The Contrast

The Contrast
Lift Big, Sing Big, Look Great Doing It.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Leptin and Why Being Lean Sucks (sometimes.)

So, I've been getting fairly lean recently. The leanest I've ever been. At 6'4", weighing between 185 and 190lbs (182 this morning) is not exactly easy. Especially when I've been Benching, Squatting and Dead-lifting 4 times a week. My metabolism right now is pretty charged. On my training days I'm eating somewhere between 2,800 and 3,000 and losing weight. On my off days I'm eating between 2,500 - 2,700 and the next day I look like Skeletor because of the reduced carbohydrates. I'm also currently doing very little cardio. 8 minutes of very low intensity on the elliptical before I lift in the morning as a warm up. Most of the time I'm texting, writing, or spacing out. I burn at the most 50 calories. That cardio is practically useless in terms of weight loss (IMO.)

On both of these days I'm ravenous, but to the degree really depends on what I've eaten. Sometimes I just need more things in my belly, so I'll plan to eat higher volumes of food. Other days it will be that I'm just craving very particular things that are kind of inconvenient to count in my macros. Like these little fucks: Little Debbie brownies with nuts.

This is a sub par snack in my opinion, not really worth the 12 grams of fat you get from it and the 42 grams of carbs. I'd much prefer to eat some ice cream cookies...but, I do long for the days when I could slam a whole box of them on my cheat day. Even though this defies most logic because I know I'd feel like total shit. But, the mind plays tricks on a man.

But, this got me thinkin, and when I get to thinkin, I feel like sharin. So, Let's look at what triggers the body into this "hungry hungry hippo mode "and why we rage on the delectable treats that cause us so much grief.


Leptin and Why it Sucks to be Lean.

Some Definitions and Clarifications of what Leptin is and what it does...

"Leptin is the lookout hormone – the gatekeeper of fat metabolism, monitoring how much energy an organism takes in. It surveys and maintains the energy balance in the body, and it regulates hunger via three pathways:

  • By counteracting the effects of neuropeptide Y, a potent feeding stimulant secreted by the hypothalamus and certain gut cells.
  • By counteracting the effects of anandamide, another feeding stimulant.
  • By promoting the production of a-MSH, an appetite suppressant.

Put simply: long-term, leptin signals that the body has adequate adipose tissue (energy) stores; short-term, leptin signals that the body has had enough to eat. Both are supposed to result in the reduction in appetite." - Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple

"Leptin is mainly produced and secreted by white adipose tissue, informing the brain centers via LepRb about the amount of fat storage in the body." -

"Leptin is a master-hormone with downstream effects on other hormones related to metabolism...

In the long-term, leptin is regulated by total amount of fat mass. A drop in leptin affects the other hormones negatively and vice versa. Low leptin leads to an increase in hunger and a decrease in metabolic rate, much like high leptin leads to a decrease in hunger and an increase in metabolic rate.

Generally speaking, lean people have low levels of leptin while obese have high levels of leptin. However, in the latter case, leptin resistance develops. This is likely an effect of chronically elevated leptin, much like insulin resistance is an effect of chronically elevated insulin." - Martin Berkhan of Leangains

Our body doesn't want to be hungry, it doesn't want to lose weight. Our bodies are engineered to be fat storing machines, and our minds are instinctively trying to save you from starvation. But, I promise that pretty much all of you (I'd say all of you, but I have no idea who all reads this) are nowhere close to starvation levels of caloric intake. As I've pointed out in my previous post about metabolic damage with specifics about the Minnesota starvation study, the human body is capable of incredible levels of starvation. Our goals aren't obviously to become walking skeletons, but if you think after skipping breakfast that you're going to die, just know that this probably isn't true (barring blood sugar issues.)

For those who have dieted for a long time and gone well below their "fat set point," it sucks a bit to remain fairly lean. Why? Well, Leptin is to blame. It's the signals being sent from your brain to your body that think they are lookin out for you.

Why are Some People Lean All the Time?

The people that have the most success in maintaining incredibly low body fat percentages (Below 10-9%) are those who are genetically predisposed to it, Top level athletes, those with iron will power, those with mental or body disorders, and those who know how to control their appetite via manipulation of their diet.

Genetically Predisposed

Anecdotally speaking, everybody knows that one guy that "can't put on weight" or is always lean. More than likely he doesn't have the hyper drive metabolism that everybody predicts, but actually doesn't have the appetite to support over eating in excess.

"The set-point theory of body weight-regulation is intimately connected to leptin and has a strong genetic component to it. Naturally lean people maintain a low body fat set-point by being leptin-sensitive; they can maintain a low body fat percentage and function optimally even with low leptin. But most of us aren't so lucky, which is why getting really lean is typically a difficult task."

Mental Disorder

There are plenty who have, on their quest for the perfect body, obtained very aggressive eating disorders that have sent them into years of therapy. I've already discussed body dysmorphia at length in my last post. 

Now, this leaves us with the question of how do we get to the lower levels of body fat while not losing our damn minds via the games our body plays with the chemical battle raging inside of us. How do we get on that shred time without wanting to put a bullet in our brains?

Dietary Manipulation

People have used higher veggie and protein intake in order to maximize the amount of volume they have in their food as compared to the more compact, quick sugary carbs or the dense fats that can sometimes be misleading in their calorie content. However, there other things that can be done to manipulate leptin.

Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple gives a couple of suggestions on how to control leptin. I'm not super into the whole "primal" lifestyle, I'm not a huge fan of jumping into all of that hippy stuff, but the man does give a lot of great information backed by scientific findings.

"1.) Fructose 

In rats, fructose feeding inhibits leptin receptors. Rats were given a diet of 60% fructose for several weeks and then injected with leptin. In normal rats, leptin injections reduce energy intake and hunger. The leptin binds with leptin receptors in the hypothalamus and satiety is induced. In the fructose-fed rats, leptin had no effect. Energy intake continued unabated, while normal rats reduced their intake in response to the leptin. Rats on the fructose diet gained even more weight when switched to a high-fat diet...

As we all know, a high-fat, low-carb, low-fructose diet generally decreases serum triglycerides and increases satiety; perhaps the lower triglycerides are allowing more leptin to pass through and inhibit hunger. The fructose found in reasonable amounts of fruit, like berries, shouldn’t affect leptin sensitivity.

2.) Lectins

Dr. Staffan Lindeberg thinks that lectins, specifically those from cereal grains, are direct causes of leptin resistance. He observes that wheat germ agglutinin, or WGA, (a lectin present in wheat, barley, and rye) actually binds directly with the leptin receptor and prevents leptin binding. The inability of leptin receptors to bind with leptin adequately describes leptin resistance, making lectins a potential aggravator of leptin resistance. Abnormally high levels of WGA were used to bind receptors, though, so it remains to be determined whether normal dietary levels of WGA are enough to induce leptin resistance."

Now, 2 issues with this: I ain't avoiding any kinds of fructose or grains. I think avoidance of any kind of foods is more detrimental (as far as causing people to binge) than the potential satiating benefits of making your already low circulating leptin levels function better. However, if you're already in a horrible situation (dietary wise), but you still need to get into a certain shape for a project, show or whatever, then feel free to implement either of these tactics. For me, I'd much prefer a good ol' refeeds...

Refeeds and Cheat Days


Coaches, Body builders and now performance athletes and actors have been utilizing techniques such as refeeds to push aside these aggressive hunger cravings that are more often than not the main culprits for people jumping the wagon on their diets.

In most typical, sane (meaning diets that contain all three macro nutrients - Carbs, Fats, Proteins), body building style diets, the fats and proteins remain somewhat stagnant while the carbohydrates get the most flexibility. It's actually fairly common to see a diet that is 200 protein, 250 carb, and 55 fat on most days, but then on refeed days the carbs will boost quite a bit depending on where the athlete is in his or her prep.

"Leptin levels are acutely responsive to modest changes in energy balance. Because leptin levels returned to BASE only after completion of a complementary feeding period and restoration of cumulative energy balance, leptin levels reflect short-term cumulative energy balance. Leptin seems to maintain cumulative energy balance by modulating energy intake."

This refeed has multiple purposes. To stave away the starvation feeling caused by decreased leptin, while boosting metabolism minutely, refilling the athletes muscle bellies, and maybe an increase in sodium for more water retention so you have a fuller look. (Athletes often talk about looking flat or feeling depleted while on a diet which is in direct relation to carb restriction and their muscle bellies being depleted of glycogen.)


Cheat Days

For those who have something resembling self control, a good ol' cheat day can restore a persons love of living, a persons enjoyment of food and life, but an effective way to increase leptin it is not.

"CHO OF increased plasma leptin concentrations by 28%, and 24 h EE by 7%. Basal metabolic rate and the energy expended during physical activity were not affected. FAT OF did not significantly change plasma leptin concentrations or energy expenditure. There was no relationship between changes in leptin concentrations and changes in energy expenditure, suggesting that leptin is not involved in the stimulation of energy metabolism during overfeeding. Interstitial subcutaneous glucose and lactate concentrations were not altered by CHO OF and FAT OF."

The issue with most cheat days is that people aren't getting an excess of carb calories, they are getting an excess in fat calories. As much as triple the fat that a person would generally get in such a scenario. McDonald's fries themselves aren't that bad for you, it's just white potatoes, it's that oil shit that they deep fry it in that adds all of those fat calories to the mix. And, generally, when people want a cheat day, they don't reach for low fat options, they want Ben and Jerry's, they want pizza, they want cheesecake, and they usually want it in abundance. These things are laden with fat. Not to demonize a macro nutrient, because it is very important to the body and your health, but stuffing your face full of it is not going to get the metabolic benefits, or the leptin level increase that you'll want and need from a day of surpluss calories. Will it be awesome? Hell yes, but it won't put you closer to your goals and won't benefit your leptin or your training as much as a good quality carb refeed.


Behavioral Adaptations.

Sleep, Mutha fuckah. Your ma has been harping on you since you were a child about getting to bed on time and getting plenty of sleep, but it actually may help you hit on that shred time.

"Participants with short sleep had reduced leptin and elevated ghrelin. These differences in leptin and ghrelin are likely to increase appetite, possibly explaining the increased BMI observed with short sleep duration. In Western societies, where chronic sleep restriction is common and food is widely available, changes in appetite regulatory hormones with sleep curtailment may contribute to obesity."

Sleep and appetite?

"Sleep plays an important role in energy homeostasis. The present study tests the hypothesis that circulating levels of leptin, a hormone that signals energy balance to the brain, are influenced by sleep duration...In conclusion, sleep modulates a major component of the neuroendocrine control of appetite."

Until Next Time, Get a surplus of carbs every once in a while, get plenty of sleep, stay your lean sexy self, and as always...

Lift Big, Sing Big, and Look Great Doing It.

The Opera Bro

1 comment:

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