Adapted from The Paleo Plan’s Article “The Dreaded Detox”
So you’ve signed for the Paleo Challenge and you’re two week into it. You’re not feeling the amazing effects of the diet that so many others before you have, and in fact, you feel worse! Naturally you’re asking, “Is this really worth it?” Almost everyone who is on the Paleo Diet or similar plan has been right where you are – you are not alone. Let me explain what’s going on.
This way of eating is pretty different than a normal American diet, so there are a lot of changes you’ll be making. These changes will NOT go unnoticed by your body. What I mean is, you may experience some (or a lot of) detoxification symptoms, including intense cravings, headaches and fatigue.
Why? You took out a lot of toxins from your diet, in the form of phytic acid and lectins in grains and legumes, preservatives and other additives, refined flours and sweeteners, and dairy (which is more toxic to some than others). Since you’ve probably been eating these things your whole life, your body is going through some serious withdrawal. But it’s also finally getting a chance to clean out some built up toxins. Without all of the harmful foods constantly bombarding your liver and other organs, and with the addition of tons of nutrients and protein from the fruits, vegetables and meats you’re now eating, your body is going to take the opportunity to do some much needed cleaning. This purging is exactly what causes the symptoms you may be experiencing right now – the toxins are in your circulation being dealt with instead of being suppressed. It’s like when you do a good deep cleaning of your house – you turn it upside down before it looks immaculate. In the first 3 days to 3 weeks, you may (or may not) experience:
When I first went Paleo, I remember trying to deadlift and the bar felt like a million pounds. I didn’t have the clarity that I was used to and felt like I was in a total fog. Persisting through this based on the accounts of others, I finally hit “Paleo Euphoria” and never looked back. A lot of people only experience symptoms for a few days to a week, and there’s really no way of predicting how long your detoxification period will last.
For the coffee and/or tea drinker and you’re giving that up (not required on our challenge), you should almost undoubtedly expect some symptoms. Caffeine is an addictive substance, as you know, and your nervous and endocrine systems will need some time to re-boot. Maybe warn your significant other that you might not be the sweetest, most docile partner for a few days…
So during those difficult moments when you’re wondering whether or not this diet is in fact hurting you – not helping – remember that after the “storm of detoxification” subsides, you may very well experience:
Clarity of mind
Fat loss/Muscle gain
Fewer aches and pains
Less sinus congestion
Fewer seasonal allergy symptoms
And that is why you’ve chosen to do this. Stay strong – it WILL be worth it.
What are your experiences with detoxification? Any words of wisdom for your fellow Paleo Challenge Participants?
Grass Fed vs. Grain Fed Beef
Some Excerpts taken from Mark’s Daily Apple
You have recently walked into Whole Foods or some other specialty store, only to see the signs that say 100% vegetarian diet, hormone free beef. You look at the price premium and ask yourself, “What’s the big deal with Grass Fed Beef?” The first big deal is the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) content. As seen in some studies, CLA is believed to offer anti-cancer properties. It can also help decrease the risk of insulin resistance.
The key difference? A pastured diet results in a nearly 1:1 ratio of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. This is the ratio believed to characterize our hunter-gatherer ancestors (Dr. Courdain and Mark Sisson explore this often in their literature). What does a grain-fed ratio look like? Try 6:1. This ratio has been demonstrated to inflammation and precursors for chronic conditions (click on the link of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids above).
There’s also the E-Coli issue. With all the concern about food safety in the last decade or so (thank you Jack in the Box), one fact has been seriously overlooked: grass fed (and finished) beef is considerably less likely to be infected with E-Coli (abstract), particularly acid resistant E-Coli that cannot be effectively “disarmed by our digestive systems.
Love that marbleized rib-eye and wonder how they go so much fat into that cut…It’s worth noting that many cattle start off grass-fed early on in their lives but are nearly always switched to grain in the months before slaughter to fatten up to deliver that rib eye to your kitchen table. Most of the initial omega-3 stores and other nutritional benefits are lost during that time. Grass-fed and –finished are not synonymous.
Sometimes, weight loss slows. Sometimes, what worked amazingly well before, stops working quite the same. Although this can be scary, frustrating, annoying, or all of the above when progress slows, stops, or requires new input to continue like it was is ultimately okay, because we are an adaptive species. We can change things up, shift stuff around. Physiological processes (among which weight loss and metabolism can certainly be counted) are never linear – that’s partly what makes all this stuff so endlessly engaging.
Today, I revisit a strategy for overcoming these lulls in weight loss induced by low carb: carb (re)feeds. They seem counterintuitive, sort of, especially if you’ve had success restricting carbs, but hold you opinions until you read on. I think you’ll find it enlightening.
Dear Mark: Your blog is a treasure trove of valuable information. Thank you for keeping this resource available to us!
This is a question that I think many of your readers would appreciate seeing addressed in a post. [Background: I've been studying (and trying, periodically) various low carb regimens for many years, with varying degrees of success. I'm looking to metabolize off about 30-40 pounds of excess fat, build lean muscle and optimize my health and fitness.]
My question is, what do you think of the increasingly common recommendation (from various diet and fitness gurus) to “spike” calories and carbs one day per week, in order to keep the body from down-regulating certain mechanisms too much due to continued low carbohydrate intake? The theory is that a once-per-week carb/calorie spike gives the metabolism a boost, and keeps weight loss going at a better rate than simply sticking to the low carb regimen seven days per week.
I’m wondering if this recommendation for one “free day” per week is helpful or harmful to the objective of significantly reducing excess body fat over a period of a few months, and staying lean for life. I don’t mean a “be a fool and eat garbage” day, but an honest “spike the carbs and calories with healthy foods” day. What do you think: Would this be a weight loss booster overall, or just a setback on the road to burning excess fat and getting to an optimally lean body composition?
Thanks, Mark! I (and I’m sure your other readers) will value your opinion on this.
I’m happy to help. Thanks for the kind words.
Short answer: Yes, I think there is something to the lowish-carber’s occasional carb and calorie fest. Its relevance to a given individual depends on that person’s metabolic situation, of course, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Check out my previous posts on leptin and carb refeeds and weight loss to get an idea.
Longer answer: If you’re eating low-carb and low-calorie (which low-carb tends to promote on account of its inherent satiety) and the weight has stopped dropping, you may be low in leptin. Why does leptin matter, and what do calories and carbs have to do with it?
Leptin is a hormone that fulfills two primary roles, as far as metabolism and weight loss go – it increases (or lowers) energy expenditure, depending on perceived energy availability, and it inhibits appetite. Both actions actually happen in the brain, but it’s leptin that gives the brain the message. If perceived energy availability is “low,” energy expenditure drops and appetite increases. If perceived energy availability is “high,” energy expenditure increases and appetite drops. That’s a quick and dirty (and incomplete) overview, but it serves our purposes for today’s discussion.
How does the body “perceive” energy availability?
Body fat is, quite literally, stored energy. It’s also an endocrine organ that secretes leptin, the amount of which in circulation is directly proportional to the amount of adipose tissue on your body. So, the leaner you get, the less body fat (and less stored energy) you have available to drive leptin secretion. Even if you’re not as lean as you’d prefer to be, your lower body fat levels are low enough that the brain isn’t getting the “high energy availability” message from leptin.
Insulin is another indicator of energy availability. Sure enough, insulin increases leptin secretion in fat cells. As far as the body’s concerned, if insulin is present in significant amounts, food has just been eaten, which means food is probably available in the environment. If food is readily available, the body doesn’t need to cram as much food in, nor does it have to conserve energy. It can do things that aren’t essential to immediate survival, like play a game, have sex, go explore, or work out, because there’s plenty of energy available. Leptin goes up, reducing appetite and increasing expenditure. Problems arise with leptin resistance, of course, when your insulin is constantly elevated, but I’ll get to that later.
Carbohydrate content of the diet, perhaps independently of the increase in insulin, also affects leptin levels.Protein also increases leptin, and fat seems not to, but carbohydrates have the largest effect.
Overall calorie content of the diet is an indicator of energy availability. Studies show that calorie restriction causes the body to lower serum leptin levels in order to protect against further weight loss, and that supplementary leptin kickstarts weight loss all over again.
Ultimately, then, leptin is how the body senses both incoming and stored energy. It goes up in response to food eaten, as well as food stored. And since day-to-day survival of an organism is largely about energy availability, the presence or absence of leptin can make life pretty awesome or pretty awful. This doesn’t just impact weight loss or gain; it impacts your enjoyment of life. Low leptin? You might not feel like taking that walk with your friend. You probably won’t want to work out. Your libido might suffer. You might not feel like doing much of anything except sit around.
Can you see why lagging leptin might be an issue in stalled weight loss during a diet? You’re dropping calories (an indicator of reduced energy availability), dropping body fat (an indicator of reduced energy availability), and, especially if you’re low-carb, you’re dropping insulin and carbs (an indicator of reduced energy availability). All these things tell the body to make less leptin, and less leptin means higher appetite (so you eat more) and lower energy expenditure (so you burn less fat and don’t feel like doing much of anything).
How Should You Do It?
As I mentioned in the refeed post, keep the fat content of your meals down when doing a carb feed – about 50 grams for the day. Why? For one, fat doesn’t have as much an effect on leptin as carbs or protein do, and two, since triglycerides have been shown to prevent leptin from crossing the blood-brain barrier (into the brain where leptin does its work), the increased postprandial triglycerides (which are a normal, temporary, physiological consequence of eating fat and different from elevated fasting triglycerides) may reduce the effectiveness of leptin.
The greater you normally restrict carbs, the more you eat on your refeed. If you’re hanging out in the 100-150 gram range, you probably won’t need much – if any – of a boost in carbs. If you’re below 100 grams, I’d do 250 grams or so. If very low carb (below 50 grams), shoot for 300-350.
Do your refeed on a training day. Lift/sprint/run/hike/play big and, then, eat big. Your insulin sensitivity and leptin sensitivity will be high, your glycogen will be depleted, and you will basically be set up to store/burn the carbs and muscle energy rather than store it as fat. Leptin will increase regardless if you train or not, but doing it on a training day will mitigate any metabolic fallout.
Don’t use this as an excuse for stuffing your face with garbage. I mean, I suppose you could truly turn it into a cheat day and eat a couple pizzas, a gallon of ice cream, and a platter of crispy oxidized soybean oil-infused whatevers, but you’ll have better results with potatoes and yams (or even rice) and animals.
Who Shouldn’t Do It?
A big carb feeding isn’t right for everyone. I would say that for the severely overweight-to-obese, you should not be messing around with carb feeds. It’s not that they’ll wreak irreparable amounts of damage on your metabolism or anything; they just won’t be very helpful. See, the obese tend to be insulin-resistant (PDF). They have tons of leptin in circulation, far more than lean individuals, but it cannot do its intended job. Instead of telling the muscles to burn more fat for energy and telling the brain to quell the appetite, leptin’s message in the obese is muffled, stifled, hamstrung. It can’t get through. Lack of leptin is not the problem, as the considerable amounts of adipose tissue are doing a fine enough job manufacturing the stuff. Sensitivity to leptin in the brain and periphery is the problem. Thus, adding more leptin to the bunch via dietary manipulation won’t help, and it may even compound the problem. Improving leptin sensitivity is the real issue here, and a lowish-carb Primal eating and general lifestyle plan (with adequate sleep, smart training, and plenty of stress mitigation) is the best way to do that.
Who Should Do It?
Leptin is most effective in the lean, moderately lean, and somewhat chubby (yes, those are absolutely technical terms). Men with six-packs, four-packs, two-packs, and men and women with a light layer of subcutaneous blubber covering everything up tend (a la those hunter-gatherers who aren’t exactly “ripped,” but definitely not unhealthy) to be essentially leptin-sensitive. In these individuals, leptin acutely boosts skeletal muscle fatty acid oxidation.
Those with “stubborn” body fat, those on an extended stall, or the otherwise lean who can’t quite seem to get the last dozen pounds to disappear are prime candidates for a big refeed. They’re not so overweight that leptin resistance is likely, so they’ll benefit from a general increase in leptin. They’re fairly lean, so circulating leptin is lower.
Anyone who’s “feeling off” from low-carb Primal, despite their best efforts. Say you’ve given the low-carb flu a chance to pass over, you’ve addressed your sleep and stress, you’re not trying to train like a pro athlete, and you’re still feeling run down and unable to lose weight? Throw in a big carb feed.
What about you guys? Have you experimented with carb refeeding, and if so, how did it impact your weight loss efforts?
Thanks for reading!
* Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with an abundance of health benefits. The long-term effect on insulin sensitivity and body weight (via insulin or decreased appetite) may be of particular interest to us.
* The thermic effect of alcohol is high and the real caloric value is not 7.1 kcal: it’s ~5.6 kcal. However, it’s still easy to overconsume calories by drinking. Calorie for calorie, the short-term effect of alcohol on satiety is low. Adding to this, intoxication may also encourage overeating by disinhibition of dietary restraint.
* The negative effects of alcohol on testosterone and recovery has been grossly exaggerated by the fitness mainstream. Excluding very high acute alcohol consumption, or prolonged and daily consumption, the effect is non-significant and unlikely to affect muscle gains or training adaptations negatively.
* The effect of alcohol on muscle protein synthesis is unknown in normal human subjects. It is not unlikely to assume that a negative effect exists, but it is very unlikely that it is of such a profound magnitude that some people would have you believe.
* Alcohol is converted to acetate by the liver. The oxidation of acetate takes precedence over other nutrients and is oxidized to carbon dioxide and water. However, despite being a potent inhibitor of lipolysis, alcohol/acetate alone cannot cause fat gain by itself. It’s all the junk people eat in conjunction with alcohol intake that causes fat gain.
Written by Calvin Sun
I have had a good number of questions lately from both athletes and coaches in our community on branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplementation. For several years now, BCAAs have been a hot topic amongst athletes, strength coaches, and fitness professionals. In that time, BCAA supplementation has become a mainstream practice for amateur and professional athletes alike. There are a variety of claims associated with BCAAs including increased lean muscle mass, improved recovery time, and increased strength.
What exactly are BCAAs?
There are 22 standard amino acids and these amino acids are necessary for nearly every biological process in your body. Among those, 9 are considered to be essential amino acids. Essential amino acids can’t be manufactured by the human body so they must be obtained from food sources. Among the essential amino acids, only 3 are considered to be BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs play numerous key roles in your body. Unlike the other essential amino acids, BCAAs are oxidized in muscle tissue and not the liver (1). Research has found that exercise increases BCAA oxidation, likely as part of energy expenditure and as substrates for the Krebs cycle (2). Knowing that BCAAs are oxidized during exercise, further research has been conducted to see the effects of supplementation.
In 2000, a study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that BCAA supplementation reduced the serum levels of creatine phosphokinase (CPK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) in test subjects (3). CPK and LDH are commonly used in medical testing as indicators of muscle damage and tissue breakdown. Lower levels of these two enzymes indicate that BCAAs reduce the amount of exercise-induced muscle damage in the human body. Compared to the control group, the study found that the BCAA supplementation group had significantly decreased indicators of muscle damage for up to 5 days after the bout of exercise. Another study published in the American Journal of Physiology found that BCAAs prevented muscle protein breakdown by sparing essential amino acids in muscle tissue (4). In other words, BCAA supplementation likely improves recovery time by diminishing the amount of damage caused during exercise. This is especially useful for athletes who are in the middle of high volume training cycles. The protein sparing effects of BCAAs can allow us to train harder and more frequently while allowing for greater recovery and adaptation.
Of the three BCAAs, leucine is unique in that it initiates protein synthesis. During exercise, protein synthesis decreases as a result of the increased protein degradation and BCAA oxidation. Leucine has been found to stimulate muscle protein synthesis post-exercise (5). Combined with the aforementioned benefits of all the BCAAs, leucine can help an athlete increase their lean muscle mass. Based on this research, athletes that are trying to cut weight while preserving muscle mass can benefit from supplementation as well those who are trying to increase their lean mass and strength.
How much should I take?
In the research I’ve cited for this article, subjects supplemented as little as 3 grams a day and as much as 50 grams a day with positive results. To my knowledge, there isn’t a standardized protocol for BCAA supplementation like there is with protein intake. Many factors will affect how much you need. Your goals, body mass, age, gender, training experience, and sport are amongst the variables to consider. Experiment and see what works best for you.
When do I take BCAAs?
In my experience, it depends on the form of BCAA you are taking as well as the type and length of training session. The general consensus is that liquid BCAA will absorb faster than the pill form. In my opinion, pills might be better before and during workouts while liquid forms might be better suited for supplementing during and after workouts. Much of the research surrounding leucine has shown that a post-workout liquid meal composed of carbohydrates, protein and BCAAs is effective for recovery (5).
Is it safe?
BCAAs compose 35% of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins and 40% of the preformed amino acids required by mammals. While BCAAs and their byproducts can reach toxic levels in the human body in rare cases such as certain metabolic disorders, it’s very difficult to achieve a toxic level in a normal, healthy person. In fact, BCAAs have been used in the treatment of burn victims (6) as well as liver diseases (7).
Is it legal?
BCAAs are considered a dietary supplement and perfectly legal to buy. The only concern would be if your sporting organization considers them a banned substance. As far as I know, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the NCAA both allow the use of BCAAs. Though, be sure to check with your respective organization if you aren’t sure.
Do you have any brands you recommend?
Personally, I like Gaspari Nutrition’s BCAA 6000 for pill form and USP Labs’ Modern BCAA for liquid form. Both have a high amounts of leucine and I’ve field tested both products on the competitive athletes I train as well as myself.
Based on the latest research as well as my own experience as a coach and athlete, BCAAs are a worthwhile supplement if you are a competitive athlete and/or your training goals are focused on performance. If your goals are more centered on health and body composition, BCAA supplementation probably isn’t necessary in most cases. In other words if your goals don’t involve standing on a podium or winning a national title, you are probably better off spending your food budget on groceries. Keep in mind, a good protein powder will provide a few grams of BCAAs. You will also find BCAAs in quality protein sources such as eggs, chicken, fish, and lean meats. If you still aren’t sure if you should supplement with BCAAs, feel free to consult one of your Invictus coaches.
1. Rennie, Michael J. “Protein Andand Amino Acid Metabolism during and after Exercise and the Effects of Nutrition.” Annual Review of Nutrition (2000).
2. Shimomura, Yoshiharu, Taro Murakami, Naoya Nakai, Masaru Nagasaki, and Robert A. Harris. “Exercise Promotes BCAA Catabolism: Effects of BCAA Supplementation on Skeletal Muscle during Exercise.” The Journal of Nutrition 134.6 (2004).
3. Coombes, JS, and LR McNaughton. “Effects of Branched-chain Amino Acid Supplementation on Serum Creatine Kinase and Lactate Dehydrogenase after Prolonged Exercise.” The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness (2000).
4.MacLean, DA, TE Graham, and B. Saltin. “Branched-chain Amino Acids Augment Ammonia Metabolism While Attenuating Protein Breakdown during Exercise.” The American Journal of Physiology 6.1 (1994).
5. Layne E. Norton and Donald K. Layman. “Leucine Regulates Translation Initiation of Protein Synthesis in Skeletal Muscle after Exercise”.The Journal of Nutrition 136.2 (2006).
6. De Bandt, Jean-Pascal, and Luc Cynober. “Therapeutic Use of Branched-Chain Amino Acids in Burn, Trauma, and Sepsis.” The Journal of Nutrition 136.1 (2006).
7. Marchesini, Giulio, Rebecca Marzocchi, Marianna Noia, and Giampaolo Bianchi. “Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation in Patients with Liver Diseases.” The Journal of Nutrition 135.6 (2005).