Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Update on the Primal Diet

Just wanted to give everyone an update on the Primal Diet. To sum it up: it was a failure. The diet began its end about eight days after it started and officially ended two days later.

When I work out, I normally do so with an intensity level somewhere between 8 and 10 on a scale of 1-10 (unless it's yoga). Well, I was in the middle of a fairly easy chest and back routine when suddenly my energy level plummeted about halfway through. At first I thought that maybe my energy level was low because of the lack of sleep I endured the prior three and a half months. The second thought I had was the diet.

Fast-forward to the next night. I was teaching my spin class at the Greater Portland YMCA when the same thing happened. If my bike had been mobile, I would have crashed into a brick wall about halfway through. The energy just wasn't there. I had gotten a good night of sleep before and never really had any problems working out while not sleeping from mid-September to the end of December. I immediately blamed the diet and its lack of whole grain carbs.

Fast-forward to the next night. A friend of mine called and wanted to go to Flatbread in downtown Portland. Not quite ready to give up on the diet so soon--after all, it was only 10 days old--I agreed to go but decided beforehand to get one of their delicious salads.

Need I continue? Well, all that changed when I sat down in the restaurant, glanced over at the brick oven, and saw a couple of gorgeous pizzas cooking in the heat.

So the diet lasted 10 days and I'm glad it lasted only 10 days. I'm an endurance athlete. I enjoy training at an 8, 9, or 10 on a scale of 1-10 and carbs--whole grain carbs--help me do just that. After tinkering with the Primal Diet a little, I really believe that it would be great for folks who have sedentary jobs, who are looking to alter body composition, or both. Neither of those things are me.

Time to look at the next experiment...


  1. that Jay's Heart will get you every time

  2. What were you using for non grain carbs? How much? Did you add a good amount of healthy fats? Sounds to me like you went straight crossfit style paleo, which has an adjustment period of roughly 3 weeks. Also, the way that endurance athletes go paleo is different than how those looking for weight loss would do it. Remember, I was able to take 7 minutes off of my triathlon times eating a paleo diet, but it has to be done right. Now, before you think I'm someone that settled on that, ultimately, I'm not. I eat corn and beans and the occasional russet. When I was paleo, though, my day included a lot of fruits, around 12oz of sweet potatoes, all early in the day, and a large amount of nuts, eggs, and avocados in the evening.

    I switched to eating corn and beans because of the various health benefits associated with both. I still avoid grains, mostly, but do occasionally have oatmeal at breakfast. I make breads from garbanzo bean flours and corn meal, and still love my sweet potatoes. I understand not wanting to continue, and you're right, it really is more for those of us that aren't naturally lean, but it can also help those that have some digestive issues and is still a viable option for people to be endurance athletes while doing so. I'm not paleo anymore, but going paleo let me discover the sweet spot between modern eating and ancient (perhaps too ancient) eating that lets me fuel long, high intensity workout sessions while still dropping fat percentages and putting on healthy amounts of lean muscle mass, as well as make significant strength gains, without the bloating and other digestive and allergy issues I faced eating a high rice/wheat content diet.

    Lets discuss this more, and I'm excited to see what you try next!

  3. For non-grain carbs, I basically ate veggies and fruits. I felt like I ate plenty of healthy fats with many of them coming from olive oil and nuts, but still probably not enough. I probably should have eaten more potatoes like you did, but the diet I followed called for minimal potatoes. Did you train differently for your tri when you ate paleo or did you simply eat more to account for the caloric burn? That was the trouble I was having--I love to work hard but just didn't seem to have the energy. Now that I am eating similar to how I usually eat (beans, oatmeal, occasional pasta) I feel more energized for exercise. It'd be nice to find a happy medium, though.

    Thanks for checking in on this!

  4. Yep... thats pretty typical weight loss style paleo, or primal. It works great for people who need to change their body composition while doing low to moderate intensity exercises like walking. I have done this and it was nearly impossible to keep up a high intensity training regimen.

    I trained exactly the way I normally would've for my triathlon while eating "paleo", except that I swam less. I swam less because I hate swimming, though, not because of any dietary reasons. I did three days of skills based training (running/biking/swimming) and at least two days of strength training, varying between power days of olympic lifts, heavy days of finding 3 rep maxes, and straight out intense circuits. The trick was just adding calories, in the form of carbohydrates, on the days that I needed them. I tracked all of my food and tried to get as close as I could to an isocaloric intake, that being that 33% of my calories from protein, 33% from carbohydrates, and 33% from healthy fats, like eggs, nuts, oils (olive, safflower), and avocados. Once I found that my body responded well at that level, I know that I can go back to it at any time and will not only lose weight but feel incredible during my workouts. Isocaloric eating can obviously be done no matter what diet you follow, I just choose to do it with minimal grains.

    To be honest, everyone is different, and what you're doing seems to be working for you, since you're out winning your age groups and feeling good doing it. I think primal (or, what a lot of people are calling "meso", now, since it includes beans and sprouted grains) could work for you with a long term investment, but just like it took me a year or more to find what ratios and food combinations worked for me, there is a period of adjustment where performance may dip or you may feel flat until everything comes back together.

    Hope this helps!

  5. I appreciate all the info, Eric. I'll look forward to tapping in to you as my newest resource for this kind of stuff. Who knows, I may just go back and tinker with the diet a little bit. It's all about the experiment!