All posts by mike

Regionals 2017 and Power Monkey Fitness

REGIONALS 2017

Whew… what a month.  Over the past 3 weeks, I travelled to the East, Central and Atlantic Regionals to support the 16 athletes that had qualified either on teams or as individuals.  Watching them out there competing and really laying their hearts into each workout is something that I’ll never forget or take for granted.

“I GET TO EAT CUPCAKES”

I hope each of them know how incredibly proud of them I am, regardless of the result. Its hard to explain how much work is involved in getting to that point, how many sacrifices are required and the level of focus that it takes.  While my job starts as the nutrition coach, inevitably the role usually morphs more into friend/confidant/cheer leader and as a result, I typically end up emotionally invested.  In some cases, this actually causes tears of joy that get captured on the live stream (sorrynotsorry).

Allergies kicked up BIG time when these two had their names announced… freaking drama queens making it all fancy with their comebacks. (ignore the shitty quality screen shots from my phone)

At the end of three weeks, nine clients will be headed to Madison, WI in August to compete in the Crossfit Games. To be clear, THEY did all the work and I’m just happy to be along for the ride. Some are old friends, some are new to my little team, but I’m really excited for all of them and can’t wait to watch them continue to kick some ass.

What can we learn?

Alright, lets try and make this post actually have some useful information for everyone and not just me bragging about my amazing friends.

COMPETITION FUELING: YOU CAN DO BETTER

So while attending the Regionals, I was also watching athletes (my own and others) to see how they were handling their pre and post workout fueling.  To be clear, everyone is different and the strategy involved for each person SHOULD be slightly different based on everything from the workouts, nerves/stress over the events, whether you’re a guy or girl, etc.  That said, I saw some critical errors along the way from people and we can do better.

  1. Eating too close to workouts.  Of course we need to fuel our workouts appropriately, but having solid foods within 60 minutes of a workout (even sweet potato) basically means that you’re body is shuttling energy and blood flow to the digestive track when it really needs to be elsewhere.  For solid foods, 2.5-3.0 hours of separation to the workout is a good idea.
  2. Not refueling adequately between workouts.  With these regionals there were 2 workouts each day with about 2 hours between them.  In this situation, the perfect answer is liquid options for both carbs and protein.  If an athlete has REALLY laid themselves out and is in rough shape, the protein might not be doable immediately, but the carbs are something we still want to get in as fast as possible.  Dextrose, Maltodextran, Highly Branched Cyclic Dextran… there are a lot of options and which is best is probably an entire different post.  Whats critical is you’ve got to have something to both refuel glycogen stores quickly and to help the mind flip into recovery mode and out of the “fight or flight” mode that Regionals often induces.
  3. Generally underfeeding.  I  get it… you’re stressed and your appetite sucks as a result.  You still absolutely HAVE to eat in the morning before the day gets started.  It doesn’t have to be the world’s most micronutrient dense foods if there’s no way you’re going to get it all down.  Use macro dense foods instead if they’re more appetizing and allow you to actually swallow them down.  Don’t all of a sudden have pancakes if you’ve not had any gluten for 8 weeks… but otherwise, eat whatever you have to to get a solid chunk of calories in.  Same thing after each day is over.  Eat, eat, eat… if you finish what you’re “supposed” to eat for the day and are still ravenous, DON’T STOP.  Going to bed hungry on a competition day because you’ve hit your macros is just crazy talk.

FUN NEWS

So I was recently put in touch with Dave Durante, co-owner of Power Monkey Fitness, a company that aims to develop better athletes and coaches through interaction with subject matter experts.  One of the fun things they do is run a week long, bi-annual camp down in Tennessee.  Well…. I’ll be attending the camp and running a Nutrition section for the campers.  Needless to say, I’m honored that other people think enough of my work with athletes to invite me to be a part of such an incredible team.

The past 12 months have been absolutely crazy and I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store.

Why you get sick during the competition season

Inevitably, you’ll hear about people getting sick this time of year in the Crossfit competition season or immediately afterwords.  It’d be easy to blame this on winter and being stuck indoors, but realistically I see this happening all across the country, notably in warm places where people aren’t coughing on each other all the time.  Our immune system’s major job is to recognize and then neutralize “stuff” that is foreign… so why does it fail us when we need it most?  I love Immunology and I’m a pretty big fan of this exercising for time thing, so it seemed like a good post to put together.

So the BIG question is why is does this happen and what can we do about it? To be clear:  it’s impossible to avoid ALL the bugs flying around out there… inevitably even the healthiest, best trained, appropriate supplementing person can and will get sick given enough time.  What I am suggesting is that we can minimize our chances of getting unnecessarily sick through taking a few really simple steps.

There is a solid amount of evidence that intense training and specifically exhausting competition (such as Crossfit) increases the risk of infection, notably in the upper respiratory tract.  Much of this can be due to effects of the body’s response to stress… and let’s be clear, your training is most definitely a stress on the body.  Exercise induced stress (which produces cortisol and a bunch of other cytokines) has often been described as a immunosuppressant, but honestly that’s not really accurate.  Instead, it’s better to think of it as a modifier of the immune system.  Specifically, intense exercise and the stress response skews the immune system away from what we call a Th1 response (which is great for killing viruses and cancer) and more into a Th2 response (which is great for inducing allergies…shit).  Intense exercise performed over extended periods also leads to lower levels of antibodies and fewer Natural Killer cells, both of which are again really great for fighting viruses.  All of this to say that extended exercise can dampen the type of immunity that helps fight off upper respiratory tract infections.

What to do about it

Well there’s also a good amount of evidence that inadequate carbohydrate consumption and mis-timed intake of protein can impact the immune system of an athlete.  Again, it’s not so much the full-blown dampening of the immune system, as much as it is the inappropriate modification of it.  MUCH of this correlates with elevated cortisol levels making it hard to determine what is a direct impact of inadequate feeding and what is secondary to having inappropriate, un-attenuated spikes in cortisol from the exercise.  What we do know is that most of the immune system functions optimally on glucose.  Virus killing T cells divide best on glucose, phagocytes which uses glucose 10X more than glutamine to eat bacteria and viruses… even saliva production is improved with intra workout carbohydrate consumption and saliva contains a bunch of anti-microbial peptides critical for neutralizing potential pathogens.  I don’t want to get crazy technical here, but I’ll list a bunch of references at the bottom for people that want to geek out on this stuff.

Whats cool is that we know that a pretty big dose of carbs post workout can help to stop the production of cortisol through spiking in insulin.  Spiking insulin??? Isn’t that bad for you?  NO! Not in this case.  Remember we are talking about athletes here and not a type 2 diabetic.  In this case, post workout carbs and insulin really are your friend, so if your carb source claims to NOT spike insulin, maybe it’s not such a great option in this scenario.

How much should you take?  Well it depends on the size of the athlete and duration/modality of effort, but I typically recommend anywhere from 30-60 grams post workout. Don’t be afraid of a little intra-workout carb fueling as well… it can help on a number of different fronts.

Timing is really really important

You really do need to get that carb dose down pretty quickly after the workout is over.  One study showed that near immediate ingestion of carbohydrates (and protein as well) helped to prevent decreased functionality of specific aspects of the immune system.  If that carb dose was delayed just 1 hour, it no longer had the same beneficial effect.  SO… get those carbs in QUICK after your workout is over.  How quick? Well, don’t go from your final pull up straight to your shaker bottle and then puke it all up… but once you’ve calmed down and are breathing more or less normally, its a good time.

What about protein???

Now we can’t forget about protein in this situation either.  Typically for athletes, you’ll see recommendations of the minimum protein required to be about 1.6 grams per KILO of body weight, but I certainly take things a little higher than that with most of my athletes aiming for more like 2-2.2 grams per kg.  Immunologically, we know that failure to consume enough protein drastically affects immuno-organ structure and the functionality of T cells, which again are critical in fighting viruses and cancer.  In reality, pretty much ALL immune functions including phagocytosis, cytokine production, and antibody production are screwed by not eating enough protein.

How do we exploit this for our athletes?  First, we eat enough protein (see above) on a day to day basis.  However, we also want to pay attention to our post workout window with protein as well.  You might be interested to note that POST race glutamine supplementation (5 grams) was showed to reduce upper respiratory tract infections in marathon runners. There are some conflicting reports but ultimately there’s enough solid evidence for me to use it in my post workout shake as well.  I’m typically looking for my athletes to get 20-30 grams of whey protein isolate (range based on body weight) and for there to be a good amount (~5 grams) of either L-glutamine or glutamic acid in that whey protein supplement.

Hopefully the idea that post workout carbs and protein are important isn’t a shocker to you.  Now you just know one more really good reason to pay attention to it.  No one likes getting sick and having it happen right before or during a major competition can be devastating.  If you have questions, shoot me an email!

Mike

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26634839

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18580401

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17053416

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9722284

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26568028

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25280408

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24673178

http://www.nature.com/icb/journal/v78/n5/full/icb200076a.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3475230/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11929359

https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-014-0061-8

http://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/abs/10.1123/ijsnem.19.4.366

 

Max Capacity and Max Perform (NOVA3 Labs) review

Easily my most popular post on this under-used blog is my review of Max Adrenal from the gang at NOVA3 labs.  Its definitely one of my top supplements and I take it every day still to help combat the stresses in my life/training.

When the folks over at NOVA3 released a couple new supplements called Max Perform and Max Capacity, I was excited to give them a try.  Transparency: they sent them to me for free to review along with a couple T-shirts.  If you think this is enough to buy my love… well, then you know me all too well.  All joking aside, this is an honest review of the products and I hope you’ll recognize that at this point in life (finally done with grad school) I no longer need to rely on free shit to survive.

Lets start with the science behind each of the products.

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Max Perform

This is the easiest one to describe.  Its basically a mixture of powdered Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), Essential Amino Acids (EAAs), Acetyl-L carnitine, Taurine and Caffeine.  The purpose of this combination is to be used as a pre-workout supplement to (shocker) increase the overall quality of performance.  How does it do this?  Well the BCAA’s can reduce the perception of exertion (allows you to push a little harder), are glycogen sparing and can of course be used in protein synthesis.  EAA’s get less hype but have also been shown to be important for improving mitochondrial function (basically little cellular engines), reduce muscle breakdown during intense training and (perhaps) curb hunger a little bit as well.  Acetyl-L carnitine helps with a bunch of stuff involving fatty acid transport (so improves energy mobilization) and also helps the body to deal with lactate.  Guess what, crossfit athletes like to create lactate with their workouts and in my opinion, the athletes that can go the longest without generating tons of lactate AND clear it the fastest, do the best.  Caffeine is pretty self explanatory to most people, and Taurine has some nice evidence suggesting it can effect oxidative stress.

Prior to Max Perform I was using a BCAA supplement plus a cup of mild coffee pre workout.  It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t terrible either and generally I wasn’t dragging during most workouts.

Max Capacity

The folks over at NOVA3 say that “Max Capacity was designed to enhance mental focus and ventilatory/lactate threshold through a number of different mechanisms” So the goal is to help wake your ass up and to also improve your ability to work harder before moving to lactate production as the major energy source.  It does this with 4 major ingredients: Cordyceps, Rhodiola, Alpha GPC and Eleutherococcus Senticosus.  

So Cordyceps are the really interesting ingredient here as the recent research coming out on their functionality is really really fascinating.  Just one major example here.  Basically, they are supposed to improve mitochondrial function as well as help improve lactate threshold.

Rhodiola is an adaptogen that I’ve mentioned before in my Max Adrenal post.  Since then, the evidence of its solid function for mental and physical benefits really has grown substantially.

Alpha GPC helps with brain function and also has some evidence showing it can affect muscle firing (just a single example here).

Eleutherococcus Senticosus was a brand new find for me, and I basically geeked out on its reported effects on the immune system (they’re good…) but there’s a good bit of evidence that it can also impact on work capacity as well.

Alright, enough F*@!-ing science talk

So how did this stuff affect my performance.  I’ve been in this sport for a looooooong time and while my role is really more of a coach/spectator, I still do dabble in the gym.

How I took it: As soon as I got to the gym, I would take both of them immediately.  The Max Perform tastes really good FYI.  I’d then start my mobility and warm up and roughly 20 minutes later start either a lifting session or some kind of MAP session.

The facts:

I PR’d my snatch 3 times in 3 weeks.  Hitting 240, 245 and finally a fairly sketchy 250 lbs.

I hit a 290 clean in nano’s… previous best is 300 in lifters and with my knees wrapped to high-heaven in some Rogue wraps.

290 power clean (yes, I know…) and a 295 jerk as well.  Both of those are PRs.

Gymnastics: 20 UB bar muscle ups is a PR (+3) and I tied my previous HSPU PR (40) with almost no training of it.

Its hard to put a number to my MAP sessions but overall breathing work has improved.  Part of that is because of all the breathing work I’m doing but a part of it I THINK is from the MP/MC stack as well.

Overall, I’m very pleased.  Mike Kesthely, the co-owner of NOVA3, puts a LOT of thought into his products and every ingredient is well researched.  In the world of bullshit snake-oil supplements, he makes my life 1000X easier with his products and also doing a lot of the leg work for me on what works.  While I always double check his research, I’ve yet to really be disappointed in an ingredient that he’s stuck in a supplement which is saying something.  I’m slightly disappointed that he doesn’t have better body composition, but hey, no one is perfect (you really need to follow that link).

Plus this free t-shirt thing is pretty freaking sweet as well…

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-3-43-38-pm

OH, and they were nice enough to let me offer a 20% discount code for any purchases to you guys.  Just use the code MOLLOY20 when you check out!

Mike

How to set appropriate expectations

“How strict do I need to be to make the progress towards my goal?”

That is a frequent question that I receive from clients and it sparked the desire to write a new post. One of the better aspects of a flexible dieting approach is that you really can decide how strict you want to be based upon realistic goal setting.  For someone that is a Crossfit Games level athlete, or even if you’re looking to make progress as fast as possible the answer to the question is “Pretty freaking strict.”  Measuring almost all of your meals and hitting your macros within 3-5 grams daily will produce the desired results as quickly as possible.  At the same time, a lot of really good progress can be made with smart decision making and visual estimation of portion sizes and.  Whats important to recognize is that progress is not a linear relationship to effort.  Dropping the last 5-10 pounds can be 10X as hard as losing the first 30-40.

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The two questions that you need to ask yourself are:

  1. Does my goal actually require 99.9% precision or can I achieve it with 80% accuracy
  2. Does my current place in life allow for me to be 99.9% accurate?

Even for those people that answer the first question “YES”, there are going to be periods of time when its just not possible. Whether its the holidays, having to do a lot of travel for work, wedding season, hitting your macros exactly AND eating a micronutrient dense diet is going to be a lot harder.  During these phases, taking more of an 80/20% approach is much more realistic and way less stressful.  What is critical is to align your goals with the reality of the situation and then to be mentally OK with it.  Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are estimating caloric intake and then get upset when progress isn’t as fast as when you used to measure every meal.  At some point, life will settle down and you can back to the higher level of precision.  Also, I think its incredibly important to recognize the inherent value in a looser macro period, where you can go out to dinner with friends, relax on vacation or enjoy an extra glass of wine with loved ones.  I promise, no real friend in your life defines you by having a 6-pack or by being a certain weight on the scale.  Expecting to spend the rest of your life eating weighed and measured meals is just as unrealistic as eating donuts all day and expecting to lose weight.

Ultimately you are in control of your goals AND your actions, align them and then make peace with the decision.

Beta Alanine Review

I was recently asked to write a review about Beta-Alanine from the folks over at Blonyx Biosciences.  I’ve dabbled with Beta-Alanine in the past for a few weeks here and there, but never done a solid job of sticking with it long enough to have a good opinion.  This time I gave it one full month of following the Blonyx guidelines.

What is Beta-Alanine?

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 8.53.18 AM
Taken from the Blonyx website

Beta-alanine (BA) is a slightly modified form of the amino acid alanine, that most notably forms carnosine when combined with histidine.  Carnosine does some pretty cool things in the muscle, mostly by buffering hydrogen ions (meaning the pH of the muscle fiber).  This is important when it comes to acidosis induced muscular fatigue.  There have been a number of studies on beta-alanine showing some pretty nice performance induced effects for efforts somewhere in the 1-3 minute range.  This makes sense considering that those time frames are most commonly associated with the biology that carnosine would affect.  If you want to dig into the articles, check these out reviews which summarize things pretty nicely:

  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20479615
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16953366
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22253993

One might ask why not just take carnosine instead of BA.  Well, if you were to do so, carnosine would be broken down into BA and histidine in the intestine (mostly…) and then absorbed through the intestine where it could reform into carnosine again.  Histidine is not typically limiting, so taking BA makes the most sense ultimately.  Its also important to note that BA supplementation is extremely safe with very little to no side-effects other than some tingling in the skin which can be annoying.

Life would be so much easier if every single study gave the same result, but that of course just does not happen.  This study tested BA effects on a sprint interval training program.  What the data shows was that BA supplementation resulted in a significantly enhanced amount of carnosine in the muscle fibers, but that no performance effect was observed for the volunteers.  The authors conclude that either the training stimulus overrode the effect of BA or that BA does not impact this style of training.  So what are we to make of this study in the face of many others saying BA enhances performance?  Well, there are a couple things that stand out to me.  The first is the BA dose that they were given (3.2 g/day).  There are certainly studies that show effects with this dose, but in general it does seem like there is stronger data associated with a 6 g/day dose.  Of course, all of this also should be controlled for the size of the athlete, meaning that a 190 lb man should be taking more than a 150 lb man.  The other thing to consider when looking at these BA studies is the intensity of the exercise routine.  In my opinion, BA supplementation produces more consistent results if the exercise routine is VERY intense, but if the stressor is more in line with a recreational exercise routine (see this link), then the evidence does not support BA as being useful.  This makes sense, as most recreational exercisers do not push deep into muscle fatigue in the same way that a competitive sprinter would.

So overall, I think that if you’re into Crossfit or even moreso GRID, then a Beta-Alanine supplement makes some sense.  GRID athletes essentially live in the 1-3 minute time range for their sport, and while Crossfit of course extends into much shorter and longer time frames, athletes DO generate a significant amount of acidosis during many workouts.  Of course there are MANY other sports that BA could be beneficial for.  Blonyx themselves lists sports like rowing, short distance cycling, soccer and rugby.  What I would say is that if you are a RECREATIONAL athlete, I don’t know that BA is for you and would instead put my money into something like creatine instead.

Here’s how my experience went.

  • I split my BA intake into two doses, one in the morning and one after training.
  • With each dose, I noticed a tingling specifically in my scalp which lasted for 15-20 minutes.  Over the weeks, as my body “loaded”, this sensation became less and less.  This is VERY typical for BA supplements.
  • I did not notice any large benefits in the first 14 days, but after that I did have performance improvement.  Now, I’m not saying all of that was due to the BA, in fact in a case study its really dangerous to try and say that X caused Y.  What I can say is that I kept other variables as steady as I possibly could and only changed the BA intake.  Much of my training is based off of every minute on the minute style using barbell lifts and gymnastics as it forces me to get a lot of work done quickly (life is crazy these days).  I generally push hard for 10-40 seconds and then rest for the remainder of the minute.  I’m certainly not generating high levels of acidosis in the first few minutes but by the end, there’s generally a good burn.  In general, these workouts seemed to go better for the last 2 weeks of my BA supplementation routine.

If you do decide to take BA, here how I would do it.

  • Take 14 milligrams per every kilo of body weight daily.  This comes out to be about 6 grams for an 85 kg person.
  • Split that dose into two servings per day and dissolve in about 8 ounces of water.
  • Take it with food, specifically with some carbohydrate sources.
  • In general, I wouldn’t take it before bed.

Overall, I’d say cheers to Blonyx for creating another high quality, well researched supplement.

Carnitine supplements

Acetyl L-Carnitine and L-carnitine are supplements that I’m being asked about more frequently these days by clients, so I thought a post was in order.  Its only been about… forever since I wrote a post, so here it goes!

A little bit about the biology of L-carnitine to get started

L-Carnitine is a dipeptide made from the essential amino acids lysine and methionine, and as a result it is often classified as an “essential amino acid” itself.  L-Carnitine has been shown to play an important role in cellular energy exchange.  Specifically, L-carnitine is involved in transforming fats into energy in the mitochondria (which are basically little cellular power factories).  There is also evidence that L-Carnitine can facilitate the metabolism of carbs by improving ATP production.  As ATP is a critical molecule in making us LIVE, this is probably an important thing to support.  With this in mind, its perhaps not surprising that L-Carnitine is found in highest concentrations in the heart and liver tissues.  Importantly, there is some good evidence to suggest that L-Carnitine works synergistically with Co-Q10, an antioxidant and energy production cofactor that is found in the inner membrane of the mitochondria.

With this association between L-Carnitine and fat metabolism, some people refer to the supplement as a “fat burner.”  As long branched chain fatty acids can only pass through the mitochondrial membrane as a result of esterification by Carnitine, there is some element of truth to the statement!

Enough biochemistry talk… lets get to the good stuff.

So there are some fairly decent studies showing that there are beneficial effects of L-carnitine supplementation for a variety of biological processes involving fat-loss, mortality and morbidiy and brain function that I’ll highlight below!  Looks like a pretty good supplement overall, right?

L-Carnitine improving fatty-acid oxidation

L-Carnitine supplementation associated with a 27% decrease in death, 65% decrease in ventricular arrhythmias, and 40% reduction in angina

Benefits of L-Carnitine on brain function/degeneration

I could keep going on this but instead I’ll just leave some links at the bottom of the page which illustrate the rather broad amount of research that has been done on L-carnitine.  The list is not all inclusive…

So, what kind of supplement should I take???

So there are two kinds of Carnitine supplements that you are likely to run into, L-Carnitine and Acetyl-L Carnitine.  They are based off of the same structure, but work slightly differently, notably the Acetyl form can pass through the blood brain barrier and therefore has more of a neurological effect.  Another aspect is that Acetyl-L Carnitine may also provide substrate (acetyl groups) for synthesis of acetylcholine—a primary neurotransmitter in the brain.  There is still some support for the idea that the Acetyl L-Carnitine can still help for converting fat into energy, but perhaps less as a primary benefit than the regular L-Carnitine claims.

I’ve read some claims that ALL the various forms of Carnitine will provide support for nervous system, cardiovascular system and muscles, but a specific form is probably preferred for a specific function.  As I’m most comfortable with the research supporting the neurological benefits, I personally take the Acetyl-L Carnitine form, but to each their own!

SPECIFICALLY, I take 1000 mg of ALC with 200 mg of ubiquinol in the morning (around 10 am) to help get my brain rolling.  Overall, I feel as though I see a benefit in my day to day functioning.

As usual, email with any questions!

Additional References

Prada, P.O., Hirabara, S.M., de Souza, C.T., Schenka, A.A., Zecchin,H.G., Vassallo, J., Velloso, L.A., Carneiro, E., Carvalheira, J.B., Curi, R. & Saad, M.J. (2007) L-glutamine supplementation induces insulin resistance in adipose tissue and improves insulin signalling in liver and muscle with diet-induced obesity,Diabetologia, Volume 50, issue 9, (pp. 149-15

Wutzke, K.D. & Lorenz, H. (2004) The Effect of l-Carnitine on Fat Oxidation, Protein Turnover, and Body Composition in Slightly Overweight Subjects, Metabolism, Vol. 53, issue 8, (pp. 1002-1006)

Reda, E., D’Iddio, S., Nicolai, R., Benatti, P. & Calvani, M. (2003) The Carnitine System and Body Composition, Acta Diabetol, issue 40, (pp. 106-113)

Evangeliou, A. & Vlassopoulos, D. (2003) Carnitine Metabolism and Deficit – When Supplementation is Necessary? Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology (pp. 211-219)

Müller, D.M., Seim, H., Kiess, W., Löster, H. & Richter, T. (2002) Effects of Oral l-Carnitine Supplementation on In Vivo Long-Chain Fatty Acid Oxidation in Healthy Adults, Metabolism, Vol. 51, issue 11, (pp. 1389-1391)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The downfalls of a one-sized fits all nutritional approach

Since my last post, I’ve had a couple dozen emails asking me whether or not I’ve changed my opinion on the health risk of eating refined carbohydrate sources like rice, oats, wheat, etc.  I’ve also had about the same number asking what percentage of a diet should be carbohydrate based.  This post is going to try and clarify a bunch of issues related to both those topics.

There’s quite a lot to like about the basic principles of the Paleo diet movement.  It encourages people to eat micronutrient dense food and eliminate many foods that cause systemic inflammation via a multitude of different mechanisms.  That said, acting like a religious zealot about the Paleo diet means you’ve chosen to ignore some pretty big caveats.  Its simply inaccurate to say that it’s impossible to be healthy while including foods that we did not evolve with. In my opinion, some of the foods the Paleo diet excludes are more harmful than others, and equally as important is that people’s specific response to them can vary dramatically.   That said, I think the following three groups of foods are worth reducing:

1) Wheat/gluten:  There’s pretty good evidence that everyone has some inflammatory response to wheat even if you don’t sense it directly after ingestion (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18485912). Of course particular groups of people (Celiac’s, etc) are much more responsive than others.  Key point: Individual responses may vary but probably worth avoiding most of the time… Saying that 100% of people should avoid 100% of the time is extreme in my opinion.

2)  There’s also pretty good evidence to suggest that avoiding high fructose corn syrup and industrial seed oils AT HIGH DOSES is a good idea as well.  However, low doses of fructose and even HFCS in relatively healthy people seem to be tolerated.  So again, simply stating to avoid this things at all cost represents blinding yourself from scientific evidence.  The key here is likely low, infrequent exposures…

3) There’s also pretty good evidence to suggest that soy is a disruptor of the endocrine response system and should be minimized as well:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=soy+endocrine+disruptor

So here’s where things get pretty tricky.  The Paleo diet also recommends the removal of ALL dairy products and also potatoes as well.  The evidence here is much less compelling in my opinion than it is for grains.

65% of the adult population has a reduced ability to process lactose, and may as a result be better off without consuming dairy frequently.  The other 35% of people though have the ability to appropriately digest this food.  For example, Weston A. Price  identified the Swiss Loetschental (among others) that were extremely healthy while eating a diet mostly of milk, cheese and…. bread.  If dairy is to be universally considered an unhealthy, inflammatory food, then these types of groups shouldn’t exist, but they do.  I think a smarter, more progressive line of thinking is to identify that each persons genes/microbiota place them on a continuum where some people need to avoid dairy completely while others do just fine.  Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle and factors such as current body composition, activity level and/or genetic composition determine where on the range we fall.

The Paleo movement against potatoes is where I start to diverge big time.  To be fair, many Paleo advocates recognize that there are benefits to potatoes, but others, such as Loren Cordain  (the founder of The Paleo Diet) are clearly encamped in the idea that potatoes are harmful because of the saponins and glycoalkaloids they contain.

Again, its pretty easy to find people that eat a potato rich diet and do just fine.  The most notable group is the Kitavans, a group of people that eat ~70% of their calories in natural carbohydrates.  Despite also having a large percentage of smokers in the population, these people remain extremely healthy and relatively lean.  This is completely counter-intuitive to the  post from Loren Cordain above.

Formal studies HERE

That said, lets take it to the extreme with a case study of a white middle-aged man living in the U.S. that decided to eat nothing but potatoes for two months (Chris Voigt).  On this regimen, he lost about 20 pounds, improved his fasting glucose levels and decreased his triglycerides.  Now there’s a bunch of reasons that could have resulted in his improved health, but ultimately the key observation is that an extreme potato diet did NOT make him sick or fat.

The point here is NOT to try to convince you that eating a high-carb potato rich diet is the key to health.  In fact, there’s enough evidence to show that ketogenic diets (EXTREMELY low carb) have huge benefits for a number of diseases.  The point instead, is that while its convenient to try and make a one-sized fits all diet (it also sells books), there is little evidence to support this approach and its unnecessarily restrictive.

What’s a better approach is to start with some general recommendations, such as:

1) Focus on a diet high in naturally occuring fats using nutrient dense foods. Avoid inflammatory foods by restricting processed grains, HFCS and industrial oils for 30-45 days.

2) Reintroduce  foods one at a time and measure your own specific response.  If you feel fine with wheat or dairy, etc. then you can probably feel pretty damn healthy following an 80%/20% principle.

This style focuses on eating a nutrient dense, non-inflammatory diet but still allows for flexibility such that you can enjoy life without feeling imprisoned by food choices.

If you are facing serious health conditions like obesity, autoimmune disease or neurological disorders, then the 80/20 principle might not cut it.  Someone who is a celiac, or  a person with Lupus probably shouldn’t start destroying pizzas and ice cream once a week.  Again, I would have these people reset their systems just as I listed above and see what happens with their symptoms.  Then more care and attention would be paid to the reintroduction of foods in small doses.  Using this approach each person ends up with a diet specific to their genetics,health-status and goals.

A really interesting study was recently published that took an approach similar (though not identical) to what I just described, attempting to reverse Alzheimers.  The results were impressive to say the least.

http://www.impactaging.com/papers/v6/n9/full/100690.html

http://neurosciencenews.com/alzheimers-memory-loss-reversal-1377/

Happy eating…

Mike

 

Eat like a champ

Sometimes the universe gives you a big serendipitous gift… in the form of an Instagram post.

I just spent the weekend working at the Crossfit Free/Vagabond Crossfit “Coaches and Athletes Camp” down in Salem, NH.  In addition to Brandon and Kevin running workouts that tested the various energy systems, specialty coaches were brought in to help improve people’s form in the olympic lifts and gymnastics.  There were also some specialists involved in injury prevention and trigger point release there to work on the athletes as well.

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I was brought in to discuss how to optimize nutrition and other aspects of a lifestyle to improve performance in the gym.  I focused much of the discussion on nutrient intake as it related to the timing of the workout.  While everyone’s situation is unique, I tried to give some basic guidelines on what and when to eat pre-workout and post-workout with ideas about what carbohydrate and protein sources are best for each period.

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Additionally, we talked in depth about the importance of providing fuel throughout the day to support the rigorous life-style of a competitive Crossfit athlete.  Over the years, many people in the crossfit community have come to fear any and all processed carbohydrates.  While this approach can certainly be beneficial for someone looking to focus on improved HEALTH, it can also be a recipe for disaster for a person looking to train like a pro-athlete.  With this in mind, I tried to provide a minimum amount of protein, carbs and fats that both men and women should eat on training days.  I think a lot of people were surprised by the sheer amount of food, and especially carbs that I was recommending.

I woke up this morning to see a post from Lauren Fisher showing exactly what she ate on a normal Monday-Friday.  FYI, Lauren recently represented the USA at the Junior World Weightlifting Championship AND finished 9th at the Crossfit Games a few weeks back as well.  She is 5’5” inches and 135 lbs of bad-ass performance.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 9.27.40 AM

 

The timing of her post was PERFECT, as this is almost exactly what I was telling people how to eat at the Camp, both post workout and through the rest of the day.  Here are the key points that I would stress in Lauren’s post:

1) She starts off her day with a large breakfast with a ton of healthy protein, fats and plenty of carbs.

2) Post workout she’s immediately taking in protein and carbs with little to no fats… Perfect.

3) She’s not afraid of using some dense carbohydrate sources like white rice and oats to increase her total caloric intake.

4) Monday-Friday she’s still avoiding REALLY processed foods, but on weekends she lets loose a little bit to enjoy some sweets (which probably also acts as a huge carb reload… another good habit to develop for an athlete).  This helps her stay sane and keep her training and lifestyle fun and not too stressful.

5) Whether she knows it or not, the tea she’s drinking has some great adaptogens which help her to ramp up in the morning and chill out at night.

When I tell people, especially women, that a diet like the one described above is the starting point for a performance athlete they tend to get a little nervous about excessive weight gain because of all the calories and carbohydrates.  Take a look at Lauren though… 10552492_738288006230919_2942893137199159685_nAgain, she’s listed at 5’5” and she has to weigh less than 138 pounds seeing as she’s a 63 kg Olympic weightlifter (she lists herself at 135).  More importantly though, she defines herself by her performance in the gym as that is what is most important to her.  Check out this video to hear it for yourself.  At the end of the day, you should do what makes you happy.  If that means trying to become as strong and fit as you possibly can, that’s fantastic… just be sure that you’re fueling yourself for success.

Quick Note:  Everyone, even games athletes, are slightly different and will run optimally at various levels of food intake and macronutrient balance.  This post is not designed to convince everyone to eat just like Lauren, but instead to take look at your diet and analyze whether you could be handicapping your performance by not eating enough!

 

 

The in’s and out’s of whey protein

I get at least one question a week about whey protein. Who should be taking whey protein, when to take it, how much, what company, will it make me fat? it goes on and on.  This post will hopefully answer many of your questions and concerns.  Before we start down that road though, I want to preface everything by saying that whey protein is not some magical formula that will take your performance to the next level.  It is a small tool that can help improve recovery time and is a convenient option for many.  Lets get started!

Who should be taking whey protein?

I actually think its easier to focus on who should NOT be using a whey protein shake than it is to focus on who should be.  If you are:

1) Trying to lose body fat

2) Focusing mostly on health and general fitness as a goal.

3) This should go without saying but if you’re not very active at all, you don’t need whey protein shakes.  Sounds too insane to be true, but trust me, I’ve seen people stop working out and continue to use protein shakes.

These  3 groups of people should focus on eating real foods post workout instead of taking in a protein isolate.  This mostly has to do with the effects of liquid food on the body, a fact Robb Wolf has laid out more than enough over the years.  While the science isn’t actually very convincing, the experience that I’ve had with DOZENS of clients has been.  People struggling to lose weight generally make better progress when they drop the protein shake and eat real foods post-workout.  Yes it requires you spend 15 less minutes prepping food, but the results are worth it.

A good post workout option for those looking to improve body composition
A good post workout option for those looking to improve body composition

When to take in whey protein and how much to take?

Now, if you’re a lean person, focusing on athletic performance with intense exercise more than 3 days a week, whey protein can be a very useful tool to aid in your  recovery.  Generally I recommend 30 grams of protein for men and 20 grams for women as a starting point for discussion.  Try to consume the shake as soon as possible after finishing my workout.

The one situation where I’ll wait an extra 20-30 minutes is if the workout has been extremely intense.  In this situation, the body responds by inducing a “leaky-gut” state, most likely to improve nutrient reabsorption from the intestinal lumen.  While I couldn’t find any sound evidence to show that this leads to increased potential for food intolerance, it makes sense immunologically that undigested whey proteins crossing intact into the intestinal tissue could induce an immune response.  It might not actually be a problem, but the trade off of waiting a half an hour is minimal.

What to look for in a good whey protein?

1) I prefer whey protein isolates as the isolation process removes most (but not quite all) of the other ingredients in dairy that can give people problems.

2) Your whey protein should have digestive enzymes added to improve the bioavailability of the protein.

3) All artificial sweeteners suck, but stevia seems to be the least horrible of them all so finding a whey protein that uses stevia is about as good an option as you’re going to find.  Personally, as a lean individual I don’t mind the higher carbohydrate whey proteins that use maltodextrin as a sugar source, but they aren’t for everyone.

Personally, I’ve had very good experiences with two whey proteins:

1) Low carb whey protein from MRM (w/ Stevia)

2) Higher carb whey protein from MRM (with maltodextrin)

There are many other brands out there that also produce a good product however, I would generally avoid many of the highly commercialized main stream products however.  A consumer reports study of EAS and Muscle Milk found high levels of several heavy metals such as arsenic (a poison) cadmium and lead.  Needless to say, spend a very small amount of extra money and get the higher quality products.

Hopefully this helps answer a number of questions you have about whey protein.  If you have a specific one, leave a comment or shoot me an email.

 

John Oliver and the supplement industry.

There’s a fantastic new show on HBO called “Last Week with John Oliver.”  It loosely resembles The Daily Show but is infinitely better.  In fact, it might actually be better than CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, etc at actually reporting the news…

Last week, the show took the supplement industry to town, which you can see in the link below.  I highly recommend watching it through to the end, especially if you like Steve Buscemi.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA0wKeokWUU

The points made in the segment are all extremely valid.

1) Many supplements have no evidence to back up their claims.

2) Some supplements don’t even have the listed ingredients in the supplement (What a bunch of assholes).

3) Some of these over-the-counter supplements have proven to be dangerous and, in extreme cases, lethal.

I think the natural response after watching the segment is to try and improve the regulation system of over-the-counter supplements, perhaps even make it a mirror of the prescription medication system which requires FDA approval.

Let me preface this next sentence by telling you the following, I sell exactly zero supplements of my own so I have no financial ties to the supplement industry.  Despite that fact, the idea of regulating the supplement industry in the same manner we regulate medical prescriptions is not something that I’d be excited about seeing happen.  Why?  Well, if we were to tightly regulate supplements, I think there’d be several major effects.

1) It would likely make the supplement industry safer and hopefully improve the quality of research on supplements (A good thing).

2) It would drive the price of supplements through the roof as basic research and safety trials would have to be conducted prior to sale.  Trials are EXTREMELY expensive and as a result, the end product would have to cost more to make up the difference (Mostly a bad thing).

3) This added cost would likely dissuade many people from starting new businesses around supplements.  For instance, Mike Kesthely’s Max Adrenal product which he sells through Dynamic Nutrition.  Many of my clients have reported insanely impressive result with this product and there are scientific publications supporting all of the ingredients that are put into it.  My guess is that if we were to regulate the supplement industry like we regulate medical drugs, Mike would have never created the product in the first place… (A very bad thing).

In my opinion, the cost of driving good, helpful supplements out of the market outweighs the benefits of getting rid of all the snake oil that Dr. OZ wants you to buy.

Realistically, I don’t see any changes happening to the way the supplement industry is regulated anyway because of all the lobbying described by John Oliver.  Instead, YOU are going to have to take some personal responsibility and figure out how to tell if something is a pile of bull shit or a product that can help your health and/or performance.  Personal responsibility… what a crazy idea.

Here’s how I would go about deciphering whether or not a supplement is A) Safe and B) Useful.

1) Know what happens if you take too much (aka overdose).  Something like magnesium or arginine causes diarrhea when you take too much.  Shit happens, but its not the end of the world.  Other supplements with reported health benefits also can have serious side effects at higher amounts, most frequently liver issues.  Know how to decipher between the two or work with someone that does.

2) If you’re a trainer or consult people on nutrition, I would HIGHLY recommend investing in a guide to help summarize the research on supplements, as doing Google searches (or better yet, PubMed searches) can be overwhelming when you’re trying to figure out safety and efficacy.  I’ve had good experiences with “Stack Guides”  as it has sections about the synergistic effects of various supplements which many other sites lack.   Also, “Stack Guides” doesn’t sell any supplements themselves so they’re not trying to steer you towards their products.  Definitely worth the investment…

3) Listen to people with more experience in the industry than you.  No one says that you have to know everything and I guarantee if you’re thinking of trying a supplement, then so have 1000 other people.  Find the people you respect and listen to their opinions on the topic.

4) You should probably stop listening to Dr. Oz.