A Dietary Roadmap
The protein revolution has finally taken hold. Nowadays, we have protein shakes, protein bars, books on the benefits of protein, and protein meals served up in specialty restaurants. The Atkins diet, or customized versions of that diet, is gaining popularity as people discover that high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are the only way to lose weight efficiently. And speaking of losing weight, we can now admit that fat is not nearly as troublesome as frenzied doctors and pseudo-medical alarmists once wanted us to believe.
Since the 1980's, the low-fat diet hysteria has produced an amazing backpedaling in terms of the quality of nutrition Americans are taking in, and the amount of weight they are taking on. It's no secret that we live in the fattest society on earth, and can lay claim to being the champion breeding grounds for Type II adult diabetes. The cause of these afflictions is fairly obvious: the rich American diet based in sugars.
Much of the mainstream medical establishment, along with the doomsayer media, endorsed this low-fat uprising some two decades ago. "Fat kills" we were all told. "Throw out your meat and your eggs and bacon" was the common tip to better health. Actually, this whole diet/low-fat revolution was about saying, "Hey look, there's no fat (or very low fat) in this here food...and therefore it‘s healthy for you". However, the fare is packed with calories from carbohydrates to make up for the loss of taste provided by fats. And these carbs take the form of mostly pure sugars. Take a look at the carb contents of a SlimFast drink or a Healthy Choice frozen dinner, for just a couple of examples.
As biochemist Barry Sears states in his book The Zone, carbohydrates tend toward being addictive, and of course, lead to obesity. This is because carbohydrates trigger a biological mechanism that causes the blood sugar level to drop, and this leads people to need a sugar boost and therefore to crave more carbohydrates. The end result is a perpetual eating cycle, something that many of us would recognize in our family, friends, and co-workers. These carbs turn into sugars that trigger the release of insulin. The insulin routes the sugars to our muscles for energy and stores the rest as fat. The average sedentary person does little to burn off the sugar stores, and hence, accumulates fat. The diet that Sears recommends limits carbohydrate intake to 40 percent, and calls for balancing the rest of one's diet with proteins and healthy fats.
Of course, we've heard the all-too-common taboos on fat from the State mouthpieces and the health practice alarmists. And the vegetarians/grainatarian crowd would have us believe that protein is a source of evil in the body. They'd have you believe that too much protein causes kidney disease, kidney stones, cancer, and osteoporosis. The truth is, it is nearly impossible for the average person to get too much protein; enough that it could cause severe health impairments, unless one needs to be on a protein-restricted diet because of identified medical conditions such as renal and metabolic disorders. The anti-protein crowd is simply pandering to their own political prejudices. In the main, they are just anti-meat.
Where sugary carbs cause mood swings and tend toward causing one to crash and burn on the sugar ups-and-downs, splendid protein helps to maintain concentration and clarity of thought. Chicken, fish, meats, eggs, nuts, and dairy products are some of the heroic foods that fit the bill.
Traditionally, protein is also the food of performance. It's interesting to note how bodybuilders rely on protein. They not only protein-load throughout their training, but they tend toward not eating a lot of carbs during their contest dieting phase because it really helps them to get rid of the excess body fat, allowing their muscles to look clean and cut for a contest. Protein feeds those muscles, and cutting back on the carbs allows for the muscle definition to not be snowed under by thick fat.
Of course, low-carb does not mean no-carb. Sure, carbs are required for hard training, they provide energy for activity, and they aid in recovery. But once the body absorbs what it needs, the excess will be quickly deposited as fat. Therefore, they are best used in moderation, and they are most efficient in the form of unprocessed complex carbs: potatoes, whole grain breads, oatmeal and brown rice.
The routine of many bodybuilders and other low-carb athletes, and one that I do myself, is finding a suitable carb rotation program, rotating lower-carb and even sometimes no-carb days along with days of normal carb intake. Carb rotation gives you the best of both worlds: decreased fat with no loss of muscle. The cycling of carbs also shocks the body fat into being used. I stress that so many Americans eat carbs beyond what are suitable levels for even the most active person, and this combined with inactivity is a body destroyer.
If you are eating a vegetarian diet that consists primarily of grains, fruits, and vegetables, you are probably eating an unbalanced diet. If you are active, it becomes even more difficult. Although vegetarian athletes can consume adequate protein from their diet, they have to be willing to eat large amounts of plant proteins, and this becomes unrealistic in the long run. That's why veggie athletes are an uncommon lot. The fruit & nut & grain crowd harp on the evils of protein, and peddle their diets as the natural way, ignoring that we are natural carnivores and not omnivores or herbivores, as they would have us believe.
Here are some golden tenets of protein and carb use:
- Indulge in protein before bed (in the form of a protein shake, mixed with water, so as to minimize the fat from milk, or the carbs from orange juice.)
- Glucose and glucose polymers fed before and during exercise, significantly delay the onset of fatigue and increase performance. Therefore, high intakes of carbs should be eaten strategically in coordination with activity.
- Breakfast is the other golden time to ingest carbs, because blood sugar and muscle glycogen levels are low from your overnight fast
- Fruit is problematic for dieting for one reason: it contains fructose, a simple sugar, which is converted into glycogen in the liver. There, it can be readily used as a building block for fat synthesis. Stick to complex carbohydrates.
- You stand a much better chance of losing weight eating an omelet and bacon for breakfast as vs. eating a SlimFast shake with 50+ grams of carbs. Understand this!
- Cycle in the carbs. Don't mix high amounts of carbs in meals with lots of fats; put off the carbs for another day.
- Moderation, as always, is the key to eating well.
Before I get a dozen letters from the anti-meat types demanding qualifications, I'm a competitive athlete, and did mild bodybuilding some years back (I mean mild compared to today's female-freak bodybuilders), still push myself hard, and have studied nutrition and health maintenance recreationally for over 20 years. My kitchen reeks of protein bars, drink mixes, and other strategic supplements. Carbs are part of my game plan, surely, but only because I am a long-time bicycle racer, runner, X-country skier, skater, snowshoer, gym rat, hiker, tennis/racquetball player, etc., and I need the occasional carbo-loading. However, my carb eating is handled strategically.
All said, it does not take a medical degree or other professional accreditation to educate oneself on diet and nutrition, or physical maintenance of the wondrous bodies that we are blessed with. It takes a passion for learning, and a dedication to seeing the truth through all the hype, fads, and scare tactics that might otherwise sway us.
So low-carb your way to fitness and a lean body. Make protein your staple. And focus on real food and avoid all the hype.
November 29, 2001
Karen De Coster, CPA, [send her mail] is a freelance writer and graduate student in economics, and works as a business consultant in the Midwest.
Copyright © 2001 Karen De Coster