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6 Ways to Increase Performance Under Pressure

With competition season beginning or already in the swing of things for many sports, it’s important that we talk about the most overlooked aspect of competing, which is the added pressure.

People say that Michael Jordan performs better under pressure, and a lot of us think we do too. I used to always say that I performed better in a stressful exam than I did just doing homework. Some people will say that the pressure drives them to make better choices on the fly – but the reality is we don’t actually perform better when under pressure. Evidence actually tells us that no one performs as well as they might if they were in a less stressful environment. Even Jordan.
People that stand out in those moments of pressure, like Jordan, are usually able to navigate the environment OK because they are able to dull the negative effects of pressure (but they’d still perform better without it). Also in cases like MJ, the rest of the team performs so much worse under pressure so that it miraculously look like he is the only person who can handle it. In reality, his baseline just started at a higher level.

 

According to “Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When it Matters Most” (Weisinger & Pawliw-Fry 2015) the follow things can help your athletic performance when you’re feeling the heat:

1. Focus on the task not the outcome.

Focusing your mental power on the outcome of the game is not helpful for athletes. In fact, it can be quite distracting. Trying to centre your mind into the moment will help to reinforce the idea that you need to focus in on the task at hand.

2. Mentally prepare and plan for the worst

In your down time, think about your strategy. Come up with ideas to help you even if the worst case scenario happens. Replay it over in your mind. Drill techniques that would be answers to situations and have an action plan – “if this happens, then what?”. Becoming proficient at being a problem solver will ease your mind and your body when the moment of pressure hits you in competition.

3. Focus on the factors that you can control

As an athlete there are many things that we can control. We can control our technique, our speed, our body language. What we can’t control is our opponents next move or the crowd screaming from the sidelines. Focus in on only the things that you know you can change and control. This will easy your mind and put your head in the right place. Use the tools that you have mastered and drown out the excess noise.

4. Think back to past success

Try and remember back to when you were in this situation before. How did you handle it to get the job done? Another benefit of doing this is that it has been shown to increase confidence in athletes and eases doubt in their minds. Use the tool of self reflection to remind yourself of your past success.

5. Slow down your thought process

When it starts heating up on the court or on the mat, it’s likely that your mind is going to start racing a hundred miles an hour. Usually as a result of adrenalin pumping through your body and the millions of different stimuli around you, it’s going to be hard to calm your mind.
Try and practice mindfulness techniques during training and also when you’re resting. Try and focus on the task at hand and nothing else. Put everything else out of your mind and go into autopilot. Becoming efficient at using mindfulness has been shown to increase mental toughness and will help you stay controlled under pressure.

6. Think of these moments as fun challenges and not as a life or death threat

Going hand in hand with a lot of the other points, is the idea that we want to try and control our body and mind when the adrenalin hits. The problem with adrenalin is that it sends very strong signals to our bodies and sometimes it gets a little out of hand. Our blood is pumping, our pupils are dilated, our mind is racing, we start shaking and occasionally our body can’t handle it. You’ve likely heard of “flight or fight” mode, and this is exactly what we want to control. We want to utilise adrenalin for a good, purposeful reason, so we need to try and tell out bodies that this is not a life or death situation, and we cannot run from it.

The easiest way to do this, is to try and see the situation as a challenge that is fun and enjoyable. Tell ourselves that it is not life and death and we have all the tools necessary to get the job done.

“seeing pressure as a threat undermines self confidence; elicits fear of failure; impairs short term memory, attention and judgement; and spurs impulsive behaviour”

The most important thing that you should take away from this is that performing at your peak will never happen under pressure. Likely, you will be better in practice in the comfort of your training environment. What we can change however, is the baseline in which we start at (improve techniques so that when under pressure you can execute them effectively) and the way in which we control our mind and bodies when faced with these situations.

 

Hope this helps.

 

 

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What You Think About Fat and Cholesterol. Mostly Bullshit. Part 3/3.

Ok folks, we are on the home stretch. This is the last post in my series of trying to promote fat and butter to the world.

Today, I’m going to talk about polyunsaturated fats specifically about some that we commonly know as vegetable oils and trans fats. You’re going to learn a few things I’m sure but the main points I’d like you to take away are the following;

– Vegetable oils are not made from vegetables.

– Vegetable oils are terrible for your health.

So, what are vegetable oils and how are they made?

Vegetable oils are extracted from a seed and come in many forms; sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola, corn and soybean oils.

They go through a process of extraction via a chemical called hexane. Hexane smells a lot like petrol and is used for a variety of non-food related things; it is a very powerful industrial cleaner, it is used for glueing shoes together, and some home DIY things like roofing and thinning paint. Not kidding. This is what they use to extract your “vegetable oils.”

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“Acute inhalation exposure of humans to high levels of hexane causes mild central nervous system (CNS) effects, including dizziness, giddiness, nausea, and headache. Chronic exposure to hexane is associated with polyneuropathy in humans, with numbness in the extremities, muscular weakness, blurred vision, headache, and fatigue observed.” (source)

 

Usually after extraction, the oils go through even further chemical processing. They are deodorised to remove all of the terrible smells and tastes that develop during the chemical extraction.  During this process, the oils are heated and the vapour is released and vacuumed away. The only problem being that heating these oils so hot, will make your oils rancid before they even get to the bottle.

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So after nasty chemicals have been added, removed and god-knows what else, some oils go through a process of hydrogenation. This is a process that aims to turn oils into a more solid product like margarine. The process is simply a way to add hydrogen to your food – which sounds simple and safe enough.
The process involves heating the oil up under pressure and adding hydrogen. In order to combine them, a catalyst needs to be used; nickel or platinum. This breaks the bonds between the carbon atoms, and gives them to hydrogen atoms. Partial hydrogenation results in trans fats, and total hydrogenation results in saturated fats—because the fat is saturated with hydrogen atoms.

The reason companies like to do this is to improve texture of fats (to make them spreadable), to change the melting point or to increase shelf life of the product.

The problem lies when trans fats start to get involved. Trans fats have many health implications:

  • Every 2% increase in trans fats creates a 23% increased incidence of heart disease
  • They increase hardening of arteries
  • Trans fats also inhibit the formation of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which helps dilate your arteries and regulate blood flow. Basically trans fats glue together your cardio vascular system. Great.

 

Denmark actually completely banned trans fats in 2003 but they are still wide spread in Australia! Many products on Aussie shelves with the “Heart Foundation Tick” or the Heath Star Rating have trans fats in them. Next time you’re in the grocery store, pick up a tub of the healthiest looking margarine you can find and have a look on the back. Trans fats. Trans fats everywhere.

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This kind-of-scary to read study, talks about how bad trans fats are for your health and how we need to completely eradicate it from our shelves. If you’re interested in never eating margarine or its nasty cousins again, have a read. They make a pretty compelling argument;

“Trans fats should be removed from the food supply”

 

In fact, vegetable oil is so nasty for your health, that US authorities have even put a limit on how much vegetable oil you are safely allowed to inhale during a work day. So if you’re not supposed to inhale too much of it, why is it ok to ingest in our food? Here is a hint; It’s not.

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So. There you have it. Time to throw away basically everything in your pantry. I encourage the following items; canola oil (or any “vegetable oil”), margarine, mayonnaise (R.I.P) or any dressings etc that have trans fats on the label, and lots of processed items (look at the label to see if they have vegetable fats or trans fats listed).

You can replace with some other actual healthy fats like;

  • olive oil
  • butter
  • avocado oil
  • coconut oil
  • macadamia oil (for salad dressings and mayo – not for cooking)

I urge you not to go into all out fat-shaming mode, and please be sure to keep good healthy fats in your diet. Fats are so, so important and should not be overlooked. Butter is really the best.

 

 

The end.

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What You Think About Fat and Cholesterol. Mostly Bullshit. 2/3

Hello folks. Welcome to Ep 2 of “I really like butter and I wish everyone else would too.” Today we are going to be talking about Cholesterol.

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I’d like to take you through some important information about what exactly cholesterol is and does, how it is commonly medicated and the hard evidence that shows what we have been doing for the last 50 years has done more harm than good.

So, there is going to be a lot to read here. It’s all really important. Some of it is boring, some of it is a little bit life changing and I bet most of you aren’t aware of this at all.

I even created a little TLDR below, because I feel like there is so much info to digest (ha-ha).

1.What even is cholesterol?
2. Is cholesterol bad for me? (No).
3. Will high cholesterol levels in my blood cause me to have heart disease? (Nope).
4. Will eating cholesterol and fat make my cholesterol higher? (The answer is no, sorry I ruined the surprise)
5. Will statins help me? (Unless you’ve already had a heart attack, the answer is no).

 

I am going to attempt to open your eyes to the big scammy fat-shaming world that has hitchhiked on the back of cholesterol. 

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What even is cholesterol?

Let’s start by getting acquainted. It’s a word that a lot of us know and hear often and it may even cause some slight panic when you hear it. It sounds important. It sounds unhealthy. It’s mostly talked about as being terrible and something we need to take control of. It definitely sounds like something that causes heart disease. My aunts cousins brothers wife definitely died from heart disease and it was for sure because of high cholesterol. Does that sound familiar?

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Lets start with some super basic body-science-stuff. You can skip over this section but I think it will help you get face to face with what exactly we are dealing with here.

Cholesterol travels throughout the human body packaged into Lipoproteins, which circulate in the blood. To use a simple transport analogy, cholesterol particles are the containers and Lipoproteins are a cargo ship. Also on board the cargo ships are other important containers with things like fats and proteins that travel through the blood stream.

The ratio (and therefore density) of fat and protein gives the lipoproteins their names; High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), Very Low Density (VLDL) and Chylomicrons (this one doesn’t really follow the easy-to-name pattern). The point is that there are many different types of lipoproteins with varying amount of cholesterol, fats and proteins being transported throughout the body. The more dense a lipoprotein is, the less fat and cholesterol it has. The idea is that LDL isn’t as dense as HDL, and therefore carries a lot more cholesterol on board its ship.

Maybe a few of those names are familiar to you. You’ve likely heard of “good cholesterol” (HDL) and “bad cholesterol” (LDL’s). Why this idea itself is heavily debated (and studies have shown that LDL isn’t that bad anyway), the main point I want to make is that HDL and LDL are Lipoproteins. They are not “cholesterol.” Cholesterol is simply just part of the parcel – some of the cargo that is on board the ship.

In any case, it is common for doctors to look at your blood profile and determine the status of your cholesterol profile based on these numbers of HDL:LDL. If they see your HDL is low and your LDL is high they will likely recommend some diet and exercise information to you (side note: study here about maybe why you shouldn’t trust your regular GP with detailed info about nutrition) and depending on the severity will also prescribe you some medication in the form of a statin. You’ve probably heard of these before. They are the best selling drug in human history.

 

So, is Cholesterol bad for me?

The short answer is no.

The long answer is also no. This is because cholesterol has many super important functions in the human body:

  • It produces sex hormones; testosterone, oestrogen and others
  • it helps with bile production in the liver; which is important for digestion of fats
  • Cholesterol forms the building blocks of all cell membranes (yes, all)
  • It is necessary for vitamin D production; which is important for calcium and phosphorus regulation (bone health). It also helps to protects against Diabetes, some cancer and MS.

All of these very important processes in the human body require cholesterol and without it, there are dire consequences. Who would have thought it was actually important?

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Some studies even claim that having low cholesterol can produce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Researchers suggest that because cholesterol is involved in making hormones and vitamin D, low levels could affect brain health. It appears that insufficient brain cholesterol hinders serotonin, which is closely related with mood.

Will high cholesterol levels in my blood cause me to have heart disease?

The current thinking in media and lots of GP offices like to paint cholesterol in a bad light because it has been associated with heart disease. The problem is that cholesterol in the artery wall is actually a symptom of heart disease – not the cause. Cholesterol has had a bad rap because it has always been at the scene of the crime, when in fact the real reason why atherosclerosis (narrowing of arteries and build up of plaque) begins in the first place has nothing to do with cholesterol at all.

The real culprit is inflammation (which most argue is caused by sugar). During this inflammatory process, plaque, along with blood thickening and narrowing of blood vessels, can certainly increase your risk of heart attack. Our friend cholesterol, however, only comes in after the damage has started, to try and replace the damaged cells.

In other words, it doesn’t combine with the walls of your arteries to give you a heart disease, like many people think. Instead, cholesterol is there in your arteries trying to repair the damage because new cells aren’t able to be created without it.

The most conclusive evidence we have to date to prove that cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease is the Framingham Study (which I have mentioned before). The study shows that there is zero correlation between high levels of cholesterol and heart disease.

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Will eating cholesterol and fat make my cholesterol higher?

Firstly, I’ve already covered why having high cholesterol isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I know this is still the question you’re asking. Things like, “you need to stop eating saturated fat to reduce your cholesterol,” and “eat only 1 egg per day” are the types of things that trigger an emotional response every time I see/hear/read it.

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We have been so misled about fat and the cholesterol hypothesis that even though a lot of us already know this information, we are still trying to reduce our cholesterol through food.

The main reason why this is completely nonsense is because around 80% of cholesterol is produced inside our liver and only 20% or so comes from our diet. Besides that, a big quantity of the cholesterol that is in food cannot even be absorbed by our bodies.

The human body controls the amount of cholesterol in the blood to ensure it can perform its functions properly. When we eat less cholesterol in our diet, the body produces more cholesterol to bring it back to it’s correct functioning level. When cholesterol intake in the diet goes up, our liver produces much less cholesterol to ensure an even playing field. The amount of cholesterol we eat in food, hardly effects the amount of cholesterol in our blood and even if it does, it’s quite momentary.

Eating more or less cholesterol wont really effect your overall blood cholesterol level.

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So, my doctor has told me that I have high cholesterol… Will statins help me?

If you’ve been to the doctor and been diagnosed with high cholesterol (which you should be debating anyway..), chances are you’ve been prescribed a ‘wonder drug’, known to most as statins.

Statins are considered the so-called most effective cholesterol-lowering medicines available. In fact, this website is almost praising statins in the most blatantly obvious way – you’d almost think doctors at this hospital were getting paid to promote them.

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Statins work by blocking the pathway that enables cholesterol production in your liver.

That doesn’t sound so bad? If cholesterol lowering medication is able to lower  cholesterol, isn’t that exactly what we’re looking for? If you’re thinking “GREAT! Something to reduce my cholesterol!” you’re on the wrong track. In fact, the distinct problem with these types of medication is that the exact nature of the drug is to block cholesterol production. This is a massive problem because we NEED cholesterol (I feel like I’m repeating myself).

When patients are offered a statin as a drug to reduce cholesterol (which it reports being able to reduce by 30-40%), they are basically closing the door on cholesterol and opening the door for many other terrible side affects. When taking statins you are simply swapping out a risk of heart disease for other diseases like; diabetes, muscular weaknesses, memory loss and some not yet known long term issues like the possibility for cancer and diabetes.

Taking a statin may provide a possible reduction in heart disease (which has only been shown in 1-2/100, and no reduction in overall deaths) but it adds a whole host of risk factors. This means that taking a statin is equal to exactly no net benefit.

There is a small exception to people who have previously had a heart attack or stroke. They are the only population who has been shown to benefit from statins and they likely help them to extend their lives. However keep in mind that statins do not help those who are at low or moderate risk – which is the majority of people who are prescribed the drugs.

So, one has to wonder why these drugs are being prescribed to so many people who don’t need them, especially if they are so dangerous…

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“In 2017 the global cholesterol-lowering industry is worth $19.2 Billion and is forecast to grow 4.9% each year during the next five years. Which means that the industry will be worth $24.4 Billion in 2022.” (SOURCE)

National Center for Health Statistics, states that nearly a quarter of all Americans over the age of 45 take statins and the industry is worth more than 19 BILLION DOLLARS.  As a result, there are great conflicts of interest within the pharmaceutical industry and their never ending obsession of promoting a causal link between cholesterol and heart disease. I mean, they are the best selling drugs in the history of mankind. That’s honestly the main reason why they won’t leave us alone.

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So that’s kind of it, in a nutshell. Cholesterol is good and necessary. Statins are not good, and usually not necessary.

If you are fit or reasonably healthy and your doctor tells you that you have high cholesterol, question it. There are good and bad levels but usually your doctor wont dive that deep before prescribing drugs. Ask for a Lipid Subfraction test. Don’t just take a statin prescription and go on with your life. It really isn’t worth it.

On a final note, heart disease and other related diseases can mostly be prevented with exercise – and there are no nasty side effects (other than a pretty sweet looking body). If you’re really concerned about heart disease and you currently do not do any form of exercise, I’m afraid that might be your real problem. Go for a run and lift some weights and your heart health will prove dramatically. I promise.

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Oh, and watch this if you wanna know more – it’s a good quick summary of some scammy cholesterol drug companies.

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What you think about fat and cholesterol. Mostly Bullshit. 1/3

Have you ever bought a low-fat yogurt or milk trying to be health conscious? Ever avoided eating eggs or the yolk for fear of cholesterol? Ever been told to buy margarine instead of butter to reduce your cholesterol? Even by your doctor?

Everything you currently think about fat and it’s affect on cholesterol and your heart, is mostly bullshit. It’s a pretty big stuff up, but it’s not your fault.

The bad news is that the generation before us messed up the science, was influenced by big money and steered us in the direction of an obesity crisis. The good news is, now we know that they did the wrong things and we can see the fraudulent science, we can start to change our habits and teach the new generation the correct things.

Popular schools of thought;

  • Saturated fats cause coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • High Cholesterol causes CHD
  • Polyunsaturated fats are good for you

All of the above things, are potentially false. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try and break this down for you. I am starting with Saturated fats/animal fats and the idea that they cause heart disease.

Some people are already checking out of this article. Lots of people don’t know the difference between types of fats and some likely don’t think it matters. It does matter and I’ll try and break it down for you.

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Different types of fats are a combination of different molecules. Their pattern determines the types of fats they are and how they are broken down.

Saturated fats have molecules that are neatly stacked together and because of this they are able to be solid at room temperature. When heated, the fats melt. Saturated fats includes animal fats like butter & lard and also coconut oil.

Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temp. They are more solid when cooled but are not stable, with the potential for free radicals. Eg. Olive oil, peanut oil and canola oil. 

Polyunsaturated fats are liquid all of the time.  They are highly refined oil (deodorised, washed with toxins) and they are highly unstable oils. They include things like corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil. 

Where did this idea that ‘Saturated fats are bad’ come from? 

In the 1960’s the growing number of heart attacks was on the rise (there were around 500,000 reported deaths from CVD in 1960). The public attention was shifting towards heart disease prevention and cure. 

This is when Dr Ansel Keys along with his team of scientists created The Diet Heart Hypothesis (or Lipid Hypothesis). It was created to explain the increase in CHD. He was able to convince the American Heart Association that cholesterol & saturated fat leads to atherosclerosis, which then leads to Cardiovascular Heart Diseases and then eventually death. He urged them to guide the public to avoid saturated fats.

There were significant problems with this study. Dr Keys only chose the data that he wanted to show his hypothesis was correct. He cherry picked countries from his study that helped to support his argument. Once they reintroduced all the countries into the study, the correlation between saturated fats, cholesterol and heart disease was no longer existent.

In any case, it didn’t matter. Keys was still able to convince the American Heart Association to introduce guidelines that alerted consumers to decrease their fat intake and to increase their consumption of carbohydrates. The guidelines also urged the public to conform to the Prudent Diet; stop consuming animal fats and to start consuming vegetable oils instead. The food pyramid which we all know so well from our school years was drilled into our minds. Large amounts of carbohydrates and less amounts of fat. The idea being that this would help to reduce our risk of heart disease, but in reality we were just eating more and more carbohydrates. 

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In 1984 there was a National Cholesterol Consensus Conference which created a set point of unhealthy cholesterol which suddenly included large numbers of normal, healthy people and gave them a disease; “hypercholesterolemia.”


This new disease now included about half the population. 
It led to “National Cholesterol Education Program” for all physicians to promote veg oils and statins to patients and The National Institute of Health promoted the “Prudent Diet” for all people above 2 yrs of age (even though there was no evidence to support the claim).

Now everyone was consuming very high amounts of carbohydrates and barely any animal fats. 

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On the contrary, an ongoing study in the town of Framingham, United States has shown that there is no evidence of link between CHD and animal fat consumption. Former Director of the Framingham Study, Dr George Mann stated…”the public is being deceived by the greatest health scam of the century…” That is – the idea that animal fats are bad for your heart.

Other evidence was also able to show that there was no evidence that consuming these types of fats led to heart disease;

      • 1957: no link with animal fat
      • 1972: Honolulu study – no link with CHD and animal fat
      • 2001: Systematic review – no evidence of CHD and animal fat
      • 2005: Malmo Diet & Cancer Study: examined 28,000 middle age people for 5 years, no evidence

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“ …found that people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories actually weighed the least and were the most physically active.”


So the important conclusion of all this; 
current evidence does not support guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fats and low consumption of total saturated fats.  

The guidelines about eating a high carbohydrate and low fat diet is misinforming the public and has had devastating consequences.

In fact, Dr Ansel Keys’ “The Lipid Hypothesis” has shown to be more than a half century global human experiment: a terrible failure. An experiment that has led to horrendous, generational consequences. Things like obesity, diabetes and possibly the worst of all, it didn’t help to lower the heart disease risk. 

The public mind is still swayed towards a “low-fat” diet. Foods are processed, removed of fat and replaced with carbohydrate. People are still looking for ways to reduce their cholesterol and they do this by lowering their fat intake. They stopped eating egg yolks thinking that it would decrease their cholesterol (which is the most nutrient dense part of an egg!). They started buying margarine instead of butter (which is made from nasty chemicals and trans fats) and they taught the next generation the same things. Now we have generations of people who are scared to eat fat and are much more likely to head towards sugar instead.
The scariest part about this is that saturated fat doesn’t contribute to cholesterol problems! Even if it did, having high cholesterol doesn’t lead to heart attacks and death in most people.

Fat and cholesterol are so important in our diets for many reasons and we cannot avoid them. They don’t cause heart disease. They won’t make you fat.

Learn to love animal fats and implement them in your diet. They are great sources of protein, a huge variety of vitamins and minerals and besides, it just tastes better.

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More to come on cholesterol soon.

 

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BCAA’s. Mostly Bullsh*t.

BCAA’s. Code name for Branched Chain Amino Acids. You’ve probably heard of them from your fellow bodybuilding or athlete friends. If you have Instagram, you’ve definitely seen them in a picture of a girl with a tub of BCAAs neatly placed next to her derrière.

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are made up of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They’re considered “essential” because the body can’t produce them and so we have to consume them through food. All of the essential amino acids (there are 9 in total) and the other non-essential (11 others) all must be present in the body in adequate amounts.

Your favourite Online Fitness News Sources (seriously pick any fitness website and you will find BCAAs) love BCAAs and promote them religiously:

 

It might have something to do with the fact that BCAA supplementation is now a multimillion dollar industry. However, as goes with all things in the fitness industry, we cannot accept something as truth just because your favourite Instagram fitness model is constantly promoting it.

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What all of these “list of benefits” have in common, is that they all claim BCAA’s to be beneficial for protein synthesis in the body and therefore anabolism (or gainz as we affectionately know it).

The idea that BCAAs are important for protein synthesis has been around for a long time (30+ years) and was studied on rats, with varying results. Although helpful in the field, these rat studies were limiting in reliability-mainly because rat physiology is different from humans.

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This new review by Rob Wolfe (2017) looked at BCAA consumption to determine once and for all if BCAAs increase protein synthesis and therefore an anabolic response in humans.

This current review is eye opening and very important for the fitness industry. The review reported that dietary supplement of BCAAs alone cannot support an increased rate of muscle protein synthesis. This is because the availability of the other Essential Amino Acids will rapidly become rate limiting for accelerated protein synthesis.

The studies that have been done on human subjects have reported decreases (not increases) in muscle protein synthesis after intake of BCAAs. This particular review concluded that dietary BCAA supplements alone do not promote muscle anabolism.

Let’s say that again. BCAA’s do not promote muscle anabolism.

DO. NOT. PROMOTE.

So. There you have it folks. BCAA’s are expensive water flavouring powder that does not make you swole.

Happy Lifting!

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Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? Author: Robert R. Wolfe
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 201714:30
https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0184-9
Published: 22 August 2017
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Let’s Talk: Exercise as Medicine.

Imagine a drug that can prevent a whole host of feared diseases and ailments. A drug that can make you look great, feel better, preserve your body and increase your sex drive! The drug would outperform all others on the market.

A drug that is free, available at any time and can be administered in any way you desire.

Just imagine the possibilities if we were able to create a pill that gave you the effects of exercise.

Previously, I talked about doctors prescribing medications to my mother instead of trying to find her true underlying problem (which was inactivity). This is something that we see all over the world and it is a result of a few things;

  • Doctors only have around 13-16 minutes with each patient (According to the Physician Compensation Report, 2016). This means that the sessions are rushed and the doctor is only able to deal with the current problem at hand.If there is a problem, a doctor will write a script and send the patient on their way without looking deeper into the problem. If that same patient returns with some ill-effects from the drug, the doctor will prescribe another drug to contract those effects and this is how the cycle begins. The true problem is never really addressed in the first place.
  • Doctors are also heavily influenced by pharmaceutical companies. In 2003, doctors were interviewed for a study,  and it showed that pharmaceutical company representatives are the most common way in which doctors get their information. Prosser, Almond, Walley (2003) showed that Dr’s are more likely to listen to the reps rather than the actual science behind new drugs.

    “Prescribing of new drugs is not simply related to biomedical evaluation and critical appraisal but, more importantly, to the mode of exposure to pharmacological information and social influences on decision making” – Prosser, Almond, Walley (2003)

    Not only are doctors influenced socially by these companies, but more often than not, they are also influenced monetarily. Surveys conducted in 2004 and again in 2009 showed that 83.8% of doctors had a financial relationship with a drug or medical device company.

  • Doctors have little education and knowledge about nutrition and exercise.
    This study surveys medical schools and found that the nutrition education in medical schools is completely inadequate with med students only receiving 23.9 contact hours of nutrition (which is under the 25hr recommendation).

Before the time we are in now, where doctors are trying to treat disease, there was a time of prevention.

Hippocrates wrote, “Eating alone will not keep a man well, he must also take exercise.”

Although throughout the 1900’s, the mood shifted from prevention and into damage control mode. People were doing less exercise, their diets were turning into carbohydrate nightmares (making them fatter and unhealthier), pharmaceutical companies and surgeries were on the rise and doctors were prescribing meds to try and control all of the new problems that the Western World was facing. We were doing less exercise and being prescribed more drugs.

The mood is starting to change again. New studies are publishing amazing results of exercise trials and its effects on health.

Exercise has shown to improve heart health, blood flow, increase muscle size and quality, prevent premature ageing, reduce body fat %, increase metabolism, lessen the effects of many diseases (and even cure or prevent some), transport oxygen more efficiently and a whole host of other amazing things that keep your heart and body healthy.

In addition to organs, muscles and bones, another major beneficiary of exercise might be the brain. Recent research was able to show that exercise leads to to less depression, better memory and more efficient learning. Studies also suggest that exercise is currently the best way to prevent and delay Alzheimer’s.

It’s now very evident and well evidenced that just about everyone-kids, adults, elderly and the sick can all benefit from physical activity. The studies are emerging and the results are getting harder and harder to ignore. There is no better time than now to begin – exercise will change the trajectory of your life.

 

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Not Breaking News: Obesity in Australia

Growing up, I always looked up to my mum. In primary school I remember having to write down who my role models were and I only had one, my mum. She was kind, loving and very easy to talk to. She was just under 5 feet tall and cut a very rounded figure for most of her life. She has been overweight for as long as I can remember, but as a child this was of little importance to me. You could say that health was never a real priority in our household. It’s not that we didn’t want to be healthy, but more that we didn’t know it was necessary and we probably didn’t even know what ‘healthy’ looked like.

Part of growing up in a pretty poor family in regional Australia meant that we didn’t always eat the best foods. We lived on white bread and margarine, potato chips and whatever else was on special that week. We also didn’t have a lot of money for other activities like extra-curriculas or sports programs. We’d spend our school afternoons sitting on the lounge room floor watching cartoons and eating junk food – a picture which is all too familiar for many Australians. Our home probably wasn’t the best place for championing a healthy lifestyle and turns out that majority of (especially regional) households tell a similar story.

When mum was 17, a major car accident broke her body to pieces, as a result, she was left tortured with chronic back pain and medication was the only way she could function. Even medicated it was hard for her to get around, or stand for extended periods of time. Tasks which most people would consider mundane, at times could be too much for her. Since then, she had been relatively sedentary, eating a basic diet of processed carbohydrates and just trying to make ends meet. Nevertheless, Mum did her best with the little information and resources available, but inevitably her lifestyle combined with her injuries had dramatic consequences on her long-term health.

As her weight piled on, the pain got worse, her health deteriorated and she put on even more weight. A self-sustaining feedback loop had been created.

Mum had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stomach ulcers, gallstone removal surgery and had been flagged as a pre-diabetic. All of these health conditions have been associated with one condition: Obesity. At 149cm tall and 101kg my mother fit the bill.

What she failed to realise and what doctors did not make her aware of, was that her weight may have been a major cause in her ongoing health conditions.

Now generally accepted, the Western world is launching itself into a wide scale obesity epidemic. In Australia, the obesity statistics are scary; Recently the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare published a paper to highlight how we are tracking in terms of obesity and the trends of the past. They found that Children and adolescents aged 10–13 and 14–17 in 2014–15 were more likely to be overweight or obese than their counterparts 20 years earlier. They also noted that adults in 2014–15 were found to be significantly more obese than adults of the same age 20 years earlier.

The study highlighted the main cause of Obesity being that children in Australia are being born into an obesogenic environment – an environment which promotes obesity. It is an environment in Australia which we know too well – Big portion sizes, attractive and delicious foods which are typically very high in calories and we are spending less time creating healthy, nutritious meals. Additionally to poor diet, we are putting less emphasis on physical activity and becoming increasingly sedentary.

This is not anything new to us. It’s not groundbreaking or out of the ordinary. It is something we all know but something that many have failed to implement into their lives (and their childrens’).

In 7 years time only 25% of females will be within a healthy weight range and barely 17% of males will be deemed healthy.

According to current trends noted by the Victorian Government, by 2025 16.9 million people will be overweight or obese in Australia. Around one-third of 5-19-year-olds and a massive number of adults; 83% of males and 75% of females aged 20 years or older will be overweight or obese. If that isn’t alarming you, think of it this way; In 7 years time only 25% of females will be within a healthy weight range and barely 17% of males will be deemed healthy.

Overweight and Obesity are not issues that Australians should be skirting around or sweeping under the rug. The impact that it causes on health is alarming. Obesity is a very serious disease, something that many people fail to recognise, just like my mum. It is a major risk factor in many chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes type II, hypertension, stroke, atherosclerosis, some cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome, gall bladder disease, musculoskeletal problems, stress, sleep apnoea and the list goes on and on.

Many of these issues my mother has had to face these health issues throughout her life. Her doctors did not think to treat her with exercise (which is a problem for another time), but instead with more drugs. Drugs that increased her appetite, made her feel sluggish, mentally unprepared and did not help to reduce the real underlying problem – her weight.

Direct costs in 2005 were $21 billion and estimated indirect costs were $35.6 billion per year, resulting in a total annual cost of $56.6 billion

The burden of these diseases on the Australian Health Care system is alarming. A 2005 Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle (AusDiab) study showed that there are both significant direct and indirect costs for Overweight and Obesity. Direct costs in 2005 were $21 billion and estimated indirect costs were $35.6 billion per year, resulting in a total annual cost of $56.6 billion (Colagiuri et al. 2010).

Overweight and obesity is crippling the Australian economy and is destroying families all over the country. If Australia is to avoid catastrophic consequences both social and economic the conclusion is unavoidable: We must begin to take action and spread the word to those we love; you have to take control of your health.

In an age of the internet and social media, there is a plethora of information out there (some good, some not so good) but we cannot continue to live under a rock and hope the problem will go away on its own. It needs to start with individuals and it needs to be taught and promoted to our children. This is something I am deeply passionate about and I have made it my mission to help bring good, evidence-based knowledge to not only those I love, but to as many people who will listen.

My Mum recently turned 44 and is currently in the best shape of her life at 62kg. She credits her weight loss to being inspired by me (but I’m pretty sure all mothers say that?), plenty of daily meditation and lots of walking.

No longer overweight, she often comes to me and asks for advice on what she should be eating to be more health conscious and shows interest in yoga and tai chi. Her health conditions still linger in the background, but she has less back pain and her mind is clearer. After being on prescription morphine for 18 years (her highest dose was 80mg per day!), she has been completely free from it now for the last 2.
She jokes about wearing my clothes and I’m actually scared she might try and squeeze into a leather skirt. It proves to me that we have come a long way, but more importantly, it shows me the difference it can make when you decide to take control and ownership of your health.

Though much shorter than me, I still look up to my Mum. My first role model.

 

 

Picture credit: Peter Menzel from the book “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats”