This guy is an absolute beast who proves that cutting carbs might be optimal for you. He combines athletic training and a low carb lifestyle to live his optimal life. His name is Dr. Shawn Baker, or @SbakerMD on Twitter. (He was also recently featured on the Joe Rogan Experience)
Without further ado, here is my interview with Dr. Baker.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a board certified orthopaedic surgeon the majority of my work has been sports medicine, joint replacement and trauma related surgery.
What do you like to do for fun?
For fun, I actually like to train & compete, but mostly enjoy hanging out with my 4 kids and girlfriend, as well as doing some travelling.
Describe your athletic background for all the readers.
I’ve been active and an athlete my whole life. My earliest memory was when I watched the 1976 Olympics when I was about 9 years old and then organized the “neighborhood olympics”. I first started lifting weights when I was 14 (35 years ago!). At that point I was a “skinny fat” 140lb cross country runner. (My diet at that time was the pretty typical high junk food teenage stuff).
It took a while for me to “bloom” athletically and it was not until I was finishing college that I had gained enough muscle to begin my athletic journey. I entered medical school at the University of Texas but ended up quitting during my second year so I could play semi-professional rugby in New Zealand (definitely not your typical Doctor story). I played in the premiere league there and got to compete against several New Zealand All Blacks. After coming back from New Zealand I joined the United States Air Force so i could continue to play rugby, as the military at the time was one of the best places to play. My day job was to launch nuclear missiles but I played on the All-Air Force, All-Combined Services and Western US select teams.
When I turned 30 I got tired of getting my head kicked in on the rugby pitch and decided to go back to medical school which the Air Force then paid for, in return I came back in as a surgeon for a while. To include spending a fair amount of time doing trauma orthopedics in Afghanistan (definitely some gruesome stuff).
After rugby I then took up powerlifting and had some decent success as a “lifetime drug-free” lifter. I set American deadlift records in 3 different organizations (USAPL, NASA and WABDL), my best being a 772lb deadlift in 2000 while in medical school. I spent a little bit of time dong some strongman competitions (winning the 300lb class of the Texas strongest man competition in I think 2004 and placing 5th at the NASS nationals). I realized that while I enjoyed the sport I couldn’t compete at a high level unless I took drugs and thus changed sports again.
I took up competitive throwing via the Highland games when I turned 41, and at age 43 I was fortunate enough to win the Masters world championship in 2010. I also did a little bit of track and field and in the only meet I ever did in 2009 I was able to hit masters All American numbers in the discus, weight and super weight throws.
As I got into my late 40s I no longer wanted to be 285lbs and so I dropped down to about 240 lbs and switched to my current sport which is competitive indoor rowing. Here I have also managed to set some masters American and World records. I suspect I’ll probably switch sports again in another few years just to keep things fresh.
Wow. That’s an insane amount of accomplishments for one human being. To segue into other health conversation, tell us a little about your diet (cutting carbs)
My diet has evolved over the last 5 years to where I am now. I currently try and avoid all processed carbohydrates and eat, as much as possible, whole nutrient dense food, which includes meats, fats and vegetables. I eat high fat dairy and occasionally some low sugar fruit. I would say, generally, I follow a low carb, higher/healthy fat regimen with a decent amount of protein to support my fairly high training intensity. I frequently eat one or two meals a day as that is often all that I am hungry. My energy remains quite high, I rarely have any aches or pains, likely due in part to what I believe is a low inflammatory diet. My ability to train does not appear to be in anyway limited due to a chronic limitation of carbohydrates and I continue to improve athletically despite being about to turn 50 years old in a few months.
So as I mentioned, my current diet has been an evolution. Up until my mid forties my diet was what many would consider healthy-ish, but definitely high volume- I never drank sodas or ate chips, but I definitely would eat dessert if I went out, ate lots of cereals, low fat yogurt, skim milk, pasta, grains etc… I was also putting away a ton of calories to maintain my weight (6-8k cal a day). When I decided to drop the weight I cut out processed food, dropped red meat and still was lower fat- my calories dropped to about 3k per day and I was hitting often 3 a day workouts (morning, lunch, evening)- this worked and I dropped about 50lbs in 3 months but obviously was not sustainable as I was always hungry and jealous of the “paleo” folks and their bacon. After about a year of this I couldn’t take it anymore and then switched to a “paleo-ish” approach, as I learned more I transitioned to LCHF and then played with ketogenic diet and experimented with cyclic and targeted ketogenic diets and carb back loading. Eventually I got to where I did not see any significant performance advantages with the different carb supplementation strategies and often just ended up with a pissed off GI system when I tried.
My suspicion is that the longer your are fat adapted the less important carbs become. The only study I’m aware of that has looked at “long term” fat adaptation showed muscle glycogen to be equivalent to those chronically consuming high carb diets. Thus, my speculation after a few years of this is that my body has become very efficient, at this point, in making glycogen from non-carb sources and therefore I can break records while cutting carbs. Hopefully we will get some more research in this area over the coming years. Just as an example, the area of optimal protein timing and quantity for athletes has been looked at many times, but invariably the test subjects consume a chronic diet that is typically both high in carbohydrates and also high in meal frequency. To my knowledge these studies have not been done on subjects that routinely eat 1-2 meals per day and or utilize a LCHF diet. It’s pure speculation on my part but I suspect we will see similar adaptive efficiency with regard to protein uptake.
UPDATE: Dr. Baker has been following a zero carb or carnivore diet for several months now. Check him out on social media to see his current updates!!
How has your diet affected your lifestyle and work?
The impact of my “discovery”of nutrition has had a huge impact on what I do. One of the reasons I went into orthopaedics is because I saw how abysmally other clinicians were doing trying to “manage” chronic disease and how the patients never got better and we always blamed the patients for poor compliance. At least in orthopaedics (or so I thought) I could instantly fix someone’s problem by operating on them. What I came to realize after many years, that, while I often fixed a symptom (knee replacement for arthritic knee)- I was still just putting on very high priced band-aids and not addressing the root cause of the issues. It is now my belief that almost all chronic orthopaedic issues (arthritis, tendonitis, peripheral nerve entrapments) have a component of generalized inflammation as significant part of their etiology. If we fail to address this through lifestyle and diet then we leave the patient only partially treated. And while I have seen a number of patients do very well when this is addressed, the medical system we currently have makes this sometimes a difficult and unsupported task. Many patients are not interested In changing their diet and simply want a “quick fix”; insurance companies and employers do not generally support this approach and I am, as an orthopaedic surgeon, definitely not incentivized to do so. It is a huge problem and a dramatic change in the way we care for patients needs to occur. I often had 3 patients to see in 15 minutes, barely adequate to even say hi, let alone address multiple orthopaedic issues and begin a conversation about diet and lifestyle. I am currently transitioning into a different mode of practice.
How has your diet, cutting carbs, affected your health and performance?
Effects on my health with my current diet have been without exception positive. Energy is great, mental clarity is good (at least I think so?). Sleep is good, skin is clear, hair is thicker, dental health is better, libido is good, weight is very stable at a lean 240lbs. I’m rarely ever hungry.
As far as performance goes, the rowing ergometer is an outstanding tool to assess things at it is very reproducible and requires only basic technique to master. It is almost pure physiology with almost zero subjectivity. And with that tool I have seen continued monthly improvement to the point that I have pretty much become the fastest guy in the world for my age (I am the oldest guy in the world to row 500m in under 1 m 18 secs).
If you were new to this type of diet, what would you suggest? How do you start cutting carbs?
If I were new to this type of diet, the first thing I would do would be to educate myself about it. Your body will undergo some changes in physiology and if you are not aware of what is going on things might be potentially unpleasant and you might give up unnecessarily. Fasting is much easier if your diet is high in nutrient density and a LCHF approach (cutting carbs) can certainly achieve that.
I think if you care enough about your health to change your diet, then you should also make a number of other changes as well. Focus on getting good sleep and reduce stress as much as possible. Of course, exercise! And while we are discovering that exercise may not do much for chronic weight control, it is essential for health. It is nice to see that many are starting to see the value of strength training. In my opinion the next evolution for the general population will involve the preservation of speed and the ability to accelerate via smart training.
What resources would you recommend??
Resources with regard to diet that I often use with my patients have included books by Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz, Jeff Volek, Stephen Phinney, Jimmy Moore and most recently Jason Fung. Jason has a nice video series and is very good at making the concepts very accessible. Additionally “Butter” Bob Briggs has some nice videos for the layman. There are many others and the resources continue to grow including: Andreas Enfelt in Sweden, Tim Noakes, Ted Naiman, Amy Berger.
Here is his interview with Joe Rogan
Thanksks so much Dr. Baker!
It’s About Getting Better!