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Phyto Nutrition Blog. Science-backed nutrition information. Sports Nutrition. Plant Based Nutrition

Mike Gagnon and his Ketogenic journey

Patrick Martin


Mike Buying some Udo oil + DHA & Showing off his cool shirt

Mike Buying some Udo oil + DHA & Showing off his cool shirt

Lookey here at our local fitness wonder Mike Gagnon! I’ve been following Mike and building his nutrition plans since 2016. The man never ceases to impress and inspire me.

At the ripe age of 70 this seasoned monster trains CrossFit 4 to 5 times a week, and he has recently completed something called a spartan race trifecta, which is completing all 3 grueling spartan obstacle race formats (5 km, 13km and 21km) throughout the course of one year. You receive a piece of the medal upon completion of each race, these medals link to form one big medal. I don’t know how the frig he does it, but he doesn’t give the rest of us any excuses.

Mike’s completed Trifecta medal 2018

Mike’s completed Trifecta medal 2018

Mike clearly takes his training seriously, but he also pays a lot of attention to his nutrition. He needs his recovery to be on point if he wants to keep his training volume high and keep injuries at bay.

Luckily for me, he is what I call an outlier, and he isn’t afraid to experiment nutritionally. I was very lucky that he found me early in my career, as our relationship has definitely been mutually beneficial.

Since we’ve been working together, we’ve been constantly experimenting with nutritional strategies - going so far as adapt his nutrition for specific nutrient requirement based on his genetic profile. We’ve also played with incorporating all the merited sports supplements.

Mike taking a break on the wall

Mike taking a break on the wall

We track his biometrics and adapt his nutrition in 6-week segments. We trend his body comp (9 site calipers, visceral fat ratings, muscle circumference, and glucose challenge) and he gives me a detailed description of how he felt, recovered and performed during the 6 weeks. This has allowed us to find out what works and what doesn’t for his body, over time, and its one really cool scientific experiment for me.

Our most recent journey has been a performance ketogenic diet, which is essentially a high calorie ketogenic diet that uses a slightly higher carb and protein threshold but allows you to enter ketosis during and after each workout. I was worried about trying this out on Mike, and I warned him that he would feel cruddy during the first week as his body’s main fuel source is depleted (carbs) and his performance in the gym would also tank in the short term. I explained that as his body shifts from burning carbs to fats he would begin to feel better and better and his training would also improve, but his training would likely never be as good as it was with carbs in the system.

Mike whistling because its easy

Mike whistling because its easy

The interesting thing about training without carbs is that your body slowly begins to adapt, and this is one of the main benefits of following the ketogenic diet. Initially your performance suffers as your cells are used to needing glucose to fuel them. The new fuel that is available from fat breakdown is called ketone bodies, but initially the body is not capable of burning them efficiently. Slowly but surely the body develops the ability to burn these ketone fuels more effectively and your performance in the gym improves. These ketone bodies also have interesting benefits, science is starting to show that they have strong anti-inflammatory properties (Youm et al. 2015), cognitive benefits (Cunnane et al. 2016) and have a significant impact on muscle recovery (Holdsworth et al. 2017) (Vandoorne et al. 2017), a lot of research is being done for military applications.

Mike had his reassessment this past weekend and I was quite intrigued by his results. His body composition data was as expected, little changes in muscle mass and body fat (our ketogenic diet was not set for fat loss). He explained that his performance initially tanked, as expected, but it continued to improve week after week. He was surprised at how well he began to perform and recover, he didn’t expect he would feel that good. He began to feel so good he thinks that his performance and recovery were better on this ketogenic diet than any other plan with carbs. He also claimed his ongoing shoulder soreness felt better than it had in a while. I was surprised to hear this.

While studying nutrition at McGill University, it is taught that carbs are essential for athletic performance, both for endurance type activities, like running, or strength and power-based sports. This is the conventional academic stance, and it is based on a plethora of academic research. Science is funny like that, a truth is only true until it is proven wrong, and in this case, the performance results of the ketogenic diet seem to be changing a very established “truth”.

Zach Bitter the record for fatest 100 mile

Zach Bitter the record for fatest 100 mile

What first intrigued me about the ketogenic diet for athletics was an article on the man who holds the record for fastest 100-mile marathon race

(Article link: ) .

The article really blew my mind as I had accepted the “truth” that carbs were ESSENTIAL to distance runners, more so than most other athletes, and even if you could run a marathon in a carb depleted state, it DEFINITELY wouldn’t be fast. Zach Bitter trains most of the year while following a ketogenic diet, and accordingly, his cell machinery is extremely well adapted to burning ketones. When he races, he consumes carbs while his body also produces ketones, this allows him to use both fuels sources concurrently, and the result is a standing world record.

Mike gag bag lift.PNG

The idea of using a ketogenic diet to “fat-adapt” the metabolism is an interesting realm to be explored, specifically for athletes. Re-introducing a healthy nutrient dense plan including carbs into the a person who has “fat- adapted” could potentially allow the body to burn 2 fuel sources at once. Although Mike felt that his performance and recovery were higher while on the ketogenic diet, for most people I would logically assume that peak performance should come after a segment of keto and fat adapting their metabolism, followed by a reintroduction of carbs into the diet.

This all goes to show how little we still know about the body’s amazing ability to adapt. The scientific field of nutrition is still so young, and this is a great example of how we always need to keep an open mind. Just when we think we know it all, some news evidence comes out that changes the game completely.

I love working with Mike, his journey is far from over and I am looking forward to accompanying him along the way. I love his energy and am always motivated to help him strive for peak health and performance, especially because we get to creatively explore the latest science together! Cheers to Mike, always living life to the fullest!

mike back flex.PNG

 By Patrick Martin-Arrowsmith MSc. (c)


Cunnane, S. C., et al. (2016). "Can ketones compensate for deteriorating brain glucose uptake during aging? Implications for the risk and treatment of Alzheimer's disease." Ann N Y Acad Sci 1367(1): 12-20.

Holdsworth, D. A., Cox, P. J., Kirk, T., Stradling, H., Impey, S. G., & Clarke, K. (2017). A Ketone Ester Drink Increases Post exercise Muscle Glycogen Synthesis In Humans. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,49(9), 1789-1795. doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000001292

Vandoorne, T., Smet, S. D., Ramaekers, M., Thienen, R. V., Bock, K. D., Clarke, K., & Hespel, P. (2017). Intake of a Ketone Ester Drink during Recovery from Exercise Promotes mTORC1 Signaling but Not Glycogen Resynthesis in Human Muscle. Frontiers in Physiology,8. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.00310

Youm, Y., Nguyen, K. Y., Grant, R. W., Goldberg, E. L., Bodogai, M., Kim, D., . . . Dixit,V. D. (2015). The ketone metabolite β-hydroxybutyrate blocks NLRP3 inflammasome–mediated inflammatory disease. Nature Medicine,21(3), 263-269. doi:10.1038/nm.3804


Patrick Martin

Beets: Hell YA! Or ewwww….?!

Some of us love these vibrantly colored roots and some of us despise them… If you like them, you’re in luck, and if you don’t, you better learn to.

Science has been showing that they have some unique health and performance benefits. Regular consumption of beets can have some impressive effects such as reduced body fat, improved recovery from exercise, improved stamina, and improved strength. Asides from all that magic, beets are very nutritious, so even if all the science is wrong with regards to beets’ ability to turn you into Popeye, you won’t be wasting your time eating them, as they are a good source of nutrients, fibers and anti-oxidants.


At Phyto-Performance Nutrition, we are always investigating the available scientific research on performance enhancing foods that can help us get results for our athletes and weekend warriors. As the science of nutrition evolves, we are slowly deciphering and uncovering some of the amazing benefits that foods can elicit.


Beets have been a hot topic lately, as they’ve been shown to enhance performance in a few different ways. Initially they were found to improve aerobic capacity in terms of VO2. Improving your VO2 means that your body will need to consume less oxygen for them same amount of work, so if you run 5 km and decide to eat some beets for breakfast, your body will need less oxygen during that run compared to if didn’t consume any beets at all. This can lead to a faster run, if that is the goal, otherwise it would just lead to a more metabolically efficient run.  This effect of improved metabolic efficiency is believed to be due to their ability to increase blood nitric oxide (NO) levels, which can dilate blood vessels and allow more blood to flow in and out of muscles, and thus result in better nutrient delivery and gas exchange (Dominguez et al. 2017).


Another angle in which tasty little beets can help you is by improving muscle recovery. These two recent studies by Clifford et al. 2016, 2017 investigate beet juice’s ability to improve markers of exercise induced muscle damage. Its common to feel soreness after a bout of exercise because whenever you push through your comfort threshold, you are subject to muscle fiber breakdown and the associated muscle soreness. This muscle soreness can last for up to 72 hours post exercise, and it will reduce your ability to perform. During the sore period you will have decreased strength and power output, and thus decreased performance.  What Clifford and friends measured was whether beets could reduce exercised induced muscle pain as well as recovery of strength and power, and It turns out they do!        


Betaine and betalaines are two nitrogenous based compounds that are thought to be responsible for many of the performance benefits derived from beets. Betaine is regularly used as a performance enhancer supplement, whether in your pre-workout or taken individually. The compound betaine was originally identified in beets, hence the name, but it turns out there is a few other great food sources: Spinach, wheat germ & quinoa. Betaine by itself has the potential effect of improving strength, increasing circulating blood levels GH, and reducing body fat (Cholewa et al. 2014). Although beets are a source of betaine, most of the studies testing betaine show benefits with doses much higher than you would get from eating beets. Therefore, if your looking for performance results specific to betaine, we recommend consuming all 4 natural sources of betaine, and potentially even use a supplement. I use Rivalus powder burn which contains 500 mg, and I also purchased a pack of pure betaine from


That said, even though there is good science to back up the use of beets and betaine for performance, it is always a question of price-to-benefit ratio when it comes to taking a new supplement, and with beets, we also must consider the enjoyability factor – big issue for my wife, not at all for me... In my opinion, beets offer great value!

From a basic nutrition standpoint, aside from all the performance benefits, beets are a significant source of the following compounds: Folate, Mangnese, copper, fiber, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, vit C, Iron, Vit B6. Beets are relatively cheap to buy – I recently bought a double pack of pickled shredded beets at Costco for about 5$. These were great as they were an easy addition to my lunch wraps, or as a side with my meal. I also will often add beet powder to my daily smoothies to boost my consumption, as I can’t eat beets every day.  This has the added effect of making my smoothies a nicer colour – again palatability! The beet root powder is affordable, a bottle comes to about 16$+ tx (Phyto athlete discount), contains 2kg of dried beets and it lasts me for a couple of months. When it comes to betaine specifically, I try to get as much as possible from food.  I try to consume baby spinach daily, whether in a smoothie, in my egg omelet or in a salad. Baby spinach is a super functional, easy throw-in, as well being very affordable (Costco sells are large pack for about $3). Also, I try to eat quinoa and whole grain bread or wraps WITH the wheat germ (Note: I am not gluten intolerant, my genetic test backs this up). I often make beet wraps: Shredded beets, spinach, whole grain wrap including the germ, some shredded chicken and maybe some hummus or avocado. <—- Balanced and great for performance.

SHUT UP AND TRAIN, but eat your beets too

SO, if your looking for ways to improve your health and performance, beets are a great addition to your tool box. Beets by themselves have the ability to improve your metabolic efficiency in terms of VO2. They are also nutrient, fiber, and anti-oxidant dense, and pack unique abilities to help your recovery from exercise. They contain the compound betaine, and if you want to increase muscle & strength, try getting in supplemental betaine from quinoa, spinach, wheat germ, a synthetic supplement can help as well.


Happy training & thanks for reading!

 -Patrick Martin-Arrowsmith

Disclaimer: The information provided is meant to spread knowledge and induce interest for educational purposes. It is based on limited research. We try to pull the overall message of the literature, but further research may be necessary.  What is done with the information or suggestions is solely the consumers decision. The information provided is not meant to treat or diagnose any medical condition. References are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute endorsement of any website or other sources.

Cholewa, J. M., Guimarães-Ferreira, L., & Zanchi, N. E. (2014). Effects of betaine on performance and body composition: A review of recent findings and potential mechanisms. Amino Acids,46(8), 1785-1793. doi:10.1007/s00726-014-1748-5

Clifford, T., Bell, O., West, D. J., Howatson, G., & Stevenson, E. J. (2015). The effects of beetroot juice supplementation on indices of muscle damage following eccentric exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology,116(2), 353-362. doi:10.1007/s00421-015-3290-x

Clifford, T., Howatson, G., West, D. J., & Stevenson, E. J. (2017). Beetroot juice is more beneficial than sodium nitrate for attenuating muscle pain after strenuous eccentric-bias exercise. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism,42(11), 1185-1191. doi:10.1139/apnm-2017-0238

Domínguez, R., Cuenca, E., Maté-Muñoz, J., García-Fernández, P., Serra-Paya, N., Estevan, M., . . . Garnacho-Castaño, M. (2017). Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review. Nutrients,9(1), 43. doi:10.3390/nu9010043

Creatine: Effective and Safe

Patrick Martin

The average omnivore eats about one gram of it per day, through meat and seafood consumption. When doing very high-intensity exercise, your body uses it to make energy rapidly available for your muscles. The liver and kidneys synthesize it to make up for the other gram or two that the body needs daily.

It is creatine: one of the most researched and effective performance-enhancing supplements  for improving high-intensity exercise capacity and increasing lean body mass.


Primary action

In the body, creatine is a part of the high-energy system that is active during very intense bouts of exertion. It provides your muscles with a short burst of energy prior to sprinting or a performing a heavy lift.

The average 70kg man requires about 1-3 grams of creatine daily, with only about half of it coming from the diet, and the other half being synthesized in the body from other nutrients.

If supplemented, creatine enables you to push yourself harder than usual; it’s useful for gains in strength and muscle mass, not to mention a better recovery.


Other Potential Uses

In sport creatine supplementation may improve injury prevention and/or recovery, enhance tolerance to exercise in the heat (via ‘hyper-hydration’ and improved heat regulation) and might play a role in brain and spinal cord neuroprotection. But the latter is still considered controversial.

There are even some studies testing the use of creatine for neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease, aging, depression, and even pregnancy. But again, more research is needed for conclusive results.


How to Supplement

Search for creatine monohydrate, as it is the cheapest and most effective form, or hydrolyzed creatine monohydrate (it’s similar yet dissolves better in water).

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the best way to increase creatine stores is to take ~0.3 g/kg/day of creatine monohydrate for 5 to 7 days as a part of what is called the ‘loading phase’. This means the average 70 kg individual would take about 20 grams per day for a week-long loading phase. Then, supplementation should be reduced to 3 to 5 grams per day to maintain high creatine stores.

There seems to be no strong scientific evidence regarding safety concerns, even for consumption of up to 30 grams per day for 5 years. Contrary to hearsay, creatine is not likely to cause dehydration, muscle injury, or kidney failure.

However, be smart about supplementation by drinking sufficient water and monitoring any symptoms regardless.


To Sum It Up

Creatine is what drives the body’s high-energy system that fuels high-intensity burst movements, such as lifting weights or sprinting. Supplementing with creatine monohydrate at 3-5 g per day can increase your creatine levels, allowing oneself to push harder and recover faster, leading to greater strength and muscle mass. Other applications such as neuroprotection are in need of further research.


- Lucas Roldos

Disclaimer: The information provided is meant to spread knowledge and induce interest for educational purposes. It is based on limited research. We try to pull the overall message of the literature, but further research may be necessary.  What is done with the information or suggestions is solely the consumers decision. The information provided is not meant to treat or diagnose any medical condition. References are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute endorsement of any website or other sources.

References provided within the text as hyperlinks.

Food Fun, Funds, and Fundamentals (Series #3)

Patrick Martin

Welcome to the third installment of “Food Fun, Funds, and Fundamentals,” an ongoing exploration of food preparation, handling, and appreciation. To learn more about the philosophy behind these vignettes, please click here for Series #1, which shines attention on egg and rice selection, while Series #2 centers around maximizing the use of your herbs and spices. This week focuses on an important yet often overlooked aspect of home cooking: food poisoning prevention.

Botulism anyone?

          Before opening any canned foods, give the can a quick inspection. Does it have any holes or appear compromised in any way? Chuck it! One particularly ominous sign is when the can appears bulgy, as if it were pressurized by a gas (which technically it is). What this means is that Clostridium botulinum have contaminated the food. These bacteria produce a toxin that causes an often lethal disease called botulism. For bulging cans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you place the can in a Ziploc bag, seal it with tape, then repeat the process with a second bag; put it in the trash and not the recycling bin.1

Welcome to the danger zone...

Two of the biggest factors involved in preventable food-borne illnesses are time and temperature; most harmful pathogens grow best between a temperature range of 4 and 60 °C, known in the food-service industry as “the danger zone” (not to be confused with the legendary hit song by Kenny Loggins). So, an important guideline is to keep hot foods above 60 °C, and cold or stored foods below 4°C. Food items should be discarded once they’ve spent a total of 4 hours cumulatively in the danger zone.2

Wash your melons.. Not those melons..

          While most people know that washing your hands and produce thoroughly is a good idea, it’s easy to forget about the thick-skinned specimens, such as cantaloupe. If you were to cut an unwashed cantaloupe, the knife might contaminate the edible portion with unwanted bacteria, so try to scrub your fruits and vegetables with a food-grade brush and soap beforehand.

Bleach is great, but mustard gas isn't 

Hoseholds that I’ve encountered clean their dishes and utensils the following way (those that clean them manually, that is): wash dishes with dish-detergent, rinse the dishes, then towel-dry the dishes. This popular method is not ideal; while washing and rinsing the dish is important, there is a difference between a dish that is clean and a dish that is sterile (i.e., nothing is living on it). To sterilize a cleaned dish, bleach—when used properly—is a safe and effective disinfectant. Using a separate sink or bin (I like bus bins), mix 4 teaspoons (20 mL) of bleach per liter of lukewarm water, then let the dishes and utensils soak in the bin for at least 2 minutes. It’s important not to use hot water or other detergents along with the bleach because not only is it ineffective, this might cause the release of dangerous fumes (e.g. bleach and ammonia combined will react to create mustard gas; yes, the same horrific gas used in World War I). Also, bleach can be corrosive and leave a bad smell when used in high concentrations, so use it sparingly.

Let them hang out to dry!

          Growing-up, my mother assumed I was being lazy whenever I allowed my newly washed dishes to air-dry overnight rather than use a towel. But something always seemed “off” about this process. It turns out I’m vindicated! Other than temperature and time, bacteria also require moisture to multiply, and dish towels have a tendency of getting damp midway through the task. Those still damp dishes then end up in a cupboard and act as a home for microbes. Not to mention that dish towel was likely used for other things, such as drying your hands or wiping countertops, which act as sources for contamination. Feel free to let your sterile and clean dishes dry during the day or overnight on the rack, and don’t feel guilty!


When you eat, be just, cheerful, equable, temperate and orderly; thus, you will eat acceptably to the gods.     



- Tyler Feeney-

M.Sci (c) in Dietetics