Category Archives: Alcohol

3 Easy Strategies To Prevent Fat Gain This Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner, which inevitably means banquets of delightful foods. It is a season to be enjoyed but, for the health-conscious individual, represents a formidable threat to one’s discipline and concomitant fat loss efforts.

While the suggestions I will outline in this article are by no means revelatory, they deserve consideration if you want to exercise your innate hedonism this social season, without derailing your fat loss progress. Let’s go into the New Year in a position that is propitious to attaining our fitness ‘resolutions’.

1. Sparkling Water Is Your Friend

Not only is carbonated water more palatable and satiating than still water, its use as a mixer can dramatically reduce our total caloric intake for the day.

Unless you have ever inspected the nutritional panel of foods and beverages you commonly consume, it is likely that you underestimate the calories within them. Similarly, for those with a basic understanding of nutritional composition, high-calorie drinks lend themselves to excessive energy intake and weight gain. I believe what and how much we drink at this time of the year is more culpable than our food indulgences, from a fat gain perspective.

As we would expect, carbonated water has demonstrated prolonged gastric emptying and feelings of fullness.

Add some lemon juice to a glass of soda water before a meal. Dilute your favourite juice or spirits with it. Keep a bottle of San Pellegrino on hand wherever you go. Use it in your salad dressing recipe. Wot?

 

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2. ‘Hara Hachi Bu’, and Eating Mindfully

It is widely accepted that the Okinawan people of Japan perpetually claim the world’s greatest longevity, per capita; but few people are aware of the key custom that underlies their supreme leanness.

‘Hara Hachi Bu’ translates from Japanese as ‘eat until 80% full’, and has been employed by Japanese people for generations. This inherently simple, yet tremendously effective principle, necessitates that the individual eats both intuitively and mindfully.

In today’s obese climate, however, most people find eating intuitively a piece of cake (to their heart’s content, without any accountability), but the mindful component of ‘Hara Hachi Bu’ undoubtedly evades most of us. Particularly with our smartphones and various gadgets at hands reach, 24/7. It is only when both intuition and mindfulness are employed concurrently that this strategy works; they depend upon each other.

What I like most about this concept is that it embodies a way in which we can consume a calorie deficit, and thus lose fat, without counting calories or being neurotic. Rather, we can listen to internal cues of hunger.

So, I understand this concept is easier said than done (as with most behavioural interventions), but there are a few sub-strategies we can use to successfully implement it:

  • Quarantine your phone, and turn off the T.V, at meal times
  • Chew your food. You might find this suggestion comical, but the amount of people that inhale their food like my dog Slater, is very real
  • Have a cup of tea after a your first serve (or plateful). Anecdotally, I find a cup of green tea after or with my meal allows my internal hunger cues to ease, and digestion improves
  • Replete a smaller plate with food

 

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3. Reduce Meal Frequency, and Skip Breakfast

Yes, many of the papers examining the effect of meal frequency on body composition almost invariably favour the higher frequency group (albeit marginally), but these findings are correlational and causation shouldn’t be assumed. What I mean by this is that, generally, the type of person that usually eats irregularly, is the same person that skips breakfast and subsequently proceeds to eating donuts (or similar junk) at work; and then binges at night after a sedentary work-day. Generally.

Further, seldom do these papers incorporate intentional, intermittent fasts in the lower frequency meal groups. The myth of ‘eating around the clock to stoke one’s metabolic fire’ has been propagated by ripped gym-junkies for years, but it is scientifically unfounded. This systematic review headed by nutrition pioneer, Alan Aragon, found that body composition changes were almost identical when comparing isoenergetic (same amount of calories) diets in high frequency (HFM) VS. low frequency (LFM) meal groups.

Insulin sensitivity, or our glycemic control, is also improved in the LFM, when 3 meals/day was compared with 14 a day. This effect is augmented by fasting, which can easily be achieved by pushing breakfast back a few hours.

Rarely does the morning call for social gatherings during this time of year, so I suggest strategically fasting for the first 2-6 hours of the day. Wake up, have some coffee, and use this time to be productive. Run errands, smash an early gym session before the day gets too busy. Don’t brood over food.

Fasting during the first half of the day will give you a nice energy buffer, and allow you to get away with feasting at night, when we are most social. I am not currently fasting every day, purely because I am gaining weight and find breakfast more conducive to this goal; but I understand the general population usually desires weight loss, and this is where strategic fasting is very handy (not to mention the whole host of other benefits associated with it).

I believe it is advantageous, and much more enjoyable, to consume 3 large meals a day as opposed to grazing constantly. Who actually enjoys teasing themselves with tiny servings, and thinking about food all day?

 

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That’s it, guys and gals. Feel free to message me with questions, or if you are interested in my coaching services.

Healthy regards,

Jonny.

 

References:

Cavanagh, K., Vartanian, L. R., Herman, C. P., & Polivy, J. (2014). The effect of portion size on food intake is robust to brief education and mindfulness exercises. J Health Psychol, 19(6), 730-739. doi: 10.1177/1359105313478645

Fukkoshi, Y., Akamatsu, R., & Shimpo, M. (2015). The relationship of eating until 80% full with types and energy values of food consumed. Eating behaviors, 17, 153-156.

Katterman, S. N., Kleinman, B. M., Hood, M. M., Nackers, L. M., & Corsica, J. A. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review. Eating behaviors, 15(2), 197-204.

Munsters, M. J., & Saris, W. H. (2012). Effects of meal frequency on metabolic profiles and substrate partitioning in lean healthy males. PLoS One, 7(6), e38632.

Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., Wilborn, C. D., Krieger, J. W., & Sonmez, G. T. (2014). Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 1.

Tate, D. F., Turner-McGrievy, G., Lyons, E., Stevens, J., Erickson, K., Polzien, K., . . . Popkin, B. (2012). Replacing caloric beverages with water or diet beverages for weight loss in adults: main results of the Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday (CHOICE)

Zhu, Y., & Hollis, J. H. (2015). Relationship between chewing behavior and body weight status in fully dentate healthy adults. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 66(2), 135-139.

How The ‘Gut Microbiome’ Ultimately Governs Our Health

The concept of ‘hitting’ one’s macronutrients, or even merely calorie-counting, is as pervasive as ever in the fitness world; and, while I don’t deny the importance of tracking macros or calories for body composition purposes, I do believe the macro obsession obscures the bigger picture.

That bigger picture is our gut health, or ‘gut microbiome’.

Don’t worry if you are one of the majority whom has never heard the above notion before, as you should walk away from this post enlightened and equipped to improve your own gut health, and overall wellbeing.

A snapshot of the gut microbiome:

  • Microbiome: micro = small; biome = community of naturally-occurring organisms suited to their given environment
  • Human beings consist of ~70 trillion cells (using a 70kg, 170cm male as reference), with bacteria cells outnumbering human cells by roughly 30%
  • There is thought to be 1000+ different species of microbiota, encoding 10 million genes, in our gastrointestinal tract (GIT)
  • It heavily influences our metabolism, immune cell education, disease prevention, brain function & psychology… To name but a few of its roles. Basically, the gut microbiome impacts ALL parameters of our health, and research is continually mounting to corroborate this idea
  • It can be considered a ‘2nd brain’, perhaps more powerful than our 1st brain; and, collectively weighing 3-5 pounds (thus the same volume)
  • Scientists are still yet to fully comprehend this colony of flora and fauna that exists within humans, but they ARE certain of its significant influence on our health

 

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‘Leaky Gut’ Syndrome (LGS)

LGS is exactly as it sounds: hyper-permeability of the intestinal wall, consequently resulting in ‘leakage’ of undigested molecules, waste products, and toxins, into the bloodstream. Particles that escape the GIT may travel to other areas of the body, including the brain, and trigger global inflammatory effects… which may devolve into disease.

LGS may manifest itself as:

  • Gas & bloating after meals
  • Brain fog
  • Mood swings
  • Multiple food sensitivities
  • Chronic constipation or diarrhoea
  • Chronic fatigue and joint achiness

LGS is also a key culprit in vitamin & mineral deficiencies, as carrier proteins get damaged or filtered into the bloodstream; iron, vitamin B12, magnesium, calcium, folate, zinc and vitamin D are most at-risk.

Now, many of you are probably associating the above symptoms with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and you aren’t wrong… But they are not synonymous. IBS & LGS are closely linked, in that they may precipitate one another and often co-exist.

Essentially, IBS is stomach upset (i.e. cramping, diarrhoea, constipation) and LGS is when the gut lining becomes porous.

Our diet is one major contributor to both LGS & IBS, and the good news is that it also serves as the most easily modifiable factor in these conditions.

Scientific literature reports a range of incidence rates of IBS, given the various criteria sets used to diagnose IBS. And while many studies estimate Australia’s IBS incidence to be in the vicinity of ~20%, this is a gross underestimation as only 30% of those with symptoms report it.

More people than not are dismissing abnormal bowel movements, chronic lethargy & brain fog as normal. Perhaps it is fair to say that this dismissive culture has been bred by allopathic medicine (and the countless, dismissive doctors whom constitute it).

The scary thing is that mental illness & obesity have become so prevalent that they too may be termed ‘normal’, in today’s society. 20+% of 16-85 year-old Australians will experience mental illness at some point in any given year, and depression is the #1 cause of non-fatal disability. This is not a coincidence.

 

The Gut-Brain Axis

When I first read of the purported impact our gut microbiota could have on our brain function, I was somewhat sceptical. But after diving deeper into the research, the gut-brain link appears irrefutable.

There is now compelling evidence that gut microbiota can influence humans’ behaviour, with particular note to depressive-like symptoms. The reciprocal gut-brain relationship seemingly takes place at the central nervous system level, with the brain regulating things like gut motility and secretion; and the gut regulating mood.

The main mechanisms by which an altered microbiota state predisposes us to anxiety and depression are believed to relate to cytokine production; and reduced circulating serotonin & tryptophan.

When our intestinal permeability increases, pro-inflammatory messengers termed ‘cytokines’ are released by immune cells, and heavily implicated in psychological disorders, as well as an array of diseases. Depression is more-so a symptom of inflammation than a disease.

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Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) widely known as the chief commander of mood & sense of well-being. What most people don’t realise is that 80-90% of our total serotonin resides in our GIT.

Gut bacteria (such as probiotics) both produce and respond to the same neurochemicals—such as GABA, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine and melatonin—that the brain uses to regulate mood and cognition.

The translocation of our ‘good’ gut bacteria across the intestinal wall hampers the proportion of the aforementioned neurochemicals, and this has been consistently implicated in depression… As well as deleterious eating behaviours.

How do these microorganisms in our gut lining potentially trigger over-eating and/or voracious food cravings? Well, interestingly, they too crave particular substrates and so when the microbiota balance is thrown out of whack via LGS, this gets fed back to our brain. As an example, the common probiotic bifidobacteria thrives on dietary fibre.

The intricate feedback-loop between our central nervous system (brain) and enteric nervous system (gut) is facilitated by the longest cranial nerve (CNX) in the body, the vagus nerve.

Major takeaway: a happy gut microbiome may indeed stave off anxiety & depressive symptoms, and indirectly reduce cravings.

 

Interesting Misc. Facts

  • Good gut bacteria have demonstrated the ability to convert white (stored) fat to brown (heat-producing) fat. This process increases our basal metabolic rate (BMR; how much energy we burn in a day). More can be read about this in my first article here.
  • Certain studies have reported 84% of IBS patients improving symptomatically after the removal of gluten from their diets. So, while non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is estimated to be ~20 in Australia (determined, again, from various criteria), it is apparent that gluten is pro-inflammatory in a lot of cases.

 

Actionable Steps To Bulletproof Your Gut Wall

  1. As straightforward as this will sound, monitor how you respond to the foods you eat, and eliminate anything that consistently elicits the earlier-mentioned symptoms. And, of course, try to eat simple whole foods 80+% of the time… Your gut will find it much easier to break it down, and greatly reduce your likelihood of LGS. When you get an upset stomach, your 2nd brain is alarming you for a reason – investigate it!
  2. If you are an ‘if it fits your macros (IIFYM)’ fan, feel free to continue with it, but it is risky business trying to fit as many ‘cheat’ meals into your diet as possible. Try to indulge less frequently, and be cognisant of micronutrient intake as well your macros.
  3. Both caffeine & alcohol are gut irritants – try not to binge on either of them too frequently.
  4. Avoid antibiotics (anti = no; biotic = life… death) at all costs. This medicine destroys BOTH bad AND good bacteria in our stomachs, and may permanently alter the gut’s microbiome. View the use of antibiotics as an absolute last resort.
  5. Fermented foods. My personal favourite, which I eat in abundance most days, is natto (fermented soybean, popularised in Japan). Other choices include sauerkraut, greek yoghurt (check the ingredients for cultures such as lactobacillus and bactobifideria) & kombucha.
  6. Sorry ketogenic advocates and paleo lovers, but preliminary data is suggestive of high-fat diets lending themselves to LGS. This is thought to be because fat is a more efficient vehicle for toxin transportation than carbohydrates. I say shoot for balanced macronutrients.

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Happy Summer 🙂

Best,

Jonny.

References:

Bai, Y.-M., Chiou, W.-F., Su, T.-P., Li, C.-T., & Chen, M.-H. (2014). Pro-inflammatory cytokine associated with somatic and pain symptoms in depression. Journal of affective disorders, 155, 28-34.

Balakireva, A. V., & Zamyatnin, A. A. (2016). Properties of Gluten Intolerance: Gluten Structure, Evolution, Pathogenicity and Detoxification Capabilities. Nutrients, 8(10), 644.

Dach, J. (2015). Gut-Brain: Major Depressive Disorder, Hypothalamic Dysfunction, and High Calcium Score Associated With Leaky Gut. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 21, 10.

Dash, S., Clarke, G., Berk, M., & Jacka, F. N. (2015). The gut microbiome and diet in psychiatry: focus on depression. Current opinion in psychiatry, 28(1), 1-6.

David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., . . . Fischbach, M. A. (2014). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature, 505(7484), 559-563.

Elli, L., Tomba, C., Branchi, F., Roncoroni, L., Lombardo, V., Bardella, M. T., . . . Buscarini, E. (2016). Evidence for the Presence of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity in Patients with Functional Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Results from a Multicenter Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Gluten Challenge. Nutrients, 8(2), 84. doi: 10.3390/nu8020084

Halmos, E. P., & Gibson, P. R. (2015). Dietary management of IBD[mdash]insights and advice. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol, 12(3), 133-146. doi: 10.1038/nrgastro.2015.11

Ley, R. E. (2010). Obesity and the human microbiome. Current opinion in gastroenterology, 26(1), 5-11.

Li, X., & Atkinson, M. A. (2015). The role for gut permeability in the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes–a solid or leaky concept? Pediatric diabetes, 16(7), 485-492.

Luna, R. A., & Foster, J. A. (2015). Gut brain axis: diet microbiota interactions and implications for modulation of anxiety and depression. Current opinion in biotechnology, 32, 35-41.

Tsai, F., & Coyle, W. J. (2009). The microbiome and obesity: is obesity linked to our gut flora? Current gastroenterology reports, 11(4), 307-313.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beer Paradox

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When it comes to alcoholic beverages, it is without question that beer is esteemed as the most manly. This link, tying masculinity to beer, has been perpetuated on a global scale for centuries. Whether it be a few ‘frothies’ had after a hard-fought footy victory with the boys; tradesmen heading to their local to sink a ‘brewski’; or University students proudly double-parked with a jug and glass of the golden ale… Beer is perceived as a quintessential symbol of manliness.

Well, it may then come as a surprise to you that beer in fact is the most feminine alcoholic drink one can consume.

In this post, I will outline:

  • The feministic properties of beer
  • How to benefit from beer (if you must drink it)
  • Why spirits are your best option in the context of alcohol
  • My recommendations for an ideal day leading up to a night out (that won’t sabotage your hard-earned fitness)

The basic ingredients of a brewed beer are grains, water, yeast, and hops. Hops, dried female flowers derived from the humulus lupulus, contain two particular compounds that are potent phytoestrogens. A phytoestrogen is essentially a plant-derived oestrogen that is not produced endogenously by a human, but exerts the same effects as oestrogen (the major female hormone produced by the ovaries). Phytoestrogens act antithetically to testosterone in males via a process termed aromatisation (conversion of testosterone in to oestrogen).

Ever pondered why we are in the midst of a man-boobs endemic? Aromatisation -> higher oestrogen:testosterone ratio in males -> gynaecomastia (‘moobs’). *Uh huh…*

fat-bastard

It is also important to note that too great an oestrogen:testosterone ratio and/or exposure to environmental xenoestrogens may pose as a breast cancer risk factor. In saying this, breast cancer is obviously an immensely complex phenomenon that goes beyond the scope of this article. There are several lifestyle choices that can be made to mitigate aromatase (the enzyme that synthesises oestrogen), which I will elaborate on soon.

8-Prenylnaringenin (8-PN), and xanthohumol are some of the most powerful phytoestrogens in existence. 8-PN, for instance, has demonstrated the ability to reduce hot flushes and other symptoms of menopause in middle-aged women. This would indicate a drastic surge in physiological oestrogen levels. Similarly, xanthohumol exhibits potent anti-cancer properties, to the extent that it stymies prostate cancer development. In doing so, however, xanthohumol binds to androgen receptors and and thus blocks testosterone production. It would be prudent to ensure that men get their daily dose of lycopene-rich tomatoes, rather than relying on hops in beer to decrease the likelihood of prostate cancer.

The other problem with beer is that it is relatively calorific, in light of the combination of ethanol and sugars. Do not get me wrong, I am a big proponent of carbohydrates consumption at night time (and in general), but consuming too many carbohydrates alongside alcohol makes for a nasty cocktail (pun intended). Why? Ethanol is metabolised before any other macronutrient (carbohydrate, fat & protein). This makes sense since ethanol cannot be stored in the body and is toxic, so the body prioritises its oxidation to eradicate it. Beer, and other sugar-laden alcohol mixes, can easily facilitate fat storage if not consumed in moderation and if one is not accountable with their diet. Hence why I find fruit juice/spirits concoctions, popular amongst late-adolescent girls, cringeworthy…

The good news about ethanol as a fuel substrate in the body is that it has a greater thermic effect than the other macronutrients. Theoretically, then: if we were to take two iso-caloric (same amount of energy, e.g. 2000 calories) diets for someone and replace a proportion of someone’s fat or carbohydrate consumption with alcohol, they could expect to burn more energy.

James Bond knew what he was doing with his scotch & soda water
James Bond knew what he was doing with his scotch & soda water

Distilled beverages (think whisky, gin, vodka) with a non-caloric filler like soda water is a winner, if you want to drink socially guilt-free. Ciders are good in that they do not contain hops, but they are calorie-dense like beer. And red wine has shown promise as an aromatase-inhibitor, even eliciting excitement from researchers as a preventative agent against breast cancer. We also know that red wine is loaded with antioxidants (chiefly resveratrol) that positively influence our cardiovascular biomarkers.

A handful of studies suggest that ethanol consumption below 1 gram per kilogram of bodyweight either has no effect or a small increase in testosterone levels. This would mean an 80kg male could enjoy a threshold of ~5 standard drinks before experiencing the ill-effects of ethanol as an endocrine disruptor. I am sure we are all acutely aware of the cross-sectional studies that elucidate the superior longevity of social drinkers VS. teetotallers.

Yes, social drinking may be associated with a greater lifespan, but I believe the correlation of alcohol consumption with greater lifespan is by virtue of the concomitant social interaction it begets. I personally enjoy drinking 3-5 gin & sodas to get a euphoric ‘buzz’, and it is even more comforting to know that gin is actually packed with benefits.

IF you absolutely must continue to drink beer on a frequent basis, there are a few things you can do to attenuate the damage:

  1. Consume plenty of cruciferous vegetables (brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage). These veggies are nature’s best source of di-indolemethane (DIM), which is an amazing aromatase inhibitor.
  2. If you are averse to cruciferous vegetables, be sure to purchase a DIM supplement. Another fantastic proprietary blend that supports androgen production is Mike Mahler’s ASTB, and it contains stinging nettle root which aids in oestrogen metabolism.
  3. Make sure to eat plenty of zinc-rich foods (oysters, beef, dark leafy greens) or supplement with zinc. Zinc deficiency is more prevalent than most people realise, and it is associated with a 57% increase in oestrogen receptors.

Wolf-of-Wall-Street

Suggestions for an ideal day leading up to a social night of drinking

  • If possible, sleep in on the morning of the night you are going out. Most nights tend to push on until the next morning (2am+), so staying awake for ~20 hours will set you and your training back for a few days.
  • Occupy yourself with important tasks in the morning (especially) and the first half of the day. Savour a cup or two of coffee, be productive, and you will find that food won’t be on your mind. Sip continuously on water during the day.
  • Pushing your breakfast back a few hours after waking will create an energy buffer and allow wiggle room to indulge later on.
  • Have a generous lunch that is scarce in starchy carbohydrates (if you are intending on consuming sugary alcoholic beverages later), and instead centred around fibrous vegetables and dense protein. If you intend to drink clear liquor at night, you can consume moderate amounts of starch (potatoes, rice) without too much concern. Also, add healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, cheese, nuts) for flavour enhancement and hormonal support.
  • Try to schedule a training session about an hour or two before heading out. I will post a future article on the specifics of training, but strength training (or any training that challenges the neuromuscular system significantly) in the evening before a night out is ideal – this is because it shunts carbohydrate ingestion toward the now insulin-sensitive muscle and diminishes the chance of fat storage for a few hours.
  • Enjoy a big, satisfying dinner out with your friends (or at home) before drinking 3-5 standard drinks…Preferably straight liquor with soda, or cider, or red wine 😉
  • Aim for a glass of water between each alcoholic drink
  • Relax and lose your inhibitions in this sensible range of drinks, and turn it up on the dance floor! Dancing after a handful of drinks, while you are still in control & buzzing, is the best aspect of a night out (and is fantastic exercise).
  • DO NOT opt for a ‘Macca’s run’ on the way home at 3am in the morning…! Remember that ethanol will be circulating in your system for at least a few more hours, so we do not want to be consuming food (let alone processed junk) just before hitting the hay. Unless body composition does not matter to you; but of course you care about your body (your temple), because otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this post!

Thanks so much for reading this post, and I hope you learned a few things! Email me if you have any questions, and/or have any suggestions for future topics to be covered.

Healthy regards,

Jonny.