Posted January 23, 2015
Posted June 12, 2013
In last week's Synchro Life Design, I tackled the complicated subject of the choices for fuel sources for the human body. Essentially, the metabolism has the capacity to run on either carbohydrates or fats - but it is somewhat of a choice. Carb-burning pathways and fat-burning pathways generally run in opposition to each other, with fat-burning pathways taking over when carb-burning pathways are lacking "fuel". Depending on what you have eaten recently, one of the two pathways will handle the majority of your body's energy-production needs. For a number of reasons (all in the article!), eating to favor fat-burning pathways is the option that produces the best results in terms of body composition, cognitive performance and sustained vibrant energy.
Of course, getting great results from a high-fat diet doesn't simply mean eating high-fat foods indiscriminately. The types of fats you eat are critical to any high-fat diet strategy (also covered in last week's article). Fats that are digested and used easily by the metabolism are an important part of any such diet. Medium- and short-chain fats (such as those in coconut oil and butter, for example) fuel the body and brain quite well and promote fat burning metabolism. These short- and medium-chain fatty acids should account for a large portion of fat-calorie intake. Longer-chain fatty acid (such as those in most vegetable oils) take longer to digest and turn into energy and are not nearly as supportive as a fuel source or promoter of fat-burning metabolism.
What you're eating is critical, but almost as important in a successful high-fat diet is when you eat. To be more specific, the relative levels of carbs, protein and fat you're eating at any given point in your day determine what state your metabolism will be in. With this in mind I've developed the strategy I call Synchro Mini-Fasting. Synchro Mini-Fasting harnesses the power of a quality high-fat diet and combines it with a bit of elegant strategy to transform your diet an energy-boosting, brain-enhancing, fat-burning machine.
Background On Fasting Techniques
At it's core, Synchro Mini-Fasting draws heavily on a technique known as intermittent fasting that has been rapidly growing in popularity over the past few years. Intermittent fasting (IF) has been around for decades and has been well-studied both by academics and by communities of people online who share data on techniques and results. The essence of the technique involves condensing all of your eating into a small window (typically 6-8 hours) during a 24-hour period. For example, you would eat at 8pm, and then not eat again until noon the following day. Intermittent fasters typically eat as many or more calories as someone on a conventional diet schedule, it is just all packed into that 6-8 hour window.
The effect of IF on the body is dramatic. In the second half of a "fasting" period, fat-burning metabolism accelerates and the body is able to pull stored fat out of adipose tissue at a rate way above anything seen when adhering to a more conventional eating schedule. Additionally, intermittent fasting will increase metabolic factors involved in protein synthesis - meaning that particularly when combined with a strength-training regimen, IF will encourage the formation of lean muscle. There's good reason a lot of top athletes in natural body fitness competitions are devoted intermittent fasters...
Naturally, tuning your body/mind system to be Synchro is about more than having low body-fat and lean muscle. While great body composition is certainly a part of being Synchro, we also want stable vibrant energy, high cognitive performance and generally glowing well being. While some intermittent fasters report feeling and performing well throughout their fasting period, when I've tried conventional IF myself I consistently experienced energy levels and performance below what I was accustomed to. So I set out to see if I could craft a strategy that would deliver most of the body composition results of IF, without sacrificing the energy and performance. Interestingly, in my experiments with IF I also noticed that my energy and mental clarity would be great early in the day, but would tail off dramatically towards the end of my fasting period. So, naturally, I set out to create a protocol that extended this period of high energy and performance deeper into my day.
Synchro Mini-Fasting Protocol
After a lot of experimentation over the course of 6+ months, I've settled on a protocol that incorporates a fast of 13-14 hours, broken by a strategic, exceptionally nutrient-rich (but small-ish) meal, followed by another fasting period of 7-8 hours. For me, a general day using Synchro Mini-Fasting looks like this:
- Finish Eating Dinner (day 1): 10pm
- Go To Bed: 1am
- Wake: 8am
- Eat Small Meal: 11:30am
- Snack To Break Second Fast: 7pm
- Dinner (day 2): 9:30pm
In your night-time fast period you will get some of the intense fat-burning experienced by conventional intermittent fasters. However, because fat-burning metabolism accelerates towards the end of a fasting period, you'll also be cutting short some valuable fat-burning. However, if your experience is like mine, you'll also be missing the hunger, low-energy and diminished cognitive performance that come with traditional IF.
My primary aim in creating the Synchro Mini-Fasting protocol was to prolong the enhanced energy I experienced in the hours after waking up when I was adhering to conventional IF. Secondarily, if I could get this without completely disrupting the fat-burning from my night-time fasting period, all the better. What are the two things I know of that boost energy and performance most powerfully (and generally make me feel awesome)? Nutrient-dense foods and high-quality short- and medium-chain fats.
The Power Meal
The content of that initial, small meal is the most critical of anything you'll eat all day. Eating intelligently with this meal is the difference between a vibrant, high-performing day and an average one. This meal should be:
- Rich in high-quality, short- and medium-chain fats.
- Low-Glycemic Load (i.e. only low glycemic-index carbs and not very much)
- Rich in nutrient-dense, metabolism supporting foods
The high-quality short- and medium-chain fats will give your body and brain plenty of high-quality fuel for the second fasting period. Since eating carbs will interrupt the fat-burning, minimizing the glycemic load of meal will reduce the disruption to the fat-burning metabolism - as well as reduce the risk of a dip in energy that typically follows a more carb-rich meal. The load of nutrient-dense foods will support and supercharge your metabolism (and generally make you feel great). So what exactly do I eat for this 'power meal'?
A Blender-Full Of Awesome (The 'Powerhouse Shake')
- A (loosely packed) blender-full of washed raw dino (lacinato) kale
- 6 tbsp Synchro Genesis
- 3oz Almond Milk
- 4oz Spring Water
- 1 Piece of Raw Ginger Root (about the size of the last section of your thumb)
- 1 Piece of Raw Turmeric Root (about the size of the last section of your thumb)
- 2-3 Tbsp Coconut Oil (or MCT oil)
- 5g Creatine Monohydrate
- 2 Ice Cubes
The shake that results from the recipe above is a serious nutrient powerhouse. It delivers 675 calories, 18g of high-quality fats, 30g complete protein and 37g of very low-glycemic carbohydrate (subtracting fiber). The abundance of medium chain fats (from the coconut oil) will provide quality fuel and the protein will support protein synthesis in the body while keeping you satiated. The carbohydrates in the shake will temporarily partially suppress fat-burning metabolism. However, because all the carbohydrates are low-glycemic, there will never be a significant insulin response and carb- and fat-burning pathways will run simultaneously for the 2-3 hours after consuming the shake. After that period, the carbs from the shake will be burned and the remainder of your afternoon fasting period will be entirely in fat-burning metabolism.
Bottom line regarding this shake recipe: drink it and you'll feel awesome for the duration of your afternoon fasting period.
Other things I consume with this shake during the 'power meal': (1.) Cocotella and (2.) grass-fed ghee - both provide additional short- and medium-chain fatty acids and negligible carbohydrate. (when I eat these, i decrease the coconut oil in the shake proportionately). (3.) Vitamin and mineral supplements (I'll outline these in a future article). (4.) Probiotics and Kombucha
Ideally, you'll try to consume nothing but water or tea during your fating periods. If you're particularly active (or if you're still getting used to the practice), it's possible you'll get hungry during your fasting periods. Rather than push through the hunger (and risk energy or performance dropping...), there are ways to satisfy your hunger and re-fuel without completely disrupting a fasting period. Choosing a snack that is rich in short- or medium-chain fatty acids with extremely low (or zero) glycemic load will fit this function perfectly. A scoop of coconut oil or MCT oil are both perfect for the application. Personally I prefer things that are completely delicious, so I keep a jar of Cocotella in my office with me. It's rich in the MCT's we're after, and the tablespoon serving I eat as my snack has all of 1.5g of low-glycemic carbohydrate, so it won't meaningfully disrupt fat-burning metabolism. If I'm at home, I eat Synchro Spheres, with similar effect.
And The Rest Of The Day?
After you've concluded your afternoon fasting period, what you're eating becomes a bit less critical to the success of the strategy. Go ahead and eat all the Synchro-aligned food you feel like you need. What is a Synchro-aligned food? If you keep up with the blog you have an idea, but to recap: (1.) Low-Glycemic load (2.) Rich In High-Quality Fats (3.) Minimal Grains - and NO wheat or corn (4.) Low Toxin - removing grains is a part of this (5.) Rich In Nutrient Dense Foods! (6.) Raw/Living Foods When Possible
Since fat-burning particularly ramps-up after carbs from your food have been exhausted, keeping the amount of carbohydrate low in your dinner will intensify the fat-burning that happens during your long pasting period.
It's also very important to drink quite a bit of water in the first 30-60 minutes after waking up in the morning. We can lose between 1-2 pounds of water via respiration and perspiration during sleep, and replacing that is critical. Since toxins are stored in fat cells in the body, our night-time fasting period is also a detox period. Clearing out these toxins first thing in the morning keeps them from being reabsorbed. Not only will you feel brighter and clearer in the morning when you hydrate properly, it's also one of the best techniques I know of for great skin health.
I drink between 64 and 96oz of water between the time I wake up and when I eat my 'power meal'. The first 32oz will be lightly salted with Himlayan Salt to flush the GI tract and re-mineralize my body. A note: Get serious about the quality of your water! It matters.
Synchro Mini-Fasting Protocol (Expanded)
So now that more of the protocol is explained, here is what my eating schedule looks like in more detail:
- 10pm (day 1): Finish Eating Dinner
- [10pm - 11:30am]: Long Fasting Period
- 1am: Go To Bed
- 8am: Wake
- 8-11am: Drink 64-96oz Spring Water (the 1st 32oz with Himalayan Salt)
- 10am: 45 Minutes Vinyasa Yoga (physical activity during the fasting period will accelerate fat burning)
- 11:30am: Eat 'Synchro Powerhouse' Shake
- [11:30am - 7pm]: Afternoon Fasting Period
- 7pm-9pm: Double Serving of Synchro Genesis with Coconut Oil, more Cocotella, etc
- 9:30pm: Huge Kale Salad with Hempseed, Sweet Potato, etc...and more Cocotella for desert, or course
If you're curious, this puts me at around 3000-3500 calories for the day. ~65% from fats, 20% from carbs and 15% from protein.
Why Synchro Fasting Is The Best
The fat-burning, muscle-promoting power of any similar fasting protocol will be significant. If that's all you're trying to accomplish, traditional intermittent fasting might serve you better. What makes Synchro Mini-Fasting so great is that it preserves a lot of the power of intermittent fasting, but also gives you exceptional energy levels and cognitive performance. High/Vibrant energy levels really means consistent/well-supported energy levels - and this is where Synchro Fasting really excels. Giving your body a consistent supply of high-quality fats as fuel and loads of powerful, nutrient-dense foods is the key to feeling amazing and performing at a high level.
If you're training or doing an intense workout, you'll want to eat a bit of low-glycemic carbohydrate beforehand to avoid 'bonking' during your workout. Fat works great as a fuel source for low-to-moderate intensity workouts, but because it is a slower fuel source, fat-burning pathways can't keep up with the energy needs of an intense workout. You'll have to feel this one out for yourself, but for me personally I DO eat carbohydrate before and during long bike rides - but I generally do not eat before going into an intense yoga class or a strength training session. Listen to your body and you'll learn which of your workouts are intense enough to necessitate eating carbohydrate before or during.
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Posted April 30, 2013
Insulin. Not only does it look cool...it's also the key to understanding how your body stores fat.
If you keep up with the Synchro Life Design System, you'll know by now that I'm a huge advocate of eating a diet that is low-glycemic load and fuels the body primarily with high-quality, easily digested fats. Switching to this diet was hugely transformative for me, and if you look around a bit online, you'll find it's a rapidly growing movement that has produced similar results for hundreds of thousands of people. If your goals are stable vibrant energy, high cognitive performance and low body-fat - this diet produces results better than any other I have come across.
Initially, it looks a little counterintuitive. Why does eating lots of fat produce high energy and low body fat? First, it's important to make a distinction between types of fat. There are a lot of undesirable types of fat out there - but even many types of fats commonly regarded as "healthy" turn out to be closer to "OK" than "beneficial". Secondly, understanding how our body precesses fats and carbohydrates differently is key to understanding why certain types of foods make you feel or look a certain way. We'll cover both in detail below.
Carbs = Sugar
Sugar in your food generally requires little to no digesting or processing and will be in your bloodstream inside 60 minutes after eating. In response, blood sugar shoots up for a bit before coming back down rapidly a short while later. Other carbohydrates, referred to as complex carbohydrates, will be sugar in your bloodstream as well eventually. It takes your digestive system a little longer to convert complex carbs into simple sugars, so blood sugar will rise and fall a bit slower depending on a few factors. These include the type of carbohydrate (how "complex" it is) and how fibrous and/or fatty the food is.
Once in the blood, your metabolism begins to use sugar in a variety of ways. Particularly if you are active or exercising, some of the sugar in your blood will be used quickly for energy. Glucose and/or fructose are the end-products of all carbohydrate breakdown. These simple sugars enter into either glycolysis (for glucose) or fructolysis (for fructose). In these processes, the metabolism uses the simple sugars to generate the compounds that, in turn, power all of the body's other metabolic processes. Put more simply, glycolysis and fructolysis convert simple sugars into energy.
(A quick note on fiber: fiber is classified as a type of carbohydrate and is listed on nutrition labels under the carbohydrate section. Most fiber will pass through the body undigested. The remainder will be digested quite slowly over the course of many hours. Fiber does not have a meaningful effect on blood sugar.)
Insulin: The Storage Hormone
Most of the time, however, sugar is not used immediately but is stored in cells for use later. This is where insulin comes into the equation. Insulin is a protein that acts as a hormone in the digestive process. When a protein is classified as a hormone, it means that it's presence in the bloodstream triggers a cascade of other related and interdependent processes in the metabolism. Insulin is perhaps the single most important element of nutrient metabolism, and understanding its function is critical for understanding what your body is doing with the food you eat. When there is more sugar in the bloodstream than the body is immediately using, insulin is released and initiates the storage process. Insulin causes glucose to be absorbed into cells, upon which, it is stored in one of two ways. The primary storage method for glucose is as triglycerides in adipose (fatty) tissue. The secondary method is as glycogen, essentially a matrix of glucose that is stored in muscle and liver cells for later use as quick energy, primarily in times of exertion.
To summarize, when you eat carbs they are broken down into sugars by the digestion process. Sugar causes the release of insulin and insulin causes the sugar to be stored, primarily as fat in adipose cells. Particularly when forming a large portion of your caloric intake, carbohydrates are the primary source of any fat your body is storing.
Fueling With Fats
Fat digestion and metabolism happen via completely different pathways than the ones used for carbohydrate metabolism. The first major difference in the digestion of fats relative to carbohydrates is that the breakdown and absorption is a much slower process. Most fats are broken down slowly in the gut via a series of enzymes called lipases and eventually make their way into the blood stream as free fatty acids. Like sugars, once in the bloodstream free fatty acids can be used for energy (via the process known as ketogenesis) or stored in adipose (fatty) tissue for later use.
One notable exception to this digestion pathway is medium-chain triglycerides (MCT's). Because they are smaller than other fats, MCT's can pass directly into the bloodstream without needing digestion in the gut by lipases. These smaller fats are broken down into free fatty acids by lipases in the blood rather than in the gut. While other types of fat take too long to digest and process to be a legitimate alternative to carbohydrate as a primary fuel source, the quicker availability of MCT's makes them not only a legitimate alternative, but a preferable one. MCT's are also unique among fats in that they can be used by the brain for energy. Other types of fat must go through the long process of being converted into sugars before they can be used by the brain. Eating primarily other types of fats would leave the brain under-fueled. Once again, MCT's and SCT's not only solve this issue, but offer a superior alternative to carbohydrate. Unsurprisingly, MCT's and SCT's are critical to any diet using fats as a the primary calorie and fuel source.
When your metabolism is using primarily fats as an energy source, you are essentially "training" your metabolism to use fats more often and more efficiently. The metabolic pathways involved in ketogenesis (fat-burning) become more robust, and the body becomes better at using fat stored in adipose tissue when available sufficient calories are not available from food intake. Fats also don't directly trigger an insulin response, so the body doesn't go into "storage mode" as often when fats are your primary fuel source.
So what are the best sources of MCT's? Coconut oil (and related products) and grass-fed butter are hands-down the top choices. Coconut oil is about 2/3 MCT's by weight. In addition to it's many other benefits (see Synchro Life Design #6), coconut oil is the go-to fuel source for many people adhering to this type of high-fat diet. A few companies isolate the MCT's from coconut oil and sell "MCT oil" by itself. This is a pricy option as an every-day fuel source, but if you're looking to accelerate the fat-burning capacity of a this diet, MCT oil is a powerful tool. Coconut butter is also a great choice, as it is the "meat" of the coconut before the protein and fiber is pulled out in the process of making coconut oil. I personally keep a jar of Cocotella in my office as my constant snack food. Like other coconut oil products, Cocotella fuels the brain and doesn't meaningfully interrupt the fat-burning process (which a carb-based snack would).
Additionally, grass-fed butter is an excellent source of short-chain fatty acids (as well as many vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids). These short-chain fatty acids behave in much the same way as MCT's and can be used for the same purposes. It is important to source only 100% grass-fed (sometimes called "pastured") butter. Conventional butter has a significantly different nutritional profile and is more likely to contain toxins. I use a grass-fed ghee (clarified butter) to avoid the milk proteins and sugars that are present in butter.
Fats vs. Carbs
As I mentioned above, the metabolism tends to adapt to the types of fuel it is receiving most frequently. If the metabolism is being fueled disproportionately with carbohydrates, the metabolic pathways that use and store carbohydrates will dominate while fat metabolism pathways will diminish. The reason for this is two-fold. The first reason is that the pathways required to store or use carbohydrates require a set of enzymes unique from those the metabolism uses to process fat. The body is remarkably good at not being wasteful and will decrease production of fat metabolism enzymes when they are used infrequently. The second reason is that insulin specifically stops the use of fat for energy by inhibiting the release of glucagon, a hormone that increases blood sugar and thus directly competes with insulin.
Because of this "competition" between fat and carbohydrate metabolism pathways, fat will only be used for energy in the absence of insulin. If you're going to train your body to use fat for energy, it becomes critical to minimize both the magnitude and duration of any spike in blood sugar and thus, the magnitude and duration of the corresponding insulin release.
Glycemic Load, Glycemic Load, Glycemic Load
If you're aiming to minimize insulin response and support your body's fat-burning metabolism - there is one concept that stands above all the rest to use when judging the effect of a given food. That concept is, of course, glycemic load. Glycemic load is essentially a measure of how much a given amount of a certain food will increase blood glucose levels after eating. With the exception of a few specific situations (nutrition during an intense workout is one such exception), you should focus on keeping the glycemic load of any meal relatively low. Keeping the glycemic load low will minimize the amount of insulin released during and after eating. This will in turn minimize both the amount of carbohydrate from your meal that is stored as fat - and - minimize the time in which fat-burning metabolism is suppressed.
Some of judging glycemic load is intuitive. A piece of cake is naturally going to create a serious spike in blood sugar and thus, will have a high glycemic load. Foods composed primarily of fat and protein like nuts and fish will have a minimal effect on blood sugar and have a low glycemic load. Many foods, however, are not as obvious. I frequently use a great website, www.nutritiondata.self.com, to find the glycemic load of foods I am less familiar with. I recommend heading there to find the glycemic load of any food you eat on a regular basis so you know how to adjust your diet accordingly.
Beyond choosing low-glycemic foods, there are several strategies you can employ to lower the glycemic load of your meals. The obvious first step is to reduce the amount of carbohydrate in your meal, particularly sugar or simple carbs that have a high glycemic load. If you're going to get the results you're looking for using this diet strategy, it's inevitable you'll be increasing the relative proportions of quality fats and proteins in your meals and decreasing the portions of carbohydrate. For desserts and sweets, choose a low-sugar, fatty food like dark chocolate or (again) Cocotella.
There are also less obvious strategies you can use to lower the glycemic load of a meal. Fat, protein and fiber all slow the digestion of a meal and thus increase the time of digestion. Blood sugar will raise more gradually and never peak as high as if you had consumed the same amount of carbohydrate without fat, protein or fiber. The overall insulin response will be less and the body will store less of the meal as fat.
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