Let's see if this situation sounds vaguely familiar. You're passionate about taking care of your body. You work out, you eat right, and you take supplements to fine tune the way your body looks, feels, and functions. If you piled up all the hours you've spent studying all this stuff, you'd think some University would just flat out give you a PhD.
Yet, when you try to give your parents some advice about how they might eat or change their diets, they give you as much credence as they would the bag boy at the grocery store.
Sure. Why should they listen to you? After all, it wasn't long ago that you were sitting on the floor smearing the wall with poo-poo, and who in their right mind is going to pay attention to someone who expresses himself through poo-poo?
T-mag contributor John Berardi coined a term to describe this condition a while ago. He called it proximity bias. It not only applies to creatures like parents, but to people who are your friends or close acquaintances in general. They know you so they don't pay much attention to you. Inexplicably, all of them are much more likely to take advice from the food section of the local newspaper, or from what some celebrity of the month said in People Magazine.
Meanwhile you watch in frustration as they commit dietary blunder after dietary blunder. What to do, oh, what to do?
In an effort to help with that situation, Cy Willson and I have come up with a relatively painless and simple prescription for parental change. We urge you to show the following article to your parents and maybe, just maybe, they'll adopt some of the health tips we've dispensed. After all, they don't know us, so there's presumably no proximity bias to get in the way!
Increase Protein Intake
Dear folks, at the very least, we recommend that you increase your protein intake. Sure, the old-school nutritionists would have you believe that high-protein diets lead to brittle bones, heart disease, and dysfunctional kidneys, but they're full of hooey. Yes, yes, a high-protein diet causes the bones to leech out a tiny bit of calcium each day, but that amount is easily replaced by about a tablespoon of milk. As far as heart disease, this erroneous association was made because in the past, people who ate high protein diets got most of their protein from fatty animal proteins; not the lean proteins available today. Lastly, researchers from the past noted that people with kidney disease didn't fare well on high-protein diets. Therefore, in a case of faulty reverse reasoning, they assumed that high-protein diets would lead to kidney problems. That's patently false.
Increasing your protein will give you more energy, improve your immune system, and lean you up.
While you don't have to start eating sides of beef at every meal, we'd at least like you to double the US RDA for protein, which is currently at about 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. This means that if you weigh 200 pounds, we'd like you to get at least 145 grams of protein per day.
Acceptable protein-heavy foods include cottage cheese, lean beef, skinless chicken breasts, turkey, salmon, and protein powders or meal replacement drinks.
Eat Lots of Small Meals
Your body functions much better when you eat several small meals throughout the day rather than the traditional 3 gut-buster meals. Much of this has to do with the hormone insulin. When food, particularly carbohydrate ("starches") begins to digest, it's broken down into simple sugars and absorbed into the bloodstream (through the intestines). Insulin is then released by the pancreas to "dispose" of the sugars. Most cells have receptors on them to which insulin will bind. When insulin attaches itself to a receptor, which is embedded in the membrane of that particular cell, a subunit of the insulin receptor acts like an enzyme, which in turn activates other particular enzymes and ultimately leads to the sugar being absorbed into the cell.
When insulin levels are continually high, the body essentially becomes resistant to its effects, and then it must produce more and more to produce the same effect. This ultimately leads to obesity and even Type-II diabetes.
In a nutshell, you want insulin levels to remain relatively level throughout the day. When you eat big meals, you send insulin levels surging up and down precipitously which, in the short run, leads to drowsiness, irritability, and clouded mental function. And, as mentioned, in the long run it leads to obesity, insulin resistance, and type II diabetes.
Therefore, it's best to eat small or smaller meals every three hours or so for a total of about five or six small meals a day.
Combine Foods Properly
When we talk about combining foods, we're not talking about some of those silly diets where you eat only green foods or red foods or foods that begin with the letter "C." What we're proposing is a little more scientific and it has to do with insulin again.
In very simplified terms, we want to use insulin to our benefit. If we eat carbohydrates and thus raise insulin, we'd like some protein to be in the mix so that the insulin, through mechanisms too complex to go into, "drives" some of that protein into muscle tissue, which is a good thing. Aside from that, we can also slow absorption of glucose by adding in the protein and thus less insulin would be released.
Likewise, when we eat protein, we'd like to eat it with fat so that insulin doesn't rise appreciably and cause additional fat storage.
As such, what we'd like you to do is when you eat carbohydrate foods like grains, eat them with some protein. Likewise, when you eat fatty foods, we'd like you to also eat them with protein.
In other words, don't eat carbs and fats alone or in combination. Eat them with protein. For instance, if you were to have a piece of bread, throw on some lean meat. Obviously, that really makes eating things like potato chips and the like problematical, but hey, you know you shouldn't be eating that stuff in the first place! The reason for this is simply that when carbs and fat are ingested together, there seems to be a synergistic effect in terms of insulin release and consequential fat storage.
Many of us take this a few steps further in that we usually try to eat protein and carbohydrate meals early in the day and protein and fat meals later on in the day, but that's because we have very specific physique goals. You don't need to be quite so anal.
Don't Eat Stuff Out of a Box
This one is again related to insulin. Let us give you a quick food history lesson to illustrate this point. A few hundred years ago, people made bread that was very coarse. Obviously, they didn't have the finely tooled industrial mills of today to grind their flour. As a result, their breads were full of what looked like wood chips.
And, as you might expect, these "wood chips" took longer to digest than finely milled flour. Therefore, the body wasn't compelled to release large amounts of insulin to handle the sudden onslaught of sugar. Accordingly, diabetes was almost unknown.
However, with the advent of those aforementioned finely tooled industrial mills of the modern age, flour was ground so fine that it was virtually atomized. The body finds it very easy to break down this kind of food and the result is a huge bolus of insulin. Not good.
As a result (of this and other factors), diabetes, both Type I and Type II, run rampant in today's world.
When you see a food product in a box, chances are that product is highly processed. It's a good bet that the carbohydrates in that product cause a huge release of insulin when eaten.
Therefore, we'd be much obliged if you tried to eat foods that were unprocessed or fresh. If you eat bread, look for European breads that look like the paper you wrote on in grade school. Choose things like lentils, barley, and oatmeal whenever possible.
[Note: If it seems that we're down on carbohydrates, well, we kinda' are. Contrary to popular belief, people can live just fine without carbohydrates, albeit with slightly impaired cognitive function. Fats and proteins, however, are essential to life. We're not asking you to give up carbohydrates, though, just to eat them wisely. When used properly, they can indeed give us energy and improve athletic and mental function.]
Embrace the Salmon
By now, your sex lives have probably started to wane. That's why you should embrace a salmon once in awhile. It's erotic. No, no, we're just pulling your parental legs. If God ever put a healthful food on this planet, it's the salmon.
Obviously, you're familiar with different types of oils used in food manufacturing. We won't bore you with too much about different oils, but let's just say that there are a couple of oils that we're really concerned with and they're lumped together as omega 6 oils and omega 3 oils. For optimum health, we need a blend of these two (along with a few others that we don't need to go into in this article). Unfortunately, food processing uses omega 6's almost exclusively. Most Americans are thus hugely deficient in omega 3's.
If they offset this imbalance by taking more omega 3's, they could experience a host of beneficial effects ranging from improved insulin sensitivity, reduced body fat, improved immune system, increased muscle mass, less arthritis or joint pain, and in general, have vastly improved health.
The easiest way to increase the omega 3's in your diet is to start eating salmon, lots of it. (Choose wild salmon over farm raised whenever possible as the fatty acid profile in farm raised salmon is, well, off-base because of what they're fed in captivity. What's more, the flesh of farm-raised salmon is whitish; they get their red color from dyes placed in their food!) We recommend eating 8 ounces of salmon a day if possible, or supplementing with salmon oil capsules (maybe 5 grams a day).
You may have heard fish getting some bad press lately because of allegedly high mercury levels. While that may be true of fish that are higher up on the food chain (tuna, swordfish, etc.), it's not true of salmon, so eat away!
In lieu of salmon, or maybe in combination with the salmon or salmon oil, take a tablespoon or two of flaxseed oil a day.
Avoid Saturated Fats and Trans Fatty Acids
As you know, fatty meats are loaded with saturated fatty acids, the kind that clog up the arteries. Similarly, certain fatty acids, because of processing, flip-flop chemically and become what's known as trans fatty acids. Unfortunately, these fatty acids clog up the arteries worse than saturated fatty acids.
While butter is loaded with saturated fatty acids, most margarines are loaded with trans fatty acids. Bummer, huh? Talk about being between a rock and a hard place!
The answer is to look for those margarines that advertise "no trans fatty acids" or to start using extra virgin olive oil, which, as monounsaturated fat, is actually good for you.
Most of the packaged foods we want you to avoid also contain large amounts of trans fatty acids.
Eat Your Veggies
For years, you've been telling us to eat your veggies, but many of you seem to have forgotten the lesson. Science has shown us that eating vegetables is far more important than we ever realized. Aside from the long realized vitamins and minerals inherent to nature's bounty, they also contain thousands of substances known as phytochemicals, many of which appear to have profound effects on human health.
If you find eating them to be difficult or time-consuming, do what T-mag nutritionist John Berardi recommends: blend them in a food processor and slug them down (with some protein on the side, of course!). Or at the least, drink V-8.
Start Weight Training
It's not like we expect you to start shaving your chest and wearing wife-beater T-shirts all the time. We just want you to start using those muscles again before they turn to putty.
Look at it this way: do you wake up with aches and pains? Do you feel like you don't have any energy? Do you frown when you take your shirt (or blouse) off in front of the mirror? In short, do you feel old? Well, if there ever was a "cure" for old age, it's weight lifting.
You have several options in this regard. You could have junior take you to the gym with him and show you a basic routine. You could even hire a decent personal trainer to show you the fundamentals. Or you could read some of the articles here in T-Nation that are geared toward the older lifter (Senior T-man, issues 231 and 236).
But if you're dead set against going to the gym, you could still make some pretty good gains using a body-weight only routine. And if that doesn't sound appealing to you, at the very least, a regular push-up and sit-up routine, along with daily walks through the park are better than nothing.
Get Some Specific Blood Tests Done
The next time you're scheduled for an appointment with your doctor, request a comprehensive metabolic panel, lipid panel, PSA, and also be sure to get your TSH, T4 and T3 levels checked. Something we've often noticed is that a large number of people who have trouble losing fat are actually hypothyroid or borderline hypothyroid.
In addition to this, you father's out there should have your LH, free and total Testosterone, and estrogen levels checked. Mothers should get their estradiol checked, as well as their Testosterone. (Few gynecologists consider Testosterone when prescribing hormone replacement to their female patients, but they should. We've seen it make a world of difference in the way women feel and look.)
If it turns out you're hypogonadal, you and your doctor should discuss putting you on some sort of hormone-replacement program. Be aware, though, that even though you may come back as clinically "normal" in regard to Testosterone, some additional Testosterone may still be needed. Unfortunately, the range as to what's normal in human males is so large that what's normal for one man may not be normal for another.
Also, depending on what the exact cause of the hypogonadism is, you may be able to improve Testosterone levels by simply using Biotest's Tribex-500.
If estrogen levels are high (as they commonly are in older males), the doctor may also want to consider prescribing an anti-aromatase, or simply using Biotest's M.
Lastly (for men), even if your PSA came back normal, you may still want to consider taking a small dose of finasteride (1 mg per day) as a preventative measure against BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy). It may also prevent you from losing more hair from the top of your head.
If thyroid levels are low, you may benefit from taking Biotest's T2-PRO. If however, the problem is with the thyroid gland itself, then thyroid hormone replacement is really the only option currently available.
When the lab tests come back and you're in doubt about any of the results, ask sonny boy. He may not know the answer off-hand, but he'll find out for you by using our search engine. Remember, don't just go by your doctor's recommendations. It's time to take your medical destiny in your own hands.
Some Basic Mealtime Do's and Don'ts
Breakfast: What does cereal come in? A box, right? What should we do with food contained in boxes? Avoid them!
Okay, that's a little extreme as there are acceptable breakfast cereals out there, but by and large, most will slowly destroy your health. If you must eat cereal, eat those types that have plenty of fiber and don't contain additional sugars. Bran flakes and Shredded Wheat are acceptable choices, and oatmeal is an excellent choice.
Even so, make sure you get some protein with your cereal. What many of us weightlifting types do is mix some Biotest Grow! into the milk that shares the bowl with our cereal.
Likewise, avoid bagels. If you must eat one for breakfast, make sure it's draped with a hefty serving of salmon.
Lunch: Ah, the most precarious of meals, as most lunches take place in restaurants that don't have many healthy choices on the menu. We don't want to make this too difficult, so just try to eat high protein lunches with minimum amounts of carbs. Doing so is not only good for your waistline, but you'll avoid that post-lunch crash that makes you want to put your head on your desk and snore your lungs out.
If you get some sort of sandwich that's piled on two giant pieces of bread, ditch the top piece of bread, drape your lettuce over the top of the meat and use it as the top of your sandwich. If you must eat a hamburger, ditch the bun, or ditch the top of the bun and use the lettuce in the aforementioned manner.
Needless to say, do yourself a favor and skip dessert.
Dinner: Pretty much the same rules apply for lunch as they do dinner. Try to go easy on the carbohydrates and instead opt for lean meats and vegetable dishes. If you must eat things like pasta, opt for whole-wheat pastas or "protein fortified" pastas.
Try to get into the habit of eating until you're "almost" full but not to the point where you're stuffed.
Beddy-bye Time: Believe it or not, we like bedtime "snacks." Don't get too excited, though. We're not talking about a piece of leftover apple pie or a Homer Simpsonesque jelly donut. We're talking about some low-fat cottage cheese or a protein drink possibly spiced up with a dollop of natural peanut butter or almond butter.
In-between Meals: Low-fat yogurts are acceptable, as are protein drinks, hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal spiked with protein powder, or even a handful of nuts like peanuts, almonds, or pistachios, as they're rich in monounsaturated fat.
That reminds us, if you're traveling and don't have time for a meal before you get on a plane, one of the best meals you can have is one of Biotest's Grow! Protein bars. In lieu of that, grab some airport peanuts and beef jerky (really).
That's about it. We hope we didn't overwhelm you.
Ideally, we'd like you to adopt all of these suggestions, but to tell you the truth, we'd be happy if you adopted one or two and made them part of your lifestyle.
We want you to live long and healthy lives; lives that are enjoyable because you don't have a host of medical maladies, you're still ambulatory, and you have all your mental faculties intact.
The alternative is a premature trip to the nursing home where you might ultimately seek revenge for our younger years by smearing the walls with your poo-poo.