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Eating and Exercising in a Primal/Paleo Style

Posted Jun 02 2011 12:50pm
I remember the first time I read the Paleo Diet for Athletes book. It was during 2005, not long after I'd had a 93 mile DNF at Western States. I'd had a good year as an athlete in 2003 (Wasatch finish) and 2004 (Hardrock finish), but my weight was not where I wanted it to be. I had run Wasatch close to 190 pounds. In my best road racing days, I'd run my PRs when I weighed close to 170 pounds.

The next year, I ran a huge number of miles to get ready for Hardrock, and ate a diet based on tight portion control for months. Every dinner would be one plate of food, with 1/4 for protein, 1/4 for salad, 1/4 for a veggie, and 1/4 for a carbohydrate. Every lunch was a salad. My weight dropped, but I was miserable on this diet. Also, my fat consumption was really low, and I was constantly hungry. It was only my fear of the Hardrock course that allowed me to stick close to this diet. I raced Hardrock under 180 pounds and had a good race. I had dropped about 20 pounds in two months to get to that weight, and without that weight loss, I probably would have never finished Hardrock.

The evening after the race finished, we went to a very nice restaurant in Telluride. I had a meal full of fat and protein (plus some nice wine) and truly enjoyed my first meal in quite a while.

I had just had two pretty good ultra seasons, finishing two of the harder 100s in the country. But, I wasn't satisfied. I spent a lot of time reading about nutrition in the fall of 2004. I felt like I needed some sort of change in my diet to help me get leaner. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but I decided to become a vegetarian for at least one year to see what happened. Would I lose weight? Gain weight? Save the planet? Improve as an athlete? I wasn't sure, but I made the change.

The first time I recorded my weight in my training log in 2005 was in mid-February. I was at 189. Eating a vegetarian diet, I arrive at Western States at 185 pounds. I was working with a coach at the time, and I had run a very tough 50 miler just three weeks prior. And, overall, I'd done less training than I would have preferred. On race day, I was doing OK, but I eventually had foot problems on some long downhills late in the race, and I missed the time cut-off at mile 93.5. I tried two more hundreds later that year and dropped out in both of them, both around the 65 mile mark. In the last attempt, I was sick and had a sore foot.

Overall, I think the experiment was a failure. I didn't race well, I was sick more often than usual, and I didn't feel like I recovered well all season long. After two years where my mileage was well over 2000, I ran just over 1600 miles this year and still complained about being tired in my logbook.

At one point that year, I bought the Paleo Diet for Athletes. I was reading it over lunch at a restaurant, and I remember a phrase that basically said if you were a vegetarian, you should give the book to someone who would get some value out of it. That made me angry and I considered tossing the book.

In 2006 and 2007, I returned to my "hometown" race and ran the Vermont 100. In 2006, my weight had drifted up into the mid-190s, but I trained well and ran 27:20. The next year, at about the same weight, I ran 26:04 on a longer course. If I'd been 10 pounds lighter, I probably would have run sub-24.

I finished the year in good shape, and was thrilled when I got picked for WS in 2008. Just like in 2004, I went back to portion control for my diet. It wasn't fun, but I needed to finally finish WS. I was at 182 pounds when we left for the race (I'd taken up weightlifting the prior year and gained some muscle mass), and as lean as I'd been since Hardrock. Then, the race got cancelled. I'd had thoughts about going for sub-24 given how fit I was and how lean I was. But, the cancellation was out of my control and I could try again in 2009.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to 2009. The disappointment of the missed opportunity seemed to give me an excuse to slack off on my diet again. I trained hard for a fall marathon, but my diet was terrible leading up to the race. I hoped to run under 3:30 and instead had a terrible day. I knew by mile 8 that I was in trouble and I almost quit at 16. But, I plodded to the finish. My weight had crept up to almost 190 pounds by race day.

By this point in time, I had read Stu Mittleman's "Slow Burn" and some more info on Maffetone training - both oriented towards easy training that seems to aid in fat metabolism. Then, I heard of the Primal Blueprint. And, I re-read the Paleo Diet for Athletes. And, probably most importantly, I read "Good Calories, Bad Calories". I wasn't quite sure what to do with them though. Running on a low carb diet seemed to make very little sense at all to me, at the time. Plus, I had Western States in 2009 to deal with. So, I stuck with my normal diet.

In April of 2009, I suffered a nasty injury while playing kickball. I tore a hamstring tendon pretty badly. We tried as much rehab as possible, but the fact was that my chances of finishing Western States that year died as soon as I hit the ground after tearing the tendon. I eventually had a Platelet Rich Plasma treatment later that year to help with the tendon injury.

At Western States, my weight had pushed up close to 200. My mileage was low, I could lift OK, but intensity was tough in running or lifting. I missed an early cut-off and was out of the race before the marathon. By the end of the summer of 2009, I was at a low point. Running wasn't fun or even comfortable. It seemed like I was at the chiropractor or the orthopedist's office all the time. The injury had robbed me of my easy stride and stolen all of the joy from running.

In 2010, I ran fewer than 300 miles. I started one ultra and missed the turn-around cut-off in a 50K. My wife and I did a 5-mile run together in September of 2010, and I wouldn't run again for six months. My hamstring was still not healed, running held zero fun, my weight had gone up to 230 pounds, and I was in the worst shape of my life.

I was trying to eat a Paleo/Primal diet, but I wasn't working out enough. I was drinking too much alcohol, especially beer, and making bad food decisions, especially on the weekends. I skied hard this past winter and I felt like I skied OK, but long days in the bumps weren't a lot of fun. Trying to support that much mass on a 5'10" frame in the bumps is a lot of work.

By the time ski season had ended, I had gotten pretty disgusted with my fitness level. Even though I was doing CrossFit, during the winter, I didn't go often enough. I only made it to CrossFit once in February - pathetic. As ski season neared its end, I really needed to make some changes.

I started pushing myself back to the paleo/primal way of eating. I also stopped drinking beer and cut way back on any other alcohol. By the time we started our Paleo Challenge at CrossFit at the beginning of May, the momentum had turned. My diet has been good, my exercise has been consistent, and I'm getting fitter and leaner. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I'm heading in the right direction.

Of course, I've done this all before, and then lost it, so who knows where I'll end up. For right now, I'm just glad that I'm eating in a way that's enjoyable and giving me the results I want. So many times when I've lost weight, it's been pure torture. I certainly miss some foods right now - bread being at the top of the list. But, I can have a little bread on occasion and still lose weight. I just can't eat it for every meal.

This coming weekend will be an eating challenge, as my wife's family gathers to celebrate her parents' 50th wedding anniversary. But, I'm the chef for the celebratory dinner, so I can certainly make sure that I have access to the foods I want to eat.

Last night's CrossFit workout was one of our easier workouts in a while, it seemed. After the warm-up, I did 5x3 of snatch grip deadlifts. Everyone else did 5x3 of squat snatches, but that lift still bothers my shoulder. My snatch grip deadlifts are limited by grip strength more than anything, and my working sets ranged from 225 pounds to 295 pounds.

After the lifting, we did the following for time:

Five rounds of the following:
6 Clean and Jerks (I used 95 pounds to protect my shoulder)
Run 200 meters

The light weight for the C&Js plus the fact that we had running made this pretty easy for me. I was the second fastest person in our class, in 10:02.

Today is a rest day. Tomorrow, I'll do running intervals. And Sunday, I'll probably do some canoeing and fishing with my father-in-law and son.
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