May 30th 2015: Thought of the Day

So I am always interested in studying and analyzing what makes people great and supposedly Kobe Bryant is as well! I was reading this amazing article in the Boston Globe about an interview with Arianna Huffington and Kobe Bryant. It is filled with gems so if you have time I would definitely go check it out. However, the line below really resonated with me as I have been a tad nervous this morning as I have a track meet later today.

Interviewer: So being great in the clutch means knowing there’s a moment after the clutch?

Kobe Bryant: There’s an infinite groove. Whether you make the shot or miss it is inconsequential.

It may seem strange for Kobe and Arianna Huffington to be having lunch together, but as Kobe says:

It may seem strange for Kobe and Arianna Huffington to be having lunch together, but as Kobe says: “No matter what industry you look at, people who do phenomenal things, there’s a common thread to them. I’ve always been curious about that, as a way to become a better basketball player.”

Wow! I would have never expected the Black Mamba to say whether you miss a shot or not is inconsequential. However, that is exactly the reason he is able to play with such fearless abandon.

He obviously has a huge desire to win, but he has NOT become personally attached or identified with his on-court performance. He understands the super important lesson that what he does is NOT who he is.

Until you are able to do so you will never reach your full potential because your distorted sense of the true importance of any one particular event will cause you to hesitate or have fears and anxieties fester which will strip you of your focus.

It is obviously easier said than done to not personally identify with what you do, but it is something that must be cultivated. This again is a soft skill that can not be easily acquired. However, some specific ways I like to strengthen this skill are:

  1. Change the language you use to describe what you do –The phrase, “I am an athlete” implicitly mistakes what you do for who you are. A better way is to say, “I compete in athletics.” It is something you do but NOT something you are.
  2. Reflect on your past – It is always easy to lose perspective in the heat of the moment. A great way to combat this is to think of something that you thought may have had a huge impact on your life in the distant past, and realize how inconsequential the result of that event was. For example, in the moment when I gut cut from BU’s basketball team I felt like the world was crumbling. However, it is something that in the big picture has been inconsequential.
  3. Cultivate an enjoyment of the process – Do NOT measure your progress based on the results but whether or not you are taking action that is moving you towards your dream.
  4. Meditate – This is something I have been harping on over and over again, but there is such an overwhelming amount of evidence and it is a constant theme behind excellence performance that you can NOT afford to not meditate.

Be Happy and Chase your Dreams,

Pavan Mehat

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PS Here are a few ways to connect with me if you have any questions or have any specific topics you would like me to address. 

Pavan Mehat’s LinkedIn

Pavan Mehat’s Instagram

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Using Douglas Heel’s “Be-Activated” Part II – Sequencing: Theory and Illustration

Heel’s system is designed to uncover compensation patterns in the body.  It revolves around posture, breathing and muscle recruitment, which all go hand-in-hand.  Every movement must start in the center of the body and move outwards, effectively expanding the body, instead of starting at a distal (far from the center) area and moving inwards, which causes a collapse in the body.  Heel divides the body into zones, pictured below.  1-2-3 is the ideal muscle sequencing pattern, anything else is a liability for injury or subpar performance.

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Zone 1: The Diaphragm, Psoas and Glutes:

Hip flexion and extension is the body’s primary priority – it cannot move without it. The psoas and glutes are designed to flex and extend the hip – they are in the best position to do so. The psoas will not be working properly if the diaphragm is not working properly, because the fascia encasing the diaphragm also wraps around the psoas.  If breathing is compromised, due to stress or bad posture, the functioning of the entire body will also be compromised.  If the glute/psoas can’t do their job correctly, another set of muscles will take over in order to move. I say “set” because no single muscle can do the job of either glute or psoas.

The diaphragm is involved because the fascia holding it in place connects to the psoas.  If the diaphragm shuts down due to stress, poor posture or other reasons the psoas cannot do its job.  Due to reciprocal inhibition, the glutes cannot fire if the psoas cannot fire. If the glutes cannot fire, the hamstring will do its own job AND take over for the glutes.  Because these muscles are supposed to fire first in any movement, if you can’t breathe deeply into your belly, you won’t sequence properly.

Sequencing should be 1-2-3. However, most athletes are firing zones two or three first – this means that they fire their quad and abdominals together to make up for a misfiring psoas (leaving those muscles unable to effectively do their own jobs) or firing their shin or even hand muscles first. I was surprised to see how many athletes cannot get their brain to fire a hip flexor without tensioning the ankle joint first – these athletes may have shin splints, Achilles problems, chronically tight calves or any other disfunction stemming from the way they compensate when their feet hit the ground.  The predictive value of an athlete’s sequencing pattern has been pretty on point in my limited experience testing this in my athletes.

What does a 1-2-3 look like in action? Here is Irving Saladino, Olympic long jump champion from Panama. In this picture, notice the lack of tension immediately after takeoff – you can see it in this slow motion video as well, fingers lightly curled, jaw lightly closed, toe mildly up, but there is no excessive tension in these areas when he raises his free leg upon takeoff. His psoas muscle is able to do its own job, the hands and face (which cannot add anything to the jump) are able to relax because they are not called upon to work. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbLZKY2CRk4)

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What does a malfunctioning pattern look like? Here I am, in two separate pictures. My pattern on the right is a 3-3-3 arm – this means that in order to flex my right hip, my brain sends tension to my left hand first. My psoas on that side cannot do its own job, so the brain tries to add tension in other areas to assist in hip flexion. This is why I make a strange claw with it as I jump. This need-for-tension in my hand explains how I could hit my head on the rim, but could not get anywhere near that high with a basketball in my hand – holding a ball forces my hand to open, and as a result, my brain cuts the amount of power it gives to my hip drive. This is a setup for injury as well, because my strength levels drop when I cannot/do not close my left hand. It also explains why I have injured my left thumb so often – my hand thinks it has to do hip flexion, so when it has to do its own job it is tired or out of position. My face is also holding a ton of tension, which is only hindering my ability to jump far.  My mind-body connection had blown a fuse, it didn’t know which muscle to fire when.  While I had some success this season, I also missed almost all of it because of injury.

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The way we get it working again is first by working with the breath – if the diaphragm isn’t working nothing will work properly – and rubbing neurolymphatic reflex points that cause our brain to wake up muscles that it has stopped using, whether because of stress, bad movement patterns, or other reasons. The result is that there is a measurable difference in performance in controlled tests. That difference can be flexibility or strength, depending on the area. The pre/post test differences are often shocking – 45* to 90* range of motion in the hamstring, two fingers pushing down a raised knee to my full bodyweight on said knee. It can resolve pain and optimize performance. It’s pretty cool.

Using Douglas Heel’s “Be-Activated” – 4 Week Reflections – Part I

This system has completely changed the way in which I look at the body and mind – posture, body language, breathing, recovery, focus, and performance.  I now activate almost every point we were shown every day, in the morning and/or before training.  I have many of my athletes do a smaller version of activation before practices/workouts.  Our reactions are below:

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What’s changed for me?

Running/jumping feels effortless

Used to sleep with a pillow between my legs because hip pain would wake me up at night, and have avoided playing basketball to avoid aggravating my hip’s FAI impingement/damaged labrum – pain is completely gone at rest and during intense activity

Low back (SI joint) pain gone a few hours after bothersome activity (heavier weight training) instead of a few days. This recovery time is still getting shorter as well (update: have not had pain in several days, for the first time in a year)

My usual head-tilted-to-the-right posture has diminished significantly

Left hip can raise up above 110* while standing, when it could not go much past 90* previously

Significantly less soreness in hamstrings after sprinting/doing posterior chain work, more soreness in the glute

Passive range of motion of the gastrocs (calves) went from barely 90* to 15-20* past that – if the calves can only get to 90* the whole body will have to compensate

Previously fractured area of my right foot no longer goes numb in the cold/with tightly laced shoes – felt a serious rush of blood in there during one particular treatment

Right knee pain can be reduced/almost entirely eliminated immediately by rubbing a particular point and repeating 1-2x daily for a few seconds – and every time it comes back it comes back less

Neck and shoulders no longer stuck in forward position – feel taller, more confident, with significantly less tension

Jaw finally jiggles while sprinting – gotten rid of harmful tension there

Have not gotten my usual monthly migraine, even with a more stressful month than usual

Butt (glute muscles) have grown significantly relative to others

Maintaining posture feels easy/effortless by focusing on breathing – in slouching I am aware of how much it restricts my breathing!

Can breathe into my belly with no extra effort

I can get out of fight or flight stress response much more quickly than before to make rational choices while under stress

I do almost no stretching now – once the right muscles fire, your body removes the tightness it created as a way of protecting itself from your dysfunctional movement patterns

What’s changed for my athletes?

I have tried the technique (mostly zone 1 – diaphragm/glute/psoas) on friends, family and a large portion of my collegiate track athletes – their reactions listed below. The first few are almost universal, while others are more specific; although I may have included a specific quote all reactions I list here were mentioned/seen in more than one athlete/client:

Improved strength – ability to contract zone 1 (psoas/glute) without tensing jaw, shin, or other distal areas to assist – meaning changed order of sequencing – more on that in part II

Ability to breath into belly more easily/more deeply

Changed posture – taller, reduced head forward/rounded shoulders position

“I feel lighter”/”like I lost 20 pounds”

“Effortless” feeling while walking/running/sprinting

“I didn’t notice much until halfway through my run – my legs didn’t feel heavy where they usually do”

Improved mechanics while running – greater push through hips, knees appear to pop up without extra effort

Relaxation – at rest, and seen while running (ability to relax jaw)

Improved ranges of motion – as drastic as hamstrings going from 45* to 90*, calves from 0* past 90* to 25* past 90* in one 10 minute session

Reduced/eliminated pain in back/hip

Reduced anxiety during strength test after treatment (less feeling of “things about to snap”)

Feeling “cleansed”

And my favorite reaction, from an athlete that was clearly not sold after treatment, halfway through the toughest workout of the week: “I just feel so loose right now. I feel amazing.” Then he proceeded to crush the rest of the workout.

The Story:

The morning of the Super Bowl was a little manic for me – our local Patriots were playing that night, and a blizzard was scheduled to hit before work the next morning. But both of those things were not really on my mind, as I was trying to reserve a spot at Douglas Heel’s “Be-Activated” Level One seminar the following weekend, looking into the last-minute travel arrangements that would go along with it.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect – the videos/articles I saw showed results, but since this system didn’t fit into my previous knowledge – touching points on the stomach to gain flexibility in the calf, for example – part of me was not sold. We worked in partners on both days, one partner for each day, to learn activation. My partners were novices in activation work, as I was – one had experience with manual therapy as an osteopath, the other was a high school track & field coach. Video from another course, but similar to what we saw (and experienced) while in Chicago.

The Seminar

**Part II of this article will explain some of the theory behind why this works**

Felt cleansed afterwards – endorphins out of this world, perhaps partially because some of the points were so painful – but I also felt that I had let go of things that my body and mind had held onto for years. Difficult to describe, but profound and worth mentioning, since I am not the only one who mentioned feeling that way.

I have studied Zen, tai chi, and chi gong for 7+ years…I thought I knew how to breathe into my belly. After that day I took breaths into my belly that I don’t think I had taken since high school, if not longer – activating the diaphragm and psoas made an impact on the quality and natural depth of my breathing.

I visited a friend that night who is living in the area – he remarked that I seemed “really excited” about my work as we talked – I had a ton of new energy, that’s for sure.

SINCE THEN

As a former athlete recovering from several injuries, a couple in particular combining to end my college athletic career early, I have always felt a feeling of the wheels about to fall off while sprinting.  It’s not a happy feeling, it is my brain receiving signals from my body that something ain’t quite right.  Upon returning to practice, I noticed myself running back and forth between coaching venues the way a kid runs – getting somewhere serves as an excuse for the joyous activity that is running. I was bouncing off of the walls with energy. That feeling of the wheels falling off being imminent was completely gone and I felt freer than I had in a long time. Later that week, there was a day in which my car’s battery died and I had to wait at the shop all day, missing both of my jobs for that day – despite the initial stress, I was able to return to a state of acceptance about missing work by focusing on my breathing and my posture. The next day, I had too much energy and a blizzard was threatening after I picked up the car – I didn’t have time for a workout at the gym, as the snow had already started to fall, I knew my sanity for the next two days holed up in my home was at stake. So I laced up my trainers and ran. A couple minutes in I noticed that I didn’t feel any tightness, so I turned it up for a stride. Before long, my “run” turned into sprints on pavement at about 85-90% intensity. In 30* weather, with the snow falling – without any tightness, without the usual anxiety accompanying maximal effort. It was awesome.

While the initial rush has worn off, I am in significantly less pain on a daily basis than I have been in at any point in the past 6 years, and my posture is effortlessly so much better. Perhaps just as important, my relationship with stress has changed – I am much more able to address situations calmly, with an open mind. By changing my posture, I can change the way that I feel and think for the better – perhaps because our posture influences the hormones our body releases. I really buy into Heel’s saying that “what’s in the body is in the mind, what’s in the mind is in the body.” Look in a mirror, close your eyes, then picture your most embarrassing moment in vivid detail. Open your eyes again. From demonstrations I’ve done with my athletes, 100% have adopted a forward neck, rounded shoulders, hip-out-of-alignment posture, sometimes even with crossed arms. How can you perform in that position?? Any trainer, coach or mom can tell you that a body looking like that cannot safely and effectively perform. On the flip side, the posture that kids adopt on their best days – a light, open posture – is exactly what Heel’s system builds. This is the position that trainers dream about their athletes getting into, and coaches picture when they picture their team succeeding. Don’t take my word for it, watch people on their best and worst days. Change the body and you change the mind, change the mind and you change the body.

To learn more about activation, and to try it yourself, contact me at swuest22@gmail.com,

check out this article (http://www.joekelly.me/pdfs/Muscle%20Activation.pdf) in Runner’s World UK,

or check out this list of US practitioners (http://itccca.com/9825/2015/02/dont-implode-explode-be-activated/)

I have to thank Joel Smith, Tony Holler, Dr. Tom Nelson and Chris Korfist for providing enough information/excitement for me to fly out to Chicago to learn from Heel in person. Smith, at just-fly-sports.com for posted an interview with Chris Korfist in which he mentions Heel’s Activation work – causing me to google around and see Tony Holler’s articles on Activation, Nelson’s videos/website (activateanddominate.com) on the activation work he does with Nazareth’s football team, along with actual injury statistics and player/coach reactions.

You can read Smith’s articles here:

http://www.just-fly-sports.com/epic-speed-training-interview-with-chris-korfist/

http://www.just-fly-sports.com/chris-korfist-interview-on-ankle-rocker-speed-and-vertical-jumping/

You can read Holler’s articles here:

http://itccca.com/9825/2015/02/dont-implode-explode-be-activated/

http://itccca.com/8430/2014/10/you-only-know-what-you-know/

http://www.freelapusa.com/3-reasons-why-activation-is-a-game-changer/

http://www.freelapusa.com/hamstrings-activation-and-speed/

http://itccca.com/8163/2014/09/speed-never-sleeps/

Sports Science Lab’s Foot Strengthening Exercises – Stronger Platform, Stronger Athlete!

It’s rare to find exercises that are completely new, even to athletes that have competed at the professional level.  But Sports Science Lab has done just that.  Listing professional football, volleyball, hockey, baseball players, along with gymnasts, martial artists (including legend Georges St. Pierre, pictured above), boxers and olympians as clients, their California studio attracts athletes looking to get better or return from injury.  They look at the body as a whole, focusing training on the central nervous system (essential to speed and power) and proper body mechanics.  One of my favorite parts of their training regimen is that they start every athlete off by working on the FEET – the video above explains why.  Below are specific examples of exercises – for equipment, the home depot will sell similar pipes pre-cut for maybe $5-6 each, and you can buy the wood to make the slant board there as well, covering it in skateboard (or stair) grip tape, glueing together with wood glue.  Likewise, you can buy the poles that they like to use for balance, or you can use long sticks from a home improvement store and cut them, costing less than $1, though you may surprise yourself in how quickly you will no longer need them for balance.

Inward/Outward Pipes

Perpendicular Pipes

Pipe Walks

Slant Board

Ankle Series on Instability Discs

I personally use the pipe exercises often – I find them great for balance, opening up the foot’s many (33!) joints, and once you do them without using poles for balance, they are great for promoting postural alignment.  I have also found that the slant board exercises allow my feet to take more of the strain when moving laterally, versus my ankles feeling it – if you do not have enough movement in the joints of your feet, another joint must move extra to compensate for this.  This is one of the reasons why you see more knee injuries in athletes that wear heavy ankle braces – the subject of a post later this week!

Random Thoughts: How I found the Motivation to Eat Better (via Cooking)

The only thing I changed was my perspective:  As a human being, we only have so much food that our body can take in and digest over the course of a day.  I began to look at each meal as an opportunity to build myself for success and health.

The more I have learned, the more I realized what food could do for me.  Instead of looking at nutrition as mostly avoiding bad foods (subtraction), I started to see it as an additive process, where I could add the quality of my food up and do perform better than I ever had before, not only in athletics, but in life as well, due to increased energy, focus, etc.

Anyone who’s studied sports coaching or strength knows that efficiency is key.  A college basketball coach has a set amount of time that (s)he can spend with the team.  While having the time shoot around on their own for a third of an hour-and-a-half practice might have some benefit, there are a million other things that the team could be doing that would be a better use of that limited amount of time.  From watching college basketball teams practice, every drill has a specific purpose.  Master coaches even manipulate the rest periods between drills, the setup of the locker room, and other seemingly insignificant moments to promote team comradery – they know that every little moment can make the difference between winning and losing, between a pay raise and unemployment.  They aren’t always adding things to reap benefits, merely manipulating what is already there.  The same concept of efficiency applies to food.

As a human being, we only have so much food that our body can take in and digest over the course of a day.  It became a goal for me to pack as much value into that limited amount of food as possible.

If I go to Five Guys (which I love) and get a double burger and fries for lunch, I’m spending a full meal of that day on food that will sustain me, but is far less than optimal – just like the coach wasting all that practice time shooting around:

-Fries don’t have much in the way of vitamins and minerals after frying

-Same for the toppings on the burger (not fried, but the less fresh a veggie is, the less healthy it is for you, so I can only assume)

-The white bread bun is assimilated to your body in the same way a bowl of sugar would be (no nutritional value)

-The patties have good protein and B12 – although I could be getting that protein from a source that provides more (fish) I’ll say that this is the healthiest part of the meal

Let’s compare this to what I made for lunch today:

-Hardboiled eggs:  High in protein (build muscle), Good fats, like omega 3 DHA (for healthy skin, hair, growth, helps prevent heart disease), Lutein and Vitamin A (for the health of your eyes), Vitamin D (for the health of your bones) among other benefits

-Tomato:  Outstanding source of antioxidants (such as lycopene), strengthens body to lower risk of heart disease and cancer

-Avocado:  Has been shown to aid absorption of key antioxidants (such as lycopene^) and has anti-inflammatory effects, due to the particular type of fats that comprise the fruit, and also contains oleic acid, one of the ingredients that makes olive oil so dang good for you.  Also has been shown to strengthen the body to reduce symptoms of arthritis

-Kasha (Toasted Buckwheat):   Increases blood flow (great for both athletes and anyone who has to deal with cold) due to its rutin content, which strengthens capillaries and acts as an antioxidant, while its magnesium content relaxes those same blood vessels (further promoting increased circulation).

And if my efficiency rant didn’t sway you, let’s take a look at the price:  $4.39 burger and $2.49 fries at Five Guys, compared to $0.75 for 3 eggs, $0.50 for 1/2 avocado, ~$0.65 for a few cherry tomatoes, and something like $0.20 for the Kasha.  I’m getting way more from my meal that cost between $2-3 than I could have for the exorbitant price of $6.88+tax.

HOW TO BUILD BULLETPROOF BONES, PARTS III & IV: Where to get what you need, and how to cook it

As a basketball player and high jumper, I racked up 10 stress fractures over the course of 8 years.  Upon hearing this, acquaintances often ask, “oh, did you not get enough calcium?”  Actually, I did.  Doctors checked my blood, my calcium levels were normal.  So were my vitamin D levels.  I always came back slowly from these injuries as well – they never seemed to heal in the 4-6 week timetable my doctors would allot, even in college with the help of athletic trainers and physical therapists.  I would always ask the doctors, what am I doing wrong?  They could never answer.  So I eventually did my own research, and, as it turns out, I was doing quite a bit wrong.  This will be a four part series focusing on the role that diet has on bone strength and development:

Part I:  The Milk Myth

Part II:  What Matters Most – How Calcium is Absorbed

Part III:  Where to get the required minerals to maximize calcium absorption (listed in Part II) – Foods, Herbs & Supplements

Part IV:  The Bone Builder’s Cookbook – Several Easy Recipes

Part III:

If you read parts I & II of my “Bulletproof Bones” series, you’ll notice that I talked a lot about the minerals involved in getting calcium into your bones (not your bloodstream) and keeping it there.  The following are the best sources of bone-building magnesium and other minerals.  #1 is at the top, the rest are in descending order:

#1:  Cracked Bone Soup.  I did a post on this a week ago where you can read up on the bone and joint building benefits of this bone soup.  Is commonly made from chicken, beef, or fish.  Follows the ancient healing principle of “like heals like” – the animal has concentrated bone building vitamins and minerals in their bones.  Humans need the same nutrients, so we benefit greatly from this food.

#2:  Pumpkin Seeds.  Power-packed with magnesium, with around half of your daily requirement in just a quarter cup serving.  Also rich source of zinc and antioxidants.

#3:  Beans.  Lentils, Soy, mung, adzuki, black, and lima beans are all great sources of magnesium, as well as protein and other beneficial vitamins and minerals.

#4:  Whole Grains.  Especially quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, wild rice, barley, millet, oats, rye and wheat (in descending order of magnesium content, from whfoods.com).

#5:  Green Vegetables.  Chlorophyll makes plants green, and at the center of the chlorophyll molecule is magnesium, making these guys a great source as well.

Note:  Much ado has been made in health circles about the phytic acid content of beans and whole grains, with some (usually paleo…) people advocating that we leave them completely out of our diet for that reason.  Phytic acid is one of the ways a plant avoids being eaten – it is a toxin whose intent is to render the plant inedible, by binding to vital nutrients and rendering them unusable by whatever animal were to try and eat them.  However, research has shown that the body produces its own chemicals to break down phytic acid.  I personally soak grains the night before I use them (just put ’em in a mason jar and let ’em sit on the counter covered in water, then drain the water and put it in the fridge, preferably use it within a few days – soaking is as simple as it sounds) because it breaks down phytic acid to a negligible amount by beginning the sprouting process (during which the plant’s nutrients are most bio-available).  I first read about soaking grains in Paul Pitchford’s “Healing with Whole Foods,” a book on western and eastern nutrition.  Since so much of Traditional Chinese Medicine’s nutritional recommendations are focused on getting the most nutrients possible while wasting as little of the body’s energy as one can to assimilate those nutrients, I feel that soaking is worthwhile.  I usually place a lot of faith in traditional wisdom, due to its strong track record (our survival).  I feel I get less of a dip in energy (less food coma) immediately after I eat soaked grains (vs. non-soaked).  Could be placebo though…You decide.  As for beans, soaking DEFINITELY makes a difference by reducing the content of particular sugars that upset your stomach.    

Part IV:

Minimal Work Recipes

There are more complex recipes out there, but if you’re just starting with cooking, on a budget, or lacking a full kitchen’s worth of ingredients, then these will do just fine.

Chicken Broth/Stock

Dahl (Lentil Curry):  bring 3-4 cups water to a boil.  Add 1 cup soaked lentils.  Simmer until soft, then add a tablespoon of curry powder OR turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne and coriander (all powerful anti-inflammatories, especially turmeric), add salt to taste, and cook 5-10 more minutes.

Gretchka (made with Kasha, which is simply toasted buckwheat):  boil 3 cups water, add 1 cup Kasha and salt to taste, simmer for ~20 minutes, add a sliver of butter and parsley if desired, cook another 5-10 minutes (until the water is soaked into the buckwheat – 1 cup of buckwheat will look alarmingly bigger after cooking!)  Millet can be made this way as well (though I don’t often include butter with millet, as it is creamy in texture as is).  Wild rice and brown rice are similar as well, although wild rice will take more like 45 minutes.  I will often sauté a vegetable in olive oil or butter on the pan, then add water to boil, then add grains – adds veggies to the meal, and flavors the grain!  I like mushrooms with buckwheat, onions with lentils or rice, broccoli with millet – this addition is something worth experimenting with.

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From Bazaar on Cambridge St. in Allston, MA, a primarily Russian grocer – Millet is $2.89, Barley $1.89, and Kasha $2.79 for 22 servings – that’s less than 13 cents per serving for a food nutritious enough to be a staple of one’s diet – they said eating healthy was expensive, did they?

Finally, to bring it all together I have a recipe a client gave me last week – this one is a little more involved, but since it uses a crockpot/slow cooker it is super easy.

(Slow Cooked) Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Quinoa Soup

Ingredients:

1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts*

1 cup quinoa (soaked)

2-3 sweet potatoes, depending on their size

1 can black beans (rinsed) OR equivalent of a can (~1 pound) dried black beans soaked and then cooked somewhat (boil, 20-30 minutes simmer)

2 big tomatoes

1 teaspoon minced garlic

5 cups chicken broth – since I make my own broth, I’ll often cut it with water, i.e. 3 cups broth, 2 cups water – my broth is much more flavorful than store bought broth

Chili Seasoning – 1 tbsp chili powder, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp cayenne powder, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper – you can use this ratio to make a bunch of chili seasoning for use in other dishes, storing for up to six months

Instructions:

Pour in liquid – broth or combo broth/water

Add in chicken, quinoa, rinsed beans

Peel sweet potatoes (or not, if you’re as lazy as I am) cut into cubes and add to pot

Dice tomatoes and garlic and add to pot

Add chili seasoning to pot

Place on high for 3-5 hours or low for 5-8 (I do high for 4.5 hrs)

Use two forks to shred chicken, stir & serve

*Note:  I often skip the chicken if I’m cooking for myself, replacing it with another pound of black beans or adzuki beans – I don’t eat meat more than a few meals a week.  Why I do this will be discussed in future posts.

Bon appetit!

How to Build Bulletproof Bones, Parts I & II: The Milk Myth, and What Really Matters for Calcium Absorbtion

Note:  You can see the summary from this article at the bottom of the post.

As a basketball player and high jumper, I racked up 10 stress fractures over the course of 8 years.  Upon hearing this, acquaintances often ask, “oh, did you not get enough calcium?”  Actually, I did.  Doctors checked my blood, my calcium levels were normal.  So were my vitamin D levels.  I always came back slowly from these injuries as well – they never seemed to heal in the 4-6 week timetable my doctors would allot, even in college with the help of athletic trainers and physical therapists.  I would always ask the doctors, what am I doing wrong?  They could never answer.  So I eventually did my own research, and, as it turns out, I was doing quite a bit wrong.  This will be a four part series focusing on the role that diet has on bone strength and development:

Part I:  The Milk Myth

Part II:  What Matters Most – How Calcium is Absorbed

Part III:  Where to get the required minerals to maximize calcium absorbtion (listed in Part II) – Foods, Herbs & Supplements

Part IV:  The Bone Builder’s Cookbook – Several Easy Recipes

Part I:  The Milk (and Supplement) Mythmcgwire-milk4501

Drink enough milk, they say.  It’ll give you strong bones, they say.  Lower rates of milk drinking are often cited as a reason behind the current epidemic of osteoporotic injuries (injuries from weak/brittle bones) in America.  The International Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that “around 40% of US white women and 13% of US white men aged 50 years will experience at least one clinically apparent fragility fracture in their lifetime.”  Some doctors believe that this problem is because of a lack of calcium in the diet.  But is this true?

If we were to look at the countries with the highest per capita dairy consumption, we’d also see the strongest bones, with all the calcium that dairy consumption provides, right?  Wrong.  Scandinavia is leading the way in dairy consumption, and guess who has the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world?  I’m not quick to say that dairy consumption causes bones to weaken (although that’s a possibility: cheese contains high amounts of phosphoric acid, the same substance that is believed to be why colas (not all sodas) have been scientifically proven to cause bone loss).  The lack of sun must also be involved in the Scandinavian epidemic, as vitamin D “turns on” calcium absorption.

If dairy doesn’t work, what about supplements?  If just getting enough calcium doesn’t work, vitamin D will help, right?

The US Preventative Services Task Force actually recommends not taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, since the evidence does not clearly show that they have any effect on fractures in women.  There are actually concerns about the safety of calcium supplements, as some studies have shown an increased risk of heart disease for those taking the supplements.  Sunlight and a healthy diet are highly correlated with regular vitamin D levels, which are highly correlated with strong and healthy bones, and supplements of vitamin D have been shown to effectively raise levels in the blood in many cases.  However, in my case, and in the cases of at least three fellow stress fracture-plagued athletes I met through my career, our vitamin D and calcium levels were tested and came back normal, and we still kept breaking bones.  Is it possible that we had normal calcium and vitamin D in our blood and they were still not doing the jobs that they were supposed to do?

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Part II:  What Matters Most – How Calcium is Absorbed

Magnesium & Vitamin D

WebMD.com says that “magnesium is a mineral that is present in relatively large amounts in the body.  Researchers estimate that the average person’s body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, and about half of that is in the bones. Magnesium is important in more than 300 chemical reactions that keep the body working properly.”  More than 300 reactions, including those in which vitamin D is involved.  Actually, magnesium turns out to be a cofactor in every interaction requiring vitamin D.  Carolyn Dean, MD says that “When you take high doses of Vitamin D and if you are already low in magnesium, the increased amount of metabolic work drains magnesium from its muscle storage sites.  That’s probably why muscles are the first to suffer magnesium deficiency symptoms — twitching, leg cramps, restless legs and charlie horses.  Angina and even heart attacks affecting the heart muscle are all magnesium deficiency symptoms.”  This is very important for athletes that play sports outside – if you use magnesium to metabolize vitamin D, and you get a lot of vitamin D (from the sun) then you must make sure that you are getting enough magnesium.  One reason for the lack of attention that magnesium gets by the average doctor may be because it is very difficult to test for.

Calcium, Magnesium & Calcitonin

Magnesium stimulates the release of the hormone calcitonin.  Calcitonin is produced by the thyroid, and is a regulator of calcium and phosphorous levels in the blood.  It actually prevents the release of calcium into the bloodstream.  When the message reaches the thyroid that there is a large amount of calcium in the blood, the thyroid releases calcitonin, which both enhances the uptake of calcium and phosphorous by the bone AND slows the activity of osteoclasts (cells that recycle bone).  If you want stronger bones, you want less osteoclast activity, as the osteoclasts break down bone to release their mineral content (osteoblasts, on the other hand, are the cells that build bones).

Lastly, studies have shown that even a small amount of missing magnesium from the body can interfere with the quality of your sleep  and sleep is required to rebuild the bones and all of the tissues of the body.  Another interesting fact is that magnesium is required for serotonin production.  Low serotonin can cause migraine headaches and is associated with depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.

In Summary…

-Getting enough calcium is important, but it isn’t everything.  Ever been told drinking milk will build strong bones?  Countries that eat the most dairy products, per capita, have the weakest bones.  What matters is how much calcium actually gets absorbed by your bones.

-Phosphoric acid (in colas) has been proven to weaken bones.  Sorry, no more Pepsi/Coca Cola if you’re going to be an athlete person.

-Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption, but cannot be absorbed if it there is not an adequate amount of magnesium in the body.  Due to the Standard American Diet (processed foods lose much, if not all, of their mineral content), magnesium is often a missing link for American athletes.

                -If you play sports outdoors or consume a lot of vitamin D in food or supplement form, you must be sure that you are getting enough magnesium.  Your body’s demand for it is greater.

-Magnesium also is involved in the release of the hormone calcitonin, which is required to keep calcium in the bones (where you want it) instead of the bloodstream and soft tissues (which can lead to calcification of the arteries and arthritis, among other things).

-Magnesium deficiency is hard to test BUT some signs that you may not be getting enough are leg cramps and charlie horses.

-Further, magnesium can help to improve your mood, relax your muscles and your mind (as serotonin production is dependent on magnesium), as well as helping you to sleep better by relaxing the central nervous system.

Next Monday we will look at both the sources of bone building substances in the food world and also common inhibitors of those substances.  In addition, we will look at some popular (and lesser known) herbs and supplements, their function in building super-strong bones, and some of their pros and cons.

UPDATE:  Further research has shown that the alkalinity/acidity of the blood (highly influenced by diet) also has a huge impact on the health of bones and soft tissues.  Later this October a specific post will summarize this rather complex topic.