This is a guest post from Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple. Mark is an expert when it comes to nutrition, I would listen to everything he has to say!
Fitness and Diet
Modern fitness observes that the human body is a mostly symmetrical machine designed to move in specific ways. Compound movements that engage the entire body are best, because our muscles are meant to work in concert together. Real world movements are never done in a vacuum; we don’t move furniture using only our biceps, which is why the best functional strength is developed through exercises like deadlifts, squats, pullups, and presses – exercises that mimic the daily movements men and women have been performing for tens of thousands of years.
When it comes to food, people who might laugh at the guy doing supine single arm bicep preacher curls often commit the same mistake. They focus on calorie counts, eating windows, saturated fat intake, and whether or not they should eat the egg yolks. Numbers are added and subtracted and obsessed over, and it’s all just a mess trying to keep track of everything.
Think for a second
Why not take a step back and think about nutrition the same way you already think about fitness – that the time-tested, functional methods are probably best. Nutrition, when viewed through the prism of evolutionary genetics, can be incredibly simple and intuitive. All it takes to get started is an understanding of two basic concepts:
- For millions of years, humans were hunter-gatherers, subsisting on a diet of animals, seafood, nuts, roots, fruits, and vegetation. They had no access to grains or legumes until roughly 10,000 years ago, when we began developing rudimentary agriculture. If they wanted instant sugar, they probably had to climb a tree and brave a few dozen bee stings for the honeycomb.
- Today, we remain genetically identical to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. 10,000 years is a blink of an eye, evolutionarily, and not nearly enough time for our digestive systems to adapt to the foods of agriculture: grains, legumes, and refined sugars.
Given that information, eating large amounts of carbohydrates, especially those derived from grains, legumes, and sugars, doesn’t seem like the best idea.
Our bodies are still designed for the bulk of our calories to come from fat and protein – the types of macronutrients our ancestors would have gotten from all the animals, insects, and plants they ate. Today, we can just head down to the store and pick up a bag of rice, but that’s a relatively recent development.
Why spend all day gathering up thousands of seeds of sporadically placed wild rice, only to have to soak them for another day just to render them digestible, when you could simply kill a bison and have meat for weeks? It wouldn’t make sense; it would be an incredibly inefficient way to spend the day. That’s not to say that carbs don’t have a place in a healthy diet. They do – it’s just important that they come from good, non-grain sources and that they aren’t consumed in excess.
My Primal Blueprint for optimal human nutrition is founded on anthropological records, but it’s grounded in modern science. It should make perfect sense to anyone with a basic understanding of evolution, and it’s incredibly easy to follow.
Protein takes priority. Along with fat, it should serve as the foundation of your diet. It’s first in line to repair damaged cells and enzymes, and it’s the most important macronutrient in muscle development. Protein can even be converted to glycogen, meaning you don’t have to rely on carbs for your glycogen needs. There’s really no ceiling for proper protein intake, but active athletes should at least take in 1g of protein per pound of lean body mass each day. Think meat of all kinds, eggs, fish, and nuts (and bugs, if you’re brave).
When carbohydrates are ingested, insulin is produced. Insulin plays a lot of roles in the body, but excess insulin results in fat storage and has been fingered as a major factor in numerous chronic diseases.
A cup of rice, or a few slices of bread – completely innocuous, “normal” food for most people – can result in elevated insulin levels that disseminate the fat storage message throughout the body. Without insulin, it’s nearly impossible for our bodies to store fat. As for how many carbs to eat, it varies depending on your activity level.
50-100g per day provides plenty of glycogen to support the energy needs for daily anaerobic exercise (sprints, weight lifting) while allowing effortless fat loss. 0-50g is doable, too, especially for people interested in quickly burning off fat, but you’ll have to make sure you’re eating enough fat and protein.
If you’re training heavily each day, you may be able to increase your carb cycling intake – just make sure you’re not eating grains, legumes, or refined sugar. Think colorful veggies, fruits, roots, and the occasional yam or sweet potato. Even if you gorge on vegetables, you’d be hard pressed to exceed 150g for the day.
In the absence of excess glycogen from carbs, your body needs a different source of energy. But isn’t glycogen our body’s prime energy source? And doesn’t glycogen come from carbohydrates?
It’s true that most people nowadays run primarily on glycogen, but for millions of years that wasn’t the case. Just remember this: fat is fuel. Learn to love it. I’d argue that we’re genetically predisposed to enjoy the taste of delicious fat (why else does the mere thought of bacon or a butter-drenched steak get us drooling?), so it’s really about unlearning years of low fat fear mongering. Conquer the fear that fat will make you fat and clog your arteries.
Dietary fat doesn’t actually directly lead to body fat, and heart disease is more about inflammation than anything – you can thank carbs and insulin for that. Fat will naturally accompany the protein you eat, but you can supplement it with butter, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and avocado – all healthy, delicious sources of fat.
Avoid hydrogenated and trans fats at all costs. Everything else is fair game.
The great thing about the Primal Blueprint is that as long as you cut out the processed grains and legumes and refined sugars, you get to eat all the whole, real foods you want. Fatty cuts of meat, handfuls of nuts, red wine, enormous salads with every vegetable imaginable, fried eggs – this is anything, but a withholding way to eat. It’s the way we were designed to eat, and it’s the most efficient way to get the lean, muscular bodies our genes desire.
If you’re interested in learning why eating, sleeping, and playing like our ancestors is the key to health and longevity, check out my upcoming book, “The Primal Blueprint.”
You guys have all been asking for more nutritional advice, so what did you think of Mark’s article? Leave me comment below with your thoughts or questions….