The Upside to Health Blogging

A year ago, I was researching my own protein needs. I had just lost a lot of weight using the carb-friendly Peasant Diet that had moderate to low protein and I was figuring out what to do next. My research took me to some of the work of Lyle McDonald on P-Ratios.

From the post High Volume or High Protein Foods For Fat Loss:

The P-Ratio is a value that describes the rate at which you gain or lose fat and muscle when dieting or bulking. A 1:3 ratio says that for every 1 pound of muscle gained, 3 pounds of fat will be gained. On the flip side, it also means that when dieting, a pound of muscle is lost for every 3 pounds of fat.

The ideal situation is to have high a P-Ratio when gaining and a low P-Ratio when dieting.

The P-Ratio explains why the heavier you are, the less need you have for protein when dieting because very little muscle is sacrificed. On the flip side, it makes the case that as one gets lean, protein needs are increased to defend against muscle loss.

At the end of that post, I had made the case to myself to increase my protein intake. It was to become my new story. Then I got injured and I forgot all about P-Ratios. The next several months were spent with physical therapists and trying to solve the riddle of getting my knee pain to go away.

In May, I had a breakthrough on my knee and I have been making progress ever since. My activity is up and I’m regaining muscle in my legs. Yet, I’m still dropping weight, when I want to gain at this stage.

Puzzled by this development, I dug through this blog and found that post from a year ago on P-Ratios. It was information I learned and posted on quickly without having much time to reflect on that information or become better at eating a higher protein diet.

It is a good thing that I have 1,500+ posts of breadcrumbs leading me back to what captured my interest on that day. It helps me make better decisions going forward. If you do not blog, having a private journal might be of benefit to you.

I just listened to a podcast where an investor would write down his reasons for buying or selling a stock. Then he would revisit his writing to find flaws in his decision making. It made him a much better investor. I’m certain having this blog has made me more healthy than I would be without it.

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Fasting Mimicking Diet – More Questions and Comments

I was a bit critical of the Longevity Diet Book. Dr. Longo sold me on the merits of doing a Fasting Mimicking Diet during his interview on Found My Fitness, but I wasn’t a fan of the book. I thought it was too dumbed down and it didn’t explain some core concepts I felt were important.

Book Review: The Longevity Diet Book Overview

I didn’t buy the book. I got it from the library, read it in 2 days, and then returned it. So I no longer have the book in front of me to check what I am about to post.

Non-Fasting Optimal Diet

A few days ago, I listened to Dr. Longo’s interview with Ari Whitten. In the interview, I felt Longo did a better job of explaining his standard optimal diet, which is mostly vegetarian with some fish. The diet he believes is best is low in sugar and low in saturated fat. To be clear, this is the diet you follow when you are not doing the Fasting Mimicking Diet.

Longo explained his reason as being based on epidemiological studies. The populations with the longest life expectancies consume mostly seafood with little animal protein. He makes the point that organic grass-fed meat might be perfectly healthy, but we don’t have data at this point to support a longevity claim for eating in that manner. Maybe I missed it in the book, but I felt he explained his reasoning better in the interview.

I can respect this stance completely. Longo is an expert on what happens to the body when cells are deprived of amino acids and how we trigger repair processes. Nobody is really an expert on what the optimal diet is for longevity, so he decides that a basic Blue Zones diet is the default optimal. There may be better options, but there is no evidence yet. So if decades from now we start seeing keto people outpace the rest of us in longevity, we can reexamine the Blue Zones diet as the default optimal. Fair enough.

Side note: I suspect the longevity benefits of the Blue Zones are mostly due to strong social bonds, which in my opinion would be easier to form if you lived in beautiful weather year-round along the ocean.

Is Ketosis Required?

This is another question that came to me at the end of my Potato FMD: Do the full recovery benefits of the Fasting Mimicking Diet require the person to be in ketosis? Is that signal necessary? The hack that I have been posting about here uses potatoes to stay under 20 grams of protein, which is low calories and very low protein, but not ketogenic.

The Potato Diet Version of the Fasting Mimicking Diet

My hack observes the low protein requirements, but not the low glucose requirements. I recall not hearing a good case on restricting glucose to trigger autophagy and apoptosis. I was more swayed by the math described in the 2011 Protein Cycling Diet book.

But does the ketosis signal itself play a role in repair? More specifically, ending the ketosis signal. Would someone get a greater repair response – perhaps more stem cell production – coming out of ketosis? I do not know. Anyone?

My plan is to do the 2 avocados a day approach on my next FMD. Then I will be ketogenic and in full compliance. But I would still like to know.

avocado

Photo by Charles Deluvio

Is it Working?

I talked to a few people about this diet. People with issues that could benefit from trying it. They showed no interest. The big reason is people want to be rewarded for taking a sacrifice. With the FMD, you are taking a leap of faith that processes you don’t fully understand will improve your health in some manner which you can not measure.

This is not true for the truly sick. People with chronic illnesses or near end of life will be motivated to try anything. But very few other people will. Someone asked how would I know if I benefited from the Fasting Mimicking Diet. I said I didn’t know. There won’t exist a copy of me that doesn’t do the FMD that I can compare myself to.

In the future, I believe we will have methods to measure so many health markers that we will be able to get real-time scoring of the body’s repair processes. Getting those numbers will be the needed motivation for the general public. Until that day comes, I think the only people that will do this form of protein-restricted fasting will be the very ill and health geeks like ourselves. And many of us will lose interest as some other diet catches our eye.

Fasting Mimicking Diet Overview

One aspect of nutrition that I’m drawn to is the concept of cycling between two different strategies to yield better results than following just one strategy. This post is about benefits to cycling protein.

High Protein or Low Protein?

Although I have for years been skeptical of higher protein diets being necessary for building muscle, I have come around to seeing how much they can help with fat loss. Protein crushes appetite and preserves muscle loss – especially as one gets very lean. I covered the topic of P-ratio in the post High Volume or High Protein Foods For Fat Loss.

But I think there can also be a downside to using high protein all the time. In the post More Thoughts on High Volume or High Protein For Fat Loss, I covered a discussion Robb Wolf had with Joe Rogan on how very low protein diets accomplished via fasting resulted in extreme fat loss without the extra skin folds you normally see on high weight loss diets.

There is a healthy discussion in the comments, but I walked away thinking that if I were to choose between a higher or lower protein path for fat loss, it would depend upon where I was. The heavier I was, the more fasting (low protein) I’d use and then as I got leaner, I’d up the protein to preserve muscle. The great compromise.

Why Not Both?

Why not chose both strategies if it can yield better results than either one separately? Cycle protein levels to get the benefits of both approaches. That was my takeaway when I started researching the Fasting Mimicking Diet.

The Fasting Mimicking Diet was created by Dr. Valter Longo and was discussed on the podcast Found My Fitness. You can watch the interview on YouTube.

Valter Longo, Ph.D. on Fasting-Mimicking Diet & Fasting for Longevity, Cancer & Multiple Sclerosis

The show was very interesting to me. I listened to it twice and took some notes.

Overview of the Fasting Mimicking Diet

The Fasting Mimicking Diet is a diet that cycles between extremely low protein levels and normal protein levels. In the cycle, there are 5 consecutive days of reduced calories and low protein. The remainder of the cycle is normal calories and normal protein. A typical cycle might be monthly for someone with health issues or specific health goals, but your cycle could be quarterly I suppose.

  • Day 1: 1,090 calories (10% protein, 56% fat, 34% carbs)
  • Days 2-5: 725 calories (9% protein, 44% fat, 47% carbs)
  • Other Days: Normal calories and normal protein levels

The 5-day cycle mimics fasting and the benefits it provides but does it in a way that is easier to do for most people. By depriving your body of protein for 5 days the body responds with powerful repair mechanisms that address inflammation. And as they state in the interview, inflammation is predictive of aging.

Back in 2015, I did a post that referenced the 2011 online book Protein Cycling Diet by Dr. Ron Mignery. That book lists many health benefits one can get from very low protein levels and advises a 5% protein or less diet on dieting days. It is really hard to find foods with that little protein. The FMD solves for this by reducing calories, so the net protein is likely similar.

Ramping Up Stem Cell Production

During the 5 days of low-protein, the body increases its production of stem cells. One chart showed circulating stem cells counts triple from 0.3% to 0.95%. As someone that is interested in not only the health benefits discussed in the interview and those mentioned in the Protein Cycling Diet, I’m guessing this might be a path to faster recovery from injury and intense exercise.

At the end of the 5-day low protein, normal protein levels are resumed. This refeeding is the rebuilding period.

Apoptosis

A prolonged fast triggers apoptosis, which is a cellular program that causes a cell to kill itself after becoming damaged. Then the cells are rebuilt afterward. Dr. Longo calls this process the “most powerful generation program since birth.”

For a fast to be prolonged requires 4 to 5 days. This means the intermittent fasting which is just 16-24 hours that promotes autophagy (cell cleaning) is not going to have the same effect. It is still beneficial but in a different manner.

Benefits

Potential health issues that could benefit from a prolonged fasting diet include:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Aging
  • Autoimmune
  • Obesity

And going back to high vs low protein debate in dieting, I would think cycling in a prolonged fast would achieve the benefits of both approaches. Get lean, preserve muscle, and have tight skin. Could it be the holy grail approach? Worth a try.

Menus

With a calculator and a calorie website, you could build menus of foods that meet the requirements above. The company ProLon does the math for you and builds food kits to help people stay compliant on this diet. I think that is great, especially for people in poor health.

The simple method recommended is to eat 2 medium sized avocados a day along with some athletic greens. Or if you are super tough, do a pure fast for the time period.

I plan to give the Fasting Mimicking Diet a try in 2018. I’ll keep you posted.

avocado

Photo by Charles Deluvio