Interview with Lyle McDonald and Jamie Hale Part #2

JH: In your book the Ultimate Diet 2.0 you mention 4 types of body fat. Could you outline those? On an interesting not you state that 3% body fat is essential. Does this mean that bodybuilders who report bodyfat percentages under 3% are probably incorrect?

LM: The four types of body fat with brief descriptions are:

Essential fat: found in the brain and nervous system. Makes up about 3% of the total in men and somewhere between 9-12% in women. You can’t lose it and, if you could, you’d be dead.

Visceral fat: This is the gut fat that accumulates around the organs. It’s more often found in men (testosterone plays a primary role here but so does cortisol which is why stress can increase visceral fat) although women can get it too under certain conditions. The nice thing about visceral fat is that it goes away pretty quickly (it’s more easily mobilized than the other types of fats); the bad is that it has some really nasty negative health effects. Losing visceral fat will tend to flatten a man’s stomach even though his skin folds may not drop.

Subcutaneous fat: This is the fat under the skin that most people think of when we talk about body fat. Men typically store most of their sub-q fat around the midsection (abs/love handles/low back) and upper back; women typically store it in their hips and thighs. Some men have more of a female fat pattern, lean abs but fat hips/thighs and some women can get a male body fat pattern. And, yes, most of this is due to hormones mainly testosterone (For men) and estrogen/progesterone for women. So if you take a male transsexual and give him androgen blockers and pump him full of estrogen/progesterone he’ll lose his gut fat and get fat hips and thighs; same goes in reverse for female to male transsexuals.

Stubborn body fat: This isn’t really a distinction made in the literature but it’s one that I make. Stubborn fat is the stuff that’s a bitch to get rid of. For men this is usually the last of the ab fat (low back can be a problem), for women it’s hip and thigh fat. Research is finding that certain fat depots are physiologically different in terms of how they respond to lipolytic (fat mobilization) stimuli, they also have very poor blood flow. If you don’t believe me, get a woman to let you feel her hips and butt; odds are it’s cold to the touch. Part of this is due to poor blood flow.

Men’s ab fat is generally more stubborn than the rest on his body (although far less stubborn than women’s lower bodyfat) and research has even identified differences in metabolism between superficial and deep ab-fat as well as the fat in the lower vs upper ab area. Now you know why the lower abs are the last place to come in when you diet.

As far as body composition measurements reporting sub 3% for men (or sub 10% for women), it mainly has to do with the way that the equations were first developed. Assumptions are being made about things such as bone density that just really aren’t accurate for athletes or bodybuilders. So it’s not that the athletes are lying, the equations and methods that are being used are lying to them.

JH: In a recent chat we had you informed me the glucagon had no direct effect on fat cells? Yet many people are under this assumption. What is glucagons regulatory role in regards to metabolism?

LM: Glucagon is very lipolytic in rats which is where the idea came from. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to affect fat cells in humans. Rather, glucagon’s primary role in humans is to affect liver metabolism, mainly to mobilize liver glycogen to make sure that blood glucose stays stable. So think about what happens when you eat a protein only meal, both insulin and glucagon go up. Now, if only insulin went up, blood glucose would crash (because you didn’t eat any carbs). By increasing glucagon the same time the body maintains normal blood glucose concentrations.

JH: Do you agree with the food combining theory of high fat/ high protein, high protein/ high carb, but never high fat/ high carb?

LM: Short answer: no. Although I don’t disagree that eating too many calories (which can occur with certain carb/fat foods) is probably a bad idea (see comments below).

Longer answer: The newest version of this fad appears to be based on a 10 year old outdate model where only insulin is important in storing calories as the rationale is that you don’t want to increase insulin when there is dietary fat in your system. As the logic goes: insulin is a storage hormone, insulin stores fat, if you raise insulin when you eat fat, you get fat.

A couple of problems right off the bat:

#1: Protein does a decent job of raising insulin and it takes very little insulin to affect fat cell metabolism.

#2: Dietary fat affects fat cell metabolism with NO INCREASE in insulin. At least two studies, using oral fat loading found a decrease in HSL and an activation of fat storage despite no increase in insulin. The apparent culprit, a little bastard called acylation stimulation protein (ASP) which is activated by the presence of chylomicrons (basically packaged triglycerides that are found in the bloodstream after the meal). ASP increases glucose uptake into the fat cell, increases insulin release from the pancreas and has been described as ‘the most potent stimulator of triglyceride storage’ in the fat cells.

I think that if food combining works in any fashion, it’s because it controls people’s food intake. Basically, compared to a diet where you can eat carbs and fat (the primary energy providing nutrients to the body) at all of your meals, setting up a diet where you can only eat one or the other at any given meal automatically tends to limit calorie intake even if people think they are ‘eating as much as they want’. Since you can only eat fat at three meals/day, you end up eating less of it than you would eating an uncontrolled diet where you can eat fat at every meal. Same for concentrated carbs (which can easily provide a lot of calories).

Also, a lot of people turn stupid when they bulk, they rationalize that they ‘need’ that pint of ice cream or tray of cookies to gain weight. Which means that they eat too many calories and that’s why they get fat. If food combining prevents them from doing that (and it does, but so does not eating like a lazy ass pig), of course it will ‘work’ in some fashion.

I think it’s important to note that the primary advocate of food combining (at least, the guy who repopularized what is really a very old idea) has recently made modifications to his original scheme. Now unprocessed carbs such as potatoes and beans and other low GI fare (veggies, of course) are allows with the protein/fat meals.

My question to him: What did he think people were eating with their protein/fat meals? Jelly beans and cake? So, basically, his food combining plan now allows meals to consist of protein, vegetables, low GI/unprocessed carbs and fat. Meaning that it took him several years to get right back to what just about every bodybuilding nutritionist ever has been recommending. Hooray for progress.

JH: Would you recommend an insulin spike in the meal following the post workout shake or meal?

LM: Yes. A combination of fat digesting high GI carbs with some fast acting protein. The hyperinsulinemia will shut down cortisol and protein breakdown and the hyperaminoacidemia will stimulate protein synthesis. Net effect is protein gain and a shift from catabolism to anabolism. Fat and fiber should be avoided at this meal.

JH: In regards to stubborn fat is their a natural way to alter the effects Alpha and beta receptors exhibit in regards to lipase stimulation?

LM: Yohimbe or yohimbine HCL (which inhibit the alpha-2 receptors that contribute to fat cells stubbornness) has been the classic approach since Daniel Duchaine introduced us to it in ::  Bodyopus :: Additionally, one study found that lowering carbs for 3-4 days had a naturally inhibiting effect on alpha-2 receptors. I’m currently finishing work on a full blown diet and training protocol (an early version of which is floating around the web) to help target stubborn fat. If I ever get off my lazy ass, it will probably be my next book project.

JH: A hormone we are hearing allot about lately is Leptin. Why is it so important?

LM: Leptin is one, if not the, primary hormone which signals the brain to slow metabolic rate when you are dieting. Now, there are certainly others, ghrelin and peptide YY from the gut and intestine respectively also signal the brain, so does blood glucose and insulin but leptin sort of sets the ‘tone’ of the brain and how it responds to the other signals.

The short course on leptin goes something like this: leptin is released primarily from fat cells (stomach and muscle also produce small amounts) in relation to two things:

  • how much fat you have
  • how much you’re eating

So when you go on a diet, leptin drops very quickly. As you lose fat, it continues to drop. It also goes up fairly quickly when you overeat and more slowly as you gain/regain body fat. Basically it ‘tells’ the brain how fat you are and whether you are in positive or negative energy balance. This lets the brain, which is ultimately very concerned with your survival, know what’s going on (and again, other hormones play additional roles).

Unfortunately, the brain tends to response to a drop in leptin far more than an increase which is why dieting is harder than gaining weight as a general rule. Basically, leptin exists primarily as an anti-starvation hormone, slowing metabolic rate, making you hungry, crashing hormones, etc. when you diet. It just doesn’t do as much when you increase it except under very specific circumstances.

JH: Any projects coming up in the near future?

LM: Depends on your definition of ‘near’. I’m always sort of working on stuff, at least conceptually or in my head. It’s getting myself to sit down and write it down and hassle with putting it together which is the problem. As mentioned above, the stubborn body fat project is probably going to be dealt with fairly soon. I should probably quit writing endlessly about dieting and do something about training. Or a general sports nutrition type of book. I don’t know, I always have way more ideas than I do the will power to make myself sit down and write stuff.

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