Log In

Reset Password

Don’t let new research wreck old success

Here’s one fear I’ll admit to having. That you won’t take the one piece of advice I feel strongest about.

Articles where I explain eating, exercise, or recovery strategies that have enhanced my health invariably end with it. I urge you to do not as I do, but to see my success as the starting point for what you must to do to create your own.

Experiment intelligently. Listen to what your body tells you. Adjust accordingly.

But I fear the incessant onslaught of superficial health and fitness information has you so disillusioned that you’ll dismiss my advice since, similar to most superficial stuff, it is a little light on specifics.

This much, however, is clear: Even though they didn’t hear it from me, many world-class athletes do exactly what I suggest. For instance, after listening to what her body said to her as she trained for the 1992 Olympics, four-time Olympian and five-time gold medal winner speed-skater Bonnie Blair said this to her coaches.

The workouts are too intense; the recovery time, too limited.

They listened, albeit dubiously. Renowned sports physiologist Carl Foster had aided in creating the plan; Eric Heiden had followed it en route to winning an unprecedented five gold medals in the 1980 Olympics.

The coaches decided not to change Blair’s schedule, so Blair decided to change coaches. More than one journalist wrote that she did so at the worst possible time, but that proved to be untrue.

Blair won two gold medals at the 1992 Olympics.

While you may never have to fire the one you hired to oversee your exercise, you’ll probably feel the same sort of doubt the journalists did when you encounter research that runs contrary to a health practice that’s been working well for you. I felt that doubt when I read “Eating before bed delays fat burning,” a Medical News Today account of research published online in April by PLOS Biology.

In the study, Vanderbilt University researchers fed and fully monitored five subjects more than 50 years old for a full day on two separate occasions.

During the first day, the subjects ate pre-measured breakfasts, lunches, and dinners at the typical times. During the second, the subjects skipped the 8 a.m., 700-calorie breakfast and ate a 10 p.m., 700-calorie snack.

Using a metabolic chamber to determine calories expended, the researchers determined that when the subjects ate breakfast instead of the late night snack, they burned 135 more calories of fat over the next 24 hours. “Over time,” writes Eleanor Bird, MS, author of the MNT article, “this could lead to significant fat accumulation.”

If you read this column consistently, you know the lengths to which I go to avoid any body fat accumulation, let alone “significant” amounts. Because the fructose found in fruit converts to body fat easily, for instance, I stopped eating any type of it about 30 years ago.

I’d like to think this 59-year-old body of mine is just about as fat-free as a 59-year-old, drug-free body can be. So when the MNT article suggested something I do creates the contrary, it bothered me.

I consume, you see, more than half of my daily calories after supper. I’ve done so for at least 30 years.

Moreover, I have not eaten a traditional breakfast for just as long. On a typical school day before the stay-at-home order, I’d consume a small one loaded with protein and only 30 percent carbs about three hours after I rise - and after a workout that could be two hours long. On weekends, I generally consume an even smaller one also high in protein three hours before a bicycle ride that’s three to four hours in length.

The article I read next, “Big Breakfast May Boost Metabolism” from the June issue of Environmental Nutrition, also touted the calorie-burning benefits of breakfast, which only added to my angst. It cited a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism that found when the subjects ate a big breakfast rather than a big dinner, they burned more calories metabolizing the early meal rather than the late one.

Reading these articles back to back had me doubting myself so much that I started creating a weekly workout schedule that would allow me to consume more of my calories earlier in the day. I got to Friday and paused, feeling two parts foolish and one part fraud.

I was ignoring my own advice. I was ready to replace a strategy that had worked well for 30 years simply because a variation of it hadn’t worked for five people close to my age for two days.

So let me restate what we both need to remember in the ongoing quest to optimize health and fitness: Information found in studies helps but should never supplant the messages sent by your body.