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Nutrition Questions

  • What does the nutritional information panel on Australian food products mean?

    Generally speaking, the nutritional information on an Australian product contains the following components required by AU Law:

    • Energy
    • Fat (saturated/non-saturated)
    • Carbohydrate (sugars/complex)
    • Protein
    • Sodium
    • Ingredients

    I am unsure about the specifics of Australian product labelling laws and what other information is required under what circumstances.

    The nutritional information is divided into two major sections:

    • Nutritional Panel - Details the amount of each component within the product
    • Ingredients - Details the type of each component within the product

    Let's begin with the nutritional panel.

    Beginning with sodium, this is a mineral (a micronutrient). An abundant source of sodium is your table salt (sodium chloride). We do require sodium to function...but only in small amounts. There's evidence to suggest that excessive sodium intake over an extended period of time promotes the likelihood of various diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease. Processed foods are commonly high in sodium and this is often best avoided from a health standpoint.

    Fat, carbs and proteins are macronutrients. They are all of different chemical structure and perform different tasks within our body. All three are required nutrients for our bodies to function effectively.

    Proteins are chains of amino acids - the building blocks of cells. Our body can only manufacture a certain number of amino acids, others have to be obtained through our diet. The long-term health effects of a high protein diet are still inconclusive, but many practitioners believe it could lead to osteoporosis (due to inhibited calcium absorption) and renal disease.

    Carbohydrates are required to maintain blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels. We need these for energy and will not function efficiently if our diet is lacking carbohydrates. There are two types - sugars (simple) and complex carbohydrates. All this means is that sugar molecules are shorter in length and complex molecules are longer.

    The breakdown of carbohydrates on a nutritional panel means very little. Of more concern is the glycemic index (GI) - how quickly the carbohydrate is utilised by the body. High GI will be absorbed rapidly, whereas a low GI product will be utilised over an extended period of time. High GI is a useful tool for recovery after exercise when your body needs nutrients quickly. However a diet that heavily relies on high GI foods promotes the risk of diabetes, obesity and various other diseases.  Unfortunately GI is not currently a requirement under Australian law.

    Fats assist the transport of fat-soluble nutrients around the body. There are many different types of fats which makes life a bit confusing. Omega-3 fats are your 'healthy' fats and should be included in your typical diet. Diets high in saturated and trans fats can lead to an whole array of problems later down the track including heart attacks, elevated cholesterol, cancers and aneurysms.

    The energy value is a result of your three macronutrients (fat, carbs, protein) along with any other energy containing components (eg. glycerine). This will tell you how many calories/kilojoules are in that product.  It is an excellent tool for monitoring your daily caloric intake.

    Ingredients is extremely important to determine the quality of the macronutrients within a product. For example, a product with a high percentage of a grain as opposed to a meat will have a low quality protein component. Similarly olive oil is generally a healthier fat-containing ingredient than butter.  The ingredients are listed in order of abundance.

  • Is yoghurt (yogurt) good and healthy to eat in my diet?

    I'm a big fan of natural fat reduced yoghurt. Actually the first time I tried it was only recently after going to Europe for a month...but since then I've become addicted :D

    The natural, low fat version is an excellent milk replacement for muesli and cereal.  It's also great to have with fruit in a fruit salad.  Being a dairy product, it does contain a good source of protein with a low glycemic index.  It also contains a good source of acidophilus culture. Take a look at the nutritional information below, you'll see that it is fairly low in caloric density:


    If you're not into the natural yoghurts, then your sweeter varieties contain all kinds with additives (mainly sugars and various flavours). Can't say I'm too keen on these due to the increased caloric density - but in moderation they can be incorporated into a healthy diet to assist your training.

  • I want to add 25kg to my bench press in 6 months. Do you have a diet plan for this?

    There isn't a generic diet suited to everyone, since everyone has different goals, body types, activity levels etc. A 25 kg strength gain in 6 months could very well be possible given the correct training and diet.

    You'd be looking at a high calorie diet, high protein, high carbs and increased fat intake. Also the quality of foods would be essential - aim for good sources of macronutrients (eg. meats, oats, flax oil etc.). Additionally ensure that you are ingesting a good spectrum of micronutrients through vegetables, fruits and a multi-vitamin supplement.

    Meal timing would also be critical - pre and post workout coupled with a consistent source of nutrients throughout the day (and night).

  • Has anyone successfully taught themself to stop at a reasonable amount of chocolate, chips, muffins etc - long term?

    It's hard for some of us. And you're right that it can lead to bingeing in those who have an all or nothing kind of personality. There are a whole lot of issues here.

    Sugar is addictive for some people. The more you eat, the more you want. There are a few reasons for this. One is the 'comfort food' thing. You may associate those foods with happiness, comfort and so on due to years of turning to them when you're sad, stressed, bored etc.

    Also, it's important to keep your blood sugar as even as possible over the day. Let it drop below a certain level and you will crave sugary or high-carbohydrate "junk" type foods, because these will give you the quickest fix for the problem. So you give in to the craving, eat sugar and your blood sugar spikes, then a short time later bottoms out really fast and once again you're craving sugar. It's a nasty cycle.

    There's also just the habit to overcome. I find that if I can go for 2-4 weeks without sugar (read: chocolate), I stop wanting it. Well, mostly anyway.

    Total deprivation has its dangers too, as you're obviously aware. Feeling like a food is forbidden usually leads to us wanting it more. So small amounts of what you crave may be a good idea for most people.

    It's really a mix of physical and psychological causes, and is complex to deal with.

    The solutions? Here are my best tips:

    • Eat small frequent meals to keep your blood sugar stable, and to make sure you are NEVER starving. Extreme hunger is a real danger - if you go too long between meals, you will inevitably give in and either eat rubbish or at least eat far more food than you really need. 5 or 6 small meals each day is the go.

    • Choose low-GI, unprocessed carbohydrates. They won't promote blood sugar spikes and crashes, and will keep you satisfied for longer between meals.

    • Eat more protein. It's harder to digest and fills you up, plus has little effect on blood sugar. Ideally, go for 40% protein, 40% carbs and 20% fat. 30/50/20 will work, if you choose the right carbs.

    • Add lots of vegies to as many of your meals as possible. They help fill you up, contain few calories and take a long time to digest, especially if they're raw.

    • Satisfy your sweet tooth with things like yoghurt and fruit, and when you really need to, try home made muffins made with things like oats, fruit and yoghurt added. Sweeten them with Splenda, not the real stuff. Your taste buds won't know the difference.

    • In the first few weeks, try things like diet soft drink, sugar free gum, diet jelly, sugar-free syrup and so on to deal with cravings.

    • Journal your meals and make note of how you feel and what's going on in your day when you do have a craving or find yourself overeating. Use your journal to figure out what your triggers are, and then make plans to avoid them.

    • I haven't tried this one, but I've heard that eating something salty can kill a sweet craving. Don't go overboard on high-calorie nuts or something though.

    • Don't make the mistake of going too low on calories or carbs early in the day in an effort to lose weight. It will backfire on you and you'll be eating everything in sight by late afternoon. I wrote a little about this in my newsletter this monthbrain to register satisfaction. Don't buy a whole packet of Tim Tams or snack-size Snickers bars, thinking you'll just have a couple, if you know you can't resist them.

  • Is full cream milk really that bad compared to skim?

    We can look at the nutritional profiles of both skim and full cream milk. There is no fat in skim. But look at the fatty acid breakdown of full cream milk, it is primarily saturated fats including myristic acid, stearic acid and palmitic acid. Whilst there is a bit of oleic acid (a mono-unsaturated fat), the abundance of saturates makes this a relatively poor fat source for anyone seeking to improve their physique and health in general.

    However, if you really don't enjoy skim or lite milk, you can still combine regular milk into a sound eating plan to be very conductive to strength and hypertrophy gains. You would need to look at consuming some high quality fats - for example from LSA Mix, flaxseed oil and fish.

    Also remember to integrate any full-cream milk you have into your daily caloric intake so you don't gain unwanted fat.

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