Blood Sugar

#192: Danny Lennon, MS- Smart Carb, Low Carb and Keto for Exercise Performance

by Deanna Mutzel, DC





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About Danny Lennon, MS

Danny has a formal scientific background in academia, completing a master’s degree (MSc.) in Nutritional Sciences at University College Cork. During this time Danny researched vitamin D, directly under the world-renowned researcher Professor Kevin Cashman.

Outside of the nutrition world, Danny is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blue belt and raw powerlifte.

Connect with Danny

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Show Notes

02:16 Macronutrients for Sport: Athletes tend to focus on macros or a focus on food quality. At high levels of sport, there are certain rules that apply to fuel that sport to optimal performance. Having glucose available through glycogen storage during high performance at an event is important. This does not translate into consuming a high carb diet every day. Athletes often under eat carbohydrates and calories to lean out or make weight.

04:27 Symptoms of Under-Fueling: Hair loss, loss of energy, fatigue on consecutive days or loss of muscle mass can be caused by under consuming calories. In a glycolytically demanding sport, an athlete on a chronically low carb diet may last the entire performance, but cannot kick it into a higher gear.  This means that ATP is not being produced quickly enough.

07:02 Lifestyle Impacts upon Performance: Nutrition is only one piece of the puzzle. Danny looks at weekly averages of things like energy intake, macronutrient intake, sleep duration, sleep timing, general activity outside the gym, stress levels and sunlight exposure.

08:43 Sleep Quality/Duration: Sleep quality/duration has the most sweeping effect upon performance. This applies to athletes and the rest of us. Sleep has a direct impact on virtually every system in the body. Beyond recovery, sleep has secondary effects, impacting things like immune system function, food choices, and hunger.

10:14 Facilitating Sleep Hygiene: Having structure and routine timing is necessary for sleep quantity and quality.  Slowly bring yourself into the parasympathetic state. Before bed, limit light exposure. Avoid electronics, even those with blue blocking apps. The bedtime routine is no long optional.

14:40 The Holistic Approach to Sports Nutrition:  The more energy an athlete is expending, allows more flexibility with processed consumables like pure dextrose or maltodextrin. Even high end athletes should maximize the contribution of real food sources. These contain many other compounds that benefit us, like micronutrients and phytochemicals, which have long term implications for our immune system and ability to recover. High performance athletes will trade off this optimal health strategy during their competition window. Recreational athletes should find the bulk of their nutrition in real food sources, rather than protein bars and gels.

18:24 Post Workout Carbohydrates: Dextrose after a workout is applicable for athletes who are doing workout sessions with less than 24 hours between. The rest of us can eat real food to consume enough total carbohydrate in the 24 to 36 hour window. For hypertrophy, maximizing muscle protein synthesis, there is slight elevation of insulin, which is slightly anti-catabolic. Both carbohydrates and protein are insulinogenic. Whey or other animal proteins provide adequate levels of protein and leucine post workout muscle protein response is maximized, even without carbohydrates. To maximize muscle mass and get glucose into the muscle, you could include carbohydrates during the post workout window.

21:30 Post Workout Insulin Dependent Glucose Uptake: Getting glucose into a cell is largely dependent upon insulin and insulin receptors. Post resistance training is most potent in getting movement of glucose transporters to the surface of the cell independent of the action of insulin. This can occur in those of us who are slightly or fully insulin resistant.

23:09 Physical Activity is Not Just a Calorie Burn: Just being generally active makes beneficial changes within the cell. We need this strain or homeostatic disruption for our health. Research shows that there is benefit to us to get up from our chairs throughout the work day, over those of us who remain seated all day. It also has benefit over getting exercise in one burst and sitting the rest of the day. Movement also helps those of us who are trying to lose weight through caloric restriction, by diverting our body’s adaptations. Wearables and cues are very helpful for increasing awareness, and thus movement. Devices that track sleep, likewise, increase awareness and compliance.

32:22 Carbs and Keto: Danny calculates the amount of protein his client needs, adds an adequate amount of fat and whatever calories are left over are carbohydrates, with the caveat that there is plenty of fiber in them. As a general start point, a high protein intake is a good idea,1.7 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight. Fat intake starts around 1 gram per kilo to 1.5 gram per kilo. Carb intake can vary depending upon food preferences. If your energy balance is in place, your food quality is good, you are staying active, your sleep is in play, and your protein intake is dialed in, there won’t be a dramatic difference in body composition or health if you have a shift up or down in carb intake.

34:20 Carbs and Weight Loss: Regardless of the method of weight loss, if someone loses around 10% of their body weight and they were overweight or obese, you see an improvement in all their blood markers, including insulin sensitivity. Danny sets a calorie goal, a protein goal, and a good fat intake goal. After that, carbohydrate intake won’t be very high. The big obstacle is adherence to the diet.

36:59 Athletes Needing a Higher Carb Diet: Protein, fat and carbohydrates have smaller constituents that can be metabolized for energy. The smaller units of carbohydrate becomes glucose or dietary fat becomes fatty acids. Both can be metabolized to generate ATP. At low intensity, healthy people should rely upon a large amount of fatty acid metabolism. The fat is from storage or from food. When we increase our exercise to a high intensity for prolonged periods, we need to produce ATP very quickly. This requires glucose be consumed. We can only oxidize fatty acids when we have the availability of oxygen, aerobic metabolism. Glucose can be used with or without oxygen, aerobic or anaerobic metabolism.

40:01 Ketogenic/Low Carb Diets in Sports: Some papers show that those of us that are keto-adapted to better in a sport. Look closely at what performance parameters are being measured and see if they align with the goals of the performance. If performance is your number one goal, you require carbohydrate at the time of the performance to drive that performance. Ketones and exogenous ketones can be useful in sport. Understand what you are trying to fuel and what the athlete needs to do.

43:14 Smart Carbs: When we train with low glycogen levels and recover without carbohydrates, we get cool muscle adaptations. There are positive changes in gene expression and mitochondrial biogenesis. It isn’t high carb or low carb. It’s smart carb. Generally, we match carbohydrate intake to energy expenditure. Study results give you averages and will not tell you how it will work for you.

49:30 Emphasizing Hypertrophy with Nutrition: Your training program needs to provide a sufficient stimulus, be well designed, have adequate volume for you to grow and have some sort of progressive overload. If you are trying to build mass, you need to eat more food. More calories, however, do not equal more muscle mass gain. The rate of gain is relatively slow and cannot be driven by increasing caloric intake. The distribution and dosing of protein over the course of the day can positively impact muscle protein synthesis. The response to protein feeding decreases with age. You may need slightly more protein post workout to maximize the MPS response. It is not just the protein, it is the leucine that is also a driver of the MPS response. Vegan athletes can supplement leucine without using animal based protein.

59:32 Danny’s Favorite Exercise: Squatting is a movement that is physically and mentally challenging. It can teach you things about life. The squat is nuanced and requires a great deal of technique.

01:02:13 Danny’s Favorite Herb, Nutrient or Botanical: He chooses a greens powder/greens vegetables or lamb’s liver. They are a synergy of nutrient dense compounds.

01:03:46 Danny’s Morning Routine: His days are always different, but generally he has a list made from the night before of what needs to be done that day. After making coffee, he tries to tackle a big task that will feel like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. This strategy helps to build momentum over the course of the day. Find that thing that, once you do it, you feel set up to tackle everything else.

01:05:44 Danny’s Elevator Speech: There is a great deal of confusion around health and nutrition. We need to develop messages that help information to spread. It needs to be tangible and individuals need to be inspired to apply it. We have to get to the point of understanding principles versus methods. When it comes to nutrition, there are many methods you can use to be successful. There are general nutritional principles that help us be healthy, we don’t want a massive chronic surplus of calories, we don’t want super low dietary fat, we want overall optimal food quality, ensure micronutrients, and ensure fiber intake.




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