Is Russell Wilson's 4,800 Calorie, 9 Meal Weight-Cutting Diet Healthy?
A response to THIS article hosted by the ESPN.
We've all been there in the magazine aisle, skimming past covers of potential interest, when all of a sudden our eyes stop on something that pops: THE answer? Perhaps, you wonder.
You know that curiosity that creeps over you when you see The Rock/Arnold/Lebron/insert-athlete-of-your-choice's workout, nutrition, and game-day prep regimens that line the pages of muscle mags. Well, a picture that open curiosity, minus the being sold, but with more of applied science and critical thinking perspective mixed in.
As a practitioner, I'm always interested in what the pro athletes are doing. Why? Because everyone wants to work on a Ferrari and exploring what constellation of tools are working to optimize those at that level will be forever fascinating.
To be in the category of being one of several hundred people on the planet BEST at something is incredible-truly a unique example of genetic predispositions' and epigenetic input-the result of a constellation of the athlete's environment, diet, training, upbringing, emotional/spiritual/mental state-and everything in-between-all 'switching' genes on or off for better or worse.
Oftentimes, I'm in awe at how well an athlete is performing IN SPITE of the advice they're given that constitutes their current regimen rather than because of it.
The caveat here is that much of the mainstream information that gets leaked out can never be assumed to be the full truth, necessarily. It could be a media outlet's misinterpretation (intentional or not), a push for eye-catching buzz candy (particularly common when addressing celebrity diets), or often partial truths or reductionist thinking when it comes to regimens. I would even consider the possibility that some information is withheld from an athlete's regimen. My point is to examine the available information, which is what I'm about to do here, assuming this information is accurate.
Let's loop back to the title question:
Is Russell Wilson's 4,800 Calorie, 9 Meal Diet Healthy?
Simply put: No.
There is a lot of great advice here, including the promotion of fatty fish consumption, getting requisite protein levels, avoiding inflammatory foods, keeping the diet's foundation at a whole food level, etc. But it also leaves much to be desired.
He may be able to respond more favorably due to his genetics, preexisting health profile, and workload, but this likely isn't headed in a favorable direction.
For one, there is still some potential for inflammatory agents in there, despite the claim that the diet is anti-inflammatory. However avoiding gluten yet including shredded wheat is not a recipe for an anti-inflammatory outcome, nor is constant oat consumption, even if some can deal with occasional oat consumption better than others.
I'm a fan of Goglia (Wilson's nutritionist) acknowledging laws of thermodynamics (calories in, out, and heat's role in the metabolism). In some cases, undereating is one puzzle piece that can drive sub-optimal health and performance. This is true. But it's also important to realize that our biology operates best when we can oscillate between periods of being over and underfed, rather than simply committing to one or the other.
While I can't dial in an exact caloric prescription without having more information and biomarkers, it's pretty clear that Russ might be opening himself up for a cellular 'overfeeding' of sorts. Even if his caloric threshold was more dialed in, the frequent feeding model (especially 9 freaking meals) interrupts natural cellular turnover and renewal processes in the body. This process is also married to a long-term downstream effect of pulling the metabolism out of fat-adaptation via a negative epigenetic effect on the genes that govern these processes.
Biochemically speaking, this over and frequent feeding will overdrive mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin)-anabolic and catabolic pathways in the body which regulate muscle mass. The cliff notes version on mTOR stimulation and upregulation is that it's neither good nor bad-like most foods, nutrients, training protocols, processes, etc. the dose is the determinant of whether it's a remedy or a poison.
The good? mTOR simultaneously can enhance athletic performance, enhance skeletal muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth), and can enhance your cellular energy supply by driving mitochondrial biogenesis (mitochondrial growth), activating mitochondrial metabolism, and producing ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
The bad? Acute mTOR simulation is good (such as the biochemical chain reactions that occur when you eat sufficient protein, in exercise, etc.), but an overstimulation of mTOR via chronic overfeeding and/or frequent food consumption can increase junk products in the body, open one up to diseases, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, neurodegeneration, and depression.
The two points that are clear to me are A)I now have to post a separate article on mTOR before this becomes one and B) Wilson is capturing the benefits of mTOR, but he's also opening up his potential to the negative downstream health effects of mTOR long-term. Guess what? These also have negative effects on fitness and athletic performance, too-everything is related, not compartmentalized. His body will also turn off autophagy (an endogenous detoxification process of cellular renewal that cleans up junk products-only occurring when mTOR is not up-regulated) and proteostasis (a process of cellular mechanisms that regulate protein folding, abundance, and interact via an interconnected matrix of gene expression, signaling pathways, molecular chaperones and protein degradation systems), so the proteins he is synthesizing through mTOR activation will be dented and misfolded. If done for a prolonged amount of time, this will snowball-the damage, excess energy intake and protein synthesis will harm his stem cells.
9 meals lend itself to not getting requisite time spent in a non-fed state in which one can experience proper cellular turnover. In a nutshell, no intervals between meals=bad. This will drive his insulin levels sky-high, which initially can accelerate healing, but can seriously compromise it down the road.
9 meals would make everyone besides Joey Chestnut & Takeru Kobayashi blush.
Other long-term ramifications? This will shut down the aforementioned cellular turnover. This is highly problematic for mitochondrial health; guess what? Damaged mitochondria are the one hallmark across everything from serious degenerative disease to simply being out of shape/having compromised fitness.
Visceral fat will likely accumulate at this point. Ectopic fat (fat around the organs) leaks into cells.
These downstream effects can create a long-term net negative on his health, including severely denting his ability to age healthily.
His genetic predispositions may delay this effect (the Ferrari effect), but they likely won't preclude him from the bitter end.
Short term? If done hyper-acutely...perhaps nothing negative. But even a few month's worth of this could negatively affect beta cells on his pancreas, altering insulin secretion and providing a key ingredient for incipient metabolic syndrome.
What do we do about this? I'm not sorry that this reads like a textbook, but if I gave you scientific theory without application, I would be. On a nutritional level...
-Eat Less Frequent Meals (2-3 in adult populations, 3-4 in younger populations). Maximize your amount of time in a non-fed state while still distributing your necessary food intake over fewer meals. Big distinction: You're not depriving yourself, just restructuring.
-Cycle Calories (Something a friend of mine, Martin Berkhan, has long-promoted. Lyle McDonald, too. Oscillate between periods of under and overfeeding. In general, overeat when training, undereat when it's safest to put yourself in a caloric deficit-when you're resting (and your body is working on a collection of healing and adaptations as a stress response to exercise).
-Minimize Anti-Inflammatory Foods (and eliminate the ones that absolutely should be avoided, like wheat and gluten-containing foods).