Nutrition Updates

It seems every few months I am asked about what foods do I eat before a workout and/or "i'sn't it better if I exercise on an empty stomach?"  It just so happens that recently a couple of articles in my PT magazines help to answer those questions.

 There are various hormones that help with digestion and the utilization of fats.  The main hormone is cortisol, which is highest in the morning and lowest in the late afternoon/evening.  Cortisol helps the body utilize fat as a fuel for energy.  Hence, exercising first thing in the morning when cortisol is highest will increase the utilization of fat calories.  But here's the rub....the release of these fatty acids is then stored in the gut if they are not used for fuel.


There is now research to show that fasting, low to moderate intense exercise first thing in the morning is a short term way of helping to achieve a specific body composition.  After a period of time the body, being the very adaptable organ that it is, will become very effecient and therefore not burn as many fat calories.  You may want to keep in mind that it is the overall caloric expenditure during whole of the day that counts and not just first thing in the morning.  Some who work out first thing in the morning simply do not like to eat that early.  These people should be encouraged to a low-moderate workout to properly use the cortisol-fat burning technique and have a well balanced meal within 45 minutes of their workout.

BOTTOM LINE:  Fasting exercise first thing in the morning at a low to moderate intensity can help to burn more "fat" versus "carbohydrate" calories.  However,  the overall goal should be to burn more "total" calories throughout the day.


The best pre workout meal/snack will be high in carbohyrates with a small amount of protein and fat.  Examples:  nonfat yougurt/cottage cheese with fruit OR hardboiled egg with toast OR peanut butter and banana OR low fat cheese on half bagel.

Avoid foods that are hard to digest or are high in fiber.  While generally high fiber foods are important in your overall nutrition, high fiber foods are hard to digest and may cause stomach upset. Avoid high fat foods which tend to "sit" in your stomach causing a lethargy/sluggishness.  Lastly avoid high sugar foods.  these foods may provide a "rush" of energy they also are quickly utilized by the body and leave you feeling depleted.

Functional Fitness: Training the fascial system November 2014

Beneath our skin is a collection of collagen fibers, similar to tendons and ligaments, called fascia.  From head to toe, giving us shape, protecting muscles, organs, joints and bones, this elastic and resilient material allows us to bend, turn, run and jump with efficiency and function.  Fascia is a tissue of stability, reaction and a regulator of movement. It is changing the way we think about fitness and exercise.

The understanding that fascia is a singular, adjustable and elastic tissue/organ that traverses the whole body leads us to a new approach to

  1.  Restoring natural posture and function
  2. Preventing and repairing consequences of injury
  3. Restoring resilience and ranges of motion

Fascial Meridians.jpgblue indicates some of the fascial lines that run from head to foot, front and back

Anatomists and researchers note that this fascial web is sensitive, dynamic, multidirectional and highly adaptable, with over 10 times more nerve endings than your muscles have. (Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists, Churchill Livingstone, 2009) 

Fascia responds to physical, emotional, medical and pharmacological stimuli by laying down a “patchwork” of repair cells commonly referred to as adhesions or scar tissue.  These adhesions can have a number of negative effects.  For an example, your right shoulder problems could be the result of fascial adhesions and stiffness in your left hip and/or leg.

 Massage therapists commonly call these adhesions/scar tissues “knots” or “triggers”, needing to be massaged and lengthened.  It is common now in gyms and pesonal training programs to see foam rollers, tennis/lacrosse balls and rolling pins that clients and patrons can use to “self-release” these triggers and aid in restoring the fascia’s elastic and functional properties.

When new clients are referred to me, I have them fill out a confidential, in-depth questionnaire, and then I perform a physical and movement assessment.  This assessment tells me a story of how your body (fascial system) responds to your daily activities, past injuries and medical history. For example, a client who sits and works at a desk most of the day will demonstrate rounded, stiff shoulders and upper neck and poor range of motion in the hips and ankles.  The client’s fascial system has grown thicker and stiffer in response to the chronic sitting and desk work. Thomas Myers in his book “Anatomy Trains”, describes the fascial system as a series of guy wires that provide a balanced system of tension in response to movement against and within gravity.  He has traced fascia from head to toe, back to front and spirally within the body.  This helps to explain why someone with right shoulder pain is found to have left hip or ankle dysfunctions that have altered the mechanics within the fascial lines that incorporate the shoulder musculature. 

So what do I want you to glean from this?  Your body is designed to move in varying planes, under varying loads and in various tempos.  The fascial system can help us decide how to train our bodies more efficiently and to become truly functional.  Whole body exercises that minimize excessive isolated joint tension, allow joint(s) to move efficiently in all three planes of motion (front to back, side to side and rotationally). 

For example, below are various exercises that demonstrate movement in multiple planes.


We now know that movement training along fascial lines, improves balance, agility and dynamic strength and should be included as part of the fitness program.

How do you start?  Begin by incorporating 2-3 movement exercises into your current routine.  Think of it as a movement day instead of a “chest” or “back” day.  Start with small, single ranges of motion and work up to full multiplanar motions. Try doing your same exercises standing rather than sitting.   Research information on “loaded movement training” through

 Not really sure?  Contact a certified personal trainer who has experience with movement based exercises.  A qualified trainer will assess your current program, assess your current movement patterns and start you on the right movement exercises based on your goals.

Trainers familiar with or are certified in the National Academy of Sports  Medicine assessment screen or the Functional Movement Screen by Gray Cook will be the most qualified.  As always, I am here to assist you in your fitness quest and journey.  Should you have any questions please contact me 703-307-6280

ASK THE TRAINER - Helping you make better decisions for you body

This time of year many friends and clients ask me for the best way to lose weight.  Whether the goal is to look better in shorts and short sleeves, or to play better golf or tennis, it is urgent (I’d like to lose 20lbs by yesterday!).  Often people look into and decide to go on various “diet” programs which either limit their overall calorie intake (often too low) or limit a specific nutrient, carbohydrates for example.  Many of these programs involve purchasing their “unique” supplements and meal replacement options.

Losing weight is mostly within our control.  It can involve getting enough sleep, maintaining an active lifestyle and sticking to a well-balanced diet. Of course, some weight issues are not within our control.  Where you store extra calories and how you metabolize food is influenced by genetic factors as well as by medical conditions and medications you may be taking.

Let’s take a look at some areas that are not within your control. 

  1.  Aging:  We tend to lose 5-10% of our lean/muscle mass starting at the age of 30.  This loss of muscle mass decreases our metabolism.  If you don’t lower your calorie intake or increase your activity level, the result will be extra calories stored as fat. 
  2. Insulin Resistance:  It is estimated that over a third of Americans have some degree of insulin resistance, diabetes or pre-diabetic condition.  Insulin resistance, also called metabolic syndrome, means that your body’s cells are not utilizing insulin properly to break down the sugars in food that is used for energy.  Insulin continues to be released however.  Because the cells aren’t using the insulin properly, sugar in the blood remains elevated.  Medical conditions often associated with insulin resistance are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, overweight and heart disease.
  3. Thyroid medical conditions:  Whether high or low, the hormones your thyroid produces can either over or under-stimulate your metabolism.  While the underlying cause of thyroid conditions is unknown (except in the cases of tumors, or tumors induced by medication), your doctor can routinely check your thyroid levels and help keep them in balance.  Interestingly, menopausal women tend have symptoms of an underactive thyroid after menopause possibly due to the lower estrogen levels.  Please talk with your physician if you experience some or any of the following symptoms:
    1. Underactive Thyroid:  feelings of sluggish, weight gain with no changes in eating or exercise habits, dry skin and increases in muscles aches;
    2. Overactive Thyroid:  feeling like you’ve have been drinking high caffeine products all day long, weight loss and insomnia.

Let’s look at some areas you CAN control.

  1.  Sleep:  Recent studies show that getting 6-8 hours of sleep helps to decrease stress hormones and to balance the hormones (ghrelin and leptin) that influence hunger and satiety(that feeling of fullness).   
  2.  Adding more lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables plus having snacks help to keep your metabolism up.
  3.  Losing as little as 5% of your bodyweight helps to influence how the body’s cells utilize insulin to process the sugars from food.
  4.  Increasing your lean/muscle tissue with weight training and increasing your aerobic calorie expenditure help to increase your metabolism. 
  5.  There has been a lot of information about how breakfast affects weight loss. What IS known is that eating a balanced (protein, carbohydrates and fat) breakfast kick starts our metabolism, helping to increase our metabolism, energy and focus for the day.


Go to to help YOU determine your caloric and exercise needs.  First the formula will help you determine how many calories you need to maintain your current weight.  This website will also help you decide what you need to do to lose weight.  It will also help you decide how many calories to consume if you want to gain weight. 

Remember: The best approach to weight loss is a balanced one of reduction in calories, increase in aerobic activities, and beginning or, in some cases changing, your weight training program.   A few websites that will help you learn more are:,,

You can also solicit the assistance of a certified personal trainer through your local community center, fitness studio or personal reference.  Go to to find a certified trainer near you.

As always, I am available for you questions and/or comments by contacting me at or visit my profile at


In Health, Marsha


In our last session we discussed the “core” muscles and learned that there are actually 29 muscles that make up your core.  They include the all the gluteal muscles (maximus, medius and minimus), hip muscles, back and abdominal muscles.

Today I would like to offer you ten exercises to stabilize and strengthen all 29 muscles that make up your core.

Remember, check with your medical practitioner and/or physical therapist if you have any questions.   STOP any exercise that causes discomfort or pain.

If you’re just starting, begin by performing 12 repetitions and work up to 30 repetitions.

1.    BRIDGING:  Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor.  Pull your belly button in towards your spine, curl your tailbone up, squeeze your buttocks and push your hips toward the ceiling.  Pause at the top then lower your hips back down to the floor.

2.    HIP ABDUCTIONS:  Lie on your right side with your legs stacked on top of each other.  Your body should be in a straight line.  Tuck your arm under your head to support your neck.  Tighten the top leg and raise it up about 6-8 inches. (If you raise it too high it will not focus on the muscles that you need). 

3.    HEEL SQUEEZES:  lie on your stomach.  You can place a small pillow under your hips to protect your lower back.  Put your forehead on the back of your hands. It will protect your neck.  Bend your knees and put your heels together.  Squeeze your heels together, pause and release. 

4.    OPPOSITE ARM AND LEG RAISES:  While still on your stomach, extend your right arm straight out. Tighten the muscles in your right shoulders while tightening your buttocks and raising your left leg.  Pause then lower your right arm and left.  Complete all repetitions then repeat with left arm and right leg.

5.    TORSO LIFT:  Again on your stomach, put arms by your sides, palms facing down.  Place your forehead on the floor, chin tucked in.  Pull in your belly button, squeeze your flutes and pinch your shoulder blades together.  Slowly lift your chest and arms off the floor.  Pause then lower to the floor.

6.    THE PLANK:  Yes, you are still on your stomach!  Push up on your arms, place your elbows under your shoulders and rest on your forearms, with your hands pointing forward.  Pull your belly button in, squeeze your gluteal muscles (buttocks)  and lift your hips off the floor, so that you are resting on your elbows, forearms, and the balls of the your feet.  At this point your body should be level from your shoulders to your ankles.   Try to hold this plank position up to two minutes.  Work up to the two minutes slowly.   Start by doing six, ten second holds.  Then four fifteen second holds, three twenty second holds, etc.  Work up to holding for a full minute, then two.

7.    LOWER LEG ROTATIONS:  Turn over onto your back.  Bring your knees up and place feet flat and legs together.  Pull in your belly button and place your arms in a "T" position.  Slowly lower your legs to the right, toward the floor.  (You want to keep your shoulders on the floor so you focus on the oblique abdominals.)  Pause, then "pull” your legs back to the starting position.  Repeat all repetitions to the right, then  go to the left.

8.  STRAIGHT LEG RAISES:  Lie on your right side, stacking your legs one on top of the other.  Your body should be in a straight line.  Tuck your right arm under your head for support and roll your hips slightly toward the floor.  Tighten the muscles above your left hip just below the lower rib cage and slightly raise both legs off the floor.  Pause then return to the start.  Repeat all your repetitions then roll onto your left side and repeat the exercise.

The last two exercises are done standing and help to prepare you for all your activities.

9.  STANDING OPPOSITE ARM AND KNEE LEFTLIFT:  Stand with feet hip- width apart, keeping your chest high and abdominals tight.  Raise your right arm straight up to the ceiling while raising your left knee up to your left hip.  Repeat all repetitions on this side, and then perform the exercise with the left arm and right knee.

10.  STANDING STEP BACK WITH ARM REACH:  Stand with feet hip width apart, chest high and abdominals tight.  Raise your right arm to the ceiling while stepping back with you right foot.  Be sure to flatten your foot against the floor.  Squeeze your buttocks, pause then return to the start position.  Perform all your repetitions before working the left side.

With springtime on its way, many of us will start to renew our outdoor activities.  Whether it’s golf, tennis, walking or gardening (just to name a few) a strong core will help your perform better, longer and avoid overuse injuries. 

Next time, we will talk about high- intensity interval training, its benefits and how even beginners can benefit from a modified approach to this new way of working out.  Whether it’s with kettlebells, weights, biking or walking, you will be able to get more bang for your workout dollar and health.

In Health, Marsha Mann, M.E.S.  703-307-6280


Too many presents to carry, bending over to wrap them, toting the holiday tree and let’s not forget the hours of standing to shop, cook and wait in line.  Our lower backs take the brunt of all these activities and more.  During this exceptionally busy time it’s important to maintain the “health” of our back and yes ourselves.

Two of the most overused stretches when someone has lower back discomfort are the knees to chest and hamstring stretches.  While these stretches are important they are not the primary stretches I use with my back clients.  Why, because where you feel the discomfort may not be the problem area.  In fact, most clients who initially come to me with low back pain have tight (& weak) muscles in the front of the thigh, chest and “core”.

If you haven’t been diagnosed with a disc or spinal issue such as herniated disc, stenosis, etc., you can address muscle weaknesses and imbalance and alleviate your lower back discomfort.

Try these exercises and stretches and let me know:

  1.  Standing tall with feet shoulder width apart, raise your right arm to the ceiling and your left knee to your left hip.  Pause then repeat 12 times.  Then repeat with left arm and right knee.
  2. Stand facing a wall/back of chair with feet hip width apart.  Place your hands on the wall for support, raise your right knee to hip height and (gently) swing your right ankle side to side
  3. On the floor, lying on your back with knees up and feet flat, tighten your tush muscles and push your hips to the ceiling 12-15 times.
  4. Then roll over to your stomach and place your forehead on the back of your right hand.  Extend your left arm above your head placing the thumb to the ceiling.  Gently and slowly raise your left arm and right leg slightly off the floor, pause then repeat 12 times.  Repeat with right arm and left leg.  You want to feel like the muscles in the back of the shoulder and tush are “lifting” the arm and leg.  And don’t go too high that will over extend the muscles.

*Remember to check with your physician if you have a medical reason for your back discomfort.

While these exercises and stretches will help with your back discomfort they do not replace exercises you have been given by your physician, physical therapist or chiropractor.  Many lower back issues may be caused by other musculoskeletal problems such as a shoulder, knee or foot injury.  These injuries impact how the body move and stabilize.