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Mike Mutzel

Episode 32 – Metabolic Health with Mike Mutzel

Episode highlights

0:01:38 – Mike has long been interested in health and he used to admire martial arts actors

0:04:04 – What exactly is metabolic science?

0:08:23 – Some long-held beliefs are being challenged, but it’s easy to understand why

0:11:51 – How did we end up with a snacking culture?

0:15:26 – When it comes to nutrition, always consider the context

0:20:09 – The Human Microbiome Project, time-restricted feeding, and the Belly Fat Effect

0:29:38 – What is functional medicine and why is it important?

0:37:31 – Basic dietary principles: some recommendations 

0:42:09 – Blood sugar, insulin sensitivity and how it all affects your mitochondrial function

0:45:39 – Supporting metabolic health with a good fitness regime

0:47:43 – Five key actions to improve your health and wellbeing

0:50:24 – Mindset is so important 

Links

Transcript

Welcome to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast where you can learn how to improve your diet, lose fat and get fitter in a sustainable and fun way, without spending hours in the gym. Here is your host, Darren Kirby.

Darren: This is Episode 32 of the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast. In today’s episode, we are going to be discussing metabolic health. Joining me on the show today is Metabolic Mike aka Mike Mutzel from High Intensity Health. Mike has been interested in health and nutrition since he was seven years old. As a child growing up in the 1980s, Mike and his brother spent a lot of time watching Jean-Claude Van Damme karate-kick bad guys to save beautiful women and that made him want to be a bodybuilder. Mike has gone on to get a BSc in Biology and MSc in Clinical Nutrition, and is a graduate of the Institute for Functional Medicines. Hi Mike, thanks for joining me on the podcast today. How are you?

Mike: Hey, I’m doing lovely. Thanks so much for having me on.

Darren: No problem at all. I’m super excited to have you on. I’m a big fan of your work and all the various different topics that you cover around health in general and functional medicine. It’s an area which I’m not qualified in but I’m super passionate and interested in, so it’d be good to share some of this with the listeners today. Before we get into all of that good stuff, Mike, can we get a bit of background on Mike and how you’ve come to start High Intensity Health?

Mike: Yeah, I’d love to. To make a long story short, even going back to when I was a young kid, I’ve had an interest in health ever since I was like five years old. I just love the aesthetic look of bodybuilders: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Jean-Claude Van Damme, things like that. I played sports as an adolescent, did American football in high school and then did a pre-med undergrad and started working with a medical doctor here in the United States. I  had aspirations to go to med school but kind of realised that as amazing as the practice of medicine can be from helping people, there’s a lot of paperwork and dealing with insurance, and it wasn’t what I had thought it might be. So I decided to kind of pivot my career a little bit and got a master’s degree in nutrition and started working with a few different dietary supplement companies as a sales rep, essentially a consultant. 

And I figured out that, gosh, these doctors know so much about medicine, but they don’t know much about nutrition. I’d got my Master’s degree in nutrition so I then started educating people–health care practitioners, MDS, DOs, doctors here in the US and also Canada–in a webinar-type format and this is going back to 2011. In 2014, I started this video-based podcast because I realised, well, gosh, if we interview these doctors in a webinar format and educate all these people, why not just educate everyone… the world? That’s the long and short of it.

Darren: Awesome. I’ve only really come into this space around nutrition in the last seven years and I completely agree with what you say. Doctors are fantastic at what they do, but there feels to me, particularly in the UK, there’s a huge, huge disconnect between nutrition and medicine. It’s only now that guys like yourself have really shared this stuff on how profound it is that it is starting to gain a lot more momentum and that connection is now starting to be talked about in a lot more detail. 

You talk about metabolic science which is a massive area, really, but when you talk about metabolic science, what exactly do you mean by metabolic science?

Mike: That’s beautiful, Darren. If we think about what our metabolism does, obviously, there’s kind of the hormones that control our sexual function, and reproduction is kind of one side of our metabolism. And then the other side of metabolism that I try to focus a lot on is how our body deals with the energy that we consume in the form of food or that we store on our body in the form of body fat or even store glucose as glycogen. I like to help people better understand how to make lifestyle changes that can favourably affect these, whether it’s the utilisation of the food energy that they ingest or the utilisation of the stored energy that’s on their body in the form of body fat. 

If we want to just characterise what metabolism is in the context of this conversation today, Darren, it’s how our body deals with energy. Whether we’re talking about nematodes, and roundworms or fruit flies or pigs or chickens or humans, all of these pathways that involve the distribution of energy to help the organism, and in this case the animal that is a human, there’s different hormones and different cellular mediators that are involved. And we see these shared all throughout different organisms even as small as fruit flies and roundworms that we talked about, up to whales and to us as humans. These pathways are what we call evolutionarily conserved and so we can see this all throughout the animal kingdom. 

What’s unique is we now know different ways to manipulate these metabolic pathways that are more favourable and we also know how our environment can make these metabolic pathways kind of sticky or dirty, if you will, and not function optimally. That’s the state that I think a lot of people are in right now and they’re confused because they’re hearing messages that have been propagated since the 1940s about calories and energy balance. And while energy balance is important, we know that our hormones, our epigenetics, our microbiome, inflammatory insults, circadian rhythms–all things we’ll probably unpack today in this conversation–impact these hormonal and metabolic pathways that ultimately are the contingent factor governing whether or not we’re going to carry excess energy in the form of body fat or whether we’ll be lean and healthy.

Darren: I think it’s very interesting, isn’t it? There’s a couple of things there. One is what you mentioned there about the stuff that has been passed down through generations since the 1940s and we’re only now starting to question whether that information is right. In many cases, it’s being challenged and proven to be different to how we understand it and I think that just in itself is a big challenge because people are very sceptical about change, aren’t they? When you are challenging something which has been brought up through generations, people are very sceptical to take that on.

The case in point is around ketogenic and being fat adapted. I speak to a lot of people now about using fats as fuel and their reaction is just unbelievable because they think you’re trying to dupe them into doing something they shouldn’t be doing. Because we’ve been told fats are bad, right? All the food industry tells us that fats are bad, but actually, once you start to really understand it, fats are a great way of getting unlimited sources of energy. That’s just one part about what you were talking around the metabolic side of things.

The other thing, Mike, that I want to pick up on is that there’s a lot of complicated terminology and there’s a lot of complicated explanations about what’s going on. But actually, I find that the solutions are very simple and basic when you understand it. Would you say that’s the case? Because a lot of it is just manipulating your data.

Mike: That’s a beautiful way to put it. I think you can make this very complicated with jargonistic terms and medical nomenclature but ultimately, like you said… For example, let’s just give a real world example here. Instead of counting how many calories you’re eating and trying to match that with your energy expenditure in various fit bits and orderings and all that, a very simple thing that generally majority of the people that I’m seeing, 80 to 90% can get benefit from just compressing the period of time during the day in which they eat. This is called intermittent fasting and a specific subset of interment fasting called time-restricted feeding. 

Yeah, it sounds like all these multisyllabic words, but basically what we’re doing is we’re saying: okay, instead of grazing all day and worrying about how many calories you’re getting versus how many you’re burning, you can eat pretty much anything you want outside of refined sugar and processed bread and things like that, basically real food, even if it’s higher in carbohydrates. Just eat that during, say, 10 am to maybe 6 pm. Or if you want to be even more aggressive, between noon and 6 pm. And most people, even if they’re having a higher carbohydrate diet when they’re eating those foods during that period of time, because they’re fasting for 18–20 hours after that, it’s causing their body to pivot their metabolism into a state that’s characterised by more fat oxidation and ketone utilisation. 

So a very simple thing to do, you just tell people, “Hey, forget counting all this stuff. Just eat during this window,” and that’s doable for most people. There’s been a few randomised placebo-controlled studies with a control group that have looked at this in type 2 diabetics, that have looked at this and healthy people, they didn’t instruct these individuals about what to eat; they just said only eat during these hours. Again, the phenomenon that we’re talking about here is called time-restricted feeding. Looking at various complex biomarkers and metabolites, they showed that these people, even though they’re not changing their diet, they’re just changing when they eat and compressing that feeding window, it has a lot of favourable metabolic and health benefits. 

That’s just one example of something that, like you said, it doesn’t require a calculator or a spreadsheet; it just requires being a little bit more vigilant and having a little bit more willpower about avoiding the snacks and just calling it quits and saying, “Okay, after 4 pm or 6 pm, I’m done eating. That’s it. Doors are shut.” You can use an app called Zero, it’s a free fasting app, you can start your time-restricted feeding protocol. That’s just one of many examples that are so simple. Yeah, we can dive into the nuances of all the metabolic pathways that are upregulated, but the take home message is very easy to implement.

Darren: I agree. And I think there’s another side to this and that is the way that the food industry and also retail… isn’t it? In the modern world, in the first world, we have so much access, 24 hours a day, to food. It’s almost become the norm that you just eat whenever, right? It’s not how it used to be–I don’t know what it was like when you were a child, but certainly when I was a child, you’d have your three meals a day and that was it. Now, food is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week and I think that’s another area that we’ve unconsciously just kind of walked into.

Mike: Yeah, it’s a big point. It makes us wonder where this advice is coming from and how these habits got kind of ingrained into our head. I can’t help but wonder that it was industry-influenced. If we look at where did snacking come from? Because, like you said–I’m a little bit younger than you, but I was born in the early 80s–it was three squares a day. But then I remember in the late 90s, there was this whole phenomenon of snacking being emergent.  You have to have a protein bar or protein shake in between major meals and the premise of that was that you can fuel your metabolic flame. And then there was these notions going around that by snacking all the time, you actually increase your metabolic rate. Admittedly, I bought into this too, I didn’t know any better. I was reading some very serious books and Atkins’ books and things like that during this time, but I fell into this.

I like to look into the scientific medical literature to see kind of where things happened and the origin of medical suggestions and things like that. Here’s what’s interesting, Darren, about that. The whole snacking phenomenon was based upon clinical studies in type 2 diabetics. What they were looking at is if they gave these individuals the same amount of calories but spread it out into six or seven evenly-proportioned meals, that their blood sugar variability and fluctuations weren’t as high. Again, these are insulin-dependent type 2 diabetics: so they’re taking hormones, they don’t eat as much. What we’re doing is we’re applying a paradigm that is helpful in people that have a disease that’s managed by medications and applying the same dietary guidelines to people that are relatively healthy, that aren’t on medicine. So from the get go, it’s set up to fail in a sense because most people don’t have diabetes, most people are not taking insulin. 

It’s super interesting if you look at where this came from and somehow this got adopted into the mainstream, probably as an offshoot of products being sold to diabetics and saying, “Hey, here’s this energy bar, here’s this shake, here’s this…” Then that trickled into relatively healthy people and then look at where we are now. I mean, I see so many people that are over-exercised, under-eating, snacking all the time, and they are exercising like crazy but if you look at them, they don’t even look like they exercise. They don’t even look fit because they’re sending so many mixed messages to their body. It’s really a shame that this advice is still being propagated to a lot of people.

Darren: Absolutely. And again, for me, I think as humans we tend to overcomplicate things as well and if we can just dial it back to say, “eat within a certain window, eat the three meals, and just keep it simple,” then we would be in a much better state. But I think with the fitness and nutrition industry, it’s like: Okay, so I’m going to get fit, so I need to take all these different proteins, I need to have all these different snacks and I need to have a really complicated diet. Actually, no, you don’t. You just need to keep to basic nutrition principles and you will achieve the goals that you set out to achieve. And actually, your performance when you are exercising will be that much better. So, yeah, I just feel that we over-complicate it.

Mike: Yeah. Nutrition is one of these weird fields that unlike other domains in life… If we talk about investing, if we talk about retirement, if we talk about real estate–other domains where we really consider the context. Here in the US, people are always thinking about retirement or 401k, the different retirement portfolios, investment portfolios, which pieces of real estate are a good long-term investment versus aren’t. But in nutrition, what we do is we kind of apply this blanket cure-all thing to every individual and we like to just copy what other people are doing. What we need to consider is the context, right? 

Like you talked about all the snacks and the meals and everything like that, if you’re a 260-pound bodybuilder that has 200 pounds of lean muscle mass, yeah, you might need to have more protein and more snacks because you’re trying to have as much lean mass as you can. But if you’re a 200-pound woman who doesn’t even lift weights and is trying to lose body fat, that could translate into excess energy and will never really help you lose the body fat that you’re trying to lose. The big thing that I love to reinforce over and over again is context. We really need to look at our body and our nutrition programme from an individualised standpoint and consider things like our health history. Have we been physically active our entire life or maybe we haven’t touched a gym since high school or college? What sort of diseases run in our family? Dad or mom, did they have dementia or Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or heart disease or diabetes? All these things… 

Genes don’t determine everything, but there is some familial risk that we need to be aware of and that can determine whether or not we should eat a certain way or how much we should exercise and what types of exercise we do. So, yeah, context is very important and I just want people to always be personalising and customising things to their unique goals. I encourage people, Darren, and I’m sure you talk about this, too, when something isn’t working, have the freedom to change it. I think a lot of people think fasting is good or calorie counting is good, but if it stops working for you, then you need to customise and tinker with that so it starts working. 

And that’s the other interesting thing about nutrition. Unlike investing or unlike real estate, sometimes things work and then they stop working and people continue to do what used to work even though it’s not working now. That sounds kind of confusing, like how could something used to work but it’s not working now? Because as we age, our bodies change, our hormones change, our insulin sensitivity, our glucose levels change. You know, men’s testosterone drops, oestrogen increases throughout lifespan, right? We need to make some adjustments as we age and just because something worked for you in college, doesn’t mean it’s going to work now. I think this can be kind of frustrating because we like to lean on what has historically worked for us in the past, but our bodies are not the same right now as they were five years ago. So we need to always be thinking about how we can tinker and test things and always refine.

Darren: I agree. And I think that’s becoming more and more apparent as the topic of gut health is now obviously quite popular. The research has now run into that with our microbiome and the fact that everybody’s microbiome is different and the quote, I think it was from Socrates, “one man’s food is another man’s poison,” or something like that, and the diversity that we have in our guts. We all too easily adopt an eating habit or a diet which everybody else is doing, which might be right for them, but absolutely toxic for the next person. 

The gut health topic as well: not being a medical practitioner, for me, the way that it is explained is so logical in the sense that we’ve got our gut and what goes into our gut affects our mental health, our brain health, and everything else that goes in our body. It seems so logical to me and it’s amazing how it’s only now starting to come out, but I’m guessing that’s because of the development of science and technology and stuff like that. I know you’ve done quite a lot of interviews with various different doctors around gut health and microbiome so what’s your take on that? Why do you think it’s now that this is all coming out?

Mike: This is a great question. Well, it’s all kind of coming to a head now because back in 2012, there was the release of the first data of the human microbiome projects and so we didn’t really know about it. Obviously, we knew that we had these microbes living and teeming on and around our body but we didn’t know what real influence they were having on our body’s immune system, on our body’s inflammatory burden, on our body’s metabolism. And so a group of researchers, many different teams throughout the world, started this initiative called the Human Microbiome Project and part of this initiative was the failure of the Human Genome Project. 

As you may remember, Darren, at kind of the end of the 20th Century and start of the 21st Century, we were told that once we figure out and decipher and characterise our human genome, we’re going to solve every disease known to man, everything from cancer to AIDS to diabetes. Of course, we know now that all these diseases have increased in their prevalence and there’s children that are getting what was previously considered an adult disease like diabetes. So just identifying the genes wasn’t enough and so researchers have then realised that, wow, these bacteria that are living within us and among us, they’re controlling the way that our genes are being expressed. That, I think, is a big reason why the microbiome kind of became so popular and it’s an area that I’ve been very interested in. Let me just give people a little primer, a little example. 

I was working with this medical doctor… when you asked me about my introduction, Gerard Guillory. There was a medical assistant: here in the US, doctors have assistants that help with things blood pressure, new patients come in, they prep them for the office visit. To make a long story short, this woman, bless her heart, was morbidly obese, had tried different diets over the years and nothing worked. She underwent a now very popular procedure called gastric bypass surgery, here in the US also known as bariatric surgery. There are different ways in which the stomach is surgically altered to basically shorten how much food people can eat and how much they can consume and so forth and so you’re kind of bypassing the upper part of the small intestine and shortening the digestive tract. Lo and behold, she lost a ton of fat, a ton of weight in a very short period of time. 

I was observing this in 2007, I was blown away and I thought, “Gosh, how is this procedure working?” Because this woman didn’t change her diet, but every time I saw her, we’d have these staff meetings every week, she was leaner and leaner and leaner and she was still eating the same food and I was like, this is crazy. Again, this is circling back to the microbiomes; I’m just telling the full story here. I went into the University of Colorado Medical School library, where I would do research at that time and came across a whole litany of papers suggesting that bariatric surgery, one of the main mechanisms of action behind how it’s working is by changing the colony and the proportions of different bacteria in the intestine, and therefore, that’s affecting people’s ability to burn body fat. That blew my mind because common wisdom would suggest that if someone gets structural surgical re-sectioning of their intestine, they just can’t eat as much, so it’s really an energy balance kind of surgical procedure. But that’s only a small function in terms of how this procedure works long term. 

And then I started to dive into this. Are there natural things that we can do to kind of mimic the hormonal and the gastrointestinal microbiome changes associated with this procedure? And, lo and behold, there’s a lot of research, there’s a lot of pharmacology, there’s a lot of drugs, natural compounds that kind of mirror the same physiologic effects that are observed from this very invasive and very medically expensive procedure called gastric bypass and bariatric surgery. 

I wrote a book on this back in 2014, it’s called Belly Fat Effect and it dives into the details of all the different natural things. And if we look at something very basic like exercise, when you exercise, yeah, you’re burning fat, you’re causing your muscles to move. But there’s also a microbiome shift, and it actually improves the diversity and therefore the integrity of your microbiome. So just by exercising, not only are you changing your metabolic health in your muscle tissue and in your liver favourably, but you’re also favourably improving the health of your gastrointestinal system and your microbiome. Various hormones that are released from our intestine. 

Let me just pause here. A lot of people think that well, when you eat sugar, you have a coke or you have a Pepsi, you have a soda, bread, your blood sugar rises and therefore your insulin rises. But while that is true, what’s even more upstream of that is you have a litany of 26 different so-called gut hormones. Medically, we call these incretin hormones, and incretin is derived from the Greek word ‘to happen before.’ What happens is when we’re eating food, these gut hormones are the first hormones to increase and they affect insulin release, they affect blood sugar levels in the post-meal window. 

So these incretins play a key role in how our body regulates the post-meal processing of all the energy that we eat and that’s why there’s a whole push for type 2 diabetic drugs and metabolic drugs and obesity drugs, looking at these gut hormones and how to manipulate them. Because what we’re seeing is the alteration in these gut hormones happens before insulin resistance kicks in. And so a lot of people wait till they get full type 2 diabetes and then they start taking insulin, but long before that process becomes so deranged, there’s a reduction in these gut hormones. 

To circle back to exercise, when you exercise, you increase these gut hormones. When you eat food in a predictable circadian rhythm fashion, like we introduced this conversation around time-restricted feeding, you too increase the healthy levels and secretion of these gut hormones. And so these people are eating 24 hours a day, snacking at midnight, going out to the pub at two or three in the morning, having pizza. Basically, your gut is not primed to process food during that time of the day. 

Your gut has a clock. Your gut is aligned with the rise and fall of the sun and so when it’s dark out, outside of nocturnal animals… I have backyard chickens and I have pigs and we have turkeys: they stop eating at 6 pm. Like when the sun goes down, they’re done. They’re not getting midnight snacks, they’re not getting ice cream or pizza, they’re asleep. As humans, were sometimes too smart for our own good. We think that because we’re able to eat whenever we want, that that’s acceptable. And that’s the problem with modern society: the conveniences of having access 24/7 to all this energy, it’s incongruent with our body’s physiology. And part of the mechanisms here is the microbiome, is the gut hormones, and all that. That’s kind of a very long back way of talking about the gut.

Darren: But I think it’s very important, Mike, because it kind of comes back to what I was saying earlier, and it’s about education. Because a lot of people will have access to these snacks, they will have the midnight snacks and they question: Why shouldn’t I? What’s the reason? What’s it going to do to me? I’m going to be fine. But actually, once you start to understand the science… 

And I don’t mean that people need to start reading scientific books and all the rest of it; there’s plenty of information, like this podcast, which will explain the reasons why and distil it down into really simple information that you can understand. I find that particularly with men and with dads, once they understand the reasons behind it and the reasons why, they join the dots. “Okay, right, so that’s why I shouldn’t be doing that. Okay, so that’s why I’ll stop doing it.” So I think it’s really important that we have that explanation and the reasons why behind it, not just because you shouldn’t. That’s not really a justification.

And often, not until it’s too late do people then make that change. Not until people have to start taking medication for type 2 diabetes do they then make the change. And I think particularly what you’re doing and particularly what I’m trying to do is make people aware that they should make the changes before the problem occurs. I think that kind of brings me on to the functional medicine piece because that’s an area which I find hugely fascinating and perhaps you can give the listeners a breakdown on what functional medicine is and why it’s important.

Mike: I would love to. This is a beautiful transition or segue into being more proactive and being a participant in your health. If we look at medicine and the creation of medicine as we know it today, medicine was kind of created and formed around fighting infectious acute diseases: cholera, diphtheria, bubonic plague, poisoning. Lifespan was shorter prior to the onset of traditional medicine and modern medicine as we know it because lifespan, historically amongst humans and also other animals, is contingent upon not getting sick from these acute diseases. Basically, that was the paradigm from which modern medicine stems from. 

What makes functional medicine different compared to conventional medicine at present is that same paradigm of treating acute disorders like, say, a chronic pathogenic bubonic plague or cholera, or diphtheria or tuberculosis, whatever pathogen you want to think about that negated lifespan in humanity, we’re applying that same paradigm to chronic diseases that are different in their aetiology or formation. So for example, you get cholera or tuberculosis, it’s a very sudden onset, it’s very acute and you need medicines right away. But for type 2 diabetes, basically it’s a lifestyle-induced, dietary-induced disease. 

If you don’t exercise, if you eat like crap, if you don’t manage your stress, if your sleep is all over the place, you’re overworking, you’re drinking too much alcohol, you’re doing all the wrong stuff, you’re not going to get that disease right away. It’s going to take decades, maybe even two to three decades before you have so much chronic build up and your metabolic pathways are so imbalanced that your blood pressure is elevated, that you then have low testosterone, low hormones, you have no energy, you have brain fog, and you need medicines. The difference is you can’t cure that or help that person long-term by just giving them a pill if they’re still making the poor lifestyle choices and that’s the challenge. 

Again, just to compare paradigms, we’re applying an acute care model to a chronic disease system and that’s what makes functional medicine different: we’re saying okay, well in the practice of functional medicine, we know that people that are getting these lifestyle-induced diseases, e.g., autoimmunity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, are not really arising from acute insults. They’re from chronic latent diseases and so the solution, the paradigm under which we’re going to ameliorate those diseases and help improve the health of that person is not just by taking a pill; it’s by doing the exercise and all the lifestyle stuff that we’ve been talking about. Compressing the feeding window, eating a low carb ketogenic diet, imparting some intermittent fasting protocol, managing stress and all that. So it’s all these different things. 

Now, the challenge there is doctors, as many people know, they don’t have a lot of time because of how they’re being reimbursed whether it’s through NHS or whether it’s the National Institutes of Health here in the US, and Medicare systems. They don’t have enough time. They’re not paid to sit with people for an hour and talk to them about their poor relationships or their stress or how much lack of sleep they’re getting. They’re given a drug and then they’re sent on their way and then they wonder why they are given another drug to mitigate the side effects from drug number one, and then round it goes.

Thankfully though, the reinsurers–the companies that are insuring the major insurance companies–are waking up because pretty soon here this is already unaffordable and it’s getting even more unaffordable. The companies that are financially backing the major insurance companies are like, “Whoa, everyone’s going to take a hit here,” and so they are implementing and trying to steer the practice of medicine to properly address, through lifestyle modifications, these lifestyle-induced diseases and so then this is the exciting thing.

I really like it because oftentimes we go to the doctor and we think, “The doctor knows everything, I’m just going to show up, I’m going to take the pill and I’m going to go home.” But for the chronic diseases that we’re trying to prevent and what is affecting the health of people, they need to be a participant. They need to be active, they can’t just take the pill and go home and not change anything; they need to be involved and that’s what’s exciting about functional medicine. It’s causing people to wake up and realise that, Yeah, the doctors are there for you but they don’t live with you and your day to day lifestyle decisions are going to determine your long-term health outcomes. 

So if you don’t want to lose your marbles and lose all cognitive function, if you don’t want to have a sudden cardiac death at the age of 50, then you need to pull up your bootstraps and take charge of your life. And so this is what’s really exciting; we’re kind of transitioning away from “The doctor knows everything. He gave me these medicines, I’m okay, I can eat whatever I want,” to, “Look, the doctor said I don’t need to take these medicines if I do all these things in my life and therefore I’m not going to experience the litany of side effects and the costs associated with that.” So it’s a pretty exciting time.

Darren: Yeah, I agree. It is a very exciting time and I think here in the UK, one of our biggest challenges is the fact that the NHS is such an amazing organisation, but it cannot continue in the way that it’s going at the moment, which is constantly putting money into the system. Because it’s just under so much strain, and if it continues in that way, it will just get to the point where we won’t be able to put enough money in to keep it going. Therefore, people waking up and taking responsibility for their health and being more proactive, I think is the better way to do it. 

I also believe that we’re in a very unique time from a technology standpoint as well, where there is so much now out on the market that, just for a little bit of education, there’s lots of tools that you can use to monitor yourself so that you can understand what your body’s doing on a daily basis. Things like heart rate variability and things like that which will give you an indication as to when your body’s under stress and when you are starting to get a little bit sick and things like that. So I think it comes back to education, awareness and consciousness again. I agree, I think it is a very, very exciting time. 

If we take it back to the simplicity side of it, Mike, and look at basic dietary principles, again we’ve talked about time-restricted eating. We haven’t talked about keto diets and, to be honest, I don’t necessarily like talking in that context of diets and keto and things like that. For me, keto is more about fat adaptation and metabolic flexibility, so I don’t like to use the terminology keto but obviously it has its place in our diet. The western modern diet has evolved over time to where it is today and there’s only a small subset of people who are following a fat adapted diet and fasting and the rest of it. What would you say are basic dietary principles, based on the knowledge you have, that you think people should follow?

Mike: That’s a great question. I think looking at prioritising protein. When you look at your plate, a lot of people are focusing on vegetables and carbohydrates and stuff like that but unless you’re doing a lot of physical activity and you’re very physically active, the body can make carbohydrates. It’s called gluconeogenesis. The body has a million and one mechanisms and hormones to raise glucose. It only has one hormone to lower it and that’s insulin. So I like to have people prioritise protein, eat fat because fat is good for satiety, fat is good especially as men age. What happens is if we become insulin resistant, it really wrecks our hormones and it causes us to have increased aromatisation of our major male hormone called testosterone into oestrogen. I think it’s very important for men to eat a lower carb, higher fat diet and use carbohydrates sparingly when and if needed. 

Look, if you’re going to go vacationing in Europe and go ride the Tour de France this summer, or before the tour starts, do a lot of rowing, you can have some carbs on that day. But if you’re just sitting around, hanging out with your spouse or your family or you’re at work, you don’t need a lot of carbohydrates. And so getting away from this idea that carbs are always bad to, “Carbs are a fuel source. I eat them when I need them, based upon my activity.” I think that’s key and protein is very essential for maintaining lean muscle mass as we age, for affecting satiety and appetite. So if you have eggs and avocado, maybe a little bacon or something like that, you’re not going to want to crave and have the doughnuts and the croissants and the baguettes. You’re going to be full and you’re going to be satiated. 

What we find is when people transition to a low carb diet, independent of all the beneficial effects of ketones and fat oxidation and cleaner fuel burning and all that good stuff, it’s just the satiety and so that, I think, is more favourable from a long-term health standpoint. That’s kind of where I stand on that and I’m not an anti-carb guy. As we get into summer, it makes more sense: we’re more active, the days are longer, these things are seasonally available so we can have more carbs then. But as we record this, Darren, in the dead of winter, there’s not a lot of fruit, not a lot of berries. There are certainly no mangoes growing where you’re from and definitely not where I’m from here in Seattle, Washington, so I’m not having those fruits and I don’t recommend having those fruits. 

I think when in doubt, consider the season and consider what would be growing around you because your microbiome and your metabolic pathways are adapting to your environment. The body’s always adapting to enhance survival and so this is the challenging thing. With this calorie model, we just say, “2000 calories a day, eat whatever you want as long as you’re under that calorie mark,” but what we don’t realise is our body is constantly adapting to our environment.

Darren: Definitely, and I think one of the areas which I’ve not delved into too much is the seasonality of foods. Again, with the modern food industry, we can have any food at any time of the year now. That doesn’t mean to say that we should have it and I think it’s really key what you said there: understanding the seasons and what food is available at that season and eat that food. And again, it’s just simple. It’s almost like we’ve come full circle, isn’t it? We’re going back to our ancestral roots and just living and eating simply like they used to. I think that’s really key. 

We talked a lot about insulin sensitivity and blood sugar and things like that and one of the things I’m very aware of is how bad it is for your blood sugar to continually spike and then crash. My understanding, Mike, the reason that it’s bad is because of the inflammation it can create in your body and the insulin resistance. Can you delve a little bit deeper into that? Because I think this is an area which is not widely talked about enough at the moment, but it’s very key to our long term health.

Mike: Yeah, this is a beautiful point and I’m glad you bring this up. There are many different ways but to make a long story short, for men listening and fathers listening, if you want to be around for your children and your grandchildren, you want to be more insulin sensitive. Because what happens is as we become more insulin resistant and we have higher levels of insulin, that just accelerates the aging phenomenon. And so now we can look at our epigenetic age, there are different blood markers that we can look at to see if we’re aging faster. 

If we keep these glucose levels and particularly the glucose fluctuations, those up and down peaks and valleys, if we keep those more compressed through eating a higher protein, higher fat and exercising, basically, we age biologically slower and we can preserve our mental capacities, our mental function. We can reduce inflammation, reduce our risk of cancer and things like that. I think that’s kind of the big thing and as we get away from over-consuming carbohydrates and having all this carbohydrate volatility, it also causes our mitochondria, which are these little powerhouses within our cells that power our brain–the ability to think and read and recall and speak. All these things are very important and driven by mitochondrial function. 

Mitochondrial function naturally declines with age anyway, so if we can rely more upon fatty acid oxidation and have more blood sugar sensitivity, we can kind of supercharge our mitochondria. I think that’s the big thing: from an aging standpoint, from a longevity standpoint, from a quality of life standpoint, it just makes a lot more sense to favour fat oxidation. What I mean by that is eating a more protein dominant, fat dominant diet, as opposed to bread and pasta and stuff like that.

Darren: I completely agree. But again, it’s understanding that fats are good for you but there’s a caveat with that as well, and that’s not just any fats, and everything is in moderation. The guys I work with, I always get them, as a first instance, to kind of do a food diary so that I can see the types of foods in terms of macro nutrient content that they’re eating. Pretty much 99% of the time, it’s always heavily weighted towards carbohydrates, there’s some fats in there but a minimal amount of protein. And just by switching those ratios around, you can get some impactful results in a very short space of time.

We’ve talked a lot about diet and the various different elements of diet. Obviously, physical fitness and exercise are key in all of this as well, to help with blood sugar stabilisation, to help with burning food and just being active, and it helps with our mitochondria. What would you say is a good fitness regime? There’s lots of different areas now with HIIT workouts, with CrossFit and everything else, but I would imagine, Mike, your approach is probably very simple.

Mike: Yeah, I try to be as simple as possible. Especially for men, I encourage good old fashioned weight training. The HIIT workouts and all that, that can be good if you’re one of the types of people that really need a lot of social support when it comes to exercise because most of the HIIT workouts, you’re doing it with a group in a CrossFit style setting or a group style setting, which is amazing. But I like to do powerlifting to hit every major muscle group one day per week and that’s going to help preserve lean muscle mass, that’s going to help slow down the loss of muscle that naturally happens with men. 

And the big thing that we need to understand about muscle is muscle really helps us with our blood sugar stability as we age, so very important. Also incorporating just movement into our days. Earlier this morning, I rode my bike to the gym, rode home, there’s a really steep hill that I sprint up and just moving around in that regard. Parts of the UK are very bike friendly, parts of Europe are very bike friendly. Walking, moving, is very important because you’re telling your body to oxidise fat by stimulating your muscles, so very important.

Darren: Yeah, I think that’s a key point as well because a lot of people don’t necessarily understand why walking is good because it is accessing a different fuel source, isn’t it? When we’re walking, we’re doing that lower level intensity of actually just moving. You’re using your fats as opposed to your glycogen stores, which is where carbohydrates come in. And obviously, when you’re doing your sprints up a hill, that’s when your body’s going to kick into burning glycogen from carbohydrates. 

Mike: Right.

Darren: To sum up then, Mike, what would you say would be the five key actions that the listeners could take away to improve their health and wellbeing?

Mike: Well, thanks for having me on, Darren. I think, as we talked about, just compressing that feeding window and trying to eat during daylight hours, doing your best to be consistent with your sleep. As parents and especially father figures, we’re oftentimes running businesses and working and parenting, so we’ve got to be mindful of our work life balance and putting boundaries on when we’re on the phone, when we’re on the computer, and just really prioritising that sleep is super important. 

Taking the taking the stairs, walking, trying to incorporate movement into everyday life. Especially with the kids just go out: hey, let’s go take a walk, let’s go do this. Instead of driving, let’s ride our bikes to wherever we’re going to go, to the park, or scooter. Move that way. And prioritise: make sure that you’re hitting your weight resistance training and hitting the weights. This can be body weights, this can be air squats, this can be push ups. Lean muscle mass is really protective as we age. So yeah, that’s what I would say. 

And pay attention to signs. If your libido is down, if you’re not getting morning erections, your sex drive is down, obviously change your diet and so forth but don’t be shy to go into a doctor and check your hormones. See what’s going on there because that’s a sign that something’s not right and you’ve got to tweak some things. 

All the different things we talked about with regards to supporting metabolic flexibility and metabolic health also affect hormones too, and that’s great. Everything comes full circle and this is all iterative. It’s a big flywheel moving and you want to just keep the momentum of the flywheel and hit it from different angles all the time so that you have some inertia built up when it comes to your health.

Darren: I definitely think tuning into yourself and not just accepting things that are not right as being the norm, is really key. I think, a lot of the times men–and I’ve got a guy that I’m working with at the moment–we just accept and we think it’s okay and we think we’ve just got to push through it. Actually, no. If you’ve got this cloud over you, if you’re feeling a bit under the weather, just stop and kind of introspect into yourself and just think. I don’t normally feel like this; what’s going on? What have I changed? What am I doing? And just have that awareness. Like you say, don’t be afraid to go to the doctor and get yourself checked out.

Before we wrap up, Mike, it’s been really great to have you on the podcast. I really appreciate your time. But what didn’t I ask you that you feel that I should have asked you, which would benefit the listeners?

Mike: Great question. I’m not sure…we covered a lot. Mindset is so important. The belief that you can do this and you can change, is really important. I think a lot of people, a lot of clients that I’ve worked with, they’ve had body composition issues, body weight issues, health issues their whole life, so they kind of feel like this is just how I’m going to be, this is just how I am but the body is really adaptable. Our bodies adapt to our environment in real time all the time so it’s very important to have the belief that you can and you will change, and you will change your body over time. I think that’s an important point. Just having the mindset and belief.

What you think is what you become, so a lot of people have these ruminating repetitive negative thoughts and negative self-talk and that can manifest into those thoughts. And so even if you have a little bit of doubt, just believe. The placebo effect is so strong so visualise your belly fat shrinking, visualise your ability to have more confidence, visualise your muscles getting bigger. A lot of bodybuilders, a lot of athletes, use and leverage visualisation techniques to make it to the professional level. And a lot of people think “Oh, that’s hogwash, that doesn’t work, that’s woo-woo spiritual stuff,” but it’s very effective. And this is why some of the top performers in the world, before they take the stage, before they hit the field, they’re visualising success and they believe in themselves. I think a lot of people, we eat the best foods and we exercise but we have these destructive thoughts and that holds us back, so I think that’s something that we definitely can’t disregard.

And as men, it sounds weird to talk about positive self-talk and affirmations, it’s kind of a girly thing. But look, some of the most masculine men, wealthy men, actors, performers, executives, they believe in themselves and they have sticky notes and post-its and stuff in their car, in their wallet, to constantly reinforce their goals and who they’re trying to be as people. So I think that’s something that we really should also focus on, in addition to everything we talked about.

Darren: Definitely. I agree with that and there’s also science to back that up now as well, in terms of visualisation and the impacts and effects that it has so I think that’s a great point to end on, Mike. In terms of how the listeners can find out more about you, I know you’ve got a fantastic YouTube channel, you’ve got a great website, how can people connect with you, Mike?

Mike: That’d be amazing. If anyone enjoyed this podcast, I’m on HighIntensityHealth.com, that’s my website. I’m pretty active on YouTube, I also do my own podcast in iTunes, and then on Instagram as well. Happy to connect with anyone that thought this was of benefit.

Darren: Yeah, that’d be great. I highly recommend guys to check out, particularly your YouTube channel and your podcast. There’s so much great information, you have some great guests on there and you get really deep and down into specific topics. Mike, thank you very much again for coming on. I really appreciate your time and I look forward to hopefully speaking to you again soon.

Mike: Sounds amazing. Thanks so much for having me on, Darren.

Darren: Thanks for listening to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please hit subscribe and I would really appreciate it if you could leave a review on iTunes. All the links mentioned in the episode will be in the show notes and a full transcription is over at FitterHealthierDad.com.

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