Cristi Vlad is a self-experimenter in nutrition science (especially nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics), neuroscience, exercise physiology, and digital entrepreneurship, and he is also author of different books about these topics. We interviewed him to talk about some of his most interesting experimentation, trying to get some valuable insights.
Hi Cristi, first of all you have a real inspirational story to share. You were living an unhealthy lifestyle, until you decided to make a change. What happened since then? Can you tell us briefly your story?
Hello. Yes, well, like many people I was living a chaotic and unorganized life.
I will not say I didn’t enjoy it. And even though my dietary habits gravitated towards ‘not so healthy’ choices, I was fairly healthy. And all my life I was engaged in some kind of exercising routine or sport. To say that I was sedentary is far from the truth. However, I was not as fit as I wanted.
In 2010 an ear infection prevented me from doing my swimming practice for a few weeks. So, I brainstormed what I would do to stay physically active meanwhile. At that time I was smoking for more than 9 years and I wasn’t too happy about that. But my body could afford the stress (I think). I was only 21.
In April 2010 I started doing calisthenics along with jogging. After two weeks I got hooked. I enjoyed it. I’m not sure how and why, but I decided to clean my diet by eliminating as many of the processed foods as I could. I purposed for a weekly cheat day, when I could binge eat whatever I wanted. I wrote about this story in detail in Ketone Power.
The strategy was good. I started losing weight. However, I was only modestly overweight – not obese. I liked what I saw.
In May 2010, I said to myself: what if I would go indeterminately off smoking. I never thought of quitting. I just wanted to take a break. And I felt I could go a few weeks off the bad habit. A few weeks turned into almost 6 years (in May 2016).
Let’s get deep into the strategies that you used. How did you reach the great/outstanding physical and mental state that you are living right now.
‘Outstanding’ is a powerful word. I wouldn’t say my physical and mental states are outstanding. They may be better than they were a few years ago though.
Some of the most important strategies were:
1. Reducing processed foods as much as possible. Focusing on consuming whole foods 90% of the time.
2. Being engaged into a certain form of exercise at any point in time. Avoiding being sedentary. Jogging, calisthenics, soccer, kickboxing, weightlifting, swimming, biking, dancing – these were/are my go-to.
3. Quitting smoking and binge drinking.
4. Improving sleep.
5. Using nutritional supplements.
6. A few others that I write about on the blog.
Talking about ketosis. How differently the human body works when being on a fat metabolism compared to a carbohydrate metabolism?
There is no magic about ketosis versus a carbohydrate based metabolism. From what I know and what I’ve experimented with, there may be a few advantages to ketosis if you are doing it appropriately.
But the most important thing about nutrition, from what I’ve learned, is to consume whole foods and focus on micronutrient optimization. Choosing over predominant metabolic fuels – fats or carbs – is a personal matter. I’d recommend reading about the Randle Cycle over at Wikipedia to see what I’m talking about.
Ketosis, if done appropriately, can drastically reduce hunger, increase energy level, increase cognition, and increase physical performance – to name a few.
There are many who fail poorly with ketosis simply because they become nutrient deficient, consuming too much fat and too few nutrients and also because they never get adapted to this metabolic state – constancy is key.
Similarly, there are many people who do great on a high carbohydrate diet, provided that they make wise dietary decisions. I wrote about my keto-adaptation process in more detail.
What is Intermittent Fasting? What benefits you can get from doing it properly?
Intermittent Fasting is a meal timing strategy where you limit food intake to a certain time frame everyday. In lay terms, you only eat for a few hours everyday, while the rest of time you’re fasting.
For example you can say, IF of 16/8:
- Fast (consume nothing but water and non-caloric beverages such as unsweetened tea or black coffee) for 16 hours.
- Eat in an 8 hour feeding window.
More specific: eat between noon to 8 P.M., fast from 8 P.M. to noon the next day.
This may be convenient as you can live your life without having to eat every couple of hours. If you are a busy person, this is even more convenient. Plus, since you only eat in a certain time frame you could increase satisfaction and satiety from your meals. You eat fewer meals, but you have to eat the same amount of food (in terms of calories).
For example: think of the big difference of eating 2,500 kcals/day in 6 meals and eating 2,500kcals/day in 2 huge meals.
I currently fast for 18 hours everyday and eat in a 6 hours feeding window – having 2 meals.
Since you spend so much time not eating, your body can/will:
- Decrease the secretion of marker like IGF-1 and mTOR (which have been associated with the proliferation of tumors, etc).
- Increase the secretion of different hormones (i.e.:Growth Hormone, Testosterone, etc).
- Increase autophagy (process by which your body recycles proteins, engages in repair and rejuvenation processes, instead of having to focus on digesting food if you eat all the time).
- Upregulate different metabolic pathways that will allow you to burn more fat (as insulin secretion falls as you advance into your fasting window).
- And many other possible benefits.
What is the best strategy to start a ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting? And, when it comes to keto-adaptation what is the biggest mistake people do in your opinion? Do they quit too early when they start to experience discomfort, or they actually don’t see the benefits?
Ketosis and intermittent fasting often combine very easily, one of the reasons being is that if you adapt to ketosis and your hunger fades away, Intermittent Fasting becomes second nature.
Keto-adaptation, unlike many would like to believe, takes very long to achieve. It doesn’t happen in 2-3 weeks as it’s being promoted out there. It may take months to years of constant ketosis to reap the full benefits of keto-adaptation. I wrote about a recently released study on keto-adapted athletes here.
And yes, most folks quit too often, or they break ketosis every week by engaging in carb-loading or by doing cheat days where they consume a lot of foods containing refined sugars and heavily processed oils. Others folks quit because they do not push through the so-called keto-flu (which I did not experience with in my keto-adaptation process).
If you want to do ketosis the long term and you may want to mitigate/avoid the keto-flu you should start by gradually (and not suddenly) reducing carbohydrates until you start measuring decent levels of ketones in your body.
Most importantly, you should focus on optimizing your nutrient intake, especially mineral intake as you experiment with this metabolic state.
Stay away from the fat-laden ketogenic diet that’s promoted by fat/obese gurus. You do not have to consume ridiculous amounts of fat to enter ketosis.
Fat intake is not a requirement for entering or maintaining ketosis. It is carbohydrate reduction that pushes your body into using its own fat as primary fuel. Keep this in mind.
What is the difference when you combine a ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting rather than just using them singularly?
Intermittent Fasting (alone) on a IIFYM diet or a carbohydrate rich or a processed food diet comes with a lot of shortcomings, the most important being hunger.
There are a few folks on Youtube who video-log their IF experiments and they do not do ketosis. Most often they complain about severe hunger pangs. This does not happen if ketosis is appropriately implemented along the way.
A ketogenic diet in of itself is fine if used alone.
IF adds extra layers of benefits to it, one of them being increased satiety and satisfaction. Especially if you have to eat a lot of food in a short feeding window. Here’s a personal example.
We already talked on Invincibiles about the importance of testosterone on this article. Having low-level of this hormone for men comes with many negative effects like: being demotivated, with a lower sexual desire and with a more negative and depressed mood.
Can you please tell us in details what you believe are the best strategies to increase the big T level? I know you care a lot about this topic. What had you personally experienced after your experimentations on raising it?
There are many myths about testosterone and its effects on the body. Low levels of testosterone can appear on the background of many poor lifestyle decisions, DNA mutations, poor eating habits, inactivity, too much non-native electromagnetic field radiation, so on and so forth.
From what I know, there’s no clear connection between testosterone levels and libido. Many studies make a clear distinction about this inconsistency.
Some of the ways to increases the production of testosterone naturally (given that you do not have any severe medical condition or genetic mutation) would be:
- Sleep – and fix your circadian clock – probably the most important
- Improve your diet – optimize for micronutrient intake
- Eat more saturated fat (carefully make your choices) – Testosterone is a steroid hormone made of cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol intake may help with its production – though there is no clear data on the mechanism (from what I know).
- Reduce exposure to non-native EMF (keep your phone away from your testicles).
- Make sure you’re not deficient of Zn and Mg – supplement smart.
- Engage in heavy lifting or high-intensity training.
- Use strategies such as cold exposure.
- Reduce alcohol consumption.
On Invincibiles we suggest many times to try to take cold showers. That’s for many reasons. You used cryotherapy, a “fancy” technique, strongly used by Tony Robbins among others. Can you please describe first what we are talking about, and tell us what did you experience? You think everybody should try it?
No, I don’t think everybody should try. Cold exposure is a stress to the body. It can be used beneficially (as a hormetic stressor) to increase your resilience or it could be very detrimental if not fatal if you use it incorrectly.
Cryotherapy, even though it appears more drastic, is much more bearable than doing ice baths. Cold showers are okay, but once you get to a certain level of adaptation to cold, ice baths would be the gold standard. See Wim Hof’s experiments.
Now let’s talk about your book “Urban Escape”. At what point you realized it was possible to “live the dream” of escaping the cubicle and working wherever you have a computer and internet access? And which was your biggest mistake that you would never repeat about this topic?
First of all, I never had to escape the cubicle as I was never formally employed. I’m not living the proverbial dream.
I just have the possibility of living a location-independent life. Does this mean that I stay on the beach all day long smoking pot, with no care in the world whatsoever?
Of course not. Since I have no clear schedule, there are days when I work for more than 18 hours. I have no idea what a weekend is. Finding a work-life balance is a challenge under such circumstances. And of course, I am grateful of having the privilege to work from wherever I may be. But this doesn’t mean that I live a care-free life. Not by far.
Urban Escape is a book in which I tell you how I am able to plan my trips to NYC, from finding very cheap airplane tickets to finding good accommodations (through Airbnb), to finding events to attend to and ways to meet new people, to finding places to eat and coffee shops to work from, and so on. It’s based on two of my most recent trips to the States.
How many subscribers you should have before launching a product?
One of the best answers can be provided to you by Jeff Walker in his book Launch.
My biggest mistake about this?
That I did not start an email list as soon as I started my blog. If I had the chance to start it over, this would be my most important priority.
Thanks a lot to Cristian Zot for the great answers! He pointed out some real interesting points with acumen.
If you want want to add something, don’t hesitate to comment or send us an email!