By Jose Antonio, Ph.D.
As a sports nutritionist, I only give a flip about nutritional and supplement strategies for three things: gaining muscle, losing fat and improving performance. Don’t talk to me about health. I don’t care about that dreadful word called ‘wellness.’ What the heck is that, anyhow? Wellness sounds like something fat people seek when they can’t achieve a physique that won’t spill over from seat 10A to 10B. Thank God for aisle seats, eh?
So if you want to get a physique like MMA fighter Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson or the Filipino pugilist and pound-for-pound greatest boxer on planet Earth, Manny Pacquiao, what nutritional and supplement strategies should you partake in? Well, my friend— ask and you shall receive.
First off, let’s talk food. Food is the #1 most important item in your nutritional arsenal. Don’t be distracted by asinine arguments that pit foods vs. supplements. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) seems to think that it’s an either/or proposition (see article by Mike Stones, Dec. 7, 2009; ‘Balanced diet beats dietary supplements, claims ADA’). What moron thinks you can live off supplements? These ‘straw man’ arguments are just a waste of time. But if the ADA wants to waste their time on such nonsense, be my guest.
Is there a best diet? In essence, the ‘best’ diet is one that you’ll actually stick to. Nonetheless, there are certain food choices that seem to produce the best changes vis-à-vis body composition. There’s quite a bit of individual variation, hence all of us must tweak our diets here and there for the best results.
IMO, one of the best diets or eating styles out there is the Mediterranean diet. In one study, 187 subjects were randomly selected from the PREDIMED-UNAV center after they completed three-year intervention program. Participants were following a Mediterranean-style diet with high intake of virgin olive oil or high intake of nuts, or a conventional low-fat diet (i.e., like the ADA suggests). Adiposity indexes were measured at baseline and at year three. Plasma TAC or total antioxidant capacity was evaluated using a commercially available, colorimetric assay kit. So what did they discover?
The Mediterranean diet, especially rich in virgin olive oil, is associated with higher levels of plasma antioxidant capacity. Plasma TAC is also related to a reduction in bodyweight after three years of intervention with a Mediterranean-style diet rich in virgin olive oil.1
So what happens when you do lose weight? What’s the best diet for maintaining that weight loss? A recent study compared changes in bodyweight and composition and blood lipids after short-term weight loss (four months), followed by weight maintenance (eight months), using moderate PRO (protein) or conventional high-carbohydrate (CHO) diets (again, what the ADA tells you to eat). Scientists found that the PRO diet was more effective for fat loss and body composition improvement during initial weight loss and long-term maintenance, and produced sustained reductions in triglycerides and increases in HDL-C compared with the CHO diet.2 Also, women on a short-term isoenergetic high-protein, moderate-fat diet maintained muscular strength and endurance of upper and lower limbs during high-intensity resistance exercise without experiencing fatigue earlier, compared to a control diet.3
So eating more protein and less carbs doesn’t necessarily reduce energy, as is claimed by many on the high-carb bandwagon. Let’s face it. If your goal is better body composition, a moderately-elevated protein intake represents the best strategy. Why? Scientists have come up with these top-three reasons:
1) Increased satiety— protein generally increases satiety to a greater extent than carbohydrate or fat. So you feel fuller and are less apt to gorge on doughnuts and cupcakes.
2) Increased thermogenesis— higher-protein diets are associated with increased thermogenesis, and hence you burn more calories.
3) Maintenance or accretion of fat-free mass (muscle mass).4
And going low-fat just doesn’t make sense vis-à-vis plasma testosterone.5 You need saturated fat for keeping your testosterone levels high. If you feel like your sex drive is stuck in the sand trap, eat yourself a nice, thick, juicy steak. Your body will thank you for the protein and your gonads will thank you for the fat!