Gary 'Smiler' Turner's Blog

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Weight Loss, muscle gain, calories and the state of the fitness industry

I've been a bit slow on my blog in the last month as I have been carrying out interviews for podcasts by others, carrying out research, and also giving a few interviews.

Here's one that you'll find interesting. Two professionals asked the same question - and we 'nearly' give the same answers ;)

Enjoy, and remember, question everything you are told!

GaryTurner and Jared Ackerman

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Is wheat actually bad for us?

No. And yes.

Well, it depends.

Let me explain.

Currently there is a lot of talk that wheat is bad for us, and we should avoid wheat and its related products, or even grains completely. Apparently it leads to obesity, many people are intolerant, is toxic, is a source of food allergies, gives rise to bloating – and even is a component of various mental diseases. Here is a quick blog post to discuss.

I’ve been searching for the answers. Despite the scare mongering in books such as Grain Brain and Wheat Belly, it is actually hard to find solid research supporting the claims that they make. I scoured Pubmed and such resources, looking for various meta and systematic reviews first, then individual studies second. I kept coming up short – there is actually very little research out there that shows that wheat is bad for us. But, there is some.

Whether or not wheat is bad for us will be down to our genes, our environment, and how we move through that environment. 

Let’s start with obesity. A major component of obesity is the over-consumption of carbohydrates. Wheat is a carbohydrate. Wheat is a component of bread, pasta, and cakes. These offer little nutritional value beyond the energy that they contain – they are not nutritionally dense. Wheat does contain protein, around 14g for each 100g, however this can cause the problems as with coeliac disease. As a generalisation the only nutritional reason to eat these would be for energy. If you don’t need that energy, it has to go somewhere, and this energy can be stored as fat.

(Edit 14 July 2014: A nutrition professor friend of mine suggested that it might be nice to point out the distinction between milled products and whole grained ones. Whole grained products are more nutritionally dense than their milled alternatives. The also contain ferulic acid and secoiresorcinoids which might be good for heart health. So if you do eat wheat, whole grain products offer more for you nutritionally.)

If your genetics mean you don’t handle carbohydrates that well, such as those who may be termed ‘carbohydrate intolerant’, then you will most likely find that eating lots of wheat will fuel a rapidly expanding waist line.

So, in respect to obesity wheat isn’t actually bad within itself – it is the over-consumption of wheat and wheat related products that lead to obesity. Too much of anything can be bad for us.

Summary: Wheat itself doesn’t lead to obesity, but the over-consumption of it can.

Around 1 in 100 people are intolerant of wheat. Not actually wheat, but most likely intolerant to the gluten that it contains.

Gluten is a composite of two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. When it is hydrated it forms a network of fine and stretchy strands. It is gluten that gives dough elasticity enabling it to be turned into bread, cakes, and pasta, helping them to keep their shape. Gluten comes from the Latin word for 'glue', which gives an idea as to the benefits. Gluten is the major protein element of wheat.

Coeliac disease is caused by the immune system adversely responding to gluten and producing anti-bodies against it. These antibodies unfortunately attack the villi and micro-villi in the intestines,  the hair-like strands that extract the nourishment from our food. Gluten intolerance, or coeliac disease, can therefore lead to malnutrition. People with coeliac disease will obviously find wheat bad for them due to the gluten. Saying this though, many of those with coeliac disease only have mild symptoms and may even be unaware of their condition.

Some people appear to suffer from non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS. These unfortunates suffer from bloating, gut pain, headaches and lethargy in response to gluten – but with no adverse immune reaction. There are some small studies that support this.

Summary: Some people are intolerant to the gluten in wheat, which can lead to symptoms such as malnutrition, bloating, gut pain, headaches and lethargy.

Not all intolerances from wheat come from gluten - some may come from FODMAPs. FODMAPs are the fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are a set of sugars found in wheat. These are digested lower down the intestines in a process that can produce an abundance of gas, and attract water. This can lead to bloating, wind, and loose faeces. As always, the extent of this in a person depends on their individual genetics. Not everyone will be affected, only the very few.

Summary: Some intolerance may come from the FODMAPs found in wheat, leading to gas, bloating, and loose faeces.

A tiny minority of people can suffer from wheat allergy. There are a number of components of wheat that these people may allergically react to. These are allergic reactions to the various proteins that are found in wheat. People may also be allergic to the contact with wheat, or even its pollen.
Wheat allergies are different to intolerances and coeliac diseases as they involve different immune cells and antibody types.

Common symptoms of a wheat allergy can include exzema, urticarial, asthma, hay fever, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, and tissue swelling (inflammation) caused by fluid leakage from blood vessels. In extreme cases symptoms include mood disorders, headaches, anaphylactic shock, irritable bowel syndrome and psoriasis. 

Summary: Allergies to wheat can lead to a host symptoms ranging from the mild to very severe. Fortunately only a tiny minority of the population have these.  

So is wheat good or bad? It depends.

If your genetics and your behaviour give you a tendency to get fat from eating excessive carbohydrates, then wheat is most definitely bad. We don’t need it in our diets, and therefore it probably would be beneficial to cut it from the diet. Cutting wheat from the diet will mean cutting bread, cakes and pasta amongst more. None of which add much by way of nutrition above pure energy. If you are fat it might be worth cutting out wheat products and seeing the difference it makes.

If you are unfortunately intolerant to wheat, or allergic to it, then yes, wheat is bad. Again, this is just down to the individual and their genetics. If you suffer from some of the symptoms it may be worthwhile cutting wheat from the diet and seeing what happens. If you cut wheat out and feel better, even if it just down to the placebo effect rather than intolerance or allergy, this would still be a good thing.

Otherwise, pass the bread please, especially with that nice salted butter…

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Cortisol - don't blame me for the fat!

Here's a quick blog post about cortisol, that has every right to be stressed!

Cortisol is often blamed for an increase in stomach adipose tissue – fat around our stomachs. But, cortisol does NOT store fat. It has been wrongly accused. Cortisol actually releases fatty acids from our adipocytes (releases fat for energy from our fat stores) so we can use them as energy. Contrary to popular belief cortisol doesn’t store fat – it actually releases it!

Cortisol joins lactic acid and cholesterol as being wrongly accused. Jokingly, on my Facebook feed my friend Tom Barbieri has suggested they should form their own support group for the wrongly hated.

So what is cortisol, and why does it get wrongly accused?

Cortisol is a stress hormone, released into the blood by the adrenal glands. Cortisol can act on nearly every cell in the body. Cortisol acts to raise our metabolic rate, acts as an anti-inflammatory, controls salt and water balance, and influences blood pressure. It also releases energy sources into our blood for use.

These energy sources are glucose and fatty acids. Glucose is released from the liver. Muscle is also broken down into amino acids, and these are converted again to glucose. Fatty acids (fat) become released from adipocytes (fat cells). All of these energy substrates enter our blood stream. This energy allows us to act in the face of a stressor.

With the stressor removed, cortisol falls, and the energy release (from cortisol) stops. Yet, if we don’t use the energy floating around our blood it still has to go somewhere. The muscle and liver stores become replenished with the excess glucose. If these stores are full the glucose is converted and stored in our adipocytes, our fat cells. Any excess fatty acids become absorbed and stored once more in our adipocytes. This may result in more ‘fat’ being stored than before, due to the increase in glucose thanks to the breaking down of the muscles. The effect of this however is nominal, and this is in the absence of cortisol, not because of it.

Cortisol is naturally released in the morning, when we are in a fasted state, at times of stress, and during exercise. But cortisol is most commonly discussed in respect to stress.

Stress affects us psychologically and physiologically. Stress is a major causation of an increase in fat storage. But that isn’t down to cortisol. Cortisol does a good job, ensuring we have energy to respond to threats. It doesn’t deserve the bad press.

Friday, 27 June 2014

How much fat can we lose in a week?

During my research and review of the available literature, the highest reduction I have found in adipose tissue, our fat stores, is 3.5lbs (1.6kg) over the course of a week. This was in a laboratory controlled environment and included nearly complete starvation. Yet, marketing for weight loss products often states that we can lose far more than this, sometimes in just a few days. How can this be?

Our metabolism can only work ‘so fast’. Metabolism is the amount of chemical reactions taking place in our body. This limits how much fat can be released to be utilised as energy over a given time. There are physiological and biochemical limiters at play. 

I would suggest that the most fat a person can realistically look to lose over the course of a week would be 1-2lb, or around 0.5-1kg. Any other weight loss over and above is unlikely to come from fat. Instead it will come from other sources. These will be our carbohydrate stores, water retention, muscles being eaten into for energy - together with our daily fluctuations in how much food and waste is in our digestive system, our hydration levels, and our general water retention.

Key points:
  • The maximum ‘fat’ we can lose in a week is around 3.5lbs (1.6kg)
  • The realistic figure for how much fat we can expect to lose in a week would be 1-2lb (0.5-1kg). 
  • Any more weight loss will be water, carbohydrate stores, muscle mass and daily fluctuations in our digestive tract and water retention.

Our body has carbohydrate stores to fuel physical activity and our blood sugar levels. These stores are in our muscles and liver, and we store the carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. For every 1g of glycogen we store, we also store around 3g of water as part of the process.

As we diet our carbohydrate stores may reduce, which also releases the stored water. Depending on our physical activity and food we will also probably be eating into our muscle mass to use it as fuel. Let me illustrate the carbohydrate point further by showing just a bit of what happens under starvation.

In total starvation, within around 24 hours our livers run out of their stores of carbohydrates. (The liver maintains blood sugar levels, and has a store of carbohydrates from which to do this.) There is about 100g of carbohydrate in our livers and this is stored with around 300g of water. So in 24 hours we may lose around 400g of weight from the reduction in carbohydrates in our liver.

At the same time we will be depleting our muscle carbohydrate stores, which account for more by way of carbohydrate and water weight. Just accounting for the reduction in carbohydrate and water from the muscles and liver can account for a 1kg reduction in weight during the first day of starvation alone. When moment we eat carbohydrates again the stores start to be replenished and the water is again retained. This is therefore an element of ‘transient’ weight loss.

Our blood sugars have to be maintained within variable tolerances. So as the blood sugar drops our liver replenishes the blood sugar from its glycogen stores. Yet, when they are depleted we still need energy. So the muscles start to be broken down and the liver converts these proteins to sugar, to maintain our blood sugar levels. We eat into our muscles, therefore losing more weight. 

Key points:
  • In around 24 hours of total starvation we may lose 1kg in weight from carbohydrate and water. 
  • This is transient weight loss and will be replaced when we are eating again. 
  • With our livers depleted of carbohydrate we start to eat into muscle giving weight loss we don't need.

 When starting a fat loss regime initially there can be some high levels of weight loss. Yet, be aware, most of this weight will NOT be fat. Much of the weight loss will be water and carbohydrate, which represents transient weight loss. We'll put this straight back on when we begin eating again. We may also be eating into our muscles to use them as energy - and this is weight loss that is not beneficial.

In order to lose fat a careful approach is required, and it is not an easy task. It is not simply a matter of eating less and exercising more. We need to balance our hormonal responses to food. Exercise and physical activity needs to be targeted towards using fat as a fuel source. A person’s psychology needs to adapt to take on board life changes and knowledge, so that behaviours can change. 

A person looking to drop fat also needs to understand that whilst reducing the energy absorbed v the energy expended may have initial success, long term the body will look to regain the weight loss – and due to ‘metabolic damage’, possibly add more weight. This results in studies showing that 95% of people who start a calorie restrictive diet end up larger after a year.

To lose fat, and keep it off, is an art form, one that I teach in my workshops and will also present in the products I have in development. Short term approaches are needed and also long term approaches – and it is likely that both approaches will require different approaches. Everything also needs to be tailored to an individual.

Be aware of marketing in weight loss products. Please take heed of the information I have written here, and be better informed. Realistically the total amount of fat we can expect to lose in a week is 0.5-1kg, and that is probably under optimum conditions. Any claims stating that more fat than this can be lost in a week are most probably very ‘questionable' at best.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Complex Carbohydrates are BAD for Weight Loss

I always find it interesting when I see the cereal adverts saying things like “full of complex carbs to give you a sustained release right through the morning”, whilst marketing themselves as a weight loss product. 


Because if you want to lose fat, complex carbohydrates can actually be your enemy! 

In the digestive system carbohydrates can only be absorbed by the bodies in their simple form of individual sugar molecules. This is why ‘simple’ carbohydrates can be absorbed quickly – they are in the most basic forms of sugar molecules. After eating simple carbohydrates the sugar molecules enter the blood stream, ready for use, in a relatively short period of time. This is why simple carbohydrates can give an ‘instant’ energy hit.

Complex carbohydrates are three or more sugar molecules that are connected together. Before they can be absorbed the body has to ‘break’ the bonds between them. This means that it takes a little longer for the individual sugar molecules to enter the blood stream for use. This can take several hours for the process to be completed. Therefore sugar molecules will have a sustained release into the blood stream for some time after being eaten. 

Eating carbs causes the release of the hormone insulin. Even thinking about eating carbohydrates releases insulin! It is also triggered by the carbohydrate molecules, glucose, entering the blood stream. The glucose levels in the blood stream need to be within variable tolerance levels with an optimum level for balance. Insulin has the main role of removing excess glucose from the blood stream and storing it. It will store the excess glucose in the carbohydrate stores in the muscles and liver, and, if we are eating in excess, will store the excess glucose as fat in our fat stores – adipose tissue, the name for our fat tissue. 

Insulin also inhibits the release of ‘fat’ from our adipose tissue. Simply put, if insulin is present, you won’t be releasing fat from your fat stores for use. With insulin present you will be setting yourself up in fat storing mode rather than fat burning. 

So here’s the key point. If you are having a sustained release of sugar molecules, as you do from complex carbohydrates, you will be maintaining your body in fat storing mode rather than fat burning. When the adverts tell you that you will be getting “a sustained release right through the morning” what they actually mean is you will be getting “a sustained condition inside the body of fat storing rather than fat burning right through the morning”


  • Sugar can only be absorbed by the body in its most simple form.
  • Complex carbohydrates need to be broken down into the simplest form, which takes a little time.
  • Eating carbohydrates release insulin.
  • Insulin puts us in storage mode rather than burning mode.
  • A sustained release of carbohydrates, such as from complex carbohydrates, keeps us in storage mode, and out of burning mode, for longer.

Reducing adipose tissue, our fat stores, is not a simple business. Hopefully this simple and generalised blog post will continue to help you take notice and get you to think. Especially when you are listening to those cereal adverts!