THIS vs. that

Paleo vs. Performance

 As the Paleo-sphere grows in diameter it is pushed and twisted out of its uniform, aesthetically pleasing existence into the misshapen polygon of modern life. A life where surviving long enough to pass on your genes is not the only goal. As a result, we are seeing an uprising of paleo sub groups not unlike that of vegetarians, e.g., ovo-lacto, pescitarian, etc. In paleo land they appear as; very-low-carb-paleo, paleo+dairy, paleo+safe starches, and perhaps the most obtuse, 80/20 paleo. All of this variation leads to a great deal of confusion for the uninitiated and frustration for the well-steeped zealot.  Having diligently ground my way up through the ranks of the “uninitiated” to finally arrive a “well-steeped zealot”, I find I am now moving on to the third faze of paleohood known as “well, it depends”. Those in the “well, it depends” camp are viewed by the “uninitiated” as waffelers and by the “well-steeped zealot” as sell-outs.  The ethos of the “well, it depends” camp is that while we all benefit from ancestral dietary principals, our individual goals need to be coupled with our individual genetic expression to forge the most efficient path to said goals. Per usual the intro seems not to fit the title of the article so I’m going to get to the point…

In the simplest terms, strength & conditioning and nutrition strategies can be split into two distinct paths, one oriented toward health and the other performance. While these strategies are not mutually exclusive and do share common ground it is important to identify which you are using. For example an overweight or metabolically deranged person will see significant performance gains as a result of their improved health and vice versa. The point at which these paths diverge is difficult to identify if the person did not intentionally set off on one path or the other to begin with and set some benchmarks to track progress. Benchmarks on the path to health might include risk factors for heart disease like blood lipids, fasting blood glucose, and blood pressure; while the benchmarks for performance might include max back squat, 400 meter run time, or body composition. You may notice that the benchmarks of both health and performance require testing; this is one of the inconvenient truths of optimizing your health and fitness, test re-test will necessarily become a way of life.

Health: For this path it is recommended that you track blood lipids and blood sugar under the direction of your doctor; absent blood work, you can use body composition, which tends to correlate well with both. Generally as body fat percentage decreases so do the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. This is only true to a certain extent and the correlation becomes less relevant as body fat decreases. For example, a person who moves from over 25% body fat to 12% will likely see dramatic improvements in all biomarkers of health whereas a person who goes from 12% to 6% may see little change. This is, of course, because body fat itself is more a symptom of underlying issues than a cause.


Greater than (>) 25% Body fat and or metabolic derangement and dyslipidemia.

Eat low carb paleo/primal; shoot for less than 50 grams per day from low glycemic index sources like dense veggies, roots, and tubers. Get about 0.7 -1.0 g/lb of protein and fill up the rest of your diet with monounsaturated and saturated fats.

Exercise should be eased into and strength based to increase basal metabolic rate.

Between 25% and 12%

Eat low carb paleo/primal but feel free to eat some carbs post work out when your body is more apt to put them directly to work. The body stores about 300-400 grams of glycogen between the liver and skeletal muscle so if you are still trying to lean out think about replacing only what you used, or a little less; typically 70-100 grams for a 1hr. workout, depending on intensity and duration of exercise.

Exercise in this category should become more intense but still be primarily strength based with just enough conditioning built in to suit lifestyle needs.

Below 12% the odds are you are transitioning into some sort of performance based goal so skip ahead to the next section. If not, meaning that you are under 12% and still have not reached the biomarkers you are looking for read on. Blood sugar and insulin levels affect a great many of the common biomarkers of health, this is reason for the low carb approach. The trick is that ingested carbohydrate is not the only thing that affects these. Sleep, stress, exercise (added stress), and carb intake need to be evaluated and tinkered with. Change one thing for 30 days and retest…

Performance: For this path tracking performance goals is critical and keeping an eye on biomarkers of health and disease is optional but recommended; do it so that you can make an informed decision about how much health detriment you are willing to deal with in pursuit of a performance goal. For example; say you want to cut 10 seconds off of your Fran time, you realize that to do this you will have to start training harder and eating more carbohydrate. If you have been tracking your blood sugar you will know how much of an effect, if any, this increase in training and carbs has on your fasting blood glucose. If your fasting blood glucose gets over 100 and starts climbing to 110 you will be faced with the decision to continue chasing that 10 seconds and increase your risk of heart disease by 400% or, be ok with your Fran time and increase your longevity.


Greater than (>) 25% Body fat

The greatest performance gains for people in category will be as a result of lost body fat. Eat low carb paleo/primal; shoot for less than 50 grams per day from low glycemic index sources like dense veggies, roots, and tubers. Get about 0.7 -1.0 g/lb of protein and fill up the rest of your diet with monounsaturated and saturated fats.

Exercise should be eased into and strength based to increase basal metabolic rate. Again, the greatest performance gains for people in category will be as a result of lost body fat.

Between 25% and 12%

Eat low carb paleo/primal most of the day, all day on non-training days, but be sure to eat some carbs post work out. Those who are training intensely in this range should take full advantage of the non-insulin mediated glucose transport in the 1-hour window after your workout by smashing 1-2g/kg of fast absorbing starches like white rice and white potatoes. If you fall in the upper reaches of the body composition range don’t go crazy on the carbs or total calories because you will still see significant performance gains from dropping some fat, especially if you are already an advanced lifter. For strength and power athletes this is a place where dairy might become part of your life but I would steer clear until your <15%.

Exercise in this category will vary greatly as some people will just be starting and others will be at peak performance.  Again performance goals are the name of game and should govern most decisions.

Below 12%

Depending on the performance goals, paleo/primal carbohydrates should probably be a significant part of the diet for these people. I still really like the cyclic-low-carb approach wherein you eat a ton of starches post workout and virtually none on non-training days. I think this is a nice medium where people will likely see benefits from the low carb days but still enjoy the anabolic effects of insulin after a tough workout. As I described above, this is the place where health and performance often become divergent paths. It is important to set a of level health that you are unwilling to go below and monitor that as you work toward your performance goals.

Exercise here will depend entirely on what type of performance you are looking for. Figure competitors might use a combination of high intensity interval training (HIIT) and body building whereas sprinters will O-lift and sprint.

The moral of the story is that goals are the foundation of every program and will set the priorities for everything included therein. If your goal is to lower your fasting blood glucose don’t stress if your 400m run time isn’t world class. If your goal is a 1000lb back squat don’t stress if you cant see your abs during the winter…

Grass Fed vs. Grain Fed Beef

Grass Fed Beef (Pastured) vs. Grain Fed Beef (Feedlot)

The argument for grass fed over grain fed beef can be couched in several ways; in this article I am going to focus on what I believe to be the take home points.


–       Agro-economics and the humane treatment of cattle

–       Dietary Saturated Fat

–       Dietary Protein

–       Omega-3 Fatty Acids


Agro-economics and the humane treatment of cattle

As little as 200 years ago the vast majority of beef in this country was raised by free range feeding; cattle were moved from one area of grass to another or fed cut grass in a pasture and finally brought to slaughter at 4-5 years old. Since then we have seen a not so gradual slide toward industrialization and the “farm” has morphed into the “food system”. With the ever-increasing demand for beef and the ever-decreasing price of cereal grains (primarily government subsidized corn) came the notion of factory style farming where the inputs are minimized and outputs are maximized in the pursuit of efficiency (profit). What the incredibly talented farmers found is that via the factory-farming model they were able to reduce the cattle’s time on earth from 4-5 years all the way down to 14 months; pretty incredible right? Alas there is no free lunch, and in the case commercially raised beef the use of grains and confinement animal feeding operations (CAFOS) has led to significant changes in the quality of life for the cattle and meat produced for our consumption. Cows are considered ruminant animals and have evolved to convert GRASS into energy via a complex internal fermentation system. Ruminant animals are not well adapted to eating grains that, due to the high sugar content, overload the fermentation process in the rumen causing myriad health problems for the cattle, which necessitates the constant use of antibiotics. A common thread amongst the CAFOS of the westernized world is the employment of large animal vets which by there own admission would be out of a job if the cattle were allowed grass to eat and some space to move around. Take a quick drive through the central valley of California and you will get the sights and smells of such operations and undoubtedly notice, after reading this anyway, that most of these places are surrounded by corn fields and have sewer ponds larger than some municipalities. It’s the Harris Ranch model: you get feeder calves from grass land up north, feed them the petro-chemically fertilized “Round Up Ready” corn the government paid you to grow right up until they hit market weight, which is about the time they would die from the diet anyway; process their shit in a huge pit, just praying it doesn’t contaminate your well water; then slaughter the beef and ship it out for human consumption.

As you may be able to tell I find this model absurd, but regardless of your view of politics and animal husbandry there are some important health concerns when it comes to eating beef and most of them become irrelevant or significantly reduced when the beef is grass fed. (Advantage: Grass Fed)


Dietary Saturated Fat

Saturated fat is at the heart of many dietary quandaries and you find qualified proponents of both low and high intake for various reasons; I tend to believe that fats and specifically saturated fat have been over vilified by the mainstream. That being said there are legitimate studies connecting the reduction of dietary saturated fat to a reduction in heart disease. Since heart disease is the number one killer in the fire service I feel this is relevant.  From per capita data it can be inferred that the average U.S. citizen consumes 82 g of beef per day, with ground beef (42 %), steaks (20 %), and processed beef (13 %) comprising the bulk of the beef consumed. Ground beef, choice and prime USDA quality steaks and processed beef (hot dogs, lunch meats etc) represent some of the highest total fat and saturated fat sources found in any cuts of beef. An 82 g serving of fatty (22 % fat) ground beef can contain 8.8 g or more of saturated fat, whereas a comparable serving of lean (2.5 % fat) grass fed beef may contain as little as 1.2 g of saturated fat. Hence a daily reduction of up to 7.6 g of saturated fat could be achieved in this scenario by switching from high fat beef to lean grass fed beef. The deal is that the “better” the USDA quality of the meat the more saturated fat it contains (marbling) and the worse it is for your heart. (Advantage: Grass Fed)

Dietary Protein

With regard to protein things can get a little confusing because the statistical difference between protein by volume and protein by % of total energy can skew the numbers significantly so I am going to stick with % of total energy to keep it simple and skewed in the direction of my beliefs. If you consider that food is broken down into three macronutrients, protein, fat, and carbohydrate, it might occur to you that meat has a lot of the first two very little of the latter. This would be correct and so the main difference between grass and grain fed beef on the protein front is that an equal serving of grass fed beef has much less saturated fat leaving more “room” for protein. Grass fed beef is about 75% protein by total energy where USDA “Prime” cuts are around 40% by total energy. So what does that mean? Well one of the benefits of a high protein diet is that protein makes you feel full and satisfied. It also increases the sensitivity of leptin signaling which, along with insulin, is your body’s regulatory fat storage hormone. High protein diets have been shown to improve blood lipid profiles, reduce blood pressure, and increase insulin sensitivity. (Advantage: Grass Fed)


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

As I mentioned in the first paragraph cows are supposed to eat grass and when they do they convert a tremendous amount of it into Omega-3 fatty acids (N-3) that eventually make it out into the meat for our consumption. Grass fed beef contains about twice the concentration of N-3 fats that grain fed beef does and you would go a long way toward reaching the recommended daily intake without increasing total calories by choosing grass fed. The other Omega fatty acid issue here is the ratio of Omgea-6 (N-6) to N-3 ratio (N6:N3). In our ancestors it was common to have a ratio of 2:1 and today it is common for Americans to be closer to 20:1. Grass fed beef averages a N-6:N-3 ratio of about 2:1 whereas the same cut of grain fed beef is closer to 10:1. This skewed ratio of N-6 and N-3 fats is partially responsible for the systemic inflammation that is wreaking havoc on your cardiovascular system as you read this and anything you can do to reduce the amount N-6 you eat the better off you will be.  (Advantage: Grass Fed)



Grass Fed Beef is Better… There are a lot of factors both financial and health related that go into the decision to eat grass fed beef over grain fed. Some stores don’t carry it and others have questionable labeling practices so you are not really sure what you are getting. It is worth noting that the ill effects of grain feeding cattle are purely time dependent meaning that the longer the cow is on feed the more drastic the changes in saturated fat and N-6:N-3 ratio so it is generally better to buy “grass fed grain finished” than grain fed. The only suggestions I can make regarding the affordability is to either go in on half a cow with some friends or remove some other expensive things from your diet like hookers and blow.




Mobility WOD


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