Sunday, July 27, 2008

By Way of Contrast: Lyle McDonald - just the poo, the cynical poo, m'am

On his forum, Lyle McDonald has as his signature, next to the image on the left "i fling poo." What does that mean? It may mean nothing, but it's certainly evocative. It suggests a person who is unafraid of getting to the heart of a matter, speaking his mind, and not taking himself too seriously. A few folks whose opinions i don't take lightly have recently recommended MacDonald's stuff. Trainer extraordinaire Roland Fisher recommended a series of blog posts on an overview of research on EPOC. BJ Bliffert, RKC recommended his book the Ketogenic Diet, which i've just finished reading. Most recently i've cited a post of his in discussing how to figure out what eating "less" means for reducing calories. It finally clicks: poo flinger is all the same guy.

What works about McDonald's work
In each of the above cases, this graduate of a bachelors in physiological sciences digs into the research on an area and brings his own questions to that space to come up with *well-grounded* assessments of material.

Take for instance, the Ketogenic Diet. It is a fantastic overview /reference of what a diet that strips out carbs does to the body. It looks at why/how this approach to diet has been used (and misrepresented) over the decades. McDonald makes clear in it that he is not trying to persuade anyone to use the diet, but to explain how it works, and how its variants work for people to decide if this approach may be helpful to them.

One of the passages in the book i treasure is about the research used to synthesize the effectiveness or not of the diet.

The basic premise of the ketogenic diet is that, by shifting the metabolism towards fat use and away from glucose use, more fat and less protein is lost for a given caloric deficit. Given the same total weight loss, the diet which has the best nitrogen balance will have the greatest fat loss. Unfortunately a lack of well done studies (for reasons discussed previously) make this premise difficult to support (p63).

These statements are really cool: they take head on the fact that there are no well done studies to support that more fat in particular is lost with this metabolic shifting diet. That might seem to be a show stopper - in other words, why continue to discuss this approach if the ostensible reason for carrying out the diet - preferential fat loss - isn't there?

Likewise McDonald takes on the arguments about greater caloric deficit from being on such a diet, and then works through how none of the reasons proposed for such an argument stand up.

And finally, after all the physiology is addressed, McDonald goes through what a diet actually is in terms of considerations like metabolic rate, weight loss vs fat loss and so on. If knowledge is power, this is a powerful presentation. And it's one that's 10 years old.

McDonald clearly situates his interest in the diet based on the effects it had for him:

I became interested in the ketogenic diet two and one-half years ago when I used a modified
form (called a cyclical ketogenic diet) to reach a level of leanness that was previously impossible using other diets. Since that time, I have spent innumerable hours researching the details of the diet, attempting to answer the many questions which surround it. This book represents the results of that quest.

As such, this is an incredibly useful volume, and i certainly recommend it as a great way to get up to speed with what ketogenic diets are, how they work, where they're contra-indicated, etc. We are ten years further on in research in nutrition. The basic findings however haven't changed according to a recent survey of the literature. A calorie is still a calorie thermogenically, and fat loss only reults from caloric deficit, but why some diets seem to work better than others is still an open question.

The Ketogenic Diet was written in 1998, and is different in presentation from the 2005 Ulitmate Diet 2 in one particular: lack of references. McDonald says that he doesn't use them anymore in the books because regular readers could care less; readers who don't like what he has to say aren't going to be persuaded by any number of references (indeed), and those who know the area will be able to figure out the references. That makes me a minority: i like the references, but i'm not an expert in these nutritional domains so can't always find the references myself. Oh well.


Here's the thing: McDonald describes himself as both passionate about his interests in training and nutrition, and cynical. That's a healthy combination. From his bio page:

People often get frustrated with me because they will ask me a question and typically get an answer of 'It depends'. Because it does. In the lifting and nutrition world, it's most typical to see people get married to a single concept and defend it for all people under all circumstances. whether it's high-carb or low-carb dieting, high volume or high-intensity training, or the never ending free weights vs. machines or compound vs. isolation exercises debate, the message is the same 'There is a single correct answer in terms of how to eat or train and I have it. Now give me money.'

So I'm a little cynical but I can't look at training or diet or the myriad aspects of human physiology that simplistically. The appropriate training for a 35 year old female newbie who has never performed competitive sport before is not the same as what's appropriate for a 22 year old athlete; a beginning powerlifter (or any athlete for the matter) shouldn't be trying to copy what guys with 15-20 years of training experience behind them are doing. Whether machines or free weights or compound or isolation exercises are 'optimal' depends on the individual, their previous training, their current training, their goals and the remainder of their workout. It can all potentially fit into a given workout scheme, depending on the circumstances.

The same goes for diet. The optimal diet for competitive cyclist performing 2 hours per day or more in the saddle won't be the same as for a sedentary couch potato, or for a bodybuilder or powerlifter. Optimal can only be defined in a context dependent way: what is optimal under one situation isn't optimal under another.

At the same time, I find that a lot of folks get too wrapped up in a million and one details that they tend to miss many of the fundamental principles of training or diet.

A training program must provide progression, overload, recovery and few other things to be ideal; what approach to progression, overload, and recovery are optimal for a given individual under a given situation will depend on the circumstances.

A fat loss diet needs to meet certain requirements to be correctly set up in my mind, that includes below maintenance calorie levels, protein intake and essential fatty acid intake. Beyond that, issues of how many carbs, or how much dietary fat, meal frequency and timing all depend on the circumstances.

Is such a philosophy flinging poo? if so i need to revisit my understanding of poo. In the meantime, if you don't have a copy of the Ketogenic Diet for reference, then check out the series on Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) to see a great example of a ballsy engagement with the research, common myths, and a cynical mind can bring to a pretty good training question.

We might not all want to be or need to be physiologists, but most of us perform better when we know why something works; it also helps when we need to fix it. Well-founded work like McDonald's contributes to confident material for the DIY training toolbox.

Hmm: Cat in the Hat with I can read it all by myself, and Mr Poo's I can read the Research all by Myself?


Al said...

"The nature of Monkey is irrepressible"

Actually, Lyle’s last 2 books include reference lists.
‘The Protein Book’ is fully referenced including this one I found particularly good;

McDonald L. A systemic examination of the pointlessness of long reference lists. Int J You Know You Don't Read These (2072) 987: 10024-11000.

‘The Stubborn Fat Solution’ contains a very user friendly reference list.

And he doesn’t use Endnote!



mc said...

heh al, thanks for stopping by

i guess even a cynical soul of a systematic examination just can't resist the lure of the citation - it gets into the blood, even when you say you won't you still
what are the
i can't find the page numbers. AAAAA!

delighted to hear the refs are back:

and just for the full quote from 2005 rapid fat loss

quote starts:
You might note that despite the title, I haven’t included scientific references in this booklet. There
are several reasons for this. The first is that I’m just astoundingly lazy. At this point in my life, I’ve read
so much research that trying to pin down references for even a smattering of what I’ve said gives me
anxiety attacks. The second is a simple realization of fact: the average book reader doesn’t care about a
list of scientific references at the back; they are unlikely to go look any of them up. At the same time, the
scientifically minded out there should be able to find the studies I’ve mentioned based on description
Finally, I’ve found that the people who don’t like what I have to say aren’t going to be swayed by
any references I provide anyhow. I could provide 600+ references (as I did for my first book) and
these morons will dismiss them out of hand because they either don’t like me or have some irrational
bias against whatever I’m writing about. Bottom line, I’m not bothering. If you desperately must have a
reference for something I wrote email me and I can probably dig it up. Or at least give you some
pointers on how to find it on Medline.

quote ends

Rannoch Donald RKC said...

Could be a reference to Mason the Chimpanzee in Madagascar?

Mike T Nelson said...

Yep, Lyle has some good stuff and I have the Ketogenic Diet and Ultimate Diet 2.0 too--good stuff.

Personally, I struggle with references at times, but I generally try to reference things when I can since I believe you should show data for what you are attempting to say.

I know the hardcore science stuff tends to be less popular, but are you really going to believe the 4 page supplement ads?

Rock on
Mike N


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