It makes the pursuit of optimal health and fitness fascinating, frustrating and to some degree liberating. Sometimes with the key word being sometimes the science behind it all means squat.
You need to find things out for yourself.
Consider, for instance, an odd example I read more than 20 years ago about a bodybuilder so perfectly proportioned that he not only won major national competitions but also worked as a mainstream fashion model. Years before his success, however, he had struggled to put on muscle no matter how well he ate after his intense workouts.
It was only after an old-timer told him to begin his meals by eating ice cream so softened that it resembled soup that he began packing on positive pounds without adding body fat.
My work with dieters trying to lose fat and lifters trying to add muscle has further reinforced this notion that established science sometimes doesn't mean squat. As a result, see the construction or reconstruction! of your body as more like buying a business suit.
One size does not fit all.
In the same way that you use the listed size and the help of the salesman to begin the process, that's how you should use the studies you read in this column. But in both endeavors the final judgment should be made the same way: by what a mirror reveals to your eyes.
You need to be willing to experiment to find out what's best for you. But you're busy and it's quite possible that even though your health and fitness is a priority, it can't be your top priority.
So here's how you can cheat a little bit. Here are two of the health and fitness tricks I've developed by experimenting on myself for more than 30 years.
You should be able to take either practice, modify it, and make it work for you.
Eat often if you're active
For every study that shows five to six smaller, more frequent meals maintain your goal weight better than the traditional three a day, another study contradicts that. What does seem to be true especially for me is this: the more active you are, the more frequently you should eat.
If I'm not bicycle racing on the weekend, I typically ride about 75 miles or so on both Saturday and Sunday and both rides include intervals ridden at race pace or faster.
To make the needed recovery and possess the necessary energy for the second of those two rides, I eat every 90 minutes or so from the time I dismount on Saturday until the late hours of the night. If I don't, I lack power during the second half of the Sunday ride.
While you're probably not interested in cycling 150 miles most weekends, you should be interested in having energy for the second part of an active weekend. If you feel you have been burning out a bit, experiment with smaller, more frequent meals.
And don't be afraid to include Friday in your experiment. While my Friday eating pattern isn't dramatically different than another weekday, I do know some hardcore athletes who feel the need to "carb up" on a Friday to exercise optimally during the weekend.
Learn your sleep cycles
While there's ample recent research to suggest that getting sufficient sleep is an important element to maintaining a healthy weight, the term sufficient is a bit hazy.
Did you ever wake up early one morning feeling totally refreshed, decide to snooze for a bit longer because you were up ahead of your alarm, and then feel much worse with the second awakening?
That's probably because the first time you woke coincided with the end of a sleep cycle. The second awakening, however, occurred in the middle of one, and your body was not ready to rise.
The typical sleep cycle for me takes a little over 90 minutes. My body seems to function best if I wake at the end of one even if that means I get fewer than my normal five a night.
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but if I rise after a full four cycles, I'm more alert and more productive early in the day than if I'm forced to get up in the middle of cycle number five.
Maybe you have a morning where everything seems fuzzy or your body is functioning slower. Chances are you arose in the middle of a sleep cycle.
Yet few days later, you get up to go to the bathroom 40 minutes ahead of your alarm, and you feel really refreshed.
That means you are probably at the end of a sleep cycle. Note the time, realize most sleep cycles are around 90 minutes and length, and determine how many of them you need a night to feel really good.
And since 40 minutes isn't enough time to get another cycle in, the next time that happens, see those extra 40 minutes as a gift, get up "early," and get ahead that day.