The Science of Losing Fat, Recomping Your Body, and Getting Energized

What would happen if you followed a ketogenic diet, but increased the protein?

That’s the question biomedical scientist Vanessa Spina set out to answer, and in this episode, we’re exploring her absolutely crazy results and what they taught her about energy, body composition, and lifelong health.

We’re covering so much ground, from macronutrients and ketosis to our vegan pasts (yes, you read that correctly!). Plus, Vanessa shares some fascinating information about mitochondrial health—what it means, why it matters so much, and what you can do to improve it. Be prepared to have your mind blown.


00:03:55 – The discoveries that shaped Vanessa Spina’s career
00:07:18 – What Vanessa felt for the first time in her life
00:09:05 – How she became effortlessly lean
00:11:21 – Was there a built-in calorie deficit due to this shift?
00:12:43 – Here’s what happened to my body when I was a vegan
00:15:27 – The protein leverage hypothesis
00:18:24 – Macronutrient recommendations
00:22:00 – The role of anabolic resistance in your protein needs
00:25:44 – Different kinds of resistance training
00:27:50 – Discussing ketosis and measuring ketones
00:30:31- What’s the impact on mitochondria and why does it matter?
00:34:46 – By age 80, this happens to our mitochondria
00:37:12 – Cellular benefits of red light therapy
00:42:02 – How would you know your mitochondria aren’t functioning optimally?

Freebies From Today’s Episode 

Get Vanessa’s Keto for Beginners: Free ebook!

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Try my protein calculator

Subscribe to my podcast

Read my book, The Sugar Impact Diet

Learn more about Vanessa Spina 

Get Tone LUX Red Light Therapy

Listen to The Optimal Protein Podcast

Read Keto Essentials

Study: Epilepsia: The modified Atkins diet

Reignite Wellness All-In-One Shakes

Reignite Wellness Amino Power Powder

Study: Obesity Reviews: Obesity: The protein leverage hypothesis

Study: Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism: Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health

Track your protein & macros with Cronometer App

Reignite WellnessCollagen Peptides Powder

Download my free Resistance Training Cheat Sheet

Watch Best Strength Training Routine for Women Over 40 (+ Free Workout Plan!)

NordicTrack Select-a-Weight adjustable dumbbells

Read Mighty Mito by Susanne Bennett

Kooru Cold Plunge Use code JJVIP500 for $500 off

Sunlighten Sauna Use promo code JJVIRGIN when requesting pricing information for $600 off

Joovv red light therapy

Tanita scale

Click Here To Read Transcript

ATHE_Transcript_Ep 629_Vanessa Spina
JJ Virgin: [00:00:00] I'm JJ Virgin, PhD dropout, sorry mom, turned four time New York Times best selling author. Yes, I'm a certified nutrition specialist, fitness hall of famer, and I speak at health conferences and trainings around the globe, but I'm driven by my insatiable curiosity and love of science to keep asking questions, digging for answers, and sharing the information I uncover with as many people as I can, and that's why I created the Well Beyond 40 Podcast. To synthesize and simplify the science of health into actionable strategies to help you thrive.
In each episode, we'll talk about what's working in the world of wellness, from personalized nutrition and healing your metabolism to healthy aging and prescriptive fitness. Join me on the journey to better health so you can love how you look and feel right now and have the energy to play full out.
I am so excited about this guest today because [00:01:00] I've been listening to her podcast the last two years. It's fantastic. It's called the Optimal Protein Podcast. We'll link to it in the show notes. And I've got Vanessa Spina with me. She is a sport nutrition specialist. And she has got her degree in, well, she started in finance and then popped over and got a degree in biomedical sciences from the University of Texas.
And I just love how in depth she goes in the research. So we're going to be unpacking a couple things today. She's built a whole brand around being the ketogenic girl and then flipped over to really looking at what would happen in a ketogenic diet if you increase the protein. So we're going to talk about that experiment and the crazy results that happened from it. And so she deep dived into protein, done a lot of really interesting podcasts on the subject, interviewed a bunch of people. We'll be talking about that. And then the next thing that she's gotten into is mitochondrial health. And so we're going to talk about what that means and why it matters [00:02:00] so much, especially if you want to have great energy all throughout the day, and then what things you can do to improve it.
So super cool stuff. She's also got some fun devices that she's made along the way. And she also is giving out an ebook. So you'll be able to get all of that at And I will be right back with Vanessa Spina. Stay with me.
Vanessa Spina. I've been dying to have you on the show. I'm so excited you're here.
Vanessa Spina: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It's an honor to be here with you.
JJ Virgin: Well, we snuck in right before you're given birth. I mean, it's not going to be in the next. Like a couple hours, but it's coming up.
Vanessa Spina: It's under the wire.
JJ Virgin: You know, I've been looking at all your stuff. I love your podcast. We will link to your podcast in the show notes. And I've been listening to these podcasts for a while. And what really strikes me is that, first of all, are you still in school or did you graduate, where are you with that?
Vanessa Spina: Yeah, so I did my [00:03:00] undergrad at the University of British Columbia, and that was in finance.
So like I was out working in, in finance, I got my securities license, and then I had a big career shift. Several years ago and decided to go back to school for two years at U of T to study biomedical science. They have a two year biomedical science program. So it's been a couple of years now since I finished and it just really helped me to especially study biochemistry.
Like that was the fundamentals.
JJ Virgin: Perfectly with finance. Your bio was like, and she's a student. I go, I don't think she is. I mean, we're all students forever, but.
Vanessa Spina: Yeah, I think of myself as an eternal student.
JJ Virgin: Right. I did all of my grad and doctoral work in exercise physiology and. It's like every day there's new stuff.
I'm like, holy smokes, how do you keep up with all of this? So in that realm, listening to some of your stories, it really feels like you've been this end of one great experiment as you were going through school. And so I love to start with, first of all, like finance to [00:04:00] biomedical sciences, it's a pretty big shift.
And then, you know, what's changed? Cause you started your brand as ketogenic girl, and now it's. Optimal Protein Girl. So what led to this first big leap and then what have you discovered along the path?
Vanessa Spina: Yeah, so I'm still Ketogenic Girl. I changed the name to Optimal Protein and my community said, no, you need to keep Ketogenic Girl.
So I went back, but the podcast I have rebranded to the Optimal Protein Podcast and that's been a couple of years ago. So I first really got interested in keto. I noticed some You know, big changes in my health. I was dealing with some health issues like ulcerative colitis and I was intolerant to gluten.
So keto really fit well for me and I love this concept. of flipping the metabolic switch, like becoming a fat burner. I was like, whoa, we can be dual fuel. We can actually choose that. And it's interesting having little ones, you know, cause Luca, my first son is, is just over two and he is so metabolically [00:05:00] flexible.
He's in and out of ketosis all the time. I can tell because I test with my breath ketone meter on him and we come into the world that way. And I think we lose that ability, especially to be readily. Able to access our stored body fat for fuel and to burn fat for fuel, because especially in a high carb diet, you really can't burn fat.
So I love this concept. And the concept of keto and ketones and how ketones can impact so many different things from longevity to our mitochondrial health to really supporting mitochondrial uncoupling and the biogenesis of new mitochondria just amazed me. So I love the aspects of keto. I found after a while though that I wasn't seeing quick enough changes in my body recomposition.
So I was getting there, but it was really slow. And I had this bright idea to do a high protein experiment, which at the time I shared with my community, everybody was like, don't do it. You know, your kidneys are going to explode or [00:06:00] your bones are going to turn acidic and you know, all the, the myths out there that have since been.
They're still living on.
JJ Virgin: They're like, it's like women are afraid to lift weights and get bulky. They still persist, which is why we need to keep talking it. I always listen to this and I think, you know, the reality of high protein and what we call high protein is still not high when you look at the overall percentages in the diet anyway, but you attempted this experiment.
What did you do?
Vanessa Spina: Yes, so I always say high protein, it's not really high protein, it's higher, but on keto, you know, you have traditional macros, as you know, where protein is only 15%, the rest is mostly fat and then 5 percent carb. So there's this wonderful researcher who came up with this modified ketogenic diet called Dr.
Eric Kossoff, and he found that at a 65%, closer to 35 percent protein. You can actually still get most of the benefits of, you know, doing a ketogenic diet. So [00:07:00] I tried this high protein experiment for a month. I did it as a carnivore because it was the only way that I was going to get that much protein.
And I was hitting around 160 to 200 grams of protein, which For me, those levels of protein were, you know, unsafe, scary, like only maybe what bodybuilders did, but it was such a transformative experience for me because for the first time in my life, I felt like I was actually full and satisfied. And I think some of that comes from being vegetarian plant based for 17 years.
I think we've all recovered
JJ Virgin: from that, like, it's like we're in the process.
Vanessa Spina: Yes. It's like, oh, this is what it feels like to feel full. Like, I finally understand what other people are experiencing. So I tried that. Well, full
JJ Virgin: satisfied as opposed to full bloated. Yes. You're unsatisfied, but bloated. On eating higher protein, you're like full, but not bloated.
Vanessa Spina: Exactly. Exactly. And also because it was carnivore, as you were saying, I hadn't zero bloat. I [00:08:00] had the flattest You know, abdomen I never had. And I was like, this is amazing. You can actually go through life without bloating and abdominal distension after you eat, being plant based, you know,
JJ Virgin: it's the norm, right?
One other thing, like, because you're talking about how much protein you ate, let's relate it back to your actual body weight too, because, you know, I'm 140. You probably were less than that. So it's how much body weight was it? So we can go gram to body weight.
Vanessa Spina: I mostly recall it through the body composition, which is what I was going to get into next.
So right before I started keto, I was close to 40 percent body fat. So that's definitely in the obese category. And then when I started keto, I got down. To about, it was like 34%. So I was making progress, like I said, but I wasn't getting, you know, that was over four years. Like I wasn't getting there.
JJ Virgin: Were you adding muscle or was like just losing body fat?
Vanessa Spina: Yeah, just mostly losing body fat. So then when I did the high protein experiment, I loved the first [00:09:00] month. I decided to keep it up. Eventually my protein levels just started falling, you know, gradually, but I wasn't doing any resistance training. I was in school doing this biomedical science programs. I was sitting all day pouring over biochem textbooks.
So I decided to go back and do another body scan. And at that point I had gotten down to 21 percent body fat, which was in the athletic category. Like I said, was not working out. It was just studying. I know. Eight pounds of lean mass, not all that is muscle, but some of it I think was my muscle being restored, you know, from being under muscled and under eating protein for so long.
So once that happened, I discovered this new realm of existence that I call, you know, being effortlessly lean. And that's really when I, you know, rebranded the podcast and I really wanted to make all the messaging be about protein, optimal protein. What is an optimal protein to you? I'm going to go interview all the protein amino acid [00:10:00] scientists out there and figure this out.
And it's been so much fun, you know, doing that and just seeing the response, I think, from people that they're also really enjoying learning more about protein and muscle protein synthesis and how we can recompose our bodies. And protein is just It is the key macro. It's the essential macro. I think the one out of three that truly is essential.
And I had been under eating it for most of my life. And I think it led to so many issues that then have been since like effortlessly reversed. Yeah.
JJ Virgin: A lot of women tend to under eat protein, men maybe not as much, but boy. And when you say the essential macro, it's like if you're eating protein correctly, you're getting fat.
So you got yourself covered. And you know, I always say you can live without carbs. Maybe you won't like it as much, but you can, but you can't live without protein. You can't live without fat. And if you eat protein correctly, you'll get the fat. So you're covered. So it's easy peasy. When you were doing the shift, cause from 34 percent to 21 percent without any exercise whatsoever to make that kind of shift is [00:11:00] crazy.
Were you tracking calories too? Like what I'd love to know is. Because you were feeling more satiated eating the protein, you know, we have a couple of things going on, right? We have thermic effect of protein versus thermic effect of fat, which is negligible. So 25 percent versus basically zero in terms of how much it's going to be of the calories going to be used.
But did you also find that you were eating less calories overall
Vanessa Spina: or was I can definitely go back and, and check and look at it, but I think you're, you're quite right. I think I was definitely in a deficit because I was doing. Like this modified keto, I was doing a much higher fat, you know, so when I started doing the high protein, that's one of the things I love about having people bump up their protein percentage is you naturally displace the energy macros, the fat and carbs.
That's why it feels effortless, in a sense, because you're just naturally displacing that. So I think I was displacing a lot of fat, especially from my dietary intake. And also [00:12:00] displacing, I mean, not a lot of carbs. Cause I wasn't really eating many at the time. There's so much research out there showing that even where they have, you know, studies having groups of women who are eating more calories coming from protein.
Even when there's higher caloric intake, but those calories are coming from protein, that women lose more fat and gain more muscle. So I definitely had multiple effects there. You know, there was a caloric deficit, as you said, but the thermic effect of protein was huge and it really, you know, generated a lot of fat loss from the ATP demands of, of the muscle protein synthesis that suddenly I was revving instead of suppressing for all those years.
Well, and
JJ Virgin: the great side of it, and I don't know if you remember too much when you were a vegan. It's because I remember being a vegan and it was also when I was very active. I was in graduate school, personal training. I actually think this was when I was in doctoral school because we did a whole, I'd done body fat testing earlier and come out at 10 percent.
Then I'd gone into this whole like vegan and, [00:13:00] and at the time I was training people out of the Pritikin Center, which was. You know, you should have 10 percent of your calories from fat. Everything was super high carb. They were vegetarian over there, but I always take everything to extreme. Like I'm going to do this.
I'm going to go crazy with it. Right. And this was just a couple years into this. We did body fat testing at USC, all the different measures. And I remember coming out of this being so embarrassed because my body fat was 25%. And I'm a super naturally, I'm a mesomorphic lean person. And I went, I, I came that much, you know, my weight was around the same too, which was even more disappointing because that means that I've lost muscle put on fat, which is just awful, which is why we've got a no body comp.
I know we're going to talk about that, but I'm just, the challenge I had at the time is, I was just. Flippin hungry all the time. I would, I actually had an apartment near my favorite bagel shop. I'd get the fat free bagels with the fat free [00:14:00] cream cheese. Then I'd go work out some clients and I'd go get a skinny latte and, you know, with fat free milk and fat free baguette.
And then I'd go get fat free frozen yogurt and fat free, you know,
Vanessa Spina: you're hungry every two hours,
JJ Virgin: starving big plates of fat free pasta with just tomatoes and starving all the time. And losing muscle. And it's just, you think about it and then you, you flip to the super satiety diet of 35 percent protein, 65 percent carbs.
I mean, you practically have to force yourself to
Vanessa Spina: eat. Yes. It's just 180 degree difference going from like thinking about food all the time and you don't know why. And, and you're, you know, thinking about your next meal while you're having your mid morning snack. And. To going to, wow, it's six o'clock. I haven't had dinner yet.
And I, I have to eat again. Like I'm full. I'm still full for my other high protein meal. Like that's usually what my day is like now compared to before where, you know, all that energy was [00:15:00] going to this like fixation on food. And I've heard other people say it's sort of like we're over full and over stuffed, but undernourished.
And that definitely, I think is, is the case for a lot of people. And it's just not a good place to be when you're constantly thinking about food. Did
JJ Virgin: you have those two guys? I can never remember their last names cause they're so long, but the bug Robinheimer and Simpson. Yes. Those guys. You had them on your podcast, right?
Yes, yes. That explains a lot. You want to share about the.
Vanessa Spina: Yes, two of my favorite scientists. So as I mentioned, I created this protein series and I, I went out and tried to find every protein scientist I could. And now two of the most fascinating ones for me were Drs. Robinheimer and Simpson. They're out of Australia, but they were actually Insect researchers, eventually they did all the research on animals and then humans, but they came up with this concept called the protein leverage hypothesis, which now I believe, and a lot of other people believe as well, that there's enough evidence behind it.
It's no longer a hypothesis. It's just the [00:16:00] protein leverage. model. And it basically says that we will, we're seeking nutrients all the time. We have appetites for five main nutrients, but protein is the biggest driver. So we will over consume energy calories until we get our protein needs met. So if you just reverse things and you're prioritizing protein at every meal, which I know you're a big fan of as well, then you're going to get your protein needs met much sooner in the day and then you won't overeat.
On the energy macros, but when you haven't gotten your protein needs, you know, that's when it's the end of the day. And you're like, why do those Doritos look so attractable? Cause they, They have umami flavoring on them. They have this cheese coating that gives your brain the sense that you're getting protein.
And if you're plant based, you actually believe that those are healthier than eating steak. So these, you know, companies, food manufacturers know all this stuff. They definitely make food appealing and it tricks our minds in a lot of ways to think that we are [00:17:00] getting protein. But that protein drive is so strong that Robbenheimer and Simpson, they were first studying.
Locusts. And they found that the locusts would start to actually, like, cannibalize each other to get protein if they didn't get enough and they started studying in animals, they found, wow, this protein drive is also here. And then in humans, they did these pre feeding studies where they would preload everyone with protein and then sort of have them go at, you know, a buffet and eat ad libitum.
And there's been a lot of other studies now proving what they found was those who prioritize their protein or preloaded on protein ate way less in terms of the fat and carbs when they were sort of let loose to eat whatever they wanted. And the concept is real. It completely makes sense. And I think, yeah, just by flipping things, you know, we look at, think of the food pyramid and meat's always kind of like at the top and kind of sparse, but if you make it the central part of your meal, every time you will put your fork down and feel full and you won't [00:18:00] have that drive to overeat.
So I think it's a concept that has served me so much. I think it's been transformational in my life. One of the foundations that I, you know, try to talk about as much as possible on the podcast as
JJ Virgin: well. It is literally my mantra now is just sit down and eat protein first. Yes. Because I'll hear someone and they go, but how do you eat that much?
I go, just eat it first, because you'll be full. So how much are you recommending? Because I'd like to talk about protein and then overall macronutrients and kind of dig into a little bit of keto. What's your So
Vanessa Spina: this is something I've been working on for the past couple of years, and I went back and looked at all the nitrogen balance studies to see, okay, how much protein do we need to get in every day so that we can find this optimal amount?
And that, that optimal amount to me is enough so that you're triggering muscle protein synthesis two or three times a day. But not so much that you're sort of pressing on the mTOR gas pedal so much that you [00:19:00] are constantly pushing on growth and proliferation, which is not something we want either. You want to get that sweet spot.
So I found that there's a minimum, which is about 1. 5 grams per kilogram for nitrogen balance, but I tend to go by Dr. Stu Phillips. Recommendations, I think he has some of the best research out there on this, and that's 1. 6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight up to 2. 2 if you are actively doing resistance training and or an athlete, so the number goes up depending on how much activity you do.
And it, you know, it's closer to 1. 6 if you're more sedentary. So I think that 1. 6 number probably works out for quite a few people, but that 1. 6 is double right there. You know, it's double, which says a lot. They've been campaigning, Dr. Phillips and other protein scientists writing open letters to several [00:20:00] organizations that have those.
Recommendations redone, reassessed, because I think especially the impact on our older folks and, you know, our grandparents and people who are potentially more at risk, like he always tells a story of this one grandmother who comes in his lab and she's like, do you think I can eat an egg for breakfast?
You know, and she's scared to eat an egg because she's scared of the cholesterol. He's like, we've
JJ Virgin: done such a disservice.
Vanessa Spina: You can eat an egg. And you want to not be frail. So eat more than one, please.
JJ Virgin: I'm begging you. Eat a few. My mom passed at 93 and in the last bit, and you know, I finally kind of gave up.
I remember we, we went to Hawaii and I bought all this, I got groceries. She goes, I just, I'm going to eat light while I'm there. So just get me juice, toast, cereal, and nonfat milk. And I thought, you know what, just zip it, JJ, just zip it, you know, zip it. You know, as her last, like, she really declined quickly.
And [00:21:00] then she said, Oh yeah, the doctors told me to eat more protein. So I'm having that yogurt with the sundae fruit on the bottom of it. I'm like, it wasn't even Greek style. I go, Oh, mom. Okay. Just kind of was like, just leave it, just leave it alone. You know, this is well beyond 40. So I look at it and go.
It is imperative, like this is imperative that you're doing this. And I'd love you to talk a little bit of anabolic resistance and then also. I've been struggling with this and I translated it into pounds. So I do one gram, 0. 7 grams to one gram per pound of target body weight. Again, based on Stu Phillips.
I agree that his stuff. When I went through all of it, I went, okay, this is my guy for the recommendations. Cause I was like, I kept changing them every week for my team. No, it's going to be 0. 6. No. And they're like, oh my gosh, settle on something. And I go, but I keep looking at more research to figure this out.
But where I've gotten confused with it. [00:22:00] is it seems clear to me that even at age 30, but definitely at age 40, and you're starting to get that anabolic resistance, but you look at the anabolic resistance and it gets worse if you're not exercising, which then means you need more protein. So then I kind of get all up in my head.
With, okay, wait a minute, clearly if you're training harder or you're recovering from a surgery, you know, you really want to have more. My son was in a near fatal car accident where he broke 13 bones and I had him like jamming on protein, extra essential amino acids and collagen, everything throwing at it to help with this bones, connective tissue muscle and not get cachexic.
What? You know, they say, okay, if you're training, you do more. But I think, gosh, if you are. Forty plus and not exercising. So what is your thought on that range and where you, if the range is 0. 7 to one gram per pound of target body weight, what would you really recommend for someone [00:23:00] 40 plus? And let's say we're just starting to get them into resistance training, but they're kind of, they're still in that I don't want to get bulky phase that we haven't pushed them over the line yet.
Vanessa Spina: Yeah, what's so interesting is when you're young, you have all these hormones that provide those anabolic signals so you can get away with eating, you know, a lot less protein at your meals. But I think past the age of 40, you know, even 35, hormone levels even start declining as early as 30, you don't have those hormones to rely on anymore.
So you have to provide as many anabolic signals as you can. And the two main that we can provide is with the protein intake and with the resistance training. So on the protein intake side. I've been looking at a lot of research over the years at muscle protein synthesis and the amounts of leucine needed depending on someone's age.
And for most people, they will maximize muscle protein synthesis around 2. 5 to 3 grams. So most people, it's maximized around 3 grams of leucine. So that's why you want to have, [00:24:00] like you were saying, 0. 7. If you're using pounds, 0. 7 to 1 gram of pound per pound of ideal body weight. If you're overweight or current body weight, if you're at the weight that you are happy with.
And it's so important, especially at mealtimes, to make sure that you're getting at least 30 grams of protein up to 35 if you're plant based because that is what is going to raise those levels of leucine in the blood and is going to initiate that process of muscle protein synthesis. So with anabolic resistance, as you get older, your rates of muscle protein breakdown are going up.
And so you need to do more to balance out those rates of muscle protein breakdown. with the muscle protein synthesis. And it's much harder to put on muscle when you don't have those hormones. So in a lot of cases, we're just like, if you think of your muscle as like a brick wall, we're just replacing the bricks that are coming out every day.
It's much harder at that point to even, you know, build a higher wall. But if you're, as long as you're replacing the bricks, [00:25:00] you know, you'll be able to maintain what you have. And I think that's just really, really key. So, those recommendations, I thought that they would be higher for people who were sort of having higher rates of muscle protein breakdown, but it turns out that most people still maximize it at the same amount of leucine.
So, I think that's helpful for a lot of people. I find that, like, my parents and other people don't want to eat that much protein, especially as they get older, so it becomes a challenge to find different ways, you know, of making protein enticing or, you know, exciting to them, and you don't really need That much more than the average adult, as long as you're getting around 30 to 35 grams per meal.
If you can do any kind of resistance training, anytime you're resisting your own body weight to gravity, you're doing resistance training. So for some people, you know, depending on where you're at, that could be just, you know, doing some movement throughout the week, making sure that you are [00:26:00] resisting gravity, even just by standing and walking around.
It all depends on where you are. For other people, that means getting into the gym. I would say if you aren't doing any exercise right now, just going once or twice a week, or doing bodyweight exercises at home, there's a plethora of YouTube videos where you can use your bodyweight, you can just order dumbbells online, that's all I have time for these days.
I don't get to the gym because I'm so busy with work and my two year old, but I do have free weights and I have the ability to work out for 40 minutes, three to four times a week. So, if you're doing two a week and you get it up to three to four, I think that's optimal. And, you know, I really want to discourage people from trying to do too much fasting at that point.
Especially doing sort of one meal a day. I just don't think there's any way that you could protect against those higher rates of muscle protein breakdown if you're just eating once a day. So two meals at a minimum, three is probably optimal for [00:27:00] maintaining all that muscle mass. So if you can provide both signals, that's the protein.
And some resistance training, but I would say, you know, try to small steps from wherever you are, you know, you're not going to go from being really sedentary to being in the gym four times a week, working with a personal trainer, that's probably too much of a change unless that's something you're up for, but if you do.
Both the resistance training and optimizing the protein, you'll get the best results. If you can only do one, I usually find the protein is more approachable for people, you know, than getting in a full out, you know, exercise training program. At least just focusing in on the protein and getting those amounts in every day.
And everyone eats.
JJ Virgin: So just shift what you're eating.
Vanessa Spina: You've got your tone device. You measure ketones.
JJ Virgin: I'd love to see where that fits in, what your recommendations are there with you, because I look at diets, whether it's intermittent [00:28:00] fasting or ketosis, like all of these things are tools, you know, what are your recommendations there with that?
Vanessa Spina: As I, we were starting out our conversation, I was talking about how much I love the impact that ketones have, you know, on our longevity, healthspan.
Really supporting a mitochondria. So the way that I've sort of figured out a balance between the two is doing some intermittent fasting and I do do some intermittent fasting most days. And so I have two meals a day. I don't do three. I usually do two and I make sure that I get my optimal protein intake at those meals.
I usually, I used to do like more of a 16 eight. Sort of fast with lunch and dinner and now I do usually breakfast and then I will fast until dinner time and that's just how my body feels best and I am getting super nutrient dense diet in. And thriving, I think, in, in every health way [00:29:00] possible. But I think that it's the balance for me of having that intermittent fasting, you know, there.
So I'm not like snacking between meals. I just eat really nutrient dense, you know, meals that are full of nutrients and fiber and healthy fats and, and protein and healthy carbs. And then In between the meals, I don't feel the need to be snacking or eating all the time. So that pattern, because I tend to do more of a low carb approach, I definitely have ketones present.
Most days I test myself on my breath and I also sometimes check with the blood as a backup. And I do have some degree of ketosis happening most of the time because of that approach. So I think if I was doing high carb in this approach, then I would not, I would not have the ketones, but because I, I moderate the carbs somewhat, it does, and that with intermittent fasting, it does allow for that.
So, you know, it kind of depends on the person. This is. My personal approach and what I like because I [00:30:00] really enjoy the benefits of ketones, but, you know, I don't think that's an approach that everyone needs to follow. But for those who do like to be in ketosis part of the time. Or some of the time then I created the tone device for people to be able to measure just using their breath.
They don't have to prick their finger. They don't have to buy those expensive test strips. So it's just sort of a one time investment in, in a device. And I, I think it's quite fun to use as well. Like it gives you some really interesting biofeedback on, on what you're doing. So you've mentioned
JJ Virgin: a couple of times, mitochondria, mitochondrial uncoupling.
Let's just talk mitochondria for a bit. You know, I think it's been such a challenge for people. It reminds me of back when we first started talking about adrenal health and you're like, well, how do we even actually be able to look at this? And now we've got HRB that's helpful. You know, I remember one of my girlfriends wrote mighty mito and I thought, oh my gosh, are people like, they can't look at it.
They don't know. So let's talk up mitochondrial health, why it's [00:31:00] so important and what we can do for
Vanessa Spina: it. Yes. Another topic aside from protein that I find endlessly fascinating. I also created. a mitochondrial health series about a year and a half ago on the podcast. So really have been diving deep into understanding.
We always call them, you know, the power plants of ourselves. They make our energy for us in the form of ATP and our cells are able to use that, you know, to get all the work done that our bodies need to get done. But what's really interesting is about the mitochondria don't just make energy for us. They also make metabolic water.
And we want to make sure that the mitochondria stay as intact as possible. But one of the problems is when we make ATP, we make energy, it's very similar to, you know, a car's combustion. You see all the, you know, exhaust coming out of the car. Well, the same thing happens in our cells. And the mitochondria have their own DNA, which is separate from our [00:32:00] DNA.
And it's right in the cytoplasm. So it can get damaged really easily because of this sort of exhaust. That comes off and the exhaust is reactive. Oxygen species are free radicals. And so it's a part of, of basically making energy, consuming food, breaking it down, you know, into electrons eventually and, and moving those electrons through the electron transport chain within the mitochondria.
But part of that process is creating these free radicals, which are unpaired electrons and they can damage the DNA of the mitochondria and they can also just age us in general. So one of the best ways to avoid that is, is to have, you know, great antioxidant production, but also to reduce the amount of free radical damage that we do.
And what's really interesting about keto and low carb is that The number one place that people lose electrons, which creates free radicals and, and this reactive oxygen species is at the first step in the electron transport chain. And if you don't eat most of your [00:33:00] diet from carbs and glucose, you bypass that.
And you basically, all the energy that's coming in from fat or from ketones goes right to the second step. So you right away reduce a lot of free radical damage, which is like one of the main causes of aging. And to dysfunctional mitochondria. So that's one of the ways that doing low carb or, you know, doing a, a lower carb approach, you know, it's not a zero carb or you don't have to be keto, but just lowering the carb intake can help with reducing the free radical damage.
I have like six main ways I can, I can get into that six main ways to support the mitochondria, but you know, doing keto, doing intermittent fasting are two of the sort of the main ones that can help with keeping our, our mitochondria intact. Doing facet exercise is one of the best, most evidence based ways to improve mitochondrial biogenesis or the genesis of new mitochondria.
Cold exposure, practicing cold exposure like ice baths or, you know, cryotherapy can [00:34:00] also generate new mitochondria and also create more brown fat, which is where we'll generate more mitochondria, which is more mitochondrial dense fat tissue that becomes metabolically active. And that's when the uncoupling of the mitochondria occurs.
So our mitochondria uncouple heat production from energy production and we lose sort of calories in the process. We waste energy and we become less efficient. with our energy. So that's sort of another way that we can also support our bodies in getting lean. And of course, the main one is exercise because when you build more muscle through prioritizing protein and doing resistance training, you're going to have also more mitochondrial dense tissue in your muscle.
So they've, they've done research showing that, you know, we lose most of our mitochondrial capacity and number By about 75 percent by the time we're, I think, 80. However, in athletes, they don't lose the [00:35:00] mitochondrial capacity or number. So if you stay active, it's one of the best ways to keep electrons moving through your mitochondria.
You don't get this sort of backup or issues with, with electrons building up there and also causing free radical damage, but it, it keeps us so healthy and it keeps us energized and it's, it's really amazing. It's
JJ Virgin: so fun. I will tell you, all my training. Was in exercise science. So like the minute I graduated from UCLA, an English major, I went into exercise phys and biomechanics and exercise phys.
And then when I was at SC doing all my doctoral work, I had like, I started in nutrition and then I went down the nutrition bunny hole. Because I ran out of classes in exercise science at the time, we hadn't even gotten into hormones yet. But I feel like now, and for so long, I just kind of put it by the wayside.
I was like, eh, exercise, because nutrition and functional medicine are so much more interesting and can do so much more. The reality is now, as I'm looking [00:36:00] through it, you kind of go, what are the little hinges that swing the big door? Exercise, holy smokes, of everything that you can think of, man, what changes with exercise.
And the coolest thing about exercise is the less conditioned you are, the bigger shifts you see, like, you know, now that's not to say, Hey, don't do anything and then wait and do it like when you're 70, but. You know, you can get fit at any age. Of course, you see these people. When I was at SC, we had people who were in their eighties and nineties who were master level athletes, and I was like, I would die to be like you.
You're amazing. So it is super exciting. Just another reason to exercise. There's just so many of them out there. And I know you're also. We just set up our biohacking lab. We built out a gym in the house. We had like our sauna and then all this gym equipment and kind of a red light juve unit stuck in the corner.
And now we've unpacked, like now we moved the cold plunge inside and we have [00:37:00] two separate places and I never have to leave the house. Like it's amazing. I know it is, it's like my little bio hacking area. But talk, talk about red light because you talk a lot about red light
Vanessa Spina: too. Yeah, so the more I started learning about the mitochondria, I started diving into red light therapy because it's one of the most evidence based approaches out there to supporting our mitochondria.
Like the amount of research on photobiomodulation or red light therapy on the impact it has on the mitochondria is just astounding. It's really, really interesting. It was discovered by accident like a hundred years ago by these Russian scientists who were testing the safety of lasers on mice. And they found that when they were using this, you know, more dense form of red light therapy, that the mice were having skin improvements, they were regrowing hair, they were getting all these amazing benefits.
With red light therapy panels, we're basically replicating some [00:38:00] of the wavelengths that we naturally get from the sun, but without any of the harmful wavelengths that we get from the sun. So by having a panel inside, especially in the winter, it's like having your own sun. We have the most amount of red light at sunrise and sunset, but we used to spend most of our existence outdoors as humans.
And now we're indoors about 90 percent of the time and our windows filter out most of the red light. So we get a lot of blue light coming in. And we get a lot of blue light from our screens all day, and we don't have that red light to balance it out. So when you do red light therapy with a red light therapy panel, you are actually activating the fourth protein complex, cytochrome C, on the electron transport chain.
And there's this thing called a chromovore on it, and you're actually activating it with red light, which is amazing. So I've really come to think of red. Light in general as a nutrient, but red light as a nutrient that a lot of us are deficient in because we don't get much red light, except for maybe In the [00:39:00] summertime, if you're on holiday or you're at the beach and you're outside from sunrise to sunset, but how often does that really happen?
You know, for most of us, or indoors a lot, even if we live in a nice climate. So with red light therapy panels, you can really sort of mega dose yourself with this nutrient and repair a lot of that low nutrient status that a lot of us have in, in red light. So I started creating my own line of red light therapy panels, it was about a year and a half ago, and I wanted to replicate the specific wavelengths that I found in a lot of the research.
So some of the panels have the exact same wavelengths that are in some of the most compelling research that I've seen on red light therapy. So I created a few different panels. There's like half body panels and face panels and I have a portable one and I'm just right now launching the new one, which is the mask.
And that one is amazing because I can be with my [00:40:00] toddler in the morning and just put the mask on and do my treatment for about 15 minutes and I've been noticing even just within the last couple of weeks of doing it more regularly that I'm having a big difference just in like sunspots and things like that so it's amazing for the skin if you use it on the face it stimulates collagen and elastin factors So you can simulate the, you know, synthesis of new collagen and create, you know, more supple, more youthful looking skin.
And it can also clear acne. Our mutual friend, Cynthia Thurlow, her son's been using one of the panels that I sent her and their dermatologist is absolutely blown away. Like he has a new face and she's just been raving about it. And so it's, it's amazing how many things it can impact. But what I love about it is even when you're doing targeted treatments, say on your face or on a different part of your body, You're also getting the benefits, systemic benefits, because there's cell free mitochondria that circulate in the blood, so you get benefits on all your mitochondria.[00:41:00]
And then you can also strategically use it around exercise to actually target areas. So we always, you know, believe that you can't spot reduce. However, a lot of people have stubborn body fat in areas because they don't have a lot of blood flow there. So you can actually use red light therapy panels.
Before you exercise, then get on like an exercise bike or do whatever your cardio, and you will be accessing the fat in that area more readily than if not. And you can also condition after, which a lot of athletes have been doing for years, you know, to get an edge on their competition with recovery. So it's amazing for recovery and building muscle as well and stronger bones.
So there's like an infinite amount of things that it seems to do.
JJ Virgin: I know I'm super excited. We literally, this place got so jammed full of stuff. I'm like, I can't even get to the red light thing. Like my Tamiya segmental scales stuck in front of it and I'm like, move it. So it's like, it's finally there.
And we've got the cold plunge going. Cause we had a cold plunge outside [00:42:00] and it couldn't get below 48, which I was like, fabulous. But it's like, nope. So now it's inside. What, last question about this, how would someone know that their mitochondria are not functioning as well as they could, or they don't have, you know, as much as they wanted because exercise can increase that, and how would they know they, they're improving?
Vanessa Spina: Yeah, I've talked to a few doctors about this who specialize like in quantum biology and you know, quantum medicine. They've said, you know, there's no real test right now that exists where you can just go to a lab and say, like, check on my mitochondria. There's a few different tests if you go to the right physician who focuses in on mitochondrial health that can give them an indication of how you're doing.
I think there's sort of indirect measures or secondary measures, but a lot of it comes down to energy levels. You know, I think fatigue is one of the biggest symptoms that people have when their mitochondria are not, you know, functioning at full capacity and that if your [00:43:00] mitochondria are thriving, you should feel really energized.
And what's really fascinating about it, you know, sometimes people who are dealing with obesity or morbid obesity, I always wondered, like, why do they feel so fatigued and lethargic, even though, like myself included, having been in that category, why did I always feel so tired all the time? And what's really interesting about the mitochondria is electrons have to move through them all the time.
So if you are sedentary all day, then those electrons will back up and the mitochondria will shut down energy production. So it eventually makes you feel tired. So when they say like thermodynamics, like energy cannot be created or destroyed. If you do exercise, you actually get more energy because you're firing up your mitochondria and you're making sure that electrons are moving through.
And the same thing happens if you overconsume the amount of energy calories for how much activity you do, it also causes [00:44:00] this backup of electrons in the electron transport chain and they just shut down. So, kind of explains to me why fatigue I think is one of the biggest symptoms. Of, you know, having maybe like low mitochondrial function, you know, I think it'll be really interesting in the next years.
I'm sure a test will be developed. I can't wait. Yeah. You know, I think at this point you have to have a biopsy done. And I don't think a lot of people are going to volunteer for that. I was
JJ Virgin: talking to my husband today about I'm building a new exercise program and I'm really looking at fast twitch since as we age, that's what we lose the most of.
So many people are doing long, slow distance cardio, and then you're just creating more of a problem with that. And he's like, okay, well, how do I find out? And I'm like, you don't want to find out. You don't want to have to go find out your fast and slow twitch. You'll means you have muscle biopsies. Like, oh, but it was just like having to do an adrenal salivary index and now being able to use HRV.
It's like, there's going to be something. [00:45:00] Yes.
Vanessa Spina: I think there's, I think there's some, probably something that's more of a proxy for it, like maybe it's leptin levels. But I think in general, how you feel is one of the best ways we can tell right now.
JJ Virgin: One of the, like, people go to the doctor because they're in pain and have low energy.
So, you know, it's like, there you go. We have a lot to connect to in the show notes. First of all, your tone device, your red lights. I love the fact that you, like, find something and go, I'm going to make this. The biomedical degree has paid you, has done well for you. But you're also have an ebook for everybody that, and we're going to put all of this at jjvirgin.
com forward slash ketogenic girl. What's the ebook that you're giving everybody?
Vanessa Spina: Yes. I have a free ebook, which is called Keto Reset and it basically. If you're someone who's been doing, you know, more of a standard American diet or high carb diet, it kind of guides you through ways that you can lower your carb intake and have more of a lower carb approach, you know, without going full out and just different ways that you can, [00:46:00] you know, replace different foods in your diet.
And optimize a little bit more when it comes to protein. So it's a free guide. I'm waiting. I
JJ Virgin: know you're giving birth. So writing books is like giving birth, but I'm waiting for this next book of yours because it would be, you know, the protein powered keto diet. Yes.
Vanessa Spina: I really, I can't wait to do it. I have, you know, it'll be my next baby.
I've definitely been writing it in the background and putting together, but it, you know, as you know, it takes like maybe a year of full. Dedication and it's been hard to do that in this season. I'm working
JJ Virgin: on mine that's February 2025 and people are like, Oh, make sure I go, no, no. They take time and then, you know, you're putting it out there and then it's there.
You can't undo it. It's not like a yes . So you wanna make sure. So yeah, but I'm, I'd love to love to see that book out there, but I know thank you. Be after, give you a little time [00:47:00] to be a new mom again.
Vanessa Spina: Yes. I'm loving it so much. I don't wanna miss. Any of it, but I will get back to it. We will put everything again.
JJ Virgin: So we've got lots of stuff to connect to your ebook and your optimal protein podcast. That is fabulous. I love it. And all of the cool things that you've been creating in the background. So we will be sure to link to those. And again, it'll be at and Good luck with your upcoming baby birth.
Be sure to join me next time for more tools, tips, and techniques you can incorporate into everyday life to ensure you look and feel great. And more importantly, that you're built to last and check me out on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and my website, and make sure to follow my podcast so you don't miss a single episode at See you next time.[00:48:00]
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