I'm just a beginner to weight training and told I should be having protein shakes but don't know what to look for in a protein powder. Any tips please?

Beginners Guide to protein supplements

Protein is essential for repairing lean tissue.  It also helps strengthen the immune system and makes us feel fuller for longer and decreases circulating Ghrelin (the appetite hormone).  Protein powders are great to supplement protein intake without eating a kilo of chicken a day!  But what do we look for?

For weight loss. you want a protein powder that is high in protein (approx 20-30g per serve) and low in carbs and sugars (no more than 3-4g per serve).

For weight gain and athletes. a protein powder with higher carbs is for you (approx 20-30g per serve).  Of course you can choose a low carb protein powder and add banana, juice or milk to it to increase the carb content.

General health and fitness.  If weight control or intense training recovery isn't an issue, then protein only, or protein with carbs will be fine for you.

The sweetening source.  Some people prefer the natural sweetener Stevia.  Other protein powders are artificially sweetened with Sucralose, Aspartame or Ascesulphame K.  Some are just sweetened with sugar and are perfectly fine for weight gain and athletes.  There are also unflavoured protein powders available.

What does it taste like and how does it mix.  Some protein powders taste and mix better than others and it all depends on the brand you choose.  The Balance powders are good mixers and taste nice.

Source of the protein.  The most commonly used is Whey Protein (from dairy) and is most likely not suitable for those who are lactose intolerant, however may be suitable for those with straight milk allergies, since these allergies typically come from casein in milk.  Some people can also be whey sensitive in general.  You can also get rice and soy proteins.

Processing.  There are concentrates, isolates, and hydrolysates.  Concentrates are the least processed, but also the highest amount of sugars in the form of lactose.  Isolates have been processed to remove most of the lactose, making the total protein per weight higher than concentrates.  Hydrolysates have been ‘pre-digested' to allow for better absorption and are useful for those who find protein a little difficult to digest.  There are also highly-hydrolised proteins which are less allergenic than other forms of whey.  Soy and rice proteins also come in concentrate and isolate.  The more processing a protein has, the higher the cost.  Read your labels, because some proteins will contain more than one of these forms.

Price.  If budget is a concern then some proteins are more expensive than others.  On average you're looking at about $60 a kg, which is approximately 30 servings but again, depends on the product and brand.

Location.  You can get protein powders from your trainer (if the supply it), Supermarkets, Health Food Shops and dedicated supplement shops.  It can take a bit of trial and error to find a protein powder that meets all your requirements, take this guide with you, read your labels and ask if there are tasting samples available. 

How to use it.  You can mix it in your oats after cooking (a bodybuilders favourite) or you can shake it with water, milk or juice.  You can also add a very small amount of water or milk with it and use it like a sauce!  Some people even throw tins of tuna in with their blended protein shakes...but I'm not sure why they don't just add a couple of extra scoops of protein or some eggs.  If you are just using water then you will want to play around with the amount of water as too much will have the shake tasting thin and weak and too little water may be a flavour overload, it depends on your tastebuds.

Bells and whistles.  I won't get too much into this, but you will find some protein supplements contain ‘super duper extra muscle blasting patented nutrient formula complexes with added widgets and super technology'.  As a beginner you don't need to even think about these things.  Some supplement shops will try to sell you these products, unless you're a serious athlete or body builder these proteins aren't necessary for you, and if you are at that level chances are, you already know what protein supplement works best for you.

When you're a beginner, no one protein powder is better than any other, it all comes down your personal preferences, and how your body deals with it.  Happy shopping!!

Qns: Would having green tea instead of coffee a good substitute if I want to give up coffee?

Ans: here have been many studies done on the levels of caffeine in both tea and coffee, and all of these studies arrive at different levels depending on who has conducted the study and under which conditions.  There are a number of factors which influence the caffeine level in a cup of tea or coffee:

1)      Type - ground or instant coffee, loose leaf or bagged teas

2)      Coffee preparation - percolated, instant with water, espresso,
filter, plunger

3)      Steep time - how long the tea or coffee is steeped with water

4)      Amount - how many spoons of coffee or tea, or how many teabags are
in the cup

Green tea certainly has less caffeine than coffee, this is conclusive.  One study found medium caffeine concentrations in coffee was 74mg per cup (range 29-176mg) and tea 27mg per cup (range 8-91mg per cup).

Over a range of studies examined, caffeine concentrations were as follows:

Ground coffee can have anywhere from 88-190mg, Instant coffee 30-80mg, Decaf coffee 2-75mg, Tea 19-150mg, colas 19-55mg.

Drip or filter coffee has the highest concentration of caffeine, percolated coffee is the next highest and instant coffee contains the lowest concentration.

So the thing to note is this: A strong brewed green tea has the potential to contain the same amount of caffeine as a weak brewed instant coffee.

The effects caffeine have on the body are also due in part to the bodyweight and height of the individual.  We want to look at caffeine/kg when assessing its effects.  8 cups of coffee to a 130kg, 6' 5 man may have the same effect as 3 cups of green tea to a 48kg small framed woman.

One must assess why there is a need to reduce caffeine from the diet, we know that caffeine isn't completely beneficial to us - it is a psychotropic drug which has been linked to; heart disease, gastro intestinal ulcers, cancer of the urinary tract, anxiety, premature birth and sleep disturbance.
If you are experiencing unwanted effects from caffeine then the best idea is to avoid all caffeine containing products altogether - including chocolate, hot chocolate, tea, coffee, colas, energy drinks and weight loss supplements containing green tea or caffeine.

Green tea certainly has major health benefits; it contains compounds called catechins, which are strong antioxidants.  Green tea also contains minerals and vitamins to enhance the antioxidant effects.  Studies report that green tea can reduce the risk of CVD and some forms of cancer, promotes oral health, provides an anti-hypertensive effect, assists with body weight control, and provides an antibacterial and antivirasic activity - amongst other things.  Green tea has been used by the Chinese for centuries as a
health tonic.

To cut down on caffeine, opt for weak cups of instant coffee and green tea, and avoid espressos, filter coffee etc.  To cut out caffeine, then drink water with lemon, other herbals teas, rice, oat, soy or dairy milks and diluted vegetable and fruit juices.


Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 34, Issue 1, January 1996
CMA Journal, Vol 114, February 1976
Journal of Food Science, Vol 48, Issue 3, 2006
Preventative Medicine, Vol 21, Issue 3, May 1992


Qns:I've  been considering using MCT oil as part of my dieting plan but don't know too much about what it does.  Can you tell me what is MCT oil and how much I would need to have of it?  and do you think its effective energy replacement instead of carbs during dieting.  Would you recommend it?"

Ans: MCT Oil is oil which consists of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT).  Most of the fat in our food are Long Chain Triglycerides, which means that their molecular structure looks quite long, like a very long snake.  MCT's are a bit shorter in ‘carbon chain length'.  So basically a MCT is a fat with a different structure.

This difference in structure means that our bodies use it differently.  MCT enters our blood directly from the digestive system without having to be modified, they also don't require bile to be digested.  LCT's go through the lymphatic system first and have to be modified in order to be used for energy and require bile to be digested.  This makes MCT a more efficient form of fat.

Before we go into why MCT's are good for fat loss we need to back up a step and look at a particular diet called the Ketogenic diet.  This diet derives most of its energy from fats and proteins (very little if any, carbohydrate).  This puts our bodies into a state of Ketosis, which means that all our energy is provided by fat and ketones.  Ketones are produced by the body in the absence of glucose and are the only source of energy for the brain on a Ketogenic diet.  A ketogenic diet is high in fat, without the high fat, our bodies wouldn't enter ketosis as easily and we would be very low on energy - we must not confuse a Keto diet with a low carb or lowcarb/low fat diet, which is not an efficient way to lose body fat.  The keto diet mimics ‘fasting' but not ‘starvation'.  The Keto diet was originally designed to hard to control epilepsy in children and proved successful.

Back to the MCT diet which is actually a subgroup of the Keto diet.  Because the body processes MCT's more effectively they ensure the body enters ketosis more effectively and quicker.  They also provide a better source of energy when restricting carbohydrates.  Some theories say it is possible to have a little more carbohydrate on the MCT diet than you would on the Keto diet.  To get the absolute best out of the MCT diet it is important to follow it as you would a Keto diet and that means no more than approximately 20g carb per day split into no more than 4-5g carb per serving.  Problems in physical energy and brainfog on an MCT diet come when we start cheating on it.  If you decide to just have a little carb snack because ‘it won't matter too much' what you are doing is creating an insulin spike which tells the body to start using glucose, the switch between ketones to glucose for that short period can make us feel unwell - our body needs to use one or the other to feel comfortable.

How much to use?  That question is subject to whatever food plan you're on.  A typical MCT diet may call from anywhere from 60% of calories coming from MCT's, and even 20% from LCTs with 20% from protein.  The amount to use will depend on how many calories you are supposed to be eating.  While some people will lose weight on a standard 1200 calorie food plan, someone on a strict MCT or keto plan may end up eating around 3000 calories and still lose body fat.  Someone on an MCT plan with carbs may eat 2000 calories - these are just hypothetical numbers, and are not to be followed as a set plan.  If a particular calorie level isn't working, then it needs to be changed.  Rich sources of MCT come from MCT oil supplements, coconut oil and palm kernel oil.

As a general supplement you may find benefit in replacing some of your traditional fats and carbs with MCT's.  Things like replacing a TBSP of olive oil for a TBSP of Coconut Oil in cooking will provide the body with a quicker burning source of fat, or changing your protein shake with milk to a protein shake with water and TBSP of MCT will provide energy without the carbohydrate.  You must always consider that MCT is still a fat and if the rest of your diet provides an environment of fat storage then you will not effectively burn fat.  This includes things like extra ‘little' snacks, high carbohydrates, coffee, certain medications and anything else that keeps insulin raised in the body.

I would recommend either type of diet (MCT or mixed) for those trying to lose stubborn body fat.  But I also recommend you get blood tests done before commencing to make sure your liver is in top working order and your cholesterol and triglycerides are in a healthy range.  If these aren't in check then DO NOT start this diet without advice first.  Even while on the diet you will want to have regular blood tests and if things start looking hairy then talk to your nutritionist about modifying your food plan to bring your body back to a healthier state.  There is no reason to come off a Keto or MCT diet so long as you continually produce good health markers.  A last word, if you have a sweet tooth and cannot give up sugary treats then MCT's may not work for you and you should certainly avoid the MCT or Keto diet if you think you will cheat on it, as the high fat/intermittent sugar combo is not healthy.

You must seek advice if you are unsure about what the Keto or MCT diet entails, a Big Mac will not stimulate ketosis, but the patty on its own will (provided the rest of the diet follows the Keto ‘rules')


Qns: I hear that drinking coffee helps give you a kick before cardio as its a stimulant.  I drink about 3-4 coffees during the day, will this help me fat burn during the day as well?

Ans: There's no denying that coffee has a stimulatory effect on the body, it does this through its action on the central nervous system, which stimulates our feel good hormones (serotonin and dopamine) and ramps up our norepinephrine (adrenaline) levels.  Both of these actions give us the feeling of having more mental and physical energy.  We are able to train harder because a) our feel good hormones are stimulated which tells us we 'want' to exercise and our adrenaline levels are elevated giving us the physical 'need' to burn off the excess energy. 

What this means to you, is that you are likely to burn more calories because you aren't skipping your exercise sessions and when you are exercising you are probably exercising with more intensity.  The caffeine metabolite Paraxanthine can increase free fatty acid release into the blood...but remember, you have to burn these fatty acids off to get the fat loss effect.  In a nutshell, yes, you will probably burn more calories if you have a coffee 20-30 minutes before you train.  The Methylxanthine metabolite of caffeine is also a diuretic, just be aware that your 1-2kg weight loss in your first week of 'increased coffee' may be water weight. Caffeine can also stimulate the bowel, which presents obviously as 'weight' loss also.

As for drinking coffee all day long, this is a different story.  Over and above your exercise session you may burn a few more extra calories due to all that nervous fidgeting we do when we drink too much coffee, but it is unlikely to be a major part of your weight loss.  For starters, what type of coffee are we drinking?  If we're having 4 trim lattes, this is 400 calories (give or take), which is the same as about 40 minutes of running, that's great, you went for a 40minute run today...but how many calories did you eat also, and did you end up in a calorie deficit overall for the day?

Secondly, assuming you're drinking black coffee all day long this will be better calorie wise, but the second thing coffee does is raise insulin levels in the same way a carbohydrate containing meal does.  We need
insulin, but if you're stimulating a constant release all day long you will tire out your pancreas and over time you may find that it doesn't release insulin as it should, which leads to weight gain.  Insulin is also a
'storage' hormone which means it's always trying to store carbs and fat instead of allowing glucagon to release glucose and synthesise glucose from fat.

The third thing is that coffee is a toxin to the body and we all know that cellulite is a result of toxic build up in fat cells which is visible due to the connective tissue in certain areas of our bodies.  You can be as thin as you like and still have cellulite.  Coffee also has to be metabolised by the liver, and if your liver isn't running efficiently either due to other toxins or due to too much coffee then our bodies have a hard time metabolising and absorbing other nutrients such as B Vitamins, which incidently are our main energy metabolising vitamins.  The constant release of adrenaline (norepinephrine) can also stress the adrenal glands and if you're under stress in other ways, adrenal fatigue may occur which can cause problems with general fatigue and low energy.  Ongoing release of adrenaline and cortisol have been linked to weight gain.  The adrenal glands sit just above the kidneys - which sit between the lower and mid back (higher than most of us think).  If you've been experiencing constant pain in this area and are under stress and a coffee drinker, then coffee should certainly be a no go zone, and a trip to the doctor a must.

Lastly, the stimulatory effect of caffeine on serotonin and dopamine can lead to food cravings.  You may have had a coffee on the way to work, but what are you craving later on?  If you are craving sweet things, carbs or things with glutamates in them (like soup mixes etc) then you can probably trace this back to your morning coffee.  Once the 'high' has left the brain it starts to crave more of the things that lead to the 'high'... it may be another coffee or it may be another stimulatory food - just be aware of what your body is telling you.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record if you want to burn fat all day long you need to be in a calorie deficit - that means burn more calories than you eat.  If you get a kick from coffee before you train and it makes you train harder and you're eating a good diet great - go hard!

What's the difference between L-Carnitine and Acetyl L-Carnitine? and is one better than the other for energy and fat burning? 

Here's a little chemistry first, don't panic if you don't understand.
Acetyl, refers to any compound which has been acetylated, which means that it has had an 'acetyl group' chemically bound to the compound.  So in this case Acetyl-L-Carnitine is in fact L-Carnitine which has been acetylated. But you don't need to know this.  Another thing to point out is that L-Carnitine is a sterioisomer of Carnitine, which basically means it has the same chemical formula as Carnitine but its 3D positioning of molecules in space differs.

Right, now for the answer to the question: It is suspected that this acetyl group makes this form of L-Carnitine more bioavailable and better absorbed by the body, however not all research supports this.

The main source of Carnitine is in red meat.  It is also found in nuts and seeds, legumes, pulses, green fibrous vegetables, grains and things like bee pollen and brewer's yeast.  There is no chance you will experience a Carnitine deficiency, if you did, you would certainly know about it, you would have encephalopathy, cardiomyopathy, muscle weakness, hypoglycaemia, vomiting and confusion due to a transporter deficiency which restricts the function of Carnitine.  Carnitine in general is more bioavailable from the diet (54-87% depending on the composition of the meal) than from supplements (14-18% of the total amount ingested).  Not only that our kidneys assist in the re-absorption of Carnitine, which it is very effective at doing provided we haven't loaded up on excess Carnitine.  Too much supplementation causes
the kidneys to re-absorb less and excrete more.

This brings us to Carnitine's use as a 'fat burner'.  Carnitine is not a fat burner it is a fat mobilser. What this means is that it is required for the transportation of fatty acids into the cell to be used as energy.  This is a naturally occurring process with or without supplementation.  Here's the deal, if you're trying to lose weight, but your body is NOT in a calorie deficit, you can eat and drink all the Carnitine you want, and it won't make
a difference to your weight, the fat will be shuttled to the cell to be burnt for energy, but too many calories and not enough exercise means the fat will just shuttle itself back to storage while your body uses other energy sources.  There is a debate over whether Carnitine is useful as a weight loss supplement - the choice is yours, but the fact remains, you need to be in a calorie deficit to burn fat and lose weight.  Period.

If you are going to use L-Carnitine or Acetyl-L-Carnitine, take no more than
2g a day, this is the maximum level that research has shown the body can
absorb and use effectively.

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. (2006) Vol 1033 - pg 30-41.


"What is chlorophyll and what's some of the benefits?"

I've been using chlorophyll as a supplement now for a couple of months, in conjuction with a healthy natural foods diet.  I noticed the bags under my eyes decreased and I felt just a little more spring
in my step.  Here's the ins and outs on chlorophyll as a supplement.

Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants.  Photosynthesis in plants uses chlorophyll, sunlight, CO2 and water to produce the chemical energy which feeds plants and helps it grow.  Various researchers
refer to chlorophyll as ‘blood' much like our own.  The chemical composition of chlorophyll is certainly similar to Haemoglobin, except that haemoglobin contains iron and chlorophyll contains magnesium.

Research has shown that chlorophyll as a supplement can reduce odours originating from the body.  It deodorizes the digestive system and urinary tracts and can also be used as a breath freshener.

Because of its similarities to haemoglobin chlorophyll is also used as a tonic to support healthy blood.  The health benefits include helping the body to release toxins, stimulate the production of red blood cells and as a powerful antioxidant.

The main dietary toxins are: caffeine, processed carbohydrates (sugar), additives, trans-fatty acids, alcohol and also smoking and drugs.  A shot of cholorophyll every day won't combat against these if
they are a mainstayer in your diet, but if you are looking at embarking on a healthier diet away from these items then a liquid chlorophyll supplement can certainly help to detoxify.

Chlorophyll may also assist those low in iron, although this is not proven conclusively.

You can pick up chlorophyll either as a minty liquid or as a powder or capsules from any good health shop.  Follow the doseage recommendations on the pack.


I'm confused of which oil to take.  Flax oil or Omega fish oil.  Is one better than the other?  how much of it can I take and if take too much will it make me fat?

Ans: Before we look at which oil is best, it's helpful to know a bit about fat.

Fats have different structures and the words saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, (omega-3, omega-6) etc relate to the structure.  The structure of the fat determines how it gets packed, stored and used in the body.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's) are polyunsaturated fatty acids which are necessary for growth, cell structure and physiological function.  They are converted into hormone like substances in the body and aren't used as fuel for activity.  For this question we are looking at the Omega-3 fatty acids.  There are 3 main Omega-3 fatty acids:  ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid), EPA (EicosoPentaenoic Acid) and DHA (DocosaHexaenoic Acid).  A healthy body needs ALA to make EPA and DHA, but we can also get EPA and DHA by consuming it directly.

Flaxseed oil contains ALA but not DHA or EPA, Fish oil on the other hand is already in its EPA and DHA form, so it doesn't have to go through any conversion process.  It is actually the EPA and DHA which our bodies use.  ALA has no function except to produce EPA and DHA.

So if I can make EPA and DHA from flaxseed oil and get EPA and DHA from fish oil, which is better?

1.       Flaxseed oil will do the job, but fish oil will do the job more efficiently.

2.       Some people have trouble converting ALA to EPA or DHA, therefore need direct dietary sources of EPA and DHA (from fish oil).

3.       There are many  cells in our bodies which don't convert ALA to DHA and attempt to find it from other cells therefore dietary intake (from fish oil) of DHA always ensures there's a good supply.

4.       Vegetarians need to make sure they're getting enough DHA - algae and seaweed can provide this, but a supply of ALA from flaxseed oil will provide the raw materials to make DHA and EPA.

The answer is both!  Including flaxseed oil in the diet is a great way for vegetarians to get their EFA's and its nicer to make a salad dressing from flaxseed oil than fish oil.  But for a direct and highly bio-available supply of EPA and DHA to the body then fish oil is the way to go.

How much can I eat?

The Omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed oil and fish oil (EPA, DHA, ALA) do not store well in the body and must be replenished regularly and they will not make you fat...however consuming a kilo of salmon in one sitting isn't advised because it also has other fats.  But don't panic, you can certainly get away with eating a fair amount of these types of fats as your body is busy using them to create other hormone like substances and those substances are getting stored in other areas of your body.

There are no guidelines to the Recommended Daily Intake for the Omega-3 fatty acids ALA, EPA or DHA.  The average intake however for Omega-3 fatty acids coming from ALA (the main omega-3 in flaxseed oil) is 1.3g per day for men or 0.8g for women and no upper intake level has been set.  One tablespoon of flaxseed oil contains approximately 9g of ALA - but don't panic, you can certainly have a couple of tablespoons of flaxseed oil daily.

The average intake for EPA and DHA (direct from fish oil supplements) is 160mg for men and 90mg for women with 3000mg being set as the upper level of intake.  A bottle of fish oil capsules will tell you how many mg of EPA and DHA are in each capsule.

Definitely include these oils in your diet as they actually help to shift fat.  This is in addition to reducing inflammation, providing cardiovascular protection, nourishing healthy brain function and improving moods, improving hair, skin and nails, relieving constipation, supporting immune function and many other wonderful benefits.


Q: Recently I've started eating almonds but I've notice after eating them I get a sore itchy throat and a little gut ache afterwards.  Would you know why that is?  I also get the same itchy throat after having yoghurt and coffee with milk.

Allergies, sensitivities and intolerances.

Allergies are a disorder of the immune system and include a very quick reaction time and the elevation of Immunoglobulin E (IgE).  IgE is one of 5 types of antibody.  Antibodies are used to tag and neutralise foreign invaders in our bodies.  An allergen is a foreign invader which promotes the elevation of IgE levels.  This causes a release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals which in turn produce an allergic response.  Every molecule has the ability cause an allergic response if it is recognised by our bodies as being a foreign invader, and some people will develop an allergic reaction where previously there has been none.  Once the attack has been mounted, our immune systems create a memory of it and mount an even stronger attack on it in the future.  Someone may eat peanuts on Tuesday, but through a series of steps the body becomes sensitised and the next peanut eaten on Thursday will a cause an allergic reaction.  The reason why we ‘all of a sudden' have an allergy is unclear, but one explanation is the effect that excessive stress (grief, depression, overwork etc) has on our body and its immune response.

Sensitivities and intolerances are delayed negative reactions to molecules and may or may not involve an immune response.  Intolerances such as lactose come from the absence of lactase, the enzyme required to breakdown the sugar (lactose) in milk.  Salicylate sensitivity is a troublesome problem as most foods contain them.  Salicylates are naturally occurring substances which act as a ‘protector' for foods to ward off certain bugs.  Some people can build up a level of salicylates in the body and one day the next salicylate containing food may trigger an allergy like response.

Almonds and dairy are 2 common foods which elicit an unfavourable response.  Reactions to almonds can be a result of a tree-nut allergy, or it can be associated with those suffering from birch pollen allergy.  Food handling and processing can also add tiny amounts of other ingredients to nuts which may cause a reaction.  Dairy and/or lactose is most likely to produce a reaction in the intestinal tract as it is ingested, but it can also cause hives, eczema and congestion - I have not heard of the itchy throat symptom for dairy, but anything is possible with a food sensitivity.

If you suspect a food is causing a reaction the best thing to do is to avoid eating that food.  To be certain of a sensitivity request a test from your Dr or a specialist and tell them exactly which foods you suspect.  It is difficult to do an allergy or sensitivity test if you cannot direct them to what you suspect may be causing it.  If you're unsure what the cause is, then start keeping a food diary.  Write down everything you eat and when you get a reaction and what type of reaction it is and how frequent the reaction is.  Start eliminating what you suspect.  If you suspect nothing, then just start eliminating sensibly - eg if you get frequent reactions then eliminate the most frequent foods.  This at least provides a starting point when discussing your sensitivity with a Doctor or Nutritionist.

You may find that you need the assistance of a nutritionist to help identify common themes in your food diary or to construct an effective elimination diet.

Common sensitivity or allergic symptoms include: hives, sinus, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, muscle aches, fatigue, boils, vomiting, headaches, sleeplessness, dizziness, asthma, high blood pressure and many more symptoms.

As hard as it may be to give up our favourite foods, it's something that needs to be accepted when suffering a sensitivity, after all, it's your body's way of telling you that it doesn't want to eat it.

Is Glutamine absorbed just as efficiently when it is taken orally compared to intravenously? 

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and is utilised predominantly by the immune system, gastrointestinal system and skeletal muscle.  Glutamine is supplied by the diet and the skeletal muscle for use by the liver, kidneys, gut and immune system.  We obtain glutamine from sources such as beef, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products, wheat, cabbage, beetroot, beans, spinach and parsley.  It is these dietary sources which ‘top up' its storage tank in the muscle and provide glutamine to the blood stream for use by other organs

Glutamine levels can decrease in times of infection, injury, burns, endurance exercise and overtraining.  It is not only our muscles which suffer when we are low in glutamine, but also the organs with which Glutamine transports Nitrogen and Carbon to.  Low glutamine levels can depress our immune systems.  An intensely trained muscle is considered ‘injured' by the nature of the micro tears which occur and glutamine benefits recovery in this way as well as being a major building block for protein.  Our immune systems are also challenged during heavy exercise and this too is where glutamine benefits the athlete.  Glutamine has also been shown to promote muscle glycogen storage.

There is no evidence suggesting that glutamine should be taken intravenously.  Oral glutamine is used as frequently as intravenous glutamine and both will end up in plasma and skeletal muscle.  It is likely that Intravenous glutamine would be administered to a patient who may not be able to metabolise glutamine through the digestive tract due to surgery or disease.


Glutamine and the immune system.  Amino Acids 1999.  P. Calder & P. Yaqoob.

Role of glutamine in immunologic responses. Nutrition, Volume 14, Issue 7.  D. Wilmore

Effects on skeletal muscle of intravenous glutamine supplementation to ICU patients.  Intensive Care Medicine 2004.  I. Tjader, O. Rooyackers, A. Forsberg, R. Vesali, P. Garlick & J. Wernerman

Oral Glutamine slows down whole body protein breakdown in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  Pediatric Research 1998.  R. Hankard, D. Hammond, W. Haymond, & D. Darmaun.

Effect of oral glutamine on whole body carbohydrate storage during recovery from exhaustive exercise.  Journal of Applied Physiology 1999.  J. Bowtell, K. Gelly, M. Jackman, A. Patel, M. Simeoni & M. Rennie.

Biochemical, Physiological and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition 2006.  M Stipanuk


Question: I've been told to cut out dairy like milk and yoghurt out of my diet if I want to lose weight. But I saw a documentary a while ago where the group that kept yoghurt in their diet actually lost more weight. Any thoughts? 

Answer: Yes, media can make these things very confusing.  There is no need to take dairy out of your diet unless you suffer digestive upsets from it, in fact the small amount of fat in blue milk won't totally affect your weight loss efforts either if you're following a plan which puts your body into a calorie deficit.  To ensure you're in a calorie deficit it is advised to seek the help of someone who can analyse your food and exercise diary to make sure that the calories going in are less than calories going out.

There is a debate over whether dairy and/or calcium can assist in weight loss and there has been much research done on the subject.  A large handful of studies conclude that a calorie controlled diet which includes dairy products will have a useful effect on weight loss, in particular body fat loss while maintaining lean mass.  However, many of these studies were undertaken by researchers who were funded by the National Dairy Council in America.  Milk sales in the United States had suffered a massive slump and in 1993 the ‘Got Milk?' campaign began which increased milk consumption.  It is suggested that this funded research was to help support future milk sales by promoting its weight loss effects.  I personally accept with the results of many of the studies regardless of their funding source.

There are also studies which show no effect on weight with regards to dairy and calcium consumption.  One such study was conducted over a 12 year period and the chances of these participants following the same calorie intake for 12 years is unlikely, in addition metabolic rates would have slowed over this 12 year period.  It seems unlikely that the results of this study have any relevance.

On a personal note, I do prescribe to the theory that replacing some of our carbohydrate calories particularly bread and refined grains with milk can be beneficial to body fat loss in conjunction with exercise.  They key point here, is to replace foods with dairy, not eating dairy aswell as your normal weight loss calorie intake.  The best dairy source would be natural yoghurt, but milk and low fat cottage cheese are also good choices.  Obviously, dairy items like cheese and icecream should be kept at a minimum, and for troublesome weight loss, they should be avoided completely.  Some examples could be to change tuna and crackers to a low carb protein shake mixed with milk or to have fruit and yoghurt for breakfast instead of toast.

And we haven't even touched on whether drinking another animals lactation is good for us or not...that's a whole other area of debate.  Dairy is by no means a magic bullet, losing weight effectively is a complete journey and requires the 2 basics 1) exercise and 2) portion correct food intake.


Effect of Calcium Supplementation on Weight and Fat loss in Women.  The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2004.  S. Shapses, S. Heshka & S. Heymsfield

Calcium and Dairy intakes in relation to long-term weight gain in US men.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006. S. Rajpathak, E. Rimm, B. Rosner, W. Willet & F. Hu.

Increased Dairy product or calcium intake: Is body weight or composition affected in humans? The Journal of Nutrition 2003. S. Barr.

Calcium and Weight: Review of Clinical studies. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2002. R. Heaney, M. Davies & J. Barger-Lux.

Calcium Intake and Reduction in Weight or Fat Mass.  The Journal of Nutrition 2003.  D. Teegarden

Dairy augmentation of total and central fat loss in obese subjects.  International Journal of Obesity 2005.  M. Zemel, J. Richards, S. Mathis, A. Milstead, L. Gebhardt & E. Silva

Calcium and Dairy Acceleration of Weight and Fat Loss during Energy Restriction in Obese Adults.  Obesity Research 2004.  M. Zemel, W. Thompson, A. Milstead, K. Morris & P. Campbell.

Effects of Calcium and Dairy on Body Composition and Weight loss in African-American Adults.  Obesity Research 2004.  M. Zemel, J. Richards, A. Milstead & Peter Campbell.

The Impact of calcium and dairy product consumption on weight loss.  North American Association for the study of obesity J. Harvey-Berino, B. Gold, R. Lauber & A. Starinski.


Question: " My friend has
been working out lots and has started smelling of ammonia .... She is a little concerned and is unsure what it could be.  She has been told she is dehydrated .. is this correct?"

Answer: Our bodies use fats and carbohydrates for energy, but they also use amino acids.  The bi-product of these chemical reactions is nitrogen which is released into the blood stream and then eliminated from the body.  Some of this nitrogen is eliminated via the liver and kidneys through the urine as Urea.  During intense and exhausting muscle activity it is also eliminated through the sweat glands as Ammonia.  This is normal and studies show that as the exercise intensity or exertion increases then so too does the excretion of Ammonia.

There is no clear reason why it produces a noticeable smell on some people, sometimes.   It is possible water intake could be a factor.  As urine production decreases, Nitrogen is forced to be eliminated predominately through the skin and the absence of water prevents the dilution of the resulting ammonia.  Two studies concluded that a very low carb diet which depleted glycogen stores also contributed to excess Ammonia in sweat.  As the body uses more amino acids in producing glucose then more Nitrogen is being released in the process.

Different types, intensities and durations of training will require varying levels and types of energy, which can increase and decrease the level of amino acid breakdown.

Certain bacteria living on skin can also excrete Ammonia.  I have my own theory that certain chemicals (deodorants, shampoos etc) on the skin could possibly react with the Ammonia in sweat creating a more pungent smell - this is just my opinion.

Liver and Kidney troubles which produce a reduction urea output could also be another reason for excess Ammonia in the sweat, but this would not be isolated to just exercise sweat.  If you experience the Ammonia odour constantly even while not exercising and other signs of disease such as any pain, blood in urine etc then seek the advice of a medical professional.

It would appear though, that anything which may alter the Nitrogen levels in blood and/or the mechanisms by which they are excreted will affect the amount of Ammonia present in Sweat.  But before you all go rushing off for hepatic and renal function tests, the first thing to do is make sure that you're drinking enough fluids and eating enough food for the activities you're doing for most of us (excluding dieting bodybuilders) that also means no skipping food groups like good clean carbs.  Keeping a food / fluid and exercise diary will also help you identify potential patterns of dehydration and glycogen depletion.


Analysis of metabolites in sweat as a measure of physical condition.  Analytica chimica acta (1947) K. Mitsubayashi, M. Suzuki, E. Tamiya & I Karube.

Glycogen depletion as an indication for ammonia determination in exercise testing.  European Journal of Sport Science, Vol 3, Issue 3 (2003).  H. Schulz & H. Heck.

Nitrogen Excretion in Sweat and It's relation to Nitrogen Balance Requirements.  The Journal of Nutrition (1962).  C. Consolazio, R. Nelson, L. Matoush, R. Harding & J. Canham.

Effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on plasma and sweat ammonia concentrations during prolonged nonexhausting exercise.  European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology (1995).  D. Czarnowski, J. Langfort, W. Pilis, & J Gorski.

Lactate and ammonia concentration in blood and sweat during incremental cycle ergometer exercise.  International Journal of Sports Medicine (1997).  W. Ament, J. Huizenga, G. Mook, C. Gips, G. Verkerke.

Plasma ammonia is the principal source of ammonia in sweat.  European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology (1992).  D. Czarnowski, J Gorski, J. Jozwiuk & A. Boron-Kaczmarska.


Question: I've read in many bodybuilding magazines that bodybuilders incorporate arginine as part of their supplement plan to build size.  Most of the magazines are talking about men taking the supplement, I was wondering if its ok for women to take it as well.   A friend told me that if you're on the pill, you shouldn't take arginine because it might cancel the pill out.  Would you be able to advise if its ok for women to take it all and if so how much?

Answer: L-Arginine is a conditionally indispensible amino acid.  The body produces it normally, from other amino acids and it can be useful as supplementation for tissue repair and growth in certain situations.  This is where bodybuilders can benefits from it.  L-Arginine stimulates polyamines which mediate cell growth and tissue repair and also stimulates NO (Nitric Oxide) synthesis and Creatine.  As with any ergogenic aid, what works for one person may not work for another and effects will range depending on the individual.  One study reported a mean level of 9g/day was sufficient to increase circulating L-Arginine, another study reported just 3g/day was sufficient.

I was unable to locate any documented studies highlighting optimal dosing of L-Arginine for women to increase muscle size.  Always follow the dosage instructions on supplements and immediately discontinue use at the sign of any adverse effects.

In the case of contraception however, it is the stimulation of NO which may make L-Arginine unsuitable for women to use if they are on a contraceptive.  Contraceptive pills are designed to inhibit ovulation.  L-Arginine and Nitric Oxide on the other hand have been shown in some research to stimulate ovulation.  One such study reported that agents used to stimulate ovulation are administered 1-5 days prior to mid-cycle.  L-Arginine is used in this respect at a level of between 50mg - 10g per day and may be used in conjunction with other agents. 

It could be assumed that so long as L-Arginine supplementation is taken at a level below 50mg and not taken prior to expected ovulation then supplementation will not affect contraception.  One should never assume however, and care should always be taken with any supplementation.  If you are concerned that L-Arginine may interfere with your contraception, then using alternative forms of protection while taking L-Arginine is advised.


Ovulation control by regulating nitric oxide levels with arginine derivatives.  (1995)  R. E. Garfield, C. Yallampalli.

Adjuvant L-arginine treatment for in-vitro fertilization in poor responder patients. (1999) European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.  C. Battaglia, M. Salvatori, N. Maxia, F. Petraglia, F. Facchinetti & A. Volpe.

Biochemical, Physiological & Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition. (2006). M. H. Stipanuk.

Biochemical responses of healthy subjects during dietary supplementation with L-Arginine. (2004)The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. R. W. Evans, J. D. Fernstrom, J. Thompson, S. M. Morris Jr, L. H. Kullera.


On really hot days I drink lots of water but my body holds it, there can be a difference of 1.5-2kg and can see it on my body. I even take a diuretic in summer as the combination of the heat and extra fluid leaves me feeling very lethargic and heavy. So therefore if the body is holding it do we need as much. I am not peeing it out even though i am drinking more. Any suggestions???
very frustrating with big body fluctuations during summer!!!" 

Answer: Water retention does not occur from drinking too much water, unless there is too much something else that is holding on to that water.  3 of the common things are sodium, wheat and sugar.  Water basically follows sodium, so a diet high in salt will encourage the body to store more water in order to dilute it creating optimal fluid balance.  Wheat is a very dry product and a diet high in bread, pasta and other wheat based products will absorb a lot of water also - it's like a sponge.  Sugar drags water around the body with it - muscle glycogen is essentially water and glucose.  Are you taking a fibre supplement?  This is another very good water sponge also.
Another thing to consider is how much is 'a lot' of water.  1L may be a lot to a single person.  It would be helpful to know how many litres of water you are drinking a day.  Similarly how much is 'not peeing enough'.  The colour of urine is a great indicator whether you're drinking enough or not.  Dark urine can indicate dehydration, very clear urine can be overhydration.
Bowel movements also consist of water and things like high doses of Magnesium and Vitamin C draw water into the bowel for this purpose.  If the water is being used for this purpose then it won't be in the bladder for urination.
In hot weather and when standing for a long time we do tend to 'swell'.  This is mostly due to our lymphatic system draining some of it's lymph into the space between our cells.  This is a normal occurance, albeit somewhat annoying.  This isn't water retention as such, but definitely makes us feel heavier.  Hot weather makes us feel lethargic and this combined with any swelling will make us feel fatigued in itself.
Diuretics aren't recommended unless suffering from a diagnosed medical condition which requires them.  There are different types of diuretic and each are used depending on what the particular ailment is.  Increasing water intake is in fact your most natural diuretic.
When it comes to weight fluctuations like this we need to be cautious about how often we weigh ourselves, what time of day and conditions.  I know it sounds obvious but it is very easy weigh a couple of kilos heavier at the end of the day than you did in the morning - regardless of how many times we go to the toilet
To completely tell if the weight gain is coming from water retention the best thing to do is to keep a complete food and exercise diary for a week or so.  Take your weight at the start of the week first thing in the morning and then again 5-7 days later at the same time under the same conditions.  Other things to consider in the food diary would be thirst, headaches, when are 'heavy' symptoms at their worst and when do they subside.
I would recommend drinking a consistent amount of water every single day (whether its hot or cold) and for you this could be 2 or more litres to achieve a regular pale yellow urine. I would also recommend stopping the diuretics and ensure that food choices are healthy, minimising or avoiding bread, pastries, cakes, pasta and sugar.  If taking a fibre supplement, take it with lots of water.  Read nutrition panels to see what the sodium content of foods are and add salt to dishes sparingly, and of course keep the body fluids moving with regular exercise and avoid standing around in the heat for too long.


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