As we go strongly into 2014 pursuing our fitness goals, often times we forget that working out is only half the battle. I cannot stress how paramount good nutrition is, and if you want to see the best results, be it losing weight or putting on muscle, nutrition plays a key role. Now I’m not here to give you some gimmicky diet because they don’t work, or if they do, the results are only temporary, often disappearing after one stops dieting. Instead, I’m here to offer what I call my “Easy Eight: 8 Simple Rules” (or “recommendations,” you don’t have to follow them to a T) to help guide you on your journey.
*Warning: I back up my recommendations with science (I list my sources at the end). The internet is a place where too often opinion is mistaken for fact, and I don’t know about you, but if you can’t provide data or proof of why I should be doing something, I won’t do it.
To avoid making this feel like an essay, my Easy Eight is going to come in installments. WITHOUT FURTHER ADU, JAKE’S EASY EIGHT PART I:
1. If you want to lose weight, you have to run a caloric deficit.
The only real “law” of weight loss is this: in order to lose weight, specifically fat, you must run a caloric deficit. The definition of a calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. Basically, it is how much energy food yields. Now there are 3 macronutrients (all of which I’m sure you’ve heard of): protein, carbohydrates and fats or lipids. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, a gram of fat = 9 calories, a gram of protein = 4 calories, and a gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories. In order to lose 1 pound of adipose tissue (fat), the generally accepted guide is there must be a deficit of 3,500 calories (I say “generally” because this is up for debate and has to do with quality of food, time of food consumption, etc.). The point to take away from all this? In order to lose weight, roughly 3,500 calories must be expended, be that through exercise, nutrition of eating less or eating better foods, or the most effective – a combination of both exercise and proper nutrition! That being said, let’s move on to what we can do (or stop doing) to help us along that path.
2. Stop eating sugar…seriously, stop eating it.
Sugar is poison to the body. I could write an entire blog entry on this topic alone, but I’ll try to keep it brief (FYI, it’s not going to be, hence installments). First, let’s take a look at sugars. Sugars are carbohydrates (saccharides) and are divided into monosaccharides and disaccharides. Monosaccharides are referred to as simple sugars and are the most basic unit of carbohydrates. Disaccharides are two monosaccharides linked together. The three monosaccharides are glucose, fructose and galactose, which due to their simple nature and size are absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion.
For the sake of time, we’ll only talk about glucose, the most stable and widely used monosaccharide in the body. Glucose is the main source of fuel in the body and is what most carbohydrates yield when they are broken down. Glucose is a great source of energy and is used in many cellular processes throughout the body. The problem with sugars? When we eat them, they provide a large burst of available energy to the body, which we often do not need. After we eat, blood glucose levels rise, and insulin is released to help transport that glucose into the cells. However, due to the easy absorption of these monosaccharides (glucose in particular), blood glucose levels rise very quickly. High levels of blood glucose are toxic and can cause damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels. In order to avoid this, the body will take this glucose and store it as glycogen, a multi-branched polysaccharide. Glycogen is stored in the liver and skeletal muscles and can be broken back down into glucose to be used for energy. The level of glycogen that can be stored depends on the fitness level of a person; someone of higher fitness is able to store more. Once the liver and skeletal muscles reach glycogen saturation, any excess glucose/glycogen is repackaged as fatty acids and stored in adipose tissue, i.e. fat cells, which has an ability to be infinitely stored.
As I stated earlier, whenever we eat, blood glucose levels rise, causing a proportional release of insulin to help facilitate the transport of glucose into cells. Sugar causes a large spike in blood glucose; therefore, a large amount of insulin is released. However, in states of constant elevated glucose and insulin levels, cells can develop insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes being the most serve) in which the receptors on cells don’t recognize insulin, or more insulin is required to do the same amount of work. Because the cells cannot uptake the glucose due to this insulin sensitivity, blood glucose levels build in the blood stream faster, causing the body to in turn store the glucose as glycogen or adipose tissue faster. In addition, insulin a) decreases the rate of lipolysis (the breakdown of fatty acids) in adipose tissue, (b) stimulates fatty acid and triacylglycerol synthesis in tissues (increase in fat mass), (c) increases the uptake of triglycerides from the blood into adipose tissue (taking fatty acids from the bloodstream into fat cells), and (d) decreases the rate of fatty acid oxidation in muscle and liver (breakdown of fats into energy (1).
So let’s go over a quick scenario to put it all together. It’s Friday and CHRIS BROUGHT A BOX OF DOUGHNUTS (wow, what a gentleman). Because I was too lazy to make a good breakfast, I scarf down 5 real quick, and then take one of Andrew’s just to let him know whose boss. The simple sugars in the doughnuts are easily digested and quickly diffuse into my bloodstream, causing a big spike in blood glucose and subsequent release of insulin. Now, because I just sitting at the computer doing nothing, I have very little need for this rush of glucose because A) there is no demand from my muscles for energy, and B) my muscle glycogen levels are already close to saturation, so very little of this glucose will be taken up by my cells because they just don’t need the energy. Next that glucose will be converted into glycogen, but again, since my glycogen levels in my muscles are already full because I haven’t been using them, and my liver doesn’t need any more glycogen because it hasn’t had to release its glycogen to help cope with the energy demands of exercise, there is no need to replenish any glycogen depletion. Therefore, that glycogen will be quickly converted from glycogen into fatty acids. Now, with all the insulin floating around my bloodstream and this big excess of glycogen being converted into fatty acids and released into my bloodstream, the insulin is going to bind to my adipose tissue receptors and facilitate the transportation of those fatty acids into the adipose tissue where they’re going to be stored as fat. And if I keep eating these high sugar foods, over time my cells are going to develop that resistance, which makes it harder for them to uptake the glucose, leads back to that nasty cycle of fat gain we just covered.
3. Don't drink your calories. Instead, drink more water.
Wow, that sugar is some awful stuff, and I bet you’re ready to give it up (or at least decrease your consumption, right?). Well my next rule ties well into my first one and is super simple to follow! Cut the drinks with calories out of your diet. These drinks include soda, milk, juices and alcoholic beverages. These drinks are often loaded with sugar (39 grams in a can of coke, 77 grams in a can of Mountain Dew, 24 grams in an 8 oz glass of minute maid OJ (2)). Referring back to rule #1, this high sugar content is a) ranging between 120-290 calories, and b) wrecking havoc on your metabolism. So diet sodas are the way to go right? Not so fast. The reason that diet sodas have no calories is that they have no soul, and therefore no flavor, leading to that awful taste (kidding, but not really. I hate diet soda and think it should be used in enhanced integration). Actually, they use artificial sweeteners. There are five artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. These artificial sweeteners elicit a much stronger sweetness response – up to 600 times the amount of normal table sugar! – from the brain that may lead to over stimulation of the brain, making foods that are much more nutritionally sound for you, such as fruits and vegetables, seem much less palpable. In addition to making these foods seem less palpable, the high sweetness content may make you crave other sweeter foods, such as candy, cakes and chocolate.
In a San Antonio Heart Study, participants who drank over 21 diet drinks per week were twice as likely to become overweight or obese compared to non-diet soda drinkers (3). Another study found participants who consumed one or more diet drink a day had a 36% greater risk of metabolic syndrome, which includes risk factors, such as hyperglycemia, hypertension, abdominal obesity, and hypertriglyceridemia that significantly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes (4). Instead, drink more water. Drinking more water has a host of benefits, and proper hydration plays an important role in metabolism, pH regulation, muscle tone and function, all vital organ function, blood content regulation and digestion (just to name a few). Basically, everyone needs to be drinking more water. But don’t wait until you’re thirsty to go drink water. Often time dehydration sets in before thirst. Have a water bottle (refillable please, think of the planet) next to you when you are at work, are watching T.V., etc. You will drink it casually by just having it there. Think of a bag of chips near you while you watch T.V. Next you know they’re gone and you didn’t even notice you were eating them. By sipping on the water, your bottle will soon be empty, which forces you to get up to refill the water bottle or go to the bathroom, which is a great way to sneak in some extra exercise/ activity during the day (side note: your metabolism shuts down when you’re sitting, among other problems it’s causing, so keep moving. Again, another blog post for another day).
So ends installment one, with three quick lessons to take away that make you hopefully think about some of the foods you are eating and what they are actually doing physiologically to you. Coming next is Rule #4. Cut back on processed foods, particularly carbs, and Rule #5 Eat more lean protein.
Written by Jake Farrow, Personal Trainer
1. Dimitriadis, G., Mitrou, P., Lambadiari, V., Maratou, E., & Raptis, S. (2011 ). Insulin effects in muscle and adipose tissue. Diabetes Res Clin Pract, 93 (1:S52-9), Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21864752
3. Fowler, S. P., Williams, K., Resendez, R. G., Hunt, K. J., Hazuda, H. P. and Stern, M. P. (2008), Fueling the Obesity Epidemic? Artificially Sweetened Beverage Use and Long-term Weight Gain. Obesity, 16: 1894–1900. doi: 10.1038/oby.2008.284
4. Nettleton JA, Lutsey PL, Wang Y, Lima JA, Michos ED, Jacobs DR Jr. Diet soda intake and risk of incident metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Diabetes Care. 2009;32(4):688–694