First Thing in December

Attention, people! we're inviting you to our newest garage sale, #AutumnWipeOut! It's been quite a long time since the last bazaar frenzy, and we're starting it again ;;)

The bloggers: Anastasia Siantar from Brown Platform, Bethanny Putri from afternoon tea & living room, Marcella Carolin from Footloose & Fancyfree, and Lalita Tian from One Little Thoughts.... and me! :p Since the bloggers garage sale will be held in my cafe, @NINOTCHKA_JKT -- so this time there'll be not just good clothes & good shoes, but also yummy foods and cupcakes!

When & Where:
Saturday, 17 December 2011 (one day only!!)
12 PM - 22 PM
at @NINOTCHKA_JKT Coffee Parlour & Diner
Circle West C-28
Citra Garden 6, West Jakarta
ph.: 290 30021

...And of course we include the map, you won't get lost! :p

It's an official invitation! So yes, come to our tea party slash garage sale, we're selling good new & secondhand stuffs ++ good foods are waiting for you... Last note, don't forget to bring your camera ;) ...We'll have some fun!

Yeah, buddy.

Image source: Photobucket; P.S. Hot dogs are gross.
Today's one of those days when I wish I could say, "Booyah, Grandma!" without getting weird looks.

Why, you ask?

Because I finished a goal.  And I'm the celebratin' type.

The goal was writing a blog post a day for the entire month of November (a.k.a., "NaBloPoMo").  And while a few posts were admittedly a bit on the lazy side, I posted each and every day.  It didn't matter if I was sick, tired, or overwhelmed -- or even "not in the blogging mood" -- I did it.

Okay, yeah.  No big deal.  It's a, what?

I finished a goal; that's what.

You can't see me, but I am giving myself a big ole pat on the back.  Go me.

Chubby racing: Hubbarding the race bike

(Caution: this blog post bandies around the word uterus a lot. It's not graphic, but if anatomical parts give you the heebie jeebies then maybe skip 'cos uterus' are aplenty here!)

The time has come. I have had to 'hubbardify' my bikes so I don't feel like my uterus is being squished in half as I lean over to reach my bars. I haven't realised how uncomfortable it has been—probably because I haven't really had any kind of bump (this past week it's been emerging...I put it down to some forced time off bike and too much food at compulsory family events. In my defence, you have to do what you can to survive said family events and if that's eating then it's eating!). When you don't have a visible bump I think you think it's silly that you may find riding uncomfortable—after all if there's no bump then what's the problem?

Well the problem is, even with no bump, the last month my uterus has been at and now above my navel. That's pretty huge and tall even if it's not sticking out. Now my stomach muscles are complaining and if I am leaning over (as in cycling) Mayhem tends to flop to the front and poke out a bit.
This is where it's at now. Note the poorly thought out position of the bladder...

So after a nice refreshing trail ride at Nambucca's Jack's Ridge loop on Monday (note: fun 10km loop. Not technical, just swoopy point and shoot, perfect for fat ladies like me!), I knew it was time to do something. It was more the discomfort rather than being puffed that had me quitting my ride after an hour and a bit.

So...the product manager of 3T components (aka: Husband) brought home a riser bar, and we flipped up my -17degree stem to 'possify' it, and wa-la—I look like a hubbard!

Did someone say hubbard? Any more upright and I would be on a Townie!

Anyway, I should have worn bibs here—I would have a less sticky outtie tummy than jamming my pants right under it which sticks it out more! I wore them as they are size small and still fit over my bottom. WIN!

Pretending I can go around corners with such a high setup...
Anyway, it was a WIN on several counts today, as I rode for 2hr15, and could have done even more if I had water and another muesli bar. So much more comfortable—it's amazing. Can still ride the singletrack with this ridiculous setup, just have to be extra wary of washing out the front wheel!

Anyway, a good mood ensues when I can ride discomfort and pain free! So good in fact that I may just have to jog to the pool a bit later for a swimmmm! Jogging is partially as I feel GOOD today after a near miss with a cold yesterday, and partially as the scooter is broken. Anyway, that's a tale for another day!

Pimp My Olive Oil! When Virgin is not Phenol-Rich Enough: The Pharmacokinetics of Phenol-Enriched Virgin Olive Oil.

Image 1:  "If we have not somehow pimped it, it can never be good enough!" appears to be one of the credos with which mankind approaches almost every health-remedy nature has provided for us. In the past this approach was not particularly healthy, though... is phenol-enriched olive oil going to be the exception to the rule?
Being the health-conscious person you obviously are (why else would you visit the SuppVersity ;-), chances are that olive oil, or, to be specific, extra virgin olive oil is one if not primary source of of mono- and polyunsaturated fats in your diet. But do you actually know why? I mean why olive oil? And why extra virgin? What? "Mediterranean diet", "high MUFA content", "lower incidence of coronary heart disease and cancer"? All right, you have done your homework on olive oil, but what about the "extra virgin"? The polyphenols, right. The phenolic content is in fact what distinguishes a "good" olive oil. The phenolic alcohols, the secoiridoid derivatives, the phenolic acids, the lignans and the flavonoids in concert have been reported to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-atherogenic and anti-carcineogenic properties and are probably as, if not more important for the beneficial health effects of the Mediterranean gold than its fatty acid profile (Covas. 2007; Covas. 2008).

So, if those polyphenols are the "active ingredients" in olive oil, wouldn't it be nice if we had an oil that had even more of these beneficial healthy secondary plant metabolits in our oils, right?

Now we have tons of polyphenols, but does that make a difference?

The thought, that a souped up version of the already phenol-rich virgin olive oil would be an even more potent health promoter must have occurred to a group of researcher from Spain, as well. Back in 2010 already, Manual Suárez and his coworkers published a paper in the Journal of Argiculture and Food Chemistry in which they describe the development of a "phenol-enriched olive oil with phenolic compounds from olive cake" (Suárez. 2010). In essence, the scientists just put back some of the pulp (an extract to be precise) that is produced when the oil is squeezed from the olives into the end-product. In a more recent study the scientists did now try to evaluate how much of these (additional) health promoters in 30ml of regular virgin olive oil (VO) and the enhanced virgin olive oil (EVOO) actually make it into the blood of 16 (8 men, 8 women) healthy subjects in a randomized, controlled, cross-over trial (Suárez. 2011).
Figure 1: Compositional differences (phenol-enriched vs. standard virgin olive oil) in polyphenol content (data calculated based on Suárez. 2011)
If you take a look at the compositional differences between the regular and the "phenol-enriched" virgin olive oil, it is quite obvious that, from a mere quantitative point of view, Suárez' product with on average 3.3x more secondary plant metabolits should be the more potent health promoter. After all, numerous previous studies have shown that those olive oils with (naturally!) particularly high phenol-content exhibit the most pronounced beneficial health effects (Samanego Sanchéz. 2007). This would yet require adequate absorption of the respective compounds from a now obviously more dense solution, which, according to the results of this study, does not seem to be the case for all compounds - and more importantly, all subjects:
The in vivo study showed that the concentration of fourteen of twenty-four compounds detected was higher in the plasma samples from the EVOO than after ingestion of VOO. Among these, two of them, hydroxytyrosol sulphate and vanil-lin sulphate, were statistically significant in attending their pharmacokinetic parameters, demonstrating the suitability of enrichment. In general, a displacement of the time to reach the maximum concentration is observed in the samples, which indicates that more time is needed to absorb the higher phenolic content. However, inter-individual variabilityin the concentration of the plasma phenol metabolites shows that it is difficult to show statistically significant differences between the VOO and the EVOO.
The scientists thusly conclude that the "metabolism of phenols is affected first by the individual". So until we actually know which influence these are, the label "phenol-enriched" on olive oils and other products has little meaning for you as an individual. And even if you belong to the "lucky" high-absorbers, only two, namely vanillin sulphate and hydroxytyrosol sulphate will reach what the scientists call "pharmocokinetic" levels, if you ingest two tablespoons of the super-potent "phenol-enriched" virgin (and still relatively natural) olive oil.
Figure 2: Changes in total antioxidant activity (TAA) of experimental oils subsequent to heat treatment (from Pellegrini. 2001)
Note: Common Internet wisdom would suggest that you have to be particularly cautious with those "phenol-enriched virgin olive oils", when respective products hit the market (and I bet this won't take long). After all, you will all have heard how heating those oils damages the healthy polyphenols - and while that may to some extend be the case, a 2001 study by Nicoletta Pellegrini et al. found that the total antioxidant value of olive oil does not only increase with increased polyphenol content, but that those polyphenols are also "stabilizers of R-tocopherol during olive oil heating, thus contributing to the nutritional value of cooked foods" and "the prevention of antioxidant activity decay in olive oil during realistic heating conditions" (Pellegrini. 2001), which ranged from 30min at 160°C to 120min at 190°C. The latter happens to be at the upper end of the regular deep-frying temperature and would thus suggest that the commonly heard recommendation not to use extra virgin olive oil for frying is not valid, at least when we focus exclusively on its total antioxidant capacity as measured by Trolox essays (cf. figure 2). In that it should be mentioned that, with its relatively high content of highly oxidizable omega-6 fats, olive oil still isn't the "ideal" frying oil - notwithstanding that frying does not constitute the healthiest way of preparing your food anyways ;-)
And though a recent study has shown that the latter conjugates with LDL and thusly protects it from oxidative damage (González-Santiago. 2010), it remains to be verified whether the consumer variety of the olive oil in this study will actually provide any health benefits. And this is particularly true in view of the fact that the food giants will, as they already do it in the case of "normal" virgin olive oil, minuscule amounts this probably expensive ingredient into their otherwise unhealthy convenient products, just to be able to put the highly marketable "contains phenol-enriched virgin olive oil" on the label... but, hey! I guess, this is just the never-ending story of complete nutritional idiocy ;-)

Oh, yeah...I forgot

Image source:

...about a little thing called laziness.

Yes, laziness.  You know, that thing that forces you to watch Netflix instant, even when you have other, more important things to do?  That overwhelming feeling that seems to take over whatever good intentions you had for the day?  Yeah, that.

I'm going to make a radical statement: Laziness can be a good thing.

Okay, so I realize that I spend a lot of time writing about drive, stick-to-it-iveness, and maintaining focus.  I believe in all of those things, and I wholeheartedly believe that we are each on this earth to fulfill our greatest dreams and desires.  But I also realize that we're all human, and as humans, we need a little veg time.

Take today, for example.  After working about six hours (with a solid four left to do), I relaxed.  You see, my threshold for work is only so high.  I can and do maintain high levels of productivity over prolonged periods of time under extreme stress, but today I'd had about enough.  I needed to sit and watch two movies, back-to-back, play with our kitten, and have a glass of wine.

Now, I know I'll be kicking myself for this later, but right now I'm feeling pretty relaxed and, believe it or not, anxious to get back to work.  It's good to get some time away from work and spend a few ridiculously lazy hours doing nothing at all.  (After all, when you work for yourself, it's not skipping work, it's just putting it off.)

Tomorrow, I will approach my work with a fresh brain, and I will be productive.  For now, I'm going to pour myself another glass of wine and allow myself to relax.

Want to join me?

Whey or Casein? Which Would be the Better "Staple" Protein Source for Your Trip to Desert Island?

Image 1: They are both sourced from cow's milk, but which is the better part? Whey, the byproduct of cheese production, or casein the cheese protein, itself? A recent study would suggest that it's the "waste product" you would have to chose if you could only have one.
"Whey is the way to go!" I suppose even I have had a headline like that in one or even several of the daily news items, here at the SuppVersity - and rightly, so! With it's high content of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) this fast-digesting protein source is certainly the #1 choice for anyone whose goal is to build lean muscle tissue. Whey's slow-digesting brother casein, on the other hand, is often hailed as the "muscle-preservative", the 24h-protein source that will prevent muscle catabolism, when for whatever outrageous reason (like sleep, for example) you cannot ingest your bi-hourly protein shake... well, I guess those of you who have been following the Intermittent Thoughts on Intermittent Fasting will already be "rolling on the floor laughing", but hey! Do we really know whether casein or whey would be the better "staple" protein - I mean, if you sipped it throughout the day?

Casein vs. whey - which one to chose if you cannot have both?

While I would not say that one study could provide a definite answer to this question, the results of a recently published paper by Stéphane Walrand et al. (Walrand. 2011) provides further evidence that whey, not casein would be your best choice - regardless of the diminished return that comes with sipping it.
Figure 1: Ingredients of the 6 diets the rats in the Walrand study were fed for 5 months; CAS = casein, WHEY = whey (data adapted from Walrand. 2011)
In their long-term (5 months!) feeding study, the scientists supplied 21 week old male Winstar rats (at the beginning of the study the animals were thus "middle-aged") with one out of 6 experimental diets (cf. figure 1). The composition of the diets differed not only in their total energy and protein content (ad libitum = 440kj/day; energy restricted only 60%, i.e. 264kj/day), but also with regard to the protein content and source (casein vs. whey). In that, it is particularly noteworthy is that the "energy restricted" diet was actually a "high protein" diet. After all, the protein content of the latter was identical to the one of the rats that had free access to  (the group that was "only" energy restricted received was matched to the average protein consumption of the ad-libitum fed rats.
Figure 2: Effect of 5 months of the experimental diets on muscle and fat weight of male Wistar rats (data adapted from Walrand. 2011)
Contrary, to what you may have expected, the "protein deficient" protein & energy restricted diet did yet not lead to profound losses of lean muscle tissue (cf. figure 2). On the contrary, the protein & energy restricted group that received whey protein as their exclusive protein source had 5% and 2% greater soleus and tibialis anterior mass than the ones that received the "high protein" energy restricted diet. Before you start questioning the value of "high" protein intakes when dieting, you should yet better take a look at the impact of the "high" protein content of the non-protein-restricted diet had on the diet induced reductions of the abdominal fat mass. I mean -87% reduced abdominal fat in the energy & protein reduced group is impressive, the neigh complete annihilation of the abdominal fat (-93%) in the non-protein restricted group, on the other hand, is mind-boggling.
Figure 3: Effect of 5 months of the experimental diets on muscle and fat weight of male Wistar rats (data adapted from Walrand. 2011)
If we also consider the nitrogen balance and the absolute rates of muscle protein synthesis (cf. figure 3), it also becomes evident why the rats on the protein & energy reduced diets retained slightly more lean mass (+3%), when they were fed whey protein, instead of casein. The rats who received whey as their main protein source simply had a favorable nitrogen balance and increased muscle protein synthesis.
Image 2: Sardines for diabetes prevention!?
Before you now throw away your eggs, your cheese, your beef and whatever else, I want to briefly introduce you to the results of two other recently published studies, which would indicate that rotating in some sardines or sheep meat could produce even more favorable results than living on whey alone. While Madani et al. found that sardine protein ameliorated fructose-induced hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, hyperlipidemia and inflammation (vs. casein) in a 2-months rodent study (Madani. 2011), Feng et al. report that the consumption of sheep meat instead of casein lead to increases in free T3 (thyroid hormone) and statistically significant increases in energy expenditure in Sprague-Dawley rats that were fed otherwise identical diets (Feng. 2011).
Despite these and the results of previous studies, most of which would suggest that if you had to chose just one protein source, whey or casein, whey should be the protein of choice, I hope that I do not have to tell you, as a diligent student of the SuppVersity that imbalances are the root cause of many, if not most modern diseases. So, getting all your protein from whey and nothing but whey should not be something you should even remotely take into consideration. And in case you forgot about that: Milk has both of them and a ton of other vital nutrients ;-)

Moving Forward

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Sometimes, being stagnant is easy.  It's easy to keep doing the same thing, day after day, year after year, decade after decade.  It's easy, yes, but it's not what makes a person happy.

Sure, stability is nice.  I agree with that.  But you know what gets me out of bed each morning (aside from my faith, husband, and all of the other awesome things I have to be thankful for)?  It's opportunity.  Each day is a new and exciting opportunity to make it better than the last.  It's the chance to achieve dreams.  It's the crazy attempt to realize each and every thing I've ever wanted to do.

For me, the key is maintaining a good and positive attitude and work ethic.  It's being excited for each day, and really, truly thankful for all of the good things in my life.

Of course, I could be better.  I've been known to sleep in, cranky face to world, not ready to get up and face the day.  But those days are few and far between (although my husband might beg to differ), and I really do try to approach each day with an I-can-conquer-the-world attitude.

I'm curious what other people do to keep themselves moving forward, from being anything but stagnant. Any ideas?  I'm all ears.

2011 (2010?) Yangpin Hao 'Jing Mai'

Today's tea, the 2011 (2010?) Yangpin Hao Jingmai mountain cake, is another sample from the set of sheng pu'er offered by China Cha Dao with the expressed intent of contrasting plantation "small tree" teas with older arbor "large tree" teas. This is one of the small tree examples, and it is not a tea that the vendor carries. Perhaps this indicates the vendor's opinion of the tea?

2011 Yangpin Hao Jingmai - dry leaf

The leaves, as pictured in the photo above, are of smaller size. This is typical for teas from Jingmai, whose tea trees are of a smaller leaf varietal. One other trait of note is the heavy stripe-rolling treatment given the leaves.

The first infusion has a hard-to-place aroma, and "leafy" seems like a terrible description, but I can think of no better word for the "baseline" smell of raw pu'er leaves when they are very young. It offers a brothy taste, meaty and astringent, with a cooling aftereffect in the mouth. It moves onward to taste more sour, but with a mouthfeel the lasts and extends to the root of the tongue.

2011 Yangpin Hao Jingmai - brew

At times chocolatey and alkaline, and in later infusions becoming thinner in texture and offering mostly bitterness and hay, the tea falls into the "ok" category. It appears to be well processed enough, but of a medium quality material that, although it will likely improve with age, may not become spectacular. If this is the cake I suspect it is, it sells in China for about US$8 per 380g cake, a reasonable price given the quality.

2011 Yangpin Hao Jingmai - brewed leaf

Baking Soda For Stressed White Blood Cells: 0.3g/kg NaCO3 90min Before an Anaerobic Workout Protect Your Immune Cells From "Stress" and Oxidative Damage

Image 1: Pure baking soda is not (yet?) a staple of the supplemental arsenal of many athletes. The scientific evidence with regard to its immediate ergogenic effects is ambigious and the mere presence of the word "sodium" in "sodium bicarbonate" scares the hack out of those athletes (bodybuilders and figure competitors) who may benefit most from a few grams of this potent alkalizer.
"Sodium"! This word alone is usually enough to scare bodybuilders and fitness athletes to death. "Sodium!? Isn't that the stuff that makes me look bloated?" The answer is easy: No! While sodium will help you retain enough water in your body to perform in the gym, the amount of sodium you ingest usually has little impact on the amount of water you will be holding, only when you start modulating your sodium intake, your body will react with changes in the renin-andiotensin-aldosterone system and you will be fluctuating "nicely" back and forth from super-bloated to weak and dehydrated... this is yet commonly ignored within the fitness community and thus it is no wonder that most supplement producers are anxious not to include any ingredients in their products that would show up on the label as "sodium" - after all, there are still costumers out there who have not enrolled at the SuppVersity and will thusly run away screaming as soon as they take a closer look on the label of a product they were just about to buy.

It is thusly no wonder that (at least to my knowledge) KreAlkalyn, where NACO3 is the working ingredient of the highly advertised buffering system, is the only product using sodium bicarbonate, or soda ash, as it is also called, as one of its main constituents (more on this topic in the SuppVersity Creatine Special). In medical settings NACO3 was and, in parts, still is still the "drug" of choice to combat acute acidosis. It is thus no wonder that Daniel J. Peart and his colleagues from the University of Hull in the United Kingdom, as well as the Bond University in Queensland, Australia are not the first scientists who speculated that athletes, especially those competing in (primarily) anaerobic sports, could benefit from the alkalizing effects of their grandmothers' secret weapon in the war against fungi and bacteria on her kitchen furnishings (Peart. 2011).
Image 2: "Cholesterol is the devil and sodium is his little brother!" Everyone who still believes everything the medical orthodoxy says, please raise your hands!
A note on the dangers of "salt": Firstly, baking soda is "only" ~28% sodium, which means that for every 4 grams you ingest you get roughly 1 g of sodium. Secondly, it is arguable how much of the sodium is effectively taken up and will be floating around in your blood. As T. Lakhanisky points out in his dossier for the Belgian government: "The uptake of sodium, via exposure to sodium carbonate, is much less than the uptake of sodium via food. Therefore, sodium carbonate is not expected to be systemically available in the body." (Lakhanisky. 2002) And thirdly, there is more and more evidence that suggests that the chloride rather than the sodium content of common table salt (NaCl = NatriumChloride) is the root cause of "sodium induced hypertension" in "sodium sensitive" individuals / animal models. Only recently, a study by Schmidlin et al. showed that chloride loading induced hypertension in the stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rat despite profound sodium depletion (Schmidlin. 2010). So, if you asked me, rather than pointing at salt as the #2 on the list of greatest evils (obviously cholesterol is still #1, here) the medical orthodoxy would be better advised to address the imbalances between sodium and potassium, which are so characteristic of the western diet, instead of painting yet another black and white picture where sodium is the bad guy and potassium the dangerous mineral that cannot be sold OTC in dosages >80mg.... but hey, this would be the topic for a whole new blogpost and as gross as it may sound, the chance that you get diarrhea from the baking soda is probably 1000x higher than the remote possibility of increases in blood pressure. A 1990 study by Luft et al. even found that the blood pressure of 10 mildly hypertensive and normal subjects decreased by 5mmHg after 7 days in the course of which they drank 3 liters of sodium bicarbonate containing water per day (Luft. 1990)
In their study, Peart et al. had a group of seven recreationally active men (age 22.3 ± 2.9 years,
height 181.6 ± 4.5 cm, body mass 78.1 ± 8.1 kg, and physical activity 4.2 ± 0.6 h/week) "with no history of supplementing their diet with ergogenic agents" perform a 4-min bout of all-out exercise on an air-brake cycle ergometer on three different occasions (spaced exactly 1 week apart). While the first was an acclimatization session the second and third bout were performed after the ingestion of either 0.3g/kg sodium bicarbonate (trial 2) or plain table salt (trial 3) in "low-energy flavored water" 90 minutes prior to exercise.
Figure 1: Blood ph levels after ingestion of placebo or 0.3g/kg sodium bicarbonate (data adapted from Peart. 2011)
As you can see in figure 1, the ingestion of ~23.4g of baking soda produced a rather slight but significant shift towards a more alkaline blood ph level (compared to placebo), which became much more pronounced after the exercise bout (p<0.003). Interestingly, there was yet no significant difference (p>0.26) in exercise performance as measured by average and peak power (means ± SD; average power 292 ± 43 W vs. 291 ± 50 W; peak power 770 ± 218 W vs. 775 ± 211 W; work completed 71 ± 10 kJ vs. 68 ± 10 kJ) between the groups.

Baking soda: A non-ergogenic ergogenic?

The latter observation, i.e. no or statistically non-significant increases in acute exercise performance upon sodium bicarbonate ingestion, stands in line with ~75% of the previous findings, a recent meta-analysis by Carr et al. summarizes as follows:
The remaining 38 studies and 137 estimates for sodium bicarbonate produced a possibly moderate performance enhancement of 1.7% (90% CL ± 2.0%) with a typical dose of 3.5 mmoL/kg/BM (∼0.3 g/kg/BM) in a single 1-minute sprint, following blinded consumption by male athletes. In the 16 studies and 45 estimates for sodium citrate, a typical dose of 1.5 mmoL/kg/BM (∼0.5 g/kg/BM) had an unclear effect on performance of 0.0% (±1.3%), [...] Study and subject characteristics had the following modifying small effects on the enhancement of performance with sodium bicarbonate: an increase of 0.5% (±0.6%) with a 1 mmoL/kg/BM increase in dose; an increase of 0.6% (±0.4%) with five extra sprint bouts; a reduction of 0.6% (±0.9%) for each 10-fold increase in test duration (e.g. 1-10 minutes); reductions of 1.1% (±1.1%) with nonathletes and 0.7% (±1.4%) with females. Unexplained variation in effects between research settings was typically ±1.2%.
Despite these rather mediocre immediate effects of bicarbonate pre-loading, the main finding of the study at hand hints at hitherto overlooked long(er)-term immune benefits the consumption of sodium bicarbonate might have.
Figure 2: HSP-72 expression in mono- and lymphocytes in response to anaerobic exercise after ingestion of placebo or 0.3g/kg sodium bicarbonate (data adapted from Peart. 2011)
As you can see in figure 2 the stress-induced HSP-72 expression in white blood cells (lymphocytes and monocytes) in response to the HIT exercise was almost completely abolished. Along with the nullification of the already low amount of oxidative stress (cf. T-BARs in figure 3), these results suggest that bicarbonate supplementation has a stress-protective effect on immune cells during anaerobic exercise.
Figure 3: Oxidative stress due to anaerobic exercise as measured by TBAR expression after ingestion of placebo or 0.3g/kg sodium bicarbonate (data adapted from Peart. 2011)
It is yet important to note that the scientists point out that it "is unclear at this stage whether the attenuation was due to a reduced state of acidosis, reduced oxidative stress or a combination of both." Moreover, it is difficult to say which consequences this would have on future bouts of exercise and whether and to which degree athletes would actually benefit - or, if we think of the hormesis hypothesis and the ongoing debate concerning the effects of antioxidants on exercise induced adaptations - maybe even compromise their performance, would yet need further investigations.

We may yet assume that, just as it is the case with antioxidants, the dosage will have to be matched to the individual workload to see optimal results. With people exercising just enough to see any adaptations seeing no and people who do crossfit 2x a day seeing the most beneficial results from (partially) blocking the exercise induced oxidative stress.

Juggling Things

A few days ago, as I was responding to e-mails, I came to a realization: I juggle a lot of things at once.  From multiple client projects to homework to my own writing endeavors, I usually have several things going, and most of them require a lot of careful attention.

I'm not always the most efficient person in the world, but I am pretty good at juggling my many projects.  So, I thought I'd share some of the tricks of the freelance trade.  Here are a few ideas to keep yourself organized, stay on task, and be as efficient as possible:
  1. Keep a planner.  Write everything in it, even things you are sure you'll remember.
  2. Make a list.  On a piece of paper, write down all of the thing you need to accomplish.  Then, number them from most to least important.  This will help you determine what to start working on first.
  3. Respond to e-mails.  I struggle with this one, but I do try to stay on top of my communication.  It shows people that you care and that their projects matter to you.
  4. Honor deadlines.  This might sound simple, but one of the most important things you can do to be efficient is to get things done on time.  After all, if you don't honor deadlines, you might not have any deadlines to honor in the future.
  5. Celebrate achievements.  When you finish a big project, allow yourself some down time.  A fresh mind allows you to tackle the next project with efficiency, while forcing yourself to move from one project to another can result in distractions.  Instead of wasting time while I'm working (browsing websites, etc.), I give myself short, designated "breaks" -- this is time I don't feel guilty about "wasting," because it's time I've decided can be used for rest.
  6. Get exercise.  It might be weird to see this on the list of things to keep yourself on task, but trust me: exercise will help you get things done.  You'll feel better, have more energy, and be more alert.  Plus, I always feel better about eight hours in front of the computer if I've just run six miles.  
Juggling multiple projects can be difficult, but use these tips to help keep yourself focused.  After all, maintaining focus is one of the most important aspects of meeting one's goal.

Intermittent Thoughts on Intermittent Fasting - Programing Success: Accept Your Weaknesses, Learn From Your Mistakes, Identify Your Strengths and Build a Better Body!

Image 1: You may call it "toning" or "shaping", but in the end it's bodybuilding in the literal sense.
Assuming that you are all "lean and mean" by now and thus ready to build some serious muscle (for those who missed it, read last week's installment on "Why you better lean out before bulking"), we can finally delve into your first steps on your way to ... wait. I hope you did not forget your "motivational elevator pitch" from the first part of this part of the Intermittent Thoughts, where I asked you to come to terms with what it actually is that you want to achieve. Now, the good news is that regardless of whether you are just sick of that lose skin on your upper arms or want to compete against Phil Heath at the 2012 Mr. Olympia, there are a few fundamental principles that apply regardless of whether you are striving for "toned" 11 inch arms or Coleman-esque 22 inch guns.

Gaining weight? Yes! Getting fat? No!

With that we have actually arrived at the very first of three key points, I promised to address in this issue (cf. end of last installment): effective ways to measure your progress. In the "weight loss installment" of this series you have already learned that other than the morbidly obese "King Size Homer", physical culturists and athletes who do not compete in weight-classes are ill-advised to step onto the scale too often.
Figure 1: Lee Priest's transformation is certainly amazing, but let's be honest, do you really want to run around like Michelin man in the off-season and then have to resort to extreme measures to get back in shape for a few days, only? (comparison posted by "Tibo" at the SRTrading Forum)
While dieters (here indicating people who want to lose fat), may get discouraged, because their weight-loss stalls, when they are actually just beginning to finally add some muscle to their increasingly lean physique, many self-proclaimed (hobby-)bodybuilders think that "gaining muscle" is all about increasing their off-season weight (interestingly, many of those people do not even compete and define their off-season as the time when they do not go to the beach to impress the ladies). What could make sense for a professional bodybuilder like Lee Priest (cf. figure 1) certainly is not an appropriate approach for the average gym-rat, whose "weight loss arsenal" is less well-stocked than the ones of a high level pro-bodybuilder ;-) Or put more simply, when former chubby, like Peter Griffin (cf. "Healthy Weight Loss") bulks up the way, Lee did, he will not (and I guarantee that) be able to drop that fat again and achieve the grainy look from figure 1 (right) within a few weeks time before a contest, by diet and exercise (and OTC fatburners), alone...
Figure 2: Other than for the "pros" with their versatile arsenal of "weight loss tools", the journey of the dirtily bulking average self-proclaimed hardgainer is a one-way street.
And even for the self-proclaimed "ectomorph" there is nothing worse than a dirty bulk, where the number on the scale serves as his / her yardstick of success. This is especially true, because many self-proclaimed "hard gainers" are lean mostly because they are still eating like a bird (or missing even the most fundamental basics like a sufficient protein intake of at least 1g/kg per day), even when they claim that would eat until they puke. If those people start forcing down tons of calories in form of sugary weight gainers, most of their weight gain will come from fat. Their initially low fat cell count will soon have to increase to provide enough storage capacity for the "valuable" energy, so that, rather sooner than later, the former "ekto" finds himself in a similar situation as Peter Griffin, who, no matter what he will do, will always have a harder time leaning out than his friends who have never gotten chubby in the first place.

Bottom line: Do not rely on the scale too much. Yes, you want it to go up steadily, but faster weight gain does not automatically equate greater muscle gain. Keep a close eye on your waist circumference and decide a priori when (no matter how close you may be to your superordinate goal, e.g. "achieving 20" arms") you need to cut back on calories to avoid "adipolateral damage" ;-)

Taking stock also implies coming to terms with yourself

Image 2: Just as when you are "dieting", the scale is not the best meter for your progress. A measuring tape, a notebook and a digital camera should be your tools of choice.
Assuming that you have decided that you could use some additional muscle on your scrawny frame, another often overlooked thing you will have to do even before you start "bulking" is to take stock of how "scrawny" you actually are - not by stepping on the scale, but by taking, or rather have someone take measures of your waist, your arms, your chest, your shoulder and thigh cicircumferences. Just like any good custom tailor would do. You will then take a camera and shoot photos, from the front, from the side and (don't neglect that!) from the back. Depending on how much progress you have already made, this may seem ridiculous or even embarrassing at first. After all, you probably do not look any of the cover models you are looking up to... but remember: You take these photos as a yardstick - your yardstick. It won't help you if you keep admiring the girls and guys from the magazine-covers and shy away from your own mirror image.

In order to make a change you must initially objectively assess and accept where exactly you are standing in order to decide what you want to change and by which means you can achieve that. As long as you keep thinking of you and your body as disconnected units, you will never achieve whatever physique it may be that you are dreaming of. So, this kind of  initial stock taking is way more than just setting the baseline reference. It is (at least for many trainees) also a matter of coming to terms with theirselves.

Bottom Line: You are your own yardstick. The figures on your measuring tape and your weekly progress pics are objective measures of your progress, which is defined against where you are coming from. 10" arms are an awesome achievement, if 8" where you are coming from!

Build on your strengths while working on your weaknesses

Start out with your strengths! What is that you like about your physique? What is your most developed muscle part? And if you are already training... ask yourself what it may have been that you have done right, here. I remember that I have always been pissed off that my legs appeared to grow like crazy, while my arms and "most importantly" (my perception at that time) my chest "just wouldn't grow". I looked at the figures and pictures and then peeked at my routine. "How on earth can my legs grow like that if I only train them once a week and do nothing like some warm ups on the leg extensions and some squats?" It was back then, when I eventually realized two things:
    Image 3: Do you really think anyone would know Tom Platz, today, if he had decided to neglect his strength (obviously his legs)?
  1. Everybody has certain strong and certain weak body parts. Part of this is genetics. Especially if you have not reached your "full genetic potential", an even more important factor is however what you do in the gym, at work or in your free time. If you are carrying beverage crates all day, chances are that your "strong" body parts are your neck and your back, no matter if those are the muscle groups with the greatest genetic potential. If, on the other hand, you are like I once was and have a reasonable training plan for your legs (because people say that you have to train legs ;-), but are so eager to grow your chest and arms that you totally overtrain them, you must not wonder if you grow tree-trunk legs, whie your arms and chest shrivel away.

  2. Success comes from building on your strengths, and working on your weaknesses. It does not make sense to stop training legs, to "save the energy" for whatever other bodypart you feel is lagging behind. Not only will you run the risk that your former strength becomes your future weakness. You could also end up with two not one weaknesses by overtraining your weak and detraining your strong body parts.
For me that meant that I had to maintain my leg regimen and adapt my chest and arms routine by cutting out a lot of high volume auxiliary movements and focusing on improving my strength and technique on those movements of which I felt that they worked - and YES! This meant that the classic bench press was no longer a part of my routine!

Bottom line: Cherish your strengths and stop lamenting about your weaknesses. Analyze and build on what worked for you and acknowledge and learn from your own mistakes.

Hearing and listening to what your body is telling you

Image 4: Cable crosses certainly cannot replace the bench or dips, but they allow you to practice to flex your chest against resistance.
I see, that was a shocker. Dr. Andro does not do bench presses!? Well, not exactly, I have reincorporated them into my routine months later only to rotate them out again with the next change in my regimen. While the bench may have built massive chests like the ones of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Franco Culambo, but it just did not build mine.  

Sticking to what does not work, because people keep telling you that it does work is probably the most stupid and yet most common mistake I see in the gym.

If you read all the information in the "SuppVersity EMG Series", then you will be aware which exercises work best for the average trainee in the Boeckh-Behrens and Buskies study. You do not even know if these are also those exercises that work best for "the average trainee in general", but you can easily find out if these are the exercises that work best for you - and more importantly, if they are not, you should give a damn about how they rank in anyone's "Top List" (mine included!).

Bottom line: Never, I repeat, never(!) assume that what worked for someone else, or even the majority of the participants in a scientific study must also work for you. Listen to advice, build new routines based on scientific studies, experiment, but do not stick to a routine / exercise if, after 2 weeks, your body still keeps telling your that it ain't right for you.

Weight is important in weight lifting, posing is key in body+building

Image 5: If you want to maximize muscle gains, posing - or rather learning to flex your muscles against resistance is obligatory (img Johnny Jackson)
In case you are now wondering how on earth you can find out if the bench press or the dip (which is my favorite for chest) is right for you, when you do not have access to the complex measuring apparatus Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies used in their studies, I assume that you have never been posing or deliberately practiced the so-called "mind-muscle-connection" - have you? What? "Posing is ridiculous?" Well, that was what I thought as well, when I began training. I mean, I never even remotely thought about competing, so why on earth would I practice posing? The reason is simple and has little to do with the ability to showcase your muscles, but all with your brains ability to address the motor neurons on your muscle fibers.

If there is one thing I want you take away about goal setting for muscle building from this installment of the Intermittent Thoughts then it is that your primary goal in the gym must always be to work the muscle against resistance and not to break personal records. Here lies a fundamental difference between weight lifting (as in O-lifting or powerlifting) and bodybuilding. As someone whose primary goal is to improve his physique, the lifting weights is only a means to a completely different ends.

If all you want  is to build a bigger bench, fine! But don't expect to make similar gains as someone who understands that he is at the gym to work his muscles, not his ego. By practicing posing and doing what I like to call 1-2 "acclimatization sets" with ~50% of the weight you would use for 6-8 reps before every exercise, not as a warm-up but to memorize the movement pattern, to feel and flex the target muscle and to be able to transfer this pattern to your working sets, you will soon be able to decide which exercises are working for you, and which aren't.

Bottom line: You are not in the gym to move maximal amounts of weight, but to induce maximal muscular stimulation. This requires that you train your mind-muscle-connection and accept that the weights you are using are just a means to another end - the physique of your dreams. Remember: You increase your weights to keep challenging your muscle, and thusly to be able to record a new personal best in the notebook with your body measures, not the one where you keep track of your weights.

Preliminary conclusion(s)

Although, I did not get totally side-tracked this time, I still have to postpone the scientifically based considerations of the implications of the biological underpinnings of skeletal muscle "hypertrophy" (and maybe hyperplasia), at which I have been hinting in yesterday's blogpost, to another installment of the Intermittent Thoughts.
Note, in view of the pictures I have been using in this part of the series, I may have evoked the false impression that these rules apply exclusively to "bodybuilders". This is however not the case. There is no fundamental difference between training "to look good naked" and training for the "Mr. Olympia", as far as the take-home messages from this installment of the Intermittent Thoughts are concerned. Flexing your muscles, "posing" and practicing the mind-muscle-connection for example could be even more important for the ladies who want to "tone" their physiques than for the skinny ectomorph whose primary goal is to "get big".
For the time being, you would be well-advised to get yourself a measuring tape and a camera to take stock of where you are, physique-wise, to (re-)evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, to identify what worked for you and to get to know and learn to flex all the muscles in your body - and yes, there are more than biceps and chest, or chest and biceps ;-)

Review for Amp Energy--Sugar Free


142 mg


Amp Energy—Sugar Free is on the scarcer side of things.  The more I watch for it the less I seem to see it; I would advise that any desirous to satisfy their curiosity by trying it out pick it up sooner rather than later, before it vanishes altogether.


Due to the vast exposure of aluminum over the periphery of the can, Amp Energy—Sugar Free looks a bit bland, albeit not as much as it could gave been.  I do very much like the black flame and the shade of green employed here and would love seeing Amp do something more complete with this scheme in the future, but until then Sugar Free’s all we’ve got.


I found the taste of Amp Energy—Sugar Free to be curiously distinct from the original Amp Energy.  While the latter was principally passion fruit and orange flavored, the former reminds me more of the less-than-placeable citrus-ish taste of the original Mountain Dew, though it does taste slightly watered down and is overwhelmed a bit by the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners.  If you like Mountain Dew there is a chance you’ll like Amp Energy—Sugar Free, though the aforementioned artificial sweeteners are not skillfully employed here and may be a turn-off to some.


The kick was rather characteristic of the Amp Energy line; it kept me awake, though for most of the time I still could feel some degree of fatigue.  I found it useful for keeping me from falling asleep over my physiology studies, though for a long drive I’d probably go for something at least a bit stronger.


Amp Energy—Sugar Free actually surpassed my expectations in terms of longevity—while most Amp beverages tend to give out after an average of two hours, I got about 3½ before I felt tired enough that I could have slept had I needed to.


Well, it’s not spectacular, but by my standards Amp Energy—Sugar Free still does alright.  Health-conscious Mountain Dew lovers will be the most enamored by this beverage, though with the rest of us it will be more of a toss-up.


KEYWORDS: Amp Sugar Free review, zero sugar, sugar free, low calorie, lo cal hi power
Today was pretty splendid. I was awakened to my husband calling me for breakfast and coffee (yes, please!). I then did a little cleaning and went on a nice 6-mile (or so) run.

After that, I watched the BSU win, lounged around a little bit, ate a delicious dinner of tofu fried rice (again, made by my husband), and went to get a drink with a friend. We also narrowly avoided a house fire, but that's another blog entry.

Not bad, not bad at all.

You see, days like this don't come very often for me. So, when they do, I really, really enjoy them. It makes all of the long hours worth it, you know? With my schedule, something as simple a couple hours of free time feels like a little but of a miracle, and down days like this are precious.

I sometimes wonder if this is normal -- does everyone have schedules like mine? When will my life be less hectic? Or, will it? Only time will tell, I guess.

Douji 2011 Red Da Dou (红大斗)

No manufacturer of tea, however well regarded, is infallible. Yiwu Zhengshan Tea Company, more commonly known by its (only?) brand, Douji, has produced many teas I have enjoyed. Even those Douji teas I thought un-spectactular, none did I suspect were poorly processed.

2011 Douji Hong Da Dou - dry leaf

Unfortunately, today's tea is such an example.

2011 Douji Hong Da Dou - brewI rather enjoyed the 2008 version of this blend, red "dà dŏu", roughly meaning red star, red north star, or red big dipper. The leaf grade/quality for this year's production compares poorly with it, however. Many small bits of leaf, twigs, and older leaf bits (huang pian) comprise the blend--material that was not hand-harvested.

The smells and tastes of the tea are green tea. This surprises me because usually tea blends' having multiple raw material sources usually results in any one poor source being balanced by other better sources.

How to tell? For one, the flavors say green tea: vegetal, buttery, mild. Young sheng pu can taste bitter, but the bitter of this tea appears in the wrong place: the front of the mouth. It also appears without the delicious feature of shengpu bitterness, which is that it fades into sweetness.

The most interesting note the tea gave was Parmesan cheese. The most interesting occurrence during the tea session was the appearance of this little stinker on our rubber plant.

Sort of appropriate.

Visitor at Tea, 25 Nov 2011

Anyway, here are the leaves, which along with the soup, prove that looks can only tell so much about a tea. That is, they don't look bad.

2011 Douji Hong Da Dou - brewed leaf

Time Under Tension (TUT) Another Under-Appreciated Determinant of the Protein Synthetic Response to Exercise?

Image 1: Is it really time to buy some revolutionary new exercise equipment to time your time under tension? Or should you keep pumping away like there was no tomorrow?
If you have been following the SuppVersity news for some time now, you know that I am a "fan" of the research Stuart Phillips and his colleagues at the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, are doing. Before I get to some details on their latest coup, I must yet express some concerns about Phillips' focus on immediate changes protein synthesis. Yes, amino acid ingestion and particularly leucine increase protein synthesis, yes, bolus ingestion of whey protein increases protein synthesis over sipping and yes, training with low loads (30%) and slow reps, as in the study at hand, increases protein synthesis,... but hey. Do you really give a damn about protein synthesis? No, you don't. Either you want to gain muscle or you want to get stronger and exactly here I am missing a link that would connect the short-term increases in the protein synthetic response to exercise Phillips and his colleagues are investigating in one study after the other and the long(er)-term real-world outcomes in terms of muscle size and strength gains.

Wait! Is protein synthesis really that important?

I will probably touch on this issue in tomorrow's installment of the Intermittent Thoughts, as well, so let me just say this: Muscle protein synthesis is only one out of two (maybe three processes) and probably not even the most important one, when your goals are getting really big or really strong. I mean, if increasing protein synthesis was all it would take to get as buffed as Phil Heath and as strong as Derek Poundstone, everyone would be training like a sissy (like in this study), take his BCAAs and whey protein and see amazing results... but I am once again getting off a tangent here, and as I already said, you will read more on that here at the SuppVersity in the future. So, for the time being, let's get back to the time under tension, i.e. the exact number of seconds your muscles are actually working (meaning contracting) during a given set.
Figure 1: Basic outline of the study first and second testing session (based on Burd. 2011)
For their most recent study Nicholas A. Burd et al. recruited 8 recreationally resistance-trained men (23.5 ± 1 years; 88.3 ± 5 kg; BMI=26.5 ± 1.0 kg/m²) who had performed lower body resistance exercise training with a frequency of at least 2x/week in the course of the last 2 years prior to the study [note: this certainly is a huge plus of the study, because we all know that you can have a newbie do nothing but climb stairs and he will still grow ;-] The individual one rep-max for leg-extensions was accessed once prior to the infusion trial (105kg right, 101kg left leg) and dietary intakes were recorded prior to both the resting and the exercise infusion trials, in the course of which the participants reported to the lab fasted (at 7am) before a catheter for the tracer infusion was inserted into their arm and a first (fasted) muscle biopsy was taken from their legs (3.5h after reporting to the lab).
Participants subsequently performed bouts of unilateral leg extension exercise at 30% of
their previously established concentric 1RM
. Legs were randomized and balanced for dominance based on maximal strength to perform exercise at a slow lifting (SLOW) or an external work-matched control (CTL) conditions. The leg assigned to the SLOW condition performed exercise with a lifting/lowering cadence of 6 s concentric phase and a 6 s eccentric phase with no pauses until volitional fatigue (i.e. failure). Failure was defined as the point at which the participant could not lift through the full range or their technique to lift the load included motions at joints other than the knee. The CTL condition was completed with the contralateral leg and was matched to the experimental condition for contraction volume such that the leg performed an identical number of repetitions at an equivalent load, but not to failure, and was performed with a lifting cadence of 1 s concentric phase and a 1 s eccentric phase.
The participants performed a total of 3 sets with 2 minutes of rest between the sets for each condition. Lifting cadence was monitored by an instructor and by the use of a metronome. Moreover, the exact knee-joint angles were recorded by the means of a goniometer. After a subsequent 2nd blood sample was taken, all participants consumed 20g of whey protein isolate. 6h after, a 2nd bilateral biopsy was taken and the participants were fed a standard cafeteria meal. For the rest of the day they were advised to follow a diet that would mirror their previously recorded food intake, with the last meal being consumed before 22h, "to ensure a 10 h fast prior to the beginning of the 24 h post-exercise protein synthesis measurement", which took place the next morning after the consumption of another 20g of a tracer-enriched whey protein supplement.
Figure 2: Fractional protein synthesis (in % per hour) - left; and relative differences in protein synthesis of slow vs. ctrl condition - right (based on Burd. 2011)
The data in figure 2 clearly shows that going to failure (and this is what I consider even more important than time under tension when training with sissy 30%1RM loads) produces profound (compare the relative increases in the smaller graph on the upper right corner) increases in fractional protein synthesis, which are, in the time-window right after the exercise bout, particularly pronounced in the mitochondrial and sarcoplasmic compartment of the muscle. In this regard, Burd et al. point out that
[w]hat we observed here was a potentiated effect, from that seen in the fasted-state, of prior exercise in enhancing the feeding-induced myofibrillar protein synthetic rates. This effect appears to be dependent on maximal fibre activation during exercise, [...] The current study is noteworthy in that an enhanced effect of protein feeding during late exercise recovery was induced by a longer time under muscle tension rather than intensity-independent contraction volume, which we have previously examined (Burd. 2010).
As far as the delay in the normally immediate increase in myofibrillar protein synthesis is concerned, the researchers speculate that both the timing of the biopsies, as well as the training status of the subjects and the specificity of their protocol about which they state that with its long loading times at relatively low intensities it must have shifted the protein (immediate) myofibrillar protein synthetic response "toward increased synthesis of proteins in the mitochondrial and sarcoplasmic pools" (cf. figure 2) - a process the underlying causes and mechanisms of which are yet unclear.

Why would you change a winning team?

Image 2: When it comes to SST and all the other training types from the alphabet soup, I alway wonder why people keep questioning what has worked well for the majority of bodybuilders and athletes, they are looking up to and whose physiques they are admiring!?
Actually this observation takes us full circle to my introductory remarks on the possible short-sightedness of measuring acute fractional protein synthesis. After all, what we are seeing here is rather the response we would expect as a consequence to a rather endurance-oriented exercise regimen. Whether the latter would entail the "size" (and strength) gains everyone currently associates with the magic words "increases in protein synthesis" remains thusly highly questionable.

This is particularly true if we take into account the results of another pretty recent study be Eonho Kim et al. (Kim. 2011), which found that an even slower (10s concentric, 10s eccentric) training protocol at 50% or the 1RM led to greater increases in flexibility but highly variable and overall lower strength gains than a traditional protocol with (4s total TUT at 80%RM) in college-aged women. This basically confirms what previous studies by Keeler et al. (+39% in traditional, only +15% in slow training; Keeler. 2001) have already established: (Super) Slow Training works, but it does not work as well classic resistance training.

And no matter whether you train slow or fast - in the end, intensity will always be determined by a matrix of loads, volume, TUT and training density and I doubt we will see a study that controls for all this variables even in the remote future (and if that happens you know that the SuppVersity is the place where you will read about it, first) - so the best thing you can do, is to rely on what worked for generations of physical culturists and that was definitely not training with 6s concentric and 6s eccentric reps ;-)

How to Dry a Cat

2011 Mengsong Maocha (sourced from Douji)

Mengsong is a huge region comprised of the mountain range west of the Lancang River and east of Menghai city. It includes pu'er tea regions/mountains Nannuo, Hekai, Naka, and others. When I see a tea labeled Mengsong made in the past few years, I wonder if the tea leaves came from one village or many, and if this village was not famous enough to merit renaming it Nannuo, Hekai, or Naka, for example.

2011 Douji Mengsong - dry leaf

This 2011 sample was given to Jerry of China Cha Dao as a gift, and he decided to share a limited number of samples as part of a sample pack whose aim was to contrast presumably old tree tea with the lesser-regarded plantation tea.

If you were wondering about that odd orange twiggy thing in the photo above, it appears to be some sort of dried moss. Finding this stowaway lends the tea a "wild arbor" or other naturalistic feel, and, always skeptical, I asked myself if Douji included it intentionally (hopefully not fraudulently). Here it is up close:

2011 Douji Mengsong - WTH?

As natural as these tea plants' environment may be, the tea itself disappointed me. Although the leaves are beautiful and the flavor pleasant, I had to brew this tea in long steeps to extract a decent strength of flavor and texture. 7g in a 100ml gaiwan (same as the previously reviewed Douji Nannuo) should offer up enough mouth feel, even if the flavor is lacking.

The tea tasted biscuity, like sheng pu'er tinged with some first flush Darjeeling, but only one or two leaves showed any visible reddening. The flavors are all "middle notes": no bright florals or heavy meaty/mushroom flavors, just middle cut-stem and ashen flavors.

2011 Douji Mengsong - brew

The leaves completely unfurled look beautiful with their thick veins chunky stems:

2011 Douji Mengsong - brewed leaf

No conclusion, as I have come to none myself.

Dietary Fiber - Friend or Foe? Addition of Hydroxpropyl-Methylcellulose, a Non-Fermentable Viscous Fiber, to Standard(!) Rodent Chow Reduces Fat Gain by -22%

Image 1: Just as about everything, these days, you can buy the semisynthetic non-fermentable viscous fiber Hydroxpropyl-Methylcellulose pound-wise from China - this is probably also where the producers of the junk food you hopefully are not eating get their E464 from ;-)
If the health and fitness community on the Internet was a battlefield (personally, I sometimes think it is ;-) one of the ongoing skirmishes would certainly be fought over the question whether the deliberate ingestion of great amounts of dietary fiber was a good or rather a bad thing. I must admit that I have not really made up my mind on the benefits and caveats of increasing or decreasing your fiber intake, partly because the available science appears to be quite inconclusive. This, obviously does not hinder the "ANTI faction" in the fitness and nutrition world to add "fiber" as the 1001 item on their never-ending list of ultimate dietary evils. My gut feeling does yet tells me this has more to do with the fact that mainstream dietary recommendations list dietary fiber as a "healthy food" to eat, than with a thorough research of the available literature, which has, as of lately, been extended by a particularly interesting study from scientists from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Islam. 2011).

When fiber ain't fiber, natural is not naturally better

Being aware of the partly contradictory results previous studies on the metabolic effect (as measured in the lab and not by the way your poo-poo looks or how often you have to go to the toilette, like the "experts" like to do it ;-), Ajmila Islam and her colleagues fed a group of 6 week-old male Wistar rats a standardized rodent chow (AIN-93G, composition see figure 1 in previous blogpost) with either hydroxypropyl-
methylcellulose (HPMC) or standard cellulose
as a source of dietary fiber, which comprised 5% of the animals' otherwise totally identical diets. This obviously sounds nonsensical if you follow the usual black or white approach to nutrition (which btw. is propagated by the mainstream and the ANTIs, as well), after all fiber is fiber and should be good or bad!? Well, it turns out that there are more than subtle differences in
  1. the viscosity of the fiber / fiber food mixture, and
  2. the fermentability of different types of dietary fiber
Now, cellulose the main component in plant cell walls and "the fiber" most mainstream dietitians (and their ANTI opponents) have in mind, when they are talking about the beneficial / detrimental effects of "dietary fiber", is neither viscous nor readily fermentable. Hydroxypropyl-methylcellulose (HPMC) is also non-fermentable, but contrary to its naturally occurring cousin it has a high viscosity.
Hydroxypropyl-methylcellulose, short HPMC, is a semisynthetic, inert, viscoelastic polymer that is used as an ophthalmic lubricant, as well as an excipient and controlled-delivery component in oral medicaments, and has, under the disguise of the "E-number" E464, already found its way into a lot of commercially produced foodstuff, where it is used as an emulsifier, thickening and suspending agent, and as an alternative to animal gelatin.
While its artificial origin will obviously make the ANTI faction cry out loud, again, I suggest you first read about the effect HPMC had on the animals, before you totally discard it as being "not natural", "non paleo", "the work of Monsatan" or whatever...(btw. it is at least kosher ;-)
Figure 1: Changes in body composition (weights in g) after 6 weeks on standard diet with either non-viscous cellulose or viscous hydroxypropyl-methylcellulose as the primary source (5%) of dietary fiber (data adapted from Islam. 2011).
If you look at the data in figure 1, you will have to assert that the body composition of the lab animals did benefit from 6 weeks on the 5% HPMC diet. With a -29% reduction in the increases in purportedly "dangerous visceral fat", a -22% reduction in total adipose tissue gain and non-significant changes in lean mass accrual HMPC easily outperform the "Allis" and "Orlistats" of the pharmaceutical industry. Moreover, while the latter simply reduce the amount of dietary fat that is actually digested (an idiotic approach to weight loss, if you asked me), the non-fermentable viscous fiber in the Islam study worked its fat burning magic right via increases in AMPK, COX, citrate synthase, PGC-alpha, PPAR-delta and UCP3 expression, or, put simply: The 5% HPMC diet ramped up mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation.
Figure 2: Changes (relative to cellulose group) in gene expression in liver and soleus muscle of HMPC fed rats (data adapted from Islam. 2011).
Nevertheless, the slight, yet statistically significant smaller increases in bone density in the HPMC group (+6.4g vs. +7.4g) do suggest that in addition to these inert metabolic effect, the mere excretion of parts of the diets (with respect to bone density probably minerals like calcium and phosphorus), of which the animals in both groups consumed about identical amounts, could also have contributed to the otherwise beneficial effects of HPMC feeding, which, as the profound decrease (-41%) in liver PEPCK expression suggests, also included reductions in the hepatic rate of gluconeogenesis.
Figure 3: Changes (relative to cellulose group) in glucose metablism and adipokine expression of HMPC fed rats (data adapted from Islam. 2011).
The overall beneficial effects on glucose and fatty acid metabolism, by the way, are also reflected in the changes in blood glucose and adipokine concentrations I plotted in figure 3. The lower insulin and leptin levels in the presence of reduced body fat stores indicate increased insulin and leptin sensitivity and could be partly mediated by the marked increase in adiponectin expression, as the latter, as Islam et al. point out, has been found to have an "insulin sensitizing effect in both muscle and liver and a thermogenic effect (enhanced lipid metabolism) in skeletal muscle".

"Fiber is good, then! Right?"

Contrary to cellulose and fermentable viscous fiber, such as guar gum, of which a 2010 study by Isken et al. (Isken. 2010) found that it had, fed at 10% of the diet of mice, no effect on body fat levels in the short term (15 weeks) and even increased adiposity in the long-term (from 27 weeks to 43 weeks), short term feeding with 5% hydroxypropyl-methylcellulose (HPMC) exhibited unexpectedly profound beneficial effects on the metabolism of these otherwise healthy and normally fed (this is important, because we usually see fiber supplementation in the context of "high fat" diets) rodents.

Whether it would be advisable to deliberately look for the number E464 on the foods you consume is yet still highly questionable. For one, every food with an "E -number" on its ingredient list should disappear from your grocery list, anyways. I do not care which number it is, but if food has "E"'s in it chances that this is highly processed garbage are 99% and in that case the supposedly insignificant amount of HPMC will not turn junk into health food. And secondly, and certainly more importantly, we are just beginning to understand how the viscosity of the foods we eat and their susceptibility to fermentation interact and which impact(s) these characteristics have on our digestion and metabolism. After all, it could well be possible that, just as in the Isken study, this beneficial short term effects eventually fire back and the formerly lean HMPC rats suddenly start gaining weight (and body fat) like crazy... you see, as usual things are more complicated than the innocent (yet actually invalid) question "Is fiber good or bad?" might suggest.