Friday, August 23, 2013

Taking a Break

Inspiration has been lacking and I won't put out bullshit, so The Santa Fe Ninja is taking a break. Maybe a month, maybe longer.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Rapid Weight Loss and Dehydration

               The use of rapid weight loss techniques (dehydration, extreme calorie reduction) has long been an issue in wrestling. Though many steps have been taken to change the rules of wrestling to prevent rapid weight loss, these techniques are still widely used. With the rise in popularity of mixed martial arts, we are seeing the spread of these rapid weight loss techniques into a larger section of the population.

               The topic is rather controversial, as a number of wrestlers have died from these rapid weight loss techniques(1). Virtually no health professionals support the use of these techniques, yet they remain in use. This is largely due to the fact that scientific research is ignored and weight loss techniques are passed down from coach to athlete(2), something I have witnessed personally.

               Basic scientific studies on the effects of dehydration and low glycogen stores show that the athlete's bodies will be less effective when engaging in competition. The actual effectiveness of lowering one's weight has not been widely investigated in wrestling or MMA, though one would assume that due to basic physiological principles, it would lower the effectiveness of the athlete's performance.

               The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) believes that lowering an athlete's body fat percentage below 6% is unhealthy, and that these rapid weight loss techniques lower performance.

               From all available research, it would appear that lowering an athlete's body weight through dehydration and extreme calorie restriction are a bad idea for optimal performance.

               One aspect of wrestling that was changed to try and prevent the use of dehydration was the changing of weigh in times. Where once they would weigh in 24 hours ahead of time, they now weigh in several hours before competition. This obviously causes the effects of dehydration to be much worse, since there is no way to replenish all the fluids that would be needed to be replenished in a severely dehydrated body. That being said, some athlete's still engage in this practice, and many wrestlers restrict their calories. Because of this, they are, for the most part, low on glycogen stores. Being that wrestling is a largely anaerobic activity, this would seem to be a poor idea.

               MMA, however, still allows it's athletes to weigh in 24 hours before competition. Because of this it is not uncommon for these athletes to lose 10 - 20 lbs of weight in water the day of weigh ins. The use of IV's after dehydration is widespread. The effectiveness of this is hard to gauge. I myself have lost 10 lbs in water weight (from 145 to 135) been given an IV, and competed the next day. In the 24 hour recovery period I was able to eat and drink a large amount. I feel as if I filled my glycogen stores and that my 
effectiveness was not lowered. My body felt as good as it did when it was hydrated and fed normally.

                In MMA and other competitions where striking is used, having a larger frame that is capable of generating more force when punching or kicking is useful, so if your opponent is dehydrating himself to get to a lower weight class and you aren't, he will most likely be much larger than you. I believe a new metric should be created, rather than relying on weight alone. Instituting urine specific gravity tests (testing for adequate hydration levels), much like those used in college wrestling could solve this problem.

               As the rules are set now, I believe an athlete does have a competitive edge if they use dehydration in MMA and maybe even in highschool wrestling. I also think that the rules should be changed, in wrestling and MMA, to remove this competitive edge. As of right now, I haven't heard of anyone pushing for this in MMA. 

Sources listed for once!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Micro-post: Exercise and Baseline Happiness

               Caught myself sleeping, almost forgot to write something up today. Forgive me. It was a leg day.

               I find one of the greatest benefits of regular exercise and training is that it keeps my baseline of happiness high. What I mean, is that it is almost impossible to fall into a deep despair. When someone I'm close to dies, or when a relationship ends, or when I get my ass kicked I get sad. It's a natural reaction, but I have an exercise schedule and I keep to it.
               When I'm doing squats, or rolling, or trying not to drown, there is no room in my mind for despair. I can't feel sorry for myself and do pushups at the same time.

               Afterward, the chemical cocktail that exercise releases relaxes me. The aching of my body lessens the pain in my soul. I can be sad, but only to a certain point, because whether I'm in a good or bad mood I'm still going to have to get off the couch and get my work in. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Protecting Our Children

 Taking personal responsibility for one's own safety is not something that is stressed in our society. This is especially true for children. Children are innocent, pure, and it is thought that they should be able to live a life devoid of responsibility for their own safety. They are supposed to be protected. 

 Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Assaults, both violent and sexual, can happen at any time. There have been instances of children being sexually assaulted while out to dinner with their family, in the public restroom. I believe an important thing to remember is that anyone, at any time, can be assaulted.

 I don't say this to instill fear. Indeed, if Steven Pinker is to be believed, human to human violence is on the decline. I personally expose myself to environments which might be considered dangerous, but when I do so, I take steps to safeguard myself. 

 Firstly, I believe awareness is key. Knowing where the people are in your environment, what kind of environments are dangerous, and when it is time to leave are all important parts of personal safety. 

 Second, once awareness as been established, a mental framework for setting boundaries and remaining assertive in the face of aggression must be established.

 A small example: While taking part in a political protest march, a loud, aggressive homeless man began walking near the line of people. As soon as he came close to me I stepped away, keeping him out of striking range. A woman behind me, chose to ignore him. She got punched in the head. Don't do that.

 After awareness and boundary setting skills have been acquired it can then be helpful to learn certain martial arts techniques to defend against an attacker. Without the previous two skills, even an experienced martial artist is at an extreme disadvantage in a dangerous street situation.

 For children, the same principles apply. Though they may not be able to effectively protect themselves using martial arts, they can learn awareness and boundary setting techniques which could save them if they were to be assaulted. I think this is something that should be taught in schools. The "Just say no to strangers," policy is a little to simplistic, especially since a large portion of sexual assaults are perpetrated by people who are not strangers.

 It's not fun, it isn't pleasant, but I believe these are things we need to speak to our children about. These are skills that our children need to learn. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Athletes, Alcohol, and the Growing Acceptance of Marijuana

               I'd like to preface everything I’m about to write with this: I don't support the use of alcohol or marijuana for athletes. I believe anything that may have negative net effect on an athlete should be removed from that athlete's life if possible (evil girlfriends included).

               That being said, I would like to delve into the topic of recreational drug use by athletes. Though high intensity sports discourage many athletes from using any recreational drugs, alcohol and marijuana are still in use by many.

               Mainstream American culture tends to accept the use of alcohol and demonize the use of marijuana. For a man to say he's going to celebrate a win with a beer is normal. Replace beer with joint and it's headline news. Recently, I have noticed an increase in the acceptance of marijuana use in the MMA, BJJ, and grappling community. I believe the reasons for this are physiological.

               Both alcohol and marijuana are used as a kind of stress relief. Because of its illegal status, marijuana can be less of a communal activity, though in many social circles it is used for the same reasons as alcohol: stress relief and peer bonding.

               Alcohol, however, causes far more problems for an athlete's body than does marijuana. A short list of alcohol's effects on athletes: impaired ability to repair tissues (muscles), impaired glycogen production (less energy), dehydration, impairs ATP production (decreases endurance), impairs absorption of micronutrients needed for ATP production, increased weight gain (the body treats alcohol much like it treats fat, very detrimental to athletes that need to maintain weight), impairs learning ability, weakens the immune system, and impairs the sleep cycle.

               Marijuana is noted for decreasing cardiac stroke volume (how much blood your heart pumps per beat), an increased heart rate (bad for endurance), impairing learning ability, impairing the immune system, and creating respiratory problems if smoked. There are also some studies suggesting marijuana can lead to an increased risk of developing psychological issues if used before the brain is fully developed. For this discussion, I will assume we're just talking about adults.

               As you can see, for most athletes, marijuana is less detrimental to athletic performance. This is especially true for sports where aerobic capacity is not as important, such as MMA, BJJ, and grappling. I think an honest assessment of these drugs must be made. Just looking at the effects of these two recreational drugs, I believe alcohol will always have a detrimental net effect on athletes. I believe the argument that marijuana can have a positive net effect on athletes can be made, depending on the amount of stress the drug relieves.
               Personally, I have never used marijuana and I don't plan to any time soon. I drink approximately one alcoholic beverage a month, if that. My main drug is coffee. I believe stress relief can be accomplished without the use of any drug (including prescription drugs). I urge young athletes to seek out non-drug methods of stress relief. One method I have found to be quite pleasant is the use of binaural frequencies. Several programs are available (Brain Wave in the apps store). There are also many songs using this technology available online. I find it gives me a little endorphin rush and helps with relaxation.

               That’s all I have for now. If you want my sources, ask for them. If you disagree, bring your arguments.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Nutritional Supplements

               One of the more profitable sections of the fitness industry are those companies that create supplements. This is also where a majority of misinformation about sports nutrition is seen.

               Walk into a store dedicated to selling supplements and most people are convinced of several things. The first is that their fitness related problem, whether it be an inability to lose weight or gain muscle, can be solved by one of the many products available for purchase. The second, is that all the claims of increased performance found on the supplement packaging can be trusted. They can't.
               The majority of shady claims are structural / functional claims. An example would be, "Helps to increase energy." How it may help, and what their definition of energy is, is usually not stated. These kinds of claims are not regulated by the FDA. These claims are regulated by the FTC, though a product can be on the market for some time before it is reviewed. Though supplements are supposed to list all ingredients contained within them, they are actually allowed to be placed on the market before their product is tested.  Obviously this is dangerous for athletes who have to deal with a state commission, or college athletes who may be tested for performance enhancing drugs. In the past, supposedly benign supplements have been found to contain performance enhancing drugs.

               So, if not supplements, what should you put in your mouth to get a performance boost? A balanced diet, for one. Most supplements don't outright lie. They claim that they do one thing or another, based on some of the vitamin or mineral content contained within them. If an athlete is deficient in a certain vitamin or mineral, using a supplement that provides that micronutrient can be beneficial. However, it's almost always safer and cheaper to eat a natural food that contains that micronutrient. Most studies done on the subject have shown that  an overdose of vitamins or minerals has little to no benefit. Also supplements are one of the easiest ways to ingest too much micronutrients. In the case of a mineral like magnesium, this can lead to nausea, diarrhea and a bad day.

               Many young men I talk to, between the ages of 14 and 21, think they need to use meal replacement supplements (protein shakes) so that their muscles will repair. For most people, this is not true. The majority of these  recreational athletes could drink a small bottle of chocolate milk directly after their workout and then go eat a balanced meal and recover perfectly well. These meal replacement supplements are often times expensive and there is no need for the majority of the population to use them.

               Where they can be useful is for serious athletes who engage in 3 to 4 hours of moderate to intense exercise a day. These athletes, depending on their size, may need to ingest up to 5,000 calories a day. Some athletes, such as those involved in ultra endurance sports, may need more than that. That is a lot of food and a calorie dense meal replacement supplement can help them get the calories they need to repair body tissues and replenish their energy stores. For your average gym rat, these supplements are a waste of money. I'll probably have a few more blog posts on this topic, because I've only scratched the surface of this topic. 

In the mean time- eat some fruit, a tuna sandwich, drink some chocolate milk, and get swoll.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Micropost - The Division of Mind and Body

               The idea that the mind is separate from the body is an old concept, though, in today's world I have seen it attacked by materialists, as well as those who are religious.

               Regardless if the mind and body are separate, I think the idea that they are separate can be useful.

               I've been an athlete for roughly ten years. When I was young my training and conditioning  were filled with stress. I knew the conditioning was going to hurt me. It was a requirement if I wanted to get stronger.

               When I was about 20 I began reading a lot of hippy/new age books. In one of them they spoke of Buddhist monks who could run inhuman distances. They would run at night, focusing on a single star until they fell into a trance. When they came out of it, they would be at their destination. This was appealing to me because, at that time, I was routinely woken up by unpleasant men and told to go run a 5k. I tried the trick of staring up at a star and falling into a trance. It didn't work for me, but the idea was planted in my mind.

               Fast forward to me at 23. I began practicing lucid dreaming techniques. One of these was to lay in my bed, completely still. When a person does this, several things happen. The first, is that the body begins itching. The trick, is to let the itch, itch, and continue not moving and just relax. If you can do this, the next step is to allow your body to begin breathing by itself, without your input.

               The body then begins to fall into sleep paralysis. The arms and legs go numb, or feel as if they are sinking into the bed. The feeling of my body breathing without me and losing feeling, all while I was completely conscious flipped a switch in my head. Since then I rarely view the feelings of my body as my feelings. To me they are wholly separate, which makes it much easier to get in those final sets of pushups, or relax and act intelligently while I'm being strangled.

               I suggest  everyone at least try putting their body into sleep paralysis while they are conscious, as it is a novel feeling. Simply lay down, and don't move for the next 20-30 minutes. Having complete darkness helps.

               This post is already too long.