Archive | Fitness Science RSS feed for this section

Caffeine 101: What You Need to Know for Your Health and Fitness

20 Feb

We all drink some form of it – whether it’s coffee or tea or soda.   It’s even naturally occurring in some of the foods we eat.  Caffeine is everywhere, but how much of it should you be consuming and in what form?  Let’s get down to the basics.caffeine

What is caffeine and what does it do?  
Caffeine is a drug that is naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants. It’s also produced artificially and added to certain foods. Caffeine is defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system, causing increased alertness. Caffeine gives most people a temporary energy boost and elevates mood.

Whether caffeine is consumed in food or as a medicine, it changes the way the brain and body work. Once consumed, caffeine is absorbed into the blood and body tissues within around 45 minutes.  Caffeine blocks the nervous system’s ability to open up the brain’s blood vessels, causing them to constrict – this is the reason caffeine is used in pain relief medicine for headaches. If the headache is vascular, the effect of caffeine narrowing the blood vessels can offer relief.

Where is it found?
Caffeine occurs naturally in the leaves, seeds, or fruit of more than 60 plant species, including:

Coffee beans – seed
Tea leaves – leaves, bud
Kola nuts – seed
Cacao beans – seed
Guarana – seed
Yerba mate – leaf
Yoco – bark

Caffeine no longer only features in tea, coffee, and chocolate; it is regularly added to gum, jelly beans, waffles, water, syrup, and more.  Caffeine is even being added to marshmallows, sunflower seeds, and other snacks for its stimulant effect.

How much is safe?
Studies suggest that moderate amounts of caffeine are not harmful. How much is moderate? One hundred to 200 milligrams (one to two 5-ounce cups of coffee) each day is the limit that some doctors suggest, but each person is different.

How caffeine affects people varies with their size, their sex, how sensitive they are to caffeine’s effects, and any medications or supplements they may be taking. Experts agree that 600 milligrams (four to seven cups of coffee) of caffeine or more each day is too much.

The amount of caffeine included in some common foods and beverages are:

  • Coffee, brewed – 102 -200 milligrams per cup
  • Coffee, instant – 27-173 milligrams per cup
  • Coffee, decaffeinated – 3-12 milligrams per cup
  • Tea, brewed American – 40-120 milligrams per cup
  • Tea, brewed imported – 25-110 milligrams per cup
  • Tea, instant – 28 milligrams per cup
  • Tea, canned iced – 22-36 milligrams per 12 ounces
  • Caffeine-containing cola and other soft drinks – 36-71 milligrams per 12 ounces
  • Cola and other soft drinks, decaffeinated – 0 milligrams per 12 ounces
  • Cocoa – 3 – 13 milligrams per cup
  • Chocolate, milk – 3-6 milligrams per ounce
  • Chocolate, bittersweet – 25 milligrams per ounce

What are the risks of caffeine intake?
Caffeine consumption is generally considered safe.  However, it’s good to keep in mind that caffeine is addictive and some people’s genes make them more sensitive to it.Some side effects linked to excess intake include anxiety, restlessness, tremors, irregular heartbeat and trouble sleeping .  Too much caffeine may also promote headaches, migraines and high blood pressure in some individuals .  Finally, it’s worth noting that caffeine can interact with some medications.

What are the health benefits?
Caffeine consumption is linked to several health benefits:

  • Protection against heart disease and diabetes: Recent evidence shows a 16–18% lower risk of heart disease in men and women who drink between one and four cups of coffee each day.  Other studies show that drinking 2-4 cups of coffee or green tea per day is linked to a 14–20% lower risk of stroke.  A recent review notes that those who drink the most coffee have up to a 29% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Similarly, those who consume the most caffeine have up to a 30% lower risk.
  • Protects the liver: Coffee may reduce the risk of liver damage (cirrhosis) by as much as 84%. It may slow disease progression, improve treatment response and lower the risk of premature death.
  • Promotes longevity: Drinking coffee may decrease the risk of premature death by as much as 30%, especially for women and diabetics.
  • Decreases cancer risk: 2–4 cups of coffee per day may reduce liver cancer risk by up to 64% and colorectal cancer risk by up to 38%.
  • Protects skin: Consuming 4 or more cups of caffeinated coffee per day may lower the risk of skin cancer by 20% .
  • Reduces MS risk: Coffee drinkers may have up to a 30% lower risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS). However, not all studies agree.
  • Prevents gout: Regularly drinking four cups of coffee per day may reduce the risk of developing gout by 40% in men and 57% in women.
  • Supports gut health: Consuming 3 cups of coffee a day for as few as 3 weeks may increase the amount and activity of beneficial gut bacteria

TAKE HOME MESSAGE:  Caffeine is not as unhealthy as it was once believed to be. In fact, evidence shows that it may be just the opposite.  Therefore, it’s safe to consider your daily cup of coffee or tea as an enjoyable way to promote good health.  

See you at the Studio – after my cup of tea, of course!

PX Studio


Article Sources:
Medical News Today (
Authority Nutrition (
CNN Health (
Evolution Nutrition (

Healthy Chocolate? Absolutely!

13 Feb

chocolateValentine’s Day is here and the grocery aisles are full of that glorious decadence that we call chocolate!  Sure, chocolate and candies have been the downfall of many a diet, but that doesn’t mean you have to shut them out of your life completely. While the candy aisle can be incredibly overwhelming, there are options that fit into any healthy meal plan.

Now, you can’t just go and grab any old chocolate bar off the shelf. There are “better” types of chocolate out there that have great health benefits.   Let’s compare our top four options:

  1.  Milk Chocolate:  High in sugar, saturated fats and milk solids, dismally low in cocoa and containing preservatives and flavorings, store-bought milk chocolate is designed for overeating, which can quickly push you beyond your calorie needs and put you on a blood sugar roller-coaster.
  2. 70% cocoa chocolate:  Often referred to as the ‘healthy’ chocolate, 70% cocoa chocolate contains considerably more cocoa and less sugar than its milk chocolate relative. Some ‘raw’ chocolates may use evaporated cane juice instead of sugar, and flavonoids in cocoa have been linked to cardiovascular health.
  3. White Chocolate:  Would you like chocolate with your cocoa butter? While more expensive white chocolate does contain the cocoa butter, it is devoid of cocoa solids, which typically qualify ‘chocolate’ and deliver the health benefits associated with choccie.
  4. Unsweetened Chocolate:  As the name suggests, unsweetened chocolate contains no added sugar and can be bitter. However, it’s among the healthiest forms of commercial chocolate. It also works in chocolate savory dishes – think South American cuisine.

Bottom Line:  GO DARK!  The higher the cocoa content, the more health benefits you’re going to get from that sweet treat.  Do yourself a favor though and always check the sugar content before you indulge.  When possible, try to avoid milk solids, corn syrup, soy solids (except lecithin, which will likely be included), artificial sweeteners and colorings. That ensures you’re getting the most health benefits with the least amount of sugar.

Now, you’ve decided you want a treat and you’ve figured out which type to go with.  Still feeling unsure?  Maybe a little guilty?  Not for long.  I keep stating these mysterious “health benefits” that come specifically from darker chocolate so let’s get to it:

A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains:

  • 11 grams of fiber.
  • 67% of the RDA for Iron.
  • 58% of the RDA for Magnesium.
  • 89% of the RDA for Copper.
  • 98% of the RDA for Manganese.
  • It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.

The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturates.  It also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, but is unlikely to keep you awake at night as the amount of caffeine is very small compared to coffee.

Dark chocolate is also loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others.

Finally, your heart loves (moderate amounts) of dark chocolate.  The bioactive compounds in cocoa can improve blood flow in the arteries and cause a small but statistically significant decrease in blood pressure.  It can also improve several important risk factors for heart disease by lowering the susceptibility of LDL to oxidative damage while increasing HDL and improving insulin sensitivity.

This Valentine’s Day (and everyday), remember that you don’t have to completely give up your cravings, but you don’t have to give in completely to your sweet tooth either.  Choose wisely, indulge in moderation, and enjoy that delicious dark treat.

PX Studio


Article Sources
Eat This, Not That
Women’s Health and Fitness
Authority Nutrition



Make Lemon Water Your “New Year, New You” Go-To!

16 Jan

two-glasses-of-lemon-waterTwo simple ingredients – lemon and water.  You might wonder how that could possibly have any effect on your health and your body – and you would be surprised!  Simply adding lemon juice to your water has a variety of benefits.  Try it once and you’ll never go back!

What Is It?
Lemon water is simply the juice from lemons mixed with water.  The amount of lemon you use depends on your personal preference, and this drink can be enjoyed either cold or hot. Some people also choose to add lemon rind, mint leaf or other ingredients.

How Much?
For those who weigh less than 150 pounds, squeeze half a lemon’s worth of juice into a glass of water. If over 150 pounds, use an entire lemon’s juice. You can of course dilute the lemon juice more, depending on your personal taste.

When Do I Drink It?
Start your morning with a cup of luke warm lemon water, and keep a pitcher of water infused with a few sliced, whole lemons in your refrigerator to drink throughout the day. The key time however, is drinking a glass first thing in the morning – and about 10-15 minutes before you eat breakfast.

Nutrient Breakdown

  • Calories: 9.
  • Sugars: Less than 1 gram.
  • Vitamin C: 25% of the RDI.
  • Folate: 1% of the RDI.
  • Potassium: 1% of the RDI.

Additionally, remember that the exact nutritional value depends on how much lemon juice you add, as well as any other ingredients.

What Does It Do?
1. It promotes hydration.

According to the Food and Nutrition Board, the dietary reference intake for water is 91 to 125 ounces. This includes water from food and drinks.  Water is the best beverage for hydration, but some people don’t like the taste of it on its own. Adding lemon enhances water’s flavor, which may help you drink more.

2. It’s a good source of vitamin C.

Citrus fruits like lemons are high in vitamin C, which is a primary antioxidant that helps protect cells from damaging free radicals.  Vitamin C may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, and lower blood pressure. Research published in Stroke showed that people with low vitamin C levels, especially obese men with high blood pressure, have a higher risk of stroke. Vitamin C may also help prevent or limit the duration of the common cold in some people, although studies are conflicting.

While lemons don’t top the list of citrus fruits high in vitamin C, they’re still a good source. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 1/4 cup raw lemon juice provides about 23.6 grams of vitamin C. That’s over 30 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA).

3. It improves your skin quality.

Vitamin C found in lemons may help reduce skin wrinkling. A study published in the American Society for Clinical Nutrition concluded that people who consumed more vitamin C have less risk of wrinkled and dry skin.  How water improves skin is controversial, but one thing is certain. If your skin loses moisture, it becomes dry and wrinkle-prone. Whether it’s better to apply moisturizer to the skin or drink more water isn’t clear, but UW Health recommends drinking at least eight glasses of water daily to stay hydrated and rid the skin of toxins.

4. It supports weight loss.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition showed that polyphenol antioxidants found in lemons significantly reduced weight gain caused by a high-fat diet in mice. In addition, insulin resistance was improved.

While the same results need to be proven in humans, anecdotal evidence is strong that lemon water supports weight loss. Whether this is due to an increase in water intake and fullness or the lemons remains to be seen.

5. It aids digestion.

Some people drink lemon water as a daily morning laxative to help prevent constipation. Drinking warm or hot lemon water when you wake up may help get your digestive system moving.

6. It freshens breath.

Have you ever rubbed a lemon on your hands to remove a powerful stench? It’s thought to neutralize odors. The same folk remedy may apply to bad breath caused by eating foods with strong smells like garlic, onions, or fish.  Keep your breath sweeter by drinking a glass of lemon water after meals and first thing in the morning. Lemon is thought to stimulate saliva, and water helps prevent a dry mouth, which leads to bad breath caused by excess bacteria growth.

7. It helps prevent kidney stones.

The citric acid in lemons may help prevent calcium kidney stones. UW Health recommends increasing citric acid intake to decrease your risk of getting new calcium stones. Drinking lemon water not only helps you get more citric acid, but also the water you need to prevent stones.  Having 1/2 cup of lemon juice provides the same amount of citric acid you’d find in prescription varieties.

Research shows lemon water has potential health benefits.  Adding lemon to your water may help you drink more throughout the day to help you stay hydrated, which is critical to good health.  If you drink it hot, lemon water is a comforting alternative to other hot beverages. If you drink it cold, it’s refreshing and energizing.  No matter how you enjoy it, lemon water will give you a wellness boost.

See you at the Studio – with your lemons water bottles full and ready to go!

PX Studio


Article Sources:
Life Hack (
Health Line (
Authority Nutrition (



Setting S.M.A.R.T Goals for 2017

9 Jan

We all start off each New Year with an idea of who we want to be, what we want to do, and generally a vague sense of how we want to accomplish that.  For most of us that means something like “I’m going to be healthier and get in shape!”  While that is an awesome sentiment and one we should always be striving for, there is no real way to quantify it and actually assess our progress and whether or not, at the end of the year, we have achieved that.  I want to help you be successful in reaching that lifestyle objective, so we’ll start off with the SMART model.  Once you have planned your overall objective (be healthier, lose weight, eat better, workout more, etc) turn your attention to developing several goals that will enable you to be successful. Goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.


That’s a great method – but what does it really look like in action?

  1. Specific. Your goal should be clear and easy to understand. 
    • A common goal, “get healthy,” is too general. There are so many ways to get healthy. How do you want to do it? Is it losing weight? Start exercising? Stop smoking? Break it down and it will be easier to manage.
    • Let’s pick weight loss and make a SMART goal out of it together. For example, “I will lose weight.”
  2. Measurable. A goal to “lose weight” is not enough. How will you track your progress and how you will know when you have reached your goal? Making your goal measurable means adding a number.
  3. Attainable. Before you can add a number, you have to know how high or low you want to go. It’s good to ‘shoot for the stars’, but don’t be too extreme. Likewise, a goal that is too easy is also not very motivating. Only you know your limits.
    • Let’s take our goal above. What percentage is attainable for you? Research suggests that a 5-10% weight loss is attainable for most overweight people.
    • A measurable, attainable goal could be, “I will lose 7% of my body weight.”
  4. Relevant. Set goals that are important to where you are in your life right now. Don’t set a goal that someone else is pressuring you to attain-that isn’t very motivating.
    • Examine our goal so far. Does it seem relevant to you? If so, let’s keep going. If you are not concerned about weight loss or this is not a good time in your life to focus on that, choose something that IS motivating to you.
  5. Time-based. Include an end-point. Knowing that you have a deadline motivates you to get started.
    • Since healthy weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week, set your deadline accordingly. For our example we can use 3 months. “I will lose 7% of my body weight in 3 months.”

Now we have a SMART goal! With a goal like this, it’s a good idea to set a few more action-oriented SMART goals so that you have a game plan. Here are a few examples:

  • Walk 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
  • Find an exercise partner in the next three weeks.
  • Buy an exercise journal and record daily workouts.
  • Run a total of 15 miles a week for the next four weeks.
  • Fix your bike and ride it twice a week for the next two months.
  • Take a pilates or cardio class at Pilates X three times a week.
  • Swim three days a week for 30 minutes each workout.
  • Measure your daily caloric intake and record it in your exercise journal for 14 days.
  • Complete a fitness assessment/challenge in the next 30 days.

Becoming a better version of you starts by being SMART!  See you at the Studio!

PX Studio

Article Sources

American Council on Exercise (
Active (

How Many Meals?

5 Dec

thanyapura-mindful-training-eating-time-managementYou’ve probably heard the advice that eating small meals throughout the day is how you win the battle of the bulge. The claim is that frequent snacking, as long as it’s healthy, keeps your metabolism humming, staves off hunger, and controls blood sugar.  But in actuality, it may not work that way.  Unfortunately, in that statement is a mix of myth and science fact.  I’m here to help you work through it.  

The majority of studies show that  that switching from three daily meals to six did not boost calorie-burning or fat loss.  So, if that’s the case, why is it still touted as good?  The two key factors here are what you’re eating and hunger levels.  The longer you wait between meals, the hungrier you get, and then you’re more likely to overeat.

After about 3 hours without food, blood sugar begins to fall. And after 4 hours, your body has already digested whatever you sent down earlier.  Once you’ve crossed the 5-hour mark, your blood sugar begins to plummet, and you grab whatever you can to refuel. That’s why breakfast is so important. After 7-8 hours of sleep without food, you need energy to get moving.

People who regularly eat breakfast tend to weigh less than those who skip their morning meal. They also get more nutrients like vitamins D, B12, and A. They may even be more likely to resist food cravings and make better food choices, especially when protein is part of the meal.  If you start off your day with breakfast, and then continue eating every 3 to 4 hours, you’ll provide your body and brain with a steady stream of nutrients so you don’t go overboard at mealtime.  Studies also show that people who ate more often tended to consume foods that were lower in calories and higher in nutritional value, such as vegetables and fruits.  Meanwhile, people who ate less than four meals tended to consume more calories in the evening, and to have alcohol in the evening.

Now, how about those snacks themselves.  You don’t think I’m telling you to grab a chocolate bar every 3 hours, do you?  The key words up there are lower calories, higher nutritional value.   If you’re going the mini-meals route, you have to remember to adjust your portions and intake accordingly.  You can’t just have your regular meals with snacks on top of that.

The simplest strategy is mixing portion control with protein and fiber to fill you up. Avoid “junk” foods that are easy to overeat (processed foods, refined carbs, sugary drinks) and plan nutrient-dense snacks like these:

  • Fresh fruit with low-fat cheese
  • Raw veggies with 1/4 cup hummus for dipping
  • Whole-grain crackers with 1 ounce of low-fat cheese or one tablespoon of nut butter
  • 1/4 cup trail mix with nuts, dried fruits, and whole-grain cereal
  • 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt with fresh berries

Finally, know thyself.  There is still nothing wrong with three square meals a day.  If you know you have trouble controlling portion sizes, or you don’t have time to prep healthy snacks, you may be better off with the standard three-meal-a-day plan.  The number of meals you eat doesn’t matter as much as what you eat.  Quality, calories, and portion sizes ultimately make the difference.

So get that oatmeal and fresh fruit ready for breakfast and I’ll see you at the Studio!

PX Studio


WebMD (
Huffington Post (
Daily Mail UK (


Vintage Pilates (Pilates 101)

7 Nov


Also known as “classical pilates”, “contrology”, or “mat pilates”.  Anyone who does pilates has heard of the founder, Joseph Pilates – but how much do you really know about why he created the specific pilates exercises (34 to be exact) that he did and put them in their very specific order?

It was 1954 and  Joseph Pilates was 59 going on 60 when he demonstrated these poses and coined “pilates” as a fitness term.   He published a book entitled “Return to Life through Contrology”.  Within it, 34 classic mat work exercises which are at the heart of any pilates routine.  The moves he designed focus on core muscles in the “powerhouse” (abs, pelvic floor, lower back), proper alignment of the spine, and awareness of breath.

Joseph Pilates created this order of exercise to go through a sequence that he believed to be logical and appropriate. It first warms up the body, a principle common for all exercise programs. Then it progresses to more challenging exercises once the body is warmed up and ready for them. Finally, it progresses into cool down exercises before the end of the session. It also ensures all areas of the body are targeted in every position, first with gravity and body weight and then against it.

A classical pilates teacher will follow this order of exercises, but will pick and choose from the list to match the abilities of the student. For beginners, the more fundamental exercises will be done in classical order. For more advanced students and those who are ready for a challenge, the intermediate level, and advanced exercises will be chosen.  Each exercise can be modified to meet the level of the student and can also include equipment such as exercise balls, fitness bands, and the magic circle.

Without further ado, here are the 34 classic pilates exercises, in proper sequence!  You will surely recognize them (or variations of them) from your classes at Pilates X.   Examples and tutorials of each of these exercises can be found by clicking here and choosing which exercise you would like to learn about.  The best practice of course, comes from including your Pilates X classes consistently in your fitness routine, but refreshers in between are always recommended!og34exercises

Joseph Pilates said it best himself:  “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness…[and] everyone is the architect of their own happiness.”   See you at the Studio!

PX Studio


Article Sources:
Shape (
Very Well (
Easy Vigour (

The Power of Proper Breathing

17 Oct


In Pilates classes, you often hear phrases like “remember to use your breathing” or “pilates breath”.  We know it, we do it – but… why?   What is so important about proper breathing techniques?  Turns out, research shows that how we breathe can not only change the effectiveness of our workouts, but also how we feel in day to day situations.  If you have the time, I highly suggest reading through this study.   Just stop and think about it – in stressful or anxious situations, our breathing becomes short and rapid (sometimes we call it “hyperventilating”).  When those intense situations are over we “breathe a sigh of relief”.   What is actually happening in our bodies is this:

“Internally, each time you inhale, you activate the sympathetic nervous system — our “fight or flight” response. And each time you exhale, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system — our “rest and digest” response.”

By extending and controlling those breaths, we can manage our psychological and emotional states.   That’s amazing power to have for our daily lives, but what about when we’re exercising?    A good breathing pattern ensures that your working muscles will continue to receive the oxygen they need to keep contracting – and thus, keep your workout going without you having to stop to catch your breath.

Curious to try some breathing techniques out?  Here are a few exercises to get your started:

Boost Your Mood 
Start by inhaling a tiny stream of breath through your mouth and gradually accelerate and intensify that inhale, then immediately exhale through your mouth without the slightest pause. That acceleration and intensification will give you a natural high.

Manage Stress
Inhale for four counts. Hold that breath for four counts. Exhale for four counts. Hold for another four counts. Keep repeating this pattern – it’s referred to as “box breathing”. You can do this through your nose if you’re already calm, in through your nose and out your mouth to regulate energy, or all through your mouth to channel the energy of the stress.

Calm Down
Inhale through your nose for two counts, and exhale through your mouth for four counts. Keep doing this until you start to feel more relaxed. Then increase the length of both breaths – inhale for three counts and exhale for six counts. When ready, move to inhaling for four counts and exhale for eight counts.

For more energy, you want to focus on your inhale. Your aim is to double the capacity of the air you normally take in.  Breathe through your mouth, inhale, then immediately inhale again without stopping (the double-inhale should be one smooth action). Then exhale.

Remember:  When in doubt, just breathe.  See you at the Studio!  

PX Studio

Article Sources:
Taylor & Francis Science Journal Online (
MyFitnessPal (