Does pregnancy really lead to metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is on the rise in the United States. Some recent research indicates women having one or more children may be at more risk to develop this condition.

What is metabolic syndrome? It is typically classified as a group of symptoms including the following:
Excess central or abdominal body fat High blood pressure High triglycerides Low levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) Insulin resistance Why do people get metabolic syndrome? Some experts believe it is related to certain risk factors such as abdominal obesity (apple-shaped figures), insulin resistance (the body does not effectively respond to insulin and blood sugar cannot enter cells), aging, genetic predisposition, hormonal changes and lack of exercise. In most cases, researchers point to insulin resistance as a primary factor.

If you survey most mothers, they will agree that childbirth changes their bodies dramatically. In many cases, these women will tell you it changes for the worse.

Losing the pregnancy weight is a tough challenge for many new and veteran moms.

A recent study co-authored by the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) and published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology says childbirth is directly related to the development of metabolic syndrome. Consider the following points and statistics from the authors:
Women who gave birth to one child were 33 percent more likely to develop metabolic syndrome Women who gave birth to multiple children were 62 percent more likely to develop metabolic syndrome Among women with gestational diabetes, they were 2 times more likely to develop metabolic syndrome compared to those who had no such complication during pregnancy Gestational diabetes may be a predictor for developing type 2 diabetes Women without gestational diabetes still made up the larger "at risk group" as a whole Weight gain and lack of exercise may also be contributing factors for metabolic syndrome. This study looked at 1,451 women out of a possible 2,787 (ages 18-30 at the onset) over a 20-year period and still continues today. Of the women included, 706 had no births and 745 had one or more births over the duration of the study. The authors feel further research needs to be done to conclude whether reduction in weight, central obesity, and triglycerides after pregnancy may help impact the development of this condition later in life.

Inevitably, the study suggests that a healthy eating plan and routine exercise program is the best way to prevent metabolic syndrome in women, including those simply in the childbearing years. Below are five effective strategies for doing this:
Plan your eating so you can eat three meals and at least two mini-meals or snacks each day to keep your blood sugar level and avoid foods high in fat and sugar Eat an apple about 15-20 minutes before going out to a party or before a big meal as the fiber will help you feel "full" faster and avoid overeating Refuse to buy the "forbidden food" as easy access at home means almost certain consumption Perform no less than 30-45 minutes of strength training three times per week to speed metabolism and increase lean muscle (reduces body fat and body mass index) Incorporate steady state and higher intensity interval cardiovascular training 3-5 days per week to accelerate weight and fat loss. References: Science Daily (September 23, 2009)

Training for sport is an exact science

Ever wonder why coaches choose the type of conditioning they do? Perhaps your child (provided he or she participates in athletics) even grumbles about the coach's conditioning drills. Working with children and adolescents requires a thorough understanding of their bodies and how stress affects them.
Unfortunately, I often witness firsthand how a coach's good intentions may eventually lead to poor outcomes. What do I mean by this? I have seen all of the following in my 11 years as a strength coach:

Overuse injuries (shin splints, stress fractures and muscle strains) related to too much training volume Lack of age- and body-type specificity in training Lifting heavy all the time Sprints at the end of practice to increase speed (this is really just fatigue training) Copying college/professional programs that are not suitable for younger, inexperienced athletes Lack of systematic progression from easy to hard skills Off-season conditioning that actually hinders performance. Today, I want to focus on the last point. I want to raise awareness about this issue and improve conditioning everywhere through education, so coaches can excel in all areas of coaching. I respect and appreciate coaches immensely as I too coach youth basketball and baseball. However, I also know many coaches need further education with respect to strength and conditioning to improve the health and performance of young athletes. That is the sole purpose of this article.

Let me give you a real-world example of how off-season training may hinder -- not help -- an athlete. Recently I have had two current/former lacrosse athletes be directed to engage in long distance running this fall to stay fit as they do not play a fall sport. While running is not inherently bad, the wrong type of running may actually reduce field sport athleticism.

One of these athletes is training to run the Columbus Half Marathon with some other teammates. The other is running cross country. Both of these athletes were instructed to do so by their coaches.

Clearly, the coaches are focused on keeping the athletes in shape, right? Absolutely. I know they believe they are doing a good thing for these athletes. This is where they could not be more wrong. Let me explain.

Lacrosse is an unpredictable multidirectional sport played on a field that involves a combination of different energy systems (anaerobic and aerobic), whereas running is a relatively predictable straight ahead activity that requires the body to rely upon one energy system -- the aerobic energy system. Lacrosse relies on fast twitch muscle fibers and rapid acceleration, decoration and change of direction. Running relies on slow twitch muscle fibers and navigating a pre-set race course. These two activities could not be any more different.

What happens? Ultimately the brain adapts to the current stress imparted on it. With running, it becomes accustomed to using these slow twitch muscle fibers and making the running stride more efficient for distance running. Running also carries a higher risk for overuse injuries (shin splints, tendinitis and knee pain). One of these athletes developed shin splints and knee pain just three weeks into the half marathon running program and had no prior history of either problem during years of lacrosse.

My recommendation was to halt or reduce the running and focus on lacrosse-specific conditioning. Instead, the athlete and parent saw their physician and chose to take Ibuprofen and keep running as tolerated. This is a bad decision for two reasons. First, the athlete lacks proper strength and has poor body biomechanics. This is a recipe for injury. Secondly, the running training will inevitably make the athlete slower and reduce power, agility and reaction time -- all things crucial to success on the lacrosse field.

So, even if the running had no negative impact on health, it is adversely affecting the desired physical adaptations necessary to become the best lacrosse player. I am almost certain these coaches would abandon the running idea and look for a better conditioning plan if they understood this. These athletes would be much better off doing strength, power and speed work 2-3 times per week as opposed to distance running to stay fit and improve performance assuming the only sport they are playing is lacrosse.

Does this mean lacrosse players should not run cross country or do distance runs? In a word, no. If the athlete willingly wants to run, then that is fine. The take home message here is that to achieve specific results you must train a specific way. Running more often makes you a better runner and not a better lacrosse player.

Without proper knowledge and application, a coach's good intentions may in fact negatively affect sport performance and in some cases lead to injury. The player with shin splints and knee pain I referenced illustrates this point. It is the very reason I tell people that exercise is an exact science.

If you ever have questions about training and conditioning, be sure to seek expert guidance to avoid injury and maximize performance.

Brian Schiff, owner of Fitness Edge, is a nationally-known sports and fitness training expert, specializing in injury prevention and return to play for professional and amateur athletes of all ages. Fitness Edge now offers Adventure Boot Camp for Women in Dublin, Westerville, Upper Arlington and Grove City. www.thefitnessedge.cc.