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

Mixed Martial Arts Fighter Goes Primal

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 Abe Wagner. I’m 31, 6’4” and 250 lbs. I pay my bills by fighting other large men in a cage in front of a crowd. My journey to the Primal Blueprint way of life was somewhat long and round about. I was originally introduced to the paleo diet concept through Crossfit. To say my understanding of the key concepts was flawed and incomplete would be an understatement. In retrospect, I was on what is commonly called the “fail-eo diet”. I was still trying to “stay low fat”…you know, for the health of my heart. Wow, I couldn’t have been more off! I was also getting the majority of the fat I was eating from nuts (read Omega-6). Needless to say it didn’t work out too well, and while my body composition had improved, I felt like crap all the time and had no energy, which eventually led me to declaring that the way of eating didn’t work.

A few months later, in December of 2010, I happened upon Mark’s Daily Apple and began reading. I decided to try that way of eating out again, but this time with a better understanding of how the Primal way of eating works and the roles and effects that different foods have. I have been eating this way since then, so I guess about 10 months. The results have been incredible!

From a health standpoint, for years I struggled with respiratory issues. I would literally spend the first half hour of every day producing mucus from my chest and have to stop between rounds of MMA training to spit crap out. I had tried everything: allergy medication, allergy shots, heart burn medication, acupuncture and homeopathic treatments. I had been to pulmonary specialists that could slightly improve the symptoms, but never give me 100% relief. I would be on antibiotics to clear up whatever infection there was in my chest and I would improve, but not get all the way better. And so I was literally on antibiotics every other month for 7-8 years. That’s no way to live. Now, knowing the role Omega-6 plays in inflammation on a cellular level, and given that I haven’t had any chest/mucus issues since switching to the Primal way of eating, it’s not surprising that my chest was chronically inflamed and always making mucus. I notice on days that I make exceptions to my diet (like maybe eating something fried in vegetable oil), the issues start to return and that’s all it takes to remind me that this is how I need to eat for the rest of my life. So Primal eating has literally kept me from having these chest issues for almost a year now. Mark’s analogy of “digging a hole so you can put a ladder in it to climb up to wash the basement window” really hits home for me when I think about all the medical treatment I received for the problem when all I had to do was stop eating processed vegetable oil.

Also, I had a case of eczema on my face that I had to use a prescription cream on twice a day to prevent it from getting all red and flaky. The active ingredient in said cream is an anti-inflammatory steroid. Again not surprisingly, this problem has cleared up now that I’m managing my inflammation on a cellular level by improving my O3/O6 ratio.

All that being said, where the rubber meets the road for me is athletic performance, after all its how I pay my bills. The better breathing from not being congested all the time went a long way to start with, but it’s my energy levels and recovery that have really benefited from a Primal Blueprint diet. My endurance and explosiveness are measurably improved. After a two hour training session, my first thought used to be “if I don’t eat in the next 10 minutes, I might die.” Now I feel pretty much like I did at the start of the work out except sweaty. My body has been converted to powering itself off of fat (and I always have access to the fat on my body) instead of having to carb-up every 3 hours. Unexpected bonus: when being powered on carbohydrate, your body only has energy while you’ve eaten carbohydrate. This means that while you sleep, your recovery is slowed due to lack of energy intake. Now while I sleep, my metabolic processes are still humming along on body fat and I’ve noticed my muscle recovery has shortened by about 50%. Not surprising when you consider I’ve now effectively went from recovering 16 hours a day to 24. Also, my body feels less sore and achy after a day of being banged around by other fighters. I attribute this also to management of inflammation.

My overall body composition has changed only slightly since I was in fairly good shape prior to making the change. I only lost 5 lbs of body weight, going from to 255 to 250, but I lost 4” off of my waist. Originally I didn’t know how that could even be possible, but now taking into account the inflammatory effects of grains on your stomach and intestines, it makes sense. My waist shrunk not because of fat loss, but because the chronic inflammation in my intestines was relieved and finally went down.

(After Abraham KO’d Tim Sylvia)

Something that didn’t work for me was trying to stay at a 30/30/40 ratio of macro nutrients. Getting 40% of your calories from carbohydrate is A LOT of broccoli and cauliflower when you are as big as I am and eat as much as I do. I was much more successful once I shifted more to about 65/30/15 and started consuming much more fat.

I know a lot of people try this diet out for weight loss purposes and that’s fine and good, but I eat this way because it makes me feel better. It lets me perform better. I hate that it’s a given in our society that to eat “healthy” your food has to taste bad and that to lose weight, you had to be hungry all the time. I eat nothing but delicious real food, lots of it, 6000 calories a day (give or take, since I don’t really count all that much anymore). I never really feel that super-hungry feeling that I used to. I don’t fade at the end of workouts the way I used to. And I can breathe normally for the first time in years. The Primal Blueprint has been a big part of all of that.

Thank you,

Abraham Wagner

(Full disclosure: Abraham’s story goes to show that anyone, including elite athletes, can benefit from going Primal. After Abraham sent in his success story I offered to sponsor him with the Primal Blueprint Platinum Package. In exchange he’s going to help me spread the word to the MMA community.)

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. This story really hits home Abe. Thanks for sharing it. I have a new favorite fighter. 😉

    Edward wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • Likewise – great stuff Abe! Will most definitely be following your MMA journey from now on, best of luck.

      It’s especially impressive to hear how a primal approach can optimize performance even for an already-elite athlete.

      Thanks for sharing your story.

      Mark Ellis wrote on October 8th, 2011
  2. Awesome to see such an accomplished athlete on Friday! I love the Fridays, it always gets me excited and focused to stick with paleo and not go to “faileo” diet on the weekend. Haha faileo! Questions for Abe:
    1. What are your carb sources?
    2. What is your pre training meal or pre fight meal like and how long before you fight?


    Mat Herold wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • My carb sources are typically veggies, I bought some purple sweet potatoes in bulk not long ago for really glycogen depleting workouts. Also, I suppliment pure maltodextrin (converts directly to glucose) with my whey protein in a 4:1 ratio for optimal recovery. I could use the potatoes here for glucose, but I’m usually thirsty at that point, so I prefer to drink the carbs.
      And I typically just eat normally before a fight, I eat my last “meal” about 4 hours out.

      Abe Wagner wrote on October 7th, 2011
      • You look like you just bit your enemy’s head off in the second to last picture. Freaking awesome.

        Living proof that there are still caveman warriors.

        Abel James wrote on October 25th, 2011
  3. I like reading the weight loss stories, I really do, but this is the stuff that I love to read. When I am recommending the Primal lifestyle to people they tend to say they are too active for low carb. I can’t get them to understand that fat is an excellent fuel source. Now I will use this for reference. This is very encouraging for me. Thanks.

    Adam wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • I agree with this poster! This has finally convinced my boyfriend that he can be strong and muscular AND get enough calories while trying out this primal stuff. Thanks for sharing, Abe!

      April wrote on October 14th, 2011
  4. Wow! Thanks for sharing It’s amazing what inflammation can do. I hear you on feeling better! :-)

    Happycyclegirl wrote on October 7th, 2011
  5. MDA needs more shirtless glamour pics of professional male athletes. Just saying.

    For me as well, while weight loss has been important, the improvements in my heath are what have really made it worthwhile. I too suffer from chest phlegmy-ness and Ive noticed its gotten WAY better since going primal. Still around a little bit, but now Im not clearing my throat literally all day long.

    Hearing that primal has brought a professional to better performance and form is inspiring even to us mortals! ;D Thank you for sharing!

    cTo wrote on October 7th, 2011
  6. You are one beautiful non-inflamed man!

    Ginger wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • Couldn’t agree more :)

      Becca wrote on October 7th, 2011
      • You guys are going to make me blush 😉

        Abe Wagner wrote on October 7th, 2011
        • Totally agree times 3! :)

          Helen wrote on June 15th, 2013
  7. Awesome story! I’m glad to hear you found inflammation relief!
    (assuming my math is correct) I’m interested to hear how one eats 4000 calories a day in fat?? What foods exactly are on your menu?

    Andrea wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • Abe,

      Would you share a typical day’s meals with us. Great to hear of a top tier athelete having such positive primal success!

      Ricky wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • I was thinking about this, too. Though I suspect the actualy macronutrient breakdown is 65/35/5 since that equals 100. if he eats 6000kcal per day then that would be 433.33g from fat, 450g from protien and 75g from carbohydrate. Adding them all up together gave me 958.33 grams of food per day, 0.95833kg. 0.95833kg/2.2 gave me 2.1083lbs of food per day. I’m guessing coconut milk is big staple in the Abraham Wagner diet. Please correct me if I’m wrong since these are just back of the envolope calculations.

      Raphael wrote on October 7th, 2011
      • Actually I’d wager 65/30/5 would equal 100. 😉 Then it’d be 433g fat, 300g protein, 75g carbohydrate.

        Russell (Primal U) wrote on October 7th, 2011
        • Whoops. That was actually a typo. Thanks for clarifying. Still I reached 450g protien by taking 6000kcal*.30=1800kcal from protien. 1800kcal/4 = 450grams. Is this correct?

          Raphael wrote on October 7th, 2011
        • Yes it is, Raphael. The 300g was MY typo… haha

          Russell (Primal U) wrote on October 7th, 2011
      • Yeah, it was a type, sorry, its probably more like 65/25/15

        450 grams is way too many grams of protein. Sorry for the confusion.

        Abe Wagner wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • Lots of coconut and lots of butter. Its all very delicious.

      Abe Wagner wrote on October 7th, 2011
  8. WOW- I noticed I no longer have to cough up phlegm in the morning; but hadn’t made the connection until now! Crazy

    mike from chicago wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • Yeah, its a night and day difference for me.

      Abe Wagner wrote on October 7th, 2011
      • I recently noticed the lack of phlegm in the morning too and figured it was allergies that had been causing it but inflammation makes sense, although I suppose allergies cause inflammation… maybe food allergies to grains? Anyways really glad it’s gone! and no more blowing my nose a million times before bed just so I can breathe!

        Robin wrote on November 1st, 2011
  9. Abraham, you rock! I mean that in both senses.

    What an inspiration. The world needs more primal athletes. As an MMA fan, I look forward to watching you dominate your future opponents.

    Timothy wrote on October 7th, 2011
  10. “I know a lot of people try this diet out for weight loss purposes and that’s fine and good, but I eat this way because it makes me feel better.”

    I feel ya. Same here!

    Vegetable oils have been equally destructive and mucus forming for me. I have to stay away from them completely to keep inflammation down. Doesn’t matter how much fish oil I take to counteract it. That stuff is poison.

    Good job figuring that out. You look super hot, energetic, and fun!

    Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • I’m totally with you here. I don’t have to lose weight, but I can’t believe how much better I feel energy wise. Nowhere near as tired as I was,

      Helen wrote on June 15th, 2013
  11. What a great story Abraham, thanks for sharing!!

    I eat this diet to make me feel better, not for weight loss reasons as well. And a few months ago I increased my fat intake and now I have so much more energy!! I was happy to find the last thing I was missing. Other people may find it gross that I add spoonfuls of fat into every meal, but it’s what my body needs and it tastes delicious. It was fun hearing somebody else doing better with extra fats.

    Jen wrote on October 7th, 2011
  12. Right on, Abe!

    I eat mostly primal and practice martial arts. I can totally attest to the combined efficacy of the two!

    Rahsaan wrote on October 7th, 2011
  13. When I say mostly primal. I guess I sometimes go back and forth between primal and paleo. And often people at my academy wonder how i can fight 18 to 20 hours into an intermittent fast. Ketosis, people. And I eat a huge fatty dinner of meat and veggies when I get home at night.

    Rahsaan wrote on October 7th, 2011
  14. Great story…and, although I am damn near old enough to be his Mother, let me say he is HOT! Tito WHO?????

    Kathy wrote on October 7th, 2011
  15. I was able to do a single unassisted chin-up AND a pull-up today for the first time in 8 years… do you guys think I am ready for THE OCTAGON???

    JO3_H wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • LOL…you certainly made me chuckle! Yeah, I am still working on the unassisted pull-up 😉

      Janine wrote on October 7th, 2011
      • I’m working on reverse chin ups and pull ups.

        I made it to 4.

        Yeah, I’m uber.

        Jane wrote on October 7th, 2011
  16. B.J. wrote on October 7th, 2011
  17. B.J. wrote on October 7th, 2011
  18. As someone who watches MMA quite a lot, I’ve often wondered if any of the fighters follow a primal/paleo diet.

    Pam S. wrote on October 7th, 2011
  19. OMG now it makes sense why I lost 7.5 pounds in 2 weeks and went down 2 pants sizes. The inflammation is gone! Thanks for such an insightful and well explained story. I’m very new to Primal way of life and loving it! I love MMA and I look forward to seeing you fight :)

    Wendy wrote on October 7th, 2011
  20. Abe – you rock…and are a rock!! LOL… So glad to hear about how much healthier you are now! Good luck in the cage!! :-)

    Janine wrote on October 7th, 2011
  21. OMG I am swooning. And I have a new favourite fighter. Way to go Abe

    Nicola wrote on October 7th, 2011
  22. If Abe spreads the Primal Blueprint into the MMA community, his competition may be healthier but they’ll also be more difficult for Abe to defeat.

    oxide wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • A true sportsman looks for ways to excel even his toughest opponents, not to keep them weak so he doesn’t have to compete!

      I may have to start following MMA just to root you on, Abe. Grok on!

      Uncephalized wrote on October 7th, 2011
  23. Fridays rock so hard. I love how primal diets affect everyone in a different, yet awesome way. It’s great to see someone who is “there” make huge strides in their health like you did, Abe. Just another reminder that just because you look good, it doesn’t mean you feel good. Thanks so much for sharing, now I have a good reason to look out for a new fighter :)

    Nick wrote on October 7th, 2011
  24. Great story! I’m 6’5″ and fairly athletic (no MMA Fighter though). Since I took to full on primal eating, I can’t seem to stop losing weight. I’ve always been a hard-gainer, but I’m practically back to my high-school (read: bean-pole) weight. Feeling great and enjoying the benefits of primal eating and living, but I sure would like to put a few pounds of muscle back on. Here’s another hope that Abe can share some more specific info about the sort of foods he typically eats.

    Chris wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • I think the main thing is intaking enough energy thru fat. There’s a lot of societal programming that make us tenative about it, but you gotta get over that. Also, intaking a carb source that assimilates quickly into blood sugar immediately after a workout. In theory, your insulin response should be even more sensitive now that you’re primal and you shoul dget more bang for your buck from this process.

      Abe Wagner wrote on October 7th, 2011
  25. “I know a lot of people try this diet out for weight loss purposes and that’s fine and good, but I eat this way because it makes me feel better. It lets me perform better.”

    Agree completely. My athletic performance is night and day with the PB. And I’m with everyone above…new favorite fighter. Congrats!

    Graham wrote on October 7th, 2011
  26. Just like everyone else, I always love these Friday stories. I feel fired up for the weekend now! haha

    I’m especially pleased to see an MMA fighter eating primal to fuel off fat. Even in a lot of the paleo blogs/sites/forums around, you see people saying that you HAVE to fuel up on more paleo carbs to be that active… but this just goes to show that it isn’t always that way.

    Kevin wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • I agree, once you’ve replenished your glycogen reserves, there’s really no need for the excess carbohydrates.

      Abe Wagner wrote on October 7th, 2011
  27. Great story, beautiful pictures. Congratulations on getting healthier.

    I’m also happy to see a non-weightloss story – too many folks think this is a diet instead of a healthy lifestyle. While I don’t look different from when I started Primal 10 months ago, being thin, I have a longer and longer list of benefits I’ve reaped from this lifestyle change. Grok on!

    HillsideGina wrote on October 7th, 2011
  28. Glad to read a success story about a professional athlete! My best friend is big into cage fighting – I will send her the link!

    Thanks for helping us spread the primal word!

    Primal Toad wrote on October 7th, 2011
  29. Would love to know a sample daily diet..I too try to get that many calories a day.. thanks and great work!

    evan wrote on October 7th, 2011
  30. ya he’s hot & all, but I just love the happier, more confident look in his face in those 2 “after” pics. A look that says “HA! I figured it out! You want some of this?”

    peggy wrote on October 7th, 2011
  31. Look at those legs! I like the short shorts more. 250 pounds of pure YUM.

    Ginger wrote on October 7th, 2011
  32. Awesome to have a pro athlete making his presence felt in the MDA circles!

    Russell (Primal U) wrote on October 7th, 2011
  33. As someone that Abe beats up on a weekly basis, I’ve seen these results first hand. I can attest to the positive change in his respiratory function and that he doesn’t really inhibit his intake in terms of “gotta count this calorie and that.”

    A lot of what he’s preached, I’ve adopted myself (which good results). I’m sure I’ll eventually cross over entirely.

    Allen T. wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • Allen!!! Thats for corroborating my story with first hand observation!!!

      Abe Wagner wrote on October 7th, 2011
  34. ” Unexpected bonus: when being powered on carbohydrate, your body only has energy while you’ve eaten carbohydrate. This means that while you sleep, your recovery is slowed due to lack of energy intake. Now while I sleep, my metabolic processes are still humming along on body fat and I’ve noticed my muscle recovery has shortened by about 50%. ”

    That’s not true. People who eat CHO can also burn fat, and while they are asleep, the body switches to fat burning.

    I’m all for success stories but just because somethigng worked for you doesn’t make you an expert on it, and plain ol’ physiology contradicts this one.

    AlyieCat wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • Much of the literature around lifting and recovery insists that you eat first thing, right away because you body has been starving and you need to get it nutrients ASAP. I don’t feel this way anymore, and I have noticed a marked increase in my recovery. I’m not trying to spread bad info, I guess it made sense to me on an intuitive level. Sorry for any mistake I may have made.

      Abe Wagner wrote on October 7th, 2011
      • I agree with the literature saying eat CHO after a workout for recovery. If you feel like your muscles are recovering faster, they probably are. It’s the part about people who “eat cho” having slowed nighttime metabolisms with which I’m quibbling.

        You’ve had success with Primal and that is awesome; your pics look great. I’m an athlete too (Triathlon) with an exercise phys degree and that’s why I’m picky about the metabolic stuff :-)

        Best of luck in your fights!

        AlyieCat wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • People who eat mainly CHO may still have fat burning mitochondria, but they might not have as many as someone who forced his cells use fat as a primary fuel source…

      mm wrote on October 11th, 2011
  35. Love this! I’m no MMA fighter, but I am slowly trying to get a black belt in kung fu. I’m still adapting to primal and figuring out how to fuel my workouts, but I look forward to the day it amps up my performance on the mat. :)

    elaine! wrote on October 7th, 2011
  36. Badass!

    Rob wrote on October 7th, 2011
  37. Congratulations, Abe! Isn’t it great when your body finally starts working the way it should? It’s amazing that we can define so much dysfunction as “normal” (or, worse, as a medication deficiency).

    Stop by anytime…I follow MMA, and have a meaningful contingent of MMA trainers, trainees, and fans among my readers.


    J. Stanton wrote on October 7th, 2011
  38. Hi Abe. I’ve been trying to follow a ratio similar to yours 60/30/10. My trouble is to eat enough calories, my target is around 4k.

    How to you menage to get 6k!? Specially 3k+ form fats! What are your fat sources? Wich amount?

    Could you please share a sample of a daily diet?

    Long live to you!

    Best regards,


    Daniel wrote on October 7th, 2011
  39. This is another one of those success stories where I think we lesser mortals would have been impressed by the “before” picture, but … wow! Abe, in your “after” shots you just about glow in the dark! Congratulations! (and I think this old lady has a new pin-up, too!)

    Karen F wrote on October 7th, 2011
  40. *ahem* I think we need more muscle-man stories like this. With photos. Lots.

    Nion wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • …photos with short shorts! As a public service announcement, I wish he would post how he gets his legs so big and juicy. I’m sick of seeing dudes at the gym with big upper bodies and ridiculous chicken legs. Please, guys! Big leg, FTW!

      Ginger wrote on October 7th, 2011
    • I totally agree, it’d be hard to evaluate the results without plenty of photos like these…sorry, what were you saying?…..

      Seriously, great news about the inflammation/mucus issues improving with this way of eating, I’m completely sold on it. No more bloat!

      Sally wrote on October 7th, 2011

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