On a few occasions when dealing with the topic of diet you've stressed the emphasis be on fat and pr


By: Gym Jones

On a few occasions when dealing with the topic of diet. You've stressed the emphasis be on fat and protein. Especially when dealing with fueling an endurence athlete. In response to a question regarding the transformation of Vincent Regan you explained that his mission was radical, and the ability to handle a large work load and his discipline (as well as coaching) allowed it, and that the main dietary plan was calorie restriction with an emphasis on "fat and protein."

Am I correct to understand these to be examples of ketosis? Thus the body "tuning" itself to metabolise fat and store glucose only when in dire need. Though athletes differ and energy needs vary, when it comes to recomposing the body and shedding the dead weight, what kind of macro-nutrient ratio would you suggest, that will allow the body to "tune" itself for fat metabolism and enter a ketogenic state? Also I was intriqued by the fact that eating more then 500 calories in a meal causes a large insulin spike regardless of what you eat, what kind of time frame are we talking between meals that would eliminate that?


One of the more important concepts when dealing with diet is simply this: eating fat doesn't make you fat. However, we are inundated with contrary advice and information. An exercise Rob developed to drive this idea home is to inventory items in the the obese person's shiopping cart at the grocery store. You will find all "low fat" and sugar-free items, which, apparently, are either fattening or ineffective tools in one's fat-loss efforts. This is a silly, extreme example but illustrates the general theme. Perhaps I wrote this somewhere already but, try getting fat on a diet of butter and steak. It can't be done, and numerous experiments have shown (intentionally or otherwise) this to be the case.

Rats do not gain weight on a high-fat diet. Even those that are susceptible to weight gain (perhaps they have a genetically higher 'set point' by nature or have been genetically engineered) get fatter on a high-fat, high-carb diet than on a high-fat, low-carb diet. And the dose of fat must be 30% of calories, but more often than not, in the 40-60% range. Thirty percent of calories from fat is low for humans but common rat chow, which is modeled on how a rat eats in nature, is roughly 2-6% fat so even the 30% dose is quite high.

An example of those who gain weight from eating high-carb, low-fat comes from sumo wrestling. A 1976 University of Tokyo study showed that top level performers ate roughly 5500 calories/day consisting of: 780g carb, 100g fat, 365g protein, which compared to the normal diet in Japan at the time was 2x the amount of carbs, almost 2x the fat, and 4x the protein. Viewed as percentages: 57% carbs, 16% fat. Most Americans could not limit their intake to 16% fat if a gun was put to their heads. The lower-performing sumo wrestlers ate a diet of 5100 calories/day: 1000g carbs, 165g protein, 50g of fat, or 80% carbs and 9% fat. The difference between the two groups is that the top wrestlers were on a weight maintenance diet, while the lower performers, who were often lighter were trying to gain weight in order to enter the top level. The lesson here is simple: eat excessive carbs, get fat.

The above rat and sumo examples are culled from Gary Taubes' book titled "Good Calories, Bad Calories", which I highly recommend.

We emphasize protein because:
those on a low-protein diet tend to fatten
protein increases the thermal cost of digestion
protein is necessary to repair, replenish, etc.
That said, it's easy to go overboard and most American men (probably) get enough protein from their normal diet without paying attention to it or supplementing.

Multiple experiments show that is very difficult to fatten on a high-fat diet, or high-fat, high-protein diet so it stands to reason that eating that same diet, while paying attention to total caloric intake is a sound basis for body recomposition.

This does not mean one may restrict carbs entirely because some intake is needed to prevent protein from being broken down to fuel brain and nervous system function. Glucose is the primary brain fuel, and it's easiest to provide that fuel with dietary carbs. If these are lacking entirely the liver increases production of ketones, which can supply about 75% of the brain's fuel supply, the remaining energy comes from the conversion of protein to glucose.

OK, ratios:
Many have had great success following Zone ratios of 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat, with total caloric needs based on fueling one's current (or desired) quantity of lean tissue. Sears' protein requirement figures are based on lean tissue and exercise levels. You can find a used copy of the original Zone book for a dollar or so these days (www.abebooks.com), which contains the formula:
1.8g/kg if 5x1 hour of training per week
2g/kg if 5x2 hours of training per week
I don't recall any changes recommended based on intensity or type of training so the prescription is vague at best and you will have to dial it in by trial and error. I think these numbers are high, though the type of training and one's objective will influence the figure. The International Olympic Committee Consensus on Sports Nutrition recommends 1.2-1.4g/kg for endurance athletes and 1.2-1.7g/kg for strength/speed athletes.

The Zone requires fairly accurate calorie counts, which means weighing and measuring food, and although I have done it I think it's as much an eating disorder as sticking one's finger down his/her throat. I don't want to have that relationship with food. However, measuring is a shockingly effective and enlightening exercise because most people over-estimate their expenditure, but more importantly under-estimate intake.

I like to simplify things so recommend eating, "all three macronutrients in roughly equal caloric values at every snack or meal." Mix your fuel sources. Whenever you put any calories in your mouth balance them. If you must eat a single macronutrient due to an availability issue eat only protein, or a combo of protein and fat. To determine your daily caloric needs you can use an online metabolic rate calculator:
Run your numbers through several different calculators and take the average. Or you can visit a facility that offers Bod Pod testing to come up with a number. Once you know how many calories to eat to fuel basic and additional activity-related needs it's 'easy' to sort out how many should come from which source. To get around the weighing and measuring hassle start reading labels. It's a bunch of work up front but once you have memorized the values you can easily put together meals on the fly without paying too much attention.

Remember also that each of us is an experiment of one and the path is long, i.e. the rest of our lives, which means we must go through a process of trial and error, and happily have time for it.

Finally, the 500 calorie/meal thing is a holdover from Sears and his Zone, and we should probably dump it since an athlete who needs 3000 calories/day would have to eat 6x per day. If he followed Sears' recommendation of four hours between meals it would take all 24 hours to satisfy caloric needs and that would interrupt sleep, which, in turn, would increase fat storage. One of Sears' notions is that a diet of 3x 500-calorie meals plus 2x 100-calorie snacks per day is not (necessarily) calorie-restriction IF the body is tuned to oxidize on-board fats to account for the caloric shortfall. This may be useful and/or true for an obese person but not for an athlete who is already at at 5-6% body fat and cannot afford to lose more.

On the other hand, one of the main ideas behind eating all three macronutrients whenever we put something in our mouths is to slow down the rate of absorption, which prevents an excessive insulin response. Adding fat to the carbs slows absorption. Adding protein to the carbs slows absorption. High-fiber carbs are not assimilated rapidly. If you respect this idea I think -- but I won't say "I'm certain" -- that you can more or less ignore the 500 calorie/meal recommendation, as well as the notion of avoiding carbs with a high glycemic index: you can change the (perceived) glycemic index by adding fat and/or protein and/or supplemental fiber. That said organize daily intake to make breakfast and lunch the largest meals of the day, and dinner lighter so digestion is more or less finished when you go to bed. There's no sense in giving your body extra work to do while you are trying to rest and recover.

I hope these ideas will provide the basis for your own experiments in body recomposition, and that you succeed in achieving your objectives.

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