The Whiton Protocol

March 31st, 2012

A Dietary Protocol for Optimal Health, Body Composition, Longevity, and Satiety (v 1.2).[1]

I’ve given in to suggestions that I name the dietary protocol I follow, so it will be easier to discuss and compare. I’ve given it the uninspiring name The Whiton Protocol because it really is just my, often-revised, researched, but still-speculative take on what constitutes the perfect diet, if such a thing exists.

The protocol arose from my time in both the paleo and anti-aging communities. In them I found that while each community had uncovered valuable puzzle pieces there was a need for their synthesis. If you attend a paleo conference, for example, you’ll find people who are in great shape but ignorant of what they could be doing to live longer than a Kitavan. Attend an anti-aging conference, on the other hand, and you find people discussing all sorts of esoteric information who are nonetheless out of shape. The Whiton Protocol aims to integrate what each has right into a single practical and practicable protocol that offers maximum benefit, those being:

Optimal Health — Living disease free. Highly functional, physically and mentally.

Body Composition — Neither overweight, nor too thin. Lean and muscular without needing to spend lots of time at the gym.

Longevity — Slowing aging and extending life beyond today’s arbitrary “normal” life expectancy.[7]

Satiety — We should rarely feel hungry and may even feel more satisfied than we have ever been.

Characteristics

In jargon, we could say the Whiton Protocol is: ultra-high-fat, very-low-carb, anti-inflammatory, anti-glycational, (cyclical) ketogenic paleo with pro-autophagic periodic protein restriction. But let’s break that into more human terms.

Paleo: Paleo means avoiding sugar, grains, legumes, dairy, seed-oils and anything else with toxins, anti-nutrients, and excess omega-6. In place of all that, embrace wild / pastured meats, veggies, nuts and best of all… unlimited quantities of healthy fats. ‘Going paleo’ alone should help you lean up, feel better, and avoid the most typical western diseases. But I’m not content to stop there. Aiming for maximum longevity gives rise to the rest of the protocol:[9]

Ultra High Fat:[10] Fat is the protocol’s primary macronutrient, supplying somewhere between 70% to 85% of total calories. This is based on the premise that fat is:

— the body’s preferred fuel.
— supportive of a lean physique.
— very satiating, making it protective against cravings for unhealthy foods.
—  the single macronutrient least likely to suppress the life-extending, age-inhibiting expression of our most longevity-oriented genes.

Minimal Protein: A critical feature of the protocol is that we consume no more protein than is necessary, which is where most low-carb diets (and paleo-types) mess up. This is because excess protein:

— raises insulin, leptin, IGF-1, and the mTOR pathway, each of which is suspected to blunt the expression of our most longevity-oriented genes.
— is burned as fuel (as sugar), with unwanted byproducts and side-effects.
— inhibits the intracellular recycling mechanism of autophagy.

I calculate adequate (longevity-oriented) protein intake as 0.75 g of protein per kg of lean body mass, plus or minus 10 to 20g of protein depending on whether you are especially active or lethargic. If you want to carry more muscle than this quantity allows, go for 1g of protein per kg of lean body mass instead.

As a 170 lb male who spends a lot of time sitting, this means that even just 45g of protein should suffice — still allowing me to carry a satisfying amount of muscle, accentuated in appearance by low body fat.

Very Low Carb: The protocol is very low in carbohydrate, with carbs restricted (most days) to at or below 35g / day, not including fiber. We do this based on the premise that carbs:

— work against leanness (for most).
— contribute to increased glycation (one of the mechanisms of aging).
— inhibit ketone production and adaptation (ketones being a fuel we are interested in preferentially running on).
— inhibit fat burning adaptation (fat being a fuel we are interested in preferentially running on).
— raise insulin and leptin (leading to reduced insulin/leptin sensitivity and unnecessary eating).
— subvert the expression of our most longevity-oriented genes (due to nutrient sensing pathways related to insulin and leptin).

Protein Fasting: I’ve taken to calling this the Whiton ‘Protocol’ (rather than just ‘diet’) because beyond what to eat is an element of timing, by which I mean periods of fasting from protein altogether.

Mounting evidence suggests that a protein deficit promotes a beneficial intra-cellular cleansing process known as autophagy during which the body takes to recycling junk proteins inside the cell to meet protein needs.

Protein deficit has also been shown to lower IGF and the mTOR pathway, both of which also seem to play a key role in longevity-oriented gene expression.

Protein fasting makes sense from an anthropological view too, as our hunter-gatherer ancestors certainly faced many low-protein days when the hunt did not go well. Accordingly, we might expect that the body has developed mechanisms to cope with frequent protein-less days that, in modern over-fed society, we hardly use anymore — likely to our detriment.

The trick, then, is to experience a temporary protein deficit without muscle loss, which is why we elect for protein fasting instead of a total outright fast. Therefore, protein deficit without muscle loss should be possible if we, A) have adapted to burning fat, B) continue to consume fat throughout the protein fast, and C) successfully derive some of our protein from autophagy.

If, however, a full day of protein fasting (~32 hours including sleep) leads to muscle or strength loss, cut back to 24 hrs (dinner to dinner without protein) or even 18 hrs (a protein-less breakfast).

Carb-cycling (option): Here folks split into two camps: those who believe insulin, leptin, glycation, etc. should always be kept as low as possible via carb-restriction and those who believe we should therapeutically carb-up once in a while in order to spike our insulin and leptin (possibly keeping them ‘responsive’) and to temporarily interrupt the liver’s production of ketones and glucose thereby giving it a break.

I am mostly undecided on this now, except to say that if there is a time to add some carbs it’s probably best done on protein fasting days. First, it may further insure against muscle loss. Second, by saving carbs as a treat — sugary fruit, sweet-potato, beer, and wine — for protein fasting days, those days become more enticing and leave one feeling that, though there will be no meat that day, we aren’t really missing out on anything. And maybe the liver does want a break from producing glucose and ketones, but I’m not so sure — our hearts, for example, don’t rest by shutting entirely down.

Will a nearly-zero-carb ultra-high-fat eater (all things equal) significantly outlive a low-carb ultra-high-fat eater who allows for more carbs (say 100g) on protein fasting days? Maybe, if carb-spurts do turn out to ruin our longevity-oriented gene expression. But we don’t actually know and won’t for some time. Most folks are still stuck on a high-carb paradigm; most doctors still think cholesterol kills; most researchers are still constructing macronutrient studies that don’t even include fat in their designs. So we are a ways away from understanding how much leeway we have with diet-altered, longevity-oriented gene expression.

Suffice to say, if you even end up at this crossroads of whether to carb-up a bit (in paleo fashion) on protein-fasting days, you have already made some of the most significant lifestyle changes a person can to promote health and longevity.

Conclusion: This then is my proposed protocol for achieving excellent body composition; reaping the benefits of fasting (and calorie restriction), while feasting; and eating as much as we want, just not whatever we want; while greatly enjoying what we eat and feeling quite satisfied. I will continue to update and modify it in the light of new evidence.

Sample Plan:

Now let’s make this practicable.

5 to 6 days / week — High-fat, very-low-carb, minimal-protein

Eat a satisfying high-fat paleo diet (70 to 85% of total calories as fat), adequate protein (10% or less), and low on carbohydrate (~5% or between 10 to 35g). Pay little attention to overall calories as the diet’s satiating qualities mean you will rarely eat excessively.

Menu: coconut (milk, cream, oil), butter, heavy cream, olives, avocados, meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit (esp. berries), pickles, sauerkraut, macadamia nuts,[22] coffee/tea.[25]

1 to 2 days / week — High-fat, moderate-carb, no-protein

Eat a satisfying high-fat paleo diet with more carbs if you like (up to ~100g) but restrict protein to under ~15g. This means that, instead of fasting, you still get to eat most of what’s listed above except for the foods in blue, which contain too much protein. Foods in green can still be eaten, but in moderation, because they have small amounts of protein that will add up throughout the day. Use a tool like cronometer to track them as you eat.[35]

[1] Updates in Version 1.2 include a shift from moderate protein to ‘adequate’ or low protein, meaning nearly half the protein consumption of version 1.0. Whereas before protein intake was around 20% of total calories it is now ~10%. While version 1.0 saw a focus on the benefits of periodic protein-restriction in enhancing autophagy, I am now of the mind that generally low protein may be even more important (to avoid protein being burned as fuel and to keep leptin and mTOR low). Dr. Ron Rosedale is a major proponent of this view. I have also borrowed his specific calculations for ‘adequate’ protein and updated a bit of the theory as to the mechanism at work based on his explanations.

The next most significant update is that I (and others) have recently begun venturing a further increase in dietary fat upwards of 85% of total calories. I am not making a hard recommendation that anyone else try that, but I would love any other experimenters who do get into that territory to share their experience with me.

[7] The goal is to garner similar benefits to those observed in calorie restriction, but without the arduous lifestyle and gaunt-physique that actual calorie restriction leads to.

[9] If you’ve never heard of paleo, stop now, go learn from Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf for a month and then come back.

[10] I am part of a growing movement rejecting the notion that dietary fat is bad, instead adopting the nearly opposite belief that of all things that can be consumed healthy fats may be the most benign. See this earlier post for my personal results (warning, includes obligatory shirtless health-nut picture).

[22] Whereas most nuts are very high in omega 6, macadamia nuts contain a negligible amount. Accordingly, they are now the only nut I buy. Yes, they are more expensive. Cancel your cable service and make the switch.

[25] I usually kick off a day of autophagy by skipping breakfast and having a satisfying mug of protein-free butter-coffee.

[35] Ex. Protein Contents
Coconut milk: ~1g per .25 cup
Avocado: ~1g per half fruit
Heavy cream: ~1g per .25 cup
Sweet potato: ~1.1g per half tuber
Chard (cooked): ~1.5g per half cup