My Thoughts on Low Carb and Paleo, Part Deux
If you missed Part 1, here ’tis.
Holy Cats!! When I decided to write this piece I figured it would spark some debate, folks would look at the data, both empirical and research based, and come to a better understanding of what role LC can play in a variety of situations. That does seem to have happened, but I also received an interesting backlash, one which I’ve only experienced when talking about religious centered topics such as Evolution. It took me a few days to make sense of some of the vitriol I was receiving…a few friends who also have popular blogs received questions like “How has Robb been Duped? Why has he sold out? What is his agenda?” If you have followed this blog since the beginning you will realize I’ve always seen huge therapeutic benefit for LC in specific situations. I’ve also seen the limitations for things like top level athletic performance. My prescription has not changed much over time, but my understanding of what mechanisms are at play has grown enormously.
Instead of looking at some of the specific mechanisms of LC I feel compelled to address a few “issues” that arose with the posting of part 1. The first will look at athletic performance, the 2nd will address if I’ve been “duped.” I’ll tackle specific mechanisms in part 3.
Low Carb and Athletic Performance.
Several folks, both on my blog and elsewhere, asked if I was aware of the book the Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Volek and Phinney. The short answer is “yes, I am familiar with it.” I like it, and think it’s a valuable resource. The longer answer is I have been following the work of folks like Phinney, Volek, Veech, Mujerkie, and Seyfried for more than 10 years (all researchers in the ketosis/intermittent fasting realm…I have communicated with most of them personally, conducted an interview with Prof. Seyfrid several years ago). By familiar I mean “reading the primary literature, pondering and tinkering.” Although I am not earlobe deep in the academic scene any longer, I do not tip my hat to too many people with regards to an understanding of integrated fuel metabolism. That’s a round-about way of saying I “think” I know my stuff reasonably well. I have personally tinkered with a ketogenic approach, cyclic ketogenic, basic low-carb etc. As I mentioned in part 1, I found all of these options to be more or less up to the task of fueling some weight training, gymnastics and a bit of sprinting. But I have not found them up to snuff when we add in significant glycolytic based work like CrossFit, MMA, Brazilian jiu-jitsu etc.
A few notables who have also tinkered with high intensity training+ LC who also found it inadequate to these demands: Mat Lalonde and John Welbourn.
I have tinkered with many, many clients and found the same results: as we push into the glycolytic pathway (think 800m sprints or a wrestling match) the wheels fall off the wagon if we have inadequate glycogen storage, as we simply cannot, under any adaptation scheme, produce that low-end torque from the beta-oxidation of fats, nor by utilizing ketones. I wish we could, but we can’t. Wishing this is not so is akin to The Secret…you can wish all you want for that Red Bicycle, but wishing does not make an impossibility a reality. Please read ALL of this paper from the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism (of which I’ve functioned as a review editor at various points…)
1-It takes several weeks at the minimum to adapt to a ketogenic diet.
2-Aerobic capacity is the same on a ketogenic or mixed diet (no better, no worse).
3-Anaeroblic power output from the glycolytic pathway is crushed by a ketogenic protocol.
Peter Attia has done some great self experiments and has largely confirmed the findings in the Nutrition and Metabolism piece. He has found the need to add in peri-workout carbs to get that low-gear. Great self-tinkering and not surprising.
A number of folks just dismissed what I had to say on this, assuming I had no familiarity with the Phinney/Volek work, that I was “out to lunch” on the topic. That’s certainly your right if you are in that camp, but you are a boner for making that assumption. Instead of making assumptions folks might have asked me “Hey Robb, do you ever see an argument for a LC intervention while training?” to which I’d say, “Sure, when we are in the aerobic base building phase for an endurance athlete, I can make an argument for going pretty LC, perhaps even ketogenic to improve the totality of fat mobilization for fueling. But, that will be a specific block of training and then I will shift macros and training to bring up the anaerobic engine, then taper to prepare for completion.”
I do not normally toot my own horn, but the commentary about me surrounding this piece was nasty enough that a little GFY is in order for a few folks. I am always game for looking at facts and debating, but if the best a person has is a Straw Man attack on me…C’mon.
In my coaching career I have:
Sent several people to age group world championships in triathlon with top 5 placing.
Coached a top 3 affiliate team, and top 6 and 17th individual CrossFit games finishers while consulting with a “lot” of top 10 finishers whom I helped with chow and training.
Consulted with several UFC notables.
Coached an IFC Light Weight World Champion
Worked extensively with a world champion/Olympic caliber rower
Coached a North American MotoCross champ
Spent the past three years working as a consultant to the Naval Special Warfare Resiliency program.
None of the aforementioned folks operated on a LC program. Or they would have failed. It is perhaps worth mentioning that the whole impetus for this piece was an email I received from a top level CrossFit games competitor who had been tinkering with a ketogenic diet for three months. She was doing “everything right” from the ketogenic perspective (in a raging state of ketosis as evidenced by urine ketostrips), but her performance had tanked in every measurable parameter, from strength to met-con performance, AND she was starting to feel depressed and lethargic. She did not need more time to “adapt” to ketosis. She either needed to decide to retire as a professional athlete OR she needed to get the hell out of Ketosis-Ville. Two weeks of carb reintroduction and she is back to her previous PR’s. Some of the push-back I have seen from the Low-Carb-Jihadists reminds me of my time in Vegan Land when, despite my inability to gain weight from horrible GI problems, I was told I just needed to ride things out a few more years and I’d adapt and become some kind of Transcendant Being. One might describe religious type dogma as “That thinking which prevents the individual for seeing reality for what it is.” If the insistence on the part of the Low Carb Jihadists (LCJ) that there is a way to fuel high intensity performance sans-carbs dose not fit the bill here, I do not know what does.
I normally do not talk much about my work with athletes. You will not find pages of testimonials about all this on the blog, as I’ve tried to keep my focus on these silly issues of people dying, and our economy imploding from healthcare costs that are out of control. But perhaps focusing on the sick and dying has allowed some folks to delude themselves that I have no experience in the performance athletics scene. That assumption would be…well, “wrong.” I think what buggars some of the LCJ that were getting feisty about all this is that I actually know when a low carb intervention is and is not appropriate, instead of Jerking-Off to a bunch of opinions. For a number of years I lived or starved based on the results I got with my clients who “paid me” for results. I know, it’s not a randomized controlled trial, but somehow I think my experience might carry some weight. For the keyboard warriors who want to poo-poo this, here are your criteria:
1-Show me studies that disprove that we need carbs for high output glycolytic work.
2-Show me a coaching resume that trumps mine that utilizes a LC approach.
If you have some specific question in all this I am game, but please be more intelligent/classy than to try to Straw Man me. I’ve laid out the rules of engagement. Engage or get buggared. And if you are an athlete and want to tinker with LC or Ketosis, give it a whirl if you are an endurance athlete, but please keep in mind my hypothetical above (use it for a specific training block). And if you are a largely glycogen driven athlete I just don’t recommend LC for you. Caveat Emptor.
Have I been duped? Do I have an “Agenda”?
I have not counted how many times I made the point in part 1 that there are legit uses for a low-carb intervention, but it was “a lot.” Despite this, many people saw fit to say that I’d been “duped” or have some kind of alternate agenda. What is clear to me is the reading comprehension of many people just fracking sucks. Based on the comments from some folks I’d like to take away their driving privileges as I’m suspect as to their ability to continue breathing while executing fine-motor skills.
All that aside, let’s look at how/if I’ve been “duped” into thinking LC has NO Value, as this is clearly the assertion from some folks.
Several months ago I shared the work I’ve been doing with the Risk Assessment program here in Reno. In that program we look at yearly blood work from Police and Fire, triage for metabolic risks, then prescribe a LOW CARB PALEO DIET to address the myriad of issues these folks have. (We also counsel on sleep, Vit-d, and a number of other factors.) We recently published our preliminary material in the International Journal of Chief’s of Police.
We are working to get this program into a number of cities world wide, as well as getting this into multiple police and fire organizations in the US. I spend a significant amount of time every week looking at lab work, talking to people, and trying to get this program going. I do not make a red-cent from any of these efforts. The day that changes, I’ll let you know, but for now I look at this as work that is too important to not do everything I can to bring it to life. When people question my “motives” and suggest my work with multiple governmental agencies in learning how to implement a LC diet appropriately implies that I’ve been “duped”…Really?
Because reading comprehension is lacking for some, I’ll make this point again and ask the keyboard warriors “how exactly is it that I’ve been “duped” on the topic of low carb diets when I am one of the key members of perhaps the largest program in the world PUSHING LC diets to police, military and Fire?” (For the appropriate population…not necessarily everyone…see the athlete post above). Obviously the problem here is not my issue, but the folks for whom LC has become a religion. Some folks are incapable of recognizing when this approach is an important therapeutic intervention and when it would tank performance and athleticism.
Perhaps most interestingly I had some folks go up my hoo-ha because I came clean with the fact that for years I fully subscribed to the Insulin Hypothesis of fat loss et-all. Now, this is what’s interesting abut this: These same people lambast the Low Carb Jihadists for, well, being LCJ’s, but also feel comfortable running me down for openly talking about my learning process. So, is it better to remain dogmatically attached to ones beliefs, or try to create an environment in which it’s “safe” to talk about both successes and failures?
It’s funny, I used to really internalize shit like this…It was hard for my to wrap my head around things like: “How can people just cease to think? Why do people have to be such DICKS?!” Only recently did I realize “This is just how the world IS.” The realization was a jolt for me and honestly, I was not sure what to do with it. Bag it all and go to Nicaragua and farm coconuts? (not entirely out of the option list!) A few days ago I was in Wholefoods grabbing some chow for a big family dinner we were putting together. I was bagging my groceries and chatting up the cashier when the woman behind me asked “Are you Robb Wolf?” I replied “yes” and the woman practically crushed me in an embrace and started crying. She kept saying “You saved my life…”. Out of her purse she pulled a copy of my book that looked like it had about 250K miles on it. It was highlighted and dog-eared in a way that I don’t think I have ever seen. She proceeded to tell me that a bit over a year ago she was wheelchair bound due to Multiple Sclerosis, it sounded pretty similar to Dr. Terry Whals story. Apparently a friend told her the paleo diet might be helpful for MS. So, she bought my book, read the site, listened to the podcast and is now running around, symptom free. Her rheumatologist is now very interested in paleo and I’m going to try and hook him up with the Specialty Health folks.
So, this experience was pretty powerful. What WE (Me and most of y’all) are doing is God-Damned important. I cannot tell you how moved I was by this woman’s story, especially the fact I played some small par tin all this. but if I have a demon it is taking on the weight of the world, and the first thing I thought about when I left the store was “That is fantastic…but Nicki’s mom died THREE MONTHS before I met Nicki.” From complications stemming from Rheumatoid Arthritis. The “what-if’s” of our own personal tragedy will haunt me the rist of my life.
So my grand take-away from all this:
1-Some people are incapable of learning and change.
2-Some people are assholes who snipe from the Peanut Gallery while not lifting a finger to better the world around them.
3-The vast majority of people are fucking righteous and if we know something that can help them, that could improve the world, we have a moral imperative to do something to help. ( How do I have morals, yet am not religious? Hmm?)
Someday I’ll farm coconuts, but it wont happen until our medical and food production systems have dramatically changed and there are enough people who know about this Evolutionary Medicine schtick that our kids and grand kids will have things better than we have them.
Ok, that’s it for this week. I’d planned on this only being 2 parts and getting down to some more specific science in part 2, but some of the responses I received required addressing. In part three I’ll look at:
1- Is ketosis the “natural” state for humans?
2- Is ketosis/CRAN/Intermittent fasting the Fountain of Youth?
3- What situations DO make sense for LC interventions?
4- Cover some specific macro considerations for you Unique Snowflakes
I’ll put out my opinion on how to best coach/convey this information to folks for best effect. Additionally I’ll look at a specific comment a reader put not only on my blog, but on at least one other, that is hilarious when you look at the big picture.