Diet and Body Composition

This week will be a break from the traditional article to summarize the International Society of Sports Nutrition’s (ISSN) position on diets and body composition as published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. The article looks further at body composition assessment methods, but the scope of this summary will focus solely on the major diet archetypes.


  • The general definition of “diet” is the sum of energy and nutrients obtained from foods and beverages consumed regularly by individuals.
  • There are several major diet types interspersed with a multitude of subtypes. The author states this creates conflicting principles that are difficult for the general public and practitioners to navigate. Fad diets across multiple media outlets, with unfounded practices compound the confusion with continued propagation.
  • The position assesses the following diets: very-low and low energy diets, low fat diets, low carb diets, ketogenic diets, high protein diets and intermittent fasting.
  • The ISSN focus was on prospective intervention trials with a duration of at least four weeks, which is considered a minimum time for meaningful changes in fat mass and lean mass, as well as training effects of exercise training on those variables.

Stand on Major Diet Archetypes

Low energy and Very low energy diets

  • Low energy (LED) and very low energy diets (VLED) are characterized by their provision of 800-1,200 kcal/day and 400-800 kcal/day.
  • VLED – are typically in liquid form and commercially prepared. The aim is rapid weight loss between 1-2.5 kg/week while trying to preserve lean mass.
  • Macronutrient distribution – 70-100 g/day (protein), 15 g/day (fat), 30-80 g/day (carbohydrate).
  • Resistance training has been shown to augment the preservation of muscle and even increase it during VLED – at least in untrained/obese subjects (800 kcal/day over 12 weeks with resistance training showed a significant increase in cross sectional area of both slow and fast twitch fibers.
  • 8-12 week VLED are common in clinical practice before transitioning to less severe caloric restriction.
  • Safety is a concern for VLED. Multiple deaths have been reported due to low quality protein intake, excessive loss of lean mass and inadequate medical supervision.
  • Adverse effects of VLED include:
    – Cold intolerance
    – Fatigue
    – Headache
    – Dizziness
    – Muscle cramps
    – Constipation

Low Fat Diet (LFD)

  • Defined as providing 20-35% fat. This number is based on the acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) for adults, set by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine.
  • Long standing recommendations dating back to the 1950s when scientists and physicians promoted decreased fat intake.
  • Publications in 1977 and 1980 outlined the dietary guidelines for Americans reinforced the dietary intake of fat with the aim of improving public health. Recommendations followed by major health organizations (American Heart Associations, American Diabetes Association and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).
  • The premise of dietary fat reduction for weight loss is to target the most energy-dense macronutrient (9g/cal), Protein and Carbs (4g/cal).

Low Carbohydrate Diet (LCD)

  • A broad category with no universal agreement on what quantitatively characterizes a low carb diet.
  • AMDR is set at 45-65% of total energy intake is appropriate for adults.
  • The literature has many definitions here is a list of what has been suggested:
    – Dietary intake of less than 45% carbohydrate intake
    – LCD with an upper limit of 40% carbohydrate intake
    – Less than 200 g of carbohydrate
  • LFD and LCD have yielded mixed results across a wide range of parameters.
  • Practical relevance is questionable for some studies because they deal with obese populations.
  • An advantage to LCD over control diets in some studies may be due to a higher protein intake.

Ketogenic Diets (KD)

  • A subtype of LCD, defined by its ability to elevate circulating ketone bodies measurably – a state called ketosis.
  • Restricted carbohydrate intake to a maximum of ~50g or ~10% of total energy, while keeping protein moderate (1.2 – 1.5 g/kg/d), with the remaining energy intake coming from fat (~60-80% or more depending on degree of protein and carbohydrate (CHO) displacement).
  • Researchers have demonstrated that the higher protein content, rather than the lower CHO content, was the crucial factor in promoting greater weight loss.
  • Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients, one researcher demonstrated an intake increase of 15%-30% energy from protein resulted in a spontaneous drop in energy intake by 441/kcal/day leading to a body weight decrease of 4.9 kg in 12 weeks.
  • Per the article, all controlled interventions to date that matched protein and energy intake between KD and non-KD conditions have failed to show a fat loss advantage of the KD.
  • A growing interest is the effect of KD on athletic performance. Looks to restrict CHO to become adapted to fat oxidation, increasing bodies reliance on fat as fuel.
  • Side note: it would be interesting to see further research on the benefit for endurance and strength/power athletes. A ketogenic diet favors the endurance athlete. Fat oxidation is a slower process than the breakdown of CHO. Since endurance athletes are moving for longer durations the increased efficiency and energy density of fat would benefit the endurance athlete more than the strength/power athlete.

High Protein Diets (HPD)

  • HPD have various definitions but have generally been defined as having 25% of total energy.
  • HPD has also been defined as 1.2-1.6 g/kg, doubling the Recommended Daily Allowance of 0.8 g/kg.
  • Of all the macronutrients protein has the highest thermic effect, meaning it is the most metabolically expensive, requires greater effort/energy to burn/store.


Understanding how various diet types affect body composition is the utmost importance for researchers, practitioners and the general population. There is an abundant amount of research driven information and practice out there. The problem is deciphering the good from the bad. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses. Rather than using a single approach, use the most practical and take the best from each to tailor it to your lifestyle or the individual you are working with.

The common thread that runs through all major diet archetypes for fat mass loss is sustained caloric deficit from baseline. This caloric deficit can be imposed daily/linearly, or non-linearly over the course of the week. As progress is made changes can move from aggressive energy restriction to maintenance. Each archetype has been shown to be effective at improving body composition, while allowing for flexibility in program designs.

Running Should have Weight Classes

About five months ago, Edmonton was gifted with an unseasonably warm week of nice weather. Me, fresh off the holiday weight gain of December and January, I decided to go for a run outside to soak up the warm winter sun. This was my first run in about four years and in an uncomfortable, out of breath kind of way, it felt great. So, naturally, filled with endorphins, fresh off my runner’s high, I signed up for a 10km race… in March. With some sporadic training between then and March, I finally arrived at my race. It was a brisk -19°c running temperature and I took part in my first endurance based race in 10+ years.

As many would expect, the other people that arrived at the race all seemed to have a similar look to them. Most were wearing tight, bright, clothes designed for running with seemingly top of the line runners to match. But the one thing that stood out to me most was that all the people at the front of the pack at the race seemed to fit into the same body type. Lean and fit. I have always seen myself as having an athletic build and thought of myself as being pretty fit, but my 227lb frame was pretty atypical in the competitive running community. Regardless, I went through and completed the race. With contentment, I finished in the top 50 runners, but being the smart-ass person I am, I joked to my friend saying I probably would’ve medalled if you only counted runners over 200lbs. Joking aside, it got me thinking, why doesn’t running have weight classes?

Running is currently broken up into sex and age categories to level the playing field for competitors; and when we look at the physiological demand of running, weight classes can make perfect sense too. One way to predict aerobic performance is to measure an individual’s VO2 max. VO2 max is indicative of the maximum volume of oxygen the body can use during activity. Thus, individuals with a higher relative VO­2 ­max can perform at a greater intensity (or pace) before accumulating the fatigue inducing, metabolic by-products associated with anaerobic exercise. VO2 max is reported as a relative unit in mL per kg body weight per minute, so the lighter the individual, the higher the VO2 max (within reason). Now knowing that a higher VO2­ ­­max leads to greater aerobic performance, if we were to take two runners, with identical physiological aspects in all categories except for their body weights, the lighter runner would win almost every time. This example demonstrates how an individuals body weight could be seen as an advantage or a disadvantage. Heavier individuals must work harder and at a higher relative intensity than lighter individuals to achieve the same outcome.

So, I started to a little bit of digging and turns out I am not the first person to have this idea. Currently, in the United States, there are a few races and triathlons that now offer two additional categories for competition titled the “Clydesdale” and the “Athena” divisions. As far as I can tell, the race categories seem to have arbitrary cut-off weights and you can typically sign up if you weigh-in above 200 lbs (91kg) or 165 lbs (75kg) for men and women, respectively. They are optional to enter and operate on the honour system, so no weigh scales required.  Despite the silly name choice, I think this is a great idea for competitions. With the addition of this category it allows people to compete against other non-traditional body type runners and potentially experience a little more success. Whoever it encourages, be it the 6’5” ex-athlete, the person in the middle of their weight loss journey, or the gym musclehead, in the end, I believe it would be fun to see some new faces atop the podium at the end of the race.

What do you think?

Squat Ball Pass

Equipment needed:

  • Medicine ball, dumbbell or kettlebell.

Target Muscle Group:

  • Primary muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals (rectus abdominus, transverse abdominals)
  • Secondary muscles: erector spinae, soleus, gastrocnemius

Performance Points:

  • Partners begin facing away from each other, close enough to reach behind, but with enough space to squat comfortably.
  • One partner holds the weight to begin. Both partners squat down, ensuring the chest stays tall and knees are tracking in line with the third toe of each foot.
  • Both partners twist to the same side to either pass or receive the ball.
  • Alternate direction of ball pass.


  • Beginner: Reduce weight or perform with no weight, high five your partner instead!
  • Advanced: Increase weight used or add a jump squat in between passes.

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The Need for Speed & Distance in Run Training

As runners, we usually fall into a regime, and choose races that tailor to our ability in either short or long distances. We may be the runner who loves longer training runs but struggles with speed orientated workouts and we participate in half or full marathons. Or we’re the speedster who registers in the 5K or 10K races and excels at getting in lots of interval or tempo runs but dreads the longer workouts.

May I suggest whichever type of runner you are, that you incorporate both speed and distance into your programs to achieve a better race result?

If you do well at speedwork and want to run a faster 5K or 10K, it’s time to ramp up your long runs. I’m not suggesting to cut out your fast repeats or tempo workouts. But I would recommend on the weekends to try to build up your long runs to the 16K range. These long steady efforts can mean the difference between a good performance and a great one. The speedwork runs you enjoy build fast-twitch muscle fibers while the long runs build slow-twitch, and you’ll need both types in your race, especially as you fatigue. You can lengthen your weekend run while doing speedwork if it is done gradually. I recommend increasing by one or two miles every other week while still building on your speedwork.

On the other hand, if you’re the endurance monster and want to make a breakthrough in your next long race its time to add some short, hard training intervals to your program. These intervals build fast-twitch muscle, which your body can recruit for a more efficient, explosive stride when your slow twitch fibers begin to fatigue in a race. My recommendation is to incorporate 200m to 1 mile repeats at 5K pace or faster with equal time rest and an 8-12K tempo run mid week, while still maintaining your long endurance runs on the weekend.

Adding these changes to your run training will be challenging. But the hard work builds guts and grit and will make you better runner on race day.


James Linthorne

James Linthorne is a Bachelor of Physical Education graduated with a concentration in Active Living, Health and Well Being and is certified with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology as a Certified Exercise Physiologist. He specializes in working with runners to complete their first 10k or to qualify for the Boston Marathon. He enjoys working with a variety of clientele who have set goals for themselves and are driven to meet those goals by being challenged appropriately.

Summer Nutrition Tips

Summer is here. Vacation, gardening, hosting backyard barbecues, beaches and enjoying a cold one are staples for any good summer. Summer events can often be filled with creamy salads, pop, chips, ice cream, cocktails and beers. You can still enjoy your summer favorites in moderation and substitute healthier options that are just as tasty.

Choose seafood. Grill salmon, tuna, lobster, steamer clams, and calamari for a low-calorie, protein-packed lunch or dinner.

Enjoy local seasonal foods. Take a trip down to the market, there is always something new each month. Include a mix of in-season colorful vegetables that provide a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals. 

Drink water. In the summer, you are more susceptible to dehydration, so carry a water bottle at all times as a reminder. Only go with a sports drink for activities/workouts lasting more than 45 minutes. Water is adequate for activities shorter than 45 minutes and no need to add the extra calories when controlling caloric intake.

Moderation in Celebration. Nothing beats a cold lager on a hot day after work. If you are going to indulge, enjoy it in moderation. Lower calorie “light” options are available from most major brewers.

Cook meals together. Involve your friends and family in your healthy lifestyle this summer. A simple way to start: plan meals, shop, and cook with your spouse and kids. Planned meals leave little chance to selecting quick fast food or take out.

Take a smoothie on the go. After exercising or a midday snack to tide you over, blend your favorite frozen fruits and a scoop of whey protein into a shake to kick start the muscle-building process. Smoothies are great for on the go when you have a long time between meals. Also, refreshing on a hot summer day.

Pack for Trips. Are you planning a family trip to the beach or a road trip? Pack a cooler with ice, bottled water, loaded sandwiches with lean meat and veggies, pita chips, hummus, yogurt and a variety of fruit.

Homemade Burger recipe:

  • 1lb. pack of lean ground beef
  • ½ lb. lean ground pork
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup of oatmeal as binder
  • 1 punch of kosher salt
  • 1 punch of ground black pepper
  • 2 pinches of garlic
  • 2 pinches of onion powder
  • 3-4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • A good squeeze of yellow mustard


  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and kneed together until thoroughly mixed.
  2. Roll in to 6-8 oz ball (size of a medium orange)
  3. Put a square of parchment paper down, place the ball on the paper and add another to the top
  4. Use a small plate to press to desired thickness
  5. Store in a freezer safe Ziploc for future use

Summer Running Playlist

It’s been a long wait, but sunny weather is back in our lives which means it’s time to lace up those runners and get outdoors! Whether you like to run trails or stairs, hike, bike or paddle – this Summer playlist is energizing, motivating and upbeat to help keep you moving through the heat. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen and stay hydrated!

  • Malibu – Miley Cyrus (3:52)
  • Oasis – Kygo (3:58)
  • Confident – Demi Lovato (3:26)
  • Come With me Now – KONGOS (3:31)
  • Electric Love – Borns (3:38)
  • Despacito (Remix) – Luis Fonsi (3:49)
  • I’m the One – DJ Khaled (4:49)
  • Just Like Fire – P!nk (3:35)
  • Shape of You – Ed Sheeran (3:54)
  • Gold On the Ceiling – The Black Keys (3:44)
  • I’m Stuck – Noah Cyrus (3:08)

by Megan Denholm

Megan is a Bachelor of Kinesiology graduate from the University of Alberta. She is a CSEP-CPT certified Fitness Consultant with the MacEwan University Sport and Wellness fitness team.

Partner Back Extension Plank

Target Muscle Groups: Muscle groups used: Back Extension – erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings. Plank – erector spinae, rectus abdominis (abs), and transverse abdominus

Equipment needed: Stability ball.

Performance Points:

  • Partner A will set themselves up on the Swissball. The ball should align with the hips.
    • Inhale and flex forward to end to the bottom of the motion, then exhale and extend up as high as possible before returning to start position.
  • Partner B supports partner A’s feet to stabilize them and assumes a plank position.
    • Shoulders aligned directly above hands with the body in a straight line keeping abdominals , glutes, and back engaged for the duration of the exercise.

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My Favorite Places to Take My Workout Outside

Summer is here and it’s time to get outdoors for a workout! If you need some ideas on where to go or what to do, check out some of my most favourite places to workout in Edmonton and area.

Find A Park

There are plenty of trails in the Edmonton area for walking, jogging, hiking, cycling and getting active.  Some of my favorites are Elk Island National Park, Cooking Lake – Blackfoot Provincial Park, Gold Bar Park, Hawrelak Park and Lions Park.

  • Elk Island National Park of Canada is beautiful and located less than an hour east of Edmonton. It is home to over 250 species of birds and herds of free roaming bison, deer, moose and elk.  Whether it is hiking, pick nicking or overnight camping, there is plenty to do at Elk Island National Park.
  • Cooking Lake – Blackfoot Provincial Park is in Strathcona County, east-southeast of Edmonton. There are plenty of trails for hiking, cycling, horseback riding, and a lake for canoeing/kayaking.
  • Gold Bar Park is located on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River at the end of 50th Some of the features include free parking, off leash area along river, picnic tables, walking and cycling trails, pavilion with washrooms, water fountain and phones.
  • Hawrelak Park offers a lake (paddleboat rentals are available) and covered picnic tables as well as plenty of hiking/biking trails. There are onsite washrooms and free parking.
  • Lion’s Park is in St. Albert. It is one of the few parks in the Edmonton area that offers outdoor fitness equipment.  With sheltered picnic areas, free parking, a playground, walking/biking trails, fire pits and washrooms, this is one park you will want to check out.

Step Up to the Stairs

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Flexible Dieting: IIFYM (If it fits your Macros)

I was first introduced to the term Flexible dieting or If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) by Layne Norton. Norton is a PhD in nutritional science, co-founder of Avatar nutrition and USA Power lifting champion. His Twitter and Instagram feed is used as an outlet to dispel nutritional myths, disseminate scientifically reviewed information and provide entertaining rants that call out ‘Instagram trainers’ promoting pseudo training and nutrition tips.

To understand what IIFYM is about you must have a basic understanding of what a macro, short for macronutrient, is. Macronutrients are the building blocks of energy we consume each day, you know them as protein, carbohydrates, fats and alcohol. The official site for IIFYM states, “For our purposes, fiber intake should be a major consideration when tracking macros; therefore we include it in with the other macros”[1].

How does it differ from other diets?

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Fitness and the Media – Managing the Maze of “Fitness Facts”

If you have made a choice to change your exercise or diet routine recently and you don’t have your own personal trainer or dietician for advice, odds are the first place you turned to was the internet. Sifting through the hordes of information available today about physical activity and nutrition can be intimidating and overwhelming. It is hard to decipher what is reliable and effective and what isn’t, especially with all of the social media marketing around exercise. Whether you are scrolling through Instagram being bombarded by fitness models promoting their “best body” workout and diet plan, watching Dr. Oz promote a weight loss supplement or flipping through a magazine, it is easy to see how people get confused when it comes to what is best for them.

Fitness is not black and white, there is no one right way of being healthy. What does matter is finding information that is reliable – meaning that it is backed up by peer reviewed research- and that you enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing so that you will stick with it. Maybe you read an article about drastically cutting carbohydrates to lose weight quickly but for many of us this is not sustainable for a long period of time and then the tendency is to relapse to old eating habits along with a new confidence barrier to changing those habits again in the future.

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