There are tides in the opinions of men

This post will be (possibly) surprisingly brief, considering the potential depth of this area. Apologies for butchering the words of William Shakespeare.

 

I stumbled across this great infographic via the guys at Big Think. It is now stuck up on my office wall, as a quiet reminder that when battering away at the keyboard, regardless of the output, I will come be carrying some biased baggage. The fact that this was on Big Think is fitting for two reasons. Big Think is a great site where we can go to learn – the sole purpose of the site is to create and foster great ideas – from the world’s leading minds, and houses many videos and articles that challenge globally pertinent issues. Secondly, this week I’ve had a couple of instances that have caused me to sit up and think why? Or why not?

 

The first instance was a typical twitter stumble across this great paper from PLoS Biology. This paper is not only an important statistical read on reporting individual data, but includes excel sheets to allow authors to produce more appropriate figures, and we can easily incorporate this into the class-room…my third years are in for a treat next semester!

This paper however was cited in a tweet linked to a big news story: Nature has recommended/ instructed authors to move away from reporting continuous data in bar graphs (link to story here). A big impact journal, making a big shift really set me thinking about some of my own assumptions, namely protein and high(er) fat diets.

 

A big assumption of mine is protein. What I mean by this is that protein is an inherently good thing, due to it’s basic biological and biochemical importance and the evidence for our need of protein is substantial. We can all agree on this, even if you don’t – you’re perhaps mistaken…you’re made of the stuff! Furthermore, the really cool, and really difficult to conduct studies (1 and 2) performed by Jose Antonio’s lab on protein overfeeding suggest that if we are to eat more of any one nutrient protein may be the way to go.

So protein is good, it’s solid; but a conversation with a founder of a company I’m about to work with got me thinking about protein in a different light. We have an obligation to provide what’s best for an or the athlete as a practitioner and whey has typically ticked all the boxes here, unless a lower cost option is preferred then I would typically recommend casein. Only in times of gastrointestinal discomfort from dairy proteins have I recommended plant based protein supplementation. This has largely been informed by a number of studies conducted by Stu Phillips lab that I’m sure most people are familiar with (links at a later date). We tend to view plant protein as sub-optimal in terms of it’s protein synthetic response, but if provided in concert plant based proteins can deliver a full complement of amino acids – making their inclusion (as foods) a great dietary strategy to further support protein needs of the diet. But here’s what began to get me ticking this week – according to the founder of said company, plant based proteins are more cost effective, and more sustainable. This quite economic argument, on such a grand scale as a company as opposed to the tin of beans sitting in one’s cupboard hit home.

We live in the largest dairy producing region of New Zealand currently, a lot of if not all of the meat we eat is grass fed, and all dairy/milk is locally produced and again grass fed. Local and sound animal husbandry win for me, but in Britain, arguably Europe and certainly in the USA, especially in cities, few people have this luxury. Meals driven by plant based protein therefore represent possibly the easiest way to tick the protein and other health related boxes, at a low cost. Until this distinctly economic argument, I had been taking a stance that whilst supported by evidence, doesn’t apply to everyone, and is not affordable nor available to everyone – but because it has been conveniently all of the above for me for some time, I’d stuck with the same conclusions. Now I’m not saying there is a need to hop on board the hardcore vegan wagon here, but it may be of use to our environment, wallets and training to consider plant based options.

 

I’m open to exploring some of the more contemporary sources of ‘evidence’ around plant based eating and will no doubt blog again following watching Cowspiracy and What the Health. I feel these contemporary sources, whilst inherently biased are likely to cause me to question and read more on an area that matters to the long term sustainability and health of our profession.

 

I will leave the high fat work for now, but this concept of questioning is something I’ll look to develop, and incorporate into the classroom from here on in. Science after all is the pursuit of new knowledge, based upon the building blocks of research i.e. questions and theories that have been tested before, as Isaac Newton wrote:

‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’

So, once basic knowledge has been imparted what have we to lose if we ‘teach’ in a more inquisitive manner? Asking, and guiding students to answer ‘What makes the best sports drink and why?’ is surely much more engaging than another lecture entitled Carbohydrates.

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