- AboutMy name is Barry Murray and I started OptimumNutrition4Sport in 2008. I’m a qualified Sports Nutritionist having completed my MSc in Sports and Exercise Nutrtion at Loughborough University. My interest in sport and nutrition started many years ago. I kicked off my sporting career as a footballer and played for several top clubs in Dublin. It was preparing for football matches that initially sparked my curiousity about nutrition, what to eat and when to eat. I stopped playing football seriously when I became a student at UCD (University College Dublin) but still continued to keep myself fit and healthy. I started running and taking part in local 5 and 10K road races which heightened my awarness about nutrition even further. I studied biochemistry and chemistry at university and graduated with a BSc in 1999. My degree opened the door to the pharmaceutical world and I spent several years working as a Chemist. During that time, my sporting interests expanded and I tried everything from surfing to triathlons. It was after completing my first triathlon that I began to take training and nutrition seriously. I realized that nutrition makes a significant difference to how you train and to how you perform on the day. I decided…
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I’ve been told my articles get a bit too technical. So here’s one in layman’s terms. This is one of the most debated topics around. However, the general understanding and the common recommendations are wrong. I am brushing over a lot of the science here and leaving out some of the finer details but like I said, the aim is to make this readable. If you get this, and it makes sense, its probably one of the most important things to learn and understand about nutrition.
Arguably the biggest misconception in the nutrition world is that fat is bad for us. More specifically, the recommendation andstandard dietary advice is to avoid saturated fat while to eat the so called “healthy” mono and polyunsaturated fats sparingly. What if I was to tell you the opposite was true? You see, nutrition advice has been flawed for a long time now. The primary reason is due to commercial interests. Certain food companies want you to believe that eating their foods is good for you. Certain industries (did someone say pharmaceutical?) want you to be sick. Why? It’s simple, sales = profit. So if you are told that a certain food is “low fat” and good for you, you will buy it. This food then makes you sick, so you go to your doctor who prescribes you a drug, which you then have to buy. And that’s unfortunately how this world works.
I’m not out to make any money. I’m here to give as impartial truthful honest advice as possible, based on science and theory, not flawed 3rd party funded studies. So saturated fat has been linked to obesity and heart disease. With regards to obesity, it is thought that eating saturated fat means that you will store it and hence gain weight. Let’s quickly debunk that most familiar myth:
Saturated fat is known as “saturated” as its structure consists of single carbon to carbon bonds. It has two vital functions 1. The fats are used to form our cell walls and 2. It is our main source of energy. So when you eat saturated fat, what “should” happen is that it gets transferred to the muscle and burnt to make energy. It is also then used to make new cell walls. We obviously have lots of cells and in order to function, move and exercise, we need to make lots of energy. Thus, in essence, we need to eat lots of saturated fat. Where this has gone wrong is related to modern farming, commercial interests and misunderstood science. In order to get saturated fat to the muscle where it can be converted cleanly to energy requires the body to have a very efficient metabolic system. The problem is that one of the key things that messes up this system is refined simple carbohydrate. Eating a lot of this type of food makes our metabolic system inefficient resulting in us unable to properly process the fats. What happens then is the fat doesn’t get directed to the muscle, it doesn’t get burnt and because it has to compete with the other fuel source you are consuming (i.e. the simple carbohydrate), the fat gets stored as fat.
So modern farming now allows us to harvest crops. We can now make lots of different types of foods from refined grains such as cereals, breads, pastries, biscuits and cakes. These are cheap, palatable and tasty. This then converts to big profits. We then have a food pyramid and dietary recommendations that tell us to make these foods the biggest percentage of our daily calorie intake. The misunderstood science has made us believe that because these foods have fewer calories and contain no fat, they are good for us. However, the real science shows that these foods block our body’s ability to cleanly process fats. That is probably the most important piece of the whole jigsaw to understand. Eating high amounts of refined carbohydrate foods puts a spanner in the works (the fat processing works).
Let’s look at this in very practical terms. Bacon, eggs and sausage contain a large amount of saturated fats. As long as these foods come from good sources (grass fed, naturally farmed) and as long as you have an efficient metabolic system, these are extremely healthy foods to eat. Now, add 3 slices of toast to the equation and the situation changes. The toast contains refined wheat, which is converted to simple sugars, which then messes up your metabolic efficiency. Your body see’s the sugar first, and the proper signals needed to process the saturated fats are blocked. Hence, you store fat and gain weight. The same thing happens with that juicy steak and chips and that homemade quarter pounder and white bread bun. The point is that it’s not the fat that is making you fat, it’s the refined carbohydrates!
If I were to draw a proper scientifically based food pyramid, saturated fat would be at the bottom and refined grain type foods would be at the top. This is not only based on my own interpretation and understanding, it’s based on modern research. A very recent published journal by Dr Jeff Volek and Dr Stephen Phinney entitled “The twisted tale of saturated fat” supports this argument. Not only that, but there are now several books written by renowned journalists such as Gary Taubes, who go in depth into discussing the literature and referencing the studies that show how saturated fat has been completely misunderstood.
Good sourced saturated fat is our most important and preferred fuel. The food that we are told to eat the most of (i.e. carbohydrate) is what causes us to store fat. Apart from this major metabolic advantage, fat is by far superior in terms of nutrient density compared to refined carbohydrate. The nutrient content of an egg or piece of meat is way higher in terms of amino acids, fatty acids, minerals and fat soluble vitamins compared to a slice of bread.
The bottom line is this; saturated fat from good sources is good for you as long as you are not metabolically impaired. The thing that causes the problem and will continue to cause problems if you eat it is the refined carbohydrate. This is vital to understand. People like to always take the easy road and cherry pick. I’m not saying it’s good for you to add butter to your toast or bacon to sandwich. I’m saying add butter to your bacon 😉
“Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined”
Volek, J “The twisted tale of saturated fat” Lipid Technology, 2012.
Gary Taubes “Good Calories, Bad Calories”