Are there any Superfoods?
Are you confused with recent headlines? Actual headlines like:
If the answer is yes, welcome to the human race. You are not alone but I hope to help you make some sense of it all in this little dissertation.
Throughout recorded history, mankind has attempted to alter or control his diet to elicit optimum performance, body shape and health.
Apparently, even the famous gladiators of ancient Rome ate preparations of fresh ground lions teeth and raw meat as a pre-performance meal in hopes of performing like a lion.
Volumes have been written extolling the virtues of a multitude of food and beverage choices, combinations, quantities, and timing, all designed to enhance exercise performance in some way.
Modern research methods, science, technology and desire have combined to continue to develop some of the answers to this burning question.
We now exercise, outside of our vocation and procurement of life's basic necessities, for a variety of reasons.
Scientific evidence suggests the reasons include: weight control, cardiovascular health (often by medical prescription), muscular development for looks and function, preparation for athletic competition and just plain fun.
We also know that carbohydrates provide quick energy, proteins build muscle, accumulated excess fat is unhealthy, water and electrolytes are necessary to prevent dehydration.
Unfortunately there may be many finer points about these facts which most exercise enthusiasts and their well meaning advisors do not really understand.
The human trend is to follow "the some is good, therefore more is better" or "some is bad, so none must be good" syndromes.
During heavy exercise, the body produces more free-radicals - a natural and functional process. In excess, free radicals have been implicated as a cause of everything from cancer to heart disease.
Protection from free radical damage is now strongly recommended by most health professionals.
Increased consumption of anti-oxidant nutrients (known as free radical scavengers) particularly vitamins C & E, Vitamin A (in the form of Beta Carotene) and other recently identified carotenoids like Alpha Carotene, lycopene from tomatoes and grape seed extracts provide protection.
Apparently as high as 40% of marathon finishers, show some illness signs in the week following their race. The theory is that with the intensity and duration of the event, the immune system can become depleted through free radical attacks, unless we take extra precautions to help prevent the consequences.
This would include consuming more anti-oxidants and protein in the form of foods and supplements.
Carbohydrate drinks and carbohydrate loading (the act of dramatically increasing carbohydrate intake a few days to hours prior to endurance performance) have received considerable attention over the last 30 years.
The theory, based on some convincing clinical research, is that in order to prolong intense endurance activity, one needs to increase glycogen storage in muscles to the maximum level so that available quick energy does not become a limiting factor.
Unless the activity extends well beyond an hour of high intensity exercise, muscle glycogen depletion will not be the limiting factor.
In fact, excess stored glycogen may cause a temporary weight gain due to obliged water storage dictated by glycogen or simply fat storage due to elevated insulin in response to elevated carbohydrate intake.
It is also possible that high intake of carbohydrates can inhibit the body's ability to mobilize fat for energy and actually lead to hypoglycemia and lean tissue loss. Carbohydrate loading is not required for activities lasting under one hour.
Fat is the substrate (food source for energy metabolism) of choice by our active cells. In fact, if you are currently sitting quietly and reading this item, 75 - 85 % of your energy is coming from fat, unless you are downing a coke, beer, coffee or some other source of blood sugar elevating commodity. Even during moderate exercise, most of your energy comes from fat.
Fat accumulation cannot be blamed on fat consumption. (This is theme of my most recent book). North Americans eat less fat than any time in recorded history and yet there is an obesity epidemic and a type II diabetes epidemic raging out of control.
According to Dr. Norman Kaplan, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and author of Clinical Hypertension, most overweight people are hyper insulinemic (too much insulin released into the bloodstream).
Insulin is the storage hormone released by the pancreas when blood sugar rises. The only way to control insulin levels is to control the rate and level of blood sugar elevation.
The only way to do that, is to reduce the intake of refined or simple carbohydrate (including most so called whole grain products). Moderate to strenuous exercise does lower insulin for short periods of time.
High carbohydrate diets can promote hypoglycemia, even in the physically active, and the elevation of triglycerides (a heart disease risk factor). Remember that carbohydrate depletion in the muscles is usually not the limiting factor to continued quality exercise performance, unless the activity exceeds 75 minutes at 80+% of aerobic capacity.
Triglycerides are the most abundant fatty substance in the body, making up most of your stored fat. A triglyceride is made of one half a sugar molecule (glycerol) with three fatty acids attached. When levels of triglycerides in the blood go up, they are considered a negative risk factor to clogged arteries.
The solution? Reduce the intake of insulin stimulating carbohydrates and exercise regularly.
Fat in storage is reduced in two ways. First, it can be metabolized as an energy source through moderate intensity exercise (from sleeping to conversational intensity exercise).
Second, there is a concept of Ketosis where incompletely metabolized fat molecules are released into the blood and removed through the kidneys.
Ketosis occurs only when one is on a severely restricted carbohydrate diet. This is how the Atkins Diet and the Protein Power Diet work.
Contrary to popular belief - dietary induced ketosis is not considered dangerous according to Dr. Calvin Ezrin of the UCLA division of Endocrinology and author of the Endocrine Control Diet (an Atkins style diet).
Fat mobilization (removal from storage for use in energy metabolism) can be inhibited in two ways.
First is through the elevation of blood insulin in response to carbohydrate consumption.
The second is though the elevation of blood lactic acid which occurs in response to intense (anaerobic) exercise.
The solution? To reduce fat in storage, control your insulin with a reduction in simple or refined carbohydrate intake and participate in conversational intensity exercise for about 4 hours per week. (Try not to do the 4 hours all on the same day).
There is evidence, some recently published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise by a group from New York State University in Buffalo and by another group in New Zealand, demonstrating that higher fat diets (up to 50% fat) can improve endurance performance without negative effects on immune functions nor blood lipid parameters. Once again a suggestion that carbohydrate emphasis may be over done.
Muscle is the most metabolically active tissue. The more muscle you have the more fat you metabolize. (Seems unfair doesn't it? The more fit burn fat faster.)
In simplest terms, to control insulin and optimum hormone production, I am an advocate of 40 - 30 - 30 eating plans.
This is the plan used by Mark Allen during the last two of his six Hawaiian Iron Man wins.
My friends over at Coaches Inc. told me just last week of a client who followed this plan and ate peanut butter and turkey sandwiches during a successful ultra marathon.
Carbohydrates should make up 40% of your calories. These are low Glycemic Index (a measure of how fast they raise blood sugar) carbohydrates like vegetables, except for corn and potatoes. Also emphasize fruit except for bananas and dried fruits.
Protein should make up 30% of your calories. I emphasize high quality digestible protein sources including soy and selected whey protein drinks.
Always eat protein at every meal and every snack - no exceptions. Eat some of your protein foods first to further control the rate of the rise in blood sugar.
Protein requirements range from 0.75 grams per pound of desirable weight for the sedentary to 1.0 gram per pound of desirable weight for the physically active.
Fats should also make up 30% of your calories. Emphasize the good fats which includes nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, cold pressed oils, and supplements like lecithin capsules (never granules nor liquid due rancidity issues), GLA and EPA capsules.
It is these good fats in the proper insulin controlled environment that will produce optimum levels of all your important hormones.
Never eat cheap hydrogenated oils, deep fried grease and margarine of any kind in an attempt to avoid the notorious trans fatty acids .
Consume saturated fats in moderation but don't be so paranoid as to exclude them. A responsible intake of essential fatty acids will balance out any potential negative effects of saturated fats.
Cholesterol consumed has nothing to do with blood cholesterol levels. In fact elevated insulin from too many carbohydrates will stimulate the liver to make more cholesterol and cause more harm than eating eggs or other animal fat sources.
Responsible supplementation is no longer an option if optimal health is desired.
In addition to lots of protein, vegetables, fruit, modest intake of whole grains, and essential fats, you need to prop up your nutritional arsenal with a well planned supplement program.
Oh yes, don't forget to exercise and drink lots of pure water.
Dr. L. Lee Coyne, the Healthy Professor, is a nutritional consultant, lecturer and author of Fat Won't Make You Fat and the LeanSeekers nutrition program.