Posts Tagged ‘health’

Muscle Myths

Thursday, January 14th, 2021 | Books

Muscle Myths: 50 Health & Fitness Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making is a book by Michael Matthews. I don’t think it’s the cyclist. It’s a pretty good book. There are academic references and most of the stuff agreed with what I have been taught in an academic setting, which is a more legit version of confirmation bias.

Below, I’ll discuss some of my key takeaways. The book’s claims are in quote marks with my commentary next to it.

“Free weights work better than machines.” Machines isolate muscles which can be useful if you need to train specific muscles, but if you just want to generally get stronger, free weights are my goto as well.

“Aim for 1-6 reps with at least 3-minute rest between sets.” If you want to get strong use heavy weights and low reps. If you want to get big muscles you might want to do things differently. Or maybe get over your ego ;).

“You don’t need strong abs, just a body get percentage under 12%.” If I ever get my body fat down to 12% I will be excited to find out if this is true.

“Training in a fasted state (2-3 hours of not eating) will accelerate fat burning but also muscle breakdown.” Yes! Someone finally talked about this. If you don’t have any glycogen left, you break down muscle and not fat. So, you need to pick whether you want to gain both or lose both.

“BCAA supplements will suppress muscle breakdown and green tea extract at 600-900 mg per day can help, too.” Interesting. I would like to burn fat and maintain muscle. But I don’t know enough about these supplements to comment.

“You need phases of bulking and cutting because you cannot do both.” As discussed above.

“Low rep heavy weights increase your metabolic rate, too.” If true, another reason to lift heavy.

“High-intensity cardio can burn fat but we don’t know why. Possibly by raising the metabolic rate.” Yep, it’s a mystery. When you do HIIT, you burn glycogen and the body cannot convert fat into glycogen because they are totally different. So, how does it burn the fat? We don’t know. But it seems to, so HIIT can be an alternative to long slow runs in the fat-burning zone.

“Cardio and strength training should be separate.” Controersial. Matthews recommends strength then cardio, but British Triathlon say it should be cardio then strength.

“Size of meal is not important so you can eat large or small, and eat breakfast or not. Calories are what matters.” Alas, one single 5,000 kcal meal isn’t going to be the secret path to skinny. Nor is a small meal every 30 minutes.

“Not drinking water with meals is nonsense.” Of course it is! Who said this? You should drink water with meals because it will make you feel satiated quicker.

Controlling hunger

I like this list because it is pretty similar to the list I use in my Nudge Nutrition course and it is always comforting to know you haven’t just made stuff up.

  • Eat lots of protein (30-40% of your intake)
  • High carb low-fat to increase your leptin levels
  • Drink water
  • Eat fibre
  • Avoid high GI foods
  • Eat slowly
  • Get enough sleep

Supplements that work

I like this list, too. Caffeine and creatine are widely recognised as effective.

  • Protein powder
  • Creatine
  • Vitamins you are deficient in
  • Fish oil
  • Glutamine
  • Pre workout energy drink

Vitamin D supplements

Monday, November 16th, 2020 | Health & Wellbeing

Typically, we only want to supplement when we cannot build a diet that provides enough nutrients. But, in the case of vitamin D, we get it mostly from exposing our skin to the sun, rather than from food, so it is difficult to get additional vitamin D from your diet.

Given that many of us do not get outside enough in normal times and that we’re all inside because of the pandemic and lockdowns, vitamin D deficiency is probably pretty common right now, And there is some evidence that it is a good idea to supplement. So, I thought I would give it a go.

Labelling can often be a little confusing, but a typical adult intake should be around 600 IU (international units) which is 15 µg (micrograms). However, we can safely tolerate up to 4,000 UI (100 µg).

I picked up some vitamin D gummies from Boots. These contain 25 µg per gummy so one per day should provide plenty of vitamin D (and I will still get some from going outside, and a little through diet) and yet be safely within the tolerable limit.

I probably won’t let you know how I get one because I’m not expecting a vitamin D gummy per day to make any noticeable changes. If I don’t report back, assume it went fine (or I’ve exploded).

Mindful Running

Monday, August 17th, 2020 | Books

Mindful Running: How Meditative Running can Improve Performance and Make you a Happier, More Fulfilled Person is a book by Mackenzie L. Havey.

It’s a nice read. Nothing suer-new or much I did not know, but if you don’t practice mindfulness already or use it in your running, this would be a recommended read.

It was also a good reminder of what Havey calls our “True North Goal”. The thing that keeps us going regardless of what races are coming up. For many of us, it will be to stay on top of our physical and mental health, to challenge ourselves, to show ourselves we are stronger than we thought. A timely reminder given almost all of the races in 2020 are cancelled.

Engineering Health

Friday, May 22nd, 2020 | Life

I recently completed Engineering Health: Introduction to Yoga and Physiology with New York University.

It is a good overview of the health benefits of yoga. Yoga does not have any magical properties, but what it does have is a bunch of stuff bundled together. Things we know that allow us to live healthier and happier, like exercise, strength, flexibility and mindfulness. All wrapped up in a single package that is easy to consume.

One-Hour Guide to Sport Nutrition

Thursday, May 21st, 2020 | Books

New book alert. If you are an athlete, coach or just someone interested in learning more about nutrition and exercise, The One-Hour Guide to Sport Nutrition will give you a fundamental and practical overview in around an hour’s reading.

We’ll cover macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and how they work. `But we’ll also look at personalising nutrition, the psychology of healthy eating, managing hydration, losing weight safely and how to fuel before, during and after exercise.

It’s available on Amazon in paperback now.

Nutrition, Exercise and Sports

Thursday, May 7th, 2020 | Life, Sport

As well as the courses on macronutrients and micronutrients, I’ve also been doing a course on sport nutrition with Wageningen University. I’ve finished the course and am on track for a final grade of 92%, but even though I’ve submitted everything, the grades do not get finalised until the summer.

Micronutrients and Malnutrition

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 | Life

Earlier in the year, I completed a course on Micronutrients and Malnutrition with Wageningen University. I made it through the exams pretty quickly, but the coursework has to go through a long marking process, so I’ve been waiting for my grade for quite a while.

Thankfully, it has finally arrived, and my overall mark is 92%. which is a pass, obviously.

Completing this also unlocks my combo bonus. This and Macronutrients & Overnutrition course form part of the Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health qualification, which I have also now completed.

Stanford Introduction to Food & Health

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020 | Life

I’m officially a Stanford University graduate. I even have a certificate saying so. Sort of. It says “this is not the same as being a real student on campus!” at the bottom, but otherwise is pretty much says that.

I started the Introduction to Food & Health course last year. It was interesting, but not very science-heavy, hence I moved onto other qualifications such as the ones from Wageningen. For people looking to eat healthier and more interesting in improving their diet than understanding metabolic processes, this is a great course.

How many people will die from COVID-19?

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020 | Health & Wellbeing

Huge variations in estimates mean that we are 25% of the way through this to 2% of the way through this. All of this underscores the desperate need to start wide-scale antibody testing so that we can make evidence-based decisions on how we fight coronavirus.

The number of people likely to die depends on two factors: how likely you are to die when you get it (IFR) and how many people you will spread it to (R0). Below, I’ll explain both of these and run the numbers based on current estimates.

How many people you will spread it to

R0 represents how many people an infectious person will give it to. With seasonal flu, this is typically around 1.3. With highly infectious disease, such as measles, this can be as high as 9. Anything below 1 is great because it means the disease will slowly disappear as anything less than 1 means you are not even passing it on to one other person.

The Lancet has given an early estimate that COVID-19 at 2.35. But other studies have suggested it could be as high as 5.7.

The amount of people you infect is also dependent on the percentage of the population that are vulnerable. If half the population is immune because they have already had it or because they have been vaccinated, you can divide R0 by two. The number of people you infect is actually R0 * percentage of the population that is vulnerable (R0S).

R0 is important for two reasons. First, the higher it is, the faster it will spread. We can artificially suppress the number to be lower by using things like social distancing and lockdowns. If we can get it down to 1 we can control the situation. This is easier to do at 2.35 than it is at 5.7. The problem with social distancing is that it only artificially suppresses the outcome. Once you end the social distancing, the number jumps back up and the whole process starts again.

Second, it defines the number of the population that need to be infected or vaccinated before the disease will start to disappear. At 2.35, we need around 60% of the population to be immune before the number drops below 1. At 5.7, that means 80% of the population.

How many people die from it

The second factor is how deadly the disease is. If you haven’t followed the coverage too deeply, you might think the death rate is anywhere up to 3.4%. But this is not the case. What you’re looking at here is the case fatality rate (CFR), which is the percentage of people who test positive and then die.

This is quite high in some countries that are not bothering to test anyone and quite low in countries that are widely testing. But nobody is pretending it is the infection fatality rate (IFR), which tells you of the people who get it (tested or not), how many of them die. This we can only poorly estimate because we haven’t tested enough people.

In the UK, we know we are missing a lot of people because we are only testing those admitted to hospital (plus Prince Charles), and the results from testing in Iceland suggest that 10-50% of people are asymptomatic.

Estimates on the IFR vary. In an article in The Lancet, Imperial put it as high as 0.66%. Oxford University, however, put the figure much lower, estimating it to be somewhere between 0.1% and 0.36%.

Combining the variables

Here is the data modelled at for both an R0 of roughly 2.36 (60% of the population required to develop immunity) and for 5.7 (80% of population).

Country UK Italy Spain France
Population 67,801,000 60,483,000 46,750,000 65,235,000
60% of population 40,680,600 36,289,800 28,050,000 39,141,000
Deaths at 0.1% IFR 40,681 36,290 28,050 39,141
Deaths at 0.36% IFR 146,450 130,643 100,980 140,908
Deaths at 0.66% IFR 268,492 239,513 185,130 258,331
80% of population 54,240,800 48,386,400 37,400,000 52,188,000
Deaths at 0.1% IFR 54,241 48,386 37,400 52,188
Deaths at 0.36% IFR 195,267 174,191 134,640 187,877
Deaths at 0.66% IFR 357,989 319,350 246,840 344,441

A few things should be noted: first, this only calculates the point at which the disease starts to disappear. It won’t disappear overnight. Even if we get R0S down to 0.8, that still means that if 10 people get it, they will infect another 8. It’s on it’s way out but it is still throwing a few punches.

Second, if you want to be an optimist, you could say the IFR could be even lower. In the early days of swine flu, we were talking about high death rates (1-2%) and, in the end, it turned out to be 0.02%. This makes sense from a psychological point-of-view. Much better for a researcher to overestimate and say “sorry, it wasn’t that deadly after all” than to fail to raise the alarm, let everyone die and say “sorry, turned out it was super dangerous and it’s my fault everyone is dead”.

Other exit strategies

There are two other ways this could end. One is that it magically goes away over summer. Trump is still hoping for this option, I think, but even if this did happen, it may well just come back next winter.

The other exit option is a vaccine. Experts have said this is still 18 months away (12 if everything went perfect). But, importantly, this is just to deliver the vaccine. There is a difference between developing the thing and embarking on a nationwide or worldwide immunisation campaign. We have PPE equipment and COVID-19 tests now, for example, but getting them to the people who need them is still a logistical nightmare taking months.

So, we’re probably looking at two years until we’re immunised. For this to save lives, we would have to artificially suppress R0S to less than 1 for that entire time, which means two years of varying degrees of lockdowns and social distancing.

Whether this can work depends on how easy it is to suppress the virus. If South Korea continues to limit their deaths to a handful per day, they could keep the total number down to 2,000. New Zealand seem to be doing even better. How well this will work in the long-term is unclear; China is now battling a second wave of foreign infections, for example, and normal life is far from resumed in any of these countries.


Somewhere between 40,000 and 400,000 people in the UK are likely to die with COVID-19.

At the best-case scenario, we could be in for another three weeks of grim death counts before the virus starts to disappear forever.

In a worst-case scenario, we’re 2% into this, which will either see us go through a full year of this many deaths per day or a two-year-long lockdown while we hideout waiting for a vaccine. Neither of these options is appealing because it involves a lot of death, or in option B, two years of social isolation, mental health problems, suicides, drug and alcohol abuse, lack of a healthcare system, missed cancer screenings, job losses, domestic abuse, children not getting their education and the many other social costs.

All of this underscores the need to start large-scale antibody testing to confirm what the IFR is. Once we know that, we can start making evidence-based decisions about what the plan should be.

What is the law regarding exercise during COVID-19

Saturday, April 4th, 2020 | Sport

I’ve seen a lot of confusion about what we can and cannot do, exercise-wise, during COVID-19. That’s not surprising because what the law says, what the government guidelines say, and what Michael Gove has suggested are all different. In this blog post, I’ll break it down.

You can read Coronavirus Act on Parliament’s website. Which you probably should do, because I have no legal training and am in no way providing any kind of indemnified legal advice.

Can I go outside to exercise?

Yes. In order to leave your home, you need a reasonable excuse. The law (in England) then lists these reasons and includes “to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household”.

Can I go outside to exercise with other people?

Not unless you live with them, as the law says you can only go either alone or with members of your household.

Can I go out more than once per day?

Yes, you can. The law does not prohibit this.

However, where possible, you should avoid this. The government guidelines (which are guidelines, not laws) ask us to keep it to once per day and while it is not illegal to go out more, it makes sense for us to follow the guidelines.

Note that this specifically applies to England: in Wales, you are legally limited to going out once per day for exercise.

Is there a limit as to how far I can go?

No. You can go as far as you want. Neither the law nor the government guidelines, place any restrictions on distance.

That said, it makes sense to stick to your usual routine. If you try a 200-mile ride for the first time and end up exploding and needing someone to come pick you up, that is someone else having to travel.

Do I have to keep it to a maximum of one hour?

No, neither the law nor the government guidelines specify any kind of limit.

I think this may have come from a press briefing where Michael Gove said he expected people would be running for 30 minutes to an hour and encouraged people to stick to their regular routine.

Sticking to your regular routine makes sense, as explained above, so if you don’t usually exercise for more than an hour, I wouldn’t start now. But if you usually do long runs and rides, you are free to continue doing so.

Can I travel somewhere to start my exercise?

Some people have been travelling to national parks to exercise in the middle of nowhere. Can you do this? Probably, but you probably shouldn’t.

The law says you can go out to exercise, and the government guidelines don’t explicitly ban driving to a park either, but the government has said that you should avoid doing this during press briefings.

The concern is that more cars on the road, means more potential collisions, taking up hospital resources. Therefore, unless there is a specific reason you cannot exercise from your home, you should start from your front door.