Fitness and nutrition experts weigh in on 11 of the most pressing questions about working out.
Q: Can you run off or out-lift cellulite?
A: Good news: You can. “Cellulite is just uneven fat,” says Wayne Westcott, professor of exercise science at Quincy University in the US, who’s been studying cellulite since 2001. “You can’t spot-reduce to get rid of it, but you can spot-strengthen.” Wayne’s anti-cellulite plan: First, 10 to 20 minutes of cardio intervals to help melt fat all over. “You burn carbs during these workout periods, then fat during rest as your body tries to replace the carbs to re-energise you.” Next, do strength moves to rebuild the muscles under the clumps; this will smooth them out. His research shows that people get the best results with what he calls the “double-eight” format: Do one set of eight reps of a move (say, a squat if you’re trying to get rid of cellulite on your butt) at a light to moderate weight. Rest 30 seconds. Then double the weight and do eight more reps. “This primes the muscles so that by the second set, you can lift a weight that would otherwise seem intimidating, which helps you tone up faster.”
Q: Why do the first few minutes of cardio always feel so hard?
A: There’s a lag between the moment you step on a treadmill and when your body realises it’s in for a run; your energy demands ramp up faster than your ability to bring in oxygen to meet them, hence the initial huffing and puffing as your system scrambles to find some fuel. “When you exercise, the stress hormone cortisol eventually spikes, which helps convert your muscles’ stored glycogen to energy, but it’s not a very efficient process,” explains Pete McCall, a US-based exercise physiologist. You just have to tough it out for five to eight minutes until your aerobic metabolism kicks in and begins to hoover in oxygen to produce energy more efficiently. Then you’ll hit your stride.
Q: Which burns more calories: lift ing light weights for high reps or heavy ones for low reps?
A: You’ll never torch a ton of calories during the process of lifting weights in steady sets, but going heavier does melt slightly more calories. The real payoff comes in the post-workout afterburn. Using heavy dumbbells triggers more fat-burning hormones, which fire up your metabolism for hours, according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Aim for two to four sets of 10 to 15 reps at a weight that makes the last two reps tough to carry out – that’s around 60 per cent to 75 per cent of the heaviest weight you could raise in a single lift (called your one-rep max).
Q: I work out early. How important is it to eat first?
A: Some research suggests that morning exercisers who skip breakfast are more likely to cut a session short; other studies have shown that they burn 33 per cent more calories during their workouts because their bodies have to tap more of their fat stores for fuel. What’s right for you? “If you’re going to do a long or high-intensity session or if you have a performance goal, eat something to off set protein breakdown in your muscles,” says USbased physiologist and nutrition coach Ryan Andrews. The perfect meal: a combo of carbs, protein, and fat (like oatmeal with fruit and a handful of nuts). Doing a light routine? Don’t worry about fuelling up, Ryan says. Your body has enough nutrients in its tank to see you through. Beyond that, let personal preference be your guide. “If you eat before an early workout and feel terrible, don’t eat.” He says. “If you exercise on an empty stomach and feel sluggish or sick, then have something before.” Either way, swig H2O before you go.
Q: What exactly is the exercise high? I want it!
A: It’s when you suddenly feel invincible during a workout. It’s triggered by a short-term chemical reaction, but scientists are still trying to fully pin down how it happens. Endorphins used to get all the credit for flipping your happy switch, thanks to the chemical’s painkiller effect, but the current thinking is that feel-good hormones – norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin – released during exercise are also at play. “These all affect mood and may increase feelings of happiness,” explains Jessica Matthews, an assistant professor of exercise science at San Diego Miramar College in the US. You’re not guaranteed to get high from every workout, but your best bet is to do continuous moderate rhythmic, repetitive movements for 30 minutes or more, as opposed to stop-and-start sets.
Q: My arms tingle and my fingers go numb when I run. What’s going on?
A: The most likely culprit is a pinched nerve in your neck or upper back, says Dr Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in the US and the author of Running Strong: The Sports Doctor’s Complete Guide to Staying Healthy and Injury- Free for Life. “If your neck is strained forward when you’re running, there’s more pressure on the muscles around it and on your shoulders,” Dr Metzl says. “This can aggravate an already-pinched nerve or an underlying muscle spasm in your trapezius [the sheet of muscle between your shoulder blades], resulting in numbness.” He recommends a three-step plan to avoid the tingling feeling: Foam-roll your back and shoulders for a few minutes before you run, do a five- to 10-minute dynamic warm-up (skips, walk-out planks, leg swings) to limber up your tight muscles, then keep your upper body loose and your shoulders down as you stride.
Q: Should I eat after a late-night workout?
A: It’s important to fuel your body after a workout no matter what time that is, says Jim White, a US-based registered dietitian. The reason: Postexercise calories replenish your body and help repair muscles, so that hard workout you just did doesn’t go to waste. “If you don’t eat something, you risk inhibiting recovery,” Jim says. He also suggests eating at least an hour before your head hits the pillow to ensure your body doesn’t store excess calories as fat. Base how much you take in on the workout’s intensity. If you did intervals, eat a little more than you would if you did yoga. The magic meal is a combo of complex carbs, and protein. “Carbs help rebuild glycogen stores, and protein repairs muscle tears that occur with exercise,” Jim says. His suggested go-tos are yogurt and almonds or wholewheat bread with peanut or almond butter.
Q: Can exercise help me kick a cold?
A: No, but there’s good news: “Though exercising while you have a cold won’t reduce how long you have the virus, it can significantly alleviate symptoms,” says Dr William Schaffner, a professor of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University in the US. When you have a cold, mucous membranes get inflamed, causing you to feel congested and tired. “Exercise improves blood fow and releases adrenaline, which promotes drainage, reverses swelling, and eases stuffiness in your head and nose,” he explains. “That makes you feel better almost instantly.” Two rules: First, down more water than usual (you lose fluids faster when you’re under the weather). Second, if you have a temperature, a cough, weakness, loss of appetite, or nausea, this doesn’t apply so you’re better off sitting it out.
Q: How bad is it to drink after exercising?
A: Cap your workout with a happy hour chaser and the booze could derail your recovery. You sweat during exercise, so you’re probably a bit dehydrated. “Alcohol can disrupt fluid and electrolyte balances, which can dehydrate you more, dramatically slow down your ability to burn fat, and stop your body from absorbing nutrients,” says Pip Taylor, a sports dietitian and the author of the nutrition guide The Athlete’s Fix: Finding Your Best Foods for Performance and Health. Plus, when you’re low on H2O, your liver won’t be working at full steam, so whatever alcohol it can’t handle will accumulate in the blood, where it acts as a depressant on your central nervous system, she explains. That said, Pip has a few tips for the smart way to enjoy an after-exercise drink. First, hydrate. Then grab recovery nutrition – a protein shake or a small meal with a combo of carbs, protein, and healthy fat. A little food can help break alcohol down, slow the rate at which it hits the liver, and prevent irritation to your intestinal lining. On the bright side, Pip says, having happy hour post-gym might be preferable to waiting until the next day: “Some research shows that you’re better off , at least when it comes to repairing and rebuilding muscles, to have a drink in the hours after a workout as opposed to 24 hours later, when the rebuilding is in full swing.”
Q: Why do I feel nauseated after a tough workout?
A: Feeling green post-sweat can come from a variety of causes, like not having warmed up, going too hard, exercising on an empty stomach, after a big meal or while on a new diet, heat exhaustion, low sodium levels, or allergies, says Jessica Bennett, a US-based sports dietitian. Also, jostling activity may slow your gastric emptying rate (the time it takes food to pass through the stomach) more than other exercise, causing what you last ate or drank to sit in your gut longer than normal. This can lead to nausea or vomiting, says Brett Singer, a sports dietitian at the Memorial Hermann Ironman Sports Medicine Institute in the US. To play it safe, eat easily digestible carbs two to four hours pre-workout and drink plenty of water. If nausea hits you often, write down what you eat and drink, how much you had, the activity undertaken, and the timing, to determine trends to avoid.
Q: Should I have a snack or a shake after a workout?
A: If you do steady-state or low-intensity exercise for an hour or less, you don’t need to eat right afterwards. “But if you’re sweating on an empty stomach or going hard, the rate at which you break down protein increases, so you need to replenish sooner,” says Nicci Schock, the owner of Elevate by Nicci, a sports nutrition company in the US. Whether you opt to chew it or drink it doesn’t matter. What you’re downing does. “I recommend equal amounts of 15 to 25 grams of protein and carbohydrates – with most carbs coming from fibre sources like fruits, veggies and whole grains – plus a little fat,” Nicci says. “This will kick off recovery and rebuild muscles quickly, burn fat, and stabilise blood sugar.” The smoothies and bars you buy often have too much sugar and not enough protein, fibre and fat, so try to make your snack or shake at home.
You might not get high from every workout, but your best bet is to do moderate repetitive movements for 30 minutes or more.