Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A little time off

I started "training" again in early August (training goes in "quotes" because it really wasn't training, it was just getting on something a little more consistent, and off the couch), but that was quickly derailed by a knee "issue", and some sickness. After a little time off, I am back on it, and it feels fanfreakintastic!

Using the ageless adage "lemonade out of lemons", I decided to pick up my dSLR to revisit another hobby of mine that has been neglected ever since I found out about all this triathlon stuff. I have always enjoyed photography, so I shook some rust off, and got to taking some pictures.

Michelle @ track



There also was a dog surfing contest right down the street from me, and it hilarious was being there. Taking pictures, laughing at the dogs, laughing at dogs get competitive with each other, the chaos of about 150 dogs running around, and every human eating it up. Here are a couple of the good ones:

What you lookin at?

This guy is so good, he doesn't even need to look ahead!

Get it!


Cool Action Shot

Human shreddage...

The real shredder...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Endurance Athletes Guide to Nutrition Part 6: Thoughts & Perspectives

I am sure that you find some of the things I write about to be a little debatable like grains being bad, and saturated fat being good - all I asked is that you read it with an open mind. Ideally, you completely agree, switch your diet, and run (and swim and bike!) with it. Otherwise, I hope it at least gives you a different perspective and something to consider for your diet and nutrition needs. Honestly, when I first started reading up on the concepts of the Mark’s Primal Blueprint, it took me a little while to really “get it”. Some of the theory went against everything I had been told, so I don’t expect you to get it immediately either.

Since writing these articles, I have picked up a copy of “The Paleo Diet for Athletes”, which I talked about very briefly in Part 1, which I will do a book review on. There is a lot of overlap between the Paleo Diet and Primal Blueprint, but they aren’t the same. I will talk about similarities (to back up my position), and differences for you to think about.

Some of you may also wonder if I am the only person who believes that a higher fat diet is healthy, or even optimal, for endurance athletes. I can assure you that I am not. Here are a few others that believe in a high fat diet, and their associated successes:

James Walsh: Writer for amateurendurance.com, 1st amateur at Xterra World Championship 2008,
Chuckie V: former Olympic cyclist, and Ironman Canada Champion
Joel Filliol: Current Head Coach for British Triathlon, was the Head Coach for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. All of the athletes he coaches adhere to a high fat diet
Simon Q. Whitfield (as if this guys needs an introduction): 2000 Olympics gold medal winner in triathlon, 2002 Commonwealth games in Manchester, Silver medalist at 2008 Olympics

On a personal note, I recently did Wildflower Long Course (Half Iron distance), and took 50 minutes off of my time compared to the previous year (2009: 4:51:06). Although I made a lot of changes this year to my training (with the main thing hiring a very good coach), James and I discussed how diet and nutrition must have certainly had an effect on my performance.

In terms of where I get my information, I get it from 3 main sites, in addition to other research I do:

• www.marksdailyapple.com
• www.lifespotlight.com
• http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com

Another great article on endurance nutrition and physiological processes is here.

The reason why I believe this works is not because it works for me, but because it just makes intuitive, innate sense. From an evolutionary standpoint – our ancestors’ diet consisted of a high protein, high fat diet. When they ate, they ate the entire animal, including all the organs, which are typically higher in fat than the pieces we eat these days. Back then, although cavemen had their own stresses and health issues to worry about because they weren’t afforded the modern healthcare and awareness we have, they didn’t have diabetes, heart disease, or other societal-inflicted plagues we are causing ourselves.


• Eat real foods that are naturally occurring. Minimize or completely eliminate processed foods (except for race fuels during races, or race type efforts in training)
• Eat a lot of good fat (monounsaturated and saturated fat are good for you, all others like polyunsaturated and trans aren’t)
• Carbs when necessary
• Eat when hungry, not when you aren’t – there is a difference between hunger (needing to eat) and appetite (wanting to eat)!
• Supplement with anti-oxidants and Omega 3’s

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear them.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Also, thanks to those friends who reviewed and provided input while writing this!

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Endurance Athletes Guide to Nutrition Part 5: Sample Daily Diet

Have you asked yourself how many calories should I eat or how many calories of each fuel source should I eat? Well, you won’t find an answer in this article since every body is different and you will need to experiment for with what works best for you. For CHO intake specifically, I would start with a minimum baseline of 150g of CHO per day, and increase as necessary, not at will.

The items listed below represents my daily diet about 2-3 weeks prior to Wildflower (Long Course), when I was training for about 1.5-2 hours a day – sometimes twice a day during the week (early morning swim, mid afternoon run). I generally try to get 50-60% of my calories consumed by 12-1pm.


• 3 potatoes and olive oil with salt pepper and spices; slice and dice 3 medium size potatoes, drench in olive oil and spices, and mix thoroughly. Bake at 350 degrees until desired crispiness
• 1/8 pound of vegetarian fed ham steak
• 1 slice of whole grain bread
• 3 tbsp of cashew, almond or sunflower seed butter
• 1/3 – ½ cantaloupe or melon
• 1 cup regular or decaf coffee
• 1 multi-vitamin (every other day)
• 1 lipoic acid supplement
• 1 fish oil supplement

Mid Morning Snack

• 3 Handfuls of Trail Mix (peanuts, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, raisins)
• Apple

Late Morning/Early Lunch (Stir Fry, or equivalent)

• 1/3 cup of brown or wild rice
• 2-3 oz of chicken or turkey
• 1 bag of frozen vegetables
• All sautéed with 4 tbsp of Olive Oil and/or Butter

Early Afternoon

• Gigantic Salad: lettuce, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, purple onion, 1/2 of an avocado, squeeze of lime juice
• 5 tbsp olive oil
• 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
• Couple dashes of salt and pepper

Mid Afternoon

• 3-4 medium size oranges (helps with the mid afternoon slump!)
• Cup of tea (decaf)


• Depending on hunger (not appetite), but generally much smaller than your average American style dinner - a berry shake with some whey protein.

Below is a graphic from www.fitday.com that shows the breakdown of calories from energy sources for me on a day-to-basis.

The above daily diet represents an ideal day, and is something I can usually make happen about 4-5 days a week (For all you booze hounds out there, this is the "G" rated / ideal graphic). But, I am human, and have weaknesses for certain items like everything bagels, donuts, potato chips, dark chocolate, beer and wine. Dark chocolate, I’d argue, is not that bad for you since it contains plenty of antioxidants, can really satisfy a sweet craving, and is much closer to its natural state than milk chocolate. Wine is also a fairly natural product and also contains anti-oxidants. (Some might say that I am trying to justify the consumption of such indulgences, and to that, I challenge them to abstain from consuming them when your significant other is indulging right next to you!)

You will also notice that I don’t have eggs in my diet. The main reason is that I simply don’t like them (although I wish I did!). I think eggs are very healthy as they are packed with good protein. If I ate eggs, I would eat the yolk.

As for protein, I don’t eat the recommend 1g/1 lb bodyweight as its “recommended”. The main reason why is because I have a tendency to put on mass easily, and 120g/day keeps me where I need to be. This is something I experimented with over time, as will you. I have considered purchasing some Bragg’s amino acids for a combo food flavoring/recovery supplement since amino acids are really what your body is after in protein for recovery.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Endurance Athletes Guide to Nutrition Part 4: When to Consume What

As I mentioned in part 2, a high fat, high protein diet is the basis for the “normal person” diet (based on evolution). However, we need to modify it to fit our needs as endurance athletes by:

• Providing high quality, sustainable energy levels needed for training, while not throwing our physiological systems out of whack
• Providing ample protein for recovery, but not too much such that we gain mass & weight

Also mentioned in Part 2, most of us work, rather than race, for a living. Because of this, our energy needs during the week are not that extensive, depending on the type of training we’re doing. If you have a co-worker who shovels down a keg of cereal every morning, claiming that he needs “to eat through the pain” to make sure he is getting enough CHO, he is in for one mean crash afterwards, not to mention feeling like crap for at least the next few hours. Those CHO calories will eventually be stored as fat, and because he continues to eat a high CHO diet, he goes through an endless cycle of never burning or losing fat.

When To Consume What
Macro Cycle (phase-to-phase basis)

Some of you may be familiar with Joe Friel’s Periodization concepts, or Base-Build-Peak phases.

If you are in early season “base building,” then the majority of your calories should come from fat since you are either just starting to get your motor going after some time off, or are preparing the body for longer distance training. During these periods, you will be training at lower intensities, so the energy demands on your system are not that heavy (in the sense of immediate energy). However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fuel yourself appropriately, it’s just that you won’t need that much CHO relative to another phase like build or peak. Remember, one of the main objectives during endurance training is to increase our body’s propensity to burn fat as a primary fuel source.

During the “build” phase, you are probably getting closer to your “A” race and accordingly, the intensity of your training is probably increasing towards some race pace efforts. This will require more CHO to help fuel workouts and recovery. Physiologically speaking, it’s also a good idea to teach your body to start shifting more to burning CHO as more of a primary fuel since you will probably consume nothing but CHO during the race.

During the “peak” phase (which is essentially your taper), you will probably want to cut back on CHO specifically (until about 2 days before the race), and maybe calories in general. This will help prevent you from gaining weight right before your race.

Micro Cycle (day-to-day basis)

We can take the above guidelines for phases, and start applying that on a day-to-day basis.

The main purpose of carbohydrates is to provide IMMEDIATE fuel for a physical task because they can be broken down so easily. The secondary purpose is to help replenish glycogen stores. The best times to consume CHO are in the morning, and before/during/after a workout. Consuming CHO in the morning helps top off glycogen after coming from a fasting state (sleeping), and to prepare your muscles for a workout at some point later in the day. Also, while exercising, consuming CHO does not spike your BGL to any appreciable level.

Now the types of CHO that you should consume are dependent on the workouts that you have done within the past 24 hours, and what you have later in the day.

If you like to get up early, and knock out a tempo run or hard bike session, I would recommend low/no-fiber, high glycemic foods such as a fruit or juice (non-processed kind) before/during/after. My best recommendation would be to consume some berries, since they have a moderate GI, and are absolutely loaded with anti-oxidants. As for how much – that you will have to experiment. If you finish your workout and are light headed, you probably needed more fuel. If you put down a smoothie afterwards, and can actually feel like you have consumed too much sugar – then alter it for next time.

If you are doing a longer, easier paced workout (long, easy/moderate bike ride), then I would recommend bringing real foods with you such as trail mix, an almond butter and banana sandwich, Larabars, etc. During long workouts where we stay predominately aerobic, it is better to be consuming lots of fat calories from real foods. An added bonus is that real foods are typically less expensive than “race fuels” (powder, gels, etc).

Post Workout Nutrition

The general rule is your % of Fat/Protein to CHO per “meal” should be reversed as time goes on from when you finished your training session. Directly after a workout, you should be consuming lots of CHO, and minimal fat & protein. But, as times goes on, reverse these %’s such that the CHO% decreases, and fat & protein % increases.

"Grazing" helps (as I am sure you have already realized, you finely-tuned machine, you). Remember, it still takes time to process food, which is why grazing (eating many, smaller meals) is better for endurance athletes. Grazing helps keep a steady stream of fuel and anti-oxidants running through your system for proper recovery. It also keeps your from having too low of energy levels, and then eating too much in one sitting (which we all have a tendency to do at times).

For the rest of the day, you can get back onto a higher fat, moderate protein, and low-moderate CHO intake. The key to eating CHO during the day is to consume CHO that has a low glycemic index, and to consume CHO with other fats and proteins as part of a balanced meal. When CHO is consumed with other fats & proteins, your BSL will not spike as much since your body is trying to process other items at the same time. That doesn’t mean you get a free pass to eat a ton of CHO. Your body is an efficient machine, but it’s also innately lazy – it will try and process the easy stuff (CHO) first.

Please note that all of the above is depending on how many calories you have consumed prior to the workout. If you had a big meal, or plenty of calories, then you may not need to consume hundreds of calories right after. Go on feel, but above all, make sure you consume something.

Note about Big Day Training

Have you ever had a really big day of training, only to be absurdly hungry for the next 48 hours? There is a good reason for this. When you shock your system with big day training, no matter how much you fuel during training, your metabolism will spike for up to 48 hours after you finish your workout. This is why nutrition is so important before, during and after. If you do a really long bike on Sunday, and don’t fuel properly, don’t expect to “be feeling it” if you have to bike again on Tuesday.

Hunger vs. Appetite

A lot of endurance athletes think that because they train a lot, that they can eat anything, anytime (I certainly did). Yes, your engine might be burning pretty hot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to eat all the time (unless the size of your stomach rivals that of a field mouse). You may think you are hungry, but that is not always the case. Below are the definitions of “Hunger” and “Appetite” – there is a difference.

Hunger: A need to eat

Appetite: A desire to eat

So often athletes will just eat and eat and eat – sometimes because they need to, sometimes because they want to. But, be careful of gaining weight – especially as an “A” race comes up. If you think you are hungry, maybe try giving yourself what I call "the 30 minute test". If you feel hungry, but you shouldn’t be because of meals you have consumed earlier in the day – have a glass of water and wait 30 minutes. If you are still hungry, then eat. If you aren’t, then you were never hungry.


When you eat is just as important as what you eat
• CHO before/during/after training and only when necessary otherwise
• Remember, through training, we need to increase our bodies propensity to burn fat as a fuel source

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Endurance Athletes Guide to Nutrition – Part 3: Physiological Processes

Blood Glucose Levels (BGL)

Because fat and protein generally take a long time by your body to breakdown into usable energy, and because they don’t trigger an insulin spike, your BGL is kept steady while digesting and processing these types of food.

Carbohydrates on the other hand, are broken down much faster which will raise your BGL. When your blood sugar level is raised, you release insulin and cortisol to help regulate the spike in BGL. Cortisol is actually a stress hormone, and insulin, or lack of, is partly responsible for adult onset diabetes.

Now as for effects of specific carbohydrates on your BGL, this is documented in the Glycemic Index, and Glycemic Load. Sugar, as you can imagine, ranks near the top. For a full list, check out this or that to find out what carbohydrates will reduce the spiking in your BGL.

It should also be noted that your BGL (and resulting physiological processes) are what’s responsible for “the crash.” The crash is from fueling your body up with all this energy, and then doing nothing with it. Remember back when everyone thought they got tired after eating a huge thanksgiving dinner because of the tryptophan in turkey? Well, it was from gorging themselves with everything under the sun and our bodies were basically saying “NO MORE!” and shutting us down to prevent us from eating anymore.

Oxidative Damage

I wrote another article a while back on anti-oxidants, which seems to get a lot of attention these days from the media - and for good reason.

When we exercise, a lot of things happen. For starters, the oxygen we inhale reacts with chemicals in our body, some of which are used to produce the energy we use to train. Oxygen, as vital as it is to life, is a very reactive molecule, and is partly responsible for creating free radicals in your blood stream. Free radicals are responsible for a number of things - including causing cell damage, stress, and pre-mature aging.

When we train and race, especially long distances, we are inhaling about 10 times more oxygen than what we do at rest, so there are A LOT of things happen at the cellular level. With the huge increase in oxygen, comes a huge increase in free radicals. As I will cover in the next part, anti-oxidants should play a key role in your endurance training to help minimize the damage done by training. The simple rule of thumb is to eat an absurd amount of anti-oxidants (on the order of 10,000-20,000 ORAC units per day). For a listing of ORAC amounts in foods, check out this link.

Anti-oxidant supplements

Although supplements could be an entirely new subject or article, it is worth touching upon supplements, specifically in the form of anti-oxidants.

Personally, I don’t believe most people need supplements - regardless of how much marketing there is, and how much supposed performance gains may be achieved. However, as endurance athletes who continuously push our bodies’ limits, taking a multi-vitamin, or anti-oxidant supplement is probably worthwhile. There are a number of things you could take – from the standard multi-vitamin or anti-oxidant pill, to nano-greens to lipoic acid to damage control master formula. You really have to decide what price range you are comfortable with. However, I will note that buying vitamins that have 1000% or other really high % of RDA is hardly necessary. The good thing is that there are quite a few vitamins that are considered anti-oxidants, such as C, E and parts of A - and these you always get in a multi-vitamin.


• Keep your BGL steady for the best short and long term health
• BGL is primarily governed by the foods you eat
• Endurance training increases free radicals the body, which can lead to premature aging, stress and cellular stress.
• Eat a diet rich in anti-oxidants
• Supplements as necessary

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Endurance Athletes Guide to Nutrition Part 2: Energy Sources

In Part 2 of this 6 part series I want to share with you some helpful information about energy sources that may help you adjust your diet to enhance your athletic endurance during training and racing.


If you know me, you know I like fat. Personally, I think Sisson said it best when he said "Animal fat makes everything better".

Awhile back I wrote an article called “Pass the Fat!” To quickly summarize:

• “Good fat” is good for you (olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, animal fat)
• Carbohydrates have their place in our diets, but not as much as you think
• We need to train our bodies to burn fat as a primary fuel source, which can be done through training and nutrition

Regardless of whether one is involved in endurance athletics or not, the bulk of calories consumed should be in form of good qualities fats. I am sure you are thinking that’s hard to swallow (no pun intended), but it’s the truth. I realize that this goes against everything you have been told, but bear with me and consider the following information.

When you are sitting at your desk, walking down the hallway to the printer, reading amateurendurance.com, this blog – or whatever it is that you do when you aren’t training (when you should really be training) - fat and protein are your primary fuel sources (ketosis). Your body and brain actually prefer these fuel sources since that’s what the body becomes accustomed to doing for the past 100,000 years. Since there aren’t a lot of energy demands on your system, your body has the time to break down fat and protein into forms of fuel. What you also may not know is that as a part of this process it also turns some of the fat and protein into glycogen (stored carbohydrate) for storage in your liver and muscles when you need it. Yes, you read that correctly - your body is able to create glycogen from fat and protein. It’s certainly a slower process than ingesting CHO, but it does happen.

Types of Fats – Essential Fatty Acids

They are termed “essential” because we can’t produce them ourselves, and that they are essential to our physical well being. Essential fatty acids are basically Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s. Evolutionary speaking, our ancestors typically consumed around a 1:4 Omega3-6 ratio. In modern times however, the western diet is disproportionately high in Omega-6’s because of the high amount of processed oils and grain-fed (as opposed to grass fed) meats we consume. Although they are essential, the imbalance of the 2 can cause havoc on us internally, mainly in the form of inflammation.

Omega-3’s come from healthy sources like fish, grass fed meats, avocado, fish, and certain types of nuts (e.g., macadamia, walnut). Ideally, you would strive for a 1:2-4 ratio of Omega-3/6. Some of the biggest benefits of Omega-3 are that:

• It is anti-inflammatory
• It is good for the immune system
• It helps with brain function (generally a good thing)

This is one of the few things that scientific studies agree on – that Omega-3’s are really good for you. Personally, I would argue that taking an Omega-3 fish oil supplement is one of the best things you could take.

Types of Fats – Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated, Saturated and Trans Fats

Monounsaturated fat is generally considered a healthy fat and makes up about half of our cell membrane structure. Unfortunately, these fats can break down into free radicals – the very thing that endurance athletes have too much of, and the thing that anti-oxidants neutralize!

Polyunsaturated Fat is considered more “healthy” by the media (although I disagree). This fat can be very unstable during cooking thus forming free radicals – the very thing we are trying to get rid of with antioxidants (to be covered in Part 3)! It also has been proven to be immunosuppressive (i.e. detrimental to our immune system). It’s common for processed oils (safflower, corn, vegetable, soybean) to have high polyunsaturated fats, and high Omega-6’s. Coincidence? It’s also worth saying that with all the training that endurance athletes do, training actually weaken our immune systems (ever wonder why so many people get sick right before a race?), so these types of fats should be avoided.

Saturated Fat – I am going to open a can of worms here and say saturated fat can be GOOD for you (or at least not as bad as the media makes it out to be). I know you are thinking, “But I have always been told that fats, especially saturated fats, are bad for me!” To which I ask, “Who always told you? The US government?” Please refer to their food pyramid where they say fats should be used sparingly and Bread, Cereal, Rice & Pasta should be consumed 6-11 times a day! Then, look at the diet issues in our country. “

Although my rebuttal does hold merit, it doesn’t cover saturated fats being good. They are instrumental to hormonal balance. They are necessary to properly process and absorb vitamins. They enhance immune function and if you look at the membrane structure of a human cell, it’s 50% saturated fat!

Saturated fat doesn’t just come from animals either. There are plenty of healthy oils that are mostly saturated fat: palm kernel oil and coconut oil. Because coconut oil is a medium-chain fatty acid, it is immediately available to the body for energy. It requires little to no processing by your carnitine or lymphatic systems. Believe it or not, there are studies out there that show that higher intakes of saturated fat can actually prevent skin cancer.

Further, saturated fats are great cooking oils since they have much higher boiling temperatures, and don’t break down into cell damaging free radicals as easily, or under high heats as much as mono and polyunsaturated fats do.

Trans Fat – Regardless of how much of an aerobic base you have - just swim, bike or run away from these as fast and as far as possible!

Cholesterol - While reading this part on saturated fat, I am sure cholesterol has crossed your mind. Cholesterol is not a fat, but the American public tends to associate the two, so it’s worth touching upon.

Cholesterol is essential to life. In fact, it’s so essential that your liver produces it based on the body’s needs. Your body, being the evolutionary marvel that it is, is smart enough to know that if there is an increase in cholesterol through diet, and then the liver simply doesn’t produce as much. This is why vegans can survive without eating animal products, which are primarily the body’s only way of getting cholesterol from an outside source (even though plants do contain small amounts of it).

I don’t want to lose you with the explanation on why cholesterol gets a bad rap, but the layman’s version is eating a diet high in trans fats and CHO (especially simple sugars) will cause a number of issues, one of them being inflammation. Inflammation is now the widely accepted cause of heart disease, NOT cholesterol (as it was thought to be back in the 1950’s.). The problem is that cholesterol is guilty in the court of public opinion and that may not ever change. If people would really like me to, I could do a write up on saturated fat and cholesterol specifically, but that’s beyond the purpose of this article!


As for carbohydrates, let’s be clear: the main purpose of carbohydrates is to provide IMMEDIATE fuel for a strenuous physical task because they can be broken down so easily into fuel. What your body doesn’t use for immediate energy gets stored as fat, especially if consumed at night. This will be covered in Part 3.


Protein is found in nearly everything, but people typically associate protein and meat together - for good reason. Animal protein (including fish) is a complete protein in that it contains all, or nearly all, Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s). BCAA’s are really the building blocks for muscle regeneration, which helps our muscles recover faster (always a good thing for any type of athlete). Protein doesn’t really provide that much “energy.” A gram of protein contains 4 calories, and it takes your body almost 4 calories of energy to completely digest a gram of protein.

Animal protein should be your primary source of protein, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be meat. Whey protein can be a healthy substitute (especially for vegetarians), and one of the main benefits is that it can be absorbed into the body faster since it is in much more granular form, and is typically consumed as part of a liquid drink (e.g., shake, smoothie).

Ideally, if you can afford it, purchasing meat that is any combination of organic, grass fed, vegetarian fed, antibiotic & hormone free, free range is, simply put, best for you. These types of meats are typically a bit more expensive, but in my opinion, taste better, and are better for you. The grass fed types are typical leaner, and have higher omega-3 content since animals eat what they are supposed to eat – grass – rather than grains. This link helps describe the differences between them all. These types of meats are much more in line with what our ancestors ate.


• Healthy fats such as mono-unsaturated (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) and saturated fats (Butter, Coconut Oil) are good for you
• Polyunsaturated (ie. Industrial Processed Oils) and trans fat are bad for you
• Strongly consider taking an Omega-3 fish oil supplement
• Carbohydrates should be used primarily for immediate fuel and glycogen replenishment
• Clean animal protein is best for recovery and well being

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Endurance Athletes Guide to Nutrition Part 1: Evolution of Diet & Food

This is part 1 of a series on the diet for the endurance athlete. In this section we will take a look at some historical background about the evolution of man’s (the species, not the diet, even though men and women could definitely be their own species) diet and the changes that have occurred over the centuries.

Perhaps you have heard of the books Paleo Diet for Athletes, by Loren Cordain or Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. In each of these two books lies the same basic philosophy: modern humans should eat the same types of food that our ancestors ate. The theory is that if modern humans ate as our ancestors did, then we would be in a greater state of health. Cordain and Sisson also claim that from an evolutionary standpoint, humans have been around for around a 100,000 years. Around 10,000 years ago, civilizations started developing agriculture to sustain population growth.It makes one wonder if the processed and refined foods commonly ingested today are at the center of many health problems today.

Both Cordain and Sisson believe we should get back to the simple eating approaches used by earlier generations. That means simply eating real foods. Humans evolved for hundreds of thousands of years by eating naturally occurring foods, so perhaps we should ask ourselves if we shouldn’t continue with that tradition.

The foundation of the eating approaches proposed by Cordain and Sisson, independently, is to simply eat real foods. Mankind evolved by successfully eating the same type of naturally occurring foods, so we as modern humans should continue that way of eating. However, as endurance athletes, we need to make a few modifications to accommodate our energy needs in training and racing. I took Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint approach and modified it to meet the endurance athletes’ needs. The PB approach, in a nutshell, assumes that early human calories came primarily from fat, then protein, then CHO (Carbohydrates). I believe that we should still maintain a high fat diet with moderate protein (for muscle recovery), and consume only as much naturally occurring CHO as we need to keep our hormones and blood sugar levels (discussed in part 3) at healthy levels throughout the day, and to help fuel our workouts.

Real Foods

By real foods, I mean foods that are naturally occurring. These are foods that would probably spoil if you left them on a counter for a few days. This would include meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and (occasionally) legumes. Grains are also naturally occurring, but more often than not, the “grains” (even the whole ones) are processed in some manner. When grains are processed they are stripped of their key nutrients (e.g., bran, germ) and replaced with much smaller amounts of nutrients, along with other chemicals. This includes things like whole grain or whole wheat bread.

It should be noted that our bodies do not easily digest grains. Once ingested, what isn’t digested is either eliminated through our system or turned into fat. People have been eating grain for only a few hundred years, which is miniscule to the hundreds of thousand of years our digestive systems have evolved without eating them. It would appear that humans aren’t evolving fast enough to process grain, which may be one of the main reasons why obesity has become such a problem in this country. Have you ever eaten a granola or kashi bar, or maybe some pasta, and had GI issues like cramping, gas, bloating or general abdominal discomfort? That could be because your body is trying to digest too much of something it can’t. Our body’s propensity to store excess carbohydrates is covered briefly in Part 2 and more extensively in Part 3 of this series.

Processed Foods

Typically, processed foods contain preservatives and chemicals that our bodies can’t process. Both Cordain and Sisson believe the reason is because our systems haven’t evolved enough to be able to process these chemicals and preservatives effectively.

Processed foods don’t contain much real nutritional value, despite what the “nutrition” label might say. Have you ever stopped and looked at the ingredients list found on a package of processed food? Often times we are challenged to pronounce the words let alone understand what they are. Many sound like ingredients in high school chemistry experiment rather something you would want to put in your body. Regardless of what the FDA deems safe, you need to determine if you really want that stuff in your body.

Let’s take a look at four types of oil: olive, vegetable, corn, and Canola. Olive oil is simply oil that was squeezed from olives. Vegetable oil is not oil squeezed out of vegetables. When you think of vegetables, you probably don’t think of very fatty or oily foods (olives and avocados being the exception), and because of this, making vegetable oil requires a tremendous amount of processing to extract the oil. Corn is actually a grain (not a vegetable), and like vegetable oil, contains chemicals that are by-products of the processing. As for Canola oil, there are arguments that it is good for you because of the Omega-3/Omega-6 ratio (covered in Part 2), but because it is a processed oil originating from a genetically engineered seed, you might want to avoid it. However, it is my opinion and that of others that it is a better option than the vegetable and corn oils.

Last year the corn industry created commercials on how High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is not bad for you when compared to sugar. Their argument was that it contained the same amount of calories as sugar, so HFCS is a very sensible substitute. What they don’t mention are all the chemicals inherited through enzymatic processing that is contained in each gram of HFCS. Enzymatic processing is not only unappetizing, but it isn’t good for you either.

Organic vs. Non-Organic

Generally speaking, organic foods will be better for you than their non-organic equivalent. The reason isn’t necessarily because of nutrients because both organic and non-organic foods generally contain the same amount of nutrients.

However, organic foods don’t contain pesticides and other chemicals used on them. On a personal note, I think organic fruits and vegetables just taste better. Have you ever purchased those double size monster strawberries on sale, only to take a bite and feel like half the flavor is missing? Next time, trying buying some organic strawberries, and realize how good they really are!

A general rule of thumb is if you are going to eat the entire product (e.g., most vegetables and some fruits), buy organic. If I don’t eat the entire product (e.g., banana, avocado), then you may not want to buy organic - mainly for cost reasons.

Another thing to touch on are things like organic cracker or similar organic processed foods. Just because it says organic doesn’t mean it’s good for you!

Dairy: The Gray Area

Dairy is in a gray area because you can’t go out into nature and just pick up some butter. Dairy is a bi-product of animals; some are minimally processed, and there are some health benefits with dairy products. A perfect example is using butter versus margarine or other processed substitute. Butter contains 2 ingredients: cream and salt. Margarine contains many processed ingredients.

It should also be noted that humans are the only species on earth that consume milk (or milk derived products) after infancy.


• Eat real, naturally occurring foods such as meat, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables
• Avoid processed foods like breads, pastas and industrial processed oils such as vegetable, corn, soybean and canola
• Eat grains only when necessary