[00:00:00] Kristen Burkett: I’m kristen Burett. And I’m Diana Wally. We’re your host for N A MP’s podcast dedicated to connecting holistic health enthusiasts with each other. To share practical information from the holistic wellness space for enhanced vitality. Diana
[00:00:15] Diana Walley: and I are master nutrition therapists, board certified and holistic nutrition with private practice.
And an online joint venture that supports clients and practitioners as they strive to reach their full potential. We’re honored to be hosting this podcast for N A M P and connecting our listeners with the latest and
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Hi everyone. Welcome to this episode of The Nourishing You Podcast Today. We’re excited to talk with Dr. T Nelson about metabolic flexibility. My t Nelson PhD is a research fanatic who specializes in metabolic flexibility and heart rate variability, as well as an online trainer, adjunct professor, associate professor at the Kerik Institute Institute presenter, creator of the Flex Diet.
Kite border and heavy metal enthusiast. What does he not do? ? He has a PhD in exercise physiology and an ms. Mechanical engineering slash biomechanics. The techniques he’s developed and the results Dr. Mike gets for his clients have been featured in international magazines, in scientific publications, and on websites across the globe.
In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his wife, lifting odd objects, reading, research, and kiteboarding as much as possible. You can find out more about him at his website, Mike T. Nelson dot. Dr. Mike, welcome to the podcast.
[00:01:49] Dr Mike T Nelson: Hi, welcome. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. Yeah, we’re excited.
[00:01:53] Kristen Burkett: So, as I mentioned before we started recording, I’m a huge fan of your work. Oh, thank you. I, yeah, I enjoy following you on social media and listening to your pod podcast and all the different podcasts that you’ve been on, and I know our listeners are gonna be really excited to get to know you. So we’d love to start by hearing more about your background and your on-ramp to becoming a fitness and nutrition educator.
[00:02:17] Dr Mike T Nelson: Yeah, I mean, I guess I started out like most guys, I went to college and I was six foot three, weighed 156 pounds, looked like a knee shaped rake and figured maybe I should start lifting weights. This might be a good thing. And I remember taking a class in my undergrad on weightlifting, and I was all excited because I’m like, oh, I’m actually gonna learn the correct way to do stuff.
and then the guy took attendance and then left and like just said, I don’t know, here’s the gym. Figure it out. And I was kind of like, oh, that’s kind of disappointing. Um, so I took anatomy and physiology for fun. I did minor, got at Saint Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. And at the time it was one of the rare institutions where you could take anatomy and physiology and you had access to a full cadaver lab.
Uh, they got new cadavers like every quarter. and that was probably the only class I’ve ever really taken that just sort of made sense to me. I could sit in class and understand it or a lot of the other classes were not that easy, at all. And, and initially after I finished that, went to Michigan Tech to do, um, mechanical engineering, eventually did a master’s there.
I worked in biomedical engineering and cardiovascular products for a. But I spent all my free time literally going to conferences and annoying people in the back about why I couldn’t understand that they didn’t read research. And then I realized like, oh, most people who are in the profession don’t necessarily read primary research.
They listen to other people that kind of interpret it or do certifications or other things like that. So fast forward, I went back to school for initially a PhD in biomedical engineering. Uh, I got tired of doing math and so I went over to the PhD department in exercise physiology and unfortunately got assigned more math stuff like the first day.
My new advisor walks in and he’s like, Hey, we got two new projects. And he looks around the table and he points at me. He’s like, Hey, you math boy, whatever your name is, like, these are your projects now. And that was on a heart rate variability and metabolic flexibility, which was about 14 years ago now. I started that.
And, uh, fast forward. Finished my PhD. I started officially training people in 2006, worked in gyms for a while and then transitioned after that, uh, online and then along the way, um, taught online, taught in person for probably like three or four years. Uh, I loved the teaching aspect of it. I didn’t really like the schedule and all the other kind of stuff that comes with it.
Um, so about eight years ago, I moved everything. So I just do all my work online. And then right now I have the flexi certification and the phys Flex certification. And then currently I’m, as you mentioned, an associate professor at the KE Institute. And then I teach for, uh, Rocky Mountain University and Walsh University.
And then I also do some analysis of clients and athletes at uh, rapid. .
[00:05:15] Diana Walley: Wow, that’s a great story. You know, it’s, it’s just amazing how sometimes those basic math skills can take you so far. .
[00:05:22] Dr Mike T Nelson: Yeah. My kids have always kind running away from the
[00:05:27] Diana Walley: other. No, that’s great. And it’s so awesome. You’re able to probably get your message out to a way broader audience by being online versus doing the one-on-one or the in-person.
[00:05:39] Dr Mike T Nelson: Yeah, that was kind of one of the things too about teaching that’s weird is I loved the process of teaching. Um, and you’ve got some students that are highly motivated to be there, and then you’ve got some students who you’re like, why are you even paying tuition like ? Why are you here? Um, but you’re always gonna be limited to whatever class size that is.
And so I realized by writing, speaking, you know, doing other things, that, especially now with everything being online, you’re not necessarily limited to an audience. And I also just felt like it could have a bigger impact by doing similar things, but it would be accessible to a wider audience, which also made me feel a little bit more warm and fuzzy that you’re, you know, making a bigger impact.
[00:06:23] Diana Walley: Yeah. Well, you’ve got great information to share, so I’m glad it’s getting out
[00:06:26] Dr Mike T Nelson: there. Oh, thank you. I, yeah,
[00:06:30] Diana Walley: so I, as we think about what, what our topic is today with metabolic flexibility, as we think about what’s going on in our country right now and really around the world, but the prevalence of metabolic disease like, like type two diabetes being on the rise the way it is, you’re well known for helping clients become more metabolically flexible so they can burn fat, become healthier.
get to the a good body composition, that type of thing. So just for our audience, if we could start out by having you just define metabolic flexibility. What is that? It’s kind of a trendy catch phase right now. Um, so what does it mean? Why is it important and how can it help improve our health?
[00:07:10] Dr Mike T Nelson: Sure in the fitness world, as, as you all know, like everything’s kind of divided into sort of their own little camp of, you know, you have the keto people, the car people, the high car people, you know, whatever.
And there’s some truth to all of that. But if we back up and we look how a normal healthy metabolism works, um, on one end of the spectrum, like you should be able to use and process carbohydrates quite well, right? So one of the definitions of someone who’s a diabetic, They have a hard time processing and using carbohydrates.
On the other end of the spectrum, you should be able to process and use fat very effectively also. So for metabolic flexibility is how well can you use carbohydrates on one end? How well can you use fat on the other end of the spectrum? And then how well can you transition back and forth between the two?
So the nice part about it is that for clients from a practical purpose, they can still have the energy to train, do whatever they. Higher intensity stuff, we’ll use more carbohydrates. Um, but they’ll be able to get a better body composition because when they’re, uh, using, let’s say lower carbohydrate periods or they’re going for a walk or just kinda their day-to-day activities, their body can down-regulate and also use fat as a fuel.
So you’re trying to get the, the best of both worlds. And it turns out that someone who is more metabolically flexible is, as you mentioned, a, a marker for metabolic health itself on top.
[00:08:35] Kristen Burkett: it. I’m just curious, is there any truth to, um, the thought that as someone who has overweight or obesity, that they have a, their, their, um, mitochondria might be, um, impaired so that they have a hard time burning fat, you know, doing a lower intensity exercise?
Any truth to.
[00:08:58] Dr Mike T Nelson: I would say in general, yes. So there’s some, all the research from the eighties and nineties. So if we back up, let me go at a very high level, like if you want to use fat as a fuel, there’s two processes you have to do, right? So I use the analogy, uh, B and b. So you have to burn the fuel source that you’re using, right, which is gonna be generally aerobic metabolism.
But then before you do that, you have to break the molecules apart or what’s called lipolysis. You have to take these little molecules and break ’em into smaller pieces that your body can then use and, and literally oxidize or burn for fuel. And some of the early work showed that the lipolysis or the breaking down of fat, uh, even in people who were obese and sometimes even metabolically un.
It wasn’t really the rate limiter like their body would tend to liberate and break down more than enough fat. It was actually physically using fat as a fuel for the exercise. We also look at some other data showing that. The more metabolically unhealthy you are, your body tends to move more towards the carbohydrate end of the spectrum, meaning that you could have two people do the same kind of standardized exercise.
The lab will use a fancy thing called the metabolic cart, which I’m sure you’ve seen with little tube coming outta their mouth and they’re breathing into this machine. It’s spitting off a bunch of numbers and stuff, and with that machine we can determine are they acutely using more fat or are they using more carbohydrate?
What we see is in people who are more untrained and tend to be more on the obese side, they do tend to use carbohydrates much sooner, but the amount of work they can do is also significantly less. Um, so it is true that they do tend to get shifted away from using fat as a fuel source. So
[00:10:45] Diana Walley: what gets in the way, like I would think just as a human body, we we’re supposed to burn both carbs and fats or whatever fuel we have available.
Why, what’s gotten so messed up that we’re having to actually train for metabolic flexibility anymore versus just being able to digest and use the different sources properly?
[00:11:07] Dr Mike T Nelson: Yeah, there’s a bunch of things. Um, , you know, off the top of my head, there’s some cool studies looking at just sleep. So sleep is super popular now for good reason.
Um, they did one study where they took, uh, actually healthy people and they had them hit a little alarm every one hour during the night. So they did what they called, they fractured their sleep. So every hour they didn’t really have to wake up per se and move around. They just had to hit this little button and turn the alarm.
and then it would go off again the next hour. They compared that to another condition where they just let the same people sleep all the way through the night. So the group that got woken up about once every hour, and if you look at some sleep date, is not necessarily unrealistic. It decreased their body’s ability to use fat during sleep by about 50%.
So if you have someone who’s not getting enough sleep, chronically sleep impaired, poor quality sleep, uh, that can impair their body’s ability to use fat, um, of course consuming too many calories, just in and of itself will kind of overwhelm the system and that can shut down some of the use of fat as a fuel.
Uh, training status is also a big one. If you’ve got two groups of people and we look at just their aerobic fitness level, which we can measure in the lab by something called the VO two max, or volume of oxygen, they can run through their system. So people who have a better developed aerobic or cardiovascular system, uh, they tend to use a lot more fuel because they can exercise at a lot higher.
I. And we find that they tend to be much more metabolically flexible, then people will have, uh, less aerobic fitness. muscle mass is also related to it. You can look at something called F F M I, which is just a way of, in the lab of equating how much muscle mass somebody has independent of their body composition.
Uh, the more muscle you have, again, it’s gonna be more costly to keep that around. So in general, You’re gonna be, have the ability to downshift, to use, uh, fat a little bit better. If we look at a signaling, like if you were to pick out one hormone and there’s a whole bunch of hormones and nervous system and stuff that controls it, uh, it’s probably gonna be insulin.
Uh, the reason for insulin is you can think of it as a fuel selector switch, so when the insulin is higher, it’ll push your body to use more carbohydrates. When insulin is lower, it’ll push your body to use more. And if we go to a state of like, uh, type two diabetic, one of the things that gets messed up is their body’s use of insulin and metabolic flexibility.
They need to put out more and more insulin to kind of get their body to transition to use carbohydrates. But what happens then over time is they have this baseline level of insulin that becomes higher and higher. And because that insulin level is higher, it then prevents them from downregulating into using.
So they get to be very metabolically inflexible. Their ability to use carbohydrates gets, uh, turned down. And then because of that, over time, one of the adaptations to the disease is that they start losing the ability to use fat. Um, also, uh, the nice part about insulin is that it’s under a pretty high amount of dietary control.
Also, uh, periods of fasting will lower insulin. Obviously if you eat more carbohydrates, that’ll increase insulin. So insulin isn’t necessarily a bad. But we can kind of use it when we look at, uh, exercise and nutrition as kind of a cool leverage point to make changes for people too. And so
[00:14:33] Diana Walley: why do we wanna be metabolically flexible?
Why is it not okay to just be a carb burner? Is it because we just will tend to store fat instead of using it for fuel? For fuel and then, you know, we get out of balance that way? Or what’s, what’s the benefit of being metabolic metabolically? .
[00:14:52] Dr Mike T Nelson: Yeah. So in relation to carbohydrate and fat use, if you have someone that their metabolism is kind of pinged all aside on the carbohydrate side, depending on their athletic status, they may do okay for exercise performance.
So, for example, I’ve seen some metabolic testing from pretty high level, uh, marathon runners, and they almost never really used carbohydrates even at rest, right? Their metabolism was so skewed to carbohydrates. Now for performance, if you can keep in enough carbohydrates, you don’t have digestive issues, it can be okay.
But I think in terms of health and potentially their ability to control their body composition, it’s gonna be a lot more. So at rest it’s much more efficient for the body to use fat. We can get way more energy from the same amount of fat than we can the same amount of carbohydrates. Um, so it’s actually an efficiency thing.
Um, so most of your day walking around the level exercise, um, primarily should be using fat, um, as a fuel and it’s actually more efficient, um, to. And that gets into a whole bunch of different health regulations in terms of how the body is sort of processing them. Um, again, if you go back and look at the case of uh, type two diabetic, uh, the muscle sometimes can have problems either using carbohydrates or fat.
And that can be from, uh, a host of different things. . So in general, I would say you wanna be able to still use carbohydrates, especially for higher intensity exercise. But once you’re done with that, or you’re doing a period of fasting between meals or sleep, you want that ability for your insulin levels to come back down and that to push your body to use fat, that fat could be from, you know, the meal that you just ingested.
Or if you’re fasting, obviously the fat would then come from different body stores of fat that you would.
[00:16:52] Kristen Burkett: and I bet too, um, burning, you know, being, being a fat burner, quote unquote, or being able to be metabolically flexible to have the ability to burn fat, it’s probably a more even keeled source of energy.
Is that true? Rather than the ups and downs that can come with being just a carbohydrate burner.
[00:17:12] Dr Mike T Nelson: Yeah, there’s, if you think about the amount of fuel, even a lean athlete has stored as body fat, it’s massive. Like they could run multiple, multiple marathons, right? Your body’s stored ability for carbohydrates is very limited, so your body is gonna be a little bit more stingy, giving up some of the, the carbohydrates.
And in general, people report that if they’re good at using, uh, So one of the rough kind of tests people can do is, eh, like how long can you do a fast? You might be hungry, but you would still feel relatively okay. Um, if it’s like three hours while you’re awake, eh, maybe you need to work on that a little bit more.
Um, cuz what’s interesting is if your body gets real pushed to using carbohydrates all the time, uh, one of the things you can look at is blood glucose. And you may see differences in blood glucose or blood glucose may tend to run a little bit higher. What’s also underappreciated is that their body just gets really used to using glucose and it gets very sensitive to these drops in blood glucose.
Um, they don’t necessarily become, frankly, uh, hypoglycemic unless they have a disease process, but as soon as the body detects the blood glucose is going down. , it kind of freaks out a little bit and goes, oh my gosh, we can’t use any other fuel source, so we need more carbohydrates. Right? So in theory that they’ve done this is mixed, but you do tend to find more cravings for carbohydrates.
You find that people, it’s easier for them to over consume calories and that their energy level just nearly isn’t as consistent. Um, some of that has to do with their, uh, fitness level and a bunch of other things. .
[00:18:54] Kristen Burkett: Yeah. That, that’s very helpful. Yeah. So, so now that we understand metabolic flexibility, so the, the ability to switch between using carbohydrate or fat as as a substrate, what are some strategies that the average person, average health enthusiasts could use to become more meta?
metabolically flexible. I know that you alluded to sleep, um, not overeating, you know, having good aerobic fitness, being well muscled, having good insulin sensitivity. But maybe we could dig into some real practical things that the average person could do, maybe particularly around diet and and fitness.
[00:19:33] Dr Mike T Nelson: sure. , I think a good template that I’ve used a lot for people. Right. So in terms of what does any of this look like in actual practice? Mm-hmm. would be Monday, Wednesday, Friday, do some white training, like pick up some stuff, hopefully heavier stuff or use machines or whatever to stress your muscles relative to your capacity.
Um, so that’s going to add some strength, that’s gonna add some muscle process called hyper. And in general, that’s just gonna make you more metabolically healthy. Um, that process in general is gonna gonna be more fueled by carbohydrates. Uh, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, if dependent upon their aerobic level, they could do some low to moderate intensity aerobic training, or it’s classically called like a zone two.
So if you’re on a. , you should be able to still have a conversation, even though someone could tell you’re exercising, but you would be able to get most of the words out what’s called the talk test. That’s probably a good marker for intensity, eh, 2030, maybe up to 60 minutes, uh, somewhere around there. And then one of those days, like Saturday, I would do some type of higher intensity interval training.
That could be on a rower, it could be on a bike. If you’re a skilled runner, it could be running. Although most people are, may not be skilled in running. Uh, I like using the rower concept two rower, um, because it’ll give you the output of what you achieved. So you wanna work up to something that’s relatively.
Maybe a 30 to 60 minute where you’re going pretty hard, and then let your heart rate kind of come down and recover and then do that again. So when you go again, you want to try to get back to pretty close to that output again. And you can just start at two or three rounds and you can build up time, uh, over time.
So the higher intensity. Uh, aerobic work like that On the rower, you are using, uh, more carbohydrates. Uh, it is trying to push up the size of your aerobic engine. And then like that Tuesday, Thursday, uh, kind of more moderate, low intensity exercise. My bias is to do that fasted. You don’t necessarily have to.
Data on that’s a a little bit split currently. Um, but my bias is to do it in a lower insulin condition so that you’re trying to get your body to use more fat, um, for that. Um, and that’ll give you kind of a overview of you’ve got some days where you’re training your body’s ability to use fat. Got some days you’re trying to add a little bit more muscle using carbohydrates, and then you’ve got a higher intensity aerobic stimulus to increase your VO two max and kind of train slightly different adaptations too.
[00:22:07] Kristen Burkett: Okay, and sorry to interrupt before we go to the nutrition piece. Are so are are for weight training days are, do you recommend eating prior to training?
[00:22:18] Dr Mike T Nelson: Uh, most likely, yes. Okay. So those days can even be a little bit higher in carbohydrates. And then I think having some higher carbohydrates before and after training can be beneficial Again, if your background, you’re having enough carbohydrates, most people probably don’t need to worry.
We can have discussions later about nutrient timing and a bunch of other stuff, but in general, I find most people perform a little bit, uh, better with that. And again, you’ll be using primarily carbohydrates as your fuel source, uh, when you’re doing weight train.
[00:22:48] Kristen Burkett: Okay. Okay. I think I hear the paleo people and the carnivore people knocking at your door.
Yeah. You’re saying it’s okay to eat
[00:22:55] Dr Mike T Nelson: carbs? Yeah. Yeah. I, it’s, I don’t, yeah. Yeah. It just seems so wacky that every little diet is, you know, okay, what food group am I gonna demonize? Right? And again, there’s some. , there’s some truth to all of it, right? Which makes it confusing for the consumer. Um, but most people would do better with some carbohydrates in their diet, right?
Because you need some fuel source for those higher intensity exercise sessions. Now Grant, if you look at what the average American needs, it’s probably a little bit too high in carbohydrates. It might do better with more protein a little bit. Um, , you could play around with different types of fat too. But in the fitness spirit, it seems like everybody wants to go one extreme to the end.
It’s like, no, no. To be metabolically flexible, you have to only be keto because that’s gonna increase your body’s ability to use fat, which is a hundred percent true. But if you’re trying to do some high intensity exercise on a keto program, either gonna have to really modify your rest periods or you’re gonna have to live with a little bit less, uh, power output.
And for some people, if they want to modify it, that. That’s, you know, totally fine. Again, if you go a hundred percent in on carbohydrates all the time. You might not be able to use fat as well either. Um, and if we look at again, what is the state of someone who is very metabolically healthy, you should be able to use both and you should be able to switch back and forth depending upon what’s actually present at that time.
And then in reality, that makes it easier for most people to live a real life too, cuz they’re gonna have social events, they’re probably gonna have birthday cake once in a while. Or they’re gonna have events that tend to be more carbohydrate. So if you have a harder time using carbohydrates, you know, those events are gonna be, I would say, more, more difficult than two.
[00:24:45] Diana Walley: so we’re talking about this here in the new year, and a lot of people have their mind on weight loss or improving their body composition. How does metabolic flexibility support that type of a goal? Why would somebody want to even consider the importance of metabolic flexibility for that purpose?
[00:25:05] Dr Mike T Nelson: in my experience, it just, it just makes it easier to be in a caloric deficit, right? Because a lot of people who argue, ah, you know, it doesn’t matter. It’s all just calories and calories out. And yes, that’s a hundred percent true. Calories absolutely do matter. Um, but. What I found is if you’re metabolically flexible, it’s easier for you to do for something like fasting.
So in general, if people are looking for body composition changes, I would tell ’em to take like their Tuesday or Thursday and work up to do one longer period of fasting. Fasting being defined as a period of time or you’re not really consuming anything with calories. So you may simple, the thing I tell people to do is just, uh, push your breakfast to lunch on, let’s say next Tuesday, you’re just doing some low intensity cardio.
You don’t need a lot of carbohydrates present. You’re not doing any high intensity work. And then the following Tuesday, you don’t have to do this every day, but the following Tuesday, uh, maybe see if you can add a couple more hours to that. Maybe you can go till maybe one in the afternoon and the goal is over six to eight.
that Tuesday would be a period of fastening for about 19 to 24 hours. So during that period of time, you are lowering calories cuz you’re fasted, right? So you cut out like a whole bunch of calories from their diet and then you also have a lower insulin condition. So you’re pushing your body to train it to use more fat during that time.
Um, so I like using a little bit longer period of fasting, but. For most people, probably about like once, uh, per week. And what I’ve found is people who are more metabolically flexible, it’s just easier for them to do longer periods of fasting. So it becomes more of a, a realistic option. So if you’re stuck in the airport for another four to six hours, yeah, you may not have the best food sources around.
So you could either not worry about it and just have some higher carbohydrate things. It’ll probably be fine. Or you’re like, I don’t know, I fasted for like 19 hours last Tuesday. I’m just not gonna eat for four hours and I’m I’ll be fine. Right. So I think it gives you more options than what you would have otherwise.
And the nice part is like you’re literally not doing anything else. Like you’re, you’re saving money, you’re not, there’s no food prep, there’s nothing else. So in terms of like ease of execution, there isn’t really anything that’s that much easier once your body is trained in order to be able to. . Yeah. And I,
[00:27:27] Diana Walley: you know, in that situation, you’re not putting your body under, um, chronic stress because Nope.
Depleting cal, you know, reducing calories day in and day out. Correct. And it’s just, you know, one day at a time and the rest of the day your body feels okay. So it’s, I mean, you’ll feel okay on the fast anyway, but you know, my point is you’re not chronically stressing the body by depriving it, so,
[00:27:49] Dr Mike T Nelson: yeah.
Right. See how that works. And for work, a lot of people like, and I’ve played with this forever for stuff and. . Some people may argue that, well, you know, you should just have a, a low carbohydrate day. You should still eat some protein, have some vegetables, and yeah, I, I think that can work. That’s a valid approach.
But one weird thing I’ve noticed with pretty much everyone is. , it’s generally easier for them to do a period of fasting where they don’t consume anything with calories than it was to take like two days to be like ultra LowCal. Mm-hmm. . There’s just something weird. I don’t know how it’s like the brain is regulating satiety or hunger signals or whatever that as soon as you start eating something, , it’s just harder to have these very, very low calorie days.
It was easier paradoxically to not eat any calories for a period of time than to be like, okay, every Tuesday, Thursday, I’m just eating protein and veggies. You know? It’s like that can work for a while, but, , in my experience, it was easier for people to pick one of those days and do like a 19 hour fast, uh, than it was to try to just do some very ultra low caloric intake.
Mostly just from a compliance and a satiety. Uh, they just get hungrier in that state for some reason.
[00:28:58] Kristen Burkett: Totally agree. So
[00:29:00] Diana Walley: how would we know if we, if we are, we’ve hit that golden moment of metabolic flexibility? Is there any way, do you feel something different? Is there any way to tell.
[00:29:11] Dr Mike T Nelson: in the lab, we can use fancy equipment like a metabolic heart and measure a whole bunch of stuff.
Um, in practice, the two bookends I use would be for the use of fat. Can you do like a 19 to 24 hour fast? Yes, you’re probably gonna be a little bit hungry, but can you generally go and perform the rest of your day-to-day activities like mental performances? Good. You don’t feel horrible. Um, I’d say you’re probably pretty good at using fat as a fuel source.
On the other end of the spectrum, uh, for carbohydrate use, I have what I call the, the two poptart tests, which freaks out every nutritionist on the planet , like, can you eat two poptarts and not end up under your table and like an insulin induced stupor, right? You, it’s 80 grams of highly processed, you know, carbohydrate sores, like the frosting doesn’t even melt in the toaster.
It’s probably some ceramic from NASA or something like that. Like they’ll live through a nuclear hol. , like, so can you get all the way to the right end of the spectrum, consume a lot of processed carbohydrates, and still be okay? Right? If you wanna take a nap 20 minutes after that, you might have a problem using carbohydrates.
And again, this doesn’t mean that you need to fast every day. It doesn’t mean breakfast every day is too pop-tarts. It’s just those are kind of your, your bookends of extremes on both sides to see how you’re doing with the use of fat and the use of carbohydrates. Mm.
[00:30:33] Kristen Burkett: Yeah, hopefully someone doesn’t, doesn’t clip that and say, oh, we love
[00:30:37] Dr Mike T Nelson: Poptarts
Oh yeah. They always into emails. Of course, of course.
[00:30:41] Kristen Burkett: Yeah, I did. Yeah, I know. It’s been such a long time since I had a poptart. They are delicious. But you’re right, they could be plastic.
[00:30:48] Dr Mike T Nelson: It’s hard to say. Yeah. Yeah. They’re the only time I actually really eat them because people send me stuff all the time is when I do a lot of kite boarding, just because it’s a easy source of carbohydrates and if I leave ’em in the car, they don’t even melt, so I don’t worry about it
[00:31:02] Kristen Burkett: Perfect. I’ll take some camping next. Time. Yeah, there you go. Um, yeah. Yeah. Okay. So, um, just getting back to, cuz I know, um, Kristen definitely had some, some nutrition questions mm-hmm. , but, um, I just wanted to get back to, so you gave us a template, which was great for, um, exercise, which I think was fantastic.
So a, so a six day template and I’m assuming one day off. .
[00:31:25] Dr Mike T Nelson: Yeah. Sunday would be like your, your day off. And normally like talking about pop nutrition. Yeah. Pop tars. Just kidding. Um, most of the time I’d say just take the time you’re gonna train and use that for your food prep. Oh, that’s
[00:31:37] Kristen Burkett: great. That’s actually a great idea.
So what about, do you have any sort of template, um, you know what, again, what the average person could do to become more metabolically flexible through nutri.
[00:31:51] Dr Mike T Nelson: Sure. In general, if you look at a, like a macronutrient based approach, right? Because people, the first question they’re like, well, how many carbohydrates gonna eat?
How much fat, how much protein? And for protein, most of literature would say on the high end, probably about 0.7 grams per pound of body weight. This is a good number to shoot for. So if you weigh 200 pounds, 200 times, 0.7 would be 140 grams of protein per. Uh, super simple method I use for males would be the four by 40 approach.
So four meals with 40 grams of protein at each one. You know, females can kind of do like a four by 30 approach, four meals at 30 grams each. What’s gonna get you pretty darn close for most people, um, because you want enough protein to trigger the process of actually building up, uh, muscle tissue. Uh, protein is good for satiety and a bunch of other things.
Uh, fat in general without knowing the person, I tend to go a little bit lower, so maybe 60 to 80 grams per day. Uh, guys can probably get by with lower fat than females can, but if you’re in the 68 grams day, that’s definitely lower, but it’s not so low. You’re gonna impede hormone function in a bunch of other stuff.
Um, carbohydrates unfortunately are the hardest one to figure. So if I could come up with a magical formula to sell, to tell you exactly how many carbohydrates you need, I could go retire and, I don’t know, go kiteboarding every day or something, . But I’ve just seen way too much variability. I’ve seen, I worked with, uh, a female physique competitor who had a lot of muscle, but she was, you know, on the shorter side, you only wait about 120 pounds.
and she was eating on average 350 grams of carbohydrates a week and was incredibly lean. And I’ve had guys twice week per size. Say
[00:33:42] Diana Walley: again? A week or a day? You said A week per a day. Week or a day. Oh, per day. Wow. Day.
[00:33:46] Dr Mike T Nelson: That’s amazing. Yeah, which is crazy. Right? And she was ridiculously lean, . Um, and I’ve worked with guys twice their size who were eating like half that amount.
Um, so it, it. And I don’t know why it is, but it just appears to be incredibly variable. So what I would tell people then is you kind of have a marker for protein. You kind have a marker for fat and for carbohydrates, you’re gonna slowly go up and try to find the sweet spot of your performances pretty good when you’re doing exercise.
And then your body comp is slowly moving in the right direction. If performance is still good and body comp not going in the right direction, I would either add a day of fasting or I would slowly start to reduce the amount of carbohydrates. If you find that your weight loss is great, maybe a little bit too fast, and your performance is horrible, you can probably increase the carbohydrates a little bit.
Um, so you kind of have to play around with it, unfortunately to kind of figure out what’s the, the best number for where you. .
[00:34:46] Diana Walley: When you talk about carbohydrates, I know I have a lot of people ask me, does it matter if the carbohydrate source is from grains, starchy vegetables, processed foods? Do you have any thoughts on what the best carbohydrate fuel source is?
Like what’s, what tends to, you know, give us the results that we’re looking for in a
[00:35:07] Dr Mike T Nelson: healthy way? Yeah, I would say in general, The more metabolically healthy someone is, it seems to matter less and less. Um, if they’re a little bit more metabolically unhealthy or they have, you know, some people don’t tolerate gluten real well.
I doesn’t bother me. Like I, we go out to dinner and my wife doesn’t handle gluten very well, so I just eat all of her bread. Works, works fine for me. . Um, so there’s a lot of individual vari. Um, but most people like having some vegetables. I usually have ’em start with, um, I would say non-starchy vegetables, you know, like, um, broccoli, green beans, spinach, that kind of stuff.
And then add some, uh, fruits, especially berries. They tend to not have too many carbohydrates. And then once you get that kind of establi, , then I’ll play around with adding more what’s classically called starches to their diet. Uh, some type of, um, potatoes, yams, white rice, uh, different things like that, that those tend to be very low inflammatory.
Most people tend to handle them pretty good in terms of weird reactions or anything like that, and they can use that to kind of fill in their total carbohydrate. And then based on social interactions and what they kind of react to, uh, you can kind of play with, you know, other foods and that type of thing too.
So it takes a little playing around with, but I think starting with more non-starchy vegetables and then if you do need more calories from carbohydrates, it’s easy to add, you know, more white rice, potatoes, things of that nature. .
[00:36:39] Kristen Burkett: Mm-hmm. . And I just wanna highlight something that you’ve, you’ve mentioned several times is that it takes a little playing around with a little tinkering.
Yep. So everybody’s different. Mm-hmm. there isn’t, there isn’t a one size fits all, so, no, I really, yeah, I really appreciate that approach, that it does take some tinkering to figure out what’s, what’s
[00:36:58] Dr Mike T Nelson: best for you. Yeah. And that’s the hard reality is that nobody wants to hear, right? Mm-hmm. , you know, like even even with clients, I’ve done a better job of I think, educating people ahead of time, but in the past I didn’t, and people are like, oh, what’s my magical macros?
It’s like, eh, you know, we can find some stuff that works for you. And again, you don’t even have to follow a, a macronutrient based thing. You could just follow a habit. Eat more protein, have some fat eat vegetables that are not super starchy. Okay, now we’ll come add, you know, few other things in et cetera.
Mm-hmm. . Um, but yeah, even at the highest level, everyone’s gonna be a little bit different. Mm-hmm. . And then paradoxically, I would say once you get to your goal, like your performance is great, you’re at the body comp, you want, you know, you’re eating mostly Whole Foods. You don’t have any macro micronutrient deficiencies.
At that point, I asked people like, Hey, what do you want to eat for fun? like, yeah, what? handle and still feel good. All your health markers are fine. Body comp is fine. Um, because that’ll be easier in social situations and makes life somewhat livable too. Like nobody wants to eat, you know, soggy broccoli and, you know, shoe leathered, chicken breasts the rest of their life either.
Like that works. But I think once you get to where your goal is, uh, the question that most clients wanna ask but they never do is. Like how crappy can I eat and still feel pretty good and have good body composition and be healthy ? It’s usually not. How can I maximize this to the 99.999 percentile? .
[00:38:31] Kristen Burkett: Yeah.
Yeah. What can I get away with and still feel is good? Yeah. And I do like birthday parties and
[00:38:35] Dr Mike T Nelson: cake. Just Yeah. And it, those, there’s nothing wrong with going to social situations and Right. You know, that type of thing too. It’s just that again, everything seems to be all or nothing. Right. And would most people do better if they ate more protein and eat actual vegetables and all that kind of stuff?
Absolutely. Yeah. Does that mean that’s the only thing you have to do for the entire rest of your life? No, but that’s still probably gonna be the bulk of what you’re doing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have other foods and birthday cake and pizza and all that stuff once in a while either, right?
[00:39:07] Diana Walley: So are there any other factors you wanna mention that influence healthy body composition that we haven’t talked about?
[00:39:13] Dr Mike T Nelson: Um, I mean, we kind of mentioned sleep. Mm-hmm. . Um, I do think exercise is probably fairly talked about. I do think that aerobic capacity or VO two max probably doesn’t get enough lip service. Right. So how big is the engine of your metabolism? Some of that is based on muscle mass. Um, but I think most people do better with some dedicated blocks of aerobic training to at least get that up to a better level.
Right? So if you have a car, like if you can make the engine of the car bigger, it’s just gonna make, you’re gonna burn a lot more gas, right? You’re just gonna need a lot more fuel, period. Um, and the other part too, I’d say would be just step count. Um, you know, how many steps should you get per day?
Research would kind of support 8,000 to 12,000 per day. Um, that’s a, a general area. Um, and now it’s super easy with, you know, apple watches. I have a garment and or ring. It’s very easy to measure, uh, step. . And so I think that is something you can, uh, play around with. So for a lot of clients, like if their body comp is not kind of getting better, but they don’t even wanna lower calories anymore, I’ll look at their step count and sometimes it’s like, eh, I get like 4,000 steps a day.
Okay, so over a period of week. So we want to get you to probably eight. and that can make a huge difference in terms of uh, body composition and health and just general movement. Everything from getting outside to have better sunlight, to regulate your circadian rhythms. You can sleep better, uh, a little bit lowering your probably overall stress and a whole bunch of other things too.
So I would probably add step count and VO two max. That’ll be the other two. I
[00:40:55] Diana Walley: like that. Those are pretty simple things to. To work in. So I think just that everybody can do that for sure.
[00:41:02] Dr Mike T Nelson: That’s good. Yeah. A good thing that I, I tell people to do is if you can just get up and do an AM walk mm-hmm. , um, you don’t need to warm up, you probably just do it fast that it’s gonna be a little bit better.
Mm-hmm. , um, you can be outside, you can get, uh, sunlight into your eyeballs, which will help reset your circadian rhythms. You’ll be more awake during the day, actually tired at night, and you’ve already kind of started your day with a little bit of a. . And even if that’s only, you know, five or 10 minutes to start, you know, it’s, it’s something that Right.
Everybody can do. Don’t need a lot of technology, don’t really need any equipment, don’t need anything else. Mm-hmm. . Yeah,
[00:41:36] Kristen Burkett: and
[00:41:36] Diana Walley: go ahead. That’s probably the biggest benefit of having my dog is if I don’t go Yeah.
[00:41:40] Dr Mike T Nelson: Dogs are great for that. Yes. Yeah. It, it gives
[00:41:42] Diana Walley: you a reason. So sometimes you need, need that little push and so that could be
[00:41:46] Dr Mike T Nelson: Yeah, totally.
[00:41:48] Kristen Burkett: And, and I just wanted to share that, um, I know Kristen and I are on the same page with this, that. Some people might think 8,000 steps is overwhelming. That doesn’t have to be all at one time. No, that’s little per day, she said. Yeah, so, so you could, you know, to your point, you could do 10 minutes in the morning and then maybe 10 minutes, you know, after lunch and 10 minutes after dinner.
So those little exercise. Snacks. They can, they add up. So, so don’t be overwhelmed and think there’s no way I could get 8,000 steps. You’d be surprised by just doing a couple little walks, um, how much, how that, that it really compounds and adds up, um, by the end of the day. So,
[00:42:24] Dr Mike T Nelson: Yeah, and if your step count is real low, like you don’t have to magically get to eight or 10,000 steps overnight either.
Right. You know, if you’re hitting 4,000 steps on average per day, like, Hey, try to hit 5,000 and give yourself a couple weeks to do that. Yeah. You may have to program in some more dedicated time and park farther away and do all that kind of stuff, but it’s. . Yeah. It’s not something you have to get to immediately either.
Right. And on the high end, there’s some debatable research about what is sort of the cap. Probably 15,000 maybe. Okay. Um, that shows that if you go from 15,000 to 20,000 Yeah. You’re gonna burn a few more calories, but it’s not the same as going from 5,000 per day to 10,000. Right. It’s not a linear curve.
It kind of drops off, uh, somewhat towards, towards. Kind of like
[00:43:11] Diana Walley: most things. More’s not always better. Right? It’s just . Correct.
[00:43:15] Dr Mike T Nelson: Yeah. I guess some people are like, sweet spot. Yeah. Oh, well 10,000 burns this, so I’m gonna burn twice as many calories doing 20,000. It’s like, well, especially
[00:43:23] Kristen Burkett: in, in the circles that, you know, we operate in.
Of course, everybody, uh, thinks so. I got 30,000 steps today. How many did
[00:43:29] Diana Walley: you get? Yeah, yeah. So, okay. One other question that’s kind of splitting hairs, but I know I get this asked this all the time. When people start to work on extending their fasting time, like moving their breakfast and all of that, I always get the question, what breaks my fast?
What can, what is okay? Can I have a little bit of a super low calorie creamer in my coffee? Does that completely blow it? What are some of the parameters around that that, that we know?
[00:43:59] Dr Mike T Nelson: Yeah. So into what do you define as fasting? So in general, I separate ’em into are you doing the fast or are you doing like, kind of a low insulin condition, right?
So some people may argue that, well, I put like butter in my coffee and I put, you know, M C T oil, there’s no insulin release. So am I still fasting? Not really technically fasting because you consume calories. Are you still having a relatively low insulin period? Yes. Um, so in general, I kind of treat it on a one-off basis.
If somebody tells me like I have to have my coffee every morning and I put one creamer in it, if I don’t have that, my day is screwed, and you told me that I have to fast and I can’t have that, so I’m never gonna fast again. It’s like, okay. In that case then it’s probably not like a huge deal. But then of course, do you have other people who are like, well, I had a client once.
I couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t losing weight. We had, you know, tracked everything and this goes on and on for a. I call her on the phone. I’m like, okay, let’s go through your date. Tell me everything you’re doing, because nothing, something’s not adding up. Like 20 minutes into the conversation, she’s like, well, I have like three coffees a day.
I said, oh, okay. Is it black coffee? She’s like, no, I put, uh, butter and MCT oil in it. I’m like, oh. I said, well, how much? It’s like two tablespoons, like each time. She’s like, yeah, and I’m, I’m like, well, how many of these do you have per day? She’s like, well, I usually have like three. Wow. And I’m like, oh. and she’s like, but there’s no insulin release, so it’s fine.
Right? I’m like, yes, but that’s a huge amount, amount of extra, extra calorie calories, calorie that you’re like not accounting for. And so we cut her back to, you know, one per day and she started losing weight, you know? Yeah. So at the end of the day, like calories do matter, and it’s kind of an individual basis of what kind of trade offs are you willing to make.
Um, but your question’s a good one. I thought, like when I started talking about fasting, which I got from Brad, uh, Pilon back in the day he’d stop eating. Yes. Uh, awesome dude. I remember emailing him once and saying, Hey, Your ebook, what is this? Like two pages, right? It should just say, don’t eat for this period of time.
Like you can’t get any questions on this, can you? And he is like, oh my God, the amount of questions I get is insane . And so then I started talking about it and I was like, oh my gosh, he’s right. You know, like questions from, well, could I have a diet soda because it has one calorie? Is that calorie gonna screw me up?
Yeah, probably not. And if that makes you easier to do a period of fasting, then you know, don’t worry about it. You know, all the way. . Well, could I have like chicken and broccoli with olive oil because there’s no insulin released. Then it’s like, no, you just ate a meal. Like you missed the . Yeah. So I, and I find that people generally do better with like hard yes and no, right?
Mm-hmm. , yes, you have black coffee in the morning, don’t have anything else that has a calorie. If you want sugar free stuff during the day, great. I don’t worry that much about it. Um, but. . Yeah. Again, it’s like what is the person actually gonna do? The other thing I would add that I have changed is that you probably want to consume more fluid and also paradoxically sodium and some type of electrolytes.
Mm-hmm. , uh, that’ll actually make fasting way easier. That’s one thing I screwed up up until recently, cuz if you think about, okay, I did 24 hours, like you’ll probably be fine, but you are not eating anything. So your sodium intake went from whatever it was to literal. Zero. Um, and that can be a little bit difficult for people.
So I find using a higher sodium type of electrolyte, I use, uh, element, but there’s other ones you can use also. Mm-hmm. , um, that actually makes it quite a bit easier. Mm-hmm.
[00:47:40] Diana Walley: And it makes you feel like you’re actually. consuming something. Cause it has a great flavor. Yes, .
[00:47:45] Dr Mike T Nelson: Yeah. Yeah. And actually tastes good.
Takes the edge off that Robin, those guys. I’m like, holy crap. You made salty water taste good. That’s amazing. Yeah. ,
[00:47:52] Diana Walley: the element
[00:47:53] Kristen Burkett: is so good. I know. The lemon lime I is so good. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I, I once to your funny, um, client story. I had a client ask me in regards to fasting, whether brushing her teeth broke her fast.
And I said, well, do you swallow your toothpaste? Are you eating it? Yeah.
[00:48:09] Diana Walley: your toothpaste. Oh yeah. You never know. So how about you personally, Mike? How do you incorporate some of your, um, your principles into your daily life?
[00:48:22] Dr Mike T Nelson: in general for me, I find by bracketing a time period for exercise and then I’ll track step count.
Like I have a watch, I have a garment, watch that I’ll track that. Uh, living in Minnesota in the winter when I’m actually home, like I usually have to budget time to actually physically walk outside cuz I won’t get enough steps just being inside, especially working online. Um, and then from there, just kind of backing up to, you know, setting up most of my nutrition for the day.
Uh, Sundays or during the week, um, have most of my protein already made. Usually for most people, like not having protein cooked is gonna be a big rate limiter or a big stop. Cause they’re like, oh my God, I gotta make this meal and it’s gonna be like 20 minutes to cook the damn chicken breast or whatever.
Ah, screw it. I’ll do something else. Right? Or if you just have to reheat it. Well only takes a couple minutes. So making sure that’s kind of, uh, ready to go. And then, you know, from there, it just depends on where I’m at and what I’m doing and what my goals actually are. Um, you know, if I’m trying to get leaner, then I’m probably gonna be a lot more cognizant about what I’m doing for nutrition.
If I have, my activity level is super high. So we were down in South Padre, Texas and we were kite boarding most every other day whenever we could. It’s kind of scary to nutritionist, but I don’t worry that much about my nutrition at that point. Yes, I’m still eating mostly Whole Foods. I’ll drink a beer and have poptarts after I’m done riding.
I just expended like a two, you know, 1200 calories over four and a half hours. I’m not really gonna worry that much about it. Um, so again, I think it depends on the, the conditions you’re in, but I also know I don’t live down there. I’m not there like, you know, every day out of the year. So it’s a short period of time.
And then I come back home and then it looks quite a bit. So I think having, you know, periods of time where you can have things be a little bit more influx, I think is gonna make your life easier and more sustainable. And if you look at the big picture over a, a couple years to a couple decades, you’re probably doing more things better than you would saying I’m just gonna be super hardcore for like two weeks, and then the next two weeks looks like a complete Trashman fire at that point.
[00:50:31] Diana Walley: Yeah. So for those of us that say we can look at a piece of birthday cake and gain weight going on, the metabolic flexibility bandwagon might help us get to the point where we could actually eat that cake and not feel like we’re gonna gain weight from it. So I think there’s a lot to be said for getting your body to the point where you can have that flexibility and not have to worry
[00:50:51] Dr Mike T Nelson: about everything you.
Yeah, and like I said, if you have a bigger, if you have more muscle and you have a bigger aerobic engine, like you’re literally burning more fuel, right? And if you’re doing that in a healthy way, it’s gonna make controlling calories like way easier than you know, unfortunately. It’s generally more. Females that tend to go on, like, I don’t know why someone said 1200 calories is the magical thing and probably end up doing too much cardio.
Probably not enough high intensity and not enough weight training. Um, guys do the inverse. They do too much weight training and not enough cardio, , cardiovascular training, so, yeah. Right.
[00:51:28] Diana Walley: Okay. Well, um, can you tell us more about the resources that you have available for our audience? Like your book, podcast, social media, what would you like to.
[00:51:38] Dr Mike T Nelson: Sure. So people are learning more about, uh, flexible dieting, metabolic flexibility. Uh, the main one would be, uh, the flex Diet certification. That email@example.com.
So what that is, is there are eight interventions from protein, fats, carbohydrates, neat exercise, sleep, fasting, and then it’s set up and you’ll learn about what is metabolic flexibility. And then you’ll also learn within each one, uh, so like protein. What are you need to learn about protein within less than an hour?
And then there’ll be five action steps per each one in a system that tells you how do you apply them either to yourself or to your clients. So you learn the big picture about the theory, you learn the individual details that you would need to know, and then you learn exactly how you would apply that to make it be useful.
Then we’ve got interviews from like researchers for protein like Sue Phillips, Jose Antonio Flexible Diet, and Dr. Eric Helms. And so there’s a bunch of experts in there. So that’s firstname.lastname@example.org. And then I also have a podcast, which is Flex Diet Podcast. So it’s kind of a wide ranging thing from fitness, um, and nutrition geared more towards a flexible approach.
And then the main site would be mike t nelson.com. Uh, most information I have actually goes out onto the newsletter, so you can just go to mike c nelson.com and sign up to the newsletter. And once you’re on there, you can just hit reply. Tell them that you heard me on this podcast and we’ll send you a cool free gift.
[00:53:06] Diana Walley: generous. Thanks for offering that for sure. That’s
[00:53:09] Kristen Burkett: great. Thank you. Happy New Year. Yeah. Well, Mike, one of the, um, or a couple of the reasons that we appreciate you so much are that you’re evidence-based, but so relatable. So thank you for making a complex. Topic really easy to understand and this is something that our listeners can go implement tomorrow.
So our hope is that this really helps people to kick off the new year on the right foot and really make positive change and be healthier in 2023 than they ever were
[00:53:39] Dr Mike T Nelson: before. Yeah. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that cuz I. Sit around and read all sorts of research and do crazy experiments, but if people can’t make use of that and put it into practical terms and make sense to ’em, it’s not really helping that many people at the end of the day.
So thank you. I appreciate that.
[00:53:57] Kristen Burkett: Well, thank you again and thank you to everybody for watching and listening, and we can’t wait to see you next time. Take care if
[00:54:04] Diana Walley: you’d like to access other episodes or subscribe so you don’t miss a beat, you can find us. amp.org/np-podcast.
[00:54:15] Kristen Burkett: Membership in the NA P provides you with a competitive advantage.
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