Having recently looked into a study on high protein diets for athletes doing resistance training, it quickly became apparent that certain exercise types — such as resistance training and endurance training — have unique dietary needs to be completely effective. There was no significant change in body composition for anyone in the study, but other studies regarding a high protein diet all agree with this one thing: that the high protein diet burns fat mass — and the fear that it would raise cholesterol have been debunked.
A high protein diet can actually lower cholesterol and there is no chance of renal failure or significant changes to blood lipids or hepatic functions. Also, high protein diets may reduce fat mass by inhibiting lipogenesis in the liver. And if, however, you do a periodic resistance training schedule along with other sports training, a high protein diet can significantly change your body composition. Endurance athletes’ dietary needs are better met with significantly higher amounts of protein.
Most endurance athletes require more dietary protein intake for 3 reasons:
Insufficient carbohydrate calories to meet energy expense
Insufficient protein calories to meet energy expense
Exercise training expenditure increases 10-fold above resting state
Why A Paleo Diet Is Beneficial To Athletes
The Paleo Diet is not necessarily a high protein diet, more of a low empty-carbohydrate diet. That being said, it reduces the number of sugars as well as grains. You get your sugars naturally from fruit and your carbohydrates from them as well as vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, and yams or sweet potatoes. It doesn’t make you feel deprived, it’s versatile and allows you to eat when you want, as much as you want. Most high protein diets still allow grain carbohydrates and a significantly higher sugar intake than the Paleo Diet. This diet just asks: “What would a caveman eat?”
When training for any event or have a significant workout, nutrition is very important. The Paleo Diet can be modified to fit the athlete’s needs. If you have a significant game or a marathon to run, eating a small, balanced (500-1000 calories) meal 3-4 hours beforehand is recommended. For the caveman, it will include potatoes, sweet potatoes or yams, a variety of green vegetables and a regular portion of meat. This meal should be lower in fat, as fat takes longer to digest. If the meal is closer to the event, it should be smaller still. Be sure to include plenty of water with this meal and during the pre-event time.
The after event meal is slightly more important and should include carbohydrates, protein, and fat. This meal should also be consumed within 30 minutes after the event, to make optimum use of the nutrients. This is when protein synthesis is at its best and the carbohydrates can help replenish the diminished glycogen stores and enhances muscle growth. If you do not feel you can eat, a protein shake is recommended with milk, almond or coconut milk. (So many options!) Add whey or soy protein, some fruit if desired or vegetables for a complete “meal”. If you are an endurance athlete, this is actually the meal when you want to add more protein to your intake. A four to one ratio of protein to carbohydrates is recommended.
Protein Needs For Athletes
The amount of protein needed for an athlete depends on the amount of exercise that is done. This is where the high protein diet comes into its best effect.
1-1.5 hours of exercise requires 1.2 grams per kilogram of weight per day
2-4 hours of exercise requires 1.4 grams per kilogram of weight per day
5 or more hours requires 1.7 grams per kilogram of weight to replace the amino acids that have been cannibalized during the extreme exercise
After all this, any athlete may need extra carbohydrates to help fuel all the exercise output. Paleo is not a diet you have to absolutely stick to. It is a guideline and can be modified to meet your needs. Let me repeat that. The Paleo Diet can be modified to meet your needs. This is very important to remember. If you need more carbs and the sweet potato fries aren’t cutting it, add another baked potato. Put butter and sour cream on it, if you like. Whatever hits your fancy. Eat whatever your body needs, as long as you’re eating enough carbohydrates to meet your performance goals.
Fats are also an important part of the athletic diet. The Paleo Diet includes fats as a part of the complete nutritional picture. Having fats in your diet is as important as having the right amount of protein or carbohydrates to fuel your performance.
Calorie counting on the Paleo Diet is not necessary unless you need more calories to keep up your performance goals. If you jog for an hour or two a day and have nothing else strenuous going on, you will still need at least 2500 calories to maintain your weight and performance levels, more if you are trying to gain muscle. You want to make sure you have enough food, this also means fat, in your daily intake. So, forget about the skinless chicken breasts; instead have bacon, pork shoulder, avocados, and eggs – WITH the yolk.
Now, remember, this is for the endurance athlete and the ones who exercise rigorously twice a day or more. The rest of us can get by on the usual fare; basically, there is no need to have those before and after event meals. (But we can still have an extra potato if the need or want arises.) The Paleo Diet is wonderful and not really a diet at all. Especially not a low-carb or low-fat diet. More a life guideline, if you choose to do it. Do not let yourself get run down or exhausted, especially if you have been working out. That includes walking (or jogging) the dog…..Have another potato or more bacon!
If you are an athlete, you may be wondering whether the Paleo Diet is the best eating plan for you. Our distant ancestors were definitely in good physical shape; their very survival depended on being able to respond quickly to physical threats. We may not be living in caves any longer, but if you are leading an active lifestyle, you’ll want to make sure you are eating right so that you have the resources necessary to push yourself to new limits. The Paleo Diet contains elements that can help you perform at your best, no matter what sport you choose.
Reasons Why Athletes Should Use The Paleo Diet
The following are a few beneficial reasons why athletes should eat Paleo.
1. Carbs For Energy
This low-carb diet is chock full of fruits and vegetables, which means you won’t be putting on the pounds. Instead, you will have the energy you need during a workout, a practice or on game day – exactly when you need it.
If you have ever had the feeling of being weighed down, it was likely because you were eating foods that contained the wrong kinds of carbs. After only seven days on the Paleo Diet, you should be able to notice a real difference in how you feel and the way you will be able to perform on and off the court, field or track.
2. Protein To Build Muscle
We now know from updated sport nutrition info that going fully low carb only isn’t the best way to eat for athletes. The Paleo Diet is a high-protein eating plan which will give you ample opportunity to build lean muscle in order to improve your skill at your chosen sport. It is an excellent eating plan, since it can be adapted to the needs of each athlete. If you need to slim down, you can. In a case where you need to put on muscle, you can and due to the high amount of protein, it will be easier for your body to build new muscle.
3. Fiber To Maintain A Healthy Weight
With the amount of fiber you’ll be eating, it will be easier to maintain a healthy weight. Eating Paleo also helps you stay regular, which helps with bloating, energy and overall health. You’ll want to make sure that your fiber intake is kept up so that your digestive system is running at an optimum level. If it slows down, it will affect your athletic performance and as well as other areas of your life.
4. Healthy Fats Are Built In To The Diet
You need a certain amount of fat in your diet to stay healthy, and eating Paleo satisfies this requirement. They help you shed pounds, if you need to, and keep you feeling full and able to focus between meals. Being able to stay alert mentally while keeping energy levels up is definitely a benefit you want to get from your diet.
The fat you get from foods like almonds, olive oil and avocados are included in the Paleo Diet. You can also include saturated fats from macadamia nuts and coconut oil.
In part 1 of the series, we looked at the Anabolic Diet’s low carbohydrate, ketogenic weekday phase. We discussed the general premises of the diet, and I explained the modifications that I would make in order to make the diet more effective for body composition changes and much healthier in the long-term. In part 2, we will examine everyone’s favorite part of the diet- the weekend carb load. We will examine the potential shortcomings of the original plan, the most common pitfalls in the carb load and how to avoid them, and I will provide a more detailed and targeted plan to accomplish the goals of the carb load which, in my opinion, will provide both superior body composition results and a better overall health profile for the dieter.
As we discussed in part 1, the biggest issue with Dr. Dipasquale’s original recommendations are again lack of specificity and quality. This problem gets compounded on the weekend carb load, due to the much higher amount of food and the very pronounced hormonal response that the weekend foods illicit. In fact, far from being the gluttonous period of gastronomic debauchery that so many Anabolic Diet practitioners see it as, the weekend phase is actually quite hormonally and biochemically complex. What was originally marketed as “anything you want for 36-48 hours is really best broken down into three distinct phases which correspond to the body’s continually changing hormonal environment in response to the weekend foods. In order to really get the most out of the Anabolic Diet in physique development, careful attention should be paid to these phases. I will break down each phase, explain what you need to eat in the phase, why, and how long it needs to be. We will then put it together for a comprehensive overview of the weekend.
If there is a period that most closely resembles the original Anabolic Diet’s weekend recommendations, it is the period I call Phase 1. In this phase, your body has the most favorable hormonal and biochemical environment possible for utilization of carbohydrate. This is entirely due to the previous five days of low-carbohydrate, high- fat eating and training. These days:
Exhaust hepatic and muscular glycogen stores
Potentiate GLUT4 receptor activity
Stimulate AKT2 activity
Basically the body is almost out of immediately-usable energy stores, and it knows it. Since being low on energy is generally bad for surviving things which may arise, there is a compensation which takes place. The body gets exceptionally efficient at up-taking glucose from the bloodstream. Conversely, the environment for fat storage and converting glucose into triglyceride is very poor. Enzymes such as lipoprotein lipase, which is responsible for the uptake of triglyceride into the fat cells, are down-regulated. The liver is also in “storage mode”. The various enzymes which convert sugars into triglyceride are inhibited, while the enzymes responsible for glycogenolysis and storage are activated and hyper-sensitive. This “perfect storm” of biochemistry is what enables the consumption of all manner of junk food on the diet without adversely affecting the physique. Nothing is really off-limits in this period, even the dreaded high fructose corn syrup. In fact, this is the one time where fructose can serve a useful purpose as it is extremely efficient at replenishing liver glycogen in while the body is in this depleted state. Unfortunately this little phase doesn’t last forever, in fact it doesn’t last very long at all. All of these phases are very transient, and the physiological environment begins changing in response to the high levels of sugar immediately. Once you take that first bite of whatever decadent, sinful food you decide to eat first on your carb load, the clock starts. So the big question is….how long does it last? The answer is very individualized, but in general a person with normal body fat levels and normal insulin resistance will last about 6 hours in this phase before conditions change. The better shape you are in, the longer the phase 1 environment can last. Some elite athletes and bodybuilders can stay in phase 1 for an entire 24 hour period.
Even for the elite though, there comes a time when phase 1 ends. It is then time to begin thinking again before you shove that food in your pie-hole. For purposes of rapid fat loss, for those who are not in great shape and are just beginning this type of diet, and for those who have very poor insulin sensitivity and/or borderline diabetic phase 1 may be all that can be handled for the weekly carb load. The hormonal environment, insulin sensitivity, and intracellular glycogen stores are just not great enough yet to handle more than that. After a period of time on the diet this will change for the better and allow the individual to improve his baseline insulin sensitivity and to move on to phase two, where the majority of glycogen supercompensation takes place.
After you have driven back home from Dairy Queen and called an end to phase 1, an assessment of what is going on in your body is warranted. You now have a high to very high level of circulating insulin, while simultaneously continuing to hold on to good insulin sensitivity. This is a very advantageous phase for those who look to increase muscle mass on this diet. In fact this phase is essential of if the the greatest amount of muscle mass and performance is an objective. Due to the full liver however, special consideration must be taken when selecting the carbohydrate sources in this phase. This is essentially where I diverge from Dipasquale’s recommendations. Whereas he would have you eating pizza and ice cream the rest of the carb load, I believe in turning attention to the quality of carbohydrate in order to produce the most effective glycogen super-compensation in the skeletal muscle. We also need to keep one eye on our long term health as well. While a six hour free-for-all sounds unhealthy, I doubt that there are any long term health consequences to such an eating pattern. The total weekly time is simply too low and the calories which are able to be ingested too small a percentage of the weekly calories to make a difference. Once we get into phase 2, the period starts stretching into a day-long affair and the implications are greater for poor food choices.
Recommendations for the carbohydrate source in this phase are for predominantly long chain amylopectin and amylose-containing foods. Rice (white or brown), potatoes, pastas, oats are all fine choices. The key in carbohydrate selection in this phase is the elimination of fructose-containing carbohydrates. Why? Well, that has to do with our biological processing of fructose. Essentially, fructose cannot participate in glycogen loading when the liver is full of glycogen. It is 100% metabolized by the liver, and in this scenario the vast majority of fructose will be converted into triglyceride. This is not what we want or need in any phase of our dieting life, and we certainly don’t want to be eating a large portion of our carbohydrate during a carbohydrate load which cannot participate in making glycogen. The length of phase two can certainly vary based on all of the individual physiological differences that we talked about with phase 1.
I generally recommend phase 2 at that way. roughly twice as long as phase 1. In the scenario of the typical dieter mentioned above, this would be a 12 hour phase. Those with exceptional physiology could extend this though. Phase 2 accomplishes the real leg work of the carbohydrate load on the Anabolic Diet. Once completed, glycogen stores should very well be close to topped off. Some people will say that, once this happens, you should go immediately back to low-carbohydrate eating. This is certainly one way to do it, and there may be some positives to doing it that way. I have found through experimentation that a phase 3, or “transition” provides an even greater glycogen supercompensation while making the transition back to ketosis easier on Sunday and Monday.
The purpose of phase 3 is two-fold; to provide additional carbohydrates in order to complete the super-compensation and to provide slightly more dietary fat back in to the diet in order to transition back into a “fat-fuel” metabolism. This phase is short- it is comprised of two meals over roughly 4-6 hours. For carbohydrate sources, complex carbohydrate with lots of dietary fiber is the goal. This is the time for Ezekiel-type breads, steel-cut oats, quinoa, and similar foods. High dietary fiber will limit absorption and coupled with the dietary fat slow gastric emptying. This provides a perfect “bridge” back to low-carb land. We are essentially tapering off of carbohydrate (and thus insulin), treating it as the powerful pharmacological substance that it is.
Putting it All Together
So, how does it all fit together in the real world? And the larger question, is DIpasquale’s diet most attractive trait, its livability, preserved? Let’s look at it in totality. Instead of the 36-48 hour free-for-all we have:
6 hour “free-for-all”
12-18 hour glycogen supercompensation period
4-6 hour transition
How does this translate into “livability”? Well, let us assume you go start the weekend at dinnertime on Friday night. Friday night will be the “hang out” night. You can go to the ice cream social at the local senior living center, go out with the guys for some drinks, eat your corn dog and cotton candy at the fair. Do whatever you feel like doing, whenever you feel like doing it. You then stumble home with an insulin hangover and go to bed. Getting up the next day, its whole wheat waffles, French toast, rice krispies for breakfast, a trip to the sushi buffet for lunch, and spaghetti for dinner on date night. And as day turns into evening, eat a couple of smaller meals before bed for your phase 3. Things like a small bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter, Ezekiel toast with bacon and eggs would fit the bill.
So that’s the weekend. Hopefully I have stimulated you to think a little deeper in regards to carbohydrate type, frequency, and duration. In part 3, we will wrap things up looking at supplementation and tying the entire diet into a comprehensive training system which takes full advantage of the Anabolic Diet’s cyclical properties.
It is hard to believe that it has been almost 20 years since the Anabolic Diet cycled its way into the mainstream of the sports nutrition world. I remember receiving my copy in the mail in the middle of the summer of my freshman year in college, laying at the beach and looking down at my perpetual plump-titude of a belly and thinking carbohydrates caused this, and bacon can help get rid of it? I could not imagine this to actually be the case. After all, I considered myself to be fairly well-read in the matters of science for a teenager, and in particular in the matters of bodybuilding nutrition. I don’t think I put the book down until I had completely finished it. As it turned out, did turn out to be a revolution in sports nutrition thinking. It spawned numerous copycat books, and in my opinion, paved the way for the resurgence of the “Atkins” style diet in the late 90’s. So I guess you can say it has had a good run. It has enjoyed a long and mostly successful track record with those who have tried it.
Despite its success, we have had nearly 20 years to think about the Anabolic Diet in a critical manner. It is human nature to think that we can make something better. In fact, one of the most frequent questions I get from bodybuilders over the past ten years is how would I tweak the Anabolic Diet if I were re-writing it. It is still a fantastic diet template, but can we use the knowledge we have accumulated through 20 more years of sports nutrition research and experience on the original diet to address the shortcomings and optimize the diet. I believe we can. There is a lot it though, so this will be a three part series. In the first part, I will discuss modifications of the high fat, low carbohydrate weekday template. Part two will be the weekends, and then in part three we will dive into supplements and training timing for optimization of the diet.
The one criticism that I have always had of the Anabolic Diet was the complete lack of details about what you are actually consuming. In some ways, Dr. Dipasquale was indeed ahead of his time in regards to macronutrient quality, in particular in the supplementation chapter. He was among the first to publicly recommend essential fatty acid supplementation in the sports nutrition arena, and was also at least a couple of years ahead of the curve when it came to supplementation with creatine as an ergogenic aid. That is no small feat considering that probably two of the top three or four supplements that every athlete uses in the 21st century are a creatine supplement and their essential fatty acid supplement. But, aside from his forward-thinking supplement recommendations the book is completely silent on macronutrient quality. Why would an essential fatty acid supplement be so important to Dr. Dipasquale when the fatty acids in the actual food that he recommended were completely ignored? According to him, it is inconsequential because the fats are being broken down as energy substrates in ketosis anyway, so it did not matter where the fatty acids came from. They would end up as ketones. Well, we know this simply isn’t true and if it was true why did he make the distinction with the essential fatty acid supplement? Of course, we know now that fatty acid quality in the diet is extremely important for the health and maintenance of almost every organ system. From proper brain and nervous system function to correct balance of inflammatory cytokines, to proper inter and intra-cellular communication the correct fatty acids in the diet are critical.
I do understand the probable reasoning behind this oversight is marketing. After all, selling a book with the shocking claim that you can “pig out on anything you want” is much easier than actually selling a book which lays out an optimal plan for health and body composition. Authors are still using this tactic to this very day. Saying something provocative, and becoming both well-known and well-off for it is the American Way it seems. But since I do not seek to be either provocative or well-known I will simply give you what I feel is the best way to structure the plan.
The major, overarching themes are mostly correct and necessary. The macronutrient ratio, in my opinion, needs to be where the original book stated that it should be; 55-60% fat, 35-40% protein, and < 5% carbohydrate throughout the week. This enables the body to run efficiently off of ketones and avoids too much gluconeogenesis from protein intake. Many people have made the mistake of eating insufficient fat and have ended up stripping dietary and skeletal protein down in this process. The dietary fat is protein sparing at levels greater than 50%, and is critical for the Anabolic Diet, or any other keotgenic diet, to work optimally.
Protein Quality- Why Bother?
The sources of animal protein are the biggest disagreement that I have with the Anabolic Diet’s weekday recommendations. In the original book, Dipasquale gave the reader a rather unlimited choice of fatty foods for the weekdays. As long as you stayed under 30 grams of dietary carbohydrate you could eat anything you wanted including loads of processed meats like bacon, breakfast sausage, bologna, potted meat, vienna sausage, and so on. As it turns out, this isn’t such a good idea. Sure, you are staying under 30 grams of carbohydrate, and are eating roughly 55% fat and 40% protein, but turn the package over and look at the mounds and mounds of the other things you are eating. Piles of nitrates and nitrates, preservatives of various kinds, and multi-syllabic chemistry experiments that I would literally need to ask a chemistry professor what they actually were. It is no wonder that I often had a mild headache and felt a little nauseous when I ate meals of that processed junk back in the early days.
This oversight is simply a symptom of the way we look at our food as a society. We see “protein, carbs, fat….protein, carbs, fat…. and then way on down the line we think about a few known vitamins and minerals. No one ever considers the other constituents of their food. And as we are finding out that is a dangerous oversight. As an example, the nitrosamines formed from the excess nitrate and nitrite interacting with the animal protein in processed meat is extremely concerning. Nitroamines are known carcinogens, and a known cause stomach cancer. How many people think about that little chemistry experiment on top of your hickory-smoked bacon?
Another example is the laisse -faire philosophy to dietary fatty acid type in the Anabolic Diet. As I mentioned earlier in the article, fatty acid composition is extremely important to the health and well-being of an athlete and any individual. The original Anabolic Diet, with its potential heavy consumption of pro-inflammatory fatty acids left many individuals with aching joints, poorer sleep, and greater potential for adverse health effects. Dr. Dipasquale also, for no reason that I can logically find, places a complete restriction on consuming medium chain triglyceride oils (coconut oil). His logic was that it “interfered with ketosis”, but that is absolutely not true. In fact, coconut oil speeds along the body’s descent into ketosis and is used in that application as a dietary supplement by many clinicians and nutritionists. Aside from that fact, coconut oil has also been shown to have a myriad of other health benefits. My recommendation is for liberal use of coconut oil while on the Anabolic Diet.
As far as the rest of the fats go, there are two broad rules that we must stick to. The first is to limit pro-inflammatory fatty acid consumption. So what is a pro-inflammatory fatty acid? We could get super-technical, but for a dieter’s purpose It is simply a highly reactive, processed fatty acid source. Chiefly I am speaking about processed vegetable oils which are high in polyunsaturated fats. Oils which have been taken out of their natural environment through expeller-pressing, hexane extraction, bleaching, and deodorizing have very little in common with the foodstuff which originated them. We will have plenty of detail about fatty acids in the future on this site.
So, constructing a diet around the consumption of processed meats and any type of fat you want to eat isn’t the best thing for health. The great news is that this all a very simple fix. With minor changes, we can change a diet with some significant limitations into one which is both a potent weight loss diet and very healthy. All you have to do is put a few restrictions and recommendations in place for the weekdays in terms of food types. The following is how I would address these issues:
Original Anabolic Diet
Dr. Matt’s Anabolic Diet
Unlimited- no Recommendations on consumption
Limit to two servings/ week
Unlimited- no Recommendations on consumption
Unlimited. Grass-finished preferable
Unlimited- no Recommendations on consumption
Eat at Least 2 servings/week
Unlimited- no Recommendations on consumption
Unlimited, un-processed cuts
Local, organic preferable
Unlimited- no Recommendations on consumption
Unlimited- no Recommendations on consumption other than < 30 g carbs
Raw cheeses, hard cheeses
Unlimited- no Recommendations on consumption
Unlimited- pastured preferable
Unlimited- no Recommendations on consumption. Restricts “MCT’s”
Natural fats only- Coconut oil, butter, lard, tallow. Cold-pressed olive oil and sesame oil 15 g/ day maximum.
Is All of This Organic (Expensive) Meat Necessary?
The short answer to the question is no, the quality “organic” meat is not necessary to make this diet work. Your abs won’t pop any better, there will be not a single additional striation in your pecs. So why go to the trouble? Well, a couple of reasons. First and foremost, this is an article about my opinion on how to optimize the diet. Optimizing the diet includes not only physical results, but also your health. It does little good to spend your life trying to look “awesome” if you spend the last 25% of it in a hospital or with some debilitating chronic disease. Am I being an alarmist? Perhaps. But perhaps I am not and I would be able to sleep very well at night if I didn’t give you my full opinion on food quality.
Meat is more than just a “food group”. Even though it takes up only one section of the typical american plate at dinner, its impact is far greater than the vegetables, fruits, and starches that gather beside it. Meat is concentrated nutrition. In effect, it is the sum total of everything that animal had eaten and experienced in its environment during its lifetime. The animal’s body is much like ours in that it is very resilient; it is capable of dealing with many offenses and still surviving and appearing healthy. Some offenses, such as keeping the animal in cramped, unsanitary quarters do not filter down into the meat that it produces for us. Sure, there is an argument to be made for e.coli 157H7 stemming directly from these cramped and unsanitary living conditions and that is very true and a topic for another day. Speaking completely in a vacuum about internal food quality of the meat, the animal survives pretty well. Other offenses do make it into the meat. Artificial growth hormones, anabolic and estrogenic steroids, and environmental pesticides and herbicides all make it into the meat that you are eating. These lipophilic molecules are absorbed into the fatty portions of the meat and collect there over time, like a nasty Christmas present waiting for your body to open. In the case of the pesticides and herbicides, they collect over the entire lifetime of the animal, lying in wait in that juicy steak for you.
The proponents of conventional meat will say that these things have been thoroughly tested and have been found to be innocuous to humans. But the simple fact is, these substances collect in your tissues when you eat the contaminated meat as well and accumulate over years of consumption. Do you see where this is going? There simply are no long term studies on these chemicals in the amounts that we have the potential to store in our bodies over the course of many years of life. Being that many of these chemicals act upon the central nervous system of insects and other critters to produce their effects, and being that we have a nervous system as well that has a lot of chemical similarities to others in the animal kingdom, I think the wisest course of action is to greatly limit the amount of these toxins that the body is exposed to. It may turn out to be nothing, but then again it may turn out to be something big. Why take the chance with your 60 year old future self? This is even more critical on a diet like the Anabolic Diet, when meat is being consumed in large quantities. Eat natural foods whenever possible.
Pretty painless wasn’t it? Simple substitutions based on our current nutritional knowledge, common sense, and experience goes a long way toward making the Anabolic Diet more livable and ultimately a better-performing diet. But we are just getting warmed up. Come back for part two where we will discuss every athlete’s favorite part of the diet…the weekend