82: Nutrition for the ADHD Brain with Karl Pilz

Nutrition for the ADHD Brain, with Karl Pilz | ADHD reWired

82: Nutrition for the ADHD Brain with Karl Pilz

with Karl Pilz

With a focus on nutrition for the busy and business-minded, Karl Pilz joins Eric to break down the basics of how the foods we eat can have a dramatic effect on the way we are able to think and operate. Covering the mechanics of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids, Karl connects their effects to focus, alertness, confidence, bodily health, and even sleep quality.

About Karl Pilz:

  • Karl Pilz is the founder of, a website dedicated to helping those having a hard time balancing their life, business, and nutrition.

  • Also host of the I’m Too Busy for Nutrition podcast, Karl tailors his episodes toward entrepreneurs and particularly busy individuals in need of nutrition advice.

  • Not properly watching his diet while allowing work and business to control his life, Karl ended up weighing 227 pounds and concerned about his health.

  • Diving into the world of nutrition, Karl researched and changed his diet resulting in him losing 53 pounds.

  • Growing up, Karl remembers being a particularly anxious, nervous, and sometimes depressed child, though he also noticed having short periods of time wherein he was more energetic. Karl had friends who he saw as constantly outgoing and energetic and wondered why he couldn’t be that way all the time as well.

  • After spending years in the corporate world, Karl saw much of his energy and focus deteriorating.

  • When he began to realize how much his diet and nutrition made a difference toward his energy level, he directed a lot of his focus to researching the mechanics of how food interacts with the body.

  • Leveraging his undergraduate experience in engineering, he viewed the body and food as a system to break down and analyze in order to figure out how it works. “It has inputs and outputs and it has different ways that different systems relate to each other.[…] It’s not that hard to figure out from a metabolic standpoint.”

A Starting Point:

  • Knowing how the body normally supposed to function is an important first step when figuring out where to go with one’s diet. Then, from that point, one can begin to analyze what differences are present in their body from what is supposed to happen.

  • Everyone’s body is different.

  • One strategy is called an “elimination diet”. One begins with a diet consisting of mainly benign foods that the vast majority of people have no reactions to, then they incrementally add back in individual elements of their old diet to see what, if any, reaction occurs.

  • Years ago, Eric read a book by Vince Monastra that discussed the effects nutrition has on the brain. Based on that information, he experimented with his diet – specifically his breakfast – and found a clear difference.

  • Eric switched from his cereal, fruit, and lot-of-coffee breakfast to a specific protein shake recipe.

  • Eric: Eating well usually takes time, planning, and executive functioning skills that are specifically challenging for those with ADHD.

Motivation and the Immediacy of Nutrition:

  • Karl: “It’s when we don’t understand something, that there’s all this stress around it. When we know the process of arriving at an answer, then there’s no stress about the question.”

  • Seeing that most people are too busy to create an ideal diet is what motivated Karl to make his I’m Too Busy for Nutrition podcast.

  • Focusing on his “80/20” rule, Karl tries to optimize dieting so people can spend the 20% effort required to receive 80% of the benefits and do so in a short period of time.

  • Rather than try motivating people by focusing on decades in the future, Karl aims to provide tips that will yield results – in terms of feeling better – within 20–30 minutes.

  • “If you can make yourself feel better in a half an hour by what you’re eating right now, that’s a lot clearer goal [and] reward you’ll get for doing something good.”

Brain Chemicals:

  • Most of our feelings of energy and clarity are directly influenced by brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, and other endorphins. If we can raise them to higher levels though food, we can also raise our energy and focus.

  • The correct foods can increase the levels of those brain chemicals while the wrong foods can destroy them.

  •  Serotonin in the brain’s natural anti-depressant. When one has high levels of serotonin, they’re generally feeling confident and optimistic.

  • Dopamine and adrenaline are the brain’s focus and action chemicals. With high levels of those, people have a lot of energy, concentration, and clarity – less fogginess.

  • Endorphins provide people the ability to enjoy their lives and “feel the rush”.

  • All of these brain chemicals are built with amino acids found in protein. Beef, chicken, fish, beans, and dairy, amongst many other options, are good sources for these building blocks.

  • Upon consuming protein, in a steak for instance, it is broken down into amino acids that, when combined with vitamins, then creates the chemicals that affect the brain.

  • “Amino acids + vitamins = brain chemicals”

    • Tryptophan + vitamins = serotonin

    • Tyrosine + vitamins = adrenaline and dopamine

    • Phenylalanine + vitamins = endorphins

  • With meals consisting primarily of non-protein-rich foods like cereal,  pasta, coffee, and pizza, people don’t provide themselves with the building blocks necessary to create the chemicals necessary to optimize their brains.

Carbohydrates, Sugar, and Insulin:

  • All carbohydrates we eat are ultimately broken down into sugar inside the body. (This is what contributes to blood sugar.)

  • Karl places carbohydrates into two categories: “quick carbs” and “slow carbs”. What makes the difference between the two is fiber.

  • Fiber slows the digestion of carbohydrates. So, high fiber foods, like fruit, create a sort of slow drip of sugar into our system. “It’s kind of like an I.V. drip of sugar into our blood stream.”

  • A slow, controlled delivery of sugar into our bloodstream is how our bodies respond best.

  • When people eat sugary foods, sodas, candy, cookies, and white carbohydrates like white bread, rice, pasta, crackers, pretzels, rice cakes – foods made with white flower – their bodies receive a flood of “quick carbs”,

  • Sugar by itself has no natural fiber and the “white” carbohydrates have most or all of their fiber stripped out via manufacturing.

  • When a person consumes a lot of carbohydrates without much fiber, their sugar intake, and thus their blood sugar, spikes. If one’s blood sugar rises beyond a normal range, their body will deploy insulin to control and reduce it. The insulin redistributes the excess blood sugar from the blood into the body’s cells – the vast majority of which are fat cells.

  • In addition to removing the excess sugar from our blood, insulin will also remove amino acids along with it.

  • Because amino acids aren’t immediately used following consumption of protein-rich food, they can be removed by insulin spurred forth by a spike of sugar and carbohydrates before the brain has a chance to be affected by them.

  • So, eating a steak and white rice or potatoes can have a nullifying effect on the advantages of the steak. Karl suggests green beans with butter or a salad with cheese, bacon, dressing, or nuts.

Quick vs. Slow Carbohydrates:

  • When looking to buy cereal or bread, for example, you would want to look for options with slow carbohydrates.

  • Check the food’s label for both the amount of carbohydrates and the amount of fiber in one serving size. A good ratio to look for is three grams of fiber per twenty grams of carbohydrates.

  • Karl cautions against a slippery slope effect potentially stemming from people who make small exceptions to the “three grams of fiber per twenty grams of carbs” rule; even if it’s 2.8 grams, he suggests not choosing it.

  • One rule Karl has for most people is to consume 25 grams or less of carbohydrates per meal. Often grains and similar foods will be portioned close to that amount per serving, making this relatively easy.

Benefits of Fat, Fewer Snacks:

  • Fat regulates our appetite through the hormone leptin. When fat is consumed, people’s leptin levels rise and their hunger decreases.

  • For decades, many people have been told to adopt low fat diets, but they tend to come with increased appetite due to that lack of fat.

  • A decreased appetite can lead to less of a need to have snacks throughout the day, which Karl cites as a major contributing factor leading to increased weight gain.

  • Eric notes that after dropping an energy bar snack from his daily diet he lost around ten pounds over a period of time.

  • Karl rails against the unhealthy protein and energy bars that have sometimes upwards of forty grams of carbohydrates.

  • In a protein bar, Karl would like to see a lot more than ten grams of protein – closer to 25 – and it would need to maintain the three-to-twenty fiber–carbohydrate ratio.

Protein Amounts:

  • A person’s body can only process so much protein at once, so Karl recommends a limit of about forty grams per meal.

  • One-half gram of protein per pound of body weight is Karl’s recommended ratio for protein consumption. Alternatively, he suggests men consume between thirty and forty grams at each meal, while a smaller-size woman should consume about 25 grams of protein at each meal.

Gluten Sensitivity:

  • Previously, the consensus concerning gluten was that a person either had celiac disease, where they cannot eat gluten, or they did not have celiac disease, wherein there would be no effect of eating gluten. In the last five to ten years, that understanding has changed a bit.

  • Karl thinks that there are many levels of gluten sensitivity and they can vary greatly from person to person.

  • Coincidentally, gluten is commonly found in many of the otherwise quick-carbohydrate-filled foods that people would benefit from removing from their diets anyway; when people switch to a gluten-free diet they usually lose weight as a side-effect because of this.

  • Karl: Un-accommodated gluten sensitivities can lead to focus and energy issues in those with ADHD and autism while also causing cravings.


  • When people are sleep deprived they will tend to crave more carbohydrates, especially the ones that burn quickly.

  • During sleep deprivation, the body initiates its stress response as if the person were in danger, raising up levels of cortisol. This causes the body to think it needs energy to escape the danger.

  • The mind’s ability to fall into deep sleep is affected by the body’s ability to produce melatonin. Melatonin is created through the amino acid tryptophan, the same as serotonin.

  • When people eat food that compromises their body’s ability to make tryptophan and other brain chemicals, they are setting themselves up to damage their ability to sleep well.

  • A little bit of carbohydrates can be useful prior to sleep for promoting quality sleep, but only in limited amounts. Karl mentions milk as a nice choice, as it contains both protein and carbohydrates to clear sort of a path for tryptophan to reach the brain. This only works in very low amounts, however.

  • Also, eating too many carbohydrates and causing the body to deploy insulin can then cause a blood sugar crash if the insulin removed too much. These crashes negatively affect the ability to sleep deeply.

  • Eating, for instance, a bowl of cereal before bed is a bad idea.


  • Karl: The research and science surrounding how the body digests, processes, and creates chemicals from foods is solid. It’s the research surrounding certain food’s effects on those with disorders and diseases that is newly emerging.

  • While there are some exciting developments and research happening on the side of how nutrition affects disorders and diseases, it’s still ultimately in the early stages.

Random Question Round:

  • What unique invention would you like to see made or improved upon?

  • What would be the most brain-healthy meal you could make and who would you want to eat it with?

  • What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Products, Services, and Other Links:

Find and Contact Karl Pilz:

Other information:

  • Eric has set September 14th as the start date of the Fall 2015 session of the ADHD reWired Coaching and Accountability Group. If you are interested in reserving a spot in the group, visit

  • Eric is collecting videos describing people’s experiences with CHADD. If you are currently involved with CHADD, record a video however you wish (horizontally, please!) of you describing your relationship to ADHD and what CHADD does for you. Send it to Eric via Facebook, Twitter, or email here: [email protected].

  • Help CHADD, an ADHD organization dedicated to improving the lives of those with ADHD through useful research and support, by donating to their fundraising campaign here:

  • Visit for Carolyn D’Argenio’s list of her top audio-book picks, complete with preview links.

  • Connect with people virtually using Eric’s favorite video conferencing and connectivity platform, Zoom, by visiting – the basic service is totally free.

  • If you want you hear your question or comment on a future episode, go to and look for the comment form, or click on the yellow button for either “Be a Guest” or “Record your question”.

  • Are you looking for a coach? You can schedule a free 20-minute consultation with Eric. Go to and click the blue “Schedule an Appointment” button


  • Northern Illinois chapter of CHADD

    • Third Monday of every month at 6:45 PM

    • Grayslake, Illinois

(CHADD does not endorse this podcast)

Use my affiliate link for your favorite titles:

ADHD reWired Coaching and Accountability Groups (ArC)

New Sessions Start 4 times per year. Registration is by invitation only. Please visit to learn more.  Click the button at to get added to the invite list.  

Adult Study Hall (ASH) Membership Community

Join ADHD reWired’s virtual co-working community. ASH 24/7 is always open. We have a variety of faciliated sessions for extra structure in your work. Learn more at

Support the Podcast on Patreon

Patreon allows listeners like you to support content creators like me. Want ad-free episodes? It’s only $5 per month. Want to join a monthly coaching call? It’s only $25 per month.  Learn more at

ADHD reWired Facebook Group:

If you would like to apply to join the ADHD reWired Secret Facebook group, go to and fill out the application.

Live Q  & A

Get your ADHD questions answered live! These Q&A sessions take place on the 2nd Tuesday of every month at 12:30 PM CT. Go to

Want to be a guest?

Hey! What about you? Do you have a story? Are you a coach? Are you an ADHD Clinician? If you answered yes to any of these questions and you’d like to be a guest, schedule a pre-interview call here.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe for Email Updates

I’ve got some great tools and strategies I’d love to share with you. I’ll also share with you new podcast episodes with a summary of the episode.