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Juliet: [3:20] Robb Wolf, welcome to The Ready State Podcast.
Robb: [3:24] It is an honor to be here. I am always happy to bring down property values wherever I go.
Kelly: [3:31] Speaking of property values, I hope your daughter is okay. You guys have made a recent move to Texas, and what just happened?
Robb: [3:38] Well, she was — Sagan, our youngest, was outside picking blackberries and was rooting around under a bush, and then came in and looked kind of like something was wrong. She had a big handful full of blackberries. And I’m like hey, what’s up? And she’s like nothing. And she like shoulders past me. And then she goes to mom and she says hey, I think something bit me. And so we looked on her leg, and right on her left VMO are two puncture wounds that to my eye, and to the eye of the emergency room physician, and to the eyes of many other people that looked at it, looked remarkably like a snake bite. Based off the way that she described it, like an electrical zing, followed by a little bit of redness, but no cellulitis, no necrotic tissue —
Juliet: [4:33] Oh my God.
Robb: [4:33] We’re assuming that it was — and I’m doing air quotes here — only a “double tap” from a scorpion at this point, so yeah.
Kelly: [4:45] Well, this is — one, that’s so terrifying. Juliet and I spend so much time in the desert. I’m glad your family is safe so far. I mean I have read “The Pearl.” It’s a cautionary tale. But that really does set up our conversation with you about being — you are the first person in our life who said, hey, maybe it’s not just macronutrients and trying to eat — like counting guacamole and chips and a beer as like a balanced meal. And you said, hey, really food quality matters. And this is 15 years ago to everyone. I mean you were the first person who said, hey look, you really got to pay attention to this, and you’re missing a third or more of the puzzle. And I think this idea of your daughter foraging for blackberries and having a mishap is really the allegory of our time around people thinking about food or eating, even like one step removed from food, right, eating something and trying to tweak their health, and yet tripping on themselves. So I’m psyched to get into it today.
Robb: [5:49] Awesome. Thank you.
Juliet: [5:49] So Robb, we know obviously that you started out in your professional life as a research biochemist. Tell us how you switched into being a Paleo, Keto expert among a thousand —
Robb: [6:04] Purveyor of pseudoscience?
Juliet: [6:07] Purveyor of nutrition information over the last 15 years. Kelly and I obviously know quite a bit about this story, but please share.
Robb: [6:15] Yeah. You know, I had a really significant health crisis. I had ulcerative colitis so bad at the ripe old age of about 26, 27 that I was facing a bowel resection. And I was in — right getting ready to start either a PhD track, an MD track, or an MD-PhD track, and so I was steeped well enough in this area that I knew that getting a bowel resection at that age wasn’t really going to bode well for me long term. Again, I had ulcerative colitis. And through kind of an interesting set of circumstances, the possibility that I might be really reactive to most grains, most legumes, and dairy kind of got on my radar.
And when that idea just kind of was thrown on top of me, I was sitting there thinking, man, if you don’t eat grains, legumes and dairy, what on earth do you eat, you know? It was just kind of this free associative deal and I was like, oh. And mind you, this was back in 1998. And I was like, huh, so those things are like agriculture? What did we do before agriculture? We were hunter/gatherers. What do you call that? I was like oh, a Paleolithic diet, I’ve heard of something like that. So I went in to the house, turned on the computer, waited for it to like chirp and whizzle and do all of its stuff, get the dial up connection going. And then there was this nifty new search engine called Google. And into Google I put the term Paleolithic diet. And I found some work from Arthur De Vany and also Loren Cordain. And Lauren had just published this really remarkably powerful paper called Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword. And it talked about how we probably wouldn’t have civilization as we know it without the advent of agriculture, but that maybe don’t want to make people uncomfortable, but maybe there are tradeoffs in biology. Maybe a gain in one area could lead to problems or deficiencies in other areas. And a big part of what he detailed was really significant gut pathology from these kinds of immunogenic foods that at least for my biology maybe weren’t well set up to handle.
And so I tweaked my diet towards what we would now call kind of a low carb Paleo-Keto type approach. And that was 22 years ago. And I’ve tinkered and fiddled and tried other stuff along the way. But for me, this kind of ancestral health model leaning towards the lower carb side has been kind of my safe place. Like when you’re kids and you’re playing tag, there’s this home base. Like that’s my home base. And I do a little bit of tinkering and fiddling. But that’s still kind of the — for my bullseye, that’s where I get about 80, 85 percent close to what I need, is just using that kind of worldview.
Kelly: [9:21] You guys, you and your wife, have probably put more time on the internet answering questions, complex, around complex personal biology, and all things as it relates to trying to use food as medicine or food as a healing vehicle, not even just trying to make it medicine, than anyone else. But I also want to just appreciate that you have always kept your foot rooted in performance. You’ve owned a strength and conditioning gym. It was one of the best gyms in the country. You guys are both incredible athletes. You’ve been working alongside athletes.
Are we at odds trying to — you know because at our local market, and we live in Marin here, there are three magazines at the checkout counter now called Paleo Life or some iteration of that, right? So that ship has sailed. I mean, our neighbors are like, I eat Paleo, and I’m like what does that mean to you. And they’re like, you know — you know, I’m like fermented hornet’s nest soup, is that what you mean by Paleo? Do you forage for scorpion berries? But how do we — are those things at odds in terms of fueling and trying to reduce crappy carbohydrate in my diet? I mean how do I make sense of both of those things because I think we’re in a world of high-octane intensity, right? I mean isn’t that sugar burning?
Robb: [10:51] Yeah, generally. And you know, this is an interesting thing. As much genius as I think came out of the concept of CrossFit and the sickness, wellness, fitness continuum, I don’t think that it was an infinite continuum, that there were actually — it’s like taking derivatives. There are inflection points where we might get a diversion. In my head I saw this more interestingly, as you guys are The Ready State, but in chemistry and physics there’s the triple point, the triple state, you know, where a gas, a liquid all exist at the same, you know, where they interface at the same temperature and pressure. And in my head, I’ve kind of seen that divergence of performance, health, and longevity as sometimes they’re supported. Sometimes they may be antagonistic.
And I think that one takeaway from this exploration of kind of like foraging elite fitness is that at some point, the volume and intensity of that type of training becomes antithetical to health. But then at the same time, the fueling necessary to support that degree of output, which I mean if you can make a seven-figure plus career winning competitions like that and getting endorsement deals, then by all means, the cost benefit story may be favorable for you. But very similar to the droves of cyclist clients that we had early on that would look at what, you know, Lance Armstrong ate and assume that they could do the same thing, but yet they still had a body mass index of Jupiter, you know. It was like this shit’s not working for you guys.
So you know, there’s definitely divergences and inflection points, and there are places where if the performance really needs to go, particularly at that high motor side of things, then the more refined carbohydrate becomes a necessity kind of non-negotiable. But it is interesting, the other side of this thing, you know, Zach Bitter, who has set the world record for the indoor 100 mile race, and he’s done a bunch of other 100 mile races, he’s pretty much like carnivore. Although he will use some really targeted carbs. But it’s interesting. And they do a significant bulk of his training and his yearly periodization in a very low carb state.
But still, when it’s time to really be high motor, even people who train 95 percent of the time low carb, they know that dense carbohydrate sources, you know, can be a game changer for them, used under the right circumstance. But it is powerful medicine. Like this is maybe just a little bit of cautionary tale for folks, is that if you spend more of your life sitting on your duff like I do, than being a SEAL or a hard charging athlete or something like that, then we may need to revisit the glycemic load that you’re experiencing and think about ways of eating so that we spontaneously reduce calorie intake and we can maintain that more or less effortlessly versus needing a lockbox on the refrigerator.
Juliet: [14:19] You know, I actually have a distinct memory of seeing this shift, speaking of sort of high-intensity CrossFit game style athletes, where at one competition in let’s say 2011, I saw everyone eating sweet potatoes and broccoli and what looked to be like a pretty strict Paleo diet. And then literally one year later, as the games started becoming more intense, a full-time job, full-time sport, endorsement deals, you name it, we actually went to an event, and I was like wow, everybody is just eating all the refined carbs. Like it was just this — I don’t know, it just seemed to be this quick switch where I think people realized for better or worse in order to sort of manage that level of volume, that they had to add back in the refined carbs. So —
Kelly: [15:08] And let me ask you as a follow up, that seems pretty reasonable. For an average person, a mortal, is that like a 90/10 rule? I mean I get that it depends and there’s a lot going on. Certainly, I’m a 47-year-old guy and I’m not very elite. But is that a good way of thinking about really looking at carbohydrate as like kerosene I’m dumping on a fire a few times, maybe once a week or twice a week for short times and really trying to think about using that? On the other hand, just trying to, what is it, live low, train high sort of idea? Do you think that’s because we always think, what can we learn from sport, but is that a more sustainable model or at least a starting place that seems reasonable? Or am I just still spiking the football over my 11-year-old daughter?
Robb: [16:03] Yeah. I — it’s tough because we have to definitely respect individual biology. So like one of the main drivers for writing my second book, Wired to Eat, was this amazing work that came out of the Weizmann Institute in Israel. And they did just an amazing study, 800 people in this study. They did a full gut microbiome analysis, a full genetic screen, really extensive lipidology testing. And then they started feeding these folks different types of meals and different types specifically of carbohydrates. And then looking at what the blood glucose response was to these feedings. And what they found was that there was virtually no rhyme or reason in the way that people responded to food. Some people would eat a banana and they would have nearly diabetic blood sugar levels, but if they ate a chocolate chip cookie —
Kelly: [17:02] Knew it.
Robb: [17:02] It looked like they drank water. I mean it just didn’t budge. And this just kind of it was, you know, we always love either confirmation bias or something that, you know, you’re actually on to something. And I’m not entirely sure which of these this was. But I had had this sense, and I’m like fuck, man, some people really seem to motor along pretty well with a good amount of carbs. And even if it’s fairly refined, they just do well. And we would do a little bit of blood sugar testing on these people. And again, this was really early. And I don’t really think I had the orientation to see what was going on more deeply here.
But what I would notice is that the people who did well with carbs would eat a very carbohydrate rich meal, but their blood glucose response looked like my blood glucose response to eating a low carb meal. And that was really kind of the takeaway. And when we looked — if we do pull a page out of kind of the ancestral health model, the ancestral health story, the average blood glucose that’s been tracked in pre-agricultural societies is really low. Even if they’re eating like an 80 percent carb diet, they don’t get these really extreme blood sugar excursions. Now is it due to —
Kelly: [18:20] And when you say low, I mean give us a vital sign point.
Robb: [18:23] It’s rarely, if ever, getting above say like 115 nanograms per decimeter. Really rare.
Kelly: [18:32] Wow. Okay.
Robb: [18:32] And this is people are eating 80 percent of their calories from carbohydrates. Whereas in our world, we don’t really start getting concerned about blood glucose levels postprandial, post meal, until it gets 140, 160, and then we’re like, oh well, maybe we need to think about doing something around that. And what I took away from the Weizmann Institute work and some work that people like Stephan Guyenet, who looked at these blood glucose levels in pre-Westernized societies, is that if we get these excursions that are real high, which tend to be followed then by a real low, this has a lot of negative effects on our physiology. Like there’s a pretty good case to be made that the primary precipitator of coronary events may be blood sugar excursions, not necessarily lipid dynamics. And so a high to low in blood glucose correlates shockingly tightly with precipitating different clotting events. So that’s kind of an interesting thing.
But from the general kind of ability to maintain a healthy body weight, going from a high blood sugar to a low blood sugar is a fantastic way to make yourself hungry and chronically hungry. And so this is the thing that, you know, when you look at folks like Layne Norton or different people, it’s kind of that analogy of the four blind men holding the elephant and one’s got the trunk and one’s got the ear and all that. And so we each kind of have a little piece of the puzzle. And calories absolutely matter, but there is also kind of a reality that higher protein intake in general tends to lead to more satiety. Like less kind of gnarly hunger signaling. And then finding the appropriate glycemic load is an incredibly powerful tool for folks. And I know that this was kind of a wandering, meandering answer.
But this is where — when Nicki and I did this experiment kind of supporting the launch of Wired to Eat, she’s 40 pounds lighter than I am. But we would each eat 50 grams of carbohydrate from like rice or potatoes or corn tortillas or what have you. And even though she’s smaller than I am, which you would assume that if she eats the same amount of carbs, that if she’s smaller, there’s less volume there to dilute it. But her blood glucose might get 115, 120 from that. And mine would be 190 to 200 and I felt horrible. I had vision changes. And I’m like oh, this is what I’ve always experienced.
Kelly: [21:21] Wow.
Robb: [21:21] I’ve tried to eat low fat, higher carb because that’s supposed to facilitate insulin sensitivity. And I would mainly partition my carbs post workout and I did apple cider vinegar because that blunts the glycemic load. And none of that stuff really works for me. And then I did a little genetic testing and every genetic test I’ve done, it’s basically like you have zero carb tolerance, you know. And so which again, you know, confirmation bias. But I think that this is a really important thing to take away. Within the population, I would — and people like Barry Sears have thrown this number out, that 75 percent, somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of the population, isn’t really well set up for carbohydrate tolerance, particularly as we age. Like once you get past about age 40, people usually start seeing some real significant changes in the way that they respond to dense amounts of carbohydrate. Maybe 20 percent of people do pretty well with it. Maybe there’s changes in our gut microbiome that drive that or whatever.
But I’ve been really at a loss for what to do in that story, other than some experimentation to figure out where your good operating parameters are. How do you look, how do you feel, how do you perform? How do lab values look when we tweak one variable or another? And just kind of finding a glycemic load that works for you. And for a lot of people, it tends to be in that 50 to 75 grams of carbs per day level. If you want to make that bread and tortillas, I guess that’s fine, but you just don’t get a lot of nutrition out of that. So that’s where like shifting more towards fruits, vegetables, roots, tubers, you get more nutrition, you tend to get more satiety and that sort of thing.
Juliet: [23:14] So what you’re saying is if someone is listening to this, there’s not some magic test you can go out and take to determine whether you are someone who manages carbs well like Nicki does or does not like you?
Robb: [23:26] Well, it’s interesting. The folks from the Weizmann Institute, they have spun off a commercial thing with this, and I have no financial ties with this, but it’s called DAYTWO, I believe. And in theory, what they’re able to do is test your gut microbiome, do a few other things, and they did some machine learning around the information that they had and were in theory able to kind of look at this from the back end. So based on your gut microbiome, based off of a survey, they are able to predict certain foods and amounts that in theory you would do better or worse with. I have not seen a ton of validation on that, but it is coming from this original work from the Weizmann Institute. So in theory, that thing could at least provide some initial insight. And it’s not super expensive. It’s $100, $110 something like that, to do it. So it could be a worthwhile whistle stop in figuring this stuff out. But I think just a little experimentation can go a long way on this too.
Juliet: [24:32] Yeah, I mean I love just the general point you’ve made though that we’re not all the same, and what works for one may not work for another. And I do think that’s such an important message to people, is that it really is about experimenting, starting to figure out, sort of pay attention to your body and see how you feel and what works well and how you perform athletically. You know, to me that’s such an important part of all this, and I think often lost in the commercialization of various nutrition strategies and so forth. But anyway, I just wanted to say I really appreciate that. Question for you because I do get this question a lot from people. Can you explain the difference between Paleo and Keto and —
Kelly: [25:15] No, no, just summarize all the research in like two soundbites.
Juliet: [25:16] Well, yeah, just Reader’s Digest version. But I know that a lot of people who were once known as the Paleo people are now the Keto people. And at least among friends of mine, I think that’s been a source of confusion.
Robb: [25:31] Yeah, and I would probably be one of those folks. Although it’s kind of funny, if you look at my first book and when it was written, I wouldn’t even say Paleo was hot yet because that was the first book that kind of —
Kelly: [25:44] Oh no.
Juliet: [25:44] No, it was not.
Robb: [25:45] There wasn’t a Paleo genre before that.
Kelly: [25:46] You outran your coverage so far.
Robb: [25:51] Yeah. So my perspective on this is Paleo is really concerned about food quality. And by exclusion, it’s generally putting a little bit of a stink eye towards grains, legumes and dairy, just in real simple terms. And then from there, you can kind of slice and dice the macronutrients, high carb, low carb, high fat, low fat, that’s up to you.
And then a ketogenic diet, and there’s a lot of different iterations on the ketogenic diet, the original iteration on the ketogenic diet was developed almost 100 years ago; 2021 will be 100 years of the epilepsy based ketogenic diet that was developed. When folks observed that people with really intractable epilepsy did remarkably well while fasting, and they would enter into a ketogenic state where, instead of running primarily on glucose, their bodies tended to run more on ketone bodies. And so there was a very high fat, low carb, low to moderate protein diet that was developed around that. And they called it like the 3:1 or the 4:1 ketogenic diet.
And then if we kind of go forward, there were some blips on the screen like Atkins and different things, kind of giving a hat tip towards low carb diets. And the technical definition of ketosis, and this is part of the reason why researching a Paleolithic diet is a slippery thing because you guys have kind of alluded to this, what does that mean, you know. And it could be higher carb, it could be lower carb. It’s kind of all over the place. Whereas a ketogenic diet, we can at least establish the benchmark and have a consensus that it’s like if your blood levels of beta hydroxybutyrate are at or above .5 millimolar per liter, you’re in a ketogenic state, you know, and you can do that by a variety of different methods.
But from a research perspective, it really lends itself nicely because we’ve got an agreed upon benchmark to look at in that scenario. But in my world, I like, again, as a starting point for many people, kind of a keto ratio, kind of on the higher protein side, which if folks want to poke around this, it’s often called a modified Atkins. So the protein intake on a modified Atkins or like a Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution approach to low carb eating is significantly higher than what we would see in a medically supervised ketogenic diet that is used for epilepsy or adjunctive cancer treatment or things like that. And those scenarios, we do some things like calorie restriction, protein restriction, and adding additional fat to try to goose the ketone level because there are some scenarios where having the ketones higher and the blood glucose lower may be beneficial for certain neurological conditions and adjunctive cancer treatment.
But again, I guess just kind of to recap, I don’t really see these things being antagonistic. And in my first book, keto was not a real popular topic. It was kind of a shunned topic at that time. But my experience had been that people tended to do really well, at least in the beginning, with a low carb approach. And so it was Paleo foods with a recommendation of fewer than 50 grams of carbs a day for men, about 30 grams of carbs a day for women.
Kelly: [29:41] Thank you for summarizing that. Here we are in the middle of this devastating epidemic, pandemic. And the reason I say epidemic is turning out that the people who were most susceptible are diabetic, are overweight, have cardiovascular disease, are insulin insensitive. It seems like we — I mean you on the one hand really started around performance. And I know that you were trying to solve your own health problems, which sounds very much like a commonality for all of our friends who have become food, diet ninjas or understanding this human biochemistry.
But you quickly realized that out of this performance base or having this conversation or solving, you really ended up becoming an expert in helping people use the number one behavior in their lives, eating, to try to change really chronic disease states. I think right now if I ask people why are you interested in nutrition, it’s to change body composition, is really the honest — like I just want to look better naked, so tell me what to do. I mean that’s why we have a bunch of middle aged friends in this neighborhood who have discovered intermittent fasting, but it’s just calories restriction for them. I mean really, it’s like wine and calorie restriction. I’m like okay, that’s one way to do it. But it’s really about body composition.
But we have this really interesting global topic right now, especially in this country where, you know, communities of color, people of lower socioeconomic status, are just being wiped out by this. What do we need to think about this? Is this the solution? How do we have this greater conversation about this? Because in this moment, I feel like you’re actually holding the keys to the castle, Robb.
Robb: [31:35] Oh, thank you. It’s interesting, 2010 is the first time that I gave a public presentation citing numbers from the Congressional Budget Office. CBO is a bipartisan governmental entity, as missionary on orthodox as you can get. There’s nothing real controversial about it. It’s a bunch of quants and number crunching people. And back around 2010, it got on my radar that there was a projection that somewhere around 2030, 2035, the US would be bankrupt from diabesity related healthcare costs. And that’s because we’ve been on this —
Kelly: [32:18] 2035?
Robb: [32:19] 2030, 2035, you know, somewhere in that. There were some error bars around that. But it was just making the case that when you look at different populations, although we in the US, we are in general seeing a more aged population, a more aged population need not be a more expensive population to manage. We have lots of examples of this around the world. But a sick population, particularly a population that is sick from chronic, degenerative disease, becomes an exponentially more costly group of people to deal with, particularly if you have the absolute catastrophe of the third party payer system in the US and the moral hazard that we have within our health insurance scene. So we have this real disaster that’s been brewing there.
And I started talking about this around 2010, and it was kind of in conjunction with some work that I did with the Reno Police, Reno Fire Department, where we identified 40 people at high risk for Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease, got them on kind of a low carb, Paleo type diet. But based off the changes in their bloodwork and their health risk assessment numbers, it’s estimated that pilot study alone saved the city of Reno about $22 million, with a really conservative 33:1 on investment. And when I first —
Kelly: [33:41] So you’re saying it wasn’t worth it.
Robb: [33:43] Yeah. It absolutely wasn’t worth it because —
Kelly: [33:45] And that was about money. That wasn’t even about the quality of life or how people felt or how they looked or how they functioned.
Robb: [33:51] It’s the whole other sideline. Yeah, these people didn’t die, you know, so. Which was generally the common outcome for the people in this cohort, was sudden death on the job. If they didn’t die kind of cynically, it was almost worse, because the on the books cost to retire these people was about $1.8 million. The real cost could be five to ten times more than that, which is why most municipalities are running these massive deficits because they have these underfunded liabilities. So I started talking about both of these kind of seemingly intertwined concepts. One was a solution, you know, identifying metabolic health or disease and then do an intervention based around effective methodology to address that. And then also kind of ringing this bell that we have an exponential growth scenario occurring with regards to chronic degenerative disease.
Now, the exponential growth that we had historically been experiencing with say like diabesity, the doubling rate was years. Whereas with this COVID pandemic, the doubling rate is days or possibly weeks. But in my perspective, all that this SARS-CoV-2 Virus has done is it took a process that was necessitating decades to occur and it has compressed it into weeks or months. But it is exactly the same story, it’s exactly the same challenge. Clearly, when the volume and intensity go up, then the ability to cope with that becomes ever more daunting and more challenging. But this is kind of an interesting opportunity in our history to really revisit what are the recommendations from governmental organizations.
So there was just a piece from the WHO yesterday, two days before, kind of on their Twitter feed, that was basically avoid saturated fat, avoid red meat, eat seed oils, and eat flour. And there’s enough pushback on that now, there are enough people that are kind of like wait a second here, and they don’t necessarily need to be like club-wielding cavemen to back this. But they’re like this is kind of — this is a little fishy. Like you guys are making recommendations that we know aren’t consistent with health. So then these main entities out there that are in theory supposed to be the sources that we turn to for advice and guidance, they’re not credible any longer.
And so then you turn into the black abyss of the interwebs, which I just became aware a couple of weeks ago that there’s a whole cross-section of people that think that the COVID -2 disease process is caused by 5G cell phone signals. And I lost my mind. Like I spent 15 hours putting together a slide deck, did a two-hour podcast on this, and basically went through the physics of the electromagnetic spectrum and how this stuff was absolutely preposterous. And folks were — it ranged from, well, it’s good to know you’re a shill for telecom to just all kinds of stuff.
So I mean we’re in a really, a fascinating opportunity because the health challenges have had a bright light shown upon them. But the way that we navigate this is going to be really interesting because our usual sources of information, I think are not — they’re either accepted as gospel and any questioning that occurs will get you banned, either shadow banned, or outright banned, or have your website kind of removed from the search engine results like happened with mine. Or you have people that are really casting around for a different narrative, and the conspiracy theory stuff is really juicy and interesting and at a knee jerk level, kind of compelling. So we have a really fascinating opportunity, but it’s going to be a remarkable challenge to unpack this thing and kind of move things forward.
Juliet: [38:15] It really is. I mean just to sort of add onto some of the things you’ve been reading, Kelly and I read this article I think yesterday in The New York Times that said only 12 percent of Americans don’t have diabetes, high blood pressure, metabolic disease. And I don’t know why I found that to be particularly shocking, just sort of put in those terms. And then simultaneously we heard another bit of news where somebody was talking about the challenges with the supply chain and the food industry and industrial food and saying — he basically just said, well, depending on how long this lasts, we’re probably just going to have, you know, a lot of people are just going to need to rely on cereal grains to survive. And Kelly and I just looked at each other and thought, oh man, that’s the number one way to just make this whole thing worse at this point.
Robb: [39:06] Yeah. Ironically, yeah. Yeah.
Juliet: [39:09] Yeah. So turning a little bit to a question I’ve been thinking about, we did our last season of our podcast on aging, and then obviously, this whole season is about nutrition, nutrition related topics. Quite a few of the experts that we’ve talked to have reported that as they’ve aged and gotten over 40 and sort of learned how to manage their diets, they’ve switched to kind of a two times a day eating model. And so what I’m wondering is are you doing that? And you know, how do we sort of explain this to regular people who think eating twice a day is crazy and something they could never do, and they could never skip breakfast or skip a meal or whatever? I find that —
Kelly: [39:56] Two square meals is a rectangle.
Juliet: [39:57] Yeah. It’s interesting because I know so many people, my friends and experts in this field, who sort of switch to this way of eating, and simultaneously I find it to be very inaccessible to a lot of regular people. So I just wanted to get your thoughts on that.
Robb: [40:13] Yeah. You know, the big talk that I’m doing this year, which most of the events have been canceled, is “Longevity: Are We Trying Too Hard?” And I —
Kelly: [40:24] Great.
Robb: [40:24] I have a pretty contrarian view on a lot of this stuff. I don’t want to drag this too far out in the weeds on that. But there’s been a lot of research around say calorie restriction in different animal models. And when you really dig into that stuff, it’s interesting. It’s really compelling. Some animals see a near doubling in life, both healthspan and lifespan. But when you really get in and look at that research, this doesn’t happen in all animals. And what’s really fascinating is it absolutely does not happen in either wild animals, nor does it occur in animals that are fed a species appropriate diet. When you calorie restrict critters that are fed a species appropriate diet, they die young. So when you really get in and look at, for me, some of the more nuanced research on this, what I see calorie restriction doing is saving animals, which is where the bulk of this research has been done, saving animals from a horrible composition, lab, chow based diet.
These animals are being fed like the penultimate of refined dietary interventions. And this is done in part because in science we like to have both accuracy and precision, and if you feed mice crickets and mealworms and buckwheat and stuff like that, it’s kind of hard to really know for sure what their protein, carb, fat intake was. But if you feed them these homogenized pellets that we know exactly how much corn oil and whey protein and what have you goes into that, we can isolate these variables. But there hasn’t been a ton of research done on this.
But the research that has fed animals a species appropriate diet, they don’t overeat. And spontaneously, they don’t overeat, and they don’t see any type of enhanced longevity. And this goes the same for like protein restriction. I know people like Valter Longo and some different folks are very geeked out on super low protein intake and the sphere of mTOR, and everybody’s all fired up about autophagy and stuff like that.
But for me, I guess the big takeaway is once someone has arrived at something that looks like “ancestral eating” and they’re not overeating, which is a nontrivial thing in a world of hyper palatable, highly processed foods, like I’m not making light of that. But once somebody has achieved a reasonable level of leanness, and they’ve found some sort of what I would call ancestral eating strategy, I don’t know how much more upside there is to be had from different fasting interventions and things like that.
Now all of that said, I think that getting to a point where you are metabolically flexible enough to have say like a big breakfast and a decent sized dinner, like a big breakfast and a big lunch, you know, it’s kind of up to you to figure out how to slice and dice that stuff. But if you need to eat every two hours or you start getting that hangry thing and you spin out and you’re lethargic and you want to kill yourself or other people, that’s a sign of significant problems. And so I’m not in the low protein camp. I’m not in the protein avoidance camp. Particularly when we look at the outcomes associated with effective aging, we should probably be eating more protein, not less. But that doesn’t necessarily mean eating six meals a day. Might mean something crazy like two meals and a snack. And I think you can do a really, really good job of supporting all of those performance, health, longevity kind of goals.
And here’s just some interesting takeaways. We know for a fact that more or less daily exercise confers somewhere between two to six years of additional longevity for people. The ironic part of that is that it’s kind of a wash because most of the time spent exercising accounts for that additional life. So you’re living potentially longer but you’re exercising during that time. So it’s not a huge bump there. But it’s a bump. Getting decent, daily sun exposure, and this isn’t turning yourself into a leather handbag, but a reasonable UV exposure, it’s as significant in health — the people who get inadequate sun exposure have as increased morbidity, mortality as people who smoke versus non-smokers.
Kelly: [45:14] Wow.
Robb: [45:14] And we know this for a fact. But when we really get into the research around calorie restriction, if we were to get the maximum calorie restriction benefit from a longevity perspective, we have to start this as children. We will be stunted in our growth, hypergonadic, low body temperature, cold, miserable our whole life. And we might get six additional years of life because in humans, the genetic reaction norm, which is a phenotypic kind of story of the way our genes allocate resources, the way that we’re wired up, the way our evolutionary biology is, we’ve already been massively selected for longevity.
We’re one of the longest lived organisms, certainly the longest lived primates. And primates tend to live a long time because of the complexity of their culture. But there’s this concept called the Grandmother Paradox, which has this whole post reproductive period of effective life because grandparents could potentially play a massive role in caring for children and cultural transmission and stuff like that. So we already have a really massive selection pressure in favor of longevity. The main challenge is just not screwing that up by infectious disease injury or in the current environment, eating ourselves to death.
So I have a really, again, pretty contrarian and blasé view of the intermittent fasting and all that stuff. Like it’s fine if it works as a tool to help you get control of calorie intake. For some people, it just streamlines their life, like eating two meals a day versus three. That’s one less time you have to cook and clean and do all the rest of that stuff. I tend to be somewhere between that two and three meals a day. If I do Jiu Jitsu on a day, I usually get in three meals. If I’m pretty sedentary, I get in two. And that’s where it is. But it’s quite protein centric. And I’m really keeping an eye on lifting weights or doing some sort of resistance training at least like four days a week to keep that anabolic signaling going.
Kelly: [47:34] Man, that’s great. Thank you. I feel like we’re going to need to have part three, part four, part five, part seven with you. I mean I just want to reiterate that the two of you have done such a good job of talking about and creating transparency and talking all this out. Your resources are available for people who want to go deeper. One of the things I just have to mention because it has become a keystone of our lives, and this is an unabashed gushing, but you created an electrolyte mix. But it wasn’t necessarily for me, it was for a set of problems that people had.
And this is called LMNT, L-M-N-T. And it’s just like a rad flavored salt package. For a long time, I have been telling people, hey, you do not absorb this pure water that you’re drinking. You just bowl it to your kidneys and pee it out, right? And I’ve always been saying, hey, if you’re not drinking water with food, add a pinch of sea salt with your water and you’ll absorb the water much more effectively, and actually have to drink a lot less water.
But you came along with LMNT. And this is what Juliet and I use to ride. I mean this changed how awake I feel. And I realized I wasn’t eating enough salt. And when I started to look around, I saw a lot of people starting to say things like chase salt, right? Make salt an important part, especially as we clean up diets. Sorry, we ate more foods that have less processed salt in them, we saw that people weren’t replacing that salt. But you started this for another reason. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Robb: [49:13] Yeah. You know, it’s interesting because I have eaten a lower carb diet for 22 years and motored along pretty well, pretty good performance with that. But fueling Jiu Jitsu was always kind of a challenge. I just didn’t feel like I had that low gear that’s nice to have sometimes in scrambles. And I started hanging out with these two guys, Tyler Cartwright and Luis Villasenor, they’re the founders of KetoGains. And they’re really, really good at the practical coaching, implementation of ketogenic diets. Like the body composition changes that they get in folks and the health changes are really, really jaw dropping.
And so started hanging out with these guys and I shot them what I was up to, and I’m like, hey, look at what I’m doing, what could I do differently to better fuel for Jiu Jitsu because what I found I needed to do was eat more carbs in and around the Jiu Jitsu period, but then because of my not great carb tolerance, I would feel kind of lightheaded and dizzy and like it just wasn’t a good fit. I would get some kind of GI upset from it. And these guys looked at what I was up to and they’re like, oh, you need to take in more sodium. And doing what 99 percent of people do when they have a coach, I ignored wholesale what they suggested I do, and just kept doing what I had already been doing, which was failing. And did this for a good year and kept waffling and failing, and waffling and failing, and trying to do the same thing and have different outcomes. And then finally they were like, hey man, weigh and measure everything that you’re eating, all of the — everything you’re supplementing, and then let’s look at where the numbers are. And as a minimum level when we look at low carb diets that are medically supervised, five grams a day of sodium is the bare minimum.
Kelly: [51:05] Whoa.
Robb: [51:05] And there’s a whole variety of reasons for this. Low insulin levels, it promotes what they call the natresis of fasting, and if your sodium goes low then your body starts spitting out potassium because it tries to maintain the sodium/potassium ratio, and when that happens, really bad things happen. And if you address the sodium levels, then your body kind of spontaneously automatically addresses potassium levels and all kinds of magic kind of happens. But when we looked at that, I was under 2 grams of sodium a day, which ironically, in the morbidity, mortality research, eating lower than 2 grams of sodium per day is the highest level of morbidity, mortality. The low point is about 5 grams per day. And then you have to get out to nearly 10 grams a day of sodium to have the morbidity and mortality as bad as 2 grams a day. So it’s a U curve but the right hand side is very flat and kind of slow to start ticking up.
So I was like holy smokes, I’m not even getting what I knew I should be getting, given the fact that I was eating a low carb diet. So I started ratcheting things up, made absolutely certain that I was getting at least 5 grams of sodium a day, night and day difference. I mean literally it sounds cliché, but a light switch was flipped, which shouldn’t be ironic because the sodium/potassium channels are the way that our nerves and muscles work, and our brains. So I mean adequate levels should actually make that stuff work. And having inadequate levels, you will notice that things are not really functioning properly.
Kelly: [52:43] Yeah, I really — it was remarkable in terms of we felt better, we performed better. And one of the things I think is notable here is Juliet has freakishly low blood pressure. I mean she, you know —
Juliet: [53:00] I’m barely alive.
Kelly: [53:01] They will say your blood pressure is 98/60 and Juliet will be like that’s because I’m stressed. You know, and they’re like, what. She’s like yeah, I’m hypertensive right now. You know, and Juliet has always self-medicated with salt. She has chased salt the way I’ve chased cookies my whole life. And you know, this has been an easy way for her to augment that, to feel better. And for us, sort of the sweat aerobic outputs we do, we just realized we weren’t really giving voice to the electrolyte part of the equation.
You know, it’s another conversation for another time about, is salt dangerous or not. And clearly, you’re saying as we start to eat more responsibly and we’re not chugging Campbell’s Soup, you probably need to be thinking about your sodium. But I just wanted to put on people’s radar LMNT because it really has been one of the things I think even the driver for me is changing behaviors. I don’t sometimes drink water unless it’s got coffee in it or it’s carbonated in the form of LaCroix. And suddenly, I am drinking a lot more water.
Juliet: [54:05] Well, I have to interrupt you. You’re just getting all like theoretical and sciencey. But really, what you haven’t said is it tastes goddamn good.
Kelly: [54:15] Oh yeah. You mix water and it’s great.
Juliet: [54:17] You guys are doing a terrible job marketing it because you don’t want to tell someone, drink a salt pouch. No one wants to drink a salt pouch. What you want to do is drink something that tastes goddamn good. And it does.
Kelly: [54:26] I am so entertained. And it stretches to a whole bottle, a whole bike bottle. And it really is —
Juliet: [54:32] So good.
Kelly: [54:34] That’s what we’ve been riding with and it’s been an absolute game changer for me and I discovered it at a Spartan race. I think where we last saw you, I had this LMNT pouch in my pocket and I jumped it in and I was like dammit, this is such a good idea.
Juliet: [54:48] We will obviously put a link to it in our show notes.
Robb: [54:50] Awesome. Awesome. And thank you guys for the glowing reviews on that. In full disclosure, we had a pretty good gut sense that this thing would go well initially. Almost two years we had a here’s how to make a homebrew version on your own. And we had a shocking number of downloads of this PDF. And so we had a gut sense that it would be valuable.
The reason why we ended up going with a product is we started getting tagged on social media, and folks were like hey, guys, love what you suggested here, but when I was going through TSA the three bags of white powder kind of got on their radar, you know. And so that’s what kind of lit a fire under us to do this thing. But in full transparency, when we formulated the first flavor, which is that citrus salt, we made it first as a margarita base, just in case this thing flopped as an electrolyte supplement, we could just repivot and take these vast quantities of flavored salt and turn it into a cocktail mix, so yeah.
Kelly: [55:58] Full disclosure, you and Nicki invented the NorCal Margarita, which was the first no sugar margarita in my purview. And I as soon as I had the lemon-lime, I was like oh, I know what this is. This is a NorCal Margarita.
Juliet: [56:13] Have we put it in a cocktail yet?
Kelly: [56:15] Yes, we have.
Juliet: [56:16] We need to do that.
Kelly: [56:16] And I’ll also just point out that if people are starting to go lower carbohydrate or playing with Keto, this has been an important tool for them. And I just want to give a —
Juliet: [56:30] You mean it should be an important tool?
Kelly: [56:31] It should be an important tool because it really does help banish Keto flu when people are starting and I just want to give a full homage to that. We use it for performance and taste and lifestyle. But you really have created an excellent tool to bridge. And I just want to thank you for really solving this problem in really an elegant way.
Robb: [56:49] Thank you. Thank you. It was definitely a problem hidden in plain sight. It’s kind of funny. We — sodium in our diets typically comes with refined foods. And it’s crystal clear that refined foods are a problem, but this is one of those correlations, not necessarily causation pieces whereas folks remove refined food from the diet, they may need to add sodium from other sources. And as on point as Loren Cordain was with other things, I think he really missed the sodium piece. And interestingly, this was something that just observationally, like Greg Glassman, God, I want to say maybe it was 2005, he was like hey, Robby, I like this Paleo thing, but I really don’t like that sodium intake, you know, the low sodium intake, because I see people crashing. They’ll go from seated to standing in a hypovolemic kind of deal. And so he would really recommend that folks up their sodium intake.
And so that was one thing that kind of early on I kind of parted ways with the mainstream Paleo crowd. And part of that was performance and part of it was compliance. Like if I could get people more or less off of say like refined grains, that was such a win. And then in my mind, when they’re making themselves a nice salad and they want to do a couple of cracks of sea salt in there, that’s not the hill to die on.
Kelly: [58:18] No. That’s right.
Robb: [58:19] Yeah. Yeah.
Kelly: [58:21] And I have to say personally, you know, I am not an expert in these things, but I have had a couple friends who discovered they were celiacs and then almost pass out and feel terrible. And I was like oh, you just don’t get enough salt. And they had already seen their doctors. And they were like whoa, it was that simple. And I was like yeah, welcome to the club. The salt gang.
Robb, we could go on. I mean thank you so much, really. And personally, I just want to thank you for being the person I think who is probably most responsible for Juliet and I living diabetic, obesity free lives, you know, and really putting on food quality. You have been — you are the first of our friends to write a book, I mean you’ve just been breaking ground for so long. Where do we find more about you?
Robb: [59:08] Just robbwolf.com is where the blog, the podcast, folks can get information about LMNT from there. If folks are curious about the science behind all this stuff, like you kind of alluded to this, we have some great research over at drinklmnt.com. And I’ll just throw out really quickly, there’s a fascinating position paper from the ACSM, American Council of Sports Medicine, that suggests that and there’s a size dependency to this, larger people need a little bit more, smaller people a little bit less. But they start the conversation for people training in hot and/or human environments at 7 to 10 grams of sodium per day. That’s where they start the conversation. So it’s not insane. It seems insane. But the epidemiology really doesn’t and the more specific science doesn’t really support sodium as being the problematic factor. There’s likely some other features there.
And then particularly for folks that are high motor output, if they live in a hot, humid environment, your sodium needs may be shockingly higher than what you’ve historically been taking care of, and it is potentially such an easy thing to address. And again, for my life, it just — and what’s funny is in theory I’m an “expert” on this stuff. But I still manage to screw it up. And this is where like Kelly, you’ve always said, everybody needs a coach. And as Dan John has said, he who has himself as a coach has an idiot for a coach. So look outside yourself for some guidance. And the cool thing about the electrolyte story is that the feedback loop is literally minutes. So if you take some whey protein or creatine or something, it’s like ah, I think I notice a difference. But if you’re feeling like dog shit and then you take adequate sodium intake, you feel better immediately. And that’s part of the reason why the thing’s been as successful as it has been.
Juliet: [61:17] You know, I have to — just one last story. I think that you may already know that I love popcorn.
Robb: [61:22] Yes.
Juliet: [61:23] But it really, I believe has nothing to do with the actual popcorn. It’s just I get such — because I’m so low blood pressure, I get such an immediate salt hit by eating popcorn that I feel better immediately after I eat popcorn.
Robb: [61:38] That makes sense. Yeah. Yeah.
Juliet: [61:40] Now sometimes my digestive system doesn’t feel better.
Kelly: [61:44] Cornivore. Well, Robb
Juliet: [61:45] Anyway, thanks again, Robb.
Kelly: [61:46] Thanks for being my coach —
Juliet: [61:46] It’s so fun to talk to you.
Kelly: [61:47] For the last 16 years. I met you in 2004 and I am just so tickled that all these years later you’re even better at simplifying this and helping me not feel as crazy as I did around nutrition.
Robb: [62:01] Well, there’s plenty of crazy to go around so we don’t need to really add to it.
Kelly: [62:07] Ladies and gentlemen, Robb Wolf. Thank you so much.
Juliet: [62:08] Thank you again, Robb.
Robb: [62:09] Thank you guys. Take care.Back to Episode