Carb cycling: the secret to get shredded?

By Fleur van Griensven

Carbs_1

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!

References:
[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  https://www.nickcheadlefitness.com/carb-cycling-for-fat-loss/ on April 26th 2017

Recipe: Healthy scones (6-8 scones)

These scones are not only healthy but also very delicious!

 

Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil (olive, sunflower, coconut, etc)

250 g spelt flour

3 el honey (not necessary, I used only 1 el)

1 egg

75 mL almond milk

welled raisins (handful)

cinnamon (optional)

Banana (optional)

2,5 tsp Baking powder

pinch of salt

 

Recipe:

Preheat the oven at 200 degrees Celcius.

Well the raisins in semi-hot water.

If you want to use a banana in this recipe I would advice to cut it in real small pieces and toss it in together with the raisins.

Mix the almond milk together with the egg. In another bowl mix the spelt flour together with the baking powder and the salt. Add the raisins (banana/cinnamon) to the bowl with the dry ingredients. Then add the honey and the oil to the dry ingredients. At last mix the egg and almond milk mixture with the dry ingredients and make sure it becomes a smooth dough. Divide this dough in 6-8 pieces and put them on your baking tray. Give them a little eggwash and put them in the oven for 10-15 minutes!

 

These scones are really good with clotted cream and jam or lemon curd, but if you want to make them really healthy try them with skinny ‘ kwark’  and strawberries/banana on top!

 

Whole dish (6 scones) Per scone
Kcal 1545 258
Protein 43g 7g
Carbs 265g 44g
Fat 29g 5g

 

Beta-alanine for strength training: yay or nay?

By Wietse In het Panhuis

If you have been training for some time, you have probably heard about it before. If you ever used pre-workout, you probably felt its effects before. I am talking about beta-alanine. Beta-alanine has been shown to be effective for some sports. The question is: Can beta-alanine supplementation be beneficial for strength training?Beta_alanine_1

What is beta-alanine?
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, which means that it is naturally present in the body. Even though it is already present in the body, supplementation with the intention to increase its levels could be beneficial (just like creatine). Beta-alanine is often used in sports that involve high intensity exercises, such as rowing and short-distance ice-skating. It is believed to combat muscle fatigue, and thereby has a positive effect on muscle endurance. Science has shown that beta-alanine is especially interesting for endurance during high intensity sports, and not for endurance (e.g. long distance running) and explosive (e.g. shot-put) sports[1].

How does beta-alanine improve endurance?    
Endurance is improved when fatigue is inhibited. There are many processes during exercise that could lead to fatigue. One of those processes is acidification of the muscles due to buildup of H+-ions (hydrogen ions) and lactate. Of course, the body has many mechanisms to prevent and counteract acidification, to make the pH (a measure of acidity) neutral again. Such mechanisms are called buffer mechanisms. In one of those mechanisms, a protein called carnosine plays a role[1]. During the production of ATP (energy production from food), H+-ions are formed. During exercise, a lot of energy is produced, and therefore also a lot of H+-ions. This will lead to a drop in pH (and will thus be more acidified). Carnosine works as a buffer by reacting with H+-ions. In that way, acidification and thereby fatigue of the muscles will be inhibited, which results in increased endurance.

Now beta-alanine comes in the picture. Beta-alanine supplementation results in increased carnosine levels[2]. Greater carnosine levels have been shown to increase endurance during high intensity exercise with a short duration, such as rowing and sprinting, like mentioned before. This raises the question: why not just supplement carnosine? This will not be effective, since muscle cells cannot take up carnosine from the blood stream[3]. The only way to increase carnosine inside the muscle cells, is if carnosine is produced (synthesized) in the cells themselves. Carnosine can be synthesized from beta-alanine and L-histidine (an amino acid), which in turn cannot be produced by muscle cells, but they can be taken up from the blood by muscle cells[4]. There is more L-histidine than beta-alanine in the blood, and the enzyme that combines these two to form carnosine, binds more easily to L-histidine than to beta-alanine[5-7]. For these two reasons, enough L-histidine is present while beta-alanine is often in shortage when carnosine is being produced (in other words: beta-alanine is the limiting factor). This means, that only beta-alanine is necessary to increase carnosine levels.

Thus, beta-alanine supplementation increases carnosine levels in the muscles. In turn, carnosine  works as a buffer to stabilize the pH and thereby endurance is increased. This is illustrated in Figure 1.

Beta_alanine_2

Figure 1. Beta-alanine’s mode of action. Retrieved from bodybuilding.com

How much beta-alanine do you need to use to see results?       
Increasing carnosine levels in the muscle cannot by achieved by taking beta-alanine once. According to scientific studies, supplementing 6,4 grams for 4 weeks is the most effective strategy to increase the carnosine levels in the muscle (by 65%)[8]. When supplementing for longer than 4 weeks, this will be equally effective and thus gives the same results. It just implies that supplementing beta-alanine for a short time period (less than 4 weeks) is not very effective.

The supplement is safe, but you may get a tingling, itching feeling on your skin (paresthesia) when you take more than 10 mg/kg body weight at once (around 800 mg). To prevent this, you can take eight daily dosages of 800 mg. Alternatively, four doses of 1600 mg of slow-release capsules also works to get the same effect without experiencing paresthesia[8]. Beta-alanine is commercially available in powder or slow release capsules. Powder costs about €16,- per 500 grams or ~€5,-/month. Slow-release capsules are about €15,- for 90 capsules or ~€20,-/month, making slow-release capsules four times as expensive as powder.

Fun fact: Beta-alanine is often present in pre-workout, but since intramuscular carnosine levels cannot be increased by taking beta-alanine once (like you do with pre-workout), this beta alanine has no added benefit to the pre-workout. Since beta-alanine dosages are often above 800 mg in pre-workout, this often results in paresthesia. Concluding: beta-alanine in pre-workout is useless and only gives you itches.

Can beta-alanine improve workouts for strength training?         
Unfortunately, in order to draw clear conclusions on this topic, more scientific research should be done. There are however a few studies that investigated this. One study looked at the effect of beta-alanine during a 10 week training program[9]. This study showed that total working volume increases due to beta-alanine. This effect only occurs during high-repetition sessions (8-12 repetitions) with little rest (30-90 seconds) and not in low-repetition sessions (±5 repetitions) with long rest (2-5 minutes)[9,11]. This makes sense, as during bodybuilding, muscles will get acidified which quickly can result in fatigue. Since beta-alanine improves the buffer capacity of the muscle by increasing carnosine levels, more repetitions can be done before reaching failure. In general, a greater training volume results in increased muscle mass. However, so far it has not yet been proven that the usage of beta-alanine supplements improves the gaining of muscle mass[10-12]. This might be due to the fact that in the performed studies training schedules varied and also included sets with fewer repetitions.

Thus, beta-alanine mainly seems to work for high intensity exercise during which glycolysis plays a major role (exercise durations of 1-6 minutes), since beta-alanine supplementation increases the muscle’s acid buffer capacity. Beta-alanine does not increase strength (like creatine does). Therefore, beta-alanine might be useful for bodybuilders (or for sports like bootcamp), but not for powerlifters or any sport that requires short bursts of energy (such as shot-put). More studies that test long term beta-alanine supplementation during a bodybuilding training schedule should be conducted to get clear answers on how much bodybuilders could benefit from beta-alanine.

Beta-alanine: yay or nay? Yay AND nay!      

Beta_alanine_3  

It is both yay and nay, because there is not a clear answer.

Yay:

  • Beta-alanine might improve endurance in bodybuilders, bootcampers and other high-intensity sports.

Nay:

  • Beta-alanine supplementation does not increase strength.
  • Evidence for increases in muscle mass is lacking (even though it is likely).
  • In addition, supplementation can be either expensive or really inconvenient. Since beta-alanine can have paresthesia as a side effect at high dosages, supplementing about 6.4 grams per day without experiencing paresthesia can be done in three ways[8]:
  1. The cheapest option is to supplement 8 servings of 800 milligrams distributed over the day.
  2. If you do not like regular supplementation, you might consider two daily servings of slow-release capsules (which is however four times as expensive).
  3. Finally, you might just take 5 grams of powder in one or two servings per day, with the disadvantage of itches which may last up to one hour.

In summary, beta-alanine probably has some beneficial effects for bodybuilders by increasing volume and thereby possibly muscle mass. However, more scientific studies should be done to be sure. Please take into account that effects of single supplements are generally relatively small: The greatest improvements come from a good training schedule and good nutrition. Thus, as long as you are on amateur level of training, supplements in general will not make great differences. For professional athletes it can be more useful, since small differences could make the difference between winning or losing a competition. If you are not a pro, but if you want to improve in sports as much as you can, of course that’s fine. If you think it is worthwhile to either regularly supplement, pay a lot of money or experience itches, beta-alanine might be a good contribution to your workout.

References
[1] Artioli, G. G., Gualano, B., Smith, A., Stout, J., & Lancha Jr, A. H. (2010). Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 42(6), 1162-1173.
[2] Suzuki, Y., Ito, O., Mukai, N., Takahashi, H., & Takamatsu, K. (2002). High level of skeletal muscle carnosine contributes to the latter half of exercise performance during 30-s maximal cycle ergometer sprinting. The Japanese journal of physiology, 52(2), 199-205.
[3] BAUER, K., & SCHULZ, M. (1994). Biosynthesis of carnosine and related peptides by skeletal muscle cells in primary culture. European journal of biochemistry, 219(1‐2), 43-47.
[4] Matthews, M. M., & Traut, T. W. (1987). Regulation of N-carbamoyl-beta-alanine amidohydrolase, the terminal enzyme in pyrimidine catabolism, by ligand-induced change in polymerization. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 262(15), 7232-7237.
[5] Harris, R. C., Tallon, M. J., Dunnett, M., Boobis, L., Coakley, J., Kim, H. J., … & Wise, J. A. (2006). The absorption of orally supplied β-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino acids, 30(3), 279-289.
[6] Horinishi, H., Grillo, M., & Margolis, F. L. (1978). Purification and characterization of carnosine synthetase from mouse olfactory bulbs. Journal of neurochemistry, 31(4), 909-919.
[7] Ng, R. H., & Marshall, F. D. (1978). REGIONAL AND SUBCELLULAR DISTRIBUTION OF HOMOCARNOSINE–CARNOSINE SYNTHETASE IN THE CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM OF RATS. Journal of neurochemistry, 30(1), 187-190.
[8] Harris, R. C., Tallon, M. J., Dunnett, M., Boobis, L., Coakley, J., Kim, H. J., … & Wise, J. A. (2006). The absorption of orally supplied β-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino acids, 30(3), 279-289.
[9] Hoffman, J., Ratamess, N., Kang, J., Mangine, G., Faigenbaum, A., & Stout, J. (2006). Effect of creatine and ß-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 16(4), 430-446.
[10] Hoffman J, Ratamess NA, Ross R, Kang J, Magrelli J, Neese K, Faigenbaum AD, and Wise JA. Beta-alanine and the hormonal response to exercise. Int J Sports Med 29: 952–958, 2008.
[11] Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Faigenbaum AD, Ross R, Kang J, Stout JR, and Wise JA. Short-duration beta-alanine supplementation increases training volume and reduces subjective feelings of fatigue in college football players. Nutr Res 28: 31–35, 2008.
[12] Kendrick, I. P., Harris, R. C., Kim, H. J., Kim, C. K., Dang, V. H., Lam, T. Q., … & Wise, J. A. (2008). The effects of 10 weeks of resistance training combined with β-alanine supplementation on whole body strength, force production, muscular endurance and body composition. Amino acids, 34(4), 547-554.

    

Recipe: Chicken Romana with pesto-cream sauce (4 persons)

Pasta with Pesto-cream sauce and chicken romana (4 persons)

 

This sauce is based on a fresh made pesto. You can also just take 2 tbsp of store-bought pesto.

Just boil the pasta (+/- 400g) for this recipe as mentioned on the package.

Pesto:

1 whole Basilplant (just the leaves)

Olive oil extra vergine (quantity depends on the structure of the mixture, we want a nice and creamy texture)

Pine nuts (half a package (40g))

Parmesan cheese (half a package (45g))

2 cloves of garlic

pinch of salt

 

To make this delicious pesto just put all the ingredients except the parmesan cheese together and blend it. When it has a nice texture, drop in the cheese and mix it a bit more. And your pesto is all done!

 

Pesto-cream sauce:

50 g butter

2 tbsp fresh pesto

40 g flour

splash of lemon juice

1 bouillon cube with 500 ml water

splash of cooking cream

 

Melt the butter and add the flour at once. Keep stirring until it has a doughy texture. Fry this for 3 minutes and then add the chicken bouillon. Let this boil and add the cream, lemon juice, pepper and salt. When you have a nice texture, add the pesto and take the pan of the heat. Ready to serve!

 

Chicken Romana:

4 eggs

2 chicken breasts

chopped parsley

100 g parmesan cheese

flour

olive oil to fry

pinch of pepper and salt

splash of cooking cream

 

To make a batter for the chicken we have to mix the eggs, parsley, parmesan, pepper and salt, and a bit of cooking cream.

Cut the chicken breasts into 4 thin chicken breasts. Put some flour on them and put them in the egg mixture.  Put the pan on high heat and fry up the chicken with the batter until golden-brown.

 

This dish goes nice with some grilled eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper and mushrooms.

 

Whole dish (without vegetables) Per person
Kcal 3920 980
Protein 192g 48g
Carbs 388g 97g
Fat 160g 40g

 

Recipe: Antillian Chicken Stew (4 persons)

Antillian Chicken Stew (4 persons)

I’m a big fans of stews in general. I usually make my stews using the exact scientific method of throwing random ingredients and spices together in the biggest pot I have and try not to be too surprised when it comes out good. But for the sake of thoroughness I decided to share the recipe for chicken stew given to me by the ghost of my great-grandmother.

 

Ingredient List:

4 whole chicken legs (kippenbouten in Dutch)

3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

1 onion (diced)

1 tomato (diced)

1 bell pepper/paprika (diced)

2 cloves of garlic (diced)

1 block of chicken broth powder (bouillon in Dutch)

1.5 teaspoon of yellow mustard

1 teaspoon of yellow curry powder

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

1 tablespoon soy sauce (I use ketjap manis)

1 cup of water

 

Method:

  1. Strip the skin off the chicken.
  2. Put the chicken in a large pot and add all the ingredient except for the tomato paste over a medium heat. Keep stirring for the first 5-10 minutes as you want all the ingredients to mix well. Let it cook for another 10 minutes before adding the tomato paste.
  3. Add the tomato paste and let the sauce reduce to a desired consistency. I prefer it thick.

I personally like it with rice but you can also eat it with potatoes or bread. If you like having some starch in your stew feel free to add potatoes.

 

Whole dish (without potatoes/bread) Per person
Kcal 1460 365
Protein 80g 20g
Carbs 44g 11g
Fat 110g 27g

Recipe: Brownies by Paula

Brownies by Paula

The winning recipe of ‘Baking of the Beasts 2016-2017’

The FoodCie asked me to share my not-so-secret-anymore brownie recipe with you guys, and of course, I gladly do so.

I hope you will enjoy it!

 

After a lot of trying and some optimization I have found this to be the best-ever recipe for (quite a lot of) brownies:

 

  • Melt 300g of butter and 400g of dark chocolate in a bowl on top of a pan with hot/boiling water (au-bain-marie).
  • While this is melting, mix 450g of sugar and 5 eggs (so technically quite some protein right?) for about 5 minutes until it is a nice and airy mixture.
  • Then, mix the molten chocolate/butter gently with the egg-mixture.
  • Add 200g of flour and a few teaspoons of coarse sea salt and mix in.
  • Add 100g of coarsely chopped white chocolate, mix, and pour the tasty mixture into a greased baking tin.
  • Bake at 200 degrees C until the top of the brownie begins to crack (this can take various amounts of time. Also, the more solid you like them, the longer you should bake them).
  • Let cool, or don’t, and enjoy!

 

Whole tray of brownies
Kcal 7948
Protein 91g
Carbs 840g
Fat 460g

 

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?

superfoods_1

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.)

superfoods_2

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!

superfoods_3

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.

References
[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. http://nevo-online.rivm.nl

Recipe: Cornbread

Cornbread

Tired of having rice or potato as a side dish? Add this easy-to-make cornbread recipe to your weekly rotation. Serve it as a side-dish or just as an in-between snack. Cut it up in pieces and you have a travel-friendly meal on the go. It’s mild and slightly sweet flavour makes it a great compliment to spicy food. The consistency of cornbread is usually that of a dry cake, but you can add or reduce the milk and butter to create a texture according to personal preference.

 

Ingredients:
1.5 cup yellow cornmeal (I use the brand “P.A.N.”, which can be found in most toko’s)
0.5 cup flour
0.25 cup granulated sugar
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine salt
1.5 cup buttermilk (karnemelk in Dutch)
2 eggs
100 grams unsalted butter, melted


Methods

  1. Preheat oven to 200 oC.

  2. Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat the eggs together with the buttermilk separately and add this mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix gently until for about 10 seconds (you don’t want to overmix!).
  3. Add the mixture into a tin form and bake for about 30 minutes. The top should be a light-brown color and sides are no longer making contact with the form. Insert a toothpick or knife into the center to check if it is done.

 

Whole dish
Kcal 1770
Protein 44g
Carbs 166g
Fat 106g

 

Banana-mascarpone pie (6-8 persons)

 

Crust:

175 g biscuits

50 g butter

1 tbs golden syrup

 

Filling:

250 g mascarpone

1.5 dl heavy cream

50 g sugar

3 tbs lemon juice

2 big semi-green bananas (slice in very thin slices)

25 g pure chocolate

25 g white chocolate

 

You also need a tin with a diameter of 20 cm.

 

To make the crust:

Crumble the biscuits and melt the butter. Mix the melted butter with the golden syrup and mix this into the biscuit crumbles. Put this in the tin and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

 

To make the filling:

Mix the heavy cream with the mascarpone and sugar. Add the lemon juice and the banana slices. Scoop this mixture on top of the crust and make the top nice and even.  Put some chocolate curls or pieces on top and put it back in the fridge for 1 hour.

 

Whole dish (8 slices) Per slice
Kcal 3030 379
Protein 29g 4g
Carbs 233g 29g
Fat 220g 28g

Creatine, a beneficial peptide

by Ricky Siebeler

Creatine is a peptide composed of several amino acids. Specifically, the compound contains L-arginine, glycine and methionine. Currently it is one of the most used supplements by strength athletes, as it accelerates the recovery of available energy in the cells. Whether you are currently supplementing with creatine or not, your body already uses this compound on a day to day basis. These days there is even some evidence suggesting that creatine has potential benefits for non-athletes. Everything mentioned above explains why it is one of the most studied supplements available. This article will offer some in-depth information about the supplementation of creatine monohydrate, with some additional myth busting.

How does it work?

Without going too in-depth about the body’s energy systems; the body breaks down nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats and ketones to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is used by the cells as a source of energy. By breaking the bond between one of the phosphates, energy is released. This will convert ATP into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and AMP (adenosine monophosphate). In order to keep a constant supply of energy in the cells, the precursors (ADP & AMP) need to be converted back into ATP.

creatine_1

The body does so by creating a high energy body between the precursors and phosphate groups. Creatine supplementation aids in the acceleration of this process, but before it is able to do so, it is phosphorylated into phosphocreatine by creatine kinase [1-3]. Phosphocreatine aids in this process by increasing the pool of available phosphate groups [4].

creatine_2

Effects of supplementation

As mentioned before, creatine is one of the most studied supplements available. This results in countless studies, aimed towards different effects. This section will only feature studies of importance to strength athletes.

Creatine supplementation has been proven to increase muscle creatine content by a significant amount, proving the effectiveness of supplementation [5-6]. There is also some evidence suggesting that creatine non-responders do exist, who will not benefit from supplementation [7]. There are currently over 60 studies showing a very significant increase in strength levels, after supplementation with creatine. Meta-analyses show effects ranges upwards to about a 7,5% increase in strength [8-9]. As result from creatine supplementation, some water retention may occur, of which the amount differs greatly from person to person. Contradictory to what most people suggest, creatine could be beneficial for more moderate intensity (such as lifting or exercising in the higher rep ranges) athletes as well [10-11]. So far, some of the studies suggest that creatine may also be significantly beneficial when training outside common strength training repetition ranges, these effects seem to get smaller with each additional decrease in intensity. Example: powerlifters get the most benefits, sprinters some benefits, and endurance runners no benefits.

How to supplement with creatine

In order to benefit the most from creatine supplementation, the muscles need to be fully saturated with creatine. In order to achieve/maintain this saturation, creatine is often supplemented each and every day.  Creatine can be supplemented through a loading protocol, or without one. The reason for using a loading protocol could be to reach a saturated state early on, and benefit from the supplementation as fast as possible [12]. Some downsides of using a loading protocol would be the possible discomfort in the digestive tract, and the additional costs of using a higher dosage. A typical loading protocol would be to supplement with about 0,3g/per kilogram of bodyweight per day, for about one week [13], followed by a maintenance dose of about 0,03g/per kilogram of bodyweight per day for the remainder of the cycle, or indefinitely [12]. When not using the loading protocol, just start with the maintenance dose which will yield the same effect, after a couple of weeks. Maintenance dose calculations will probably result in a much lower dosage than the generally recommended 5g dose. The 5g dosage is usually taken for one of the following reasons: creatine is very cheap, there is some research suggesting a possible minor benefit to higher dosage supplementation, scoop size, and to make the supplement companies more money.

Additional supplementation tip: Digestive tract discomfort may occur when supplementing without sufficient water intake. Some people may even experience diarrhea or nausea. These effects are more present when using a loading protocol. To counteract some of these effects, drink enough water and perhaps spread out the supplementation over several meals.

Creatine myths

  1. Since creatine is produced by the body, supplementation will suppress the body’s ability to produce its own creatine.

Research does suggest that the production of creatine will be inhibited, if the amount of supplemented creatine is able to cover the vital needs. This inhibition may actually be beneficial to general health, mainly because of the costs (such as essential amino acids) associated with the synthesis of creatine by the body. So far, research suggest that creatine production will go up to baseline levels again when the supplementation is discontinued [14-16].

  1. Creatine may be damaging to the body in the long-term.

There have been several studies testing the safety of long-term supplementation with creatine. Examples of these studies would be the supplementation of 5g on older adults and athletes for about one year. These studies found no negative effects of supplementation [14-16]. This suggests there is no need to cycle creatine out of safety reasons. Some people claim that creatine could be damaging to the liver. This claim is based on the fact that creatine will increase the blood creatinine levels, which are often used as a marker of liver damage. When supplementing with creatine, this marker becomes useless.

  1. There are different forms of creatine available, which lead to better results than creatine monohydrate.

There are countless different forms of creatine on the market today, some of the most well know being: buffered creatine, creatine nitrate, creatine ethyl ester, liquid creatine, and creatine HCl. These are generally being marketed as more potent or better digestible than creatine monohydrate. Some of these forms of creatine have been studied fairly well, and show no significant benefit over creatine monohydrate [6,17-18]. Even though some forms of creatine may be better in theory, so far research suggests otherwise. These forms of creatine are often several times more expensive than creatine monohydrate. Keep in mind that most of the countless studies on the efficacy and safety of creatine were conducted on creatine monohydrate.

  1. My daily meat consumption will provide enough creatine, I don’t need to supplement with creatine for the additional benefits.

According to the previously established maintenance dosage an average 85 kg person would need about 2,5g/per day, while an average person (American) only consumes about 0,85g/per day. Some meats have been shown to contain relatively much creatine: beef 5g/kg, chicken 3,4g/kg. Keep in mind that these numbers are for the uncooked meat, cooking them would denature most of the creatine [19]. Unless you are into consuming a lot of medium rare chicken, supplementation would be needed to attain most of the benefits.

  1. I need to take my creatine after my workout, with carbohydrates.

Timing of creatine has not been proven to be of importance. In theory the body could be more susceptible to the uptake of nutrients after a workout, even though the effects would be minor. Carbohydrates may also slightly improve the uptake of creatine [20]. Both of these effects will not make a difference in the effects of creatine. However, they could aid in decreasing the digestive tract discomfort caused by a creatine loading phase, but during the maintenance phase the factors will not make any difference.

  1. alcohol will diminish the effects of creatine.

Currently there is no research on the specific interaction between alcohol and creatine supplementation. Therefore we are not able to draw any conclusions about this topic, however we are able to hypothesize what kind of interaction we can expect. The uptake and storage of creatine requires water, while alcohol has a diuretic effect. This leads us to believe that alcohol does negatively affect the creatine supplementation. The next question would be to what extent this will affect the benefits of supplementation. Well consider the following: once you consumed the required amount alcohol to dehydrate yourself, you will probably not be able to properly train anyway. When consuming alcohol with moderation (which is not that much), creatine levels should not be affected significantly.

Take home messages:

– To get the most benefits from creatine for the least amount of money, use 3-5g of creatine monohydrate per day, timing does not matter.

– Continued usage for over a whole year have been shown to be safe (at normal dosages).

– Creatine ingested from diet alone is not significant in a normal diet (no medium rare chicken).

References

[1]          Mujika I, Padilla S. Creatine supplementation as an ergogenic aid for sports performance in highly trained athletes: a critical review. Int J Sports Med. 1997;18(7):491-6.

[2]          Terjung RL, Clarkson P, Eichner ER, et al. American College of Sports Medicine roundtable. The physiological and health effects of oral creatine supplementation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000;32(3):706-17.

[3]          Guzun R, Timohhina N, Tepp K, et al. Systems bioenergetics of creatine kinase networks: physiological roles of creatine and phosphocreatine in regulation of cardiac cell function. Amino Acids. 2011;40(5):1333-48.

[4]          Adhihetty PJ, Beal MF. Creatine and its potential therapeutic value for targeting cellular energy impairment in neurodegenerative diseases. Neuromolecular Med. 2008;10(4):275-90.

[5]          Del favero S, Roschel H, Artioli G, et al. Creatine but not betaine supplementation increases muscle phosphorylcreatine content and strength performance. Amino Acids. 2012;42(6):2299-305.

[6]          Spillane M, Schoch R, Cooke M, et al. The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009;6:6.

[7]          Syrotuik DG, Bell GJ. Acute creatine monohydrate supplementation: a descriptive physiological profile of responders vs. nonresponders. J Strength Cond Res. 2004;18(3):610-7.

[8]          Branch JD. Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003;13(2):198-226.

[9]          Dempsey RL, Mazzone MF, Meurer LN. Does oral creatine supplementation improve strength? A meta-analysis. J Fam Pract. 2002;51(11):945-51.

[10]       Graef JL, Smith AE, Kendall KL, et al. The effects of four weeks of creatine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on cardiorespiratory fitness: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009;6:18.

[11]       Mcconell GK, Shinewell J, Stephens TJ, Stathis CG, Canny BJ, Snow RJ. Creatine supplementation reduces muscle inosine monophosphate during endurance exercise in humans. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005;37(12):2054-61.

[12]       Kilduff LP, Pitsiladis YP, Tasker L, et al. Effects of creatine on body composition and strength gains after 4 weeks of resistance training in previously nonresistance-trained humans. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003;13(4):504-20.

[13]       Burke DG, Chilibeck PD, Parise G, Candow DG, Mahoney D, Tarnopolsky M. Effect of creatine and weight training on muscle creatine and performance in vegetarians. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003;35(11):1946-55.

[14]       Groeneveld GJ, Beijer C, Veldink JH, Kalmijn S, Wokke JH, Van den berg LH. Few adverse effects of long-term creatine supplementation in a placebo-controlled trial. Int J Sports Med. 2005;26(4):307-13.

[15]       Shao A, Hathcock JN. Risk assessment for creatine monohydrate. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2006;45(3):242-51.

[16]       Bender A, Samtleben W, Elstner M, Klopstock T. Long-term creatine supplementation is safe in aged patients with Parkinson disease. Nutr Res. 2008;28(3):172-8.

[17]       Jagim AR, Oliver JM, Sanchez A, et al. A buffered form of creatine does not promote greater changes in muscle creatine content, body composition, or training adaptations than creatine monohydrate. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):43.

[18]       Jäger R, Harris RC, Purpura M, Francaux M. Comparison of new forms of creatine in raising plasma creatine levels. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4:17.

[19]       Mora, L., M.A. Sentandreu, and F. Toldra, Effect of cooking conditions on creatinine formation in cooked ham. J Agric Food Chem, 2008. 56(23): p. 11279-84.

[20]       Green AL, Hultman E, Macdonald IA, Sewell DA, Greenhaff PL. Carbohydrate ingestion augments skeletal muscle creatine accumulation during creatine supplementation in humans. Am J Physiol. 1996;271(5 Pt 1):E821-6.