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12 Is organic food ‘healthier’ than conventional food?

By Jamie Hale and Alan Aragon

Copyright © December 1st, 2008 by Alan Aragon


2 An objective comparison of chocolate milk and

Surge Recovery.
By Alan Aragon

6 Co-ingestion of protein with carbohydrate during

recovery from endurance exercise stimulates
skeletal muscle protein synthesis in humans.
Howarth KR, et al. J Appl Physiol. 2008 Nov 26. [Epub
ahead of print] [Medline]

7 The effect of resistive exercise rest interval on

hormonal response, strength, and hypertrophy
with training.
Buresh R, et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Dec 9. [Medline]

8 Substrate Metabolism and Exercise Performance

with Caffeine and Carbohydrate Intake.
Hulston CJ, Jeukendrup AE. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008
Dec;40(12):2096-104. [Medline]

9 The acute effects of the thermogenic supplement

Meltdown on energy expenditure, fat oxidation,
and hemodynamic responses in young, healthy
Jitomir J, et al. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008 Dec 16;5(1):23.

10 Green tea extract only affects markers of oxidative

status postprandially: lasting antioxidant effect of
flavonoid-free diet.
Golay A, et al. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000
Apr;24(4):492-6. [Medline]

Alan Aragon’s Research Review – December, 2008 [Back to Contents] Page 1

of inability (and unwillingness) to engage in scientific debate were
right there, plain as day. Ultimately, Bill ended up looking as
An objective comparison of chocolate milk and Surge prideful as he was ignorant. In order to save face, either Bill or
Recovery. administrators of had the thread deleted.
By Alan Aragon Ironically, I recently wrote an article for If I may
say so myself, it was a hit, judging by the reader feedback and
INTRODUCTION TO CENSORSHIP frequent links back to the article. Given that, it was downright
humorous to be censored by the forum administrators shortly
Interrupting the regularly scheduled program
after contributing to their library of wisdom. In the following
For those of you who have been on the edge of your seat for the sections, I’ll compare the components of Surge with chocolate
2nd installment of the “Culking” series, you’ll have to hang on milk for postexercise recovery. For the sake of simplicity and
until the next issue. I’ve taken some liberty to interrupt the context-specificity, I’ll judge the application of the two products
regularly scheduled program to resolve what I consider to be a to the target market of Surge, which consists of general fitness
pivotal disturbance in the Balance of the Force. Those who and bodybuilding fans.
follow my internet romps are chuckling right now, because you
saw this article coming a mile away. MEET THE COMPETITORS

For those who have no idea what the hell I’m referring to, here’s In the brown corner, we have chocolate milk. The ingredients of
the synopsis. A member of the forums posted a chocolate milk vary slightly across brands, but in general, the
question about whether or not it’s safe for her 12 year-old son to ingredients are: milk, sugar (or high fructose corn syrup), cocoa
have a postexercise product called Surge instead of chocolate processed with alkali, natural and artificial flavors, salt,
milk. Bill Roberts, a product formulator for Biotest (the carrageenan, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D3. Like regular
supplement company behind, said essentially that milk, chocolate milk is available in varying levels of milk fat.
the carb source in chocolate milk (sucrose) was inferior to the For the purposes of this comparison, I’ll use the one most
carb source in Surge (dextrose). I then challenged him to justify consumers are most likely to choose, the low-fat variety.
his position. My position was that using sucrose isn’t any more
In the red corner, we have Surge Recovery (which I’ll continue
of a nutritional compromise than using dextrose. His answer was
to abbreviate as Surge). The ingredient list is as follows: d-
that “everyone knows” dextrose is superior to sucrose for
glucose (dextrose), whey-protein hydrolysate, maltodextrin,
postworkout glycogen resynthesis, and that sucrose is inherently
natural and artificial flavors, sucralose. Other ingredients include
more unhealthy than dextrose. I countered his position by
L-leucine and DL-phenylalanine.
presenting scientific research refuting his claims. He then got all
bent out of shape and started hurling ad hominems at me,
Research behind the products
obviously frustrated that he was losing a public battle.
What’s exciting about this comparison is that both of these
“Everyone knows” products have been highly heralded and hyped in their respective
arenas. Surge in its exact formulation doesn’t have any peer-
In one of Bill’s posts, he literally said “everyone knows” more
reviewed research behind it. However, Berardi et al reported that
than a dozen times – while failing to provide a single trace of
a solution of similar construction to Surge (33% WPH, 33%
scientific research supporting his claims. If indeed everyone
glucose and 33% maltodextrin) was slightly superior for
knew, and was in agreement with him, he would have had at
glycogen resynthesis at 6 hrs postexercise compared to a 100%
least a handful of cronies sticking up for him, if for nothing else
maltodextrin solution.1 Effects on muscle protein flux were not
but to pad his fall to the mat. But alas, he received support from
no one except one moderator, who I’ll quote as saying, “I refuse
to back up my claims, so sue me”. Chocolate milk has thus far had an impressive run in the
research examining its applications to various sporting goals.2,3
To Bill’s credit, the soccer mom who asked the original question
It has performed equally well for rehydration and glycogen
wouldn’t listen to anyone but him, so kudos to Bill on his
resynthesis compared to carb-based sports drinks, and it has
politician-like rhetorical skills. In the mean time, several
outperformed them (and soy-based drinks) for protecting and
members expressed their disappointment in Bill’s neglect for
synthesizing muscle protein. A standout study in this area was a
citing research evidence to back his stance. I also know for a fact
comparison of chocolate milk, Gatorade, and Endurox R4 (a
that a good handful of posts from innocent observers (supporting
sports drink with a 4:1 carb to protein ratio).4 Chocolate milk
my side of the debate) were censored from posting in the thread.
was equally effective as Gatorade for total work output and
This was presumably because their posts made Bill look even
prolonging time to exhaustion. Interestingly, both of the latter
more uninformed.
products outperformed Endurox R4 in both tests. The
It’s not surprising that people’s posts were blocked from researchers speculated that the use of maltodextrin rather than
appearing in the thread because eventually, my own posts never sucrose (yes, you read that correctly) as the dominant
made it into the thread. At that point, I knew that continuing the carbohydrate source was the Achilles heel of Endurox R4. More
debate was just not going to happen. Nevertheless, all of the key on the virtues of sucrose instead of straight glucose for exercise
posts made it through; all of the posts that clearly showed Bill’s applications will be covered.
Alan Aragon’s Research Review – December, 2008 [Back to Contents] Page 2
QUANTITATIVE MACRONUTRIENT COMPARISON Chocolate milk’s protein is no different than that of regular milk.
  Milk protein is roughly 80% casein and 20% whey. Thus far in
Macronutrient comparison        the scientific literature, comparisons of casein-dominant proteins
with whey for sports applications are evenly split. Some studies
Product Serving Kcal Protein Carb Fat     
  show casein as superior (in spite of a higher leucine content in
Surge      3 scoops        340         25 g          46 g      2.5 g    the whey treatments), while others point to whey as the
                                    victor. 11,12
The only certainty is that it can’t be assumed that
Ch. Milk       17.3 oz               340             17.3 g          56.3 g        6.5 g    
faster is better when it comes to promoting net anabolism. An
acute study on post-ingestion amino acid kinetics by LaCroix
When isocalorically matched, Surge and lowfat chocolate milk suggests that milk protein is best left as-is rather than isolating
have the expected similarities and differences. The suggested its protein fractions.13 Compared to total milk protein, whey’s
serving of Surge has 7.7g more protein than chocolate milk, amino acid delivery was too transient, and underwent rapid
while chocolate milk has 10.3g more carbohydrate. While the deamination during the postprandial period. The authors
lesser protein content of chocolate milk might on the surface concluded that milk proteins had the best nutritional quality,
seem like a point scored for Surge, this is actually a non-issue. which suggested a synergistic effect between its casein and
Recent research by Tang et al found that as little as 10g whey whey. Bottom line: chocolate milk gets the edge; WPH has thus
plus 21g fructose taken after resistance exercise was able to far bit the dust compared to WPI in a head-to-head comparison,
stimulate a rise in muscle protein synthesis.5 Considering that an and whey has not been consistently superior to total milk
isocaloric serving of lowfat chocolate milk has 17.3g protein protein.
plus 56.3g carbohydrate, a hike in muscle protein synthesis (as
well as inhibition of protein breakdown) would be easily Carbohydrate
achieved. Chocolate milk has 4g more fat than Surge. Again, this
might be viewed as a detriment for those conserving fat calories, Surge has dextrose (synonymous with glucose) as its sole
but it’s still a low absolute amount of fat. This also may have a carbohydrate source, while chocolate milk has an even mix of
potential benefit which I’ll discuss in a minute. Bottom line: sucrose (in the form of either sucrose or high-fructose corn
there’s no clear winner in this department, there’s too many syrup) and lactose. While it’s common to assume that dextrose is
contingencies to make a blanket judgement. superior to sucrose for postexercise glycogen resynthesis,
research doesn’t necessarily agree. A trial by Bowtell et al
QUALITATIVE MACRONUTRIENT COMPARISON showed a glucose polymer to synthesize more glycogen by the
2-hr mark postworkout.14 However, two other trials whose
Protein postexercise observation periods were 4 and 6 hours respectively
saw no significant difference in glycogen storage between
Surge uses whey protein hydrolysate (WPH). In theory, WPH is
sucrose and glucose.15,16
favorable because it’s already broken down into peptide
fragments. This spurred the assumption that it would have faster Perhaps the most overlooked advantage of a fructose-containing
absorption and uptake by muscle, which in turn would result in carbohydrate source (sucrose is 50% fructose) is that it supports
greater net anabolism. However, a recent study by Farnfield et al liver glycogen better than a glucose-only source, as in the case
observed the exact opposite when WPH was compared with of Surge. A little-known fact is that hepatic glycogenolysis (liver
whey protein isolate (WPI), which consists of intact whole glycogen use) occurs to a significant degree during exercise, and
protein.6 WPH not only was absorbed more slowly, but its levels the magnitude of glycogenolysis is intensity-dependent.17
in the blood also declined more rapidly, resulting in a much Illustrating the potential superiority of sucrose over glucose,
weaker response curve. Leucine and the rest of the BCAAs were Casey et al saw no difference in muscle glycogen resynthesis 4
significantly better absorbed from WPI than WPH. The hrs postexercise.15 However, more liver glycogen was restored
researchers concluded that total amino acid availability of WPI in the sucrose group, which correlated with greater exercise
was superior to WPH. capacity.
Of note, Surge is fortified with leucine, a branched chain amino One of the potential concerns of consuming a large amount of
acid (BCAA) that plays a critical role in muscle protein sucrose instead of glucose is how the 50% fructose content in
synthesis. An isocaloric serving of chocolate milk has 1.7g sucrose might be metabolized from a lipogenic standpoint.
leucine. This may or may not have any impact, especially within Answering this question directly, McDevitt saw no difference in
the context of a high protein intake typical of the athletic de novo lipogenesis (conversion to fat) between the massive
population. It’s important to keep in mind that most high-quality overfeeding of either glucose or sucrose at 135g above
animal-based protein is 18-26% BCAA.7 Adding a few grams of maintenance needs.18 Another potential concern is the use of
supplemental BCAA to a pre-existent high intake within the diet high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in chocolate milk. The
is not likely to yield any magic. Surge is also fortified with common fear of HFCS being some sort of special agent that
phenylalanine, presumably for the purpose of enhancing the undermines health is simply not grounded in science. HFCS is
insulin response. Again, this is an unnecessary tactic since virtually identical to sucrose both in chemical structure and
insulin’s primary action is the inhibition of muscle protein metabolic effect.19 Independent researcher John White
breakdown. This antiproteolytic effect of nutrient-mediated eloquently clarified HFCS misconceptions in a recent review,
insulin response is maximal at elevations just slightly above which I’ll quote:20
fasting levels.8
Alan Aragon’s Research Review – December, 2008 [Back to Contents] Page 3
“Although examples of pure fructose causing metabolic upset at OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
high concentrations abound, especially when fed as the sole
carbohydrate source, there is no evidence that the common Price
fructose-glucose sweeteners do the same. Thus, studies using Chocolate milk by the half gallon (64oz, or about 2000 ml) is
extreme carbohydrate diets may be useful for probing approximately $3.00 USD. Sticking with our 340 kcal figure,
biochemical pathways, but they have no relevance to the human this yields 3.7 servings, which boils down to $0.81 per serving.
diet or to current consumption. I conclude that the HFCS- A tub of Surge costs $36.00 and yields 16 servings (3 scoops,
obesity hypothesis is supported neither in the United States nor 340 kcals per serving). This boils down to $2.25 per serving.
worldwide.” That’s 277% more expensive than chocolate milk. Even on a
It bears mentioning that lactose intolerance can prohibit regular protein-matched basis, Surge is still roughly double the price.
milk use for certain susceptible individuals. However, this can Bottom line: chocolate milk is many times easier on your wallet.
be remedied by using Lactaid brand milk, or by using lactase
Convenience & taste
pills or drops. Bottom line: For those who can digest lactose or
are willing to take the extra step to make it digestible, chocolate Convenience is the single area where Surge wins. Being a
milk wins. But since there are those who can’t or won’t do powder, it’s non-perishable, requiring no refrigeration. This
what’s required to tolerate lactose, I’m calling this a tie. makes it more easily portable. Taste will always be, well, a
matter of taste. I highly doubt that in a blinded test that Surge
Fat would win over chocolate milk. Bottom line: Surge is more
Coincidentally, Surge and chocolate milk have identical convenient, but I’ll go out on a limb and guess that chocolate
proportions of saturated fat. Lowfat chocolate milk has more fat milk would taste better to most people.
than Surge, which would cause some folks to call a foul for
postworkout purposes. However, a trial by Elliot et al found that CONCLUSION
postexercise ingestion of whole milk was superior for increasing
I have no vested interest in glorifying chocolate milk, nor do I
net protein balance than fat-free milk.21 The most striking aspect
stand to benefit by vilifying Surge. My goal was to objectively
about this trial was that the calorie-matched dose of fat free milk
examine the facts. Using research as the judge, chocolate milk
contained 14.5g protein, versus 8.0 g in the whole milk.
was superior or equal to Surge in all categories. The single
Apparently, postworkout fat intake – particularly milk fat – is
exception was a win for Surge in the convenience department.
nothing to fear, and may even be beneficial from the standpoint
So, if a consumer was forced to choose between the two
of synthesizing muscle protein. Bottom line: it’s a tie, since there
products, the decision would boil down to quality at the expense
is very little evidence favoring one fat profile/amount versus the
of convenience, or vice versa. I personally would go for the
other. On one hand, you can be saving fat calories by going with
higher quality, lower price, and strength of the scientific
Surge. On the other hand, postworkout milk fat might
evidence. Chocolate milk it is.
potentially enhance protein synthesis. Things come out even.
  1. Berardi JM, et al. Postexercise muscle glycogen recovery
Micronutrient comparison (per 340 kcal serving)*       enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. Med Sci
Sports Exerc. 2006 Jun;38(6):1106-13. [Medline]
Surge Recovery Chocolate Milk  
  2. Roy BD. Milk: the new sports drink? a review. J Int Soc
           Calcium    180 mg    624 mg  Sports Nutr. 2008 Oct 2;5:15. [Medline]
            Cholesterol        75 mg    16 mg   3. McDonald L. (Review of) Milk the new sports drink? a
            Leucine    4000 mg    1714 mg  review. 2008 [Bodyrecomposition]
            Magnesium    20 mg    70 mg  4. Karp JR. Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. Int J
            Phenylalanine   2000 mg     844 mg  Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Feb;16(1):78-91. [Medline]
            Phosphorus    120 mg    558 mg 
5. Tang JE, et al. Minimal whey protein with carbohydrate
            Potassium    400 mg    920 mg 
            Sodium    200 mg    329 mg 
stimulates muscle protein synthesis following resistance
  exercise in trained young men. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab.
*This comparison is limited to the micronutrients on the Surge label. And   2007 Dec;32(6):1132-8. [Medline]
yes, I realize that not all of the above are technically micronutrients.             6. Farnfield MM, et al. Plasma amino acid response after
ingestion of different whey protein fractions. Int J Food Sci
A quick glance at the above chart shows that chocolate milk is Nutr. 2008 May 8:1-11. [Medline]
markedly more nutrient-dense, with the exception of a 7. Millward DJ, et al. Protein quality assessment: impact of
higher content of leucine and phenylalanine in Surge, whose expanding understanding of protein and amino acid needs for
significance (or lack of) I discussed earlier. As an interesting optimal health. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1576S-
triviality, both have low cholesterol content, but Surge has 4.6 1581S. [Medline]
times more. Chocolate milk has more sodium, but it also has a 8. Rennie MJ, et al. Branched-chain amino acids as fuels and
significantly higher potassium-to-sodium ratio. Bottom line: anabolic signals in human muscle. J Nutr. 2006 Jan;136(1
chocolate milk wins this one decisively. Suppl):264S-8S. [Medline]

Alan Aragon’s Research Review – December, 2008 [Back to Contents] Page 4

9. Demling RH, Desanti L. Effect of a hypocaloric diet,
increased protein intake and resistance training on lean mass
gains and fat mass loss in overweight police officers. Ann
Nutr Metab. 2000;44(1):21-9. [Medline]
10. Kerksick CM, et al. The effects of protein and amino acid
supplementation on performance and training adaptations
during ten weeks of resistance training. J Strength Cond Res.
2006 Aug;20(3):643-53. [Medline]
11. Lands LC, et al. Effect of supplementation with a cystein
donor on muscular performance. J Appl Physiol
1999;87:1381-5. [Medline]
12. Cribb PJ, et al. The effect of whey isolate and resistance
training on strength, body composition, and plasma
glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006
Oct;16(5):494-509. [Medline]
13. LaCroix M, et al. Compared with casein or total milk
protein, digestion of milk soluble proteins is too rapid to
sustain the anabolic postprandial amino acid requirement.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Nov;84(5):1070-9. [Medline]
14. Bowtell JL, et al. Effect of different carbohydrate drinks on
whole body carbohydrate storage after exhaustive exercise. J Appl
Physiol 2000; 88 (5): 1529-36. [Medline]
15. Casey A, et al. Effect of carbohydrate ingestion on glycogen
resynthesis in human liver and skeletal muscle, measured by
(13)C MRS. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2000
Jan;278(1):E65-75. [Medline]
16. Blom PC, et al. Effect of different post-exercise sugar diets
on the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis. Med Sci Sports
Exerc. 1987 Oct;19(5):491-6. [Medline]
17. Suh SH, et al. Regulation of blood glucose homeostasis
during prolonged exercise. Mol Cells. 2007 Jun
30;23(3):272-9. [Medline]
18. McDevitt et al. De novo lipogenesis during controlled
overfeeding with sucrose or glucose in lean and obese
women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Dec;74(6):737-46. [Medline]
19. Melanson KJ, et al. High-fructose corn syrup, energy intake,
and appetite regulation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008
Dec;88(6):1738S-1744S. [Medline]
20. White JS. Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup:
what it is and what it ain't. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008
Dec;88(6):1716S-1721S. [Medline]
21. Elliot TA, et al. Milk ingestion stimulates net muscle
protein synthesis following resistance exercise. Med Sci
Sports Exerc. 2006 Apr;38(4):667-74. [Medline]

Alan Aragon’s Research Review – December, 2008 [Back to Contents] Page 5

potentially contribute to its favorable effect. An important
improvement upon the latter study’s design was the present
Co-ingestion of protein with carbohydrate during study’s inclusion of an all-carb treatment that was calorically
recovery from endurance exercise stimulates skeletal equal to the protein-containing one. Finally, this trial was a
muscle protein synthesis in humans. within-subject design. Subjects inevitably differ from one
another, and this can introduce confounding variability across
Howarth KR, et al. J Appl Physiol. 2008 Nov 26. [Epub ahead of individuals. In within-subject designs, subjects are used as their
print] [Medline] own controls. As such, in the present trial, the same subjects
were tested in each condition. Therefore, differences among
PURPOSE: Co-ingestion of protein with carbohydrate (CHO) subjects were measured and separated from error. Finally, In
during recovery from exercise can affect muscle glycogen addition to the general measures of nutritional control, all
synthesis, particularly if CHO intake is suboptimal. Another subjects were provided with a standardized, prepackaged meal
potential benefit of protein feeding is an increased synthesis rate on the day prior to each experimental trial. Subjects were
of muscle proteins, as well documented after resistance exercise. instructed to ingest the meal as breakfast at a standardized time
In contrast, the effect of nutrient manipulation on muscle protein on the day of the trial, after having fasted overnight.
kinetics after aerobic exercise remains largely unexplored. We
tested the hypothesis that ingesting protein with CHO after a Study limitations
standardized 2 h bout of cycle exercise would increase mixed
muscle fractional synthetic rate (FSR) and whole body net This study was well designed and executed; its procedures
protein balance (WBNB) versus trials matched for total CHO or fulfilled its purpose. Pointing out limitations boils down to
total energy intake. We also examined whether post-exercise nitpicking, so here’s its main flaw other than its small sample
glycogen synthesis could be enhanced by adding protein or size. Although standardizing a breakfast on the trial day was a
additional CHO to a feeding protocol that provided 1.2 g conscientious move since athletes don’t compete in an
CHO/kg/hr, which is the rate generally recommended to overnight-fasted state, the composition of the breakfast was
maximize this process. METHODS: Six active men ingested oddly low in protein and fat. The meal was 700 kcal, consisting
drinks during the first three h of recovery that provided either of 82% CHO, 10% fat, and 8% protein. This was perhaps
1.2 g CHO/kg/hr (L-CHO), 1.2 g CHO +0.4 g PRO/kg/hr (PRO- intentionally done in order to minimize the presence of residual
CHO) or 1.6 g CHO/kg/hr (H-CHO) in random order. plasma amino acids near the exercise protocol. However, it
RESULTS: Based on a primed constant infusion of L-[ring- shouldn’t be ignored that an optimal pretraining feeding setup
(2)H5]-phenylalanine, analysis of biopsies (v. lateralis) obtained aims to raise blood amino acid levels during training in order to
at 0 and 4 h of recovery showed that muscle FSR was higher promote muscle protein synthesis and inhibit muscle protein
(p<0.05) in PRO-CHO (0.09+/-0.01 %/hr) versus both L-CHO breakdown.2
(0.07+/-0.01%/hr) and H-CHO (0.06+/-0.01%/hr). WBNB
assessed using 1-(13)C-leucine, was positive only during PRO- Comment/application
CHO and this was mainly attributable to a reduced rate of
protein breakdown. Glycogen synthesis rate was not different Previously, Levenhagen et al reported that muscle protein
between trials. CONCLUSION: We conclude that ingesting synthesis was increased after aerobic exercise when protein was
protein with CHO during recovery from aerobic exercise added to a carbohydrate-fat supplement compared to the
increased muscle FSR and improved WBNB, as compared to supplement without protein.1 However, in addition to not
feeding strategies that provided CHO only matched for total eliminating the possibility that an increased energy intake was
CHO or total energy intake. However, adding protein or responsible for the increased protein synthetic response, the
additional CHO to a feeding strategy that provided 1.2 g authors relied on arterio-venous measurements. The present
CHO/kg/hr did not further enhance glycogen resynthesis during study’s methodology was stepped up a notch via direct
recovery. Key words: protein turnover, stable isotopes, amino measurement of muscle protein synthesis by combining stable
acids, glycogen. SPONSORSHIP: Natural Sciences and isotope infusion with muscle biopsy sampling.
Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The main finding in this study was that co-ingestion of protein
with CHO during recovery from endurance exercise increased
Study strengths
mixed skeletal muscle fractional synthetic rate (FSR) and
While there’s a decent body of research on protein and induced a more positive whole-body net protein balance as
carbohydrate intake after resistance training, this study provided compared to drinks matched for total CHO or total energy
novel information for endurance exercise recovery. Research by intake. Glycogen synthesis was not enhanced with additional
Levenhagen et al examined a similar question to the present one, protein nor carbohydrate beyond the base CHO dose of
and compared the postexercise effect of protein added to a CHO- 1.2g/kg/hr. In addition to matching energy intake between
fat solution to the same solution without protein.1 The treatments, this study was the first to examine the effect of CHO
comparison was 10g protein versus none in a solution containing and protein ingestion during recovery from endurance exercise
8g CHO and 3g fat. As expected, they observed a net increase in on muscle FSR using the needle biopsy technique. Interestingly,
essential amino acid uptake and whole-body protein gain only in unlike Levenhagen’s trial that found no change in protein
the protein-containing treatment. A confounding possibility breakdown, the present trial attributed the increased protein
explaining the benefit of the protein treatment on muscle protein balance to the prevention of breakdown rather than an increase
synthesis is that it simply had more calories, which could in synthesis. Chalk up yet another point for postworkout protein.
Alan Aragon’s Research Review – December, 2008 [Back to Contents] Page 6
The effect of resistive exercise rest interval on duration. This is a significant design flaw considering that the
hormonal response, strength, and hypertrophy with subjects were untrained. This introduces the possibility of a lack
training. of maximal engagement and progression of the training protocol.
Buresh R, et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Dec 9. [Medline] Having been a trainer for several years before I transitioned into
the gloriously sedentary field of nutrition, I can personally attest
PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to compare the that it takes new trainees weeks, if not months, of careful
effects of different between-set rest periods (1 and 2.5 minutes) supervision to become adept at various exercises. This is
on changes in hormone response, strength, arm cross-sectional especially the case with exercises that involve free weights
area (CSA), thigh muscular cross-sectional area (MCSA), and (including bodyweight-only movements), which require a higher
body composition during a 10-week training period. level of coordination and stabilization than machines with a
METHODS: Twelve untrained males (24.8 +/- 5.9 years) fixed path of motion. An indirect method of obtaining CSA was
engaged in resistance training using either 1 minute (short rest employed via equations involving skinfold and circumference
[SR], n = 6) or 2.5 minutes (long rest [LR], n = 6) of rest measurements. While these may correlate reasonably well with
between sets, with a load that elicited failure on the third set of direct means, the data would be stronger if direct means such as
each exercise. Body composition, thigh MCSA, arm CSA, and magnetic resonance imagery (MRI), dual-energy X-ray
five-repetition maximum (RM) squat and bench press were absorptiometry (DEXA), or computed tomography (CT) were
assessed before and after training. Blood samples were collected employed. Finally, although a rare effort was made to make sure
after exercise in weeks 1, 5, and 10. RESULTS: In week 1, subjects consumed adequate protein, no other dietary guidelines
postexercise plasma testosterone levels were greater in SR (0.41 (including total calories) were administrated.
+/- 0.17 mmol.L) than in LR (0.24 +/- 0.06 mmol.L, p < 0.05),
and postexercise cortisol levels were greater in SR (963 +/- 313 Comment/application
mmol.L) than in LR (629 +/- 127 mmol.L, p < 0.05). Week 1 The outcome of this trial is interesting but it still leaves some
postexercise GH levels were not different (p = 0.28). The important questions unanswered. By week 8, although the
differences between hormone levels in weeks 5 and 10 were not difference in protein intake compliance levels was not
significant. Arm CSA increased more with LR (12.3 +/- 7.2%) statistically significant, one could argue that an 11.6% greater
than with SR (5.1 +/- 2.9%, p < 0.05). There were no differences compliance level in the long rest (LR) group could translate to a
in strength increases. CONCLUSION: These results show that clinically significant advantage (roughly 20-30g more protein
in healthy, recently untrained males, strength training with 1 per day). This, among other potentially uncontrolled dietary
minute of rest between sets elicits a greater hormonal response factors, might explain the increase in arm CSA in the LR group.
than 2.5-minute rest intervals in the first week of training, but Notably, the LR group also showed a statistically insignificant
these differences diminish by week 5 and disappear by week 10 increase in thigh CSA compared to the SR group. Another
of training. Furthermore, the hormonal response is highly possible explanation for the superior hypertrophic effects seen in
variable and may not necessarily be predictive of strength and the LR group was the baseline differences between groups. The
lean tissue gains in a 10-week training program. squat 5-RM at baseline was significantly lower for LR than for
SPONSORSHIP: University Committee on Research of the SR. Additionally, though not statistically significant, LR tended
University of Nebraska at Omaha. to have lower 5-RM bench press strength and arm and leg
Study strengths muscle CSA. This opens up the possibility that the lower
baseline muscular fitness levels in LR raised this group’s
The question investigated here is very practical in nature, and potential for improvements in strength and muscle hypertrophy.
can potentially provide valuable information for those who are
short on training time. Another design strength was the Would there have been a difference in trained individuals?
measurement of the 5-repetition maximum (5RM) as opposed to Possibly not. Robinson et al saw no significant differences in
the more traditional assessment of the 1RM. Aside from the muscular hypertrophy among treatments of 180, 90, or 30
greater safety and broader applicability of the 5RM testing, seconds between 10-rep sets.3 Interestingly, despite an increase
neurological factors stand a greater chance of affecting the in maximal strength in the longest-resting group, a lack of
performance of 1RM, particularly in untrained subjects. significant difference in body composition change was seen.
Additionally, strength tests were done on both upper-body and More recently, Goto et al compared the effects of a
lower-body movements. Whereas a large proportion of similar “hypertrophy-type” treatment (10 RM with an interset rest
research limits cross-sectional area (CSA) measurement to a period of 30 seconds and progressively decreasing load)
single limb, the present study measured CSA in both the thigh “strength-type” treatment (90% of 1RM) and a “combination-
and the arm. Since dietary control is typically absent in exercise type” treatment (strength-type protocol immediately followed by
research, it was refreshing to see that subjects were instructed to a low-intensity/high-repetition treatment).4 This protocol worked
consume protein at 1.7g/kg /day to insure adequate nutritional best for maximal strength gains as well as muscular endurance.
support for muscular size and/or strength gains. Although not to a statistically significant degree, CSA increase
was greatest in the combination group as well. Back to the
Study limitations present trial, postexercise hormonal elevations proved to be
Although exercise supervision was provided by Certified unreliable correlates of size and strength gains. The authors
Strength & Conditioning Specialists (NSCA-CSCS), this only speculate that the transient hormonal elevations might possibly
occurred in the participants’ first two exercise bouts of the trial. be maintained and thus capitalized by periodization, which was
They were left to train on their own for the rest of the 10-week not part of the training protocol used in this study.
Alan Aragon’s Research Review – December, 2008 [Back to Contents] Page 7
The present study was primarily an investigation of the
Substrate Metabolism and Exercise Performance with mechanisms behind caffeine’s enhancing effect on ergogenesis
Caffeine and Carbohydrate Intake. when combined with CHO (no mechanism was clear, more on
Hulston CJ, Jeukendrup AE. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 that in a minute). In a previous study done by the present trial’s
Dec;40(12):2096-104. [Medline] authors, a very high dose of caffeine (10mg/kg) in combination
with a relatively high CHO ingestion rate (0.8g/kg/min).9 Since
PURPOSE: 1) To investigate the effect of caffeine on these high rates of ingestion may not represent what athletes use
exogenous carbohydrate (CHO) oxidation and glucose kinetics in the field, exogenous CHO oxidation and glucose kinetics with
during exercise; and 2) to determine whether combined ingestion a smaller dose of caffeine (5.3mg/kg) and lower rate of CHO
of caffeine and CHO enhanced cycling performance compared ingestion (0.71g/min) were used in the present trial.
with CHO alone. METHODS: Ten endurance-trained cyclists
Given the results of their previous study using a high caffeine
performed three experimental trials consisting of 105 min
dose, the authors hypothesized that a more realistic dose of
steady-state (SS) cycling at 62% VO2max followed by a time
caffeine coingested with glucose would increase exogenous
trial (TT) lasting approximately 45 min. During exercise,
CHO oxidation compared with glucose alone. However, the
subjects ingested either of the following: a 6.4% glucose
combination did not increase exogenous CHO oxidation
solution (GLU), a 6.4% glucose plus caffeine solution providing
compared with an isoenergetic amount of glucose alone. Just to
5.3 mg kg(-1) of caffeine (GLU + CAF), or a placebo (PLA).
refresh some of the readers on the significance, increased rates
Glucose solutions contained a trace amount of [U-C]glucose,
of exogenous CHO oxidation has the potential to improve work
and eight subjects received a primed continuous [6,6-H2]glucose
performance. It’s never been proven, but theoretically exogenous
infusion. RESULTS: Peak exogenous CHO oxidation rates
CHO oxidation can “spare” or prevent glycogen use. Despite the
were not significantly different between GLU and GLU + CAF
lack of effect of the caffeine on exogenous CHO oxidation or
trials (52.6 +/- 2.7 and 49.1 +/- 2.1 micromol kg.min(-1),
glucose kinetics during exercise, the CHO-caffeine combination
respectively). Rates of appearance (Ra) and disappearance (Rd)
enhanced time trial performance by 4.6% compared to CHO
of glucose were significantly higher with CHO ingestion than
alone, and 9% compared to placebo.
PLA (P < 0.01) but were not significantly different between
GLU and GLU + CAF trials. Performance times were 43.45 +/- As pointed out by the authors, some studies report performance
0.86, 45.45 +/- 1.07, and 47.40 +/- 1.30 min for GLU + CAF, benefits with far lower (and perhaps more practical) caffeine
GLU, and PLA, respectively. Therefore, GLU + CAF ingestion doses than the amount used in the present trial (5.3 mg/kg).
enhanced TT performance by 4.6% (P < 0.05) compared with Illustrating this, Cox et al observed enhanced time trial cycling
GLU and 9% (P < 0.05) compared with PLA. CONCLUSION: performance with just 1.5 mg/kg.10 Kovacs et al reported that 3.2
The coingestion of caffeine (5.3 mg kg(-1)) with CHO during mg/kg was equally as effective as 4. Mg/kg, but both were more
exercise enhanced TT performance by 4.6% compared with effective than 2.1mg/kg.11 Nonetheless, the present trial and
CHO and 9.0% compared with water placebo. However, caffeine others demonstrate that combined ingestion of caffeine and CHO
did not influence exogenous CHO oxidation or glucose kinetics enhances endurance exercise performance beyond CHO alone.
during SS exercise. SPONSORSHIP: Glaxo-SmithKline
Consumer Healthcare, United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the authors could not find a clear mechanism for
the additional performance effect of caffeine. The original
Study strengths hypothesis proposed by Costill et al almost three decades ago
Subjects were endurance-trained cyclists, eliminating the suggested that caffeine mobilized free fatty acids (FFA) from
“newbie effect”, and making this data more applicable to adipose tissue and facilitated higher rates of fat oxidation, which
advanced and well-conditioned athletes. Since all subjects were helped stave off the use of glycogen.12 However, the present trial
identified as caffeine users, this makes the outcomes applicable shows that caffeine neither elevated plasma FFA or glycerol
to a sizable segment of the athletic population, who indeed are concentrations, nor did it increase rates whole-body fat oxidation
caffeine-habituated to varying degrees. To reduce the potential These findings are in agreement with other recent research
confounding influence on substrate metabolism of prior exercise showing that plasma FFA concentrations are not always elevated
and diet leading into the testing period, subjects recorded food with caffeine ingestion. Astutely, the authors pointed out
intake and physical activity for 2 days before the first trial. previous research showing that even if higher plasma FFA
concentrations are observed, respiratory exchange ratio (RER) is
Study limitations unaffected.13 This indicates that caffeine may exert its ergogenic
effects in the absence of altered substrate metabolism.
Other very common limitation of a small sample size, it’s
difficult to fault this study. It was straightforward and well- The current research shows that a mix of carbohydrate sources
controlled. However, one thing lacking in the scant body of trials ingested during exercise, as opposed to a singular source, is
examining CHO-caffeine combinations is the addition of protein more gastrically tolerable. Furthermore, glucose and fructose
or amino acids. Excluding the latter from the substrate mix is not have different transporters that can be utilized simultaneously
optimal, since the ingestion of protein during endurance exercise for faster availability to muscle and liver. Thus, in future
has been consistently shown to prevent muscle protein research, I’d like to see an exercise performance comparison of a
breakdown.5-8 Hopefully, future research will examine the combination of glucose and fructose with a solution of straight
present study’s combination with protein during training. glucose – both treatments with caffeine, both with protein.
Alan Aragon’s Research Review – December, 2008 [Back to Contents] Page 8
The acute effects of the thermogenic supplement the potential for variability in substrate use during exercise the
Meltdown on energy expenditure, fat oxidation, and following morning.
hemodynamic responses in young, healthy males.
Jitomir J, et al. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008 Dec 16;5(1):23.
Vital Pharmaceuticals is better known in fitness circles as VPX
Sports. In my experience, VPX has been more abreast of the
PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the science of things than the typical supplement company, many of
effects of a thermogenic supplement, Meltdown, on energy which don’t necessarily have the concept of “integrity” apparent
expenditure, fat oxidation, and hemodynamics before and after in their general approach. Nevertheless, I’ll boldly assume that
maximal treadmill exercise. METHODS: In a double-blind, VPX will soon sponsor a longer-term trial lasting at least a few
randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over design, 12 male weeks. I’ll also boldly predict that the fat loss results will be
participants underwent two testing sessions after consuming favorable, and comparable or better than what’s been seen in
either the Meltdown or placebo supplement. While in a fasted ephedrine-containing supplements. The label information and
state, participants rested for one hour, orally ingested either advertising hype can be seen here. This product is a cornucopia
Meltdown or placebo, rested for another hour, performed a of thermogenic substances that the manufacturer claims will
maximal treadmill exercise test, and then rested for another hour. work synergistically to get you ready for that pool party coming
Throughout the testing protocol resting energy expenditure up way too soon.
(REE), respiratory exchange ratio (RER), heart rate (HR), and
The striking aspect of this trial was the apparent win-win effect
blood pressure (BP) were assessed. RESULTS: Meltdown
caused by Meltdown: increased resting energy expenditure
increased REE significantly more than placebo at 45 min (1.44 +
(REE), decreased respiratory exchange ratio (RER) indicating a
0.25 vs. 1.28 + 0.23 kcal/min; p= 0.003), 60 min (1.49 + 0.28 vs.
greater use of fat for fuel – all this without any significant effects
1.30 + 0.22 kcal/min; p= 0.025), and 120 min (1.51 + 0.26 vs.
on heart rate or blood pressure. The big deal about this is that
1.33 + 0.27 kcals/min; p = 0.014) post-ingestion. Meltdown
although ephedrine-containing compounds were modestly
significantly decreased RER at 30 min (0.84 + 0.03 vs. 0.91 +
effective for fat loss, they also raised heart rate and blood
0.04; p = 0.022) and 45 min post-ingestion (0.82 + 0.04 vs. 0.89
pressure. The use of synephrine instead of ephedrine is likely the
+ 0.05; p = 0.042), and immediately post-exercise (0.83 + 0.05
reason. The increase in REE seen in the present trial was
vs. 0.90 + 0.07; p = 0.009). Furthermore, over the course of the
comparable to ephedrine-induced REE increases, but occurred
evaluation period, area under the curve assessment demonstrated
approximately 120 minutes earlier than ephedrine.
that REE was significantly increased with Meltdown compared
to placebo (9,925 + 1,331 vs. 8,951 + 2,961 kcals; p = 0.043), One thing to bear in mind is that this entire study was conducted
while RER was significantly less than placebo (5.55 + 0.61 vs. under fasted conditions. The effect of the fed state on this
5.89 + 0.44; p = 0.002) following ingestion. HR and BP were not supplement’s action is unknown, but likely to be significantly
significantly affected prior to exercise with either supplement (p suppressive in most populations. This means that unless fasted
> 0.05) and the exercise-induced increases for HR and BP training is part of one’s regimen, supplements such as Meltdown
decreased into recovery and were not different between stand to be significantly less effective that what was seen in the
supplements (p > 0.05). CONCLUSION: These data suggest present trial. Although, there is the possibility that if highly
that Meltdown enhances REE and fat oxidation more than trained subjects were used in an endurance-type protocol, fat
placebo for several hours after ingestion in fully rested and post- oxidation might not be affected by prior meal ingestion during
exercise states without any adverse hemodynamic responses. exercise. For example, Febbraio et al demonstrated that there
SPONSORSHIP: Vital Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (FL, USA). was no difference in fat oxidation between the fasted and fed
Study strengths subjects despite the elevated insulin levels in the carb-fueled
treatments during 2 hrs of exercise at an intensity level of 63%
Subjects who consumed any other form of supplementation than VO2 max.14 Therefore, it’s conceivable that the lean, fit
a multivitamin were excluded from participation. A crossover population may stand to reap more benefit from this supplement
was done, meaning that a switch-up of treatments between than the regular Joes or Janes.
groups was administrated after a wash-out period. This gave all
subjects a chance to be tested with the supplement, and it serves Repeatedly throughout the manuscript, the authors mention
to strengthen the outcomes in the face of a small sample size. ephedrine-containing supplements (particularly the caffeine-
Subjects were required to keep dietary records 48 hours prior to ephedrine stack) as the competitive standard that Meltdown has
the testing period. Diet records were evaluated with nutritional the potential to match or beat. However, the resounding data that
software. comes to mind is a recent meta-analysis by Shekelle et al
showing that a rather unimpressive 0.9 kg (1.98 lb) monthly
Study limitations weight loss beyond placebo can be expected from ephedrine-
Acute effects were measured in this trial. As such, long-term containing supplememts.15 An unwelcome finding was a 2.2-
safety and/or effectiveness is yet to be determined. As 3.6-fold increase in the odds of psychiatric, autonomic, or
mentioned by the authors themselves, the subjects were healthy, gastrointestinal symptoms, and heart palpitations. The hope for
lean young men, and the outcomes may not translate similarly to Meltdown is that its long-term effects have all of the good and
obese or morbidly obese populations in different gender or age none of the bad. With only VPX standing to gain any return on
brackets. Finally, although diet records were taken 2 days prior research dollars invested in Meltdown, it’s likely that the
to testing, imposing a standardized dinner may have decreased outcomes will suit their commercial agenda.
Alan Aragon’s Research Review – December, 2008 [Back to Contents] Page 9
the low-flavonoid diet and low-flavonoid diet plus green tea
Green tea extract only affects markers of oxidative Comment/application
status postprandially: lasting antioxidant effect of
flavonoid-free diet. A relatively broad battery of oxidation damage and oxidation
defense parameters were measured, and green tea extract (GTE)
Young JF, et al. Br J Nutr. 2002 Apr;87(4):343-55.. [Medline] only had transient and relatively meaningless effects. Currently,
green tea seems to be overhyped compared to its actual effects
PURPOSE: Epidemiological studies suggest that foods rich in
measured in research. While epidemiological research correlates
flavonoids might reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and
green tea consumption with reduced a reduced risk of
cancer. The objective of the present study was to investigate the
cardiovascular events and other surrogate indexes of CVD,16 the
effect of green tea extract (GTE) used as a food antioxidant on
controlled clinical research doesn’t convincingly support green
markers of oxidative status after dietary depletion of flavonoids
tea as the causal agent. Clearly, there are other factors within or
and catechins. METHODS: The study was designed as a 2 x 3
associated with green tea consumption that have not yet been
weeks blinded human cross-over intervention study (eight
clearly established. In a recent review on the mechanisms and
smokers, eight non-smokers) with GTE corresponding to a daily
effects of green tea on cardiovascular health, Basu and Lucas
intake of 18.6 mg catechins/d. The GTE was incorporated into
offer the following conclusion echoing some of the present
meat patties and consumed with a strictly controlled diet
study’s findings:17
otherwise low in flavonoids. GTE intervention increased plasma
antioxidant capacity from 1.35 to 1.56 (P<0.02) in postprandially “The role of green tea polyphenols in reducing lipid
collected plasma, most prominently in smokers. RESULTS: The peroxidation, particularly LDL oxidation and malondialdehyde
intervention did not significantly affect markers in fasting blood concentrations, have been reported from several in vitro,
samples, including plasma or haemoglobin protein oxidation, animal, and limited clinical studies. […] While green tea intake
plasma oxidation lagtime, or activities of the erythrocyte may benefit smokers who are at increased risk of developing
superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione CVD, its role in reducing the biomarkers of oxidative stress and
reductase and catalase. Neither were fasting plasma inflammation in hypercholesterolemic subjects, or in those with
triacylglycerol, cholesterol, alpha-tocopherol, retinol, beta- borderline diabetes, remains to be elucidated.”
carotene, or ascorbic acid affected by intervention. Urinary 8-
oxo-deoxyguanosine excretion was also unaffected. Catechins Energy intake was balanced with output as indicated by the
from the extract were excreted into urine with a half-life of less weight-stability of the subjects (weight changed less than 1 kg in
than 2 h in accordance with the short-term effects on plasma each subject throughout the entire trial). This removes the
antioxidant capacity. CONCLUSION: Since no long-term possibility that the positive clinical outcomes resulted from
effects of GTE were observed, the study essentially served as a weight or fat loss. The authors of the present study mention that
fruit and vegetables depletion study. The overall effect of the 10- it can be viewed as a 10-week dietary depletion of all food
week period without dietary fruits and vegetables was a decrease antioxidants derived from fruits and vegetables. However, they
in oxidative damage to DNA, blood proteins, and plasma lipids, speculated that the improvement in oxidative status was due to
concomitantly with marked changes in antioxidative defence. the absence of antioxidant foods which may have had pro-
SPONSORSHIP: Danish Food Technology grant (FØTEK2), oxidant compounds co-existing with vitamin C in fruits and
and from the Commission of the European Communities, vegetables. This is a rather far-fetched speculation, since as I
Agriculture and Fisheries (FAIR). mentioned, the trial didn’t have a fruit and vegetable-based,
flavonoid-rich treatment arm.
Study strengths Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this study was the
The crossover with a 2-week washout period was implemented decrease in oxidative damage to proteins, DNA, and lipids
in order to compensate for the small sample size (16 subjects despite the subjects’ specific avoidance of tea, wine, spices,
total). All meals were lab-prepared in individual portions chocolate, cocoa, fruits, berries, and vegetables except carrots
according to subjects’ energy requirements. All meals were and potatoes. Without reading the full text, the abstract can
consumed on-site. Subjects were instructed to return any misled readers to believe that these positive effects were seen
leftovers to the department for weighing and subtraction from during 10 weeks without any plant foods, period.. This actually
planned intake and were asked daily about compliance. No food happened, since I recently debated with someone who tried
other than that provided by the investigators was allowed to be (unsuccessfully) to use this study to argue that plant foods are
consumed. Now this, my dear readers, is a very rare example of not beneficial to health. However, the big mistake of interpreting
strict control over dietary variables. the data based solely on the abstract is the fact that the dietary
treatments both included significant amounts of carrots and
Study limitations potatoes. Carrots were consumed daily at 3 points in the day:
breakfast, lunch (as a “carrot salad”), and late afternoon snack.
This trial was well designed for its intended purpose. To nitpick In addition to that, a carrot cake dessert was given 4x a week.
at the limitations, sample size was small (although this was Potatoes were in the menu nearly every day at either lunch
partially alleviated with the crossover). This study lacked a (whole) or dinner (mashed). If anything, this diet was an
treatment arm consisting of a diet high in wholefood-based accidental study of the health benefits of a rigorously enforced
flavonoids in order to compare antioxidant effects with those of daily intake of carrots & potatoes.
Alan Aragon’s Research Review – December, 2008 [Back to Contents] Page 10
1. Levenhagen DK, et al. Postexercise protein intake enhances
whole-body and leg protein accretion in humans. Med Sci
Sports Exerc. 2002 May;34(5):828-37. [Medline]
2. Tipton KD, et al. Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate
ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance
exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001
Aug;281(2):E197-206. [Medline]
3. Robinson JM, et al. Effects of different weight training
exercise/rest intervals on strength, power, and high intensity
exercise endurance. J Strength Cond Res. 1995 Nov;
9(4):216-21. [JSCR]
4. Goto K, et al. The Impact of Metabolic Stress on Hormonal
Responses and Muscular Adaptations. Med Sci Sports
Exerc. 2005 Jun;37(6):955-63. [MSSE]
5. Ivy JL, et al. Effect of a carbohydrate-protein supplement on
endurance performance during exercise of varying intensity.
Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003 Sep;13(3):382-95.
6. Saunders MJ, et al. Effects of a carbohydrate-protein
beverage on cycling endurance and muscle damage. Med
Sci Sports Exerc. 2004 Jul;36(7):1233-8. [Medline]
7. Romano-Ely BC, et al. Effect of an isocaloric carbohydrate-
protein-antioxidant drink on cycling performance. Med Sci
Sports Exerc. 2006 Sep;38(9):1608-16. [Medline]
8. Bird SP, et al. Liquid carbohydrate/essential amino acid
ingestion during a short-term bout of resistance exercise
suppresses myofibrillar protein degradation.
9. Yeo SE, et al. Caffeine increases exogenous carbohydrate
oxidation during exercise. J Appl Physiol. 2005
Sep;99(3):844-50. [Medline]
10. Cox GR, et al. Effect of different protocols of caffeine
intake on metabolism and endurance performance. J Appl
Physiol. 2002 Sep;93(3):990-9. [Medline]
11. Kovacs EM, et al. Effect of caffeinated drinks on substrate
metabolism, caffeine excretion, and performance. J Appl
Physiol. 1998 Aug;85(2):709-15. [Medline]
12. Costill DL, et al. Effects of caffeine ingestion on
metabolism and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports.
1978 Fall;10(3):155-8. [Medline]
13. Graham TE, et al. Caffeine ingestion does not alter
carbohydrate or fat metabolism in human skeletal muscle
during exercise. J Physiol. 2000 Dec 15;529 Pt 3:837-47.
14. Febbraio MA, et al. Effects of carbohydrate ingestion before
and during exercise on glucose kinetics and exercise
performance. J Appl Physiol. 2000 Dec;89(6):2220-6.
15. Shekelle PG, et al. Efficacy and safety of ephedra and
ephedrine for weight loss and athletic performance: a meta-
analysis. JAMA. 2003 Mar 26;289(12):1537-45. [Medline]
16. Kutiyama S, et al. Green tea consumption and mortality due
to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes in Japan:
the Ohsaki study. JAMA. 2006 Sep 13;296(10):1255-65.
17. Basu A, Lucas EA. Mechanisms and effects of green tea on
cardiovascular health. Nutr Rev. 2007 Aug;65(8 Pt 1):361-
75. [Medline]

Alan Aragon’s Research Review – December, 2008 [Back to Contents] Page 11

conclude that despite any potential differences, a well-balanced
diet can equally improve health regardless of whether it’s
Is organic food ‘healthier’ than conventional food?1 organic or conventional.

By Jamie Hale & Alan Aragon Magkos and colleagues recently conducted another review of the
literature comparing conventional foods to organic foods.5 They
In the beginning asserted that scientific evidence indicating that organic food is
safer and more nutritious than conventional food is scarce.
Technically speaking, any substance that’s carbon-based is Organic fruits and vegetables can generally contain fewer
organic. This chemistry-derived designation has become agrochemical residues than conventionally grown alternatives.
effectively trivialized by the organic food industry. Probably the However, the significance of this difference is questionable
most common reason consumers buy organic foods is because actual levels of contamination in both types of food are
because they perceive them to be more nutritious and safer. Is generally far below acceptable limits. Some leafy, root, and
this true? Is there really a significant difference between organic tuber organic vegetables may have lower nitrate content
and conventional foods? These questions are the fuel for compared with conventional ones.
ongoing investigation whose results thus far have been both
enlightening and disappointing. It’s still not clear whether or not dietary nitrate in typical
concentrations constitutes any threat to human health. Data
Recent scientific reviews exists indicating a protective effect of nitrate against pathogenic
microorganisms, so the risks of its absence must also be
With rare exception, as in the case of a paper by Köpke,2 considered. Importantly, no differences can be identified for
reviews in recent years have not been decidedly in favor of environmental contaminants (i.e., cadmium and other heavy
organic foods. He asserts that organic agriculture is metals), which are likely contained in both organic and non-
environmentally sound and more sustainable than mainstream organic foods. Regarding other food hazards, such as
agriculture. However, since Köpke is the head of the Institute of endogenous plant toxins, biological pesticides, and pathogenic
Organic Agriculture, and president of the International Society microorganisms, available evidence is extremely limited. This
of Organic Agriculture Research, the potential for pro-organic casts considerable doubt on the generalization that organic status
bias is strong. automatically equals greater safety.
In contrast, a review conducted by Williams and colleagues
investigated the nutritional value of organic foods.3 They Omit the pesticides, invite the pests
concluded that evidence either supporting or refuting the A rather disturbing case study by Kajiya and colleagues
“supreme nutritional value” of organic foods over conventional suggested a possible relationship between parasite infection and
foods is not available in the scientific literature. Although very organic food.6 Heart failure was caused by hookworm in an 87-
few compositional differences have been reported, there are year old Japanese man who had a 30-year history of eating
reasonably consistent findings indicating higher nitrate and organic foods. In general, footwear and proper sanitation are
lower vitamin C within conventionally-produced leafy important for control of hookworm because the parasite is
vegetables. Nevertheless, there is a glaring lack of cohesive data usually transmitted through contact with contaminated soil. The
concerning the clinical impact on animal and human health highest rates of hookworm infection occur in the world’s coastal
resulting from organic versus conventional produce. Data from regions and are often associated with poverty-stricken areas.
controlled studies in animal models, particularly within single
species, are limited or poorly designed, and findings from these The 87-year old Japanese man wore shoes outdoors and lived
studies provide conflicting outcomes. To further limit any solid inland. In fact, he did not go outside often. The occurrence of
conclusions, there are no reports in the literature of controlled hookworm infection in Japan is uncommon. Organic foods have
intervention studies in human subjects. become relatively popular in advanced countries with good
hygiene, and increasing numbers of people buy foods grown
Magkos and colleagues reviewed scientific evidence regarding without pesticides. The investigators suspected that the Japanese
organic foods and their nutrient value.4 They pointed out that man became infected by eating organic food imported from
there are only a scant number of well-controlled studies that are endemic areas of hookworm infection. It’s been suggested that
capable of making a valid comparison between conventional and organic foods grown without pesticides may carry old-fashioned
organic food. Since the compilation of the results is difficult, diseases. The World Health Organization has stressed various
generalization of the conclusions should be made with caution. measures of monitoring organic foods for this reason.
With the exception of a slight trend towards higher ascorbic acid
content in organically grown leafy vegetables and potatoes, there Strong words from a public skeptic
is very little evidence that organic and conventional foods differ
in concentrations of the various essential micronutrients. Scientists often don’t get their points across to the public; their
relaying of data often gets lost in translation. Bridging the gap
As for the rest of the nutrients and the other food groups, somewhat between science and consumer culture is author and
existing evidence is inadequate to allow for valid conclusions. news personality Steven Milloy, who has built career on myth-
One possible benefit for organically fed animals is a slightly debunking. He defines his personally coined term junk science
improved reproductive performance. A similar finding has not as faulty scientific data and analysis used to advance special and,
yet been identified in humans. The investigators ultimately

Alan Aragon’s Research Review – December, 2008 [Back to Contents] Page 12

often, hidden agendas.7 In an article featured on, than those produced conventionally since organic production
Milloy offered the following perspective:8 generally prohibits antibiotic use.
“No scientific study shows that organic foods are safer,
healthier, or more nutritious than conventional foods. The
“organic” label only means that the products were raised If you like the taste of organic food and have the extra money to
inefficiently without benefit of several modern technologies... spend, go for it. However, don’t consider it a necessity. When
Milk—whether organic, conventional, or conventionally choosing the proper foods to consume, the first consideration
produced without the use of rbST—is all the same stuff. should be a reasonably varied diet that meets your
Marketing and labels that imply otherwise hardly educate the macronutritional needs. Whether it consists of conventional
public. Mostly, they line the pockets of the companies selling foods or organic foods has little (if any) real impact on either
them at a premium, sometimes as much as twice the price of health or safety.
conventional milk.”
An authoritative organization’s perspective
1. This article was inspired by the Nutrition: Fact or Fiction
While Milloy’s stance may have inherently limited authority, a segment of Jamie’s book Knowledge & Nonsense:
similar view is shared by the Institute of Food Technologists [MaxCondition]
(IFT), one of the longest-standing and highly regarded scientific 2. Kopke U. Organic foods: do they have a role? Forum Nutr.
organizations of its kind. The IFT recently issued a Scientific 2005;(57):62-72. [Medline]
Status Summary on the organic foods industry.9 The IFT’s report 3. Williams CM. Nutritional quality of organic food: shades of
does anything but embellish the image of the organic foods grey or shades of green? Proc Nutr Soc. 2002 Feb;61(1):19-
industry. Below are some of the key points from the Summary: 24. [Medline]
ƒ Organic fruits and vegetables possess fewer pesticide 4. Magkos F, et al. Organic food: nutritious food or food for
residues and lower nitrate levels than do conventional fruits thought? A review of the evidence. Int J Food Sci Nutr
and vegetables. In some cases, organic foods may have 54(5):357–71. [Medline]
higher levels of plant secondary metabolites; this may be 5. Magkos F, et al. Organic food: buying more safety or just
beneficial, but also may be of potential health concern when peace of mind? A critical review of the literature. Crit Rev
considering naturally occurring toxins. Food Sci Nutr. 2006;46(1):23-56. [Medline]
6. Kajiya T, et al. Heart failure caused by hookworm infection
ƒ Some studies have suggested potential increased possibly associated with organic food consumption. Intern
microbiological hazards from organic produce or animal Med. 2006;45(13):827-9. [Medline]
products due to the prohibition of antimicrobial use, yet other 7. Milloy S. Junk Science? (a definition) [Junkscience]
studies have not reached the same conclusion. 8. Milloy S. Organic milk industry reveals hypocrisy. 2006
ƒ While many studies demonstrate these qualitative differences Oct. [FoxNews]
between organic and conventional foods, it is premature to 9. Winter CK, Davis SF. Scientific status summary: organic
conclude that either food system is superior to the other with foods. J Food Sci. 2006;71(9): 117-24. [J Food Sci]
respect to safety or nutritional composition.
ƒ Pesticide residues, naturally occurring toxins, nitrates, and
polyphenolic compounds exert their health risks or benefits
on a dose-related basis, and data do not yet exist to ascertain
whether the differences in the levels of such chemicals
between organic foods and conventional foods are of One of the things that separates myself and, I’m assuming, many
biological significance. of the AARR readership is an intense focus on the details. I
didn’t want to use the words “obsessive” or “compulsive”, but
ƒ Organic fruits and vegetables rely upon far few pesticides perhaps those are better descriptors for the keen eye some of us
than do conventional fruits and vegetables, which results in keep on the pulse of physical and/or mental improvement.
fewer pesticide residues, but may also stimulate the Speaking of attention to detail, those of you who haven’t seen
production of naturally occurring toxins if organic crops are the work of ‘microsculptor’ Willard Wiggan will be utterly
subject to increased pest pressures from insects, weeds, or amazed at this video.
plant diseases.
ƒ Because organic fruits and vegetables do not use pesticides
or synthetic fertilizers, they have more biochemical energy to
synthesize beneficial secondary plant metabolites such as
If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, bones of
polyphenolic antioxidants as well as naturally occurring
contention, cheers, jeers, guest articles you’d like to submit, or
any feedback at all, send it over to All
ƒ In some cases, food animals produced organically have the suggestions are taken very seriously. I want to make sure this
potential to possess higher rates of bacterial contamination publication continues to stand alone in its brotacularity.

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