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Protein Matters: Yet More Peer-Reviewed Evidence That There Is No Such Thing As A "Calorie" To Your Body (Part IV)
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July 10, 2013
4:36 am
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(This is a multi-part series. Go back to Part I, Part II, or Part III.)

Empirical Evidence: Greater Weight Loss And Fat Loss On Isocaloric High Protein Diets

Dozens of studies have demonstrated that high-protein diets result in greater loss of bodyweight and fat mass than isocaloric lower-protein diets. (Isocaloric = containing the same number of "calories".)

Instead of bombarding you with citations, I'll point you to references 11 through 44 (and 2) of this excellent paper:

Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Sep 12;9(1):81. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-9-81.
Dietary protein in weight management: a review proposing protein spread and change theories.
Bosse JD, Dixon BM.
(Fulltext…

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July 10, 2013
7:43 am
Bill Lagakos
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"Thus, the “intervention” diet was really not an intervention to their metabolism."

I like this quote, especially regarding high protein diets: we know urea cycle enzymes are regulated in part by dietary protein quantity, so changes from baseline are going to be just as important (if not more so) than differences between groups.

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July 10, 2013
10:00 am
eddie watts
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i was actually so excited to see an update that i could not focus enough to read the damn thing!

this is not really surprising and i imagine anyone who exercises and eats appropriately will be all "well duh!"

that being said i am glad why it cleared up the reason why some "high protein" diets fail.
because they're not actually high protein at all!

reminds me of the many "low carb diets" that failed when compared with high carb low fat...but the low carb diet was in fact 40% carbs...

(now i will reread the whole thing and check out all the links!!)

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July 10, 2013
3:55 pm
Bill Lagakos
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The [notorious] Bray 1000 kcal overfeeding study:
Effect of dietary protein content on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition during overeating: a randomized controlled trial.
PMID: 22215165
The High Protein group increased protein intake by 135 grams whereas the Low Protein group decreased it by 39. Everybody experienced the same increase in body fat, but the HP group gained lean mass whereas the LP actually lost it (despite being in a major calorie surplus).
This is a big argument against caloric equality imo...
"body composition"

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July 10, 2013
5:36 pm
ItsTheWooo
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Bill, I experience this more often than not; scale might stay the same or increase but my body shape changes with fat loss when I eat a basis of protein/meat.

Minimizing protein I find actually can minimize hunger sometimes, but I tend to think this is secondary to catabolism of own protein tissues/protein and drop in growth hormones. Evidence of this is that in spite of the lower appetite I find I do not lose much body fat but definitely lose lean mass.

Another benefit to higher protein intake is maximum albumin synthesis and high blood levels of protein, which exert osmotic pressure to reduce edema/fluid retention in the tissues. This lack of fluid retention in subcutaneous tissues promotes a leaner more defined look as well. Of course, this vanity benefit is independent of the numerous health benefit of high blood protein like fast wound healing and strong immune system.

I believe carbsane described this phenomenon as "dehydrating", lol. OTOH, constantly bolusing your blood stream with sucrose and spiking insulin promoting renal salt/fluid retention & hypertension is very hydrating and good for you ;) !

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July 11, 2013
3:43 am
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Bill:

That's actually a rarely documented confounding variable in many diet studies: what were the subjects eating before the intervention? 

Investigators will take pains to sort by age, weight, BMI, medical status, and so on -- but they rarely account for the variation in human diets.

 

eddie:

Thank you!  Yes, "What were the subjects eating before?" seems like a very common-sense question to ask...and you're reminding me of Chris Masterjohn's classic article New Study Shows that Lying About Your Hamburger Intake Prevents Disease and Death When You Eat a Low-Carb Diet High in Carbohydrates.

 

Bill:

Nutrient partitioning is a whole new subject...and yes, protein strongly affects it.  Even the studies that show no absolute weight advantage for high-protein diets show improved body composition.

 

ItsTheWooo:

It's surprising how much lean mass is lost on typical hypocaloric diets.  Here's an interesting study showing that, for normal weight women, losing ~0.5kg/week preserves lean mass, whereas losing 1kg/week is catabolic and tanks hormone levels.

J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Jan 25;7(1):4. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-7-4.
Moderate energy restriction with high protein diet results in healthier outcome in women.
Mero AA, Huovinen H, Matintupa O, Hulmi JJ, Puurtinen R, Hohtari H, Karila TA.

Given that, just imagine the results from your average "cleanse" (read: zero-protein crash diet).  Repeat this cycle a few times and you, too, can be skinny-fat!

 

JS

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July 11, 2013
11:54 am
eddie watts
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JS that last study showed that the women lost bench press but gained squat endurance strength and counter movement jump improved too...

i can see jump distance going up but maybe this is more because women struggle more than men to improve bench press due to lower upper body musculature and therefore lose that strength faster?

would be interesting to see the same thing with men though

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July 11, 2013
2:16 pm
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eddie:

Actually, counter movement jump distance increased more in the 0.5kg/wk group (see Table 1), though not significantly...I have no idea why the text of the study claims otherwise.  I suspect the increase in endurance is because starvation diets (~1000 kcal) are a high-fat diet of one's own adipose tissue, and consequently require high levels of fat oxidation, which Type 1 muscle fibers are much better at than Type II fibers.  But this is speculation.

Another interesting part is in the "General Mood" section:

"In 0.5 KG, 57% of the subjects (n = 4/7 = 4 subjects from 7 subjects) reported that they had more alertness in work/studying and training during the weight loss regimen. Similarly in 1.0 KG, 44% of the subjects (n = 3/8) reported that they had more alertness in school and only 25% reported that they had more alertness during training. Furthermore in 1.0 KG, 50% of the subjects (n = 4/8) reported that they had felt less alertness during training when no one in 0.5 KG gave such an answer (n = 0/7). The subjects in 0.5 KG also reported better general mood and no one from this group reported any kind of anxiety when 37.5% (n = 3/8) in 1.0 KG reported that they were more anxious and felt more tired than usual."

Also, I need to amend my statement: the 1.0kg/wk group did not lose more lean mass in the first four weeks (although there is no indication that the authors measured it...: what the authors say is that their hormonal environment is more catabolic, so that they'd expect to lose more lean mass as the diets continue.

Also, I noticed that cortisol was up 15% in the 1.0kg/wk group, though the authors called that "no difference".

Also, I noticed that the authors claim "Metabolic acidosis has been linked to muscle wasting in obese subjects who were acidotic due to weight reduction diets [19,20]. The correction of the acidosis has been shown to reverse the muscle wasting in that condition [21,22]."  However, neither reference 21 or 22 supports that contention: they show only that bicarbonate supplementation reduces urinary nitrogen excretion in either patients with renal failure in the short term (1 week), or in patients on a 3-week PSMF (this study also confuses ketoacidosis with ketosis), which is a long way from proving muscle wasting.

This sort of sloppy science is why I don't bombard people with 15+ citations per article: there's a lot of shecky work out there, and if someone gives me that many cites for a blog post, I'm calling BS on them actually having read them, let alone verified that they support the hypothesis!

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July 11, 2013
7:58 pm
CarbSanity
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Fair demands: denounce Nikoley, issue a formal apology to the women of Paleo - and THEN we'll talk.

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July 12, 2013
7:26 am
Paul N
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So this is right in line with Paul Jaminet's approach of set your baseline protein intake - in grams/day, not % of calories.
Given that protein is a building block, not just calories, it should come as no surprise that that low protein diets lead to catabolism.

I know of many women (only ever women) who do those "cleanses". they feel good for the first day or two, and then start to feel anaemic.

I suspect they have some good autophagy going for the first day or two, then the catabolism sets in.

I once had a neighbour who was a woman in her 20's who was a competitive basketballer, who, at a (vegan) friends urging, did one of these cleanses, and a two week "rabbit food" diet. Her game performance was terrible!

It is interesting to see the bodies of women (differences seems more observable than in men) who do "jump" sports, like basketball, volleyball, tennis, downhill skiing, figure skating (*lots* of jumps) etc, compared to those that cycle or (especially) run. The jump sports women clearly have more muscle mass and appear to have better skin. The runners approach the anaemic look of runway models, but perhaps that is their goal?

I guess you could classify those sports as those resembling predator activities - pouncing - and those resembling prey activities - running. I suspect the eating patterns are similar too!

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July 13, 2013
5:44 am
Berneck
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J.

This was an excellent article! It lead me to your other article, Dietary Protein 101. In that article you mentioned that you would follow-up with "measures of protein." I can't seem to find that follow-up article. Was there a follow-up?

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July 16, 2013
1:42 am
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Paul N:

Yes, protein is a daily essential...and like all essential macro- and micro-nutrients, just because you're eating less food doesn't mean your body's requirement magically decreases!  So yes, it's best to measure your target protein intake in grams, rather than as a percentage of "calories".

And yes, I encourage both men and women to play like predators, not "exercise" like prey.  Your body quickly adapts to the low-level steady-state demand of "cardio", often leaving you fat -- whereas adaptation to occasional intense effort will cause your body to divert more resources towards building strength ("nutrient partitioning"). 

Remember that muscle mass is counterproductive to long-distance running: note the relentlessly tall and skinny build of the Kalenjin, who win most marathons these days.  And as I point out in this article, male ultra-endurance running champions carry an average of 17% bodyfat -- nowhere near the coveted "six-pack".  And there is plenty of evidence, scientific and anecdotal, that long-distance running is not healthy!

 

Berneck:

No, I haven't yet finished that particular series...if I've written a followup, I generally place the link to the next part at the end of the article.

JS

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July 16, 2013
7:37 am
Dave
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You know, J, running can be thought of as playing the game "persistence hunter." Human running wasn't just about escaping as prey. Excellent article, btw.

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July 16, 2013
1:13 pm
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Dave:

The data we have (as opposed to speculation or second-hand stories) shows that persistence hunting only works with a very specific animal — old male kudu — and that the speed of a successful persistence hunt is 6.2-6.6 km/h (3.9-4.1 MPH). (Source.)

That's a fast walk, not a "run"…

…and the fact that no one has ever been witnessed to successfully ran down any other animal (despite years of trying, e.g. "Running After Antelope") should prove to us that neither long-distance running nor persistence hunting is the driving feature of human evolution it's been claimed to be. 

I need to write an article about this misconception sometime!

JS

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July 16, 2013
3:54 pm
tatertot
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Can I suggest a future topic? "A calorie is not a calorie when you eat it as fiber or resistant starch"

You know where I'm headed with this...4 calories of fermentable fiber hits the large intestine and is converted to butyrate and finally absorbed as 2 calories of fat. I'd love to see you break this down. Nobody has really tackled it yet except bro-sciency sounding sound-bites.

Lovin' this series!

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July 16, 2013
4:10 pm
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tatertot:

You're correct: fiber and "resistant starch" (which, strangely, doesn't seem to be counted as fiber in nutrition labels) are counted at 4 kcal/gram, which overestimates available energy by at least a factor of 2.

One must also account for the energy of digestion, which tends to be high in the case of unprocessed foods high in RS and fiber.  Paul Jaminet contends that, as a result, green vegetables actually have negative "calories"...and I believe the evidence supports him.

JS

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July 16, 2013
5:39 pm
Tonto
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Ref: Running/Persistence hunting; As a kid growing up on prairie/farmland, we used to run down and kick to death (then bring home and eat) ground-hogs (woodchucks), prairie dogs, and jack rabbits that strayed too far from their den. Great fun, great exercise, you'd be exhausted to the point of puking after a 2-3 minute chase. This 'game' was taught to us by our elders, and has been done since time immemorial here on the rez.

Larger game was also chased in this manner using a series of stone fences and relay runners strategically positioned. Sometimes ending at a cliff the exhausted animals would dive over and die at the bottom.

Sorry if this doesn't fit the discussion...

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July 17, 2013
7:01 am
Dave
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J, I look forward to that article on persistence hunting. Personally, I am more in love with the idea of running than the actual activity itself. I've never been able to sustain a running habit. Since I don't own motorized transport, I walk and ride my bicycle. Of course, in my younger days I attempted running with the wrong diet(s) and the wrong techniques, so it doesn't really surprise me that I suffered various health issues and injuries as a result of running. Or, should I say, I was unhealthy to begin with and running was just another stress on my body that it wasn't in a position to deal with.

With respects to the article, I have noticed a difference in body composition compared to the time I attempted veganism and my current HFLC Way of Eating. I did get thin eating vegan (mostly vegan, to be honest) since I didn't consume much high quality protein. I avoided dairy and eggs, and I used lots of wheat flour, potatoes, legumes, and vegan meat substitutes. (I ate fruits and vegetables, too, but they didn't supply much in the way of energy.) It did me no favors in the strength department. These days, though, I am both thin and strong on a diet that conventional wisdom says will make me fat and sick.

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July 17, 2013
3:47 pm
neal matheson
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I wrote some stuff on persistence running a while back, I'm not really a fan of the idea from an evolutionary point of view. However I recently found some interesting anecdotal evidence of persistence "hunting" in Scotland.
http://ceathairne.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/long-distance-running-among-highlanders.html

Older but possibly relevant; http://spearthroweruk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/how-they-actually-exercise.html

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July 17, 2013
4:08 pm
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Tonto:

Thank you for sharing that...and yes, it absolutely fits into the discussion! 

"Larger game was also chased in this manner using a series of stone fences and relay runners strategically positioned"...that confirms what I've read from other sources, which is that Native Americans didn't practice straight all-day persistence hunting: they herded wild animals into natural terrain features, usually (as you said) with teams of runners, and constructed very long and elaborate fences and corrals where the terrain didn't provide them.

I review two books on the subject in this article ("Survival by Hunting" and "Imagining Head-Smashed-In"), and I'm very interested in your opinion if you choose to read them.

That's interesting that you were able to catch small animals with a few minutes of sprinting and the smarts to keep them away from their burrows!  Having grown up in suburbs, I never had those types of opportunities...though unlike the city kids, I at least got to climb trees, scramble down ravines, etc.

I do note, however, that none of these activities qualifies as "persistence hunting", let alone long-distance steady-state cardio.

 

Dave:

It's possible to get thin by losing muscle mass...and from the studies I've read, most diets that aren't "high protein" result in significant loss of muscle mass as well as fat mass.  As mentioned above, our protein requirements don't decrease just because we're eating less food, so staying at 15% protein when dieting is likely to leave us protein-deficient and losing lean mass.

Additionally, endurance exercise is catabolic, and requires a higher protein intake to preserve muscle mass than even strength training!

Result: vegan diet + jogging = skinny-fat.

 

neal:

Thank you for the links!  The exercise article seems to agree with Mark Sisson's approach: lots of walking around and occasional sprints or heavy lifting, as opposed to "cardio".  And I agree that examples from agriculturalists aren't relevant to our evolutionary context, either.

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