The Rich Roll Podcast – Strength Coach Mike Mahler Wants To Optimize Your Hormones

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Key Takeaways
  • Don’t overly fixate on testosterone – Testosterone is important, but so is DHEA, so is pregnenolone (the mother of all hormones), so is leptin, and so is insulin
  • Leptin
    • It’s our fuel gauge – it communicates with the brain to let us know when to stop eating
    • People that who areoverweight, have leptin resistance
    • To improve leptin sensitivity chew your food more, and space out your meals
    • Leptin and insulin are intertwined
      • If you have leptin resistance, you have insulin resistance
  • “The more nutrient dense your food, the less calories you have to consume”
  • DHEA
    • Without optimal DHEA, you won’t have optimal testosterone
    • DHEA protects testosterone from cortisol
  • Testosterone
    • Total testosterone – the total amount of testosterone you’re producing
    • Free testosterone – what you actually have access to
    • What contributes to low testosterone?
      • Stress is the biggest factor 
      • Every time cortisol (the stress hormone) goes up, testosterone goes down
      • Low sleep quantity
      • Alcohol converts testosterone to estrogen – If you have low testosterone, cut out alcohol
    • Magnesium is crucial for testosterone production 
  • Cortisol
    • Cortisol levels rise with stress
    • Cortisol, although it’s a stress hormone, is also anti inflammatory
    • When you’re eating crappy foods, and always inflammed, your cortisol levels will always be high
  • Instead of fish oil, focus on getting more plant essential fatty acid sources (like flax seeds)
  • If you’re still tired after a solid night of sleep, try taking a licorice supplement
  • Where you hold body fat is an indicator of hormone imbalance
Intro
The Backstory
  • At age 29 ( in 2002), Mike was living a very stressful life in Los Angeles
    • He ended up coming down with a severe case of pneumonia
    • On a trip to visit his parents in Uganda, he had to go to the emergency room
    • “When people say stress kills, they’re not kidding” – Mike credits the pneumonia to a culmination of stress
    • He ended up losing about 30 pounds of muscle – This was at a time he was very frequently teaching kettlebell seminars
  • To get better – “I didn’t want to just get back to where I was, I wanted to make myself much more resilient” 
    • This led to his interest in hormone optimization
Hormones 101 – An Introduction
  • “The mistake a lot of men make: they overly fixate on their testosterone level. Testosterone is important, but so is DHEA, so is pregnenolone (the mother of all hormones), so is leptin, and so is insulin.”
    • Look at hormones as an orchestra – when an orchestra works in unison, it’s really special
      • If one member of the orchestra is off – the orchestra as a whole doesn’t sound good
      • The same is true for your hormonal health
  • Check out this podcast – Dr. Mark Gordon on Joe Rogan 
    • When you have a head concussion, your testosterone and growth hormone production shuts down
      • This can lead to depression
    • When you put someone on testosterone (TRT (testosterone replacement therapy) – usually a shot, or a cream), you also have to replace the hormones that are the precursors, because they get depleted
      • Why? – Mike doesn’t know, but he suspects it’s because the body thinks “Oh, I have lots of testosterone now, I don’t need to make these precursors”
      • If you just replace testosterone, but don’t replace DHEA or pregnenolone, there’s a negative impact
      • “As Americans, we always want to improve numbers on a piece of paper. With hormones, it’s no different.” – But you have to be careful
      • “The body works as a system. When there’s an imbalance, you can’t just supplement to cure that imbalance. You have to get at the root cause of what is contributing to that imbalance” – Rich
  • Testosterone is not a master control hormone
    • What hormones are? – Leptin, Insulin, Growth Hormone (to some extent)
Leptin
  • Leptin is our fuel gauge – just like with our car
    • It communicates with the brain – It lets us know when to stop eating
    • When you start eating a meal, leptin levels begin to rise, until it reaches a certain level – which signals your body that you’ve derived enough nutrition from the food you’re eating
  • People that are overweight, have leptin resistance – it’s not that they don’t have enough leptin
    • The leptin signal isn’t getting to the brain
    • Leptin receptors in the brain, over time, get dysfunctional due to stress and poor diet
    • Leptin resistance also lowers your metabolic rate
      • “Even though you’re consuming excess calories, to your brain, you’re deficient”
      • Your brain tends to think – “We’re not getting the nutrition we need, so let’s slow down all metabolic function”
      • Any energy that would have been allocated to testosterone, DHEA, and growth hormone production, is shut off because these are not survival hormones, they’re thriving hormones
      • So the result – you’re both hungry and tired all the time
  • Strategies to improve leptin sensititvity
    • Slow down your eating (chew more)
      • Mike recommends 30-40 times for every bite
      • This allows you to extract more nutrition from the food you’re eating due to the increased amount of saliva coming in contact with the food
      • This also gives more time for the leptin signal to get to your brain – lessening the liklihood that you’ll over-consume
    • Space out your meals more
      • Have 3 meals a day with 4-6 hours in between each meal
      • This allows the insulin and leptin receptors to “have a break”
      • After 4-6 hours, ghrelin levels (the hunger hormone) rise, to let you know it’s time to start eating again
        • Ghrelin is a powerful inducer of growth hormone
        • “We have this idea in society that you can’t go more than 4 hours without eating, and it’s insane! We’re over fueled and under nourished like never before” – Rich
  • What foods should we be eating to make sure our leptin receptors are functioning properly?
    • “The more nutrient dense your food, the less calories you have to consume. The more nutrient dense your food, the less energy you have to waste trying to extract nutrients from everything you eat.”
    • Focus on real food as much as possible, so no processed food
    • Mike recommends having a protein source, a low glycemic carbohydrate source (so not sugar – which has a high glycemic index, something like sweet potatoes, beans etc.), and some healthy fats at every meal
  • An interesting tidbit
    • Soon 50% of America will either be diabetic or pre-diabetic
DHEA and Cortisol
  • DEA – the ultimate stress management hormone
  • Without optimal DHEA, you won’t have optimal testosterone
    • DHEA protects testosterone from cortisol
    • Cortisol, although it’s a stress hormone, is also anti inflammatory
    • When you’re eating crappy foods, and always inflammed, your cortisol levels will always be high
    • If cortisol is always high, you’re not in an anabolic state any more, and DHEA is depleted
    • Cortisol will then nullify your testosterone levels
How can we measure our hormone levels?
  • Saliva or blood work
    • Some experts prefer the saliva method because it tells you what’s going on at the tissue level
    • Others prefer blood work because it’s a bit more accurate
  • Mike has a good point
    • If you get your testosterone measured via a blood test, it will show you what’s floating around the blood stream, but it doesn’t mean anything useful is happening (i.e. is the testosterone getting picked up by androgen receptors?)
      • Note from Podcast Notes – they don’t really expand on androgen receptors here
Testosterone
  • People who work out, often have low levels of free testosterone
    • Total testosterone – the total amount of testosterone you’re producing
    • Free testosterone – what you actually have access to
    • So why is free testosterone low in people who work out hard? – Androgen receptors are pulling it out of your blood stream to be utilized by the muscles, liver, cells etc.
  • Ideally – you want your free testosterone levels to be around 12-13 (on a scale of 8-25)
    • If you’re lower than this, it might mean you had a hard workout the day before
    • Low sleep can also bring this number down
  • What does a low total testosterone mean?
    • It means you’re not producing as much testosterone as you should be
    • The more total testosterone, the more free testosterone you’ll be able to actualize and use
  • What contributes to low testosterone?
    • Stress is the biggest factor
      • Every time cortisol goes up, testosterone goes down
        • After a hard workout, cortisol will rise, and testosterone will drop
      • This is why balance is important
        • Mike (age 44 now) works out 4x a week, but you have to have balance, so he gets a massage once a week to treat problems that result from his intense workouts
        • “You have to balance the equation, you need to do restoration activities as well”
    • Sleep is a huge factor
      • “If you want to improve your testosterone and growth hormone, you need sleep”
        • Check out our sleep tips compiled from the podcast world, as well as these Podcast Notes from an episode of Joe Rogan with sleep expert Dr. Matthew Walker
      • Check out the Holosync app – Mike uses it to help him wind down and relax
      • Mike takes a transdermal magnesium oil before bed (it absorbs better than taking it orally) – Note that this is his own supplement brand
        • Magnesium has some muscle relaxing properties – so it helps him relax
        • Many people who work out hard are magnesium deficient
        • Magnesium is crucial for testosterone production, growth hormone production, and insulin sensitivity
        • Side note – hemp seeds are very high in magnesium
    • Testosterone tends to decline with age 
      • At some point, you’ll be doing everything right lifestyle wise, and your testosterone will still be low
      • Perhaps try Clomid
  • More and more research is coming out about the health benefits of testosterone 
    • It improves heart and brain health
    • Studies show it pushes off dementia, or a cognitive health decline
  • Some good testosterone/hormone related doctors
  •  Alcohol
    • Alcohol converts testosterone to estrogen
    • “Beer is the worst”
    • If you have low testosterone – CUT OUT ALCOHOL
Fish Oil
  • The negatives
    • “At best, it’s not causing any problems. At worst it’s causing problems.”
    • Fish oil is full of DHEA and EPA
    • If you take too much fish oil, it does lower inflammation, but it does so by suppressing the immune system
      • You don’t want to do this
      • Instead – just avoid inflammatory foods and habits
    • Too much fish oil can thin the blood
  • Instead, get more plant essential fatty acid sources (like flax seeds)
    • These are high in alpha linolenlic acid
    • This is a parent essential fatty acid, meaning it can convert into DHEA and EPA as needed
Insulin
  • “Some people could have pre-diabetes and be insulin resistant because of sugar consumption. Other people could have the same diet and not have any issues.” – The issue is more complex than we’re making it out to be
    • Some people will do better on more high fat/less carbs, others will do well on higher carb (the good carbs that is)/less fat
  • Focus on reducing garbage food, that’s what we can all agree on
  • There is a huge difference between a candy bar and a piece of fruit
  • Leptin and insulin are intertwined
    • If you have leptin resistance, you have insulin resistance
    • So to improve insulin sensitivity, you can do all the things mentioned above to improve leptin sensitivity
  • Intermittent fasting can also improve insulin sensitivity
  • The downsides of being insulin resistant
    • Cortisol starts picking up some of the slack to get glucose where it need to go
    • And any increase in cortisol will lower testosterone
Adrenal Fatigue
  • If you wake up tired after a solid 8 hours of sleep, you might have adrenal fatigue
    • You shouldn’t need a cup of coffee asap, it’s okay to enjoy a coffee, but you shouldn’t need it
  • Cortisol should be higher in the morning, and lower in the evening
    • This creates a feeling being awake, and being tired at night
    • Your adrenals regulate this
    • So if you’re tired in the morning after getting a good nights sleep, your cortisol is probably low
  • Charles Poliquin recommends licorice supplements
    • Licorice increases cortisol – so you would take it in the morning, and as the day goes on, your cortisol level would naturally drop
    • Check out this one from Metagenics
      • You only take it for 7-10 days (1 tablet in the morning, and 1 in the afternoon)
Veganism
  • “Interact with people you disagree with, and don’t dislike them just because you disagree with them”
    • Mike is vegan. but he certainly doesn’t think it’s the only way to eat healthy – It’s just what works for him
    • For this reason, Mike doesn’t bring it upon himself to “convert” others to being vegan – do what works for you
    • “We known a lot of people, who are healthy, who eat meat”
  • “Factory farming is so bad. There’s so much suffering involved. Anything that’s better than that is a step in the right direction.”
    • This is something we can all unite and agree on (just like avoiding processed food)
    • This is the biggest source of animal suffering
    • Rich is excited for John Joseph (@jjcromag – an outspoken vegan) on Joe Rogan (who is a known meat eater) – but they both agree on ending factory farming
  • In vitro meat production will become more ubiquitous over time, and hopefully render factory farming obsolete
Kettlebell Training
A Strength Training Regimen for Endurance Athletes
  • The goal is to make your body more resilient
  • Foot strength is important – this is why Mike trains in Vibrams
  • You want to strengthen the supportive muscles, everything that gets atrophied through the repetitive motion of whatever the sport is
  • Whatever imbalances have, your strength training program should address it
  • “The most important thing a strength training program does is make you less injury prone”
    • So…you should NEVER get injured when strength training
    • For this reason, Mike would advise to stay away from going for 1 rep maxes
    • Mike, for example, deadlifts 5 days a week, but he only does 3 sets of 5 at 70% of his 1 rep max
    • He stresses technique, and frequency
      • Pavel is also big on this – “keeping several reps in the bank, and staying far from failure”
How can we best optimize hormone function?
  • Where you hold body fat is an indicator of hormone imbalance
    • Pectoral fat indicates a surplus of conversion from testosterone to estrogen
    • Stomach fat means you might have adrenal issues (your cortisol is too high – perhaps you’re under a of stress)
    • Tricep fat tends to indicate low androgens (your testosterone to estrogen ratio is poor)
  • Get a blood test – Mike recommends using directlabs.com
    • They have a variety of hormone panels you can get
  • An intense workout shouldn’t exceed 1 hour
  • Mike starts every day by adding lime juice and sea salt to 12 oz. of water
    • This nourishes your adrenals – it’s also very cleansing
  • Mike also adds ginger nutmeg, and cinnamon to all his smoothies/protein shakes
  • For cooked meals, Mike is a fan of basil and garlic
What does Mike’s diet look like?
  • He often intermittent fasts
    • He’ll wake up and have the lime+sea salt water, and a cup of coffee with almond milk+stevia
    • He won’t eat until later on in the day
  • On the days he lifts heavy (he likes to lift 4-6 hours after waking), he likes to eat earlier on in the day
    • He’ll have a “super shake” – 8 oz. almond milk, 8 oz. water, 3 tbsp hemp seeds, 1 tbsp flax seeds, 1 scoop organic food bar vegan protein powder, 1 tsp of ginger, 1/4 tsp of nutmeg, 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tbsp cacao powder, with a bunch of frozen fruit (acai, mango, blueberries)
    • The above will usually last him until dinner, which is typically a stir fry with lots of vegetables
      • He’ll add some legume to this – black beans or garbanzo beans usually
  • On protein and being vegan
    • Mike says even Arnold in his hay day only ate about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, and 30-40 extra grams of protein when he was trying to put on size
    • Mike thinks even 1 gram per pound of body weight is excessive
      • He recommends consuming about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight
      • Mike weighs 200 lbs., so he gets around 90-100 grams of protein per day
      • “I’ve gone through periods where I’ve taken a lot more protein, and never found it to have any additional benefit”
  • “I don’t even eat as much as people think I do….I probably eat less than 2500 calories a day. But what I’m eating is very high in nutrition. The more nutrition you take in, the less you have to worry about calories.”
  • Supplements
Wrapping Up
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