Thanks for joining us for episode 101 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.
Today we are super excited to be interviewing Dr. Marc Bubbs!
Dr. Marc Bubbs is a board-certified Naturopathic Doctor, Author, Speaker, Director of Nutrition for the Canadian Men’s National Basketball Team, and Strength Coach. He’s been working with athletes, active people, and those striving to improve their health for over a decade and is passionate that diet, exercise, and lifestyle are the most important tools for improving your overall health, body composition, and performance.
He’s the author of the Paleo Project: The 21st Century Guide To Looking Leaner, Getting Stronger, and Living Longer, a regular contributor to Breaking Muscle, PaleoDiet.com, and Healthier Talks, as well as the nutrition advisory board member for Strong Magazine. He regularly presents at health, fitness, and medical conferences across North America and Europe, consults with the NBA, NHL, and MLB teams, and sees patients in downtown Toronto.
If you’ve tuned in to our podcast for any length of time, you know that one diet certainly does not fit all. When it comes to nutrition to fuel and recover from exercise though, it’s common for many to follow generalized recommendations whether a weekend warrior or an elite athlete.
You won’t want to miss a minute of today’s conversation as Dr. Marc Bubbs shares insight into maximizing athletic performance using a personalized, real food diet. Just some of what you’ll hear about is meal timing, carbohydrate intake, crucial nutrients for athletes and where to find them in food, and tools you can implement to aid in recovery after exercise.
Here are some of the questions we discussed with Dr. Marc Bubbs:
- What made you interested in naturopathy and nutrition?
- How do you find that the athlete population is a little bit different from working with some of your other types of patients?
- Can you tell us your opinion on carbs for athletes and for the general public?
- How can somebody determine what their goals are?
- What is the benefit to eating carbohydrates around exercise?
- Depending on the type of exercise, how much carbohydrate should people try to start with before or after exercise?
- Do you have a general meal timing strategy?
- What is your opinion about intermittent fasting for athletes? Are there types of intermittent fasting that work a little bit better between weekend warriors and elite athletes?
- Are there super important nutrients that an elite athlete or the weekend warrior should focus on? Where are those nutrients found in food?
- Where do you stand on supplements such as BCAAs or protein powders?
- What factors play into how well somebody is going to recover from exercise?
- What types of tools can people can use to recover and how do they impact recovery?
- This episode is sponsored by Maty’s Healthy Products
DrBubbs.com/14days (Free 2-Week Kick-Start Plan)
Kelsey: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 101 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Kelsey Kinney and with me as always is my cohost Laura Schoenfeld.
Laura: Hi everyone!
Kelsey: We are Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at www.KelseyKinney.com, and Laura at www.LauraSchoenfeldRD.com.
We’ve got a great guest on our show today who’s going share his insight into maximizing athletic performance on an ancestral real food diet. We’re so happy he’s joining us and we think you’ll enjoy this episode.
Laura: If you’re enjoying the show, remember to subscribe on iTunes so that way you never miss an episode. While you’re in iTunes, you can leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well! And remember, we do want to answer your question, so head over to theancestralrds.com to submit a health-related question that we can answer or suggest a guest that you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.
Kelsey: Before we get into our interview for today, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:
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Kelsey: We’ve got a really exiting guest today. Dr. Marc Bubbs….actually, I hope I pronounced that right. Is that how you pronounce your last name?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Yeah, Bubbs, just like bubble. There you go.
Kelsey: Okay. Dr. Marc Bubbs is a board-certified Naturopathic Doctor, Author, Speaker, Director of Nutrition for the Canadian Men’s National Basketball Team, and Strength Coach. He’s been working with athletes, active people, and those striving to improve their health for over a decade and is passionate that diet, exercise, and lifestyle are the most important tools for improving your overall health, body composition, and performance. He’s the author of the Paleo Project: The 21st Century Guide To Looking Leaner, Getting Stronger, and Living Longer, a regular contributor to Breaking Muscle, PaleoDiet.com, and Healthier Talks, as well as the nutrition advisory board member for Strong Magazine. He regularly presents at health, fitness, and medical conferences across North America and Europe, consults with the NBA, NHL, and MLB teams, and sees patients in downtown Toronto.
Welcome! You’ve got quite a lot going on there!
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Wow, yeah, I need a shorter intro I think.
Kelsey: It’s a lot of important stuff, so that’s great.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Thanks for having me on the show. I appreciate it guys.
Kelsey: We’re super excited! You are a Naturopathic Doctor. Why don’t you first just tell our audience how you got started with Naturopathy. What made you interested in it and nutrition?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Absolutely. I think with a lot of people’s professions, they sort of end up finding you versus you seeking them out. For me it was playing a lot of sports in high school and getting into more serious competitive level in terms of basketball and other sports. I’m a classic sort of ectomorph. It was time to add some pounds onto my body so I just started consuming a high calorie diet following the general recommendations of the time. This is like the early 90’s, I’m going to date myself here. Lots of breads, and grains, and milk, and cheese, and ice cream, and just calorically dense foods.
I definitely gained the weight, but I all of a sudden I was just sick all the time, rundown, all sorts of things going on. This is where in my last year of high school I got quite sick with repetitive viral infections. Finally someone said to me, go check out this Naturopathic Doctor, which I didn’t know what the heck that was. But I was amazed because I’d been down the medical route and hadn’t had much success. Then this gentleman had told me to avoid certain foods, to add other ones in, and within 10 days I felt like brand new person. I thought to myself, there’s something to this, the food that you eat really does impact your health. That was a big eye opener to me and I was probably only 17 or 18 at the time so that definitely forge my future path.
Kelsey: They got you young!
Dr. Marc Bubbs: They did, yeah. I went to UBC of Vancouver and premedical studies was sort of the idea. As I was going through, I was shadowing in terms of docs and whatnot and seeing what it’s like in day to day practice. They’re doing as best they can in terms of diagnosis and treating pathologies, but this idea that in 15 minutes you can patch everyone up, and typically there wouldn’t be any diet, or exercise, or even lifestyle suggestions. For me that’s when the bell went off and I thought to myself for supporting these chronic diseases, there’s got to be a better way. I ended up taking some time off and that’s when I knew getting up into this Naturopathic approach is going to be the way for me.
Kelsey: Interesting. You work with a lot of athletes, obviously. From your bio we know that. How do you find that this population is a little bit different from working with some of your other types of patients?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: I think it depends on even the sport of the athlete even with your sort of executives or weekend warriors athletes as well who are working and also engaging in various sports. It really gets down to the context because things change if we’re talking about a football player, or a hockey player, or a basketball player, or somebody who’s working 9-5 and also doing Ironmans, or triathlons, or mountain biking, or whatever it might be on the weekends.
I think it’s tricky for people to really contextualize because we read an article where it says for example, a runner might fuel a certain way to achieve a personal best or an Olympic qualifier. Then you might get a weekend warrior deciding to do the same thing, which we obviously see frequently which is the carbs, carbs, more carbs approach to training.
On the clinical side, you start running lab tests on people and you see we get some really high blood sugar levels and some inflammatory markers in someone who’s supposed to be “really healthy.” That’s when the lights go off and say maybe there’s a better approach for that person. Of course when we get into that elite athlete, this is when we say if their livelihood depends on it and their paycheck depends on it, then we have to figure out the best way to perform the best and fuel the best.
Kelsey: Right, interesting. I love that you talk about that difference between a weekend warrior and somebody who’s trying to fuel for a marathon and get a personal best because there is such a big difference between those two populations. Yet what people are seeing online when they’re reading articles and everything is geared probably more toward somebody who is a serious athlete. And then taking those kind of recommendations and applying them to somebody who is just working out on the weekends is kind of a recipe for disaster. I’m sure that’s what you see in your practice as well.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Yeah, it’s a tricky one because I get a lot of that with even my day to day clients who are working downtown in Toronto here, they were ex athletes. For them it’s tough because when you use the term athlete, myself included, we still identify with this, but it’s been a lot of years since I was a competing athlete.
Competiive athletes, the idea of this multiple meal frequency absolutely is important. Eating every sort of 3 or 4 hours, getting a certain dose of protein, and ensuring caloric intake. But ironically when we transfer that exact same approach to what you’re mentioning which is that person who is really fit and active but working 9 to 5 mainly, we can start to get into a lot of problems in blood sugar levels being elevated, or even insulin levels elevated more than what we would expect, more little bouts of inflammation or inflammatory issues coming up.
Fueling appropriately to what you’re doing the majority of time…and I understand a lot of people they push themselves even though they’re 9 to 5 workers, the fact that you are at your desk for 8 or 9 or 10 hours a day, that’s going to really define where you should start your context from. And then from there you can really start to build your best fueling strategy.
Kelsey: I think a lot of people, and this includes weekend warriors and serious athletes, are confused about the whole carb topic. And you just brought that up which is why I want to talk about it a little bit. Can you tell us your opinion on carbs for athletes and for just the general public? Where do you stand on the whole carb debate?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: It’s a great question. I think we tend to get into trouble when we start to think of things, it’s almost like they take on very passionate almost like talking religion or politics when we talk about food.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: For me, I try to use everything as if it’s a tool and figuring out what is the best tool for what we need to apply in situations. That’s why I always ask athletes to be very specific with their goals. You need to have real clarity with your goals. I think this is one the weekend warriors can really make sure they take a moment to reflect on these because everybody wants to be lean, and strong, and perform their best. While you can achieve those three things, if you really direct your emphasis on one of those three knowing that you’re likely to get cross benefit, you’ll tend to get best bang for your buck.
When we talk about carbohydrates, it really depends on the events that you’re training for especially in terms really glycolytic sports, things like hockey, and basketball, and soccer that carbohydrates play a very key role in terms of your performance at high intensity as well as endurance sports, Olympic endurance sports, marathons, things like that. This becomes a real crux of the equation because we see a lot of things online where we can obviously preform really well on a low carbohydrate diet or a ketogenic diet because we become better fat adapted.
Where does all that sit? Well it’s definitely advantageous to become more fat adapted especially for the weekend warrior when we think that health is actually still a huge component of what should be the overall goals. Training in these types of states, you can do longer bouts of low carb or ketogenic diet to increase that fat adaptation, you can dive right down into the ketogenic type approach for a period of time to increase that.
But again you have to get really specific with your goals because if you become more and more keto adapted, we see from the more current research that your ability to really utilize carbohydrates, that efficiency at the top gear starts to decrease a little bit. A lot of people want sort of the best of both worlds which is terrific and I think the old school way of really over consuming carbohydrate and not timing it around exercise, especially simple carbohydrates, is one that these days you can really pay close attention to.
Of course it really depends on your athlete as well. I deal a lot with basketball players so you get ectomorphs who after two months of an off season come in at 6 1/2 percent body fat after eating whatever they want for a few months, versus an offensive lineman in football, versus a runner or a cyclist.
I think really dialing in again the clarity of your goals, being specific to what the sport it is that you practice, but I think in terms of even the conventional approach, we see now that training low, sleep low strategies where we purposely omit carbohydrate before training or after training into sleeping overnight is really now commonly accepted. I think for that keto low carb group, it’s still a major, major win. Some people have sort of a black or white approach that everyone should be eating a keto approach to perform their best and I think there’s going to be some limitations there for sure.
Kelsey: Yeah. I like that where there’s just different populations and different goals and you need to really think about that before you can truly decide on where a best level of carbohydrate would be for that person.
Speaking of those goals, what would be some examples? Are you talking about just differences in if your goals are more performance related versus health related? Because often truly those two things don’t go hand and hand if we’re being perfectly honest. Tell us a little bit about what you mean by those goals and how somebody can determine what their goals are.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Starting with the weekend warrior, this is where if we keep asking our clients or patients the question why, we tend to dig a little bit deeper into really what the goals are going to be. Because people want to perform well, especially for type A people coming in who are doing these terrific activities in their spare time. But at the end of the day, when you dig a little deeper, it might actually be sort of body composition that’s their number one goal and they also want perform well. Or it might just be that overall health is their number one goal.
This is where for me working downtown Toronto, I see a lot of male and female clients, but in this setting a lot of male clients who are cyclists. That 40, 50, or 60 year old who maybe used to run but now the joints a little bit sore. They fuel typically, and it’s classical method of a lot carbohydrate before, a lot of sugary gels during, and then higher carbohydrate meal after the training.
The problem is often they are 20, 25-30 overweight. You start to ask yourself, well wait a minute, if I’m overweight and I’m putting all this fuel in but I’m still logging hundreds of kilometers a week on my bike, why is it that I’m not losing any weight? That’s when you start to run some labs around blood sugar function, HA1C. You start to see these high end normal HA1C levels, inflammatory levels, your CRP tend to be more elevated than what we’d like.
Like these little lights on the dashboard of the car, you start to highlight these to clients and start to say you know what, I think there’s a bit better approach here, and then start to tweak their intake. The tricky part for people is that normally when you change someone’s plan, people like to feel better immediately. As you guys would know, if you have a carb adapted athlete and you say we’re going to train in a low carb state for a little while, they’re not going to feel the best when you start that protocol.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: People don’t like that, they’re going to get a little bit worried, a little bit scared and you have to obviously preempt the fact that their performance will suffer short term. But what I try to tell all my clients is that it’s just information. It’s not nice that you don’t feel good, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s telling us information and it’s also it’s also telling us information that your body will then have to adapt to this new stimulus.
I find that people who do really struggle with it in the initial term, most of those really carb dependent, in this case we’ll keep it with endurance athletes, they struggle in the short term, but in that back end of four weeks, six weeks, they really start to hit their stride.
I think for any clinicians or nutritionist, or doctors out there, just being really clear with them about the whole sort of journey will be important. Otherwise, the first sign of nervousness or all of a sudden if they’re at the back of the pack with all their friends when they’re normally at the front of the pack, they’re going to get very nervous to the new approach and probably go back to their old behaviors, right?
Kelsey: Yeah, for sure. Just to get a little bit more clarification around carb levels, and of course like we were talking about before this is going to vary from group to group, but do you have any sort of general starting places that different populations can try out? We just were talking about this example of a middle age cyclist who is overweight, putting a lot of fuel in, and you wanted to transition him to a lower carb diet. Where would you generally start off with a person like that if we can generalize here?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Great example. For myself I’m always trying to build habits in my clients so that six months down the road, two years down the road, five years down the road when perhaps I’m no longer still seeing them, they can still fall back on these things where they ingrain these correct habits.
In general what we want to see people doing, especially for the weekend warrior, is this idea of carbohydrates are going to be more around exercise. And then away from exercise we’re going to be reducing the amount of carbohydrate in the meal. If someone trains in the evening, then the breakfast meal they have, if they’re typical sort of North American it might be like toast, or muesli, or some of these things, we’re going to now switch that over and try to get more into the low carb approach with proteins and fats and pulling down the starchy carbs, etc. That’s kind of a great first place to start.
I’d say the next spot for me would be the fueling during exercise. I think there’s far too much emphasis on, especially in this person we’re talking about here, the weekend warrior, the carbohydrates and simple carbs during exercise especially when the bouts are typically 60 or 90 minutes max for most people unless you’re doing longer rides on the weekends. That’s another place where people have been told, as you guys know, they’ve been told for so long that they’ve got to keep taking these gels or sugars to go through or else they’ll all just going to collapse. It’s really ingrained and a lot of them are a bit fearful of taking that away.
Kelsey: Yeah. I’m sure once you take it out, they’re like oh, I actually can function just fine during this 90 minute ride, no big deal. At least once that sort of initial period of getting used to maybe a lower carb diet they go through that.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: For sure. I think for a lot of people, especially endurance athletes, they tend to struggle with digestive distress, gas, and bloating, and discomfort, and all these things. For a lot of people, the big ah-ha moment is wow, if I actually run with just water, and we’ll save the conversation around other types of amino acids for a little bit late if you want, but if they just have water, all of a sudden they feel a lot better and after their runs they feel a lot better.
That’s kind of one to keep your eyes out for if you’re someone listening in and you do struggle with digestion in terms of the fuels that you’re putting in because that’ll be a big sign. If you start to feel a heck of a lot better on a digestive front, you’re likely on the right track in terms of the best protocol for you.
Kelsey: That makes sense. Let’s talk a little bit more about timing which you brought up a little bit in terms of when you’re eating carbs and how that plays a role in performance. You mentioned that carbs should be eaten, I think you said around exercise I guess is what you said, and then maybe thinking about whether or not eating carbs during exercise is appropriate or not. What is the benefit to eating carbs around exercise? Why is that your recommendation?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: There’s multiple ways to do it. If we talk about before versus after versus before and after, Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale is a world renowned power lifter and medical doctor up here in Toronto and for him, timing carbohydrates before exercise is a really valuable strategy. He would actually recommend mitigating the amounts after exercise. He cites things like growth hormone response and hormonal response afterwards as one of the reasons why he would do that.
For some that can be a great approach. Again depending on your sport or whether you’re lifting or playing a team sport, that’s one thing. There are others who prefer to have a lower carb approach prior to the exercise because they want to let their bodies determine how intensely they train for the day. Sometimes if you decide that you’re a pre-carb person and perhaps you put in some simple carbs like 40, 60, 80 grams before you train, then you’re almost dictating how hard you should train that day. If you don’t feel as robust, or if you’re run down or tired, then all of a sudden you may sort of force yourself to achieve that certain intensity.
For others, this idea of limiting even beforehand and having more in the after period, then post training I would typically prefer just real food source of starchier carbs. The leaner somebody gets, then that’s when we’re going to start to add, you can think about both areas like before and after.
For the weekend warrior, unless we’re getting into competitions, and then we could touch on how we may want to fuel during competition, but most of the time during training I think water is a good spot to stay in until people get through a certain body composition, until they get lean would be my recommendation. If they did want to have something then we’ve got some nice supplement supports that are basically amino acids and electrolytes would be my first go-to after that.
Kelsey: Got it, okay. Going back again to that question of how many carbs is enough, how much are we talking here? You had just mentioned I think you said 60, 70, 80 grams of carbs before exercise. I want to get a sense of where does somebody start? Again, it’s going to depend on what kind of exercise they’re doing. But maybe we could just run though a few different types of exercises whether that’s something like endurance exercise, or strength training, things like that and how much people should maybe try to start with before or after exercise and see if that makes them feel any better or perform any better.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: There’s a lot of good points there in that question. One of them that we have to watch is the feeling better because sometimes we want that but sometimes that doesn’t tell us the information. Because again, if we’re going to adopt that lower carb approach we’re going to expect them to be not feeling so hot.
But definitely starting on the lower end like 10 grams 20 of carbohydrate. If you are more on the very active and lean level then that could be in the form of simple carbs even 10, 15, or 20 minutes before you start exercising. Depending on the bouts of exercise, if you’re getting into longer Ironman type trainings and marathons, I wouldn’t say you need to always have a very large dose beforehand.
It’s going to depend on what you’re doing in your training cycle. If you’re doing more aerobic base building versus more highly glycolytic and interval based type work. We know at intensity carbohydrates are going to be a limiting factor, glycogen use is going to be a limiting factor, so we just want to account for that. We don’t want to have that be the limiting factor in terms of creating that adaptation stimulus from the intense training. The more elite the person would get, then there could be more carbohydrate there to help perform at that level. But again it would really depend on if today is a sprints day or if today is a long, steady state day.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: For the average person dipping their toe in just going slowly through that, and if you train first thing in the morning, I’m a big fan of fasted training in the morning. I know the evidence is still equivocal at the moment in terms of benefit or not benefit.
For simplicity sake, a lot of people do train in the morning. It’s quite nice to just sort of get up and get your training in and then fuel afterwards. Again, as you get more into the elite crowd you can then decide on whether or not you want to add in a little bit of carbohydrate or not. But I think for the average kind of weekend warrior that’s a nice place to just get up, get your exercise in, and then all of sudden you’re into fueling. I know a lot of people can struggle with I have to get up earlier now to get the food in and it becomes a tricky question for them.
Kelsey: Right. I agree. I think there’s nothing inherently wrong with fasted exercise provided that your recovery is really good and you’re eating an appropriate meal afterwards to fuel up again. What I’m getting is it definitely depends obviously on what kind of exercise you’re doing, what the intensity of that exercise is, and what kind of athlete you are in general. But it’s best for the average person who’s not necessarily an elite athlete to start on the lower end of carbohydrate and work their way up.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: For sure. That’s a great place to start with if you’re that type of person. And even like you mentioned in terms of the exercise bouts, if it’s more of a light intensity side, then definitely it should be on the lower end. If it’s more on the higher intensity side, then you could increase to a higher end. Ultimately that higher end really depends the level and the leanness of the person.
Just to add on to your point there as well, 24 hour recovery really is what the elite athlete is going to be experiencing with their food intake. I think a lot of people are still stuck in this idea of just that one meal in the hour afterwards is going to really make or break for them versus just having the idea that you need to have good practices throughout the day.
Kelsey: Let’s talk about meal timing in general then. I think that’s a good segue into this because I agree, think the evidence certainly suggests that that one hour after exercise is not going to make or break you. It’s really over that 24 hour period that these things are going to make a bigger difference. Do you have a general meal timing strategy that you recommend to most average weekend warrior type of clients that you see?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Again for the weekend warriors, it can be a little bit more individualized because you get some that still need to lose weight versus some that are already very lean. In general for me I try to come at things from this idea of three square meals per day versus what we’ve kind of ended up in in the 21st century model. If you ask the average person how to you lose weight, they say well you increase your meal frequency to five or six meals. Then you say well what does that do? They tell you it increases your metabolism.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: The fortunate part is that we don’t have the research to show that. In fact the research shows the opposite. Which isn’t to say that you can’t ever do that, but it’s to show that for me having these sort of three square meals is a really nice way for people as their starting point.
I definitely find people pecking at their desks a lot. If you have that client who has the drawer full of snacks, sometimes that’s perhaps not the best strategy. We know from a sports psychology standpoint…Dr. Stephen Guyenet touched on this quite a bit, when the snacks are right next to you your brain knows that and they’re going to want them pretty quickly versus if you have to walk down the hall versus if you have to leave your building and go across the street to a coffee shop or a restaurant or whatnot.
I do like people to go with the three square meals a day and then if they do want to add some more in, then it would be around exercise. For the person training in the morning, maybe it’s a shake before they train or after they train. Someone training in the afternoon sometimes have these big gaps between lunch and even when they train before dinner so that could be a spot to add something in there as well, or a small meal for that matter.
I’m always amazed at the cost, people spend all this money on a protein bar, or a super bar, or whatever it might be. A good can of sardines is under $2.00 at virtually every grocery store, corner store, whatever you like. You can get really creative with your nutrition. It’s pretty cost effective too.
Kelsey: Yeah, for sure. You had mentioned fasting in the morning as an option for some people and that that tends to work pretty well for a lot of people. I assume that your answer to is intermittent fasting okay for athletes is yes, correct?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: This goes back to this question of what are the goals? The shortest way to answer that is basically for the average weekend warrior athlete I would say yes, it can work well. For the really elite, professional Olympic level athlete I would say no, or it would be a case by case basis. Because effectively with those athletes you do want them eating every three hours of a certain dose, about a 20 grams of protein dose or thereabout to maintain muscle protein synthesis.
We have to sort of watch a little bit because we’re seeing some newer research come out around intermittent fasting in that elite client again with lower free testosterone levels, low free T3 thyroid levels indicating things that we would see in athletes who are over trained.
I think you could use periods of that if your athlete needed to improve body composition or if you’re using it basically for certain days of the week versus a stand-alone approach where you have these longer periods of fasting for your athletes.
For me that’s one that gets a little bit confused because again I’m a big fan of intermittent fasting, I think it can do a lot of fantastic things. I think when we’re looking in the research now even with circadian rhythm function and breakfast being so key for setting that function, again with athletes, especially professional team sport athletes, who are taking flights overnight, there’s time zone changes, there’s all of these things. Mitigating some of those ambient stressors with regular meal patterns would be my bias.
But again for that weekend warrior, I think you’re right on there’s some great spots where you could add in intermittent fasting. For me the baseline for intermittent fasting is really three square meals. I’m asking people to fast between those meals rather than the constant snacking that they’re sort of used to.
Kelsey: Right. It depends on where you’re starting from too, what you would consider fasting. For many people, you’re absolutely right, they’re going to consider those times in between meals as the beginning of fasting for them.
That brings up a good point which is that there’s a lot of different types of intermittent fasting out there. There’s types where you don’t eat on certain days or you’re eating a really, really small amount on a couple days a week. There’s the type of intermittent fasting where you’re just not eating after dinner until maybe 11 or 12 the next morning.
Again we can talk about it in these two different populations that we keep coming back to like the weekend warrior and an elite athlete. Are there types of intermittent fasting that maybe work a little bit better between those two groups?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: I think we’re seeing a lot of benefit from the research coming out of the west coast around even just not eating after 6 pm has a lot of the benefits of fully fasting or even intermittent fasting without as much buy in. Even keeping it to a 12 hour window, which seems really reasonable when you think about it. If you’re sleeping for 8, a 12 hour window is pretty straightforward. The biggest mismatch, this is what we see with circadian mismatch is this idea that most people just eat later in the evening. Unless you’ve got young kids and you’re eating at 5:30, most people are going to eat at 7, 7:30, 8, later in the evening, athletes especially. I think the low hanging fruit there might be just stopping to eat earlier in the evening.
But again for the elite, elite athlete I really have to be convinced of a certain situation to really go strongly with intermittent fasting versus just versions of that would be this idea of train low or sleep low strategies where you change carbohydrate intake around before and/or after training. Those would be some things that I think we see a lot of benefit. I know Trent Stellingwerff, our head physiologist out in The Canadian Sport Institute on west coast does a lot of work in that. His wife was an elite Olympic runner as well. They use very small periods even three, four days of those types of approaches to elicit a lot of gains. I think people can dip their toe into it and get a lot of benefit.
I’m always worried with the elite performers. They tend to push themselves so hard that this idea of recovery becomes the key component. Having too many periods of restricted eating might compromise some of that performance. However, that said, in the off season I think is a great time.
There’s so many benefits as you mentioned. I’m huge fan of fasting especially in the general population. Two thirds of the population now are overweight or obese, one out of two pre-diabetic or diabetic. There’s just huge dysfunctions going on and fasting is a great way to really hammer down blood sugar and insulin levels. I know experts like Dr. Jason Fung here in Toronto who works with diabetics, it’s a preferred protocol from him.
The really cool thing from an implementation if you’re a clinician, or a doctor, or dietitian, nutritionist is it’s really hard to get wrong when you tell someone to eat nothing. There’s no getting the message wrong. I always find that’s a tricky one with clients. You say one thing and then clients hear a different thing. Keeping things very simple and straightforward, and it’s really tough to mix up the don’t eat anything at all until this time or at all on that day is really straightforward.
Kelsey: Absolutely. I really like that you are very clear about differentiating between these different populations because Laura and I really feel strongly about personalizing everything. While we agree that there’s a lot of great things that can happen because of intermittent fasting, it happens in a very specific population and that population is people who are overweight, maybe they have some kind of metabolic dysfunctional already.
But for somebody who’s an elite athlete, what you’re going to get out of intermittent fasting in terms of benefits is going to be so much smaller than somebody who’s got metabolic dysfunction already, and potentially can be harmful I would say.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Absolutely. You’re very right. I’m giving a whole talk in London, UK at the end of June at the National Congress of Naturopathic Medicine. Part of it is on that idea of just you can use versions of it in athletes, but all of a sudden you’ve got to really ask yourself, what is the cost/benefit? If I’m getting this little benefit but I might be having this huge cost, then all of a sudden the intervention becomes less appealing.
Whereas as you mentioned in clients who are just struggling to maintain weight and there’s dysglycemia, and hyperinsulinemia, and dyslipidemia, all these issues in terms of cardiac health and all of a sudden we’re thinking, hey, this is a pretty straightforward approach. The benefits are massive and the costs are just very minimal if any. You’re dead on there, just having that context.
I know it’s always great on these podcasts to get some real tangible things, but sometime people can run in the wrong direction. I think it’s great that you’re really making that distinction.
Kelsey: I think this brings us to an important question which is about recovery. You mentioned that before that eating in a sense is a way that an athlete recovers. If you’re restricting food too much, that’s inhibiting the amount of recovery that somebody is able to do. Let’s talk a little about recovery, what exactly that means to you.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: There’s a lot of different aspects of recovery. The Canada Basketball, with the Men’s Olympic Basketball team we use a variety of different devices and parameters to assess that. That’s quite helpful on that front because there’s so many metrics from whether it’s lab testing to various devices that we use with the guys. We can get a lot of good inputs to assess what’s going on.
I think for the average person or the weekend warrior, it can get a little bit tricky because they don’t have as many of those little lights on dashboard of their car. A lot of them tend to be really type A personalities, which is great for getting stuff done and really pushing yourself hard, but often times the default for them is just pushing through everything.
I think this is a great chance for if you work with athletes, if you’re a doc, nutritionist, etc., to really start to look at what they’re doing around exercise. The meals after exercise are obviously really important. I’m always a real food first approach which is one of the reasons why this ancestral approach works so well for me because I think it keeps me really honest. I think it would keep any doc or nutritionist because we always have to come back to real food versus just throwing on all these supplements to meet someone’s needs.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: The classic idea would be to achieve a certain amount of carbohydrate, obviously caloric intake, 20 grams of protein, sort of that minimum effective dose to mitigate muscle protein breakdown. I just had a doctor Tyler Churchward-Venne, he’s a world expert in protein research, on my podcast. We had some good conversations around the amounts of protein. That could increase depending on the athlete in terms of the serving sizes.
As you guys know, the micronutrients that we’re also going to get especially in female athletes who are trying to get things like iron and B12, or in men and women – zinc. These are important micronutrients for recovery that we tend to, in sport oftentimes we just think of them as…people will just say well I’ll just take a supplement for magnesium, I’ll just take a supplement for zinc. We’ve got to get back to that idea of what foods have the most of those in them and let’s start eating more of those.
Kelsey: Yeah, got it. Essentially nutrition is a huge piece of that. Let’s talk a little bit about that before we move on to the other pieces of recovery because I think it’s a question a lot of people have. I like that you focus on that real food aspect of it rather than throwing a bunch of supplements at everybody.
Let’s dive into I guess what you would consider the most important nutrients for both of these populations. It might be the same, it might be different. But I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Are there super important nutrients that either an elite athlete should focus on or the weekend warrior type person should focus on? Where are those nutrients found in food?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: We’re talking just micronutrients now versus the macro balance?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: I think the research is pretty clear that in terms of things that are required for so many functions like for example magnesium. To make ATP, we use magnesium. It tends to be lesser found obviously when we cook. There’s a good deal in meats, but when we cook them we start to lose that in the juices. Always making sure that you kind of reuse those juices in your gravies and etc. But leafy greens, avocados, fish are going to be great sources of magnesium. Ensuring that you’re getting those in.
You see a lot of people, especially younger athletes…we go all the way down to 13 year olds and while they know a lot more than I do when I was 13, things like fish, or avocados and whatnot, and leafy greens might be on the lower end for some of those people. Ensuring that you’re getting decent amounts of those in is going to be crucial.
Zinc is another common one. Obviously really key for not only recovery, but hormone balance, and immunity is a big one. I think anybody who’s trained really hard for something, once you get past that peaking phase and you’re toning it down before competition, there’s nothing worse for preparing four months and then catching a cold or flu three or four days before you’re event especially if you trained four years for the Olympics.
I’m a huge fan of seafood. Oysters and mussels are just so nutrient dense. Again obviously you can get them fresh, that’s fantastic. For me if you’re getting them canned two, three times a week is totally acceptable on my end. Try to get them from environmentally friendly sources or whatnot. Fish is obviously great as well. Most of the time in people’s diets there’s not enough of some of these things.
The last point I’ll make on the zinc front is obviously the darker cuts of meat, and grass-fed beef, and wild game…I still hear people even who are cognizant of this will still say I only eat red meat a certain amount of times a week, still fully believing that it’s highly related to a lot of cardiovascular disease risk or mortality, or cause mortality. Really when we look at the fat distribution, I just had Dr. Loren Cordain on my podcast as well, and oleic acid is the prominent fat in grass-fed beef which is what we find in olive oil. If the cardiologists are loving olive oil, then surely the grass-fed beef is going to be high on that list as well.
I think for the athletes and weekend warriors, some of things, and I’m sure people listening in to this podcast are already on board, but for people who are newer to it, I think it’s a really important thing to reinforce especially in female athletes when we know that the iron and the B12 play such a crucial role in not only energy production and their ability to perform, but in terms of overall health.
Kelsey: Absolutely. Diving into supplements a little bit here, what about things like BCAAs? You hear a lot about that being helpful, protein powders. Where do you stand on all of that?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: I think supplements should be supplemental to the diet, which sounds funny to say but sometimes clients and athletes will come in and they’ve got fourteen tubs and bottles of stuff. You start to say wait a minute, what’s going on here?
I think the more elite you are, you have to eat so many times in the day that this is where things like shakes can be really handy because it’s not easy to eat six 20-30 gram portions of protein through the day. If people can digest it well, we see whey proteins can be a terrific option. We see some research around incretin which is a type of digestive hormone that may help to support in terms of supporting microbial balance in the gut. Like everything in life, there’s a flipside. If I don’t do that well with whey protein, so if you struggle with digestion you have to find a different source, hemp, pea whatever it might be. But that can be a nice way to get that protein dose up. I would lean that way initially.
For the elite athletes, BCAAs during exercise or even time before is adequate, looking for that about 3 gram dose of Leucine is a really nice one. Especially for those endurance athletes that are used to taking gels, or Gatorades, or whatever it might be, just switching to a formula that’s got some essential amino acids or BCAAs as well as some electrolytes is a really nice way to get a similar sensation but without the big blood sugar, insulin response that you get from that 40, 50, 60 gram dose of a Gatorade or whatever that you might be drinking.
Kelsey: Right, makes perfect sense. Supplements are supplemental, what a concept, right?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: What a novel concept. I think there’s some interesting things around various herbs that are quite nice in terms of some supplemental support because obviously trying to eat the herbs, we wouldn’t really get that much of a benefit. There’s certain things that people can explore there with their doc, or naturopath, or whomever.
I think as a place to start, that’s a pretty good place to go. Things around digestive health as well. If you’re busy and always on the run and on the go, digestive health is huge. Things like a probiotic can be helpful at various times as well because it gives you that immune protection as well as inflammatory protection.
Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s dive back into the recovery question here. Obviously nutrition is one piece of overall recovery. What other factors play into how well somebody is going to recover from the exercise they are doing?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: The major, major, one of the biggest hammers so to speak if you want to use that analogy is sleep. It really is just massively important in terms of hormone balance. I see a lot of male clients who think they need to go on, who’s doctors who have said well your testosterone levels are low, you need to go on a gel or a cream. When really eating appropriately, correcting blood sugar dysfunction, training the right way, and literally just getting sleep is a phenomenal way to support that. Even in female athletes as well in terms of having that right balance.
When you look at what an athlete really needs for sleep, which is 70 hours a week, which would be 10 hour per day, this is when you start to realize if you’re working a desk job, you’re not going for that 3 hour nap between 2:00 and 5:00 before your next ride. You’re not going to be able to nearly recover as much as elite athletes who even train twice a day. They wake up in the morning, they train, let’s say 10:00 they go home for a 3 hour nap, they come back, they train again. It’s a totally different ballgame.
I think sometimes that sleep front is one that highlights to people, okay, maybe I’m more on that weekend warrior side than athlete side. But also, you don’t have to carve out necessarily the three hours. Sleep architecture is those little 90 minute waves we go through. Even a 20 minute nap where you just literally close your eyes, you might even be at your office, or in transit, or something. You just close your eyes, you start to increase alpha brain wave activity which is really therapeutic for supporting cognitive function, and memory, and sort of rebooting the computer if you will. That’s a nice place to start. If you do have a chance, 30 minutes or 60 minutes can be a good naptime, ideally 90 minutes if you can go through a full sleep cycle on the weekends.
But that’s some pretty low hanging fruit. People like to watch their box sets or whatever else in the evening. Maybe you start to carve out two nights of the week or three nights of the week where all of a sudden you go to bed at 10 instead of 11 or 11:30. That can be a huge one especially the more athletic you are and the more you are performance driven. It’s amazing. It’s free, it doesn’t cost anything. People are so ready to spend money on tests, and labs, and supplements, and all these other things. That low hanging fruit sometimes is the one that’s going to yield the greatest rewards.
Kelsey: Yeah. This is something that I see a lot in my own practice and I think Laura does too, is that we see these people that they train almost like an elite athlete, but again, they’re working a desk job, they’re certainly not getting 10 hours of sleep every day. They’re getting like 6 or 7 and they’re wondering why they’re performance isn’t as good as it should be. They’re wondering why they have all these hormonal problems now or they’re just fatigued all the time.
It’s like, hmm, let’s think about this for a second here. I think there’s some low hanging fruit, as you said, that we can really focus on to make your recovery equal the activity that you’re doing. I like to think about it as that balance of activity to recovery and they really have to be on the same page in order to get optimal performance and for that person to be as healthy as possible.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: 100% I agree. I think it’s nice if we can almost turn the tables on our clients a little bit and get them to program in these periods of recovery. Recovery is a whole umbrella term. You could be taking a nap or resting, you could be taking an ice bath or a sauna, you could be doing some light stretching. You could incorporate all sort of different tools so that your client is somewhat mentally stimulated by this idea of adding more into their routine.
I think where a lot of the weekend warriors, if I can just touch on exercise for one minute here, where they go wrong is they tend to stay stuck in this glycolytic, lactic acid, everything’s burning type of energy systems in their workouts and they really push those pathways. They sometimes don’t get up enough into these sort of true power work intensities, so much shorter duration and increased power, or even down in the very low end of really building aerobic base.
I think if you notice your clients are always, or if you’re listening out there, if you notice your workouts are always in that in between stage, let’s say you do lots of classes or spin classes or whatnot, you tend to hang out in that middle range, that can definitely burn people out pretty quick. That’s one to watch out for.
Kelsey: Interesting. You mentioned a few other types of tools that people can use to recover. Obviously sleep is a tool. I would add stress to that list as well, not as a tool, but focusing on stress levels and reducing stress as a way to recover. Then you mentioned things like ice baths. Let’s run through maybe just a couple of those tools that you mentioned and how they impact recovery. For example, why does an ice bath help somebody recover?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: There’s a lot of different tools that you could use. Ice baths in general, they’re helpful on a couple of fronts. In terms of overall inflammation, we can get a lot of support. Even for clients who are trying to improve body composition, we get some interesting new research showing that it can be very helpful for body composition as well. The tricky part with that one is it’s obviously not easy to get people to go buy three bags of ice, and put them in their bath tub, and then dive right in, right?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: An easier way to start might just be some contrast showers. You get in the shower and it’s warm, you turn it a little colder for 15, 20, 30 seconds, then go back to warm, and kind of alternate trying to increase the difference between the hot and the cold. It’s sort of an easy, practical way of jumping in there.
One of the really nice ways as well beyond sleep is just breathing. I used to call this meditation with my clients but it sounds more intimidating so now I just call it breathing. Most of us to that on a daily basis, right?
Kelsey: We all know how to do that.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Breath work, especially the type As, people who are busy and pushing themselves hard, as you guys well know, they’re stuck into this sympathetic drive, this fight or flight state and that can really wear out an athlete. The breath is the best way to really connect to your parasympathetic and activate those pathways.
Some simple inhaling for four seconds, exhaling for four seconds, doing that for four minutes is one that’s commonly used. Even little things like humming. It sounds kind of funny but just a low hum like you might see in things like yoga. They use ohm and whatnot, but you can pick your own word or you can just hum.
That’s a phenomenal way to reduce sympathetic nervous activity. You’ll see professional tennis players doing that before they serve, professional golfers before they hit a tee shot, even military, things like snipers that are having to just relax at over excitation. It’s actually really, really beneficial. Now your colleagues at work might start to know when you’re a little bit bent out of shape if they hear you humming all the time. You can keep that perhaps more silent.
But they are actually pretty cool little hacks that you can start to use and all of a sudden you just feel better, more relaxed, etc. Start small, program in maybe two, three, five minutes of some of these things a few times a week. If you can stick to it for a couple of weeks, what happens is you’ll really start to feel the benefits and people tend to increase the durations by themselves going up to ten, fifteen minutes at a time.
Kelsey: Interesting. Cool! Let’s do a quick little recap of what we discussed today before we end becuase I think talked about a lot of really interesting stuff. I’m going to give my recap and you correct me if I’m giving any bad information here.
In terms of carbohydrate intake, it can be really a big range for people in terms of what might be most useful for them and it depends on which type of population you’re in. Are you a weekend warrior or somebody that’s just casually exercising? Or are you somebody who is an elite athlete and you’re exercising maybe every day or sometimes multiple times a day?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Perfect.
Kelsey: It’s usually best to start off low and move up to higher levels of carbohydrates in relation to the exercise you’re doing.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Absolutely. The more beginner you are or the more it’s just health and weekend warrior, then definitely starting on a lower carb side you going to do well. The more elite you are, then yeah, you can get away with greater amounts even if you are keto adapted, which is pretty cool.
Kelsey: Perfect. As for meal timing, generally people should start off with three meals a day, cut out those snacks in between meals that you probably don’t need necessarily. And then you can always add those snacks back if you you’re doing exercise. I think you had an example in the middle if the afternoon when you have maybe a longer time period before you’re going to eat again and you just ate lunch, you’re not going to eat dinner for a few hours later.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: For sure. That’s definitely for that weekend warrior in keeping the snacks to things that are protein based or fiber based is a good way to go. For that elite athlete or professional athlete, then definitely erring on the side of six meals a day every three or four hours and 20 grams of protein per dose is where I would start.
Kelsey: Awesome. Then when it comes to nutrients, a couple that you mentioned were magnesium, and zinc, and then of course fatty acids from grass-fed meats and high quality animal fats I think is really important. Generally a real food, Paleo, ancestral type of diet is where I would classify the best diet for an athlete or just anybody really. Would you agree with that?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: 100%. We didn’t touch on it here, but I assume obviously with your show, yeah the industrial seed oils, the omega 6s, we’re getting far too many of those. Definitely just pulling those right out. It’s just amazing how people get the benefits on the inflammatory side in pretty quick short order.
Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. And then recovery, super important! I would say often overlooked. I think it sounds like a lot of your clients maybe have the same problem that they’re not thinking about that. Because I think it’s just easy to not think about recovery especially if you are somebody who is working a desk job, you’ve got a lot of other things going in your life. Exercise happens to be one of the things in your life, but you’re not necessarily optimizing your recovery to match the amount of activity you’re doing.
Making sure you’re using some of those tools that we talked about like breathing, making sure you’re sleeping a lot, or taking even short, small naps, anything you can fit in in terms of sleep, maybe trying those contrasting temperature showers, saunas. Any of those tools to implement and help you recover better is going to optimize your performance and your health.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Absolutely. I say if you pick one, just make sure you schedule in for three or four minutes, four to five times, three to five times a week and then give yourself a couple weeks. If you schedule it in, you’ll do it. All of sudden you’ll notice after a couple weeks, people look back and say all of a sudden I’m feeling a little bit better, energy is better, joints are less sore.
Kelsey: Excellent! Thank you so much for being here, Marc. I want people to be able to find you if they’ve enjoyed this episode. Where can people find you online?
Dr. Marc Bubbs: They can head over to DrBubbs.com. That’s my website all my posting, writing is on there as well as my new podcast The Dr. Bubbs Performance podcast. You can check out our new guests. We just had Dr. Cordain on and Robb Wolf is coming on as well. You can definitely check those out. I’m on social media @Dr.Bubbs on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Kelsey: Perfect. We’ll link to all that as well in the show notes so if people want to find you they can just click that link as well.
Thank you so, so much for being here! I think this was really helpful especially for again differentiating between those two, and there’s more within those two groups too. But I think it’s really, really great that you think about the different populations in terms of athletes and personalize the advice you give based on that because I think there’s a lot of generalized advice out there. And as you’ve seen I’m sure, that can be really problematic for a lot of people when they start following generalized advice.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Definitely. I mean it will take them to a certain place, but if you’re out there listening and you’re hitting a plateau, you’re hitting a roadblock, then it’s likely because you’re just following generalized advice and you haven’t sought out someone like Kelsey, or Laura, or myself to take it a step further to really figure out what’s best for them.
Kelsey: Absolutely. Thank you so much again, Marc. This was wonderful! Hopefully we’ll have you on again sometime soon.
Dr. Marc Bubbs: Awesome! I appreciate it. Thanks so much, guys.