Tag Archives: exercise

Cyclical ketosis, glycogen depletion, and nutrient partitioning

Meal & exercise timing in the contexts of “damage control” and nutrient partitioning are frequent topics on this blog.  I generally opt for a pre-workout meal, but nutrient timing hasn’t panned out very well in the literature.  That’s probably why I’m open to the idea of resistance exercise in the fasted state.  A lot of pseudoscientific arguments can be made for both fed and fasted exercise, and since a few blog posts have already been dedicated to the former, this one will focus on the latter.

The pseudoscience explanation is something like this: since fatty acids are elevated when fasting, exercise in this condition will burn more fat; and chronically doing so will increase mitochondria #.  The lack of dietary carbs might enhance exercise-induced glycogen depletion, which itself would bias more post-workout calories toward glycogen synthesis / supercompensation.  Much of this is actually true, but has really only been validated for endurance training (eg, Stannard 2010, Van Proeyen 2011, & Trabelsi 2012; but not here Paoli 2011)… and the few times it’s been studied in the context of resistance exercise, no effect (eg, Moore 2007 & Trabelsi 2013).  However, there are some pretty interesting tidbits (beyond the pseudoscience) which suggest how/why it might work, in the right context.

Exercising fasted or fed for fat loss?  Influence of food intake on RER and EPOC after a bout of endurance training (Paoli et al., 2011)

John Kiefer, an advocate of resistance exercise in the fasted state, mentioned: “the sympathetic nervous system responds quicker to fasted-exercise. You release adrenaline faster. Your body is more sensitive particularly to the fat burning properties of adrenaline and you get bigger rushes of adrenaline.”

Much of this is spot on.  That is, ketogenic dieting and glycogen depletion increase exercise-induced sympathetic activation and fat oxidation (eg, Jansson 1982, Langfort 1996, & Weltan 1998).

The question is: can this improve nutrient partitioning and physical performance?  Magic 8-Ball says: “Signs point to yes.”  I concur.

Contrary to popular beliefs, glycogen depletion per se doesn’t harm many aspects of physical performance.  A lot of fuel systems are at play; you don’t need a full tank of glycogen.

Effect of low-carbohydrate-ketogenic diet on metabolic and hormonal responses to graded exercise in men (Langfort et al., 1996)

High-intensity exercise performance is not impaired by low intramuscular glycogen (Symons & Jacobs, 1989)

Increased fat oxidation compensates for reduced glycogen at lower exercise intensities (eg, Zderic 2004), and ketoadaptation may do the same at higher intensities.

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Carb Back-Loading and the Circadian Regulation of Metabolism

Carb Back-Loading (CBL) redux, part I

Step 1: eat little in the morning (maybe some fat+protein; definitely no carb)
Step 2: exercise in the afternoon/evening
Step 3: eat the carbs, all of them.  Preferably high glycemic carbs.
Other: no dietary fat post-workout; protein periodically throughout the day.

What makes CBL different from its predecessors is the stress on the timing – exercise and carbs in the evening.  John Berardi’s “Massive Eating” dietary guidelines are similar: protein+fat meals all day except pre- and post-workout, which are protein+carb meals.  Martin Berkan’s “LeanGains” is fasting most of the time (including pre-workout), exercise in the afternoon, then a big post-workout meal (quite similar to CBL).  My only tweak, as discussed below (and previously here and here), would be a pre- rather than post-workout meal [in some contexts].

There’s a summary of this blog post at the bottom… it might be helpful to read that first (see: “Tl;dr:”).  Also, please note that much of this post is about the fringe of theoretically optimizing nutrient partitioning, like improving from 85 to 90%, or 40 to 45%, not 40 to 90%…  I’m not that deluded.

My initial take, in general, is that this book is loaded with gems about nutrition, exercise, biochemistry, and physiology.  It’s also very readable and has a lot of good recommendations.  In this post, I want to discuss one specific aspect of CBL: tissue-specific circadian regulation of metabolism.

 

nutrient timing

 

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Fasting, circadian biology, and epigenetics

From the best I can gather, one of the more immediate players in circadian biology is the coenzyme nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which participates in a variety of redox reactions.  Fasting increases the intracellular NAD/NADH ratio, setting off a cascade of events involving epigenetics and the regulation of metabolism.  HT to Jack Kruse for really cracking into this nut.

NAD activates sirtuins, a family of deacetylase enzymes.  This is epigenetics.

SIRT1

 

SIRT1 regulates the activity of BMAL1 and CLOCK, two circadian transcription factors, which target NAMPT, an enzyme that synthesizes NAD.  And in a curious feed-forward mechanism, CLOCK and BMAL1 enhance SIRT1 expression… genetic deletion of any of these players induces insulin resistance (Zhou et al., 2014), and this can be recapitulated with constant darkness: reduced BMAL1 and SIRT1, hepatic insulin resistance; the latter can be reversed with resveratrol (which may or may not be acting through SIRT1; this is controversial).  While alcohol does no great favors for circadian biology, if you’re going to imbibe, perhaps a resveratrol-rich Argentinian malbec served, and this might be the important part, at night, when all of this stuff is going on… coincidentally [fortunately], that’s precisely when most choose to imbibe.

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More on physical performance and ketoadaptation

The various studies on how low carbohydrate diets impact physical performance are very nuanced.  Here’s what I mean by that.

Exhibit A. Phinney 1980

Phinney 1980

In this [pioneering] study, obese patients were subjected to a variety of performance assessments in a baseline period, then after 1 and 6 weeks of weight loss via protein-sparing modified fast (1.2 g/kg ideal body weight from lean meat, fish, or fowl; probably around 80 grams of protein/d, 500-750 kcal/d). They lost a lot of weight, 23 pounds on average, two-thirds of which was body fat. There was no exercise intervention, just the performance assessments.

During the ‘exercise to exhaustion’ treadmill exercise, RQ steadily declined from baseline to week 1 to week 6, indicating progressively more reliance on fat oxidation.  This was confirmed via muscle glycogen levels pre- and post-exercise: during the baseline testing, they declined by 15%; after 6 weeks of ketoadaptation, however, they only declined by 2%, while ‘time to exhaustion’ increased by 55%.  After only 1 week of the diet, time to exhaustion plummeted, as expected, by 20%.

This was, as mentioned above, a pioneering study in the field of ketoadaptation. It also challenges one of the prevailing theories of ‘fatigue’ …while carb-adapted, the subjects fatigued after 168 minutes, with muscle glycogen levels of 1.29 (reduced by 15%); while ketoadapted, they fatigued after 249 minutes with muscle glycogen levels of 1.02 (reduced by 2%).  In other words, they had less glycogen to begin with, used less glycogen during exercise, and performed significantly better (running on fat & ketones).

Exhibit B. Vogt 2003

Highly trained endurance athletes followed a high fat (53% fat, 32% carbs) or high carb (17% fat, 68% carbs) diet for 5 weeks in a randomized crossover study. In contrast to Phinney’s study, these participants were: 1) highly trained; and 2) exercised throughout the study.

Maximal power output and VO2max during a similar ‘time to exhaustion’ test was similar after both diet periods.  Same for total work output during a 20 minute ‘all-out’ cycling time trial and half-marathon running time.  Muscle glycogen was modestly, albeit statistically non-significantly lower after ketoadaption; however, ketoadapted athletes relied on a higher proportion of fat oxidation to fuel performance as indicated by lower RQ at every level of exercise intensity:

Vogt RQ

Again, this is the essence of ketoadaptation. Physical performance as good as or better using fat and fat-derived fuels.

One reason Phinney’s glycogen-depeleted ketoadapted subjects may have done so well is their reliance on ketones (probable) and intramyocellular lipids (IMCL) (possible).  In Vogt’s study, IMCL increased from 0.69 to 1.54% after ketoadaptation…

Also, food intake and body fat declined, and training volume increased in the low fat group; whereas food intake increased, and body fat and training volume declined in the high fat group.  Reminiscent of anything?

High fat, low carb -> eat more, exercise less, STILL LOSE BODY FAT.

Vogt data

Sorcery?  No.  Diet impacts more than just mood and body composition – resting energy expenditure increased in the ketogenic dieters.  This isn’t an isolated finding.

Exhibit C. Fleming 2003 

This was another study in non-trained athletes, consuming high fat (61% fat) or control (25% fat) diets for 6 weeks.  The tests were the 30-second Wingate, to examine supramaximal performance, and a 45-minute timed ride, to examine submaximal performance.

This study differed from the previous two in several significant ways.  For starters, peak power output declined in both groups, slightly more so in the high fat group (-10% vs. -8%).  Furthermore, RQ didn’t wasn’t significantly lower during this test in the high fat group, which possibly suggests they weren’t properly ketoadapted.  In Phinney’s study, the large energy deficit ensured ketoadaptation; this study lacked that aspect, somewhat more similar to Vogt’s, although unlike Vogt’s, these participants weren’t athletes which presumably makes ketoadaptation more difficult.

There are many factors at play… I wasn’t kidding when I said these studies are very nuanced!

Exhibit D. the infamous, Paoli 2012 

These were ‘elite artistic gymnasts,’ who could likely beat you in a race running backwards.  The ketogenic phase consisted of 55% fat and much more protein than the control phase (39% fat; protein: 41% vs. 15%). The significantly higher protein content was modestly offset by slightly more calories in the control phase, which reduces the amount of protein required to maintain nitrogen balance.

In this study, performance was, for the most part, ‘maintained,’ with relative increases in a few of the tests; eg, the “legs closed barrier.”  Changes in body composition were more robust: significantly reduced body fat and increased lean body mass after 30 days of ketogenic dieting (with their normal exercise routine).

Paoli data

The major confounder in this study was the use of an herbal cocktail only in the ketogenic diet group; despite this, the results are largely in line with the other studies.  For more on this study, see here.

Exhibit E. the most dramatic one to date: Sawyer 2013 

Please see here for the details, but in brief, strength-trained athletes showed improvements in high intensity exercise performance after only 7 days of carbohydrate restriction.  The nuances of this particular study are discussed more here.

barbell

Collectively, these studies show that physical performance in both endurance and high intensity realms does not always suffer, can be maintained, and in some cases is improved by ketogenic dieting.  Important factors are duration (to ensure adequate ketoadaptation), energy balance, and regular physical activity (athletes and regular exercisers can adapt to burning fat much quicker than sedentary folks).

 

calories proper

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Nutrient Partitioning: …a *very* high protein diet.

Or: what happens when you eat a ton of protein?

RDA: 0.8 g/kg

Active individuals: 1.2-2.0 g/kg (via ISSN)
Comment (1): I think sedentary, physically inactive, and non-exercisers should be in this range to offset disuse atrophy.  And they should exercise.
Comment (2): Do athletes really need more protein than non-athletes?  They have exercise, a powerful anabolic stimulus.  More protein may improve performance or body composition, but they might not *need* it, in terms of nitrogen retention… there’s probably a study on this.

NEED =/= OPTIMIZATION

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Insulin, sympathetic nervous system, and nutrient timing.

Insulin secretion is attenuated by sympathetic nervous system activity; eg, via exercise.  Theoretically, exercising after a meal should blunt insulin secretion and I don’t think this will lessen the benefits of exercise, but rather enhance nutrient partitioning.   And this isn’t about the [mythical?] post-workout “anabolic window.”

Sympathetic innervation of pancreas: norepinephrine –> adrenergic receptor activation = decreased insulin secretion & increased lipolysis (Stich et al., 1999):

Stich insulin

Stich CAS

note how quickly catecholamines are cleared upon exercise cessation

Stich NEFA

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Implications of the circadian nature of ketones.

Ketosis.  Happens during starvation and also by restricting carbohydrates (and protein, to a lesser degree)… might be important for epilepsy and bipolar disorder, too.

ketogenesis

Ketostix measure urinary acetoacetate (AcAc) and reflect the degree of ketosis in the blood probably about 2-4 hours ago.  Blood ketone meters measure beta-hydroxybutyrate (bHB) right now.  bHB fluctuates to a greater degree, eg, it plummets after a meal whereas AcAc takes longer to decline.  AcAc/bHB is usually around 1, but increases after a meal (Mori et al., 1990):Ketone body ratio

Conversely, when glucose levels decline and fatty acid oxidation increases, liver redox potential drops which reduces AcAc/bHB.

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Sarcopenia has little to do with aging

It has to do with the duration of time spent being sedentary.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but luckily enough today you get both.

Sarcopenia: “poverty of flesh,” or the age-induced loss of skeletal muscle mass, strength, and function = reduced quality of life.  Sorry old-timers, but I hereby officially revise the definition from “aging-induced” to “sedentary-induced.”  Herein, I present evidence that sarcopenia is not a phenomenon of aging per se, but rather of disuse atrophy.  Dear Webster’s & Britannica, please revise accordingly.

Skeletal muscles: use ‘em or lose ‘em #TPMC

Thanks to Julianne Taylor & Skyler Tanner for directing me to these images.

divide and conquer

Exhibit A. Chronic exercise preserves lean muscle mass in masters athletes (Wroblewski et al., 2011)

This study evaluated “high-level recreational athletes.”  “Masters” just means they were over 40.  And “high-level” doesn’t mean “elite,” it just means they exercised 4-5 times per week.  These weren’t super-obsessed gym rats… it’s probably who I’ll be in 7 years [sigh].

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Look AHEAD – Nutrition Disinformation 2.0

The day you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived.  Results from the Look AHEAD study have been published.  When I first wrote about this study (HERE), it had been prematurely halted because the intervention was providing no benefits.  Everybody was in a state of shock and awe because Low Fat didn’t save lives.  But that was before we even had the data.  

Reminder: the “intensive lifestyle intervention” consisted of a Low Fat Diet & exercise.  The results?  Yes, they lost more weight than control, but they also took more Orlistat (of which I’m not a fan, see HERE for why):

orlistat

Orlistat = pharmaceutically enhanced low fat diet. 

Their normal diets were not healthy, but neither was low fat –>

med use

Medication use increased drastically in both groups.  The pundits have gone wild because medication use was lower in the intensive Low Fat group at the end of the study, but this is Nutrition Disinformation 2.0.  Eerily reminiscent of the recent Mediterranean Diet study, the conclusions are the same: keep eating poorly and the need for medications will increase.  You can call it a lot of things, but not “healthy.”  The alternative –>  How to define a “healthy” diet.  Period.


Significant adverse events:SAE

The only thing to reach statistical significance was more fractures in the intensive Low Fat group, but you didn’t read any headlines that said “Low Fat breaks bones.”  Imagine if that happened on low carb [sigh]  The next closest thing to statistical significance was increased amputations in the intensive Low Fat group :/

gem:History of CVD

Translation: if you were healthy at baseline, then you could tolerate a low fat diet.  Otherwise, not so much.  This is exactly what happened in the Women’s Health Initiative.

Ha

needless to say, none of the “possible explanations” they considered were Low fat diet Fail.

calories proper

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Westside Barbell, Hormesis, and Antifragility

Some people think Westside makes some of the strongest athletes in the world because unlike most other training regimes, they are constantly lifting very heavy weight.  Other protocols restrict heavy lifting to certain times of the year, in-season / off-season, etc.  At Westside, you’re going heavy on an exercise that changes very frequently (every 1 – 3 weeks).  And it’s this latter point that provides the basis for why other people think Westside works.  By constantly changing which exercise is lifted at maximal intensity, the body never fully adapts, or gets into a rut – this is part of Westside’s ‘Conjugate Method.’

The principle is embraced by Crossfit, as per their random workouts-of-the-day, and also follows a tangent of the Hormesis theory: small doses of individual exercises, eg, conventional deadlifts one week, good mornings the next, sumo deads the next week, and so on and so forth – will improve your squats; the body never knows what’s coming (even though you might have planned it weeks in advance, or at least planned to check The WOD Shop).  Also discussed albeit briefly, in Taleb’s Antifragile, wherein being prepared for “random” shocks seem to benefit the system as a whole, or make it stronger.  Sedentary makes you fragile, weak, and soft; exercise makes you robust; Westside is Antifragile.

Antifragile

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