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The Paleo hybrid diet

Die Paleo Hybrid Ernährung

Here's a quick summary:

  1. The ultimate Paleo diet for strength athletes is a diet based on the caveman diet, with a few starchy carbs and exercise nutrition thrown in to support training with weights.
  2. There is no such thing as essential carbohydrates, but tell that to someone who combines large amounts of anaerobic training with a no-carb diet and whose chimes have been lifeless for a year.
  3. The pathway of anaerobic energy production runs on glucose/carbohydrates. High-intensity muscle contractions require glucose.
  4. The true value of a nutritional approach based on the diet of our ancestors is what that approach removes from the average person's diet.

Let's make it simple. The optimal nutritional approach for a combination of health, performance and improved body development is to follow a caveman diet - animal protein and vegetables, no junk - with the inclusion of a few select starchy carbohydrates and appropriate training nutrition to support a workout with weights - that's it.

It's a "pimping" of the classic "don't eat junk, match the macronutrients to the demands of your sport" nutrition plan. And even though this is slowly becoming a mainstream approach, as evidenced by the legions of new Paleo converts pondering whether a caveman had access to rice crackers or quinoa, the dust has far from settled. Many office workers still follow a high-carb diet that would be better suited for athletes, and many strength athletes follow a no-carb diet that would be better suited for sedentary populations.

The principle of specificity has been lost in the insistence on dogma and people are confused across the board.

Paleo musings

What has been lost in all this intellectual talk and academic posturing is what should be the true goal of any educator - to give people simple, effective, actionable strategies that will help them produce results in the real world.

So let's leave it to the gurus to argue this out for the purpose of nutritional supremacy. You should focus on finding the most effective way for your individual situation and goals.

The Paleo way

The caveman theme is simple. It works for virtually anyone from the advanced athlete who has been overloaded with information by the fitness industry to the complete beginner who doesn't know much about nutrition (or doesn't care much about nutrition) and needs a simple approach to get started.

Paleo simplifies the overly complicated and gives people workable steps rather than hopelessly overwhelming them with lofty scientific debates. Ditch processed junk and eat more plants and animals. I'd wager that for 90% of people that removes 90% of all doubt.

Paleo sh...t on the "health industry" that thrives on uninformed consumers. Organic junk is still junk. Gluten-free junk is still junk. Gluten-free organic cookies are still cookies and are not good for your health or your body composition goals. Wild salmon and spinach are also gluten-free.

But in some elite athletic or academic circles, you may not even mention words like "paleo" or "caveman". If you did, it would make you seem less innovative or advanced and guaranteed not to give you access to V.I.P parties where everyone gets off on their own qualifications. So we have flowery language, unnecessarily technical dietary strategies and an obsession with unimportant details. Are you no longer interested in getting things done?

While the science underlying such complicated approaches is mind-bogglingly complex and could take a lifetime to master, the most effective nutrition and exercise programs are often also the simplest.

Stop cramming junk into yourself

Take it from someone who has worked with clients of all ages and former athletes who have wreaked havoc on their bodies with uninformed and extreme methods: the cumulative effect of your diet over the course of your life is what really matters - not some 10 week window of time. Serge Nubret once said "Every disease comes from food". I believe that genetics and environment also play a role, but food is the part you can control.

If we leave out the theory, marketing material, endless discussions with studies and counter studies and pointing to that one genetically blessed guy who gets away with it, then you can't tell me that if you take a step back and just use your common sense that you think that stuffing junk into you every day can be good for your long term health.

There are many athletes who look good on the outside but are wrecks on the inside. They are extremely unhealthy and struggle with side effects such as insomnia, depression, increased risk of disease, metabolic damage and digestive problems.

Whether you like it or not, choosing the right foods is important for optimizing your overall health. If you want to keep eating pizza and cake every day, of course you can.

Low carb is for couch potatoes

The Paleo approach is certainly not the only way, and it's definitely not the only method I use, but it is effective for certain populations.

A sedentary person doesn't exercise and certainly won't deplete their muscle glycogen stores (300 to 500 grams), so they don't need to worry about replenishing them on a daily basis. Carbohydrate-rich diets (300 grams or more per day) are more appropriate for athletes and regular exercisers who go through a cyclical depletion and replenishment of their muscle glycogen stores.

Inactive people need only worry about consuming sufficient amounts of carbohydrates to keep their liver glycogen stores adequately replenished, which regulate normal blood sugar levels and provide energy to the brain and nervous system. This can be achieved with about 100 grams of carbohydrates per day. You don't need to remember any of this - just remember that athletes can cope with more carbohydrates than people with an office job.

That's why scientific research shows that lower-carb, caveman dietary approaches may be the best approach for improving body composition and biomarkers of health for overweight, insulin-resistant and sedentary people.

The bottom line

If you are severely overweight, insulin resistant and/or sedentary, then a Paleo style diet may be the best approach for you at this time. Maintain a calorie deficit, eat adequate amounts of protein, consume about 100 grams of carbohydrates in the form of vegetables and fruit and consume your remaining calories in the form of healthy fats.

Where all the sectarian fanatics go wrong

Let's talk about the Paleo diet in terms of its generally accepted, well-known version - the low-carb, high-protein, high-fat version (eat animal protein, non-starchy vegetables, fruits and healthy fats).

There is no "one" Paleo diet and the food choices and percentage distribution of macronutrients vary depending on the time and region under consideration (Inuit vs. Kitavan, etc.). I know this isn't fair to the Paleo movement, but this article is about simplifying things, giving people applicable strategies, and explaining them in terms they know.

Specificity matters

The problems start when a nutritional approach becomes a pseudo-religious cult - fanatical teachers preach it as the only way with no possible modifications based on individual goals, hardcore followers condemn all other methods, brainwashed students who may stunt their progress or harm themselves by following the teachings of an inflexible system spread the fear that if a starchy carbohydrate ever touches your lips, the wrath of the four winds will destroy your village.

You will never convince me that a 150 kilo, obese, insulin resistant, sedentary office worker trying to save his life should eat the same as an athlete trying to achieve maximum performance. But that's exactly what you must believe if you dogmatically follow one of those "one size fits all" systems.

The true value of a caveman approach to nutrition is in what it removes from the average person's diet - high fructose corn syrup and table sugar, trans fats, unhealthy oils - and not in a religious adherence to the one specific macronutrient distribution scheme regardless of individual activity levels, metabolic state or goals.

Why? Because 100% Paleo (as it is usually defined) simply does not address the differences in individual activity levels, individual metabolic factors, overall health, and the differences between average citizens and elite athletes.

Starchy carbohydrates and avoiding the "skinny-fat" syndrome

Animals and plants provide us with the essential amino acids, essential fatty acids and macronutrients we need to survive and function normally. Everything else is about providing us with the energy we need for our daily activities.

"Added fat" is a source of energy and not an essential nutrient. This can be a good or bad thing depending on your overall calorie needs and goals, the type and amount of training you do, and the composition of the rest of your diet. A healthy and active human body is adaptable and can cope well with both.

Low carbohydrate diets are well suited for certain populations - sedentary, insulin resistant, etc. - and should be the default diet for probably 70% of our population.

However, exercise generates a unique metabolic environment - an altered physiological state - and changes the way your body processes nutrients both during activities and up to 48 hours after a training session. If you train intensively three or more days a week, your body will be in recovery mode virtually 100% of the time. It is in an altered state 100% of the time and its nutritional needs are completely different from those of an idle couch potato.

In a sports nutrition context, carbohydrates are therefore considered essential. I know there is no such thing as essential carbs, but tell that to the guy who combines large amounts of anaerobic training with zero carbs and whose junk has been lifeless for a year, or the gal whose thyroid hormone levels and metabolism are shot.

I believe that starchy carbohydrate consumption should be directly related to high-intensity, glycogen-burning activity levels. Fats should be regulated up or down accordingly so that you stay within your required calorie levels. If the training is different, then the diet should be different. This is simply common sense that goes beyond dogmatic creeds.

The anaerobic energy pathway runs on glucose/carbohydrates. It cannot use fats or ketones. While the body can use fatty acids for energy at rest (and the brain can use ketones) and even those who only train in the aerobic zone can adapt to fat as an energy source, intense muscle contractions require glucose.

Therefore, chronic carbohydrate deprivation combined with anaerobic training can impair performance and eventually lead to muscle wasting - the skinny-fat syndrome, i.e. you're thin but still flabby. The body will break down amino acids as a reserve energy source to get the glucose it needs for high-intensity activity. You know how it's said that fats and ketones protect muscles better than carbohydrates? Not necessarily when anaerobic training is involved.

And low-carb diets with consistent high-intensity activity can come with a host of metabolic, hormonal and physiological drawbacks, which can include impaired thyroid hormone production, low testosterone levels and sex drive, a reduction in metabolic rate, muscle breakdown, skinny-fat syndrome, insomnia, depression, irritability and reduced immune function.

For those who fear carbohydrates during their fat loss phases, remember that total calories are still the most important factor. If you train with weights while maintaining a relative calorie deficit, you can still include some starchy carbohydrates in your diet while still losing significant amounts of body fat.

The hybrid approach

Use the Paleo diet as a base template for your food choices - avoid processed foods and favor animals and plants. Include some starchy carbohydrates in your diet to support your training with weights. Try to minimize sugar, gluten, anti-nutrients and toxic compounds. What you are left with are root vegetables (yams, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes) and white rice. You may be okay with gluten or dairy, but a large percentage of people don't do well with them. Test it out and see what works best.

For a simple educational template that you can memorize as easily as the Paleo diet, I recommend the traditional rural Japanese diet, which consists of fish and meat, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, rice and root vegetables.

I don't care if this is historically or anthropologically accurate (i.e. what was eaten in a village in 1678 compared to a village in another region in 1594). This approach is only meant as a simple tool to give people viable strategies.

If you don't want to feel like you're turning into a Japanese person, the Uri peasant diet (meat and potatoes), the Okinawa diet (pork, vegetables and sweet potatoes) and the Kitavana diet (fish, fruit and root vegetables) are other good examples and templates. Carbohydrate-based diets minus processed junk is the common theme here.

The bottom line

The natural bodybuilding standard of a calorie deficit, adequate protein intake, vegetables and fruit for micronutrients, moderate amounts of fat as a by-product of animal protein sources and some starch to support anaerobic training, combined with hypertrophy-based strength training are far better for fat loss than the current low-carb, high-fat diets combined with cross-training and boot camps.

Find a way to win

I encourage you to take some responsibility and experiment on your own to find out what works best for you. Don't be like a chick waiting to be fed what your mommy thinks is appropriate for you.

Maybe you see this as not having a point of view. Maybe you see it as bro-science. I would call it figuring out what works. And as for the true application of the scientific method, even scientific research studies only give you steps one through three: question, hypothesis, and prediction. Each person has to do steps four and five for themselves - test and analyze.

You should use science and systems to find a well-informed starting point, but you shouldn't dogmatically cling to anything regardless of the source. Just find a way to win.

By Nate Miyaki | 01/14/14


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