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John Kiefer: Trashing Paleo, Ketogenic Diet Mistakes, & Why It’s Good to Be Wrong

John Kiefer carb

This week we have John Kiefer returning to the show. He’s the man behind two upcoming books– Carb Backloading and Carb Nite, along with several other internet sensations that showcase just how you can have a lot of fun while getting into the best shape of your life.

Brace yourself for this podcast, because Kiefer’s ruffling feathers– especially in the Paleo community. He’s been trashing Paleo on his blog recently… hold on, you’ll find out why.

But before we get to the show, I want you to know that we just released the Wild Diet Shopping Guide, a handy e-book that shows you how to save money and time while cooking the healthiest possible food for you and your family. If you’d like to check it out, head on over to this page and see what I’m talking about, I think you’ll like it. It’s just $7 bucks for a limited time!

Now, on to the review of the week! I love hearing from all of you, about the blog, the podcast, the programs and e-books and especially The Wild Diet! If you don’t have your copy yet, you can grab one anywhere books are sold or from any online book retailer. Once you read it, do me a favor and leave a review like Samantha did—thanks Samantha.

Samantha Frost gives it five stars, saying, “I read this book in two days. It was absolutely fascinating and also extremely motivating. It’s definitely worth a read. This is what the paleo community has been missing: less rules and more science.”

And that leads perfectly into our podcast with Kiefer.

Kiefer sees himself first and foremost as a geek. With a Masters in Physics, a former career in software engineering, and the occasional time wasted working on abstruse mathematical problems, it’s no surprise. But with a personal motto like, “A sound mind in a sound body,” he is also obsessed with human high performance– particularly his own.

On this show, you’ll learn about:

  • Ketogenic diets, why they work, and the mistakes you might be making
  • When it’s good to be wrong, and what to do about it
  • Why spiking insulin may actually be beneficial
  • And the specific reasons Kiefer is trashing paleo on his blog


Kiefer claims that he’s always been of the science mind. He spent his childhood locked in a bedroom with math books because he wanted to. He says he had no social life whatsoever growing up. He was a fat kid and he was bullied, but, he says, “For better or for worse, it created all of this.”

He took that love of knowledge to health magazines to learn about how he could stop being that kid who gets picked on for being fat and un-athletic. When magazines failed, he started going to medical libraries. He has been trying to understand medical papers from the age of 17 until now (at age 40)! But back then, you had to find the journal, make Xerox copies and bring home loads of paper to sift through.

Kiefer got his undergraduate degrees in math and physics and then went to grad school for physics. These schools had extensive medical libraries.

“What moves me forward,” he says, “is that I always think I’m wrong.” What’s wrong? What am I missing? It’s happened so many times, I’m always trying to make absolutely sure I’m right, and trying to do that in the best way to help everyone out there out.


So, you’ve got people who promote going so ketogenic that they never eat carbs and they say you have to keep your insulin levels at zero. Then you have the people who are skeptical saying, “Where’s the data?” Those gung-ho keto people get trapped into their ideology, even though they’re missing some key points.

If the ketogenic side of the debate would listen, they’d start to dig a little deeper, which is what I’ve been doing over the last year. I’ve come up with a new basis for ketogenic dieting, and defenses for carb night and carb backloading– more studies are pointing to the fact that you maybe should choose things like table sugar and high fructose corn syrup for your carb refeeding because they have a very specific place in these kinds of diets.

(Hmmm… that raises my eyebrow a little.)

That’s what’s wrong with the paleo movement as well—they’re missing some of the biochemistry and physiology because they want to believe in this story.

I [Kiefer] go over all of this in the two books about to be released: Carb Night is prerequisite material to understanding Carb Backloading. (As a side note: I liked it more when nobody knew who I was and I wrote this stuff just for fun.)

What have you been wrong about?

John Kiefer with Abel James, on insulin“So, I’m pretty much convinced that the insulin hypothesis as it stands is totally wrong. Insulin is not the culprit that is causing issues.”

So many people made really good arguments about insulin release: So, many proteins have really strong insulin responses and you still have fat loss in those cases. Insulin alone isn’t what I’d say is the main problem, it’s a combination of insulin plus glucose (basically).

In a healthy human being, insulin levels aren’t always chronically elevated… they go up and down based on a number of things. Insulin control and ketosis is a solution—but it doesn’t jive that high insulin alone is causing obesity.

Is there an incremental damaging effect that could accumulate over time that is not related to constant exposure to insulin and carbohydrates? Insulin is only elevated for a matter of time if you’re healthy. Blood sugar is only elevated for a matter of time if you’re healthy.

So, the question is: Is there something that builds up over time that is a cause of what we do see?



It relates to glucose and fat being available for fuel and insulin levels being elevated. You can show (and there is a substantial amount of evidence out there to prove) that even just intermittent exposure to carbohydrates several times a day is enough to cause all the metabolic arrangement– you see a strong relation to cancer and Alzheimer’s— it’s ridiculous when I started going down that rabbit hole, how much is being missed.

It changes the context of the ketogenic diet. Is it really the ketones making the difference, or is it the absence of other fuels? It think it’s the absence of other fuels that makes a ketogenic diet work.

Which kind of leads to ketogenic fasting and feasting at the end of the day…

As a physicist, Kiefer studied the Grand Unified Theory. This is a theory that tries to bring everything we know about physics into one consistent framework. That’s what scientists and physicists love to do—find one theory that everything we observe is just a specific instance of that theory in one particular context.

John Kiefer with Abel James, on intermittent fasting and carb backloading“What I’ve been formulating can explain everything we see,” Kiefer explains. “It can tell us how intermittent fasting has the characteristics it has and why some of those are similar to carb backloading.”

Currently, Kiefer is trying to get a university study on the concept of carb night— this is where you have one night, perhaps per week, during which you load up on carbs. He claims that people have more rapid fat loss when they use carb night than those who try to go strictly ketogenic (burning only fat for fuel and a bit of protein while nearly completely eliminating any carbs).

Just to clarify: Carb backloading is carb refeeding every evening. Carb night is carb feeding once a week.

I [Abel] started experiencing tremendous changes in my hormones when I was strictly ketogenic. So, I started doing carb refeeding and they regulated. Sweet potatoes were awesome!


Are sweet potatoes paleo?

Here’s the problem. You can walk into Whole Foods and there’s a sign that says Paleo Meals at the hot bar—and they have all of this food cooked with GMO Canola oil. In the original paleo book, that’s totally cool. Apparently our Paleolithic ancestors ate canola oil. (What?) Then you go perusing the shelves and you see Paleo Bars and Caveman cookies that sport 25 grams of carbs. The label is being hijacked.

Paleo is such an easy thing to abuse– people are getting that buzzword from food marketing companies and taking advantage of it. If you’re eating a ton of honey and dried fruit because it’s “okay” according to “Paleo rules,” you’re not eating like a caveman and you’re not going to see results.

“Paleo” is a story, and one that there isn’t much science behind.

Some of the Paleo story is flat out wrong. We have an amazing amount of evidence showing dairy in the diet for about 11,000 years, and can trace back our adaptation to the inclusion of dairy in the diet. If you’re not lactose intolerant, go ahead and eat good quality dairy.

The human being has been adapted to eating gluten-containing grains for 23,000 years— we have archaeological evidence of people pounding and cooking grains for consumption.

So, what was the right amount of exposure to glucose? I’m sure an individual’s ancestral background informs that.


What is the level of glucose exposure that you can handle without getting sick?

Having carbs at night is the best thing ever– you give yourself that food coma at night when you’re wanting to relax and go to sleep.

I also listen to my stress response and circadian rhythms. If I’m mellowing out in the evening and I don’t have anything planned, I’ll have carbs to stay mellow. If I’ve been hyper-productive during the day, and then it hits dinner and I have carbs, I kick into overdrive.

There seems to be a relationship between carbohydrates and cortisol, and the effects of what will happen when you get certain hormone surges, based on what your day was like.

I should pin that down, because it’s very consistent for me.

I’ve been working on some algorithm stuff for some software, so my brain was on overdrive the other night. I went to a restaurant for dinner and had a burger with salsa Verde, French fries and jalapeno poppers. I had a slight lull right before dinner, but I was instantly charged and working hard until 2am. That was a high carb meal.

Then, over the weekend when I was not working, I ate the same meal at the same restaurant. I had low energy and felt sluggish. I lay down and was totally passed out by 9:30pm. This just highlights that hypothesis the cortisol and your daily stress levels plays a big role.

From a productivity standpoint, what’s your best eating plan for that, personally?

I start the day with mostly fat and a little bit of protein maybe, but mostly fat all the way through to evening. If I feel a lull, I have a carb meal at dinner and it will pick me up. If not, I stick to low carb high fat ketogenic type eating throughout the day.

How does your sleep pattern effect your workout?

On average, I’m asleep by about 1:00 am and up at about 6am. Wakeup is absolute because my dog Cooper insists on it, but bedtime could be 9:30pm – 2am! I’ve bitten off more than I can chew lately so I’m not getting a lot of sleep.

If you have a night that’s high-stress and low-sleep, do you avoid heavy lifting or intense exercise the next day?

I gauge it. If I’m sleep deprived— like I’ve slept from 3am to 6am— and my stress response is through the roof, I’ll go into the gym and work heavier but not as long as duration because it settles my nervous system. If I’m sleep deprived but don’t have the stress response, I’ll do a light workout or skip that day.

Generally, I walk my dog about 3 miles around the lake right away in the morning. That amps up the nervous system, and my body is pretty awake, plus it’s good exercise for cooper. That might be enough for the day depending on my sleep schedule and other factors.


In talking with two very fit guys in their fifties, one said that when he gets to around 12% body fat his performance goes down, inflammation goes up, and he’s not as athletic as when he’s at 14% body fat. He’s seen this with guys at the gym and his patients as well. What is the reason for this?

It could be a testosterone effect, or a lack of adipose tissue—depending on diet—but fat cells have a great capacity to deactivate or activate cortisone to the active form cortisol. So, he may be seeing a negative effect of the stress response. Could be dietary, or testosterone… I see this with younger athletes, too. As they start to lean down too much, their joints are sore and getting up in the morning is more difficult.

What’s the threshold for body fat?

It’s different for everyone, but personally for me (Kiefer) it’s around 8% or 6% when I can start to feel a little miserable. My arms will go numb at night when I sleep– cutting off circulation in the evening. When I’m around there I’m not super happy, but I look great… and after a carb night I look unbelievable because my muscles are plumping up and stretching.

Do you need to make any adjustments if you’re not a young athlete anymore?

For myself, it’s really hard for me to answer because my goals have changed so much over the years. In my late 20’s, I had some serious performance goals. Now, my goals are more oriented toward my business and trying to help people.

For older people, depending on diet and where they begin, I don’t see a lot of difference. As you start getting into performance, recovery becomes the key factor—you have to look at, what’s your workload? My ex-wife is dating a guy in cross-fit—he says he’s going to have to give up cross-fit because the recovery is awful.

Here’s what’s wrong: The recovery is harsh because of the degradation we’ve caused ourselves over the years, period. Even if you’re an impressive athlete, on a high glucose diet you are doing incremental damage and where it shows up first is in an inability to recover—make sure your diet is on point making, that one of your key goals.

How to Train for Performance and Anti-Aging

John Kiefer with Abel James, on training to impressive every day“There’s a really big difference between trying to be impressive every training day, and training to be impressive on one day.”

If you’re training for an event, you can down regulate that training in preparation for the competition and get better results. If you’re training to be impressive every day, you may want to evaluate what that means.

You can’t optimize everything at the same time.

Maybe you’re trying to optimize aging compared to performance, and they may seem at odds with each other. Actually, I think they’re completely commensurate with each other.

Bringing carbs into the diet regularly, at the right induction rate, and the resistance training— that’s a lot of what I’m looking at now.

You put someone on a ketogenic diet, you see some improvement right away but you didn’t actually regress their disease state as you might imagine. And that takes working on the metabolic pathways at the skeletal muscle level.

Short burst high intensity resistance training is absolutely necessary for performance and for anti-aging—you get increased mitochondrial health and mitochondrial biogenesis, which can help protect against aging. Using carbs appropriately, you don’t get the cortisol or the stress hormones as much.

Even if it’s once a week, high intensity resistance training is a key component (with diet) to anti-aging. If you say you can be anti-aging without resistance training, I think you’re 100% full of it, and you don’t know your science. It’s total B.S. It’s a key component, especially for people who are transitioning from being so unhealthy to wanting to live a healthy life later on.

There’s one camp that says anti-aging means eating as little as possible and not exercising very much so you don’t wear out your joints and so on. Then there’s the other camp that’s like, keep it up, do it!

What we see in this country and some western European countries is not indicative of real life—this idea that aging is this process that will limit you each year you get older. If anything that’s the opposite—I feel better and perform better now.

I don’t understand this aging thing…

People say, after you cross 30 or 40, “Oh, you’re gonna start feelin’ it!”

I figure I should feel it at about 95. At that point, I might say, “Ah, I’m feeling that aging now.”


John Kiefer with Abel James, on listening to critics“The main thing that everybody is doing wrong, and that I have been guilty of in the past,” says Kiefer, “is really wanting to stick to your story or your guns and then not paying attention to the people who are giving you crap. Because sometimes they might be spot on, and if you really want to stick to that story that you created rather than a scientific hypothesis, you’re going to get caught up in it and you are going to start doing things wrong.”

It’s ike the story that insulin is the villain—but insulin alone can’t be the villain. People who are high carb advocates—I have no idea how they can ignore everything that’s going on in the world. People are scared to deviate from their story because their career and their reputation has been built on it.

Paleo to me represents what can really go wrong. Seriously. What you have is an unprotected brand that becomes popular because the original diet was getting results. People latch on to the story, which is easy to understand and really easy to abuse, rather than understanding the science and the problem and what gets results.

Paleo was founded in gut health, reversing inflammation, and addressing irritable bowel. Original paleo instantly limited carbs which helped the gut. Now, it’s gotten out of control.

Don’t get stuck to your story. “Be willing to be wrong, and eventually you’ll be right.”


Be sure to pick up John’s two awesome books. Carb Backloading and Carb Nite.


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  • Bill Montgomery says:

    Question about carb loading. I work out in the AM 3:00AM to 4:30 AM so can I carb load after my workout with breakfast and then go light with carbs rest of the day? That is what I do unless I am doing the 18 hour Bulletproof fast where I eat my last meal (a hand full of raw almonds) at 4:00PM and only Bulletproof coffee until 10:30 AM the next day. Actually, that is all I eat for dinner every day. But in the AM I eat Fibre One Cereal (a bunch with Almond/Coconut milk), a hard boiled egg and 20GM of protein isolate. It seems like all you guys work out in the afternoon or night. I go to be at 6:30PM.

    Oh, I only drink the Bulletproof coffee when I fast. Not every day.

  • Bill Montgomery says:

    One more comment since you started talking about aging. I will be 70 next month and you guys are right. You need to keep doing resistance training. I climb a mountain (6000ft, 3950 elevation gain) every weekend. Some people my age are in walkers. My knees are shot and last year I tore two quad tendons, but scar tissue rocks and I am almost as strong as I was before the injury. I was doing box jumps in the gym.

  • Patti says:

    Able, it is interesting what you guys think of as “aging”. I think some of the ideas came up when we “Baby Boomers” watched our smoking and drinking parents age so fast; smokers look so haggard by the time they are 40. However, some of us took the “health nut” road and had different results. From the “Baby Boomers I work with, if you live your life fairly healthy the thirties and forties are great years where you can be fit, healthy and have lots of energy. It’s how you take care of yourself during those years that seems to affect people hard in their 50’s. I am 58 and keep pretty healthy, so no one believes I am even in my 50’s. However, other people who have lived on fast food and soda during their adult life seem to suffer even in their 40’s. I am just so glad that younger men like you are motivating young generations to eat better and live healthier. If you don’t have your health, you can have all the money and friends in the world, but you can’t enjoy them.

  • GTR says:

    About minimum level of body fat: fat stores are not only for energy, but also a source for the spare fat as a material for building brains. To keep bodyfat/brain weight weight similar to a 60 kg chimp with 4% body fat and 384g brain weight (6,25) an 85 kg human with 1352g brain weight would need close to 10% bodyfat. Even for a 105 kg natural bodybuilder this would give 8% bodyfat just to keep up with the chimp.

  • Henrik says:

    I was surprised to hear John doesn’t care much about his sleep going to bed on average at 1am and waking up at 6.

    • Ben says:

      Some people are freaks and can get by with little sleep. The Apo E gene is supposed to have some bearing on this.
      Metabolically, the extra cortisol from sleep deprivation can be mitigated by staying low carb in the morning. Kiefer has claimed to lean down while his sleep diminishes.

  • bradley says:

    A “bro-head” of mine sent me a “look what Kiefer fessed up to” txt yesterday to kind of disprove his logic, findings, brilliance, and revolutionary approach (well, he and Dr. Di Pasquale 😉 In any case, this blog response from Alan Argon and Adam Ali only portrayed the “whoops- insulin isn’t…can of worms….I was wrong….” and didn’t convey the ACTUAL entirety of your podcast. to prove a point, EF all of the nay-sayers in the AY! Kiefer is doing God’s work and is making people healthier across the complicated spectrum that is “being human.” So thank you Kiefer for all that you do and thank you Abel for keeping these ritualistic AWESOME fires burnin!

  • Ann says:

    A most excellent and informative discussion, Abel!
    I am (just turned) 64 and found the no grain way of eating a while ago. Actually before there was the internet and all these fabulous support avenues. Unfortunately, I fell off big time over and over until my ‘self experiments’ and the support of pages like yours and soooooo many others (Mark’s Daily Apple, etc) made me realize if I didn’t want to feel like sh*t and continue to ‘have’ Fibromyalgia, I’d better get with the program! I can honestly say, I have put my Fibro into remission. I say remission because I know thru those self experiments ( and NO FREAKIN’ HELP FROM DRS- poop on those effin drugs!!!) that I don’t ever want to eat SAD again!! I feel really good now, better all the time.
    Thank you for the continued education on my path to more healing. I am re-inspired to get back to the weights.
    (& oops! I have no excuse, as my daughter- after years of working her butt off to help people get healthy and fit, has an online -and -may this mom add- AWESOME! workout subscription site! Spin videos, HIIT, Kickboxing, and step and more. Oh &, I’m not going to plug her service here by adding her website address, because it’s not right to do that. But, I’m confident you will hear about her one day soon- as she has subscribers from all over the world! – “Proud Mama Here” 🙂 ) ……..SO! as I said, no excuse for not working out! OF COURSE she gave me free membership! lolol
    So I repeat- GREAT discussion today- REALLY appealed to my closet nerd and loved hearing the new theories that John Keifer has. PLEASE have him back! …. would be great if he spoke a little more on how he sees the recovery of the body using this way of eating for old(er) men and women.
    Thank you for all you do to spread the word about what food can actually do for our health. What you do is important and I appreciate it more than words can say.

  • B says:

    What a joke. show me one pic of kiefer at anything even remotely close to being 6%body fat…he has never been 8 or 6 percent not even close. More like close to 18%

  • Alex says:

    That’s the best article in favor of real paleo I’ve ever read.
    And at the same time, the best article against dogmatic paleo.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Andrea says:

    Catching up on your podcasts… I’m a binge listener. I loved this talk. John Keifer is hilarious.
    I so want to be that old lady, 90+, that has her walking shoes on lapping everyone at the mall. I just turned
    47 and had to go to the doctor for a nasty cough which turned out to be bronchitis. As the nurse was taking
    my stats she said “It says here to take Allegra. Is that it?” I said “Only when I need it not everyday.” She said “That’s it? Nothing else no prescription meds, etc.” I said “That’s it”. She said “That’s surprising. Your doing well.” I thought how sad she is surprised. I’m not that old! Pretty sure it has to do with eating real food and moving everyday!

  • Linda says:

    I am 46 and ridden the diet rollercoaster most of my life. I am basically healthy but need to lose about 30 lbs. I am trying to follow the ketogenic diet ( LCHF). I read about it all day and it gets so confusing at times. Now I read I should have a carb loading day? I can and will stick to any plan as a way of life that works. I am just so desperate at this point to do the right thing and get the results I desire. I just need a bit of guidance.

  • louis says:


    I understand that taking green tea along with protein can prevent the fat destroying effects that the green tea EGCG has.
    So I wanted to know if combining BCAA with green tea was the perfect solution? In regards to preserving muscle during a fasted morning workout.

  • Sonny says:

    Does John Kiefer have any real degree? I have not been able to find any specific information regarding which college he attended, what year he graduated.. I only see sketchy terms like ” Physicist- trained”. (Which means nothing.) Some websites state he had a BS and an MA, but form where??? In the academic world, when a person has a college degree they will gladly list what college they graduated from and what year….It seems so fishy that I can’t find an actual specific college that he went to on any web site…

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