Our Blog - 50/50 Fitness/Nutrition

Robbin’s Adventure.

Stepping in the Doors

I moved to Hadley when I was twelve-years-old, graduated Hopkins, moved away, and then came back.  I saw Energia, which was your original name, but was unsure at first.  I tried doing my exercises at home for a while, but it wasn’t working for me.  After giving up on my home routine, I decided to join you all. I found out you had changed your name and moved into the old car dealership space, where you are now.  I have been here for three years.  Before stepping in the doors, I had never done spinning.  I didn’t enjoy spinning at first, but now I like it.



Turning 60

I was turning 60 this year, and wanted to do something really cool, so I chose a seven-day sport adventure, which required me to have a level three in athletic ability.  That means you have to be in really good shape.  I did Everest in 2013 and trained for a year.  This time, my training was here at 50/50.  I upped my spinning, did two classes in a row frequently, took barre and circuit classes, and felt good.



The Adventure

My seven day sport adventure included the beautiful sights of Machu Pichu, 11,000 feet of climb from Cusco to Lima, salt mines in Chinchero, biking down cliff roads with huge drop offs and no guard rails, hiking across the Incan Trail, rafting through class 3 and 4 rapids, and a 14,000 foot decent that took us 12 hours to get down.  I helped to dye clothing and made my own cup of coffee from bean to cup. One of the hardest parts was the 14 miles into the Mountain of Match Pichu with so many stairs and mountain climbing that took everything I learned in barre classes to help me up.  I even super womaned over zip lines and don’t feel like I am 60 years old.  I had to go over a bridge that was terrible and could not balance well, but my upper body was able to hold on and help me make the walk across.



My Community

I like the group feeling at 50/50, being able to go in and do my own thing.  I don’t feel intimated, or get any grief when I can’t get something.  I do what I can do.  I am kind of a private person, a homebody, but I can walk in, engage in a conversation, and people really like me. I have met some really good friends here. Since joining, I have felt strong, and if I hadn’t been here, there is no way I would have been able to do this trip.  Thanks 50/50!


Something to Think About, and then Do – Moving

Written by Susan Brano

Something to Think About, and then Do is a series of articles to inform you about training and exercise concepts and to provide ways of bringing them into your daily life. So far, you’ve read about core, posture, glute amnesia, cardio fitness, hydration and balance. Our seventh installment is about Moving.

You just finished your 45 minute workout at 5050 and you feel pretty good. You waved your arms and legs around, lifted some weights, did a few moves on the TRX, and stretched. Phew! You’re all set now until your next session in a day or 2, right? Yes and no.

Taking classes and/or working with a personal trainer provide an excellent foundation for a strong, healthy life. They also provide inspiration for wanting to continue. After your workout at 5050, you’ve earned time to relax, read a book, watch a little TV. But you also want to build on that excellent foundation by moving. There is a misconception that for movement to be beneficial, it needs to be ‘exercise’. If you do push-ups or sit-ups or the like at home, that’s great and you should continue to do so. If you don’t, don’t fret. The important thing is to move. That’s what our muscles are made for and that’s what will keep us healthy and strong.


There are many things you can do throughout that day for your muscles. Here are some suggestions: if you’re sitting, move from sitting to standing a few times, maybe do a few squats, swing your legs and arms, roll your neck; take a walk, varying the speed (fast-slowfast-slow); play catch with a person or a pet. Gardening is good, bending up and down (with good form), grabbing and pulling weeds. Yard work of all types: mowing the lawn (with a push mower), moving rocks around (back straight, core engaged), trimming bushes. You can always put on some music and dance! Lastly, a few stretches: reach up to the ceiling on flat feet and on your toes, reach down to the floor, reach up and over from side to side, repeat.

Movement is good for your muscles and joints, and good for your soul. I’ve heard so many times how good clients feel after moving, which is good for my soul.


John’s Story. Back to Energia. Pan-Mass Challenge

I originally started spinning at Leading Edge Gym in Amherst. When it closed I moved to Energia in 2010, before Justin was there. I ended up leaving Energia for a while, because one of the instructors opened a new space in Amherst, but that only lasted for 10 months. When I got back, Justin had taken over and it was clear the energy, vision, and enthusiasm he brought to the business was boundless. When we made the move to the satellite location and became 50/50 Fitness/Nutrition, where Embodied Chiropractic is now, I decided to start personal training.

I was 62 at the time and it was something I could see as a need for myself. I always felt that I was in ok shape for cycling and skiing, but felt that my cardio/pulmonary system and overall upper body conditioning could be improved. I could finally, honestly admit to myself that I did not, and probably would never, have the self-discipline to do this on my own. I had tried personal training once before. The individual I worked with was nice, but there wasn’t the connection I was looking for, something I believe is absolutely critical for success.

I started working with Katie in February 2015. I thought we would be a good fit and that she “got” me. I think we got it right as we are still working together four and a half years later. One of my biggest frustrations at the time was skiing at altitude. I would easily get winded and wouldn’t recover quickly. The improvements I have realized in my conditioning and strength have resulted in my skiing being some of the best and most fun I have ever had. I have stayed with 50/50 over the years because I find the environment welcoming, inclusive and non-judgmental. The sense of community is real and important and is encouraged by the management team. I have found the instructors to be universally excellent with a good mix of different styles, but all lead with a balance of knowledge, inspiration and motivation.



My next goal is the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) in August. It is a cycling fundraising event whose mission is to raise money for life-saving cancer care and research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston through its Jimmy Fund. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is committed to providing expert, compassionate care to children and adults with cancer while advancing the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, cure and prevention of cancer and related diseases. The PMC started in 1980 with 36 riders and raised $10,200. Last year over $56,000,000 was donated to the Jimmy Fund. The goal this year is $58,000,000. One of the most unique aspects of this event is that 100% of donated dollars actually go to Dana Farber,

While I have faced some challenges over the years, they pale in comparison to the challenges faced by my wife Mallorie upon getting a thyroid cancer diagnosis in October, 2009. Intellectually, I thought I would be able to handle that information, but in reality, the emotional toll was completely overwhelming. However, as the days went on and we learned how far the care and treatment of this condition has advanced, in part due to the valuable research made possible by the funding provided through this event, hope and belief displaced the despair. The years have passed and we are happy to continue to report that Mallorie has as clean a bill of health as one can have. It is behind us and we move forward. But not all are so lucky. My 65 year young cousin recently lost her battle with brain cancer in May. We all know someone dealing with this disease and it is vitally important that we continue to raise funding for important research and technology improvements for the ongoing fight against cancer in all its forms.

I am asking for your help by contributing whatever you can to support this worthy cause. My goal is to raise $4000 for this event. Every contribution, no matter how small or how large, is helpful. Your tax deductible donations can be made by credit card directly through the PMC website at www.pmc.org(type in John Stothoff in the Donate link) or mailed to me with checks made out to PMC-Jimmy Fund.

I will be riding with added incentive this year, knowing that my physical efforts and your contributions will help make a difference for those that are fighting so hard. Thank you all.

-John Stothoff

Kat’s Story. Perseverance. Fitness. Art.

“My neighbor Chris invited me to 50/50 as her guest because I was feeling bad and needed more exercise. I took my first class with Justin. It was hard, but I survived, liked it, and knew it was something I really needed. I had tried another local gym for a while, but it was so anonymous there. In Poland, where I was born and raised, you do sports and outdoor activities with others, and it is very social. When I moved to the United States it felt like something extra that I had to do, getting together with people outside of activities, and so I stopped for a while. What I have found at 50/50 Fitness/Nutrition is wonderful people, a great atmosphere, and everything I need.

I knew right away after taking the intro class that I wanted to keep going. I started to feel much better immediately and the instructors were great. I joined just before May Madness, the big team challenge you had, and it forced me to try new things and do more than I thought I could. I learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of.

I am an artist, which is my second career. In Poland I was a professor at a University teaching business psychology, and also did workshops on soft skills. I met my husband here in the U.S., and we talked over Skype for two years before deciding that I would move to his home in Massachusetts. It was a big adjustment. At the start, I had to travel back and forth to give my workshops. I got pregnant, and not long after my daughter was born, my husband got sick. He passed away in 2013 and I had to take care of our daughter mostly on my own, putting only a little focus on myself. It was a very tough time in my life. I took it one day at a time.

I couldn’t teach business psychology anymore. I was grieving, my daughter was grieving, and there wasn’t space for other people in my life, which is why I got into art. Art is something that has been very healing and helpful for me to be happy. I do mostly paintings, mixed media, and collage. I love texture and am creating mostly abstract art at this point. I have a stained-glass studio in my house as well and like to play around with glass in my spare time.

Slowly my life has started to come back to a good and happy state. I have my art, and am about to begin teaching again. Somewhere along the line I met a man who had also been widowed, fell in love, and started anew. We have created a happy family. I started taking better care of myself, especially when I found 50/50 and everything it offers. I have stayed with it because I see so many positive changes in my body and my mind, and when I am happy with something there is no need to be looking for something else.

I am finding people who have goals similar to mine and who are active and healthy. I have found new friendships, which means a lot to me, with people I like, enjoy, and love. It’s been nice to have so many sincere people around me, and such great trainers. It enriches and supports my life. Thank you all, and thank you for listening to my story.”

– Katarzyna Lively

Janis’ Story. Cancer. Comeback. Ferocity.

My career began as an English teacher, but while I loved the students, I felt frustrated with the subject matter. I was offered an opportunity to run a high school library and found that the interdisciplinary nature of the work was exactly what I liked. Over the past thirty years I’ve worked with students from pre-school to grad school, helping them find, evaluate, and assimilate information about every subject you can imagine. Since retiring from full-time work I’ve taught grad classes for Simmons College Library and Information Studies program and have supervised grad students when they go into schools to do their internships to become certified as library teachers.

When I retired one of my first priorities was getting back into shape. I’ve always been a walker, but I added Pilates classes to my routine. When Mindy’s classes moved to 50/50, I came along. Katie occasionally subbed for Mindy, and I, like everyone else in the classes, fell in love with her. She and Mindy collaborated on developing a TRX class that incorporated Pilates principles, so I added that to my exercise schedule.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although I had planned to keep exercising throughout treatment, I had several complications and by the time I was out of treatment I felt like I had lost every muscle in my body. Among other things, I developed thoracic outlet syndrome and weak, sore knees. I went to PT, got stronger, and started working with a personal trainer at 50/50, Michael McCarthy. I enthusiastically went back to my walking, pilates and TRX, but overdid it and ended up with more aches and pains.

Again, I went to PT, but it didn’t help, so I came back to 50/50 and started working with Brittany. She has been amazing. Brittney has taught me how to use the right muscles for each exercise instead of having my back, neck or knees do all the work. It has made a huge difference and I feel stronger and more confident about my ability to exercise without reverting to the old cycle of overdoing it and hurting myself. One of the most unexpected, fun parts of training is punching Bob! I never thought I was the kind of person who could hit something, but after I threw my first punch my inner boxer jumped out! I love it! It makes me feel strong, fierce, and indomitable!

This fall my husband and I are traveling to Tanzania for a safari and in March I am to England with my book group. Our group has been together for 35 years and we always talked about doing a trip together. Now that we are retired, our time has come.

I have stayed with 50/50 Fitness/Nutrition over the years because of the skillful, engaging, fun staff and the sense of community you have built. I feel like I am coming in to talk with friends and have a good time. There is a wonderful mix of ages and a great environment. I’ve gone to a lot of different exercise places over the years. I found the level of teachers to be uneven and the atmosphere felt cold and anonymous. 50/50 is the exact opposite. It’s a pretty remarkable place.

-Janis Wolkenbreit


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Balance. Something to Think about, and then Do.

Written by our trainer Susan Brano
Something to Think About, and then Do is a series of articles to inform you about training and exercise concepts and to provide ways of bringing them into your daily life. So far, you’ve read about core, posture, glute amnesia, cardio fitness, and hydration.
Our sixth installment is about Balance.
Balance is that subtle skill that keeps us from falling. We all have it, to varying degrees, and it is at work all the time. If you’re sitting on a chair or on a Bosu ball, standing on one foot or two, balance is keeping you up upright. If you’re walking, running, skiing, climbing stairs, gardening, bending over to tie your shoes, making your way through an obstacle course…you get the picture, it’s always at play.
The ability to maintain balance is imperative for avoiding injury, improving physical fitness and improving athletic ability. To make all that possible, the nervous system is continually processing input from many sources. Three that are germane to our discussion include visual cues, proprioception and neuromuscular control.
For visual cues, the most obvious one is having your eyes open or closed, an affect that can easily be tested: Stand on one or two feet with your eyes open. Now close your eyes. Losing visual input requires the nervous system to adjust. The speed of that adjustment will vary based on conditioning. Another visual cue that can affect your balance is your point of focus. When you are learning to balance on one foot or on a Bosu, your eyes may wander. This would create extraneous visual input. Focusing on a single object limits the input and helps you balance.
Proprioception, which happens to be one of my favorite words, is awareness of the location of the body in space, i.e., knowing the location of your head, hands, arms, legs, feet, etc., based on input from various receptors. This input is an important component of maintaining balance. Lastly, neuromuscular control plays a primary role in balancing. Like any physical activity, balance is dependent the right muscle(s) being activated at the right time. As you’ve learned in previous articles (core, posture, glute amnesia), using the right muscles can improve mobility and skill, eliminate common aches (e.g., low back pain) and help avoid injury. Likewise, with balance. As you walk, if you are slouching because your core muscles are taking the day off, not only will your gait be affected but your balance will, too, possibly resulting in a trip or a fall. Training your body to improve balance will reinforce your other training and could awaken muscles you didn’t know you had. That’s a good thing! As they awaken and get stronger and learn how to work together, you’ll see benefits in your daily life and in all levels of physical activity.
There are many things you can do at home to improve your balance. Start by standing on one foot but first, to make sure your using the right muscles, check your posture (engage your core, shoulders down and back, neutral pelvis (no excessive arch in your back). Ok, now raise one foot off the floor and squeeze the standing glutes. As you master static balance, challenge yourself by adding some motion. The one that many of my clients have heard from me is brushing your teeth while standing on one foot. That’s a good one because it’s something you do at least twice a day (right?) so you have lots of opportunity practice. You can add a calf raise or leg swing to amp it up. A couple other moves you can do at home include single leg squat and warrior 3 pose (hinge at the hip, neutral back, torso forward, straight arms forward, one leg back).


As a general rule, to progress your balance training, go from 2 feet on the floor to one; from static to dynamic (e.g., swing a leg, toss a ball, touch the floor, hop); change the foundation from fixed (floor) to standing on various pieces of equipment, like that which you may have had the pleasure to use at 5050: black sponge pad, balance disk, Bosu with either the black or blue side up, and our latest addition, the boogie board.
Balancing is fun and very satisfying.
May the force be with you.

Holiday Season Nutrition

Written by Emily Mailloux
Certified Strength and Precision Nutrition Coach

One of the questions that recently came up was: “What are some tips for staying on track with my fitness and nutrition over the holidays?” You’ve been working hard all year, getting those tough workouts in, eating healthy foods, and drinking your water, and the last thing you want is to undo all of your progress this year. But the holidays are just around the corner, and with them come lots of parties and festivities, a change from your regular schedule, and a whole lotta food (and sweets). I’ve got some tips for you below to help you stay healthy, stick to your goals, and still have fun and enjoy the holiday season.

Prioritize protein

When you’re loading up your plate for that holiday dinner, go for the protein first. Look for turkey, chicken, beef, seafood, eggs, or beans, and get that on your plate first. For women, shoot for at least one palm-sized portion of protein with your meal, and for men, two palm sized portions of protein. (Emily’s tip: During the grazing time before the big meal, I always plant myself by the shrimp cocktail and try to fill up on that, and some cheese, instead of loading up on chips, dips, and sweets. Shrimp is an excellent source of protein!)

Veggies next

After you’ve got your protein on your plate, try to load up at least half your plate with vegetables. Look for Brussels sprouts, green beans, squash, potatoes, carrots, or a salad. (Emily’s tip: Be wary of the “vegetables” that are smothered in sauces or loaded with sugar – marshmallow sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, canned cranberry sauce, cheesy vegetable dips, etc.)

Volunteer to bring the healthy dish

Concerned that there won’t be enough healthy options at your holiday dinner or party? Volunteer to bring a healthy dish to share! That way you have control over what you put in the dish, and you’ll be guaranteed to have at least something delicious and nutritious to enjoy at the party. (Emily’s tip: I don’t know about you, but in my family everyone usually contributes one dish at Christmas and New Year’s. I usually sign up to bring a vegetable – roasted squash or Brussels sprouts are some of my favorites – my famous kale chips, or a box of seltzer. That way I know I’ll have at least one good veggie option for dinner and something calorie-free and delicious to sip on instead of alcohol or high-calorie cider or eggnog.)

Keep an eye on alcohol intake

Speaking of alcohol, keep an eye on your intake during your holiday parties this season. Yes, the holidays are a time for celebration and festivities, but you can easily rake in hundreds of extra calories from wine, beer, cider, and spiked eggnog, and that’s in addition to the giant meal you’ve just eaten. Try to limit yourself to 1-2 drinks per celebration, drink slowly, and alternate drinks with water.


This brings me to tip #5 – make sure you stay hydrated! Adequate water is necessary for digestion, so sipping on water before, during, and after your meal will help all that food digest more easily, so you’re not sitting there with a big food baby unable to move after dinner. Drinking water can also help you feel fuller, so you’re less likely to overeat. (Emily’s tip: Fancify your water. I like to take a glass of plain seltzer and add lemon and lime wedges and some fresh mint leaves to feel like I’m drinking a fancy cocktail. It’s calorie free and because it’s so delicious, I find myself drinking way more water – and less alcohol – throughout the evening.)

Eat Slowly

The holidays are a time to enjoy the company of your family and friends. I know all of that delicious food on your plate looks tempting, but there’s no need to shovel it down at lightning speed. Slow down, take breaks between bites to wash your food down with water, and engage in conversation with the people around you at the table. Eat mindfully, taking time to notice how each food item tastes and smells, appreciate the preparation that went into each dish, and recall your favorite or earliest family memories of eating these certain foods over the holidays. (Emily’s tip: It takes your stomach 20 minutes to send a signal to your brain that it’s full and time to stop eating. By that time, most of us have already overeaten, which is why we tend to feel stuffed after a holiday meal. Use that 20 minutes wisely. Finish the food on your plate, then talk to your family and friends around the table. Finish your glass of water. When the 20 minutes are up, if you’re still hungry, you can always go back for more. If you’re not still hungry, then you saved yourself an extra 20 minutes of overindulging yourself.)

Get some activity

I know all that tryptophan from that turkey and the wine you drank are probably making you sleepy after your big meal, but try to get up and move around. A post-Thanksgiving dinner family walk is a great idea, and it’s cold out so you’ll want to walk vigorously! Take advantage of having enough people around to form a team and start a game of touch football in the backyard. Or if you’re feeling really motivated, run a 5K, take in an early morning spin class before the festivities start, or go for a hike. (Emily’s tip: I like to hang out with my little cousins or friends’ kids during holiday gatherings. They’ve always got a lot of energy and love to be chased around, so it’s a great way to get some exercise on an otherwise lazy day!)

Remember that Christmas and New Year’s are only one day

Treat them that way. The holidays have a way of spilling over so they end up lasting from December 24th to January 2nd. That’s 42 days! Unfortunately we all too often allow ourselves to indulge on several thousand calorie holiday dinners, cookies, candy, pie, and sweets for the entire length of the holiday season, so before we know it, it’s January and we feel like crap. Give yourself a day (or two) to indulge and celebrate, but try to stick to your regular healthy and balanced diet on all those other days. (Emily’s tip: I like to stick to the 80/20 rule – 80% of the time I eat healthy, balanced meals with lots of veggies and protein, avoid alcohol, and hydrate fully, and 20% of the time I have fun and eat the foods that make me happy and satisfy my sweet tooth. Apply this rule to this holiday season. 20% of those 42 days is 8 days, which means you get to let loose and enjoy 8 days between Thanksgiving and the day after New Years, but reign it in those other 34 days. Balance is key!)

Have the dessert

Finally, have that slice of pie or cake if you know it will make you happy. Do your best to avoid labeling foods as “good” and “bad” foods. Ultimately, you should be able to enjoy the holiday season without feeling guilty about eating one too many of your mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies. If you’ve been eying those double decker chocolate mint brownies all night, have a brownie (just don’t eat the whole tray!) Listen to your body, celebrate, and enjoy some delicious treats this holiday season.


Happy Holidays and Cheers to a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Feeding Your Brain: The Food-Mood Connection

Written by our Precision Nutrition Certified Strength, Women’s Bodybuilding, and Nutrition Coach Emily Mailloux

Well everyone, it’s Halloween week, which seems like the perfect time to talk about brains! In my last article we discussed sugar, and how eating a diet high in processed foods can impact your physical health. But did you know that the food you eat can also play a role in your mental and emotional health?


Here’s the lowdown

When you eat food, it passes through your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is lined with millions of neurons. The function of these neurons is highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria (or probiotics) within your GI tract. These bacteria are essential to your health – they protect your intestines by providing a barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria, limit inflammation in the body, improve how well you absorb the nutrients from food, and activate the neural pathways between the gut and the brain.


Enter serotonin

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in your body that helps regulate sleep and appetite, inhibit pain, and manage mood (it’s known as the “happy-making” neurotransmitter). 95% of your body’s serotonin is made in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, so the production of serotonin is also affected by the presence of “good” bacteria in the GI tract. Poor GI health can prevent the production of serotonin, so you’ll have less of the “happy-making” chemicals in your brain.


Still with me? Now, if the bacteria population in your gut is out of whack (too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria), it can lead to irritation, inflammation, or full blown “leaky gut” syndrome (a chronic inflammation throughout the body). A leaky gut can encourage more inflammation in the body, which creates a vicious cycle. The resulting chemical imbalance from chronic inflammation is linked to many health problems, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and depression. Now consider that 60 liters of blood are pumped through your body into your brain every hour. If that blood is nutrient-deficient, it interferes with your brain’s function, and its ability to create serotonin.

Food and Mood

So you can start to see that the workings of your GI tract not only help you digest your food, but can also impact your mood and emotions. Without the right nutrients, your brain won’t get what it needs. Studies have shown that eating a diet largely comprised of processed foods and not enough nutrient-dense foods could increase your chances of becoming depressed by up to 60%. That’s a scary-high statistic.

11 Ways to Improve your Health and Mood

So what can we do to improve our gut health, thereby improving our serotonin production and neuron function, and feel better and happier?

  1. First, avoid refined sugars. Multiple studies have shown that a diet high in refined sugars can impair brain function, and has also been shown to worsen symptoms of mood disorders, including depression. These refined sugars also worsen inflammation in the body, which returns us to the vicious cycle mentioned above. Many people have reported that eating processed foods has worsened their symptoms of depression and other mood disorders. Also, simple carbs (high in sugar) can lead to high spikes followed by plummeting energy levels, which has negative effects on mood.

  2. Try to reduce or cut out alcohol, a known depressant, and caffeine, which also leads to energy highs and lows. Caffeine may also worsen anxiety symptoms and promote insomnia (and we all know a lack of sleep certainly affects our mood the next day!)

  3. Increase the presence of probiotics (the “good” bacteria) and decrease the presence of antibiotics (“bad” bacteria) in your gut. You can ingest probiotics from yogurt or from unpasteurized fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, and kombucha, or you can take a probiotic supplement. Whenever possible, buy meat that is organic and antibiotic-free. If you have to take an antibiotic from your doctor, increase your intake of probiotics to balance out the bacteria in your gut while on the antibiotic. Studies have shown that when people ingest probiotics, their anxiety, stress levels, and mental outlook all improve.

  4. Shift your diet from a typical Western diet (high in processed and refined foods and sugars) to more of a traditional or Mediterranean diet (high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, fish, and seafood, with modest amounts of lean meats and dairy.) Studies show that the risk of depression is 25-35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet, as compared to those on a Western diet.

  5. Include protein sources such as turkey, beef, eggs, some dairy products, and dark, leafy greens in your diet, all of which contain tryptophan, an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin and can alleviate depressive symptoms.

  6. Eat more Omega 3 fatty acids (found in fish, nuts, seeds, and algae), which provide building blocks for healthy brain development and function.

  7. Eat more selenium, an essential mineral that the body can’t make on its own. You can get selenium from cod, Brazil nuts, walnuts, and poultry. Selenium works with other nutrients to create an antioxidant balance in our body’s cells.

  8. Drinking bone broth, a stock made from chicken or beef bones. It contains glycine, which can help heal internal wounds, including those in your gut.

  9. Increase your Vitamin B intake, either from foods (meat, eggs, seafood, green leafy vegetables, legumes and whole grains) or through a Vitamin B supplement. Some studies have shown that a deficiency in Vitamin B can be linked to depression.

  10. Increase your Vitamin D intake (either through sunlight, fortified grains, milk, or by taking a supplement). Vitamin D is essential for brain development and function and a deficiency can lead to depression.

  11. And finally, pay close attention to how you feel after eating certain foods. Keep a journal of what you ate and how you felt afterwards, both physically and mentally.


Challenge Yourself

Challenge yourself this week to eliminate one food from your diet, either a known stomach irritant, or something that you’ve been curious how you’d feel without it (some examples: alcohol, sugar, dairy, gluten). Take it out of your diet completely for one week, and pay close attention to how your body and brain feel during the week.

Happy Halloween! Get out there and eat some brain food this week!

Lean Muscle IS Your Friend

Personal Training Director, Jay McWilliams

Strength training = Lean muscle tone

I want to take some time this week to talk about the link between strength training and body composition: two of my all-time favorite subjects. During this July, which is body composition month, I want to try to dispel some common myths regarding the effects of strength training. Many people, both women and men, have a fear that strength training will result in “bulking-up”. Unfortunately, there are a large percentage of people who miss out on all of the wonderful benefits of strength training due to this concern. In fact, strength training often results in a leaner more toned look (the opposite of bulky) and will improve your body composition by simultaneously increasing lean muscle mass and decreasing body fat percentage. Strength training even helps you burn more calories when you are not in the gym. How, you may ask?

Cardio or Strength Training for Higher Calorie Burn?

First of all, muscle mass is metabolically active. Muscle burns more calorie pound for pound than fat, some estimates place muscle calorie burn at 50 calories/pound/day while fat only burns 3 calories/pound/day. This is a huge difference! Increasing your lean muscle mass even slightly will have profound effects on your daily calorie expenditure even on days you don’t make it to the gym. Another benefit of strength training is that your body tends to burn more calories for the 24-48 hours after a strength session than it does after a cardio session. So for all of you counting calories, while an hour on the treadmill may look like it will result in more calories burned than an hour lifting weights, the long-term calorie expenditure of strength training will often be greater. I encourage you all to take advantage of these benefits of strength training. Aim for at least two strength sessions a week. We have great options for strength training from Targeted Training to TRX. Your body (and your body composition) will thank you!

Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Alternatives

Last Week Recap

Last week we answered some of the most common questions about sugar. But, you asked, what about artificial sweeteners or other alternatives to sugar? What are the effects of these sweeteners on your health, and which ones should you stay away from?

Five FDA-Approved artificial sweeteners

Currently, there are five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners on the market: Sucralose, Saccharin, Aspartame, Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), and Neotame.

Sucralose (Splenda)

Is made when chlorine is added to sugar molecules. It is approximately 600 times as sweet as table sugar. Splenda is more heat stable than other artificial sweeteners, so it can be used in baking. However, some studies now claim that ingesting Splenda at high temperatures in combination with fat may produce chloropropanols, a carcinogenic toxin. Studies have also shown that Splenda may not support healthy gut bacteria, which are essential for your body’s absorption of vitamins and minerals, hormone regulation, digestion, elimination of toxins, and your immune function.


Bottom line: Avoid baking with Splenda to be safe. Using sugar substitutes for baking won’t have the same effect, since real sugar is crucial to things like texture and browning of baked goods.


Saccharin (Sweet n’ Low)

Is between 400-600 times sweeter than table sugar, and is often found in baked goods, jams, gum, canned fruit, candy, and salad dressings. Saccharin belongs to a class of compounds known as sulfonamides, which can cause allergic reactions in people who are intolerant of sulfa drugs (a group of antibiotics that includes penicillin). Saccharin can also be found in some infant formula, and some claim that it can cause babies to be irritable and experience muscle dysfunction. It can also leave a bitter chemical aftertaste in the mouth after consumption.


Bottom line: It is probably best to limit exposure of babies, children, and pregnant women to saccharin. However, of the five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners, saccharin is often considered the safest.

Aspartame (Equal)

Is made from the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid, and contains methanol as well. It is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar and is the most widely studied (and criticized) artificial sweetener. It is found in gum, breakfast cereals, gelatins, puddings, and over 6,000 foods. Many diet sodas also used to contain aspartame, but many soda manufacturers are switching to Splenda as a sweetener due to the controversial nature of aspartame. Aspartame should not be consumed by people with phenylketonuria, the inability to metabolize phenylalanine, a molecule found in aspartame. Studies show that high levels of phenylalanine can result in brain damage. Neotame (NutraSweet) is chemically related to aspartame but doesn’t contain phenylalanine. It is much sweeter than aspartame, approximately 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar.

Acesulfame potassium, often listed as Ace-K, is 200 times sweeter than table sugar and is one of the least studied artificial sweeteners. Ace-K contains methylene chloride, a known carcinogen. Long-term exposure to methylene chloride can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver and kidney effects, visual issues, and cancer, and many believe that further testing needs to be done on Ace-K.

Stevia (or Truvia)

Is extracted from the stevia plant and doesn’t contain the same chemicals as the other artificial sweeteners, so it is technically considered a natural sugar substitute, although it is processed before it is packaged and sold. It is 200 times sweeter than table sugar.



So what are the pros to using artificial sweeteners? First, the above artificial sugars can add sweetness to foods without actually adding sugar, and because they are so much sweeter than table sugar, they can be used in much smaller amounts. They also contain negligible amounts of calories (they are essentially calorie-free), which can be helpful for those trying to reduce their overall calorie consumption. They can be used as a temporary solution to wean people off of sugar, particularly among those trying to lose weight. Artificial sweeteners don’t raise blood sugar like regular sugar does, so they can be useful for people managing diabetes or pre-diabetes. Finally, they don’t contribute to tooth decay like regular sugar does, so they are safer for your teeth.



Although artificial sweeteners can be useful as a bridge to help people looking to lose weight reduce their sugar consumption, studies show that this actually may lead to more sugar cravings. When artificial sugar is consumed, it is recognized by the taste buds as sweet, but it confuses the brain, which expects calories after that initial sweetness. When the body doesn’t receive those expected calories, it causes the body to crave more sugar to get those expected calories. This often leads to overeating or binging on sugar after consuming artificial sugars to satisfy those cravings.


The above artificial sweeteners (with the exception of Stevia) are made from man-made chemicals that the body wasn’t biologically designed to process. The body is unable to absorb most of these chemicals, so they sit in your GI tract, causing gas, bloating, or diarrhea. If they are absorbed, the body recognizes them as a foreign substance or toxin, so they are sent straight to the liver for elimination. The liver treats and processes these chemicals much like the way it processes your alcohol intake. Too much of these chemicals can inhibit the liver’s ability to process fats, which can raise cholesterol levels.


Although more research is needed, some experts believe that artificial sweeteners can cause neurological problems, and link them to cancer and other diseases. This link hasn’t yet been proven, and the FDA currently recognizes artificial sweeteners as GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) for human consumption. However, most experts agree that more research needs to be done on the health effects of artificial sugars.


Natural sweeteners

So what about natural sweeteners? Natural sweeteners include honey, agave nectar, pure maple syrup, molasses, raw cane sugar, date sugar, and fruit juice concentrate. They are plant-based, so they don’t contain the chemicals found in artificial sweeteners. However, they are much higher in calories than artificial sugars, so they won’t help with weight loss. Nutritionally, these natural sweeteners are similar to table sugar in terms of vitamin and mineral content. Agave nectar may be safer for diabetics to consume – because of its low glycemic index it doesn’t spike blood sugar in the same way as other sugars. However, honey actually has a higher glycemic index and is higher in calories and carbohydrates than regular sugar, so it’s actually a worse choice for diabetics.

Bottom line

Make a treat a treat. Foods or drinks containing any of the above sugars or sweeteners should be consumed in limited amounts. Stevia may be your best bet for a sweetener. It doesn’t negatively impact your gut health, doesn’t contain chemicals like the other artificial sweeteners, is plant-based, and is calorie-free, so it’s a good choice for those looking to lose weight. However, if you’re using sugar substitutes to save calories, be careful not to replace these saved calories with a treat later in the day. Just because a food or drink is sugar-free doesn’t mean it’s calorie-free, and you can still gain weight if you eat too many sugar-free foods. Your best bet is to limit processed foods, which often contain artificial sugars, and focus on eating whole foods instead.