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What is Gluconeogenesis…and it’s role with a low carb diet

For the last five years, we have been recommending a low carb diet as a better way to lose excess body fat and maintain good health. You may have heard of some of the versions: Atkins, Paleo, low carb/high fat, low carb/high protein (and I am sure there are others). There are many nuances between them, but they all stem from the basic understanding that high blood glucose and high insulin levels drive fat storage, thus it is wise to keep these as low as possible. All of these versions agree that carbohydrate consumption drives high insulin levels. How they differ is in how much carbohydrate can be taken in without gaining fat, and how much protein plays a role in driving blood glucose and insulin levels. The body can make glucose without carbohydrate consumption, and the process is called gluconeogenesis. And yes, gluconeogenesis can be triggered by the breakdown of protein. So let’s take a closer look at what exactly gluconeogenesis is, how it works, and see if, in fact, eating too much protein can make it harder for you to lose fat on a low carb diet.

Gluconeogenesis

Gluconeogenesis is the pathway that creates glucose out of molecules that are not glucose. It does this because there are some tissues that run on glucose only:

  • Red blood cells
  • Kidney Medulla
  • Testicles

The brain also needs some glucose to function as well, but not as much as previously thought. It can run on ketones, just like most of the tissues of the body, but it does need some glucose.

As a matter of fact, too little glucose in the bloodstream can kill you. We are all familiar with the fact that too much glucose can be toxic, leading to metabolic syndrome and full blow diabetes if not treated properly…but we do need some. Blood glucose is tightly regulated because of this.

The main point is this: We need some glucose or we will die, so the body has a pathway that can create glucose indigenously if one is in short supply, such as being on a very low carbohydrate diet, fasting for a period of time, or, heaven forbid, if one is starving.

The substrates that the process of gluconeogenesis uses to create glucose are:

  • Amino acids (Protein). There are two amino acids that the body can use to break down to glucose: alanine and glutamine. The fact that the body uses protein for gluconeogenesis raises an interesting point for all of us who use a low carb/ketogenic diet for fat loss. Some experts believe that too much protein intake, even with a low carb intake, may lead to increased insulin levels causing the body to store fat more readily. Other experts do not think it plays a significant role. More on this later.
  • Lactate. Lactate is the main substrate the body uses to convert to glucose. When you do an intense workout, the cells turn pyruvate into lactate which accumulates in your muscles. It is the lactic acid and other unknown metabolites that build up from intense muscular contractions that causes the burning sensation, making it difficult to continue for more than two or three minutes. Once the hard working muscles get a chance to relax, the lactate that was built up is released back into the bloodstream and delivered to the liver. The liver then, through gluconeogenesis, turns lactate back into glucose to be used for fuel once again. The name of this metabolic pathway is the Cori cycle. I want to take a moment to expand on the importance of the Cori cycle. One of the goals of the Hystrength (sm) training program is to train above the lactate threshold during the exercise session as long as one can stand it. Doing so will increase the enzymes and transporter system of the cori cycle, thus improving overall physical capacity. It is one aspect that differentiates the Hystrength (sm) training program from a more conventional strength training program.
  • Glycerol. Glycerol is the third most preferential substrate to be used for gluconeogenesis. Glycerol comes from the breakdown of triglycerides (fat).

We can go into great detail about the process of gluconeogenesis, but that is not necessary for what we need to know about it. Just know that gluconeogenesis is a pathway in which non-carbohydrate carbon substrates are used to create glucose when the body is running low on glucose. Moreover, this is a critical pathway to have, for humans could not have survived periods of famine without it. It has been called a “demand driven process” for this reason.

The big question in the keto community is: Can gluconeogenesis kick an individual out of ketosis if his protein consumption is too high? For example, the original Atkins diet stressed keeping carbohydrates low, but protein consumption can be whatever the dieter wants to consume. Dr. Atkins believed that excess protein consumption was not a problem. On the other hand, many ketogenic practitioners would say that the reason someone may hit a plateau from going low carb but high protein (say, an Atkins dieter that cannot lose any more fat after a few weeks), was due to the dieter eating too much protein, via the body breaking down the excess protein into amino acids and converted to glucose, thus triggering an insulin response to deal with the extra glucose which would promote fat storage.

This is a sound theory, and I used to believe it until I dug a little deeper. It turns out that the science does not support it. Two articles and one research paper that I came across come to the same conclusions, and that is excess protein intake does not raise blood glucose levels in the same manner as carbohydrates. Specifically, there is barely a noticeable increase at all (see here, here, and here for more on the subject), therefore the body does not produce very much insulin to deal with it. It does lead one to wonder where the excess protein goes. At present, nobody knows for sure but the theory is that the excess protein is used to replenish glycogen stores, and/or it may be released incrementally in an extended period of time.

The bottom line is that excess protein intake does not seem to matter on a ketogenic diet. It will not kick you out of ketosis in and of itself. Mind you, your insulin will always go up anytime you eat anything, but both processed foods and carbohydrate rich foods will drive insulin levels higher than both fat or protein.

Having said that, it does not give one the green light to eat as much protein as he wants. Protein intake activates what is known as the mTor pathway, which many anti-aging experts believe leads to accelerated aging and cancer. This is a fascinating field of study, and I will write a future blog about the mTor pathway…and what I believe to be a good strategy for both slowing down the aging process and maintaining a “buff” body.

In any event, we do not want excessive protein intake, but we do want enough protein intake. So what would that look like?

According to the data from the U.S Department of Agriculture, our protein intake from 1909 to 2004 was very consistent. Americans have been averaging roughly 16% of their caloric intake from protein, and according to this report, that amount of protein is about double of what the body needs for repair and growth. We need approximately 50 grams of protein, give or take, for these functions. The rest (about 50 grams) is broken down into glucose. Of course, if you lift weights or exercise frequently, you may need more, but still not much more. You can safely add about 30 to 40 grams a day to that.

What this means is that we do not have to go out of our way to get enough protein in our diet for good health. So all of those protein shakes that wanna be bodybuilders and power-lifters take after a workout (some lifters would drink protein shakes three times a day!) really are unnecessary. It also means that we should not make protein the main macro nutrient when we attempt to cut our carbohydrate intake. It does mean that we should increase fat intake while lowering carbohydrate intake…and maybe lower overall protein intake a little bit.

In practical terms, it would look like this:

  • Use fattier cuts of beef or pork.
  • Add more butter, ghee, or coconut oil for cooking.
  • If you do use leaner cuts of beef or chicken, do add more good fats to your overall meal. Maybe more olive oil on your salad, some high fat cheese, and eat a smaller portion of the beef or chicken.

And finally, if you do hit a plateau from your fat loss on a ketogenic diet, I would recommend that you add more intermittent fasting to your routine. Remember, any time you eat, you do kick up the insulin response. The best way to keep burning fat is to be in a fasted state (That would keep insulin levels down, for blood glucose would have to be down). Even if you did eat too much protein or carbohydrate at your last meal, staying in a fasted state as long as you can will ensure that you will get back into fat burning mode anyway. Maybe skip breakfast the next day, or even be open to doing a 24 hour fast from time to time. That will keep your body is going the right direction.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman

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Get out of the Gym-Add Sprint Training to Your Regimen

Just like most fitness minded folks out there, I do tend to get into a routine with my workouts. I do an intense, whole body strength training program a couple of times a week. It is very efficient and effective as far as maintaining a high level of strength, low body fat levels and a high reserve capacity without incurring injury…and it will be the cornerstone of my exercise routine the rest of my life.

Earlier this summer, I decided to go to the park on my workout day to run sprints. I would do about a 30 yard sprint, resting just long enough to be able to sprint again. I did this for about 20 minutes. All told, I did about 30 sprints during that bout. I am glad I did, for it was a very good workout…and a good change of pace.

With new enthusiasm about sprint training, I decided to do some research on the benefits of sprint training, and I found some gems I would like to share with you.

Benefit #1: It builds strength.

Everybody who has been reading my articles know I am a big fan of working the fast twitch muscle fibers. They are the fibers that produce high levels of force, and they are the ones that reshape the body, improve injury prevention, and have the body functioning at a high level of fitness. Most people simply do not train hard enough to challenge the fast twitch fibers, thus missing out on the main benefit of exercising in the first place. Intense muscular contractions are necessary to achieve this end. We accomplish this with a slow and controlled tempo and a load heavy enough to fatigue the muscle within 45 to 90 seconds. It is a very effective way to get the job done while minimizing potential injury to the joints. Sprint training works the fast twitch fibers too. It does so by forcing the muscles to produce as much force as fast as possible to move as fast as possible . This will get the fast twitch fibers firing, thus building new muscle.

Benefit # 2: It better than cardio training for fat loss.

The aerobic fitness craze got into full swing in the nineteen eighties, and it is still pervasive today. The reason for its popularity? It is supposed to be the best way to lose fat. This is a fallacy. Brief, intense muscular work does a much better job of making the body burn fat than a cardio program, of which our Hystrength (sm) exercise program does…and so does sprint training. Charles Poliquin, a strength and conditioning coach to elite athletes, cites three different studies on the remarkable effects of sprint training on fat loss. One study he cites had participants do either a 20 week steady state cardio program, or 15 weeks of interval sprint training. The researchers found that, on average, participants on the sprint training program lost more than nine times the amount of fat and 12% more visceral fat than the aerobic group did.

Steady state cardio exercise just does not compare.

Benefit #3: It improves insulin sensitivity.

This is a big deal. Metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes are crippling the health care system. Muscles become insensitive to insulin, leading to excess glucose in the bloodstream which causes chronic high blood sugar and encourages fat storage. The reason muscles become insensitive is because there is plenty of glucose/glycogen in the muscle already. It does not need more…it cannot handle more. The glycogen stores need to be drained regularly, especially if one eats a high carbohydrate diet. Intense muscular contractions will drain not only the glycogen stores of the slow twitch fibers, but the fast twitch fibers as well. The muscles will then be more responsive to insulin. Research is showing that metabolic syndrome and even type 2 diabetes can be reversed with proper diet and exercise. Sprint training can be a very useful tool in that regard.

Benefit # 4: It builds new mitochondria.

Mitochondria produces energy for the body. It creates ATP, the fuel that powers our body, and research shows that degenerative diseases are largely caused by malfunctioning mitochondria. The  mitochondria decrease in number with age, or they get damaged and cannot function properly. The good news is that mitochondria can be stimulated to make more. The process is called mitochondrial biogenesis, and sprinting has been shown to do just that. According to Mark Sisson, a single bout of four 30 seconds sprints did trigger mitochondrial biogenesis. Moreover, new mitochondria can slow down the aging process and most certainly leads to a healthier outlook. We want more of this.

Benefit # 5: It builds endurance.

That’s right. Anaerobic training, in this case sprint training, has been shown to build endurance just as good as, well, endurance training. You can increase your anaerobic threshold higher from intense work, making lower level endurance activities easier to perform.  The cool thing about this is that it takes a fraction of the time to get the same benefit. Instead of spending several hours a week to improve endurance, a couple of sprint training sessions a week for a total of twenty to thirty minutes is all you need.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The main benefits I like from sprinting is that it helps build muscle, burn fat, increase reverse capacity (increased endurance and daily activities get easier), and improve insulin sensitivity. These are great benefits indeed. I highly encourage you to add sprint training to your exercise regimen.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman

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Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Aging

biology-1293878_640I am in the process of writing another book and it is for men who are approaching middle age. It is filled with diet and exercise tips for the middle-aged man to build a fit, injury free body through the mid stages of his life and into his sixties and seventies. I am calling it “buff after 40″…or maybe 50. I haven’t quite decided yet. In any event, I am doing some research into the latest information available about how to slow down the aging process to see if there are some easy to implement, sound advice we can do to live a little longer with a high quality of life.

Presently, there are no therapies available to stop or reverse aging, but that may change in the next few decades. Aubrey de Grey, who is a biomedical gerontologist, mathematician, author and lecturer is leading the charge in making humans immortal. He feels that drugs, gene therapy, and nanotechnology holds promise to literally stop the aging process. No doubt the possibility of never getting old has both moral and ethical implications that we collectively will be debating for the years to come. It is certainly an exciting thought. I, for one, will be interested to see how this shapes up.

Back to the main point of this blog. I did find some valuable information on strategies that we can implement to potentially increase life span, and more importantly, the quality of life as get older. A very important factor that can speed up the aging process is mitochondrial dysfunction.

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What are mitochondria?

Mitochondria are organelles that are part of a cell, and interestingly, they have their own genome that is not related to the cells they are part of but that resemble bacteria. This implies that mitochondria may not have originally been part of the host. There are two competing theories as to how mitochondria came to be part of us, and you can explore that here. What’s important is to understand is what mitochondria actually do and how important they are to our very survival.

Mitochondria are parts of the cell that turns everything we eat…carbs, protein and fat into chemical energy for us to keep on living. Up to 90% of the energy we need to live are produced by mitochondria. All of the body’s functions depend on this: muscular contraction (and relaxation), cellular regeneration, enzymatic processes and so on require energy…energy that is produced by mitochondria. Clearly, we need healthy mitochondria to literally live.

Another very important function of mitochondria is cell apoptosis. Apoptosis is programmed cell death. It sounds like apoptosis may be a bad thing, but is not. We need cells to die…if they become damaged. If the damaged cells are not cleaned up, they will grow uncontrollably. It is these damaged and growing cells that are cancerous. According to Dr. Lee Know, dysfunctional mitochondria, because they no longer are capable of cleaning up damaged cells, are the basis of what we know as cancer.

Promote Healthy Mitochondria

Do we know what we can do to promote healthy and thriving mitochondria? Science has figured out a few things:

  • Exercise. Especially high intensity interval exercise (hiit). Exercise has been shown to up-regulate the genes that make the mitochondria more efficient. Moreover, exercise makes the mitochondria divide and create even more mitochondria. Each mitochondria will be under less overall stress, thus better able to handle the workloadHigh intensity interval exercise has shown to be even more effective at producing such results. For example, one study divided volunteers into three different groups: one group did high intensity interval training on a bike. Another group did a general strength training routine, and the third group did a combination of strength training and interval training. They found that the strength training group increased strength and muscle mass (no surprise there), but the researchers also found that the high intensity interval training group saw anywhere from a 49% to 69% increase in mitochondrial capacity. The researchers commented that it is a toss-up about what would be better for slowing down the aging process, for having both increased strength and mitochondrial capacity are very important….and I agree. Both are just as important. I do believe that you can combine both strength training and high intensity interval training in one workout and gain the benefits of both. Arthur Jones and Dr. Ellington Darden promoted this style of training for over 70 years. I certainly noticed a remarkable difference when I started training the way they recommended. Not only was I getting stronger, I felt it working in a rejuvenating way that I never experienced from any other form of exercise. High intensity interval training came much later, and the basic principles of training very hard with brief rest intervals are what the researchers are finding of great value (incidintally, that is what Arthur Jones would preach to his followers). I created my training program, called Hystrength(sm), with this in mind.
  • Eat a high fat/low carb diet. Research is clarifying that getting away from our ancestral diets are a major cause of mitochondrial dysfunction. High carb, highly processed foods that are loaded with polyunsaturated fats are preventing the body to burn fat as fuel. Fat for fuel is a much cleaner burning energy source which will lower overall free radical damage.
  • Practice intermittent fasting. Cultures worldwide used to practice fasting, mainly for religious purposes. Whether they were aware of it or not, the fasting they practiced had many health benefits as well. Periods of fasting allow the body to reduce insulin levels, thus allowing the body to tap into fat stores for energy. Additionally, fasting lessens the formation of free radicals that can damage the mitochondria. Do understand that the body does need some free radicals to stay healthy. A reasonable dose of free radicals help the body build defenses, and in this case the right amount of free radical stress will up-regulate the production of more mitochondria. We just don’t want too much. Periods of fasting gives the body a break from high levels of free radical formation.
  • Although I am not a fan of supplements, there does seem to be some that may help with optimal mitochondrial function. Here are the main ones:
    • CoQ10
    • L-Carnetine
    • D-Ribose
    • Omega-3 fatty acids

I encourage you to do some personal research to see what works best for you.

Conclusion

We cannot stop the aging process, at least not yet. However we can slow down the biological aging of our bodies by the lifestyle choices we make. Proper mitochondrial functioning can slow down the aging process, and give us plenty of energy to live life to the fullest as we get older.

Exercise, especially high intensity interval training, or the Hystrength (sm) training program, coupled with a diet that is void of processed, high carbohydrate, and industrial fats along with an intermittent fasting protocol, and maybe some supplementation are tools we can put in our tool box, so to say, to live a long and healthy life.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman

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If “Starvation Mode” is real, why do we recommend fasting?

IMAG1260_2In my last post, I discuss the body’s adaptation to a consistent, strenuous exercise program in conjunction with a low-calorie diet over the course of time. The body adapts to this stimuli by slowing down the metabolism in an effort to preserve energy. It will work as hard as possible to store fat, even if the body maintains muscle from a consistent exercise program. According to the study that researchers did on the contestants of The Biggest Loser, the metabolism slowed down by 356 to 399 calories a day after six weeks (according to Jason Fung, the metabolic rate slowed down approximately 789 calories a day. I could not find that number in the study itself, but it would not surprise me if it did). Since muscle was maintained, the logical conclusion for the slower metabolic rate was due to hormonal shifts in the body. In essence, the body’s set point was adjusted downward. Additionally, the researchers (and many others not involved on this project) say that once the metabolism slows down from an extreme diet and exercise program, it is a more or less permanent condition. The individual will have to keep up the extreme diet and exercise program just to keep off the weight. Is it any wonder that most people do not stick to a diet and exercise program, knowing that he or she will have to exercise excessively and eat like a bird. Being hungry and tired all the time does not sound like a fun life, and I do not blame them.

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So Why Do We Recommend Fasting?

It did not dawn on me when I was writing the last blog about adaptive thermogenesis (starvation mode) that we recommend to our clients a fasting protocol as part of the nutrition program. It was brought to my attention by my client after she read my blog post. She initially thought the blog would talk about the importance if fasting, but I instead wrote about how chronic under eating (and chronic exercise) made fat loss harder. This, of course, was confusing to her so we had a discussion about the differences between fasting and chronic under eating. Moreover, it made me realize that I had to clarify the difference to you, dear readers as well. Hence the writing of this blog post.

Fasting Has a Different Hormonal Response 

To recap one of the points I made in my previous blog about starvation mode, the main challenge of losing body fat is high insulin levels. When insulin levels are high, the body will store fat. It kind of locks the fat in the fat cells, making it very difficult for the body to use it for energy. The advice given by most fitness professionals and nutritionists to eat small, frequent meals during the day, along with carbohydrate rich foods make it very hard for the body to use fat for fuel, even on a low-calorie diet.

Fasting, on the other hand, has a completely different effect on the body. First of all, insulin levels do drop. All foods raise insulin levels. Some more than others. For example, refined carbohydrates raise insulin levels the most and fatty foods will raise it the least…but fatty foods will still raise insulin. When we are in a fasted state, the opposite happens. Insulin goes down, thus the body is more capable of tapping into fat stores for fuel†.

Another benefit of fasting that contrasts a chronic calorie restriction protocol is an increase in adrenaline†. Adrenaline releases stored glycogen and facilitates fat burning, even if blood sugar is high. Furthermore, higher adrenaline levels actually increase metabolism. Research shows that fasting for four days increased energy expenditure by 12 percent. Most people, when they fast, will actually feel revitalized and energetic, and I am no exception to that. I rarely eat breakfast or lunch anymore, and when I do eat lunch, I feel more lethargic and a bit out of sorts. I just want to mellow out for the rest of the day. On the other hand, when I forgo breakfast and lunch I stay motivated and highly energized. I guarantee you that chronic, consistent calorie restriction does not do that.

Growth hormone also goes up while fasting†. Imagine that. Body builders are notorious for using steroids and exogenous human growth hormone to build the inhuman amount of muscle that they do. They clearly understand the benefits of growth hormone. On the flip side, we all produce less human growth hormone as we age, and researchers believe that low levels of human growth hormone is a major cause of aging. Thus, we must do everything we can in a healthy and holistic manner to maintain high human growth hormone out put, and it looks like fasting is a tool in the tool box that can do that.

Growth hormone, released in conjunction with both cortisol and adrenaline, which happens while fasting, sends a signal to the body to increase the availability of glucose for use as fuel. As this is going on, growth hormone will also increase the body’s ability to use fat for fuel by raising levels of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase. Lipoprotein lipase releases fat from the fat cells for fuel†. So the body will use both fat and glucose for fuel at the same time.

This brings up a point that was brought to my attention by Dr. McGruff in his book Body by Science (Pg. 207), and that is insulin is the “trump hormone”. What he means by this is that when insulin levels are high, all of the fat burning and muscle-building (and maybe even anti-aging hormones) are suppressed. This is a necessary response because glucose is very toxic to the body and it has to be tightly regulated. So in response to high glucose, the body will increase insulin first and foremost. It has to handle the emergency first, and then it could get back to fat burning and muscle building.

Conclusion

The body has a very different response to fasting than it does to a regimen of low-calorie eating coupled with a chronic consistent exercise program. The body will go into “starvation mode”, better known as adaptive thermogenesis on a consistent low calorie diet and exercise program. It will lower its metabolic rate, and it would do it to a significant degree. It will do this in an attempt to simply survive. Applying this approach to lose weight can be a frustrating and punishing ordeal. Fasting, on the other hand, will actually increase the metabolism and help keep you energized throughout the day. Moreover, fasting helps the body tap into the fat stores at the same time that it will use glucose for fuel. And finally, fasting can play an important role in building and maintaining muscle…and slowing down the aging process. There are indeed many good benefits to fasting. In a later post I will give a few good examples of fasting that you can incorporate into your nutrition program.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman

† These points are from the book The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting written by Jason Fung. Jason Fung is a doctor in Canada who has a very succesful practice helping his diabetic clients back to health through diet and a holistic lifestyle. I find his writings very insightful, and it has helped me with my business. You can learn more about him Here.

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Starvation Mode: Is It a Real Phenomena?

IMAG1260_2Starvation mode. I used to tell my clients that whenever they would hit a weight loss plateau that lasted for a month or longer. At that point, the client I was working with would have cut back her calories to roughly 1,300 a day, and even though I am not a fan of “chronic cardio” for weight loss, I would recommend that my client kick up her physical activity outside the gym in an effort to start losing weight again. More often than not, the weight still would not come off. To be clear, at this point my client would still have a fair amount of fat to lose. She would still be hovering around 25% or so, meaning she did have a long way to go to see some good definition (and to simply be healthier overall). The plateau was real. “Starvation Mode” was in full effect.

What exactly is starvation mode anyway? After all, we all know that if we go without food for a long enough time, we would literally starve to death. This is not a mystery. But yet, the weight loss seems to stop cold turkey when we try to stick to a diet and exercise program for a long time. Does the body adapt to slow down fat loss?

It turns out that yes, the body does adapt to the new stimuli. It will slow down the metabolism in an effort to conserve energy. There is plenty of research to demonstrate that this is a real phenomena, and the one that drives home the point most clearly is the study done on the contestants of The Biggest Loser. On a superficial level, the show is very motivating because it would take people who are severely overweight and downright obese, put them on a structured diet and exercise program and all of the contestants would lose a remarkable amount of weight in short order (as a side note, I just found out that the show was cancelled because the contestants were given weight loss drugs like adderrol and ephedrine which help with suppressing appetite and increasing energy expenditure. You can read it here). The upside, no doubt, was dramatic weight loss during the show, but the after effects were not so good. A study was done on a group of contestants a few years later, and the researchers found that the metabolism did indeed slow down. It slowed down more than it should have from simply losing weight, and the average slowdown was close to 600 calories a day. The actual definition of starvation mode is adaptive thermogenesis

When the metabolism slows down from a prolonged diet and exercise program, it tends to stay at the lower point, thus making it easier to gain weight all the weight back and then some when the dieter resumes a normal eating pattern, even if she eats fewer calories than she did before she started the diet and exercise program. Dr. Liebel calls this the set point theory, and he believes that once the set point has been adjusted downward, it is nearly impossible to get the metabolism to return to normal. To further reinforce this point, the researchers  of the biggest loser had this to say:

 Despite relative preservation of FFM, exercise did not prevent dramatic slowing of resting metabolism out of proportion to weight loss. This metabolic adaptation may persist during weight maintenance and predispose to weight regain unless high levels of physical activity or caloric restriction are maintained.

Ouch. This news is pretty bleak, is it not? You gain some weight, meaning you are eating more food than you need for caloric maintenance, so you start exercising to use the excess calories in conjunction with eating fewer calories on a daily basis to ensure you are in a negative calorie balance. You should lose fat. And you do. At first. Then the weight loss slows down. You up the ante by adding more exercise (usually cardio), and cutting the calories. Then the real problems arise. You are constantly hungry. You have lower energy levels. You are tired all the time. And yet, the weight loss just does not happen. Adding insult to injury, now your metabolism seems to be stuck at a lower level.

So Now What?

Years ago I would be in a bit of a conundrum when a client would stop losing weight from adaptive thermogenesis. I looked at the problem as a calorie in/calorie out situation, and the only advice I could think of was to continue cutting calories…but not cut them too much. Sometimes I even recommended adding more calories back into the diet so the body would believe all is well….and maybe it would start dropping fat again. And of course, I would often times recommend adding more volume of exercise, even though I was convinced that it would not help. I was grasping at straws I admit, but I did not know what else to do. There had to be another way to overcome this problem.

A More Sane Approach

Gaining or losing fat is not a simple matter of managing calories. What we know just from the process of adaptive thermogenesis, the body will adjust energy expenditure given the signals from its environment. We most certainly do not want the body to burn less overall calories than it is used to, so we do not want to be on a heavily calorie restrictive diet, nor do we want to use excessive exercise protocols for prolonged periods. We simply want to tell the body to use fat for fuel instead of storing it.

What drives fat storage? The hormone insulin. When insulin levels are high, the body is storing energy as fat. When insulin levels are low, the body will use stored fat for energy. Of course, the whole process is more complicated than that, but you get the idea. Insulin levels go up from:

  • Eating. Anytime we eat, we produce insulin
  • Processed foods. Most boxed and bagged foods will drive insulin secretion
  • Simple carbohydrates
  • And yes, complex carbohydrates produce insulin too

The recommendation that most nutritionists and fitness trainers give about eating 4 to 6 small meals a day is not very good advice. Eating this often, especially carbohydrate rich foods, will keep insulin levels high even on a low-calorie diet. This will make it very difficult for the body to use the fat stores for energy. It is more beneficial to eat two or three times a day and maybe even less often than that. Moreover, a lower carbohydrate/higher fat diet (the good fats like monounsaturated fats and saturated fats believe it or not) not only does a better job of keeping insulin levels low, but helps keep the hunger pangs away. And we all know that processed foods are not good for us. Just stay away from them.

There is no need to count calories. There is no need to do excessive exercise for fat loss. And of great value is that the metabolism will not slow down. “Starvation Mode” is avoided. Our clients have been much more successful losing excess body fat and keeping it off this way.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman

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Get A Good Night’s Sleep

sleeping in front of tv.jpegSharon and I made a quick trip to Santa Fe this last weekend to celebrate her father’s birthday. We stayed at the Inn and Spa at Loretto for two nights. It is our favorite place to stay when we go to Santa Fe, and on this trip we had a room on the fifth floor with a private balcony. It was lovely. We could not figure out how to set the thermostat the first night so the room was a bit cold when we went to bed, but it was still comfortable…and we slept well. The second night was a different story. Someone stayed in the room next to us, which was separated by a door. Our new neighbor had the TV on and we could hear it very clearly, but we thought nothing of it because we assumed that he or she would turn off the TV at a reasonable hour. I stayed up reading with some meditative music on in the background, for I planned on going to sleep when our neighbor turned off the TV. Ten O’clock came and went, but the TV was still on. Okay. I’ll stay up until eleven. No problem I thought. Well, eleven O’clock came and the TV was still on. I was getting concerned that the TV would be blaring all night. Sharon at that time told me that her in-laws would go to sleep with the TV on and keep it on all night and day. Sure enough. The TV stayed on all night and even into mid-morning. We asked the hotel clerk to see if he could get our neighbor to turn down the volume at around midnight, and he or she did, but even then it was still very distracting. The only way we could get some sleep was to put on our meditation music with the volume high enough to drown out the sounds. It worked, but we did not sleep as soundly as we usually do.

This made me curious. Since both Sharon and I cannot get a good night’s sleep with the TV on, why do people do it? Do they actually get a good night’s sleep? I had to find out.

Sleeping with the T.V. on is a surprisingly common habit. According to a national survey, nearly two thirds of Americans fall asleep with the TV on. Moreover, the group that commissioned the study says that people redefined their relationship with television, seeing the TV as more of a companion than a source of entertainment.

So…why do people go to sleep with the TV on? Jason Koebler blogged about this on Motherboard, and he says that there is a body of research finding that constant notifications in an increasingly connected world is making us more stressed and anxious, and leaving the TV on when we go to sleep keeps us distracted from our worries and anxieties long enough for us to fall asleep. I can understand this logic. Stress and anxiety are very common in the modern world, and I am sure that people would do anything for some solace from their worries. Watching re-runs of a favorite TV show or the nightly news can be mind numbing and bring about drowsiness.

I have no doubt that our interim neighbor fell asleep in front of the TV that night, and even though we did get some sleep, it was not as restful as we are used to. That got me wondering: can he and everybody else who make a habit of falling asleep with the TV on get a deep and restful sleep? Personally, I believe it to be a very difficult, if not impossible task.

Research backs up my suspicion. Dr. Guy Meadows of the Sleep School, a clinic in London, says that the dim light (often times the TV light is very bright!) is not healthy to sleep around. The light receptors at the back of the retina tells us it is time to wake up by preventing the release of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that makes us sleepy. This will prevent someone from getting a deep, restful sleep.

When we sleep, the hippocampus is very active. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is responsible for spatial memory, and memory in general. It is also connected to other parts of the brain that are engaged in emotional thinking. There are many nerves firing in the hippocampus during sleep, and this seems to be a necessary action for a restful night’s sleep. If the hippocampus cannot do it’s processes, the person will struggle more with short term memory and depression.

This does not even take into account the noise from the TV. We were not exposed to the lights of the TV but we sure could hear it, and it did have an impact on our sleep. We simply could not fall asleep with the noise. Even though people fall asleep in front of the TV because it is the only way they can fall asleep, I am willing to bet that it is not a deep, restful sleep. I would venture to guess that most of these people have no idea what a restful night’s sleep even feels like.

If you make it a habit of falling asleep in front of the TV, I would encourage you to break that habit. I cannot imagine that you get a truly restful night’s sleep on a consistent basis.

It may be a very hard habit to break, and at first it may seem impossible to do, but here are a couple if ideas to help:

Do some light reading in bed with some meditative music in the back ground. A part of the problem of falling asleep is that the brain finally has a chance to process all that happened during the day. This is nothing to be afraid of nor avoid. Let the brain do what it needs to do, and a little light reading can help the brain process on a subconscious level for a bit. Believe me, after a few minutes of reading, the drowsiness will seep in just as good, if not better than with the TV on.

If you are still too anxious to slow down, it may be beneficial to have a note pad at the side of your bed for you to write down what’s going on. If you are having a lot of thoughts coursing through your mind, say your to do list for the next day or week, write them down. Prioritize them. Think it through a bit and make notes. Then try to read a little bit and let the drowsiness set in.

If you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep, get out of bed and find a comfortable chair to do some light reading. This will take your mind off of what’s making you anxious and you may feel drowsy again in a few minutes. If not, just keep reading and don’t worry about it. getting out of bed when you are anxious and have trouble sleeping will reprogram your mind into associating your bed with sleep and rest. I do this very often and it works. I do get sleepy after 15 to 20 minutes and I am ready to go to bed. If I do not feel sleepy, I just stay up and read for as long as I want to. I realize that sometimes I will be tired the next day, but I’m alright with it. I know I will get a good  night’s sleep the next night.

Turn off the TV. Get a good night’s sleep. You’ll feel better for it.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman

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Diabetes and Hystrength (sm)

diabetesBoth Sharon and I have a client with type 1 diabetes, and they both say that our workout program is very effective at regulating their blood sugar. As a matter of fact, one of them says that our exercise program is more effective than anything else she does. She swims and does cardio training, and they do help her regulate her blood sugar, but they do not come close to how long her blood sugar stays stable with our program. Additionally, when she reviews the data with her doctor, the doctor is so impressed with her results from our workouts that she insists my client keeps that up as part of her routine.

So what exactly is it that makes the Hystrength(sm) program so good at glucose metabolism? To answer that, we need to be on the same page about what the Hystrength(sm) exercise program entails. Then we can take a look at what the research says.

The Hystrength(sm) exercise program

A Hystrength(sm) exercise program has three components that I believe are invaluable to building a fit, shapely, and healthy body.

  • Core conditioning. This includes all of the exercises that work and develop the mid section, such as the rectus abdominus (the six pack look), the obliques and the deeper muscles of the core. This is very important for preventing lower back pain and good overall posture.
  • Functional training. These exercises are general whole body movements that we have our clients do with resistance that teach the body to work as coordinated unit. They are generally performed with a lighter weight/higher rep protocol. We also make our clients do these exercises with a faster tempo than the strength exercises. Functional exercises really get the heart rate up and makes the client train above the anaerobic threshold.
  • Strength training. Traditionally, strength training is performed by splitting up the body into different training days, and doing many sets for each body part. It is not uncommon to see someone doing upwards to 20 sets per body part this way and spending an awful lot of time in the gym. That is not our style. We believe that one set per body part can be just as efficacious as, say, five or ten sets per body part. It all has to do with having the appropriate resistance, cadence, and intensity of the set to bring about the desired result. Training this way makes a very big demand on all of the fibers of the muscle (fast twitch, intermediate twitch and slow twitch), and fatigues them in a thorough manner in a short amount of time. Moreover, we have our clients above the anaerobic threshold quite often during the workout with the strength training exercises (which does not happen with conventional strength training programs). Combined with the functional exercises, our clients are above the anaerobic threshold most of the workout.

Our approach is very similar to both High Intensity Training (HIT) that Arthur Jones and Dr. Ellington Darden made popular back in the 1980’s, and also in many respects similar to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) that is gaining popularity today.

High Intensity Training is strength training where the trainee does a whole body routine using basic strength lifts such as leg presses, squats, dead-lifts, chins and so on in a slow and controlled manner with a heavy enough load to fatigue the working muscle within 8 to 12 reps. HIT also minimizes the rest in between sets so that the heart and lungs work very hard as well.

High Intensity Interval Training is a combination of brief, very intense cardio exercise followed by longer periods of rest. A common method is to use a stationary bike and pedal as hard as one can for sixty seconds at a hard grade and then back off to an easy level of pedaling for a couple of minutes, then do another bout of hard pedaling for sixty seconds, repeating this cycle for 10 minutes or so.

The common feature to both of these exercise programs is the fact that they both push the body above the anaerobic threshold and attempt to keep it there for a good amount of time. The difference between the two lies in the fact that High Intensity Training will work all of the muscle groups, whereas the High Intensity Interval Training group will only do that with the legs. It is my belief that training above the anaerobic threshold that both protocols employ, and the whole body exercises that High Intensity Training does in particular, have a strong response to glucose regulation.

The Research…and other interesting sources

The study Resistance Training in the Treatment of Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus conducted by J Ericksson et al. demonstrated that there was a significant improvement in the HbA1c, which is a way to measure the average blood sugars over a period of time. Furthermore, there is an inverse relationship with HbA1c and cross sectional muscle mass. In other words, the more muscle mass that the subjects developed, the lower the HbA1c (the lower, the better).

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Another study, Strength training improves muscle quality and insulin sensitivity in Hispanic older adults with type 2 diabetes also found that strength training improved both muscle quality and insulin sensitivity in older Hispanic adults.

As for the benefits of High Intensity Interval Training and diabetes, here is a study by Monique Francois and Jonathon Little,  Effectiveness and Safety of High-Intensity Interval Training in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes. They discovered that HIIT is effective in glucose control and overall cardiovascular health.

I found plenty of studies confirming these outcomes, so there is no question that both HIT and HIIT can be beneficial to glucose metabolism. However, intense strength training has better upside potential because intense muscular contractions will drain the glycogen stores of not only the slow twitch fibers (which cardio exercise does), but also the fast twitch fibers that hardly get used in daily activities. Depleting muscle glycogen stores make the muscle more sensitive to insulin which is great for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics. The more sensitive the muscles are to insulin, the less the body has to produce to get the job done, and the easier it is for the type 1 diabetics to self administer the needed insulin.

Moreover, glucose uptake by the muscles happen after a hard strength training workout without the need for insulin (See the above link for more information). This, I believe is what makes HIT beneficial for our type 1 diabetics. It can help with steady glucose levels without needing so much insulin.

The final benefit I want to point out comes from the Poliquin Group (Charles Poliquin heads up this organization. He works in large part with elite athletes). Building lean tissue (muscle) increases overall demand for energy, and he says that for every 10% increase in muscle mass, there is an 11% decrease in insulin resistance. Exciting and important news indeed.

Conclusion

Living a  healthy and active lifestyle most certainly can mitigate the problems of both types of diabetes. I think all the health care practitioners are on board with that. Most people consider some form of cardio training as exercise, and really do not understand the benefits of both high intensity training (HIT) and high intensity interval training (HIIT) (yes, I believe that most doctors that treat people with diabetes are not aware of the benefits of high intensity training too). Both forms of exercise help improve insulin sensitivity. Both forms of exercise help control blood sugar. High Intensity Training, in particular, is especially beneficial because it will tax the glycogen stores of all of the muscles, and apparently in a way that does not trigger an insulin response. Moreover, the effects of an exercise bout with both HIT and HIIT last much longer than the benefits from a cardio workout. It is for these reasons that the Hystrength (sm) exercise program works as well as it does with our diabetic clients.

Regards,

Gregg Hoffman