Sunday, February 13, 2011

Metabolism 101

I have resurrected the blog!

I don't know how often I'll be posting. It seems like all of my snarky comments and pointless thoughts can be summed up in 140 characters or fewer.

About a month ago, I wrote a scathing response to a blog comment I saw regarding Jesse Litsch and his weight. I deleted it and decided to do a blog post instead. I mean, it's not often that I feel I know enough about something to write a blog post.

I've finally gotten a Round Tuit, prompted by Travis Snider's endorsement of Gary Taubes' latest book, "Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It."

I've eaten a low-carb diet since 2002, and I rarely talk about it. We LCers tend to keep quiet because people think we're crazy conspiracy theorists and "killing ourselves" because we eat food that actually came from a farm, and not a cardboard box with an ingredients list that reads more like a WHMIS data sheet. So it warms my weary heart when a celeb comes out of the closet, so to speak.

"Why We Get Fat" is essentially a shorter, more reader-friendly rewrite of his 2007 tome, "Good Calories, Bad Calories".

Taubes is not someone trying to get rich with the latest big secret fad to lose weight. He is a critical science journalist with masters degrees in physics and journalism. He has spent years combing through the data to try to figure out how and why the advice we're being given by health authorities has made our health worse. He also does a nice job debunking the "calories in, calories out" nonsense that people buy.

Now, the ignorant comment to which I almost replied was something to the effect that Jesse Litsch needed to stop eating the team spread, get a nutritionist, and drop weight.

I realize it was probably just a meaningless jab at the token fat kid on the team, but I will post the question, anyway: why?

Tell me this: is Jesse Carlson also to be admonished, because he obviously doesn't work out and doesn't eat enough? What's good for the goose is good for the gander, people. They're eating the same spread. You can't say that it's acceptable to be underweight, but it's not acceptable to be equally over-fat. You can't say "it's just Carlson's genes", but not Litsch's. I know that fat discrimination will never go away, and I'm the last person to be politically correct, but it bugs the hell out of me when it leads to the perpetuation of bullshit myths.

I don't particularly care what size Jesse Litsch is, but I'll use him as the token fat kid in this illustration of how stupid it is to look at someone, athlete or otherwise, and draw conclusions about their fitness level or diet.

Vernon Wells is another example. He was criticized by several ignoramuses during spring training last year for "looking fatter." So what? That doesn't say anything about his workout regimen. Maybe his wife learned to cook. Who knows, but who cares? Body fat percentage is irrelevant as a measure of fitness level.

Unless you are privy to medical records, you can't possibly use someone's appearance as an indication of their fitness level and nutrition status. This is one of the biggest scams out there, people: the belief that everyone who is eating and exercising their best, will automatically be entitled to six-pack abs and 5% body fat. Its irritating corollary: anybody carrying some extra body fat couldn't possibly be near their optimum performance.

Wells is a good example because he was recovering from an injury. The more likely explanation for weight gain is medication. In a blog post that I believe he deleted, Dirk Hayhurst wrote about the myriad of medications he was on following his shoulder surgery. He was hospitalized for stomach troubles, and the meds were the prime suspects. It turned out to be something else, but it illustrated how aggressively injuries are treated by the medical staff. They want these guys back at 100% as quickly as possible. The players are likely to be on harsh medications such as prednisone and prescription anti-inflammatories. Many of these are notorious for causing weight gain. There are far more examples of medications that cause weight gain: migraine medicines and SSRIs come to mind.

The reverse is also true. If David Purcey were to have gotten off his Ritalin - a stimulant related to amphetamines - you could expect him to be 10 or 20 lbs heavier, even with no change to his workouts.

Have a look at Litsch's '08 rookie teammates:



Several were missing from the screencap, but let's just say, that's an awful lot of muffin-topping and manboobs going on. Two of the guys were what I'd call ripped. Two were about average. Three had serious guts. Now, because the beer-gutted dudes NOT named Randy Ruiz were graced with a small or average frame and angular faces, no one will ever question their fitness level based on how they look in a baseball uniform. Hell, you could throw 10 or 20 lbs on a guy like Scott Richmond, with a thin frame and mile-long legs, and you'd probably barely notice. Litsch (as well as former teammate Ruiz), however, had the audacity to be born with wrists the size of tree trunks and a round face. He's one of those people who will simply never be thin. So because of this, apparently, he is obviously unfit and needs to go on a diet.

Yeah.

So here's where I wanted to tie it in with the Taubes book: the sad thing is, if Jesse (or insert chubby athlete here) goes to see that nutritionist, he'll be told to eat low-fat and cut calories. He or she might even convince him to become a vegetarian. He'll load up on carbohydrates, like he's supposed to. If he manages to lose any weight, he'll be hungry all the time. His lipid profile will look like crap, with abysmally high triglycerides. His performance will probably go down, especially if he gets below where his body would be at a natural - not necessarily thin - weight. He'll struggle like this until he's 50 and his insulin resistance turns into diabetes. Then, he'll be put on diabetes drugs and statins.

This is where nutrition "science" has failed us. Massively. It was right the first time: before politicians and those with a vested interest decided that a low-fat, high-carb diet a la the food pyramid, which has pretty much never been consumed by any society, was healthy. It was a huge experiment and it has failed.

Now, if Travis Snider's nutritionist steps in and saves the day, Jesse will eat like Lunchbox and start looking a little more like him. All he has to do is give up - or at least drastically cut - sugar, grains and vegetable oils. He'll eat what we evolved to eat: meat, fat, eggs, vegetables, and some fruit. He'll finally get off the blood sugar roller coaster, stop being hungry all the time and he'll settle into whatever body weight is healthy for him. His insulin sensitivity and lipid profile will improve. He'll avoid diabetes and heart disease.

The fat kids win! And they look better than you!

I hope the trainers working with the Jays are even half as forward- and critically-thinking as Alex Anthopolous. If they are, they'll be able to sort through the bullshit, be a step above the conventional wisdom, and truly be able to help their clients perform at their best.

Remember, my friends, "meats don't clash!"

Commence hate mail from vegans! (Sorry, my pasty, unhealthy friends, science is not on your side. But that's another blog post!)

I realize that this wasn't quite metabolism in a nutshell. I just couldn't think of a better title. For some info that could more aptly be titled "Metabolism 101", read Taubes' book, or google "paleo" "primal" "low-carb", etc.

4 comments:

Pete Toth said...

Well put. You twitter?

LJ said...

Thanks, and yes, I'm a Twit. Once I get home and I'm on a real computer, I'll figure out how to add a twitter link to the main page. I'm _L_Jay_ on twitter.

Pete Toth said...

Design-Add Gadget in your blogspot dashboard if I remeber correctly :)

LJ said...

Cool, thanks!