You know how a steak is marbled with fat—the fatter the animal, the more fat you see marbled through the muscle meat?
Did you know the same thing can happen in your muscles?
When you don’t have your strength, when you’re not training, when you’re de-conditioned or sedentary, the muscles in the human body can actually become marbled with fat.
I don’t know about you, but that image alone is enough to keep me training.
And we have the perfect guests here today. I’m happy to say that joining us is Dr. Gregory Kelly, a Naturopathic physician, author of Shape Shift: The Shape Intelligence Solution, and the director of product development over at Neurohacker Collective.
Dr. Kelly has published numerous articles on natural medicine and nutrition, contributed three chapters to the Textbook of Natural Medicine and has more than 30 journal articles indexed on PubMed.
He’s the real deal. And on today’s episode, we’re talking about:
- Why you don’t want marbled muscles
- Taking a holistic view of health
- How sunlight is related to fat loss
- Longevity and two core things to focus on reinforcing as you age
- And tons more…
Let’s go hang out with Dr. Kelly.
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Dr. Gregory Kelly: Getting Healthy While Creating Your Ideal Shape
Abel: Alright folks, welcome back. Today we’re here with Dr. Gregory Kelly, a Naturopathic Physician, author and the Director of Product Development at Neurohacker Collective.
Dr. Kelly has published numerous articles on natural medicine and nutrition, contributed 3 chapters to the Textbook of Natural Medicine, and has more than 30 journal articles indexed on PubMed.
Thanks so much for joining me on the show, Dr. Kelly.
Oh, it’s my pleasure. Awesome to be on your show.
Abel: We were just talking a little bit before this, about your book here, Shape Shift: The Shape Intelligence Solution, Getting Healthy While Creating Your Ideal Shape.
I go through stacks of books every year, as I’m sure a lot of us do who are kind of in the field, and you read a lot of dry stuff that you’ve read before thousands of times.
And it’s so interesting in your book that it reads like common sense in a wonderful way.
But a lot of the advice in it, some of the tips, some of the questions, the things to think about are very uncommon knowledge.
Yeah, for sure. It was one of the reasons that led me to write the book.
Certain things like, well obviously, sleep is way more on our radar now than it would have been when I wrote it 10 years ago.
But sleep, I would put in the same category as what we eat and how we exercise in terms of affecting the shape of our body.
Abel: And a lot of people they’ll, for whatever reason against their better judgement because it just violates common sense, they’ll go by the scale.
They’ll use weight, they’ll use BMI to track their progress.
And one of the biggest reasons people don’t get results is because they’re not really tracking their progress and managing what they’re doing all that well.
So framing your book and your work around the shape of your body makes a lot more sense.
Yeah, I know. Originally, I guess the impetus for that was—I try to be very intentional with my language, both in my personal life and when I work directly with patients.
I taught a course that would have been more mind-body medicine for naturopaths in the early 2000s.
And to me, what one weighed is pretty non-specific. There’s good weight, there’s bad weight in a general sense.
We don’t want to lose muscle. We do want to deplete fat.
And then to me loss implies, like, “I’m going to turn over every rock in my house to find whatever I lost.”
So it just seemed like, “Wow, we’ve really chosen a poor way to frame the goal here.”
Where shifting our shape, because really, sustainable improvement of how we look and feel is almost always about shifting habits in a way that makes it so we can sustain those over time.
Sustainable improvement of how we look and feel is almost always about shifting habits. @theneurohacker Click To Tweet
Abel: Yeah, and then some of your book was just visceral.
When I read the part about marbled meat, when your muscles atrophy.
When you don’t have your strength, when you’re not training, when you’re sedentary, your meat becomes marbled.
And I just can’t get that out of my head.
So maybe you can just rant on that a little.
Yeah, yeah, so there’s frankly all different types of body fat.
So we have the fat right under our skin, subcutaneous fat. That is health positive, we don’t want to necessarily deplete that, that’s a positive adaptation.
We’ve got visceral fat around our inner organs that causes all kinds of metabolic havoc, it’s related to sleep apnea and things like that.
And then inside of our muscles, we store fat and that’s a good thing. That’s fuel for our muscles while we’re engaging in an endurance activity.
But we don’t want them to be marbled.
One of the other things I really focused on was the specificity of things.
So like a cool study I saw it was probably in 2007. And so it was an endurance exercise study that lasted six weeks.
They looked at weight loss or body weight, they looked at BMI, but they also then looked at body fat percentage.
And in addition to the exercise, one group, they exposed to morning intense bright light.
So they used a light box for, I think it was 30 to 60 minutes every morning.
And so ultimately, over those six weeks, BMI, weight loss were pretty much the same, whether the exercises did or didn’t have the bright light.
But when they measured body fat, there was a huge difference. And in this case, it was like 2 kilograms, so four and a half pounds.
So that’s completely missed if we only focus on weight.
It’s just one of those, again, almost ludicrous things when you start to look into the studies and realize that we would have missed the boat on the benefit of morning bright light in the study, if we hadn’t focused on the body fat loss.
Which I don’t know about you and the people that follow you, but when I work with people directly, they were all about losing body fat.
Abel: And that’s why it’s so important to see this holistically.
I wanted you to talk about this, too. Just the idea that there’s one miracle fat burner pill or one single nutrient or one single thing that’s going to do all this magic for you.
That’s just really not how all this works, it’s more about combinations of things.
It’s about circumstances, environment, cycles. There’s a lot going on.
And so this idea that we can approach it with this magic fat burner pill or a solution type idea, that just doesn’t work.
It doesn’t. Yeah.
I mean, I guess the way I think about it is: It would work until it didn’t.
The incredible thing… In the book, I talk a lot about body fat intelligence, and like networks of things together.
So our immune system is a network—the neurons in our brain, our body fat cells.
And we could say muscle cells are their own network.
So those things learn and adapt, and that’s one of the reasons that like calorie restriction ends up not working sustainably because essentially our body outsmarts us.
And so with at least what I’ve seen to date, whether it’s a pharmaceutical drug, or a combination of stacking supplements together for losing body fat, the body adapts to that stuff pretty quickly.
So yes, you’ll lose some weight, you usually plateau way higher than you desired, and over time you end up starting to gain back that lost fat despite staying on that product.
So that would be my baseline expectation until proven otherwise.
How to Shed Your Fat Memory
Abel: Right. So how do we deal with this kind of memory of the amount of fat that our body wants to hold, that threshold stays too high for a lot of people. And like you said, is higher than they’d like it to be.
How do you approach that?
So for me, one of the things, obviously exercise is a key part of it. But one of the things that ultimately I felt fairly strongly about when I wrote the book was the frequency of movement was maybe more important than the duration.
So we often hear about exercise, “Okay, I’m going to do cardio and burn X amount of calories.”
I don’t think that’s the recipe.
So if you think like in a naturalistic sense or like a city like New York, cities in Europe, people walk a lot of their day. Their frequency of movement is pretty high, even though they may not be going out for a run.
And that frequency of movement seems to be strongly correlated with staying lean.
So my analogy in the book was that. Something like three moves is as good as a fire.
The idea of like you’ve moved houses a few times, which you have, obviously.
You start to get rid of anything unnecessary.
And so I think shape intelligence is always making a calculation, “Okay, well, I need, like X amount of body fat would be a good protection against things I learned in the past for the future, but heck, I’m moving a lot now, so maybe I need to recalculate how much I should defend.”
And so to me it’s all about convincing that intelligence to defend last, not trying to steal it directly from it.
Abel: Yeah, and so the idea that you could just go out and go for that run at a nice easy pace with a constant clip the whole time, and then eat your 480 calorie muffin or something after that, that’s just not really a good plan.
Yet that’s how almost every program is set up.
Yeah. I used to be an avid bicyclist.
This was, say, 20 years ago. I lived in Connecticut and I would go on these long rides with people, and the woman that I did a lot of my training with was super great shape. Like, she would put me to shame.
She taught spinning during the week, really great shape. Top-notch athlete.
But a lot of the people we biked with were good bike riders, but when you looked at their shape, you’d be like, “Huh?”
Like you would think with the amount that they’re riding on the weekends, that investment would pay out better for their shape.
But what would happen is they wouldn’t exercise much during the week, and the long weekend rides were an excuse to have donuts and other things during the week.
Right. So no judgment against donuts, but again, that idea of frequency. It’s better not to just condense all of your workout into a few long things on the weekend, but to move more during the course of your day.
Move more during the course of your day. @theneurohacker Click To Tweet
Abel: And when you look at the research, too, it’s really compelling the way it’s laid out in your book, the contrast between just steady-state constant exercise, and varied, kind of like burst training and more intense training.
So your body can actually adapt, there’s a big difference in results there.
I mean, I think, obviously, more and more people have embraced the high-intensity, intermittent type approach to exercise, but it’s just more naturalistic.
It’s what our bodies were designed to do. You must be familiar with HeartMath, the Institute of HeartMath, and heart rate variability?
Abel: Yeah, yeah.
I remember talking to them, again, ages and ages ago. And one of the things they mentioned is two groups of people early on that they noticed had a heart rate variability that was less good than they would have expected based on their habits were long-term meditators, and were people that had done endurance running for long periods of time.
And their sense was with the running that constant cadence was essentially training their nervous system to have a really narrow range of plasticity.
Where the type of exercise you were just talking about does the opposite.
So one of my core workouts is I’ll skip rope. A 100 skips as fast as I can, but then rest 2 or 3 minutes, and then repeat. And do that cycle for about 8 cycles.
And really the way I think of that, that’s training me to get my heart rate as high as I can, as quick as I can, but then also training recovery.
Training me to get my heart rate as high as I can, as quick as I can, but then also training recovery. @theneurohacker Click To Tweet
So I love the contrast.
And I think in general, if we’re trying to get healthy, stay healthy, creating contrast is super important.
Abel: And it’s more interesting. You can tell that more stuff is happening and you can do so much less exercise and really get an incredible result.
The way I like to think about it is, you’re building more gears or you’re cycling through your gears of different speeds.
And so like you were saying, you don’t want to have that narrow band where you can just kind of go forever at this pace. That wouldn’t be useful in life really.
Like running the same pace for a really long time, just isn’t that useful.
Whereas if you’re training for strength or for your reflexes. If you’re training that kind of go-type reaction in yourself for speed, for strength, and all of that, then you actually are training in a completely different way.
So no wonder you get such different results.
Yeah, I think of it is, the difference between training for a specific sports outcome, you know, being able to complete that race in a great time, versus building fitness that’s like a broad-based fitness that can be repurposed into a lot of areas.
And at least my priority has always been to build that more non-specific fitness.
Abel: Yeah. And the effects on the nervous system and brain health are, although they get some attention, they’re still way underrated.
Don’t you think?
Yeah. Yeah, I think, it’s again like, I think we miss nuance and in context a lot.
I know in my job, periodically, I’ll get asked to answer questions for customers, and quite often, the questions have to do with almost black or white: Is this good? Is this bad?
But with most supplements and with most things in life, it’s the dose.
So, as the saying goes, the dose makes the poison.
So I tend to not think of things as good or bad. I try to think as useful or not useful.
Like is the dose going to be something that causes a really fast adaptation? You can do this.
I think of, again, exercise.
There’s a, it’s called Yerkes-Dodson law, but think of like an upside-down U, and it’s an adaptational curve.
So if someone that has never exercised or it’s been a while, they’re going from sedentary and decide to exercise, literally, whatever they start to do, their fitness is going to improve.
And if they keep doing that, they’re going to eventually over-train unless they introduce some type of variance into that exercise routine.
So they’ve marched up the upside down U to the plateau, and if they continue to do that, then potentially, their performance will worsen, eventually.
And in general, the more intense something is, the quicker that will march through that adaptational curve.
So if you think walking, we could probably walk every day for the rest of our lives and never get all the way through that curve.
But if we ran a marathon every day for the next month, we would probably be completely used up.
So I try to always think about the adaptational curve, and in general, intensity is the key thing that speeds up or slows down.
So if we do brief intensity, then we don’t have to worry.
If we do intense, but we’re two hours in the gym, we’re going to probably crunch down that time before we over-train.
Training for Longevity
Abel: Yeah, and so it’s important also to recognize the wear and tear that you’re putting on your body when you’re training for these different events if you want to think about longevity, which we all should be.
Thankfully, that’s getting more attention, but, “What are you training for?” is a great question to ask yourself, especially right now.
And so if you are training for longevity, then these events that seem like they might be really good, doing the same thing over and over again, might not be so great and might not be so ancestrally informed, not that natural for us to do.
Because when you look at the seasons, when you look at nature, animals display dramatically different behaviors based on different seasons.
Even the lunar cycle, that was a great part reading your book.
I didn’t realize this. Our plates or our portion sizes grow 8% bigger on full moons compared to new moons.
Our portion sizes grow 8% bigger on full moons compared to new moons. @theneurohacker Click To Tweet
It’s a full moon today, so I guess we’re having a big dinner.
Yeah. Well, just again, the impact of rhythms.
So chronobiology, whether those are circadian rhythms, your daily rhythms, monthly rhythms, which are much more powerful in women than men, but they affect all of us, and then annual rhythms.
So we all have some genes that are hibernatory genes.
One of the articles I published at one point on PubMed was on the seasonal variation in cholesterol.
And the gist of it is, our cholesterol is routinely higher in the winter than it is in the summer.
Enough so that significantly more people would be diagnosed and put on a medication if they have their blood tested in January or February than this time, like June, August timeframe.
And I’m sure there’s no malice intended, but it’s obviously a coincidence that Heart Month is February.
Abel: Yeah, wow.
So I think those things are important to pay attention to because we can make the wrong calls if we don’t pay attention to timing.
Abel: And one of the things that is promising about technology, recently especially as we’re going from the snapshot-based analyses where you get your blood work, but it’s from a week ago or two weeks ago, you get this little snapshot.
Compared to the Oura Ring tracking your heart rate variability on a regular basis, tracking your sleep day-to-day-to-day.
And then continuous glucose monitoring and things like that, where you can actually look at not just these snapshots, but you can look at how your body is reacting to the different things that you’re throwing at it.
Yeah, and it’s only going to get better, in terms of getting good feedback.
So, I have my Oura Ring.
Abel: Yeah, I saw that.
And Oura measures body temperature and reports on it across the night, but more only just a deviation from your normal.
But my understanding is they’re tracking it second by second, 24/7.
And at least one of the researchers that we’re acquainted with here at Neurohacker Collective has accessed some of the data and he’s is starting to look at the circadian changes in it.
And so my guess would be at some point, Oura will probably let us know that information, too, because what you’ll generally see is the healthiest people have the biggest delta between their first morning body temperature and about 14 hours later.
So like that idea that temperature is 98.6°F is again, well, that depends when you measured it.
If you’re really healthy at 7:00am, 7:30am in the morning, it’s probably in the high 96’s.
And maybe 14 hours later, it’s going to be slightly above 98.6°F, and that difference is super important for predicting how resilient you are.
The bigger the wave, essentially, the healthier that person typically is.
So my guess would be at some point, Oura will use that data and give us some cool predictions.
Abel: Yeah, it’s a really a fascinating time if you embrace that.
Double-edged sword, of course, and there are security risks, and all of that, that we’ll have to grapple with as a society as we get more and more hooked into these machines and tracking and whatever.
But if you embrace it, especially right now, it’s incredible, the amount of tracking you can get for just a few hundred dollars.
Compared to, this used to be hundreds of thousands of dollars, or impossible just a few years ago.
Yeah, oh absolutely. We’re in a great and improving time.
It used to be called quantified self, the movement now that we would think of as biohackers.
But yeah, it’s getting better and better for the people with that inclination.
And I think the only potential downside is…
There was an author, I was a big fan of his work in the ’90s named Stephen Covey, I think his book was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
One of his sayings was, “The enemy of the best is often the good.”
And so I try to keep in mind that there’s an unlimited amount of good things, but ultimately, we’re going to get the most bang from our buck if we can figure out what are the best things to pay attention to and do.
The risk is information overload, frankly.
So that’s why people like you and your podcast, your work is so valuable, because it distills down, essentially, this is the best. This is where your attention should be focused.
Abel: I hope so, yeah.
But knowing something, or hearing something, knowing that you should do it, doesn’t necessarily make you do it.
Like an example from the book is 1 out of 5 people engage in resistance training.
I wonder how that looks under lockdown. It might be, it’s probably much worse.
But 1 out of 5, are you kidding me?
With all of the benefits and all of the history that humans have, strengthening their muscles and bones throughout life, now just 1 out of 5 people?
Well you know, I used to do consulting for a Fortune 500 company that had built a really awesome gym right in their headquarters.
And whenever I would go there, it was usually twice a year to do kind of a consultation visit, I was shocked by how unused that was.
And the truth was, the people that used it would have been using a gym outside there.
It was the same when I was an officer in the Navy. We had basically the equivalent of those all-in-one things that would have, like for pull down legs, you know, that was all you could fit on a ship of the size I was on.
But there was, I think, there were 2 officers out of 25 that literally ever went in there.
Abel: Wow. Why is that?
You know, I think often it’s like this illusion of busyness, “I’m too busy to invest in this thing.”
The upside is not as evident to us. And it’s, the slow progress of loss of muscle tissue.
By the time we start tracking it, we’re well down that road.
And then I don’t know about your experience, but mine has always been, until I do something once, overcoming the inertia to do it that first time is challenging.
So literally like at that Fortune 500 company, if they could have just got everyone in there one time, the chance is that a high percentage of them would have then come back, would have gone way up.
But relying on them to go in there the first time, maybe not.
And, I know I was one of those super, scrawny kids that could eat three plates of food and never gain a pound.
And you know, I was an officer in the navy. And one of my mid-shipping cruises, which was, I was in ROTC in college, and so we would go away for 4 weeks and do something Navy-related.
So I think it was between my sophomore and junior year, I bet I weighed 130 pounds.
Abel: Oh my god.
So I was like one of the only guys I knew, we actually came to Coronado, here in San Diego.
And he was a bodybuilder kind of guy, and he just said, “Greg, you’re coming with me every day to the gym.”
So for those 4 weeks, he brought me in, he showed me what to do.
I probably would have never gone in on my own, because I was so self-conscious about being skinny and weak.
But by the end of those four weeks, I felt like, “Jeez, I belong.”
And I’d made marked improvements in a relatively short period of time, as you’d expect.
Being new to that, and it just became a part of my life.
So, you know, huge props to him. Because if he hadn’t dragged my butt there, I don’t know if I’d have ever.
I don’t think I would have been those 1 in 5. Like who knows.
Abel: It’s so interesting because if you’re after longevity, which people will just like cruise social media all day looking at advertisements for the next thing, when they could just lift the kettlebell with proper form, for just a couple of minutes, a few days a week for the rest of their lives.
You’ve reached that critical threshold where as long as you’re able to continue to do that with balance, you’re cool.
As long as you can open a jar with your hands, you’re cool.
But as soon as you lose that grip strength, that balance, that’s when aging really starts to hit.
Well, even with like, balance is another one of those super important things.
What I’ll do, if I’m watching TV, I’ll get up a couple of times each hour and just do like a standing-on-one-foot yoga pose for 30 seconds.
Because if you don’t, I’m 58, if I don’t use it, I’ll lose it.
And balance along with muscle strength are probably the two core things that need to be constantly reinforced.
Balance along with muscle strength are probably the 2 core things that need to be constantly reinforced. @theneurohacker Click To Tweet
Abel: Have you come across anything that’s helped with compliance in terms of resistance training?
As a hedge against premature aging and muscle loss, is there a way to get people who wouldn’t normally go into that gym to actually do it and implement it in their own lives?
Well I think, like I said, the core thing is overcoming that initial inertia.
So making the commitment, finding a buddy, hiring a trainer, if that’s what it takes early on, just to get comfortable.
Like make it so it feels like, “I belong here.”
But then, I think sometimes, I’ve seen what I think of as a lot of poor strategies by trainers, almost pushing someone too hard out of the gate.
Which I get. They’re trying to make a big difference in that person quickly, but I’m a much more “start slow, build up” kind of person.
Abel: I’m with you.
The Importance of Recovery
The other thing that to me made a huge difference, just personally, in my weight training. So I used to be one of those people, into the gym, boom, boom, boom, machine to machine, or free weight to free weight, maybe 30 – 45 second rest between, done 20 – 25 minutes.
And about 4 or 5 years ago I saw a study where they had two groups of men, and I think the men were in their 50s, but don’t quote me on that. But essentially they had them do the same weight lifting program.
In one they had them rest between sets for 1 minute, and the other group it was 5 minutes.
And what they found is both of them gained equivalently in strength, but muscle size and overall body shape was way better with that longer duration rest.
And they also then measured testosterone levels, I believe it was later that day and then again 48 hours later.
And there was a massive difference in having that extra rest.
So I thought, jeez, maybe I’ve been approaching this really incorrectly in my goal to be expedient with the time I’m investing.
And since that I literally, on my phone or my watch, set a three-minute timer between and force myself to have that much rest.
And it’s made a massive difference in my strength and my ability to continually get stronger with what I think of as like the core parts, deadlifts, squats. They’re really heavy and my ability to stay mentally engaged through the workout is way better.
Before, I used to often find myself mentally fatigued, either disengaging or doing a half-hearted effort for the last few sets. Whereas now that really never happens to me.
So that extra rest was a game changer for me.
Abel: Yeah, so does it work that way?
Do you think because you get that extra rest and then the performance is that much better?
Or does it not matter how many actual extra reps you would do or how much extra intensity would be there after that rest?
My guess is probably the time. The recovery time matters just in terms of what we’re teaching the body.
Recovery time matters. @theneurohacker Click To Tweet
So, California has only recently reopened their gyms, but for a lot of the recent past I haven’t had access to going to a gym.
And I have a small apartment right on the beach in San Diego County, so I didn’t have any weights there.
There was none available to buy early on so I just bought the biggest water bottles I could and I’ll just use those plus body weight stuff.
And one of the things that has been my routine would be push-up day.
I just set a reminder on my phone for every 20 minutes to get up with purpose and just do one set of really super slow push-ups, spread through the day. So tons of rest between them.
So despite only doing body weight resistance, that duration between has seemed, again, to really have agreed with my body for these workouts.
So, I think there is a lot to do.
If you think of hardcore bodybuilders, they spend a lot of their day in a gym. At least some of that, I’ve observed, spend most of that time doing nothing, and they’re lifting really heavy or intensely.
And I think there’s a lot to be said for that in terms of creating a positive adaptation.
Abel: Yeah, I can know that any equals one experience when I’m doing hill sprints up here at elevation.
The Tabata approach where you’re resting for 20 or 30 seconds, or just these brief bouts of rest is a totally different workout for me, a totally different experience than doing more like 20 to 30 second sprints with maybe 2 or 3 minutes of rest. It’s a completely different experience.
And I find that if I only do that shorter rest, I need those breaks much more often. But there’s a weird range of responses that your body has, to like the first set when you take that rest and then the second set and then the third.
You can tell that different systems were being engaged and warmed up and if you give it that proper rest then I think there’s a definite boost to intensity.
Like my next sprint will be way better if I’m fully rested, my heart rate has come all the way back down compared to even a 30-second or 1-minute rest is far different from a 2 – 3 minute, I think.
Yeah, and I think that rest and recovery aspect and getting your heart rate back down to a more normal resting rate is training us for both activity and recovery.
And what I know, I was really poor at the recovery piece when I was younger. I would just go, go, go. But I look back and feel like I lost a decade or more in terms of getting real progress by not allowing enough recovery time.
Abel: The narrow-band effect once again.
Replenishing Your Mental Energy
Abel: Yeah, there are a lot of things to pay attention to but that’s another interesting thing is that suffering more definitely doesn’t equal a better result.
No, it doesn’t. Another thing that I’ve come to really appreciate would be—we talked about it before we started filming—the idea of mental energy or mental effort.
So this is another cool study, much more recent but the gist of it was they had 3 groups. I think they were like college age-ish men and they lifted 30% of their max doing a curling motion. So it wasn’t like using a barbell because there was a machine that was measuring resistance, but they were doing that motion.
So to one group they basically said, “Okay, the next 6 weeks you’re going to keep doing nothing.” So they were the control group.
Another group they said, “Alright, you’re going to do this motion, but while you’re doing it we have this TV here you can watch TV or whatever.”
And the third group they said “Okay, while you’re doing this motion we want you to focus your awareness on that you’re really maximally contracting that muscle.”
So, I would think of this as really low weight, 30% of your max.
And what they found is the people that did nothing, their strength was weaker at the end of that six weeks, which is expected. We progressively get weaker and our muscles deteriorate when they’re not used.
The group that essentially zoned out while they were doing it had almost no increase in strength whatsoever.
But the group that did the same movement, the same number of repetitions, but focused on it, gained 30% strength.
So literally, the only thing that really made a difference when you were doing that lighter weight was your focus.
And your ability to focus is 100% what mental energy you have available.
So what they’ve seen in some studies on exercise, if you give people a hard math problem and then say, “Okay, now go work out,” their performance will suffer and they’ll subjectively feel like it was a lot harder to do it.
Because they essentially depleted their mental energy or some portion of it with that challenging math problem before the workout.
And I think that happens a lot in our routine life.
I typically, I’m a morning workout person.
So, I’m going in when my mental energy tank is literally at its fullest for the day.
Where if it’s after work and work’s been exhausting, then it’s easy to say, “Well, I’ll just drive by the gym and go home and study,” or get there, but again, like get in a half-hearted workout.
So to me, a lot of it is, what can I do to help someone have more mental energy so that whatever they invest in, they’ll get more out of it, including their workouts.
Abel: And it’s so much more about managing energy than it is about managing time. You can always use time as an excuse.
People rarely say, “I’m lacking energy to do this thing,” but that’s really what it’s about.
And if you prioritize fitness and these micro-workouts as part of your lifestyle and you’ve already decided that you’re going to do them, you don’t waffle about driving by the gym, deciding whether or not you should pull in and then do a workout or not.
That hard decision part steals a lot of your mental energy if you don’t get ahead of the planning, and really managing that time and energy.
Yeah. I recently re-listened to, I think it was last spring, you had Eliza Kingsford on.
And one of the things that I noted was essentially what she mentioned was, by the time you get to the end of your day, your brain’s ability to make good decisions, it’s barely online anymore.
But that’s that mental energy piece.
We’ve literally used most of it up, and so by the time of day that we would essentially be getting home to our family or loved ones, the best version of ourself has been used up.
And social cognition, like our empathy, our social skills, take a lot of mental energy, and at that point in the day you often tapped out the majority of it.
So doing things to sustain our mental energy, which I’ve heard you talk so much about nature, and that’s definitely one of the things that restores and replenishes it.
Nature restores and replenishes our mental energy. @theneurohacker Click To Tweet
Abel: It does, even just looking at it. One of the reasons I set up this room this way is because I can look at the birds and the flowers out here, I get the sun over here and I spend all day recording.
This is the 12th interview I’ve done in two days, some of them have been longer than two hours, you know what I mean?
And so the way that you manage that is by you only get a few monster priorities per day, you only get a few big things that you can dedicate yourself to.
And so my hardest workouts are not on these days. I’m not checking my email. I can’t. I’m recording all day.
And so, if you get ahead of that, then the working out part, it’s like man, once you know it works and if you’re willing to put in that work and just the dots connect, that’s so worth it.
I wish more people could experience that.
Like you said, feeling comfortable with whatever that exercise program plus nutrition/fueling program they have, because you can’t just do one of them.
If you’re doing it right, they’re intricately linked.
And one of the things I thought was very cool about—you bring up some research in the book about if you just exercise or if you just take fish oil, for example, good results. But if you do both together, then there are almost synergistic results that are amplified.
Yep. Yeah, there’s so many of those things.
And again, that was another study that it didn’t show up in weight, but showed up in body composition.
So again, I think what we decide to put our focus on can sometimes make it seem like we’re losing when we’re winning, and vice versa.
And again, it’s one of the great things about what you focus people on, it’s the things that matter the most.
Abel: Yeah, and it definitely isn’t the normal thing that other people do, like doing little micro-workouts throughout the day.
For me in between these interviews looks completely different from the real monster lift workout, the real resistance day or my real day where I’m doing sprints, where that is a big priority for the day and I’ve only got a couple other ones.
So I do completely different things. And it’s so important, and I think people realize that it’s more about systems and cycles and rhythms, that’s such a big piece of your work.
And there’s a way to vary, to weave that in your own life that doesn’t suck up a lot of time and doesn’t suck up a lot of energy.
In fact, it can grant you energy once you have these habits in place, like a little bit of meditation.
A little bit of just saying, “Okay, I’m not going to sit here for 3 – 4 hours straight, even though I’m working all day. I know that taking a break will keep me leaner, will keep me smarter and have this effect.”
And so, even though it looks wildly different than what a lot of other people are doing, it will give you more energy.
And if you manage that correctly, then it’s incredible what you can actually get done.
Right. And at least I know for me, I’m one of those people that easily, if I’m engaged in writing a blog article as an example, I could sit for 3 hours and just keep doing, doing, doing.
So I just build systems that prevent that.
So I have an app I use on my computer that I can set, it’s called Time Out. And I set the time and it will grey out my screen 55 minutes in and un-grey for five minutes.
Though I can intentionally override it, but that’s enough to typically prompt me to get up and do a quick walk around the block.
And what I found personally is I’ll often get a breakthrough in rewording something or a creative inspiration during that quick walk.
So to me, those are super valuable interruptions.
They’re intentional, they’re great for our health, but ultimately, I think they make me more productive.
Abel: Yeah, and well, it gives you a brain boost.
You’re getting more oxygen to your brain when you do that, and also another area of focus that I loved was you said, “Don’t underestimate walking.”
Walking works for everybody pretty much. Do it.
Don’t underestimate walking. Walking works for everybody pretty much. Do it. @theneurohacker Click To Tweet
Yeah, and again, often it’s slow to see changes in weight walking. Because we’re probably building muscle at the same rate that we’re losing fat for a lot of it.
So it’s really the long-term study is, where all of a sudden, you get to this point in time where you see a huge shift and then over the next couple of months, people will drop a lot of actual body weight, but the changes have been happening well in advance.
And so again, it’s an investment and sometimes just like with a stock, it’s the buy and hold people that tend to win out instead of the day traders that are flipping things back and forth.
And so I think when it comes to exercise, I think of it very much as an investment and what are the…
The key thing for me is movement.
So I walk, I bicycle, but more in the sense of going down to the pier, the harbor area.
I’m not a competitive bicyclist, I don’t do grueling rides anymore, I do the, something like a sprint workout, which for me typically is the skipping rope as fast as I can, train with weights, but it’s all about creating a stimulus, something that’s going to cause my body to continue to adapt to get stronger, and then something for balance, and I feel like I don’t have to invest a lot into each of those.
It’s all about creating a stimulus, something that’s going to cause my body to continue to adapt to get stronger. @theneurohacker Click To Tweet
But as long as I’m consistently investing something, then good things happen.
Harnessing The Power of Anti-Fragility
Abel: Yeah. And there are a lot of things to juggle when you’re talking about health.
But one thing that just doesn’t seem to work is when you take a bunch of pharmaceuticals, where they don’t account for the interactions, where you’re more trying to prevent yourself from being sick instead of focusing on the things that keep you healthy.
Yeah, do you know Taleb’s book, Antifragile?
Abel: Yeah, yeah, I read that a few years ago, it’s great.
Yeah, so I mean, I just love that idea of antifragility.
Our body is intended to be anti-fragile.
Our body is intended to be anti-fragile. @theneurohacker Click To Tweet
And if we follow the right strategies—the idea of anti-fragility is there’s some things that when you’re stressed in the right ways, they’re not only resilient, they get better.
So that’s what happens with exercise, that’s what happens with our brain if we challenge it in the right ways, it’s what happens obviously with our bones.
But with antifragile systems, if they’re not challenged, then they become essentially fragile.
So I think a lot of what we’re talking about is challenging and putting some stresses on the body, but in a right dose in a right way, so we’re essentially getting this cool antifragile system to become better.
Abel: And then you can use interactions in the herbal plant world, nutrient world, stacks and cocktails, to give you kind of that boost of concentrated nutrition.
And I know, obviously, you have a lot of background and focus there, so to speak. No pun intended.
But, big fan of your work at Neurohacker Collective.
I think there are so many scams and supplements out there that do it the wrong way. There are very few who are thoughtful and research-based and really put together awesome products, and so it’s been really great to collaborate with you folks over the years a little bit.
And I would love for you to just to speak to the power of targeted nutrition, stacks, cocktails, and how you can use that to give you an extra boost of focus or energy. Or to just make sure you’re really spackling the gaps in your nutrition to make sure you’re fed the way you should be.
Sure, sure. So, as you mentioned in the intro, I wrote some chapters for the Textbook of Natural Medicine. One of those chapters was on sports nutrition.
And so back when I wrote it, there were core things, like Creatine and HMB, that had enough research that these were known to be good investments for the brain.
You have what are called nootropics, which are essentially smart pills—things that help our working memory, focus, and makes a difference with executive function and social cognition.
Those two domains of skills, I think of as the most important.
So if something could move the needle on those, it’s going to grab my attention.
But one of the interesting things is Creatine now is also thought of as a nootropic. It’s something that helps the brain work better.
It’s been also studied a lot for mood, where Alpha-GPC has always been thought of as a cool nootropic.
But now, it’s studied a couple of times for powerlifting and it’s really great for strength and power.
And so those two categories are blurring together, which I think the reason is because our brain and muscles are basically the two biggest energy consumers.
Both use Acetylcholine, there’s just huge amounts of overlap.
And so I think for sure, I would be a big advocate of, there’s things that we can do that are going to give us…
Or things we can do that are going to give our brain and muscles a big edge in terms of getting the most bang for our buck in our investment in exercise, and help with that mental energy piece.
So I know, I typically do a… We call it Qualia Nootropic Energy Shot.
But if I’m going to do a… My heaviest lifting day by far is leg day.
And so I’ll do that shot before I get in my car and drive to the gym.
And usually I’ll feel like by the time I’ve got there my brain’s fully engaged and wanting to do a heavy workout.
And so I think there are things like that that can make a big difference in that mental energy piece of the equation.
So typically not something you would take if you’re thinking, oh, the benefit’s going to show up in bigger muscles.
But if your focus is in the right place the investment and exercise will accrue that better than if you didn’t have that focus.
Abel: Yeah. And deficiency is a real thing. And giving your body and brain nutrients is also a real thing.
And it only takes a few times of experiencing those… Targeted nutrition.
The first time that I had IVs of IV therapy of magnesium, of glutathione and a few other things, just cocktails of vitamins or whatever.
Wow. It’s like try to ignore that. That’s…
These things can absolutely be used to improve our lives and make sure that we’re getting the right nutrition from various places.
There’s a lot to keep track of. And there’s really endless room for experimentation.
And it’s a lot of fun to dabble in that.
Well, and the other thing to keep in mind is… So choline. I mentioned Alpha-GPC.
So, I think that the Institute of Medicine has estimated about 4 out of 5 adults don’t meet the recommended amount of choline in their diet.
About 4 out of 5 adults don’t meet the recommended amount of choline in their diet. @theneurohacker Click To Tweet
In part because eggs are the best source and they’ve been vilified in a lot of the population.
So it makes sense to close that gap.
But that doesn’t mean you need to do three or four times as much as what you would have needed to close that gap.
Because too much good is no good.
I saw a study on vegetarian women and it only took a gram of Creatine to completely saturate their tissue stores.
Over… Not over a week but over the course of I think, it was four to eight weeks.
And it’s because they weren’t getting a… Creatine is going to be mostly in meat, so they weren’t getting much in their diet.
Our body can only make so much so they just were creating a never-ending hole that they couldn’t dig out of.
But it didn’t take enough or much of a dose… Certainly a much lower dose than would routinely be supplemented to fill that gap.
So I know when I create products, one of the things I’m looking at for amino acids things like Creatine is…
I don’t believe we necessarily need to massively over…
Or take massive doses unless we’re doing it intentionally for bodybuilding, but what would be the amount that we could put in that would close the gap for most people to where it will now restore tissue levels.
And to me, that’s a more elegant approach to it.
Abel: And more important than ever, when you look at supply chain issues, food security or insecurity, that we may or may not be facing, depending on where you are.
I think it’s more important than ever to be like, “Alright, what are these gaps nutritionally that we need to spackle?”
What are the things that we need to keep on the shelf and have shelf stable for when things go sideways?
And that’s one way of looking at it.
Performance enhancement or improvement is another one.
And I would encourage a lot of the people who are not quite health nuts yet to explore these rabbit holes because…
Especially with a lot of us not able to go to our normal gyms, not able to engage in our normal social interactions, we need these distractions.
We need these excuses to focus on things that we can actually improve on our lives.
And you need… You can’t skip that education part.
You cannot skip the part where you learn how to do those full body exercises with weight.
Where you learn how to actually properly put food on your plate and supplement in a way that’s reasonable and effective based on your goals.
So anyway, I am… We’re almost out of time, but I’m just very thankful that you spent time with us.
Where to Find Dr. Gregory Kelly
What’s the best place to find your book, your work, and everything else?
What are you working on next in particular?
So my book’s on Amazon, Shape Shift: The Shape Intelligence Solution, Getting Healthy While Creating Your Ideal Shape.
As you mentioned, I work at Neurohacker Collective, so Neurohacker.com.
I do quite a bit of blogging there.
You can follow Neurohacker Collective on Facebook @neurohacker, on Instagram @neurohacker, and on Twitter @theneurohacker.
Abel: Great podcast over there too—the Collective Insights Podcast.
You guys do great work. Everyone check it out, please.
Thank you. And then one other thing I just wanted to mention, so polyphenols.
So one of the key things, I guess one message I want to just leave as a take home.
If you’re struggling integrating exercise or you know you should eat this way, but it’s a challenge. So, one of the things you can do to get back to that idea of mental energy, is that often it’s the gap.
You just don’t have enough mental energy and mitochondria. We know how important those are.
They is, essentially, this network within each cell that, similar to physical exercise, mitochondrial networks, if they’re challenged in the right ways become fitter, stronger, more robust, more anti-fragile.
And polyphenols are something that tends to do that. So those are things like resveratrol, as an example.
But we want to essentially have a mix of polyphenols. So we don’t need crazy high amounts of any one in particular.
But similar to that advice of “eat a variety of fruits and vegetables,” it could be advantageous to have a variety of low amounts of polyphenols.
And polyphenols are plant stress compounds.
So like a grape, you put it in intense sunlight, dry weather, they’ll make a lot more resveratrols; their way of dealing with stress.
And then when we consume that resveratrol, just like it toughened them up, it essentially toughens up our mitochondria.
Because our food supply, the way our food is grown isn’t really stressed.
Abel: Right. It’s not subjected to nature like it used to be.
Right. They won’t have as much polyphenols as our biology was designed to have.
So, even a good diet, unless the foods were stressed in their growth, we probably could all do with some polyphenols to fill the gap.
Abel: Yeah. That’s another reason to look for diversity, variability in your diet, not just sticking to one thing.
Elimination diets can work. Carnivore—meat and water—that’s definitely an approach.
But I think that playing long ball really, looking at rhythms, cycles, varying your diet, getting a wide spectrum, a little bit of a lot of things is really important.
So, Dr. Kelly, we need your work more than ever.
We really appreciate you coming on the show here today.
Well, thank you so much for having me, Abel, it’s been my pleasure.
Before You Go
Here’s a quick note that came in from Kristen. I’m going to abbreviate slightly just for the sake of time, but she says…
Hey! First of all, I’m so incredibly grateful for what you’ve done for my husband. Since starting The Wild Diet he has lost over 20 pounds in 25 days.
He is so much healthier it’s insane.
That being said I’m 37 year old, 238 pounds and still haven’t lost a pound.
We’re eating the same things, I’m following the diet. Sometimes I would like to think I’m healthier than he is.
The only thing that is different between him and I is that he gets in more steps everyday.
My exercise needs to be better but I just don’t understand why I haven’t lost anything. I guess my question to you is do you have any suggestions for why I might not be losing weight?
And she goes on to say that she went through three rounds of IVF with hormones, and also that she’s part of Beachbody and drinks Shakeology every day.
She says she has access to online workouts, asks for any advice which would be greatly appreciated.
And says: “Thanks for taking the time and thanks for everything you and your wife do, you are really changing lives. – Kristen.”
Kristen, thank you so much for writing in and I’m happy to answer a few of these questions.
Because to be honest, I’ve been getting a lot of questions like these recently, where couples are trying to take on a weight loss challenge or get healthy together.
And oftentimes, what you described does happen where it can be frustrating for some. But for whatever reasons, and there are some that we could get into, men tend to lose fat more quickly than women.
Even though, in my experience in coaching, women tend to be better when it comes to actually following the advice and putting it into action.
Oftentimes, men just get results in spite of themselves, or at least that’s what it looks like from the outside looking in.
But there are a lot of different things going on there.
You brought up, when you’ve had exogenous hormones and your hormones may be out of whack, 100% that could definitely be an issue.
A quick reminder: I’m not a medical professional. So, looking into hormones with your practitioner is definitely advisable and a good idea if you’re not getting results despite your best efforts.
But let’s dig in a little more because I think there is more going on here.
You said that you’re part of Beachbody and you drink Shakeology every day. I’m not that familiar with Shakeology, but a lot of people ask about it, and from what I’ve seen in the past, there’s quite a bit of sugar.
Not a giant amount, not like a sugary beverage, but I think it’s like 8 or 9 grams or something like that.
And in protein powders, if you’re doing it post-workout and it was a really big work out, maybe that can be useful for fueling your glycogen stores.
But if you’re looking to lose fat, added sugar, especially in a powdered form, is bad.
That’s going to spike your blood sugar and have results on insulin. And it could stall fat loss.
So, you don’t want to overdo it on the fruit. You want to stay away from fruit juice, all of these other sugars can definitely stall results for a lot of people.
Adding in exercise is something that you’ll want to do while looking at your hormones.
Exercise is something that can actually cause some people to gain weight because it increases hunger and then you’re overeating.
And just walking everyday, is so underrated.
Getting your steps in, definitely a great thing to do and prioritize.
Don’t worry about your husband getting such great results in a short amount of time.
If you’re a family going at this together trying to get healthy, and some people are losing fat, and it’s just like falling off their bodies, melting off faster than everyone else. Don’t be frustrated by that.
There’s a lot to be encouraged by when you look at that sort of situation.
But for the most part, I’m just going to share a quick story from a woman from the Fat-Burning Tribe who was experiencing something similar where she wasn’t getting results.
But she was trying to follow our principals and our way of living and eating and moving. She was trying the best she could to follow those principles of eating the highest quality foods. And she was doing a good job.
But sometimes it takes a little while for your body to catch up with you.
So here’s what she says, and she went on to lose over 100 pounds.
“I was a slave to the low fat diet, high carb and highly processed diets.
For 5 years, I lost and gained the same 20 – 30 pounds over, and over, and over. I would eat Weight Watcher meals, low-fat yogurt, pasta, used things like Splenda, drink diet soda, and hated the blandness of so much of the food I was eating, and I ate fruit as a sugar fix.
It took about 4 to 6 months once I switched to the Wild Diet to start seeing the scale move.
But I knew I was on to something, because I felt so much better and began to not need naps, decreased migraines, and just feeling good more days than bad. I just stuck with it.
I knew eventually, once things were fixed on the inside that I would see it on the outside, and once the scale started moving, it’s been a steady decrease in weight. I still have about 20 pounds or so to lose, but I’m not in a rush.”
So, there’s so much going on inside your body.
And our bodies adapt to whatever lifestyle choices we make, whatever we choose to feed our bodies, how we choose to train.
So if you’re interested in coaching, getting to know us better, meal plans and all the rest of that, visit FatBurningTribe.com.
And if you’re in the United States and you want to try some of our all-time favorite supplements, the supplements that I’ve been taking on a daily basis for many years with our family, extended friends and now our community, you folks as well as we get new products out there, we’re really psyched to introduce you all to Wild Superfoods.
So we have Future Greens, a shelf stable greens powder, like a green juice on the go.
We have Collagen Cocoa, which a lot of people have said that is the absolute best tasting protein out there, especially the best tasting collagen protein.
It comes in these giant containers with 1.8 pounds of delicious chocolatey goodness.
We’re making pudding with it, we’re putting different brownie recipes, cookies. There’s so much fun to be had.
Make sure you get in on it over at wildsuperfoods.com, especially this time of year.
We also have Vitamin D Stack. And we’re working behind the scenes to come out with an even better vitamin D stack that’s going to be even higher potency.
So stay tuned for that in the coming months over at WildSuperfoods.com.
So, if you want to top up on your vitamins, if you want to make sure you’re firing on all cylinders this year (especially as things are getting crazy), then be sure you go to wildsuperfoods.com and check this out.
As a special thank you for being a listener and reader, you use the code WILD15 during checkout and you’ll save 15% off.
You can find Future Greens, Collagen Cocoa, Adrenal Stack, Vitamin D Stack, Vitamin C Stack, Fizzy C and much more over at WildSuperfoods.com.
What did you think of this interview with Dr. Gregory Kelly? Drop a comment below to share your thoughts!