How Does Sugar Affect Your Brain?

How Does Sugar Affect Your Brain?

Most of us are aware of the negative effects of eating too much sugar: tooth decay, weight gain, and diabetes all ensure processed sugar has a reputation for being bad for your health.

But, what happens to your brain when you consume processed sugar? Why is sugar considered bad when your brain uses glucose for energy?

In this article, we delve into the topic of processed sugar and how eating too much of this sweet substance can affect your brain’s functions.

Let’s dive in.

The difference between processed sugar and ‘good’ sugar

You may be familiar with different types of sugar. Naturally occurring sugar is found in fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and beans. Essentially, all sugar is broken down into glucose. However, foods that contain naturally occurring sugar also tend to be rich in nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein – all substances which your body requires for optimal health. As naturally occurring sugar does not generally lead to excess sugar intake, the focus of our discussion is on processed sugar.

Processed sugar, which is extracted from sugarcane or sugar beet, and is normally found as sucrose (a combination of fructose and glucose), which is present in cakes, cookies, cereal, and beverages. Processed sugar is also hidden in foods that you may not consider “sweet” like microwave meals, spaghetti sauce, low-fat yogurt, ketchup, and sports drinks.

While foods containing processed sugar are an energy

source, they contain little to no nutrients and can cause your blood sugar levels to spike too high.

Eating too much sugar has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, accelerated signs of aging, and weight gain – added sugar contributes to an average of 17% of the total calorie intake for adults, while the recommended daily amount of calories from added sugar is 10%.

Why your body needs sugar

Every living cell in your body requires sugar for energy. Sugar is a carbohydrate which can exist in varying forms, including glucose and fructose.

Carbohydrates are your body’s main energy source, broken down in your stomach by enzymes and acids, releasing glucose into your intestines where it’s absorbed. From here, it travels into your bloodstream, moving to cells via the hormone, insulin.

Once glucose reaches your cells, it is either used for energy or stored. When a cell receives glucose, oxygen is used to burn it into heat energy: a process called aerobic metabolism. Depending on what the cell requires, this energy is either released or stored.

The level of blood glucose in your body aims to remain at a consistent level, monitored by beta cells in your pancreas. Levels of glucose in the blood naturally rise after you have eaten, resulting in beta cells releasing insulin to ensure this glucose can reach different cells in your body.

Once your body has used all the energy it requires, any remaining glucose is stored as small amounts called glycogen. Excess glycogen gets stored as fat, which is why consuming large amounts of sugar is associated with fat gain.

What happens when you stop eating?

When you don’t eat for a few hours, the levels of glucose in the blood plummet and insulin release stops. Alpha cells found in the pancreas produce a hormone called glucagon which causes the liver to break down your stored glycogen, converting it back into glucose. Additionally, your liver can produce glucose by using fats, amino acids, and waste.

Your blood sugar levels can drop too low: a condition called hypoglycemia. This occurs a few hours after eating when there is too much insulin in the blood, or due to certain medications. This is why you might feel dizzy, shaky, anxious or irritable when you haven’t eaten for several hours. Eating at least 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrates will reverse your symptoms.

Important functions of the brain

Your brain consists of a significant mass of nerve tissue that is involved in most functions of each organ within your body. The brain processes information; releases hormones; and regulates your breathing, body temperature, sleep cycle, and other functions.

Your brain contains around 100 billion neurons which send and receive information to and from the nervous system. These neurons process information relating to your bodily functions, including taste, touch, sight, hearing, and more.

Why your brain needs sugar

Your brain needs half of all your energy supply due to its complex system of neurons (nerve cells).

The brain requires glucose for brain cell energy. As neurons can’t store energy, they need a continuous supply of fuel from the bloodstream to function correctly. Your ability to think, learn and recall information is closely associated with your glucose levels.

When your blood glucose levels are low, your ability to think clearly is inhibited as the production of chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, is reduced and communication between neurons is disrupted.

Unlike processed sugar, naturally occurring sugar can boost brain health due to it requiring glucose for functioning. When you consume naturally occurring sugar from sources like apples and bananas, sugar is released slowly into the bloodstream so your energy levels are steadier and you don’t crave more sugar.

What happens to the brain when you consume process

We’ve already established that foods containing processed sugar have little to no nutritional value, so does consuming processed sugar have a negative effect on the brain?

Let’s discuss this issue further.

There are many clinical trials studying the effects of sugar on the brain.

A study of around 70,000 women, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that those with a diet higher in added sugar had an increased risk of suffering from depression. A diet high in natural sugar was not found to correlate with a higher risk of depression.

A 2011 study examining two groups of people, one group eating a Western diet of high fats and sugar and the other group eating a diet low in saturated fat and sugar, found that the group consuming a Western diet displayed poorer mental performance in relation to hippocampal sensitive memory tasks.

Consuming sugar may also prevent you from feeling full, enabling you to eat more and gain weight. In a systematic review, a 2006 study found an association between sugar sweetened-beverages and weight gain. When you consume food, your body releases hormones signaling to it that it can stop eating.

Is sugar as addictive as drugs like cocaine?

Both animal and human studies have suggested that sugar addiction has similarities to drug addiction. Sugar provides feelings of pleasure, stemming from an area in the brain called nucleus accumbens – the same part of the brain which drugs like cocaine and morphine activate.

A 2013 study found that rats responded to Oreo cookies in the same way they responded to cocaine. Interestingly, the rats ate the cream center first – just like lots of human consumers do!

What happens to your body when you quit sugar?

As hard as it is, quitting sugar has tremendously positive effects on the body.

One study found that eating sugar has an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. The 15-year research study demonstrated that those who consume 17 to 21% of daily calories from added sugars have a 38% greater risk of suffering from heart disease. Therefore, cutting sugar out of your diet significantly reduces your risk of heart disease.

Quitting sugar also improves your energy levels. However, initially, research has shown that ditching sugar can give a similar bodily reaction to quitting drugs due to plummeting dopamine levels and rising acetylcholine levels.

What about sugar replacements?

Sugar replacements are additives which add a sweet taste to your food without the calories of sugar. Some sugar substitutes are synthetically manufactured while others are natural.

There are several sugar replacements. The main types include:

Sucralose -this artificial sweetener is derived from sucrose and contains no calories. It’s 650 times sweeter than sugar and can be commonly purchased by brands, such as Splenda.

Fructose – this can be found as crystalline or high-fructose corn syrup which can be used for baking. Fructose is much sweeter than sugar and has been linked to early diabetes.

Stevia – extracted from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana species of plant, stevia is calorie free and may help to manage cholesterol levels.

Aspartame – known as E952 in Europe, this artificial sweetener is 200 times sweeter than sugar and consists of two amino acids called aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It contains 4 calories per gram. However, only a small amount is required to sweeten food.

While sugar substitutes can aid weight control and diabetes by allowing a person to eat something sweet with minimal increase in blood sugar levels, some health concerns exist.

 

Aspartame has been associated with cancer, dementia, and depression. However, research suggests no direct correlation has been found and current recommended levels in Europe at 40mg/kg are safe to consume.

Is sugar really so bad?

As the brain uses half of your body’s energy resources, it’s essential to nourish it with nutrients. Not all sugar is bad, but as processed sugar has no nutritional value, it has little benefit to your body. Research studies have found that sugar can increase weight and negatively affect your memory.

While quitting sugar has positive benefits on your health, including reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, consuming a moderate amount of sugar (or sugar substitute) as part of a healthy, balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals, is ideal if you want to enjoy a sugary treat now or again.

FitnessInBody Blog Free Weights vs Bodyweight: Which is Better?

FITNESSINBODY BLOG Free Weights vs.
Bodyweight: Which is Better?

InBody

So you’ve got your diet and cardio routines down, or you have a plan, and you’ve been researching strength training. You know that it’s something every well-rounded exercise program includes, so you know you should have it in yours, too.

But in your research, you’ve found that there’s a debate — one between which training modality is best for the resistance training portion of your efforts to lose weight and improve body composition: free weights or bodyweight exercises.

Review of Strength Training

As a quick review, here’s the “science” definition of strength training (also referred to as “resistance training”) courtesy of Mosby’s Medical Dictionary:

“a method of improving muscular strength by gradually increasing the ability to resist force through the use of free weights, machines, or the person’s own body weight.”

This means you get stronger and more capable of performing the activities of your regular- or sport-life: carrying groceries or children, moving furniture, running, jumping, and any other physical activities you engage in.

Beyond this base-level, strength training has numerous benefits, including but not limited to:

  1. Improved metabolism
  2. Increased lean mass
  3. Reduced fat mass
  4. Improved bone strength and density
  5. Greater physical performance
  6. Improved cognitive abilities and self-esteem
  7. Prevention and management of type 2 diabetes
  8. Reduced resting blood pressure
  9. Lower “bad” cholesterol and higher “good” cholesterol
  10. Reduction of pains associated with chronic conditions
  11. And ladies, if you’re worried about getting massive muscles from hoisting weights (or your body) around — don’t.
 

Does strength training mean big and bulky?

The myth of women becoming “big and bulky” is just that — a myth. Scientists disproved this all the way back in the ‘70s, and numerous studies have supported it since.

In that study, scientists took 7 track-and-field athletes and took “strength, body composition, and anthropometric measurements” before and after 3 and 6 months of strength training. Using large, compound (many-joints used) exercises like the bench press and half-squat with dumbbells, barbells, and leg press machines, 5 of the subjects trained 3 times per week.

After 6 months, the 5 weight-trained women had improved their bench press strength by 15-44% and half-squat strength by 16-53%. While upper-body girth increased across the board (including in the 2 non-weight-training subjects), thigh girth did not, and lean body weight increased only in the largest weight-trained woman.

These results led to the study’s organizers concluding that “women are capable of responding to strength training with considerable increases in strength and only minimal evidence of muscular hypertrophy [emphasis added].”

Different reps for different goals — but it’s all strength

With strength training, different repetition ranges are traditionally used for different goals as supported by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (see image below).

Source: Breakingmuscle

To have well-rounded muscular-strength, it’s good practice to include reps in all ranges. With a review of strength training done, you can move onto the comparison of free weights vs. bodyweight.

Strength Training with Free Weights

Using free weights for your resistance training involves lifting weights that are external to your body — i.e., adding resistance to a barbell with weighted plates and lifting it, or using dumbbells.

Many traditional strength training programs rely on barbells and dumbbells — programs like Starting Strength, for example.  

The reasoning behind using free weights is simple: to continue to get stronger, you have to increase weight or repetitions. Increasing the weight of a barbell or dumbbell is simple — just add plates (commonly by as little as 5 pounds, or with special “microplates” that go down to fractional amounts, like 0.5 lbs). This allows for ease-of-progression — it’s a matter of math.

Many of the benefits of free weights line up with resistance training in general:

Greater strength (leading to greater physical performance)

Improved muscle mass

Greater bone density and strength

Etc.

Using free weights also allows you to target very specific muscle groups to correct muscle imbalances. For example, if one bicep is larger or stronger than the other, you can easily target the weaker one by doing a bicep curl for just that side. You are not restricted to using both hands and perpetuating the imbalance.

Similarly, if one side of your chest or back is weaker than the other, you can target just that side with a variety of exercises. Which leads to the next point: variety.

There are almost limitless variations of exercises that can be performed with free weights. Even in the basic movements of pushing, pulling, squatting, and deadlifting, you can change the position of the weight — from across the back of your shoulders to the front — , your hands — wide grip, shoulder-width, narrow, one-handed — , your stance — wide, shoulder-width, narrow, one-legged, staggered — , etc.

Further, lifting weights has been proven to stimulate the production of anabolic (muscle-building) hormones like Human Growth Hormone (HGH) — which is directly in line with the goal of losing weight and improving your body composition.

On the opposite side of things, however, there are some drawbacks to free weights.

To get the most out of an exercise, you need to know how to perform it with the proper technique for your goals. For example, more complex exercises like barbell back squats or deadlifts — or the “Olympic” lifts of clean and press and snatches — can be difficult to learn if you’re training alone.

And while there are great resources out there like how-to videos and articles, unless you have someone watching you during your workout, you can’t get real-time feedback on your technique.

Without that feedback, you risk injury — either from chronically poor movement patterns, or — if you use too much weight — sudden, acute trauma to your muscle, joints, or other structures.

That being said, don’t run just yet — this study and the study above concluded that most injuries suffered by free-weight lifters were chronic in nature. If you train “smart” by avoiding weights heavier than you can safely handle and using proper technique, you should be able to avoid acute injury.

Strength Training with Bodyweight

Bodyweight strength training involves movements that use your body as the resistance. This probably conjures up images from grade and intermediate school of pushups, situps, rope climbing, and chin ups.

Which is accurate, because those are all bodyweight strength exercises. But bodyweight exercises can be more than that, too, allowing you to climb to incredible levels of strength.

Just take a look at a competitive gymnast, like this one:

She trains with her bodyweight daily, and no one would say she’s weak or out of shape.

Returning to our review of “strength training,” remember that the definition included,

“a method of improving muscular strength by gradually increasing the ability to resist force through the use of… the person’s own body weight” [emphasis added].

By this definition, there should be no real difference between training modalities, but bodyweight training does come with a few differences from free weights.  

First of all, if you’re just starting out with resistance training, the free weight area at your gym can be intimidating — but bodyweight exercises can often be performed at home, where you might feel more comfortable if strength training is new to you.

Technique is often less complicated than free weights, and since you aren’t hoisting a heavy barbell or dumbbell, you can take your time learning without a coach, and without risking dropping the weight on your foot. Bodyweight training — think yoga — also incorporates a lot of balance and functional movement to help with stability and activating smaller muscles.

Similar to weights, you can scale exercises from beginner-level upward, or regress them backward as necessary. For example, if you’re unable to do a full push up on your hands and toes, you can lower your body so your knees are touching the ground instead. Or, place your hands on a higher object, like a wall, sturdy table, or chair.

Once you get stronger, you can play with different hand (or foot) positions — wide, narrow, staggered, feet elevated, one-armed, etc to activate different muscles and change the dynamics of he exercise.

Not to mention, you move your body every day — pushing yourself up from the floor, standing up from a chair, playing with your kids, or participating in “extracurricular activity.” Building strength through these movements means greater ease-of-movement doing so.

However, just like with free weights, there are failures to bodyweight-only training.

With bodyweight strength training, you can’t isolate muscles as effectively — or easily — as with free weights. Trying to isolate that weak left bicep will require a lot of creativity.

And knowing how to make the exercises harder (or easier) often requires a bit of imagination and dedication. After all, progressing by adjusting the angle of your body just an inch at a time — although you’re getting stronger — can be discouraging.

Further, although there are many hard lower-body exercises that require no extra equipment (like one-legged “pistol” squats) there’s only so far you can strengthen your lower body before you need to add weight. And even if you’re able to do 100 pistols with each leg, eventually to keep progressing, you need to increase the resistance.

So… what’s the Verdict?

Laid out to the unbiased eye, the debate between free weights and bodyweight strength training looks pretty even. But everyone is biased.

What’s best for you depends on your goals and situation. If you’re impatient to see progress in the amount that you can lift, bodyweight training might not be the best choice for you — free weights, with their tracking-friendly poundages, might be better.

Likewise, if you’re deathly worried about wandering into the free weights section of the gym, being able to start out at home could make bodyweight training a good place to start for your strength work.

Yet in regards to improving your body composition, either method will work: both are training your muscles against resistance, which improves muscle, strength and metabolism — and ultimately fat loss.

Bodyweight exercises can be convenient, easy to start with, and potentially build and protect your joints, but the limitations of lower-body strength on a bodyweight-only workout regimen make lifting weights — at least for your lower body — still worthwhile.

So if combining the two modalities gives you the best of both worlds — why restrict yourself to just one?

**

Matthew Seiltz is a writer and lifelong strength and fitness enthusiast. When not writing or working out, he can be found with a book or spending time with his wife and sons outdoors.

 

Are Carbohydrates Really Bad For Your Body Composition?

Are Carbohydrates Really Bad For Body Composition?

If you’ve ever heard someone talking about “macros,” they’re talking about three major nutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

Bodybuilders and fitness experts pay close attention to the macronutrient profile of the foods they eat to yield certain results—increased protein for muscle development and reduced carbohydrates for fat loss are some common examples of dietary targets.

By changing one’s macronutrient balance (i.e. a person on a high-fat diet gets most of his or her calories from overt fats, or foods rich in fats such as nuts and avocados), you can fuel your body with foods that will get you one step closer to your specific goals. Depending on whether your body composition goals are to gain muscle, lose weight, etc., you may give preference to one macro over the others.

Out of the three macros, one is often considered the least popular—carbohydrates or “carbs.” This is because comfort foods like pasta, bread, and cereal are high in carbs, and they’re linked to gaining weight. However, fruits and vegetables are also forms of carbs, and even at face value, you can see that based on this, not all carbs are created equal.

Do carbohydrates and body composition go hand in hand? Consuming a lot of carb-rich foods doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to gain weight. It all depends on the type you’re eating. However, cutting carbs does not necessarily mean that you will lose fat either.

People have long adopted high-protein diets to preserve lean body mass and high-fat, low-carb diets for weight loss, but high-carb diets are on the rise to achieve similar body composition results.

Different Types of Carbohydrates

There’s a stark difference between cookies and quinoa, yet both are classified as carbohydrates. The same thing goes for white bread and potatoes—both are carbs, but they’re vastly different in terms of nutritional content and overall effect on the body.

These different types of carbs have names: the type with a less complex structure is called a simple carbohydrate, including glucose, sucrose (table sugar), and fructose (from fruits) but starchy foods (potatoes, rice, etc.) and unprocessed plant-based foods are called complex carbohydrates. The next question is whether one is automatically better- the answer would appear to be complex carbs (as we’ll explain shortly) but the simple answer is no because even complex carbohydrates can be processed into less healthy versions, known as refined carbohydrates.

Carbs are often categorized as  “good carbs” or “bad carbs” but it isn’t that simple. The important thing to know about carbs is how they’re processed by the body. This helps us to understand how they affect body composition differently so that we can properly use carbohydrates to help us meet our goals.

Simple Carbohydrates

White flour and table sugar are examples of simple carbs. You might not recognize a simple carb when you see one, but if you’re looking at simple carbs on a molecular level, it is clear- simple carbs are made up of only 1 or 2 sugar molecules (while complex carbs have 3+ molecules bound together, hence the name complex).

Now the sugar in fruit isn’t quite the same as table sugar, but both fruit and white sugar are examples of simple carbs. While most simple carbs are what get called  “bad carbs”, they can actually provide significant benefits. Some simple carbs, like fruit, are packed with vitamins and minerals, providing you with a high nutrient content. However, it is important to keep in mind that fruits are a bit of an exception in the simple carbohydrate category.

Consuming simple carbs gives you a readily available, quick source of energy. This is why major athletes sometimes consume candy right before a game, match, training session, or other performance events they want a rush of energy to power them through their physical endurance.

Simple carbs spike blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous and is a no-go for diabetics if intake is not monitored properly. The reason for this is this spike in blood sugar helps feed the body with glucose but will also cause the body to crash once this source of energy is used and glucose levels get low.

While a burst of energy may seem tempting, simple carbs have their drawbacks:

Simple carbs are generally low in nutritional value. Despite being high in carbohydrates, they’re low in essential vitamins and minerals. It is important to check the nutrition facts when choosing simple carbs.

When you consume simple carbs, you don’t stay full for long because they’re quickly digested. This can lead to binge eating because simple carbs aren’t satiating.

The consumption of simple carbs is also linked to serious health problems, including increased risk of coronary heart disease and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Simple carbs can also be high in calories, which is not ideal for weight loss.

Intake of simple carbs, with the exception of fruit, should be limited, as they can hinder your body composition goals and lead to serious health problems.

Refined Carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates fall under the umbrella of simple carbohydrates in that they may be less beneficial to overall health. By processing carbs, you change their molecular structure and get refined carbs, which include chips, white bread, muffins, donuts, etc. By changing their structure these foods last longer, which makes them easier to mass produce and sell (think fast food).

The sugar in refined carbs is linked to chronic diseases and high body weight, including:

Increased blood sugar and insulin resistance

Weight gain and greater risk of type 2 diabetes

Increased risk of cardiovascular disease

It’s easy to fall into the routine of having donuts for breakfast, chips at lunch, and white bread at dinner, but refined carbs like these are giving all carbohydrates a bad name because of their effects on the body.

Complex Carbohydrates

On the other end of the carb spectrum lies complex carbohydrates. Unlike simple carbs, where the molecular structure consists of single sugar molecules, complex carbs are made of sugar molecules strung together on a chain. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and other whole and unprocessed plant-based foods are examples of complex carbs.

Complex carbs are broken down into starch and fiber, which are each processed by the body in a unique way.

The digestion process actually starts in your mouth: saliva mixes with the complex carbs, engulfs them, and a digestive enzyme called amylase turns them into a type of simple carb called maltose, which can form either in the mouth or once it reaches the small intestine. The maltose continues through the digestive tract until digestive enzymes turn it into glucose, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream.

From there, the complex carbs are processed similarly to simple carbs—as in they’re converted to a simple form to be used for energy—but this process is significantly slower. The slow increase in blood sugar level triggers the pancreas to produce a hormone called insulin, so the sugar can be stored or used as a source of energy.

The fiber in complex carbs isn’t broken down into glucose molecules, however. Fiber stays intact as it travels through the digestive system, but the two types of fiber have different roles: soluble fiber attracts water and allows the intestines to absorb nutrients, and insoluble fiber speeds up digestion. Both are necessary for a healthy digestive tract.

The way that complex carbohydrates are processed contributes to the main benefits of consuming complex carbs:

Complex carbs are digested slowly, giving you a feeling of satiety, allowing you to feel fuller for longer.

The slow digestion also sustains energy, instead of spiking and crashing like simple sugars. Complex carbs encourage steady energy levels.

The starch content in complex carbs are nutrient-dense, which means they’re full of vitamins and minerals.

Complex carbs are also high in fiber, which promotes healthy digestion and absorption of the nutrients.

You don’t have to be scared of all carbs when it comes to body composition. Simple and refined carbs should be limited, but complex carbohydrates are nutrient-dense and beneficial to the body.

Low-Carb vs. High Complex Carb Diets for Weight Loss

Understanding what we know now about the types of carbs and how they are utilized in the body, it is clear that there are a lot of complexities to planning your carbohydrate intake.

When it comes to diets that are best for losing weight, your mind may automatically jump to low-carb diets. For decades, low-carb diets like Atkins, paleo, and keto diets have been at the forefront of weight loss regimens.

Low-carb diets are effective for quick weight loss, but are they sustainable for long-term weight loss? The safety and effectiveness of low-carb diets have come into question, especially as high complex carb diets like vegetarianism, veganism, and the Mediterranean diet become more popular.

Weight Loss on a Low-Carb Diet

Because carbs are restricted on these diets, the body is forced to burn fat as a source of energy, so the weight loss can be driven by a loss of fat mass.

While low-carb diets are beneficial for weight loss purposes, lower carb diets aren’t encouraged for long-term use and are often associated with serious health complications.

Ultimately, more data is needed to recommend the long-term safety and health benefits of low-carb diets.

In regards to low-carb diets and body composition, low-carb consumption has a direct connection to muscle mass. Glycogen stores account for the primary energy source that muscle groups use to provide energy. When carbs are reduced, muscle glycogen concentration is also reduced, decreasing energy stores. This is also why bodybuilders tend to avoid low-carb diets as they can hinder their ability to maximize their workouts.

Weight Loss on a High Complex Carb Diet

The Mediterranean diet has long been accredited for effective weight loss results, and now other high complex carb diets, such as whole food plant-based diets, are gaining traction for efficient weight loss. The key is getting your carbs from complex carbohydrates in their whole food form and reduce intake of simple sugars or refined carbs.

A diet with 40-65% of calories coming from carbohydrates is considered normal, so if you’re consuming the Standard American Diet, you might be consuming more than half your calories without realizing it.

High-carb diets are associated with a naturally lower intake of calories, which is crucial for weight loss. A moderate consumption of carbohydrates (47-64%) has been related to a lesser likelihood of being overweight or obese in healthy adults.

Maintaining a calorie deficit is easy on a high complex carb diet because whole plant-based foods are generally high in volume yet lower in calories, allowing you to consume large yet low-calorie portions. Complex carbs like potatoes, legumes, and grains don’t spike your blood sugar like simple carbs, so you won’t experience the crash and cravings as with other carbs.

Weight loss on a high complex carb diet isn’t as dramatic as it is on a low-carb diet. However, gradual weight loss is generally thought to be healthier and more sustainable. Additionally, slower weight loss means a greater likelihood that the weight lost will come from fat instead of muscle mass.

Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates can be weight loss powerhouses if the right types are consumed. While structuring a diet truly requires the guidance from a professional, it is likely that they will recommend a diet that promotes better health:

A whole foods plant-based diet high in complex carbs can prevent, treat, and reverse coronary heart disease

When whole grains are the main source of complex carbs in a well-rounded diet, cardiovascular disease and stroke can be prevented

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented and treated with a diet high in fiber from complex carbs, such as legumes, whole grains, and starchy vegetables

A plant-based diet high in complex carbs can also aid in obesity prevention and treatment as they tend to be associated with having a lower Body Mass Index

Not only is weight loss possible on a high complex carb diet, but carbohydrates are necessary for sustainable weight loss. When it comes to body composition, complex carbs make it easy to decrease calories while having the energy to burn more calories through exercise. Plus, diets high in complex carbs are sustainable long-term and have many proven health benefits.

Carbohydrates Are Not the Enemy of Body Composition

USDA recommendations stipulate that 45-65% of calories should come from carbohydrates in all age groups. While this is a general recommendation and not a steadfast rule, having most of your carbohydrate calorie allotment come from complex carbs can be part of a healthy, well-rounded diet, especially for people whose body composition goals include weight loss.

The “bad” carbs that give all carbs a bad name have a poor reputation because they’re typically highly processed and have added sugars and flours. Simple and refined carbs aren’t good for weight loss and they aren’t health-promoting foods, but complex carbs shouldn’t be brought down with them. When the right kind are consumed in the right quantities, you can promote your overall health and a healthy body composition.

Maintain a Balanced Diet

Opting for a diet that’s higher or lower in one macronutrient may yield the body composition results you want, but maintaining a balanced diet is important in any restriction diet. Even in low-carb diets, you still consume some forms of carbohydrates, so make sure they’re complex. In high-carb diets, stick to starchy carbs and low-calorie, plant-based carbohydrates so unhealthy weight gain isn’t an issue.

So are carbs really bad for body composition? It depends on the type you’re consuming. Weight loss on a high-carb diet of sweets, chips, and white bread isn’t nearly as plausible as weight loss on a high complex carb diet of whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables. When you’re getting the right kind of carbs, changing your body composition is possible. This is because complex carbs boost your energy for exercise and keep you fuller for longer.

So move over, simple carbs, because complex carbohydrates are here to set the record straight.

**

Lacey Bourassa is a health and wellness writer in Southern California. Her areas of expertise include weight loss, nutrition, and skin health. She attributes her passion for healthy living to her plant-based diet. You can find out more about Lacey at WrittenByLacey.com.

Is Your Dad Bod In-Style or Unhealthy?

Is Your Dad Bod In-Style or Unhealthy?

Men have been working out to increase muscle mass for decades. Every generation comes up with new phrases that refer to this phenomenon, such as getting “ripped” or “swole” or “yoked,” as a result of men searching for the optimal physique that has been influenced by athletes, movie stars and other public figures.  In recent years, a new opposing trend has emerged in pop culture known as the Dad Bod. Instead of marveling at the muscular look, celebrities and every-men alike have embraced a rough-around-the-edges approach to the male aesthetic.

The term Dad Bod has been used to classify men who are slightly overweight and don’t possess a sculpted frame. The positive attention this new trend has received could be seen as an effort to promote a positive self-image in men who otherwise may have had some insecurities about the way they look. Society embracing an archetype that is more attainable by a higher percentage of the male population is an uplifting occurrence and allows men to realize that you don’t have to have the perfect body to be considered healthy and attractive. The human body does need a certain level of fat to survive, as fat serves as an insulator for your core body temperature and aids with hormone production. However, with obesity rates higher than ever, it’s important to emphasize weight management and metabolic health, so recognizing body types that are close to the optimal body fat range is a good start to improving general health.

The focus on Dad Bods have provided a positive shift in visual standards and self-image, which is very beneficial for the male population, but they can also promote dangerous habits as well. Here is how you can tell if your Dad Bod is a good look or evidence of an unhealthy lifestyle:

Avoid These Behaviors

Dad Bods are thought by many to be caused by typical “dad” activities: eating a lot, drinking a lot, and exercising very little. You have probably seen on multiple occasions the “TV Dad”, sitting in his arm chair with a big plate of food and a beer, glued to his big screen. Making these activities an everyday routine can be a recipe for disaster on your health. While having the chiseled muscle tone of a bodybuilder seems like a far cry for TV Dad and other regular joes, moderation is almost always the way to go, and achieving your Dad Bod look shouldn’t exclude you from living a healthy lifestyle.

Overeating 

Overeating is a common problem in the present day, as taking in more calories than you need leads to the body storing the excess as fat. Too much body fat leads to a myriad of health issues, such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Overeating over extended periods of time can also lead to the development of visceral fat, which is a dense collection of fat tissue that sits in the trunk and surrounds the organs. Visceral fat is harder to get rid of, and often forms as a result of weight gain during adulthood. Its presence in the abdominal region causes the risk of hypertension to increase significantly, especially in younger men. It’s never too early to take control of your diet, as the habits you pick up during your college years can have long-term consequences and build an unhealthy base for your Dad Bod. Limit your caloric intake, and add more variety to your diet to avoid developing visceral fat around your waist.

Lack of Exercise

One way to offset the extra calories and combat the metabolic conditions that can be caused by a poor diet is regular exercise. However, even if you don’t think you carry a bunch of extra weight, a regular exercise regimen is important to ensure that you aren’t skinny fat. You don’t need to possess the muscle tone of a bodybuilder, but skeletal muscle tissue plays a large role in breaking down carbohydrates and promoting other regular body functions. The only way to develop muscle tissue is through exercise, so it can’t be ruled out even if you believe you have reached an acceptable weight.

An easy way to determine if you have solid metabolic health, no matter what body type you have, is to examine your lean muscle mass compared to your body fat. Those with Dad Bods should consider adding an exercise program to their daily routine, especially resistance training, as the benefits are too vital to pass up.

Excess Alcohol Consumption

Plenty of men have enjoyed an ice-cold beer, or two, or three… you get the point. The “beer belly,’ which is often considered the flag for dad bods, is also a common sign of years of excessive alcohol consumption. Alcoholic beverages aren’t inherently unhealthy, as moderate alcohol consumption (1 drink per day for women and 2 for men) can actually have positive health effects. The line between alcohol benefiting your health and hurting your health is an extremely fine one, as that second or third drink pushes you into excess alcohol consumption, which brings similar health problems as overeating or a lack of exercise.

The “beer belly” also refers to the collection of visceral fat, which emphasizes the need for moderation, as the collection of fat around the organs is difficult to get rid of, and carries an elevated risk of metabolic syndrome. While a perfectly trim waist does not need to be the goal for every man, avoiding adding mass through too many drinks is crucial to preventing metabolic syndrome and creating a healthy body.

Find a Happy Medium

The magic of the Dad Bod is that imperfections are appreciated instead of judged. Perfection is a goal that can’t be reached, but a healthier lifestyle is easily attainable. In order to have a Dad Bod that is also healthy, you must find a happy medium between positive body image and healthy body composition.

Applying the Dad Bod mindset to your daily choices is a great way to improve your health. Instead of tackling an intense diet, emphasize making a few healthy choices. Pick a smaller portion at your next meal or add some color to your plate with different produce options. With the obesity epidemic affecting populations all over the world, simple methods to improve nutrition can make all of the difference.

The formation of the Dad Bod trend has addressed a troubling side effect of social media, in which individuals work to develop the appearance of a successful life, instead of actually doing the work to create that success. Embracing your Dad Bod means separating the stigma of working out, which is now viewed as obsessive and self-involved. Exercise should be viewed as a therapeutic activity which is used to improve emotional and physical health. Working out doesn’t have to completely transform your appearance. It can just transform your quality of life.

Maintain Your Healthy Dad Bod

You have a Dad Bod, which wasn’t a big deal 10 years ago, but now is the desired look. That’s a great position to be in, but don’t let the trend negatively affect your health. Remember that having a Dad Bod doesn’t preclude you from making healthy choices. Moderation in eating and drinking is key, and exercise is a valuable addition to your daily life. Instead of seeking perfection in your appearance and lifestyle, just appreciate how you look and strive to improve your unhealthy practices little by little.

The Dad Bod trend is an encouraging development in the world of self-image. If used correctly, a positive shift in social norms and overall health can occur. The “perfect physique” should be whatever Bod you have now, but your health and body composition can still be a work in progress. Strive for regular improvement, not perfection. That’s what the Dad Bod is all about.

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Evan Hadrick is a former collegiate track athlete who graduated from the University of Miami and currently works as a track & Field/Cross Country coach and athletic administrator in Dallas, TX. You can read more of his work at StateoftheU.com, where he is an assistant editor contributing sports commentary about University of Miami athletics.

Does A High Protein Diet Really Help With Weight Loss?

Does a High Protein Diet Really Help with Weight Loss?

“High protein diet”, “eat 25g of protein with each meal”, “eat more protein” — sound familiar?

If not, where have you been? By now in your journey toward greater health and fitness, it’s almost impossible to have not heard of high protein diets — ones like the Atkins diet,” “Paleo”, or “the Zone.” You may have even tried one of those, or the seemingly endless variations.

And if you’ve spent any time looking into these diets, a lot of people claim to have had success losing weight with them — and their success is often attributed to their high protein nature.

But do these diet plans really work? Maybe these people just uncovered another “secret” along the way?

Or are they just marketing gimmicks?

Calories In, Calories Out — wait, there’s more?

Eating “high protein” is typically defined as getting 30% of your daily calories from protein. But before diving into whether high protein diets actually work for weight loss, you need to understand the bigger picture. Protein is just one part of a multi-faceted nutritional system: you and your macronutrient requirements.

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 less 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 macro nutrients properly does.

And that’s where protein comes in.

Protein Primer

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 are 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.

The Effects of High Protein in Your Diet

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 fatsources.

In a study of 12 healthy women, those that were fed a greater amount of protein (30% protein, 40% carbohydrate, 30% fat) had higher GLP-1 levels — a hormone that helps reduce appetite — for 24 hours after eating as compared to when they consumed a low protein diet (10% protein, 60% carbohydrate, 30% fat).

Coupled with other markers, like metabolic rate and thermogenesis (the heat caused by breaking down molecules of food), this indicated that the higher protein diet led to significantly reduced feelings of hunger.

Another, larger study of adults not only agreed with the findings of the previous study but added that participants eating the higher-protein diet spontaneously ate 400 fewer calories each day, despite having no restrictions on the rest of their diet.

The findings of both these studies suggest that protein causes a cascade of reactions in the human body that results in a reduced appetite and greater satiety — leading to fewer calories eaten over the course of the day and more easily-maintained dieting — which means an increased chance of weight-loss success.

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.

One such study took healthy young women and fed them either a high-protein or high-carbohydrate meal. 2.5 hours after eating, thermogenesis was doubled in those that ate the high-protein meal, versus those that ate the high-carbohydrate meal.

While this may be a temporary increase, all things equal, it results in more calories burned by the end of the day.

The findings of another study agreed that EE was increased with higher protein consumption — and it also showed that 42% of this increase in EE was due to gluconeogenesis — your body generating energy from non-carbohydrate (fat) stores.

So as an added bonus, not only does eating more protein improve your metabolism through thermogenesis — it also causes an increase in the number of calories burned from Fat Mass.

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.

39 adults were split into 3 groups. While all groups were on a diet and fitness regimen, the first was fed the recommended Regular Daily Amount (RDA) of protein, set at 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram. The second and third groups were fed 2xRDA amounts (1.6g/kg) and 3xRDA amounts (2.4g/kg), respectively.

While you don’t necessarily need to eat protein in these drastic amounts to see benefits, those in this study eating the greater-than-RDA amounts of protein lost the most fat mass and maintained the most fat-free mass.  

Other, similar studies have shown this, including one that indicated a loss of 3.3 kilograms more fat lost in a high-protein-eating group compared to a high-carbohydrate-eating group.

Because eating higher protein spares more muscle mass, as you lose weight your total LBM remains higher, maintaining a larger, more efficient metabolism.

This was clearly shown in a study from 2013 that favored high-protein diets for bodyweight management and suggested that, while 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is sufficient for weight management, 1.2g/kg preserved metabolism and lean mass considerably better.

Since a greater amount of Lean Body Mass means your metabolism is larger and EE increased — thus burning more calories — being able to keep a greater proportion of that lean mass is very desirable. These studies suggest that increasing your protein intake while reducing caloric intake helps you do that while dieting for weight loss.

The Verdict

On the surface, losing weight looks simple. But when you’re after improving not just the number on the scale, but the quality contained in that number, it becomes more complicated.  Since you’re trying to lose weight, you care about your appearance and health and probably don’t want to be “flabby” — so you need at least some muscle mass.

And to maintain your current muscle mass — or improve it — you need to eat enough protein. The studies above have proven that.  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.

In this post you learned that your diet is composed of 3 primary macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates — and that while losing weight can be as simple as eating fewer calories than you burn, this isn’t the most efficient way to better health.

Protein has a lot to do with your body’s structure, function, and health, and in conjunction, eating more of it can help you reduce your appetite, improve your metabolism, and change your body composition — which often includes losing weight.  

So ultimately, the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article is a resounding yes.

Protein can help you lose weight, and it can help you do so while maintaining muscle mass, resulting in a leaner, more muscular body. This means you’re more likely to reach your goal, improve your health, and ultimately, improve your life.

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Matthew Seiltz is a writer and lifelong strength and fitness enthusiast. When not writing or working out, he can be found with a book or spending time with his wife and sons outdoors.

Why Gut Bacteria is Important to Your Body Composition

Why Gut Bacteria Is Important to Your Body Composition

InBody

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on August 31, 2018, for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on July 28, 2016

When you hear the word “bacteria,” it’s probably a safe bet your mind goes to “eww” instead of “love it!!!”. That’s understandable: bacteria brings to mind yucky germs,  infections, and food poisoning.

But did you know that right now, your entire body is host to trillions of bacteria. Don’t be alarmed! As it turns out this beneficial healthy bacteria has a significant impact affect on your weight, body composition, and overall health.

Much of this bacteria lives in your intestines and is referred to as your gut microbiome, what some scientists refer to as the forgotten organ. You may have heard it referred to as your gut health. It’s a way of grouping the trillions of gut bacteria that live inside your digestive tract and carry out many essential processes in your body – from potentially curbing obesity to regulating non-communicable inflammatory disorders  and even altering our current state of mind.

It is worth noting that we are still largely in the dark about what makes a healthy microbiome. Let’s take a look at some of the latest research and why it’s worth educating yourself on your gut health when you’re trying to make changes to your body composition.

Gut Bacteria and Your Body Composition

You may be wondering if an individual’s unique microbial makeup, just like one’s genetic makeup, can potentially influence body weight and composition.

If you are, you’re not alone – researchers are currently studying this topic. With an estimated completion date in 2020, an ongoing observational study by Tufts University is aiming to answer the body composition connection by examining the role of gut microbiome on lean body mass and physical function among older adults.

However, since we can’t sit around and wait 4 years for Tufts University to get back to us, we’ll consider a couple of recent research studies that strongly suggest how gut bacteria can have a direct impact on overall body composition.

First, it has been found that transplanting intestinal microbiota from obese mice can increase total body fat in lean mice — a nearly 60% increase in body fat content within 14 days despite reduced food consumption and no change. Insulin resistance accompanied the increase in body fat and weight gain among the lean mice.

According to the researchers, these findings suggest that gut microbiota may be a significant factor that affects energy expenditure and storage (aka your metabolism) and fat storage. This is particularly important, given that your metabolism is closely linked to the state of your current body composition and weight, not necessarily your age or even your diet, which is in contrast to common public perception.

The results from the mice study is supported by additional studies on transplanting intestinal microbiota in humans. In the study, males with metabolic syndrome (a collective name for signs and symptoms that increases your risk of stroke and diabetes) received infusions of intestinal microbiota from lean donors. After six weeks, recipients experienced increased insulin sensitivity.

What does increased insulin sensitivity have to do with body composition?

The more sensitive you are to insulin, the more likely it is that you have a leaner body. This is possible because of insulin’s anabolic properties — replenishing fuel stores by transporting glucose to your muscles and liver (and storing them as glycogen) from the carbohydrates you consumed as well as reducing the rate of protein degradation (for energy source) in muscles.

Quick note: Insulin’s positive impact to body composition like weight loss or obesity prevention becomes reduced when you begin living a sedentary lifestyle and/or consume highly processed carbs frequently. Instead, insulin starts to store glucose as fat. This state is known as insulin resistance.

The Key To A Healthy Gut: Diversity

So far, it seems to appear that not all gut microbiomes are created equal, and that lean and healthy people tend to have a “healthier gut.” What might contribute to that healthy gut?

It has to do with how much bacterial diversity your gut has.

In 2009, microbial ecologist Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello and her team visited the Yanomami tribe  — a tiny community of an isolated American-Indian group in the Brazilian Amazon. With oral, skin, and fecal samples from 34 Yanomami villagers, Dominguez-Bello revealed their findings six years later:

The average Yanomami’s gut bacteria had more bacteria diversity than anyone from any other group, ever.

This finding came right on the heels of a similar one, the previous year, when it was reported that the gut microbiome of the Hadza hunter-gatherer tribe, an African indigenous tribe in Tanzania, had higher levels of microbial biodiversity than subjects living in urban areas and agricultural communities.

So tribes living in the Amazonian rain forest and African plains have more gut bacteria than people in urban New York or Paris – what’s the significance?

In 2016, the link between gut microbial diversity and its absence in some disease states was described in a study published in Molecular Metabolism. The researchers noted that overall health is compromised when there’s an absence of diversity in the gut bacteria resulting from lack of dietary diversity.

They further emphasized that having more diversity translates to a more varied repertoire of responses against different disease states.

Who would have ever thought more bacteria in your body was a good thing?

Make Your Gut Microbes Work In Your Favor

Your microbial makeup has the ability to continuously shift and is influenced by (but not limited to) your diet, environment, and lifestyle. With this fact, you’ll likely wonder what type of diet and lifestyle supports a healthy gut microbiome.

Like most things in life, it all boils down to striving for balance by maintaining a lifestyle that helps the gut bacteria thrive. As reflected in the studies mentioned earlier, maintaining microbial diversity is also equally important. You can start off with the following steps!

Bring on the probiotics.

A probiotic is often referred to as good bacteria that help keep the bad guys (viruses and other bacteria) in check. Its health benefits range from boosting your immune system, reducing cholesterol levels, and keeping anxiety levels in check. Think of probiotics as your personal army who have sworn to protect you 24/7.

So, how do you make sure that you have enough of them?

Consume yogurt (low in sugar and high in bacteria cultures) and fermented foods. Traditional cultures have their own version of fermented goodness — from Korea’s kimchi to Russia’s sauerkraut. If fermented foods are not your thing, consider probiotic supplements to help boost your gut-health.

Fill up on prebiotics.

You can also help the gut bacteria thrive in your digestive tracts by consuming prebiotics. Generally, prebiotics are a form of soluble fiber.

Your body cannot digest these prebiotics, but your gut bacteria can. Good sources of fiber-rich prebiotics can be found in nutrient dense food leeks, garlic, onions, fruits, legumes, and raw chicory. Resistant starches such as plantains, green bananas, and cooled potatoes have been shown to boost beneficial bacteria in the colon in animal studies. Barley, oats, and wheat bran are insoluble high-fiber grains that are also excellent sources of prebiotics. A diet with different types of fiber has been shown to reduce your risk of obesity and prevent rapid weight gain, yet the jury is still out on actual weight loss.

Skip the antibiotics when you can.

Antibiotics are designed to cure bacterial infections by killing the invading bacteria. Unfortunately, antibiotics can’t really separate the good bacteria from the bad. As a result, antibiotic therapy can significantly reduce your microbial population as well as its diversity.

You don’t even need to be on a long-term regimen for this to occur. In fact, three to four days of antibiotics can already alter your gut microbe population and diversity. Studies have shown that children are particularly at risk as reduced gut bacteria diversity has been linked with childhood obesity, which significantly puts them at risk for being obese as adults.

For this reason, make sure you follow your physician’s instructions when using antibiotics.

Steer clear from conventionally-raised meats and poultry.

It’s no secret that antibiotics are often used by farmers to speed growth and prevent disease in healthy livestock. While this might help farmers and their buyers meet their bottom lines, this overuse and misuse of antibiotics encourages the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

A George Washington University study found out that this practice is more likely to transmit antibiotic-resistant K. pneumoniae – a bacteria that causes damage to the lungs – to humans than clinical isolates of antibiotics.

While buying organically-raised meats may be more expensive, you don’t have to break the bank by using meat as a condiment and opting for vegetables as the star of your meals.

Spend more time outdoors.

Spending time outdoors regularly can help increase your exposure to microbial diversity. If possible, start a garden! Getting your hands dirty with soil will reacquaint your gut flora with its long-lost members.

So you’re a germaphobe when it comes to keeping yourself and your loved ones free from germs? The idea behind the Hygiene Hypothesis is worth reading.

The Takeaway

Your invisible gut microbes can potentially help you shape your body composition for the better and promote optimum health through diversity. You can accomplish this by making an effort to consume enough core nutrients like prebiotics and probiotics to encourage the growth of healthy gut bacteria.

All of this underscores that when it comes to improving body composition, nutrition plays an incredibly significant role. While energy balance is still critical to take into account on weight loss  – how much energy you take in vs. how much you expend – this research on your gut microbiome indicates what you eat can also encourage and support your efforts to change your body composition.

It’s high time that we shift our mindset of microbes and bacteria as being filthy and infectious to helpful microorganisms that can help us lead healthier lives, including helping us improve and maintain a healthy body composition.

How To Start Changing Your Body Composition, Today

How to Start Changing Your Body Composition, Today

If you’re reading this, then somewhere in your mind you’ve already made the decision to change your life for the better. That’s great!  Making the decision to improve your life in a healthy and positive way is half the battle.

Many people start off with a simple weight loss goal like: “I want to lose 10 pounds.”  That’s a great goal, but unfortunately, it’s a little too vague.  10 pounds…of what? Fat?  If yes, how will you know when you’ve hit that goal?  By standing on a scale?  Even if you see your weight decrease by 10 pounds, how can you be sure that 10 pounds is all fat?  The truth is: you can’t.

Instead of focusing on trying to change your weight, focus on changing your body composition.  This is a different way of thinking about getting fit or losing weight, but it’s a much better way.  It will free you from worrying about your weight on the scale, make your clothes fit better, and have you looking fitter faster than you thought possible.

To change your body composition, you won’t have one goal (like “lose weight” or “gain muscle”). You will have two:

Reduce Fat Mass

Increase Lean Body Mass

If you’re a bit unclear on terms like “Fat Mass” and “Lean Body Mass,” check out this guide to body composition to help you get up to speed.

By working towards these goals, you’re setting yourself up for long-term success. You’ll be on the path to changing your body for the future, which means you’ll keep the weight off and the muscle on.

To start changing your body composition today, follow these 5 steps. You’ll be glad you did.

  1. Get Your Body Fat Percentage Measured

This is the most important step.  You must get your body composition tested, and you must commit to judging your progress by your body composition results – not what your weight is on the scale.  This means focusing on your body fat percentage instead of your weight.  By determining your progress with useful metrics like this and lean body mass, you will be equipped with the knowledge you need to get the results you want faster and smarter.

One of the quickest and easiest methods to determine body composition and find numbers like body fat percentage is to use a device that uses BIA technology.  For many years, these devices weren’t accurate enough to give reliable body fat percentage results, but that has changed in recent years.

Depending on how you determine body fat, you may get a complete readout of your body with muscle mass, fat mass, body water, etc., or you may just get a body fat percentage.  Try to get as much information as possible using the best tests available so you can plan out your goals properly.

          2. Choose a Goal to Work on First

Now that you’re working with two goals instead of one, it’s best to target them one at a time.  Although building Lean Body Mass can go hand in hand with reducing Fat Mass to a certain degree, to reach your goals faster, it’s usually best to target one goal at a time.  This is because your body responds differently to programs that target fat and to those that are designed to build lean muscle.

Here’s how to decide which goal to begin with:

Fat Loss First

This goal is best for people whose body compositions have two characteristics: high body fat percentage and high overall weight.  For men, this means body fat percentages in the upper 20s, 30s, and above; for women, body fat percentages in mid 30s and above.  Here’s what this can look like (male test subject):

Develop Lean Body Mass First

You may want to start by increasing your Lean Body Mass if you are skinny fat. You may be skinny fat if you aren’t overweight but have low amounts of Lean Body Mass and high amounts of Fat Mass.  Here’s an example of what that can look like (female test subject):

Notice how the overall weight, 132.3, does not fall in the overweight range (up arrow), but that the Skeletal Muscle Mass falls under it (down arrow) while the Body Fat Mass is over. Because someone with a body composition like this has less than the recommended levels of Skeletal Muscle Mass, it’s a good idea to start with increasing Lean Body Mass before targeting Fat Mass.

Fortunately, if you start resistance training to build muscle, this will likely bring down your Fat Mass as well.  Increasing your Lean Body Mass will increase the calorie need your body will have in order to maintain itself, and this increased caloric need can lead to your body getting energy by burning some of that extra fat.  The calories you burn in resistance training will also speed up fat loss.

Having enough Lean Body Mass is important for many reasons, including increased strength and increased function of your immune system.  Skeletal Muscle Mass composes the majority of your Lean Body Mass, so increased LBM will also improve your musculature and make you look stronger and more toned.

             3. Choose a Health Plan to Reach Your Goal

Once you’ve decided which goal to work on first, you will need to choose a plan to help you meet that goal.  Although everyone’s individual needs will be different, you can use the following to help build a general plan that you can modify later once you understand how your own body responds to diet and exercise.

Targeting Fat Loss

The basic principle behind fat loss is deceptively simple: according to the Center for Disease Control, it’s all about burning more calories in a day than you take in.  This is referred to as maintaining a “caloric deficit.”

You can achieve a caloric deficit in two ways: calorie restriction and exercise.  By taking in less calories than you typically do, your body will respond by finding the calories it needs from your fat mass since it no longer is getting those calories from food and drink.  Many products today are marketed as “fat-free” in order to help people trying to lose weight to make healthy choices. But as it turns out, overall calorie reduction can be more effective than just cutting fat out of your diet, particularly since fat plays a significant role in cell health and metabolism.

You can further increase your caloric deficit through exercise.  Both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise will cause your body to use more calories than you did before beginning training.  Both types of training will play different roles in meeting your goal.

Although some people might discount the importance of resistance training or weightlifting in a fat burning program, to completely ignore this type of exercise is misguided.  Resistance training is very important because it can help you maintain your existing Lean Body Mass and ensure that it doesn’t decrease along with your fat.  Increased Lean Body Mass is linked to higher overall calorie needs, and the more calories you require, the more you weight you stand to lose.

It is true, however, that cardio is important for creating a caloric deficit.  How many calories you stand to burn depend on the type of exercise, duration, and intensity and you may need to find an intersection of the three that works best for you.

Building Lean Body Mass

It’s helpful to understand what Lean Body Mass is so you can understand how you can go about developing it.

Lean Body Mass is your total weight minus your fat.  This includes all the weight due to your muscles, organs, and total body water.  You can’t develop your organs, but you can develop your muscles.  The best way to develop your muscles – and thereby your Lean Body Mass – is to adopt a resistance training program.

As you develop stronger muscles, the size and amount of your muscle cells will increase.  Your muscles will require more water – more intracellular water, to be specific – which will allow them to function properly.  As your muscles grow and take in more water, your Lean Body Mass will increase.

           4. Retest to Track Your Progress Towards Your Goal

After a month or two, it will be time to get your body composition tested again.  Resist the temptation to measure yourself for at least a month; it is going to take some time for your body to respond to the diet and exercise changes that you’ve made.

Since you will be measuring your body composition, you should be less interested in your overall weight and more about your body fat percentage and Lean Body Mass.  These will become the most important numbers you will use to determine the success of your program by.

After a month, you should begin to see changes in your body fat percentage regardless of if you decided to focus on fat or lean mass.  If your weight drops due to fat loss while you maintain your Lean Body Mass, your body fat percentage will drop.

Conversely, if your weight stays the same or even increases due to Lean Body Mass, this means that you’ve gained Skeletal Muscle Mass and potentially lost some fat mass too.

If you see a rise in your BMI, that is not a bad thing.  BMI is just a mathematical ratio of your height to weight, and remember, you if your thinking in terms of body composition, simple weight measurements aren’t important anymore.  What’s important is seeing drops in body fat percentage and increases in Lean Body Mass.

If you are hitting your goals after a month, great! If not, you may need to adjust the diet and exercise plans you have set for yourself.  If you aren’t seeing any drops in fat mass after a month, you may need to consider increasing your caloric deficit.  If you aren’t gaining lean mass at the rate you would like, you may need to adjust your calorie intake, your protein intake, or modify resistance training program you’ve adopted.  Then, after another month or two, retest.

            5. Be Patient And Reach Your Goal!

Changing your body composition is going to take time, and it is going to take some serious effort.  However, the rewards will be great because the changes you make will last.

While you are putting in the hard work, something to avoid is weighing yourself every day.  Because you’re tracking your body composition/body fat percentage, weighing yourself on a normal scale is going to be less and less useful for you – particularly if you started changing your body composition by building Lean Body Mass.  In that situation, because you’re trying to gain weight due to muscle, you may not register any weight gain at all as the weight due to muscle gain will replace the weight due to the fat you’re losing.

You may find that you even gain overall weight, but as long as that weight is due to muscle, you’ll actually appear thinner.  This is because muscle is much denser than fat.

As you continue to see results, you may find that your goals change over time.  You may find that you have lost a significant amount of fat and would like to rebuild yourself with more muscle.  Conversely, you may become satisfied with the amount of Lean Body Mass you have and start focusing on losing fat to build a lean physique.

Whatever your goals are, the key is to make smart decisions.  By committing to assessing yourself by testing your body composition, you will have the tools and the information to make those smart decisions.  If you are gaining Lean Body Mass, you’ll know.  If you’re losing fat, you’ll know.  Body composition assessments take the guesswork out of getting healthy.  So go out, be smarter, and start building a better you today.

InBody Body Composition

Is It Healthy To Have A Low Body Fast Percentage?

Is It Healthy to Have a Low Body Fat Percentage?

Months before a bodybuilding competition, male bodybuilders usually aim to cut body fat as low as 3-4 percent body fat for that shredded look, while their female counterparts go as low as 8-9% for that beautiful, lean physique.

This has led many to believe that their body fat levels should fall between the same percentages as bodybuilders.

Is this healthy?

The straight answer is no. Too little body fat can be as bad as having too much of it.

It’s true. Starving yourself for a bikini-ready summer body or over exercising for six-pack abs before spring break can be as harmful as being overweight. In fact, being skinny or finally getting that flat abdominal you’ve seen on Instagram doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re taking proper care of your body.

Consider this comment in a Reddit bodybuilding thread where bodybuilding competitors were asked how it felt like preparing for competition:

Finally, a female who at some point was at 9.5 percent body fat shares her experience:

Lack of energy. Feeling depleted. Miserable. Are you noticing a pattern?

Yet all of these responses are anecdotal, right?

If you’re looking for solid information and established research findings whether it’s healthy or not to drop your body fat to single digits, read on!

In this article, you’re going to learn that body fat is not as dangerous as you think it is, the ideal body fat levels, and more research-backed information on why you should never aim for an extremely low body fat.

Having Low Body Fat Is Unhealthy and Unsustainable

Many tend to assume that body fat is either good or bad for you. But it’s more complex than that.

While research supports the idea that people with high body fat levels are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, body fat levels that are too low are not necessarily good for you either.  The reality is that there’s more to body fat than meets the eye.

Essential vs. Storage Fat: What’s the Difference?

To start, there are two main types of body fat: essential fat and storage fat.

As its name implies, essential fat plays a critical role in your overall health and cellular processes.  In Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance, essential fat is described as,“…the fat in heart, lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys, intestines, muscles, and lipid-rich tissue of the central nervous system and bone marrow.”

As metabolic fuel, essential fat makes sure that you have sufficient energy reserves and it helps conserve body heat when needed. It also protects your internal organs and joints from injury, acting as a soft, fluffy cushion.

As chemical messengers, they help ensure that bodily processes like metabolism, growth, and immune functions are going as smoothly as planned. Finally, essential fat plays an important role in a woman’s reproductive abilities.

Normal bodily functions will go haywire if essential fat falls below the recommended minimum level of 5% in men and below 15% in women. Women have high essential body fat ranges as a result of childbearing and reproductive needs.

Meanwhile, nonessential or storage fat is accumulated body fat for energy reserves. This is the fat that you notice in your body.

What is Body Fat Percentage?

Put simply, body fat is the amount of fat you have in your body, excluding your fat-free mass (or lean body mass). Your fat-free mass is made up of your bones, organs, muscles, and body water.

Your body fat percentage (also known as percent body fat) reflects how much of your weight is made up of body fat. It is calculated by dividing the weight of your body fat mass by your total weight. Currently, there is no official standard for acceptable body fat percentage values.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) acknowledges a range of 10-22 percent in men and 20-32 percent in women to reduce health risks associated with being underfat or overfat. These ranges are centered around the idea that the average percent body fat for women is at 23 percent while men’s are pegged at 15 percent.

At InBody USA, we recommend a body fat percentage range of 10-20 percent for males and 18-28 percent for women.

How Certain Body Fat Percentages Look in Men and Women

Before we go through the pitfalls of dangerously low body fat, let’s take a look at the following five body fat percentage ranges in both men and women.

Obese: >25% (Men); >32% (Women)

Men and women who fall into this body fat percentage category are obese and more likely to have rounder body shapes. Excess fat will be present in the entire body — often concentrated in the abdominal area, thighs, and hips.  

Individuals within this range of body fat percentage have an increased risk of metabolic or cardiovascular disease. Obesity is also linked to poor self-esteem as well as low energy levels.

Overfat: 20-25% (Men); 28-32% (Women)

Men and women who fall in this body fat percentage range may not have as much excess body weight as those in the obese category but still have excess body fat.

While it is true that some people in the overfat category will be overweight, it’s also possible to have a normal or average body weight but have too much body fat. This is also known as sarcopenia obesity or skinny fat.

Like their obese counterparts, possible issues include low energy levels, higher risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease,  poor self-esteem due to physical appearance, and a shortened life expectancy.

People who are skinny fat are also particularly vulnerable to health problems because they have similar body compositions as people who are overweight, but may have very few visual indicators that can warn them of their health risks.

Average Fitness: 15-20% (Men); 23-28% (Women)

Men in this body fat percentage category are often described as moderately lean and fit. While muscle definition may not be obvious, outlines and striations may slightly appear.  A bit of vascularity may be present in the arms.

For women, this category is neither slim nor overweight. With more body fat around the thighs and buttocks, curves will begin to form in the hips.

Both men and women may have some muscular definition but it may take on a softer appearance. Off-season athletes typically fall in this category. People in this category typically enjoy high energy levels, better sleep, and good overall health. They may also look good in tight fitting clothes which in turn leads to better self-esteem. Health issues due to excess body fat are less likely to develop over time.

Athletic Fitness: 10-15% (Men); 18-23% (Women)

Men and women who fall in this body fat percentage category have the classic beach body look. They are lean, muscular, and clearly fit. There is little fat to pinch and muscle definition is particularly obvious in the shoulders, arms, and abs. Professional athletes may fall into this category.

Vascularity may appear in the arms but it may not as pronounced in the legs among men. Women with this body fat percentage may have fat in the arms and legs but it’s not as obvious than those with higher body fat percentages.

Besides looking really fit, individuals with this body fat percentage tend to enjoy excellent overall health and well-being. They also experience less cravings due to regular physical activity and strict adherence to a diet that works for them.

Exceptional Fitness /Bodybuilder Range: 3-10% (Men); 12-18% (Women)

This body fat percentage category often includes bodybuilding competitors and fitness models.

Muscle definition tends to be high in both men and women and there is very little fat. Bodybuilders, for instance, may aim for the extreme low end of this range on cycles when they are competing because in order to have a competitive look, they require next to no body fat.

This is an incredibly difficult body composition to maintain consistently over time, especially at the lower end of this range.

You can learn more about the different body fat percentage ranges in How to Set a Body Composition Goal That’s Right For You.

Health Risks and Dangers of Low Body Fat in Adult Men and Women

Men who have less than 6 percent body fat and women with less than 16 percent body fat are considered too low. They are typically bodybuilders in contest training or fitness models on the day of their photoshoot. These individuals have gone to great lengths such as going on a strict diet and exercise regimen for weeks.

You might be thinking that these body fat percentage ranges are actually healthy because they are still above the essential fat values.  

But, not so fast.

In a 12-month case study conducted by the International Journal of Sports Physiological Performance, researchers tracked the body composition and physical state of a male competitive bodybuilder whose body fat percentage was around 4.5 percent for competition.

Researchers indicated that several negative outcomes consistent with overtraining, such as decreases in physical performance and reduction in immune system function, had occurred.

A more recent investigation showed that in order to achieve these extremely low body fat levels, these athletes had to rely on steroids and other drugs to help them achieve their goals, common practices within the field of bodybuilding/figure competition. What is now becoming clear is that these practices, while useful for helping attain the desired look, are associated with significantly greater risk of heart disease and liver dysfunction.

These athletes went on to explain that these negative physiological changes are unfortunate, but necessary, repercussions of competitive bodybuilding. 

Female bodybuilders, on the other hand, experience an additional side effect of having an extremely low body fat percentage — the temporary stop of menstruation or amenorrhea. It forms one part of a condition known as the Female Athlete Triad. 

Additionally, competitive female bodybuilders have been shown to share the same eating-related habits as those with bulimia. They may shun social events that involve dining out and may not have the time for other activities. Female bodybuilders may also experience other reproductive and fertility issues.

Bodybuilders’ Bodies Are Not Ideal

Despite their impressive physical appearances, bodybuilders do not have an ideal body composition.

Their sports demand they put their body through stress to the point where normal biological functions become impaired. Therefore, looking like a bodybuilder should not be a goal (unless you’re a bodybuilder).

Can Low Body Fat Improve Sports Performance?

While low levels of body fat seem to be associated with improved sports performance, body composition alone is not a great predictor of athletic success. There is little evidence for any health benefit when men drop under 8 percent in body fat and when women drop under 14 percent body fat.

Additionally, trying to achieve a body fat percentage that is similar to professional bodybuilding goals can lead to a slew of health issues and complications like impaired body thermoregulation, increased risk of injury, fatigue, loss of muscle tissue, and suboptimal body performance.

The Takeaway: Going Beyond Body Fat Percentage

Although your body fat percentage is a significant and useful metric, relying on it alone will not provide you with solutions or answers that can improve your overall health and fitness.

You will need more specific values than your body fat percentage and weight such as your skeletal muscle mass, visceral fat, and even segmental lean analysis. This will not only help you maintain a healthy body fat percentage in respect to a healthy weight,  but it can also help you figure out if you have muscle imbalances, reduced muscle mass, or are not eating enough.

Your body is a very complex system of specific components working together. Think of body fat percentage as merely a single tree in a large forest. It’s important to get as much information as possible about the health of the entire forest and not just for one specific tree.

***

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.

 

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Three Simple Rules To Hit Your Target Weight

Three Simple rules to hit your target weight

Customers always ask how to put on weight, lose weight or simply maintain their current weight. The answer is incredibly simple. (Diet gurus don’t want you to know just how simple it actually is) Three steps will get you the results you are looking for.

  1. Eat right. We are all adults here and each of us know what we should eat and what we shouldn’t eat. We just don’t do it. I don’t do diet plans. EAT RIGHT and have a cheat meal once or twice a week.
  2. Exercise. Again, we all know we need to exercise we just fall off the wagon more often than we should. Set a schedule and read different workout routines and learn, learn, learn. Teach yourself the skills of working out. Get a trainer if you need one but as his or her title implies utilize them as a TRAINER. Don’t be led around like a puppy on a leash. Use each session as a learning experience. Before to long you will be able to workout on your own.
  3. The most important step is 3. PROTEIN COUNT. If you are trying to lose weight consume 3/4 your weight in protein grams in a 24 hour period. For example, if someone weighs 160lb then they would consume 120 grams of protein in a 24 hour period. (This is the food you eat AND protein you drink combined) As his or her weight goes down (which it will) the protein count needs to also drop. Stay on that until you reach your desired weight then switch to a 1 to 1  gram of protein for every pound of weight you weigh. The fat will stay off and muscle will stay on. PROVIDING you also apply rule 1 and 2. Eat right and exercise.

If one wants to gain weight consume 1.5 to 2 grams of protein for every pound you weigh. As your weight goes up so must the protein count. Again, once you hit your target weight switch to 1 to 1. Fat will stay off and muscle will stay on. It’s credibly simple but also incredibly effective. So stay motivated and stay strong to MAKE STRONG LIKE BULL.

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