T Nation

Tampa Terry - Conversion to Fat Burn

Tampa Terry,

I saw you were online so I jumped at the chance. I’m on the T-Dawg 2.0 diet and for the first time ever, I’m tracking food using a log. So it’s probably the first time I’m actually following it correctly.

A while back, you posted something about there being period of adjustment before the body converts to the new diet. In particular you mentioned that it craves carbs until it changes over. Can you detail that a little, as to what the process is, or what happens, what to expect and roughly how long it takes?

Plus, does the same happen in reverse, that IF you were to go back to old habits, you’d notice a week or two of feeling awful before your body adjusted to the previous (probably bad) diet?

Thanks.

Congrats on keeping a food log, flynniec6! I can tell you’re getting serious, there, flynniec6. (grin)

What you’ve seen me say is that when you go on a carb restricted diet like T-Dawg 2.0, your body shifts from being a carb/sugar burner to being a fat burner and that that transition takes a week to 10 days. You might feel lethargic or mentally fuzzy/foggy. You might even have headaches.

To ease the transition, take full advantage of coffee, green tea and/or Power Drive. After you get past that transition, you’ll find that you’re more mentally alert, and that you don’t suffer from the after-lunch sleepies. It’s pretty cool.

For carb cravings, try either HOT-ROX or 5-HTP.

And no, you won’t pay a price if you go back to eating a higher-carb diet (like you would need to do when bulking). The body prefers using carbs for energy over stored fat.

Thanks, much obliged. I have some of the mental blahs at the moment and it’s tempting to add “just a few” carbs to get through sporting activities/work/sitting on the couch. But it’s starting to pass.

Oh, and lest anyone underestimate the power of these forums, even simple answers like the one above (“yes, you will have blahs and they will pass”) really really help.

Instead of me wondering if it’s worth it, wondering if I’m different or doing something wrong, calculating if there’s an easier way, or looking for another system, now I’m just thinking “another week will see it done” and I’ll stick it.

Thanks to all who take the time to respond.

I’ve got a question along these same lines. I understand that going low carb causes your body to “switch” from carb-burning mode to fat-burning mode, but is it really that black and white, or is there a gray area in between where your body will use carbs as they’re available, and switch to fat when they aren’t (assuming calorie expenditure has exceeded intake)?

The reason I ask is that, if it were that clear cut, then any old diet simply wouldn’t work, because as long as you consumed over X amount of carbs, your body would stay in carb-burning mode, and (I’m assuming) preferentially release muscle and liver glycogen and eventually break down muscle tissue as opposed to fat, since (I’m assuming) muscle proteins can be converted to glucose if absolutely necessary. You see my confusion? By this model, only low carb diets would ever be successful in producing fat loss.

Intuitively, one would always expect the body to preferentially burn fat once any calorie deficit is reached and glycogen stores have been depleted, regardless of what the bulk of macronutrient consumption was. After all, that’s what fat’s for: stored energy to be used later if necessary. Isn’t consistent resistance exercise enough to “instruct” the body to spare muscle tissue?

Everyone talks about how the body is such a brilliant adaptive organism, yet it seems pretty damn stupid to me if it’s storing excess calories as fat, then burning muscle when there’s a calorie deficit, all while it’s being forced to periodically lift massive amounts of weight. Wouldn’t the most prudent adaptive response in that situation be to preserve muscle at all costs, and burn fat, since that is the very purpose for which disgusting human fat exists in the first place?

Damn body. Always thinking it knows what’s best for us.

The body is brilliant. It’s just adapted to the conditions our species faced over millions of years. It’s only in the last several thousand that we’ve had a surplus of food. Throughout most of our history, food was scarce. So, the body breaks down muscle first when there’s an excessive deficit to save essential fat stores. Muscle is a very metabolically costly tissue, and the body doesn’t really want more. Weight lifters are significantly more muscular than any ancient Homo sapiens could ever have been even engaging in strenuous activity because food was not plentiful enough to fuel the highly metabolic tissue that muscle is. Fat typically comes along with muscle in bulks because it takes enough calories to convince the body that the muscle will be fed, and this amount is enough for fat gain. Throughout most of evolution, fat was not a bad thing, and it was beneficial for us to store fat whenever a food surplus became available because lean times were sure to be around the bend. Not so good anymore when there’s a KFC around the bend. Of course there are many things we can do to ‘trick’ our ancient DNA. Like eating more protein, many small meals, and lifting during a cutting phase to prevent muscle loss. If in a caloric deficit, the body will ultimately still lose fat (even though not necessarily as effectively) on a higher carb diet because all the carbs will ultimately be used for energy and maintence and fat stores must still be tapped into. Protein is more thermic than carbs and speeds up the metabolism. There are also other reasons detailed in The Protein Debate article why protein is conducive to fat loss and muscle maintenance during cutting and less likely to lead to fat gain during bulking.

Thanks for taking the time, jsbrook. I’m going to respond to a couple of your points to further illustrate my confusion.

[quote]jsbrook wrote:
Throughout most of our history, food was scarce. So, the body breaks down muscle first when there’s an excessive deficit to save essential fat stores. Muscle is a very metabolically costly tissue, and the body doesn’t really want more.[/quote]

See, this is the very crux of what I’m not understanding. Why would the body break down muscle first in order to preserve fat stores? The very reason for having fat stores is to use as energy when food is scarce! The body obviously had a reason for BUILDING that muscle in the first place, so why would it then break down the muscle (which has negative survival implications in and of itself) in order to SAVE the FAT?!?!? Burn the damn fat! That’s why you stored it in the first place! Conserving fat at the expense of muscle tissue is the very antithesis of a survival response. The result is you’re left with a heavier body (which requires more calories to move around), and less muscle with which to move that flab (and run from predators, chase food, etc.). It’s completely counterintuitive.

Okay, so the idea is that by eating more carbs, that just means there’s that much more carbs to burn off before tapping into fat, I guess? But replace those carbs with protein, and you still have a potential source of glucose, it just requires a bit more work to convert that protein (which I’m assuming accounts for the added thermogenic “cost” of protein consumption vs. fat, etc.). Assuming that you only ideally need 1.0 to 2.0g / kg / d of protein in order to grow, then is the only true benefit of going low carb the fact that you’re getting less actual glucose out of your food, since something like 70 to 75% of the calories represented by protein are actually available to the body once the protein is converted to glucose? Could you get the same effect by just eating carbs instead, but adjusting your intake to account for that differential?

Does protein really “speed up” the metabolism, or does it just require more calories to be digested and used as energy by the body (or for building tissue, or being stored as fat, etc.)? Does your body really say, “okay great, more protein, time to release more thyroid stimulating hormone and burn more calories for no reason”?

[quote]ChrisPowers wrote:
Thanks for taking the time, jsbrook. I’m going to respond to a couple of your points to further illustrate my confusion.

jsbrook wrote:
Throughout most of our history, food was scarce. So, the body breaks down muscle first when there’s an excessive deficit to save essential fat stores. Muscle is a very metabolically costly tissue, and the body doesn’t really want more.

See, this is the very crux of what I’m not understanding. Why would the body break down muscle first in order to preserve fat stores? The very reason for having fat stores is to use as energy when food is scarce! The body obviously had a reason for BUILDING that muscle in the first place, so why would it then break down the muscle (which has negative survival implications in and of itself) in order to SAVE the FAT?!?!? Burn the damn fat! That’s why you stored it in the first place! Conserving fat at the expense of muscle tissue is the very antithesis of a survival response. The result is you’re left with a heavier body (which requires more calories to move around), and less muscle with which to move that flab (and run from predators, chase food, etc.). It’s completely counterintuitive.[/quote]

Sure. I’m no expert. But from my understanding of evolutionary anthropology, there was little surplus fat stores during most of our existence. Most of what we had on our bodies was reasonably close to essential fat. So, in times of famine, we would want to hold onto it and would catabolize some muscle. Some fat still was lost. Muscle is functional and helped us get our prey butis metabolically a costly tissue and was not all that helpful if there was no food available for it to help hunt or gather. But this is the body’s response in starvation-like circumstances.

A proper cutting diet isn’t analogous to this and shouldn’t induce this, and it hasn’t in my experience. 500-1000 calories below maintenence consisting of many smaller, protein-rich meals, coupled with weight-training (our ancestor’s definitley wouldn’t have been engaging in hard exercise in the absence of food)has resulted in minimal to zero muscle loss, at least for me.

[quote]ChrisPowers wrote:

If in a caloric deficit, the body will ultimately still lose fat (even though not necessarily as effectively) on a higher carb diet because all the carbs will ultimately be used for energy and maintence and fat stores must still be tapped into.

Okay, so the idea is that by eating more carbs, that just means there’s that much more carbs to burn off before tapping into fat, I guess? But replace those carbs with protein, and you still have a potential source of glucose, it just requires a bit more work to convert that protein (which I’m assuming accounts for the added thermogenic “cost” of protein consumption vs. fat, etc.). Assuming that you only ideally need 1.0 to 2.0g / kg / d of protein in order to grow, then is the only true benefit of going low carb the fact that you’re getting less actual glucose out of your food, since something like 70 to 75% of the calories represented by protein are actually available to the body once the protein is converted to glucose? Could you get the same effect by just eating carbs instead, but adjusting your intake to account for that differential? [/quote]

I suppose you could have a higher percentage of carbs and lower overall caloric intake. I’m not exactly sure of all the scientific aspects of it, to tell you the truth. But I’ve personally have better results in terms of body composition with a higher protein diet as a practical matter. This is even true for performance as an endurance athlete. I competed at a fairly high level. Finished with that, I’m training for mass for the first time. I have a very protein-heavy diet for this bulk now as well. Read The Proten Debate article if you haven’t already. I really liked it.

[quote]ChrisPowers wrote: Protein is more thermic than carbs and speeds up the metabolism.

Does protein really “speed up” the metabolism, or does it just require more calories to be digested and used as energy by the body (or for building tissue, or being stored as fat, etc.)? Does your body really say, “okay great, more protein, time to release more thyroid stimulating hormone and burn more calories for no reason”?

[/quote]

I don’t know exactly, but I think the body works harder to digest protein, so it burns more calories in doing so. Digestion is a part of metabolism.
I hope that Tampa Terry also responds. I’m sure she is more knowledgeable than I am and can give more scientific explanations. But I hope I was able to help some.