Interpreting Paleo for Athletes

Interpreting Paleo for Athletes

This is from Chapter 21 of “It Starts with Food” by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig.  It’s what I refer to as the “I’ve never read it” chapter.  Under the heading “Active Individuals”, first line, they write:  “If you exercise regularly or play a sport, you’ll need to support that activity with extra nutrition and CALORIES.”  This is a book that teaches people how to not count calories.  I know Dallas and Melissa a bit and I have asked them these questions, so I feel comfortable sharing their answers with you.  They have a chart that says “Amount of Carbohydrate Post Workout” that’s similar to Mark Sisson’s “Carbohydrate Curve”.

Random Paleo Guy/Girl:  Wait, what?  Why are all my VLC diet authors writing about carbs all of a sudden,and why didn’t Robb Wolf stab Kiefer in the neck on that Carb Back-Loading podcast?  This is all so confusing.

I say this all of the time:  diets need an interpreter, which is why I started Eat To Perform.  Stick with me, and I believe I can fix your VLC Paleo diet.  Unlike people that want you to conform to the way they think, I try to meet readers where they are.  Paleo is a fine diet that you can use for performance, but you have to eat like an athlete (and yes, you are an athlete).  How do I know this? Because Loren Cordain felt that the original “The Paleo Diet” fell short for these populations and put out a revised edition years later.  That book is titled “The Paleo Diet for Athletes”, aka “The Paleo Book Nobody Has Ever Read.  In this marvelous piece of literature, he actually recommends Gatorade!   Folks, we have to lose this 100% mentality; it isn’t leading you to the results you want.  The level of performance you want to reach will come to you slowly, but if you’re moving well and eating well while also having some Gatorade once in a while, isn’t that a reasonable compromise?

Back to Chapter 21 of “It Starts with Food”

There is a chart (go ahead and pull it out, I couldn’t find it online) that goes through various post-workout strategies.  On the left is the part of the chart that describes a person who’s “Overweight, Insulin Resistant, Chronic Inflammation, “Sick””.  Ok, I have to stop there; is that really you? I mean really?  I digress.  The other side of the chart is “Lean Muscular, Insulin Sensitive, No Inflammation and healthy”.  The chart seems to imply that athletes don’t need carbs post-workout.

Random Paleo Guy/GirlI COULD NOT AGREE MORE *gnawing on celery post workout*

Here is Where the Disconnect Happens

What Dallas and Melissa wrote is correct; for folks looking to lose a few pounds, adding carbs makes no sense.  I don’t generally recommend a ton of carbs post workout for populations over 10% body fat (for men) and over 20% for women.  The problem starts when you turn your Paleo diet into Atkins (or a ketogenic diet), trying to get cut because if some is good more is better right? Then let’s go ahead and workout 6 times a week.  Boom baby!  We’re gonna burn some fat now, right? Initially it seems to be working; the scale is down, you look less watery in the mirror.  It’s like a dream come true, if dreams involved not sleeping at all and being constantly stressed just to wring all of the water out of your body and muscles.  Athletes need carbs!

Random Paleo Guy/Girl:  But I am burning fat yo!  Makin’ gainz! *celery is almost done*

You Aren’t Losing as Much Fat as you THINK You Are

Let’s say you lose ten pounds on a VLC version of Paleo; probably close to eight lbs. of it is water.  Even Atkins would not be impressed (You will just have to envision what you think Atkins looks like doing the McKayla Maroney face.).  At best, you have mobilized maybe two pounds (more if you are obese) of fat.  Yeah, you’re lighter now, but you’re still about as fat as you were to begin with and your muscles are flat.  Your average person walking in to a gym has already taken some steps in a positive way towards better health; superficial weight loss goals point you in the wrong direction.

Tell me that the following scenario isn’t familiar:  even though you tell people you don’t crave sugar, you do.  At this point, you might be overriding your body’s signals so much though that nothing seems right.  You can’t sleep, chicken and broccoli sucks so you don’t want to eat as much.  You are convinced that this is right, that you just need to suck it up for a bit.  Even though everyone at the gym keeps telling you that you aren’t eating enough, you have ignored them.

That is, until cheesecake day.  The guilt associated with cheesecake day sucks so much, but all that creamy cheese can’t be wrong; it feels so right! By the time you’re done, you order a couple of glasses of wine to avoid thinking of the inevitable month you will have to eat chicken and broccoli to amend your transgressions.  Right now, though, IT FEELS SO GOOD.  Brain is no longer foggy, and you think to yourself, “This must be what heaven is like.”

The next day, you fast for 24 hours to quell your guilt.  It’s your little secret, but even through all of the self-loating, you remember it fondly.

Random Paleo Guy/Girl:  This dude might be onto something with this cheesecake thing…

The Real Problem and How To ACTUALLY Mobilize Fat

The real problem is that you turned your Paleo diet into some bastardized amalgamation of Weight Watchers, Atkins and Spin classes 8 times a week all rolled into one.  When you inevitably stall, you instinctively give up and ironically, that’s what you should have done all along.  Folks, trust me; eating low carb while also engaging in intense exercise like our sports, then combining it with eating less ain’t gonna work!  It’s leaving you sick, broken and confused. Dallas and Melissa didn’t tell you to do any of that, but I will.  Moderate fruit intake and some starches actually help your metabolism.  Most of my clients are women.  Want to know the big secret I charge people for?  I get them to start eating enough.  In almost every case, the person (Who always comes to me thinking that they eat too much!) is usually under eating by 500-700 calories a day while maintaining an intense exercise regimen. Once your body starts getting proper nourishment, everything comes into focus.  Sleep recovers, workouts are better and energy levels go up.  Your Paleo diet didn’t fail you; your interpretation of it did.  When your weight loss stalls, pulling out a bigger hammer doesn’t work.  If you just eat reasonable amounts of food that fuel your performance, everything will fall into place.  Drop that low carb cheerleader forum where everyone says, “You go guy/girl, you look great!”  That stuff isn’t helping you get better; it’s giving you the illusion that there is some “low carb pot o’ gold” at the end of the “calorie restriction rainbow”.  It doesn’t exist, and it never did.

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