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Bulletin #38 – Carbohydrates: Mega Fuel For Growth And Energy

Last month I explained why the latestdiet craze —the high fat diet—doesn’t makeany sense. It can contribute to heart diseaseand cancer. It deprives your muscles of carbswhich they require for high intensity exer-cise like weight lifting. And if you are eatingextra calories to gain lean body mass, excessfat calories have a very high tendency to bestored as body fat.  Remember, fat cannot beconverted to muscle and it cannot be storedas glycogen. The only thing your body cando with excess calories from conventionalfat is to store them as body fat.The theory behind the high fat diet is touse dietary fat as fuel in place of carbohy-drates. This results in lower insulin levels.Since insulin stimulates fat storage andblocks fat breakdown, this sounds like a goodidea. If we could get around the problemswith the high fat diet, it would be great.  Andwe can with CapTri®! The Parrillo diet is verylow in conventional fat but instead relies ona special fat called CapTri® which has beenspecifically formulated for bodybuilders andanyone trying to minimize body fat stores.The Parrillo diet is a more balanced approach,and I think you’ll agree makes a lot moresense. The first consideration is to meet yourprotein requirement. A good rule of thumbis one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. Divide this equally amongsix meals spread throughout theday.  

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Next comes CapTri®. Startout with ½ tablespoon per meal,mixed with food, until your sys-tem gets used to it. Work yourway up to one or two table-spoons per meal, depending onyour size and level of caloric in-take (some people eat as muchas five tablespoons per meal). Agood rule of thumb here is to tryto derive 30% of your caloriesfrom CapTri® while limiting con-ventional fat to 5% of calories.You should see and feel a dra-matic effect at this level.  Thenmake up the rest of your caloriesfrom unrefined, complex carbo-hydrates. Avoid simple sugars, fruit, dairyproducts, bread, pasta, and other refinedcarbohydrates. These carbohydrate sourceswill make you fat. I classify carbs into threegroups: simple sugars and refined carbohy-drates (one group), starchy carbs, and fi-brous carbs. Good starchy carbs are pota-toes, sweet potatoes, rice, beans, peas, corn,and oatmeal. Good fibrous carbs are veg-etables like lettuce, spinach, cabbage, greenbeans, and so on. The Parrillo PerformanceNutrition Manual contains an extensive listof good foods to eat along with their nutri-tional content.How does this compare with the highfat diet? There are two big differences. First,the Parrillo diet uses CapTri® instead of con-ventional fat. Whereas regular fat found inconventional food has a very high tendencyto store as body fat, CapTri® does not.CapTri® is a fat with a specially engineeredmolecular structure that causes it to be me-tabolized differently than regular fat (1-7).CapTri® has almost no tendency to store asbody fat (1-7).

Instead, excess calories fromCapTri® are simply released as body heat ina process called thermogenesis (1-7). This isreally a bodybuilder’s dream since it allowsus to substitute fat calories for carbs in or-der to decrease insulin levels, while avoid-ing the pitfalls of regular fats. The secondbig difference is that on the Parrillo diet younever go real low on carbs. The way the dietis structured, you don’t have to. The highfat diet calls for limiting carbs to 5-10% ofcalories so that you can enter a fat-burningstate called ketosis. With the Parrillo diet youcan maintain insulin at low levels and shiftyour metabolism into a fat burning mode, allwhile still consuming 40-60% of your calo-ries from carbohydrates. This works becausecombining protein and fat (CapTri®) and fi-ber at each meal slows the release of carbsinto the bloodstream, resulting in a muchlower insulin level.This approach is far superior to the highfat diet because it supplies the carbs yourbody needs for top performance. If you’veever tried going low on carbs, you know whatI mean. You just don’t have the energy with-out carbs. As I explained last month, weightlifting is a form of anaerobic (without oxygen) exercise.  

This means that your musclesare working so hard and so fast that the en-ergy requirement cannot be met by the aero-bic (with oxygen) energy pathway. The pre-ferred fuel for your muscles to use duringanaerobic exercise is carbohydrate. So doesit make sense for bodybuilders to go reallylow on carbohydrates? I don’t think so.Let’s take a look at some of the otherbenefits of carbohydrates. Everyone knows by now that diets based on severe caloricrestriction fail (8,9). They fail because thebody reduces its level of energy expendi-ture to compensate for the loss of incomingenergy (calories). During very low caloriediets about half the weight which is lost ismuscle. And since muscle is the metabolicengine where a lot of calories are burned, ifyou lose muscle you burn less calories. Thenumber of calories your body burns per hourwhile you are at rest is called your basal(baseline) metabolic rate (BMR). It has beenshown that BMR increases following excessfeeding of a mixed diet (i.e., a normal dietthat contains carbohydrates) but not if onlyexcess conventional fat (LCT) is fed (8). Thismeans that carbohydrates increase yourmetabolic rate more than conventional fatsdo (but not more than CapTri®). How doesthis happen? It turns out that carbohydrateis converted to ATP (energy in the molecu-lar form which is usable by cells) with anoverall efficiency of 75% (8). The other 25%of the calories in the carbs gets released asbody heat in the process. Fat is convertedto ATP with an efficiency of 90% (8).

Thismeans that if you feed your body carbohy-drates instead of fat a higher percentage ofthe calories you eat will be converted to heat,which translates into a higher metabolic rate.The more calories you eat which are lost asbody heat, the less left to store as fat. Insimple terms, this is just saying that eating ahigh carb diet instead of a high fat diet re-sults in a higher metabolic rate, meaning thatyour body burns more calories all the time,even when you’re at rest. These calorieswhich are being burned simply appear asbody heat.Now keep in mind that this does notapply to CapTri®, which is a specially de-signed MCT. CapTri® is a fat, but follows adifferent metabolic pathway from regularfats. It’s a whole other animal. CapTri® in-creases metabolic rate even more than car-bohydrate. It’s jet fuel for muscles.For you biochemists out there whowant to know how carbohydrate feedingstimulates metabolic rate: The thermic effectof food (TEF) is defined as the postprandialincrement in energy expenditure above theresting rate and is expressed as a fraction ofthe energy content of the food consumed(8). A substantial part of the TEF (50-75%) issimply the energy used to digest, transport,and store food (8). This is termed the obliga-tory component of TEF.

Carbohydrate feed-ing is known to stimulate the sympatheticnervous system, and the ensuing catechola-mine-mediated increase in metabolic rate isknown as the facultative component of TEF(8). This effect can be blocked by propanolol(a beta-adrenergic antagonist).From this we can see that body weight,and body composition, depend not only onenergy balance (calories in versus caloriesout) but also on what foods you eat. A per-son eating a high carb diet will naturally burnmore calories than someone eating a highfat diet, because he has a higher metabolicrate. This will make it easier for the personon the high carb diet to stay lean. I think itwas explained very well in Bjorntorp andBrodoff’s classic text  “Obesity” (8) whenthey pointed out that the human body verynarrowly regulates carbohydrate stores butnot fat stores. The body has a limited abilityto store carbohydrate (glycogen). The ad-justment of carbohydrate oxidation to car-bohydrate intake is carefully controlled toresult in stable glycogen reserves under awide range of dietary carbohydrate intakes.This means that if you eat more carbs youburn more carbs, and if you eat less carbsyou burn less carbs.

This is because it is soimportant to maintain blood glucose levelsto allow proper brain function. On the otherhand, body fat stores are not regulated inthis way and your body has an almost limit-less potential to store fat. You can only store400-600 grams of carbs no matter how muchcarbs you eat, but you can store 100 poundsof fat (or more) if you eat enough. Thus, car-bohydrate feeding promotes carbohydrateoxidation (burning) but fat feeding does notpromote fat oxidation (8). On days when ex-cess carbs are consumed carbohydrate oxi-dation is increased, but if excess fat is con-sumed it is simply stored in adipose depots(8). Since 25% of excess calories from carbo-hydrate are wasted as heat, and since glyco-gen stores are generally far from full, an ex-cess carbohydrate load of 500g can be ac-commodated without an increase in body fat(8). This means if you over-eat on the highcarb diet the excess carbs get stored as gly-cogen, but if you over-eat on the high fatdiet the excess fat gets stored as body fat.Excess fat calories are not released as bodyheat, and they cannot be converted to gly-cogen or muscle. Bummer.These arguments show that a meal witha high carbohydrate to fat ratio is more ther-mogenic than a meal with a low ratio. Whilecarbohydrate and protein balance are closelyregulated, fat balance is related by theamount of fat in the diet (8). During over-feeding, weight gain is closely related to fatintake (8).

The body’s inability to regulatefat stores explains why the incidence of obe-sity rises as the fat content of the diet in-creases (8). Is this starting to make the highfat diet sound a little less attractive?Now don’t go crazy on this informationand get the idea you can indiscriminatelyeat all the carbs you want and never get fat.It just isn’t so. After glycogen stores arefull, any more excess carbs get converted tofat and stored as fat. Your body is very goodat converting excess carbs into body fat. Thepoint is that body fat accumulation is lesslikely with the high carb diet than the highfat diet, but it is possible with any diet if youconsistently consume too many calories. I’llreiterate the most important guidelines areto avoid simple sugars and refined carbohy-drates. These generate a greater insulin re-sponse and therefore are a more potent stimu-lus for fat storage. Simple sugars are presentin sweets and desserts (obviously) and arealso found in significant quantities in fruitand dairy products. Pasta and bread aremade from refined carbohydrates (sorry, butthis includes bagels). Also, but sure to mix your carbs with protein at each meal, andinclude a fibrous carb with each starch.These things slow the entry of glucose intothe blood.The down side of carbs, as proponentsof the high fat diet are quick to point out, isthat they induce a big insulin response.

Thisis why I’ve gone to such pains to structuremy diet the way I have, using only slow-release complex carbohydrates.  If you eatas outlined in the Parrillo Nutrition Manual,you’ll be able to eat a high carb diet whileminimizing insulin response. This is also whymy carbohydrate supplement, Pro-Carb™, isformulated the way it is. It is based onmaltodextrin, a slow release glucose poly-mer with a glycemic index of 22-26. This isjust about as low a glycemic index a carb canhave. Plus I’ve added 4 grams of completeprotein to every serving to further slow glu-cose release. It is sweetened with glycine, anaturally sweet amino acid, instead of sugaror corn syrup. For good glucose and insulincontrol, it’s probably one of the best carbo-hydrates available. It was designed specifi-cally for bodybuilders and athletes, withthese considerations in mind.The truth is I can see the logic of thehigh fat diet and I’ve had great success withit in bodybuilders, the main difference beingI use CapTri® instead of conventional fat.The reasons for this have to do with howCapTri® is metabolized and that it has al-most no tendency to be stored as body fat(1-7). CapTri® is profoundly thermogenic,meaning that it increases metabolic rate andexcess calories from CapTri® are simply lostas body heat instead of being stored as bodyfat (1-7). This is in stark contrast to conven-tional fat found in regular foods, which hasvery little thermogenic potential and has ahigh tendency to store as body fat.

The othermain difference is that I never recommendgoing as low in carbs as the hard-core highfat people do. The high fat diet calls for re-stricting carbs to 5-20% of daily calories,depending on who you read. Once carbs getbelow about 100 grams a day, your bodystarts to break down muscle tissue and usesthe amino acids to make glucose in the liver.Intentionally constructing a diet that resultsin muscle break-down to maintain blood glu-cose never made much sense to me. Losinga pound of fat doesn’t really get you any-where as a bodybuilder if you have to lose apound of muscle at the same time. The otherthing is your muscles require carbs to fuelthe anaerobic activity of lifting weights. Ifyour muscles need carbs, feed ‘em somecarbs. It’s not that complicated.My experience with top bodybuildersover the last twenty years has taught methat the best diet is one which provides oneto one-and-a-half grams of protein per poundof body weight per day, about 30% of calo-ries as CapTri®, and the rest as complexcarbs. (And believe me, I’ve taken them fromthe basement to the Olympia, literally.) Thisusually works out to be around 30% protein,30% CapTri®, and 40% carbs, but the per-centages vary among individuals depend-ing on their protein and calorie requirements.The ratios also change depending onwhether you’re trying to gain muscularweight in the off season or lose fat before acontest. The exact protocols are given in theNutrition Manual.My opinion is you’re better off with ahigh carb diet, with or without CapTri®, thanwith the high fat diet. I think it works betterand an overwhelming body of scientific lit-erature backs me up. Plus, it’s healthier, youfeel better, and you have more energy to train.


1. Baba N, Bracco EF, and Hashim SA.Enhanced thermogenesis and diminisheddeposition of fat in response to overfeedingwith diet containing medium chain triglycer-ide. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 35: 678-682, 1982.

2. Geliebter A, Torbay N, Bracco EF,Hashim SA, and Van Itallie TB. Overfeedingwith medium chain triglyceride diet resultsin diminished deposition of fat. Am. J. Clin.Nutr. 37: 1-4, 1983.

3. Hill JO, Peters JC, Yang D, Sharp T,Kaler M, Abumrad N, and Greene HL. Ther-mogenesis in humans during overfeedingwith medium chain triglycerides. Metab. 38:641-648, 1989.

4. Lavau MM and Hashim SA. Effect ofmedium chain triglyceride on lipogenesis andbody fat in the rat. J. Nutr. 108: 613-620, 1978.

5. Seaton TB, Welle SL, Warenko MK,and Campbell RG. Thermic effect of medium-Carbohydrates: Mega Fuel For Growth and Energy, Part IIchain and long-chain triglycerides in man.Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 44: 630-634, 1986.

6. Bach AC and Babayan VK. Mediumchain triglycerides: an update. Am. J. Clin.Nutr. 36: 950-962, 1982.

7. Hill JO, Peters JC, Swift LL, Yang D,Sharp T, Abumrad N, and Greene HL.Changes in blood lipids during six days ofoverfeeding with medium or long chain trig-lycerides. J. Lipid Res. 31: 407-416, 1990.

8. Bjorntorp P, and Brodoff BN. Obe-sity. J.B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, 1992.

9. Remington DW, Fisher AG, and Par-ent EA. How to Lower your Fat Thermostat.Vitality House International, Provo, 1983.

2018-03-13T11:10:37-04:00 May 22nd, 2009|Technical Supplement Bulletins|

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