June 22, 2017

Shannon Sharpe and you? … and me?

The December 21st, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal featured the following article as part of its regular “What’s Your Workout” column: “Football Player Leaves the Field, Not the Gym: After a Stellar 13-Year Career in the NFL, Shannon Sharpe Maintains a Severe Fitness Program and a Disciplined Diet.”  For those of you that may not know, the “What’s Your Workout” column appears regularly in the WSJ and highlights the workouts and fitness routines of a wide variety of individuals … stories that encourage us by revealing how other “real” people stay in shape.

I frequently reference the Shannon Sharpe piece to my clients as an introduction to the concept of physical and nutritional discipline, especially to those who are looking to make significant “lifestyle” changes.   The article and my attendant comments have been so well received that I thought it could prove useful to a slightly wider audience.

The article highlights five noteworthy points that I want to share: 1) Shannon plans his workouts in advance (e.g., sets out his clothes the night before); 2) he focuses on intense cardio exercises—Shannon obviously understands the benefits of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training—I have provided an excerpt from “Total Heart Rate Training” by Joel Friel, the “father” of heart rate training, see “Misconception #2,” that explains why this is important and the quasi-myth of the fat burning zone); 3) he has unshakeable discipline which has a way of influencing others (e.g., see the comments concerning Marino, Brown, and Esiason); 4) he devotes one day each week where he emphasizes cardio (an important part of developing a useful aerobic base); and, perhaps most importantly, 5) Shannon makes his nutrition a priority and his pocket book backs up this commitment—he has made a choice to purchase high quality food (i.e. average weekly food bill of $600); also, he understands the basics of metabolic efficiency/metabolism (eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day) and meal timing; note that he also avoids late-day spikes of insulin by utilizing low glycemic index carbohydrates and making sure that the majority of his complex carbohydrates are routinely consumed by noon).


From “Total Heart Rate Training” by Joel Friel

Misconception 2: To Lose Weight, Exercise in the “Fat Burning Zone”

The myth of the “fat-burning zone” has been around for a few decades now, and, like most myths, it has an element of truth to it.  It’s true that when you exercise at a low intensity your primary source of fuel is fat.  So why isn’t going slow always the best way to shed blubber?  Let’s examine what happens during exercise.

The body has two primary sources of fuel to use during exercise—fat and glycogen.  Glycogen is a form of carbohydrate stored in the muscles.  During aerobic activity both glycogen and fat are used simultaneously to provide energy.  At low intensity a greater percentage of fuel comes from fat, but some of the energy is also supplied by glycogen.  As the intensity of exercise increases—for example, going from walking to running—the body gradually begins to use more glycogen and less fat.  At very high intensities, such as long sprints, most of the energy is supplied by glycogen, with relatively little coming from fat.

Still sounds like slow exercise is the way to go, right?  Read on.

The confounding factor has to do with how many total calories are burned during low-intensity and high-intensity exercise.  When you are going slow, fewer calories are used per unit of time than when going fast.

Let’s say, for example, that there are two 150-pound people, each with 30 minutes to exercise.  One walks and the other runs.  Our walker covers 2 miles and burns about 200 calories.  Of these, 70 percent came from fat, for a total of 140 fat calories used.  The runner covers 3 miles in the same 30 minutes and consumes 330 calories, with 60 percent of them derived from fat—198 calories.

What is comes down to is this: Do you want a big slice of a little pie, or a small slice of a big pie?  While you’ll usually take the pie any way you can get it, the bigger the pie (the higher-intensity workout) is definitely the better for burning fat.

And there’s more.  For some time after the workout, perhaps a few minutes to a few hours, your metabolism is elevated above baseline levels.  Suet is melting away even though you are sitting at your desk.  The higher the intensity and the greater duration of the workout, the higher the metabolism and the more calories that are burned.  When it comes to counting calories, high intensity results in more calories expended than staining in the so-called fat-burning zone.

That doesn’t mean you should always exercise intensely.  When starting an exercise program, going slowly reduces the risk of injury.  Also, easy exercise days are needed after hard days, to allow muscles and other systems to recover.

Nutritional Discipline and the Glycemic Index

Shannon has made a commitment to his nutrition that he backs up with his time and financial resources.  Shannon tries anticipates life events (e.g., travel, work assignments, and family commitments, etc.) and takes nutritious foods with him.  He also emphasizes meal timing, spacing 5 to 6 meals out throughout  the day and, in his own words, tries “to get all my complex carbs in by noon.”  By utilizing lower glycemic index complex carbohydrates earlier in the day, Shannon effectively avoid the consequences of the blood sugar roller coaster ride that most individuals take every day.  Instead of spiking his insulin levels over and over through the day, Shannon gets his complex (or “good) carbohydrates in early in the day to fuel his active lifestyle and avoids the associated fat storage that results from bringing high loads of carbohydrates in late in the day.  Note that this is the opposite of what most individuals, instead, many Americans allow themselves to feed on a near constant supply of simple sugars (“bad” carbohydrates) throughout the day and then top it all off with a high carbohydrate (usually the processed white stuff) at the very end of their day—the consequences of this habit are visible our waistlines, hips, and buttocks … just look around!?

A Look at My “Food Ethic”:

The beauty of being both an observant and dedicated athlete is that you learn a great deal by trial and error.  I have developed a personal “food ethic” and an approach to nutritional excellence by referencing countless resources and through much trial and error.  However, recently I discovered a collection of books that fairly summarize what I have come to discover on my own.  If you are looking for some nutritional guidance, I can highly recommend the following resources: 1) “In Defense of Food” by Mark Pollan (there are many other titles that have shaped my food “ethic” but this is a really important work), Pollan’s mantra of “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” resonates with me.  I will also recommend “Ultrametabolism” by Mark Hyman, M.D.  Although styled as a weight loss book, this book provides a healthy outline for increasing vitality and sports performance.  As for endurance sports-specific, check out Bob Seebohar’s book,  “Nutrition Periodization” (it has it’s value, although I don’t agree with everything).  There is SO MUCH information in this area (much of which is conflicting, contradictory, and/or confusing), but you have to just dive in and start building a nutrition foundation.  First rate nutrition, especially for those who are looking to move beyond the standard energy balance concept of “calories in versus calories out”  (which unfortunately, is the bedrock principle of managing body composition—new nutritional science continues to suggest that both what we eat and when we eat it impacts body composition), involves a significant investment of time, money, and self-discipline.

Note: There is no magic contained in these books; however, these titles, admittedly in there individually incomplete and sometimes inconsistent ways, provide a foundation for my current personal nutrition philosophy, particularly, a type of “food ethic” that I subscribe to and one that I hope that you find beneficial to your own pursuit of wellness!

I devote a considerable amount of time and financial resources to both food selection and preparation.  As a means of cutting down on the time spent in the market, I have compiled a couple of grocery lists that use to guide both my family’s and my clients’ shopping (as I cycle through nutritional periods, these lists cover both my more plant-based nutritional “periods” as well as those that include lean, organic animal-based proteins).  Remember, keep it fun … I always try to bring home one new food that I don’t eat regularly each time I visit the market (preferably one that doesn’t have a label on it or come in a box).  I hope that you find these lists helpful:

Grocery List for Clients

My Family’s Personal Shopping List

Shannon Sharpe Article, citation (I would have liked to have provided an active link to the article or provided a reprint; however, the the WSJ charges dearly for such access.  If you are unable to locate the article, please send me an e-mail and I will provided it to you via my WSJ account):

Football Player Leaves the Field, Not the Gym.  (2010, December 21).  The Wall Street Journal.  (Western, ed.) p. (   ).  Or online:  Murphy, Jen. (2010, December 21).  Football Player Leaves the Field, Not the Gym.  The Wall Street Journal.  Retrieved March 31, 2011, from: http://www.wsj.com.