Heart Rate Training

On aerobic equipment, heart rate charts, or in fitness magazines, you may see what is labelled as “The Fat Burning Zone”. This is an area around 60% to 70% of your max heart rate that, when maintained during aerobic activity, is supposed to be more beneficial for burning body fat and improving heart health.

We now know that this heart rate range, common for many during steady state cardio, will produce the least amount of reduction in body fat, and the most loss of lean muscle mass, than almost any other activity. In addition, the formula for estimating max heart rate, referred to as the Karvonen formula, acquired by subtracting the individuals age from the number 220, is extremely inaccurate.
A more accurate formula for predicting max heart rate, based on studies in the last few years, would be 211 minus 64% of age. But, even this formula will not account for specific differences between individuals.

Once you have your predicted max heart rate, work at 40-60% of your max if you are warming up, cooling down, recovering on rest days, or attempting to improve your body’s ability to burn fat.
If you want to compete in aerobic events, spend most of your cardio workouts around 70-80%. Keep in mind, this won’t be the most efficient at improving heart and lung health, or burning fat while maintaining lean muscle mass, but it will prepare you for events you plan to compete in.

Finally, if you want to get the best benefit from your time exercising, start doing those high-intensity intervals I mentioned a few posts ago. Warm up for a few minutes and then alternate 30 seconds of intense work, heart rate around 80-95% of your max (based on fitness level), with 30 seconds of easy rest. Alternate these intervals until you feel you could only compete 1 or 2 more, but would rather not, and then cool down.

The interval training should take around 10-20 minutes and will improve your heart and lung health to a greater extent than 2 hours of steady state cardio.

Also, there is the factor of “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption”, or EPOC. For a couple hours following intense exercise, the body’s oxygen intake is increased, aiding in improved hormone function, nutrient partitioning, and cell repair. During this time, the body will access its own body fat stores to release free fatty acids into the bloodstream to be used as fuel.

The numerous benefits of EPOC are significantly lowered with less intense, continuous exercise (such as steady state cardio), or if there are major insulin spikes during the first 2 hours of recovery (so keep carbs to a minimum following high-intensity intervals).

As my experience as a trainer grows, I tend to rely less and less upon a single number such as heart rate, calories, and even bodyweight. There are just too many factors to justify basing a fitness or nutrition program upon numbers predetermined by distant agencies or studies that are reversed every few years.

Plus, I have seen too many people start off with simple calorie counting or bodyweight tracking, and end up becoming obsessed, basing their whole existence upon a single number.

There are endless examples and specific situations I could reference but, simply put, no two people’s bodies are the same and therefore, bodies will behave differently in regard to calories, bodyweight, macronutrients, heart rate, etc.

My favorite method of determining intensity is rating of perceived exertion. I’ll use a scale of 1 to 10, or 1 to 5, or simply say “would you classify this as easy, medium, or hard?”

If a person already has a heart rate monitor on, or has very specific endurance goals, I love having one more number to track. I also like to measure how much time a client’s heart rate takes to return to resting levels, as a way of determining their hearts performance.

However, at the end of the day, it’s just one tool in what is an almost limitless toolbox to track intensity level and progress.

So, if you’re used to tracking heart rate, and know what your optimal ranges are to achieve your goals, stick with it! Conversely, if you are considering spending a hundred dollars and hours of your time on a heart rate monitor and watch, it may not be necessary.

But, as always, determine what will work best for you! And if you need any motivation or professional guidance along the way, feel free to contact me!

Carbohydrates

Time to discuss the third and final macronutrient – carbohydrates!

Carbs are the only macronutrient that is not essential for life. However, this does not mean they are not an important part of a healthy diet.

There are many different forms of carbs but, let’s look at the top 3 that make up most foods.

There are starchy carbs like potatoes and grains. These contain glucose which is stored as muscle glycogen and used as fuel. The brain needs a small amount of glucose (about 30 grams a day) but this can be converted from protein via gluconeogenesis. The body can store between 300 and 500 grams of glycogen in the muscles.

There are sugary carbs such as fruit and honey. These contain fructose which is stored as liver glycogen but can also be hepatotoxic in high amounts. This isn’t a problem when consuming a few pieces of fruit but, soda, loaded with high fructose corn syrup can overwhelm the liver. The sugar floods the blood stream, causes a sugar spike and crash, accompanied with fatigue and hunger, and is ultimately stored as body fat. For this reason, I avoid processed foods containing sugar and enjoy fruit as a desert or pre-workout snack.

Finally, there are fibrous carbs such as vegetables. These have much more fiber which regulates healthy digestive function and stabilizes blood sugar. Vegetables are one of the most nutrient dense food groups next to maybe mussels or offal. When I eliminated grains, I simply replaced them with extra veggies…adding more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and color to every meal!

Most plants contain a combination of these. For example, an orange is about 70% sugar, 10% starch, and 20% fiber. A white potato is about 5% sugar, 80% starch, and 15% fiber. A cup of spinach is about 10% sugar, 10% starch, and 80% fiber.

To determine carb intake level, let’s examine goals and activity levels.

When the heart rate rises above 65% of its max (a brisk walking pace) the body starts burning more carbs than fat…at 65% it burns a 50/50 mix. An hour of walking burns approximately 250 calories and carbs have 4 calories per gram, so, about 30g of carbs are burnt in that one hour.

You don’t have to do all these calculations but it’s clear that, unless you are an athlete, you won’t be emptying your glycogen stores regularly.

The government recommends 65% of your calories come from carbs. This means, if you eat 2000 calories a day, you should consume 325 grams of carbs – more than most people could possibly utilize in one day!

If you are an athlete or attempting to gain weight, maybe 40-50% of calories from carbs may be beneficial. When I am attempting to gain muscle, I have about a pound of potatoes in every meal (totaling 300-400g carbs a day) to stimulate an insulin release. Insulin is a good topic for another post but, simply put, it helps shuttle nutrients to different parts of the body. If you are eating clean and training hard, the nutrients will be sent to the muscles. However, if you’re eating processed foods and not creating an adequate stimulus to recover from, the insulin forces excess calories into fat stores.

If fat loss is the goal, less carbs will make this easier due to the satiating nature and blood sugar stabilizing effect of protein and healthy fats. Perhaps have a sweet potato or piece of fruit post workout but focus mostly on meat and vegetables.

If the prevention or reversal of blood pressure or blood sugar issues is a concern, low carb eating would be advisable. Also, the blood sugar spike from too many carbs causes an increase in triglyceride levels in the blood, contributing to unfavorable cholesterol levels.

There are certain conditions or diseases that are treated by lowering carb intake. Epileptics are often put on ketogenic diets, consuming less than 50 grams of carbs a day, to prevent seizures. Forms of cancer require glucose so patients may be advised to restrict carbs to literally starve their cancer.

At this point, I would like to reiterate, I am not a doctor. I am merely suggesting you do a little research to understand the science behind your condition and bring this information to your doctor so both of you can make an informed decision together.

It is my opinion that most Americans consume more carbs than they need and this, in part, causes many modern health issues. However, I want this blog to be objective and useful for everyone; regardless of what I believe is best. So, like everything else – experiment.

For a couple months every year, I consume zero carbs (besides vegetables) to prime my fat metabolism and lean out. Other times of the year, when local starches, fruits, and grass-fed dairy are available, I consume more carbs.

I feel that a moderate level of carbs (around 150 grams a day) is optimal for exercise recovery and weight maintenance; low carb is ideal for leanness, stable energy, and mood; and high carb is best for muscle gain or frequent high-intensity training.  But, let me know what works best for you!

Well, that should do it for the 3 macronutrient groups. I tried to keep the info as simple as possible while still offering real-world application. As always, feel free to contact me directly for more specifics to satisfy your curiosity or to achieve your goals!

Going forward, I will continue to shoot for 1 post a week but will vary my topics more. If an interesting study is discussed in the news, I may dissect it. If one of my clients has remarkable success with a specific training protocol, I’ll talk about that. If I come up with a new recipe that is particularly tasty, I’ll share it with you…

I guarantee this blog will always be a source of valuable information. To stay up to date, just click the “+ Follow” in the right-hand corner and every post will be emailed directly to you.

Thanks!