Top ten diet myths debunked
Everyone who learns about nutrition through the usual channels, be it fitness magazines, mainstream diet books and forums, gets cursed with the prevailing belief system of what constitutes a good diet.
Though specific dietary recommendations vary slightly depending on who you listen to, there are many common denominators and “rules” that you are told you must adhere to. Call it broscience, incompetence or ignorance, same thing. We’ve all been there and we’ve all followed these rules. Led like sheep, not knowing better. Trusting that those we listen to knew what they were talking about. While these dietary myths run rampant in the bodybuilding and fitness community, you’ll find that many are being endlessly propagated in the mainstream as well.
Upon closer scrutiny, the great majority lack scientific basis. They are born out out of half-truths, faulty conclusions drawn from poorly conducted studies or created when a study gets cited out of context.
Sometimes, what’s claimed is even in exact opposition to what really occurs at a physiological level. Many people believe that alcohol is fattening, more so than any other macronutrient. Yet, if you look at how inefficiently the body converts ethanol to fat, you’ll find that it’s completely backwards. I talked about this in “The Truth about Alcohol, Fat Loss and Muscle Growth”. Also note how the proposed negative effect of alcohol on muscle growth doesn’t even exist in the scientific literature.
You’ll see similar examples in this article. For example, in short-term fasting, it’s often claimed that metabolic rate slows down - yet looking at the studies, the opposite is true.
The myths I’ll debunk today are being kept alive by:
1. Repetition. Repeat something often enough and it becomes the truth. If everyone is saying the same thing, it must be true. No need to look into it and think for yourself. The fact that bodybuilders and fitness celebrities keep propagating these myths doesn’t help either. Most people reason that if these people do it, it must be great.Unfortunately, bodybuilders and fitness celebrities might just be one of the last people on earth you should listen to if you want objective and accurate opinions in nutrition.
2. Commercial forces. For example, the supplement industry benefits greatly from people believing that frequent feedings provide a metabolic advantage. People don’t have time to eat six cooked meals a day. Instead, they turn to meal replacement powders, shakes and protein bars. The cereal and grain industry benefits by preaching about the virtues of breakfast for weight control, health and fat loss. There’s no commercial incentive in telling people that they would do just fine with three squares a day.
3. Few people have the knowledge or interest needed to interpret the scientific evidence and draw their own conclusions. In order to do this you would need an academic background that included critical examination of studies and study methodology as part of the learning process.
However, an academic background, or an extensive education in nutrition or physiology, seems to correlate very poorly with truthfulness and objectivity in the field of dietetics in my experience. The advice and claims I have seen made by many RDs (Registered Dietitians) has been so shamelessly wrong that I put little stock in anything they have to say. The same goes for many “diet gurus” and so-called health experts with a solid list of academic credentials.
That people who should know better keep repeating the same myths is somewhat puzzling and strange. Perhaps they lose interest in keeping up with research. What we know today is a bit different from what we knew twenty years ago after all. Or maybe they’re afraid that their credibility would be questioned if they change the advice they have been giving for years. I’m not sure. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. But I digress. Back to the topic.
The top ten fasting myths debunked
The dietary recommendations and advice given in mainstream media and most fora will have you believe that fasting is a hazardous practice. On top of wrecking your metabolism, you should expect ravenous hunger, fat gain, muscle loss, and severe mental impairment. Or so you are told.
Needless to say, people who are introduced to Leangains and the intermittent fasting diet concept have many fears that will make them think twice before embracing it. Fears grounded in years of a dietary indoctrination based on faulty ideas and lies. We’ve all been there.
I’ve listed the ten most common fasting and diet myths that exist to make people resistant to intermittent fasting. I’ve explained why they’re wrong and linked out to references and other resources for those who would like to read a more detailed review of the issues. I’ve also listed their origins, or what I believe to be their origins.
I’ve dealt with each myth many times before on this site but it would be good to have everything in one place. Even if you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll find some new information here I haven’t discussed in the past. It’s a long read but it’ll be worth your while.
1. Myth: Eat frequently to “stoke the metabolic fire”.
Each time you eat, metabolic rate increases slightly for a few hours. Paradoxically, it takes energy to break down and absorb energy. This is the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF). The amount of energy expended is directly proportional to the amount of calories and nutrients consumed in the meal.
Let’s assume that we are measuring TEF during 24 hours in a diet of 2700 kcal with 40% protein, 40% carbohydrate and 20% fat. We run three different trials where the only thing we change is the the meal frequency.
A) Three meals: 900 kcal per meal.
B) Six meals: 450 kcal per meal.
C) Nine meals: 300 kcal per meal.
What we’d find is a different pattern in regards to TEF. Example “A” would yield a larger and long lasting boost in metabolic rate that would gradually taper off until the next meal came around; TEF would show a “peak and valley”-pattern. “C” would yield a very weak but consistent boost in metabolic rate; an even pattern. “B” would be somewhere in between.
However, at the end of the 24-hour period, or as long as it would take to assimilate the nutrients, there would be no difference in TEF. The total amount of energy expended by TEF would be identical in each scenario. Meal frequency does not affect total TEF. You cannot “trick” the body in to burning more or less calories by manipulating meal frequency.
Further reading: I have covered the topic of meal frequency at great length on this site before.
The most extensive review of studies on various meal frequencies and TEF was published in 1997. It looked at many different studies that compared TEF during meal frequencies ranging from 1-17 meals and concluded:
“Studies using whole-body calorimetry and doubly-labelled water to assess total 24 h energy expenditure find no difference between nibbling and gorging”.
Since then, no studies have refuted this. For a summary of the above cited study, read this research review by Lyle McDonald.
Earlier this year, a new study was published on the topic. As expected, no differences were found between a lower (3 meals) and higher meal (6 meals) frequency. Read this post for my summary of the study. This study garnered some attention in the mass media and it was nice to see the meal frequency myth being debunked in The New York Times.
Seeing how conclusive and clear research is on the topic of meal frequency, you might wonder why it is that some people, quite often RDs in fact, keep repeating the myth of “stoking the metabolic fire” by eating small meals on a frequent basis. My best guess is that they’ve somehow misunderstood TEF. After all, they’re technically right to say you keep your metabolism humming along by eating frequently. They just missed that critical part where it was explained that TEF is proportional to the calories consumed in each meal.
Another guess is that they base the advice on some epidemiological studies that found an inverse correlation between high meal frequency and body weight in the population. What that means is that researchers may look at the dietary pattern of thousands individuals and find that those who eat more frequently tend to weigh less than those who eat less frequently. It’s important to point out that these studies are uncontrolled in terms of calorie intake and are done on Average Joes (i.e. normal people who do not count calories and just eat spontaneously like most people).
There’s a saying that goes “correlation does not imply causation” and this warrants further explanation since it explains many other dietary myths and fallacies. Just because there’s a connection between low meal frequencies and higher body weights, doesn’t mean that low meal frequencies cause weight gain. Those studies likely show that people who tend to eat less frequently have:
* Dysregulated eating patterns; the personality type that skips breakfast in favor of a donut in the car on the way to work, undereat during the day, and overeat in the evening. They tend to be less concerned with health and diet than those who eat more frequently.
* Another feasible explanation for the association between low meal frequencies and higher body weight is that meal skipping is often used as a weight loss strategy. People who are overweight are more likely to be on a diet and eat fewer meals.
The connection between lower meal frequency and higher body weight in the general population, and vice versa, is connected to behavioral patterns - not metabolism.
2. Myth: Eat smaller meals more often for hunger control.
Given the importance of finding the most favorable meal pattern for hunger and appetite control, there’s a surprising scarcity of studies on the topic. The most widely cited study is one where obese males were fed 33% of their daily calorie requirement (“pre-load”) in either one single meal or five meals before being allowed to eat ad libitum five hours later (meaning as much as they desired).
A: One single meal was consumed. 5 hours later they were free to eat as much as they desired, “buffet”-style.
B: Same setup as above. However, the single meal was now split into five smaller meals, which were consumed every hour leading up to the ad libitum meal.
The results showed that subjects undergoing “A” ate 27% more calories when given the ad libitum meal. The same setup was used by the same researchers on lean males and showed similar results. However, upon closer scrutiny it’s clear how little real world application those results have. The macrocomposition of the pre-load was 70% carbs, 15% fat and 15% protein; given as pasta, ice cream and orange juice. The situation created was highly artificial and abnormal. Who sits around nibbling on pasta and ice cream, sipping orange juice, every hour leading up to a regular meal?
The latest research, performed under conditions that more closely resemble a real-world scenario, shows the opposite result. In this study, three high-protein meals lead to greater fullness and appetite control when compared to six high-protein meals. You can read my summary of the study here: Three Meals Superior for Appetite Control.
There’s no doubt that meal frequency is highly individual. However, absolute statements claiming smaller meals are superior for hunger and appetite control are untrue and are based on studies using methods that greatly differed from real-world meal patterns. Current research with a normal meal pattern and protein intakes that are closer to what can be seen in a typical non-retarded diet, suggests superior appetite control when eating fewer and larger meals.
This myth might have originated from the limited data from studies on meal frequencies and appetite control. It’s also likely that it’s another case of mistaking correlation for causation from studies and meal frequencies and higher body weights; if people who eat more often weigh less, then it must mean they can control their hunger better, etc.
3. Myth: Eat small meals to keep blood sugar levels under control.
According to legions of diet and health “experts,” eating small meals every so often will help you avoid hunger pangs, provide you with stable energy throughout the day and keep you mentally sharp. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, blood sugar is extremely well-regulated and maintained within a tight range in healthy people. It does not swing wildly up and down like a chimpanzee on meth and it doesn’t plummet from going a few hours without food. Or even a full day without food. Or a week without food for that matter.
People seem to believe they will suffer severe hunger and mental impairment from not eating every so often. Consider for a second the evolutionary consequences for survival if this was true. Given that regular periods of fasting, even famine, was a natural part of our past, do you think we’d be here today if we were unable to function when obtaining food was most critical? I have seen healthy young males, bodybuilders nonetheless, complain of lethargy and mental haze if they didn’t get to eat for a few hours. It’s completely absurd. But I digress…
Maintaining blood sugar is of very high priority and we have developed efficient pathways that will make it happen even under extreme conditions. If you were to fast for 23 hrs and then go for a 90 min run at 70-75% VO2max, your blood sugar after the run would be identical to the same run performed in the fed state. It would take no less than three days or 84 hours of fasting to reach blood sugar levels low enough to affect your mental state; and this is temporary, as your brain adapts to the use of ketones. During 48 hours of fasting, or severe calorie deprivation, blood sugar is maintained within a normal range no measure of cognitive performance is negatively affected.
For more on blood sugar, read my review of Eat Stop Eat Expanded Edition, which includes a relevant excerpt. Also, keep in mind that the above cited studies are all performed under conditions that are much more extreme than the fasting protocol I, or Brad Pilon, recommends.
What about blood sugar and hunger? Blood sugar is one of many short-term feedback mechanisms used to regulate hunger and the notion which exists to say that low blood sugar may cause hunger is correct. Low just means lower range. This is subject to numerous confounders, such as your habitual diet, energy intake and genetics. Most importantly perhaps, it’s subject to entrained meal patterns, regulated by ghrelin and other metabolic hormones. In essence, this means that blood sugar follows the meal pattern you are used to. This is relevant for those who fear blood sugar issues and hunger from regular periods of fasting, as it serves to explain why people can easily adapt to regular periods of fasting without negative effects.
Not sure how people came to believe that skipping a meal would dumb them down. There is some truth to blood sugar and hunger, but this is often taken out of context. There’s no need to eat regularly to “maintain” blood sugar as it maintains itself just fine and adapts to whatever meal pattern you choose.
4. Myth: Fasting tricks the body into “starvation mode”.
Efficient adaptation to famine was important for survival during rough times in our evolution. Lowering metabolic rate during starvation allowed us to live longer, increasing the possibility that we might come across something to eat. Starvation literally means starvation. It doesn’t mean skipping a meal not eating for 24 hours. Or not eating for three days even. The belief that meal skipping or short-term fasting causes “starvation mode” is so completely ridiculous and absurd that it makes me want to jump out the window.
Looking at the numerous studies I’ve read, the earliest evidence for lowered metabolic rate in response to fasting occurred after 60 hours (-8% in resting metabolic rate). Other studies show metabolic rate is not impacted until 72-96 hours have passed (George Cahill has contributed a lot on this topic).
Seemingly paradoxical, metabolic rate is actually increased in short-term fasting. For some concrete numbers, studies have shown an increase of 3.6% - 10% after 36-48 hours (Mansell PI, et al, and Zauner C, et al). This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline/noradrenaline) sharpens the mind and makes us want to move around. Desirable traits that encouraged us to seek for food, or for the hunter to kill his prey, increasing survival. At some point, after several days of no eating, this benefit would confer no benefit to survival and probably would have done more harm than good; instead, an adaptation that favored conservation of energy turned out to be advantageous. Thus metabolic rate is increased in short-term fasting (up to 60 hours).
Again, I have choosen extreme examples to show how absurd the myth of “starvation mode” is - especially when you consider that the exact opposite is true in the context of how the term is thrown around.
I guess some genius read that fasting or starvation causes metabolic rate to drop and took that to mean that meal skipping, or not eating for a day or two, would cause starvation mode.
5. Myth: Maintain a steady supply of amino acids by eating protein every 2-3 hours. The body can only absorb 30 grams of protein in one sitting.
Whenever you hear something really crazy you need to ask yourself if it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. It’s a great way to quickly determine if something may be valid or if it’s more likely a steaming pile of horseshit. This myth is a great example of the latter. Do you think we would be here today if our bodies could only make use of 30 grams of protein per meal?
The simple truth is that more protein just takes a longer time to digest and be utilized. For some concrete numbers, digestion of a standard meal is still incomplete after five hours. Amino acids are still being released into your bloodstream and absorbed into muscles. You are still “anabolic.” This is a fairly standard “Average Joe”-meal: 600 kcal, 75 g carbs, 37 g protein and 17 g fat. Best of all? This was after eating pizza, a refined food that should be quickly absorbed relatively speaking.
Think about this for a second. How long do you think a big steak, with double the protein intake of the above example, and a big pile of veggies would last you? More than 10 hours, that’s for sure. Meal composition plays an important role in absorption speed, especially when it comes to amino acids. Type of protein, fiber, carbohydrates and prior meals eaten all affect how long you’ll have amino acids released and being taken up by tissues after meals.
I think this “30 grams of protein”-nonsense started to circulate after a classic study from 1997 by Boirie and colleagues. “Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion” was the first study to quantify the absorption rate of whey and casein protein and gave birth to the concept of fast and slow protein. After that, whey protein came to be known for it’s ability to rapidly elevate amino acids in the blood stream and casein for it’s ability to create a sustained release of amino acids. Whey was anabolic and casein anti-catabolic.
Given that 30 grams of whey protein was absorbed within 3-4 hours, I guess some people believed that meant 30 grams of protein can only be used in one sitting. Or that you had to eat every 3-4 hours to stay “anabolic.” Unfortunately, people missed a few facts that made these findings irrelevant to real-world scenarios. First of all, this study looked at the absorption rate of whey protein in the fasted state. On it’s own, and with no meals eaten beforehand, 30 grams of whey protein is absorbed within a mere 3-4 hours. With meals eaten earlier in the day, or if you’d consume a whey shake after a meal, absorption would be much slower.
Second of all, whey protein is the fastest protein of all and digests at 10 g/hour. Casein is much slower; in Boirie’s study, the casein protein was still being absorbed when they stopped the experiment 7 hours later. Most whole food proteins are absorbed at a rate of 3-6 grams an hour. Add other macronutrients to that and they’ll take longer.
One of my clients, showing symptoms of profound catabolism by impaired protein absorption and daily 16 hour periods of fasting.
“Is There a Limit to how Much Protein the Body can Use in a Single Meal?” by Alan Aragon.
What Are Good Sources of Protein? – Speed of Digestion Part 1
What Are Good Sources of Protein? – Speed of Digestion Part 2
6. Myth: Fasting causes muscle loss.
This myth hinges on people’s belief it’s important to have a steady stream of amino acids available to not lose muscle. As I explained earlier, protein is absorbed at a very slow rate. After a large high-protein meal, amino acids trickle into your blood stream for several hours.
No studies have looked at this in a context that is relevant to most of us. For example, by examining amino acid appearance in the blood and tissue utilization of amino acids after a large steak, veggies and followed up with some cottage cheese with berries for dessert. That’s easily 100 grams of protein and a typical meal for those that follow the Leangains approach. We are left to draw our own conclusions based on what we know; that a modest amount of casein, consumed as a liquid on an empty stomach is still releasing amino acids after 7 hours. With this in mind it’s no stretch to assume that 100 grams of protein as part of a mixed meal at the end of the day would still be releasing aminos for 16-24 hours.
Few studies has examined the effects of regular fasting on muscle retention and compared it to a control diet. None of them are relevant to how most people fast and some are marred by flaws in study design and methodology. Like this study which showed increased muscle gain and fat loss, with no weight training or change in calorie intake, just by changing meal frequency. While I would love to cite that study as proof for the benefits of intermittent fasting, body composition was measured by BIA, which is notoriously imprecise.
Only in prolonged fasting does protein catabolism become an issue. This happens when stored liver glycogen becomes depleted. In order to maintain blood glucose, conversion of amino acids into glucose must occur (DNG: de novo glucogenesis). This happens gradually and if amino acids are not available from food, protein must be taken from bodily stores such as muscle. Cahill looked at the contribution of amino acids to DNG after a 100 gram glucose load. He found that amino acids from muscle contributed 50% to glucose maintenance after 16 hours and almost 100% after 28 hours (when stored liver glycogen was fully depleted). Obviously, for someone who eats a high protein meal before fasting, this is a moot point as you will have plenty of aminos available from food during the fast.
An example of severe exaggeration of physiological and scientific fact, not relevant to anyone who’s not undergoing prolonged fasting or starvation.
7. Myth: Skipping breakfast is bad and will make you fat.
Breakfast skipping is associated with higher body weights in the population. The explanation is similar to that of lower meal frequencies and higher body weights. Breakfast skippers have dysregulated eating habits and show a higher disregard for health. People who skip breakfast are also more likely to be dieting, thus by default they are also likely to be heavier than non-dieters. Keep in mind that most people who resort to breakfast skipping are not the type that sit around and read about nutrition. They are like most people dieting in a haphazard manner. The type to go on a 800 calorie-crash diet and then rebound, gaining all the weight (and then some) back.
Sometimes, an argument is made for eating breakfast as we are more insulin sensitive in the morning. This is true; you are always more insulin sensitive after an overnight fast. Or rather, you are always the most insulin sensitive during the first meal of the day. Insulin sensitivity is increased after glycogen depletion. If you haven’t eaten in 8-10 hours, liver glycogen is modestly depleted. This is what increases insulin sensitivity - not some magical time period during the morning hours. Same thing with weight training. Insulin sensitivity is increased as long as muscle glycogen stores aren’t full. It doesn’t disappear if you omit carbs after your workout.
First of all, we have the large scale epidemiological studies showing an association with breakfast skipping and higher body weights in the population. One researcher from that study, commenting on the association with breakfast skipping or food choices for breakfast, said:
“These groups appear to represent people ‘on the run,’ eating only candy or soda, or grabbing a glass of milk or a piece of cheese. Their higher BMI would appear to
support the notion that ‘dysregulated’ eating patterns are associated with obesity, instead of or in addition to total energy intake per se.”
Kellogg’s and clueless RDs love to cite them over and over again, so people are lead to believe that breakfast has unique metabolic and health-related benefits. In reality, these studies just show breakfast eaters maintain better dietary habits overall.
Other studies frequently cited claiming that breakfast is beneficial for insulin sensitivity are all marred with methodological flaws and largely uncontrolled in design.
In one widely cited study, subjects were entrusted to eat most meals in free-living conditions. The breakfast skipping group ate more and gained weight, which affected health parameters negatively.
From the abstract: “Reported energy intake was significantly lower in the EB period (P=0.001), and resting energy expenditure did not differ significantly between the 2 periods.” EB = eating breakfast. In essence, people who ate breakfast could control their energy intake better for the rest of the day. They didn’t gain any weight but the breakfast skipping group did. Fat gain always affects insulin sensitivity and other health parameters negatively. Thus what people took this to mean is that breakfast is healthy and improves insulin sensitivity. Which isn’t at all what the study showed.
8. Myth: Fasting increases cortisol.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that maintains blood pressure, regulates the immune system and helps break down proteins, glucose and lipids. It’s a hormone that’s gotten quite a bad rep in the fitness and health community but we have it for a reason. The morning peak in cortisol makes us get out of bed and get going. A blunted morning cortisol peak is associated with lethargy and depression. Cortisol is elevated during exercise, which helps mobilize fats, increase performance and experience euphoria after and during workouts. Trying to suppress acute elevations of cortisol during exercise, or the normal diurnal rhythm, is foolish. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol, resulting from psychological and/or physiological stress, is another thing and unquestionably bad for your health; it increases protein breakdown, appetite and may lead to depression.
Short-term fasting has no effect on average cortisol levels and this is an area that has been extensively studied in the context of Ramadan fasting. Cortisol typically follows a diurnal variation, which means that its levels peak in the morning at around 8 a.m. and decline in the evenings. What changes during Ramadan is simply the cortisol rhythm, average levels across 24 hours remain unchanged.
In one Ramadan study on rugby players, subjects lost fat and retained muscle very well. And they did despite training in a dehydrated state, without pre-workout or post-workout protein intake, and with a lower protein intake overall nonetheless. Quoting directly from the paper:
“Body mass decreased significantly and progressively over the 4-week period; fat was lost, but lean tissue was conserved…”
“…Plasma urea concentrations actually decreased during Ramadan, supporting the view that there was no increase of endogenous protein metabolism to compensate for the decreased protein intake.”
In one study on intermittent fasting, the fasting group even saw “significant decrease in concentrations of cortisol.” However, this study should be taken with a grain of salt as it had some flaws in study design.
In conclusion, the belief that fasting increases cortisol, which then might cause all kinds of mischief such as muscle loss, has no scientific basis whatsoever.
Prolonged fasting or severe calorie restriction causes elevated baseline levels of cortisol. This occurs in conjunction with depletion of liver glycogen, as cortisol speeds up DNG, which is necessary to maintain blood sugar in absence of dietary carbs, protein, or stored glycogen. Again, it seems someone looked at what happens during starvation and took that to mean that short-term fasting is bad.
9. Myth: Fasted training sucks. You’ll lose muscle and have no strength.
A large body of research on sports performance during Ramadan concludes that aerobic activities, such as 60 minutes of running, has a small yet significant negative impact on performance. A very large confounder here is dehydration, as Ramadan fasting involves fluid restriction. That said, anaerobic performance, such as weight training, is much less impacted.
However, more relevant and telling studies, which don’t involve fluid restriction, show that strength and lower intensity endurance training is unaffected - even after 3.5 days of fasting. New research on fasted training supports this. If you read my review of that study, you’ll see that the only parameter the fed group did better on was improvements in V02max, which is likely explained by the fact that the carbs allowed them to train at a higher intensity. However, note the other interesting results obtained in the fasted group. Also note that a review I did of another fasted endurance training study showed no negative effect of fasting on endurance or VO2max (quite the contary in fact). This can be explained by the lower intensity.
In conclusion, training in the fasted state does not affect your performance during weight training, which is what most people reading this are interested in. However, training in a completely fasted state is still not something I recommend for optimal progress. Research is quite clear on the benefits of pre-workout and post-workout protein intake for maximizing protein synthesis. For this reason, I suggest supplementing with 10 g BCAA prior to fasted training.
Another weak and frail physique. No wonder. Andreaz does most of his training fasted. Also worth mentioning,Richard Nikoley trained almost exclusively fasted (and basically doubled his deadlift, while losing fat).
Read more about pre-workout protein and fasted training here: “Pre-workout Protein Boosts Metabolism” and “Fasted Training Boosts Muscle Growth?”.
Also read: Early Morning Fasted Training
Specific protocols for fasted training are covered in “The Leangains Guide”.
It’s actually intuitive that a big pre-workout meal would help with performance, so it’s not surprising that people have their doubts about training on an empty stomach.
10. Myth: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch a queen, dinner like a pauper.”
Also connected to this saying, is the belief that you should reduce carbs in the evening as they will be less likely to be stored as fat. While this might sound good on paper, there’s nothing to support it and a lot that shows it to be wrong.
The strongest argument against this are the numerous studies available on body composition and health after and during Ramadan fasting. This meal pattern of regular nightly feasts has a neutral or positive effect on body fat percentage and other health parameters. This is quite an extreme and telling example. People literally gorge on carbs and treats in the middle of the night to no ill effect. And yet, in the bizarre world of bodybuilding and fitness, people worry whether it’s OK to eat 50 grams of carbs in their last meal.
If the scientific data on Ramadan fasting aren’t enough, there are plenty of other studies showing no effect on weight loss or weight gain from eating later in the day.
In one study comparing two meal patterns, which involved one group eating more calories earlier in the day and one group eating most calories later in the day, more favorable results were found in the group eating large evening meals. While those who ate more in the AM lost more weight, the extra weight was in the form of muscle mass. The late evening eaters conserved muscle mass better, which resulted in a larger drop in body fat percentage.
Just like breakfast skipping is associated with higher body weights in the general population, you will find associations with late night eating and higher body weights. If you have been reading this far, you’ll understand the logical fallacy of saying that late night eating must cause weight gain based on such studies. People who engage in late night eating, such as snacking in front of the TV, are likely to weigh more than others. It’s not the fact that they are eating later in the day that causes weight gain, it’s their lifestyle. No controlled studies show larger evening meals affect body composition negatively in comparison to meals eaten earlier in the day.
Sometimes studies on shift workers are cited to claim that late night eating is bad. These are all uncontrolled (in terms of calorie intake) and observational studies confounded by the fact that shift work has an independent and negative effect on some health parameters like glucose tolerance and blood lipids. Keep this in mind. Context is always relevant.
While I normally don’t cite studies on animals, Science Daily featured an article dispelling the late-night eating mythbased on findings on rhesus monkeys. It’s worth citing since monkeys are metabolically closer to humans than rodents.
I should have written this article post a long time ago. Would have saved me tons of time.
If you found this worthwhile reading, I’d appreciate if you could refer those unlucky people, who have been mislead into believing some of the junk that’s out there, to this article. Based on my own and others’ experiences, these false beliefs lead many into an obsessive dietary pattern, which can do a lot of harm to your physical and psychological well-being. Let’s try to put an end to that and save people from such misery.
November 4th Addendum
First of all, I appreciate the support and help with spreading this article around. I’ve received dozens of emails from people who’ve told me that this was a great eye opener for them; a seed for a new way of critical thinking – in place of blind acceptance of these dubious claims that are often made. So for those who have assisted me in the fight against broscience and diet myths, thanks. Good karma will come your way.
As I read through the article I didn’t find anything that needed to be clarified further or worth changing. Well, nothing that would change the conclusions at least. Since I like this stuff I could easily devote a full article to each one of the different myths and delve deeper into the nuances and methodological problems that plague some of the widely cited data from which they are born. But this article is already long enough as it is.
However, I do have a few addendums I’d like to make. I’ve added them here, so those who didn’t read the article when it first appeared have to sift through it again.
1. Myth: Eat frequently to “stoke the metabolic fire”.
One of the most ridiculous arguments against a low (or should I say normal?) meal frequency is the one of sumo wrestlers eating habits. Since sumo wrestlers eat two times a day it must be the best way to get fat and exactly what you shouldn’t be doing for fat loss, or so the logic goes. I wouldn’t have blamed anyone for bringing this argument into the discussion 34 years ago – because it was actually what some researchers believed at that time.
The methods and logic used to arrive at such a conclusion was completely retarded. For example, as a “control group” they used healthy Japanese males weighing 105-130 lbs eating three meals a day. Brilliant. It’s fair to say that nutritional science and research wasn’t exactly stellar at that time (Ancel Keys anyone?) but this “study” was terrible even by medieval standards. Yes, it must be meal frequency that’s to blame. Never mind the 5000+ calories consumed on a daily basis.
The traditional dish consumed by sumo wrestlers, Chankonabe, is actually not bad at all in terms of calorie density and food composition. Seems it’s even popular among thin Japanese women. However, since Chankonabe is so deeply entrenched into sumo culture, wrestlers will only count a dish served with Chankonabe as a meal. Snacks eaten in between the two daily Chankonabe meals, which are events that are treated like rituals of great importance, simply aren’t considered as meals or reported as such. This quote is pretty telling: “…I eat hamburgers and foods I purchase at convenience stores as snacks.” (From “Sumo meal now what the petite eat.”)
I found the tidbit about Chankonabe tradition interesting, but it’s also one very big confounder that was not considered in that old worthless study. The reported mean intake of the wrestlers, 5100-5600 kcal is quite a lot for a 230 lb male (average weight in the study,) but considering the daily training sumo wrestlers go through, it’s certainly not a mind boggling amount. It’s safe to say that calorie intake was probably significantly higher given the exclusion of snacks. There was no tracking of the sumo wrestlers diet by the researchers. It’s amazing that this study passed its peer review.
5. Myth: Maintain a steady supply of amino acids by eating protein every 2-3 hours. The body can only absorb 30 grams of protein in one sitting.
I forgot to mention one critical study that often comes up in the context of a high meal frequency being beneficial when dieting. In “Effects of meal frequency on body composition during weight control in boxers.” it was found that boxers eating two meals a day on a 1200-calorie diet lost more muscle than the six-meal-group. There are many errors with this conclusion. Lyle McDonald summarized them nicely:
“In this study, boxers were given either 2 or 6 meals per day with identical protein and calories and examined for lean body mass lost; the 2 meal per day group lost more lean body mass (note: both groups lost lean body mass, the 2 meal per day group simply lost more). Aha, higher meal frequency spares lean body mass. Well, not exactly.
In that study, boxers were put on low calories and then an inadequate amount of liquid protein was given to both groups and the meals were divided up into 2 or 6 meals. But the study design was pretty crappy and I want to look at a few reasons why I think that.
First and foremost, a 2 vs. 6 meal per day comparison isn’t realistic. As discussed in The Protein Book, a typical whole food meal will only maintain an anabolic state for 5-6 hours, with only 2 meals per day, that’s simply too long between meals and three vs. six meals would have been far more realistic (I would note that the IF’ing folks are doing just fine not eating for 16 hours per day).
Additionally is the use of a liquid protein that confounds things even more. Liquids digest that much more quickly than solid foods so the study was basically set up to fail for the low meal frequency group. They were given an inadequate amount of rapidly digesting liquid protein too infrequently to spare muscle loss. But what if they had been given sufficient amounts of solid protein (e.g. 1.5 g/lb lean body mass) at those same intervals? The results would have been completely different.
As discussed in The Protein Book in some detail, meal frequency only really matters when protein intake is inadequate in the first place. Under those conditions, a higher meal frequency spares lean body mass. But when protein intake is adequate in the first place (and again that usually means 1.5 g/lb lean body mass for lean dieters), meal frequency makes no difference. And that’s why the boxer study is meaningless so far as I’m concerned. An inadequate amount of liquid protein given twice per day is nothing like how folks should be dieting in the first place.”
From: “Meal Frequency and Mass Gains.”
So in summary, a low calorie intake coupled with an inadequate amount of liquid protein. Liquid protein is rapidly absorbed. This would leave the low meal frequency-group without dietary protein available in between meals, causing DNG, de novo gluconeogenesis, of endogenous protein stores (muscle). The large energy deficit and leanness of the boxers are also factors to consider.
None of this is apparent if you look at the abstract of the study; no protein intake or protein type is mentioned. Details that are critical to know in this context.
I should also point out that I was wrong about the origins of this myth which several people have pointed out. This is what Lyle McDonald wrote in comments:
“The 30 g/meal thing has been around for decades, much older than the 1997 paper. A few gut hunches on where it came from.
1. Marketing: I base this on the fact that the value has changed over the years. When Met-RX sold products with 30 grams protein, 30 g/meal was the cutoff. When they moved to 42 g/meal, 42 grams was the cutoff. Weider probably did it before then.
2. Bodybuilders looking to rationalize their desire to eat lots of mini-meals after the fact. So take an average male bodybuilder, 180 lbs eating 1 g/lb who has decided that 6 meals/day is optimal and….
3. Even there, I think Gironda had written this. It probably came out of some bullshit paper in the 50’s that was taken out of context and just got repeated long enough to become dogmatic truth.”
So that’s that.
7. Myth: Skipping breakfast is bad and will make you fat.
A new study on breakfast and health came out a few weeks ago. It brings nothing new to the table; the conclusions drawn are similar to that of older studies that found correlations between body weight and breakfast skipping.
However, since it’s such a beautiful example of everything that is wrong with epidemiology, I will devote a separate post to it, instead of dissecting it in this article, which is long enough as it is. I will have a detailed analysis up soon. Not because I believe that I need to make my point any clearer, but because it will be a lesson in critical thinking.
My biggest frustration
Unfortunately, while this article might have opened a few people’s eyes, I fear that it might be for naught when it comes to the great majority. At least for the mainstream crowd who prefers anecdotes and muscle magazines over science-based articles such as this one. Just have a look at the comments in this thread on comedian Joe Rogan’s forum:
“He ‘debunked’ those ideas by his own logic and his interpretation of various studies. It wasn’t very convincing.”
The only reason it wasn’t convincing enough for this clown was that he could not understand the abstracts my links pointed to. That’s assuming he even took the time to read the article (likelihood: 0.01%).
However, I’m not surprised. The Average Joe (or should I say “Average Bro”?) seems to think everything is up for “interpretation,” which is a load of bullshit. There are objective truths to be found if you look for them. But finding them takes time, requires some effort. Most people shy away from it. Getting spoon-fed is more comfortable. That’s OK, because not everyone wants to read some basic nutrition and physiology textbooks. But at least be humble enough to understand that your opinion is not one that you have formed on your own.
As i see it, the problem is twofold in the sense that outliers, the majority of which have severe methodological flaws, often get all of the attention (i.e. the boxers study). The other problem is that many accepted “truths” are based on the conclusions drawn from correlational studies (i.e. meal frequency and breakfast skipping). This is what trickles down and is presented to the mainstream and they swallow it; hook, line, and sinker.
And even then, when the mass media for once debunks a myth, some people just cover their ears and go “lalalala,” saying things like:
“I just read it. I’m still not buying it though.”
From the Joe Rogan forum thread, in response to the New York Times article that debunked the meal frequency myth. What a sheep.
There are plenty of more comments along those lines. Makes for some half-decent entertainment. For someone stranded on an abandoned island that is. Note that no one presented evidence that contradicted this article and the conclusions I have presented. Critique is fine but not when it cannot be backed by anything else than gym lore. Fortunately, some people are smarter than that.
This is my biggest frustration with this industry. Those that scream loud enough win - the supplement companies, mass media “health experts” and diet gurus with Magic Pills and Secret Methods to sell.
Someone who is unfamiliar with my background may easily mistake me and my writings for the latter and believe I have presented evidence that would somehow favor my methods, which I have not. This is unfortunate but understandable since almost everyone else in this industry tends to do it. It leads to much confusion as laypersons think everyone is trying to sell them something. For them, finding objective facts is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
But remember: never once have I said, or claimed, that I believe everyone needs to convert to intermittent fasting - or even that it is proven to be superior to a regular healthy diet. The research surrounding intermittent fasting is very interesting but it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions.
I am still of the opinion that the best diet is the one you can stick to in the long term. However, the decision should be based on personal preference and not neurotic adherence to a diet built on faulty and bad science.
Pizza, healthy pizza!
The book is going to contain some recipes as well, but I thought I’d might as well post them here and see what people think of them!
I’ll also make a twitter account later, sorry for the on and off posting but school and work is taking a lot of my time. I’ll post the recipes later, when I get back!
Alcohol and fat loss
I’ve been getting tons of questions relating to alcohol and fat loss lately. Happens everytime summer rolls around. Outdoor parties, clubbing, vacations and the whole shebang. Alcohol is a key ingredient. What people want to know is basically how fattening alcohol is, how it affects protein synthesis, how to make it work with their diet, and what drinks to go for at the club.
I think this is very good topic to cover today, since we’re right in the middle of summer and all, because most people involved in the fitness and health game tend to miss out on a lot of fun due to avoiding alcohol. I know a lot of peeps who’d rather stay home and manage their diet than go out and have a few drinks. Sad, really, because it’s all for the wrong reasons. I don’t blame them though. Read the mags or listen to the “experts” and you’ll soon be believing that a few drinks will make your muscles fall off, make you impotent, and leave you with a big gut. It’s mostly bullshit, of course. No big surprise when we’re dealing with the alarmist fitness mainstream that can’t seem to put things in the right perspective if their life depended on it.
This is a definitive primer on the effects of alcohol on all things someone interested in optimizing body composition might be interested in. At the end of this article I’m also going to show you how a hopeless drunk like myself can stay lean while drinking on a regular basis.
Alcohol and thermogenesis
There’s been an ongoing debate for years whether alcohol calories ”count” or not. This debate has been spurred on by the fact that drinkers weigh less than non-drinkers and studies showing accelerated weight loss when fat and carbs are exchanged for an equivalent amount of calories from alcohol. The connection between a lower body weight and moderate alcohol consumption is particularly strong among women. In men it’s either neutral or weak, but it’s there.
How can this be explained, considering that alcohol is a close second to dietary fat in terms of energy density per gram? Not to mention the fact that alcohol is consumed via liquids, which doesn’t do much for satiety?
Alcohol is labeled as 7.1 calories per gram, but the real value is more along the lines of 5.7 calories due to thethermic effect of food (TEF) which is 20% of the ingested calories. This makes the TEF of alcohol a close second to protein (20-35% depending on amino acid composition). The heightened thermogenesis resulting from alcohol intake is partly mediated by catecholamines.
Is higher TEF a reasonable explanation for lower body fat percentage in regular drinkers? We need to consider that alcohol does not affect satiety like other nutrients. The disinhibition of impulse control that follows intoxication may also encourage overeating. Ever come home from a party in the middle of the night and downed a box of cereals? That’s what I mean.
It’s unlikely that the effect of alcohol on body weight in the general population can be attributed solely to the high TEF of alcohol. An alternative explanation is that alcohol consumption decreases food intake in the long term.
Another explanation is that regular alcohol consumption affects nutrient partitioning favorably via improvements in insulin sensitivity.
Alcohol, insulin sensitiviy and health
Moderate alcohol consumption improves insulin sensitivity, lowers triglyceride concentrations and improves glycemic control. Not only in healthy folks, but also in type 2 diabetes. There is no clear consensus on the insulin sensitizing mechanism of alcohol, but one viable explanation may be that alcohol promotes leanness by stimulating AMPK in skeletal muscle. It’s not a stretch to assume that this might have favorable effects on nutrient partitioning in the longer term.
If the effect of alcohol consumption on insulin sensitivity doesn’t impress you, then consider the fact that studies have consistently shown that moderate drinkers live longer than non-drinkers. This can be mainly attributed to a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease. However, alcohol also contributes to a healthier and disease-free life by protecting against Alzheimer’s disease, metabolic syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, the common cold, different types of cancers,depression and many other Western diseases. The list goes on and on.
It can almost be said beyond doubt that moderate alcohol consumption is healthier than complete abstinence. With this in mind, it’s strange that the fitness and health community shun alcohol. This irrational attitude seems to be grounded in the beliefs that alcohol is fattening and will hamper muscle gains. So let’s take a look at that.
Alcohol, hormones and training
You’ve probably heard that alcohol intake lowers testosterone. While this is true, the actual impact has been widely exaggerated. A three-week study that had men and women consume 30-40 g alcohol per day, showed a 6.8% reduction in testosterone for the men and none for the women at the end of the study-period. That’s three beers a dayfor three weeks and a measly 6.8% reduction in testosterone for the men. What kind of an effect would you think a few beers on an evening once or twice a week would have? Hardly any.
For alcohol to significantly lower testosterone, you need to do some serious drinking. ~120 g alcohol, the equivalent of 10 beers, will lower testosterone by 23% for up to 16 hours after the drinking binge. If you drink so goddamn muchthat you are admitted to the hospital, you get a similar effect with a reduction of about -20%.
A few studies have looked at alcohol consumption in the post-workout period. One study examined the hormonal response to post-workout alcohol consumption using 70-80 g alcohol, equivalent to 6-7 beers. Talk about “optimizing” nutrient timing. Anyway, despite this hefty post-workout drinking binge, no effect on testosterone was found and only a very modest effect on cortisol was noted. The latter is as expected, considering the effect of alcohol on catecholamines. Citing directly from this paper, this quote sums up the scientific findings regarding the effects of alcohol on testosterone:
“Although the majority of studies involving humans show no ethanol effect on serum luteinizing hormone (LH), some data have demonstrated an increase while others have supported a decrease”
- Koziris LP, et al (2000).
It seems that the fitness mainstream, which has been most adamant about propagating the “alcohol-zaps-testosterone-myth”, have cherry-picked a bunch of studies to base their claims on. Well, no big surprise there. We’ve been through this many times before with meal frequency and countless other diet myths.
When it comes to recovery after strength training, moderate alcohol consumption (60-90 g alcohol) does not accelerate exercise-induced muscle damage or affect muscle strength.
However, the research is a bit mixed on this topic. One study, which used a very brutal regimen of eccentric training only, followed by alcohol intakes in the 80 g range (1 g/kg) noted impaired recovery in the trained muscles. I should note that eccentric training is hard to recover from and the volume used here was pretty crazy.
Another study looked at exhaustive endurance training followed by post-workout alcohol intakes in the 120 g range (1.5 g/kg) and saw significant suppression of testosterone that carried over to the next day.
The common denominator among these two studies is either extremely tough training or unusually high alcohol intakes in the post-workout period. Unless you’re in the habit of going bar-hopping after 50 reps of eccentric leg extensions to failure, this stuff does not apply to you. Yet it’s studies like these that gets the attention among the alcohol-alarmist fitness crowd.
What about protein synthesis? Strangely enough, the acute effects of alcohol on muscle protein synthesis in normal human subjects are non-existent in the scientific litterature. It has only been studied in chronic alcoholics, which have reduced rates of muscle protein synthesis. Chronic alcoholic myopathy, which causes muscle loss, is one unfortunate side-effect of alcohol abuse. However, this study showed that alcoholics without myopathy had lower body fat percentage and the same amount of lean mass as non-drinkers. So much for the argument that alcohol makes all your muscles fall off.
If you put any stock in rat studies, it’s clear that alcohol affects protein synthesis negatively. Then again, results from rat studies are almost never directly applicable to human physiology. There are profound differences in how humans and rodents cope with macronutrients and toxins.
Absolut Turnover is is my favorite drink right now. You need a shot of Absolut Vanilia and one lime wedge dipped in cinnamon and brown sugar. Drink, bite and enjoy.
Alcohol and fat storage
Let’s quickly review how nutrients are stored and burned after a mixed meal.
1. Carbs and protein suppress fat oxidation via an elevation in insulin. However, these macronutrients do not contribute to fat synthesis in any meaningful way by themselves.
2. Since fat oxidation is suppressed, dietary fat is stored in fat cells.
3. As the hours go by and insulin drops, fat is released from fat cells. Fat storage is an ongoing process and fatty acids are constantly entering and exiting fat cells throughout the day. Net gain or loss is more or less dictated by calorie input and output.
If we throw alcohol into the mix, it gets immediate priority in the in the substrate hierarchy: alcohol puts the breaks on fat oxidation, but also suppresses carb and protein oxidation.
This makes sense considering that the metabolic by-product of alcohol, acetate, is toxic. Metabolizing it takes precedence over everything else. This quote sums up the metabolic fate of alcohol nicely:
“Ethanol (alcohol) is converted in the liver to acetate; an unknown portion is then activated to acetyl-CoA, but only a small portion is converted to fatty acids.
Most of the acetate is released into the circulation, where it affects peripheral tissue metabolism; adipocyte release of nonesterified fatty acids is decreased and acetate replaces lipid in the fuel mixture.”
- Hellerstein MK, et al (1999).
Acetate in itself is an extremely poor precursor for fat synthesis. There’s simply no metabolic pathway that can make fat out of alcohol with any meaningful efficiency. Studies on fat synthesis after substantial alcohol intakes are non-existent in humans, but Hellerstein(from quotation) estimated de novo lipogenesis after alcohol consumption to ~3%. Out of the 24 g alcohol consumed in this study, a measly 0.8 g fat was synthesized in the liver.
The effect of alcohol on fat storage is very similar to that of carbs: by suppressing fat oxidation, it enables dietary fats to be stored with ease. However, while conversion of carbs to fat may occur once glycogen stores are saturated, DNL via alcohol consumption seems less likely.
* Moderate alcohol consumption is assocoiated with an abundance of health benefits. The long-term effect on insulin sensitivity and body weight (via insulin or decreased appetite) may be of particular interest to us.
* The thermic effect of alcohol is high and the real caloric value is not 7.1 kcal: it’s ~5.6 kcal. However, it’s still easy to overconsume calories by drinking. Calorie for calorie, the short-term effect of alcohol on satiety is low. Adding to this, intoxication may also encourage overeating by disinhibition of dietary restraint.
* The negative effects of alcohol on testosterone and recovery has been grossly exaggerated by the fitness mainstream. Excluding very high acute alcohol consumption, or prolonged and daily consumption, the effect is non-significant and unlikely to affect muscle gains or training adaptations negatively.
* The effect of alcohol on muscle protein synthesis is unknown in normal human subjects. It is not unlikely to assume that a negative effect exists, but it is very unlikely that it is of such a profound magnitude that some people would have you believe.
* Alcohol is converted to acetate by the liver. The oxidation of acetate takes precedence over other nutrients and is oxidized to carbon dioxide and water. However, despite being a potent inhibitor of lipolysis, alcohol/acetate alonecannot cause fat gain by itself. It’s all the junk people eat in conjunction with alcohol intake that causes fat gain.
How to lose fat or prevent fat gain when drinking
Now that you understand the effect of alcohol on substrate metabolism, it’s time for me to reveal how you can make alcohol work for fat loss. Alternatively, how you can drink on a regular basis without any fat gain. Without having to count calories and while drinking as much as you want.
Apply this method exactly as I have laid it out. If you’ve paid attention, you’ll understand the rationale behind it. I’ve tested this on myself and on numerous clients. Rest assured that I’m not testing out some large-scale bizarre experiment here.
The rules are as follows:
* For this day, restrict your intake of dietary fat to 0.3 g/kg body weight (or as close to this figure as possible).
* Limit carbs to 1.5 g/kg body weight. Get all carbs from veggies and the tag-along carbs in some protein sources. You’ll also want to limit carbohydrate-rich alcohol sources such as drinks made with fruit juices and beer. A 33 cl/12 fl oz of beer contains about 12 g carbs, while a regular Cosmopolitan is about 13 g.
* Good choices of alcohol include dry wines which are very low carb, clocking in at about 0.5-1 g per glass (4 fl oz/115ml). Sweet wines are much higher at 4-6 g per glass. Cognac, gin, rum, scotch, tequila, vodka and whiskey are all basically zero carbs. Dry wines and spirits is what you should be drinking, ideally. Take them straight or mixed with diet soda. (No need to be super-neurotic about this stuff. Drinks should be enjoyed after all. Just be aware that there are better and worse choices out there).
* Eat as much protein as you want. Yes, that’s right. Ad libitum. Due to the limit on dietary fat, you need to get your protein from lean sources. Protein sources such as low fat cottage cheese, protein powder, chicken, turkey, tuna, pork and egg whites are good sources of protein this day.
* For effective fat loss, this should be limited to one evening per week. Apply the protocol and you will lose fat on a weekly basis as long as your diet is on point for the rest of the week.
Basically, the nutritional strategy I have outlined here is all about focusing on substrates that are least likely to cause net synthesis of fat during hypercaloric conditions. Alcohol and protein, your main macronutrients this day, are extremely poor precursors for de novo lipogenesis. Alcohol suppresses fat oxidation, but by depriving yourself of dietary fat during alcohol consumption, you won’t be storing anything. Nor will protein cause any measurable de novo lipogenesis. High protein intake will also compensate for the weak effect of alcohol on satiety and make you less likely to blow your diet when you’re drinking.
By the way, a nice bonus after a night of drinking is that it effectively rids you of water retention. You may experience the “whoosh”-effect, which I’ve talked about in my two-part series about water retention. That in itself can be motivating for folks who’ve been experiencing a plateau in their weight loss.
Apply this with good judgement and don’t go out and do something stupid now. Remember, this a short-term strategy for those that want to be able to drink freely* without significantly impacting fat loss progress or causing unwanted fat gain. It’s not something I encourage people to do on a daily basis, but it’s one of the strategies that I apply formaintaining low body fat for myself and my clients.
* Now of course…you can always drink in moderation and make sure to not go over your calorie budget for the day. But what fun is there in that? I’d rather cheat the system with the kind metabolic mischief I’ve layed out above.
Amount, food and goals.
Remember, even though some foods are considered more healthy then others it still depends on amount and on balance.
Nuts and salmon are considered good choices for the health-concious, but eating 250g of salmon (about 2 standard filets) is actually close to 30g of fat (and also a nice 40g of protein :)). I’m not saying fat is bad, on the contrary, but when it comes to weight-loss it’s your total daily caloric balance which counts.
So if you are smart, cut the carbs (unless you are having a lot of high intensity work-outs — that does not include group hours in your local gym — I’m talking about hard intervall training or similar activities), increase your protein (from natural sources like milk, meat, chicken, fish, low-fat minced meat etc) and keep your fat pretty high also. That way, if you eat a large amount of fat you won’t overdo the calories due to the control on the carbs.
High fat and protein (amount depending on how much heavy resistance training you are doing, but for little or none i’d say about 1g pr kg upto 1.5g and for heavy resistance training i’d go up to 2.3 .. upwards to 3g pr kg if you are on a diet, just to be safe you are not going into negative nitrogen balance) will keep you full and satiated longer and if you have a good amount of omega-3 you will also have less problem with the lust for sugar and sweet food.
To sum up this short messy text, take amount into consideration and keep the focus on protein, fat and a small amount of carbs (depending on your activity level, the higher the more carbs you can allow - especially around and close to training). If you are really serious about your weight, start counting calories and set yourself a SMART goal.
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Attractive / attainable
R - Realistic
T - Timely
Losing 10 pounds is not a SMART goal, but “I will lose 3 pounds of fat, within the 3rd of december” could be — though not a very good one. 10 pounds can be anything, water, muscletissue etc so be specific and don’t listen to the weight, listen to your body and a fatcaliper for more accurate measurements — atleast for following progress better.
I also recommend everyone to take a pick into leangains.com and read about the intermittent fast. Maybe the world’s easiest way to lose weight.
The more important something is for you, the easier it is. What was the difference in grades between the subject you liked the most versus the one you disliked the most? (e.g math vs gym).
So find a goal that is important to YOU, if weight-loss isn’t that important to you.. then focus on actually doing something that is important. For guys it could be to go from a 140kg squat to a 200kg squat in a period of a year and for girls it could be to just be healthy or to maintain their shape.
Training for those two individuals should be completely different. So keep that in mind, train and eat for the goal you are setting yourself!
GENERAL DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR ACTIVE INDIVIDUALS
A well-designed diet that meets energy intake needs and incorporates proper timing of nutrients is the foundation upon which a good training program can be developed. Research has clearly shown that not ingesting a sufficient amount of calories and/or enough of the right type of macronutrients may impede an athlete’s training adaptations while athletes who consume a balanced diet that meets energy needs can augment physiological training adaptations. Moreover, maintaining an energy deficient diet during training may lead to loss of muscle mass and strength, increased susceptibility to illness, and increased prevalence of overreaching and/or overtraining. Incorporating good dietary practices as part of a training program is one way to help optimize training adaptations and prevent overtraining. The following overviews energy intake and major nutrient needs of active individuals.
The first component to optimize training and performance through nutrition is to ensure the athlete is consuming enough calories to offset energy expenditure [1, 6-8]. People who participate in a general fitness program (e.g., exercising 30 - 40 minutes per day, 3 times per week) can typically meet nutritional needs following a normal diet (e.g., 1,800 – 2,400 kcals/day or about 25 - 35 kcals/kg/day for a 50 – 80 kg individual) because their caloric demands from exercise are not too great (e.g., 200 – 400 kcals/session) . However, athletes involved in moderate levels of intense training (e.g., 2-3 hours per day of intense exercise performed 5-6 times per week) or high volume intense training (e.g., 3-6 hours per day of intense training in 1-2 workouts for 5-6 days per week) may expend 600 – 1,200 kcals or more per hour during exercise [1, 9]. For this reason, their caloric needs may approach 50 – 80 kcals/kg/day (2,500 – 8,000 kcals/day for a 50 – 100 kg athlete). For elite athletes, energy expenditure during heavy training or competition may be enormous. For example, energy expenditure for cyclists to compete in the Tour de France has been estimated as high as 12,000 kcals/day (150 - 200 kcals/kg/d for a 60 – 80 kg athlete) [9-11]. Additionally, caloric needs for large athletes (i.e., 100 – 150 kg) may range between 6,000 – 12,000 kcals/day depending on the volume and intensity of different training phases .
Although some argue that athletes can meet caloric needs simply by consuming a well-balanced diet, it is often very difficult for larger athletes and/or athletes engaged in high volume/intense training to be able to eat enough food in order to meet caloric needs [1, 7, 9, 10, 12]. Maintaining an energy deficient diet during training often leads to significant weight loss (including muscle mass), illness, onset of physical and psychological symptoms of overtraining, and reductions in performance . Nutritional analyses of athletes’ diets have revealed that many are susceptible to maintaining negative energy intakes during training. Susceptible populations include runners, cyclists, swimmers, triathletes, gymnasts, skaters, dancers, wrestlers, boxers, and athletes attempting to lose weight too quickly . Additionally, female athletes have been reported to have a high incidence of eating disorders . Consequently, it is important for the sports nutrition specialist working with athletes to ensure that athletes are well-fed and consume enough calories to offset the increased energy demands of training, and maintain body weight. Although this sounds relatively simple, intense training often suppresses appetite and/or alters hunger patterns so that many athletes do not feel like eating . Some athletes do not like to exercise within several hours after eating because of sensations of fullness and/or a predisposition to cause gastrointestinal distress. Further, travel and training schedules may limit food availability and/or the types of food athletes are accustomed to eating. This means that care should be taken to plan meal times in concert with training, as well as to make sure athletes have sufficient availability of nutrient dense foods throughout the day for snacking between meals (e.g., drinks, fruit, carbohydrate/protein bars, etc) [1, 6, 7]. For this reason, sports nutritionists’ often recommend that athletes consume 4-6 meals per day and snacks in between meals in order to meet energy needs. Use of nutrient dense energy bars and high calorie carbohydrate/protein supplements provides a convenient way for athletes to supplement their diet in order to maintain energy intake during training.
The second component to optimizing training and performance through nutrition is to ensure that athletes consume the proper amounts of carbohydrate (CHO), protein (PRO) and fat in their diet. Individuals engaged in a general fitness program can typically meet macronutrient needs by consuming a normal diet (i.e., 45-55% CHO [3-5 grams/kg/day], 10-15% PRO [0.8 – 1.0 gram/kg/day], and 25-35% fat [0.5 – 1.5 grams/kg/day]). However, athletes involved in moderate and high volume training need greater amounts of carbohydrate and protein in their diet to meet macronutrient needs. For example, in terms of carbohydrate needs, athletes involved in moderate amounts of intense training (e.g., 2-3 hours per day of intense exercise performed 5-6 times per week) typically need to consume a diet consisting of 55-65% carbohydrate (i.e., 5-8 grams/kg/day or 250 – 1,200 grams/day for 50 – 150 kg athletes) in order to maintain liver and muscle glycogen stores [1, 6]. Research has also shown that athletes involved in high volume intense training (e.g., 3-6 hours per day of intense training in 1-2 workouts for 5-6 days per week) may need to consume 8-10 grams/day of carbohydrate (i.e., 400 – 1,500 grams/day for 50 – 150 kg athletes) in order to maintain muscle glycogen levels [1, 6]. This would be equivalent to consuming 0.5 – 2.0 kg of spaghetti. Preferably, the majority of dietary carbohydrate should come from complex carbohydrates with a low to moderate glycemic index (e.g., whole grains, vegetables, fruit, etc). However, since it is physically difficult to consume that much carbohydrate per day when an athlete is involved in intense training, many nutritionists and the sports nutrition specialist recommend that athletes consume concentrated carbohydrate juices/drinks and/or consume high carbohydrate supplements to meet carbohydrate needs.
While consuming this amount of carbohydrate is not necessary for the fitness minded individual who only trains 3-4 times per week for 30-60 minutes, it is essential for competitive athletes engaged in intense moderate to high volume training. The general consensus in the scientific literature is the body can oxidize 1 – 1.1 gram of carbohydrate per minute or about 60 grams per hour . The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends ingesting 0.7 g/kg/hr during exercise in a 6-8% solution (i.e., 6-8 grams per 100 ml of fluid). Harger-Domitrovich et al  reported that 0.6 g/kg/h of maltodextrin optimized carbohydrate utilization . This would be about 30 - 70 grams of CHO per hour for a 50 – 100 kg individual [15-17]. Studies also indicate that ingestion of additional amounts of carbohydrate does not further increase carbohydrate oxidation.
It should also be noted that exogenous carbohydrate oxidation rates have been shown to differ based on the type of carbohydrate consumed because they are taken up by different transporters [18, 19, 20]. For example, oxidation rates of disaccharides and polysaccharides like sucrose, maltose, and maltodextrins are high while fructose, galactose, trehalose, and isomaltulose are lower [21, 22]. Ingesting combinations of glucose and sucrose or maltodextrin and fructose have been reported to promote greater exogenous carbohydrate oxidation than other forms of carbohydrate [18, 19, 20-22, 23-26]. These studies generally indicate a ratio of 1-1.2 for maltodextrin to 0.8-1.0 fructose. For this reason, we recommend that care should be taken to consider the type of carbohydrate to ingest prior to, during, and following intense exercise in order to optimize carbohydrate availability.
There has been considerable debate regarding protein needs of athletes [27-31]. Initially, it was recommended that athletes do not need to ingest more than the RDA for protein (i.e., 0.8 to 1.0 g/kg/d for children, adolescents and adults). However, research over the last decade has indicated that athletes engaged in intense training need to ingest about two times the RDA of protein in their diet (1.5 to 2.0 g/kg/d) in order to maintain protein balance [27, 28, 30, 32, 33]. If an insufficient amount of protein is obtained from the diet, an athlete will maintain a negative nitrogen balance, which can increase protein catabolism and slow recovery. Over time, this may lead to muscle wasting and training intolerance [1, 8].
For people involved in a general fitness program, protein needs can generally be met by ingesting 0.8 – 1.0 grams/kg/day of protein. Older individuals may also benefit from a higher protein intake (e.g., 1.0 – 1.2 grams/kg/day of protein) in order to help prevent sarcopenia. It is recommended that athletes involved in moderate amounts of intense training consume 1 – 1.5 grams/kg/day of protein (50 – 225 grams/day for a 50 – 150 kg athlete) while athletes involved in high volume intense training consume 1.5 – 2.0 grams/kg/day of protein (75 – 300 grams/day for a 50 – 150 kg athlete) . This protein need would be equivalent to ingesting 3 – 11 servings of chicken or fish per day for a 50 – 150 kg athlete . Although smaller athletes typically can ingest this amount of protein in their normal diet, larger athletes often have difficulty consuming this much dietary protein. Additionally, a number of athletic populations have been reported to be susceptible to protein malnutrition (e.g., runners, cyclists, swimmers, triathletes, gymnasts, dancers, skaters, wrestlers, boxers, etc). Therefore, care should be taken to ensure that athletes consume a sufficient amount of quality protein in their diet in order to maintain nitrogen balance (e.g., 1.5 - 2 grams/kg/day).
However, it should be noted that not all protein is the same. Proteins differ based on the source that the protein was obtained, the amino acid profile of the protein, and the methods of processing or isolating the protein . These differences influence availability of amino acids and peptides that have been reported to possess biological activity (e.g., α-lactalbumin, ß-lactoglobulin, glycomacropeptides, immunoglobulins, lactoperoxidases, lactoferrin, etc). Additionally, the rate of digestion and/or absorption and metabolic activity of the protein also are important considerations . For example, different types of proteins (e.g., casein and whey) are digested at different rates, which directly affect whole body catabolism and anabolism [35-38]. Therefore, care should be taken not only to make sure the athlete consumes enough protein in their diet but also that the protein is high quality. The best dietary sources of low fat, high quality protein are light skinless chicken, fish, egg white and skim milk (casein and whey) . The best sources of high quality protein found in nutritional supplements are whey, colostrum, casein, milk proteins and egg protein [34, 35]. Although some athletes may not need to supplement their diet with protein and some sports nutrition specialists may not think that protein supplements are necessary, it is common for a sports nutrition specialist to recommend that some athletes supplement their diet with protein in order to meet dietary protein needs and/or provide essential amino acids following exercise in order to optimize protein synthesis.
The ISSN has recently adopted a position stand on protein that highlights the following points :
1. Exercising individuals need approximately 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day.
2. Concerns that protein intake within this range is unhealthy are unfounded in healthy, exercising individuals.
3. An attempt should be made to obtain protein requirements from whole foods, but supplemental protein is a safe and convenient method of ingesting high quality dietary protein.
4. The timing of protein intake in the time period encompassing the exercise session has several benefits including improved recovery and greater gains in fat free mass.
5. Protein residues such as branched chain amino acids have been shown to be beneficial for the exercising individual, including increasing the rates of protein synthesis, decreasing the rate of protein degradation, and possibly aiding in recovery from exercise.
6. Exercising individuals need more dietary protein than their sedentary counterparts
The dietary recommendations of fat intake for athletes are similar to or slightly greater than those recommended for non-athletes in order to promote health. Maintenance of energy balance, replenishment of intramuscular triacylglycerol stores and adequate consumption of essential fatty acids are of greater importance among athletes and allow for somewhat increased intake . This depends on the athlete’s training state and goals. For example, higher-fat diets appear to maintain circulating testosterone concentrations better than low-fat diets [41-43]. This has relevance to the documented testosterone suppression which can occur during volume-type overtraining . Generally, it is recommended that athletes consume a moderate amount of fat (approximately 30% of their daily caloric intake), while increases up to 50% of kcal can be safely ingested by athletes during regular high-volume training . For athletes attempting to decrease body fat, however, it has been recommended that they consume 0.5 to 1 g/kg/d of fat . The reason for this is that some weight loss studies indicate that people who are most successful in losing weight and maintaining the weight loss are those who ingest less than 40 g/d of fat in their diet [45, 46] although this is not always the case . Certainly, the type of dietary fat (e.g. n-6 versus n-3; saturation state) is a factor in such research and could play an important role in any discrepancies [48, 49]. Strategies to help athletes manage dietary fat intake include teaching them which foods contain various types of fat so that they can make better food choices and how to count fat grams [1, 7].
Strategic Eating and Refueling
In addition to the general nutritional guidelines described above, research has also demonstrated that timing and composition of meals consumed may play a role in optimizing performance, training adaptations, and preventing overtraining [1, 6, 33, 50]. In this regard, it takes about 4 hours for carbohydrate to be digested and begin being stored as muscle and liver glycogen. Consequently, pre-exercise meals should be consumed about 4 to 6 h before exercise . This means that if an athlete trains in the afternoon, breakfast is the most important meal to top off muscle and liver glycogen levels. Research has also indicated that ingesting a light carbohydrate and protein snack 30 to 60 min prior to exercise (e.g., 50 g of carbohydrate and 5 to 10 g of protein) serves to increase carbohydrate availability toward the end of an intense exercise bout [51, 52]. This also serves to increase availability of amino acids and decrease exercise-induced catabolism of protein [33, 51, 52].
When exercise lasts more than one hour, athletes should ingest glucose/electrolyte solution (GES) drinks in order to maintain blood glucose levels, help prevent dehydration, and reduce the immunosuppressive effects of intense exercise [6, 53-58]. Following intense exercise, athletes should consume carbohydrate and protein (e.g., 1 g/kg of carbohydrate and 0.5 g/kg of protein) within 30 min after exercise as well as consume a high carbohydrate meal within two hours following exercise [1, 31, 50]. This nutritional strategy has been found to accelerate glycogen resynthesis as well as promote a more anabolic hormonal profile that may hasten recovery [59-61]. Finally, for 2 to 3 days prior to competition, athletes should taper training by 30 to 50% and consume 200 to 300 g/d of extra carbohydrate in their diet. This carbohydrate loading technique has been shown to supersaturate carbohydrate stores prior to competition and improve endurance exercise capacity [1, 6, 50]. Thus, the type of meal and timing of eating are important factors in maintaining carbohydrate availability during training and potentially decreasing the incidence of overtraining. The ISSN has a adopted a position stand on nutrient timing  that was summarized with the following points:
1. Prolonged exercise (> 60 – 90 min) of moderate to high intensity exercise will deplete the internal stores of energy, and prudent timing of nutrient delivery can help offset these changes.
2. During intense exercise, regular consumption (10 – 15 fl oz.) of a carbohydrate/electrolyte solution delivering 6 – 8% CHO (6 – 8 g CHO/100 ml fluid) should be consumed every 15 – 20 min to sustain blood glucose levels.
3. Glucose, fructose, sucrose and other high-glycemic CHO sources are easily digested, but fructose consumption should be minimized as it is absorbed at a slower rate and increases the likelihood of gastrointestinal problems.
4. The addition of PRO (0.15 – 0.25 g PRO/kg/day) to CHO at all time points, especially post-exercise, is well tolerated and may promote greater restoration of muscle glycogen when carbohydrate intakes are suboptimal.
5. Ingestion of 6 – 20 grams of essential amino acids (EAA) and 30 – 40 grams of high-glycemic CHO within three hours after an exercise bout and immediately before exercise has been shown to significantly stimulate muscle PRO synthesis.
6. Daily post-exercise ingestion of a CHO + PRO supplement promotes greater increases in strength and improvements in lean tissue and body fat % during regular resistance training.
7. Milk PRO sources (e.g. whey and casein) exhibit different kinetic digestion patterns and may subsequently differ in their support of training adaptations.
8. Addition of creatine monohydrate to a CHO + PRO supplement in conjunction with regular resistance training facilitates greater improvements in strength and body composition as compared with when no creatine is consumed.
9. Dietary focus should center on adequate availability and delivery of CHO and PRO. However, including small amounts of fat does not appear to be harmful, and may help to control glycemic responses during exercise.
10. Irrespective of timing, regular ingestion of snacks or meals providing both CHO and PRO (3:1 CHO: PRO ratio) helps to promote recovery and replenishment of muscle glycogen when lesser amounts of carbohydrate are consumed.
Vitamins are essential organic compounds that serve to regulate metabolic processes, energy synthesis, neurological processes, and prevent destruction of cells. There are two primary classifications of vitamins: fat and water soluble. The fat soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, & K. The body stores fat soluble vitamins and therefore excessive intake may result in toxicity. Water soluble vitamins are B vitamins and vitamin C. Since these vitamins are water soluble, excessive intake of these vitamins are eliminated in urine, with few exceptions (e.g. vitamin B6, which can cause peripheral nerve damage when consumed in excessive amounts). Table 1 describes RDA, proposed ergogenic benefit, and summary of research findings for fat and water soluble vitamins. Although research has demonstrated that specific vitamins may possess some health benefit (e.g., Vitamin E, niacin, folic acid, vitamin C, etc), few have been reported to directly provide ergogenic value for athletes. However, some vitamins may help athletes tolerate training to a greater degree by reducing oxidative damage (Vitamin E, C) and/or help to maintain a healthy immune system during heavy training (Vitamin C). Theoretically, this may help athletes tolerate heavy training leading to improved performance. The remaining vitamins reviewed appear to have little ergogenic value for athletes who consume a normal, nutrient dense diet. Since dietary analyses of athletes have found deficiencies in caloric and vitamin intake, many sports nutritionists’ recommend that athletes consume a low-dose daily multivitamin and/or a vitamin enriched post-workout carbohydrate/protein supplement during periods of heavy training. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association also recently evaluated the available medical literature and recommended that Americans consume a one-a-day low-dose multivitamin in order to promote general health. Suggestions that there is no benefit of vitamin supplementation for athletes and/or it is unethical for an sports nutrition specialist to recommend that their clients take a one-a-day multi-vitamin and/or suggest taking other vitamins that may raise HDL cholesterol levels and decrease risk of heart disease (niacin), serve as antioxidants (Vitamin E), preserve musculoskeletal function and skeletal mass (vitamin D), or may help maintain a health immune system (Vitamin C) is not consistent with current available literature.
Minerals are essential inorganic elements necessary for a host of metabolic processes. Minerals serve as structure for tissue, important components of enzymes and hormones, and regulators of metabolic and neural control. Some minerals have been found to be deficient in athletes or become deficient in response to training and/or prolonged exercise. When mineral status is inadequate, exercise capacity may be reduced. Dietary supplementation of minerals in deficient athletes has generally been found to improve exercise capacity. Additionally, supplementation of specific minerals in non-deficient athletes has also been reported to affect exercise capacity. Table 2 describes minerals that have been purported to affect exercise capacity in athletes. Of the minerals reviewed, several appear to possess health and/or ergogenic value for athletes under certain conditions. For example, calcium supplementation in athletes susceptible to premature osteoporosis may help maintain bone mass. There is also recent evidence that dietary calcium may help manage body composition. Iron supplementation in athletes prone to iron deficiencies and/or anaemia has been reported to improve exercise capacity. Sodium phosphate loading has been reported to increase maximal oxygen uptake, anaerobic threshold, and improve endurance exercise capacity by 8 to 10%. Increasing dietary availability of salt (sodium chloride) during the initial days of exercise training in the heat has been reported to help maintain fluid balance and prevent dehydration. ACSM recommendations for sodium levels (340 mg) represent the amount of sodium in less than 1/8 teaspoon of salt and meet recommended guidelines for sodium ingestion during exercise (300 – 600 mg per hour or 1.7 – 2.9 grams of salt during a prolonged exercise bout) [62-65]. Finally, zinc supplementation during training has been reported to decrease exercise-induced changes in immune function. Consequently, somewhat in contrast to vitamins, there appear to be several minerals that may enhance exercise capacity and/or training adaptations for athletes under certain conditions. However, although ergogenic value has been purported for remaining minerals, there is little evidence that boron, chromium, magnesium, or vanadium affect exercise capacity or training adaptations in healthy individuals eating a normal diet. Suggestions that there is no benefit of mineral supplementation for athletes and/or it is unethical for a sports nutrition specialist to recommend that their clients take minerals for health and/or performance benefit is not consistent with current available literature.
The most important nutritional ergogenic aid for athletes is water. Exercise performance can be significantly impaired when 2% or more of body weight is lost through sweat. For example, when a 70-kg athlete loses more than 1.4 kg of body weight during exercise (2%), performance capacity is often significantly decreased. Further, weight loss of more than 4% of body weight during exercise may lead to heat illness, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and possibly death . For this reason, it is critical that athletes consume a sufficient amount of water and/or GES sports drinks during exercise in order to maintain hydration status. The normal sweat rate of athletes ranges from 0.5 to 2.0 L/h depending on temperature, humidity, exercise intensity, and their sweat response to exercise . This means that in order to maintain fluid balance and prevent dehydration, athletes need to ingest 0.5 to 2 L/h of fluid in order to offset weight loss. This requires frequent ingestion of 6-8 oz of cold water or a GES sports drink every 5 to 15-min during exercise [58, 66-69]. Athletes and should not depend on thirst to prompt them to drink because people do not typically get thirsty until they have lost a significant amount of fluid through sweat. Additionally, athletes should weigh themselves prior to and following exercise training to ensure that they maintain proper hydration [58, 66-69]. The athlete should consume 3 cups of water for every pound lost during exercise in order adequately rehydrate themselves . Athletes should train themselves to tolerate drinking greater amounts of water during training and make sure that they consume more fluid in hotter/humid environments. Preventing dehydration during exercise is one of the most effective ways to maintain exercise capacity. Finally, inappropriate and excessive weight loss techniques (e.g., cutting weight in saunas, wearing rubber suits, severe dieting, vomiting, using diuretics, etc) are extremely dangerous and should be prohibited. Sports nutrition specialists can play an important role in educating athletes and coaches about proper hydration methods and supervising fluid intake during training and competition.
Muscle Building Supplements
The following provides an analysis of the literature regarding purported weight gain supplements and our general interpretation of how they should be categorized based on this information. Table 3 summarizes how we currently classify the ergogenic value of a number of purported performance-enhancing, muscle building, and fat loss supplements based on an analysis of the available scientific evidence.
Weight Gain Powders. One of the most common means athletes have employed to increase muscle mass is to add extra calories to the diet. Most athletes “bulk up” in this manner by consuming extra food and/or weight gain powders. In order to increase skeletal muscle mass, there must be adequate energy intake (anabolic reactions are endergonic and therefore require adequate energy intake). Studies have consistently shown that simply adding an extra 500 – 1,000 calories per day to your diet in conjunction with resistance training will promote weight gain [31, 33]. However, only about 30 – 50% of the weight gained on high calorie diets is muscle while the remaining amount of weight gained is fat. Consequently, increasing muscle mass by ingesting a high calorie diet can help build muscle but the accompanying increase in body fat may not be desirable for everyone. Therefore, we typically do not recommend this type of weight gain approach .
Creatine monohydrate. In our view, the most effective nutritional supplement available to athletes to increase high intensity exercise capacity and muscle mass during training is creatine monohydrate. Numerous studies have indicated that creatine supplementation increases body mass and/or muscle mass during training  Gains are typically 2 – 5 pounds greater than controls during 4 – 12 weeks of training . The gains in muscle mass appear to be a result of an improved ability to perform high intensity exercise enabling an athlete to train harder and thereby promote greater training adaptations and muscle hypertrophy [72-75]. The only clinically significant side effect occasionally reported from creatine monohydrate supplementation has been the potential for weight gain [71, 76-78] Although concerns have been raised about the safety and possible side effects of creatine supplementation [79, 80], recent long-term safety studies have reported no apparent side effects [78, 81, 82] and/or that creatine monohydrate may lessen the incidence of injury during training [83-85]. Additionally a recent review was published which addresses some of the concerns and myths surrounding creatine monohydrate supplementation . Consequently, supplementing the diet with creatine monohydrate and/or creatine containing formulations seems to be a safe and effective method to increase muscle mass. The ISSN position stand on creatine monohydrate  summarizes their findings as this:
1. Creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training.
2. Creatine monohydrate supplementation is not only safe, but possibly beneficial in regard to preventing injury and/or management of select medical conditions when taken within recommended guidelines.
3. There is no compelling scientific evidence that the short- or long-term use of creatine monohydrate has any detrimental effects on otherwise healthy individuals.
4. If proper precautions and supervision are provided, supplementation in young athletes is acceptable and may provide a nutritional alternative to potentially dangerous anabolic drugs.
5. At present, creatine monohydrate is the most extensively studied and clinically effective form of creatine for use in nutritional supplements in terms of muscle uptake and ability to increase high-intensity exercise capacity.
6. The addition of carbohydrate or carbohydrate and protein to a creatine supplement appears to increase muscular retention of creatine, although the effect on performance measures may not be greater than using creatine monohydrate alone.
7. The quickest method of increasing muscle creatine stores appears to be to consume ~0.3 grams/kg/day of creatine monohydrate for at least 3 days followed by 3–5 g/d thereafter to maintain elevated stores. Ingesting smaller amounts of creatine monohydrate (e.g., 2–3 g/d) will increase muscle creatine stores over a 3–4 week period, however, the performance effects of this method of supplementation are less supported.
8. Creatine monohydrate has been reported to have a number of potentially beneficial uses in several clinical populations, and further research is warranted in these areas.
Protein. As previously described, research has indicated that people undergoing intense training may need additional protein in their diet to meet protein needs (i.e., 1.4 – 2.0 grams/day [13, 39]. People who do not ingest enough protein in their diet may exhibit slower recovery and training adaptations . Protein supplements offer a convenient way to ensure that athletes consume quality protein in the diet and meet their protein needs. However, ingesting additional protein beyond that necessary to meet protein needs does not appear to promote additional gains in strength and muscle mass. The research focus over recent years has been to determine whether different types of protein (e.g., whey, casein, soy, milk proteins, colostrum, etc) and/or various biologically active protein subtypes and peptides (e.g., α-lactalbumin, ß-lactoglobulin, glycomacropeptides, immunoglobulins, lactoperoxidases, lactoferrin, etc) have varying effects on the physiological, hormonal, and/or immunological responses to training [88-91]. In addition, a significant amount of research has examined whether timing of protein intake and/or provision of specific amino acids may play a role in protein synthesis and/or training adaptations, conducted mostly in untrained populations [92-105]. Although more research is necessary in this area, evidence clearly indicates that protein needs of individuals engaged in intense training are elevated, different types of protein have varying effects on anabolism and catabolism, that different types of protein subtypes and peptides have unique physiological effects, and timing of protein intake may play an important role in optimizing protein synthesis following exercise. Therefore, it is simplistic and misleading to suggest that there is no data supporting contentions that athletes need more protein in their diet and/or there is no potential ergogenic value of incorporating different types of protein into the diet. It is the position stand of ISSN that exercising individuals need approximately 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. This is greater than the RDA recommendations for sedentary individuals. According to the current literature we know that the addition of protein and or BCAA before or after resistance training can increase protein synthesis and gains in lean mass beyond normal adaptation. However, it should be noted that gains have primarily been observed in untrained populations unless the supplement contained other nutrients like creatine monohydrate [13, 39].
Essential Amino Acids (EAA). Recent studies have indicated that ingesting 3 to 6 g of EAA prior to [105, 106] and/or following exercise stimulates protein synthesis [92, 93, 98-101, 105]. Theoretically, this may enhance gains in muscle mass during training. To support this theory, a study by Esmarck and colleagues  found that ingesting EAA with carbohydrate immediately following resistance exercise promoted significantly greater training adaptations in elderly, untrained men, as compared to waiting until 2-hours after exercise to consume the supplement. Although more data is needed, there appears to be strong theoretical rationale and some supportive evidence that EAA supplementation may enhance protein synthesis and training adaptations. Because EAA’s include BCAA’s, it is probable that positive effects on protein synthesis from EAA ingestion are likely due to the BCAA content [108, 109]. Garlick and Grant  infused glucose into growing rats to achieve a concentration of insulin secretion that was insufficient to stimulate protein synthesis by itself. In addition to this, all eight essential amino acids with glucose was infused into another group and then in a third group the investigators only infused the BCAA’s along with the glucose. Compared with the glucose infusion alone, protein synthesis was stimulated equally by the essential amino acids and the BCAAs. This demonstrates that the BCAAs are the key amino acids that stimulate protein synthesis. The ISSN position stand on protein concluded that BCAAs have been shown to acutely stimulate protein synthesis, aid in glycogen resynthesis, delaying the onset of fatigue, and help maintain mental function in aerobic-based exercise. It was concluded that consuming BCAAs (in addition to carbohydrates) before, during, and following an exercise bout would be recommended safe and effective .
β-hydroxy β-methylbutyrate (HMB). HMB is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine. Leucine and metabolites of leucine have been reported to inhibit protein degradation . Supplementing the diet with 1.5 to 3 g/d of calcium HMB during training has been typically reported to increase muscle mass and strength particularly among untrained subjects initiating training [111-116] and the elderly . Gains in muscle mass are typically 0.5 to 1 kg greater than controls during 3 – 6 weeks of training. There is also evidence that HMB may lessen the catabolic effects of prolonged exercise [118, 119] and that there may be additive effects of co-ingesting HMB with creatine [120, 121]. However, the effects of HMB supplementation in athletes are less clear. Most studies conducted on trained subjects have reported non-significant gains in muscle mass possibly due to a greater variability in response of HMB supplementation among athletes [122-124]. Consequently, there is fairly good evidence showing that HMB may enhance training adaptations in individuals initiating training. However, additional research is necessary to determine whether HMB may enhance training adaptations in trained athletes.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA). BCAA supplementation has been reported to decrease exercise-induced protein degradation and/or muscle enzyme release (an indicator of muscle damage) possibly by promoting an anti-catabolic hormonal profile [31, 51, 125]. Theoretically, BCAA supplementation during intense training may help minimize protein degradation and thereby lead to greater gains in fat-free mass. There is some evidence to support this hypothesis. For example, Schena and colleagues  reported that BCAA supplementation (~10 g/d) during 21-days of trekking at altitude increased fat free mass (1.5%) while subjects ingesting a placebo had no change in muscle mass. Bigard and associates  reported that BCAA supplementation appeared to minimize loss of muscle mass in subjects training at altitude for 6-weeks. Finally, Candeloro and coworkers  reported that 30 days of BCAA supplementation (14 grams/day) promoted a significant increase in muscle mass (1.3%) and grip strength (+8.1%) in untrained subjects. A recent published abstract  37reported that resistance trained subjects ingesting 14 grams of BCAA during 8 weeks of resistance training experienced a significantly greater gain in body weight and lean mass as compared to a whey protein supplemented group and a carbohydrate placebo group. Specifically, the BCAA group gained 2 kg of body mass and 4 kg of lean body mass. In contrast, the whey protein and carbohydrate groups both gained an additional 1kg of body mass and 2 kg and 1 kg of lean body mass, respectively. It cannot be overstated that this investigation was published as an abstract, was conducted in a gym setting, and has not undergone the rigors of peer review at this time. Although more research is necessary, these findings suggest that BCAA supplementation may have some impact on body composition.
Too Early to Tell
α-ketoglutarate (α-KG). α-KG is an intermediate in the Krebs cycle that is involved in aerobic energy metabolism. There is some clinical evidence that α-KG may serve as an anticatabolic nutrient after surgery [130, 131]. However, it is unclear whether α-KG supplementation during training may affect training adaptations.
α-Ketoisocaproate (KIC). KIC is a branched-chain keto acid that is a metabolite of leucine metabolism. In a similar manner as HMB, leucine and metabolites of leucine are believed to possess anticatabolic properties . There is some clinical evidence that KIC may spare protein degradation in clinical populations [133, 134]. Theoretically, KIC may help minimize protein degradation during training possibly leading to greater training adaptations. However, we are not aware of any studies that have evaluated the effects of KIC supplementation during training on body composition.
Ecdysterones . Ecdysterones (also known as ectysterone, 20 Beta-Hydroxyecdysterone, turkesterone, ponasterone, ecdysone, or ecdystene) are naturally derived phytoecdysteroids (i.e., insect hormones). They are typically extracted from the herbs Leuza rhaptonticum sp., Rhaponticum carthamoides, or Cyanotis vaga. They can also be found in high concentrations in the herb Suma (also known as Brazilian Ginseng or Pfaffia). Research from Russia and Czechoslovakia conducted over the last 30 years indicates that ecdysterones may possess some potentially beneficial physiological effects in insects and animals [135-138, 139, 140]. However, since most of the data on ecdysterones have been published in obscure journals, results are difficult to interpret. Wilborn and coworkers  gave resistance trained males 200 mg of 20-hydroxyecdysone per day during 8-weeks of resistance training. It was reported that the 20-hydroxyecdysone supplementation had no effect on fat free mass or anabolic/catabolic hormone status . Due to the findings of this well controlled study in humans, ecdysterone supplementation at a dosage of 200 mg per day appears to be ineffective in terms of improving lean muscle mass. While future studies may find some ergogenic value of ecdysterones, it is our view that it is too early to tell whether phytoecdysteroids serve as a safe and effective nutritional supplement for athletes.
Growth Hormone Releasing Peptides (GHRP) and Secretagogues. Research has indicated that growth hormone releasing peptides (GHRP) and other non-peptide compounds (secretagogues) appear to help regulate growth hormone (GH) release [142, 143]. These observations have served as the basis for development of nutritionally-based GH stimulators (e.g., amino acids, pituitary peptides, “pituitary substances”, Macuna pruriens, broad bean, alpha-GPC, etc). Although there is clinical evidence that pharmaceutical grade GHRP’s and some non-peptide secretagogues can increase GH and IGF-1 levels at rest and in response to exercise, it has not been demonstrated that such increases lead to an increase in skeletal muscle mass .
Ornithine-α-ketoglutarate (OKG). OKG (via enteral feeding) has been shown to significantly shorten wound healing time and improve nitrogen balance in severe burn patients [145, 146]. Because of its ability to improve nitrogen balance, OKG may provide some value for athletes engaged in intense training. A study by Chetlin and colleagues  reported that OKG supplementation (10 grams/day) during 6-weeks of resistance training promoted greater 39gains in bench press. However, no significant differences were observed in squat strength, training volume, gains in muscle mass, or fasting insulin and growth hormone. Therefore, additional research is needed before conclusions can be drawn.
Zinc/Magnesium Aspartate (ZMA). The main ingredients in ZMA formulations are zinc monomethionine aspartate, magnesium aspartate, and vitamin B-6. The rationale of ZMA supplementation is based on studies suggesting that zinc and magnesium deficiency may reduce the production of testosterone and insulin like growth factor (IGF-1). ZMA supplementation has been theorized to increase testosterone and IGF-1 leading to greater recovery, anabolism, and strength during training. In support of this theory, Brilla and Conte  reported that a zinc-magnesium formulation increased testosterone and IGF-1 (two anabolic hormones) leading to greater gains in strength in football players participating in spring training. In another study conducted by Wilborn et al. , resistance trained males ingested a ZMA supplement and found no such increases in either total or free testosterone. In addition, this investigation also assessed changes in fat free mass and no significant differences were observed in relation to fat free mass in those subjects taking ZMA. The discrepancies concerning the two aforementioned studies may be explained by deficiencies of these minerals. Due to the role that zinc deficiency plays relative to androgen metabolism and interaction with steroid receptors , when there are deficiencies of this mineral, testosterone production may suffer. In the study showing increases in testosterone levels , there were depletions of zinc and magnesium in the placebo group over the duration of the study. Hence, increases in testosterone levels could have been attributed to impaired nutritional status rather than a pharmacologic effect. More research is needed to further evaluate the role of ZMA on body composition and strength during training before definitive conclusions can be drawn.
Glutamine. Glutamine is the most plentiful non-essential amino acid in the body and plays a number of important physiological roles [31, 108, 109] Glutamine has been reported to increase cell volume and stimulate protein [151, 152] and glycogen synthesis . Despite its important role in physiological roles, there is no compelling evidence to support glutamine supplementation in terms of increasing lean body mass. One study that is often cited in support of glutamine supplementation and its role in increasing muscle mass was published by Colker and associates . It was reported that subjects who supplemented their diet with glutamine (5 grams) and BCAA (3 grams) enriched whey protein during training promoted about a 2 pound greater gain in muscle mass and greater gains in strength than ingesting whey protein alone. While a 2 pound increase in lean body mass was observed, it is likely that these gains were due to the BCAAs that were added to the whey protein. In a well-designed investigation, Candow and co-workers  studied the effects of oral glutamine supplementation combined with resistance training in young adults. Thirty-one participants were randomly allocated to receive either glutamine (0.9 g/kg of lean tissue mass) or a maltodextrin placebo (0.9 g/kg of lean tissue mass) during 6 weeks of total body resistance training. At the end of the 6-week intervention, the authors concluded glutamine supplementation during resistance training had no significant effect on muscle performance, body composition or muscle protein degradation in young healthy adults. While there may be other beneficial uses for glutamine supplementation, there does not appear to be any scientific evidence that it supports increases in lean body mass or muscular performance.
Smilax officinalis (SO). SO is a plant that contains plant sterols purported to enhance immunity as well as provide an androgenic effect on muscle growth . Some data supports the potential immune enhancing effects of SO. However, we are not aware of any data that show that SO supplementation increases muscle mass during training.
Isoflavones. Isoflavones are naturally occurring non-steroidal phytoestrogens that have a similar chemical structure as ipriflavone (a synthetic flavonoid drug used in the treatment of osteoporosis) [156-158]. For this reason, soy protein (which is an excellent source of isoflavones) and isoflavone extracts have been investigated in the possible treatment of osteoporosis. Results of these studies have shown promise in preventing declines in bone mass in post-menopausal women as well as reducing risks to side effects associated with estrogen replacement therapy. More recently, the isoflavone extracts 7-isopropoxyisoflavone (ipriflavone) and 5-methyl-7-methoxy-isoflavone (methoxyisoflavone) have been marketed as “powerful anabolic” substances. These claims have been based on research described in patents filed in Hungary in the early 1970s [159, 160]. Aubertin-Leheudre M, et al.  investigated the effects that isoflavone supplementation would have on fat-free mass in obese, sarcopenic postmenopausal women. Eighteen sarcopenic-obese women ingested 70 mg of isoflavones per day (44 mg of daidzein, 16 mg glycitein and 10 mg genistein) or a placebo for six months. There was no exercise intervention in the investigation, only the isoflavone supplementation. At the end of the six month intervention, it was reported that there was no difference in total body fat free mass between the isoflavone and placebo groups, but there was a significant increase in the appendicular (arms and legs) fat free mass in the isoflavone supplemented group but not the placebo group. Findings from this study have some applications to sedentary, postmenopausal women. However, there are currently no peer-reviewed data indicating that isoflavone supplementation affects exercise, body composition, or training adaptations in physically active individuals.
Sulfo-Polysaccharides (Myostatin Inhibitors). Myostatin or growth differentiation factor 8 (GDF-8) is a transforming growth factor that has been shown to serve as a genetic determinant of the upper limit of muscle size and growth . Recent research has indicated that eliminating and/or inhibiting myostatin gene expression in mice  and cattle [164-166] promotes marked increases in muscle mass during early growth and development. The result is that these animals experience what has been termed as a “double-muscle” phenomenon apparently by allowing muscle to grow beyond its normal genetic limit. In agriculture research, eliminating and/or inhibiting myostatin may serve as an effective way to optimize animal growth leading to larger, leaner, and a more profitable livestock yield. In humans, inhibiting myostatin gene expression has been theorized as a way to prevent or slow down muscle wasting in various diseases, speed up recovery of injured muscles, and/or promote increases in muscle mass and strength in athletes . While these theoretical possibilities may have great promise, research on the role of myostatin inhibition on muscle growth and repair is in the very early stages – particularly in humans. There is some evidence that myostatin levels are higher in the blood of HIV positive patients who experience muscle wasting and that myostatin levels negatively correlate with muscle mass . There is also evidence that myostatin gene expression may be fiber specific and that myostatin levels may be influenced by immobilization in animals . Additionally, a study by Ivey and colleagues  reported that female athletes with a less common myostatin allele (a genetic subtype that may be more resistant to myostatin) experienced greater gains in muscle mass during training and less loss of muscle mass during detraining. No such pattern was observed in men with varying amounts of training histories and muscle mass. These early studies suggest that myostatin may play a role in regulating muscle growth to some degree. Some nutrition supplement companies have marketed sulfo-polysaccharides (derived from a sea algae called Cytoseira canariensis) as a way to partially bind the myostatin protein in serum. When untrained males supplemented with 1200 mg/day of Cystoseira canariensis in conjunction with a twelve week resistance training regimen, it was reported that there were no differences between the supplemented group and the placebo group in relation to fat-free mass, muscle strength, thigh volume/mass, and serum myostatin . Interestingly, a recent paper by Seremi and colleagues  reported that resistance training reduced serum myostatin levels and that creatine supplementation in conjunction with resistance training promoted further reductions. Nevertheless, though the research is limited, there is currently no published data supporting the use of sulfo-polysaccharides as a muscle building supplement.
Boron. Boron is a trace mineral proposed to increase testosterone levels and promote anabolism. Several studies have evaluated the effects of boron supplementation during training 43on strength and body composition alterations. These studies (conducted on male bodybuilders) indicate that boron supplementation (2.5 mg/d) appears to have no impact on muscle mass or strength [171, 172].
Chromium. Chromium is a trace mineral that is involved in carbohydrate and fat metabolism. Clinical studies have suggested that chromium may enhance the effects of insulin particularly in diabetic populations. Since insulin is an anti-catabolic hormone and has been reported to affect protein synthesis, chromium supplementation has been theorized to serve as an anabolic nutrient. Theoretically, this may increase anabolic responses to exercise. Although some initial studies reported that chromium supplementation increased gains in muscle mass and strength during training particularly in women [173-175], most well-controlled studies  that have been conducted since then have reported no benefit in healthy individuals taking chromium (200-800 mcg/d) for 4 to 16-weeks during training [177-183]. Consequently, it appears that although chromium supplementation may have some therapeutic benefits for diabetics, chromium does not appear to be a muscle-building nutrient for athletes.
Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA). Animal studies indicate that adding CLA to dietary feed decreases body fat, increases muscle and bone mass, has anti-cancer properties, enhances immunity, and inhibits progression of heart disease [184-186]. Consequently, CLA supplementation in humans has been suggested to help manage body composition, delay loss of bone, and provide health benefit. Although animal studies are impressive [187-189] and some studies suggests benefit over time at some but not all dosages [190-192], there is little current evidence that CLA supplementation during training can affect lean tissue accretion [193, 194]. As will be discussed below, there appears to be more promise of CLA as a supplement to promote general health and/or reductions in fat mass over time.
Gamma Oryzanol (Ferulic Acid). Gamma oryzanol is a plant sterol theorized to increase anabolic hormonal responses during training . Although data are limited, one 44study reported no effect of 0.5 g/d of gamma oryzanol supplementation on strength, muscle mass, or anabolic hormonal profiles during 9-weeks of training .
Prohormones. Testosterone and growth hormone are two primary hormones in the body that serve to promote gains in muscle mass (i.e., anabolism) and strength while decreasing muscle breakdown (catabolism) and fat mass [197-204]. Testosterone also promotes male sex characteristics (e.g., hair, deep voice, etc) . Low level anabolic steroids are often prescribed by physicians to prevent loss of muscle mass for people with various diseases and illnesses [205-216]. It is well known that athletes have experimented with large doses of anabolic steroids in an attempt to enhance training adaptations, increase muscle mass, and/or promote recovery during intense training [198-200, 203, 204, 217]. Research has generally shown that use of anabolic steroids and growth hormone during training can promote gains in strength and muscle mass [197, 202, 204, 210, 213, 218-225]. However, a number of potentially life threatening adverse effects of steroid abuse have been reported including liver and hormonal dysfunction, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), increased risk to cardiovascular disease, and behavioral changes (i.e., steroid rage) [220, 226-230]. Some of the adverse effects associated with the use of these agents are irreversible, particularly in women . For this reason, anabolic steroids have has been banned by most sport organizations and should be avoided unless prescribed by a physician to treat an illness.
Prohormones (androstenedione, 4-androstenediol, 19-nor-4-androstenedione, 19-nor-4-androstenediol, 7-keto DHEA, and DHEA, etc) are naturally derived precursors to testosterone or other anabolic steroids. Prohormones have become popular among body builders because they believe they are natural boosters of anabolic hormones. Consequently, a number of over-the-counter supplements contain prohormones. While there is some data indicating that prohormones increase testosterone levels [231, 232], there is virtually no evidence that these compounds affect training adaptations in younger men with normal hormone levels. In fact, most studies indicate that they do not affect testosterone and that some may actually increase estrogen levels and reduce HDL-cholesterol [220, 231, 233-238]. Consequently, although there may be some potential applications for older individuals to replace diminishing androgen levels, it appears that prohormones have no training value. Since prohormones are “steroid-like compounds”, most athletic organizations have banned their use. Use of nutritional supplements containing prohormones will result in a positive drug test for anabolic steroids. Use of supplements knowingly or unknowingly containing prohormones have been believed to have contributed to a number of recent positive drug tests among athletes. Consequently, care should be taken to make sure that any supplement an athlete considers taking does not contain prohormone precursors particularly if their sport bans and tests for use of such compounds. It is noteworthy to mention that many prohormones are not lawful for sale in the USA since the passage of the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004. The distinctive exception to this is DHEA, which has been the subject of numerous clinical studies in aging populations.
Rather than provide the body with a precursor to testosterone, a more recent technique to enhance endogenous testosterone has been to inhibit aromatase activity . Two studies have investigated the effects of aromatase inhibitors (androst-4-ene-3,6,17-trione)  and (hydroxyandrost-4-ene-6,17-dioxo-3-THP ether and 3,17-diketo-androst-1,4,6-triene) . In both of these investigations, it was reported that free testosterone and dihydrotesterone levels were significantly increased. Muscle mass/fat free mass was not measured in one investigation  and no changes were observed in fat free mass in the other investigation .
Tribulus terrestris. Tribulus terrestris (also known as puncture weed/vine or caltrops) is a plant extract that has been suggested to stimulate leutinizing hormone (LH) which stimulates the natural production of testosterone . Consequently, Tribulus has been marketed as a supplement that can increase testosterone and promote greater gains in strength and muscle mass during training. Several recent studies have indicated that Tribulus supplementation appears to have no effects on body composition or strength during training [242-244].
Vanadyl Sulfate (Vanadium). In a similar manner as chromium, vanadyl sulfate is a trace mineral that has been found to affect insulin-sensitivity and may affect protein and glucose metabolism [132, 245]. For this reason, vanadyl sulfate has been purported to increase muscle mass and strength during training. Although there may be some clinical benefits for diabetics (with a therapeutic dose of at least 50 mg vanadyl sulfate twice daily [246, 247], vanadyl sulfate supplementation does not appear to have any effect on strength or muscle mass during training in non-diabetic, weight training individuals [248, 249].
Weight Loss Supplements
Although exercise and proper diet remain the best way to promote weight loss and/or manage body composition, a number of nutritional approaches have been investigated as possible weight loss methods (with or without exercise). The following overviews the major types of weight loss products available and discusses whether any available research supports their use.
Low Calorie Diet Foods & Supplements. Most of the products in this category represent low fat/carbohydrate, high protein food alternatives . They typically consist of pre-packaged food, bars, MRP, or RTD supplements. They are designed to provide convenient foods/snacks to help people follow a particular low calorie diet plan. In the scientific literature, diets that provide less than 1000 calories per day are known as very low calorie diets (VLCD’s). Pre-packaged food, MRP’s, and/or RTD’s are often provided in VLCD plans to help people cut calories. In most cases, VLCD plans recommend behavioural modification and that people start a general exercise program.
Research on the safety and efficacy of people maintaining VLCD’s generally indicate that they can promote weight loss. For example, Hoie et al  reported that maintaining a VLCD for 8-weeks promoted a 27 lbs (12.6%) loss in total body mass, a 21 lbs loss in body fat 47(23.8%), and a 7 lbs (5.2%) loss in lean body mass in 127 overweight volunteers. Bryner and colleagues  reported that addition of a resistance training program while maintaining a VLCD (800 kcal/d for 12-weeks) resulted in a better preservation of lean body mass and resting metabolic rate compared to subjects maintaining a VLCD while engaged in an endurance training program. Meckling and Sherfey  reported that the combination of high protein and exercise was the most effective intervention for weight loss and was superior to a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet in promoting weight loss and nitrogen balance regardless of the presence of an exercise intervention. Recent studies indicate that high protein/low fat VLCD’s may be better than high carbohydrate/low fat diets in promoting weight loss [46, 253-260]. The reason for this is that typically when people lose weight about 40-50% of the weight loss is muscle which decreases resting energy expenditure. Increasing protein intake during weight loss helps preserve muscle mass and resting energy expenditure to a better degree than high carbohydrate diets [261, 262]. These findings and others indicate that VLCD’s (typically using MRP’s and/or RTD’s as a means to control caloric intake) can be effective particularly as part of an exercise and behavioural modification program. Most people appear to maintain at least half of the initial weight lost for 1-2 years but tend to regain most of the weight back within 2-5 years. Therefore, although these diets may help people lose weight on the short-term, it is essential people who use them follow good diet and exercise practices in order to maintain the weight loss. The addition of dietary protein whether in whole food form or meal replacement form could assist in this weight maintenance due to the fact that the retention of muscle mass is greater than in high carbohydrate/low-fat weight loss trials.
Ephedra, Caffeine, and Silicin. Thermogenics are supplements designed to stimulate metabolism thereby increasing energy expenditure and promote weight loss. They typically contain the “ECA” stack of ephedra alkaloids (e.g., Ma Haung, 1R,2S Nor-ephedrine HCl, Sida Cordifolia), caffeine (e.g., Gaurana, Bissey Nut, Kola) and aspirin/salicin (e.g., Willow Bark Extract). The first of the three traditional thermogenics is now banned by the FDA however the safety associated with the ingestion of ephedra is debated. More recently, other potentially thermogenic nutrients have been added to various thermogenic formulations. For example, thermogenic supplements may also contain synephrine (e.g., Citrus Aurantum, Bitter Orange), calcium & sodium phosphate, thyroid stimulators (e.g., guggulsterones, L-tyrosine, iodine), cayenne & black pepper, and ginger root.
A significant amount of research has evaluated the safety and efficacy of EC and ECA type supplements. According to a meta-analysis in the Journal of American Medical Association, ephedrine/ephedra promote a more substantial weight loss 0.9 kg per month in comparison to placebo in clinical trials but are associated with increased risk of psychiatric, autonomic or gastrointestinal symptoms as well as heart palpitations. Several studies have confirmed that use of synthetic or herbal sources of ephedrine and caffeine (EC) promote about 2 lbs of extra weight loss per month while dieting (with or without exercise) and that EC supplementation is generally well tolerated in healthy individuals [263-274]. For example, Boozer et al  reported that 8-weeks of ephedrine (72 mg/d) and caffeine (240 mg/d) supplementation promoted a 9 lbs loss in body mass and a 2.1 % loss in body fat with minor side effects. Hackman and associates  reported that a 9 month clinical trial utilizing a multi-nutrient supplement containing 40 mg/d of ephedra alkaloids and 100 mg/day caffeine resulted in a loss of weight and body fat, improved metabolic parameters including insulin sensitivity without any apparent side effects. Interestingly, Greenway and colleagues  reported that EC supplementation was a more cost-effective treatment for reducing weight, cardiac risk, and LDL cholesterol than several weight loss drugs (fenfluramine with mazindol or phentermine). Finally, Boozer and associates  reported that 6-months of herbal EC supplementation promoted weight loss with no clinically significant adverse effects in healthy overweight adults. Less is known about the safety and efficacy of synephrine, thyroid stimulators, cayenne/black pepper and ginger root. Despite these findings, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of ephedra containing supplements. The rationale has been based on reports to adverse event monitoring systems and in the media suggesting a link between intake of ephedra and a number of severe medical complications (e.g., high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, arrhythmias, sudden death, heat stroke, etc) [276, 277]. Although results of available clinical studies do not show these types of adverse events, ephedra is no longer available as an ingredient in dietary supplements and thus cannot be recommended for use. Consequently, thermogenic supplements now contain other nutrients believed to increase energy expenditure (e.g., synephrine, green tea, etc) and are sold as “ephedrine-free” types of products. Anyone contemplating taking thermogenic supplements should carefully consider the potential side effects, discuss possible use with a knowledgeable physician, and be careful not to exceed recommended dosages.
High Fiber Diets. One of the oldest and most common methods of suppressing the appetite is to consume a diet that is high in fiber. Ingesting high fiber foods (fruits, vegetables) or fiber containing supplements (e.g., glucomannan) increase the feeling of fullness (satiety) which typically allows an individual to feel full while ingesting fewer calories. Theoretically, maintaining a high fiber diet may serve to help decrease the amount of food you eat. In addition, high fiber diets/supplements help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, enhance insulin sensitivity, and promote weight loss in obese subjects . A recent study found that a Mediterranean diet that was high in fiber resulted in a more dramatic weight loss that a traditional low-fat diet and had beneficial effects on glycemic control . Other research on high fiber diets indicates that they provide some benefit, particularly in diabetic populations. For example, Raben et al  reported that subjects maintaining a low fat/high fiber diet for 11 weeks lost about 3 lbs of weight and 3.5 lbs of fat. Other studies have reported mixed results on altering body composition using various forms of higher fiber diets [281-284]. Consequently, although maintaining a low fat / high fiber diet that is high in fruit and vegetable content has various health benefits, these diets seem to have potential to promote weight loss as well as weight maintenance thus we can recommend high fiber diets as a safe and healthy approach to possibly improve body composition.
Calcium. Several studies and recent reviews have reported that calcium supplementation alone or in combination with other ingredients does not affect weight loss or fat loss [285-290]. Research has indicated that calcium modulates 1,25-diydroxyvitamin D which serves to regulate intracellular calcium levels in fat cells [291, 292]. Increasing dietary availability of calcium reduces 1,25-diydroxyvitamin D and promotes reductions in fat mass in animals [292-294]. Dietary calcium has been shown to suppress fat metabolism and weight gain during periods of high caloric intake [291, 293, 295]. Further, increasing calcium intake has been shown to increase fat metabolism and preserve thermogenesis during caloric restriction [291, 293, 295]. In support of this theory, Davies and colleagues  reported that dietary calcium was negatively correlated to weight and that calcium supplementation (1,000 mg/d) accounted for an 8 kg weight loss over a 4 yr period. Additionally, Zemel and associates  reported that supplemental calcium (800 mg/d) or high dietary intake of calcium (1,200 – 1,300 mg/d) during a 24-week weight loss program promoted significantly greater weight loss (26-70%) and dual energy x-ray absorptiometer (DEXA) determined fat mass loss (38-64%) compared to subjects on a low calcium diet (400-500 mg/d). These findings and others suggest a strong relationship between calcium intake and fat loss. However, more research needs to be conducted before definitive conclusions can be drawn.
Green Tea Extract. Green tea is now one of the most common herbal supplements that is being added to thermogenic products because it has been suggested to affect weight loss and is now the fourth most commonly used dietary supplement in the US . Green tea contains high amounts of caffeine and catechin polyphenols. The primary catechin that is associated to the potential effects on weight loss through diet induced thermogenesis is the catechin epigallocatechin gallate, also known as EGCG [298, 299]. Research suggests that catechin polyphenols possess antioxidant properties and the intake of tea catechins is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease [298-300]. In addition, green tea has also been theorized to increase energy expenditure by stimulating brown adipose tissue thermogenesis. In support of this theory, Dulloo et al [301, 302] reported that green tea supplementation in combination with caffeine (e.g., 50 mg caffeine and 90 mg epigallocatechin gallate taken 3-times per day) significantly increased 24-hour energy expenditure and fat utilization in humans to a much greater extent than when an equivalent amount of caffeine was evaluated suggesting a synergistic effect. Recently, work by Di Pierro and colleagues  reported that the addition of a green tea extract to a hypocaloric diet resulted in a significant increase in weight loss (14 kg vs. 5 kg) versus a hypocaloric diet alone over a 90 day clinical trial. Maki and coworkers  also demonstrated that green tea catechin consumption enhanced the exercise-induced changes in abdominal fat. However, it must be noted that both human and animal studies have not supported these findings and have reported that supplementation of these extracts does not affect weight loss [305, 306]. Theoretically, increases in energy expenditure may help individuals lose weight and/or manage body composition.
Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA). CLA is a term used to describe a group of positional and geometric isomers of linoleic acid that contain conjugated double bonds. Adding CLA to the diet has been reported to possess significant health benefits in animals [184, 307]. In terms of weight loss, CLA feedings to animals have been reported to markedly decrease body fat accumulation [185, 308]. Consequently, CLA has been marketed as a health and weight loss supplement since the mid 1990s. Despite the evidence in animal models, the effect of CLA supplementation in humans is less clear. There are some data suggesting that CLA supplementation may modestly promote fat loss and/or increases in lean mass [190-192, 309-314]. Recent work suggested that CLA supplementation coupled with creatine and whey protein resulted in a increase in strength and lean-tissue mass during resistance training . However, other studies indicate that CLA supplementation (1.7 to 12 g/d for 4-weeks to 6- months) has limited to no effects on body composition alterations in untrained or trained populations [190, 310, 316-324]. The reason for the discrepancy in research findings has been suggested to be due to differences in purity and the specific isomer studied. For instance, early studies in humans showing no effect used CLA that contained all 24 isomers. Today, most labs studying CLA use 50-50 mixtures containing the trans-10, cis-12 and cis-9, trans-11 isomers, the former of which being recently implicated in positively altering body composition. This has been supported by recent work indicating that CLA (50:50 cis-9, trans-11:trans-10, cis-12) plus polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation prevented abdominal fat increases and increase fat-free mass . However, it must be noted that this response only occurred in young obese individuals. Thus, CLA supplementation may have potential in the areas of general health and it is clear that research on the effects on body composition is ongoing and still quite varied. Further research is needed to determine which CLA isomer is ideal for ingestion and possibly if there are differential responses among lean or obese and old or young populations.
Too Early to Tell
Gymnema Sylvestre. Gymnema Sylvestre is a supplement that is purported to regulate weight loss and blood sugar levels. It is purported to affect glucose and fat metabolism as well as inhibit sweet cravings. In support of these contentions, some recent data have been published by Shigematsu and colleagues [326, 327] showing that short and long-term oral supplementation of gymnema sylvestre in rats fed normal and high-fat diets may have some positive effects on fat metabolism, blood lipid levels, and/or weight gain/fat deposition. More recent work in rats has shown that gymnema sylvestre supplementation promoted weight loss by reducing hyperlipidemia . The only apparent clinical trial in humans showed that an herbal combination group containing 400 mg of gymnema sylvestra resulted in effective and safe weight loss while promoting improved blood lipid profiles. It should be noted that this group was not significantly different that the other active group, containing HCA, when observing these dependent variables . Due to the lack of substantial positive research on the effects 53of gymnema sylvestre supplementation in humans, we cannot recommend gymnema sylvestre as a supplement to positively affect weight loss.
Phosphatidyl Choline (Lecithin). Choline is considered an essential nutrient that is needed for cell membrane integrity and to facilitate the movement of fats in and out of cells. It is also a component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and is needed for normal brain functioning, particularly in infants. For this reason, phosphatidyl choline (PC) has been purported as a potentially effective supplement to promote fat loss as well as improve neuromuscular function. However, despite these alleged benefits of lecithin supplementation, there are no clinical trials in humans to support a potential role of lecithin supplementation affecting weight loss.
Betaine. Betaine is a compound that is involved in the metabolism of choline and homocysteine. Garcia Neto et al.  have shown that betaine feedings can effect liver metabolism, fat metabolism, and fat deposition in chickens. Betaine supplementation may also help lower homocysteine levels which is a marker of risk to heart disease . For this reason, betaine supplements have been marketed as a supplement designed to promote heart health as well as a weight loss. A recent study by Hoffman and colleagues  found betaine supplementation to improve muscular endurance in active college age males. Despite this, there appears to be little evidence in human models that supports the role of betaine as a supplement for weight loss and thus it is not recommended for supplementation.
Coleus Forskohlii (Forskolin). Forskolin, which is touted as a weight loss supplement is a plant native to India that has been used for centuries in traditional Ayurvedic medicine primarily to treat skin disorders and respiratory problems [333, 334]. A considerable amount of research has evaluated the physiological and potential medical applications of forskolin over the last 25 years. Forskolin has been reported to reduce blood pressure, increase the hearts ability to contract, help inhibit platelet aggregation, improve lung function, and aid in the treatment of glaucoma [333-335]. With regard to weight loss, forskolin has been reported to increase cyclic AMP and thereby stimulate fat metabolism [336-338]. Theoretically, forskolin may therefore serve as an effective weight loss supplement. Recent evidence has shown that forskolin supplementation had no effect on improving body composition in mildly obese women . In contrast, work done by Godard et al. in 2005 reported that 250 mg of a 10% forskolin extract taken twice daily resulted in improvements in body composition in overweight and obese men . Another study suggested that supplementing the diet with coleus forskohlii in overweight women helped maintain weight and was not associated with any clinically significant adverse events . Currently, research is still needed on forskolin supplementation before it can be recommended as an effective weight loss supplement.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and 7-Keto DHEA. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfated conjugate DHEAS represent the most abundant adrenal steroids in circulation . Although, DHEA is considered a weak androgen, it can be converted to the more potent androgens testosterone and dihydrotestosterone in tissues. In addition, DHEAS can be converted into androstenedione and testosterone. DHEA levels have been reported to decline with age in humans . The decline in DHEA levels with aging has been associated with increased fat accumulation and risk to heart disease . Since DHEA is a naturally occurring compound, it has been suggested that dietary supplementation of DHEA may help maintain DHEA availability, maintain and/or increase testosterone levels, reduce body fat accumulation, and/or reduce risk to heart disease as one ages [342, 344]. Although animal studies have generally supported this theory, the effects of DHEA supplementation on body composition in human trials have been mixed. For example, Nestler and coworkers  reported that DHEA supplementation (1,600 mg/d for 28-d) in untrained healthy males promoted a 31% reduction in percentage of body fat. However, Vogiatzi and associates  reported that DHEA supplementation (40 mg/d for 8 wks) had no effect on body weight, percent body fat, or serum lipid levels in obese adolescents. More recent work has supported these findings suggesting that one year of DHEA supplementation had no effect on body composition when taken at 50 mg per 55day . 7-keto DHEA, a DHEA precursor, has been marketed as a potentially more effective form of DHEA which is believed to possess lypolytic properties. Although data are limited, Kalman and colleagues and coworkers  reported that 7-keto DHEA supplementation (200 mg/d) during 8-weeks of training promoted a greater loss in body mass and fat mass while increasing T3 while observing no significant effects on thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) or T4. More recent data has shown that 7-keto DHEA supplementation can increase RMR  and blunt the decrease in RMR associated with 8 weeks of restricted dieting . However, it must be noted that the second study did not use isolated 7-keto DHEA but used a commercial weight loss product that contained DHEA as well as other known weight loss agents (i.e. caffeine, green tea extract, citrus aurantium, etc.). Thus, these results do not directly support the use of 7-keto DHEA. Although more research is needed on the effects of supplementing DHEA by itself as a weight loss agent, these findings provide minimal support that 7-keto DHEA may serve as an effective weight loss supplement.
Psychotropic Nutrients/Herbs. Psychotropic nutrients/herbs are a new class of supplements that often contain things like St. John’s Wart, Kava, Ginkgo Biloba, Ginseng, and L-Tyrosine. They are believed to serve as naturally occurring antidepressants, relaxants, and mental stimulants thus the theoretical rationale regarding weight loss is that they may help people fight depression or maintain mental alertness while dieting. There are no clinical weight loss trials that utilize any of the above nutrients/herbs as the active ingredient in the supplementation trial. Although a number of studies support potential role as naturally occurring psychotropics or stimulants, the potential value in promoting weight loss is unclear and therefore are not recommended for supplementation.
Calcium Pyruvate. Calcium Pyruvate is supplement that hit the scene about 10-15 ago with great promise. The theoretical rationale was based on studies from the early 1990s that reported that calcium pyruvate supplementation (16 – 25 g/d with or without dihydroxyacetone 56phosphate [DHAP]) promoted fat loss in overweight/obese patients following a medically supervised weight loss program [351-353]. Although the mechanism for these findings was unclear, the researchers speculated that it might be related to appetite suppression and/or altered carbohydrate and fat metabolism. Since calcium pyruvate is very expensive, several studies have attempted to determine whether ingesting smaller amounts of calcium pyruvate (6-10 g/d) affect body composition in untrained and trained populations. Results of these studies are mixed. Earlier studies have shown both a positive effect on calcium pyruvate supplementation in improving body composition , however, Stone and colleagues  reported that pyruvate supplementation did not affect hydrostatically determined body composition during 5-weeks of in-season college football training. More recently, calcium pyruvate supplementation was also shown to not have a significant effect on body composition or exercise performance. Additionally, it has been reported that supplementation may negatively affect some blood lipid levels . These findings indicate that although there is some supportive data indicating that calcium pyruvate supplementation may enhance fat loss when taken at high doses (6-16 g/d), there is no evidence that ingesting the doses typically found in pyruvate supplements (0.5 – 2 g/d) has any affect on body composition. In addition, the overall quantity of research examining calcium pyruvate is minimal at best thus it is not warranted to include calcium pyruvate as a weight loss supplement.
Chitosan. Chitosan has been marketed as a weight loss supplement for several years as is known as a “fat trapper”. It is purported to inhibit fat absorption and lower cholesterol. This notion is supported animal studies indicated by decreased fat absorption, increased fat content, and/or lower cholesterol following chitosan feedings [357-360]. However, the effects in humans appear to be less impressive. For example, although there is some data suggesting that chitosan supplementation may lower blood lipids in humans, other studies report no effects on fat content [362, 363]or body composition alterations [364-366] when administered to people following their normal diet. More recent work has shown that the effect of chitosan on fat 57absorption is negligible and is the equivalent of approximately 9.9 kcal/day following supplementation . Other work has concluded that the insignificant amounts of fat that are trapped from supplementation would take about 7 months for a male to lose a pound of weight, and that the effect was completely ineffective in women . Thus, based on the current evidence, chitosan supplementation is apparently ineffective and has no significant effects on “fat trapping” and/or on improving body composition.
Chromium. Chromium supplementation is derived from its role in maintaining proper carbohydrate and fat metabolism by potentially effecting insulin signalling . Initial studies reported that chromium supplementation during resistance training improved fat loss and gains in lean body mass [173-175]. To date, the studies using more accurate methods of assessing body composition have primarily indicate no effects on body composition in healthy non-diabetic individuals [176-183, 368]. Recent work has reported that 200 mcg of chromium picolinate supplementation on individuals on a restrictive diet did not promote weight loss or body composition changes following 12 weeks of supplementation . This work supports Lukaski et al  previous findings that 8-weeks of chromium supplementation during resistance training did not affect strength or DEXA determined body composition changes. Thus, based on the current review of the literature we cannot recommend chromium supplementation as a means of improving body composition.
Garcinia Cambogia (HCA). HCA is a nutrient that has been hypothesized to increase fat oxidation by inhibiting citrate lypase and lipogenesis . Theoretically, this may lead to greater fat burning and weight loss over time. Although there is some evidence that HCA may increase fat metabolism in animal studies, there is little to no evidence showing that HCA supplementation affects body composition in humans. For example, Ishihara et al  reported that HCA supplementation spared carbohydrate utilization and promoted lipid oxidation during exercise in mice. However, Kriketos and associates  reported that HCA supplementation (3 g/d for 3-days) did not affect resting or post-exercise energy expenditure or 58markers of lipolysis in healthy men. Likewise, Heymsfield and coworkers  reported that HCA supplementation (1.5 g/d for 12-weeks) while maintaining a low fat/high fiber diet did not promote greater weight or fat loss than subjects on placebo. Finally, Mattes and colleagues  reported that HCA supplementation (2.4 g/d for 12-weeks) did not affect appetite, energy intake, or weight loss. These findings suggest that HCA supplementation does not appear to promote fat loss in humans.
L-Carnitine. Carnitine serves as an important transporter of fatty acids from the cytosol into the mitochondria of the cell . Increased cellular levels of carnitine would theoretically enhance transport of fats into the mitochondria and thus provide more substrates for fat metabolism. L-carnitine has been one of the most common nutrients found in various weight loss supplements. Over the years, a number of studies have been conducted on the effects of L-carnitine supplementation on fat metabolism, exercise capacity and body composition. The overwhelming conclusions of L-carnitine research indicates that L-carnitine supplementation does not affect muscle carnitine content , fat metabolism, aerobic- or anaerobic-exercise performance , and/or weight loss in overweight or trained subjects [376, 377]. Despite the fact that L-carnitine has been shown apparently ineffective as a supplement, the research on L-carnitine has shifted to another category revolving around hypoxic stress and oxidative stress. Preliminary research has reported that L-carnitine supplementation has a minimal effect on reducing the biomarkers of exercise-induced oxidative stress . While these findings are not promising, there is some recent data indicating that L-carnitine tartrate supplementation during intensified periods of training may help athletes tolerate training to a greater degree . Consequently, there may be other advantages to L-carnitine supplementation than promoting fat metabolism.
Phosphates. The role of sodium and calcium phosphate on energy metabolism and exercise performance has been studied for decades . Phosphate supplementation has also been suggested to affect energy expenditure, however, the research in this area is quite dated and 59no research on the effects on energy expenditure have been conducted. Some of this dated work includes the work by Kaciuba-Uscilko and colleagues  who reported that phosphate supplementation during a 4-week weight loss program increased resting metabolic rate (RMR) and respiratory exchange ratio (suggesting greater carbohydrate utilization and caloric expenditure) during submaximal cycling exercise. In addition, Nazar and coworkers  reported that phosphate supplementation during an 8-week weight loss program increased RMR by 12-19% and prevented a normal decline in thyroid hormones. Although the rate of weight loss was similar in this trial, results suggest that phosphate supplementation may influence metabolic rate possibly by affecting thyroid hormones. Despite these to dated trials, no further research has been conducted and thus the role of phosphates in regards to weight loss is inconclusive at best.
Herbal Diuretics. This is a new type of supplement recently marketed as a natural way to promote weight loss. There is limited evidence that taraxacum officinale, verbena officinalis, lithospermum officinale, equisetum arvense, arctostaphylos uva-ursi, arctium lappa and silene saxifraga infusion may affect diuresis in animals [382, 383]. Two studies presented at the 2001 American College of Sports Medicine meeting [384, 385] indicated that although herbal diuretics promoted a small amount of dehydration (about 0.3% in one day), they were not nearly as effective as a common diuretic drug (about 3.1% dehydration in one day). Consequently, although more research is needed, the potential value of herbal diuretics as a weight loss supplement appears limited.
Performance Enhancement Supplements
A number of nutritional supplements have been proposed to enhance exercise performance. Some of these nutrients have been described above. Table 3 categorizes the proposed ergogenic nutrients into apparently safe and effective, possibly effective, too early to tell, and apparently ineffective. Weight gain supplements purported to increase muscle mass may also have 60ergogenic properties if they also promote increases in strength. Similarly, some sports may benefit from reductions in fat mass. Therefore, weight loss supplements that help athletes manage body weight and/or fat mass may also possess some ergogenic benefit. The following describes which supplements may or may not affect performance that were not previously described.
Water and Sports Drinks. Preventing dehydration during exercise is one of the keys of maintaining exercise performance (particularly in hot/humid environments). People engaged in intense exercise or work in the heat need to frequently ingest water or sports drinks (e.g., 1-2 cups every 10 – 15 minutes). The goal should be not to lose more than 2% of body weight during exercise (e.g., 180 lbs x 0.02 = 3.6 lbs). Sports drinks typically contain salt and carbohydrate at scientifically engendered quantities. Studies show that ingestion of sports drinks during exercise in hot/humid environments can help prevent dehydration and improve endurance exercise capacity [56, von Duvillard 2005), 386, 387]. In fact, research has shown that carbohydrate intake during team sport type activities can increase exercise performance and CNS function [15, 16, 388]. Consequently, frequent ingestion of water and/or sports drinks during exercise is one of the easiest and most effective ergogenic aids.
Carbohydrate. One of the best ergogenic aids available for athletes and active individuals alike, is carbohydrate. Athletes and active individuals should consume a diet high in carbohydrate (e.g., 55 – 65% of calories or 5-8 grams/kg/day) in order to maintain muscle and liver carbohydrate stores [1, 3]. Research has clearly identified carbohydrate is an ergogenic aid that can prolong exercise . Additionally, ingesting a small amount of carbohydrate and protein 30-60 minutes prior to exercise and use of sports drinks during exercise can increase carbohydrate availability and improve exercise performance. Finally, ingesting carbohydrate and protein immediately following exercise can enhance carbohydrate storage and protein synthesis [1, 3].
Creatine. Earlier we indicated that creatine supplementation is one of the best supplements available to increase muscle mass and strength during training. However, creatine has also been reported to improve exercise capacity in a variety of events [71, Kendall 2005, 389-391]. This is particularly true when performing high intensity, intermittent exercise such as multiple sets of weight lifting, repeated sprints, and/or exercise involving sprinting and jogging (e.g., soccer) . Creatine has also been shown to be effective at improving high intensity interval training. A 2009 study found that in addition to high intensity interval training creatine improved critical power . Although studies evaluating the ergogenic value of creatine on endurance exercise perfor mance are mixed, endurance athletes may also theoretically benefit in several ways. For example, increasing creatine stores prior to carbohydrate loading (i.e., increasing dietary carbohydrate intake before competition in an attempt to maximize carbohydrate stores) has been shown to improve the ability to store carbohydrate [392-394]. A 2003 study found that ingesting 20grams of creatine for 5 days improved endurance and anaerobic performance in elite rowers . Further, co ingesting creatine with carbohydrate has been shown to optimize creatine and carbohydrate loading . Most endurance athletes also perform interval training (sprint or speed work) in an attempt to improve anaerobic threshold. Since creatine has been reported to enhance interval sprint performance, creatine supplementation during training may improve training adaptations in endurance athletes [397, 398]. Finally, many endurance athletes lose weight during their competitive season. Creatine supplementation during training may help people maintain weight.
Sodium Phosphate. We previously mentioned that sodium phosphate supplementation may increase resting energy expenditure and therefore could serve as a potential weight loss nutrient. However, most research on sodium phosphate has actually evaluated the potential ergogenic value. A number of studies indicated that sodium phosphate supplementation (e.g., 1 gram taken 4 times daily for 3-6 days) can increase maximal oxygen uptake (i.e., maximal aerobic capacity) and anaerobic threshold by 5-10% [399-403]. These finding suggest that 62sodium phosphate may be highly effective in improving endurance exercise capacity. In addition to endurance enhancement, sodium phosphate loading improved mean power output and oxygen uptake in trained cyclist in a 2008 study . Other forms of phosphate (i.e., calcium phosphate, potassium phosphate) do not appear to possess ergogenic value.
Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda). During high intensity exercise, acid (H+) and carbon dioxide (CO2) accumulate in the muscle and blood. One of the ways you get rid of the acidity and CO2 is to buffer the acid and CO2 with bicarbonate ions. The acid and CO2 are then removed in the lungs. Bicarbonate loading (e.g., 0.3 grams per kg taken 60-90 minutes prior to exercise or 5 grams taken 2 times per day for 5-days) has been shown to be an effective way to buffer acidity during high intensity exercise lasting 1-3 minutes in duration [405-408]. This can improve exercise capacity in events like the 400 - 800 m run or 100 – 200 m swim . In elite male swimmers sodium bicarbonate supplementation significantly improved 200m freestyle performance . A 2009 study found similar improvements in performance in youth swimmers at distances of 50 to 200m. Although bicarbonate loading can improve exercise, some people have difficulty with their stomach tolerating bicarbonate as it may cause gastrointestinal distress.
Caffeine. Caffeine is a naturally derived stimulant found in many nutritional supplements typically as gaurana, bissey nut, or kola. Caffeine can also be found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, and chocolate. It has previously been made clear that caffeine can have a positive effect on energy expenditure, weight loss, and body fat. Caffeine has also been shown to be an effective ergogenic aid. Research investigating the effects of caffeine on a time trial in trained cyclist found that caffeine improved speed, peak power, and mean power . Similar results were observed in a recent study that found cyclists who ingested a caffeine drink prior to a time trial demonstrated improvements in performance [412, 413]. Studies indicate that ingestion of caffeine (e.g., 3-9 mg/kg taken 30 – 90 minutes before exercise) can spare carbohydrate use during exercise and thereby improve endurance exercise capacity [406, 414]. In addition to the apparent positive effects on endurance performance, caffeine has also been shown to improve repeated sprint performance benefiting the anaerobic athlete [415, 416]. People who drink caffeinated drinks regularly, however, appear to experience less ergogenic benefits from caffeine . Additionally, some concern has been expressed that ingestion of caffeine prior to exercise may contribute to dehydration although recent studies have not supported this concern [414, 418, 419]. Caffeine doses above 9 mg/kg can result in urinary caffeine levels that surpass the doping threshold for many sport organizations. Suggestions that there is no ergogenic value to caffeine supplementation is not supported by the preponderance of available scientific studies.
ß-alanine. In recent years research has begun investigating the effects of ß-alanine supplementation on performance. ß-alanine has ergogenic potential based on its relationship with carnosine. Carnosine is a dipeptide comprised of the amino acids, histidine and ß-alanine naturally occurring in large amounts in skeletal muscles. Carnosine is believed to be one of the primary muscle-buffering substances available in skeletal muscle. Studies have demonstrated that taking ß-alanine orally over a 28-day period was effective in increasing carnosine levels [420, 421]. This proposed benefit would increase work capacity and decrease time to fatigue. Researchers have found that ß-alanine supplementation decreases rate of fatigue . This could translate into definite strength gains and improved performance. A recent study  supplemented men with ß-alanine for 10 weeks and showed that muscle carnosine levels were significantly increased after 4 and 10 weeks of ß-alanine supplementation.
Stout et al.  conducted a study that examined the effects of ß-alanine supplementation on physical working capacity at fatigue threshold. The results showed decreased fatigue in the subjects tested. Other studies have shown that ß-alanine supplementation can increase the number of repetitions one can do , increased lean body mass , increase knee extension torque  and training volume . In fact, one study also showed that adding ß-alanine supplementation with creatine improves performance over creatine alone . While it appears that ß-alanine supplementation can decrease fatigue rate, raise carnosine levels, and improve performance all of the research is not as favorable. There are other studies that show no performance benefits [425, 429]
Post-Exercise Carbohydrate and Protein.
Ingesting carbohydrate and protein following exercise enhances carbohydrate storage and protein synthesis. Theoretically, ingesting carbohydrate and protein following exercise may lead to greater training adaptations. In support of this theory, Esmarck and coworkers  found that ingesting carbohydrate and protein immediately following exercise doubled training adaptations in comparison to waiting until 2-hours to ingest carbohydrate and protein. Additionally, Tarnopolsky and associates  reported that post-exercise ingestion of carbohydrate with protein promoted as much strength gains as ingesting creatine with carbohydrate during training. A recent study by Kreider and colleagues  found that protein and carbohydrate supplementation post workout was capable of positively supporting the post exercise anabolic response. In the last few years many studies have agreed with these findings in that post workout supplementation is vital to recovery and training adaptations [13, 104, 431-433].These findings underscore the importance of post-exercise carbohydrate and protein ingestion to support muscle anabolism and strength. However, it is still unclear if there are direct implications of protein / carbohydrate supplementation on other markers of performance such as time to exhaustion, maximal oxygen uptake, and/or skill development.
Essential Amino Acids (EAA). Ingestion of 3-6 grams of EAA following resistance exercise has been shown to increase protein synthesis [92, 93, 98-102, 105, 434]. Theoretically, ingestion of EAA after exercise should enhance gains in strength and muscle mass during training. While there is sound theoretical rationale, it is currently unclear whether following this strategy would lead to greater training adaptations and/or whether EAA supplementation would be better than simply ingesting carbohydrate and a quality protein following exercise.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA). Ingestion of BCAA (e.g., 6-10 grams per hour) with sports drinks during prolonged exercise would theoretically improve psychological perception of fatigue (i.e., central fatigue). Although there is strong rationale, the effects of BCAA supplementation on exercise performance is mixed with some studies suggesting an improvement and others showing no effect . More research is needed before conclusions can be drawn.
HMB. HMB supplementation has been reported to improve training adaptations in untrained individuals initiating training as well as help reduce muscle breakdown in runners. Theoretically, this should enhance training adaptations in athletes. However, most studies show little benefit of HMB supplementation in athletes. A 2004 study by Hoffman  found HMB supplementation to be ineffective in collegiate football players after short term supplementation. It has been hypothesized that HMB will delay or prevent muscle damage; however this has limited evidence as suggested in previous sections. There are a few studies that have been positive . A 2009 study found that HMB supplementation did positively affect strength in trained men . While HMB supplementation may still have some scientific rationale there is little evidence that is can directly affect performance in moderately trained subjects.
Glycerol. Ingesting glycerol with water has been reported to increase fluid retention . Theoretically, this should help athletes prevent dehydration during prolonged exercise and improve performance particularly if they are susceptible to dehydration. Although studies indicate that glycerol can significantly enhance body fluid, results are mixed on whether it can improve exercise capacity [69, 438-443]. Little research has been done on glycerol in the last five years however, a 2006 study agreed with previous findings in that glycerol has little impact on performance .
Too Early to Tell
A number of supplements purported to enhance performance and/or training adaptation fall under this category. This includes the weight gain and weight loss supplements listed in Table 3 as well as the following supplements not previously described in this category.
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT). MCT’s are shorter chain fatty acids that can easily enter the mitochondria of the cell and be converted to energy through fat metabolism . Studies are mixed as to whether MCT’s can serve as an effective source of fat during exercise metabolism and/or improve exercise performance [445-449]. A 2001 study found that 60g / day of MCT oil for two weeks was not sufficient at improving performance . In fact Goedecke found that not only did MCT supplementation not improve performance, but, actually negatively affected sprint performance in trained cyclists . These findings have been confirmed by others that MCT oils are not sufficient to induce positive training adaptations and may cause gastric distress [452, 453]. It must be noted that while most studies have not been favourable, one 2009 study found that MCT oil may positively affect RPE and lactate clearance . It does not appear likely that MCT can positively affect training adaptations, but further research is needed.
Glutamine. As described above, glutamine has been shown to influence protein synthesis and help maintain the immune system. Theoretically, glutamine supplementation during training should enhance gains in strength and muscle mass as well as help athletes tolerate training to a better degree. Although there is some evidence that glutamine supplementation with protein can improve training adaptations, more research is needed to determine the ergogenic value in athletes. There is currently no research to suggest that glutamine has a direct effect on performance.
Ribose. Ribose is a 3-carbon carbohydrate that is involved in the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the muscle (the useable form of energy). Clinical studies have shown that 67ribose supplementation can increase exercise capacity in heart patients [455-459]. For this reason, ribose has been suggested to be an ergogenic aid for athletes. Although more research is needed, most studies show no ergogenic value of ribose supplementation on exercise capacity in health untrained or trained populations [460-462]. A 2006 study  investigated the effects of ribose vs. dextrose on rowing performance. After eight weeks of supplementation dextrose had a better response than ribose across the subjects . Kreider and associates  and Kersick and colleagues  investigated ribose supplementation on measures of anaerobic capacity in trained athletes. This research group found that ribose supplementation did not have a positive impact on performance [462, 464]. It appears at this point that ribose supplementation does not improve aerobic or anaerobic performance.
Inosine. Inosine is a building block for DNA and RNA that is found in muscle. Inosine has a number of potentially important roles that may enhance training and/or exercise performance . Although there is some theoretical rationale, available studies indicate that inosine supplementation has no apparent affect on exercise performance capacity [466-468].
Supplements to Promote General Health
In addition to the supplements previously described, several nutrients have been suggested to help athletes stay healthy during intense training. For example, the American Medical Association recently recommended that all Americans ingest a daily low-dose multivitamin in order to ensure that people get a sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals in their diet. Although one-a-day vitamin supplementation has not been found to improve exercise capacity in athletes, it may make sense to take a daily vitamin supplement for health reasons. Glucosomine and chondroitin have been reported to slow recommend that athletes who feel a cold coming on take these nutrients in order to enhance immune function [55, 471-473]. Similarly, although additional research is necessary, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, selenium, alpha-lipoic acid and other antioxidants may help restore overwhelmed anti-oxidant defences exhibited by athletes and reduce the risk of numerous chronic diseases in some instances . Creatine, calcium ß-HMB, BCAA, and L-carnitine tartrate have been shown to help athletes tolerate heavy training periods [31, 118, 125, 126, 128, 379, 476-478]. Finally, the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapantaenoic acid (EPA), in supplemental form, are now endorsed by the American Heart Association for heart health in certain individuals . This supportive supplement position stems from: 1.) an inability to consume cardio-protective amounts by diet alone; and, 2.) the mercury contamination sometimes present in whole-food sources of DHA and EPA found in fatty fish. Consequently, prudent use of these types of nutrients at various times during training may help athletes stay healthy and/or tolerate training to a greater degree .
Maintaining an energy balance and nutrient dense diet, prudent training, proper timing of nutrient intake, and obtaining adequate rest are the cornerstones to enhancing performance and/or training adaptations. Use of a limited number of nutritional supplements that research has supported can help improve energy availability (e.g., sports drinks, carbohydrate, creatine, caffeine, β-alanine, etc) and/or promote recovery (carbohydrate, protein, essential amino acids, etc) can provide additional benefit in certain instances. The sports nutrition specialist should stay up to date regarding the role of nutrition on exercise so they can provide honest and accurate information to their students, clients, and/or athletes about the role of nutrition and dietary supplements on performance and training. Furthermore, the sports nutrition specialist should actively participate in exercise nutrition research; write unbiased scholarly reviews for journals and lay publications; help disseminate the latest research findings to the public so they cartilage degeneration and reduce the degree of joint pain in active individuals which may help athletes postpone and/or prevent joint problems [469, 470]. Supplemental Vitamin C, glutamine, echinacea, and zinc have been reported to enhance immune function [471-474]. Consequently, some sports nutritionists can make informed decisions about appropriate methods of exercise, dieting, and/or whether various nutritional supplements can affect health, performance, and/or training; and, disclose any commercial or financial conflicts of interest during such promulgations to the public. Finally, companies selling nutritional supplements should develop scientifically based products, conduct research on their products, and honestly market the results of studies so consumers can make informed decisions.
So you really think running will get you those abs?
I know people that spend hours in the gym, but look the same now as they did 6 months ago. They are not getting the results they want. The reason is simple: they have underestimated the importance of their diet.
Please look at these two pictures and consider this:
- I did not change my training when starting the diet, and haven’t changed it for the last 9 months.
- I did not do any cardio.
- This did this in 7 weeks. (Details here)
I did three, 45 minute sessions a week with weights. That’s it. No morning running, no countless hours wasted on a treadmill.
The only change I made was what I put in my mouth, and when.
Everybody knows the rule for weight loss – Consume less calories than you need for the day and your body will use fat stores for energy. You need to be in a calorie deficit.
Two options are available to create this calorie deficit: 1. Move more. 2 Eat less.
The majority of people understand this too, however I think the problem lies with the overestimation of the effect of 1 (cardio) and underestimating the effects of 2 (diet). Allow me to explain with a couple of examples.
Option 1: Move more. (Do Cardio)
A quick look at the packed out cardio machines in any health club will tell you this is what most people opt to do. I feel that this phenomenon is more to do with the psychological satisfaction of ‘getting a good sweat on’ rather than being scientifically based however, as a quick look at the numbers will tell us.
Case 1: Elliptical machine loving Sally.
An hour on her favorite machine (or sometimes stationary bike, or treadmill) will burn approximately 350kCal. (Moderate pace, 70kg body weight.)
Sally usually pops into Starbucks after her workout to chat with her friends. She orders her favourite White Chocolate Mocha (medium size) which contains 330kCal, almost wiping out her hour of effort.
When looking at the menu, Sally needs to ask herself, “Do I want to spend a hour on a treadmill for this, or should I just get a drip coffee with a splash of milk (~20kCal)?” I mean, she was on the elliptical machine to lose fat right?
Case 2: 27 year-old Joe who has decided to lose fat fast he will run a half marathon, twice-a-week.
Joe, weighing 80kg, will burn a total of approximately 1,700 calories for the entire half-marathon with 1,400 of those calories coming strictly from running. Twice
a week this will equal 2800kCal burned with running. Good work Joe.
So what is that in terms of fat loss? Well, presuming that Joe is smart about his cardio and thus is running during the optimal time for fat burning and thus all of this energy is coming from fat oxidization, he will burn a mere 389g of body-fat (2800kCal / 7.2kCal/g). Joe will be fit in a cardio vascular sense, but perhaps not losing fat at a rate he would like.
Option 2: Eat less. (Control your diet)
Joe could choose to skip the weekly marathon and eat 2 rice balls less (about 100g of carbs) a day, which will net him a the same 2800kCal (or 389g body fat lost) over a week. Which would you prefer?
Controlling my diet, in 12 weeks I lost 15kg of body-fat*. That is 1.25kg a week, or in terms Joe would understand, the equivalent of running 3.2 marathons a week, 18.7km a day.
(*Negligible changes in strength -measured by the big three lifts – indicate fat loss only.)
The key to diet success is having set portion sizes. Do not eat according to your hunger. As we have seen from the above examples, you cannot out-run your mouth. The mouth will win every time.
Your diet is where you fix things first and foremost. Adding more cardio when your diet is suboptimal is an inefficient and time-wasting strategy that will result in an increased risk of burnout and overtraining. -Martin Berkhan
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying cardio is useless. The NASM recommends a minimum of 30 minutes, 3 times a week for maintaining a healthy heart and cardio-vascular system. I’m merely saying that as a tool to burn fat, it gives a poor return on your time investment.
For details on the specific diet plan that I used, details on how to make it fit your lifestyle, and why I feel it can benefit you too, please click here.
Thanks for reading.”
This is from:
check out more about intermittent fasting at leangains.com or martin berkhan on facebook.
It‘s almost all about the diet. I don‘t think people realize the simplicity of weight loss if the diet is in place. Let me ask a simple question:
What‘s easier - 1 h jog at about 350 kcal (70kg aprx) or dropping 100g karb nettoing in at 2800 kcal a week?
Don‘t misunderstand, cardio can be important, but too many overemphasize the effect it has. And get burnt out running too much, if you want that tight ass or the nice stomach it‘s heavy strenght training for both boys and girls which will give you the most!
And JUICE is NOT a healthy choice.. nettoing at about 50g carb your calories can be spent much better. Im not all about low carb, but for starters it‘s the easiest to lower and for most.. the most useless waste of energy.
Focus on the protein and on fat, about (average person) 1.5g protein if you train and want to just lose weight, more (1.5-2.3) if you train heavy strenght training.
Carb could come in at 2-3g pr kg and more if you train hard intervall training or long distance running, upwards towards 4g is a nice start.
Fat can lie between 0.5g upto 1g pr kg.
Don‘t listen to the reccomendations from the government. The emphasize on carbs is way too big, but remember you know your body best and these are just average guidelines. Listen to your body.
I will post more about this when i get the time, this is written from my android in a rush. More info and a better written article will be out. :)
Im going to get my IT-educated brother to set up an awesome webpage. I need it to be perfect so I have to be very specific about me being an integrate part of the development.
I want to move more from live customers to a more.. web-based personal trainer, I love making nutrition plans and training regiments so this is going to be exciting! I think a few of you want me to write more about training, but it demands a lot of time to write a quality article.
If anyone has a subject they’d like for me to write about, I’d be happy to spend some time to answer your questions and ponderings.
It’s going, it’s going! Just finding it hard to figure out how long I actually want the book, struggling a bit with the fact that it’s my first book and that maybe I should post a shorter one first with only the basics about what a person who wants to lose weight should do to be guaranteed to lose weight. Or if I should just use a long time to put together an amazing first book. Any ideas?
Also wondering how much effort should be placed in this book, and if I should create a webpage in addition to this blog. I have to think a bit more, keep posting your questions I love answering them! Never thought so many would respond! You guys rock!
E-mail is still firstname.lastname@example.org. :) As I told in one of my replies, I can be a webbased personal trainer for a decent price with training program / follow-up / nutrition plan etc.
And please tell your friends! :)
It’s 08:20 and I came up with some great ideas.
I woke up about an hour ago, had some great ideas brainstorming whilst I was lying under the covers, awesome!
Albeit.. I wonder what I am going to do to turn the women to strenght training or if I should make my goal group more towards men. Are there any ladies who can come up with any ideas? Every idea will be taken into consideration and will be much abliged.
Now I have to go to work, and do my own training regiment. Let’s see what I come up with later, and hopefully a bunch of you will have responded to this post.