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What to Eat Before and After a Workout

By Curtis Mann, Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Over the past 29 years that I’ve been training people in various transitions of health, wellness and fitness, one of the most pressing questions is “what should I eat before a workout”?

The first thing I always address is the importance of having what I call, a pre-workout snack or meal.

The reason for having a pre-workout snack is, your body uses sugar in the form of glucose (converted to glycogen) to fuel most of its functions. If you don't get enough to eat, your body will not have enough glucose, a condition referred to as hypoglycemia. It is a common condition in those with diabetes but, can occur in people who don't have it. If you are exercising in the morning before eating breakfast or missing meals, your blood sugar will usually be low, which can lead to dizziness. Other symptoms, such as nausea, increased heart rate and trembling may also occur. Eating at least two to four hours before exercising can help avoid low blood sugar. If you forgot to eat a full meal, eating a smaller snack such as crackers or fruit before exercise can help. Dizziness that occurs during exercise due to low blood sugar can be remedied by drinking a fruit juice or other snack high in sugar.

I consulted friends of mine who are Registered Dieticians, Exercise Physiologists and researched numerous nutrition articles and have drawn on my own education in nutrition to come up with what I consider to be the 4 high energy snacks or meals to have prior to a workout.

#1. Getting ready for a long run? Greek Yogurt and Trail Mix:  If you’re planning on a hard vigorous workout or a long run eat some Greek Yogurt.  It’s easy on your stomach and when paired with some trail mix, can give you a energized boost.  Pick the trail mix that has more nuts and dried fruits. The healthy sugar from dried fruit provide the most amount of energy. Eat a small amount of nuts and seeds. These contain a high amount of fat and too many might make you feel slow and sluggish.

#2. Smoothies: In a hurry? Whip up a smoothie made of Greek Yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, maybe some nuts and for a cold treat add ice. To make it a sweeter treat add a teaspoon of honey to boost energy. Protein powder can also be added to boost the amount of muscle building power.

#3. I was talking to a College Student who was doing a paper for her exercise physiology (the identification of physiological mechanisms underlying physical activity) class, and I had to ask her what her favorite pre- workout snack is and we both had the same thing in mind. One slice of whole wheat toast, a tablespoon of Peanut Butter, and slices of Banana. When getting your engine ready for an intense workout, carbs are your friend. The release of simple and complex carbs gives you a good even, sustained release of energy.

#4. Oatmeal with fresh Fruit: Oatmeal is the ultimate pre-workout snack. It releases glucose into your body gradually giving a sustained energy boost. Adding fruit enhances the effect.

Information for this News Article was obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Sam Calhoun, Exercise Physiologist.

Why Resistance Training Is Important For Long Distance Runners

Years ago, the idea of a runner lifting weights was virtually unheard of. Today, weight training is gaining acceptance as a means to improving performance in many athletic areas. Yet there are still many runners and running coaches who think strength training is detrimental. When questioned, many will claim that it produces an increase in body weight, decreased flexibility and this will, ultimately, impede the runner's form.

The purpose of this article is two-fold. First,I will recommend a systematic approach to strength-training that will enable a runner to maximize his/her overall running performance and second, I will explore and attempt to unravel some of the common misconceptions held by the running community.

Why Weight Train?

Running. Those involved in this activity know first-hand the benefits that are obtained as a result of running. These are lowered blood pressure, increased lung capacity, strengthening of the heart, and, of course, loss of body fat. Does strength training actually help, and if so, where does it fit in?

An intelligent strength training program will allow a greater workload to be carried out. It increases muscular strength which in turn decreases the chances of injury, and it increases connective tissues which allow the body to become a more durable support system.

As with any sport, injuries are an expected occurrence. Some of the common injuries runners suffer from are, achilles tendonitis, back pain, calf strain, compartment syndrome, groin pull, hamstring injuries, iliotibial band syndrome, shin splints, plantar fasciitis ... and the list goes on. As mentioned earlier, a properly organized strength-training regimen can decrease the risk, and the severity of running injuries.

Strength training also improves running performance by changing intra-muscular coordination, that is, the capacity to recruit the muscle fibers more efficiently as one continues to weight train. This, in turn, results in an improvement in coordination, which translates into more efficient movement patterns. It also improves running economy, which is defined by an increase in the ability to consume oxygen at a steady state (a continuous movement for an extended period of time.

Running involves multiple joint actions and requires a number of muscle groups to work synergistically in maintaining control and balance. The use of resistance training as a means to improve this control is an effective method for improving running quality. Examples of this are:

  1. A stronger push off

  2. An increased ability to resist the eccentric forces that occur when the foot comes into contact with the ground each time a stride is taken

  3. A stronger torso which promotes a more efficient running posture.

It should be noted that while performance enhancement in running through strength training is effective, one cannot train optimally for both at the same time. In other words, you cannot excel at both.

Myths And Misconceptions

Contrary to popular belief, strength training does the runner's body good; however, runners and their coaches, for the most part, have shunned strength training. Within this reluctance lies an abundance of misconceptions and myths related to the principles surrounding strength training and running.

I would like to address some of the common misconceptions and myths often propagated by "experts" within the running community.

Myth # 1: Heavy weights will bulk you up.

Muscle "bulk" is dependent on several variables which include adequate nutrition, an optimal stimulus in the form of progressively heavier loads and enough rest so that adaptation may occur. If the variables are not in place "bulk" will not occur. Saying that "heavy weights will bulk you up" is similar to saying that if you sprint too much, you will become too fast.

As it happens, most elite runners have an ectomorphic physique (a thin, non-muscular body type) that is attributed to genetics and seems to be resistant to significant weight gains. If anything, weight in the form of more muscle could be likened to adding more horsepower to a car.

The car is still the same except with greater power. In light of their genetic predisposition to not gain appreciable amounts of muscle it becomes clear that heavy weights will not bulk up a long distance runner."

Myth # 2: Keep rest periods short between each set.

The goal of resting between sets is to ensure recovery of the body systems. The major source of energy that is most important to a lifter is adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is directly linked to training for strength, or, more specifically, to neural recovery (the main factor involved in increasing strength levels).

Brief rest periods (30-60 seconds) are aerobic in nature, and antagonistic to strength development. Strength is optimally achieved through the use of rest periods of approximately 3 minutes plus between each set. The goal of a strength training program is not to keep one's heart rate elevated at a steady level for an entire session. That is the goal of aerobic exercise. Do not waste time in the gym performing work that can be better performed outside.

Myth # 3: Train with high reps.

It's often claimed (since distance running is endurance oriented) that the use of high reps should be incorporated into a runner's weight training program. This couldn't be further from the truth.

Think of it this way, a strength trainer doesn't go out for a run with dumbbells strapped to his arms and/or legs, so why would an endurance runner work on weight endurance in the gym? As long as running is being performed during the week, the need for cardiovascular training is bring met.

Strength improvements are derived by lifting a weight for a number of repetitions which are linked to the increase in maximal strength. "High reps," usually defined as 15 repetitions or greater, work on muscular endurance.



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