Getting the Message on Massage

To most of us, massage is seen as a pure indulgence. Something you enjoy after the holidays when you redeem a gift certificate! Many serious athletes, however, believe that massage is serious treatment for muscle repair. For sure, it feels good and is relaxing, and that may be reason enough to do it, but is there any significant health benefit gained from muscle massage?

Muscle soreness post workout is caused by tiny tears in the muscle tissues along with inflammation brought about by natural lactic acid build-up. This soreness is a natural occurrence from muscle breakdown and not a symptom of anything bad. The micro tears will heal in time and the acid eventually works its way out through normal function of the circulatory system. While massage will not actually heal the damage done, it will surely make you feel less sore. At least short term. But can massage actually speed up recovery?

 Rocky Marciano - Doesn't this man look relaxed?

Rocky Marciano - Doesn't this man look relaxed?

It is known that a modicum of physical activity soon after a rigorous workout will naturally increase blood flow and promote the flushing of the muscle tissues due to the quickened circulation. It’s theoretically possible that massage might likewise stimulate blood flow and promote the release of lactic acid from tissues, thereby expediting recovery, but some question the efficacy of the practice. Since the recipient of massage is presumably inactive, it would appear that, under a critical eye, massage does not in fact stimulate blood flow… or at least not directly. What massage can do, however, is relax the muscles, subsequently allowing blood to flow through more freely. So there’s that.

A simple neck/shoulder rubdown will calm the nervous
and  may help the fighter be better focused.

The greatest possible effect of massage for athletes would be the counteraction of the various damages that training and competing cause the body and ultimately improve the athlete’s performance. In fact, in terms of post massage performance, quite a few scientific studies seem to show either no effect from massage after exercise or are inconclusive at best. If those particular studies are accurate, it would reveal that while helpful for feeling better, massage is likely not contributing substantially to the healing process. 

You may argue and say “I feel great after my rubdown. I feel like I’m ready to start training again.” This would make sense. There is evidence that massage will promote the release of dopamine and serotonin into your system. These are “feel-good” compounds that will go a long way to making you feel much better, but again, the research says just because you’re feeling good from your massage doesn’t mean that you will perform any better or heal any faster.

Additionally, an aggressive deep tissue massage post competition may not be a very good idea. To be perfectly clear, we’re talking about deep tissue massage after strenuous activity, not in general terms. As previously stated, a basic rubdown massage helps by relaxing the muscles. The opposite is largely true from a painful, kneading massage. Under tension the muscles will tighten, actually constricting blood flow. The last thing you want to do is irritate sore muscles even further. Keep it simple. We recommend you tell your masseuse/masseur to keep both feet on the floor and keep their elbows to themselves!

Whether you believe in the healing power of massage or not, a pre-competition massage could actually be quite useful. While massage BEFORE physical exertion likely has minimal to zero effect on relieving or preventing post-workout soreness, it is, at the very least, a great way to get a fighter relaxed and focused. A simple neck/shoulder rubdown will calm the nervous system and  may help the fighter be better focused. This is a great technique while waiting in the locker room. Then, in the ring/cage rubbing the lower back area will flip the switch and get the fighter stimulated and ready for action.

If you have access to affordable or free massage post workout or competition, go for it. Just know why you’re doing it. Massage is not a miracle healing power that instantly gets you reset and ready for more action. It will absolutely help relax your muscles and give you some indirect healing and overall wellness benefits, just don’t expect to be suddenly 100% recovered.

Posted on July 2, 2015 .

The Champion of Breakfasts

Oh, how I loved oatmeal as a child. Back then it was all about the flavors. My favorite was cinnamon with sugary raisins that came in handy pouches and cooked up magically in the bowl when you added hot water. Looking back, it was not particularly healthy - more like over-sweetened junk - but at least it gave me tons of playground energy. Today, I still start a lot of days with oatmeal, especially gym days. Only nowadays I buy the plain rolled oats and add my own extras. Oats are a whole grain packed with nutrients and are a great source of sustained energy minus the blood sugar spike you get from energy drinks and many breakfast cereals.

 Oatmeal, fight fuel. The champion of breakfasts

Oatmeal, fight fuel. The champion of breakfasts

There are actually multiple types of oatmeals that you can get. For starters, there’s the basic Groats, which sound very unappealing, but the worst things about them is that they can be harder to come by and they take a good while to prepare. Oat groats are the whole grain version that includes the germ and bran of the grain. In England, they historically viewed oats as horse food, but today the English people enjoy porridge made from Rolled Oats, which are groats that have been de-husked, steamed and rolled flat. Rolled oats are also the most common type available in America (they made the Quaker a major breakfast brand mascot). England’s neighbors, Ireland and Scotland, each prefer their own style of oats. Irish Steel Cut Oats are basically groats that have been sliced into pieces, while Scottish Oats are ultimately ground down to tiny bits or even powder. Then there’s Quick Rolled Oats, which are steamed and flattened a bit more extensively so they cook much faster. Instant Rolled Oats are steamed and flattened even more, plus they are dehydrated. Instant oats are hard to find plain and the flavored varieties are typically far less healthy because of sodium, sugar and other additives.

Whether you go for the quick or regular rolled oats, or the more complete steel cut or whole groats, the nutritional values are fairly comparable. Oatmeal is an all natural whole grain that features a wide array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates. Oatmeal is low in fat, plentiful in protein, and high in soluble fiber. You may already know that Oatmeal can lower your cholesterol and help prevent heart disease, but did you know it can also lower blood pressure and slow digestion to make you feel fuller longer?

Pure oatmeal is gluten-free, however oats can easily be contaminated just by being processed in plants that also process wheat, barley or rye. There are some brands that promote gluten-free oatmeal so if you have a gluten sensitivity be sure to do some research. 

Oatmeal is also a great choice for those with type-2 Diabetes. Oatmeal has a low glycemic index, meaning it does not cause jumps in blood sugar levels and stabilizes insulin production. At the same time, be aware of the high levels of carbohydrates, which many diabetics need to watch.

Oatmeal is magical. Need some pre-workout energy? Chomp down some oatmeal for a nice dose of complex carbs and protein. Save a little for your post-workout as well, because the carb-protein mix is ideal for recovery. But guess what? Oatmeal is also a great natural source of melatonin, which can help promote drowsiness. Skip the sugar and add some milk, with its vitamin D, and you’ll be asleep before you know it dreaming about the perfect punch combination! Energy provider and sleep aid? Seriously, ain’t that magic?

Oatmeal is pretty easy to make, especially if you go for the quick rolled variety. Personally, I like to fill a bowl about halfway with quick oats, add a spoonful of whey protein, pour in a little whole milk and then add in as much water until I get the consistency I prefer, maybe a splash more so the oatmeal doesn’t become too thick and gummy. Throw the bowl in a microwave and cook for a couple minutes, stir, and then add in the extras. For me, I’ll usually either go for vanilla protein powder with blueberries, which tastes kinda like a blueberry muffin, or I’ll do chocolate protein powder with bananas, which is just awesome. I also like to stir in a quick drip of honey. Then I’ll zap it for another 30 or 40 seconds, sprinkle on some pecan pieces and enjoy.

Oatmeal cookies are superb, but not exactly training fuel. If you want a great post-workout re-fueler try mixing up some rolled oats along with some chocolate protein powder and peanut butter (and maybe some more of those pecan pieces). Use your hands and mush it all up, like you would prepare a meatloaf, and roll into little balls. Wrap the balls in wax paper and stick in the freezer before you head to the gym and when you return you’ll have some tasty protein-carb snacks that will help you recover from your training.

Or, if you love smoothies, toss in some rolled oats next time to give your shake a thicker consistency that is more filling and loaded with goodness. There’s a ton of oatmeal recipes online so do some exploring.

You don’t have to wait until morning to consume your oatmeal. We all know the pleasure of having breakfast for dinner, and oatmeal fits the bill nicely. In fact, oatmeal doesn’t have to be served sweetly, it does nicely as a savory base for an anytime meal. Oatmeal is super versatile and a good choice for those trying to keep their appetite under control. Great recipes are just a Google search away!

Oatmeal is pretty perfect. Far superior to most breakfast cereals, relatively inexpensive, and supremely satisfying. And best of all, they sell it in giant tubs for people like me who eat it all the time!!

Posted on April 23, 2015 .

Bananas = Fight Fuel

Nature is amazing. Take the simple banana as an example. Bananas are fortified with nutrients, packed with energy and come prepackaged in handy sets of 3, 6 or even 9. They’re a perfect snack, especially for athletes.

If you compare bananas to your average carb-laden sports drink, bananas come out far ahead in antioxidant, fiber, vitamin and mineral content. The natural sugar of bananas is also healthier than that of flavored sports drinks. And, let’s face it, bananas are a far better value overall. 

Need help sleeping? Peel a banana for a good dose of magnesium and potassium, which will relax your muscles and help you get a deeper sleep. Bananas will also help cool your core temperature, which in turn will trigger sleep sensors.

Posted on April 1, 2015 .

Stress is an Equal Opportunity Issue

A group of Fifth Grade Girl Scouts recently worked out at Cappy’s as part of earning their Staying Fit Badge. Afterwards, we asked them to write down what they liked and didn’t like about their boxing workout. We “grown-ups” chuckled at some of the quotes, like “I liked pretending to punch my enemies.”

In the days following their workout, I kept the “Release STRESS” card on a Heavy Bag station and mentioned to Fitness Class boxers that the card was left over from the Girl Scout workout, that part of earning their badge was that they learned to “stress less.”  Many wondered what kind of stress 11 year olds could possibly have.

The American Psychological Association has been including youth as young as 8 years old in their annual Stress in America surveys since 2009, and found that kids worry about their family finances, school, and social relationships. Consider social media’s influence and impact, rising adult stress levels and increasing reports of violence in schools, and it’s not surprising that stress levels are high.

Posted on March 25, 2015 .

Rereading the Feed, 2014

Don't Turn It On Until You Take It Off (October 29)
Going bare-faced is best, but, if you must, skip the heavy foundation and try a tinted moisturizer instead. But keep in mind that if your skin gets irritated it can lead to acne and aggravated skin conditions, which could invoke heavier makeup use outside of the gym.

Brown Rice is Fight Rice! (October 23)
Eating brown rice is kinda like eating potatoes with the skin on. Just like spuds, there’s the white, fluffy part on the inside and the brown, earthy layer on the outside. And just like the nutrient rich skin of a potato, the outer layer of rice - the bran and the germ - is where so much nutrition lies.

Pump Up Your Iron (October 14)
Iron exists in your bloodstream as oxygen-transporting Hemoglobin. Iron also receives and stores oxygen inside muscle tissue. If your blood is deficient in iron you’re going to be having a short training day accompanied by a long recovery.

Probiotics are for Pros (and Amateurs) (October 1)
As a woman involved in intense fight training, you’re constantly taxing your immune system. For females, consuming yogurt regularly could mean boosting your T-cell count by as much as 25%.

Pasta is Fight Fuel! (September 17)
You need carbs for energy, and pasta, with its complex carbohydrates, provides significant sustained energy and helps you regulate blood sugar levels. If it’s a gym day you’ll especially want a good supply of carbs like pasta for fuel as well as for recovery.

Cherry Juice is Radical (September 9)
Athletes reportedly can enjoy as much as a 10% improvement in recovery time by drinking the tart stuff after their workout. And there's also evidence showing that drinking tart cherry juice is helpful for managing pain in a way not unlike some over-the-counter pain killers.

Popcorn, the Perfect Snack! (September 2)
Popcorn is pretty unique as a snack as it is 100% unprocessed whole grain. You know that doctors and nutritionists love to tout the greatness of whole grains. They may not know exactly what makes whole grains so great, but they are, and popcorn is a great whole grain.

Sleep, The Other Kind of Fuel (August 20)
Sleep is a critical component for your overall well-being, physically and mentally. As a fighter, you need it to repair post-workout tissue damage, but you'll also enjoy a more efficient metabolism, better hormone balance, and acuter (sure, that’s a word) mental sharpness.

Chocolate Milk is MUSCLE Milk (August 13)
Your muscles break down after exercise and the tissues need to rebuild and the stores of glycogen energy need to refill so you’re ready for more activity. Research concludes that chocolate milk does a better job of rebuilding and refueling than carbohydrate-only sports drinks because of the combination of carbs and protein.

Hydration for Health and Performance (August 6)
Dehydration will ultimately lead to fatigue because your body will actually need to work harder to deliver oxygen to your brain and perform other crucial tasks. By staying hydrated you will stay energized and feel more alert.

Watermelon, the Fleshy Superfruit (July 30)
Munching on watermelon’s sublimely sweet flesh after your workout also helps you restore glycogen to muscle tissue. This is a way of saying that eating watermelon after exercise helps you recover faster and replenish muscles with ready-to-go energy. 

The Sweet Science of Bruising (July 23)
Pierce Egan, coined the phrase "The Sweet Science of Bruising!" in his 1812 bound volume of boxing articles, Boxiana; or Sketches of Ancient and Modern Pugilism. The phrase lives on today as the simple descriptive, "The Sweet Science".

Boxing - Any Connection to Breast Cancer? (July 16)
The American Cancer Society specifically states “…the fact is that falls, bruises, broken bones, or other such injuries have not been linked to cancer…” The ACS points out that sometimes existing cancer may be detected while a patient is being treated for an injury, but no actual link can be established that the injury caused the disease.

Honey - Natural Energy Booster (July 7)
Honey is a great natural source of complex carbohydrates, which provide both immediate and sustained energy. Honey contains equal parts organic fructose and glucose that do not need to be digested and therefore can be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, offering a quick boost of energy when needed.

Coffee – Workout Booster? (June 16)
Enjoying some coffee before you hit the gym may help reduce muscle soreness substantially. Research suggests that caffeine is able to block chemicals in the body that cause soreness and may, in fact, reduce aches and pain overall.

Make a Fist, Get Blissed (June 11)
Imagine taking your fist and punching a big leather bag with it. You're combining multiple techniques - making a fist, hitting an object, and breathing deeply and rhythmically - now that's stress relief!! In fact, performing a repetitive activity when you are stressed may actually teach your body intuitively how to relax the muscles.

Add Green Fruit to Your Diet (June 5)
Avocados are a good source of antioxidants, which can counteract aging effects, boost the immune system, benefit the nervous system, battle bad breath and soothe the stomach. Avocados are especially good for your heart, liver, skin and overall health.

Posted on December 10, 2014 .