Thursday, April 11, 2019

What About Sugar? Part 2

In my blog, "What About Sugar?" we learned that sugar in its most basic form, glucose, is not a bad thing. In fact, our red blood cells rely strictly on glucose as they lack mitochondria to process fats and proteins. And the preferred fuel source of our brain is glucose. It's only when we take in too much sugar does it become a problem. So, let's understand exactly what happens when we eat too much sugar.

When we take a bite of that sugary doughnut, enzymes in our saliva begin the process of breaking down sucrose into glucose and fructose. These molecules travel all the way down to the small intestine, where they traverse the intestinal wall and enter the portal vein to be carried to the liver. Once the molecules reach the liver, they either stop there and are converted to their storage forms, or they go into circulation to be used for energy by our cells. Our muscle cells use only about 35-40% of the fructose eaten. Glucose is the preferred fuel of our muscles as it is absorbed more rapidly in the body and 
utilized more efficiently.

But, what if our muscles don't need to use glucose and fructose immediately for fuel? They then need to be stored for later use. Glycogen is the storage form of glucose. If fructose is not used immediately for fuel, it needs to be converted to glucose by the liver and then sent back out to the muscles to be stored as glycogen. The more muscle we have, the more storage depots we have. Typically, for an average female, 30-35% of her body weight is muscle, 36-40% or a little more for a more muscular woman. For an average male, 40-45% of his body weight is muscle, and up to 55% for a more muscular male. For every kg of muscle tissue we have, we store about 15 grams of glycogen. For example, I have 47% or 62 lbs of muscle tissue, so I can store roughly 420 grams of glycogen (62 lbs / 2.2 = 28 kg x 15 grams). The take home message here: the more muscle we have, the more carbs we can eat!

Very rarely do we deplete our muscle glycogen stores; 60-90 mins of intense exercise uses approximately 40% of our muscle glycogen tank. So, what happens if glucose arrives at the muscle but the muscle doesn't need to use it immediately and our glycogen tanks are full? Glycogen can also be stored in the liver, but not very much. Typically 75-100 grams for women and 100-125 grams for men. So, here's the problem! The remaining glucose is taken up by fat cells and easily converted to fat because they have the same building blocks; carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. But, excess fructose has to go to liver to be converted to triglycerides, put back into the blood (elevating total cholesterol), and then taken up by fat cells. When large quantities of fructose 
(50-100 grams) are consumed (sugar is 50% fructose), the liver may decide the amount of triglycerides is too much to be released into the blood, so it chooses to store it instead. This can lead to a disease called, "Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease," which is basically the same thing as cirrhosis. The liver becomes diseased and can no longer function the way it is supposed to. The take away message here: stay active so the muscles and liver need to store glycogen!

The more muscle we have, the more carbs we can eat!

Whitney | Rolfes. "Understanding Nutrition." Cengage Learning, 2011.
Comana, Fabio. "Energy Pathway, Ketones and Nutrient Timing." 2019 IDEA Personal Training West.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What About Sugar?

What do we want to know about sugar? Let's start with, what exactly is sugar? Carbohydrates are sugar. They are broken down to the very basic form of sugar, which is glucose. Our brain, blood and muscles need glucose to survive. So, sugar is not a bad thing in this context, it just gets a bad rap.

To simplify our understanding of carbohydrates as sugars, we can break them into two groups: simple and complex. Simple sugars are monosaccharides and disaccharides. Monosaccharides consist of glucose, fructose and galactose. Disaccharides are comprised of two monosaccharides: maltose is glucose plus glucose, sucrose is glucose plus fructose, and lactose is glucose plus galactose. Of the disaccharides, sucrose (table sugar, corn syrup, etc.) is the "bad stuff." Lactose is our milk and maltose is our beer. The complex carbohydrates are polysaccharides: starches, fiber and glycogen. In food terms, starches are our grains, legumes, tubers and root crops ("GLoaTR"). Fibers are all plant-derived foods. Glycogen is the storage form of glucose, which we eat a very small amount of in meats.

So, if all digestible carbs breakdown to the monosaccharide, glucose, which our body needs, why does sugar get a bad rap? Well, to understand this, we need to understand how our carbohydrates are digested. The simpler the carbohydrate, the quicker it is digested. Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) take longer to digest because they need to be broken down to disaccharides and then to monosaccharides. This breakdown process begins in the mouth via the enzyme, amylase. After that, since stomach juices don't contain enzymes to digest carbohydrates, the majority of the work takes place in the small intestine. Now, here's the catch! Fibers linger in the stomach and delay emptying into the small intestine. That's what prolongs digestion and gives us a feeling of fullness. Digestion of simple and complex carbs takes about one to four hours. Only fibers enter the large intestine. Soluble fibers - oats, barley, legumes and citrus fruits ("OBLoC") - can be broken down and used as energy by the colon. These fibers lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels, good news for our heart and insulin levels! Insoluble fibers - whole grains (bran) and vegetables - exit our body. The bad rap part of sugar comes from the fact that when simple sugars are digested rapidly, we get a surge of the hormone, insulin. Insulin is a fat storage hormone. If our muscles, brain or blood don't need the glucose for energy, it goes to our fat depots. 

So, what's the message here? Well, I don't think we can completely avoid the simple sugars - I know I can't. But, what we can do is have an understanding about how much simple sugar we are putting in our body and try to balance it by eating sugars that contain fiber and slow down the digestive process.

We can understand how much simple sugar we are eating.

Whitney | Rolfes. "Understanding Nutrition." Cengage Learning, 2011.
Newby, P.K., ScD, MPH, MS. "Nutrition Myth Busters: Fact or Fiction?" IDEA Health and Fitness Association, 2017.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Female Change: A Brief Overview

Migraines? Weight gain around the middle? Hot flashes? Mood changes? Bloating? These are all symptoms of our declining hormones. Given that estradiol, our predominant form of estrogen during our younger years affects more than 400 tissues, it's no wonder we feel the effects of hormonal changes!

In our reproductive years, estradiol is produced by our ovaries and is responsible for the maturation of a few to a few hundred eggs in their follicles. When we ovulate, releasing one egg, the ruptured follicle produces progesterone in order to prepare our uterus for possible implantation of our fertilized egg. As we age and lose our eggs, our reproductive system slows, ovulation stops and we no longer produce progesterone from our ovaries (even though menses may continue). This is when we enter phase 1 of perimenopause, also known as "estrogen dominance." This phase is characterized by a constant feeling of PMS with bloating, mood swings and tender breasts. In phase 2, estrogen also declines leading to symptoms such as hot flashes, memory problems and migraines. In the third phase, estrogen and progesterone decline to near menopausal levels and many of the unpleasant symptoms disappear. In phases 2 and 3, menses has most likely ceased. Estrogen and progesterone are like yin and yang; they counterbalance each other. When there is an imbalance between the two hormones, we experience the unpleasant side effects previously mentioned.

As we travel through the phases and no longer produce estradiol from our ovaries, we start to produce estrone (another estrogen) in our fat cells via conversion of our androgens (male hormones). This is one reason why women with more fat cells might experience a greater degree of estrogen imbalance (hot flashes, etc.). We see an increase in fat in our stomachs because abdominal tissue contains more androgen receptors. Progesterone, on the other hand, is produced from cholesterol in our adrenal glands when we no longer ovulate. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is also produced in our adrenal glands. If we are overly stressed and constantly release cortisol,  we will inhibit the production of progesterone, which also exaggerates and prolongs an imbalance between the two hormones.

As we go through these changes, there are a few things we can do to minmize some of the more unpleasant symptoms of hormonal imbalance and decline. One, we can exercise to reduce stress and weight gain. Two, we can eat more foods containing phytoestrogens (soy). Three, educate ourselves on the types of supplements that will boost our progesterone, and Four, enjoy some dark chocolate which contains magnesium and improves our mood!

It's no wonder we feel the effects of hormonal changes!

Lee, John R., M.D. "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause." Hachette Book Group, 2004.
Corio, Laura E.,  M.D. "The Change Before The Change." Bantam, 2002.
Dalton, Katharina, M.D. "Once A Month." Hunter House Inc., 1999.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Female Body Battle

Let's face it, maintaining our desired body weight gets tougher as we age. Did you know that a sedentary woman around the age of 40 loses 1/2 a pound of muscle per year, or roughly 7 pounds of muscle per decade? A pound of muscle tissue burns approximately 35-50 calories a day, so this means a potential weight gain of up to 3 pounds per year, or approximately 10-25 pounds per decade! Did you also know that ovulation burns 300 calories per day for 3 days? This means perimenopausal and menopausal women lose a 900-calorie "freebie burn" per month! If we don't adjust, that's an additional 3 pounds of weight gain per year and yet another possible 25-pound weight gain per decade!

Ladies, there's no getting around it. To avoid muscle loss, we need to lift weights. We need to maintain our muscle to maintain our metabolism and this can be done in just 30 minutes, 2x per week. Growth hormone builds muscle and it's something we have a lot of, so let's take advantage of it! It's secreted in pulses when we sleep if we do HIIT cardio or heavy weightlifting. And, growth hormone mobilizes fatty acids which our muscles use for energy. 

As for weight gain in perimenopause, we need to counterbalance the effects of estrogen dominance. We are estrogen dominant as progesterone starts to decrease. In menopause, estrogen drops and everything levels out. But, perimenopause is a roller coaster ride and estrogen dominance causes our body to act in unpredictable ways. Without the balancing effects of progesterone, we start to see more weight gain in our abdominal region. Also, fluctuating hormones affect our thyroid, which controls our metabolism. 

Although we can't completely control our diminishing progesterone, there are ways we can help ourselves out. We can eat soy and tropical wild yams which contain diosgenin. Diosgenin converts into progesterone. We can also try to manage our stress. Too much stress along with estrogen dominance leads to cravings for sugar. Increased sugar intake leads in increased insulin. A double whammy for fat storage! As for our thyroid, we need to make sure we have enough iodine and tyrosine. Fish, avocados and eggs are a good way to make sure we get enough. 

Here's some good news! Even though magnesium is depleted with estrogen dominance, dark chocolate is high in magnesium! Magnesium relaxes blood vessels in the brain, allowing a greater flow of oxygen. This improves your overall sense of well-being. So, enjoy some chocolate, maybe even with walnuts which are good for our hearts!

There are ways we can help ourselves out

Josephson, Scott. "The Female Physique: The Link Between Nutrition, Hormones and Strength Training!" 2016 IDEA Personal Training West.
McMillan, Sherri. "Training The Female Client."  IDEA Health & Fitness Association.
Teta, Jade. "How to Get Rid of Belly Fat Through Nutrition and Exercise." IDEA Health & Fitness Association.
Lee, John R., M.D. "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause." Hachette Book Group, 2004.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Do You Know Your Personal Serving Sizes?

I decided today to revisit the shocking fact that most of us don't understand what a serving size is. We Americans are eating double to triple the amount of food that constitutes a serving. To put this in perspective, did you know that a 1/2 cup of cooked pasta is considered a serving size? Picture a 1/2 cup - like the size of the round part of a light bulb. And how about white rice? Only 1/3 cup of cooked rice is considered a serving size! When was the last time you ate a bagel? A bagel today is 4-5 servings of carbohydrates! No wonder 1 in 3 Americans is obese. We just don't have the knowledge.

Here is an easy way to remember serving sizes:
  1. 1 cup = baseball;
  2. 1/2 cup = light bulb;
  3. 1 oz. or 2 tbsp.= golf ball;
  4. 1 tbsp.= poker chip;
  5. 3 oz. = deck of cards.

To keep track of your caloric intake, you want to have a general idea of what your RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate) is. For me, at 5'9" and roughly 130 pounds, my RMR is around 1751 kcals. If I exercise, I can add to that number. From there, you can figure out the percentage of carbs, protein and fats that you want to eat during the day. I like to do 63% carbs, 12% protein and 25% fat. This comes out to 276 grams or approximately 16-19 light bulbs of carbs (4 kcals per gram and 15 grams or 80 kcals per serving), approximately 53 grams or 2-3 decks of cards of protein (4 kcals per gram and 7 grams per serving and 3 ounces per gram), and 49 grams or 8-10 poker chips of fat (9 kcals per gram and 5 grams per serving).

For fun, let's put it together by using my caloric intake and expenditure so far for today, keeping in mind that certain carbs are going to "use up" more servings:
  1. Breakfast - Starbucks coffee cake and Venti coffee. That's a lot of fat and carbs -  probably 2-3 servings of carbs and maybe 5 servings of fat?
  2. Lunch - Baggins Unforgettable sandwich and large iced tea - 2 slices of bread + avocado and other stuff and turkey meat - maybe 4-5 servings of carbs, 4 servings of fat and 1-2 servings of protein?
  3. Snack - 1 large apple -  2 servings of carbs (a small apple is a serving).
So, with this rough estimation, I have approximately  8 servings of carbs, a serving of protein and very little fat left for the day. But, I ran and did a TRX workout, which came to 823 kcals. Fortunately, I can still enjoy myself tonight. It really all comes down to what weight you'd like to maintain.

1 oz. or 2 tbsp. of fat is the size of a golf ball
Comana, Fabio. "Tap Into Your Fat Burn." IDEA Health & Fitness Association.
Josephson, Scott. "The Power of Eating Right." 2017 IDEA Personal Training West.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What Happens When We Fast?

When we fast (sleep for 8 hours), our body needs to continue supplying fuel to our cells. Glycogen in our liver is broken down into glucose and triglycerides in our adipose tissue are broken down into fatty acids. Both derivatives are released into our blood to flow into our cells. Once inside our cells, they are broken down to Acetyl CoA and enter the Krebs cycle to be converted into energy. 

After several hours of fasting, our liver glycogen is depleted and our blood glucose begins to drop. Our brains and nerves prefer energy in the form of glucose, but our red blood cells absolutely depend on it. Normally, restocking our glucose is not a problem since our hunger hormone, ghrelin, has already been released from our stomach to stimulate our appetite.

But, what happens if we don't eat breakfast right away? Cotisol is responsible for maintaining blood glucose levels by breaking down fat and muscle. Glucose for our blood is dervied from the glycerol portion of our triglycerides and our amino acids from our muscles. Fuel for our cells comes from the fatty acids of our triglycerides as well as the amino acids from our muscles. This is all fine for a little while, but if the fast continues for too long, our body starts to convert Acetyl CoA fragments (acquired from fatty acids) into keytones to provide the glucose needed. 

Sometimes ketone bodies have an acid group attached, and If we have too many of those floating around, our blood pH drops. The acidity denatures proteins, leaving them unable to function. This is bad news because our muscles start shrinking and our metabolism slows. We know we are at this point in a fasted state because we emit an odor similar to nail polish.

Though it's probably best to fast only when we sleep, it can be done safely for a short period of time to jump start a weight loss program or simply regain control of our eating. Having the knowledge about how the process works will help us preserve our muscle mass.

After intermittent fasting and an 8-mile hike (waiting for my pasta w/ Fish of the Day)

Whitney | Rolfes. "Understanding Nutrition." Cengage Learning 2011.
Talbott, Shawn. "The Cortisol Connection." Hunter House, Inc. 2007.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

My Vacation Weight Gain Experiment

For years now, I’ve been frustrated by the inevitable weight gain that occurs during the latter part of my vacations. All due, of course, to my lack of interest in monitoring my caloric intake when I’m fully engaged in the enjoyment of the experience of wherever I happen to be. Thus, I’ve been on a quest recently to try to figure out a way to have my cake and eat it too so that I don’t return home with 7 extra pounds that take 1-2 weeks to get off. 

Previous vacations would start off with great intentions of trying to monitor what went in my mouth, only to be intercepted by that first picturesque outdoor restaurant where a beer at noon enhanced the experience to the perfect level of enjoyment. So, with previous attempts to control (and subsequent failure) to conquer my voracious appetite, I decided to try something different during my recent trip to Kauai. 

In the beginning, I went along as normal, eating and drinking whatever and whenever I wanted until about five days into the vacation when the skin started to migrate outward from the top of my bikini. This is the breaking point for me; not the loss of tone around the tummy or the touching of the inner thighs, which probably occurs around day 2 or 3. No, it’s when the tucking into the top could no longer solve the problem! That’s when I took the dreaded walk to the fitness room to step on the scale to find out just how much damage had been done (inevitably, it’s more than 5 pounds at this point). And yes, 7 pounds it was and I had 3 days left (including the flight home) to solve the problem! 

I had been leery of fasted cardio because I learned that cortisol can be released in response to the stress of not eating. Cortisol can promote fat gain. But, the idea that increasing the amount of time before my body released insulin (the fat storage hormone) made sense to me, and my mind was open to options at this point! 

Our liver glycogen stores are pretty much depleted by the time we wake up in the morning. As a result, cortisol is released to make us hungry for breakfast to get some sugar into our blood. Once we eat carbohydrates (chocolate muffins), insulin is released and any unused sugar is tucked away as fat for later use. Intermittent fasting has you skipping breakfast in order to keep insulin at bay. This concept sounded doable to me. 

By skipping breakfast and only drinking coffee, I delayed the fat storage process and instead encouraged the breakdown process. I know that we need carbohydrates to initiate the fat-burning process, but my hope was that the glycogen in my muscles could be broken down to provide the glucose that would be needed. This process was not too difficult for me as I love coffee and caffeine is an appetite suppressant. Amazingly, I had tremendous energy despite skipping breakfast and when I weighed myself the next day, actually lost a pound! Since this was done without monitoring my caloric intake for the rest of the day, I decided to do it again. On that second day I went hiking for 5 hours, so my fat utilization had to be significant. Again, I didn’t monitor my caloric intake the for rest of the day and my weight stayed the same. It wasn’t until day three, the last day I skipped breakfast, that I really noticed a decrease in the excess skin around my arms. Without too much sacrifice, the experiment seemed to be working! I will try this again on my next vacation and hope that I finally the found a way to have my cake and it eat too.

To see short videos of my experiment, search for shelspinsfitness on Facebook or Instagram.
It’s when the tucking into the top could no longer solve the problem
Bubbs, Dr. Marc. "Balancing Hormones For Optimal Weight Loss." IDEA Health & Fitness Association.