With summer fast approaching, "beach-think" has set in and the current most
popular question is, "Oh wise and mighty JB who knoweth and loveth the
alimentary arts while abhorring all that is adipose, how might I battle my
corpulence?" Okay, okay, it's more like, "Hey jackass, how do I get rid of my
gut?" but a guy can dream of eloquent questions from glib readers, can't he?
Fed up with answering the gut question for the bazillionth time, this article
was born. In fact, this article is the transcript from one of the lectures I
recently gave at Ian King's excellent Bigger, Stronger, Leaner! seminar in
Toronto. If you think it's time to bring out those abs for summer, then this is
the article for you!
Last week, in Part I, I wrote about how all calories and all proteins aren't all
equal, despite rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution. Carrying the
A Carbohydrate Is Not A Carbohydrate
In this section, I'd like to demonstrate that not all carbohydrates were created
equal. Specifically, I'll briefly discuss:
1. The insulin index vs. the glycemic index
2. The superiority of low-GI and II diets
3. The difference between liquid carbohydrates
While older carbohydrate classification schemes were centered on the notion of
simple vs. complex carbohydrates (a structural classification), newer schemes
focus more appropriately on the absorption profiles (glycemic index) and
physiological effects (insulin index) of these carbohydrates (a functional
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a classification scheme based on the blood glucose
rise after consuming a carbohydrate food. This measure is based on the
absorption profile of the food and was originally considered an indirect, but
adequate measure of the insulin response to food. The assumption was that the
insulin rise would be proportional to the glucose rise. However, recent research
has demonstrated a dissociation of the glycemic response and the insulin
response to the food. Therefore the insulin index was created.
The Insulin Index (II) is an index of the magnitude of insulin secretion as a
result of food ingestion. Of course, this is the direct measure that the
glycemic index could only approximate. Since insulin is a tricky hormone to
manage, it's best to know exactly what's happening with this guy, especially if
you have poor insulin sensitivity or poor carbohydrate tolerance.
Studies by Holt et al (1996) and Ostman et al (2001) highlighted some of these
differences between glycemia and insulinemia. Interestingly, while the glycemic
and insulin indices of many foods were similar, some foods caused unpredicted
responses. As shown in the following graph, foods like yogurt and milk had
relatively low-glycemic indices, but very high insulin indices. White and brown
rice, on the other hand, had high-glycemic indices, but low insulin indices. The
point here is that if you want to effectively manage body composition, you
should choose your carbohydrates based on both the glycemic and insulin indices.
Unfortunately, there are only limited insulin data out there, leading us to
continue to rely in some cases only on the glycemic index.
More complete glycemic and insulin indices can be easily located by doing an
Internet search on these two terms.
So the next appropriate question would be, "What does the literature say about
low GI and II diets vs. higher GI diets?" Well, here's a summary:
Ludwig et al (2000) described the following list of benefits for eating a low GI
Better nutrition (better micronutrient profile and more fiber)
Lower subsequent energy intake (second meal effect)
Better fasted insulin and glucose
In a study by Agus et al (2000), it was demonstrated that during a short, 6 day,
low-calorie diet, a low-GI carb intake preserved metabolism and enhanced fat
loss vs. a high-GI diet. The low GI group saw a 5% decline in metabolic rate and
a 7.7lb weight loss while the high-GI group saw an 11% decline in metabolic rate
and a 6.6lb weight loss. In these subjects, fasted glucose and insulin values
were lower in the low-GI group, indicating better glucose and insulin
Spieth et al (2000) and Ludwig et al (2000) showed that 4 months of low-GI
eating was superior to 4 months of high-GI eating in overweight teens. The
low-GI group lost 1.5 points on the BMI scale and 2.2 lbs while the high-GI
group gained 2.88lbs and increased their BMI. In addition, these studies showed
that a low GI meal reduced food intake during subsequent meals while the high GI
meal lead to overeating.
Finally, Pawlak et al (2001) showed that in rats, a low-GI diet led to decreased
fasting insulin and glucose values, decreased fat mass, and decreased insulin
and glucose values during a glucose tolerance test. Therefore, body comp as well
as glucose and insulin sensitivity improved.
The bottom line here is that when all else is equal, a diet containing mostly
low-GI carbohydrates is superior to a high-GI diet for losing fat, preserving
metabolic rate, and maintaining healthy insulin sensitivity and glucose
Next, I'd like to illustrate the differences between popular liquid
carbohydrates including maltodextrin, dextrose, fructose, and sucrose.
Maltodextrin is a glucose polymer (a string of glucose units put together,
similar to the protein peptide). It is therefore, by definition, a complex
carbohydrate. However it's more complex nature does NOT slow digestion.
Therefore, the GI and II remain high. Maltodextrin is the absolute best
carbohydrate to consume during exercise for rapidly delivering blood glucose and
for muscle glycogen recovery. It's also best for fluid uptake.
Dextrose (glucose) is a simple carbohydrate unit (similar to the amino acid).
While it's good for exercise situations (malto is better), you're probably
better off adding some dextrose to your maltodextrin formula. A little bit of
dextrose may enhance the already excellent fluid uptake that occurs with
maltodextrin during exercise.
Fructose is a simple carbohydrate unit, but it's structurally different from
glucose. Due to its structure, it can possibly cause GI problems and/or decrease
fluid uptake with exercise. Fructose, unlike other simple carbs, has to be
"treated" in the liver and it reaches the muscle slowly.
Finally, sucrose consists of glucose and fructose units bonded together.
Therefore, upon digestion, you get glucose and fructose in the GI (and the
benefits and consequences of each).
Based on the three studies I reviewed (Blom et al 1987, ven Den Burgh et al
1996, Piehl et al 2000), it appears that dextrose is 72% faster than fructose
for muscle glycogen resynthesis . As a result, at the end of 8 hours, muscle
glycogen was 30% higher with dextrose ingestion. However, in another study, at
the end of 4 hours, muscle glycogen was 15% higher with maltodextrin ingestion
vs. dextrose. So dextrose kicks fructose's butt although malto beats up on
A Fat Is Not A Fat
In this section, I'd like to demonstrate that not all fats were created equal.
Specifically, I'll briefly discuss:
As discussed in The Fat Roundtable, there are three different types of fatty
acids; saturated (coming from animal fats), monounsaturated (coming from olive
oil and avocados), and polyunsaturated (coming from flax oil, hemp oil, fish
oil, canola oil, safflower oil, etc). Dietary fat, rather than simply floating
around as free fatty acids, typically is packaged up in the form of a
triglyceride. Basically, a triglyceride consists of 3 fatty acids (usually all
of the same type) bound together by a glycerol backbone. Essentially, the
glycerol backbone has 3 carbons and a fatty acid is attached (via a
dehydration/synthesis reaction) to each of the 3 carbons.
Based on this structural phenomenon, scientists have recently begun exploring an
interesting development in fat science. They've begun making "structured
lipids." In essence what they're doing is making diacylglyerols (2 of the
carbons have fatty acids attached while 1 does not) and special triacylglycerols
(where there are fats of different lengths and properties attached to each
In clinical studies, these structured lipids have been shown to increase protein
synthesis in patients suffering from wasting. In addition, these fats are easily
oxidized (like the long chain fatty acids in fish oil) which leads to a
thermogenic response rather than a storage response. As a result these
structured lipids are now being heavily studied. While they're not on shelves
yet, I wouldn't be surprised if these structured lipids become food additives in
the near future.
MCT's and CLA, probably due to their early introduction to the weightlifting
scene and the huge media hype associated with this introduction, have gotten a
bad reputation. These fats may, in fact, assist in weight loss.
MCT's, due to their medium chain length, are easily oxidized by skeletal muscle.
This is due to the fact that MCT's are quickly and easily transported to the fat
furnace, the mitochondrion. As a result, research (Hill et al 1989) has
demonstrated that TEF (thermogenic effect) with MCTs is double that of other
fats, making it comparable to protein in this regard.
CLA has remained a relative mystery to the research community. This is probably
due to the various forms (isomers) of CLA. Regardless, some research (Blankson
et al 2000) has shown that 12 weeks of CLA supplementation (at doses above
3.4g/day) can increase LBM and decrease fat mass vs. olive oil. While the olive
oil group gained 1.5 lbs of fat and no lean body mass, the CLA group lost 4.5
lbs of fat and gained 3 lbs of LBM.
Speaking of olive oil, even this "good fat" is better than saturated fat for
body composition. In a study comparing safflower oil, beef fat, palm fat, and
olive oil, it was shown that olive oil leads to a 14% higher oxygen consumption
rate than the other fats.
Finally, if you've been around the T-mag community for a while you'll know that
my favorite fats are those in fish oil. Delarue et al (1996) showed that fish
oil supplementation (6g/day added to the diet) dramatically changed the
metabolism of fats and carbohydrates.
During an OGTT (oral glucose tolerance test - drinking a big 75g whack of liquid
sugar and measuring the subjects for 2 hours afterward), the fish oil group
burned 27g of fat vs. 20g in the placebo group. The fish oil group also burned
28g or carbs while storing 36g and the placebo group burned 51g of carbs while
storing only 14g.
In addition, baseline insulin was 30% lower in fish oil group and insulin
responses to OGTT were 50% lower in the fish oil group. What this tells us is
that fish oil allows the body to burn more fat and store more muscle glycogen,
repartitioning fuel away from fat cells toward muscle cells.
Since fish oils are polyunsaturated fats, it's important to not only increase
fish-oil intake, it's important to shift the ratio of polyunsaturated fat to
saturated fat (P/S). Van Marken, Lichtenbelt et al (1997) showed that the
polyunsaturated fat to saturated fat ratio is important to metabolic rate. A
higher ratio of P/S leads to metabolic increases (22% increase in TEF and 3%
increase in daily RMR).
So, if there's one thing you need to take from this discussion, I think it
should be that, all else being equal, the fat composition (not just total
intake) of your diet is very important to your body composition. Saturated fats,
while necessary to a small extent, should only make up a small part of your diet
while other fats like olive oil, fish oil, flax oil, MCTs, and CLA all have a
place on your plate. This way you can get the same amount of daily energy from
fats while gaining lean mass and without gaining body fat.
Choosing Your Food Wisely
So, with all the research out of the way, I hope that I've made a good argument
for the fact that while total energy intake is important to energy balance,
smart macronutrient choices go a very long way in shifting the energy balance
equation in your favor. But to drive the point home, I'd like to give a living
example of this fact.
One of my clients told me that he was a big fan of my work and my nutritional
advice. However, he was convinced that his body simply couldn't get lean. The
problem was that this gentleman got fat by using the calorie counting method. In
fact, he used my very own Don't Diet method (the nerve of him!). He exercised
regularly, training with weights 4x per week and doing daily cardio (mixing up
interval exercise with endurance type exercise). In addition, he always ate
about 500 calories below what his maintenance should have been. Yet he got fat
anyway and was walking around at 25% body fat. He thought he was destined to be
So, was it true? Was he really fat loss resistant? Had my Don't Diet plan
failed? I was perplexed so I had him write down everything he ate for a week.
When sitting down with him a week later, the answer to his dieting woes was
obvious. He was eating all the wrong foods. His diet was full of the media
promoted fat free/super sugared/over processed/synthetic/bleached supermarket
He believed that the foods he was choosing were good for him, but in fact, he
was eating a diet designed for fat storage. When calculating the numbers, it
worked out to be about 2,300 kcal at 30% protein, 50% carbs, and 20% fat. But
the foods he used to make up these numbers were atrocious. He was eating way too
much saturated fat, was drinking way too many whey protein shakes with milk, and
was consuming too much sugar and processed, high-GI carbohydrate. There was very
little natural fiber in his diet and he rarely ate vegetables or fruit. No
wonder he couldn't lose weight!
Now, how on earth could he have believed that his diet was good? Well, although
this data is a little old, I wanted to share it with you anyway because it's
very telling about the power of marketing. In 1992 the National Cancer Institute
spent $400,000 on an ad campaign to encourage the consumption of fruits and
vegetables. That same year Kelloggs spent 32 million advertising Frosted Flakes
alone! No wonder people don't know what foods are good for them!
So, back to the client. Well, it turns out that he had been down this road
before. When he first started gaining weight, he decided to go on a diet
program. He followed a ridiculous, muscle wasting, low calorie diet full of
sweeteners and terrible tasting foods. And he lost some weight. But the minute
he went back to eating what he thought was healthy and sensible (as described
above); he gained all the fat back and then some!
So, now that I had him under my tutelage, what was the solution?
First I taught him where the produce aisle is. We gave him a list of the foods
he could choose from. In addition, I taught him to combine his meals such that
he was eating lean protein, good fats, and lots of fruits and veggies. We didn't
count calories or pre-plan meals; we just made sure he had enough protein in the
diet (200g). And guess what? Months later, he's still dropping fat while
maintaining his lean mass. He's eating far more calories than he ever had before
and enjoying meals more than he ever had before. In addition, he has a better
health profile (blood chems) than before.
The bottom line is that diet isn't that hard. When you feed the body wholesome
foods, the appetite regulates itself and you don't have to monitor very much.
However, by harnessing the powers of good food selection and smart calorie
counting, weight loss comes easy!
Here are some basic rules for how to improve your eating habits:
Get used to the taste of food without dressings, sweeteners, etc. Ultimately
you'll grow to like the natural taste of foods you once though tasted bland.
Try to eat more like a true vegetarian (i.e. the bulk of the diet should come
from fruits, veggies, unprocessed and unbleached food). But don't get me wrong;
I don't want you swearing off meat.
"Supplement" your unprocessed vegetarian-like diet with the high-protein foods
Add unheated healthy oils to your foods.
Drink only calorie-free beverages (green tea, water, etc.).
Unfortunately the worst foods usually are the most convenient and the most
processed foods. Avoid eating for convenience alone.
Avoid any easy-to-prepare breakfast foods (waffles, french toast, etc) as
they're loaded with fattening trans-fatty acids.
Avoid products containing the ingredients or words "partially hydrogenated,"
"high fructose corn syrup," etc.
Avoid fast/fried food.
Avoid foods or meals that are high in both fat and carbohydrate.
In addition to these rules, here's the list of food choices that I give to many
of my clients. These foods should make up about 80% of your daily diet and, as
indicated above, you should be eating many of these foods each day, not simply
picking one or two selections to eat all the time.
Small amounts of protein-enriched pasta
Mixed nuts (no peanuts)
For active individuals, the other 20% of your daily calories should come from
the following sources (in order to enhance your recovery from intense exercise).
The liquid meal should come during and after exercise while the second high-carb
meal should come about 1-2 hours later.
Liquid meal (during exercise and immediately post exercise):
Protein: Plain yogurt
Carbohydrate: High GI, solid-fiber cereal
In addition, here's the other list that I give to my clients. These are foods to
avoid at all costs:
Most lunch meat
Large amounts of milk
Large amounts of soy
In conclusion, food selection is one of the more important determinants of your
body composition. Using the rules above, you can make your fat loss quest much
easier than you ever imagined!