The High Performance Health & Nutrition Digest

In today’s post:

  • Folic acid potentially dangerous to mother and child
  • Dark chocolate: a powerful tool to reduce cardiovascular risk factors
  • Harvard study says marathon training makes you fat
  • Cyclists and triathletes: Red Bull is BS
  • Large-scale Harvard study demonstrates that low-carb diets are far superior to low-fat for weight loss
  • Male triathletes: watch your testosterone
  • Just one alcoholic drink by pregnant mothers is enough to cause growth retardation of baby

 Folic acid potentially dangerous to mother and child

If you’re pregnant, planning to be, or know someone who is, it’s important that you read this. Folic Acid is a common supplement recommended by doctors for pregnant women (or women planning to get pregnant). The basis for this is that higher levels of folate reduce the risk of birth defects (including such conditions as Spina Bifida). This is true, however only if the Folic Acid is metabolized into a form of folate which can be absorbed. Over 50% of women globally have a certain genetic variation that does NOT allow them to convert folic acid to an active form of folate, which therefore results in an abnormally high level of unmetabolized folic acid, in itself something dangerous. By the way: folic acid doesn’t exist in nature, which is why the body can’t always metabolize it into the absorbable form of folate (which requires 15 enzymatic steps). This research paper from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition sheds some more light on the matter. 

Dark chocolate: a powerful tool to reduce cardiovascular risk factors

A very well designed study published in the British Journal of Nutrition reveals the powerful positive impact of cocoa flavonoids (present in dark chocolate) on the risk of cardiovascular diseases. In this study, subjects consuming 450mg/day of cocoa flavonoids saw a very significant improvement in a wide range of cardiovascular factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol, and most importantly: endothelial function (health of blood vessels) and hemodynamics (how well blood moves in your body). High quality minimally processed dark chocolate contains between 500mg and 900mg of cocoa flavonoids per serving. Another excuse for me to continue my nightly habit of consuming 90% organic dark chocolate! 

Harvard study says marathon training makes you fat

Well, it doesn’t exactly say that but almost. Harvard scientists conducted a study on amateur marathon runners which showed that 75% (!!!) of them didn’t lose any weight during 3 months of marathon training! 75%! In fact, some even GAINED weight! Ok I’m putting too many exclamation marks, but to be honest, this doesn’t surprise me. I repeatedly tell my coaching clients that “chronic cardio” (whether marathons or triathlons) is NOT the best way to lose weight, and often backfires. If you want to know the proven tools you can use to lose weight, read my 3-part series on weight loss training and nutrition: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Cyclists and triathletes: Red Bull is BS

In a new and very well-designed study published in the Int’l Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance, scientists compared Red Bull vs. caffeine vs. nothing on a 1-hour cycling TT performance using trained male athletes. The results: Caffeine (same quantity as in a Red Bull can) outperformed Red Bull. Conclusion: while the caffeine in Red Bull helps performance vs. nothing, all other ingredients didn’t contribute anything to performance (and probably contributed to health in a negative way). I’m sticking with my freshly brewed cup of black coffee.

Large-scale Harvard study demonstrates that low-carb diets are far superior to low-fat for weight loss

I won’t get into too many details here since I’ve talked about this extensively in previous blogs. This new study by Harvard (involving over 67,000 dieters) showed that a low-carb diet achieves better and more sustainable results vs. low-fat diets. In case you’re wondering how come and you’ve never read my posts about it: simplistically, it has to do with hormones – carbs trigger your “fat storage” hormone, fats don’t. 

Male triathletes: watch your testosterone

I’ve often said that chronic endurance training blunts testosterone in men (among other hormonal disruptions in both men and women). The only way to reverse that is by adding “heavy weight lifting” to the training routine and getting enough animal-based protein and fat (yes, animal-based for testosterone, sorry), and if levels are too low, adding things like maca root powder (unproven), Zinc, Magnesium, and Vitamin D. This new study on Elite Triathletes published in the Int’l Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance showed a significant decline in testosterone levels after 10 days of training.

Just one alcoholic drink by pregnant mothers is enough to cause growth retardation of baby

If you’re pregnant, planning to be, or know someone who is, it’s important that you read this. The evidence is clear and doctors keep emphasizing it: NO DRINKING WHEN PREGNANT, NOT EVEN ONE DRINK! I’ve sensed a relaxation of this rule in recent years, with some people advocating that “one drink won’t harm”. This is dangerous, misleading, and could lead to disasters. There is a difference between “one drink won’t harm” and “one drink may not harm”, emphasize on “may not”. You can try to cross a highway on foot and you “may not” get hit by a car. Not worth the risk. Read more here.