No matter how many people try t
o make the Paleo Template a “one size fits all” type of deal, there are always exceptions to the rule. Although Paleo certainly isn’t a low-carb protocol by default, many people seem to believe that low-carb Paleo is the more historically correct way to go, which eliminates almost all fruits, and starchy tubers along with the standard Paleo avoidances. The precise mechanism isn’t quite clear as of yet, because of incomplete science, and confounding variables, but there’s no doubt that low-carb Paleo produces a pretty consistent rate of weight loss for most people. But what about the Paleo Diet and Bodybuilding?
In my opinion, maintaining a low-carb or ketogenic diet provides multiple very helpful metabolic benefits that are not limited simply to weight loss, but there are also a few negatives that come along with it. One such problem is a diminished ability to build muscle. No matter how much some people try to discredit the necessity of carbohydrates in our diet, it’s a simple fact that building muscle is a heck of a lot easier when carbs are in the picture.
I found a great little article on-line, written by Tom Venuto author of “Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle”. The article entitled “Does the paleo diet work, or is it just another low carb diet fad?”, is actually more about the fact that standard Paleo isn’t the perfect Bodybuilding diet….
“What’s the Paleo Flaw?
By all means, we should be eating more unprocessed foods, similar to the way our ancestors ate. Frankly I don’t think we have to dive into anthropological theory or research to draw the conclusion that hunter-gatherer diets are healthier than twinkies and Coke – that’s common sense isnt it?
My only major constructive criticism is that some of these paleo programs not only recommend removal of all kinds of grains and starches (and even dairy, which is a SUPERB source of high quality muscle-building proteins), they outright condemn them as inherently bad, in an absolutist fashion.
Why? well, they claim that agriculture arrived on the scene only 10,000 or so years ago, so any foods produced as a result of the modern agricultural system should also be on the “banned” list because our bodies aren’t genetically engineered to consume them.
The truth is, there are some starchy carbohydrates and grains which are very minimally processed or completely unprocessed.
Furthermore, some people can metabolically handle starches and grains just fine, while others cannot (many obese sedentary individuals are likely to have metabolic syndrome and not handle concentrated carbs very well, even natural ones).”
“For one thing, I’m not sure if anyone knows EXACTLY how our ancestors ate, but I’m pretty certain that it depended a lot on the culture, climate and geography. Therefore, the amount of carbs eaten could have varied quite a bit, so I don’t think there is just ONE type of paleo diet.
What all paleolithic diets would have had in common is the absence of processed and refined foods. The foods were natural; whether they were proteins, fats OR carbs.
Of course, the carb intake wouldn’t be very high, since there would be no refined sugar or processed carbs. But even according to Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, a “paleo” diet could be as high as 40% in carbs, a far cry from many of the low carb diets today (which condemn all carbs to the point of even putting restrictions on fruits and veggies to meet some arbitrary carbohydrate gram limit).”
“Should all grains and starches be completely avoided?
There is a HUGE difference between natural starches and grains and refined starches and grains.
For example, look at white flour cereal grains versus old fashioned rolled or steel-cut unsweetened oatmeal – a body- building STAPLE. How can someone lump those together into the same category?
They are no where near the same, yet there are Paleo (and low carb) advocates who dogmatically cling to the notion that NO ONE should EVER be eating grains or natural carbs like oatmeal and brown rice.
Almost every bodybuilder I know eats oatmeal for breakfast plus lots of rice, sweet potatoes and other natural carbs. They are the
leanest muscular athletes on earth, and the ones who do it naturally, like I do, are among the healthiest as well. If there’s some kind of cause-effect relationship between all starches and grains and obesity, independent of calories and activity/training level, how do you
Certainly, many people need to avoid gluten and lactose, but not everyone is intolerant.
Furthermore, what about biochemical individuality? Is there really one perfect diet suited to every human being or do we vary depending on:
1. your metabolic/body type
2. your current body composition (fat or lean)
3. your genetic predispositions
4. your current state of health
5. your goals; fat loss, muscle growth, athletic performance
In particular, for endurance athletes with a high energy expenditures, eating the concentrated starchy carbs and grains is not only beneficial, it’s often crucial to sustaining energy and performance.
Even bodybuilders and strength athletes can benefit from fairly generous starchy carb intakes when increasing muscle mass is the goal.
Aside from that minor quibble I have with some of these paleo programs being too strict with their no grains/starches dictum, I do think that most of the intentions behind the “paleolithic” eating concept are in the right place.”
Now, I don’t agree with the view that “grains can be healthy”, because I go along with the standard Paleo standpoint on that, but it’s true that if you want to add a lot of muscle, adding in some starchy carbs like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, or white rice to a post workout regimen could make a massive difference to muscle building progress. Also, if you’re able to tolerate it well, some dairy products really help a lot too. The idea is that causing an insulin spike shortly after working-out, enables protein to be shuttled into the muscles along with glucose, which enables them to grow, and simultaneously replenishes muscle glycogen stores. This process can happen without the addition of carbs, but it happens to a much lesser degree with protein and fat alone.
So, there we have it…..The Paleo diet and bodybuilding do go hand in hand as long as we eat of some kind of quality carbohydrate source too!
[warning]Don’t forget that the idea of adding starchy carbs etc is mainly reserved for people who possess a properly working metabolism. The starches we have been discussing are absolutely not safe for diabetics, or people with metabolic derangement.[/warning]
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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
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