Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fitness Myth's Exposed: Why The Glycemic Index and "Calories" Are Stupid

Fitness loves to lie to you. The lies Fitness sells you allows Fitness to sleep in a solid gold-shake weight-plated mansion and drive a monster truck fitted with wheels that were fashioned out of your hopes, dreams, and used P90X infomercial fake sweat spray bottles.

If Fitness did drive around in a monster truck, this would be my whip.

So, you want to lose weight, gain weight, get healthy(er), look good naked, become a male escort, or learn how to use a bowstaff, no one will argue that diet is a very important, if not the most important, factor. Ask any fitness enthusiast or search any website and the first two concepts they will throw at you are:

1. You need to watch your calories and
2. You need to eat low glycemic index foods.

The concept of "calories" and glycemic index are misguided to say the least. To say the most, they are worthless and stupid.


How did the Wendy's Classic Triple Baconator not make it on there? It must be low cal.

Without going into ridiculously complicated scientific jargon (that pretty much means nothing) I am only going to talk about "food" calories. Not kcals, thermochemical calories, or the other billion stupid little concepts that Fitness people over complicate for the sole purpose of confusing people in need of help into buying something terrible for them.

A calorie, in the context I am talking about, is defined as the amount of heat needed to heat 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius. So, how are the calories in food determined? Some guy in a lab coat puts the Thermunator in a big oven, waits till it is reduced to ashes, takes that ending temperature, puts in a very big equation, and then that resulting number, probably around 6,000 in my example, is the resulting caloric load of the food in question.

If eating a Thurmanator Burger (Thurmans Cafe, Columbus, OH) is on your bucket list, make sure it is near the bottom. And yes, I have eaten one of these.

This whole process has birthed the term "burning calories." We all hear this term a million times a day on a million different TV ads or in any number of Fitness related conversations. Given the process I described above it makes sense, right? We eat calories, we burn calories, right? We burn more calories and eat less calories, we get ripped, right? Absolutely not.

The mechanisms by which we digest foods has to do with using millions of chemicals and enzymes to break food down into substrates to be used in metabolic activities later on (or it can be pooped out). We do not have a giant bonfire inside our bodies that the food we slop down falls in to. If the whole calorie thing were as easy as eat less and burn more to lose weight, that would assume all calories are created equal which is absolutely insane.

I am not a big research study person for the most part. I can't stand some guy or lady in a lab coat who has never eaten well or lifted a weight before in his/her life telling me what is best for all 285 meat fueled pounds of myself. But, this one is very, VERY interesting in regards to calories. Dr. Alan Kekwick did a study years ago to try to figure out which macro nutrient (carbs, fats, or proteins), when eaten in high amounts (90% of total calories) during a calorie restricted diet (1,000 calories a day) would help obese subjects lose the most weight. So, three groups were formed, a 90% carb, a 90% fat, and a 90% protein group, and each group only ate a 1,000 calories a day for... I have no idea, a couple of weeks or something.

The carb group GAINED an average of .2lbs a day
The protein group lost and average of .6lbs a day
Here is the crazy part... The fat group lost almost ONE EFFING POUND A DAY.

If all calories were equal and we "burned" them equally then the results of all three groups would have been exactly the same... or at least in the same ballpark.

Whatever your goals are, I firmly believe it is not how much you eat, it is what you eat. Someone who eats 2,000 calories in fruit loops a day is definitely not going to look as good, be as strong, or have as much human dignity as someone eating 2,000 calories in lean meats, vegetables, and nuts a day.

Finally, a food pyramid I can relate too.

Glycemic Index

Unless you live under a rock or you have absolutely no concern about your physical well being (then how the hell did you get to my blog?) then you have heard of the Glycemic Index (GI). The GI is a list of high carbohydrate containing foods and it describes the foods effects on your blood sugar levels. Maintaining constant healthy blood sugar levels (no sharp peaks or drops) throughout your day is key to whatever your physical goals may be. Blood sugar levels trigger numerous chemical and hormonal responses in your body. These responses determine what substrates get sent to your muscles, what get stored as fat, and a bunch of psychological and mental factors. The lower a foods glycemic index, the less impact the food has on your blood sugar levels, the less likely hood of the foods you eat being stored as fat (during most times during the day anyway). Here is a list of a couple foods and their GI:

Sounds pretty cut and dry, right? As long as you stay low GI you should be good to go in regards to not turning yourself into a 900lb "Discovery Channel Special" human land monster, right? Absolutely wrong again.

The GI is 100% accurate on measuring a carbohydrates effect on blood sugar. The problem is, there is more than just carbohydrates in 99% of the foods on Earth and those other compounds also elicit a blood sugar response.

Let's take milk. The chart above gives whole milk a GI of 27. Milk has actually been shown to be anywhere from 15-30. This would be considered a very low GI and is a major source of calories in many diets that follow the GI. There is an index developed that examines a foods direct response on insulin levels (shoot up when blood sugar spikes) called the Insulinemic Index (II). Due to the fermented properties of milk and also the large amount of lactic acid (lactic acid actually lowers the GI of carbohydrates but has a huge inulinemic response) the II of whole milk is 90-98. Which is about the same insulin response as eating a loaf of white bread.

Anyway, the moral of the story. Don't just take the advice people give you about your own well being. Ask questions, do your own research, and become as knowledgeable as you can in regards to efficient systems to reach your goals. These are just two bright and shiny examples of ways Fitness enthusiasts, infomercials, and Fitness magazines mislead people. There are literally thousands more out there.

Sprint. Kill. Count Calories?