Saturday, October 30, 2010

Metabolism Part 2: Exercise and Metabolism

This is Part II in a series about the science of metabolism. I am not an exercise scientist or registered dietitian, I am merely a biochemist with an interest in the way our bodies work. Consult your doctor before starting any crazy diet or exercise plans based on my posts!

If you've been reading my blog, you know I like to exercise. I like to run, bike, swim, lift, and generally be active in my life.

It makes me happy and balanced. It also allows me to eat and experience a wide variety of foods. The way my body uses food and turns it into energy is called metabolism. If you missed the basics, you can find them here.

So, I've been trying to think of how to tell you about the ways exercise effects your metabolism, and I think I want to highlight the ways exercise effects specific parts of you, and then talk about how they go together.

These parts are:

1) Your Brain
2) Your Muscles
3) Your Gastrointestinal Tract
4) Your Future!
(That one's for you, nearly cousin-in-law!)

When we talked about carbohydrates, we learned that glucose is the only fuel your BRAIN can use and that glucose is stored in your liver (~10%) and muscles (~1%).

Your MUSCLES also prefer to use glucose, and while other sugars (like fructose and galactose) can be converted to glucose or directly into energy, it isn't done efficiently while exercising. So, when you run out of MUSCLE glucose (which occurs rather quickly - 10 minutes during intense exercise!) your body starts mobilizing glucose from your liver.

Glucose from your liver circulates in your blood and fuels your BRAIN and your MUSCLES. But, if you don't keep fueling yourself, you can't efficiently convert fats or proteins into glucose while exercising, so you will 'hit the wall'. 'Hitting the wall' happens after 60-90 minutes of intense exercise and it signals an empty tank. You don't have enough glucose circulating in your blood to fuel your brain. If you don't fuel yourself, you can black out.

You can, over time, increase your glucose stores mildly,

A question I often get at this point is how people who are panicking or running for their lives can keep going without enough fuel. Adrenaline is a signalling chemical that does amazing things for your body. It takes away mental blocks on abilities and gives you the feeling that you can do anything. Adrenaline allows you to run through the 'yellow light' of 'hitting the wall' and keep going until you hit the 'red light' of absolutely empty. It does this by signalling to your body to increase blood flow and clearance, which increases nutrient and oxygen transport to your muscles. It also is a neurotransmitter, which means it signals in your brain

Do you get an upset stomach when you exercise?  Hey, it happens to everyone. When you are vigorously exercising, your body is more interested in fueling your BRAIN and your MUSCLES than digesting. It is also trying to suck all of the water, electrolytes, and glucose out of your intestines, and you become very sensitive to dehydration during this process. As a result, GASTROINTESTINAL problems often occur.

STOMACH cramps can occur when you've had too much to eat before you exercise, or when you eat too complex of foods. If your body is having difficultly digesting, such as with fiber and lots of protein, you may get stomach cramps. Simple carbohydrates are the best way to fuel your body immediately prior or during exercise.

Some people can eat whole foods during exercise - fruits, crackers, etc. I can't. I have a very sensitive STOMACH. For me, I have to have simple sugars, primarily glucose, to fuel long exercise sessions. I prefer gatorade or gu gels, which are easily absorbed once they hit my GASTROINTESTINAL (i.e. stomach and intestinal) tract.

You may have giggled when I said exercise effects your future, but it does. Exercise has been linked to a longer and healthier life. Making time for a small amount of exercise, even 30 minutes 3-4 days per week has been shown to have immense health benefits. Get moving! It'll be good for you, your family, and your FUTURE!

I need to get going now. Sorry for the very wordy post. I wanted to put links in, but the internet is timing out. So, if you want a reputable source for anything I've posted today, please let me know. Leave a comment with the statement you'd like cited and I'll get you something immediately.

Happy Halloween! 

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Do you know what yesterday was in my household? It was our birthday-anniversary, or Birthdayversary! The fiance and I combine my birthday and our anniversary every year and have a big celebration instead of two smaller ones within a week. Yesterday we celebrated my 26th birthday and our 4 year anniversary. We had a fabulous day and I have some fun pictures to share with you.

But before I tell you about that, how about something funny. The fiance has lots of funny stories from when we first met. Evidently he was all about getting my attention and I was first oblivious and then unimpressed. Obviously he won me over and we are now best-friends-forever-forever (BF-cubed). But, on our first date, he took me to Applebees and then to Jackass 2. The movie about poop and penises. And he got a second date, but it was pretty rough for a while for him. ;) But, since Jackass 3D is in theatres, we went out to dinner and a movie on Friday night and celebrated our relationship all over again. Then, on Saturday morning, the fiance made me breakfast:

Egg-in-a-basket and applesauce. Juice and coffee on the side. Yumm.

Then I went to work for a few minutes (no, science doesn't take a day off because it's your birthday!) and while I was gone, the fiance prepared a special surprise.
That's an ice-cream cake. The holes are not finger-holes, but I'm not going to pretend I'm above picking the frosting off my own cake. They were from candles! And read what it says...we are very serious about our nomenclature!
We saved the ice-cream cake for later, and we went on our adventure. We went to a local park and had a picnic and hiked around. The food, company, weather, and sights were all perfect. Here are some snapshots...


 This rock made us think of a sleeping's like a profile view of the head. Do you see the eye, the mouth-line, and the nose? It was crazy how similar it appeared the longer we looked at it!

We came home and relaxed for a while and made some calls to our families. Then, we were supposed to go out to dinner, but we decided to drink some wine, eat some cake, and call it a night. We were too full from dinner, and by the time we got hungry, it was too late.

Magically, the best birthday present I got this weekend was sleep. I've been struggling with insomnia, and it felt amazing to sleep 12 hours last night - from 11pm to 11am. I feel so much better.

It was a fantastic weekend, but I'll be back to regular life tomorrow. Hope you have a great week!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Triumphant Return

Hi everyone. I'm so sorry to have disappeared. If you're still reading my blog, THANK YOU. I know I have to work hard to make it up to you. With recipes for things like this...

The past two weeks have been the busiest and most trying of my professional life. Coupled with some physical tests, medical problems, and generally not taking care of myself, I really couldn't blog. Plus, I would've been a terrible downer, and I try to be a positive source of energy and excitement in the world, ya know?

I'm not going to do a huge recap post. I don't think you'd be terribly interested in all the nitty gritty of my life lately, but I have learned, relearned, and been enlightened to the following.

1) I have to take care of myself first and foremost. If I'm going to be working 10-14 hour days, I can't be doing it on sugar and caffeine. It's not good for me or the people around me. I have to remain dedicated to taking care of myself.

2) I've applied for a couple of jobs and have been holding my breath waiting to hear about them. I need to relax and have faith that I am an enthusiastic, qualified candidate who loves what she does. Someone will recognize this. I mean, wouldn't you hire me (please!)?

3) My body is stronger than I thought. I barely trained for a 1/2 marathon, and my speed suffered greatly during our intensely hot (hot for Iowa, I know....) summer. This fall I ran my second fastest 5k and I finished a 1/2 marathon 8 minutes slower than last year (when I actually trained for it). I'm now excited to work on my body over the winter, when I will largely be confined to the gym.

Finally, I still love fall. And I'm enjoying the fruits of the season...

(Roasted pumpkin....baked apple stuffed with streusel oats)

Now that it's chilly, I'm excited to eat warm veggies. I cook them into curries...

And saute or stew them simply...that pumpkin was so sweet it didn't even need sugar!

Grilled catfish, corn on the cob (nothing on mine, please!), sauteed collard greens in garlic and lemon, and stewed pumpkin.

And the piece-de-resistance:
Maple Roasted Cranberries and Brussels Sprouts
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen brussels sprouts, halved
1 cup fresh whole cranberries
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp olive oil
pinch salt
pinch pepper

Whisk together maple syrup, oil, and spices. Add sprouts and cranberries. Bake 20-30 min at 400 until almost fork-tender (less time for frozen). Turn up the oven to 450 for the last 5 minutes to get the awesome caramelization seen above. 

It couldn't be easier. And it's so good. 
With that, I'll leave you. I missed you so much and I'm so excited to be back!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Check in and science tidbit

This weekend, the fiance and I started juicing:
No, not that kind of juicing!

THIS kind of juicing!

So lately, while piled and piled with stress, I've felt REALLY old. My eyes feel old, my body feels old, my mind feels foggy. Also, I turn 26 this month. I'm starting the descent into (gasp!) 30! So, after obsessing about this all week, I bought some eye cream and a juicer. Because I obviously need an excuse to shove more fruits and vegetables into myself. Bring on the juices!

The coolest thing about fresh-made juice without preservatives or stabilizers is that it seperates over time:

This juice was made last night and stored in the fridge (beets, carrots, spinach, ginger, and apple if you're curious) and look at the layers! 
So, what are those layers made of? Well, first let's talk about how the juicemaker works. Another excellent picture by Doc...

The fruits and veggies get shoved in the very top of the grey area, which contains a motor (black) and a grater (purple). The grater has a very fine mesh of holes and some ridges to break down the food. It moves at a very high speed and breaks down the veggies into pieces. The juices seep through the fine mesh into the chute (black long thing) and into a cup (the thing that is obviously a cup, people...). The fibrous veggie matter gets shot into the other side into a fiber-catcher (creating naming). It's AWESOME. 
Back to the layers. 
Layer 1: Particulates that are heavier than water sink to the bottom, but are still pretty light because they made it through that fine mesh, so they are easily stirred up by movement.

Layer 2:  Undisturbed water-soluble layer. It contains most of the vitamins and minerals because they are easily dissolved in the water from the fruits and veggies. 

Layer 3: This is the interesting layer. Would you believe that layer contains a mess of FATS AND PROTEINS? Yeah, the fiance didn't believe me either. Layer 3 is called an emulsion and it forms when the high mineral content of the juices and the high-speed spinning action of the grater mix in some fats and proteins into the water layer. The fats and proteins mix and form a bubbly layer. The \bad news is that the juice isn't fat-free, but plant fats are pretty minimal and not always digestible. The good news is that this layer will allow you to obtain more Vitamin E and A, which are fat-soluble vitamins, from your juice. 

Ok, back to work. Hope you liked the juice to you soon and I'll tell you what I've been up to! 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Halftime Entertainment

Since I won't be blogging seriously for a few more days, I thought I'd update you with a tiny post...mostly so you don't give up on me!



Ever since I cleaned up my diet three years ago, my dinners have been very planned, measured, with every nutrient accounted for...or they were splurges with the intent to splurge. This was neither. I got home from weightlifting class after skipping the Zumba class because I was too hungry. I grabbed the first foods I could find (thus the bite out of my bagel). But, if you look closely, you'll see I actually didn't do too badly...

1 cup spaghetti sauce (~2 servings veggies)
1 tbsp parmesan + 1.5 tbsp light cream cheese (protein and fat)
Everything Bagel (carbs...probably 3 servings or so)
1/2 cantelope (2-3 servings fruit)

I assembled this meal by instinct, which just goes to show that if you train yourself to eat healthily, your body will do it when you aren't thinking about it. 

Also, quick science-y topic. I read this article on the elliptical and thought you might enjoy it. It's totally in everyday speak and highlights a seminar given on the science of stadium food that was given at Fenway Park in August. 

Ever wondered why popcorn pops? 

What exactly is in a hot dog? 

It also talks about ways scientists like to 'lighten up' their topics with some jokes and pop culture. It's just a page out of a magazine,so enjoy!

Take care!