Friday, June 26, 2015

Running Rub You the Wrong Way?

Does running rub you the wrong way? No, I mean literally? If you've ever been a victim of runner's
rash or chafing. you know it's no fun. There's nothing worse than being out on a 10-mile run and halfway through you realize the skin between your legs, in the nether region, is ready to ignite. Well, maybe not realizing you've actually chafed until after the run when the shower water hits the irritated area and you scream bloody murder bringing the entire family into the bathroom, is worse...not that that's ever happened to me.

So, who gets it and why? Really it can effect anyone. Overweight and skinny, new runner and seasoned. Everyone is fair game. Typically chafing is caused by friction between skin and fabric, but it can also be caused by skin-on-skin. Men often experience the skin/fabric irritation at the nipple area on the chest. I've seen a few male runners finish a marathon looking like victims of drive-by shootings with two red dots centered on both pecs followed by a bloody trail down their singlets to their shorts. Not a pretty sight. Women often experience similar chafing in various areas around the straps of their jog bras. I once ran shirtless in only my running shorts, socks, shoes, and my hydration belt. The run went fine. When I later got in the shower I discovered (the whole family did too when I screamed in pain as the shower water hit me) that I had a huge welt at my waist where the belt rubbed me raw and I didn't even know it.

Skin-on-skin chafing often happens between the thighs, but it can happen elsewhere too. Heat and humidity often make great conditions for chafing. So, those of us living in the hot humid South of the USA, are well aware of summer chafing woes.

Below are a few tips for how to prevent chafing and how to deal with it if you already have it.

1. Wear clothing with a closer fit. Men, I've found that singlets and running shirts that fit more snugly in the chest area, reduces the movement of the fabric therefore decreasing the friction between the fabric and your nips. Also, pay more attention to the fabric of your shirts. Not all technical fabrics are the same. Most technical running shirts are made of 100% polyester. Even though two different shirts may be made of `100% polyester, the design of the weave can really make a difference in moisture management and texture. The weave of the fabric can really play a big part in whether it's abrasive or not to your skin. So, when you're in the running store, don't just  buy the coolest looking shirt. Buy the one with the softest fabric. Many technical compression shirts incorporate Lycra or spandex in with the polyester which makes it stretchy and softer. Now I'm not a big fan of the compression shirts that are so tight I feel like a sausage casing when I put it on and start to wheeze because I can't expand my lungs enough to get in air, but I have found they can be useful in decreasing friction. However, when I buy a compression shirt or singlet, I don't buy it for the compression, I buy it for a closer fit. So even though I usually wear a men's small in a normal shirt, in a compression shirt I'll often get a Large. The large doesn't squeeze the life out of me but it gives me a closer fit than a regular shirt.
     Same idea applies to shorts. Running shorts with a lot of excessive fabric may increase the chance of chafing. Also, shorts with a really long crotch may allow skin-on-skin contact that can cause chafing for some. So, buy shorts with minimal leg fabric. Compression shorts are also a good option in reducing fabric-on-skin friction. I see ladies wearing compression shorts and 3/4 running tights all the time. Guys if you don't want all the world to see your manhood, you can wear the compression shorts underneath a pear of running shorts. I've found, if I'm going to do that, cutting out the built in liner of the running shorts is more comfortable when pairing running shorts with compression shorts.

2. Cover it up. Tried altering your clothing and still having chafing issues? Then try covering the affected area(s) with a physical barrier. To protect your nips, try covering them with bandaids. The circular bandaids work well. I've discovered that the waterproof bandaids work best, especially if you sweat heavily. They work so well, in fact that once I used them I discovered I had two water balloons on my chest after finishing a marathon. Kind of embarrassing, but funny too. Felt kind of like a stripper with pasties. Another neat trick it to use Dr. Scholl's moleskin and cut your own round protective covers to place over your nips. The off-brand moleskin tends not to stick as well or as long, so pay a little more for the Dr. Scholl's. There are also products such as NipGuards and NipEAZE which are similar to bandaids, but desigend especially for runners to protect runners' nipples.


3. Slather it on. If a physical barrier doesn't work, try a topical cream or salve. There are many different topical products that you can wipe on, massage in, or roll on the affected areas in advance of your run to prevent chafing or to protect and already chafed area during your run. Some of these you may already have in your medicine cabinet. Vaseline and Aquaphor are two such products. Both can be used to help prevent chafing or to deal with it after you already have it. I've found that Vaseline is a bit messy, stains, and wears off quickly, but in a bind it's better than nothing. Aquaphor actually works really well. It lasts pretty long and doesn't seem to stain like Vaseline. It's also a great soother for chafed areas after the run. Another product you can find at the local pharmacy or drug store is Lanacane's Anti-Chafing Gel. This applies like a gel but quickly dries like a powder. Works pretty well. There are also many anti-chafing products made specifically for runners and cyclists. They include Body Glide, Skin Glide, Run Guard, Anti Monkey Butt Powder, Boudreaux's Butt Paste, and Chamois Butt'r. I personally use and like Body Glide. It comes in a container much like deodorant and you apply it to your skin much like you would deodorant.

4. Try it before Race Day! Whether it's race day clothing or one of the anti chafing products mentioned above, be sure to test them out on several runs prior to race day. Never, never, never, never wear new clothing on race day. Best to discover the shorts you purchased are really an inner thigh torture device disguised as running shorts during a training run rather than on race day. Same goes for the anti-chafing product sample somebody hands you at the race expo. Do not use it on your tender little nips or nether regions on race day if you've not tried it on a previous long run. You don't want to run the risk of it just plain not working or worse, having an allergic reaction to it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Don't Sabotage Your Workout With A "Reward!"

We are definitely a reward-based society. Every time we do something good, we want to be rewarded
or recognized. Nothing wrong with a reward, but let's save it for the big stuff, like finishing training for your first 5K race, crossing the finish line of a Marathon, or setting a new PR, not for finishing your Wednesday night workout.

We have all been guilty at times of using our "workout" as justification for having that treat. "Oh, I just worked out. Now I can have the beer, candy bar, triple chocolate brownie, sundae, or those fries....oh those fries."

Problem is the general public tends to way over estimate their calorie burn from a workout. To give you and idea of what I'm  (male/5'6"/135lbs/50yrs old) actually burning in a typical 1-hour workout, check out the stats below:
Vigorous weight lifting = 372 calories
Circuit Training-Cross Fit = 518 calories
Vigorous Spinning Class = 696 calories
Running at a 10-min pace = 615 calories
Running at a 8:34-min pace = 704 calories

Keep in mind that the stats above are for 60 minutes of solid working out. Not one hour of doing some reps, talking with a friend, doing a few more reps, talking to another friend, and so on.

Big box gyms often come equipped with a smoothie or juice bar. Nothing wrong with that. I've even played around with the idea of offering them here at my fitness studio. Problem is, if you're not the one making the smoothie, you have no idea how many calories are going into that smoothie.

For example, Smoothie King's 20oz High Protein Chocolate Smoothie has 366 calories. So for my one hour of heavy weight lifting, I netted out with a burn of  6 calories, if I treat myself to this smoothie! BUT.....keep in mind ,the 20oz is their small. When I 've been at Smoothie King, I rarely see a person order a 20oz, unless it's for a kid. Usually patrons are ordering the 32oz or the 40oz. For that same Chocolate smoothie, the 32oz packs 549 cals and the 40oz packs a whopping 732 calories. So, if I ordered either of the 2 larger sizes, I've just taken in 177 or 360 more calories than I actually burned working out. Maybe if I had  run for 60 mins the 20oz would be an appropriate refueling snack post workout. When I do my long 20+ milers, I make a pretty high calorie smoothie. I've burned about 2500 calories on the run and my smoothie that I make myself contains about 565 calories and is about 20oz.

You can quickly see if you're not aware of how many calories your burning and what you're treating yourself with post workout, you may just be sabotaging all your hard work. Now I'm not trying to make Smoothie King or any smoothie shop the bad guy. They have a product to sell and for the most part it's a good product. I've never been in a Smoothie King where they've tried to push the 40oz "The Hulk" strawberry smoothie with  1928 calories on me. It's up to me as the consumer to know what I'm eating or drinking.

So how much should you eat after a run? In her book, Food Guide for Marathoners, sports nutrition guru, Nancy Clark recommends you take in 200-400calories comprised of about 50-100g of carbs and about 10g of protein within an hour of running. I tell my runners to try and get it in within 30 mins of completing their run. Now keep in mind the range of 200-400 calories. 400 calories is more appropriate following a really hard speed workout or long run, while 200 calories is more appropriate following an easy run. My smoothie is a little more than the 400 calorie limit, but like I mentioned earlier, I only drink that after a 20+ mile run. Twelve ounces of 1% chocolate milk has 240 calories and 16g of protein. making it a perfect post-run recovery snack for a shorter less intense run. Other good options include Greek or traditional yogurt with added fruit, a bagel with peanut butter, an energy bar (be sure to read the label for calorie and carb/protein content), a peanut butter and banana sandwich, spaghetti with meat sauce, or a turkey sandwich, etc.

Celebrate the small gains you make in your fitness and running with the satisfaction of a job well done, and save those "treats" for the big long-term accomplishments. Save those extra calories for that celebratory victory meal with your friends and family.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Scoop on Poop


If you’re like me and my running buddies, we’ve had conversations about just about everything under the sun while on the run, but for some reason, poop rarely makes the list. Everyone wants to ask, but often don’t. Maybe it’s looked at as a sign of weakness, because it’s something we feel we can’t control. Or maybe it’s because of our 5th-grade nature to make fun of poop…example just recently when the football player pooped his pants during a play making national news.

Well, I don’t’ think much is going to change regarding the humor around poop. It will always be the butt of jokes (no pun intended…well maybe, LOL!). So that’s why I’m writing this post on poop. Yes, there will always be those times where out of the blue, you have a gut attack on a run, and you have no idea where it came from or why? You suffer through the run miserable. But there are some things that can be done to lessen the frequency of poop attacks on the run as well as how to better deal with them when they do occur.

I’m somewhat of an expert on this issue. You see, I have ulcerative colitis-an autoimmune disease which affects the gut. I was diagnosed with UC about 15 years ago. Luckily I’ve been able to keep it pretty much in remission, although what’s normal for me probably isn’t normal for a non UC person. Four bathroom visits In a day is the “new normal” for me. That’s good! A person in the midst of a UC flare can go 15+ times a day. Even though my “remission” keeps things pretty tame, I’ve had to learn how to adapt my running accordingly. Below are a few tips that will help anyone dealing with poop issues on the run:

Happens to the Best of Us: I truly think people don’t talk about this topic or seek help, because it makes us look like we are weak, have no control. Well my best advice for that is “get over it.” Even elite runners have bouts with the dreaded poop attack on a run. Paula Radcliffe had to pull off the course in 2005 to take a dump right there in front of everyone. Finishing with a little lighter load, she went on to win the race. I’ll never forget years ago watching the NYC marathon with one of my favorite marathoners, 9-time NYC winner Greta Weiss. She had diarrhea and was running with toilet paper. Of course the press gave her no mercy and had a camera on her the entire race. Even so, she prevailed and won the race. Uta Pippig, the 1996 Women’s winner of the Boston Marathon won that race with cramps and diarrhea. Even Greensboro claim to tennis fame, John Isner had to take a bathroom break during the marathon match in 2010 with Nicolas Mahut. So, you are not alone. Everybody poops.

Food for Thought: A little advance planning with your eating can be a big help in deterring poop attacks. I’m all about a high fiber diet including whole grains, fruits, and veggies. However, these awesome foods are not very run friendly, particularly long-runs. The day before a really long run or an endurance race or event, cut way back on the complex carbs and high fiber foods. You need to stock your body with glycogen which is the fuel you’ll be using on the run, but the day before, eat simple carbs (regular pasta, white bread, white rice, etc.). Yes…you have my permission to each simple carbs the day before a long run. BUT……these simple carbs should not be laden with a lot of fat. High fiber and fatty foods take longer to digest. So, even if you cut back to only simple carbs the day before a long run or race, if all you ate were Dunkin Donuts, all that fat may still be churning in your gut the next day on the run. A churning gut is not what you want on a long run. So, eat the day before. Eat plenty, but keep it simple and low in fat.

Clear the Gut: Reducing bulk is a great way to prevent bathroom issues on the run. Clearing out the pipes before the run is another good method. Having a routine before a long run and/or race is your best bet. Train your body to go to the bathroom after eating your pre-run meal. It can be done. I’ve found that having coffee with my pre-run meal helps. Caffeine causes peristalsis which is what triggers your brain to know it needs to go to the bathroom. Also, I think the warmth of the coffee moves things along. This may mean getting up earlier to eat, drink, and poop. Those few less minutes of sleep are worth it. A friend of mine that has UC has discovered that drinking a glass of Metamucil before going to bed ensures that he’s able to clear his gut before his run. This may not work for everyone, but for him it helps ensure that he’s “empty” for the run. Note: Do not try this the night before a race, if you’ve never tried it before!!!

Back to That Caffeine Thing: Caffeine is a great energy booster. Seems like just about everything now has added caffeine, even many of sports gels. Problem is that the same caffeine that produces an energy boost, can start peristalsis…what tells your brain you need to poop. So, if you’re prone to poop attacks on the run, ask yourself if they tend to happen shortly after taking a gel? If so, and your gels contain caffeine, try using a non-caffeinated gel and see if you get the same result.

Watch the Sugar-Free Foods: Sugar-free sounds good. Lower carbs means lower sugar and high-sugar foods can sometimes upset the GI tract. BUT...many sugar-free foods contain sorbitol which is known to cause diarrhea. Many sugar-free chewing gums and sugar-free hard candy contains sorbitol. So, check the label.

Stay Hydrated: You greatly increase your chance of GI distress when you sweat out 4% of your body weight on a run.  That's about 5lbs in a 125lb runner and about 6lbs for a 150lb runner. Six pounds sounds like a lot, but you can easily lose that much fluid on a long run. So, go into your long runs and races well hydrated by drinking water throughout the day before the run. Don't drink to excess, however. Then on the run, be sure to replace fluids by drinking water/sports drink throughout the run.

Stick to Your Routine: Sometimes I think I may appear unsocial when it comes to group race trips because I tend not to partake in the group house sharing. I usually get my own hotel room. Reason? Well, I need to know that I can stick to my race morning routine. I need to know that the bathroom will be free. I need to not be worried that my morning blasts will be heard by all. I need to be relaxed and in my normal routine. Nothing will break your confidence more going into a race than thinking, dang I should have gone to the potty one more time.

Wipes to the Rescue: I’ve had runners tell me many different things they’ve used to clean themselves when surprised by a poop attack during a run with no bathroom available. Everything from socks, to race bibs, to leaves. Be careful with using the natural fauna, the one runner I know that thought using nearby leaves was a good idea soon had a bigger issue…poison ivy. OUCH! If you’re prone to bathroom issues and you’re running an unfamiliar route or if you just want to be on the safe side in a race or long run, try packing some wipes. Take 5 or 6 personal wipes and place them in a Ziploc baggie. Press all the air out, then seal the bag. Fold the bag up and put it in a pocket in your shorts, the little pocket on many hydration belts or handheld water bottles, or just pin it to the inside or outside of your shorts.

Acclimation Baby!:  Runner's trots is common among beginning runners. Why? Well increased exercise or just increasing your activity level beyond what your body is used to can cause an overactive GI. Hang in there, your body will adapt. Marathon trainers often experience a similar thing at the onset of their training. Even though they are used to running and have a normally high activity level, when they increase it with added speed workouts and long runs, the body can say , Whoaa!! The body will adapt once if figures out you're going to keep doing this.

“Poop-ouflage”: Prone to bathroom issues? Wear black! May not help with the physical symptoms you’re experiencing, but it will help keep the masses from knowing (at least visually) if you’ve had an accident.

Plot out the Potties: If you’re running city greenways and /or parks, scope out where the public restrooms are located and then plot your running route so that they fall strategically within your route. Even if you don’t need them for a bathroom break, it’s good to know one is along the route just in case. I discovered one such public facility at a ball park along one of our greenways that’s in a perfect location. I can easily run about 7 miles to this location and then do two different out-n-backs from the same facility making for a great 20-mile run. I can use the bathroom if need be as well as refill my water bottle (there’s a water fountain here as well) several times. For race time, find out where the port-o-potties will be located along the race course. If the information is not provided on the race website, email the race director. They should be able to provide you with this information.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Take a Tour!

Check out the video below to take a quick tour of RunnerDude's Fitness and all it has to offer! After the video, be sure to check out our website!


RunnerDude's Fitness Studio Tour from Thad McLaurin on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Perfect Post-Run Recovery Smoothie

The optimal refueling window after a long run is 15-30 mins. With a few ingredients on hand, you can whip up this post-run recovery smoothie in no time and be on your way to a quick recovery! Give it a try!


RunnerDude Post Run Recovery Smoothie from Thad McLaurin on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Know Your Numbers

The scale is a scary piece of equipment for many. Its reading can mean triumph or defeat. Used in the
correct manner, the scale can give you great information about your body composition.

Below are a few tips to make the most of your scale and use to help you evaluate your progress beyond just how much you weigh.


  • Calibrate your scale: You can pick up a spring scale for under $20 at any big box discount store, but the old saying, "You get what you pay for" really holds true with the cheaper scales. Spring scales provide the least accurate reading. If you are using a spring scale (the kind you step on and the needle moves around a dial to reveal your weight), make sure it's calibrated correctly. To do this, have your doctor weigh you or weight yourself on a balance scale at the gym (the type you stand on and move the weight balance to reveal your weight). Once you have your accurate weight, stand on your spring scale and see if there is any difference. Usually, you'll weight less on the spring scale. So, if you're 4lbs lighter on the spring scale, then move the needle on the scale from "0" to "4." This will give  you a more accurate reading.
  • Same time, same place: Keep your scale in the same location, don't move it around. Particularly with spring scales, the more it's moved around, the more likely the calibration will get off. So avoid storing it in a cabinet and taking it out each time you weigh. Also, weigh yourself at the same time each day. Within the same day, your weight can vary +/ several pounds. A morning weight and an afternoon weight can be very different. 
  • Expect variance: Having your weight vary +/ 2-4 lbs from weigh-in to weigh-in is normal. As long as your weight stays within that +/ range, you're fine. If the trend is that it keeps getting higher, that's a different story. Hydration, the types of food you've eaten, the amount of food you've eaten, bowel movements (or the lack there of) can all affect your weight and it has nothing to do with decreased or increased body fat. Just normal fluctuations of your body. Exercise can cause muscles to retain water and eating carbohydrates can cause your body to retain water. You should not avoid either, it's natural. That water retention is temporary and not body-fat weight gain. If you've ever carb-loaded before a marathon, you may have had that bloated feeling and the scale may say you've gained a pound or two. That's actually a good thing. That means your body is retaining some water meaning you'll be well hydrated on race day. During the race, that water will come in handy and you'll lose that extra water weight.
  • Invest in a good scale: While many purchase the spring scale because it's more affordable,
    it really doesn't give you the big picture. All it provides is your weight. Owning or having access to an electrostatic impedance scale will provide you with a wealth of data that will give you more information about your body composition. This type of scale looks similar to a spring scale, but there is no dial. It has a digital display. You stand on this type of scale barefoot (it needs skin contact for an accurate reading). While standing, the scale sends an electrical impulse up through your body. Don't worry, you feel nothing and it's safe. The rate at which this impulse travels determines everything from your weight, body fat %, lean mass, water %, visceral fat, BMR, MET age, bone mass and more. Many fitness studios and gyms have such scales, if you're not ready to purchase your own. Depending on what you buy, you can expect to pay about $60 to several hundred dollars for such a scale. In the studio, I use the Ironman by Tanita and it runs about $150. 
  • Take some data: Now I don't mean keep an obsessive log of each weigh-in, but it's a good idea to periodically record your stats. This gives you a benchmark from which to compare progress.
  • Know your numbers: Have you been working on your nutrition with a weight loss goal and working out? Have you be perplexed feeling like you've lost weight but the scale is telling you something different? Clothes feel lose. You feel better than you ever have before. You're eating smart. But that dang scale keeps saying you've either lost nothing or gained! Well, if you know your numbers, then that weight gain may be a good thing. WHAT? Crazy talk, right? Nope...a good thing. For example, last year about this time, I decided to drop about 25lbs. I was getting ready to turn 50 and I wanted to head off that middle-age weight gain. So, I began to make sure I was getting in "Me" workouts and "Me" runs. While I didn't go on a diet, I did start to be more cognizant of what I was eating and making smarter decisions about what I was eating. As a result I lost that 25lbs. But.....in the past 2 months, the scale has shown a weight gain. Now this would cause a panic in most individuals. Weight gain must mean body fat gain. Right? Not always. Fortunatly I knew my nubmers. In the past two months, I've been upping my resistance training. I looked back my the data I had recorded from my weigh-ins and I saw that my body fat had not increased. It was still at the lower end of the healthy range. What had changed was my lean mass....my muscle mass. I had gained some muscle! Six pounds of muscle in fact! Awesome! This muscle gain actually makes me look even leaner. It also, means I'm stronger and have more muscular endurance which is supporting me on my runs, particularly my long runs. 
  • Men and Women are not created equal...when it comes to body fat: Healthy body fat % numbers for mean an women are apples and oranges, so know your numbers. I can't tell you how many ladies have heard me say their body fat is 25% and they're devastated, when that's an awesome body fat perfect for ladies. Actually the low end of the healthy range for an 18-year old female is 21%. As you know, men and women are physically very different. Women need more body fat. The low end of the healthy range for an 18-year old male is 8%. Men do not need as much body fat. But remember that the young lady at 21% body fat isn't fat because she has 13% more body fat than her male counterpart. It means she's lean and has exactly what she needs for her body to function properly. Below are the healthy body fat ranges for men and women. 
  • Not all body fat % measures are equal: The most accurate way to determine percent of body fat is to do a water displacement test...the "Tank Test." This is the test where you're submerged under water.  While this is the most accurate, it's not the most convenient and it can be expensive. There are several other methods used to determine body fat percent such as the electrostatic impedance scale I mentioned above, an air displacement test, and a caliper pinch test. All of the non water-displacement tests have a +/error rate of 4%. I've had two different clients (one female, one male, one physically fit and one not as fit) have the tank test done. The next day they came to the studio and we checked their body fat using the electrostatic impedance scale. The body fat of both individuals was 4% higher on the electrostatic impedance scale as compared to the tank test. So when using the scale with my clients, I give them a range. If the scale says their body fat is 25%, then I tell them their body fat could be as low as 21% and as high at 25%, both of which are healthy. Determining body % percent at home is not an exact science. The main thing to keep in mind is that if you're not wanting to loose/gain weight, you want the number you see to remain constant. If you're trying to lose weight, you want to see that number get smaller over time. 
  • Don't become discouraged. In today's rush, rush, quick-fix society, we often want immediate results. If you have extra weight you want to lose, it's going to take time. Losing weight slowly over a longer period of time has a much higher "keep-it-off" success rate than dropping a lot of weight in a short period of time. If you're combining exercise along with weight loss, you may not see much change on the scale initially, even though your clothes may feel looser. Just like I described above, you may be increasing your muscle mass while at the same time decreasing your body fat %. So on the scale it may be a wash. This often happens the first month or so. Stick with it and your weight loss will start to show on the scale. Taking girth  or circumference measurements of your hips, waist, thighs, calves, biceps, chest, etc, is also a great idea. After a couple of months of your new diet and exercise regimine, retake your girth measurements and even though the scale may not reflect a huge weight loss, you may discover you've lost an inch in your waist, a half-inch in your calf, a couple inches in your thigh. More proof that your body composition shifting in the right direction.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Labels, Labels, Labels!

Pick up most any food product in your local supermarket and you'll more than likely be bombarded by catch phrases, slogans, and labels. The labels can be confusing. The USDA and FDA are responsible for many of these terms and labels. However, many are engineered by the food industry to help promote and sell their products. They can look and sound very official. The problem is that often the public can't tell fact from fiction and even if they do recognize the officially USDA or FDA regulated terms and labels, they many not fully understand what these labels mean. Trying to buy healthy products for your family sometimes feels like a crapshoot.

I read a lot of professional journals and one of my favorite is IDEA Fitness Journal published by the IDEA Health & Fitness Association. Each year they publish an issue that's focused on nutrition. The March 2015 issue contains an awesome article titled "What you don't know about food labeling could undermine your health" written by Megan Senger. Most of the article presents information on food labeling from experts Brian Wansink, PhD, a marketing professor and behavioral economist expert at Cornell University in NY state who directs the university's Food and Brand Lab and Yoni Freedhoff, MD, a physician, professor, and weight loss specialist in Ottawa, Ontario.

Senger states that the food industry is one of the top advertisers in the U.S. (Chandon & Wansink 2013). $116 billion was spent  marketing healthy fruits and veggies in 2012. 4.6 billion was spent marketing fast food. That's a lot of money. The food industry is using healthy claims to help sell their foods. Unfortunately due to the creative, inventive, and confusing "healthy" terminology, consumers aren't always purchasing exactly what they think they're purchasing.

Below you'll find several USDA regulated terms  that I pulled from Senger's article. You'll also find her explanation of each term so that the next time you're at the grocery store you'll be better prepared to separate the fact from fiction.

Natural: Under FDA jurisdiction (produce and many packaged foods), "natural" and "all-natural" are meaningless. You need to be careful and really inspect  these products to make sure it supports good health. Under USDA jurisdiction (animal products) "natural" has a little more meaning. These products must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. But, be careful, because a natural label does not include any standards on farm practices and does not require the "prudent use of antibiotics" nor does it bar the use of growth hormones.

Naturally Raised: This is a "voluntary standard" which indicates that livestock used for meat have been raised entirely without growth promotants and antibiotics and have never been fed animal byproducts. However this term does not address animal welfare or the use of eco-friendly farm practices.

Organic: Irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides and genetically modified organisms cannot be used on crops that bear the USDA Organic seal. The use of "organic" is regulated on most U.S. foods, however not for seafood. the U.S. has no organic standards for "aquaculture." For livestock this seal ensures that producers have met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed, and provided animals with access to the outdoors. Several various of the label can be used such as " 100% Organic" (meaning all ingredients and processing aids must be organic); "Organic" (meaning it contains 95% or more organic ingredients) and "Made with Organic..." (meaning at least 70% of the ingredients are organic).

Low-Fat: Foods with this label must not have more than 3g of fat per serving. Note: Senger points out that this may not amount to much because low-fat products are on average only 11% lower in calories than the regular versions. The removed fat is often replaced with sugar.

Fat-Free: Foods with this label must have less than .5g of fat per serving.

Reduced-Fat: Foods with this label must have at least 25% less fat than the regular versions of those foods, "Reduced" is only relative to the original product of comparison not to any healthful standard.

Gluten-Free: To meet the FDA guidelines and carry the "gluten-free", "no gluten", "free of gluten", or "without gluten" label, a food product's gluten content must be less than 20 parts per million. Senger states in the article that this is a very "trendy" term and nutritional needs can vary a great deal from person to person and to keep in mind that a gluten-free product by no means equates to a healthier choice.

Grass-Fed: This term applies to ruminant animals such as cattle and sheep that were only fed mother's milk and forage (eating grazed or stored hay, grass, or other greens). These animals must have access to pasture during the growing season. If the "USDA Process Verified" shield accompanies a grass-fed label, this means USDA inspectors have verified the claim. If there is not a process verified shield, then it has not. Note: Grass-Fed does not indicate any limitations have been put on the use of antibiotics, hormones or pesticides. It also does not indicate year-round access to pasture. Be careful of similar labels and terminology such as "grass-finished" and "green-fed." These are not regulated terms.

Free-Range: If you see this USDA regulated label, it means that a poultry flock was provided shelter and unlimited access to food, fresh water, and access to the outdoors throughout the production cycle. However, the quality or size of the outside area and duration of outdoor access are not specified. Note: "Fee-Roaming" is not a regulated label.

Cage-Free: This label means that a flock could freely roam in an indoor or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during the production cycle. This label does not explain if the flock had any outdoor access or if they were raised in overcrowded conditions.

No Antibiotics Added: This USDA-regulated term may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if the producer provides sufficient supporting documentation, but there is no system in place to verify a claim of this type. Note: The term "antibiotic-free" has no regulatory definition.

No Hormones Administered: This USDA term applies to beef and dairy products. This claim is allowed if the producer provides sufficient documentation that no hormones have been used in raising the animals. Note: The terms "hormone-free" and "no hormones" are not permitted on the labels of beef, pork, or poultry products since animal proteins contain naturally occurring hormones regardless of production methods. 

Senger's full article can be found in the March 2015 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. The full article contains more comprehensive information on the above data and it also provides excellent information on  food marketing, how branding affects enjoyment, the "health halo" effect, neurological responses to food marketing, labeling regulations and limitations, "third-Party Labels", and other unregulated food marketing terms. Sounds technical, but it's a great read.