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Myth: Insulin Makes You Hungry

With all the conflicting information available on the web, it can be difficult to apply even the most sound dietary concepts to your lifestyle.  As a member of the Eat To Perform Science Lab, you’ll communicate with experts in the fields of nutrition, exercise physiology, and strength and conditioning, as well as hundreds of other members who’ve found themselves on a similar path. 
 

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article.)

  

We’re hearing from a lot of people who believe that when blood insulin levels go up in response to a carbohydrate-dense meal, you wind up hungrier than you were before you ate.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.   Insulin does not cause hunger.  Ghrelin, “the hunger hormone,” is produced during periods of low blood sugar, when growth hormone levels are elevated and insulin levels are at their lowest (4).   The hormone leptin inhibits the action of ghrelin and tells your brain that you’re full, and glucose metabolism is the primary determinant of leptin secretion in humans (3).

Furthermore, a recent study by Wellhoener et al.,  has shown that the administration of insulin after feeding curbs appetite.    However, it did not have any  effect on satiety during fasting when blood sugar  was low (2).  These data support the idea that insulin can help control hunger.

In short, carbohydrate metabolism makes you feel happy and full (5).

While insulin may play a small role in keeping you from overeating, its job is to open up a channel to transport nutrients into cells.  The video below by Dr. Bryan Walsh explains what insulin is, and how it works, better than anything else on the internet, so you should definitely give it a watch:

So Why the Confusion?

One of the problems with this whole scenario is that it only works like that when your body is functioning properly and you’re making the right lifestyle decisions.  Leptin resistance will confound issues with hunger and make it difficult to lose body fat.  Even when you eat an abundance of carbs, your brain won’t get the signal that you don’t need to eat any more.  You’ll never feel full and you’ll always be on the hunt for a sugary snack.  If you’re insulin resistant, you’ll have a difficult time utilizing glucose, no matter how much insulin you produce.  What would normally energize you and satisfy your hunger will ultimately make you sick, as glucose is toxic in the blood stream.

The second problem is that of the blood sugar “crash”.  When blood sugar levels rise, insulin springs into action to help cells soak up the glucose.  Foods that produce a high glycemic load will elicit an insulin “spike” that will rapidly clear glucose from the blood stream (granted the person is insulin sensitive.)  The sudden drop in blood sugar results in a crash that will knock you on your butt.  For this reason, many people suggest that you avoid high glycemic index carbohydrates (rice, potatoes, etc.) but these are some of the best foods for replenishing glycogen.

How to Make Carbs Work for You

First of all, you need to engage in high intensity, anaerobic exercise.  Second, you should eat mostly fat and protein during the day, and stick to fibrous carbohydrate sources that won’t spike your insulin.  Eat starchy, high GI carbs after training, when your muscles will be most sensitive to glucose uptake, and include a healthy amount of fat in your evening meals to get a more stable blood sugar response while you get ready to go to sleep.  Over time, your cells will become more flexible and your metabolism will begin to function properly.  When you dial in your approach, hunger and lethargy will become a thing of the past.

Mike’s Notes

Just how insulin itself works is a confusing mess, but my bias is that if your body is running primarily on carbs, a smaller drop in carbs will probably signal your body to consume more carbs.

If you can more effectively use fat, you could argue that instead of triggering hunger, your body would shift to use fat (become more metabolically flexible).

This dates back to the research some 50 years ago called the “Glucostatic Theory of Appetite Control” (6).

Summary:

  • Many people experience hunger after a high carb meal.  They wrongly blame insulin and carbohydrate consumption for their hunger.
  • In reality, carbohydrate consumption increases the amount of leptin circulating in your blood stream.  Leptin is the “I’m full” hormone.
  • Insulin doesn’t make you hungry; it actually makes you feel satisfied.
  • Ghrelin is responsible for signaling hunger, and it rises during periods of low insulin.
  • Most of the confusion arises when people eat high glycemic carbohydrates like rice and potatoes that generate a strong insulin response and possibly lead to a blood sugar crash.
  • Chronically elevated levels of blood sugar, which render you insulin/leptin resistant, screw up your hunger signaling all together.  This makes it hard to lose fat and regulate your blood sugar/feeding patterns.
  • You can avoid most of these problems by engaging in high intensity activity on a regular basis, eating carbs around training, and eating mixed meals of fat, carbohydrate, and protein to regulate absorption.

Works Cited

1)      Katsuya Dezaki, H. S. (2008, May). Ghrelin is a physiological regulator of insulin release in pancreatic islets and glucose homeostasis.

2) Manfred Hallschmid, S. H. (2012, February 16). Postprandial Administration of Intranasal Insulin Intensifies Satiety and Reduces Intake of Palatable Snacks in Women.

3) Peter Wellhoener, B. F.-S. (2000, March 1). Glucose Metabolism Rather Than Insulin Is a Main Determinant of Leptin Secretion in Humans.

4) Tomomi Shiiya, M. N.-I. (2002, January 1). Plasma Ghrelin Levels in Lean and Obese Humans and the Effect of Glucose on Ghrelin Secretion.

5) Woodend, G. H. (2003, October). Consumption of sugars and the regulation of short-term satiety and food intake.

6)  Mayer, J. (2009, January). The glucostatic theory of appetite control and the risk of obesity and diabetes.

Human Growth Hormone and Insulin are friends

Light Bulb

This article is the centerpiece of the seminars we teach daily, and a central them of Mike T Nelson’s “Metabolic Flexibility for High Intensity Athletes”. We offer this as bonus content to go with our year long subscription to the Science Lab (we have two options, four payments of $19.95 or a $49.95 one-time fee).  Click here for details

Hormone balance, and the cycle by which our hormones are regulated, plays a major role in achieving optimal performance and body composition.  I’ll get down to brass tacks and make myself clear:  insulin and growth hormone play antagonist roles against one another.  When one is elevated, the other will be low.  That does not, however, mean that their functions are all that dissimilar; they’re both responsible for growth in different ways and looking at them as synergists is much more productive.  We want to find a way to make the best of insulin’s ability to pull nutrients into cells, but we also want to elicit the muscular, skeletal and neurological growth that (as the name implies) growth hormone is responsible for.  Intraday nutrient cycling (Carb Back-Loading) is the best way to do this.  Understanding why is complicated as all heck, but we’ve tried to make it easy to digest (Get it?  Digest?  Haha?)

Before we continue, I am going to ask that you take a look at our articles on insulin and leptin, as well as the sleep tutorial.  They’ll help you understand some of the terms in this section and get a better idea of what’s really going on behind the scenes.

Growth Hormone and IGF-1

Growth Hormone (GH) is a hormone responsible for cellular growth in the human body.  Throughout the day, GH is synthesized, stored and secreted by the anterior portion of the pituitary gland.  Factors such as low blood sugar, sleep, and exercise stimulate the hypothalamus to produce and release hormones that increase growth hormone synthesis and release in the pituitary gland.    On the other hand, elevated blood levels of cortisol, glucose and even growth hormone itself decrease production and secretion.  While GH is released into your bloodstream at fairly regular intervals (between 3-5 hours) the amount released is heavily dependent upon the factors I mentioned earlier in this paragraph.  It’s safe to say, however, that for most of us, the majority of growth hormone secretion occurs during sleep.  The result of these spikes tells the liver to increase production of IGF-1; this hormone is responsible for many of the same effects as GH.

IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1) is essentially just that; it’s a hormone that has similar properties and effects on the body (it even binds to the same receptors) as insulin, but it’s produced under completely the opposite circumstances.  Whereas insulin (a hormone responsible primarily for nutrient translocation) is secreted by the pancreas in response to (among other things) elevated blood glucose levels, IGF-1 is secreted by the liver during periods of low blood sugar.  In addition, a variation of IGF-1 called mechano-growth factor (MGF) is produced in response to intense exercise, like weight training or sprinting.  MGF acts primarily upon skeletal muscle tissue to bind satellite nuclei into the muscle cells (sarcomere).  This elicits growth of the myofibril, resulting in a stronger, larger, harder muscle.  As we like to say, “A light bulb should have just gone off in your head.”

Making the Best of Things

Now that we’ve covered the basics of what these hormones are and what they do, let’s go over some real-world dietary strategies to maximize the benefits of both GH and insulin.  To begin, you should understand that during sleep, you’ll eventually metabolize all of the food you’ve eaten and your blood glucose levels will drop.  Over the next few hours, you’ll re-align your endocrine system based upon what you did during the day.  By the time you’re getting ready to wake up, growth hormone will have been secreted in its largest pulse, and ghrelin (the hunger control hormone) will be high; your stomach will be telling you to wake up and eat something.  Ghrelin stimulates production of cortisol to raise your blood pressure, make you more sensitive to epinephrine, free up energy throughout the body, and turn on gluconeogenesis to get some sugar to your brain.  Cortisol levels will gradually decrease as you break down glycogen in your liver and muscles and before you know it, you’ll go through the whole cycle again; ghrelin levels will peak and you’ll get a small burst of growth hormone.

By skipping (really just delaying) breakfast and allowing your blood sugar (as well as your hormone balance) regulate on its own, you’ve set up a chain reaction.  Although you’ve already maximized recovery and mobilized a bunch of fat by riding out the cortisol spike (cortisol is, after all, an anti-inflammatory), you’re now in control of your metabolism and you can go in one of two directions:  towards fat loss and muscle gain, or growth of both fat and muscle tissue.  This is the perfect time to have your first meal and make your decision (I think I know which one you’ll pick.)  By keeping the carbs (and thus insulin) low, eating a healthy dose of fat and a modest amount of protein, you will turn on protein synthesis, mobilize fat, promote ketogenesis and maximize growth hormone secretion throughout the morning and afternoon.  You’ll actually be using your body fat as energy to maintain or grow muscle.  Whatever glucose your brain needs to do whatever it’s got to do, it will have available thanks to endogenous production in the liver.  You’ll actually be using your body fat as energy to maintain or grow muscle.  You could, alternatively, disregard the benefits of a low carb breakfast and have a big bowl of oatmeal with some bananas.  It’s up to you!

When the evening rolls around and it’s getting dark, blood leptin levels will be at their lowest, and you should be ready to relax.  While it may be time for you to rest, it’s time to grab hold of your metabolism and get that sucker moving again, and the best way to do it is to start eating carbohydrates to generate a surge of insulin.  It’s important that you’re eating enough glucose along with your protein and fat; fructose will not do, as it skips the stages of glycolysis that actually elicit an insulin response in the pancreas.  Sweet potatoes, bananas, and rice are your best friend.  By sticking with these classics, you’ll turn on a downstream effect that will result in your fat cells signaling that they’re full; leptin secretion will peak, your pituitary gland will release serotonin (which will convert into melatonin, the “sleep” hormone) and you’ll pass out happy and satiated.  Since you kept your food choices low carb throughout the day, you’ll be insulin sensitive and ready to soak up the glucose.  By eating high glycemic and delivered the insulin spike in one fell swoop, your blood sugar levels will fall quickly during sleep.  Before too long, the growth hormone bursts will begin, but they’ll be augmented by the insulin spike and subsequent drop of blood sugar levels below baseline.

What about Exercise?  The Best of Both Worlds

If exercise increases GH but eating carbs spikes insulin levels, how can we justify eating a ton of carbohydrates after training?  Don’t we want to take advantage of the growth hormone pulse?  Of course we do, but since growth hormone levels spike and then quickly diminish, by the time you get home and you’re ready to have your post work-out meal, they will have returned to baseline.  You have to remember that post-workout, your muscles don’t necessarily depend upon insulin to translocate nutrients; glucose transporters will have moved to the surface of the cell and you’ll get the sugar/water in without elevating insulin levels.  If performance and growth are at the top of your list of desirable training outcomes, you should try to have a protein/carb shake immediately after (or even during) your workout.  This shouldn’t be anything crazy: 25-50g of carbs from maltodextrin/dextrose, 5g of creatine and 10g of protein will work better than chugging a gallon Gatorade while you squat, so don’t go off the deep end.

When examining the complex relationships between hormones and how they affect our physiology, it may seem like you can’t win.  Jacking up either GH or insulin may result in a quick surge of growth, but as soon as they peak, they’re back to normal…Or lower.  As frustrating as that may seem, dipping below baseline will usually result in a super-compensatory reaction; a large insulin spike in the evening will equate to larger GH spikes throughout the day, after training, and during sleep.  In contrast, you’ll see greater insulin sensitivity and utilization of glucose in the evening if you let you GH handle the anabolism in the morning and throughout the night.  What seems like counterproductive behavior at first may be the ticket to where you want to go.  It is possible to get the best of both worlds if you deploy intelligent strategies to your daily nutrition, sleep and exercise.

 

Carb Loading – Paleo Women of Crossfit Version

Tomorrow we are releasing our Metabolic Flexibility chapters that you get when you purchase a year long subscription for $49.95.  These chapters are written by Mike T Nelson who is considered to be the authority on the topic.  When I wrote this article Carb Back Loading was the only book that closely resembled what I teach.  With two volumes of Foundations and now Mike’s chapters on MetFlex I can safely say this is NOW the best information you can purchase specific to our sport (that being high intensity weight lifting and OLY lifting).  Not only do you get that but you get seminars and a private group with other doctors and Crossfit athletes to support your new performance journey (how cool is that?).

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

This is a big topic for the seminars:  “How can a woman keep a healthy amount of carbs in her diet while also mobilizing fat?”  I realize that it’s all very confusing at this point, because there’s been a lot of buzz over the past few years surrounding fat loss on a ketogenic diet.  There are certainly a lot of women who’ve made dramatic transformations by cutting carbs, but the results may have come at a cost; for a small percentage of women, symptoms like irregular menstrual cycles and compromised fertility go hand in hand with calorie deprivation and maintaining a low body fat percentage.  If this doesn’t apply to you, you probably can’t relate, but for a few of the ladies out there, a bell just went off in their heads.  Another group of relatively lean ladies have taken a less restrictive approach to eating, and most are quite happy with their body composition.

Exercise Differences Between Men and Women

Aside from the obvious differences, men and women are biologically quite different and respond differently to exercise in a few important ways.  For instance, women burn fat more easily than men do while CrossFitting; due to a significantly decreased oxidative work capacity, women have been shown to use up glycogen more slowly than men do.  They rely upon alternate pathways to supply ATP to the muscle cells during intense activity.  So if women burn more fat while exercising, why are some of them struggling to rid themselves of what they consider to be excess body fat?  Although it has something to do with neurotransmitters and adrenergic receptors in adipose tissue, we’ll just say that each person stores and mobilizes fat differently; it’s dependent upon so many factors that it would take an entire book to adequately explain.  Once again, this is a complicated question that is largely individual, but I have and will continue to argue that there is a process of analysis that must occur.  In the long run, the results are enlightening and will lead to important discoveries about your unique metabolism.

What about Carb Back-Loading?  That Seems Like a Lot of Carbs…

Later, you will read three testimonies from women who Eat to Perform.  Not all of them are CrossFitters, nor are they CBL zealots, but that makes their experiences much more informative and broadly applicable.  Each of these women has formulated a conscious approach to carbohydrate intake that works for them.

Once you hear from them, you’ll agree that the contrasts between these various athletes are eye-opening.  All of them do some version of what I describe in this article, adjusted for their activity level, at various times.  Some do it by feel, some count calories and some carb cycle BUT every single one of them agrees that a high-functioning metabolism involves some amount of carbohydrates.

Adjusting CBL for Women

Back-loading can be intimidating.  Kiefer talks about “slamming the carbs”; images of doughnuts and turnovers dance before your eyes.  This rubs people the wrong way sometimes, because it doesn’t jive with what they consider a basic tenant of human nutrition; it seems insane (and unhealthy) to suggest that eating baked goods and pizza could help you lose fat.  When I started this site, I wanted to start women down the path of thinking more openly as far as carbohydrates are concerned.  That started a discussion and here we are with almost 200,000 people participating (it will probably be more if you read this down the road).  That discussion led to experiments for a lot of people and better performance while eating moderate carbohydrates.  I think I can safely say that women trying to lose fat might do well to try something out of their comfort zone and add some carbs/starches to their meal plans.

This Is a “Non-Standard” Recommendation

It’s important that everyone understands that no recommendation works for everyone.  You have to take the reins, but this is a safe spot for most active women to start.  I just posted an article with a link and explanation of how to calculate your energy requirements based upon your activity level.  It’s very informative so you should give it a quick read.  In the articles coming up you will see examples of women using vastly different approaches as it relates to carb strategies that all make sense.  We’ll go over this more during the seminars as well, so don’t sweat it if these numbers don’t work for you.

  • For our example, we’ll use a woman in her mid-twenties, 5’4”, 125lbs who CrossFits a few times a week.
  • We’ll start her on 125g of protein a day.  If you are particularly light (under 125 pounds) then you can get away with 100g.
  • 125g of carbs (ideally eaten in a small window post workout at the end of the day, similar to the way it is described in the book).  Again, if you weigh less than 125 pounds, 100g is a good place to start.  If you’re particularly active (or you train in the morning), you may want to add 25-50g of carbs to your post workout nutrition.
  • 125g of fat.  This will provide the bulk of your energy throughout the day and turn you into a veritable furnace of fat burning.

Starch Sources in Your Evening Meals

Part of the problem with very active women following a Paleo-esque diet is that they struggle to find energy dense sources that come from mostly whole unprocessed foods.  Fibrous vegetables don’t count; eat as much of them as you want throughout the day but leave them out of your evening meals.  While they may be packed with vitamins and minerals, they will fill you up and you may have a tendency to under eat when it comes time to “slam the carbs”.  This is one of the reasons I recommend having dessert on your back-loading days (ideally, the day before a workout).  My coconut milk smoothies are a great choice; I have also seen women get very favorable results adding dark chocolate and wine into the mix (as long as it’s in moderation).

As far as more traditional options go, we’ll keep this simple: sweet potatoes, squash (kabocha squash pictured above) are great carbohydrate sources.  If you’re open-minded, you could occasionally try some white rice too.  Starches are important, as they provide a quick source of glucose to spur muscle tone (really muscle growth but I digress) and trigger the hormonal cascade responsible for fat burning.  I think you’ll get a great response from these.  Finally, variety is the spice of life, so try different things and don’t be afraid to have a cinnamon roll before bed to prepare for a particularly brutal workout the following day.

Workout Days Followed by Rest Days

Because men burn through sugar like there’s no tomorrow, they can get away with back-loading every day.  Women have things a little harder due to their decreased usage of glycogen as fuel during exercise.  If your goal is to mobilize fat, I would suggest reducing your carbohydrate intake on these days, while simultaneously increasing your fat intake.  It may seem like it contradicts the entire ideology of back-loading, but by eating relatively low carb after training, you will ensure a glycogen debt and maximize fat burning hormones.  Using the example from above, stay with 125g protein, 100g of carbs and add roughly 22g of fat (preferably from sources like coconut oil and grass-fed butter) to make up for the loss of calories incurred by lowering carbohydrate intake.  That would shift your macros to 125p/150f/100c.

These are just my thoughts; you can play with this many different ways.  My goal is to convey a more clear understanding that a reckless approach is unnecessary; you don’t need to eat turnovers and pizza to back-load.  I hope this helps a bit in clarifying that.  As always, these are guidelines and not rules.

Summary

  • Men and women utilize carbohydrate differently.  Women are, in general, better at burning fat than men so they need fewer carbohydrates in their nutrition plans.
  • Ketogenic/low carb diets can cause fast weight loss but they are rarely ideal for optimal performance.
  • While it may not be extremely common, some women suffer some unfortunate side effects when they get really lean and/or deprive their bodies of carbohydrates.  For this reason, it’s better to adopt a less restrictive approach to carbs.
  • Women should strive to hit their protein goals first, and then focus on carbs and fat; in general, women seem to do well on 100-125g of carbs on training days.
  • Rest days can be modified to include more fat and less carbs; 75-100g may be appropriate.
  • As with most things, experimenting with more or less carbs will help you arrive at a balance that works for you and allows you to look and perform the way you want to.
  • You don’t need to eat pizza and turnovers to carb back-load; go for starches like potatoes and rice, and be sure to include some vegetables.  Coconut milk smoothies are also a great option.

 

Leptin, the hormone and metabolic trigger

So Leptin says to the brain “Yo homey, why you always hoggin’ the sugar”.  This is a leptin joke that will never catch on but it cracks me up.

Leptin Resistance

Most people are aware of insulin but many people are not as aware of the hormone leptin and its role in the body.  Leptin is sort of like insulin’s identical brother. Each is simply a signal for the body, and a hormonal signal at that. Leptin and its receptors are spread throughout your body and even those areas which do not see the light of day! Leptin is also found in your fat tissue.  It relays signals to your brain regarding energy balance and the brain relays back whether your body should release fat, keep it or store it.  So if you are on a diet, or have ever been on a diet then leptin is something you need to be well versed in.  Blood tests resulting in elevated triglycerides may impair your brains ability to process the relay messages between leptin receptors and the brain. This can serve as a sign of leptin resistance. One week of dieting can lower your leptin by 50%.

The role of leptin in the body is affected when insulin levels are too high due to increased inflammation related to excessive carbohydrate consumption.  Leptin is a complex topic, so complex that this short primer isn’t going to tell you all you need to know but it is a start.

Leptin excess leads to resistance of signaling, much like insulin in excess leads to downgraded organ signaling. When dieting too long or too strictly, especially when using a low carbohydrate diet as a tool for weight loss, leptin is lowered to an extreme level affecting the body’s ability to mobilize fat and keep hormones at healthy libido levels (this is the opposite of the scenario in the last paragraph).  This is where a big helping of sweet potatoes and bananas after a day of low carbohydrate dieting can actually spur fat loss, because you have now opened the door for leptin again and it mobilizes fat as a result (I keep referring to this as the Metabolism Switch and it’s one of the basic premises of the book Carb Back Loading).  As it stands, the body can become leptin resistant from excessive signaling but also levels can become too low from excessive restriction- both impair fat loss.

Carbohydrates are the boogie man of nutrition to many, even more so than fats, though there are groups on both sides who disdain both of them with equal fervor.  The detonator in the carbohydrate war is over simple and complex carbohydrates.  Simple carbohydrates consist of quick acting foods like white bread, cereal, table sugar, soda- very refined foods.  On the other side are complex carbohydrates consisting of sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes and quinoa.  That is a pretty wide spectrum to paint with a very broad brush (but I just did it baby!).

For a lot of people the Paleo Diet can cause Leptin issues but things are fine if they add Paleo starches and some occasional white rice and keep overall calories at maintenance levels. I have no beef with the Paleo Diet if you do it without restricting intake. If you are in a standstill as it relates to weight issues and would rather not count calories Paleo can be useful.  I can assure you it is more difficult to become obese eating in such a way.  That said, if you eat coconut fried sweet potatoes in all of your meals each day it’s not the diet that is the problem …..  Such a diet would clearly be nutrient deficient and you are likely well aware of that fact.

So now that we have cleared that up let’s move on.

Solving Leptin

Solving leptin goes a long way to having a healthy metabolism and one of the best ways to do that is to keep a moderate amount of starchy carbs in your diet. Certainly fruits are advantageous and even the occasional sugary treat can actually serve a purpose as the joke at the top suggests.

Is your low carb diet making you insulin resistant?

That answer for a lot of people is yes.  Let me explain both kinds and pay particular note to the italicized portion at the bottom.  Once again “eat less do less” isn’t helping but leaving out carbs actually harms your cells and the result is a withering metabolism.  I wrote this about a year and a half ago and I (actually my editor at the time and I) use the word toxin pretty freely.  Since then I have come to think the word toxin is overused and is often the defense of someone that really doesn’t know what they are talking about.

Insulin Resistance

With the growing population of type 2 diabetes, most everyone has been informed of insulin resistance yet it is poorly understood. The result of excessive intakes of empty carbohydrate foods lacking vitamins and minerals leads to jacked up blood sugar levels. These constantly jacked up blood sugars lead to longwinded elevated insulin levels because insulin and blood glucose should rise in a relatively similar fashion but not ALWAYS be high. The result of inadequate vitamins and minerals (namely magnesium) leaves an exhausted liver and pancreas; two crucial organs to insulin’s stability and reliance.

The sugar in your blood is broken down to glucose.  Excessive production of is a toxic and inflammatory. The inflammation centers itself in the process, focusing on the liver and pancreas and widening to other parts of the body as it progresses. The body handles toxins by storage and dysregulation. This leaves your fat stores full of toxins. When your fat stores are filled with toxins, your organs become ‘fatty.’ Many doctors are forced to inform their patients these days of their ‘fatty livers.’ Over time, an overworked body with excessive glucose becomes insulin resistant which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. So you see, becoming insulin resistant takes a while and once you are resistant to insulin, you have long been doing damage to your body.

When you are in a state of glucose excess, your muscles are full and do not need any more glucose to power them. Insulin tells your body to store excess as fat to be used as energy later. It becomes clear the benefit of having muscle; glucose will be stored in muscles before it is stored as fat so there is a bit of leeway and advantage to more lean body mass. If your muscles are constantly receiving glucose, it becomes reliant on sugar as a primary source of energy.

In an ideal scenario, your body is optimized by using a combination of both sugars and fats for energy.  This is why simultaneously eating low carbohydrate AND a low fat diet will leave you feeling run down and fatigued.  If you are controlling your weight by controlling your intake of carbohydrate, you need to eat fats as a signal to burn fat as a primary fuel source.  This makes the condemnation of fat silly as shown before. It can not only be a primary energy source for the body, but also protect it from things like the cold.

There is a win-lose, lose-win here. Basically, eating very low in carbohydrate means you don’t have access to tons of glucose, so the majority of your cells switch to burning fatty acids instead of glucose. These same cells which are now running on fatty acids become more resistant to taking up glucose in order to save it for use by those few cells that have to have glucose, like in the brain. It is a healthy ‘saving mechanism,’ if it didn’t happen we would die. When glucose becomes sparser, the cells that have the option of running on fatty acids, which is not sparse, choose to not use the glucose and instead use the fatty acids. Thus you can assume those cells have become ‘resistant’ to glucose as they are saving it for other cells that really need it (again, namely the brain). This is a healthy response designed to keep those few cells that need glucose having a good supply of it, and at the same time, it will maintain a healthy level of glucose in the blood. This type of adaption serves as a type of insulin resistance resulting in a healthy level of blood glucose.  This can however lead to a slowing metabolism and I will get you guys that reason tomorrow.

The only problem comes if you eat very low carbohydrate for an extended time, and your cells adapt to this low level of glucose, and then suddenly you decide to pound a ton of sugar into your system. Your cells are caught flat footed for a while. They had adapted to a strategy of saving glucose and all of the sudden they are awash in way too much glucose. This is where understanding nutrient dense food and the right cycling works.

Carb Back Loading for Crossfit and Paleo

Sweet PotatoesCarb back loading is probably the best version of what I refer to as a metabolically favorable way of eating.  The focus of this style of eating is not to create a deficit at all, it is to get your metabolism humming along like a Ferrari so when you enter your Crossfit gym you are ready to perform.  The points where I disagree with Kiefer are not significant but I think it should be brought up.  The fact of the matter is simple, if you are looking for the absolute best book to understand what goes on in your body and WHY this book does that better than any I have seen.  If I find a better one, I will put that one in the sidebar but, for now, this is the holy grail for a high functioning metabolism that allows you to burn fat.  The book is expensive, is it worth the money? I think it is.  Much of what I talk about on my blog and the associated Facebook page covers topics in the book.  The book however does a good job as a “one stop place” for an approach to eating with the scientific references to back it up.

Carb Back Loading is $53 dollars, when you consider all of the $109 nanos, $139 OLY shoes and the list goes on none of those will help your understanding of how your nutrition self and athletic self work together quite the way CBL will.

To Download your version of Carb Back Loading click here

This blog exists to help people understand their health and performance.  It is a business and as such I sell things.  I only sell things I use and I only promote products I believe in.  If you like this blog and you like my content and are considering buying this book I would ask you to use this link.

Can you do this Paleo?

Absolutely you can and it probably best describes how I eat.  I rely mostly on sweet potatoes for my carbs and occasionally white rice (many Paleo authors are starting to include white rice in their “safe to eat” foods for athletes).  My coconut milk smoothies are a perfect addition to the fat back load which is used in conjunction with carbs to get a better response before bed.

Cherry pineapple and Banana Chocolate Hazelnut smoothies

Some minor points of differences

Kiefer suggests A LOT of supplements in the book.  I wouldn’t necessarily say I disagree with his recommendations as much as I would say they aren’t necessary for all populations.  If you are eating a diet of mostly whole foods with adequate protein you have it mostly right.

Is this THE way of eating?

I think if you asked him John would describe this style of eating as the best strategy he has come up with for extreme athletic performance.  BUT IT IS JUST A STRATEGY.  It is not THE way, you could certainly take the concepts in the book and put the pieces together for an optimal way of eating designed for you.  As someone who coaches people on their diets there a lot of one off’s that you need to account for.

Even though people spend 100′s of dollars on personal trainers and Crossfit memberships they are often reluctant to spend the money for a book like this.  That is a mistake.  Even if you never carb back load you will learn infinite strategies related to how to eat to perform (catchy right).

Carb Nite Solution

The other book offered is called Carb Nite Solution, that will appeal to many people who will see it as the holy grail of fat loss.  You won’t however see see a link or it in the sidebar of this site because Ketogenic Diets (even good ones like CNS) are a metabolic train wreck for Crossfitters, especially women who have a history of extreme dieting.

He doesn’t seem to like us Crossfitters

The original versions of Carb Back Loading  was for PowerLifters and Physique Competitors (you see them as the testimonials).  His criticisms of our approach to fitness is legit for optimizing squatting 1,000 pounds or even getting shredded down to 5%.  So if those are goals of yours then you should understand that Crossfit isn’t a good method for reaching those goals.  Crossfitters are attempting different goals.  Let me put it to you this way, if you want to become the best version of yourself this book will show you a great approach to get there.  I also believe that if you play with it a bit, Kiefer describes his approach as Legos, it might take a bit to figure it out completely.  Certainly if you have any questions on how you can adapt this approach to eating to Crossfit leave a message in the comments and I will attempt to help you.

What about all of the donuts and turnovers?

You’ll just have to get over that part.  Think about it, people want an approach to eating that allows them to perform athletically WHILE ALSO allowing them to make some poor choices.  Is the turnover and donut approach vastly superior to a more Paleo approach? I have tried it, it didn’t feel right.  FOR ME.  I am a 44 year old man but I wouldn’t recommend the turnovers and donut approach to most populations.  Do I realize that it might describe an approach to the way some people want to eat? I certainly do.  If you are doing the 80% version of Paleo or even the version that Dr. Cordain recommends in the Paleo Diet for Athletes this can be easily accomplished with carb back loading and just/almost as effective for optimizing Crossfit as the donut approach might be.  Any differences would be minimal and unless you are an elite athlete those differences likely won’t matter for you and your progress related to Crossfit.

Tackling the Sugar Addiction question

First let me start off by saying I don’t make light of addiction.  I have been free of chemicals for 26 years, it destroyed my life as a teenager and I had to leave my family to get treatment for that illness.  So while things kind of worked out for me in the end I still deal with repercussions of that illness to this day.  Let me give you the timeline for this addiction.

- At 18 I was admitted to a treatment facility for 3 months where I underwent extreme psychotherapy

- I then was admitted to a halfway house in Minnesota (where I currently live), I stayed in that facility for 6 months as did most of the residents there.

- I am originally from New Orleans, La. one of the coolest places on the planet.  Most of my family still resides there or near there.

- After leaving the facility in Minnesota I decided to acclimate for a bit before heading back home.  New Orleans held a lot of temptation then and now so I really wanted to make sure I had it right.

- 26 years later I am still here, I met my wife about 6 months after leaving the halfway house.  I often get asked “what makes a person come from a warm weather place that seems as cool as hell to a miserable wasteland (their words not mine, it’s really not so bad and Prince is from here)” my simple retort is often “had to be a woman, right?”

- My children have a great life and our family is well supported by people that care for us but it’s incomplete.  It’s a little tough looking your father in the eye as he tears up because he is being robbed of seeing his “grand babies” grow up.  That is one small casualty of addiction.

So yeah, I take addiction real serious.  As a drug treatment counselor I heard many stories of people who stole their grandmothers microwave to buy crack or compromised their humanity to get a fix.  So while sugar is a powerful chemical can we at least set the bar as a SEVERE consequence that possibly compromises who you are as a result.  Before anyone suggests obesity, let’s not confuse not knowing WHY with uncontrollable behavior.  So let’s start there.

The insulin hypothesis

The insulin hypothesis goes like this, if you can keep insulin suppressed it solves body fat storage because insulin is said to be a “storage hormone”.  Let’s be clear about this, body fat can store without the presence of insulin through multiple channels.  Insulin is more accurately described as a building hormone.  Eat correctly and it builds muscle, eat incorrectly and it BUILDS/stores fat.

It has been proposed that if you can control insulin you can control your health, that is the basis for all low carbohydrate diets.  As many of you know that frequent this page/blog I recommend eating carbohydrates with strategies related to the time you workout or even eating in a smaller window in the evening.  No matter which macronutrient we are talking about I believe you should have a strategy as it relates to that macronutrient.  I also believe that you should have some general idea of your overall intake needs daily and adjust those needs related to your activity level.  Let me give you an example of what that might look like, for protein I try to get around 160g a day, each gram of protein equals 4 calories, so I need 640 calories from protein a day (you don’t really need to count calories daily to have a good idea of your protein intake but it might be helpful for a week or so just to check, knowledge is powerful).  Through massive trial and error I have found a good balance of about 200g of carbohydrate, up to 300g if my activity is higher, once again, I do this intuitively but as most of you know I am pretty good at this whole nutrition thing.  Carbs also equal 4 calories per gram so I need 800 to 1200 calories of carbohydrate to support my daily activity.  While yes I realize carbohydrates are a non-essential macronutrient they are very favorable as it relates to metabolism.  I know this because I basically cured my hypothyroidism related to chronic dieting once I went down this road of discovery related to my intake needs.  Which brings me to fats, through various ways including dexascan and bodpod testing as well as trial and error I know that I need about 3000 calories a day to support my activity levels.  Once again I don’t actually count this stuff but I am also not naive as it relates to the caloric values of the foods that I eat and also know what those foods represent in my body.  Which is another article for another day and not germain to the discussion of sugar addiction.  So fat calories basically equal the rest, if I get 640 calories from protein roughly and 800 calories from carbohydrates that leaves me with 1560 calories coming from fat, fat calories (as most of you know) equal 9 calories per gram, so my fat intake represents more than half of my calories, which is right about 170g a day of fat alone.

For the ladies in the crowd I will use my wife as an example without all of the dirty details. Protein 120g, carbohydrates 150g, total calories for her (she is a crossfitter so quite active) are 2400 a day (she doesn’t count either but eats in an intuitive manner similar to the way that I do).  So her fat calories represent also over 50% of her calories at 1320 or roughly 146g from fat.  From what I have seen my wife is pretty average but I would like to put out there that everyone’s life journey should be a bit more self discovery.  In a lot of ways that is why I made this blog and my accompanying Facebook page, it is my life’s mission to help people navigate these personal struggles.

If you think you don’t need to eat that much to support your activity level you are almost certainly wrong.  Even if you are right it is only minor degrees.  I am not saying this as someone using two people as an example, I have many case studies that prove this.

So let’s start there as it relates to your sugar intervention.  Until you actually KNOW these types of numbers and have worked towards this level of self discovery and you haven’t had to miss carpool to prostitute yourself for a twix bar (you are going to have to imagine this in Jeff Foxworthy voice switching our redneck for sugar addict) “you might not be a sugar addict”.  Just so people know I am not stereotyping I pick up carpool for my children and I can say to you “god willing” I haven’t had to miss carpool for a twix.

So why so much fat?

I like fat as a primary fuel because it’s very stable, I have heard it said that over reliance on glucose (carbs) for energy is like burning a fire with kindling and fat is like putting a log on the fire.  At rest, for most people, fats are a great source of daily energy levels.  Fats also keep insulin blunted and while it seems odd fats can be a good STRATEGY as it relates to your body fat levels.  I highlight the word strategy because my way and my wife’s way might not represent the best way for you.  That will be part of your self discovery but stick with me and I will give you some clues on how to get there.  Don’t be fooled though, the insulin hypothesis goes like this,  keep carbs out of your diet and you will be in fat burning mode all of the time.  Not only is this wrong it’s borderline irresponsible and has left many people broken with eating disorder type behaviors as a result.

The effects of Carbohydrate on a Ketogenic approach to eating

In an attempt to figure out if they are in ketosis many people pee on their hands each morning to check their ketone levels.  I don’t mean to make light of people working towards a better style of eating but there is a crucial aspect they are missing.  Carbs are said to be a non-essential macronutrient because your body can exist without them, the body requires glucose (a fuel source readily available through actual food) so much that it actually can turn fats and mainly protein into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis (I misspell this word non-stop).  It’s an inefficient process and can often leave the user with headaches as a result.  The brain functions mostly on glucose but I don’t want to get ahead of myself, it can however function on Ketones which is the by-product of fat metabolism.  So while yes if you can suffer through the bad workouts and the headaches it is indeed possible to use fats as a primary fuel source but the net result as it relates to body fat mobilization becomes dependent on the amount of fats you eat as a result.  The process is relatively inefficient for athletic populations and virtually impossible as a strategy for Crossfitters that want to excel.

It has been well known for a long time that when you eat in a ketogenic way and then cycle your carbs that stimulates metabolism whether it by intraday, bi-daily, weekly or whatever floats your boat.  When you eat low carbohydrate and then you have a carbohydrate re-feed (you eat a good amount of carbs) you not only mobilize fat but the net result tends to be more favorable than the “eat less do less” model of eating.  This is because a low carbohydrate way of eating suppresses the hormone leptin which is the primary mover as it relates to body fat mobilization.  Suppressed leptin levels can lead to hypothyroid like symptoms and is often the result of extreme dieting.

So low carbohydrate dates get to a point of diminishing returns as it relates to body composition.  I will say there are always outliers where it can work but those are not the majority of folks that go down the low carb path.

I am going to stop here because this is going long

I am not going to make any promises related to WHEN I will write the second part of this article but you already should have some thoughts flowing through your head related to “sugar addiction”.  The next article is going to focus more on strategies related to eating that will allow to better understand your bodies signals.  Let me end on this note though, most people who think they are sugar addicted are underfed, plane and simple.  Since low carb dieting is not favorable as it relates to metabolism down the line people often need to reduce their fat intake to try and chase their body composition goals which is like driving towards a point that is continuouslyy moving.  Those that aren’t underfed are simply relying more on glucose (carbs or sugars) as their primary fuels and this can be handled easily by adjusting their diet patterns.  Here is the deal, you miss the sugar because the brain really really likes sugar, if you gave the brain sugar all of the time it would just ask you for more because, well, brains are gonna brain.  That’s what they want.  If you provide your brain adequate nutrition with strategies related to how the rest of your body manages your fat the equation for optimal health starts to appear.

I am thinking the next article should probably be called “The case for responsible energy management” but let’s be honest, no ones gonna click that.  So I’ll probably call it something like “The Sugar Addiction Cure debunked”.  I’m tricky like that.  Oh yeah, Doctor Oz can suck it.  I can’t believe people still think his information is even remotely responsible.

Some conjecture and Science on why Fats are important

grass_fed_steaks

It might seem somewhat ironic but “Carb Back Loading” is a book about eating fats most of the time and using carbs to most effectively use those fats.  You can support this site and get a free science lab membership by purchasing items using the links on this site (much of which you probably already buy or want to buy).  Check this link out for directions on how that happens (or you can now purchase a Science Lab membership for $4.95 monthly).

Fat cells are part of the endocrine system, and, as I’ve discussed before, they have the power to influence the degree to which muscle cells prefer glucose versus fats as an energy source. They exercise this control by releasing two signaling peptides: leptin and adiponectin. Adiponectin promotes glucose consumption by the muscles, and it also acts directly on the fat cells to encourage them to take up glucose and convert it to fat. Leptin, on the other hand, stimulates the muscles to prefer fat consumption over glucose consumption.

For several decades now, Americans have come to believe that the following two practices are foundational in a healthy lifestyle:  eat a low-fat diet, and  stay away from the sun. Additionally, if people consume adequate amounts of calcium, then all three nutritional deficiencies that have led to obesity will be overcome: vitamin D, calcium, and dietary fat.

Lack of Dietary fats is a precursor to metabolic syndrome

The lack of adequate dietary fat contributes to the metabolic syndrome in at least four ways:  vitamin D is only available in fatty food sources because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, calcium uptake is more efficient when the calcium is consumed with dietary fats, calcium uptake depends critically on the presence of vitamin D, which is deficient due to (1) above, and the burden of fat cells to manufacture fatty acids from sugar is alleviated by the dietary availability of fats from ingested food sources.

I would also argue that one should make sure to ingest adequate amounts of dietary fat, especially dairy fat . Whole milk (assuming you are not intolerant) is particularly outstanding because it contains substantial amounts of calcium and vitamin D, and it contains the necessary fat to assure that these two elements will be well utilized rather than just passing through the digestive system unabsorbed. Animal fats such as bacon are good sources of vitamin D, while also supplying fatty acids to help with energy needs. Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines are particularly good because they contain both omega-3 fats and vitamin D. One should assiduously avoid the trans fats found in processed foods such as cookies, crackers, and margarine. Butter and eggs are also healthy choices. Egg yolk is particularly good because it contains both fats and vitamin D. Nuts, particularly walnuts, almonds, and macademia nuts, are excellent sources of omega 3 fats.

The fat cells are able to influence the muscles to preferentially take up fats rather than glucose by releasing certain hormones into the blood, hormones that also have a powerful influence over appetite. One of these hormones is leptin. While leptin influences the muscle cells indirectly through its signaling in the hypothalamus, it also stimulates the muscle cells directly, and influences them to oxidize fatty acids in their mitochondria. Leptin also encourages the fat cells to release their fats through lipolysis. All of these actions work in concert to redirect fuel usage away from glucose. The programming of the muscles to preferentially consume fats aligns well with the fat cells’ infusion of fats into the blood and absorption of sugars through their fat-producing factories.

Leptin influences appetite

Leptin also has the effect, via the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, of suppressing appetite. Adiponectin is another hormone released by fat cells, and it is generally agreed that adiponectin induces hunger. Leptin and adiponectin levels would ordinarily fluctuate throughout the day, with leptin levels rising at night to encourage a switch from glucose-based to fat-based energy management. However, in the obese person, the leptin levels are typically high all the time, and the adiponectin levels are kept very low. High levels of leptin in the blood signal to the appetite center in the brain a sense of being full, whereas high levels of adiponectin are hunger-inducing. This means that the obese are being informed both that they are full, and that they are not hungry. You would think that this would protect them from overeating. However, it is likely that the observed insensitivity to leptin as an appetite suppressant in the obese is also related to calcium depletion, because the signaling mechanisms that respond to leptin in both the hypothalamus (Details) and the pituitary gland (Details) depend on changes in internal calcium concentrations.

Confusing signals cause deficiencies related to blood sugar 

The result of these three deficiencies is defective glucose uptake in both muscle and fat cells. The obese person becomes trapped in an endless metabolic cycle of trying to supply the energy needed for a steadily increasing demand. The fat cells are at the center of the storm, because they are burdened with the arduous assignment of converting the excess consumed sugars and carbohydrates into fat. The fat cells must do this because the muscle cells are impaired with a malfunctioning ability to metabolise sugars. Even if the metabolic problem were not fixed, if the obese person simply ate more fat, and therefore consumed fewer carbs, the fat cells’ burden would be greatly alleviated. In addition, getting plenty of vitamin D and calcium, either through diet or sun exposure, would alleviate the core problem of impaired glucose transport across the cell wall. Now that the heart and muscles can utilize sugars directly, the excessive burden on the fat cells to expand and proliferate is relieved, and the body fat will inevitably melt away.

The metabolic syndrome is a term used to encapsulate a complex set of markers associated with increased risk to heart disease. The profile includes insulin resistance and dysfunctional glucose metabolism in muscle cells, excess triglycerides in the blood serum, high levels of LDL, particularly small dense LDL, the worst kind  low levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and reduced cholesterol content within the individual HDL particles, elevated blood pressure, and obesity, particularly excess abdominal fat. I have argued previously that this syndrome is brought on by a diet that is high in empty carbohydrates (particularly fructose) and low in fats and cholesterol, along with a poor vitamin D status [Seneff2010]. While I still believe that all of these factors are contributory, I would now add another factor as well: insufficient dietary sulfate.

Why being “fat adapted” makes your body run better

Glucogenesis is the process where the body breaks down proteins and possibly fats for energy, what this means is that in the absence of glucose the body can make glucose which is important for brain function.  This is also important for all those people that think they need carbohydrates every fewer hours to maintain their energy.  When a good majority of your energy comes from fats you are said to be “fat adapted” and less prone to voracious hunger related to blood sugar changes.  There is nothing wrong with glucogenesis, nor is there anything wrong with carbohydrate restriction. A glucose fueled body and a fatty acid fueled body are both healthy body’s (the latter arguably more health promoting and anti inflammatory). Insulin in and of itself has little to do with body weight and weight gain. The liver, pancreas and brain take care of this. One could potentially eat a ‘perfect’ diet totally devoid of carbohydrates, and still gain weight. if whatever you are eating is spiking your blood sugar and your pancreas is not releasing efficient amounts of insulin to clear the spike, then in turn you will store fat. This goes the same for EVERYTHING YOU EAT. Insulin is required to live, without it you would die. I think people are missing the point when the carbohydrate junk is thrown around, as well as the fear of blood sugar rises.  To suggest that one macronutrient is “bad” or “good” misses the whole point, conditioning your body to be able to exist on either is not only healthy, it’s optimal.

Lets say, for example, you do a 20 minute heavy lifting session in a fasted state (like first thing in the morning). Your body is PRIMED to produce a spike in blood sugar regardless of what you eat. NOT TO STORE FAT, but to reinstate hormesis in your muscles and deliver nutrients. This is the job of amino acids, but to deliver it you need insulin.

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