Useful Links: Part 2
Create healthy habits, not restrictions.
For two months, I posted weekly polls on nutrition and exercise on my Instagram stories, gathered my followers’ responses, then shared my research and own personal view. I saved this collection of bite-sized advice in a highlight called “Fitness Q&As”, and have now edited and converted it into a series of blog posts.
I proudly present to you the first 10 questions!
This week’s topics include:
1. Which one do you think is worse for your health: sugar or salt?
“Sugar” is the collective term for a class of carbohydrates made up of only one or two molecules, called monosaccharides and disaccharides.
Sugar is often “demonised” by the media, but it doesn’t cause fat gain (unless you are in a calorie surplus), obesity, addiction, or any other purported ill effects. Not on its own, anyway.
Nevertheless, many high-sugar foods contain a high amount of calories and saturated fat, and smaller concentrations of vitamins and minerals. Therefore, for the sake of diet quality, it may be better to limit your intake of these.
It is also worth mentioning that too much sugar will impact tooth health.
On the other hand, excess salt alone can cause high blood pressure, which in turn increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
In general, if you have too much of one, you also tend to overeat the other, as unhealthy habits often occur together. But, in answer this specific question, if one considers them separately, I would argue excess salt may be worse for your health.
2. Which one do you think is worse for your health: carbs or fat?
As far as we know at present, it’s better to moderate consumption of saturated fat, as an exaggerated intake seems to result in adverse health effects.
Overall, getting most of your fat from unsaturated fat sources appears to be a better choice. In particular, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, called essential fats, can’t be produced by your body, therefore consumption via food intake is paramount.
Omega-6s are more common in most people’s diets than omega-3s. The current general recommendation for the latter is to have at least one or two portions of fatty fish per week, or a comparable amount of nuts and seeds rich in omega-3, such as walnuts and chia seeds.
Lastly, trans fats are the only type of fat that should be cut out from the diet altogether or limited as much as possible.
Carbs get a lot of unjustified bad press. In general, they are simply the body’s preferred source of fuel. They provide energy that can be used right away, stored for later in muscle and liver, or, when those stores fill up, it can be converted into adipose tissue (body fat).
Whole grains tend to have more fibre and a lower GI value than their white counterparts, so they get digested more slowly and keep you fuller for longer.
However, “white carbs” can be a valuable addition to a balanced way of eating. For example, immediately after a workout, quick and easy digestion should be prioritised to ensure nutrients reach the damaged muscle as soon as possible. For this reason, higher-GI foods would be a more appropriate choice than lower-GI ones under these circumstances.
In conclusion, I wouldn’t say either carbs or fats are worse for your health. It comes down to personal preference and individual response to one or the other.
3. Which one is a balanced meal: a salmon salad or pizza?
A balanced meal contains appropriate amounts of fruit or vegetables, protein, complex carbohydrates, and fat, which could be optional in some cases.
A salmon salad contains vegetables, protein, and fat, but no complex carbohydrates, whereas pizza has everything: vegetables (tomato sauce and often other toppings), protein (some amounts coming from the cheese, the rest usually from beef, chicken, or fish toppings), carbs (the dough), and fat (oil and cheese).
However, these components feature in excessive quantities rather than “appropriate amounts.”
As a result, neither meal is technically balanced.
Most people chose the salmon salad as their answer. When posting this question, my hypothesis was that the concept of “balanced meal” would be conflated with that of “good food,” so it was interesting to collect these responses.
4. Can you be healthy at every size?
I asked this question to address the popularity of the Health at Every Size movement.
To me, “health at every size” means “let’s not exclusively focus on weight and make only weight-related assumptions about health” rather than, “let’s never make weight-related assumptions ever again.”
Obesity can result in long-term negative health outcomes, like diabetes and hypertension. Moreover, it is associated with mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. I would not consider an obese person healthy, even if they exercised on a regular basis.
If you were overweight and not obese – the definitions given on the BMI chart – and participated in frequent physical activity, you could be fit. However, your risk of the previously mentioned conditions might still be higher than if you were fit and not overweight.
Weight still matters for health. Weight-related concern and weight stigma are two separate concepts. Keep the former, ditch the latter.
5. What do you think is worse for your health: a lack of fitness or being fat?
Alissa Olenick (@littlelyssfitness on Instagram), a great source of evidence-based information for those interested in running and strength training, published an extremely intriguing perspective on this.
Although excessive body fat can put you at increased risk of a number of conditions and diseases, fat loss isn’t the only way to improve your health.
Exercising to improve your fitness can help protect you from those conditions and diseases regardless of your body fat.
For example, if you consider my weight in 2016 compared to my weight now, the difference is minimal (gains in progress). However, in 2016 I was a skinny guy with an eating disorder, whereas now I feel the healthiest I have ever been.
Therefore, while reducing body fat is important for health when body fat is excessive, improving your fitness is important at any stage of your life, no matter how much you weigh.
I want to point out that this doesn’t negate the argument I made in answer to Question #4. At a higher body fat percentage and weight, your risk of adverse health consequences remains higher than that of a person holding less fat on their body.
Being fit may provide an additional layer of protection, but why not have two?
6. Which one is best for fat loss: resistance training or cardio?
If you were in comp prep for a bodybuilding show, I would introduce cardio into the training program only when your caloric intake got very low and body fat stopped decreasing. However, most people won’t get to such extremes.
For anyone in the general public, who might need to lose fat for health-related purposes, a combination of both resistance training and cardio would be ideal to help turn exercise into a long-term habit.
Performed on its own, cardio will help you shed fat, but might also result in muscle loss if performed too often and too intensely.
Resistance training may not burn as many calories acutely, but it turns up your metabolic rate for the rest of the day, thus allowing you to expend more total calories.
Furthermore, resistance exercise preserves or increases muscle mass, which utilises more energy than fat. If two individuals had the same weight, the one holding more muscle mass would be burning more calories throughout the day, which can help enhance fat loss results.
7. Does fasted training benefit fat loss?
Fun fact: you do burn more fat if you exercise fasted.
When you go without food for an extended period of time, such as when you sleep, your glycogen (carbs) stores become depleted, so your body has to extract that energy from fat.
However, this is an acute response, meaning it happens in the moment.
Over the 24-hour period, your body will burn more carbs to compensate.
The same occurs if you train after eating: you burn more carbs acutely, so your body may use more fat for fuel for the rest of the day.
For fat loss, the fuel source you use for exercise isn’t nearly as important as your total daily calorie balance.
Moreover, if you eat something prior to your session, you are likely to have more energy and thus exercise more intensely. As a result, you will expend more calories.
Conversely, if you did fasted training, you might get tired more easily, therefore working less intensely and burning fewer calories.
8. Which one is the best workout frequency for resistance training: six to seven times per week or three to five?
Three to five times per week is usually plenty for the average gym-goer and for most people who are serious about lifting weights.
With a job, a family, and other external stressors, exercising six to seven times per week could lead to the accumulation of a lot of fatigue and stress.
Best case scenario: you make no gains.
Worst case scenario: you start hating physical activity, develop overtraining syndrome, or get an injury.
To see results, you need to train in an effective way, not as much as humanly possible. In general terms, this means finding the right training volume to help you progress without killing yourself; eating and sleeping well; and managing stress as best you can.
9. Is eating two to four hours before a workout better or worse for performance?
In general, eating before a workout means more energy for training, which means better performance. This can be applied to both endurance and resistance training.
What I would advise is to be mindful of food quantity in relation to how much time you have before your session, so that you can avoid any digestive distress. If you have two to four hours, a bigger meal should be fine. If you are going to train within an hour of eating or less, a smaller snack might be a more appropriate choice.
To mention a couple of examples, I usually have fat-free Greek yogurt or low-fat protein cheese, an apple, and rice cakes as my pre-workout meal, which I take 45 to 60 minutes before training. These choices are a good combination of protein and fast-digesting carbs, so they provide fuel whilst being easy on my gut.
The best course of action is to find what works best for you by experimenting with different timings and meal options.
10. Are you more likely to gain weight if you eat something 10 minutes before bed than if you ate the same thing two hours before bed?
If you eat something 10 minutes before bed and you are not accustomed to doing so, you may see a higher number on the scale the next day. By the end of the week, the weight will be “mysteriously” gone.
So did you gain and lose fat in two days? Unlikely.
To gain fat overnight, you would have to eat 3,500 calories above your energy requirements, which roughly equates to a pound of fat, in one day.
More realistically, you weigh more the next day because you still have food in your gut from the night before, are retaining more water, or a combination of the two.
In other words, don’t worry about eating before bed. If a sandwich contains 400 calories at 4pm, then I can guarantee you it will still contain 400 at 9:30pm.
In Future Episodes:
The second part of this Fitness Q&As series!
If you have any other questions, please post them below.
A personal trainer who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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