it’s low-impact, yoga can be done every day. Typically gyms or studios have beginner classes, and they will typically last between 60 and 90 minutes. Athletes can use yoga as recovery days, so between one and three sessions per week would be perfect.
Remember: listen to your body. Athletes always want to push the limit, and many may scoff that yoga is difficult (compared, say, to running). But extending a stretch too far, or practicing yoga without learning form, can lead to injury.
There are different activities that may be considered cross training, outside of the usual suspects we detailed above.
Hiking, for example, is a great way to build strength and get outside during a recovery day. Same goes with exercises like kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding28–these can help build upper body strength while encouraging an athlete to get out of their comfort zone (literally, and figuratively).
“I spend a lot of time training indoors, so getting outside is a lot of fun. I’ll do one long run per week outside, and I’ll bring my dog. It’s a reset for me.”
Kelsey Withrow, professional triathlete
We wouldn’t recommend team sports because there’s a risk of injury. But tennis might be an exception. While there are of course injury concerns with every sport and exercise, tennis has shown to improve aerobic fitness, lower body fat percentage, reduce risk for developing cardiovascular disease and improve bone health.29
For more passive cross training, think about everyday things you can do to improve strength and balance. Even investing in a standing desk, or sitting on a medicine ball at work can encourage better posture and more movement overall.
Cross Training for Athletes
During peak training season, athletes feel the grind. You’re putting in the hours with a race or event or goal in mind, laboring over the same path, the same laps, the same routine, with little variance.
Cross training is meant to serve as a break, but one that’s productive. It can be a break from your normal routine, both physically and mentally. But it can also invigorate the mind, providing it with a new task to learn, a new challenge to face. And of course, the physical benefits of testing the body in new ways are evident.
To incorporate cross training, try one or more of these exercises a couple times a week. See how you feel. You’ll likely find one you enjoy more than others, one that maybe provides better results than the rest. It’ll take some time to find a balance.
Written by Nate Martins • January 3, 2019. Originally posted on HVMN, adapted for use here on Lorieb.
VO2 max (V=volume, O2= oxygen) is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen utilized while exercising. It may seem simple and inherent: you breathe in, you breathe out, you keep the workout going.
The importance of maximal oxygen consumption for exercise and the idea of the VO2 max was brought to into the fold by AV Hill, a Nobel Prize winner from Cambridge, in the 1920s. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s however, that methodological studies were conducted to gather the accurate physiological elements required for VO2 max measurement of an individual.
Tools to measure VO2 max were created by Henry Taylor and his colleagues over the course of 12+ years at the University of Minnesota lab. Studies were conducted on military draftees who were conscientious objectors. These subjects were essentially at Taylor’s disposal. Over a 12-month timeframe they exercised for one hour a day, six days a week. Data was obtained using methods that were groundbreaking at the time, but are still used today.
Currently hundreds of labs all over the world can conduct a VO2 max test. It used to be only elite athletes that had access to these tests but they’ve since become a prevalent benchmark in endurance sport for those at all levels looking to improve their athletic performance.
Why consider testing VO2 max as part of your training? It’s possibly the barometer for aerobic fitness.1
Why Muscles Need Oxygen to Function
Muscles (and all cells) require energy production to function. Energy inside cells comes in the form of ATP. Most of our ATP is created through the breakdown of metabolic substrates (food) using oxygen, resulting in CO2 and water. This means oxygen is really important. As you exercise energy requirements go up, so you need more oxygen.
Oxygen is absorbed into the blood by the lungs. It binds to a special protein called hemoglobin inside red blood cells. It then travels in the blood, and is pumped by the heart to the rest of the body, getting released in the tissues (including muscle) where it is used to breakdown our food to release energy.
The harder we exercise, the more we breathe and the more our heart pumps. This pumping helps to deliver more oxygen. These are some of the critical factors that influence an individual’s VO2 max.
However, muscles can make energy without oxygen in a process called anaerobic respiration. The only fuel that can be burned anaerobically is carbohydrate, being converted into a substance called pyurvate through glycolysis and then into lactate via anaerobic metabolism.
Build up of lactic acid happens when production occurs faster than our ability to clear it out. The blood becomes more acidic, which in turn can compromise muscle function.
Clearly, fuel source is an important factor relating to the amount of oxygen consumed. At higher intensities of exercise, muscles burn mainly carbs and at lower intensities, they burn more fat.2 Burning fat uses more oxygen than burning carbs, but we have more energy stored as fat, so you can keep going for longer when burning without running out of energy. Muscles are like engines that need gas (oxygen and fuel) to function.
What’s Behind a VO2 Max Number?
The maximal rate at which an individual can process oxygen is usually expressed in milliliters of oxygen per minute per kilogram of bodyweight. This is the relative number most often considered a VO2 max. An average, untrained male age 20-29 has a VO2 max of 35 – 40ml/kg. The average, untrained female of the same age has a VO2 max of 27 – 30ml/kg.
You’d imagine endurance athletes, who need to make energy during long periods of aerobic exercise typically have the highest maximal oxygen uptake. Masters of endurance performance, like cyclists and runners, are usually near the top, with more explosive athletes, like weightlifters, near the bottom.4
Elite male runners can have VO2 max values of 85ml/kg; elite female runners can have values of 77ml/kg. Miguel Indurain, who won the Tour de France five times, reported to have had a VO2 max of 88 at his prime, with Lance Armstrong at an 85.
Which athletes are at the peak of VO2 Mountain? That’s cross-country skiers. Bjørn Dæhlie, a Norwegian cross-country skier, recorded a VO2 max of 96ml/kg. The result came out of season for Dæhlie, and his physiologist claimed he could have gone over 100ml/kg. He had the record for years but in 2012 was dethroned by another Norwegian, an 18 year-old cyclist named Oskar Svendsen, who reportedly logged a 97.5ml/kg. Remember, these scores don’t appear in peer-reviewed literature, so questions always arise about their accuracy.
Animals have also been tested. Thoroughbred horses have been measured to have a VO2 max score of 180ml/kg, while Siberian huskies who ran the Iditarod notched a whopping 240ml/kg.
How to Find Your VO2 Max
Do you know how many milliliters of oxygen per minute per kilogram of oxygen your body can consume at all-out effort? Probably not. Professional labs (and sometimes training facilities) with exercise physiologists can provide these tests, which are typically conducted by breathing into an oxygen mask while walking on a treadmill for a certain amount of time at a specific pace. The only downside: it’s expensive.
During lab tests, a facemask is placed on subjects to measure the volume and gas concentrations of inhaled and exhaled air. Similar to lactate testing in a sports lab, athletes run on a treadmill (or sometimes use a stationary bike or rowing machine, depending on sport) and the exercise intensity increases every few minutes until exhaustion (read: you start having tunnel vision, hit the red stop button and collapse into a sweaty heap). The test is designed this way to achieve maximal exercise effort from the subject.
Usually, heart rate is measured through the test so you get data on your resting heart rate all the way up to maximal heart rate. Athletes will receive their ideal heart rate zones for warm-up, aerobic, anaerobic and uber-tough intervals.
The most valuable of this group might be the heart rate between aerobic and anaerobic exercise: the anaerobic threshold. Training will be geared toward improving this point, at which the body begins to accumulate lactate in the blood.
Similar tests can be replicated outside of labs with less accuracy.
Simple Heart Rate Test
Another way to roughly estimate VO2 max also makes use of heart rate measurement. First, find your resting heart rate. Most fitness trackers can provide this number, but if you don’t have a fitness tracker, you can go old school. Find your pulse and set a timer for 60 seconds, counting the number of beats in a minute.
Then, find your maximum heart rate. This formula might oversimplify things, but it’s effective for the purposes of a loose VO2 max calculation. To find your max heart rate, subtract your age from 220. So, if you’re 30 years old, your maximum heart rate is 190 beats per minute (bpm).
Use this formula to find your simple VO2 max: 15 x (max heart rate / resting heart rate).
For example, if your maximum heart rate is 190 and resting heart rate is 80:
VO2 = 15 x (190/80)
VO2 = 15 x 2.4
VO2 = 36.6
This isn’t the most accurate formula, but it can provide a good starting point for training to improve VO2.
The Rockport Fitness Walking Test (RFWT)
This walking test can also calculate a VO2 max, and studies have proven its accuracy. First, stretch and warm up. Then, find a track or mostly flat surface on which to walk a mile as fast as possible. It’s important to walk, and not to cross over into jogging territory. After walking exactly one mile, note exactly how long it took and your heart rate at the end of the mile. Using those numbers, you’ll be able to find an estimated VO2 max using this formula:
VO2 max = 132.853 – (0.0769 x W) – (0.3877 x A) + (6.315 x G) – (3.2649 x T) – (0.1565 x H)
W = weight (in pounds)
A = age
G = gender (1 for men, 0 for women)
T = time to complete the mile (in minutes)
H= heart rate
VO2 Max for Cyclists
Power is the golden egg of data for cyclists. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, as it provides some insight into finding a VO2 max, when combined with some field testing. Pedal for 20 minutes at a maximum, yet sustainable, effort. Cyclists should monitor their power meters, maintaining consistent intensity while incrementally increasing wattage the first three minutes until finding a power output that can be maintained for the rest of the test. This should be a wattage similar to high-intensity rides or races. Use this formula to find your VO2 max:
VO2 max = [(10.8 x W) / K] + 7
W = average wattage
K = weight in kilogramsStill searching for that PR?
Improving Your VO2 Max
Two major factors contribute to a high VO2 max: the amount of oxygen you can transport and your muscle physiology. Oxygen transportation includes a strong heart pumping blood through the body, with hemoglobin-dense blood, a high blood volume and high capillary density in the muscles. Better oxygen transport leads to higher VO2 max. Muscle physiology means how many muscle fibers you have, how big they are, how many mitochondria there are, and how strongly you can activate them during exercise. More aerobic, oxygen guzzling muscles equals a higher VO2 max.
Similar to lactate training, a training program can be implemented to improve VO2 max and help increase physical fitness, improving the way your body utilizes oxygen. Training is designed to have you spend as much time as possible at 95% – 100% of your current VO2 max.
Limiting factors like gender, genetic makeup, and age all have an impact on an individual VO2 max, but training can always improve this number. Because lactate threshold and VO2 max are linked, check out our blog for additional ways to train with lactate in mind.
A note: since body weight is a factor in VO2 max, less body mass will inherently improve your score.5
Interval training often results in the most improvement of VO2 max.6
High-Intensity Training: Long Intervals
If you are good at pacing yourself, sessions made up of long (4 minutes or so) intervals at your hardest sustainable effort are a good way to increase VO2 max. Between each interval, you should keep moving; active recovery will keep VO2 elevated during the process. Plan to do 4-6 sets.
The 4×4 minute workout is a classic in all sports: running, cycling and rowing research has proven its efficacy.7 First, always remember to warm up properly for at least ten minutes. Then conduct four maximal 1,000 meter runs (or sprint four minutes) at 85% – 95% of your maximum effort with two to three minutes of recovery between each run. For cycling, find a section of road or a climb offering a challenging grade that you can work for 4 minutes. To mix it up you could try alternating between standing and seated efforts each minute
The idea is to save enough energy so that your last set is the hardest intensity. If you are running on a track or watching your power on the bike, ensure you’ll be able to go your hardest on the last set. Pace this right and you should be dreading the last interval. By holding a pace that’s at the upper limit of your ability, you overload your heart, lungs and muscles, forcing them to adapt to deliver and take up more oxygen.
In one research study, athletes who did a similar workout improved their VO2 maxes by 10%.7 Time to exhaustion, blood volume, vein and artery function all improved after the training period.
High-Intensity Training: Short Intervals
If you can’t bring yourself to suffer four minutes of near-max intensity, you can go for shorter intervals–but they have to be an even higher intensity to provide a benefit. Short interval sprints of under one minute can also improve VO2 max as long as they’re conducted at almost maximal effort level.
The exercise test here is 8-10 sets of 1 minute sprints. Again, make sure you are properly warmed up–these workouts carry a risk of injury because of the amount of power produced. You have to give it your all during each interval without holding anything back.
From the same study mentioned above, those doing ten sets of one-minute high-intensity sprints on a treadmill at maximum rate (with a 1 minute rest in between each interval) increased VO2 max by 3%.7
Time to exhaustion, plasma volume and hemoglobin mass increased with this routine. However, results demonstrated that long interval training garnered the most dramatic results.
VO2 Max: Training Your Body to Use Oxygen
Being able to use a high volume of oxygen with a high degree of efficiency is one of the best indicators of endurance fitness there out there. Many factors contribute to this measurement, but what it comes down to is training–athletes must train to increase VO2 max.8
Some athletes are better equipped for high VO2 maxes. Runners, cyclists and rowers sit near the top of the totem pole, but cross-country skiers have typically reigned supreme. Regardless of your sport, a high VO2 can be a great gutcheck for your fitness level at a physiological level.
Because oxygen is so vital to our muscle function, we should be adept at using it efficiently. Training, backed by science
Written by Jamie Witherby• December 7, 2018. Originally published by HVMN, modified for use here on Lorieb.
In this article, we won’t just stick to why tea is so tasty. We’ll talk about the positive effects that L-theanine (L-thee-uh-neen) can have on your stress levels, cognitive performance, cardiovascular and immune health.
Tea is coffee’s coy competitor in the cutthroat, yet throat-soothing, world of hot beverages. Both provide daily stimulant boosts, both are great to share with a loved one, and both are steeped in rich and complex histories. But popular teas (like green tea, black tea, and even tea extract and tea constituents) have something coffee doesn’t.
If you have a cup of green or black tea in front of you, take a sip. Savor those tocopherols and flavonoids lending the cup its signature color and flavor. The tea leaves’ distinct bitterness is supplied by natural antioxidants known as catechins.1
There’s another flavor you should be experiencing however. A pleasant, mouth-filling sensation that creates a rounded and savory taste, umami is often called the fifth taste after bitter, sour, sweet, and salty. Tea’s umami flavor is all thanks to the non-protein amino acid, L-theanine.1
A healthy body starts with a healthy brain. L-theanine has proven itself to be a powerful supplement for brain health by assisting with stress, sleep, attention, and memory.
Stress and Anxiety
If you’ve ever brewed a cup of tea to decompress from a stressful day or share with an anxious friend, congratulations—you have fabulous instincts.
Researchers have found L-theanine can reduce our physiological stress responses by altering the behavior of neurotransmitters in the brain.2 This isn’t a slow, thirty-days-to-better-behavior modification process. L-theanine is tough, immediately jumping on defense to supply these benefits.
Taking L-theanine is like hiring a bodyguard for your brain.
Our brains balance activity through excitatory (upper) and inhibitory (downer) neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of some of the major excitatory neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. The balance can shift however, through an excess of these excitatory neurotransmitters. A shift can cause classic responses we’re familiar with like stress, anxiety, and the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (AKA the fight-or-flight response).
Taking L-theanine to mimic gamma-aminobutyric acid (a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain) can inhibit these excitatory responses and ease their physiological stress responses. This will allow you to enjoy a lower heart rate,2 lower blood pressure,3 attenuation of the fight-or-flight response,2 and reduced cortisol levels (major stress hormone).2,3
If the classic calming effect isn’t revealing enough, let’s pull back the covers on how deeply relaxing L-theanine can be.
To catch some Zs, first we have to catch some waves.
During sleep, it’s all about theta waves and delta waves. Theta waves occur in the first stages of sleep, generating two distinct rhythms of greater amplitude and lower frequency than the waking beta waves. Delta waves are the lowest frequency, highest amplitude waves generated during the deepest stages of sleep. Right before sleep, when you’re still in that daydream-like, relaxed state, it’s all about the alpha waves. The brain generates alpha waves during deeply relaxing activities such as meditation.4,5
If you struggle to feel peaceful during meditation or get your mind to achieve that quiet calm right before bed, L-theanine can take you there. Studies have shown that L-theanine can generate alpha brain waves in the parietal and occipital regions of the brain, leading to a prolonged calming effect.4,5 In a placebo-controlled study of young individuals with ADHD, L-theanine proved especially effective in helping them get to sleep and experience deep sleep.6
Sleep problems are often a concern for individuals with ADHD, and L-theanine proved to be a safe and effective therapy to improve sleep quality.
Focus and Attention
L-theanine has the power to both calm you down in the evenings and provide a boost in the morning. You know those days; lack of quality sleep the night before leaves you dull, each excruciating minute stretched out between sips of coffee. All that coffee can have a negative build up, leading to a jittery, on edge feeling while desperately trying not to fidget during your conference room presentation.
The same amino acid that ushers you into dreamland can also deliver an attentive state of mind. Multiple human studies show that consuming L-theanine can increase focus, reaction times, and visual processing while reducing mental fatigue.7,8 Essentially, subjects in these human studies performed attention tasks better after taking L-theanine. Their overall mental performance improved.
Even when the mind is in a relaxed state and creating those alpha waves, it’s focused. Consider meditation: its goal is mindfulness, focusing on an inner calm. Meditating is a form of dialed-in concentration that also happens to be calming.
Maybe you’re a master of mornings but you can’t remember the names of many of your closest coworkers. Enter L-theanine, which can assist with memory.9
To be clear: drinking a single cup of green tea will not suddenly remind you of where you left your keys. However, consuming L-theanine over time could help protect the neurons in your brain from injury or cognitive impairment and contribute to the development of the hippocampus. That’s the part of your brain responsible for storing memories9 not the future academic grounds of the large semi-aquatic African mammal.
Start young, and you could even stand a better chance against the oxidative damage and memory impairment of Alzheimer’s.1 Oh, and remember how we talked about L-theanine reducing cortisol levels? Cortisol can negatively impact memory retrieval.11 Reduce cortisol levels, and you may be able to retrieve those memories a little more easily.
We’ve touched upon what L-theanine can do for the brain, but let’s not forget about its benefits for the body. L-theanine couldn’t let your brain have all the fun. So freshen up your tea, and let’s talk about what your new amino acid can do for your body.
Unfortunately, L-theanine is not the cure for the common cold. It has however been linked to increased protection against the flu and a boost in immune function when combined with another amino acid, L-cystine.12 This combination improves the production of Immunoglobin G (IgG), an antibody with a vendetta against infection, and glutathione (GSH), an antioxidant.12
Antioxidants are valuable because they help our bodies remove free radicals. Free radicals are these unpaired, unstable, thieving little molecules that steal electrons from our lipid cell membranes (also called lipid peroxidation). The theft causes tissue and muscle damage and contributes to some of the big name diseases out there: diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. L-theanine has demonstrated powerful antioxidative properties.13,14,15
Because antioxidants help us remove the free radicals that lead to cardiovascular problems like heart disease, L-theanine can do some pretty amazing things for heart health.
Leaves from both green and black tea have been shown to improve cardiovascular health all on their own.16,17 L-theanine sweetens the deal through its ability to mitigate blood pressure increases when the user undergoes acute stress. Translation? Less strain on the heart.18
Supplementing with L-theanine
Not a fan of green tea or black tea? Healthy adults can safely and easily supplement L-theanine at a dosage of 100-200 mg per day, a staggering five to ten times higher concentration than what you’ll find in a cup of green tea.1 So even if you’re already pounding cup after cup of the umami taste bomb, you may not be enjoying all of its benefits…or at least not as efficiently. Consider supplementing with L-theanine to warm up for your day or to cool down at the end of it.
L-theanine hasn’t been linked to any adverse side effects or symptoms in the neuropharmacology sphere. Keep in mind though, that it should not be mixed with medications for high blood pressure because L-theanine reduces blood pressure. As with all new supplements and medications, consult with your healthcare provider before taking.
Whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or a tenacious tea drinker, your mind and body will enjoy the benefits of adding L-theanine to the mix. To recap, those are:
Reduced levels of stress and anxiety
Increased sleep quality
Increased focus, attention, and memory
Increased immune function
Increased cardiovascular health
No matter what’s in your cup, we can all raise a glass to those benefits.
Many people (especially us older folks) have a hard time understanding how the popular keto diet can be healthy. Most of us have been warned about cardiovascular disease, so a high fat diet seems contrary to what we have been taught for years. The good news is, there are many versions of a modified keto diet. I have created one for myself by cutting way back on refined carbohydrates like sugar, potatoes, rice, bread and pasta. I was diagnosed with an allergy to wheat years ago, so already switched to gluten free bread and pasta, but even they contain not so good for you carbs.
Food items like pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, crackers and snacks contain high amounts of net carbs, so I have learned to avoid them. A great alternative to pasta and rice is cauliflower. You can purchase it (conveniently) already cut up in “pearls” (like the bags I buy, pictured below) or you can cut up a fresh head yourself.
As indicated on their label, these pearls of cauliflower contain a mere 2 grams of net carbs (4 total carbs minus 2 fiber) per 3/4 cup. This is a huge difference from pasta or rice. For example, pasta contains 62 grams of net carbs per 3/4 cup, brown rice contains 22 grams per 1/3 cup and white rice contains 32 grams per 1/3 cup. When you are limiting your net carbs to 25 grams per day, those numbers are quite significant. These cauliflower pearls can even be incorporated (with cheese) into a pizza dough!
Another great substitute for the high carb perils of pasta and rice is zucchini spirals. They too can be purchased already cut up, but you can buy them whole and cut them up yourself too if desired. I’m all about convenience. If an ingredient is easy to prepare, I will be much more likely to use it in a meal. Spaghetti squash can also be used as a substitute for starchy pasta.
I also make sure I have lots of crunchy salad ingredients on hand to throw together a quick lunch option. Leafy greens, broccoli slaw, seeds, avocado, tomatoes and cucumbers (all contain low net carbs) as well as a variety of low carb salad dressings are mainstays in my fridge. These choices of good carbs have always been staples in my diet, often incorporated into a morning smoothie.
For calories formerly taken up by bad carbs in my daily diet, I have increased my intake of fats, although I stick to good fats. Yes, believe it or not, there is such a thing as good fats. I don’t like the way so many animal fats (processed and fatty meats, butter, cream, lots of cheese) recommended on the original keto diet make me feel. Constipation and stomach cramps are no fun!
Therefore, to get my fat macros (that’s the keto term), I consume more plant based omega 3s. Fats like avocado, olive oil, almonds, almond milk, flax seeds and coconut oil are my favourites. It is easy to replace the fats suggested in keto menus with the healthier versions. For example, I substitute almond milk for full fat cream and olive oil for butter.
My protein intake remains about the same. Protein consumption is important to retain muscle mass, especially for post menopausal women like myself. I have always leaned (pun intended) towards lean meats and fish for sources of protein, so that aspect needed no modification.
For four weeks now I have been following this modified keto version. I have lost a few pounds, but weight loss was not my primary goal. More importantly, I have noticed increased muscle tone in my abdominal area. These are the muscles I have not seen in many years, not since before my kids were born. That is impressive (I think) since those four weeks included one week of vacation (lots of margaritas) as well as the holiday season during which tempting goodies were hard to resist.