The Essential Challenge Q&A
Thank you for your health questions submitted to our resident nutritionist Amanda Hamilton. We received so many great questions that we’ve decided to dedicate an article to our top five questions and answers below.
Q1. I train in a boot camp 3/4 times a week. I take sun warrior protein after each training session but my question is how much should I take to build muscle? Also should I have it on non-training days?
A. Protein is a great muscle recovery aid so well done on your regime. However, as a woman you really won't impact too much on bulking muscle growth. The fact is that becoming lean and defined is more about losing body fat for a woman and building lean muscle using resistance training - the 'bulking' aspect is not something our bodies do easily. So, use protein to help recovery but don't overdo it. Be careful not to lose too much body fat however as it impacts negatively on fertility and hormonal balance. If your menstrual cycle begins to change as a result of over-training or under-eating that's not healthy.
Q2. I try to eat as little processed sugar as possible in my diet, and like to find "healthier" alternatives such as honey, maple syrup and agave syrup. I use dates to sweeten my home made bars and cakes. I have recently found date syrup. I have never heard of or seen this before, despite being quite into my nutrition and follow clean eating blogs. Can you tell me a little more about it and what you think of it? Is it a better alternative of sweetener to sugar?
A. As with all responses to a sugar question, it's really all about volume. A little isn't a problem, a lot is. If someone has a blood sugar problem or is diabetic than all carbohydrates eaten should be in the form of starch - period. Saying that, date sugar isn't artificially created and therefore has some nutrient benefits. It's also really sweet so in theory you should use less, around 70% of typical amounts has been quoted. Anecdotally, I've also been told it works well in cooking but I'm no expert in the baking department. Seriously though, the REALLY important thing is volume. If you have a whole foods based, unrefined diet with occasional treats, use whichever sugar or sugar substitute you like, as long as it's just every now and then.
Q3. I consistently hear mixed reviews about carbohydrates and the best time to eat them. I like to eat mine after a workout and find that my body feels better if I eat them earlier in the day. What are your opinions on this – do you think we should slow down on carbs later in the afternoon and evening, or does it really not make any difference how your nutrients and macros are spread throughout the day?
A. It instinctively feels that nighttime carbs could cause problems, from weight gain to sluggish digestion but research doesn’t back it up. According to a 2011 study from the Obesity Journal, the experimental group, which ate most of its carbs at dinner, experienced greater weight loss and sharper reductions in abdominal circumference and body fat than the more conventional control group.
It’s not just about weight though, from personal experience, if I cut carbs in the evening, I struggle to fall asleep. The scientific explanation for this is that carbs trigger serotonin release, which makes us feel content and induce sleep. So, back loading carbs by saving your starchy carbohydrates for dinner and eating lighter during the day is a pretty good approach.
Saying that, it sounds like you train in the morning in which case recovery - and post-workout hunger - is helped by a carbohydrate and protein balance, and hydration of course. If you are using HIIT (high intensity interval training) for short duration then you can get away with lower carbs post-workout. But, if you are burning significant calories, you’ll need to eat properly afterwards.
The overall best answer is to make sure the carbs that you eat are of the best quality. Slow-release carbohydrates beat simple quick-fix carbs every time.
Q4. Do you think it is important to count macros if we want to gain muscle or loose body fat? If so, can you give a basic outline of what you would recommend?
A. All whole foods are composed of macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients (macros) are the big boys: protein, fat and carbohydrates. Micronutrients (micros) are the vitamins and minerals important for bodily functions and optimal health. Counting macros is a much better version of old-fashioned calorie-counting, but, it requires effort and attention that can become too labour intensive on a day to day basis.
In general terms, using visual references such as half of your lunch plate and dinner plate should be made up of vegetables, and the other two quarters should be divided between complex carbohydrates and lean protein, is as simple and easy as it gets.
However, if you are at the point of needing to shave off the last few pounds, or are training like an athlete, then those extra grams do count. I designed a system that counts macros accurately and then links it back to the individual's calorie burn, or BMR (basal metabolic rate). You can then choose to either consume a diet to maintain mass or lose it - but, remember that must update regularly to keep you accurate as your body changes.
So, the best answer is to keep the proportion of vegetables high and the proportion of ‘good’ carbs and proteins balanced - remembering not to forget the essential fats. If you get intake correct proportionately, and eat real foods, it is hard to go wrong.
Q5. Questions for your nutritionist centre around the different supplements she would recommend. For example:
1. Whey Concentrate
2. Creotine Monohydrate
3. Caffeine tablets
4. Green tea Extract
I appreciate these may be beyond The Essential Challenge but I am looking at things like this because of The Essential Challenge. I think this is the road you have put me on. On my gym day/s I will have some whey about three hours before exercise. That’s maybe one drink a week currently. As part of my post gym routine I’m considering adding some Creotine. I don’t drink coffee and I’ve stopped drinking tea (I only had it for the sugar!) so I’m not addicted to caffeine at all. However, taking a tablet before exercise is recommended for a number of reasons, so I am considering buying some.
Finally, Green Tea Extract is meant to be an excellent aid to fat loss, especially fat around the middle section, which is something that I suffer with. Again, I am seriously considering giving this a try. Of course your nutritionist will say I can get all the nutrition I need from eating a healthy, varied diet – which I now do – but I am trying to tweak my intake to gain extra benefits wherever I can, just like I am doing with Ultimate Oil Blend and Beyond Greens.
Any help or advice would be most appreciated.
A. All good questions! First and foremost, you are exercising and by the sounds of it, eating a wholefoods diet and adding in your Beyond Greens and Udo’s Oil, so you are 90% of the way there.
Whey protein concentrate is the cheapest and most common form of whey protein, a byproduct of cheese production. Whey protein concentrate is a common athletic supplement used to increase dietary protein and there are some mixed views on its use. Concentrates typically have a low level of fat and cholesterol but, in general, have higher levels of bioactive compounds as well as carbohydrates in the form of lactose.
Having worked with sports people, including those needing to add bulk, I’ve found equal if not better results using protein in natural forms such as silken tofu or Greek yoghurt added to homemade smoothies. It also allows you to add some essential fats into the mix, helpful on a much wider scale.
If you are going to use whey, I recommend using a blend containing extra nutrition, including macro and micro nutrients, Branched Chained Amino Acids (BCAA’s) and essential fats. Some brands now include soluble and insoluble fibre in the mix to help add bulk and increase feelings of satiety.
Creatine is found naturally in the body where it is used to create the most explosive form of energy, ATP. It is true that Creatine Monohydrate can act to increase physical performance in successive bursts of short-term, high intensity exercise. So, depending on the type of training you are doing, it can be helpful.
However, ask yourself, do I really need this? If you are a bodybuilder, powerlifter or sprinter then the argument can be made stronger but for a health and fitness kick in general, the answer is no.
Creatine can be consumed from red meat and if you are a regular meat-eater, use grass-fed beef for greater levels of beneficial fats. If you want to give creatine a try, it is more practical to supplement to achieve the required levels.
First, a confession! I love coffee! I simply don’t feel as good without my morning jolt of java but you do need to know how much is too much. So, let me help you unravel the story on caffeine and green tea. Caffeine is most commonly used to improve mental alertness, but it has many other uses. As you have picked up, it is one of the most commonly used stimulants among athletes.
Both green tea and coffee have some mild fat burning properties. There is evidence that antioxidants in green tea can increase metabolism slightly when combined with caffeine. Caffeine speeds up your heartbeat and therefor can help you burn a little extra fat. However, too much caffeine can cause peaks and dips that leave you reaching for sugar pick-me ups. 2-3 cups daily is a good serving. Green tea can be consumed in greater quantities.
In both cases, extracts as available over and above the ‘real thing.’ In this case, I recommend going for the real thing rather than in extract form.