Monday, June 7, 2010

Malcolm Gladwell on Low Carb Diets

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Following up on my article about the fat fallacy and anti-fat propaganda of the 80s and 90s, I thought it would be fitting to cover the carbophobia of more recent times. The origins of carbophobia can be traced back to the late '90s. Just about the same time that the public was starting to realize that dietary fat was not to blame for our steadily increasing waistlines and failed diet attempts.

In this case there's not a single researcher or study that started it all. Our fear of carbs started as a consequence of looking for a new scapegoat to blame. Luckily, Heller, Sears and Atkins were there to satisfy our needs with "The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet" (1993), "The Zone Diet" (1995), "Dr Atkins' New Diet Revolution" (1997).

Let's approach this topic through an outside observer that had some strikingly accurate thoughts about low carb diets at the time they were starting to take off.

Malcolm Gladwell: straight talk about low carb diets



Twelve years ago, Gladwell hit the nail on the head in his analysis of low carb diets.

I found this incredibly insightful article by Malcolm Gladwell, who has written many great books, such as "The Tipping Point" and "Outliers: The Story Of Success". All of which I have read and strongly recommend if you have a remote interest in social phenomenons.

This article is called "The Pima Paradox" but touches on the popularity of diets that were becoming popular at that time (1998). He discusses "The Zone Diet", Atkins and "The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet" and I was really surprised to see how well Gladwell understood the underlying issues with these diets. They were all based on the hypothesis that lowering carbs and controlling insulin was what successful weight loss was all about.

Let me cite a few good passages. About The Zone Diet, Gladwell wrote:

"Does the Zone exist? Yes and no. Certainly, if people start eating a more healthful diet they'll feel better about themselves. But the idea that there is something magical about keeping insulin within a specific range is a little strange. Insulin is simply a hormone that regulates the storage of energy.

"...High levels of insulin are the result of obesity. They aren't the cause of obesity. "

Comment: He's right on the money. Studies show similar weight loss with widely varying levels of insulin and there is no evidence for high insulin causing weight gain. Weight gain and overeating causes high insulin, not the other way around. Some people in the low carb camp seems to believe otherwise, despite no evidence.

"What Sears would have us believe is that when it comes to weight loss your body treats some kinds of calories differently from others--that the combination of the food we eat is more critical than the amount. To this end, he cites what he calls an "amazing" and "landmark" study published in 1956 in the British medical journal Lancet. (It should be a tipoff that the best corroborating research he can come up with here is more than forty years old.)

"...Sears concludes from the study that if you want to lose weight you should eat protein and shun carbohydrates. Actually, it shows nothing of the sort. Carbohydrates promote water retention; protein acts like a diuretic. Over a week or so, someone on a high-protein diet will always look better than someone on a high-carbohydrate diet, simply because of dehydration. When a similar study was conducted several years later, researchers found that after about three weeks--when the effects of dehydration had evened out--the weight loss on the two diets was virtually identical. "

Comment: Again, right on point. Even today, 12 years after Gladwell's article was published, there's no compelling evidence that shows the superioriy of low carb diets in the long-term. Calorie-controlled studies always show similar weight loss when participants are followed up after 12 months (click here, here and here for examples).

"The key isn't how you eat, in other words; it's how much you eat. Calories, not carbohydrates, are still what matters.

"...The dirty little secret of the Zone system is that, despite Sears's expostulations about insulin, all he has done is come up with another low-calorie diet. He doesn't do the math for his readers, but some nutritionists have calculated that if you follow Sears's prescriptions religiously you'll take in at most seventeen hundred calories a day, and at seventeen hundred calories a day virtually anyone can lose weight."

Comment:
This is key. A similar thing happens on ad libitum low carb diets. People reduce calories spontaneously if they're told to cut carbs out of their diet.

"Food in America has become a recreational activity. It is divorced from nutritional need and hunger. We eat to kill time, to stimulate ourselves, to alter our mood."

This is the main reason people are getting fatter all over the world. We can't isolate one single factor. Not fat, carbs or sedentariness. Our environment does everything to encourage weight gain by presenting us with an unnaturally palatable assortment of different foods that completely screw up our natural appetite regulation. And we don't have to expend an iota of energy in obtaining these foods. The pattern is similar in every area of the world where refined foods are introduced.

There are a few more interesting things being discussed in that article. If you're not keen on reading everything, at least hit "ctrl + F" and do a search for "The Photocopier Effect" and "Fat Mobilizing Substance". Malcolm Gladwell had more insight than the great majority of diet gurus and health experts out there at the time.


Note: While Gladwell discusses The Zone Diet above, I wouldn't really want to classify that as a low carb diet unless you compare it with the Standard American Diet. With 40% carbs, The Zone Diet should be considered a moderate carb diet. Besides that, the points made in the article are still valid (with the exception of his remarks about ketosis as potentially harmful, which is far-fetched and alarmist in this context).


My thoughts

Many years ago, when I was a broke student, I would eat tuna with almost every meal. Tuna on whole grain bread, tuna with rice, tuna in salad, etc. Since I was on a generic bodybuildingesque diet with 5-6 meals a day, I ate a whole lot of tuna. I did that for a few weeks and then one day found out that I couldn't eat a single bite of tuna anymore. I developed an aversion to tuna that persisted for many years.

That's how I feel about the low carb/insulin/metabolic advantage-hoopla. But in this case the aversion seems to be severe and permanent. That's why I prefer to let Gladwell speak for me. The topic has been beaten to death so many times over that I simply refuse to debate it any longer.

Why this aversion? I've done my part on this issue in the past. With more than 200 comments, "Low Carb Talibans" is still the most commented article on this site, with guest appearances by Tom Venuto, Alan Aragon and Lyle McDonald among others. Don't bother to resurrect the debate. Ain't happening.

Let me state my position on the issue of high carb diets versus low carb diets one last time.

1. Most people get better results from low carb diets for the simple fact that their diets improve when they make the switch. Protein and veggie intakes tend to go up a lot and this leads to much better satiety and diet compliance compared to a generic high carb diet. The latter also tends to be compromised of a greater amount of refined and high calorie density foods. When people think "high carb" they associate it with rice cakes, pasta and bread. When people think "low carb" they associate it with meat, eggs and veggies.

2. Is there a metabolic advantage to low carb diets? Of course there is. As protein intake makes up a larger percentage of calories consumed, diet induced thermogenesis (DIT) increases. A 2000-calorie diet compromised of 40% protein is superior to a 2000-calorie diet compromised of 20% protein. The difference would roughly be on the order of 95 calories in favor of the first diet. A small difference (small enough to not be detected in studies), but a difference nonetheless. However, the metabolic advantage is due to protein and not specifically related to the carb content of the diet like some people want to believe. If we compare a high carb, high protein (40%), low fat diet to low carb, high protein (40%), high fat diet we wouldn't see a detectable difference in DIT.

3. Some people do in fact feel better on low carb diets and it has nothing to do with the greater satiety from increased protein or veggie intakes. Just like some people feel better on higher carb diets. Problem is a lot of people tend to place themselves in the low carb-category without really having tried the middle ground. My experience is that a lot of people who readily label themselves as "carb-sensitive" do very well on a moderate carb-approach with the great majority of carbs coming from tubers, fruit, veggies and the occasional starch source.



My post-workout meal today: large grilled chicken breast, a pound of fried potato wedges and Ajvar on the side. Pound of slightly thawed strawberries, swimming in vanilla protein powder, as a treat. It's just a matter of time now before the insulin shock and fructose-overload sends me into coma and fries my liver.

Today, actually in the last year or so, I have noticed that the low carb-hysteria has waned a bit. It's gradually being replaced by the paleo-movement. While the paleo-movement has its fair share of extremists, it's still a shift towards a more productive attitude towards diets, as the focus lies more on unrefined foods rather than a specific macronutrient.

I was a carbophobe many years ago. Trust me when I say that it's ultimately a highly counterproductive mindset if you're looking to maintain leanness, performance and your sanity in the long-term. I'm lucky that I got out of it. Since a few years back, at the same time I started using intermittent fasting and developed the Leangains method, I have occupied the middle ground.

There is a place for both higher fat and higher carb intakes depending on occasion. The exclusion of either one macronutrient breeds a longing for the other. Eating sufficient amounts of each one on a regular basis is key. That's why Leangains is a cyclical diet. Low carbs, higher fat on rest days, higher carbs and lower fat on training days. In my experience this is just perfect.


Bonus material

* In Gladwell's article, I found one comment about leptin that really piqued my interest. Gladwell writes:

"There is also some evidence that if you can keep weight off for an extensive period--three years, say--a lower setpoint can be established."

I'm very curious about what research he refers to here. It would be great news for anyone looking to reach and maintain low body fat even though they might not have the genetic setup for it. I've maintained single digit body fat for the last ten years, despite being fat throughout my teens. Even though I have proven it possible for a former fat boy like myself to get lean and stay there, I haven't come across any hard scientific evidence for the possibility of lowering your setpoint. Very interesting.

* If you want to read more about low carb versus high carb, check out Anthony Colpo's dissection of the topic. The exchange between him and Michael Eades also makes for some entertaining reading if you have the time.

* Some people in the low carb camp claim that carb intakes have increased the last few decades while dietary fat hasn't. Which simply isn't true. On average, we're eating 600 calories more compared to the 1970s, with a higher added intake of fat than any other macronutrient. Adding to that, physical activity has decreased by 10%. Alan Aragon covers this in his latest Research Review. Some good reading.

* Lessons from "Low Carb Talibans":

- Trying to convince someone who doesn't really want to be convinced is a complete waste of time. Using studies to back up your point when your opponent doesn't care for it is even worse.

- Placing "Talibans" in the headline of an article is a good way to get tons of hate mail and alienate a large part of your readership.

- ...It's also a great way to boost traffic to your site dramatically.

P.S. Don't bother trying to resurrect the low versus high carb debate - I'm seriously through with discussing it. It bores me to tears.

111 comments:

John said...

Great article! One question though. Knowing what you know now, if you were to bulk again, would you still use the high carb approach as you described it here

http://monkeyisland.lylemcdonald.com/showthread.php?t=19399&highlight=Bulk

???

Anonymous said...

Good article by Gladwell...However, I am disappointed with his ignorance in regards to fat quality (as per the Eskimos). Sure they eat a fair amount of Omega 3s. But they (the healthy primitive eskimo) eat LOADS of saturated fats. Seal and blubber, for all intents and purposes, IS red meat. he should also check out the primitive Massai who live on cream-like milk, blood, and beef; free of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, btw. He is also overplaying the downsides of ketosis. KETOSIS is surely harmless to anyone who's not at risk for "ketoacidosis" (this is what I think Gladwell was thinking of, haha). Ketones are not "useless" metabolic products either. Cells, including some adapted brain cells, can utilize them as fuel.

Anonymous said...

hehe. reading your analysis/conclusions i somehow have the feeling you didn't really read gary taubes "good calories, bad calories" (see http://is.gd/cGidd) ;) also, with regard to low-carb is not superior in maintaining low bodyfat long term (or something), watch this: http://is.gd/cGi7X
pretty much wrong again. meaning: insulin sensitive people can have success with both, high- and low-carb, and indeed don't really need to watch the carbs that much (in contrast to insulin-resistant peeps). HOWEVER, only lower carb can provide certain long term health benefits like favorable blood lipids and *keeping* insulin sensitivity even in older age. so, if i have to choose, i will go for lower carb (nothing extreme, but certainly not the usual several hundred grams a day). same for sugar and fructose.

Anonymous said...

Btw, I'm totally not carbophobic; I eat tons of 'em, and didn't mean to spark an argument here. I'm just saying that the human body is very adaptable, and can thrive on unrefined low carb high fat diets (Massai) as well as unrefined low fat high carb diets (Kitavans)

Anonymous said...

Mycket intressant. Jag har kommit fram till att det funkar bäst med lchf på de dagar jag vilar från träning. Svårt att undvika kolhydrater alltid liksom. Bra skrivet bror! Kram/ susterister

Bleicke Petersen said...

I don't see it as hardcore as you do. Low-Carb was the result of an aversion to Low-Fat and the best knowledge they had at the time. It worked great for many people, including me (20kg in a few months).

But now science has advanced and we know that it's not as simple as low-carb. Paleo is the next step in the evolution, and I'm sure scientists and nutritionists (and by this I mean people like you) will dig deeper and find more information.

Leptin is the new insulin. The advantage of the Paleo diet is that it's mental model is a lot more broad. We can find all kinds of things that paleo people did and include it in the diet. We can't just include new findings under "Low-Carb", because "Low-Carb" is too settled and specific to evolve.

If you'd called your site "16 hour feeding window" instead of Lean Gains, you could never change your recommendations without changing your name and entire mental model. In this light, Low-Carb is just a too-technical name to be of lasting use. It represents one step in an evolution of nutrition science.

Anonymous said...

I would define Paleo as a low-carb diet, so I was a bit surprised when you brought that up in this context.

geert said...

Vince Gironda advocated low carb in the 40´s...

Meco said...

Have you heard of the primal blueprint? It basically says to avoid grains as your source of carbs, but it is ok to get them from anywhere else.

What are your opinions on grains?

Abraxas said...

To the anonymous poster that wrote

"I would define Paleo as a low-carb diet, so I was a bit surprised when you brought that up in this context."

This is a common misconception about paleo. While there are many varieties out there, some more restrictive than others depending on where you place yourself on the spectrum, I would certainly not call it a low carb diet in the traditional sense. Lower than SAD maybe but not low carb. I eat about 150-200 carbs on a daily basis which is about a third of my total calorie intake.

Good article Martin.

Tan Yew Wei said...

More people need to know the secrets of delicious cooking. I tried the berry combo recently - total awesomeness, but yours still looks better!

One thing though, there are many great, tasty things that one can do with food. But unfortunately, like the berry combo, are out of budget for the broke college student.

You've been there before, and probably have some clients who are still there. I'm sure you've seen your fair share of cheap delicious food for dietary adherence. Care to share a few?

Matt said...

This is arguably the best article you have ever written on this site. There's way too much misinformation out there; people think it has nothing to do with Calories and everything to do with some "Magical" Macronutrient ratio that some blow-hard wrote on his/her blog site. In fact the reality is the opposite. Any diet that is very low in something is also very high in something else, and that can never be conductive in the long run.

Rob said...

Man this is a great post. Really appreciate you keeping it real with all this when theres so much crap out there. Cool to see someone that isnt anti carb or anti this or that. Great stuff dude!

Rob

PS. Been following your Leangains approach now for the last month and Im dropping fat and adding muscle like never before.

Nanok said...

Great that you brought up Gladwell. Still its too bad the low carb camp is so widespread today.
Might change now that the chinese and coke corps laid their hands on all that whey :P .

But seriously I agree with you that it's damn hard to convince people that don't want to be convinced. After looking in countless musclemags and hearing seeing all the advertisement done by sponsored profiles in the industry, the random gym rat has found his "hardcore " way of life. Hitting the gym 6/week, 8 meals a day and living his life "protein style".

Wished that articles like yours could reach out to guys like them .

Keep it up!!

Nanok

kattsy said...

Thanks for this article Martin. As a recovering carbophobe I constantly need to be reminded that my new moderate carb way of life is copasetic. Really would like to see more research on Gladwell's leptin tease.

Keith said...

WOW,
great article, BTW how amny caloreis was in that meal pictured. Also, how did you make the potato wedges, did you deep fry them or what?

Anonymous said...

Martin,

The following questions have absolutely no association to the low(er) vs higher carb debate/dialogue vis-a-vis the issue of fat/weight loss.

1) What are you general thoughts about the anti-nutrient content of various types of carbohydrate sources and the issue of whether or not to make use of traditional preparation methods if choosing to consume them (things like grinding, soaking, and fermenting certain grains before consuming, for example).

While consuming fruit is a rather easy affair, there are some, who while not at all carb-phobic, are somewhat adamant that if certain sources are to be consumed that you must respect methods that people across the globe have used for a very long time in order to maximize nutrient availability and minimize the potentially negative impact on health of various elements in these foods.

Legumes are another example.....you can safely consume commercially-available canned varieties, but these often skip the methods that neutralize the anti-nutrients present in raw legumes.

Just curious about your general feelings on this front, as some say that the extra effort involved is well worth and possibly downright necessary for optimizing health if choosing to consume these carb sources, while others would say that it comes down to a question of how much dietary variety you have and how much of any given food you are consuming. (while not a grain or legume example, take broccoli, for example.........for a generally healthy person consuming a moderate weekly amount of this and other cruciferous vegetables, there may be no issue at all, but for someone susceptible to a thyroid issue and consuming anything more than little to no cruciferous vegetables, particularly if in the raw state, there may be a larger issue to contend with in terms of impact on thyroid function).

2) Oftentimes the topic of low(er) vs higher carbs isn't strictly about fat/weight loss, per se, and it extends to health from a broader perspective. While for an active and generally healthy person with no specific issues, more liberal use of dietary carbs is no issue at all, do you feel that in certain contexts that a low-carb diet may be a more appropriate choice/more optimal in managing certain conditions?

I am not looking to ruffle any feathers, nor do I have any disagreement with the notion that low carb provides no inherent advantage over higher carb in the fat-loss/weight-loss department. My curiosity here is strictly related to other aspects of health separate from the weight issue. Of course if other aspects are outside your wheelhouse or simply ones that you don't have much interest in discussing here, I completely understand.

Lothar Schenker

Dan said...

Great one Martin.... This one came in at the right time for me.

LayzieBone085 said...

A little off topic martin,
How do you prepare the Strawberries and whey?
It looks like you add a TON of water to the protein to really dilute it and take the flavor out of it.

Looks good, but looks really run down? Any help? And how long does it take to make that bowl? I am not very patient after working out to eat :)

Cheers as always.

Reggae Man said...

Good Calories Bad Calories was a great book when it came to discussing the fallacy of the low fat/anti-cholesterol movement and the relationship between high insulin levels and disease, but unfortunately Taubes jumped to the conclusion that carbs raise insulin and therefore leads down the path to all sorts of diseases. That book influenced me way too much, and led to my poorest performance ever during a semester at school. Low carb was obviously not good for my brain!

Paleo is a good movement, but again I notice way to much low carb emphasis. A lot of people move over to paleo after trying low carb, but still retain the insulin is bad idea and continue to shun carbs while eating an otherwise clean diet.

Lifting weights while low-carbing was not a pleasant experience. I remember just craving rice or starch but not eating any because I though it would fatten me right up. Eating steak and vegetables after a one-hour lifting session is not satisfying at all.

Anonymous said...

Though I wouldn't say you completely miss the point of the low carb crowd, you miss it by a pretty wide mark. First, most of those who advocate it do so on the basis that it is the healthiest of all diets, especially those whose bodies have been damaged by the SAD, not that it's the most successful for weight loss. If it is, and I believe for many people, especially men, it is, great, but if not you're still way ahead of those eating a ton of refined carbs.

Second, show me a well designed study that includes people who actually adhered to a low carb diet, say, below 30 gms a day carbs. They don't exist. If they did they would easily best the other diets in terms of weight loss, BP, markers of inflammation, etc.

Third, you cite Malcolm Gladwell quite positively but then refute him yourself when you point out that there is a metabolic advantage to the low carb diet, while Gladwell happily adheres to the standard mantra (now proven quite wrong) that "a calorie is a calorie is a calorie")

Finally, your abrasive "I'm right, you're all idiots" tone may garner you extra page views, but its ad hominem nature doesn't give one much confidence in your views.

Anonymous said...

Lol, I can see why Martin is bored to death with the low carb debates.

He's moved on folks.

Do the same.

David said...

Great article Martin! I've actually just finished Outliers and started with Tipping Point last night, so that makes it extra fun for me that you brought him up.

Mark said...

Hey Martin,
Great post, I'm a recovering carbo-phobe and even this morning, I had to think whether it was OK to put a sweet potato in my lunch. Anyways, one line in your post caught my attention: "moderate carb-approach with the great majority of carbs coming from tubers, fruit, veggies and the occasional starch source." Do you separate potatoes/yams from other starch sources? Thanks Martin, good stuff.

Jimmy said...

I recently saw some articles written by you on iform.no that were really great.

However, today I read the following article on the same site; 'The right food before and after workouts' (http://www.iform.no/pub/art.php?id=81). The article states amongst other things that "it's crucial to eat 4-5 times a day" and breakfast is extremely important to stop the body from tearing down your muscles...

I get a little upset reading such outright lies on a site that's meant to publish up to date scientific articles. How can a "Sweden's most famous nutritionist" claim that one night of sleeping will make your body tear down muscle??

Ninjamaster said...

Hello hello Mr. Berkhan! Love your blog, thanks a million for sharing all of your great wisdom with us mere mortals :) Once a gain, great article. Checked the old post "Low carb Talibans", hillarious discussions! Understand why you dont wanna start that all over again. Its like you say some people have made up their minds and nothing you say- even backed up with plenty of research will change that! Ha-ha their loss :) Have a great day!

Philip said...

Hi Martin,
great post, as always!

Would you mind elaborating a bit on the following statement?

"Low carbs, higher fat on rest days, higher carbs and lower fat on training days. In my experience this is just perfect."

The benefits of higher carbs on training days are quite clear.
I was wondering though what exactly is the rationale behind eating more fat on off-days. Is it just for psychological/adherence reasons (being able to pick from the fattier foods), or are there further benefits with regard to recovery and/or muscle growth?

Thanks,
Philip

Seve' said...

Martin-man,

You are a quick witted, humorous and informed genius, and truly sharp tongued, especially to take on challenges to answer and defunk some of the myth as well as total bullshit out there.

I learn something new each and every visit.



My doctor told me to lay off Carb to lose weight, but since loss of 13 lbs & 6% bfat loss of last visit, he is going to shit when I tell him about this low carb info BS.

Wonder how many doctors are properlly informed as much as they should instead of being told what to think and say by the "industry?" WTF!

Thanks always, Martin. Lets have some cheese cake!

James Krieger said...

Excellent post, Martin. I always find it interesting how the carbophobics fail to see how they are no different from the fatophobics of the 1980's.

Thanks for the insights on Gladwell

James Krieger
weightology.net
thehealthsleuth.com

mamaelvis said...

Adjvar, delicious. You hardly ever see it in America except in ethnic markets.

If you havent tried it. It is cheap & tastes great on lots of things.

Veggies, meat mostly.

mamaelvis said...

I think whether fasting or not,just counting calories & eating the THINGS you actually like AND make you feel good (physically & mentally)within the bounds of your calorie goals would make so much difference to the general population.

Unfortunately, it takes so much deprogramming time to get people to that point.

I like paleo diet ideas in comparison to process everything diet, but some paleo people seem just as fanatical when you read some of the "bleeding edge" paleo science fiction in regard to diet & workouts.

Paleo macho authority vernacular is hysterical sometimes.

pjnoir said...

None of his opinions hold any truth for me and I suspect people with diabetes. It is all about the carbs and not at all about calories. There are lean diabetics that gain a lot of weight when they have little reguard for diet that sparks an insulin rush- it does for them create a huge weight gain. The problem with studies ( the the dreaded GI index) is that it is conducted on young healthy males, so it can NOT be the truth for everyone.

Martin Berkhan said...

Tan,

If you like cottage cheese I'd say that, and maybe whole eggs, is where you can get the most bang for the buck, and taste buds, on a limited budget.

Cottage cheese - goes with everything, berries, conserved fruit, honey, but also more spicy stuff; makes for a good thick spread if you mix it with ajvar, for example.

Martin Berkhan said...

Keith,

"WOW,
great article, BTW how amny caloreis was in that meal pictured. "

1200-1400 range

"Also, how did you make the potato wedges, did you deep fry them or what?"

These came pre-packaged, so I just put them in the pan for a few minutes.

Martin Berkhan said...

Bob/Layzie,

"A little off topic martin,
How do you prepare the Strawberries and whey?
It looks like you add a TON of water to the protein to really dilute it and take the flavor out of it."

It's casein powder and I dilute it 1:4 powder/water, which makes it nice and milky. Great stuff. Creamy taste even if you dilute it. Local brand.

"And how long does it take to make that bowl? I am not very patient after working out to eat :)"

Not very long, I put the bowl with the frozen berries in the micro for 90 secs, mix the shake, and done.

lunchwithouted said...

Low fat, low carb, and raw, paleo, whatever. People are just trying to get a handle on their food. It is so much more difficult these days as our food is not what it appears to be.
People are not what they appear to be either...many because of genetics or burned out sensitivity to insulin due to poor food choices for a life time, can not tolerate carbohydrate as a typical person. Low carb is a lifesaver for them. High fat low carb is how many type 2 diabetics stay off the pharmaceutical cocktail usually prescribed for insulin insensitivity. That should be applauded.
Next up is the fact that any approach to healthy eating can and will be taken to an extreme...it shows up in my clients as Orthorexia. Actually that is a place many anorexics hide...they say they are simply eating healthy.
Food will forever be taken to the place of religion by some (it always has).
Perhaps we can take a look at why we do what we do beyond the physical and ask what role the foods -whatever the flavor of the month happens to be- are playing in our emotions and relationships. Food as a metaphor if you will.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff. Gladwell is a smart guy and I enjoyed his books Outliers and Blink.

DamnDirtyApe said...

Love your blog Martin. You turned me on to fasting and I absolutely love it as it has helped me get control over the obsessive bodybuilder frequent-grazing mentality. I am using it now mainly for improved energy and longevity reasons (autophagy etc) in addition to the fat-loss benefits.

As far as carb intake, me it's very simple - the more total carbs I eat (from any source) the more difficult it is to limit daily calories and/or fast.

Low carb intake allows me (and my wife) to drift in and out of fasting windows effortlessly. The same cannot be said when carbs creep up over 50-75 grams or so. There is definitely a perceptible threshold that allows for hunger-free fasting when you go under it.

I think the people who do best on VLC diets are the people who need it the most due to metabolic damage.


Regardless of what caloric energy equation say on paper about carbohydrates and weight loss, people really need to experiment for themselves and experience first-hand how they feel on various carbohydrate levels. There is no one size fits all prescription that suits everyone equally.

But considering that insulin/IGF-1 plays a large role in various aging processes, for me there are few upsides to higher carbs. Packing on tons more muscle is not really a concern anymore like it was when I was younger. I have enough mass..now I want to be around for many more decades to enjoy it and so high insulin/IGF-1 production is not needed or desired.

FYI, a diet high in carbs can still result in healthy, lean individuals as the Kitavans prove. But it's no coincidence they also don't consume any refined sugar and flour and modern processed seed oils.

Anonymous said...

Hey good article.

Seems to have stirred up a lot of shit at Reddit. Check this

http://www.reddit.com/r/Fitness/comments/ccydw/malcolm_gladwell_on_low_carb_diets/

John Nakamura said...

Been reading a bit at Reddit and it seems like the point you were trying to make with this article sadly flew right past some of the more thick-headed commentators over there.

Anyway, great article as always. I very much enjoy your writings and think your blog is among the top five in the whole fitness/health-niche.

Anonymous said...

Hi Martin,

I'm curious if your views on protein requirements at all as of late. I'm currently doing a modified protein fast (ugh), but when I complete it ... I'm seriously going to look at dropping my protein consumption down to about a 1/3 of what it currently is (300 g/day).

(I'm 210 lbs, and normally, when I'm not on whacky crash diets, strive for about one gram per pound)

I read a book by Brad Pilon on protein, and wandered by Clarence Bass's site. Both seem to support the notion that there is no benefit from consuming more than about 80-120 grams of protein a day.

I'm pretty old school, but if the science is correct, I'd happily turf all my protein supplements.

You thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Best,
G13

Martin Berkhan said...

I don't agree with Pilon re: protein.

Read this for my views on this issue:

http://leangains.blogspot.com/2010/03/maintaining-low-body-fat.html

You might wanna pick up Lyle McDonald's The Protein Book, which is far superior to Pilon's book. Check my product reviews.

Anonymous said...

Pilon's Protein book is ridiculously bad. And badly referenced too. Looks like he just googled some studies to make it look "scientific". I can only agree with Martin, Lyle's "protein book" would be a far better and wiser investment.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Martin (and Anon), for the quick response. I will stick with your and Lyle's recommendations. After this protein fast is over, I'll give your IF protocol a try.

Please finish your book.

I hate eating every 2-3 hours throughout the day. I have better things to do with my life. And your results, and those of your clients, are very impressive.

Best,
G13

Anonymous said...

i dont agree neither with that protein book , but i dont agree with the other extreme too.
Before i was eating 200 or more grams of proteins and i had an altered transamines in blood exams, all the people said that it was normal, but miraculously when i dropped my protein intake to 100-120grams it returned to normal,
not to say that i didnt lose muscle at all, to the contrary, i keep gain more muscle with the body recomposition protocol i am using right now of in workout days +25% of maintenance calories
-50% calories on non-workout days.
all i can say its that protein requirements of bodybuilders are completely overrated and supplements company pay for that to happen.

Svein Erik said...

Hey completely random comment here now but hoping for an answer!

About fasting, how would you recommend one doing it in a building fase? I've lost about 10kgs now by using IF, it's awesome. Eating about 2600 kcal and eating me pretty full is just awesome. =) But when I reach my goal, and want to start building lean mass again I was thinking about lying about 200-300 kcal above my maintenance level. Now that would mean I only have to consume about 3300 kcal a day ( to begin with)

Would you still recommend IF on a bulking fase, or? I mean, it does seem pretty logic with the studies showing increased muscle gained from eating 3 meals contra 6 and since eating loads of food is friggin' awesome not to mention nutritional timing.

Maybe I should just test it myself, Im just rambling I guess. Thanks for awesome articles!

Anonymous said...

Research done a couple of years ago in St. Louis and in Japan pinpointed the problem. Triglycerides – fat circulating in the blood – interrupts the passage of leptin across the BBB. If trigylcerides are high, which they are in most obese people, then, basically, they block the movement of leptin into the brain. So, leptin levels are elevated in the blood, and triglycerides keep the leptin from getting to where it needs to get to shut off hunger. (click here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?cmd=retrieve&db=pubmed&list_uids=15111494&dopt=Abstract for the abstract and full text of this research paper.)


Don't mix certain dairy (that has casein protein) with berries (or tea)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCyGMB3bBc8&feature=PlayList&p=DBA02DD311F1D505&playnext_from=PL&index=17&playnext=3#t=2m50s

Anonymous said...

Yeah there are a few problems in this post. I'm not anti-carb except in the first stage of fat loss. Overweight people are by definition insulin resistant. In people without insulin resistance carbs aren't a problem but people with insulin resistance benefit from taking as much glucose out of the picture as possible. This means at least semi-ketogenic. What happens is that all of the insulin secreted drives too much glucose into the liver where it becomes tryglycerides and disrupts leptin signaling.

Also those studies showing no difference between high carb and low carb? Starvation diets. 1500 calories? That's not healthy, it slows down the metabolism. The beauty of the high fat low carb approach for fat loss is that you can eat a reasonable amount of food on it and lose tons of weight. People actually lose

I think there is a lot more to it than macronutrients but macronutrients have a role to play in fat loss and it doesn't happen to be carbohydrate.

chris said...

Martin,

You've not consider the 6-fold difference in average insulin production for the human animal; from very insulin sensitive to absolute insulin resistance.

There are people who thrive on a very low carb diet because their pancreas simply functions (for a myriad of reasons) differently from yours.

Carbohydrate in excess of 50-75 grams per day has a significant stimulative effect on my appetite. This is not uncommon at all. On the other hand fewer than 50-75 grams of carb allows me to IF effortlessly.

You've also completely ignored the association between grain lectins and a whole host of digestive problems especially nutrient absorption.

Robb Wolf, Stephan Guyenet or Petro Dobromylskyj are scientists/health/fitness experts who outline these issues clearly.

Matt said...

@CHRIS

yea that's interesting you mention that Chris, but once again you're representing a very small group of people, completely ignoring the fact that the majority of the "human animal" including myself do best on a moderate carbohydrate diet. If I go below 100~ grams of carbohydrate my energy levels plummet, and the nagging hunger kicks in.

This also seems to be the case with most of the average weight trainer/athlete.(once again i say most, because there's always a few black sheep like yourself that function better with a more drastic diet approach)

The Lectin Issue with legumes/grains is blown completely out of proportion by the "paleo" crowd. It once again the average consumer will not have issues with lectins/phytates in these foods, but some select few have adverse reaction from consuming high amounts. Remember there's anti-nutrients and Lectins in virtually all food. Grains seems to get the bad rep, but id bet to wager that one could come up with some downside to eating any food. Grains get labeled because they are the most consumed food on the planet.

Bryan said...

Actually, there IS something magical about keeping insulin levels lower. It's just that it doesn't have to do with gaining weight, but health.

There are host of diseases associated with hyperinsulinemia from juvenile onset diabetes to acne. You CAN suffer from these without being overweight, as we can see observe with our own two eyes.

But in the end it isn't really about carbohydrate quantity but carbohydrate quality. There are plenty of traditional cultures living mainly on tubers like sweet potatoes, taro root and cassava that have excellent fasting glucose levels.

PJNOIR said...

Matt- You greatly underestimate the number of people that canNOt handle carbs. 3 out of 4 people in the USA have metabolic issues. Nagging hungry comes from craving MORE carbs, not an empty belly. The more carbs you eat the more carbs you want.

Matt said...

@PJNOIR

Oh really, 3 out of 4 people in the USA. Hmm where did you get that statistic? I would love to see the Carbohydrate Intolerant study that was performed. Or any other scientific citation that brings factual evidence that 3 out of 4 people have a carbohydrate intolerance. Or did you just obtain this information from an internet forum/blog. Or even better you just pulled it right out of your ass...

The nagging hunger comes from a lack of glucose to replenish muscle glycogen, and brain function. All living things are fueled by glucose, even when carbohydrates are restricted or eliminated excess protein will be used as a secondary source of glucose. Just because a minority of the USA population function better on a Ketogenic diet, apparently everyone should be shunning carbohydrates. What are they good for anyways, right?

Mikael said...

@Matt

I'd say your hunger comes from a lifetime of eating high-carb diets. Have you given low-carb a chance, if that's what you want? First few months with more hunger, sure, but I would *never* have managed to do my 48h fasts when I was on the SAD...

Patrick said...

My PWO meal today came in a bit over 2000 kcal, lots of rice, whole grain bread, pork tenderloin, lowfat cottage cheese, lowfat chocolate milk and some fruit. A rough estimate would be over 300 grams of CHO, and quite a bit from sugar (fructose from the fruit and sucrose from the choc milk).

I was completely unphased by it, so much so, that I took a leasurly stroll to the supermaket less than an hour later. I don't crave carbs, they don't slow me down or give me mood swings, nor am I hungry all the time. I guess I'm one of those "few" fortunate people.

After less than two months of deadlifting i have today for the first time lifted 2xBW, at a weight of 154 lbs and 8% BF. Leangains is awesome, thanks Martin ;)

And for anyone who might find this useful, I have found out that a glass of water with freshly squeezed lemon juice from a medium sized lemon, taken after the PWO meal, completely eliminates any bloating and/or other digestive distress I'd sometimes experience from such a huge meal.

Keep up the good work!

Stephan said...

Hi Martin,

I was at a lecture the other day by the co-discoverer of leptin, Rudy Leibel. He does detailed studies of energy balance in humans that are lean, obese, or obese following fat loss. As I'm sure you're aware, there's a metabolic adaptation to low-calorie diets where muscular contraction becomes more efficient, thyroid hormone drops, in some cases basal metabolic rate and body temp decrease, etc. Plus hunger increases. Many of those changes can be prevented by leptin replacement to the pre fat loss level:

http://www.jci.org/articles/view/25977/version/1

Anyway, what he does to get them to lose weight is simply put them on reduced calorie diets with typical macronutrient comp. Actually, they're these horrible shakes with corn oil as the fat. He said that his patients show the same metabolic adaptations to fat loss after maintaining the loss for as long as 4-5 years, suggesting that the setpoint doesn't readjust from long-term calorie restriction alone, at least in his patients.

After the talk, I asked him what he thought of individuals (such as you and a friend of mine) who seem to have legitimately reset the setpoint, i.e. can eat to fullness and remain lean for years, and have done so by means other than simple voluntary calorie restriction (that's not to say they didn't eat less, it just wasn't their intention). He had no answer. I think he should be studying those outliers.

My feeling is that some people really can reset the setpoint through changes in diet quality, composition and perhaps exercise and changes to sleep/stress. But the science is still very hazy on that possibility because it requires studies that are longer than a year and requires highly motivated subjects.

Simon said...

This by Gladwell (years ago) is idiotic, but you agree with it:

"...The dirty little secret of the Zone system is that, despite Sears's expostulations about insulin, all he has done is come up with another low-calorie diet. He doesn't do the math for his readers, but some nutritionists have calculated that if you follow Sears's prescriptions religiously you'll take in at most seventeen hundred calories a day, and at seventeen hundred calories a day virtually anyone can lose weight."

Explain please, how this can possibly be so, when all that Sears prescribes is that the RATIO of the diet is 40-30-30. Calories vary according to the user, so of course he 'doesn't do the math for his readers'.

Martin Berkhan said...

Anon,

Good point. Triglycerides can induce insulin resistance too, but somehow that seems to be overlooked by some people that prefer to blame carbs for everything.

Key point here: a high fat, high carb diet aka the SAD = weight gain = insulin resistance.

Low fat, high carb diet at energy balance = unlikely to induce insulin resistance.

Martin Berkhan said...

Anon nr 2,

"The beauty of the high fat low carb approach for fat loss is that you can eat a reasonable amount of food on it and lose tons of weight."

You mean just like you can with a high carb low fat approach if you dont base it on refined shit like rice cakes and pretzels? Get your head out of your ass.

Martin Berkhan said...

Chris,

"You've also completely ignored the association between grain lectins and a whole host of digestive problems especially nutrient absorption."

Yeah, because that wasn't the point of my post. Grains are problematic for some, sure.

Martin Berkhan said...

Bryan,

"But in the end it isn't really about carbohydrate quantity but carbohydrate quality. There are plenty of traditional cultures living mainly on tubers like sweet potatoes, taro root and cassava that have excellent fasting glucose levels."

There's truth in this, and whenever some people think "carbs" they tend to think of all the refined shit people are eating. As you can clearly see in the discussion here.

Ironically the same is not true when they talk about high fat - then it's all good quality stuff, not transfats and hydrogenated oils.

Martin Berkhan said...

Mikael,

Don't be a dumbass. It's not a question of SAD OR low carb. Do you think anyone here is eating according to SAD? Do you know where you are?

Martin Berkhan said...

Patrick,

Awesome stuff. Glad to hear it's working so well for you.

Martin Berkhan said...

Stephan,

Interesting. Yes, I'm aware of that research.

You should have given Leibel a good spanking, sounds like a horrible diet setup for those poor people.

Re: resetting setpoint

"But the science is still very hazy on that possibility because it requires studies that are longer than a year and requires highly motivated subjects."

Yeah, definitely agree. Have yet to find any decent scientific evidence for the possibility of resetting the setpoint in humans.

Martin Berkhan said...

Simon,

If you would have had any idea of what the zone diet is about, which you do not, you would have known about the zone blocks.

Anonymous said...

Martin, terrific stuff as usual. A weird question: When using IF with a large calorie deficit we lift heavy to minimize lean mass loss. I assume we can't avoid losing ANY lean mass at all; that we're just trying to keep the lean mass loss as little as possible. If we do not train a certain muscle group during this time but do train others, will whatever lean mass IS lost come from the untrained muscle or will it still be lost from all muscle equally?

Simon said...

Martin, your frustration with "non believers" is showing.
I understand you don't have the time to keep up with the details of everything, which is probably why you featured a 12-year-old article by Malcom Gladwell, rather than anything up to date, and are accepting what he thinks he knows about the Zone from 12 years ago rather than doing your own research. If you'd kept up with things you'd know that the Zone "blocks" are one of at least 3 ways that have developed to help people get to 40-30-30 without having to weigh every meal and they are all admitted to be highly approximate.

Therefore saying that "some nutritionists have calculated that if you follow Sears's prescriptions RELIGOUSLY [my emphasis] you'll take in at most seventeen hundred calories a day, and at seventeen hundred calories a day virtually anyone can lose weight" is nonsense, as that's not how the blocks are designed to be used. For example, athletes using the Zone diet increase the number of blocks and may also increase fat intake.

Hugh said...

I've been cured of carbophobia by the likes of this site and the other usual suspects. However, I wish the learned nutrition junkies of the web would stop bickering about carbs and take aim at the people offering what I consider to be the most dangerous dietary advice of all, namely veganism.

Or perhaps I'm offbase and a vegan diet is tenable?

chris said...

@ Matt,

My point is that there is a wide variety of insulin production in people in response to carbohydrate. So why the one-size-fits-all approach among the "anti-Paleo, anti-low-carb" crowd? Obviously Martin and yourself can achieve a lean, fit, physique with a more "balanced" macro nutrient approach. Cheers!

Over the years I've tried various macro ratios and after much experimentation came to the conclusion that low carb works (n=1). I too am now lean, fit and very strong after many years of obese lethargy. I think there are for more people with my experience than Martin's (all due respect Martin).

I don't think my experience makes me a black "swan" (helping you with your metaphor), to the contrary you will find countless others with virtually my same story. I actually come across far, far fewer people who have managed to maintain long-term significant fat loss via a low fat approach. Didn't say "never" just said "fewer".

'Cause I'm not talking about ex-jocks loosing 10 pounds by cutting out the cheese burgers. I'm talking about the sedentary and obese and what is most likely the most effective starting point/strategy. In other words when someone is food-obsessed it's simply not unreasonable to look at over insulin production as the cause of such a ravenous appetite. Especially when we know that there is a wide variety of insulin production in humans.

Matt, go and help a 100 regular people achieve significant long term fat loss (e.g. > 50 lbs, more than 3 years) and then tell me you don't find a low-carb approach to be highly productive for a goodly percentage of the successful. That's all my contention was.

Finally if someone comes to you with digestive issues (look at the number of GERD, IBS, Leaky Gut, constipation remedies sold in the States!!!) you're telling me that you would not recommend eliminating grain/legume/dairy for several weeks, then assess the condition, then slowly reintroduce these foods and go from there.

You must not work with average, middle-aged Americans.

Martin Berkhan said...

Anon,

I assume the untrained muscle would be more likely to lose mass, but by personal experience some muscle groups are highly resistant to muscle loss despite no direct training - calves, for example

You also need to keep in mind that you pretty much work the whole body if you bench, squat, deadlift and do chin-ups.

Martin Berkhan said...

Simon,

"I understand you don't have the time to keep up with the details of everything, which is probably why you featured a 12-year-old article by Malcom Gladwell, rather than anything up to date"

Why is that when he has more things right than some new school thinkers. Go read Colpo's MAD or Bray's review of GCBC if you want to read something up to date.

"Therefore saying that "some nutritionists have calculated that if you follow Sears's prescriptions RELIGOUSLY [my emphasis] you'll take in at most seventeen hundred calories a day, and at seventeen hundred calories a day virtually anyone can lose weight" is nonsense, as that's not how the blocks are designed to be used."

Sears put everyone on the same diet, regardless of body weight and activity level in the original book. He just changed the amount of blocks based on gender. So you had 250 lbs males eating the same amount of calories as a 180 lbs male. That's how I recall it when I read the book. Am I wrong? I think not.

Martin Berkhan said...

Hugh,

A vegan diet is not tenable if you're interested in building muscle. Or enjoying your food.

There might be benefits when it comes to longevity but that's by the sole virtue of protein restriction (specifically low intakes of some aminos like methionine and leucine).

Martin Berkhan said...

Chris,

"I think there are for more people with my experience than Martin's (all due respect Martin)."

You know, I've had all these people that told me that they were "carb sensitive", insulin resistant or what have you. I cover all that stuff in the questionnaire I have clients filling in. I think the most common answer on my question about their response to various macrocompositions in past diets is "I do a lot better with low carb" or some such.

And yet when I have them cycle macros like I usually do, with lots of carbs from whole foods on training days, they ALL LOSE FAT, FEEL BETTER and PERFORM BETTER than on any past diet.

You're pulling the same fucking strawman comparing

your past experience with some high carb bullshit-diet with shitty refined carbs

vs

a low carb diet with more protein and better food choices

Yeah whoopdee fucking doo the last approach works better.

chris said...

Whoa Martin.

I haven't created a strawman here.

I tried healthy moderate carb (from yams and sweet potatoes mostly) for more than a year. My fat-loss plateaued and I still felt intense food cravings.

It wasn't until I went very low carb that the final fat came off and my food cravings evaporated.

I still do eat a potato or yam on training days but if I'm not working out, well then keto/IF is the ticket.

I find my experience to be quite common among many people that I've come in contact with in person and online. Not "all", just "many".

I'm not sure why you are so adamant that this is somehow an uncommon, counter-productive, or aberrant protocol.

Your fucking language is puerile and unprofessional. I wonder if those nice older ladies on your facebook photo approve of such gratuitous tantrums.

PS That's some research data:
"they ALL LOSE FAT"
"All" Martin, really? 100%. WOW!

Martin Berkhan said...

"I tried healthy moderate carb (from yams and sweet potatoes mostly) for more than a year. My fat-loss plateaued and I still felt intense food cravings."

Yeah, you plataeued because you likely binged on a bunch of crap due to cravings or what have you. Not due to the carbs contained within the potatoes. And if you wanna push the argument that carbs trigger hunger in some people, sure, I don't disagree. I mentioned that in the article. This is easily counterbalanced with enough veggies IME. And when people switch to low carb, veggie intake goes up 9 times out of 10.

"I'm not sure why you are so adamant that this is somehow an uncommon, counter-productive, or aberrant protocol. "

Nice strawman. I never said anything of the sort.

You were pulling the "everyone is insulin resistant"-card, which is what I reacted to.

"Your fucking language is puerile and unprofessional."

I tailor my language to the intellectual level of the discussion. With you, it's quite low.

"I wonder if those nice older ladies on your facebook photo approve of such gratuitous tantrums."

You bet your ass they would.

"PS That's some research data:
"they ALL LOSE FAT"
"All" Martin, really? 100%. WOW!"

It's worth a hell of a lot more than what you have been reading on internet forums.

Matt said...

"Matt, go and help a 100 regular people achieve significant long term fat loss (e.g. > 50 lbs, more than 3 years) and then tell me you don't find a low-carb approach to be highly productive for a goodly percentage of the successful. That's all my contention was."

Actually for long term fat loss a very low carbohydrate diet is not highly productive. For the short term a very low Carbohyrdrate (ketogenic) diet can be a alternative method of rapid fat loss, but for the average "human animal" a very low carbohydrate diet, in the long term is counterproductive. This is why IF is such an effective long term approach, because it allows for a more moderate macro-nutrient ratio, while simultaneously enabling fat loss and body re-composition. This is by far the most sustainable form of dieting.

"I tried healthy moderate carb (from yams and sweet potatoes mostly) for more than a year. My fat-loss plateaued and I still felt intense food cravings.

It wasn't until I went very low carb that the final fat came off and my food cravings evaporated.

I still do eat a potato or yam on training days but if I'm not working out, well then keto/IF is the ticket."

Ok, what you tried, and what you currently do is irrelevant to what everyone else should be doing. My diet, or you're diet, or my dogs diet, are completely individual practices, and i don't go around claiming what I do is the "golden ticket".

"PS That's some research data:
"they ALL LOSE FAT"
"All" Martin, really? 100%. WOW"

Im sure they ALL do lose fat, and im sure they ALL don't have the same diet either. Chris, you have yet to post any scientific research data; and as far as im concerned martin's word holds more water than your B.S comments do.In my opinion that is, since that's all that seems to matter here anyways.

chris said...

Martin,

I assure you I did not binge. I was strict for more than a year on 150 grams of carb from healthy sources. This level had me thinking about food - I felt as though I was employing will-power versus now, on very low carb I don't think about food; truly. My calories are virtually the same as they were - only difference is fats and carbs.

Hate to pull the "I'm not, but you are" here but yours is the strawman - reading things into what I've said and arguing against that. I did not say "everyone is insulin resistant" - don't know why you put that in quotes in reference to me.

I've only said that there is a range of insulin production in humans and that a proportion of Americans are or have rendered themselves insulin resistant.

"I tailor my language to the intellectual level of the discussion. With you, it's quite low"

You know this is not true. You tailor your profane language towards those who disagree with you, no matter their argument. There are many consistent commentators on your blog who seem to be of moderate to low IQ but if they agree with you, you do not react with such vitriol.

Perhaps you should preface your comments section with something to the effect of:

"This comments sections is reserved for the adulation of Mr. Martin Berkhan. Criticism will be met with hostile, pedantic responses. Agree or leave his anointed wisdom to those who recognize true genius."

Jordan D. said...

I feel sorry for people who need to cut carbs to lose weight. I don't mean that as a criticism. It's really very sad to me. So far I've lost over 50 pounds (255 to 202,) most of it since February. And I haven't even once thought about cutting carbs. Not one time. I just eat less. It would be terribly disappointing if I couldn't eat potatoes, fruit, bread, pasta, desserts, cereal, oatmeal, Italian food, Mexican food, hamburgers with the bun, pizza, etc. I'm so happy and grateful that I can eat the foods I love, just less of them.

Martin Berkhan said...

Chris,

"I assure you I did not binge. I was strict for more than a year on 150 grams of carb from healthy sources."

So you're telling me that all you did was to switch 100 grams of carbs for an equivalent amount of fat, calorie wise. And then you suddenly started losing fat. Right?

Well, then you most certainly are a unique and special little flower.

And that's ok. The only thing I'm disagreeing with is your insistence that your n = 1 experience should be applied to everyone across the board, or at least everyone besides 'ex-jocks loosing 10 pounds by cutting out the cheese burgers.' as you put it.

"I've only said that there is a range of insulin production in humans and that a proportion of Americans are or have rendered themselves insulin resistant. "

Yes. Fat loss is the solution. If a low carb diet keeps them from overeating, that's what they should be doing. Voila, insulin sensitvity improves. But there is nothing to indicate that a higher fat diet is superior to a higher carb diet in that regard, which studies confirms.

From a behavioral standpoint low carb has many benefits for the average american. No disagreements there. But there is no magical fat burning effect to be had from lowering carbs and subbing with fat, which is what you seem to believe.

"You know this is not true. You tailor your profane language towards those who disagree with you, no matter their argument. "

Bullshit. Your argument is weak and based on your own experiences. That's why I react.

Because you lost fat with low carb you think you have these unqiue insights into human metabolism and how some people can accelerate their fat loss just by subbing carbs for more fat. But that's not how it works.

Is there individual variance in between individuals re: fat and glucose oxidation? Sure. But you can't say that one camp is overrepresented in the population. That's the theory you are argumenting for.

phil said...

i used to be just like chris very convinced that low carb was special etc.

i had good success with low carb but a more moderate diet with 180-200 carbs allowed me to enjoy life a lot more.

i went from 330 lbs to 280 with low carb and then 280 to 220 with higher carb. just my experience...

- Philip

ps i enjoy your blog Martin thanks for all the good information

Tom said...

I get really depressed if my carb intake is too low. Also moderate carbs allows for much better workout performance. A high fat low carb diet completely saps my strength.

Leangains is truly the optimal approach for me.

Matthew said...

Martin I have a question about alcohol, as i have been drinking almost every weekend being in college. I know that protein has a TEF leaving it at 3.2kcal per gram as opposed to 4. I have been reading some studies on the Thermic effects of food, and i wanted to know what you think alcohol's "true" kcal per gram is.

Its funny because I drink on the weekends sometimes twice a week(and quite a bit at a time), and ive actually been able to maintain 8% bf as long as i stick to your Lean Gains guidelines.
But anyways with alcohol, would a shot of vodka, or a lite beer be more like 75kcal instead of the current 100kcal?

Thanks a lot Martin!!

micksolo said...

Martin said

"Voila, insulin sensitvity improves. But there is nothing to indicate that a higher fat diet is superior to a higher carb diet in that regard, which studies confirms."

This is so true, everyone is different and there is no such thing as the one right diet that suits everyone.

The saying "one man's food is another man's poison" is so true. I know I can eat a relatively low-carb diet / high protein and fat diet and feel pretty good, but my wife needs more carbs and and she is stick thin!

I also know from experience and testing that I do well on starchy root vegetables like potatoes and carrots but if I eat grains (even properly prepared) I feel sluggish and start to develop skin disorders.

Martin do you use Metabolic Typing in your practice? I've found this to be pretty much the best way to determine people's right fuel (macro) mix in terms of fatloss, and increased performance, as well as eating the right foods to balance homeostatic controls and fixing all kinds of illness.

Cheers

Mick
micksolo.wordpress.com

Anneatheart said...

Martin,

I'm visiting from a link from 180 degree health blog/Matt Stone. I am a 28 year old mom of 4 daughters. I have been seeking "THE" way to finally rid myself of all the weight I've gained from babies, and was wondering if Intermittent Fasting would work without major exercise.

I MISS weight training and sports so much- I used to be very very fit. But, it's almost impossible to workout. Every time I try to start something it just doesn't work.

I have an endomorph type, because even at my leanest I was 180lbs and am large boned. I gain muscle pretty fast, but shedding the fat on top is the problem. I'm 5'9 tall and around 250lbs or more. That is heavy, but I don't look like I weigh that much the way my body is.

Anyways, it sounds like the fasting would work, but I can't jump into exercise right away. Just curious if I should even try without exercising.

Thanks,
Jessica

Ben said...

Hey Martin,

I have read a bunch of your stuff and I think that your IF/ strength training approach is awesome. You refer a lot to your clients that you consult and I was wondering how one becomes one of your clients and what services you provide your clients?

Joe said...

Anneatheart

Far be it from me to go above M. here, but if you take some time to read the great book Body by Science, of which I shall link you a youtube and another reference link from the site of clarence bass(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eNBTZiZnLY http://cbass.com/success_stories11.htm#Norwegian read "From Bruce Lee to the Hulk"), you can explore the possibilities of a very short workout that achieves results. Read that as a preface to your problem, aside from that I would say that very much can you achieve results of worth from eating right and following Martin's advice to within your own comfort levels.

Expect his word back soon imo.

BTW Martin I have been meaning to ask you to review that book "Body By Science" by Dr. Doug Mcduff. I've been using it with my varied fasting approaches and varied macronutrient half assed approximations and find it equivalent to my previous training regime, being a hard gainer.

Fredrik Gyllensten said...

Thanks for this tips, it was a really good read :-)

Anonymous said...

Martin,

what Do you think about this study about the Impact of reduced meal frequency?

Imppaired glucose tolerance points towards diabetes - or doesn't it?

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=17998028&ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to interject one strongly held, personal belief here:

There is no such thing as a "hard gainer".

I grew up under the false assumption that I was a "hardgainer", or someone "normal". And being normal, I was led to believe I would be unable to work out with the sort of intensity and frequency I desired.

Guess what?

Your body will adapt to whatever stress you put on it. And yes, working out six days a week, two hours a day, and eating 7-8K calories will make everyone big, strong, and scary.

Everyone, even Stuart. I'd stake money on it.

(see John McCallum's high protein, high set routine/diet. A 60s classic.)

That said, it's a dumb lifestyle for a recreational enthusiast to spend his days eating and working out. I think IF and the occasional workout are the way to go. You won't be as big, but you will look great and have the strength of an ox.

So, yes, Stuart is a good read. Just ignore the hardgainer sermons; they are poison.

This is from a former "hardgainer".

Best,
G13

Anneatheart said...

Thank you Joe!

Joe said...

Very welcome.

But what I mean by hard gainer, is that I seriously doubt I have the necessary genes or gene expression to develop significant muscle mass beyond that which I've gained in my 9 years of off and on training. Myostatin. Look it up, that's what I mean by hard gainer. I worked out hard and ate a crap load for a long time, and I gained muscle, but I gained more fat than anything. As a typical human animal my body is geared towards preserving itself rather than building muscle mass. A hard gainer.

Anonymous said...

wow - that intrigues me too. Just wanted to start doing an IF diet. Now I hesitate...

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=17998028&ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.

Anonymous said...

Interesting.

I am, of course, unconvinced. I, too, felt I was a hardgainer.

For twenty years.

And had the myostatin research been conducted then, I'm sure I would have claimed it as justification as well. However, there are a few problems citing it as reason you aren't building muscle:

1) Has it been determined that it is genetically hardwired?
2) Is there a test to determine how much myostatin is in your body?
3) Can these levels of myostatin be changed?
4) Do these levels fluctuate?
5) How do you know that it was myostatin and not your level of commitment?
6) In the same Wiki article:

"An Iranian study published in 2009 showed that myostatin was effectively decreased by creatine supplementation"

Of course, there are natural athletes out there. But the case for the average trainee isn't nearly as miserable as it's made out to be.

However, none of this will convince you that you aren't a hardgainer if that's what you believe. Had someone told me I wasn't a hardgainer 20 years ago, I would have brushed them off.

So no offence taken.

Best,
G13

Patrick said...

@anon

'Your body will adapt to whatever stress you put on it.'

Highly unlikely. Unless you're very gifted and/or on drugs.


'...working out six days a week, two hours a day, and eating 7-8K calories will make everyone big, strong, and scary.'

I disagree. That setup would leave most people mentally and physically incapacitated very quickly. You would be hard pressed to find an average person who could adhere to that lifestyle for much longer than a month.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to believe in zero-carb/carnivore so bad, but the more I experimented, the more I suffered. Did not lose weight, sucked at the gym, and felt awful. Something like the Anabolic Diet + Lean Gains is what works best for weight loss and strength/muscle gains IMO.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, Patrick.

I base my views largely on what I encountered in the oil patch, and my own personal experiences.

I saw greenhorns lifting hundreds of pounds overhead, for up to 8-12 hours a day .. for months straight. And they became bloody strong and big. I was told it was far more difficult in the old days without the machinery. Apparently, they were even bigger and stronger then.

Now some might say that only the physically gifted could survive in that environment. Well, I saw a lot of kids wander through, and those that needed the work survived.

This blew my mind from a hardgainer perspective. These guys were doing putting in more work and intensity in one day than some bodybuilders do all month. Or all year, for that matter. The joints being lifted overhead were a minimum of 170 lbs.

After that, I didn't really feel like I was over-training squatting 3x a week.

Mind you, this is personal experience. Unless others have witnessed what the human body is capable of, I doubt I'll convince anyone. Suffice to say, from my experiences, the body has evolved to be far more durable, adaptable, and resilient than we give it credit for.

But I fear I am turning this into a discussion that really isn't relevant to the original post by Martin, so I'll step out.

Thanks for the feedback, everyone.

Best,
G13

Mikael said...

Martin,

"""It's not a question of SAD OR low carb. Do you think anyone here is eating according to SAD? Do you know where you are?"""

My point was that a life-long acclimatization to carbs followed by a switch to fat is bound to cause your body to react. I think you'd agree.

(which "here" are we talking about, by the way?)

Martin Berkhan said...

Matthew,

Off-hand I think the true caloric value of ethanol comes out to about 5.6 kcal or some such.

Micksolo,

"Martin do you use Metabolic Typing in your practice? "

Not in the traditional sense, but there are definitely foods that I believe are more or less conducive in certain contexts. Not that they might magically stop fat loss, but trigger overeating and lethargy etc.

Martin Berkhan said...

Anneatheart,

Sure, it works fine without exercise if your main goal is fat loss. Some exercise is good though and you don't have to spend hours at the gym, just add a daily 30-45 min walk to whatever else you would be doing on a regular day. It's not needed but I think you will find it easier to stick to a good diet if you do just a little something on a regular basis.

Martin Berkhan said...

Joe,

Not very familiar with Body by Science. Heard of it a few times. I'll look into it when I have the time.

Anon,

I'm pretty sure I've discussed that study in the past. There are some glaring methodological flaws in it.

Simon said...

"Sears put everyone on the same diet, regardless of body weight and activity level in the original book. He just changed the amount of blocks based on gender. So you had 250 lbs males eating the same amount of calories as a 180 lbs male. That's how I recall it when I read the book. Am I wrong? I think not."

Are you wrong? Which one of his 11 books are you referring to? The original Zone book was published in 1995. What you don't seem to want to accept is that the Zone has evolved over the years.

So, no you are *probably* not wrong based on out of date information., But like I said, the Zone is practised that way any more, despite what you and Gladwell might think. As more recent examples, do you think that Zone advocates ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes and the Garmin Slipstream cycling team would all be on the same amout of calories.

FYI I don't use the Zone; I am an elite masters endurance athlete using a "carb adequate" intermittent eating approach, and I appreciate your reseach and inspiration. But sometimes you do get it wrong.

Martin Berkhan said...

Simon,

Yes, I'm likely referring to the original book, just like Gladwell did in this post.

I've had many clients, particularly from the CrossFit community, that came to me from a background of using zone blocks with horrible results; 200 lbs males eating 1700 calories a day etc.

Apparently I am not the only one "not keeping up to date" with the lastest Zone diet developments.

One might wonder why Sears left such a crucial piece of information out in the first place...? Should it really require dozens of follow-up books before he could put some decent nutritional guidelines in his books?

So that's that.

And Gladwell's issues with his original book still stands. The physiology and rationale for keeping the magic zone macros are for the most part not based in science.

Anonymous said...

"Notorious" Dr. Eades (whose blog I like to read on Tim Ferris' blog as well as protein power says there is an effect called 'adaptive thermogenesis'
http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v31/n2/abs/0803523a.html

Here is a full text article that goes into depth regarding the mechanisms involved
http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/52/2/232.full

Paul said...

Concerning lipid metabolism in adipocytes, As far as I can figure, ASP's triglyceride synthesizing action depends on glycolysis as well as the importation of FFA's into the cells.

ASP increases GLUT localization into the plasma membrane in order to facilitate increased glucose concentrations in the cells. Because adipocytes do not normally synthesize glycerol kinase, they cannot make glycerol 3 phosphate from the glycerols coming from the triglycerides in the blood in the form of chylomicrons. Adipocytes normally get their G3P's from glycolysis (sugar burning). The TZD class of drugs can induce glycerol kinase synthesis in adipocytes but that is not normal.

So, it seems to me, in a normally functioning human, glucose can be the rate limiting ingredient for lipogenesis in adipocytes even in the presence of increased ASP, because when blood glucose is low normal, no matter how many GLUT molecules ASP puts into the membranes there just won't be a lot of glucose to transport into the cells to get the necessary quantities of G3P to fix the FFA's into TG's.

Of course, if the adipocytes can upregulate glycerol kinase production as a result of a chronic under supply of glucose, then TG synthesis could be accomplished by a secondary pathway that is independent of glucose. I have not seen any mention of that in the literature yet, however. If this is so, then calories do matter.

If the adipocytes cannot induce glycerol kinase production then carbs matter more.

Martin Berkhan said...

Paul,

For all that nice theorizing you just typed out, studies have consistently shown that varying glucose levels play no role in facilitating faster or slower weight gain.

In fact, overfeeding studies show that weight gain is faster with a higher percentage of dietary fat in equicaloric hypercaloric diets during the first 3 weeks.

Anonymous said...

Effect of carbohydrate overfeeding on whole body macronutrient metabolism and expression of lipogenic enzymes in adipose tissue of lean and overweight humans.

Minehira K, Vega N, Vidal H, Acheson K, Tappy L.

Department of Physiology, University of Lausanne, 1005 Lausanne, Switzerland.
Abstract

OBJECTIVE: Lipids stored in adipose tissue can originate from dietary lipids or from de novo lipogenesis (DNL) from carbohydrates. Whether DNL is abnormal in adipose tissue of overweight individuals remains unknown. The present study was undertaken to assess the effect of carbohydrate overfeeding on glucose-induced whole body DNL and adipose tissue lipogenic gene expression in lean and overweight humans.

DESIGN: Prospective, cross-over study.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: A total of 11 lean (five male, six female, mean BMI 21.0+/-0.5 kg/m(2)) and eight overweight (four males, four females, mean BMI 30.1+/-0.6 kg/m(2)) volunteers were studied on two occasions. On one occasion, they received an isoenergetic diet containing 50% carbohydrate for 4 days prior to testing; on the other, they received a hyperenergetic diet (175% energy requirements) containing 71% carbohydrates. After each period of 4 days of controlled diet, they were studied over 6 h after having received 3.25 g glucose/kg fat free mass. Whole body glucose oxidation and net DNL were monitored by means of indirect calorimetry. An adipose tissue biopsy was obtained at the end of this 6-h period and the levels of SREBP-1c, acetyl CoA carboxylase, and fatty acid synthase mRNA were measured by real-time PCR.

RESULTS: After isocaloric feeding, whole body net DNL amounted to 35+/-9 mg/kg fat free mass/5 h in lean subjects and to 49+/-3 mg/kg fat free mass/5 h in overweight subjects over the 5 h following glucose ingestion. These figures increased (P<0.001) to 156+/-21 mg/kg fat free mass/5 h in lean and 64+/-11 mg/kg fat free mass/5 h (P<0.05 vs lean) in overweight subjects after carbohydrate overfeeding. Whole body DNL after overfeeding was lower (P<0.001) and glycogen synthesis was higher (P<0.001) in overweight than in normal subjects. Adipose tissue SREBP-1c mRNA increased by 25% in overweight and by 43% in lean subjects (P<0.05) after carbohydrate overfeeding, whereas fatty acid synthase mRNA increased by 66 and 84% (P<0.05).

Anonymous said...

Macronutrient disposal during controlled overfeeding with glucose, fructose, sucrose, or fat in lean and obese women1,2,3
Regina M McDevitt, Sally D Poppitt, Peter R Murgatroyd and Andrew M Prentice

1 From the former Medical Research Council Dunn Clinical Nutrition Centre, Hills Road, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

2 Supported by a research grant from The Sugar Bureau, London.

3 Reprints not available. Address correspondence to RM McDevitt, Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition, SAC Auchincruive, Ayr, KA6 5 HW, United Kingdom. E-mail: r.mcdevitt@au.sac.ac.uk.

Background: Previous short-term studies (<=6 h) showed differences in energy expenditure (EE) and macronutrient oxidation in response to overfeeding with different types of dietary carbohydrate. This finding could have implications for obesity.

Objective: We used 96-h continuous whole-body calorimetry in 8 lean and 5 obese women to assess metabolic disposal (energy dissipation and glycogen or fat storage) of a controlled excess of dietary energy supplied as different carbohydrate sources or as fat.

Design: Five dietary treatments were applied in random order: energy balance (control) and overfeeding by 50% of energy requirements with fat (Ofat) or predominantly with glucose, fructose, or sucrose (Ocho). Macronutrient oxidation rates were assessed from nonprotein gaseous exchanges. Net macronutrient balances were calculated as cumulative differences between intake and oxidation.

Results: Increased EE in response to overfeeding dissipated 7.9% of the energy excess with a variation in EE of <1.7% across overfeeding treatments (NS). EE during the Ofat treatment significantly exceeded that during the control treatment in the lean but not in the obese women. There were no significant differences between lean and obese women in macronutrient oxidation or balances, so data were pooled. Ocho induced glycogen storage on day 1 ({approx}100 g) but thereafter progressively stimulated carbohydrate oxidation so that balance was reached on days 3 and 4. Fat oxidation was proportionately suppressed. Of the excess carbohydrate, 74% was oxidized; there were no significant differences between the various Ocho treatments. Ofat stimulated fat oxidation by 18% and suppressed carbohydrate oxidation.

Anonymous said...

Martin wrote: "In fact, overfeeding studies show that weight gain is faster with a higher percentage of dietary fat in equicaloric hypercaloric diets during the first 3 weeks."

Which studies are you referring to? Thanks.

Goran said...

Hey Martin,

Im on a Candida diet (killing a yeast overgrowth) which means very low carbs as yeast feeds on carbs.
Im able to eat a max of about 60g of carbs a day. Is this still useful on workout days where it seems most other people here are eating 200-300g carbs on those days?
Will I still be able to make good gains while only eating 60g carbs on workout days?

Thanks Martin

Reka said...

"There is also some evidence that if you can keep weight off for an extensive period--three years, say--a lower setpoint can be established."


This one caught my eyes, too, and if you found anything on the subject (this is the first time that I read this and it would be great news for me) please update. I changed my lifestyle nearly three years ago, half of this time was spent losing weight, and the other half was spent keeping it off and improving composition, and I would love to see some research supporting this, it would give me a confidence boost.
Thank you for the link and the great article!

Stefano said...

Martin, i've been searching on the effects on low carb diet on explosive/anaerobic exercise/sport like for example karate or taekwondo and i can't find any study that says that i need high carb diets for this. I have only found that the body can adapt to use fat as energy and at the end the performance its quite the same than with a high carb diet... could you please help me?




My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

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