NEWSLETTER #2
EVO.TEE
EVOLUTIONARY THINKING, EATING AND EXERCISING

18th September 2015

Thank you for all the positive feedback from newsletter #1. Here's to many more informative shots of health education.

Without further ado, here's #2
Reading time: 7 minutes


Thinking and Eating combo - your brain on fat

 

I think it is important that we understand our brain a little better and how it evolved. That way we can get the best from it. So our topic of the day is feeding the brain.

Humans have extraordinarily large brains. To give you an idea of how big our brains are in comparison to other animals, check this out:

“Mammals weighing 60 kg have an average brain size of 200 cubic centimeters (200ml). The earliest men and women, 2.5 million years ago, had brains about 600 cubic centimeters. Modern homo sapiens sport a brain averaging 1,200 - 1,400 cubic centimeters.”

Taken from Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens.

The cost of developing such a huge brain was significant. This bad boy needs feeding and boy is it hungry. The brain accounts for 2-3% of total body weight, but it consumes 25% of the bodies energy when at rest. If we compare that to apes they only consume 8% of their bodies energy.

For about five years I have been experimenting with fasting and eating a lot of saturated fat. And I have discovered some interesting things about feeding my own brain.

The brains preferred fuel - Fats or Sugar?

Which one is our friend and which one is our foe?

Which one is our friend and which one is our foe?

The brain loves carbohydrates, or glucose to the scientists. We are hard wired to search for sugary food. Some experts say it’s the brain's preferred fuel. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best. For me, feeding my brain carbohydrates is a suboptimal choice for more reasons than one.

So what's the alternative? Fat and protein are the two other macro nutrients. Protein is great for building but not great for energy. So that only leaves fat. But fats are bad! They clog arteries, give us heart disease and of course make us fat, right? Wrong. Healthy fats from natural organic sources are an incredible fuel which support health. Experts believe the search for fat is what drove early homo sapiens north. We left warmer climates to hunt woolly mammoths in the freezing cold. When you capture one woolly mammoth, that’s a lot of food and a lot of fatty meat for the family! It was this push for fatty food that lead to the first discovery of North and South America (via Alaska).

Fat delivers much more energy per gram than carbohydrates. Which is perhaps why doctors suggest we eat less of it. But I look at it differently. The more healthy fuel I eat, the more energy I have to work hard and play hard. All this learning I do, requires a lot of energy.

Ketones and Ketosis

50,000 years ago, when our dinner had legs it wasn't always possible to have three square meals a day. So we adapted a clever system to fuel ourselves when there was no food about. Thus increasing our chances of survival and reproduction.

Ketones are a fuel derived from our own fat stores.  When we haven't had anything to eat for more than 4-6 hours we start to use some ketones for energy (ketosis). Most people go into ketosis during the night and this is healthy. At night the body is in a fasted state because there's no food coming in. So we shift from burning glucose to burning our own fat via ketone bodies. We only come out of ketosis when we eat a'break-fast' containing carbohydrates.

Burning ketone bodies is a cleaner and more efficient fuel for the brain. Babies that grow at phenomenal rates, are in an almost constant state of ketosis. Furthermore their ketosis is supercharged by all the saturated fat in breast milk.


Fasting

I didn’t know at the time but I was experiencing ketosis when experimenting with fasting. When fasted I discovered I had this laser like focus. A kind of primal concentration. Almost like I could spot an animal twitching behind a bush from 100 yards! I just thought my brain was more focused because I wasn’t thinking about food all the time. But this wasn't the case. Something also happened when I broke my fast with a healthy feast. My energy and athletic performance went through the roof!

I now know it is possible to stay in ketosis without eating nothing and I do it almost daily. Monday to Friday I don’t eat breakfast and instead have a big cup of tea, usually yerba mate.  I stir into the tea a tablespoon of butter and coconut oil. The fat is like rocket fuel for the brain and when combined with the stimulants in the tea I get great results. This combined with staying in ketosis is what I believe brings such incredible focus.

These methods came from listening to two smart biohackers. Dave Asprey and Tim Ferriss. Dave Asprey has made putting butter into coffee popular.  And Tim Ferriss, put me onto the power of the South American yerba mate. Before that I used red bush tea instead of coffee, which worked better for me. I've learnt a lot from these guys so check out their sites.

Throughout my experiments fasting I have learnt a lot about myself. I learnt that not eating for extended periods doesn’t mean starvation. It also helped me to understand what actual hunger is. When we fast we put ourself into ketosis and our brains like it!


Conclusion

The aim of this article is not to encourage to go out and start starving yourself. Nor is it an endorsement of ketogenic diets. Looking at this approach there are quite a few things going on:

  • Eating more fat gives more energy

  • Staying in ketosis gives the brain ketones to burn

  • Drinking tea/ coffee contain stimulants

  • Fats can extend the effects of the stimulants 

  • Ditching sugary carbohydrates for breakfast helps control blood sugar

For most of us three balanced meals is what we need to be healthy. But we shouldn't fear not eating, as long as it doesn't trigger other negative behaviour. We've acquired genes over thousands of years to help us survive when there is no food. With care, I think it is possible to take advantage of our biology.  

If you want to fuel your brain better I suggest a little bit of experimenting. See how you feel when you eat more fat for breakfast without a side of carbohydrates. Try a Bulletproof coffee or a buttery tea. It might sound disgusting but we put milk in our tea and cream in our coffee, butter is just the next stage along.

One thing I can say with great confidence is this:

Homo sapiens didn’t evolve for over 200,000 years eating Kellogg's breakfast cereals and toast in the morning.

If you have an irrational fear of fat, I hear you and I've been where you are.  So I am currently giving birth to a behemoth of a blog all about fat!


Exercising - Getting caught in the middle?

Homo sapiens evolved to be natural long distance runners. Before we invented weapons, we would stalk prey over huge distances to exhaustion. But that was a long time ago. From the age of five we have been spending more time sitting and lying down than moving. As a result we are no longer such great endurance athletes or tough warriors! Let’s just say some of us have become a bit de-conditioned.

 

Pavement pounding

Some of us love to run, and if that’s you, great, go for it. But if you’re a reluctant runner who’s looking to lose weight read on. Running is great for health. It’s free, it’s a whole body exercise and it requires little to get started. But, when it comes to changing our body composition (think fat v’s muscle) it is a poor tool to use! There are a lot of myths about jogging and fat burning that need clarification. But for now let’s carry on.

Pavement pounding with poor technique is not good! It puts our joints under stress, makes us hungry for carbs and burns little body fat. I like to run around novel places as an adventure. I like running after balls and men on grass! And I like sprint training. But otherwise I don't jog.

 

High intensity - low intensity

When we want to see a change in our body composition, then moderation is not our friend. High intensity or low intensity is. Don’t get caught in the middle. A lot of us focus on losing weight by doing some steady jogging for half an hour. But in reality this burns little body fat.

To change body composition start working at higher intensities for less time <30mins. Or, work at very low intensities for much more time (1> hours). Both these methods causes hormonal changes. And hormonal shifts cause your whole body shape to change.

Male or female, I suggest learning how to get strong. Getting stronger is great confidence builder. I also recommend sprint training, which offers more flexibility. Whether you like to swim, bike, row, or run you can do sprint intervals. Sprint for 60 meters, walk back, sprint, walk back and repeat for 6-10 reps. Add distance or reps to increase difficulty.

If you want one thing that you can do at home, I recommend learning how to use a Kettlebell - Russian style. So why not learn from the best: Pavel Tsatsouline at Strong First.

 

Overloaded with stress

If we're already tired, stressed out, or have injuries, intense exercise will not help us.  What will help is working at low intensities. Try taking long walks at the weekend, in the morning or after work. Walking is excellent for health. Along side an excellent diet it is possible to achieve good results, but it will take time. Yoga, tai chi and qigong are also excellent for reducing stress. They can improve the body's natural ability to regenerate, repair and build health.



Conclusion

High and low intensity exercise complement each other. If life is stressful the key is to not kill ourselves with too much intensity. You can achieve a lot in a 15 minute hill sprint session. Jogging is something in our comfort zone, it safe and normal. But it won't get us the results we want. When we push ourselves harder or completely slow down we can begin to make progress.

Be well
James


EVO.TEE newsletters are written by a human being prone to making mistakes. I reserve the right to use a series of grammar bad&terrible structure sentence and refuse I do to apologise for it'!{>