Monthly Archive: January 2012

Everything about Iron

What is iron?

Iron is an element that is important for the transfer of oxygen in our blood. It’s also important for regulated cell growth and differentiation. When you have low iron your body has a tougher time of transported oxygen to your muscles, therefore causing fatigue and lowering your immune system. Low iron is one of the causes of anemia.

What is anemia?

Anemia is caused when some issues arises with red blood cells that doesn’t allow them to transport oxygen efficiently. This can be caused by low levels of iron, folate or B12. There are many other causes of anemia that can be spontaneous or genetic, but for the purpose of this article we’ll focus on iron. With iron deficiency anemia the body makes fewer and/or smaller red blood cells. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia.

How do you get iron deficient?

-You lose more iron/red blood cells than your body can make up for

-You are bleeding (this is why “period week” pills in birth control have iron in them)

-You’re not eating enough iron

-Your body is not absorbing the iron

-Your body has an increased need for iron (pregnant/breast feeding)

What are some symptoms of iron deficiency?

When you’re low in iron you will be grumpy, irritable, unable to concentrate, and fatigue easily. Some clinical signs include paleness, brittle nails, your nail beds will be unusually blue, shortness of breath and light headed when standing too fast.

Where can I get iron from?

There are supplements for those who at risk of low iron (heavy menstral periods, vegetarians and vegans, etc). Some natural sources are listed below…

-Red meat

-Egg yolks

-Dark, leafy greens

-Dried fruit

-Iron fortified cereal


-Turkey or chicken

-Beans, lentils, chick peas



If  you feel that you may be low in iron, consult your family physician. In rare cases there may be underlying causes affecting your bodies ability to absorb iron (Celiacs, Chrohns, or other debilitating diseases).

Everything about Iodine

Iodine and Your Thyroid

Iodine is an important mineral that directly impacts your thyroid. As many of you know, your thyroid helps determine your metabolism. If you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) you’re often underweight and burn calories quickly. If you have an under active thyroid (hypothyroidism) you’re often overweight and burn calories slowly. The thyroid gland absorbs iodine from the blood and uses it to make T3 and T4 – the two hormones that make up your thyroid hormones and, thus, your metabolism. In fact, iodine makes up 65% of the molecular weight of T4 and 59% of T3.

How much do I need?

To ensure a well functioning thyroid the following values are recommended by the Institute of Medicine: 150 µg a day for adults, 220 for pregnant persons and 290 for those who are lactating. The tolerable upper limit (max you should get a day) is about 1,100 µg a day. However, the thyroid gland only needs 70 µg a day to function. The recommended dose comes from the fact that iodine plays a large role in many other body systems.

What happens when I’m low on Iodine?

It’s important to note that this is a rare event in first world countries and happens most often in remote inland areas. Symptoms are weight gain, extreme fatigue, goitre, mental slowing, depression and low body temperature. Again, to have a deficiency in iodine is very rare.

What happens if I have too much?

2-3 grams of iodine is enough to kill someone if taken orally. Like all minerals and vitamins there is a maximum dose before it becomes lethal.

What foods are high in iodine?

Seaweeds and sea vegetables are the highest in iodine, averaging about 4.5mg for 1/4 and ounce

Fish, such as cod, have about 99µg of iodine per 3 ounces

Iodized salt has 77µg per 1 gram

Cranberries have about 400µg per 4 ounces

Organic yogurt has about 90µg per 1 cup

Navy beans give you 32µg per 1/2 cup

Should I take iodine supplements? 

Like all supplementation it’s ideal to contact your physician or dietician before making these assessments. Due to the fact that your thyroid only requires 70µg/day for function, it’s not likely that iodine deficiency is the cause of your weight gain or inability to lose weight. Unless you live in a country where iodine deficiency is common, or for health reasons cannot and do not consume any of the above food items, then supplementation is probably not for you.

Insulin Spikes

What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone that is released whenever glucose is detected in your blood stream. It’s released in order to pull this glucose from your blood stream and bring it into cells to use as energy. Whatever isn’t used is stored in the liver, fat (adipose tissues) and muscle in the form of glucagon. Insulin is considered an “anabolic” hormone, meaning that its release leads to a “build up.” (i.e. – anabolic steroids BUILD muscle, get it?) In insulins case, it helps to bring amino acids (protein) to the muscles, and stores excess glucose as glucagon in the systems mentioned above.

Isn’t that bad?

No way! Too much glucose in the blood is actually toxic. There’s also some research that supports the idea that insulin in the brain promotes learning/cognitive function. Insulin is necessary for our survival.

What is an insulin “spike”?

An insulin “spike” is just when there is an increased level of insulin in your blood stream. There is always insulin in your blood (called “basal insulin”), and this level will rise and fall throughout the day. This can be in response to a meal that is filled with glucose, from exercise, etc.

Glycemic Index

We’ve all seen the commercials about the glycemic index. It’s an index that ranks food based on the amount of simple sugars in them. The higher the glycemic index, the more simple sugars in the blood stream, the more insulin, the more amino acids taken up by muscle (also stops the break down of amino acids in muscle), the more energy in each cell. Sounds great, right?

Why is it considered bad, then?

Just look at what insulin does AFTER it gives energy to the cells. Say you eat something high on the glycemic index while sitting on the couch. Insulin takes the simple sugars to your cells, looking to refuel them…but they’ve been refueled. All you’ve done that day is lounge around and watch Netflix. Next stop? Liver. Fat. Insulin converts the glucose to glucagon and stores that away on your waist line, thighs, hips, etc.

So why have an insulin spike?

Some body builders swear by insulin spikes, and given its ability to give energy to muscles that makes sense. If you just finished a 10 mile run but you have to go to work afterwards for 8 hours it makes total sense to eat something with glucose in it to replenish the energy in each cell, right? (See: protein shakes after workouts, running in the morning and lifting at night, etc.) That’s how it’s used. Since it also prevents amino acids from being broken down (read: proteins/muscle breaking down) it’s great for body builders in muscle gains.

So it’s chill to chug a soda before working out?

It’s not that simple. Think of the adages you read on Tumblr, like “Abs are 80% diet, 20% exercise” or “500 calories of chocolate =/= 500 calories of veggies.” Soda, highly processes carbs, etc. have a lot of other nutrients (or lack of nutrients) in them that can interfere with giving you energy. This is why a lot of people trying to lose weight are told to eat whole grains, veggies, lean protein, etc.

The deal with whole grains/whole wheat/etc.

Why stay away from “white” products, and what does it have to do with insulin? Since many whole grains have more fiber in them they slow down the release of glucose into the blood. They’re also generally complex carbohydrates (complex sugars) which means it takes longer to break them down than simple carbohydrates. This is why they keep you fuller longer than simple sugars. And, in the same vein, since the glucose from them enters your bloodstream slower it causes a gradual, level rise in insulin vs. the quick spike simple sugars are said to give.

Like all food and nutrition, insulin “spikes” can be either a great source of energy or a quick way of gaining fat. Eat a diet mostly composed of unprocessed, whole foods that give you energy and make you feel great. The rest will fall into place!

Bored of cardio?

I hate cardio. It’s boring, I drift off, I don’t push myself, I hate it. Rather than throw in the towel, I decided to find ways to make cardio more challenging and, ultimately, more fun.

1) Join a class.

My first spin/cycle class was amazing. I usually hate riding those stupid bikes, where I go for like 10 minutes, get bored and don’t sweat. Hah, not in a spin class! The music combined with the fact that I made myself pick a bike in a center so I couldn’t just trounce off when I got bored or overwhelmed. I worked myself hard. The same goes for other cardio – step, rumba, belly dancing, cardio kick boxing. Find your grove! Experiment! Ask personal trainers at the gym which classes are their favorite! If it’s fun, it’s not a work out.

2) Ditch plodding along.

It’s way easy to get on the elliptical, glue your eyes to the TV and just plod along. There are a lot of ways to mix up a standard cardio work out. For example, I gave my sister the following idea and she now uses it and says it breaks the time up easier.

Elliptical: 4 minute warm up at moderate intensity. 1 minute of resistance at 15. 4 minutes resistance at 5. 1 minute resistance at 16. 4 minutes resistance at 5.

Split this up any way you want. Do 5 minutes and 2 minutes, or 10 minutes and 5 minutes. Heck, beef the resistance up to 55. Segmenting the time like that where you’re counting INTERVALS instead of hours makes time go by faster.

3) In the same thought process, mix it uppp

Changing resistance is one good way, why not change the incline and pace too? On machines that have inclines experiment with those. High incline for 10 minutes, low incline for 10 minutes. Resistance and incline can be changed on the machine, don’t be afraid to experiment.

4) Push the pace when you mix it up

Up your resistance and also try to push the pace. Basically, try to go the same speed at the higher intensity/resistance/incline as you did at the lower one. Think of it as “pushing the pace.”

5) Let your iPod be your god.

Take it off shuffle. I know, it’s hard, but do it. Coordinate your cardio to your iPod. The first song should be your warm up – a 4 or so minute song that is mellow, but will get you in the mood. Follow it by songs according to your plan. Doing intervals that day? Download a playlist that’s like a Power Hour one, where each song is a minute long. Always start to slack off at about 15 minutes in? The song that starts at 15 minutes should be your absolute BOOTY POPPING I AM A BEAST song! Know your work out and coordinate your iPod to it. In the same breath, don’t get stuck on the same play list. Listening to the same songs over and over again sucks. Tumblr search playlists, go on to find new songs, listen to the radio, go on internet forms. Anything, just mix your play list up!

6) Intervals

I pretty much already touched on this, but intervals really help me in my work out funk. Telling myself, “Alright, I’m going to run AS HARD AS I CAN for the length of the track, then walk the corners, THEN RUN AGAIN!” is really motivating to me. I have a set plan, and intervals breaks up the time. Plus, intervals burn more calories and more fat, but that’s a topic for another day. This goes along with breaking up your workout, but this is more tuned to the outside runner than the inside cardio machine junkie (i.e. – me)


This is the most important part. When I feel like quitting, I always give myself a pep talk. “Holy crap, Courtney, you have burned 500 calories according to this machine! Hell, a year ago you would have been sitting on your ass eating 500 calories and watching Friends repeats, but today you’re at the gym. And look at that? Look how badass you look with all that sweat on your face. Like a beast. Like a beast that will run a 5k soon because you’re SOOO cardiovascularly fit!” Or, my personal favorite, “I really love cardio. I have all this time to myself to do things at my own pace. No professors or lectures or studying, this is ME time. And I’m ROCKING it.”

8) Use distractions to your advantage

I know a lot of people frown on watching TV when you work out, because you often plod along. Turn it into a drinking game, but for your cardio. Some examples –

I watched The Princess Diaries on ABC Family. Every time Ana Hathaway and Chris Pine had sexual tension, I put the resistance up to 50 and the incline up to 15 and ran as hard as I could until the scene was over.

When watching anything, I up the intensity/etc. to the highest during the commercials. That leaves the show part – the entertaining part – to be my recovery time.

When watching SVU, I push the pace as hard as I can every time Ice T is on TV.

Get it? Make up your own system, where the TV commercials or certain scenes in movies or, hell, every time Nancy Grace shakes her head condescendingly at a minority into an opportunity to sprint or recovery. Make it YOUR work out, it’ll be fun.

9) Opt for conditioning instead of cardio
Decrease the time between your sets during weight lifting, or opt for lighter weights and higher intensity. You can also do things like jump rope or do burpees between sets while weight lifting to keep your heart rate up!