Advanced Nutrition Made Simple

Here is my first “special guest posting”  by my friend Frances O’Neil who is not only an outstanding nutritionist but a life-long elite endurance athlete. I love her writing and believe that is offers benefit in a scientific yet assimilable way. Let me know what yo think. PK

Dietary Glycemic Load, What Is It and Why Should I Care?

by Frances O’Neil, R.D., M.S.W., C.D.E.

The majority of Americans have been on a diet at some point in their lives.  Maybe it was a low fat, high carbohydrate diet popular in the 80’s and early 90’s, or the more recent high protein, low carbohydrate Atkins-type diet.  Whichever it was, the likelihood that the weight was gained back and then some and the individual ended up with at least the beginnings of a chronic disease are very good.  If this is you, listen up.  Research in the area of chronic disease is shedding some much needed light on how the typical American diet is contributing to chronic disease and what changes need to be made to reverse it.

According to a report in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008, “higher after meal blood sugar is a universal mechanism for disease progression.”  It goes on to state “significant positive associations were found for type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gall bladder disease, breast cancer, and all disease combined.”

The typical American meal contains rapidly digested and absorbed carbohydrate which creates sharp fluctuations in after meal or “post prandial” blood glucose levels.  These sharp fluctuations have been linked to appetite stimulation.  The high blood glucose levels that are produced require a larger amount of insulin to be delivered into the bloodstream.  Higher insulin levels block the body’s ability to burn fat and increase fat storage.  When fat can’t be burned, our appetite and food intake increases.

Maybe some of you are thinking the high protein, low carbohydrate diets are the way to go.  Well, I’ll l give you ½ credit for that.  The problem is such diets allow protein sources that are high in unhealthy fats and at least start off being very restrictive creating unnecessary and, for some people unbearable, stress.  Lastly, these diets are just that, diets.  They have a beginning and an end.  To be healthier and lose weight and maintain that healthier, lighter body (the hard part), one needs to commit to a lifestyle change.

So what to do?  Well, by now you’ve probably figured out that you need to keep your post prandial blood glucose excursions to a minimum.  This is where the concept of dietary glycemic load comes in.  The concept was developed by Harvard School of Public Health professor and researcher Walter Willett, M.D., and his associates as long ago as 1997.  Glycemic load is the degree of rise in blood glucose levels and insulin demand produced by a specific amount of a specific food.  A food’s glycemic load is determined by several things most of which are included in the number assigned to carbohydrate containing foods see:

The principle of glycemic load is illustrated in Dr. Willett’s “Healthy Eating Pyramid” see:  In his research, Dr. Willett takes issue with the USDA’s “Food Guide Pyramid.”   He points out that the USDA pyramid deems eating refined starches acceptable.  It does not distinguish between proteins that contain healthy fats and those that contain unhealthy ones and it recommends too much milk.  The USDA pyramid, around since 1992, is a widely recognized and deeply entrenched icon within American culture. The American public, nutrition and public health experts have come to appreciates it’s well-honed and colorful message.  Dr. Willett was out to change people’s minds and to put the government’s pyramid out of business; an epic challenge for anyone.  Some of Dr. Willett’s healthy eating principles also called into question industry giants, think dairy and beef, who have a long history of using their political muscle to influence the USDA’s recommendations.  As a result, Dr. Willett’s pyramid has yet to see the light of the day.   Be advised, it is not my intention to lead anyone to believe that Dr. Willett’s way is the only way, but his guidelines do keep blood glucose fluctuations to a minimum, include suggestions for eating healthy proteins and fats, strongly enforce other critical lifestyle changes, allow for great flexibility in terms of quantity and apply to most every healthy individual whether you’re captain of the recliner or an NFL lineman.  Dr. Willett also has a book, Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, (2005), Free Press/Simon & Schuster Inc.

If you want to get off the roller coaster and improve the quality and quite possibly quantity of your life, it’s worth a peek.  And remember, lifelong good health requires a lifestyle change.  So before you start, consider the following…  If you or someone you know has a chronic disease be it hypertension, diabetes, etc., the doctor prescribes pills to help manage the condition.  On the bottle of pills, it states, “take one (or more) everyday.”  If the person chooses to take the pills simply when they feel like it, the condition remains uncontrolled.  A quality life requires a daily commitment to living healthier.  Every day becomes on opportunity to “get better.”  But you have to “take your pills.”  They may be bitter at first and an inconvenience, but when you start to feel better, taking your pills becomes a walk in the park.




Understanding Risk Of Brain Injury Among Football Players

This is an excellent article article that discuss’s the legitimate concern that many parents have that their son might sustain a concussion or other brain injury like CTE while playing football. I’m leading with an interesting question posted by an observant reader and answered by a former NFL linebacker and leading expert on athlete brain injury Dr. Jim Kovach.

Reader Comment “The initial discovery of CTE in football players, alarming as it was, focused on 36- to 50-year-olds with brains resembling 80-year-olds. Then CTE was found in a 21-year-old football player at Penn who committed suicide despite no previous concussion symptoms, plus an 18-year-old multi-sport high school athlete who died of undisclosed causes.  So it’s plausible that CTE is not caused by concussions?

Response by James Kovach M.D., J.D. “CTE is strongly associated with the underlying presence of accompanying brain trauma, therefore the issue is one of differential onset – why are players of different ages developing CTE.  Genetic differences between individuals like play a large role.  In this scenario, these younger players may have specific genetic variations that make them much more sensitive to the effects of head trauma than other players.”

Dr. Kovach is the Founder of Athleticode, a company which I co-founded and is committed to athlete safety. PK

Palm Beach Post by Hal Habib

Almost before she knows it, Lisa McHale will have two sons entering high school. In many families like hers, that would be a time for helmets and pads and Friday night lights. The boys’ father, Tom, after all, spent nine seasons in the NFL, finishing his career in 1995 as a guard for the Dolphins.

But young Matthew and Michael won’t be taking up their father’s sport.

Whatever football dreams they may have once had appear to be waning, Lisa says, and even if she hears occasional nagging, she refuses to let them play.

Two years ago, at 45, Tom died of what was ruled an accidental combination of oxycodone and cocaine. The latter years of his life were marred by pain and painkillers, but it wasn’t until his autopsy that Lisa learned that repeated blows to his head caused a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Symptoms include depression, impaired decision- making and dementia. It has been discovered in autopsies of about two dozen football players, including Pahokee’s Andre Waters, a former Philadelphia Eagles safety who committed suicide in 2006.

If parents of high school football players took any comfort in considering CTE a risk only for players with extended careers, that rationale has vanished. Now that CTE has been discovered in a player only 18, McHale is one of many parents concerned about the long-term effects of concussions.

The question they ask: Should I let my child play football? Especially after of a week in which violence took center stage in the NFL with numerous illegal hits on defenseless opponents.

“If the kid really has a passion to play football, and he’s good, you let him play,” says Dr. Robert Cantu, a senior adviser to the NFL committee on head injuries and director of the Neurological Sports Injury Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “If he does not have a passion to play, then that’s the wrong sport to play.”

Doctors recognize danger

It’s an issue that came up in the homes of Charles S. Theofilos when his son Nick said he wanted to play football, and Anne Morgan when son Marshall did likewise.

Today, Nick is a running back and linebacker at The Benjamin School and Marshall is an offensive lineman at Dwyer High. The consent by both parents is noteworthy because they’re doctors who treat concussions. Theofilos is Benjamin’s team neurosurgeon.

“I’m in the stands, but if there’s an issue, I’m on the field in about 10 seconds,” Theofilos says. “Trust me, you haven’t seen a dad fly over the fence so fast.”

Officials estimate there are 1.2 million concussions annually in youth sports and about half the sufferers returned too soon, if they left the game at all.

One concussion Theofilos dealt with was to his son, three years ago in a golf-cart accident rather than football. Nick’s injuries were so severe that three days passed before he realized he also had broken his hand.

Theofilos kept his son out of sports for roughly six months after the accident and describes himself as “ultra conservative” with head injuries.

He’s getting company. The initial discovery of CTE in football players, alarming as it was, focused on 36- to 50-year-olds with brains resembling 80-year-olds. Then CTE was found in a 21-year-old football player at Penn who committed suicide despite no previous concussion symptoms, plus an 18-year-old multi-sport high school athlete who died of undisclosed causes.

The concern is magnified because concussion damage is cumulative. Get one and you’re at greater risk for another. Plus, developing brains require less impact to suffer concussions and take longer to heal.

Many are looking toward the NFL for direction, yet opening weekend saw two Eagles players sent back into their game with concussions, which isn’t supposed to happen under the league’s tougher new directives. Last weekend, there were so many devastating helmet-to- helmet hits that they triggered a raging debate on how to protect players’ safety while also maintaining the physical nature of the game.

The NFL fined three players a total of $175,000 and issued a video illustrating hits that could lead to suspensions, ejections and fines, even for first-time offenders.

Athletes, coaches uninformed

Athletes are often in the dark, many saying “no” when surveyed on whether they’ve had a concussion. But on follow-up questions, when the word “concussion” was removed and players were asked if they had experienced various symptoms associated with the condition, the percentages were significantly higher, illustrating either a lack of understanding or a reluctance to admit the problem.

“A kid has got to be honest with you,” says Darrell Hunter, whose son Darrell Jr. is a Dwyer receiver.

Darrell Sr., who suffered a concussion while playing for Jupiter High in 1990, adds, “Obviously, it’s one thing if you get a kid who’s walking in the wrong direction or is falling down. You know something’s wrong. But you might have a situation where a kid gets his bell rung and never says a word. I’m not trained to see it with my eyes and I don’t know if a lot of coaches are.”

McHale can answer that. She has found that coaches are not only uninformed but remarkably blasé.

While trying to learn why her husband died, she came to know Cantu and Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard football player and professional wrestler who co-founded the Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit in Boston that studies traumatic brain injuries. Last year, she made what she thought was a can’t-miss offer to officials of youth football leagues in her Tampa neighborhoods: For little cost, Nowinski and Cantu would share their expertise in a clinic for coaches.

“There was just no interest in it,” McHale says.

She pulled her sons from the league.

In a sense, McHale shouldn’t have been shocked at the cold shoulder. Even her husband, who had firsthand knowledge of the damage concussions can cause, pushed the issue to the back burner.

“Before we even had any children, my husband used to say he didn’t want his sons, if he had any, playing tackle football until they were probably 13 or 14,” McHale says.

The catch: “Never once – ever – did we have a conversation about concussions.”

Tom’s concern was neck injuries.

Concussions? “Just an innocuous injury that you played through,” Lisa says.

Three years ago, Illinois high school player Kelby Jasmon told The New York Times, “It’s not dangerous to play with a concussion. You’ve got to sacrifice for the sake of the team. The only way I come out is on a stretcher.”

During Super Bowl week in Miami this year, the NFL held a news conference to support youth-sports safety legislation. Gov. Charlie Crist participated, but Florida is not among the 10 states to adopt the measure thus far.

Currently, the National Federation of State High School Associations mandates that any player showing signs of a concussion must leave the game and can’t return until cleared by “an appropriate health care professional.”

Palm Beach County Athletic Administrator Yetta Greene says most events are overseen by certified trainers and some by a doctor.

“The days of the coach saying, ‘Suck it up and go back in’ – those days are obviously over,” says Greene, adding that a recent point of emphasis is to notify parents of possible concussions.

Experts recommend several safeguards for parents:

  • Ask your school, league or coach about the training that is required. How often is a doctor or trainer present? What is the return-to-play policy?
  • Teach players symptoms of concussions – and risks. This could prevent situations such as the reported case of players rehearsing answers so that if they were knocked woozy, they might placate trainers.
  • Don’t forget practice. Cantu would like to see more practices without helmets to reduce hitting, since players spend significantly more time practicing than playing.

“This afternoon, literally hundreds of thousands of kids will go to practice where nobody on the field has any understanding of it,” McHale says of concussions.

One study estimated that high school football players receive 1,800 hits to the head per season in practices and games.

“Anything they can do to adjust the rules and the equipment for protection, they ought to do,” says golf legend Jack Nicklaus, who played football in his youth and whose grandson, Dwyer High tight end Nick O’Leary, is a top prospect. “It’s very macho to knock somebody’s block off, but when you knock somebody’s block off, let’s hope they didn’t get hurt.

“I’m concerned about it. Everybody’s concerned.”

‘Fix it before it’s too late’

Steve Walsh is. An NFL quarterback for 10 seasons, Walsh once suffered a concussion and also played alongside Troy Aikman and Merril Hoge, whose head injuries were well-documented. Now coaching Cardinal Newman High, Walsh has seen an increase in head injuries this year compared with his first season in 2009.

“We’ve gotten a lot stronger and we’ve gotten a lot faster,” he says. “Well, what happens is, forces times mass creates a lot more impact.”

Change may not come easily in Florida, he says.

“Because it’s such a hotbed of recruiting, you might have a parent saying, ‘Hey, now you’re telling me what to do with my kid,’ and, ‘He’s got to get a scholarship,’ ” Walsh says.

That must be secondary to safety, Nicklaus says.

“The game is getting ahead of them,” he says. “They’ve got to adjust it to fix it before it’s too late.”

Technology offers hope. A computer-based application called IMPACT measures brain function and counts Fort Pierce Central and St. Andrew’s as clients.

One Riddell helmet alerts coaches wirelessly if a player suffers a hit with concussion potential.

Because no helmet can prevent concussions, the best tool for protecting the head is the head. When in doubt, experts agree, keep players on the sideline.

“Maybe if we train everybody and we all just have a greater generalized sense and understanding of this, maybe somebody – the parent, the coach or the player – will have the wherewithal to say, ‘Maybe I better sit this one out,’ ” McHale says.

Wisdom From An NFL Great Regarding Concussion

As a former NFL Defensive Lineman I have been deeply disappointed with the reaction of many current NFL players on the league’s action in greater fines and potential suspensions for helmet to helmet hits. I’ve heard defensive players laugh mockingly at the suggestion they deliver a blow in a location deemed safer to both recipient and hitter. I’ve heard a veteran say that asking this much might cause him and injury. Of course this talk is selfish, uninformed  and simply dumb. This is especially evident in light of the wisdom of Hall of Fame Linebacker and Kansas City Chief Willie Lanier who four decades ago – of his on volition – adjusted his tackling style to extend his career and most importantly protect his own brain. PK

Choosing Bearhugs Over Big Hits

By William C. Rhoden

On Sunday, more eyes than usual will be on the N.F.L. as the league begins to strictly enforce safety initiatives that limit hits to the head, players’ launching themselves into opponents, and gratuitous hits against defenseless players.

Under the threat of stiffer penalties like suspensions, players will be scrutinized. They are being instructed to take new angles and to concentrate their force on a new strike zone, which is essentially anywhere below the head.

This is a difficult transition, especially for defensive players brought up in an era when mind-numbing, bone-jarring hits are candidates to make “SportsCenter.”

In some ways, N.F.L. players are being made scapegoats in response to a news media outcry over the legalized mayhem known as professional football.

While hockey players regularly drop their gloves and pummel one another — some even take on fans — N.F.L. players are being told, midstream, to curb instincts that have been cultivated since the sixth grade.

On the other hand, the N.F.L.’s knee-jerk reaction to the relative carnage of last Sunday could be beneficial if it encourages players to act less like blood-lusting gladiators and more like well-compensated professionals who play a uniquely violent game.

What may come out of this, oddly enough, is greater compassion among players, a recognition that they are all in this together, that they need one another. If the players don’t know this now, they will in about five months when their owners lock them out.

Willie Lanier, regarded as one of the greatest middle linebackers in history, had that epiphany 43 years ago during his first season with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Lanier, who starred at Morgan State, was known as Contact in his rookie season because of his bruising headfirst hitting style.

In the fifth game of his career, Lanier hit his head against the knee of a San Diego Chargers running back. “I recognized that it was a concussion,” he said. “I didn’t say anything about it at the time. I didn’t fall to the ground, and I didn’t have any pain.”

A week later in a home game against Houston, Lanier collapsed while calling defensive signals. “I was out for two hours,” he said. Lanier did not find out until the end of his career that his pulse was lost three times on the way to the hospital.

By the end of his rookie season, Lanier had changed, going from Contact to Honey Bear.

Lanier, like everyone else in his generation, had been trained to put the crown of his helmet between a ball carrier’s numbers and hit, lift and drive. In the Honey Bear approach, he utilized his chest, shoulders and arms to wrap up, or bearhug, a ball carrier when bringing him down.

The change was not ordered by the Kansas City coaching, training or medical staffs. The league did not order it; indeed, the league did not know.

Lanier said that he was not reacting to a rules change, but to a reality that he had to change for his own sake. Lanier took ownership of his body, his health.

The current generation of active players needs to do the same.

“There is no way that I could have survived if I had not changed my style of play,” Lanier said. He played 10 more seasons. He did not miss a game. He did not sustain any more concussions, and his tackling efficiency improved.

More significantly, Lanier said his mentality changed from one bent on destroying the opposition to one that ultimately looked out for his opponent.

For the sake of the game, they needed one another. They needed the great players on the field.

“My reality was that if there was a defenseless player, if that person didn’t touch the ball, I would not hit them,” he said. “I was not going to strike you if you didn’t have an opportunity to get the ball.”

The former running back Calvin Hill was one of the first beneficiaries of Lanier’s enlightened attitude. Hill, who played for Dallas and Washington, and in the World Football League, recalled an exhibition game against the Chiefs when he hurtled over Lanier at the goal line to score.

“As we were going through the tunnel for halftime, Lanier said, ‘Hey, man, I could have lit you up,’ ” Hill said, “and he told me why he didn’t.”

Lanier recalled the conversation. He said he told Hill the only reason he didn’t hit him was that it was a preseason game. Lanier also told Hill that whenever he left his feet, he made himself vulnerable to harder hits and put himself at risk of serious injury.

Lanier’s talk about compassion is not just an old-school lament. Decades later, a number of contemporary players are beginning to make the same point. The Giants’ Justin Tuckmade it last season.

“Guys have to change their mentality,” he said. “We’ve got to really start taking care of each other. There’s got to be something in your mind that says, ‘I shouldn’t be hitting this guy in his head and leading with my head.’ ”

Athletes are told from childhood: don’t think, react. Now the N.F.L. is telling players to think first. At a number of levels, that is advice they should heed.



Rutgers Football Player Is Paralyzed But In ‘Good Spirits”

Catastrophic accidents in football are relatively rare but  last week Eric LeGrand, defensive tackle from Rutgers University, was paralyzed from the neck down. His spinal cord was damaged making a tackle while covering a punt during a game against Army.  I came across this link to send him a message and I think it’s a great idea. I sent him a message and encourage you to do the same. PK

Coach: Eric LeGrand in ‘good spirits’ by Adam Talliaferro

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand is responsive and aware of the difficult road ahead, says coach Greg Schiano, who described the junior defensive tackle as being in “good spirits.”

Schiano did not update LeGrand’s medical condition in a news conference Tuesday but said he’s seen him every day since LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down after making a special teams tackle against Army on Saturday.

“He goes through different periods,” Schiano said. “There are medications that have to be administered. He has been very responsive at times and very aware. He knows. I have tried to keep him informed. It’s only been, even though it feels like a number of days, it’s only been a few days.

“I have tried to keep him informed what is going on here,” he said. “I see him each day and let him know what is happening with the guys. He understands.”

The Scarlet Knights practiced on Tuesday, their first full-contact workout since the Army game. Afterward, Schiano said the team was focused for Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh, which is what LeGrand would want them to do.

Over the weekend, Schiano reached out to Penn State coach Joe Paterno for advice on how to handle the situation.

Paterno, who had Schiano on his staff in the early 1990s, went through a similar injury in 2000 when Adam Taliaferro was injured. He walked five months later. The 83-year-old coach and mentor advised Schiano to be available for LeGrand and his family.

Schiano has followed the message. He has been at the Hackensack University Medical Center every day, providing support for his player and family, while talking to the players’ friends. There were 50 visitors for LeGrand at the hospital on Monday, and most didn’t get into the intensive care unit where LeGrand is being treated following surgery to stabilize his spine.

“I think everyone has joined together to do the best we can in a bad situation,” said Schiano, who has had his players and staff write notes and send DVDs to LeGrand to read or watch when he feels up to it.


[+] EnlargeEric LeGrand

Rich Kane/Icon SMIRutgers junior defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffered a spinal-cord injury in the Scarlet Knights’ 23-20 overtime win over Army on Saturday and is paralyzed below the neck.


Schiano refused to say much about the 72-hour window for players who have been paralyzed. Some doctors believe if an injured person does not get some feeling or movement in that period, there is little chance of recovery.

“In the end, it really boils down to nobody really knows,” Schiano said, adding his belief is that LeGrand will recover.

“We know it’s going to be a long road,” Schiano said. “It’s going to be one step at a time and we’re going to do this as a family, the LeGrand family, the Rutgers football family. That’s the way we are going to approach it.”

Rutgers spokesman Jason Baum said 18,000 e-mails had been sent to LeGrand through the website.

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart took time out to talk about LeGrand on Tuesday.

“It’s a sad occasion when we see injuries and we’re hoping and praying,” he said. “I received a call Saturday night and my heart’s been thinking about him ever since. We’re thinking about him and we sure wish Eric and his family the best.”

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has reached out to Schiano, and Panthers players and staff will display a large banner supporting the defensive lineman during Saturday’s game. Schiano knows Rutgers (4-2, 1-0 Big East) will have a hard task getting focused and ready to play Pitt (3-3, 1-0).

Paterno said it’s going to take a lot of leadership to do that among the Scarlet Knights because “you’re not dealing with inanimate objects.”

“They’ve got to face the problem and a couple people have to come to the front and convince people we’ve got to put it behind us, we’re going to be there to support our teammate,” Paterno said. “We would expect him to want us to go out there and play hard, play well, do the best we can and go from there. But again, each team is different. You’re dealing with 19- and 20-year-old kids, and all of a sudden, they’re not indestructible.”

Schiano has stressed accountability to his players and he said this is another time when they have to be accountable.

“Eric LeGrand is a guy that comes to this facility and is locked in,” Schiano said. “He loves everything about it. We talked a lot about it as a team. He can’t [play] now, but you can and that is what he wants.”

The players understood.

Defensive end Jonathan Freeny tapped a so-called problem box as he walked on the field. It’s always been there and players touch it to remind themselves to leave their off-the-field concerns away from football.

“Outside of football all of us are thinking about Eric,” Freeny said. “But once we step on the field, get to the top of the stairs and put our thoughts in that box, it’s all about football. Once we get back off the field Eric is back in our thoughts.”

LeGrand’s fellow defenders are doing their best to stay off the team’s LOS (lack of swarm) list.

“Eric was never on it,” defensive captain Joe Lefeged said. “We’re trying our best to stay in our normal rhythm.”

Schiano smiled when told about the players’ feelings.



The Distance Running Myth

The article I’ve posted below was written to inform folks about a relatively new trend in amateur distances races of incorporating weight categories for its participants ‘kindly’ monikered Clydesdale (184 + , 199 + and 224 + ) for men  and Filly (155 + and 170 +  ) for the woman.

The answer to why event organizers are adding weight category is offered by the law of supply and demand – there are more overweight people in the U.S. then ever and organizers make money be signing up participants. But is this a good a good thing?

For the overweight population engaged or contemplating distance running/jogging or often shuffling, you should know that if you are more than 10% over your appropriate bodyweight (for most people it is what they weighted at age 20) than you are putting an unsustainable load on your musculoskeletal system and heading for problems.

The photo below illustrates the stark morphological contrast between a commitment to distance running and a commitment to interval running/strength training. Can you guess which is which?  PK


Weight Classes Aim to Balance Races By TARA PARKER-POPE

Stuart Bradford At 245 pounds and 6 feet 3 inches, Jeffrey West knows he looks more like a football player than a runner. But that hasn’t stopped him from competing in nine marathons in the past three years. “When I go by, people say, ‘Go, big fella, you can do it!’” laughs Mr. West, 45, of Carol Stream, Ill., who plans to be one of 45,000 runners in this weekend’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon. “But I know at the end of the race most people don’t want to get beat by the big guy who doesn’t look like he can run very fast.” To runners, Mr. West is a Clydesdale, a name (referring to the large, powerful draft horses) that is typically used to describe race participants who weigh 200 pounds or more. While most running events allow runners to compete in age divisions, a number of road races and triathlons also offer participants the chance to compete in weight divisions, which allows athletes to compare their performances against athletes with a similar build. Clydesdale runners argue that a number of sports, like boxing and wrestling, focus on weight-based competition, and it also makes sense in the sport of running, where slighter-framed runners have a clear advantage over those carrying an extra 50 pounds or more. “As a Clydesdale, you know you’re never going to win a race,” says Mr. West, who has run nine marathons and whose best time is 4 hours 51 minutes. “But can I compare myself to another 45-year-old runner who weighs 145 pounds? Not really.” Clydesdale running dates to the late 1980s when a Baltimore-area accountant analyzed 20,000 runners in 10-kilometer races and marathons. The analysis showed that once men reach about 170 pounds, their performance declines relative to athletes of about the same age with a slighter build. The findings suggested that, compared with his peers, a 210-pound man who runs a 10-kilometer race in 51 minutes (about an eight-minute-per-mile pace) is performing as well as a 150-pound man who runs the distance in a speedy 38 minutes (about a six-minute-per-mile pace). The research persuaded a few small races to create awards based on weight divisions, and eventually larger races like the Marine Corps Marathon and the Portland Marathon began allowing runners to gauge their performance by weight category. The USA Clydesdale and Filly Racing Federation ( lists races on its Web site that offer weight divisions. Paul Collyer, the group’s founder and a race promoter from Somerville, Mass., says there’s no official tally of Clydesdale participation, but the category is becoming more popular. “Now a lot of big fit guys and big fit women are taking part,” says Mr. Collyer, who is also a Clydesdale runner. And research shows that people who are overweight or even obese still can be fit. Studies at the Cooper Institute in Dallas have found that it’s better to be fat and fit than thin and sedentary. The studies showed that the death rate for men and women who are thin and don’t exercise is at least twice as high as that for obese people who stay active. Devon Pearson, 28, a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve in West Chester, Pa., will run in the Clydesdale division of the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 31, a race he hopes to finish in about four hours. “I’m on the slow end if you compare me to a 28-year-old runner who is 145 or 155 pounds,” he says. “But I compete in my division for sure.” The Marine Corps Marathon offers three Clydesdale weight divisions for men starting at 185 pounds, 200 pounds and 224 pounds. For women, two weight categories start at 155 pounds and 170 pounds. (Like many other races, the marathon calls its female weight category Athena, for the Greek goddess.) Although some races require weigh-ins, the Marine Corps race director, Rick Nealis, said he stopped the practice after he watched several runners step on a scale near the registration desk. Once he recalled a runner who was a pound shy of his weight group. “I heard someone make the comment, ‘Go eat pasta and come back and weigh in,’ ” Mr. Nealis said. “I was thinking, this has got to be wrong. We shouldn’t be doing this. Now we don’t weigh in for the Clydesdales. I go with the integrity of the runner.” Some running clubs hold their own weight-based competitions. The Chicago Area Runners Association offers its members a Clydesdale and Athena circuit, which scores runners based on their performance in 16 local races, including the Chicago Marathon. Not every runner embraces the weight group. Katy Moeller, 41, of Boise, Idaho, ran the New York City Marathon in 1999 weighing 220 pounds. Now she does most of her running on a treadmill, and has no interest in competing in a weight category. “I’m proud of being in the game even though I’m overweight,” she says. “But I don’t think I’d be super thrilled at seeing I’m No. 1 in the over-200 weight division.” Men, however, tend to be more irreverent about the weight class. On the Clydesdale Facebook page, which has about 80 members, one runner recently posted an ad to find two more 200-pound-plus runners for a team race. “No girly-men or Kate Moss-esque type runners need apply,” read the Facebook post. “We aren’t fast but we can lift heavy things like sofas and armoires.”