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Category

Nutrition

Utilizing Body Composition Analysis in Nutrition Consulting

By Diet, Nutrition

If you work as a nutritionist or a registered dietitian, you’re probably very familiar with the importance of knowing your clients’ weights. After all, their body weight is likely one of the first metrics you obtain on your quest to help them achieve their health and fitness goals.

However, your clients’ body weight alone is not enough to tell the full story.

Just as any good nutritionist knows that calorie counts aren’t enough to determine the quality of your clients’ dietary patterns, you should also know that a number on a scale simply isn’t informative enough to determine your clients’ wellness. Body composition analysis has the potential to take your practice to the next level by providing tangible, specific information about your clients’ body fat and muscle percentages that helps you create actionable plans for them.

Why nutritionists and registered dietitians should be using body composition measurements 

Body weight needs context in order to be a useful number. So, many nutritionists typically evaluate their clients’ health by using their weight to find their Body Mass Index (BMI), a value that is determined using one’s height as well.

BMI is useful in some contexts, as it can help generally categorize whether or not someone is overweight or obese. Unfortunately, BMI does not take into account all the differences between individuals, nor does it fully indicate health risks on its own. For example, BMI doesn’t tell you how much body fat someone has, and it doesn’t take into account individual differences based on age, culture, and location. This is important, because all of these factors and more can make a huge difference in what a person’s weight says about their health.

Ultimately, this means that only using weight and BMI to determine the wellness of an individual can cause you to miss the “big picture,” which may negatively impact your ability to help your clients achieve their goals in a healthy manner. If you want to design a targeted nutrition plan, these metrics alone may not provide sufficient information about a client’s overall health and fitness levels.

You may already take this into consideration at your own practice, since many nutritionists and dietitians use measuring tape to take their clients’ physical measurements at different points throughout their wellness journeys, which can reveal how their body composition is changing beyond the scale. But taking this idea one step further, body composition metrics may be able to give you a more accurate understanding of how your client’s body is transforming in reaction to your program. These insights can assist you with mapping out the best steps to take next.

What body composition data can tell you about your clients

Body composition data can help nutritionists to evaluate their clients’ nutritional status through a more holistic lens.

It’s especially important to keep your clients’ body composition in mind when making a nutrition plan because, just as with weight, their body composition metrics can change based on genetics, environment, lifestyle, and age. When used in conjunction with other tools of the practice, such as medical history and reported food intake, body composition data provides detailed info that gives you a better understanding of your clients’ current nutritional status, which may help you to create a more targeted action plan to address their specific health and nutrition needs as individuals.

Common issues that body composition metrics may help nutritionists to pinpoint include:

  • Declines in bone density
  • Declines in muscle mass
  • High percent body fat

Doctors can also use body composition data to help them assess the risk of chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Ultimately, body composition data provides an analysis not just of weight gained or weight lost, but of multiple factors, which can help you understand how their weight is correlated to your clients’ overall health.

Muscle Mass 

One of the most important health factors that can get overlooked when using weight and BMI is one’s muscle mass, which is the amount of lean muscle tissue that you have in your body. This metric can be used to evaluate progress in a weight management sense, since muscle tends to weigh significantly more than fat tissue, meaning that a client may be making plenty of progress gaining muscle but not have their progress show on the scale (or vice-versa).

Knowing your clients’ muscle mass can also help dieticians to identify issues like sarcopenia (muscle wasting) in older adults, so that you can decide whether a more targeted nutrition intervention would be appropriate.

Body Fat Mass 

Another piece of body composition data that you can use as a nutritionist is your client’s body fat mass, or the amount of fat tissue in their body.

Body composition analysis show you how much fat (or adipose) tissue your client is holding, and it can also differentiate between types of fat (i.e. the visceral fat that surrounds the organs in your abdomen versus the subcutaneous fat that lies close beneath your skin).

This is extremely important because these two different kinds of fat tissue are both linked to a variety of outcomes, but visceral fat is much harder to detect than subcutaneous fat without body composition analysis technology.

Percent Body Fat

Body composition analysis also yields information about the amount of muscle versus fat tissue your clients carry, which can be used to evaluate exactly how much progress your clients are making in their health — not just in their weight — goals. It’s a more in-depth analysis than the use of body weight measurements alone, especially considering how muscle and fat impact your weight differently.

Other useful information you can get from body composition measurements

Finally, body composition metrics can also be used in a variety of other ways to address a client’s overarching health needs. For example, using DEXA scans, dietitians can take a look at their clients’ bone density, which can help you to assess them for undernutrition and, if necessary, set up the appropriate nutrition interventions, which are especially important for older adults suffering from osteoporosis.

Nutritionists and dietitians can also use body composition measurements to see how much of their client’s total mass is made up of water, otherwise known as their Total Body Water percentage. This tool can offer clues to the amount of sodium a client is consuming, as salt consumption can cause your body water percentage to change.

How nutritionists can use body composition measurements to improve their services 

Putting it all together, here are some concrete examples of how your nutrition practice (and your clients!) can benefit from the implementation of body composition measurements.

Identifying specific areas that clients want to improve 

Having information on someone’s weight is a good start for helping them get to their goals, but knowing their body composition can give you more specific guidance on how to approach their program. Even better: having someone’s body composition metrics also gives you the opportunity to better educate your clients about how the nutrients they eat contribute to their body composition, ultimately allowing them to take a more hands-on approach with their own health.

For example, many of your clients may come in wanting to lose weight, but knowing their ratio of fat tissue to muscle tissue can reveal whether more specific goals are more appropriate. If a client wants to get fitter but is already at a healthy weight, you may choose instead to work on body recomposition goals, such as losing fat and gaining muscle, rather than focusing solely on weight alone, which could put your client in danger of becoming underweight.

You can use body composition data to help guide your nutrition plan (i.e., recommending more protein to combat muscle loss and fewer carbohydrates for fat loss, rather than focusing on total calorie intake alone). Your clients can also use that information to approach their own health through a more balanced, health-first lens.

Adjusting total caloric needs

Knowing your clients’ body composition metrics can provide you both with a better understanding of their Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is the number of calories that your clients burn on a daily basis. This is imperative data for determining the number of calories they should be eating for their goals without over- or underestimating their unique needs.

BMR can be estimated using many different calculations, but these calculations are not always completely accurate. For example, relying only on calculations based on weight and height can skew results and lead to inaccurate numbers, especially since many of these population-based calculations do not take into account differences in physical activity level, body composition, or sex. In other words, these calculations may be relevant to the populations that they were based on, but it doesn’t mean that they’ll be accurate for your client.

Instead, nutritionists may do better to use calculations that take body composition into account, since differences in body fat tissue and lean muscle tissue can alter the number of calories you burn on a daily basis.  In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that lean body mass is the strongest determinant of BMR, since muscle requires more energy to maintain, and that body fat mass, physical activity level, and nutrition play their roles on a smaller scale. So, using your client’s body composition metrics to calculate BMR may assist you in creating a more accurate estimation of your client’s needs.

Identifying over- and under-nutrition for goals and for health 

Knowing someone’s body composition metrics can also help nutritionists and dietitians get a better “big picture” view of someone’s nutrition status, which can be applied to both their fitness and health goals.

For example, someone who is not eating as many calories as they need may experience a loss of muscle mass that could be masked if you’re only looking at the number on a body weight scale. Malnutrition is linked to various health risks, such as muscle loss, which are relevant in a broader health sense, so it’s important to screen for it when possible.

Tracking client history 

Finally, keeping track of a client’s body composition changes over time can give you in-depth insights into your clients’ progress. Knowing how someone’s muscle mass and body fat percentage have changed over time can:

  • Give you a more accurate understanding of how well your program is working
  • Help you identify areas that could be improved

Conclusion 

Helping your clients to achieve their nutrition and fitness goals requires a distinct combination of lifestyle improvements on their part and careful monitoring of key metrics on your part. By implementing the use of body composition measurements in your nutrition practice, you may be able to give yourself and your clients better information about their bodies.

Enhancing Your Immune System: 7 Proven Methods for Better Health

By Health, Nutrition

There are very few things in the world worse than being stuck in bed because you’re sick. The CDC estimates that seasonal influenza caused U.S. employees to miss approximately 17 million workdays. That’s a staggering $7 billion in sick days and lost productivity! For some people, the symptoms of the common cold seems to linger for weeks. While other people never get sick. All things being equal, the difference usually comes down to a strong immune system.

Once a virus enters your system, your body goes into defense mode, with your immune system in the front line. What’s amazing is that, unless something is wrong with your body’s system of defense, you don’t notice it working day and night to keep you safe. It has evolved over many years to protect you and keep you strong and healthy, which is a rather comforting feeling. Beyond gratitude, there are things you can do to help boost your immune system. After all, as strong as he was, Batman wouldn’t be able to save Gotham City without the help of Robin.

The Human Immune System

The Immune System is very complex and essential in maintaining health. Its main tasks are to neutralize pathogenic microorganisms like bacteria that enter the body and threaten its normal homeostasis, eliminate harmful substances from the environment, and fight against the body’s own cells that rebel and cause illnesses like cancer.

Your body’s defense system consists of the innate and adaptive immune processes. Elements of the innate system include exterior defenses, such as the skin, serum proteins, and phagocytic leukocytes. Any pathogenic organisms that manage to escape the first line of defense, come face to face with the adaptive system, which is made up of T and B cells. The adaptive immune system serves as a learned defense, constantly adapting and evolving in order to be able to identify changes in pathogens that, too, change over time. It’s an evolutionary arms race between host and pathogen. Together, the innate and adaptive systems work closely to provide a formidable resistance to any long-term survival of infectious agents in the body.

Mighty as it may be on its own, there are simple adjustments you can do in your everyday life to help strengthen and boost this magnificent, genius system that’s working to keep you safe.

Ways to boost your immune system

1. Quit Smoking

You don’t need anyone to tell you that smoking is bad for your health.  Smoking impairs the immune system and is associated with a long list of cardiovascular, autoimmune, respiratory and neurological diseases. The list of common symptoms of tobacco-related diseases includes shortness of breath, persistent cough, and frequent colds or upper respiratory infections.

Specifically, the substances you ingest while smoking a cigarette have a direct effect on both the innate and adaptive immunity, suppressing the normal development and function of the cells that are responsible for driving immunity in the body. Nicotine, in particular, has been shown to be a potent immunosuppressive agent by affecting the immunosurveillance properties of dendritic cells, highly-specialized cells of the immune system.

Imagine this; your body fights for your survival every single day of your life, and in the meantime, you can be counteracting these efforts every time you decide to smoke. Is that cigarette worth your health?

2. Drink Alcohol in Moderation

Alcohol is often associated with celebrations and anniversaries, but if you abuse it, your immune system suffers.  Alcohol consumption is a contributing factor to organ damage, specifically the liver, and is known to slow down recovery from tissue injuries. The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” defines moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.  Alcohol intake exceeding the recommended intake disrupts essential immune pathways and, in turn, impairs the body’s ability to defend itself against infections.

It is worth stating that alcohol-related immune system disturbances have been implicated in the development of certain types of cancer, including but not limited to head and neck cancers among alcohol users. Before you start thinking that this is a problem isolated to chronic alcohol users, keep in mind that acute binge drinking, also known as a Saturday night, has the ability to severely impair the body’s defense system.

3. Keep the Stress Away

Chronic stress is like poison for your body; it has a negative impact on every aspect of your health, and it’s even more dangerous due to its ability to creep up without you consciously acknowledging it.  One of the many systems responsible in the body for handling difficult situations is the immune system. Specifically, cells of the immune systems are equipped with receptors that recognize stress hormones, such as cortisol.

Even acute stress can mess up your immune system by increasing the release of inflammatory-promoting cytokines in the blood, a special type of immune cell that signals other cells and affect their function. Stress, immunity, and disease can affect each other in reciprocal ways, but these relationships can be moderated by life stage, other environmental pressures and goals, stressor duration, and protective factors, such as good sleep. Make sure you have a healthy strategy to help you relieve the symptoms of stress like exercising or spending time with friends and family.

4. Get More Sleep

Speaking of sleep, it is a strong regulator of immunological processes and works to enhance the memory of the adaptive immune system. When you deprive your body of adequate sleep, you simultaneously make it more susceptible to many infectious agents. Sleep deprivation not only makes you more susceptible to infections like the common cold or the flu, but it also makes it so much harder to recover from the bacteria or virus infection that eventually manages to enter your system.

While you are sleeping every night, your body uses this time to strengthen the immune system and move T cells to the lymph nodes, the vessels of the immune system responsible for filtering harmful substances. These T cells produce cytokines which are called to action when there is inflammation in your body or when you’re under stress. During periods of inadequate sleep, cytokine production is diminished, further hurting your immune system.  So feel free to hit that snooze button, and in case you come down with the flu, feel free to hibernate for a few days.

5. Exercise Regularly – But Don’t Skip Rest Days

Most people have a love-hate relationship with exercise.  This particular argument will only add to your love towards exercise. Studies have proved that regular physical activity may enhance the immune system and provide protection against infection.

Furthermore, regular resistance exercise increases your muscle mass, which acts as a protein reserve when the immune system is working to stave off disease. Simply put, the more muscle mass you build through a healthy diet and regular exercise, the more equipped your body is to fight off infection and keep you strong and healthy. Conversely, getting rid of bacteria or virus infection will be a lot harder if you have been neglecting the gym.

But don’t forget to take your workouts outside. Exercising outside is a great way to both destress and reap the benefits of Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to an increased susceptibility to infection, so when the weather permits try to go outside and enjoy the sun.

Unfortunately, no one can stay young forever, and as the body ages, its natural defenses begin to waiver.  The good news is that regular physical activity in the elderly may counteract the actions of time and boost the immune system so that it can protect the body from infection and disease.

Nonetheless, like everything else in life, too much of a good thing can be bad.  Being a couch potato suppresses the immune system, but the opposite extreme can be equally detrimental. Repeated bouts of strenuous exercise, also known as overtraining syndrome, can lead to symptoms like immune dysfunction, so make sure to maintain a healthy balance between regular physical activity and exhaustion.

6. Eat Enough Nutritious Foods

Every system in the body requires energy to function properly. This energy is provided by food sources in the form of calories. Indeed, insufficient intake of calories may lead to micronutrient deficiencies and suppress the immune system and its vital functions. In fact, malnutrition is the most prevalent cause of immunodeficiency around the world.

Food is powerful; it has the potential to make or break every chemical pathway in the body that sustains you. Because of that, it makes sense that the healthier your food choices are, the stronger your immune system and, subsequently, your health will be.

Certain nutrient deficiencies have the potential to alter immune responses and damage the way your immune response to infections. Vitamins and nutrients with antioxidant properties can provide protection against free radicals. Adding an abundance of foods high in naturally occurring antioxidants like citrus fruits in your diet is the key to maintaining a healthy immune system. Exposure to environmental conditions such as UV light, cigarette smoke can ultimately take its toll on the immune system and drive the production of free radicals in the body. Antioxidants fight the free radicals and restore the structural integrity of cells and membranes in the body. Examples of such antioxidants include zinc, selenium, iron, copper, vitamin C, A, and E. Foods high in vitamin C, A, and E, in particular, may also increase the activation of cells involved in tumor immunity.

Plant-derived bioactive compounds, known as phytonutrients, also play an important role in strengthening the immune system.  Polyphenols, flavonoids, isoflavonoids, carotenoids, and phytoestrogens, are some of the few phytonutrients that have the ability to enhance the immune system with their immunity-boosting superpowers. Dietary intake of phytochemicals promotes health benefits and protects against chronic disorders, such as cancer, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, and inflammation. Also, their natural origin poses lower side effects when compared to chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and promises a brilliant future for their use in treating specific types of cancer.

Finally, there is emerging research linking gut health to the immune system and there is promising research highlighting the benefits of probiotics supplementation in improving the body’s response to bacterial infections.

Balanced nutrition, especially in terms of adequate vitamin, mineral and protein intake (for those essential amino acids), enhances the resistance against infections. If you are not sure that you can provide everything your body needs through your diet alone, it might be worth investing in a quality multivitamin to help cover any inconsistencies from your diet.

7. Maintain a healthy body fat percentage

It has been observed that overnutrition can potentially increase the risk of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.  A healthy body fat percentage ranges between 10-20% of the total body weight for men and 18-28% for women. Therefore, a percent body fat higher than this may impair the immune response.

Studies have shown that the link between obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes could be explained through the subsequent activation of the innate immune system.  The same system that is implicated in the pathophysiology of obesity-related liver damage.  A healthy immune system does an excellent job in protecting you from disease, but permanent activation causes the release of immune cells that promote inflammation in the body, making it a lot harder for the immune system to concentrate on its primary goal; to keep you healthy.

The solution is simple in this case. You can reverse the negative effects of a high body percentage by improving your body composition. Less body fat, specifically visceral fat, equals less immune cells circulating in the bloodstream, promoting inflammation and wreaking havoc on the natural processes of the body.

In addition to losing fat, gaining more muscle mass, as we spoke about before, can further improve body composition and reset a dysfunctioning immune system, laying the foundations towards long term health.

Putting it All Together

Your immune system works day and night to keep you healthy and often has to fight you in its efforts to maintain normal homeostasis. You can become its best friend by applying these 7 small changes in your everyday life:

  1. Quit smoking
  2. Drink alcohol in moderation
  3. Try to keep the stress away
  4. Get enough sleep
  5. Exercise regularly, but avoid overtraining
  6. Eat enough calories and include foods rich in antioxidants in your diet
  7. Maintain a healthy body fat percentage through diet and exercise

You may read this article and think that all these are just too much change for you. Small changes are still a step in the right direction. Change your habits one at a time to help support your immune system, and it will help you bounce back quickly next time you catch a common cold. After all, a strong, healthy body depends on your daily decisions.

Take care of your body, so that it can take care of you.

**

Rafaela Michailidou is a Biomedical scientist, and a freelance health and wellness content writer. Aspiring to help people achieve their goals, she is currently studying to be a Health Coach. 

Nutrition Tips to Support Your Journey Towards a Healthier Weight

By Diet, Nutrition

Why Weight Loss is Hard | Fat: Good or Bad?| Carbs and Weight Loss Essential of Protein |Diet and Lifestyle 

By now we all know that finding a healthier version of yourself depends on diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten the full truth when it comes to being healthy. We are fed the narrative that weight loss depends on spending 10 hours in the gym and eliminating one source of calories in our diet while doubling down on another. Admit it, every time you try a new fad diet, or commit to an exhausting new workout routine, you lose weight initially, but then eventually lose steam and transform back into your former self. Healthy, sustainable weight loss seems like something you just don’t have the willpower to do.

But, this is simply not true. We don’t have to overcomplicate the story, or feel guilty, to find a healthier version of ourselves.

Let’s break it down into every aspect of what you can do to simplify your outlook on achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Why is Weight Loss so Difficult to Maintain? 

Maintaining a healthy body weight has always been associated with self-discipline and willpower. You count calories. Do portion control. Work out first thing in the morning three times a week.

Although weight loss may be accomplished by submitting yourself to these rigid, disciplinarian tactics, the minute you’re frustrated with your co-workers or get sick for a week, portion control goes out of the window. Exercise can easily take the backseat when you have kids ages 3 and 5, go through some financial stress, or have an aging parent to take care of.

The reality is that shedding the unwanted pounds is not the hardest part of weight loss. It’s keeping the weight off for good despite life’s occasional curveballs.

Is long-term weight loss really possible? Or should you resign yourself to the fact that you’ll eventually regain what you’ve lost?

Does it all boil down to having loads of willpower? Or is there more to self-control that’s involved in long-term weight loss sorcery?

Actually, no. Biology is at play. Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, an obesity researcher at Columbia University, says the difficulty in keeping the extra weight off reflects biology and not merely a pathological lack of willpower. Specifically, when we lose weight, leptin (the hormone responsible for food satiety) actually goes down when we lose weight.

However, all hope is not lost. We can aim for sustainable weight loss by using a few key strategies.

The Basics of Nutrition

When we think about adopting a new weight loss regimen, it’s important to remember that calories in and calories out ultimately dictate our weight loss. Therefore, diet is our best friend when it comes to finding the perfect balance to a nutrition program.

However, diet is not simply about calories. Food is where we get everything that our body cannot make for itself. The makeup of our diet keeps us from being malnourished, susceptible to illness, depressed, and unable to perform at the gym.

In order to understand exactly where our calories come from and what we need to consume to be healthy, we need to understand the basics of nutrition and the reason we need a balanced diet.

What are Macronutrients? 

What you eat can be broken down into 3 macronutrients: Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats. Unless you have a specific medical condition, you need all 3 to maintain proper health and functioning. Without sufficient amounts of any of these sources, your body will not operate at peak condition. And without a proper balance of these nutrients during a diet program will hinder the success you achieve in reaching your goals.

When trying to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories from these nutrients than you expend. For example, if you determine that, between your Basal Metabolic Rate and your activity (from moving, eating, and exercising), you burn 2,000 calories per day, to stay the same weight you’d have to eat roughly 2,000 calories every day. However, to lose weight, you would have to place yourself into a caloric deficit. A caloric deficit indicates that you are eating fewer calories than you burn per day — i.e., in this case, potentially restricting intake to only 1,800 calories per day.

But as we already mentioned, though calories consumed versus calories burned ultimately determines success or failure in the weight game, is it all that matters?

Well, it depends.

If your goal is simply to lose weight, regardless of whether it be fat- or muscle-weight lost, then yes, calories are all that matter.

However, if you’re attempting to improve your body composition by losing Body Fat Mass and gaining Skeletal Muscle Mass, then no, calories are not all that matters. Balancing your macronutrients properly does.

Why fats were considered bad

Released in the U.S. in 1992, the food pyramid was designed as an easy way for people to remember which foods they should be getting their calories from and the relative importance of each. Carbs were healthy and good, and so they formed the base; fats were bad and placed at the top.

The fat category lumped everything together from healthy fats like Omega-3s and olive oil to saturated fats and sugar. This concept helped trigger the fat-free craze. Although this concept seems pretty normal to us now, at the time in the late 1970s it was actually considered quite radical – so much so that then-president of the National Academy of Sciences, Philip Handler, described the proposed shift as a “vast nutritional experiment.”

Essentially, the Dietary Guidelines suggested that people eat less fat and get more calories from bread, grains, rice, pasta, etc. This was intended to protect Americans from weight gain and heart disease. This is why the “high carb, low fat” diet seems familiar and normal to you, and probably why you think eating fat makes you fat.

What was the result of this recommendation?

Beginning at around the time when the guidelines were first recommended in 1977 and their release to the public in 1980, the percentage of Americans classified as obese increase by almost 20% as they followed the government’s advice to cut fat and increase carbs. Why have obesity rates in the United States skyrocketed over the last 18 years? Because the idea that “fat makes you fat” is wrong. Fat is just another nutrient source, the same as carbohydrates and protein.

What makes you fat is taking in more energy (calories) in a day than you use. That’s called being in a caloric surplus.

Can Eating Fat Make You Gain Weight?

Part of the reason people get confused and think that the fat they eat makes their body store fat is that we use them interchangeably to describe both body fat and dietary fat.

The fat that is stored by our bodies is more accurately called “adipose tissue.” Adipose tissue stores are made up of primary adipocytes or fat cells and are responsible, among other things, with storing excess energy for times when you’re not able to give your body the energy it needs on a given day. It is necessary for survival, and losing too much of it is bad for your health, as is explained in this 2013 study.

The fat you eat is dietary fat and is one of the three essential macronutrients your body can get energy from. Would you believe that people actually used to eat more fat than they do now and at the time obesity rates that were much lower? It’s true, they did, and it’s true – obesity rates used to be much lower.  So if increased fat isn’t making you fat, what is?

Eating more calories than your body uses and needs in a day causes you to gain weight, and Americans continue to eat more and more calories with each passing year.

According to the USDA, from 1970 to 2000, the total number of daily calories that Americans ate increased by 530 calories, an increase of 24.5%. During the same time period, the percentage of Americans categorized as obese increased dramatically.

What happened?

Americans started to eat more calories.  This is surprising when you consider that carbohydrates contain less than half the calories (4 Cal) that fat (9 Cal) does, gram for gram. Shouldn’t shifting away from fats and towards carbs just reduce overall caloric intake, just by simple math? It doesn’t work that way if you just eat more carbohydrates. You see, consumption of a high carbohydrate diet can trigger something called “reactive hypoglycemia.” This is a condition experienced by people who do not have diabetes and are otherwise healthy. Among its symptoms is a feeling of hunger.

Guess what’s the best way to make that hunger go away? Eat more carbs – your body will be craving them.  And since carbs were supposed to be the largest macronutrient source anyway, most people didn’t think twice about having a snack that consisted of bread, rice, or something else carb-heavy.

By advising people to eat less fat and eat more carbohydrates, the government actually made the obesity problem far worse. Recognizing the sharp increase in obesity, the food pyramid was revised in 2005 and ultimately retired in 2011 in favor of what the USDA now calls “My Plate,” which gives people a much better visualization of the relative importance of each food category by showing roughly how much space each should take up on a plate.

So I can eat start eating “fat” now?

If you’re smart about it, yes, but you still have to be careful.

Remember, it’s not the fat itself that’s making you fat; it’s the extra calories that you don’t need that makes you fat.  While it’s very easy to eat extra calories on a carbohydrate-based diet, it’s also very easy to add on extra calories from a fat diet too.

At 9 calories, fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient by far.  This means that if you’re looking to lose fat, the low-fat options are still fine choices – not because of their low-fat content, mind you, but because of their lower caloric content.

The fat isn’t making you fat due to just being fat; it’s the extra calories from fat (as well as all the macronutrients) that is causing you to gain weight.

What this means is, if you are responsible for your diet, you can choose foods that contain fat, guilt-free.  You just need to be smart about your caloric intake throughout the entire day.


What Are Carbs and Why is it Important?

We just discussed that emphasis on high carb intact made American’s gain more weight. So, carbohydrates are bad, right?

While carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap lately because they are presumably fattening and unhealthy, some cultures with high-carb intake don’t have the same high obesity rates as the U.S. – where one-third of adults (and 17 percent of children) are obese. This is in contrast to Japan where white rice and noodles are dietary staples.

What are we to make of this? Are carbs truly evil? Or should you embrace more carbs in your life?

Of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates act as the main source of energy because they are easily broken down into sugar (glucose to be specific) once they reach your bloodstream and are then transported to cells, tissues, and organs. Think of glucose as fuel.

Carbohydrates are classified into two types:

  • Simple carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are quickly absorbed into your bloodstream for instant energy because of their simple molecular structure. Think milk, honey, fruit juices, and table sugar.

  • Complex carbohydrates

These carbs take longer for the body to break down into glucose because of their more complex molecular composition. Grains such as bread, rice, quinoa, and pasta are examples of complex carbs. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, corn, and winter squash fall in the same category.

Not all carbs are created equal, and some have a greater effect on your insulin levels than others. For people with diabetes or insulin resistance, this is particularly important.

A food’s Glycemic Index (ranging from 0 to 100) indicates how a certain carbohydrate will affect your blood sugar and insulin levels. Foods that digest quickly are high on the index, while those that digest slowly are lower on the index.

Foods that are high on the GI scale, like potatoes and white bread, are quickly broken down. This is what happens when you go through an abrupt sugar rush but eventually crash down minutes later. Foods with a low GI, like sweet potatoes and whole oats, are digested gradually, resulting in a more predictable, steady rise in blood sugar levels.

The Verdict on Carbohydrates

Although low-carb diets were found out to be more effective than low-fat diets for weight loss, there are also conflicting research findings describing the existence of metabolically benign obesity — obese individuals who are not insulin resistant, have normal levels of circulating insulin, and have zero signs of early atherosclerosis.

The main point is you don’t have to go low-carb, zero-carb, or high-carb to accomplish long term weight loss.

Based on recent research findings and established facts, it makes more sense to be more mindful of the specific types and amount of carbohydrates (and the other macronutrients!) that make up the bulk of your daily diet.

It’s very hard to deny the role carbs play in keeping you full, energized, and feeling good overall.  To a large extent, humans were designed to consume carbohydrates as an energy source, and when that source is limited and/or cut off, your body will not appreciate it – and it will let you know.

Should you cut carbs out of your diet? If it’s part of a general overall caloric reduction to lose body fat – which does work – combined with increased exercise, then yes. But simply hacking out an entire macronutrient source – any source – is not only going to be incredibly demanding on you but also ineffective and unsustainable over the long-term.


Protein and Weight Loss

So how does protein fit into the picture? Well, as mentioned above, protein is one of the 3 basic macronutrients you find in your food.

To break it down further, proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. There are 22 amino acids, however, 9 of these amino acids are called “essential” — meaning you need to eat them because the body can’t produce them on its own. You can get these essential amino acids by eating protein-rich foods like eggs, meat, and fish, as well as vegetarian/vegan options, like nuts, seeds, beans, and tofu. Generally, you cannot get all the essential amino acids from just one food item, so eating a variety of animal and plant-based proteins is recommended.

But that’s not all.

Besides being something you eat, protein has its fingers in just about every structure and function of your body. For example:

  • Antibodies: these proteins fight foreign “invaders” of your body, like in allergic reactions.
  • Repair, maintenance, and structure: proteins are the main building blocks of your muscles, bones, skin, and hair.
  • Hormones: chemical messenger proteins allow cells and organs to communicate. For example, Growth Hormone — which can affect your muscle gain and fat loss results — and Follicle Stimulating Hormone — a hormone important to your sexual health — are both protein hormones.
  • Enzymes: while all proteins are not enzymes, all enzymes are proteins — and proteins are catalysts (“kickstarters”) for chemical reactions in your body.
  • Transportation and storage: some proteins carry important molecules where they’re needed — think hemoglobin (red blood cells) carrying oxygen to cells, then carrying carbon dioxide away.

Clearly, protein serves many roles within the body. Therefore, not getting enough protein in your diet can have serious consequences for your health. Without enough protein, your muscles may begin to atrophy (waste)– taking Lean Body Mass (LBM), strength, and energy with them.

Any injuries you suffer will take longer to heal, as well. This is because wound healing relies on good nutrition, and good nutrition includes adequate protein. A strong connection between protein deficiency and slow wound healing has been shown.

Finally, not eating enough protein impairs your immune system, placing you at a greater risk of infections while reducing your ability to fend off disease once it takes hold.

Now that you know everything you never wanted to know about protein’s roles in the body, take a look at a few of the positive effects of increasing your protein intake and how that can relate to your body composition goals.

  • Appetite

Eating more protein helps suppress hunger and appetite for longer than eating the same amounts of the other macros (fats and carbs). This means that eating 100 calories from protein will leave you more satiated than 100 calories from either carbohydrate or fat sources.

  • Metabolic Rate

Eating more protein has also been shown to increase your Energy Expenditure — i.e., the number of calories you burn each day. Several studies found that people eating high protein diets ended up burning more calories for several hours after eating.

  • Body Composition

In addition to the points made above, eating higher amounts of protein can have positive effects on your body composition through more direct pathways. As alluded to earlier, protein is a far-spread component of your body. Consuming higher amounts helps protect your non-fat (read: muscle) body mass.

The Protein Verdict

To maintain your current muscle mass — or improve it — you need to eat enough protein. But you also need to eat fewer calories than you expend — and that’s not always easy.

The good news is, getting a higher percentage of your daily calories from protein can make all of that a little bit easier. It can help you reduce your appetite, improve your metabolism, and change your body composition, but don’t overdo it. Consuming 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight can cause adverse health problems in the long run. The best advice is to find your daily protein recommendation, and then bump it up slightly, while reducing the calories you take in from non-nutritive foods, such as processed foods or sugary drinks.


What’s the Best Diet for Weight Loss? 


Life is all about balance, and it is important to remember that you need all three macronutrients to function properly. As we learned, protein does not just pack on muscle, it also acts as hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. Carbs are essentially the only energy source that our red blood cells can use, and without enough fat in our diets, we might gain weight by eating more filler foods!

Our bodies are well-refined machines that do not thrive on fad diets. They thrive when we obtain balance and variety in our diet. Ultimately, the best diet for weight loss is not complicated or high-tech. Focus on whole, unrefined foods, reduce red meat consumption, and eat plenty of vegetables. But, your food doesn’t have to taste boring. In fact, a rigid diet full of boring salads may make you more likely to rebound into unhealthy eating. Try a salad with leafy greens, quinoa or brown rice, sweet potatoes, avocado, black beans, and a homemade cilantro lime Greek yogurt dressing. You may be surprised how good healthy eating can taste!

What About Lifestyle? 

Of course, there are other components than a diet that may hinder your weight-loss goals. In order to help you turn your weight loss story into a success story, you should consider the following:

Build a Community of Accountability: 

Think Jenny Craig, Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), and Weight Watchers. Or even that health and wellness spa near your workplace.

Not convinced?

In a presentation at the 2016 Society of General Internal Medicine Annual Meeting, researchers at the Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus revealed their findings after monitoring 65,000 overweight or obese people who joined Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) between 2005 to 2010. They found out that consistent participation in the program motivated overweight participants to sustain their new healthy weight after a year of massive weight loss.

These findings demonstrate that spending more time with a community who supports each other even after you reach your weight loss goals is one of the best ways to keep the weight off. The American Psychological Association even agrees.

Getting Enough Sleep

Have you noticed how you’re hungrier than usual when you only slept for five hours the night before? Before you know it, you’re reaching out the pint of ice cream in the fridge.

It turns out that being sleep-deprived  leads to higher ghrelin (the hunger hormone) levels and lower leptin. Plus, there’s already an association between lack of sleep and obesity.

In addition, not getting enough shut-eye also makes your immune system go haywire. When you’re sick, you don’t feel like exercising, right?

Prioritize getting enough sleep for a week and notice how you feel and think about food intake, exercise, and your energy levels in general.

Consider HIIT if you’re pressed for time

Too busy to do your morning run or the usual hour-long swimming session? Enter the short, explosive moves of high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

The reason why HIIT has become so popular is that it’s been proven to really work by improving VO2max and body composition in subjects of both genders across all levels of fitness. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Here’s a neat HIIT guide by the American College of Sports Medicine. If you’re not motivated enough to take a break away from your workstation (browsing Reddit on your phone doesn’t count!), this short video will!

The Takeaway

Long-term weight loss is definitely possible if you rethink the way you view what healthy weight loss truly means. Instead of fretting over calorie counts and the number of jumping jacks you’ve done, pay special attention to the quality of your food intake and physical activity. Balance is always better when it comes to sustainability.

Remember, it is not about willpower, it’s about finding something that makes you feel good. Working out and eating food that fuels our body shouldn’t be done out of guilt. Love yourself and love your body, no matter where you are on your journey to health.

Can a Cheat Day Nullify a Week’s Worth of Gym Work?

By Diet, Nutrition
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on January 11, 2021, for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on February 17, 2016.
  • Fat gain or loss is determined by how many calories you take in and how many calories you use in a day
  • Water weight can come from increased glycogen, an energy source that is produced primarily from carbohydrates
  • A cheat day every once in a while will not erase weeks and months of hard work

Your hard work is paying off with your diet and workouts, and you keep making progress. The weight loss goal is in reach, and you decide to treat yourself. It might be a snack, a cheat meal, a cheat day, or even a weekend. When Monday comes, you weigh yourself for your weekly weigh-in, and you can’t believe it: you’ve gained 5 pounds.

First, the bad news: no the scale isn’t lying to you, you’ve gained 5 five pounds. Here the good news: it is not 5 pounds of fat.

If it is not fat, what is it? Are cheat days a good idea for your diet and fitness plan?

What are cheat days?

First, a quick overview. What exactly is a cheat day?  “Cheat days”, despite the negative connotation, are planned breaks from your diet plan. Rewarding yourself with scheduled breaks from your diet plan, may help you stick to your diet plan, build better habits, and achieve long-term success.

What you plan to indulge in on your cheat day depends on the individual’s tastes and appetite, but the key idea is to let loose and enjoy yourself with something that isn’t on your diet plan.

Not every diet will allow for “cheat days”. The Paleo diet, for example, eliminates entire food groups and doesn’t allow for any breaks from the diet plan. But no matter what diet plan you are on, incorporate meals that you can look forward to helping make the diet plan sustainable.

What are the benefits of a cheat day?

Cheat days can be a great tool to help motivate you to stick to your diet plan. Use cheat days to build a positive relationship with food. View your favorite dessert or comfort food as a reward rather than a coping mechanism.

Something that you should keep in mind is that a cheat day isn’t a license to binge eat. Binge eating on your cheat day may lead to eating-related issues and hurt your ability to self-regulate.

Contrary to popular belief, binge eating does not boost your metabolism. It may have the opposite effect. Just like your diet, it is best to approach it with a plan and the focus on the long-term.

How often should you have cheat days?

There is no hard and fast rule on how many cheat days you should have. Or even if you decide between a cheat meal or day. Ultimately, it depends on how well you self-regulate and what your goals are.

It’s so easy for your cheat day to become a cheat weekend, and then a cheat week. Before you know it, you are back to your old eating habits. It is important to understand what will help you stay motivated.

The goal is to develop a sustainable, long-term plan. What you should consider are your body composition goal, and how fast you want to reach them. Think about how the extra calories (if any) from your cheat meals will impact your goal.

Why does a cheat day cause you to gain weight?


A cheat day causes some large weight increases, but weight because of water, not fat. Depending on what kind of diet you were on, loading up on carbs on a cheat day can increase your weight noticeably.

If you were trying to lose fat, you likely were trying to cut carbohydrates out of your diet. It’s a very popular technique, and diets structured around low carbohydrate and low caloric intake are about as basic a diet as they come. The Mayo Clinic notes that a diet targeting low carbohydrate intake makes up about 60-130 grams of carbs a day. Some popular diets—such as the Atkins Diet—target extremely low levels of carbohydrates, as low as 18 grams a day. This will help you lose weight and some of it.

But once you increase your consumption of carbs, you may see a subsequent increase in water weight.

How much water weight can you gain from cheat day?

If you’re consuming 60 grams of carbs a day, you’re holding onto approximately 210 grams of water. That’s about half a pound of water.

But if on a cheat day, you decide to eat and drink whatever you want and load up to 300 grams of carbohydrates (the average number of carbs eaten by men, according to the US Department of Agriculture), you would retain around 1kg of water or 2.2 pounds. If you were on a 60 carbs/day diet, you could be a pound and a half heavier already. If you went up to 400 grams of carbs, you could add on 2 ½ pounds of water.

Why do carbs cause you to retain water weight?

The reason your body retains water after you consume carbs involves your body’s favorite energy source: a molecule called glycogen. Glycogen is an energy source that is produced primarily from carbohydrates. Your body loves glycogen because it’s an easily accessible energy source that provides a lot of energy. Glycogen also has an interesting attribute: it bonds well with water. In fact, for every gram of carbohydrate in your body, there are about 3 to 4 molecules of water bonded to it.

But glycogen is far from the only substance or factor that can cause your body to retain extra water. Excess sodium can also cause your body to hold on to the water on top of the water held onto by your glycogen. Once you factor in the effects of food, your hormones, and your unique body composition, it is easy to see why your weight fluctuates so much.

But once you return to eating a low carb, low-sodium diet, your body should naturally shed the extra water weight you gained.

Can you gain pounds of fat overnight?

You can’t gain a pound of fat in a day, or even 5 pounds in one weekend. Biologically, it would amaze us if you did. You are very much aware of how difficult it is to lose fat quickly, but don’t laugh when I tell you, in theory, it is as “difficult” to gain fat.

Fat gain or loss has a lot to do with your energy/caloric balance–how many calories you take in vs. how many calories you use during the day. If you are using more energy than you take in, your body gets some energy it needs from your fat stores. If you’re taking in more energy–eating beyond your body’s needs–then the opposite happens: you build fat stores.

A common theory in the health and fitness world is that there are around 3,500 calories stored in a pound of fat. The theory goes that if you reduce your daily caloric intake by 500 every day of the week, in 7 days you’ll lose a pound of fat. Conversely, if you overeat by 500 calories a day, you can gain a pound of fat in a week.

500 Calories x 7 Days = 3,500 calories/week or 1 lb/ week

The point is, it TAKES TIME to gain or lose fat. (Of course, it is much easier than you think to overeat 500 calories a day. A large blended coffee-flavored drink once a day will do it.)

To gain a pound of fat, you would need to add about 500 calories a day on top of your normal diet, every day, for about 7 days. This makes gaining any significant amount of fat from even the craziest, all-out cheat days unlikely. To gain 5 pounds of fat in a day, you’d have to eat about 17,500 calories on top of your daily caloric limit. Not even Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson can consume that many calories!

If you are curious to see the effects of your cheat day, take a body composition test before and after your cheat day to see the changes to your body water levels.

Do cheat days ruin your progress?

A cheat day every once in a while will not erase weeks and months of consistent workouts and healthy eating.

Cheat days can help keep you stay motivated long-term if you practice mindful eating. But remember, this doesn’t mean you can get carried away on cheat days. It is important to always stay within reason and it will go a long way to help you develop healthy eating habits that you can sustain.

Do not stress about any sudden weight gain after a cheat day; it’s not fat but just water weight. Just make sure after you’ve had your fun, you get back on your fitness journey and keep working towards your goals. Changing your body composition and losing weight is a long-term process, but if you do it right, you’ll have long-term results!

Bottom line: it’s OK to indulge once in a while!

The Influence of Muscle and Fat on Your Body Weight

By Diet, Nutrition

If you’re trying to lose weight, the chances are that you have a “goal weight” in mind.

With so many of our conversations about health centering around factors like obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and overall fitness, it seems that we’re always looking for ways to get healthy and reach what we believe is our ideal weight.

After all, the best way to make sure that you actually reach a goal is by making it measurable in the first place, and your weight is a great way to see how much progress you’re making.

But what’s going on beyond the scale?

There’s a lot more to being healthy than just knowing how much you weigh. Your weight can be a crucial indicator of your health, but that final number might not show you the whole picture.

If you want to talk about weight (or weight loss), it’s vital to have a solid understanding of the two most significant contributors to your weight: muscle and fat tissue.

  

The Two Different Tissues Contributing to Your Weight

There are a couple of components that make up your body weight, but the two types of tissue that can be the biggest indicators of your health and fitness: muscle and fat.

Let’s Talk About Muscle

Your muscles are the tissues in your body that are responsible for strength and movement. They also help to support your bones and contribute to your energy metabolism.

There are three different kinds of muscle:

  • Cardiac
  • Smooth
  • Skeletal

When it comes to body composition and body weight, we’re mostly talking about Skeletal Muscle Mass. These are the muscles that you can typically change through a combination of a healthy diet and exercise. Traditionally, we work out and grow these muscles (or neglect them and let them atrophy). Think biceps, triceps, abdominals, glutes, etc.

What About Fat?

Fat, also known as adipose tissue, is another major contributor to your overall body weight – and it’s often the one that people are looking to get rid of when they talk about weight loss.

There are two different kinds of fat:

  • Subcutaneous fat, or the fat that lies beneath the skin
  • Visceral fat, which lies deep in your abdominal cavity and surrounds your organs

Despite the negative connotation, having a certain amount of fat tissue is actually necessary. Your body stores unused energy from your food as fat, so it can provide a reliable source of fuel when you need it. Fat tissue also acts as insulation to keep you warm and as a “cushion” to protect your vital organs.

Finally, fat is an endocrine organ, which means that it plays a role in releasing hormones and regulating your blood sugar.

The visible problem is excess body fat, which can lead to higher body weight and altered hormone release that can make the condition worse.

How Muscle And Fat Contribute To Your Body Weight

When it comes to weight, most of the focus is on body fat and muscle because they can both be controlled (and changed!) by your lifestyle.

Your Body Fat Mass (or the amount of fat you have in your body) is highly variable based on your diet and exercise. Since one of its primary functions is energy storage, your Body Fat Mass can change depending on whether you’re eating at a caloric deficit or caloric surplus.

This means that if you are at a caloric surplus, or eating more than what your body uses, the excess energy can be stored as fat, which leads to weight gain.

You also have a lot of control over how your Skeletal Muscle Mass contributes to your weight since these are the muscles that can grow with exercise. Because of this, the amount of muscle mass you have can be an indication of your fitness.

Does Muscle Weigh More Than Fat?

Not only do these two tissues have different functions, but they also take up space in your body in very different ways.

You may have heard the phrase “muscle weighs more than fat” before. What this means is that, while a pound of fat is going to weigh the same as a pound of muscle, they’re going to look very different.

Muscle tissue is denser than fat tissue, so a pound of muscle tissue takes up much less space than a pound of body fat. This means you can be the same height and weight as someone else but look completely different and have different body composition because of the different body fat-to-muscle ratios—and this can also mean that the healthiness of your weight can vary.

Why Knowing Your Body Composition Is Just As Important As Your Weight

When it comes to determining their “healthy weight range,” a lot of people put the focus on their BMI, or Body Mass Index, which uses a general formula to decide how your weight compares with your height. But these two numbers don’t necessarily give you the whole picture of your health since it doesn’t show exactly how your muscle and fat contribute to that weight.

Take this study, for example: while evaluating the weight and body composition of college athletes, researchers found that 38 of the subjects had BMIs indicating that they were overweight, but only 4 of those subjects actually had excess body fat. This means that a higher Skeletal Muscle Mass may classify you as overweight on the scale!

There is more to your health and fitness than your body weight alone.

Understanding Your Body Composition

To understand how the weight on the scale relates to your body composition, you have to understand that your weight is broken down into Body Fat Mass and Lean Body Mass and where Skeletal Muscle Mass fits into that mix.

The definition of Lean Body Mass is your total body weight minus your Body Fat Mass, which leaves your Skeletal Muscle Mass as well as the weight of your organs, skin, bones, and body water. This measurement can give you an idea of how much of your body weight is made up of fat and muscle.

Not only is this important for having a grasp of how healthy you are, but it can also help with your metabolism, which can then go on to help you with any body composition or weight loss goals you may have. People who have more Lean Body Mass use more calories every day when they’re at rest to maintain those muscle tissues, so having a higher muscle mass is actually beneficial for using more calories daily and burning fat.

And on the flip side, excess body fat can pose health risks like heart disease, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome, even if you have a normal BMI!

You Can Improve Your Health Regardless of Your Weight

The right balance of Lean Body Mass and Body Fat Mass can help you to maintain your health and your capacity for functional movement outside of weight alone and is generally a better indication of your overall fitness.

The really good news about this is that it means weight loss on its own isn’t always the end-all-be-all of improving your health and quality of life.

For example, one study found that patients improved their knee pain by lowering their body fat percentage and increasing their activity, even when their body weight didn’t change significantly.

Key Insights for Goal-Planning

Knowing your body composition can give you vital insights into just how healthy you are—and that can mean a more clear path for making the right decisions for your health and fitness.

Having a “snapshot” of your Body Fat Mass and Skeletal Muscle Mass—and how both of those components contribute to the final number on the scale—can help you determine what steps you should be taking to improve your overall body composition and health.

For example, if you find that your Body Fat Mass is high, but your Skeletal Muscle Mass seems to be in a normal range, you can focus more on cutting your fat through a combination of exercise and diet rather than just resistance training to build muscle.

This can also help you see that your progress doesn’t always show on the scale! If you’ve been hitting the gym hard and are feeling a lot more fit, but the scale hasn’t moved, you might be building muscle. Again, muscle takes up less space in your body than fat tissue, so this progress won’t necessarily show on the scale, but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t making any progress.

Getting a body composition test lets you learn more about your body composition and can show that you’re building muscle to keep you motivated to continue.

How To Maintain Muscle Mass While Losing Fat

If you want to lose weight, you should lose excess fat tissue, not muscle mass. Studies have indicated that it’s important to focus on diet and exercise if you want to preserve your Skeletal Muscle Mass while losing weight.

To do this, you need to make sure you’re losing weight “the healthy way:”

  • Include a healthy balance of cardio and resistance training in your workout routine to burn calories and build muscle
  • Eat at a caloric deficit to burn through your extra fat stores
  • Make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet to support and maintain healthy muscle mass

Conclusion

There’s more to your body weight than what meets the eye—although having a healthy body composition can definitely help with that! Knowing how your fat and muscle contribute to your weight can give you key insights into your health and help you plan out a more specific diet and exercise routine for your goals.

**

Erica Digap is a freelance writer specializing in nutrition science, fitness, and health. After receiving her BSc in Clinical Nutrition and working in the corporate diet industry, she decided to set forth and use her experience to inspire readers to make lasting, healthy lifestyle changes, one healthy meal and workout at a time.

Carb Cycling: A Comprehensive Guide and Its Influence on Your Fitness

By Diet, Nutrition

Counting the number of calories you eat in a day is no longer effective for improving your fitness potential.

Eating healthy is often a more involved process than simply tallying the number of calories you eat in a day. There are also the actual nutrients in those calories that need to be considered, like your protein, fat, and, most infamously, carbohydrates. Low-carb dieting is highly popular for weight management, but many people find that it’s too restrictive to be a realistic,  long-term solution. Enter: carb cycling.

Here’s everything you need to know about carb cycling and how it can help you achieve your fitness goals.

What is Macro Counting?

“Macro counting” is an eating strategy in which you keep track of the number of grams of each macronutrient you eat per day. Macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) are all metabolized differently in your body. As such, each macronutrient also has a different calorie value per gram.

  • Carbohydrates: 4 calories/gram
  • Proteins: 4 calories/gram
  • Fats: 9 calories/gram

The three major macronutrients and their equivalent calories per gram. 

Not all calories are created equally, and several studies show that the macronutrient contents of your diet can alter your end results. Macro counting addresses the importance of understanding how food affects your body beyond simple calories in/calories out approach. While counting your macros tends to be more involved than simply adding up your total calories for the day, this method can give you better insights into how the food you eat is affecting your workouts and your body composition.

One of the most popular examples of a macro counting diet is IIFYM, aka the “If It Fits Your Macros” diet. This type of eating pattern generally allows for more flexibility in your daily eating plan, rather than strict restriction and elimination that go hand-in-hand with more regimented diets.

What is Carb Cycling?

Carbohydrates have historically been villainized as the culprits behind unwanted weight gain and fitness plateaus. However, the relationship between carbs and your fitness is a little more nuanced than that. Carbohydrates are your body’s main energy source so your body needs a certain amount of carbohydrates that it can use to fuel your daily activities.  While weight loss is a benefit of low-carb diets, like the Keto Diet, they’ve also been linked to some concerning side effects like nausea, fatigue, dehydration, and limited exercise capacity.

This is where carb cycling comes in. This more advanced eating pattern has traditionally been used by athletes to optimize their athletic performance, and now it’s also being used as a method for weight loss.

Rather than slashing your carbohydrate intake to a minimum, as you would with a traditional low-carb diet, carb cycling involves switching off between lower-carb intake days and moderate-carb intake days. Carb cycling can look different for everyone, but the most popular option is to save your higher-carb days for the days that you are going to be participating in higher-intensity workouts. This way, you can make sure that you’re giving your body enough carbohydrates to fuel you through your most active days.

How Carb Cycling Affects Your Body Composition

So why try carb cycling in the first place? One major reason lies in its potential to help you build muscle while losing fat.

Low-carb diets are a successful method for weight loss (at least in the short term) for a couple of different reasons, including their potential to help improve insulin sensitivity, lower your calorie intake, and put you into a state of ketosis, or “fat burn.”

But low-carbohydrate diets can also lead to a loss of muscle mass during intense exercise. When you eat carbohydrates, they’re broken down into glucose, which then circulates through your bloodstream (aka “blood sugar”) to be used for quick energy. And, they can also be stored in your muscles and liver in another form called glycogen. But when you’re eating a limited amount of carbs, you have much less circulating glucose that can be used for energy to complete a high-intensity workout. Instead, your body has to use your stored glycogen for energy, depleting your muscles in the process.

By cycling your carb intake, you can prevent this muscle degradation by refueling your muscle glycogen stores with an adequate amount of carbohydrates on those extra-active days.

It’s also interesting to note how low-carb diets can impact some of the hormones that influence your weight management behaviors. Take leptin, a hormone that regulates your energy and hunger cues. There’s evidence that eating a low-carb diet is linked to lower leptin levels, which can notify your body that it needs to eat more, throwing a wrench into your otherwise carefully-planned diet. For many people, this means that they need to experiment with different amounts of carbohydrates to find the intake that will best support their fitness goals. Because of this, carb cycling can be a potential solution for many.

Is Carb Cycling Good for Your Fitness Goals?

Carbs provide quick, easy-to-use fuel when you need it most. So a downside to low-carb diets is they are not very well-suited for people who work out. However, with carb cycling, you can use higher-carbohydrate days to give your body enough fuel to finish those longer,  harder workouts that might be more difficult to complete when you’re taking in fewer carbohydrates.

Carb cycling could also be a useful tool for weight loss simply because of the low-carb element. Low-carb diets are proven to help you lose fat, making them similar to other calorie-restricted approaches. But, because carb cycling allows you to eat some carbohydrates when factored wisely into your eating plan, it could be a more sustainable approach. By carb cycling, you can approach nutrition from a more sustainable angle, and you won’t have to be as restrictive. Successful diets are the ones that you can follow for the long run, so carb cycling could be a viable option for anyone who wants to take advantage of better insulin sensitivity without eliminating carbs completely.

Are There Any Downsides to Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling could be an effective way to help you reach your fitness goals, especially when compared to stricter diets that do away with many carbohydrates. But on the flip side, this method is more complicated and involved than simply adding up the number of calories you ate in a  day. It requires thorough planning to ensure that you’re meeting the correct amount of carbohydrates (in grams) for your body while ensuring your exercise plan is working with your nutrition to get you the results you desire. This type of eating plan could feel overwhelming if you’re looking for a simpler way to monitor your food intake.

Another thing to consider is  carb cycling can come with some unpleasant side effects on low-carb days like fatigue, sleep problems, gastrointestinal distress, and mood issues. Carb cycling is not suitable for just anyone, either. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it, as should anyone who is underweight, managing an eating disorder, or dealing with any adrenal issues.

People with diabetes should also consult with their doctor before determining if carb cycling could be a fit for their lifestyles. Evidence for its use among those with diabetes is somewhat conflicting, though. While low-carb diets seem to be helpful for managing blood sugar, some experts believe people with diabetes and hypoglycemia should not try carb cycling.

Also, there is very little evidence as of now to suggest how well carb cycling actually works. More evidence-based research is needed to determine the effects of carb cycling on your health and fitness goals.

How to Start Carb Cycling

Familiarize Yourself With Different Kinds of Carbs

If you’re going to start watching your carb intake, it pays to understand the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates.

Your body can break down and absorb simple carbohydrates very quickly, so they can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar. Simple carbohydrates also tend to be processed more heavily than complex carbohydrates, which can strip them of other healthy nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Therefore, having too many simple carbohydrates in your diet can increase your susceptibility to conditions like weight gain, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates contain healthy fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They take longer for your body to break down and absorb, and they won’t trigger massive blood sugar fluctuations in the same ways that simple carbs will.

When it comes to carb cycling, it’s usually better to stick to more complex carbohydrates, both on low-carb and more moderate-carb days, to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients. Some examples of healthy  complex carbohydrates you might want to add to your carb cycling rotation include:

  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

It’s also important to note that these recommendations are general and not all-encompassing. It’s always a good idea to speak with a  registered dietitian or certified nutritionist to better understand your individual needs.

Experiment With What Works Best for You

There is no hard-and-fast definition of carb cycling, which means that what works best for you may not work for someone else Generally speaking, a typical low-carb day might mean restricting your carb intake to roughly 20-57 grams of carbohydrates (about one cup of brown rice). In contrast, a more moderate-carbohydrate day might see about 225-325 grams per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet. But again, this can vary.

The frequency of low-carb to moderate-carb days also matters. Many people who carb cycle schedule their moderate carbohydrate days on the days when they are exercising intensely. But there isn’t currently enough research to suggest that there’s an “optimum” number of days per week that one should eat low-carb versus higher-carb.

Ultimately, your macronutrient needs can vary widely based on the number of calories you eat per day, the frequency and intensity at which you exercise, and your current health status. You might need to do some experimentation to find the right cycle that fits your goals.

Use a Nutrition Tracker

One of the biggest considerations to keep in mind before you start carb cycling is the amount of math it can involve. Not only do you have to determine how many carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are in each food you eat during the day, but you also need to tailor your meal plan according to whether you’re following a high-carb or low-carb meal plan for that particular day.

 So nutrition trackers can be invaluable tools for anyone interested in carb cycling. . Plugging your daily food intake into a smartphone app reduces the amount of math you need to do and simplifies macro counting while ensuring you are eating the right number of calories for weight loss, maintenance, or gain (depending on your goals). Popular apps include:

Track Your Measurements and Body Composition in Addition to Weight

Because carb cycling seems to affect your body composition and weight in various ways, it’s important to track more than just your weight to get an accurate picture of your progress.

To better understand how carb cycling is affecting your body fat versus your muscle mass, take regular measurements. Start by measuring your biceps, waist, abdomen, hips, and chest to use as a baseline for tracking healthy progress. You might also be able to track changes to body composition outputs like  Body Fat Percentage, Skeletal Muscle Mass, Lean Muscle Mass, and Body Fat Mass—all of which can more accurately show you how your diet is changing your body more than a single number on the scale.

On a related note, it’s important to understand that changes to your body composition and weight can also lead to changes in your energy requirements. To avoid plateaus during your fitness journey, reevaluate your macronutrient intake every 8-12 weeks, as instructed by your dietitian, especially if you start to notice stagnation in your progress.

Conclusion

Carb cycling has been used as an energy optimization strategy by endurance athletes for years. But more and more people have recently begun to use this advanced strategy to take advantage of the fat-burning benefits of low-carb diets without burning out too quickly. It’s a fairly complicated diet that requires more research to understand its long-term effects, but it seems to be a promising method for weight management. Before you hop onto the carb cycling bandwagon, take some time to educate yourself on the types of carbohydrates and their individual benefits, and be sure to speak with a professional to ensure you can fuel your body properly using this method.

Body Composition Change after Recovery from COVID-19

By Body Composition, Health, Nutrition

COVID‐19 patients are prone to develop significant weight loss, malnutrition, and deterioration of body composition which are caused by many different factors. According to research, 81% of patients on the rehab wards post COVID-19 required dietetic input.

The main factors are as follows.

  1. COVID-19 infection can cause major inflammation, particularly pronounced in patients with severe and critical diseases.
  2. Malnutrition is frequently seen in COVID‐19 patients. Disease‐associated reductions in food intake and malnutrition can contribute to tissue wasting.
  3. Immobilization can also significantly contribute to muscle wasting and sarcopenia in COVID‐19. Ultimately, the negative ‘synergy’ of all these factors together can cause significant body wasting in COVID‐19 patients as clinically often observed.

Then how does the body composition change after COVID-19 infection and during the recovery? 

 

Body Composition Change After Infection

Through the actual case of a patient who recovered from COVID-19, we will see how body composition changed after being infected with COVID-19 and in the recovery, and how the InBody results can help COVID-19 patients.

On December 19th of 2020, this person was infected with COVID-19 and hospitalized from the 4th to the 9th of January. This 50-year-old male used to maintain good body composition status (with an InBody score over 80).

Below is his InBody result before & after COVID-19.


If you see the change of his body composition before and after the COVID-19 infection, you can see :
1) The weight decreased from 90.3kg to 85.5kg
2) Muscle mass decreased from 40.2kg to 37.2kg
3) ECW Ratio increased from 0.369 to 0.374
4) Phase Angle decreased, especially the trunk Phase Angle from 9.5 to 5.7.

 

After the infection, not only the patients’ body composition changes but also their lungs might become inflamed, making it tough for them to breathe. For some people, the infection becomes more serious and the lung tissue itself becomes swollen and filled with fluid and debris from dead cells.

This man had similar symptoms as above. COVID-19 made him difficult to have proper breathing. After the treatment, the function of the lung, immunity system, and breathing ability got slowly well with the effort of doctors and nurses, but he also tried some exercises to accelerate the recovery process and get back to the condition before the infection.

 

His Efforts for the Recovery

In the beginning, he started doing exercise as usual. He tried running, swimming, and other exercises. However, his heart rate dramatically went up as soon as he tried those exercises. Even when he tried to climb the stairs in his home, his heart rate increased up to 130bpm with SvO2 dropping to 88%. Then it took more than 5 mins to get his breath back. This is because hard/strong exercise for someone who has respiratory diseases makes the condition worse. It is proved by several research studies conducted about how hard exercise negatively affects lung function.

Then how did he manage it? He started to exercise in a controlled condition. Starting with slowly walking between the kitchen and room. Then he tried several exercises with monitoring his SvO2 and HR rate to find the best exercise which does not affect his body condition. He found that indoor cycling at zero effort can maintain his SvO2 between 88-92% and HR between 78-90. He exercised his lung systematically to breathe deeper and deeper. He also monitored blood glucose levels as COVID-19 gave the pancreas beating.

 

Body Composition Change during the Recovery

As shown above, after the exercise,

  1. His weight increased from 85.5kg to 89.4kg,
  2. His muscle mass, which had been reduced to 37.2kg, increased to 39kg.

Most of the COVID patients suffer from weight loss/muscle loss (about 61% decreases by more than 5% of the total body weight), and it is difficult for them to increase their muscle and weight, but it is very important.

 

Use of Body Composition for COVID-19 Patient

In order to return to a healthy status same as before the COVID-19, close body composition monitoring is necessary. During the recovery process, if you only focus on the weight gain, important nutritional indicators (ECW ratio, Phase Angle) and fat/muscle management are not able to be achieved. Without management of key factors, the nutritional status may not return to normal.

If we take a look at the results of the 50-year-old man, some of the parameters were recovered, but the ECW Ratio or Phase angle did not return to the previous status, and at the same time he thought that the body condition is not the same as before.

In many cases of COVID-19 patients, they tend to focus on the weight only to monitor the recovery, but in fact, the perfect recovery can be achieved when we monitor and manage the body composition.

• Muscle Loss (Sarcopenia)

1) While the patients are suffering from disease, physical activity decreases.
2) One of the most common post-COVID symptoms is fatigue, which refrains post-COVID patients from physical exercises.

The above two can lead to muscle loss. To prevent sarcopenia, it is important to monitor the muscle mass and have some proper treatments not to lose muscle.

• ECW ratio (Inflammation)

ECW ratio, the ratio of Extracellular Water to Total Body Water is an important indicator to check the balance of body water. Acute systematic inflammation that can occur during the disease can raise the ECW ratio.
Moreover, since the ECW ratio sensitively reflects your body condition, it can be used to track the recovery of the patient.

• Phase Angle (Nutrition)

Phase Angle is a clinically important bioimpedance parameter used for nutritional assessment and evaluating the severity of various diseases.
Low Phase Angle tends to be consistent in individuals with malnutrition, infection, cancer, and old age.

Phase Angle can be also used to monitor the recovery of the post- COVID patients.

 

If you want to know more about the body composition analyzer which shows ECW ratio, Phase Angle, please contact us.

 

How to Use BMR To Hack Your Diet

By Diet, InBody Blog, Nutrition
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on March 15, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on October 16, 2015.
  • Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories you burn at rest.
  • The safest way to handle a caloric reduction for fat loss is to reduce your intake by something marginal and being consistent.
  • To optimize your BMR for lean body mass gain, you need to exceed the number of calories you require each day.

When people decide they want to get into shape, the first thing they typically do is sign up for a gym. They start off with great excitement, vowing to hit the treadmill or weight room every day.  They keep this up for a couple of weeks, but when the changes don’t come, the enthusiasm wanes. Every day becomes three times a week. Three times a week becomes “I’ll go when I have time.” Before they know it, they’ve given up.

Sound familiar?

The reasons for giving up a fitness program are many, and not seeing results fast enough is one of the most common reasons to quit. However, many people forget one extremely important foundation for their weight loss program: their diet.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “six-pack abs are made in the kitchen.” It’s true. You can train as hard as you want in the gym, but you can’t out train a bad diet. Regardless if your goal is to gain muscle or lose fat, if you’re not optimizing your meals to reach those goals, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

So how do you optimize a meal plan? There are many factors that go into meal planning, such as the type of nutrients consumed, the frequency of meals, and the selective use of fasting to name a few.  But a great place to start is to determine how many calories you burn a day. And it all starts with your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR.

How Many Calories Do You Need?

You’re probably familiar with the 2000-calorie diet. This is a range set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993 for use on nutrition labels for packaged food.

Nutritional Facts

So what are your actual caloric needs? A good way to start is by using a BMR calculator, which will determine the number of calories your body burns each day to perform its basic, life-sustaining functions. This includes all the involuntary processes in your body such as breathing, digesting food, pumping blood, brain activity, and much more. There is no shortage of online resources and apps that will provide you with a BMR calculator.  Certain medical/fitness devices also feature BMR as an output during body composition analysis. However, there are a few things you should know about metabolism calculations before diving into the first option you find. Your caloric needs can be calculated in a couple different ways and with a few different equations, including the revised Harris-Benedict equation and the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation.  These equations calculate BMR using your weight, with some adjustments for height, age, and gender. However, if you fall outside average assumptions for height, age, and gender (if you’re an athlete, for example), these formulas may not accurately produce your metabolic rate.

For people who do fall outside the assumed ranges for height, age and gender, there is a third option: use the amount of lean body mass you have to determine your metabolic rate. This is what the J.J. Cunningham equation will do.  Using this method as a BMR calculator has a couple of benefits:

  • It won’t give you results that have been influenced by estimations derived from the typical representative member of your age and gender
  • As you increase lean body mass by developing your skeletal muscle mass, your caloric needs will increase, and the Cunningham equation will account for this.

Once you have your BMR in hand, you’re ready for the next step.

Total Calories and Dieting

Remember, your BMR is just the number of calories your body burns at rest and does not account for the calories you need to walk, talk, exercise, etc. When thinking about your caloric needs for a meal plan, you’ll need to convert your BMR to your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). You can do this by multiplying your BMR by a factor that represents your estimated energy level. Those conversions are:

TDEE Maintenance Chart based on activity level

So, let’s take the example of a 171.1-pound male with 133.6 pounds of lean body mass and assume he is moderately active. Using the Cunningham equation, this person would have a BMR of around 1,679 Cal/day. Multiply that by the appropriate conversion, and you get 2,602.45.  This is how many calories this person needs to maintain his weight.

When trying to improve your body composition and body fat percentage, you must reduce fat mass and gain lean body mass. That’s why it’s very hard to change your body composition.

This also means that your diet must also match what your current goal is – losing fat mass and/or gaining lean body massThis is incredibly important. People who don’t do this often end up sabotaging their goals by setting fitness and meal plans that are at odds with each other.

The most classic example is this: “I want to get in shape, so I am going to diet (eat less) and work out more (increase energy use).”

This isn’t a bad plan – if you’re looking to lose fat. If you’re looking to build muscle and get stronger, it’s very unlikely that you will achieve this by eating less than your TDEE while increasing your activity level beyond what you’re is accustomed to.

Using BMR to Optimize your Diet for Fat Loss

Body fat percentageThere is a lot that goes into any meal plan, and it can get complicated quickly. From a dietary standpoint, you can count on one thing: if you want to lose fat, you need to run a caloric deficit. That means you need to take in fewer calories. If you’ve found your BMR and converted it to TDEE, you know what your body requires in a day to stay the same. That’s your starting point. You need to consistently consume less than your TDEE if you want to lose weight.

How many calories do you need to take out of your diet in order to lose weight? Theoretically, any amount that is less than your normal TDEE can cause you to lose weight; it just depends on how quickly you want to see results.

A lot of resources will tell you that you need to subtract 500 calories from your diet each day to lose one pound of fat per week. This is based on the premise that one pound of fat represents 3,500 calories, and that by reducing your caloric intake by 500 over 7 days, you’ll reach a weekly loss of 3,500 calories or a pound of fat. You may have heard this rule before.

However, hard-and-fast “rules” like these are tricky because although they’re usually based on facts (caloric reduction does lead to fat loss), they may not be advisable, recommended, or safe for everyone. Someone with a TDEE of around 2,600 calories might not have many problems dropping to 2,100, but someone whose TDEE is 1,400 will probably have significant difficulties living a normal life and exercising while consuming 900 calories a day for any length of time.

The safest way to handle a caloric reduction is to reduce your intake by something marginal – 200 or 300 calories a day, for example – and be consistent with this for a week or two. After a week, have your body composition analyzed to ensure you aren’t losing lean body mass. If you see your fat mass begin to drop, you can see by how much and adjust your caloric needs accordingly.

How can you cut calories safely? The first thing to do would be to cut any unnecessary snacks and treats in your diet – soda, chips, chocolate, alcohol, etc. Depending on how much of these existed in your diet before, this simple step might be enough to cause you to lose weight without making any other changes!

But what if you were already eating clean? Where do you cut calories on a clean diet? If you’re in this situation, you need to make sure that you are cutting calories from nutrient sources that you can afford to cut from. One nutrient group you should be careful to not cut too much from (if at all) is protein.

Protein helps ensure your weight loss is fat mass and not fat free mass or lean body mass.  Find out how much protein should you eat for your body here.

One way to do this from a dietary standpoint is to consume foods that are low in calories but high in protein.  Here are a couple of foods to consider:

  • Tilapia, one fillet: 111 calories/22.75 grams of protein.
  • Greek yogurt, 170g container: 100 calories/17.32 grams of protein
  • Boneless skinless chicken breast, 3.5 ounces: 165 calories/31 grams of protein

With proper caloric restriction, nutrition, and exercise, you’ll start to shed off the fat while retaining as much muscle as possible.

Using BMR to Optimize Your Diet for Lean Body Mass Gain

If your goal is to build lean body mass, then your caloric needs and dietary goals are going to be different than if your goal is to reduce body fat. Some aspects of the diet will remain the same. You still need to eat clean and avoid unnecessary calories like in the fat mass diet described above. But you’ll need to exceed your daily caloric needs if you want to gain lean body mass. Additionally, strength training is going to be much more important – it’s not like you can just eat your way to lean body mass gains!

Start with your BMR and convert it to TDEE by multiplying it by the factor that best reflects the amount of physical activity you have in a week. For the sake of consistency, we will use the previous example (1679 Cal/day) and exercise factor (x1.55) to produce a TDEE of 2,602.45. This is the amount of calories that must be exceeded in order to have enough energy to produce the desired results.

How much should you increase your energy intake by in order to gain lean mass? According to research, you need to consume approximately 15% more calories per day than what is required to maintain your body weight (that’s the TDEE).  So in this example, this individual should look to increase their caloric intake to about 2992.3 calories which, for convenience’s sake, could be safely rounded off to an even 3,000 calories/day.

How should you be adding these extra calories in your diet? The study cited above suggests that to maximize lean mass gain while minimizing fat mass gain, the increase in calories should be made up of both protein-rich foods and carbohydrates.

However, a word of caution about protein. Before you conclude that you’ll just increase your diet with nothing but protein, consider this: there is a point where eating more protein won’t lead to a measurable increase in lean mass. In a 2006 study of collegiate level athletes, no benefit in muscle or strength gain came from protein consumption that exceeded .9 g of protein per pound of body weight.

While protein is important, caloric intake is arguably more necessary. In the article cited above, the athletes consumed their required protein amount but failed to consume the total amount of calories appropriate for their fitness level, which led the authors to comment:

The low energy intakes observed in this study confirm previous reports that have shown that collegiate athletes generally do not meet their nutritional needs, specifically as it relates to energy intake. Caloric intakes of strength/power athletes should exceed 44 – 50 kcal·kgBM·day-1, however, the caloric intakes reported in this study (33.0 ± 5.5 kcal·kgBM·day-1) were below these recommended levels and likely impacted the ability of these subjects to make significant gains in lean tissue accruement.

Bottom line: you need to exceed the number of calories you require each day if you are trying to gain lean mass.

Final Thoughts

plate of fruits

As with any dietary plan, you will expect to see changes over time.  All this hard work has to produce results, right? So, how long will it take to see results? Unfortunately, that is going to vary for each individual. A good rule of thumb is to weigh yourself every 1 – 2 weeks.  If you are looking for a more precise analysis, you should get your body composition measured as well. Another important factor to consider: your BMR. Since your BMR is closely linked to your lean body mass, any changes will affect the number of calories you burn.

For example, if your plan is to gain lean body mass, and over a period of time you are successful in doing so, your energy needs are going to increase. This is why it is so important to be measuring body composition.

Conversely, if you lose some lean body mass as a result of going on a strict caloric deficit diet, your BMR will decrease. If you lose too much lean mass, but don’t take that change into account, you might take in more calories than you need, which could sabotage your goals.

Finally, a diet is much more than creating a calorie deficit. It’s important to use a BMR calculator or body composition analyzer to understand how much energy your body needs. Without this information, you won’t know how much food you need to add or remove to your diet in order to achieve your goals. With this information, you’ll see quicker results and reach your goals faster.

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Muscle and Fat

By Body Composition, InBody Blog, Nutrition
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on September 14,, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on January 27, 2016.

Your body is a wonderfully complex machine.  Without any conscious direction from you, your body manages to convert food into energy, regulate your body temperature, create new cells, remove waste, and perform thousands of other processes to keep you alive and healthy.

Because your body is such a complex machine, a lot of misconceptions and half-truths exist about how it works, especially when it comes to muscle and fat.  This makes it hard to figure out what’s true and what isn’t when it comes to body composition, especially since nowadays there seems to be a supplement for everything and a steady stream of late-night infomercials claiming to have the next greatest invention for fat loss or muscle gain.

To help shed some light on these issues and cut through the clutter, we’ve collected a few key points about muscle and fat for you to take away to help you make the right decisions when you are ready to get healthier and optimize your body composition.

#1: Muscle Isn’t Just for Strong Bodies

Image Source: Flickr

Many people think that muscle gain is only necessary if you’re an athlete.  Why would you need to be stronger if you’re not a competitive athlete? Not everyone needs to fight off an opposing defensive back (or wants to muscular), but everyone needs to be able to fight off infection.

What does muscle have to do with infection? Quite a lot actually.

Protein is a important macronutrient that your body needs in order to function properly. Muscle is made up of primarily water and protein content.  When your body enters a stressed state (becomes sick), your body’s protein demands suddenly skyrocket, up to four times the amount it normally requires in the event of serious trauma.

If your body does not get the necessary protein it needs from your diet, it will look to your muscles – which your body can treat as large protein reserves – and begin breaking them down.  If your muscles aren’t sufficiently developed or underdeveloped, you will have a reduced ability and strength to fight off current infections and may be more susceptible to future ones, especially in serious cases.  According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

If there is a preexisting deficiency of muscle mass before trauma, the acute loss of muscle mass and function may push an individual over a threshold that makes recovery of normal function unlikely to ever occur.

 

The key takeaway: focusing on muscle gain may pay big dividends down the road with recovery in strength and function.

#2: There’s 2 types of Fat – and one is really dangerous

visceral and subcutaneous fat

Most people know that being overweight can lead to health problems over the long term, but not many people know why.  Current research is now revealing that your fat mass isn’t just empty weight like a bag of sand, but is in fact metabolically active tissue that acts like an organ inside your body.

But unlike the other organs inside your body that are designed to help keep your body in proper condition, excess visceral fat works to sabotage it.

According to Harvard University, fat mass, and particularly visceral (belly) fat, can have significant negative effects on your health.  Visceral fat spreads certain types of chemical called cytokines into the body, and although cytokines aren’t by their nature harmful, the types of cytokines emitted by fat can have serious repercussions on insulin resistance, cholesterol level, and blood pressure.  

Over time, visceral fat can lead to developing serious diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. For skinny fat individuals, they may not be aware their high visceral fat level puts them at risk for these disease because visually they look “healthy” in comparison to obese individuals. In actuality, they share similar health risks. Fortunately, working to reduce fat mass in your body can help reduce some of these harmful effects visceral fat can have.  

#3: “Lean Mass” Isn’t the Same as “Muscle”

Lean Mass. Lean Body Mass. Muscle Mass. Skeletal Muscle Mass.  It can be really easy to get lost in all these same-sounding terms.  Are they all the same?

The most common mistake is when people use the term “lean mass” and when talking about increasing it – “lean gains.”  Many people equate muscle mass with lean mass, which is only partially correct.

While it is true that if you develop your muscles you are developing lean mass, that doesn’t mean that your muscle gains are lean gains.  Lean Body Mass is different from skeletal muscle in that Lean Body Mass includes the weight attributed to muscle, body water, bone, and everything else that isn’t fat.  To illustrate, take a look at the body composition breakdown of this 162-pound male:

Note that this subject has a Lean Body Mass of 128.5 pounds, the majority of which is reflected by Total Body Water.  The actual muscle that people try to develop in the gym – skeletal muscle – only accounts for 73.2 pounds of body weight.

While it isn’t likely that the weight of your organs or bones will change significantly, your muscles and water can change in volume and mass depending on a variety of circumstances.  Because Lean Body Mass includes body water, increasing your weight by hydrating your cells with sufficient intracellular water is also technically a “lean gain.”

Another way of thinking about it: All muscle gains are lean mass gains, but not all lean mass gains are muscle gains.  Get it?

#4: Muscle Doesn’t Become Fat

Admit it– you were pretty sure it didn’t work like this, but you sometimes catch yourself saying that your muscle turned into fat.

Although your body is an amazing machine, there is no process by which your body converts muscle to fat.  Many people comment that their muscle has turned into fat after they stop working out regularly, and it really does seem like that’s what’s occurring – you were once lean and muscular, and now you have less muscle and look flabbier.  But what’s really going on is a change in body compositiona loss in muscle mass that occurs at the same time fat mass increases.

This can happen for any number of reasons. Many people, especially athletes, can experience muscle loss and fat gain in the off-season when they stop performing entirely and continue to eat like they did when they were playing at a competitive level. That’s because the amount of calories you use in a day – your Total Daily Energy Expenditure – decreases significantly if you change your activity level. So to recap, muscle to fat conversion isn’t real. If you are going to be less active, make sure you adjust your diet accordingly.   

#5: Being Skinny Isn’t Great If You Have No Muscle

Image Source: Flickr

When people think of someone with an unhealthy body, they think of someone who is overweight.  So, when people think of someone with a healthy body, they naturally think of someone who is skinny.

Not so fast: just because someone looks like a runway model doesn’t mean they are healthy.  In fact, it is often the opposite. In some cases, people who strive to be skinny – like runway models for instance –  become so excessively skinny that they become severely underweight, lose a significant amount of lean mass, and develop conditions like anorexia. It was for this reason in particular that the French government imposed a ban on hiring runway models with BMIs of less than 18.0 in 2015.

However, not everyone is a runway model, and a much more common condition that some skinny people have that is certainly not healthy is something called sarcopenic obesity, something popularly referred to as being “skinny fat.”  Skinny fat people don’t have healthy amounts of muscle mass, so they can actually have a body fat percentage that is similar to someone who is obese, even though they appear to be skinny.  They often have body composition profiles resembling this one:

Despite having a normal weight (within 15% of the ideal weight for this person’s height), muscle mass is very underdeveloped while body fat mass is quite high.  By dividing fat mass by weight, this person’s body fat percentage would be 36.9%, well over any acceptable range for women – including the ranges set by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise.

End the Confusion

Lots of these myths and misconceptions occur because many people do not measure their weight accurately.

The only way to properly understand your weight is to have your body composition analyzed.  Body composition analysis breaks down your weight into muscle, fat, and body water. Relying on a scale only leaves you in the dark as to why your weight is increasing or decreasing, which can lead you to such thoughts as “my muscle turned into fat” or “is it muscle loss or fat loss”.  To learn more about how understanding your body composition can help transform your health, click here.

All About Fiber and Its Dirty Little Secrets

By Body Composition, Nutrition

Ask anyone knowledgeable in nutrition about the benefits of fiber and the positives will trump over the negatives. People claim this type of carbohydrate will help you reduce your risk of certain cancers, lower your type 2 diabetes risk, and help with weight loss as it supposedly reduces appetite and increase satiety. In other words, fiber is magic and should be given the same amount of adoration that we shower antioxidants and the rest of the nutritional superstars with.

Yet when was the last time you fact-checked fiber’s benefits? What if we dig deeper into recent nutrition research to learn more?

In this article,  we’ll put fiber in the limelight and sort myths from facts. While mainstream beliefs will tell you that adding lots of fiber to your daily diet is key to good health, let’s figure out if this advice is scientifically sound, especially when it comes to sustainable weight loss and improving your body composition.

Know Thy Fiber

Before we dive into separating myths from established facts and findings, let’s cover the basics.

Dietary fiber, sometimes referred to as roughage, refers to a broad, diverse group of carbohydrates that we, as humans, cannot digest because we are lacking in digestive enzymes to break them down. For this reason, roughage ends up in your colon unchanged.

So why would something that humans can’t digest turn out to be beneficial part of your diet?

Fibers are inherently unique from each other due to their chemical properties. That’s right, the fiber you find brown rice is different than the kind you find in oats. Scientists categorize dietary fibers based on a specific set of characteristics.

To have a better understanding as to how fiber can possibly impact your body composition and overall health, let’s take a closer look at this indigestible carbohydrate through the lens of its popular methods of classification: solubility, viscosity, and fermentability, and a special note on resistant starch.

Soluble and Insoluble Fiber

irst of all, all plant-based foods are generally a mix of both soluble and insoluble fibers. Think of the soluble fiber as the dawdling sibling while the insoluble type is the speedster in the family. How come?

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and morphs into a gel-like substance when it passes through the gut. Foods high in soluble fiber include apples, beans, blueberries, lentils, nuts, and oat products.

Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and the term roughage generally refers to this specific type. Unlike its slow solubility sister, roughage does the exact opposite. It speeds up transit time in the digestive system and adds bulk to your stool. This is the basis of the most common health recommendation for eating more roughage: to prevent constipation by helping food move through your system.

Foods high in insoluble fiber include brown rice, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, wheat, whole wheat bread, and whole grain couscous.

Contrary to popular belief, solubility does not reliably predict whether or not a certain type of fiber is beneficial to your health. However, the terms soluble and insoluble are still used by many nutrition and healthcare professionals including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in nutritional labels.

Viscous and Nonviscous Fiber

Another way of classifying fiber is through its viscosity. Certain types of soluble fiber are more viscous, or more likely to form firmer, stickier gels when mixed with water than other types. When you digest food with high-viscous fiber in it, it increases the viscosity of the gel-like substance that passes through your gut. As a result, it reduces your appetite because you feel fuller longer.

Viscous fibers include the following:

  • pectins (abundant in berries and fruits)
  • β-Glucans (Beta-glucans: abundant in barley and oats)
  • guar gum (commonly derived from the Indian cluster bean)
  • psyllium (isolated from psyllium seed husks)

The most frequently cited benefits of fiber (e.g., reduce cholesterol levels, improve glycemic control in type 2 diabetes, improve stool form in both constipation and diarrhea) is directly correlated to its viscosity. Nonviscous food sources tend not to have these beneficial properties. This is incredibly important because the general public tend to lump all types of fiber as one and associate its health benefits to all types too. Until more is known about the beneficial effects of low-viscosity fibers, a good strategy is to learn toward foods higher in viscosity.

Fermentable and Nonfermentable Fiber

If you’re not aware yet, your entire body is host to trillions (yes, trillions!) of beneficial bacteria.  The majority live in your intestines and are referred to as your gut microbiome. Also known as the forgotten organ, these little creatures have a say in your body composition and overall health.

The beneficial bacteria in your gut thrive on fermentable fiber. Not to mention that this wonderful alchemy of fermentation in your gut produces short-chain fatty acids such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate that suppress gut inflammation and can possibly reduce your risk of various digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Majority of fermentable fibers are soluble, but some insoluble fibers are cool with fermentation too. Foods that are rich in fermentable fibers include oats and barley, as well as fruit and vegetables. Cereal fibers that are rich in cellulose (like wheat bran) are nonfermentable.

Special Note on Resistant Starch

Lately, many experts have been encouraging people to add resistant starch to your diet because of its powerful health benefits.

Resistant starch is not exactly a fiber, but another form of carbohydrate (long form of glucose molecules really) that functions like soluble and fermentable fiber. Like fiber, Resistant starch is not fully broken down and absorbed in your small intestine and gut bacteria thrive on it. When fermented, resistant starch produces short-chain fatty acids as well as gases (which in turn can lead to bloating and abdominal discomfort when eaten/taken in excess).

Great food sources of resistant starch to add to your diet include beans, various legumes, green bananas, cashews, raw oats, and cooked (and then cooled) rice/potatoes. The cooling process turns some of the digestible starches into resistant starches through a process called retrogradation.

So why differentiate all the different types of fibers? Because each types will have different effects in the digestive process and having an array of natural food sources (whole wheat, oats, brown rice, starch) in your diet can have a positive overall impact on your health by improving digestion and also feeding bacteria that work so hard to keep you healthy.

Fiber’s Claims to Fame: Legit or Not?

When we talk about fiber and its impact on one’s health, we are often told about the following benefits:

  • Lowers down blood sugar levels
  • Reduces cholesterol levels
  • Prevents chronic constipation
  • Reduces the risk of specific cancers such as colon cancer and breast cancer
  • Help with weight loss and improve weight control

The American Dietetic Association recommends 14g of dietary fiber per 1,000 kcal of food intake or roughly 25g for adult women and 38g for adult men. Food variety in your diet is encouraged to meet one’s daily fiber requirement. Mix it up with whole wheat, nuts, starchy carbs, and vegetables.

Like so much of nutrition, what’s true today may not be true anymore in the next three, five, or ten years. Research findings and conclusions that once seemed valid and well-founded may be revised— or even totally flipped— as new research is completed. The idea that fat doesn’t actually make you fat is a good example.

With that said, let’s figure out the recent science-backed truths of the aforementioned benefits.

Does fiber help in reducing blood sugar and cholesterol levels?

In terms of fiber’s ability to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels, a review of studies on the subject published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics last February revealed the following:

“…high viscosity fibers (eg, gel-forming fibers such as b-glucan, psyllium, and raw guar gum) exhibit a significant effect on cholesterol lowering and improved glycemic control, whereas non-viscous soluble fibers (eg, inulin, fructooligosaccharides, and wheat dextrin) and insoluble fibers (eg, wheat bran) do not provide these viscosity-dependent health benefits…”

With this information, we can see that not all fibers are created equal. If lowering your serum LDL cholesterol and normalizing blood glucose and insulin levels is your goal, adding soluble, viscous fibers to your diet (mainly from whole food sources) would be beneficial.

Meanwhile, resistant starch can potentially lower down blood sugar levels after meals and improve insulin sensitivity.  This means that your body is less likely to store excess glucose as fat. This is good news if you’re currently working to lose fat mass as a priority in improving your body composition.

The takeaway: Not all types of fiber can help control blood sugar and reduce cholesterol levels. To gain fiber’s benefits in terms of regulating blood sugar and lowering cholesterol, opt for high viscous fibers and resistant starches.

Does fiber help with chronic constipation?

How many times have you been told to add more fiber to your diet if you’re having chronic problems in maintaining regularity in your bowel movement?

It turns out that this common advice is not as true as we thought.

In fact, a 2012 study concluded that idiopathic constipation (or constipation of unknown cause) and its associated symptoms can be effectively reduced by stopping or even lowering the intake of dietary fiber.

Furthermore, the same review of studies which examined fiber’s impact on blood sugar and cholesterol recommended that not all types of fiber can help with chronic constipation. The researchers concluded that large/coarse insoluble fibers are more effective as a laxative. Soluble fermentable fibers (e.g. inulin, fructooligosaccharide, and wheat dextrin) do not provide a laxative effect, and some fibers can even be constipating (e.g. wheat dextrin and fine/smooth insoluble wheat bran particles).

The takeaway: Not all types of fiber can help with chronic constipation. Specifically, fruits and vegetables can increase stool bulk and shorten transit time. Meanwhile, fiber supplements that are effective in treating constipation include cellulose and psyllium.

Fruits and vegetables are good sources of cellulose because this type of fiber is mainly found in plant cell walls. On the other hand, psyllium is isolated from the seeds of Plantago ovata, an herb mainly grown in India. Also known as ispaghula husk, it often comes in supplement form such as granules, powder, and capsules. Psyllium is the active ingredient in Metamucil, a popular supplement to reduce constipation.

Some baked goods and fortified cereals contain this type of fiber.

An important note on this is that sufficient fluid intake is also required to maximize the stool-softening effect of increased fiber intake.

Does fiber help reduce my risk of colorectal cancer (as what most people believe)?

The surprising fact is that much of the research does not support this. Recent findings from large prospective cohort studies and clinical intervention trials do not see an association between fiber intake and the risk of colorectal cancer. In fact,  a 4-year intervention trial found out that supplementation with 7.5 g/day of wheat bran had no effect on colorectal adenoma recurrence.

As for general disease prevention, it’s worth noting that observational studies that identify associations between high-fiber intakes and reductions in chronic disease risk tend to assess only fiber-rich foods rather than fiber itself. As a result, it is difficult to determine whether observed benefits are actually related to fiber or perhaps, other nutrients or antioxidants found in fiber-rich foods. Another point for eating foods that are naturally high in fiber instead of relying on fiber supplements.

Can I rely on fiber supplements to get the same benefits as fiber from whole sources?

To get the full-benefits of fiber, research reveals that fiber-rich foods trump (as always when it comes to nutrition) supplement sources. A systematic review of studies found out that most supplements do not help at all in reducing body weight.

Okay, Enough With the Science! I Just Want to Lost Weight. Can Fiber Help?

Yes. But you have to understand that fiber for weight loss doesn’t apply to all types of fiber.

As mentioned earlier in this article, some fibers are readily fermented by your gut microbiome, most of which are soluble fibers.  Soluble fibers, alongside resistant starch, help promote a thriving and diverse community of gut bacteria. Collectively, they are often referred to as prebiotics (not to be confused with probiotics which are live bacteria). If Popeye thrives on spinach, your gut bacteria thrives on prebiotics!

So what do prebiotics have to do with weight loss and your body composition?

Currently, there is reasonable evidence that increased dietary prebiotic intake decreases inflammation and helps improve insulin sensitivity. It’s worth noting that both inflammation and reduced insulin sensitivity are strong drivers of weight gain and metabolic syndrome.

By feeding your gut’s friendly and health-promoting bacteria with the right type of fiber, you also reduce your risk of obesity or unwanted weight gain. As for fiber’s role in promoting satiety reducing appetite (thus the popular belief that fiber can help with weight loss), research on the subject continues to yield conflicting results.

Conclusion

In summary, fiber’s benefits are wide ranging, but they don’t all come from one food source. In the end, variety is king. Recent findings show viscous fiber types and resistant starch may be the best sources, not just in transforming body composition but also helping you improve in key biometrics like cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Ultimately, getting more fiber in your diet from whole food sources is always better than relying on supplements. After all, nutrition is not about eating more protein, carbs, or any specific nutrient, but it’s the synergy of these nutrients that truly matters. Besides, berries and apples are more flavorful (and more appetizing!) than chewable tablets, right?

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Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher.  After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.

Source: https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/all-about-fiber-and-its-dirty-little-secrets/