Robb Wolf The Paleo Diet and Carbs

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I’ve got the one and only Robb Wolf author of the Paleo Solution, talking about the Paleo diet and Carbs from an Epigenetic viewpoint!

In this episode you will learn:

About the Guest

Robb Wolf
Clayton-ElliottRobb Wolf, a former research biochemist is the New York Times Best Selling author of The Paleo Solution – The Original Human Diet. A student of Prof. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, Robb has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world via his top ranked iTunes podcast, book and seminars.

Robb has functioned as a review editor for the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, is co-founder of the nutrition and athletic training journal, The Performance Menu, co-owner of NorCal Strength & Conditioning, one of the Men’s Health “top 30 gyms in America”.

Robb is a former California State Powerlifting Champion (565 lb. Squat, 345 lb. Bench, 565 lb. Dead Lift) and a 6-0 amateur kickboxer. He coaches athletes at the highest levels of competition and consults with Olympians and world champions in MMA, motocross, rowing and triathlon. Wolf has provided seminars in nutrition and strength & conditioning to various entities including NASA, Naval Special Warfare, the Canadian Light Infantry and the United States Marine Corps.

Robb lives in Reno, Nevada with his wife Nicki and daughter Zoe.

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Transcibed Interview 

Ameer: What’s new Robb?

Robb: I’ve really been shifting gears into this local risk assessment program, trying to develop a revolutionary medicine certification that’s going to span everything from coaches and trainers all the way up to physicians and researchers. I have some really cool people working on that project with me, Matt [00:59], Dr. Kirk [1:00], some other folks, Greg Everett of course will be involved in that so I have a pretty hopping schedule already but I’ve been spending a ton of time in the clinic and working on that so I’ve been putting a lot of time into that so it’s been cool though.


Ameer: Sounds like your keeping busy, can you tell us more about the risk assessment program.

The risk assessment program has been rolling for about 2 to 2 ½ years, really it’s been rolling a lot longer than that but my involvement started about a year to a year and half ago and we’ve just had a huge response to this thing and the challenge that we faced is that we can run this risk assessment program on thousands, millions of people and identify people who are high risk for cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease and give them a treatment plan, send them back to their doctors and dieticians and those people will fail in what they need to do. They will recommend a high carb, low fat, quasi vegetarian type diet which isn’t going to do these folks any type of benefits. So what we figured out is that we need to build a network of practitioners that are trained in this evolutionary medicine methodology so that folks like us and other people who are doing these risk assessment programs can actually do something for them.

So you know, your own podcast, it’s interesting you end up educating and helping maybe 85% to 90% of the population who’s willing to do this stuff and they’re good to go but then there’s 10% or 15% of the population that is really sick, on medications, they have other extenuating circumstances and they need medical intervention whether it’s working with a trainer, working with a doctor. As all of these paleo, functional medicine concepts have grown we have a highly educated populous and a dearth of practitioners to be able to do something with these people. So that’s kind of been my main focus, is creating a network of practitioners so we actually have somewhere to send these people besides the doc in the box or the standard care of option that they have.

Ameer: That is awesome Robb, have you considered joining with Nusci?

Robb: That’s very much the research side of this thing which I think is really important but what we’re trying to do is take what we know in the clinical medicine side, again ranging from exercise and lifestyle modification all the way up to dealing with pharmaceuticals, we are trying to get a network of people that are practising evolutionary medicine today. I think there are a lot of questions, like you and I were talking before we started talking about high carb versus low carb and stuff like that and we still have a lot of questions out there but I still think it largely boils down to a clinical setting where a lot of those questions are going to be answered. We are not going to see them necessarily from giant medi-studies because when we do these giant studies we are seeing a statistical average of the population which may not reflect what the individuals needs are so I think that that’s where, what Gary and Peter are doing is absolutely amazing, it’s critical, it’s great stuff and I still think that we have a ton of information on just the clinical medicine side that can help people if we can orient doctors in this evolutionary medicine/functional medicine direction.

Ameer: I couldn’t agree more, what is your take on this one size fits all approach?

Robb: I wish it were as simple as a one size fits all approach because then I could retire from this thing and go farm coconuts in Nicaragua or something and be done but fortunately or unfortunately it’s way more complex than that. It’s interesting, trying to walk that middle ground too you end up getting slings and arrows from both sides. Like if you recommended low carb could be very therapeutically beneficial for a variety of conditions from epilepsy to neurodegenerative diseases then the super high carb camp, they are angry with you and assailing you and if you say that a cross games competitor probably isn’t going to do well on a ketogenic diet, then the low carb jihadists are going to come after you and you’re going to have all kinds of problems with that. So trying to actually navigate this middle road and actually find what’s appropriate for the individual, there’s not too many safe havens, people are not happy with you because it requires you and them to think. We don’t have a patent 10 commandments written in stone tablets that you just do that and it fixes everybody’s issues, I wish that it was that way but it is just not.

Ameer: Robb have you read any new interesting research lately ?

Robb: I had seen papers presenting this idea that insulin resistance was an evolutionary conserved adaptive event that we see both in infectious diseased states and in an overfeeding state and actually in a variety of situations, sleep deprivation, there’s a variety of things that could create insulin resistance but specifically trying to figure out what is the cause of say Type 2 diabetes to insulin resistance, we have this kind of a Gary Taubes view that it is 100% carbs, it’s totally carb driven and then other people maybe out of the Stephan Guyenet camp Chris Masterjohn, which Chris Masterjohn is actually the guy I’m thinking about right now who really held the line that it’s more of an over calorie consumption state that leads into mitochondria deregulation and oxidative stress so we become insulin resistant in an attempt to shuttle carbohydrates, nutrients in general, into adipose tissue instead of funneling it through the mitochondria because when we start pumping large amounts of nutrients through the mitochondria we get reactive oxygen species, we deplete our endogenous antioxidants and all kinds of hell can break loose.

So Chris Masterjohn had a great two part talk at the Ancestral Health Symposium last year which talked about both the [09:04] gene frequency in humans relative to chimpanzee’s and also this mitochondria biogenesis story. His argument was that humans have much greater duplicity of the [09:19] gene, which [09:20] is the enzyme that we use to break down starch and when you look at chimpanzees they have almost no activity of this gene. Even hunter/gatherers have four times more [09:34] gene activity than chimpanzees and then depending on ancestry you have may have 8 or 10 times more [09:40] activity beyond that. It’s interesting not only are these people better able to break down and bring starch into their body but they have a blunted insulin response too, the insulin response is more mitigated and more appropriate and so it was very interesting. There’s some very complex evolutionary biology going on there, this happened very quickly from what we can tell and also there’s an interesting synergy between a nutritional substrate starch having an increase in gene frequency to allow us to bring it into our system but also a mitigation in the inflammatory response and the insulin response. So that was interesting, it’s like ok if humans aren’t really wired up to eat some starch then why the heck would we have this really ubiquitous, evolutionary conserved story with [10:35] and that gene also seems to come in lockstep with humans developing cooking which started about 1.5 to 2 million years ago so there’s an interesting evolutionary trend there.

This other side was Chris looking at the mitochondrial biogenesis story and that insulin resistance is an outgrowth of an overconsumption of calories, and that insulin resistance is an adaptive attempt to mitigate stress, chronic stress of an overconsumption of food. I think when we look at things from that perspective everything falls out, we start making a lot more sense out of this story even to the degree if we have an individual that’s not necessarily over consuming food but say that they’re on shift work and that shift work causes that individual to become insulin resistant then we see a lot of the same kind of adaptive responses of elevated cortisol and an attempt on a part of the body to store nutrients as fat instead of burning it through the mitochondria and maintaining a higher metabolic rate but it starts making a lot more sense versus than just simply high carb versus low carb.

Ameer: Robb what is your take on the whole Macro debate?

Robb: From the Ancel Keys kind of story forward, we’ve just been in this protein, carb, fat, protein, carb, fat, what ratios of these things. So we do this research where it’s a 55% carb diet versus a 52% carb diet and tweaking and fiddling with ratios and it was actually Stefan Lindeburg’s research looking at the [13:33] that really made it ok this is really interesting and with the [13:38] they have a very high carb intake, it’s around 60% carbs but it’s mainly from yucca, tarot and fruits. Interestingly the main fat that they consume is from coconut so it’s a high saturated fat intake and then they have a not super high protein intake, 15% to 20% in calories but the [13:58] diet is cool in that these people show no signs of westernised metabolic diseases but yet it doesn’t matter what camp you’re in, nobody should like this diet. If you are the American Heart Association you should hate it because it’s got a bunch of saturated fat, if you are T. Colin Campbell China Study you should expect all these people to have cancer and tumors eating them alive because they eat animal products and then if you’re really out of the low carb camp the fact that they get 60% of their calories from starch, from carbohydrates, they should have Type 2 diabetes that’s just running wild. So I think his work, when we look back maybe 10 or 15 years from now is going to be some of the most important work that we have seen in evolutionary biology scene where he stepped outside of the protein, carb, fat ratio story and started asking the question what about other biologically active substances in these things and specifically he was asking the question can [15:01] cause leptin resistance and then that proceeds insulin resistance and whatnot.

I think that’s some of the story that we see with grains and possibly even with refined dairy products and stuff like that is that we are seeing some [15:19] or immunogenic proteins that are causing systemic inflammation or some missed signaling in the interior of the body, in the hormonal story in the body, and that’s actually a bigger factor than the actual makeup of the protein, carb, fat ratio. You would never ever, ever find any of that if you’re just looking for a golden ratio of protein, carbohydrate, fat because Wonder bread is going to be quite a bit different than a plantain or yucca root or something like that.

Not that specifically, it would be interesting to look and see if the insulin neugenic nature of protein would do the same thing, that would be pretty interesting to see what type of factor that has. I know from the anti-aging scene there’s been a lot of talk about low carb diets mimicking calorie restriction and intermittent fasting which is really cool stuff and it’s very intriguing and I definitely bought into that story as supporting the idea that we should be in ketosis more often in the past. But then Michael Rose, who’s an aging and revolution biology researcher at UC Irvine, he’s done some interesting work that seems to indicate that humans, because of the genetic reaction norms that we carry, because of the way that we develop our offspring and rear our offspring, that we’re probably not going to see any type of significant life extension from even severe calorie restriction. So when you look at that it kind of begs the question well if that’s the case then what are the upsides of potentially being in ketosis continually and some of the negative effects of insulin? It’s also really important, and Matt [18:00] always hammers this point, it’s really, really important to distinguish between transient elevated insulin versus hyperinsulinemia.

The hyperinsulinemia being a consequence of, we’ll make the assumption that it’s just over consumption of calories in general but maybe its carbs, maybe its calories, whatever that story is but those two stories are very, very different. Punctuated elevations in insulin is a very different story than chronically elevated insulin levels and what those chronically elevated insulin levels can mean for accelerated aging, those are just very, very different stories. I had not put in the skull sweat originally to really think through the distinction there so I made the assumption that if we could keep insulin as low as humanly possible across the board then that would be really, really good for aging and clearly there’s some indications, you’re talking about the [19:01] methylation and its importance in a host of different metabolic processes, we’re pretty savvy and have been for a while with punctuated insulin elevation, being important for T4/T3 conversion for preventing the retro conversion of T3 into Reverse T3.

Ameer: Do you believe there is a optimum range for carbohydrate consumption?

Robb: I do think there’s an optimum range for a carbohydrate intake for folks and you eluded at the beginning of the show that that’s going to vary based on that individuals situation. So if we take me in book writing mode, where I’m sitting on my fanny for 8 or 10 hours a day and getting no exercise, that’s a very different me than when I’m lifting weights 3 days a week and going to Brazilian Jujitsu 5 days a week. My carbohydrate tolerance, my carbohydrate need, is completely different under those two scenarios and this is a lot of what we see out of the police, military and fire populations that I work with. People who are on shift work or are exposed to cyclical sleep deprivation, they need to really plan their carbohydrate intake intelligently and maybe just around exercise and that pre-workout period otherwise those individuals are so insulin resistant that a large carbohydrate pull really isn’t doing those folks much good. So even the individual that’s just gotten off of shift, a lot of firefighters will do 48 hours on and 96 hours off and kind of rotate, so after they’ve gotten off their 2 days of running a lot of calls, high cortisol levels, no sleep, they are very insulin resistant. Is it a smart idea for that individual to then take a huge carb meal? I would argue no. They should eat, they should exercise and then maybe in that post workout period they have some carbohydrates which is then going to help them produce normal levels of serotonin and melatonin and help them to sleep and suppress cortisol and all that sort of stuff.

Ameer: Robb what are your thoughts on seasonal eating?

Robb: I think there would be a huge benefit to eating more seasonally and locally but it’s funny that making that recommendation sticks you into the lunatic fringe for a lot of people. If we look at evolutionary biology and any of the hunter/gatherers studied if there was some good anthropometry performed on the individuals and also some nutritional analysis, there was great variation in the…(kind of cyclical nature of nutrient intake).

Robert [00:15] has a great book, [00:20] Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society and if I recall the ratios, in [00:29] summertime it’s actually less carbohydrate and in the wintertime it’s more carbohydrate but you ended up seeing a low of about 10% in one part of the year when there’s berries and melons and roots and tubers really easily accessible and then in a super dry, low vegetative part of the year you saw about 90% of the calories coming from animal products. I think with that cyclic variation you’re diversifying the toxin load and the type of plants that you’re consuming, it’s really hard to over consume one macronutrient in that kind of cyclical story. I think this is some of what made us really successful as hunter/gatherers and opportunistic omnivores is that we were able to move throughout a variety of biomes and use whatever was available and if things were bad in one area then we could hopefully move to another one. There’s one paper, it’s called Secrets of the Lac Operon, it’s been my favorite paper for a number of years and it really talks about of a cyclical ketogenic exposure, that hermetic stress of being in ketosis intermittently is very beneficial but also that having a punctuated carbohydrate exposure actually mitigates the advanced glycation end products that accumulate time.

So one large carb exposure, or a medium carb exposure would up-regulate the repair enzymes and tend to undo the advanced glycation end products. Without that punctuated exposure we actually get a down-regulation of those enzymes and even if we’re in a ketogenic state our liver is still producing glucose at kind of a constant level via gluconeogenesis and without that punctuated carbohydrate exposure we actually get more advanced glycation end products than we would see if we had say a once a week, or an every three or four days, large carb exposure. Whether we’re talking exercise or learning or whatever, punctuated intense chunks seem to work better than a really low level state, other than getting out and walking, clearly there’s lot of benefits of lots and lots of low level physical activity but those punctuated highs and lows seem to be really beneficial for us.

The paper is free online, it’s called Secrets of the Lac Operon and it’s really good.

I would always like to talk to the person and figure out who are they, what are they up to, what are their goals, are we talking about a rather sedentary desk jockey, are we talking about an athlete, are we talking about somebody that has shift work. I would really like to know what the individual’s background is and if we had a relatively sedentary person I would still try to do carbs in the post workout period and/or maybe just adding a little bit more fruit or higher carbohydrate density vegetables like carrots throughout the day so we start with that. This is one of the challenges that we see in the whole paleo, low carb scene is that most of the information that is generated is geared towards the diabetic or pre-diabetic obese individual that is not carb tolerant.

So then so many people all that they see is that story, that message, they might be relatively lean and they’re just looking to eat a different way for other health concerns like GI health. So all they see is a low carb variation on this and that’s not necessarily appropriate for everybody particularly if we have a really high level athlete. I had a girl who I peripherally coached for years who’s a high level cross-fitter and she shot me an email and she said hey I’ve been trying ketogenic for 3 months and I’ve been tanking on all my workouts, I lost my period, what do you think’s going on. I said well you made a mistake of not talking to me before you did this thing. She’s a high level athlete, so for her at breakfast, lunch, dinner and particularly in the post workout period, we really ramped her carbs up and she felt better immediately and within 2 weeks was up to setting personal records on her workouts, she regained her cycle at the normal time the next month and everything. So for that individual we would aggressively reintroduce carbs. She was kind of shocked actually, she’s maybe 125 lbs. and I had her, on hard training days, maybe as much as 400 grams of carbs and on off days maybe about 200 or 225 grams, but she felt amazing and she got vascular and lean and she looked good and she’s crushing stuff now.

Ameer: Yup there you go, a perfect example.

Robb: Without a doubt and we see this a ton is cross-fit competitive females where they will be pretty lean throughout most of their body but then they have this, from the [07:03] type stuff, their thighs are not very lean at all and they look like they’re estrogen dominant but they’re really not estrogen dominant they’re just experiencing a pregnenolone steel that’s making their testosterone look low and the progesterone look low and then they look estrogen dominant even though their estrogen levels are typically on the low side overall too. These cross-fit gals, we tend to get them relatively lean throughout all their body except their quads unless we’re really keeping an eye on cortisol, keeping an eye on sleep, making sure that the pregnenolone steel is not a feature of their day to day life, which for a lot of these gals it is.

A friend of mine, Kirk Parsley, he made the observation that when people first start doing some cross-fit or some type of really high intensity training, but cross-fit just lends itself so well to this because the kind of sportive, competitive element, people really, really dig deep when they do this stuff but even in the early stages, even though people could be experiencing the early stages of adrenal fatigue they feel really good because that initial alarm stage you’re just on.

My daughter, Zoey, is now a year old and the first month that she was born I was having 3 hours of sleep I was fine, I was boom, boom, boom, knocking all this stuff out and then literally at probably week number 5 the wheels fell off the wagon for me. I couldn’t hardly get out of bed, I was super exhausted and that’s when I told my wife we need to get some help with the kid I need to get a little rest and Nicki needed to get a little rest. People will come in and they will be beating themselves up, feeling really good but then the wheels start falling off the wagon and they’re constantly cold, they’re really stiff, they’re lethargic, they have no sex drive, lots and lots of stuff starts going by the wayside and they often times think that what they need to do is work out harder because the one thing that will make them feel better for a brief period of time is the training session because it will give them that little dose of cortisol and they get in that tired and wired stage where they’re low in the a.m. and they’re high in the p.m. and their sleep gets messed up and then they end up low across the board and really a mess. It’s like the common cold out there right now there are a lot of people in that scenario and proper programming, proper ramp up and making sure that you get enough carbs is critical to that whole story and even then I don’t know that it’s entirely all that healthy for a lot of people.

Robb: Paleo land definitely has some fringe element to it and it’s tough because a lot of people come to paleo because they’re very sick, it helps them enormously. They were probably introduced into that lower carb side of things for autoimmune consideration or gut inflammation just by a variety of factors and it may literally save the person’s life or damn well make it feel like that. But then things may change for that person and they are unwilling to modify things even though they’re not feeling quite as good or their sibling, their spouse or just the person they were talking to on the internet may not get the same experience and that’s ok. My crazy used car salesman pitch in this whole thing is try it on for 30 days, it’s like a pair of pants try it on, see how you look, feel and perform, see how your biomarkers change over that period and if it’s not good then do something else but figure out ok I’ve been on the really low carb side of this thing, I’ve been more active, maybe I need to stick in more carbs.

So we’ve got a carb back-loading scenario where Keefer’s recommending that you throw some carbs in in the evening and now you’re talking about a [15:20] gene variant that seems to be recommending some carbs in the morning. So this whole thing turns into this kind of a binary yes/no tree, let’s just assume we’ll say paleo is kind of the template, we’ll make an assumption there but then paleo carbs – high carb or low carb yes or no – you go 30 days are you looking, feeling, performing well, are you’re biomarkers good yes or no – yes keep doing it and maybe tweak a few things a little bit but if no then ok let’s try higher carbs. When do you do it, I see three variables – morning, noon and night, a.m. predominantly, p.m. predominantly or maybe a fourth one is mainly post workout whenever that workout time is. So those are a few variables, those are a few details to track down but it shouldn’t cause you to bleed from your rectum trying that, it’s not that hard.

I have some trouble shooting charts that delineate all of this stuff and we give it away on the website.

Ameer: Cool I will post it in the show notes.

Robb: I think about it where you’re throwing darts at a dartboard and we get closer and closer to the bulls eye and I think the basic paleo template, unless you say moderate carb or moderate to low carb that gets 90% of the people pretty darn close to the center. Some people might need to go much lower carb, they might need to be ketogenic for a variety of reasons, Dr. Terry Wahls is a great example, and the only way that she is able to keep her MS in remission is in ketosis period. For other people, they need to really drop their fat and it’s almost going to look like a paleo flavor of a high protein, high carb, body builder type diet for them to do what they need to do. Other people are going to need to be lower protein, higher carb, fats predominantly from butter and coconut they might have some mitochondrial dysfunction that doesn’t really deal with longer chain fats so they need to stick to the shorter chain fats for the predominance of their fats.

That’s the benefit of having a functional medicine doctor or practitioner to go to is that you can get some tests but let’s say that you live in the sticks, even without the tests, with a few logical experiments you can get a long ways down the road and if you don’t, if you hit a brick wall then by all means, that’s the time to pull in a coach, that’s the time to bring a practitioner to be the overview on your process. I do some old dude Brazilian jujitsu stuff, trying to compete in that and as I start to ramp up my season I’m going to completely hand over my strength and conditioning to probably Greg Everett, completely hand over my food to Scotty Hagnas because I need to focus on training and not being neurotic about my strength and conditioning or my food and then I’m just going to have faith in those guys that they’re going to direct me in the direction that I need to go.

I think there’s two elements there, be really proactive for yourself because there’s a lot of good information out there and if you’re a little bit analytical then you can track things down or you track down a functional medicine practitioner and let that person do a bunch of the skull sweat and give you a plan and maybe get you 10% further down the road. Then we redo some tests and we tinker some stuff and then we’re able to get you closer and closer to optimum and then you need that practitioner over the course of time to be able to help keep you optimum as you’re physiology changes.

I totally agree and I won’t expand on the jumping around stuff, whether it’s working out or nutrition or whatever, getting in a trying stuff on, I usually throw out the 30 day deal just because it’s short enough that it doesn’t freak people out on the commitment side but it’s long enough that they can usually start seeing some change but the reality is more 60 to 90 days.

It’s enough to get them in and not scare them away because if you ping somebody with a 90 day deal they’re like oh that’s too long I can’t do that. But the reality is people will usually get some momentum going after 30 days and they’re like that’s cool I’ll ride this thing out.

But without that self-analysis and that quantified self-piece you don’t know it’s just drifting and then you’re going off of memory and it’s not giving you any good feedback.

Ameer: Robb what is your number one Optimal Health Tip?

Robb: I’m the food guy but whether I’m working with the military or police or just average folks its sleep, people don’t sleep enough. Honestly if we could just turn the electricity off for everything except hospitals and EMS as soon as the sun goes down the power just shuts off and people had some candles and they fiddle farted around for maybe an hour and then they went to bed and then they would wake up without an alarm. Most of what you and I are talking about wouldn’t even be necessary. I think that people would be way more carb tolerant, way more gluten tolerant, way more exercise tolerant if they slept more and it is damn hard to get people to do that. Thinking about sleep hygiene, trying to go to bed earlier, trying to minimize electromagnetic involvement watching TV and all that stuff, if you have to work on a computer get some shooting glasses where you can pop in rose colored lenses. So when we screen out the blue and green wavelengths of light, blue and green wavelengths of light interact with the eyes and the brain, block the production of melatonin so if we can halt that process then people will tend to sleep better. Sleep more, sleep often.

Honored, thanks, take care.

Optimally yours

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