Category Archives: Nutrition

Bulking advice for hardgainers

By Fleur van Griensven 

Stuffing your face all day long without getting fat seems like the ultimate dream for most people, right? For some people however, eating a lot with the purpose of gaining weight can be difficult. They have probably tried many things to get more calories in, but this resulted in a smaller amount of weight gain than they had hoped for. If you are one of those people, keep on reading here to find out which foods and tricks you can use to make your bulk a bit easier and more enjoyable: ….



This article might be a bit more practical than you are used to. I am not going to tell you what bulking is, the best way to do so in my opinion or whether you should bulk or cut. I might write a series of articles about bulking in the future if there is interest. For now, I just want to help by giving tips on how to make eating a lot of food easier if you are struggling to get your daily bulking calories in.


What is a hardgainer?

The term hardgainer is often used for people who find it difficult to gain weight and eat a lot of food. Sometimes there is confusion about the term hardgainer: it is thought that these people can’t gain as much weight as ‘normal’ people and are thus in a metabolic disadvantage for weight gain. This is not what is meant when someone is a hardgainer. These people can gain as much weight as everyone else. They just have more difficulty eating all the food they need to eat in order to gain weight. Often it is a lack of discipline to sustain a caloric surplus, so it is a psychological problem instead of a physiological one. That is also where the solution to this very simple problem seems to be: just eat more food and you will gain weight!


Why and when can bulking be difficult?

Simply saying eat more food to someone who is a hardgainer might not be the proper answer. There are many reasons why bulking can be more difficult for some than for others, thus recognizing them can help to counteract them.

I have listed down a few things that people encounter. This especially holds true when you bulk for a long period. Since the purpose of a bulk is to gain muscle (whilst keeping fat gain to a minimum), you will gain weight. This means that as you bulk longer your body needs more calories to simply maintain its increased weight as a result of the bulk. On top of that, you need to eat above maintenance calories or in a caloric surplus to gain muscle. So, as your weight increases you need to adjust your calories upward to maintain a caloric surplus and to continue gaining muscle.

Look below if you have encountered one of these problems whilst bulking yourself:

  • Feeling full or not hungry. As said before, you are basically ‘overfeeding’ your body whilst bulking. You are eating more calories than you need in order to use the extra calories for the process of muscle building and recovery. However, physiologically you can run into some struggles: not hungry, feeling full all day and as a result not wanting to eat all the food you should eat in order to be in a caloric surplus.


  • Busy all day, no time to make food or forgetting to eat. The number one answer you will get when you ask: ‘Why do you find bulking difficult?’ is going to be ‘I don’t have the time to prepare all the food’. Seriously? We live in a society where food is basically everywhere. No need to hunt for your own protein or bake your own bread. The next time you hear someone saying that they don’t have the time to make food, you just tell them to run to the nearest supermarket! Okay, no nonsense, but everyone is busy these days so it’s more a matter of making time to buy groceries or prepare meals if this helps you to keep up with a busy schedule.


  • High activity levels. There are also people with a very physically active job. Compare two men: one has a 9-5 job at the office and one works in the construction sector. They both have the same weight, height and age but completely different activity levels. The daily activity, or also called PAL (=Physical Activity Level), is taken into account when calculating maintenance calories. To calculate maintenance calories the BMR (=Basal Metabolic Rate) is multiplied by the PAL. This PAL will be anywhere between 1.40-1.69 for the man working at the office, since he is considered to live a sedentary lifestyle. The construction worker can have a PAL anywhere between 1.70-1.99 [1]. If their BMR is 1800 kcals, it gives a minimum maintenance calories of 2520 kcals for the man working at the office and 3060 kcals for the construction worker. This is a difference of 540 kcals. Making use of PAL for calculating maintenance calories will probably be a good starting point, but it might needs some tweaks here and there to find out your own true maintenance calories. To get back to the point, high activity levels can result in an increased energy expenditure and therefore require a higher food intake. This can lead to a lot of extra food that needs to be eaten, which can be difficult if you’re extremely active at work.


  • Unconsciously being more active. Maybe you have noticed it yourself during a bulk: pace up and down (in Dutch: ijsberen) whilst waiting for the train and not being able to sit still for a second. Even small movements with your hands/feets, that you probably aren’t conscious of, are part of this. These movements and all the energy expended for every action that does not belong to sleeping, eating or exercise are called NEAT (=Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). Physiological studies demonstrate that NEAT is modulated with changes in energy balance: NEAT increases with overfeeding and decreases with underfeeding [2].

A study done by Levine et al. concluded that an unconscious increase in NEAT explains why some individuals can purposely increase daily energy intake above maintenance (1000 caloric surplus for 8 weeks in this study) and still experience a lack of weight gain. Without them knowing they get more active during the day and thus partly cancel the targeted caloric surplus [3].

Which foods make bulking easier?

  • Lower volume or foods with a high energy density. Energy density, that is the calories in a given weight of food, could affect satiety by influencing the rate at which nutrients reach receptors involved in satiety [4]. Eating foods with a high energy density, that contain a lot of calories per 100 g of product, helps reducing the amount of food consumption required for a given level of energy intake [5]. This comes in handy for hardgainers who can make use of eating high energy dense foods. Most of these high-energy dense foods are considered not to be rich in nutrients like minerals, vitamins and fibers and thus considered to contain ‘empty calories’. Realize that it is not so black and white and that not all energy-dense foods are bad for you. Even though one particular food might not be the healthiest option or contain a lot of nutrients, you still have to look at the diet as a whole. A few high energy dense foods are: deep-fried foods, pasta, full fat cheese, nuts and seeds.


  • Making foods liquid or making shakes. There are weight gainers on the market these days, but it is also simple to make shakes high in calories yourself. These homemade shakes can be full of nutrients, among which complex carbs, healthy fats and fiber. For example, you can use oats, (full)milk, whey protein as a basis and additionally add fruits, avocado, peanut butter or even olive oil if you are a real diehard. The evidence that liquids are truly less satiating than solid foods remains inconclusive, so more research is needed [6]. You can find out for yourself if you feel less satiated when consuming liquid calories instead of solid foods.


  • Foods high in (healthy) fat. As a macronutrient, fats are relatively energy dense with 9 kcals per gram in comparison to 4 kcals per gram for both carbs and protein. They therefore are a great addition to your bulking diet. A few foods high in (healthy) fat are listed below:

– Full dairy products. These products often contain a high amount of saturated fatty acids, also called SFA’s. Those SFA’s do have a bad reputation these days. However, saturated fats are probably not as bad for our health as thought. A review performed by Lawrence and colleagues revealed that dietary saturated fatty acids (SFAs) are not associated with CAD (=Coronary Artery disease, which could result in heart failure) and other adverse health effects. At worst saturated fats are weakly associated in some analyses when other contributing factors may be overlooked. Several recent analyses indicate that SFAs, particularly in dairy products and coconut oil, can improve health [7]. We can’t conclude that saturated fats are 100% sure not bad for our health because there still is a lot of research going on. It seems that saturated fat in dairy products isn’t so bad, but no recommendations can be made yet.

More foods which are high in (healthy) fat:

-Nuts or nut butters.


-Coconut/coconut oil.

-Olive oil.

-More than 70% cacoa chocolate.

-Fatty fish.



  • Carbohydrates. They are the main energy source of a diet [8]. How many carbohydrates you can consume before it becomes not that healthy is dependent on the situation. A diet which is high in sugar is probably not beneficial for your health [7]. Some key points to keep in mind whilst bulking: limit the amount of sugar, consume enough fibre and don’t overshoot on calories.

Next to this, research indicated that carbohydrates are less satiating than protein [9]. Consuming extra protein when protein requirements are fulfilled is thus not smart. You are probably better of eating these calories in the form of carbohydrates or fats. Another argument for not consuming excessive protein is that the TEF (=Thermic Effect of Food) is the highest for protein. This is the amount of energy needed to digest and absorb food. Since the TEF is the highest for protein, they are the hardest to digest [10].

There are way too many carbohydrates to sum up here, but one thing that I really like to eat when bulking are dried fruits. Raisins, figs, dates and apricots can be a great addition to your diet. Next to containing a lot of calories they do contain lots of vitamins (B1&B6), minerals (magnesium, iron, potassium, folic acid) and fiber.


Any other tips

As I said before, unconsciously being more active and thus burning a part or your whole caloric surplus can be easily tackled. Make yourself conscious of doing this and don’t get your energy expended on NEAT if you have a hard time getting a lot of calories in.

The same goes for doing cardio whilst bulking. True, numerous studies have shown that moderate to high levels of physical activity are protective against cardiovascular disease [11]. However, cardio also burns calories depending on the time/duration/intensity and type of cardio performed. Hardgainers, who already struggle, are making it even harder for themselves. They thus need to eat the extra calories burned in order to be in the same caloric surplus at the end of the day.

Combining different products makes you able to eat more food [12]. For example, when going out for a fancy 10 course dinner. After course 7 you are already full, but still got room for a dessert and coffee/tea with chocolate. Because you have been eating savory things, you can still eat a sweet dessert. You can also use this yourself, by making meals or even shakes where you combine sweet/savory/bitter products.

Next to that, the faster you eat the more you can eat before you will be satiated [13]. There is a small delay in experiencing satiation. If you eat a soup half an hour before dinner, you will eat less of that meal compared to when you would only eat dinner. Thus when bulking, stop snacking just before having a meal!

There are hardgainers who think that they are gaining a lot of weight just because once in awhile they go all out and stuff their face with an enormous surplus of calories. They believe that they have consumed such an amount of food on this one day, that they also eat this much on a daily basis. It is something psychological which they are convinced of. Consuming occasionally an enormous surplus, also called binge eating, isn’t as effective as consuming a (small) daily caloric surplus. Have you ever tried drinking 5 protein shakes consecutively and 10 minutes later you find yourself on the toilet for the next hour? Still convinced that you have absorbed it all?



After reading this article, i hope you got some insight into why bulking can be more difficult for some than for others. Yes, eating a lot of food isn’t always easy. It is often more a psychological than a physiological problem which causes people not to gain the amount of weight they had hoped for during a bulk. I have listed some foods and gave some tips which will hopefully make your next bulk a piece of cake. Oh wait, with icecream and whipped cream of course, all for those extra calories which are more than welcome if you believe you are a hardgainer!



[1] Physical Activity level. Retrieved on 4-11-2017.

[2] Levine, JA (2002). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Best Practice&Research Clinical Endocrinology&Metabolism. 16(4), 679-702

[3] Levine, JA et all. (1999). Role of non-exercise activity thermogenesis in resistance to fat gain in humans. Science. 283(5399), 212-4.

[4] Kissileff, H.R. et all. (1984). The satiating efficiency of foods. Physiology of Behavior. 32, 319–332.

[5] Rolls, B. (1995). Effects of food quality, quantity and variety on intake. Not eating enough: overcoming under consumption of military operational ration

[6] Almiron-Roig, E (2003). Liquid calories and the failure of satiety: how good is the evidence? Obes Rev. 4(4), 201-212.

[7] Lawrence, G (2013). Dietary fats and health: dietary recommendations in the context of scientific evidence. Adv. Nutr. 4, 294-302

[8] Jequier, E (1994). Carbohydrates as a source of energy. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 59(3), 682-685.

[9] Bertenshaw, E (2008). Satiating effects of protein but not carbohydrate consumed in a between-meal beverage context. Physiology of Behavior. 93(3), 427-436

[10] Westerterp, K. (2004). Diet induced thermogenis. Nutrition&Metabolism.

[11] Joyner, M (2009). Exercise protects the cardiovascular system: effects beyond traditional risk factors. Journal of Physiology. 587(23), 5551-5558

[12] McCrory, MA (2012). Dietary (sensory) variety and energy balance. Physiology of Behaviour. 107(4), 576-583

[13] College Regulatie van honger en verzadiging, WUR HNE-20306 Nutritional Behaviour.


Carb cycling: the secret to get shredded?

By Fleur van Griensven


You might have heard the saying: ‘Carbs are bad for you’ or ‘eating after 8 pm makes you fat’. A lot of people claim that this will result in fat gain. Are carbs really the enemy or are these two examples just one of the thousand misconceptions in the fitness industry? Can we actually benefit from cycling our carb intake whilst cutting? Is carb cycling the secret to get shredded?

What is Carb cycling?
Carb cycling is just what the name implies: Cycling the carbohydrate intake during the week, which translates into higher carb days and days with fewer/no carbohydrates. This is also called a non-linear dieting approach. A linear dieting approach means that the amount of calories and ratio of carbs/protein/fats remains the same every day. Thus, the non-linear dieting approach includes differences in the amount of calories, carbs, protein and fats between different days. I will try to make this clearer with an example.

If you would eat 200 g carbs, 150 g protein and 60 g fat 7 days a week you’d be following a linear dieting approach

If you would eat 250 g carbs, 150 g protein and 60 g fat on your 5 training days and 150 g carbs, 150 g protein and 60 g fat on your 2 rest days, you would be following a non-linear/carb-cycling diet.

With a carb-cycling diet, you basically manipulate your carbohydrate intake on different days of the week. Figuring out how much carbs to eat on these days is not that simple, but we will get back to that later on. In addition, I will give some tips on how to incorporate carb cycling in a diet yourself.

When can it be used and what are the benefits?
Carb cycling can be used both during a cutting (caloric deficit) and bulking period (caloric surplus). In this article, we will not cover carb cycling during a bulk. Carb cycling can be used from the start of a cut or when you go deeper into a caloric deficit. Most people will choose the second option. They do this because as calories are decreased a lot, it’s harder to stay motivated. Having different amounts of calories on different days might give you something to look forward to.

Carb cycling may have some potential benefits. Firstly, for some it gives a psychological boost and motivation to keep going. Implementing higher carb days gives you something to look forward to when dieting gets tough. The prospect of a day filled with pasta, bread or whatever carb source you’re craving can just be enough to keep on track with dieting.

Menno Henselmans, the founder of Bayesian Bodybuilding, has been talking about carb cycling in one of his interviews. Bayesian Bodybuilding uses an evidence and scientific-based approach to bodybuilding, so everything is based on scientific data. In this interview, Menno Henselmans says that there are almost no studies done on the carb cycling approach and the physiological benefits. The science about carb cycling is lacking, which I also encountered when digging deeper into this topic. Menno Henselmans believes that the few days during which the carb intake is increased, or higher carb days in general, do not have any practical physiological effect. A few days of increased carb consumption after several days lower in carbs is not enough to bring hormones related to hunger and appetite back to normal. [1]

There are however some studies that looked at the effect of an increased carbs intake for one or more days on a hormone that are related to hunger and appetite.

One of these hormones is leptin. Leptin is a hormone secreted (produced) by fat cells and controls both long-term energy balance and appetite. When body fat is going down during a cut, leptin production is decreased over time. This results in more and more hunger when you are deeper into a cut. Here the fun part of shoving your face with carbs comes in. Higher carb days, also called refeed days, are thought to bring the lowered leptin concentration back to a normal level. This will reduce the increased sensation of hunger (for a while), which might help you to stick to your diet.

However, recent studies did not show that a refeed or just one-high carb day can bring leptin levels back up. Yes, refeeding does give a rise in serum leptin levels, but leptin levels return to baseline (the starting point) after 24h. This means that leptin levels are not restored long-term. Switching between higher and lower carbs days is not going to do much for an improvement in leptin and thus those hunger feelings will still be there. [2]

Carbs are the main energy source during physical activity, because they provide the glucose that is required for energy. What most people experience is that eating more carbs will result in more energy during their training session. This results in them being able to train harder and lift more. That’s why it is recommended to have higher carbs on the heaviest training days.

How to set up your carb cycling plan? [3]
The most crucial thing in setting up macros for a carb cycling diet is to still have the same weekly total carb intake as you would have in a linear dieting approach. We leave aside protein and fat for the moment as they remain the same and we are only going to manipulate our carb intake on different days. Let’s go back to the example used earlier to show how you can set it up yourself.

On a linear diet, we would have 200 g carbs x 7 days = 1400 g of carbs per week.

For example, on a carb cycling diet it could look like this:

  • 190 g 6 days per week and 260 g 1 day per week.
  • 184 g 5 days per week and 240 g 2 days per week.
  • 185 g 4 days per week and 220 g 3 days per week.

How you choose to set up your carb cycling plan is all personal preference. A few factors you can take into account are:

  • How often do you train? If you only train two or three days a week, bigger carb load days might be more beneficial for you. If you instead train five or even six days a week, a more moderate spreading of carbs might be better.

  • What are your heaviest training days? If adding more calories on these days gives performance a huge boost, go ahead and train the house down.

  • What suits my lifestyle? Can you be a bit strict during the week and have more carbs to spend for burgers with friends during the weekend? Or would you rather have a more moderate carb intake?

Conclusion, Carb cycling: The secret to get shredded?
NO carb cycling is not the secret to get shredded. The secret to get lean is maintaining a caloric deficit for as long as needed to achieve the physique or shape you’re after. If cycling your carb intake (in whatever way you choose to do so) makes it easier to stick to your diet, carb cycling might be a good strategy. Alternatively, if you enjoy doing it and get results from it, then do it. However, keep in mind that it won’t give you better results than a linear-dieting approach with a daily constant caloric deficit. Whether you use a linear or non-linear dieting approach like for example carb cycling does not matter as long as your weekly caloric averages come out the same.

Take home message: Don’t overcomplicate the whole fat loss thing, it’s not rocket science. Stick to a caloric deficit, choose a strategy you can do consistent and rock the beach this summer!

[1] Henselmans, M. (Bayesian Bodybuilding). (2015, 24 February). Refeeds, Body Recomposition &
Non-Linear Diets. [Radio Podcast]. In Danny Lennon. Sigma Nutrition& Performance.

[2] Kolaczynski J, (1996). Responses of leptin to short-term fasting and refeeding in humans: a link with ketogenesis but not ketones themselves. Diabetes. 45(11):1511-5.

[3] Cheadle, N (2015, 13 November). Carb cycling for fat loss. Retrieved from on April 26th 2017

Superfoods: yay or nay?

By Wietse In het Panhuis

Superfoods are a hot topic. Several people claim superfoods have high amounts of good nutrients and antioxidants, and numerous of beneficial health effects. When you eat a lot of superfoods, you will be healthy. Or will you?


What are superfoods?  
Some well-known examples of superfoods are: Goji berries, cacao beans, chia seed, hemp seed, and coconut oil. According to the definition of the term superfood, a superfood is any food with a beneficial health effect. This term is actually a marketing term instead of a scientific term. There are no nutritionists, dieticians or doctors with an academic background that would promote the use of it.

Are superfoods super healthy? 
Superfoods are claimed to have high levels of healthy nutrients and antioxidants, which in turn would have many health effects. Such effects include: Increases in energy and concentration, improvement of the immune system, even the prevention and curing of diseases (including cancer), anti-aging properties, and last but not least: Increases in life force! Is there any truth in any of these claims?

There is a flaw in the reasoning of articles that claim these things. You probably have seen it more than once: ‘Top 10 reasons to eat –insert superfood-‘. The superfood fights cancer, improves your eyesight, protects from cardiovascular disease, and so on. Here is an example to illustrate the reasoning behind most superfood articles is this: Superfood X contains vitamin A. A shortage of vitamin A has been shown to be bad for your eyes. Thus, when ingesting enough vitamin A by eating plenty of superfood X, these eye problems due to a shortage are prevented (true). Writers of these articles interpret this as: Eating enough vitamin A can prevent eye problems caused by a vitamin A shortage, therefore, Vitamin A is good for your eyes. Since vitamin A is good for the eyes, consuming more vitamin A is even better: You will improve your eyesight (false). Thus, superfood X improves the eyesight. In reality, vitamins (and other compounds) don’t work like that. They have a beneficial effect up to a certain point, and if you ingest more than that, it will not be more beneficial (and possibly even harmful). In superfood articles, the above described reasoning and exaggeration is often used. Hereby, the truth of a very small effect is turned into a miracle, a magic formula: When you eat this food, you will be healthy.

Superfoods are often claimed to have big effect sizes (in other words: a big impact on the body). These claimed effect sizes of superfoods are comparable to those of medicine (drugs), since medicine also has a big effect size on the body. Take anti-diabetic drugs for example: They improve glucose tolerance (an important measure in diabetes) and thereby give a significant ‘improvement’ of the situation. (This doesn’t mean that this is a good solution. It is treating symptoms, not treating the source of the problem.) In reality, single foods in general have a relatively small effect on health. There is not a single food (and thus not a single superfood) that could improve glucose tolerance like anti-diabetic drugs can, and this example goes for all drugs. However, when looking at a whole diet-lifestyle approach, big effects could be reached. It has for instance been shown that a good diet and exercise works just as well as medicine for treating diabetes[1]. (This does not hold true for any disease. Cancer and many other diseases cannot be cured by nutrition, while chance of survival can be improved nonetheless.) So, diet and nutrition should be looked at as a whole, and not at the effects of single foods.

It is for the reason that single foods only have small health effects, that scientific studies on superfoods either find no truth in claims on single superfoods, or they conclude there is not enough evidence to support these claims. So far, there has not been a single (super)food that has miraculous health effects.

Some people swear by superfoods. They say eating a lot of superfoods everyday changed their life. They felt much healthier and energetic. In such cases, these persons often dropped their unhealthy habits, such as overeating and eating unhealthy products, and replaced these with superfoods. Undoubtedly, this is good for your health. However, when you would replace unhealthy foods with vegetables and fruits you would see the same effect. Superfoods are healthy foods in general, but they are not healthier than fruits and vegetables.

One problem that might occur when people depend on superfoods, is that they choose superfoods over vegetables because they think superfoods are healthier. This might result in a diet with little variation, while the key to a healthy diet is a varied diet. Variation in a diet assures that you get all the nutrients you need, since different foods contain different nutrients. In this way, superfoods might work counterproductive.

How expensive are superfoods?             
Prices differ for different superfoods, but superfoods are generally sold in small packages with about 2 weeks worth of a daily serving. As an example, dried Goji berries from Body&Fitshop cost €4,90 for 250 grams. It is recommended to take at least 20 grams of berries per day, so a package lasts for about 12 days. Monthly this will cost you €12,15. When you look at table 1, you can see that a consumption of 20 grams of goji berries does not contribute a lot to the recommended daily intake (RDI), because this portion is small. Thus, goji berries are relatively quite expensive. Additionally, when you would eat greater amounts, this would contribute more to the RDI, but also would result in a high sugar intake.

This is only one of many examples, but in general you pay a lot for little product.

Table 1: Nutritional values of dried goji berries[2].

Nutrient Amount per 100 grams Amount per 20 grams % of ADH
Energy (kcal) 343 68.6
Sugar (g) 45.6 9.1
Fibre (g) 13 2.6 7.4%
Calcium (mg) 190 38 3.8%
Iron (mg) 6.8 1.3 14.4%
Vitamin C (mg) 48 9.6 12.8%

How are superfoods marketed?              
People are often ranting on the pharmaceutical industry, since this industry has the primary purpose of making money, while not caring about the consumer’s health. It is true that a lot of money is being made in this industry and making money is always the driving force behind important decisions. However, I seldom hear people about the superfood industry. They are selling regular healthy foods for high prices, while marketing them as super beneficial for health. What they are doing is like selling tomatoes for three time the original price, and people buy it because of smart marketing. In this respect, there is little difference between the pharmaceutical industry and the superfood industry. When you read about superfoods, there is often a story behind it, like: The famous Li Qing Yuen (born in 1678) ate lots of Goji berries that grow in old protected valleys in Mongolia and Tibet. Li Qing Yuen became 256 years of age. Articles on superfoods often start with such a romantic story and then just give you a top 10 of the superfood’s (claimed) effects. Sometimes these background stories are obviously nonsense, like this example, but sometimes there are more impressive, believable stories. I remember one story about a sheep herder, who had a lot of sheep suffering from cancer. Then the sheep accidentally ate from a certain superfood, and the cancer disappeared. Of course, when common sense is used, you might find this story quite unlikely. There are however a lot of people without a background in biology and these topics. To those people, this can be a trustworthy story. Nearly all superfoods have been given a story like this, which is all part of the marketing trick.

One example of marketing superfoods is kale. As a Dutchman, you all know kale (boerenkool). Apparently, kale has been marketed as a superfood in the US. It has been called an antioxidant superstar with impressive anti-cancer effects. It’s good for this, good for that, etcetera, etcetera… Meanwhile, in the Netherlands we have been eating kale for a very long time. Is it healthy? Sure! Is it super? No. Is it expensive in the Netherlands? No. Is it expensive as a superfood? Take a guess. One funny superfood product called ‘Essential 10 Super Greens Super Food with Kale & Barley Grass’ contains kale and some other regular vegetables. This product costs €14,25 for 21 servings. That will cost you €20,- per month. One serving provides you with 20 to 35% of the RDI of fibres, vitamin C, vitamin K and calcium. This product thus contributes only a small part of the RDI of only four nutrients (there are over 20 vitamins and minerals). That means you still need to eat a lot of other foods to get everything you need. In comparison, when eating 100 grams of broccoli, this will contribute to 100% of the RDI of vitamin C, about 50% of the RDI of vitamin A, 22% of the RDI of copper, about 15% of the RDI of zinc, 14% of the RDI of fosfor, 11% of the RDI of iron, and 10% of the RDI of fibres. Broccoli is roughly said a better source of nutrients when taking portion sizes into account. 100 grams of broccoli costs €0,30 while one serving of the superfood costs €0,68. Thus, even though the above mentioned superfood might be good because of its fibre and vitamin K content (two nutrients that are more difficult to consume plenty of), it is way too expensive in relation to the small contribution to your health. (Of course it is difficult to make a 1 on 1 comparison, since you are not and you should not be eating broccoli every day, but you get the picture.)


People want to believe there are such things at superfoods, because we want to believe that we can dramatically improve our health by simply eating a few new products. The superfood industry exploits this desire by knowingly telling fairytales (such as the sheep story), and the next thing that happens is that some self-proclaimed food expert writes a book about super foods. After that, people start to blog about superfoods and how it changed their lives, and then share it on the internet. Anyone can write anything they want, while it is not checked whether the facts are true. Subsequently, other people will believe the claimed facts because they are uninformed, and have a strong desire to do what is best for their body. More and more people will start buying foods and spreading the word on the amazing effects of superfoods. This is a vicious circle that keeps expanding. It is brilliant marketing from the superfood industry.

Conclusion – superfoods: yay or nay?   
Concluding so far:

  • The term superfood is a term invented as a clever marketing strategy
  • Superfoods are healthy, but they are not healthier than regular foods
  • Superfoods are expensive

Superfoods: yay or nay? NAY!


In general, superfoods are a waste of money if you buy them because you think they are super healthy. Are superfoods bad for you? No, they are healthy products, but you still need variation in your diet. If you like your money, you are better of buying regular fruits and vegetables, because they are equally healthy and much cheaper. Buying regular fruits and vegetables will save you a lot of money. Of course, when you buy superfoods for their taste, that is totally up to you.

If you love eating superfoods and are feeling great by doing it, please feel free to do so. The message of this article is: Just don’t get deceived by this marketing strategy. There are no magical formulas for being healthy.

[1] Gillies, C. L., Abrams, K. R., Lambert, P. C., Cooper, N. J., Sutton, A. J., Hsu, R. T., & Khunti, K. (2007). Pharmacological and lifestyle interventions to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in people with impaired glucose tolerance: systematic review and meta-analysis. Bmj334(7588), 299.
[2] Bessen goji- gedroogd (NEVO-code 3445), NEVO-online versie 2016/5.0, accessed on 31-03-2017.

Mythbuster: Can you bake with extra virgin (olive) oil?

By Wietse In het PanhuisOlive_1

A common myth is that you should not use extra virgin (olive) oil for baking. This myth states that this might be bad for you due to trans-fat formation, and that the taste will adversely change. Is there a healthier alternative? Is this myth true or not? Keep on reading to find out!

What are trans fats?       

Trans fats are unsaturated fatty acids, of which the geometric configuration (the way the atoms are ordered in the fat) is different from (cis-)unsaturated fatty acids that we are familiar with. As can be seen in the picture below, both fatty acids have exactly the same atoms in the same order. The only difference is the placement of the hydrogen atoms (H) at the double bond (indicated with the red and blue circle). At the cis-bond, the hydrogen atoms are at the same side of the carbon chain, and at the trans-bond, the hydrogen atoms are at the opposite side. This small structural difference could cause big differences in important factors such as the melting point, and can thereby explain differences in healthiness between trans fats and non-trans fats. Processes such as heating can change the configuration of a bond from cis to trans. In other words: heating of unsaturated fats can result in trans fat formation. This is only possible if fats contain a double bond. Since saturated fats do not have a double bond, trans fat formation can only occur in unsaturated fats.Olive_2

Regulation of trans fats
Since the 1950s, trans fats have been abundantly used in the food industry. Trans fats do not only occur naturally in foods, but are also a byproduct formed by production processes such as hydrogenation of vegetable oils (a process during which liquid oils are converted to solid or semi-solid fats). The latter form is called artificial trans fat. It is generally known that artificial trans fats are bad for health. Consumption increases the risk of multiple cardiovascular risk factors and coronary heart disease events such as heart attack and stroke[1]. It is for that reason that use of artificial trans fats was banned in 2006 by the FDA. Trans fats occurring naturally in animal products are also thought to be unhealthy, but they are probably not as worse as artificial trans fats (and trans fat levels are also much lower compared to food products containing artificial trans fats). Thus, it can be concluded that trans fats are unhealthy.

Oil baking/frying and trans fat formation
Trans fats are also formed by heating of vegetable oils, such as olive oil. Especially during deep-frying, a lot of trans fat formation will occur. However, this trans fat formation predominantly occurs at high temperatures (150-200+ degrees Celsius). Therefore, baking or stir-frying with vegetable oils hardly induces trans fat formation, even not at high temperatures as confirmed by this study[2]. Thus, baking with oil in general will be safe with regard to trans fat formation.


Differences between extra virgin/refined
What is the exact difference between extra virgin olive oil and refined olive oil? Oil is produced by the extraction process of vegetables and seeds, such as olives, sunflowers, rapeseed, and so on.  There are many different names for each oil. There is refined olive oil, virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil (and some other examples on which we will not go into detail). The difference between these oils is the degree of processing and thereby the quality of the oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is of the highest quality, followed by virgin olive oil and lastly refined olive oil. The word virgin indicates that the olives were pressed in order to extract the oil. This is the purest form of oil, and thus has the highest quality. This is different from refined oils, which have been produced by chemical or heating processes after the olives are pressed to create virgin oil. Thus, the big difference is the amount of nutrients and the sensory properties (or in other words, the taste).

Both refined and (extra) virgin olive oil are high in poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are healthy compared to saturated fats[3]. Thus, cooking with oil is always better than cooking with butter(based) baking products, as these contain more saturated fats and less PUFAs. Additionally (extra) virgin olive oil contains a lot of polyphenols (e.g. vitamins E and K, phytosterols and polyphenols), which have been proven to have protective health effects with regard to cardiovascular diseases[4,5]. A lot of these compounds function as antioxidants. Thus, extra virgin olive oil is the best choice to consume, as this is the most healthy one.

What happens when extra virgin olive oil is heated?      
It is often said that when extra virgin olive oil is heated during baking, the taste changes and trans fats are formed. This would not be the case for refined oils.

Firstly, like previously stated, heating oils at low temperatures (like temperatures during baking) cannot (or hardly) produce trans fats. The only difference between extra virgin oil and refined oil is quality and nutrients. It would therefore be weird that trans fats would be formed when baking with extra virgin, but not with refined olive oil. Thus, we can safely assume that no trans fats will be formed when baking with extra virgin (olive) oil.

Nonetheless, there are some changes occurring in the extra virgin olive oil during baking, otherwise the taste would not change. Some of the antioxidants in the oil are thought to be degraded during baking. I could not find studies looking exactly into this problem. Most studies are looking at changes in extra virgin olive oil due to deep frying. In addition, the total amount of polyphenols in the oil consists of a lot of different compounds, of which many we did not identify yet. It is therefore difficult to measure all the polyphenols, so answering the question how many polyphenols are degraded due to baking proves to be difficult. From my personal point of view, I don’t believe that all the polyphenols present in the oil will be degraded by baking shortly with oil, as these temperatures are relatively low and heating duration is short. Therefore, even though some of the polyphenols are lost, there are still more polyphenols remaining than when cooking with refined oil in which hardly any polyphenols are present. With this respect, extra virgin olive oil would still be a healthier choice to bake with. A study that investigated the effect of heating on antioxidants and polyphenols in virgin olive oil confirms this hypothesis[6]. This study showed that the antioxidants present in the oil have a protective effect on polyphenols. In other words, heating degrades antioxidants while most of the polyphenols are spared and still intact.

However, it is true that heating extra virgin olive oil changes the taste of the extra virgin olive oil. You have to decide for yourself whether you think this is a problem or not. Extra virgin oils have a more distinctive taste than refined oils. This characteristic taste will change. I myself do not have a sophisticated taste. I therefore do not mind if the distinctive taste of extra virgin oil is changed during the baking. I do not taste much difference between baking with refined oil or extra virgin olive oil. I care more about the health properties. Think of it like this: If you are baking with refined oil, the taste is of less quality than extra virgin olive oil. When baking with extra virgin olive oil, the taste does not get worse than refined oil, so you might as well choose to bake with extra virgin oil since it’s healthier.

Concluding: not baking with extra virgin oils? Myth!     
Let’s summarize what we have found:

  1. Baking with extra virgin oil does not produce trans fats.
  2. When baking with extra virgin oil some antioxidants (polyphenols) are lost, but most of the polyphenols will still be present in the oil.
  3. The taste of extra virgin oil may be affected by heating. You should decide for yourself whether you find this important.

Thus, when approaching this health-wise, the myth that you should not use extra virgin olive oil for baking is not true.

Disclaimer: In this article I only talk about baking and not about deep-frying. When you are deep-frying, olive oil is not a good choice as a lot of trans fats will be formed. In this case more stable oils such as sunflower oil are healthier alternatives.

[1] Mozaffarian, D., Aro, A., & Willett, W. C. (2009). Health effects of trans-fatty acids: experimental and observational evidence. European journal of clinical nutrition, 63, S5-S21.
[2] Przybylski, R., & Aladedunye, F. A. (2012). Formation of Trans fats: during food preparation. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, 73(2), 98-101.
[3] Schwab, U. (2014). 1, Lauritzen L 2, Tholstrup T 2, Haldorssoni T 3, Riserus U 4, Uusitupa M 5, Becker W 6. Effect of the amount and type of dietary fat on cardiometabolic risk factors and risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer: a systematic review. Food Nutr Res.
[4] Morrison, M. C., Mulder, P., Stavro, P. M., Suárez, M., Arola-Arnal, A., Van Duyvenvoorde, W., … & Kleemann, R. (2015). Replacement of dietary saturated fat by PUFA-rich pumpkin seed oil attenuates non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and atherosclerosis development, with additional health effects of virgin over refined oil. PloS one, 10(9), e0139196.
[5] Khurana S, Venkataraman K, Hollingsworth A, Piche M, Tai TC. Polyphenols: benefits to the cardiovascular system in health and in aging. Nutrients. 2013; 5(10):3779–827. doi: 10.3390/nu5103779 PMID: 24077237
[6] Pellegrini, N., Visioli, F., Buratti, S., & Brighenti, F. (2001). Direct analysis of total antioxidant activity of olive oil and studies on the influence of heating. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 49(5), 2532-2538.

Cutting: the basics

By Fleur van Griensven

What is cutting?

When people talk about cutting, they mean losing bodyfat while minimizing the loss of muscle mass. Most people cut with a specific goal in mind. Whether that goal is to get in better shape, getting beach ready or for a photoshoot or competition. The one thing to keep in mind is that you should never feel the pressure to cut down for someone else. Always do it for yourself, otherwise it’s going to be hard keeping the motivation and getting the most out of a cutting period when things get tough. At the end of the day it is your body

Cutting the basicscutting_1

In this article the basics of cutting will be explained. Later, more articles will follow about different methods that can be used when cutting to extreme low fat percentages and whether they are beneficially and it’s up to you to decide whether you want to cut or not.

One aspect is crucial during a cut: being in a caloric deficit. This comes down to the energy balance.The body strives for homeostasis and prefers to keep body weight more or less the same over a period of time. Homeostasis is a state in which the body’s internal environment is as constant as possible even though external factors may fluctuate. The body tries to resist disturbances in the homeostase, which are being done on purpose during a cut. Being in energy balance means that the calories consumed are the same as the calories burned (kcals in vs. kcal out). Stated differently: a state in which you don’t gain nor lose weight (=maintenance calories). The body has several mechanisms to do this, but in the light of this article it is not necessary to know them. With regard to caloric intake: the body doesn’t act on a day to day basis, but more on a weekly basis. That doesn’t mean meal timing is irrelevant, but it is not as important as the energy balance when it comes to cutting. In conclusion, the key for cutting is to get into a caloric deficit and make the body tap into its reserves. Body fat is used to compensate for the caloric deficit.

How to calculate maintenance calories?

The easiest way to calculate maintenance calories, if you don’t know them already, is making use of a specific formula. For example, there is the Harris-Benedict equation, as shown below in table 1. This formula will give the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): the minimal number of calories the body needs when resting. Even when doing absolutely nothing the body needs energy to keep the heart pumping, breathe and for other organ functioning. When the BMR is calculated, an activity factor is taken into account. The activity factor is a measure for how active you are during the day. Doing a lot of sports or heavy work ends up in higher maintenance calories. See table 2 for the activity factors. Realize that it’s hard to predict which activity factor suits your lifestyle best, because it comes down to many more factors in the end. Choose the one which best describes your current activity level.

Keep in mind that these formulas are just estimates of calories needed to maintain a person’s body weight. The Harris-benedict formula accurately predicts BMR with a +/- 14% precision, but is unreliable in malnourished individuals[1]. This probably isn’t the case for any of you. The calculated maintenance calories are a good starting point, but in most cases, need some tweaks here and there. Eat the amount of calories calculated for a period of 2 weeks and check if your body weight changes by using a scale. When body weight stays the same, you know your individual maintenance calories.

Table 1: The revisit Harris–Benedict equation[2].

Men     BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) – (5.677 x age in years)
Women BMR 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) – (4.330 x age in years)

Table 2: The activity factors to calculate maintenance calories[3].

Little to no  regular exercise Daily kilocalories needed=
BMR x 1.2
Light exercise ( Exercise for at least 20 minutes, 1 to 3 days per week. For example: swimming, bicycling, jogging, skating etc.) Daily kilocalories needed =
BMR x 1.375
Moderate exercise (Exercise for at least 30 tot 60 minutes 3–5 days per week. The same activities as listed above) Daily kilocalories needed =
BMR x 1.55
Heavy exercise (Exercise for 60 minutes or more 6–7 days per week. The same activities as listed above. Also heavy work qualify like brick laying, farming etc.) Daily kilocalories needed =
BMR x 1.725
Very heavy exercise (Exercise twice per day, extra heavy workouts for example athletes. Also a very heavy job qualifies for this category) Daily kilocalories needed =
BMR x 1.9

Creating a deficit

There are two ways (or actually three ways) to get into a deficit. The starting point is always the calculated and/or already known maintenance calories.

1) Nutrition alone. This is a good way to get a cut going and lose body fat without putting all the cards on the table. After a while people might hit a plateau when no more  body fat is being lost, so it might be a good idea to wait with adding cardio until you hit a plateau.

2) Activity alone. This comes down to increasing the energy expenditure. Two examples are incorporating cardio sessions and getting more active during the day. However, from a time-consuming point of view it might be better to look at creating a deficit with nutrition at first.

3) Combination of nutrition and activity. When you are at a weight loss plateau or when you are not willing to drop further in your caloric intake a combination of both can be used.

How much should the deficit be?

Taking the time for a cut is important, because it gives the best chance to maintain muscle mass while dieting. For this reason, don’t try to lose more than 0.5 kg per week[4]. Which comes down to a daily 300-500 caloric deficit (maintenance calories minus 300/500). Why this number of calories? A weekly 3500 deficit equals 1 pound (=0.45 kg) of weight loss. So this will result in a weekly 0.3-0.5 kilogram body weight loss.

How long should you cut?

This is something people should decide for their own. Why? Because a cut can take as long or as short as it needs to be. Everyone has a different starting point and end goal. The guy who is already in decent shape and only wants to lose 2 kilograms, might need 4-5 weeks. The girl who is dieting down for a competition and needs to get shredded to the bone to step on stage, might need 16-20 weeks. Choosing how fast you want to reach your goals is up to yourself, but it might come with a trade-off: muscle loss, extreme hunger and feeling tired.

Most important is to have a clear end goal in mind and be accountable for the choices you make on a daily basis. Are you doing everything in your power to succeed? Set up a plan and follow it all the way through. When it comes to fat loss, accept the fact that losing body fat from specific areas doesn’t exist. Focus on maintaining a caloric deficit and in time even stubborn areas will get leaner.

One last take home message: be patient. If it took several months/years to gain weight, don’t expect to lose it overnight.


[1] Roza, A. (1984). The Harris Benedict equation reevaluated: resting energy requirements and the body cell mass. Am J Clin Nutr, 40(1), 168-82. Retrieved from
[2] Calorie intake calculator (2016). Retrieved from
[3] Harris Benedict equation: determination of the basal metabolic rate (2016). Retrieved from
[4] Nick Cheadle Fitness (2014, January 27). Create your own fat loss diet- like a boss. Retrieved from

Vitamin D

By Wietse In het Panhuis

A comvitamined_1mon scenario: summer has ended, autumn has come and it is not long before winter will start. The summer vibe is gone, motivation is down, energy levels are low and most of time is preferably spent in bed. There are multiple factors that could be causing this fatigue. It is often thought that vitamin D is the main contributing factor to this fatigue. However, there is still debate whether a shortage of vitamin D really causes fatigue. Nonetheless, a shortage can have some serious adverse health effects.

Vitamin D, also known as calciferol (and many other synonyms), has a remarkable feature compared to the other vitamins: it can be made (read: synthesized) by the body with the help of sunlight. However, with our current lifestyle of 9 to 5 desk jobs and modern technology we spend less time outside. Especially during the winter, when days are shorter and sunlight exposure is limited, we are prone to having a shortage of vitamin D. Read the rest of this entry