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General Questions

  • An update on aspartame

    I've written an article about the artificial sweetener aspartame a couple of years ago published in the Australian Fit Lifestyle magazine. In the article I listed a number of scientific studies that showed the possible harmful effects of the long-term use of aspartame and encouraged the readers to reduce or avoid aspartame consumption until the results of a safety re-evaluation conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are released. Well, three years after the EFSA launched a public call for the submission of studies concerning the use aspartame, the European organization finally released their findings in December 2013 and the verdict about aspartame remains unchanged. The EFSA recommends that the current acceptable daily intake level for aspartame at 40mg per kg of body weight per day is safe and does not cause neurological damage, pregnancy issues and cancers in healthy people. However, the acceptable daily intake level is not applicable for people who have phenylketonuria, a genetic disorder that causes the accumulation of phenylalanine in the body, one of the metabolites of aspartame, which can lead to a number of serious medical problems.

    Being an avid Coke Zero drinker, I welcomed the newest evaluation that deemed aspartame consumption safe. While there's no reason to question the the experts' ability to review literatures available to them and to process the scientific data in an unbiased fashion, it does make me wonder why only a few of the studies reviewed suggested the potential harmful effects of aspartame, with almost all of which were discounted for being scientifically insignificant.

    A quick search in www.pubmed.org (US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health) indicated that 9 papers were published and indexed in 2014 with a key word "Aspartame" at the time this article was written. Three of the articles were about the formulation of compounds/goods, one was about sewage contamination and one investigated the use of fructose instead of aspartame in very low calorie diet for obese people and found that the subjects lost an average of 8.2kg after 4 weeks of eating fructose (Noren and Forssell 2014, Nutrition Journal). The rest of the 4 studies focused on the physiological and biochemical effects of aspartame in animals: Kim et al (2014, Cardiovascular Toxicology) showed that high-dosage treatment of aspartame can negatively affect the antioxidant and anti-atherogenic activity of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in Zebra fish; Nosti-Palacios et al (2014, International Journal of Toxicology) found that the administration of aspartame and insulin may induce toxicity in the brain and liver in diabetic rats; Ashok and Sheeladevi (2014, Redox Biology) suggested that long term aspartame exposure can alter the antioxidant status of the brain and could induce apoptotic (programmed cell death) changes in rat brains; Finamor et al (2014, Neurochemical Research) stated that the chronic exposure of the human acceptable daily intake level for aspartame at 40mg per kg of body weight in rats can cause oxidative damage in the animals tested.

    I stand to be corrected but based on my brief and limited literature research, almost all relevant studies published in the first 9 months of 2014 depicted a grim picture on the long term use of aspartame in animals. The published summary of the EFSA findings on the other hand, only mentioned a few studies stating the negative effect of aspartame while the majority of the studies received and reviewed by EFSA for this re-evaluation seemed to suggest that aspartame use has no measurable effect on humans and animals. I have no doubt that 40mg per kg of body weight per day of aspartame is generally safe for human consumption, because otherwise we would all have brain damage by now. However, the real long-term effect of aspartame consumption in humans has not yet been established. Moreover, the food and beverages containing aspartame are generally not very healthy. So my advice to you about aspartame use remains the same: reduce your intake, and avoid if possible.

  • With your beep test calculator, what does Relative VO2 Max and Absolute VO2 Max mean?

    Our beep test calculator provides two results - your absolute VO2Max and your relative VO2Max.

    The "relative" score takes into account your body mass.  The reason this is relative is because this score will vary depending upon the weight that you have to carry from one end of the 20m track to the other.  So, if two people both completed 10 levels, yet one weighed 60kg and the other weighed 100kg, the 100kg person would obtain a far better "relative" VO2Max because they are carrying an additional 40kg around with them.

    The relative reading tells you how many mililitres of oxygen each kilogram of bodyweight (on average) is consuming per minute.

    Meanwhile, the "absolute" score only takes into account the level and number of shuttles obtained.  Bodyweight is not a factor in this result.  Consequently, the two people above would produce exactly the same score.

    The absolute reading tells you how many litres of oxygen your body is consuming per minute.

  • Does all tribulus terrestris contain protodioscin?

    The Tribulus Terrestris that we have for sale does contain protodioscin, as all tribulus terrestris products will in varying degrees.  The density of this phytochemical will vary depending upon the location from which it is sourced.

    According to one particular study (below), the most abundant source of protodioscin is found from Bulgarian leaves.  This is where the Now Foods Tribulus that we sell sources their raw materials from, and manufactures the supplement in the USA.

    [Ganzera, M., et al., Determination of steroidal saponins in Tribulus terrestris by reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography and evaporative light scattering detection. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 90(11), 1752-1758 (2001)],

  • I want to tone up. What exercise and supplements would you recommend?

    In order to tone up, you need to perform a combination of fat loss and muscle gain.  Depending upon how much fat or muscle you currently carry, the gain/loss ratio for muscle/fat respectively may be leaning toward one side or another.  Note that we are not talking about muscle "bulking", but rather some muscle gain to provide shape and tone.

    In order to build some muscle, you do need to establish a sound resistance training regime.  A gym environment would be ideal, but if you don't have access to a gym (or can't afford one), you can certainly make do at home too.  I have a number of clients with very limited training resources, yet achieve some amazing results.

    You do need to develop an effective resistance training routine.  I wish I could give you a specific program to follow, but because everyone is different in their lifestyle, preferences, medical/injury history, goals etc, this is nearly impossible for me to do in such a generic context.

    Nutrition wise it is vital that you establish a sound nutritional intake with healthy eating choices BEFORE considering supplements.  This means that you consume foods from a variety of food groups, consistently throughout the day and as naturally (or unprocessed) as possible.  Once this has been done, you may consider some supplements such as a protein powder and a multivitamin.  Various other supplements can promote fat metabolism, but it is important that these are used in conjunction with a well established exercise and nutritional regime, rather than relying on a particular supplement to do the work for you.

    If you would like some specific advice, guidance, motivation and accountability with your training, please consider our highly intensive personal training services.

  • Can muscle turn into fat? Can fat turn into muscle?

    In short, no. Muscle tissue is completely different from fat tissue and therefore it is impossible to convert one into the other.

    It is a very common misconception within the fitness industry that muscle can be turned into fat, or conversely, fat can be turned into muscle. You may have heard someone say that they are toning up by "turning their fat into muscle". Alternatively, you may have heard comments that when an athlete ceases to train, their muscle turns into fat. Both of these scenario's are completely inaccurate.

    Let's take a brief look at fat and skeletal muscle tissues:

    Fat tissue, or adipose tissue, is primarily a storage tissue in adults. It's there as a survival mechanism for us just in case we are unable to eat. Glucose sugars are taken up from the blood stream and converted into triglycerides that are stored within the fat cell.

    Muscle tissue is primarily required to generate force in one way or another. This may be to generate a heart beat, breath out, or to lift something. Skeletal muscle tissue is comprised of a series of fibres that run from one point to another and is connected to bones via connective tissues.

    Of course, both forms of tissue have many other functions within the human body, but this is just a brief overview.

    As you can see, fat and muscle have completely different functions. Not surprisingly, they also have completely different structures under a microscope. In fact, they almost look as similar as a wooden chair and a porcupine!

    So with all this said and done, how on Earth could the misconception that "muscle turns into fat", or "fat turns into muscle" arise?

    Well, let's take the two scenario's above:

    Someone loses weight and tones up. Through exercise and nutrition, this person has managed to re-shape their body. But instead of turning their fat into muscle, what they managed to do is reduce the amount of fat they carry and increase the amount of muscle in their body. Thus, you can see how easy it is to misconceive this as "turning fat into muscle", when they have in fact lost fat and gained muscle.

    An ex-athlete who used to be muscular, but gains weight after they cease training. This is a very common situation and can often turn people off the thought of weight training altogether. What often happens here is that the athlete is used to exercising for a number of hours each day. As a result, they expend a lot of calories and thus have to eat a lot of calories in order to fuel their bodies. As soon as they stop training, the amount of activity that they perform each day drops significantly. Therefore, they expend far less calories. But, if they do not modify your diet to accommodate for the lesser caloric expenditure, they will gain a substantial amount of fat tissue. With the decreased training frequency, their muscles will deteriorate from lack of use. Ultimately, they lose muscle mass and gain fat mass because of the changes in their lifestyle. Contrary to popular belief, muscle is not converted into fat.

    Hopefully this clears up this very common misconception. If you are interested in learning more about weight loss, weight gain, nutrition and exercise, I highly recommend that you read our course entitled "Introduction to Physical Freedom".

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