Monthly Archives: January 2014

If you’re an athlete… take creatine. If you’re not an athlete… take creatine.

Recently, I’ve received a lot of questions from people about creatine regarding who should take it, when to take it, how much to take… the list goes on.  So I thought would write a quick post about my thoughts on creatine.  Up front though, I have to say that not all creatine’s are equal, buy a high quality one and you’ll thank me.  Personally I use MRM’s but there are MANY other good options out there.

How much?

There’s a lot of chatter out there that you need to have a loading phase with creatine but this is just a load of BS.  There’s a nice study from St. Francis Xavier University which showed that if you consume 10 grams of creatine, you’ll piss just under half of it out of your body.  Combine that with a second study from Ball State where lower doses showed really nice efficacy without a loading phase and I think we can safely say that ~ 5 grams of creatine daily is enough to generate desired effects.

Is this going to hurt my kidneys?

There are too many studies to list showing that this is NOT a problem.  If you have a kidney disease, may be a different story but since 99.9% of people I know don’t have kidney problems, lets just go with no.

Am I going to retain a bunch of water?

Another myth about creatine, especially if you buy high quality stuff and take the recommended 5 grams.  If you’re cheap, then your creatine might have some sodium in it which could cause water retention, but again, its the sodium’s fault, not the creatine.  If you take a shit load of it, then that’s another story.

Health and performance benefits

Alright, that should prevent anyone from being scared of taking creatine.  Now onto the benefits.  Most times the fitness industry can’t agree on anything but almost everyone agrees that creatine will improve your output for power sports, high intensity interval training, lactate producing sports, etc.  Some people would even tell you it can help with endurance sports which is fascinating.  Great review if you want to read more: Creatine and athletic performance

What’s really cool is that there’s an emerging pile of literature showing that creatine has some pretty impressive effects on neurological performance as well.  The study referenced here showed that 5 grams per day improved working memory and overall intelligence.  Not impressed?  How about this study discussing that creatine supplementation in animals provided enhanced protection against models of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and sclerosis… oh yeah, they also lived about 10% longer as well.

Most men are willing to give creatine a try but women are a different story due to fears about excessive bulking.  Well there’s a pretty good study from 2003 in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” showing that creatine supplementation improved women’s strength, fat-free mass and body fat levels without any weight gain… which is amazing.

At the end of the day, there appears to be a ton of physical and mental benefits to supplementing with ~ 5 grams of creatine daily.  Let me know if you have any questions.

Dissecting coconuts… the good, the bad and the ugly.

I find the use of “coconuts” in the Paleo diet pretty amusing.  People use coconut milk, coconut oil and drink themselves silly with Coconut water but rarely actually use an actual freaking coconut unless its to hold some boozy drink at a party (not judging… they’re freaking delicious).

I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the different aspects of a coconut and decide what is good for us and what we should discard.

Coconut water.

People seemingly either love or hate this stuff.  I personally enjoy the taste of the VitaCoco and Zico brands while others have a really metallic flavor to me.  The good news is that coconut water has a bunch of healthy electrolytes.  The bad news is that it also has a ton of sugar in it as well.  If you’re looking to lose body-fat then you need to stay away from this stuff.

I’ve heard people say its great for post-workout but the problem is that it actually is missing some of the necessary salts that really optimize rehydration.  So I probably wouldn’t use it for that purpose either…  In the end, we probably want to avoid it all together for health purposes.  Social purposes… well that’s another story all-together.

Coconut milk

The base of a thousand amazing different curry recipes out there, coconut milk is one of the most adaptable ingredients in my opinion.  While its creamy and has a unique flavor, it blends well with so many spices as well making it extremely useful.

Nutritionally, its fantastic as well as its loaded with healthy saturated fats like lauric acid and medium chain triglycerides (AKA the oil that people pour into their bulletproof coffee). Sounds great, right?  Well, the problem is all the other shit that goes into the commercial coconut milk that we buy.  MOST brands that you’ll find at the local store have BPA and guar gum in them as well.

The literature on BPA is a little inconclusive but there are enough studies out there linking it to everything from obesity to cancer to make me worry… especially if I was a pregenant mom.  Seriously, look at this review and find me something that isn’t terrifying. One more point, BPA isn’t just in canned coconut milk, its in many other canned products as well…

Guar gum is one of those things that some people have no problem with while others experience intestinal distress from it.  If you’re one of those people, you should avoid common canned coconut milk.

Good news though!  There are a couple of new brands of coconut milk out there that do not put BPA or GG into their products that I would highly recommend.  If you live in a city, you can probably find these at a local store.  If not, then Amazon is your place!

AROY-D and Native Forest

Also, if you have IBD or IBS, you want to avoid coconut milk for additional reasons that are a little beyond the scope of this post.  It has to do with the FODMAP diet if you’re really interesting in learning more.

Coconut Oil

I use coconut oil to cook pretty much everything from sweet potatoes to steaks with.  Why? coconut oil has all those great saturated fats like lauric acid and MCTs as well that I mentioned above.  Lauric acid in general has anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

There are different qualities of coconut oil, with the higher end products having a more distinct coconut flavoring.  Overall though, most of the time, the oil itself will not overpower the rest of your food.  I usually get mine in bulk (read: 1 gallon) from Tropical traditions but there are many other great brands out there as well.  I highly recommend integrating coconut oil into your cooking going forward.

Overall, I think coconuts are amazing and extremely helpful as part of your diet.  As with most things, the higher quality products you can get, the less you have to worry about with things like BPA, etc.

Are potatoes a wonder drug for your gut and health???

So in some of the original Paleo books and sites that came out, there was this notion that potatoes should be excluded from your diet.  Most notably, Loren Cordain (THE original Paleo guy) was cited as saying that there are inflammatory aspects to potatoes and that they should be removed to help heal the gut.  He’s right to an extent in that potatoes contain relatively high amounts of glycoalkaloids, which are basically nature’s pest repellants.  What’s interesting though is that most of the glycoalkaloids are concentrated into the skin of the potato, making it easy to reduce the content by peeling them…. simple enough it seems.

The question remains though, is there a good reason even bother eating potatoes outside of taste?  Well, if you’re a very lean active person then they can be a great energy source of course… but not everyone is lean and active as we know.

However, I think there’s another reason to start getting interested in potatoes again, and its all about Resistant Starch which I’ll refer to as RS for simplicity sake.  What is RS?  Good old wikipedia defines it as “starch and starch degradation products that escape from digestion in the small intestine of healthy individuals. Resistant starch is considered the third type of dietary fiber, as it can deliver some of the benefits of insoluble fiber and some of the benefits of soluble fiber.”  Interestingly, potatoes (and to some extent rice) are loaded with resistant starch.

A little bit of background:

RS was discovered in the 80’s and since then a TON of studies have been conducted on its affects on humans and other animals.  Many of these studies correlated RS consumption with improved colon health, improved cholesterol, better glucose control, weight management, improved satiety, and better gut function as it relates to nutrient absorption.  All good things!!!

Anyway, why are there so many studies linking RS to improved health markers? Biologically, we now know that there are specific bacteria in our GI tracts, most accurately the large intestine that use RS as a fuel source.  As the bacteria grow on RS, they produce by-products.  One of the by-products that gets produced by bacteria consuming RS is a short chained fatty acid called butyrate.  Interestingly, epithelial cells of the gut use butyrate as an energy source in many of their normal processes which helps keep them healthy, which in turn keeps your gut intact.  Its absolutely critical to have an intact GI tract to prevent microbial translocation of bacteria.  To state it simply, You want to keep your poo separate from you.”

If you’ve read my author description, you know I’m an immunologist by training and at heart.  So when I came across this HIGH profile paper linking butyrate to the induction of regulatory T cells, I was ecstatic.  Regulatory T cells are one of the immune systems most important ways of preventing autoimmune disease and overt inflammatory disorders.  Remember my post from a few weeks back where I made the argument that obesity is linked to inflammation as well.  Basically, at the end of the day, inflammation is connected to almost every disease you can think of.  What this paper says is that butyrate, produced by specific bacteria in our guts is critical to the formation of these regulatory T cells which prevent inflammation…. AWESOME.

So what’s the take home message???? Having adequate levels of butyrate will likely be extremely helpful for maintaining a healthy gut and overall health.  Most of your butyrate is going to come as a result of eating RS.  I’m not convinced that this can be done with a diet using just fruits and veggies as your carbohydrate source.  Potatoes and rice appear to be a great source of RS, but they require a very specific preparation.  You have to cook them and then let them cool which is a little less than ideal so I’m going to try a couple of other options.

1) I’ve been taking a sodium butyrate supplement for the last 3 weeks or so.  I’ve noticed some subtle changes (less gas, more energy, clearer thinking).  Side note: the pills smell like butter… which isn’t surprising because butter is a great source of butyrate!  One more reason to love Grass Fed butter.

That said, the results could be better still in my opinion so…

2) I’m going to try taking 4 TBSP of Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch every day and see if I can get even better results.  I’ve read several other successful stories using this exact approach so I’m excited to see how it goes.

Anybody else want to give it a try???



HMB supplementation, is it worth it?

Recently I was discussing performance based supplements with a local CF owner and coach.  As anyone who has ever thought about increasing performance knows, there are a shit-load of different types of supplements out there, and for each one, at least 5-20 vendors that want to sell it to you.  Needless to say, it can be daunting to figure out what will actually boost your performance and what is just snake-venom (a waste of money).

One of the last topics we chatted about was HMB supplementation… specifically from the company Blonyx.  When I research a new supplement, I’ll generally look in two extremely different places.  The first is the least scientific place ever… message boards on sites for powerlifting, weight lifting, BJJ, crossfit, etc.  You can get a decent sense of whether people are excited about something or not but that’s about it.  Sometimes you’ll run across an intelligent post but most of it is garbage.  That said, its still helpful just to know if there’s a pre-existing opinion about it from people that are training hard day in and day out.  The second place I’ll look is in a Pubmed search which has a mixture of good and bad scientific studies on almost anything you can think of… seriously I mean ANYTHING.  The problem with the studies is that usually the style of training used in them is not-applicable to how most of us actually train.  Anyway, here’s what I found:

First, the scientific reports… these look pretty promising at a first glance:

Seems like HMB has some pretty wide ranging effects… but it also seems like many of the metabolism/strength performance based papers used it in combination with various amino acids (L-arginine and L-lysine, etc.) OR creatine.  This particular study caught my attention because Blonyx sells HMB with creatine as one of its products.  Also, in those message boards I mentioned earlier, the people that did mention some improvement in performance seemed to be taking HMB in combination with BCAA’s and/or creatine. Very interesting…

One more study caught my eye, this one linking HMB efficacy and vitamin D levels which basically said that you need to have adequate levels of vitamin D to actually get a strength benefit from HMB… considering that upwards of 50% of the U.S. is vitamin D deficient, it could explain why various people have really different results with HMB supplementation.

Ultimately, I can’t say for sure that HMB is going to turn you into an animal but I think its worth checking out based upon the literature out there.  That said, if you’re going to give it a try, it definitely seems like you’d want to take it with creatine, BCAA’s and make sure that you’re not vitamin D deficient.  If anyone does have experience with it (positive or negative) leave a comment below.  Its always good to learn from one another.

Fructose… what’s the big deal.

I just wrapped up another great seminar down at Crossfit Ad Finem.  Great crew of people and a lot of good questions.  One of the discussions that we had was centered around fructose… whether its evil, neutral, beneficial, etc.  As always, the answer really depends on who we are talking about and what form the fructose is coming in.

At this point, I think I can skip over why high fructose corn syrup is a pretty terrible thing for you to be eating if you’re looking to improve body composition, health and even performance.  If you want to read about it, check out this post:

So I think its pretty clear that processed sources of fructose, especially high fructose corn syrup are worth avoiding.

But what about fructose from other sources like fruit?  Well for a long time I was one of those people that thought you should limit your fruit intake, especially with something like bananas which are pretty big fructose bombs.  My thinking was that for the body to use the fructose as fuel, it had to be converted into other forms by the liver.  Since the liver preferentially stores fructose over glucose, and fructose cannot be used/stored by muscle tissue, foods with higher levels of fructose would be inefficient energy sources for human performance, especially in post workout conditions.

However, I’ve recently changed that viewpoint to “it depends on who you are.”  A healthy person with good body composition and a healthy liver can almost certainly deal with fructose from fruit based sources.  This was recently shown in a nice study  that fructose consumption resulted in conversion to 50% glucose, 25% lactate, 15% to glycogen and only about 2-3% ends up as fat.  Assuming you’re not going to be using fructose as a workout recovery fuel, that actually looks like a reasonable result.

What the study didn’t address and what I couldn’t find elsewhere in the scientific literature is whether or not those numbers change in a person that has metabolic disease or a less than perfectly functioning liver… and lets be clear, there are a LOT of people with less than perfect liver function.  What we do know though is that higher levels of fructose consumption correlate well with liver dysfunction.

As far as improving performance and/or body composition goes,  most of the top trainers our there are saying, “If you are lean and workout consistently, then a higher level of fructose consumption is safe and healthy… But if you’re overweight and looking to make body composition changes, then you need to limit your fructose intake to about an apple a day.”  In other words, you need to earn your carbs with hard work.

Lastly, here is an EXTREMELY comprehensive list of foods fructose values.  I think many of you would be surprised by what foods are close to the top of this list: allows quickly move