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The Really Weird Trend of Breast Milk as Energy Beverage

There are grown men who drink breast milk. For some, it’s undoubtedly a kink. But for others, it’s something else: a “God-given” performance-enhancing elixir—and believers are paying top dollar for it online. Once a fringe gym-rat movement, now athletes of various stripes are chugging the stuff in search of a high-energy protein fix.

Far away from government oversight or official scrutiny, hundreds of gallons of breast milk flow through online classifieds, according to one of the leading online facilitators, OnlytheBreast.com. The site officially caters to mothers who want to sell their “liquid gold” (their language, not ours) to other women, but about a third of the requests for milk on the site are posted by men. The demand has set off an arms race among the 10 percent of women willing to sell their milk to the other sex. One St. Louis provider catering to athletes boasts that her milk is best because she adheres to a “Paleo-style diet with added grass-fed butter,” only organic foods, and a daily regimen of supplements including charcoal and probiotics.

The “breast is best” believers drink this stuff up. They say that the milk is more nutritious than anything you can get from a cow, best for body building, the secret to fighting off disease, and a sure-fire way to boost energy levels. It’s the energy drink of the future, New York Magazine reports.

It’s too bad it’s soggy logic—on all counts, says Bo Lonnerdal, a professor of nutrition and internal medicine at University of California at Davis. “I don’t see much sense in it all,” she says. “It doesn’t provide more energy than other drinks with the same energy content.”

Which brings us to protein. Fans of human breast milk point to its supposedly superior whey-to-casein ratio of 60-to-40, compared to nearly the inverse 20-to-80 of cow’s milk. But a liter of breast milk has only one-third the total protein of cow’s milk. And it contains nearly twice as much lactose sugar, making it sweeter than cow’s milk and a poor choice for those who are lactose intolerant. Then there’s breast milk’s fat content, which varies widely based on the donor’s diet.

More souring is that the heralded bioactive components within breast milk are unlikely to make it through your stomach—precisely because adult men aren’t at all like children. “We highly likely would break down bioactive components like lactoferrin and immunoglobulins long before they could have any potential function,” Lonnerdal says.

It’s just wrongheaded to think that what works for baby boys and girls will be best for grown men, says Katie Hinde, assistant professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, who tracks advances in milk research on her “Mammals suck… Milk” blog. 

“Breast milk is nature’s magical elixir for those particular infants at a particular time, but the benefits for adults are less clear. There’s still too little we know about what it does even in infants,” she says.

Then why all the fanfare? Adherents are committing a naturalistic fallacy, says Sarah Tishkoff, a professor of genetics and biology at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the evolution of lactose tolerance. They believe that people evolved to drink breast milk, not cow’s milk. They’re wrong. “No humans have evolved to drink breast milk after weaning,” Tishkoff says. Most human populations whose ancestors practiced dairy farming have actually adapted to drinking cow’s milk.

But would it really hurt to give breast milk a try? That’s not a good idea, particularly if it is purchased online versus milked from a willing wife or girlfriend. “The biggest issue is that breast milk can contain live viruses and bacteria,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Sharon Donovan, former president of the American Society for Nutrition and a professor at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

When moms donate to a hospital milk bank, they are screened before being approved, Donovan explains. But men buying from strangers could result in transmission of diseases including HIV, syphilis, or hepatitis. Most milk bought online also comes contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, as Dr. Sheela Gerahrty’s lab at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center reported last year. Granted, OnlyTheBreast.com has explicit instructions about home pasteurization.

Plus, there’s the issue of cost—at $2.50 to $4.00 per ounce, a gallon of breast milk is priced at $320 to $512, versus just $4 a gallon of cow’s milk, Donovan says. And what really sucks?  There’s a chance you might not even get what you’re paying for. Because it’s sold by volume without any oversight, the milk could be cut with water or cow’s milk, Hinde warns. These aren’t problems you find with hospital milk bank donations where no monetary gain is involved.

Getting beyond the ick factor, athletes commanding high prices for breast milk could inadvertently encourage disadvantaged women to sell their milk instead of feeding their own infants. It may also discourage women from donating to milk banks, which are crucial for supporting the needs of premature infants.

The “invisible breasts of the free market” selling their products online comes with lots of questions, Hinde says.

If you’re still convinced that breast milk is best, take heart: cows may soon be genetically modified to produce human milk, The Telegraph reports.

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The Sweetest Running Swag

Going the distance means getting some goodies. And no, we aren’t talking just the sense of accomplishment you feel at the finish line. We are talking freebies, treasures, and swag—whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t matter when it’s free. At these races you will find the best, the worst, and some of the weirdest stuff in your swag bags.

Most Luxurious

Nike Women’s Marathon; San Francisco, California
Sorry guys, but the 15,000 runners who come together in April to take on the roads of San Fran are ladies only. Lottery-only entry makes the Nike Women’s Marathon even more exclusive. But you have to be selective when you are doling out Tiffany & Co. necklaces at the finish line by the hands of firefighters in tuxedos. The beginning is just as extravagant as the end, with pre-race festivities including a four-day expo chock full of free vendors giving out boutique and spa products. For all the ladies who are always multitasking, here is a way to pound the pavement while getting pampered. 

Smelliest

ORRC Garlic Festival 10K; North Plains, Oregon
The ORRC Garlic Festival 10K does feature some pretty vanilla race goodies. Finishers get a medal and can win running gear at the raffle. Winners get plaques and ribbons. But that’s where is the blandness ends. The ice cream at the finish line is garlic flavored. So is the celebratory beer. So is the shape of the medal. In the past, “secret” prizes for the winners have included giant bags of garlic bulbs. Don’t expect to get any kisses in the winner’s circle at this event. 

Most Indulgent

Hershey Half Marathon; Hershey, PA
Well if you are a running lover of dessert with a child-like love for theme parks, the Hershey Half is a dream come true. Along with chocolate-filled swag bags, a Chocolate Aid Station at mile 12, where volunteers hand out Reese’s and Special Dark like it’s well, candy. The finisher’s goodie bag includes two tickets to Hersheypark amusement park. After running 13.1 miles, and eating an equivalent amount in ounces of chocolate, we dare you to take a spin on the Sooperdooperlooper coaster. 

Most Random

London Marathon; London, England
You would think that a World Major marathon would be handing out some pretty legit stuff but in the past, London swag has been a little swag-less. Not only do they hand out one mish-mash, but two. The pre-race bag contains the common and expected nuts, nutrition bars, and leaflets. It’s post-race where things get really weird. That one includes everything from Mars Bars, a beer, a single prune, a sachet for a pasta bake, chewing gum, and a one-size fits all shirts the size of blankets. 

Best International

Le Marathon du Medoc; Bordeaux, France
With a 2014 theme of “The Countries of the World and Their Carnivals,” you can bet the Medoc is going to be a party. Before you even get to the start line, the marathon oraganizers a proper carbo-load, called “Soiree Mille-Pates,” complete with fine china and a twenty-piece band. The pre-race celebration seems to carry right through the race, where 23 different red and white wines are offered at drink stations along the course in the middle of France’s vineyards. Wine serves as hydration and gourmet foie gras, entrecote steak, pain au chocolat, fruit and oysters at pit stops serve as fuel. Put all this together you have yourself some world-class swag. After the race, and downing nearly six bottles of wine, winners are given their weight in even more wine. All finishers are rewarded with a rose, a kiss gym bag and a bottle of vintage Medoc to go. 

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Apple Takes a Bite Out of Fitness and Wellness

Everything you ever wanted to know about your health and fitness is coming soon to an iPhone near you. Or, more specifically, to an app named Health that runs on Apple’s new mobile operating system, iOS 8. 

That’s today’s big news out of San Francisco, where Apple announced its foray into health and fitness tracking at the company’s annual World Wide Developer’s Conference.

As TechCrunch explains, Healthkit is “the company’s first real big foray into health and fitness tracking, and Health [is] an app for viewing all that info…the new Health app will combine data from various different health and fitness devices and apps, and make them accessible all in one place.” For example, the app will combine sleep, nutrition, activity, weight, and heart-rate data in tabs on a single screen. 

With Healthkit, Apple is not only getting into the fitness-tracking game, it’s also making a push to modernize and mobilize healthcare. As Engadget reports,

Mayo Clinic, a Minnesota non-profit, is already working with Apple on making the software work best for both doctors and patients. In the examples shown today at Apple's WWDC event in San Francisco, Health advised patients of wellness plans set by their doctors and enabled a futuristic approach to healthcare; where doctors and patients interact constantly, in real-time, at very least on a data level.

Apple isn’t the first company to try to consolidate personal health and fitness info in one place. Microsoft launched web-based HealthVault in 2007, and Google followed with Google Health in 2008. HealthVault still exists, though Microsoft has refused to comment on the number of active users. Google shuttered its service in 2012, citing a lack of participation. As former manager of Google Health, Adam Bosworth, told the New York Times, “the service could not overcome the obstacle of requiring people to laboriously put in their own data.” 

That’s where Apple Health is likely to succeed while these early services did not. It seems Apple’s app will do all of the work of integrating records and information from fitness-tracking devices, like Apple’s rumored iWatch, as well as doctors. That may make it an easy technology to adopt.

Tech insiders believe the highly-anticipated iWatch itself—a “smartwatch/wearable of some form directly from Apple”—could someday have self-monitoring capabilities beyond those of the popular FitBit or similar wristbands. Think: hydration, oxygen saturation, and blood sugar tracking. Apple hired several health and fitness experts in the past year, fueling those rumors, though the company has yet to make any official iWatch announcements.

A patent Apple filed in 2009 suggests wearables aren’t the only devices that will track health data. Future iPhones may have leads embedded in them that allow the phone itself to track cardiac data, giving users easy access to heart info as well.

For now, we know the Health app is coming. Amid the rest of the rumors, one thing is certain: this year is shaping up to be a big one for health and fitness.

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Your Biggest Training Mistakes Demystified

Everyone knows U.S. speedskaters did not perform well in Sochi. The long track team failed to bring home any Olympic medals for the first time in 30 years, prompting U.S. Speedskating to investigate what went wrong.

The organization’s report, released earlier this month, blamed training errors for the poor showing Three national coaches left U.S. Speedskating after this year's Olympic games, including all-round coach Kip Carpenter, sprint coach Ryan Shimabukuro, and short-track coach Stephen Gough. The high-performance director, Finn Halvorsen, resigned.*

So we asked the coach of 2010 and 2014 Olympian, Brian Hansen, and four-time Olympic speedskater herself, Nancy Swider-Peltz, to break down what happened so athletes from all sports can learn from speedskating’s mistakes.

Forget About Altitude

The problem: U.S. Speedskaters spent 10 days before the Olympics training at altitude in Collalbo, Italy, then left for Sochi two weeks before their first races. The idea behind altitude training is that it will make the body produce more oxygen-carrying red blood cells that will improve an athlete’s endurance at sea level. But it can also have drawbacks.

“There is a fatiguing factor in dealing with altitude,” Swider-Peltz says. “You can never go super hard.” Also, it can be difficult to maximize altitude’s beneficial effects. “You have to be very calculated,” she says. That’s where it’s helpful to have a coach who can read your fatigue and adjust your training plan accordingly.

The fix: Athletes in shorter, technical sports might want to ditch the mountains. “I don’t think you have to train at altitude to be successful,” Swider-Peltz says. “It’s better to work on the things—the little nuances that can produce that tenth of a second—than to work so hard adjusting to altitude.”

Get Lazy to Stay Off Your Feet

The problem: “Two weeks before the first race, we were up at four or five in the morning to take a bus ride to Munich. Then we walked around for four or five hours, then we went to the BMW dinner and were up ‘till midnight,” Swider-Peltz says. “Then you get up at four o’clock in the morning and travel to Sochi where the transportation isn’t quite settled and you have to walk a lot.” As a result of the intense travel schedule, athletes were physically and mentally drained.

The fix: Athletes should be prepared to take a few hits before a race, Swider-Peltz says, whether that’s an unexpected late-night out, or a hitch in travel arrangements. But take too many hits right before a race, and your performance may suffer. So do your best to save the sightseeing and socializing for after your event.

Test Everything in Advance

The problem: As the Wall Street Journal reported, the executive director of U.S. Speedskating said, “the team erred in its decision not to use the brand-new Mach 39 suits in competition before the Olympics, as well as a skate polish that the team introduced on the eve of the Games.”

Swider-Peltz says U.S. athletes were asked to make decisions about the suits, skate polish, and kinesiology tape while at the outdoor track in Collalbo just before the Games. “But [the athletes] were cold, they had to change their technique to deal with the wind and the cold,” Swider-Peltz said, making it difficult for athletes to determine if they felt the new equipment was helpful or not. Asking the athletes to “to decide if something was good or different, or if it was the polish or the uniform” three weeks before the Games, she says, “messed with the athletes’ minds.”

The fix: “In my opinion, you should test things six weeks before to determine if they’re good or not good,” Swider-Peltz says. Once you’ve figured out your ideal equipment setup—and you know it’s quick, and comfortable—you’ll feel confident and fast on race day.

Bonus tip: Vet your coach and team

“If you’re going to be a part of a team, it’s just like a marriage,” Swider-Peltz says. “Make sure you wholeheartedly respect the leader. Also, make sure you like the other people on the team, because that is going to affect your ability to like what you’re doing. If you’re distracted by the other people, that’s going to be detrimental to your development.”

*Clarification: We updated the language of this paragraph to make it clear that Kip Carpenter, Ryan Shimabukuro, and Stephen Gough Shimabukuro left U.S. Speedskating but were not forced to resign.

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