Caveman Diet - The Final Verdict
by Coach Seiji
16 months ago I embarked on a personal dietary journey: I wholeheartedly put myself on what I called the “Caveman Diet,” my personal take on what is commonly called the Paleo Diet. The premise is that our bodies have not evolved enough to process foods of the modern era: foods borne of the agricultural revolution, modern chemistry and modern food science. The thinking is that our bodies are still adapted to eating as our ancestors did. What all this means is that relative to “modern” diets, this way of eating is low glycemic, low carb, high protein and high fat.
My simple mindset is that if I can’t hunt it, fish it or gather it, then I am not going to eat it with a few exceptions to account for modern life. My diet has consisted of all meats (preferably organic or grass fed), all vegetables (preferably organic), eggs, nuts and fruits in moderation. I hold back on fruits a bit because I figure the only reason we can eat so much fruit is that it is shipped here from wherever in the world it is in season and they are relatively high glycemic compared to vegetables. I add a little bit of dairy in the forms of cheese and yogurt only because I am looking for fermented foods to provide the bacteria that we would normally be eating back in the day because we wouldn’t wash anything.
This means that you have to disregard the modern cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease, which I debate internally all the time but I am starting to not believe in it.
Some variations exist in the Paleo Diet world and my personal Caveman Diet follows these often debated tenets: I don’t differentiate between saturated and unsaturated fats which is a main arguing point amongst the Paleo crowd. Why? Because I don’t think Mr. Caveman did either, he wouldn’t even know the difference. This means that you have to disregard the modern cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease, which I debate internally all the time but I am starting to not believe in it. More on that later. I also think that Mr. Cavemen would have figured out that eating the fatty parts of animals made his energy last longer which is important when you don’t know when you get to eat next. Some versions of the Paleo diet have you avoiding tubers (potatoes) and legumes (beans). Those, they say, are products of agriculture. This is true for large quantities of potatoes or beans but my thinking is that Mr. Cavemen would come across them from time to time and try to eat them, I mean why not? So, on occasion I have a moderate amount of potatoes and legumes. Those are what I have found to be the major differences amongst Paleo based diets.
A typical day looks like this:
Wake up, drink water immediately
Breakfast: Two whole eggs (try to get brown, free range), half an avocado, some nuts (not peanuts), two or three strips of thick bacon, black coffee, water and a handful of berries (organic if possible) of some sort. I purposely eat big in the morning to match my energy spending patterns plus sometimes if I do this I can be active until almost dinner time without eating anything. This, to me, is remarkable considering my past.
Lunch: Leftover meat and vegetables from last night, small amount of fruit, cheese or yogurt.
Dinner: Grilled chicken (organic if possible), steak (grass fed if possible), pork or fish (wild), big portions. Shellfish occasionally. Lots of vegetables.
Snacks: don’t feel like I need them unless I am at the track: nuts, jerkies, berries occasionally other fruits.
Pretty much only drink water.
I don’t eat unless I am hungry. A few months ago I tried fasting for half a day every Friday since I figured it would happen to Mr. Caveman now and again. I would still train, do normal things and it wasn’t that big a deal. Now I end up just fasting every now and again just because I’m not hungry that day. Never impedes my training or anything else. This is crazy for me because I was one of those guys that had to eat every 3-4 hours or I would get shaky, irritable and trying to train that way was useless.
Fat is fuel; Plain and simple. I have no fear of fats anymore and actually look for them. I eat the skins on meats, eat avocados like crazy, buy fattier cuts of meat, etc. Fat is the preferred fuel and I can actually feel that it is working as my daily energy levels remain really constant both in everyday activity and exercise.
I have stated in previous blogs about this diet that this is exactly the opposite of what I was taught in college, at the Olympic Training Center and all other forms of education I have had in my career. It is also the opposite of the way I have been eating as an endurance athlete and trainer until last year. I was totally on the low fat, high carb, moderate protein, avoid saturated fats train. I practiced it and preached it. Then, once I hit late 30’s and early 40’s the wheels started falling off: my performance dropped, I got a very severe case of chronic fatigue from overtraining/under recovering which was way off base and I was gaining weight steadily regardless of my training. I just wrote all that off to advancing age.
This diet turned it all around for me, I am dead serious. Here’s the stats:
February 2010: started the experiment. Weight: 178 lbs.
April 2010: 167 lbs.
May 2010: 164.5 lbs.
May 2011: 162.5 lbs. My motocross pants don’t fit anymore!
I feel much better on low intensity cardio and I can drop the frequency of that type of training and still maintain that type of endurance.
Higher intensity cardio performance is the same as when I was eating high carb, I just have to make sure that I eat vegetables, tubers, and fruits around those times.
Strength training is going just as well as before but I can honestly say my recovery time after intense strength sessions is much less.
My seasonal allergies are totally gone. It used to get pretty bad but I didn’t even notice it this past year. This is due to the anti-inflammatory effects of a diet such as this; lots of research on this is available.
All carb cravings are totally gone. At first I had to force myself to stay 100% caveman, then later I would be 80% caveman to give myself a mental break and allow for traveling but now I am probably caveman over 90% of the time and it’s no effort. Crazy to me, my favorite food used to be pasta. Now it’s probably bacon!
I am no longer a slave to hunger. I used to have to eat every 4 hours at least during times of training. No more! As stated, sometimes I can go all day, train, work around the ranch, etc. and just eat dinner and I am fine. Crazy! This is the most remarkable thing to me personally. I don’t stress anymore about when I am going to eat next.
Blood chemistry: I checked periodically because like most classically educated people, I was worried about all the saturated fats and my cholesterol. Sure enough, at first, it went up. Up to the point of being borderline high which was a first for me outside of when I gave myself chronic fatigue. Then, amazingly, it started trending down. It continued to go down as time went by even though I was sticking to my caveman guns. Now it’s back to where it was normally; my fat intake and saturated fats intake is way, way higher than ever in my life but my blood chemistry is all good. There are theories to why this is, much too complicated for just a blog, but I do understand how this happened. It makes me skeptical of the government and pharmacy companies and how they might have conned up this whole cholesterol thing along with the department of agriculture. To avoid sounding like a conspiracy theory kook, I will just stop there. Just really surprising to me considering my background, how I was trained as an athlete, what they taught me in college and post-college. I sort of want my money back!
I understand that this diet bucks common health and wellness trends and totally conflicts with what has been taught in athlete nutrition for as long as I can remember. It is a total leap of faith for most to believe in a diet like this after all that is in the media and all that we have been taught. I am not saying this diet works for everyone; I don’t at all believe that any one diet or training plan or system will work for every person. But this diet has worked for me amazingly, almost unbelievably well. It has worked the same for about half of my clients and many of my personal acquaintances, especially the ones in their 40’s.
Take it for what it’s worth but for me, this diet is it. It’s not an experiment anymore, it’s a lifestyle. It has carried over into some of my personal beliefs in training as well, but that’s another vast subject for a future installment. Thanks for reading, hope it at least provokes some thought. Carry on!
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.
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