Fitness Q & A

Fitness Q & A

Health & Fitness

July 18, 2004|By Gailor Large | Gailor Large,Special to the Sun

Instead of gulping pills to regulate stress, why not try to eliminate it?

I see commercials for diet pills that "regulate" cortisol levels. What is cortisol? Do these drugs work, and are they safe?

Cortisol is a stress hormone. When the body is under chronic stress, cortisol levels spike and stay elevated. When high levels of the hormone are present, extra fat is deposited and stored in the abdominal area.

As well as increasing the risk of heart trouble, high levels of the hormone have also been linked to sleep, memory and immunity problems.

As far as the effectiveness and safety of these new supplements that claim to control weight by lowering cortisol levels, the jury is still out. Rather than roll the dice with pills that have not been approved by the government, instead try to eliminate sources of stress in your life.

Is dark chocolate really that much better for you than milk chocolate? It seems like both are high in sugar and fat.

When you hear experts say that dark chocolate is good for the heart, they mean in moderation. It's true that the dark variety, like milk chocolate, is full of sugar and butter. Still, dark chocolate contains more cholesterol-fighting flavonoids than just about any other food, including red wine, tea and blueberries.

Studies have shown that dark chocolate, with a significantly higher cocoa content than lighter chocolates, boosts HDL ("good") cholesterol and squelches LDL ("bad") cholesterol. So the next time your sweet tooth cries out to you, have a piece of dark chocolate.

I'm a vegetarian who exercises intensely six days a week. How do I make sure I'm getting enough protein?

As an athlete and a vegetarian, you face twice the challenge when it comes to protein. Relying on dairy and plant foods to reach your recommended daily allowance of protein is hard enough, but as an athlete you face an even greater hurdle. Not only is protein needed to repair muscle tissue broken down during intense training, but when glycogen -- carbohydrate -- stores are low, the body turns to protein and fat to fuel exercise.

To compensate, athletes must consume extra protein.

One of the secrets of successful vegetarians is combining incomplete proteins, which lack one or more of the essential amino acids, to form complete proteins. Come mealtime, you should combine foods from the following groups:

* Beans, peas, soy or lentils

* Grains

* Nuts and seeds

Finally, make low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs -- all complete protein sources -- a regular part of your diet.

I've always been a good sprinter, and I'm in great shape, but I can't for the life of me keep up on a long distance bike ride. Someone told me I must have fast-twitch muscles. What does this mean?

Muscle is made up of different types of fibers. Slow-twitch fibers (also called Type I or red muscle fibers) are long and slender with a high aerobic capacity. They contract more slowly and are more resistant to fatigue. Fast-twitch (Type II or white) muscle fibers are stronger and thicker, but tire more easily.

Personal trainer Glenn Berger of Baltimore says, "The distribution of these fibers is different from person to person."

Someone with more Type I fibers has the edge in explosive, short-term activities such as sprinting and power lifting, Ber-ger explains, while slow-twitch athletes excel at endurance events such as marathons.

While training will help you become better at endurance exercise, don't be disheartened that others inherently have more stamina. After all, you can probably sprint circles around them.

Adds Berger, if you want to go the distance on a bike, try a recumbent bike. You are less likely to become fatigued than on the upright version.

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