Taken from Elite:
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The information presented by Dr. Greg Ellis flies in the face of everything that the American Heart Association has been saying about a good, healthy diet. Dr. Ellis makes some very interesting arguments. If you think carbohydrates are the best fuel for muscles and help them grow the fastest, think again!
Al: Dr. Ellis, is there really any debate at all? Everyone knows that carbohydrates are what bodybuilders need, right?
Ellis: Despite what everyone thinks, carbohydrates are not the preferred energy source for the body. Fat is. The common belief that carbohydrates are used most often and provide the best calories for powering muscle contraction is erroneous.
Al: For discussionís sake, Iím going to buy that argument temporarily. So tell me, why is everyone so misinformed about the role of carbohydrates and fats?
Ellis: Well, thereís been substantial debate about the role of fat and carbohydrates in muscle contraction for years. In the late 1800ís the prevailing view was that carbohydrates alone fueled working muscles. In the first 25 years of the 20th century, research supported this view.
However, research since then has shown conflicting results. Zuntz found that muscle used both fats and carbohydrates, and others confirmed this. During starvation (which some ill-informed bodybuilders actually begin to approach during that last four weeks before a contest), fats provide the bulk of energy for muscle, both at rest and during exercise.
Fat, as fuel, is found in the bloodstream, where it is joined with a protein called albumin. This complex was named free fatty acids. Free fatty acids are one of the primary sources of fat that the body uses as fuel.
Al: Where do the current terms "glycogen-loading" and "muscle sugars" fit in then?
Ellis: In the late 1960ís, Scandinavian scientists showed that glycogen is important in endurance exercise and that glycogen is the bodyís storage form for glucose (blood sugar). Several studies revealed that, when glycogen stores in the muscle become depleted, exhaustion follows.
The Scandinavian scientists studied the effect of diet modification on endurance exercise. They put athletes on three different diets. The first was a normal diet of fats and carbohydrates. The second and third diets began with three days of protein and fat, but with no carbohydrates. Then, during the next three days, athletes in one group ate loads of carbohydrates and the other group stayed with the high-fat and protein diet. All groups exercised on indoor stationary cycles to exhaustion. The high-fat and protein diet group came in last. They rode for the shortest time. The mixed diet group was second, but the group who stoked up on the carbohydrates rode the longest. The researchers claimed that a personís ability to do exercise is dependent upon the glycogen level of the muscles. These studies have formed the basis for the glycogen-loading theory.
Al: Excuse me, Dr. Ellis, but what you have just told me seems to refute your thesis about the importance of fats as fuels.
Ellis: The problem is that these studies suffered a flawed design. They did not consider the long-term effects of the high-fat/high-protein diet. And further, like the blind leading the blind, almost no studies since these in the late 1960ís and early 1970ís, have experimented with different designs and protocols. So, even though there is continued evidence supporting these original conclusions that are based on the flawed design, researchers are unable to uncover the energy-enhancing effects of the high-fat/high-protein dietary mix because they have not tested it! The continued use of the flawed design leads to questionable and limited results.
Al: Well, glycogen loading and the need for lots of carbohydrates seem to have gained universal acceptance, your views notwithstanding.
Ellis: Yes, the idea is universally accepted by athletes, coaches, and scientists. These groups are even more convinced today of this than they were back then when the original studies were published. In 1977, the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition published their conclusions and, of course, the final report suggested that Americans should eat more fruits, vegetables, and grains while reducing their intake of meat, eggs, and dairy products. They advocated that carbohydrate intake provide 60% of the daily calorie allotment and that complex carbohydrates form the base of that 60%. So, fueled by the desire to minimize heart disease (this is why the committee presented their findings), athletes and scientists have been giving up fat as if it were poison.
Al: Well, isnít it? Isnít it bad to have too much fat cruising through our systems?
Ellis: Sure, too much. But that is not coming from eating fat if one is, also, at the same time, consuming a low-carbohydrate diet. It is actually a mixed diet, both high in fat and carbohydrate, that leads to high fat levels in both the blood and in the body fat. The reason for this is that the high carbohydrate diet stimulates the conversion of carbohydrate into fat.
The muscles can control how much of the two prevalent fuels, fats and carbohydrates, that they use. The body has a complicated biochemical control system with pathways that are now well understood. The pathway discoveries have been made in the last 30 years. The major finding that should interest you and your readers is that fat use controls the rate of carbohydrate use. This is not guesswork, but a biochemical fact.
If fat burns as fuel, then carbohydrate burning slows. This is controlled through a complex enzymatic process. Both fats and carbohydrates have their own enzyme systems that convert fat and/or carbohydrates to an end product used to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the chemical used to provide energy for the cellís metabolism.
Al: Could you explain that in more detail?
Ellis: Muscles produce energy from food. Essentially, muscles take cake or meat or whatever and convert it to carbon dioxide and water. Along the way, chemicals are made that use up oxygen in the process of making ATP. This ATP production takes place, of course, during the enzyme action in which food is converted to carbon dioxide and water. Some enzymes are regulatory or rate-limiting. They act just like a bend or pinch in a water hose. Bend the hose and less water runs through.
Al: I get the point. Continue, please.
Ellis: Like the pinched hose, the flows through the different carbohydrate and fat paths affect each other. As fats move along their path of use, production of a chemical called citrate (an end product of fat burning) increases. The citrate attacks a regulatory enzyme in the pathway that breaks down carbohydrates into a usable source of fuel. The net effect of the action of citrate is to slow down the movement of carbohydrates through their metabolic pathway. Itís just that simple. As more fat burns, less carbohydrate burns.
So citrate regulates the muscleís choice of fuel. In reality, it is much more complex than this as there are a number of regulators acting on multiple metabolic pathways. Many other chemicals can dramatically slow or stop the breakdown of glycogen in liver and muscle. They can slow the rate of blood glucose entry into the muscles.
The fuel used by each muscle fiber sends a message to the energy depots throughout your body. This is accomplished through hormones. Of most importance is that the level of blood glucose and fat in the blood signals the liver and fat cells either to send more or less fuel to the muscles. Itís a constant supply and demand situation and, remember, fat use in muscle controls carbohydrate use. And this further affects not only muscle, but the whole body.
Al: So fat use controls carbohydrate use; that still doesnít really tell me that carbohydrates are not better than fat for superior performance.
Ellis: OK, most athletes and scientists believe that exercise endurance is governed by how much glycogen is in their muscles. But how do they explain the fact that muscle exhaustion can occur despite having ample glycogen supplies in the muscles? That is, plenty of glycogen is left, yet exhaustion takes place. Furthermore, glycogen depletion affects only athletes who train nonstop or compete in events lasting more than several hours. For most sports performances, for weight lifting and bodybuilding routines, glycogen depletion is not a factor in muscle fatigue, not at all.
Letís look at some specific evidence. In 1986, scientists studied the effects of a difficult weight training workout on the fuel used by muscle. Nationally ranked competitive bodybuilders did five sets of fronts squats, five sets of back squats, five sets of leg presses, and five sets of leg extensions. Each set lasted about 30 seconds, with one minute rest between sets. The weights were heavy enough so that ten repetitions proved to be their maximum effort. That is, each set was to momentary muscular failure, where the successful execution of another repetition proved impossible.
It was an extremely difficult program, and the blood lactic acid levels were sky high. By their own admission, it was the hardest program any of them had ever undertaken.
To the surprise of the scientists, muscle glycogen decreased only 40% from the resting values (this was in the thigh muscles). Where did the fuel for energy come from? The immediate energy sources are available, including ATP, which is probably not stored, and some creatine phosphate. However, the amounts of these are very small and barely account for enough energy production to meet the energy demands of one set of one of the exercises, if that. Glucose shunted from the liver supplies some energy. However, this study showed that there was not a significant uptake by the muscle of liver-tagged glucose. The authors were forced to conclude that a large portion of energy came from a source other than carbohydrates.
Al: And now for the $65,000 question, where did it come from?
Ellis: The $65,000 answer is that it came from intra-muscular triglycerides. Fats inside the muscle cells have received very little attention. Most body fat is stored in the subcutaneous layer. Some is stored in other sites, especially around internal organs. But, approximately 0.5-1% is stored within the muscles as intra-muscular triglycerides.
Al: That isnít much.
Ellis: Yes, but it is quickly broken down to acetyl-CoA, which is the chemical that leads to the manufacture of ATP. As intra-muscular fat burns, carbohydrate burning slows. The key is this: as free fatty acid levels in the blood increase, this source of fat enters the muscle and is shunted into storage within the muscle as triglyceride. Fat, from inside the thigh muscles and from the blood, is what supplied the extra fuel for the bodybuildersí leg program.
I have also performed an intricate experiment with rats treated with estrogen, which sets in motion an ability to supply and burn more fat for fuel. The rats ran for two hours on a treadmill, and the results showed that they used much more fat than carbohydrate for fuel.
Al: What can one do to make the body burn more fat and save glycogen? Certainly we shouldnít take estrogen?
Ellis: Well, women in endurance events might be wise to select events that were timed with their estrogen peak if that were possible. Remember, the body prefers fat over carbohydrates as a source of fuel. It only burns carbohydrates as a supplement to fat use. Most scientists, however, believe it is the other way round. Unfortunately, they have not done their homework. Carbohydrates make up the difference when fat is not immediately available or if the enzymes for processing fat are too low in quantity. That is the critical point Ė are the enzymes for fat use at maximum levels.
Two things help. Training is the first because training conditions the muscle to burn fat by increasing the enzymes. This is like being on auto pilot. The enzymes that burn fat increase, and the body also changes its hormone balance so that more fat gets to the muscles from the fat cells. And, fewer carbohydrates are used because fat burning spares glucose and glycogen use.
Of course, the second thing to do, in addition to the training program, is to eat fat.
Al: Now wait a minute; that seems like an awfully strange idea. We get enough hidden fats in our foods anyway, donít we? Do we have to go out of our way to chew the fat?
Ellis: The foods you eat determine the types of fuels you use. If you eat fat, you burn fat, and if you eat carbohydrates, you burn more carbohydrates. Everything re-organizes from the smallest parts of the muscle cell to the larger parts, including the output of hormones that influence your whole body. Four major hormones influence fuel use: insulin, cortisol, glucagon, and growth hormone. They are anabolic (build-up) or catabolic (break-down). Glucose, derived from dietary carbohydrates, also has a direct effect in determining whether fuel is partitioned into storage or burned. Glucose has a direct effect on all of the enzymes involved in the conversion of glucose into fat with its subsequent storage in the body fat depots. Further, it directly affects the expression of genes that are involved in stimulating the production of the enzymes throughout the body that convert dietary carbohydrate into body fat.
Insulin is anabolic, but all the way. This means that insulin makes you fatter while, at the same time, also stimulating muscle growth. Insulin fluctuates, and the type of food you eat determines the amount of insulin released as well.
Guess what? Carbohydrates push insulin up. With a chronically high carbohydrate intake, you have a chronically high insulin response. This does not do your body fat level any favors. While it might be OK for your muscles, this makes it difficult for your fat cells to release fat to your blood. The primary function of insulin is to control the release of fat from the fat cells, not to clear the blood of glucose, as most scientists believe. High insulin levels stop the release of fat, and low insulin levels permit a rapid release of free fatty acid from the adipose tissue.
Growth hormone is anabolic to muscle, catabolic to fat. Protein and fat diets increase the output of growth hormone. And guess what? High carbohydrate diets lower growth hormone output. However, growth hormone as a normal hormone in the body is permissive to body balance in terms of muscle and fat quantities in your body. Changing the amount of hormones artificially, like growth hormone (or insulin), inextricably alters this balance.
Al: Bodybuilders seem to disregard logical statements like that though. If you tell them that insulin and growth hormone are anabolic to muscle, some of the less intelligent ones will take them artificially, regardless of health risks. So what should the smarter ones do?
Ellis: Bodybuilders strive to increase muscle mass and lower body fat. Yes, you can reduce fat with dieting, but you almost always lose muscle too. A balance between calorie reduction and changes in hormone levels through dieting and exercise is the goal. At any level of calorie intake, youíll have more building, or maintenance, of muscle, and loss (or no net gain) of fat on a high-protein, high-fat diet compared to a high-carbohydrate diet.
Al: Yikes! That statement is going to turn some heads.
Ellis: It shouldnít if people look at the decades-old research and results. We knew, scientifically, as early as 1950 that a high-carbohydrate diet stimulated the conversion of carbohydrate to fat with its subsequent storage in body fat depots. Observations by farmers were that high-grain diets fattened their animals. This observation, by farmers, occurred much earlier than the scientific observations that were uncovered from 1950 on.
Later, with the glycogen depletion studies, athletes on high-protein and high-fat diets did have reduced performance, but the study lasted only 7 days. The athletes were simply unable to use the fat supplied to the muscles because their fat-burning enzyme levels were so low. There were not enough enzymes in the fat burning pathway to process the fat now made available to muscle both by the diet and by the release of the free fatty acids from the adipose tissue. The athletes couldnít process fat and the alternative fuel -- carbohydrate -- was drained out of the muscles by the previous 7 days low-carbohydrate diet. As a result, fuel requirements of the exercising muscle were unable to be met.
Al: So what would have happened if the bodybuilders remained on the high-protein/high-fat diet for more than a week?
Ellis: I have some of the answers in my research. After one week on a high-fat diet, a group of rats ran 8% longer than rats on a high-carbohydrate diet. After another four weeks on the diet, the high-fat group ran 33% longer than the carbohydrate loaded rats.
The run times were on the order of 40 minutes, which would normally have required more glycogen as compared to runs lasting more than an hour. Therefore, the results of the study are even more impressive because of the short run times. Itís funny -- the glycogen levels stored in the muscles naturally fell in the rats on the high-fat diet. However, this did not adversely affect performance. To the contrary, performance improved -- a lot.
In another study, rats were adapted to the high-fat diet for 12 weeks. At the end of that time, a treadmill endurance test resulted in the high-fat fed rats running 68% longer than another group of rats fed a high-carbohydrate diet.
Al: So what should athletes do in your view?
Ellis: Bodybuilders should avoid mindless brain washing and should give fats a chance. It takes time. Other studies suggest that it may take 20 weeks for the human metabolism to adapt fully to a high-fat diet. The maximum performance-improving capacity will only begin to be realized after an adaptation period exceeding several weeks. Alaskan sled dogs perform very poorly on carbohydrate diets. In fact, their racing times are best when they eat at least 32% of their calories as protein and the rest as fat! We must ask why carbohydrate diets decreased their performance.
Al: I suppose the dogs are not talking. I canít believe youíd issue a simple recommendation to radically increase the consumption of fat. What about heart disease?
Ellis: The notion that cholesterol and fat are the primary cause of heart disease is one of the greatest scientific deceptions of our time. A discussion of this topic requires a more detailed exploration. In the case of bodybuilders, they are at an extremely low risk of heart disease due to their vigorous and regular exercise. Their blood fat levels are very low. A recent study of bodybuilders who ate a diet thought to put them at risk for heart disease showed that, despite the diet, they showed no signs of risk at all. And you know what else? Those bodybuilders who ate a high-fat diet had 7 pounds more muscle on their body than another group of bodybuilders who had ingested a high-carbohydrate diet!
Al: What about cholesterol levels?
Ellis: Less than 5% of the American population really have a cholesterol problem, and this is a medical problem; these are sick people. People who are not sick do not have the problem, and diet is simply not a part of the problem. The fat in food affects only a small percent of people in terms of having a significant effect on their blood cholesterol. And blood cholesterol levels for more than 95% of the population are not, in anyway, related to the rate of heart disease. Eggs and beef may be high in cholesterol, but for the vast majority of people, especially bodybuilders, these foods do not raise cholesterol. For example, a recent study showed that people with high cholesterol who went on a diet only of rib-eye steaks, lowered their cholesterol significantly. Cholesterol values dropped from a pre-diet level of 263 mg to 189 mg. Low-carbohydrate eating always leads to a decrease in cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
I donít think that bodybuilders, or anyone else in regular training, need to worry about cholesterol, unless the values begin to exceed 275 mg. Most other people could easily maintain normal, healthy levels by reducing their overweight, over-fat condition.
I think the threshold for dietary carbohydrate reduction to make a positive effect in increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat begins when carbohydrate intake is reduced to a level lower than 25% of total daily calorie intake. I believe that this level is still too high to realize optimal benefit. I also do not know if 0% carbohydrate intake is more effective than, say, 10% or 15% of daily carbohydrate intake as a caloric percentage of the whole dayís calorie intake.
Many people argue against a high-protein diet as dangerous to the function of the liver and kidneys. There is absolutely no research to support this belief, and in fact, there is an abundance of research indicating that a high-protein diet is very effective in improving liver function. Too often, in the area of nutrition, many studies are done on sick individuals, and there are too few studies on athletes.
Al: Do you have any final piece of advice for our readers?
Ellis: I realize that a lot of this is different from anything your readers have read or heard. However, the risks are non-existent, and the benefits are high. I wish bodybuilders and other athletes would experiment for an appreciable time with a higher fat diet and get off this ultra-high carbohydrate diet thing. If they are concerned with their blood fat and cholesterol levels, they can monitor them. I do know that a diet somewhat higher in fats and proteins will not only make your muscles grow faster, but will also give you better endurance. Give it a try. -END
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