Easy Paleo Chow, and Ethics, Reason, and the Erosion of Government Relevance

No more than a single iron skillet and a few minutes of prep time for these two.  Grass-fed eye of chuck, butternut squash and cauliflower mix, free-range pork sausage, roasted free-range chicken quarters and a little sweet potato.  Good meals, and plenty of leftovers to boot.

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By the way, you’ll notice that there’s very little here — content or proportion — recommended by the USDA’s newly updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans report.  *Sigh*…what is there to say about this document?  Selling-out the American people to perpetuate the vicious cycle of lobby-subsidy is not what I consider — how to put this? — ethical? There’s just too much freely available knowledge out there (with experts to explain it) for me to believe that this “guideline” was the end result of a lack of intelligence.  No, this is all about greed at the expense of the nation’s health.

Jimmy Moore has a good summary of the new guidelines, here.  No surprise, really — high carb., low fat, yada, yada, yada…

Now, combine these brain-trust “guidelines” with the reality that is the state of America’s physical readiness, and we have the makings for an immanent, healthcare disaster on our collective hands.  And make no mistake, everyone will suffer the hit — physically, financially, in loss of personal freedom via increased government “interaction”, or a combination of all of the above — you name it.  And, unfortunately, no one will be immune — even the most healthy and knowledgeable among us will feel the sting.

And speaking of America’s (lack of) physical readiness, Mary Collins — author of American Idle (love that title!) — sums-up the topic nicely in the clip below.  Hat tip to University of North Dakota S&C coach Aaron Schwenzfeir for the clip find.

Just makes me shake my head, wondering how we ever sunk into such a mess.  How is it that any entity, government or otherwise, can perpetuate such pseudo-science over a populace?  How does a populace become dumbed-down and weakened (spiritually, and physically) so?  Well, here’s an oldie-but-goodie (yeah, 2-years is old in the internet age, I suppose) from one of my favorite current political “thinkers”, Susan Jacoby.

Ignorance may very well be bliss, but it’s sure as hell costly — in more ways than one.

The thing is, truly intelligent people see through this lobby-subsidy, greed-and-graft inspired smokescreen.  And established organizations — whether it’s the government as a whole, the USDA, or other establishments/organizations (for example, the NSCA) — are becoming increasingly more irrelevant as clearing houses for credible, non-biased, information.  I just want the truth, warts and all, whether it agrees with my preconceived notions or not.  Spun “truth”, filtered “truth” does me no good.  Of what relevance are these organizational filters to me, when I can search out credible information on my own?  The Paleo movement is the poster child for this loosely-grouped, n=1 information sharing.  Who needs these other “official” entities/middle-men when I’m fully sufficient in the art of reason, and plugged into a network of intelligent, n=1 “scientists”, each willing to share their findings for no more the cost than for me to do the same in return?

Tracking Insulin Response?

I’ve often been asked, in various forms and fashions, why I don’t bother with tracking my insulin response to various consumption and/or activity inputs and events.  My response has always been, “what’s the point?”  The fact of the matter is that insulin will increase even following a strict Paleo meal — hell, insulin will increase in response to a tough workout.  Yes, insulin is the “mac daddy” hormone within the overall metabolic cascade, however, the modifying factor here is what that insulin is in the presence of, and this leads us back to what was consumed (or, maybe more importantly, what was not consumed).  In any event, Robb Wolf and Andy Deas cover this idea (among a slew of other topics) thoroughly in episode 23 of Robb and Andy’s Paleolithic Solution, podcast.

It’s my belief that one needs to track a questionable substance’s affect upon one’s body composition via a weeks-long n=1 assessment; tracking short term insulin response to that substance really isn’t going to give you very much practical information to work with.  Think dairy might be your bug-a-boo?  Cut it out for a while, and note how you respond.

Now I’m the biggest Paleo-geek there is, but the real-life, fact-of-the-matter is that we all have to function within the constraints of the real world.  Are you really going to tote a glucometer around for the rest of your natural-born days?  Look, I know that if I want to get ultra-cut, all I need to do to to eliminate my beer consumption (sad, but oh so true!), and up my sprint sessions.  No amount of glucometer-jockeying would have told me that — simple n=1 experimentation lead me to this conclusion.

By the way, huge hat tip to Brent Pottenger (the healthcare epistemocrat) for so deftly verbalizing and defining the n=1 concept as it applies to self-experimentation.

Another On-the-Fly, Paleo Chow Dinner –

One small sweet potato, one onion, a pound of grass-fed ground beef, olive oil, Tropical Traditions coconut cream concentrate, 1 can of coconut milk, raw butter, 1 packet (dry) Lipton mushroom onion soup.

Once again, I’m a piss-poor excuse for a gourmet; I’m sure as hell not going to starve, though, or cave to quick-fix, fast-food.  The above is what I happened to have on hand when I got home from work (among some other various items), so I set about an impromptu session in food bricolage.  Hat-tip x 2 to Brent for his ongoing commentary  honoring the Paleo bricoleur.

Anyway, nothing much, here: thin-cut and “stir fry” (in the olive oil, coconut cream and butter mix) the sweet spud; remove and set aside.  Same treatment to the onion, then add-in the ground beef and cook until about half done.  Pepper heavily.  Add-in the soup and coconut mix and simmer the concoction until ” all-the-way done”.  Ladled the meat-mix over the spud, and chowed-down.  Not too damn bad, if I do say so myself.  Note: the dry soup is not celiac-friendly, nor particularly Paleo-friendly, for that matter.  It is, in my opinion, one of those dose-relevant ingredients, though, and the amount used, relative to the meal, was negligible.

Some pics:

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Genetics, Epigenetics, and the Intersection of Athleticism and Musculature

“Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don’t know.” – Bertrand Russell

Weight gain, musculature and athleticism — who (or, more appropriately, what) is driving the bus here, anyway?  As long as there have been athletes in training, and coaches training them — and tangible rewards for winning involved —  this has been the speculative “center of the universe” within the S&C community.  As a way of prefacing my thoughts on the matter, check-out these links.  They represent two sides of the nature/nurture “teeter-toter”, if you will.

First up, Chris (of Conditioning Research) recently highlighted an interesting study on the genetic differences between elite endurance athletes and elite sprinters, especially variations of the NRF2 gene.  This seemingly gives a nod to the notion of an athlete’s being “born” rather than made.

Then, in The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton (an absolutely fabulous book — most highly recommended reading), the author postulates that:

“…genes and DNA do not control our biology; that instead DNA is controlled by signals from outside the cell, including the energetic messages emanating from our positive and negative thoughts…”

Now, keep these seemingly contrasting ideas in your mind for a moment as we look over the following two questions — representative of the many I get on this subject:

TTP reader Joe Madden asks:

“…I just had some questions abou gaining muscle. Right now, I weigh 119lbs and am trying out for college football as a cornerback in august. Seeing that you were in track and field and football in college and are living the paleo life, i was wondering what you would suggest in the case of someone who wants put on a good deal of muscle mass while staying lean and healthy. A lot of people have told me to eat more carbs,  and that health should take a back seat, but to be a cornerback I have to be fast and lean.

Next up is Julian.  Though rather long, I’ve included the whole of Julian’s question here, as it covers a lot of ground and aspects of the health/sporting-specificity/weight gain continuum that field frequently:

Let me first say that I am new to your website and that I am quite impressed. I think your knowledge of each of the subjects I’m interested in is amazing. I should start by letting you know that I am kind of new to all of this; paleo/crossfit/healthy lifestyle stuff, but I am very interested and I think your site is going to help me get to where I want to be in regards to all the above mentioned. Let me also apologize for the length of this question, I want to be as specific as possible since my issue is somewhat complex and unique. It is my hope that you would take the time out of your busy schedule to help me to determine if my plan and approach is going to be fruitful. Briefly here is my situation; I have a 14 year old son, who as freshman in high school is currently participating in wrestling and football. He currently weighs 112 lbs. and is 5’3” tall. It is our goal to get him into a strength training program during the offseason that would have his weight up to 140 lbs. by August 2010 (for football season), but also have him reduce down to 125 lbs. or so, starting in mid December( for wrestling season).

Just to provide a little background about my son he is naturally lean (9-12% bodyfat) and has some experience with weight training(Oly lifts), as he was at strength and conditioning facility for several months last year. He has always been active and has participated in Pop Warner since the age of 9.

I plan to accomplish the weight increase by allowing for lots of food and milk, mostly healthy food intake but not too strict. I don’t wish to put him on a full time Paleo eating plan as he has been raised on a standard American diet and I don’t want to have him too frustrated with the whole idea of offseason training on account of a new “strict diet”. I will supervise and coach him during a 5×5 linear strength program(Started Feb 2010) with the intent on obtaining a good base strength. The only lifts involved will be the squat, deadlift, OHP, bench press, and powercleans. I should also mention that his weight increase is intended to be lean muscle, and should not interfere with speed or agility and will put him in the 15% bodyfat range (I assume). He will be playing cornerback, running back, and wide receiver, so size is not intended to be excessive.

I plan to accomplish the weight loss in approximately two months time (starting in mid December 2010 and ending in early February 2011). My plan is to take him from an unweighed, un measured, eat everything you want diet, to a progressively strict, slightly reduced calorie, low carb paleo type diet. I suspect that the reduction in food intake won’t be too much of a problem as he already experienced a little of that this past season. However it may be difficult to reduce the complex carbohydrates and sugars in the beginning. He is however pretty disciplined and determined when he needs to be. And as a side note his current sugar intake is pretty minimal, we don’t have sodas in the house and cookies and such are pretty seldom as well. Lastly it should be noted that as soon as I try to football season starts I plan to cease the original strength training program and switch to more of a crossfit like program for only three days per week.

Now I guess I have two questions for you.
1)Is this plan of having two different weight classes for the two different sports going to be a healthy? (As you can see I project him to go from 140lbs in Dec 2010 to 125lbs in Feb 2011)
2)If the above plan is achieved. How do I go about managing his energy levels during tournaments? Specifically if I have him on a low carb diet, what is the best way to ensure that he gets refueled during the hour or so between matches?

I am currently at the beginning stages of a paleo/primal way of eating and living myself, so I am not confident yet in how to manage the energy, nutrition, and growth of a teenage boy. I am hoping to maximize his performance in both sports in a way that does not provide too much a change in lifestyle and does not leave him with limited energy levels. Thank you for taking the time to read my lengthy question.

Nature vs nurture/stimulus.  What can we affect to any significance and what do we have to accept as an unalterable “given”?  If there’s anything akin to a universal truth in the world of strength and conditioning, it’s this: the sport chooses the athlete, the athlete does not choose the sport.  Gifted (in an athletic sense) kids quite naturally gravitate towards “sporting play” whereas their not-so-inclined peers will drift into endeavors that favor their own particular gifts.  In a continuance of this theme, young athletes will quite naturally drift into endeavors that are best-matches for the athlete’s abilities.  So far, so good.  But we run into problems when we, as athletes and/or coaches, attempt to shoehorn near-fit athletes into into endeavors that may lay just outside their wheelhouse.  Many times this is due to cultural and/or financial biasing: I wonder how many potential world-class soccer players muddled through so-so careers as American football defensive backs.  How many potential NHL mega-stars are preparing to suit-up for spring football drills in the west Texas oil patch — the same kids who may never play a competitive down in their life past high school?  Square pegs, round holes.

My mantra for training kids is this: train athleticism, give as wide an exposure to various athletic outlets as possible, and let the pieces fall where they may.  It has been my observation that bone structure and ligament/tendon insertion reside on the unalterable side of the fence.  You just can’t do much about an athlete’s predisposed scaffolding.  To a lesser extent is the ability to gain, maintain and innervate muscle tissue (myostatin levels may be essentially fixed).  All else, though, I feel is truly alterable.  To what extent, though, I don’t know.  My gut feeling is that these remaining attributes are plastic, and can be significantly influenced.  In that we may not yet realize how to best go about affecting these changes is what makes this field so interesting to me.  Here’s an older post, covering similar ground.

So what to do with an athlete who “needs” to gain weight?  It has been my observation, in the 30+ years that I’ve been in and around athletics, that any attempt at forced weight gain will ultimately fail, and fail quite miserably.  Weight gain (and yes, even muscle gain) without an underlying increased athletic demand necessitating that gain, only makes for a less powerful, less “athletic”, athlete.  My advice in the two instances above is to train what is essentially required (explosive power, and explosive power endurance), and let weight gain “chase” the improvements made pushing the training envelope.  Athleticism will never chase weight gain; it may seem as thus to the casual observer, but I can assure you that this is an illusion.

To be sure, though, the weight-gain engine can be properly primed, here — it just cannot be forced.  It goes without saying that tough (yet sensible) training should be coupled with a slightly hyper-caloric, Paleo diet.  Don’t force-feed, but let the trainee eat to satiation.  I can’t over-emphasis the need, in this instance, to take in an abundance of good fats.  Also, at this stage in one’s training, I’d advice taking in a good amount of raw dairy from grass-fed animals — if it can be tolerated.  If you can’t get your hands on raw (unpasteurized) dairy from grass-fed animals (cows and/or goats), then don’t bother.  Pasteurization kills the enzymes within dairy that potentate weight gain (and render it a “dead” food, and grain-fed animals will have a badly skewed omega-6 to omega-3 profile.

On the flip-side of this, we have the question of weight loss.  Two things to consider, here: if the athlete gained good, productive weight to begin with, why in the world would we want to force a shedding of that weight?  I fully understand the need to make weight class, but I believe this amount of weight here (15 lbs) is excessive.  Either the athlete will have gained 15 lbs of useless weight to begin with (making for an inefficient athlete at that weight), or the athlete has been forced to shed useful muscle, making for a weaker athlete even at the new, lower weight. A couple of pounds here and there I ‘m good with, and to shed some water weight to make class is certainly advisable and well within reason.  My advice is to train the athlete to be his best, most powerful self — striving, as always, to hit the power-to-bodyweight sweet-spot — and then play and/or wrestle at whatever weight that happens to be.  The fact of the matter is, to pursue a course otherwise will ultimately end in futility.  Again, let weight chase athleticism. Make mico weight adjustments as need be — fine.  I truly believe that an athlete will perform better at the low end of a higher weight class, than he will be shedding too much weight to make the upper end of a lower class.  The strength loss that accompanies muscle loss is exponential in nature.  Just my observation/opinion.   If the diet is essentially Paleo in nature — and by that I mean, at a minimum, the elimination of sugar and refined carbohydrates — then there quite simply won’t be the need to diet-down much.  I’m well aware of the old wrestling ritual, but remember that this came about as the result of athletes fueling on the SAD.

As far as between match (or halftime) nutrition, nothing beats organic pemmican, made from grass-fed beef and tallow.  Paleo kits would work in a pinch, but in this case I’d opt for the higher fat content of the pemmican.   Note that these are options for a fully Paleo-converted athlete.  Attempting to refuel a sugar-burner with a high-fat, between-match snack will end in disaster.

The truth of the matter is that there really aren’t any half measures, here — one can’t be “a little bit Paleo” — the body simply doesn’t fuel that way on an enzymatic level.  Everything that I’ve stated above is predicated on the notion of the athlete being a fully-converted fat-burner; different (old school) strategies will be required for the handling of a sugar-burner.  The first step, then, is a commitment from the athlete to a full-on conversion.  It’s never too early, in my opinion, for potential athletes to learn that half-measures will only produce lackluster results — it simply cannot be otherwise.

Any other ideas?  This is a huge subject, covering lots of ground, and I’ve simply scratched the surface.  Let’s kick this one around a bit and see what the TTP community thinks.

In health,

Of Dolphins and Diabetes…and Being “That Guy”

“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.” – Will Durant

Great post here by Peter (of Hyperlipid), in reference to this BBC story (Dolphins Have Diabetes Off Switch).  Peter pretty much sums-up all that needs to be said about this; no need for me to elaborate any further.  I’ll just add that NPR Science Friday aired this show recently, about the same subject, so if you’re interested, you can check that out as well.  Poor dolphins; next thing you know, we’ll be trying to force vegetarianism down their gullets – all in the name of “saving” them from the ravages of disease, of course.  Sheesh.

Which leads me to this thought: why haven’t I been posting much on the diet front?  I mean, sure, I’ll Twitter-up a photo now and again of a meal or report on this eat or that, but…

…but the thing is, there really isn’t that much to say on that front that isn’t already well covered by a host of other fine folks (see my blogroll, to the right).  I eat in a raw-dairy-included, Paleo way, plain and simple.  I don’t try to craft Paleo knock-offs of SAD standards — that’s just not my way… I don’t feel that it’s  wrong, per se, it’s just not my way of doing business.  See Kurt’s recent post, Smoking Candy Cigarettes, for more on this mindset.   Kurt and I are on the same wavelength here.

I try, in my personal, daily dealings, to fly under the RADAR on the subject of physical culture in general, and of the Paleo lifestyle in particular.  If someone asks specifically about this or that, I’ll give them all they care to drink; unasked-for evangelism, though, you’ll not get from me.  However, sometimes situations develop that cast me, reluctantly, into the, “oh, that guy” spotlight.  How’s this for “one of those moments”?: You’re in the middle of a 12-hour work marathon (on a Saturday, no less) – plenty of “let’s all pull together” teamwork in the air, and with no real time to break for a meal.  Then, as a “thanks for going the extra mile” gesture, your boss orders in… what else?  Pizza.  Super nice folks, and a much appreciated gesture, but…

Yeah, if you’re Paleo, you’ve been there.  What did I do?  Well, as discretely as possible – while still trying my best to be appreciative (I truly was!) and sociable (I really do like these folks!) – I ate my PaleoKit (I keep them stashed at my desk for just this kind of an emergency), along with an avocado.  Did I stand out like a whore in church?  No doubt I did.  But I’ve got to be true to myself, too.  And that means no compromises — even if it does mean sometimes being that guy.

Now I’ve said it before, but this I truly believe: success on the diet front really is more about psychology than it is about manipulating physiology.  The nuts and bolts surrounding the physiological/biological aspects of diet – and of sustaining life, for that matter – although amazing, are established and well-known.  The human psyche, however, is want to run amuck.  Get the horse back in the corral, and all else will take care of itself.

And on the subject of human physiology/biology, who better to close-out this post than my smart and ultra-creative buds from Stanford.  I love these guys.  Just fantastic…

Re-Tooling the Internal Machinery for High-Octane, Paleo Fuel

“He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.”
Edmund Burke

The mind can either be a beautiful tool, or (and especially combined with an unchecked ego) be a hell of a thing to have to wrestle.  Psychological impediments to adopting a full-on Paleo lifestyle abound, and I’ve touched on a few of the more common of those “real life meets Paleo” sand traps and water hazards in this post.  All well and fine you say, but surveying the landscape from a purely intellectual standpoint, one might also have a hard time wrapping the mind around theses things: (1) that we as a society could have been so miserably lead astray by so called “nutritional authorities”, (2) that the government, universities, and otherwise intelligent, well-intentioned entities/people could be so thoroughly blinkered, and (3) that diet (writ large) can’t really be that easy, can it?

As to point #3 – well, actually, yes – it can be that easy.  Does it require upper-level collegiate work in nutritional science?  A Ph.D in Bio-chem?  Nah, just a little knowledge of pre-agricultural history will do – specifically, knowledge of what our ancestors consumed prior to the advent of agriculture – plus some rudimentary knowledge of the biological sciences and evolution theory; these few ingredients are all that are really required to facilitate an intellectual, dietary “awakening”.

Points 1 and 2 can be thoroughly addressed by a reading of Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. Now Taubes isn’t 100% spot-on (in my humble opinion, that is) in every aspect of the subject, but the few areas in which he does run afoul amount to mere trivialities relative to his overall work.  If you only read one diet book in your lifetime, make it this one.  No time to read the whole thing?  Understandable, as it is – even for an avid reader like me – a slog at times.  Fear not, though, because this article (hat tip to Ryon Day for the find), serves as a pretty good “Cliff Notes” version.

So we’ve rounded first base and the psychological barriers, turned second base’s intellectual hold-ups, and now we’re headed to third – those inherent (and dastardly) implementation issues; theory to practice, as it were – my favorite subject 😉

Overcoming The Initial, Physical Onslaught

In my experience, most all physical (as opposed to the previously covered psychological and intellectual) Paleo “fails” can be traced back to either (1) the inability to surmount the dreaded “carb jones”, and (2) the (sometimes) pronounced performance drop-offs immediately subsequent to initially “going Paleo”.  Of course, all factors have some element of the psychological, intellectual, as well as physical dimension – no single factor exists in a vacuum – and therefore, no factor can be so easily pigeon-holed.  There are true physiological issues to consider, though, with these two aspects.  Now If you’re like me, though, just knowing that I can attribute these happenings and cravings to part of a very real, and lager, physiological process, makes the corresponding/associated psychological aspect that much easier to deal with.

In simple terms (and I like simple!) what we’re dealing with here is nothing less than a re-tooling of the body’s machinery at the enzymatic level.  We’ve suddenly given this marvelously complex organism of the human body an abundance of high-octane, clean burning fuel (fatty acids), in lieu of the unrefined, sugar muck that the body has been forced to contend with for so many years.  Immediately we’re then hit with the need for a new breed of intermediaries (enzymes) to perform the mitochondria-appropriate conversion work that had been previously undertaken by the knuckle-dragging sugar brigade enzymes.  Unfortunately, this Pygmalion conversion doesn’t happen overnight…or over two nights.  A fortnight is more like it.

A little too folksy an explanation for you to stomach?  Hey, I understand.  These links will give you a little more in-depth explanation – with no Pygmalion references  🙂
Fatty acid metabolism
Fat storage and retrieval (Peter’s Hyperlipid is a fantastic blog, by the way.  Highly recommended)

As always, Good Calories, Bad Calories will clue you in to more than you need to know as well.

Anyhoo, while this “re-tooling” is on-going, guess what that body of yours is screaming for?  That’s right, the fuel it’s been programed for so long to rely primarilly upon – sugar – in all of its ghastly manifestations.  In truth, some people make the transition rather easily.  I was in that camp – a few pangs here and there, nothing horrible.  For others though, it’s a rough ride.

Ok, so what to do?

So we know that at the onset the Paleo neophyte will be to some extent deficient in the various fat metabolism enzymes, and that within a couple of weeks, this deficiency will naturally self-correct.  For whatever intellectual/psychological comfort that provides, fantastic.  At this point, I tell people not to worry about overeating (Paleo foods, of course) – and to make damn sure to overindulge in good fats.  Battling satiation issues on top of carbohydrate cravings is enough to bust the resolve of most neophytes.  So my advice is to leave satiation issues for another day (in most cases this will resolve quite naturally on its own anyway), and deal with shaking the sugar shackles.

In the troughs of a hella-jones, and don’t know what to do?  Here’s a simple and effective trick: a straight-up hit of good fat – a swig of olive oil or a hunk of (raw dairy) butter works well.  The all-time favorite “methadone” for the carb jones, though, is Artisana coconut butter.  I understand that Tropical Traditions carries a similar product, though I haven’t yet tried it.  I can vouch for some of their other products though, which are out-of-this-world good.  A small amount of macadamia or walnuts is another option, though be aware that as we go along we’ll want to begin limiting nut consumption.  For now though, just view that as another hurdle for another day.  Also, some people are sensitive to coffee (caffeine in general) in that consumption of caffeine will trigger a strong desire for carbohydrates.  Personally I wasn’t affected (too much) by this, but I have heard enough anecdotal evidence to know that it is another concern to be aware of.  The caffeine-sugar combo can be a daunting duo to defeat for some people.  I believe that Julia Ross covers this quite extensively in The Mood Cure.

But dude, forget all that – the real problem is that I feel like a girlie-man in the gym…

Same problem as above my friend – proper enzyme deficiency.  Ride it out and you’ll see that you’ll be a beast on the other side of the conversion.

To wit; the following is an example of an endurance athlete’s cross-over, but I can tell you unequivocally that the same applies to strength/power athletes (and your normal, everyday Joe) as well.  And note here that Joel (Friel) consciously limited his fat intake during the conversion, while I advocate more of a hyper lipid approach.  I think the deficiency of good fats both prolonged and intensified his conversion.  Just my opinion, though.  Anyway, from Robb Wolf’s most excellent NorCal Strength & Conditioning blog (specifically, this post), we have this:

Here is an excerpt from The Paleo Diet for Athletes in which Joel talks about the Challenge Loren Cordain placed on him to try the Paleo diet for one month. check it out:

“I have known Dr. Cordain for many years, but I didn’t become aware of his work until 1995. That year we began to discuss nutrition for sports. As a longtime adherent to a very high-carbohydrate diet for athletes, I was skeptical of his claims that eating less starch would benefit performance. Nearly every successful endurance athlete I had known ate as I did, with a heavy emphasis on cereals, bread, rice, pasta, pancakes, and potatoes. In fact, I had done quite well on this diet, having been an All-American age-group duathlete (bike and run), and finishing in the top 10 at World Championships. I had also coached many successful athletes, both professional and amateur, who ate the same way I did.

Our discussions eventually led to a challenge. Dr. Cordain suggested I try eating a diet more in line with what he recommended for one month. I took the challenge, determined to show him that eating as I had for years was the way to go. I started by simply cutting back significantly on starches, and replacing those lost calories with fruits, vegetables, and very lean meats.

For the first two weeks I felt miserable. My recovery following workouts was slow and my workouts were sluggish. I knew that I was well on my way to proving that he was wrong. But in week three, a curious thing happened. I began to notice that I was not only feeling better, but that my recovery was speeding up significantly. In the fourth week I experimented to see how many hours I could train.

Since my early 40s (I was 51 at the time), I had not been able to train more than about 12 hours per week. Whenever I exceeded this weekly volume, upper respiratory infections would soon set me back. In Week Four of the “experiment,” I trained 16 hours without a sign of a cold, sore throat, or ear infection. I was amazed. I hadn’t done that many hours in nearly 10 years. I decided to keep the experiment going.

That year I finished third at the U.S. national championship with an excellent race, and qualified for the U.S. team for the World Championships. I had a stellar season, one of my best in years. This, of course, led to more questions of Dr. Cordain and my continued refining of the diet he recommended.

I was soon recommending it to the athletes I coached, including Ryan Bolton, who was on the U.S. Olympic Triathlon team. Since 1995. I have written four books on training for endurance athletes and have described and recommended the Stone Age diet in each of them. Many athletes have told me a story similar to mine: They have tried eating this way, somewhat skeptically at first, and then discovered that they also recovered faster and trained better.

So there you have it my friends, the practicalities of the Paleo re-tooling.  A little knowledge, a little “want-to”, and a strong desire to be in better health and/or become a better athlete are all that’s really required to bridge that gap between the Standard American Diet (aptly enough – SAD), and the Paleo lifestyle.

In health,

Insulin Response

“Men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives.”

Abba Eban

photo cred: DeathByBokeh

Inundate yourself with Paleo-minded information long enough, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that insulin is the consummate “bad guy” hormone.  That’s a little too simplistic a way to look at insulin, though — even for those of us who, though not trained specifically in the medical sciences, choose to enhance our lives through proper diet, exercise and well-rounded knowledge.  Insulin is, of course, critical for life and optimal health, and it’s not the hormone per se that is inherently evil, but the gross tilting of that hormone level beyond anything that the human body has evolved to handle that defines the problem.

In this clip (alternatively, you can jump to the Nov. 8th, 2009 WOD from the CrossFit home site), Robb Wolf discusses a case study in obesity, metabolic syndrome, and (though he doesn’t get into it here), the classic indicators of carbohydrate addiction.   If you’re a member of the CrossFit Journal (I highly recommend it, though I’m certainly no shill for CrossFit, nor do I fully endorse all of CrossFit’s ideologies), you can view a much larger portion of this video (over 7 minutes worth).

The take-away message here — and what we, as Paleo-minded, physical culturalists need to keep in mind — is that, within the body, insulin’s dictate (when excessively elevated) is to is promote/accelerate energy storage, maturation, reproduction and decline (death).  And from an evolutionary prospective, of course, this all makes perfect sense.  Quicker turnover equates to a more nimble and adaptive species.  In your grandma’s day, young girls matured in their later teens.  Nowadays, girls as young as 9 have reached reproductive maturity.  I’m not saying all of this can be laid at the feet of a hyper-insulin environment — there are plenty of other notable suspects lurking about in our diets — but I’d be willing to bet that an out-of-control insulin level has a big hand in this.

And just as Robb alluded to in the clip, the body can’t be fooled by artificial sweeteners.  The key is to successfully break the desire for the sweet taste (and thus eliminate the carb jonze), not placate that need by the use of artificial sweeteners — the equivalent of handing out methadone to heroin addicts.

Though we use the metaphor frequently, the body is not a simple furnace that serves solely to liberate energy from raw material.   There are complex storage and release components at work as well; hence the truth of a calorie not being a calorie.  The amount of energy contained in a calorie is, of course constant; what’s not constant is the hormonal impact that calorie source will have upon its host.  The first law of thermodynamics works fine for a closed system (the “furnace model”), but not for an open system, i.e., a living being.

In health,


Meal Frequency, and its Affects Upon Musculature

Diogenes struck the father when the son swore.”

Robert Burton

The following question comes by way of TTP reader Bret Brams (any relation to Johannes, I wonder?), a teacher from Belgium.  Bret tells me that his interests revolve around anything related to the fields of nutrition, sports science, psychology and biology.   Sounds like a pre-requisite hanging out around these parts, huh?  And when he’s not ladling knowledge over dry but eager minds, Bret busies himself with competitive powerlifting and sprinting.  Bret also wanted me to extend, for him, a hearty welcome to any serious trainees who’d like to join him in his fully-equipped home gym in Belgium; all are welcome to come down and train with him, or just hang out and discuss any and all aspects of physical culture.  If you’re in the neighborhood, look him up; if not, you can can find Bret here, at his Facebook page.

On to Bret’s question:

I’ve read your thoughts and habits on meal frequency and such. How much do you think this matters in muscle preservation? Slowly I’m weaning myself off the bodybuilding idea that you have to eat every few hours to retain muscle, however, it’s still somewhat foreign to me.

I’ve gone from 8 to 6 to 5 to 4 meals a day over the years, now eating fully paleo. Reliance on hunger has become something unnatural to me, as I’ve always disciplined myself to eat every few hours(for the typical reasons … digestion, etc.). I haven’t gotten around to fasting yet, but I’m trying. It seems I’m still hungry(for the good stuff, but still)and can easily eat the entire day, even on paleo foods.

Can you perhaps address what you noticed in terms of muscle loss/gain and fat loss?
I assume that initially one will lose some muscle(due to loss of muscle glycogen) but will afterwards gain it back when his insulin sensitivity rises and the glycogen sparing effects of the fasting improve.

Less is more?

Sincerely yours,


My Reply follows.  Bret will notice that I’ve embellished quite a bit from the answer I originally sent back his way; the advantage of a little extra thought and a little extra time:

I went through the same wrestle with the meal frequency issue, and truthfully, only recently do I think I’ve fully got a handle on it.  A few tears back I’d thought that, having completed a few months of full-on Paleo lifestyle, that I’d fully transitioned to the Paleo way — but the problem of meal frequency (and of still being “hungry” numerous times throughout the day) persisted.  Eventually, though, I reached the point of being able to listen — really listen — to my body, eating only when truly hungry. I do think that it takes a while, however, to get to that point; especially coming out of the old, ingrained, “6-times-a-day” habit.  And this is largely the result of two separate (but wickedly co-conspiring) phenomena —  social conditioning and carbohydrate addiction. Of course one must learn to navigate the practical issue of living Paleo in a modern environment as well, and this will be different for each individual due to their living/working circumstance.  For instance, I’ve had to learn how to square randomness in eating and working out with a mostly regimented and always extended-hours working life.  My solution(s) are not necessarily easy to implement or to follow — and they’re certainly not perfect — but they do represent the best I can do under my given, restricted, situation.  And that, I believe, is all that we can be asked to do.

But specifically, let’s look at the “big two” in way of obstacles to reaching meal frequency un-attachment — and forgive me if I begin to sound a little too Zen about this whole thing, but really, “un-attachment” and/or “dissociation” are key in finding resolution, here.  Are you truly hungry?  Then eat.  Eat what?  Well, I never go by hard and fast rules, but I try to consume more fat calories than protein, and certainly more animal protein calories than carbohydrate.  The rest takes care of itself.  How many times a day do I eat?  Well, the average is probably 3 — but I fast often (mostly in the 20 – 24-hour range, but sometimes as long as 36 – 48 hours), and many days I only eat once or twice.  In fact the only constant to my eating pattern is that there is no constant.  And as an overlay to this template is the random template of my workouts, with one having very little influence (if at all) on the other.  This was one aspect of the “social conditioning” that was so hard for me to break.  I’ve come now to believe, though, that the whole business (conventional notion) of “refueling” — timing windows and such as that — is, in a word, bogus.  And I am being quite generous here.  I also believe that the multiple-times-per-day eating regimens so popular now amongst bodybuilders and athletes is flawed — even if those meals are Paleo-like — because they act to limit the body’s need to and/or ability to utilize stored fat.  So this is more of a mental construct then, that must be dismantled and overcome.  My n=1 experience is that my musculature has taken on a definite degree of increased hardness due, I’m sure, by the shedding of  some intramuscular fat and a lack (due to a low carbohydrate environment) of water retention.  I’ve also experienced a reduction in subcutaneous fat and water retention as well.  And, to top it all off, I’ve banked a net gain in overall bodyweight (note the previously mentioned reduction in fat and water) over the last few years.   So, unless my bones and/or organs have massed-up, I’d have to say I’ve gained a decent amount of lean muscle tissue.  Hardly the “wasting-away” outcome from this manner of eating prophesied by the 6x/day “experts”.

The other half of the co-conspiring dynamic duo then, is carbohydrate addiction.  I almost hate to use the term, because it implies a certain level of sensationalism, but it is addiction we’re dealing with here, nothing less.  Now the degree of addiction may be more for some than for others, but addiction it is, none the less.  I’ve discussed the phenomena previously, here and here.  The short answer is, though, one is compelled to eat frequently for similar reasons as to why a smoker reaches for another cigarette — a combination of social conditioning and physical dependence.  Both phenomena must be overcome if one is to truly break the meal frequency cycle.

In health,


PS —  (10/23/09, 1550 EDT) I failed to include this post from Richard over at Free the Animal.  Make sure to check out the comments as well — lots of great information contained therein.  Carbohydrate addiction — and specifically, sugar and HFCS addiction — is no joke.

A Continuing Success Story

“The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War



You may have missed this comment in the Dynamic Warm-up post; as such, I’d like to share it here, as I think it’s so very important, and dare I say, inspirational.  Now the very word inspirational has been so watered down — hackneyed even — that I’m loathe to use it. But really, in this case, I think that it’s justified.  Check it out:

As always, I love your writing and appreciate all you do to keep us motivated.
I wanted to write an update on my continued attempts to put theory to practice as I have just reached 101 pounds lost. Having gone from 356 lbs. to 255 lbs. has given me so much vitality and joy. I can now fit in size 36 jeans and XL shirts, coming from size 48’s and 4XL!
I am still pumped about eating well (paleo with minimal cheats) and exercising (beginning Crossfit). I have survived stressful times without binge eating, which was a major concern.
Also, and most importantly to me, I am showing my children that these things are possible. A side note to this point: I have begun having the occasional ice cream with my kids. I felt that it was important to show good eating habits but also the ability to show restraint with foods that kids like. (Thoughts?)
They have begun to see that junk food need not be “everything” and they don’t ask for candy anymore. Well…at least not from me. :)
In fact, last week my dad even asked me to go over my diet with him. He sees the results and knows I am not eating poorly to lose weight and wants in. Yeah!
Anyway, this is where I am.
Hope you and yours are well. Please keep up your great writing.
Thank you,
Jeremy Palmer

A fantastic testimonial for the efficacy of the Paleo lifestyle.  And remember, this is nothing that I’ve created — this “lifestyle”, and the constituent building blocks thereof, have been around since the dawn of mankind.  This is our collective legacy.  I only endeavor to apply these ancient principles, best I can, within the challenges of a modern (and, let’s face it, nutritionally broken) society.  This is the task, the challenge, that confronts each and every one of us — every hour of every day.  Living this lifestyle requires intelligence, wisdom, a good dose of willpower (at least, initially) and a questioning — un-trusting even — attitude.  I’ve met with and conversed with a wide array of Paleo adherents throughout my own Paleo journey, as well as with many would-be, failed practitioners — from just about every ethnicity and socio-economic background you can imagine — and what I’ve found is this: what separates the adherent from the would-be and failed are two things; intelligence and a highly-skeptical, question-authority mindset.  At this point in the game — and until society as whole makes a drastic, nutritional U-turn (which I don’t see as happening in our lifetimes) — only those equipped with the tools and character to “break free of the Matrix” (red pill or blue pill, Neo?) — like our friend Jeremy, here — will succeed at the Paleo endeavor.  This isn’t a pessimist speaking, but the thoughts of a rationalist.  Think about how this manifests on your own lives.  How many of your own friends, family and associates are willing to cast themselves, without a net, into an intellectual solo-flight, an on-going n=1 experiment?  How many are willing to question heretofore “authoritative”, dietary, proclamations,cast aside what they once considered “truth”?  Red pill or blue pill, Neo?  Really, isn’t this what the Buddha asked as well?  Don’t blindly follow me, he said in essence, but tease these things out for yourself, in the laboratory of your own mind and in your own body.  Keep what works, discard what doesn’t.  Above all, though, question; aggressively and ceaselessly question.

And to quickly add my own 2 cents on the question of raising kids within a Paleo framework:

(1) Living as an example is, in my opinion, the best thing you can do, coupled with an on-going discussion of why (at an age-appropriate level, of course) you’ve made this dietary and lifestyle choice.  Do all you can to develop within them the notion of respectful questioning.  Because, let’s face it, sooner or later you have to let them free in the big, woolly (and woefully mis-informed) world, a world governed by — you guessed it — experts.  And being a mainstream “expert” only means that one has majority backing; that may, or may not, connote any modicum of truth.

(2) High dose fish oil, especially in children, will aide in blunting the effects of a less-than-perfect diet.  They will eat crap, no doubt — and lot’s of it — because society at large encourages it, and at a certain point, the need to fit in (or at the very least, not “fit-out”) will override all else.  More on fish oil in a later post.

(3) Personally, I’m not a believer in half-measures — but that’s just me.  I certainly understand where you’re coming from though, Jeremy.  Kids do need to be taught moderation so as to equip them for navigating the real, un-informed world.  This is a touchy question, and I’m calling out to experienced TTP readers to weigh-in on this one.  The way I approached this with my own was to say I choose not to partake because (insert age-appropriate reasoning).  Ultimately, though, you have to make your own choices about how to treat your own body and your own health.  Now, my kids were much older when I began this journey, and were familiar with this kind of talk, usually, though, centered around political ideals, or fitness/sports training topics, drugs, alcohol, sex, etc.  Of course, if I had young children in my home now, they wouldn’t even have access to “bad” foodstuffs (I can see me being a very unpopular grandpa), and hopefully their very early-established “tastes” would help moderate them through the real-world minefield once it was (inevitably) unleashed upon them.  My gut feeling is though, Jeremy, that you know what’s best for your kids at this particular juncture in their lives.  I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy, and I was an all-or-nothing kid as well.  One thing the years have taught me is that the vast majority of people do not operate that way.  My coaching style works well and is fit for an athletic/sporting environment; in the general public, well…not so much  🙂

I’ll end the day’s pontification there, as I’ve gone on long, long enough.  The real point of this post is to acknowledge a gentleman who has fought the good fight well, and is flying the Paleo flag proudly.  My hope is that Jeremy’s action and success can ignite a desire in others (especially his kids) to do the same.

Here’s to you, Jeremy!  Good work!

In health,


Usain Bolt’s Other-Worldly Performance, Sensible Healthcare Reform, Free-Range Meat, and More

“To find yourself, think for yourself. ”

– Socrates

Another fine, fine, n=1 quote.

Little Girl and Big Guy, courtesy of Farm City

Little Girl and Big Guy, courtesy of Farm City

A few things from this past week.  First off, a couple of observations from the world of track and field —

If you haven’t yet seen this clip, check it out.  I’m left grasping for something to compare Usain Bolt to.  One tends to forget that this kid is walking away from world class athletes.  Astonishing, is all that I can say…

Bolt is the “perfect storm” of sprinting; off-the-charts power-to-bodyweight ratio, aerodynamically put together, extremely long stride at top-end speed (with the ability to both maintain the speed and stride length for the duration of the race, i.e., anaerobic stamina) and the ability to transfer that high power development to the ground, both from a dead-start (piston action) and at full stride (spring action).  A perfect sprinting combination of fortunate genetics and fabulous, first-class training methods.  The Jamaicans know how to train sprinters, and they have a wealth of talent to choose from.

And speaking of genetics, genetic expression, and the powerful effects of hormones on the phenotype, how about the controversy surrounding the women’s 800 meter phenom, Caster Semenya?  Now, I’m certainly not trying to imply that following a Paleo lifestyle will impart an extra Y chromosome “advantage” to the Paleo ladies out there, or unleash an unlimited fountain of testosterone in the guys, only that the Paleo “push” that we do provide via positive genetic expression (and, hence, hormonal expression) does account for a good portion of our overall health and bodily composition benefits.

According to the NPR news story cited above:

Gender testing used to be mandatory for female athletes at the Olympics, but the screenings were dropped in 1999. One reason for the change was not all women have standard female chromosomes (i.e., an xxy make-up — my insertion for clarification).  In addition, there are cases of people who have ambiguous genitalia or other congenital conditions.

The most common cause of sexual ambiguity is congenital adrenal hyperplasia, an endocrine disorder where the adrenal glands produce abnormally high levels of hormones.

Health of the modern-day, semi-hunter-gatherers

What’s interesting here is that the people being studied (the Tsimane tribe, of Amazonian Bolivia) exhibit high C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, and yet show no signs, even in far advanced years, of heart disease or other markers of “metabolic syndrome”.  The high CRP levels — a marker of inflammation — are surely attributed to the high instance of parasitic infestation among these peoples.  What keeps them from developing good ol’ western style metabolic syndrome?  Well, my guess is that the Tsimane maintain low insulin levels due to a lack of simple carbohydrate ingestion.  Again, insulin is the main player, with other factors (in this case, inflammation) playing the part of “tools of convenience”; aiding and abetting, so to speak.  Very, very interesting, to say the least.  Check out the NPR story (podcast), here, and the University of Southern California news story, here.   We as modern Paleos can learn much from research like this.  The most practical take-home message here being that the intelligent Paleo practitioner will marry the best of the past (diet, movement patterns) with the best of modernity (sanitary practices) in what should be an ever-evolving, progressive and intelligent union.

On “Evangelizing” the good news…

Yes, it’s tricky business, to be sure, the practice of offering unsolicited advice; and I avoid it myself, as if were the plague (…attempting to teach a pig to sing will only frustrate you and annoy the pig).  But when the government is involved, though — in other words, someone with the power to force their will upon me — I feel it’s imperative to speak up.  Here’s an interesting bit of commentary on the on-going (American) healthcare debate.  The link is to a Super Human Radio podcast interview with Dr. Ronald Klatz.  Dr. Klatz is one of the Founders of A4M (The American Academe of Anti-Aging Medicine) and has presented a Healthcare plan that can not only (purportedly) save the country Trillions of dollars, but will also extend the lives of most Americans.  Also, check out A4M’s article on the 12 Point Action Plan for effective healthcare reform ( here is the 12-point plan itself).   My only problem with the proposal is that is conspicuously deficient of any mention of the positive health markers elicited by the adoption of a Paleo-like lifestyle.  One small step at a time, I suppose.  Even with that deficiency, this is still the best set of action points that I’ve seen floated by any group with any sibilance of influence (little as A4M may have) in Washington.  Kinda tough to compete with folks like this, ya know.

…and of having the good news evangelized to you

Again my good friend Carl Lanore, at Super Human Radio comes through with an informative and timely interview.  This time out, he’s got John Wood, of US Wellness Meats on the line.  John has been raising beef cows in the traditional, grass-fed way for decades.  Listen as the discussion turns to the health benefits of eating grass fed, hormone free, antibiotic free beef, over the conventional beef-look-alike that lines your grocery food store shelves.  When it comes to grass-fed beef, John knows his stuff.  Want to know why the Argentinians are so adept at producing a fantastic steak?  John will fill you in.  Now I’m lucky in that I live in a relatively rural area, so I have ready access to grass-fed/free-range meat.  If you don’t have ready access to these products, though, check out the folks at US Wellness Meats.  Really, their prices aren’t that much higher than what I pay for my locally raised products.  That’s a good deal for everyone — you and the producer of these quality products; not to mention the animals themselves who get to live out their lives naturally, and free of cruelty.

What I’m reading now…

417+3oDgsoL_optWant to try your hand at subsistence farming and ranching?  You say you’d love to, but live smack-dab in the city, and that, of course, ends that little dream.  Well, think again.  Novella Carpenter has written a gem of a book entitled Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.  I could gush on and on about this book — it’s just fantastic.  The juxtaposition of farming and animal husbandry struggles against life in the “hood” is nothing less than fascinating.  Even if you have no desire whatsoever with delving into raising your own food, I’d still highly recommend this book.  Really, it’s the sleeper of the summer, and I’m so very glad that I stumbled upon it.  If anyone will make you want to chuck the ol’ 9-to-5 (7-to-6 is more like it nowadays), and try your hand at eeking it out on your own little plot, Novella will.  And before you think that Novella is some kind of militant Berkeley vegetarian, think again — she raises her own chickens, turkeys, rabbits, goats and pigs for consumption, and does her own slaughtering.  My kinda girl.  Anyway, pick up her book and check out her blog (cited above); you’ll be so glad you did.

And one final tidbit…

Psychological barriers: we all know what it’s like when we can’t seem to bust past certain plateaus in our workouts.  Maybe it’s a certain amount of pull-up reps, or a certain number of 100 meter repeats.  We feel like we ought to be able to pull it of physically, but for some reason our psyche is holding us back.  Well, Kevin Purdy of Lifehacker.com has a great idea to help overcome that overactive (and self protective) mind: using a camcorder; check it out.  Of course, in time you can train your brain to somewhat squelch that overly-protective-mom-like feature, but this camcorder idea looks to me like a perfect bridge to help get one to that point a little quicker.  Try it out and let me know what you think.

Sugar: The Bitter Truth

“Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs.”

– Joan Didion

courtesy of roadsidepictures

courtesy of roadsidepictures

Groucho is dubious here, and you should be too

A buddy of mine brought this video to my attention recently (thanks, Caleb!), and it really is a “must see” — or a “must hear”, as I chose to listen to the podcast version (making my work commute pay dividends).  Wow, in the same way that watching the Zeitgeist films will stir-up your hatred for “the gub’mint man”, Sugar, The Bitter Truth will make you want to go out and string-up a few “big food” executive types.  No kidding, pick a rainy weekend to kick back and watch all of these offerings back-to-back and you’ll want to jump off the grid and join up with a militia.

The tag line for the “Sugar” lecture is as follows:

Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology explores the damage caused by sugary foods.

But really, it’s so much more than that.  Dr. Lustig does a fantastic job of explaining why (and how) sugar is so destructive to the body, and why High-Fructose Corn Syrup is just out and out poison.  Anyone who is still in the dark about exactly how carbohydrate in general (sugar and HFCS specifically) botches-up the blood chemistry and ramps-up the body’s fat storage mechanisms, needs to pay close attention.  And get ready to be schooled — though, in a very entertaining way.

And be prepared  as well, to consider the out-and-out lunacy of a nation attempting to formulate some manner of health care reform, while at the same time promoting, through taxation (or lack thereof) and subsidy, the very substance that is at the heart of (pardon the pun) the physical ailment side of the whole equation.  Get people healthy to begin with, and the unwieldy health care debate then becomes something much more manageable.

In health,