#352 Beachbody® Advice Staff: Most Asked Questions

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Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn't.

Erica Jong, How to Save Your Own Life, 1977

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Beachbody® Advice Staff: 8 Most Asked Questions

By Denis Faye


"How do I get past this plateau?" "Why do I have to do yoga?" "How on earth can the sweet, orangey goodness of P90X® Results and Recovery Formula be good for you?" As an Advice Staff member on the Beachbody Message Boards, these are the kinds of questions I've fielded almost every day for the last 6 years. In that time, I've answered over 23,000 posts on the Nutrition or Fitness forums. There's no longer much that throws me, with the exception of one question: "Is it possible that I'm allergic to water?" But besides that one, the questions online tend to be fairly routine. They're good questions, mind you, but let me put it this way, you're not the only one around wondering when his or her six-pack abs are going to show up.

So, for your amusement and, hopefully, your education, here are the top eight questions I get asked on the boards.

1. "I'm eating at a large calorie deficit and exercising really hard, yet the scale isn't moving. What gives?"

Plateau, huh? Ninety-nine percent of the time, it's one of two things. If you're not dropping pounds, yet your inches are changing for the positive, odds are you are actually losing fat but also gaining muscle. That's what's balancing out the scale.

I know it's a frustrating situation, but if you've been looking in the mirror or putting on clothes, you've probably noticed that you're looking better and your clothes are fitting looser, so it's not all bad.

When this happens, I've found that approximately week 6 is the magic time when the scale starts moving, so hang in there, tiger!

The other probable cause is that you're undereating, which can force your body into starvation mode.

Back in the days when folks hunted and gathered, there were no 7-Elevens. Because of this, people sometimes had to go for days with little or no food. According to Darwin, people who survived these times of famine were the people who, well, survived these times of famine. And in order to do this, their bodies adapted by slowing down their metabolisms and holding onto emergency fuel supplies (aka "fat") during lean times. This is starvation mode.

Almost every time I tell someone to eat more to knock out a plateau, I get an argument because people who've lost weight by eating less have trouble adjusting their mindsets. But as your body composition changes, you have to eat to support it. If I can finally turn them around, the scale almost always starts moving again.

2."What's the deal with Recovery Formula?"

P90X® Results and Recovery FormulaP90X Results and Recovery Formula is a four-parts-carbohydrates-to-one-part-protein powder that speeds muscle recovery.

When you exercise anaerobically (weight training, the high end of intervals, etc.), you burn blood sugar and glycogen. If you give it your all for about an hour, you'll probably deplete both of those resources. The carbs in Recovery Formula rush in to replenish that blood sugar and glycogen. Meanwhile, the protein piggybacks in, getting to muscles for a head start on resynthesis.

This 4:1 recovery drink model was conceived by John Ivy and Robert Portman in a landmark study you can read in the book Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition.

That's my main answer to this query, but there are sometimes subtle variations on the question. Let's address a few of those here.

First off, the carb-protein balance should be between 3:1 and 5:1 to work optimally. If you take in more protein than that or you add fat or fiber, it slows the absorption of the carbohydrates and you miss the post-workout window of about 1 hour during which nutrients are absorbed readily.

Secondly, while Recovery Formula primarily works for strength workouts, there's an anaerobic component to most of our "aerobic," or cardio, workouts, which you know if you've done P90X's "Plyometrics" workout.

Because not every workout is going to hammer you, you should decide how much Recovery Formula you need on a sliding scale. If you're so wasted that you're having difficulty moving the muscle groups you just worked, then a full serving of Recovery Formula is called for. If you feel a little shaky but not trashed, you probably have a little glycogen left over, so drink half a serving.

Drinking Recovery FormulaAnother factor in deciding how you use Recovery Formula is how much blood sugar you began your workout with. If your diet is very lean, you may be tapped to begin with, so sipping a little during your workout would be hugely beneficial. There's no hard and fast rule. If you feel perfectly good post-workout, you likely didn't train hard enough for Recovery Formula. It's really up to you to gauge how you feel, and use some common sense.

Finally, Recovery Formula is specially designed for maximum absorption, and it has a lot of extra goodies in it. But if you're getting fit on the cheap, you can make your own recovery drink with apples or grape juice (the acids in orange juice mess with the absorption process, so don't use that) and a couple tablespoons of vanilla protein powder.

And no, it doesn't taste weird. It tastes like a fruit juice float.

Oh, and Beachbody's Meal Replacement Shake is also a decent replacement.

3. "Why do I have to do yoga?"

When a form of exercise has had over 3,000 years to evolve, it tends to be highly effective. It increases strength, balance, and flexibility in a way that no other exercise can. A lot of people write in to ask if they can replace it with stretching, but it's just not the same thing. Stretching does little, if anything, for strength and balance.

YogaI know yoga can be hard, but if you stick it out, it'll pay off. If you don't believe me, here's what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told Time magazine about the longevity of his basketball career: "My friends and teammates think I made a deal with the devil. But it was yoga that made my training complete. There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga."

4. "How long can I do the high-protein first phase of the P90X nutrition plan?"

For most of us, not very long. It's slated to go a month, but most of you won't go past week 2, and some won't make it a week. This phase is designed to teach you how to identify how carbs work with your body for energy and to more efficiently use your body's fat stores. Sounds cool, but if you do it too long, you'll hinder your progress, because when you follow a high-protein diet, you're denying yourself the carbohydrates to do P90X workouts effectively.

The body does use body fat for energy during some activities, such as cardio, but only to a degree. When you deny yourself the carbohydrates it needs and then push beyond the capacity of fat mobilization for energy, your body activates a process called ketosis, which burns additional body fat for use as fuel for the muscles and brain. When ketosis fails, your body will enter a carb-depleted state called "the bonk," and you won't be able to exercise effectively.

Meat and CheeseContinued ketosis wears on your kidneys and can lead to kidney disease. Obese and out-of-shape people may be able to follow a high-protein diet for a while because they have plenty of fat reserves and, frankly, they aren't yet capable of exercising at a high level. But still, 6 weeks is about as long as anyone should be able to stay in phase one.

How do you know where you fall? If you add some carbs and instantly feel better, you'll know it's time for a change. If you add too many carbs, you will start to feel sluggish, which is the lesson phase one is designed to teach.

5. "I've injured myself. Should I just work through the pain?"

Never, ever work through injury pain. Sometimes it's hard to tell if it's muscle pain or an injury, but if you're hurt, stop. And if you're unsure, err on the cautious side. If you can do other workouts that don't affect the injury, fine, but rest the injury and ice it every day to help with swelling. If it clears up in a week, resume exercising, but make a point of warming up the injured area a little longer before working out, and stretch the area as often as you can, particularly post-workout. Stretching an injury helps prevent scar tissue from forming on the muscles. If it doesn't clear up, you can try more rest or get to a doctor or a physical therapist ASAP.

If you take care of it, it'll most likely heal. If not, it will probably become chronic, which means you could be stuck with it for life.

6. "Why don't I have six-pack abs yet?"

You very well may already have a washboard stomach, but that last bit of chub is covering it. Unfortunately, you can't spot burn fat. We all have our problem areas—the last places fat wants to leave. Typically, for guys, it's the gut, and for the ladies, it's the hips.

So basically, all you can do is keep at it. Eat right and work hard, and eventually, you'll get those abs. Keep in mind that your body will be super resistant to lose the last of its emergency fuel supply, so you're going to have to work with a pretty small calorie deficit, or you might go into starvation mode. (See question one.)

7. "My breasts are getting smaller as I lose weight. How can I stop this?"

ModelBreasts are mainly fat. Unlike hips, they often seem to be the first thing to go on women. It's kind of a bummer, but seriously, the rest of you is thinning out too, and you're going to look much hotter in a bikini with or without your current cup size.

And, for the record, I don't get this question all that much, but it's a real crowd-pleaser, so I thought I'd throw it in the mix.

8. "Why can't I eat less on P90X?"

Because P90X isn't a weight loss program. Yes, burning fat is a primary component of the program, but it's only part of the plan.

P90X is designed for people with some degree of fitness. Our other programs, such as Power 90® and Slim in 6®, are designed for people who are less fit. Out-of-shape people generally can't spend a long time working out above their anaerobic threshold, and therefore, they don't burn fat for fuel efficiently. Training while eating fewer calories can help improve this.

Beef KabobsTypically, as these people work their way up the Beachbody fitness ranks, they need to up their calories to continue to get results. They need to support their increased metabolisms, and they need the fuel to repair their muscles after the more intense workouts. Otherwise, they risk getting injured or getting a chronic illness.

Assuming you can do P90X, you should already be in this higher fitness range.

Of course, this can be different for everyone, so it's up to you to experiment and find a calorie range that's right for you. Just don't undereat. If you overeat slightly, your fitness will eventually catch up with your nutrition. But if you undereat and ignore your body's warning signs, then you will break down sooner or later.

Related Articles
"Injuries: Just Say No"
"10 Tips from the Best of the Boards"
"Just Eat This: 5 Rules for a Healthy Diet"

Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this coming Monday, April 20th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT, in the Beachbody Chatroom!

Denis Faye If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Nutrition 911, Part X: What's in Your Water?

By Steve Edwards

This week, our oh-so-basic nutrition class takes a look at bottled water. We drink it because it's safe, right? Or do we drink it because it tastes good? What if someone told you that your tap water was held to a higher safety standard than your bottled water? Would that get your attention? If not, then how about this: what if I told you that the refreshing bottle of Aquafina® you just paid $2.75 for at the Stop-N-Rob came from the municipal water supply of Detroit?

Drinking Bottled Water and Water Treatment Plant

The bottled water industry is still relatively young in the U.S. and has only recently come under a somewhat underpowered microscope. Even so, the findings are far from pretty, and a much further cry from that pristine glacier-fed mountain spring you thought you were shelling out three bucks a gallon for. But before you go dump that case of Dasani® you just bought into Fido's dish, read on.

First off, the odds are with you, health-wise. The findings of a recent 4-year study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) showed that 78 percent of the brands tested were safe. This means that unless you've been extremely loyal to one brand on the list, you're probably okay. Still, knowing that 22 percent of the companies out there have chemical contaminants in their water higher than the state limits isn't too reassuring.

Add that to the findings that almost 25 percent of the companies selling bottled water are using tap water that sometimes has no further treatment, and it becomes downright maddening. After all, Americans consumed an estimated 25.8 billion liters of bottled water in 2004. At an average of about a dollar a liter, that's a lot of money to be spending on smartly dressed tap water.

Bottled WaterIf you're not offended yet, consider the resources it takes to pour water out of a tap and into a bottle. To create enough plastic to bottle these 26 or so billion liters requires over 1.5 million barrels of oil. This is enough to fuel about 100,000 cars for a year. And this is just in the U.S. alone. Then consider that there's a flotilla of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that's twice the size of Texas and that every time you throw out a plastic water bottle (bottles which are only formulated to be safe for one-time use) you're adding to it, and you should be fired up enough to enroll in Politics 911. But back to the task at hand, your health.

What's up with the standards?

This is a good question. Most of us have heard stories about polluted metropolitan water supplies. When I lived in Los Angeles, every year or so, a story would hit the wires about excessive levels of certain substances being found in our tap water. Scary? Of course. So now I live in the city with the best water standards in the U.S., Salt Lake City. For some reason, however, bottled water companies have somehow flown under this regulatory radar. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that most of the big-name water brands are subsidiaries of soda companies with massive lobbying power and, historically, little regard for their consumers' health. (It's Pepsi® who brings you the cool drink of Detroit's finest, for example.)

Whatever the cause, the regulations enacted allow bottled water to contain some contamination by E. coli, or fecal coliform, and don't require disinfection for cryptosporidium or giardia. There is also no regulation for the types of plastic to be used, and some of these cheap, "throwaway" plastics allow chemicals to migrate from the plastic and into the water. If you don't understand what any of this stuff is, trust me, you don't want to be drinking it.

How do I tell good water from bad?

Unfortunately, this is difficult, if not impossible. A list of the offending companies has not been made public, so as of now, there just isn't much you can do to ensure your safety. Contacting the bottler might be helpful. Contacting the state water boards in the state where the water's bottled can also help because they often oversee the bottling standards as well. And if the cap says, "from a municipal source," or, "from a community water system," you're drinking tap water, which may or may not be further treated.

The best solution is probably to cry foul (see below). With 78 percent still on the upside, we've got a good chance of spurring the good guys to action on this one.

What to do?

Water TestingSwitching to tap water isn't the perfect answer. While the U.S. has high standards for water purity, the taste alone is often enough to incite dreams of Evian®. A home water filter is probably the best solution. Filters certified by NSF International (800-NSF-MARK) ensure the removal of many contaminants. A certification is not a safety guarantee, but it is better than no certification at all. It's important that all filters be maintained and replaced at least as often as recommended by the manufacturer. Otherwise, they could make the problem worse.

You can also get the test results of your tap water. All water suppliers must provide annual water-quality reports to their customers. Give 'em a call and they'll send you one. Their number is on your water bill.

If you're fastidious, or suspicious, you can do this test on your own. Call the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) for a list of state-certified water testing facilities. Standard consumer test packages are available through large commercial labs at a relatively reasonable price.

What about my bottled water?

No matter how you look at it, the safest current option is checking out your local tap water and then filtering it. And when you do opt for bottled waters, try finding those from springs or aquifers, not municipal sources, unless you know which municipal source the water came from and can check it out. At this point, I'd have to recommend bottled water as a supplement only, not as your primary water source.

You don't have to like it

If you're mad as hell and don't want to take it anymore, well, it's a good thing we live in a democracy. Fire off a letter of indignation to your members of Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, and your governor, and urge them to adopt strict requirements for bottled water safety, labeling, and public disclosure. Specifically, refer to these points suggested by the NRDC:

  • Set strict limits for contaminants of concern in bottled water, including arsenic, heterotrophic-plate-count bacteria, E. coli and other parasites and pathogens, and synthetic organic chemicals such as "phthalates."
  • Apply the rules to all bottled water, whether carbonated or not and whether sold intrastate or interstate.
  • Require bottlers to display information on their labels about the levels of contaminants of concern found in the water, the water's exact source, how it's been treated, and whether it meets health criteria set by the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control for killing parasites like cryptosporidium.

To take even further action, you can encourage (or demand, your call) your bottlers and the International Bottled Water Association (a trade organization that includes about 85 percent of water bottlers) to voluntarily make labeling disclosures such as those listed above.

Contact information:

Andrew von Eschenbach
Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857

That's enough for today, where we actually did borderline on politics class. Unfortunately, that's the world we live in. We're often forced to stand up and fight for things that should be basic, such as the right to non-polluted water. Next time, we'll stay on the beverage theme by looking at one of the most popular drinks on the planet, coffee.

Related Articles
"Nutrition 911, Part IX: 10 Reasons to Drink Water"
"Nutrition 911, Part VIII: Pop Goes the Diet – The Worst Food in the World"
"Nutrition 911, Part VII: Sugar vs. Fat: Which Is Worse?"
"Nutrition 911, Part VI: Sweeteners"
"Nutrition 911, Part V: 5 Quick Steps to Mastering Food Labels"
"Nutrition 911, Part IV: What 'Fat Free' and 'Low Carb' Really Mean"
"Nutrition 911, Part III: Deciphering Marketing Jargon"
"Nutrition 911, Part II: What to Eat"
"Nutrition 911"

Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this coming Monday, April 20th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT, in the Beachbody Chatroom!

Steve EdwardsIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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Test Your Freaky Parasites IQ!

By Daniel V. Donatelli

Sure, we all hate parasites. There's Giardia lamblia, the parasite that will turn your insides into liquid fire if you drink untreated water, and there are mosquitoes, which feed on other organisms' blood to reproduce. But then there are the less common, more freaky parasites of the world. Can you match these awful parasites with their nightmarish behavior?

  1. CandiruCandiru: Swim up the host's urethra. Candiru, or "toothpick fish," are tiny freshwater catfish that can swim up the host's (i.e., your) urethra and attach themselves to the fleshy wall using spines. They then feed on the host's blood until the host does the reasonable thing and sets himself on fire.

  2. Cymothoa exigua: Attaches itself to the base of a fish's tongue. Cymothoa exigua is a horrifying parasite that attaches itself to the base of a fish's tongue, feasts on blood until the organ atrophies, and then positions itself as the tongue's replacement in the fish's mouth. What's the matter, Cymothoa exigua got your tongue?

  3. Hookworm: Attaches itself to the host's intestinal wall. Hookworms attach themselves to the host's intestinal wall, feed on blood, and eventually cause anemia, severe abdominal pain, fatigue, and in some cases a bizarre hunger for things like dirt and mud. However, these symptoms have also been attributed to the human parasite known as Love.

  4. Human BotflyHuman botfly: Chews its way into the host's body. The human botfly maggot will chew its way into a human host's body, feast on the flesh while it grows, and then pop out of a small hole it has eaten from the inside of the host. Ta-da!

  5. Loa loa filariasis: Attaches itself to the host's subcutaneous tissues. Loa loa filariasis, also known as the loa loa worm, and commonly known as the African eye worm, is a sight for sore eyes. This beauty is literally in the eye of the beholder. But don't worry—only 12 to 13 million people have this parasitical worm scurrying across their eyeballs. (Dieters' Bonus: Do an image search for this parasite; you'll never be hungry again!)

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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