Paleo Challenge

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I am completing a paleo challenge organized by a local crossfit gym. I know that I could complete the challenge on my own but it’s more fun to complete it with a group of people and very helpful to have a bunch of trainers ready to answer questions. The paleo challenge I am completing is: no grains, dairy, legumes, fruit, nuts or sugar of any kind. Basically, meat, veggies and fat with a handful of starchy veggie after a workout. As expected, I felt bad the first two weeks, and also as expected, on day 17, I started to feel much better. However, after two intense bootcamp style workouts this week (I know bootcamp is not “paleo” excercise but I LOVE it and I really enjoy it), I became depressed. I was too fatigued to do anything all day, cranky, miserable and just unhappy from not having any energy. Then, after two days of this, a lightbulb went off in my head: “Maybe my bootcamp workouts are more glycolytically demanding than crossfit!!” It makes sense to me. Bootcamp is an hour of cardio and weights. Crossfit is a WOD of max 30 minutes. That led me to do some research on exactly how many carbs we need….which turned out to be a very charged topic!!  However, I did come away with good information.

Here is a summary of what I learned:

From the Paleo Guru, Robb Wolf:

  • While very low carb (VLC) has a place in some things, like diabetes, neurodegerative diseases, and certain cancers it’s the not the path to optimal health, long term for most people!
  • If you do crossfit or very hard training, you need carbs! However, try to get those carbs mainly post-workout.
  1. If you are an ultra-runner or do a similar very long, but low intensity activities, you can survive on less than 50 grms/day but it would still be worthwhile to tinker with the carb amounts.
  2. For strength athletes cyclical low carb is the way to go.
  • ~1g of protein per lbs of bodyweight is the target. If your goal is fat loss you will find this very satiating and anabolic enough to prevent most muscle loss under calorie restriction, especially if you are doing resistance training.
  • Carbs:
  1. If you are insulin resistant (TG/HDL >1.0, doughy through the mid-section, under severe sleep debt), limit carbs to 50-110g per day.
  2. If you are training hard and insulin sensitive (not carrying fat at the midsection, good triglyceride/HDL ratio), you should be doing anywhere from 1-3g of carbs/lbs of bodyweight. The 3g is for people training at a very high level. These should be “paleo” carbs. White rice is likely fine. If you travel, get sick, or miss training, reduce the carbs down a bit.
  • Fat:
  1. If doing a glycolyticly demanding sport, consume less calories as fat and more are carbs. Fat is for flavor!
  2. If doing a less glycolyticly demanding sport (such as just lifting and yoga), consume more calories as fat and less as carbs.
  • Trouble Shooting:
  1. If you are not recovering post workout, you need more carbs. Also look towards periodization, intensity, and sleep!
  2. If you are gaining weight, cut back on calories but keep protein intake the same.

Don’t freak out about calorie counting, just focus on eating whole, nutritious food!

Rx for weight loss from Adel Moussa  (aka Dr. Andro), who for a physicist (and not a biologist!) has a very good grasp of proper nutrition (check out his blog and interview with Jimmy Moore of livin’ la vida low carb…excellent interview!):

  1. Fill yourself up with fiber-laden veggies and consume a balanced (!) amount of saturated, mono- and polyunsaturated fats from whole foods,
  2. Aim for a mild energy deficit (~20%) and a reasonable carbohydrate intake of roughly 700-900g per week; either by low-carbing + refeeding (e.g. 6x 50-75g + 1x 250-400g) or a constantly low intake of preferably low(er) GI carbs (don’t count carbs from green veggies and co.!),
  3. Eat at least 20-25g of a complete protein (count only meats, fish, eggs and dairy) with every meal and supplement with protein powders / bars, whenever you have no whole food source with 10+g of EAAs in it at hand,
  4. Follow a sound workout regimen (e.g the “Fat Loss Support Routine” from the Step By Step Guide), don’t do hours of “cardio” in the non-existent fat burning zone and cherish the fat-burning effects of glycogen depleting strength and HIIT workouts without overtaxing your central nervous system

What’s this mean for me?

I’m going to lower my fat intake, up carbs (but keep them to the post-workout window) and focus on protein, while sticking to the rules of the paleo challenge (no nuts, dairy or grains…so no white rice.) I’ll let you know how it goes!


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