Should You ‘Switch It Up’?

I get this quite often. It’s probably one of the most universally used phrases in the world of fitness, especially in the world of ‘bro science’. As a personal trainer at a gym with a membership base of about 6,000, I somehow get dragged into a conversation about this almost every day by the regulars.

 

Source

‘You gotta’ switch it up’. But why? ‘So you can shock the system’. Why do you want to shock the system? ‘So you don’t plateau’. 

Then I think to myself, “have you ever reached a true plateau?”

Even veteran gym rats who have been going to the gym diligently for years spit this mantra out like it’s gospel. And since I am usually a rogue that likes to battle against conventional wisdom, I think to myself, “there’s no good reason to shock your system” and shake off the bros.

Yet, though I feel that broscience should die hard most times and not interfere with productivity, switching it up could have its merits. I say this because although I am a rogue of conventional wisdom and have been successful, or at least satisfied with what I see in myself and my clients, I am a friend of context. Especially when it comes to fitness and nutrition, I drive a hard-line towards context, having a severe bias for situation awareness.

First off…

95% of people who go to the gym or exercise regularly never experience a true plateau. This thing isn’t like a pack of bananas that is available year around at every bodega in the neighborhood. It’s something that you must try really hard to reach. In the exercise world, there is usually but one group of people who almost always reach a plateau:

People who take training much more seriously than the casual fitness buff.

I am talking about the person who goes the gym at least 3 times per week and seriously busts their ass every time they touch a weight, or the gymnast who practices two to four hours per day on the rings, or the sprinter who runs a 10-second 100 meter. But interestingly, when advanced athletes “switch up their routine”, they’re not turning their current training program upside down; they are manipulating their training variables–volume and intensity. High-level Crossfit athletes may even fit this bill.

Most people will never look this fit. But there’s no harm in trying. Source

Better yet, to compare between elite athletes and casual trainers, let’s use me as an example. I consider myself ‘intermediate’, between novice and advanced. Although I have some NY-state powerlifting records through the WNPF for my fame, I am far from being a top lifter. My best numbers in competition at 5’7″ and 148 pounds are:

Squat with belt and knee wraps: 425 pounds
Bench press: 260 pounds
Deadlift with belt: 465 pounds

In training, I have never truly established a 1-rep max–I leave that for the platform. On the other hand, I constantly assess myself using rep ranges. I regularly do these numbers:

Squat with around 2x my bodyweight without a belt or wraps for 5-8 reps
Bench press around 1.4x my bodyweight for 5-8 reps
Romanian deadlift around 2x my bodyweight without a belt for 8-10 reps
Overhead press my bodyweight for 5-8 reps
Weighted pull-ups with 70-80 extra pounds for 5 reps
Weighted dips with 80-100 extra pounds for 5 reps

Some other things I can do include running a 6 minute mile (I don’t even run), jump up a box nearly 5 feet high, and run a sub-12 second 100-meter dash.

I think they’re decent numbers, and definitely more than what the average person can do. I am not trying to set world records nor am I chasing the current ones. I just want to go to the gym, train, and look and feel good about myself, especially since I must set an example for my clients. So whenever someone asks me how often I change my routine, I tell them I usually stick with more or less the same routine for 6-8 weeks before making any significant changes. By significant changes, I usually mean swapping a couple of exercises. Instead of high bar close stance squats, I may do high bar medium stance squats.

Then the critics yelp: “but you’ll hit a plateau!”

(“That’s odd, because  you don’t even know how much my fitness level, but because I work here, I see how fit you are. And trust me, you are in no position to lecture me about training and nutrition”).

This isn’t one of those cases where a prior Olympic athlete and star coach lets himself go because of family, business, and other life commitments. This is straight up a desk-jockey warrior telling a person who lives and breathes training and nutrition what to do. I always find these conversations amusing.

Is switching up your routine valid?

To put this into perspective, I change my routine far less often than a person who can’t even squat their own bodyweight. Very often, you see people doing a totally different routine every other week in hopes of achieving a coveted, magical body. But here’s my main point: there’s no good reason why a person who is not as strong as me should be ‘switching up their routine to shock the system’ on the premise of avoiding a plateau. Escaping boredom? Maybe. But to avoid a plateau? Stick to the basics and hammer them harder than Tim Allen in Home Improvement.

They knew the ‘drill’. ‘Hammer’ the basics and win. Source

I will use my 50-year old male client as an example. He has been training with me for almost two years. For the past two years, he has usually seen me once a week almost every week. So, he trains hard for one day a week. I instruct him to train hard two other days of the week by sending him a program and giving him the tools he needs. But 99% of the time, he just doesn’t go the yard since I am not there to push him. So after training with me for a bit over two years, once a week, I think he has decent numbers.

At 5’10” and 170 pounds, here are his past and current numbers:
Squat: 135 pounds, 1 set of 5 –> 200 pounds, 5 sets of 5
Bench press: 95 pounds –> 160 pounds, 5 sets of 5
RDL: 135 pounds –> 225, 3 sets of 8

Not too shabby for someone who works out less than the vast majority of people.

Unless you want to look like you don’t work out, then take your training seriously. Source

By constantly switching up your routine, you are essentially doing the first step of the General Adaptation Syndrome, a processed coined by the late Hungarian, Hans Selye. GAS is a process that consists of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Alarm is the act of inducing stress on your body, and in this case, training. In resistance, the body will adapt to the stress. Keep going beyond the body’s capability to adapt and you will go into exhaustion. However, your body responds best to constantly being exposed to the same stimulus but at a different intensity, or difficulty. If you keep doing the same thing over and over in terms of stress, then you won’t progress at the most optimal rate.

In other words, by replacing your chest day consisting of 5 chest exercises with a chest day consisting of 5 different exercises but not adding difficulty will not help you break through any plateaus; it will only serve to keep you from being bored.

 But remember that I am a friend of context and that there are hardly any hard and fast rules in fitness, “shocking the system” being no exception.

When should you shock your system?

  • No true goals. This probably pertains to general fitness clients who have no real interest in getting stronger, leaner, and more athletic. They just go through the motions because they want to feel like they’re doing something good for their health. Through observation, I believe this line is used notoriously by people who  believe they are more advanced than they really are.
  • If your sport calls for it, then you want to shock your system. The prime example here is Crossfit. These folks are not training for anything in particular, but for everything in general. They put their bodies through as many different workouts as possible to attack every system and become a well-rounded individual. But trust me when I say this, Crossfit is not for everyone. In fact, it’s probably for far less people than general training.
  • If you’re an advanced athlete participating in a specific sport, then you want to shock the system. At this point, it’s not even called shocking, but a scientific term called ‘periodization’, a process in which an athlete will make planned changes to their training program to bring out adaptations. In short, periodization can be of different lengths, but advanced athletes will have to manipulate their training variables more often than non-advanced athletes.
  • You may have goals, but if you really have no interest in getting stronger, leaner, or more athletic, then just shock the system. This is usually for people who get ‘bored’. This isn’t a stab at people who don’t take training seriously. Not everyone can walk into the gym and enter the “BLOOD, SWEAT, AND VOMIT” crew. If you get bored and just want to exercise for the sake of sweating and getting healthier, then do something different all the time.

When shouldn’t you shock your system?

  • You have a goal. You want to get stronger, leaner, faster, more athletic. To achieve a goal, you must train with purpose and every exercise, set, and rep should have a rhyme and reason for the most part. If you want to throw in a biceps exercise to get a pump in your arms, feel free.
  • If you’re an advanced athlete participating in a specific sport, then you also want to keep training specific. Being an advanced athlete is like being a double-edged word. You must train with specificity (using exercises and techniques very closely related to your actual sport’s form) but not over-do it.
  • If you’re a novice to intermediate lifter. Seriously, knock it off with the shocking the system. You don’t need the new Workout of the Month from Shape Magazine or Men’s Health if you fall in this camp and have serious goals. You need to attack a good training program will ferocity and drive. If you don’t become better at your current workout, then you’re doing something wrong, because almost all novices will progress on any exercises, for months on end.

No unicorns waiting at the end of your “shock the system” program. Source

As long as you’re progressing on a training program, keep going. Unless you’re an advanced athlete, don’t even worry about getting into the mindset that you constantly need to shock your system. If you’re honestly bored, then do whatever the hell you want. But if you have goals, next time you think you’ve hit a true plateau, ask yourself if you put enough time and effort into your current training program.

Here’s a saying I love and live by:

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. – Bert Lance

As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Live life strong,

David

How Often Should You Eat?

How often should I eat?

Another contentious issue that is often challenged in the literature and real-life. You see it all the time… exceptions and generalities. So whenever someone asks me a loaded question like this, my answer is always:

It depends.

That is the honest and simple answer I give to everyone who asks me this question, including clients. Certainly, this is also the answer that most people do not want to hear. But with further explanation, many people’s adverse reactions turn to curiosity, and eventually (hopefully), compliance.

I take pride in providing a no bullsh*t service that doesn’t paint a broad stroke as the “best” or “one and only way” to do things. I instead focus on what’s optimal for people under their unique conditions. Not everyone has the same lifestyle habits, or eat and exercise the same way. That’s precisely why you shouldn’t follow a cookie-cutter meal plan you find on the internet. Why? Simply look at the person who is espousing the diet. They are super-ripped, probably have great genetics, and probably spend a lot more time in the gym than you. Let me not forget to mention that you may not enjoy eating what they eat. And if you are unfamiliar with macronutrient (protein, fats, carbohydrates) content of certain foods, hardly think about swapping foods.

On the other hand, there are some general categories that a majority of people will fall under even if their life stages are different. For example, a student and a working professional are in similar circumstances, as opposed to a student and a competitive bodybuilder. The comparison made here is assuming that the student and business professional do not treat training and eating like it’s their job. In this case, the student and business professional will have training and nutrition protocols that bear more of a resemblance to each other than the student and athlete.

Now, for those of us who have lives outside of the gym, there are a few general guidelines that you should follow if you want to make the most of your nutrition plan.

The importance of keeping a regular meal schedule

This bears repeating. Research has shown over and over again that having a consistent meal pattern gives you better results and health. It is the key factor in making meaningful and lasting progress. There’s not too much debate about this considering how not many follow-up studies are in the literature after a few established this fact. To quote a study done in 2004,

…irregular meal frequency appears to produce a degree of insulin resistance and higher fasting lipid profiles, which may indicate a deleterious effect on these cardiovascular risk factors” (Farshchi, 2004).

What the above essentially means that if you eat with no regularity or your meals are all over the place, you increase your risks of becoming sick or experience more complications if you are sick. When it comes to nutrition, consistency is your trump card for many reasons, which we will discuss below.

But what about eating lots of small meals per day? People say you need to keep ‘stroking’ your metabolism?

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This might work if your metabolism works like a dog. Pet your metabolism frequently and it will roll over, pant, and reward you with unconditional love. Except this isn’t really how your metabolism always works.

If you have read any sort of nutrition-related research over the past ten years or read the news or peruse fitness magazines, you have probably heard that you should eat more often to “increase your metabolism”. Researchers have constantly been investigating this idea that a high meal frequency (6+ meals) somehow increases your metabolism. After decades of research and investigation, researchers of high-quality studies came to a general conclusion: for weight loss, it really doesn’t matter how often you eat; it’s the amount of calories that matters at the end of the day. To quote a research study from 2010 about this:

Researchers conclude that “increasing MF [meal frequency] does not promote greater body weight loss under the conditions described in the present study” (Cameron, 2010).

This study was a high-quality study, done for 8 weeks, and both groups ate the same amount of calories. The biggest difference was that one group ate 6 times per day while the other ate 3 times. Additionally, another study in 2012 added to the mounting evidence that a higher meal frequency does not confer extra benefits:

“RMR [resting metabolic rate] and appetite control increased in the LFr [low-frequency] diet, which can be relevant for body weight control on the long term” (Munsters, 2012).

And in one particular study, increasing meal frequency actually led to more hunger. To quote a study done in 2013:

Researchers conclude that “increasing meal frequency from three to six per day has no significant effect on 24-h fat oxidation, but may increase hunger and the desire to eat” (Ohkawara, 2013).

As with any study, you have to keep a couple of things in mind:

  • These studies were done on people who were not terribly active. They might represent the typical gym-goer, but not someone who takes their training seriously, like an athlete. So of course, these findings may not apply to someone competing athletically at a high level.
  • YOU may not like eating 3 meals per day, whether for your own sanity, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or because you are an athlete and need to nourish yourself constantly.

What about us regular folk? And yes, this includes me. 

Now let’s see how we can get general fitness folks who have no intention of standing on stage in a banana hammock or running a marathon to look good naked (the below is assuming that you already know your calorie, protein, fat, and carbohydrate needs).

  1. Keep a food journal. You don’t need to get a fancy leather strap and buckle journal for this one. A composition book will do. In it, you will keep track of what, when, how much. A food journal is the simplest yet most effective way to stay accountable. It’s also one of the main things people avoid doing. If it’s so effective, why don’t people do it? If I knew the answer to that question, I wouldn’t even need to look for clients and I would be a financially successful personal trainer.

The reason I believe people don’t keep a food journal is simple: they’re scared of what they may see, lazy, or both. The journal may not be a person, but seeing for your own eyes what you eat on a daily basis may shock you. And no one wants to be told that what they’re doing is wrong, not even by themselves. If you honestly can’t take 30 seconds out of your meal to jot down what you’re eating, you’re lazy—plain and simple. Unless you’re making an insane amount of money, chances are high that you work 8-9 hour days and probably commute. Why not write down what you ate or will eat while commuting? Seriously, how hard is it to write this down?

12pm…5 eggs, 2 cups broccoli, 1 cup berries

You can make time to go out and have a few drinks with your buddies, but can’t keep track of what goes in your mouth? Pssshaw.

  1. Find your preferred eating frequency. If you’re not a competitive athlete or currently in-season for a physique sport, I suggest eating 3-4 meals per day. In the event you want to deviate from my suggestion, make sure you stick with it. If you decide you only want to eat two meals per day, then eat two meals per day.

Just keep in mind that the lesser amount of times you eat, the more likely you will run into vitamin and mineral sufficiency issues. Your margin of error gets increasingly smaller with less meals.

  1. Try to eat at the same time, every day. Find the best times for you to eat and stick with those times. If you can consistently eat a meal between 12-1pm, then do it. Avoid eating two meals, at 10am and 6pm, on one day, then decide to eat 4 meals at 11am, 4pm, 7pm, and 9pm another day. Key word, TRY. Don’t stress out if you can’t keep this schedule.

Source.

  1. Try to keep the same nutrient composition at each meal, every day. This does not mean have the same meal composition at each meal, but for a specific meal on different days. For example:

If your plan calls for 160g of protein, 60g of fat, and 100g of carbs per day (1580 kcals), your daily meal plan may look like this:

12pm, meal 1: 40g protein, 15g fat, fibrous vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach, etc.)
2pm, meal 2: 40g protein, 15g fat, fibrous vegetables
6pm, meal 3: 40g protein, 15g fat, 50g starches (rice, potato, etc.) and some fibrous vegetables
9pm, meal 4: same as above
11pm: sleep

Let’s put the above numbers into example foods:

Meal 1: 1 6oz container of Fage, plain Greek yogurt, 3 whole eggs, scrambled with 1 cup of broccoli, ½ mushrooms, and ½ red peppers
Meal 2: Two scoops of whey protein shake, 1 tablespoon of Chia seeds, 1 tablespoon of maca root powder, 1 tablespoon of raw cacao powder, half a serving of macadamia nuts (1/8 cup)
Meal 3: 8oz chicken thigh (or tofu for vegetarians), 1.5 cups of cooked white rice or 2 medium sweet potatoes, 1 cup of spinach with a teaspoon of butter
Meal 4: Similar to above

The key is to try your best to keep the above meal schedule throughout the week. It’s really that simple.

  1. Plan ahead and compensate. This is not something I recommend you do regularly. A prime example of compensating comes in the way of binge drinking. Many people will instinctively hold back on their food during the day in preparation for their booze-fest at night. While this strategy is better than adding booze on top of your current intake, it’s not something you should do all the time, particularly because I don’t recommend you binge drink all the time.
  2. If you screw up, don’t stress. Life goes on, even if you miss a meal.

 

Wrap-up

As always, I approach fitness and nutrition related things with an open mind. I experiment, test, and read to make sure that what I am talking about is as accurate as I can make it. I don’t feign ignorance or arrogance if there is an answer I don’t know. With that said, seriously consider your goals and starting point.

Are you a heavily muscled and chiseled gym-rat? Then you probably won’t do well on a 2-meal a day plan and may instead need to eat north of four.

Are you a heavily fat’ed and plump couch-potato? Then you probably won’t do well on a plan designed for the hunk-o-rama above and may need to eat south of four.

See where I am going? Your eating approach is predicated on your goals, starting point, preference, and lifestyle.

Don’t let any of this confuse you. Once you know how many calories you need, how to read labels, and become familiarized with the foods you eat regularly, this is all a cinch.

As always, I value your feedback. Drop a comment if you have one or shoot me a line.

Live life strong,

David

 

References

Piya, et al. Meal size and frequency influences metabolic endotoxaemia and inflammatory risk but has no effect on diet induced thermogenesis in either lean or obese subjects. Endocrine Abstracts. 2014:34;226.

Munsters MJ1Saris WH. Effects of meal frequency on metabolic profiles and substrate partitioning in lean healthy males. PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e38632.

Ohkawara K, et al. Effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Feb;21(2):336-43.

Cameron JD, Cyr MJ, Doucet E. Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. Br J Nutr. 2010 Apr;103(8):1098-101. Epub 2009 Nov 30.

Farshchi HR, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. Decreased thermic effect of food after an irregular compared with a regular meal pattern in healthy lean women. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 May;28(5):653-60.

Farshchi HR, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. Beneficial metabolic effects of regular meal frequency on dietary thermogenesis, insulin sensitivity, and fasting lipid profiles in healthy obese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jan;81(1):16-24.

Saturated Fats: Friend, Foe, or Don’t Know?

It usually goes like this…

“But fat and cholesterol increase cholesterol”, my client said.

“So which cholesterol does it increase?” I responded.

“The doctor said the ‘bad one’”.

Without question, this is the most common discussion I get into with anyone who has an inkling of interest in nutrition and taking care of their health. Trying to reverse deeply ingrained beliefs that have the support of governmental agencies and public outlets is a tough nut to crack.

In this article, I want to go briefly into why you should not believe every negative stereotype you have heard about fat, particularly saturated fat, and cholesterol. Now before we move on, let me make it clear that I am not stating fats and cholesterol are not dangerous; they absolutely can be given the right (or wrong) situation—namely genetics, existing physiological stress, and general lifestyle.

A prime example of how saturated fats and fats in general can negatively affect health is a rare genetic disorder people are born with called familial hypercholestermia. In this condition, people lack a gene that allows the body to get rid of LDLc from the bloodstream. Typically, these people will show normal HDL and triglyceride (TG) levels, but their LDLc levels will be through the roof, ranging from 350-1000 mg/dL (a healthy person might exhibit 100 mg/dL). Sometimes, you can’t win against genetics

Also not surprisingly, a high-stress lifestyle puts you at an increased risk of heart disease. The reason is not because you are probably eating a bit too much fat, but because chronic stress puts your body in a state of inflammation, which in turn damages your arteries, increases your blood pressure, and forces your body to go haywire.

My point is that any food can be turned from an angel to a devil. Dietary fats, and cholesterol, have a relative health effect (RHE) on you, just like protein and carbohydrates do. But if you keep a good bill of health, the net effect is a positive one.

What is fat?

Fats, or lipids, belong to one of the three main MACROnutrients, nutrients that supply you with energy, are measured in larger quantities than vitamins and minerals, and play extremely important structural and metabolic roles in the body. Though they top the energy-supply chart by giving you 9 calories per gram, their main job is not to make you fat, but to supply you with long-term energy so you can function and continue plugging away at Facebook.

Since this is not a biochemistry crash course, I will make it as simple as possible so both you and I can understand. Last thing I want to do is confuse myself. Dietary fats are categorized into four groups that have distinct molecular properties and functions. Over the course of a couple of posts, I will go over each fat, but today, we will cover saturated fats.

  1. Saturated fat (SFA)
    1. No double carbon bonds
    2. Solid at below room temperature; spreadable at room; and liquid at above
    3. Stable under high heat (cooking, baking), so makes for suitable cooking oil
    4. Several types of SFA, each with its own effects on health
    5. Since no double bonds, generally does not go rancid and as such, more stable inside the body as well
    6. SFA are required to make sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen); they make up over 70% of the cells in the body; burn in a safer and more efficient manner than glucose
  2. Mono-unsaturated fat (MUFA)
    1. One double carbon bond
    2. Liquid
    3. More stable under high heat, though this depends on the type of plant the oil is from
    4. Since only one double bond, less prone to rancidity, but high heat can damage it
    5. Most make for suitable cooking oil (olive oil excluded)
  3. Poly-unsaturated fat (PUFA)
    1. Two or more double bonds
    2. Liquid
    3. Unstable under high heat, though this depends on how much processing it went through during production
    4. Since it has several double bonds, very prone to rancidity and can cause oxidative damage
    5. Not a suitable cooking oil
    6. PUFA are a function part of the cell membrane, giving cells its fluidity
  4. Trans-fatty acids (TFA)
    1. Originally a saturated fat, but partial hydrogenation modifies the melting point and allows TFA to be solid at room temperature
    2. Products with TFA in them have longer shelf-life
    3. Stable under high heat and long storage
    4. TFA can be found naturally in foods (dairy, meats) and manufactured on a larger scale by food producers (most common source of TFA in current American diets)

Goodie, you know the four main fats. Now what? What about Saturated Fats’ effects on your health?

Based on the properties of the fats above, if you read between the lines and thought, “saturated fats” don’t seem to be so bad then my job with this article would be done. However, I am sure we all need some clarification.

Over the past fifty years, SFA has gotten a lot of bad press, mainly for its ability to increase cholesterol levels and thereby its theorized ability to increase heart disease risk. Back then, research was not as meticulous, but now we have more and better insight. Studies have been carried out in rodents and humans in randomized trials and researchers kept track of hundreds of thousands of people in cohort studies. In short, there is no good reason to believe that saturated fat is the culprit in heart disease. In fact, much of the hype in the past was not based on studies done on humans, but by speculation and… injecting rabbits with liquid cholesterol. Why do I bring this up? Because a rabbit’s natural diet does not contain cholesterol. They eat plants.

But cholesterol isn’t part of my natural diet!

For one, it’s nearly impossible to isolate one nutrient and study its overall effect on health. Even if all you ate was butter, you wouldn’t be able to measure it. Why? Because eating only butter creates a nutrient imbalance detrimental to health that is independent of saturated fat. To function at peak health, your body also needs protein and carbohydrates.

No matter how many times I state, “saturated fats do not independently increase your risk of heart disease,” it just seems to leave a blank stare on people’s faces. I don’t blame you for reacting the same way. For years, we have been told that saturated fats are bad for health. Most times, if you went to a doctor’s office with high cholesterol, the doctor won’t even ask you about your diet. They may ask you about exercise and what you do.

Doc: “Do you exercise?”

You: “Yes.”

Doc: “Ok.”

Ok, perhaps I should give this doctor a bit more credit.

Doc: “How much?”

You: “I go to the gym 3 times a week.”

Doc: “Ok.”

Next, they will take a quick look at your numbers, probably the LDL cholesterol (LDLc), and if they are not pointed in the right direction, will suggest you either “fix your diet” or try to hand you a prescription for a drug that has side effects. Great!

So what do your lab results mean?

According to the National Cholesterol Education Panel (NCEP), here are ‘normal’ guidelines for lipids:

LDLc: <100 mg/dL
HDLc: > 60 mg/dL
Total Cholesterol: <200 mg/dL
Triglycerides (TG): <150 mg/dL

The LDLc numbers only tell some of the story. Over a decade ago, researchers found out that there are actually two types of LDLc particles—small and large. Small LDLc particles have been shown to be atherogenic—promote heart disease—because they are more likely to get stuck in holes in the arterial wall, whereas large LDLc particles are benign and less likely to get stuck (6). Now the thing to note here is that even if two people had the same concentration of LDLc in their blood, their atherogenic profile will differ. In other words, if one person had an LDLc of 100 mg/dL but it represented large particles, they would be at a reduced risk of heart disease.

Saturated fats have been unjustly vilified and LDLc alone is a poor predictor of heart disease

While I say that saturated fats have been unjustly vilified, that is not permission to go whole-hog on saturated fats. It’s true that research has focused on how saturated fats influence health and found that saturated fats are not the criminals they were thought to be, but it’s also important that you have a balanced intake of fat. According to research and observations, it’s prudent to have most of your fats come from a combination of SFA and MUFA, as this combination has been shown to improve the LDL/HDL ratio, especially in women (9).

But if you turn your attention back to how SFAs negatively affect health, you will see that this theory just does not pan out. In 2010, a meta-review was released in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, what dietitians consider to be the holy grail of nutrition research. Here, the study went over 21 prospective epidemiological studies that tracked over 347,000 people. What’s ironic is that one of the researchers of this study, Ronald Krauss, used to be in the anti-fat camp, until he actually looked at the literature and came to his own conclusions. They concluded:

“There is no significant evidence concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) or CVD (cardiovascular disease)” (1)

Research has also repeatedly shown that SFAs in and of themselves are not harmful to your health. To elucidate this a bit, researchers used 48,000 postmenopausal women from the Women’s Health Initiative program, one of the largest and longest running studies that observed how nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle influenced health, and put them into a modification trial where they can measure how specific parameters influence study primary outcomes. In this case, if decreasing saturated fat over time would decrease CVD risk. Over an average of 8.1 years, total fat intake decreased by 8% and saturated fat by 3%, while consumption of fruits, vegetables, and grains increased. Here is what they had to conclude:

“Over a mean of 8.1 years, a dietary intervention that reduced total fat intake and increased intakes of vegetables, fruits, and grains did not significantly reduce the risk of CHD, stroke, or CVD in postmenopausal women and achieved only modest effects on CVD risk factors” (3).

Ok, “but what about the more specific stuff that saturated fat does, like how experts say that since SFAs increase cholesterol, they also increase your risk of heart disease”?

The above general statement is almost false. SFAs have different chain lengths, and each impart a different effect on health, so to say a blanket statement like above does not take into account the various properties of SFAs. In fact, most of the SFAs have a neutral effect on health, with a few having a positive effect while one having a negative one. SFAs, while they do increase LDL cholesterol, also increase HDL cholesterol, thereby not changing the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol, a strong predictor of heart disease risk (2). Additionally, SFA are the strongest at lowering TG levels. From the abstract:

“Lauric acid greatly increased total cholesterol, but much of its effect was on HDL cholesterol. Consequently, oils rich in lauric acid decreased the ratio of total to HDL cholesterol. Myristic and palmitic acids had little effect on the ratio, and stearic acid reduced the ratio slightly. Replacing fats with carbohydrates increased fasting triacylglycerol concentrations.”

Above I mentioned that replacing SFA with MUFA improved LDL/HDL ratios, but it seems that improving, or lowering, your Total Cholesterol/HDL ratio is even better. Also, that last bit is interesting, right? Basically it’s saying that eating carbohydrates instead of fats will increase fasting levels of triglycerides, an independent risk factor for heart disease in both men and women. Another time, another place.

The feverish chase of linking SFA with heart disease has slowed down quite a bit, and I think it’s probably because people have finally come to the realization that not only is it unfair to ostracize SFA, but also because SFAs don’t independently increase the risk of heart disease.  As of this writing, not much more literature on saturated fat and health has been published. Nonetheless, studies continue. One of the few more recent ones I could find was this bit, again from the Journal of Clinical Nutrition. They concluded:

“The effect of diet on a single biomarker is insufficient evidence to assess CHD risk. The combination of multiple biomarkers and the use of clinical endpoints could help substantiate the effects on CHD. Furthermore, the effect of particular foods on CHD cannot be predicted solely by their content of total SFAs because individual SFAs may have different cardiovascular effects and major SFA food sources contain other constituents that could influence CHD risk” (4).

This is Harvard’s way of saying, “we should not implicate only saturated fats as a cause for heart disease, but a variety of factors, including smoking, exercise, genetics, and general dietary habits”. The second one was from the Journal of Clinical Lipidology. Their conclusion was much in line with the above, but there was even more skepticism about the negative health effects of SFA and the beneficial health effects of even MUFA and PUFA.

“High-density lipoprotein (HDL)-C increases with SFA intake… among individuals who are insulin resistant, a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet typically has an adverse effect on lipid profiles (in addition to decreasing HDL-C, it also increases triglyceride and LDL particle concentrations). Consequently, a moderate fat diet in which unsaturated fatty acids replace SFAs and carbohydrates are not augmented is advised to lower LDL-C”. (5).

The above conclusion should be a bit of a head-scratcher. Why would they advise that people replace SFA with MUFA to decrease LDL when, just a couple lines before, they clearly stated that SFA increases HDL? Based on this, it is prudent to have a good combination of SFA and MUFA, but not to be scared of SFA in the absence of a high carbohydrate diet. More importantly, two of the authors of the above study, Drs. Walter Willet and Alice Lichtenstein, were initially anti-fat and believed SFA to be a culprit in heart disease. Again, I think it is extremely liberating that researchers who once advised against SFA intake are beginning to question their original theories and even do an about-face.

And a review done in 2013 showed that full-fat dairy products had this to conclude:

The observational evidence does not support the hypothesis that dairy fat or high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity or cardiometabolic risk, and suggests that high-fat dairy consumption within typical dietary patterns is inversely associated with obesity risk” (10).”

Of course, we can’t just accept wholeheartedly that SFA cause no damage. As I mentioned before, they can. But the science is stacking up in favor of exonerating SFA. There is no cold-hard truth, but there hardly ever is in science. If there was, scientists would be out of a job and there would be no more need for ongoing research.

“By the way, I like cheese, yogurt, and butter. What about them?”

Dairy products make up a group of foods that have the highest concentration of saturated fats, collectively. One serving of Camembert cheese has 7g of fat, 4 of it being saturated. One 7 ounce serving of full-fat Greek yogurt has 10-12g of fat, 8 of it being saturated. And one tablespoon of butter has 12g of fat, 8 of it being saturated. They also taste a whole lot better than their chalky non-fat counterparts.

So where am I going with this? In addition to the last study I quoted above, there’s more good news for those of you who like full-fat dairy goodness: a most recent study published online in August 2014 showed that two full servings of full-fat Camembert cheese or yogurt per day over the course of 8 weeks had no negative impact on people with elevated cholesterol and taking no medications (7). This study is followed nicely in the footsteps of a study done earlier in 2014 showing that full-fat dairy reduced the risk or prevented cardiometabolic disorders, even in randomized trials (11).

But this is not news. Studies dating back to the early 2000’s show full-fat dairy products improve health and weight-loss. Whereas cheese improves LDLc more than butter, butter improves HDLc more than any other dairy product (8).

What about eggs?

Ah, the venerable, honorable, and revered egg. There’s nothing quite like it. Indeed, nothing quite like eating nature’s perfect food that comes out of an… anus? Ok, technically, it’s not the anus but a ‘cloaca’. But enough of the technicalities.

Eggs are always a hot topic. Though they are not as high in concentration of saturated fats, they do concern most people when it comes to cholesterol levels. Egg yolks contain nearly all of the nutrition of the egg. It is one of the few natural sources of choline, contains magnesium, vitamin A, and a range of B-vitamins. In essence, whole eggs are one of nature’s perfect food.

In research, there is an ongoing tug-o-war when it comes to egg consumption. On one hand, eggs have been shown to increase HDL levels and converting LDLc into the large particle sizes (12). The mentioned study, done in 2006, showed that eating four eggs per day benefited health in the general population. More studies done later, like these 2010 and 2013 ones, showed that eating three eggs per day improved LDLc and HDL profiles while simultaneously increasing blood antioxidant status, especially during a lower carbohydrate diet (13, 14).

On the other hand, research has shown that eating more than one egg per day has no impact on cardiovascular risk, but may pose a risk to those with type 2 diabetes. At the same time as increasing the risk of heart disease to those with type 2, egg consumption decreases the risk of stroke. Some of these studies were done using egg questionnaires that ask participants to estimate how many eggs they eat per day, over the course of years (15). Can you remember how many eggs you ate last year? Interestingly enough, the study done in 2013 showing beneficial effects touched on how egg consumption can benefit type 2 diabetes.

“Daily intake of 3 whole eggs, as part of a CRD [carbohydrate restricted diet], increased both plasma and lipoprotein lutein and zeaxanthin [antioxidants]. Egg yolk may represent an important food source to improve plasma carotenoid status in a population at high risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes (14)”.

 As you can see, the research is not as clear-cut on egg consumption. But by combining both observation and research, I have come to conclusion. Whole egg consumption does not increase your risk for heart disease. In fact, previous clients not only noticed beneficial effects on cholesterol, but also on weight status, blood pressure, and blood sugar control.

Wrap up and we’re not talking about a Big Mac to go

The best way to improve your cardiovascular disease risk and general health seen through lipid test results is to not only decrease and optimize your LDLc, but also to decrease TG. When you turn both of these numbers for the better, your HDLc will naturally go up. How do you achieve these feats? Eat less refined carbohydrates and more SFA and MUFA.

Again, this article’s purpose is not to get you to eat more saturated fat, although it’s definitely not deterring you so. If your preference is to stay away from saturated fat, that’s your decision. The goal of this article is to enlighten you, stating that there’s no reason to be scared of saturated fat in the presence of a whole foods diet. If you’re eating a Standard American Diet that consists of Oscar-Meyer bacon, cheese so processed it can only be called ‘cheez’, and freezer-burned French fries, then adding saturated fat will do more harm than good. But let’s make it known that it’s not the saturated fat that’s doing the damage, it’s the diet.

Can you see yourself having good health after eating like this?

Perhaps you want to start replacing your rancid and unhealthy polyunsaturated fats—cottonseed, peanut, canola, corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower—with saturated fats and reap the benefits. Here are some sources. Take note how these sources are also whole foods that taste good, unlike the PUFAs that we are all commonly told to consume.

  • Egg yolks
  • Fattier cuts of animal meat
  • Greek yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, milk (not a huge fan of milk for reasons outside the scope of this article), cheese
  • Coconut products (especially extra virgin coconut oil)
  • Grass-fed, organic cow, goat, sheep butter
  • Beef tallow and pork lard (though the fatty acid composition of these two are highly dependent on how the animals were raised)

And in case you are wondering…

I will include my n=1. I try to refrain from doing this too much because I apparently lack age. And many people will be quick to point out that, “I am young and active” and that I “will soon see the negative effects of eating the way I do”.

Except, I won’t. Stop to take a look at all of the sick and obese teenagers. More than 60% of these kids will develop type 2 diabetes later in life and will probably die of heart disease; but not before going blind or losing their hands and feet. I am 28, so unless I come down with an unavoidable genetic disorder, chances are extremely low that I will succumb to heart disease based on the research and my lab results.

I have a family history of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, and stroke. Both of my grandfathers died in their early 60’s of a stroke, my aunt had half of her stomach resected, and my mother is currently on blood pressure, cholesterol, ulcer, and arthritis meds. The most ironic thing about my mother’s diet is that she eats hardly any saturated fats yet has high cholesterol. She doesn’t drink, smoke, doesn’t even work part-time, but she is currently eating the very same “heart healthy” vegetable oils peddled by our government agencies. If only she would listen to what I say to her.

My diet mainly consists of whole fat Greek yogurt, kefir, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, chicken thighs, salmon, beef stew, whole eggs, loads of vegetables, and berries. I eat most of my calories at night, especially my carbohydrates, I fast 12-hours a day, and I exercise three times a week. Much less than your normal gym-rat who believes fat and cholesterol are bad for you. So my last blood work showed some peculiar yet predictable results.

Total cholesterol: 179
LDL: 101
HDL: 67
TG: 60
Fasting blood sugar: 90 mg/dL

Not too bad coming from a person born into a sick family.

Your main takeaway from this article is this:

Unless you have a genetic disorder or just flat out don’t like saturated fats, there’s no need to fear saturated fats. Like proteins and carbohydrates, they have an RHE, which can either be made better or worse depending on your circumstances. In the presence of a high carbohydrate diet, especially one composed of refined carbohydrates, SFA can do damage. But in the absence of a high carbohydrate diet, SFA not only improve HDL, triglyceride, and blood sugar levels, but they also provide you with a clean burning energy source.

As always, I appreciate your feedback.

Live life strong,

David

 

References

  1. Siri-Tarino PW1,Sun Q,Hu FBKrauss RM. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):535-46.
  2. Mensink RP1,Zock PL,Kester ADKatan MB. Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipidsand apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 May;77(5):1146-55.
  3. Howard BV1,Van Horn L,Hsia J, et al. Low-fat dietary pattern and risk of cardiovascular disease: the Women’s Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial. JAMA. 2006 Feb 8;295(6):655-66.
  4. Astrup A1,Dyerberg J,Elwood P, et al. The role of reducing intakes of saturated fat in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: where does the evidence stand in 2010? Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Apr;93(4):684-8.
  5. Baum SJ1,Kris-Etherton PM,Willett WC, et al. Fatty acids in cardiovascular health and disease: a comprehensive update. J Clin Lipidol. 2012 May-Jun;6(3):216-34.
  6. Cromwell WC1,Otvos JD. Low-density lipoproteinparticle number and risk for cardiovascular disease. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2004 Sep;6(5):381-7.
  7. Schlienger JL1,Paillard F,Lecerf JM. Effect on blood lipids of two daily servings of Camembert cheese. An intervention trial in mildly hypercholesterolemic subjects. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2014 Aug 6:1-6
  8. Nestel PJ1,Chronopulos A,Cehun M. Dairy fat in cheese raises LDL cholesterol less than that in butter in mildly hypercholesterolaemic subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005 Sep;59(9):1059-63.
  9. Müller H1,Lindman AS,Brantsaeter ALPedersen JI. The serum LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio is influenced more favorably by exchanging saturated with unsaturated fat than by reducing saturated fat in the diet of women. J Nutr. 2003 Jan;133(1):78-83.
  10. Kratz M1,Baars T,Guyenet S. The relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and obesity, cardiovascular, and metabolic disease. Eur J Nutr. 2013 Feb;52(1):1-24.
  11. Astrup A. Yogurt anddairyproduct consumption to prevent cardiometabolic diseases: epidemiologic and experimental studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 May;99(5 Suppl):1235S-42S.
  12. Fernandez ML. Dietary cholesterol provided byeggsand plasma lipoproteins in healthy populations. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2006 Jan;9(1):8-12.
  13. Mutungi G1,et al. Eggsdistinctly modulate plasma carotenoid and lipoprotein subclasses in adult men following a carbohydrate-restricted diet. J Nutr Biochem. 2010 Apr;21(4):261-7.
  14. Blesso CN1,Andersen CJ,Bolling BWFernandez ML. Egg intake improves carotenoid status by increasing plasma HDL cholesterol in adults with metabolic syndrome. Food Funct. 2013 Feb;4(2):213-21.
  15. Rong Y1,Chen L,Zhu T, et al. Egg consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMJ. 2013 Jan 7;346:e8539.

Eating Made Simple and Flexible

I got a question from a client the other day: how would I classify my dieting?

First off, I don’t truly believe in the words ‘diet’ or ‘dieting’ in the way that they are used and perceived these days.  I believe in an eating lifestyle, an approach that requires you to make behavioral and lifestyle changes to see results for a very long time. Sometimes this lifestyle calls for a ‘plan’ that you use to achieve a certain goal. Sometimes, you have no plan at all and just eat whatever the hell you want. Using this same logic, a ‘diet’ could cause someone to not only lose weight, but also to gain weight. But in our society, people are so wrapped up in the idea that a diet is used to lose weight that they lose sight of the multitude of other effects diets have on health. Hence, I prefer not to use a term that has a social stigma attached to it.

Asides from what I call my ‘dieting’ philosophy, I generally use the ‘If It Fits Your Macros’, or IIFYM, principles. In fact, this isn’t my dieting philosophy at all. I didn’t create it, nor did I help to. I chose to go this route because I feel it provides the most ‘flexibility’ when it comes to food choices. Extremely reputable people like Alan Aragon, Layne Norton, and Eric Helms spear-heading it helps, too.

So, what is IIFYM?

Essentially, you establish, track and try to eat your marconutrient, or macro, goals. Your macronutrients are the food nutrients that are measured in grams and used for energy–fats, protein, carbohydrates. Like any other eating plan, it does require making sure you are eating within the parameters of your goals, but it allows ‘flexibility’ in that it does not condone you for eating junk, so long as you don’t exceed your fat, protein, or carbohydrate daily targets. In so many words, you can substitute macronutrients for macronutrients.

 

Source

This type of eating plan does not dictate that you stay ‘clean’ (whatever the hell that means) 6 days out of the week and then cheat at the end (although this is a plan that works well for many people). If you have intense chocolate cravings at 3PM, why wait? Just eat it and adjust your following meals accordingly (of course this isn’t optimal).

‘But if I don’t eat clean, what do I eat?’ See the picture above. You don’t need to live on chicken cutlets, steamed broccoli, and brown rice.

Anything you can eat and break down for energy–doughnuts included–contains fats, protein, and/or carbohydrates. A doughnut will have carbohydrates (sugar), fat, and some protein. Therefore, if you want a doughnut, you will eat a doughnut, but ensure that it replaces, not adds, to what you would normally eat. If a doughnut has 50g of carbohydrates and you planned on eating a 1/2 cup of rice, then you would eat a doughnut and not rice. Simple, right?

Why do I feel this is effective? Because for long-term results, moderation and motivation are key. I am willing to stake my life on the theory that more people will adhere to eating plans better if they are allowed a little bit of junk on a consistent basis rather than a lot of junk on a seldom basis. Why do I think this? Because my clients tell me so. As a trainer, I work with people of varying backgrounds. They are businessmen, or women, photographers, bankers, or housewives. Many of them simply cannot stay ‘clean’ until the weekend because of business functions. But as long as they know how to read food labels (and you should, more on that later), they are in safe waters.

At first, understanding and undertaking IIFYM may seem intimidating. What foods contain what? How do I calculate the rest of my macros if I eat this raspberry truffle? Is it OK if I add 1/2 teaspoon extra of olive oil? By the way, 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil won’t make a lick of difference. But keep practicing and it becomes mechanical, like driving, and you will only reap the benefits: freedom.

Source

With that out of the way, let’s get into how to break down IIFYM into what you readers really want to see: numbers and guidelines. Before we move on, you should know that the protein and fat numbers are based on target bodyweight, or what you want to weight in 3-6 months.

Protein: I generally like to start clients at 1.0g per pound of target bodyweight, unless they are severely overweight.

Fats: I generally set this at 0.4-0.5g per pound of target bodyweight.

Carbohydrates: This depends on a client’s goal. However, I generally do not dip below a client’s amount of lean body mass (LBM), or total body weight minus fat mass. For example, if you are 180 pounds and know that you have 20% bodyfat, then you make this calculation: 180 * .20 = 36 —> 180 – 36 = 144 pounds of lean body mass. On any given eating plan, you will not go below 144g of carbohydrates per day. What if you don’t know your LBM? Then I suggest starting your carbohydrates at 150g.

For fat-loss: I generally prescribe clients to eat enough carbohydrates to cover their LBM in grams or 1.25 of it per day.

For muscle-gain: I generally prescribe clients to eat enough carbohydrates to cover 2.0 times their LBM per day.

Let’s use the above hypothetical trainee who weighs 180 pounds, carries 20% body fat, and wants to lose 10 pounds.
Protein: 170g per day, spread out evenly over meals
Fat: 85g per day
Carbohydrates: at least 144-180g per day

Like with any other eating plan, monitor your progress. After two weeks, if you do not see the scale move, then nudge calories in the appropriate direction.

Wrapping up, I feel that IIFYM is an optimal way to structure your eating plan. It provides you the reprieve of going ‘out of bounds’ without feeling guilty, but also allows you maintain a sustainable lifestyle. After all, research shows that over 90% of dieters cannot maintain their efforts after two years. What good is dieting if everything you have done falls apart after two years? Worse yet, those dieters who revert back re-gained all of their weight and then some.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

 

Using Your Gut

“Trust your gut”, “gut check”, and “gut instincts”. All quotes related to how your gut can determine a course of action or consequence. Many people, especially businessmen, have been quoted that instead of relying on planning and such, they rely on their gut. To many, trusting your gut can be called that domain’s sense. For our businessman example, it can be considered ‘business sense’, a natural intuition for a given specialty, and the gut is always right.


If this is a health and fitness blog, why am I talking about business? Because the same way that gut instincts works in a psychological way for entrepreneurs, the gut works in a physiological way in health. Even in health and fitness, the gut is always right. And if the gut is functioning properly in the human body, you can bet that you will prosper and not suffer from poverty of health. 

 

THE GUT


The human microbiome refers to the community of micro-organisms that live inside of our bodies. They include bacteria, fungi, and archaea. We can find them everywhere, from our tongue to our skin. But when I talk about the gut, I am referring specifically to the gut microbiota or gut flora, the billions of micro-organisms that are living inside the large intestine. These small organisms make up the majority of the human microbiome and have been in our collective genetic history since the dawn of the dinosaurs, having lived in general harmony with us. And since evolution and natural selection place pressure on things that are unnecessary in the human body, there are good reasons why they are still around. 

 

 

Just some general facts out of the way:

 

_ the amount of micro-organisms presiding in our GI tract outnumbers human cells 10 to 1

_ science has discovered 500-1000 different species 

_ gut flora are anaerobes, organisms that do not require oxygen to survive 

_ most do not harm us; in fact, they are involved in metabolic processes required for health

_ you can upset a favorable balance of gut flora to an unfavorable one

_ unfavorable gut flora has been implicated with health consequences 

 

HOW DOES GUT HEALTH IMPACT OUR OVERALL HEALTH?


Because of their prevalence in our bodies, bacteria have a profound influence on your health. Your health through gut flora is achieved through many different ways, such as diet, immune health, and infections. Just to give you an idea of how an unhealthy gut flora can impact health is an infection of Clostridium dificile. C. diff is a terrible infection to have that is distinguished by a marked imbalance of gut flora. Interestingly, one of the best ways to treat the infection is though fecal transplantation, or adopting another person’s gut flora by… shuttling their feces through your nose via tube. Sounds disgusting, yet it’s true. The treatment ‘resets’ your gut flora and emphasizes growth of beneficial bacteria. 


In terms of general health, the gut flora can work in the same way. In fact, a study done in 2006 showed that those who are obese have an abnormal gut flora (1). Further, a study done on mice in 2008 found that mice that had a ‘lean’ community of gut flora remained lean through the study while the mice group with the ‘obese’ gut flora community gained weight (2). If that wasn’t enough, a review done in 2013 pooled together relevant studies showing that a gut ‘dysbiosis’ (imbalance) contributed to insulin resistance, a state in which your body’s cells do not respond normally to insulin, a hormone responsible for clearing sugar from the blood (3). What is chin-scratching interesting is that the gut flora of obese individuals ‘harvest’ more energy from food, making their metabolism more efficient.  


This is where research has been getting fervent in recent years. Many researchers are getting on board the ship that postulates that gut flora has a direct influence on whether you get fat or not by using mouse models. And though mouse models are not perfect, they are the best shot in the dark. Over time, more and more compounds have been getting discovered. For example, fasting-induced adipose factor (Fiaf) is a compound that is produced during fasting (another reason to fast) and is released by several cells in our body. During gut dysbiosis, fiaf levels are decreased and mouses gain weight amazingly easier than their counter-parts with sufficient levels of fiaf (7). 


But that’s not all. Interestingly, 70-80% of your immune system is located in your GI tract, which means that the state of your gut flora has a direct influence on how well your body’s immune defenses hold up in the face of adversity (4). These little buggers are the archers of your castle walls. If they go down, infections can cross the boundary easier and invade. 

 


An overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine in a condition known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) is a nasty set-up where you can suffer minor symptoms such as nausea, gas, and constipation to severe ones like malnutriton, intestinal permeability (leaky gut), and anemia. You don’t want any of these. As you can see, things can go awry in a real hurry if the balance isn’t kept in check. So what can you do to improve gut health?

 

HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE YOUR GUT HEALTH?


You can improve your gut health through two main courses: diet and supplementation. 


Diet


Through diet, you have to be more careful in what you choose to eat. The gut flora responds, and quite quickly, to what you eat. In a study done by a Duke researcher, his team found that a diet consisting of only meats and cheeses produced a bacterial community that is conducive to irritable bowel syndrome, whereas a diet consisting of only plants produced a more favorable gut flora (5). Of course, these two diets are at extreme ends of each other and the subjects were only on the diets for three days, but the study shows what kind of impact dietary changes have on the body. 


Although the above study may say you should stay away from cheeses and meats, that is not the case. The meat and cheese diet produced bacteria that love ‘bile’, a compound that is necessary for proper fat digestion and absorption. Without enough bile, you will run into absorption issues and may eventually develop nutrient deficiencies. Balance and moderation are key. 


Gut flora loves fiber. Normally**. They need it because that is their form of energy, the same way whole foods is our energy. Once fiber reaches the colon, the little suckers break down fiber and form short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that are then used to repair, energize, and maintain the cells of the small intestine and others. But fat… isn’t too much bad for you? SCFA are in a different league and have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and decrease inflammation (6). Put another way, SCFA are your body’s best form of energy and without them, you enter into a vicious cycle of poor immune system leading to poor balance of gut flora. 


Yet, unlike the results you’re seeing in the gym, not all fiber are the same. For example, Metamucil is wholly inferior at a health-improving standpoint compared to vegetables and fruits. The two types of dietary fibers you should concern yourself with are: insoluble and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber acts as a weight agent. In other words, it increases the weight of your stool and allows quick passage of food through the GI tract. Your body nor the colon friends can break down these fibers. Soluble fiber does the opposite and it considered a bulking agent. It attracts water from nearby cells, swelling the size of the ‘bolus’ (food about to be absorbed in the small intestine) and delaying the time food leaves your stomach, known as gastric emptying; this affect leaves you full longer. Soluble fibers are also fermented by gut flora, which is what produces the SCFA. By fermenting soluble fibers, your small colleagues enhance their and your health. So both fibers have different health affects. 


To get into a bit more specifics, let’s dive into soluble fibers. In circles, soluble fibers are also known as prebioticsor food for your gut bacteria. The family of prebiotics include common nutritional names: inulin (not insulin), fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and pectin (skin of apples). They have been shown in research to improve blood glucose, inflammatory markers, and decrease potentially cancerous lesions in rats (8, 9). Many progressive supplement companies will include a prebiotic compound in a probiotic supplement because the prebiotic may enhance the action of the probiotics. Then again, eating foods containing prebiotics will achieve the same thing.


**Above, note that I say “normally” because we are assuming that your gut, asides from possibly having a wacky balance of flora, is absent of glaring abnormalities. There do exists insidious conditions–irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID)–that extend beyond just having the wrong neighbors and will cause you gutache whenever you eat Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols (FODMAPs), which are carbohydrates found in many foods. Essentially, FODMAP stands for the vast majority of soluble fibers that you see in the food sources list that follows. FODMAP is a large acronym where each letter stands for the type of carbohydrate. Simply put, if you are on a low FODMAP diet, you are on an extremely restrictive diet. Things that contain fructose (honey, sugar, many fruits), lactose (dairy), fructans/inulin (onions, garlic, wheat), galactans (beans, lentils, and other legumes like soy), and polyols (apricot, avocado, plums, and sugar alcohols) are off-limits because the SCFA that are produced from FODMAP cause hypersensitivity and thus pain in the gut. However, this condition is not all that common and the symptoms are obvious–if you eat any FODMAP, you will notice. On the bright side, it’s not as if you have to diet like Jennifer Aniston; you can still eat and live within normal means, just with more caution. We will talk about FODMAPs more later. 

 

A FODMAP list.


In general, though, if you are trying to improve your gut health, you don’t need to be too worried about how much of each fiber you are taking in, just that you are getting a good balance of both. The reason I say this is because while people don’t get enough fiber in general, having too much of a good thing turns into a bad thing. Too much insoluble fiber can cause intestinal irritation because its passage causes friction and too much soluble fiber can produce enough gas to cause another nuclear meltdown, even if you are not FODMAPs sensitive.


Sources of insoluble fiber include: nuts, seeds, brown rice, corn, dark leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and tuber skins. 


Sources of soluble fiber or prebiotics include: artichoke, dandelion greens, leeks, onions, garlic, nuts, apples, pears, oats, legumes, berries, cucumbers, and carrots. 

 

This big-ass salad probably has a good blend of both.


Recommendation:

_ don’t cut out meats and cheeses, and opt for medium fat meats

_ aim for 30-40g of fiber by incorporating more insoluble and soluble fibers, such as those found in green leafy greens, nuts, some legumes, and fruits 

_ eat up to 2 cups of plain organic Greek yogurt per day


Supplementation


There is probably a supplement for every ailment and having gut dysbiosis is one of them. Right off the bat, I recommend a probiotic supplement mainly because the lot of you don’t eat enough vegetables. Fruits usually are not a problem because of the big ass fruit salads you eat in the morning, which of course, usually has far too much sugar (through fructose) that it outweighs the benefits fruits confer for the gut. 

 

Too much fructose for one sitting.


Supplementing with probiotics is one of the mainstay treatment plans for people with gut dysbiosis in hospitals and clinics. But there, it is usually a short-term thing. For you, it should be long-term, since gut flora gets depleted every day (7). Remember the whole bit about going against conventional wisdom because it fails us more times than helps?


Don’t even bother with supplementing with fiber-supplements like Metamucil. They merely provide insoluble fibers and contain zilch nutritional value. 


To note, the Lactobacillus family of probiotics have been shown in research to increase expression of fiaf, which leads to delayed weight gain even in the presence of a high-fat/high-carbohydrate diet (7). 


Though the research is still new, there seems to be a connection between vitamin D intake and gut flora. More specifically, low D levels have been connected with a negative change in gut flora (10).


Recommendation:

_ pick up a high-quality probiotic supplement, like Garden of Life’s Primal Defense Ultra and take it first thing in the morning with warm water and parsley

_ supplement with 5,000 IU of vitamin D


WRAP-UP

 

In conclusion, improving your gut improves your general health, which has far-reaching benefits. Having good health will only reinforce your fat-loss and muscle gain efforts.


REFERENCES


1. Turnbaugh, PJ, et al. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature 2006. 444; 21: 1027-1031. 


2. Ridaura VK, et al. Gut microbiota from twins discordant for obesity modulate metabolism in mice. Science. 2013 Sep 6;341(6150


3. Shen J, et al. The gut microbiota, obesity and insulin resistance. Mol Aspects Med. 2013 Feb;34(1):39-58.


4. Forsythe P. Gut microbes as modulators of the neuro-immuno-endocrine system. PharmaNutrition. 2013 Oct;1(4):115-122. 


5. Lawrence DA, et al. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature. 2014 Jan;505:559-563. 


6. Russo I, et al. Butyrate attenuates lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammation in intestinal cells and Crohn’s mucosa through modulation of antioxidant defense machinery. PLoS One. 2012;7(3).


7. Molinaro F, et al. Probiotics, prebiotics, energy balance, and obesity: mechanistic insights and therapeutic implications. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2012 Dec;41(4):843-54.


8. Gobinath D, et al. Beneficial effect of xylo-oligosaccharides and fructo-oligosaccharides in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Br J Nutr. 2010 Jul;104(1):40-7. 


9. Hsu CK, et al. Xylooligosaccharides and Fructooligosaccharides Affect the Intestinal Microbiota and Precancerous Colonic Lesion Development in Rats. J Nutr. 2004 Jun;134(6):1523-28. 


10. V. Mai, Q.M. McCrary, R. Sinha et al. Associations between dietary habits and body mass index with gut microbiota composition and fecal water genotoxicity: an observational study in African American and Caucasian American volunteers. Nutr J. 2009; 8:49

Nutrition You Should Know… Labels

There are a few things you should know if you want it to work.

Your nutrition program, that is. A couple of them is to be able to read labels and rationalize portions. So in today’s post, I will guide you through reading a portion and give you a better understanding of how to portion control.

Here’s an example of a label:

These chips are pretty good, by the way, albeit uber processed.

If you’ve never read a food label before, the above picture will probably leave you confused. Let’s go through each line item.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: this is the amount of this particular food for one serving and how much you must eat in order to eat the number of calories stated a couple line items below. Here, eating 10 crisps means eating 120 calories. Some foods give the weight of the product, too, like this one. If you’re neurotic and use a scale, 1 oz also equals one serving.

Servings Per Container: this is the number of servings per container. Right, so the whole bag is not 120 calories. Since it contains 10 servings per container, that means you multiply 120 by 10. That means there are 1200 calories in this bag. And if you’re a chip fiend like me, that 1200 calories won’t do anything for your insatiable appetite.

All of the following amounts account for ONE serving, not the whole container. To get the total amount of each nutrient in the container, you would multiply the following numbers by the total number of servings in it, which would be 10.

Calories (per serving): the number of calories per servingCalories from fat: I don’t even pay attention to this number. For the longest time, I’ve believed this was simply a scare tactic to get people from buying real food (more on that later).

Total Fat (per serving): the amount of fat. This is the sum of saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated fats, and trans fat. Some labels may or may not display each of the four, but many  show the amount of saturated and trans fat, since people believe saturated fat is harmful for your health. You will find less often that all four are displayed. Here is one that shows three:

This looks like a Hamburger Helper.

Cholesterol (per serving): self-explanatory. Eggs, which are a natural food and a healthy addition to your diet, has the most cholesterol per serving (each egg).

Sodium (per serving): again, self-explanatory. Sodium is commonly referred to as salt.

Total Carbohydrate (per serving): like fats, this is the sum of three main types of carbohydrates– dietary fiber and sugars. Dietary fiber is then the sum of two types of fibers–insoluble and soluble. Sugars is just sugar, whether it’s fructose (naturally-occurring sugars found in plants like fruit), lactose (milk sugar), or sucrose (table sugar). As a side note, some foods, like sugar-free gum and other artificially sweetened stuff, will list sugars alcohol under total carbohydrates.

Protein (per serving): amount of protein.

DV% (per serving): I wouldn’t even worry about this number. But for the sake of this discussion, I will tell you that it stands for Daily Value Percentage, or how much of a percentage of the recommended amount of the nutrient per serving. These Daily Values were established using government guidelines, and for your purposes, isn’t worth a damn (unless you do absolutely nothing in the way of health).

Vitamins and minerals: many food labels only list four vitamins/minerals–vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron, since these are high-risk vitamins that the government claims people fall short on. Some other labels will list more. Here is the label for Green Vibrance, a supplement I take daily.

Ingredients: listed in order of highest concentration to lowest. In other words, the ingredients that are used the most in the food product will be listed first. In the first example, dehydrated potatoes makes up the bulk. In the second, water is the most prominent. In the third example, you see groups of ingredients. In each group, the ingredient found in the largest amount is listed first.

Other Ingredients: you can just give this a cursory glance. Not all food labels will have this, but many supplements will. They are ingredients not related to food that is used in the processing of a certain product. Pill capsules and fillers like maltodextrin will be found under this.

That’s it for food labels. I hope you took something away from this post and will apply it… immediately. Your success rests upon how well you can read and decipher labels.

Aesthetic athletics

What does ‘fit strength’ or ‘aesthetic athletics’ mean?

 

I compete in powerlifting. Not surprisingly, many common folks believe powerlifters are fat, slow, have terrible conditioning, but possess great strength. To a varying degree, this is true. What more, in the past, it was probably even more true. Granted, the greatest powerlifters of all time (Coan, Captain Kirk, Dan Austin, Kuc) had great conditioning. After all, powerlifting competitions can last anywhere from 6-12 hours depending on how many are competing. The problem with the sport was the leverages mattered. Meaning, if you were a lard with a big ass gut, your bench had a shorter range of motion than a leaner person. Some of these tub-o-fats were successful, but most weren’t. But now, even lower caliber powerlifters are becoming better powerlifters because they are focusing on their conditioning more. Yet, you will still see behemoth powerlifters whose bellies are bigger than their bellow.

 

Capt Kirk, before Photoshop was conceived. Courtesy of T-Nation

 

Louis Simmons, founder and owner of Westside Barbell and probably the greatest multi-ply powerlifting coach of all time, is a huge proponent of proper conditioning for his athletes. He believes that conditioning not only improves strength, but also improves recovery because it assists in working neglected muscle groups during powerlifting specific training. I agree. How can I not? This fellow has churned out more 1,000 pound squatters than any other person in history.

 

Though I do not compete geared (single and multi-ply), conditioning strategies are one and the same with raw competitors. And to tell you the truth, I feel that everyone should work on their conditioning. If you have a protruding gut and have a hard time walking up a couple flight of stairs, my finger is pointed at you. If your goal is to be healthy and strong (which it should be), then you want to condition and strengthen at the same time. Certainly, this is relative. If you are an elite powerlifter, then you will need to focus on your actual sport more than conditioning. Likewise, if you are a novice lifter looking to just get into shape, you can get away with conditioning and strength training and see results.

 

In future posts, I will also talk about how you can improve fat-loss results while also improving your conditioning. Don’t expect miracles, though, and don’t expect to become stronger with just conditioning compared to dedicated strength training.

 

My Three P’s: Performance. Progressive. Preventative.

 

Asides from actual state of lifting, you should LOOK like you lift, or at the very least, exercise. All too many times, you have people brag about how they did this or that in the gym yet have nothing on their bodies to show for it. How does someone slave away at the cardio machines and not see any changes? Simple. Their bodies are used to it. Look to perform. 

 

Yet another caveat arises. How do you want to perform? But because my target audience of this blog are those who wish to get healthier, stronger, leaner, and more muscular, I will be talking about gaining muscle, losing fat, and being a general athletic bad ass.

 

Don’t ask how old Mark is. Source

 

 

And this guy. Think he performs? Source.

 

Performance is the name of the game. In order to see results, you MUST perform well. In anything you want to see results in, you MUST perform well. Then, after performing well, you must perform even better than well. But what does performing well mean? Every person has a different definition for each term in fitness and sometimes it drives me nuts. Note, I don’t get upset necessarily, just have an impulse to face palm. Performing well in my book means that you can run, lift, jump, and sprawl on demand and execute activities of daily living (ADL) with the least amount of hassle. In extreme words, you should be in shape enough to fight in a war tomorrow if you got drafted yesterday. Performing well also extends beyond physical capabilities. Are you MENTALLY prepared to perform? Can you handle daily tasks thrown at you that require the use of your brain? Are you challenging your mind with various tasks or are you living a mundane life? Can you shrug off a noisy and ignorant boss who uses people as tools and discards them when they are no longer useful?

 

Progressive is the second name of the game, because in order to perform well, you must progress from not performing well. But here’s the thing, you can perform without progressing beyond a certain point which is a disincentive for betterment . Look at all the people in 30-person, 1-hour group exercise classes. They look and perform the same day-in and day-out. Some have nice bodies, most don’t. Many of them can perform ADLs, so in this regard, they can perform. But put them into a situation where they have to call forth physical and mental fortitude. Many of them will crumble underneath the weight of the task. EVERY single HEALTHY person should be able to squat with an appreciable external weight (half of their bodyweight), do a single chin-up, jump up a 2-foot box, sprint, crawl, and do a few push-ups. These same people who are doing 1-hour of push-ups can’t do a single GOOD push-up if their lives depended on it. These people need to get with the program and progress.

 

Most group exercise classes suck. Source

 

Preventative. “Let food by thy medicine and medicine by thy food”, said the famous Hippocrates. Prevention is the third point on my P-triangle. To prevent is to prevent injuries, prevent disease, and prevent weakness from emerging. Of course, you can’t prevent any of these with absolute certainty, but the key here is to reduce the risk. Lifting reduces the risk of injuries, diseases, and both physical and mental weakness. Eating well does the same. Not surprisingly, certain foods increase the risk of injury. I will delve into this more in the future, but some foods cause inflammation which then increase the risk of injury.

 

Does having the ability to lift heavy things make you more confident? Does it improve your physical and mental conditioning? Do you see lifting a certain amount of weight a goal or would you rather be stuck lifting 2# pink dumbbells in a group exercise class?

 

Drop a line.

 

SBL,

David

Training and nutrition that clicks