Be Smart and Find What Works for You!
I have always been curious and fascinated with exploring different diet and nutrition strategies to gain a competitive edge. With limited time to train, I know that getting my diet and nutrition optimized is critical to staying competitive. If you have been following my blog you know that I’ve been from one extreme to the other with diet. I’ve gone from five years of vegan living to almost a year of Paleo and low carb / ketosis. The vegan diet had me at my lightest body weight ever, but with the high carbohydrate intake I seemed to lose my ability to burn fat and hence my long term endurance. Switching over to low carb, and adding some longer training sessions, I became an endurance machine and completed a 5 plus hour Molokai feeling strong.
This past year as work and travel got super busy, I fell off the wagon of any particular protocol. But quickly after deciding to embark on the Ultimate Challenge, I knew it was time to get serious about my nutrition. I desperately need every advantage I can possibly get to pull this off.
In early November I began to immerse myself in every biohacking and nutrition oriented Podcast I could find (Dave Asprey, Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan, Ben Greenfield, Power Athlete, Rhonda Patrick, Timothy Noakes, Abel James, just to name a few) and started obsessively looking to find the ultimate diet. It seemed that Paleo oriented and Low Carb, were definitely the common theme within this group, and the continuously emerging studies on nutritional ketosis once again sucked me in and convinced me it was worth another shot.
In early November I made the switch to very low carbohydrate in order to transition into nutritional ketosis. This time around I also purchased exogenous Ketones from Pruvit. This product is pretty new on the market and promises to help give you a daily ketone boost to make staying in the Ketosis sweet spot (1-3 millimols per deciliter), just a little bit easier. I also bought a Glucose and Ketone meter from Abbott Labs and stocked up on test strips. Although I had a tester on my last low carb phase, it wasn’t nearly as good as the Abbot Labs one and I didn’t use it that often. Last time I also struggled to overcome my phobia of needles, but this time I bought a 10 dollar lancet with refills, figured out how to use it, and became totally comfortable pricking myself to check Ketones and Glucose 5-6 times per day.
The meter itself is only $25 dollars, and while the strips can get expensive, this device is worth its weight in gold. Everyone’s body is different and without continuous testing it is virtually impossible to know how your diet is impacting your blood, and ultimately how your body reacts to nutrition and what that means for finding the right diet for you.
I felt pretty good the first few weeks in ketosis, but didn’t see any real weight loss. I also noticed that I seem to run very low glucose levels, often seeing numbers in the mid 50s and even the high 40s. Based on the limited research I did, for someone not taking any medications, this is pretty low. Typically even after a multi-day fast, blood sugar should stabilize in the 70s. There seems to be some debate on what is optimal, but I think the range of 85-100 is probably ideal. As with everything in the world of medicine there are very few absolutes, but I think it is a safe bet that running sub 70 blood glucose levels was straining my system, potentially increasing cortisol and decreasing testosterone. Not a path I wanted to be on. On the other hand, if you start regular testing and see fasting glucose levels above 100 and post meal levels into the 150s and higher, that probably indicates you aren’t clearing glucose out of your blood fast enough and it is probably worth reducing carbohydrate in your diet to regain insulin sensitivity and likely drop some excess weight.
So after about 2 months of ketosis, I was sharing some of my experiences with Denny Paull who mentioned he also struggled with ketosis and after extensive research, landed on the Perfect Health Diet by Paul Jaminet. I have a ton of respect for Denny, not only does he have a medical, scientific, and analytical background (Veterinarian by trade), but he is also arguably one of the strongest masters class all around endurance athletes in the Great Lakes. Additionally Denny mentioned that the Perfect Health Diet aligned almost exactly with the guidance he had received from Erik Borgnes who is also very scientifically minded, an MD, and one of the strongest masters class athletes I know.
The Perfect Health Diet has been labeled as “Paleo Perfected” and I believe this is a very accurate description. There is a massive amount of scientific literature supporting the approach that Paul and his wife defined and they do the best job of anyone referencing the literature supporting their conclusions. Some of the key fundamentals of this diet include:
- A rough macro nutrient profile of 50-60% healthy fat (animal fat, coconut oil, butter) , 25-30% carbohydrate, 15-25% protein
- Daily intermittent fasting of roughly 16 hours
- Extremely limited omega 6 / polyunsaturated fats
- Very limited fructose consumption
- Healthy starches including sweet potatoes and white rice as critical essentials
- Eggs and organ meats are vital to getting the necessary micronutrients and minerals
- Excellent vitamin / mineral recommendations based on substantial science
There is a rapidly growing body of research showing that intermittent fasting is hugely beneficial for overall health and longevity and the Perfect Health Diet advocates a very manageable daily 16 hour fast. Essentially compressing your eating into an 8 hour window of the day, so for me, not being a big breakfast person to begin with, that means I eat between 12:00 and 8:00 PM. Depending on your genetics and how many carbs you are eating during the 8 hours window, you may nor may not dip into low levels of nutritional ketosis during the 16 hour fast. But either way, I’m pretty sure the 16 hour window is forcing your body to stay efficient at burning fat, which is critical for endurance. And most importantly, the 16 hour fast is just enough time to trigger autophagy. Mark Sisson, a legend in the Paleo world, wrote a great blog on intermittent fasting. I know Erik Borgnes is even an advocate of going out for long slow distance workouts right at the end of the fast and before eating, and this likely further adapts the body to burning fat.
Ultimately what I’m looking for in achieving an optimal nutrition strategy is something that:
- Facilitates an efficient fat burning metabolism that gives me 2-3 hour endurance without having to do a lot of endurance training
- Provides the energy to push through and recover from high intensity interval training
- Keeps my body fat levels in check
- Works with my genetic and epigenetic factors
- Is manageable with a busy lifestyle and constant travel
At the moment, I’m feeling pretty good that I’ve found all of the above with the Perfect Health Diet. I’ve been doing a lot of weight work this off-season and have gained 6 or 7 lbs of muscle. I recently had my body fat tested and came in around 10% which is probably the lowest I’ve ever been and pretty solid at 41 years old.
While intermittent fasting and the Perfect Health diet is working well for me, it certainly isn’t for everyone. Intermittent fasting and low carb absolutely don’t work for my wife Kim, and she has found a lot of success with moderate to high carb and eating small amounts several times a day. This actually makes sense based on a DexaFit evaluation she did a few months ago that indicated she was burning 100% carbohydrate when exercising at even a pretty low intensity
There is no doubt that the field of diet and nutrition is highly personable, constantly evolving, littered with poor science, and becoming increasingly controversial. But with all that said, I feel strongly there are some common threads to provide guidance for anyone, below is my best attempt to articulate the top 10
- Whatever you do, don’t become dogmatic! You have to keep an open mind at all times, there is still so much that is unknown that to become dogmatic is simply ignorant.
- Know yourself and invest in some basic tools. A simple glucose meter will very quickly tell you a lot about how your body is handling carbohydrate and whether you will benefit from reducing carbohydrate intake.
- In addition to the glucose meter, you may want to consider a blood panel from a place such as Wellness FX. The only caveat with this is just to be aware of those measures which can fluctuate widely from day to day, and try to keep that in perspective with any results.
- While nutritional ketosis or even low carb, may not be a good long term strategy if you don’t have carbohydrate intolerance, that doesn’t mean it can’t be used therapeutically to achieve significant benefits. Ketosis and intermittent fasting can be very powerful tools for someone dealing with cancer. The very conclusive results of ketosis for treating epilepsy are mind boggling and demonstrate that it has the power to drive significant physiological shifts in the body. I strongly recommend everyone read Tripping Over the Truth to gain some insight on how it may also benefit those dealing with cancer
- Polyunsaturated fats (vegetable / seed based oils) and fructose or two ingredients we can all benefit from significantly reducing
- Grains and legumes are tolerated perfectly fine by many people, but if you are dealing with mysterious ailments that you can’t seem to pinpoint, there is enough evidence to suggest you should consider eliminating these from your diet, at least for a couple of weeks
- Of all the grains, wheat and specifically gluten (the protein in wheat) is certainly the most debated right now. If you don’t experience any immediate effects from eating it, you may be fine. But there seems to be mounting evidence of silent damage via low grade inflammation, and I’m pretty convinced that avoiding it might just just improve my odds of staying sharp into old age.
- The evidence is pretty conclusive that animal products put a much heavier strain on the environment that plants. So to the extent that a more plant based and local animal products diet work for you, the better the environment will be.
- This absolute isn’t necessarily diet related – but for all the surfski paddlers, if you are struggling with stability and carrying extra lbs up top, aside from buying a more stable boat, shedding weight will absolutely make a huge difference in your stability
- While genetic testing can be overwhelming, the research is exploding around how genetic traits can influence optimal nutrition. You only have to get the testing done once and you can then use the raw data forever. If you have the inclination, I certainly do recommend it.
In concluding, I have to add the disclaimer that I am in no way, shape, or form, qualified to give medical advice. I would like to say “consult with you physician before embarking on any changes”, but I think we’re all waking up to the reality that most physicians are completely clueless when it comes to diet and nutrition. Therefore, my parting words are – do your research, keep an open mind, experiment, take advantage of simple Tools and find what works for you!