To cut it short, I put the list ofs “eat” and “don’t eat” here at the beginning. And if you prefer to read and wade through my arguments, please read on after the lists.
- Grass-fed meats
- Fresh fruits
- Fresh vegetables
- Healthy oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut)
- Cereal grains
- Legumes (including peanuts)
- Refined sugar
- Processed foods
- Overly salty foods
- Refined vegetable oils
- Candy/junk/processed food
In my recent Circumstance of Calories post, I described how the various macronutrients we eat at each meal (fats, proteins, and carbs) have distinct effects in the entire body. I suggested that, despite their uncooked calorie values, it’s a lot more crucial that you get a enduring intuitive sense of how much of each macronutrient you need and when you need it (or not).
But how do you do that? How do you figure out the proper variety of calories — and breakdown of fats, protein and carbs — to achieve your fitness and health goals? To shed weight? Lose fat? Get muscle? Maintain status quo? Run marathons?
In reality, most popular daily diets look at overall calories as the primary factor in weight loss and weight gain. The age-old conservation of energy Conventional Wisdom says that “a calorie is a calorie.” From there most diet gurus typically prescribe some formulaic one-size-fits-all breakdown of fats, protein and carbs. A classically trained Registered Dietician will tell you that protein should be around 10-15% of calories, carbs should be 60% (and largely from whole grains) and fat under 30%. This macronutrient breakdown remains the same regardless of how much weight you should lose or what other goals you might have. Barry Sears has his 40/30/30 “Zone” diet. The USDA bases everything on a pick of between 2,000 and 2,500 calories a day. But as I said before, it’s not that simple. Calories do have context.
The human body uses these macronutrients for a variety of distinct functions, a few of which are structural and a few of which are just to provide energy — instantaneously or nicely into the future. Moreover, with regards to energy conservation or expenditure, the body acts as both an efficient fuel storage depot (and as a hazardous “waist” site) as good as a potent generator of energy, depending largely on the hormonal signals it gets. It’ll keep glycogen and/or fat and it’ll build muscle — or it’ll just as easily tear them all down and use them for fuel — based on input from you: what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, what you’re doing before or after you eat — even what you are thinking when you eat. Yet because your body always seeks to reach homeostasis over time, the notion of you trying to zero in on a precise day-to-day or meal-to-meal eating plan is usually fruitless (yes, Charlotte, some fruit is permitted). The good news in all this is that falling off the wagon a couple of times this week will not have the immediate catastrophic effect that you might envision — as long as you can keep your average intake under control and understand how the various macronutrients function over time.
Which brings me to the crux of the current dialogue. Not only is it virtually impossible to correctly gauge your exact meal-to-meal calorie and macronutrient demands, doing so will drive you insane. Actually, to accurately determine your true structural and practical fuel needs (and consequently to attain your aims) it’s a lot more effective to take a look at a much bigger range of time, like a couple weeks, and aim for an “average” eating. Then you can certainly review that average daily consumption over weeks or months and adjust appropriately. Below, I’ll offer you a means to find a “jumping off” point to begin with, but remember, our genes are accustomed to the way our ancestors ate: intermittently, sporadically, occasionally in big amounts, and occasionally not at all for days. Their bodies figured out a way to maintain homeostasis and sustain lean tissue and good health through all this and so can we. Our genes want us to be trim and healthy. It is actually really simple as long as we eat from the long record of Primal Blueprint wholesome foods and attempt to avoid that other record of grain-load, sugary, processed and otherwise unhealthy foods. Realistically, we also wish to allow for the occasional party-splurge, a pre-planned (or unintended) irregular rapid, an over the top work out or even a week of laziness. Where most folks get into trouble is in miscalculating their energy needs over lengthy periods of time — not day to day. They don’t see the average amount of carbs creeping upwards, or they figure they want x amount of calories, but do not have a hint as to what type of food those should be coming from.
I start with these four basic principles to direct my Primal Blueprint eating fashion:
1) 80% of your body composition will be dependent on your diet. Yes, exercise is also vital that you wellbeing and to speed up fat-burning and muscle-building, but most of your results will come from how you eat. I will write more on this particular later, so just trust me on this one for now. Suffice to say, those who weigh a ton and work out a ton, but eat a ton, still tend to weigh a ton. I think I’ll have that made into a t shirt…
2) Lean Body Mass (LBM) is the key to life. I’ve said it many times on this particular website: lean mass (muscle and all the rest of you that’s not fat) is directly correlated with longevity and excellent health. Rather than strive to “lose weight”, most individuals would be better off striving to lose only fat and to build or maintain muscle. Since other organs tend to operate at a level that correlates to muscle mass, the more muscle you keep throughout life, the more “organ reserve” you will have (i.e. the better the rest of you’ll work). Refer back to rule #1 and eat to build or preserve muscle.
3) Extra body fat is awful. Most human studies show that being significantly overweight increases your risk of virtually every disease (except osteoporosis — because ironically it responds to weight bearing activities). Fat simply doesn’t seem that great either. See rule #1 and eat to keep body fat comparatively low.
4) Excessive insulin is awful. We have written about it here a lot. Chronic extra insulin could be even worse than extra sugar (and we understand how bad that is). All animals produce insulin, but within any species, those that generate less insulin live more than people who create a lot. Eat to keep insulin low.
Here is how I use these principles to guide my individual macronutrient consumption:
- Uncooked Steak
Protein takes precedence. If there is considerable glycogen (stored glucose) and also the body is getting the rest of its own energy economically from fats, protein will always go first towards repair or building cells or enzymes. In that circumstance, it hardly seems rational to assign it a “burn rate” of 4 calories per gram. It is like saying the 24 studs that support the walls of your house can burn nicely in the event you run out of firewood. They will, but I prefer to combust other fuel first. At a minimum you want .5 grams of protein per pound of lean mass/per day on average to maintain your “construction”. If you are reasonably active you need .7 or .8, and if you’re an active sportsman you want as much as 1 gram of protein per pound of lean mass. That’s at the absolute minimum, but it’s on a daily average. So a 155 lb fairly busy girl who has 25% body fat (and consequently) has 116 pound of lean body mass needs 93 grams of protein on average per day (116 x .8). If she gets 60 or 80 some days and 110 on others, she’ll still be in a healthful average range. And even if she exceeds the 110, it is no problem if she is eating low carb because the extra protein will convert to glucose, that will reduce her successful carbohydrate demands (see below). At 4 calories per gram, that is between 320 and 440 calories daily in protein. It’s not that much.
In the event that you have forgotten everything you ever discovered in biology, keep in mind this and “own” it: Carb drives insulin drives fat (Cahill 1965, and Taubes 2007). The idea in the PB is to limit your carbs to just those you have to supply glucose for the brain and for some reasonable number (definitely less than an hour) of occasional anaerobic exercise. And the truth is, you do not even need glucose to fuel the brain. Ketones from a very-low carb diet work incredibly economically at that job. Either way, ideally, we’d like the majority of our day-to-day energy to come from dietary or stored fats. Generally, (if you are at an ideal body makeup now) I make use of a rule of thumb that 100-150 grams of carbohydrate per day is plenty to keep you out of ketosis (and ketosis is NOT a poor thing) but away from keeping the excess as fat if you’re the least bit active. Do not forget that your body can make up to 200 grams of glycogen from fats and protein every day, too. On the flip side, if you’re looking to lose body fat, keeping carbs to under 80 grams daily will help immensely in lowering insulin and taking fat out of storage. On the other other hand, if you are insistent on training hard for extended periods of time, you would add more carbs (say, 100 per day extra for every additional hour you train hard). It becomes a matter of doing the mathematics and experimenting with the results.
Ironically, it is rough to surpass 100 grams of carbs even if you eat a lot of brilliant vegetables — as long as you eat like our ancestors and consume no grains, no sugars and few starchy vegetables (potatoes, yams, beets, legumes, etc). Even in case you eat a ton of vegetables AND ALSO a fair amount of fruit, you’ll be hard pressed to surpass 150 grams of carbs on average each day. Our distant ancestors couldn’t average 150 grams of carbs a day if they tried, nevertheless they had lots of energy and kept their lean mass. At 4 calories per gram that’s just between 400 and 600 calories every day. Add that in to the protein above and our sample girl is barely at 1,000 calories on the high end. So where does the rest of the fuel come from?
- Olive Oil
Learn to adore them. They are the fuel of choice and should become the equilibrium of your Primal Blueprint diet. Fats have little or no impact on insulin and, as a result, boost the burning of both dietary and stored (adipose) fat as fuel. Think about this: if protein and carbs remain reasonably constant (and carbs stay under 150), you may use fat as the leading energy variant in your diet plan. Feeling like you need more fuel (and you’ve already covered your bases with protein and carbs)? Reach for something with fat. Nuts, avocados, coconut, eggs, butter, olive oil, fish, chicken, lamb, beef, the list is a long one. 100 grams of fats every day would just add 900 calories to our girl’s daily average, putting her at between 1620 and 1940 calories a day. Even if she averages somewhere between 1400 and 2200 calories each day over a few weeks, as long as she pays attention to protein and carbs, her body makeup will shift to lower body fat and more desired lean mass. If she decides to do a little bit of walking, a few short intense weight sessions and a sprint day here and there, that procedure would accelerate considerably. If she gets to a point where she’s content with her body fat, she can even add in a little more fat to provide energy that she formerly got from her stored fat.
The main thing I Have figured out from eating this way for years is that I actually don’t want almost as many calories to maintain health, mass, and body fat as I once believed I did — or as the Conventional Wisdom says I do. I eat 600-1000 calories per day less than when I ate a carbohydrate-based diet, yet I keep slightly lower body fat and somewhat higher muscle mass on even less training. Recall: 80% of body composition is determined by diet. The best part is that I don’t ever feel hungry because I base my eating on just what my 10,000-year old genes want me to eat.