Dear Mark: Matcha Tea, Runner’s High, Stress and Weight Gain, and Fasting for Teens
Posted Nov 14 2011 12:16pm
Yesterday was the Malibu Marathon (and Half Marathon), and yeah, I snuck a peek. I could never do it myself, not ever again, but I always like to take a gander at the hordes of faithful. Tons of folks in Fivefingers (and even a few totally barefoot runners), about half of whom were either still heel striking, running with a total disregard for midline stabilization, or bobbing their heads up and down like pigeons trolling for scraps of bread. At that point, their heads are in the right place but they’re doing even more damage to themselves. Barefoot running isn’t a panacea. In fact, it opens you up to even more injury if you persist with the same shoe-centric running form you used before. Oh well. They’ll learn. I just hope the lesson takes before any serious damage is done.
This week, we’ve got questions on whether IF is safe for teens, whether the runner’s high is worth pursuing, whether stress can lead to weight gain, and whether matcha green tea matches up to the hype (see what I did there?). Let’s go.
I recently discovered “matcha” tea; a green tea concentrate. What do you think?
Most people would agree that green tea is pretty dang good for you. My wife, Carrie, is a huge tea drinker. I like a cup or two every few days myself, when it occurs to me to brew it or if there’s any left over. Though I’m no connoisseur, I tend to go for the grassier varieties. But what about matcha?
Matcha green tea is made from powdered, shade-grown tea leaves. Well, “shade-finished” might be a more accurate descriptor; a few weeks before the harvest, matcha-designated tea plants are covered with shade. This slows the growth, sweetens and deepens the flavor, and increases the amino acid content of the leaves (specifically L-theanine). Pulverizing the tea leaves into a powder increases the surface area and makes for a stronger, more potent brew. Plus, when you drink matcha, you’re consuming the leaves and all their polyphenols and amino acids themselves. The powder doesn’t get strained out like normal green tea leaves.
This seems to increase the antioxidant activity. First, there’s more L-theanine available. I’ve discussed the stress-reducing benefits of L-theanine before. All good there. Plus, a 2003 study found that the epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) was 137 times more bioavailable in matcha than a traditional leaf-based green tea, and more than three times as bioavailable as the “largest literature value of other green teas.” ECGC is the premier antioxidant on which everyone who raves about green tea focuses. There are EGCG pills, tinctures, and all sorts of supplements.
More EGCG, more L-theanine? Sounds good to me.
I read an article on your site about how in many aspects, sprinting and very low heart rate cardio are better than constant long distance running. But what about the mental effects of long distance running? The “high” I get after a long, steady run is so much better than the “high” I get from sprinting. What would you say to this? Thanks so much and I understand if you don’t have the time to reply!
If you’re going to run long distance, your way is the way to do it. Rather than chasing the numbers, you are enjoying the journey. I can’t really find fault with that. If I’d taken that approach, I’d probably still have suffered the negative health effects of chronic cardio , but at least it wouldn’t have felt like such a chore doing it.
As for the runner’s high itself, we’re still figuring out exactly what causes it. Both endorphins (a sort of natural opiate) and anandamide (an inhouse cannabinoid that binds to the same receptors as THC from cannabis) are prime candidates, but whichever neurotransmitter is responsible, they kick into gear when the going gets really tough and when exertion and the physical stress from running at a high intensity for long periods of time are elevated. And yeah, it feels good. I still remember it. It makes those long runs tolerable, possible.
You know what else made those runs tolerable? Cushy shoes, half gallons of ice cream, and buckets of pasta. With the latest running shoes, I could run 20 miles without my feet noticing. Barefoot or in VFF , my foot muscles let me know to either slow down or stop. Without pasta and ice cream, I don’t think I could have maintained my training. Does that mean those are health foods?
I’m not sure if we can equate the runner’s high to all those things, but there are similarities. Occasionally dipping into one’s natural narcotic stash by way of long distance cardio is fine, and even advisable (that’s what it’s there for, after all), but not every day. This is probably an evolution-selected survival mechanism. It’s a tool used by the body to make an otherwise horrible, stressful, calorically-costly experience seem not so bad. Imagine you are being hunted down by a beast or invading tribe over a period of hours. Rather than just giving up deer-in-the-headlights style (and forever losing the opportunity to forward your genes into the next generation), you can maintain a positive, feel-good attitude while continuing your escape (or maybe not giving up on a long hunt). At least that’s how I picture it. But I’d be wary of using it three or four or five days a week. It IS addictive. Take it from someone who chased that high daily and suffered the costs.
Is it normal to gain weight in the Fall? This happens to me every year and I have ballooned up to my pre-Primal measurements (about 6 inches gained back). I’m lifting heavier and stronger than ever before (I love lifting heavy now) and I still sprint and move frequently at a slow pace. I have unfortunately been indulging more than I did over the summer when I went Primal and I know a lot of that is due to stress. I am a junior in college and living in my first apartment. Is stress partly to blame for gaining back some of the fat? Would attempting to lose the weight now as opposed to when the school year ends add too much stress to my already stressful schedule? Thanks for all you do!
You gotta get a handle on the stress before anything else. The stress isn’t making you gain weight, not directly. The “indulging more” is. However, chronically elevated cortisol levels (a normal characteristic of the highly and perpetually stressed individual) induce insulin resistance, poor carb tolerance, increase hunger, and increase belly fat relative to other areas of the body. So, ultimately, the stress is leading to poor glucose tolerance and more hunger, which leads to more indulging and a reduced ability to handle the food (especially carbs), which leads to weight gain. Gaining more weight can further increase stress, simply because it’s a frustrating thing to experience. It can feed on itself and lead to even more weight and more stress.
I’d actually caution against actively attempting to lose weight without addressing the stress. Studies consistently show that dieting increases cortisol levels , which in turn increases hunger and indicates a general increase in your stress levels. For you, right now, stress may be ultimate cause of your weight gain, so you have to figure it out. Explore meditation . Go for walks . Don’t procrastinate. Be nutrient replete. Get good sleep. Power down from electronic usage before bed. Check out my previous guides on beating stress, like this one and this one .
Do you think intermittent fasting would be safe for teenagers? Animal studies have shown there is no stunting, but what do you think?
If you look at animals, parents always go out of their way to make sure their young get a steady intake of calories. In the pet realm, puppies and kittens need more food for their size than do adult dogs to ensure proper growth. I don’t see why this would be different for people. Humans mature much more slowly than other animals, so a steady caloric intake is probably required for far longer. My son, a teen, eats like a horse. His appetite is insatiable, and I can’t imagine IF going well for him. If he went with a reduced eating window, he’d have to eat 2000+ calories at each sitting. Possible? For him, yeah, but not very realistic in the long haul.
That said, if you can account for nutrient density, caloric intake, and handle the logistics of it all, I don’t see why skipping the occasional meal would be harmful to a healthy teen. I just find it pretty unnecessary. There are many benefits to fasting , but maybe save them for later.
Thanks for reading, everyone. If you’ve got any more questions, send ‘em in. If I went wrong somewhere, somehow, let me know in the comment section. Take care!