Weight loss and aging: Changes to your diet that make it easier (Part 2)

Losing weight is tough. Add a slowing metabolism, lean muscle loss, and a changing hormonal landscape to the equation and it gets even tougher. Last week, in Part 1 of this series, we went into why weight loss gets more difficult with age.

This week in Part 2, we’re going to discuss how the obstacles associated with age can be overcome with simple changes to your diet.

1) Become a weight loss marathoner

When you’re young, you approach weight loss as a series of sprints. Summer is coming, you lose ten pounds. Your best friend is getting married, you lose ten pounds. But winter rolls around and the shoes come off after the final dance and the weight goes right back on.

Your young body – being the well-oiled, high performance machine that is – responds to this kind of treatment because it can. So, you go through your twenties and most of your thirties learning the bad habits of yoyo dieting.

When you reach the tail end of your thirties, you begin to notice your tried and true diet strategies aren’t working as well as they used to. When you hit 40, they stop working all together.

You can’t be a diet sprinter anymore. After 40, your mindset has to change to that of a marathoner. When you’re older, it’s about doing the little things right day after day. It’s about baby steps. It’s about lifestyle change for the long haul.

2) No more late meals

People used to think that a calorie was a calorie no matter when you consumed it. And that the only thing that mattered for weight loss was calories in versus calories out. Research is changing people’s minds.

In 2013, researchers tested the effect of meal timing on weight loss. 420 people all at the same amount, they slept the same amount, and they exercised the same. The only thing that was different between the two groups in the study was the timing of their major meal of the day. One group ate it before 3 p.m. and the other ate it after 3 p.m. The group eating their major meal before 3 p.m. lost more weight than the group that ate their major meal after 3 p.m.

Another study looked at the effects of meal timing in healthy women. The participants in the study who ate lunch after 4:30 p.m. had a lower basal metabolic rate and glucose tolerance compared to the women in the study who ate their lunch at 1 p.m.

When you eat late – anywhere between dinner and bedtime – food consumed is more likely to be stored as fat.

Why this happens could have something to do with evolution. For our primal ancestors, food was scarce. Those who were able to store energy more efficiently would better be able to survive when food wasn’t available. Storing energy as fat is the most efficient way to store energy. One gram of fat holds 9 kcal of energy. Comparatively, one gram of protein or carbohydrates only holds 4 kcal of energy. These ancestors likely also ate in the evening under the cover and safety of darkness.

Those among our ancestors that ate in the evening and stored most of the food they consumed as fat had an evolutionary advantage, which means they survived to have offspring. We are descended from those offspring and have acquired the traits that made it possible for them to survive.

Another reason why eating late meals is associated with weight gain and difficulty losing weight has to do with the types of food eaten. People tend to crave sweet and salty in the evening, which tend to be higher in calories.

3) Meal quantities should change with age

With increasing age, eat less more frequently.

Large meals overwhelm the digestive system. You feel bloated as your body struggles to process what you just crammed into your stomach and blood sugar goes up and down like a roller coaster, dragging your energy levels and your mood along behind it. The bigger the meal, the bigger the crash afterwards. The bigger the crash, the more you’re going to crave sugary snacks to get you through the day.

As your body ages, the effects of large meals on the body is compounded.

Small meals less often stabilizes your blood sugar – indirectly your mood and energy as well – and maintains fatty acids in the blood at a constant level.

It also makes it easier to get all the nutrients you need in a day. One study conducted at the Queen Margaret’s University College of Edinbugh showed people who ate small meals more frequently on a regular basis ate healthier. The people in the study ate more fruits and vegetables and had higher levels of vitamin C and other nutrients than the participants who stuck to eating the traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

4) What you eat matters

As you age, focus on consuming more protein and plants and less saturated fats.

Losing lean muscle is a problem with age, which makes adequate protein consumption to facilitate protein synthesis incredibly important.

Most animal fats are saturated and are solid at room temperature because they have a higher melting point than unsaturated fats. Foods high in saturated fats that should be avoided are products such as cream, cheese, butter, whole milk dairy products, and fatty meats. Coconut oil and palm kernel oil are two plant products that are high in saturated fats.

Fats from plants and fish tend to be unsaturated and better for you. These are the ones you want in your diet as you age.

Sources and further reading

Why eating late at night may be particularly bad for you and your diet

Why eating little and often is best

“Weight Loss After 40” – Isagenix podcast

 

Weight loss and aging: Why it’s more difficult to lose weight with age (Part 1)

Maintaining an ideal weight is hard. It takes discipline. It takes dedication. It takes a lot of hard work. And that’s when you’re young.

Unfortunately, it gets even harder with age. By the time you’re blowing out 40 candles on your birthday, biology begins working against your weight loss efforts.

In this article, we’re going to discuss some of the features of aging that make weight loss more difficult. This is Part 1 of a 2 part series that will tell you why weight loss gets harder with age. Part 2 will cover some simple tweaks you can make to your diet and exercise routine that make weight loss over forty possible.

1) The older you are, the slower your metabolism gets

Your metabolism is the sum of all the life-sustaining chemical reactions that occur inside your body. These include the reactions that convert food to energy or building blocks for macromolecules (proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids) and those that lead to the elimination of nitrogenous wastes, which is vital for survival.

In ever day language, the word metabolism is often used as a synonym for metabolic rate, which is the amount of energy used in a given period of time. A day, for example. Metabolic rate is measured in calories. Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body uses at rest.

Basal metabolic rate decreases with age by approximately 5% every ten years after 40. If your resting metabolic rate is 1,200 calories per day when you are 40, your resting metabolic rate when your 50 would be about 1,140 calories per day. At 60, your resting metabolic rate would be approximately 1,000 calories per day.

A decreasing basal metabolic rate with age means you could start eating a surplus of calories on a daily basis without any change in your eating habits or activity levels. This could lead to unwanted weight gain. For example, if your average daily intake of calories from your diet was 1,700 calories when you’re 40, you would have a 500 calorie surplus to be used as energy to fuel bodily functions and activities. Eating the same number of daily calories when you’re 50, results in a 560 calorie surplus. When you’re 60, that’s a calorie surplus of 700.

Age Basal Metabolic Rate Calorie Surplus
40 1,200 500
50 1,140 560
60 1,000 700
70 950 750
80 900 800

Based on a daily intake of 1700 calories and a basal metabolic rate of 1,200 at age 40.

2) You lose lean muscle mass with age.

As you get older, muscles decrease in size, muscle fibers begin getting replaced by fat, muscle tissue becomes more fibrotic, muscle metabolism changes, oxidative stress increases, and the neuromuscular junction degenerates. The medical term to describe these changes is sarcopenia.

Sarcopenia occurs at a rate of approximately 0.5-1% per year after the age of 50. Sarcopenia has a significant impact on weight loss with age because lean muscle drives metabolism. The more lean muscle you have the higher your resting metabolic rate is going to be. The higher your resting metabolic rate is, the more calories you’re going to burn and the easier it’s going to be to lose weight.

Sarcopenia is just one of the factors contributing to a slowing metabolism with age.

3) Hormones change with age

For men, testosterone drops as you age. Testosterone is a steroid hormone. When you’re young it plays a key role in the development of the male reproductive organs and promotes secondary sexual characteristics like increased bone and muscle mass and the growth of body hair. After puberty and into adulthood, testosterone is necessary for sperm development, it regulates the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, and it enhances muscle growth.

Decreasing testosterone levels with age in men contribute to decreasing lean muscle mass – which impacts metabolism – and less of a drive be active. Both of these factors can make weight loss more difficult for men in the later decades of life.

For women, with age comes menopause. With menopause comes changes in three hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.

Estrogen falls to a very low level after menopause. Low levels of this hormone are associated with hot flashes, night sweats, palpitations, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, bone loss, and vaginal dryness – many of the symptoms generally thought of during menopause.

Progesterone production stops after menopause and testosterone levels fall.

Changes in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone have profound effects on the rest of the endocrine system. After the menopause the entire hormone environment is changed. These changes affect metabolism, sleep, and activity, which all impact the ability to lose weight.

4) The consequences of bad eating habits are more pronounced

Life tends to be busier and more active when you’re young. Think about everything you did in high school: gym class during the day, extracurricular sports in the evening, walk home, walk around the mall. You were always moving.

Your twenties weren’t much different. You chase a career to a big city where walking or biking is easier than driving, you take a low paying job that requires you to run around like a chicken on cocaine, and you spend the weekends “out.” Kids may have even appeared in this decade, which makes you reconsider ever having thought you were busy before.

A busy lifestyle when you’re young and have a fresh off the car lot, new car metabolism allows you to get away with a lot. You can eat an entire pizza at 2:00 a.m. You can eat ice cream whenever you crave it. A carb heavy pasta dish isn’t going to affect you at all. And, when you want to lose weight, just about any diet works.

When middle age begins to appear on the horizon, you start slowing down. Weekends are spent with a martini on the porch visiting with your neighbour; you get promoted to a desk job where people are doing the running around for you, and you can afford that nice car and the parking spot downtown that allows you to drive to work.

Because of decreased activity, slower metabolism, sarcopenia, and hormone changes with age, little things in your diet that could be overcome when you were young start to matter once you hit 40. In middle-age, everything – good and bad – starts to count.

**

A slower metabolism, lean muscle loss, hormonal changes, and bad eating habits are the main reasons losing weight after 40 is difficult. But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Next week, we’re going to cover exercise and dietary changes you can use to lose weight at any age.

Sources and further reading

“Fighting 40s Flab” – WebMD

“Weight Loss After 40” – Isagenix podcast

Common adaptogens and athletic performance

Adaptogens are a class of herbs known for their ability to boost the body’s tolerance to stress, fatigue, and sickness.

For a more in depth look into what adaptogens are and how they work, check out one of my previous articles here.

The role adaptogens play in increasing athletic performance, however, is less well known. In this article, we’re going to examine the scientific evidence surrounding some common adaptogens and their ability to improve athletic performance.

Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea)

Roseroot increases time to exhaustion and VO2 max.

VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise. Generally, the better shape you’re in, the higher your VO2 max is going to be.

A good VO2 max for a 30-year-old male is about 42ml of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. A good VO2 max for a 30-year-old female is about 32ml of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. To put these values in perspective, Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain’s VO2 max was reported at 88 mL of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. A highly trained athlete is that much more efficient at using oxygen than the average Joe.

The time to exhaustion test is quite simple. To perform the test, the participant must maintain a certain work rate. The time to exhaustion is the time between the beginning of the test and the moment the participant can no longer maintain the required work rate.

A study consisting of 12 healthy but untrained male and female participants tested roseroot’s effect on VO2 max and time to exhaustion. Participants took either one 100 milligram dose right before VO2 max testing or took a lower dose for 4 weeks. Both dosing regimes increased VO2 max and time to exhaustion.

A second study measuring VO2 max alone, wasn’t as promising. Fourteen males took roseroot for 4 weeks prior to testing. All the men were between the ages of 18 and 29 and were well trained. In this group, the roseroot had no effect on VO2 max.

One study has measured the effects of roseroot on power output.

Power is the amount of work that can be done in a given period of time. Work is a measure of energy transfer on an object. If, for example, a person moves a block along the ground, it means that person is doing work on that block. Power would be calculated by dividing the work done on the block by time.

The study measuring VO2 max and time to exhaustion in healthy untrained males and females also measured power output. No significant changes were noted.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Eleuthero is Siberian ginseng. One study conducted in 1986 concluded that taking eleuthero can increase anaerobic running capacity. Anaerobic means in the absence of oxygen. It’s the type of running that would make you out of breath, like sprinting.

The study involved 6 trained men between the ages of 18-44. They each took 4 millilitres of a concentrated liquid eleuthero herbal extract for 8 days. Then, they performed a VO2 max test. The researchers also measured time to fatigue.

The men in the study who took eleuthero for 8 days before the test had a higher VO2 max and a longer time to fatigue.

While the study is well designed, the effect wasn’t robust, and it only involved 6 people. More researched is needed to make any definitive conclusions about eleuthero and athletic performance.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)

Schisandra is a plant whose berry extracts have been shown to increase circulating levels of nitric oxide in 71 male and female athletes. Nitric oxide is a molecule naturally produced by the body that increases vasodilation – blood vessels widen to increase blood flow.

The men and women involved in the study took Schisandra prior to competition and the authors measured circulating nitric oxide in the athlete’s saliva. Based on this measurement, nitric oxide increased as a result of the supplement.

Maral (Rhaponticum carthamoides) root

Rhaponticum carthamoides is a plant source of ecdysteroids and is commonly referred to as Maral Root or Russian Leuzea. Ecdysteroids are a type of steroid hormone widely marketed to athletes as a dietary supplement. They’re advertised as being able to increase strength and muscle mass as well as reduce fatigue and ease recovery.

Rats fed 50mg/kg of ecdysone over the course of 28 days had a grip strength that was 18% stronger than the group that was not given any ecdysone. Grip strength or power output after rhaptonticum carthamoides supplementation has not been assessed in humans.

Adaptogens have a long scientific history of reducing fatigue and helping the body adapt to stress. Research into adaptogens increasing athletic performance is less mature. Despite the relative infancy of the field, the documented safety of common adaptogens like roseroot, eleuthero, Schisandra, and Rhaponticum carthomoides make them a worthy candidate for the supplement stack of anyone trying to bust through a plateau or reach a new personal best.

Sources and further reading

Roseroot

Eleuthero

Schisandra

Rhaponticum carthamoides

 

 

 

 

6 things you need in your diet for better brain health

The brain is the most important organ in the body. Without it, we can’t eat, breath, keep our heart beating, think, or experience the things in the world that make life worth living.

Despite how important it is, it’s often forgotten when it comes to nutrition.

Until recently, no one even realized what we eat could have any effect on brain function and health. Research in the last decade has completely changed how we think about diet and the brain.

Here are 6 scientifically backed things you need in your diet if you want to promote optimal brain health and prevent cognitive decline with aging.

1) Green Tea

Green tea comes from a type of small tree called Camelia Senensis. When its leaves and leaf buds are steeped in hot water, catechins dissolve from the plant into the water. Catechins are biologically active and are responsible for medicinal effects associated with green tea. There are four main types: EGCG, EGC, ECG, and EC.

EGCG: (-)-Epigallocatechin-3-gallate

EGC: (-)-Epigallocatechin

ECG: (-)-Epicatechin-3-gallate

EC: (-)-Epicatechin

EGCG is the most abundant and the most well researched. It makes up 60% of total catechins. EGC is the second most abundant and makes up 20%, followed by ECG (14%) and EC (6%).

Studies suggest brain activity increases for up to 2 hours after it is ingested, and rats injected with EGCG have lower anxiety and perform better at learning and memory tasks.

Catechins has three described molecular targets: COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase), NADPH oxidase, and 67-kDa laminin receptor. It’s unclear whether the effects on brain activity, anxiety, learning, and memory are linked to these molecules.

COMT is an enzyme that generally prevents excessive elevation of other molecules. Catechins inhibit and facilitate COMT, which means the action of catechins on COMT likely relies on the conditions at the specific time.

NADPH oxidase is an enzyme that produces free radicals. Catechins inhibit NADPH oxidase, which could reduce oxidative stress.

67-kda laminin receptor is highly expressed on cancer cells. Scientists have yet to learn if the association between EGCG and this protein is activating or inhibitory.

2) Gingko Biloba

Gingko biloba is a large tree originally found in China. Its leaves contain phenolic acids, proanthocyanidins, flavonoid glycosides, terpene trilactones, biflavones, and alkylphenols. All of these phytochemicals can be found in gingko leaf extracts.

Gingko biloba is the most commonly ingested herb for brain health. It can prevent neurons from dying and being damaged by the protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease (β-amyloid protein); it reduces anxiety, stress, and depression; improves attention; and it improves memory and cognitive performance in older adults with cognitive impairment or decline.

Gingko biloba activates the pregnane X receptor (PXR).

PXR senses the presence of toxic substances and responds by increasing the expression of proteins that can detoxify and clear toxic substances from the body. Supplements with gingko could promote detox.

3) Turmeric

Turmeric is a flowering plant. Its roots are commonly used as a spice in curry, but the yellow pigment, called curcumin, found throughout the plant has medicinal properties.

Turmeric and curcumin are both packaged as supplements.

Curcumin is associated with increased BDNF, which may be beneficial for nerve growth. It also reduces the negative effect of stress on memory, reduces anxiety in some people, and improves depression.

Curcumin has many targets. It influences the function AP-1 and inhibits mTOR, DNA polymerase λ, focal adhesion kinase, Src, p300, thioredoxin reductase, lipoxygenase, tubulin, 17beta-HSD3, 5-α reductase, and glycogen synthase kinase-3β.

4) L-carnosine

L-carnosine is a building block of protein naturally produced in the body. It helps maintain the proper function and development of muscle tissue, the heart, the brain, and many other parts of the body.

In the brain, L-carnosine performs several different functions: it protects against free radical damage, helps maintain normal brain function, and plays regulatory roles. Researchers think the role this molecule adopts depends on the area of the brain, the brain cell type, and the biochemical mechanisms controlling it.

While it’s unclear how L-carnosine works in the brain, it is clear that it works. L-carnosine prevents damage that occurs as a result of stroke; it prevents symptom development in Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and epilepsy; and it aids learning and cognition.

5) Lipoic Acid

Lipoic acid is a mitochondrial compound. Mitochondria are organelles found within all cells of the body. An organelle to a cell is what the heart is to the body. The heart is an organ that helps the whole body function. An organelle helps the cell function.

Mitochondria produce the majority of the energy the cell needs. Lipoic acid is highly involved in the production of this energy.

As a supplement, lipoic acid protects against neurological decline that comes with aging. It is thought to do this mainly by preventing free radical damage, which increases as the body ages.

6) Citicoline

Citicoline is a nucleotide found naturally in the body. A nucleotide is one of the building blocks of DNA and RNA, but in this case the nucleotide citicoline is acting as an intermediate in the biological pathway that produces phospholipids (the structures that make up the lipid membrane of cells).

Scientists have been testing citicoline as a treatment for several neurological conditions. These include traumatic brain injuries, stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and brain aging. Results have been quite promising.

The molecule is likely working by stabilizing cell membranes of cells in the brain, reducing free radical damage with its antioxidant capabilities, and stimulating the release of beneficial neurotransmitters.

Sources and further reading

Green Tea – Examine

Gingko Biloba – Examine

Turmeric – Examine

L-carnosine

Lipoic Acid

Citicoline

How protein can help you bust through weight loss plateaus

Weight loss is difficult, no one is going to deny that.

It can be going well, everything is on track, then out of the blue you can’t lose another pound no matter how hard you try.

You’ve hit a weight loss plateau.

From here, there are two ways you can go. You can give up and regain all the weight you’ve worked so hard to get rid of in the first place.

Or, you can make some adjustments and keep moving towards your goal.

In this article, I want to talk about how protein is your secret weapon for busting through plateaus. We’ll spend some time talking about why it works for this purpose, then go into protein timing, and wrap up with the types of protein you use – cause that’s incredibly important also.

Why protein is effective for weight loss

  • Protein makes you feel fuller for longer

The only thing that matters when you’re trying to lose weight is a negative calorie balance.

A negative calorie balance means you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in. It is a simple idea in theory, but it can be quite difficult because of your body’s reaction to suddenly consuming less food.

Eating less often can make you feel like you’re constantly hungry. And what’s worse, you feel unsatisfied when you finally do eat because you just don’t feel full with the portions of food you have.

Transforming your diet so that a greater proportion of your food comes from protein can help counteract this nasty side-effect of maintaining a negative calorie balance.

This works because protein increases feelings of fullness – otherwise known as satiety. More satiety means that 100 calories of protein is going to make you feel fuller for longer than 100 calories of carbohydrates would.

This property of protein is best exemplified scientifically in a 2016 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The meta-analysis, led by Jaapna Dhillon, screened thousands of scientific studies to determine the evidence supporting or refuting the idea that protein increases satiety. Of the many paper they considered, 5 passed their stringent inclusion criteria and were used for further analysis.

The 5 studies all had a similar experimental design: the participants would fast for a predetermined period, they would come into the lab and be given food with various amounts of protein in it, then they were monitored for how full they felt over time.

Based on the primary analysis of these 5 papers and a secondary analysis of 28 papers, which were also included in the publication, the authors were able to conclude that diets higher in protein led to greater feelings of fullness (i.e. protein is associated with greater satiety).

  • Protein takes more energy to break down than other macronutrients 

Protein can help you maintain a calorie deficit because of increased satiety. If you’re not as hungry you’re going to eat less. If you eat less, you consume fewer calories. Fewer calories in relation to the energy you’re burning = weight loss.

Another reason protein is the macronutrient of choice for calorie deficits is because it takes more energy to digest it than fats or carbohydrates.

The energy used to break down ingested molecules is called the thermic effect of food. For protein, 20-35% of calories are burned during digestion. That’s a pretty substantial portion compared to the 5-15% of calories burned used when digesting carbohydrates and the 0-5% of calories burned when digesting fat.

The thermic effect of food is one component of metabolism. It, alongside resting metabolic rate (the calories required to keep you going in a completely rested state) and the exercise component (the calories you expend performing various activities throughout the day) determine your overall caloric expenditure. Increase any one of these factors and you increase the number of calories burned in a day and increase your chances of creating or maintaining a deficit.

The increased thermic effect of protein is beneficial for weight loss for 2 reasons: 1) More calories required for digestion adds to your daily caloric expenditure, tipping the scales in the direction of expenditure and increasing the deficit. 2) Subtracting the calories required to digest protein ingested decreases the total calories ingested, again tipping the scales in the favor of an increased deficit.

The thermic effect of protein is the property of protein which contributes to it boosting your metabolism.

How to incorporate more protein into your diet and what kind you should use

  • Protein timing for weight loss

The typical American or Canadian tends to consume most of our daily intake of protein later on in the day. Most people have a little bit at breakfast, a little bit at lunch, and then, proportionally, the most at dinner.

This eating strategy is a gross under utilization of the most important macronutrient for weight loss.

The increased satiety and the boost in metabolism experienced with increased protein intake are most effective when they are used as often as possible, and evenly, throughout the day.

That means if you’re trying to lose weight, spread your protein intake out evenly throughout the day. Timing your protein intake in this way will help you eat fewer calories and maintain that essential negative calorie balance.

  • The type of protein matters

There are many different options out there when it comes to protein supplements. Not only do you have to choose from a plethora of brands, you also have to pick what type protein you want.

There’s whey protein, casein protein, egg protein, pea protein, and the list goes on and on and on.

I’m going to make things as simple as possible for you. Pick whey protein.

Whey protein is the best because:

Essential amino acids are amino acids that must be ingested in the diet. The body cannot create them on its own.

BCAAs are essential amino acids. They make up 3 of the 9. “Branched chain” refers to the chemical structure of the amino acid itself.

BCAAs have proven abilities to promote muscle growth, decrease muscle soreness, reduce exercise fatigue, prevent muscle wasting, and benefit people with liver disease. The more of these bad boys you can pack into your diet, the better.

Leucine, in particular, is especially proficient in promoting muscle synthesis.

  • Whey protein has an incredibly high biological value

The biological value is a measure of the absorbed protein from a food that becomes incorporated into the proteins of the body.

Basically, if one protein is ingested and 90% of the amino acids making up that protein become part of protein in your body, it’s going to have a higher biological value than a protein where only 80% of the amino acids making it up are ingested.

Whey protein has the best biological value of proteins available out there in supplements. The whey protein you ingest is all going to be incorporated in your growing muscles.

Conclusion 

Protein is an incredibly effective way to help keep things on track in terms of your weight loss goals. It increases satiety and boosts metabolism, which are two factors that will help you maintain a negative calorie deficit that will result in weight loss.

If you find yourself stuck at a plateau (where you don’t see any movement on the scale for at least 2-3 weeks) try upping the amount of protein you consume in the day. It has worked for many people before and could be the answer to all of your weight loss problems.

Let me know in the comments below if you’ve used protein to break through a weight loss plateau, I’d love to hear about it!

 

Popular diets most effective for burning fat

Macronutrients are a type of food required in large amount in the diet. They’re your carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Macronutrients are essential for many biological processes. One of those processes is generating adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for energy.

In this article, we’re going to compare how four popular diets (intermittent fasting, ketogenic diet, Whole30 diet, and the paleo diet) utilize carbohydrates, fats, and protein as sources of fuel.

Intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet

Intermittent fasting is a dietary strategy where you alternate between periods of fasting and regular eating. Although it should be said that most intermittent fasting dietary programs use modified fasting (you’re allowed small amounts of caloric intake) rather than real fasting (abstaining from all caloric intake).

Exactly how long you fast for and how often depends on the particular program you’re on.

There’s time-restricted feeding, alternate-day fasting, and Ramadan intermittent fasting.

  • Time-restricted feeding means you only eat during specific hours of the day. The window typically ranges from 6-12 hours each day.
  • Alternate-day fasting means you fast every other day.
  • And Ramadan intermittent fasting means you fast during the daylight hours.

People generally like intermittent fasting because of its flexibility and because it is easier to maintain for the long term.

The ketogenic diet is a very low carb, high fat diet. The goal is to essentially replace all the calories you were getting from carbohydrates with calories from fat.

Like intermittent fasting, there are several different types.

  • The standard ketogenic diet is very low carb, moderate protein, and high fat.
  • The cyclical ketogenic diet is like the standard ketogenic diet, but with periods of high carb “refeeds”.
  • The targeted ketogenic diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
  • And the high-protein ketogenic diet is the standard ketogenic diet, but with high amounts of protein instead of moderate amounts.

Let’s look at the way these two diets affect how your body generates energy. I grouped intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet together because they both have a similar effect.

Your body relies on ATP to fuel the biological processes that make life as we know it possible. That’s just a rule. There’s no diet that can change the amount of ATP we use or don’t use.

What a diet can change is how ATP is generated.

Your body can create ATP from four different sources: creatine phosphate, carbohydrates, fats, and protein. And it will always do it in that order. If there is creatine phosphate around, your body will generate ATP from it. If there are carbohydrates around, your body will make ATP from that. Then it moves on to using fat as a source of ATP generation and, as a last resort, protein.

Carbohydrates can be found circulating in the blood and stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver.

When you’re fasting or you’re on the ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are limited. Since it’s the preferred method of generating ATP, your body will use up what’s available in the blood. Once that’s gone, glycogen stores will be converted to glucose and that will be used up.

Then, your body has no choice but to mobilize fat stores and use them to create ATP. The energy has to come from somewhere.

The Whole30 diet

The Whole30 diet was developed in 2009, riding the wave of the New York Times bestselling book, The Whole30.

The rules are relatively simple: for 30 days avoid real and artificial sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, carrageenan, MSG, sulfites, baked goods, and treats (stay away from the sour dinosaurs!). Abstaining from all of these foods for a month supposedly eliminates cravings, restores a healthy metabolism, heals the digestive tract, and reduces systemic inflammation.

The diet isn’t so much about what you do eat, it’s about what you shouldn’t be eating.

What you can eat on the Whole30 diet are moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs. Lots of vegetables. Some fruit. And lots of herbs, spices, and seasonings. The general idea is that the less ingredients, and the more pronounceable those ingredients are, the better the foods are going to be for you.

The Whole30 diet shouldn’t really alter the macronutrients your body uses to generate ATP. Without the refined sugar and heavily processed carbohydrates, you’re going to avoid fast spikes and heavy drops of blood sugar levels. But, there still will be glucose circulating and enough carbohydrates coming in from your diet (the fruits and vegetables that you’re eating) to replenish glycogen stores in the liver and muscle.

The paleo diet

The paleo diet is designed to resemble what human hunter-gatherers ate eons ago – cause apparently they knew what was up when it comes to human nutrition.

The diet is based on eating whole foods and leading a physically active life.

The paleo diet is a lot like the Whole30 diet, there’s just fewer restrictions on the relative proportions of what you can eat.

First, things you have to avoid when you eat paleo:

  • Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Dairy
  • Some vegetable oils (soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil)
  • Trans fats (found in things like margarine)
  • Artificial sweeteners

You can eat meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, healthy fats, and oils. In any amounts you want to.

In terms of macronutrients you rely on, eating paleo puts you in the same boat as the Whole30 diet. It really depends on what eat (and their relative proportions) of the food your allowed to consume.

You can be paleo and have a high carb diet. You can be paleo and have a low carb diet. You could be paleo and be ketogenic or do intermittent fasting too. The macronutrients you use to generate ATP (whether it’s biased towards carbohydrates or fats) all depends on the amount of carbs in your diet and how often you’re eating those carbs.

Conclusion

There are lots of diets out there. Ultimately, which one works best for you depends on who you are, your lifestyle, and your goals.

Of the most popular diets, intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet are the two that will most effectively burn fat as a source of energy. I prefer intermittent fasting because it is really adaptable and there is a lot of science backing up its health benefits.

Here’s a good article to check out if you’re interested: Intermittent fasting: Surprising update.

 

 

 

 

The lesser known benefits of ashwagandha

Ashwagandha: the king of Ayurvedic herbs.

Ashwagandha is a traditional medicine of India. It’s touted as an adaptogen (a substance that helps your body cope with stress), it improves physical performance, and there are some studies suggesting it may be a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

These are the flashy, more well known, benefits of ashwagandha.

With this article I wanted to touch on some of the lesser known benefits of ashwagandha supplementation that haven’t got as much attention. These are its role in cholesterol management, luteinizing hormone, and DHEA. If you don’t know what any of those are now, don’t worry, it’ll all become clear.

I’ll go through each of those in turn and highlight some of the scientific studies supporting these claims.

Ashwagandha lowers cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of lipid. It is made by all animal cells and it plays important roles in human physiology; it maintains cell membrane structure and it serves as a precursor for steroid hormones, bile acid, and vitamin D.

Just like anything in life though, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. High levels of cholesterol can cause the development of fatty deposits in your blood vessels, which increases your risk of heart disease.

Two studies suggest ashwagandha supplementation can reduce cholesterol.

Study #1

Six people with mild high cholesterol supplemented with ashwagandha for 30 days. They experienced a significant decrease in serum cholesterol.

** there was no placebo group used in this study **

Study #2

Eighteen men and women took increasing amounts of ashwagandha for 30 days. Total cholesterol was found to be reduced after the 30 day trial.

** there was no placebo group used in this study **

Conclusion – cholesterol

Ashwagandha supplementation may be beneficial in lowering cholesterol in relatively healthy people with normal or slightly high cholesterol levels.

Ashwagandha increases luteinizing hormone

Luteinizing hormone (LH) is a hormone, obviously. It is produced by the pituitary gland (the hormone regulating center of the body).

In women, LH triggers ovulation and development of the corpus luteum.

In men, LH stimulates the production of testosterone in the testis.

Two studies suggest supplementing with ashwagandha can increase LH production and contribute to a better semen profile.

Study #1

Seventy-five infertile men were given 5 grams a day of ashwagandha for 3 months.

Once the 3 months was up, the researchers measured the biochemical characteristics, antioxidant vitamins, and levels of certain hormones in the semen of the men.

The men supplementing with ashwagandha had an improved biochemical profile in their semen, and increased levels of LH.

** this study did not have a real placebo group. 75 healthy men were used as controls, but did not receive any type of supplement **

** this study only included men, so we have no idea how to extrapolate these findings to women **

** we have no idea how ashwagandha would affect the semen of fertile men **

Study #2

60 men who were infertile because they smoked, were psychologically stressed, or were infertile for unknown reasons were treated with 5 grams of ashwagandha per day for 3 months (same as the previous study).

This study also showed increased semen quality with supplementation and increased LH levels more comparable to controls.

This study adds a little bit more to what we know about the affect stress has on fertility. The increase in LH in the men who were supplemented happened right alongside a reduction in stress.

Based on what we know about the effect of cortisol (the stress hormone) on LH, it is quite possible that ashwagandha could be increasing LH levels at least partially through decreasing stress and cortisol.

** this study did not have a placebo group and the control group was not treated with ashwagandha **

** we still don’t know what effect ashwagandha supplementation would have on women **

Conclusion – Luteinizing hormone

Ashwagandha supplementation can help increase LH in men who are having trouble with fertility.

Ashwagandha increases dehydroepiandrosterone

Dehydroepiandrosterone, called DHEA, because the full name is almost impossible to say. DHEA is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, the gonads, and the brain.

It functions as a road stop on the synthesis pathway to androgens and estrogen sex steroids.

And it functions as a signaling molecule on its own.

Supplementing with ashwagandha increases DHEA, according to one study.

Study #1

130 men and women took part in a double-blind (neither the people in the study or the experimenters knew who was receiving the particular treatment), placebo-controlled study. The participants getting the ashwagandha supplement took 125, 250, or 500 mg per day for 60 days.

Among the many other things the researchers were measuring, they observed an increase in DHEA in the experimental group over the placebo.

Since DHEA plays a role in the synthesis of sex steroids, its increase with ashwagandha could at least partially explain some of the benefits on fertility men experience when they take it.

DHEA also has direct effects in the brain and spinal cord. For instance, it can modulate the NMDA receptor and the GABAA receptor. Influencing either of these receptors can have a significant influence on neurotransmission and brain activity in general.

Conclusion – DHEA

Ashwagandha supplementation can help increase DHEA levels in healthy men and women.

Conclusion

Ashwagandha is the king of herbs for a good reason. The studies I highlighted here today show its ability to lower cholesterol, increase luteinizing hormone, and increase DHEA. And these fall into the category of lesser researched aspects of the herb.

The benefits of ashwagandha in this article alone are enough to warrant its use. Don’t forget about its proven ability as an adaptogen, as a performance enhancer, and as a neuroprotective agent.

If you’re looking to start using it, I recommend taking 300-500mg of root extract per day. You can break that up into multiple smaller doses across the day, or if you want to take it all at once, take it with breakfast.

Sources and further reading

Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root.

Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers.

Withania Somnifera Improves Semen Quality By Regulating Reproductive Hormone Levels And Oxidative Stress In Seminal Plasma Of Infertile Males

Withania somnifera Improves Semen Quality in Stress-Related Male Fertility.

A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study