Carnitine Confusion

This is another one of my articles inspired yet again, by my travels through Thailand. I see products all over filled with one type of supplement or another and carnitine is common. You may have heard of this compound before. Do you take supplemental carnitine? What is it good for and do we need more than what is provided in a healthy diet?
Carnitine comes from an amino acid and is in almost all of the body’s cells. It was initially found in meat and you may have seen it written as L-Carnitine, propionyl-L-Carnitine, and acetyl-L-Carnitine. If you have ever seen it touted for its ability to burn calories or provide energy, that is true. It helps bring certain fats into the mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell) so they can be burned, or in more scientific terms, oxidized to make energy. It also removes toxic compounds that are generated in the mitochondria by transporting them out. So, carnitine does help burn fat and prevent build up of toxic substances, but that doesn’t mean extra carnitine will lead to extra fat loss.
As far as recommended intakes are concerned, most people do not need supplemental carnitine because our bodies can make and store what we need. Most of it is concentrated in skeletal and cardiac muscles that can and do use fat from food as fuel. There are a few exceptions for needing supplemental carnitine, however they are very specific and related to genetic and medical issues. The liver and kidneys synthesize carnitine from the amino acids lysine and methionine and animal products are the best, naturally occurring sources of carnitine. It is found in meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products (primarily in whey), and then of course, there are products with added carnitine.

Carnitine Supplementation
Carnitine is naturally found in fish and meat.

So what’s the scoop, or the goop?! The Food And Nutrition Board (FNB) has not set recommendations on intake amounts as they concluded it is not an essential nutrient after reviewing various studies. A good place to look is at the metabolism of supplements in question and see what happens when we have too much. Our bodies are able to regulate and maintain proper blood concentrations of many substances and compounds in the body, that whole homeostasis thing, and so our kidneys do that for us with carnitine. Even those who may not consume much carnitine, like vegetarians and vegans, are able to maintain proper blood levels. Furthermore, and according to the National Institute of Health, most (54-86%) of the carnitine that we do eat is easily absorbed in the small intestine and enters into the bloodstream. Guess what happens when we eat too much? The kidneys will excrete it in our urine, it helps maintain that stable blood concentration. So while we may want more of a good thing, something that helps us burn fat, extra amounts do not really help if its weight loss we are looking for.
With that, however, there may be some instances where additional carnitine, more specifically, acetyl-L-carnitine, is warranted. This form of L-carnitine is better absorbed in the small intestine and gets into brain tissue better (it can cross the blood brain barrier more easily). Regarding athletics, there has been inconsistent evidence showing that carnitine enhances performance, helps the body use more oxygen, improves metabolism during exercise, nor has it been shown to increase intra muscular levels of it. When it comes to aging, and some other instances, added carnitine maybe beneficial. It may play a positive role in improving mental function and lessen deterioration in adults with some cognitive impairments and Alzheimer’s disease. Supplemental carnitine may help manage cardiovascular and peripheral artery disease, fatigue caused by chemotherapy for cancer treatment, type 2 diabetes; and in HIV and AIDS, it may slow progression and reduce neuropathy associated with the disease. But, these benefits are very specific and if you are affected by any of them, speak to your doctor for more case specific treatment regarding supplemental carnitine, Furthermore, many studies yield mixed results, so more research is always needed.
In short, we excrete carnitine beyond what the body needs, so supplements to improve athletic performance or to speed weight loss are largely ineffective. In the case of products with added carnitine, you can eat or drink them if you like, but like all things, do so in moderation. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I like the cool, fruit flavored jelly pouches in Thailand that have various supplements in them, but I only eat them occasionally and do so mostly because they are tasty and refreshing in the heat! Overall, eat a healthy diet with lean protein and skip the supplemental carnitine.

Get lean or lose weight? Which do you choose?

I recently completed a webinar put on by Dietitian Central, a website that is certified to offer continuing education units for registered dietitians. Because I love sports nutrition, I’ve purchased credits to participate in the webinars of my choice. I don’t need anymore CEUs to renew my registration come 2018 as I’ve collected many over the last 4 years, but I enjoy learning and engaging my brain.

This webinar was conducted by Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, an RD practicing in the Dallas Ft. Worth area and although we don’t have to complete a test or questions at the end of the webinars, I always like to take notes.

Here are some of the take aways from this webinar. A lot of it is info I’m familiar with, but it never hurts to take these courses, and of course, I do learn new information.

So many of the clients I’ve worked with over the years have been for general weight loss. Athletes have different requirements, but anyone looking to lose body fat or change up their body composition can benefit from this information.

Our bodies are made up of four main components when looking at what makes up our weight: lean body mass, fat mass, water, and bones. A common goal of not only athletes, but many average gym goers, is to gain muscle and lose body fat. If your goal is simply to “lose weight,” can you be more specific? Do you want to lose body fat, or do you want to lose overall body mass (both fat and lean body mass, LBM)?

Would you rather have 5 pounds of muscle or 5 pounds of fat? Muscle makes up lean body mass.

A great way to know what our body composition looks like is to do a DXA scan or jump into a bodpod, but that’s not always accessible to most people. If your gym has an in body analysis device, you can use it, but always ensure to use the same machine at the same gym as there is variance between machines. While they are not 100% accurate, you can use your first reading as a baseline and go from there to monitor results.

Here’s a chart to see where you stand if you’re able to analyze your body composition:

Female Male
Essential Fat 10-12% 2-4%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable 25-31% 18-25%
Obese 32%+ 25%+

As you can tell, I took this photo from somewhere else!

Athletes have more to factor in when considering diet and meal plans. They typically need to consume more calories than the average gym goer and often their particular sport will dictate what types and how much food should be eaten. If you’re an athlete, you may have a difficult time getting in all the calories you need and if you’re in the leaning out phase, restricting energy, losing weight can be difficult. Actually, losing weight can be difficult for anybody! When we restrict energy, our drive to eat is stronger. More ghrelin, a hormone that signals hunger, is produced. When more ghrelin is produced, people may eat more, leading to weight gain, the opposite of the intended goal, weight loss. A common issue or reason for people to not stay within a calorie restricted diet necessary for weight loss is because they feel hungry. If this happens to you, there are some measures you can take. Ensure you’re getting adequate fiber in the diet. Fiber leads to a feeling of fullness and slows digestion. Some low calorie sources of fiber are in low carb vegetables. Adding some greens is a great way to not only get fiber, but other vital vitamins and minerals, so feel free to get some in with every meal. Another trick is to ensure adequate protein at mealtime and with snacks. It also digests slowly and has proven benefits when consumed over the course of a day.
On the flip side, leptin is the hormone that signal fullness. Eat slowly and pay attention to these cues to prevent over eating.
When it comes to energy expenditure, or simply, burning calories, there are four components.
RMR: Resting Metabolic Rate- the rate at which the body burns calories to sustain life. This is what you’d burn in a given day doing nothing. It costs calories to think and breathe. Our organs also burn a lot of calories.
TEF: Thermic effect of food: Eating food burns calories, but only to an extent. It comprises about 10% of calories burned per day and some foods burn more than others. Protein burns the most calories during digestion, about 30%, because of it’s complex process of metabolism. Carbohydrates about 5-10%, and fats, about 0-5%. To clarify, I looked this up on line and found a more specific breakdown for an example on bodybuilding.com actually, but it makes sense. The author writes, “If you eat 200 calories of protein, your body will use between 40-70 of them in digestion.” In that example, those numbers fall within that approximate 30% range.
EEE: Exercise Energy Expenditure: This accounts for how many calories are burned during exercise. This is the most variable component. The more we exercise, the more calories we burn.
NEAT: Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis: Energy expended through typically uncalculated movements and activity throughout the day. This can include walking up and down stairs, getting up to get something, even body posture contributes. Some people may expend more it they fidget often, tap their toe, bounce a leg, etc.

Something to think about: as we age, our RMR slows. Females can experience a 2% decline per decade and males, 3%.

Of the four components mentioned above, EEE is the most variable and depends on frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise. Furthermore, high intensity exercises will increase the amount of calories burned over the course of the day via EPOC, excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. According to ACE, the American Council on Exercise, “EPOC is the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to its normal, resting level of metabolic function.” This process requires additional energy so the more intense your workout, the more calories you’ll burn in a day. (But you don’t need to do high intensity workouts every day, allow the body time to recover).

So, what’s the best way to change your body composition? Do you want to lose weight? Add lean muscle mass? First, determine how many calories you need by figuring out your RMR and basic activity level. I shared a link in another post about this very subject, refer back to it here:
If you want to lose weight, subtract about 400-500 calories, but to start, don’t take in less than 1,500 per day (women). If you hit a plateau in the future, you’ll need something to manipulate, and calories are one of those things. Also, it’s difficult to get all the nutrients you need on a lower calorie diet. If you want to gain body mass, eat a few more hundred calories per day and lift weights. Look at how much protein you need. A good calculation is 1.5 g/kg body weight (one kg=2.2 pounds). Ensure you distribute your protein intake over the course of the day. You also need fat and carbohydrates, but this ratio is better chosen with goals and preferences in mind. Carbohydrates provide energy and can fuel an athlete for optimal performance. Fat can play a tasty roll in a low carbohydrate diet, but that route is not for everyone. Either way, make sure fat comprises at least 20% of the calories in your diet. With a standard 2,000 calorie diet, if minimum fat intake is 20%, then 200 calories, or 22 g of fat would be a guideline and I’d even say that’s a bit low (but I’m an avocado and peanut butter lover, so I need my fats)!

PB and Avocado

A few tips for weight loss: eat small meals frequently, don’t skip meals, (not eating enough calories is not the optimal route to weight loss), after exercise, ensure you have a snack that contains both carbohydrates and protein to replenish glycogen and aid in muscle repair. Avoid refined carbohydrates, fried foods, and alcohol and also watch beverage intake. Drinks can be a source of added calories.

A few tips for weight gain: increase calories, eat small meals over the course of the day, make sure you eat breakfast, add some high calorie foods such as 2% milk, nut butters, high calorie protein supplements, have a pre and post workout snack, and you can even have something mid-workout to fuel you even more. Have a high calorie meal or shake before bed (I prefer casein shakes) and make sure you get quality calories!

Whatever your goals may be, whether it’s adding lean body mass, losing body fat, or training for optimal performance, you can achieve them. Monitor your workouts, calories in and out, and make sure to rest and recover!

How to Lose Weight!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Most people want to lose weight, and as a registered dietitian and personal trainer, people often ask me how to do just that. In short, diet and exercise are key components to your weight loss endeavors. Sorry, I’m not privy to any magic pills and potions and I don’t buy into fad diets and gimmicks, so let’s go over the ins and out of weight gain and weight loss. If we eat too much food, we gain weight. If we eat less food than we need, we lose weight.
One pound of pure body fat holds about 3,500 calories. There’s a generally accepted theory that in order to lose one pound per week, we should have a deficit of 500 calories a day. 7 days in a week times 500 = 3,500 calories, or again, about one pound of body fat. There are individual differences, however, and metabolic adaptations will vary because every body is different. The amount of energy (calories) one burns also varies, and the ranges can be significant, anywhere from about 75-500 calories a day beyond what’s necessary for weight loss. So, some people naturally burn more calories than others and can therefore lose weight at a faster pace and vice versa.
As weight loss is achieved, the amount of calories we burn changes. Body mass decreases and there are some metabolic adaptations that take place. A lower body mass will naturally burn fewer calories and people with a higher body mass will burn more rapidly. As we lose weight, we need to make changes to our initial calorie goals. Our metabolic hormones partially determine whether the food we eat will be utilized by the muscles, converted to fat, or burned as energy and the hypothalamus and pituitary gland work together in an effort to maintain a constant body weight. They control hunger levels and the body’s metabolic rate, the rate at which we burn calories for energy to perform not only daily activities and physical exercise, but normal life processes such as breathing, digestion, and reproduction.
When it comes to weight loss, a goal should be to maintain lean body mass while losing body fat. When we try to lose weight too quickly by having a high calorie deficit, more weight is lost from our lean body mass which can lead to a decrease in both strength and testosterone. When paired with the right diet, lean body mass can be increased, meaning we can lose body fat while we increase muscle mass. And when looking at things long term, gradual weight loss is better for holding on to that lean mass and we can keep the weight off longer.
What’s a good weight loss goal, you ask? It’s actually small, but that’s good, because small goals are achievable for the short term, and maintainable for the long haul. According to the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics, You should initially aim to lose 0.5-1% of your body weight each week. So, if you weigh 200 pounds, your goal would be to lose 1-2 pounds per week. That may not be “enough” for some people, but if you stick to it, you could lose over 50 pounds in a year, significantly reducing your risk factors for developing chronic, preventable diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
As body fat decreases, we do increase our chances of losing some lean body mass, but again, gradual weight loss and adequate protein intake can help prevent this. Athletes may require additional protein to support both their physical activity and growth of additional lean body mass- muscles! I’ve talked about protein needs in other blogs, but in case you forgot, current recommendations are set at .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for maintenance. There are benefits to higher intakes though, and 1.0-1.2 grams/kg of body weight has shown to yield positive results and for serious strength athletes, some recommend up to 2.2 grams of protein/kg of body weight. This amount is good for training adaptations, and resistance training and cardiovascular exercise increase needs.
Remember, slow and steady weight loss is key. If we restrict our intake too much, our basal metabolic rate will slow and conserve energy for basic life functions. Lean mass will be used as a source of energy for the body and inadequate calories will also slow the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. Thyroid metabolism is affected and metabolism further slows. When there’s less T3 and T4, the body breaks down less fat, which is why it may become difficult for some to to lose fat. Rapid weight loss puts us at a higher risk for yo-yo dieting, making the weight harder to lose each time. Like I always say, set short term, achievable goals, aim for a .5-1% reduction in body weight each week, and ensure you get adequate protein throughout the day. Weight loss is possible and beneficial. Give it time and develop healthy, sustainable habits that can last a lifetime.

Orangutans, Palm Oil, and Saturated Fat

Did you know over 80% of the habitats where orangutans once freely roamed have been destroyed? In the last year alone, over 6,000 of them, the world’s largest arboreal animal, have been killed. Their habitat is diminishing and they are still lost to illegal poaching, but why?
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and the largest in Asia. It is home to one of the oldest rainforests, and there are mangroves, peat swamp and swamp forests, ironwood, and other forests on the island. Many endangered animals such as orangutans, elephants, and rhinos call it home but sadly, numbers are dwindling, along with the other biodiverse wonders of this great island.

Just hanging around…

The main export of Malaysia is “crude oil,” and that oil comes from palm oil trees. Palm plantations can be found throughout Southeast Asia, and Indonesia and Malaysia are the biggest growers. Palm and palm kernel oil is like liquid gold. ​Palm fruit trees grow in areas along the equator and include both palm oil and coconut trees. The oil produced from both the palm kernel and coconut are similar. Palm oil trees produce a fruit that is red and orange in color when ripe and has a thick oily flesh, this oil is high in palmitic fatty acid and is about 50 percent saturated fat. Because of it’s red color, this oil is said to have a higher antioxidant capacity than other oils, and it is sometimes used in margarine spreads and other products. Palm kernel oil, however, is derived from the kernel inside of the oily fruit of the palm oil tree. This oil has a different fatty acid profile and is higher in saturated fat, comparable to that of coconut oil.
​Palm kernel oil has become a popular oil and it is quite ubiquitous- it is found in a variety of products from foods, to cosmetics, and it is even being used as a biofuel.
The roads in Malaysia are lined with palm oil trees. They are in neat rows and stretch deep into the darkening forest. I first noticed them in southern Myanmar, and in Malaysia, you can’t miss them, they are everywhere. I did some research and the results left me uneasy.

Crude oil mill in Southern Myanmar. (Taken from the bus, sorry for the blur)!

Over 3.5 million hectares of land have been cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. Indonesia and Malaysia produce 90% of the world’s oil, so many of the species that inhabit these areas are pushed off or killed as a result of deforestation.

Fields with new palm oil trees.

On the island of Borneo, and likely in some other areas as well, there are a few animal rehabilitation centers. I visited one such place called the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and got to see these animals, along with “pig-tail” macaques in their natural environment.

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary Entrance

The center was established to rehabilitate the animals rescued from the pet trade, and since its inception, they have admitted 760 orangutans, of which 81% went through rehab, and 66% were successfully released into wild. Due to a diminishing habitat, orangutans are more vulnerable to illegal poaching for the pet trade. The burning of the land also drives them out of the forest in search of safer places. I was told that Sabah, the northern district in Malaysian Borneo would preserve 60% of it’s land, Indonesia, on the flip side, continues to burn forests at an alarming rate. Subsequently, some of the orangutans have “emigrated” from their home country.
I had an interesting, albeit brief, chat with one of the staff members at the sanctuary about the underlying causes of WHY the orangutans are at the center to begin with. Agriculture on the island is a controversial issue. Malaysia and Indonesia are both developing countries and both the palm oil and rubber plantations bring much needed money and a source of income to the people, but that clearly comes at a huge cost. I for one, don’t have a solution to this situation. Avoid products containing palm oils, yes, but some say it would lead to deforestation for other reasons, like logging, for example. From a health standpoint however, it is good practice to limit palm oil consumption as it is high in saturated fats. In fact, the USDA, the WHO, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association, the British National Health Service, Dietitians of Canada, and likely many more organizations do not recommend regular intake of palm kernel and coconut oils due to their high content of saturated fat.
I enjoyed my visit to the rehabilitation center. The animals truly have a home there that is free of boundaries. They are fed a “bland diet” (mostly bananas and other fruit) twice a day to encourage foraging on their own and while many of them are friendly (as they were often kept as pets), there’s a strict hands off policy. So many places in SE Asia exploit animals, so I’m grateful for organizations like this that promote their welfare.
I’m not a die hard animal rights activist nor am I an expert when it comes to agriculture. I do, however, know a bit about nutrition. When it comes to saturated fat, I encourage you to limit intake, and because deforestation makes me so sad, I also encourage you to read labels and limit your intake of palm oils.

My face when passing all the oil palms from the bus window.

There are some sustainable plantations out there, but much of them (from what I’ve read) are not properly regulated (because of the ?that palm oil brings in). If you’re so compelled, do your own research. As time goes on and more rainforests are cleared, there will hopefully be more pressure and focus on these issues- before it’s too late. And if you ever get a chance, pay a visit to Sepilok. Your entrance fee of 30 Malaysian Ringgit (about $7 USD) helps keep the sanctuary running.

 

 

How Do I Lose Weight?

The One Thing You Must Do to Lose Weight! (Is that a catchy title?!)

Before I begin, let me first say that because I’ve talked and written about these topics extensively, I am writing in my own words. This tips and techniques not only come from my education in nutrition, but personal experiences as an RD, active adult, and former figure competitor. When blogging or writing on topics related to nutrition and fitness, I always want to do research and have references, but if I do that here, I’ll be writing a dissertation on weight loss and nobody will ever read it! If you want reference or a link, however, let me know and I can provide you with loads of resources.

As mentioned in my first “Nutrition” post, everybody is different and has different goals.  Once we determine those goals, I figure out how many calories you need to meet them, whether they be weight loss, maintenance, or growth. If you want to know how many calories you need, enter in your information on this site: http://www.freedieting.com/tools/calorie_calculator.htm. I use the little/no exercise option and know that on days where I may do more, I can eat more.

I’m a numbers person and use MyFitnessPal to track my intake (not anymore because I’ve really liberalized my diet since I’ve been in Asia). I recommend you try such an app because it is very eye opening and allows us to see how much we really put into our bodies.  It very common for people to OVER estimate how much they burn via exercise and UNDER estimate how many calories they eat.  Also, studies show that when people keep track of what they eat, they not only lose weight BUT they maintain that weight loss! Give it a try and eat within your needs for a few weeks.  I don’t make promises when it comes to quick fixes and fad diets, but if you do this, you WILL lose weight!

You know what else works really well when looking to lose or even gain weight? Physical activity!  For some, that can mean structured workouts in the gym, and for others, simply getting up, out, and moving around.

So, nothing mind blowing here, just eat within your needs, get in some physical activity, and track your calories.  It’s not much, but it’s a start, and next time, we will look at food and what healthy stuff you should be eating.

Do you use an app to track your food?  How about fitness trackers?  Leave your thoughts and comments and feel free to ask questions in the section below.