Metabolism is life. On episode 566 of the 40+ Fitness Podcast, we meet Catherine de Lange and discuss her article in New Scientist magazine, Hack Your Metabolism.
Let's Say Hello
[00:01:09.790] – Allan
Hey, Ras. How are you?
[00:01:11.970] – Rachel
Good, Allan, how are you today?
[00:01:14.160] – Allan
I'm feeling a lot better. We've been in a drought situation. I think I've talked about this a little bit over the course of the weeks, but we had to travel. It was a busy time at Lula's, and then no water, no rain, and they completely used up the reservoir, pumped our tanks full of mud, which we had to pay someone to go in and clean those things out. And then they kept pumping mud, so we ended up with mud again in the tanks and no rain. And so we had to turn off the city water. We just can't take that. And then it was like, you got to buy water because the local service, everybody wants it, and they just weren't making it over to our street. So we end up having to call some guys and give them some money to come over and pump some water into our tanks. But the good news is it started raining yesterday. It's been raining now for two days, so we're in a lot better shape now for getting this rain. And as far as I'm concerned, it can rain for the whole week, and I would just be ecstatic for sure.
[00:02:12.690] – Allan
I know it's weird. People like you want it to rain. I'm like, yes, we do. That's our water. That's where it comes from for us. And so it's all water catchment at some level or another, even the city's pumping it in general, it had to be caught by them or by us. And so we do have a little bit of water catchment ourselves, but it's got us rethinking how we've structured, how the tanks are structured back there, because we've got four 400 gallon tanks, and generally that would run us for a week here, provided there's not too many checkouts with laundry getting done. But generally, we know four tanks should last us about a whole week. But we got down to where we had less than six inches in two of the tanks. And so literally probably only had 50 gallons.
[00:02:59.460] – Rachel
[00:03:00.120] – Allan
And that was not going to last for even a few showers. Once I got back here, I wasn't taking showers. I took a shower in Panama City and then got on the plane. And then for about a week, I didn't take a shower.
[00:03:12.640] – Rachel
Oh, my gosh.
[00:03:13.590] – Allan
Again, the water wasn't there. And our guests, they come in, they want to take a shower after they've been out doing their tours. And we couldn't do laundry, so we got down to, like, the end. And so it's like, okay, here we have to watch sheets because we have to make a bed. It was interesting. This is the second one we've had. They say they're going to do some infrastructure stuff to kind of remedy this maybe in the future. But this was a bad one. Relative. We had one four years ago wasn't quite as bad, but it was one of those things where you just really paying attention to the water, make sure you're not using any more than you need to, and doing all that.
[00:03:54.580] – Rachel
That's pretty important.
[00:03:56.010] – Allan
Yeah. Well, we are a Third World country, so it's going to happen.
[00:04:00.160] – Rachel
It happens, sure.
[00:04:01.210] – Allan
Yeah. And so you're not all the way up there. You're almost up there in a beautiful part of the country. My favorite part of the country. So what's going on?
[00:04:13.600] – Rachel
Yeah, Mike and I are enjoying a few days of vacation down in Pensacola. Today we're on the beach. We'll be in town later on, but we've been enjoying a few free days here at the beach. And sun's been great. The weather's been actually really great until just recently it got cold, but it's still perfectly sunny and we have snow at home, so I can handle the cold of Florida much better than I can handle the cold of snow in Michigan right now. So we're just enjoying some time here before we head back home.
[00:04:43.930] – Allan
Good. All right, well, safe travels.
[00:04:46.540] – Rachel
[00:04:47.610] – Allan
All right, are you ready to talk about metabolism?
[00:04:51.030] – Rachel
[00:05:07.260] – Allan
Catherine, welcome to 40+ Fitness.
[00:05:10.310] – Catherine
Hi, thanks for having me.
[00:05:12.280] – Allan
Your article was called Hack Your Metabolism. And three words, three very important words. I love talking about metabolism. Obviously, a lot of my clients, people will come to me, they want to lose some weight, and so we start talking about metabolism and energy usage and how all this stuff, how we know or think it works today and why certain things work for us and other things don't and all that. So we go back and forth on metabolism, and that's really, in the end, what we're trying to manage around. I've never really liked the word hack, but I get the context that you're using. Here's a lot different than what a lot of people think hacking is. So this is not about taking some cleanse juice or getting on some kind of weird, take this metabolism boosting pill and you're going to hack your metabolism. This is real science.
[00:06:04.090] – Catherine
It is, yeah. So I work for New Scientist magazine, where really a lot of what we do around diet and metabolism is to try and cut through a lot of the pseudoscientists out there and really look at the evidence and base everything that we do on facts. So it's absolutely not about some kind of magic pill or some kind of thing that you're going to eat that's going to do some magic to your metabolism. I don't think that exists. And yeah, it's very much about science and evidence and what we actually know in this actually a field of research that is changing all the time.
[00:06:39.490] – Allan
Now, in the article, you kind of got into this concept of metabolic flexibility, and we've talked about that a few times on the show. But why is metabolic flexibility so important?
[00:06:51.940] – Catherine
Well, this is really something that I didn't know that much about before I started to research this article. And I'm sure your listeners know if you've spoken about it before, but metabolic flexibility is your body's ability to switch between burning different fuel sources, so really between burning fat and burning carbs. And obviously that's kind of interesting to people who are trying to manage their weight. But for me, what was really surprising was how much disability is linked to overall metabolic health and how much it's a predictor of your likelihood of having metabolic syndrome. So this is a kind of trifactor of problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity and being able to switch between these fuel sources. So having a good metabolic flexibility seems to protect you from that and really seems to be a good predictor of your future metabolic health. So it's really important.
[00:07:54.260] – Allan
Yeah, I know a lot of people, they'll try to go from being purely sugar burners and then they'll want to go and get on the keto diet. And so they'll say, okay, I'm cut out all these carbs. And invariably about two or three days later, they have this horrendous crash. Some people call it keto flu, I call it carb withdrawals. And it comes back to this process called metabolic flexibility because we're changing fuel tanks. I mean, literally going from one type of fuel to another. And for a lot of us, we're just not that flexible, so we sputter a good bit until we get there. How would someone build metabolic flexibility from the perspective of being able to switch more easily?
[00:08:35.140] – Catherine
Yeah, so where I was coming out with this article was definitely not about doing some extreme diet, doing the keto diet, although I think it's really interesting when you think about that crash and the kind of I think often with a keto diet people feel like they don't have so much energy, especially high intensity exercise. So can we train our body to be better at that? Can we improve our ability? And the researchers that I spoke to seemed to be saying that in order to improve it, the best thing is exercise. So people who exercise regularly seem to have a better metabolic flexibility. And on the flip side, people who have a poor metabolic health, people who are obese have a worse metabolic flexibility. And actually, one researcher I spoke to did a very extreme experiment where she took a bunch of healthy, fit women and made them take bed rest for two months. So they did absolutely no physical activity for two months, and they became metabolically inflexible. And another long term study looked at people over five years and found that if you are metabolically and flexible, you're more likely to develop obesity and problems with blood glucose.
[00:09:50.610] – Catherine
Doing regular exercise seems to improve their ability. And also, it looks like you can train your metabolic flexibility. So you don't need to go to the extremes of cutting out carbs completely. But if you, say, eat your meals earlier in the evening and have a longer period where you're not eating overnight, perhaps having fewer carbs in the evening as well. So that gives your body the chance to burn through those carbs that you have. It gives it the chance to switch to burning fat while you're asleep, so you don't need to do anything about it. Rather than if you eat a carb heavy meal late at night, snacking before you go to bed, your body has no chance to actually make that switch. So what people were telling me that the scientists that I spoke to was it's about giving your body the chance to regularly switch so that when you're asleep, you can switch to burning fat. Then when you need the carbs, you can eat them. And your body is really good at just using them straight away to fuel whatever it is you're doing, and then give your chance again, your body the chance to switch again.
[00:10:55.300] – Catherine
So regular exercise and regular brakes from carbs, basically, so that you can switch even during the day.
[00:11:02.810] – Allan
Okay, now you utilized the tool called lumen. And in the article, you also talked about continuous glucose monitors. Can you talk about what those tools are and how they would help us track our metabolism?
[00:11:14.670] – Catherine
Yeah, and I think it's interesting to think, for me, this comes back to a big shift, I think, in the way that scientists are thinking about metabolism, because a lot of the things that seem quite straightforward to us. And, you know, I've always been really interested in metabolic health and exercise and diet. And before we thought that we understood which foods were kind of good for us, what they did to the body, how much energy you got. And what we're discovering is that this one size fits all approach to nutrition really isn't working for people and probably isn't scientifically accurate. And more and more research shows that even your eye or even identical twins could eat the same food and have a hugely different reaction in their body. And so the devices like the Lumen device that I tried, and blood glucose monitors, they kind of provide a window into what's really happening in your body. And I think it's just a sign of the times that we're starting to understand that everybody's body is responding very differently to food and exercise. And so the Lumen device that I tried is I actually have it here.
[00:12:26.490] – Catherine
It's like a small kind of inhaler. You take a deep breath in, and then you breathe out into this device, and it's supposed to measure how much oxygen and carbon dioxide you have in your breath. And the claim is that this is a good indicator of whether you're burning fat or carbs in that moment. So you get a real time measurement. So I would do it when I woke up in the morning, and they say even if you just do it once in a day when you wake up in the morning, and then it gives you a reading on a scale of one to five of whether you're burning fat or whether you're burning carbs. And then I also used it when I was trying it out for exercise. So I don't really like to eat before workout, but do I need some extra carbs to fuel it? Or actually, have I got enough carbs that I'm good for my workout, I don't need to eat anything, and I can just go and not have to worry about running out of fuel. So that's the Lumen device with all of these things, they claim that because they have so many users, they can really gain these insights about what different habits do to our health that we wouldn't get usually.
[00:13:44.350] – Catherine
So I think that's interesting. And continuous blood glucose monitors, I don't know about you, but for me, I used to think that kind of monitoring blood glucose levels was really just for if you had diabetes or prediabetes. But again, increasingly we're realizing that many of us are having dangerously high spikes in glucose levels just during a normal day, even if we're very kind of otherwise healthy. And that could be a problem. So by monitoring your glucose levels continuously for a period of time, you can really start to understand how your body responds to different food. And like I said, how you respond to something could be very different to how I respond. And so those insights are really interesting and potentially quite confusing for people as well.
[00:14:31.030] – Allan
Yeah, at the point being and I think I saw this was a study out of Israel where they were monitoring people's blood glucose levels all through the day, and they were logging what they were eating when they were eating, and they were comparing that data. And one person can eat a banana and they're just fine. And another person eats a banana and their blood sugar shoots up. So it kind of throws the whole idea of the gi index and the load kind of throws that out a little bit. Because if we're going to have different reactions to different foods and I haven't seen anybody that studied this, but I would even think it might be different for people over different periods, span of time. 20s probably could do that, but it may have done the banana better than someone who was in their 50s. Same person.
[00:15:16.630] – Catherine
Yeah, absolutely. Even in one day.
[00:15:19.650] – Allan
Yeah. So twins can be different then we can be different because genetically they're supposed to be identical. So you had a strategy in the article that talked about not really so much timing of carbs, but that by eating protein and fiber first, you set yourself up to have a better outcome. Could you talk about how protein and fiber are at one, how important they are to us and why, but how it could be used to help us manage our blood glucose levels?
[00:15:50.340] – Catherine
Yeah, I mean, they're hugely important macronutrients. As I'm sure your listeners are aware, protein is really important for building muscle, principally, and fiber is key to healthy digestion and it's also really important for feeding the microbiome, which we know is increasingly implicated in all sorts of health metrics. But the idea behind the strategy that I wrote about in the article is that say you had a plate of food and you had some meat, some vegetables and some bread, and the order that you eat that food could make a difference to your blood glucose levels. Because if you eat the fiber first, so either the leafy vegetables that you have, that's going to kind of line your digestive system. Fiber, a lot of fiber is not digested, so that will line your system and then you eat the protein next. That's digested much more slowly than carbohydrates, so it slows down your digestion. And if you eat the carbs on top of that, then it means you'll have less of a spike in your blood glucose afterwards. And the same logic means that if you did want to eat some dessert, you should probably eat it straight away as part of your meal rather than having it like a snack later in the day when you've given your digestion that break.
[00:17:16.870] – Catherine
And if you eat it at that point, you're just going to be hitting your system with a massive sugar high.
[00:17:23.770] – Allan
Yeah. The interesting thing is this is they bring bread, in the United States, I know, they bring the bread to the table first. So everybody's passing around eating the bread, waiting for their food to come and we're eating it in the wrong order.
[00:17:37.470] – Catherine
Yeah, it's the same here. It's exactly the same.
[00:17:40.870] – Allan
I define wellness as being the healthiest fittest and happiest, you can be. What are three strategies or tactics to get and stay well?
[00:17:49.110] – Catherine
I mean, it's hard to pick three and I think, well, I've also written a book called Brain Power, which is all about things that we can do to improve our mental health and our brain, the way that our brains function. So I think I'd pick three that are unrelated to the metabolism stuff, because I think the most important thing you can do for your wellbeing is exercise, whatever that means for you. So walking in the park or hitting the gym. But exercise is amazing for our body and our brain. We know that. And I think increasingly I've been writing for New Scientists and elsewhere about the importance of spending time in nature. So connecting with nature seems to be really, really good for our mental health. So I would take that exercise. If you can do it in nature, then you can do to get two in one go. And also the importance of daylight, and especially as you know, in the northern hemisphere, the days are getting shorter, we're spending a lot more time with artificial light. We know that spending time outside in direct sunlight early on in the day is amazing for your energy, for your mood, for your mental health and for sleep later.
[00:19:00.340] – Catherine
So my three would be take exercise in nature, if you can in the morning when you're getting that sunlight, I think that would be the kind of the best thing that you can do for your physical and mental wellbeing.
[00:19:13.270] – Allan
Great. Catherine, if someone wanted to learn more about you and the things that you're doing, where would you like for me to send them?
[00:19:19.950] – Catherine
So all the things that I write about are on the New Scientist website, so newscientist.com, and my book is called Brain Power: Everything You Need to Know for Happy, Healthy Brain. So you can find that in all the usual places.
[00:19:33.480] – Allan
You can go to 40plusfitnesspodcast.com/566 and I'll be sure to have the links there. Catherine, thank you so much for being a part of 40 Plus Fitness.
[00:19:42.940] – Catherine
No, thank you for having me.
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[00:21:27.190] – Allan
Welcome back, Ras.
[00:21:28.840] – Rachel
Hey, Allan. This was a really helpful interview for me for having metabolic flexibility. It's something that I've been trying so hard to achieve lately, and this was really insightful for me.
[00:21:41.230] – Allan
Yes, it is important. We had Cyrus and Robby on episode 560, and they were both type one diabetics. So they were talking about diabetes and managing your blood sugar and having metabolic flexibility, because in their research, that's really kind of the linchpin of health from a metabolic perspective. It's not that you're always keto or you're not eating any sugar. It's not that do something any weirder than just eat. But the way you do it and how you approach it and making sure that your body is able to adjust and use the different fuel systems is a valuable aspect of human life. And so you don't have to be extreme if you're just smart about it and paying attention. And that's part of what the hack part of this article was. She's using tools like the Lumen Breath Analyzer to figure out what's going on. She knew she was burning fat. This is actually started the story. She was in France and she didn't want to eat the Croissant, and so she had the lumen, and she was sitting there and she knew she was burning body fat at that particular moment. And she wanted to keep burning that body fat for energy.
[00:22:58.390] – Allan
She did not want to use the Croissant for energy. And she was able to do that with Lumen. Because when we're losing fat, when we're burning fat, our body does this chemical reaction. It turns it into carbon dioxide and water. And so what we're typically losing is that breathing out of that carbon dioxide. And you've probably heard this if anyone's talking about global warming, the weight, the number of pounds or tons of carbon dioxide that are being emitted. And it seems weird that a gas would have weight, but it does. Not a lot, but it does. And so when it adds up, that is weight. So you're breathing out more carbon dioxide when you're losing weight and using body fat for that than you would otherwise. And that's what this tool knows, is how much carbon dioxide relative to oxygen. And there's a formula, and then once it'll tell you where you stand, burning that fat.
[00:23:56.590] – Rachel
It's a helpful tool. I know that when I started Keto gosh years ago now, I've lost track. I went through that keto flu you talked about, and we had the fatigue as my body learned how to switch over to fat burning. And since then, it's been great. It's helpful for me as a runner to be able to go back and forth between having some carbs and burning fat and not needing all of the extra running nutrition that a lot of us runners need to use. But I just want to clarify that I don't eat bread. That's the one thing I'll probably never go back to. But I'm looking for carbs in my vegetables, not so much in the breads and pastries and whatnot. But it's been helpful. And so the next thing that I'm looking at is my blood glucose. So it's something I want to keep an eye on, even though I have the flexibility right now. I just want to make sure I'm not overworking my pancreas.
[00:24:49.200] – Allan
Yeah, well, we had a podcast sponsor that does that continuous monitoring. I wore one for a few weeks. I was in ketosis. So when I was talking to the dietitian, she was like, I don't see numbers like this. She says, my blood sugar did not move. It was right at about 70 every single day. Every time it measured, it did not go up, it did not go down. And she's like, what are you doing? I said, I'm eating a ketogenic diet and I'm in ketosis. So it's like, if I need any energy, I'm just going to body fat for that. And I'm not eating anything that would surge my blood sugar. And I'm eating protein, and I'm eating fiber. And as a result, my blood sugar stayed constant for the entire three weeks that I was wearing this thing.
[00:25:38.850] – Rachel
[00:25:39.810] – Allan
And I figured I would probably stay in a pretty tight range. I didn't realize it would be that tight. Like one or two points movement the whole time. So that was kind of odd. But it was what ketosis can do. That's a strategy. She's eating low carb when she wants to burn fat, but she will eat carbs. And basically that's the metabolic flexibility that she wants. You're able to eat carbs because you go out and do a very long run, and you've got maybe 2 hours if you're going at a good regular pace, you've got about 2 hours of glycogen in your muscle liver, and then that's where most people to run in a marathon, about mile 14 bonk. And the bonk is where they've used up all that glycogen. And if they didn't refuel, they didn't take in sugar while they were doing this something fast, because you can't be fiber and leafy greens, and it can't be just normal carbs and your body. So if your body is not used to using fat for energy, you bonk. Or if you're not taking the gooze bonk. And so you're, being a ketogenic runner, have the capacity to flip back.
[00:26:50.280] – Allan
So you can do that. You'll start burning fat throughout the whole thing, depending on the pace you go. And so you're not completely, maybe not even completely getting rid of all of your muscle glycogen and liver glycogen, but you're able to complete the run and then you stop after and you have a beer and Insulin comes to the rescue and says, we got all this stuff. We got to get out of here. And the muscles and the liver are the first preference. And so the instant will shuttle that into the muscles in the liver and you're fine. You're probably not even necessarily leaving ketosis. And if you do it's for a very short period of time and then you're right back in.
[00:27:30.340] – Rachel
Yeah, I think that's part of the benefit for renters is that we keep this process moving, we keep using the energy we're putting in. So on a sedentary lifestyle or on a rest day, I still need to keep an eye on food, just make sure I get enough for a regular day, but not so much that I need to go run 2 hours to burn it back off again.
[00:27:58.010] – Allan
I think, again, one of the core of this is to realize that you can track this stuff. The lumen is a great tool. The continuous blood glucose monitor is a great tool. Just getting one of those meters from a local pharmacy with the strips and testing your blood sugar from time to time, testing to see how certain foods are going to affect you, the order with which you eat the foods, that's an important thing. And so just kind of seeing how all this works in your body, we're all bio unique and so how food processes in your body is and maybe even different than it was ten years ago. A lot of us, like, I could eat anything 10 15 years ago and couldn't put on the way, and now I am. So something has changed. Same human, different results. And so you won't know if you're not measuring. So that's just one of the cores of it.
[00:28:52.930] – Rachel
for sure. Yeah, I think that would be a really fun experiment to try, if not a continuous, periodic glucose check just to see. Like you had discussed how different people can maybe have a different reaction to having a banana. And a while back, I was interested in trying sweet potatoes and I was concerned about the reaction I would get with that blood glucose hit. So, yeah, it would be really fun to try that out and experiment with different foods.
[00:29:19.240] – Allan
Yeah, there is a good bit of fiber in sweet potatoes. I could I can't eat sweet potatoes as a part of a low carb diet. The problem is I would go to the restaurant and order it and they would come out and they'd say, okay. I say you got cinnamon, and they're like, well, it's already mixed with the sugar. They literally buy the cinnamon. And I'm like the sweet potato. It's called sweet potato. It's already in the name. You don't have to add sugar to things that are sweet. And so Tammy would get upset with me, but I would bring butter, and I would bring cinnamon to the steakhouse and pull out my butter, and I'd put a pad of butter on the steak just to add a little bit of fat. And then I would have my own cinnamon to sprinkle on my sweet potato, and I would also cut it. I'd buy the steak, and the steak was like three or four servings, so I cut it in half, cut the potato in half, ask them for a container, put that away, and then eat half a meal, which was plenty. Okay. And so it's just kind of those little tweaks when you start understanding what's working and what's not, that you can do certain things.
[00:30:23.650] – Allan
Some people's carb threshold will be a lot higher, particularly if you're active, your carb threshold probably is higher than someone who is not able to exercise or chooses to not exercise. You're choosing to have a low carb threshold, or you're choosing to have a high carb threshold based on some of your actions. So there are ways you can get through and use it. So it's not really hacking as much as just understanding what works for you and making that your thing.
[00:30:54.100] – Rachel
Yes, absolutely. Very individual.
[00:30:56.810] – Allan
All right, well, Rachel, I'll talk to you next week, then.
[00:30:59.470] – Rachel
Sounds great. Take care, Allan.
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