It’s easy to evaluate one’s health and well-being solely on the most evident factors, such as body composition. However, what’s even more important is your functioning on the cellular level. This post will talk about how to increase mitochondrial density.
What are Mitochondria?
The human body is a bioenergetics machine that needs to be able to produce its own energy. mitochondria are the power plants of our cells. Their primary role is converting calories into energy to produce heat and specifically the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the currency of our cells used to carry out an array of functions, starting from breathing and ending with sprinting.
Mitochondria are essential parts of cellular metabolism and energy production. They’re our inner nuclear power plants that determine how much energy we can produce and at what level we dwell on a daily basis.
Mitochondrial Density Definition
Mitochondrial density refers to the quality and efficiency of your power plant. Is the workforce frugal and like a well-oiled machine, or are they lazy, weak and slothful?. If the cell’s chain of command is led by characters like Homer Simpson, then, rest assured, there’s going to be no work done and you won’t be able to power the entire city of Springfield i.e. your body.
Increasing mitochondria involves mitochondrial biogenesis, which creates more nuclear power reactors and is great for spreading the workload. Increasing mitochondrial density means that you’ll be improving the quality of your reactors, which will translate into more efficient functioning at the expense of lower energy demands. You’ll become better and more self-sufficient overall. Running on jet fuel, emanating with fusion power – everything you do will improve.
Given the importance of these small yet powerful cells, it would be natural to want to improve their functioning. The quality of whatever you may be doing will increase because of almost everything we do requires some energy to be produced and manufactured.
How to Increase Mitochondrial Density
Increased mitochondrial density is a result of necessity. Simply put, if the body doesn’t feel the need to improve the functioning of its nuclear power plant, then it won’t do it either. Every function of an organism is there for a reason. So it is with building muscle, intelligence, fat oxidation etc.
This means that it occurs in the presence of a stressor that conditions the body to adapt to it by instigating mitochondrial biogenesis.
The necessary component to this is AMPK (amp-activated protein kinase), which is an evolutionarily conserved fuel sensor[i]. AMPK gets stimulated by situations of cellular energy deprivation, in which the body has to rev up its metabolic processes to keep producing more power. It’s a response to an inner crisis, an emergency, that puts the entire organism into higher gear. #CODE_RED
That’s quite amazing. In situations of dire need, when there’s no readily available fuel source for the body to use, it still finds a way to subsist. Survival of the most self-sufficient and adaptable. However, it’s beyond that. We as organic organisms actually thrive in scarcity, as opposed to abundance. Like in the case of mitochondrial biogenesis, we get better and stronger from stressors and thus become antifragile.
Based on that, to increase mitochondrial density, you would have to upregulate the expression of AMPK (for mitochondrial biogenesis) and force your body to improve its functioning i.e. become better at bioenergetics (create energy from within).
Ways to Increase Mitochondrial Density
Now to the different strategies to do so. It’s going to involve stressors that condition the body as a whole. What ensues are improved fitness, bulletproofed health, enhanced muscles and cellular efficiency. Although you can get a six pack on your stomach, your mitochondria will also get an eight pack, which is a lot cooler.
Abstention from food is a stress response that signals the body to maximize nutrient partitioning and speed up protein synthesis. Because of there being no exogenous calories to be found, you’ll start producing energy endogenously, meaning from within.
- Fasting increases fat oxidation
- Speeds up the metabolism by 3-14%[ii]
- Skyrockets human growth hormone by 1300-2000%[iii]!
There are many other benefits to intermittent fasting, such as increased longevity, cellular detoxification, improved mental focus, neurogenesis and more. But these 3 are the essential components for mitochondrial enhancement.
As there’s no readily available calories to be found from food, the body will release more AMPK and thus has to work harder to maintain energy levels. A state of abstinence forces you to seek a solution to the emergency by shifting into ketosis.
The body can use both fatty acids and carbohydrates as fuel. However, there’s a third molecular produce that reigns supreme over both of them.
In a nutshell, ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body has shifted from using glucose as the primary fuel source into supplying its energy demands with ketone bodies.
Ketosis is an altered, but still natural, metabolic state that occurs either over a prolonged period of fasting or by restricting carbohydrate intake significantly, usually up to less than 50 grams per day [iv].
Burning fatty acids in the Krebs cycle (the furnace of the mitochondria where the conversion of ATP happens) creates ketone bodies, some of which, like beta-hydroxybutyrate can produce 25% more energy.
Ketosis increases mitochondrial density because you’ll be using fat as your primary fuel source. You’ll improve the efficiency of your cellular power plants because of getting fuel directly from your adipose tissue. It’s the other side of the coin to fasting and can be accomplished by following a ketogenic diet as well.
For your body to induce mitochondrial biogenesis, you have to give it a reason to do so. There needs to be a physiological necessity for becoming a fusion power plant.
Both endurance and strength training increases fatty acid oxidation that instigates an increase in mitochondrial density[v]. However, there are even other physiological adaptations that occur with lifting weights.
Resistance training is a stimulus for increased protein synthesis and muscle growth. Now why is that good? A part from getting stronger and looking awesome, lean tissue is an amazing predictor of longevity, increased metabolism and bone density.
Having to lift a 400 pound barbell from the floor requires you to contract practically all of the muscle fibers of your body. Your nerve cells and brain neurons will also be firing at the speed of light. During that time you’re producing immense amounts of energy, which needs to be facilitated in some way i.e. mitochondrial biogenesis.
During rest, our muscles start to use more fatty acids for fuel. When fat burning increases so does the amount of Uncoupling Protein-3 in our muscles. As little as 15-hours of fasting enhances the gene expression for UP-3 by 5-fold[vi]. In this case we’ll be using ketones to feed our lean tissue more effectively.
High Intensity Interval Training
By the similar token, for your body to adapt, the stimulus has to be great enough. You have to encounter resistance that actually forces you to ramp up its metabolic processes in the first place.
Steady state cardio done over the course of many hours will definitely improve your fat oxidation and thus augment your mitochondria. However, it’s not optimal nor the best way to do it.
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a low volume type of exercise regime that incorporates short bursts of near maximum intensity followed by momentary recovery periods done over the course of just a few minutes. Tabata-like protocols improve both the anaerobic and aerobic fitness at the expense of less time [vii].
Mitochondrial biogenesis will occur already within 24 hours of maximal intensity exercise [viii]. The degree of difficulty is just so intense that HIIT resembles resistance training physiologically with the addition of improved cardiovascular fitness.
You should combine both aerobic exercises as well as resistance training, as it causes significantly greater mitochondrial biogenesis than endurance exercise alone[ix]. Check out my book Keto Bodybuilding that includes doing resistance training and HIIT on a ketogenic diet.
The key way to prompt AMPK is to make your body enhance its bioenergetic production. So it is with exposure to cold. To maintain homeostasis, a state of inner equilibrium, we’ll begin to create our own heat in response to lower temperatures. It increases brown fat[x], which speeds up the metabolism and burns energy to produce heat, which doesn’t happen with regular white fat[xi]. Additionally, norepinephrine gets released as well, which is a hormone that boosts your energy, focus, mood and sleep cycles[xii]. It can also trigger neurogenesis, which improves your memory[xiii].
One hour of head-out water immersion in water of 14 degrees Celsius increases metabolic rate by 350%[xiv], plasma norepinephrine by 530% and dopamine by 250%.
From the perspective of mitochondrial density, cold exposure puts higher energy demands on the body and increases fat oxidation. But most significantly it teaches the body how to use its own inner furnace to produce heat. It literally makes our mitochondria into power plants of blazing fire.
Hypoxia is basically a state of deficient oxygen reaching the tissues. If you’re lacking air to breath, then you’re having to work extra hard to give the cells of your body enough „prana.“
Transient hypoxia stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis in brain subcortex[xv]. “It can stimulate the expression of PGC-1α and mitochondrial biogenesis in the cardiac myocytes, and this process might provide a potential adaptive mechanism for cardiac myocytes to increase ATP output and minimize hypoxic damage to the heart[xvi].”
Using training masks for hypoxic training have been found inefficient. For your performance to increase, you would have to train in high altitudes for several weeks at a time[xvii]. Don’t think that looking like Bane will give you superpowers because it won’t.
Instead, you can promote mitochondrial density and improve the oxygen flow to your brain by becoming more efficient with your respiratory process. Breathing is the gateway between the conscious and the subconscious mind and can control the autonomic nervous system.
Deep belly breathing stimulates the rest and digest mode, which reduces stress, thus preserving your cells, and reduces the rate of your respiration. Yogis consider breath to be finite, meaning that it’s not meant to be wasted, the sooner you’ll run out of prana, you’ll run out of life.
Food for Thought and Mitochondrial Density
The single most effective way of improving the functioning of your cellular power plants is to become a fat burning beast. It upregulates AMPK and turns you into a bioenergetic machine that’s capable of always producing its own energy, thus thriving in situations of caloric deprivation.
From the perspective of evolution, adapting to periods of intermittent fasting was one of the driving forces of our cellular biogenesis. Coupled with feasting and eating high fat foods, our neocortex also got bigger at the expense of decreased gut size[xviii].
Fatty acids provide cleaner fuel in the Krebs cycle, as opposed to glucose that by-produces free radicals and advanced glycation end-products, which promote inflammation. Inflammation is the biggest enemy for the mitochondria, every cell within the body, really.
Building mitochondrial density should fundamentally start with nutrition. Food is a source of electrons that influences the body’s electromagnetic balance, thus determining bioenergetics.
Eating low-inflammatory ketogenic foods is a sure way of creating a fat-burning engine inside your body. The increased nutrient density will keep you satiated for longer and thus allows you to become more self-sufficient with your own fuel supply, which is key for mitochondrial density.
Maintaining Good Mitochondrial Health
Before you rush out the door to do heavy resistance training, in a fasted state, inside a cyrochamber, while holding your breath, it would be better to first practice via negativa. It’s about deducing the negative, before starting to add in the positive. Losing the activities that are causing mitochondrial degeneration is quintessential, as it doesn’t matter how hard you try, if you still have loopholes inside your power plant.
- Expose yourself to more negative ions. They’re oxygen atoms with an extra electron and have a wide range of mitochondrial benefits, such as increased sense of well-being, more energy, focus, better respiration and sleep. Naturally, they can be found in environments of sunlight, water and clean air but they can also be generated using ionizing machines.
- Avoid blue light as much as possible, it’s devastating to mitochondrial health and increases the risk for cancer, neurodegenerative disease, diabetes and obesity. Why? Because its like glaring directly into the sun – your cells will start burning off their candle. This is especially important in the evening after sunset. Blue light makes our body think it’s still daytime and thus influences specific hormones associated with the circadian rhythms.
- Adjust to the circadian rhythms. Day and night cycles trigger specific hormones and physiological process within us. For instance, in the morning we produce more cortisol to wake up. At night time, we increase melotonin, which is the sleep hormone. That’s why it’s important to avoid blue light after sunset, so that your subconscious mind could rewind and prepare for sleep.
- Drink good water. The best way would be to get it straight from the source, from a spring with negative ions in it. Tap water is definitely one of the worst options, as fluride degrades the efficiency of the hypothalamus, which regulates the nervous system, thus influencing cellular functioning as well.
- Avoid inflammation like wildfire. Inflammation is correlated with most diseases, as it directly decreases the body’s immune system. Don’t eat foods high in omega-6 fatty acids, don’t use very high temperatures to cook your food, don’t eat grain products and processed carbohydrates.
- Take care of your gut. On the flip side, a healthy microbiome is the greatest predictor of longevity and health. Eat fibrous leafy green vegetables, use quality fat and protein and add in some fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kambucha etc.
Building Mitochondrial Density for Life
That’s practically it. Expose yourself to stressors more often and you’ll force your body to become stronger. As you can see, we get better in chaos and volatility – we’re antifragile by nature. Our biology has the ability to self-regulate itself to the dreadful conditions of our environment. On the flip side, if we lose the stimuli, we’ll degrade the functioning of our organism.
The key notion of this article is that we shouldn’t avoid discomfort and strenous situations. As in the case of every single strategy here, adaptation requires exposure to stress.
Increased mitochondrial density is incredibly important for improving the effectiveness of everything you do. Energy is essential not only for survival but to also for thrival. To have enough willingness and ability to do awesome things, you need to also have an empowering power plant, as it all starts from the cellular level.
[vi] Tunstall RJ, et al. Fasting activates the gene expression of UCP3 independent of genes necessary for lipid transport and oxidation in skeletal muscle. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 2002; 294:301-308