Sunday, June 30, 2024

Inspired Or Pissed?

I am sure most track and field fans have been following the ongoing USA Olympic Trials. Leading up to the trials, there was a fair bit of of discussion about 1500m runner Eric Holt.

Holt (who is 29) ran his fastest 1500m race at the New York City Grand Prix on 8-9 June, finishing 2nd behind Jake Whitman, the 2022 world champion. 

He was interviewed after the race and unlike many other runners he had no sponsorship, calling himself an amateur. He pays for his own running gear and physiotherapy sessions.  That interview led to an article about him in the Washington Post. He worked 13 hour shifts in a psych ward to make ends meet, where he prevents patients from harming themselves. The running team he trains with found him when he posted his extremely hard workouts on Strava between 11 pm and midnight.

Besides living with his parents (which he was feeling embarrased about), his girlfriend also pays for their meals when they do go out. He dreams to be a professional runner and promises to return the favor if he gets sponsored. He wants to prove to sponsors that he is hard working and talented, and that he's not some schmuck (foolish).    

He ends the interview by saying that he's gambling and betting his life, sacrificing everything to be a pro one day.

I thought that was really inspiring since I ran cross-country and track and field in seconday school and can identify with Holt. However, there were other running fans who saw the same interview but had a much different view. 

You can watch a profanity laced video of another track fan berating Holt for his 'sob' story. He thinks Holt should quit running and get another job. He even criticized people like me who would encourage athletes like Holt.

If you watched the critique video, please share your reaction in the comments. There is no right or wrong answer, I am just curious to hear your views.

Today is the last day of the trials. Sadly, Holt did not qualify for both the 800m or the 1500m, but at least he got Puma as a shoe sponsor now.

Thank you for reading and thanks in advance if you share your thoughts in the comments.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Rehab Is Like Snakes And Ladders

I am currently treating a few patients after they have had surgery. A patient with knee partial menisectomy and microfracture surgery, 2 with back surgery and 3 with ankle fractures that needed pins, rods and plates for stabilization.

All of them had some form of setback whilst recuperating. Kind of like playing snakes and ladders. Often we are very eager to roll a 6 on the dice and get a quick ride up the longest ladder on the board. We all want some shortcuts to win and in their cases get back to full training/ competition or living a 'normal' life as quickly as possible.

However, lurking near those big ladders are the big snakes that can send you all the way back down to the lowest level on the board.

That's the risk you take and 'punishment' associated with trying to go too fast with rehab and taking shortcuts. Short term gain often leads to frustration and long term failure.

Granted there are those who will, on occasion, roll lot's of 6's, goes quickly up the long ladders while avoiding the snakes and win. They are very rare though and that should not be our strategy when we start rehabilitation after surgery.

What's the best game plan? Rolling 3's and 4's steadily and steadily make our way up the board. If you get a big ladder great, if not a small one helps or even a small snake. These little wins and losses are not too beneficial nor too detrimental to the overall recovery plan. You will eventually get to the top of the board.

So, do not be seduced by the long ladders because there is always a bigger snake ready to take you all the way back down if you start to gamble on quick fixes over the steady approach.

Slow and steady is the way to do it. You will eventually get to the top of the board.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Does Eating Just Before Sleeping Make You Fat?

My elder son (pictured above) is on a muscle building spree. He's been trying to strength train while eating lots of protein. I've also mentioned to him that consuming protein right before sleeping would lead to greater improvements in muscle strength and muscle size. 

When he was 9 in 2019
He then mentioned that he had watched videos on Tik Tok that suggested that eating just before sleeping will make one fat

Is that what you think too? That eating before sleep makes you accumulate fat because you are resting for many hours after you eat. Well, let me show you that this is untrue. Note that this is with pre-sleep protein consumption. 

Data from men and women show that consuming protein pre-sleep does not change overnight fat metabolism (breakdown of fats to be used as energy). When research participants consume either caesin protein (found in milk, cheese and yoghurt) or a non caloric placebo, there was zero difference in the overnight fuel use or energy expenditure. There was also no difference in the amount of fat liberated from the fat cell measured with a technique called microdialysis.

This may be a big surprise to you as it is often thought that eating before bed will inhibit fat metabolism. Now you know it is not true. Protein consumption helps improve strength, recover from strenuous exercise as well as maintain and improve metabolic and structural health. Evidence suggests that the average person should consume 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Athletes should consume closer to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Pre-sleep protein has also been found to decrease next morning hunger. Adequate protein consumption also promotes satiety, leading to a reduction in over-eating.

Plant protein my son consumes
What type of protein should you eat before bed? Recent literature suggest no difference in muscle recovery after pre-sleep consumption of dairy/ animal or plant-based (rice/pea) combination as long as enough of each is consumed. It also comes down to dietary preference. Most of the earlier research used whey or casein proteins due to a high leucine (thought to trigger growth) content. 

Whey and casein protein were more popular previously due to their ease of digestion and availability. Especially since plant based protein were not so easily available then and they cost more. Most pre-sleep protein research uses casein followed by whey protein since plant-based protein has less leucine. A greater amount of plant-based protein is needed to be consumed to elicit the same response compared to a lower amount of animal-based protein.

Hence pre-sleep protein consumption does not make you gain fat. Now you know.


Allman BR, Morrisey MC, Kim Js et al (2020). Lipolysis And Fat Oxidation Are Not Altered With Presleep Compared With Daytime Casein Protein In Resistance-trained Women. J Nutr. 150(1): 47-54. DOI: 10.1093/jn/nxz186.

Kinsey AW and Ormsbee M (2015). The Health Impact Of Nighttime Eating: Ols And New Perspectives.Nutrients. 7(4): 2648-2662. DOI: 10.3390/nu7042648

Saracino PG, Saylor HE, Hanna BR et al (2020). Effects oF Pre-sleep Whey Vs Plant-based Protein Consumption On Muscle Recovery Following Damaging Morning Exercise. Nutrients. 12(7): 2049. DOI: 10.3390/nu12072049.

Snijders T, Trommelen J, Kouw IWK et al (2019). The Impact Of Pre-sleep Protein Ingestion On The Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response To Exercise In Humans: An Update. Front Nutr. 6(16). DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2019.00017.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Understanding The Recovery Of The Intervertebral Disc

Picture from Wikipedia
I came across a recent paper (Feki et al, 2024) about the positions which help our intervertebral discs recover and heal when we sleep. I have written at least 5 articles on intervertebral discs. This is definitely still a topic that I get questions from most often among my friends and patients alike. Almost every single one of my friends and patients are fearful of having a 'slipped intervertebral disc' whenever they have low back pain (LBP). The intervertebral discs (IVD) have a really bad reputation for causing significant pain and disability in many people.

Here's a quick review if you did not read those 5 articles.

The IVD consists of a very tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosis (AF). It is made of of several layers of fibrocartilage consisting of Type I and II collagen fibers. The AF protects the soft, gel-like substance in the middle known as the nucleus pulposus (NP). The NP helps distribute pressure evenly across the IVD and prevent excessive forces on the spine.

See how thick the AF is from the picture above? Here's something else you need to know. There is a cartilaginous endplate between the AF and the vertebra (the spine). The endplates hold the IVD in place. It allows load to be spread evenly and to provide attachment to the IVD. This creates a super strong connection to the AF making it impossible for the IVD to 'slip' out of position.

Yes, our discs are actually very strong and hardy. How strong are our IVD's? In a published study on thoracic discs in the young (28 years old plus minus 8 years) , it took about 740 pounds of force to compress the disc height 1 mm. For the older subjects (70 years young plus minus 7 years), it took almost 460 pounds of force. Note that these are on cadavers with the muscles and bones cut away (Stemper et al, 2010).

The IVD's withstand a whole variety of complex forces in our daily activities and also when we exercise. This can lead to significant structural changes in terms of volume, area and height of the intervertebral disc. It can lead to an increase in disc stiffness and a decrease in interdiscal pressure.

In order for your discs to remain healthy and strong, it is dependent on a recovery phase which serves to prevent premature disc degeneration. This happens during a period of nocturnal rest i.e. when you sleep at night.

This phenomenon of disc recovery has been documented extensively through many studies using MRI and intradiscal pressure measurement. Fluid dynamics (water content) within the disc are considered a primary factor in recovery, while it's intricate multiscale structure and viscoelastic (behaving with both liquid-like and solid-like) properties also play key roles.

Feki et al (2024) in their review collated, analyzed and evaluated the existing in vivo (human) and in vitro (in controlled environments) on this topic to provide a comprehensive understanding of this recovery process to enable future advancements in medical treatment and biomedical enginerring solutions to enhance the natural recovery processes of intervertebral discs.

As it is a very long (and complex) review article (Feki et al, 2024), I am simply highlighting the optimal recovery positions (pictured below) for intervertebral disc rehydration. 
Picture from Feki et al, 2024
(a) prone (b) modified press up/ push up position (c) supine with under knee and back support
(d) and (e) side lying with lumbar flexion with pillows between legs
(f) and (g) side lying with and without manual distraction
(h) 50 degrees gravity assisted position (i) 110 degrees supported sitting
(j) inclined sitting with lumbar support

So, you see from the pictures that some of the supposedly 'poor' posture/ positions you were told, are actually good for your intervertebral discs.


Feki F, Zairi F, Tamoud A et al (2024). Understanding The Recovery Of The Intervertebral Disc: A Comprehensive Review Of In Vivo And In Vitro Studies. J Bionic Eng. DOI: 10.1007/s42235-024-00542-2

Fournier DE, Kiser PK, Shoemaker JK et al (2020). Vascularization Of The Human Intervertebral Disc: A Scoping Review. JOR Spine. 15: 3(4): e1123. DOI: 10.1002/jsp2.1123.

Stemper BD, Board D et al (2010). Biomechanical Properties Of Human Thoracic Spine Disc Segments. J Craniovert Junct Sp. 1(1): 18-22. DOI: 10.4103/09774-8237.65477

Sunday, June 2, 2024

A Better Way To Train Your Quads

Leg extension exercise
Those of you who go to the gym would have been told to sit up straight when doing the leg extension exercise. Well, perhaps that may not be the best way to do the leg extension exercise. Especially if you want to get bigger and stronger quadriceps femoris muscles (below).

Right quadriceps femoris muscle
A recent study (pictured below) was initiated by Larsen et al (2024) to compare the effects of sitting upright (90 degrees hip flexion) versus recumbent sitting (40 degrees hip flexion).

The participants' right and left lower limbs were randomly assigned to the hip flexion 40 degrees or 90 degrees for the leg extension exercise. Note that 0 degree is no flexion (or bending) in the hip joint, like in standing.The participants in the study had a familiarization session at week 1 so they knew what to do.

The subjects then completed a 10 week training program comprising of 2 strength training sessions each week. This consisted of 3 sets of exercises from week 1-5 and from week 6-10 onwards, 4 sets of exercises. They performed either 15-20 reps of leg extension or if they cannot reach 15-20 reps to failure (where the quads cannot do another rep).

2 pre and post training measurements on the proximal and distal rectus femoris and vastus lateralis muscles were done with ultrasound imaging to compare results.

The findings were that the quadriceps femoris muscle hypertrophied following the 10 weeks of strength training. The rectus femoris part of the quadriceps femoris had significantly greater hypertrophy in both the proximal and distal regions at 40 degrees of hip flexion compared to 90 degrees hip flexion. 

There were however no hypertrophy changes in the distal proximal and distal regions of the vastus lateralis muscle. This finding was expected as the vastus lateralis is a single joint muscle and its muscle length was constant and did not change during both hip positions.

The authors concluded that performing the leg extension exercise with 40 degrees of hip flexion had superior increases in hypertrophy of the rectus femoris muscle compared to 90 degrees hip flexion. So definitely not always true that you need good posture/ exercise form when exercising.

This is attributed to the longer muscle length in the rectus femoris when the leg extension exercise is performed with the hip at 40 degrees flexion. Note that the rectus femoris is a 2 joint muscle where it can both flex the hip and extend the knee. The other 3 muscles in the quadriceps femoris are capable of only extending the knee. This makes the rectus femoris most prone to muscle strain injuries especially when sprinting and kicking.

The authors suggest that training the rectus femoris with 40 degrees hip flexion would make it stronger and offer a protective effect against rectus femoris strain injuries.


Larsen S, Kristiansen BS, Swinton PA et al (2024). The Effects Of Hip Flexion Angle On Quadriceps Femoris Muscle Hypertrophy In The Leg Extension Exercise. Sport Rxiv. DOI: 10.51224/SRXiv.407