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Episode 96: Excellence in Athleticism

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Exercise is often talked about as being a key to good health, however, there is such thing as too much of a good thing. In this episode, Sarah Poulin, fitness expert, joins us to share her insights on fitness for the casual mover and when it’s gone beyond that.


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The content of this podcast has not been evaluated by Health Canada or the FDA. It is educational in nature and should not be taken as medical advice. Always consult a qualified medical professional to see if a diet, lifestyle change or supplement is right for you. Any supplements mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please note that the opinions of the guests or hosts are their own and may not reflect those of Advanced Orthomolecular Research, Inc.

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Welcome to Supplementing Health, a podcast presented by Advanced Orthomolecular Research. We are all about applying evidence based and effective dietary lifestyle and natural health product strategies for your optimal health. In each episode, we will feature very engaging clinicians and experts from the world of functional and naturopathic medicine to help achieve our mission to empower people to lead their best lives naturally.

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[01:10] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: Welcome everyone to a new episode of Supplementing Health. Today we are talking about a really exciting topic which is excellence in athleticism and lessons in fitness for the casual mover. We have with us today Sarah Poulin who is a certified nutritionist, health coach, lifestyle blogger and definitely, I think, someone who has a lot of expertise and experience in this field. Both with the excellence of athleticism and bringing a lot of these concepts back home so that we can integrate it into our daily lives no matter what your fitness level is. So, welcome and thank you so much for being here Sarah.

[01:57] Sarah Poulin: Thank you so much for having me. I am super excited to bring my viewpoints into these topic discussions and I’m just super excited to be here.

[02:10] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: I think you strike a really interesting balance between helping people engage in their fitness but then also making it very relatable and accessible which is very important to do. You talk a lot on your website about the freedom of fitness rather than pivoting to this obsessive culture. Why do you think it is so easy for it to become an obsession and how do we start to avoid that?

[02:45] Sarah Poulin: That is a really great question. I feel that this can target a lot of individuals who maybe have been doing it and people who are just beginning as well. When I think about my own personal journey and others that I have worked with, obviously, a lot of people go through this phase of really being so obsessive and diving into the point where there is obviously a point where the lifestyle is healthy, but when does it start becoming obsessive and it is taking away from our life? In reality this lifestyle that we are starting this endeavour on, it should be adding to our life. It should be bringing more peace and more balance and confidence and empowerment. It becomes very destructive for a lot of individuals. I think a lot of that comes from when you start, the results are very quick. A lot of people get the mentality of “okay, more is better.” They keep thinking “okay, I need to work out six days per week. I need to eat less. I need to keep doing more and more to try and get the results but obviously if you understand metabolism in the body, there is a point where you are actually doing more damage than good, but also taking away from your life.  A lot of people when they start this process as well, I think they are at a point where they want to fix themselves and they are at a point when they are so uncomfortable, they are upset, they are hating how they look and how they feel in their current space. So, they try to do all of these things at once and they become so obsessed and so enveloped in the process of it, that it again, is taking away from the point of doing it, which is obviously health but obviously too, to add to your life.

[04:43] Sarah Poulin: The issue with a lot of this, I find, is that it ends up creating a lot of resentment within the process. They like it at first, they are getting the results and things are going really good and then a plateau happens. I also see this a lot, is it creates this all-or-nothing mentality. They are all in, they are super strict and they are doing all of the things, but then life happens and then it makes them go all out and it creates this very up and down imbalanced relationship with fitness and food that people don’t find very sustainable. They are not getting the result that they are looking for and it is creating a lot of resentment and then shame toward themselves, and they feel defeated. I am diving down two different paths. But when you start hating it, then what is the point of doing it? I think the biggest thing is making sure you are doing things that add to your life. A good question that I like my clients to ask themselves is, do you see yourself doing this in six months or a year? Does it seem realistic? If the answer is no, then you need to figure out how you can incorporate this for the long term.

[06:05] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: I think you’ve touched on some very important points. One was around the shame of when we are doing something almost with motivations that are unexamined. If we don’t understand why we are doing it, sometimes, we digress into it and again that builds that resentment which you’ve touched on. We see that it is a fine balance because athleticism has often been positioned as a point of excellence. If you can be athletic, then you are excellent. I think you said something really interesting which is the metrics that we see, where we are seeing improvement and then when that plateaus. Do you help your clients pivot what those metrics for success are? Are you helping them expand so that it is not just a weight loss strategy but other metrics? Are you often incorporating measurements or different ways that aren’t just weight loss?

[07:18] Sarah Poulin: Yes. Really, I hate surrounding everything around weight. Again, not to bring it back to my own personal journey but everyone is all about weight loss, but through my journey I gained 30lbs. When does weight really matter? Obviously, there is some extent, yes. With a lot of my clients, I like looking at how are we approaching things. Going into the all-or-nothing mentality, a lot of people go all in on their diet and they are not eating out, and they are not enjoying the foods that they enjoy or whatever it is, and then the moment that life happens, or maybe they slip up and they have it, they start to snowball from that. I think it is important and it is something that I work on with my clients, it is helping them learn to navigate these things so that it can blend in with their goals and also, how are they treating themselves after? Are they eating something and then being super guilty and shameful? Why? Why are you so mad that you ate a cookie? Again, coming back to what is serving you and what is not and assessing progress in many factors. Weight is really such a small piece of it. When people start to understand how to assess progress outside of that number and into how they are feeling and how they are viewing things, and when it comes to fitness obviously gaining strength in there and feeling more confident in your skin, does weight really matter anymore? I think it is such a freeing thing when client can step away from valuing seeing the scale down constantly and they are valuing other parts like “oh my gosh, I allowed myself to do this and now I don’t feel like crap.” Or they are going to the gym and they hit a new squat PR. Those kinds of things, are how I like to teach my clients. It is more about the relationship with the scale and understanding it essentially.

[09:24] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND:  I love that so much especially with the patients that I work with and even research, you see that health behaviour change models often require some deep core value that is being addressed before you start making those changes. I think what we have been sold is “yes, just change the way you look and hit this certain number.” I appreciate the fact that you are shifting that narrative. You alluded to the fact that exercise can have lots of positive impacts outside of that weight loss. Can you speak to how exercise can be beneficial in very specific conditions? I am thinking things like reversing insulin resistance which we know there is this link with regular exercise. Can you delve into some of the mechanisms of that?

[10:20] Sarah Poulin: I guess for the listeners just diving into insulin resistance and what that is, essentially it is your body no longer being responsive to insulin due to its high constant demand of needing it and therefore, it is not effectively shuttling glucose into the cells for energy anymore, so therefore it is just remaining in your bloodstream. I guess diving into the mechanisms with it – first, I think that a lot of people think that to help your glucose levels and gain more insulin sensitivity is to cut all carbs and cut all sugar. That is effective but is it sustainable? Most likely, no. I think a lot of people when they hear exercise, they think it needs to be this high impactful, stressful, exerting exercise to be effective for what they are looking for. Whether it is weight loss or something like this that is more internal. I find for myself and for my clients and for a lot of individuals, the most effective thing you can do for insulin resistance and weight loss is just walking. Walking has so many beneficial benefits as far as mentally it provides a meditative state, it boosts your energy levels, it promotes better digestion and improves motility, reduces cortisol, stress and anxiety, which then has an impact on your stress levels, which also has an impact on your insulin resistance.

[11:57] Sarah Poulin: A lot of the times insulin resistance is a compounded effect of the lifestyle that we live today, high stress, low nutrient quality, sedentary jobs which leaves our body not being responsive to utilising that glucose anymore because we are so sedentary, and we are not using it effectively within ourselves for energy essentially. Therefore, we have these constant high levels of glucose which then can lead to type 2 diabetes. It is like if you are filling up a cup, it can only hold so much water so if you are constantly consuming so many carbohydrates and sugar and energy for your body, but you are not effectively using it, that cup is going to fill up and spill over. You can no longer fill that cup with your glucose for energy because there is no more room for it. As far as, again, the impact of insulin resistance on the body, have you ever read the book The Cortisol Connection?

[13:10] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: I have not, no.

[13:11] Sarah Poulin: It is very good at explaining how the day-to-day life that a lot of people live now and the impact of cortisol on top of that insulin resistance and how that has such a big impact on it. I find that walking can be extremely effective for a lot of individuals, just increasing your step count. Also looking at our day-to-day lives. They are very sedentary, and we have a lot of stress in our lives. Stress is going to cause this cortisol response as well, which is also going to release glucose in your bloodstream. If you think about the cortisol response or that sympathetic nervous system response, it is supposed to help us fight or flight, but now we are getting stressed out and we are getting that cortisol response and we are getting glucose broken down into our bloodstreams from sitting in traffic and getting mad or sitting at the computer working on a work project. Our body is no longer utilising that energy that is being broken down from that response to stress and not being effectively shuttled into our bloodstream, so it is causing again, that same repeated pattern and then our body is no longer effectively shuttling those nutrients into our cells. Going back to the exercise part, when we walk or do resistance training, I want to dive into that in a minute. Let’s go back to the walking, we are converting that glucose that we are consuming into energy and we are utilising it, the food is being broken down into glucose in our bloodstream, the pancreas signals insulin and insulin shuttles it into our cells.

[15:00] Sarah Poulin: If we are sedentary that process doesn’t happen because we are constantly trying to fill those energy stores but there is nowhere else to put them. Simple movement like walking can help. Like I said, you get a lot of those other benefits but also improve insulin sensitivity. Going into resistance training, I think if there is any kind of exercise that you should do, it should be walking and resistance training because building muscle is also going to improve and reverse insulin resistance. That is also going to change your body composition. If you have higher body fat, it is going to cause more insulin resistance because you have less uptake of that glucose into your cells. If you have more muscle mass, the way I like to word it to my clients to make it simple is, if you have a lot of muscle you have to constantly be feeding it. It is like a bunch of little babies inside of us that need to be fed. If you build more muscle, you have a higher energy demand. That glucose is going to be taken up more into our cells and our tissues and utilized versus circling into our bloodstream and causing that resistance factor.

[16:15] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: I think the consistency of it must be key, right? We can’t just have a casual walk every few days. It is the consistency and the length of that walk. Are you recommending that it is an intensive walk at a brisk pace or is a casual stroll sufficient?

[16:37] Sarah Poulin: I think it again goes back to – this is diving into a topic that I will dive into in a minute. Looking at the individual, what is their current habit? If we have someone who is super sedentary and they are barely moving throughout the day, so maybe just getting to their desk or to the fridge, whatever it is, like their day-to-day tasks. Then, okay, let’s just incorporate some more consistent walking so ten minutes or fifteen minutes. Then it could be working up in that increment. Let’s shoot for twenty and make it more brisk or let’s shoot for a higher heart rate. I think people get overwhelmed too because they think it needs to be like this to be effective, but it is more “okay, let’s look at where the person currently is and let’s work one step ahead of that so then they can 1) not get overwhelmed with it and 2) start to build the habit of doing it, instead of trying to go from nothing to going into a slight jog. They are going to be like “holy crap, that was the worst thing I have ever done. I can’t do that again.” Yes, consistency is definitely important. Walking is something that can be super consistent for a lot of individuals. Just cleaning your house. I tell people that if you want to get some movement then clean your house and that will work on your step count or your daily movement for the day as well.

[18:07] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: It is amazing how easy it can be sometimes to not move, especially if we are working remotely and we are working on computers. You look to these stories and these high competing Olympic athletes, obviously yourself, you are very engaged in this world and consistent with it. It can be really inspiring but it can also be really intimidating. I think one of the key values or the key personality traits of Olympic athletes or professional athletes seems to be this dedication. Again, it is the consistency. The commitment to making it part of everyday. What are some of those lessons that you think that the everyday athlete can take? I know you said start simply and understand where you are at. Can you expand on that anymore?

[19:01] Sarah Poulin: As far as the lesson that we can take from more dedicated individuals and competitors like Olympic athletes, that is the question, right? Okay, I think there are definitely a few key things that we can take away. The first thing is, obviously, they are elite for a reason. That is what they live and breathe. That is their lifestyle. There is a lot of mindset or skills that I think we can acquire not just for our wellness journeys but as a parent or a new business owner. I think that the biggest skill is learning to delay gratification now. Learning to always ask yourself and act upon what is going to project me forward for tomorrow, for next week, a year from now to get to where I want to be? For example, if you are just starting out on your fitness journey or you are building your new business or you are getting ready for work tomorrow, you have to learn to start delaying that gratification to be comfortable now and work on how do I want to feel tomorrow or next week. If it is starting your fitness journey then maybe that is learning to not eat the cookie every night because we are bored, to help us work on maybe it is our insulin resistance or maybe it is just our weight loss journey, whatever it is.

[20:29] Sarah Poulin: It could be investing in your savings to start your passion. That means less spending money now on instant gratifying things and saving that money for something bigger. I think one of the biggest things that we can take from these individuals that are so dedicated into this lifestyle is learning to delay that gratification. If you think about these athletes, they are delaying a lot of comfort. They are sleeping instead of spending time with their friends. They are dieting or being on some kind of nutrition regimen over the holidays because they have the Olympics coming up or they are missing out on time with friends and family because they need to practice more. They learn to delay that gratification and the longer they do so they reap those larger rewards. I think a lot of individuals who are starting their journey if they can learn to delay that need to feel comforted or gratified or validated now, or seeking into their behaviours that aren’t helping them, it is going to be really fricking hard at first because it is uncomfortable, and you have never felt that before. Once you start realising that you stuck to your plan this week so here is the reward, “I feel better, I am sleeping better, I have more energy and maybe I got some weight loss too.” Delaying that instant gratification, I think is really what projects people within their journey and for more of the elite athlete getting to that higher position, I guess you could say.

[22:16] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: That is so interesting. Something that sometimes we need to hear to then motivate us – it is to have your larger goal in mind and keep that at the forefront for motivation. Now that we have established that fitness is obviously very important and it is a very important pillar, how do you help the individuals that come to you build that routine and the plan to make it more sustainable to make it really effective?

[22:50] Sarah Poulin: I really like that question because when someone is trying to start something they usually look at all of the different diets that are out there or maybe someone that they know was successful with something or they go on google and find all of the things that they are looking for. The problem with a lot of those things is that it is seeking something that isn’t specific for them. Earlier I mentioned with the walking thing, that you need to look at your current starting space and see what that looks like to start building upon it. For example, a lot of individuals that come to me, especially women, are typically undereating especially in the protein department. If I have a long-term goal of them eating over 100g of protein or something but they are only eating 40g, I am not going to start them there. It is going to be more from 40g, let’s try 50g and from 50g, lets try 60g. I think it is important for each person to look at their current space and not let all of the noise of all of these things that you need to do, and all of these different regimens and guidelines and boxes to fit in to be successful, and just build upon your current space. I guess going into my next point with it being effective and sustainable, is you have to build habits and then you have to build confidence within them. If you highball it, let’s say you go from zero days of working out to six, you might do it for a week, you might do it for two, but then more than likely life is going to happen, it is going to be very unrealistic and then you are going to feel like a failure because you didn’t reach the six days that you felt like you needed to do. When in reality you started at zero, maybe you should shoot for two and get confident with it. Let me show up for that really consistently and then once I do so, maybe let’s add three and see how consistent I can be there. I think again, looking at that starting space and building in the things that are going to help you move forward instead of going from point A to point B all at once.

[25:04] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: Are there specific tools? I think a lot of times people are waiting to start their fitness journey until they get a gym membership or until they get the proper yoga mat, or they get their Fitbit watch. Are there tools that you need or do you find that all of that is noise?

[25:23] Sarah Poulin: I think it depends on the person. I think a lot of people are usually looking for guidance because there is so much noise and so many things out there. To support…I think one of the biggest tools that people need is to build a strong mindset to build a big belief system in themselves and learning to trust the process. Because again, most people want results yesterday and when they don’t get that, they think they are failing so they turn to those sabotaging habits that keep them from moving forward because they feel like they can’t do it. I think building a strong mindset – whatever that might look like for that person. It might just be learning yourself. Am I telling myself that I can’t do it before I even begin? Do I give up after I mess up for a day? I went out to eat and then I snowball from there. The foundation of it all, I really think is a strong mindset. If you don’t have that, you have to seek that by either a) learning yourself or b) have someone guide you so they can instil that belief and that confidence and that strength in you until you inherit that.

[26:46] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: I love that. Also, that person can be someone who helps guide and utilise those tools. I always say, we can look at your sleep wake cycles or we can look at those different lab tests, but until you understand how to interpret them, all of those values are meaningless unless there’s context. I think what you can offer is that context for people. Now, shifting gears a little bit but still on the topic of tools for fitness and health, are you utilising any supplementation? Is that something that can be important in specific cases and what do those patients usually look like?

[27:29] Sarah Poulin: I think supplements have their time and place for sure. Again, even for myself personally and the client, looking at what are their current eating habits and how can we start incorporating more nutrient density there and more wholesome foods there to provide a more bioavailable forms of foods instead of supplements. A lot of people think that they have to buy the protein shakes and the green supplements and all of these different things. Again, I think a lot of this stuff is noise, instead let’s look at our current eating habits and what are some things that we can start to modify there to meet our goals and our health profile. I do think that there are some foundations within supplementation. Especially for myself personally, I think omega 3s like the EPA DHA is a really great one if you are not consuming a lot of fatty fish which a lot of people, I would say don’t consume a lot of fatty fish on a week-to-week basis. I think an omega 3. A multivitamin is a good one especially if you are trying to reduce your intake, like your food intake, you are not just decreasing calories you are also decreasing nutrients. If you are going into any kind of cut or deficit a multi I think is definitely important to plug in there. There are some other specific supplements that I like to utilise for some clients. A lot of people struggle with digestive issues and sleep issues sometimes, and sometimes it is just looking into their lifestyle habits. Are they including complex carbs? Do they have vegetables in there? Are they looking at their phone a lot during the day or are they going to bed at weird crazy times and not allowing a lot of parasympathetic rest? There are some supplements that I think can help but at the end of the day supplements are supplements. You can’t fix things through supplements, but they can help progress you as you are changing those lifestyle things. For example, some things that I like to include when there is more stress in your life or you are dieting because dieting is essentially a stressor on the body, things like ashwagandha is a really good one, theanine, b complex, maca. Those are all ones that I have personally incorporated for myself. They are basics that I think a lot of people can benefit from.

[30:03] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: You also said that you see a lot of women with low protein intake. I definitely experience that in clinic as well. It can be quite difficult to get it at the right amounts that we need. Do you rely on any particular types of protein powders or recommend any specific ones?

[30:26] Sarah Poulin: Yes. Again, protein powder, is it a must? No. If you want it, I think it is great to add variety and help individuals who struggle with their protein intake. I still think that foods are going to be superior. You don’t want to be consuming protein powders for three out of your four meals or something like that. It is something that I use usually once per day at least just because I like the variety. As far as a preference on that, I personally like a whey isolate. It is the most bioavailable form. It is usually a lot easier to digest. It usually has less carbs and fats in it. As far as specific brands there are so many out there, I think finding one that tastes good to you, usually chocolate is one that I think you can’t go wrong with. Again, is it a must? No. Everyone thinks that you need to have it. The other issues that I see sometimes with protein, not so much powder but all of the bars and stuff that they have out there that are protein, it causes a lot of GI distress. People don’t realise that until we take it out. Then they realise like “oh my gosh I am not bloated anymore; I am having normal BMs now” and stuff like that. I think it is important to use it again as something to benefit you and help you, but not to rely on.

[32:04] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: Absolutely. I think sometimes people chug too much protein all at once, whereas naturally, when we are eating and consuming high protein foods it is more slowly introduced to the system rather than this huge hit all at once. Also, I think that supplementation is meant to just be that, it is an additive and a tool, and like you said, with all of the tools there is a right time and place for them. Do you tend to have a basic formula that you utilise in your coaching that balances the type and intensity of physical activity as well as the diet and supplementation regime as a base? What is your process if you meet a new client? How are you thinking about starting on this? You have given us some really great examples of how you tailor recommendations to individual needs. Do you have a skeleton formula that you use?

[33:11] Sarah Poulin: I do. I hate saying this because I don’t want people to go use it and then rely on this, but I do like to calculate BMR and look at their current activity level and look at their current breakdown of what their intake is as a blueprint. Because at the end of the day calculating your BMR, your basal metabolic rate for people who don’t know that, it is not specific to you. It is a guideline to what your current age, height and weight is, but it is not a set-all, be-all until you learn to apply something and see how your body is responding. Essentially when clients come to me, I look at their current intake, I look at these numbers that I calculate, and I meet in the middle. Again, going back to that protein example, if they are only consuming 40g of protein and they want to build more muscle and look ‘more toned’ we have to increase that intake and support more protein synthesis. We have to start incorporating to go from 40g and get more consistent with 60g. The same thing with other macro nutrients if they are consuming too many fats or too many carbs or vice versa, whatever it is. I create a blueprint based on that but then when I start working with the client, we can see how the body is responding to what we are applying.

[34:34] Sarah Poulin: Maybe, for example, individuals who are under eating and we start slowly increasing their intake the first couple of weeks they usually feel super satisfied 1) because we are focusing on more nutrient quality, and 2) they are eating more than what they were and their metabolism was so adapted to the low intake that they were taking, but then once they start getting consistent with that, their hunger cues start coming up and then we can start introducing more food and more food so that we are fuelling your metabolism rather than pulling away from it. I am not sure if that really answered your question. As far as the movement, again, it is looking at what is going to be feasible for them and their lifestyle. If they are a mom and they have two kids and their husband is gone most of the day, they probably can’t work out five times per week. Okay, let’s do two. Usually, I like to focus a lot on progressive overload and building muscle because I think even as a woman it is very important to build muscle, it is very empowering. Helping them get consistent with that and learning to be intentional with their training, versus just doing a million different things in the gym or at home wherever they are doing it, just to get it checked off or whatever.

[35:58] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: I love that you said about the empowerment of building that muscle. When you can now lift something, or you integrate those movements into your daily life, you are like “I couldn’t have done that before.” That is a big moment. Thank you so much for this information. I think it is really valuable and what you have done is simplified it for people. You don’t have to be the Olympic athlete to move, you just need consistency and that mindset of knowing your larger goals and committing to them and then some guidance. I know you have your website fitfitnessfreely.com that is launching and your social media. Where can everybody find you?

[36:49] Sarah Poulin: Like you said my website fitfitnessfreely.com you can also find me on Instagram. That is where I am most active @sarahfitfitness. I do have a private Facebook group if you search fitfitnessfreely it is where I do a lot more in depth – I am also doing monthly workshops right now where I am providing more hands-on information. I like to do ‘lives’ to talk more about the mindset that goes into the journey so you can join that community. That is it.

[37:27] Dr. Nirat Nibber, ND: That is great. Again, thank you for your time. Our listeners I think will all have taken a lot from this.  

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Thank you for listening to Supplementing Health. For more information about our guests, past shows, and future topics, please visit AOR.ca/podcasts or AOR.us/podcasts. Do you have a topic you want us to cover? We invite you to engage with us on social media to request a future topic or email us at [email protected] We hope you tune in again next week to learn more about supplementing your health.

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