Category Archives: Nutrition

Flexible Dieting and Foods that are Truly High in Protein

Seventeen years ago, I had an undergrad professor who constantly extolled the virtues of adequate protein intake for “brain-based learning” – a popular educational paradigm at that time. In order to help her students get their protein requirements in, she would pass out Keebler cheese and peanut butter sandwich crackers to each of her students every single class to support brain function, learning, and retention.

I can recall sitting there being like, “WTF?!” I would glance around the room at all of the students, waiting for one…just one of them to read the nutritional label and discover that these snacks weren’t in fact packed with protein. But it never happened; everyone just naively accepted that they were helping their brains function better due to delicious protein filled treats.

keebler crackers nutrition

For twenty years as a personal trainer, this phenomenon has been bothering me. I can’t tell you how many times I overhear my clients saying something like, “Quinoa is a great source of protein.” Or, “I had some peanut butter because I needed to get some protein in me.” Or, “Almonds are packed with protein.” Or, “I made sure to have a Yoplait yogurt for breakfast since it’s important to have protein in the morning.” If you’re a personal trainer, I’m sure you can relate. And in case you’re wondering why it’s bothersome, it’s because none of these food sources are in fact high in protein.

Check out the nutritional info pertaining to the cheese and peanut butter crackers. You’ll notice that they contain 250 calories, 13 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbs, and 6 grams of protein. Less than 10% of the calories come from protein (46% is fat and 46% is carb). The mere fact that the food has the words “cheese” and “peanuts” in the title fools ignorant people who are unskilled in the art of reading nutritional labels into thinking that the snacks are high in protein when in actuality they are not.

Hypothetical Scenarios

I’m a big fan of flexible dieting (I created a flexible diet guideline for my 2 x 4: Maximum Strength product) – with this system you can work whatever foods you want into your nutrition as long as it fits your macros. You want some Keebler cheese and peanut butter sandwich crackers? Have at it, just make sure you nail your numbers for the day. You have taste buds that don’t enjoy sweets? I hate you, you lucky son of a bitch, but in this case you wouldn’t use up any of your macros with sweets, you simply work the foods that you prefer into your day.

One problem is, many individuals don’t have as much wiggle room as they think they do with their diets. They realize this as soon as they start tracking and stop guessing with regards to their food intake. After finally downloading an app and actually tracking their macros, many of my clients realize that they’re taking in way more calories than they think or they have a few days per week where they go way over what they claim, which sabotages their progress.

macro

Ideally we could all have sky high metabolisms, all men could wolf down 5,000+ calories per day and all women could scarf down 3,000+ calories per day and not gain any weight. But the reality is that many of us are pretty sedentary and only exercise when we hit the gym several days per week for around an hour, and we can’t handle that many calories (maybe we could when we were younger, but not anymore). This is especially true when people get down to the weight they prefer, they find that they can’t eat as much as their brain would like. Bottom line, we all have to exhibit some discipline and monitor our eating habits.

Let’s say you’re a 200 pound male who maintains an ideal physique by consuming 3,000 calories and 200 grams of protein per day. And let’s go back to the example of the Keebler cheese and peanut butter sandwich crackers. If you ate 12 of these crackers, you’d get 3,000 calories – your entire daily allotment, but only 72 grams of protein, thereby falling fall short of your protein goals. You’d also get 360 grams of carbs and 117 grams of fat per day, which is too much for a 3,000 calorie diet that contains optimal levels of protein. Obviously you can see that this snack isn’t really high in protein, and you’re going to need foods that are truly high in protein in order to hit your targets.

I have a 5’4″ female client right now that maintains her ideal current weight of 120 lbs by consuming 1,500 calories per day. She doesn’t do cardio and sticks to weights 3 times per week. I have her aiming for 120 grams of protein per day, 155 grams of carbs per day, and 45 grams of fat per day. She prefers to eat 4 meals per day, therefore she needs to average 30 grams of protein per meal. Getting this 30 grams of protein 4 times per day isn’t easy for many women, at least at first.

In my experience, many women will assume that they’re getting sufficient protein intake because they eat two eggs in the morning (12 grams of protein) and a piece of chicken at night (30 grams of protein). Assuming they get 12 more grams of protein from a can of Greek yogurt and 20 more grams from veggies and other things, this comes to 74 grams of protein per day.

Many men do the same thing, so it’s not just women. In fact, many of my guy friends who don’t lift take in tons of protein but they do so through such fatty meats that they go way over on calories, and their physiques suffer greatly as a result.

Check out the chart I made below.

Protein

You will clearly see which common foods are indeed high in protein, which foods are moderate in protein, and which foods are low in protein.

Sure, having things like lentils, refried beans, tofu, and even various veggies not included in the chart such as spinach are useful in helping people hit their protein requirements. However, an entire can of spinach only yields 14 grams of protein, so you’re not going to meet your protein requirements for the day with spinach and other veggies alone. The increased popularity of Greek yogurt over the past decade is great since it is in fact a high protein snack. But at the end of the day, you’re going to need to eat some meat or guzzle down a protein shake here and there. Yes, I realize that there are plenty of vegans out there who have incredible physiques, and many even figure out ways to get adequate protein intake. But the majority of people are not vegan, so for those who are trying to improve their physique, most meals should be centered around a portion of meat (or a shake, which I’ll explain below).

I don’t usually track my macros. Most of the time I just make sure I get my protein each day, and get on the scale in the morning and at night. I then modify my diet accordingly so I stay roughly the same weight. However, I have tracked my macros before and it worked beautifully, plus I have my clients track their macros.

Here’s a strategy I employed when I did track macros (keep in mind that this isn’t necessary – you can fit your macros any way you prefer) that helped keep me on track. Last year, I was consuming around 230 grams of protein, 230 grams of carbs, and 120 grams of fat each day, for around 2,900 calories. I was leaning out at the time and dropping weight. I have an affinity for fatty foods, hence the lower carbs and higher fats. I have most of my clients stick to higher percentages of carbs and lesser percentages of fat. Anyway, I liked to eat 6 times per day. If I divided my daily macros by 6, I needed around 40 grams of protein per meal, 40 grams of carbs per meal, and 20 grams of fat per meal. Getting 35-40 grams of protein per meal 6 times per day isn’t easy for me. It is for people that love to cook and prepare their meals ahead of time, but that’s not me.

meal prep

This is why I’m such a fan of whey protein shakes. I put two scoops in milk and it yields over 50 grams of protein. If I did this twice per day, this equated to over 100 grams of protein, which went a long way in helping me get to the 230 grams I desired. If you don’t like the taste of shakes, then you definitely don’t need to drink them. But in my situation, whey protein shakes helped me fit my macros.

This is especially important considering that I, like most people, tend to crave fatty and sugary foods. I could enjoy daily servings of my macadamia nuts, my almonds, my cashews, my sunflower seeds, my yogurts, my orange juice, my dried cherries, my Craisins, and my dark chocolate (I wish I liked my veggies but I don’t), because two of my meals per day were mostly protein (2 scoops of whey in skim milk).

protein

Now let’s incorporate this into my averaging scheme. With 2 of my 6 daily meals consisting of the shakes, this left 4 meals per day and took off 110 grams of protein from my total (and also 20 grams of carbs). Now my macros were at 120 grams of protein, 210 grams of carbs, and 120 grams of fat for the rest of the day, which is much more enticing. I should mention that I had a few fish oil caps per day so this took off around 6 grams of fat from the total. Focusing on protein, if I ate 4 cans of Greek yogurt, this took off 40 grams from the total, which left me with 70 grams. If I consumed 2 pieces of meat, or 2 cans of tuna, or 1 piece of meat and 6 eggs, I met my target protein goal for the day (I just needed to make sure I hit the carb and fat targets).

You definitely don’t need to copy my system, the point of flexible dieting is to figure out your own that suits you best. Work the foods you enjoy into the mix, consume the ideal number of meals you prefer, but just make sure you hit your macros consistently. You’ll likely find that the protein target is the hardest to achieve, as carbs and fats are more fun to eat. This practice leads to an incredible physique over time as long as you know how to train properly and manipulate your macros according to your goals.

Conclusion

To conclude this article, please focus on the larger picture. Absorb what’s useful to you and disregard what isn’t – no need to nitpick my info to death, unless you feel I’m highly off base of course. We can all dig up different articles showing different numbers for protein requirements. We can all dig up nutritional labels of brands that differ from the data I showed in my chart. We can argue about clean eating versus IIFYM to death. This article isn’t written for vegans, so if you’re vegan please don’t take it personal. My goals in writing this article was to show people how much protein they’re actually getting from various foods and to provide people with some example scenarios, which is beneficial from a knowledge standpoint. Scientia potentia est (knowledge is power) my friends!

power

RECIPE: The Reuben Quiche (Low Carb, Gluten-free, Paleo-friendly)

Today’s guest post is a recipe from Alex Navarro and Mary Gines, two friends of mine who moved to the Phoenix area to start their online blog FitLivingFoodies.com. They’ve both trained at the Glute Lab for a period of time and once in a while they’ll bring over a recipe for me to try – so far I’ve loved every single one! I’ve been begging them to share some of their recipes with my readers, since I know that many fitness enthusiasts like to go low carb from time to time and are in need of tasty low carb recipes. As former bikini competitors, Mary and Alex know a thing or two about the “competition prep” diet but are now focused on overall health, longevity, and keeping their bikini bods year round through carb cycling. Give this recipe a try!


 

RECIPE: The Reuben Quiche (Low Carb, Gluten-free, Paleo-friendly)

Ultra Low Carb Reuben Quiche

A smorgasbord of goodness

Quiches are one of our favorite make-ahead meals. Not only are they easy to throw together, but you can add just about anything into them, making a smorgasbord of goodness. You can make them with any random fixings you might have leftover in your fridge (ham from Easter or turkey from Thanksgiving!), or if you’re fancy, you can combine the perfect concoction of ingredients to mimic some of your favorite dishes. Which is exactly what we did here with this dangerously good Reuben Quiche.

What’s in our Reuben?

Traditional Reuben sandwiches are made with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing, served on rye bread. Ever wondered where the Reuben Sandwich came from? You can read about its creation here. We love stories like these!

Trader Joe's Uncured Pastrami - no nitratesPastrami

Pastrami can be used instead of corned beef (or flank steak), so if you have a preference for one of the other, just go with your instincts and follow your taste buds. We chose Trader Joe’s pastrami simply because it was calling to us while perusing the isles. It’s uncured and has no nitrates added, which is great for those who are sensitive to additives.

Trader Joe's Raw Fermented Sauerkraut with PicklesSauerkraut

The addition of sauerkraut was an obvious must for its added health benefits and tummy friendly bacteria. And since we usually have a container of Trader Joe’s raw and fermented sauerkraut with pickles in our fridge, it seemed too perfect not to use. We used the pickles from that combination because, well, they were already together so it made our job just a little easier. But if you can’t find that brand feel free to use the sauerkraut and pickles of your choosing.

Trader Joes Gruyere Swiss CheeseSwiss Cheese

Not that we’re promoting Trader Joe’s or anything…but they also have this Swiss cheese and Gruyère shredded cheese mix that was a delicious addition, which is just an option if you’re a cheese fan.

Quiche vs. Frittata – It’s all in the crust

If you’ve ever had an amazing quiche before you know it all starts with the perfect crust. The crust is what makes a quiche and quiche and NOT a frittata, so it’s essential that the crust is tasty. Luckily, we mastered our version of a low-carb, gluten-free crust with our Basic Coconut Flour Crust, which is also one of our fan favorites! We spiced it up by adding in Caraway seeds to mimic the classic use of rye bread and oh boy did it work! Caraway seeds have a slew of health benefits, including their potential to reduce the concentration of LDL cholesterol.

It’s not going to be pretty…

Ultra Low Carb Coconut Flour Crust

The crust itself can be a little tricky to mold into your pie tin if you’ve never cooked with coconut flour before. Due to the lack of gluten in this flour substitute it lacks the stretchiness and give that traditional flour has, making it slightly more challenging. Luckily, this flour is also very forgiving, so if during the molding process you find it’s “falling apart”, simple dampen your fingertips and push it back together. We suggest pressing the dough fairly thin at the bottom of the tin to ensure you have enough dough to create a “lip” at the top so all your tasty ingredients don’t pour over! We also offer a few tips and tricks for making the perfect crust here, one of which is making a crust shield to prevent your crust from over cooking!

Go Crustless!

Ultra Low Carb Reuben Sandwich Muffins

If for some reason the thought of the baking this easy crust seems overwhelming you can simply skip that step and make yourself a crustless quiche aka a casserole or egg muffins…which we promise is just as delicious! We’ve shared two sets of macronutrients below for those of you who’d like to try one or the other, or both!

Either you go we think you’ll find this recipe an easy, delicious dish to make tonight or as a make-ahead meal prepping go-to!


Reuben Quiche

Serves 6

Ingredients

CRUST

* Optional additions to the crust dough

  • 1 tbsp Caraway Seeds
  • 1 tsp Stevia Powder


QUICHE FILLING

  • 1/2 tbsp Butter or Ghee
  • 1/3 Yellow Onion – chopped
  • 1/2 cup Sauerkraut – chopped (packed into measuring cup with all juices squeezed out)
  • 2 tbsp Dill Pickle – minced
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 cup Full-fat Coconut Milk
  • 1 tbsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 tsp Paprika add more if desired
  • 1/8 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 8 ounces Deli Pastrami
  • 1/2 cup Swiss or Gruyere cheese (* Paleo-friendly – omit cheese)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven 375° F.
  2. Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add 1/2 tablespoon butter and swirl to coat.
  4. Add onions and sauté 2-3 minutes; remove from heat.
  5. In a large mixing bowl add onions, sauerkraut, and dill pickles; mix to combine and set aside.
  6. In another bowl, whisk 4 eggs.
  7. Add coconut milk, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, paprika, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce and mix well.
  8. Layer pastrami at the bottom of the premade crust. Save a few slices to add on top if desired.
    Ultra Low Carb Reuben Quiche Trader Joe's Pastrami Layer
  9. Layer the onion mixture on top of pastrami.
    Ultra Low Carb Reuben Quiche Condiments Layer
  10. Pour egg mixture over onions and pastrami.
  11. Top with cheese and leftover pastrami.
    Ultra Low Carb Reuben Quiche Layers
  12. Place pie pan in oven and cook for 30-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in middle comes out clean.
    Ultra Low Carb Reuben Sandwich Quiche

Recipe Notes

Nutritional Data for Ultra Low Carb Reuben Quiche with Crust

Ultra  Low Carb Reuben Quiche with Coconut Flour Crust Nutritional Info

Click here for “Understanding our Macronutrient Guide”


Nutritional Data for Quiche without Crust

Ultra Low Carb Reuben Casserole Nutritional Info

Click here for “Understanding our Macronutrient Guide”



 AUTHOR BIOS

FitLivingFoodies.com Alex Navarro and Mary Gines

Alex Navarro is a nationally-renowned personal trainer, fitness competitor, and nutrition programmer. She has helped hundreds of clients reach their fitness goals through a combination of workout programming, nutritional planning, and food science education.

Alex is a WBFF Pro Bikini Diva and a former Ms. Natural Fitness Olympia. She has been active in the fitness competition scene since 2007.

Mary J. Gines has a BFA in digital media and a Master’s Cert. in Online Marketing. As a former national-level NPC bikini competitor and professional model, her combination of creativity and technical expertise and understanding of fit living made her the perfect choice to collaborate on this project.

Mary brings her creativity and “recipe investigatory” skills to the cutting board with her knack for researching menus of the local restaurants for ideas and “how can we make it different?” mentality.

You can find more information and recipes about Fit Living Foodies on FitLivingFoodies.com.

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^ Follow Fit Living Foodies on Social Media at These Links ^

Cardio & Appetite: Does Cardio Make You Fat?

Cardio & Appetite: Does Cardio Make You Fat?
By Fredrik Tonstad Vårvik

Does endurance-training (cardio) increase or decrease your appetite? What about resistance training?

Some might say that exercise increases appetite, while others say the opposite. The plain truth is that since exercise burns calories, you should think appetite increases to make up for those burned calories. For those who want to lose weight, that might come as a shock. What sounds logical is not always true. The media have done a great job of convincing the public that exercise increases your appetite and that you end up eating more and getting fat.

I have read and looked into the latest reviews and meta-analysis, which should sum up nicely what we know to date. The research that has been done is mostly short-term. The authors of the studies admit some limitations of the studies – mainly sub-optimal study design and small sample sizes.

hungry

Short term

A meta-analysis by Schubert et al, 2013, looked at acute energy intake up to a maximum of 24 hours post-exercise (1). Twenty-nine studies, consisting of 51 trials were included. Exercise duration ranged from 30 – 120 min at intensities of 36-81% VO2max. Test meals were offered 0-2 hours post-exercise. If subsequent meals were presented, they were 4-5 hours apart, from 1-4 meals. The overall results suggest that exercise is effective in producing a short-term energy deficit. Meaning that the subjects did not compensate for the energy they expended during exercise, in the 2-14 hours after exercise. Forty-five studies reported relative energy intake after exercise. They showed that participants compensated for the energy used in exercise by around 14%. All trials reported absolute energy intake. Despite large energy expenditures, the absolute energy intake was only slight higher in the exercise group compared to the no-exercise group, with a mean increase of about 50kcal.

These results are in line with a review of Deighton et al 2014 (2). Namely, that an acute bout of exercise does not stimulate any compensatory increases in appetite and energy intake on the day of exercise.

Short and long term

A review by Donnelly et al 2014, included 103 studies in their review (3). The study design included cross-sectional- , acute/short-term- , non-randomized- and randomized-studies. Exercise duration ranged from a single 30-min exercise bout to daily exercise over 14 days. Energy intake was measured from once post-exercise up to 72 weeks. Overall, the energy intake was reduced in participants doing exercise compared with participants not doing exercise. As noted by the authors: “our results from both acute and short-term trials suggest that any observed increase in post-exercise energy intake only partially compensates for the energy expended during exercise. Thus, in the short-term, exercise results in a negative energy balance.”

As for long term, only 2 out of the 36 non-randomized and randomized trials, in duration from 3 to 72 weeks, reported an increase in absolute energy intake in response to exercise. Moreover, 30 of the studies reported no change in calorie intake, while five of the randomized studied reported significant decreases of 200-500 calories per day in response to training.

Blundell et al, 2015, agrees that exercise has little effect on energy intake within a single day (4). However, in the long-term, there seems to be a raise in compensatory energy intake, ranging from 0 % to 60 % compensation in energy intake for the exercise expenditure.

Low, medium & high fitness level

The meta-analysis by Schubert et al, 2013, indicated that individuals of low and moderate fitness reduce energy intake more than those with high fitness level (1). They reference previous work that agrees that individual who are more physically active more accurately regulate their energy expenditure. The researchers write that active individuals compensate for about 23% of energy expended while inactive individuals actually had a negative compensation of -35,5%. In Donnelly et al’s review, they found no difference in fitness level and energy intake (3).

Resistance training:

Five interventions in Schubert et al’s meta-analysis utilized resistance training (1). The sessions were between 35-90min with 10-12 repetition maximum and 2-4 sets. Acute energy intake up to 14 hours were reduced compared to energy expenditure; however, it was not as reduced as the groups with endurance training. Worth noting is that energy expenditure of resistance training is difficult to quantify precisely. So don’t stop doing resistance training, there are a lot of other positive advantages, like improved body composition. In addition, the review by Donnelly et al found no difference between energy intake post-exercise in endurance exercise and resistance training (3).

Intensity & duration

An effect of exercise intensity was not found in Schubert et at’s meta-analysis (1). However, the researchers mention in the text that others have found that intensities above 70% VO2max appears to reduce appetite but with minor changes in absolute energy intake. In contrast to this finding, Donnelly’s review found no significant difference in exercise intensity and duration on energy intake (3). Deighton et al also concludes that high-intensity does not reduce appetite more than low-intensity (2). However, if you look more into the studies analyzed in Donnelly’s review you will see that high-intensity might have some advantages concerning reducing energy intake.

Compensators & responders

The mean (average) in Schubert et al’s meta-analysis showed a short-term reduction in energy intake (1). However, some actually increased their absolute energy intake post-exercise. Some of the trials in Donnelly et al’s review also increased their energy intake, meaning that some compensate more after the energy deficit the exercise gives (3). Compensators have showed an increase in hedonic response to food, which means they are more sensitive and “weak” to food that give more pleasure eating.

How does exercise influence appetite?

As stated in the start of this article – since you burn calories through exercise you should expect to increase appetite and make up for it with eating more. As the research says, in most people it does not.

The reason might be because exercise suppresses ghrelin levels (a hormone that stimulates energy intake), while increasing hormones that increase satiety, such as peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like-peptide 1 (GLP-1) (1). This is in line with data from Blundell et al, 2015, which means that increased physical activity improves satiety signaling and appetite control. And that this system gets deregulated in sedentary people, thereby permitting overconsumption, as shown in the illustration (4).

Untitled

Exercise does also make adjustments other than with gastrointestinal hormone response and gastric emptying: blood flow, muscle cellular metabolism, adipose tissue biochemistry as well as brain activity gets adjusted by exercise.

Why do individuals lose less weight than would be expected during long-term exercise interventions?

Several theories exist regarding why individuals do not lose as much weight as expected during an exercise program (1).

  • Some might change their dietary intake in response to exercise, especially the compensators
  • Some prefer sweet and high-fat food post-exercise
  • Energy intake may not increase per se, but rather a compensation of physical activity outside the exercise program decreases
  • The research mentioned in this article, stated that there is a highly individual difference between how much you compensate with energy intake, if you compensate much you will see little difference in weight

The bottom line is, on average, exercise will not make you eat more. Moreover, exercise is a tool you can use for losing weight. Energy expenditure of exercise is the strongest predictor of fat loss during an exercise program, according to Deighton et al (2).

Author bio

Fredrik Tonstad Vårvik is a personal trainer & nutritionist. He writes articles and work with online coaching at fredfitology. Follow him and his colleagues at facebook & twitter. Check out FredFitology for more info.

Fredrik

References 

  1. Schubert MM, Desbrow B, Sabapathy S, Leveritt M. Acute exercise and subsequent energy intake. A meta-analysis. Appetite. 2013 Apr;63:92–104. LINK
  2. Deighton K, Stensel DJ. Creating an acute energy deficit without stimulating compensatory increases in appetite: is there an optimal exercise protocol? Proc Nutr Soc. 2014;73(02):352–8. LINK
  3. Donnelly JE, Herrmann SD, Lambourne K, Szabo AN, Honas JJ, Washburn RA. Does increased exercise or physical activity alter ad-libitum daily energy intake or macronutrient composition in healthy adults? A systematic review. PloS One. 2014;9(1):e83498. LINK
  4. Blundell JE, Gibbons C, Caudwell P, Finlayson G, Hopkins M. Appetite control and energy balance: impact of exercise. Obes Rev Off J Int Assoc Study Obes. 2015 Feb;16 Suppl 1:67–76. LINK

 

Sugar – The Sweet Truth

The following is a guest article discussing the evidence behind sugar by my friend Menno Henselmans. For some of you, the following information is going to seem hard to believe. I confess, when I first learned the truth about sugar, I was highly skeptical. However, starting a couple of years ago, I quit worrying about the complexity (pun intended) of my carbohydrate intake, and during this time, my physique has actually gotten better due to gaining strength. It’s such a relief to know that as long as I hit my caloric and macronutrient targets, I can enjoy a variety of carbohydrate sources depending on my preferences without negatively impacting body composition and health. Knowledge is power my friends. Check out Menno’s personal trainer certification course HERE

Sugar – The Sweet Truth
Written by: Menno Henselmans

There are only 2 things that every nutritionist in the world seems to agree on (and we know everyone is a nutritionist these days). Vegetables are good and sugar is bad.

But things aren’t so black and white if we let the light of science shine on sugar. Will sugar make you fat? It depends on your diet.

Specifically, sugar’s effect on your body composition depends on if your diet has a predefined set of macros that you stick to every day or if you just eat until you’re full.

All-you-can-eat sugar

If you eat until you’re full (ad libitum, as researchers call it), and you start adding sugar to your coffee, your oatmeal and your protein shakes, you are most likely going to gain weight (or lose less weight, if you’re in an energy deficit).

The reason is simple. Sugar scores very low on the satiety index. This means it doesn’t fill you up much relative to how much energy you consume. So if you add sugar to a meal, you won’t eat much less of it. In fact, you may eat more of it because it’s tastier (higher palatability, as labcoats say). Adding sugar to your meals will thus generally increase your energy intake.

And since your body follows the laws of physics, specifically the laws of thermodynamics, what happens to your weight depends on your body’s energy balance. You gain weight in an energy surplus, because energy will be stored. You lose weight in an energy deficit, because your body will have to oxidize AKA burn bodily tissue to get enough energy.

sugar

Sugar tracking

Ok, so far so obvious. But what we really want to know is this. Is table sugar AKA sucrose (50% glucose, 50% fructose) more fattening than starches like rice or oatmeal when you consume the same amount of calories?

Many studies have compared groups eating a diet with the same macronutrient composition (% protein, % fat, % carbs) that differed only in which carb sources were consumed. The groups eating lots of sugar lose just as much fat without losing more muscle mass than the groups consuming little or no sugar [2-3]. In studies where complex carbs like whole-wheat bread are replaced with sugar but the total caloric intake is kept constant, no body composition changes take place [4].

So as long as you track your macros, having sugar in your diet is in itself not bad for your physique. And it gets even better.

Not so simple

A 6 month study of 390 participants found that this is true for all simple carbs, like fructose (fruit sugar) and lactose (milk sugar): whether you consume simple or complex carbs does not affect your body composition [1]. Or, for that matter, your blood lipids, an important marker of your cardiovascular (heart) health.

While it is easy to classify simple carbs as bad and complex carbs as good, the distinction between simple and complex carbs is in fact completely arbitrary. It is merely a medical tradition that we call carbohydrates with 3 or more sugars ‘complex carbs’ and we call carbohydrates with 1 or 2 sugars ‘simple carbs’.

What about blood sugar?

It is a myth that sugar causes a massive blood sugar spike followed by a complete crash. The effect on a food’s blood sugar is measured by the glycaemic index (GI). Sugar, due to its 50% fructose content, has a GI of ~68, which is a ‘medium’ effect on blood sugar. Sugar even has a lower GI than whole-wheat bread, which has a GI of ~71 [7]. The same applies to the insulin index [6].

What about health?

There are many cultures in tropical climates thriving on diets of up to 90% carbohydrates [8-10]. And we’re not talking oatmeal and broccoli here. These cultures rely on sugary fruits. In fact, honey is the favorite food of the Hadza from Tanzania [9].

Evolution has made sure our bodies can deal with sugar, because it is found in many of the world’s most nutritious foods: fruits. Fruit is in fact one of the foods humans have consumed for the longest period of our genetic existence. It has been a staple in our diet ever since we were still monkeys living in the jungle [5, 11]. And glucose is literally in our blood.

Conclusion

Sugar isn’t bad. Nor is it good. Sugar has empty calories. It doesn’t satiate. But if your overall diet is very nutritious, you are healthy and physically active and you are tracking your macros, sugar won’t make your abs fade into a mountain of lard. You don’t have to live on rice and broccoli. And unless you have a food intolerance, you certainly shouldn’t avoid fruit or dairy because they contain sugar. That’s exactly the kind of broscience that drives bodybuilders into following obsessive and monotone diets that aren’t healthy in psychological or nutritional terms.

Interested in more articles like this and advancing your fitness education? Have a look at the Bayesian PT certification program, an evidence based course about the science of physique training.

About the Author

Menno

Online physique coach, fitness model and scientific author, Menno Henselmans helps serious trainees attain their ideal physique using his Bayesian Bodybuilding methods. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter and check out his website for more free articles.

References

  1. Randomized controlled trial of changes in dietary carbohydrate/fat ratio and simple vs complex carbohydrates on body weight and blood lipids: the CARMEN study. The Carbohydrate Ratio Management in European National diets. Saris WH, Astrup A, Prentice AM, Zunft HJ, Formiguera X, Verboeket-van de Venne WP, Raben A, Poppitt SD, Seppelt B, Johnston S, Vasilaras TH, Keogh GF. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000 Oct;24(10):1310-8.
  2. Weight loss in overweight subjects following low-sucrose or sucrose-containing diets. West JA, de Looy AE. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 Aug;25(8):1122-8.
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