Written by Christopher Kelly
June 22, 2017
Chris: Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive podcast. My name’s Christopher Kelly and today I’m joined by Megan Roberts. Hi Megan.
Megan: Hi Chris, how are you?
Chris: I’m excellent, thank you very much for asking. And how are you doing this morning?
Megan: I’m doing great, it’s a pleasure to be on this show especially since this is one of my absolute favourite podcasts. I have to make a confession that I’ll probably be a little bit sad when this one airs because I won’t have one to listen to that week.
Chris: I tell you what, I listen to all of my podcasts at least twice more because…
Megan: Oh really?
Chris: Yeah quite often when I’m talking to the person live, the information doesn’t sink in and it’s only when I go through and create the shownotes – if you guys see the shownotes for my podcast, you can get to those by going to nourishbalancethrive.com/podcast. You’ll see that I have 2 podcasts, you click on the link, you drill down to an individual episode and I create these timelines with what was said at what exact time, and then quite often I get the references there. When I’m making the shownotes, that’s when it all sinks in and I check on references, and I also like to listen and see where I sound like a dork and think of ways which I can try to improve.
Megan: Yeah I’m afraid of listening to myself,
Chris: No you’ll be great, I’m absolutely sure. So I know Megan quite well now, we’ve been working together for a little while. I first met Megan at a paleo health symposium in San Francisco. That was just over a year ago ‘cause that symposium just took place again and unfortunately I was in Colorado, Megan was too so we were unable to attend. But that was great and I know that some of those videos are now available online so I will link to it.
Especially Robb Wolf’s, was absolutely fantastic. Stephan Guyenet, Justin Sonnenburg – do you remember that on the gut micro biome, the really good one? Those were really beautiful images, so I should link to those in the shownotes. And I got up and asked a question and I can’t remember what my stupid question was.
I think it was something like “Hey I went to Sutter Health and I saw one of the doctors there, and they didn’t say anything about paleo. What’s up with that?” And Megan heard me ask that question in the audience and I guess…did you recognize my voice from the podcast?
Megan: I did, yeah.
Chris: And so we met that way and we became friends through email, and Megan has recently been writing some really nice articles for me which have been appearing on my website, and I’ll link to those as we talk about them today in this interview. But why don’t we get started by me asking you about what developed your interest in health, why do you care about the inner workings of the human body?
Megan: So I’ve kind of always been a lifetime – I guess – fitness and nutrition enthusiast. Admittedly I also have kind of a black and white extremist type A personality that can get me in trouble.
Chris: I recognize that.
Megan: Yes. So I went to UC Davis and I got my bachelor’s degree in exercise biology and then my master’s degree in nutritional biology. In hopes of my master’s kind of being useful, I jumped to a future medicine career. I’m going to be applying to medical schools soon. And throughout this whole time – like college and high school – I kind of had this quest to optimize my health, but paradoxically it ultimately kind of made me less and less healthy over the years as I tried to optimize it.
And so I spent a lot of my high school and college years under-fuelling all of my over-training and I just wrote an article which will probably soon be published on the website about that, so stay tuned. And so all of this under-fuelling over-exercise on top of a high-strung personality kind of snowballed myself into kind of a major stress response.
And eventually all these symptoms of too much stress – all in the name of good health, but still too much stress – started manifesting. And so symptoms just like underactive thyroid, fatigue, major gut problems and also some low grade anxiety and depression from time to time.
Chris: What type of training were you doing?
Megan: I hate to admit this but I was getting up early – 5.30 a.m. – doing passive workouts. Pretty high intensity, kind of CrossFit style from weightlifting and it wasn’t conducive to my lifestyle at the time. And I think intense passive training sessions probably have their place but not 7 days a week, that’s for sure.
Chris: What was your goal? What did you think it would do for you?
Megan: Well I was doing it at that time of day because that’s when I had the time to do it, whereas I quickly learned that it was far better for me to sleep in and get rest, rather than train intensely. As far as my goals, it was all in the name of health. You know you read all of these health experts online talking about intermittent fasting and high intensity interval training and ketogenic diet and low carb diets and all of these things. And I drank the Kool-Aid to say the least, but…
Chris: Yeah the problems can come when you misunderstand the context in which some expert is operating in. and then sometimes you can get into trouble when you try and overlay all these things. Tommy’s talked about this a lot in public recently that you hear. Ron [00:04:56] [indiscernible] talking about protein restriction, and then Dominic D’Agostino talking about the ketogenic diet – I guess they’re both on the same kind of vector, aren’t they?
And then intermittent fasting and maybe extended fasting and fasting state training and then before you know it, you’re doing all of these things which is great, good for you – you can get shit done. But yeah, maybe it doesn’t get you what you want. So I just wonder what did you think? Were you just looking to build muscle or lose weight or…
Megan: No not lose weight. Actually I was kind of looking to gain some weight, put on some muscle mass which in hindsight, what I was doing was absolutely counter-productive, but ultimately it came down to the fact that I was so worn out and I don’t have any cortisol tests to give you what my cortisol rhythm looks like.
Megan: But I think that I was exercising because it was the only thing that made me feel good in the moment. I was chasing that exercise high only to crash 2 hours afterward.
Chris: I totally understand this. So I think the same thing happens with caffeine. People who line up at 7 a.m. at Starbucks – they’re not there to get a high, they’re there to get back to a baseline. And I think that some athletes are doing that same thing with exercise. It’s like once I’m warmed up and I’m going – maybe that takes me an hour if you’re on a bike – then that’s when I start to feel good. And you don’t really feel good, you just feel normal.
Megan: Yeah for sure.
Chris: Do you think it was just the exercise then? Did you have a lot going on with your academic work at that time?
Megan: I did, that was the other thing. I was taking a lot of pre-med classes and the competition at UC Davis is kind of cutthroat in that area. So I had that and then when I was doing my master’s degree, I had the stress of research on top of that. So yeah, we talk about the whole idea of allostatic load in the stress bucket, and mine was overflowing.
Chris: It’s super hard to see it, you always need someone else to point it out to you.
Chris: Yeah and then you’ve got the problem – like I talk about every week on the podcast, but it’s so important. Even if you were to get rid of…if that allostatic load bucket was completely empty, you would just invent something to get stressed out over. So you can’t win, you can only change your perception.
Megan: Exactly, and as far as food, I was already…I’ve always eaten relatively well as far as wholefoods are concerned. But then of course I discovered paleo and had to jump on that bandwagon, and quickly realized that for me, it was not a panacea. Paleo-ing harder and exercising more, they didn’t solve my problems but they just made things worse – probably just added more stress.
Chris: Oh really?
Megan: Yeah I think that taking certain foods out of my diet that I was sensitive to – especially dairy and gluten – that was huge. But when it came to hyper focusing on what was paleo and what wasn’t paleo, that was [00:07:44] [indiscernible].
Chris: That’s very interesting for me to connect the dots here because that’s exactly what Tony Federico said. I asked him what wasn’t helpful and he said “Pointing out that’s not paleo” and I remember – or reminded – Tommy’s Icelandic health symposium talk. He cited a study that showed the milling over food restrictions raised his cortisol which may be counterproductive and maybe that [00:08:09] [crosstalk] [indiscernible] for you here.
Megan: Yeah I think so. I also kind of had some gut issues which you and I worked through, and there was clearly a link between the stress that I was facing, my underactive thyroid, my poor gut health and then my kind of weak immune system – which I paradoxically thought my immune system was great because I never got sick. But actually, when you look at the white blood cell counts, my white blood cells were super low. So that kind of suggested otherwise.
Chris: This is something I would really love to do an in-depth podcast on because it’s really interesting. People say this all the time, “Oh I never get sick, I must have a healthy immune system.”
Megan: Not true.
Chris: It’s not true! Yet it happened to me at the beginning of this year, that I got sick 3 times in a row and it was a proper high fever – in bed, sweating – and I have not experienced that in years and years and years, and then it just broke, just like that. And I was like “Whoa, I’m okay. What just happened?” It was really strange and I’ve not experienced that in such a long time. And I talked to Tommy about it and he’s like “Well the reason you feel terrible is because of the collateral damage from your immune system doing what it needs to do.” And if you never get sick – like what your immune system…or you’re just really lucky that you never encounter any pathogens in your environment, it’s like…it’s questionable at best.
Megan: Yeah and speaking of pathogens, I think that there is…like my hypothesis for basically what happens was kind of this state of low energy availability from over-exercising or over-training and under-fuelling that training, suppress my immune system. And then that also decreased my thyroid function, and then with decreased metabolic fire on top of life stress, basically that was a breeding ground for pathogens and bad health.
Chris: Yeah that makes a lot of sense, and I think it was Robert Sapolsky that I first heard talk about this – when you think about it, immunity is actually a long term building project. So it’s not going to kill you in the next 10 minutes, maybe you’re going to deal with a cancer cell that might kill you in 10 years’ time. So it’s actually not an immediate concern, it’s a long term building project. And if you’re being chased by a tiger, then who cares about long term building projects? Just get the hell out of here, right? I mean it’s…that makes a lot of sense to me.
Megan: Yeah absolutely. So ultimately with the poor gut health, it’s interesting because I think that a lot of time, people test…do stool tests and whatnot to look for infections or pathogens, and that’s kind of the root cause of the problem. But for me, the poor gut health was both a symptom and a cause, and so really I had to dig further and get to the root cause of the poor gut health which was basically [00:10:48] [indiscernible] lifestyle factors.
Chris: Right, right. Yeah I think that’s absolutely right, that’s really amazing insight for you to have. I think it took me a really really long time to figure that out. But again it just makes sense, I mean if you leave a piece of wet bread on the counter in the kitchen, eventually yeast will grow on it and mould will grow on it and it’s not like you really had to do…I mean the organism is thriving in the environment that’s being created for it. So maybe you have to do some remediation on the mould and the yeast, but really the solution is you need to do away with the environment that was conducive to the microbe in the first place.
Megan: Exactly, yeah. And I know that I had to address the lifestyle factors, otherwise I’m pretty sure that I fixed one infection or one problem, only down the road to have to fix another because I wasn’t digging down to the root of the problem. We talked about so much in functional medicine.
Chris: So how did you do it? I’m really curious to know how you did it because…
Megan: Well first of all, I had to realize…the biggest thing was to realize that the same obsessive thinking that got me into this situation wasn’t going to get me out. And change is really hard for me – I’m very very routine-oriented. But my mum always tells me – and that’s in the back of my mind – but nothing changes if nothing changes. And so I kind of was able to turn some of my obsessive routine-oriented habits into new routines that were healthier and were conducive to a better lifestyle. And so there’s a plethora of things that’s basically all the things we always talk about.
One of the things was, I realized as far as my calories were concerned, I was focusing so much on nutrient density – that’s really important but I kind of forgot about the importance of calorie density at the same time. And for me eating a really nutrient-dense high fat low carb diet, it was difficult to get in enough calories.
And so I had to basically get over my fear of carbs and add more in, and it honestly did wonders for my gym performance, for my energy, for my sleep, for my gut health – ‘cause I was having some problems digesting fat. So that was definitely a big…
Chris: How did you develop a fear of carbohydrates? ‘Cause I know that the research you’ve been doing at UC Davis is in the ketogenic diet, so you have a tremendous amount of technical insight there. But is that what led to your fear of carbohydrates or was it something completely different?
Megan: That was honestly a lot of it, because when you’re immersed in this low carb ketogenic diet literature…I mean maybe it’s just my personality but I got kind of carbphobic and also listening to some of the low carb enthusiasts out there – I don’t need to name names, I’m sure they’re obvious – but is always restricting carbohydrates in the name of health. And like I said in the beginning, all of this was kind of…my goal was to optimize my health and so I thought that restricting carbohydrates would do that. But for somebody who’s active and young and very [00:13:44] [indiscernible], I didn’t need to do that.
Chris: Right, who are you and what are your goals?
Megan: Exactly, yeah. And so I also learned to…a big thing was learning to listen and tune in to my own physiology rather than taking the advice of the masses. So the carbohydrates are one example of that, but also – it’s kind of funny – but being an exercise biology major, I was absolutely convinced that I needed a whey protein shake every time after I finished a workout.
But given the context – an intense workout, probably some post-workout gut permeability and then the potential gut irritants in the whey protein – a shake was probably doing me more harm than good. And I would always feel awful after drinking it but I told myself that it was the right thing to do. So I really had to tune in to what my body was telling me.
Chris: Yes, oh my god it’s amazing. You’ve got such a different background but some of the lessons learned are very similar and of course, my interview with Ellen Langer – did you listen to that one where she…
Megan: Oh yes.
Chris: It’s just so important. I mean for me it was oatmeal. I feel catastrophically awful after eating this wretched bowl of oatmeal – bloated, brain-fogged, tired – and I would still do it anyway. Like what are you doing? Why don’t you think about what it is that’s making you feel so awful? But for some reason, you don’t.
Megan: For sure. And then I also mentioned this before but moving…it helped me change my routine when I moved from California down to Colorado, because I was able to cut the intense 6 a.m. workout and I began to sleep in. And yes I do still get harassed by my friends and family for wearing those dorky blue blocking glasses at night, but it’s totally worth it. It really is totally worth it
Chris: Excellent. You asked Tommy a really interesting question – a low carb [00:15:38] [indiscernible] – and I don’t feel like I had a very good answer, because it doesn’t come up very much. Your question was “What food should I eat to gain weight?” So tell us about why you asked that and what Tommy’s answer was and what you ended up doing.
Megan: Right so Tommy – maybe you can link to it in the shownotes – but he did an amazing presentation on sometimes when one high fat diet may not be working for you. So if your gut health isn’t top-notch, then you can get increased endotoxin with higher fat intakes in your diet. So I was…that kind of sparked my interest because I was trying to grain weight, put on muscle with a really high fat diet, and I was feeling really awful. And it’s probably because of some poor gut health. So I was interested in what the optimal kind of macronutrient ratio would be for somebody looking to minimize metabolic damage while putting on some healthy weight and muscle. He told me that…basically he said “Eat like a sumo wrestler.”
Chris: You should explain…so I think you can explain quite well that sumo wrestlers are very very interesting. On the surface they look obese but metabolically, they’re perfectly healthy. Can you talk about that?
Megan: Yeah they’re very insulin sensitive. So he told me “Just eat a bunch of carbs and very little fat” and that would be the best way to do that. And again, it’s extreme – and something I was going to bring up later but I’ll bring it up now, and this is definitely not an original idea. Actually I think Chris Masterjohn mention this one the Keto Summit. But just the idea that the diet and lifestyle that is best for you now probably won’t be the diet and lifestyle that’s best for you in 5 years’ time.
Chris: Right, that’s very frustrating isn’t it? Everybody has that…
Megan: It is.
Chris: They look back and think…for me it’s like 2014, maybe 2013 was the year that I got my USAC pro-license. And I was winning every master’s category 1 race that I entered. And sometimes I think “What was I doing right then?” Like if I could just recreate that, then surely I would get the same results. No, it doesn’t work like that unfortunately, you just got to keep figuring it out all the time.
Megan: Yeah and it’s really important I think to tune in and be mindful of what you need because at least for me, it’s really hard…it’s been really hard to live in this world where everybody is completely obsessed with losing weight. They take pride in getting 5 hours of sleep rather than 8 hours of sleep, and they multitask and they intermittent fast and they take exercise to the extreme, when for my health really I had to do the exact opposite.
Chris: Right. That must be quite isolating actually, when I think about it. I’ve just been making the shownotes for Tommy’s interview with Mike Mutzel, so that’ll be out by the time that this one comes out, I’ll link to that in the shownotes. But Mike mentioned that when you’ve discovered this new diet and lifestyle and nobody else you know even understands one bit of it, that can be quite isolating. And I wonder whether you might find the same when you’re the super skinny girl that’s looking to put on some more muscle when everybody around you is looking at you like “Gah, if only I could be like you.” It’s quite isolating, don’t you think? Or maybe not.
Megan: Absolutely. I was actually going to talk about social isolation next. So that’s a good…
Chris: Good segue.
Megan: Good segue. So yeah there’s that whole idea about kind of having to go against the grain, and then also the fact that when I was so hyper focused a couple of years back on physically healing myself, I kind of let my social connection slide. I would go to sleep early and not that I should be staying up late but I would let the social things fall by the wayside so that I could get up early and do my workout and XYZ.
Whereas since then I’ve definitely realized the importance of community and friendship and kind of getting out of my own head and doing random acts of kindness for other people has really been kind of a game changer. Even like something that I try to do – I was thinking about this while I was walking in the park this morning – but just making eye contact with somebody when you pass them and smiling rather than looking down at the ground, it’s so foreign in this world. And so people…some people might not look back at you but when they do, they have this look of surprise on their face and its good surprise. But that’s just so foreign in today’s society. And also…
Chris: I don’t think that about Americans at all. When you come from the UK – I mean I think some British people are probably hating me for saying this right now – but the Americans are I think very friendly. You go to…
Megan: Oh really?
Chris: Yeah, you go to a supermarket or something and the person on the checkout is just unreasonably friendly in my opinion.
Megan: That is true.
Chris: If you want to see surly and unfriendly, I recommend the London undergrounds. I’ll give you a pound for each person you can make eye contact with on the London undergrounds on any one train ride, be it in the morning or night. I guess maybe that’s just a city thing, people start to get a bit worried about who it is they’re going to run into any one time and so they don’t make eye contact. Perhaps that’s some of it.
Megan: Yeah and another thing as far as things that I changed in my lifestyle, was cultivating some kind of meditation or mindfulness practice. And Headspace has been a game changer and I really do have to prioritize it. I have to do it first thing in the morning, otherwise it won’t happen.
Megan: Especially have to prioritize it when I tell myself I don’t have the time, because that’s when I probably need it the most.
Chris: Right, right. That’s a really good observation, very difficult and very good observation.
Megan: Yeah and I think sometimes in general, just the things that we resist the most might just be the things that we need the most, and for me that was meditation. I couldn’t sit long enough to do a sitting meditation and I couldn’t walk without having podcasts going in my ear. It’s been a struggle but when I don’t do it, I definitely feel it.
Chris: Yeah I think that’s actually the genius of Headspace, is that it’s not really meditation even though that’s what it’s branded. It’s therapy, Andy Puddicombe is giving you therapy without actually being there present to talk to you in person, and I think that’s why a lot of people are fearful of meditation is because they’re worried about what thoughts they’re going to have to face when the busyness goes away.
They’re constantly busy all day long “Oh crap I’m really going to have to think about this thing that’s been deeply concerning me for a long time.” And Andy Puddicombe through Headspace, he walks you through all that and he counsels you. So that’s what makes it successful. Eventually when you get into the later episodes, it’s just you sitting silently and then it’s not so hard because he’s coached you up to that point where you’re able to do that. I think it’s just very clever.
Megan: Yeah I would definitely recommend it. It’s a great starting place and you can even just listen to the first 10 over and over and over like I do sometimes.
Chris: Yeah I know! I’ve noticed that the app, it keeps forcing me to continue on wherever I left off and I’m like “You know what? I kind of just want to do the 10 minute ones at the start again.” This morning with my daughter I did…so I don’t know if people know this but there’s a Headspace Kids now inside of the app, and my daughter’s 3 and a half but we were [00:22:38] [indiscernible] this morning. And she did 4 minutes.
There’s a little 1 minute introduction then there’s a 3 minute episode, and she did both of them. I was absolutely amazed but she loved it. It’s just enough distraction – wiggle your toes, wiggle your knees and then stop. He walks you all through it and she really enjoyed it, she was really proud of herself for having sat through a baby meditation. So maybe people listening can check that out with their kids.
Megan: Oh yeah that’s awesome. I think starting kids out with the mindfulness and meditation at that age is a really good kind of good grounding for them to have later in life or probably easier for them down the road. And then just kind of in general, one other thing I wanted to say was with all of this – both my personal kind of journey and then also my research in nutrition and getting my master’s degree helped with this. Just becoming less extreme and less black and white in my thinking, it was really important for my critical thinking skills one and also my health too.
Chris: Yeah I mean this is why we love Bryan Walsh so much, is he’s teaching critical thinking as well as just the biochemistry, and that critical thinking part is just so important. For me it was just everything I heard on the podcast was good advice in the beginning. I listen to the Ben Greenfield podcast and just did everything he said, everything got good results. I was like whoa. In that case, everything I hear on all of the podcasts must be good advice, so I’m going to do everything. And then eventually you come unstuck in ways that you’ve just described with this black and white thinking and then “Oh no now I’m going to do…” Like you really have to start using your brain at that point.
Megan: Right for sure.
Chris: Has it been working then? So you ate some more carbs, you went for a lower fat approach and you’re still lifting but maybe not quite the crazy schedule.
Megan: Yeah so…I wouldn’t even say this, I mean some people might think this is bad nutritional advice and I’m not advising anyone to do this but for me, my diet’s still pretty high in fat and it’s relatively high in carbs. I’m getting 150, 200 grams a day but I kind of strategically time my carbohydrates and when I’m having a higher carbohydrate meal, I kind of lower the fat. But still, I need the fat to get the calories in.
Chris: Right, right. So when you say strategically timed, how do you time them?
Megan: So typically the majority of them will be after workout.
Chris: Okay, and it’s still those CrossFit style workouts that you’re doing?
Megan: No that’s the other thing, I totally have let those go and now it’s purely strength training in the gym and then walking as much as I can outside.
Chris: Okay and so one of the things that I think is really nice about CrossFit – and I think this even though I’ve never done it – but it really appeals to me the idea of a community and I’ve got a friend over here, we’re going to go ride our bikes in a bit. And we just did a strength training session here in the garden. It was great till I do it with someone rather than just do it by myself. And so do you miss that about CrossFit?
Megan: Well I actually wasn’t even at a CrossFit [00:25:30] [indiscernible] or anything. I was just making it part of my own…
Chris: Oh my goodness, you were taking the worst and the worst.
Megan: Yeah exactly. So honestly like when I mentally made the decision to quit those type of workouts, it was like a relief.
Chris: Really, it’s like somebody lifted the weight off your shoulders.
Megan: Yeah and sometimes when I feel like doing something more intense, I will but yeah for now, strength training and hiking out here in the mountains and walking really is the best thing for me.
Chris: That’s amazing. Colorado lifestyle, very conducive to good health I think. How have you been adapting to the altitude? That was…sleeping in Breckenridge, I had mild sleep apnoea, and it was pretty crazy. I was waking up in the middle of the night gasping for breath. Have you been able to adapt to that? It’s pretty tough.
Megan: The first like maybe week or so that I moved back here, I could definitely tell that it was going to…I was having a little bit of a harder time breathing, I had…on long hikes, I couldn’t go as fast as I normally would. But after that – after you’ve been here a week, maybe 5 days – I think you adapt pretty fast.
Chris: Yeah you do to a certain extent. I stopped feeling like crap after about a week but I still noticed if you’re hiking a ridgetop at 1000+ feet, I know my heart. I wasn’t wearing a heart-rate monitor but hiking with a snowboard, I could feel that my heart rate was like 170 or something and I was barely moving. Just putting one boot in front of the other, absolutely crazy and it must be. So you can adapt a bit but you’re never going to go as fast as you would at sea-level, surely.
Megan: Oh absolutely. I mean just to kind of wrap up the whole lifestyle [00:27:04] [indiscernible] I kind of…like in hindsight, I realized that if I weren’t so dang stubborn, that it probably wouldn’t have taken me so long to get to where I am physically and mentally, and having just this better headspace. But I can’t say that I didn’t learn anything along the way and I think that my journey and what I’ve been through can be of use to others.
Chris: Yeah absolutely. I was going to say there’s no way that you could write these articles for me as well as you do had you not been through this personally, I think. Even though you have such tremendous knowledge from your academic career.
Megan: Yeah there’s no…experience really is the best teacher, I think.
Chris: Yeah. So can you talk a little bit about your research? I just had a couple of questions I thought you might be able to answer. The first one is the $64000 question – will all the ketogenic diet help me live longer?
Megan: Depends on if you’re a mouse or a human.
Chris: Okay so we don’t know the question – the answer to that in human, certainly. Do you have an opinion? I know you do a lot of reading, do you have an opinion at this stage?
Megan: The thing about rodent studies is you keep everything so neat and tidy and only manipulate one variable. So these rodents are in these cages and the only thing you’re manipulating is their food intake or their light exposure or something. Whereas for people, there’s so many different light variables that happen. I don’t think just saying that eating a ketogenic diet will increase your lifespan.
I think that there’s so many other inputs into the equation of health. I think this definitely has therapeutic potential and I think that kind of cycling in and out of ketosis can be potentially metabolically a very healthy thing to do. As far as lifespan is concerned, I just don’t think so.
Chris: Yeah that’s a really good answer. Yeah of course even if someone were to show in a human that it extends lifespan, you still would not be able to translate that to yourself directly. You would still based on probabilities.
Megan: Right again it’s the context question.
Chris: And do you think it’s going to be gender differences? So obviously things didn’t turn out super well for you, but again it’s unfair to say it’s just the ketogenic diet that was the cause of your problems. There was a lot of stuff going on but again with the research that you’ve done, are you expecting to see gender differences?
Megan: I would like to say yes but again for rodents, I know there are gender differences as far as how lifespan’s affected with different interventions, including dietary interventions. But as far as humans go, again I think that some women can thrive on the ketogenic diet if everything else is in place, and it can maybe even be therapeutic for some women if they’re having specific hormonal issues. But for others, it might not work out so well and again, it’s kind of that…you kind of ebb and flow with life.
Chris: Well let’s talk about the first article that you wrote for us, which is The Ironman Guide to Ketosis. I think you’ve developed a really great working relationship with Tommy, where you’re synthesizing a lot of stuff and then he does a round of editing and it goes around in circles for a little bit. It’s really fun to watch. Are you enjoying that first of all, do you think it’s working and is this how it works in academia?
Megan: Well first of all yes, I’m absolutely loving it. I’m having a blast, I just wish there were more hours in a day so I could get out more articles. But as far as how it works in academia, for me when I was writing my master’s thesis actually it was very similar. I would get all my thoughts out and then my supervisor or some of my other mentors would read over it and comment and if they…obviously Tommy is very well-versed in the literature and I try to be as much as possible but I have less experience. And so it’s always nice to have that kind of outside person who’s very well-versed and knows [00:30:55] [crosstalk] [indiscernible] “Hey here’s another study you might not have heard of.”
Chris: Yeah so it’s actually…so Tommy, he is the PubMed pro. I mean pro is the operative word, he does this for a living and not only has he seen a lot of stuff like he can remember studies that he has seen in the past and gives you the answer to the question that you’re asking. But also if you have a question and he hasn’t seen the study before, he’ll find all the research that has been done on it in less than 10 minutes. It’s absolutely amazing. Like I’ll sit there and try and answer a question using PubMed and 2 hours later I’ll feel like I’m absolutely no closer to answering my question, where he’s hugely efficient at that. I guess that’s just a function of the work he’s been doing over the last 15 years.
Megan: Yeah it can definitely get to be a rabbit hole if you don’t know where to look.
Chris: Yeah this first article, The Ironman Guide to Ketosis – I’ll link to it in the shownotes and I think this is a really nice beginner’s guide. I was really hoping that some people that were unfamiliar with what the word meant and what the diet could potentially offer them as an endurance athlete would read this article and have a really nice well-rounded evidence-driven introduction to the topic. And there’s certainly some benefits I’m…I’m not sure I would prescribe this for every Ironman athlete, but I think it’s something…
It should be a tool in their box that they should know about and we did get into a little bit of trouble didn’t we? We wanted to find a case study of someone that had done…and long term really well doing triathlons and eating this diet, we kind of struggled a little bit, didn’t we?
In the ends we went with Ben Greenfield and we had quite a lot of pushback in the comments, people saying “Oh actually Ben Greenfield destroyed his thyroid function with this diet. Why are you citing him as a success story? Do you think that’s fair?” And what do you think we should do about that in the future? Maybe not of said anything in the first place.
Megan: Yeah, yeah and I know Ben has been very open about what he could have done differently and what he does differently now as far as fuelling his training and his racing. I know he still prescribes to it – a high fat diet but no strict ketosis all the time. So I think it’s very individual but you know there’s people like Mark [00:33:00] [indiscernible] and I know Zack [00:33:03] [indiscernible] and a lot of these people are very…they have been very successful. High fat and not ketogenic diet.
Chris: Right, we should have not been so strict with ourselves in insisting that it should be an Ironman triathlete and maybe gone with someone who’s doing similar ultra-distance events but maybe not Ironman. ‘Cause it doesn’t matter that much, right? So yeah Mark Cucuzzella is a great example. The other thing that came out of that article which is I think an important point, is that most people consider to be less than 50 grams of carbohydrate per day to be ketogenic.
But that may not necessarily be true for somebody who’s training for an Ironman triathlon, right? And we’ve seen examples certainly in other sports where people are consuming up to 200 grams per day of carbohydrate, which nobody…like that’s never going to be considered a ketogenic diet anywhere in the literature. But that’s still achieving high levels of blood ketones and that’s just because they’re doing so much goddamn activity, right?
Megan: Mhmm yeah, and I think that those carbohydrates…we know from the literature that carbohydrates are ergogenic, like they do increase performance. And so I think for both health and performance, even if you’re [00:34:10] [indiscernible] athlete, they definitely have a place.
Chris: Yeah this is a really nice…I’m really pleased and proud of you for this article. It’s a really nice how-to guide and you talk about slowing down and the Maffetone approach and strength training, and there’s some really helpful pointers on how to know its working.
And you talk about testing, you talk about the right time to start a ketogenic diet, right? We talked about the allostatic load, like maybe it would work for you in the future at some point but now is not the right time. That’s really good information, and then a whole troubleshooting section. So yeah you’ve don’t a fantastic job on that and I’m really pleased with it, thank you.
Megan: Oh thank you.
Chris: Yeah so the next article you wrote was another…It was so cool. You just finished writing this article and it was the answers to real questions that Bob McRae asked, and Bob has been on m podcast quite recently before. Bob’s the number 1 ranked – in his age group – USAT triathlete, and he asked some very specific questions about fuelling for an Ironman triathlon. And you and Tommy sat down and answered those.
And then not long after it was published, somebody asked the exact same questions again and it’s just so cool, isn’t it? When you’re like “Uh this is right on the money, this article is exactly the information that people want right now.” So of course I’ll link to that as well. The article’s called How to Use MCT Oil to Fuel An Ironman Triathlon and How Endurance Training Affects Carbohydrate Intolerance.
Chris: It’s interesting the approach…maybe when you’re doing such a long event that you would want to take advantage of very available channel in order to get calories on board. And so most people know that the macronutrients – fat, carbohydrate and protein – and typically…I mean certainly this is I’m sure what you’ve seen as an exercise physiologist in the literature that you really want to stay away from fat during exercise, that’s not going to work.
And anecdotally, that’s what people notice, especially with the MCT oil that it can cause a lot of gastric distress if you’re not careful. And that was the problem that we set out to solve with fat fibre and so far, it seems to be working out great for that. It’s not causing anybody any digestive distress. Is there anything you wanted to add? I think you’ve done again a really nice question of answering these specific questions on how I fuel a really long slow steady state event.
Megan: I don’t think so, no. I’m enjoying all the questions that come in so if people have questions, I don’t know how you feel about it but I don’t know how they send them in. If they have specific questions, if they want to leave them in the comments; it’s always good to get some ideas for articles.
Chris: Yeah absolutely. Yeah maybe I should encourage people to do that this time, like if you’ve got some ideas for articles that Megan and Tommy should write, then just ask your questions. Like what’s your number 1 concern right now? What are you most worried about? And then we can come up with our best…it’s not just evidence-driven right? So obviously we said that Tommy’s the PubMed pro and he’s really good at pulling out answers from the literature.
But also we’re now 3 – coming up on 4 years old – and we’ve worked with a thousand athletes that we’ve seen a lot of stuff work and not work in practice as well. So hopefully we’ll be able to answer your questions. Talk about the lifestyle article that you’ve been working on, that’s such a…to say the lifestyle article, I think that’s not a very good title. It’s not very click baiting, is it? The real title of the article is Why Your Ketogenic Diet Isn’t Working Part 1 – Under-fuelling and Under-training. I’m sure given the conversation that we’ve just had, this is a fairly easy article for you to write. It certainly reads beautifully. Now what would you say?
Megan: Oh yeah so this was an…I was kind of hoping that we would start with this one for the lifestyle series because it was super easy to write just because of everything that I talked about before. So basically, what I wanted to do is kind of do a lifestyle theory about specific reasons why you may be eating a ketogenic diet in ketosis but it’s still not working for either your training, your racing, your overall health.
And so we started with this idea that the diet might not be working because you’re over-training and under-fuelling for that training. Which really is a big…I think it is a big deal with heart charging endurance athletes or just athletes in general. And then hopefully in the future we’ll get to other things like sleep and circadian rhythm and social connections and movements and things like that.
Chris: Yeah these are the most important things, I’m really quite sure of it after like I said 3 years, 100 athletes, which are the things which move the needle the most. And for me personally too, it’s been the same. You do deep investigations into the immune function, you mentioned the white blood cell count, and you can drill down and look at the different types of white blood cell. It leads up so you know where, like what are you going to do with that at the end of the day, right?
We hear about so many things on the podcast – heavy metal toxicity and Lyme and its co-infections and [00:39:09] [indiscernible] virus and cytomegalovirus and all this sexy stuff and infectious disease for some reason comes across as super sexy when you talk about it on a podcast. But the truth is, the loneliness, photo periods, good quality foods, sleep – these super unsexy things…blood glucose stability, that’s another good one that nobody wants to talk about anymore.
Like do you keep really good glycaemic control over the course of the day is another super unsexy. But these basic things are the things that really moving the needle for athletes. Each person’s individual but these are the things that are making the difference to people. So yeah I’m really looking forward to you drilling down in-depth into some of these things.
Megan: Yeah I’m looking forward to it as well, it’s been a blast so far.
Chris: Is there a place where people can find you? Are you a Twitter person or Facebook?
Megan: I have to admit that I’m kind of social media illiterate. I do have a Facebook but I check about once a quarter. I guess the best place that people can find me would be the articles that I’m helping to write on the Nourish Balance Thrive blog.
Chris: That’s very generous of you. Well yeah okay, come to the shownotes for this episode, you’ll find the articles linked and then both the shownotes and all the articles have a comment section. So if you have a comment or question, then please do ask it and we’ll do our very best to get that answered. Well Megan this has been an absolute pleasure, I’m delighted to be working with you and I’m really hoping you’re going to think twice about going to medical school, although I may not supposed to say that out loud right now.
Megan: Its okay I already did, but I really enjoy working with you as well.
Chris: Awesome, well thank you so much Megan.
Megan: Thank you.
Chris: Cheers, bye bye.
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