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Science : Science

BioLite KettleCharge

Remember thermoelectric energy from high school physics? Neither do I, but you don’t have to be a science geek to appreciate the utility of a device that turns heat into electricity.

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And that’s exactly what this on-demand-backcountry-power source does: simply fill with water, place on your camp stove and boil away. Within minutes the BioLite KettleCharge goes to work, stockpiling up to 10 watts of energy via USB port in the orange handle. That’s more than enough juice for mobile phones, tablets, headlamps, or water purifiers. 

We know what you’re thinking: what if I forget it’s on the burner like so many Sunday morning omelets? Don’t worry: the LED dashboard (which folds down flat for easy backpack storage) not only lets you know when you have full power, but it also alerts you if the generator is getting too hot.

With a profile like a large hockey puck (eight-inches wide, three-inches tall, and weighing two pounds), it’s safe to say this is the coolest thing to happen to thermoelectrics since, well, the term “thermoelectrics.” Avaliable this September. 

$130, biolitestove.com

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What If Sitting Doesn't Kill?

Think you’re “resting” at your desk job? Yet another study has attacked Americans' favorite activity: sitting. The latest report, from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, finds that for every hour you sit, you lose eight percent of your fitness gains from each hour you worked out that day. Sound really depressing? We thought so. That’s why we’re happy it’s probably not true.

Much has been made over the past few years about our sedentary lifestyles and how they’re killing us and how we should probably never, ever sit down. In this latest jab at the seated position, researchers tried to figure out the relationship between exercise and time spent sitting. Depending on whose article you’re reading, and whether or not you’re an athlete, you’ll either be really, really excited about the results, or really freaking depressed. 

Time put it like this: “Because exercise has a more powerful effect in helping the heart than sitting does in harming it, one hour of physical exercise could counteract the effects of sitting for six to seven hours a day.” 

Runner’s World put it like this: Each “time unit of sitting cancels out eight percent of your gain from the same amount of running. In other words, if you run for an hour in the morning, and then sit for 10 hours during the day, you lose roughly 80 percent of the health benefit from your morning workout.”

[Note: Running counts as vigorous activity. If your activity has less vigor, you can count on losing 16 percent of your workout-induced fitness gains every hour you’re hunched over a desk.]

Fortunately, it’s not that black and white. “People forget the gray area,” says Stanford exercise physiologist Dr. Stacy Sims. “If you go for a run, you’re going to get the benefit, but it’s better if you go for a run, then don’t sit all day.”

The issue here seems to stem from the study’s definition of fitness. Researchers looked into cardiorespiratory fitness, the kind involving your heart and lung capacity. Or, as many athletes may know it, the kind VO2 max indicates.

Look at it that way, and it’s not surprising athletes don’t have enormous gains from each day’s exercise, even if they don’t sit all day. It takes weeks to see a measurable change in VO2 max. And that’s with a concerted effort of high-intensity exercise.

As for your musculoskeletal and neuromotor fitness, this study did not look into those systems, which should improve with training even if you do sit during the day. “If you plan your recovery right, like your nutrition recovery, you won’t be losing fitness as long as you get up and move around during the day, too,” Sims says.

Neuromotor gains, for example, should be preserved if you follow the recommendations the researchers put forth: walking up stairs at work; standing while talking on the phone; holding walking meetings; sitting on a fitness ball or using a standing desk; taking a lunchtime walk.

“If you’re training heavy weights,” Sims says, “and then you sit on that muscle, it gets compressed, so you’re actually reducing that neuromuscular signaling.” But just getting up and walking around will reduce pressure on that muscle so you don’t lose the signaling you built up.

As for strength gains, you won’t lose strength by the hour as you sit, either, Sims says. Just get up every hour so your muscles don’t tighten up, which can lead to imbalances, which can lead to injury.

So don’t give up on your training. Just make an effort to stand up, stretch, and move a little throughout the day and you can kiss this new eight-percent rule goodbye. 

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Smaller Runners Have the Advantage at Badwater

Until December 2013, California’s 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon, which started in Death Valley and ended at the Mount Whitney Portal, was considered the ultimate endurance test in an extreme heat environment.

That’s when a temporary moratorium was placed on all sporting events in Death Valley. Obviously, the announcement threw a wrench in this summer’s 37th edition of Badwater, scheduled to take place July 21 through 23. But you can’t just axe the world’s toughest footrace, so race organizers revised the route, which now incorporates more than 17,000 feet of elevation gain between Lone Pine and Whitney Portal. Although temperatures might not reach 125 degrees, the 97 brave souls who toe the line will likely still be treated to triple-digit temps.

And although some runners will incorporate special clothing and aid-station ice baths into ther races, other runners will have a more natural advantage: their body size.

While running in hot weather, an athlete’s primary goal—besides winning—should be to maintain a constant core temperature by balancing heat production and heat loss. Exercise itself creates internal heat. In fact, 80 percent of energy produced by exercising skeletal muscle becomes heat (the other 20 percent generates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to power the muscle. Extremely hot environments can also cause athletes to take in heat, just as cold environments cause us to lose heat.  

Runners also battle heat externally via hot weather and humidity, both of which make running more difficult. Hot temperatures cause heat to transfer from the environment to the body, while humidity makes evaporative heat loss more difficult. In comfortable environments, to get rid of excess heat, blood is shunted to the skin, where warmed blood can lose heat through evaporation (sweating) or convection (if skin temperature is greater than the environmental temperature). Both evaporation and convection depend on the skin's surface area—the larger surface area, the better the heat loss.  

So, bigger runners should be better at cooling off, right?

Wrong.

Surface area and body mass (that is, muscle mass) are not at a one-to-one relationship—for every unit of body mass you increase, you don't get an equivalent relative increase in surface area. Smaller runners actually have more surface area relative to body mass, which gives them greater heat-loss ability for their relative mass.

According to a study in the European Journal of Physiology, this “distinct thermal advantage” corresponds with speed. Because lighter runners produce and store less heat than heavier runners at the same pace, they can run faster or farther. This difference was most striking in hot, humid conditions (95 degrees, greater than 60 percent humidity) and essentially absent in cool conditions (59 degrees).

Indeed, in 2004, exercise physiologist Tim Noakes published a related study in the Journal of Applied Physiology finding that African runners ran faster in the heat than their Caucasian peers. “Larger Caucasians reduce their running speed to ensure an optimal rate of heat storage without developing dangerous hyperthermia [heatstroke],” the study reports. “According to this model, the superior running performance in the heat of these African runners can be partly attributed to their smaller size and hence their capacity to run faster in the heat while storing heat at the same rate as heavier Caucasian runners.” 

In this study, the heavier Caucasian runners (169 pounds) ran approximately 10 percent slower during 30 minutes of exercise in hot conditions (95 degrees, 60 percent humidity) compared to the lighter Africans (131 pounds). The difference is dramatic when considering both groups ran the same time in the exercise test conducted in cool conditions (59 degrees).  

In other words, a slower but smaller runner has a substantially better shot at beating a faster but larger runner if the temperature is high enough.

Although many other factors can help regulate core temperature (clothing, heat adaptation, genetics, age, etc.), the bottom line is that the smaller you are, the better you should be able to handle the heat. So although the Badwater 135 might not reach 130 degrees this year, the soaring temps should be sufficient to give an advantage to the slight of frame.

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The 4 Most Influential Fitness Trends

Every year, data and news service Thomson Reuters compiles an index of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.” Scientists earn a place atop the list by publishing several articles that rank among the top one percent most cited by fellow researchers.

“Citations offer a direct testament to work that scientists themselves judge to be the most important to ongoing research,” said Gordon Macomber, managing director of Thomson Reuters Scientific and Scholarly Research, in a press release.

With that in mind, we combed through the most influential sports science journals to find their top-cited articles over the past five years. Presenting what all that research has to say about our health:

We’re Obsessed With Shortcuts

The Source: Journal of Applied Physiology

We want to go fast. But we don't want to do the hard work. Nitrate and protein supplement research dominates the literature. Nitrates, found in beetroot juice, were found to make exercise more efficient and help endurance athletes go stronger longer—if they drank 17 ounces of the stuff every day for at least three days before go-time.

And in muscle-building news, the journal’s top-cited study concluded that whey hydrolysate beats out soy protein and casein for post-workout muscle recovery. Athletes who downed a drink with 10 grams of whey hydrosylate after performing resistance exercise had a 93 percent greater muscle protein synthesis response than they did after consuming a drink that contained the same amount of casein.

The takeaway? Everyone's looking for a fitness shortcut. In reality, diet tweaks and supplements might help you eke out that final percent of performance gain. But for most athletes, sticking to the fundamentals will yield more immediate results.

We Want to Embrance Bionic Technology

The Source: The American Journal of Sports Medicine

Platelet-rich-plasma injections (aka PRP) were the hot topic in this journal. As the top-cited article explains, PRP injections are prepared from one’s own blood, and contain “growth factors and bioactive proteins that influence the healing of tendon, ligament, muscle, and bone.” More and more pro athletes are turning to both stem cell and PRP injections to try to avoid the uncertainty and down time associated with surgery.

Using one’s own blood as a body boost is nothing new. Tour de France cyclists have been extracting their own blood—sometimes centrifuging it down to just the red blood cells, then re-injecting it—for years. As Bike Pure explains, autologous blood transfusion “is not detectable and is perhaps not technically “doping”, but remains a banned technique affording a massive boost to an athlete over fatigued competition” by delivering extra oxygen to working muscles, and “increasing the capacity of the muscles to use oxygen by up to five percent.”

Unlike blood doping, PRP injections are not illegal. In 2011, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed PRP from its list of banned substances after noting a lack of evidence that the procedure enhances performance. PRP is for healing.

We're Terrified Of Concussions

The Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine

For athletes in contact sports like football, researchers are particularly concerned about concussions: their long-term effects, how to spot one, and how to decide when an athlete is ready to play again after suffering one.

Since top researchers released a popular consensus statement on concussion in sport in late 2008, research on the condition has exploded. We know now, for example, that men take more than twice as long as women to recover from a concussion. (An average of 66.9 days vs. 26.3 days for women, likely because the female hormone progesterone may play a protective role.) And that 10 to 20 minutes of low-intensity aerobic activity can alleviate symptoms and expedite recovery.

Helmet technology is getting smarter, too. In football, the new Riddell SpeedFlex helmet is “designed to disperse energy, reducing the risk of trauma,” SB Nation reports.  A built-in response system “is intended to alert coaches when a player suffers a significant hit to the head, or multiple hits that combine to pose a risk. And in the endurance sports world, Swedish company POC introduced helmets with MIPS, a technology designed to reduce oblique impact forces on the brain by allowing the helmet’s shell and liner to move separately.

We Think Sitting Is Killing Us

The Source: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews

In perhaps one of the most talked-about studies from this journal, scientists linked time spent sitting to mortality and found that the longer people sit every day, the higher their mortality rate. The revelation brought on a wave of stand-up desk articles and an urge to at least get up every 15 minutes to take a lap around the office.

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Sign for Delivery

Soccer fans aren't the only depressed creatures in Argentina these days. Arturo the polar bear, a 29-year-old male who lives at the Mendoza Zoo outside Buenos Aires, has been swaying back and forth, shaking his head and acting downright despondent ever since his longtime playmate Pelusa passed away two years ago.

And his decidedly un-polar living conditions aren’t helping: temperatures in Arturo’s oven-like enclosure can top 100 degrees.

What do you do with a morose cold-weather mammal that appears to be suffering from heartache, heatstroke, or both? Internet voices think they have an answer—move Arturo to the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre (IBPCC) at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Canada. There are petitions currently circulating on Change.org and ForceChange.org to make it happen, and a fundraiser posted to Reddit had crowdsourced almost $5,000 as of this writing.

Arturo’s plight has also gone viral: the “Save Polar Bear Arturo” Facebook page is pushing 14,000 “Likes,” Cher has tweeted about him, and even Newt Gingrich is urging officials to save the animal.

Those officials would first need to cut through a pile of red tape. “Before an animal is transported, it receives a detailed veterinary check-up to verify that it is healthy for transport,” says Dave Bernier, general curator at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. “Every shipment has to have a health certificate signed by the attending veterinarian by regulation."  

Since Arturo’s medical records are spotty at best, it would be difficult for the IBPCC to import him. There’s also the issue of Arturo’s age. Polar bears only have a life expectancy of 30 years in captivity, so some people wonder if a stressful relocation would be worthwhile for a geezer like Arturo. Finally, there’s the sheer logistics of the thing. After all, Arturo is a 900-pound predator with a chip on his shoulder, and Mendoza is almost 6,000 miles from Winnipeg in the opposite hemisphere.

Still, zoos and other facilities have proven that they can transport large animals effectively. When Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium was renovated in 2008, FedEx airmailed seven whales to a host facility using large metal containers equipped with specially designed water slings. In 2013, a zoo in New Zealand successfully shipped a 15-month-old giraffe to a partner zoo in Melbourne via ocean freighter and extra-tall crate. Later that year, a rare Sumatran tiger was transported from a German zoo to a zoo in the U.K. via ferries, cranes, and an army of careful caretakers. “Animal shipments must happen at the appropriate temperature, in the proper enclosure and using a travel method that ensures the safety of both the animal and staff,” says Bernier. 

But before zoo officials can even begin to talk logistics, there’s that damn red tape—particularly the issue of incomplete medical records. Before, this seemed like a deal-breaker as the Mendoza Zoo simply cannot provide what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) needs to approve the transfer. But Arturo’s sob story is blowing up the mainstream news cycle this week, and as more heavy-hitters get involved, the public pressure could lead to a one-time exception.

Here’s to hoping poor Arturo gets better—or gets the green light to pack his bags for the Great White North. 

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