I received this question a few days ago and thought I would answer it publicly here seeing as I would guess more than one person might have this exact same question.
Well, there is no magic trick or best tip. I would assume you already realized this, but it’s worth reiterating. The be all end all of losing weight will be that you find something that you can stick to (dedication) and that you incorporate these three main philosophies.
- eat less
- repeat often
You may also want to transition your mentality from “weight” loss to “fat” loss. You can chop off an arm to lose weight, but who in the hell wants to do that? Furthermore, no one wants to lose their sexy lean body mass (muscle) they’ve worked hard for as weight either and then come out looking just like skin and bones sans fat. We typically hear the word “tone” when someone is referring to losing fat and retaining that sexy lean body mass.
The best recommendation I can give you is to adjust your caloric intake to lower than what it is (not much, but slightly below what you believe to be your maintenance caloric intake — this could just be decreasing your portions), increase your activity (you can do cardio if you wish, but it is not the most optimal — resistance/weight training is king), and eat enough food (this is where the whole “don’t eat too little” comes in to play) to fuel your workouts, recover properly, and stay satiated while not wrecking your metabolism from too low of a caloric deficit. The food you eat a majority of should be good sources of lean protein, fruits, veggies, and other fibrous carbohydrates. Throw in some of your favorite treats every now and again in moderation to keep yourself sane. I’m serious. Eat that “bad” food every now and again. It’s not going to hurt you as long as it’s done to a minimal degree.
I’ll be putting out a post soon of important things to know and baseline recommendations for optimal fat loss and general health.
Alan, what is your general philosophy on food sources regardless if the individuals is in a caloric surplus or deficit, the phrase “Clean Eating” is thrown around a lot. Could you shed some light on research or any information regarding utilizing different sources that may be considered bad and the impact it may/may not have on body composition?
You know that the cleanest food in the world is? Hydrogenated vegetable oil. It was originally developed for the purpose of making soap. Pretty damn clean, I’d say. On a more serious note, the “clean” label is very misleading when applied to individual foods. There’s no way a food can be judged in isolation from the rest of the diet. To give an example, most people would call celery a “clean” or healthy food, and ice cream a “dirty” or unhealthy food. In the far-fetched/hypothetical scenario of being forced to choose only one of those foods to survive on, guess which one would sustain your health (and ultimately your life) longer? Hopefully you chose ice cream over celery, unless you’re anxious to knock on Heaven’s door. The point is, labeling foods as clean or dirty ignores context, and ignoring context is just plain dumb. I think that’s it’s intuitively obvious that the diet should consist mostly of whole & minimally refined foods. But still, it’s not all that simple, since certain foods are significantly altered from their original state (i.e., whey protein powder), but still have positive impacts on health. I wrote an in-depth article on the “clean eating” topic here. It’s a long article but worth the read for anyone interested. I think it’s been very amusing to see the definition of “clean” vary widely according to highly subjective criteria.
Read more of the interview at Machine Muscle.
“To say that obesity is caused by merely consuming too many calories is like saying that the only cause of the American Revolution was the Boston Tea Party.” -Adelle Davis
This quote gets to the core of a basic question that is the topic of much discussion in bodybuilding circles. What’s more important: what you eat or how much you eat? A study conducted by the Institute for Nutrition and Cancer Research (INCR) discovered that 78% of adults agreed with the statement “the kind of foods you eat is more important than the quantity of food you eat” in regards to weight management. Very good arguments can certainly be made for and against the statement. It is true that your overall caloric balance during a given day will determine whether or not your weight changes. On the other hand, food choices can influence that caloric balance by influencing metabolic rate, the thermic effect of food (TEF), and satiety. In order for one to lose weight, and hence, body fat, one’s caloric expenditure must exceed their caloric intake and this requires energy intake control, and thus the quantity of food must be controlled (1).
It is pertinent to state that one should eat healthy foods when on a weight loss diet. Fruits, vegetables, low fat meats, and the like are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber (in the case of fruits and vegetables) and these can certainly impact one’s health. However, one can not simply eat as many “good” foods as they like with reckless abandon and expect not to gain weight. It is certainly easier to achieve a caloric surplus eating twinkies all day than it is to achieve that same surplus though fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, however if the person eating only twinkies makes a conscious effort to limit their twinkie intake to a caloric level that is less than the amount of calories they expend per day, they will lose fat whereas a person who eats an unlimited amount of “good” foods will still gain weight if they consume more calories than they expend. Don’t get me wrong, eating only twinkies is not a good strategy for losing fat, but it is an extreme example to support my points.
There are plenty of meatheads gurus out there who would have you believe that consuming chicken, rice, and broccoli cannot make you fat no matter how much you eat of it. They will most likely try to argue that the specific foods you eat are more important than the quantity that you eat will use the argument that “a calorie is not a calorie” to support their stance. In other words, they believe that certain foods may provide an advantage over other foods. There certainly is ample evidence to support this stance. For example, diets higher in protein are less “energy efficient” as the conversion of alanine to glucose during gluconeogenesis (production of glucose from amino acids and other substrates) requires 6 ATP molecules and the conversion of pyruvate to glucose also consumes 6 ATP molecules (2-3). Furthermore, 4 molecules of ATP are required to dispose of the nitrogen as urea (3). Now before you throw up your hands and say “what the hell does all that mean?” realize that it’s only a scientifically correct way of saying that turning protein into energy requires more energy input by your body compared to carbs or fats. Maintaining the protein turnover is also energetically very costly (4). In fact, the thermic effects of nutrients are approximately 2-3% for lipids, 6-8% for carbohydrates, and 25-30% for protein (5)! This increased thermic effect of food seems to cause increased weight loss in high protein diets compared to diets equal in calories but higher in carbohydrates (6). The fiber content of a diet is also another issue to consider. Dietary fiber contains far less metabolizable energy than starchy carbohydrates due to incomplete absorption of fiber and the amount of energy extracted from fiber is less than that of other carbohydrates (7).
This information has led many meatheads to deduct proudly that by consuming a high protein/low carbohydrate/increased fiber diet you need not concern oneself with calorie intake because there is a far smaller net energy gain when consuming such a diet as compared to a typical higher carbohydrate diet. Although the net energy gain is much smaller on a high protein/low carbohydrate/increased fiber diet, the fact remains that it is still quite possible one can consume more calories than they expend if they fail to control the quantity of food that they take in. Controlling food intake and self monitoring is crucial in any weight loss or weight maintenance regime. In fact, Hill et. al, found that the majority of people who successfully lost fat and maintained it for at least one year practiced some form of restraint, including restricting certain foods, portion sizes, and counting calories (8). So while it may require a greater quantity of food on a high protein/low carbohydrate diet to exceed one’s caloric expenditure, it can still be done, and therefore the quantity of food must be controlled. While controlling the quantity of food one eats may be more important than the types of foods one eats in regards to weight maintenance/loss, it is important to note that the types of foods that one eats will impact the quantity of foods that one will consume as well. Diets high in protein and high fiber have both shown to reduce hunger compared to a higher carbohydrate or reduced fiber diet (8,9). Additionally, research has demonstrated that high protein diets have an increased thermic effect of food, allowing for greater weight loss at ‘equal’ calorie intakes when compared to higher carbohydrate diets. The big take home points however, are that eating ‘good’ foods will allow you to keep total calories higher but eating the occasional ‘bad’ food won’t wreck your diet as long as it controlled within the context of total caloric intake. Therefore, the most successful strategy in achieve limiting fat gain/maximizing fat loss is to practice cognitive restraint while consuming a diet high in protein and dietary fiber.
1) Wardlaw GM, Kessel M. Energy Production and Energy Balance. In: Perspective in Nutrition 2nd Ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education; 2002. p. 535-537.
2) Feinman RD and Fine EJ. A calorie is a calorie violates the second law of thermodynamics. Nutrition J. 2004, 3:9.
3) Hue L. Regulation of gluconeogenesis in liver: In: Jefferson L, Cherington A, eds. Handbook of physiology: the endocrine system. Vol 2. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2001:649-57.
4) Bier DM. The energy cost of protein metabolism: lean and mean on Uncle Sam’s team. In: The role of protein and amino acids in sustaining and enhancing performance. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1999:109-19.
5) Jequier E: Pathways to obesity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2002, 26 Suppl 2:S12-7.
6) Westman EC, Mavropoulos J, Yancy WS, Vlek JS: A review of low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets. Curr Atheroscler Rep 2003, 5:476-483.
7) Buchnolz AC and Schoeller DA. Is a calorie a calorie? Am J Clin Nutr, 2004:79(suppl): 899S-906S.
8) Nickols-Richardson SM, Coleman MD, Volpe JJ, Hosig KW. Perceived hunger is lower and weight loss is greater in overweight pre-menopausal women consuming a low-carbohydrate/high-protein vs. high-carbohydrate/low-fat diet. J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 2005 Sep;105(9):1433-7.
9) Howarth NC, Saltzman E, Roberts SB. Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Nutr. Rev. 2001 May;59(5):129-39.
The most perfect diet will not work if the person cannot adhere to the details that actually matter. A diet has to make sense physiologically and psychologically. Diets that leave both variables unaccounted for are usually setting up people for failure, rather than helping them reach their full potential.
- Alberto Nunez
Nothing! Everything’s Fine in Moderation
Health gurus may gasp in horror, but Alan Aragon, a southern California-based nutritionist who works with professional athletes, welcomes pretty much anything into his diet. “There are no foods I can think of that I would completely avoid,” he says. “I like to say, ‘avoid food avoidance.’ This helps reinforce the principle that everything — and I mean everything — is fine in moderation.”
French fries? Cheese curds? Taco Bell’s Dorito-shell tacos? It’s all acceptable. “Junk food can be eaten as often as you want — even daily — as long as it only comprises a minor proportion of your overall calories for the day. This allows people to not feel boxed into a diet that has no leeway for letting your hair down,” says Aragon. “I’ve always said that life is far too long to spend on a strict diet.”
Aragon cites studies looking at ‘orthorexia nervosa’ — an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food. ”It reminds me of the counterproductive dietary perfectionism I’ve seen among many athletes, trainers and coaches. One of the fundamental pitfalls of dichotomizing foods as good or bad, or clean or dirty, is that it can form a destructive relationship with food,” he says.
In a 1999 study, researchers found that flexible dieting was associated with less overeating, lower body weight and better psychological health. Extremely strict dieting was linked to the opposite. Aragon believes those who restrict themselves too much can end up overeating later. “Anyone who spends enough time among fitness buffs knows that these findings are not off the mark,” says Aragon.
Aragon is by no means encouraging junk food binges, but for him, everything in moderation is just fine.
This excerpt comes from the very last page of this article. Unfortunately, the entire article is comprised almost entirely of the same old poor information until you hit this page featuring Alan Aragon.
If you’d like to read more on Alan Aragon’s insights to nutrition and fitness I would recommend checking out his article The Dirt On Clean Eating.
Also, if you’d like to know more about moderate dieting for a healthier lifestyle check out a few previous posts that have been featured here such as:
Training must facilitate the adaptations necessary to promote muscle tissue growth and diet must be there to complement the physiologic needs of the body in order to support growth and recovery. Without one or the other the equation falls apart. Since I am a nutrition major, I will address the diet side of the equation.
A diet which promotes recovery and growth is one which first and foremost meets the caloric requirements of the athlete. Without adequate calories (above maintenance levels) growth cannot occur. Secondly, adequate protein and carbohydrate must be consumed in order to A) sustain energy for training sessions and B) adequately recover and grow during the post-training period. I am not a stickler with numbers and ratios, as one diet is not universal for everyone, but as a general rule of thumb, 1g/lb lean body mass of protein and anywhere from 3-4g/lb body weight of carbohydrate is a good start. Obviously your caloric requirements will dictate the overall amount of macronutrients in the diet, but these are good jump off points. Fat should constitute the remainder of your diet without being too low and without hindering the intake of the other macronutrients.
Some of the same dietary principles which apply to muscle gain also apply to fat loss. For instance, calories dictate overall fat loss just as they dictate muscle gain. Without an adequate drop in calories (through either diet and/or exercise) fat will not be used for energy and your weight will remain stable (or elevated). Since carbohydrates make up the majority of most athletes’ diets, they are the first to get reduced alongside fats. The only thing I would suggest not decreasing is protein. Maintaining adequate protein intakes (1-1.25g/lb lean mass) when dieting is more than enough to hedge your bets for any muscle loss without taking away too much from the other macros. If you’re more of an endurance athlete, you could probably get away with the lower end of the range due to increased needs for carbohydrate. In terms of weight loss, anything over a 2lb loss (after the first week) should be a sign that calories were cut too drastically and more carbs should be introduced to attenuate any further losses. Losing over 2lbs during the first week of a diet is not uncommon, especially in bigger athletes. This is normal due to glycogen stores being depleted as well as the water associated with the stored glycogen. Remember, water follows solutes, and carbs are a solute. Less carbs means less glycogen and less water in the cell. Once your body exhausts dietary fuels for energy it draws upon its own stored fuel sources, and glycogen is one of the first to go (most notably during exercise).
As far as supplement recommendations go, I would highly suggest focusing on training and diet protocols well before thinking about supplements – especially for the novice athlete/weightlifter. Training and diet alone will account for nearly 100% of any gains seen in the weight room and mirror for any beginner. Once a firm foundation has been built, and training and diet have been maximized, only then should supplements be considered. That being said, in terms of scientific literature, creatine monohydrate would be the first to choose. If it’s not monohydrate, it’s bullshit. Creatine monohydrate has been shown time and time again to be an effective ergogenic aid. Other forms of creatine (Ethyl ester, krealkalyn, etc.) are not stable in the acidic environment of the stomach and get converted to creatinine and are excreted in the urine instead of taken up into the cells (no wonder there’s no water weight. You’re pissing it all out!). Furthermore, I don’t consider whey protein or fish oils to be supplements per se, only because they are actual food items and do provide calories. I would suggest taking both at any stage of training (beginner, intermediate, advanced), unless your wallet says otherwise. You can perfectly and effectively train and grow without the help of supplements. In closing:
In the hierarchy of things – Calories > Macronutrient Composition > Timing > Supplements
This post is meant as a quick reference guide to explain what nutrients are and the main sources of them. It isnt an in depth discussion about nutrients or any aspects of them, simply a quick reference guide, handy for newbies or for anyone wanting to ensure that they have a balanced diet.
The post is divided into sections. The first covers the macronutrients plus water and fibre. From there the post moves to vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients to alcohols and artificial food components which are briefly mentioned due to the frequency they appear in modern foods. This is followed up by a links section which also doubles as the references for this post.
After a nutrient is listed and basically described, at least 5 examples of whole foods high in that particular nutrient are listed. What you will notice is the foods which come up again and again. Lean meats, dairy, grains, fruits, vegetables, etc. These foods should be forming the basis and majority of your diet. This post is also handy if you wanted to choose a food to enable you to up your intake of a certain nutrient such as a particular mineral.
Dihydrogen oxide (H2O) or water is a colourless, tasteless liquid under normal circumstances. Liquid water is essential to life and therefore is the most important and essential nutrient. Water is obtained by drinking and by eating food. It is mainly lost through perspiration, respiration and urination. Water contains no calories.
Water is the basis for the fluids of the body. Water makes up more than two-thirds of the weight of the human body. Without water, humans would die in a few days. All the cells and organs need water to function. Water is the basis of blood, saliva and the fluids surrounding the joints. Water regulates the body temperature through perspiration. It also helps prevent constipation by moving food through the intestinal tract and eliminates waste from the body through filtering by the kidneys. The human brain is around 80% water by weight and is very sensitive to dehydration. For a bodybuilder, adequate hydration is just as important than adequate nutrition. In a survival situation, hydration is much more important than nutrition.
Protein is one of the basic components of food and makes all life possible. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. All of the antibodies and enzymes, and many of the hormones in the body are proteins. They provide for the transport of nutrients, oxygen and waste throughout the body. They provide the structure and contracting capability of muscles. They also provide collagen to connective tissues of the body and to the tissues of the skin, hair and nails. Proteins contain 4 calories per gram.
MEATS - Meat cuts should be lean, trimmed & skinless.
- Poultry: Chicken, Turkey, Goose, Game Birds, etc. (Be sure to remove skin. If buying ground meat ensure it is lean.)
- Red Meat: Any quality lean meat from Cows, Elk, Buffalo, Kangaroo, Game. (If buying ground meat ensure it is lean.)
- Other Meats: Pork, Lamb, Lean Ham, etc. (Ensure you buy the leaner cuts as these meats can be quite fatty.)
- Fish: Fresh Cod, Snapper, Salmon, Swordfish, Canned Fish. (Most fish are lean but the fattier fish are high in healthy fats)
- Shellfish: Includes: Mussels, Oysters, Scallops, Prawns, Lobsters, etc.
DAIRY - Choose mostly low fat dairy products
- Milk, Powdered Milk (Choose mostly skim milk. Can be Cow/goat/sheep, etc)
- Low Fat Cottage Cheese & Natural Yoghurt. (These foods include the benefits of bacterial cultures to improve gut health)
- Cheeses & Other Dairy Products. (Cheeses are very high in fat, choose softer cheeses where possible)
- Eggs, Powdered Egg (Egg whites are pure protein, egg yolks contain fat and protein)
VEGETABLE PROTEINS - Vegetable proteins are often “incomplete” so it is wise to vary them or add dairy/meat
- Raw Nuts & Seeds: (These are also high in healthy fats and contain carbohydrate)
- Grain Protein: (Many grains eg: wheats, rices, etc contain significant amounts of proteins)
- Bean/Vegetable Protein: (Soyabeans are the main protein source here, although other beans and vegetables contain protein)
PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS - These are available in powders/bars/drinks/etc.
- Whey Protein: (A fast digesting milk protein. Available in various forms/fractions)
- Casein Protein: (A slow digesting milk protein.)
- Soy Protein: (Derived from soyabeans.)
- Egg Protein: (Primarily the protein albumin, this is a slow digesting protein)
- Vegetable Proteins: (Can be found in the form of Wheat, Pea, Spirulina Protein, etc)
- Amino Acids: (These are the building blocks of proteins. They are present in protein containing foods or available as free form powders or capsules. The essential amino acids * are amino acids that cannot be synthesized by the body from other available resources, and therefore must be supplied as part of the diet. “Complete” proteins contain all of these, whilst “incomplete” proteins do not. The amino acids are:
Alanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Aspartic Acid, Cysteine, Glutamic Acid, Glutamine, Glycine, Histidine, Isoleucine*, Leucine*, Lysine, Methionine*, Phenylalanine*, Proline, Serine, Threonine*, Tryptophan*, Tyrosine, Valine*
Carbohydrates are the chief source of energy for all bodily functions and muscular exertion. They are necessary for the digestion and assimilation of other foods. They help regulate protein and fat metabolism, and fats require carbohydrates to be broken down in the liver. They also provide some of the structural components necessary for the growth and repair of tissues. All carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram. Complex carbohydrates contain fibre.
SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES - These are the small molecule carbohydrates or sugars
- Sugar Cane & Sugar Beets (The main commercial sources of sugar)
- Fresh Fruit & Berries (These contain mainly fructose, a low GI sugar)
- Honey (Honey contains a mix of glucose and fructose)
- Milk (Milk and milk products contain the sugar lactose)
- Prepared Sugars (Glucose/Fructose/Lactose/Maltose, etc. Found in drinks or free form)
COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES - These are long chains of simple carbohydrates, that breakdown to release sugars
- Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin & Squash
- Yams, Parsnips & Other Root Vegetables
- Corn, Oats Wheat & Other Grains.
- Wholegrain Flours, Breads & Pastas.
- Brans, Weet Bix & Shredded Wheat Cereals.
- Ancient Grains (Amaranth, Millet, Teth, etc).
- Basmati, Brown & Wild Rice.
- Raw Nuts, Seeds, Beans, Lentils, Couscous & Other Pulses, etc.
- Vegetables such as Carrots and Peas.
Fats / Oils
Fatty acids are individual isomers of what we more commonly call “fats”. There are potentially hundreds of different fatty acids, but just a few dozen that are commonly found in the foods we eat. Nutritionists commonly classify dietary fat as either saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated, based on the number of double bonds that exist in the fat’s molecular structure. For each of these three classes, there exists a large number of different chemical variations or “isomers”. These include the EFA’s or Essential Fatty Acids. Fats are required to produce and build new cells. They are a source of energy and are critical in the transmission of nerve impulses and brain function and development. They are also involved in the synthesis of other essential molecules such as hormones. All oils ideally should be cold pressed, extra virgin and of high quality. Fats contain 9 calories per gram.
VEGETABLE FAT SOURCES - These are mostly high in mono and polyunsaturated fats and contain EFA’s
- Flaxseed, Hempseed, Evening Primrose, Almond, Canola, Olive and Most Other Plant Oils.
- Whole Raw Nuts & Seeds (Some whole seeds need to be cracked or ground to be digested)
- MCT Oils (These are medium chain saturated fats derived from coconut oil, available as a supplement)
ANIMAL FAT SOURCES - These can be high in mono and polyunsaturated and saturated fats and contain EFA’s
- Salmon, Cod, Halibut, Shellfish & Other Fatty Fish/Fish Oils (Fish are high in unsaturated fats and EFA’s)
- Dairy Products (Can vary in fat content wildly and can contain high levels of saturated fat)
- Lean Meat & Poultry (Even when trimmed and skinless, these provide fat. Can be high in saturated fat)
- Eggs (Only the yolk contains the mainly saturated fat)
Dietary fibers are large carbohydrate molecules containing many different sorts of monosaccharides. The key difference between fiber and other carbohydrates is that they are not broken down by the human digestive system. Fibre has no caloric value but is still classed as a macronutrient.
There Are Two Types Of Fiber: Soluble & Insoluble
These are often found together in the same source.
Soluble fibres can be dissolved in water (hence the name). These fibers are beneficial in that they can slow the speed of digestion due to their thickness. They are also helpful in maintaining artery health.
Insoluble fibers are such things as cellulose which do not dissolve in water. Insoluble fibers do not affect the speed of digestion. They are beneficial to gut health.
- Broccoli / Cauliflower / Cabbage
- Celery / Lettuce / Spinach / Watercress
- Mushrooms / Onions / Carrots
- Green Beans / Peas / Asparagus / Kale
- Bean & Vegetable Sprouts / Beetroot / Leeks
- Cucumber / Zucchini / Aubergine
- Tomato / Capsicum / Silverbeet
- Frozen Mixed Vegetables
- Any Other Non-starchy Vegetable (or similar) of Any Colour
- Any Grain or Grain Product
- Fruits & Berries
I hate to break this to you, but a doctoral degree doesn’t automatically render someone an authority. The only ‘authority’ is the weight of the scientific evidence itself. Never take anyone’s word on the basis of perceived authority. I have known several doctors with credentials from here to Mordor who think they have a solid grasp of nutrition but actually do not.
- Alan Aragon, M.S. in Nutrition
In keeping with the theme of evolution and nutrition, today’s article is going to be the first installment of a two-part series on the Paleo diet (also called hunter-gatherer, Stone-Age, or ancestral dieting). Even if you are not familiar with Paleolithic nutrition per se, you most likely are familiar with Atkins, The Zone, or South Beach, which are essentially less-strict versions of ancestral eating. However, given their differences, we won’t concern ourselves with them and will therefore just stick to looking at Paleo. Part 1 will solely place emphasis on the Paleo diet and some of the inherent biases/contradictions it contains. Part 2 will strictly be reserved for a research review on the literature supporting the Paleo diet, wherein I will make some final comments and sum things up. My goal for today is to show you all why Paleo is a flawed and inflexible diet system comprised of ideologues who cement themselves in assumptions while blindly disregarding scientific literature that opposes their own views about nutrition. So, without further ado, let’s begin by taking a look at what Paleolithic nutrition actually is.
Enter Paleo: Society’s Stone-Age Solution
In essence, the Paleolithic period – some 2-million years ago – marked the start of humanity, most notably, with the advent of stone tools in order to facilitate food consumption. During this time period, it is assumed that grain and sugar consumption (other than fruit) was virtually nonexistent, maybe except for occasional honey here and there. Taking this into account, Paleo dieters believe that the Paleolithic “style” of eating – i.e. a diet devoid of grains, starches, sugar and dairy – is best suited to our current genetics because we have changed little – if at all – since the emergence of agriculture and its products some 5,000-10,000 years ago. To quote Dr. Loren Cordain – “the world’s leading expert on Paleolithic diets” – directly from his book, The Paleo Diet:
Literally, we are Stone Agers living in the Space Age; our dietary needs are the same as theirs.”
It is from this rationale that Paleo fanatics believe that obesity, diabetes and the other“diseases of civilization” are caused from the consumption of grains – or as they like to call them, “the double-edge sword of humanity” – because these diseases were not a problem back then when grains were unavailable. However, today, both an overabundance of grains and diseases are available. Therefore, no post-agricultural foods are to be consumed because they somehow contradict our genetic disposition. As extremist as this is, many people are taken in by this philosophy because it does offer a very logical explanation for the current health crisis we are now witnessing. What most Paleo nuts choose toforget is that we also did not evolve with television, computer, cars, etc. that lowers our energy expenditure and potentially leads to weight gain and certain diseases when combined with poor dietary habits. Yet, most of them continue to use these things on a daily basis; hypocrisy? I’ll let you decide. That’s another article for another time; today’s focus is strictly nutrition.
Now, I have to say that I am
in agreement with the idea that a diet which is full of McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and other processed foods is not the healthiest diet to consume; no argument there. However, if you’re trying to debate that oatmeal, milk and a little bit of sugar here and there are bad for me, then Ihave a problem. But, before I get ahead of myself, let’s see if we can actually quantify what a “caveman” actually ate all those years back.
What did a Caveman Actually Eat?
In a few words: we can’t be sure and probably never will. However, even crazier than the people themselves are their claims that they, the Paleo proponents, actually know what a caveman ate. In one of the first papers talking explicitly about Paleolithic nutrition, authors Eaton and Konner provided some general ranges for the types of food sources a person might have eaten back then based off of some more recent hunter-gatherer societies which lasted into the late 20th Century . Although this serves as a rough estimate for Paleolithic nutrition, one must keep in mind that a hunter-gatherer culture living in the 1960’s is extremely different from that of a Paleolithic society living hundreds of thousands of years ago. Any suppositions made from these observations are purely speculative and far from conclusive. Nevertheless, using these contemporary hunter-gatherer societies (living mainly inland and in semi-tropical climates), Eaton and Konner saw that anywhere from 20-50% of their diet was obtained from meat and anywhere from 50-80% of their diet came from vegetation. However, populations in artic regions – like that of the Eskimos – derive as little as 10% of their diet from plant-based sources. Therefore, if my calculations serve me right, the ranges of nutrients potentially run anywhere from 20-90% meat-based and anywhere from 10-80% plant-based. To me it seems as though there was not one single hunter-gatherer-type diet. In fact, a well-written review by evolutionary archaeologist, John Gowlett , argues that in no way there could have been only one “Stone-Age diet.” This is due to various geographical limitations, such as food variety and climactic changes, which would require various nutritional adaptations to be undertaken in order to survive in a given region. Therefore it can be determined that humans did not evolve eating any one type of diet, but rather an all-encompassing and extremely varied diet that would allow for adaptive survival given their geographic location/conditions. This is exactly what was seen in our more recent hunter-gatherer proxies. But does that stop the Paleo zealots from prescribing strict nutritional guidelines?
Question: What are the major things that annoy you about the fitness industry?
Answer: If I had to summarize it, it’s the general lack of respect for knowledge and lack of critical thinking among most would-be professionals. That leads to most everything that I could complain about. The whole field is built on regurgitating quasi-truthful factoids that often have little or no basis in reality.
The mainstream fitness industry is about worship of superficiality to the exclusion of substance, and the fact that knowledge is judged by appearance. Half the industry is dominated by fitness models that look amazing, but can’t tell you anything about training or diet that doesn’t require a big dose of AAS.
The other half is book-educated guys that don’t have the context of actually training themselves, or anyone else, but want to tell you how you’re doing things wrong. Whether we like it or not, exercise science academia has a vast gulf between it and solid training practices. A degree should be the very beginning of a coach or trainer’s education, not the end of it.
Everybody wants to be an expert, but few are willing to put in the real time and effort to truly learn and think. You wind up with a lot of people that may mean well, but often know a lot less than they think and do more harm than good with dogmatic thinking. Somewhere in the middle there’s this tiny subset of guys that know what they’re talking about and mostly stay under the radar.
I’ve done my share of yelling and stomping my feet about deceptive marketing and garbage claims made by the industry, and that’s not substantially different. It’s the flip side of the coin, painting authority when there is no authority and abusing what should be a position of trust held by a professional. I’m not as hostile about this as I once was, but it is still irritating if I think about it too much. I don’t like the fact that success and credibility are a function of marketing more than competence. But it is what it is, and sitting around yelling about it won’t do anything to change that.
If there’s one thing that has been consistent as I train myself and others year-in and year-out, it’s that I’m constantly reminded how little I really know. As I get older and more experienced with different goals and different solutions, I’ve come to realize that a lot of what we argue over is just trivial. It doesn’t matter that some guy wants to go train with a body-part split instead of three full body workouts. It doesn’t matter that some girl wants to go do Crossfit instead of my preferred mode of exercise. It doesn’t matter that you prefer Program A and I prefer Program B. All of that stuff is just not important.
I think that the field, collectively, needs to realize that we don’t know everything, we can’t know everything, and that there aren’t always right or wrong answers. If you’re happy doing what you’re doing and you’re getting results, great. Keep your damn fool mouth shut and let others do the same. That goes for me, too.
Thanks to Erick Stevens for posting this quote and link in NutMisc.