• 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 (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.

  • Does extra protein consumption increase the speed of results in weight training?

    A common phrase that you may have heard thrown around the industry is "protein is muscle" or "muscle is protein". Whilst muscle is comprised of protein - an increase in dietary protein may not necessarily result in more lean muscle mass gains.

    Touching on the "muscle is protein", this somewhat deceiving phrase has come as a result of the structure of a muscle cell. Muscles are your body's primary storage facility of amino acids (amino acids are the building blocks of protein). If your body requires protein, and there is not enough dietary protein being consumed, then muscle tissue will most likely be broken down in order to supply the required amino acids.

    Obviously, if muscle is comprised of a significant amount of amino acids, then you need to source these amino acids from somewhere. This comes from your diet.

    That said, more protein in your diet does not necessarily mean great lean muscle gains. Gaining muscle is a function of many variables, including:

    Protein intake
    Fat intake
    Carbohydrate intake
    Resistance training regime
    Cardiovascular exercise regime
    Incidental exercise
    Genetic makeup
    ...and many other factors

    Let's take a few examples. To begin with, Fred's diet is spot on. He is consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrate, protein and fat. However his resistance training regime is not conductive of gaining muscle. Instead of stimulating the muscles to grow, he is performing a high-repetition workout which will enhance his muscular endurance. Therefore he will not see significant muscle gains.

    Example 2 - John performs an effective resistance training routine. However his diet is lacking in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are required in the process of "protein synthesis" - ie. building muscle. Without carbohydrates, protein synthesis will cease to occur (as protein synthesis requires the presence of insulin). Instead, muscle will most likely be broken down into amino acids which are then converted into glucose in order to maintain blood glucose levels.

    Example 3 - Jack sleeps 2-3 hours each night. Whilst his diet and training routine may be spot on, the lack of sleep that he receives inhibits his ability to synthesise protein. His hormones are imbalanced because IGF-1 and HGH, two important hormones for building muscle, are secreted in high amounts during deep sleep.

    Whilst I could go on all day with various examples, the point is that build muscle is a function of many variables. You need to ensure that your protein intake is adequate in conjunction with all other considerations. Consuming protein shakes all day long will not necessarily enhance your results in the gym. One other very important factor is to ensure that you have a calorie surplus in your diet - ie. more calories being consumed than what is being expended.

    When you enhance all these factors, your overall progress will be significantly enhanced.

    With that in mind, several studies have suggested that 1.8-2.4 g/kg/day of protein is adequate for maximum results. So, for a 100kg person, 180-240g of protein is substantial. There is limited research on this topic however. I would suggest that you begin within this range. Down the track, once you learn how your body responds to your training and diet, it's a great idea to experiment with different nutritional and training strategies. Unfortunately there is no formula, simply because we are all very different in our genetics.

    I highly suggest that you have a read of a course that I am publishing which deals with this very topic. There is particular emphasis on nutrition and the importance of protein, fat and carbohydrate:

    Hope this is of help!

  • What foods contain Omega 3, Omega 6 and Omega 9 fats? What are these good fats used for?

    Omega 3

    Fish oil is recommended for a healthy diet because it contains the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), precursors to eicosanoids that reduce inflammation throughout the body

    Omega 6

    Evening primrose oil contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid. Essential fatty acids are required by the body for growth and development, and must be obtained from the diet. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an essential fatty acid (EFA) in the omega-6 family that is found primarily in plant-based oils.

    Omega 9

    Olive oil, avocados and various nuts (like peanuts, almonds and macadamias) are rich omega-9 sources. Omega 9 fatty acid is a monounsaturated fat that is also known as, oleic acid. Omega 9 is not technically an essential fatty acid because the body can produce a limited amount, provided the essential fatty acids, omega 3 and omega 6, are present. If your diet is low in these essential fatty acids, then your body can't produce enough omega 9. In that instance, omega 9 becomes an essential fatty acid because your body will need to get it from your diet.

  • I am feeling sick. Should I exercise and sweat it out or simply rest?

    Sweating it out is the macho way of getting over a bug however often not the smartest way.

    Thing is, when you exercise you place a lot of physical stress upon your system. The higher the intensity, the more stress induced. So if exercising with a bug, your body is now trying to repair itself from both the exercise and the bug! Your immune system therefore has less resources allocated to it in order fight off the bug - ultimately giving the infection an opportunity to spread throughout the body.

    Ultimately it really comes down to the individual. You need to know how your body feels and if it is capable of any exercise at all. If your sickness is only very mild, then you may be able to get away with an exercise session, possibly at a lower intensity depending upon the degree of the symptoms.  As for any severe sickness, forget it - you will be inducing more harm than good.

    If ever in doubt, speak to your GP and always take your doctors advice!

  • How does NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis) or incidental exercise affect my body weight?

    I attended a lecture by Len Kravitz at the fitness conference a few weeks back where he discussed the concept of NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis).  Essentially, NEAT is incidental activity that is not part of a prescribed exercise routine, ie. walking to-and-from the car, pushing around a shopping cart, opening the fridge, mowing the lawn etc.

    A study was conducted that compared a group of "healthy" body types (BMI of 23) and a group of obese body types (BMI of 33).  Both groups were untrained and self-confessed "couch potatoes".  Their diets were similar and sleeping patterns were similar too.  The reason why the "healthy" body types had a lower BMI was because they performed 150 minutes of daily incidental exercise!

    That's a really interesting study and just goes to show how significantly non-prescribed activity can impact upon body weight.

    Worth noting however, you do not achieve the very significant physiological, metabolic and psychological benefits associated with prescribed exercise from NEAT.

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