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Hey guys, been a while since I’ve done a health post and they always tend to be very long-winded anyway. I’m currently on my lunch break so hopefully that restraint keeps this post more succinct.

I want to address two topics that I’ve had arguments about before with both people more and less experienced than I.

Contradicting information about exercise science:

This is a big topic that I’m going to just generalise as people giving different opinions about how exercise (or nutrition) should be done.

So why does this happen? How do you know what you should be doing if everyone keeps telling you different things?

Firstly, you need to understand that there’s two main reasons this happens. Every human body is slightly different and tempered by genetic predispositions. What works for someone may not necessarily work for you. That being said, there are paradigms that generally work to a good degree (which is usually what advice is). Second, exercise science is a junior field. By that I mean the field of medicine and anatomy, for example, are tried and proven fields with many case studies and lots of research. The studies done in exercise science are not always consistent and worst of all – the sample size is not  statistically significant.

Those of you that studied stats at university might remember this term. When analysing a portion of the population using a sample population (i.e. test subjects), that sample population is not considered representative of the actual population if the sample size is not large enough. Without going into the maths, let’s consider that the vast majority of studies use less than 30 test subjects. Now consider that there are 7 billion people in the world. Yep – huge margin of error.

This is why you will hear a lot of conflicting info but don’t get confused – that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to advice. It just means you need to learn who you are. This is something I promote as a part of becoming the best version of yourself, but it applies to physical health as well. I often encourage friends to experiment during their bulk/cut cycles to figure out what their bodies respond best to.

Finally, I just want to point out that the human body is highly adaptive. You should use knowledge you gain as part of your exercise vocabulary. Maybe 5×5 works best for you but someone keeps telling you to do 4×10. As Elliot Hulse would say, don’t get sucked into the religion of a certain methodology. Try both. In fact, you must, by necessity, do both anyway because if you stick to one methodology your body will adapt and you will plateau.

Ok, this post has already gotten a bit long but here’s the next part.

Lean Bulking

Another hot topic and popularly considered “impossible” in the sense that you cannot gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. In fact, I myself believed this for quite a while until I managed to lean bulk myself. May provide photos later but I’m at work right now.

Anyway, the common argument against lean bulking is quite scientific (on the surface). To gain muscle you require a caloric surplus to fuel growth. To lose fat you require a deficit to force your body to burn more fat for energy. I’ve gone into the body’s fuel sources before but in short – your body burns all 3 macronutrients at the same time but proportionally, much more carbs are burned and much less fat.

Now, we have to get a little technical, and this is where I’ve had most of my arguments. How do you build muscle whilst losing fat if it appears that they require conflicting caloric levels? Diet and meal timing.

“Meal timing doesn’t make a difference, it’s all about what you eat in 24 hours.”

Only half true. The other half is why lean bulking is possible.

As with all arguments, we will start from the simplest, most logical argument and build up (Occam’s Razor). Consider this scenario. You have fasted for a day. It is now night time and your body is completely depleted of glycogen and protein stores. You go for an intense steady state cardio session. Several hours after that session, right before bed time, you eat your entire day’s calories in one meal, comprised mostly of carbs.

Those of you that have studied nutrition/health science will know what’s going to happen. The rest of you can probably guess. First, you are engaging in catabolic activity with no glycogen or protein stores (all exercise is catabolic – in fact, living is catabolic). What’s going to happen? Well you still have fat so your body will burn that. Obvious right? What you might not know is you also still have protein. Your muscles contain it and your body will break down your muscle to fuel itself to allow you to keep doing your cardio. After exercise, you do not replenish your glycogen and your blood glucose remains low. EPOC continues to burn calories which will be taken from protein and fat (and protein burns in higher proportion to fat). Your body has no amino acids to repair muscle fibre so your neurological response is to let go of that muscle fibre to feed your body. Result? Muscle loss.

Now, you eat your daily 3000 calories in one go. IIFYM right? Wrong. Your blood glucose level spikes like crazy. Your insulin levels must rise rapidly in response (often leading to Type II Diabetes). The insulin shuttles the glucose through your body and replenishes glycogen stores but obviously you’ve eaten more than you can store in your muscle. What happens to unused glycogen? It converts to fat for storage. Fat is a long-term energy source – slow burning and 9 calories per gram (whilst protein and carbs are 4 calories per gram).

So obviously meal timing does play a part.

This post is getting really long now so I’m not going into what you should do – you can just ask me yourself. I’m just here to prove a point. And those of you that have heard otherwise from so and so – well that’s an anecdotal fallacy. Those of you that have heard otherwise from a scientific paper? More credible, but go take a look at the number of test subjects used in that study and refer to my first subheading above.

When in doubt, trust the most foundational, unshakable concepts in science. You can argue all you want about whether a plane or a rock falls faster depending on what angle they drop, but you can’t argue against the fact that gravity is what’s making them fall.

 

Another quick medical post – a friend of mine mentioned he was getting nose bleeds during his workouts and suspected it was due to the pre-workout supplement he was taking (C4). I took a quick look through the body building forums and it doesn’t look like anybody knows why,with most people using anecdotal evidence like “well I’ve never had that problem, therefore it’s not the pre workout. I hope you guys know better than to take anecdotal evidence seriously – for a quick brush up on logical fallacies click here.

Anyway, since nobody knew the answer, I decided to take a look at the ingredients (which was actually surprisingly difficult to find). The product is advertised as mostly Creatine Nitrate, so I had a hard time finding the other ingredients. Interestingly though, Creatine Nitrate isn’t the most common ingredient of the product. It contains more Beta Alanine than Creatine Nitrate. That’s fine though, they’re both amino acids and there’s no big harm in amino acids.

One suspicion my friend had was the caffeine content. However, C4 has 100mg of caffeine whereas 1MR (another pre workout) contains 300mg. It’s unlikely that, with such a huge gap between products, caffeine is the problem – though it could contribute to the problem. The reason is, if caffeine was the sole cause of this issue, a product with 300% the caffeine would have a large amount of customers complaining about nose bleeds.

The nasal membrane is quite thin so even mild trauma or dryness can cause them to crack open and result in a nose bleed. In this regard, caffeine is a stimulant and thus raises your heart rate and blood flow. However, there was another ingredient in the C4 that I found: Xanthinol Nicotinate.

Xanthinol Nicotinate is a vasodilator – which means it expands blood vessels. When blood vessels dilate, it increases blood flow due to reduced vascular resistance. As mentioned above, this increased blood flow could make it much easier for you to end up with nose bleeds.

Now the purpose of having a vasodilator in your pre workout is mainly because by increasing blood flow you can pump more blood and thus nutrients to the tissues and organs that need them. I don’t want to get more technical or this’ll end up as a long post so I’ll just leave it at this: your nose bleeds are probably caused by the increased blood flow resulting from Xanthinol Nicotinate in addition to caffeine. It’s not necessarily a bad thing in the short run, though it is definitely annoying having nosebleeds when you’re trying to workout.

After a recent publication in the National Academy of Science (2012), trials of a new antibody commenced on mice with seven different types of cancer tumours. The antibody, which operates by blocking the CD47 protein’s signal, killed or shrunk all tumours it was used on. The CD47 protein releases a signal that tricks the body’s immune system into not destroying harmful cells, and by blocking that signal the immune system can be instructed to attack cancer cells. Whilst this protein is found on healthy blood cells, it has been demonstrated to be found in much larger concentrations in cancer cells.

Following the successful trials on mice, the team (California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, led by Weissman) recently got a 4 year, $20 million grant to begin human trials for this new drug. By blocking the “don’t eat me” signal, the team hopes this can be a legitimate cure with minimal toxicity.

This is, of course, an exciting step forward but it does beg the question – what’s wrong with our priorities? $20 million over 4 years to potentially cure cancer for all of humanity? That’s only $5 million a year. At the same time, the US military is spending over $700 billion a year destroying humanity.

I’ve always considered humankind to be an inherently destructive force. We bring ruin to everything around us, even each other. Just a little something to think about.

 

So I was bored at dinner and ended up watching a … documentary? Drama? Reality show? It was about the U.K.’s fattest man and the surgery he requires to save his life.

Now in this regard, I’m known by many to be quite ruthless and unrelenting. Yes, I understand there’s a psychological aspect that makes it difficult for people to “stop eating” or get into shape. Difficult, but not impossible. To me, it’s always an excuse. This morbidly (literally – he’s going to die) obese man lies there crying about how he hates himself and how he looks. Hmm. And then he says it’s not his fault he costs tax payers over 100,000 pounds a year in health care costs because “(he was) let down by the health system that allowed him to get so unhealthy”. Wow. Take some damn responsibility. This is why I’m particularly ruthless about health issues. People don’t want to take responsibility. Are you trying to say there aren’t people who have greater hardships than you? That you are the only person in the world who has any suffering, and therefore are excused for your actions? I was in constant pain from stomach cramps when I started cutting by eating only one small meal a day (and I was 98kg), but you don’t see me costing Australia $100,000 a year (or, to use the exchange rate, $151,807), nor crying about it on T.V., and least of all claiming that it’s somebody else’s fault.

Anyway, hate me or agree with me on that part. That’s my little rant. I’m not completely apathetic – I’ve helped a few people get into shape, improve their body image and boost their confidence. I enjoyed doing it because these people took responsibility for their lifestyles and had the motivation to change.

Rant aside, the show itself raised a few things about nutrition that are downright wrong, leading me to believe part of the obesity problem is not just overeating, it’s the fact that nobody knows enough about nutrition.

Now, a lot of this info I’ve said before in previous posts but this is a nice little list to summarise it.

1. Mr. Obese’s caretaker makes him three meals a day of anything he wants to eat. She says “it’s very healthy, hardly any fat in it at all”. Let me get one thing straight: fat is not bad. Saturated fat is bad, yes, but fat usually comes with both saturated and unsaturated fat components. You need unsaturated fat to improve your cholesterol levels.

Let me lay some academia on you. I’ll quote the first line of a Harvard study for you:

It’s time to end the low-fat myth.

Plain and simple.

2. Carbs (especially simple carbs) are your enemy. The full article (mentioned above), which I can no longer find but I used in an assignment for university, put up some interesting statistics. Some time ago (exactly how many decades I cannot remember) the US was consuming a much higher amount of fat but had a very low diabetes and obesity problem. The the whole “low fat” craze kicked in and a lot of fat was removed from the US diet, to be replaced by carbs. Simple carbs. Those of you who have read my other nutrition posts should know by now – simple carbs are practically the worst thing you can eat besides pure trans/saturated fat. Lo and behold, with a decrease in fat intake and an increase in carbs, the US now sits at a significant amount of type 2 diabetes and obesity cases. Why? Because fat isn’t bad. Simple carbs are, and too many calories are. Yes, fat has 9 calories per gram as opposed to 4 from carbs and protein, but you don’t eat as much fat as you eat carbs.

Plus there’s glycemic index to think of and the insulin response. Carbs are particularly responsible for diabetes because of the insulin response. I’ve mentioned this in more detail in another post if you’re interested in reading.

3. This one actually came out of the mouth of the doctor who was meant to operate on Mr. Obese. I don’t know if he was being melodramatic for the camera or genuinely ignorant (let’s hope not the latter – he is, after all, a doctor). Basically, he said that when someone got to Mr. Obese’s size, they couldn’t lose weight because “he can’t get out of bed so he can’t burn any calories and therefore anything he eats will already be too much”.

Let’s get this straight: you are always burning calories. Even when you’re sleeping, you burn calories. In fact, studies have shown that you burn more calories sleeping than you do when being sedentary (such as watching T.V.). I’ve heard people adamantly reject the idea that you can burn calories while just lying still, to which I yell “idiot” and direct them to a basic physics book explaining thermodynamics. Think of it this way, unless you stop every single organ in your body from functioning, they will require energy to operate. Your brain, in fact, consumes about 20-25% of your calories, and some have claimed that “thinking really hard” can increase the amount of calories your brain burns (though only by a little). It is interesting though because there aren’t that many overweight professors compared to skinny ones.

Anyway, to be more technical, the bare minimum calories you need to keep your organs operational and stay alive is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). A larger person will have a larger BMR. Therefore, Mr. Obese could lose weight by eating below his BMR, which is likely to be very high anyway. Apparently, he was consuming over 20,000 calories a day (I find that amazing because I was struggling to eat over 3,500 for my bulk). Not only is it annoying that I can’t even afford to eat the kind of food he was eating (for which the government paid whereas I have to work), but the simple medical fact is that if you wired his mouth shut and gave him only water, he would lose weight. Now that’s a bit extreme but the point remains, Mr. Doctor was wrong to say that it was impossible for him to lose weight and that the only possible option was a 50/50 surgery.

Then again, considering Mr. Obese’s personality and aversion to responsibility, it probably would have been very difficult to put him on a diet, especially considering he failed many diets in the past. I mean, it’s probably very difficult to stop a bed-ridden man from eating, right? He can only really reach whatever you lay in front of his face, but, you know.

Sigh.

 

I’ve been meaning to simplify and broaden the health section of this blog and a friend recently asked about nutrition so it seems like a good time to start. I’ll try skip over the finer points and make separate posts about them later on. This will sort of be the parent directory with general info about how nutrition works.

If you break it down, there’s not that much to know. There are two types of nutrients you can consume:

Macronutrients:

These include carbohydrates, protein and fats. Macronutrients are your body’s fuel sources; they are converted to glucose and shuttled to your cells via insulin. More on that mechanism later.

There’s a bit of a misconception that your body burns these separately. You are always burning all three fuel sources, just at different rates. Fat, as you may have guessed, is burned the slowest. Carbs are burned the quickest as they are in a closer chemical state to glucose/sugars. That one fact will be very helpful if you want to watch your weight – glucose is essentially a type of sugar so anything sweet will always have a lot of carbs. Anything bread, pasta or rice based will also contain a lot of carbs.

Carbohydrates themselves are broken down into two different types: simple and complex. Simple carbs have a higher glycemic index and basically release glucose much faster and in spikes. Complex carbs have a lower glycemic index and are thus healthier. More on this later.

Protein is broken down into amino acids which are essential for muscle repair and growth. Unused amino acids can eventually be converted to glycogen (a more complex level of glucose – think of it as a few glucose molecules combined).

Fat is basically an energy store and contains more calories per gram than the others (fat contains 9 calories per gram whereas carbs and protein contain 4). Keep in mind essentially fatty acids like Omega 3 cannot be produced by your body so you must get them through food.

So what are calories then? A lot of people tout calories as the holy grail of weight gain/loss. Honestly, this annoys me. Calories are just a measurement of energy. True, you require a calorie deficit to lose weight and a calorie surplus to gain weight, but that’s a huge oversimplification of the process. Where are these calories from? Saturated fat? Simple carbs? Again, more on this later.

Micronutrients:

These include everything else you might eat besides the macronutrients. Vitamins are a big group. Calcium, iron and fibre are also important for the more serious body builders.

Usually people don’t measure their micronutrient intake – at least not as much as their macros. Micros are more of a long term thing that can boost your gains/losses a bit. Fibre deficiencies in particular are quite common and can help with absorption. For example, the carbs/sugar in fruit are mainly fructose, which is a simple carb, but due to the micronutrient content of fruit (fibre and vitamins), I would still consider fruit to be a healthy food (as would other nutritionists).

The Glucose-Insulin Mechanism:

All the “more on this later” bits were referring to this section. There’s a lot of study in this field so to be brief, basically glucose is the raw form of energy that all foods are broken down into eventually (at different rates). This glucose will be in your system (blood stream). In response to an elevated glucose level, your body produces insulin which causes cells to consume this glucose.

Diabetes suffers at times require insulin shots because their body is incapable of producing enough insulin on its own, meaning the glucose cannot be absorbed. Overconsumption of sugary stuff is often criticised as causing diabetes because sugary stuff is usually simple carbs and thus your glucose levels spike tremendously and your insulin can’t keep up.

Now there are some interesting points to mention. First, your insulin sensitivity is dependent on your health. People familiar with intermittent fasting and cortisol might skip breakfast for this reason. In short, breakfast can cause a glucose spike which will be responded to by an even greater insulin spike (because the person is healthy). This can cause your glucose levels to drop below what it should be (think overshooting the mark). The insulin aims to return your system to balance but it goes too far, causing you to feel hungry again very quickly. This can lead to overeating, or general discomfort.

Next, what happens to excess macronutrients? All macronutrients will eventually be broken down into glucose. What happens to the excess glucose? Well if it stays in your system long enough and isn’t used, then your body will store it. It does this by converting to glycogen and then eventually into fat (fat being the ultimate energy store). And this is why I get annoyed at people who always preach calories but never consider other factors. Yes, calories are the bottom line but they aren’t the only factor involved.

Consider this: a macro target of 2500 calories per day with a maintenance calorie level of 3000. Technically, if the target is reached, the person should lose weight right? Well they will but let’s consider how other factors can affect the weight loss. Say the person eats all 2500 calories in one sitting, and they’re all simple carbs (i.e. he eats two loafs of white bread). First of all, it’s very unhealthy, I know, but let’s take a look at the mechanism.

Simple carbs means huge glucose spike. Excess glucose will be converted to fat. If all the glucose is converted, then his body will have no more carbs. If his body has no more carbs, he has to break down protein (in a process known as catabolism) and fat for fuel. Good news right? He’ll still lose weight because he’ll burn more calories (3000) than he supplied (2500). Yes, but, fat burns the slowest. So he’ll lose weight but most of it will be loss of muscle. It’s entirely possible that he could actually gain fat while losing weight.

If that makes sense to you, you should realise that while calories are still the bottom line for weight loss, there’s much more to it than just that. This is just a general overview of how nutrition works but hopefully this understanding will help you make more informed decisions.

This one’s inspired by a conversation I had today. Someone saw the bandage on my wrist and asked what happened, to which I responded that I tore a ligament whilst boxing. He said I should take anti-inflammatories to fix it. Me, being a know-it-all, said that anti-inflammatories wouldn’t help since my swelling is already gone. He proceeded to say “are you a doctor?”, then claimed to have worked as one at various private gyms. Unwilling to match wits with someone in their own field, I shrugged it off and went home to do some research.

Well, turns out I’m right (as per usual). I don’t know if he was actually a doctor or not but in your face random guy, you’re wrong. Anti-inflammatories inhibit the production of prostaglandins, which is a chemical released by the tissue that causes swelling and increase the electrical pain signal from the damaged area. Basically, it’s a pain killer that can reduce swelling. It does not help with tissue repair. In fact, it can inhibit recovery by blocking protein synthesis (Dr. Hakan Alfredson). So not only was I right, the guy trying to prove me wrong was totally arguing in the wrong direction. Here’s some more proof (NSAID stands for Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs):

In spite of the widespread use of NSAIDs there is no convincing evidence as to their effectiveness in the treatment of acute soft tissue injuries.” (Bruckner, P. Clinical Sports Medicine. New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1995, pp. 105-109.)

NSAIDs have been shown to delay and hamper the healing in all the soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Anti-inflammatories can delay healing and delay it significantly, even in muscles with their tremendous blood supply. In one study on muscle strains, Piroxicam essentially wiped out the entire inflammatory proliferative phase of healing (days 0-4). At day two there were essentially no macrophages (cells that clean up the area) in the area and by day four after the muscle strain, there was very little muscle regeneration compared to the normal healing process. The muscle strength at this time was only about 40 percent of normal.(Greene, J. Cost-conscious prescribing of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for adults with arthritis. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1992; 152:1995-2002.)

Muscles injuries treated with Flurbiprofen (NSAID) were significantly weaker. The muscle fibers were shown under the microscope to have incomplete healing because of the medication. (Almekinders, L. An in vitro investigation into the effects of repetitive motion and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication on human tendon fibroblasts. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 1995; 23:119-123.)

I have heaps more but I doubt anybody will read it all. Suffice to say, anti-inflammatories are bad.

I realise I’m tooting my own horn a bit here but I find it very satisfying when I find out somebody trying to prove me wrong was wrong all along, and this event is still fresh in my mind (happened a few hours ago).

Well, the moral of this story is that anti-inflammatories do not speed up the recovery process, and in fact are more likely to slow it down. They have also been linked to some other health issues lately. I won’t get into them, but you can Google “side effects of anti-inflammatories” if you’re interested. The other moral of this story is:

Well, what should you take if not anti-inflammatories? As a true scholar, I know when to draw the line and say there is a limit to my knowledge. Honestly, it depends on what the injury is. Personally, I avoid all drugs. I haven’t taken any medication for the past 9 years and have only felt stronger every year. I catch a cold about once a year and it goes away within a week. I have some permanent injuries but since I learned more about nutrition, the pain has been mostly absent. This is my own personal approach – I’m not saying all drugs are bad for you, but if you can avoid it, then avoid it. I don’t think it’s good for your body to be popping pills like candy. I know for a fact that people who take painkillers often have a much lower pain threshold (another reason why I never take painkillers).

What do I do during recovery if I don’t rely on pills? Well, I do all the scientifically sound stuff like increase protein intake (as your body needs the amino acids to repair damaged tissue), increase or maintain a good level of micronutrients and other essential fatty acids (omega 3 being a good one), follow the RICE procedure (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) for the following three days to a week after injury, and engage in rehabilitation exercises for the injured area to rebuild flexibility and functional strength. See, these things make more sense don’t they? Pssh. Anti-inflammatories my foot.

We’ve all heard of electrolytes, especially since sports drinks tend to market themselves as “scientific” and throw around “scientific” words to make themselves sound more impressive. In reality, electrolytes are substances that become ions in the blood stream and the balance of electrolytes in our system is essential for the function of cells and organs. They are used to conduct electricity and carry electrical impulses such as nerve impulses and muscle contractions. The kidneys work to keep electrolyte levels in your blood constant. You lose electrolytes through sweat, which is why sports drinks emphasise that they replace electrolytes. Let’s take a look at some of the electrolytes in your body before we take a look at some sports drinks and what they actually contain.

The major electrolytes in your body are:

–          Sodium (Na+)

–          Chloride (Cl-)

–          Potassium (K+)

–          Calcium (Ca2+)

–          Magnesium (Mg2+)

–          Phosphate (PO42-)

–          Bicarbonate (HCO3-)

–          Sulfate (SO42-)

Sodium:

Sodium is one of the major positive ion (cation) in fluid outside of cells. Many of you are probably familiar with sodium chloride, which is the scientific name for table salt. Sodium regulates the water levels in the body, which is why those trying to lose weight should avoid salt as much as possible as it causes water retention (excess salt is a big dietary problem; salt deficiency is very uncommon). The brain, nervous system and muscles require electrical signals to communicate, thus a good sodium level is critical for proper function.

An increase in sodium, known as hypernatremia, occurs when there is excess sodium in relation to water (which is why everyone recommends drinking more water). By contrast, a decrease in sodium level is known as hyponatremia. The normal blood sodium level is 135 – 145 mmol/L (millimoles / Litre).

Potassium:

This is another major cation found in cells. It helps regulate heartbeat and muscle function. Abnormal changes in potassium levels can impact on the nervous system and cause irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), which can be fatal.

An increase in potassium levels is known as hyperkalemia and a decrease is known as hypokalemia. Potassium is normally excreted by the kidneys, so diseases that affect the kidneys can cause either one of these. The normal blood potassium level is 3.5 – 5.0 mmol/L.

Chloride:

This is the major negatively charged ion (anion) found in the fluid outside of cells and in the blood. Sea water has almost the same concentration of chloride ions as human body fluids. An increase in chloride levels is known as hyperchloremia while a decrease is known as hypochloremia. The normal range for chloride is 98 – 108 mmol/L

Bicarbonate:

This ion acts as a buffer to maintain the pH level in blood and other bodily fluid. It acts to regulate acidity levels in the body and the normal range is 22 – 30 mmol/L.

 

Powerade and Conclusion:

I have a bottle of this with me right now, so let’s take a look at the ingredients. All sports drinks are roughly the same so I’ll just focus on Powerade since I have the bottle with me and since its nutritional table is more helpful than the Gatorade one. In terms of the electrolyte content, per serving there is 7.2mmol of sodium and 2.4mmol of potassium (where a serving size is 600mL). The ingredients list sodium chloride, which we all know is just salt, and to cover up the salty taste it lists sucrose, which is basically table sugar. Sucrose is a simple carbohydrate; I’ll leave it at that for now. The drink also contains high fructose corn syrup and sucrose syrup.

Essentially, the two drinks are meant to help maintain electrolyte and carbohydrate balance through salt and sugar. That’s also the problem. If you’ve heard anything about the state of the Western diet and its health problems, you’ll know that salt and sugar are the two worst things happening to people right now. This is compounded by the fact that to restore carbohydrates, these drinks use simple carbs.

Now if we keep in mind that this is sports drink, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Athletes are less likely to have an excess of sodium chloride in their diets (as opposed to the rest of the world) and a quick hit of carbs during exercise can help prevent catabolism and facilitate refuelling. The only concern I would have in this regard is that despite marketing itself as an electrolyte replenisher, sports drinks only contain two of the most common electrolytes because they’re just using common salt.

The problem is that the drink is available to anybody. It sits in the drink section as if it were just another drink. A lot of drinks have sugar in it already, but sports drink also have salt, making things worse. The contents include sucrose syrup (liquefied table sugar) which is high in empty calories. Powerade actually has less sugar in it than Gatorade, but let’s take a look at Gatorade (because I have the numbers from a study here). Gatorade contains 14g of sugar per 100g, which is equivalent to about 3.3 teaspoons of sugar. The entire bottle (which is one serving) will give you 8 teaspoons of sugar. Additionally, the high fructose corn syrup content has been shown to significantly and independently increase risk of hypertension in people with no previous history of the disease (American Society of Nephrology, 2009). Imagine a regular person adding all this to their diet because they perceive the sports drink as being healthier than the soft drink.

In fact, even if you are an athlete and regularly exercise, I still would not recommend sports drinks at any time other than when you are actually in the middle of exercising. This is the only time where a sugar and salt hit will not necessarily be bad for you, but the other ingredients still make the benefits of the drink questionable. All in all, I would still go for just water and maybe a quick, bite sized snack like fruit or nuts. Personally, I carry a bag of almonds around and just pop a few in my mouth while I’m at the gym. The protein and calorie content of almonds are amazing for building muscle.

 

Been a while since I did a post on health so I’m here to drop knowledge bombs on the fat topic. My first post on health is too long and cluttered so I’m going to break things down to more bite-sized portions.

Let’s start with most important fact, something that a lot of people don’t know and have health issues because of: not all fat is bad. In fact, some fats are good for you. As in, actively help your health. Here’s something to think about. In the 1960s, fats and oils supplied Americans with 46% of their calories. At this time, about 13% of adults were obese and less than 1% had type 2 diabetes. Compare that with today where Americans only get about 33% of their calories from fats and oils, yet 34% of adults are obese and 11% have diabetes (stats sourced from Harvard).

So, what’s the deal here? Well, like I said, not all fat is bad. By reducing fat intake, people have also cut out good fats, and have replaced these with simple carbs (white bread, rice, etc.) which is a bad combination. Weight loss/gain is determined by the amount of calories. Other health issues depend on where these calories come from (fat, grains, etc.); for example, cholesterol levels can rise due to an increased intake of saturated fats, but you can still lose weight while eating saturated fats if you reduce your daily calorie intake. What’s that mean? Well, if you want to look good and be healthy, you need to watch what you eat and how much you eat. If you just want to look good for the short term (because if you’re unhealthy, you’re not going to look good for long), you can just eat less and not really watch what you’re eating (although some foods are far more calorie-dense than others).

How fat works:

So, let’s take a look at how fat works; fat is actually an important nutrient. Your body runs on three fuel sources, carbohydrates, protein and fat. I won’t go into detail here, that’s for another post, but basically fat provides 9 calories per gram whereas carbs and protein only provide 4. Fat is therefore a great source and store of energy. It also influences insulin sensitivity (will go into detail about this in another post) and can address inflammations. The body also uses cholesterol as the starting point to make estrogen, testosterone, vitamin D and other vital compounds.

However, fat and cholesterol don’t dissolve in water or blood, so the body packages fat and cholesterol into protein-covered particles called lipoproteins. These can dissolve into the blood stream. There are many types but the most important ones are low-density lipoproteins, high-density lipoproteins and triglycerides.

Low Density Lipoproteins (LDLs):

These carry cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body. Cells latch on to the LDLs to extract fat and cholesterol from them. However, when there is too much LDL cholesterol in the blood, they begin to form deposits on the walls of arteries (called plaque), which narrows the arteries and limits blood flow. When plaque breaks apart, it can cause a heart attack or stroke. Because of this, LDL cholesterol is often referred to as bad cholesterol.

High Density Lipoproteins (HDLs):

These scavenge cholesterol from the bloodstream, from LDL, and from artery walls and ferry them back to the liver for disposal. Obviously, that’s good for you, which is why HDL cholesterol is often referred to as good cholesterol (as you can see, it actively improves your health).

Triglycerides:

These make up most of the fat that you eat and that travel through your bloodstream. They are the body’s main method for transporting fat to cells (good thing), but an excess can cause health issues.

Types of fat:

Ok, so now you know how fat works and that there are good and bad cholesterols (HDL and LDL respectively).

Unsaturated fat:

There’s two kinds of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These are called good fats because they can improve blood cholesterol, ease inflammation, stabilise heart rhythms and provide other health benefits. These kinds of fats are liquids at room temperature. Omega-3 is an important type of polyunsaturated fat because the body can’t make it. Most people don’t get enough of these healthy fats and the entire misled “low fat diet” only made things worse as people avoided bad and good fats, replacing them with simple carbs (which are bad). High fat diets with low carbs and healthy fats have been shown to result in weight loss and overall health improvements (such as reducing cardiovascular risks).  The American Heart Foundation recommends 8-10% of your daily calories coming from polyunsaturated fats, though around 15% can do more to lower heart disease risks. The message here is to eat more healthy fats (and obviously less unhealthy ones).

Saturated fat:

Including trans fat (the worst), these are the bad fats you should avoid. They cause excesses of LDLs and triglycerides (their negative effects can be seen above), which lead to a wide range of health issues.

Some sources of good fats:

Oils: Olive, canola , flaxseed

Nuts: Almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, peanuts

Seeds: Flax, sesame, pumpkin, chia

And fish, corn, and soybeans.

 

Conclusion:

Although the Atkins diet and other studies have shown high fat diets do not necessarily lead to worse health conditions, that is a vast oversimplification of the issue. High fat diets are high in both saturated and unsaturated fats, the latter being good for you. When compared to a typical carb-rich American diet, it may be worth the increase in saturated fat to increase unsaturated fat intake. If you look at things more precisely though, it’s because high fat diets replace carbs as fuel, and because you’re getting more unsaturated fats (which you need). It’s not because the fat itself is good for you, it’s because people have really bad diets already, so the comparison is like picking the lesser evil.

As for why carbs are bad for you – well I’ll address that in another post but the crux of it is that carbs release glycogen into your system, and excess glycogen is stored as fat. High carb diets (especially simple carbs with a low glycemic index) tend to release too much glycogen at once, causing most of it to turn into fat. Carbs also digest the fastest out of the three fuel sources and cause blood sugar and insulin levels to spike, then crash very rapidly leading to feelings of weakness, tiredness, hunger and increasing risks of heart disease and diabetes.

 

I’ve been asked these a lot lately so I’m going to compile my information – otherwise I’ll be retyping the same thing over and over again. Basically, any physical or mental issues that are biologically possible can be alleviated to some degree, if not fully preventable or fixable, with good nutrition and exercise. I say “to some degree” so that people don’t start nitpicking at my words and proclaiming XYZ cannot be cured by diet and exercise – no it might not be curable but you can certainly make a positive difference. This is a medical fact that has spawned the “Exercise Physiology” field as a separate branch from physiotherapy, allowing it to be a specialisation all by itself.

Obviously obesity is the most common example but just to prove my point, I’ll give you a more obscure one. I have a fracture in my lateral meniscus that has weakened my knee a lot. I went to see a sports injury specialist – one of the best NSW apparently, every GP knows his name – and he said the only thing I can really do is strengthen the muscles around the knee to help support it (this was after already having done surgery). So yeah: “Fat? Exercise. Permanent fracture? Exercise”.

I’ll be a bit more politically correct and mention that you should only exercise properly at the proper time. I’m not telling you to drag yourself up off the road after getting hit by a car and hit the gym first. You might want to go to the hospital before that. But as a long term solution to an ailment, exercise and diet are really the only solutions (I don’t consider being on a wide range of medications for the rest of your life to sustain your existence a solution).

Most of the stuff I’m asked about relates to weight loss so I’ll focus mainly on that. Before I start, I’ll add one last disclaimer: I’m reasonably fit as I watch what I eat and work out but I’m no gym junkie. I’ve done a bit of research on these matters but I’m not an expert. What I’m telling you is really stuff that everyone should know – but for some reason they don’t. It’s simple.

I’m going to shoot the naysayers in the foot before they begin. I’m certain people have heard the whole “some people can’t lose weight even if they diet and exercise because it’s genetic or they have some kind of disorder (Syndrome X and hypothyroidism fit in here)” argument. Well if you want to get all scientific about it, I will too. Are you trying to claim that your body violates the first law of thermodynamics (conservation of energy)? So you say that no matter how much energy your body uses and no matter how little energy you put into your system, you still manage to survive without losing any weight? The only  explanation for that would be if you are creating energy from nothing, thereby violating the first law of thermodynamics. If you still think this is you, then congratulations, you have transcended the laws of the universe and are a god unto yourself.

For those of us that are human, or at the very least, exist within the reality of this particular universe (multiverse theories aside), I will guarantee you that if you put less energy into your body than you burn in a day, you will lose weight. Your body needs to burn something for energy. It is not creating something from nothing.

Let me just make something clear. I have nothing against people who actually do have disorders but too often are these illnesses used as an excuse for an absolute lack of willpower and effort. And even if you do have Syndrome X or hypothyroidism, your body still obeys the first law of thermodynamics. The amount of benefit you get out of a diet will be less than someone without your condition, but you will still benefit to some degree. Hey, that’s life. It’s not equal and it’s not fair, but if there’s no point giving up and just moping about it because no one else is going to pick your ass up for you.

Just quickly on the two mentioned disorders: Syndrome X is a metabolic disorder that apparently affects one in four Americans (yes, I said Americans – if you don’t like it read the blog post before this one). It’s basically an insulin resistance; your body usually produces insulin to escort glucose into your cells where it can be burned efficiently. An insulin resistance means that your cells don’t recognise the glucose and deny it entry, leaving it to accumulate in your blood stream. Fun fact number one: insulin resistances are usually caused by obesity in the first place. It’s a slippery slope. Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland at the base of your skull, which regulates your metabolism, gets low on hormone levels and thus slows your entire body down. As a result, your cells need less energy to fuel them, so you might be eating less than a similar person without hypothyroidism, but in actual fact you are still overeating (because you require less food).

By the way, your metabolism deteriorates in tandem with your health. By the same process, your metabolism gets better as you get healthier. Blaming your metabolism is just another excuse – you can improve it.

I’ve noticed my posts are turning into blocks of text so I’m going to split it up into subheadings now.

Diet:

Your body burns three types of fuel: carbohydrates (glycogen), protein and fat. These are burned in different ratios at the same time (so technically, you don’t burn each individually until it runs out then move on to the next). Of course, if you have no carbs or protein to burn, you’ll start burning fat as it is the only energy source available. Again, refer to the first law of thermodynamics. Your body can only operate with at least one of these three fuel sources because nothing in the universe can create energy from nothing and your body is only designed to burn these three types of fuel (so no, you won’t start burning off bits of your skull and brain).

Carbohydrates are the easiest for your body to burn because they convert to glycogen very easily and glycogen is basically the easiest and most available fuel for your body to burn. Glycogen is stored in your muscle to fuel their contractions and excess is stored as fat. There’s your first tip, if you want to lose weight, decrease your carbohydrate intake and if you want to gain weight, increase it (I’ll get to weight gain later). There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. The good ones are complex carbohydrates; they have a lower glycemic index which means they release energy slowly. A high glycemic index (simple carbs) means it releases energy quickly and basically your body’s glycogen levels will spike suddenly, causing a lot of it to be stored as fat because you have more glycogen than your muscle needs. Then, as you use up the glycogen in your muscles, your body now has no more glycogen (because the excess has already turned into fat), so you get hungry and eat more. Complex carbs will release glycogen slowly, meaning that glycogen will mostly go to fuelling your muscles rather than being stored as fat. The easiest way to distinguish between the two (for when you’re shopping) is that simple carbs are anything heavily processed or sugary (the latter should make a lot of sense because carbs are classified as saccharides, which basically means they’re a form of sugar). White bread, white rice, and pretty much white anything else is bad. Go for the brown option (no, this did not turn into a racial debate).

Next we have protein, a favourite for everyone trying to build muscle. Protein itself does not get burned, but rather, it gets turned into amino acids which are basically the building blocks for skeletal and cardiac muscle (among other things). Unused amino acids get converted to glycogen. Eventually, all protein will be converted to glycogen at a similar rate to carbohydrates (four kilocalories of energy per gram), but the process takes longer than for carbs. Despite this, increasing your protein intake is important for both those trying to lose weight and gain weight. For those trying to build muscle, it should be quite obvious why. I’ll explain it anyway: amino acids are needed to build muscle and if you burn out all your amino acids (during a workout, for example) you’ll start catabolising your muscles, which basically means your body will start breaking down your muscles for more amino acids (because muscles are made of amino acids and protein). For weight loss, protein is a slower fuel than carbs and more importantly, it keeps you full so you feel less need to eat. It also doesn’t that you’ll put on some tight muscle to replace your fat (if you’re exercising with your diet as you should be).

Lastly, we have fat. It’s a long-term energy source that breaks down into nine kilocalories per gram, which is more than double protein and carbs. It is much harder to break down into fuel, and thus you burn fat at a much slower rate than carbs (the easiest fuel source). As mentioned, technically, your body will be burning all three of these at the same time – so you’ll be burning tiny amounts of fat all the time, but if you have weight loss problems, chances are you’re putting on more fat while these little bits of fat are being burned.

Lesson: eat less if you want to lose weight. Stick to complex carbs instead of simple carbs and just reduce the entire amount you consume. Fibre is a lot harder to break down into glycogen so increasing your fibre intake (fibrous carbohydrates) is good too, plus it’ll increase your nutrition absorption and keep you full. Increase protein as well, to keep you full. Reduce fat intake because it’s already fat. Yes, healthy fats are still necessary, but if you have a weight problem it’s much simpler for me to say “just avoid fat”.

For weight gain – I know a lot of my friends who work out already know a lot about nutrition. Basically, you need to have fuel ready on hand so that your body doesn’t catabolise your muscles (catabolism is the metabolic process of breaking down molecules into energy). You also need amino acids to “protect” existing muscle and help build more of it. By this logic, it’s not good to work out on an empty stomach because you’ll have low glycogen and amino acid levels in your body, meaning that your work out could do more harm to your muscles than benefit.

Finally, drink lots of water. It cleanses your body and prevents water retention, which is basically your body thinking it’s short on water supplies so it stores water, causing bloatedness, puffiness of skin and an overall chubby appearance (plus cold water burns tiny amounts of calories as an added bonus). By the way, for those who don’t know, calories are a measurement of energy like a metre is a measurement of distance.

Exercise:

This is something that stereotypically, girls avoid (whereas guys stereotypically avoid the diet when trying to lose weight). I’m being politically correct here by saying “stereotypically” so don’t get offended if this is not you. The majority of fad diets are taken by girls though and a lot of guys pig out when trying to lose weight. The purpose of me mentioning this is not to point fingers, but rather to raise the issue that if you ever ignore one of these two elements to weight loss/gain, you are only doing at most 50% of the process. That means that even if you have your diet down to absolute perfection, you’re still missing half the weight loss process. Why not do 40% of each and get 80% of the process done? (These are rough figures obviously, the weighting of each element in regards to its influence on your body depends on your goal).

In terms of exercise, there is way too much information to give. I’m just going to address the most common ones. “How do I get a flat belly/six pack?” Diet. Sit ups will build your abdominal muscles but the reason why you have a big belly is because your fat is on top of your abs. In fact, getting huge abs will just push the fat out farther, making your belly look bigger. You need to burn off that fat. Core exercises are helpful here because they teach you to tighten your stomach area at all times. It’s like tensing your abs all the time.

Weight loss in general requires cardiovascular exercise, which burns a lot of energy as it is a prolonged need for fuel (as opposed to a 1RM deadlift, which is about five seconds of energy burning). As a general rule, if you’re not sweating, you’re not trying at all. If you can still walk normally when you’re done, you didn’t try hard enough. If you feel weak, almost nauseous and trembling from exhaustion afterwards, you pushed yourself and you should be proud. The same applies for weight lifting. For girls, I usually don’t recommend jogging because a lot of you jog with improper form, leading to high impact on your knees and too much strain on your ankle (which makes you develop large calves, something most of you don’t want). I recommend riding a stationary bike because it’s very low impact.

For muscle gain, most people know what to do. I’ll just say that hypertrophy (the increase in size of something in your body due to an enlargement of the cells) can only occur after cell deconstruction. What that means is basically you need to tear your muscles for them to grow bigger. You do this by overloading (lifting heavy weights). Recent studies showed that doing 80% of your 1RM (1 Repetition Max) for 5-8 reps is the most effective at building muscle. I’m not going to source it but you can Google this if you don’t believe me. No offence but I see a lot of Asians coming into my gym who flail 2kg dumbbells around for 2 minutes, chat for half an hour then leave. You might feel like you did your “gym session” for the day but really, you achieved nothing at all. Push yourself – if you’re not increasing the amount you lift every few weeks then you’re not progressing.

Well that concludes this lesson. Notice I didn’t talk about fitness here because the post would get too long. Your fitness is closely related to weight but not exactly dependent on it. Suffice to say fitness composes of four categories: cardiovascular, muscular endurance, muscular strength, and body composition (fat ratio, etc.).

I’m going to file this under Random Facts and Science because this is medicine and chemistry related (although die-hard physicists consider physics the only true science).

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