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Less focus on diagnoses and more focus on lifestyle changes

Less focus on diagnoses and more focus on lifestyle changes

In today’s medical model, we are so focused around diagnosing/labelling people with health issues, so we can prescribe a drug or give a “treatment.”

While some life threatening cases and acute cases require a quick diagnoses and treatment, most of the time, the issues that people are suffering from these days are chronic health issues that if they progress far enough, can result in the need for life saving treatments.

Therefore, rather than placing all of our emphasis on signs and symptoms to diagnose and label someone with a disease or health issue, more importantly, we should be focussing on examining the inconsistencies around peoples diet and lifestyle habits first.

This is because we know that most chronic health issues are caused by an interplay of genetics with diet and lifestyle habits. They are also exacerbated by poor diet and lifestyle habits. This means that sometimes, the diagnosis is irrelevant. If a person presented with a chronic health issue and the individuals diet and lifestyle habits were examined through questioning, there would likely be some inconsistencies around their diet habits, sleep habits, exersize habits, stress levels, smoking and alcohol intake. This means that regardless of the diagnosis, these lifestyle habits need to be addressed first in order to treat the underlying causes of the heath issue at hand. Prescribing medications will simply patch up symptoms, which is not a long term solution as the real drivers of the health issue are still manifesting. This leads to decreased effectiveness of medications, side effects as well as increased medication doses over time for symptoms that progressively get worse due to unresolved underlying drivers (i.e. diet and lifestyle habits).

Medications may need to be used to get rid of uncomfortable or life threatening symptoms, as well as decrease disease risk factors, however they should always be prescribed in conjunction with sustainable diet and lifestyle coaching. Once these underlying factors are improved and symptoms start to reduce, we can then look to wean people off the medications. At best, we can reduce the doses/amounts. This is so people do not stay on these medications at high doses for long periods of time due to their damaging effects and sometimes harsh side effects.

Addressing diet and lifestyle factors first and seeing what symptoms resolve from these changes, would in turn save peoples time, money and stress from bouncing around to different doctors and specialists to get a diagnosis. Once the person is relatively consistent around their diet and lifestyle, if some symptoms are still persisting, it may then be prudent to get more specific around treatment and testing.

For example, if a person is overweight and presents with a whole host if peculiar symptoms that don’t fit into a neat category of a specific “diagnosis.” Rather than sending them for testing and trialling certain pharmaceutical treatments in order to put a label on their symptoms, it is more important to first address the diet and lifestyle factors that are driving the weight gain. Research has shown time and time again that weight loss, via good diet and lifestyle habits significantly improves health markers and parameters. Therefore, it is likely that losing weight will improve their peculiar symptoms. This saves peoples time and money to try and find a “diagnosis.”

Why do doctors not treat with diet and lifestyle medicine?

Doctors diagnose and treat health issues with medications and/or surgery. They are not trained in changing people’s diet and lifestyle, as well as understanding how their diet and lifestyle could be causing/exacerbating a person’s health issues. They also work in a time restricted medical model, so even if they wanted to help change a person’s diet and lifestyle, most doctors’ consults are 15-30 minutes, therefore they don’t have time to coach people even if they wanted to. They may say something in passing to patients, but this is not going to stick as the person needs to be told how to change their diet and lifestyle. They need to be guided.

Also, due to the “pill for ever ill” nature of the medical industry, many people walk into doctors’ offices and have expectations of receiving a “treatment”  – as they may not recognise the connection between their lifestyle and health, as well as the fact that it is much harder to change diet and lifestyle habits. The doctor is seen as the “healer” rather than a “coach” that can help facilitate behaviour change around peoples diet and lifestyle. This is not only at doctors’ offices, a lot of the time it occurs in offices of manual therapists (e.g. physiotherapist). People want to be treated with massage, needless, stretching etc., rather than changing their diet and lifestyle habits that are likely contributing  musculo-skeletal issues. This may also be due to a lack of knowledge on both the client and practitioners part of how diet and lifestyle habits can effect joint, bone and muscle health.

In conclusion, our medical model needs to start treating the inconsistencies in peoples diet and lifestyle habits before we become fixated on diagnosing them with a health issue or disease that will ultimately result in a prescription, without addressing the underlying causes. Treating underlying causes will ultimately lead to better results and decrease the need for using individual drugs for every different presenting symptom. Treating underlying causes of health issues via lifestyle change leads to the resolve of symptoms on their own.

Genes are not set in stone

Genes are not set in stone

Our genetic code is the basic template that we come into this world with. Some genes you can’t change, however you can maximise your genetic potential by exposing yourself to environmental stimuli that force adaptations. Other genes you can manipulate depending on your diet and lifestyle.

Yes, there are certain genetic mutations in genes that can either guarantee that something is going to happen to us, such as genetic diseases/defects (which is quite rare) or make it more likely that we’re going to have a problem in a certain area of physiology or function.

However, within the last few decades, our understanding of how our genes effect our health have developed significantly.

Cue….

Epigenetics!

Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression that don’t involve changes to the underlying genes themselves but can be passed on to one or more generations. What we know now is that epigenetics is probably much more of a determinant of our health than genes themselves because genetics account for 10% or less of disease, and the remaining 90% is controlled by our gene expression and how our genes interact with environmental factors (i.e. diet, lifestyle, environment).

That brings us to the exposome. The exposome is the sum total of all of our non-genetic exposures that we experience from the moment of conception to the end our life. This could be our mother and father’s health at the time of our conception (i.e. the quality/DNA of the sperm and the egg, which is influenced by our parent’s diet, lifestyle and environmental exposures) and our mother’s health during pregnancy/breast feeding. This is why preconception and pregnancy nutrition for males and females are so important for fertility and the health of babies.

It also includes things like our diet, lifestyle, mindset, external environment and socio-economic class. Then our internal environment (which is affected by our external exposures), includes our microbiome, nutrient status (excess or deficiency), detoxification mechanisms, hormone balance, infection exposure, immune deregulation (e.g. chronic inflammation/oxidative stress).

The whole interplay between our genes and epigenetics and the exposome is what really drives health and disease. It is worth mentioning that some genetic predispositions are more profound and stronger in some people compared to others. Which means that in some people, it may take less accumulation of environmental triggers (e.g. diet and lifestyle habits) that put you at risk for a particular disease, in order for these genes to be expressed.

There are certain environmental exposures that are more closely linked to certain types of diseases/health issues based on how they effect the body and what systems (e.g. smoking and lung cancer). There are also certain groups (based on age, gender and ethnicity) of people more at risk of developing disease, especially in conjunction with certain types and amounts of environmental exposures. However, everyone is different, meaning two people can have the same type and amount of environmental exposures, but result in two different diseases/health issues OR, one gets a disease and the other doesn’t. This is due genetic predispositions manifesting uniquely from person to person in response to environmental triggers.

Furthermore, the degree (i.e. severity of symptoms and damage to body tissues) in which disease causing environmental exposures affect our health and if they will affect our health, largely depends on our genetic predispositions and the type/amount of exposures that accumulate over time (i.e. certain environmental exposures are more dangerous to the body than others and having high exposure over extended periods of time increases disease risk).

It also depends on something called metabolic reserve. Our metabolic reserve is largely dependent on our diet and lifestyle. If we have a good diet and lifestyle, for an extended period of time, our cells function better and are more resilient to stressors because having a good diet and lifestyle means that the bodies cells have been provided with nutrients to function properly, as well as decreased the inflammatory load on cells. Poor diet and lifestyle factors can cause inflammation in the body and years of inflammation damages cellular function and depletes the body of resources. This can increase the risk of disease as inflammation can “activate” genetic predispositions towards certain diseases. Poor diet and lifestyle habits are environmental exposures that increase disease risk. The worse the diet and lifestyle, the increased disease risk.

However, having a low metabolic reserve from poor diet and lifestyle factors can also mean that any stressors placed on the body such as infections and psychological stress, can wreak a lot more havoc with a persons health compared to someone who has a lot of metabolic reserve. A person with a high amount of metabolic reserve would be less effected in terms of symptom severity when exposed to stressors on the body like infections and stress. Also, having more metabolic reserve decreases the risk of acquiring infections in the first place due to cells being in a stronger position to fight off infections. Increased age also decreases metabolic reserve due to accumulation of stressors on cells over time, which is why older people are more susceptible to health issues in the backdrop of stressors. This doesn’t mean that having a good diet and lifestyle throughout ones life and in old age can still increase the bodies robustness.

Metabolic reserve also increases effectiveness of treatments for health issues. For example, giving anti-biotics to a person with high metabollic reserve will increase its efficacy, as well as decrease the side effects of the medication on the body.

Lastly, disease is multi – faceted and no one environmental trigger usually causes disease. It is usually an accumulation of various environmental exposures and risk factors. One example could be smoking. It is a large risk factor for many diseases, especially lung cancer (oxidative stress on the lungs), however we also know smokers tend to engage in other unhealthy habits, which increase their disease risk. We also know that not everyone gets lung cancer if they smoke and some people don’t even develop a chronic disease. Again, this comes down to genetic predispositions and it also may come down to a persons metabolic reserve and diet and lifestyle. There may even be a possibility of a “heathy” smoker who has a really good diet (lots of whole foods) and lifestyle (e.g. low stress, sleeps well, has a healthy mindset and does a lot of physical activity), which in turn  increases their metabolic reserve in order to deal with the effects of the smoking.

Due to the complexity of multi-factorial diseases, it is always hard to quantify the magnitude of one variable on disease risk, as it is hard to control all the other factors in a real world setting, to get a cause and effect relationship between two variables. Also, for some people disease may occur early in life, while others later in life (certain diseases have higher prevalence in older or younger people, as well as gender and ethnicity) – it all depends on our genes and activation of disease-causing genes depending on accumulation of certain types of environmental exposures. Therefore, due to the multi-factorial nature of disease, we must treat it by addressing all the multi-faceted contributing/exacerbating factors. This is why pharmaceuticals for symptoms are not an effective treatment in our current medical model and will simply suppress symptoms as the underlying causes are still manifesting.

What does this mean for you?

So what does the all mean for you? Well, the way in which our diet, lifestyle and environmental exposures (i.e. exposome) will manifest is dependent on our genetic predispositions.

This means that diet, lifestyle and environmental factors are the biggest determents of your health and longevity. One can say that while our genes may load the gun, our environment ultimately pulls the trigger. As you can see, depending on how strong our genetic predispositions are towards a certain health issue, will determine the amount of environmental exposures needed to activate disease causing genes. Sometimes the amount is a lot smaller for one person compared to another.

In saying that, if an individual has a generally good diet and lifestyle and enough environmental exposures occur to activate a particular disease (e.g. toxins, infections, poor diet and lifestyle habits form time to time), the symptoms of the disease/health issue is likely to be less severe. This also increases the effectiveness of treatment required. The body is better equipped to deal with the stressor.

If you would like to improve your diet and lifestyle in order to increase your metabolic reserve, improve your health and wellbeing, as well decrease disease risk and progression, make sure you start with addressing the 4 pillars of health – diet, sleep, exersize and stress management. Consistency around these 4 areas of your diet and lifestyle is the foundation of good health.

13 more health and nutrition myths that you likely been told are true

13 more health and nutrition myths that you likely been told are true

Following on from my last post on this topic, I thought I would do a follow up post with 10 other health and nutrition myths that you have likely been told are fact.

1. Dietary cholesterol and saturated fat cause heart disease. 

If there’s one thing the media is good at, it’s scaring you away from perfectly innocent foods.

Eggs, red meat, butter and other foods have been demonised because despite being full of amazing, health promoting nutrients (especially egg yolks), they also contain high amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat. Eating food high in cholesterol and saturated fat doesn’t translate to increased cholesterol in your blood. And even if they did, research is starting to show that blood cholesterol levels alone are a relatively poor marker of heart disease risk.

The myth that saturated fat and cholesterol causes cardiovascular disease is not true. Food quality is what matters – there’s a big difference between eating a grass-fed steak and a fast food hamburger.

2. Eating fat makes you fat.

No, too many calories makes you fat.

For many decades, the traditional way to lose weight has been to subject oneself to a low-fat diet. But as studies pile on, old wisdom sometimes must give way. Today, we know that, just like eating cholesterol isn’t likely to increase your cholesterol levels, eating fat isn’t what makes you fat.

Far from being healthy, shunning all fat from your diet can be dangerous, since your body needs to consume at least some omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. As for saturated fat being the main driver of cardiovascular disease, as you have seen above, it is just another myth.

At the end of the day, trans fat is the only kind of fat that has been shown to be categorically detrimental to health — a little won’t kill you, but avoid it when you can.

3. Salt in the diet causes high blood pressure.

Most myths grow from a grain of truth. Studies have associated excess salt with hypertension (high blood pressure) kidney damage, and an increased risk of cognitive decline.

But salt (sodium) is an essential mineral; its consumption is critical to your health. The problem is when you consume too much of it.

Another issue is the source of all that salt. The average Australian eats an incredible amount of salty processed foods — which means that people who consume a lot of salt tend to consume a lot of foods that are generally unhealthy. That makes it hard to tease apart sodium’s effects from overall dietary effects. Except for individuals with salt-sensitive hypertension, who have rises in blood pressure from salt consumption. The evidence in support of low sodium intakes is much weaker than most people would imagine. As it stands, both very high and very low intakes are associated with cardiovascular disease.

Salt reduction is important for people with salt-sensitive hypertension, and excess salt intake is associated with harm. But drastically lowering salt intake has not shown much benefit in clinical trials. Most people will benefit more from a diet of mostly unprocessed foods than they would from micromanaging their salt intake.

4. Eating frequently increases your metabolic rate and is better for weight loss.

Digesting a meal does raise your metabolism by a little bit, but the only way to sustain this elevated rate is to eat more food, which in turn increases your caloric intake. The increased metabolic rate through digestion is negligible when compared against the actual caloric content of the food consumed.

Basically if you were to eat 3,000 calories spaced out over a few meals or 3,000 calories in one big meal, it makes no difference to your metabolism and makes no difference to your overall caloric intake. Therefore, the number of meals makes no difference in fat loss.

In fact, some studies suggest having smaller meals more often makes it harder to feel full, potentially leading to increased food intake.

Your metabolism can fluctuate based on the size of the meal, so fewer but larger meals means a larger spike in metabolism. Over the course of a day or week, given an equal amount of calories, the number of meals doesn’t seem to matter — it all evens out.

5. Protein causes bone, liver and kidney damage.

Some studies done on protein detected that protein consumption (especially from animal sources) was linked to increased urinary calcium, which was thought to lead to reduced bone mass over time. Later studies determined that urinary calcium was a poor measure for bone mass, and that protein actually had a protective effect or no effect on bone. Also, these studies did not take into account the increased calcium absorption that occurs via the gut when we ingest animal protein.

Early studies showed that high protein diets increased glomerular filtration rate (GFR), a marker for waste filtration in the kidneys. Some leapt to the conclusion that increased GFR was a sign that increased protein put too much stress on the kidneys.

Later research however, has shown that kidney damage does not occur as a result of a diet high in protein. While it may exacerbate already existing kidney issues, it does not CAUSE kidney damage. This is similar in regards to the liver. While high protein diets may exacerbate existing liver dysfunction leading to ammonia build up, it does not cause liver damage. A healthy liver can handle protein just fine.

6. Alkaline diets promote health and acidic diets promote disease.

There is this idea going around that the food we eat can effect the pH of our blood and extracellular fluid. An acidic state in the body leads to disease and a more alkaline state prevents disease. However, what we eat impacts the pH our urine, not the fluids in our body (i.e. blood).

Acidic foods are things such as animal products, dairy and grains. Alkalising foods are things like fruits and vegetables. What makes a food acidic or alkaline is determined by the chemical structure of nutrients in a particular food group and how it is metabolised in the body.

It has been thought that you could test the pH of the body through testing the urine. Depending on what you eat does have an effect on your urine pH, so if you have meat your urine is more likely to be acidic compared to having a green smoothie.

However, the pH of your urine has nothing to do with pH of your blood and body. The pH of blood and extracellular fluid is tightly regulated by the kidneys through various mechanisms. The pH of the blood will only change to an acidic pH in serious disease such as end stage kidney failure. The pH of our blood is tightly regulated between a neutral 7.35-7.45. Any variations in pH above or below these numbers can lead to coma and death. Therefore, what you eat has little effect on the pH of your blood as it is so tightly regulated. If your blood pH was to be affected by what you ate, you would not survive very long.

Despite all of this, certain foods we eat leave an acidic or alkaline “ash” after they are metabolized and this can be seen in the urine, which is why the pH of our urine changes depending on what we eat. So if you have a green smoothie for breakfast it is likely your urine would be an alkaline pH, as opposed to if you ate a steak, it is likely your urine pH would be acidic.

Don’t get caught up in hype driven headlines and sometimes the truth will go against your world view. At the end of the day, fear mongering, extremism, pseudo science and sensationalism is what sells, not science.

7. Whole wheat bread is better than white bread.

White bread (made from wheat flour) and whole-wheat bread both contain gluten and related proteins. They provide a similar number of calories, but whole-wheat bread has lower glycemic and insulin indices, and so its consumption results in a lower insulin release. For that reason, and because of its higher fiber and micronutrient content, whole-wheat bread is claimed to be healthier than white bread.

What the media frequently fails to mention is that the actual differences between white bread and whole-wheat bread are relatively small. Yes, whole-wheat bread has a higher fiber content — but this content pales compared to that of many fruits and vegetables. You most definitely don’t have to eat whole-wheat products to get enough fiber in your diet! And yes, white bread does lose more micronutrients during processing — but those micronutrients are often reintroduced later (the bread is then called “enriched”).

If anything, what makes whole-wheat bread markedly different is its higher phytic-acid content. Phytic acid binds to dietary minerals, such as iron and zinc, and can thus slightly reduce their absorption in the body. On the plus side, phytic acid has a protective and anti-inflammatory effect on the colon. So there’s a little bit of bad and a little bit of good.

Though whole-wheat bread is claimed to be far healthier than white bread, they aren’t that different, and neither contains high levels of fiber or micronutrients.

8. To lose fat, don’t eat before bed.

Some studies show a fat-loss advantage in early eaters, others in late eaters. Overall, early eaters seem to have a slight advantage — nothing impressive.

In real life, there are two main reasons why eating at night might hinder fat loss, and both are linked to an increase in our daily caloric intake. The first reason is the simplest: If, instead of going directly to bed, we first indulge in a snack, then the calories from that snack are calories we might have done without. The second reason is that, when we get tired, we tend to eat to keep going — with a predilection for snack foods or sugary treats. So if we stay awake at night, especially to work or study but even just to watch TV, we’re more likely to eat, not out of hunger, but to help fight sleepiness.

Eating late won’t make you fat, unless it drives you to eat more. It can also be harder to resist tasty, high-calorie snacks after a long day.

9. Cardio in a fasted state leads to greater weight loss

Let’s get one thing out of the way. If you exercise near maximal capacity (sprints, HIIT, heavy lifting …), eat first, or you’re more likely to underperform.

Most people who choose to work out in a fasted state, however, opt for some form of “cardio” (aerobic exercise), such as jogging. During cardio, performance and energy expenditure while fasted are about the same as in a fed state. In a fasted state, you’ll burn more body fat, but that won’t make it easier for you to use body fat as fuel during the rest of the day (when you’re fed).

You’ll also burn a tiny bit more muscle, but you’ll grow it back faster afterward, too, so that it seems to balance out (as long as you get enough protein). Finally, cardio suppresses appetite less on a fasted state than on a fed state, but that doesn’t translate into a significant difference in daily caloric intake.

There’s very little difference between cardio on a fed or fasted state with regard to fat loss, muscle preservation, daily caloric intake, or metabolic rate. What really matters, then, is you. Some people feel lighter and energized when they do cardio on an empty stomach, while others feel light-headed and sluggish. Fed or fasted state: pick whichever makes you feel better.

10. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is something we have all heard before from parents, health bloggers, doctors, and ad campaigns. But the health advantage of consuming a regular breakfast has been overhyped.

People who are #TeamBreakfast have pointed to observational studies showing a higher BMI in breakfast skippers. However, clinical trials have pointed to personal preference being a critical factor. Some people will subconsciously compensate for all the calories they skipped at breakfast, while others won’t feel cravings of the same magnitude. In one trial, women who didn’t habitually eat breakfast were made to consume it; they gained nearly 2 pounds over a 4-week period.

Individual responses do vary, so don’t try to force yourself into an eating pattern that doesn’t sit well with you or that you can’t sustain — it may end up backfiring.

Another popular claim is that skipping breakfast can crash your metabolism. But studies in both lean and overweight individuals have shown that skipping breakfast does not inherently slow your resting metabolic rate (RMR).

One area where the “don’t skip breakfast” mantra may hold true is in people with impaired glucose regulation. These individuals may want to play it safe and avoid skipping breakfast in order to achieve better day-to-day glucose management.

You don’t need to eat breakfast to be healthy or lose weight. You should base your breakfast consumption on your preferences and personal goals. Feel free to experiment to see if you want to make skipping breakfast a habit.

11. You must eat protein immediately after your workout.

When you exercise, you damage your muscles, which your body then needs to repair, often making them more resilient (bigger) in the process. The raw material for this repair is the protein you ingest, yet the existence of a post-workout “anabolic window” for this ingestion remains a contentious topic in the literature.

“You need protein right after your workout” may not be a myth so much as an exaggeration. Consuming 20-40g of protein within the two hours following your workout may be ideal, but it isn’t necessary. What matters most is your daily protein intake. To maximize muscle repairs, aim for 1.4–2.2 g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day (0.64–1.00 g/lb/day).You don’t need protein immediately after your workout, but you might benefit from 20–40 g within within the next couple of hours (and before bed). What matters most, however, is how much protein you get over the course of the day.

12. Clean Eating is a misconception.

People seldom agree on what “clean” actually means. For some, it means avoiding everything that isn’t natural. For others, it means eating all your food raw (raw and cooked food have their pros and cons in various instances – no absolutes) or avoiding all “risky foods” even at the cost of living on meal replacements and other supplements. One common point of clean diets is their negativity: They tell you what clean eating is by telling you what not to eat.

Veganism can be considered the prototypal clean diet, as it shuns all meat products both for ethical reasons and for better health. But although vegans and vegetarians do live longer, this may be influenced by reasons unrelated to food. For instance, people who stick to a vegetarian diet are more likely to also stick to an exercise regimen, practice relaxation exercises (meditation, yoga …), and neither drink in excess nor smoke.

In fact, compared to people eating a varied omnivorous diet, vegans (and, to a lesser extent, vegetarians) are more likely to get less than the optimal amount of some nutrients, such as vitamin B12. However, those nutrients can easily be supplemented — nowadays, there are even plant-based options for EPA, DHA, and vitamin D3.

In saying all of this, these days you can’t simply “eat your veggies” — you need to make sure they’re organic. This is presented as self-evident, on the principle that “natural” is good whereas “synthetic” is bad; yet research has so far failed to link organic foods, plants or animal, to better health. It doesn’t mean a link cannot exist, but the organic-versus-conventional debate is complex, and can change both with the foods under scrutiny and with the individuals eating them.

One misconception is that no synthetic substance can be used to grow organic crops, whereas the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances makes some exceptions. Another misconception is that no pesticide can be used to grow organic crops, whereas natural pesticides exist, are used to grow organic crops, and are not always better for the consumer or the environment.

Pesticide residues in food are a valid concern, though it should be noted that the vast majority of the food on the market contains residues below the tolerable limits set by government agencies. In addition, rinsing, peeling when possible, and cooking can reduce the amount of pesticide left on your food.

And if that is not enough, some “clean eating” gurus recommend that you only eat your food raw, so as not to “denature” its nutrients. As an absolute, this rule is bunk. Raw food, like cooked food, can have pros and cons, depending on the food and context.

It’s easy to see how one can push the “clean eating” obsession too far, even all the way into orthorexia. It doesn’t mean that all foods are equal, and you certainly should favour whole foods over processed foods — most of which are nutrient-poor, calorie-dense, and easy to overeat — but you shouldn’t fear that eating anything but raw organic veggies is going to drastically shorten your lifespan.

“Clean eating” is the new fad, but gurus don’t even agree on which foods are clean and which are not. Stick to the basics. Favour whole foods (but don’t feel like any amount of processed foods will kill you), eat organic if you want and can afford it, peal or wash your vegetables and fruits (especially those with higher levels of pesticide residue, such as strawberries), and avoid stressing too much about what you eat, since stress can shorten your lifespan.

13. Foods are better than supplements.

It’s been repeated so often that the word “natural” has a positive connotation whereas “synthetic” or “chemical” has a negative one.

The truth, of course, isn’t so clear-cut. Some compounds that are found in various food sources (plants and animal products) may be isolated and synthetically made into supplemental form for specific therapeutic uses, which have been studied in clinical trials. In doing so, they may be more effective in supplemental form because in food, they may be poorly absorbed or exist in small amounts, meaning a person would have to eat large amounts of a particular food to get the therapeutic dose.

One example is the curcumin in turmeric, which is a potent anti-inflammatory but very poorly absorbed. Therefore, it is often supplemented with piperine (a black pepper extract) or taken in liposomal form to increase its otherwise low dietary bioavailability.

The same goes for some vitamins. For instance, phylloquinone (K1) is tightly bound to membranes in plants and so is more bioavailable in supplemental form. Likewise, folic acid (supplemental B9) is more bioavailable than folate (B9 naturally present in foods), though that may not always be a good thing.

Many supplemental vitamins have natural and synthetic forms. This makes them accessible to more people. For example, if B12 could not be synthesized, it would be prohibitively expensive as well as unsuitable to vegans.

On the flip side however, some supplements are unnecessary due to a lack of good evidence for their efficacy in humans, an adequate amount of the supplemental nutrient is found in food and/or better absorbed via food, they may cause harm when isolated into a supplement due to a lack of food synergy, they may interact negatively with drug or they may have a low safety threshold.

Wrap up:

You’ve likely heard all 13 of these myths repeated at one time or another — by a friend, on a blog, or somewhere in the media. Misinformation is rampant, difficult to identify, and unfortunately spreads much faster than facts.

And really, this is just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll see often see sensationalist headlines based on a study with unsurprising results.

This article and my last article hopefully removed unwarranted fear and misunderstanding around certain health and nutrition topics. When you are trying to be healthy, I know all the fear mongering and misinformation can be stressful and debilitating. It can also be expensive!

Just remember, good health requires consistent dedication to simple, healthy diet and lifestyle habits. Eat as much whole, minimally processed foods as you can (animal products and plants), pick a diet that works for you, drink water, get enough sleep, stress less, get enough exercise, spend time outdoors in the sun, spend less time on social mediaform strong/functioning interpersonal relationships, work to have a positive mindset, indulge in moderate amounts of sugar once in a while, don’t smoke and consume modest amounts of alcohol.

It is the type of carbs that matter

It is the type of carbs that matter

First we were brainwashed to demonise dietary fat and the media said it would make us fat and give us heart disease. This caused the low fat, high carbohydrate era, which steered us away from eating healthy, nutrient dense foods with dietary fat (especially saturated) like meat, eggs and dairy. We replaced these foods with grains such as breads, cereals and pastas.

However, we are now starting to see that this was in fact quite detrimental, as chronic disease and obesity have sharply risen. Obviously it is not the sole cause for the epidemic but it is certainly a contributing factor. Now, it seems that carbohydrates are the bane of all evil as they will make you fat and give you diabetes.

What we must understand is that carbohydrates as a macronutrient is not intrinsically bad for your health. It has more to do with the type of carbohydrates. Whole-food carbs such as sweet potato, potato, rice, whole-grains, beans, lentils and fruit are nutrient dense sources of carbohydrates. Whereas processed and refined carbohydrates such as pastas, biscuits, baked goods, fried food and confectionary (sugar) etc. are nutrient void, high calorie carbohydrates that may function very differently in your body compared to whole-food carbs. These processed carbohydrates really become an issue when they become a large part of your diet, rather than the occasional treat.

For weight loss and overall health it would be ideal to minimize the intake of these refined carbohydrates as much as possible as they offer your body very little nutritional value with a high amount of calories, leaving your body unsatisfied and therefore still hungry. Whereas whole-food carbs are nutrient dense and make you feel full for longer.

When individuals switch to a more whole-food, balanced diet, that includes better quality food, especially better quality carbs, they tend to lose weight and improve their health markers. Some studies have even shown that diabetics who are on a moderate carb diet from whole food sources, along with a well balanced diet of protein, vegetables and good fats, seem to improve their blood glucose handling. This is because these types of carbs have many nutrients that are extremely beneficial to health and play important physiological functions in the body.

The moral of the story is to not fear carbohydrates as a nutrient. Source your carbohydrates predominantly from whole-food sources and you will be fine.

Changing our perception of obesity

Changing our perception of obesity

As you all know, weight loss is a hot topic these days and everyone is trying to cash in on it. Food and supplement companies, gyms and the beauty industry all advertise their new fad products and workout regimes on the radio, TV, in magazines, over social media and through celebrities, that can help you achieve your health and weight loss goals.

The main premise of these fads is that if you exercise enough, eat less and take some crappy supplements/meal replacements, then you will be in the clear! The simplistic approach of these fads epitomizes our social conception around weight gain and obesity. That it is simply a result of laziness, eating too much and not exercising enough. Yes, these are definitely contributing factors, however obesity is a complex, multifactorial DISEASE that results from a complex interaction between genetic predispositions, diet, lifestyle and environmental factors.

Societies lack of understanding around obesity leads to various misconceptions and stereotypes of obese individuals. This post will take a look at some of the most damaging stereotypes and misconceptions.

Skinny does not = Healthy.

Lets be honest with ourselves, we have all had that moment where we have looked at overweight or obese individuals eating something unhealthy and judged their food choice. We have all looked at that person and thought to ourselves, “why is this person eating food X when they are already overweight! How stupid of them and what a lack of self-control. Don’t they know that if they just stopped eating those foods, they would not be fat!”

It is moments like these, which exemplify how simplistic our views on obesity/weight gain really are. That we don’t realize how complicated this disease is. It also highlights how obese people’s bodies, diet and lifestyle choices are policed far more than anyone else in our society and there is a lot of policing going on! We automatically associate a fat person with the word “unhealthy,” and if it were a skinny person eating food X, not many people would think twice about it. Unlike skinny people, fat people in society are not allowed to eat beautiful food that makes them feel healthy and strong, because taking joy in meals is for thin people, when fat people do it, its vulgarity and public suicide.

We associate skinny with being healthy. But skinny does not necessarily mean you are healthy. While poor diet and lifestyle choices may manifest themselves in obesity in one person who is predisposed, in another person, it may manifest itself as other diseases and dysfunctions that lead to ill health or it may not result in anything due to epigenetics. Just because a person looks “healthy” on the exterior, it does not mean that their insides are necessarily functioning at an optimum level, which is the biggest determinate of health.

I have seen far too many “pretty/skinny” people who abuse their bodies with drugs, alcohol, supplements, smoking, stress and poor nutrition, however they still maintain a “healthy” and “attractive” exterior based on societies perception. This is despite the fact that the tissues inside their bodies are suffering. But when these people display unhealthy behaviours in public, they are not policed as much as an obese person doing the same thing.

This occurs because society and the media have created a mentality that skinny/toned for girls and muscularity for men is the epitome of beauty and health. The way we define health and beauty is purely based on external appearances, which is no surprise in our highly superficial society. We beat ourselves up about our bodies not looking a certain way and endeavour to change them, rather than applauding our bodies for all the amazing things it can do and striving to accomplish more (e.g. can your body run, jump, lift weights?).

The social media marketing creates an unattainable goal of external health and beauty, using photo shopped, genetically gifted individuals to represent their “fad” products (that are never scientifically proven to work). This in turn causes individuals to waste time, money and self-esteem on these products, funding million dollar companies, in the pursuit of these unachievable/superficial goals. However, we are all different and most of us will never look like the photo-shopped models we see in the media who no matter what they ate, would probably still have the appearance that they do. This mentality creates a society of individuals who are not comfortable in their own skin (even the genetically gifted ones) and it breeds both obesity and other eating disorders like anorexia.

In our society, being fat is supposedly one of the worst things you can be. Think about all the insecurities and issues an overweight person has to face in our superficially driven society. We are so quick to judge an overweight individual without thinking about the true reasons as to why they might possibly be that way. We must remember that health and beauty comes in all different shapes and sizes, and we have to broaden our spectrum on what we define as healthy and beautiful, because human beings do not fit into binary categories.

Our association between skinniness and health gives birth to our warped relationship to food. We are made to view food simply as calories and whether it will contribute to weight gain or weight loss. We don’t view our food in terms of its nutritional content and how it is there to nourish our bodies in order to make it function properly. This is especially prominent in women, due to the unfair expectations our sexist society puts on them to look a particular way in order to be “attractive” to men.

Fad diets exploit this mentality by basing their programs around extreme caloric restriction, which of course in the short term will help people drop weight very quickly. But they fail to acknowledge that our bodies still need nutrients in food to actually function properly. Furthermore, these diets are not sustainable long term. They are quick fixes, which feed into our world of instant gratification and don’t help change the psychological, environmental, diet and lifestyle habits that put people in their obese state to begin with.

Obesity and your tax money?

Another mentality that I come across far too often is that many people look at fat people as a burden on our health care system and that they consume taxpayer’s money for the treatment of the manifestations of their obesity (e.g. disability cover).

Yes this is true, however there are many unhealthy, skinny people that use our health care system because they acquire diseases as a result of their poor diet and lifestyle choices. Such diseases like diabetes, depression, lung cancer and CVD are some of the most prominent diseases resulting from our poor diet and lifestyle choices, for fat and skinny people alike. Also, these conditions are seen as “diseases” by society, where as obesity is seen as an issue of laziness.

In reality, although these diseases are placing strain on our health care system, it is much easier to give these sick individuals some drugs to patch up their symptoms and send them on their way. However, it is a lot harder to change the way we educate people about healthy living from a grass roots level in order to prevent chronic disease. It is a lot harder to change the complex social, economical, environmental and psychological factors that contribute to disease and obesity in our society.

If the government was genuinely concerned about the prevention of obesity and chronic disease, which plagues our society, they would put into place community health promotion programs that changed the environment in which we live. This would lead to an environment that is more conducive to good health and the prevention of chronic disease. These health promotion programs do occur in various communities throughout Australia, however they are still yet to become widespread enough to cause significant change. Funding these health promotion programs would cost a lot more money and require higher taxes if they were to be implemented. However, they would benefit us in the long run.

Obesity = laziness and Anorexia = complex disease.

Some may argue that nothing in life is easy, therefore obese people have to take control of their lives, stop feeling sorry for themselves and change. Even if obesity is not completely due to factors that are in the realm of their control. Many argue that the resources are out there to help a person change; they just need to have that drive. However, just because resources are out there doesn’t mean people are competent enough to utilize them effectively. Also, like I mentioned above, a lot of this information is quick fix, unsustainable fads.

While I do acknowledge that obese individuals, like any person with a chronic health issue, at some point have to take responsibility for their actions because only they can change their health predicament, I don’t believe the use of fat shaming in our society will support this process. Humans respond better to positive reinforcement and supportive environments that are conducive to making healthy changes.

Our society shames fat people in so many ways, which can worsen these individuals situation. We have to understand that when people make decisions around their health, most of the time it is not logical. You don’t think an obese person knows that they shouldn’t be eating certain foods? Of course they do, however the reason behind their eating is far more complex than simple logical will power. There is a complex interaction between psychological, genetic, situational and environmental factors, which determine a person’s food choices.

Moreover, why are anorexic people not treated like obese people in our society? Why do we not have reality shows like the biggest loser where instead it is called the biggest gainer? This is where anorexic people get yelled at to eat more and exercise less. This is because we see anorexia as a disease unlike obesity. We recognise anorexia as a complex interaction between genetics and the environment but the same cannot be said for our view on obesity. This is why we treat these illnesses very differently. Obesity is just as much of a complex eating disorder as anorexia is with a large mental/emotional component.

Our environment is not conducive to supporting health.

We are quick to criticize obese people despite the fact that the environment in which we live in is not supportive of long term health. We still market unhealthy food to children and it is rare to find school classes based around cooking and teaching healthy diet and lifestyle habits. Processed, fast food and high calorie food is easily accessible and cheaper/easier to prepare than whole foods. This makes these foods a perfect choice for all of the stressed out individuals with little money, time and knowledge on how to cook nutritious food. Also, the government eating guidelines (which health practitioners use) are heavily outdated and result from invested interests in certain food industries.

We treat most illnesses with pharmaceutical drugs (a billion dollar industry) to patch up symptoms but never use food as our medicine to treat the underlying cause. This in turn creates a disconnect between how food and lifestyle choices impacts our health. We treat diseases when they manifest rather than putting preventative measures in place before they occur. We also create an unhealthy relationship to our bodies and food as mentioned above, and allow fads (that are not scientifically proven to ever work) to plague the consumer market with their products that do nothing to promote health and wellbeing, but rather contribute to the quick fix/instant gratification cycle.

Maintaining health is a never-ending process that has to be worked on every day. It requires following consistent, good habits that are made the majority of the time. We need to change our paradigm around obesity in order to prevent it as well as help the individuals who suffer from it.

Furthermore, understanding the complexities behind weight gain will also allow us to treat this disease more efficiently.

The power of the placebo effect

The power of the placebo effect

The placebo effect is defined as the “beneficial effect produced by a placebo drug or treatment, which cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment.”

Scientists in clinical studies go through a lot of effort to reduce the placebo effect because it can negatively effect their results. The placebo effect is a drug company’s nightmare. When testing a particular treatment or drug, researchers usually split participants into two groups. One group receives the active drug or real treatment and the other group receives a placebo drug or placebo treatment that has no active ingredients or effects.

The reason for the placebo group is to allow scientists to be able to establish a cause and effect relationship between a particular drug or treatment and certain outcomes.

If there was no placebo groups in research studies the scientists would be unable to know if the positive outcome of a drug/treatment was actually due to the drug/treatment or the patients belief that the treatment/drug will work.

Although we spend a lot of time trying to control the placebo effect, the fact we know it exists and is a real thing, means that it can be harnessed as a powerful tool in healing. The use of randomised control trials detracted us away from appreciating the power of the mind in health. We are so focused on finding if one drug/treatment has a direct effect on another variable, that we lose sight about the healing potential of the placebo effect.

The need for causative relationships to be drawn between drugs and certain outcomes is certainly needed, however we cannot discourage the importance of the placebo effect in healing.

The fact that a placebo effect exists demonstrates the power of our beliefs, mindset and thoughts, over our physical physiology and health.

Examples of the placebo effect.

A great example is anti-depressants. They have been shown to be no more effective than placebo in the treatment of depression. This means that placebo pills are just as effective as anti-depressants for treating depression without the side effects. This also means that anti-depressants are likely to work in some cases because the patient believes it will work (influenced by the media and doctors), rather than the drug actually having physiological effects that relieve the symptoms of depression.

Another example is Valium, which is widely prescribed for anxiety disorders, seems to have no effect unless patients know that they are taking it for their anxiety.

Lastly, my favourite example of the power of the placebo effect was the sham knee surgery study. This study took patients who all needed a knee replacement surgery. They split the participants into two groups where one group received an actual knee replacement, and the other group was the placebo group. The placebo group went through the whole surgery routine where the surgeon opened up the knee and made an incision, however, he sprayed it with some water, then closed it back up. The patients in the placebo group who didn’t get the actual knee surgery improved just as much as in the group who did receive the proper surgery. To me, that is absolutely amazing!

The placebo effect is not just in the patients mind.

We used to think that the placebo effect was all in the patient’s mind, so there weren’t any measurable effects associated with it.  It was just the patient believing that they were better. However, there have been a bunch of studies that have shown there are actually measurable biochemical effects that can be elicited by taking placebo, which are similar to the biochemical effects of the active drug/treatment.

An example is where patients given placebo painkillers can trigger a release of endorphins in the brain, which are natural pain-relieving chemicals that opioid drugs like morphine, are designed to mimic. Therefore the reduction in the patient’s pain after taking the placebo painkiller was caused by a similar physical change that would occur if they took the actual drug. So it is not all in their mind.

These studies that show physiological changes as a result of taking a placebo, which are similar to the active drug, only seem to occur if the active drug has been taken previously for that particular condition. Therefore a learned association occurs between a particular drug and a condition.

For example, if you’ve taken a drug in the past for a particular condition, that has a particular physical effect on your body, your body learns that response, so that in the future if you take a placebo with the intention of treating that same condition in which you used the drug for, it may trigger the same response, but it won’t happen if you just took a placebo for the first time.

This effect can be harnessed in trying to reduce dosages of drugs that carry some very negative and toxic side effects. For example, once the body has a learned response to a drug, we could potentially decrease the dose of the active drug in order to minimize side effects and toxicity. A doctor could even tell the patient that this is going to occur because studies have also indicated that the placebo is still effective even when the patients know they are taking a placebo, which opens the door for placebo to be used ethically. This is largely due to the mechanisms described above. If the patient knows they are taking a placebo for a given condition that they used to take an active drug for, therefore when the placebo is ingested, the brain mimics the effects of what the active drug used to do as the ritual of taking a pill for a given condition has conditioned the brain.

The power of the therapeutic relationship.

There are also many studies that look at the power of a practitioner-client relationship in healing. This is similar to the placebo effect because it demonstrates how the power of a good therapeutic relationship can have very positive effects on the patients healing, beyond the actual treatments of what the patient is receiving.

In naturopathic school we are taught very early on about the importance of establishing a good relationship with your patients where there is trust and the patient feels heard. It is important that the patient feels like they have a collaborative relationship with the practitioner.

If there is trust and a good rapport between the patient and practitioner it increases the chances of the patient feeling better. A good therapeutic relationship can enhance the effects of treatments. This means that for a client, it is important to find a good practitioner that you trust, who is empathetic and that you bond with.

A great example of how the therapeutic relationship can enhance patient outcomes was a trial done on IBS patients. The patients were divided into three groups. The first group received no treatment, the second group received fake acupuncture from a polite but cold practitioner, and the third group received fake acupuncture from a warm, caring practitioner who sat with them throughout the treatment. 28% of the group that didn’t receive any treatment got adequate relief from their symptoms. 44% of those that received fake acupuncture alone got adequate relief. But in the group that received both fake acupuncture and empathic care, 62% achieved “adequate relief.”

I do feel like the modern medical model is built around the doctor being the expert who tells the patient what to do, rather that the patient and practitioner working together in a collaborative relationship to achieve the goal of helping the patient get healthier.

We tend to think that a treatment involves finding the right drug (or other interventions) for the right symptoms or condition, with little focus on how the treatment is delivered to the patient. However, we know that the therapeutic relationship and the way in which a treatment is administered has a lot to do with its healing capacity.

The placebo effect also helps us understand the importance of a positive mindset especially when we are unhealthy. Really believing in our treatments and putting faith in them can go a long way. We sometimes underestimate the bodies amazing ability to heal itself and that under the right conditions, the body will always tend towards good health.

All of this suggests that the effects of an intervention—whether it is pharmaceutical, herbal, dietary, or something else—depend in large part on our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about that intervention.

What about the nocebo effect?

What is a nocebo effect? Well, it is essentially the opposite of the placebo effect. It is the idea that our beliefs and mindset can also have a negative effect on our health.

Examples of the nocebo effect are clearly demonstrated in the Framingham Heart Study, which is the longest running study on heart disease that’s been done so far. Women who believed that they were prone to heart disease were nearly four times as likely to die as women with similar risk factors who didn’t hold the same views.

Furthermore, we often see people suffering from side effects of pharmaceutical drugs if they are told about the side effects. So maybe you shouldn’t read the side effects on the side of a drug packaging and maybe practitioners should be careful about the way they word their informed consent about a particular drug.

Another great example of the nocebo effect was a study that happened in Japan, where researchers took 57 high school boys and tested them for their sensitivity to poison ivy trees. The boys who reported having severe reactions to this tree were blindfolded, and then the researchers brushed one arm with leaves from a poison ivy tree, but they told the boys that they were chestnut tree leaves. And then they stroked the other arm with chestnut tree leaves, but they said that that foliage actually came from a poison ivy tree.  And within minutes, the arm that the boys believed to have been exposed to the poison ivy tree began to break out in a rash, even though it was the chestnut tree. In most cases, the arm that had contact with the actual poison ivy tree did not react.

So what does this all mean?

Well, for a practitioner like me, it highlights the importance of developing good relationships with my clients and delivering my treatments in very specific ways in order to maximize clinical outcomes. If a client is resistant to getting a certain treatment, it should be my goal to try and find ways to get the client actively involved with their treatment and help them believe that it will work. There is no point giving a treatment if the client is opposed to it, even though biochemically I know it should work.

It will not be enough to just give a treatment for a certain condition, based on what I know about the mechanisms of that treatment.

Therefore, if you have a health issue, find practitioners who are collaborative in their approach with you. Meaning they are willing to work together with you in a collaborative manner to help you get healthier. They make their treatment plans easy to follow and so that it fits into your life. Find a practitioner that you respect, trust and feel a bond with.

Also, if you are given a treatment, make a ritual out of it. Do the treatment at the same time under the same conditions if possible. Imagine how the treatment will work for your certain condition and what improvements you want to see. We need to take an active role in our own health, not just blindly take a prescription and carry on.

The placebo and nocebo effect shows how our mindset thoughts, feelings, and beliefs has a huge effect over our health and can cause physiological changes. The body has an innate, powerful ability to heal itself in the right conditions. This is why stress reduction and having a balanced/positive mindset/self talk in life is so important for health. Therefore, going to see a psychologist and finding other means to look after your mental health could be a huge part of a healing process. Changing your mindset not only towards your health, but also towards all aspects of your life in general, could be a huge factor in keeping you healthy and happy.

6 Supplements every athlete should be taking

6 Supplements every athlete should be taking

In the backdrop of a solid diet plan and making sure you get enough sleep supplementation can play a significant role in improving performance and decreasing injury risk.

Here are my top 6 “no brainer” supplements to take if you are looking to improve your performance and health.


1) Whey Protein Powder:

Whey protein makes up 20% of the protein in milk, with the remaining 80% being casein. Whey protein is one of the highest quality proteins in terms of both digestibility, bioavailability (absorption) and amino acid composition. It is essentially the gold-standard protein supplement for sports nutrition research.

Whey is used as a protein supplement. Its high bioavailability makes it a far superior protein supplement compared to plant protein supplements like pea protein. It is very useful for hitting targeted daily protein goals. Whey is also absorbed faster than other forms of protein, which means it also increases muscle protein synthesis used to break a fasted state.

Whey protein powders are a great way to add some protein into diet when you are in situations where you may not have access to good, clean protein sources (e.g. when travelling). It can also be used to help increase an individual’s protein intake if they are struggling to eat enough protein in their diet and/or their needs have increased due to being an athlete.

Whey also delivers a large amount of the amino acid L-cysteine, which can alleviate deficiencies that occur during ageing and diabetes, as well as other conditions. While whey has also been claimed to increase fat loss, this is a function of protein, rather than the whey itself. This means that the whey itself does not reduce fat, but taking in more protein often aids with fat loss efforts.

Whey does not harm the liver or kidneys, but it can exacerbate pre-existing damage. People with damaged livers or kidneys should exercise caution when increasing protein intake quickly without the guidance of a doctor.

The amount of whey protein to supplement depends on individual daily protein goals. For example:

If you are an athlete or highly active person attempting to lose body fat while preserving lean muscle mass, a daily intake of 1.5-2.2g/kg bodyweight (0.68-1g/lb bodyweight) is a good goal.

If you are an athlete or highly active person, or you are attempting to lose body fat while preserving lean mass, then a daily intake of 1.0-1.5g/kg bodyweight (0.45-0.68g/lb bodyweight) is a good goal.

If you are sedentary and not looking to change body composition, a daily target of 0.8g/kg bodyweight (0.36g/lb bodyweight) is a good goal.

If daily protein targets are achieved through dietary protein alone, supplementation is unnecessary.

Lastly, whey does not contain lactose or casein, therefore if you are allergic to casein in milk (the common allergen in milk that people react to) or you are lactose intolerant, whey protein is fine for you.

2) Zinc:

This essential mineral tends to be deficient in athletes due to its high demand and its increased excretion from the body in sweat. Zinc is important for maintaining a healthy immune function, which prevents you from getting sick at inconvenient times during competition.

Zinc is also important for protein synthesis and repair of your muscles, ligaments, cartilage and tendons, therefore it can be a very helpful supplement during times of injury recovery, where repair is important.  Supplementing with 10-35mg of zinc per day (with food) is adequate. Zinc is also high in foods like meat, eggs, oysters, fish, pumpkin seeds and leafy greens.

3) Magnesium:

This essential mineral, like zinc, tends to be deficient in athletes as it is lost through sweat and it is depleted due to increased energy demands. Similarly to zinc, magnesium is extremely important for our mood, sleep and cognitive function. It also plays a very important role in energy production, as well as decreasing muscle cramps/spasms during intense competition. Supplementing with 400 – 800mg of magnesium per day is adequate. Try to supplement with the most absorbable form of magnesium called, magnesium biglycinate. Magnesium can also be found in foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, cacao (dark chocolate) avocado and bananas.

4) Creatine:

The most well researched sports supplement to date. Creatine in research, usually in the form of creatine monohydrate, has been shown to increase power output, increase strength output, decrease exercise induced cramps, increase lean mass, increase mental clarity and decrease post exercise muscle soreness. Supplementing with 3-5g per day is adequate. Some people do an initial loading phase of 20-25g per day for 5-7 days. This just means that the creatine will saturate your muscles quicker, compared to 3-5g per day. There is no better or worse, I guess the loading phase will provide benefits quicker.

Also, despite what you have heard you, don’t need to cycle creatine and it does not cause hair loss or kidney issues. These myths are false conclusions drawn from certain studies.

5) Vitamin D:

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble essential vitamin that our skin synthesises when exposed to the sun. It benefits us in many ways, from bone health to mood.

It is one of the 24 micronutrients critical for human survival. The sun is the major natural source of the nutrient, but vitamin D is also found naturally in fish and eggs. It is also added to dairy products.

Supplemental vitamin D is associated with a wide range of benefits, including increased cognition and mood, immune health, bone health and it is also important for maintaining healthy testosterone levels (men take note) as well as muscle mass/power output. It also may increase recovery rates from workouts by helping to decrease post exercise inflammation that usually induces muscle soreness.

The body produces vitamin D from cholesterol, provided there is an adequate amount of UV light from sun exposure. There is only a sufficient amount of UV light coming from the sun when the UV index is 3 or higher, which only occurs year-round near the equator, between the 37th parallels.

Most people are not deficient in vitamin D, but they do not have an optimal level of vitamin D either, due to a lack of sun exposure during the day, as well as poor dietary habits.

The recommended daily allowance for Vitamin D is currently set at 400-800IU/day, but this is too low for adults. The safe upper limit in the United States and Canada is 4,000IU/day. Research suggests that the true safe upper limit is 10,000IU/day. For moderate supplementation, a 1,000-2,000IU dose of vitamin D3 is sufficient to meet the needs of most of the population. This is the lowest effective dose range. Higher doses, based on body weight, are in the range of 20-80IU/kg daily.

Furthermore, to be more specific, on a blood test, research shows that the optimal range for vitamin D should be around 87-125nmol/L. Bone density peaks at 112nmol/L. Therefore, if you are below 50nmol/L on a blood test, 4,000IU per day for 12 weeks should bring your levels up into the range. If you are over 50nmol/L, then 2,000IU per day for 12 weeks should be fine to bring you up to maintenance levels.

The body is quite sophisticated in the sense that once you bring nutrient levels back up to optimal ranges, it does a very good job at maintaining it at those levels, as long as the nutrient is still in constant supply and not in extremely high amounts. Therefore, after you reach your adequate levels, a maintenance dose of 1-2,000IU per day should support vitamin D levels and your health.

Vitamin D3 supplementation (cholecalciferol) is recommended over D2 supplementation (ergocalciferol), since D3 is used more effectively in the body.

Vitamin D should be taken daily, with meals or a source of fat, like fish.

6) Vitamin C:

Supplementing with 500mg – 1g of vitamin C has been shown to consistently decrease the rates of cold and flus in athletes who are engaging in intense training regimes.

BONUSES: Ditch the costly pre-workout supplements and just drink some coffee with beetroot juice and leafy greens.

Have some leafy greens and beetroot before you train. These foods contain high amounts of nitrates, which can increase blood flow to your muscles, therefore increasing performance.

Caffeine in coffee has been shown to increase alertness, energy, strength and power output, as well as glycogen repletion post workout. The effect is greater for people who don’t consume coffee every single day (coffee naïve).

Basic nutrition strategies for athletes

Basic nutrition strategies for athletes

Professional and semi professional sport is becoming more and more competitive these days. Athletes are always looking for ways to improve their performance and put them ahead of their peers. Whether this be in the gym or to do with their nutrition, lifestyle and recovery techniques, being an athlete is a full time gig. Everything they do in their life revolves around keeping their body and mind in optimum shape so they can perform at their best. High performance is crucial because for a lot of athletes, their sport is their full time or part time job and their income/livelihood depends on it. It can also provide them with certain opportunities in life that may not have come if they were not an athlete (e.g. travel, university scholarships).

For the majority of athletes I meet, most of them are eager to do the right thing for their body and mind, in order to optimize their performance. Therefore, they dogmatically follow any information that they see as trustworthy. This information is usually from the internet, a trusted coach, mentor, friend, fellow athlete/team mate or some form of health care practitioner.

A lot of the time, athletes receive conflicting information from all of these different sources, which leaves them stuck, despite them wanting to do the right thing. Athletes are also usually quite compliant, so when they are presented with new information they are eager to implement it into their regime if they believe it will help them.

However, like most things in the health and fitness industry, the information is sometimes not supported by scientific evidence, and the individual delivering the information may be speaking from their own anecdotal experience or may be pushing a certain agenda (e.g. selling a product). Also, the information may often be quite complex, difficult to follow and difficult to implement, which sets the athlete up for failure.

Nutrition is obviously a huge part of optimising performance, recovery, injury prevention and health for athletes. Being an athlete puts stress on the body and this needs to be supported by good nutrition, as well as restful sleep. The food they eat is the fuel for all the metabolic processes that need to take place in order to function at their best and recover well. Implementing healthy diet habits is also important for when the athlete stops competing. This is to avoid weight gain and ill health when their energy output decreases.

Contrary to what most people think, nutrition for athletes does not have to be complicated. Unless the athlete is competing in a sport that requires the fine tuning of body weight in order to compete, such as bodybuilding, weight lifting or fighting, there is rarely a need to get overly complex about nutrition. Most sports require athletes to perform optimally in the given sport and it is up to the athlete to find out what weight and muscle mass they function best at. This will be largely governed by their diet.

Following basic strategies around eating that is sustainable in the long term, is usually the most important thing. Ideally, we want to make eating good food in the right amounts, very simple, so it doesn’t cause stress, inconvenience and distraction from training. This is also so it can be sustained over the long term.

If you are an athlete and you are wanting to support your performance with good nutrition and smart supplementation, here are some simple and user friendly tips that you can implement.

Eat right for your type.

Athletes don’t have to eat drastically different to what a “lay” person should be eating. All that may change is quantities, timing of food and macronutrient (carbs, fats and protein) ratios.

The recommendation of macronutrient breakdown for athletes can be divided into 3 main categories based on an athlete’s body type, genes, metabolic tendencies and performance goals. These categories are ectomorphs, endomorphs and mesomorphs.

Ectomorphs.

Ectomorph’s tend to be quite skinny, smaller framed individuals who are sympathetic nervous system dominant. They find it difficult to put on weight and size (hard gainers). They also tend to tolerate carbohydrates well (i.e. the carbs are used as energy rather than going to fat) because of their fast metabolism and high energy output due to the type of sports that people with these body types tend to play. These sports are usually endurance based sports that require long periods of sustained moderate to high intensity efforts (e.g. fluctuating between jogging and sprinting), such as in soccer, AFL, long distance running, cycling, tennis, swimming and even light/middle weight fighters etc.

Ectomorph body types are usually a requirement to compete and keep up with the physical demands of endurance based sports. The athletes can’t be too heavy and need to also be fit with lots of lean muscle, especially if they play a contact sport.

Mesomorphs.

Mesomorph’s tend to be naturally lean and ripped. They tend to gain muscle and stay lean fairly easily. These athletes are usually the ones that want to optimize their physique and boost performance. They also tend to tolerate carbs well. These body types are the “natural” athletes that find themselves across all sports and can easily adapt to the demands of the sport they choose.

Endomorphs:

Endomorph’s tend to be the body type which are more prone to putting on fat. These athletes juggle a fine balance between staying at a weight that they can compete at and putting on too much fat. These athletes tend to be heavier, large framed and have slower metabolisms.

They don’t tolerate carbs too well (more likely to go to fat) and usually compete in strength and power sports such as weightlifting and rugby where maximal strength and power output is required for short bursts, and in between these short burst there may be periods of low intensity efforts like jogging.

These sports also require an endomorph body type to deal with the physical demands of the sport (e.g. rugby players and heavy weight fighters need to be solid enough to deal with tackles and hits).

In saying this, endomorphs can compete in sports that may be endurance based or have an endurance component, however they just have to be more vigilant about their weight. For example, it is common to see some endomorph’s in soccer. This is because, while there is certainly a large athletic component to soccer, it is also very skilled based. Therefore, some talented players can get away with being an endomorph body type. They may not be the fastest and fittest players, but they can get away with it due to their soccer intelligence and skills. Another example could be heavy weight fighters who need to be big enough to sustain hits, powerful enough to dish out hits, as well as fit enough to last rounds of fighting.

These athletes are the types that may want to shed a few kilos.

*Some sports like golf don’t really require athletes to have a certain body type as the sport is so skilled based, therefore the sport can have a range of ectomorphs, endomorphs and mesomorphs competing. 

So how should each body type eat?

Gone are the days of counting calories. Who wants to be turning food into math anyway? It just complicates things and reduces compliance due to the process being very time consuming. Instead, a more practical way is to determine portion sizes using your hands, which allows athletes to be able to chose a balanced meal even when they are not at home and it is not as time consuming. It also gives the athlete a template to work with, rather than an exact “nutrition plan,” which is rigid and doesn’t give the athlete the freedom to make their own food choices.

The athletes body type, will determine how they should eat.

How should a mesomorph eat?

Protein.

At each meal, eat 2 palms of protein dense food if you are male and 1 palm if female. The protein source should ideally be the size and thickness of your open palm.

Protein dense foods are the best from animal sources because they are higher in protein and more bioavailable:

  • Whey protein powder
  • Eggs (2 eggs = 1 palm)
  • Tinned fish (1 small can = 1 palm)
  • Natural Full Fat Greek Yoghurt (2 TBS = 1 palm)
  • Seafood
  • Fish
  • Smoked fish
  • Red Meat (not processed meat like bacon).
  • Chicken
  • Pork

Protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass, which is vital for an athlete. If an athlete does not eat enough protein, their muscles will not repair as they should from training/competition, which leads to muscle break down due to the stressors placed on them. This increases the risk of injury. The body also does this as a means of conserving energy. Competing in elite sport, especially higher intensity sports that place a lot of load/stress on the body, is a stressor on the body. This means stress hormones will be released, which break down muscle tissue.

The reason for this is because when the body is stressed, evolutionary mechanisms that ensured human’s survival as a species kick into gear, which help to minimise energy output of the body. This is in order to conserve energy and therefore ensure survival. One of these mechanisms is breaking down muscle because muscle is metabolically expensive to house in the body. In other words it takes up a lot of energy to maintain, therefore if the body is stressed, it tries to minimise energy demands by breaking down muscle. The only way to minimise this effect is by eating more protein.

When eating protein sources, try to make sure you are consuming home prepared protein sources that are cooked in healthy oils (e.g. olive oil, butter, coconut oil) and flavoured with herbs and spices rather than sauces (e.g. tomato sauce, BBQ sauce etc).

When eating out, make sure it is a whole-food, healthy protein source such as a steak, sushi, grilled fish and grilled chicken with limited sauces. The protein source should not be in a burger, on pizza, in a pasta, deep fried and in a pie, with lots of sauce and oils. The protein source should be as simple as possible.

Carbohydrates.

At each meal, eat 2 cupped hand of carbs (fruit or starch) if you are male and 1 cupped hands of carbs (fruit or starch) if female.

Good, healthy, carb dense foods include:

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Legumes
  • Potato
  • Sweet potato
  • Whole-grains such as Quinoa, Buckwheat, Amaranth, Brown rice
  • FRUITS (simple carbohydrates) (1 piece of fruit = 1 cupped hand)
  • Pumpkin
  • Butternut
  • Natural sweeteners like honey (simple carbohydrates)
  • Mueslis that contain whole-grains and seeds
  • Good quality wholegrain bread (1 piece = 1 cupped hand)
  • Wholegrain flours from grains like quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth (whole-grain ground and used)

Carbohydrates are our energy nutrient. As an athlete, carbohydrates are an important and efficient energy source, especially for athletes that require high amounts of sustained energy and are engaging in moderate to high intensity efforts for extended periods of time such as in endurance based sports. When athletes don’t eat enough carbs to support their training/competing demands, their body has to look to other energy sources like body fat and protein (which is taken from muscle and converted into glucose unless the athlete is ingesting adequate amounts of protein).

Body fat and dietary fat is a less efficient energy source compared to glucose (from carbs) when athletes are working at a high intensity for extended periods of time in sports such as AFL, soccer, combat sports, long distance running (i.e. endurance sports with a lot of low to medium intensity movements, along with repeated high intensity efforts).

This is because fat requires more oxygen consumption in order to be burnt for energy, whereas glucose produces energy quicker and with less oxygen required. Per calorie, fat can produce more energy, however it is slower in doing so, which means not enough energy is produced quick enough to supply the demands of the athlete working at a consistent high intensity. If the intensity is high and the demand for energy (ATP) is beyond the bodies ability to take in enough oxygen to support using fat, then glucose (carbs) from glycogen in muscles is used, as it requires less oxygen to be burnt and energy is made faster in order to support the athletes energy demands. This is why fat is not an ideal primary energy source for endurance based athletes.

Contrary to this, athletes in power based sports like weight lifting and sprinters, as well as athletes that spend most of their athletic movements at low intensity efforts like jogging with a few repeated efforts of maximal intensity like sprinting (as in sports like rugby and NFL), don’t require as much carbohydrates and will do better on higher fat diet. This will also help them manage their body weight as these athletes tend to be endomorphs, who don’t tolerate carbs well. As mentioned above, fats are only burnt when the intensity and energy demands of the athlete is low, therefore enough oxygen can be consumed to support fat burning systems, such as in jogging.

These athletes only require enough energy to support short bursts of maximal efforts at a high intensity. Because these maximal efforts only last a few seconds (e.g. 100m sprint, 20m sprint in rugby, weightlifting etc), they require minimal amounts of oxygen (anaerobic) if at all. Therefore, the athletes in these sports don’t need a huge amount of carbohydrate intake. Again, this is why these athletes work better on a higher fat diet. These athletes will only use small amounts of glucose, as well as their creatine phosphate systems to produce energy for these short bursts of maximal efforts at a high intensity. The rest of the time, their energy demands at a lower intensity (e.g. jogging and walking) can be supported by fat burning systems, due to increased availability of adequate amounts of oxygen and the rate of energy production does not have to be as fast.

Also, athletes that play sports which require mostly low intensity efforts and have low energy demands (i.e. heart rate stays low), they would do better on a higher fat diet (e.g. golfers).

Moreover, if an endurance athlete playing an endurance sport, which involves working at a low to moderate intensity for extended periods of time, with repetitive maximal efforts, eating fats and no carbs will not suffice. Fats simply cannot support the energy demands of these athletes as it can’t produce enough energy at a fast enough rate and it requires a much higher oxygen intake when compared to glucose burning systems.

Based on this information, if an athlete in an endurance sport (potentially with an endomorph body type) that is looking to shed some body fat via a low carb diet (and caloric restriction), they must make sure they are having carbs re-feeds around training and competition, as well as increasing their protein intake. Otherwise their performance will suffer. This is even true for athletes (regardless of body type) who may not be involved in endurance based sports, however they engage in strength training sessions to support their performance, which at the end of the day is glycogen (glucose) depleting. These athletes may stay low carb, high fat and high protein, with carb re-feeds around gym sessions.

If these athletes don’t do carb re-feeds and don’t eat enough protein, when training or competing, their body will use fat stores (an inefficient fuel source for endurance sports) and also break down muscle tissue to convert protein to glucose, which means the athlete will experience muscle loss. Overall, this leads to impaired performance. This is also a stress on the body, which leads to increased stress hormones that can result in symptoms like depression, fatigue, poor sleep, weight gain, slowed metabolism and low sex hormone levels. Far too often I have seen athletes trying to cut their carb intake in order to lose weight for things like a skin fold test and they end up suffering from stress related symptoms.

Furthermore, some endurance athletes that work at a moderate to high intensity for very long periods of time, such as triathletes, may try to train their body to become better at burning fat as a fuel.

Adhering to a low carb, high fat template during certain training sessions can help increase fat burning capacity of the body and can help “train” the body to burn fat more efficiently, however this doesn’t increase exercise performance as more oxygen is required to burn fat for energy and it is slower in doing so, forcing the athlete to lower their intensity and increase their respiration rate. The athlete can be fat adapted and burn fat more efficiently, which is useful during competition when glycogen (glucose in muscles) levels get depleted, however this is always at a cost to their performance.

The body will always preferentially burn carbohydrates during high intensity work as carbs are a more efficient fuel compared to fat, when the energy demands of the body are high. This means that fat is not “carb sparing,” however one can teach its body to burn fats better to support high energy outputs, once carbs get depleted. This can minimise the effects of athletes “hitting the wall” in long endurance events, where they inevitably will slow down and become breathing harder as their glycogen levels have become depleted.

As mentioned above, carbohydrate needs vary depending on the athletes energy demands and how well they tolerate carbs. Athletes like ectomorphs and mesomorphs will require more carbohydrates due to their energy requirements, as they need a constant supply of energy as they are working at a moderate to high intensities for longer periods of time. As opposed to endomorphs who only require maximal strength and power for short bursts, therefore they need less carbs. In saying that, endomorphs in a sport that requires endurance may need to cycle their carbs around training and competitions in order to support energy demands.

Lastly, genetically, we all vary on how we tolerate carbohydrates. We all know those people who can eat a lot of carbs and their weight doesn’t budge, however others experience weight gain. This is a result of genetic differences where some people can utilize carbs for energy more efficiently than others rather than going to fat. Endomorphs don’t usually tolerate carbs well, which as you will see they are recommended to have more of a higher fat diet.

Focus on getting your carb intake from whole-food sources (as listed above) rather than processed and refined carbohydrates (e.g. pasta, fried food, noodles etc). Processed and refined carbs like sport drinks and confectionary can serve as a quick source of glucose for immediate energy during long training sessions, multiple training sessions in one day or match days, however when eating meals, try focus on “healthier” carbs that are listed above.

Fat.

At each meal, eat 2 thumbs of fat dense food if you are male and 1 thumb if you are female.

Good sources of fat in the diet:

  • Nuts (10 nuts = 1 thumb)
  • Seeds
  • Nut/seed oils (sesame oil, flaxseed oil, macadamia oil)
  • Avocado oil
  • Avocado (1/4 = 1 thumb)
  • Nut butters and nut/seed flours (1 TBS = 1 thumb)
  • Olives
  • Olive oil
  • Milk cream (1 TBS = 1 thumb)
  • Butter
  • Coconut oil/coconut cream/coconut milk/coconut flour/coconut yoghurt (1 TBS = 1 thumb)
  • Palm oil
  • Try and cook with saturated and monounsaturated fats like olive oil, coconut oil, butter and animal fat (e.g. lard). They are the most stable at high temperatures.
  • Avoid cooking with all vegetable oils (e.g. soy oil, canola oil, safflower oil etc). Takeout and restaurants almost always use vegetable oil to cook their food. Also, if you look in most packaged and bottle foods you will see vegetable oils present. These oils go rancid at high temperatures and are inflammatory in nature therefore causing inflammation in your body, which is damaging to your health.
  • Foods that are also high in fats include your protein sources like eggs, meat, fish and dairy.
  • Cooking in oil can count as your added fat source.
  • Use oils like olive oil with vinegar for salad dressings.

Healthy fats are an essential part of a well balanced diet. Fats are needed for healthy brain function, hormone production, energy production and to maintain healthy cells.

Vegetables.

At each meal, eat 2 fist of vegetables if you are a male and 1 fist if female.

Be adventurous with your vegetable intake. Eat lots of colors. Eat as many colors as you can throughout the day. Red, green, yellow, orange, red, purple! Eat the rainbow!

Salads are a great way to increase vegetable intake in your diet. Add a protein source, drizzle some oil as your fat and possibly add some form of a carbohydrate like sweet potato.

I’m sure it is obvious by now how important fruit and veggies are for our health. They are essential components of a healthy diet, providing a vast array of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, fibre (to support our gut bacteria) and anti-oxidants.

I would like to make a special mention of beetroot and dark leafy green vegetables. These vegetables are high in nitrates, which when consumed, the body converts them into a chemical called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps to dilate our blood vessels, which increases blood flow to our muscles, therefore improving performance. Before training or competing, eating foods high in nitrates are very beneficial.

Lastly, when eating vegetable sources, try to make sure you are consuming home prepared vegetable sources that are cooked in healthy oils (e.g. olive oil, butter, coconut oil) and flavoured with herbs and spices rather than sauces (e.g. tomato sauce, BBQ sauce etc).

How should an ectomorph eat?

  • At each meal, eat 2 palms of protein dense food if you are male and 1 palm if female. The protein source should ideally be the size and thickness of your open palm

 

  • At each meal, eat 2 fists of vegetables if you are a male and 1 fist if female.

 

  • At each meal, eat 3 cupped hand of carbs (fruit or starch) if you are male and 2 cupped hands of carbs (fruit or starch) if female.

 

  • At each meal, eat 1 thumbs of fat dense food if you are male and 1 thumb if you are female.

How should an endomorph eat?

 

  • At each meal, eat 2 palms of protein dense food if you are male and 1 palm if female. The protein source should ideally be the size and thickness of your open palm

 

  • At each meal, eat 2 fists of vegetables if you are a male and 1 fist if female.

 

  • At each meal, eat 1 cupped hand of carbs (fruit or starch) if you are male and 1 cupped hand of carbs (fruit or starch) if female.

 

  • At each meal, eat 3 thumbs of fat dense food if you are male and 3 thumb if you are female.

 

The meal guide outlined is based on 3-4 meals per day (not including snacking, which is discussed below).

Of course, if you’re a bigger person, you probably have a bigger hand. And if you’re a smaller person… well, you get the idea.

Your own hand is a personalized (and portable) measuring device for your food intake. Calorie counting is tedious, inconvenient and often inaccurate. True, some people do have larger or smaller hands for their body size.  Still, our hand size correlates pretty closely with general body size, including muscle, bone – the whole package.

Every time you eat main meals, you should try to have a protein, carb, fat and vegetable source based on your body type and energy demands, that is cooked in healthy oils and flavoured with herbs and spices.

This is just a template and guide to follow, portion sizes will obviously vary depending on your goals, how you feel and how your body responds! Increase or decrease the amount of food you eat, the amount of carbs and fats you eat, depending on how you feel, how you look, how you perform and what your goals are.

Below are some examples and scenarios where macronutrient ratios (carbs and fats) may need to be manipulated depending on the athletes goals, body type and energy demands.

Note: Males may need an extra 6-8 servings and females may require 4-6 extra servings of each macronutrient in order to support their needs.

Here are some scenarios that may require adjustment of macronutrients:

  • An ectomorph or mesomorph may eat more food, especially more carbs on training/competition days (adding an extra 1-2 cupped hands per meal) and eat baseline on non-training/non-competing days. This may be a means of watching their weight.

 

  • If an endomorph is at their desired weight (and is involved in an endurance based sport like soccer), they may want to cycle their carb intake around training days, gym sessions and game days. On non-training/non-competing days, they may remove carbs all together or eat a strict cupped hand of carbs at each meal, or reduce carbs at one to two meals in the day. On training/competing they may include an extra cupped hand of carbs pre and post training/competing.

 

  • If an athlete wants to lose some fat and lean out (especially an endomorph), they firstly need to be in a caloric deficit (eating less than their energy needs so the body burns fat), therefore they may reduce their portion sizes around fat and carb intake (i.e. half their serving size each meal). However, in this process, it is vitally important that protein intake is increased by adding 1-2 extra palm sizes per meal because in a caloric deficit the body breaks down its own tissues (fat and protein) to support its energy needs that are not coming in via food intake. It also does this to decrease overall energy demands of the body. Muscle is metabolically expensive to house in the body and when we are in a caloric deficit (i.e. weight loss phase), evolutionary mechanisms kick in that were designed to help the body survive food scarcity, which used to be an issue when humans didn’t have such easy access to food. A caloric deficit signals starvation to the body, therefore it puts in place certain mechanisms to preserve energy until food is available again. Eating away at metabolically expensive muscle is a one way of doing this. In weight loss, we want the body to eat away at our fat to support our energy needs but not our lean muscle, as this will result in decreased performance. It will also lead to decreased fat loss because the more muscle mass an athlete has, the more fat they will burn at rest for the upkeep of their muscle mass due to it being metabolically expensive. The body will naturally catabolise its muscle in a caloric deficit unless it is provided with enough dietary protein. It is important to note that if the athlete trying to lose fat and plays an endurance sport that requires them to have long periods of moderate to high intensity work, they will require carbs for energy demands. Therefore they will need to resume normal carb intake on training/game days, so their performance doesn’t suffer drastically. This will also help prevent the body from excessively breaking down protein from the muscles in order to be converted to glucose. This should not be done in pre/off season. This is because no matter what, if the athlete is in a caloric deficit, their performance will suffer as caloric deficits mean energy deficits, hence impairing performance.

 

  • If the athlete is in a sport that does not require extended periods of moderate to high intensity efforts (e.g. endurance sports), but they engage in regular strength training sessions to improve their performance at their given sport, they may want to add an extra 1-2 cupped hands of carbs on these training days (pre and post workout), as certain types of strength training can require repeated movements at a high intensities, which will require glucose in the body and fats will not suffice to support energy demands. This will increase performance in the gym. Protein intake to support muscle mass and prevent exersize induced muscle break down is also important.

 

  • If the athlete is a bit skinny and wants to gain muscle. They need to be in a caloric surplus, so they may eat like an ectomorph and they will want to make sure they are eating carb dense foods, even outside of their training window. Protein and carbs are essential for putting on muscle and size. Protein helps build muscle mass while carbs help to increase insulin as well as provide the body with more energy to build muscle.

Once again, stay flexible, see how you feel, look and perform, then adjust accordingly.

Snacking:

Alongside main meals, some athletes like to snack throughout the day to support their high metabolic demands. Some athletes fall down with their snacking. They may eat healthy meals but then they crave something sweet after dinner or mid-afternoon. Eating healthy snacks takes a bit of food preparation and organisation because unhealthy snacks are in packets, wrappers or containers hence making them more convenient to carry around.

Here are some healthy snack ideas that may need to be stored in a cooler bag if you are on the run.

  • nuts with goji berries and dates – raw, unsalted, unflavored
  • cut up vegetables with hummus
  • whey protein powder with water
  • low carb protein bars
  • Wholegrain wrap with a protein source (e.g. chicken), butter and vegetables
  • dates
  • cheese/cream cheese with smoked salmon, vegetables and rice crackers
  • cottage cheese and cucumber
  • fruit
  • dark chocolate (70%)
  • Greek yoghurt/kefir yoghurt/coconut yoghurt (unflavoured, no added sugar) mixed with nuts, seeds, berries, honey and cinnamon

*For an endomorph or an athlete trying to cut weight, snacking is not ideal as it increases overall calorie intake. However, if an endomorph wants a snack, they should try to keep these snacks low carb and higher in fats. Ectomorph and mesomorphs would be encouraged to snack. 

Food preparation is key.

In order to eat in this way, food preparation is important. So here are my 5 best tips to meal preparation. On the weekend (e.g. Sunday), take some time out to implement these 5 strategies.

Plan ahead: Look at your busiest days in the coming week for which you might need pre prepared meals to take to work or to have ready when you get home late in a rush.

Make a menu: Jot down ideas for your prepared meals. Keep it general and simple. Plan meals that contain similar ingredients so you save money and time at the supermarket. Nothing 5 star.

– Shop for ingredients: Buy the ingredients for your meals.

– Pre cook time-consuming meal components or even pre cook certain meals: These foods include things like chicken, vegies, potatoes, rice etc. Also, chop up anything that also may be time consuming.

– Store conveniently: Pack your pre-prepared food in stackable, clear containers and make them accessible in the fridge.

Beyond nutrition.

Lastly, along with eating well, for recovery and performance, good sleep habits are also very important. Adequate sleep, along with good nutrition, are the most important factors for improving performance, increasing recovery and decreasing injury risk.

Nutrition around training.

Research shows that nutrient timing no longer really matters. What you eat is more important than when you eat.

As long as you eat a balanced meal according to the guidelines above, approximately 1-2 hours before your workout and 1-2 hours after your workout you will be fine. This will give your body enough protein, carbs and fats for your workout and then to replenish what was lost. Research has even shown that the pre training meal may be even more important than the post training as it provides the body with fuel (protein and carbs) for the training session and decreases muscle breakdown/increases recovery. As mentioned above, both endomorphs and athletes wanting to cut weight, who are involved in endurance sports may still want to keep their starchy carb choices around their training days, game days and their workout windows (pre and post). Also, protein intake post workout should be at least 40g or greater for every type of athlete (eggs = 6g protein, 25% of the weight of meat and fish is protein, scoop of whey protein powder = 27g protein).

This amount of protein has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis at optimal levels. This is irrespective of lean body mass.

If you do not have enough time or you can only fit a meal in less than 60 minutes before your workout, implement the shake concept as discussed below. A shake is quick and easier to digest, giving your body the right nutrients for your workout quicker.

Lastly, if you are training fasted, it may be prudent to ingest some whey protein powder in water before your workout. This will help avoid excessive muscle breakdown during your workout, as well as enhance recovery. Post training meal becomes even more important if you trained fasted.

Shake concept.

A shake is an easy way to get a healthy/balanced meal into you, which is in line with the guidelines above. Shakes are especially good for when you are in a rush and don’t have time for meal prep. All you need is a good blender and the ingredients.

  • 1 scoop of a high quality whey protein powder (equals 1 palm of protein).
  • 2 fists of spinach (vegetable).
  • A healthy fat source like coconut oil OR coconut cream/milk/yoghurt OR avocado OR nuts OR pure nut butter (fat).
  • Frozen berries, banana or any frozen fruit of your choice (carbs).
  • cinnamon and vanilla extract for taste
  • milk or water for a liquid

(try different ingredients to see what suits your taste buds, just as long as it has a vegetable source, protein source, fat source and carb source)

Note: Depending on your body type, you would need to adjust your serving sizes of each nutrient in the smoothie.

You can add a shake in between your meals (or in place of meals, perhaps) to boost your overall protein intake as well.

Shakes can also be a good source of additional calories if you’re trying to put on weight or aid recovery, or a means of boosting protein without adding calories.

If your training lasts more than an hour or you have double sessions in a day, it may be beneficial to use smart supplementation of branched chain amino acids (BCAA) or whey protein powder, electrolytes and carbs. The carbs will help support energy demands and refill glycogen stores, which get depleted throughout training and the BCAA’s or whey have been shown to reduce exercise induced muscle breakdown. BCAA’s are found in all animal based protein sources and have been extracted into a supplement. They are also contained in whey protein powders in high amounts. Supplementation can be an easy way to get protein in without taking time out to eat it.

Mesomorphs.

15g BCAA or scoop of whey powder in water

30-45g carbs for energy, which can easily be obtained from a sports drink. These drinks also provide electrolytes, which are depleted from excessive sweating.

Ingest every hour of training and once in between sessions is you have a double session in a day.

Also, you can buy protein powders with carbohydrates mixed in. Ingest this combination for every hour you spend training and in between double sessions.

Note: Leave out the carbs if you are training for body composition. BCAA’s or whey will help preserve muscle mass and decrease catabolism.

Ectomorph.

15g BCAA or scoop of whey powder in water

30-45g of carbs

Ingest every hour of training and once in between sessions is you have a double session in a day.

Endomorph.

15g BCAA or scoops of whey powder in water

Ingest every hour of training and once in between sessions if you have a double session in a day.

(Endomorphs don’t require the same amount of carbs).

Note: Protein powders or protein/carb mixes can be an easy way to digest and easily accessible form of protein and carbs. These supplements are very helpful when you may not have access to a pre or post workout meal. They also may provide an extra source of protein and carbs that you don’t have to eat and chew. This can be helpful when trying to put on weight and you simply can’t think to eat more. Whey protein is your best bet as it provides a good source of bioavailable protein and other health benefits like increasing glutathione levels, which is our bodies master anti-oxidant.

Nutrition around game day and competing 

As mentioned earlier in this post, unless you are an athlete in a sport that requires you to be at a very specific body weight to compete (e.g. fighters, weight lifters, body builders etc.) a basic timed feeding template leading up to your competition will suffice.

It could look something like this:

  • The night before competing, an athlete should eat a balanced meal based on their body type and the guidelines above.
  • 3-4 hours before you compete, eat a balanced meal based on the guidelines above, depending on your body type and sport. Endomorphs in endurance sports on game day may want to implement some extra carbs in their pre-game meal.
  • 2 hours prior to competition have a protein dense snack (e.g. whey powder, meat, eggs etc.). Add carbs depending on your body type and sport. If endomorphs ate carbs in their 3-4 hour pre-competition meal, they may just have a protein dense food at this meal. Other body types, especially ectomorphs, can add carbs here.
  • 1 hour prior to competition, maintain adequate fluid intake, take any supplements necessary to help performance like magnesium powders, creatine and caffeine. You can learn more about supplementation for athletes in this post. Easily digestible carbs via sport drinks and lollies may also be required after a warm up.
  • Half time or breaks: BCAA’s and easily absorbed carbs like lollies and sports drinks.
  • Post competing, eat a balanced meal depending on your body type, as well as lots of fluid intake for lost body weight. Endomorph may add some carbs into this meal as well.

What about supplementation?

In the backdrop of a solid nutrition plan, smart supplementation can help support an athletes performance, recovery and overall wellbeing. For more information on what supplements you should be taking, check out this post here.

Wrap up:

Please don’t try to make all of these diet and supplement changes at once. Take a gradual approach and work on implementing one habit per week until you have accumulated all of them as part of your daily routine. A slow, gradual habit based approach is the key to sustainable and long term change.

4 supplements you should be taking for general wellbeing

4 supplements you should be taking for general wellbeing

The manufacturing, selling and consumption of herbal and nutritional supplements is becoming increasingly popular these days. This is largely due to the increased popularity of natural medicine and people wanting to seek more “natural” options for their ailments. It is also becoming more common because our society thrives on the notion of a pill for every ill in the treatment of disease, even though they are seeking more “natural” forms of healthcare. The overuse of pharmaceuticals to treat symptoms of disease has led people to seek out a quick fix or a “treatment,” rather than addressing the underlying causes of their issues.

Furthermore, supplement companies are very good at marketing their products through social media, “health gurus” and via celebrities, making people believe that they can cure their ailments by taking this one supplement. However, so many times people are disappointed and don’t see results because supplement efficacy can vary greatly between brands due to quality and some nutrients/herbs used in supplements lack research for their efficacy in humans.

In saying this, good quality, evidence based supplements, which are safe and effective due to good manufacturing processes, can help support your health in the backdrop of a nutrient dense diet and healthy lifestyle.

In the ideal world we would be able to get all of our nutrients from our food. However, due to current eating patterns and certain health issues, it can be hard to get certain nutrients in the diet in adequate amounts, therefore supplementation for general wellbeing may be necessary.

Also, if you are facing a chronic health issue, supplementation can come in handy, however you should seek a qualified, evidence-based practitioner before you engage in any supplement regime.

For general wellness and overall well-being, here are 4 supplements that most people could benefit from.

1) Vitamin D:

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble essential vitamin that our skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun. It benefits us in many ways, from bone health to mood.

It is one of the 24 micronutrients critical for human survival. The sun is the major natural source of the nutrient, but vitamin D is also found naturally in fish and eggs. It is also added to dairy products.

Supplemental vitamin D is associated with a wide range of benefits, including increased cognition and mood, immune health, blood pressure regulation, skin health, blood glucose regulation, bone health and well-being. Supplementation can also reduce the risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and multiple sclerosis. People deficient in vitamin D may also experience increased testosterone levels after supplementation.

The body produces vitamin D from cholesterol, provided there is an adequate amount of UV light from sun exposure. There is only a sufficient amount of UV light coming from the sun when the UV index is 3 or higher, which only occurs year-round near the equator, between the 37th parallels.

Most people are not deficient in vitamin D, but they do not have an optimal level of vitamin D either, due to a lack of sun exposure during the day, as well as poor dietary habits.

Furthermore, the conversion of vitamin D in the skin to its active form, as well as the dietary absorption of vitamin D can be impaired due to a number of factors. These factors include obesity, gut issues, old age, dark skin, inflammation in the body, magnesium deficiency and the use of certain pharmaceutical drugs like statins, corticosteroids, blood thinners, metformin, beta blockers and ant-acids. Therefore, if you don’t eat a lot of fish, spend quite a lot of time indoors, live in a cold climate and are effected by the factors that contribute to poor vitamin conversion/absorption in the body, then it is likely vitamin d levels will be less than optimal.

It is evident that due to the many health benefits of vitamin D, supplementation is encouraged if optimal levels are not present in the body.

The recommended daily allowance for Vitamin D is currently set at 400-800IU/day, but this is too low for adults. The safe upper limit in the United States and Canada is 4,000IU/day. Research suggests that the true safe upper limit is 10,000IU/day. For moderate supplementation, a 1,000-2,000IU dose of vitamin D3 is sufficient to meet the needs of most of the population. This is the lowest effective dose range. Higher doses, based on body weight, are in the range of 20-80IU/kg daily.

Furthermore, to be more specific, on a blood test, research shows that the optimal range for vitamin D should be around 87-125nmol/L. Bone density peaks at 112nmol/L. Therefore, if you are below 50nmol/L on a blood test, 4,000IU per day for 12 weeks should bring your levels up into the range. If you are over 50nmol/L, then 2,000IU per day for 12 weeks should be fine to bring you up to maintenance levels.

The body is quite sophisticated in the sense that once you bring nutrient levels back up to optimal ranges, it does a very good job at maintaining it at those levels, as long as the nutrient is still in constant supply and not in extremely high amounts. Therefore, after you reach your adequate levels, a maintenance dose of 1-2,000IU per day should support vitamin D levels and your health.

Vitamin D3 supplementation (cholecalciferol) is recommended over D2 supplementation (ergocalciferol), since D3 is used more effectively in the body.

Vitamin D should be taken daily, with meals or a source of fat, like fish.

2) Magnesium:

Magnesium is a crucial nutrient and has over 300 metabolic functions in the body. Many of us are deficient in this nutrient because many factors can impair its absorption and increase its excretion in the body. For example, stress increases the excretion of magnesium and factors like digestive issues, ant-acid and contraceptive pill use, impair the absorption of magnesium. Magnesium plays a crucial role in brain function (e.g. memory, learning, cognition and behaviour), mood regulation, muscle contractions, blood pressure regulation, blood glucose regulation, energy production, stress reduction and hormonal regulation. Therefore, deficiencies can contribute to diabetes, high blood pressure, muscle cramps/spasms, headaches, constipation, insomnia, brain fog, anxiety, behavioural issues and fatigue. Its role in hormone regulation is one of the reasons why women tend to experience menstrual and infertility issues when they come off the pill. As you can see, these issues are fairly common these days, which is why magnesium is a common nutrient deficiency.

Also, magnesium is found in nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, cacao and leafy greens, however the soil is becoming depleted of magnesium, which means it is also becoming harder to get it from our diet.

400-800mg per day of magnesium is a good maintenance dose to keep levels adequate in the body for physiological functions, along with adding foods high in magnesium. When looking to buy a magnesium supplement, look for magnesium biglycinate on the label, as it is the most bioavailable form of magnesium you can get. Other forms that are commonly used in supplements like magnesium oxide are poorly absorbed; therefore you will not get the benefits.

Biotic supplements:

“All disease begins in the gut.”

– Hippocrates

Hippocrates said this more than 2,000 years ago, but we’re only now coming to understand just how right he was. In fact, many researchers believe that supporting intestinal health and restoring the integrity of the gut barrier will be one of the most important goals of medicine in the 21st century.

Research over the past two decades has revealed that gut health is extremely critical to overall health, and that an unhealthy gut contributes to (even causes) a wide range of modern diseases and disorders that we see today.

In simplistic terms, within the gut, there is both “good” and “bad” bacteria. The “good” bacteria is obviously health promoting and the “bad” (in excessive amounts) is not. The good bacteria keep the bad in check. If the bad are allowed to flourish and overrun the good (i.e. overgrowth) then they start to cause issues. In the gut, it is all about balance.

People with chronic diseases have been shown to have a significantly different composition of gut bacteria when compared to healthy individuals, which demonstrates how gut composition plays a large role in the development of diseases.

A biotic supplement along with a healthy diet and lifestyle can help restore the balance of good bacteria in the gut, therefore supporting optimum health.

Biotic supplements are any supplement that is designed to influence the composition of bacteria that resides within the gastrointestinal tract, as well as the bacteria that reside in mucous membranes throughout the body (i.e. respiratory, reproductive tract, urinary tract, skin). Therefore, these supplements derive benefits to the body secondary to the actions of these bacteria. Biotic supplements are divided into three categories:

1) Prebiotic supplements are usually fermentable fibres, but are characterized by proliferating and supporting the microbiome of the gut. Such supplements can be seen as a sort of ‘food’ for pre-existing microbes. Pre-biotic essentially help good bacteria grow in the gut as they are a fuel source for good bacteria.

2) Probiotics are ingested bacteria that then reside in and alter the overall bacteria population of the gut. Most, if not all, bacteria sold as dietary supplements (things measured in CFU) are probiotics.

3) Synbiotics are supplements that have both prebiotic and probiotic properties

Whey Protein powder:

Whey protein makes up 20% of the protein in milk, with the remaining 80% being casein. Whey protein is one of the highest quality proteins in terms of both digestibility, bioavailability (absorption) and amino acid composition. It is essentially the gold-standard protein supplement for sports nutrition research.

Whey is used as a protein supplement. Its high bioavailability makes it a far superior protein supplement compared to plant protein supplements like pea protein. It is very useful for hitting targeted daily protein goals. Whey is also absorbed faster than other forms of protein, which means it also increases muscle protein synthesis used to break a fasted state.

Whey protein powders are a great way to add some protein into diet when you are in situations where you may not have access to good, clean protein sources (e.g. when travelling). It can also be used to help increase an individual’s protein intake if they are struggling to eat enough protein in their diet and/or their needs have increased due to situations where a person may have a chronic disease, chronically stressed, injury recovery, if they are an athlete, going through weight loss or they are ageing.

Whey also delivers a large amount of the amino acid L-cysteine, which can alleviate deficiencies that occur during ageing and diabetes, as well as other conditions. While whey has also been claimed to increase fat loss, this is a function of protein, rather than the whey itself. This means that the whey itself does not reduce fat, but taking in more protein often aids with fat loss efforts.

Whey does not harm the liver or kidneys, but it can exacerbate pre-existing damage. People with damaged livers or kidneys should exercise caution when increasing protein intake quickly without the guidance of a doctor.

The amount of whey protein to supplement depends on individual daily protein goals. For example:

If you are an athlete or highly active person attempting to lose body fat while preserving lean muscle mass, a daily intake of 1.5-2.2g/kg bodyweight (0.68-1g/lb bodyweight) is a good goal.

If you are an athlete or highly active person, or you are attempting to lose body fat while preserving lean mass, then a daily intake of 1.0-1.5g/kg bodyweight (0.45-0.68g/lb bodyweight) is a good goal.

If you are sedentary and not looking to change body composition, a daily target of 0.8g/kg bodyweight (0.36g/lb bodyweight) is a good goal.

If daily protein targets are achieved through dietary protein alone, supplementation is unnecessary.

Note: Obese individuals should not follow the above recommendations, as bodyweight calculations would result in very high dosages. Obese people should calculate their protein targets based off of what their weight would be, assuming an overweight BMI.

Lastly, whey does not contain lactose or casein, therefore if you are allergic to casein in milk (the common allergen in milk that people react to) or you are lactose intolerant, whey protein is fine for you.

Acid-Alkaline myth

Acid-Alkaline myth

The other day I was in a health food store and overheard the shop clerk selling a customer a type of supplement that contains nutrients extracted from green plants like chlorella and spirulina. She told the customer to put this powdered supplement into her smoothies and by drinking it, with other fruits and vegetables, she will “alkalise” her body. She told the customer that alkalising her body is desirable because acidity in the body leads to poor health and disease.

The reason why she said this is because there is this idea going around that the food we eat can effect the pH of our blood and extracellular fluid. An acidic state in the body leads to disease and a more alkaline state prevents disease.

Acidic foods are things such as animal products, dairy and grains. Alkalising foods are things like fruits and vegetables. What makes a food acidic or alkaline is determined by the chemical structure of nutrients in a particular food group and how it is metabolised in the body.

It has been thought that you could test the pH of the body through testing the urine. Depending on what you eat does have an effect on your urine pH, so if you have meat your urine is more likely to be acidic compared to having a green smoothie.

However, the pH of your urine has nothing to do with pH of your blood and body. The pH of blood and extracellular fluid is tightly regulated by the kidneys through various mechanisms (sodium, potassium etc.). The pH of the blood will only change to an acidic pH in serious disease such as end stage kidney failure, when the kidney can’t regulate acid/-base balance anymore. The pH of our blood is tightly regulated between a neutral 7.35-7.45. Any variations in pH above or below these numbers can lead to coma and death. Therefore, what you eat has little effect on the pH of your blood as it is so tightly regulated. If your blood pH was to be affected by what you ate, you would not survive very long.

Despite all of this, certain foods we eat leave an acidic or alkaline “ash” after they are metabolized and this can be seen in the urine, which is why the pH of our urine changes depending on what we eat. So if you have a green smoothie for breakfast it is likely your urine would be an alkaline pH, as opposed to if you ate a steak, it is likely your urine pH would be acidic.

Eating an acidic diet has been linked to cancer, osteoporosis, muscle wasting and other chronic diseases. Is this true?

Lets look at each one individually.

Osteoporosis and muscle wasting.

Some studies show that a higher acid diet often increases the excretion of calcium in the urine. Some researchers assumed that this extra calcium was coming from bone. The idea behind the excess calcium in the urine was that in order to keep blood pH constant, the body pulls minerals and other nutrients like phosphorus from our bones and muscle, in order to neutralise any excess acid that is produced from our diet.

Therefore, an overall acid-forming diet (such as the typical Western diet) can cause bone demineralisation, muscle wasting and osteoporosis. However, this is not correct, as it is the kidneys, not the bone or muscle, which produce buffers to keep the blood pH neutral. This hypothesis is also a common reason as to why some people say that high animal protein diets cause bone demineralisation, however it is actually quite the opposite. While it is true that the body will pull calcium from bone to maintain blood levels of calcium as calcium is vital for nervous system and muscle function, calcium is not used to maintain blood pH. The body will pull calcium from bone at the expense of bone health because calcium levels in the blood keep us alive, however it doesn’t do this to maintain blood pH

High animal protein diets are associated with increased bone mass and increased muscle mass. These diets also increase calcium absorption in the gut, which most studies don’t measure. Although there is calcium excretion via the urine, there is more that is absorbed in the gut.

Overall, most of the evidence doesn’t support the idea that a high acid forming diet leads to osteoporosis or muscle wasting. It doesn’t make sense physiologically and well-designed studies do not support it.

Cancer.

It is said that cancer grows better in an acidic environment; therefore eating a high acid diet can lead to cancer. First of all, as I mentioned before, your diet does not influence the pH of your blood. And even if it did, it turns out that cancer creates its own acidic environment. It’s not the acidic environment that causes the cancer; it’s the cancer that causes the acidic environment. Furthermore, cancer is capable of growing in an alkaline environment as well.

Chronic diseases.

Acidic diets may be associated with certain chronic diseases, however correlation does not mean causation. This is because eating lots of processed and refined foods is acidic, and we know that eating lots of processed foods can lead to chronic health issues. This is why an association can be drawn. However, an acidic diet based around whole, unprocessed foods will be unlikely to cause health issues.

Wrap up.

If you switch to a more alkaline diet from a highly refined and processed food diet, it is likely you will feel better. This has nothing to do with pH balance in the body. Eating more fresh, unprocessed produce is always going to make you feel healthier, especially when it displaces nutrient poor processed foods.

The goal is to eat a well balanced diet with a variety of animal based and plant based foods that are minimally processed. Check out this post, to get an idea of what a balanced diet may look like.