Autophagy and Protein Restriction



@Brenda Zorn once stated in a pod cast that she had restricted protein and still put on muscle but didn’t know of the science that could explain why. Then in a later podcast Carl stating a relationship between protein intake and autophagy, referencing Dr. Bozworth.
I’m wondering if protein restriction (zero grams) can accelerates autophagy in the same manner as fasting can? Has anyone addressed this phenomenon? There doesn’t seem to be a real answer or consensus for how much protein we should be shooting for. Anecdotal evidence by Brenda has shown that tissue can be built under protein restriction, is autophagy filling the gap? Is there a way to exploit this autophagy process with protein restriction in a similar manner as fasting? Does anyone have any N1 or study data that can help dig into this a little deeper?


I may have found part of an answer here.


Our body is able to detect all nutrient intake, and responds accordingly. Abstinence of all nutrients except water is not the same as restricting diet to fat only. Or protein only. Or carb only. When food is consumed, the body recognizes the intake of that energy and utilizes it.

Autophagy is happening continuously while we are alive. That’s how wounds heal. That’s how we fight infections. That’s why we don’t all have “cancer” even though we all have precancerous cells.

If you’re interested in fasting to maximize health/healing benefits. Look at the work of Dr Alan Goldhamer and Dr Thomas Seyfried. The bottom line is water only fasting is most restorative.

(IDM Educator) #4

There is much disagreement amongst experts on the amount of protein we need. I decided to go with one expert’s opinion, Dr. Jason Fung. I happen to work with him at IDM now, but decided on his recommendation of .6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. This happened to cut my current protein macro in half! Luckily I had had bookend DEXA scans to confirm I did in fact build 4+ pounds of lean mass in 4 months.

This would be unwise unless fasting. We need protein to survive.

(Bob M) #5

Yikes! That is way, way less that what I’m eating. I weigh about 200 pounds, which is about 91 kg, so that’s 54 grams per day.

I can’t do it. I eat more protein than that in most meals, and usually eat 2 meals a day. In fact, I’ve been known to eat twice that much in ONE meal. And I’ve felt better while increasing my protein and decreasing my fat.

Sorry, Dr. Fung, while I like most of your recommendations, this one I don’t.

(Robert C) #6

The recommendation is not (as far as I know) for your body weight but instead, your lean body weight (about what you would weigh at 15% body fat or - if you were slim in high schoold - your high school weight after you stopped growing taller). I think the 0.6 number is for diabetics that are fasting to save their lives - so quick progress is necessary over worrying about satiety. The 2KD numbers are 1.0 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of that same lean body mass.

On you for higher protein intake - your statements sound similar to what some (non-keto) people say about their carbs (for example “just cannot do it, cannot live without my pasta”). Of course I do not know but, you may want to introspect and try to determine if maybe, in some small way, your higher protein intake is driving your satiety needs higher (i.e. would you be bored and eat less in higher fat). Of course, only a concern if you still have weight to lose.

(Bob M) #7

No. That’s a ludicrously small amount of protein. If you eat, as I do, say 2,000 calories, and you like to eat all or mainly meat, as I do, let’s look at getting this from ribeye, which is a fatty steak:

To get 2,000 calories a day, you need 15 ounces of ribeye steak, which gives you 120 gram of protein, twice that level. And if the level is when you were slim in high school, then it’s even LOWER.

You could only eat, say 1,000 calories of ribeye, and fill the rest of your plate with mayo or other fats, but that has many, many issues. Fat is not filling. It’s not, at least for me. I can eat fat and eat it and eat it and eat it.

And please don’t lecture me. I’ve been on a low carb diet since 1/1/14 and have tried every variance of low carb, paleo, keto and everything in between.

Moreover, I bought a continuous glucose monitor to prove Ted Naiman’s higher protein theory wrong. I expected to see blood sugar skyrocket once I ate a bunch of protein. What happened? I ate 120+, 160+ grams of protein per MEAL and did not see a rise. If there was a discernible rise, I could not find it. (NOTE: This is not true for everyone. Jimmy Moore gets hypoglycemia if he eats too much protein.) I found I PREFER higher protein.

So, before you lecture me, get your facts straight. Give me a study, randomized, of low carb/keto people eating two different protein levels. Find that, and I’ll begin to think about changing what I’m eating.


Thank you! Must be some sort of psychological blinders that come off when you give up and ask for help and then instantly find what you think your looking for. I have no intention of going zero protien for any length of time but do like the protien cycling as suggested by Naomi Whittle. I think that is closer to what I was looking for but will certainly

I can fast, we (wife and I) just finished up our 2nd annual 14 day fast and plan on adding a couple random 3 days every month. My problem is when I fast, I can’t stop thinking about pork belly and heavy cream. I don’t crave the carbs but seem to obsess about fat, love the taste and mouth feel. I was thinking I might be able to accelerate autoghy by restricting protien every once and awhile to clean out some junk while still enjoying my fat. Sounds like it may be possible, or am I misunderstanding a part of the process?

(Robert C) #9

I’ll stick with the former.

But - a suggestion - either mention people with an @ sign in front of their name (@RobC or @ctviggen) or reply directly to the post (instead of the bottom of the thread) or there is no notification and it is just by chance that I would get the please don’t lecture message. In fact, I am assuming the reply was to me (as the previous post) but I guess it could have been to others above (and there is no way to tell).

(IDM Educator) #10

It was for bodyweight. .6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That is Doctor Fung’s recommendation and what I follow. I build lean mass at this rate so it’s correct for me.

(Robert C) #11

I don’t mean to question but that seems odd.

A 200 kilogram person would be at 120 grams of protein.
Once they lose weight and become a 100 kilogram person, they need 60 grams of protein.

I thought fat was (for the most part) not needing of anything (like calories or protein) vs. muscle tissue.

Seems odd but, I do not want question Dr. Fung, it is probably something I am not thinking of that has been painfully learned from extensive experience - like 200 pound people’s satiety and insulin resistance do better with a slow decreasing of protein from that higher level or something.

(IDM Educator) #12

I’m guessing that the issue is that this seems like a very small amount of protein to you. I assure you it’s plenty to maintain and build lean mass. There are different opinions by the experts on the subject of protein but this is what is working for us. We mostly work with very obese and Insulin resistant people. This protein amount has worked for me also, I have bookend dexa scans to prove it, building over 4 lb of lean mass in 4 months more than once.

(Bunny) #13

…in other words It was what you were eating before you started fasting or what are you fasting for? As DeLauer points out (below)? Me, I like to use marine based omega 3’s and brewers yeast before I even think about engaging in a longer fast for the DHA content along with bitter melon extract and ice cold water (w/sodium, potassium, magnesium) while fasting to promote the creation of brown fat (BAT)…

The usual eating of protein which most people do anyways days before the fast begins affects how much glucagon is available (also possibly protein from your own lean body tissue?) and used during the fast by the body as Dr. Fung pointed out in one of his very early writings on this subject and in this quote below:

“…When we don’t eat (fast) insulin goes down and glucagon goes up. This increase in glucagon stimulates the process of autophagy. In fact, fasting (raises glucagon) provides the greatest known boost to autophagy. This is in essence a form of cellular cleansing. …” - Dr. J. Fung MD

How to Start a Fast: What to Eat Right Before Fasting - Thomas DeLauer

(Robert C) #14

Nope - it is not the small amount of protein - I think (if they’re fasting right) autophagy gets people what they need (and may help with loose skin).

It is the difference in protein for the same person at different weights that seems odd. It seems like it should be 60 grams a (feeding) day at both weights / any weight (i.e. not dependent on body weight but goal weight or lean body mass or something else that is a constant).

(Doug) #15

Troy, fasting induces/accelerates autophagy due to nutrient restriction beyond just low or zero protein. Eating carbohydrates raises insulin and decreases glucagon, and this definitely works against autophagy.

One thing that fasting does is increase growth hormone secretion, which could account for muscle mass increase or maintenance, rather than loss. I believe it extends into the ‘refeeding’ period when we start to eat again - which makes sense to me, the body saying in effect, “Okay, now we’ve got food again, let’s build.

Our skin is roughly 1/6 of our body weight - this is “lean mass” and a potential significant source of protein while fasting. Combine this with autophagy’s cleaning up of cellular debris, old, damaged, faulty cell parts and protein structures within cells, and muscle could be built even while losing “lean mass” overall.

I’m sure there will be individual variation here, i.e. not everybody can or will increase muscle mass while fasting. I’d think that lifting heavy would often help - the body thinking it needs to repair and build bigger just as it responds to that exercise while eating.

AUTOPHAGY: INTERMITTENT FASTING PROTEIN CYCLING (IFPC) – from your link. Intermittent fasting is not going to give you much autophagy, despite some people wanting to believe that. The stomach has to empty, and then the small intestine, there is a ‘post-absorptive phase’ that then goes by, and finally glycogen depletion occurs (which is accompanied by insulin declining/glucagon rising) - after all this is when autophagy can start ramping up. Eating once a day isn’t going to get most people there, really.

(Robert C) #16

I think this is key! I think heavy lifting is very important.

The body (I think) will not add metabolically expensive and heavy muscle mass during a fast without a stimulus.

It will, because it needs to for the hunt, conserve muscle mass with the extra fasting induced growth hormone but not add if you are sedentary (again, it “knows” you don’t want to be slowed during the hunt).

I think I heard Megan Ramos say that @Brenda takes full advantage of this to become very very strong (but, I am old, so this could also could have come out of a similar conversation about someone else or potentially out of nowhere).

Just my opinion from my studies so far, not a medical professional.


The way Phinney and Virta present it by using a reference weight (sort of an ideal weight range, based on height). Then the protein calculation is based on this weight, no matter the current weight of the person. In this way, the protein amount doesn’t change, just the fat and some carbohydrates.


@Brenda: I’m brand new here but have done some reading of Dr. Fungs books and blog posts.
Please correct me if I’m thinking in the wrong direction, but the small amount of protein you use successfully is ingested protein correct?

When fasting correctly and autophagy has begun, if a person has significant fat stores and large expanse of skin, wouldn’t autophagy recycle the protein from old skin cells and add to the “usable” total protein the body is using?

So just like the body uses the fat from the wallet first then makes withdrawal from the fat bank, wouldn’t the same principle apply to protein stores? Body uses what’s in the protein wallet(ingested small number of grams) then as needed recycles from the protein bank (loose skin reserves?).

Is my thinking too simplistic?

I’d love to hear your comments.

(Ilana Rose) #19

Yah, at my weight that is only 30 grams. That amounts to a 136 gram ribeye steak for the entire day coming in at under 400 calories. Topping that up with fat and even the full 20 grams of carbs, in order to reach my 1400 calories at maintenance, would lead to a protein macro of only 7%.

I’ve heard Fung make the same recommendation, but I have to imagine he means it for people that are actively trying to lose a lot of weight.

(IDM Educator) #20

Yes she speaking of me, I’m 55 years old and practice periodic extended fasts (and I also happen to be ketogenic) and I put on an incredible amount of lean mass. She used my dexa scans for her talk at Low Carb Breckenridge 2018.