Category: Fitness

How much naturally-occurring sugar (i.e. from fruit or milk) is healthy to eat?

Reader Lise Gleasure in Calgary asks, “I’ve been trying to reduce my added sugar (i.e. pop, candy) intake to improve health. How much naturally-occurring sugar (i.e. from fruit or milk) is healthy to eat?” Globe Health columnist and registered dietitian Leslie Beck has the answer:

There are no guidelines to limit natural sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables and milk because there is simply no evidence that consuming these sugars is harmful to our health.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) released strict limits for added sugars – those that are added to foods during processing. WHO called for adults to cut their intake to less then 10 per cent of daily calories or, even better, less than 5 per cent. For a standard 2000-calorie diet, these limits translate to no more than 50 grams (10 per cent calories) and 25 grams (5 per cent calories).

These new guidelines are based on evidence reducing added sugar intake to less than 10 per cent of daily calories helps guards against overweight and obesity. The WHO defined added sugars as those “added during processing, at home, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates”.

But unlike added sugars, there are no specific intake guidelines for natural sugars which occur in fresh fruit and vegetables (called fructose) and milk and yogurt (called lactose).

You might wonder why fruit juice, which contains naturally-occurring sugar (not added sugar) needs to be limited along with other added sugars.  While pure fruit juice does deliver vitamins and minerals, it can be high in natural sugar. One cup of orange juice has 23 grams of sugar while one medium orange has 12 grams. And fruit juice has none of the fibre whole fruit does, so it doesn’t fill you up.  The extra calories from sugar in fruit juice can, therefore, lead to unwanted weight gain if you drink it regularly to quench your thirst.

Current dietary guidelines recommend that total carbohydrates can make up 45 to 65 per cent of your total daily calories.  If you eat, say, 1800 calories per day that means you can consume 202 to 292 grams of carbohydrates each day.

The majority of your carb grams will come from naturally-occurring sugars in fruit and vegetables and starches in foods like whole grains, starchy vegetables and beans and lentils.

The smallest contributor to your total carbohydrate intake – less than 10 per cent of your daily calories – should be added sugars.

Follow Leslie Beck on Twitter, read more from The Globe’s Health & Fitness section here, and revisit this piece from our archives: Are bananas making you fat?


Are nutritional supplements a beneficial addition to retaining muscle?

Reader Sandra in Vancouver. asks: “Are nutritional supplements a beneficial addition to gaining, maintaining and retaining muscle for an active 56-year-old woman? I eat well and exercise, but have a tough time keeping muscle.”  Globe Health’s fitness expert Kathleen Trotter explains:

First, let me say that having blood work done is the only way to learn with any certainty what vitamins and electrolytes you are deficient in, and therefore what supplements you actually need. If you think you are not gaining muscle or are recovering poorly because you are deficient in a particular nutrient, you may want to ask your doctor to run some key blood tests or consult a naturopath, who can facilitate a set of tests.

But before you invest time and money on blood work and supplements (they can get expensive), I suggest you analyze your diet and exercise routine. I know you say you “eat well and exercise,” but it is possible that your regimes, although beneficial to your overall health, are not geared to increasing muscle mass.

I am curious how you define eating well. In my experience, some people think a healthy diet means simply restricting calories and fat. You might not be eating enough protein, overall calories or healthy fats to gain muscle. You might not need supplements – you might just need to tweak your diet.

My next question: what’s involved in your exercise program? Some women prioritize cardio and core work over strength training, and when they do lift weights, they do endurance-based strength training. This means they use a light weights to do two or three sets of 12 to 15 reps of each exercise. For a hypertrophic response (i.e to increase muscle size) you need to do three to five sets of eight to 12 reps of each exercise with a heavy weight.

If you do decide to take supplements, I recommend talking with a knowledgeable health professional, or at a minimum researching the recommended doses of any supplement you are contemplating taking.

Consuming excess vitamins can be toxic. As a general rule, water soluble vitamins are safer because excess will be excreted. That said, every rule has an exception. Excess vitamin C – a water soluble vitamin – can contribute to kidney stones. Excess of fat soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K – will be stored in your liver and body fat, and therefore are potentially more harmful.

You can consume the absolute perfect combination of nutrients – either through food and/or supplementation – but if your body is not digesting or absorbing them you won’t get the full benefits. A quality probiotic can aid in digestion. Consider asking your health professional about whether you could benefit from a probiotic. Or experiment with foods such as kefir and kimchi.

Remember: Be cautious. Research the recommended doses and contraindications of anything you are contemplating taking.

Follow Kathleen Trotter on Twitter and watch her Fitness Basics videos.

Can 20 minutes of exercise a day really make a difference in my health?

Globe reader Ron Renaud in Vancouver B.C. asks, “Can 20 minutes exercise a day really make a difference?” Globe Health fitness expert Kathleen Trotter has strong feelings on the matter: “Daily movement is imperative! Don’t let yourself off of the exercise hook by doubting how much of a long term difference it will make.” Trotter elaborates:

Any amount of movement – whether it lasts for 20 minutes or two – will positively affect your health.

The first reason: When you’re up and exercising – even just for 20 minutes, those are minutes not spent sitting. Prolonged sitting negatively affects the cardiovascular, lymphatic and digestive system, not to mention one’s metabolism. Sitting is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes, and affects how our bodies metabolize glucose.

Secondly, once you get into the habit of being more active you can tweak your routine to ensure that you get your desired results – those that could “make a difference,”  as you say. Whether you want to lose weight, gain weight, or improve cardio endurance – I don’t know.  I can tell you that 20 minutes of training a day is a great start – and then you can tweak your routine from there.

Don’t get me wrong: walking for 20 minutes every day will not be enough to run a marathon. If you never start training, you will have no routine to tweak.

Even when you’re seriously training, you don’t need to spend hours at the gym to get results. Mini workouts can offer maximum benefits. I think Tabata intervals are going to be your friend: read about them here.

So many fun interval workouts are available, that don’t take hours every day. When I run, I love alternating 15 seconds of intense work with 45 seconds of moderate work for 20 minutes. For more of my favourite interval and mini workouts, read this and this.

For an efficient arm workout in just six minutes, watch this:

Want a great legs workout and short on time? No problem:

 Follow Kathleen Trotter on Twitter, and watch more of her Fitness Basics videos here.

What are the best exercises to strengthen the core and improve posture?   

Reader Ann Ranson asks: “What are the best exercises to strengthen the core and improve posture?” Kathleen Trotter, Globe Health‘s fitness expert, says it’s equally important to know which exercises are conducive to “anti-posture.”

The worst offender is any abdominal exercise where you curl your body forward – think crunches and bike kicks because these reinforce a hunched posture. I also consider them “anti-posture” because crunches primarily work the superficial rectus abdominals (a.k.a. “the six pack”), which means that they don’t train the entire core or help support the spine.

The other exercises that don’t promote good posture are chest exercises like the push-up and bench press. If your chest becomes stronger than your upper back your shoulders will be pulled forward into a rounded posture.

Don’t panic: I am not arguing that you should avoid working your chest or doing crunches. But I advise picking functional core exercises like planks and bird dogs over crunches, and prioritize strengthening your upper back over your chest. If you do an “anti posture” exercise, no problem – but make sure you also do a minimum of one, but ideally two, “pro posture” exercises.

My advice for a “pro posture” upper body routine:

1. Stretch out your chest – tight chest muscles will pull your shoulders forward. Try lying face up on a foam roller for two minutes after every chest workout, and ideally nightly before bed.

2. Strengthen your upper back muscles. A strong upper back will help you stand tall. Consider doing two upper back exercises for every one chest exercise. For example, if you do push-ups, do rows and reverse flys.

Here is my tutorial for one exercise that works both your legs and upper back:

Read more

Is CrossFit a good way to stay in shape?

Zami Salaria in Toronto asks, “Is CrossFit a good way to stay fit for a person who likes intense workouts? Is it appropriate for folks in their 30s and what alternative (same intensity) exercise regimen would you recommend?” Kathleen Trotter, Globe Health‘s fitness expert, says she has been to CrossFit a handful of times, mostly when traveling. “I like that regardless of where I am I will get an intense workout that includes multi-joint strength exercises like squats.” But she says CrossFit is absolutely not for every body:

Is it for you? As I’ve written before, CrossFit is not for you if you are currently injured, or prone to injury. During my first class I did advanced exercises like deadlifts. If done with bad form and / or a bad back, advanced lifts can cause serious injuries.

If you are new to lifting – maybe a runner or an ex high school athlete – CrossFit might not be the place to start your weight lifting career. CrossFit advocates will tell you that people of all fitness levels are welcome, but the competitive atmosphere doesn’t make it easy to scale back a workout and since the exercises start at an advanced level, for many the scaled back version is still too advanced. Injuries are way too common.

(Sure –  injuries are not unique to CrossFit, and any form of exercise can be unsafe and result in injuries if it is not done properly, but the typical demands of a CrossFit workout are greater than the typical demands of many mainstream exercise programs.)

If you do decide to try it, consider getting some one-on-one instruction first and do some research first: Learn about the coaches, make sure the ratio of coaches to students is appropriate, and that your coach is certified and knowledgeable. Most importantly, don’t let any instructor guilt or shame you into doing something that doesn’t feel right.

Lastly, CrossFit is not cheap. The facilities are not fancy. You pay for the intensity of the workouts and the non-traditional aspect of the gym. If you want frills, like nice showers and change rooms, CrossFit is not for you.

Unless you are an experienced lifter and not easily intimidated, I think the negatives of CrossFit outweigh the possible positives.

That said, CrossFit has training concepts and strategies are worth borrowing for your regular workout routine, Trotter says:

  1. Instead of relying on traditional machines, use barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and medicine balls. Prioritize multi-joint exercises like squats, dead lifts, bench press and pull-ups.
  1. Vary your routine. At CrossFit, the workout changes daily. Every class has a different ‘workout of the day’, or WOD.
  1. CrossFit gyms fosters a friendly yet competitive and therefore motivating environment. Learn from CrossFit – being active with others can be motivating. Establish an active social circle within your fitness world.
  1. CrossFit encourages athleticism. Participants focus on getting stronger and achieving a personal best. Stop associating training with achieving a certain aesthetic. Instead, focus on giving your best physical effort.

Check out more fitness tips, instructional videos (like the one below) through our Fitness Basics series.


What are the best exercises and order of exercises to get a six pack stomach?

Ah. the never ending quest for those elusive six-pack abs. William Moffitt from Vancouver asked us: “What are the best exercises and order of exercises to get a six-pack stomach?” The Globe’s fitness expert Kathleen Trotter, says she wishes she could give you the “five miracle exercises guaranteed to give you a six pack” – but she can’t.  “Anyone who tells you that is either lying, misinformed or trying to sell you their product,” she says. That said, here’s her sage advice for six-pack success:

Before I delve into the fitness aspect, there’s one big caveat: your body fat has to be low enough for your hard-earned muscles to be visible. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, managing your stress levels and being mindful of your nutrition. No amount of planks and crunches can compensate for a poor diet. (For more on a healthy diet, check out columns from Globe dietitian Leslie Beck.)

Obviously one important aspect of getting a six pack is strengthening the core. In my videos, I provide great exercises to do just that.I suggest  using my videos to develop a well balanced routine that strengthens all elements of your core. A balanced routine is key. It will help you stay injury free. If you injure yourself you won’t be able to be as active.  Aim to complete the routine three days per week on non-consecutive days. The routine should include exercises that work your rectus abdominals (the actual “six pack” muscle), your obliques (your waist), your lower back and your deep core.

Here’s one of my videos for proper front plank form:

When doing the exercises remember the following Kathleenism:  you have to earn the right to progress. Master the basic version of every exercise before you increase the intensity.

Next, work to improve your metabolism. Two to three times per week, do multi-joint strength exercises like squats, deadlifts and push-ups.  Follow my strength training videos for both upper body and lower. And don’t phone in your cardio workout. Challenge yourself by doing interval style cardio workouts. After a five minute warm up alternate bouts of intense work with periods of recovery.

Lastly, keep in mind that every body will react to exercise in a slightly different way. Your age, gender, exercise history, the medications you are on and your genetics will affect how easily you can gain and lose both fat and muscle.

Some people – usually young men – are able to get a six pack with much less effort than others. For many women a six pack is not a realistic or safe goal. If you never get a six pack, don’t bediscouraged. Don’t use a lack of a six pack as an excuse to stop moving –  exercise will make you feel better. Remember one of my favorite ‘Kathleenisms’:  You are only ever one workout away from a better mood.