This week we look at Part II of Dieting for body composition, where we delve into a little more detail, taking in subjects such as micro-nutrition, supplementation & tracking progress....
Micronutrition: What are we talking about?
Micronutrients = A discussion about food quality
Why is Food Quality an Important Consideration?
-Prevent Vitamin and Mineral deficiencies
-Hormone production and regulation
-Bone and tendon strength
-Weight loss - increased TEF of whole foods: -
Food quality also matters because minimally processed, nutrient dense, whole foods will have a higher thermic effect than processed foods. The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy required by your body to break down, digest and absorb a particular food. On average, the TEF accounts for around 10-25% of overall daily expenditure.
So, for an individual consuming 2,000 kcal per day, this accounts for between 200-500 kcal daily. The TEF of mixed meals consisting of processed foods is lower than that of whole foods. Whole-grain bread with cheddar cheese has a TEF of 19.9%, whereas white bread with more processed cheese (you know, the rubbery kind) only has a TEF of 10.7%: a nearly 2-fold difference in energy expenditure for meals with the same macronutrients.
Processed foods make it far easier for the body to harvest energy from food. So, from that example you can see how focusing on minimally processed foods has an effect on the body, not only from the amount of nutrients you will receive from the food, but also from the amount of calories needed to break that food down. This is also another reason why I dislike people drinking too many of their calories. Relying on shakes and smoothies minimises the TEF as the body doesn't have to do a great deal to break down and digest food in this form.
To understand whether you are deficient in any particular vitamin or mineral, the only way to know for sure is to get blood tests. Below is a list of common deficiencies: -
- Vitamin D3: An essential vitamin produced naturally by the skin after exposure to UV radiation such as sunlight. It is estimated that one billion people worldwide are deficient in Vitamin D. Why is Vitamin D important? It is necessary for optimal bone strength, mineral metabolism, immune function, neuromuscular functioning and testosterone synthesis. 10-30 mins of daily near full body sun exposure is needed to acquire the optimal amount of D3. The darker someone’s skin is, the more sun exposure is needed.
- Magnesium: One of the body’s most important minerals and electrolytes. The results of insufficient body magnesium include insulin resistance, low testosterone, bone loss, stress hypersensitivity, high blood pressure and disturbed neuromuscular functioning. Getting enough magnesium can thus increase your testosterone, strength and endurance level. Magnesium taken pre-bed can increase sleep quality. Magnesium is most prevalent in cocao/chocolate, nuts, beans and grains.
- Zinc: Zinc is an essential mineral required for immune functioning, protein synthesis, testosterone production and wound healing. If your diet contains red meat, you most likely consume enough zinc. Just 300 g of beef or 500 g of pork or lamb is required to consume the optimal daily zinc intake of ~15 mg. Crab and lobster are great too. Oysters contain so much zinc that you barely need 100 g to get over 15 mg of zinc, so consuming a large portion of those once or twice a week should have you covered. Zinc deficiencies are associated with compromised immune function, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and low testosterone and depression.
- Iron: One of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world (especially the developed world). Females are at a higher risk of deficiency than males due to monthly blood loss during menstruation. Foods rich in iron include beef, oysters, chicken liver, tuna, eggs, sardines.
- Calcium: The most common mineral in the body. It is required for optimal neuromuscular functioning, the regulation of blood flow, bone health and a host of other processes. Calcium is found mostly in dairy products. Outside of dairy it can be found in sardines, salmon and green vegetables.
- Iodine: Iodine is an essential trace element that your body uses to create thyroid hormones. It is primarily found in seawater and soil close to the sea. However, because modern drink water and salt is so refined they are now devoid of iodine. However, you can buy iodised salt or consume seaweed 1-2 times per week.
Here are 9 tips to reduce nutrient loss when cooking: -
- Use as little water as possible for poaching and boiling
- Consume the liquid left in the pan after cooking vegetables
- Add back juices from meat that drip into the pan
- Don’t peel vegetables until after cooking them (or better yet don't peel them at all to maximise fibre and nutrient density)
- Cook vegetables in smaller amounts of water to reduce loss of Vitamin C and B vitamins
- Try to finish cooked vegetables within a day or two, as Vitamin C content may continue to decline when cooked food is exposed to air.
- Cut food after rather than before cooking, if possible. When food is cooked whole, less of it is exposed to heat and water
- Cook vegetables for only a few minutes wherever possible
- When cooking meat, poultry and fish use the shortest possible cooking times for safe consumption
Freezing tends to have little effect on the nutritional value of food. In fact, frozen fruits and vegetables are often more ripe than ‘fresh’ foods as the latter are usually picked days and weeks before they are fully ripe to take account of transportation times.
When it comes to organic food there is no universal definition of what exactly ‘organic food’ is, but there are some definite principles: -
- No use of synthetic fertilisers
- No use of chemical pesticides
Organic crops tend to be higher in antioxidants, such as phenolic acid and flavanols. Organic crops have been found to have lower levels of heavy metals (such as Cadmium) and pesticide residues.
However, Chris Kresser argues that local trumps organic when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Most produce sold at supermarkets are grown hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away (especially when eating foods out of season). Food starts to change as soon as it has been harvested and its nutrient content begins to deteriorate. “So while it certainly makes sense to eat organic, if you’re interested in maximising the nutrient density of your food, eating foods that are grown locally and consuming them as close to harvest as possible is even more important” (Kresser).
If affordability of organic food is an issue, here is a list of foods you should always try to eat organic wherever possible: -
The reason is due to the high amounts of pesticides found in these foods when farmed using conventional practices.
When it comes to grains, the picture is far more complicated. There are 2 main types of grain: -
- Cereals (wheat, oats, barley, maize, rice)
- Legumes (lentils, beans, peas and peanuts). Legumes can be considered healthy - there is little controversy about this.
However, many grains contain anti-nutrients which is a defence mechanism developed by plants to stop their seeds being eaten by animals.
Of all the grains, wheat seems to cause the most amount of problems in people. Up to 33% of the population have some kind of sensitivity to wheat, the main symptoms being bloating, gas, mild stomach cramps and fatigue. A sensitivity to the gluten in wheat can cause leaky gut syndrome, which can lead to chronic inflammation, not only in the gut, but throughout the whole body.
TIER 1 ‘DIET STAPLES’
- Unprocessed meats (ideally wild/grass-fed), particularly organ meats like liver
- Fish (ideally wild)
- Poultry (ideally wild/flax-fed), particularly organ meats like liver
- Unprocessed bone broth
- Eggs (preferably from flaxseed fed/free-range chickens)
- Non-starchy vegetables (Green vegetables, such as broccoli, zucchini, kale, spinach etc)
- Fermented, non-cheese dairy products (e.g. kefir, yogurt, quark)
- Pure coconut products
- Pure olive products
- Herbs & spices, gelatin, decaff coffee, decaff tea, herbal tea, seaweeds, nori, vinegar (all
TIER 2 ‘HEALTHY ADDITIONS’
- Whole fruit (all kinds)
- Non-fermented dairy (e.g. whole milk, cottage cheese, cheese, (grass-fed) butter)
- Fermented, sprouted or soaked whole grains (e.g. Sourdough/Ezekiel bread, soaked
- Soaked nuts/seeds (notably chia seeds and broken/milled flax seed)
- Potatoes (all kinds, incl. all similar root vegetables)
- Fermented soy products (e.g. natto, tempeh)
- 80+% pure chocolate
TIER 3 ‘OKAY’
- White/parboiled rice
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains (incl. legumes)
TIER 4 ‘NEUTRAL’
- Potato/rice flour
- Sugars & syrups (all kinds)
- Milk/white chocolate
- Artificial sweeteners (all kinds)
- Zero calorie sodas
TIER 5 ‘AVOID’
- Refined grains
- Non-fermented soy products
TIER 6 ‘AVOID AT ALL COSTS’
- Heat processed vegetable oils
- Processed red meats
- Anything with rapeseed oil, canola oil, hydrogenised or (partially) hardened vegetable
fats and artificial transfats
- Tobacco products
SO WHAT MIGHT A “HEALTHY DIET” CONTAIN: -
-Red meat 1 - 2 times per week
-Organ meat 1 - 2 times per week
-Oily fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel etc) 1- 2 times per week
-Eggs 1 - 2 times per week
-For a person consuming between 1,200-2,00cals per day: 2 cups of fibrous veg and 2 cups of fruit per day. For a person consuming 2,000-3,000cals per day: 3 cups of fibrous veg and 3 cups of fruit per day. (unless on a ketogenic or ultra-low carb diet where you can swap the fruit for extra veggies).
-Beverages of water, coffee, herbal tea
-Avoid using vegetable oils - opt for coconut oil or grass fed butter/ghee to cook with
-Minimise alcohol intake
Nutrient timing relates to the timing of our meals, with specific reference to the nutrients consumed around the workout (‘peri-workout’ nutrition).
Recent research has provided a better picture of how nutrient timing can affect the results we get. The review carried out by Schoenfeld & Aragon (2013) provides great insight into this topic. Schoenfeld & Aragon (2013) highlight 3 important reasons for post-workout intake of protein and carbohydrate. They are: -
- Glycogen Repletion - ‘Muscle glycogen’ is what we call the stores of carbohydrate in the muscle. When we engage in physical activity, much of the energy provided comes from these stores of energy in our muscles. However, the average person engaged in a resistance training program is highly unlikely to deplete muscle glycogen stores beyond more than 35-40% within a session. Unless someone is engaged in some type of endurance-based sport, or is training multiple times per day, then there is no need to ingest carbohydrate immediately post-training. Having a meal containing both protein and carbohydrate is likely to be sufficient. This statement is backed up by the research of Parkin et al (1997). In this paper the researchers compared immediate post-exercise ingestion of high-glycemic carbohydrate with a 2 hour wait before ingesting the carbohydrate. No differences in glycogen levels were observed between the groups at 8 and 24 hours post-exercise. Immediately consuming carbohydrates post-workout is not necessarily required to replenish glycogen levels post-exercise.
- Preventing Muscle Breakdown - Muscle breakdown is not likely to be a problem provided you aren't training in a fasted state: “The classical post-exercise objective to quickly reverse catabolic processes to promote recovery and growth may only be applicable in the absence of a properly constructed pre-exercise meal” (Schoenfeld & Aragon, 2013). If you haven't eaten a meal for more than 4-6 hours pre-training then consuming nutrients immediately post-workout may be advisable. However, avoiding training in a fasted state is probably a better idea.
- Increased Muscle Growth - There has been no clear consensus within the research to suggest whether consuming protein immediately after training enhances muscle growth. Some studies (Esmarck et al, 2001 & Cribb & Hayes, 2006) found positive effects of consuming protein immediately after the training bout. However, other studies (Verdijk et al, 2009, Hoffman et al, 2009) found no difference between immediate consumption and a delayed consumption. The conclusion you could draw here is that immediate consumption is not necessary, but leaving it too long to eat probably isn't wise either.
Practical applications of the research can be distilled as follows: -
For those looking to maximise performance in the gym & avoid muscle breakdown, the training session should be sandwiched between meals no longer than 4-6 hours apart.
Protein is the most important macronutrient to consider in these meals as glycogen repletion isn't a major concern for most members of the general population training 3-5 times per week. However, the post-workout period is generally a good place to consume carbohydrates due to improved nutrition partitioning. However, consuming carbohydrates in the post-workout period won’t enhance muscle building based on current research (Staples et al, 2011, Koopman, et al, 2007). For overall satiety and anti-catabolic effects, it may be best to consume mixed meals - that is, meals that contain protein, carbohydrate and fat.
If you are undertaking training in a fasted or semi-fasted state, then the timing of your meal post-training becomes more important: -
“in the case of resistance training after an overnight fast, it would make sense to provide immediate nutritional intervention - ideally in the form of a combination of protein and carbohydrate - for the purposes of promoting muscle protein synthesis and reducing proteolysis” (Schoenfeld & Aragon, 2013)
However, if the goal is to increase lean muscle mass, I would suggest placing greater emphasis on consuming a pre-exercise meal, thereby training in a fed state. For somebody training very early in the morning, where consuming a meal 1-2 hours pre-training may not be practical, consuming 20g of whey protein will likely be enough to ensure adequate amino acid delivery during the training session (Tipton et al, 2007).
Supplement: "A thing added to something else in order to compete or enhance it" (Oxford English Dictionary)
Supplements should be used to to complete and enhance our current diet. It should not be used as a replacement for whole foods. Wherever possible, try to obtain all of your nutrition from whole foods. However, there are certain vitamins and minerals that we are often deficient in that we are better off try to obtain from supplementation.
So what supplements are worth taking?
- Creatine: Creatine is a molecule stored in phosphate groups (Creatine Phosphate). During periods of stress these phosphate groups are able to produce high amounts of energy in a short space of time. Creatine can be found in eggs, meat and fish. Creatine monohydrate is the cheapest and most effective form of creatine available as a supplement. There is a continuum of creatine response, depending primarily on how much creatine you naturally store. Creatine uptake is improved by insulin, so consuming creatine with carbs and/or protein can increase absorption. It is best to load creatine (20g for 5 days) and then take 5g/day thereafter. Ensure you stay well hydrated when supplementing creatine as fluid requirements increase on creatine.
- Fish Oil: Omega-3 fatty acids are a vital component of your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to aid muscle growth and fat loss. An ideal ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids are 1:1 - 1:4, which is extremely difficult to achieve without eating fish. It is important to opt for high quality fish oil supplements as Fish Oil can often become oxidised. Good brands include Green Pastures, Jarrow Max, Vital Choice Wild Salmon Oil, Neptune Krill Oil, Athletic Greens. Overweight individuals should generally not consume more than 2g of fish oil per day due to the risk of oxidative damage to the fatty acids in an inflammatory environment. In leaner individuals 10g per day is the recommended dosage.
- Caffeine: Increases arousal, decreases RPE (rating of perceived exertion) and increases pain threshold. The result is that people generally enjoy their training more and some people are willing to push harder. To reap the benefits of caffeine you must be caffeine sensitive in the first place. Caffeine consumption can also cause withdrawals, even with just one strong cup per day. Symptoms of withdrawal include headaches, fatigue, loss of concentration, irritability, and decreased alertness. Caffeine has a 5 hour half life, meaning a strong cup of coffee (120mg) taken 10 hours before bed still leaves 30mg in your system.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Functions as a mild appetite suppressant. Dilute 1-2 tablespoons in a large glass of water after meals. It can significantly reduce the blood-sugar response of a high-carb meal and can assist in weight loss, with one study showing a weight loss of 1.2-1.7kg over 12 weeks.
- Melatonin: Melatonin is a key hormone that helps you sleep. It's effectively an internal messenger that tells your body it's bedtime. Supplementing melatonin improves sleep quality and makes it easier to fall asleep without significant side effects or addiction. The maximally effective dose is 3mg taken 30-60 mins before bed. Shift-workers and jet-lagged individuals may benefit from slightly higher dosages (5mg). Don't use melatonin as a band-aid - try to improve your sleep hygiene as well.
- Beta Alanine: Acts as a buffer against fatigue and metabolic stress. Therefore this supplement is most useful to take for activities lasting longer than 1 minute (so useful if doing high volume sets of 12 or more reps). 5g per day taken with meals should maximise your body's storage capacity.
- Magnesium: The second most common deficiency in developed countries. Deficiencies in magnesium can increase blood pressure and reduce glucose tolerance. The most prominent sources of magnesium are grains, nuts and dark, leafy green vegetables. Standard doses are 200-400mg per day. Best to take magnesium with food to improve absorption.
- Vitamin D: Is a fat-soluble nutrient that we obtain largely directly from the sun. It is also found naturally in fish and eggs. Vitamin D should be taken daily, with a meal containing some fat so that it can be transported effectively.
"What gets measured gets managed"
"If you're not assessing you're guessing"
Tracking progress is essential. I advise you use a minimum of 2 to 3 tools for tracking your progress: -
1) Body fat Analysis: Fortunately you have unlimited access to body fat scans. I recommend getting one done every 3-4 weeks. Ensure consistency with conditions (i.e. same time of day, same time of the month, pre-training etc.)
2) Tape Measurements: Often the scale won't have budged much but your measurements are noticeably down. This occurs often, especially with beginners new to training. This is caused by a concurrent loss of fat and gain in lean muscle tissue. I like to use the following measurements: -
- Hip: Round the widest part of glutes)
- Waist (round belly button)
- Upper thigh
- Chest (under arm-pits)
3) Scale Weight: Best way to use scale weight as a gauge is to weigh yourself every day and average the scores you get to come up with one weekly weight. Then over time just compare weekly weights to see where the trend is. This method eliminates the daily fluctuations you will get as a result of fluid differences etc. Remember to be consistent with weighing (same scales, same time of day, same conditions etc).
4) Progress Pictures: I find these to be highly powerful as a means of tracking progress. Often visual progress is far greater than the numbers may suggest. I suggest taking pictures in the same pose/light/conditions every 2-4 weeks.
To Summarise: -
Get the basis right first: Choose a plan you can stick to. If you cannot see yourself following the current diet you are on in 6 months time then you should re-evaluate what you are doing.
Once you have found a style of dieting that fits with your lifestyle, focus on energy balance. This will mean tracking calories for a period of time.
After that it is time to ensure you are getting the right amount of the 3 macronutrients (Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat - oh, and don't neglect your fibre intake). Understand that getting your protein intake right is the most important.
Meal timing can be important - especially the meals that sandwich your workout.
Don't overly-rely on supplements - use them to plug holes in any deficiencies you may have.
Always prioritise whole foods; minimise processed foods.
Ensure you are tracking progress along the way. Use a range of measurement tools & always be consistent.