In the early 90's, it was low fat and low fat only. Rice cakes and fat-free Twinkies for everybody!
Then, as the decade progressed, carbs started to fall out of fashion and the nutrition world turned itself upside down with low carbs and low carbs only. Great, let's eat Crisco by the spoonful!
What's next? We almost hate to think about it, so we sat down with Dr. Christopher Mohr, Mike Roussell, and Chris Shugart and asked them to think about it. Here's what happened.
T Nation: It's now 2008 and the low-carb trend is fading. Why all the macronutrient confusion? And can you predict any new trends?
Mike Roussell: The confusion in nutrition arises because food and fat loss are big money industries and extreme stuff sells. It's really interesting if you look back to the original food guide pyramid that was created in the heart of the low-fat craze. The cover of the pamphlet handed out by the government said, "Limit Fat to 30% of Calories."
The media takes pieces of science and blows them up. "Limit fat" became "cut all the fat out of your diet!" Bodybuilders adopted this and it worked for them. But in reality most things work for bodybuilders because we're such an extreme and dedicated culture.
But now we're coming back to reality and embracing the role of fat in the diet. Fats are powerful compounds as they can modulate gene expression and hormonal responses in ways that carbs and protein never dreamed about.
You're right about the low-carb craze being gone in the mainstream. I knew it was over when Hood changed Carb Countdown Milk to Calorie Countdown Milk.
I think the future for most people is going to be what we're doing here on T-Nation right now. Effective fat loss programs are going to be characterized by moderate carbohydrate intake but low or no starch intake.
There are studies slowly being published that show this is the best way for people to lose fat (especially overweight insulin-resistant people). In the late 90s and early 2000 there was a lot of fuss about the Glycemic Index. I think that the future is Glycemic Load (Glycemic Index x grams of carbs) because that takes into account both the type and amount of carbohydrates.
Dr. Christopher R. Mohr: Great points, Mike, although the Glycemic Index is too confusing itself for most people. I once had a client who didn't know oatmeal was a carbohydrate (honestly!) and I bet she's not alone. I can't then turn around and say, "Okay, well, oatmeal is a carb and now let's calculate the Glycemic Load of your meal with oatmeal."
You know, the confusion lies in the fact that everyone is looking for a quick fix. Low fat worked, for a period of time, because it was a way for people to decrease their calories. When you decrease your calories, you lose weight. Period.
Now, I'm not saying this is the best approach. I'd like to have people focus more than on a scale, but while Testosteronereaders might understand that and realize the importance of body composition, the average Joe simply wants to weigh less. So companies started making everything fat free: pastries, donuts, cookies, you name it!
But as savvy consumers started reading food labels, they realized that "fat free" actually meant "high sugar" and often the fat-free varieties had more calories than their regular-fat counterparts!
We then had the same thing with carbs when the pendulum swung in the other direction. All of a sudden, we had carb-free bagels, pasta, and bread. Um, these foods are carbohydrates – they shouldn't be akin to cardboard and carb free. Again, it's a novel way of cutting back on calories by limiting choices. Just like I said before, cut back on calories, lose weight.
Then just like the low-fat craze, the novelty of the low-carb craze wore off and we're back to the middle. What's interesting is that the number of overweight and obese people just continues to creep higher and higher. Is it really about carbs or fat?
Here's my prediction: a balanced approach to eating! Crazy, isn't it? Now keep in mind I'm talking about the average person here, not someone stepping on stage in their skivvies. I'm talking to the masses.
Chris Shugart: Mike nailed it here. The confusion comes in when the media glances over a certain dietary issue, then either waters it down or misrepresents it. But let's not blanket the evil media with blame; it's the public's fault for only reading the dumbed-down headlines, then rationalizing to excuse their poor food choices.
Example: Bitter, dark chocolate contains some healthy compounds like phenols and antioxidants. This translates to the headline, "Health Benefits of Chocolate", and the fat-ass Wal-Mart consumer says, "Well, golly, chocolate is good for you now! I'll just load up on Hershey Bars and Cocoa Puffs!"
This is an example of willful ignorance combined with rationalization. It's pathetic. Need antioxidants? Take a fucking pill and skip the chocolate, fatty.
As for new trends, I agree with Dr. Mohr. The pendulum has swung in every direction now, so the only thing left (I hope) is a sensible approach. Let's just pray that low-protein diets aren't next. Everyone would look like vegetarians. And that would be tragic.
T Nation: Okay, there's often a lot of discussion regarding post-workout nutrition for strength gains, but what about during periods of fat loss? Do you recommend Surge during periods of fat loss? Should people throw simple carbs down their throat during this time?
Dr. Mohr: I do. The key is timing these simple carbs around their workout. I want people to work out as hard as possible, not be struggling to make it through their workout because they're carb and/or calorie deprived.
With that said, the recommendation to use Surge during/after a workout is for people who work out hard. I was in the gym this morning and was next to an overweight woman (with her "trainer") who was drinking a sports drink between her alternating sets of wrist curls and calf raises. Folks, I wish I could make stories like that up.
Now, did she really need several extra hundred calories of sugar-water for her workout? Consider your market and who you're dealing with. Someone trying to get leaner and improve his/her body comp, I'm fine with something like Surge, when you can ramp up the intensity! For the regular person who's not in the condition to work out intensely and is simply trying to lose some body mass, leave the recovery drinks on the shelf.
Roussell: I try to keep my clients using Surge and workout carbs as long as possible. We know now that effective fat loss isn't about how many total calories or how many calories from fat we burn during a given session. It's about boosting total 24-hour energy expenditure and cranking up your metabolism.
I've found that for most of the people I deal with they can train harder with carbs before/during their workouts. The harder you train, the more you'll boost your metabolism, and the more fat you'll lose. So keep the Surge.
Shugart: I've worked with many people on their fat loss diets and have doubled their workout drink intake, essentially having them take in Surge pre, during, and post-training. No fat gain, in spite of the near 100 grams of simple carbs. I've done this myself for months on end and have remained in the single-digit body fat range – and I can pack on fat faster than my ex-wife can max out a credit card.
Long story short, the workout period – just before, during, and immediately after – is magic time. Even the most carbophobic person can and should consume a workout drink like Surge at this time. The benefits are enormous and it doesn't seem to lead to fat gain in the real word. Of course, carbs should be limited at all other times in the day.
I'll also add the same caveat as Dr. Mohr: You do have to "earn" your Surge. No pink dumbbell workouts. And you better be doing some shit-a-kidney lifting before you double your workout drink!
T Nation: Anything new in the supplement world on the horizon (or currently available) that impresses you for fat loss? Any magic powders coming out?
Dr. Mohr: Yeah, I saw this fantastic infomercial last night that told me if I simply took a one ounce shot of a special Himalayan root extract I'd never be hungry again, can live off pepperoni pizza, and never exercise again! That's unfortunately how gimmicky most products are out there.
I'm still impressed with green tea. I think EGCG has actually shown a lot of promise. I like the data that shows simply drinking tea enhances weight loss (and that's green or black). The best part about that is even if the fat loss data doesn't continue to emerge with tea, there are other health benefits, so it's a win-win.
I also love fish oil. There's been some very interesting fat loss data on that front too. Like tea, even if that data doesn't pan out, we know fish oil is absolutely beneficial.
One interesting supplement that's recently emerged is Konja – it's an Asian root, full of viscous, water-soluble fiber called glucomannan. Basically, it's like a sponge, and this viscosity makes a gel in the intestine to slow the rate of absorption of your meals and help fill you. The fuller you are, the less you'll consume.
There's also some solid data with it helping lower blood sugar and cholesterol, but that's a different topic. Keep your eye on this as I think more science will emerge.
Shugart: The "magic powder" isn't a powder, it's an oil: fish oil or a blend of EPA/DHA/CLA like Flameout.
Reduced abdominal fat, less fat accumulation in mass phases, increased insulin sensitivity, improved "handling" of carbs, boosted metabolic rate, mood elevation, maybe even decreased hunger... and that's just the fat loss related benefits of omega-3s and other functional fats. The life extension list is even longer!
Long story short: Fish oil type products should be purchased before multi-vitamins and traditional fat burners. They are that essential and that foundational. I think in 2008 this is really going to trickle down to the general population. Look for Long John Silver's to be advertising how much omega-3 is contained in their deep-fried fish parts.
Roussell: I'm still really impressed and excited by forskolin (not foreskin!). I'm hoping more research is going to be coming out about this in the future.
I also agree with Dr. Mohr. I think that the effect of green tea and EGCG on fat loss will be further elucidated in the future. I was speaking with a colleague the other day who has done clinical trials with EGCG and fat loss. They found some effect in the study she ran, but she thinks that we need to "crank up the volume" so to speak with the dosage to see a real effect.
Science really hasn't looked at 900-1000mg dosages of EGCG a day. That's potentially where we're going to see a really significant effect.
T Nation: Chris, you mentioned fish oil and its effects on fat loss, and Mike, you've talked a bunch about this in your Fish Oil and Fat Loss article. Anything else since we last published that?
Roussell: I'm going to get a reputation here for being a fish oil zealot, but yes, especially DHA-rich fish oil.
It was DHA-rich fish oil that showed the significant fat loss result in the American Journal of Clinical Nutritionpaper in May of 2007, and it was DHA that has been shown in vitro to inhibit the formation of mature fat cells from premature ones. We're only going to see more and more on this very topic.
Like green tea, I think it's a dosage thing. Previously we haven't had pure enough fish oil products to take the dosages needed to elicit a fat loss effect. But now science is starting to explore higher dosages and their effects.
Shugart: The last study I read on fish oil was about how a depletion of DHA may take part in the pathophysiology of pedophilia. I'm not kidding. The benefits are truly friggin' endless. Now there's even hope for Michael Jackson.
Forget welfare cheese and ethanol subsidies; we should at least spend our tax money on free Flameout for every person in American. I'm serious, the stuff is damn near a panacea.
T Nation: Let's look now at the 66% of the population that's overweight or obese. What's spurring this growing epidemic? Is it carbs? Fat? Lack of exercise? Help solve this problem!
Roussell: Carbs, calories, and lack of exercise! I don't want to blame the food industry because Americans need to get off their fat asses and lift heavy stuff – fast, and often. But, did you see the article in Men's Health on the twenty worst foods in America?
A freakin' sub from Quizno's is 1500 calories, and a Starbucks muffin has over 400 calories. I'm not excusing the American public for letting themselves be fat, but no one looks at a sandwich and says, "Hmm, I probably shouldn't eat the whole thing because that would be over half my caloric needs for the day."
Starchy carbs are another problem. They are so portable and easy to consume that people don't think twice about them. I know 30 year old guys who won't drink Coke but will suck down a 32oz Gatorade because they used to be an athlete. Just because you drank Gatorade ten years ago as a college football player doesn't mean you should still be drinking it in your cubicle with your belly hanging over your belt.
Shugart: Good stuff, Mike! Now, here's something that most people don't know. The hunger sensation and the pleasure we get from eating is classified as a sensual desire. The desire to eat and the feeling of hunger are close cousins to the sex drive. In other words, very, very powerful mojo.
Well, in today's society, food is plentiful and cheap. If you used to want some cake you had to expend a few hundred calories and a few hours to make it. Now you just go buy one for five bucks. It's a calorie-orgy out there. Most people can't control these primitive, innate desires.
It's not a matter of education vs. ignorance either. No diet recommends tons of sugar, trans fat, and white flour. Fat people know exactly why they're fat. They know that a bucket of ice cream is bad, but they eat it anyway. The solution goes way beyond teaching people about good vs. bad carbs. It's going to take major behavior modification and psychological bitch-slapping. That's what we're missing.
Dr. Mohr: Yes, it's surely carbs, calories, and lack of exercise, but you can't leave out fat and simple portions. I recently contributed to a book that will be coming out in 2008 and looked at the worst of the worst fast foods. There are surely a lot to choose from, but my favorite one was at an unnamed "Italian" restaurant. (The name sounds like "Backaroni Mill.")
They offer a single serving meal that's 2220 calories, 148 grams of fat (52 saturated), and 126 carbs. Good thing I have a PhD, because I would otherwise struggle to figure out why over 66% of the population is overweight! Portions are absolutely insane; it's actually kind of disgusting.
And here's where not enough people are focusing their efforts – behavior change! Like Chris said, I have a feeling that most people know living off Big Macs isn't the best idea. But how do we get people to change their habits?
I know a percentage of the population can use Nike's saying and "just do it," but it's not that simple. Let's look at strategies for permanent success, not a quick fix, cut out carbs or fat, cookie-cutter program. People need to learn how to grocery shop (hence our creation of the DVD Grocery Shopping Made Easy), how to cook very simple foods (Berardi's Gourmet Nutrition is a good start), and just go back to basics.
Here are four such rules:
1. Eat a fruit and/or at least one vegetable with every single meal.
2. Plan ahead. Don't go to work without any food at all, then wonder why you opted for fast food at noon, hit the vending machine at 3 PM, and are famished on the way home so you decided to order a pizza to pick up for dinner.
3. Define your goals and write them daily. If you don't know what you're working toward, you're going to continue to struggle.
4. Move more! I'm all about complexes, interval training, large body movements like deadlifts, etc. but what about the other 160-plus hours during the week when you're not at the gym? Walk more. Get on a bike and use that as your transportation. Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
And don't laugh thinking these are too simplistic for T-Nation readers. Here's a picture I took from the 2007 Arnold. Notice the vacant stairways and the line for the escalator!
Note: Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II!