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A questions about carbs, glycogen and brain function

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  • A questions about carbs, glycogen and brain function

    (And I just noticed the typo in the post title, should read 'a question', not 'questions'. See what I mean about brain-not-awake? )

    I did a quick google search of for info on this. The subject has been discussed at length, but mostly from a exercise, endurance training, fat loss etc point of view. That's not my issue here.

    I'm at my desired weight and body composition. Right now my goals are just to maintain both. I don't have very ambitious fitness goals at this time. I find I'm happy with what I consider to be fairly light exercise- 2-3hrs of brisk walking per day.

    My main issue is just managing my brain, not my fat percentage or weight. I have dysthymia and ADHD and I am on medication for both. I've discovered that I am SO much happier and less stressed/depressed/ADHD-y when I don't eat a whole lot of carbs. Right now I'm doing about 40-50g, where 95% of those are from leafy greens and raw vegetables like tomatos, peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers, etc. The other 5% are coming from little 1-2g bits in cheese, shellfish, etc. (I am not a strict paleo adherent either. I don't shun dairy as a lot of cheese is very high in tyrosine, which converts to dopamine. ADHD and my form of depression are based in a dopamine deficiency.)

    But I do completely avoid grains, fruit, all forms of sugar and starch, etc. I don't do nuts as they don't agree with me. Sugar alcohols annoy my stomach, but I do ok with splenda and stevia for sweeteners.

    My body and my health issues are responding beautifully to this lower carb schema.


    I'm finding that even with plenty of sleep- and eating at calorie balance- I'm having issues with keeping my brain AWAKE. I'm having a hard time keeping my eyes open and my brain focused. I was mystified as to why- as I said, LOTS of sleep, and I'm not starving myself at all, I'm not even trying to lose weight period.

    But then I read a random comment on Mark's 'Glucose and Human Energy' post. A commenter said "just eat enough carbs to fuel high intensity exercise and to keep your brain awake."

    So can the brain only run on glycogen? I'm not eating a ton of carbs, but surely it's enough glycogen to fuel moving at a fairly slow pace for a few hours AND running my brain. And can't excess protein be broken down to make more glycogen? Can't the brain run on ketones anyway? I don't get this, lol. I don't understand how glycogen, carbs and brain function interrelate.

    Basically I don't want to eat any more carbs. Carbs make me unhappy- in both literal and figurative ways. My life is better without carbs.

    But do I have to eat more damn carbs to STAY AWAKE or what?

    Anyway, I thought you knowledgeable people would know all about this stuff.

    Just in case it's relevant, here's my current data:

    I'm a girl, I'm 32 years old.
    5'6", 120lbs, average to light build
    I eat about 1800-2000kcal per day
    I also habitually IF for most of the day and eat within a four hour window of 4pm-8pm. Food can interfere with some of my medications, so it's just logistically easier to eat later in the day. I've been doing this for about a year without problems, though previously I ate about 40g more carbs per day.
    Last edited by CandylandCanary; 04-30-2012, 07:14 AM.
    Getting my Grok on in the Pacific Northwest.

    "C is for cookie, that's good enough for me."
    "Cookie is a sometimes food."
    "Sometimes cookie monster eat APPLE instead of COOKIE. Sometimes eat CARROT."
    -Cookie Monster, partially reformed sugarholic


  • #2
    Coconut oil is great for this. Use lots of it. I think its the Jaminets of PHD that push it pretty hard for getting more of the therapeutic benefits out of a keto plan.

    In answering some of your questions yes the brains energy source is glucose. Yes your body can make this from protein by gluconeogenesis. However, once adapted to ketones your brains obligate need for glucose is reduced dramatically as the ketones become a fuel source. This keto adaptation does take some time. Coconut oil is great in this regard (its readily converted to ketones).
    Last edited by Neckhammer; 04-30-2012, 07:36 AM.


    • #3
      Your brain needs EFA's. You're literally a fat head. Without fats (specifically Omega3's/6's), brain function suffers. Your brain is physically constructed from fat. I used to suffer from severe ADHD. As I kid I went through tests and studies that are not standard fair. It was such a huge swing that with Ritalin (which was about all there was at the time) my IQ was really, really high. Without Ritalin, my IQ was, well, a *lot* lower. You couldn't get more ADHD than I was. Eating low carb and now Paleo and avoiding processed foods and grains is literally so affective that it makes any medication unnecessary. I've experienced this twice now. The first time was when I did Atkins for several years in college. After the first year, stimulants became pointless and unnecessary. Now, two months into PB, once again those stimulants have become largely pointless to take. I don't know what ADHD medication you're taking and it's probably irrelevant, but realize that it takes some time for things to level out. Is my brain function always perfect? No, it's not, but based on previous experiences, it will be before too much longer.

      Sleep also comes into play with this stuff too. I go non-stop, and some mornings it feels like "it's gonna be one of those days" and in all reality, it's brain fog from a lack of sleep (and the fact that I drink water 98% of the time and beer the other 2%). I'm not sure when I had caffeine last.


      • #4
        Thanks for the info. Some further questions:


        Do I need to do fish oil supplements to get the omega 3s? I already eat fish every day, but not terribly fatty fish (mostly sardines, kippers, etc). I could do more salmon, some avocado, etc. I have recently laid off fatty meats like pork and beef in favor of turkey. But this is more due to it now being spring/summer, and I find I like to eat more fish/fowl during the summer, and more red meat in the winter.

        My meds are Wellbutrin, Ritalin and Trazodone. These are working great as far as what they're supposed to do. But I think you're right that it's not directly relevant to this discussion.

        One random bit of data: Back when I was not on any of these meds, and waaaaay out of balance physically and mentally, I used to get insomnia from fish oil supplements sometimes. Weirdly.

        But I don't seem to respond that way to them anymore. Maybe it was just due to my general extreme nutritional unbalanced-ness.


        I'll look into the coconut oil. But given that it's hard to get it in small quantities to try out- and I don't know if I want to sink $20 into a jar of the stuff- can I try it out with coconut milk? That's got a good bit of fat in it, is it enough coconut fat or the same basic nutrient benefit?

        Actually, given that I generally have 200kcal that I have to replace daily to balance out the exercise and not lose or gain weight, I could probably just have more fat. I don't need any more protein as I already hit 115-120g, and I don't want more carbs. So I could look into more fatty fish and coconut fats.

        What about avocados? I have one right now that I should eat before it goes bad. Any benefit there?
        Getting my Grok on in the Pacific Northwest.

        "C is for cookie, that's good enough for me."
        "Cookie is a sometimes food."
        "Sometimes cookie monster eat APPLE instead of COOKIE. Sometimes eat CARROT."
        -Cookie Monster, partially reformed sugarholic



        • #5
          The point of coconut oil is its high MCT (medium chain triglycerides) are easily converted to ketones regardless of other dietary factor. MCT's are special that way....I get 16oz jars for 5$ at TJs.


          • #6
            I have had depression in the past and took Wellbutrin, too, which is supposed to work on dopamine receptors instead of serotonin ones, as far as I remember. I think eating grass-fed beef has really helped me in this area. I know you don't like it as well in warmer months, but it might be worth it to eat more beef and lamb anyway to get natural saturated fats with good omega 3 content. You can put it over a salad to make it seem more appropriate for warmer months.

            If you do just go ahead and buy a jar of coconut oil and you don't like it, it is nice on your skin. You can always use it for that. I bought it for my skin initially and a year later learned you can actually cook with it. It tasted a little odd to me at first but after a while I really liked it a lot.
            Female, 5'3", 50, Max squat: 202.5lbs. Max deadlift: 225 x 3.


            • #7
              You're a lucky American, Neckhammer. Canadians don't appear to have TJs. But I could probably suck it up and part with 20 bucks.

              sbhikes- Good point about using it as a moisturizer. Especially since hell, $20 is cheap in comparison to what they'd charge for the exact same stuff at the cosmetics counter, lol. I have ezcema-prone dry skin too. So, cool. I'll take the coconut oil plunge.

              As for grass-fed beef, I could probably get 100g to try it out without spending too much. And I'm probably spending more on coffee just trying to keep my damn brain awake anyway. So, hey.

              Thanks very much for the continuing advice from everyone.

              Also- one observation from just an hour ago.

              I was out running errands, and also hoping the fresh air would wake me up a bit more (and it did..kinda.) But! For kicks, I decided to try a little light Grok-style sprinting. Not very hard either, just at about 50%-70% effort for 1/2 a block. I did that about 4 times over a 40min brisk walk. And... I could do it. Absolutely without problem.

              Which tells me that I've got glycogen in my muscles. I've experimented with ketosis and found that I do need glycogen to fuel any kind of running, ketones just don't cut it for me. If I've got muscle glycogen, I've got to have liver glycogen.

              So... yeah. Maybe it IS fat. And hell, I'd rather eat more fat than more carbs anyway. Might improve the IFs, actually. And lately, it's not just that I've cut the carbs down. I've also probably lost a lot of fat when I moved from red meat to poultry.

              This probably IS relevant. And it's further testament to my braindead-ness that I forgot to mention it.

              I have very recently (as of say, two days ago) recovered from a VERY nasty small intestine flora overgrowth. I was able to resolve it with probiotics- with kefir to be exact- over the course of about four days. But until I figured out what the hell was going on, I had an extremely rough two weeks where I had a bewildering set of symptoms. Whenever I ate anything, I'd retain water to the point that my ankles and feet wouldn't fit into my sneakers and I was carrying 30lbs of water weight (I checked, it was unreal), I'd get mega-gas, mega-constipation and, to top it off, I developed a massive appetite. I had to resort to eating nut butters (ugh) just to get enough calories into my body, as I knew carbs would just make everything worse and I didn't need any more protein. I tested out all the nutrient issues and it seemed to be a pure calorie craving- it was like I either just needed a hell of a lot more food, or- I think now- the little bastard bacteria in my gut were causing malabsorption issues.

              I developed this brain-not-awake thing on days where I refused to stuff myself with more than 2500ish calories. It would seem less evident on days when I just said screw it and threw on an extra 3000kcal from almond or cashew butter.

              I also do not appear to have gained ANY weight from literally days of extreme calorie loading. (And no, it was NOT fun to eat a ton of food and not gain weight, lol. It was miserable. No bullshit.)

              So uh.. I wonder what gives.

              My digestion issues have resolved, though I notice that my gut is extra-annoyed about sugar alcohols now. I used to be able to eat a small 10g square of maltitol-sweetened dark chocolate here or there and be fine. I have a client who makes sugarfree treats, and she gives out little chocolate square freebies now and then, so I've been having the exact same thing for ages without trouble. Not now- the gas and water retention kicks back in a little right away. I was given a sample of some vitamin drink at a health food store the other day- and a tiny little bit of erythritol in it was enough to make me bloat a bit.

              Dunno if that's related. It's hard to make sense of this nutritional-metabolic-biochemical stuff even when my brain IS working, you know? There's so much conflicting information.
              Last edited by CandylandCanary; 04-30-2012, 09:39 AM.
              Getting my Grok on in the Pacific Northwest.

              "C is for cookie, that's good enough for me."
              "Cookie is a sometimes food."
              "Sometimes cookie monster eat APPLE instead of COOKIE. Sometimes eat CARROT."
              -Cookie Monster, partially reformed sugarholic



              • #8
                Ok, I think I've got my answer figured out.

                So FYI for anyone who may do a search for this topic in the future:

                I think in my case, my brain-not-awake has been highly aggravated by the malabsorption effects of my recent gut flora freakout. I have just gotten over the bloating as of yesterday. However.

                As I noticed that the braindead was reduced on days of extreme calorie loading within the gut flora infection/overgrowth-

                I think what happened then is that just more calories were getting in. More calories in my case was more protein and more fat. The extra protein would have been converted to more glycogen. And therefore more glycogen for the brain to get at.

                However. I notice that my brain- ironically- is a fuck LOT happier on less carbs. So I think, basically, I have just yet to ketoadapt or get used to the slower- but steadier- brain chemistry and exercise energy rhythms of fat-burning.

                But given that having the comparably violent/unstable/kind of stressful highs and lows of burning sugar for brain function doesn't seem to make my brain any happier overall than burning sugar mostly to run my body does...

      's probably worth the time and patience to give ketoadaptation a fair shot. Because I do notice that my brain DOES recover it's awakeness. But what's happening is that I go for long walks- I therefore deplete brain glycogen with relatively prolonged exercise (but also get all the benefits of fresh air and exercise on controlling ADHD), and it takes longer for me to get focused and clearheaded (and motivated) when I get home.

                But that's cool. Just means that I have to sit on the couch with coffee and do something non-brainusing like surf the net or check my email (or fuck around on facebook for that matter) for ten minutes. As opposed to the two minutes it used to take for the post-morning exercise coffee, ritalin, tyrosine/DLPA and Vitamin C pills to wake my brain up.

                I'm willing to wait eight minutes to avoid having my brain have sugar crashes all damn day.

                So, looks like my carbs are just fine.

                And btw- I'm too cheap to buy fish oil supplements right now, especially since the vitamin store lady actually talked me out of it and told me that I eat enough fish. Cool. BUT! Coconut oil is the shit. So thanks very much for that recommendation, it's got a very nice flavor. Definitely helping create a happier brain, too.

                So, thank you for everyone's advice. It looks as if needing more carbs for glycogen is more of a high intensity exercise issue anyway. Which is good news. My life is better with less carbs.
                Getting my Grok on in the Pacific Northwest.

                "C is for cookie, that's good enough for me."
                "Cookie is a sometimes food."
                "Sometimes cookie monster eat APPLE instead of COOKIE. Sometimes eat CARROT."
                -Cookie Monster, partially reformed sugarholic