Protein: How Much, What Kind?

There are a number of different views on protein intake and everyone seems to be selling some, so which is going to fit your lifestyle?  Let’s take a closer look and hopefully make the protein choice a little easier.

First off, what even is protein?  Protein is a collection of amino acids strung together into a larger structure.  Amino acids are simply a carbon ring with a few differing features compared to carbohydrates or fatty acids.  They have an amino group (hence the amino acid name) and a “R” group (chemical structure nomenclature) that gives the amino acid its name.  So when you see things on the shelf like branch chain amino acids, don’t fret, it is simply a particular cluster of amino acids clumped together.

Branch chain amino acids are, as stated previously, a particular clump of amino acids strung together as they are thought to provide extra energy, and, perhaps more importantly to the performing athlete, are processed a little different than a simple protein supplement.  Branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s), use a different shuttle mechanism when being digested which allows them to be processed a little quicker in some instances.  Why is that important?  Well it is important to help that whole recovery thing take place a little quicker.  Especially when you have back-to-back games like in college sports or club/AAU sports.

Protein supplements are also important to recovery and diet.  There are even some diets out there that consist of nearly all your daily calories coming from protein supplements.  Sounds enticing I know, but it is also very challenging to swallow six shakes a day with all your caloric needs.

Protein supplements traditionally come in either whey or casein form, however, more recently have begun to show up in a number of other varieties.  To make it even more confusing, they have taken things like whey protein and created about 30 different versions like isolate, amplified whey, isomer, wheybolic, etc.  Don’t be confused.  Sometimes companies like to throw random names mashed together that don’t really mean anything, but sound cool.

Let’s start simple.  Whey is animal protein and casein is plant-based protein.  In most cases whey is considered complete and casein incomplete because of it’s source.  Complete proteins are considered complete because they contain all of the essential amino acids that the body can’t make on it’s own.  Also, whey has been shown in research to be a little quicker to act versus casein in terms of digestion/absorption.

In the process of turning whey, a gel that separates from milk, into a dry substance, there can be some minor changes.  To turn a gel into a dry mixture you must either add a lot of heat, a chemical, or some other more costly, stringent, tedious processes.  To save money, most companies elect to add heat or chemicals.  The problem is that this will also denature some of the protein structures.  Here you are in a store reading the label and it reads: “30g protein per serving”.  Although this is technically true, a good portion of that protein has been denatured–unable to be processed by the body–so who really knows how much you are really getting.  Some companies will elect to go the more costly route to have less denatured and these proteins tend to taste better, anecdotally.  There is also something known as isolate, which simply means that through some process that they have removed some of the sugars that would create havoc for lactose sensitive individuals.

This free-form type of protein is generally associated with the recovery process and what most people finishing a workout chug.  It is also speculated that free form protein can have a little “back-up” in terms of shuttling for absorption.  This is why considering BCAAs would be a good idea for the performing athlete.  It will enhance the recovery process just a little bit, but hey, every little bit helps.

So this is the basic knowledge you can use when determining what supplements to buy.  Don’t waste your resources on a supplement that will only deliver partially.  Another interesting topic is how the body will do whatever it needs to do in order to preserve energy stores.  Feel free to add comments.

Training Youth Athletes

A common question that I hear is, “how old do you have to be to start training at your facility?”  To me this is a pretty easy question to answer, but also a loaded answer.

When we talk about athletic development, there are a few windows of opportunity that we can expect to use to enhance performance in athletes.  Just because I have a window of opportunity to advance an athletes potential doesn’t mean I need to get all sport specific with it.  In previous articles I have eluded to spending a great deal of time developing the foundation for youth athletes, or general prep if that is easier to remember.  Just because I have an opportunity to improve athletic ability in a youth athlete doesn’t mean I need to make them proficient in 1RM cleans.  I “can” hold a firecracker in my hand and light it, but it wouldn’t be very intelligent.  Just like I “can” develop maximal cleans in a 10-year-old, but that still isn’t very intelligent.

The lost art of development, playing on the playground.  There are even schools where you aren’t allowed to run!  All because there is a fear of children getting hurt.  I could jump onto my soap box and have a complete rant, but I will stay on point here.  Kids in preschool, elementary, and middle school all are allotted time to go out and play.  They jump, run, bound, throw, play tag, etc.  If that isn’t athletic development I don’t know what is.  I spend the first 30 minutes of training sessions warming up and working on running, jumping, throwing, and agility.  These are the showcase items for my older athletes.

Specializing kids too early is a sure fire way to burn a kid out from ever wanting to play that sport again.  It’s also a great way for a kid to resent their parent.  Allowing a child to participate in a variety of events allows for better athletic development.  Experiencing movements outside of what is normal in their favorite sport will allow them to become more agile and athletic.

What can a child who hasn’t hit puberty expect to do and see?  There is no reason to take a prepubescent child and load them up under the bar.  Develop their ability to perform these exercises that you want to accomplish in the long term development plan.  Squatting, hinging, pressing, pulling are all exercises that can start off with simple body weight.  Once they become proficient in these bodyweight exercises you can consider handling a light weight.  Then slightly heavier.  And heavier.  The point is that these kids will become stronger (mostly through their nervous system adaptation), but not exactly larger.  How could they? They haven’t even hit puberty yet.

Once they hit puberty, the long term plan continues.  Start adding heavier weight and adding new challenges.  They will become more powerful, faster, stronger, insert any synonym.  They now have the hormonal profile to support what you are throwing at them.  But a word of caution: don’t throw the kitchen sink at them.  Allow for normal development.  The newest, coolest thing isn’t the best option.  Often times the new workout it either a fad or a new way of eliciting a response in an athlete who has already developed their foundation.

To sum up, kids can virtually start at any age, however, I wouldn’t really recommend them starting too early.  I have nine and 10 year olds at our facility, but realistically a mentor of mine said 11 years old is a great age to begin.  I’ll stick with that.

Long-Slow Distance Cardio

First off, it has been a little bit since my last check-in.  I have been busy with licensure testing, changing a few details professionally, and jumping right into some continuing education.  All those things, plus I have been coaching a high school lacrosse team in the area.

I was kicking back, sipping on a nice cup of coffee the other morning, reading over some “professional development” type material, when I came across a post along the lines of “why do long slow distance aerobic work?”  That  post of course got some great professional feedback, but it got me thinking too.

Most of what I was reading in terms of feedback was along the lines of: why indeed?  Now, I like bang for the buck type exercise regimens.  I feel as though we do a really good job of accomplishing both anaerobic and aerobic work in a relatively short period of time on a daily basis at our facility.  By using simple concepts like HIIT in our lifts we are able to develop strength and power via resistance training at appropriate, demanding percentages; and, also tax the aerobic system at the same time.  We also incorporate a conditioning portion after the lift that works usually on some type of lactic or alactic interval (think Certified Conditioning Coach)  in the preseason phases.

But where can we fit in the long-slow distance type conditioning???

This is where I reflect back to my magical weekend at IFAST, listening to Joel himself hurl information grenades at all of us innocent Performance Coaches.  In a very organized manner, he managed to explain to us how to use each concept that he has written about in books like “Ultimate MMA Conditioning”.  Long story short, one cannot sustain all out lactic intervals 7 days a week for very long.  This makes sense, right?!

With all the concepts in strength and conditioning regarding the importance of the nervous system, this should be a no-brainer.  Simply put, sometimes it is just better to let your foot off the gas pedal, slow down, and let your body (and nervous system) relax.  Let’s find that parasympathetic state for once in our training year.

Now that both sides of the continuum are screaming at me, let me elaborate.  First off, no, I do not think that you should be performing long-slow distance aerobic conditioning all year round–unless your sport is running a marathon or the Tour de France in which case you still shouldn’t do it on consecutive days.  Will you see strength and therefore power decrements as a result? Maybe.  Will you be introducing a new variable into your training regimen? Absolutely!  Cooling the jets for a few weeks will not have an absurd impact on strength/power/muscle fiber type.  But, it may afford you the potential to get even better because you let the body experience a new stimulus.

Personally, I don’t like long distance cardio.  I get bored with it, unless I am chasing a ball or object.  Cycling is more doable, but still, the struggle is real.  However, when no one is watching, I will jump on the Assault Bike for about 45-60 minutes and get in a good cardio sesh.

Cueing Through the Ground With Push-ups and Planks

When working with clients, there is a tendency on planks and push-ups to just hang out on the shoulders. This is fairly incomplete and doesn’t allow us to take full advantage of the exercise. With the management of overhead athletes as well as general population clients, we all need proper coordination through our upper extremities.

At first, the thinking is everyone knows how to plank, right? Eh, not so much as it turns out. The big-ticket items are making sure that we have a neutral spine, or have manipulated the position to target what we are after. Then we want the entire body under tension; things like the six pack, quads, butt, etc. We have made sure that the eyes are lined up with our fist to protect our shoulders in the basic plank. But, we can’t stop there! Are our shoulders under tension? How can we better the time under tension?

 

A huge muscle that goes unnoticed by most people and doesn’t get the care it necessarily needs is the serratus anterior. Big Latin words. This muscle starts on the ribs just under the armpit and kind of looks like the serrated edge of a knife. Hence the name. The muscle then courses under the shoulder blade to the inside border closest to the middle of your back. It is responsible for holding the shoulder blade down flush to your ribcage as well as giving it the proper mobility it needs to reach your arm overhead. Without this muscle firing properly, we would (and some of us have) experience shoulder impingement, rotator cuff tendonitis, rotator cuff tears, biceps tendonitis, bursitis, and any other form of itis you can think of in the shoulder region.

 

Traditionally in physical therapy, we throw a patient down on a treatment table, tell them to reach for the ceiling with one straight arm, and repeat this exercise x10 multiple times throughout the day. This is called a serratus punch and is a fairly non-functional exercise. It is designed to just get the serratus working again. What if it isn’t causing trouble yet? How can we make it functional?

Here is the simple answer! Especially in the warm up when we are performing planks and push ups to get ready for the rest of the lift we can cue everyone to push their arms through the floor. Getting that little extra reach will get that muscle working really well and with repeated bouts of this, we have taken control of most of our shoulder problems.

New Year; Back to Basics

We have made it to a new year.  First and foremost, Happy New Year! Let 2017 be the year for everyone.

In this first week, we have already heard all the questions regarding fine-tuning fitness and nutrition (will beet juice be the best option for me to reach my improved endurance–undisclosed baseball pitcher).  This is where I have to inevitably redirect the conversation to the basics.

  • How much water are you consuming daily?
  • How many hours of sleep are you getting?
  • What time are you going to bed at night?
  • How many vegetables do you consume in a day?
  • Why are you still pitching from a mound in November and December?

The misunderstanding is that the athlete’s must think they are rhetorical.  Most times by the second question, the jaw will drop and there is silence.

Sleep is probably the best recovery tool we have in our arsenal and the best part is that it’s free!  Take advantage of this.  Life happens sometimes, we understand, but make it happen.  Get your best attempt at 8 hours daily.  Research has shown that getting less than 6 but more than 9-10 will make you more obese than your counterparts that get 7-8 hours.

Get to sleep before midnight.  Those hours of sleep that you get before midnight are twice as beneficial as those after midnight.  Why?? That is still unclear.  We could speculate that maybe it has to deal with your primitive sleep-wake cycles and how pineal/melatonin intervention plays a role.

Drink water plain and simple.  Even if you “need” some sort of flavor just drink the water. Studies have shown that drinking 100-120 fluid ounces of water daily is beneficial to clearing metabolic waste products and improved metabolism.  Other studies have shown a more complicated method which is essentially your body weight in ounces cut in half (i.e. 200 pound individual converts to 200 fluid ounces cut in half would equal 100 fluid ounces of water daily).

Eat your veggies.  They are packed with micronutrients that will help in the recovery process.  If you want to get better suck it up and eat them.  The more colorful the better.

Stop year-round throwing programs please.  Give your arm a break and allow us as Sports Performance coaches to bring integrity back to that shoulder and elbow.  This is preventative in the sense that tendonitis, tears, synovitus, bursitis, and surgery are at an alarming high in youth sports.  There are probably a number of reasons why, but sometimes we just need to demonstrate common sense.  If I work in a meat packing factory and do the same task over and over what do you think the outcome will be?  Funny thing is they wrote an entire manual about it back in the 1980’s.  I know that pitching isn’t the same as cutting meat repetitively, but the principle is the same.

We could definitely get pretty in depth about different modalities, but this a simple list that we can start with.  Get some consistency here before we start fine-tuning.

Cons to All-Year Sport Specialization

It’s been a while since I last posted!  This summer has been crazy. We moved our facility to Gametime Sports and Fitness in Lowell, merged with SLS Fitness, increased the amount of space that we had available and as a result increased the amount of athletes we were able to work with.  It was a super fun transition and definitely a learning experience.

With all of these new changes, we were exposed to a number of new challenges with our athletes.  It seems like not so common sense that kids shouldn’t be playing the same sport all year round especially at the younger ranks.  Early sport specialization has been an uphill battle in the world of physical therapy and strength and conditioning, but the only thing we can do is urge kids not to do it.  Often times when I present to parents for our in-house workshops I say something along the lines of, “…I strongly encourage kids to play a different sport once baseball is done kind of like a strongly encourage you to wear a parachute when jumping out of an airplane.”  That will get a few chuckles, but the kid is in pitching the next day anyway.

What could possibly go wrong?

Good question.  Maybe we are being too conservative?  Maybe your kid is a freak athlete like the character “Spike” in the movie “Little Giants”?  Unlikely.  It isn’t just anecdotal, conservative babble either.

Lacrosse is a prime example.  In this area it has begun to take shape and kids are running around town with their “twigs” trying to be the next big star.  Awesome!  I love all that lacrosse has to offer in terms of it isn’t hockey and it gets kids outdoors.  The problem resides in how the kids will hit the ground running and play all year round.  They have their school teams in the spring, their club teams in the summer, fall ball in the fall, and indoor in the winter.  Here is a movement screen I did recently with one of my high school lacrosse players who has committed to play for a good, Division I college.

IMG_0419

See anything wrong?

While playing club over the summer, he had a tear in his Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL).  The first thing I thought when I heard this was, great it isn’t your ACL.  Nonetheless, the PCL is a necessary component to knee integrity and checking movement of the tibia (shin bone) on the femur (thigh bone).  His first big request like all other kids is to be able to accelerate better.

Plan of attack:  We finished the FMS and did some other non-ballistic testing to see where he was at.  Next we programmed foundational exercises so that his movement quality was up before we started giving him the big strength and power exercises.  It is truly amazing how quickly the strength and power numbers go up once you develop a good foundation!  As a side note, and I can’t express how crucial this is, I couldn’t have performed a movement screen or any other tests on this athlete without the okay from his physician.  Even as a DPT, it is paramount that I follow the wishes of the M.D. so that I stay within the scope of my practice.

To this point we have just begun working on sprint technique and form, but have remained semi-conservative with our strength-speed/power work.  Do no harm is the mantra, and in this case, don’t hurt that athlete more than what they are presenting to you with.  It may not be sexy or sleek to perform planks, KB deadlifts from a raised platform, or corrective exercises.  But, if it gets them safely to their goal without causing further damage, that is what we will do.

 

In-Service Presentation

Recently, I had the pleasure of reciting an in-service presentation to a host of physical therapists, physical therapy assistants, and physical therapy aids as well as occupational therapists.  It was a great experience and well received which is why I’m sharing it here.  Take a couple of minutes to check it out and leave any feedback that could help in the future.

Thanks!!

PNS presentation