Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 30 - Dr. Keith Barr - Unlocking Athletic Potential - Part 3 of 3

They kind of makes you think about and maybe it's the same thing. So, maybe you can help me clear this part up, I think you're talking about this kind of like signaling the leucine does, it starts this cycle. And then you're talking about having to reduce your intake of leucine to actually turn the cycle off.

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JESSE: They kind of makes you think about and maybe it's the same thing. So, maybe you can help me clear this part up, I think you're talking about this kind of like signaling the leucine does, it starts this cycle. And then you're talking about having to reduce your intake of leucine to actually turn the cycle off. Is it the same cycle, you're talking about for mTOR? KEITH: To some degree because a lot of these things are regulated in such a way as when they go up, that's good. But if they stay up, it becomes bad. And the reason that it becomes bad is because our body's trying to get back to homeostasis. And homeostasis is when something is on we try and shut it down. When it's off, we try and turn it on because what we're trying to do is we're trying to maintain this balance. And if we can maintain the balance, that's great. And so if we do something like lift weights that takes us out of balance, our body is going to undergo changes that are going to help it come back into balance. And it might shift the balance a little higher, but it's going to be a new baseline. So, when we eat leucine-rich protein, we get an increase of leucine in the blood. And that's great. It turns on mTOR and muscle turns on mTOR and all of the different proteins or cells in the body. But then what we really need is we need it to come down. Because if it doesn't come down, what happens is mTOR turns itself off. It's got a fail safe switch because it knows, the body knows, the cells know that if you turn on mTOR all the time you get cancer. So, what we have to have is a way that we turn on mTOR, but then we have to have a way that mTOR can turn itself off in case there is a problem. And so when we eat these slow release proteins that keep leucine at a very high level for a very long time, or you eat pharmaceutical-grade leucine and you keep eating it so that you keep leucine at a high level, what happens is mTOR turns itself off. And in so doing, it actually decreases insulin sensitivity, it does all these other things as a way to shut the system down. So, what we need is we need times when things get turned on, and then we need to give them time to turn back off again. Because if you don't give it time to turn off, you don't actually the benefit of turning it on in the first place. It's very similar to the research that's going on about sleep right now. Sleep is essential to recovery. It's the only thing that increases your rate of recovery and doesn't decrease the adaptation. So, what we do is we do all this stuff that loads the system, and then we sleep and if it was mental stuff during sleep, we formed new connections that allow us to learn and remember. If it was physical stuff, our body fixes any problems that came up, it regenerates all of the nutrients or regrows the stores of carbohydrate and all of these other things so we replenish and we repair. And that's essentially what we're doing in our body, we turn on when we eat things and then we hopefully allow that system to turn off. And the same thing is true with carbohydrates. If you turn it on consistently, you're going to get this insulin resistance, and a lot of it is because you've got the system trying to shut itself down. JESSE: here's a lot of various like, essentially cycles that go on that are necessary to kind of maintain either growth or homeostasis. This is a little bit more of a psychological or philosophical question, but since you are on the functional side, that's why I want to ask, and I think you've worked with a number of athletes and possibly teams. How do you get people to cooperate with the things you want them to do to kind of maintain these cycles properly, instead of I think you mentioned even bodybuilders at some time waking up in the middle of the night, trying to feed themselves because they're like so focused on this is my silver bullet is food that they forget about sleep. How do you deal with that psychology to get people to do what is actually optimal for them? KEITH: Yeah, it's a great question because it's-- Look, the knowledge is out there, how to do these things, it's all over the place. Everybody, you know, part of it is trying to figure out what's good information and what’s bad. But realistically, we know enough to get to produce perfect athletes. The problem isn’t our inability or lack of understanding, the problem is implementation. And that's where people who have different skill set than I do. I've got a postdoc here who's a dietitian who works with a number of professional and Olympic teams and athletes. She has a completely different skill set that allows her to do that. Because what she can do is she has this social capacity that's outstanding, like everybody-- She's got all-- She can do all of this social interaction at an incredibly high level. And that's a huge component of it because most people and athletes don't do things they believe in. And they'll do things that they believe in because they believe that person. They don't necessarily, they're not driven the same way that I would be driven on what's the evidence, some athletes are, but a lot of athletes aren't. And so the real nuance comes from being able to come in and say, this is what we're doing. I understand the basic principles, but what my job is here is to translate the science to the practitioner. And that's what those people do, those dietitians, nutritionists, performance directors. Those type of roles is to get such a rapport with the individual, that the individual trust them enough to do things that the expert knows are going to help them develop. Our principle is to start with an idea of 75/25, 75% of the effect or you can have it as, as more 90/10. But 75% of the effect of any diet, loading, nutrition, any type of thing like that is going to be just getting the general things right. If you eat vegetables and you eat this and you eat that, you're going to get 75% of it. The extra 25% comes from doing things right but at the right time, and kind of changing things at different periods or points in the day. There's a great example of this in work from John Holly, where he had people, endurance athletes. Most of them were triathletes, so they would do multiple training sessions a day. What he did is he had the people have the exact same amount of carbohydrate in the day. But in one group, what he did is he had them taking all of their carbohydrates before their last training session of the day. And then they would have a dinner that would have no carbohydrate in it. They would sleep, and then they'd get up in the morning, they do their first training session before they ate anything. And the other group, they had the same amount of carbohydrates, they just had that last meal after the training or the last meal after the training bout had carbohydrates in it, so they replenish their glycogen. The result was they train that way for a number of weeks, and that the ones who had the glycogen or had the carbohydrate restriction, so they didn't eat carbohydrate after their last training. And they slept in a glycogen depleted state, and did their first training session in a glycogen depleted state, those people had a 3% improvement in performance. The exact same amount of carbohydrate, 3% improvement in performance. And we say 3% like, oh, who cares? At the last-- ?? 8:11>. Right. But at the London Olympics, the triathlon was one in a photo finish. A 3% difference would have been, you know, that's essentially two minutes. So, that's a huge, huge difference. So, these differences, just by changing little things. And then the idea is, as you're saying, can you stack them if I do that together with this over here? And I get it with 3% here and a 1% here and a .5% here, does that give me four and a half? Does that give me four? Where do I go? Right. And so those are the intricacies because the reality is that having people-- We get bombarded with information, and as athletes, we're trying to do the best things, we're trying to be healthy. We do things that we think are healthy that are actually inhibiting our performance. The example I give is, is high doses of vitamins. So, we know that if you take high doses of vitamin C and vitamin E, you can actually block endurance adaptations. So, if I'm in the base phase, and I'm trying to build my endurance capacity, and I'm popping lots of vitamin C and E, I'm actually going to get from the same exercise that my training partner’s getting, I'm actually adapting less. So, that training partner is actually getting more of a stimulus from the training. Those types of small things that you can turn those dials, they make a huge difference. But really, if that's that 25%, 75% is just getting the basics. Eat your meals, recover, sleep, well have sufficient protein; all of those things, that's your 75%. The 25% is a little bit of how and what and those little perfect things that you can get right. JESSE: I’m gonna ask you a couple more questions before we run outta time here. KEITH: Sure. JESSE: You did bring up this earlier, kind of talked about endurance activity, I think you said before increases intelligence or increases brain activity and strength training typically increases longevity. Have you figured out, I gotta say, a scientific way or a lab-tested way to get an optimal mix of those? KEITH: That's a great question. So, I don't even think that-- So, basically, when we talk about endurance building, building and learning and memory and also improving cardiovascular function, we're talking about things that doesn't actually take a ton of cardiovascular work. We're talking about if you do-- One study showed that if you purchase spit in sports eight times a month, that was enough to like one third your risk of cardiovascular failure, heart attack. But it's not even to do that much. If you were in the population of individuals who cycled in Copenhagen, if you were one of the people who cycled faster, your cardiovascular risk went down by about three-fold. So, even just, you don't need a lot there. So, what you would do is you would do your-- you could still easily do three-plus sessions of endurance a week. Most of what we're looking for is true endurance sessions where you're actually going out and working at a very intense level. Most of the time, you're looking to do six to seven days a week where you're getting at least 30 minutes of regular activity, that's more for the general population. For an athlete, what we're looking to do is we're looking to actually get three-plus times a week of endurance. And then twice a week we're looking to get strength. Strength training twice a week, training for health, I'm going to train to failure, lift a heavy weight, go to failure twice a week, that's all you need as far as your strength that takes 15-20 minutes to do. And then as far as the endurance, now what we're doing is we're trying to increase the endurance load, we're setting a baseline minimum of three times a week, where you're really trying to push yourself on the endurance component. If you can do those things, you're going to have a lot of the benefits of both worlds. So, that's what we're looking. JESSE: Just as always like I always wonder about the actual, let's say, requirements of-- Because we're talking about how, like you said, it's not that much to say endurance activity. It's not like people need to be like me, and we'll go work out 10, 12, 15 hours a week on endurance activity. That’s way, way more than the average person needs. But I think sometimes when the average person would hear I need to do an endurance activity, they think about, oh, no, I gotta go like train for half marathon or something that's way beyond what's necessary to gain the health benefits of it. KEITH: Right. The health benefits almost always come from going from nothing to a little bit. The amount that you get from going from a little bit to a lot is much, much less, right. Whether it's vitamin C, it's like six milligrams that you need in order to synthesize collagen and not get scurvy. But taking thousands of milligrams, that's not going to give you a greater benefit. So, you go up this really steep curve, to get that health benefit, and then it kind of plateaus. It's a very shallow curve. The same thing is true for activity. If we take somebody who's completely inactive, and we get them to walk 15 minutes a day, they're gonna have this massive effect on their health, where they're just going to go, their health readouts are going to go just crazy. But then once you get to there, getting them to the next level, it's not as easy as oh, yeah, well, I did 15 minutes. Now I'm just going to do 20. And I'm gonna have this is, it’s gonna continue up this-- No, it plateaus relatively quickly. It doesn't plateau as quickly as some other things, but it's now going to-- the slope is now much lower. And so the effect for health is relatively low, the effect for it to really have a performance effect, it takes a lot more. But the reality is for most people, and the other thing to remember is that what we tend to do is we tend to say - old people need to, they need to slow down. The reality is we actually need to exercise more frequently as we get older. Because as a guy who used to be 17-18 years old, I ate all kinds of crap. I ate everything in the world, and I should exercise maybe twice a week and be in great shape. As you get older, you get to like your 30s and your 40s, well, now we can't eat. No, I can't eat those things because now I know that I'm going to add weight and I know that man, if I don't exercise more, I'm going to show that my performance is going to drop. As you get older and older, you actually need more frequent exercise. And we've got some data that shows that one of the things that happens as we get older, is that when we're young, we have a long protein synthetic response in response to resistance exercise. As we get older, that comes back down to baseline sooner. And so the result is that you either have to exercise more or you have to really target your nutrition around your exercise. But it does seem like as we get older we need more, not less. JESSE: Yeah, yeah. That actually leads in well, this is a question I asked every single person I talked to this year just because it's a question that consumes everybody and it is kind of like a baseline for everybody. I like to ask if after a hard workout, you're gonna eat some kind of recovery food, if you only get to choose one food for recovery for the rest of your life, what do you end up choosing? KEITH: Milk. JESSE: Just regular milk? KEITH: Yeah, pretty much. - do chocolate milk, but it has to be high-quality chocolate. So, yeah, milk is-- In our family, our family, we go to the store, we go to a special store because we buy four gallons of milk a week for the three of us. So, we drink a lot of milk, and the reality is it's the fastest evolving gene in our body is the gene that allows us to drink milk. That tells us that there was a really big benefit to it. And one of the things is it's a leucine-rich food. It has sufficient sugars that allow us to regenerate anything that we've lost, and it provides nutrients to the microbiota that are quite important. One of the great things about milk is it has very special sugars in it, that we don't digest very well, but our bacteria actually digest really well. And so now what we're doing is we're feeding our whole system. And so yeah, for me, milk is the perfect recovery food. JESSE: I'd love to get you together with like I said, I've talked to a couple of guys doing work with the microbiome and studying the microbiota. I'd like to get you all together for a conversation about how that all comes together. Because I think that would be probably pretty interesting. KEITH: Yeah, no, it's really interesting. It's best known in neonates. There's a group here at Davis who studied newborns, and if they were born from C section, what they found is they couldn't digest milk. And because during delivery, you get inoculated with-- JESSE: I'm still here if you're there. KEITH: So, during delivery, you get inoculated with bacteria that actually are absolutely essential to break down the carbohydrates in human milk. So, we can't digest it. And so one of the things that happens if you're delivered by C section is you can't drink mother's milk unless you get a product that they developed, which is basically the bacteria that you would have gotten through vaginal delivery that just gets put into the system. As soon as you get inoculated with that bacteria, now you can drink the milk because the carbohydrate is broken down by the bacteria, and that frees up the energy. So, that's the best example of how we understand the system working together. The other really important thing about milk is that it has fat, and the milk fat, so I drink whole fat milk. And those milk fats, there's a guy down in New Zealand who's shown that if you just give the milk fats, you actually see an increase in muscle mass and strength as well. So, it's like the whole composite of the food that's really important. JESSE: Love the answer, love the explanation. I'm sure we could go for probably another hour - like, I know you're full of information. But trying to be sensitive to your time. KEITH: That's great. JESSE: Keith, if people want to see like follow your research, see any more talks you do, where can they find you? KEITH: Yeah. So, the easiest thing to do is I'm on Twitter, I go at, my handle is @MuscleScience. So, I got in fairly early so I got a really good handle so that works well. And every once in awhile I'll post some kind of little videos, or I'll all at least link out to different research that I think is cool or that we've done or that is really interesting for this space. So, that's probably the easiest way. And people can DM me from there and ask me questions if they have them. JESSE: Good deal. Thanks for coming on today. KEITH: Yeah, you're welcome. No worries. JESSE: Take care. Go to Part 1 Go to Part 2

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