Things like Gatorade, protein bars, and gels didn’t exist 1,000 years ago. So do we really need to be using them now? Unless you are an elite athlete, Josh Clemente doesn’t think so. In fact, working out in a fasted state may be more beneficial than working out on a stomach full of carbs. This is just one of the findings that have come to light from Josh’s company, Levels. Founded to pull back the curtain on dietary choices, Levels tracks blood glucose levels in order to help people make smart, personalized lifestyle decisions. On Spartan Up, Josh talked to host Joe De Sena about why he loved to build things as a child, and how he’s now working to build a better future for society.
2:11 – The building blocks that led Josh to SpaceX
Josh’s FBI agent father taught him to weld, and from a young age he was obsessed with machines. This led to a career in engineering.
“My dad was an FBI agent, counter-terrorism specialist – narcotics stuff. He’s traveled the world basically tracking down bad guys and he treated us like we were destined to do bad things unless he had evidence otherwise. So it was a lot of manual labor and just putting in the time, learning hard skills. And so I became a welder in my dad’s shop when I was like 13 years old. I knew how to weld aluminum and steel by the time I was a teenager, of course. And then that led to a fascination with building stuff. In addition to that, my mom was a high school teacher before my parents got married and she homeschooled me and all of my eight siblings all the way through high school. I then went to college and was obsessed with machines at that time. I obviously wanted to build mechanisms, I wasn’t really into the computer side. So I was a mechanical engineer and I…just tried to find the balance between the abstract theory and actually getting to build things. And so I spent as much time in the shop, welding stuff at school, as I did studying the books and that ultimately led me to SpaceX.”
5:03 – When fitness is not enough
Josh was working in SpaceX when he realized the importance of diet and fitness. Working on life support programs led him down the rabbit hole of human physiology and metabolism.
“Over the past two years, I’ve become intensely interested in human performance and general wellness. And basically, I started a company called Levels, which is bringing continuous glucose monitoring to the world of wellness and performance. I had an experience myself where, although I am a CrossFit trainer, I’ve always been fit, I’ve never really had a struggle with weight, yet I was having intense struggles with fatigue. And I was thinking I was burning out at SpaceX and just trying to push through it. I always just try to put my head down and work through it, but it was really getting worse and worse with time. I started to experiment and dig into it. As part of my life support program, I was exposed to some new research on the effects of diet, especially ketogenic diets. I started to experiment myself, I took some data on my blood sugar levels and found out that I was borderline or full-blown pre-diabetic without knowing it. That led me basically down the rabbit hole of human physiology and metabolism. I discovered that there’s a new technology called continuous glucose monitoring that can allow you to not just see what’s happening in real-time, but make optimizations for yourself around the decisions you’re making every day about diet, exercise, sleep, and stress. I use that to completely change my metabolic control and have since made it my passion and career.”
11:11 – Proving old wives’ tales with data
CGM is showing that there is truth to a lot of generalized lessons, such as the importance of eating a balanced diet and walking after a meal to aid metabolism.
“The goal of Levels, what we’re doing is we’re giving the individual the opportunity to measure and see in the moment, in real-time, see how they respond to a specific food or activity. Over the course of us bringing this technology to a larger audience, we now have the largest dataset of non-diabetic glucose information. We’re starting to see that there are some obvious generalizable lessons learned. I would say one of the most important things is actually the balance of the meal. This means having an equal or near-equal proportion of carbohydrate, fat, and protein is critical to the way that the typical person metabolizes that meal. An example of this would be just eating a banana on its own versus eating a banana with some almond butter or something similar. This has shown essentially across the board an improvement in the post-prandial post-meal glucose response. There are other levers we can pull on like walking after a meal. This is something that sounds very old wives tale-ish, maybe, but actually it has been shown in the objective data to have an amazing amount of control over how your body will respond to the same meal.”
14:06 – Tailor the approach to diet and training
There are many different workout programs and many different diets. CGM can help people find what works best for them based on data.
“It’s really powerful just to walk. You can literally have a really nice dinner and go for a walk around the block a few times and have a totally different electric response than if you had sat on the couch. I think the important thing here is it’s not necessarily a go-and-run hill sprint. You will actually experience in some cases the opposite response if you’re doing too intense an exercise, where you have a stress response to the amount of effort that you’re putting out, and your body releases cortisol and adrenaline, which are the fight-or-flight hormones that help you prepare for a battle. If you’re pushing too hard, your body will actually flood the bloodstream with additional energy in the form of glucose, and that can help you fuel through the workout. Another really fascinating result of all of this data is that there are different thresholds, different regimes of exercise that we see, and it’s really important to tailor our approach to diet and training nutrition around the types of exercise that we’re doing.”
19:08 – Why everyone should experiment with fasted workouts
Metabolic fitness can help the body switch between burning glucose to burning fat for fuel. The best ways to start is through intermittent fasting and working out in a fasted state.
“During a period of fasting or a period of intense exercise, you’ll use up all the sugar that’s in your body. If you are metabolically flexible, you will transition to your fat supply. If you are metabolically inflexible, you may bunk, which is the classic term runners use when they suddenly hit a wall and they run completely out of energy. I’ve bunked before, you’ll see your blood sugar just plummet. If you’re training in a fasted state, you’re likely moving through your glycogen supply, or rather if you’re waking up in a fasted state and just going and exercising, you probably don’t have much sugar left. And so you are most likely fueling that workout primarily on ketones. So your body will switch into fasted ketosis, and you’ll be training on a fat supply. I personally think that this is exactly the way that you start to develop metabolic flexibility.”
23:50 – Stop carboloading
Modern advice often tells us to eat six small meals a day and carbo-load to make sure the body is anabolic. This is exactly the advice that caused Josh to become pre-diabetic without even realizing it.
“My whole life, there’s a lot of fluff out there and a lot of traditional theory that when you dig into it, is really nothing. I was the guy who was eating six meals a day to keep my metabolism revving. And I was carb-loading to make sure that I was anabolic and gaining muscle. What that led to for me is when I put my continuous glucose monitor on for the first time to figure out why I had devastating fatigue every day, I found out that I was pre-diabetic. My glucose was remaining elevated for hours after one of these carbo-loading meals, it would then crash back down and I would be on the couch needing another cup of coffee. Once I remove all of that unnecessary, external pressure on my system, I don’t have superhuman energy, I’m not out there lifting cars all day, but I have consistent energy and I can meet the challenge. It may be that I need to travel for 14 hours straight and I may need to skip all my meals. Well, guess what? I now have dietary flexibility. I’m not reliant on that six meals a day thing.”
27:47 – Eat a balanced meal
CGM teaches the importance of eating a balanced meal more than pushing any specific dietary philosophy.
“When you have these large blood sugar excursions, your body responds as if it’s an inflammatory situation. So it releases these chemicals like these inflammatory cytokines and TNF alpha. Your body’s reacting in an inflammatory way. It’s a bad situation when your glucose is high. And so making sure that you eat a balanced meal set, so you have that protein and fat. What’s interesting is that fiber also performs this role so it can help mediate the glucose response to a meal…My co-founder Casey Means she’s a Stanford-trained medical doctor, former ENT surgeon, and she eats an entirely plant-based vegan diet and she has some of the best metabolic control in the entire dataset. Consistently, when we analyze the dataset, her numbers come out on top. She’s eating primarily raw vegetables and fruits and definitely biasing towards the higher fat, more balanced macronutrient whole foods. But yeah, that’s what she eats. Certainly, I’m not pushing for any dietary philosophy specifically.”
29:59 – Small tweaks that have a big impact
Most people who are eating right and still not seeing the right results will see a big benefit with tweaking their diets based on the data from CGM.
“If you were to take a meal that has, say a salad, pasta, and a side of protein and eat that with the carbohydrates first, then the protein, and then the vegetables versus eating the vegetables, then the proteins and the carbohydrates, you will have a completely different response in terms of blood sugar and insulin, between those two approaches. The reason here is not terribly clear, but it seems like the fiber of the vegetables helps to create sort of a barrier and slows down the digestive process to allow your body to respond to the wave of incoming glucose from that pasta. The old traditional approach of having a salad first seems to have real evidence-based objective data behind it. These are small tweaks that we can make to not have to go entirely raw vegetable-based. Some people may be able to do that. Some people may not. But there are ways that we can just tailor our approach and we see this across the board.”
Joe De Sena: [00:00] I’m looking for a couple of one size fits all statements based on your research so far.
Josh Clemente: [00:05] There’s a few big statements we can make. I talked about exercise, post granular, just being active, using the available energy source. The worst thing we can do is be sedentary and fueled up all the time. That’s how you end up with these metabolic breakdowns, right? So you’re completely topped off on energy, but you’re not using it. You’re sleeping, sitting on the couch, working on desktop. Make sure you get up and you use your energy. The next thing is really interesting, would be macronutrient order.
Joe De Sena: [00:30] Spartans! We are here for Spartan Up podcast. I am your host, Joe de Sena, CEO and founder of Spartan Race. We are your grit and resiliency partner. We rip you off the couch every single week, give you a little kick in the ass and motivation. And on a day like today, we’re going to give you incredible information. Our guest worked at SpaceX, an engineer, finds out like most of us, he doesn’t have much energy, he’s not sleeping well, he doesn’t have all the focus he needs to do his job, starts a company called Levels. I don’t want to tell you too much, but you’re going to learn how to sleep better. You’re going to learn how to eat better. You’re going to get more focused, more energy. This is an amazing podcast. It’s going to change your life. It’s already starting to change mine. Stay tuned.
Joe De Sena: [01:24] This episode of Spartan Up is brought to you by Gone Rogue High Protein Chips. Visit Amazon or goneroguesnacks.com and use the promo code Spartan25 to get 25% off.
Joe De Sena: [01:35] Alright, Joe de Sena here for Spartan Up podcast and I have Josh Clemente. I always like to know what kind of parents you have or had, and what kind of upbringing you had, because I have young children now. Like, I feel like you’ve made it if you’ve worked at SpaceX. How did that happen?
Josh Clemente: [01:56] Well, it’s interesting. I’ve read a lot about your Vermont farm and sort of your approach to life, and you remind me a lot of the way my parents raised us, which is a lot of hard work and living in the woods. And basically, my dad is an FBI agent counter-terrorism specialist narcotics stuff. He’s traveled the world, basically tracking down bad guys and he kind of treated us like we were destined to do bad things unless otherwise, unless he had evidence otherwise. So it was a lot of manual labor and just putting in the time, learning hard skills. And so I became a welder in my dad’s shop when I was like 13 years old. I knew how to weld aluminum steel by the time I was a teenager, of course. And then that led to a fascination with building stuff. And I was actually, in addition to my mom was a, she was a high school teacher before my parents got married and she homeschooled myself and all of my eight siblings, all the way through high school. And so I then went to college and was obsessed with machines at that time, obviously wanted to build mechanisms, not like, you know, I wasn’t really into the computer side. So I was a mechanical engineer and yeah, it just kind of- I was talking to Marian previously, but just kind of tried to find the balance between the abstract theory and actually getting to build things. And so I spent a lot of, as much time in the shop, welding stuff at school, as I did studying the books and that ultimately led me to SpaceX, which needed people that could build.
Joe De Sena: [03:23] So you go to SpaceX. How many years after you graduated college?
Josh Clemente: [03:28] That was my first, well, actually there was a delay right after school where I sold used cars at CarMax for three months. And I passed up on other engineering jobs that I didn’t want, because what I wanted was to get that call back from SpaceX. And so I was out of school for three months, did eventually get the call and I was there, yeah the year I graduated. I graduated a little early, so I was out there at age 21 and was immediately thrown on the fire, and basically I think my first month, I had designed and installed a part on a rocket that went to space. So it was pretty surreal how quickly that process happened.
Joe De Sena: [04:07] That’s awesome. I mean, it’s literally a movie, right? Like we, I guess we all think that there are people, special people, not that you’re not special, in those shops building this hub, but then all of a sudden you’re there and you’re doing it.
Josh Clemente: [04:21] Yeah. I mean, I have to correct myself. It was three months. It was the third month, that was the first launch while I was at the company. But you know, it all feels like a year and 10 years at once. So, but yeah, the way SpaceX was developing is, you know, they did, they were a small company. They didn’t have the attention of the MITs and the people who were otherwise going to go to NASA to work on Mars missions. They had, they needed people who could come in here, take a garage and make a rocket out of the parts laying around. And so, they were like, “Oh, you can weld stuff. Awesome. We really need people to weld stuff.” And they didn’t ask me anything grades or theories or master’s degrees or PhDs. It was just, “Okay. You’ve got a degree and you know how to build things. That’s what we need.”
Joe De Sena: [04:59] So what are you doing right now?
Josh Clemente: [05:00] So, I’ve recently and over the past two years become intensely interested in human performance and general wellness. And basically I started a company called Levels, which is bringing continuous glucose monitoring to the world of wellness and performance. And so, I am now, I had an experience myself where I, although I am a CrossFit trainer, I’ve always been fit. I’ve never really had a struggle with weight. I was having intense struggles with fatigue and I was kind of thinking I was burning out at SpaceX and just trying to push through it. You know, always just trying to put my head down and work through it, but it was really getting worse and worse with time. And so I started to experiment and dig into, you know, as part of my life support program, I was exposed to some new research on the effects of diet, especially ketogenic diets, and I started to experiment myself. Took some data on my blood sugar levels and found out that I was borderline or full-blown pre-diabetic without knowing it. And that led to basically down the rabbit hole of human physiology and metabolism. And I discovered that there’s a new technology called continuous glucose monitoring that can allow you to not just see what’s happening in real time, but make optimizations for yourself around the decisions you’re making every day about diet, exercise, sleep, and stress. And so I use that to completely change my metabolic control and have since made it my passion and career. So, that’s what I’m doing now.
Joe De Sena: [06:28] I mean, my dad was diabetic, so I have a feeling, I know why you’d want to monitor glucose, but why would you want to monitor your glucose levels and why hasn’t somebody done this before, other than diabetics?
Josh Clemente: [06:40] Yeah. So, I’ll give a real quick kind of definition of metabolism and then I’ll kind of dive into the glucose thing and then get to the tech. So I think for, this word metabolism essentially means it’s the set of cellular mechanisms that produce energy from our food and environment. So it’s the thing, it’s the processes that our body has to use in order for our cells to actually generate energy. And so we, that metabolic function runs on different energy sources like fat and glucose. And glucose is actually the primary energy source for the modern humans. So if you, unless you’re in ketosis and even some people who are in ketosis, you are running on glucose. All of the cells in your body are pulling energy out of glucose, which is sugar. And so this is like, it’s a super important molecule and it’s important for everyone to have it in their bodies, and that the issue is that the body tries to maintain a really tight control, tight bounds between maximum and minimum levels of glucose in the blood at any time. And so when that, when those barriers are broken through, when we’re out of range, we start to see some really unfortunate and extreme consequences. And so glucose dysfunction is directly connected to sleep and stress abnormalities, and then all types of long-term dysfunction from type two diabetes, like you mentioned, obesity, heart disease, stroke, now we’re realizing that there’s strong links to cancer and even Alzheimer’s, which is being called type three diabetes. And so there are short term, like qualitative experience issues that you’ll be struggling with mental clarity, with weight gain, all these daily things. And then there’s long-term risk stack up that can lead to unfortunate chronic lifestyle illnesses.
Joe De Sena: [08:23] So a hundred, well, I mean, I don’t know if you know the facts on this, but a hundred, 150 years ago, how much sugar intake did we have on an annual basis?
Josh Clemente: [08:32] You know, I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head, but it’s something like we’re now eating a hundred pounds of sugar per year per person, and previously it was, I think, on the order of one to three pounds and I will have to check my sources on that, but it’s a, it’s essentially two orders of magnitude higher now than it was 150 years ago.
Joe De Sena: [08:50] Yeah. And so could we get away with other than the natural sugars that, say from an Apple or a cherry or whatever healthy, non ultra processed food? Like what could we get away? What bare minimum? Now that you’ve been monitoring it and I don’t want to get into how you monitor it, but what could we get away with?
Josh Clemente: [09:10] Well, the interesting thing is because this technology is becoming available, we’re starting to see that there’s a ton of nuance in how an individual responds to specific foods. And so the technology, so the glucose monitoring tech is called continuous glucose monitoring, and it was initially developed to help with the management of diabetes. So when you have diagnosed extreme blood sugar dysregularity, that technology is really useful for people with diabetes to measure, monitor, and respond to their glucose levels. And so using this technology, we’ve recently seen some new studies, which have come out of places like Stanford, predict trials in the UK and then another in the Weitzman Institute in Israel, which have shown that two people can eat the same foods and have an equal and opposite blood sugar response to them. And the classic example here, which was in the study, is a banana and a wholewheat cookie. And so these two people both ate these foods. One person had a huge blood sugar spike on the banana and was flat on the cookie and had a huge blood, and the other person had a huge spike on the cookie and was flat on the banana. And so we’re starting to realize that there are sensitivities to fruit versus grain, the content of fiber, the mixed meal that you’re consuming, which can affect each person in actually a significant way. And these gigantic, you know, these excursions and glucose are not, they’re not isolated. They, glucose is upstream of a huge cascade of hormones, like insulin cortisol, adrenaline, all of which affect how we feel. And so a glucose excursion doesn’t happen by itself. It affects how you experience, for the next hours, days, and in some cases, weeks.
Joe De Sena: [10:52] Okay. So, then there’s a whole flood of questions that pop in my head. Are there some basic foods that are just like no go’s? Or it just depends on the person?
Josh Clemente: [11:04] So, there are certainly very generalizable lessons learned. So the goal of Levels, what we’re doing is we’re giving the individual the opportunity to measure and see in situs. So in the moment, in real time. See how they respond to a specific food or activity. But from the, over the course of us bringing this technology to a larger audience, we now have the largest dataset of non-diabetic glucose information. So we’re starting to see that there are some obvious, generalizable lessons learned. I would say one of the most important things is actually the balance of the meal. And so this means having equal or near equal proportion of carbohydrate, fat, and protein is critical to the way that the typical person metabolizes that meal. So an example of this would be just eating a banana on its own versus eating a banana with some almond butter or something similar. This would, this has shown essentially across the board an improvement in the postprandial post-meal glucose response. There are other levers we can pull on, like walking after a meal. This is something that sounds very old wives tale ish maybe, but actually it has been shown in the objective data to have an amazing amount of control over how your body will respond to the same meal. So for example, if somebody is going to eat a whole personal pizza and then lay on the couch versus eat that same personal pizza and go for a 15 or 20 minute walk immediately thereafter, you will have, nine times out of 10 we’ve seen this, a completely different response to it. So really what the thrust that we’re doing at Levels is not necessarily saying, “Don’t eat these foods,” one size fits all diet solution like, “Everyone should avoid this and eat this.” It’s more so the context of your decisions is really important. And by having real time data, you can make educated choices and they’re not educated based on averages or sort of research studies on other people. It’s influenced by your specific data in the moment and helps you to know and have confidence in that.
Joe De Sena: [13:05] So, there are some, always, like you would always recommend exercise after a meal.
Josh Clemente: [13:11] Yes, that is a piece of advice that I would give to anyone. Right now, if you want to make one change to better, to improve your metabolic control, to get up and move more, especially right after meals, and that will affect and improve the way that you metabolize those meals. You will help your body to maintain, especially if they’re processed, you know, if you’re going to eat processed food or high in carbohydrates, and you’re not entirely sure. Maybe sometimes you don’t, you feel a little sluggish afterwards. That sluggishness is likely caused by a large glucose excursion, which is followed by a large insulin load, which is going to store that sugar as fat. And so you can avoid all of that by getting up and moving around for 15 to 20 minutes.
Joe De Sena: [13:52] And so always exercise after a meal and probably in intensity would be the old wives’ tale, right? Like don’t swim after we eat, like, is it a medium intensity, low intensity?
Josh Clemente: [14:05] So low intensity, it’s really powerful, just a walk. You know, you can literally have a really nice dinner and go for a walk around the block a few times and have a totally different blood sugar response than if you had sat on the couch. And that’s really, I think the important thing here is it’s not necessarily to go and run hill sprints. You will actually experience in some cases the opposite response if you’re doing too intense an exercise, where you have a stress response to the amount of effort that you’re putting out and your body releases cortisol and adrenaline, which are the fight flight hormones that help you prepare for a battle. And so if you’re pushing too hard, your body will actually flood the bloodstream with additional energy in the form of glucose, and that can help you fuel through the workout. And so, this is another really fascinating result of all of this data is that there are different thresholds, different regimes of exercise that we see, and it’s really important to tailor our approach to diet and training nutrition around the types of exercise that we’re doing. So if you are, again, like I was saying, if you are doing an all out a hundred percent workout and you’re pushing for a PR, your body’s going to produce the energy you need for that endeavor, and you might see a very large glucose response. It’s not the same, by the way, as eating a donut. Right? So a blood sugar response to a meal is a, that’s an evolutionary adaptation to give you the energy you need to push through. And it’s been shown to improve your glucose response for up to like 48 hours afterwards. Now for a lower intensity exercise where your, primarily your heart rate is pretty low, you’re not stressed out, you’re just going for endurance, this is where your body can tap into other fuel sources like fat. And, you know, we have, so a quick anecdote here, the average human has about 2000 grams or 2000 calories of sugar stored in their muscles and liver, which is available for energy, but they have about 80,000 calories of fat stored on their bodies. And this is a, you know, the average body type. And so tapping into that fat would be the goal for this longer duration or endurance oriented exercise. And so having the data on how you respond to whether you’re pushing yourself into a sugar burning mode or not is really important for people depending on how they’re training as well.
Joe De Sena: [16:13] A whole bunch of things popped in my head. Number one is, I used to do very long distance races, you know, a multi-week race. And there are many times where I just was so exhausted, so tired, I would just collapse. Sometimes, stay first on the ground, right? And you can’t take another stab and you literally just want to die. And over the years I learned that even when you can’t take another step, you have eight days left and you just said, the average human has about 80,000 calories of stored fat. And so that says to me, my eight day concept might be kind of right because [crosstalk] I remember burning about 10,000 calories a day. Does that make sense?
Josh Clemente: [16:55] You know, it does. And again like this is a, there are certainly ways that you can even improve your efficiency inside of that. And the, you know, there are elite fat adapted athletes who are tapping into their fat stores to a large extent, and they may actually be metabolizing. We’ve seen the data that shows that they can metabolize fat faster than people who are not fat adapted. And so they actually may have less time, you know, less than that eight days availability. And this may have been your case depending on how you were training and fueling, but there’s this amazing concept of metabolic flexibility, which is the way that your body can switch between fuel substrates. So whether you can switch between sugar and fat quickly, effectively, and with minimal sort of downtime, you know, someone who’s metabolically flexible will be able to do that in the middle of an exercise without even noticing it. Whereas other people who are not metabolically flexible, you put them on a ketogenic diet and that transition from burning sugar to burning fat is like they get this keto flu. They feel like they’re dying. It’s like a true inflammatory painful response for them. So the process of getting to metabolic flexibility is something we should all strive for so that we can tap into that eight days of available energy in the moment.
Joe De Sena: [18:03] Okay. So light to medium exercise after a meal, develop, you called it metabolic flexibility. So tell me if this is correct. I, for the last 25 years, I don’t eat breakfast before I work out. And so, and I try to eat my last meal at least three hours before bed, sometimes four hours before bed, because I just feel better if I don’t go to sleep on a full stomach. So you’ll comment on that too. Right? But, so then it’s been at least, call it 12 to 14 hours before I last ate. And I’m doing these exercises in the morning, sometimes for two hours. Have I trained my body to be metabolically flexible? Is that what I’m doing?
Josh Clemente: [18:49] So, you know, this is kind of a new field and it’s somewhat, we don’t yet have a really great roadmap for how to get to optimal metabolic flexibility. That’s part of what Levels is intending to solve. It’s like, how do we get to optimal? But that being said, that fits really well with the idea, which is that after you’ve depleted your glycogen. So during a period of fasting, or a period of intense exercise, you’ll use up all the sugar that’s in your body. And if you are metabolically flexible, you will transition to your fat supply. If you are metabolically inflexible, you may bunk, which is the classic term runners use when they suddenly hit a wall and they run completely out of energy. And you’ll see, I’ve bunked before, I, you’ll see your blood sugar just plummet. And so if you’re training in a fasted state, you’re likely moving through your glycogen supply, or rather if you’re waking up in a fasted state and just going and exercising, you probably don’t have much sugar left. And so you are most likely fueling that workout primarily on ketones. So your body will switch into fasted ketosis, and you’ll be training on a fat supply. And so I personally think that this is exactly the way that you start to develop metabolic flexibility. You experiment with intermittent fasting, you push your body to train the mitochondria. So training in a certain regime of exercise, which I would say it would be zone two, just about 70% of your maximum heart rate, training right there and supplying your body with fat. So, either being fasted or eating a kind of a ketogenic diet would help you to train those fat oxidation pathways and move off of your sort of reliance on glucose. So I think you’re, what you’re doing is really, that’s exactly what we would kind of work on for flexibility. We have a runner called Anthony Kunkel, named Anthony Kunkle who, he’s an elite fat adapted ultra endurance runner. He’s currently using the Levels program to, even now after 11 years of being fat-adapted, he’s tailoring his approach even more using this data. And then several of us on the team. So Mike, who runs our customer success, you know he does 18 hours. Recently he did an 18 hour fast and then ran a half marathon and his blood sugar was perfectly flattened controlled. So this flies in the face of our traditional thoughts about fueling for sport, which are, if you’re out there and putting in miles, you need to be chugging Gatorade, taking energy gels, eating your bananas, make sure that you are protecting against bonking. And we’re now seeing that what’s actually happening potentially is you’re kicking the system over and over again with this sugar wave when you’re actually trying to metabolize fat, that’s what you want. That’s the larger supply that’s available to you. And so you either are going to need to have a constant supply of carbohydrates, you know, bananas and gels, or you train that metabolic flexibility and you teach your body to use what’s available. And so, I’m a heavy duty proponent of this flexibility concept. And this process of training and developing flexibility is what we call metabolic fitness. So at Levels, we’ve defined metabolic fitness as, you know, you may, a lot of people think that you just put a glucose monitor on or get your blood tested and you’re either healthy or you’re not. But the real situation is just like physical fitness or martial arts or mental fitness, you have to put in focus, effort and repetition over time to develop metabolic health. It doesn’t just happen to you. So we have this concept, metabolic fitness, which is, “Put in the work, look at the data and make better educated decisions daily, and you can improve the way your body responds, both in and out of the performance world.”
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Joe De Sena: [22:51] I’ve been doing long, very, very long distance endurance stuff for a long time. I concur with your findings, which are that if I did drink a Gatorade or I did take something sugary, I almost felt like it created a loop, an endless loop, right? And more of it. Whereas if I just stayed on water, and by the way people have thought I’ve been nuts about this for a long time, like carbo-loading. 25 years ago, I said this whole pasta thing is ridiculous. If, I’d do better if I just eat a salad the night before.
Josh Clemente : [23:21] That’s fascinating.
Joe De Sena: [23:21] And so, yeah, so your findings are contrary to popular wisdom, but I think there were a few of us that kind of felt it.
Josh Clemente : [23:29] Yeah.
Joe De Sena: [23:31] And I think by accident, I’ve just been training. The reason I came up with the training system where I said, “I’m going to do it no food,” was because in these long distance races, we didn’t have food and water all the time.
Josh Clemente : [23:43] Right.
Joe De Sena: [23:43] Why wouldn’t I train myself to not have food and water?
Josh Clemente: [23:47] Exactly. Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. My whole life, you know I was, there’s a lot of fluff out there and a lot of nutritional theory that is based on, when you dig into it, really nothing. And so, I was the guy who was eating six meals a day to keep my metabolism revving. And I was carb bloating to make sure that I was anabolic and gaining muscle. And you know, what that led to for me is when I put my continuous glucose monitor on for the first time to figure out why I had devastating fatigue every day, I found out that I was pre-diabetic. My glucose was remaining elevated for hours after one of these carbo-loading meals, it would then crash back down, and I’d be on the couch needing another cup of coffee. Once I removed all of that unnecessary, external pressure on my system, I now have- I don’t have superhuman energy. I’m not out there lifting cars all day, but I have consistent energy and I can meet the challenge. And it may be that I need to travel for 14 hours straight and I may need to skip all my meals. Well, guess what? I now have dietary flexibility. I’m not reliant on that six meals a day thing. I used to get anxiety about it. And as I started thinking about this more and more, you know, there’s a pretty interesting ancestral component here, or like evolutionary component where, you know, it’s not the case that, we don’t have gels and Gatorades available 24/7 here now. I don’t think we had it 10,000 years ago either. And I think the interesting thing about glucose versus fat is that-
Joe De Sena: [25:05] Thank you.
Josh Clemente : [25:05] So glucose has four grams of, oh sorry, four calories per gram. So that’s basically the energy density of a molecule of sugar versus fat, which has nine calories per gram. And so if you think about the human body, you want it, the human body wants to make sure it has as much energy stored as possible at all times. So what did it choose to do? It chose to store the dense energy molecule fat, which has more than twice the amount of energy per gram of mass in it. Right? So that is the, in my opinion, based on that evolutionary problem-solving is done, fat is the default molecule that our body wants to burn. And I’m not lobbying for everyone to just drink canola oil or stick only to fat, it’s just that let’s make sure that we eat, we have a mixed diet that influences metabolic flexibility. And make sure that we have healthy fats available and then train ourselves to not sort of become reliant on sugar through our diet, but be metabolically flexible, metabolic fit, able to tap into those fat stores when we need them because that’s what we historically have had to do.
Joe De Sena: [26:10] I want to connect you with Doctor Vichy, he’s a good friend of ours, was a weightlifter in Staten Island back in the forties, fifties. He’s now 90 something years old. He’s, for 50 years, only eating raw fruits and vegetables.
Josh Clemente : [26:29] Wow.
Joe De Sena: [26:30] Okay? If it’s not raw and it’s not a fruit and vegetable, he’s not eating it for over 50 years. And his argument is number one, he’s his own test, he’s testing himself, right? He’s testing all his theories, but his argument is, “We want to outlive our competition. And the less, the least amount of stress I could put on my system, the longer I’m going to live, the healthier I’m going to be, the clearer my mind is going to be.” And how do you feel about that? Like, I’m looking for a couple of one size fits all statements based on your research so far.
Josh Clemente: [27:02] Yeah. So one thing we know on the research, well, there’s a few big statements we can make. I talked about exercise, post granularly, just being active, using the available energy stores. The worst thing we can do is be sedentary and fueled up all the time. That’s how you end up with these metabolic breakdowns, right? So you’re completely topped off on energy, but you’re not using it. You’re sleeping, sitting on the couch, working on a desk job. Make sure you get up and you use your energy. The next thing is really interesting, it would be macronutrient order and balanced meals. So we’ve seen that not only do you respond better in terms of these glucose excursions, which produce inflammatory results that you were just talking about, you know, inflammation and oxidative stress or the way that our body is sort of, the stress we’re putting on our systems. Well, when you have these large blood sugar excursions, your body responds as if it’s an inflammatory situation. So it releases these chemicals like, these are inflammatory cytokines we have heard. So like IL-6, TNF-alpha. And so your body’s reacting in an inflammatory way. It’s a bad situation when your glucose is high. And so making sure that you eat a balanced meal set so you have that protein and fat. And if, you know what’s interesting is that fiber also performs this sort of role, so they can help mediate the glucose response to a meal. And so I think that that would kind of like go to- Is it Dr. Vichy. Is that his name?
Joe De Sena: [28:23] Dr. Vichy. Yeah.
Josh Clemente : [28:25] Yeah. So that fiber, all the fiber in raw vegetables. You know, I’m assuming he’s not pressing these or processing them into juice.
Joe De Sena: [28:32] No, no, no. All raw.
Josh Clemente : [28:33] He’s eating them directly. Yeah. And so that is extremely high fiber. And there, depending on what vegetables he’s eating, there’s also a good amount of fiber if he’s eating beans, for example. There’s a ton of fat in there. You know, my co-founder Casey Means, she’s a Stanford trained medical doctor, former ear, nose, and throat surgeon, and she eats an entirely plant-based vegan diet and she has some of the best metabolic control in the entire dataset. So she, consistently when we analyzed the dataset, her numbers come out on top. And so she’s eating primarily raw vegetables and fruits and, definitely biasing towards the higher fat, more balanced macronutrient, whole foods. But yeah, that’s what she eats. And so it’s certainly not the case. I’m not pushing for any dietary philosophy specifically. What I would argue for is tailoring the diets, vary the balance and the context that we are consuming it, such that it benefits us individually. And you know, what works for Dr. Vichy may work for many other people, and it may not work for some people. And we’ve seen a lot of that personalization element. It’s not entirely clear whether that’s genetics, microbiome, stress environment, body composition, but there are variability. There is significant variability among individuals. And so those two things, the balance and the postprandial exercise. So, macronutrient order is another fascinating one. And, so the primary macronutrients, again, they’re fat, carbohydrate and protein, and then you’ve got ketones as well. But if you were to take a meal that has like, say a salad, pasta, and a side of protein, and eat that with the carbohydrates first, then the protein, and then the vegetables versus eating the vegetables, then the proteins and the carbohydrates, you will have a completely different response in terms of blood sugar and insulin than, you know, between those two approaches. And the reason here, you know, it’s not terribly clear, but it seems like the fiber of the vegetables helps to create sort of a barrier and slows down the digestive process to allow your body to respond to the wave of incoming glucose from that pasta. And so just simply, you know the old traditional approach of having a salad first seems to have real evidence-based objective data behind it. And so these are small tweaks that we can make to not have to go entirely raw vegetable based. You know, some people may be able to do that. Some people may not. But there are ways that we can just tailor our approach and we see this across the board. And so those are the big ones. And then another one that is fascinating for me is the level of involvement of stress and sleep in the way your body functions, it’s like the metabolic control that you have. So, but honestly, the biggest levers that we’ve learned about at Levels are diet, exercise, stress, and sleep are the ones that you can control. These are your lifestyle choices and the difference in how your body responds to a meal, after five hours of sleep versus after nine hours of sleep. It’s really hard to convey. It’s like, it is an amazing improvement in your body’s ability to metabolize. And it may be a stress response, not entirely sure what’s going on or clear what’s going on there, but we do know that sleep, so, or the lack thereof causes acute insulin resistance. A classic example of like a feedback loop that we see and that we have all at one time or another in our lives experienced is consuming alcohol. So you go out for a few drinks in the evening. You drink some alcohol. The alcohol actually has a counterintuitive response. Most people think it’s going to cause your blood sugar to skyrocket. In fact, most of the time, it will cause your glucose to drop. So your liver seems to prioritize metabolizing the liver first, oh sorry the alcohol, so your glucose will decrease. That decrease in glucose tends to cause these additional hormones, which influence hunger. So you get kind of hungry, right? Now while you’re metabolizing the alcohol, your heart rate goes up, your stress levels go up. You go to sleep, right? You try and just sleep off the hunger. You have terrible sleep all night long because your heart rate is elevated, your body’s trying to metabolize off alcohol, your temperature is elevated. You wake up the next morning, you’re acutely insulin resistant because you’ve got bad sleep and you’re hungry because your glucose has been low and crashing all through the night from the alcohol. You wake up, you go to brunch, you binge on some extravagant meal. Because you’re insulin resistant, your body can’t metabolize that sugar effectively. And so you have a larger and worse glucose response to that brunch caused by your decisions 24 hours ago, or 18 hours ago in some cases. And this like vicious cycle causes you to be hungry again four hours later. And so these are the types of things that like, it’s clear now with enough data, you can start to see exactly what’s happening in real time and start to apply some degree of control to your decision-making patterns to make evidence-based choices rather than emotional places.
Joe De Sena: [33:17] I’m just shocked that you’re saying drinking alcohol at night is bad. Like everything you’re saying. I’ve been saying, and I’m getting pushback from everyone, everywhere. And it’s so annoying. So you said it so much more eloquently, though. Maybe our producer here could just cut that clip and we could explain to people. Like I would imagine, I don’t know what your feeling is and what the threshold amount of alcohol is, but his response is, “Well, you don’t just, like it’s not okay to do a little bit of crack.” Now that sounds like an extreme statement, but like, “Why would you ever want to put any poison in your body?” Is his argument.
Josh Clemente: [34:02] Yeah. You know, I think that this is where we start to make individual trades and like kind of decide what are we trying to optimize for? Some people just really get a huge amount of stress relief from having a glass of wine while they’re cooking dinner. And I think the harm is relatively low. And it’s actually kind of interesting, there are some of the blue zones in the world where you have super high concentration of centenarians, they drink a lot of alcohol. They drink, you know, they have a glass of wine daily. But I think what’s really interesting is that they typically tend to have it earlier in the day. So you know, even at lunch, there will be wine served, which we do not have here in the United States. It’s like you’re drinking after 8:00 PM basically. And earlier in the day allows your body, in my opinion, to metabolize that alcohol out of your system, before you go to sleep such that you can recover and have good restful sleep throughout the night. And you typically will not be, because of your alcohol, crash in your glucose levels, binging on food just before you go to sleep, which is what we do here. So, you know, the number of times, you know I’ve been a part of a late night, have a couple of beers and go get tacos at midnight and go to sleep. It’s just like that is these decisions, they are not without consequences over time. When you’re young and fit, it’s like, “Oh, it’s no big deal. It’s just drinking and some tacos.” But over time, as you continue to have these sort of late excursions and you’re inducing insulin resistance in your body, and then the next day you’re punishing yourself with a follow-up meal that does no good for you. These things compound on each other. And so at the end of the day, what you’re getting is you’re setting a life trajectory and that trajectory is, it’s the culmination of all the choices you’re making. And this can sound really scary, except that if you have better information and you know that it’s information about yourself, you stop being, it stops feeling like, you know, patronizing advice. It starts feeling like, “Okay, this is my body speaking to me and telling me that I’m making poor choices. And it’s actually not that hard to make better ones.” If you want him to have a glass of wine, maybe have it a little earlier in the day, and check your heart rate through the night and see if you’re recovering well. And that’s a way that you can kind of have the best of both worlds, I think. And, yeah. So that’s kind of how I feel. I don’t think that everyone has to abide by some really extreme all or nothing approach. You know, I think that that works for some people. It’s literally all or nothing. And for others, though, there are ways, again, that you can tailor your decisions to really get an 80/20 benefit. So 80% of the benefit for 20% of the effort. The key there is you’ve got to have better information.
Joe De Sena: [36:21] I’m seeing, Marian I’m seeing, Marian behind the scenes, the producer, I’m seeing the title of this, “SpaceX, Retired Engineer Suggests Beer and Tacos at Night is the Killer.” That’s the clickbait headline. How does this thing work? And I would love to see you up in Vermont.
Josh Clemente: [36:43] So my own experience I talked about earlier in the show is that I discovered that I had underlying metabolic dysfunction. The way I did that is I used a monitor that was originally developed for the management of diabetes, to understand my own real time glucose levels. And the reason that it’s important to measure in real time, again, just, it’s to place your actions in context. So you perform an action, you get a response that, you can see that in real time and learn from it. And so I found out that I had this pre-diabetic degree of blood sugar dysfunction. And so this was using a monitor that was all for diabetes. And so the Levels program, we use existing hardware. This is hardware that was, again, developed for the management of diabetes. But we’re bringing it into an environment so with our software and algorithm package takes this raw dataset and turns it into a lifestyle logging and analytics platform. So we bring in that raw continuous glucose monitoring data, we score your decisions. So you log your meals, we then perform analytics on them and help you to understand how that specific meal affected you. So think of it more of like a grading scale, rather than having to do PhD level investigation of your raw data. So you look at your grade, you say, “Okay, that was either a positive or a negative meal for me.” And then you can explore combinations of things. So for example like I said, the pizza with the walk and the pizza versus with no walk. And so you can start to compare different combinations of activities and you’ll start to see the effect of sleep, stress, diet, and exercise on your metabolic control. And so we have another score called our metabolic fitness score, which is it’s the street, it’s the combination of all your choices together in a day. And so the goal here is to get a very high score. You shoot for a hundred percent and you’re shooting for a continuous street. And so once you’ve discovered, “Oh, I should back up a little bit.” The program is a month long. The first week you’re exploring, just seeing how your body is currently responding. This is the week where I discovered I was underlying pre-diabetic. So that’s the discovery phase. Then for two weeks, you explore, you see how you respond to specific choices. And then the last week you go for optimization. And so that’s where you really try and bring everything together and shoot for a perfect score. And the information you learn is really life-changing. Many people have said that they, within the first week, have completely changed their approach to lifestyle. I’m one of those. And actually I should kind of summarize me. That’s a, it’s a 28 day program. We provide a telehealth consultation with physicians that can determine whether or not a prescription glucose monitor is right for the individual. Then if so, we deliver a Levels Kit. It comes in the mail, has two devices. You get access to the Levels app, you get access to the Levels team who, we can share research and interesting insights that we’ve discovered from the dataset. And then we share reports. And so daily, weekly, and monthly reports to help you kind of see the trajectory of your choices. And right now we’re in beta mode. So we had about 700 people go through. We’re still not even, you can’t just go on the website and buy it quite yet. We’re doing invitation only. By the way, Joe, I’d obviously love to invite you to use the program. So I’d love to get you in there as a beta tester. And then basically, the follow on is we’ll be rolling out full launch later this year, once we kind of finalized the software, and hopefully this thing is going to just really change the way people approach diet and exercise.
Joe De Sena: [39:55] I have some guys that had approached me on glucose monitoring with a patch. If you could visualize like a band aid with little tiny, maybe a tiny little porcupine needles in it. Have you ever heard of something like this?
Josh Clemente: [40:09] Yeah. So, I’m not sure. Is that a system that’s already on the market or is this one that they’re developing?
Joe De Sena: [40:16] Developing.
Josh Clemente : [40:17] Yeah. So right now, the way the current technology works is you do wear a patch. You wear a patch and then just like here. So you wear that continuously, and it has a little filament in it. So it’s sort of like a piece of fishing wire. And that thing, it’s literally painless. You know, I can push on it, I can shower, swim. All that stuff. It’s really completely inconsequential to your lifestyle. That patch is measuring my glucose in real time, electrochemically and sending a wireless signal to my phone. So I check it with my phone and I can utilize the data. Now, again, that technology has been developed over about, over literally decades from a lab only, all the way through to now being on the arms of millions of people who are managing their diabetes. The next generation of this technology is going to get even smaller, even more consumer-friendly and even less invasive. And so that’s kind of the technology you’re talking about, which is going to be these micro-needle arrays, which will, you know, it’ll be less of a filament, more of an array of little like Velcro feeling things that will ideally have the same surface area and be able to provide the same degree of accuracy. And so I think that that’s going to be really fascinating and it’s probably two inch years away from having that next generation. But right now, you know, we’ve discovered with Levels is that the hardware is, you know, it’s ready for prime time. It is doing, it’s providing an amazingly valuable dataset. And really what Levels is doing is we’re taking that hardware and we’re building the platform to improve accessibility for people who need it for general wellness and performance, and prevention, and then also the actionability. So helping them to understand and implement concrete behavior change to make better choices every day. So that’s our criteria for success. If people put this thing on and they don’t really know what’s going on, we failed. People put this thing on and make changes that are going to help them live a longer, healthier life, then we’re doing great things.
Joe De Sena: [42:02] I love it. All right. You’re the man. So, I’m going to see you in Vermont. I’d love to make some changes in my life based on data.
Josh Clemente: [42:09] I’m excited. Super excited. I can’t wait to come to the farm by the way. Like, I’ve heard amazing things. And like I said, it kind of reminds me of my family’s place in Virginia, in the woods.
Joe De Sena: [42:20] We’ll do some welding.
Josh Clemente: [42:21] Yeah, absolutely.
Joe De Sena: [42:24] How awesome. I mean, I’ve been listening to my mother. I was listening to my mother 40 plus years ago. She was giving me a bunch of these tips, but she didn’t have the science behind it. And she was not a SpaceX engineer. So it’s scat, right? When I asked him what are the big kind of catch-alls that apply to everybody? I love this idea of exercise at a low or medium intensity post-meal is going to completely change your glucose response. So going for a walk after a meal is great. I love that. I love this idea of more fruits and vegetables, you know that. I love this idea of no drinks and tacos late at night. Let’s have our drinks, if we have to, and you know me, I don’t even want to drink, but if you have to have a drink, limit it to one, let’s do it in the afternoon, like the Europeans do. Maybe we’ll live to be a hundred years old. Metabolic flexibility is a big one, right? This idea that we need to train our bodies and our minds to be able to flip a switch easily between glycogen and fat, because fat is a much more efficient fuel source. We’ve got eight days of fuel strapped on our body with all that fat. So the more you can train your body pre-breakfast after 12 or 14 hours of not eating while you’re sleeping, get up, sweat, do that workout, you’re going to be, you’re just going to be a more efficient human being. You don’t want to bonk every day. If you’re on, if you’re basically hooked on sugars, Gatorade, gels, all this crap, you’re not going to have metabolic flexibility, right? You’re going to be constantly chasing that next sugar rush. And I love this idea that people think they’re going to get some energy from alcohol, but actually, it’s completely opposite. You end up eating more, packing on more calories, getting fat or more sluggish, having a worst night’s sleep. So get off the alcohol. I don’t know. Those are big ones. If you just did a few of those, you’d have a better life. I’m out of here, man. Actually a comment. I want to find out what you applied to your life. Make sure you share this with some friends. Make sure you subscribe because I’m doing this for you. Thanks guys.
Joe De Sena: [44:29] This episode of Spartan Up is brought to you by Gone Rogue High Protein Chips. Visit Amazon or goneroguesnacks.com and use the promo code Spartan25 to get 25% off.