Leptin is a hormone produced by the fat cells in your body. The word leptin comes from the Greek word Leptos (meaning thin). The amount of leptin released from those fat cells is dependent upon how much fat there actually is. Basically, more fat results in the release of more leptin. Leptin essentially controls your metabolism, hunger, and energy expenditure. A leptin system that is working properly improves brain fitness, mental sharpness, leads to better memory, and enhances mood.
What Controls Leptin?
Simply put the hypothalamus in the brain controls leptin. The hypothalamus is comprised of an elaborate system of leptin receptors. When leptin levels increase, leptin attaches to leptin receptors in the hypothalamus, and your brain sends a signal that you are fueled, or “full,” so to speak. Your metabolic rate will increase as a result of this signal. When leptin levels decrease, the brain thinks you are no longer fueled. Consequently, your brain sends a message that you are hungry, and your metabolic rate decreases. Leptin receptors are mainly in the hypothalamus, but they are also located throughout the body.
So, What Does All This Actually Mean?
What it means is you need leptin levels to be in order if you want to be or stay lean, think clearly, be in a good mood, etc. The longer your body is in a calorie deficit, then the lower your leptin levels and metabolic rate become. What this means is your metabolism slows, and it will be extremely hard to lose that last bit of fat.
On the flipside, leptin can also be your enemy. If you constantly eat excessively above maintenance levels, then the body can become leptin resistant. What this means is your body cannot distinguish that your body fat levels are too high, and leptin receptors are desensitized. The more leptin resistant the body becomes, then the more the body tends to sway towards staying fat compared to lean.
Also, toxins or other stressors in our body can result in leptin resistance. These can range from anything from our diet to lack of sleep.
What can I do to keep leptin levels in check?
- A good way to control leptin is to stay lean! Don’t go on large bulks and/or get too far over target weight.
- When you feel that your metabolism slows or that you have been in a deficit for too long, you may periodically include a cheat meal, or refeed day. When prepping for a show, bodybuilders periodically will have a refeed day. Usually, a refeed day consists of a day with a 20-50% increase above maintenance calorie level. A good rule of thumb for a refeed day is to increase carbohydrates 100-150% than normal, keep protein at about 1g/lb. of bodyweight, and keep fat intake as low as possible. A refeed, or “cheat” day is a sure way to jumpstart your metabolism and to normalize leptin levels.
- Also, don’t go often overboard on the carbs. Large amounts of carbs result in insulin spikes, which in turn raise leptin production. Avoid excessive amounts of sugary foods, high fructose corn syrup, or any foods that are high on the GI scale.
- Get your sleep! A recent study just showed those who didn’t get a good night’s rest had a 15% lower leptin level than those who got enough sleep, since leptin levels typically rise during the sleep cycle.
- Perform high-intensity exercise for short stints. This will stimulate large secretions of human growth hormone, which boost fat-burning mechanisms and help to regulate leptin levels. A good form of this type of exercise is H.I.I.T. (high intensity interval training).
- Supplement your diet with taurine or Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR) to help alleviate or prevent leptin resistance. Both of these supplements may help prevent leptin resistance. Other antioxidants may help with leptin resistance as well.
- Leptin controls metabolism and appetite.
- The body has many leptin receptors.
- Too much or too little can be detrimental.
- Don’t starve yourself! Include a refeed/cheat every once in a while.
- Don’t go on long, excessive bulks.
- Strive to stay lean.
- Avoid large insulin spikes and sugary foods.
- Perform high-intensity exercise.
- Get sleep.
- Take taurine and/or ALCAR.
Leptin is quite possibly the most important hormone you have never heard about. If your leptin levels are not in check, then you will never acquire the leanness of which you are capable. Not only may you never get as lean as you want, but your energy levels, mental acuity, and performance may suffer as well.