Pop Goes the Diet—The Worst Food in the World

Soda
Since all great things come in threes (or is it celebrity deaths?), we’re going to complete our sugar trilogy with a look at the worst food in the world: soda pop. Forget about brands; whether it’s Coke, Dr. Pepper, or even Hansen’s Natural, it’s all junk. There are different degrees of “junkiness,” but this is Nutrition 911, so we’re sticking with the bird’s-eye perspective. The taste might make you happy, but from a nutritional point of view, soda’s only place in the world is to make people fat, sick, and unhappy.

Alarming statistics
In America, we drink a lot of cola (or “un-cola”). A lot. On average, we each drank 52.4 gallons in 2005, and this figure includes infants, healthy folks, prisoners, etc., meaning that the average soda drinker actually gulps (their word) more than this. Carbonated soft drinks are the biggest single caloric source in the American diet. Teenagers in particular are hooked on the stuff and get an average of 13 percent of their daily calories from “pop.” If this doesn’t scare you, it should. In terms of sheer amount, these statistics could be alarming if it were any one food. A proper diet should have some balance and diversity. And soda pop is the antithesis of “any food.” It’s bad food.

“Empty calories”
We use the term “empty calories” for foods like soda that have no place in a nutritious diet. This term is ridiculously misleading. The calories in soda are far from empty. Most of them come from sugar. In the U.S., it’s nearly always high fructose corn syrup, the cheapest, most processed sugar on the market. Other ingredients include caffeine, various phosphates and acids, and artificial colorings. We’ll get to their effects on the human body in a minute, but first, let’s stick to the simple stuff. Per day, the average teenager consumes between 10 and 15 teaspoons of refined sugar via soda—which, according to government standards, is about their daily requirement for all foods. This means that for the average teenager, his or her soda consumption virtually eliminates his or her chances of eating a balanced diet. There’s nothing empty about that.

Weird science
The soda companies are a marketing juggernaut. They spend roughly $700 million a year on media advertising alone—not to mention hundreds of millions more sponsoring events, athletes, musicians, and such. This volume of cash makes it difficult for consumers to avoid them, by design. To avoid the temptation to drink Coke, you’ve got to be highly principled or living in the middle of the jungle. And even then, well, I once happened upon a soda vending machine halfway up Mount Yarigatake in the Japanese Alps, and a friend traveling in Guatemala found Coke in a rural area that didn’t have running water. Let’s just say that soda companies are going to continue making it easy for you to find the stuff. This type of marketing machine won’t go away quietly. With the stats listed above, you could certainly put two and two together and link soda companies to the childhood (and adult) obesity epidemic that is arguably the world’s most serious health crisis. Yet, while researching this article, I came across a widely published “study” stating that “soft drink consumption has no effect on childhood obesity.” Suspicious from the get-go (the word “no” being a huge red flag), it didn’t take me long to find this statement: “The research paper was supported by an unrestricted gift from the American Beverage Association.” Bingo. Remember those Philip Morris tobacco “studies” that promised a long and healthy life from chain smoking?

What makes it so bad?
Besides the simple caloric trade-off, sodas are formulated to give you a rush. The sugar is mixed with phosphates designed to speed it into your system. It’s so good, in fact, that many cyclists prefer Coca-Cola to specific sports food when they need a sugar rush near the end of races. And while a sugar rush is a good thing when you’re trying to exceed your anaerobic threshold and you’re out of blood glycogen (never mind if you don’t know what this is), it’s a bad thing whenever you’re not, which even for a competitive cyclist is 99.9 percent of the time.

Beyond the simple sugar rush, these acids and phosphates alter your body’s pH levels and inhibit the absorption of other nutrients. Then there are the effects of certain artificial coloring agents. For example, yellow #5, commonly used in soft drinks, has been linked to attention deficit disorder, hives, asthma, and other allergic reactions in some children.

Then there is the nutrient trade-off to consider. A person who drinks one Big Gulp per day must go to great lengths to maintain a balanced diet. Otherwise, he or she will almost certainly be deficient in numerous vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and essential fatty or amino acids—none of which is found in soda. For this reason, soda is often linked to type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dental erosion, and a higher risk of kidney stones and heart disease. And that’s just a start. There’s plenty of less scientific data linking soda to poor scholastic habits, which we’ll get to in a later class.

Diet sodas and juices
In an attempt to become thought of as healthier, soda companies have diversified into non-carbonated beverages and diet sodas. While these are an improvement in some ways, they are hardly a solution to the problem. First off, most juices and other caloric non-soda alternatives are mainly just sugar and water without the carbonation. A quick label comparison between a commercial orange juice and a Mountain Dew would show a similar “bottom line” with regards to calories and sugar. The only improvement would be the lack of the non-caloric offenders. But that’s no small matter, as the true effects of these ingredients have not been thoroughly studied. Despite their no-calorie status, diet sodas have been linked to assorted illnesses. Recent studies have backed up my more anecdotal evidence that I’ve yet to have a client not lose weight by kicking diet soda. Granted, all of my clients drank an excessive amount, but regardless, there is little doubt that the pH balance of diet sodas hinders the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and that just may be the tip of the non-caloric iceberg.

A large-scale study in 2007 showed that men and women who had more than one diet soda a day were 31 percent more likely to be obese and 25 percent more likely to have both high triglycerides and blood sugar, and they had a 50 percent greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Never mind if you don’t know what metabolic syndrome is. Just trust me when I tell you that you don’t want it.

How can you help?
In my world, soft drinks would come with the same type of regulatory language as cigarettes and booze, at least. Actually, in my world, we’d all be educated and wouldn’t require this language at all, but that’s Politics 911, not Nutrition 911. Anyway, here are five ways you can help educate the public about the dangers of soda, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Contact your local government officials and/or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and suggest that:
1. National and local governments should require chain restaurants to declare the calorie content of soft drinks and all other items on menus and menu boards.
2. The FDA should require labels on non-diet soft drinks to state that frequent consumption of those drinks promotes obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis, and other health problems.
3. Local, state, and federal governments should provide water fountains in schools, government buildings, parks, and other public spaces.
4. School systems and other organizations catering to children should stop selling soft drinks (as well as candy and other junk foods) in hallways, shops, and cafeterias.
5. State and local governments should consider levying small taxes on soft drinks, with the revenues earmarked for promoting health and fitness. A national 2-cent tax on a can of soda pop would raise $3 billion annually.

Are you scared yet? You should be. Or you could just stop drinking soda. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Recovery Done Right: 8 Ways to Prevent Muscle Soreness

Gym RecoveryAching after a brutal workout? Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can make you feel the burn while your muscles recover and rebuild. But, if you take the right steps after your workout, you can go hard without paying the price. Here are 8 easy ways to prevent postworkout pain.

Stretch. Stretching is your first line of defense after a good workout. “When you train, you contract the muscles, and the muscle fibers get shorter,” says Steve Edwards, Head of Fitness and Nutrition Development at Beachbody®. “Lengthening them after a workout promotes mobility, and can lead to a more thorough recovery.” While fitness experts can’t seem to agree on this strategy[1]—one Australian study[2] claimed that stretching had no impact on muscle soreness—it certainly won’t hurt, especially if your flexibility is limited.

Eat for rapid recovery. In a study on “nutrient timing,” researchers found that a postworkout drink with between a 3:1 to 5:1 carb-to-protein ratio reduced muscle damage and improved recovery times[3]. A tough workout depletes blood sugar, as well as the glycogen stored in your muscles. Restoring that supply within an hour of finishing your workout is your body’s top priority. P90X® Results and Recovery Formula® is optimized with the 4:1 ratio, but in a pinch, down a glass of grape juice with whey protein powder or a glass of chocolate milk. Denis Faye, Beachbody’s Nutrition Expert, explains. “When the sugar [from the drink] rushes into your muscles to restore that supply, the protein piggybacks to jump-start the recovery process.”

Ice it. Immediately after a tough workout, icing your muscles can stave off inflammation. “Inflammation is one of nature’s defense mechanisms, but it works like a cast—it immobilizes you,” Edwards says. “When you keep inflammation down, that area is free to keep moving, and movement promotes healing.” Like stretching, its effectiveness is up for debate—some researchers have claimed that ice is only effective for injuries and not for run-of-the-mill soreness[4], but it’s a simple and safe option that many top-level athletes swear by[5]. “Unless you ice so long that you give yourself frostbite, there’s really no danger,” Edwards says. “It seems to really speed up healing without any adverse effects.”

Change your diet. “When your muscles are sore, inflammation is a huge part of the problem,” Faye says. To help reduce this inflammation, add foods that are rich in omega-3s—such as salmon, free-range meat, flax, avocado, and walnuts[6]—to your diet. The natural anti-inflammatory properties[7] of these foods can help dial back the soreness after overexertion. Amino acid supplements can also help with muscle recovery after a high-intensity workout[8].

Massage your sore spots. A recent study found that massage can reduce inflammatory compounds called cytokines[9]. One type of massage that’s gaining popularity is myofascial release, which targets the connective tissue covering the muscles. You can hit these areas yourself using a foam roller—put the roller on the floor, use your body weight to apply pressure, and roll back and forth over the sore areas for about 60 seconds. But . . . before you do, make sure you’re rehydrated and your heart rate is back to normal. “When your muscles are hot and loaded with lactic acid, you might make it worse,” Edwards says. For a more detailed tutorial on foam rolling, check out the Beachbody Tai Cheng® program.

Get heated. While ice can work wonders immediately after a workout, heat can help once your muscles have returned to their resting temperature[10]. “Heat increases circulation, especially focused heat in a jacuzzi, where you can hit areas like joints that don’t normally get a lot of circulation,” Edwards says. Just don’t jump in the hot tub immediately after a workout, because the heat can exacerbate inflammation, and the jets can pound your already-damaged muscles. Edwards cautions, “When your body heat is already high and you have a lot of muscle breakdown, sitting in a hot tub with the jets would be counterintuitive.”

Move it. You may be tempted to plant yourself on the couch until the pain subsides, but don’t skip your next workout. Circulation promotes healing, so it helps to get your heart pumping—just don’t overdo it. “Active recovery” is low-intensity exercise that gets your blood flowing without taxing your muscles. What qualifies as low-intensity? It depends on your typical workout. If you know your training zones, you can use a heart rate monitor. But, Edwards says, the easiest way to engage in active recovery is to exert around 50% of your max effort, and keep your heart rate below 140 bpm or so. Most Beachbody workout programs include a recovery workout, but if yours doesn’t, a gentle yoga class or going on an easy hike are good options.

Pop a painkiller—if you must. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can relieve pain, but many experts aren’t sure if they’re worth the risk. “A lot of athletes call it ‘Vitamin I,'” Edwards says. But he cautions that NSAIDs can cause nasty side effects and accelerate muscle breakdown. “The only time they might help is if you’re in so much pain that you can’t do low-level exercise—you can’t get off the couch,” Edwards says. In that case, meds might help, but be careful not to overdo it—because if you’re not feeling pain, you may push too hard and cause an injury.

Resources:

[1] http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20071017/stretching-wont-prevent-sore-muscles?page=2
[2] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071016195932.htm
[3] http://www.utexas.edu/features/archive/2004/nutrition.html
[4] http://www.upmc.com/Services/sports-medicine/newsletter/Pages/ice-after-exercise.aspx
[5] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/20/really-the-claim-an-ice-bath-can-soothe-sore-muscles/
[6] http://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-omega-3-health-benefits
[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16531187
[8] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20300014
[9] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/how-massage-heals-sore-muscles
[10] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/29108.php

What and When You Should Eat

Clock
It’s not just what you eat but when you eat that matters. The perfect food for one situation may be horrible for another. Nutrient timing is a science that athletes use to try to get the most out of every calorie they consume. Not everyone needs an athlete’s level of efficiency, but all of us will benefit from a basic understanding of nutrient timing.

This is 911, need-to-know info only. To keep you focused on the big picture, I’ll begin with an example at the extreme end of nutrient timing. If the average Joe followed the same diet as an Ironman triathlete, he’d likely have type 2 diabetes in a matter of months. Conversely, if someone tried to complete an Ironman on even the healthiest version of a low-carb diet, that person would either be forced to quit or die. This is not just because either diet would mean eating too much food or too little food. Different foods cause the body’s metabolic process to react in different ways; and various activities should be fueled using various means.

Let’s begin by looking at our possible fuel sources:
Carbohydrates
Are fuel only. They aren’t stored in body tissue, only in the blood and liver as glycogen, which needs to be burnt off. They are essential for high-level functioning like running fast, lifting heavy things, and thinking. They are digested and put to use by your body very quickly. If you eat more than you burn, your body will convert them to be stored in adipose (fat) tissue.

Proteins
Called the body’s building blocks. Hence, you need them to rebuild tissue that breaks down daily. You digest proteins slowly, and at a certain point, your body just can’t assimilate them. Therefore, it’s important that throughout the day you eat foods that are high in protein.

Fats
Help regulate all of your bodily functions. They are dense and contain over twice the calories of proteins and carbohydrates. While they are vital for our health, it’s easy to eat too much of them, which will result in unwanted fat tissue on your body. You digest fats slowly, and fats will also help slow the digestion of anything else you eat. Fats are also your backup fuel source, though they can’t be put to use right away the way carbs can.

Fiber
Categorized as a carbohydrate, it is not a source of fuel as it has no calories. It’s the indigestible part of a plant and is of vital importance in your diet because it regulates the absorption of the foods you eat. It also helps us feel full. Most of us don’t eat enough fiber, and that’s a big part of the obesity problem.

Alcohol
Not really a food source but something we tend to consume. It has nearly twice the calories of proteins and carbs (though it lacks fuel) and digests rapidly. Its only healthy function is that it seems to make us happy. Studies indicate this is a good thing, as those who consume alcohol generally live longer than those who don’t, but from a purely nutritional standpoint, it’s not so hot because you’re getting calories without any upside. Its use should be strategic and regulated for best results.

Now let’s look at the various situations we face daily, at least on most days—hopefully.

Relaxing
This is when we’re sedentary both physically and mentally. In a relaxed state, you burn very few calories because your body is engaged as little as possible, hence the relaxing.

Sedentary work
When we’re at work or school. Our bodies aren’t moving, but our brains are engaged. The brain runs on glycogen, which is blood sugar fueled by carbohydrates.

Low-level exercise
Like mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, or going for a walk. This breaks down body tissue, so you’re burning calories, but it’s not intense work. Therefore, it can be fueled by your stored body fat. Your body tries to fuel its low-level outputs by mobilizing fat stores because this saves its limited glycogen for emergency situations.

High-level exercise
Fueled by glycogen. When you really have to get after it, all sorts of hormones go to work, and your body burns its blood sugar. Body-tissue breakdown is rapid, and your stored blood sugar (glycogen) won’t last much more than an hour.

Sleep
A very active time. Deep sleep is where your body works the hardest to repair itself. You need nutrients to make these repairs, but it’s better if you aren’t mucking up the process with digestion. This is why you hear that you shouldn’t eat too much at night. It’s best to eat early to allow most of the digestion to happen while you’re awake, thus allowing your body to use all its energy for recovery during sleep. It is worth noting here that it’s better to eat before bed if you need the nutrients—don’t skip them. Your body can’t repair itself without nutrients, and recovery from breakdown is why we eat in the first place. Next, let’s take a look at an important word you need to know: insulin.

Insulin
Wikipedia tells us that insulin “is a hormone that has extensive effects on metabolism and other body functions, such as vascular compliance. Insulin causes cells in the liver, muscle, and fat tissue to take up glucose from the blood, storing it as glycogen in the liver and muscle, and stopping use of fat as an energy source.” Okay, that’s a little scientific, but look at all the things we’ve already referenced: hormone, glycogen, metabolism, and fat as an energy source. Even if you don’t fully comprehend “vascular compliance,” you can tell that insulin is something important in today’s discussion.

Sure enough, it’s the only hundred-dollar word we need to know today. Your body’s insulin response is the main reason you want to eat certain foods at certain times, to do certain things.

Putting it all together
Now let’s take what we’ve just learned and put it to use. For most of us, nutrient timing is pretty simple. The next thing to consider is what you’re going to be doing or what you just did. As I said before, what you eat should be based on this. You’ve probably heard about the evils of sugar, or maybe even the glycemic index. Using the science of nutrient timing, you can turn sugar into something healthy because it’s the only thing that transports nutrients into your blood quickly enough to be of service during and after hard exercise.

Essentially, sugar or other easily digested carbs (the less fiber the better) promote an insulin release. This speeds the transformation of carbohydrates into glucose in your blood. As your glycogen stores are depleted during exercise, recharging them with sugar minimizes the damage done by the breakdown of tissue during exercise. Therefore, sugar, the oft-vilified ingredient, is actually your body’s preferred nutrient during times of excessive stress and tissue breakdown.

Pretty cool, huh? The bad news is that this miracle nutrient is not good for you when you’re not doing intense exercise, which for almost all of us is most of the time. In fact, sugar’s very bad for you because the insulin response that was so fabulous for you when you were bonking (glycogen depleted) is not so fabulous for you when you’re sitting in front of the boob tube.

Remember this from the Wikipedia definition of insulin, “stopping use of fat as an energy source”? That’s bad when you’re sitting around. Remember how one of dietary fat’s responsibilities is to fuel you during low-intensity exercise? Well, when sugar causes your insulin to spike, it cuts off that process. Now not only are you not burning body fat for low-level outputs, you’re trying to force your body to use its glycogen. Double bad.

Unless you’re exercising, sugar intake should be minimized. During these times—which is most of the time—your diet should consist of a mixture of proteins, fats, and complex carbohydrates. The latter are natural sources of carbohydrates that generally come with fiber, which regulates the insulin response. Whole fruit, a simple carbohydrate by definition because it contains fructose (a sugar), always contains fiber and, thus, can be treated as a complex carb. Fruit juice, and other such stuff, is processed; it, along with processed complex carbohydrates like white rice, can cause an insulin response, so these types of foods should be used more like sports foods than staples.

It’s also important to note that combining all these different nutrients slows sugar’s ability to incite insulin into action. Therefore, a little sugar like a dessert after a well-rounded meal is buffered by the meal. The calories and lack of decent nutrients (processed sugar is devoid of most nutrients, except for energy) still count toward your overall diet, but at least you don’t have to worry about an insulin spike.

So the main point of this article is very simple. You should eat small, well-rounded meals most of the time. These should include some proteins, some fats, some fiber, and some carbs. During (only if it’s a long workout) and after hard workouts, you should supplement your diet with sugar or simple carbohydrates. After this, you should go back to eating well-rounded meals again.

Sports nutrition has evolved this process even further. In nature, foods are generally slow to digest. Nature’s great sports foods are things such as bananas and figs. These are sugary but still contain fiber and other nutrients. Science has found ways to make foods that are even more efficient during sports. These basically manipulate pH levels and process the sugars to speed them into your system. Outstanding when you need it. Terrible when you don’t.

They’ve even taken this a step further by finding a ratio of other nonsugary nutrients (like protein) that can be transported by the sugar to give you a further benefit. Beachbody’s Results and Recovery Formula uses this science. When you’re bonking during a hard workout, it speeds nutrients that are essential for quick recovery into your system as quickly as possible.

I can’t stress how important it is that sports fuels be used for sports performance only. Gatorade, soda, and all sugar candies (hey, no fat!) all function as the poor man’s sports foods. Unfortunately, those perusing the Quick Stop generally aren’t trying to fuel up after doing Plyo X, and therein may lay our obesity trend.

In case the topic is still a bit fuzzy, let’s use the above logic on the examples in the intro: An Ironman athlete is doing intense exercise for 10 to 12 hours or more. During this time, that athlete is mainly burning glycogen, which is gone after an hour or so. The athlete burns stored fat, too, but this is limited in its effectiveness. To race, the athlete must replenish with sports foods because they contain the only nutrients that the athlete will digest fast enough to help. To complete an Ironman, especially at your physical limit, it may take 5,000 calories coming mainly from sugar.

This is a sports-specific diet only. Someone trying to eat that way during a viewing of the Lord of the Rings trilogy would be lucky to stay out of the emergency room. Conversely, if you tried to maintain a 25-mph speed for 8 hours on your bike while munching on raw spinach and lean steak, you’d bonk so hard you’d be praying to get yanked from the race at the first checkpoint. That should cover your 911 on nutrient timing. Next time, we’ll move on to the topic of supplements. Are they magic pills, overhyped placebos, or something in between?

5 Rules for Post-Workout Nutrition

Get the Most Out of Your Training!

After exercise, your muscles are completely depleted of the nutrients they need to begin the recovery process. But the good news is they are also highly receptive to take up nutrients, refill glycogen stores, and restore protein balance to kickstart muscle protein synthesis or muscle building once again. So if you are serious about building muscle tone and reaping the benefits of your hard work in the gym, then it is absolutely critical that you fuel your body with the right post-workout nutrition.

During a workout, there is an increase in oxidation or a breakdown of the critical components that drive muscle function and energy production, including glycogen and essential amino acids. Exercise causes muscle protein turnover, which is the rate at which protein degradation or muscle breakdown increases, and the rate at which skeletal muscle protein synthesis decreases— essentially resulting in catabolism of muscle mass. The aminos, more specifically the branched-chain amino acids, are involved in the exact pathways that stimulate muscle building and the recovery process. As glycogen is depleted and used up, the body will switch to using the essential aminos to maintain energy and make glucose, and even after a workout, breakdown will continue until the right nutrition is received. Therefore, in order to halt muscle breakdown and ensure all your hard work in the gym doesn’t go to waste, you need to get the right post-workout nutrition, and what’s more, you need to ensure you get the right mix of macro and micronutrients at the right time!

Some people call the time after the workout the “window of opportunity.” As time elapses, this window begins to close, ruining your chances for a full recovery. Research suggests that consuming your post-workout meal within 30 minutes to one hour of training will ensure you are getting the most benefit out of your time spent in the gym! Consider the following five rules for post-workout fueling to enable proper muscle recovery and repair for a lean and firm hard body!

Rule #1: Make it Liquid. The key to your post-workout nutrition is ensuring a fast delivery! Therefore, it must be liquid; this will ensure rapid digestion and delivery of the important hormones that are necessary to stimulate the muscle growth and repair process.

Rule #2: Pack it with Protein and BCAAs. Following an energy-draining, muscle-tearing workout, one of the most important nutrients you need to consume post-workout is protein. In terms of quality and bioavailability, whey protein isolate (WPI) or whey protein hydrolysate (WPH) are excellent choices. Both are extremely fast-digesting proteins and highly soluble, which means they can kickstart the repair process quickly!

WPI and WPH also contain a high concentration of branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, which are considered the building blocks of muscle. They are critical for driving protein synthesis, reducing protein breakdown, and stimulating the release of insulin. Insulin is an anabolic hormone responsible for building various energy molecules in the body and preventing the breakdown of muscle following a hard workout.Several studies suggest that BCAAs can help delay fatigue and the onset of muscle soreness, as well as the markers of muscle damage associated with intense exercise. By ensuring that adequate amounts of the branched-chain amino acids are available to your muscles after training, you can delay fatigue, guard against training-induced muscle breakdown, and expedite recovery. WPI and WPH also contain a high proportion of the BCAA leucine, which is one of the most important because of its ability to directly stimulate muscle building by activating a major complex in the protein synthesis pathway called mTOR. Research has shown that leucine has a positive effect on protein metabolism, increasing the rate of protein synthesis, and decreasing the rate of protein degradation after intense training. Aim for a serving of 20 to 30 grams of whey protein that offers up a high concentration of essential BCAAs in every serving.

Rule #3: Become a Sugar Baby. Although you might be tempted to skip out on the carbohydrates, especially straight up sugar, it is actually necessary to drive protein and nutrients into your depleted muscles! Your post-workout meal should contain a source of high-glycemic carbohydrates, such as dextrose, sucrose or straight up table sugar! Sugar is easily digested and can quickly raise blood sugar and, hence, insulin levels. The elevated insulin levels will help to drive fuel into the muscles to help replenish lost muscle glycogen, and will also stimulate muscle synthesis and repair! Try a carbohydrate powder that can be easily mixed with your protein powder. Consume a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein for best results.

Rule #4: Hold the Fat and Fiber. Simply put, fat and fiber slow down digestion. Therefore, if you combine fats or fiber with the two needed components of your post-workout meal as mentioned above, protein and simple carbs, you will only be slowing down their digestion— which, of course, is the exact opposite of what you want to happen.

Rule #5: Grab Recovery Essentials. Be sure to add glutamine and vitamins C and B to your post-workout recovery plan! Supplementing with glutamine can reduce the amount that is robbed from the muscles during training. It has also been found to decrease neutrophils, which cause cell damage, and preserve muscle tissue and have a direct effect on protein metabolism.

As for vitamin C, multiple studies have found blood and plasma levels of vitamin C to be diminished in those who exercise regularly. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect muscle cells from free radical damage by acting as an antioxidant itself and by helping generate other antioxidants.

B vitamins are highly involved in protein metabolism by aiding in the manufacturing of amino acids and are also involved in carbohydrate utilization. Research has shown that athletes have an increased need for B vitamins and that performance can be improved with supplementation. Supplement with 3 to 5 grams of glutamine, 500 mg to 1 gram of vitamin C, and stick to the daily recommended dose of  B vitamins.

Fat, Not Glucose, is the Preferred Fuel for Your Body

Dietary FatWhile we may consider ourselves to be at the pinnacle of human development, our modern food manufacturing processes have utterly failed at improving health and increasing longevity.

During the Paleolithic period, many thousands of years ago, our ancestors ate primarily vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots and meat—and a wide variety of it. This diet was high in fats and protein, and low in grain- and sugar-derived carbohydrates.

The average person’s diet today, on the other hand, is the complete opposite, and the average person’s health is a testament of what happens when you adhere to a faulty diet. Humans today suffer more chronic and debilitating diseases than ever before.

And there can be little doubt that our food choices play a major role in this development. Quite simply, you were not designed to eat large amounts of refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, cereal, bread, potatoes and pasteurized milk products.

As Mark Sisson states in the featured article1:

“If you want to live a better life and eat the best foods nature provided for health and fitness, then it’s time to ditch the old paradigms and climb on to the primal approach to eating better.”

Is Glucose Really Your Body’s Preferred Fuel?

The notion that glucose is the preferred fuel for your body is a pervasive one. Everyone from diabetics to top athletes are advised to make sure they eat “enough” carbs to keep their systems from crashing. This is unfortunate, as this misguided advice is at the very heart of many of our current health failures.

As Mark so succinctly spells out in his article, FAT is actually the preferred fuel of human metabolism, and this can be traced back to our evolutionary roots.

Historically speaking, carbohydrate intake has always been quite low. Likewise, the diseases we now know are associated with insulin resistance—which is primarily caused by excess consumption of refined carbs—have been quite rare.

The evidence is both clear and overwhelming: Carbohydrate intake is the primary factor that determines your body’s fat ratio, and processed grains and sugars (particularly fructose) are the primary culprits behind our skyrocketing obesity and diabetes rates.

“It follows logically that if you can limit carb intake to a range of which is absolutely necessary (and even up to 50 grams a day over) and make the difference up with tasty fats and protein, you can literally reprogram your genes back to the evolutionary-based factory setting you had at birth – the setting that offered you the opportunity to start life as a truly efficient fat-burning organism and to continue to do so for the rest of your life as long as you send the right signals to your genes,” Mark writes.

Why the Low-Carb/High-Fat Diet Works for Weight Loss

Switching from a carb-based diet to a fat- and protein-based diet will help rebalance your body’s chemistry, and a natural side effect of this is weight loss, and/or improved weight management once you’re at an ideal weight. One explanation for this is that you don’t really get fat from eating too much and exercising too little. Nor do you get fat from eating fat. One researcher that has clearly established this is Dr. Richard Johnson, whose latest book, The Fat Switch, dispels many of the most pervasive myths relating to diet and obesity.

Dr. Johnson discovered the method that animals use to gain fat prior to times of food scarcity, which turned out to be a powerful adaptive benefit. His research showed that fructose activates a key enzyme, fructokinase, which in turn activates another enzyme that causes cells to accumulate fat. When this enzyme is blocked, fat cannot be stored in the cell. Interestingly, this is the exact same “switch” animals use to fatten up in the fall and to burn fat during the winter. Fructose is the dietary ingredient that turns on this “switch,” causing cells to accumulate fat, both in animals and in humans.

In essence, overeating and excess weight could be viewed as a symptom of an improper diet. It’s not necessarily the result of eating too many calories, per se, but rather getting your calories from the wrong sources. In simple terms, when you consume too many sugars and carbs, you set off a cascade of chemical reactions in your body that makes you hungry and craving for sweets:

  1. First, fructose is metabolized differently from glucose, with the majority being turned directly into fat because fructose stimulates a powerful “fat switch.”
  2. This rapidly leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity (“beer belly”), decreased HDL, increased LDL, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure—i.e., classic metabolic syndrome.
  3. Dietary carbohydrates, especially fructose, are also the primary source of a substance called glycerol-3-phosphate (g-3-p), which causes fat to become fixed in fat tissue.
  4. At the same time, high carb intake raises your insulin levels, which prevents fat from being released.
  5. Fructose further tricks your body into gaining weight by turning off your body’s appetite-control system. Fructose does not suppress ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”) and doesn’t stimulate leptin (the “satiety hormone”), which together result in feeling hungry all the time, even though you’ve eaten. As a result, you overeat and develop insulin resistance, which is not only an underlying factor of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and a long list of other chronic diseases.

The resulting equation is simple: fructose and dietary carbohydrates (grains, which break down into sugar) lead to excess body fat, obesity and related health issues. Furthermore, no amount of exercise can compensate for this damage because if you eat excessive fructose and grains—the primary ingredients NOT found in our ancestral diet—it will activate programming to cause your body to become, and remain, fat.

How Much Glucose or Carbs Do You Really Need?

The debate about whether or not you really need glucose, and if so, how much, is by no means settled. Earlier this year, I ran a series of articles featuring the back-and-forth discussion between two well-researched experts on this topic, Dr. Jaminet and Dr. Rosedale.

Dr. Jaminet is a proponent of so-called “safe starches,” and is of the conviction that depleting your glycogen store can stress other systems to provide the glucose your body requires to perform. Dr. Rosedale, on the other hand, points out that because glucose consumption will undoubtedly spike blood glucose levels and increase insulin and leptin, promoting resistance, glucose consumption is always associated with some incremental degree of damage and/or increased risk of mortality. His diet is subsequently extremely carb-restrictive.

Yet another diet similar to Drs. Jaminet and Rosedale’s is the GAPS diet, created by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, which is specifically designed to help “heal and seal” your gut. As such, it primarily consists of easily digestible, lightly cooked foods that are high in protein, fats, and fermented foods, and low in fiber and carbs.

Mark Sisson also adds valuable insight to this discussion2:

“At any one time, the total amount of glucose dissolved in the bloodstream of a healthy non-diabetic is equivalent to only a teaspoon (maybe 5 grams). Much more than that is toxic; much less than that and you pass out. That’s not much range for a so-called “preferred” fuel, is it?

Several studies have shown that under normal low MET conditions (at rest or low-to mid- levels of activity such as walking and easy work) the body only needs about 5 grams of glucose an hour. And that’s for people who aren’t yet fat-adapted or keto-adapted. The brain is the major consumer of glucose, needing maybe 120 grams a day in people who aren’t yet on a low carb eating program.

Low carb eating reduces the brain’s glucose requirements considerably, and those who are very low carb (VLC) and keto-adapted may only require about 30 grams of glucose per day to fuel the brain… Twenty of those grams can come from glycerol (a byproduct of fat metabolism) and the balance from gluconeogenesis in the liver (which can actually make up to a whopping 150 grams a day if you haven’t metabolically damaged it with NAFLD through fructose overdosing).

Bottom line, unless you are a physical laborer or are training (exercising) hard on a daily basis, once you become fat-adapted, you probably don’t ever need to consume more than 150 grams of dietary carbs – and you can probably thrive on far less. Many Pbers [Mark’s diet, Primal Blueprint] do very well (including working out) on 30-70 grams a day.” [Emphasis mine]

Key Point: Replace Carbs with Healthful Fats

As I see it, this is really a non-issue for most people as few people anywhere near Dr. Jaminet’s recommendation of cutting carbs from the standard 50 percent down to 20-30 percent of total calories. However, if you’ve already begun to seriously address your carb intake then you may want to experiment with various amounts of “safe carbs” like rice and potatoes. As Mark describes, the actual amount of carbs could vary anywhere from 30 to 150 grams a day, depending on whether your body has adapted to burning ketones and your level of exercise.

Keep in mind that when we’re talking about harmful carbs, we’re only referring to grains and sugars, NOT vegetable carbs.

When you cut grain/sugar carbs you actually need to radically increase the amount of vegetables you eat since, by volume, the grains you need to trade out are denser than vegetables. You also need to dramatically increase healthful fats such as avocados, coconut oil, egg yolks, raw grass fed organic butter, olives and nuts.

You would not want to use highly processed and genetically engineered omega-6 oils like corn, canola and soy as they will upset your omega 6/3 ratio. Of course you want to avoid all trans fats, but contrary to popular advice, saturated fats are a key component of a healthy diet that will promote weight loss.

A reasonable goal will be to have as much as 50-70 percent of your diet as healthy fat, which will radically reduce your carbohydrate intake. It can be helpful to remember that fat is far more satiating than carbs, so if you have cut down on carbs and feel ravenous, this is a sign that you have not replaced them with sufficient amounts of healthy fat. Sources of healthy fats that you’ll want to add to your diet include:

  • Olives and Olive oil (for cold dishes)
  • Coconuts, and coconut oil (for all types of cooking and baking)
  • Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk
  • Raw Nuts, such as, almonds or pecans
  • Organic pastured egg yolks
  • Avocados
  • Pasture finished meats
  • Palm oil
  • Unheated organic nut oils

Most people will likely notice massive improvement in their health by following this approach as they are presently consuming FAR more grain and bean carbohydrates in their diet, and any reduction will be a step in the right direction. To help you get started on the right track, review my Nutritional Plan, which guides you through these dietary changes one step at a time.

Recent Research Confirms Benefits of Low-Carb/High-Fat Diet

Conventional advice has focused on low-fat diets for weight loss and heart disease prevention, but again and again, studies demonstrate that this advice is diametrically opposed to reality… In one such study, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Heart and Vascular Institute compared the effects of two diets on vascular health; one low in fat, the other low in carbs. The study in question was presented at this year’s meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Denver, on June 33.

The study included a total of 46 men and women weighing on average 218 pounds. The six-month long weight loss program consisted of moderate aerobic exercise and strength training, and one of two diets, either:

 

  • Low-carb, high-fat: Less than 30 percent of calories from carbs (pastas, breads and sugary fruits), and up to 40 percent from fats (meat, dairy products, and nuts)
  • Low-fat, high-carb diet: Less than 30 percent of calories from fat, and 55 percent from carbs

The low-carb group on average shed 10 pounds in 45 days, while the low-fat group took 70 days to lose the same amount of weight. In terms of vascular health, the low-carb, high-fat dieters showed no harmful vascular changes, which is the primary reason for why so many are afraid of high-fat diets.

According to the lead investigator, professor of medicine and director of clinical and research exercise physiology, Kerry Stewart, Ed.D:

“Our study should help allay the concerns that many people who need to lose weight have about choosing a low-carb diet instead of a low-fat one, and provide re-assurance that both types of diet are effective at weight loss and that a low-carb approach does not seem to pose any immediate risk to vascular health. More people should be considering a low-carb diet as a good option.”

Stewart also believes that the emphasis on low-fat diets has likely contributed to the obesity epidemic in the US by promoting overconsumption of sugars and grains. I couldn’t agree more. The simple reason for this is that grains and sugars raise your insulin levels, which causes insulin resistance and, ultimately, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.

Listen to Your Body

The evidence is quite clear that chronically raising your blood glucose through consumption of grains and sugars will increase your insulin resistance, which in turn will increase insulin and leptin resistance. And avoiding insulin and leptin resistance is perhaps the single most important factors if you seek optimal health and longevity.

That said, the degree to which you choose to reduce carbs however is, ultimately, up to you. And certain individual biochemical differences can make one diet more beneficial for you than others. The key point is to be aware that consuming sugar, grains and starches will promote insulin resistance to some degree or other, depending on the amount you consume.

As always, remember to listen to your body as it will give you feedback if what you are doing is right for your unique biochemistry and genetics. So listen to that feedback and adjust your program accordingly.