Anemia and Athletic Performance

26 Sep

athlete-fatigue[1]Recently, a friend and client (and committed fitness enthusiast) shared with me her disappointment in her recent running performance.  Although she is very active and fit, she was beating herself up for “being a slug when it came to running” (believe me, when it comes to exercise, that’s the last word you’d use to describe this lady).  It turns out that there was a reason for her feeling of fatigue… her hemoglobin was 8 (hemoglobin is the iron-carrying protein found in red blood cells that binds to oxygen; the principal function of hemoglobin is to combine and transport oxygen from the lungs to all body tissues, including working muscles; the amount of hemoglobin in the blood averages between 12 and 16 grams/100 milliliters of blood in adult females).

A drop in athletic performance or a general feeling of  fatigue may indicate you are suffering from anemia, a condition in  which the production and amount of your red blood cells is below normal.  An  adequate supply of these red blood cells is essential to physical activity and overall well-being. A low red blood cell count means less oxygen is being  delivered to working muscles. Because oxygen is essential to burn the calories used by muscles in aerobic exercise, this can have a direct effect on your ability to perform.  Ultimately, anemia will impact your training and performance.

One common  cause of anemia in women is a lack of iron in their diet. Women need nearly  twice as much iron as men (18 milligrams/day compared with 10 mg/day) because of  menstrual blood loss. Heavy  exercise may also increase iron needs by up to another 1 to 2 milligrams/day.

Many  factors contribute to a risk of becoming anemic. These factors may include a diet low in  iron. To get enough iron in your diet and reduce your chances of developing  iron-deficiency anemia, you can eat foods that are naturally rich in iron, such  as red meat, fish, or beans; or consume foods that have been enriched with iron, such as some cereals and pastas. Iron supplements, along with a diet high in iron, may also be helpful to correct the problem.


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Jump to Build Your Explosiveness

23 Sep

Hockey-Squat-Jump[1]Most sports require lower-body strength and power, and the ability to generate explosive force — and release it powerfully — with your hips and legs.  The more power you’re able to generate, the easier and faster you’ll run and/or jump past your competition.

Body-weight squat jumps and broad jumps are a great addition to any training regimen.  Both employ forceful “triple extension” of the hips, knees, and ankles.

To perform the squat jump, stand with feet shoulder width apart.  Pull your elbows back, dip and push back your hips, and leap vertically.  When you land, drop into a squat with hips down and back, and knees bent and facing forward.  Complete 3-5 sets of up to 6 reps, with 30 seconds of rest between sets.

To perform the broad jump (standing long jump), use the same takeoff and landing form as the squat jump, but jump forward as far as you can.


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Remember Why You’re There

21 Sep

img-about-21As my daughter – and fourth of four children – begins her freshman year of college, I resume my familiar place on my soapbox to impart a simple message:


Enjoy the college experience.  Make new friends.  Participate in activities.  Join clubs and organizations.  Play sports and be active.

And, most importantly, maintain your focus and purpose.  Work hard to be the best – academically – you can be.

This same principle applies to other areas.

When you’re at basketball (or any other sport) practice, have fun and enjoy the camaraderie of your teammates.

And remember the reason you’re there is to improve your team’s performance, and further develop your sport-specific skills.

Wherever you are and whatever you do, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the experience along the way, as long as you don’t allow it to interfere with the work that needs to be done to reach your goal.

Be diligent and disciplined about the process, and don’t lose sight of the reason you’re there.


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Make Every Exercise a Core Exercise

19 Sep

aid10626-728px-take-a-punch-step-8-version-31This one is for my friend, Ken, who correctly noticed – and pointed out to me – that I did not publish a blog post last week.

Here’s a simple modification you can employ to engage your core during your workout, making every exercise you do a core exercise:


To accomplish this, tighten your midsection as you would if you were preparing yourself to get punched in the gut.  You would immediately tense and stiffen you core to brace for the impact. This is referred to as abdominal bracing.

Whether you’re working your upper body, lower body, pushing, pulling, jumping, etc. – bracing your core during the exercise will add a different and effective dimension to the exercise.

Although it’s a relatively simple strategy – at least conceptually – abdominal bracing takes some concentration, focus, and practice.


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Get Stronger, Get Smarter?

7 Sep

mental-training[1]Can regular exercise make you smarter?  A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research demonstrated an association between weekly strength exercise frequency and academic performance.  The study was conducted at a large southern state university in the United States.

The results of the study revealed that those who more frequently engaged in strength exercise had significantly higher GPA.

The findings suggest that regular engagement in strength exercise may not only have physical benefits but is also associated with academic achievement in high education.

There is a need to further investigate the mechanism of strength exercise on GPA among university students.

Related articles:


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Go Nuts With Pistachios

2 Sep

Heap of pistachioThe next time you’re reaching for a snack, skip the chips and grab a handful of Pistachio nuts instead.  Pistachios are a rich source of heart-healthy fats and a number of vitamins and minerals, making them a great snack choice.

a 1-oz. serving of pistachios, about 50 nuts, provides:

  • 160 calories
  • 13 grams of fat (mostly the healthy, unsaturated kind)
  • 8 grams of carbohydrates, including 3 grams of fiber
  • 6 grams of protein

Pistachios are also a rich source of minerals like phosphorus and potassium; and vitamins A, C, and several of the B complex of vitamins.


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Add Hemp to Your Diet

31 Aug

hemp-seed-toasted-blog[1]Several years ago, I discovered hemp seeds.  Hemp seeds come from the same hemp plant renowned for its durable fiber.  They are available in many different forms, including toasted, roasted, and milled.  Hemp seeds contain the perfect balance of essential amino acids for sustaining good health, and an ideal 3:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 essential fatty acids.  Hemp seeds also compare favorably to flax seed.

Hemp seeds have a delicious nutty, crunchy taste (I like the hulled hemp seeds best), and can be enjoyed as a snack or added to salads, Greek yogurt, pasta, soup, sauce, and meat.  They taste similar to sunflower seeds and pine nuts.  In addition to a dose of healthy fats, one serving of hemp seeds also boasts an impressive 10 grams of protein.

Hemp seeds are an excellent source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper, and manganese.

To learn more about and try hemp seed products, check out my friend Brad Ervin’s company, Hippie Butter ( or 972-354-4504).  Brad is the CHO (Chief Hemp Officer) at Hippie Butter, and he’d love to hear from you.  Please tell him you were referred by me.


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Add Spinach to your Protein Shake

29 Aug

popeye-eating-spinach[1]Next time you make a protein shake or smoothie in the blender, add a handful of fresh spinach.

Adding spinach to your protein shake or smoothie won’t change the taste (you won’t taste it at all), but it will improve the nutritional content.

Spinach is a great source of nutrients like vitamins A, C, and K, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.

The phytonutrients (flavonoid compounds) in spinach may also help protect against inflammatory problems, oxidative stress-related problems, cardiovascular problems, bone problems, and cancers.

I add fresh, baby spinach to my chocolate-peanut butter protein shakes, and my fruit and Greek yogurt protein smoothies.  (it’s probably easier to list ingredients I don’t add to my protein shakes and smoothies than those I do!)


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Speed Development Starts in the Weight Room

26 Aug

squats-strength-training[1]Every summer, I get scores of calls and emails from athletes (and parents of athletes) asking me if I can help with speed development in preparation for fall and winter sports.  Invariably, they all want me to focus on the same thing — running form, mechanics, and technique.  They feel that if I can correct and improve mechanical shortcomings, speed will improve.

I don’t dispute that running form is important, but it should be viewed as the “fine-tuning” and not the main area of focus.  I train some very fast athletes whose technique isn’t exactly “textbook” perfect.  Same goes for my highest vertical jumpers and quickest, most agile athletes.  But all the fastest athletes I train have something in common: Strong, powerful hips and legs.  They all have the ability to generate a lot of force against the ground to propel themselves forward (upward, laterally, etc.).

In his article, Why Power Development Must Come Before Speed Work, strength coach Rick Scarpulla asserts that “Power can overcome a lack of technique to an extent, but technique cannot overcome a lack of power.”

If you want to lay the groundwork for speed development, start in the weight room.  Once you have built a solid foundation of functional strength and power with exercises like squats, deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, glute-ham raises, and plyometrics, then it’s time to break out the cones, hurdles, and ladders, and hit the track or turf for your field work.


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Strengthen Your Core with the Plank

24 Aug

EX+plankcore-abdominal-and-lower-back-exercises-23[1]The plank is one of my favorite core strengthening exercises.  Most variations require little or no equipment and can be done anywhere.  Additionally, the plank works your entire core — shoulders to hips — and not just your abs.

The basic plank is done with hands (or forearms) and feet on the floor, as if you were in the pushup “up” position (pictured).  Here are several variations of the plank exercise that can further challenge and strengthen your core musculature:

  • One arm elevated
  • One leg elevated
  • One arm and one (opposite) leg elevated
  • Side plank
  • Hands on BOSU ball (flat side up)
  • Feet on physioball
  • Hands (or forearms) on physioball
  • Alternating, opposite elbow to knee
  • TRX plank with feet suspended
  • TRX plank with arms suspended
  • Weighted plank (wearing a weighted vest, or with a weight plate on your back)


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