One of the most common questions I get is: “How do you optimize my nutrition for…”.
Whether it is for weight loss, building muscle, or performing better, there are many factors. In his book, Flexible Nutrition, Alan Aragon answers this with what science tells us.
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Let's Say Hello
[00:03:03.680] – Allan
[00:03:04.890] – Rachel
Hey, Allan. How are you today?
[00:03:06.630] – Allan
I'm doing all right.
[00:03:07.920] – Rachel
[00:03:09.310] – Allan
Been a busy week. We had that flood here in the gym, and so we've been trying to work on the roof and keep that going. So that's been pretty massive. And then, of course, they took the holiday break, took a couple of days off, and it rained for two solid days. Which was great. No, it actually ended up being great. We were like in a rainforest and a tree, like almost like a Treehouse thing. And it wasn't really technically a tree house, but it felt like it based on where it was on the Hill and then just sit there. I read two fiction book novels.
[00:03:42.650] – Rachel
How nice. What a nice change.
[00:03:46.140] – Allan
Yeah. I mean, I don't hardly ever read fiction anymore because I'm constantly reading nonfiction. In fact, I think I've got a book I've got to read today. But, yeah, it's kind of crazy. I sat down, I brought two books with me because I just wasn't sure how far I would get into the first book, and I ended up finishing both of them.
[00:04:05.070] – Rachel
That's awesome. Would you recommend either of what you read?
[00:04:09.160] – Allan
Well, one of them, yes. I suppose. I don't know if you get on Amazon and prime and the Netflix kind of stuff, but on Amazon Prime, there's a show called The Man from High Castle.
[00:04:22.730] – Rachel
Oh, I've heard of that.
[00:04:24.050] – Allan
Okay. And it was a really good series. And so this was the book that basically was the basis for that television show. And obviously when you have a television show with all the episodes and all that, there was a lot more into the plot of the show than there was in the book. But it was really interesting because particularly since I knew the characters from the show to get into their head, because now this was told from basically the Omnipotent perspective where you're in his head, each of these characters head. So that was good. But it's a good book. It's interesting. And then the other one was called Bocas del toro. But oddly enough, none of the action in the book actually happened in Bocas del toro.
[00:05:15.050] – Rachel
So I wonder what the inspiration was for that name.
[00:05:18.660] – Allan
Well, that's where the guy ended up. The main protagonist, I guess, of the book. He ended up in Bocas del toro at the end of the book, but it was kind of he said it was based on some actual facts and things that had happened to people. So you have to assume that this was a person that actually dealt with this.
[00:05:38.330] – Rachel
Cool. Very cool.
[00:05:40.260] – Allan
So how are things with you?
[00:05:41.800] – Rachel
Good. I actually just finished a book myself. I read this book probably once a year or so. I just finished reading The Old Man in the Sea by Hemingway.
[00:05:51.730] – Allan
[00:05:52.340] – Rachel
It's a classic tale. It's a quick read. And I've been thinking about why I was so drawn to it. And it's about endurance. It's about a man holding onto this fish for as long as he could and after several days of holding the line. But one of the things in the very beginning of the book that amuses me so much is that the old man is in Havana in the, gosh, when was that? Prior to the 1950s, I think. And he liked baseball like a lot of Cubans did. And probably still do. But his favorite player was DiMaggio and he was talking with one of his friends about baseball, and he said he needs to watch the Tigers of Detroit as well as the Indians of Cleveland, who have changed their name recently to Guardians. But it was just interesting to hear him talk about the Detroit Tigers, which is our team. So it was just really a fun little twist at the very beginning of the book, but great book. I would always recommend it.
[00:07:01.930] – Allan
Cool. Well, you ready to have a conversation with Alan Aragon?
[00:07:05.820] – Rachel
[00:07:53.730] – Allan
Alan, welcome to 40+ Fitness.
[00:07:56.610] – Alan Aragon
Hey, Allan, thank you so much for having me. It's great to be here.
[00:08:00.210] – Allan
Now your book is called Flexible Dieting: The Science-based, Reality-tested Method for Achieving and Maintaining your Optimal Physique Performance and Health. I've read a lot of books. You're probably my I want to say close to 330th interview over the time I've been doing this podcast and I read every single book and there's at least I would say 100 citations that I earmarked or just made notes of that I want to go back and read because this was so well researched, so well organized and put together in a way that when you get through it and you would kind of admit this yourself, there's points where it feels a little trudgy because there's science and it's hard not to. But when you get done, you're like, this is what science is supposed to be, not some of the stuff we've been doing for the last few years, not what nutrition science has been doing for the last several decades. This is how you do science. And I really appreciate the way you put this book together.
[00:09:16.990] – Alan Aragon
Oh, cool. Yeah. Well, thank you. The book's title is kind of misleading. I was asked to do the book and then I said to myself, you know, this is my opportunity to leverage the powers of a large publishing house to write the ultimate evidence-based nutrition book that covers how to optimize body composition and athletic performance and just go fully science-based with that and try to make it readable for the mass audience. And so calling the book Flexible Dieting, it sounds like some almost like a pop diet book that has some sort of a hook. But then when you go through it, it's like gosh, if I wanted to learn about all the macronutrients, if I wanted to learn about different ways to enhance various sports, and if I also wanted to kind of learn what flexible dieting is that's in there, too, among a million other things? It's an interesting book, man. I commend you for getting through it. It's like an encyclopedia.
[00:10:38.330] – Allan
Well, it is and it isn't. Yes, it is. It is. From the perspective of when I have a question about when is the best time for me to take my protein? I have a chapter on that. I've took a couple of chapters. Whether I'm dealing with performance, whether I'm dealing with strength, whether I'm dealing with fat loss, whatever my goals are, I literally now have a reference book to go back and say, okay, at least from a baseline of what science was in 2022. So this is one of those books where I'm sorry, but in about five to ten years, you're going to have to I think you've tied yourself into a second and third edition or something like that. I think there's a rule. Yes, but at least what we know today. Yes. We're going to start with because it is important flexible dieting, because that's the hook, if you will. But that is a part of the fact that there is so much information out there, and there are what a lot of people call the hard and fast rules, the rigid. You must do this. You must do that. And a lot of us really struggle with that.
[00:11:51.820] – Alan Aragon
[00:11:52.720] – Allan
And what we're talking about is the continuum of dietary control. Could you kind of go over what that is and why that's really important for us to understand because particularly weight loss or muscle gain and they're kind of on other sides of each other. But if we're really looking at changing ourselves and we want to eat the right way, common sense would say, well, find a rigid plan and just do it, grind it out, even if you don't like it. And that's going to get you the best results. But for a lot of people, that's not true.
[00:12:26.650] – Alan Aragon
Yes. Diets are all effective as long as you stick to them. And the $64 million question, well, in Elon's case, the $44 billion question would be how do you stick to a diet? And so what I feel is the magic answer to that is you have to find an approach that works for you. You have to find methods that work for you as an individual. And this is going to be different from everybody. It just varies from person to person. And there are certain immutables. Like, for example, if you wanted to lose weight, you have to impose a net caloric deficit by the end of the week, technically, not necessarily by the end of the day. If you want to gain weight, you have to sustain the opposite hyper caloric conditions or caloric surplus conditions. And as is the major public health issue of obesity, there is a problem with the general public eating too much by the end of the day, the week, the month, and you can take anybody on the planet and give them a script and say, hey, follow this 100% and they are going to lose weight as long as that script imposes a caloric deficit.
[00:14:09.650] – Alan Aragon
Now, the minute that deficit gets swallowed up or just gradually stamped out over time, then the diet will stop working. And so flexible versus rigid dietary control, that concept attempts to capture the difference between on one far end, handing somebody a specific menu with very specific foods and the timing of the foods and the exact grams and gosh, even whether the foods are organic or not, you hand them that script and you say, okay, just follow this. And on the very far end of flexible control would be telling somebody, Eat less of this stuff and maybe more of that stuff and you'll be fine. So somewhere along that continuum is the proper approach for the individual. This is the most non hookish hook ever. But flexible dieting is really the flexibility of the approach that you take to accomplishing the goals. Because honestly, some people do really well with rigid dietary restraint. You tell them, okay, this is what you need to eat. And then they're just most comfortable doing it. And they're comfortable and they actually have fun plugging numbers into a God forsaken app. You know what? That is that particular individuals psychographic, if you will, and that's perfectly fine for them.
[00:15:59.590] – Alan Aragon
Whereas if you take somebody who hates that idea and you tell them, okay, you're going to need 100 grams of protein, 200 grams of carbs, and 60 grams of fat a day. Here's your app, plug it in. Here are the allowable foods. And then just make sure you accomplish this every day. If they don't like to do that, they'll honestly, they'll last like two weeks doing that, and then they'll just throw their phone out the window and say, screw this, I'm going to try Keto or Paleo, see how that works. Flexible dieting. The approach as sort of an overarching principle is that everybody needs to establish their own personal approach to dieting. And the concept of rigid dietary control versus flexible dietary control is sort of a sub concept where rigid control involves dichotomous concepts like good and bad foods. And you have to either be precise or it's all or nothing. And flexible dietary control is the idea where it's not black and white, there's not absolute good and absolute bad foods, particularly when you think of how they fit into a diet. You can create a good or a bad diet, but the good diets can still contain a margin of in quotes, naughty foods, bad foods.
[00:17:34.630] – Alan Aragon
So, yeah, it can get a little bit intricate when I attempt to explain flexible dieting. But yeah, that's it one thing flexible dieting is not. And this is what everybody kind of gets wrong because of how the diet culture ten years ago propagated this idea. But flexible dieting, and if it fits your macros, those are not the same thing. People just kind of conflate those terms, which is false, because if it fits your macros, A IIFYM is not a diet to begin with, and B IIFYM is not what people have been led to believe it is, which it was propagated as a junk food diet or eat whatever you want as long as you hit your macronutrient target. So that's not flexible dieting. Counting macros is not necessarily flexible dieting, but everybody calls it that because a rumor got started and then it just spread across the Internet. And then that was the end of that. And I watched it happen. And I knew with the flexible dieting research and the literature what that attempted to get across. And it has nothing to do with counting macronutrients. It has everything to do with not seeing dietary approaches as an all or nothing thing with good or bad foods and flexible dieting as a protocol.
[00:19:11.170] – Alan Aragon
It really just says, look, if you're one of these people who likes to be more rigid with the type of restraint they apply to the diet, then good that's you if you're somebody who likes a more qualitative or habit based approach and you don't want to crunch numbers and you don't want to weigh stuff and measure stuff all day long, great. And that's the approach that you take. Keeping in mind, regardless of your approach, if you want to lose weight or body fat, the approach you take has to default you to eating less calories, or somebody will correct me fewer calories by the end of the week, month, year, et cetera, in order to lose weight.
[00:20:01.690] – Allan
One of the reasons why the IIFYM kind of concept really took off, I think, is one you're on a message board. So anything on the message board or Twitter, the fewer characters you use, the better. So it's quick and it answers a question like, well, here, but it doesn't answer it exactly. There's another concept that you've got into in the book that I really do. I think this will take a lot of people further down into understanding this concept of flexible dieting because I think at times we might sit there and say, I really kind of want to have a beer with my dinner or I'm going out with friends on Saturday and I know we're going to go to my favorite Italian place. And so you start looking at what your food plan is and how you're planning on going about your day. It's the concept of discretionary calorie allowance, and I like that because it keeps you aware of the goal line. It just doesn't tell you what every step you have to take is.
[00:21:09.070] – Alan Aragon
Yeah, that's true. And the concept of discretionary calories is basically it's organized moderation, I guess you call it. It's moderation with a plan. So how do we execute moderation? This is an observation. It's not, amazingly, there hasn't been any controlled research comparisons of one approach to moderation versus another approach to moderation, but it's been a long standing observation over the decades that up to about 20% of total calories can come from basically whatever you want. And as long as the other minimum 80% of the diet is from wholesome stuff, whole foods, minimally refined foods, the inquote good stuff, clean stuff, I guess you could call it. Then you will be perfectly fine, and you will get as good results as somebody who attempts to be 100% perfect with their diet all the time. And it may even be more sustainable to keep a diet going in the long term if you allow this 10-20% margin of Yolo foods or foods like desserts, alcoholic beverages, deep fried stuff, and things that would normally be taboo on a stereotypical clean diet. So as long as 80% to 90% of the diet is wholesome, then you're doing great.
[00:22:59.770] – Alan Aragon
And then that 10 to 20% discretionary calorie allotment will provide you a respite or a margin of sanity. If you want to let your hair down once in a while and eat some fun stuff or some naughty stuff, and then you can sustain the program a lot better than thinking you have to just kind of grit your teeth through the whole thing for weeks and months until you reach your goal. And it just doesn't work like that. I want to throw in a little wrinkle here for folks kind of confused about the idea that we need to add naughty foods into the diet. If you're the type of person who doesn't like those kinds of foods, if you're the type of person who just hates the idea of eating cakes, candy, cookies, ice cream, alcoholic beverages, fried foods, et cetera, then you don't have to. Eat 100% Spartan if that's what makes you happy. And that's what you want to ride into the sunset with. But we have to be aware that the vast majority of us are going to be able to sustain the diet for a lifetime more successfully if we allot discretionary calories.
[00:24:28.010] – Allan
Yeah. And the cool thing is you are paying attention to your nutrition, so you're getting the nutrition your body needs, and you're keeping your calories in line with what you need to hit your goal, whether that's to lose weight, gain weight, all of that's in line because you know what you're supposed to be doing and you're staying within kind of this flexible, okay, pivot here. I need to be a little bit more rigid. I can be more rigid because my wife's not here for the next two weeks. So I can be really rigid if I want to. Where she's going to come back and want to socialize and go out to dinner and do things. So there I know for the next two weeks I'm probably going to have a lot more of those discretionary calories hitting my palate. And as long as that doesn't trigger me and cause me to kind of say, okay, one beer becomes two and then two becomes four. As long as I'm not triggered by what's going on, then that can be a really good way to sustain this. Now I'm looking at my notes, and this is sad because this is more about me.
[00:25:28.720] – Allan
It says a lot about your book, but it just looks like a hodgepodge of things. I was having so much time reading the I'm like, I want to talk about everything. But the core of it is there were a couple of concepts that were in the book that I've never talked about here. We've talked about the importance of eating protein and getting enough protein, but I've never talked about the reason why we need enough protein. And that relates to protein turnover, muscle protein turnover, and the fact that being over 40, our ability to maintain and retain our muscle and maybe even gain muscle is that formula is changing for us as we age. And so the importance to me, the importance of protein goes up substantially over the age of 40. I think that's what was one of the thoughts that was in my head. And then in the book, you talk about the protein intake hierarchy of importance. Can you talk about those and again, one, why is protein what is this turnover thing that's happening? Why do we need protein? And then how do we get our protein? What's the hierarchy of intake? Okay, a lot of ideas.
[00:26:47.030] – Allan
I know, but it was like as I was reading, I was like, this is so good. And I kept doing it. So pardon the question not being a question, but I'm asking for an essay.
[00:26:59.390] – Alan Aragon
That's cool. It's funny, because when I answer these questions, it hits a point in my answer where I'm somewhat self aware that, oh, gosh, I've been rambling for about five minutes now for one question.
[00:27:11.210] – Allan
I'm totally cool with that. You guys need to take a potty break and come back in the middle. That's also good. It's here at the podcast. You can hit pause.
[00:27:19.910] – Alan Aragon
Great. Yes. Dear audience, you may take a break. Yeah. The concept of muscle protein turnover. You have two sides of this cycle. One side is muscle protein synthesis or the build up side, and then muscle protein breakdown, which is the catabolic side. So this cycle is a perpetual thing that goes on in the body on a 24 hours basis. And so when muscle protein synthesis is equal to muscle protein breakdown, then you're basically just maintaining your muscle, which is a good thing. And then you've got muscle protein synthesis exceeding muscle protein breakdown, and then you've got muscle growth. And then you have the loss of muscle when the breakdown side of the cycle exceeds the synthesis side. So that's kind of the idea of muscle protein, what we call turnover. And so for the older population, there is a phenomenon called sarcopenia, and there's even a related phenomenon called sarcopenic obesity, which is sort of a combination of pathology. So sarcopenia is an age related loss of lean body mass. And sarcopenia is underneath the umbrella of a larger phenomenon called frailty, which happens with advanced age, with just a general loss of function that's related to undue weight loss, specifically the loss of lean tissue mass throughout the body.
[00:29:11.450] – Alan Aragon
And under frailty, we've got the loss of muscle tissue, which is sarcopenia. And this is a major problem in the aging population. And a lot of people don't realize that getting enough protein is crucial to successful aging. And that's because as people age, there's not only a tendency to not move around as much, but there's also a tendency to not push and pull and squat as much. So non-exercise activity goes down. Exercise activity goes down as well. And this can be a gradual sort of insidious thing that sneaks up on people where they're just sitting a lot more, lying around a lot more and just not moving as much and certainly not making formal visits to the gym or the track or the field or the pickup basketball game. And what happens is a phenomenon called disuse of the muscle tissue. And there's an interesting thing that can happen where you can take young people and put them on bedrest, and their muscle structure and function will just start to resemble somebody who has aged muscle or almost sarcopenic muscle because you can create muscle that resembles muscle, that is of somebody of an advanced age if you just impose disuse on the muscle.
[00:30:57.990] – Alan Aragon
And so this can happen at the macro level where you're just looking at muscle mass. And it can also happen at the micro level where you impair the so called muscle protein synthetic response, the MPS response to feeding. So in bedridden muscle muscle protein synthesis in response to protein feeding is actually lowered after a relatively short period of disuse. And in older people, this just happens more gradually. And it happens over time because of a gradual progression of disuse. And there are other factors too involved with aging muscle and the deterioration of its structure and function. So protein's role is to make sure that you minimize these age related muscle losses. But just as importantly, protein intake synergizes with resistance training to create an environment that prevents a physiological environment that is not the interior decoration of your home office, but it creates this physiological environment, the combination of protein intake or enough protein intake and resistance training. That combination will prevent muscle loss and can even oftentimes cause muscle gain in folks who really need it. The good news about preventing sarcopenia is that it is possible and it is even possible to reverse the earmarks of Sarcopenia.
[00:32:55.730] – Alan Aragon
And anybody at any age can just start performing resistance training, as long as you do it safely and gradually enough. And then you can get muscle structure and function back. And protein plus resistance training is the recipe for that. And there are other factors, too. You can't just do it on no calories. You have to be eating enough calories, because the recipe for muscle growth really is enough protein, enough calories, and then make sure your resistance training. So that is the role of protein and the importance of it. When we're talking about muscle protein turnover and how it relates to aging and with the older population, their dietary habits are really kind of crappy in terms of achieving enough total daily protein. So it usually begins at the first meal of the day where a significant amount of protein or any real amount of protein at all is basically neglected. And then lunch has a moderate ish amount of protein, and then dinner will contain a substantial hit of protein. But by the end of the day, you're really looking at sort of like one and a half meals that have enough protein to total by the end of the day in order to make sure that this particular population is getting enough protein, let alone are they resistance training.
[00:34:32.770] – Alan Aragon
So let's imagine they are resistance training. There are still challenges to getting enough protein in the older population because the total amount that you need to consume is usually about 50% to 100% more than what's typically ingested. And it's not the easiest thing to tell somebody who's in his fiftys. Sixty s, seventy s. Hey, bro, you need to double your protein intake and you need to start weight training.
[00:35:03.090] – Allan
I have that conversation all the time. So yeah, okay. That's why we're having this conversation. Now, your publisher, because you brought it up. I'm familiar with your publisher because I've had lots of their authors on they tend to be in the Keto space. They tend to be in the low carb space, from my experience. And you did start talking about Keto. So I was actually when I got this book, I was like, oh, flexible dieting. And then this being a predominantly Keto publisher, maybe they're branching out and that's good. But I was almost expecting a Keto book, to be honest with you. So I was kind of surprised we didn't get into Keto. But then you did. And then I was not surprised why we didn't get into Keto, particularly if you start looking at what the goals are here, which is to gain muscle, to increase strength, to improve endurance. As you said in the subtitle, was it optimal physique performance and health? And you pretty much did in the book talk about how Keto works within all of those realms. Could you kind of go through that with us?
[00:36:13.920] – Alan Aragon
Yeah, sure. And before I go into that, I just realized I needed to quickly answer the hierarchy of importance with protein. So with respect to protein intake, there is a hierarchy of importance that's worth touching upon. And of most importance with protein intake is total daily amount. That's tier number one. And then the next tier down is the distribution or the pattern of protein doses throughout the day. That's of secondary importance to the total amount that you have by the end of day. And of least importance, there is the timing of protein relative to the training bound. And so, Interestingly, we could go into an hour on each one of those tiers.
[00:37:07.140] – Allan
Yeah. And you do. And that's the cool thing in the book is you literally do talk about the science behind, because I get the question, should I be doing a protein shake after my workout? Do I have that 1 hour window? All those questions are actually answered in your book with citations, lots of citations, lots of evidence, lots of science. Again, you've answered the question and you answered over and over, depending on what the goals of the person training are. So the hierarchy is important, but the core of it is get enough, get enough throughout the day, and then the rest of it will take care of itself, particularly for those of us over 40, if our training volume is not professional caliber, those other two tiers actually mean a little bit less than they would otherwise, in my opinion. But the sign says get enough. That's the first tier. Get that done. And for a lot of us, that's a struggle because it's in our food. But many of people are trying to do multiple things at once, trying to lose weight, trying to eat a certain way, trying to live our lives, and having ready protein when packaged snacks are a little bit easier.
[00:38:24.030] – Allan
Sometimes not so easy. But you do dive into this deep. That's why we're scratching the surface here and get into the book, because the science is there. The advice is there. The actual grams are there. It's all in there.
[00:38:40.720] – Alan Aragon
Yes. If anybody listening to this episode wanting to know, well, then how much protein do I take? I can give you a gram number, but do you know how to translate those grams into chunks of food? Well, some of you do. And for those who do the gram amount, that kind of encompasses what most people require to optimize their total daily protein intake is somewhere between .7 to 1.0 gram/lb in quotes, ideal body weight or target body weight. And I say that because if somebody is obese and they base their protein intake on their total body weight, they will be consuming an unnecessarily high amount of protein in a lot of instances. So protein targeting would be based on target body weight or goal body weight. So that's zero, .7 grams to 1.0 target body weight. So for those of you listening who are dying to know what's the sweet spot? Total daily protein. Well, that's it.
[00:39:52.660] – Allan
[00:39:54.410] – Alan Aragon
Okay. So on the keto.
[00:39:55.710] – Allan
Yeah. Let's jump into keto.
[00:39:57.200] – Alan Aragon
With keto. Keto is an interesting thing because it works very well for weight loss. And the caveat to that statement is it works very well for a temporary period for most people who try it. And that's because there appears to be a general inability to sustain strict keto, which by most definitions is 50 grams or less a day of carbs. Most people cannot sustain that for the long term. And the people who try to, their carb intake ends up roughly tripling over the course of a year of attempting keto. So it ends up tripling from the original assignment of eating less than 50 grams a day. And so that is the main issue with keto is that it works really well for fat loss and weight loss. And the way that it works for those things is that it removes a lot of options, a lot of food options. And the options it removes usually are foods that are hyperpalatable carbon fat combination foods that are very easy to over consume. And so when you remove those options, you simply are defaulted to eating less total calories by the end of the day, end of the weekend of the month.
[00:41:35.570] – Alan Aragon
And so there's a lot less variety in the diet. There's a lot less opportunity to overeat in the diet. There's a lot less motivation to sit there and overeat your fatty piece of meat. So that's how keto works. Of course, the problem is most of the majority and I can't put an exact number on what that exactly means. But more than half of the subjects who get on keto end up reaching the upper limits of keto by six months, certainly by twelve months. So for those of you who are on keto and have been on it for a few years and love it, and that's the way you do it. I don't care, man. That's great. You found what works for you. That's wonderful. But my issue with keto is when people go around saying that keto is the best keto superior, keto does special things, and it's actually a double edged sword to keto. When you look at long term health and when you look at the optimization or the protection of cardiovascular health, because with keto being a high fat diet, you're looking at 65% to 85% of the diet coming from fat, then you better be pretty Dang careful about the type of fat that you're eating because that's the predominant source of calories in your diet.
[00:43:04.050] – Alan Aragon
And if all you're eating is land animal fats all day mixed with there are other crappy kind of vegetable based fats as well, then you're setting yourself up for dyslipidemia and then the development of cardiovascular disease and then potentially cardiovascular events. So it can be a double edged sword but the thing about keto and the good thing about keto is while you're on it, you're probably going to be losing weight.
[00:43:36.170] – Allan
And I kind of put this in that continuum of dietary control as keto fits in the kind of the rigid range. And it is something that you do have to manage because from a nutritional perspective, if you're not eating certain vegetables, as you mentioned, if you're eating certain foods and excess to try to make that happen because keto didn't get the nickname of being the bacon diet for no reason, people were like, oh, sure, you can eat all the bacon you want. And that's not really the right way to do keto. And keto is a way of eating. I use it. I use it as a tool. It's a temporary tool. Like I said, for a period of time I can get over into the rigid mind frame and mindset, and it works fine for me. But when it comes to wanting to put on muscle to get stronger, keto might not be the best approach for us. And surprise, endurance athletes might not do well on keto either.
[00:44:32.690] – Alan Aragon
Yeah, that's definitely true. And that definitely is what the research evidence shows. So the collective literature on keto and performance is that it's a bad bet for that. But that's not too far fetched when you consider that athletic performance is really a carbohydrate based thing. It's based on the availability either from what you ingest around training or from what you store in your muscles. So glycogen being the stored form of carbohydrate, if you are under fueled from a carbohydrate perspective, that will always compromise the potential for maximally performing. Now there are alter endurance athletes who try to lowball their carbs, and that's fine. But they are more the exception than the rule in terms of the elite in that area and even the ultra endurance athletes who have done really well and claim to be low carbing when you look at their actual programs, they're consuming carbs throughout the race, so they just happen to be consuming less than what's normally recommended by the major organizations. So keto is something that if you have a lot at stake in terms of trophies or medals or endorsements and stuff, then you're not going to be a keto athlete who is compromising or jeopardizing his or her potential for maintaining that elite status.
[00:46:22.910] – Alan Aragon
It just doesn't happen. Now, if you're a weekend warrior or a regular guy just trying to look good at the pool or the beach or at the high school reunion, then under carving is not an issue. If you want to do good at the weekend soccer game, you might be compromised a little bit by being on keto, and you might not make the score the most amount of points out of the rest of your buddies. But it's not that big of an issue. Where keto becomes an issue with athletics is at the elite level and the professional level, you're not going to see many pro athletes at all even going near Keto because it's a liability.
[00:47:07.430] – Allan
Yeah, I think where you kind of hit the road, the rubber hit the road for me when we were talking about endurance was I think a lot of us look at endurance and think of it as a, oh, I'm going to start with this pace and I'm going to run that pace for the entire part of the race. But for most people that have done any competing at all, they know there are periods of time when you're going to try to go a little bit harder, a little bit faster. For a lot of us that are just recreational athletes, that's once you see the finish line and it's right there, you're going to try to sprint to the end. And the reality of it is you may not have the kind of gas you wanted to have during some of those sprints or faster bits of work because you don't have the muscle likage and necessary to make it happen.
[00:47:52.130] – Alan Aragon
Yes, that's correct. And it's those moments that separate the top finishers from those who don't place. It's the so called race winning moves being climbing uphills either running or cycling, passing that ending sprint towards the finish line is going to be a high intensity effort. And so those who are under carb simply do not have the biochemical reserves required to power those race winning moves. And, yeah, it can make the difference between winning and losing.
[00:48:32.870] – Allan
Now, there was one other thing that you had in the book that I could not leave without talking about because to me, this solved kind of a question I had because you're trying to work with a client or someone's trying to work with themselves. And they're like, well, I'm trying to chart my calories and my macros and my food. And like you said, they've got that app. And they're like every day, every day they're in the app. And then in the end you're like, okay, well, How'd you do today, How'd you do today, How'd you do today and one bad day, then kind of can become this bad cycle, particularly for individuals who've struggled in the past. So if you've gone through something and you struggle and fail, you work and fail, and now you're trying this again. But this quick single digit adherence rating system, I think this could be the key for a lot of people that have struggled with that start and fail cycle that they go through every time. So if you get nothing else from this flexible dieting book, I think this system is key. Could you tell us about this system?
[00:49:44.290] – Alan Aragon
[00:49:44.700] – Allan
How it works?
[00:49:46.190] – Alan Aragon
Yeah. This is something that I put together and started implementing back in 2005, 2006. And it first appeared in the self published book I did in 2007. And I used to call it the calendar method, where you just write a number down from one to ten where you're basically rating your performance or your adherence or compliance to the program, with ten being perfect. And so when the calendar is up on your wall and you're seeing a bunch of eights and nines and tens, and inevitably you see progress at the end of the month. So you are marching towards your goals. Whereas if you see just a bunch of five, six, and seven s littering up the month, then you have a sense of self accountability and a sense of awareness of why your progress is not happening. And so this real quick self grading system on a scale of one to ten, how good did you do? The fact that it takes like 1 minute to think about and write down the number was kind of a big win because people, well, clients who hated taking detailed records, they loved this method as long as they could be honest with me and honest with themselves about their performance.
[00:51:12.120] – Alan Aragon
On a scale of one to ten, it just took them 1 minute or less. It took them 10 seconds to think about how they did and write down the number and send it over. And nobody's going to be sending over nines and tens and then at the end of the month wondering what the hell happened. It just doesn't work like that. When you can establish a certain level of trust with yourself or with your clients, then they really can't. Once they're familiar with the program, they know whether they're following it or not. A lot of times with people that they're very honest about why they're failing at programs, they're like, I know what to do, I just don't do it. And you know what? That's true. So let's see if we can establish some accountability here that you can either have with yourself or with your coach or your practitioner, your dietician, your trainer, and let's just do a self grading system. I call it the accountability rubric, where it's one to ten. And over the years towards the 2010, I developed a way to make that rubric, that one to ten scale a little bit more concrete.
[00:52:36.840] – Alan Aragon
So it's more of a checklist. It evolved into being a checklist where there's ten specific points or tasks that you need to have completed throughout the day in order to grant yourself that number. And if you hit all ten of those things, which could be drink enough water, get enough sleep, get enough protein, eat two to four fruits a day, two to four servings of vegetables a day down the line, ten things, ten healthy things, then give yourself the ten if you got all ten and so on and so forth. And so that made the accountability rubric a little bit more real and a little more concrete for people to kind of think about. But at the same time, it still took about 25 seconds to look down the list and see whether you hit all those checkpoints, and then you can take a look at the month. If it's littered with eight, nines, and ten s, you're going to be reaching your goal. I'm glad that you found that system helpful, and there's a bunch of different things like that in the book that I hope that the readers will resonate with at least one of them.
[00:53:51.510] – Alan Aragon
But yeah, this is something that I've used pretty extensively in my practice.
[00:53:58.810] – Allan
Cool. Even doing it for yourself. It's just to say if I want to start implementing a new habit, a new action, I want to get better sleep, more sleep. It's a one to ten. It's a simple thing. You wake up in the morning, how is my sleep? And guess what? They still sell paper calendars. You can still buy them. You can still have one of them, and you can still sit there and look and say, okay, if I'm not doing better than a six or seven, what's going on? You can catch yourself pretty early in the month. As you start seeing that slide, it's like, okay, what am I doing here? That's not helping me do this, because I know this action gives me the result that I want. Like I said, I really appreciate that tool. And there's like you said, a lot of that just good stuff in there. I told you before the call, I could spend two, three days talking to you about this.
[00:54:55.420] – Allan
[00:54:57.490] – Allan
Now, Alan, I define wellness as being the healthiest, fittest and happiest you can be. What are three strategies or tactics to get and stay well?
[00:55:08.330] – Alan Aragon
The first one, this might be really cliche Allan, but get enough sleep, get enough good quality sleep. And per the scientific literature, it is a low probability that you're going to be optimizing your health if you consistently dip far below 7 hours. And I know a lot of healthy people and people who are just very vigorous getting five, 6 hours a day. But that's them. And that's how they're wired. And that's how they're built. And per the scientific evidence, they're not in the majority. So statistically, at the population level, you would want to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night or at least try to. And if you're not one of these people who can and you feel amazing with that 6 hours a day, great, fine. But just know that statistically people sleep is optimized at seven and up. And so that would be the first. The second thing would be, for God's sake, lift stuff if you can. And it doesn't have to be Olympic lifting and powerlifting and bodybuilding and flexing in the mirror between sets like you and me, people can do activities that do involve resisted joint movements that aren't necessarily at the gym.
[00:56:42.770] – Alan Aragon
They're not necessarily in the weight room where you're fighting for spots with the gym Bros. A lot of people are intimidated by the word resistance training. They're just picturing barbells and dumbbells flying around. But any kind of movement that you can just involve your joints with resisted movement. There's a million resources and ways to do it. You can go outside and do it. You can go to a park and do various things. It doesn't have to be at the gym. Get resistance training in your life. Get enough sleep. Make sure you get resistance training as a foundation, as a non negotiable part of your training. Some people think that all you need to do is go for a bunch of walks throughout the week and you're good. Well, okay, as good as walking is, that's not going to save you from sarcopenia. That's not going to save you from the ravages of aging. That's not going to allow you to age, amazingly like Allan Misner. So what people need to realize they have to do a certain amount of pushing and pulling and maybe some squatting or some at least leg extension and hip extension and things to stimulate the lower body on a resist basis, whether it's more primal and organic type of movement outside or whether it's in the gym.
[00:58:08.330] – Alan Aragon
So I'll be number two. The third one, eat the foods that you personally like most. Forget about whatever diet book is telling you are the super foods that everybody needs to eat. That's just a load of baloney, really. If you take a survey of all the centenarians in the world and super centenarians, they all eat different foods. They all have a different list of favorite foods, and almost all of them list a bunch of crap they include in their diet every day too. But yes, stick with the foods that you enjoy personally, because there's psychological and physiological signature reasons why you gravitate towards those foods. And we as humans are not completely devoid of any instinct. We have a feel for what we like, and there's good reasons for that. So you will be able to stick to your diet long term if you stick to the foods that you like within a healthy eating pattern. Right? I'm talking about foods within the food groups and you should be getting the food groups. So those would be my three if I could boil it down to three. And I guess maybe if I may add a little sub thing under the eat the foods that you like.
[00:59:35.220] – Alan Aragon
Eat them in the pattern that fits your personal preference and schedule. There's a lot of color blue going around about when you should eat your foods. How much should time restrict the eating window? Can we only eat from 08:00 a.m. to 04:00 p.m. in order to maximize? That's all majoring in the minors. That's not going to make somebody freaking awesome at 70 compared to maintaining their exercise program and a decent overall food selection of the foods that they love. When you eat your foods in the day, that should be determined by how you prefer it. Do you like to eat dinner at 08:00 P.m. Instead of 06:00 P.m.? Cool. Eat it now. Do you like to have a pre bed snack? Great. Have that. Do you like to skip breakfast? Is that how you function best?
[01:00:31.400] – Alan Aragon
Cool. Skip the hell out of breakfast. It's not going to make or break you. There are very silly books going around saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you have to stop eating, x foods or stop eating carbs that you have to make sure you don't eat like 3 hours before bed. That's a load of crap, Allan. And I can't emphasize that enough how trivial that advice is in the big picture.
[01:00:59.390] – Allan
[01:01:00.100] – Alan Aragon
My advice is do what you can stick to within the context of an overall healthy selection of foods.
[01:01:09.800] – Allan
Great. Thank you for that. If someone wanted to learn more about you, learn more about your book Flexible Dieting, where would you like for me to send them?
[01:01:18.410] – Alan Aragon
AlanAragon.com. And then we've got the various links to my stuff. So I have a research review as well, a monthly research review for the nerdy types who like to really dig into the details. And then I've got my book Flexible Dieting, that's going to come out on June 7, but it's available for preorder, as you and I are speaking.
[01:01:46.430] – Allan
But this episode is going to drop on June 7th. So, yeah, the book is available now wherever you want to get books. You can also go to his website alanaragon.com, if you go to 40plusfitnesspodcast.com/541 I'll be sure to have links there. So, Alan, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.
[01:02:05.030] – Alan Aragon
You got it, Allan. And you as well. Thank you so much.
[01:02:15.930] – Allan
Hi, Rachel. How was that interview?
[01:02:18.070] – Rachel
Oh, my gosh, it was great. It was really interesting because right at the very beginning you drew me in with the title of the book Being Flexible Dieting. But the $64,000 question, how do you stick to a diet? Isn't that the question of the year?
[01:02:34.560] – Allan
Yeah. Well, he went to a publisher and sometimes publishers want to change the name of a book. You might think this is the name of the book. So there was discussion about flexible dieting in the book. In all fairness, it was a part of it part of the conversation, which is an important part of, like you said, sticking to a diet. But really, what this book is about is about nutrition for performance or physique.
[01:02:59.760] – Rachel
[01:03:00.760] – Allan
And health. So it was science based, meaning he went to the science, the studies that were out there. He didn't pick a side of a conversation and say this is what it is based on his beliefs. He literally went through and said, okay, what is out there? Everything that's out there. And then based on what's there, can we draw a conclusion? And in some cases, he didn't really feel like we could. But for a lot of it, he literally would go through and say, okay, based on all these studies, this is what it says. And this is the bet if you want to perform well at strength training, this is what you eat, literally giving you the calories, giving you the macro breakdowns, all of it. The flexible dieting comes around and, okay, that's all good and fine if I know what I'm supposed to eat, but can I stick to it long enough to see that performance improvement? And that's where the flexible dieting comes in of saying, okay, if you're getting the nutrition you need and you've got a little bit of buffer calories in there that you have maybe 90, ten, you say, so 10% of my calories.
[01:04:13.530] – Allan
So I'm going to eat 2000 calories as I'm trying to cut weight of that. Or 200 calories can be, for lack of a better word, crap. It could be chips. It can be a candy bar or maybe half a candy bar, depending on how many calories are in it. But you see where you can go and say, okay, I don't have to eat perfect all the time to see these things. If I go in and I at least know that I'm getting the nutrition that I need, that's the first one. And then second, I'm not just overeating because of these lack of a better word, empty calories. And then the way I would say it is, enjoy the heck out of it. So don't make it just any old candy bar. Make it your favorite candy bar, or make it something higher class, higher end stuff. Don't just drink just any beer. Make it a beer that you're really going to enjoy. That kind of mindset makes it a lot more sustainable.
[01:05:15.120] – Rachel
Well, the other thing that really attracted me was that he said that your calorie deficit doesn't have to be a daily thing as long as you have a calorie deficit over the week or the month or the year that it takes for you to get to your goal weight, if that was the main goal. But yeah, you don't have to be really rigid with your eating rules day by day. So I like that approach.
[01:05:39.610] – Allan
Yeah. Even though there's a lot of things about the human body that are built into the rhythms of a day or a month or a year, the reality of it is there's nothing magic from the calories in a day. You can gain weight in a day. You can lose weight in a day, but you're not going to lose a whole lot, and you're not going to gain a whole lot. If you do notice the scale move any at all really much on a day to day basis, that's mostly just water shifting around. You went pee one more time than you did the day before, you weigh less simple. And so I think the key of what he's talking about there is just know that there's sort of a target of what you're burning doing the work that you're doing. And you don't have to create an accounting system like it's General Electric. You can go through and say, I know these foods. I know this is how my body reacts to it. I know what a serving size looks like. I know about how much. And for many of us, we do eat the same foods as staples on a fairly regular basis.
[01:06:53.050] – Allan
So if you know, okay, this is my dinner. I have it probably once a week. You don't have to look it up every time. You don't have to say, okay, what are my macros? What are my calories? You just know. I'm getting a third of my protein in this meal. I'm getting half of my carbs in this meal, and I'm getting 35% of my calories in this meal. And if you just know those kinds of things, it's just plug and play and enjoy your food and then occasionally flexible. If something happens and you need to be flexible, then just let it go. You're not destroying yourself in a day.
[01:07:27.830] – Rachel
[01:07:29.160] – Rachel
The other thing I really enjoyed was the part about protein and how usually people 40 and over or maybe even 50 and over or even 60 and over have a strange relationship with protein in their diet. It seems like they skip it for the morning and maybe have a tiny bit at lunch and then throw it all at dinner hour when it seems more appropriate to spread it throughout the day.
[01:07:51.510] – Allan
It's easier to get if you spread it. That's absolute truth and unfortunate. Food guidelines, foods that's available, they're highly dense in carbs and not the nutritionally dense carbs, but bread. So there's pizza, there's hamburgers, all those foods. And you say, okay, what's the protein? And they have some protein. But you look at the protein in the cheese and the pepperoni, assuming you even got that on there. How much protein is in a pizza? And I'd say, probably not a lot. I haven't looked it up, but I would say less than 20% of the total calories is coming from protein breakfast cereal. Maybe there's some in your milk if you're even drinking regular milk, because maybe you're doing the soy milk or maybe you're doing the oat milk and you start looking at the protein of that and the protein that was in the cereal. And you're kind of like, okay, 75% of my calories are coming from carbs, 20% from fat, and now 5% protein. So it's almost devoid of protein.
[01:09:06.690] – Rachel
[01:09:07.490] – Allan
And most of us should be eating more protein than we are. It's hard to shift over until you actually make a concerted effort to get protein into every meal.
[01:09:20.170] – Rachel
Well, yeah, exactly. I don't think we don't pay that close attention to how we eat, our habits of our eating. And if you're in a habit of having cereal for breakfast or a sandwich or something at lunch, you just don't notice that you're not getting the adequate amount of protein probably. The other thing he mentioned, too, was the ratio for how many grams of protein per body weight. He mentioned that it's not the body weight that you're at, it's at your goal body weight for the purpose of weight loss, which that is something I don't know that I paid attention to. I don't know that I've heard it like that before.
[01:09:59.850] – Allan
Well, yeah, because what they would typically base it on is they would say your lean mass. So what you're thinking in terms of this, let's say you're at 30% body fat and you want to get down closer to say 20 or 15. Okay. Then you're going to want to lose the body fat. And if you were to do that, you lose that amount of body fat to get down to, you're going to be closer to your lean body mass weight. So realizing now you're carrying less fat. So the way you are is closer to lean body mass weight, particularly if you're like a bodybuilder and you're trying to get down into the single digits, you're carrying very little fat and most of the mass that you have is your lean body. So that's where that number comes from is really just a function of saying rather than think about it from lean body mass. Because for a lot of us, that's hard. Unless you go get a DEXA scan and they tell you your body mass is this amount of fat, you don't know. So it's easier to just base it on where your goal weight would be and just use that.
[01:11:08.140] – Allan
Now that's going to overstate it a little bit from the numbers, but it's not significant. Again, if you're just thinking unless you're trying to go from 50% body fat to 40%, then if 40% is your target, you're going to probably be overeating some protein because that's not really a lean body mass. But you see, for most of us, it's like we want to get down to that 20 to 15 range. So that's where that number is coming in.
[01:11:35.080] – Rachel
Yeah, that was great. It was a great discussion. Really interesting.
[01:11:37.930] – Allan
Yeah. This goes down is so far my favorite book in 2022.
[01:11:43.270] – Rachel
[01:11:44.020] – Allan
If anyone is really looking at improving their performance, I would strongly encourage them to read this book because it's going to give you a formula for how you can eat to optimize your performance. And whatever you're trying to do, get stronger, run further, faster and just look better.
[01:12:02.260] – Rachel
Awesome. Great discussion.
[01:12:04.400] – Allan
All right. Well, I'll talk to you next week.
[01:12:06.330] – Rachel
Great. Take care.
[01:12:07.510] – Allan
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