“Shades of Gray” My Nutritional Theory 1.0

“I’ve read all of your nutrition articles. I’ve gleaned that there’s a difference between Paleo Zone and standard Paleo. You’ve mentioned that Paleo Zone is more carb loaded than standard Paleo. This presents the question of which is the best method of nutrition? As an athlete? As a Firefighter? Both? There are so many different sources of information that have created a not so black and white picture. CrossFit Journal 21 marking unfavorable vs favorable carbs with potatoes and other starches being listed “unfavorable”. Robb Wolf mentioning that potatoes of sorts can be used best at certain times. Paleo recipes or blogs with bananas, rice, and even dairy? I’ve read Paleo Diet for Athletes. I understand that there is a when, what, and how much science to the whole deal. Can you clear up some shades of gray?”

This is a great question so I am posting it and my lengthy reply here on the main page for your viewing pleasure. First off searching for black and white in what is essentially an area of dense fog is futile. There are very healthy solid performers around the world that eat a wide variety of diets with every imaginable macro nutrient (carbohydrate, protein, fat) ratio and each of them has a representative who has written a book loaded with “science” supporting their view. The question of which is best for the firefighter athlete is wholly dependant on the individual and their current goal; be it strength, mass gain, fat loss, metabolic conditioning, or unassisted flight. There is some common ground to be found whilst stumbling through this dense fog though and I will do my best to guide you through the perils of my nutritional theory.

The leading cause of failed dieting is a lack of compliance, period… Granted some diets are easier to stick to than others but in the end it comes down to the individual’s desire to effect change in their life. Because of this truth I will present the information in a hierarchy of commitment starting with the low hanging fruit:

Food Quality

The very first thing that needs to be addressed regardless of your goal is the quality of the food and drink that you ingest. The sheer number of “novel” foods on the market is staggering and it is becoming very difficult to find real whole foods, this is where the Paleo filter comes in to play. Do you know what it’s made of? Do you know where it came from? Could you produce it at home given fire and sharp rocks? Did it exist as food prior to the industrial revolution? If it is meat do you know if the animal was eating its natural diet prior to landing on your plate? If the answer is “no” to any of those questions you should cut it from your diet. It bears mentioning that inflammation is turning out to be at the root of just about every modern disease including obesity and Paleolithic foods including some grains, if prepared properly, tend not to cause inflammation and in some cases may be anti-inflammatory. I find that eating quality paleo protein, fat, and some dense carbohydrate in every meal tends to naturally set me on the track to performance, but if you have dialed in the quality and are looking for further tweaks, read on.

Macronutrient Ratio

Here I am referring to the ratio of carbohydrate, protein, and fat in the diet; usually represented as a percentage in that order, e.g., 40-30-30 indicating 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat, which happens to be the ratio recommended in  Barry Sears’ Zone. In “42 Ways to Skin the Zone”Robb Wolf dissects the Zone and gives a few ways to tweak it to “your” needs; it’s worth reading and if you are type A enough it will absolutely work so I am not going to recreate that wheel. Again the maximum benefit of the Zone will not be realized without addressing food quality first. As far as a seat of the pants approach to macronutrient ratios I would say, for the average person, a piece of lean protein the size of your palm with every meal and as many dense, multicolored vegetables as you can stack on your plate dressed with avocado and California olive oil is legit. If you are just getting started I think it is worth going low carb (less than 75g per day) for 30-60 days to reset your system and adapt to fat metabolism; again Robb’s take on the Zone will give you tools to dial that in. Once you start feeling better and have hit a body composition that you are happy with start adding some more carbs in post workout to support your exercise levels, if you start waking up hungry or feeling foggy in the head you are probably over doing the sugar. Personally I get fat around the middle if I eat too much fruit even if it is peri-workout; recently I have been having success with eating a sweet potato for every training session in a day plus the carbs I get from my normal dense veggie intake and that’s it, at 205lbs I figure it at about 120-130g on a one session day and 50-75g if I don’t train at all. There is a carb vacuum that gets overlooked a lot and that is the added stress of this job, the brain burns glucose and chronic stressors keep our thinkers firing. This blood glucose usage will make you hungry just like a carb crash so, once you are fat adapted, it is important that you adjust your eating to your stress levels and maintain a fairly level blood sugar when you’re mentally tapped. If food quality and macronutrient ratios are dialed in but your performance and or body composition leaves you wanting, its time to address quantity or total calories…

Food Quantity

In the raw tonnage category I like the Zone; it gives you a measurable way to gauge the amount of food you are eating and apply necessary changes to achieve results. The downside is that it is time consuming and requires a level of neurosis most people find disconcerting. I also have faith in John Romaniello’s formula for basal metabolic intake:

Current Body Fat Caloric Intake
6%-12% 17Kcal per pound of LBM
12%-15% 16Kcal per pound of LBM
15.1%-19% 15Kcal per pound of LBM
19.1%-22% 14Kcal per pound of LBM
22.1% or above 13Kcal per pound of LBM

If you want to gain weight add 600-1000 calories a day and if you want to lose weight cut 300-600 calories a day. Seems simple right? Of course all of this works best if you stick to the quality and ratio guidelines.

So, all that being said I’m not sure that I answered any of the questions so I m going to hit a few bullet points:

The difference between Paleo and Paleo Zone.

  • Paleo for quality
  • Zone for ratio and quantity

The best nutritional strategy for athletes and firefighters.

  • The one that keeps you lean, happy, and un-inflamed
  • Use the above information and tweak it for you

Favorable vs. unfavorable carbs from the Zone block guide

  • Generally those categories are set based on glycaemic load or index see my post about Agave for more info on that.
  • I think potatoes, sweet and otherwise, are ok peri-workout.

Bananas, Dairy, Rice? That’s not Paleo…..

  • True but neither is Angry Birds and look much joy that brings
  • Bananas are a carbs issue and that’s it, they also have a stigma of being good for you so people eat them with reckless abandon, “But I get cramps and potassium is very important to me”, or you are addicted to sugar.
  • Rice is a grain and that’s that. Is it as metabolically damaging as refined white flower? No, but there are better carbs out there.
  • Dairy is a big question; it seems to come down to casein sensitivity and cross reaction issues. Personally I still can’t do milk, but I have been able to use raw whole whipping cream, sour cream, butter, ghee, and hard cheeses with no apparent problems.

In Summary; it is difficult to assign one nutritional strategy to everyone but I can say without a doubt that Americans eat way too much refined processed food and it is killing us. The performance tweaks that athletes are looking for are very individual and are best achieved through eating real food vs. supplements and powders. Patience, persistence, self-awareness, and hard work are the only things that work long term. The health issues related to stress and sleep deprevation are significant, they will also competely derail the train to washboard abb town.

4 Responses to “Shades of Gray” My Nutritional Theory 1.0

  1. Boston says:

    Thank you Adam. Your answer confirms my research that no one has written The Magical Guide to Boston’s Washboard Abb Town, yet… I’ll get on that. Trial and Error WOD- 3,2,1-Go..

  2. Drew says:

    Can-o-worms…haha. You mean we can’t all follow the exact same diet and look like Greek gods or goddesses? BS

  3. […] body fat: Low-carb diets would be the best. Think Paleo, Caveman, LaLanne’s “if man made it don’t eat it”, or Poliquin’s ”if it […]

  4. Leighann Jestis says:

    But a true paleolithic diet is impossible to mimic because wild game is not readily available, most modern plant food is cultivated rather than wild, and meats are domesticated. At best, you can eat a modified version of the original diet that’s gluten-free and includes lean meat, organ meats, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. It’s a wide variety of foods.’;*`

    I’ll see you in a bit <http://www.picturesofherpes.co/index.php

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