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Caveman Diet

by Coach Seiji

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What’ll It Be? The “Sweet Spot” or the “Danger Zone”?

I have been involved in athletics and health promotion my entire adult life. I was coached, raised and educated that the ultimate diet for athletes in general terms was high carbohydrate, moderate protein and low fat. I competed, was taught at the college and professional level and preached this diet to all my clients and assumed that science and medicine had proven this to be the dietary formula.

Over the past five years, I have been researching “alternative” diet philosophies, partly spurred by my own career ending health problems that were traced to something called insulin resistance. This is a dysfunction where the body stops responding to the surge of insulin which normally reduces the elevated blood sugar caused by eating. This can lead to an array of health and performance problems such as type II diabetes, dysglycemia, chronic fatigue, hormonal issues and more. I started digging around due to sinking thoughts that at least some of my issues stemmed from the dietary guidelines that I considered the gospel of athlete nutrition.

Video explaining the how/what/why of insulin resistance:

My most recent research has been on a dietary philosophy called the Paleo Diet, Primal Diet or what I have termed the Caveman Diet. The theory is that our bodies could not have evolved in the relatively short time period between the agricultural revolution and now, meaning that we should still be eating similar to Paleolithic man or Caveman. Evolution theoretically takes a very long time and since the advent of farming, grains, bread, pasta, dairy and all the other food marvels of the current times, the mindset is that we are just not equipped to process those foods just yet. Our bodies may have a negative reaction to eating these items. Heart disease, diabetes, etc. could really be caused by insulin resistance and other negative effects that are directly related to the high carbohydrate diet comprised of these “modern” foods and possibly going back to the ways of our ancestors could improve not only health but athletic performance.

Although the theory of not having enough evolutionary time can make sense, it is nonetheless very difficult for me to accept after a career of practice, education and preaching the high carb, low fat “athlete diet.” The Caveman diet is almost the opposite. Eat like a hunter-gatherer: meats, fish, veggies, fruit and nuts. Really high protein, moderate carbohydrate and by today’s standards, high fat (animal sources at that!). Depending on what version of the Caveman diet I study, sometimes there is no distinction between saturated and unsaturated fats and cholesterol may be ignored altogether. You can see why this dietary theory goes against so much that has been taught and pounded into all of our heads in the last 25 years. (Remember the food pyramid?) Again, this dietary philosophy has been very difficult for me to accept let alone do and preach.

Instead of just continuing the endless research (which I still do almost daily), I have decided to experiment on the only voluntary subject that would do it for free: me. By the time you read this I will have been on a pretty strict Caveman Diet for almost a month. You can keep up with my progress, feelings and mishaps at my Blog. It has been interesting to not only figure out what to eat but also how I respond to the diet during training and regular day to day activities.

I am not saying that the Caveman Diet is the universal answer for all athletes. What I am saying is that there are alternatives to the historically preached high carbohydrate, low fat route and that you should research and experiment for yourself if you feel your current diet is not optimal. How you feel, how it affects your health and how you perform will ultimately determine which dietary philosophy works for your particular situation. What may be the “normal” diet may not be optimal for you. Every metabolism, physiology and yes, tastes, are different and there may not be an answer that even works for the majority of athletes. Explore, learn and find out for yourself what works the best for you. Do this while you are still in your growing and learning stages of your athletic career so you can take advantage of any positive findings. You never know, a change from the status quo may be the best change you make!

Resources on the Caveman Diet:
The Paleo Diet for Athletes, by Loren Cordain, PhD and Joe Friel. Also see www.paleodiet.com.
The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson. Also see www.marksdailyapple.com.
Tons of other books and websites are out there, I just haven’t gotten to all of them yet!

Seiji Ishii is the head coach of www.coachseiji.com. Coachseiji.com provides online coaching and personal training services to motorsports athletes. Coach Seiji has worked with both pros and elite amateurs including: Heath Voss, Ryan Clark, Austin Stroupe, PJ Larsen, Hunter Hewitt, Drew Yenerch, Rusty Potter, Jason Anderson, and Andrew Short. Learn more at coachseiji.com or contact Coach Seiji directly.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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Discussion

  1. Gravatar
    Johnny Greene March 11, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    I have had roomates who where Bodybuilders and the taught me to eat in such a way and when I did ( four about 5 years strait ) I was in the best shape of my life.

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    Tony Kubitschek March 11, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I have been follwing your articles from Virtual Trainer for a few years. I am a Level One CrossFit trianer from Boise Idaho and work with MX Riders and other athletes of Boise, Idaho. I have noticed a trend lately. The trend is that many of your training videos and articles are very much like CrossFit work outs. Are you aware of the CrossFit Philosopy. CrossFit is a method of training that uses Olympic lifts, Gymnastics (TRX), and areobics (C2 Rowing trainer) for their workouts. CrossFit has a simple but true method, make the work outs Consantly Varied, consisting of Functional Movements, at a High Intensity. These simple fundamentals help each athlete obtain a fitness level that is hard to accomplish through any other method of training. CrossFit also has been leaders in the promotion of the Caveman Diet, also known as the Paleo Diet that your recent article describes. You should check out CrossFit.com if you are not familiar. Your readers should check out CrossFit.com for their own off season and in season training. It will make your subscribers better riders and better all around athletes

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    Joel Younkins March 11, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Is this almost a modified version of the Atkins Diet?

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    stacy kohut March 11, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    crossfit is the bomb!!! the reason it seems like alot of recent articles mimic the crossfit philosopy is because they are.

    cave man diet? its called the paleo diet. quit trying to re-brand.

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    Erik Von Sanden March 12, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I totally see this and I am relieved. I have been eating like this because I have been bodybuilding for the last two years and I was worried that I may not be able to continue this type of diet when racing season started this year. It seems to work great for me. Even when I would consider myself out of shape now I still can see some abdominal definition and my cardiovascular fitness has never been better :)

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    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 12, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Tony - I am very aware of Crossfit and agree it is a very good method of training for a lot of riders. I say a lot of riders and not all riders b/c I think it may in fact be too intense for some but, hey that is what Crossfit is all about - Intensity. I certainly think there is a time and place for lighter training. It all depends on what you are after. As for the workouts mimicking Crossfit, I might argue that Crossfit is mimicking what I and a lot of other trainers have been doing for the past 15 to 20 years. I have always trained this way and just wish I was smart enough to brand it. I definitely think Crossfit has it's place in MX training. I always encourage people to try it and if they like it great, if not there are plenty of other things to do. But in general I am a Crossfit fan.

    Stacy - No one is trying to rebrand the Paleo diet. The article gives full props to the name Paleo. I titled the article "The Caveman Diet" b/c I have found that diet and nutrition are not very high on the list of things riders read. I thought that The Caveman Diet would elicit more of a response. Trust me, I have no desire to re-brand anything.

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    Coach Seiji March 13, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    The reason I used the generic term "Caveman" diet is because trying to write about the philosophy (not enough evolutionary time) and not the specific diet plan. I am sure there are several variations including Paleo, Primal, etc. and they differ in ways. An example is Paleo diet (Dr. Cordain's version) makes a distinction between saturated and unsaturated fats and suggests avoiding saturated fats while the Primal Blueprint diet doesn't make that distinction and suggests eating both (both equally good). The thing they do have in common is that the theory of why it is beneficial is the lack of evolutionary time to adapt to the agricultural revolution and that eating like a "Caveman" (generic) is the answer.

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    Marc Spataro March 18, 2010 at 5:08 am

    Another good perspective on the paleo philosophies is that of Dr. Art DeVany. An economists by trade he has also spent a life time researching health and fitness. There are several articles on his site dealing with insulin sensitivity, and by using the principles referenced I have helped many of my clients suffering from Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, and irritable bowel lead a normal life. I have modified these principles and most say the biggest improvements noted was the ability to stay leaner with out feeling weaker, reduced fatigue, and improved digestion and bowel movements. Check out his site at www.arthurdevany.com

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    The Turnip March 30, 2010 at 5:11 am

    Also, with this diet beware in the difference in daily activities between then and now. I had a discussion about fat loss with a few of my clients and usually refer to the way we ate 1000 years ago. The primary difference is what we are all using right now: technology. Cavemen did not have access to computers, stationary bikes, cars, electricity, anything...maybe the wheel depending on how long ago you are talking here. Their bodies needed the extra fat to fend off starvation in times of low food. This is the primary reason a extremely low calorie diet does not work well. Yeah, you'll lose weight, but as soon as you start eating again your body holds on to ALL of the nuttrients in the food: fat, cholesterol, anything because it is preparing for the next starvation period you put your body through. Truthfully, I think the best way to test this diet would be to go out with a big spear and hunt for your food, walk around in a loin cloth, and grunt to ensure you get the full effect. I'm not saying it doesn't work (I went back and reread...sounded negative, not my intention) I do believe that you will see some kind of result, probably good especially if you do away with all processed foods and added sugars, so good luck Coach...hope to hear of a wild man running around killing bison with a spear. I look forward to reading more about your results.

    -Chandler Turnipseed

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    Daniel C. April 05, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Well, I agree that the modern eating recommendations are out of whack, but I dont think that it's due to some kind of evolutionary lag time. Our bodies can adapt to changes, especially in our diets, much faster than can be labeled "evolution". Try it for yourself, you'll see. The problem is technological lag time. The food we buy at the supermarket is terrible. Almost all of them are pumped full of hydrogenated oils, chemical sweeteners, and other ingredients that are totally artificial. If you cut these out of your diet you will probably be better of no matter what ratio of fat, calories, and carbohyrates you take in. After that, then I would start worrying about how much of these items you consume. If and when the technological lag time catches up, then I think that these problems will be shown to have been that the problem was that our bodies just don't like the chemicals. When Seiji lists his food examples they stike my as being natural foods, un-corrupted by proccessing and chemicals, which I think is the real key.

    p.s. Keep up the great work Coach Seiji.

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    Coach Seiji May 18, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Thanks for the comments guys. You can check on my updates on this diet on my blog at www.coachseiji.com. So far, so good. I do agree with one of the responses above about the real caveman having much more of an energy demand than a modern person so in my personal little test, I am counting my training activities as sort of the replacement for the hunter/gatherer activities. I have been gradually ramping up the exercise intensity to match the programs my athletes are on and have had to adjust the original "formula". I also plan on continuing this experiment past this season so I can test out the diet plus matching what I would think would think would be a real caveman energy demand: lots of walking (hunting and gathering) with short periods of super intense activity (either chasing the prey or being chased) with carrying heavy loads (hauling off your kill.) Entertaining to me at the very least and super pumped when I notice changes in myself!

  13. Gravatar
    The Turnip June 10, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Hey Coach Seiji,

    After reading this article I actually heard a few more people around mention this diet so I looked into it (more so than just readin your article - fault #1). I ended up buying The Paleo Diet book and reading about it more. This diet and the way he presents it in his book seem to be a good combination (I'm allowed to change my mind right??). Anyway, hope the diet is going well and I'm actually looking to give it a shot too when I have some more time to plan out the meals. Look forward to hearing about your results.

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    Cave Man Diet December 22, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Come on, this stuff is 30 years old, man just stick to the basics, no one really understands and you keep taking articles from others that have taken articles from others, and we end up with crap like this. The only way to make inroads to fitness and health is to do the research yourself. HEY let's all just eat bacon, O yea that guy is Dead. Mr. Atkins !

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    Ergo March 15, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Sorry Seiji- The term "caveman diet" had been coined over a decade ago. Long before Friel, and long before Sisson.... fyi... And while this philosophy is only about 10,000 years old, it still doesnt particularly address the needs of serious endurance athletes....

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