Fat’s where it’s at

Fat’s where it’s at – at least that’s what my Dad says when he hears the word come up, especially when it comes to complaints about weight loss or being too heavy.  My Dad is a man of few words, but when he does speak it’s usually something unexpectedly funny.  However on the serious side of things, he’s actually right!  Fats are a really important part of a healthy diet, weight loss, satiation, metabolism and of course, making the food we eat taste delicious!

Though for this blog I’m focusing on fats, it’s worth noting that food, especially GOOD food is essential to our health and affects our health in four main ways:

  • It provides energy
  • It fuels our metabolism
  • It becomes a part of our body structures and,
  • It influences hormones and neurotransmitters necessary for our body’s to perform their daily functions

Many people are unaware that the types of fats you consume not only affect your body’s composition (how much fat you have compared to muscle and water) but they even affect your individual cells and how they function.  Aside from the facts that some fats will indeed make you fat when overconsumed over time, some fats will also cause your cells to function poorly.

The border of your cells (plasma membrane) is made up of a fatty layer of phospholipids – they have fatty tails and phosphate heads (imagine little tadpoles).  One part of the tadpole loves water, the other does not and this is what helps to regulate what substances can move in and out of the cell.  In order for our bodies to function, there are hormones and neurotransmitters coming in and out of our cells all the time. The types of things moving in and out and the rate they move drastically affect our metabolism and your body’s ability to function in general. Naturally, if these cell borders are made of fats, the type of fats we consume will drastically affect how our cells function.

There are two main types of fats:

  • Saturated Fats
    • Generally solid at room temperature
    • Animal fats, palm and coconut oil are natural sources
  • Polyunsaturated Fats
    • Generally liquid at room temperature
    • Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids
    • Found in fish, walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil, soybeans, to name a few

While there are many positive and negative effects of fat consumption, in this blog I want to look specifically at how they affect our cells.

A diet high in saturated fats will actually cause your cell’s borders to become more rigid and a diet high in polyunsaturated fats will do the opposite.  Ideally, your body needs those borders to be fluid and flexible to make it easy for your cells to communicate.  When they are so tightly packed together, it can be extremely difficult for the passage of hormones – insulin resistance is a great example of this.  It occurs when those little tadpoles are packed so closely together that it becomes difficult for insulin to enter the cells.  This leaves excess insulin floating around in your blood stream which increases your risk of type II diabetes.

Another area of the cell that is greatly impacted by fats are the peroxisomes.  The WHAT?  You don’t need to remember the name!  BUT…what you do need to remember is that these little organelles work hard all day long to break down fats consumed in our diet.  When peroxisomes break down fat, they actually produce a lot more heat than actual energy compared to what other areas of the cell can produce.  They are specialists when it comes to breaking down omega-3 fats, however they need a lot of fat in order to produce a significant amount of energy in your body.  This is GREAT news for those of us consuming omega-3’s on a regular basis because peroxisomes will burn MORE omega-3’s fats to produce the same amount of energy required by your body to do work as other areas of the cell.

While this is great news for fat consumption, it certainly doesn’t mean we need to rush out and start eating fish and consuming omega-3’s like the ocean is about to dry up.  It’s super important to stick to your recommended daily intake of omega-3, more is not necessarily better.  According to the dietitians of Canada, adult women should be consuming 1.1g/day and adult men 1.6g/day.  For the average person, you could easily achieve this by eating 2 servings of fish per week.

Consuming a diet low in saturated fats and high in polyunsaturated fats is critical not only to fat loss, but also to maintain a healthy bodily functions!  I think most of us know this by now as the media has drilled it time and time again, but often the science behind it is isn’t explained.  Hopefully this gives you some insight…and perhaps extra motivation to watch those saturated fats!

What’s for dinner?

How many times have you asked yourself, your spouse or your family that question?  There are certainly weeks where that question comes up in our house!….and I get the same answer…”I don’t know”

My husband Kofi is a picky eater but by now I know well enough what he does and doesn’t like – though I have been able to talk him into eating a few things that prior to trying, he claimed he didn’t like 🙂 At the end of the day he is pretty easy to please, for the most part he eats whatever I make as long as he knows what it is. (as an aside, I did try “tricking” him into eating bison and it didn’t go over so well, I wouldn’t recommend this technique in your marriage lol)

You would think that cooking for someone who is easy to please would make deciding what to cook for dinner easier, but I still struggle some days!

Unhealthy vs healthy food

I wanted to share a few of my strategies for simplifying that 5pm, “what’s for dinnner” dilemma.

1) Meal plan

This is by far the most effective strategy.  When my schedule allows, and I do my best to make time for this, I spend about 45min-1hr on Sundays planning dinner for the week.  Firstly, I take a look at our schedule – what’s going on, who’s home which nights, which days are the longest (in other words I won’t feel like doing much!), which days are shortest (more prep time on these days).  Then I take a quick peek in the freezer, fridge and pantry to see what I have on hand.  From there, I come up with 2-3 fail-safe recipes that we eat on a regular basis, double check the recipe ingredients and add anything I don’t have on hand to my grocery list.  Next, I take a look either online or in my recipe books for 2-3 new recipes, I like looking online best because of the reviews, but I have come to realize that a few of the recipe books I own have more hits than misses for good dinners!  I choose 2-3, check the ingredient list and add to my grocery list what I don’t have.  VOILA!!!!  Dinner ideas prepped, grocery list complete.  These weeks are a breeze!

2) Keep frozen meat and veggies on hand

This is something I learned from my Mom, growing up in rural Alberta where grocery stores are open limited hours and are always a 10-15min drive minimum away, you need to have meat and veggies in the freezer!  If I haven’t had time to meal plan on the weekend and we’re having a really busy week, the one thing I ALWAYS do is take meat out of the freezer in the morning.  That way at the very least I have one thing ready to go when I get home.  I realize I could pick up fresh meat on the way home, but I like to stock up on fresh meat when it’s on sale and freeze it in smaller packages at home 🙂

In the summer it’s easy to bbq the meat and either grill or make a salad out of whatever veggies we have in the fridge.  In the winter, I usually opt for a stir-fry or steamed veggies alongside whatever I took out that morning.  It’s also easy enough to pick up veggies for a side dish or salad on the way home from work!

3) Have someone else do the cooking

For those days when you’re totally drained, take advantage of modern day conveniences!  Most local groceries stores sell rotisserie chicken hot and ready to go.  Pick up one of these babies, a bag of pre-chopped stir-fry veggies, pre-made salads, and/or bell peppers.  Shred the chicken and make a stir-fry, chicken salad or chicken wraps (try lettuce wraps for a leaner choice!).

Pre-Workout Prep – Y’all ready for this?

I will never forget the first and only time I’ve ever thrown up and passed out due to exercise because it was such a strange and random experience.  I was in the 3rd year of my Kinesiology degree in Calgary.  At this stage in my school I was back at Mount Royal College completing the Athletic Therapy program for my major.  In our “Clinical Rehabilitation” class we were studying various cardio programs that could be implemented for people who wanted to maintain their fitness while rehabilitating their injuries.

As a little background, this year was probably the most stressful of my university days due to the demanding curriculum and practicum commitments.  Classes, studying, clinical hours and working with varsity teams consumed days, evenings and weekends.  Needless to say, my personal health was not a top priority but I still managed to make time for a few workouts here and there…this was definitely a year of maintenance in the health and fitness department!

Back to class, 8am sharp we met at the gym with our lab partners (yes, in Kinesiology many of our “labs” were in the gym) ready to take each other through the paces.  On the docket that day were sprints on the stationary bike.  We were learning to challenge our anaerobic systems so the drill was short, only 10 minutes-ish, but during that 10 minutes we completed 10sec all-out sprints with 30sec recovery periods.  Now you have to understand, in a class full of individuals who love physical activity, almost every activity is an unspoken competition.  I think this is particularly true among girls… “Ohhhh, I think I’m only going to go about 80% today”  HAH. Fooled you!!! I sprinted my brains out for this 10 minute “lab” exercise.  Anyhow, the drill wasn’t so bad but about 15 minutes afterward I suddenly felt a wave of nausea come over me.  I cool-ly, “I’m feeling great” made my way over to the bathroom where the bagel I consumed about 30 minutes prior made a reappearance.  Interestingly enough, after this I felt completely fine.  First time that ever happened to me, I swear.  But I felt fine after so I carried on, business as usual!

The second half of the class was in the exercise studio where we stood in a group watching our prof give instructions.  Suddenly I started seeing stars and felt wobbly so I just put my hand on the shoulder of a friend standing next to me when all of a sudden BAM.. lights out!  I don’t think I was out for long and lucky for me the only thing truly wounded was my pride 🙂

tired runner

At the time I’m thinking what the heck??? This never happens to me and it felt so random!  But here’s the thing, was it really random? Could it have been prevented?

Enter the REAL physiology lesson of the day – fuel your workouts! Today’s lesson specifically dives into the details of why your body needs this fuel, preceded by a clear example of what can happen if you don’t give your body what it needs to exercise efficiently!  Here are a few reasons why my body reacted the way it did that day:

1) Insufficient time between eating and exercising:

I chose a high fiber bagel that morning and scarfed it down 30 minutes before rushing to class.  Though they are not a bad choice, high fiber foods are not ideal pre-workout (less than 60 minutes prior to exercise) snacks because your body takes a long time to digest them.  They’re going to sit in your stomach for longer than say, a piece of fruit or a glass of juice, which are considered simple carbohydrates and very easy to digest.   My tummy was hard at work trying to process the carbohydrates in that bagel, but it just didn’t have enough time!  By the time I had hopped on the bike to start my sprints there was a sudden demand for blood flow to my muscles so they could receive the nutrients they needed to perform, taking away from the blood flow sent to help with digestion.  So where did this leave my bagel? Lonely and half-digested in the pit of my stomach.  Post-workout my body was in recovery mode, working hard to clear the lactate and hydrogen that were causing an acidic state in my body.  Digesting food was no longer at the top of my body’s priority list – no energy to digest the bagel meant my body needed to get rid of it ASAP!

2) Low blood sugar:

By the time you wake up in the morning, your body has been fasting for as long as you’ve been sleeping – for most people that’s at least 6-8 hours.  To say your energy stores are depleted would be an understatement.  My blood sugars were low when I arrived to class as my digestive system was still working hard at getting the energy from my bagel into my blood stream.  The main fuel source for short-burst anaerobic exercise is carbohydrate, something my body was severly lacking prior to that workout.  So I was starting my workout running on empty, a problem in itself that aggravated another issue:

3) High cortisol levels:

Cortisol is a hormone released when your body is under stress (physical or emotional) and too much of this stress causes your body to break down amino acids (protein!) and convert them to carbohydrate, it’s a catabolic hormone.  Under the stress of school and more acutely, the stress of the sprinting, my cortisol levels were likely rampant.  The result? Cortisol was breaking down the protein in my muscles, desperate to synthesize fuel to restore the catabolic state I had suddenly created.  I had my body running at full steam doing everything it could to bring me back to a resting state but I just didn’t have enough in me, sending me crashing, literally!

This is a bit of an extreme case, but every now and again we find ourselves in varying levels of this situation!  Maybe you’re not throwing up or passing out per se, but your body might be working overtime, depleting your energy stores and sending you into survival mode. A stressful week at work or at home, combined with lack of sleep, sends you to the gym to give ‘er guns in hopes of reducing that stress.  If your body is improperly fueled and run down like mine was, you’re going to send it crashing.  This is why pre-workout nutrition, proper rest and stress management are so important not only to our general health, but also to achieving the results we’re hoping for when we exercise!

Here are your take-aways to FEEL your BEST in any workout:

1) Rest up!  Especially the night before a workout you know is going to be pushing your upper limits.

2) Fuel up! Ensure you have something to eat prior to working out.  If you’re working out early in the morning with little time between eating and exercise, choose simple carbohydrates like fruit, blended juices or smoothies. These foods are easy for your body to digest quickly and will provide you with the fuel you need. If you are working out later during the day, aim for a pre-workout meal 2-3 hours before working out including a serving of veggies, a serving of protein, a serving of carbohydrate and a small serving of healthy fat.

3) Lighten up! Make time for rest and rejuvenation throughout the day, this is quiet time for your body to slow down. It doesn’t have to be a long rest, even taking 5 minutes away from your desk, computer, cell phone, television, or whatever you’re doing can make an impact on your stress levels and cortisol release.  Think simple things like stepping outside for a breath of fresh air, read a few pages in a book, mediate, look out the window, anything that takes you into la-la land and away from your current situation.  You’ll be amazed at how refreshed you feel going back to whatever you’re doing.

Here’s to a week of keeping your food down and staying vertical at the gym!!! 🙂