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2017/12/29 19:05:00
James 14 comments

Olive Oil

This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker May 2011 edition
Olive oil extraction goes back over 5000 years to 2600-2240 BC, which is a long time, as with pretty much every food that has enjoyed centuries of consumption, olives and olive oil is a food packed with nutritional goodness.

Consumption of olive oil has spread massively from the Mediterranean, which still leads the world in consumption per head, to be a worldwide habit, and with increasing interest in health and longevity olive oil consumption has continued to rise.

Olive oil has a reputation as a good health oil, so let's look a little more closely. Chemically speaking olive oil is triacylglycerols, free fatty acids, glycerol, phosphatides, pigments, sterols and bits of olive (and sometimes olive leaf). The main triacyglycerol is oleic acid, a monosaturated omega-9 fatty acid, 55-83% of the total, linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid, which is 3.5-21%, palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid, 7.5-20%, stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid, 0.5-5%, alpha-linolenic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid for 0-1.5% of the olive oil. Olive oil has no trans fatty acids present, and to be classified as olive oil by the International Olive Oil Council, the linolenic acid content has to be lower than 0.9% of the total.

When talking about the health benefits of olive oil a lot of focus has been on the presence of omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. However, the benefits of olive oil run deeper than just its favorable fatty acid profile. Olive oil is also a rich source of polyphenols: up to 5mg per 10g grams, where many other nut and seed oils contain no polyphenols. Our understanding of the health benefits of polyphenols is still in its infancy, but we know these compounds when consumed as food bring many health benefits, from lowering the risk of heart disease cancers to healthy skin and eyes. The main phenol compounds in olive oil are hydroxytyrosol and tryrosol.

The colour of olive oil comes from pigments such as chlorophyll, pheophytin and various carotenoids. And we know that carotenoids act as antioxidants, an arsenal that is added to by vitamin E. Olive oil is also a rich source of vitamin K, found in green leafy veggies and essential for healthy blood coagulation.

Convinced that olive oil is more than just health fats in a tasty liquid, here's more about the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) based in Madrid. The IOOC regulates around 95% of the world's production via its 23 member states, although the USA is not a member, and it is their classification of olive oils that is used in the UK.

Extra-virgin olive oil is produced only from virgin oil production and refers to oil that has both less than 0.8% acidity and is judged to have a superior taste. Virgin olive oil is from virgin oil production where the oil is produced via only physical production methods and has an acidity of less than 2%; it is judged to have good taste. Pure olive oil is usually a blend of refined and virgin oil production.

Refined olive oil is obtained from virgin oils where refining does not alter the chemical structure of the fatty acids and has a free acidity of not more than 0.3%, and has characteristics fixed by the IOOC. Much of the olive oil produced in the Mediterranean is too highly acidic or other wise poor in quality that it needs to be refined to produce an edible product.

Olive oil is great for you but you need to treat it carefully, especially it needs to be kept in a dark and preferably cool place. Strong light, artificial or natural causes photo-oxidation which makes for rancid olive oil. Olive oil will slowly oxidise over time naturally. However, photo-oxidation can occur at up to 30,000 times that which occurs naturally in the oil itself. When oxidized fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic acid are destroyed, the oil itself will have an unpleasant flavour and odour - often bitter due to the presence of peroxides.

Extra virgin oil and even virgin olive oils are best used cold because heating burns the unrefined particles, while cheaper refined olive oils are better for cooking because they retain their characteristics. Also the strong taste of extra virgin oils can easily overpower a dish while the more subtle taste of refined oil complements it.
2017/12/20 20:46:42
James 3 comments

Christmas Pudding Nutrition

This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker December 2011 edition
The now traditional Christmas, or plum, pudding is widely regarded to have its origins as a soupy porridge known as frumenty, although you can see it's a forerunner in the very earliest of mince pies. Being a dish which could keep for a long time, along with another Christmas tradition, mulled wine, plum pudding was developed as a way of keeping food from spoiling over the winter.

Early frumenty could contain beef fat (suet), prunes, currants, raisins, spices and sometimes even meats were added. This dish was definitely runny with a more soup like consistency. By the 17th Century, frumenty was more pudding than soup with eggs, breadcrumbs and even beer being added and we recognize the dish as the plum pudding we see today. It is commonly said when talking of Christmas pudding that it was banned by Oliver Cromwell, sadly. Although Oliver and his friends were kill-joys, they did not actually ban Christmas pudding; instead it was decreed that Christmas day be a fasting not feasting day. They also tried to make a lot of other fun things illegal, and when ousted their laws were simply ignored or reversed. So with Oliver gone, the path was clear for the Christmas pudding to once again become England's favorite pudding.

Traditionally Christmas pudding is made on the first Sunday before Advent, which in some parts is known as 'stir it up Sunday'. In 1714, George the First gave plum pudding his seal of approval, and the Quakers' called it the "invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon"; two things which, no doubt, served to enhance its appeal. It was also in the 1700s that meat disappeared from the dish as storage and preservation techniques improved.

In 1830 Eliza Action published the first recipe for Christmas pudding, and it was under Queen Victoria that it became a firm Christmas tradition, although that had started with George the century before. It's also said that the ingredients, making and garnish of pudding are symbolic of Jesus, the apostles, the Magi, and Jesus crown of thorns, while others see them as rather tasty.

All of this history brings us to the nutritional value of a Christmas pudding which, I hope you can see, is at best somewhat dubious. Although it should have a good amount of fibre! However, with estimates that average Christmas day calorie consumption is 7000 calories, a serious Christmas day cheat would be well advised to hit the calorie dense and immensely unhealthy Christmas Pudding as a way to push to the top of any Christmas day calorie challenge.
2017/11/11 06:58:08
James 1 comment


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2011 edition
Agave nectar is touted as an alternative to both sugar and honey, presented as 100% natural, often organic and even raw, on the face of it agave nectar looks like the perfect solution. With a lower glycaemic index and glycaemic load than other non-artificial sweeteners it is an attractive product.

Made from the same plant as tequila, agave nectar appears to have impressive credentials. From manufacturers' websites you are presented with the impression that agave nectar dates back to the Aztecs and is a traditional product, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Agave nectar dates back to approximately 1990. It is made in both Mexico and South Africa; its production varies slightly depending on the variety used. In South Africa only blue agave is used, and in Mexico blue agave is also often the dominant crop. To manufacture agave from the blue agave the pineapple like core is used, while for the agave salimiana the stalk is cut before it fully grows and the liquid that collects in the core is collected daily.

Once juice has been obtained, the juice is then either heated to hydrolyse the polysaccharides into simple sugars, or treated with enzymes to hydrolyse the polysaccharides into simple sugars or more commonly heated and treated with enzymes to hydrolyse the polysaccharides that occur in the plant into the simple sugars of the final syrup. The syrup is then filtered and clarified to produce the nectar on the shelves. In pure chemistry and food production terms the processes used to produce agave nectar are the same as used to produce high fructose corn syrup from corn starch, deploying the same genetically modified enzymes and chemical agents to convert the indigestible polysaccharides (mostly insulin) of the agave plant into fructose and dextrose units. Raw nectar products do not use heat in the production process.

Agave nectar, depending on how it is processed can be up to 70% fructose, which is a very high concentration indeed; higher than is found in fruit and without the fiber, vitamins, and other goodies a whole food product brings. Agave nectar is also higher in fructose than high fructose corn syrup.

Is it something for a bodybuilder? Personally, I don't think so at all. Fruit is something for a bodybuilder certainly, but adding a concentrated supplemental fructose with its specific metabolism that first replenishes liver glycogen and then gets stored as fat without any impact on circulating or muscle glycogen levels, is not a way to be lean in my book. This would be enough, but it appears that fructose in higher amounts causes appetite and hunger to be stimulated via the inhibition of leptin. For me the case against agave nectar is pretty well stacked when you consider that there are alternatives sweeteners and ingredients available, such as honey, maple syrup and even table sugar.
1 comment
2017/09/13 17:02:52
James 26 comments


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker February 2011 edition
Although pork is the most commonly consumed meat in the world, forming the staple in many countries, it is not a meat that is commonly thought of as a bodybuilding staple food, and it is a good question to ask why. If we discount any conspiracy theories involving Joe Weider and the US Beef industry then we have to look at its nutritional content.

Of course pork is not just one meat, it is a variety of different cuts, and the nutritional content varies significantly by cut. For example 100g of belly pork contains 258kcal, 19g protein and 20g of fat, while a pork chop weighs in with 227kcal, 15g protein, and 18g fat. However, this is not the whole pork story. Pork fillet is lean; containing 147kcal, 22g protein and 6.5g fat, whereas chicken comes in with 148kcal, 32g protein and 2.2g of fat.

With 10g of protein less than chicken and a similar price it becomes easy to see why pork fails to make a regular appearance on the bodybuilders table. When choosing meat both chicken and lean beef (steak) are simply better, and if you want to increase your fat intake, fish trumps pork due to the high saturated fat content of pork compared to the more desirable fats found in oily fish. In bodybuilding terms, pork is the guy that doesn't train legs, looks good for a while, but ultimately isn't complete.

Of course, variety is a good thing too, and pork can find it way onto your plate now and again, not only in the off season bacon sandwich.
2017/05/31 18:18:17
James 4 comments


This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker May 2010 edition
When talking about celery (Apium graveolens), sooner or later you will encounter one of the oldest, most persistent food myths in the known universe: celery is a negative calorie food. Any dieter desperately wants this to be true, it's not!

Celery has a long history, celery leaves were found in the tomb of Tutankhamen who died in 1323BC, while celery was later praised for its medicinal qualities by the father of modern medicine Hippocrates, around 370BC. Indeed the English name 'celery' is derived from selinon; the Latin name for celery itself borrowed from the Greek.

Originally growing wild celery has always had a number of uses. The leaves were used to make garlands for the dead and to adorn winners in the Isthmian Games (around 55BC). While its seeds (actually a very small fruit) continue to be prized for their aromatic oil which is used in both the pharmaceutical and perfume industries. The purported medicinal application of celery continues to this day, while the ancient Greek physician Cornelius believed a celery seed made an effective pain killer, today celery is supposed to lower blood pressure as well as make you calm. Unfortunately for Cornelius he did not have the power of modern science to back his bogus claim; unlike today where the presence of 3-N-butyl-phthalide (a substance that lowered the blood pressure of rats) in celery is used to back up hype. It has also been claimed that it is an aphrodisiac because it contains androsterone; based on a misunderstanding of testosterone metabolism this claim is equally untrue.

So what about nutrition? We already know that celery is low in calories, with around 19 calories per 120g, and high in fibre, what most people don't know is that celery is high in calcium, vitamin C, Vitamin K, potassium, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B1, Vitamin A, magnesium, and iron, giving celery an incredibly healthy nutrient profile indeed. We are in the middle of the celery season which runs from the end of January right until the start of September so British celery is at its best right now. Often eaten raw celery is also widely used in home-made soups, and there is no better time to try out my celery recipes to mix things up a little.

So far, we have discovered that celery is far more than a chewy stalk to stick in your guacamole, but we haven't considered celery's dark side. Celery ranks second to nuts as the most common cause of allergy, and like the peanut has the potential to cause fatal anaphylactic reactions. Since November 2005, European Food Labelling regulations stipulated that the presence of celery must be declared.

Finally, while you check that none of your guests are allergic to celery; remember to wash it very well, especially if you live in the US, where celery topped the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen of foods containing the most chemicals when grown conventionally, with 64 different chemicals being found.
2017/04/22 16:00:16
James 3 comments


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker March 2010 edition

Hopefully coffee needs no introduction; it is the second most traded product in the world after petrol, worth approximately 60 billion dollars a year. Coffee also has a long history, at least to 700BC. Its name reportedly derives from the old Arabic word for wine 'qahwa' and legend has it coffee was discovered by a goat herder who wondered why his flock was so active and didn't sleep properly. He found they were eating berries and the rest is history. This leads to the important fact that the coffee bean starts as a berry. Coffee is grown in 53 countries, all of them between the two tropics with Brazil leading production. Most of the world's production is the arabica (approx 75% or so) with the rest being robusta. Robusta is the bitterer of the two varieties, giving a less pleasant flavour and so is cheaper than the arabica bean. However, the robusta bean has more caffeine and a higher anti-oxidant content.

Much is made of the caffeine content of coffee; caffeine is itself an ergogenic aid see our caffeine article. However, there is more to coffee than caffeine, and that it is a refreshing beverage with virtually no calories. Being a berry coffee contains natural antioxidants known as polyphenols, at which point any savvy bodybuilder or athlete will pay attention. Intense training results in the production of free radicals, which are not a group of French protesters, but rather molecules that cause damage to cells and which have been linked to lots of long term health risks. Importantly, they are in part responsible for you feeling sore, tired, and not recovering as well as you can. Antioxidants are important because they counter the effects of free radicals, the hitch being, have too much of any individual antioxidant and you get toxic damaging effects as a result as well. Which is why taking 4g of vitamin C a day is not a quick fix!

The main polyphenol in coffee is chlorogenic acid, a cinnamic acid (yes, related to cinnamon) composed of caffeic acid and L-quinic acid. Chlorogenic acid has shown promising effects in lab tests as a tumour inhibitor and in other studies it has reduced the hyperglycaemic peak following glucose ingestion, reduced the absorption of glucose and the inhibited production of glucose by the liver, making some people quite excited about its potential deployment with diabetics. Just don't rush out to buy the commercial version just yet - its effects are not that proven!

If you analyse coffee then, in keeping with its berry origin, you find a host of vitamins and minerals along with the micronutrients, and although most exist in trace amounts in your average cup of Joe, both magnesium and potassium are present in significant amounts. All of which means; when you kick back that nice strong Americano, avoiding the calories of other versions, and not getting the third less caffeine delivered by an espresso cupful, you can be happy that your pre-workout boost is doing its own little bit to help you recover too.

Finally ever wondered why coffee is called Americano or a cup of Joe - both names come from American Soldiers or GI Joes, who would dilute their espresso by adding hot water.
2017/01/21 11:10:49
James 1 comment


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker July 2009 edition
Now commonplace on the supermarket shelves the banana was once the height of exotic food, a favourite of athletes gracing events from centre court at Wimbledon to your local gym class, the banana has a very long history.

Organised banana plantations can be dated back to around 200 AD China; however the banana gets its first honourable mention at around 600 BC! Only in the 1500s do plantations appear in the Caribbean and Central America. Any food with such a long history of cultivation invariably packs a heavy nutritional punch and the banana is no exception.

Interestingly the banana does not grow on trees, instead it is a giant herb of the same family as lilies, orchids and palms.

Famed for its potassium content, with approx 270mg per 100g of banana in its skin, the banana also delivers 7g of vitamin C and 16g of carbohydrate. The banana also contains a host of other vitamins and minerals, including a good dose of vitamin B6, which is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells amongst other things. The banana is also fat free and has approx 49g of water in that 100g, making it a great food during prolonged exercise - quite possibly the banana can claim to be a 'superfood' for any athlete.

It is great for bodybuilders because it can be used both pre and post workout, depending on how you want your carbohydrate; go green and the sugar is more complex and delivery is slower, to yellow, the banana is more ripe and the sugar simple for that quicker hit. It is nutritionally packed and versatile, a practically perfect fruit snack.

Now you know the banana is truly worthy of its place in your shopping basket, it's time to look for good ones. Taste is unaffected by the size of the banana, but skinny bananas do not ripen as well as the full bodied ones. Avoid any banana with a bruise or dent, steer clear of any greyish or dull looking bananas - these have been stored at the wrong temperature, and finally look for a long stem. Bananas with a short stem will deteriorate much more rapidly. If you want to ripen a banana stick it in a paper bag - this contains the ethylene produced and hastens ripening, to speed this up more put an apple in the bag too.

Once your banana is ripe you can put it in the fridge and the skin will go black - but the banana is unaffected. If you are using a banana and want it not to discolour, lemon or other citrus juice on it will stop this, great when cooking my delicious banana bread.
1 comment
2017/01/13 07:37:04
James 1 comment

Chilli Pepper

This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker June 2009 edition
The chilli is a member of the nightshade family, and has been cultivated since 7500BC, so it has a long history. There are also more than a few varieties, ranging from the large green, red, yellow, and orange peppers our US cousins so descriptively call 'bell peppers', to the small fiery peppers that should come with health warning.

Nutritionally, this massive variety means that what you get depends on what you choose. This article is focussed on the small 'spicy' variety, which is a favourite for two reasons; 1) it adds flavour without calories and 2) it can help stimulate the metabolism.

So the question is: does chilli really burn fat? The answer is yes. In a review by Plantenga et al 2006, capsacicin - the active ingredient in the Capsium species of which the chilli is a member was confirmed as having a metabolic stimulant effect. In fact, capsaicin acts through (or is most likely to act through) the beta-andregenic pathway, the reverse action to that of a beta-blocker. The metabolic stimulation is a direct result of the stimulation of the beta-andregenic pathway, with an effect of 23% increase directly after administration having been reported, metabolic stimulation was also reported in women.

So chilli works, for those of you shedding the flab or cutting up chilli has a second effect - which you may or may not appreciate. Eating chilli in a dose that causes significant metabolic stimulation blunts appetite leading to a reduced intake. And here is the rub of chilli as a metabolic stimulant: to get an effect the dose is often intolerable. Subjects in studies often cannot take the whole meal or dose - and regular ingestion of half has been reported. Not only have subjects been spiced out by the pungency of the chilli needed, but effects such as diarrhoea, indigestion and reflux are reported (even abdominal cramp) - and having a capsule doesn't get round these. Then again eating around 1g of hot chilli pepper (that's 0.25% capsaicin) can be a pretty tall order.

So where does that leave our bodybuilder or athlete? In summary, chilli is a metabolic stimulant that works, and if you like it gets busy with it; if not it's a great flavour enhancer. Check out the chilli sauce recipe below.

One final note, watch out for CH-19 Sweet, a cultivar of the pepper which comes without that fiery spice of the chilli but so far has had similar stimulant properties, you may also see capsiate - which is the active stimulant component of CH-19 Sweet making an appearance.

Plantenga, M et al (2006). Metabolic Effects of Spices, Teas and Caffeine. Physiology and Behaviour 89: 85-91
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