Commander's fit tip: Exercise Sophisticate

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Summer is coming to an end, and holidays are right around the corner. How are we going to win the "battle of the bulge?"

We all have our favorite activities, but most of them tend to slow down a bit when the temps dip and the skies turn grey. Not far off for our military members, a new fitness test (at least twice a year) and tougher standards.

Fortunately, we have a crack team of experts at our disposal, all of them ready to help us build a plan tailored to our unique needs. And since the editors will give me a little space to share my thoughts on the topic, I'll join the fight as well. But first, let's meet the team.

At our local clinic, we have the incomparable Tech. Sgt. Naomi Bullock, Unit Fitness Program Manager (UFPM). Known more for her work in our public health office, she's also our senior UFPM and fitness coordinator.

As such, she has all the hooks into the local programs, current USAF Physical Training (PT) policies, and can help you make the most out of the resources we have available here at Arnold AFB. An accomplished runner, if you need some ideas on how to tune up your regimen, she's got that covered as well. Is your PT test about to expire? No worries, she can hook you up with a test just about any time. Give her a call at 454-3537.

Right across the hall is our very own Master Sgt. "Get the Lead Out" Louchery, Superintendent of the Medical Aid Station. While he spends most of his time orchestrating our healthcare, he should be your first stop if you are going to make a significant addition to your workout routine. Surely you've seen all those placards on the exercise machines..."See your doctor before beginning any workout program." Well, they aren't kidding.

The first criteria in any program is injury prevention, and you need to know what your frame can handle BEFORE it starts to hurt. Think you need some supplements? Before you drop some plastic at your local health food store, take a few minutes to talk this over with him, and make sure whatever you think you need isn't going to interfere with your prescription meds or other medical issues.

He's got all the contacts with the docs in the local area too, so if you have a nagging problem that needs attention first, he's your man. You'll find him at 454-5635.

At the gym, we have Ron Stephenson, Certified Professional Trainer (CPT). He too has a bunch of letters after his name. You'd never guess by looking at him, but he's been around a gym for a while. Spend some time in his "house of pain" and you'll be better, stronger, and faster than Steve Austin.

Specializing in strength training and conditioning, he can help you find a routine that will get you through the next season and ready for races in the spring. While you're there, check out the fitness class schedule. I'm a big fan of spinning classes, but variety is the spice of life, and there are lots of options there. (454-6440/6441).

And last (and least!) is yours truly. See, I have a bunch of letters after my name too...(Self-Proclaimed Fitness Aficionado).

So if you'll lend me your ear, I'll share what I have learned (most of it the hard way) from the perspective of the practitioner, who has worked with over a dozen trainers and seen all kinds of techniques that actually work. So for my first dive into passing along fitness advice, let's look at why most of us are spending time in the gym...weight control.

Rather than describing a particular regimen that might work for you (I'll leave that to the real experts) I'd like to explore what's really happening before, during, and after your workout. If we understand this, the plan our team builds for each of us will make a lot more sense. Notice I mentioned before, during, and after. That's right, it's not just about the workout. Here's why.

Weight control is all about physics...energy in and out. The "in" part is the domain of the nutritionists, so we'll look at that in another edition. For the "out" part, we tend to focus on the workout, and that's where we might fall short. For the engineers out there, it's about input and output. If you're in XP, it's as simple as "puts and takes." The trick is where and when to measure, and it's not what you might think.

First, let's understand what's really going on. As with any engineering problem, it all starts with the units of measure. For this problem, it's calories. The math is easy as long as you know how many are stored where, and how many are used doing what. Then it's simple, right? Maybe.

In the "bet you didn't know" category, a pound of body fat stores about 3500 calories. That's right, 3500. Anyone who's ever read the nutrition label on the Cheerios box during breakfast can tell you that's a bunch, since a bowl of Cheerios (with a half cup of fat free milk!) is only 300-ish.

So if we're going to drop a pound, we have to find a way to ditch 3500 calories. No problem, right? Just throw on the tennies and pound the pavement. Are you ready for this? A mile on the track burns up a little over 100 calories. That's right. Our innocent bowl of Cheerios is a "three-miler." Anyone (other than Col Mittuch) cranking out 30+ miles at a whack (or even a week?).

The experts will tell you an aggressive weight loss program can shed about two pounds a week. That means you have to burn 7000 calories more than you consume that week. That's only 70 miles. No problem.

Realistically, few of us have the time or the stamina for that level of effort. So we enlist the help of our friendly neighborhood nutritionist, and if we shave 500 calories a day out of our diets (and that's not a huge reduction, since most of us eat around 2000), then we're back down to a more reasonable 3500 calories we need to burn, or a measly 35 miles on the road.

These miles (or minutes, if you are a "stairmaster" junkie) represent the "during" part of the equation. While these are the core of what we're counting on, these minutes also host the biggest trap...negative burn rates. "Huh?"

No, it's true, many of us are actually in a "calorie gain" phase on the treadmill. Why? Those dastardly sports drinks! Most of them are packed with sugar, otherwise all those "electrolytes" would taste like, well, electrolytes. And electrolytes (spelled s-a-l-t-s) aren't all that tasty, so to get them down, we have to hide them in sweet, calorie stuffed sugar.

Unless your workout will last a couple hours, you just don't need to "replace" anything that tastes that bad, no matter what the commercial says.

The guys who developed "Gatorade" were solving a different problem (very long football workouts in the hot, humid Florida afternoons). In the gym, you are losing water, so replace that, and get full benefit from the calories burned.

OK, so we avoided that trap, but how are we going to get in 35 miles a week? Hold on, it's still possible...as long as you understand where the real calories are burned...and that's when you are not in the gym.

Fortunately, we need calories to breathe, maintain a heartbeat, think, all those things that help us make it through the day.

Though a little oversimplified, you can think of all the calories you need just to survive as your base metabolic rate. (Metabolic is just a fancy fitness word that describes how our cells convert stored energy into used energy. Helps the fitness gurus sound sophisticated, and lets them talk about your "metabolism" to sound even more sophisitcated).

How many calories you need every day depends on your size (how many cells you have!), age, etc., but knowing that number can help you understand what your dietary contribution to weight control has to be.

The rest comes from activity. But, the extra calories you burn during activity are really just a small part of the equation...the real punch comes from the fact that as your body adapts to the increased activity, your base rate will increase. Let's say your basic rate is 1200 calories a day. As you increase your fitness through exercise, your base rate will climb, maybe to 1500 a day, so the bonus is that you burn more even when you aren't working out.

And increased, that burn rate works 24 hours a day, not just the 30 minutes you spend on the treadmill. If you raise your base rate from 1500 to 1700 a day, you will burn nearly a pound every three weeks just walking around. Plus, the burn rate you establish during activity doesn't just step down when you hit the shower. It tapers off slowly, again burning extra calories when you are on your way back to work.

If you use a heart rate monitor (and I can't recommend those highly enough!) you'll see this every time. As you start the workout, your rate may be around 75. During the workout, maybe you'll sustain 150. When you stop, you'll quickly recover to around 100, but it may take up to two or three hours to get all the way back down below the starting rate.

It's this extra benefit that accumulates over time, and represents the potential to "keep the weight off" since the engine is churning long after the workout. This steady increase in the base rate, as a response to exercise, is the science behind the statement "great metabolisms are made, not born."

So in the end, you won't actually need to spend 35 miles a week on the road to hit that two pounds a week target. Only one catch...to raise your base metabolic rate, your exercise routine needs to be challenging.

If you are walking on the treadmill and chatting up the folks around you, you will burn calories, but you'll miss the real benefit of increasing your burn rate all day long. You can still lose weight that way, but it will take MUCH longer. So make the time you devote to fitness count.

Hey, the editors are giving me the hook, so we'll tackle the "before" part next time. Until then, stoke up those fires and impress your friends a new addition to your fitness vocabulary...metabolic rate. If nothing else, you'll sound sophisticated!