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Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Aging

biology-1293878_640I am in the process of writing another book and it is for men who are approaching middle age. It is filled with diet and exercise tips for the middle-aged man to build a fit, injury free body through the mid stages of his life and into his sixties and seventies. I am calling it “buff after 40″…or maybe 50. I haven’t quite decided yet. In any event, I am doing some research into the latest information available about how to slow down the aging process to see if there are some easy to implement, sound advice we can do to live a little longer with a high quality of life.

Presently, there are no therapies available to stop or reverse aging, but that may change in the next few decades. Aubrey de Grey, who is a biomedical gerontologist, mathematician, author and lecturer is leading the charge in making humans immortal. He feels that drugs, gene therapy, and nanotechnology holds promise to literally stop the aging process. No doubt the possibility of never getting old has both moral and ethical implications that we collectively will be debating for the years to come. It is certainly an exciting thought. I, for one, will be interested to see how this shapes up.

Back to the main point of this blog. I did find some valuable information on strategies that we can implement to potentially increase life span, and more importantly, the quality of life as get older. A very important factor that can speed up the aging process is mitochondrial dysfunction.


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What are mitochondria?

Mitochondria are organelles that are part of a cell, and interestingly, they have their own genome that is not related to the cells they are part of but that resemble bacteria. This implies that mitochondria may not have originally been part of the host. There are two competing theories as to how mitochondria came to be part of us, and you can explore that here. What’s important is to understand is what mitochondria actually do and how important they are to our very survival.

Mitochondria are parts of the cell that turns everything we eat…carbs, protein and fat into chemical energy for us to keep on living. Up to 90% of the energy we need to live are produced by mitochondria. All of the body’s functions depend on this: muscular contraction (and relaxation), cellular regeneration, enzymatic processes and so on require energy…energy that is produced by mitochondria. Clearly, we need healthy mitochondria to literally live.

Another very important function of mitochondria is cell apoptosis. Apoptosis is programmed cell death. It sounds like apoptosis may be a bad thing, but is not. We need cells to die…if they become damaged. If the damaged cells are not cleaned up, they will grow uncontrollably. It is these damaged and growing cells that are cancerous. According to Dr. Lee Know, dysfunctional mitochondria, because they no longer are capable of cleaning up damaged cells, are the basis of what we know as cancer.

Promote Healthy Mitochondria

Do we know what we can do to promote healthy and thriving mitochondria? Science has figured out a few things:

  • Exercise. Especially high intensity interval exercise (hiit). Exercise has been shown to up-regulate the genes that make the mitochondria more efficient. Moreover, exercise makes the mitochondria divide and create even more mitochondria. Each mitochondria will be under less overall stress, thus better able to handle the workloadHigh intensity interval exercise has shown to be even more effective at producing such results. For example, one study divided volunteers into three different groups: one group did high intensity interval training on a bike. Another group did a general strength training routine, and the third group did a combination of strength training and interval training. They found that the strength training group increased strength and muscle mass (no surprise there), but the researchers also found that the high intensity interval training group saw anywhere from a 49% to 69% increase in mitochondrial capacity. The researchers commented that it is a toss-up about what would be better for slowing down the aging process, for having both increased strength and mitochondrial capacity are very important….and I agree. Both are just as important. I do believe that you can combine both strength training and high intensity interval training in one workout and gain the benefits of both. Arthur Jones and Dr. Ellington Darden promoted this style of training for over 70 years. I certainly noticed a remarkable difference when I started training the way they recommended. Not only was I getting stronger, I felt it working in a rejuvenating way that I never experienced from any other form of exercise. High intensity interval training came much later, and the basic principles of training very hard with brief rest intervals are what the researchers are finding of great value (incidintally, that is what Arthur Jones would preach to his followers). I created my training program, called Hystrength(sm), with this in mind.
  • Eat a high fat/low carb diet. Research is clarifying that getting away from our ancestral diets are a major cause of mitochondrial dysfunction. High carb, highly processed foods that are loaded with polyunsaturated fats are preventing the body to burn fat as fuel. Fat for fuel is a much cleaner burning energy source which will lower overall free radical damage.
  • Practice intermittent fasting. Cultures worldwide used to practice fasting, mainly for religious purposes. Whether they were aware of it or not, the fasting they practiced had many health benefits as well. Periods of fasting allow the body to reduce insulin levels, thus allowing the body to tap into fat stores for energy. Additionally, fasting lessens the formation of free radicals that can damage the mitochondria. Do understand that the body does need some free radicals to stay healthy. A reasonable dose of free radicals help the body build defenses, and in this case the right amount of free radical stress will up-regulate the production of more mitochondria. We just don’t want too much. Periods of fasting gives the body a break from high levels of free radical formation.
  • Although I am not a fan of supplements, there does seem to be some that may help with optimal mitochondrial function. Here are the main ones:
    • CoQ10
    • L-Carnetine
    • D-Ribose
    • Omega-3 fatty acids

I encourage you to do some personal research to see what works best for you.


We cannot stop the aging process, at least not yet. However we can slow down the biological aging of our bodies by the lifestyle choices we make. Proper mitochondrial functioning can slow down the aging process, and give us plenty of energy to live life to the fullest as we get older.

Exercise, especially high intensity interval training, or the Hystrength (sm) training program, coupled with a diet that is void of processed, high carbohydrate, and industrial fats along with an intermittent fasting protocol, and maybe some supplementation are tools we can put in our tool box, so to say, to live a long and healthy life.


Gregg Hoffman

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If “Starvation Mode” is real, why do we recommend fasting?

IMAG1260_2In my last post, I discuss the body’s adaptation to a consistent, strenuous exercise program in conjunction with a low-calorie diet over the course of time. The body adapts to this stimuli by slowing down the metabolism in an effort to preserve energy. It will work as hard as possible to store fat, even if the body maintains muscle from a consistent exercise program. According to the study that researchers did on the contestants of The Biggest Loser, the metabolism slowed down by 356 to 399 calories a day after six weeks (according to Jason Fung, the metabolic rate slowed down approximately 789 calories a day. I could not find that number in the study itself, but it would not surprise me if it did). Since muscle was maintained, the logical conclusion for the slower metabolic rate was due to hormonal shifts in the body. In essence, the body’s set point was adjusted downward. Additionally, the researchers (and many others not involved on this project) say that once the metabolism slows down from an extreme diet and exercise program, it is a more or less permanent condition. The individual will have to keep up the extreme diet and exercise program just to keep off the weight. Is it any wonder that most people do not stick to a diet and exercise program, knowing that he or she will have to exercise excessively and eat like a bird. Being hungry and tired all the time does not sound like a fun life, and I do not blame them.


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So Why Do We Recommend Fasting?

It did not dawn on me when I was writing the last blog about adaptive thermogenesis (starvation mode) that we recommend to our clients a fasting protocol as part of the nutrition program. It was brought to my attention by my client after she read my blog post. She initially thought the blog would talk about the importance if fasting, but I instead wrote about how chronic under eating (and chronic exercise) made fat loss harder. This, of course, was confusing to her so we had a discussion about the differences between fasting and chronic under eating. Moreover, it made me realize that I had to clarify the difference to you, dear readers as well. Hence the writing of this blog post.

Fasting Has a Different Hormonal Response 

To recap one of the points I made in my previous blog about starvation mode, the main challenge of losing body fat is high insulin levels. When insulin levels are high, the body will store fat. It kind of locks the fat in the fat cells, making it very difficult for the body to use it for energy. The advice given by most fitness professionals and nutritionists to eat small, frequent meals during the day, along with carbohydrate rich foods make it very hard for the body to use fat for fuel, even on a low-calorie diet.

Fasting, on the other hand, has a completely different effect on the body. First of all, insulin levels do drop. All foods raise insulin levels. Some more than others. For example, refined carbohydrates raise insulin levels the most and fatty foods will raise it the least…but fatty foods will still raise insulin. When we are in a fasted state, the opposite happens. Insulin goes down, thus the body is more capable of tapping into fat stores for fuel†.

Another benefit of fasting that contrasts a chronic calorie restriction protocol is an increase in adrenaline†. Adrenaline releases stored glycogen and facilitates fat burning, even if blood sugar is high. Furthermore, higher adrenaline levels actually increase metabolism. Research shows that fasting for four days increased energy expenditure by 12 percent. Most people, when they fast, will actually feel revitalized and energetic, and I am no exception to that. I rarely eat breakfast or lunch anymore, and when I do eat lunch, I feel more lethargic and a bit out of sorts. I just want to mellow out for the rest of the day. On the other hand, when I forgo breakfast and lunch I stay motivated and highly energized. I guarantee you that chronic, consistent calorie restriction does not do that.

Growth hormone also goes up while fasting†. Imagine that. Body builders are notorious for using steroids and exogenous human growth hormone to build the inhuman amount of muscle that they do. They clearly understand the benefits of growth hormone. On the flip side, we all produce less human growth hormone as we age, and researchers believe that low levels of human growth hormone is a major cause of aging. Thus, we must do everything we can in a healthy and holistic manner to maintain high human growth hormone out put, and it looks like fasting is a tool in the tool box that can do that.

Growth hormone, released in conjunction with both cortisol and adrenaline, which happens while fasting, sends a signal to the body to increase the availability of glucose for use as fuel. As this is going on, growth hormone will also increase the body’s ability to use fat for fuel by raising levels of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase. Lipoprotein lipase releases fat from the fat cells for fuel†. So the body will use both fat and glucose for fuel at the same time.

This brings up a point that was brought to my attention by Dr. McGruff in his book Body by Science (Pg. 207), and that is insulin is the “trump hormone”. What he means by this is that when insulin levels are high, all of the fat burning and muscle-building (and maybe even anti-aging hormones) are suppressed. This is a necessary response because glucose is very toxic to the body and it has to be tightly regulated. So in response to high glucose, the body will increase insulin first and foremost. It has to handle the emergency first, and then it could get back to fat burning and muscle building.


The body has a very different response to fasting than it does to a regimen of low-calorie eating coupled with a chronic consistent exercise program. The body will go into “starvation mode”, better known as adaptive thermogenesis on a consistent low calorie diet and exercise program. It will lower its metabolic rate, and it would do it to a significant degree. It will do this in an attempt to simply survive. Applying this approach to lose weight can be a frustrating and punishing ordeal. Fasting, on the other hand, will actually increase the metabolism and help keep you energized throughout the day. Moreover, fasting helps the body tap into the fat stores at the same time that it will use glucose for fuel. And finally, fasting can play an important role in building and maintaining muscle…and slowing down the aging process. There are indeed many good benefits to fasting. In a later post I will give a few good examples of fasting that you can incorporate into your nutrition program.


Gregg Hoffman

† These points are from the book The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting written by Jason Fung. Jason Fung is a doctor in Canada who has a very succesful practice helping his diabetic clients back to health through diet and a holistic lifestyle. I find his writings very insightful, and it has helped me with my business. You can learn more about him Here.

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Starvation Mode: Is It a Real Phenomena?

IMAG1260_2Starvation mode. I used to tell my clients that whenever they would hit a weight loss plateau that lasted for a month or longer. At that point, the client I was working with would have cut back her calories to roughly 1,300 a day, and even though I am not a fan of “chronic cardio” for weight loss, I would recommend that my client kick up her physical activity outside the gym in an effort to start losing weight again. More often than not, the weight still would not come off. To be clear, at this point my client would still have a fair amount of fat to lose. She would still be hovering around 25% or so, meaning she did have a long way to go to see some good definition (and to simply be healthier overall). The plateau was real. “Starvation Mode” was in full effect.

What exactly is starvation mode anyway? After all, we all know that if we go without food for a long enough time, we would literally starve to death. This is not a mystery. But yet, the weight loss seems to stop cold turkey when we try to stick to a diet and exercise program for a long time. Does the body adapt to slow down fat loss?

It turns out that yes, the body does adapt to the new stimuli. It will slow down the metabolism in an effort to conserve energy. There is plenty of research to demonstrate that this is a real phenomena, and the one that drives home the point most clearly is the study done on the contestants of The Biggest Loser. On a superficial level, the show is very motivating because it would take people who are severely overweight and downright obese, put them on a structured diet and exercise program and all of the contestants would lose a remarkable amount of weight in short order (as a side note, I just found out that the show was cancelled because the contestants were given weight loss drugs like adderrol and ephedrine which help with suppressing appetite and increasing energy expenditure. You can read it here). The upside, no doubt, was dramatic weight loss during the show, but the after effects were not so good. A study was done on a group of contestants a few years later, and the researchers found that the metabolism did indeed slow down. It slowed down more than it should have from simply losing weight, and the average slowdown was close to 600 calories a day. The actual definition of starvation mode is adaptive thermogenesis

When the metabolism slows down from a prolonged diet and exercise program, it tends to stay at the lower point, thus making it easier to gain weight all the weight back and then some when the dieter resumes a normal eating pattern, even if she eats fewer calories than she did before she started the diet and exercise program. Dr. Liebel calls this the set point theory, and he believes that once the set point has been adjusted downward, it is nearly impossible to get the metabolism to return to normal. To further reinforce this point, the researchers  of the biggest loser had this to say:

 Despite relative preservation of FFM, exercise did not prevent dramatic slowing of resting metabolism out of proportion to weight loss. This metabolic adaptation may persist during weight maintenance and predispose to weight regain unless high levels of physical activity or caloric restriction are maintained.

Ouch. This news is pretty bleak, is it not? You gain some weight, meaning you are eating more food than you need for caloric maintenance, so you start exercising to use the excess calories in conjunction with eating fewer calories on a daily basis to ensure you are in a negative calorie balance. You should lose fat. And you do. At first. Then the weight loss slows down. You up the ante by adding more exercise (usually cardio), and cutting the calories. Then the real problems arise. You are constantly hungry. You have lower energy levels. You are tired all the time. And yet, the weight loss just does not happen. Adding insult to injury, now your metabolism seems to be stuck at a lower level.

So Now What?

Years ago I would be in a bit of a conundrum when a client would stop losing weight from adaptive thermogenesis. I looked at the problem as a calorie in/calorie out situation, and the only advice I could think of was to continue cutting calories…but not cut them too much. Sometimes I even recommended adding more calories back into the diet so the body would believe all is well….and maybe it would start dropping fat again. And of course, I would often times recommend adding more volume of exercise, even though I was convinced that it would not help. I was grasping at straws I admit, but I did not know what else to do. There had to be another way to overcome this problem.

A More Sane Approach

Gaining or losing fat is not a simple matter of managing calories. What we know just from the process of adaptive thermogenesis, the body will adjust energy expenditure given the signals from its environment. We most certainly do not want the body to burn less overall calories than it is used to, so we do not want to be on a heavily calorie restrictive diet, nor do we want to use excessive exercise protocols for prolonged periods. We simply want to tell the body to use fat for fuel instead of storing it.

What drives fat storage? The hormone insulin. When insulin levels are high, the body is storing energy as fat. When insulin levels are low, the body will use stored fat for energy. Of course, the whole process is more complicated than that, but you get the idea. Insulin levels go up from:

  • Eating. Anytime we eat, we produce insulin
  • Processed foods. Most boxed and bagged foods will drive insulin secretion
  • Simple carbohydrates
  • And yes, complex carbohydrates produce insulin too

The recommendation that most nutritionists and fitness trainers give about eating 4 to 6 small meals a day is not very good advice. Eating this often, especially carbohydrate rich foods, will keep insulin levels high even on a low-calorie diet. This will make it very difficult for the body to use the fat stores for energy. It is more beneficial to eat two or three times a day and maybe even less often than that. Moreover, a lower carbohydrate/higher fat diet (the good fats like monounsaturated fats and saturated fats believe it or not) not only does a better job of keeping insulin levels low, but helps keep the hunger pangs away. And we all know that processed foods are not good for us. Just stay away from them.

There is no need to count calories. There is no need to do excessive exercise for fat loss. And of great value is that the metabolism will not slow down. “Starvation Mode” is avoided. Our clients have been much more successful losing excess body fat and keeping it off this way.


Gregg Hoffman

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Get A Good Night’s Sleep

sleeping in front of tv.jpegSharon and I made a quick trip to Santa Fe this last weekend to celebrate her father’s birthday. We stayed at the Inn and Spa at Loretto for two nights. It is our favorite place to stay when we go to Santa Fe, and on this trip we had a room on the fifth floor with a private balcony. It was lovely. We could not figure out how to set the thermostat the first night so the room was a bit cold when we went to bed, but it was still comfortable…and we slept well. The second night was a different story. Someone stayed in the room next to us, which was separated by a door. Our new neighbor had the TV on and we could hear it very clearly, but we thought nothing of it because we assumed that he or she would turn off the TV at a reasonable hour. I stayed up reading with some meditative music on in the background, for I planned on going to sleep when our neighbor turned off the TV. Ten O’clock came and went, but the TV was still on. Okay. I’ll stay up until eleven. No problem I thought. Well, eleven O’clock came and the TV was still on. I was getting concerned that the TV would be blaring all night. Sharon at that time told me that her in-laws would go to sleep with the TV on and keep it on all night and day. Sure enough. The TV stayed on all night and even into mid-morning. We asked the hotel clerk to see if he could get our neighbor to turn down the volume at around midnight, and he or she did, but even then it was still very distracting. The only way we could get some sleep was to put on our meditation music with the volume high enough to drown out the sounds. It worked, but we did not sleep as soundly as we usually do.

This made me curious. Since both Sharon and I cannot get a good night’s sleep with the TV on, why do people do it? Do they actually get a good night’s sleep? I had to find out.

Sleeping with the T.V. on is a surprisingly common habit. According to a national survey, nearly two thirds of Americans fall asleep with the TV on. Moreover, the group that commissioned the study says that people redefined their relationship with television, seeing the TV as more of a companion than a source of entertainment.

So…why do people go to sleep with the TV on? Jason Koebler blogged about this on Motherboard, and he says that there is a body of research finding that constant notifications in an increasingly connected world is making us more stressed and anxious, and leaving the TV on when we go to sleep keeps us distracted from our worries and anxieties long enough for us to fall asleep. I can understand this logic. Stress and anxiety are very common in the modern world, and I am sure that people would do anything for some solace from their worries. Watching re-runs of a favorite TV show or the nightly news can be mind numbing and bring about drowsiness.

I have no doubt that our interim neighbor fell asleep in front of the TV that night, and even though we did get some sleep, it was not as restful as we are used to. That got me wondering: can he and everybody else who make a habit of falling asleep with the TV on get a deep and restful sleep? Personally, I believe it to be a very difficult, if not impossible task.

Research backs up my suspicion. Dr. Guy Meadows of the Sleep School, a clinic in London, says that the dim light (often times the TV light is very bright!) is not healthy to sleep around. The light receptors at the back of the retina tells us it is time to wake up by preventing the release of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that makes us sleepy. This will prevent someone from getting a deep, restful sleep.

When we sleep, the hippocampus is very active. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is responsible for spatial memory, and memory in general. It is also connected to other parts of the brain that are engaged in emotional thinking. There are many nerves firing in the hippocampus during sleep, and this seems to be a necessary action for a restful night’s sleep. If the hippocampus cannot do it’s processes, the person will struggle more with short term memory and depression.

This does not even take into account the noise from the TV. We were not exposed to the lights of the TV but we sure could hear it, and it did have an impact on our sleep. We simply could not fall asleep with the noise. Even though people fall asleep in front of the TV because it is the only way they can fall asleep, I am willing to bet that it is not a deep, restful sleep. I would venture to guess that most of these people have no idea what a restful night’s sleep even feels like.

If you make it a habit of falling asleep in front of the TV, I would encourage you to break that habit. I cannot imagine that you get a truly restful night’s sleep on a consistent basis.

It may be a very hard habit to break, and at first it may seem impossible to do, but here are a couple if ideas to help:

Do some light reading in bed with some meditative music in the back ground. A part of the problem of falling asleep is that the brain finally has a chance to process all that happened during the day. This is nothing to be afraid of nor avoid. Let the brain do what it needs to do, and a little light reading can help the brain process on a subconscious level for a bit. Believe me, after a few minutes of reading, the drowsiness will seep in just as good, if not better than with the TV on.

If you are still too anxious to slow down, it may be beneficial to have a note pad at the side of your bed for you to write down what’s going on. If you are having a lot of thoughts coursing through your mind, say your to do list for the next day or week, write them down. Prioritize them. Think it through a bit and make notes. Then try to read a little bit and let the drowsiness set in.

If you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep, get out of bed and find a comfortable chair to do some light reading. This will take your mind off of what’s making you anxious and you may feel drowsy again in a few minutes. If not, just keep reading and don’t worry about it. getting out of bed when you are anxious and have trouble sleeping will reprogram your mind into associating your bed with sleep and rest. I do this very often and it works. I do get sleepy after 15 to 20 minutes and I am ready to go to bed. If I do not feel sleepy, I just stay up and read for as long as I want to. I realize that sometimes I will be tired the next day, but I’m alright with it. I know I will get a good  night’s sleep the next night.

Turn off the TV. Get a good night’s sleep. You’ll feel better for it.


Gregg Hoffman

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Diabetes and Hystrength (sm)

diabetesBoth Sharon and I have a client with type 1 diabetes, and they both say that our workout program is very effective at regulating their blood sugar. As a matter of fact, one of them says that our exercise program is more effective than anything else she does. She swims and does cardio training, and they do help her regulate her blood sugar, but they do not come close to how long her blood sugar stays stable with our program. Additionally, when she reviews the data with her doctor, the doctor is so impressed with her results from our workouts that she insists my client keeps that up as part of her routine.

So what exactly is it that makes the Hystrength(sm) program so good at glucose metabolism? To answer that, we need to be on the same page about what the Hystrength(sm) exercise program entails. Then we can take a look at what the research says.

The Hystrength(sm) exercise program

A Hystrength(sm) exercise program has three components that I believe are invaluable to building a fit, shapely, and healthy body.

  • Core conditioning. This includes all of the exercises that work and develop the mid section, such as the rectus abdominus (the six pack look), the obliques and the deeper muscles of the core. This is very important for preventing lower back pain and good overall posture.
  • Functional training. These exercises are general whole body movements that we have our clients do with resistance that teach the body to work as coordinated unit. They are generally performed with a lighter weight/higher rep protocol. We also make our clients do these exercises with a faster tempo than the strength exercises. Functional exercises really get the heart rate up and makes the client train above the anaerobic threshold.
  • Strength training. Traditionally, strength training is performed by splitting up the body into different training days, and doing many sets for each body part. It is not uncommon to see someone doing upwards to 20 sets per body part this way and spending an awful lot of time in the gym. That is not our style. We believe that one set per body part can be just as efficacious as, say, five or ten sets per body part. It all has to do with having the appropriate resistance, cadence, and intensity of the set to bring about the desired result. Training this way makes a very big demand on all of the fibers of the muscle (fast twitch, intermediate twitch and slow twitch), and fatigues them in a thorough manner in a short amount of time. Moreover, we have our clients above the anaerobic threshold quite often during the workout with the strength training exercises (which does not happen with conventional strength training programs). Combined with the functional exercises, our clients are above the anaerobic threshold most of the workout.

Our approach is very similar to both High Intensity Training (HIT) that Arthur Jones and Dr. Ellington Darden made popular back in the 1980’s, and also in many respects similar to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) that is gaining popularity today.

High Intensity Training is strength training where the trainee does a whole body routine using basic strength lifts such as leg presses, squats, dead-lifts, chins and so on in a slow and controlled manner with a heavy enough load to fatigue the working muscle within 8 to 12 reps. HIT also minimizes the rest in between sets so that the heart and lungs work very hard as well.

High Intensity Interval Training is a combination of brief, very intense cardio exercise followed by longer periods of rest. A common method is to use a stationary bike and pedal as hard as one can for sixty seconds at a hard grade and then back off to an easy level of pedaling for a couple of minutes, then do another bout of hard pedaling for sixty seconds, repeating this cycle for 10 minutes or so.

The common feature to both of these exercise programs is the fact that they both push the body above the anaerobic threshold and attempt to keep it there for a good amount of time. The difference between the two lies in the fact that High Intensity Training will work all of the muscle groups, whereas the High Intensity Interval Training group will only do that with the legs. It is my belief that training above the anaerobic threshold that both protocols employ, and the whole body exercises that High Intensity Training does in particular, have a strong response to glucose regulation.

The Research…and other interesting sources

The study Resistance Training in the Treatment of Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus conducted by J Ericksson et al. demonstrated that there was a significant improvement in the HbA1c, which is a way to measure the average blood sugars over a period of time. Furthermore, there is an inverse relationship with HbA1c and cross sectional muscle mass. In other words, the more muscle mass that the subjects developed, the lower the HbA1c (the lower, the better).


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Another study, Strength training improves muscle quality and insulin sensitivity in Hispanic older adults with type 2 diabetes also found that strength training improved both muscle quality and insulin sensitivity in older Hispanic adults.

As for the benefits of High Intensity Interval Training and diabetes, here is a study by Monique Francois and Jonathon Little,  Effectiveness and Safety of High-Intensity Interval Training in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes. They discovered that HIIT is effective in glucose control and overall cardiovascular health.

I found plenty of studies confirming these outcomes, so there is no question that both HIT and HIIT can be beneficial to glucose metabolism. However, intense strength training has better upside potential because intense muscular contractions will drain the glycogen stores of not only the slow twitch fibers (which cardio exercise does), but also the fast twitch fibers that hardly get used in daily activities. Depleting muscle glycogen stores make the muscle more sensitive to insulin which is great for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics. The more sensitive the muscles are to insulin, the less the body has to produce to get the job done, and the easier it is for the type 1 diabetics to self administer the needed insulin.

Moreover, glucose uptake by the muscles happen after a hard strength training workout without the need for insulin (See the above link for more information). This, I believe is what makes HIT beneficial for our type 1 diabetics. It can help with steady glucose levels without needing so much insulin.

The final benefit I want to point out comes from the Poliquin Group (Charles Poliquin heads up this organization. He works in large part with elite athletes). Building lean tissue (muscle) increases overall demand for energy, and he says that for every 10% increase in muscle mass, there is an 11% decrease in insulin resistance. Exciting and important news indeed.


Living a  healthy and active lifestyle most certainly can mitigate the problems of both types of diabetes. I think all the health care practitioners are on board with that. Most people consider some form of cardio training as exercise, and really do not understand the benefits of both high intensity training (HIT) and high intensity interval training (HIIT) (yes, I believe that most doctors that treat people with diabetes are not aware of the benefits of high intensity training too). Both forms of exercise help improve insulin sensitivity. Both forms of exercise help control blood sugar. High Intensity Training, in particular, is especially beneficial because it will tax the glycogen stores of all of the muscles, and apparently in a way that does not trigger an insulin response. Moreover, the effects of an exercise bout with both HIT and HIIT last much longer than the benefits from a cardio workout. It is for these reasons that the Hystrength (sm) exercise program works as well as it does with our diabetic clients.


Gregg Hoffman


The Said Principle and Sport Training

My son came home from college last week and reconnected with many of his high school friends. A favorite pastime for them was a friendly game of pick up basketball at the local rec center, and they put together a game and invited me to join them. It sounded like fun, so I accepted.

 Three minutes into the game, I wanted to do this:03-17-2013_150429(99)

I looked up at the clock knowing these guys wanted to play until the gym closed. I had to hang on for another hour and a half. Sh%&^&$#t! How am I going to make it that long? I made it, but I did not have the stamina I had the last time I played 11 years ago.

Does this mean that after all of these years of strength training in a high intensity fashion, I am not fit and in shape? Before I answer the question, consider two observations from Dr. McGruff in his book Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want:

  1. When Dr. McGruff lived in Ohio, he would do both cardio training and strength training on alternate days. In the winter he would run on a treadmill, but in the spring and summer he would run outdoors on the road. Even though he was consistent with his cardio training in the winter, he would always feel like he was going to die the first time he hit the actual road. Here he was, in great shape but he still could not run worth a damn his first day out.
  2. He gives another example of this same outcome from his air force days. They had a minimal fitness requirement test that the recruit had to meet every year, and in this case, the test consisted of an ergometer test performed on a bicycle to determine the max heart rate, which in theory would indicate the fitness level of the recruit. There were two people in his group who were avid marathon runners who assumed that they were in great aerobic shape, thus they did not bother to prepare for the test. At the same time, there was one other person who was overweight and led a sedentary life, but two weeks prior to the test, he would go to the gym every day and use the exact bicycle that was going to be used in the test. Furthermore, he would practice with the exact resistance for the exact amount of time the test would take. Guess who passed the test? Yep. The out of shape guy. Not only did he pass the test, he had the best score. And the two marathon runners? They didn’t even pass the test. Imagine that.

I think we can all agree that the guy who was overweight and sedentary was not fit like the two marathon runners, so why did he perform much better on the ergometer test? Because of the acronym known as the SAID principle. SAID stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. What this implies is that the body will respond…and adapt to the specific demands placed on it. This is surprisingly precise. Going back to Dr. McGruff, he explains that there is a specific motor skill of running on a treadmill that is very different from running on the road. There is a three-part component to running on a road: foot strike, push-off, then a recovery stroke, contrasting running on the treadmill where there is only a foot stroke and no push off nor recovery stroke because the ground is spinning. These two different movement patterns, even though they may appear to be similar, place different demands on the body, and as Dr. McGruff noticed (as did I), changing from one form of exercise to another feels like a real bear to do. One feels out of shape, even though that is not the case.

Going deeper still, we find that the cardiovascular system has an unexpected non response to the stimulus given. In another study that Dr. McGruff cites (pg.48), thirteen subjects trained on a stationary bike, but they would train only one leg. The other leg was not trained at all. This was carried out for four weeks, and when the researchers tested the trained leg after the study, they found an average increase in VO2 max of 23%, but in the untrained leg there was no improvement in VO2 max. This demonstrates that there is no central cardiovascular improvement, but a specific metabolic adaptation that happened at the muscular level.

This shows that there is a specific conditioning response to a given stimuli, and that there is very little carryover from one form of training to another. If you want to excel at playing tennis, for example, you may want to play tennis and do drills that improve your tennis skills, and forgo distance running that you may have thought would improve your endurance for tennis. Or if you want to do well at hiking fourteeners, you may opt out of mountain biking and simply concentrate on hiking.

If I were to play basketball again, I would do some training to better prepare myself for it beforehand. I would do some sprint and agility training in an effort to improve my anaerobic capacity….and spend a lot of time practicing my shot (god it was awful!). I would be much more capable of handling the intensity of the game.

But then again, I may be an old fart and I have to come to grips with that….


Gregg Hoffman


Comparing Grocery Carts

When you go grocery shopping, take a quick scan of what most people have in their shopping carts. You can tell at a glance if the person pushing the cart will have issues maintaining a healthy body fat percentage or not. I did this during my last visit to the grocery store, and I took some photos to share.

Let’s take a look at what people buy, shall we?

The Health Conscious Shopper

I have no doubt that the gentleman pushing this cart thinks he is making healthy food choices. He has some fruit, whole grain bagels, and vegetables in the lower part of the cart. Additionally, he just put on the checkout belt a gallon of low-fat milk. He is eating “healthy” according the dietary recommendations of the American Dietetic Association. The American Dietetic Association switched the format from the food pyramid that they really pushed back in the 1980’s and 1990’s to what is now called the MyPlate. The MyPlate plan divides the food plate into four equal parts of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein, and they add a finishing touch (I suppose) of a glass of dairy (low-fat, of course). Moreover, they recommend that the grain portion to be at least 50% whole grains. Personally, I don’t see why it is any different from the food pyramid back in the day. Both plans highly emphasize a very high carbohydrate intake with very low-fat, especially low saturated fats. The basic advice has not changed.

Moving on, you will notice upon close inspection that he also has frozen waffles and what looks like a bag of pure cane sugar crystals, and on the farther side of the cart it looks like a big bag of specialty baked bread.

Once again, I do believe this guy thinks he is making healthy food choices. I am afraid that he is not. First of all, it is very carbohydrate intense, and he has very few vegetables. There is also no good quality protein, and he has no fat at all! I will admit that maybe he is making a small food run and that he may have plenty of good protein items at home already. Even so, it would most likely be lean cuts of meat or chicken breasts, and he would quite likely have vegetable oils that he uses for cooking.

The high carbohydrate intake will tend to keep his insulin levels high, and the lack of both protein and good fats does not give his body the nutrition it needs for proper growth and repair. He is lean now, but it will be more of a struggle to stay in a healthy body fat range…and healthy overall as he gets older.

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The Traditional Shopper

IMAG1165This one was interesting. The couple that this cart belonged to was an older hispanic couple. Take a close look at what they have. You will see eggs, beef, pork, cheese, lots of vegetables and some fruit, and they finish it with salsa. No doubt they plan on making many traditional mexican dishes. Notice what they do not have: any processed foods such as potato chips, soft drinks, bottled juice, pasta and the like. They did buy tortillas, for that is what they put on the food belt while I was taking this photo.

Clearly the contents of this food cart had a mexican slant to it, but the food choices are similar to what was common before the high fat diet was considered unhealthy: meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, butter, and hardly any processed foods, if at all. In other words, whole, natural foods. A tip of the hat to this couple. I hope they keep eating this way.

The Modern Diet

IMAG1160This is pervasive, especially when I go shopping over the weekend. You can see that she has an abundance of soft drinks, chips, frozen waffles, and fruit juice. I believe that there is a bottle of salsa on top. She has no meats, vegetables, or healthy fats in her cart. The majority of the shoppers I see have similar food choices. They will have some meat, eggs, vegetables and the like, but the carts are loaded with the items pictured here.

Somebody who shops like this on a consistent basis will always struggle with maintaining a healthy body weight/ body fat percentage, even if he or she tries to manage portion sizes or daily calories (say, by trying to eat 1300 calories a day). There is so very little nutritional value in all of theses items that the person eating this way will always be hungry, and he or she will most likely feel lethargic. Indeed, a chronic diet of these food items can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other degenerative diseases.

Our Grocery Cart

IMAG1162Here is a typical grocery run for us. On the top shelf I have all of our vegetables, usually onions, bell peppers, garlic, spinach, kale, cucumbers, avocados and so forth. On the bottom shelf I have the meats, cheese, butter or coconut oil if I need to stock up (today I have avocado oil), various vinegars and other spices, and for our indulgence, I buy a couple of dark chocolate bars (at least 85% cacao). That’s about it. On this day the grocery store had a sale on chuck roast so I really stocked up. That is about one months worth of meat, so we are good to go for a while. You’ll notice that there are no breads, pasta, potato chips or any other such processed food items. This would last Sharon and I about a week or so, and the bill for all of theses items was just north of $100.00.


It seems that people in general believe that healthy eating is way too hard to do, or too expensive to follow. I disagree. First and foremost, we simply need to get back to eating more whole foods and stay away from the processed foods that have no nutritional value, like the older couple I showed earlier. It is no more expensive to choose whole foods over processed foods, nor is it too difficult to prepare healthy meals. Just keep it simple.


Gregg Hoffman