Soy: good or bad?

Soy contains 26% protein. It has the highest protein content amongst the plants. It is also the highest quality protein amongst the legumes.
Grains are typically low in lysine, beans are typically low in sulfur, methionine and cysteine. However the level of sulfur amino acids is higher in soy than in other beans.
Soybeans are high in fats, too. Most legumes (except peanut) contains 2-14% of fat, soy contains 31% of fat. Most fats in soy is unsaturated.
A serving of soy provides about 8 gr of dietary fibre. However some soy foods are processed in a way that decreases the fibre content, like tofu or soy milk. Processing soy at a high temperature can denature some of the proteins and reduce their quality.
Soy provides important nutrients: calcium, vitamin B12, iron, magnesium and selenium.

Interestingly, whole soybeans are rarely consumed in Western countries. The majority of soy in the diet comes from the refined products that are processed from the soybeans.

The fatty acids in soybeans are mostly Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. This can be problematic because too many Omega-6s in the diet can lead to inflammation and all sorts of health issues. For this reason, it is very important to avoid soybean oil (and other vegetable oils high in Omega-6) and processed foods that contain it.

The nutrition composition of soy products depends on the type of soy food. Refined soy products, like soy protein and soy bean oil might not be that nutritious at all.

There is some evidence that soy can lower cholesterol levels, although studies show conflicting results. Men who consume soy are at a lower risk of developing prostate cancer in old age.

Soy contains large amounts of biologically active compounds called isoflavones, which function as phytoestrogens… that is, plant-based compounds that can activate estrogen receptors in the human body. These isoflavones are classified as endocrine disruptors, chemicals that interfere with the normal function of hormones in the body. The key isoflavones in soy are genistein, daidzein and glycitein. This can cause reduced estrogen activity due to the isoflavones blocking the actual, more potent estrogen from binding, or it can lead to an increased estrogen activity due to the isoflavones activating the receptors.

Animal studies show that soy isoflavones can cause breast cancer. There are also human studies showing that soy isoflavones can stimulate the proliferation and activity of cells in the breasts.
This may indicate an increased risk of breast cancer, which is the most common cancer in women.

Even though men have some amount of estrogen, having significantly elevated levels is not normal. Therefore, it seems logical that increased estrogen activity from soy isoflavones could have some effects on men. Many believe that soy can reduce testosterone levels, but the effect appears to be weak and inconsistent.

The isoflavones in soy also function as goitrogens, which are substances that interfere with thyroid function. They can inhibit function of the enzyme thyroid peroxidase, which is essential for production of thyroid hormones.

It is important for women who are pregnant, plan on becoming pregnant, or are breastfeeding, to avoid soy and other sources of endocrine disrupting compounds.

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Different fuel sources of the body

Our food choices supply the energy for our bodies to continue to function properly. These energy sources are: carbohydrate, protein and fats. The body can store these fuels in a form that allows immediate source of energy. Carbohydrates are readily broken down to glucose, the body's main energy source. Glucose can be used immediately as fuel, or can be sent to the muscles and liver to be stored as glycogen. During exercise muscle glycogen is converted back into glucose. The liver converts its glycogen back into glucose, too, however it is released into the bloodstream to maintain your blood sugar levels. Blood glucose is also the main fuel for the brain when you rest as well as when you exercise. The body constantly uses and replenishes its glycogen stores.
The amount of energy the body can store is limited however. The body can store approximately 1800 – 2000 kcal worth of energy, enough to fuel about 90-120 min high intensity exercise. As we exercise, we gradually deplete our muscle glycogen stores, and blood glucose plays an increasingly important role in meeting the body's energy demands. When the liver is also depleted of glycogen, you experience hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) when your performance drops. You can avoid that by consuming carbohydrates during prolonged and high intensity exercise.
 Fat is the body's most concentrated energy source. During exercise stored fat in the body is broken down into fatty acids. These fatty acids are transported through blood into the muscles for fuel. This process is slower than the mobilization of carbohydrates for fuel. Fat is also stored within the muscles where it can be accessed easier during exercise. In order for fat to fuel exercise, sufficient oxygen must be simultaneously consumed.

 As for protein, our bodies use protein to build, maintain and repair body tissues as well as synthesize important enzymes and hormones. Protein meets only 5 % of the body’s energy needs. In some situations, however, such as when we eat too few calories daily or not enough carbohydrate, as well as during latter stages of endurance exercise, when glycogen reserves are depleted, skeletal muscle is broken down and used as fuel to access certain amino acids that can be converted into glucose.

For bespoke training and nutrition plan contact me on hello@tamaramakar.me

Psychology of Supplements

What is a dietary supplement?

A dietary supplement is a product intended for ingestion that contains a "dietary ingredient" intended to add further nutritional value to (supplement) the diet. A "dietary ingredient" may be one, or any combination, of the following substances:

  • a vitamin
  • a mineral
  • an herb or other botanical
  • an amino acid
  • a dietary substance for use by people to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake
  • a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, or extract

Dietary supplements may be found in many forms such as tablets, capsules, softgels, gelcaps, liquids, or powders. Some dietary supplements can help ensure that you get an adequate dietary intake of essential nutrients; others may help you reduce your risk of disease.

It should be noted that any claims a manufacturer or individual makes about a supplement might change its classification.

Researchers have also differentiated “nonvitamin, nonmineral supplements” (NVNM) as those primarily consisting of herbal, botanical, protein/amino acid, brewer's yeast, and shark cartilage and a variety of other plant-based and nonplant dietary supplements such as enzymes and fish oil.

In competitive sports specifically, there are both “accepted” and “illegal/banned” substances, including some supplements.

In an interesting quandary for the field of performance enhancement, many supplements marketed to athletes contain banned substances – either overtly or because of impurities in these supplements. Researchers bought supplements from 215 suppliers in 13 countries testing 634 nonhormonal supplements. A meaningful % of the supplements (14.8%) contained substances that would lead to a positive drug test.

Problems also abound for individuals who use supplements to achieve added weight loss and/or muscle gain (or improved recovery after workouts) from their exercise programs.

Considering a worldwide ongoing obesity epidemic, it is not surprising that many individuals are seeking new ways to lose weight. Supplements promise, though probably seldom deliver, a magic bullet of sorts: easy, hassle-free weight loss with little in the way of dietary sacrifice.

Athletes undoubtedly account for a large portion of those who use dietary supplements, and there are a variety of products that are marketed directly at competitive athletes. Elite athletes tend to take supplements more commonly than college or high school athletes, and women used supplements more often than men.

Considering elite Canadian athletes participating at the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics, respectively, prevalence rates of 69% and 74% were reported. Vitamin use was most common (58-66%), whereas nutritional supplements were used commonly (Atlanta: 35% men, 43% women, Sydney: 43% men, 51% women) often consisting of creatine, and/or amino acid supplementation. Based on results overal, it appears that supplementation increases with the competitive level of the sport and is somewhat higher for female athletes.

There are 3 specific categories: supplement use to build muscle for aesthetic purposes or body image concerns, and supplement use to lose weight for aesthetic purposes, body image concerns, or health.

There is a behaviouristic explanation possible for the use of supplements in that athletes' use may lead to reward contingencies (eg: more prize money), thereby driving future behaviour. Similarly, supplements that build muscle or promote weight loss could produce rewarding results. Also, there are undoubtedly social influences at work considering that coaches, parents, athletic trainers, and peers have been reported to be influential regarding the decision to take supplements.

Operant conditioning: focuses on the manner in which our behaviour and action are influenced by the outcomes that follow them. Derived from the behaviouristic research tradition, the sum of findings in this area dictate that some outcomes/stimuli strengthen the behaviour that preceded them, and others weaken the likelihood of the behaviour that preceded them. Outcomes that increase the likelihood of behaviour are known as reinforcers, and those that decrease the likelihood of behaviour are known as punishment. In the present context, prize money, praise from others, or rewards due to improved performance are reinforcers of the behaviour to take supplements. Because most legal supplements likely would not produce dramatic sport performance gains, muscle mass gains, or weight loss results, perhaps the best explanation for use is found in other theories. Behaviouralistic explanations, however, might be highly applicable considering the use of illegal substance such as steroid use.

When trying to change attitudes about whether supplements are good or bad, it is likely that some individuals are more persuasive than others. Individuals are more persuasive if they are seen as trustworthy or having pertinent expertise. The supplement industry often uses exactly such a strategy to help market their products. University research and “expert” sport and exercise nutritionists are increasingly being used to support the efficacy of performance enhancing, muscle building, or weight loss supplements. Consumers should consider, however, that a company may contract with 3 universities to test their products and report only the results of the positive outcomes in their advertisements.

Achievement Goal theory: within this theory, it is assumed that there are differences in the manners by which athletes judge their competence or success. Individuals who are task-oriented tent to judge their success on the basis of personal improvement, whereas those who are ego-oriented tent to judge their success on the basis of social comparison with others. Task-oriented individuals typically view personal ability as changeable and exhibit strong motivation regardless of their perceptions of competence. Those who are ego-oriented, tend to view ability as more static and are thus more likely to engage in questionable strategies to ensure winning and would be expected to engage in more frequent doping activities and perhaps a greater willingness to use supplementation strategies.

Body image and eating disorders: Obesity rates have dramatically increased over the past few decades, a similar increase in the ideal body size has not occurred in the female population. In fact, the “ideal” waist size for females may have become unhealthily small. Because of these 2 contradictory trends, it is no surprise that the use of supplements targeted at weight loss has increased dramatically during this same time period. The nation is getting heavier and feeling worse about it, especially the female segment. In one survey, research showed that among women at risk for eating disorders approximately 65% engage in frequent use of “diet pills”.

Adonis complex: There is an opposing set of preoccupation afflicting males termed the Adonis complex, which seems to be afflicting boys and men more specifically during the last few decades. These individuals may compulsively lift weights or exercise, engage in steroid abuse, elect to undergo plastic surgery, or suffer from eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorders, all in attempts to gain muscle mass, change fat distribution, or otherwise alter their appearance to some ideal.

In one of the seminal works in this area, Pop and colleagues interview 108 bodybuilders (55 steroid users and 53 non-steroid users) and found a higher than normal incidence of anorexia nervosa (2.8%) and a surprising incidence of 'reverse anorexia' (8.3%), with some of the respondents believing that they appeared small and weak despite their large, muscular appearance. The latter finding indicated that some of these bodybuilders exhibited unusual preoccupations with their appearance. Such pathological preoccupation with muscularity has been termed muscle dysmorphia. As an important link to potential supplement use or abuse, in Pope and colleagues' research all of the bodybuilders indicating muscle dysmorphia (then termed 'reverse anorexia') were in the sample of steroid users, and many reported that the symptoms of muscle dysmorphia were a factor that led to steroid use. As an indication of the degree of this obsession, individuals with this affliction have reported lifting weights for hours a day while sacrificing other areas of their lives. For example, some of these individuals reported earning degrees in business, law or medicine but did not pursue a career or gave up a career in these areas because they needed more time to lift weights. Recent research indicates that bodybuilders suffering from higher levels of muscle dysmorphia are more likely to experience body dissatisfaction, social physique anxiety, and use muscle-building or fat-reducing targeted supplements. At present there is some evidence that supplement use is greater among individuals with muscle dissatisfaction or muscle dysmorphia. It also appears that illegal supplement use may accompany muscle dysmorphia as data indicate that 1 million or more US males have used these substances primarily to promote muscle growth as opposed to performance enhancement purposes. Finally, it should also be noted that research find that some men have become preoccupied with fat, as opposed to muscle, and, in contrast to attempting to gain weight, may develop eating disorders. This suggests that body image concerns among males may drive some to attempt obsessively to build muscle mass whereas others may obsessively work to lose fat. In both cases it is likely that legal or illegal supplementation is a common means to achieve such goals. 

An abstract from "Psychology of Supplements in Sport and Exercise - Motivational Antecedents and Biobehavioral Outcomes" by Rafer Lutz and Shawn Arent

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