A couple weeks ago I was assaulted by my Facebook feed. On the same day, it seemed all of my buddies in the fitness industry had caught on to a similar trend. While I try to ignore the more flashy sounding fitness trends, I knew from some related research that their might be some merit to this one.
The Potato Hack just kept popping up. When I finally saw an article titled The Potato Hack For Rapid Fat Loss on Rusty Moore’s blog I knew it was the real deal.
“What if I could tell you about a new wonder supplement?
What if I could tell you that the amino acid profile of this wonderful new supplement is as good or better than whey protein calorie for calorie?
What if I could show you that this new wonder supplement has a higher biological value than soy protein as well, as far as that goes – but it is also from a plant source?”
Scott Abel IFBB pro bodybuilder and personal trainer had this to say in reference to the potato. In his article An Amazing “New Supplement” You Might Be Unreasonably Biased Against, he laments the overall lack of appreciation for the role carbohydrates play in supporting high intensity exercise.
While the article discusses the importance of carbohydrates in general, it points out the unique position the potato holds as king of all unconventional performance enhancers. Scott points out that the potato is not only capable of increasing performance, but can be a potent tool in a cutting diet.
The potato’s wide ranging abilities seem to have been finally identified by the mainstream fitness community with the recent release of “The Potato Hack”.This apparently unassuming book highlights an important trend in the fitness industry. Namely re-positioning old or forgotten nutritional protocols as something unique or differentiated.
On the surface, many authors purport to acknowledge the inauthentic nature of their recommendations. When I first read such an acknowledgement in the preamble to the potato hack, I was unimpressed.
The author goes on to discuss how the book he is marketing is “nothing new” as the diet first appeared in “an 1849 diet plan for people that were becoming fat and dyspeptic”.Alright, admissions out of the way, now that their is a disclaimer to cover the author he can go on to discuss the superpowers and such any potato hack follower will undoubtedly receive.
Surprisingly, what followed the short introduction was a very reasonable set of recommendations followed by the history of some of the issues discussed. There was also a very straight forward section discussing growing and harvesting the potato.
Long story short, I realized that I need to be less jaded about information products in the health and fitness space. This book was actually really good and touched on a number of important subjects like resistant starch.
At this point, if you are still wondering what the potato hack actually is don’t worry. I realize I have not actually discussed the details of the hack.
What Is The Potato Hack?
Here are the new Potato Hack guidelines courtesy of Vegetablepharm:
1. Plan on eating just potatoes for 3 to 5 days
2. Eat 2-5 pounds of potatoes each day
3. No other foods allowed (this includes butter, sour cream, cheese, and bacon bits!)
4. Salt, pepper, and vinegar allowed, but not encouraged
5. Drink when thirsty; coffee, tea, and water only
6. Heavy exercise is discouraged, light exercise and walking are encouraged
7. Take your normal medications, but dietary supplements will not be needed
Expected results from 3-5 days of the Potato Hack:
- Fat loss of 3-5 pounds
- Reduction in inflammation, joint pain
- Reduction in digestive complaints
- Increased insulin sensitivity, lower fasting blood glucose levels
- Restoration of healthy intestinal bacteria
- Continued weight loss upon resumption of normal diet
Many people report that, for the first time in a long time, they are not hungry despite eating such a bland diet of restricted calories. Those that have watched an un-budging scale for months or years report daily losses of ½ -1 pound, and the weight does not come back on, as in other crash diets.”
Well, that is at least what is claimed in the potato hack program. As for what the concerns might be, there are many.
Notably, health researcher Matt Stone brought up a number of potential issues with this “hack”.For anyone unfamiliar with his work, he is a diet obsessive of the highest order.
Matt Claims to have began his investigation into health research after a failed wilderness survival trip.Matt says that while he planned to live off the land along with an emergency supply of food he brought with him, he actually ended up nearly starving to death.
During this experience, Matt came face to face with many of the same issues that veteran dieters experience: cold hands and feet, no sex drive, constant urination, freezing cold even in hot weather,abnormal bowl movements ect…
Basically Matt came to intimately know all the experiences of a habitual dieter.Wilderness survival experiences aside, Matt claims to have started his career at the breakfast table when he was still a child reading the “nutrition facts” spine of every cereal box he encountered.
Needless to say, Matt knows a thing or two about nutrition. His writing suggests he has come full circle with his nutritional recommendations and has a breadth and depth to his knowledge that few in the online health community share.
Long story short, when looking for diet advice, consider Matt’s opinions.In reference to the “potato hack” Matt brings up a number of reasonable objections. The main ones are as follows:
Just about ANY diet consisting of only one food will trigger similar weight loss.
Supplementing some high-quality protein with these taters is a much more shrewd way to do it.
It violates the golden rule of “Anything you do to lose weight you better be able to continue doing it for life or else the weight will likely return plus bring some friends along with it.”
This approach is already well-known, and many mono diets have been popular at some point throughout the last century.
Paleo people think that this is special because it doesn’t contain grains or dairy or refined sugar or any other “nasty neolithic foods.” Yet, the potato hack could probably work just as well, with less loss of lean tissue, if it were the pasta hack, the rice and tuna hack, the orange juice hack, the MuscleMilk hack, or the Froot Loops with skim milk hack.
The particular article Matt’s comments are sourced from discussed using the potato hack while on a paleo diet. For this reason some of his objectiona re aimed at avid paleo dieters.
For anyone unfamiliar with the paleo diet, it involves a strict set of principles aimed at eliminating any “neolithic foods”, or foods that are cultivated and harvested in a mass production agricultural system. The elimination of grains from the diet has traditionally been one of the tenants of the paleo diet.
In the eyes of the Paleo community, the addition of starch in the form of potatoes to the diet appears to be a “hack” to be added in to the regular paleo diet. To the rest of the world, the addition of potatoes to the diet seems like a reasonable option hardly worthy of any merit.
It should be mentioned that the idea of a hack, utilizing starch has become part of the fitness community zeitgeist, with diets such as paleo 2.0+ popping up all over the place. Don’t believe me? Here are a couple examples to get you up to speed.
This is the main reason I recommend a starting point of 40% of calories coming from whole food carbohydrates.While you can of course use a low or high carbohydrate diet approach, it is best to start with something more moderate and adjust from there.
In the long run, extreme approaches to diet rarely work. They can definitely have some specific short term uses, but as a long term strategy, they are doomed from the start.
Alright, Moderation, I got it, But What’s Special About The Hack?
Everything about moderation aside, there are some particular benefits to eating potatoes. As mentioned above the “magic” is in the resistant starch levels in potatoes.
Resistant starch is a type of starch found in certain plant foods that cannot be fully broken down by the body. According to Wikipedia:
“Resistant starch (RS) refers to starch andstarch degradation products that escape from digestion in the small intestine of healthy individuals. Resistant starch occurs naturally in foods but is also added to foods by the addition of isolated or manufactured types of resistant starch.”
One of the main benefit of resistant starch is that it’s breakdown increases the levels of butyric acid in the body. Butyric acid is a short chain fatty acid that has shown promise as an obesity prevention agent.
The most commonly cited study is one done on rats to mimic the effects of a high fat diet similar to the Standard American Diet.In the study, researchers fed 2 groups of rats a high fat obesity promoting diet with the intention of comparing the weight gain in the two groups.
The group of rats that was given butyric acid as part of their diet experienced little to no weight gain despite the same unrestricted access to a high fat diet. Researchers concluded that the increased metabolic activity, brown fat tissue activation or increased mitochondrial function were behind the lack of weight gain.Another important consideration was that that butyric acid fed group consumed 10-20% less calories overall then the non butyric acid fed group. This led researchers to conclude that the lack of weight gain was not completely independent from calories ingested.
Translation, strike one for the magic of the “potato hack”. A reduced calorie intake is certainly an important consideration in any weight loss study.
Regardless of the level of calorie intake, it is still important to consider other potential reasons for the lack of weight gain in butyric acid fed rats. For example nutritional researchers often cite the activation of brown fat tissue or increased activity in the mitochondria due to the presence of increased butyric acid.
Both of these results of increased butyric acid levels could prove beneficial in the long term for dieters regardless of their goal. Another often cited claim is that the resistant starch and it’s resultant butyric acid enhance the environment in the intestines.
This enhanced gut microbiome has strong indications for a possible interaction between the gut, brain and endocrine system. As I’ve mentioned before, the body is a complex system.
It’s important to focus any physique enhancement efforts on the highest leverage behaviors and activities.While there may not be magic to the “potato hack” that does not mean that the greater levels of butyric acid created by the resistant starch in potatoes might not have wide ranging positive effects on the bodies systems.
In this case it appears that a number of the “potential benefits” of butyric acid have materialized in potato hack followers beyond what can be explained by the placebo effect.Considering the many fitness professionals who have been recommending potatoes as part of their dietary strategies these results come as no surprise.
The potato, like many other nutrient dense whole foods, is an excellent addition to a physique conscious person’s diet.What’s so outstanding about potatoes, along with many other unrefined foods is their ability to keep up full for long periods of time.
Consider this recommendation made by Kinobody’s Greg O’Gallagher on my old site NoGym.net.
“When calories are low, it’s essential that you fill yourself up with foods that are going to keep you full. Refined foods, liquid shakes, nuts, high calorie sauces and calorie beverages should go out the window. Even rice should be ditched. Lean meats, eggs/whites, cottage cheese, potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples, beans and veggies should become your staples. Coconut oil can be added for cooking and butter for taste to hit your fat numbers and to make food more tasty and filling.”
As Greg mentions, the satiety of a food is super important when dieting. So important in fact that nutritional researchers have gone to great lengths to catalog the types of foods that satisfy people the most. While conducting these studies researchers were repeatedly surprised by what they found regarding the potato.
What Foods Make You Feel Full?
Each of the following foods is rated by how much food people ate after consuming them to satisfy their hunger.
All are compared to white bread, ranked as “100”
- Croissant 47%
- White bread 100%
- Cake 65%
- French fries 116%
- Doughnuts 68%
- White pasta 119%
- Cookies 120%
- Brown Rice 132%
- Crackers 127%
- White rice 138%
- Snacks and Confectionary Grain bread 154%
- Mars candy bar 70%
- Wholemeal bread 157%
- Peanuts 84%
- Brown pasta 188%
- Yogurt 88% Potatoes, boiled 323%
- Crisps 91% Protein-Rich Foods
- Ice cream 96%
- Lentils 133%
- Jellybeans 118%
- Cheese 146%
- Popcorn 154%
- Eggs 150%
- Breakfast Cereals with Milk Baked beans 168%
- Muesli 100%
- Beef 176%
- Sustain 112%
- Ling fish 225%
- Special K 116%
- Cornflakes 118%
- Bananas 118%
- Honeysmacks 132%
- Grapes 162%
- All-Bran 151%
- Apples 197%
- Porridge/Oatmeal 209%
- Oranges 202%
As you can see from the above results, the potato returns a very high satiety score as measured by researchers. It is important to understand how researchers tested for satiety, and what they based their scores on.
For this study researchers had subjects ingest 240 kcal servings of various types of foods. Subjects then recorded their subjective levels of hunger at various intervals after their “meals”.
The results shown above were determined by these subjective reports.The issue many people have with the results of this research is that certain foods are less appealing when eaten individually then other foods.
This is the main complaint issued against the potato’s high reported satiety score. Rarely does anyone eat a 240 kcal serving of plain potato.
In order to assess this score in a less subjective way, researchers at NutritionData looked at a number of factors that can be used to predict satiety. What is good about their score is that they have compiled a formula that does not depend on subjective reports.
Their formula relies on a number of well documented factors that can be relied upon to affect the satiety of various foods. You can see the formula researchers came up with below along with definitions of its corresponding inputs below:
NutritonData used the scores determined by this formula and compared them against what the reported scores were from the satiety index studies. While the the predicted satiety of many foods is similar to what was reported by the satiety index, it does account for some of the errors subjective reporting creates.
You can see the scores determined by the formula in the below graph. On the graph the solid line represents scores as predicted by the formula along with blocks showing satiety index scores.
While many of the foods tested by researchers correlate closely with the satiety score shown above, outliers such as the potato do not.
In the case of the potato, the many other factors taken into account by the Fullness Factor cause it’s score to be closer to many other similar foods. Factors such as water content, amount of fiber and protein as well as micronutrient density cause the potato’s score to be much lower on the Fullness Factor index.
Potato “Hack” or Potato Hoax?
While the Fullness Factor score for the potato is much lower then what was reported by satiety index researchers, it is still a relatively filling food. Looking at the graph above you can see that the potato falls in the top 25% of foods entered into the formula for satiety.
While this pales in comparison to it’s #1 rank on the satiety index, it’s pretty good for a common, low cost food. Keep in mind, that the Fullness Factor was designed to attempt to predict which foods would make people the most satiated.
Given the extensive body of literature surrounding diet and nutrition it would seem that researchers would be able to come up with a good alternative to subjectively measuring satiety. One of the main issues with this approach is that it does not take into account the context the food is used in.
Taking things like ability to purchase, store and prepare foods into account might change the results. When you look at contextual factors, this is where the potato really begins to shine.
The potato is a low cost, easily stored and prepared food. If you decide to try the potato diet you can cook prepare a day’s worth of potatoes in literally 10 minutes.
Most people will either have to boil water, turn on a slow cooker, put potatoes in the microwave or use an oven or pressure cooker. Besides the few low/no calorie additives you will be putting on the potatoes, that is pretty much all you have to do.
While the potato hack is clearly no panacea, it was not designed to be. Nearly every author that syndicates the potato hack recognizes that it should be used as a 1-5 day reset for your digestive system.
While it may not be the best diet in the long run, it is pretty good at what it is designed for, short term weight loss and improvements in the gut microbiome. I don’t have a specific context you can use the potato hack in, but truthfully, you don’t need one.
Potatoes can be eaten regularly as part of the TestShock program. As mentioned in the program, you need carbohydrates in order to maximize your productivity in the gym. In fact, potatoes have pretty much always been a staple of my diet.
For those of you who have read the book, you probably noticed that every 4th or 5th recipe mentioned includes potatoes in one form or another.
While I regularly consume many types of starch, I have always noticed that potatoes provide a more filling alternative to rice or bread. just keep in mind that context is everything, and in the long term balance is the best strategy.
As long as most of the time you are eating a relatively balanced amount of all three macronutrients and getting all the micronutrient dense vegetables you can add, it really is inconsequential if you want to try a “potato hack” every once and a while.
If you don’t believe me, go ask the author of The Potato Hack. It looks like he follows a balanced plan during the majority of time he is not potato hacking.