Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
19 Aug

Just Shy of 50 Years Old and I’ve Never Felt or Looked Better

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

My name is Nick and I’m a 49-year-old recovered alcoholic, former “fattie” and a former track athlete. In my 20s, I was sidetracked as an athlete by a series of injuries and burnout, a story not far removed from that of Mark Sisson. I then plunged into a 20-year exercise in self-pity and substance abuse, all the while maintaining the seemingly successful facade of a highly-paid software engineer who gradually got fat and out-of-shape as he entered middle age, eating junk like pizza and fast food. My health problems were further complicated by the fact that I was also waging an ongoing battle against chronic Hepatitis C, which I contracted when I was 21, so drinking alcohol was probably not a such a great idea, right? Also, I had developed high blood pressure (175/110) and my cholesterol was through the roof at 285!

A year and a half ago, I was laid off from my “big shot” programmer job, just another casualty of this lousy economy and I’ve been living on unemployment checks and my wife’s income up until just recently. After I lost my job in March of 2010, the first thing that I decided to do was give up drinking – completely and forever, just about the smartest thing I’ve ever done. This was truly a fresh start for me. I looked in the mirror for the first time in a long time, and by that I mean I really looked at my 195-pound body and the 36% body fat I was carrying around, which was in sharp contrast to the 7% body fat that I had in my early 20s as a competitive distance runner. I asked myself “How could you let this happen to you?”, “Don’t you have any self-respect?”

So the next step after giving up alcohol was to replace that addiction with a much healthier one, running! My old friend, a trusted lover from the past, it could be argued. Surely I could lose the weight by just reuniting with my “old friend”, but I quickly discovered that my “old friend” wasn’t enough anymore. I was 48 and my metabolism had slowed, I was on the verge of Type II diabetes and my body no longer wanted to cooperate in the weight loss department. My efforts to lose weight became an ongoing gulag of carb-deprivation and starvation dieting, “chronic cardio” on an empty stomach, diet pills and “fat burners” containing everything from ephedrine-based stimulants to yohimbine and massive quantities of caffeine.

It was only after I started eating healthier in general and moving intuitively toward a primal eating strategy that I finally started to get real results in efforts to lose weight. Long before I discovered Mark and his fantastic book, I was already moving toward a “paleo diet” after meeting and speaking with Dean Karnazes, Mr. Ultramarathon Man, who happens to be the same age as me and we share some similar problems from our past. He was the one who first introduced me to the concept of eating along primal lines using his own variation on the theme. I eventually went from 36% body fat down to the 6% that I now maintain all year round, and at a body weight of 125 pounds, I lost a grand total of 55 pounds of fat while gaining 8 pounds of muscle! My blood pressure is now 115/70, resting heart rate of 45, and I can now run a 10K in under 38 minutes. But I still felt as though there was something missing. I was experiencing devastating episodes of “carb flu” followed by occasional binge eating, that is until I discovered The Primal Blueprint at a bookstore one afternoon, which changed my life utterly! I finally found a way that I could actually keep the weight off while having a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy! I started to send periodic emails to Mark as I slowly transitioned to a Primal lifestyle and he was gracious enough to take the time to personally answer all my questions, for which I still owe him a debt of gratitude, one of the reasons why I’m now taking the time to share my story with you.

Eventually, I got back into my old sport of distance running as a competitive Masters runner in the 45-49 age division and have done very well in local and state races, once I got my “running legs” back. I confess that I have adapted the PB lifestyle and nutrition with a few minor modifications tailored to my admittedly high-mileage training regimen as a distance runner. But I should also point out that since 90% of the running that I do is at a heart rate no higher than 70%, I’m not so sure that my 70-80 miles/week truly qualifies as “chronic cardio” as defined by Mark. Rarely do I get into the very stressful 80-85% zone, except for when I do intervals on the track once a week and of course when I race. The rest of the time, it’s “easy does it”! Also, I do 90% of my cardio fasted, first thing in the morning, so as to increase the fat burn and train my body to utilize stored fat as its primary fuel source, and then I eat a healthy Primal breakfast within 30 minutes of my workouts to keep my metabolism revved up. I also do occasional sprinting and brief-duration high-intensity weight training as recommended by Mark.

On the nutrition side, I stick to almost all the rules except for the following, in small infrequent doses: wild rice, Irish steel cut oats and an occasional sugar-free energy drink (my father always said that a man is not a real man if he doesn’t have at least one vice!). Also, unfortunately, I cannot have any coconut oil because I have bile flow problems related to my Hepatitis C, but I’ve been able to work around this limitation by using other healthy oils that are lower in saturated fat, such as hazelnut oil (expensive but well worth it!). I have finally managed to give up all grains and bread, legumes, etc., and the only fruit I eat is berries and cherries. I take 200 mcg of chromium and a small handful of raw almonds before every meal to avoid spiking my blood sugar. In the “nuts department”, I consume mainly raw macadamias, almonds and hazelnuts, because of their extremely favorable MUFA to PUFA ratio. I have found that higher consumption of MUFA’s keeps my android (waist) fat lower, as determined by DEXA regional analysis of my body composition.

So here I am now, a few months shy of my BIG 50, and I’ve never felt or looked better! I’m actually looking forward to turning 50, which is in sharp contrast to when I turned 40! I now make my living as a Personal Trainer specializing in weight loss at a local health club. I don’t make anywhere near as much money as I did in the software field, but I’m much more fulfilled now. Though it may sound corny (and I don’t care if it does!), I discovered that what you do to earn a living matters much more than how much money you make, at least when it comes to your health and overall satisfaction with your life. The first thing that I tell my new clients in their first personal training session with me is to go out and buy Mark’s book. It’s their very first “homework assignment” before I see them for a second session! I tell them that PB changed my life and it can change theirs!

Stay Primal and go “against the grain” when it comes to the modern lifestyle that in my opinion is slowly destroying Western civilization from the inside-out! Let’s make it our mission to save the world in a way that it least expects to be saved!

Cheers to all my Primal brothers and sisters!

Nick Laszlo

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Wow, now that is a transformer! You morphed into a new guy! Completely night and day change Nick. Fantastic! Have fun, God Bless.

    Lee wrote on August 19th, 2011
    • A Michael Bay production! Aaaaargh! :)

      Primal Nicky wrote on August 20th, 2011
  2. What an inspiring story. It’s so great that you could stop the alcohol. I always look forward to Fridays on MDA for my own continuing inpiration. I did wonder that you said coconut oil was no good for you because of a bile problem. I thought that coconut oil bypassed the necessity of bile for digestion. Anyone know anything about this?

    marika wrote on August 19th, 2011
    • Saturated fats in coconut oil must still be processed in the liver, whether utilized for energy or not. No fat can be digested in the body without bile, unless my neighbor who’s a Gastroenterologist is pulling my leg! It’s just that coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides that are much healthier than “evil fat” such as trans fats. I welcome any thoughts on this, especially from anyone else in this forum who has impaired liver function or a medical degree.

      Primal Nicky wrote on August 20th, 2011
  3. Congrats on your success, Nick! Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us!

    Susan wrote on August 19th, 2011
  4. Great job! Very VERY inspiring! Thanks for sharing your story.

    PrimalJones wrote on August 19th, 2011
  5. Truly inspirational story. Congratulations Nick! What is took to get you here is a feat most of us could not touch – the mental, emotional and physical work you did to create your new self is simply awesome. And you look great!

    HillsideGina wrote on August 19th, 2011
  6. Nick,

    Very cool story and congratulations. For someone who was running back in that day (although not nearly so fast), and is now primal, occasionally competing in 45-49 5Ks, please tell us what your times were then. I’ve slowed by about 3 1/2 min, but would be interested in what happens to elite runners. Again Congratulations, and please keep it up!

    Dave wrote on August 19th, 2011
    • My 5K times have fallen drastically compared with my 20s but my endurance in the longer events from 15K to half marathon have improved significantly. The leg speed is no longer there but now I’m like the Energizer bunny….

      Primal Nicky wrote on August 20th, 2011
      • That’s pretty sweet. I wish I had that kind of capacity.

        Another Halocene Human wrote on August 27th, 2011
  7. Wow! As a person with a long time love of running I am intrigued by how you’ve weaved running into the Primal lifestyle.

    For the moment, I’ve stopped running other than doing a weekly sprint workout. I do 2x week strength and then I go on long walks with the family. In some ways, as much as I love the running, the walks are nicer since the time with family (as opposed to mostly solo running) I think are helpful to my well-being in ways other than physical.

    But, I know that at some point the bug is going to bite me and I will want to get back into running again, so I’d love to share insights with you. Do you stay under the “70% zone” by wearing a heart rate monitor? Or do you just go with the finger in throat method every so often?

    Congrats and I hope that my Primal journey with a side of running turns out half as well as yours!

    Tim wrote on August 19th, 2011
    • Tim, I use a Garmin GPS/heart rate monitor but I rarely check it while I’m running. I run mostly by “feel”. Don’t like to turn myself into a cyborg while I’m running but I do like to keep track of how I did afterwards. Running in my opinion should be about breathing air, moving your body, listening to birds and enjoying the sun on your face. Maybe I’m just “old school”?

      Primal Nicky wrote on August 20th, 2011
  8. Thank you for your inspiring story, what a great turnaround! I’m glad you replaced your unhealthy addictions with your original passion for running. Keep up the great work :)

    Kristina wrote on August 19th, 2011
  9. Great job, Nick! I love that you’re looking forward to your birthday and feeling so much better!

    Thanks to everyone who shares their inspiring stories on Fridays. It’s a high point of my week.

    superdeluxe wrote on August 19th, 2011
  10. Congratulations Nick, for your accomplishments, your inspiration, perseverance, attitude, and for following your bliss.

    Well done!

    Alex "Dude Wheres My Muscle" Siddy wrote on August 19th, 2011
  11. Nick – Wow, I’m not kidding, you don’t even look like the same person. Incredible transformation and thank you for sharing your story.

    I love Fridays!!!

    Melissa wrote on August 19th, 2011
  12. I love Fridays for the chance to read these stories – so inspiring. Congratulations on your wonderful transformation and thank you for sharing your story.

    Casssandra wrote on August 19th, 2011
  13. Congratulations Nicky, inspiring story.

    Arlene wrote on August 20th, 2011
  14. I find that people are usually crap heads online because they aren’t able to be assertive or respected in real life, and there is minimal risk associated with being a piece of $%*& online and they get to feel like a big strong man for a second. It’s just a theory. You don’t even look like the same person! Good work.

    Sarah wrote on August 20th, 2011
  15. Great job, Sounds like the layoff kinda sparked a good thing for you, personally and professionally.
    Not sure if you’ll read this but I had some trouble with my liver a couple years ago, my alt was 95, I just had it rechecked and it was 70. I’ve been taking a supplement that has dandelion root and milk thistle. I’m not sure if the bile thing would be the same issue but thought I’d mention it.

    bbuddha wrote on August 20th, 2011
    • I would donate an arm to science to have an ALT that’s under triple digits. Trust me, 70 or 95 are nothing to worry about. The ratio of ALT to AST is far more significant, as well as total bilirubin and albumin. Consuming large amounts of saturated fat and MCT is not a problem for anyone with a healthy liver, but it is a consideration for anyone like myself who is trying to live with chronic Hep C.

      Primal Nicky wrote on August 20th, 2011
  16. Thanks for your story; it’s very inspiring. Best of luck as you proceed with your new career and with your health. Be well, NG

    Neandergirl wrote on August 20th, 2011
  17. Hey Nick, awesome and inspiring. You like running, run. And for those who don’t like some folks opinions on here, quit being the forum police. He’s a big boy,(Metaphorically speaking) and they can say what they want. Right on Nick, thanks again.

    Dave wrote on August 20th, 2011
    • I think the point is that you don’t have to run 70 miles/week to live primal but you can live primal and run 70 miles/week, if that’s what makes you happy and doesn’t jeopardize your health. But I totally agree that it’s not for everyone. I don’t really think of running as exercise, it’s just something that I love to do!

      Primal Nicky wrote on August 20th, 2011
  18. Awesome Nick, so excited to see,I’m avid runner also but was getting concerned with talk of chronic cardio. So do you have a little serve of carb when you finish your run then eat primal rest of day? Would love to see example of a day’s menu or some tips. I’m bit confused trying to work out what’s optimal for us runners.

    Dmitri wrote on August 20th, 2011
    • Dmitri, I run first thing in the morning on an empty stomach most days, not only to optimize fat burning but also because the body has limited supply of glycogen (90 minutes worth of moderate cardio depletes liver and muscle glycogen) but we all have virtually inexhaustible supply of stored body fat. Even a “skinny runt” like me, with a grand total of only seven pounds of fat on my body, could keep going for days without dipping into my essential fat stores. This comes in real handy in distance running, especially the longer distances. I try to stick to PB carbs as recommended by Mark in his book, but I always keep my glycogen stores on the low side and only take in some complex carbs right after a run. If I’m doing sprints or high-intensity anaerobic training or weight training, I always consume some slow-burning carbs along with some primal fats and protein a couple hours before. Hope this helps. Feel free to email me for more detailed info:

      Primal Nicky wrote on August 20th, 2011
  19. Bravo Nick!


    1. On the hypertension, any feel for how much of that was the booze as opposed to excess fat?

    2. “12 Step” or did you just do it?


    RC wrote on August 20th, 2011
    • RC, giving up the booze had only a small effect on my blood pressure. It was only after my abdominal fat started to come down that my blood pressure went down enough to where now I’m completely off blood pressure meds.

      As for the drinking, I went cold turkey. Wouldn’t recommend that approach for most people though. AA is a great program but it wasn’t a good fit for my personality. Grok on, dude!

      Primal Nicky wrote on August 20th, 2011
  20. What an inspirational story! Congratulations on your lifestyle change and amazing transformation! Grok on!

    Leigh wrote on August 20th, 2011
  21. Dont listen to anyone who puts down anything you do. ANY reversal of the SAD lifestyle is a wonderful thing. Run if you want wearing what you want. They are your feet AND ITS YOUR BODY…

    Daveman wrote on August 20th, 2011
    • Thanks, Daveman! We are what we do and we look like what we do. When I was trapped inside my fat body, I used to dream about someday regaining the look of a lean mean runner. I just wasn’t sure at first if that was still possible going into the fifth decade of my life. As you can see from my pics, the jury’s no longer out on that…

      Primal Nicky wrote on August 20th, 2011
  22. To the skinny phobic: His weight is perfect for a distance runner of his build.

    In my opinion, the less weight you carry around in life (without eating into muscle, of course), the easier life is. It’s all about strength to weight ratio. That’s whether you’re a runner or not. Look at some pictures of people from the 70s or earlier. Most are super skinny compared to today. But they’re not skinny. Those are natural, healthy bodies. It’s only that that they’ve come to seem unnatural to us today us today.

    Perry wrote on August 20th, 2011
    • Very true, Perry! Perceptions are relative to the time, the place and the context. We are all far too influenced by the prototypical idea of what a healthy man or woman should look like as presented by Madison Avenue and Hollywood. My pet peeve at the gym I work at is when I see young women making comments about a bodybuilder who looks “gross” or at races people will comment that this or that runner is so “skinny that it’s gross”. People are incredibly subjective and shallow when it comes to the subject of body weight. I say this a million times each to my clients, that I’m much more interested in their body composition than their weight. I have hydro tests to prove that during my last racing season, I went from 7.4% body fat to 4.6% while I actually gained 6 pounds of muscle on my “skinny” frame. My weight went up while my body fat went down!

      Primal Nicky wrote on August 20th, 2011
      • I recently watched a documentary on the 1961 Freedom Rides and the photos of the thugs who came to menace and assault the riders in Alabama were amazing. All these young men who were very small by our standards… but if you looked at them carefully, they had the muscles. They just lacked that cornfed layer of fat we’re so accustomed to. Today someone that size would be almost certainly skinny-fat and not frightening at all.

        Also… no wheat bellies on anyone.

        Btw, not admiring these guys. (They were actually the worst kind of cowards.) But it is incredible because I live in the South and I see their sons around me and they all have wheat bellies, hypertension, reddened faces, bloated arms and faces, etc. Even little boys are huge. Sometimes the dads and moms still have good maxillofacial formation but the children’s faces are starting to look pinched.

        Another Halocene Human wrote on August 27th, 2011
  23. Thanks so much for sharing. Amazing emotional and psychological strength, in addition to the physical transformation! Nice tip/reminder on exercising before eating too…best wishes-

    amyrolltide wrote on August 20th, 2011
  24. A completely inspiring read, thank you for taking the time to post with such honesty.

    Mark1971 wrote on August 21st, 2011
  25. Nick,

    What a great story and victory for you. Kudos man! I’m curious about your target heart rate range. Are you using the Maffetone calculation starting place of 180 bpm before age reduction or the traditional 220 bpm. What range do you shoot for in your training and races?

    Tinmittens wrote on August 21st, 2011
    • Good question. I’ve had my VO2 max and maximum heart rate tested at a human performance lab a year ago, which is a far more accurate method than “guessing” with a calculation such as Maffetone. Just taking your age and deducting it from 220 is pretty much a useless way to figure out your target training zone because of not only individual genetically-influenced variations in max heart rate but also because, as people such as me and Mark Sisson have proven, we don’t all age at the same rate and have a lot of control over the decline of our physical capacities. That said, since my treadmill-tested max heart rate came in at 176, I try to keep my easy steady-state cardio at around 123 beats/min. My advice to anyone is to determine their max heart rate via a method such as 5 or 6 repetitions of uphill running at an all-out effort and check their pulse at the end of the final rep. That’s a far better way to determine max heart rate than using simplistic calculations such as Maffetone that give you numbers based on generalizations about the general population. Hope this helps!

      Primal Nicky wrote on August 21st, 2011
  26. Great story and I love the change of career, nothing like using your own achievements to help motivate others.

    It shows you are never to kate change.

    Ollie wrote on August 22nd, 2011
  27. Wow, wow, wow. Talking about turning your life around 180. I admire your transformation so much. You did it at such a difficult time in your life when most people get depressed and down on themselves. Way to go!

    chocolatechip69 wrote on August 22nd, 2011
  28. Amazing story, so inspiring! Congratulations on your new life :)

    Sarah wrote on August 22nd, 2011
  29. What counts here is that he found a way to transform his life and his body in a way that worked for him. It won’t work for everyone, we each have to find something that works for us, our schedules, our lifestyles.

    Congrats on making the changes that you did – you should be proud.

    Dennis Blair wrote on August 22nd, 2011
  30. amazing story congrats !!!

    Jason wrote on August 23rd, 2011
  31. I LOVE that you succeeded by replacing your bad habits with something better. I talk to people about their bad eating habits and they say but I enjoy my Ice cream etc so much. I tell them go enjoy something else, enjoy life for pete’s sake instead of putting junk food in their mouth when they are not even hungry.

    Congratulations on your courage and success.

    Lisa G wrote on August 24th, 2011
  32. What do we do when those fruitarians show us their “before and after” pics? They look like they have quite some muscle “after”.

    Kleo wrote on November 7th, 2011
  33. Nick, have you ever raced one of those “20/10/10 fruitarians” like Harley Johnstone or Michael Arnstein, and smoked them?

    Kleo wrote on November 7th, 2011
  34. Hey this is a good looking site, is wordpress? Forgive me for the foolish question but if so, what theme is? Thanks!

    Andera Haverkamp wrote on November 18th, 2011
  35. Hi Nick. You are amazing and totally inspirational. I was really interested to read your story as I have Hep B (with a shocking reoccurence 2 years ago). I’ve just started eating coconut oil but am thinking it doesn’t agree with me. I have fat malabsorption (or bile salt malabsorption)issues which I take medication for. Thanks for the tip about the hazelnut oil. I’m so stoked to read your story and am starting my primal journey with hope for a long and healthy life ahead! x

    ms jane wrote on November 22nd, 2011
  36. Amazing and inspiring story. Well done. J

    Jonathan wrote on November 24th, 2011
  37. Doing chronic cardio is basically like constantly revving the engine of your car at 7000+ RPM.

    Peter wrote on January 4th, 2012

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