Ah.... Fruits and their lack of abundance in contest prep, because of the common fear of fruits making us fat because of their high fructose content. But let us delve into this nutritional examination of fact vs. myth a little further. To the surprise of many, the truth to this issue is not very complicated.
Fruits Don't Make You Fat
First, I've never heard of fruits making anyone fat. Now this is an anecdotal statement, but now let me hit you with some knowledge (I stole this line from Ben Stiller in the movie Dodgeball). No actually, I want to inform you with proper and accreditable resources of information that will arm you to make a better decision in your future in regard to fruit consumption anytime of day and year.
Eating fruits will not convert to fat nor make you fat.21 Now being the unbiased writer I am, I will actually cite some of the theories to why fruits are avoided by an unfortunately large number of bodybuilders and figure competitors in past years and sadly still today.
Now the cool part is that I will actually refute these theories with concrete and tangible scientific literature and evidence to support fruit consumption anytime of day and year.
The theory behind fruits stopping fat-burning is based on the muscles lacking an enzyme that converts fructose to glycogen. In fact, fructose is primarily found in high-fructose corn syrup, table sugar, fruit juice, honey and least in fruit and vegetables.5,32,61
Now, if the muscle's lack this storing capability of fructose, then the liver is where fructose can be stored as glycogen. Well, unfortunately, the liver can only store 100-120 grams of glycogen,61 while the rest would be stored as fat. Ok, here is where extrapolation becomes more like Stretchapolation. In other words, to conclude fruits make one fat or prevent fat-burning or negatively impact body composition based off this logic, is simply wrong on all fronts.
Fruits And Fat Loss
The logic to fruits being hazardous to body fat-loss goals is deflated by the two elements of body-fat loss maximization:
- Calories in vs. Calories out7,8
- Hormonal Power.28,29
Burning fat is based on burning more calories than taken in and it is based on favorably altering your hormonal levels (insulin-to-glucagon ratio) to favor fat burning. The hormonal power is second in this list for a reason. First of all, the most important factor is calories in vs. calories out. Now, both are involved simultaneously as we will soon see.
Typically, hormonal power food plans are based on low-glycemic carbs and higher protein intake with healthy fats. This favors bodybuilder goals because of a favorable insulin-to-glucagon ratio, but also because protein is kept normal to slightly above normal to prevent catabolism of endogenous protein and to promote caloric deficit since protein is the highest thermogenic nutrient.28,29,30
These 2 approaches overlap simultaneously because most low-glycemic carbs are typically also of lower energy density, thus they naturally create a caloric deficit.
Related Video Fruits & Vegetables!
Watch The Video - 03:50
Now, back to the main issue at hand, of how fruits can make us gain fat. Fruits do not make us fat in any way, shape or form. Fruits actually stimulate fat-burning further.18,19
Here's the thing, most fruits are less than 100 calories to begin with,67 thus they are in favor with the 1st element of fat-burning,7,8,78 they are also mostly low-glycemic index.4,33
Oh, if they are low-glycemic index because of the rationale of the fructose being converted and leaving the liver as fat and fat having a low-glycemic index, this is a flawed theory at best, considering the caloric density and fructose content of fruit is so small that this elevated fat in the blood would be trivial in regard to body fat storage.5,6 Furthermore, the body's storage of carbs to fat (de novo lipogenesis) is rather small.1,2,40,65
Instead of fructose leaving the liver as fat, did it ever occur to the cynics that fructose leaves the liver as glucose!?37,44,61 In fact, research has clearly shown that fructose can be quickly converted to glucose from the liver and released for usage during exercise.37,44
This glucose can also be either stored as glycogen in the muscles or be used readily for energy in the face of a caloric deficit as well.86
This implicates the capability of the liver to use the fructose to convert it to glucose for energy use for itself and/or for the muscles or for glycogen storage for itself and/or for the muscles and of course lastly, for fat storage, which was shown to be the last resort fate of fructose.1,2,40,65 However, fat-storage would be the case for any nutrient (i.e. carbs, proteins and fats) in the face of a caloric surplus.7,8,40
Moreover, why is it presumed that liver glycogen is ONLY reduced upon waking up in the morning? Nothing happens in isolation; for example, liver glycogen is not just replenished in the morning and then it is full the rest of the day. This narrow-minded pseudo-science approach is what leads people to the feeling of being on a "diet" and nutritional deprivation.
Liver glycogen is in a constant state of influx-efflux.63 After a bout of exercise, liver glycogen is not 100%, it is actually reduced and how much it is reduced will be determined on the intensity and duration of the exercise bout.61
In fact, after each meal in a day, approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of the carbohydrates consumed are stored as liver glycogen, 1/3 to 1/2 is stored as muscle glycogen and the remainder is oxidized for energy.31 Research has shown that liver and muscle glycogen replenishment are enhanced with a mixture glucose and fructose versus each alone.16,23,74,90
In other words, adding fruit to a post-workout shake will serve to enhance the post-exercise anabolic response.3,76,87 In addition, it was shown in a study that fructose actually improved the transport of branched-chain amino acids too!76 Actually, hydroxycitric acid is from the fruit, malabar tamarind.11,14,41,64
Research has shown that glycogen replenishment is enhanced further with consumption of this fruit extract and fat storage is reduced.11,14,41,60,64 Interesting, it was found that the extract from this fruit even reduced de novo lipolysis or conversion of excess carbohydrates to fats.55
In fact, even if a little fat is made from excess fruit sugar (which I highly doubt, but let's play devil's advocate and go with this anyway), this may actually stimulate fat to be burned from stubborn body fat areas of the body! How? It's called, "Eat fat to lose fat".25 In other words, many times, the body will hit a wall in fat-burning (either by plateauing OR slowing down the metabolism if the caloric cut is too intense OR too long).
This is where slightly higher carb and/or calorie days come into play by re-setting one's metabolism. And it is ok if you store a little fat during this 1-3 day period. Sometimes, we need to take 1-step back, to take 2-steps forward.
There is research that has shown fructose to be more lipogenic than other sugars,13,73 however, in one study,73 85 grams of sugar was used in 1-meal and 50-75% was pure fructose (~43-64 grams of fructose)! Most fruit has anywhere from 4 grams or less per serving,10,32,66 while a large banana may have up to 7-grams.71
What this study was alluding to was the increased consumption of fructose sweeteners or added fructose sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup that are produced from corn starch and other starches.5
In fact, another study did establish that fructose from fruit is not the culprit, but it is the added fructose to food.38 We need to get back to the basics of healthy-whole food eating.
Fruit Is Good For You
Another great thing about fruits is they are very healthy for us15,21,26,27,35,47,51,56,58,62,72,83 and they are packed full of carotenoids, flavonoids, antioxidants20,21,36,48,79,81,89,91 and many of the essential micronutrients we so desperately need.
In fact, research has shown in the past that bodybuilders are typically deficient in many nutrients and minerals during contest prep.42,68,86
Fruit is a high-volumetric food because fruit is rich in water and fiber.21,77 The skin of most fruit contains a significant source of fiber and antioxidants and the fruit itself is so gratifying to anyone with a sweet tooth or sugar cravings, , that to deny them could be detrimental to one's emotional health.
Contest prep is tough and challenging, but my point is, it does not have to be unhealthy or so deprivative. In fact, research has shown that low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets have no advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets.49
It has been shown that ketogenic low-carb diets are associated with adverse metabolic and emotional effects.49 Research has shown that bodybuilders tend to complain about feeling vertigo, whole body fatigue, aches, lack of energy and depression during contest prep.68,85
So when I hear or read about how it gets so tough during contest prep because of cutting carbs (particularly fruit), I realize how vanity is placed before healthy living.
What About The Fructose?
Additionally, fruits are not 100% fructose. It is shocking how fruits have been deemed as being bad for us by some, because of their naturally-occurring fructose content. Fruits are actually a brilliantly complex and seductive combination of fructose, sucrose, glucose, galactose and maltose.70
Even so, not all fruits are created equal. For example, even for the hardcore bodybuilder who still avoids fruit in the last 1-2 weeks out, thinking this will get them to an absolute peak, I have a nice compromise. If you are concerned with the little fructose in fruit being stored as fat, one could simply eat higher fructose fruit in the morning for breakfast and eat lower-fructose containing fruit later in the day.
All things considered, the highest fructose containing fruits typically have 4-5 grams of fructose anyway. This would mean 4-5 grams equals 4-5 grams of fat right? Not so fast. Fat is 9 calories per gram, so theoretically, the 4-5 grams of extra fructose would mean a mere 1.7-2.2 grams of fat stored or 15-20 calories stored as fat.
Now, going back to the 1st element of fat-burning, if one is in caloric deficit, even if this trivial/meager amount of fructose is converted to fat, it will not be stored as fat because your body is already in negative caloric balance. This means you will use this fat for energy.
This also explains how bodybuilders can get down to extreme levels of leanness and then begin to eat more fat and/or carbs to "fill-out." They are still in negative balance, so fat theoretically becomes partitioned in favorable ways (used for energy and/or stored as essential fat or intramuscular fat).
The intramuscular fat part probably explains one aspect of how one can "fill-out" and still be lean when slowly adding calories back into the diet in the last 1-2 weeks. The body thinks, "Well, this man/women is really physically-active, I'd better store this fat close to the muscles so he/she will use it readily for energy for his/her next workout," metaphorically speaking.
Also, when fructose is converted to fat, like any conversion of carbs to fats, there is an energy cost in this conversion process.30,43,45,50,75 For example, for every 100 excess calories of protein, ~ 60-75 calories are stored as fat, while for every 100 excess calories of carbs, only ~ 72-76 calories are stored as fat, whereas with fat, ~ 97-98 calories out of 100 are stored as body fat.
So even if the carbs convert to fat, this is a costly process and you will likely store ~72-76% of the excess carbs as fat. So for those who have higher fat intakes on a low-carb diet, that is just mind-boggling because as much fat as you will be burning, you will be storing, so you're fighting a never-ending battle,50,80,82 not to mention, muscle catabolism is greater when carbs are not at a minimal level of sufficiency.57
Great Contents Of Fruit
Another important aspect of fruits is, they contain many of the muscle-building and repairing nutrients we need like potassium,22 vitamin A,9,59 vitamin C46,49 and other antioxidant compounds known as phytochemicals such as bioflavonoids [catechins, tannins], limonoids [detoxification] and lycopenes [antioxidants].53
More importantly, many fruits have even been found to stimulate fat-burning77,84 and promote muscle-mass gains!22 Actually, many of the top fat-burners out there in the market have fruit extracts in the ingredients.
For example, grapefruit has narginen, one of the ingredients that promotes fat-burning.34 Furthermore, I researched this and found grapefruit actually has a relatively high amount of HMB!88 This is the metabolite of leucine that has been shown to promote muscle mass accretion.69,88
And finally, I recently presented my master's thesis for publication at the 56th Annual American College of Sports Medicine Science meeting, and learned from a fellow colleague that grapefruit has 6',7'-dihydroxybergamottin (6',7' DHB), which has been shown to increase testosterone production!24
Another fruit, which was mentioned earlier, is the malabar tamarind. It contains hydroxycitric acid, which is a common ingredient in many fat-burners due to it's ability to enhance partioning carbs to glycogen and inhibit new fat synthesis.11,14,41,55,60
It is amazing how when I read the back of many fat-burning supplement labels I see the following, but not limited to: Red raspberry extract, blueberry extract, cranberry extract, etc. It is amazing how many of the bodybuilders and figure competitors who avoid fruits are actually spending all this money in consuming the same extracts that come from the fruits they are actually avoiding on a daily basis!
Even more amazing, these extracts are probably more bioavailable and potent in natural form from the fruits.39,54 There is a certain synergism that can not be replicated in a pill.17,39,54
With every issue, there are caveats of course. For example, the only reasons for supplementing with a fruit extract would be if that fruit itself was not available in grocery stores, if one is lactose-intolerant, if one has certain food allergies, if one is a vegan and if one diets poorly.17 For example, malabar tamarind among many other extracts, is not available where I live, so this would be an acceptable compromise to consider supplementing.
Fruits are low in calories, high in nutrient power and curb sugar cravings the natural, but more important, the healthy way. I avoid saying the right way, because there is typically no one way to reach a goal or destination. However, it can easily be said that including fruits in your eating habits year round is going about things the healthy way. And with this, you will rest assure that you are not only looking your best, but also feeling your best!
Actually, this article was finished, but I just remembered something else! Many skin care products (i.e. moisturizers, shampoo, conditioners and body exfoliants) contain fruit extracts. So actually, fruit will not only make you feel your best, you will also look even better than your previous best!
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The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not serve as a replacement to care provided by your own personal health care team or physician. The author does not render or provide medical advice, and no individual should make any medical decisions or change their health behavior based on information provided here. Reliance on any information provided by the author is solely at your own risk. The author accepts no responsibility for materials contained in the article and will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary, or other damages arising from the use of information contained in this or other publications. Copyright Ivan Blazquez, 2010. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder and author of this publication.