Two Art de Vany-Related Ideas

I mentioned Art de Vany’s new book on Saturday; today I came across a few blog posts relating to some of his more important ideas and thought I’d talk about them.

The Economic Analysis of Diet

Today I recorded an interview with Jimmy Moore, which should appear on his “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Show” sometime early next year.

One of the things we talked about was our “economic” approach to nutrition and diet – how analyzing nutrients the way economists analyze factors of production helps sort out the confusing, seemingly contradictory results found in the scientific literature.

Since any factor calorie that is overly abundant will look like a “bad factor calorie” and any factor calorie that is too scarce will look like a “good factor calorie,” it’s easy to explain why the same nutrient can appear as “good” or “bad” in different studies.

Today, Mark Sisson features a passage from Art’s book. He says this:

At some point I realized that a human being is just another economic system. Indeed, your body contains an entire economy. There is the allocation of assets according to a hierarchy of needs. There are competing interests that sometimes struggle over resources and other times cooperate for the common good. There are surpluses. There are shortages. Like economies–like the movie industry–your body is a complex, decentralized system poised between chaos and order.

We tend to think of biologists as rigorous “hard” scientists and of economists as mushier “soft” scientists, but actually in analyzing complex cooperative networks economists are decades ahead of biologists.

The analysis in many biology papers, if translated into an economics paper with factors of production substituted for the dietary nutrients, would be recognized immediately by most economists as primitive and fallacious. Economists have developed many analytical ideas that diet researchers could usefully copy. It’s no surprise that Art and I both found our economics backgrounds helpful in sorting through the diet literature.

Intermittency in Diet

If there is a single idea that I associate with Art, it’s the desirability of intermittency and randomness to explore the extremes of the body’s metabolic networks.

Art touches upon this in the passage at Mark’s site:

According to chaos theory, certain systems that seem to be random in fact are not–it’s just difficult for us to perceive, at the outset, all the subtle factors that set the course and determine the outcome….

Another scientific concept, the power law, also comes up often in my discussions of health and fitness. It is based on the Pareto principle, named for Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. In essence, it describes the relationship between how common a factor is and how much influence it exerts. It says that the most unusual events will have the greatest impact. Pareto’s study determined that 80 percent of privately held land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population.

Similar power laws exist all around us.

There is a power law of exercise, too: Your least frequent, most extreme exertions will have the greatest influence on your fitness. The peak moments of a workout count far more than the amount of time you spend working out…. When a work-out becomes an unvarying, monotonous routine, it loses its effectiveness.

Art’s ideas suggest that it might be beneficial to explore dietary extremes, for instance in calorie intake. Sometimes we should fast, forcing our body to economize on nutrients; sometimes we should feast, giving our body a surplus of nutrients that it has to dispose of.

In our book we discuss the benefits of intermittent fasting – it promotes autophagy, which extends lifespan and protects us against bacteria and viruses – but we don’t discuss whether feasting has any merits.

While there has been no real scientific study of feasting (except in the context of every-other-day implementations of intermittent fasting), feasting has been a hot topic in the Paleo blogosphere lately:

Coincidentally, Chris Masterjohn today offers us a review of Tim Ferriss’s new book, The 4-Hour Body.

For weight loss, Ferriss recommends intermittent fasting and feasting:

His fat-loss regimen sticks to a five-rule “Slow-Carb Diet” six days a week, but on the seventh day he resteth. This is the day for “reverse Lent,” otherwise known as bingeing on whatever the heck you want. In fact, Ferriss considers overfeeding one day a week to be a critical component of his fat loss regimen because of its effects on metabolism-boosting hormones.

In this respect he seems to have come to conclusions similar to those of Ori Hofmekler of Warrior Diet fame, who advocates fasting in the day and overfeeding in the night, and Matt Stone, whose High-Everything Diet uses overfeeding as its very lifeblood.

Stone recently told Jimmy Moore that one of the issues he’s still trying to tweak with his diet is to get rid of the initial gain in weight. Tim Ferriss may have solved that problem with his version of overfeeding, as folks on his diet usually gain weight on overfeeding day but nevertheless experience a net loss of several pounds per week from the very beginning.

So add Ferris to the group of self-experimenters who find benefits from occasional feasting.

Chris also discusses protein restriction:

Ferriss notes that periodic fasting from protein induces a process called autophagy, wherein the cell cleans out its mishandled, degraded, and aggregated proteins that otherwise accumulate. This is consistent with my experience. I had developed a problem with small wart-like risings on my hands and fingers at one point. Complete fasting for two weeks helped somewhat, but going vegan for two weeks made them completely disappear. The problem has never come back, despite my regular sumptuous feasting on animal foods of all kinds.

Perhaps protein cycling provides an answer to the question I had raised in The Curious Case of Campbell’s Rats. Namely, is there an intermediate intake of protein that maximally protects against cancer, toxicity, and fatty liver under all conditions? Perhaps the answer is not an intermediate intake of protein, but a periodic cycling of protein intake.

We note in our book (and this blog post) that protein restriction, even if calories are not restricted at all, promotes autophagy and therefore intracellular immunity and longevity. So we’re happy to endorse protein restriction.

But high intake of protein, especially of ketogenic branched-chain amino acids like leucine, does promote muscle synthesis. So what is a bodybuilder or athlete, who seeks the greatest possible muscle growth, to do?  Is there an inevitable conflict between athleticism and longevity?

It’s possible that protein cycling – say, a week of protein restriction followed by a week of high-protein intake – might help resolve the dilemma, providing 80% of the longevity and health benefits of protein restriction and 80% of the muscle synthesis benefits of high-protein diets.

If so, Art de Vany would not be surprised.

Leave a comment ?

71 Comments.

  1. i just thought i’d update you on my blood sugar values now that i am almost stress free and sleeping well.
    the other day i tested after eating 100g cooked rice (30g carb) and 1 tsp red palm oil:
    1 hour later : 144

    Today i ate about 10g whey protein, 100g cooked rice, 2 tsp red palm oil and 1 tsp coconut oil
    1 hour after i started eating: 124
    1,5 hours : 150
    2 hours: 118

    What do you think? It seems to be better than before, but i;m still not 100% happy. Perhaps i should eat my carbs after my weight lifting workouts.

    Also, when measuring BS are you supposed to measure 1 hr after you start eating, or an hour after you finish?

  2. Hi Remo,

    This pattern seems pretty normal – certainly within the range of the general population.

    Check out this presentation for the normal range of oral glucose tolerance test results: http://www.diabetes-symposium.org/index.php?menu=view&source=&sourceid=0&chart=5&id=322.

    Back when I first started tracking blood sugar (2-3 years ago, because I noticed I had cognitive symptoms of hypoglycemia), I would typically go up to 145 after a 200 calorie rice meal and stay there for a few hours.

    I should check mine again and see what it does now.

    As far as when to measure, you just want to catch the peak. It looks like today’s measurement did a good job catching the peak near 1.5 hours.

    Best, Paul

  3. Hey paul, thanks for the response. But i’m still only half satisfied that my readings are ‘normal’!
    I wonder if my high BG readings may still be due to peripheral insulin resistance? Because, apart from my 30g carb rice meal, the rest of the time my diet is very low carb and high fat. Since this causes abnormal blood glucose readings in long time low carbers, is it possible the effect has stayed with me?
    I wonder what would happen if I did what low carbers are supposed to do before a OGTT test ; consume 150g carbs a day for about 3 days beforehand..
    I just want to understand what would make someone on a low carb high fat diet respond to some carbs in this way! Would appreciate your thoughts!

    regards
    remo

  4. Hi remo,

    Yes, the more carbs you eat (in the low-carb range, <600 calories/day) the lower your blood glucose will be in response to an oral tolerance test.

    So if you ate 150g/day every day, your blood glucose would be lower.

    That's why I wasn't too alarmed that you were in the higher half of the "normal" range. That "normal" range is in high-carb dieters who should be able to handle glucose better than you.

    The puzzle in this story, which makes it not an open and shut case, is your low fasting glucose of 77 mg/dl on Dec 31. But then you reported a fasting glucose of 95 on Jan 2, which is exactly what I would expect. So maybe no puzzle at all, just you were a little mixed up by jet lag and stress when your 77 was recorded. Or it could have been a mismeasurement, these meters aren't that reliable especially if the fingers are moist.

    If you were chronically recording low fasting blood sugars on a low-carb diet, and had difficulty sustaining a fast, then I would want to investigate why. Possibilities would include:
    - excess glucose consumption (infections, cancers, trauma, and probably other situations can cause that)
    - a reduced rate of gluconeogenesis, either due to low levels of cortisol ("adrenal fatigue") or low protein intake or micronutrient deficiencies (B6, biotin, thiamin?).

    But like I said, your recent numbers sound perfectly normal. It's possible you have some form of adrenal fatigue that makes you vulnerable to stress. If your carb+protein intake is less than our recommended 600 calories per day, you should increase one or the other.

    If you think there's something wrong, you might want to ask your doctor for an adrenal panel. You might want to try adding extra nutritional supplements, like the B vitamins on our "optional" recommended supplements list.

    But it's not clear from what you've told me that there's anything wrong.

  5. hey paul

    so what you’re saying is it would be normal for me to have a higher fasting blood glucose? I haven’t been testing my fasting BG very often, but I can sustain a 24 hour fast no problem, with no noticeable drop in energy.

    my carb+protein intake is about 400 calories per day, but i’m fairly small (5″2, 115 lbs) – should i still aim for 600 protein+carb calories per day?

    i need to request a vit d test from my doc anyway, and was thinking of adding hba1c to that too – i might add an adrenal panel to that list for peace of mind.

    I will also look into the supplements,(just got to the supplements part of your book, which got me thinking of that too, as i don’t think i;ve been getting enough micronutrients lately!)

    thanks again for your help 🙂 really appreciate it.

  6. Hi Remo,

    Yes, if you’re as low-carb as you say I would expect a fasting blood glucose in the 90s.

    If you tolerate long fasts fine then that’s more evidence that you’re normal.

    I think 400 calories carb+protein per day is low even for a petite woman. I would do at least 500, preferably 600. Otherwise you will be somewhat in “starvation” mode with potential exposure to some of the problems highlighted in the zero-carb dangers series.

    Ask for TSH while you’re at it – 25OHD and TSH should be routinely tested I think. HbA1c will probably be in the low 5s.

    Best, Paul

  7. Hi Paul

    Your exercise protocol seems to have some similarities with:

    http://www.leangains.com/2010/04/leangains-guide.html

    One additional tweak in the leangains guide is 10 g BCAA 5-10 mins before the fasted training. Do you have any opinions on this strategy?

  8. Hi Ole,

    I like the leangains strategy, I think it’s excellent.

    BCAAs certainly do promote muscle synthesis. If you’re out for muscle, supplementing them is a good idea. I don’t know what timing is optimal, but I would imagine Martin has enough experience that his recommendations would be a great starting point.

  9. I’m out for perfect health:) After years of mismanagement that includes less body fat, more muscle and fixing some back problems.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  10. In connection with the IF subject and some previous discussion of randomness/intermittency a la Art Devany, I’m starting to wonder if the IF itself should be more intermittent; i.e., I’ve been doing the 8 hour, sometimes shorter, eating window daily for approaching 2 years. One of the apparently well known side-effects is that your blood sugar runs a little high in a Fasted test, presumably because your liver has gotten good at keeping you out of hypoglycemia. I wonder if some more randomness in the use of this protocol would be better, less hormetically, repetitively stressful; perhaps using MCTs during the fasting window or just not doing this every day. How is your philosophy developing on this subject?

    • Hi JR,

      I think the high fasting glucose is most likely a sign that you’re not eating enough carbs (or possibly protein) during your feeding window.

      I don’t think you need to fast every day. Intermittency is fine, maybe best. But I don’t think it’s harmful to have a daily routine either – in fact that may be best via circadian rhythm enhancement.

      • mine has been only mildly elevated, a bit over 100, but it was a surprise because I would have expected fasting and low carbs to make it low; I’ve come to understand that the body adapts and probably the reason that fasting and exercise while fasting is so comfortable for me is that my body is keeping me out of the precarious low blood sugar state. I have incorporated more carbs, based on your writings, since the last time I had a test so it will be interesting to see next time. I like having the routine of IF, especially fasted exercise, but can see possible benefit to mixing it up sometimes. Lately just experimenting with adding Coconut Butter and heavy cream in the coffee sometimes

  11. When intermittent-fasting, I have trouble eating enough. The first meal I eat satisfies me so much I don’t want to eat again until toward the end of the 8-hour cycle.

    A typical breakfast might be:
    a buttered baked potato with cheese and/or sour cream
    3 poached eggs
    8 oz homemade whole milk kefir

    And for dinner:
    Beef stew (tomato-based, including potatoes, carrots, green beans, etc)

    Or something like salmon patties with rice and a vegetable.

    It just doesn’t feel good to eat more within an 8-hour timeframe.

    I am 5′,5″ and probably weigh 118 or so. A regular walker/hiker.

    • Hi S, I guess I didn’t hear you name a problem. Is it important to you to eat more? Do you get hungry during the fast? Do you want to weigh more than 118? Maybe that’s your natural weight.

      • No, it’s not important to me to eat more food; I just know my body would let me get away with not eating enough calories. (Would stop sending “hungry” signals.) I guess it LOOKS like too little food.

        But after your reply, I went to one of those calorie counting sItes. If my numbers are right, I think I ate about 2,000 calories yesterday. That’s okay, then; right?

        thanks, stephanie

  12. Hi Paul,

    Wondering what you think of Carb Cycling or meal timing given the above post. Berkhan is all about cycling and favoring carbs PWO. The CarbNite fellows are about pushing carbs to the last meal of the day.

    Have you seen any evidence of these strategies being better than typical [16/8 fast + PHD] for the athlete or someone looking for improved body composition?

    Thank you for the great work!

    • Hi Paul,

      In general, more extreme cycling — for example a 22 hour overnight fast followed by a 2 hour feast, or more extreme carb deprivation followed by carb loading — will increase growth hormone and lead to a more “ripped” physique, but will shorten lifespan. I generally favor optimizing for health rather than leanness, but for specialist athletes or bodybuilders these strategies can have merit.

      CarbNite I disagree with, food should be eaten in the daytime. That is too big a concession to workday convenience. I think night eating will over time harm athleticism as well as shorten lifespan.

      • Makes sense Paul. Seemslike Brad Pilon favors longer (intermittent) fasts for that purpose while Martin the daily 16/8 with carb cycling. Also of note is Rob Faigin (NHE) used carb cycling as well for body comp matters.

        I think I will try the following “modified” PHD program skewed a bit towards leanness, but still hitting the essentials.

        w/o day (2-3 a week): 150g carbs, 175g protein, ~2000cal target
        *bulk of carbs (starch) PWO

        non w/o Day: 100g carbs, 100g protein, ~1,500cal target

        I think this covers the glucose needs and shifts the protein towards the athletic requirements, but not chronically.

        Any red flags for you?

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