...gain train, bro.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cool it, Caveman.


If I had to sum up the nutrition industry as a whole with one word: Conflicted.  Don't get me wrong; every field has some level of dispute amongst experts, but the nutrition and "fitness" industry appears to be uniquely exceptional.

The nutrition world is divided into "camps" really.  Some of which are polar opposites of each other, while others are actually hybrids of one another.  But, everyone feels the need to be distinguished.  Especially in the nutrition industry...how else can you sell your ideas and advice?  So, you tend to find that most of these camps push their ideas as being the best way for most everyone.  Unfortunately, there is no one best diet plan for everyone.  The average person simply does not have the time (nor interest) to sift through and research every approach; therefore, they will choose whichever is most popular at that time and jump in head first.

...is it any wonder that most of these people fall short of their goals?

..caveman says: F you and your twinkies
All of this being said, I've noticed one particular nutrition movement gain steam as of late.  This includes a following of average, non-training individuals, as well as those involved in bodybuilding and athletics of all kinds.   I'm talking about Paleo eating!  This is a diet based on how humans ate during--you guessed it--the paleolithic period.  Pretty long time frame.  We are talking approximately 2.5 million years ago up until about 10,000 years ago.  Proponents of the paleodiet believe in a diet based on pasture raised meat (grassfed specifically), fish, vegetables, fruit, tubers (sparingly), and some nuts.  To what level certain amounts of fruits and nuts are allowed varies amongst certain proponents.  Please take note of bullet list below, which details the foodstuffs considered absolutely "evil" by proponents of the paleo diet.

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Dairy (some say okay if fermented or raw, full-fat and from an organic source).
  • Processed sugars
  • Processed oils
  • And..basically anything else you've grown to love--okay, just kidding (but, really).

Personally, I've seen worse dietary approaches.  Additionally, I can see how some (great emphasis on some) of the dietary advice of paleo could benefit the especially sedentary demographic.  However, I strongly disagree with much of the philosophy, guidelines, and historical reasoning of the diet.

First, I'd like to address who these principles would benefit and why.  Starting with the obvious.  Anyone who is seriously overweight, or unhealthy and is this way because they like to eat large quantities of snickerdoodles and canned spray cheese; they would benefit from implementing some of the principles of paleo into their daily diets.  In my opinion, everyone would gain benefit by ditching soda and most processed snack foods.  If not ditching entirely, at least drastically reducing intake of such.  I think everyone would benefit by eating more fibrous vegetables (no one really enjoys vegetables).

If you do look like this: Perhaps, pass on the bread and donuts
Regarding the paleo rhetoric on grains: not everyone feels like garbage after eating grains and legumes; nor do they end up looking like an army of Michelin men.  Seriously, some people make these absolute staples in their diets and live quite well.

Similarly, I realize that some people in the U.S. over consume and rely on breads and other grains far too much; as advocates of the paleo diet believe this has been the cause of many illnesses.  However, my gripe is that some people actually do tolerate most grains in moderation just fine.  I really dislike the dogmatic, hardline approach of most proponents of paleo.  To say that everyone should avoid all grains because our ancestors didn't eat that way, just seems silly to me.

I know, a lot of supporters and leaders in the paleo movement have no problem with fermented dairy in small quantities.  Some of them even tell me that I can sort of eat starches like potatoes and such. This is where the problem really tends to show for me.  Those interested in bodybuilding, strength training, endurance training etc SHOULD and CAN eat/handle starches just fine. For those who are lean and healthy--specifically athletes and bodybuilders--there should be a hearty sized inclusion of starch.  I feel the paleodiet should distinguish better between sedentary individuals and those engaging in weight training, bodybuilding, endurance training, and overall athletics. 

We must differentiate between certain types of individuals and thereby tweak dietary protocols based on such.  An athlete would simply have more need for increased starch sources than the average sedentary person.  Similarly, an already healthy, lean, active person should be able to handle grains and legumes just fine.  Surely, there are those who have horrible reactions to any and all grains, or even dairy.  There are those with coeliac disease and cannot eat gluten containing foods.  But, they are an extreme minority and this certainly doesn't constitute everyone cutting out grains, legumes and dairy from their diet.

As far as white rice goes: I eat it, I like it, and I recommend it to anyone who engages in weight training or endurance athletics and has no particular adversion.  According to paleo, rice is a grain and thereby not allowed.  But, the fact that white rice is processed is why it works just fine.  The process of getting white rice from brown rice essentially leaves you with pure starch.  Perfect.

What do I take from paleo?  Ditch the refined sugars for the most part.  Try to eat more whole, natural foods.  If you tolerate grains well, then include them in your diet.  Depending on your needs and activity levels, you may be able to include far more starches than what is in the basic paleo plan. There is no use in following some dogmatic approach to eating.

My take home points from paleo:
  • Put importance on protein by way of lean meats.
  • Eat fibrous vegetables :(
  • Don't avoid fruit
  • Eat grains if you tolerate them just fine
  • If you train hard or are an athlete, then you will simply need more starch than strict paleo allows for.  If you want to remain partially paleo (first of all, don't), then get majority of your carbohydrate needs from tubers and root vegetables.  If you tolerate grains just fine and could care less about paleo, then get your carbohydrate needs from a wider variety of sources.
  • Don't be dogmatic.  It should always be about what your needs are and what works for you.  The key is to take important lessons from the various dietary approaches and include them to further your goals.